A opinion piece by Ravi Rikhye - editor of Orbat.Com:
The recent debacle in the Depsang Plains, where India was in danger of losing 750-square-kilometrs of its territory to Chinese encroachment, has been blamed on logistics. Or rather, the lack of logistics. The Chinese have these beautiful roads, which are no longer simply gravel tracks, but are graded asphalt highways and secondary roads. On our side, Indians learned to their dismay that between Sasoma and DBO a road was started and abandoned, and a road from Shyok Village to Murgo has also been abandoned. The Indian media to this day often functions as a government broadcasting agency, announcing the start of projects, but never following through. So, for example, the press will tell us that the government has embarked on an emergency road building program where funding is not to be used as an excuse for delays, but does not tell us the road in question never even got started.
Should the citizen ask why, s/he will get no answer. In matters of northern policy, the Government of India is still the Imperial Government in Delhi, and sees no reason why pesky citizens with pesky questions should be allowed to disturb the serenity of the Government as it continues to give away to the Chinese, by default, ever larger areas of Indian territory. If the citizen should have a contact or two among official circles, this is the story that s/he is told:
The Army blames the BRO, which blames the Ministry of the Environment and the Army. Environment is blamed because it repeatedly stops projects; the army is blamed because it won’t provide security for the road builders, who are vulnerable to threats and harassment by Chinese patrols. Everyone blames the terrain and the weather, which even the most prejudiced person can agree is plain terrible.
What none of this explains is why the Chinese and Pakistanis not only built a two-lane highway through the Karokarams, in terrain and weather similar to Ladakh. And now that highway is being expanded to six-lanes. If that is not humiliating enough for India, the Chinese and Pakistanis have completed survey of a broad-gauge railroad connecting Sinkiang with the Pakistan plains and on to Gwader, Balochistan. This project is on hold because of Pakistan’s internal security issues, but that is a different matter. Are the Pakistanis and Chinese superhuman while Indians are merely human? Perhaps, but no medical evidence has been presented to this effect.
Meanwhile, if this citizen can ask the Army an impertinent question: what are your engineering regiments doing? Pakistan has several army engineer groups (each of several battalions and companies) working with that country’s Frontier Works Organization. In 1972-73, within the span of exactly a year – which means just 180 days for construction, 210 Engineer Regiment completed the road over the Khardung La. This road had been started in 1961 and then abandoned as too difficult. That shows what army engineers are capable of. In the 1965 War, an engineer regiment expanded the mule track to the Haji Pir Pass into a 1-ton road at the rate of a mile or day. True the Pir Panjal Range is more benign than Ladakh. But it is no picnic, and in 1965 the Army did not have the sort of heavy engineering equipment which today can be easily imported. It also could not import consultants from anywhere in the world – as it can today. It did not have All-Terrain Vehicles, GPS support, extreme weather-gear, and helicopters that our road builders have or can have today.
Given that for the last ten years there has been almost a state of emergency in the north because of Chinese incursions, how is it excusable these critical roads have not been constructed? There is no purpose to pointing fingers when all it is is sheer negligence on everyone’s part.If indeed it is so hard for India to construct its strategic and tactical roads, here is a suggestion. Contract with Chinese companies on a turnkey basis to build the roads. This may be the only way to get the roads built before the Chinese advance their line of control another 20-km into India.