India's Modi opens tunnel route to tense China border

Published October 3, 2020
In this file photo taken on September 01, 2020 the south portal gate of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel is seen in Dhundi village near Solang in Himachal Pradesh state. — AFP
In this file photo taken on September 01, 2020 the south portal gate of the Atal Rohtang Tunnel is seen in Dhundi village near Solang in Himachal Pradesh state. — AFP

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday opened a Himalayan tunnel that will drastically reduce the time needed to rush troops to the country's remote Chinese border as tensions grow between the Asian neighbours.

The tunnel traverses India's northern Himachal Pradesh state and lies on one of two main routes for troops headed to border areas in Ladakh.

Twenty Indian and an unspecified number of Chinese troops were killed in June during a deadly clash in Ladakh, which shares a disputed boundary with China's restive Xinjiang and Tibet regions.

The two nuclear-armed countries have since rushed tens of thousands of additional troops and weapons to the area, and have been locked in a tense stand-off for months.

The $400-million, nine-kilometre tunnel will cut the journey by about 50km and four hours, enabling travellers to bypass a tricky route across a landslide-prone Himalayan pass.

The tunnel, at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), has been hailed as a feat of engineering.

A decade in the making, freezing temperatures and the challenging terrain meant construction work could only be carried out for about six months each year.

The project is part of New Delhi's push to catch up with Chinese infrastructure development on the other side of the border.

In the last six years, Modi's government has expedited several frontier projects including roads, bridges and high-altitude airstrips.

“We have put our entire energy in developing our border infrastructure. The country hasn't seen roads, bridges and tunnels built at this scale,” the prime minister said after inaugurating the tunnel on Saturday.

“Besides locals, this [infrastructure] will also hugely benefit the men and women in our army,” Modi added.

New Delhi hopes such projects will promote tourism and spur economic activity.

Sanjay Kundu, the police chief of Himachal Pradesh — which shares a long border with Tibet — recently proposed better roads and mobile connectivity as well as even arms training for the state's border villages.

India's Border Roads Organisation, which implements most of these strategic projects, says it has built more in the last four years than in the previous decade.

Its head, Lt Gen Harpal Singh, told AFP they were pressing ahead with “long-term plans based on their strategic calculations to develop these regions”.

Opinion

Editorial

Election time
Updated 27 Jan, 2023

Election time

There are concerns whether the ECP will be sufficiently able to protect the integrity of elections if they are held under partisan governments.
SCO invite
27 Jan, 2023

SCO invite

THOUGH India’s invitation to Pakistan to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation events in Goa later this ...
Call to arms
27 Jan, 2023

Call to arms

ONE way the state abdicates responsibility in Pakistan is by farming out its functions to the private sector. In ...
Nuclear miscalculations
26 Jan, 2023

Nuclear miscalculations

IF the claim of former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, that Pakistan and India came close to a nuclear exchange...
Exchange rate cap
26 Jan, 2023

Exchange rate cap

THE ‘management’ of the exchange rate by the State Bank, allegedly at the behest of the government, to ward off...
Fawad’s arrest
Updated 26 Jan, 2023

Fawad’s arrest

Does the state really need to fan public discontent in a period as fraught with uncertainty as this?