A Corona calamity is in the offing

Migrant workers crowd up outside a bus station as they wait to board buses to return to their villages during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus, in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi. [Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters]

[ A massive crowd of out-of-state daily wagers and contract workers in the National Capital Region waiting in Ghaziabad for buses to take them to their homes in UP, Bihar, Jarkhand, etc.]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set up a secret task force of experts that media has so far not gotten wind of to advise him on the ways and means of dealing with the corona virus and of riding out the looming country-wide health crisis. In its last meeting the task force is understood to have conveyed the unvarnished truth to Modi, about the oncoming calamitous spread of the virus, courtesy the herd or community contagion that has now taken hold. Current trend-tracking suggests a doubling of corona infectees every three days.

The task force’s bleak assessment is because of two reasons. Firstly, because the central and state governments made no preparations whatsoever to enforce the 3-week lock down before Modi announced it Tuesday, March 26. With no social safety net — no free food public kitchens, and no provision for weekly subsistence payments in the Modi regime’s $23 billion economic package disclosed by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, millions of daily wagers and contract workers making up the bulk of the country’s labour force in the large metropolitan areas, such as Delhi, decided to hightail it back to their hometowns and villages mostly in BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradedsh, Rajasthan, UP) states. They took to the road because the government had done nothing to induce them to stay back in the cities or to forcefully prevent them from doing so.

Obviously, not anticipating this inevitable reverse migration, no countermeasures were at hand to prevent such mass movement. This has pretty much defeated the purpose of the national lock down. Because the C-virus will now be carried by the virus infected and asymptomatic masses of people from the cities to the countryside, which had so far escaped the contagion. Desperate actions were indeed taken by certain state governments suddenly waking up to the dangers, such as the UP government officials hosing down the migrants on the highways (as if they were so much cattle). This was akin to shutting the stable door after the horses had bolted, and will do little to stem the geometric rate of spread of the virus.

In the emerging conditions, it is inevitable that the Prime Minister will be compelled to extend the lock down in the country by several more weeks, even months. The economic impact of this is hard to imagine. May be Modi should begin replacing his rhetoric about defeating the virus in a short (3-week) war by soberly advising his fellow countrymen to gird themselves for the really long fight ahead.

The other possible reason for the task force’s dim view of the virus spreading is because of the obvious infrastructure deficiencies in the health sector that cannot quickly be made up especially as regards available hospital beds and, importantly, ventilators. Just how big these deficits are may be gleaned from the statistics in a short but telling Brookings India report — ‘COVID-19: Is India’s health infrastructure equipped to handle an epidemic?’, dated March 24 by Prachi Singh, Shamika Ravi and Sikim Chakraborty. (https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2020/03/24/is-indias-health-infrastructure-equipped-to-handle-an-epidemic/)

It shows the extent of the country’s unpreparedness in dealing with the C-virus. For instance, per National Health Profile–2019 that the report quotes, there are some 7,13,986 total government hospital beds in the country presently, amounting to 0.55 beds per 1000 population. Beds available for the vulnerable elderly population (aged 60 years plus) is 5.18 beds per 1000 population.

Many states, the report says, feature fewer beds per 1000 population than the national average. Among them are Bihar, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha, Assam and Manipur — 12 states accounting for 70% of India’s total population in India with Bihar being the worst in this respect with only 0.11 beds available per 1000 population. Some states are better — West Bengal (2.25 government beds per 1000), Sikkim (2.34 government beds per 1000), Delhi (1.05 beds per 1000 population), Kerala (1.05 beds per 1000) and Tamil Nadu (1.1 beds per 1000). Peninsular states also do better with regard to bed availability for the elderly population — Kerala (7.4), Tamil Nadu (7.8), Karnataka (8.6), even as the BIMARU states, as usual, are the laggards.

How do India’s numbers re: hospital beds, for instance, compare with those in other countries? Predictably, not at all well. Using data from Stat News (at (https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/10/simple-math-alarming-answers-covid-19/) India’s 0.55 beds per 1000 people compares with 2.8 beds per 1000 people in the US, 4.3 beds in China, and a very satisfactory 12 beds per 1000 in South Korea and Japan, the reason why the last two countries have all but stamped out the virus.

Regarding ventilators, with 5%-10% of total patients estimated to require critical care with ventilator support, some 110,000-220,000 ventilators will be needed if the worst case is realized of 2.2 million Corona patients. Of the total 7,13,986 government beds, some 5%-8% or 35,699-57,119 are ICU beds. The report assumes that if 50% of these ICU beds have ventilators, the actual number of ventilators in the country may be between 17,850 to 25,556 ventilators. If all ICU beds are assumed to be equipped with ventilators that makes for a maximum of some 57,000 ventilators.

It is a pity there’s no law in India like the Defence Production Act in the US empowering the President of the day to order industrial companies to drop whatever they are doing and diverting their production processes and lines to rolling out the specialized equipments, such as ventilators, required in crises. Thus, President Trump has instructed General Electric to begin mass producing them. Without any such prompt from the Indian government, many large Indian firms, such as Mahindra, have taken the initiative to join forces with smaller health equipment manufacturers, to gear up its factories to output 10,000 ventilator units per week. Other companies too should now be encouraged by the Modi government to follow suit with promise to buy all units so manufactured, because the demand for them is likely soon to spike and continue to remain at a high level. Unless the Indian industry in the private sector takes the lead, the C-virus will fell more Indians than any war or natural and manmade disaster the country has to-date faced, perhaps on the scale of 2 to 3 million dead in the Great Bengal Famine so heartlessly engineered by the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1943.

To expect the public sector units, directly under Modi, in this situation to show the get-go drive to manufacture such equipments on a mass scale and on a war footing may be to expect the impossible. Is that why Modi has so far desisted from calling on the PSUs do do their bit?

