File image of soldiers of the Indian Army and China's People's Liberation Army | Photo: ANI
File photo of Indian Army and China's People's Liberation Army soldiers in September 2019 | ANI
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If Pangong was a case of rapid intrusions that lasted mere hours, Galwan was a case of a minor intrusion that lasted a few weeks. Satellite images from a classified and proprietary report in possession of the defence ministry, seen by one of the authors have been visualised below. Given the extremely high-resolution, sensitive and proprietary nature of the original images, we are unable to share them.

Those images have confirmed three things: 1) the intrusions in Galwan were at a single point, involving not more than 40 to 50 Chinese troops; 2) the Chinese intrusion lasted at best for two weeks and had been cleared by the third week of May, when the status quo was restored in the Galwan sector. 3) However, a serious situation has arisen due to China cutting off the waters of the Galwan river, which amounts to a weaponisation of China’s upper riparian rights. If not challenged immediately, this could lead to cutting off of waters to other rivers with serious consequences for agriculture and potable water in India.


Also read: Indian and Chinese brigade commanders meet at LAC — ‘No breakthrough but talks positive’


Galwan, second and third week of May

Below is the area of contention in Galwan at the moment, marked with a red cross. Its location with respect to the Union territory of Ladakh and Pangong lake can be seen here – the large, snake-like water body a few inches below.

Image 1 | OpenStreetMap

A zoom-in of this area (Image 2) on Google Maps shows the orientation of the Galwan river relative to Pangong and the Line of Actual Control (LAC). As can be seen, the Galwan, which is a tributary of the Shyok river, joins the latter just a few kilometres after crossing the LAC. It is the area where it crosses the LAC that is of interest to us.

Image 2 | Google Earth

The disputed area in question has been superimposed here on Image 3.

Image 3 | OpenStreetMap

To understand the dispute, the red line denotes the LAC with reference to the point of contention.

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Image 4 | Google Maps

The following are the images of the area captured in second week of May. The four boxes are important here.

Box 1 shows the main Indian supply route – a white trail running parallel to the southern edge of the Galwan valley. Where this trail ends a congregation of Indian trucks can be seen. The original report confirms the trucks as being Indian manufactured.

Box 2 is the halfway supply point showing another concentration of Indian vehicles and equipment. The high resolution images seen by the author in the original report confirm that these are Indian manufactured trucks and equipment.

Box 3 is where things grow interesting. The white dot here is a large Indian tent that has emerged. We know this is Indian because persistent surveillance by us showed a steady stream of equipment being supplied to this tent from the vehicles in box 2.

Box 4 shows two small, dark-coloured Chinese tents, directly facing-off the Indian tent from across the fold in the river. A reference to Image 4 clearly shows that these two Chinese tents were on the Indian side of the LAC up until third week of May, with the fold in the river being entirely on the Indian side. Moreover, the supplies to these two tents were observed coming from the south, that is to say the Chinese side of the LAC.

Image 5 | Visualised after going through images of a classified and proprietary report in possession of the MoD accessed by the author

The close-up below shows the exact area of the face-off between the second and third week of May. The Indian tent is the large white tent on the left and Chinese tents are the two smaller dark tents on the right of the image. Note that the larger Indian tent can hold up to 30-40 soldiers while the smaller Chinese ones would hold approximately 15 to 25 soldiers each.

Image 6 | Visualised after going through images of a classified and proprietary report in possession of the MoD accessed by the author

Also read: Standoff between India & China in Ladakh should be resolved bilaterally: Australia


Galwan, fourth week of May

However, starting week four, everything changes. As can be seen in Image 7, the two Chinese tents are no longer there and the large Indian tent has moved across the river and set up in the fold of the river. Our surveillance also confirmed that this tent was now being supplied from box 2 in Image 5. This clearly establishes that by the fourth week of May, any Chinese intrusion had been repulsed and the integrity of the LAC had been re-established.

