Fresh campaign for trade through Stilwell Road

Guwahati: During the World War II, when US general Joseph Stilwell was supervising the herculean human efforts to build Stilwell Road through a treacherous and thickly forested mountainous terrain, economics was hardly in his mind as military strategy was the reason for building the road so that the Allied Force could defend Burma (Myanmar) from the clutches of invading Japanese Army. However, today that old international road which is now lying abandoned, is being viewed, if re-opened, as a key path to massive economic and trade growth between India and South East Asian nations through the landlocked and far flung Northeast region. A 61-km stretch of the road lies in India and extends from Ledo in Assam to Pangsu Pass in Arunachal Pradesh, while 1,035 km lies in Myanmar and the last 600 km in China. It was basically built for defence of Burma (Myanmar) from Japanese forces. The road connects Ledo to Yunan province of China through Myanmar. A fresh vociferous campaign for re-opening of Stilwell Road has taken root especially after Arunachal Pradesh Governor Gen (retd) JJ Singh made a strong case for the opening of Stilwell Road at the 60th plenary session of the North East Council (NEC) in New Delhi last month. Though Myanmar reportedly doesn’t sound positive for re-opening of Stilwell Road that passes through its militancy infested northern parts, Northeastern states particularly trade bodies operating from the region lobbying hard for operationalisation of the surface link from World War II days.

An aerial view of the Stilwell road

Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has stated Stilwell Road should be re-opened ignoring security concerns aired by various agencies because connectivity is vital even for security. He is of the opinion that opening of Stilwell Road would sure boost bilateral trade between India and South East Asian nations through landlocked N-E and Myanmar.

During an interactive session entitled ‘Enhancing Business Linkages with Southeast Asia and China’ here, representatives of various trade organizations voiced for re-opening of the old road. The event was organized by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).

ICC chairman M K Saharia said Stilwell Road, which is also connected to the railhead at Ledo in Assam, if opened up, would serve as the most commercially-viable road link and give an impetus to India’s trade with Southeast Asian countries.

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