On disengagement at Pangong Tso, Defence Ministry counters “instances of wrongly understood information”

Published : February 13, 2021 07:21 IST

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in the Lok Sabha on February 11. Photo: PTI

The Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a statement on February 12, stating that India had not ceded any territory in the ongoing disengagement process in Eastern Ladakh’s Pangong Tso, and the remaining friction points, including the strategic Depsang Plains, would be taken up for discussion in the next round of military talks.

Earlier, officials had disclosed that Chinese and Indian troops had started withdrawing from positions on the southern and northern banks of the Pangong Lake, which is located at an altitude of 14,000 ft. While the Chinese defence ministry said in a statement on February 10 that both sides had started a “synchronised and organised” disengagement, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament that India and China would remove forward deployments in a “phased, coordinated and verified manner”.

The MoD’s statement comes in the wake of discordant voices, inlcuding that of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, which have accused the Narendra Modi government of ceding territory to China in Pangong Tso during the disengagement process. Rahul Gandhi, in a press conference on the morning of February 12, questioned the need for Indian troops to move back. He went on to accuse Narendra Modi of handing over the ‘Bharat Mata ka tukda’ to China.”

The Defence Ministry’s statement said it had taken note of “some misinformed and misleading comments being amplified in the media and on social media regarding the disengagement currently under way at Pangong Tso”. Stating that the factual position had been clearly communicated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh in his statements to both Houses of Parliament on February 11, the MoD statement said that it was, however, necessary “to set the record straight and counter certain instances of wrongly understood information being amplified in media and social media”.

“The assertion that Indian territory is up to Finger 4 is categorically false. The territory of India is as depicted by the map of India and includes more than 43,000 sq km currently under illegal occupation of China since 1962,” the statement said. Added the MoD’s statement: “Even the Line of Actual Control (LAC), as per the Indian perception, is at Finger 8, not at Finger 4. That is why India has persistently maintained the right to patrol up to Finger 8, including in the current understanding with China.”

Highlighting the fact that permanent posts of either side at the north bank of Pangong Tso were long-standing and well-established, the Ministry’s statement read: “On the Indian side, it is Dhan Singh Thapa Post near Finger 3 and on the Chinese side, east of Finger 8. The current agreement provides for cessation of forward deployment by both sides and continued deployment at these permanent posts.”

The Ministry’s statement categorically stated that India had not conceded any territory as a result of this agreement. “On the contrary, it has enforced observance and respect for LAC and prevented any unilateral change in the status quo,” it said.

Reiterating Rajnath Singh’s assertion to Parliament that there are still “outstanding problems to be addressed, including at Hot Springs, Gogra and Depsang, the MoD statement said: “The outstanding issues are to be taken up within 48 hrs of the completion of the Pangong Tso disengagement.”

Going on to state that “the effective safeguarding of India’s national interest and territory in the eastern Ladakh sector has taken place because the government has reposed full faith in the capabilities of the armed forces”, the MoD statement added: “Those who doubt the achievements made possible by the sacrifices of our military personnel are actually disrespecting them.”

The present standoff between China and India began in early May when Indian officials alleged that Chinese soldiers had crossed the frontier at three different points in Ladakh, erected tents and guard posts and ignored verbal warnings to leave. The standoff resulted in shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights, with the situation going out of control on June 15 when a hand-to-hand combat with clubs, stones and fists left 20 Indian soldiers, including an officer, dead. China, Indian officials have said, suffered an equal if not higher number of casualties in the ‘scuffle’. China has not disclosed any details on its casualties.

Post the bloody scuffle in May, both sides have ramped up their military presence on either side of the hotly contested Line of Actual Control, or LAC, which has served as the uneasy border since the 1962 war between the two countries. Though tens of thousands of soldiers backed by artillery, tanks and fighter jets were mobilised by both countries to the LAC, barring a skirmish in September, when warning shots were fired for the first time in 45 years after China and India accused each other of sending troops into the other’s territory, the longstanding agreement not to attack each other with firearms, was maintained.