Home-grown Islamic terrorism

Historically, India and Indians have never been good at reading threats or dodging dangers. Indian governments in particular have failed to be realistic in their assessment of adversaries or to anticipate difficult situations created by internal and external actors and, therefore, have fared badly in diverting and diminishing threats, generally behaving like immobilised rabbits thrown as food into python pits.

There’s a long inglorious record of this. Take an arbitrary starting point. The 12th Century king of Delhi, Prithviraj Chauhan, reacted to the rampaging Mohammad Ghori on his annual looting campaigns into Hindustan by chasing the Afghan only up to Bhatinda, before letting him get away. This happened, as the legend goes, 16 times, but on the 17th such occasion Ghori got the better of Prithviraj, putting the latter out of his misery by first gouging out his eyes, no doubt to avoid the tedium of being regularly chased only up to a certain point in eastern Punjab! The reality, however, is just as damning. Ghori was not pursued much beyond Bhatinda by Prithviraj after he defeated the Afghan raider in the First Battle of Tarain (in 1191) in the hope, no doubt, that he’d have the good sense not to return. Alas, Ghori did the next year and this time Chauhan lost the second battle and his life. The wages of misjudging an adversary, of not taking him seriously! Later, the East India Company was similarly misjudged by the landlubber Mughal dispensation until it was too late.

The trouble is New Delhi does not look beyond its nose, fails to act against threats before they become full-blown, and remains stunningly complacent and inactive until the calamity is upon the country. The habit of not thinking and acting proactively, and rarely preempting a threat or preventing a disaster or catastrophe from happening despite usually having prior information and often the means and wherewithal, and even official agencies in place, to forestall such an eventuality, has cost the nation dear. Of course, once the worst happens, official agencies bestir themselves. India has inverted the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” to “Never be Prepared”!

Such bleak thoughts are prompted by a news report referring to the differences between the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) over whether the execrable international terrorist organisation Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) poses a threat to India and how to handle Indian Muslim youth attracted by its medievalist ideology aimed at “reviving” the 7th Century Caliphate stretching from the Levant to western India, an extended swathe of land the self-anointed khalifa, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi calls, Greater Khorasan.

Typical of the overly bureaucratised Indian state, the differences have come to a head over a procedural matter of whether or not to file an FIR (First Information Report), the requirement before a police investigation can get underway. This is apparently an issue of major importance to IB and NIA, both populated by Indian Police Service officers. Talk of misplaced priorities! So, instead of working on ways to ensure that support for, and potential followers of ISIS and al-Qaeda are dealt with urgently and with dispatch and deterrent measures rolled out, inaction is spurred by irrelevant discussions on following the right procedure. The ends are thus often confused by endlessly debating the means.

The specific issue here is about FIRs being registered against extremist Islamist groups and its members to facilitate investigation into their nefarious activities. The NIA is for it, the IB supposedly fearing the effect of such a preventive measure on Muslim youth and the minority community, is against it, and home minister Rajnath Singh is being asked to adjudicate. Prima facie, this seems to be a non-issue raised by a stalwart organisation, IB, whose abject failure to process the available intelligence, alert the state police, and prevent the 28/11 seaborne raid by Pakistan-based terrorists on Mumbai led to its being stripped of the anti-terrorism/counter-terrorism role and responsibility and the NIA formed in 2009 to handle them. It has made the IB determined to show up the fledgling body in some way or the other, and the FIR issue afforded it the opportunity to paint the NIA as a bunch of mavericks with a rule-breaking bent of mind. Not sure how the menace of terrorism can be throttled without adopting irregular methods. But IB seems motivated by the desire for bureaucratic one-upmanship.

Meanwhile, there are still no laws and regulations permitting close and continuous monitoring of Arab monies channelled into India by Sunni-Salafi “charitable” trusts in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates, or legal requirement by beneficiaries to verifiably account for the uses these funds are put to. It is precisely the money flooding into the southern Indian states, Kerala in particular, and Andhra Pradesh-Telangana, and Karnataka, all with sizeable minority populations, that is responsible for communalising and destabilising previously harmonious societies. The state police are well aware of the mischief underway but local politics catering indiscriminately to minority sentiment have defanged them. More frequently, however, the matter of the threat posed by ISIS and al-Qaeda working separately with Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and other such outfits is reduced, ridiculously, to breast-beating about Pakistani ploys and stratagems, ignoring altogether the malign undercurrents within Indian society that need to be checked.

