Indian Army logistic capabilities have improved profoundly in the disputed region of Kashmir in the last 25 years, mainly thanks to infrastructure development. Previously, limited road communications hindered the Indian Army’s supply lines in the mountainous region. The enhanced logistics holds considerable significance in mountainous terrain, such as Kashmir, where distances are measured in time, not space.
The recent construction and upgrades of roads and strategic tunnels have turned the tide in the favor of the Indian Army. Notably, the near completion of the new Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL), anticipated to be concluded either by the conclusion of this year or in the initial months of 2024, will further augment the logistics capabilities.
The prevailing Indian Army thinking of Proactive Operations, commonly known as the Cold Start Doctrine, following the conclusion of Operation Parakram, prioritizes expeditious deployment of military assets in wartime. Kashmir, being a mountainous terrain, poses severe mobility challenges. The region is prone to landslides and harsh weather, and its roads are full of sharp turns and steep slopes.
In contrast, limited war – as envisioned by the Cold Start Doctrine – requires swift mobilization of war stores and personnel. To successfully execute the objective, it is imperative to possess a robust and efficient network of roadways and railway infrastructure. To fulfill that requirement, the Indian government allocated a colossal amount for road and rail infrastructure development in the disputed territory of Kashmir. These funds were primarily directed toward three key sectors: the expansion and development of national highways that traverse through the region of Jammu and Kashmir, the construction of strategically important tunnels, and the establishment of a railway connection between the Kashmir valley and the mainland of India.
The initiation of this endeavor can be traced back to the Atal Bihari Vajpayee administration in the early 2000s, with subsequent governments continuing the implementation of this policy. However, the current government led by Narendra Modi, which assumed power in 2014, has made substantial investments in development initiatives in Kashmir. On July 18, 2014, the government of India established the National Highways and Infrastructure Development Corporation (NHIDCL) as a new organization under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The organization was entrusted with the responsibility of constructing infrastructure in border and mountainous regions in addition to the existing infrastructure. This organization is known as the Border Road Organization (BRO) and operates under the jurisdiction of the Indian Ministry of Defense.
One significant development is the USBRL railway line, which aims to establish a vital connection between the Baramulla district and the rest of India. This infrastructure project is expected to facilitate efficient transportation of individuals, commodities, and security personnel, enhancing mobility and connectivity. Former Prime Minister of India Vajpayee officially designated the matter as having “national importance,” to expedite the region’s socioeconomic progress, foster national unity, and fortify India’s “security infrastructure.”
The construction of the railway line was considered a daunting task but now it is on the verge of completion. The key hindrance was the construction of the renowned Chenab Bridge, the highest railway bridge in the world. The bridge is almost complete and will be open in either late 2023 or early 2024. It holds a special significance as it reduces by five to six hours the time it takes to travel from Katra in Jammu to Srinagar in Kashmir Valley. Additionally, the successful implementation of the rail project would grant Indian military forces an uninterrupted means of transportation to the valley, a strategic advantage that had previously been unachievable.
Apart from railways, road and highway development also saw a surge, especially after Modi came to power in 2014. His government doubled the construction of highways in the region by constructing 889 kilometers in only the first tenure of its government, compared to just 450 kilometers built under Congress’ reign from 2010-14. Modi allocated an 800 billion rupee package for the “Naya Jammu and Kashmir” development project, of which a large amount was spent on road infrastructure.
Many mega projects were commenced, including the four-lane strategic Jammu-Akhnoor-Rajouri-Poonch national highway, NH-144A, passing near the Line of Control separating the parts of Kashmir under Indian and Pakistani control. The NH-144A will reduce the distance from 200 km to 168 km. It is a crucial defense road likely to be completed by 2025.
Moreover, the 304 km stretch of the main Indian National Highway NH-44 from Kanyakumari to Kashmir was upgraded as well. The key stretch from Srinagar to Qazigund and Jammu to Udhampur was converted into four lanes to make traveling easy and rapid. The upgrade reduced the journey time between Jammu and Kashmir from 10-12 hours to 5-6 hours.
Moreover, considerable development took place in the construction of strategic tunnels in the region. Various tunnels were constructed, and many are in the process of completion. The key ones include the Z-Morh Tunnel, the Zojila Tunnel, the Chenani-Nashri Tunnel, the Chattergala Tunnel, the Nandni Tunnels and T-5 Tunnel, and the Qazigund-Bannihal Tunnel. All are vital, but the 14.15 km long Zojila tunnel holds special significance. When completed in 2026, it will ensure a safe passage to army convoys going toward Kargil and Leh year-round. Previously, such a journey would require traveling via Zojila pass, which is closed in the winter due to heavy snowfall. The tunnel will provide all-weather connectivity. Besides this, the tunnel will bring down the distance from 40 to just 13 kilometers and reduce the traveling time by one and a half hours.
Besides the Zojila Tunnel, the 870-meter T-5 Tunnel along with the Nandni tunnels (T-1, T2, T-3, and T-4) have contributed to easing logistical constraints. They are being constructed between the Banihal to Ramban section along treacherous mountainous terrain, prone to landslides all year. They will reduce the traveling time from three hours to only 25 minutes, bringing Srinagar and Jammu closer to each other.
How will these developments enhance the Indian Army’s ability to mobilize during wartime in the disputed region of Kashmir, aligning with its limited war doctrinal approach? First, the ongoing upgrades of road and rail infrastructure enables the Indian Army to promptly build up its forces along the Line of Control. It reduces the transit time for both troops and machines, a crucial factor during hostilities. India will be able to quickly replenish war stocks like armaments, ammunition, oil, lubricants, and petrol. The improved infrastructure will also allow for immediate casualty evacuation from the frontlines.
For the first time, the Indian Army will be able to sustain uninterrupted supplies. Constructing tunnels at locations prone to natural hazards limits the probability of unwanted interruption. Finally, the Indian Army’s combat fighting capability will be boosted because forces and equipment can now be swiftly moved to different theaters of the region during war and crisis.
The recent infrastructure upgrade now presents a serious challenge to the Pakistan Army, as the current circumstance gives the Indian Army an advantage in the deployment of personnel and materiel during a crisis. As a result of the upgraded infrastructure, India’s logistics capability at the operational level of war is increased thanks to drastically lowered mobilization time in the mountainous Kashmir region. Previously, the Indian Army lacked this capability. In the event of a new crisis between the two states, the Indian Army will bring its resources to the border and sustain them effectively and quickly.