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India-China protocol to define `conditions at ground level'

By Sandeep Dikshit

NEW DELHI, APRIL 11. The Army said the India-China protocol signed today on modalities for implementation of confidence building measures in the military field along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) would "precisely define the conditions at the ground level." "While the 1996 agreement provided the institutional framework for the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the LAC, today's protocol will ensure that the confidence building measures (CBMs) envisaged in the previous [1996] agreement will materialise on the ground," a senior army officer said.

The earlier agreement allowed the side holding a small exercise (5,000 troops) to inform the other side five days after the completion of the exercise. Today's protocol asks the side holding the exercise to inform the other side 15 days in advance. The earlier pact did not put any time limit for seeking clarifications about the exercise but today's protocol says that each side shall "obtain timely clarification" within 15 days from the side undertaking the exercise.

"The 1996 agreement was more of a vision document while the current one seeks to implement the CBMs on the ground in more specific terms," said the officer.

Referring to the clause on military aircraft, he said the earlier one restricted the scope of threatening movement by combat aircraft whereas today's agreement tackles the problem of air intrusion in precise terms. It aims to solve friction on this count by calling for a flag meeting within 48 hours of the alleged intrusion to seek a clarification. In addition, the investigation shall be completed within four weeks and the results communicated through a flag meeting.

The officer conceded that some of the articles in the earlier and the latest agreements such as those on exercises, intrusion and natural disasters "may be similar" but the sustained process of "mutual consultations over the years has yielded a protocol that will ensure that most of the CBMs will come through." This held true for a situation where troops of the two sides came face-to-face due to differences on the alignment of the LAC. The 2005 protocol asks both sides in such a situation to take four steps that include returning to their bases, informing their headquarters, not using force and treating each other with courtesy and not putting up signs on the spot where the situation took place.

More border meetings

The 2005 agreement also envisages greater exchanges between the troops from relevant army commands of India and military regions at two new border meeting points and additional meetings at three existing ones. The two armies will finalise the modalities of interaction at the two new border meeting points of Kibithu-Damai (eastern sector) and Lipulekh Pass/Qiang La (middle sector). The two additional border meetings every year will take place at Spanggur Gap (western sector), Nathu La (Sikking sector) and Bum La (eastern sector) "in celebration of the national day or army day." The officer also pointed out that the latest protocol also covered in great detail the possibility of personnel of one side crossing over to the other side due to natural disasters.

The officer pointed out that the earlier agreement had already covered withdrawal of certain types of offensive weapons such as tanks, infantry combat vehicles, guns with 75 mm or bigger calibre, mortars with 120 mm or bigger calibre, surface-to-surface missiles and surface-to-air missiles.

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