Indian democracy has to respect minority views but cannot overlook the danger from spreading Wahabbi values and ideas redolent of desert Islam displacing the syncretic and moderate Sufi Islam rooted in the local environs, and the resulting virulence and violence has to be stopped at all cost. Unless it has a death wish, the Indian state cannot avoid the hard option of intrusive and intensive-extensive policing of potential hotbeds of Islamic extremism in the country, scrutinising financial flows and Internet and other electronic communications traffic, installing its agents in SIMI and similar organisations, and apprehending, detaining and dissuading troublemakers attracted to radical causes. India cannot risk taking things lightly as is its habit. For strong counter-terrorism efforts to be strangled by legalism and procedure is to mock the peril creeping up on the country.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Oct 17, 2014, at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Home-grown-Islamic-Terrorism/2014/10/17/article2480912.ece

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, civil-military relations, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism, West Asia | Leave a comment

Giving our foes the advantage

The Line of Control (LoC) dividing the Indian portion of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir from its Pakistan-occupied parts is, like the Line of Actual Control (LAC) separating India and China, a Cease-Fire Line (CFL).

These lines were established when the last major hostilities with these countries — the 1971 War, and the withdrawal by the Peoples Liberation Army to a more defensible and logistically maintainable line in the 1962 War — ended.

Under international law, a ceasefire line is just that — a temporary stand-still agreement terminating active military operations without prejudicing legal or other claims on territory held by either country pending a final negotiated settlement of the boundary.

Implicit in the concept of a CFL, therefore, is the sanction available to any of the parties to violate it at any time for any reason, including gaining of military or other advantage or slivers of territory to buttress its claims.This is the legal status of the LoC and LAC that both Pakistan and China respectively adhere to.India, curiously, has adopted the view that these Lines are, for all intent and purposes, international borders whose violation New Delhi will not brook.

The unilateral stance by India of the LoC as a settled border, for instance, has resulted in New Delhi rarely bringing up in international councils the disputed nature of western Kashmir and the Northern Areas, inclusive of Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, thereby reinforcing the Pakistani contention that the only matter remaining to be resolved is the status of Indian Kashmir.

Unquestioningly accepting the Chinese annexation of Tibet and the forcible assimilation of the Tibetan people by supporting the myth of an ‘autonomous region of Tibet’ as integral to the Chinese whole has likewise bolstered the Chinese position that peace will come when Arunachal Pradesh regarded by it as only another part of Tibet — ‘southern Tibet’ — is ceded to Beijing.

India has thus lost ground politically and legally vis-à-vis both Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Chinese-occupied Tibet.
Neither Pakistan nor China has made the mistake India has, and continually contest the LoC and LAC with armed intrusions, artillery duels, and indiscriminate firings, to highlight the disputed nature of these borders and to ensure their respective territorial claims are active, for fear that not doing so may, in time, accord the status quo sanctity which New Delhi desires.
Thus, frequent military eruptions on the LoC and LAC and, hence, a series of never-ending crises on the borders with Pakistan and China, are preordained with tensions being stoked by sensation-seeking 24/7 electronic media and print media, both apparently as ignorant of the meaning of CFL in international law as the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

At the root of India’s problems with the LoC and LAC is the absence in the Indian political leadership, the Indian government, and especially the MEA, of what the great theorist of geopolitics Halford Mackinder called, “the map-reading habit of mind”. The importance of expanding and safeguarding sovereign territory on land and sea is scarcely understood.
The spatial imperatives of strategy and foreign and military policy, when not reduced to military-wise nonsensical axioms, such as “not an inch of territory will be lost”, are treated as matters of political expediency.

Thus, the diffident Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent, overcome by the flattery of Field Marshal Ayub Khan seeking “rahmat”, magnanimously returned to Pakistan the Haji Pir salient captured at great cost by the Indian Army in the September 1965 War, without appreciating its strategic importance as a finger sticking into Indian Kashmir and which piece of real estate has ever since been used to infiltrate militants and other undesirables to create havoc in J&K and elsewhere.
Six years later, with Bangladesh liberated, 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War (PoWs) as leverage, and Islamabad on its knees, a supposedly hard-headed, Indira Gandhi, instead of imposing a victor’s peace sanctioned by international law requiring the formalisation of the LoC as international border, in a fit of misplaced generosity, accepted the supplicating Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s plea that he be given time to create consensus at home for such a permanent solution.

