Friday, June 11, 2010

Discussion on India's Border Infrastructure

ORF organised a roundtable discussion on India's Border Infrastructure on June 09, 2010. The discussion was initiated by Mr. Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Member of Parliament and was followed by three other panelists -- Brig. Arun Sahgal, Maj. Gen. Sheru Thapliyal and myself. While Brig. Sahgal dicussed the Sino-Indian border infrastructure in the broader context of Chinese grand strategy, Gen. Thapliyal elaborated on the ground situation on the border. My presentation was in the context of the larger Asian strategic context as well as the trends in Chinese military strategy and modernisation.

The interaction was well attended by military people, both serving and retired, as well as members from the diplomatic community and media. Some of the media coverage can be found here.

There is a clear military imbalance between the two; military imbalance in terms of equipments & units as well as the infrastructure. In the last few years, the infrastructural developments that China has undertaken in Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as well as on the India-China border provide the potential to the PLA Army to mobilize forces and equipment in a much shorter span of time. China now has a 40,000-km road network in Tibet, apart from rail links like the 1,118-km one from Lhasa to Gormo in Qinghai province. This would enable China to mobilize large forces by train and by road onto Indian borders. Earlier this exercise not only took a long time but also was impossible during winter. The new rail line into Tibet, and expressways, have changed the scenario totally.

For a long time, the politicians, bureaucracy and the military had maintained strict opposition to development/upgradation of the border infrastructure arguing that it will only facilitate Chinese walking into our territory, particularly in case of a conflict. Recently, this was acknowledged by none other than our defence minister, Antony. While addressing a function of the BRO, Antony said, “Earlier, the thinking was that inaccessibility in far-flung areas would be a deterrent to the enemies.” Describing such thoughts as an “incorrect approach,” he said the government is now taking a number of measures to upgrade roads, tunnels and airfields in the border areas (May 07, 2010). BRO DG Lt Gen AK Nanda recently had stated that the infrastructure along the borders was not improved upon earlier by design. He said, “We did not want to develop the areas because we did not want the enemy forces to take benefit out of it. But now, our approach has changed and we are building it on our capacity, modern equipment and workforce.” (September 30, 2008)

In a potential limited conflict in the India-China context, the PLA’s contingency plans emphasize a “short and swift localized” conflict (confined to the Tawang region, along the lines of the 1999 Kargil conflict) with the following objectives in mind: capture the Tawang tract; give India’s military a bloody nose; and deliver a knockout punch that punctures India’s ambitions to be China’s equal or peer competitor once and for all.

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