Indian Decade

S. Korea’s Tourist Tunnel Model for India

India should emulate South Korea’s success in turning a North Korean provocation into a source of revenue.

Last July, India’s Border Security Force (BSF) uncovered a freshly-constructed 400-meter tunnel on the Wagah-Attari border, the designated entry/exit point at the India-Pakistan border. Since the initial uproar triggered by the sensational discovery dissipated, India has said little about what it intends to do with the tunnel, which was obviously built with ulterior motives in mind.

South Korea offers a potential model for India to follow.

In 1974 South Korea discovered suspicious structures near the international border separating the two Koreas.  After an extensive investigation South Korean authorities uncovered a sophisticated network of underground tunnels that its northern neighbor had built for espionage and military purposes. The longest of these tunnels stretched an incredible 1,650 meters.

The South Koreans chose not to demolish the tunnels, however, which provided damning evidence of North Korea’s malign intentions towards Seoul. Instead South Korean authorities decided to restore the tunnels and convert them into a tourist spot for people wishing to visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the 38th parallel.

In constructing its own tunnels, the South Koreans used Tunnel Boring Machines, a technology that residents of Delhi are familiar with given its usage in recent years as part of the expansion of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC). The freshly-built tunnel was added to one of the original North Korean ones, which this writer visited on Wednesday. The massive project took decades and it was only in 2004 that the South Koreans put the border tunnels on its tourist map in a big way.

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Since then it has enjoyed outstanding success. Despite the government only opening 265 of the tunnel’s 1,600 meters to the general public, more than three thousand tourists visit the tunnels on an average day. This number skyrockets during the peak season between September and November, when twenty or even thirty thousand tourists may visit the tunnel on any given day. With admission to the tunnel costing eight U.S. dollars per person, the South Korean government is seeing a sizeable return on its investment.

Thus, a North Korean malevolent act was converted into an economic boon by the enterprising South Koreans. The obvious question in the India-Pakistan context is: why can’t Indians do the same?