India, which had a military standoff with China high in the Himalayas in April, proposes to boost its troop strength near the two countries’ disputed border, a buildup that may be delayed by funding constraints.
The plan for an additional strike force to be based in the province of West Bengal was confirmed by an official in the Ministry of Defence in New Delhi, who asked not to be named according to government policy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cleared the deployment of an additional 50,000 troops to the eastern region at a July 17 meeting of security ministers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The proposal may cost as much as 650 billion rupees ($10.9 billion), it said.
Bolstering operational capability, the Indian Air Force will deploy mid-air refueling tankers and Lockheed Martin Corp.- built C-130J Hercules aircraft at the corps headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal, according to PTI.
“The government has cleared the proposal but there is no money for it,” said Dipankar Banerjee, a retired major general in the Indian army and now a defense analyst with the Forum for Strategic Initiative, a New Delhi-based policy group. “While it may exist on paper, it is unlikely to be a reality for a long time.”
While India has tripled its military outlay over the last decade, China spends about three times as much on its armed forces. India, which in February announced a 14 percent increase in defense spending, is seeking to rein in its budget deficit amid slowing economic growth.
Sitanshu Kar, India’s defense ministry spokesman, declined to comment on the plans.
“The Chinese and Indian governments maintain peace and tranquility in the border area, in the military field they have signed several agreements setting up confidence building measures,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement today. “China is willing to work with India to continue to maintain the peace and tranquility in the border areas.”
The potential for conflict along the Himalayan frontier, scene of a brief 1962 war, was highlighted in April as India alleged Chinese troops had crossed into Indian-held territory in Ladakh in northern India, triggering a three-week escalation in tensions that ended with an agreement negotiated by army commanders.
India accuses China of occupying 38,000 square kilometers of territory in Jammu and Kashmir, while the government in Beijing lays claim to 90,000 square kilometers of land in Arunachal Pradesh, a state in India’s northeast. More than a dozen rounds of talks have failed to resolve the disputes.
“Beijing is unlikely to react” to India’s plan to boost its troop strength, Taylor Fravel a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who focuses on China’s relations with its neighbors, said in an e-mail. “It has been expecting this development and, moreover, enjoys a favorable geographic position and well developed infrastructure on the border that no strike corps can overcome. Also, despite the border dispute, Beijing values good ties with India.”
Leaders of both countries have sought to raise bilateral trade and investment as discussions on a formal border pact continue. India and China, home to more than a third of the world’s people, vowed to raise commerce to $100 billion by 2015, from Indian Commerce Ministry estimates of $75.6 billion in the year to March 31, 2012.
By ensuring an amicable relationship, China and India will provide “new engines for the world economy,” Premier Li Keqiang said during a visit to the Indian capital in May.
Military relations have been hampered by mistrust though and were suspended in August 2010 after China issued a visa to an Indian army officer in charge of forces in Kashmir without stamping his passport, an act seen as questioning India’s rule over the disputed Himalayan territory. China has a close alliance with Pakistan, which has waged two wars with India over Kashmir.
China opposes Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who campaigns for Tibetan autonomy and human rights from exile in northern India.
India’s plan to create the strike force, while designed with China in mind, is part of a broader effort to overhaul the country’s military, according to Mohan Guruswamy, chairman of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, who has written a book on the India and China border dispute. The force would be stationed away from the frontier and would be an offensive unit capable of deploying at short notice, he said.
“Mostly it is a message that India will not fight just on the border, if the situation so developed,” Guruswamy said in an e-mailed response to questions.