Israr Khan Laly
For the first time since the Kargil intrusions of 1999, Indian Territory is in the hands of Chinese soldiers. Satellite images show Chinese forces buildup in Galwan river area and Pangong Lake Area of Ladakh. These images show Chinese tents and trucks and earthmoving machinery. Chinese troops have crossed the undefined border with India at several points on 5th May and again on 12th May penetrating 4-5 kms inside our territory.
An earlier report of August 2013 made a chilling revelation of India having lost 640sq km due to PLA doing patrolling and denying us the same. The Government denied the report that Ladakh had shrunk. Change in the river course was stated as a reason for the loss of 500-1500 meters of land annually. In 2017 China and India had another Standoff near the Tri-junction known as Donglang or Doklam which is disputed territory between Bhutan and China, adjoining Sikkim. China wanted to extend its roads towards Bhutanese Army Camp near Jampheri Ridge in Bhutan territory. The Standoff ended on August 28 fallowing mutual agreement between India and China. China However completed the 12 Km long Road in Jan 2019. China had intruded into our territory on 9th May as well near the Naku La Pass in Sikkim Sector of Sino- India border. A number of personnel ( 150) on both sides were injured. Troops disengaged after dialogue at the local commander level.
Issue of the Sovereignty over two larger and several smaller but separated pieces of territory has been the bone of contention between China and India. One relatively larger area called Aksai Chin which China Annexed in 1962 war is located right above the Galwan Valley and was part of the Union territory of Ladakh and adjoining the Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. The other disputed territory lies south of the McMahon Line and is now called Arunachal Pradesh and South Tibet by China (Fig 2). The McMahon Line came into being after the 1914 Simla Convention between British India and Tibet but without the China being a party to it.
Post the 1962 war, China captured the area beyond the MC Cartney- Macdonald line and continues to hold it.
China appears to deliberately wanting to keep the border line fluid so as to leave a window of opportunity to execute military muscle if and when needed. An agreement to resolve the dispute was signed in 1996 and a mutually agreed Line of Actual Control came into existence.
Out of the 34400 Km border we share with China,857 sq km long border is in ladakh. Only 368 km is the international border, and the rest of the 489 sq km is the LAC. The two traditional disputed points included Trig heights and Demchok and the sides have differing perceptions. China stakes its Claims on 176sq km of Lungpa, Depsang pla 97 Sqkm, spring 38Sqkm, Changlung 13 Sqkm, Kung kala-Phobrang 5sqkm, Sarjap 129 Sqkm, Spanguur 24sqkm, Dhumtsele 25sq km. But lately, China has raised two fresh dispute points at Pangong Tso 83 sq km and at Chumur where it claims 80sqkm. The old dispute sites are at the end point of pangong Tso and at Chushul were the 1962 battle-site.Further south in Demchok, China claims some 150sq km. In Chumur where China claims 80 sq km land, it probably wants a straight border from PT- 4925 to PT- 5318 to bring Tible mane (Stupa) area under its control. For India, holding of Chumur is critical for the safety of the Malnali-Leh route. The Sirijap Range on the northern bank of the lake remain most contested, from which 8 cliffs sprout out and are referred to as the “finger series” 1 to 8. India’s LAC claim line is at Finger-8 but the actual position is only up to Finger-4. China claims the Area upto 2nd Finger and has now come up to finger 4 and consolidating its incursion with heavy Artillery, Trenches and numerous troops.
Chinese build up is quite heavy this time and has the potential to takeover complete valley but for now it may restrict to present occupation as it is already dominating the only existing road in the area and has completely offset Indian balance in the area.
Key to the conflict is a small town called Daulat Beg, named after Sultan Said Khan who died here on his return journey after the invasion of Ladakh and Kashmir. India had a small military base there since decades. The critical factor about this base is that it is only 8 miles from the Karakorum Pass. The DB brigade, as the map will indicate is virtually sitting on top of Karakoram Pass.
In the last one year or so, India raised the base to a brigade level by connecting it to their internal road network as it’s a very crucial and strategic location close to the Karakoram Pass, across which lies the all important CPEC Highway connecting China with Pakistan and the Saichen Glacier on the left.
