Save Maldives from the Gayooms

The Maldives — an archepelagic island chain in the south-western Indian Ocean — and of strategic importance to India that cannot be under-estimated, is under terrific strain from the continued rule by President Yameen Gayoom, who means to consolidate the Gayoom Family hold on this island country mostly by crook, and now needs to be visited by the Indian High Commissioner in Male and informed that unless the democratic order is restored and the former President and head of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Mohammaed Nasheed, released forthwith from prison on trumped up charges alongwith his defence minister who is similarly incarcerated, that he may find an Indian army’s Special Forces unit dropping by his presidential palace for a little bit of gentle persuasion. New Delhi did no react strongly enough in Feb this year when Nasheed was sentenced for 13 years (and his defence minister drawing a 10 year sentence) by a Kangaroo Court masquerading as the Maldivian judiciary on the charge of ïntending to kidnap a judge during his presidency. While the act was never carried out and intention is hard to prove, these factors have not swayed the existing Maldivian judiciary, which is known for its links to the Gayoom order, from doing the dirty political work of removing the only democratic threat extant to Yameen. There is every danger that if the Modi government fails to act now, Yameen will feel emboldened by Delhi’s traditional passivity to ask Beijing for a permanent military presence on the island territories to preempt India from strong arming him and proving any threat to his rule.How was Nasheed brought down within 2 years of being voted to power? By the police and the small Maldivian military with vested interests in the Gayoom dispensation, rebelling against the newly installed president, That should have been the event to trigger an Indian intervention, even though Nasheed prematurely resigned. It was little over 2 years ago, that Yameen was on the point of leasing the northern-most Maldivian island, just 19 kms off the southern-most Lakshdweep island, to China. Only a timely visit and advice by the Flag Officer commanding-in-chief, Western Naval Command, VADM Shekhar Sinha, prevented this deal from going through. Yameen’s older half-brother Maumoon, is the one whose hide was saved by the Indian airborne operation (Op Cactus) ordered by Rajiv Gandhi in 1988 from a coup d’ état by some LTTE adventurers.But once Yameen gets the Chinese in, it’ll be direct confrontation with Beijing. To preempt such a possibility is why India needs to act forcefully and NOT as some MEA types appearing on TV have suggested that India should bide its time, let the Maldivan people get sick of the Gayooms as the Sri Lankan people were of the Rajpaksas, and otherwise be part of a multilateral effort to pressure Male, etc. If India does not secure Maldives, no one else will do it for us. Gunboat diplomacy still works wonders. Time Modi used it, because Yameen is unlikely to become more democratic just by the PM cancelling his visit. The Gayooms have been adept at radicalizing the peaceful Maldivian society with extremist Wahabbi Islamists and cultivating China, whence that country is becoming a growing source of IS fighters and another pearl in the Chinese chain heralding the Chinese maritime silk route. They also have a thick skin and they need to be treated with prejudice, with extreme prejudice if Yameen acts tough. Act now Mr Prime Minister.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Geopolitics, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Maldives, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Terrorism | 3 Comments

No Time to Lose for Modi to Arrest Slide after Promises

Recall this time last year. The country was in the throes of a general election the electorate instinctively accepted as a game-changer. The nation was agog with the prospects of then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi storming the central bastion and transforming the Indian state from a slow-paced elephant into a pouncing tiger.

The story of Modi’s spectacular rise from selling tea on trains to commanding India has in it something of Kipling’s The Man Who Would be King. His ascent signalling to the poor, the weak and the youth the importance of working for a better tomorrow by relying on one’s self rather than on the handouts from an abomination of a “mai-baap sarkar”. It represented an ideology of self-help and an antidote to the stale socialism of family outfits masquerading as political parties grown rich by suckling at the teats of a nanny state. It reached absurd levels with Sonia Gandhi during the election campaign declaring Marie Antoinette-like—“We gave you Rights”—as if paper rights confer material benefits or are a substitute for them!

Recall too the worried hubbub within the ranks of the bureaucracy, the so-called permanent secretariat in the government of India. They apprehended a ruthless slashing of the public payroll, elimination of countless government agencies and departments, and introduction of accountability. Modi’s personal rectitude and reputation as hard taskmaster who wrenched good governance out of the Gujarat state apparatus, moreover, sent shivers down the spines of babus everywhere. The Modi hammer was expected to fall on red tape, the slovenly ways of the government, and the unproductive and wasteful public sector. None of this has happened but Modi has shown an unusual appetite for foreign trips.

Perhaps consumed by the pomp and novelty of tours abroad—16 in the last 11 months—Modi sought promises of billions of investment dollars and help for “Make in India” schemes. But neither the dollars nor the schemes have materialised because he hasn’t called a joint session of Parliament to remove unfriendly land acquisition laws or retroactive tax regimes. Modi has also had embarrassing missteps. His initiation of the Rafale combat aircraft deal on government-to-government basis without competitive bidding and genuine technology transfer, for instance, is a throwback to the bad old system of scams, scandals, and corruption that characterised Congress party rule.

Modi could have taken the most radical measures to remake the government, overturn the system, and build anew, but he didn’t. He played safe and has achieved little. Not only has there been no organisational overhaul, but there has also been no evidence of rewriting of the “rules of business” within the government or streamlining of its functioning. The irony is, as one of Modi’s ministers confided to me, instead of imposing himself on the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy has imposed itself on Modi, imprinting its views, values, and methods on a prime minister who was expected to show apparatchiks their place. So, it is the taming of Modi by the babus that is at the heart of why things are going wrong.

There are two other factors to explain the slide in Modi’s fortunes. One pertains to the usual outcome of any electoral victory in India—unruly elements within the new ruling dispensation or its support base flexing their muscles, going on a violent binge. In the BJP’s case, the Hindu fringe lit fires of “love jihad”, attacked churches and, the newly elected BJP Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, by banning beef, even legislated what people can eat. It has frazzled the middle class and lowered the PM’s stock, showing up Modi’s powerlessness. If he cannot check indiscipline in his own party, the possibility of his bringing order to the country is remote.

The other factor has to do with the centralisation of power with almost all (presumably major) decisions requiring the prime minister’s approval, according to my ministerial acquaintance. For a PM-centric system to work, however, requires a large Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with an array of specialists mustering comprehensive expertise that Modi can call on to assess the policy choices forwarded by ministries, suggest new options, and to shape his decisions. But Modi is handicapped because while the PMO is numerically large it is not very capable, manned as it is by hordes of civil servants. Besides, the oversight that should be exercised especially over strategic economic and foreign and military policies by the National Security Adviser, according to this insider, is missing because the competence of the present incumbent, Ajit Doval, doesn’t cover more than the intelligence field and his attention doesn’t stray beyond Pakistan.

It is a pity that when Modi had the intellectual wealth of the country to draw upon to engineer more creative policies and programmes, he chose to stick with the babus and the institutional status quo. But this system is of Modi’s contrivance. And its performance in the past year signposts what the country can expect in the future—steady under-performance, legacy programmes dressed in new rhetoric, and shoddy implementation, unless there is radical improvement. In the past year 178 infrastructure projects worth six lakh crore rupees have been cleared with nothing to show for it on the ground.

The insider also cannily observed that Gujarat is not India and managing the show in Gandhinagar is small preparation for running the government of India. In any case, the default position of any PM who finds himself in over his head, he said, is to leave it to the permanent secretariat to do the job. Modi promised much but seems to have lost his nerve for doing big things. The voter has every reason to feel cheated.

This slide can be arrested. Modi has four more years to prove he is not a political shooting star. The PM should remember that the people mandated him to realise his new vision, which the existing civil servant-shackled order cannot translate into imaginative ideas and policies for transformative change. He has so far wasted his political capital in system-tinkering. He can expend what remains of it in reconfiguring the policy-making process by calling in outside experts to intellectually revitalise a government in doldrums. There is no time to lose.
Published in New Indian Express, May 1, 2015 at

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, society, South Asia | 20 Comments

India-US in “strategic partnership plus zone”

Just back after hearing the US Ambassador to India Richard Verma speak forenoon at the USI. He talked of the two countries being in the “strategic partnership plus zone”. He said “security cooperation and defence” was a “pillar” of this partnership, and referred to the 6 defence co-production projects underway. The interesting thing was to see Verma play off against fmr Foreign Secretary Kanwal Sibal, chairing the event, who took up a good deal of time allotted Verma, to air his own views that came off as the same old tired whining about US support for Pakistan, and the US doing nothing about Pak-sourced terrorism, about the China-Pak nexus, and so on — the MEA’s default position! To Sibal’s complaint that the US may have global interests, but India’s concerns are with the “immediate neighbourhood” with two unfriendly states Pakistan and China, the personable Verma responded with the classic put-down Washington has been perfecting for some 15 years now. Firstly, he informed Sibal that his perspective was not shared by the new FS, Jaishankar, and secondly, that in any case “We don’t want history to be a drag on India’s global role”. As an example of the global Indian role he talked of air and sea lifting of stranded Indians and other foreigners from Yemen on Indian assets. But he also said something troubling that the US approved of India seeking to “rise within the post-second world war order”. That — right there — is why India, as I have always maintained “aims low, hits lower”, unlike China that wants to reshape the global order on its terms. Two very different paradigms!

But Verma’s take on India’s Pak-fixation reminded me of Robert Blackwill at a ceremony at the Roosevelt House to bid goodbye to his adviser Ashley Tellis, complaining that while Washington would like to de-hyphenate India and Pakistan, India won’t permit it! That no matter what the issue at hand or what the forum, it was always the Indian side that brought the discussion back to Pakistan, implying that New Delhi seemed uneasy with the de-hyphenation that the US was trying to affect in its policies!

As regards US military aid and assistance to Pakistan — the usual reason for Indian squawking, Verma said that as per the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Act, it was “narrowly tailored” to prevent Pakistan from becoming a failed state, and to enhance that country’s counter-terrorism capability, though he did grant that there could be differences on how narrow the tailoring was! [Attack helos, anyone!]

He revealed that a few days back, the CVN USS Carl Vinson was anchored off Kochi, and he went on board with a team of Indian Navy aviators for a briefing by an US Admiral (didn’t say who) or what the IN officers discussed with the Americans.

As far as US investment capital inflows, he pointed to systemic impediments and recalled a Hotelier wishing to put up a hotel considering India and Singapore as the two possible sites. The hotelier informed Verma that while 80 permits were reqd to start a hotel in India, only six were needed in S’pore. This by way of stressing that CEOs and investors look primarily at “ease of doing business”, little else, and why India is a “difficult sell” to American business. But it’d help he said if India agreed to an Investment Treaty to inspire confidence in the US industry and corporate circles that in case of disputes these will be adjudicated fairly. He hinted that India was dragging its feet on such a treaty. Verma also said that such a treaty would not ensure that our economic relations will be “dispute free but that we can compartment the next dispute that comes along” so as to not hurt the otherwise high-flying bilateral ties.

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Juggler Ghani’s dilemma

Afghan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani is as different from his predecessor Hamid Karzai as chalk is from cheese. Ghani, an ex-old World Bank staffer and longtime resident of Washington, DC suburbs is in the American mould — at ease with straight talk and strong free market beliefs,but is in a new game of managing a unity govt and a cabinet of his adversaries, like Abdullah Abdullah and the Tajik warlord Colonel Abdul Rashid Dostum in an Afghanistan sans a large US military presence but enough drone-attack capability to kill-off Taliban leadership ranks to be decisive.

So, naturally Ghanis has to juggle and keep many more balls in the air. Dostum oversaw the Northern Alliance’s ferocious fight against the Soviet occupation troops in the ’80s, with the star turn provided by the Lion of Panjshir — Ahmed Shah Masood, and during the one-eyed Mullah’s Omar’s reign in Kabul, kept the north-eastern part of Afghanistan out of the Taliban government’s clutches. He is Ghani’s First Vice President. Abdullah, Karzai’s preferred successor, controls the interior ministry. Both Abdullah and Dostum are old and trusted friends of India.

