India shares its longest and most treacherous border with China. It is also The world’s longest border between two countries, spread over an area of about 4,000 kms, is shared between India and China. In the west, it touches the mighty Karakoram Range in the Ladakh region, where India and Pakistan are involved in frequent skirmishes along the Siachen Glacier—the highest battlefield in the world. To the north of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand, the Himalayan provinces of India, lay the Xingjian and Tibet Autonomous Regions of China. In the central region, between Nepal and Bhutan, India shares a comparatively smaller border with China at Sikkim and further to the east, it has a long border with the Tibet Autonomous Region (China), in Arunachal Pradesh, ending at the Myanmar border in the Far East.

The poorly demarcated Sino-Indian border lying on very difficult terrain, with harsh weather conditions and a sparse population, has led to Sino-Indian disputes for many years. Before Indian independence, the British Indian Empire, fearing the Russian expansion towards the east, unilaterally created different border lines between India and China; the latter showing little interest in areas it considered strategically insignificant.

These lines drawn by the British Indian Authorities were: in the western sector, Ardagh-Johnson Line along the crest of the KunLun Mountains, McCartney-MacDonald Line passing through the Karakoram crest and McMahon line in Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector. During the Qing Dynasty period, China showed little interest in these lines. However, since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, it never accepted these lines. Presently there are three boundaries; the lines claimed by China, India and the actual LAC (Line of Actual Control). The LAC is a military line which can be tactically shifted by the side with greater power and political will without being considered an act of war.

In 1962, India and China went to war in which India was badly defeated. In the western sector, PLA took Aksai Chin, the northern portion of Pangong Lake, and the important town of Chushul across the Karkoram. In the eastern sector, the PLA captured almost the entire area it laid claim to in Arunachal Pradesh. An entire Indian brigade was annihilated by PLA and Brigade Commander, Brig. Dalvi was captured. In October, the Chinese, in cognisance of global anti-communist sentiments born out of the Cuban Missile Crisis, showed restraint by announcing a unilateral ceasefire and both armies withdrew 10 kms behind the LAC.

The Chinese aim had been achieved to punish the Indians for pursuing their ‘forward’ policy which India had adopted prior to the conflict to push its military posts in Chinese territory. Unfortunately, India did not learn a lesson and continued pursuing its hegemonic and aggressive policies with its neighbours in the years to come, hence the present crisis.

Aksai Chin is a vast high altitude desert about 5,000m above sea level. There are three places of conflict in the Aksai Chin Sector: the Galwan River Valley, Pangong Lake and the Hot Springs. Galwan River Valley has a great strategic importance. For Indians it provides the only access to Aksai Chin through the Karakorum. In addition, the Galwan heights dominate the recently constructed Indian road, the Leh-Dubruk-Shyok-Daulat Beg-Oldi (DBO) road on the western bank of the Shyok River outflanking Aksai Chin from the west and providing an access to India up till Karakoram Pass.

India has employed an infantry brigade at Daulat Beg which facilitates its logistical supplies to the troops deployed at Siachen. The proximity of Daulat Beg served with the DBO road to Chinese G-219 Highway that joins China Pakistan Economic Corridor’s (CPEC) main route from Kashghar to Pakistan through Khunjrab Pass, poses a great threat to CPEC. Thus for China, strategically cutting off the DBO road near the Galwan Valley shall render the Indian brigade force at Daulat Beg stranded without supplies. Galwan valley also provides access to the Indian town of Chushul through Karakorum which would further facilitate PLA’s operations towards Leh and Kargil.

The present Sino-Indian crisis can be attributed to multidimensional factors. The recent Indian annexation of Ladakh and Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (OJK) territory by abrogation of section 370 by the Indian Parliament, ignoring pending UN Resolutions, has been strongly opposed by China and Pakistan. In addition, the Indian-US nexus for resisting CPEC in the west and domination of the South China Sea in the east is another major factor for China’s antagonism.

As per media reports, in the western sector, PLA has captured the Galwan Valley heights and the northern portion of Pangong Lake –effectively dominating and cutting off the DBO road, rendering the Indian Brigade isolated. In the east, PLA is creeping forward on the Dhoklam Plateau in order to threaten the Indian Siliguri Corridor and cutting off the seven eastern Indian states. India’s endeavors to get its lost areas have resulted in serious casualties. Thus, India is in a really bad situation as numerous Indian efforts in the border flag meetings have failed and the PLA is not ready to move a single inch backwards.

India’s cursory treatment given to its eastern border emanates from the historic fact that India had always been invaded from the north and never from the east, considering the Karakoram and Himalayan Ranges as a natural defence line from the east. Before CPEC, India never considered any Chinese strategic interest beyond the LAC. However, instead of accepting the Chinese offer for becoming a part of BRI and opening its NH-5 through Shipki La pass from China to Arabian Sea, India opted to resist the Chinese trade expansion under US pressure.

The question is: how far will China go? Will it content itself with the gains it has got and consolidate the present position or will it further exploit this opportunity to kill the problem for ever? The best action on part of China could be to adopt the latter option by exploiting its military gains and threatening the Siliguri Corridor at Dhoklam in the eastern sector while pushing forward in the western sector by capturing Leh and Kargil. A possibility of linking up with the Pakistan Army at Kargil would be worth consideration. This, besides ensuring CPEC’s security and rendering Indian troops at Siachen out of supplies, will also bring Pakistan at an advantageous position forcing India to the negotiation table for the solution of the OJK problem.

Lt Col Khalid Masood Khan (Retd)

The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel. He tweets @Colkmk

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