Image 7 | Courtesy Nathan Ruser

Scanning the entire Galwan area, this was the only tangible “infrastructure” one could pick up. In fact, not only was there nothing to report on the other points, where the Galwan runs close to the LAC, but even here, the maximum number of Chinese troops was 40 to 50 at best. Nowhere in this entire region was anything seen supporting either a large force or a large build-up of forces on the Chinese side. While it is possible that like in Pangong there may have been rapid drive through Chinese reconnaissance as described in part one of this report, the terrain simply would not support the rapid vehicles like the Dongfeng CSK131.


Also read: China says situation at border with India ‘stable and controllable’


The trouble

One thing, however, did stand out in the images (The images in the report with the Ministry of Defence) for second and third week of May, did show the Galwan river in full flow. However, by fourth week the flow had dried up completely, exposing the rocks in the river bed, indicating that the Chinese had stopped/diverted the waters. This is re-confirmed in Image 7.  This is a serious breach of trust and runs contrary to the Chinese assurances at several international forums that it would not block or divert waters of south and westwards flowing rivers originating in the Tibet plateau.

What this means is that China has weaponised its upper riparian rights. If it is allowed to do so, without strong opposition and internationalisation, then China will in all likelihood start cutting off waters to other rivers flowing not just into India like the Brahmaputra but also Southeast Asia like the Mekong.

This is the second major source of the current tension apart from the deep (albeit temporary) incursions seen in Pangong.


Also read: China’s animosity record towards India reflects wolf warrior diplomacy: Taiwan representative


The case till now

The images collected throughout the month of May and seen in the report with the Ministry of Defence confirm as specific sequence in Galwan. The second and third week of May did see a minor ingress of Chinese troops, but by the fourth week this ingress had been turned back and the sanctity of the LAC restored.

However, the stoppage or diversion of the Galwan’s waters by the Chinese has serious repercussions in international law and the rights of lower riparian states as it indicates that China has breached past promises and is willing to use water as a geopolitical tool.

This is the second article in a three-part series, focussing on Galwan area. Part 1 focussed on Pangong and Part 3 will focus on the Hotsprings/Gogra area.

Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is senior fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Views are personal.

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48 Comments Share Your Views

48 COMMENTS

  1. I am afraid , the author has gone horribly wrong on location of Galwan river. The imagery is of different place. There no river or nallah near it as shown.

  2. I am amazed to see the views of the Indian people here. Now China has started to do the same what India has been doing stop rivers flowing To Pakistan according to Indus Water Treaty it was Pakistan’s right to use that water. I see so many Indian troll and make fun of Pakistanis on facebook by saying, we have stopped your water and what could you do?? Take Kashmir if you can. Now India is facing same thing from China which is more muscular than India on international arena. All these things are actual a lesson for us. Lesson is that As you sow, so shall you reap. I know many of you will not like my comment but this is truth. We all should learn from it.

    • @shazad: when did India stop Indus water to Pakistan? please do not come and comment without knowing the facts on Indus treat. 3 eastern Beas, Ravi & Sutlej flows into pakistan and western rivers indus, jehlum, chenab for india. Apart from using it for hydro electric power generation which doesn’t stop the flow India was releasing water including some of india’s part from western into pakistan. READ BEFORE COMMENTING

      • *eastern rivers for india and western for pakistan… Jehlum river water was also given to pakistan which according to the treaty belongs to India.

    • There needs to be some shame. Human beings cannot be so shameless as you Pakistanis. India said it will use ITS SHARE of waters henceforth which was not used earlier. What kind of pathological liars you Pakistanis are. How can some stupid Indian people even harbour some thoughts of coexistence with you people? I can understand one or two – but imagine an entire country being liars, deceitful thieves. People like you should be reminders to Indian nut cases that think peaceful livelihood alongside you is even possible. You are proof that evil exists in the world. And you salivating at the thought of a fight between chinese and indians. What kind of sick mindset is this? Indian armed forces will never retreat and will fight this out – what will happen will happen. There will be thousands of chinese dead and potentially thousands Indians dead. But imagine you hyenas salivating. You are the representatives of all the evil in this world.

