Connecting India A Road Map for New Roads

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					                                                                                         NO 58
IPCS ISSUE BRIEF                                                                         JANUARY 2008

                                     Connecting India
                                     A Road Map for New Roads
      D SUBA CHANDRAN                Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
         JABIN JACOB

Artificially drawn borders in an age of increasing       various polities involved. This is particularly true of
globalization is anachronistic and regressive.           India’s disputes and difficulties with Pakistan,
India, as the largest country and the only one           Bangladesh and China.
bordering all the remaining countries of South
Asia, should push now for greater connectivity           Fourth, greater physical connectivity, including
across its borders as a means of ensuring a more         communication networks, is essential if economic
stable and prosperous South Asia. Those who talk         partnerships such as the South Asian Free Trade
about India’s glorious past invariably emphasize         Area (SAFTA) and those on the anvil with Southeast
how interconnected the country was with its              Asia and China have to take off and, more
neighbouring regions. While regionalization is           importantly, be sustained. Physical connectivity
proceeding at a fast clip in various parts of the        would facilitate easier, cheaper and quicker
world, connectivity is unfortunately often still quite   movement of people and goods between India
slow and at places, yet to take off.                     and its neighbours. Additionally, such physical
                                                         connectivity with the economies of Southeast Asia
Why is connectivity essential to India and South         holds the best promise for the economic
Asia? How well is India connected physically with        development of India’s insurgency-affected and
the countries of the region? What are the                resource-rich northeastern states. The trade
challenges to ensuring greater connectivity in the       potential of India’s land-locked northeast can
region? What concrete measures can be taken              increase manifold if the region can get access to
to push the process forward?                             the Bay of Bengal whether through Bangladesh’s
                                                         Chittagong or through Myanmar’s Sittwe. These
                      I                                  initiatives would create still more constituencies for
               WHY CONNECTIVITY?                         peace and progress in the countries involved. Fifth,
                                                         physical connectivity is absolutely essential to better
India’s objective of improving connectivity should       integrate the border regions of a country into the
be based on its long-term objectives and interests       national     economy      and    mainstream.      Such
in Central Asia, West Asia and East Asia, including      integration is crucial to alleviating regional
Southeast Asia. First, given India’s energy              disparities that leave border regions lagging behind
requirements, physical connectivity in terms of          the rest of the country on several fronts, particularly
roads and railways and gas pipelines through             economic, and which lead to the persistence of
Pakistan, Myanmar and possibly also Xinjiang in          discontent and dissatisfaction, expressed often in
China, is in India’s long-term interests. Second,        the form of violent insurgencies.
given the stalemate over important bilateral
issues such as the Kashmir conflict and the Sino-        Finally, with India’s growing global profile, physical
Indian boundary dispute, improving physical              connectivity would not only provide depth to
connectivity across borders would provide the            India’s strategic presence in Asia but also enable it
opportunity for increased cultural, economic and         to address effectively non-traditional security
emotional contact between India and the                  challenges that are often also transnational in
countries involved, creating constituencies for          nature, such as drug-trafficking, sea piracy,
peace within them. Third, such constituencies are        maritime terrorism and natural disasters. Needless,
likely to lessen the impact of vested interests,         to say, this is a process that will benefit not just India
including both state and non-state actors, in the        but the rest of South Asia as well.
CONNECTING INDIA                                                                                      PAGE 2

                        II                              the fencing of the LoC, as a defensive measure.
