Disengagement at Pangong Tso a Win-Win Situation, but Long Way To Go: General Naravane

Speaking at a webinar, the Indian Army chief said there are strategies in place to address pending issues in the standoff with China in areas like Depsang.

New Delhi: The disengagement of the Indian and Chinese armies from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso is a “very good end result” and a win-win situation for both sides, Army chief General M.M. Naravane said on Wednesday, even as he said that “there is a long way to go” and admitted there is a trust deficit.

Speaking at a webinar organised by the Vivekananda International Foundation, General Naravane also said there were no signs of an “overt collusion” between China and Pakistan during the Ladakh standoff but India caters to a long term strategy for a “two-and-half front war”, with the half being internal security.

“These are threats in being. Whether they manifest or not, only time will tell. With the whole-of-government approach, such a worst case scenario should not be unfolding. But as a military, we are prepared,” he said, according to the Indian Express.

Speaking about the internal security situation in the Northeast, the Army chief said that China had created an “environment of confrontation and mutual distrust”.

“The internal dynamics in the Northeast are intricately linked to the regional security construct. This is characterised by rising Chinese belligerence in the Indo-Pacific, its hostility towards weaker nations and its relentless drive to create regional dependencies through debt traps like the Belt and Road Initiative. Also, the resultant Sino-US rivalry has created regional imbalances and instability. The increasing footprints of China in India’s neighbourhood and its attempt to unilaterally alter the status quo along our disputed borders have created an environment of confrontation and mutual distrust,” he said, according to the newspaper.

Watch | China Not Keen on Further Disengagement, Withdrawal at Depsang Looks Unlikely: Ajai Shukla

‘Trust deficit’

General Naravane said there are strategies in place to address other pending issues in eastern Ladakh. Though the disengagement process has commenced, there is a trust deficit, he admitted. The disengagement process began on February 10.

“We still have a long way to go. We have to move on to the stage of de-escalation. And of course, after that moving back of the troops, the de-induction of the troops which went to the higher reaches,” he said.

While doing so, India will be very cautious as the trust deficit remains, he said.

“In doing whatever we are doing, we are keeping in mind that we have to be wary. We will be very cautious. There is trust deficit. Unless that trust deficit is removed, we will, of course, continue to be very wary and watching every movement that happens on either side of the LAC,” he said.

Naravane exuded confidence that with continued engagement with Pakistan, there could be some sort of an understanding because “unsettled borders and violence on the borders help no one”.

He said China has been in the “habit of creeping forward”, making very small incremental changes wherein each change was not big or worthy of a very strong reaction.

“Because of these small incremental moves, which were never contested, it has been able to achieve its aims without firing any shot or loss of life.

He also cited the example of the South China Sea where China militarised some of the islands. Naravane said this strategy will not work with India.

“I think more than anything else, what we have achieved is that this strategy will not work with us and every move will be met resolutely,” he said.

He said right from the beginning of the standoff, all arms of government worked together. At the political, diplomatic and military levels, there were talks with the respective Chinese counterparts, he said.

“We were all in it together. We had our plan chalked out which we had discussed on what should be the way forward. Whatever has panned out, has happened as a result of that. What we have achieved so far is very good,” Naravane said.

“As a result of this whole approach, this disengagement has taken place. I think it is a very good end result. It is a win-win situation. For any agreement to last, both sides should feel that they have achieved something. I think a good outcome that has resulted out of the 10 rounds of talks which have taken place so far,” he said.

Last week, the armies of the two countries concluded the withdrawal of troops and weapons from the north and south banks of Pangong Tso in the high-altitude region.

Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh where they had been deployed opposite each other for almost ten months now. Photo: PTI/Indian Army handout

Depsang region

However, issues still remain. In the talks held on Saturday which continued till the wee hours of Sunday, India is learnt to have insisted on a faster disengagement process in areas like Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang to bring down tension in the region.

Naravane said there are some issues which remain in the area of Depsang, in the area of eastern Ladakh and in other areas along northern border.

“But we have our strategies in place for that. Do we have anything to negotiate in future? Yes, definitely we have. But I would not like to say what those strategies would be to further progress our negotiations to get a favourable outcome,” he said.

When asked about the steps to ensure that China does not occupy the heights vacated by India, he said, “We will trust but we will verify and we have put our systems in place to make sure that there is no reoccupation of these heights. It is part of the agreement.”

The border standoff between the Indian and Chinese armies began on May 5 following a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas and both sides gradually enhanced their deployment by rushing in tens of thousands of soldiers as well as heavy weaponry even as the two sides continued military and diplomatic talks.

Last year, the Chinese military built several bunkers and other structures in the areas between Finger 4 and 8 and had blocked all Indian patrols beyond Finger 4, triggering strong reaction from the Indian Army.

In the nine rounds of military talks, India had specifically insisted on withdrawal of Chinese troops from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the North bank of Pangong Lake. The mountain spurs in the area are referred to as Fingers.

On its part, the Chinese side was insisting on the withdrawal of Indian troops from several strategic peaks on the southern bank of the lake. Around five months ago, Indian troops occupied a number of strategic heights in the Mukhpari, Rechin La and Magar hill areas around the southern bank after the Chinese PLA attempted to intimidate them in the area.

(With PTI inputs)