  3. Fool somebody else.
    Dark blue water flowing in week 2 ( Image 6 ) and water vanishes in week 4 (Image 7). Definately Image 6 is an previous year’s image.
    There is no white tent as mentioned in Image 5 otherwise you would shown it as proudly as you have shown it in image 7.
    Just cut the bullshit and get your fictional story correct.
    And if this is being done on government’s behest please advise them we indians are not fools….we will rather accept china bullying us than being told lies.

  4. Fool somebody else.
    Dark blue water flowing in week 2 ( Image 6 ) and water vanishes in week 4 (Image 7). Definately Image 6 is an previous year’s image.
    There is no white tent as mentioned in Image 5 otherwise you would shown it as proudly as you have shown it in image 7.
    Just cut the bullshit and get your fictional story correct.
    And if this is being done on government’s behest please advise them we indians are not fools….we will rather accept china bullying us than being told lies.

  5. The reports don’t sound convincing. If things were settled by our Army units so fast, why would our Defence MInistry now confirm large number of troops from China in this region today. The author has not interpreted the imagery correctly or viewed the wrong image.

    • Latest news is that the matter is escalated to Lt General level, which has happened for the first time. Now as per the author of this article if things are resolved at military level, what are these senior guys meeting for? Just a friendly chai pe charcha?

  6. India should collect enough evidence, approach ICJ and file a case, raise the matter in UN and move a motion to remove China from UN Security Council until it complies with all UN norms.

    • 5And it’s veto power should be vetoed. Such cruel nation do not deserve it. It along with Pak took lives of so many Indians.Nehru’s mistakes haunting us.

  7. As always, the author presents an analysis which is very detailed, based on facts and with interesting conclusions. It is clear that the plan to stop rivers in terms of Intent and infrastructure Has existed for quite sometime and It’s execution now is just a small precursor of what the Chinese plan to do on the Eastern front where Bhramaputra is the life line for many states

      • And you will make us trust those whom your paymasters in IT cell want to be trusted.

        Trust is supposed to be tied to truth. It shouldn’t be a choice. It goes with another word – trustworthy. You guys have destroyed the notion of truth with your alternate facts. Just remember it’s the same country your kids will inherit.

  8. Col. Ajay Shukla (retd), considered an expert in defence matters, says there are 10,000 Chinese troops doing in India. He further says, “The most worrying situation is in the Galwan valley where the PLA has crossed China’s own claim line (which Beijing had stated was the border with India), and breached 3 to 4 km into Indian territory.” The Chinese claim that the Galwan River Valley is a part of China. The Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says the Chinese soldiers are in Ladakh in big numbers. ” And New York Times says that China is now occupying Indian territory. “A few days later, Chinese troops confronted Indian soldiers again, this time at several other remote border points in the Himalayas, some more than 1,000 miles apart. Since then both armies have rushed in thousands of reinforcements. Indian analysts say that China has beefed up its forces with dump trucks, excavators, troop carriers, artillery and armored vehicles and that China is now occupying Indian territory.” None of these three sources agree with your conclusion that, “Chinese intrusion in Galwan lasted for two weeks before it was cleared by Indian troops”.

    • As you pickup the colour of your shirt of your choice, you can pick a story of your choice to believe it. What matters is your belief because only that can give you peaceful sleep.

      • Truth is not color of a shirt. It’s like sun. There is only one out there. Spreading blatant lies and propaganda masquerading as a version of truth maybe your job. One wonders how you list it on your CV.

    • Don’t trust people, see evidence. Shukla has not shown a single piece of evidence leaving some unnamed “sources”. If Iyer-Mitra is lying, his satellite images will be challenged and will be cross examined. Ajai Shukla does not even gives this opportunity as his sources remain unnamed.