Rather than telling Bhutto that thrusting the Indian design for peace down resisting Pakistani throats was his problem, and the price for waging war and the return of PoWs was his signature on the dotted line, Indira gave in. India still suffers due to her myopia.

One of the main consequences of such political ham-handedness even when dealt a winning hand is that the Indian military simply does not trust the elected rulers and the Indian government to do right by them and the country.
Whence, the unprecedented warning some years back by an army chief that if the Siachen Glacier is asked to be vacated of Indian troops as part of some grand compromise with Pakistan, and should the situation be exploited by the Forces Command Northern Areas of the Pakistan army to establish an armed presence there, New Delhi must not expect the Indian army to retake those forbidding heights.

The respect for geography and the spatial concerns of good strategy were at the core of British imperial policy of ‘distant defence’ based on Indian control of the Indian Ocean littoral, influence in regions stretching from the Caspian Sea to Central Asia, and the strengthening of the ‘Mongolian fringe’ to the north and the North-East.

Those geostrategics were discarded by Jawaharlal Nehru — his suspicion of geopolitics surpassing his good sense. To promote peace Tibet was not contested, nor was the taking of Aksai Chin by China, Coco Islands were gifted to Myanmar and, in 1974, the Kachchateevu Island to Sri Lanka. India has never recovered.
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[Published in the Hindustan Times, Oct 13, 2014 at http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/analysis/giving-our-foes-the-advantage/article1-1274611.aspx#disqus_thread

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia, Terrorism, Tibet, West Asia | 3 Comments

Significant weapon to be tested soon

Nirbhay — the 1,000 km subsonic cruise missile being developed in land, sea, and air versions, will undergo its second test flight on Oct 17. DRDO seniors are confident that the sensor malfunction that had marred the first test-firing has been corrected, and that this time around the missile will deliver unblemished performance. What’s most significant is that the mid course navigation of the missile by means of satellites. aircraft. etc is in place and worked well during the first flight. Prioritised, the project will soon have a lethal new BVR weapon for the Indian military, enabling neutralization of all kinds of medium distance-targets, and to otherwise keep adversary weapons platforms at bay.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, South Asia, Weapons | 4 Comments

Impending MMRCA Waste

Narendra Modi has handled Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping, and Barack Obama well. So fending off pressure from the Indian Air Force (IAF) and European states on medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) should be easy, especially because favouring the French Rafale aircraft or the German Eurofighter is likely to permanently tar the reputation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party as the Bofors gun scam did the Congress party. A boondoggle lurks just below the MMRCA decision and requires, not finalising, but scrutiny by the Central Bureau of Investigation.

The MMRCA was conceived by the IAF brass as means of procuring Western aircraft under the rubric of “diversifying supply sources”. The deficiencies in the MMRCA concept and the Rafale aircraft and deal have been analysed in my previous writings. But how supplier states brazenly play a con game using transfer of technology (TOT) provisions with the full connivance and complicity of the ministry of defence and services headquarters is astonishing and has, so far, gone unnoticed. An egregious example is that Dassault, as part of the Rafale contract, has promised gallium nitride (GaN) technology to make semi-conductor chips utilised in high-powered avionics but refused to part with technology for the foundries to fabricate the chips! India will thus pay through its nose for technology that cannot be converted into a component, which will end up being imported for the lifetime of the aircraft.

Eurofighter has come back into the reckoning because the visiting German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier offered 126 of this aircraft for Rs 20,000 crore less than the Rafale. A discounted price cannot outweigh the redundancy aspect attending on the MMRCA in general and the negatives of the Eurofighter/Rafale in particular. Take the case of the AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar enabling combat planes to shift between ground attack and air-to-air interception roles. The European consortium EADS talked up the dated and deficient Captor-M PESA (passive electronically scanned array) radar when IAF was assessing the Eurofighter. It is to be enhanced to full AESA capability courtesy a $1.8 billion 5-year Captor-E project just sanctioned by the UK government. New Delhi will thus pay for the development of the enhanced Captor-E system, which will be available a decade late for retrofitting on the Eurofighter peddled to IAF without, however, enjoying intellectual property rights on the AESA technology as its development-funder!