                 THE ROAD SO FAR
                                                        India’s 1,751km-long border with Nepal runs along
The Sino-Indian border is interrupted by Nepal and      the Indian states of Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh,
Bhutan and is divided into three major areas of         Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim. By the terms of the
dispute – the western sector, comprising Aksai          Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship of
Chin, the middle sector and the eastern sector          1950, the two countries have an open border
which encompasses the Indian state of Arunachal         (based on the lines of the US-Canada border)
Pradesh. And across this long border –                  allowing free movement of Indian and Nepalese
approximately 4,000kms in length – are numerous         nationals and providing also for 19 agreed
historical routes through which civilizations have      immigration check-posts, 22 mutual trade routes
interacted over the centuries. However, India’s         and 15 third-country transit routes. In addition, 143
physical links with Tibet were cut off one by one       small customs posts exist along the border.
following the Chinese entry into Tibet in 1950, the
Dalai Lama’s flight into India in 1959 and the 1962     Bhutan’s 699 km-long border with India – touching
border conflict.                                        four Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam,
                                                        Sikkim and West Bengal – is also an open border,
The annual pilgrimage of Hindu pilgrims to the holy     according to the terms of the Indo-Bhutan Treaty
mountain of Kailash Manasarovar in southern             of 1949. There are also proper Bhutanese roads
Tibet, through the difficult Lipu Lekh pass in the      connecting the country to the Indian states of
Indian state of Uttarakhand was the only                West Bengal and Assam.
substantial interaction across land borders
officially sanctioned between the two countries         The 4,351 km-long India-Bangladesh border runs
until the reopening of the Nathu La in July 2006.       through West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura,
Meanwhile, trade routes of old are now used for         and Mizoram. There were three major rail links that
smuggling in the Ladakh region and in India’s           existed between India and Bangladesh prior to
northeast, where these routes usually lie through       September 1965, which were terminated when
Myanmar.                                                armed conflict between India and Pakistan broke
                                                        out. Several road links between India and
British India had numerous road and rail links,         Bangladesh     that  existed   prior    to      the
cutting across what later became the border             independence of Bangladesh were also not
between India and Pakistan, but were all severed        resumed. These include three national highways
after Partition and the 1947 war. Following the         connecting India with Bangladesh – National
Simla Agreement in 1972, India and Pakistan             Highway 35 extends from Calcutta to Barisal and
decided in 1976, to start a rail service, linking New   Bongaon in India to Dhaka; National Highway 40,
Delhi with Lahore. Running twice a week, this rail      meanwhile, connects Siliguri and Guwahati in
service was temporarily stopped, following the          India to Chittagong and Dhaka via Comilla in
terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in            Bangladesh.
December 2001 and was resumed only in January
2004. In February 1999, both countries also began       In addition, there are a number of state highways
a bus service between New Delhi and Lahore,             passing through Murshidabad, Balur Ghat and
which too was briefly stopped after attack in 2001.     Haldibari that connect India with Bangladesh.
                                                        Passenger services have been running on a trial
As a part of the ongoing bilateral peace process,       basis between the two countries, commencing
two bus services were started between the two           with the running of the Maitry (Friendship) Express
parts of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) – between              on the 117km stretch between Sealdah and
Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and between Poonch            Bongobandhu East in Bangladesh. In 2007,
and Rawlakot in 2005 and 2006 respectively,             passenger and freight services were also
carrying only members of the divided families of        proposed between Sealdah/Kolkata terminal
these two regions. Also in 2006, a rail service         (Chitpore) to Joydebpur/Dhaka in Bangladesh,
between the Indian state of Rajashthan and the          and again some trial runs have been made. The
Pakistani province of Sind and another bus service      proposal is for a 10-coach daily train to run from
between the two Punjabs were started across the         Gede on the Indian side to Joydebpur across the
international border. In October 2007, the two          border, and then on to Dhaka (approximately
countries, for the first time since 1947, allowed the   330km).