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia | 5 Comments

Modi’s Corona rhetoric and actions a mismatch with reality; & why not kitchens for the poor run by Army?

A view of Mumbai's Bandra-Worli sea link over the Arabian Sea as seen during a 14-hour lockdown to limit the spread of coronavirus. [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

[Carona curfew-bound economic capital Mumbai’s deserted sealink at peak traffic time!]

Two days ago Prime Minister Narendra Modi said something that was manifestly foolish when teleconferencing with his Varanasi constituents. “The war in Mahabharat continued for 18 days, we have to win this war [against the carona virus] in 21 days”, he said. Then, perhaps, realizing he had stepped out on a limb, added more soberly that “The entire country has come together to fight against the threat of Coronavirus and we will definitely win this war.” (https://www.livemint.com/news/india/we-have-to-win-war-against-coronavirus-in-21-days-says-pm-modi-11585141633488.html)

In terms of “yeh karenge, woh karenge” sort of declamations that Indian politicians now and again spout, it wasn’t exceptional. Except it was pregnant with promise that a solution would, in fact, be found for the corona pandemic inside of three weeks. Is the target of 21 days anywhere near achievable considering that the finest doctors and researchers the world over believe that a genuine vaccine is some 10-18 months away. Given that the PM has great confidence in Indians who have attained professional success in America, may be he should heed the words of Dr. Ashish Jha, Director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. Jha told CNN (Prime Time, March 26) that “We can bend this curve but not by giving people false hope.”

If Modi had evoked the Kurukshetra battle — the centrepiece of the Hindu epic Mahabharata — solely to rouse the country and the masses into preparing meaningfully for an epic battle against a particularly difficult adversary — a virus!, which may have been his objective, then he would have been deserving of huge praise. The enormity of the challenge would have by this means been brilliantly communicated to, and immediately connected with, millions of people living in population-wise bulging metros and urban areas generally and in the vast countryside who are better versed in Hindu epics than informed about the efforts underway globally and in the country to find an antidote. It’d have been an inspired use of quasi-religious imagery on the same level of significance as Bangladesh’s successful use of the Koran and the Muslim clergy to propagate the idea of small families and lessen the rate of population growth.

Instead, Modi, in effect, presented himself to the people as a fully armed Arjun in his war chariot racing to fell the enemy and declare victory when, actually, he is grossly under-armed for the fray ahead. His arsenal features a disastrous Indian public sector in the health field with poorly run public hospitals that spread diseases more than they contain them, and an enterprising but un-utilized private sector, and nary any evidence anywhere that the government has mounted, or is thinking of mounting, a concerted multi-pronged public-private effort. Such effort simultaneously to increase testing for the c-virus on a massive basis, sequester those affected in numerous, widely located, quarantine camps, and on a warfooting deploying all the assets and resources of the state in a desperate race to find an antivirus solution, is nowhere in evidence.

In the event, the 21 days is at most an “aspirational” target, of a type like US President Donald Trump’s recent declaration that a carona virus antidote would become available by Easter (April 12). But three weeks of social distancing may not cut it, even though Modi — if taken at his word — expects the nation to return to normal, and industry and social and financial services sectors, back to business as usual. There will be shortages of ventilators in particular — an item in great demand in all affected countries. In that case, there will be a slugfest between countries to buy as many of these units as can be cornered from any source anywhere in the world. In a contest India may not be in a position to win with richer countries willing to pay much higher unit prices than India can afford. A National Task Force set up only today will be coming in fairly late in the game and, for a start, will be preoccupied with acquiring ventilators and other personal protection equipment. The 30,000-40,000 ventilators the Health Secretary says the government is indenting for will meet only a miniscule demand should the pandemic assume daunting proportions. Is there indigenous industrial capability that can urgently kick in to make up the deficit in ventilators? Doubtful, considering it will take 9-14 months for companies to get the manufacturing jigs, etc., and assuming a standard design (from wherever it is secured) can be readily accessed by these Indian firms.

Sure, GOI cannot close down India indefinitely. But being unrealistic about resolution timelines only pushes everything into the realm of quackery and fake anti-corona medicines peddled on the Net while leaving the deeper dilemmas of economic shutdown unaddressed. And all this even as cities are emptying of contract/daily wage labourers, who are streaming back to their distant villages, with those staying on along with their families being left without livelihood and wondering where their next meal is coming from. In this situation for the Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to announce the capitalisation of a spate of welfare schemes and direct transfer programmes of money, etc. is very good. But such policy diversions assume that the bulk of the population is so covered, which clearly is not the case. So even as the government and industry struggle to come up with large-scale economic remedies for the “wretched of the earth” (Franz Fanon’s phrase for the abjectly poor) that deliver in the short term, problems of the here and now still demand immediate answers.

In the prevailing circumstances, the Army seems to be the only organized entity that can act as saviour, and in its “aid to the civil” role produce outcomes no other government agency remotely can. The Chief of the Army Staff General MM Naravane said as much in his interview published in today’s Indian Express (https://indianexpress.com/article/coronavirus/india-army-chief-general-mm-naravane-fighting-covid-19-6333188/). “The Indian Army”, he said, “has certain inherent capability to rise up to various emergency situations by virtue of organisational structure and training. And in keeping with that, the Indian Army is planning and preparing to fight COVID-19.” In contrast, moreover, to Modi’s characteristically religion-tinted riff on the pandemic, the COAS did some plainspeak. “Speaking in military language, I would say”, the General averred, “that at present COVID-19 is in the preparatory stage of impact in India and we are making concerted efforts to prevent COVID-19 from establishing a firm base.”