India constructed a road called Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Road in October last year with the sole purpose of supporting the Daulat Beg brigade. India’s stepped up construction activities may have provoked China into accusing India of altering the LAC. BRO has lately fast tracked the 260 km long Shayok-DBO road construction and that probably triggered the PLA intrusion in early May, sparking the current Galwan stand-off. So Chinese made a decoy move in the last couple of weeks, and landed 5,000 troops inside Galwan Valley( Named after Gh Rasool Galwan who discovered it in British time) and intruded into five points in Ladakh – four along the Galwan River, and one near the Pangong lake . The western ridge of the valley covers the newly constructed Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat road. There is no other supply route for the DB brigade, except by air.
It is a tight valley, and once inside, Chinese have sealed off the mouth of the valley and now we have to uproot /remove this strong Chinese presence from the valley. Important to note that the Galwan Valley is well inside the LAC on the Indian side. One can see how far inside Indian territory the Galwan Valley lies and how the western ridge of the valley covers the new supply road.
With the area in very close proximity ( 500 Mtrs)to the supply road been under the possession of the Chinese, the effectiveness of the DB brigade is now considerably reduced.
So what triggered China’s recent lac moves
There are and were various irritants and incidents that could have triggered this China latest’s incursion like
* BJP Govt proposed to abrogate Article 370 and carve out two UTs of J&K and Ladakh out of the disputed State, China expressed its opposition to India’s move especially the creation of a separate Union Territory of Ladakh.For last 70 years, Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh were kept united as a “disputed territory” under UN conditionality & supervision as per agreement signed in UN General Assembly. All the 5 Veto power holders (Called P5) were signatories to this UN GA resolution including China and that perhaps restrained China from interference in Ladakh although China always claimed Ladakh as their territory. Now when India abrogated Article 370 of Constitution of India, the Legal Cover over Ladakh got blown off and China started aggressive posturing on Ladakh, knowing that India can’t even raise the issue in UN as India has technically violated the UN resolution on J&K.
It could be a deep routed conspiracy between Pakistan and China to arm twists India to revert to the old arrangement of 370 and 35A.
* US having influenced India, the next chairperson of WHO, to reinstate the observer status of Taiwan at WHA.
* Two BJP MPs participated in Taiwan Presidents swearing in ceremony.
* Indias move into Doklam in 2017.
* China ensuring the safety of its CPEC Corridor.
* China was unhappy when India initially banned all export of medical and protective equipment to shore up its stock, soon after Corona virus pandemic started.
My take is that China is ensuring the safety of its CPEC Corridor by responding to India’s efforts to bolster border area infrastructure in Ladakh after completion of DSDBO Road to Doulat Beg for the Airfield and the Brigade. Senior Leaders of India’s BJP government have been talking about recapturing Pakistan Administered Kashmir. A strategic road, the Karakoram highway, passes through this Area that connects China with its long-term ally Pakistan. Beijing has invested about $70 billion in Pakistan’s infrastructure, the so called China Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of its Road and Belt initiative and the Highway is key to Pakistan’s Gwader port which gives China a foothold in the Arabian Sea.
The Chinese learnt from the public handling of Doklam crisis .They thought India would be quick to brief the media, so they did it first and continued to do so. We are calm and measured, calling for discussions and negotiations. They are trying to avoid that kind of situation. Quiet diplomacy has space to produce results in these kinds of situations. The activism of border areas by China is clearly a pressure tactics and its desire to gain leverage vis-à-vis India with regard to issues in bilateral relations and another matter like Covid and WHO.
In short I can conclude that it’s a master stroke by China to make India buckle down on all above 7 issues and try to mend its soured relationship with China.
Now India can either seek to persuade Beijing to withdraw its troops through dialogue or try to remove them by force or just keep quiet and underplay the Chinese incursion and the territories usurped by it. But in that scenario, the effectiveness of the Daulat Beg brigade would be severely effected along with our defense of Karakoram Pass, Siachen Glacier , Pangong lake, Galwan valley and finally the defense of entire District of Leh.
(The author is former IPS Officer)
Israr Khan Laly