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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2705

Development Deficit Along The Border

By Malladi Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

At long last India is going to pay attention to development of infrastructure along the border with China. A massive road network and robust telecommunication facilities are planned that will benefit the security forces and local people alike.

Border belt in North-east India especially along Arunachal Pradesh remains inaccessible during the monsoon in particular. Of the 73 all-weather roads that were identified for construction in 2006, just 18 have been completed so far. Most of the road network on the Indian side stops well short of the border unlike on the Chinese side.

Moreover, there is very little progress in laying as many as 14 strategic railway lines near the border whereas China is extending its Golmud-Lhasa railway line to Yatung, a trading center very close to Nathu La. Plans are firmed up to extend the line up to Nyingchi, a trading town north of Arunachal Pradesh.

Addressing this development deficit marks the abandonment of the policy of “benign neglect” of the north Himalayan borders. In a limited sense the new policy is a result of the 21-day stand-off in Daulat Beg Oldi sector that ended on May 5, 2013. And it is based on the accepted principle that each country has a right to build border infrastructure in its land.

Given the nature of the terrain, intrusions are accidents that can be expected any time, and therefore should not be cause for undue alarm, generally speaking. There were nearly 600 intrusions by Chinese troops within the course of one year all along the Line of Actual Control.

Some incursions had occurred in close proximity to visits by Indian political and military figures to China, like for instance, the intrusion into the Panggong Lake in Ladakh in June when Vice President Hamid Ansari was making the first visit by an Indian Vice President in two decades. Another one occurred in Demchok segment of Ladakh sector when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was attending the BRICS summit in Brazil on 16th July.

Were these accidents or attempts to portray India as a “paper tiger” before the eyes of its neighbours – both near and far away? It is difficult to get a categorical yes or no and it will remain one of those diplomatic grey areas because at the political level Beijing is keen to develop close relations with India.

The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi came to Delhi as special envoy of President Xi Jinping, soon after the new government assumed office in May. His discussions with Prime Minister Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj primarily focused on economic and trade matters and sidelined contentious political issues almost entirely. Wang pledged to work towards resolving the border disputes between the two countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the BRICS summit. Scoring over the US, which is bending back to cultivate the new Indian leadership, he invited Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in November. India has never attended an APEC summit; it has lobbied for decades to become a member of the 21-nation grouping without success. Jinping also asked India to deepen its involvement with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which represents Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan besides China.

Indian premier is not new to China and its leadership. Modi had visited China as the Gujarat chief minister. So, it is no surprise that Modi- Jinping meeting exuded warmth. The contentious border issue and trade imbalance figured in the 80-minute long meeting.

As pointed out at the outset, each country has a right to develop its territory close to the border. Push to development in a calibrated manner will encourage locals to relocate close to the border making the area pulsate with activity giving up the present day desolate look. And all this will make the talk that no blade of grass grows in the Ladakh border a talk of the past.

Better infrastructure will enhance operational capability of the Indian Army. Already several plans are afoot to raise, for instance, six new armoured regiments, and three mechanised infantry battalions.

While the government is yet to fully unveil its infrastructure programme for the border belt, it will be worth the while to construct new helipads, and refurbish old helipads and other landing sites. These can double up as football grounds as well.

All this will lead to constant presence at, near and along the border. It will deny the Chinese any opportunity to make the kind of deep penetration they did once in Depsang. Also not to let a repeat of 1967 when Chinese used force, though unsuccessfully, to redraw the Line of Actual Control at Nathu La!

- Asian Tribune -

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