Further, anticipating that the Army will be called on to shoulder the anti-carona operations, he revealed his instructions to Command headquarters to be (1) to increase the capacity for surveillance/isolation of the carona-affected at military hospitals at various levels, (2) “ready to set up a 45-bed isolation facility and create 10 bed ICU facility exclusively for COVID-19 at six hours’ notice”, (3) to keep 30% of field hospitals “on standby for constructing COVID hospitals in COVID hotspots”, and (4) be ready to mobilize “Responsive and agile Quick Reaction Medical Teams (QRMTs)” at “six hours’ notice to meet the requirements of the hospitals/ civil administration.”

Such preparations to meet a probable onrushing medical catastrophe is as it should be for a national army. Its shining record of effectively and efficiently tackling all manner of natural and man-made disasters (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, major accidents) when juxtaposed against the usually floundering civilian apparatus of state should infuse the citizenry with confidence that army will get things done even in the worst-case when government gives up.

Hence, my suggestion: why not task the army to run, in western parlance, “soup kitchens” for the poor and the hungry in cities and towns under curfew (predictably foolishly and mindlessly implemented by the lathi-happy local police), because they will be able to handle this far better than any central, state or local government possibly can? Reaching prepared food to the poorest and the hungriest people particularly in urban areas is priority, and army will be found to be more than up to this task. Unit kitchens feed hundreds of troops at a time. Of course, the governments at every level will have to ensure a steady supply of grains and vegetables and cooking oil to the army cooks to make this feeding mission a success. Isn’t this a far better solution to keep the bellies full of the people that find themselves suddenly unemployed in cities and towns, or is Sitharaman’s allocation of 5 free additional kilos of grain and one additional kilo of pulses to each of those registered in various government schemes, better?

This is a jag from the carona topic, but a long term and sustainable solution to eliminate hunger in the nation is a necessity, especially as a buffer to those most vulnerable in pandemics like the one we find ourselves in. A proven, tested and operating model is provided by the enormously popular and successful “Amma’s kitchens” in Tamil Nadu that the late chief minister, Jayalalitha, founded and is still remembered for. It offers good food for a pittance. The pittance here equals self-respect because even the poorest can proudly claim they paid for the food they consumed. What’s necessary is national scaling of this “kitchen” model.

But for the corona crisis at hand, army-run kitchens are best.

Sure, India will somehow manage, live through this pandemic in the manner it has always weathered crises. But one wishes for some show of efficiency by government agencies. This in no way absolves Modi of his inapt use of the Mahabharat metaphor for the country’s troubles with the c-virus. It ill prepares the people for the possibly humungous health crisis and tragedy ahead.

Meanwhile, how is China, our main foe, coping? Very well, apparently. Having let the C-virus as an out-of-control biological weapon or a genuinely natural mutation, who knows, first take hold in Wuhan in mid-2019, which Beijing deliberately misreported to the UN World Health Organization as simple flu, it used its well oiled system to coerce its 1.3 billion people into a quarantine, even as it sought a solution in its labs. This three-pronged approach worked. The virus has plateaued out at a very low level of virus activity, Chinese labs are in the forefront of patenting a vaccine, and it has enabled China to get back on its feet and off and running once again.

Ever attentive to its strategic interests, the Xi Jinping regime is now on the offensive, meaning to turn the C-virus to its advantage. At the UN Security Council, China vetoed an Estonian initiative to discuss the carona virus pandemic, because one of its talking points was the need for all members to strictly observe “transparency” which China did not do by misleading the world about the virus that was afoot. Next, at the virtual G-20 summit (March 26), rather than mouth banalities about the need for international cooperation, etc., Xi demanded that to get the global economy going once again that all countries lower tariffs which, incidentally, will, in the present situation, almost exclusively drive up Chinese exports and benefit Chinese industry.

Then there’s India. The one great opportunity Modi created to fetch strategic dividend misfired for the reasons apprehended in an earlier post — insufficient monies (just $10 million) deployed by Delhi to help out our neighbours, forcing them to look to China for financial succour. Also, the Indian government, not wanting to miss a chance to lower Pakistan a peg or two, fell promptly into the Kashmir hole thoughtfully dug for it by Islamabad at the video summit of SAARC countries called by Modi. Wouldn’t India’s larger interests have been better served if Delhi had simply ignored the predictable Pakistani demand to ease up conditions in J&K and offered the Imran Khan government medical help and cooperation to defeat the corona virus as part of a collective South Asian campaign?

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Nepal, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US. | 6 Comments

Indian nuclear weapons program-related video interview (in Hindi with lots of English thrown in — Hinglish (?)

This video interview was uploaded by ‘Offensive Defence’ on March 20, 2020. Belatedly posting here. It deals with all manner of issues related to the Indian nuclear arsenal, strategy, First Use, etc.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, disarmament, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 26 Comments

Great (Caronavirus) initiative, turn it into huge strategic gain

modi saarc ani

[Modi video-conferencing with SAARC leaders]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated perhaps the most significant foreign policy move of his government to-date: He called a video-summit February 15 of the heads of government of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations to discuss how together to deal with the Caronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic now sweeping through rest of Asia, Europe and the world and entering the extended subcontinental region in strength. Presidents Ibrahim Solih of the Maldives, Gotabaya Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, and Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Lotay Tshering of Bhutan and KP Sharma of Nepal, reacted with alacrity to this surprising and entirely unexpected show of Indian leadership. It showed just how fertile the ground is for India to assume stewardship of the region not by the usual means of bluster and strong arm methods that have long marred India’s relations with its closest neighbours, but by displaying genuine willingness to listen to their concerns, accommodating them, and helping them help themselves.

