The Sino-Indian Conflict

By Lt Col (Retd) Khalid Masood Khan

July 8, 2020 08:37 PM

India shares its longest and most treacherous border with China. It is also the world’s longest border between two countries, spread over an area of about 4,000km from Central Asia in the west to the Far East. In the west, it touches the mighty Karakorum Range in Ladakh region, where India and Pakistan are involved in frequent skirmishes along the Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world. To the north of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand, the Himalayan provinces of India, lay the Xingjian and Tibet Autonomous Regions of China. In the central region, between Nepal and Bhutan, India shares a comparatively smaller border with China at Sikkim and further to the east, after Bhutan, it has a long border with the Tibet Autonomous Region (China), in Arunachal Pradesh, terminating at the Myanmar border in the Far East.

The poorly demarcated Sino-Indian border lying on very difficult terrain, with harsh weather conditions and a sparse population has led to Sino-Indian disputes for the past many years. Before Indian independence, the British Indian Empire during the great game period, fearing the Czarist Russian expansion towards the east, unilaterally created different border lines between India and China with latter showing little interest in areas it considered strategically insignificant.

These lines drawn by the British Indian Authorities were: in the western sector, Ardagh - Johnson Line along the crest of the Kun Lun Mountains (north of Yarkand River) and McCartney-MacDonald Line (passing through the Karakorum crest towards west going through the west of Aksai Chin to the north of Pangong lake) and McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector. During the Qing Dynasty period (the last imperial regime), China showed little interest in these lines, however, since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it never accepted these lines. Presently there are three boundaries; the lines claimed by China, India and the actual LAC (Line of Actual Control). LAC is a military line which can be tactically shifted by the side with greater power and political will without being considered as an act of war. India has undoubtedly been a loser in this regard.

In 1962, India and China went to war in which India was badly defeated. In the western sector, PLA took Aksai Chin, the northern portion of Pangong Lake and the important town of Chushul across the Karakoram. In the eastern sector, the PLA captured almost the entire area it laid claim to in Arunachal Pradesh. An entire Indian brigade was annihilated by PLA and the Brigade Commander, Brig. Dalvi was captured. In October, the Chinese, in cognizance of global anti communist sentiments in the wake of the Cuban Missile Crisis, showed restraint by announcing a unilateral ceasefire and both armies withdrew 10 kms behind the LAC.

The Chinese aim had been achieved to punish the Indians for pursuing their ‘Forward’ policy which India had adopted prior to the conflict to push its military posts in Chinese territory. It was a job well done by China but unfortunately, India did not learn a lesson and continued pursuing its hegemonic and aggressive policies with its neighbours in the years to come, hence the present crisis.

Aksai Chin is vast high altitude desert about 5,000 m above sea level. There are three places of conflict in the Aksai Chin Sector, the Galwan River Valley, Pangong Lake and the Hot Springs (Kongka La). Galwan River Valley has great strategic importance. For Indians, it provides the only access to Aksai Chin through the Karakorum. In addition, the Galwan heights dominate the Indian recently constructed road, Leh-Dubruk-Shyok-Daulat Beg-Oldi, commonly known as DBO road on the western bank of Shyok River outflanking Aksai Chin from the west and providing access to India up till Karakorum Pass.

 India has employed an infantry brigade (plus) at Daulat Beg, a place about 10km short of Karakorum Pass which besides providing access to Xingjian close to Trans Karakorum Tract (area ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963) also facilitates its logistical supplies to the troops deployed at Siachen. The proximity of Daulat Beg served with the DBO road to Chinese G 219 Highway which joins the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), main route from Kashghar to Pakistan through Khunjrab Pass posses a great threat to the CPEC. Thus for China, strategically cutting off the DBO road near the Galwan Valley shall render the Indian brigade (plus) force at Daulat Beg stranded without supplies. Galwan valley also provides access to the Indian town of Chushul through Karakorum which would further facilitate PLA’s operations towards Leh and Kargil.

The present Sino-Indian crisis can be attributed to multidimensional factors. The recent Indian annexation of Ladakh and Occupied Jammu and Kashmir territory as part of Union Territory by abrogation of section 370 by the Indian Parliament, ignoring pending UN Resolutions, has been strongly opposed by China and Pakistan. In addition, the Indian-US nexus for resisting the CPEC in the west and domination of the South China Sea in the east is another major factor for China’s antagonism. The construction of DBO road and deployment of a brigade size force at Daulat Beg by India is being considered as a real potential threat to CPEC by China.

As per media reports, in the western sector, PLA has captured the Galwan Valley heights and the northern portion of Pangong Lake, and in the east, PLA is creeping forward on the Dhoklam Plateau in order to threat the Indian Siliguri Corridor. Thus in the west PLA is effectively dominating and cutting off the DBO road, rendering the Indian Brigade isolated without supplies and in the eastern sector PLA is poised dagger thrust to cut off the seven eastern Indian states by strangulating Siliguri Corridor. India’s endeavours to get its lost areas have resulted in serious casualties. Thus India is in a really bad situation as numerous Indian efforts in the border flag meetings at high levels have failed and the PLA is not ready to move a single inch backwards.

India’s cursory treatment given to its eastern border emanates from the historic fact that India had always been invaded from the north and never from the east, considering the mighty Karakoram and Himalayan Ranges as a natural defence line from the east. Before the CPEC, India never considered any Chinese strategic interest beyond the LAC. However, unfortunately, India, instead of accepting the Chinese offer for becoming a part of BRI and opening its NH 5 through Shipki La pass from China to the Arabian sea (this route is far less treacherous than the KKH) opted under the US pressure to resist the Chinese trade expansion and becoming an ally of the US, working against the Chinese interests, the CPEC in the west and in the Pacific region in the east.

The question is: how far China will go? Will it content itself with the gains it has got and consolidate at the present position or it will further exploit this golden opportunity to kill the problem forever. The best action on the part of China could be to adopt the latter option by exploiting its military gains. Threatening the Siliguri Corridor at Dhoklam in the eastern sector and pushing forward in the western sector by capturing Leh and Kargil. A possibility of linking up with the Pakistan Army at Kargil would be worth consideration. This besides ensuring the security of the CPEC and rendering Indian troops at Siachen out of supplies will also bring Pakistan at an advantageous position forcing India to the negotiation table for the solution of the occupied Jammu and Kashmir problem.


Written By

Lt Col (Retd) Khalid Masood Khan

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