Efforts by China for territorial swap with Bhutan for Doklam Plateau had been going since 1966
The “Chicken Neck” was recently in news, when last week a radical Islamist youth accused of inciting anti-CAA violence was heard appealing people plan and establish a human blockade in Siliguri area with an aim to deny supplies and land-based military movement to the North-Eastern states (NE) of Bharat.
It’s a narrow stretch of land of about 60 km in length and 22 kilometres in width (narrowest) point connecting mainland with North Eastern states (NE) constituting about 8 % (2100 km) of Bharat’s land border and is a cartographic relic of decolonisation process of breaking Bharat in 1947 with Nepal and Bangladesh lie on either side of the corridor. Chumbi valley lies just 130 km from the corridor.
The strategic threat to the corridor always existed and accordingly the military had well-rehearsed plans in place to defeat the enemy designs. It would be pertinent to mention here that the terrain in the corridor does not have any natural or man-made obstacles. Although the military always has rare area security plans to deal with minor fringe elements within the backyard but to deal with any possibility of such nefarious designs of organized threats by Naxalite / tukde tukde gang/ anti-national elements in the hinterland will require war-gaming at an appropriate level and formalizing of foolproof countermeasures.
The foreign threat in the corridor is mainly from China. 1962 war had witnessed ideological support to the enemy by some groups but in view of recent exposure, the rear area security will constitute an important component of military planning. The Chinese may by-pass or para drops Special Forces in Siliguri Corridor to cut off the Northeast for a short period only, but for the prolonged operation would require link up with mainland forces. The rise in the level of construction activities of road, airstrip, and bunkers in its side of border and deployment of heavy caliber weapons/anti-aircraft weaponry/missiles is with a military purpose to facilitate speedy mobilization of its forces.
The efforts by China for the territorial swap with Bhutan for Doklam Plateau had been going since 1966. So far Bhutan had not obliged China. China’s efforts to seize control over the Doklam region will continue. The timely bold decision by the government of Bharat in August 2017 to intervene militarily forced china to retreat after three months standoff in Doklam. The Doklam dispute was not between Bharat and China but between Bhutan and China as Doklam falls within Bhutan’s borders. Even apart from the strategic importance of it’s close proximity to the Siliguri corridor, Bharat serves as a security guarantor to the hill kingdom through the 2007 Friendship Treaty.
The corridor is of strategic importance as all rail and road networks towards the NE run through it. The inclement weather and harsh terrain in the NE make the railway and roads subject to damage from frequent landslides and natural disaster. The corridor, if blocked will isolate the complete NE and it being landlocked as there is no sea route available. Limited provisions can reach through aerial route. Hence, there is a strategic requirement to create an underground safe passage or widen the corridor or create an alternate route of passage through Bangladesh to be used both for military and civilian purposes.
On lines of English channel Underwater transport system, Bharat should create strategic underground freight corridor for connecting NE states, both for rail and road which should be able to withstand enemy aerial strikes in times of a military conflict.This would boost economic growth and enhance trade/tourism of the NE manifold during peacetime.
Presently, the land transportation between mainland and Northeastern states is forced to uses a circuitous Siliguri corridor until 4 km long Tetulia Corridor, connecting Chopra and Jalpaigudi via Tetulia in Bangladesh becomes effective as agreed vide India–Bangladesh Trade Agreement 1980. While the Tetulia corridor would reduce the travel distance by about 84 km, at the same time will provide an alternate route through third-country and alleviate the possibility of severance of the north-east with the mainland.
-Col Devanand Lohamarod
(The views expressed by the author are personal)