Indeed, so swift and positive was the response of the other South Asian states that, after the initial hesitation even the Tehreek-e-Insaf party regime in Pakistan felt compelled to fall in line and join the proposed video conference. But in keeping with the current tenor of bilateral ties, Prime Minister Imran Khan tried to derate the event by having his assistant for health, Zafar Mirza, represent him and get the latter to sideline the Modi initiative by insisting that (1) restoring status quo ante in Kashmir is necessary for the success of the Modi initiative, and (2) the SAARC secretariat in Kathmandu, not Delhi, spearhead the anti-Corona virus campaign. But no damage was done in part because of what the Indian PM promised.

An expansive Modi offered testing kits and rapid response Indian medical teams of specialist doctors and technicians for deployment anywhere in the region at the request of any country, “online training capsules” for emergency teams these countries may care to constitute, the “integrated disease surveillance portal” software that India has developed to detect and trace the movement of virus carriers, and a forum for public health experts and medical researchers to confer with each other, share information and data, and mount collaborative research projects to find an antidote, which objective has been furthered by the success of the National Institute of Virology, Pune, in isolating the caronavirus gene, which process can be quickly shared with labs and agencies in the region. Of course, the kooks on the fringes peddling gaumutra (cow urine) as remedy should be no part of these exchanges! Cooperation on the Caronavirus will set India up as the regional benefactor, a role which if Delhi plays it right can be parlayed into something strategically impressive.

Implicitly and most importantly, Modi accepted that India as the largest economy and with the biggest expert manpower pool, would be subsidizing and sustaining this effort. This aspect should be amplified by our embassies to the governments in the region. However, his announcement of just $10 million as India’s contribution to the emergency fund for SAARC countries to draw from was an anti-climax. It was too small a sum to impress anybody, or to address the real worries of the economic impact of the pandemic that several participating leaders voiced.

Solih, for instance, revealed how in the past month or so tourism, Maldives’ sole source of revenue, had suffered a 20% drop and was excepted to plunge another 15% shortly. Rajpaksa likewise referred to the severe decline in tourist traffic from Europe and pleaded for “a mechanism to assist our economies to tide over the very difficult period.” Clearly, $10 million is laughably inadequate for SAARC to do anything of note, considering the other South Asian states are too poor and hard hit by the economic downturn to proportionately ante up funds. By way of providing perspective, the Egyptian government has committed $6.7 billion to tackle the danger from COVID-19. That’s the scale of monies required for India to make a mark in South Asia. But why is it imperative that India do so?

Primarily because it is a God-sent opportunity for Delhi to reverse India’s strategic slide into near irrelevance in the 21st Century, and realize its policy priority of cultivating warm and intimate relations with the neighbouring states based on their plugging into the Indian economy and taking their social, political and cultural bearings from India to which they are all organically linked. This is actually easier done than said because proclaiming this as India’s policy aim and intent would, in this age of sensitive nationalism, instantly turn off these countries, get their gander up!

The anti-Carona effort is the wedge in the door that needs to be quickly widened with offers of public and private sector investment in industry and infrastructure, help in setting up transportation and communication networks, in the facilitation of increased trade, of Indian-made armaments, and of credit lines for these purposes. Pakistan’s reluctant participation in the collective anti-Carona effort can be translated into formal and informal dialogues to resolve outstanding disputes. Sir Creek, Siachen, and even Kashmir may be nettlesome issues but their resolution is possible if Islamabad is offered a mega economic and trade deal it cannot refuse. In this context, the abrogation of Article 370 is in no way an obstacle because it mirrors the status accorded the so-called “Azad Kashmir” by Islamabad. The whole can be rendered doubly attractive specifically to GHQ, Rawalpindi, if conjoined to substantive military steps taken unilaterally by Delhi, such as the removal of all Indian short range nuclear-warheaded missiles from the western border, and the rationalizing of army’s three strike corps into a single composite armoured-mechanized corps plus several independent armoured brigades.

It is moves I have long advocated as being able to conclusively prove India’s peaceful intent and bonafides and to seed mutual trust — the essential foundation for normalcy in relations with Pakistan. Good India-Pakistan relations would presage a pacified South Asia, which is a must for India to step up as a great power and credible counterpoise to China in the Indian Ocean, the Gulf region, in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Surely, keeping the larger national good in mind, this is big enough prize and motivation for Modi to sidestep his ingrained anti-Pakistanism, and to convert his Carona initiative by the above means into hard strategic leverage and a raised status for India.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Iran and West Asia, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nepal, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Weapons, West Asia | 11 Comments

Indian Foreign Policy: A mere jumble of words?

 S Jaishankars appointment as foreign minister reveals Narendra Modis mindset on trust, acumen and leadership

[PM Modi and Jaishankar]

Most countries that matter or think they matter have a fairly standard template for foreign policy, which is to advance the national interest by advantageously managing the existing tiered balance of power system within the region, the continent, and the world at-large. The single best encapsulation in recent times of, or label for, such policy in the Indian context is “strategic autonomy”.

Jawaharlal Nehru conceived of nonalignment, a movement of Third World states, as global balancer and adroitly managed the often conflicting expectations of the US/West and USSR and had the country benefit from the competing attentions of the super powers of the day using the means of moral suasion. It worked only because in the aftermath of the nuclear horrors inflicted on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Washington was on the moral defensive and the Communist regime of the Soviet Union, with no such inhibitions but motivated by hard-headed geopolitics, saw the gain from playing to India’s moral pretensions and showing empathy for Third World causes (anti-imperialism, anti-racism, etc).

Indira Gandhi, in trying to hold off potential US interference in India’s plan’s to enter the lists on the side of an independent Bangladesh in 1971, signed for tactical effect the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in August of that year. It checkmated Messrs Nixon & Kissinger and their attempts at militarily pressuring Delhi into laying off East Pakistan, but led the then Moscow supremo, Chairman Leonid Brezhnev, to believe he had succeeded in getting India to acquiesce in his scheme for Asian security that minimized America’s trans-Pacific role. The Brezhnev plan didn’t work out but the Soviet Union didn’t turn sour because an India trying to maintain its distance from both Washington and Moscow was Moscow’s next best option.