movement of trucks carrying goods. However,
even as measures are taken to make the Line of          Sri Lanka is the closest maritime neighbour of India,
Control (LoC) irrelevant, India has continued with      and in the current phase of good bilateral
NO 58                                                                                                      PAGE 3

relations, connectivity – physical, economic and            between select cities. India and Thailand also
people-to-people – is at an all time high, if not at        signed an air-services pact in 2006 under which
its best. Air connectivity, between the two                 the designated airlines of both countries operate
countries, based on the open-skies policy has               an        unlimited
been utilized to the maximum with more than 125             number of flights
flights (out of which 102 are of Air Lanka) every           along certain air-
week between the two countries. With Colombo’s              routes. Thai Air At the bilateral level, India
unilateral implementation of the visa-on-arrival            has           been
facility for Indians, tourist arrivals from India are the   operating flight
                                                                                   has developed the Tamu-
highest in the country. Communication links                 services to and        Kalemyo-Kalewa road in
between the two neighbours include direct digital           from         Gaya,
microwave communication links and a submarine               Guwahati        and
                                                                                      Myanmar, which is
cable connecting Tiruchendur in southern Tamil              Varanasi. At the        connected with Moreh
Nadu and Colombo.                                           regional      level,
                                                            India           has
                                                                                   trading post in Manipur.
India has embarked on various sub-regional and              proposed          an India is also engaged in the
regional programmes to link India’s northeastern            India-ASEAN
states with mainland Southeast Asia via both road           open-skies               Kaladan multimodal
and rail networks. Four Northeast Indian states of          regime which will project, which will not only
Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Manipur, and                    facilitate greater
Nagaland, account for India’s 1,643 km-long land-           air        services      connect waterways in
border with Myanmar. In addition, to a maritime             between cities in Mizoram and Myanmar but
boundary of about 600 nautical miles with                   India and the
Myanmar, India also shares maritime boundaries              ASEAN       region. will also facilitate access of
with Thailand and Indonesia. The Andaman and                However,         this the northeastern states to
Nicobar (A&N) islands form two tri-junctions of             proposal is still at
India-Myanmar-Thailand       and    India-Thailand-         the      formative the Bay of Bengal through
Indonesia, with Indira Point in the Nicobar Islands         stage           and       Myanmar’s Sittwe.
only 80 nautical miles from Aceh province of                negotiations
Indonesia.                                                  regarding          its
                                                            modalities       are
At the bilateral level, India has developed the             yet to begin.
Tamu-Kalemyo-Kalewa road in Myanmar, which is
connected with Moreh trading post in Manipur.
India is also engaged in the Kaladan multimodal                                     III
project, which will not only connect waterways in                             THE CHALLENGES
Mizoram and Myanmar but will also facilitate
access of the northeastern states to the Bay of             Since 1947, India’s connectivity with its
Bengal through Myanmar’s Sittwe. Also as part of            neighbouring regions and countries, with few
the sub-regional Mekong-Ganga Cooperation                   exceptions, has only declined. Over forty-five
Initiative (MGCI), a 1,360km-long India-Myanmar-            years after the conflict of 1962, India and China
Thailand Trilateral highway is being developed,             have still not shed their mistrust and continue to let
which will connect Moreh with Mae Sot on                    little movement of either people or goods across
Thailand’s western border via Bagan, the ancient            their borders. The reopening of the Nathu La was a
royal capital in central Myanmar. The project will          tentative first step in ensuring better connectivity
be completed in three stages and the work has               between India and China, but it remains one that
shown some progress. Again under the MGCI,                  appears to be the subject of deliberate
India has embarked on an ambitious project of               obstruction by central government agencies.
connecting Delhi with Vietnam’s capital by rail.            Infrastructure development at Nathu La remains
                                                            minimal more than a year after the opening of the
India’s     initiatives  to   develop      air-based        pass and this does not bode well for other
connectivity with the ASEAN countries have                  infrastructure projects on the anvil, such as the
occurred at two levels – bilateral and regional.            construction of roads along the Line of Actual
India has entered into various liberalized air-             Control (LAC) in both the western and eastern
services agreements with ASEAN countries such as            sectors.
