(This was originally posted in The Hindu by Dinakar Peri)
China is strengthening connectivity and increasing its depth in Chumbi valley in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), close to India’s strategic and vulnerable Siliguri corridor, also called Chicken’s neck, according to official sources. Eastern Commander Lt. Gen. Manoj Pande recently termed Siliguri “sensitive”. In its just released annual report 2021 to the U.S. Congress on military and security developments involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Department of Defence (DoD) noted that despite the ongoing diplomatic and military dialogues to reduce border tensions, the PRC has “continued taking incremental and tactical actions to press its claims at the Line of Actual Control [LAC].”
“China is building an alternative axis in the Chumbi valley, which is close to the Siliguri corridor. They are increasing their depth by building roads through Bhutanese territory,” an official source said. By this it was securing its routes while putting pressure on the Siliguri corridor, which was vital for India, two officials independently stated. High resolution satellite images that came out last year had shown China building roads along the Torsa river area through Bhutanese territory.
In this context, the recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on a three-step road map between Bhutan and China to speed up their talks for boundary resolution was significant and could have implications for India, a third defence official said on condition of anonymity. The Siliguri corridor, located in West Bengal, is a stretch of land bordering Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. It measures approximately 170X60km and at the narrowest, it is about 20-22 km.
Narrow piece of land
In a recent conversation, Lt. Gen. Pande observed that the geostrategic significance of the Siliguri corridor came about in terms of it being a narrow piece of land that connects the northeast to the rest of the country through which major national highways, railway line, pipelines, Off-Shore Cable (OFC) connectivity and the rest pass. “It also stems from the fact that the Chumbi valley of the TAR and its proximity to the Siliguri corridor,” he stated.
In addition, Lt Gen Pande explained, the other aspect was the demography and its dynamics in that area where there were different demographic composition and different demographic groups who resided there and “related challenges of radicalisation and separatist tendencies whose activities can be inimical to our security interest.” “So, yes, the Siliguri corridor is sensitive to us,” he remarked. On the efforts to address this issue, he stressed that they were looking at a ‘whole of the nation approach’, wherein not only the security forces, the military and certain other Cenral Armed Police Forces (CAPF), but also the Governments of the States around the Siliguri corridor and Central agencies were all working together in a coordinated manner to “mitigate this threat in normal times, the hybrid threat as and when it manifests as also during conflict conditions.”
“Only recently, we have set up a joint coordinating centre under the Army and that has proved to be effective to coordinate actions of all agencies that work there,” he said. He pointed out that at the national level there was a thought process to look at alternate means in terms of economic activities etc to mitigate this threat to the Siliguri corridor. READ MORE