Landslides on NH 2 and 37 threatens India's Security

Surendranath Sharma *

Road condition at NH-37 as on July 21 2013
Road condition at NH-37 as on July 21 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam

The frequent landslide-induced severance of Manipur from the rest of India has been a cause for repeated plight of the people inhabiting this remote state. The current sinking of a segment of the NH 39 in Nagaland reportedly will take a couple of months to repair before normal traffic can resume. The depletion of essential goods and medical supplies during such situations, though temporary, has almost always bothered the population.

The successive Governments of India and of Manipur, alike, have all these years not only ignored and neglected but also have shown painful indifference towards the untold sufferings of the people of Manipur. There does not appear to be any consideration or deliberation on the lines of road infrastructure expansion to quell this recurrent debilitating challenge. If at all, the response of the State Government has been ad hoc and solely directed towards temporary patchwork.

As a layman, it is particularly worrisome to think of the chinks in India’s Defence design that such destabilising landslides uncover. Maintenance of all-time road connectivity is a great strategic necessity. Manipur is a border State, abutting South East Asia.

Therefore, one dimension of worry arising out of long connectivity severance is the naked vulnerability of the State to possible threats of external aggression. Although it may be dismissed saying the threat perception on the Indo-Myanmar front is near absent and such a worry is unfounded, it is yet not an impossibility that countries inimical to India may not ever exploit such collapse of critical communication and connectivity lines.

Risk is a function of threat and vulnerability. Risk is the probability of being targeted by a hostile source, of the chances of the attack being successful, and the general exposure to a given threat. Threat is external and vulnerability is internal. Threat assessment is the assessment of probable attacker's potential of causing harm.

Vulnerability reflects the security weaknesses in a system that could accentuate the success of such an attack. Exposure enhances vulnerability and hence the risk. In this instant case, while the Threat perception may be low, exposure is high as Manipur is a border State. Vulnerability is enhanced during such periods of road connectivity excision. May we not forget, for an enemy lying in wait, such occasions are only seeking to be exploited.

In today’s geopolitical and military paradigm, and based on India’s Military threat perception, the Indo-Myanmar front may not figure as a serious issue. However, let us consider a hypothetical situation. The Chinese are waiting for the most vulnerable moment to attack and occupy India’s territory of Manipur.

The Myanmarese Government has secretly permitted passage of the Chinese Military through its territory and airspace as and when the Chinese should decide to invade. Simultaneous landslides on the arterial National Highways NH 2 & 37 cut off the State from the rest of India as there is no alternate route of supply. The restoration of these two highways is expected to take a few months. India’s Defence supply line to the State is completely inactive and dead, making disconnected Manipur highly vulnerable.

Such is the time an enemy would choose to attack and roll in their troops.

Let us also recall the Chinese did not talk hawkish even in 1962. They simply portrayed a picture of being the victim of Indian adventurism and their military incursion is argued only as a reaction to defend their border and national interest. But they had secretly made preparations, well in advance, for the attack.

It cannot be without advance build up that the Chinese had pressed six PLA Divisions into the offensive against India’s three. They had dexterously studied the prevailing geopolitical situation and had struck at the most opportune time; at the time when the Cuban Missile crisis had consumed the full attention of the two Cold war rivals, disallowing distraction even by the Sino-Indian border war.

The moot point is, how prepared is the Indian military to counter and defend the State of Manipur, which is cut off from the rest of the country by landslides along the two operational National Highways, from the aggression of a powerful regional power during such crisis of long connectivity disconnect? Air supplies alone cannot sustain a war effort.

Is the 57 Mountain Division capable of defending Manipur for two long months without any supplies in terms of men and material from the rest of the country? Is there enough number of Air Defence Batteries in Manipur to thwart the enemy’s air incursions? Do we have the supplies of ammunition and munitions or the fuel to last a couple of months of war without any replenishment?

Or, do we even have the minimum necessary level of Armoured Units in this theatre? What is the Contingency Plan for such an eventuality? How does the Government of India plan to protect and defend its citizens living in this remote corner of its geography? Most importantly, so as to prevent such a crippling scenario of connectivity failure in future, what is the perspective plan of improving and enhancing land connectivity with the rest of India?

These questions seek earnest answers.

The history of 1962 is a secret hidden in the secrecy of shame. It is also a history of betrayal and abandonment of the Northeast and of leaving its people in the lurch. The expected cutting off of the State for a period of at least two months from the rest of India only because of a landslide on NH 2 and poor health of a bridge on NH 37 attributed to a recent landslide sounds like déjà vu.

* Surendranath Sharma wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on July 25, 2013

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