Indian Government clears 44 strategic roads along its boundary with China but wish the nod had come earlier. Perhaps it is too little and too late in the day but the Modi Government has finally got round to doing what should have been done long ago, focus on building strategic advantage along the Indo-China border, something that matters a lot in diplomatic posturing and keeping ambitious neighbours in check.
So the Centre has green-signalled the building of 44 “strategic roads” along the border with China and more than 2,100 km of axial and lateral roads in Punjab and Rajasthan, adjoining the Pakistan border. Given China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, where the Chinese are bent on building economic, infrastructural, cultural and strategic contiguity with their border provinces and regional neighbours to ensure their over-lordship through indebtedness of the smaller states, who can hardly repay Chinese loans or say no, the Indian counter is of utmost importance.
More so considering that we share nearly a 4,000-km-long Line of Actual Control with China, touching sensitive areas from Jammu and Kashmir to Arunachal Pradesh. Pakistan anyway reminds us of our porosity by pushing in infiltrators.
Post – Doklam, when Indian and Chinese troops were engaged in a standoff over road-building on their border with Bhutan, China has been pushing road projects all along its borders with India, clearly with an intention to speedily mobilise troops and supplies during a conflict and seize the tactical advantage. Covertly, it is meant to coerce India into believing that China is the superior party given its organisational efficiency and strategic readiness and that we could be no match for it, whatever the reality might be.
In fact, had it not been for the intransigence of our troops in Doklam, where China was trying to impose an altered reality by driving a wedge between Indian and Bhutan, the Chinese would not have held back.
Besides, the China-built roads have facilitated incursion into Indian territory to make us look vulnerable and blink first. The transgressions by the Chinese Army into Indian territory rose to 426 in 2017 from the 273 in 2016, as per government figures.
If China is testing our tolerance threshold by following what is now known as its “salami-slicing” of sovereign neighbouring territories, then our push for border roads makes for the right optics in terms of point-scoring. These roads along the China border will undoubtedly facilitate a quicker mobilisation of troops during any stare-down conflict and keep us connected to the outlier areas, particularly parts of the Northeast.
The two bridges on the Brahmaputra river that were completed over the last four years — the new Saraighat and Dhola Sadiya — have eased the prospect of both civil and military connectivity and ensured a peaceful life for both locals and the security establishment.
Besides, we cannot overlook that China is building a huge dam on the tributary of Brahmaputra within its territory to further squeeze the Arunachal frontier and we need to be in readiness to counter such adventurism.
In fact, India cannot afford gestation of ideas but needs to hit the ground running. Parliament’s Standing Committee on External Affairs has already warned how in key sectors, India is “dependent on single access routes, a risky proposition in times of conflict.”
India can reply to China only if it has infrastructural connectivity in the region which also allows us to mainstream locals economically and socially. We may not need to pursue the offensive diplomacy of China but we can deliver a meaningful punch or two when needed rather than embarrassing ourselves.