Integrated border area development as part of national security

[ Rimmo Karbak ]
It is time to look at border area development from a broader national security perspective and not through a narrow loss/gain or regional vote bank prism.
There are many other ingredients of development that can enhance the military power of a nation, such as human resources, infrastructure, technology, commerce and industry. Development in fields such as communication, water resources, energy, environment, etc, though seemingly non-security-related, can have a great security bearing. An innocuous bridge or a culvert having the required load capacity could help timely induction of tanks or guns and thereby affect the course of a critical battle.
To cite an example, with the Japanese hot on pursuit during the withdrawal from the then Burma in the 2nd World War, British tanks were held up over a bridge due to load capacity problem until the 14th army commander, Field Marshal Slim, arrived on the scene. The field marshal went around the bridge and found a sign bearing the British company that had built the bridge. He ordered the tanks to be driven across, for according to him, the British company always catered for cent percent reserve. The fleet of tanks thus safely driven across lived to eventually turn the defeat into victory, as history is testimony.
Similarly, a defence-integrated irrigation canal can be a formidable ditch-cum-bandh obstacle, like the famous Ichhogil canal east of Lahore, which stalled the Indian Army’s advance to Lahore in the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Conversely, an ill-sited dam could be used to flood one’s own line of communication. Hence, integrated development is the need of the time.
In the context of Arunachal Pradesh, there is a paramount need to develop select border areas on each of the main valleys. On the Kameng axis, Tawang is already a well-developed town. Having seen on ground from development and military perspective, I would recommend, besides Tawang, Huri/Sarli, Takshing, Mechuka, Monigong, Tuting, Mipi/Dambuin, Chaglagam, Walong, Vijoynagar and Nampong on various valleys to be gradually developed into integrated well-planned towns. Each of the above areas is on likely enemy axis of advance.
How will a township help in the defence of border areas? Necessarily, a modern town ought to have well-maintained surface communications like road, airfield and helipad, all of which are vital military needs. They help in rapid induction of troops into battle locations, timely induction of reserves and reinforcements, and switching of forces from one sector to another. All of these are critical and can decide the course of a battle. These infrastructures will also help in timely evacuation of casualties during war, which is a major morale-boosting factor, as well as evacuation of civilian patients both during war and peace.
Gradually, population will grow and the township will expand. Population can help the troops in porterage jobs in immediate defensive localities, supply food and allied items when needed (in the western sector, people in the border areas are well known for it – yours truly has had personal experience in the 1971 Indo-Pak war), and assist own scout force trained to operate from hide and caches behind enemy lines, form resistance groups and many more odds and sundries.
As per convention, a civilian populated area is not to be fired upon. With increase in population, trade and commerce will flourish. In due course and with ever growing globalization, trade and commerce connectivity on opposite side of the border will follow. Growth of people-to-people connectivity can slowly but surely lead to growth of a healthy and lasting relationship between the two adversaries.
The aforesaid places are nature’s gift to the people of Arunachal. A well-planned and well-maintained (unlike the present khushi khushi messing up culture of our towns) township in these places shall attract tourists both national and international. An enemy attack on a well-known tourist place like Tawang will invite international media attention and consequently international opinion against the attacker. International pressure when mounted by many countries could prematurely halt enemy advance.
From the military perspective, a populated town, subject to its tactical importance, cannot be captured by the enemy as part of an attack on a defended position in its periphery. Capture of such a town will need a separate attack operation. This will entail delay in enemy advance and foil its preplanned larger objective. The delay thus imposed on the advancing enemy will enable own defensive positions to be readjusted, including holding of subsequent pre-selected defensive positions.
As explained above, development of select border areas into townships will go a long way in the larger scheme of national security. To the credit of the NDA governments since Vajpayee’s regime, border area development in terms of infrastructures has certainly taken a quantum jump both in the western and eastern sectors of the LAC. But both the state and the central governments ought to hasten on the key area of road development in key valleys. In many interior and remote areas, the state must maintain tracks on patrolling routes. Let us do our minimum bit and not keep passing the buck to the defence forces. Jai Hind. (The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian Army. He is the first commissioned officer from Arunachal.)