The region is the sparsely populated Khunjerab Pass in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which is part of the CPEC that India opposes.
New Delhi: China is ramping up its defences and patrolling the Khunjerab Pass with Pakistani troops in territory that India claims, satellite imagery analysed by The Print shows.
China’s Ministry of National Defence site says Chinese and Pakistani troops patrolled the Khunjerab Pass jointly on 26 June.
“Chinese and Pakistan frontier defence forces discuss Chinese-Pakistan border situation during a joint border patrol at a mountainous region in Khunjerab in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region,” the website says.
Pakistan’s online media platform The Nation used the same words in its report a day later.
Despite the joint patrol, India is not known to have lodged even a formal diplomatic protest. This contrasts sharply with New Delhi’s actions a year ago when its troops stepped into Bhutan to stop a Chinese road that was being built through the Doklam plateau.
The Khunjerab Pass area is sparsely populated. It is occupied by China through the year but manned by Pakistan only during the summer months when the Karakoram Highway is open.
China has built a huge 27m X 12m wide four-storey gate-like building at Khunjerab Pass, almost the size of a basketball court.
It is probably manned by the PLA and some immigration staff. Just behind this building is a hexagonal watch tower manned by the PLA. There is a double-wire fence running north-west to south-east from the tower.
The first joint patrol was conducted at the behest of China when troops of both countries walked along the double fence till its end, shook hands and returned.
The patrol was reported by The Diplomat, a Tokyo-based online paper in July 2016 , but got scant attention in Indian media.
This time round, Pakistan permitted the Chinese to intrude into the Indian side of the fence which is visible clearly in pictures published by Chinese MND.
The comparison of the picture with satellite imagery shows geo-location of the exact spot of the patrol party. The single fence from the gate-like building is not clearly visible to an untrained eye. It is indicated with a green line.
The immigration post is about 3.5 km down the road where a blue-topped building with eight bays are located. This is where vehicles are checked manually as well as electronically.
This building used to house a small check post prior to last July’s Doklam stand-off in Bhutan between Indian and Chinese troops and was later expanded to eight bays.
There are two more barricades where possibly documents are re-checked for down traffic. A headquarters building and staff quarters for immigration department is also observed.
A communication node and a few trenches for local defence of the area are noticed slightly above the buildings.
The PLA post is 17 km from the immigration post along the same road. It has been steadily upgraded from a company post to a battalion post over the past two decades.
The post has been further upgraded after the Doklam incident with a new building and new garage under construction.
The PLA post has two square-shaped helipads, a communication node, an obstacle course and a firing range.
The post has coal and fuel for warming and generators for electricity. Solar power caters to additional requirements.
The complete post is surrounded by trenches and fencing for security.
Road to nowhere
A fair-weather road originates from this post towards the east. It quickly turns south-east and covers a distance of 15 km, after which it abruptly ends at a river junction.
There are no villages in sight as well. When plotted on Google Earth and zoomed out, it provides clear access to a 42km-long valley until the beginning of Shaksgam.
China may be planning to extend the road to Shaksgam Valley in the near future, shortening the distance between Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) and Tibet.