More significantly, this plane has an unstable flight control system driven by faulty software that, according to a story in reputable periodical Der Spiegel dated July 10, 2013, has led to many near-disasters such as the aircraft almost flying into the air traffic control tower at the Neuberg air base in 2007. Other serious problems afflict this plane such as a flawed pilot ejection system. Design and system deficiencies have periodically grounded the Eurofighter fleet in the German Air Force. The Austrian Air Force, with 15 Eurofighters in service, detected 68 defects in it that potentially could have caused fatal crashes such as the altimeter being off by nearly 200 feet, unbalanced aircraft owing to incorrect pumping of aviation fuel into the engine, etc.

The main production plant at Manching, moreover, lost its licence to manufacture the Eurofighter because a German defence ministry review, in the words of Der Spiegel, found “unprecedented sloppiness in production”, identifying 35 defects in the production process and another 49 in the quality control process. Worse, EADS delivered only 108 aircraft instead of 143 Eurofighters for the contracted sum of 18.6 billion Euros. Further, the Eurofighter, like the Rafale, has found no buyers, because it represents obsolete technology! Most problematically from the Indian perspective is the fact that Eurofighter has many US-made components and its networking system (data fusion, air-to-air and other communications links, etc.) is designed by the American company, Raytheon. From India’s past experience of the US terminating spares and other material supplies over policy differences and in violation of contractual obligations, Eurofighter is thoroughly compromised goods. Grounding of C-17/C-130 transport fleets is one thing; losing whole squadrons of frontline combat aircraft this way in a crisis is something else altogether.

Interesting revelations may tumble out if CBI inquired into how, why, and by whom the MMRCA decisions were crafted. In the early 2000s, as a “stop gap” measure a decision was taken to acquire 12 Mirage 2000-5 aircraft with 85 per cent of its life still remaining from Qatar, which had acquired them from France in 1997. The tripartite deal, involving aircraft producer Dassault, was struck in April 2005 for $600 million, including a stock of 500 air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles. It was aborted a few months later when IAF headed by Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi arbitrarily slashed its offer to $375 million. The decision by a protesting Qatar to back out of the deal was used to conjure up the entirely novel MMRCA requirement and push for global tender, which Dassault hoped to win and, surprise! surprise!, did.

It is unfortunate that military bosses cry wolf in order to stampede the government of the day into approving purchases of often unnecessary weapons platforms they desire. The IAF brass did so to get the Qatari Mirages sanctioned before abruptly junking the deal and opting for shinier hardware; now they say they can’t do without the Rafale! If the need was so urgent 10 years ago, why was the termination of the Qatari transaction engineered? The problem of depleting fighter squadrons that IAF complains about can be filled in short order and at fraction of the eventual $30 plus billion MMRCA cost, as suggested by this analyst, by accelerating production and induction of the Tejas Mk-1 for short-range air defence combined with off-the-shelf buys of the multi-role and technologically superior Su-30s and MiG-29Ms (whose servicing infrastructure is in place) until the Indianised genuine 5th generation fighter, Su-50 PAK FA enters service by the end of the decade. Finally, after cutting Rs 3,000 crore from the army’s procurement budget as an economy measure, defence minister Arun Jaitley may find it hard to justify a requirements-wise questionable MMRCA costing Rs 1.8 lakh crore, or sixty times as much.

[Published in the New Indian Express, Oct 3, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Impending-MMRCA-Waste/2014/10/03/article2459932.ece