Ghani is trying to solidify bridges to Delhi but is keen to revive his country’s relations with Pakistan as a practical necessity — all seaward Afghan trade transits Pak territory, and also to correct an all too obvious pro-India tilt of Karzai — a JNU product. In the neighbourhood there’s also China flashing its money power and securing mining concessions (nickel, etc) and running extraction industries in the Hajigak region and elsewhere. If Ghani cannot do without China’s money, it cannot afford to alienate India either for two reasons — one India provides a counterpoise to China, and two, Delhi has long cultivated sections of Afghan Taliban with generous handouts of funds and material goods. These India-friendly Taliban are accused by Islamabad of crossing the Durand Line to wreck havoc in Waziristan and attack Paki targets on Afghan soil in the manner Pak-patronised Taliban attack Indian interests and diplomatic missions in that country. It is a standoff. But India can at any time if not tip the balance within the Afghan Taliban, then skew the tribal dynamic to ensure there’s no internal peace.

The question is can Ghani get India to back off without economically disengaging from his country which has benefited from development and infrastructure aid, such as the Delaram-Zaranj highway that the heroin traffickers and the Afghan Taliban they are close to are hugely thankful for? Soon after assuming presidency, Ghani announced with great ceremony that he had cancelled Indian aid involving heavy military hardware, like tanks. He did this to gain credibility with the Nawaz Sharif regime. This was a signal departure, considering India had over the years arranged to pay arms companies in the Ukraine in particular to secretly ship overland to Afghanistan artillery, tanks, helicopters, etc. Such military assistance allowed Karzai to keep the Taliban at bay. Ghanis’s ostensibly turning against Indian arms aid
served India’s purpose however. These deadly armaments killed India-friendly Taliban as well and this was resented by our well-wishers. And so the arms ban had, as it were, dual purpose and both Kabul and Delhi agreed on Ghanis’s announcement that initially pleased Pakistan. To firm up his Pak links,
Ghani also announced that more Afghan National Army officers would go for training to Pakistan and, a little later, declared that an enlarged Afghan officer contingent was headed for military training in India. The proportion of the Pak-trained and Indian-trained officers in ANA will decide over time which way the Afghan military eventually tilts and how that will affect relations with India and Pakistan.

The facts are these: India retains close links to a powerful section of the Taliban, and can create trouble for Pakistan in Afghanistan, Waziristan, and Balochistan. It has far-flung consulates in Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar, and Mazar-e-sharif, places where Pakistan too has its consulates. It retains its intimate relations with Dostum and the Tajik faction, which positively impacts India’s ties with Takjikistan. India remains close to the nationalist Pakhtun element loyal to Abdullah/Karzai. And its has commercial iron mining interests in Afghanistan, and burgeoning development aid programmes. India is cooperating with Iran, even as Taliban attacks across the western border have agitated Tehran, creating a common cause fro Delhi and Iran to band together. And finally, Ghani’s publicly asking India to desist from sending it military equipment doesn’t mean Afghanistan won’t accept such hardware as is required by Kabul, such as the three Cheetal helicopters (derived from the French Aerospatiale Lama) in Kabul whose transfer will be announced after his meeting with Modi, with Delhi taking care to see that these weapons platforms are minus weapons lest they be turned against friendly Afghan Taliban by ANA..