Indonesia,       Singapore,  Thailand     and     the
Philippines. Under these agreements, the national           Hardened     mindsets,    especially   amongst
air-carriers are allowed to undertake flight services       respective bureaucracies, are also in evidence
                              Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
                              developing an alternative framework for peace and security in the region

with respect to Pakistan, where despite the                 been used as a base for terrorist activity against
composite        dialogue,     improving  physical          India. In addition, there is a huge volume of illegal
connectivity between the two countries continues            trade that is carried out between the two
to be a slow process. Across the LoC, cross-border          countries.
terrorism has been a major factor in India
adopting a cautious policy in improving                     With Bhutan, besides difficulties of terrain, the
connectivity in Jammu, Rajouri, Poonch and                  presence of various Northeast Indian insurgent
Kashmir. In Ladakh, however, it is Pakistan which           outfits in the country’s southern jungles, has also
has adopted a go-slow approach, as evident in its           affected physical connectivity projects with India.
reluctance to open the Kargil-Skardu road, fearing          In this regard, following the Royal Bhutan Army’s
its implications for the Northern Areas.                    counter-insurgency operations against, these
                                                            groups, the situation seems to have been
The Indo-Bangladesh border has been highly                  mitigated somewhat, The Bhutanese government
porous and although some 50 per cent of the                 however, has to maintain constant vigil to ensure
border areas are fenced and several thousand                that such groups do not again set up camps in the
border troops are deployed on either side, illegal          country.
migration, cross-border terrorism and smuggling
from Bangladeshi territory continues unabated. In           A promising land bridge between India and Sri
the Indian state of Assam, these migrants affect            Lanka cannot be realized as long as the ethnic
state politics in a major way, having acquired a            conflict continues in the Island. The eruption of the
critical say in an estimated 50 of the state's 126          ethnic war was also responsible for the suspension
assembly constituencies. The influx of illegal              of ferry service between various ports of the two
immigrants in fact, suits certain local political           countries. As such there is need for constant
parties who view them as potential vote-banks.              patrolling over the waters between the two
                                                            countries owing to the smuggling of essential
Illegal migration also occurs between India and             commodities, such as fuel, and people between
Nepal. The exodus from Nepal into India was                 India and the strife-affected areas of Sri Lanka.
excessive during the period of conflict between             There are also occasional clashes between both
                               government forces            navies and between their navies and Sri Lankan
                               and the Maoists, but         rebel boats that make the waters unsafe for
                               has come down                regular traffic.
    Hardened mindsets, drastically after the
                               signing of the peace         Before India embarks on connecting its
     especially amongst        agreement.        The        northeastern states with mainland Southeast Asia,
 respective bureaucracies, Indian government                these states need to be first connected properly
                                                            with the rest of India by road and rail networks. The
 are also in evidence with introduced a system
                               of      identification       Delhi-Hanoi railway intended to facilitate greater
     respect to Pakistan,      cards for people             movement of goods and people cannot be
                               who      cross     the       operationalized as long as India’s border posts are
      where despite the        border areas, but            themselves not connected with the Indian railway
    composite dialogue, this has been far                   network. Cost overruns, delays in implementation
                               from        effective.       and often plain inaction have affected several
     improving physical        Dramatic changes             projects in this region. The Tamu-Kalewa Road, for
connectivity between the in the political                   example, was conceived in 1993 but was not
                                                            completed until 2001. Similarly, though India has
                                           and the
 two countries continues situation emergence
                               recent                       signed an agreement with the Philippines on
    to be a slow process. of over a dozen                   establishing direct air-services between four cities
                               armed groups in the          in the two countries, Air India is yet to identify
                               Terai region of Nepal        these four flight destinations.
