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“Pakistan, China Creating Border Disputes Under a Mission,” Rajnath Singh

NEW DELHI, Oct 12: As India remained focused on scaling up its border infrastructure despite the ongoing border tensions, the defence minister Rajnath Singh suspected that China and Pakistan had been “creating border disputes under a mission.”

Singh on Monday was dedicating to the nation 44 bridges in forward areas including 10 in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), eight each in Ladakh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh, two in Himachal Pradesh and four in Sikkim, whose spans range between 30 and 484 metres.

The bridges inaugurated by Singh included one on the strategic Darbuk-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldie (DS-DBO) road that provides connectivity to the country’s northern-most outpost, DBO. The bridge can support the movement of vehicles weighing up to 70 tonnes, including tanks and provide connectivity to forward areas even in adverse weather conditions.

Drawing attention to the collusive threat posed by the two adversaries, Singh said, “You are well aware of the conditions created on our northern and eastern borders. First, it was Pakistan, and now also by China, as if a border dispute is being created under a mission. We have a border of about 7,000 kilometres (km) with these countries, where tension prevails on a daily basis,” Singh said,

The minister’s comments come at a time when tensions are simmering along the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, where Indian Army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been locked in a border row for over five months and efforts to reduce friction have made no headway.

Commenting on Rajnath Singh’s apprehensions, Lieutenant General B S Jaswal (retired), a former Northern Army commander, said, “Given the symbiotic relationship between China and Pakistan, a collusive threat to India cannot be ruled out. The question is when it is viable for them to initiate a conflict against India.”

The Indian armed forces are keeping a strict vigil on the western front to deter Pakistan from fishing in troubled waters and prevent what could turn out to be a two-front conflict.

Singh said these bridges would help movement of ration and military equipment to sustain security forces posted in remote border areas even during the winter when heavy snowfall often cuts off supply lines. He said the bridges would also ease the life of civilians living in remote border areas. “These roads are not only for strategic needs, but they also reflect equal participation of all stakeholders in the development of the nation,” Singh said.

The minister also laid the foundation stone for the Nechiphu tunnel in Arunachal Pradesh and said the border infrastructure projects were of strategic importance and would provide connectivity to remote areas of the north-eastern state. The 450-metre two-lane tunnel on the road to Tawang will ensure all-weather connectivity across Nechiphu pass besides providing a safe and secure passage through accident-prone areas, officials said.

Singh said the country had not only resolutely faced the challenges posed by coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and the border tensions and disputes caused by Pakistan and China but it was also bringing about “historical changes” in all sectors of development.

Singh said the new bridges — spread across seven states and two union territories (UTs) — would improve connectivity in the far-flung areas of western, northern and north-eastern sectors and fulfill the aspirations of local people. “They would also meet the transport and logistics requirements for the armed forces throughout the year,” the minister said.

Congratulating the BRO for its efforts, Singh said the dedication of 44 bridges to the country at one go in itself was a record. He said that the annual budget of BRO, which varied from Rs 3,300 crore to Rs 4,600 crore between 2008 and 2016, is at Rs 11,000 crore, with no cuts, despite the prevailing pandemic. He said the government had sanctioned high-altitude clothing to BRO engineers and workers.

“Every sector of the country from agriculture and industry to our security system have been impacted by Covid-19 …The BRO has continued operations in the North Eastern States, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. BRO continued its work while ensuring that snow clearance is not delayed at remote locations,” he said.

“I am happy to know that over 2,200 kilometers of roads have been cut by the BRO during the last two years, using the latest technologies, and state-of-the-art equipment. Also, surfacing was carried out on about 4200 km of roads,” he added.

BRO chief Lieutenant-General Harpal Singh said besides expediting road construction, the organisation had also laid an emphasis on construction of bridges by completing 28 major bridges in 2019. Another 102 major bridges would be completed this year, he added.

Amid the border standoff with China, India is expediting work on several key projects including on a strategic road linking Darcha in Himachal Pradesh with Ladakh that will criss-cross a number of high-altitude snow-bound passes.

The nearly 290-km-long road will be crucial for the movement of troops and heavy weaponry into the frontier bases of the Ladakh region and will provide a crucial link to the Kargil region.

(Manas Dasgupta)