India and China have agreed to disengage troops from a bitterly contested lake area in the western Himalayas, the Indian defence minister said, in a breakthrough after a months-long standoff on the disputed border.
Rajnath Singh told Parliament on Thursday the accord had been reached after several rounds of talks between military commanders and diplomats.
“Our sustained talks with China have led to agreement on disengagement on the north and south banks of the Pangong lake,” he said.
China’s defence ministry said front-line troops from the two countries had begun to pull back from the shores of the lake on Wednesday.
The standoff began in April last year when India said Chinese troops had intruded deep into its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or the de facto border in the Ladakh area in the western Himalayas.
China said its troops were operating in its own area and accused Indian border guards of provocative actions.
Security analyst and former Indian army officer Ajai Shukla said he welcomed the troop disengagement at the disputed Ladakh border. He also pointed out that China has “refused to discuss” reports of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers crossing the LAC at another point.
“Any form of disengagement is to be welcomed. Therefore, it is good if there is a pullback by both sides in the Pangong sector. However, it is a matter of concern that the PLA has refused to discuss a pullback from the Depsang sector, where the Chinese have intruded deepest into India’s side of the LAC,” Shukla told Al Jazeera, referring to another area in Ladakh.
The deadly Galwan Valley combat
In June, 20 Indian soldiers were killed when the two sides clashed with iron rods and stones in the Galwan Valley, the first combat losses on the border in 45 years. China also suffered an unspecified number of casualties.
Singh said the Indian government had told Beijing that peace and tranquillity had been seriously disturbed by the actions of Chinese troops and bilateral ties had suffered.
“To ensure disengagement in friction points along the LAC, it was our view that troops of both sides, who are now in close proximity, should vacate the forward deployments made in 2020 and return to the permanent and accepted bases,” he said.
Once the disengagement has been completed at the high altitude Pangong lake, military commanders will meet within 48 hours to discuss pull back from other areas, Singh said.
India and China fought a war in 1962 and since then have not been able to agree on their 3,488km (2,167-mile) long border.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to this report from New Delhi, India