                               require        special
attention in order to avoid negative spillover into         Limited physical connectivity has meant that there
India. Both India and Nepal, and particularly,              has been little people-to-people contact in the
urban centers in the Nepalese Terai, have                   South Asian region and between this region and
witnessed      increased    cross-border     criminal       other parts of Asia. Interactions have thus
activities in recent years. Further, Nepal has also         remained confined to the governmental and elite
                              Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
                              developing an alternative framework for peace and security in the region

levels. Consequently, the countries of the region           across the well-defined Indo-Pak border, but also
continue to have an incomplete, often distorted,            include the LoC in J&K. There is increasing
understanding of each other. One of the most                demand to open the Jammu-Sialkot and Kargil-
important factors responsible for extremely limited         Skardu roads and also to open the LoC itself for
connectivity between India and its neighbours has           trade. Given the political and emotional impact
been the prevailing security-oriented mindset               that opening the
among Indian policymakers, which has turned the             LoC will have for
borders into an area of vigilance rather than of            various     sections
interaction and exchange. This complex of                   inside J&K, India
                                                                                   If India and China truly
insecurity has always been at the forefront                 should adopt a             want to be leaders
whether in the case of developing road and rail             proactive policy in
networks, easing visa regimes or liberalizing air-          improving physical
                                                                                 regionally and globally, they
services.                                                   connectivity with           will first need to
                                                            the other side.
                        IV                                                         understand each other
                 THE ROADS AHEAD                            Such a process        better and interact more
                                                            should also have
If India and China truly want to be leaders                 the        long-term   closely at the people-to-
regionally and globally, they will first need to            objective          ofpeople level. This cannot be
understand each other better and interact more              reopening the Silk
closely at the people-to-people level. This cannot          Route,           thus    achieved if the two
be achieved if the two countries continue to                connecting       J&K countries continue to stand
stand and stare at each other across the                    with Tibet, Xinjiang
Himalayan barrier, with arms crossed instead of             and the rest of        and stare at each other
walking together arm in arm. For a start, physical          Central         Asia.   across the Himalayan
infrastructure at Nathu La itself needs to be               Northern India’s link
improved and restrictions on the nature and                 to Central Asia                 barrier.
number of goods that can be traded at the pass              could           help
need to be removed. Further, a world-class                  revitalize a whole
highway between Nathu La and Kolkata, which                 host of towns and cities along the route – Srinagar,
would provide Tibet’s shortest access to the sea, is        Leh, Kargil, Skardu and Gilgit, among others – that
necessary to take Sino-Indian economic ties to the          last saw prosperity several centuries ago.
next level. Such initiatives can also help achieve
breakthroughs along other parts of the Sino-Indian          India’s borders with Bangladesh, Nepal and
border, notably between Ladakh and Tibet. Here,             Bhutan demand effective management to check
the opening of the Leh-Demchok-Kailash                      illegal migration and cross-border insurgent or
Manasarovar road would be a boon not just for               terrorist activity. However, it has also to be
pilgrims and tourists but also for the economy of           acknowledged that illegal migration is largely a
the region. Further, illegal trade in this region must      result of economic factors and hence, India will
be regularized since it helps supply essentials on          need to pay greater attention to the economic
both sides of the border and cannot be stopped              conditions of its neighbours. It will need to be more
by any other measure.                                       generous in its terms of trade with these countries
                                                            and offer to develop physical infrastructure within
With Pakistan, bus and train services across the            these countries that would help generate
international border need to be expanded in                 employment and economic returns within them,
terms of frequency and the number people they               thus reducing economic migration. Since it cannot
cater to. Even if Pakistan is hesitant, India should        be denied that this migration takes place also
take unilateral measures in allowing more                   because there is a market for labour from Nepal
Pakistanis to visit New Delhi and beyond. An                and Bangladesh, it is essential for India and the
increased inflow is automatically bound to                  countries involved to ensure not just effective
increase the demand for more services from within           policing of the borders but to create a humane
Pakistan. The number of truck services should be            system for the movement of labour that would
increased further, and again, India should not wait         meet both political and economic requirements.