From the Seventies to the end of the Cold War in the mid-1990s India bobbled this power game the best it could until Narasimha Rao’s needlessly desperate move to gain traction with the US, the supposed victor in the 50-year super power face-off, resulted in a policy of bettering relations on Washington’s terms. In the event, he began sliding the policy towards the United States and in so doing ignored the basic axiom of international affairs, namely, that however a period of strife ends there’s always, for a country with India’s geostrategic heft, new regional and global power balances to negotiate and any imbalance to correct.

It is a natural policy direction that not only stayed ignored during the first BJP and the two terms of Congress rule, but was consolidated with Atal Bihari Vajpayee labeling India and the US “natural allies” and the forging of Next Steps in Strategic Partnership. Manmohan Singh followed up by signing the strategic and sovereignty-wise horrendous 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US formally reducing India to the status of America’s junior partner. It was a deal, one needs to be repeatedly reminded, cobbled together by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) S. Jaishankar, who was amply rewarded for his troubles with appointments as ambassador successively to China, the US, as Foreign Secretary and now Foreign Minister! All this was done, mind you, for the most part under the elastic rubric of making India “strategically autonomous”!

The surprising twist to this tawdry tale in which the Manmohan Singh government, for all intents and purposes, compromised the country’s sovereignty by surrendering its right to resume underground nuclear testing, thereby consigning India to the position of a second rate power and a US dependency because by so doing Delhi implicitly handed over the strategic security role against China to Washington, is that the so-called successor “nationalist” BJP dispensation of Narendra Modi sealed this country’s inferior standing. Modi has done so by weakening relations with Russia and Iran on Washington’s say so, seeking to buy American friendship with inane military hardware purchases and by transferring Indian brain power to the US with unending pleas for larger H1B visa quota. This, instead of transforming India’s economy by zeroing out the role of government in it, giving free rein to local ingenuity and entrepreneurship, investing fully in Indian talent and high-value technology programmes in the private sector, privatizing public sector units in all sectors, and easing labour laws and investment rules, announcing tax holidays, to induce foreign companies to set up export-oriented manufacturing units here and generate employment by the millions — something Modi should have accomplished in his first few months in office that he is yet to realize in his 6th year as PM. What we have in this respect are assurances from Modi that all’s well and exhortations to corporate leaders to do better, which looks suspiciously like a captain of a sinking ship, instead of plugging the hole, urging the passengers to ignore the rising waters.

Manmohan Singh, besides selling the nuclear deal to the Indian people on the patently fraudulent basis that it would somehow miraculously produce “20,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020”, also had his MEA explain this turn of policy to over-befriend the US as one that disdained the practices of the 19th Century balance of power system! In trying to clarify his foreign policy that sticks to Manmohan Singh’s policy path, Prime Minister Modi, speaking at a conclave in Delhi on 7th March, thoroughly muddied the rhetoric and explanation.

“There was an era [“when might was right”] where India was neutral but the parameter was being equidistant from all”, the PM asserted. “India today is also neutral but we are friends equally with all…We were neutral earlier and we are neutral today as well but that is not due to distance but due to the parameter of friendship.” “Some tried a nonalignment strategy too. Then an era came when relations were made on the basis of utility. But today’s era is of a world which is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent. Still the world is not able to come on one stage for a global agenda — removing poverty, fighting terrorism or addressing climate change. The whole world awaits this but this is not happening”, he added. He further opined that the 21st century while full of possibilities is lacking what he said was a “common global voice.” According to Modi, the main question facing the world is whether to survive by adjusting to the changed circumstances or to carve out our own path.

To ostensibly provide political cover for his universally beneficial foreign policy but not one that gains much for India in particular, he fell back on a quote by the Mahatma. “Mahatma Gandhi used to say he wants India’s progress so that the entire world can gain from the same”, he said. “In this one line lies India’s idea of globalisation and the mantra of collaboration ahead.” Whew!!

Deconstructing this articulation of India’s foreign policy is actually a simple task if one sees the words and phrases for what they are, a jumble conveying little other than the sheer confusion at the heart of it. For instance, being neutral or maintaining neutrality is apparently the central pillar of Modi’s thinking. The variable distinguishing the present policy of neutrality from past policies of neutrality is “friendship” with all, rather than “equidistance” from all.

Setting aside the legal implications of strict neutrality under international law — which, in any case, is definitely not what the PM intends to adhere to, equidistance in Modi’s mind precludes friendship with all when, in fact, friendship undergirds the ability of a country to maintain equidistance between contesting parties! And equally, evidencing equidistance in policies will motivate all powers to put out more for India. In the event, this distinction is at best spurious, and at worst makes no sense. Speaking agnostically, Modi’s policy is different from, say, Nehru’s nonalignment chiefly in the newly coined policy “parameter” of “friendship” that justifies closeness to America at the expense of friendship with other powers (Russia, Iran).

With the US deemed a “natural partner” — an upgrade from Vajpayee’s “natural ally”? — at the ‘Namaste Trump’ do in Motera, Ahmedabad, this formulation of friendship makes no bones about the policy tilt towards the US. This is so, per Modi, because “There is so much that we share: Shared Values & Ideals, Shared Spirit of Enterprise & Innovation, Shared Opportunities & Challenges, Shared Hopes & Aspirations”. Such a view presumes that these shared attributes and values at all matter in the harsh world of international relations and in a system of nation states where considerations of national interest alone prevail. To the extent that Modi believes that shared ideals dictate policies of countries is the degree to which he makes India vulnerable to targeted and cynical exploitation by big powers who are intent on furthering their narrow national interest.

Almost as soon as Trump departed these shores, the Modi government got a whiff of what the situation is and how it may actually pan out for India in the future. The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act riots in Delhi triggered considerable ire in Islamic countries and drew pointed criticism from the United Nations and from official agencies in the bastions of democracy — the US and Western Europe that Modi has sought to cultivate and curry favours from. However, entirely unmindful of the real factors impinging on policy making in most countries, the foreign minister S. Jaishankar, sounding like His Master’s Voice, reacted huffily. Rounding on the BJP regime’s favourite whipping boy — Pakistan, the UN Human Rights Commission, he thundered, “skirts around cross-border terrorism as if it has nothing to do with country next door.” Asked if India was losing friends, the minister-minion airily replied that “may be we are getting to know who our real friends are” which statement, if taken literally, would categorize the UN, US, UK, Iran and every other country and group that has expressed dismay at the treatment of Indian Muslims as not “real friends”. In which case, how will Modi, Jaishankar et al account for their policy of unconditional friendship with the US? And for their advocacy for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council seat for India? Worse, the foreign minister in a non-sequiter-ish fashion proceeded to conflate the concern of Indian Muslims and their lacking documents to prove their citizenship, which is at the heart of the opposition to the proposed National Register of Citizens that will follow in the wake of the CAA, with Parliament’s “right to set the terms of naturalization and citizenship”. It set up a straw man for him to publicly demolish!

All this is particularly problematic in the context of Modi’s jettisoning the “utility” value in deciding which country to get close to. In effect, it means he is pursuing a policy of pleasing Washington or Beijing even if it fetches no real, practical or substantive benefit to India, is at the cost of the national interest and security, and of the country losing its historic role as system balancer which role, were it to be retained by Delhi, will assure India maximum leverage. Given Modi’s patented stake in cultivating American presidents — Obama first and now Trump, rationalizing his policy of “friendship” seems strained when placed alongside Trump’s and Washington’s traditionally realpolitik-inspired attitude to America’s friends and the outside world in which exploiting Modi’s weakness — susceptibility to flattery and for grandstanding, for example, becomes the norm. As regards the other issue, in the face of unfolding de-globalisation — rising tariff barriers and restrictive trade practices, the PM’s outlook on an “interconnected, interrelated and interdependent” world seems quaint. But there will be consequences if such ideas are permitted to drive policies. More and more countries will dump cheap goods and old technologies in India which, in turn, will kill off indigenous effort and enterprise and any chances of the country being at the cutting edge in anything.

In striving, moreover, to fill the post of a “global voice”, which he claims is currently vacant, Modi is prepared to have India “adjust” to changing circumstances rather than, in his own words, have the country carve out its own particular path as rest of the states in the world are doing. Combined with the PM’s policy of fawning over America, China and the big powers generally, India is in for a rough ride. Especially troubling is the fact that with the captain of the ship seemingly bent on thus handing over the control of the steering wheel to extra-territorial entities, what will eventuate is an irreversible development.

And finally, there is unintended irony in Modi’s evoking Mahatma Gandhi. The world will indeed gain from India’s progress. But India will only progress if it hunkers down to take care of its own business by itself rather than trying to shoulder the problems of everyone else and by riding some great power’s coat tails. It is the sort of thing the Prime Minister may wish to ponder.

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Anti-Muslim Riots: Modi’s huge strategic mistake

Copy of 2020-02-24T134456Z_1426990583_RC217F9V30JU_RTRMADP_3_INDIA-CITIZENSHIP-PROTESTS-1582613077204

[Anti-Muslim riots, Delhi]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hoped to bask in the Trumpian glow during and after the US President’s short visit that was never geared from the start to be more than a publicity stunt at best. Instead he found the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters raining on his parade.

The occasion for serious Modi-Trump jaw-jaw disappeared once Delhi held fast to a few sticking points, particularly ‘no US dairy exports’ to India. But having announced a trade deal as precondition for his trip, Trump had the option to call-off the trip and miss out an opportunity to super-hyperbolically boast about “millions” of Indians gathered to greet him. This last was intolerable even if in Trump’s arithmetic the 95,000 collected at the Motera stadium in Ahmedabad equals millions. The visit itself sort of unfolded herky-jerkily — with no one taking any of it seriously except the excitable Indian print and electronic/ television media who are ever the willing handmaidens to whosoever is in power at the moment, and who dutifully and full-throatedly sang hosannas to Modi and Trump, trying desperately to make the whole event appear to be more than a gigantic photo-op that it was.

A development, potentially damaging of Modi’s reputation and India’s image as an easy going tolerant country, was taking shape. An entirely peaceful sit-down campaign was gathering momentum a dozen kilometers from South Block in the lead-up to Trump’s visit. Considering that their demand was for a withdrawal of CAA, which the Modi government had peremptorily rejected, any realistic assessment by the Home Ministry with numerous intel and police agencies under command, would have reasonably concluded that, if the priority was to at all cost prevent the communal situation from blowing up just when the Western media was in the country in strength and Modi and Trump were sitting down for a bit of mutual backslapping, that a few things needed to be ensured. Namely, that (1) the protest be allowed to continue undisturbed to buff up the country’s democratic credentials and, in line with this intent (2) absolutely no one and nothing be permitted to disturb an inherently tense situation from getting out of hand, and (3) armed Delhi Police, with para-military forces as backup, be instructed, to take into custody known murderous thugs and mischief-mongers, and maintain peace and order with increased armed police presence and deterrent patrols.

