China is constructing an "all-weather road" in the Shaksgam Valley in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, media reports say. Around 75 km of the road has been built already in a region extremely important for India's security interests.
The 10-metre-wide all-weather road is being built in the strategically sensitive northernmost part of Siachen, the world's highest battlefield.
"The new fair-weather road is being constructed on the eastern bank of Shaksgam river ...," a source told News18, adding that "construction units comprising temporary shelters, vehicles and equipment" were seen in the area.
If the latest revelation is accurate, it poses severe threat to India's long-term security plans in the northern regions. Army chief General Bipin Rawat had earlier assured that China wasn't building roads in the Shaksgam valley. "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 had said earlier this year.
Why is Shaksgam Valley important?
Shaksgam Valley is part of a vast stretch of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, which Islamabad had ceded to China in 1963 as part of a border settlement. However, India hasn't approved this transfer and treats the entire region as part of Kashmir and hence rightfully belonging to it. The Valley has arctic temperatures and is bound by Bound K2 and Gasherbrum peaks to the South and Aghil Mountains to the north.
Indian intelligence has been trying to verify the authenticity of the reports of Chinese road building in the Valley for some time. While one set of China watchers say that Chinese activity in the region is aimed at building tourist infrastructure, the hawks have seen this as s ruse. They believe that road construction in the Shaksgam Valley is part of an attempt to realign the Karakoram highway in such as way that the 1,300 km road linking Pakistan Punjab to Kashgar in Xinjiang will be kept snow-free throughout the year, the Hindustan Times had reported in April this year.
After Doklam, China is more aggressive?
The 73-day standoff between Indian and Chinese troops in the Doklam tri-junction at the border between China, India and Bhutan last year was one of the biggest challenges the bilateral relations had ever faced. Though the faceoff was resolved, there have been reports lately that China has restarted activities in the region.
More alarmingly, there have been even reports that Bhutan would give away Dokla to the Chinese. But the Indian establishment has brushed aside this possibility, believing that Bhutan will not ditch India. International observers, meanwhile, have compared China's persistent attention o Dokla to its expansive activities in the South China Sea, despite vocal objections from several countries in the region.
It's certainly not the first time Chinese troop activity has been reported from the Pakistan occupied Kashmir. In 2016, the PTI had reported that intercepts of communication between Pakistani Army officers revealed that PLA troops were engaged in the construction of infrastructure along the LoC.
The latest reports suggest that the road construction in the north of Siachen has been happening in tandem with the Dokla stand-off. And more is in the offing, according to the sources cited by News 18. The presence of more construction units means that "further road extension is likely during the summer period", the report said.