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 35 Comments

Strange, show of sensitivity

It is puzzling why the Narenra Modi government was so solicitous of the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Instead of quietly urging on the Tibetan cause, the Delhi government under Central rule, as seems to be the convention whenever a Chinese notable is in town, acted as the Chinese ‘thanedar’. Hence the Delhi Police were marshalled in force to silence peaceful Tibetan protesters demanding a “Free Tibet” by manhandling and arresting them for the duration.
The main thing that distinguishes India from China (other than world class infrastructure — superfast trains, highways, etc) is democracy. And, it was the democratic rights of the Tibetans for peaceful protest and assembly were denied the Tibetans in India, much as the Tibetans in Tibet are, ironically, denied them by China! More astonishing still was the fact that the lone Arunachali in the cabinet, a Minister of State for Home no less, Kiiren Rijiju, was kept out of the State banquet and all other official interactions with Xi. Has GOI’s show of such sensitivity over Tibet vis a vis China fetched India anything over the years, except now all of Arunachal Pradesh is officially shown in Chinese maps as “Southern Tibet”. Some diplomatic exchange this! Instead, shouldn’t India have responded all these years — as per its own policy roots in recognition of only “autonomous region of Tibet” as falling within China”s sovereignty — and that if Tibet is not genuinely autonomous, doesn’t it logically follow that India is not bound to consider Tibert as in any way Chinese? Hence, shouldn’t Tibet then be shown in a different colour on Indian maps to denote its questionable status? When the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj equated India’s support for “Once China” policy with China’s “One India (including all of Arunachal Pradesh)” policy, there was reason to exult that India had entered upon a brave new world where national interest was uncomprisable and would be pushed hard. And then there was this show of deference to China. Modi’s personal relations with Xi are a great diplomatic plus, but so casually reverting to the Congress party era attitude to genuflecting to Beijing was unnecessary. Tibet is a strong leverage for New Delhi and the government shouldn’t shy away from using the Tibet card, with the Dalai Lama as the perfect knight to Beijing’s pawns. Beijing never has been influenced by concerns of showing sensitivity, or why else would Xi authorize PLA and “civilian”movement into the disputed Chumar sector of Ladakh knowing fully well it’d create a ruckus during his summit with Modi? It was a way of reminding India of Chinese claims. How to stake a position with regard to an autonomous Tibet and territorial claims on the LAC and sticking by them are something Modi needs quickly to learn from Xi.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, society, South Asia, Tibet | 5 Comments

Orbital Jumps, But How?

In Beijing to prepare the ground for the Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summit, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval talked of Sino-Indian relations as primed for an “orbital jump”. Seeing these bilateral ties as a satellite in a low-earth orbit which, presumably powered by the success in the apex level talks, will be thrust into a high-earth or more strategic orbit is fine. The problematic part is to know what will push the ties into that more desirable state.

Low-earth orbit satellites have relatively short life because pulled by the gravitational force they eventually collapse back into the earth’s atmosphere and burn upon re-entry. But a low orbit policy, metaphorically and otherwise, hews more closely to ground reality which is that, with the border dispute, the India-China relationship is dictated by the line of actual control (LAC) and what transpires around it.

The ongoing incident in Chumar with Xi in India, suggests China is playing a different game to what New Delhi believes it is in. For Beijing its territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh and in Aksai Chin are uncompromisable (hence, “stapled visas” for Arunachalis) because accepting the status quo as boundary solution with India would pressure Beijing into accommodating several Southeast Asian nations on its extensive “nine-dash line” claims in the South China Sea. So, a resolution of the dispute can be safely pushed out to the remote future, with Special Representative talks only offering cover for lack of progress.

Modi’s plea for increased Chinese investments in infrastructure and manufacturing sectors and for shifting Chinese manufacturing plants to India as means of balancing Sino-Indian trade grossly favouring China was met partially with promises of foreign direct investment in industrial parks, etc. But there’s an irreconcilable clash of visions here.

Modi’s view of turning India into an international manufacturing hub generating massive employment runs smack into Xi’s vision for an “Asian century of prosperity” premised on coupling China’s “workshop” to India’s “backoffice”—the hackneyed Indian software wedded to Chinese hardware type of thinking. In other words, Xi is for freezing China-India economic ties on the basis of current national strengths, which surely is unacceptable.

With economic relations on the upswing, hardpower and geopolitics will matter more. India can exploit the mutual antipathy China and Japan feel for each other by acting the cat in the Panchtantra tale playing the two monkeys off each other. Japan will need no coaxing to assist New Delhi in slanting the balance of power and influence in landward and maritime Asia against China.