What was allowed to happen by the Modi government was exactly the opposite. The deep-down resolve to “teach” Muslims a lesson apparently overtook good strategic sense and young BJP leaders on the make — Anurag Thakur, Kapil Mishra, et al felt encouraged to mouth off incendiary nonsense which was matched by hotheads on the other side, in particular Waris Pathan, Maharashtra MLA of the All India Majis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), the Hyderabad city party, who in a fit of unvarnished idiocy on Feb 20 mouthed inflammatory stuff like “Time has now come for us to unite and achieve freedom. Remember we are 15 crore but can dominate over 100 crores”, which was promptly dubbed a Jinnah-type war cry, and the fat was on the fire. How Asaduddin Owaisi, the immaculate barrister heading AIMIM, whom I hold in the highest regard for his emphasis on Constitutional rectitude, could allow his lieutenants to make such utterances in combustible circumstances is beyond understanding.

Whether such statements offer a clear chronology of events that led to the carnage is not the point. What is is that such fiery speeches offered apriori and/or ex-post facto sanction to both sides to go beserk, putting lone Muslims (like the one in the pic above) and Hindus caught in the wrong locality in serious jeopardy, facing death by bludgeoning.

Modi’s off-handish advice to keep peace did nothing to stay the rioters from their job. It reminded many of Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots where too he periodically issued statements urging peace but apparently did not simply order the police to stop the mayhem, or else. So the violence continued for a couple of days until the powers that be decided the Muslims were sufficiently chastised. But then the Delhi riots were a repeat of the 1984 holocaust against the Sikhs when the then Congress party govt under Rajiv Gandhi saw the terrible mob actions as just retribution for Indira Gandhi’s assassination. What’s the difference? None. But it does emphatically suggest that Delhi Police being a creature of the central govt of the day, will do nothing the home minister doesn’t want done.

This circles back to Modi’s ability to think strategically. Didn’t he know that with Trump coming, there was every likelihood of the CAA protest cascading into a public relations disaster for himself personally and for the nation he leads if the situation was permitted by acts of omission or commission to go astray? Even if he considered this a remote possibility, should he not have warned his party colleagues to do nothing untoward and his sword-arm, Amit Shah, to see to it that nothing bad transpired, at least not during Trump’s short trip? So the question arises: if the Prime Minister is unable to gauge his own personal future interests correctly and take appropriate prophylactic and preemptive measures, can he think strategically to shore up and advance the national strategic interests?

As mentioned in the previous post, the anti-democratic behaviour of his govt has now become grist for the Western press, and hence for the American government and politicians. If Modi had hoped to gain further traction in Washington, he can safely lay those hopes to rest. The US Commission on International Religious Freedoms has already slammed Delhi, Bernie Sanders too has jumped in, questioning the $3 billion deal for military hardware, and UN has decried the human rights excesses. Ere long there will be US Congressional hearings where those representing the anti-CAA faction will be invited to depose, which activity Modi’s chum, Trump, can’t terminate at will. This is only the beginning and should the Democrats displace Trump, Modi will be in bad odour once again in Washington, and India in the doghouse.

One of the themes I analyzed at length in my last book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ was precisely this, that Modi will not be able to realize his strategic objective of getting India to emerge as a principal rival to China on the Asian, leave alone the world, stage if he also creates an illiberal state and society at home. It is a lesson the Prime Minister, unless he is entirely disconnected from reality, will learn because History is a hard teacher.

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Buying US arms & energy and encouraging Indian industrialists to invest in America: Lage raho Narendra bhai! (augmented)

Image result for pics of modi and trump at Mtera

[Modi’s conch-shell welcome to a befuddled looking-Trump in Ahmedabad]

Donald J Trump’s 2-day state visit has unfolded, as predicted. It has been a media show crowned with 100,000 people cramming Motera stadium, the sort of media coverage-drawing event that both principals — Indian PM Narendra Modi and the US President crave and revel in. Trump laid it on thick at Motera — bunging in mention of a whole bunch of disparate popular Indian cultural icons — Diwali, Bollywood, “Soochin Tendolkar”, “Sordor” Patel, “Vivekanamandana…”etc., an address, a retired Indian diplomat called “masterful”. (https://epaper.mailtoday.in/2568554/Mail-Today/Mail-Today-February-25-2020#page/18/2) He must have been watching coverage of a more serious event somewhere!

Pakistan-sourced terrorism has been Modi’s premier foreign policy plank during his 6 years in office (based on the time and effort PMO and MEA have expended on this issue). So, he must have been taken aback when Trump, in auto-correct mode, twinned his claim about America and India being frontline states in the fight against terrorism with a reassurance to Pakistan that America had “a good relationship” with it. How Modi can draw comfort from this forked statement is not clear. But what is is that he means to ride Trump’s coattails to the end for all it is worth, even if the ride lasts only another 9 months because it will be the end of the line should the Democratic Party candidate (likely Biden or Sanders) next occupy the White House. And even if it means signing up for a load of armaments with huge price tags but (many of them, such as the National Advanced Surface- to-Air Missile system — a reworking of the air-to-air Sidewinder missile) of immensely doubtful value.

The piling on of an odd assortment air defence systems (Prithvi interceptors, S-400, Akash, NASAMs, Barak-8) in “layered” missile defence will work as well as not having any such defence at all! That’s how ineffective each of the allegedly “anti-missile” system (as different from their anti-aircraft capability) is individually and, in an integrated architecture, collectively. It speaks volumes about the smooth-talking success achieved by foreign arms companies pushed by their governments and, at the same time, the cupidity and gullibility of Indian leaders and the generalist babu-infested Ministry of Defence and MEA who know squat about national security, and even less about actual defence. But that’s another story!! It reveals the passive defensive-minded pathology lacing India’s procurement policy that will yet be the death of India as a self-respecting power.

