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SOURCE: Hindustan Times

India and China are set to hold another round of diplomatic and military talks to try and take forward the disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), with New Delhi on Thursday pressing for stability at the friction points in Ladakh sector.

A meeting of the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination (WMCC) on border affairs is expected to be held before the seventh round of talks between military commanders, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity. The dates for both meetings are yet to be finalised, they said.

The two sides had decided to have the next meeting of the corps commanders “at the earliest”, external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a weekly news briefing. “In parallel, the next meeting of the WMCC is also likely to take place soon,” he said, without giving details.

The sixth meeting of the corps commanders, held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the LAC on September 21, ended inconclusively on the main issue of disengagement after more than 13 hours of talks. The commanders met after nearly 50 days, and the only headway was a rare joint statement from the armies of the two sides that said they had agreed to stop sending more troops to the frontline and to refrain from unilaterally changing the situation on the ground.

The external affairs ministry, which was part of the military talks for the first time on Monday, insisted that adhering to this agreement would be key for the upcoming talks. “Even as two sides work towards complete disengagement in all friction areas, it is at the same time also necessary to ensure stability on the ground,” Srivastava said.

He added, “The way ahead will be to refrain from making any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo, while the two sides continue their discussions to achieve complete disengagement in all friction areas and to ensure full restoration of peace and tranquillity in the border areas.”

Srivastava also highlighted that this was the first joint statement issued after any meeting of the corps commanders, and it reflected the “stated commitment of both sides to disengage along the LAC”. Disengagement, he pointed out, is a “complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC”, and this would require “mutually agreed reciprocal actions”.

The last meeting of the corps commanders provided them an opportunity to have candid and in-depth exchanges on stabilising the situation along the LAC, he said. The two sides also decided to strengthen ground communications to avoid any further misunderstandings and misjudgements, and to avoid any actions that may complicate the situation, he said.

The people cited above said India would stick to its demand for a comprehensive disengagement at all friction points, instead of a piece-meal approach suggested by the Chinese side. India will also insist on restoration of the status quo as it existed in April so that the ultimate goal of de-escalation along the LAC can be achieved, the people said.

China has been asking India to withdraw its troops from strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong Lake as a prerequisite for disengagement at other friction points but this has been ruled out by the Indian side.

Before the last corps commanders’ meeting, the defence ministers of the two sides met in Moscow on September 4 and this was followed by talks between the two foreign ministers, also in Moscow, on September 10. The foreign ministers had reached agreement on a five-point roadmap for comprehensive disengagement in all the friction areas.

Former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia, distinguished fellow for foreign policy studies at Gateway House, said that with the border standoff now into its fifth month and winter about to set in, the endeavour by both sides appeared to be to prevent any further escalation.

“However, I still take comfort from the desire on both sides to prevent further escalation, to ensure stability and to continue talking. It is a positive sign at the political level that there is a similar message from both sides – that there is no question of an armed conflict and peaceful negotiations are the way forward – though there is little less clarity in the messaging from Chinese side,” he said.

“Combined with the onset of winter and some luck, there will be no further escalation while we await a breakthrough. Both sides need more time to resolve these complex matters.”