Written by Madhav Bahl, a grade 9 student.
At the height of the Covid pandemic in 2020, when India was under lockdown, a violent clash between the Indian Army and the Chinese army in a remote corner of India made headlines. Galwan Valley became a flashpoint that brought two of the largest armies in Asia face-to-face, with neither wishing to back down.
What’s the Line of Actual Control?
The LAC or the Line of Actual Control is a sort of hazy undecided division between India and China at many places along the Indo-China border. The militaries on either side remain at least 50 to 100 kilometers behind the line. In Ladakh, LAC extends from Aksai Chin to Pangong Tso lake.
Where is Galwan Valley?
Galwan valley is a narrow gorge formed by the Galwan river high up in the Aksai Chin area of the Tibetan plateau North East of the Ladakh region. Aksai Chin is a high-altitude salt desert. Galwan river flows from the Karakoram range into the Shyok River in Ladakh. So, Galwan is high up in the mountains, remote and inaccessible.
But it was not unknown
We do not know if Galwan river had a name but the valley formed a small part of the old Silk route a long time ago. Once, Aksai Chin used to be a part of the kingdom of Ladakh. In the 19th century, Ladakh and all its territories were annexed by Gulab Singh Dogra of Jammu and it became a part of the state of Kashmir. By the late 19th century, this region became a theatre for the Great Game between Britain and Russia.
A river gets its name
In 1892, Charles Murray, an officer in the British army led an expedition to Pamir Mountains. On their return, the group lost its way in the Aksai Chin area. 14-year-old Ghulam Rassul Galwan, a labourer employed by the expedition, used his instincts to find an easy route through a ravine out to safety. So impressed was Murray, that he decided to name the passage Galwan nullah and the valley as Galwan valley.
China – India spat over Galwan
In 1948, The princely state of Kashmir along with Ladakh region became an integral territory of independent India. But trouble was brewing on both sides of the border. In 1950, Tibet was annexed by the new Republic of China. In 1959, China published maps of the Aksai Chin region in which Galway valley was shown as part of Indian territory. But then, China began to build a road through Aksai Chin connecting Xinjiang province and Tibet- a 2432 km highway! China did not ask India’s permission and occupied a large part of Aksai China in 1962 to keep India as far away as possible from its highway. This meant controlling the Galwan ridgeline. Then came the totally unprovoked war in 1962.
In October 1962, Indian army soldiers fought valiantly to protect Galwan sector but they were outnumbered by the Chinese and we lost many of our brave soldiers.
Then, for several decades all seemed to be quiet on this front apart from some flare ups at Nathu La, Depsang, Doklam. Until….
India built a ROAD
Daulat Beg Oldie is an old silk route campsite and an Indian defence outpost on the northernmost tip in the Karakoram mountains. It is also the highest airstrip in the world. India decided to construct a permanent road connecting DBO to Leh via Darbuk for military movement. This 255 km road runs along the Shyok River close to the Line of Actual Control. This road is vital for the Indian military. Naturally, China did not like this. So, it moved up its posts closer to LAC.
China, taking advantage of the raging Covid pandemic, China began incursions along the LAC at many locations in May. They crossed into Galwan valley in June. Alert Indian troops confronted the PLA forces at PP14. In the skirmish, 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives and so did the PLA troops. Some Indian troops were taken prisoners by the PLA.
The Road Ahead
Two powerful and nuclear-armed countries are confronting each other in a remote and difficult area. Many rounds of military and diplomatic talks have happened since June 2020. Troops have on both sides have withdrawn partially, but the situation remains tense. Neither country is in the mood to back down completely. Galwan valley and parts of Aksai Chin do belong to India according to historical records at least since the nineteenth century. The world hopes that India and China will find a peaceful solution to the border problem because war helps nobody and hurts everybody.
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