Sunday, 16 January, 2022
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India caught off-guard by Chinese road in Shaksgam Valley near Siachen

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ThePrint reported in January about the new road and PLA posts north of Siachen; Army chief Gen. Rawat had said no work was going on in the area.

New Delhi: India seems to have been caught off-guard by China’s construction of a road in the strategic Shaksgam Valley — located north of the Siachen Glacier in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — although the Army chief initially termed it an “impossible” task.

A map showing Shaksgam Valley and Siachen Glacier | Commons

ThePrint had reported about the construction of new road and military posts in Shaksgam Valley. Satellite images showed that China had worked on the road after the Doklam stand-off in the India-Bhutan-China tri-junction area in June 2017.

Hindustan Times reported Monday that South Block has asked for an intelligence assessment detailing the reasons and military objectives that may have prompted China to build the road.

Days before ThePrint published the story on 15 January, however, the Army did not seem to be aware of the construction activity near the Siachen Glacier. Responding to a question at a press conference on 12 January, Army chief Gen. Bipin Rawat said, “As far as the Shaskgam Valley is concerned, it is a 5,400 sq km in the northernmost portion of Siachen. It is a very narrow valley, it’s a gorge.”

“There is no construction activity there. The Chinese road there does not pass through the Shaskgam Valley,” Rawat added.

The Army, in fact, believed that it was impossible to build a road through the valley due to the tough terrain in the region. “Through the Shaksgam Valley, it is practically near impossible to make a road or a highway,” Gen. Rawat said in response to a direct question by ThePrint.

“They may make a mule track or jeep-able track but through the valley, you cannot make a highway. So there is no threat,” he said.

These new posts and the 36 km road in Shaksgam Valley — the Hindustan Times report says it is now 70 km long — opens up an additional avenue of approach for Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control. Although this is not a direct military threat yet to Indian troops holding Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield in the world, the construction could be considered as a fresh provocation.

“It is a territory that the Pakistanis had ceded to the Chinese; it is a part of Jammu and Kashmir. It is in the northernmost edge of Siachen and really speaking, there is nothing that can happen in that area,” Gen. Rawat had said.

HT reports that while satellite and reconnaissance had confirmed the presence of the road, officials are speculating that the alignment of the Karakoram highway was being changed by China and that this could have security implications for India in the Siachen and Daulat Beg Oldi sectors.

As reported by ThePrint the alignment of the new road is along the northern edge of the Shaksgam river. The road is being constructed with the compressed earth technique China uses in Xinjiang and needs several bridges to be built over rivulets in the area.

The satellite images also showed that the new road is linked to two Chinese military posts outside Shaksgam Valley. At least two military posts could be seen in the valley. One of them had double wire fencing as well as a double bund around it, with the wire fencing extending right up to the river.

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