Indian and Chinese troops are yet to complete their disengagement in the Doklam area, according to a new story by Sushant Singh of The Indian Express.
Citing ‘multiple’ anonymous sources, Singh reports that ‘both sets of soldiers, along with their tents and road construction equipment, moved away from the faceoff site on Dolam plateau but only by a distance of around 150 metres each’.
Negotiations to defuse the standoff were led by India’s ambassador to Beijing, Vijay Gokhale according to Singh and ‘handled at the highest levels of the government in Delhi’ with the army also kept in the loop.
After both sides agreed on a process of disengagement, the Indian Army brigadier at Nathu La was informed, Singh reports. The sequential withdrawal began on August 28, with Indian soldiers first pulling back 150 metres ‘partly back on to the Indian side, with a spillover into Bhutanese territory’ along with their tents and bulldozers.
The Chinese then withdrew 150 metres by ‘early afternoon’. Both sides then verified each other’s positions, according to Singh.
What it means
Sushant Singh’s story does not contradict reports that the Chinese halted road-building- a key Indian demand. It also does not contradict the public statements made by India’s Ministry of External Affairs and China’s foreign ministry.
However, it is clear that while the Doklam standoff has cooled down considerably, it’s not quite over. Singh stresses that though Indian and Chinese troops are still only separated by 300 metres of open ground, it is ‘only an intermediary stage.’ He paraphrases his sources as being ‘hopeful that the two sides will further withdraw from their current locations, eventually resulting in a status quo as on June 16, when the Chinese road construction party had moved in.’
While it is difficult to ascertain the exact contours of the terrain at the faceoff site, the Indian border is probably less than 150 metres from where Singh says the Indian soldiers are positioned. It’s not clear why the Indian side has not completely moved back across the border where they continue to hold the high ground. If anything, Singh’s story only highlights how little we understand of the ground situation in Doklam.