Modi can mouth trade makes for peace-mantra and grow the Chinese economic stake in India. But for larger impact, he should payback Beijing for its planned proliferation of nuclear missiles to Pakistan by transferring Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles to Vietnam, the Philippines, and any other state on China’s periphery desiring them, something I have advocated for over 20 years. There was talk of such transfer when the external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and later president Pranab Mukherjee visited Hanoi on the eve of Xi’s visit, but New Delhi got cold feet. Unless India exploits the prevailing fear in Asia of China to the hilt, India will be forever disadvantaged. New Delhi better muster the will to conduct this two-faced game, or lose ground to Beijing.

Ties with the United States can be launched into a higher orbit by simply agreeing to buy several Westinghouse enriched uranium-fuelled reactors, the Indian liability law be damned. This is not going to happen. In the event, the bilateral relations will fall back on familiar themes. The trouble here is that, contrary to the rhetoric of India as “net security provider”, the US is mostly interested in seeing how India can fit into its Asian security architecture.

Washington is habituated, from Manmohan Singh’s days, of talking up the “strategic partnership” but only as vehicle for advancing US interests. In its “war on global terror”, for instance, Washington expects New Delhi to do everything to zero out the risk to Americans but does little to pre-empt terrorism targeting Indians as that involves Pakistan Army’s sponsorship of terrorist outfits.

This is reflected in the nature of the intelligence exchanges — the US insisting on raw data while only providing information filtered through American policy lenses. In this same vein, the US government is always keen to shape Indian foreign policy as it did during Congress party rule regarding Iran, for example.

At the heart of the bilateral relations, moreover, is sheer divergence of interests, especially relating to India’s great power aspirations the core of which is nuclear security. The United States has been active from John Kennedy’s time to pre-empt and prevent India’s becoming a consequential nuclear power, scrupling to nothing, including buying into China’s scheme to nuclear arm Pakistan.

In the wake of the 1998 tests, it accepted a civilian nuclear cooperation deal that New Delhi for some mysterious reasons was eager to have on the condition India never test again, thereby ensuring India never has a modern high-yield arsenal of proven thermonuclear weapons to match China’s. The tragedy, of course, is successive Indian governments have partnered the US in thus reducing India.

Modi can right the relationship with America by telling President Barack Obama some home truths. Such as the fact that courtesy US policies of the past there’s a huge trust deficit between the two countries, that the transactional tilt of US policy is robbing the bilateral relations of strategic value, that India’s nuclear liability law is not some trifling matter that can be overturned to please Washington, that the United States has gained in the last 60 years from Indian foreign aid worth hundreds of billions of dollars in Non-Resident Indian talent, and that the djinn of Islamic extremism was uncorked by the United States (with its founding of the Taliban in Afghanistan).

It will help that, unlike with Xi with whom he has a warm, personal, bond Modi, who was treated shabbily by Washington on the visa issue, will be correct when he officially converses only in Hindi, with a laboured translation for Obama, symbolising the distance that still separates India and America.

[Published in the New Indian Express on Friday Sept 19, 2014 and available at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Orbital-Jumps-But-How/2014/09/19/article2437745.ece ]

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Month of Plain Talking

All diplomacy is calculation but it is how the lines of national interests and strategy clash or converge that are of concern during state visits which, otherwise, are staid, scripted affairs. The decade of the wimpish Congress party regime showed an India at its most pusillanimous, wracked by doubts about leveraging the country’s myriad strengths. The spate of visits this September starting with prime minister Narendra Modi’s to Shinzo Abe’s Japan followed by jaunts to New Delhi by his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott and by Chinese president Xi Jinping, ending with Modi’s September 30 meeting in Washington with US president Barack Obama will, hopefully, reverse the trend. These will be occasions when foreign leaders, because Modi is new on the scene, will be keen to size him up, read his mind, try and decipher his intentions and get a fix on his foreign policy orientation and attitude.

