China’s raking up the Arunachal issue shows that despite mutual protestations of friendship and taking of ‘confidence-building measures’, nothing has basically changed – and will not change – in China’s stand on the border problem. And we have been culpably remiss in making preparations to prevent a possible Chinese aggression, despite what had happened in 1962. It is only on April 11, after the Chinese announcement of building a railway line into Nepal that our Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, has said that a railway station will be ‘soon’ set up in Arunachal Pradesh close to India-China border – something that should have been done long ago.

It may be recalled that China calls Arunachal Pradesh as Southern Tibet and lays claim to the whole of it. The Chinese have been engaged in logistical build-up on their side for many years but India chose to take no notice of it. It is only during the later part of UPA-II regime that the first steps were taken to bolster India’s defence on the Himalayan border in the eastern sector.

The Manmohan Singh Government decided to form a Mountain Strike Corps to counter a possible Chinese attack. Two mountain brigades and one independent armoured brigade have already been raised. According to reliable but not officially confirmed reports, this Corps will eventually consist of two infantry divisions, three independent armoured brigades, three artillery brigades, an engineer brigade, an air defence brigade and an aviation brigade. This corps has been raised for counter-offensive rather than for fighting a purely defensive war.

In the fifty-three years since the traumatic shock of a humiliating military defeat in 1962, economic development, including better road communication facilities, has gone on apace in Arunachal Pradesh. The psychological and emotional integration of the people of Arunachal Pradesh with the rest of India is now complete – a marked difference from the situation that obtained half a century ago. The small population of about 1.5 million is divided into 26 major tribes and over a hundred sub-tribes. The Arunachalis know that if China ever occupies their land, it will inevitably mean a demographic change in the population pattern as has happened in Tibet and the Muslim-majority Xinjiang province of China where very large numbers of Han people were settled, often leading to skirmishes with the local people.

It is absolutely essential that the Government does not do anything that can alienate the people of Arunachal Pradesh. Recently, the Centre decided to extend the enforcement of the AFSPA to twelve districts of the State by one more year. There was strong public resentment against the extension of the controversial law. Several organizations including student bodies vehemently condemned the decision.

The reaction was so strong that the Union Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju, who himself belongs to the State, immediately assured the people that if the State Government felt it could deal effectively with the terrorists (mainly the Songbijit faction of the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) and the anti-talk faction of the ULFA), on its own and was not in favour of the extension of the AFSPA, his ministry would forthwith revoke the extension of the law.

It may be mentioned in this connexion that a twenty km belt on the border of Arunachal and Assam was declared a ‘disturbed area’ under the AFSPA long ago because this area was found to be used by the terrorists to escape from one State to the other when chased by the security forces. This was also strongly resented by the people.

Another disturbing development in the region has recently taken place. The Centre had entered into a ceasefire agreement with the Khaplang faction of the rebel Naga outfit NSCN(K) way back in 2001. Late last month there was a round of talks between the representatives of the Centre and those of the NSCN(K). In course of the talks the Central officials told the NSCN(K) that a close watch was being kept on their activities. The Government knows that the group had struck an alliance with some separatist outfits of Assam and Manipur and was providing training facilities to them. This would not be tolerated.

The reaction of the faction’s leader, Khaplang, was to repeat his vow to carry on the armed struggle for the independence of the Naga people. Khaplang belongs to the Zemi Naga tribe which inhabits both sides of the international border between Manipur and Myanmar. It has been China’s policy to spread disaffection among the tribals of north-east India. The Centre has to deal with the situation imaginatively. The insurgents must be disarmed and isolated but nothing should be done to alienate the people. (IPA Service)