New Delhi, May 5: The “acne” of a Chinese incursion in eastern Ladakh faded today with troops from both sides pulling back from the face-off point at Raki Nala.
But what “ointment” was applied to the acne — as foreign minister Salman Khurshid had called the encampment by the Chinese in territory claimed by India — was not known. Government sources would only confirm that the stand-off was over after negotiations and that the withdrawal was mutual.
The withdrawal gives a breather to the Manmohan Singh ministry that the Opposition yesterday described as a “scam-a-day” and “cash-and-carry” government. The Indian government’s response to the Chinese manoeuvre was described as too feeble by the Opposition parties.
Over the past week, the government has been rocked in situations involving Pakistan (the killing of Sarabjit Singh and the beating of Pakistani prisoner Sanaullah), China and CBI allegations that railway minister Pawan Bansal’s nephew took a bribe to sell a plum post. The Congress tonight decided not to ask Bansal to resign immediately. ( )
Official sources said intensive diplomatic contact, led by foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai who coordinated with military authorities in Beijing and ambassador Jaishankar, led to the flag meeting at which the situation was resolved.
“The agreement was reached diplomatically. The modalities were worked out at the flag meeting,” a source said. More than 10 flag meetings have been held since April 15.
What clinched the compromise that ended the Sino-Indian face-off since April 15 is not known. The Chinese had demanded the dismantling of Indian bunkers in southeastern Ladakh and the tented encampment they set up was a threat to strategic Indian military installations.
“The Chinese have made their point — that this area belongs to them — and we have made a reciprocal gesture, though we should not have withdrawn if we believe that area belongs to us,” said Major General (retired) Sheroo Thapliyal, who commanded the Indian Army in sub-sector north.
Indian troops — the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Ladakh Scouts — had pitched eight tents opposite the four the Chinese had put up on April 15, barely 150 metres apart.
But the Indian troops were asked not to take offensive action — such as outflanking the Chinese camp and setting up tents behind it in a way to cut off the supply lines.
The area is particularly sensitive for both India and China. In a way, the 1962 war in which India got a drubbing began with hostilities in this sector.
The withdrawal of the camps sets the tone for foreign minister Khurshid’s visit to China on May 9 and the subsequent visit by the Chinese Premier on May 20. There was speculation in the Congress yesterday that Khurshid’s visit might be called off because of the face-off in Raki Nala. But that would have jeopardised the visit by the Chinese Premier who has chosen India for his first tour abroad.
The Indian and Chinese troops withdrew around 7.30 this evening after what one official said were “negotiations through the proper channel”.
A brigadier-level flag meeting had been held at Chushul in southeastern Ladakh this morning.
PTI reported this evening that the Indian side contended that any pullback had to be simultaneous and that the Chinese should vacate their intrusion. The Chinese side iterated that India should dismantle the bunkers constructed along the LAC in Phuktsay and Chumar areas, to which the Indians contended that similar activities were being carried out on the Chinese side also.
Chinese officials maintained that the activities on their side were rather developmental in nature and that India should stop pushing its grazers in Chumar division, southeast of Ladakh.
On April 15, Chinese troops had allegedly intruded nearly 27km into Indian territory. According to PTI, the Chinese later pulled back to a spot near the old patrol base in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector, which was still 19km from the Line of Actual Control. It was not clear if, after the deal today, the Chinese would pull all the way back to the pre-April 15 position as sought by India.
Under today’s agreement, the Indian troops decided to move back to Burste, the point they were stationed at before April 15.