Modi must have been disabused of the notion that cultural links and personal bonhomie count for much in international relations when Tokyo insisted on an unambiguous commitment against resuming nuclear tests before approving a nuclear deal. Despite being fully aware of this precondition why Modi still pitched for a nuclear trade accord isn’t clear. It is troubling that the Indian government from Manmohan Singh’s days persists in making a “nuclear deal” with every passing country the test of its seriousness to engage India, when actually what it does is reduce India to a supplicant and erodes its prestige. One hopes Modi reminded Abe that sections within Japan, which is the proverbial screwdriver’s turn away from the Bomb, are calling for nuclear weaponisation to deal with the North Korea-China combine, and that a thermonuclearised India and Japan at the two ends of Asia is the best solution to keep Beijing quiet. Moreover, surely Modi isn’t prepared to waive India’s liability law and buy the unproven Toshiba-Westinghouse AP 1000 enriched uranium-fuelled reactor just to please Tokyo? An aside, but prioritising the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen “bullet train” line in existing Indian conditions may not be pragmatic considering it will also take a big chunk ($10-$15 billion) off the promised Japanese $35 billion foreign direct investment (FDI) in infrastructure build-up. It will cost more to protect the special corridor than run the high-speed trains.

Rather than “nuclear deals” and stuff, Modi should propound the logic of geopolitics and military cooperation. It pays. For instance, Modi’s reference in Tokyo to the 18th century-style imperialistic tendencies of China to grab land and sea territories, and Tokyo’s agreeing to sell 15 US-2 amphibious aircraft along with transfer of technology (ToT) that will result in a US-2i version tailored for Indian needs to be designed with Indian military’s inputs, and the talk of the Soryu-class conventional hunter-killer submarine in the Indian fleet, have made an Indo-Japanese pincer real. Beijing has reacted with reports suggesting that Xi Jinping is preparing to match Abe’s ante and to up it with even more attractive investment and other deals. To maximise geostrategic gains, Modi should maintain pressure by announcing the sale/transfer of Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles to Vietnam and other Southeast Asian states in the run-up to Xi Jinping’s visit.

Beijing is worried. The Islamic insurgency is taking hold in the Uyghur Muslim-majority Xinjiang, and Tibet continues to seethe with people angry with the Chinese policy of rubbing out Tibetan cultural identity. In this context, Modi should respond to Xi Jinping’s pleas for restricting the Tibetan exile community’s activities by suggesting the restoration of genuine “autonomy” for Tibet and as buffer zone devoid of the Peoples Liberation Army presence as the foundation for lasting peace.

Australia is ready to sell uranium in order to balance the exports of the same commodity to China and as a hedge against Beijing cornering the market on Australian natural resources, whence Canberra’s encouragement to Indian industrial houses, such as the Adanis, to invest in the Australian coal and minerals extraction sector. But a strategically more potent issue requires to be broached by Modi. Abbott should be sounded out about permitting Indian SSBNs (nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarines) to stage out of a deep water port on the northern Australian coast as a means of increasing the strategic reach and deterrence impact of the Arihant-class boats. Such a basing-option will also enhance the “theatre-switching” maritime riposte preferred by New Delhi to Chinese aggression across the land border. An agreement on such basing would be welcomed by an Australia itching to be part of the evolving Asian security architecture rather than remaining a Western outpost.

The logic of strategic ties with the US is getting simpler. Washington has lost the will and doesn’t have the money to be very active in the Indian Ocean region and is eager for New Delhi to pick up the slack. America’s declining stock allows Modi to do some plain talking. The PM’s counter to changing India’s liability law should be to ask Obama to reform the nuclear deal enabling the 2006 Hyde Act instead. Washington wrongly assumes that an Act legislated by the US Congress is dearer to New Delhi than a law promulgated by the Indian parliament. He should also demand changes in America’s transactional, “buy this, buy that” bent of policy.

Modi should inform Obama that henceforth there’ll be no off-the-shelf weapons purchases, and US and other foreign armament producers will have to manufacture all military hardware from scratch in India itself starting with the first buy (as has been wisely decided in the case of the army’s utility helicopter fleet). It will catalyse high-tech manufacturing sector growth and generate a demand for skilled labour and massive employment opportunities. American arms companies should be incentivised to set up shop in India or concert with Indian private sector companies to “Make in India” for the Indian market and, to make such presence economical, use their facilities here to source whole weapons systems, spares and service support to countries in Asia and Africa. India’s aim of self-sufficiency in armaments will thus be advanced, the haemorrhaging of hundreds of billions of Indian dollars end, and the country’s economic prospects immeasurably brighten.

[Published in the New Indian Express on Friday September 5, 2014 at http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/Month-of-Plain-Talking/2014/09/05/article2414561.ece

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