Atal Tunnel to have limited benefit to India in wartime

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By Song Zhongping Source: Globaltimes.cn

Modi File photo:VCG

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday inaugurated the Atal Tunnel at Rohtang at an altitude of above 10000 feet in Himachal Pradesh. Upon the inauguration’s completion, Modi said the tunnel would provide “new strength” to the country’s border infrastructure.

As the area is a plateau and sparsely populated, such a passage is built mainly for military purposes. With the Atal Tunnel opened, Indian troops can be deployed quickly to the border, while the transportation of military supplies could go through this tunnel as well. It’s true that its introduction could greatly reduce the distance from the rest of India to Leh. Its usefulness as both a combat readiness tunnel and strategic channel has clear strategic significance to India.

The tunnel will be of great help to Indian troops and their provision of supplies in peacetime; however, it has no benefit in wartime, especially if military conflict breaks out. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has means to make this tunnel unserviceable. It is better for China and India to coexist peacefully with each other. India should restrain itself and refrain from provocation as no passage exist that can enhance India’s combat capability. After all, there is a certain gap in combat effectiveness between China and India, especially in terms of India’s systematic combat capability. India is far from reaching China’s level.

India has been stepping up its construction of roads, bridges and other infrastructure along the China-India border. The Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) road — 255 kilometers long — was completed last year after nearly two decades of construction. The road winds its way through the mountains to the Ladakh region. In addition to these roads, the Indian government has identified 73 strategic roads along the China-India border that they will continue to build throughout the upcoming winter months.

Whether the construction of these “battle-ready” roads can proceed, however, depends on three practical factors. The first is the determination of the Indian government. From the perspective of the Modi government, their determination to strengthen military presence along China-India border is an established fact. The second factor is the budget. It is true that India is now ramping up its budget and spending on infrastructure, which is essentially an attempt to counterbalance China. The third factor is technology; however, India’s infrastructure capacity is weak compared to China. In fact, the concept of building the above-mentioned 73 combat-ready roads was put forward more than 10 years ago, but the relevant plans to build the roads were not completed even now, indicating that India’s infrastructure construction capacity is limited. What’s more, it is difficult to build roads on the plateau and India lacks strong experience in such projects.

As it is peacetime and India has not yet realized the Atal Tunnel will not be useful in wartime, the whole country is encouraged by its completion. But as far as India’s politicians are concerned, its construction is more for “show” and political purposes; that is, it is a quite obviously political propaganda. The tunnel’s practical use in wartime is not yet a consideration for India’s politicians, but it’s an important tool in satisfying their established practical interests.

The author is a Chinese military expert and commentator. [email protected]

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