Union Minister of Law and Justice Kiren Rijiju meets Army Jawans during his visit in Tawang

NEW DELHI: Amid the increased probability of recurrence of incidents like what happened in the Tawang sector recently, India has stepped up efforts to counter China’s build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). While discussions are already underway to increase the operational role of Indian Air Force (IAF) along the LAC, New Delhi is giving a fresh impetus to the projects aimed at bolstering the border infrastructure to counter a belligerent Beijing. Diplomatic teams are already on the job of strengthening ties with the countries that are bearing the brunt of Beijing’s belligerence so as to garner global support against Chinese aggressiveness.

“The projects and operations are not limited to Arunachal Pradesh, but infrastructure is being bolstered on a war-footing along our 3,488 km-long border spanning across Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim as well,” diplomatic sources told The Sunday Guardian. In fact, India has been expanding infrastructure along the LAC more speedily since the eastern Ladakh standoff in 2020.

India’s decision to revive a much-delayed plan to extend its railway network to Bhutan is an important development in the context of its strategy to counter China. Sources said that the project will give an impetus to the Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal (BBIN) initiative. “This initiative will help India counter growing Chinese build-up along the LAC,” a source said.

According to sources, the survey which was started recently by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) zone of the Indian Railways to connect Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Bhutan will be completed in the next couple of months. “Top officials associated with this project were asked by the government higher-ups to complete the survey to start the construction,” a source said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is personally monitoring this project, sources said.

The railway links between India and its BBIN neighbours will ensure better movement of people and goods within the bloc. It will enhance economic cooperation and people-to-people contact, officials told this newspaper. The 57.7 km trans-boundary railway project will require an investment of Rs 1,000 crore, and the proposed broad-gauge line would pass through the hilly terrains of Bhutan.

This rail link has a strategic importance as it will facilitate India’s efforts to counter Chinese bid to expand its military and other capabilities along the disputed Himalayan border, diplomatic sources familiar with the project said. Undeniably, China is carrying out massive infrastructure development activities in the region. “Three more rail projects near LAC in Arunachal and Sikkim are also being expedited,” sources said.

Likewise, the Modi government has asked the officials concerned to give a fillip to projects aimed at ramping up the road network along the LAC. Already, several roads have been constructed along the border areas which also pass through Arunachal Pradesh. Many more are in the pipeline which would be accelerated now.

Minister of State for Defence, Ajay Bhatt told the Lok Sabha on Friday that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) constructed 3,097 km of roads in Arunachal Pradesh and 3,140 km in the Union Territory of Ladakh in the last five years. The Ministry of Defence has entrusted the BRO with the construction of roads in border areas, according to priority fixed by the Army, based on a five-year Long Term Rollover Works Plan (LTRoWP), the minister said. The BRO has constructed 64 roads spanning 3,097 km in Arunachal Pradesh and 43 roads spanning 3,140 km in Ladakh in the last five years, according to the information shared. The details of the roads constructed in other states and Union Territories include 18 roads (663.535 km) in Sikkim; 22 roads (947.21 km) in Uttarakhand; 61 roads (2,381.963 km) in UT of Jammu & Kashmir; 13 roads (884.309 km) in Rajasthan.

In addition, Government of India is implementing the Border Area Development Programme (BADP) through the state governments and Union Territory administrations in habitations located within 0-10 km from the first habitation at the international border in 117 border districts of 16 states and two Union Territories, the minister informed the Lok Sabha.

According to information made available, 75 new infrastructure projects to be built in border areas have been launched on 28 October 2022.

Another important development is the US decision to strengthen defence ties with New Delhi. In what is being seen as a welcome development, the $858 billion defence bill passed by the US Senate seeks to strengthen defence ties with India and funds billions of dollars to take measures to address the challenges posed to the US’ national security by China.

The National Defence Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, was approved by the Senate on Thursday. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 8 December. Now it heads to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign it into law. According to reports, the NDAA seeks to strengthen US-India relations by directing the Departments of Defence and State to pursue greater engagement and expanded cooperation with India related to emerging technology, joint research and development, defence and cyber capabilities, and other opportunities for collaboration including for reducing India’s reliance on Russian-built defence equipment. “The increased cooperation on the defence front between India and the US will be aimed at dealing with challenges resulting from Chinese aggression,” the diplomats coordinating with their counterparts in Washington told The Sunday Guardian.

In another development of significance, the US Department of State formally launched its “China House” unit on Friday (16 December). The unit represents an internal reorganisation to help and sharpen the department’s policymaking with respect to China. “The scale and the scope of the challenge posed by the People’s Republic of China will test American diplomacy like nothing we’ve seen before,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Diplomats analysing the US move said that the creation of “China House” signals that the Biden administration will be more focused on China, the way “it has been obsessed with the Ukraine conflict”. Sources said that China would see a more aggressive stance of the Indian armed forces. The training that the soldiers have received recently through exercises “Yudh Abhyas”, would be of great help to them, they added. Increased combat air patrols at airfields in the Kashmir valley, Tezpur and Hasimara will be part of India’s strategy to counter Chinese air deployments, sources said.