Homeland Security

Chinese focus on Siachen
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 28 Apr , 2024

Siachen has been in the news recently – 40 years of occupation of the Saltoro Range by the Indian Army in 1984. Many narratives, including individual and collective gallant actions, have been penned. On April 22, 2024, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited the Base Camp and Kumar Post in Siachen Glacier area and met troops.

The Siachen Brigade is the only Indian Army formation facing both Pakistan and China. The strategic significance of this area also creates the dilemma for policy makers planning Theatre Commands (TCs), as to what should be the boundary between the TCs individually responsible for the borders with China and with Pakistan, or should there be a separate setup for the Siachen area or even possibly the whole of Kargil-Ladakh to include Siachen.

Ladakh has been attracting global attention of military and geostrategic analysts, scholars and the media since the Chinese invasion of Eastern Ladakh in 2020; the never endingcycle of India-China diplomatic and military talks since then, the PLA incursions and denials, the civil unrest over loss of traditional grazing grounds by an otherwise peaceful Ladakhi population, and the like.  

From the very beginning Chinese aggressive designs, in addition to capturing territory, have included its insatiable quest for water and mineral resources. This is why China invaded and illegally occupied Tibet (an independent country), which harbours the largest reserve of freshwater outside the North and South Polar Regions. China’s occupation of Aksai China also was for the water and minerals in the region. China’s main interest was water when Pakistan illegally ceded Shaksgam Valley (5,180 sq km) to China under the so-called China-Pakistan Boundary Agreement in 1963. 

For the same reasons, China illegally claims entire Ladakh, also eyeing the Pangong Tso Lake and the Siachen Glacier, latter being the fourth largest freshwater source in India although its waters end up flowing into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).Therefore, China remains focused on capturing Pangong Tso and the Siachen Glacier area.

1998 witnessed a strange phenomenon in the Northern Glacier of Saltoro Range, in that, bright lights would appear by night, not very far from the Earth’s surface, slow moving or remaining stationary at a particular point for some time before moving away. A DRDO team sent to the glacier to study the phenomenon could not come to any conclusion.  This was a few months prior to the extensive Pakistani intrusions in Kargil.

On January 15, 2018, Satellite imageries showed that China  wasconstructing a 36 km road and military posts in the strategic Shaksgam Valley, north of Siachen Glacier in POK, opening up an additional avenue of approach for Chinese troops along the LAC. This activity was going on simultaneously to the Doklam (in Bhutan) and Tuting (in Arunachal Pradesh) provocations by China. Study of the satellite imagery suggested that the road construction in Shaksgam Valley commenced in 2017 after the Doklam stand-off. No roads or posts were seen in this area in satellite imagery of October 24, 2016.

This 36 km road linked two PLA posts ‘outside’ Shaksgam Valley; one possibly the headquarters of the PLA unit operating in the area. There were also at least two military posts seen inside the Shaksgam Valley; one at the northern end of Shaksgam Valley and second 20 km to the south along the new road.  The base structure for a third post was apparently being prepared about 1.5 km southeast of the second post along the new road (https://www.usiofindia.org/strategic-perspective/beyond-shaksgam-china-scorching-himalayas-blatantly.html).

The above state was seven years ago, which would have developed much more knowing China’s pace of developing infrastructure in high altitude terrain of this nature. It is quite possible that China has extended the road through the Shaksgam Valley eastwards to link up  north of Karakoram Pass (KK Pass), enabling is quick occupation that would overlook Indian defences in Sub Sector North (SSN), south of KK Pass, right down to Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO), as also the road India is building to link the Siachen Base Camp area with SSN.

Interestingly, records show that decades before India occupied the Saltoro Range, an Italian mountaineering expedition had entered the Siachen Glacier from the north via the Shaksgam Valley, climbed up the TeramShehr Glacier and later returned from the same route.

