Easing cross-border tensions must ideally be a source of relief. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's message in the parliament that India and China have decided to call off the 10-month-long standoff in Ladakh is welcome. However, several leaders including opposition leader Rahul Gandhi have raised allegations of India having yielded too much. One of the allegations is that the instruction to the Indian army to retreat to the third of the eight peaks (Finger 3) amounts giving away our territory. Another is that when the Indian army agreed to recede from the Kailash range, it was not made conditional on China making reciprocal retreat from Gogra, Hot Springs, and Dapsang. Responding to the allegations, the ministry clarified that a retreat does not mean that all problems have been resolved. However, the two armies facing each other on either side of the Pangong lake are now moving towards negotiations in a calmer atmosphere. Earlier, the Indian army was patrolling till Finger 8 from the camp at Finger 3. However, for the last few months, China has been disrupting this. They also made constructions including roads up till Finger 4. As per the new understanding, China would retreat to Finger 8 after demolishing their constructions. The region between Finger 4 and 8 would now be a buffer zone without the presence of either forces. It would be more appropriate to say that India withdrew from its own territory, and not gave away, to avoid clashes and make way for discussions. It is not a rare practice in negotiations, either.
The major problem here is seemingly not the understanding but that we lost our bargaining strength. Observers have expressed concern that this decision, arrived at after nine rounds of negotiations, gives an upper hand to the Chinese military. It might be China's strategic victory to have delinked the Gogra, Hot Springs and Dapsang regions from the clash at Pangong. The Indian army which had the upper hand over the Kailash ranges could observe the nearby Chinese army posts. China's strategy to make India withdraw from that stronghold is indeed to their benefit. This means that when further discussions ensue on other regions, China doesn't have anything to lose even if India doesn't relent at all. The retreat of Indian troops from Kailash and China's retreat from Dapsang should have happened simultaneously. However, China's interests have been implemented.
Retd LT Gen HS Panag, who points out that China was able to steer India to its stance of 1959, also says that such concessions may become necessary to regain peace. As the Defence Ministry points out, it is not yet time to put our finger down on victory or defeat; there are more negotiations to happen. However, it is the government, and not critics or the opposition, which must intervene to clear the confusion. Where earlier the PM had announced that no one had intruded into Indian territory, now the government is claiming that China is retreating from occupied territory. And the damage caused by wrong statements by minister VK Singh, himself a former chief of army, are not small. Singh's claim that if China had transgressed ten times, we have transgressed 50 times, has given a fig leaf for the Chinese side, as happened with the prime minister's statement of no encroachment. At any rate, cordial agreements are critical; and restoration of peace with neighbours is also a need. After all, more than politics, what is paramount is the larger national interest.