LAC to LoC

From LAC to LoC. One may notice winds of change as all South Asian players—India, China and Pakistan—are talking peace. In truth money talks and it talks rather loudly. With about 40 foreign direct investment proposals by the Chinese companies cleared by New Delhi in recent weeks, tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the Himalayan wilderness, seem to be subsiding. Finally China admitted in no uncertain terms that four of its soldiers were killed in the June 2020 clash in which India lost 20 of its soldiers. Surprisingly both sides used clubs, stones and other improvised weapons to avoid a fire fight. That led to multiple rounds of military level discussions and a breakthrough appeared to have been achieved at a September meeting between the foreign ministers of India and China in Moscow. Russia brokered the deal to minimise America's role in India- China face-off.

Troops began to withdraw on February 10 from the southern and northern banks of Pangong Lake and have pulled back to the positions they held prior to the start of the conflict last year. Troops, however, remain in a stand-off in Depsang and at least two other places, Gogra and Hot Springs. The fiercely contested Line of Actual Control stretches from Ladakh in the west to India's north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in its entirety.

India and China share an undemarcated 3,800 -km long border where troops of both sides previously adhered to long-standing protocols to maintain peace.

With the situation along the LAC returning to normal, India and China, have agreed to set up a hot-line between their foreign ministers, much to the satisfaction of India's common people. As per an agreement announced by India's Defence Minister Rajnath Singh last month, the two countries will now hold talks to preserve tranquillity in Ladakh. Once disengagement is completed at all friction points both sides will honour the status quo as it was before the escalation of confrontation. The Chinese insist that the disengagement by frontline troops had "significantly eased the situation" while raising hope that Dragon and Elephant can live in peace forgetting the recent Ladakh clash which was the deadliest incident between the two countries in nearly 45 years.

For one thing the new US President Joe Biden is likely to be just as tough on China as Donald Trump though with a different approach. There is every reason to believe that Beijing is closing its ranks to take on the new US administration against the backdrop of mounting tensions over Taiwan. Only on February 9, the US navy conducted exercises in the South China Sea which Beijing had referred to as "muscle flexing" by America. As the US stance getting more and more aggressive, various players, mainly regional, could be hedging their bets at the moment. Also, China won't like to see Asian Nato that was promoted by Trump with a lot of fanfare, getting boost under Biden. In other words China has strategic interests in neutralising India in Quad—the proposed 4-nation Asian Nato. There are many reasons for China's peace diplomacy along the LAC. India has everything to gain, both globally and domestically, if it makes positive response to China's overtures.

The most interesting development in the sub-continent is Islamabad too is talking peace. Somewhat surprisingly, India and Pakistan on February 24, announced that they have agreed to strictly observe all previous agreements on ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir and other sectors. India and Pakistan signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003, but it has hardly been followed in letter and spirit over past several years with more violations than observance of the pact.

A total of 10,752 cases of ceasefire violations have taken place along India's border with Pakistan in the last three years in which 72 security personnel and 70 civilians were killed. In Jammu and Kashmir in 2018, 2019 and 2020, 364 security personnel and 341 civilians were injured in cross-border firings along the international border and LoC.

No doubt Dialogue is the only way forward if both India and Pakistan want to stop the unending cycle of violence and bloodshed across the borders. Civilians living on both sides of the fence suffer most—they would heave a sigh of relief with the new peace initiative launched by New Delhi and Islamabad. What has made them wise at the moment is not clear. Maybe, some external factors are in action but maintaining the 2003 ceasefire understanding is in the best interest of both countries.

If the latest development leads to lasting peace and improvement in bilateral relations, it will be a great achievement and it will certainly pave the way for a thaw after years of tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Meanwhile, the people and political parties of Jammu and Kashmir wholeheartedly welcomed the decision to return to the principles of 2003 ceasefire agreement.

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Vol. 53, No. 37, Mar 14 - 20, 2021