for reciprocity. Such an expansion in terms of
physical connectivity should not be focused only            With China planning to extend the Qinghai-Tibet
                              Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies
                              developing an alternative framework for peace and security in the region

Railway into Nepal, India should view the                   border post should be started along National
development as an opportunity rather than as a              Highway 39. Such an initiative will not only
threat and look to having the railway extended              facilitate greater trade and movement of people
into its states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and thus        but help in kick-starting India’s grand plans for
provide all the economies thus linked additional            connecting northeastern states with mainland
opportunities. Similarly, improved road and rail links      Southeast Asia. Moreover, all the projects either
with     Bangladesh       are   essential  for     the      approved or under construction should be
development of India’s northeast – transit routes           implemented in time. Second, complementary
through the country would, for example,                     services such as visas-on-arrival need to be
drastically reduce the cost of several essential            provided to Southeast Asian tourists. The largest
commodities in the Northeast Indian states.                 influx of Indian tourists in Southeast Asia have been
Similarly, plans for transporting gas from Myanmar          recorded where they have enjoyed the visa-on-
to Bangladesh and via Bangladesh to India, which            arrival facility. Finally, maritime connectivity via the
have been hanging fire until now, form another              Andaman and Nicobar islands should be
potential cooperative venture of benefit to all             developed. This will ensure mitigation of security
concerned. In return, India could also allow road           threats emanating from the uninhabited islands of
and rail links between China’s southwest and                the A&N group, greater surveillance in the
Bangladesh via Myanmar and the Northeast.                   maritime region and the emergence of the A&N
                                                            island group as an important tourist destination.
Though there are no land routes with Sri Lanka,             Efforts should also be made to facilitate direct
historical evidence indicates that Adam’s Bridge            tourist entry to the islands rather than forcing them
was once in use between the two countries.                  to take a circuitous route via New Delhi or Kolkata.
Reviving this idea, a land-bridge linking
Talaimannar and Dhanushkhodi, the two nearest
points in Sri Lanka and India respectively, is now          While it is certainly necessary to acknowledge that
being planned. Such a link would facilitate the             years of mistrust and suspicion are not easily
effective movement of both passengers and                   forgotten, it is just as necessary for India and its
cargo,      resulting  in   increased     economic          neighbours to remind themselves that these years
opportunities for both countries. The land bridge           are but a small part of a much longer history of
would also offer tremendous scope for industrial            togetherness, coexistence and exchange. It is
linkages especially between southern India and Sri          time therefore, to see if returning to traditional
Lanka.      Rail    connections   would     provide         forms of interaction by renewing and revitalizing
competitive advantages in the case of high                  historical routes and using modern technologies to
volume traffic and is something that is likely to be        open new ones might not be a way to break out
of immense benefit to Sri Lanka in terms of its             of the current security-driven framework of
industrial development. The land bridge could also          bilateral and multilateral interactions. At the very
connect Sri Lanka to India’s Southern Region                least, such moves should provide an additional
Electricity Grid with the Kudankulam nuclear                push towards finding solutions for existing disputes,
power plant serving as a base load station. There           if not an entirely new
are also hopes that under the Sethusamudram                 framework         for    dispute
Shipping Canal Project, ferry services between the          resolution.
two countries can begin operating again. The
India-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement has been               As home to one-fifth of
extremely successful and a Comprehensive                    humanity, it is imperative for
Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) is                    South Asia to be at the
currently under negotiation between New Delhi               forefront of innovation and
and Colombo. The success of CECA, however, will             change. This is essential
depend heavily on the quality of physical                   not just for its economic        INSTITUTE OF PEACE
connectivity between the two neighbours.                    development and the
                                                            prosperity of its millions but
                                                            also for peace and stability
Three steps need to be taken for better physical
connectivity between India and Southeast Asia.
                                                            in the region. Improved
                                                            physical connectivity is          CONFLICT STUDIES
First, a trans-border bus service connecting Imphal         only the first step forward in
                                                                                           B 7/3 Safdarjung Enclave,
in Manipur and Mandalay via the Moreh-Tamu                  this process.                  New Delhi 110029 INDIA