Now recent satellite imagery captured by the European Space Agency shows that a new Chinese road has entered the lower Shaksgam Valley through the Aghil Pass (4805m),with the road-head less than 48 km from Siachen (https://twitter.com/NatureDesai/status/1782016953567330461), the distance not being much given the Chinese pace of construction. Aghil Pass historically served as the frontier between Kashmir and Tibet. The road construction apparently started in the summer of 2023, with the basic trail completed in early autumn, and the construction has been resumed in April 2024. 

This new road branches out from an extension of Highway G219 in China’s Xinjiang. This development needs to be viewed in concert with Pakistan announcing plans in 2021 for a new road connecting Muzaffarabad in POK to Mustagh Pass astride Pakistan border with Shaksgam Valley, which would be linked to Yarkand in Xinjiang possibly passing through the Shaksgam Valley to connect with China’s national highway G219.

Ironically, most of the trouble spots around the world are planned in advance by the US-led West, to be exploited at an opportune time in future to serve their national interests (strategic and economic) through warmongering or otherwise. Same is the case with the Siachen Glacier, in which case the US and the UK have been hand-in-glove with Pakistan since long; plus the CIA and MI-6 intimately linked with Pakistan’s ISI.

Western machinations to ‘create’ the Siachen Dispute included the following:

    • The Cease Fire Line (CFL) drawn under 1949 Karachi Agreement, although under the aegis of a UN Commission, was drawn with a thick sketch pen on a 1:2,50,000 map that did not follow the watershed principle. The CFL, was resurveyed and revised as the Line of Control (LC)since in 1972, ran East only up to NJ 9842, beyond which it only said “thence North to the Glaciers”.
    • In 1957, Pakistan permitted a British expedition under Eric Shipton to approach the Siachen glacier through the Bilafond La Pass to reconnoiter Saltoro Kangri. Later, in 1962, a Japanese-Pakistani expedition put two Japanese and a Pakistani Army climber on top of Saltoro Kangri.
    • In 1967, the US Defense Mapping Agency began to show India-Pak boundary on Tactical Pilotage Charts – proceeding from NJ9842 east-northeast to the Karakoram (KK) Pass on the China border without justification or  documentation; thereby cartographically giving the entire Siachen-Saltoro area to Pakistan.
    • As a consequence, many official and private cartographers and atlas producers followed suit; resulting in Pakistan claiming this as the boundary, following which, multiple foreign expeditions applied to Pakistan (in 1970s/early 1980s) to climb peaks in the Siachen area.
    • In 1978, a German Siachen-Kondus Expedition with a Pakistani Army Liaison Officer, entered Siachen via Bilafond La and established their base camp on the confluence of Siachen and Teram Shehr glaciers. The documentary “Expedition to the longest glacier” was shown on German TV in 1979.

India effectively pre-empted the Pakistani plan to occupy the Saltoro Range in 1984. Pakistan continues to claim Indian territories – same as China. India has not withdrawn its support to the ‘One China’ policy – same as the US. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinkenhas reiterated support to the ‘One China’ policy during his recent three-day visit to China. The US denounces China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh but does NOT support ‘One India’ because of its love of Pakistan; Pakistan being the tool to keep India in check and to keep the region de-stabilized.

Chinese infrastructure development adjacent to the Siachen Area, together with the developments in Eastern Ladakh since 2020, need to be viewed seriously. China could be planning a strategic surprise and the reconciliatory noises emanating from within Pakistan to resume trade with India, as well as the call for brotherhood by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, Chief Minister of Punjab in Pakistan, could be part of the plan to divert attention elsewhere.

An India-China war also suits the US-led NATO, which would be preferred over China’s annexation of Taiwan. This also happens to be the ‘Year of The Dragon’. China may be planning a surprise while we are busy defending loss of territory in Eastern Ladakh and dealing with Pashmina Marches in Leh. We must be ready to execute an immediate strategic response at all times.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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3 thoughts on “Chinese focus on Siachen

  1. Very nice article by shree katoch. Eye opening and our strategic planners should be offensive to regain our lost territories at any cost. We I
    Indians are ready to give sacrifice of our soldiers but does chinese people will be able to digest the loss they will incure double or trible they will loose their soldiers lives..

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