The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated Atal Tunnel on Saturday, and it saw a lot of reactions even from usual suspect China. The Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times wrote that the tunnel adds very less value. How the opinion piece tried to downplay the importance of the tunnel, establishes that the Chinese are irked by the speed of border infrastructure construction in general and the Atal Tunnel in particular.
The 9 Km long tunnel is the longest tunnel above the altitude of 10,000 feet (approx. 3k meters). It is, for many reasons, has both strategic and political importance to India. And for the very same reasons, Beijing has been angered beyond consolation. The Chinese have been facing the brunt of Indian soldiers who have taken on many significant heights in the southern Pangong Tso while turning the tides in the favour of India in Pangong Tsoas well as on all the other fronts.
The Chinese having seen the brute strength and drive of Indian soldiers first hand were hopeful of stretching the conflict to the winters where they will be in a better position. Given, they are better equipped both logistically and infrastructure wise to sustain their soldiers through the winters.
However, PM Modi had different plans. His relentless push towards increasing border infrastructure has decreased the infrastructure& power differential concerning China. The Atal Rohtang tunnel combined with the 255-km long DSDBO (Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldi)road provides a formidable infrastructure which has negated years and years of Chinese investments in strengthening their borders.
The tunnel cuts through the Pir Panjal Range, reducing the distance between Manali and Leh by 46 km. The journey from Manali Valley to Lahaul and Spiti Valley is now cut short to about 10 minutes from the gruelling 5 hours drive. The Lahula and Spiti Valley remain isolated from the rest of India for six months, this tunnel will provide connectivity to the people living there as well as all-weather connectivity to the armed forces stationed in Ladakh.
Apart from all-weather connectivity, the tunnel built by BRO (Border Road Organisation) has kept all eventualities into consideration. There are emergency escape tunnels under the main tunnel every 500 meters, telephones every 150 meters, fire hydrant every 60 meters, turning cavern every 2.2 km, broadcasting system and automatic incident detection system with CCTV every 250 meters.
The Global Times article proclaims that the road is just a means to the political ends, and it does not provide any military edge to India. However, these claims by the Chinese pseudo-experts are their fantasies and wishes which are utterly nonsensical. The reality is the exact opposite of what the Chinese want us to believe.
The Chinese soldiers have no battle experience and are not used to high-altitude patrolling and battel scenarios in extreme winters. Compare that with India, where soldiers are dealing with insurgency all the time, and maintain their troops at the Siachen Glacier (world highest battlefield). The only edge China had on India was its Infrastructural edge, a promise of year-long supplies and sustained logistics channels.
The Atal Rohtang Tunnel coupled with the 255-km long DSDBO (Darbuk-Shayok-Daulat Beg Oldi) road has countered the infrastructural and power differential of Beijing. The all-weather supply lines and the airstrip on the DSDBO (with the ability to land C-130J Super Hercules) provide the humongous boost to the Indian armed forces’ logistical capabilities.
The Indian soldiers have taken over multiple strategic points, including the heights overlooking the Chinese establishments in southern Pangong-Tso on the LAC. These roads provide all-weather supply lines and logistics for Indian armed forces and further strengthen India’s capabilities to sustain and give a bloody nose to the armature and incapable People’s Liberation Army.
PM Modi has shown that India will not be intimidated by any provocation and will most certainly punch back hard if forced to do so. The Indian government has been working relentlessly towards improving border infrastructure and connectivity all across the India-China border. The Atal Rohtang Tunnel is the latest addition to the efforts and for that matter the most significant till now. China is trying to downplay the importance of the tunnel for self-consolation.
The infrastructure boost, when combined with the lethality of fully supplied Indian soldiers, is way beyond Chinese capability to counter. The Chinese have been trying long and hard to stall Indian border projects, and now they stand outsmarted. The Chinese have analyzed Indian superiority when they combine the Infrastructural push, local public support and the increasing Indian weapon arsenal. Indian army has been giving heavy pounding to the Chinese, and the idea of an Indian side supplied throughout the winter is making China cough blood.