Rigzin Spalbar saw it coming. “The Chinese army clashed with our soldiers on May 5. They had all kinds of weapons—iron rods, barbed wires and knives. Why did we go unarmed this time?” asks the former chairman of the Ladakh Hill Development Council.
“What you saw on the border, we have been warning about for a long time. China has been usurping our land for the past 70 years,” says Spalbar. “This time, they have taken over higher points. Our soldiers used to patrol up to Pangong Tso’s Finger 8 (The points where the slopes jut into the lake are known as fingers). The Chinese have not only come up to Finger 4, but also built a road. Same is the case at Galwan Nala. Now the road to Daulat Beg Oldi is in their range. Unless they are pushed back or there is an agreement to restore the earlier status of the LAC, they will continue to move forward.”
Asgar Ali Karbali, a former legislator from the Kargil region, echoes Spalbar’s statement. “China has been occupying land in Ladakh for the past 40 years—first inch by inch and now, kilometre after kilometre,” he says. “Since the establishment of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), it has been aggressively taking over the areas around its land routes.”
Urgain Chondon, chairperson, Nyoma block, has been uploading pictures of Chinese troops’ activities along the LAC on Facebook. Chondon was the first to highlight the Chinese movement along the LAC in the Tashi Gang area, Demchok, in April this year. “I have videos and pictures of the Chinese bringing heavy vehicles and constructing a road,” she says. “I got a call from Leh saying my Facebook post was creating panic and was asked to delete it.”
“The four-week-long standoff in eastern Ladakh was more of a routine affair. Such things happen where you don’t have clearly demarcated boundaries,” says Jammu-based analyst Zafar Choudhary. “But unclear boundaries create scope for deliberate escalation by one or the other party. China appears to have done that deliberately.”
“China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is its biggest ambition in the 21st century. CPEC, an essential part of BRI, runs through Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir under Pakistan’s control since 1947,” explains Choudhary. “India has the avowed policy of reclaiming the entire territory of Jammu and Kashmir. This policy has become more pronounced after August 5, 2019. Since then, China has been trying to foment diplomatic setbacks for India, including by taking the Kashmir issue to the UNSC.”
Senior security officials in Kashmir say they are expecting cross-border shelling to intensify along the LoC in the coming weeks. “It is rare for all of Pakistan’s service chiefs to visit the ISI headquarters together for a briefing, which they did on June 16,” says an officer. “Since the only thing discussed at the meeting was the situation along the LoC/LAC and in Jammu and Kashmir, we have to be alert.”
By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar