The Indian government’s Border Roads Organization (BRO) announced a “major infrastructural development” project this week in Arunachal Pradesh, a mountainous border region on the other side of occupied Tibet where Chinese soldiers brawled with Indian border patrol just weeks ago.
India and China have been experiencing border skirmishes – in which either side blames the other for illegally entering their country, prompting the use of force to eject the invading force – with increasing frequency since June 2020, when hundreds of Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops crossed into India’s Ladakh region, resulting in a battle that left an estimated 60 men dead. India and China disagree on the location of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the international border, that cuts through the Himalayas and severs India from the Chinese communist-occupied regions of Tibet and East Turkistan.
The Indian government claimed in 2020 that it lost about 20 soldiers, including a ranking officer, in the Galwan Valley battle, while the Chinese regime lost about 40 troops despite allegedly being “badly outnumbered.” China has only admitted to four deaths in the incident as of 2022.
As, at the time, the rules of engagement on either side forbade the use of firearms, the battle was fought with rocks, sticks, and other rudimentary weapons.
The more recent encounter in Arunachal Pradesh unfolded similarly, with reports of Chinese troops armed with sticks wrapped in barbed wire and stones crossing into the disputed Tawang region. The Indian military affirmed to the public that it had expelled the invading Chinese forces “in a firm and resolute manner” and only minor injuries had occurred on either side. While the rules of engagement changed in 2020 to allow firearms, none were used in the exchange, which occurred on December 9.
File/A view of the road on the way to the Line of Actual Control, at the India-China Border in Tawang, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, Monday, Oct. 30, 2006. (AP Photo/Mustafa Quraishi, File)
China confirmed that the incident occurred but offered no meaningful details. Beijing blamed India for the brawl, claiming the Indian troops had illegally crossed into India.
In an apparent attempt to deter further incursions, Asian News International (ANI) reported on Monday that India’s BRO had embarked on an ambitious transportation project to connect “all bordering villages” in Arunachal Pradesh, encouraging settlement in the region and thus discouraging the Chinese military from claiming a stake there.
“Apart from the road connectivity, the BRO is engaging in construction works of two important tunnels in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang and West Kameng districts which will become the game changer for the Indian security forces in view of security issues towards the international border,” ANI claimed.
The project, dubbed “Vartak,” features the construction of two major tunnels facilitating transit through the steep terrain. According to the project’s chief engineer Brig. Raman Kumar, the tunnels will also mean inter-village travel at all times of the year, not just when the snow melts enough to allow transit across the mountains.
“The heavy vehicles whether it is security forces or private industry equipment which is moving to the area will be able to pass easily through the Sela tunnel and accessibility to Tawang will be opened up,” Kumar told ANI. “As well as it will boost tourism. It is a very important tunnel. The BRO is very happy and proud to give this to the nation.”
“We want to actively contribute to the socio-economic development of this area. The terrain in this area is very difficult. There are mountainous terrain and high altitude terrain. The mountains are very tough and the climate conditions are very tough,” Kumar explained. “The BRO is working round the clock to provide connectivity in difficult and harsh climatic conditions. There are some remote villages and we are also providing roads to the remote villages. There is no area which is not developed part of the Western Arunachal.”
On its social media accounts, BRO is also touting a project in Ladakh, the region where the Galwan Valley is located, to ease travel through “inhospitable & harsh areas.” Project Vijayak, it asserted, “stand[s] unflinchingly tall amidst the treacherous terrain.”
@BROindia Project Vijayak, deployed in high altitude, inhospitable & harsh areas of Ladakh is working expeditiously for the overall development of the region. BRO Karmyogis & machines of Project Vijayak stand unflinchingly tall amidst the treacherous terrain and (1/2) pic.twitter.com/Wj0nmffFNW
— (@BROindia) December 19, 2022
BRO stated that the new transit projects will aid “defense preparedness” in the region. Last year, the U.S. Defense Department accused China in a report of building “a large 100-home civilian village inside disputed territory between the PRC’s Tibet Autonomous Region and India’s Arunachal Pradesh state in the eastern sector of the LAC.”
The Indian military responded by denying that it had any such information but nonetheless complaining that China had been active near the border. Indian Gen. Bipin Rawat, the chief of India’s defense staff, said his intelligence sources had discovered Chinese outposts near the border, but had not discovered any such “so-called villages” on the Indian side, and thus the military would continue only to monitor the situation.
In the aftermath of the December 9 melee, the Chinese government announced, through its state media arms, that it had organized military exercises in occupied Tibet designed to train soldiers to endure low temperatures and high altitudes.
Indian outlets confirmed Chinese deployment of military aircraft in the region following the brawl on December 9 using satellite evidence. Satellite images taken by the firm Maxar Technology reportedly caught multiple Chinese fighter jets flying about 96 miles from the Indian side of the border last week.