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Earlier this year, President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation stone of an Indian Army (IA) 'air defence' (AD) station at Nabagram in Murshidabad district, West Bengal that is expected to be complete by 2018.

Earlier this year, President Pranab Mukherjee laid the foundation stone of an Indian Army (IA) 'air defence' (AD) station at Nabagram in Murshidabad district, West Bengal that is expected to be complete by 2018. This new military installation is purportedly part of the infrastructure build-up under way in the Eastern part of India to support the IA's new mountain strike corps (MSC) which was green lighted last year and is designed to launch offensive operations into Tibet.

While the immediate raison behind some of this support infrastructure may indeed be the new offensive posture vis a vis China, the sheer number of new developments spanning all three military services and other security services suggests a comprehensive overhaul of the homeland security architecture in the Eastern part of the country which was till now reaping the dividends of India's 1971 victory in the Bangladesh war. Given that India's East is set for rapid economic growth in the years ahead even as it serves as a beachhead for closer integration with ASEAN, it is clear that the Indian military's profile in the region is being raised to serve as a backstop for a new security framework that can neutralize threats ranging from conventional war to illegal immigration. The state of West Bengal (WB) given its location is the natural 'pivot' for this component of India's 'look east' policy.

The IA's new AD station in Nabagram is envisioned as a permanent military base spread out over 350 acres and will cost Rs 600 crores to develop and will include barracks and other residential facilities for military personnel and their families as well as helipads. Essentially it is a mini township that besides serving as a home for new AD units can also be used as a staging area for pushing in more troops and materiel in a region that sits south of the important Siliguri Corridor.

Meanwhile in North WB, the IA's quest for a composite air base (CAB) that it can use to stage both unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as well as heli-borne operations seems to have borne fruit as well. The WB state government cleared the acquisition of some 670 acres of land for this Army Aviation Core (AAC) base, easily the largest in the country last year.

Both the new AD station and this CAB compliment the major expansion underway at Panagarh in Burdwan district that has now been designated as the headquarters (HQ) for the MSC. Panagarh's old airstrip is being turned into a full-fledged airbase with the Indian Air force (IAF) slated to park at the next tranche of soon to be acquired C-130J transport aircraft over there. Many new underground facilities are also quietly being constructed in Panagarh as it will also host Strategic Forces Command (SFC) assets. The use of the word mega-base to describe Panagarh would not be inappropriate.

Panagarh is ultimately the centre piece of a whole new web of military infrastructure that is being built on either side of the Siliguri corridor as we can see above. Apart from serving as nodes to strategically support the MSC these multi-use military facilities also have something to do with the fact that the Indian establishment now has a deep suspicion of Bangladeshi aims as well. Bangladesh has been involved in a flurry of bilaterals with the Chinese and the Bangladeshi Army (BA) has in recent times conducted exercises that are suggestive of an offensive posture aimed at disrupting India's connectivity with the North East via the Siliguri Corridor. There is now a concern that similar to the Sino-Pak coordination in the northern sector, Sino-Bangla coordination may be being envisaged by Beijing in India's Eastern corridors. The key enablers for such a scheme of things may be China's build-up of strategic infrastructure on the Tibetan plateau and its conscious equippage of the Bangladeshi military. After all Tibet is separated from Bangladesh by a rather narrow stretch of Indian Territory albeit punctuated by Himalayan terrain.

Thwarting such designs however is the Indian military's appreciable increase in its profile in the East which would enable outflanking operations against any Bangladeshi move on the Siliguri corridor and make Sino-Bangla co-ordination during a conventional conflict impossible. That these installations all have either a primary or secondary aviation component underscores their multi-use characteristics. The CAB for instance will be particularly useful for keeping over watch over a region characterized by forested mountains and diverse ethnic groups jostling with each other for space.

Even in the case of the Nabagram AD station, it was pointed out on the sidelines of the stone laying ceremony that the facility would minimize the response time required to mobilize forces during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) for eventualities during floods and earthquakes. Indeed, the Nabagram facility actually fills a crucial gap in the Malda-Murshidabad belt North of Kolkata that does not have much of an IA presence at the moment. This belt is of course characterized by the bend in Ganga as it enters Bangladesh to become the Padma and is being seen by Indian security agencies as one of the channels for demographic subversion and cross-border terrorism being attempted by certain quarters in Bangladesh who are known to liaison closely on such matters with the Pakistani establishment.