  9. The whole game from Chinese point of view is about water and prestige. If the Galwan is dispersed and no full tributary to Shyok anymore, India has seriously to address this concern internationally, politically and last but least militarily as a lower riparian state.

  10. If Chinese have stopped the flow of Galwan river, where has the water been diverted and how it has been diverted? Is it so easy to do so? We need to understand this issue further and also, to assess how we can stop this possibility. Chinese are capable of doing many types of mischief and we need to be alert and on guard all the time.

    Overall, as compared to past, one can say that Indian Army has been alert and responded to the Chinese actions quickly and effectively. It shows that our infrastructure build up on the LAC is showing results and we must continue to build it further and secure our part of LAC so that LAC is effectively converted into LOC until border issue is finally settled. India seems to have abandoned its pusillanimous behavior of old days. This is a good news- Modi hai to mumkin hai!

    • Double standards of Indian nationalism, Chian doing bad let’s internationalize the issue,
      India doing same in Kashmir, Internal matter, Bilateral Unilateral, hypocrisy

        • There still isn’t a road connection between India and Kashmir. It was Nehru selling his ass in bedroom of Mountbatten to get Gurdasspur, which was Muslim majority area going to Pakistan, from where randian troops landed in Kashmir.
          The only invasion in india was Aryan manuwadi invasion that forcibly converted monotheistic moolnivasis into cowshit eating, lund worshipping, widow burning hindu demons. Islam restored the original faith that was corrupted by criminal and blood sucking brahmin.
          No matter how many american and european balls brahmin will lick, randias time has now approached. 5000 years of brahmin treachery and blood shed will now be put to complete end.

  11. Should we believe Iyer or the DM ?
    Chinese troops present in sizeable numbers at LAC, India has done what’s needed: Rajnath
    Defence Minister says India and China perceive LAC differently, leading to regular jostling; Beijing ‘should seriously deliberate’ and resolve the issue amicably.

  12. Well galwan goes to shyok which joins Indus, indirectly they are hurting Pk, but Pk consider Chinese as iron friend….

    • bilkul sahi bola bhai… actually i have seen shyok end to end and we let water go into napakistan… our usage of shyok water is not much..its the pakis who are going to get real hard…pur pakis being the ulti chutiyas are jumping up down..kya kar sakte ho inka !!

  13. This is china not pakistan…even in doklam same strategy was followed of resolute ground resistance and strategic silence….there is no benefit in humiliating chinese as they will be a source of future investments….restoring status quo ante and rapidly developing our economy shd be our only priority….

  14. This is getting weird by the hour. Why would Indian defence ministry need some ‘senior fellow’ writing in the Print space to act as its principle information conduit? Where is the official line through official channels of communications? Unless of course Mr. Iyer-Mitra here speaks on behalf of the Indian defence establishment.

    This cavalier behaviour insults the soldiers posted in those treacherous high altitudes. It signals to them that their commanders are either not serious or have been told by their civilian masters to endure pressure because frankly the adversary is too strong and just can’t be retaliated against.

    Indian political class is playing with the morale of its armed forces. It will have devastating consequences.

    Regards,

  15. china is a disgusting country,
    how can it stop the flow of waters in the already water starved ladakh region?
    This issue must be internationalised soon if the talks are not yielding any results.

    • Why double standards?
      India tasting its own medicines, Ladies and gentlemen India wants an issue to be internationalized , WHY? Because here China is doing injustice, What about India doing same in Kashmir, Why double standards?

  16. Kya bakvas hai
    Just to please your boss (Modi) you are fictitiong new thing. If you are so correct then PM would have been first person to declare it on tv.

    • @Abhishek please don’t say it that you don’t have an iota of knowledge about how these kind disputes are handled diplomatically and not by rhetorics on TV channels. If Modi would do so, it would be a the stupidest idea right now. India should first thwart chinese and send them back along with looking comprehensively into this matter whether or not it is true that the river flow has been obstructed. Then after India can take requisite steps to disparage this unethical move by the Chinese.

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