Image Courtesy: The New Indian Express
With the recent India-China talks at the military level to de-escalate tensions in the Pangong Tso border standoff issues, it was initially decided and agreed upon that either side military troops will be disengaged. The meeting was held between Lieutenant General Harinder Singh, commander of Leh-based 14 Corps, and Major General Liu Lin, commander of the People’s Liberation Army, in the South Xinjiang region last Saturday. Post meet the two sides began ‘limited military disengagement’ along the loose demarcation line, and was the issue was sought to douse off.
But now, China officially claims the entire Galwan Valley, and is reluctant to vacate as agreed in the meeting. Also, it has put forward a deal that ‘If India stops the Border road laying work, then China will back off’. To this, the Indian government responded by swift measures to strengthen the Border Security Force along the Line of Action Control (LAC) with China.
India shares 4,056 km of the international border with China covering four Indian States one Union Territory. The Eastern sector which includes the borders of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, the Middle sector with Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand, and the Western sector is the union territory of Ladakh. Both the country troops in the past have engaged in the border regions of Ladakh, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh which has often triggered fears of near-war scenario. But the standoff with China in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh is India’s serious border tension.
The 1962 Sino-India war took place in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, from when the Chinese have illegally occupied a part of Ladakh (China Occupied Ladakh) called Aksai Chin till the Shyok River just before the Karakoram Range. A national highway ‘G219’ built by China in 1957 that passes right through the disputed area of China Occupied Ladakh (Aksai Chin) region despite India’s objections was one among the several triggers to the war in 1962.
Now, India has constructed a Strategic feeder road from Darbuk-Shyok village, Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) road scaling 255kms at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Karakoram Range, running along the Shyok River in 2019. It acts as the most critical line of communication close to LAC. These Strategic roads were the vision of our former Defence Minister, late Shri. George Fernandes, during Shri. Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s reign. He speculated the dangers India would face from China and hence 61 Strategic roads were planned to be constructed along the borderlines in 2002. The Border Road Organization (BRO) which has taken up the task, has completed 75% of the work by now.
The Siachen Glacier is the highest battleground on earth, where India and Pakistan have fought intermittently since the 1980s. In April 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot, gave India significant hold over the Siachen Glacier. Whereas, at DBO the Indian Army maintains helipads and a gravel airstrip here, the highest airstrip in the world, which could land the giant Hercules C-17 Globemaster-III also. Therefore India maintains a strategic advantage over during times of war.
Construction of another Strategic Link road on the Darbuk-Shyok to DBO feeder road which will connect to the Galwan valley. With its construction, the travel time is significantly reduced to 45 minutes instead of 8 hours. Thereby making it is easier for the Indian army to reach the forward posts and advantage India’s side. Not stopping short, it will also be easier for the Indian army to reach the Aksai Chin region illegally occupied by Chinese troops. Thereby maintaining effective posturing along the LAC.
But India is now not ready for the agreement or the deal to halt working on the road construction, because if the war breaks-out and the Chinese infiltrate further into Indian Territory, and had not constructed the road would be disastrous for India.
In retaliation, India has permitted its tourists – both domestic and international – to visit Siachen Glacier and DBO region. This certifies India holds the authority over the land and hence has granted permission for tourism there.
Hence it is clear that improving transportation in Indian borders, poses a higher threat to China encroached Indian regions. The actual fight is not just for the Galwan Valley, but the whole of the Aksai Chin region. Since they have eyed what is coming with the construction of the link road, the fear of losing the encroached territory has escalated. China hasn’t openly expressed this yet, and pressures on the Galwan valley via media. If India is successful in getting away from these pressures of China and constructs the road, the army would operate from there, and if China tries to stop us, then we have the airbase at DBO to directly fly over them. Thus, the Galwan Valley and Aksai Chin could be easily taken back.
Moreover, the China- Pakistan occupied Kashmir-Economic-Corridor (CPEC) the economic corridor that is under construction since 2013, passes through Gilgit-Baltistan, in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) region. India could stop its functioning from Siachen and DBO now or even after its completion. If China triggers war post completion of the link road, it will lose Galwan valley in the Middle Sector, and CPEC in the Western Sector as well. That is the reason it has kept temper high in recent times.
Talks to de-escalate tensions have taken place more than 5 times, but China doesn’t seem to vacate Patrol Point 14 (PP14). It is intriguing to know what will happen next from either side, but India is getting well prepared for the worst. It has also sought military supplies support from the United States.
To conclude, in this eyeball to eyeball confrontation between India and China, India is far from 1962 and is aware of this protracted standoff showing determination to protect its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Such confrontations have already spilt in to on the Sino-India trade ties although a complete boycott of Chinese products looks untenable. As a responsible power, India looks for dialogue despite violations of border treaties by China. It is time China behaves like a mature power with respect for treaties and diplomacy rather than a show of force.
(The author is a Research Officer at C3S. Her areas of interest include Science and Technology advancements, Space Science, Satellite Technology and Security. The views expressed are personal)