Naturally new military facilities in this region will give the Indian Republic an upper hand in tending to 'neighbourly' relations with Bangladesh. And unsurprisingly a lot of the MSC support structure facilities will be based in and around this area including upstream in Purnea, Bihar which already hosts an IAF base and is also being targeted by Bangladesh's DGFI and Pakistan's ISI in a joint move for disruptive aims. New Indian military bastions in the region should serve to facilitate both intelligence and Special Forces operations to completely neutralize any such 'joint move'.

With the rise of Narendra Modi to the helm of Indian affairs, the DGFI's 'strategic' demographic subversion plan is now more or less in shambles as illegal immigration from Bangladesh will no longer be tolerated. In a desperate bid to up the ante, it is known that Bangladeshi intelligence networks have shifted their focus to the riverine channels in South Bengal as a modern fence network comes up along other parts of the India-Bangladesh border. Naturally a final settlement of exclaves/enclaves on the border will help expedite this network further.

The focus of pushing-in illegals into India is now almost certainly the natural riverine network in the Sunderbans and the Midnapore coast just west of it. This region is also being targeted for pushing in arms and subversive elements in addition to the usual trafficking of cattle and drugs. Obviously the South WB situation has made it imperative for the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) to greatly increase its activities in this area with the construction of new stations and basing of substantive assets. An example of the same would be the new ICG station at Fraserganj that will host two hovercrafts to begin with.

But it isn't just the ICG that is heightening its posture here. The Indian Navy (IN) itself which now has operational control of ICG is set to build itself bases in this region. While not much talked about in the Indian media, Bangladesh has made it a national priority to make its Navy a 'three dimensional' force through the acquisition of at least two submarines from the Chinese. Naturally this has raised the threat profile for Indian interests in the Northern Bay of Bengal (BoB) region and the IN is now looking to build a major base at Sagar Island just off the Southern coast of WB. This base will include a Naval Air Station (NAS), radar facilities (which are already being built) and submarine pens to house new conventional submarines here.

While Bangladesh is ostensibly acquiring submarines as a result of its recent encounters with the Myanmar Navy over offshore hydrocarbon fields, the similarity to Pakistani Navy's attempts to acquire new undersea assets on the cheap from the Chinese are too obvious to ignore. Again like in the case of Pakistan, the United States (US) seems bent on complementing China in boosting Bangladesh's military-intelligence complex in lieu of access to facilities such as a projected base in Chittagong riding on the infrastructure development that the Chinese might be doing there. The recent efforts of the US Ambassador in Bangladesh to interfere in that country's general elections are now publicly known.

The Eastern Sector characterized by coastline and riverine boundaries besides highly dense human settlements will naturally warrant credible intelligence gathering capabilities which will have to be a blend of technology and human resources. The IN for instance has revamped the almost unused civilian Behala airport in Kolkata as a UAV base that can keep over watch over the South Bengal region and will station medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAVs over there.

Indeed the megapolis of Kolkata itself is a crucial piece in the emerging security picture in the region. Home to the Eastern Army Command, Kolkata today also houses a Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) National Security Guard(NSG) regional hub in Badu which is also serving as a training ground for Special Task Force(STF) commandos of the Kolkata Police specifically raised keeping in mind the fact that the ISI-DGFI nexus is looking to up the ante on the sub-conventional front in the east. For instance the Lashkar-e-Toiba is known to be midwifing a new terrorist organization called the Difa-e-Mussalman (DEM) on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border that is recruiting heavily from within the displaced Rohingya community. Indian security agencies are naturally worried that DEM may be used against Indian targets in the East and want to pre-empt such moves.

Clearly a 'Great Game East' is underway and a very large component of India's hand is this game has to be on the security side of things. The 21st century is seeing a revival of India's historical trade and investment relationship with the countries of Southeast and East Asia. However the physical linkages that would facilitate this growing relationship needs superior Indian over watch since a whole range of other players including China, the US, Pakistan and obviously Bangladesh are keen to basically draw 'security' rent out of this geo-economic phenomena. Bangladesh in particular is acutely aware of its military weakness and is therefore looking for geo-strategic partners who are keen to use its territory to strengthen their hand in this new great game. India on its part has realized that the era of leaving the Bangladesh border to the simple management of the Border Security Force (BSF) will not suffice and a military backstop is needed. The raised Indian security posture in this environment is in itself a great deterrent to other major powers responding substantially to Bangladeshi overtures.
(By: IBN Live Blog)

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