An important aspect that had been egging on a feeling of alienation among the people of the North East is that New Delhi has deliberately not developed the region, apprehending that full-bodied infrastructure in the borderlands would only hasten the entry and descent of the Chinese war machinery into the flood plains of Assam were a hot-war posture to be adopted by the dragon, especially in the manner in which it came to pass in 1962. But in all fairness, 2022 is not 1962, and India is in a far better position to meet a Chinese threat. Also, New Delhi has begun to take cognizance of the “anger” among the people of Arunachal Pradesh and “the wrong side of geography” that their state is situated with robust sanctions for a variety of projects. To that end, the people of the area, with memories of 1962 still fresh in their minds, have to be informed that in the event of another “aggression” by the Chinese there would be no abandonment as was the case almost 48 years ago when Nehru’s “heart goes out to the people of Assam.”
Another matter that must be taken into account is the fact that Arunachal Pradesh has an important bearing on the nation’s security. For instance, an appraisal of the growth that has taken place in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) by way of China’s “Western Development Strategy” shows that the pace of development in TAR has been enormous. Roads and railway lines that come right up to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) have been constructed. Such infrastructure would allow speedy access of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were war to break out: the Qinghai-Tibet Railway line (with a feeder line to Xigaze, which is close to the LAC), for instance, can reportedly deploy 12 divisions of the PLA in 30 days.
In sharp contrast the Indian side of the border was not so well developed until some years ago with only one graceless highway connecting Tawang and LAC proximate areas such as Lumpo. Indeed, as was the case during the 1962 war, the Indian army might find it difficult to deploy its troops quickly to areas where its natural defences are expected to form-up, for instance to places that abut Dhaula or Thagla Ridge where the PLA build-up has reportedly been considerable. But of late the road has gone up to Khinzemane and further onto places such as Dhaula.
It was also not understood as to why an all weather bridge over the Lohit could not have been constructed. Indeed, the Indian army’s Operation Falcon is still in place and so is the annual Operation Alert, with the latter testing the Indian army’s forward deployment capabilities. It is imperative that all weather roads all along the LAC must be constructed, and on a war footing. The author has been to Tawang and beyond and had witnessed the pathetic condition of the road. One of the reasons that have been proffered is that the local populace are unwilling to work the roads, and are at the same time averse to importing labour from outside. However, places such Kibitu and the northern bank of the Lohit river in Arunachal Pradesh’s Anjaw district, across which only a foot suspension bridge had existed in order to ferry the Indian army onto its deployment, has now a full-fledged all weather bridge in a place called Messai.
Another aspect that has probably circuited the scanner of the policy planners in New Delhi is the need to build up a well-honed system of human-intelligence system all along the LAC.. To that end, a credible human-line-of-defence is needed. It must be appreciated that borders are creations of surveyor-generals and bureaucrats who have probably never physically seen a boundary, as was the case with Sir Henry McMahon when he drew a Line without due recourse to both the size of his pen and ego. To that end, the task of cultivating, for instance, say the Meyor tribesmen in far-off Kahao beyond Kibitu, is important, especially as they may be aware of the going-ons across in PLA establishments such as Tatu, Rima or thereabouts in TAR, areas where social affinities meet.
In its bid to defend the borderlands, the Indian Air Force has sought to phase out its outdated system and beef it up with latest acquisitions, mostly of the Sukhoi series. But, it must appreciate that the Chinese “strike arc,” with LAC proximate bases like Gongga, Pangta, Kangapalo and Hopping (with over the LAC refuelling capability that its Ilyushin series aircrafts provide), can reach up to Kolkata. Gratefully Advance Landing Grounds have been constructed under Op Gagan Shakti that can now support forward Indian army deployment in areas such as Tulung La, Taksing and Walong, but ones that would be able to penetrate deep into places such as Chengdu in retaliation if the necessity arise. The existence of such bases would form the basis of deterrence against Chinese air strikes, as also the Rocket Force of the PLA that is reportedly deployed in and around the Tsangpo River. The doctrinal pattern of the PLA has changed considerably in recent years, and is presently based on algorithmic warfare that would hop across seamless multiple domains in an integrated mode. A credible force package with hi-tech layers of defensive deployment on the Indian side can offset an adverse situation.
It must also be understood that in the discourse that governs modern day statecraft, growth is a feature of security. Therefore, timely and correct heed must be paid to both the physical needs and the sensitivities of a people, especially as genuine integration must continue to be the hallmark of Indianess in the North East. The policy planners in New Delhi must be clear about this as indeed it seems to have in recent times
(Jaideep Saikia is conflict analyst and bestselling author of several books on security and strategy. He is also Asia’s sole Fellow, Irregular Warfare Initiative, West Point, USA)