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Iran and West Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism | 2 Comments

No end of embarrassment

An acronymically-challenged Pakistan is always good for a laugh. In the wake of the recent Xi visit to Islamabad, RANDI — Research and Development International — was founded with some fanfare and tasked, presumably, to research issues of foreign policy and military concern to the two countries. It is another matter that potential staffers will be saddled with their intimate association with RANDI (whore in Hindustani!). It puts me in mind of an embarrassment I saved the Pakistan Foreign Ministry-funded Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. It was December 1982 and this Institute, founded with an assist from the army, by the good natured Brigadier (Ret) Noor Hussain (whose claim to fame was that he was ADC to Jinnah), ex-Lucknow, who died four years ago — was staging a coming out party as it were by hosting what was billed as “The First International Conference on Peace and Security in South Asia”. It was a grand affair with the Indian invitees — the redoubtable IK Gujral and K. Subrahmanyam, and yours truly, given star billing. The early afternoon I reached the Marriott Hotel, where the guests were lodged and which was also the Conference venue, I discovered on entering my room a beautiful leather folder with conference papers with the name ‘Pakistan Institute of Strategic Studies’ proudly embossed in gold. Walking down into the lobby a bit later I encountered the Brigadier and asked him if he had seen the folder. He asked if something was wrong. Not, I replied, if you didn’t care about the unfortunate acronym PISS! Hussain, who had scheduled the then CMLA (Chief Martial Law Administrator), dictator in other words, General Zia ul-Haq, for an evening with the invitees to the Conference, was mortified, thanked me profusely, and rushed for his aides, instructing them immediately to remove all folders and stationery with the offending PISS on them from the invitee rooms and to “destroy” them. The question is this: what will the erstwhile PISS do now that RANDI backed by the prestigious Tsinghua University, is on the scene doing much the same work? A question of working the same side of the street, no?

Posted in India's Pakistan Policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia | 1 Comment

Rafale sliding, BAE edging in with Typhoon?

Rafale had the shortest run imaginable. With the Modi govt sobering up after the Paris high when the PM merely broached — did not commit — to a G2G deal to buy the Dassault product outright, GOI is backing off which, if true, is a welcome return to good sense. These are, in any case, the soundings one is getting in Delhi circles.

However, this is seen as an opportunity by the British govt and BAE — albeit a slim one — to edge in with the European consortium (EADS) fighter — Typhoon. Whether or not the German chancellor Angela Merkl initiated the gambit this time around, the fact is London is using the visit by the Deputy Chief of the UK Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach to push the proposal. A senior BAE representative in in Peach’s team and, as he told me at a dinner last night, has been given “15 minutes” with Parrikar later today.

The British spiel I heard yesterday was that Typhoon had 20% longer range, blah, blah (Peach), in what combat profile he didn’t say; and that BAE, according to its rep, would readily partner HAL, Reliance, or anybody else GOI wished it to join, in setting up a full production unit in India generating 20,000 jobs and producing 50% of the aircraft in the country, and some 13 Typhoons for immediate detachment from RAF for Indian duty to be replaced with new Eurofighters as they begin coming in off the Indian line. So, I asked the BAE chap whether the 50% Indian component in the Typhoon would be by weight or value. And he shut up. In essence this deal is marginally better in that the bulk of the aircraft production will be in India but with minimal TOT (of the kind mentioned above). With the RFP system scrapped, this too apparently would be on a G2G basis.

The BAE rep in turn asked me what would get Parrikar’s attention in his quarter hour with the defence minister. And I told him straight out that if BAE was really serious and if it had to have smidgeon of a chance, it’d have to part with the source codes and control laws so India can actually learn how to build advanced aircraft from the ground up to add to the invaluable experience garnered by Indian aircraft designers at ADA on the Tejas, and not put on the table yet another Meccano-license manufacture deal. If BAE, overnight rethinks its attitude on opening up to genuine TOT, who knows, it may just get a hearing from a BJP govt which is plainly confused and doesn’t know which way to go. Otherwise it’ll be another polite thankyou-goodbye episode, which is what I expect to happen.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Military Acquisitions, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Weapons, Western militaries | 23 Comments

Rafale discussion on HT TV channel

For those interested in the Rafale, esp’. interesting ACM Tipnis’position that it’d be “a disaster” if 36 Rafale MMRCA are followed up with some other aircraft as MMRCA in a TV panel discussion hosted by Karan Thapar (April 15, 2015) on the deal at

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, domestic politics, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Air Force, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, United States, Weapons | Leave a comment