The Geostrategic Significance of the Frontier Highway in Arunachal Pradesh

The Northeast Dialogue
The work-in-progress frontier highway in Arunachal Pradesh is a strategic asset for Bharat. The geostrategic gravity of this highway emanates from the Chinese brinkmanship in the eastern Himalayas. The Chinese geopolitical weight in the region became evident in the 1950s because during this period it annexed Tibet by force which led to a massive migration of Tibetans including His Holiness Dalai Lama to India. Following this geopolitical tension, the Sino-Indian War in 1962 unsettled the region. The Chinese territorial appetite was amplified and it behaved like a regional hegemon. Salami slicing (incremental territorial expansionism), border skirmishes and cartographic redrafting became its preferred tactics to keep the tension in the region brewing. Its expansionist streak was seen in recent times at Doklam, Galwan, Tawang, etc. This was responded to with equal measures. For Bharat, territorial integrity is the top priority. This resolve is shown in action under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The 1,700 km long frontier highway along the McMahon Line connecting the bordering districts of Tawang, East Kameng, Upper Subansiri, West Siang, Tuting, Mechuka, Upper Siang, Dibang Valley, Desali, Chaglagam, Kibithoo, Dong, Hawai, and Vijaynagar from Bhutan to Myanmar is a geostrategic milestone. It was conceived in 2016 and is expected to be completed in 2027. Work in this direction has started at a quick speed. This shows the urgency and importance Bharat gives to its territorial intactness.

The infrastructural development that China has brought in along the McMahon Line is quite extensive. The frontier highway is a precise and direct response to this and to curb China for its irrationality. The highway is going to become an all-weather road to handle any geopolitical and geostrategic pressure that is likely to emanate from the other side of the border. From Tawang to Vijayanagar covering the entire border space in Arunachal Pradesh, the frontier highway is a milestone in Bharat's robust preparedness in the eastern Himalayas. The dragon finds a fitting competitor. The scale with which communist China develops its infrastructural might both at the border and in the hinterland, the frontier highway is a geostrategic imperative. The risk these hard infrastructures present leaves no scope for a second thought but to act urgently to protect the territorial integrity of India. The frontier highway is a manifestation of Bharat's right intent and seriousness in addressing the possible dangers that the enemy constantly poses. The frontier highway will present the required checkmate to Chinese bullying attitudes in the region. Beijing's reaction to these infrastructural initiatives is not new. It does this all the time to keep itself relevant in the thick of things. However, it has no business in making any comment as Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of the sovereign Bharat. China does this drama to keep the issue alive and uses effectively its propaganda machinery to develop some geopolitical weight in the region. The same China presents no hesitation in developing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through the Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK). It knows the disputed character of PoK and exercises no restraint. It instead tutors India and what it does in its sovereign country. India understands China's cunning and exercises patience and quietness making necessary preparedness to give the latter reply as fits the occasion. 

However, the work-in-progress frontier highway will also play a major role in strengthening Bharat's border infrastructure and seamless connectivity. It will present a significant impetus in encouraging economic engagement in the region. Infrastructure and connectivity have always played a pivotal role in modernising the economy and opening the scope for economic participation. Therefore, the frontier highway is also going to be an economic asset apart from being a strategic masterstroke. This is also going to develop a connectivity conduit by interlinking the East-West Industrial Corridor Highway, and the Trans-Arunachal Highway. It will also discourage migration from the border space to the urban space. The development will become more distributive than concentric. Pressure on the urban space will be largely eased. The volatilities of the border space and Chinese hegemonic gravity will be minimised on account of India's fully prepared vigilant presence in the region. The Myanmar chapter at present is in the doldrums. The Chinese alleged involvement in derailing democratic government there makes the geopolitics in the region disturbed which imposes a cloud of uncertainty around India's infrastructural projects in Myanmar. Given the geopolitical complexity in the region, India makes measured strategic progress and anchors its hold firmly and irreplaceably. Building tunnels, Bridges, airports, railroads, highways, etc., has become a part of the process that ensures India's strength and resilience systematically.

On the contrary, China's determined efforts in building highways, tunnels, bridges, railways, etc., on the Tibetan Plateau explains its preparedness. The skirmishes it indulges in along the LAC indicate its ulterior motive. Though it might claim that it does what it does for mainly the economic development in Tibet, the territorial will embedded in this exercise cannot be ignored. The Nyingchi-Lhasa rail line and highway that Beijing has built and some sections that remain under construction come quite close to the McMahon Line. Its concept of reconstituting border villages and a host of other things are symptoms of the complex geopolitics of the region. Chinese brinkmanship has been largely responsible for the disturbed geopolitics of the region. Much of these crises is expected to be resolved by the frontier highway. Therefore, India puts the required effort in the right direction to ease these tensions in the region.

  • Dr. Jajati K. Pattnaik is an Associate Professor at the Centre for West Asian Studies,        School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University – New Delhi. Email:  
  • Dr. Chandan K. Panda is an Assistant Professor at Rajiv Gandhi University, Itanagar,        Arunachal Pradesh. Email:



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