A day after India and China agreed to start the process of disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh, high resolution satellite images appear to show the presence of Chinese structures on both sides of the Line of Actual Control in the Galwan river valley. In clashes there on June 15, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in action. Senior officers in the Indian Army believe the Chinese suffered approximately 45 casualties, including a Colonel who was killed in the fighting.
The image shown here is near Patrol Point 14, where the clashes on June 15 are reported to have taken place. Earlier satellite images of May 22 showed the presence of a single tent at this spot. The new images, however, appear to show possible defensive Chinese positions at the site. The new images also show shelters or accommodation having been constructed along the rock-face leading up the LAC. These were absent earlier.
''There are clear signs of an incursion around Patrol Point 14. These appear to be defensive formations by the Chinese on our side of the Line of Actual Control,'' says Major General Ramesh Padhi (retd.), one of India's foremost cartographers who retired as Additional Surveyor General of India. "The images show a clear movement of heavy vehicles which indicates that they have an intention to stay deployed in the area."
The images in Galwan, obtained by NDTV from Maxar, which provide the highest resolution of the situation in Ladakh so far, also show, for the first time, culverts constructed over the Galwan river less than a kilometre from the LAC with parts of the Chinese track appearing to be black-topped.
The location of the culvert appears near the spot where bulldozers appeared to have stopped the flow of the waters of the Galwan river, as shown in the imagery of June 16. The new images of June 22 show a resumption in the flow of the waters of the Galwan under the culvert which has been constructed.
The road leading up to the LAC has also been widened substantially with heavy earth moving equipment clearly visible along the banks of the rivers. There does not appear to be any comparable Indian road construction activity opposite the Chinese positions in Galwan. However, India has completed a major highway approximately 6 kilometres away, which connects Durbuk in the South with Daulat Beg Oldie in the North. It is believed that the construction of this road, which enables Indian forces to replenish and reinforce their positions in the region, was a matter of concern for Chinese forces. New Delhi, for its part, has repeatedly stated that infrastructure construction in Eastern Ladakh will not be impeded under any circumstances.
On Monday, in high level talks held by Lieutenant General ranked officers in Moldo (a Chinese position) near Chushul, India and China decided to start the process of disengagement across all sectors of the LAC where both sides have differences. While the talks were held in a cordial manner, both sides are yet to begin the process of physically moving their forces back to build mutual confidence.
India's military leadership is looking at the process of the talks with cautious optimism though there is a belief that there are unlikely to be any instant solutions given the extent of the territorial differences across Ladakh. Chinese intrusions were reported in April onwards in the Fingers region on the banks of the Pangong Lake, the Hot Springs area (near the Army's post at Gogra), the Galwan Valley, and the Depsang Plains further to the North.
There was a controversy recently over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comment at an all-party meeting on Friday that "neither is anyone inside our territory nor are any of our posts captured".
The government, alleging "mischievous interpretation of his words", clarified in a statement: "Prime Minister's observations that there was no Chinese presence on our side of the LAC pertained to the situation as a consequence of the bravery of our armed forces. The sacrifices of the soldiers of the 16 Bihar Regiment foiled the attempt of the Chinese side to erect structures and also cleared the attempted transgression at this point of the LAC on that day."
It also said: "What is Indian territory is clear from the map of India. This government is strongly and resolutely committed to that."