But what really happened in the Modi-Trump discussions at Hyderabad House this morning? When talking of the “terrorism” issue, which also presumably included an exchange on Pakistan-sourced cross-border terrorism, Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla referred to the “restricted and confidential” nature of the talks for not disclosing details. It is a dead giveaway that, notwithstanding Trump’s press conference where he was more voluble in backing Modi and India, the discussion didn’t go the way Modi and MEA expected, and that Trump would have nothing to do with punitive measures beyond those agreed on at the Financial Assistance Task Force forum and, sotto voce, that Washington would happily extend the June-2020 deadline if Islamabad continued to be helpful in facilitating battlefield peace with the Quetta-based Haqqani Network and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Just wait and see — this is exactly how the situation will pan out mid-year. And despite repeated brush-offs by Delhi, Trump once again set himself up as mediator on Kashmir.

In the meantime, Modi’s ploy of loosening Trump’s views on Pakistan-sourced terrorism and trade, etc. by pacifying Trump with arms purchases amounting to a $9 billion gain for the US defence industry as Shringla announced proudly, and with buys of American energy — oil, shale oil and gas, and urging Indian capitalists to invest “billions and billions of dollars in the US” (Trump’s words) and generating hundreds of thousands of jobs in America, has not diluted Trump’s attitude to India an iota. On trade, for instance, Shringla implied as much in his press conference when he talked of a one-sided transactional scheme being par for the course. This he did by differentiating between the trade “package” dealing with tariffs in current transactions and the “big deal” that Trump had sought to permit mutual concessions on a bilateral agreement basis. But either way, as Trump emphasized in his press conference, the US would always force its advantage. So, how has Modi’s coddling of the US in any way helped India? What has India got or gained?

The trade talks have stalled on a number of friction points. From India’s perspective these are, in the main, the low level of US technology transfer, and the joint R&D projects to develop “critical technologies” that the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative promised, which is still at the talking stage. If anybody in MEA and PMO is waiting for such programs to fructify soon or ever and is listening, you are advised to not hold your breath. It won’t happen.

Trouble is Modi cannot wish away the existing chasm between India’s and US interests. Short of Modi gifting Washington what remains of this country’s foreign policy integrity in order to get a pat on the back and a torrent of flattery from Trump — to wit, his speech at Motera, the differences simply cannot be bridged. In this respect, Shringla struggled to explain how the “comprehensive strategic global partnership” that’s supposed to have been initiated by the Trump-Modi duo is different from the less wordy “global strategic partnership” it apparently replaced. He talked of the former in terms of greater understanding and commitment on a wider array of subjects — none of which is reflected in the outcomes of the Trump trip that the Indian FS described, for reasons unknown, as “extraordinary”. Especially because the trip indicates that while Trump held on to his positions, Modi eroded the country’s bargaining leverage by ceding ground virtually on all fronts except in allowing unhindered, unlimited, exports to India of American dairy products.

But that’s because — and this is not hard to speculate — doing so would imperil the burgeoning milk cooperative industry, exemplified by the success of the Amul-brand of dairy items on home turf. It is one thing for Modi to ask India to be treated as a developing state in America’s Generalized System of [trade] Preferences, from which slate India was yanked in the runup to the presidential trip — so much for Trump’s love for India and his desire to expand and enlarge the relationship! Quite another thing to undermine the dairy business in Gujarat and fatally weaken Modi’s and BJP’s grip on their political base in home province. Yea, all politics is local.

The only slight and manifest convergence was regards halting China’s CPEC-kind of infrastructure projects all round the Indian Ocean basin, the East African littoral, and in Central Asia. Whence the two sides agreed on the need for “transparency” in “connectivity” projects about their financial viability, debt load, etc. Not that this will do much good because the US does not dare take ‘pangas’ with China and Beijing knows it.

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A high-optics, low outcome Trump trip to India

It’s unclear what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to US President Donald Trump when the former called the White House on 11 February. Reportedly what sealed the presidential trip to India was Modi’s promise that some 5–7 million people would be lining the route from Ahmedabad airport to the new stadium in Motera to greet him.

Painting US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on a wall along the route that Trump and Modi will take during Trump's upcoming visit, Ahmedabad, India, 17 February 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Amit Dave).

Ahmedabad is the largest city of Gujarat, the state where Modi ruled as chief minister for over a decade. For a showman like Trump, the prospect of dawn-to-dusk US television coverage rich in colourful imagery featuring millions of Indians attesting his international popularity and exotic locales like the Taj Mahal must have been too intoxicating to turn down, especially in a year in which he is seeking re-election.

Optics is clearly the driver of this visit.

Yet in getting Trump to visit India, Modi may have exaggerated the crowds that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be able to muster. What may transpire is a repeat of Trump crowing that his 2017 presidential inauguration attracted ‘the largest crowd ever’, despite cameras showing otherwise. The President may claim ’millions’ welcomed him in India, when evidence might only reveal a few thousand waving flags held by school children and public employees instructed to line the roads negotiated by the Trump motorcade.

Before Modi’s phone call, Trump had publicly made the India trip conditional on a ‘real trade deal’. But Trump relented despite the lack of any substantial trade agreement.

The Modi government stuck to its stand that exports of US dairy goods to India require the US government to certify that these products were not sourced from animals fed with feeds produced from ‘internal organs, blood meal or tissues of ruminants’. This rules out most US dairy items. This deliberate complication of the certification process is another way of ‘protecting’ the 80 million Indian rural households involved in the dairy industry whose interests no government in Delhi can ignore.

Still, India is expected to agree to a face-saving deal in return for its retaining beneficiary status in the US Generalized System of Preferences. India may reduce tariffs on certain niche agricultural products such as cherries and blueberries and on other items like Harley Davidson motorcycles that Trump is so hung up on. But only a small dent will likely be made in the US trade deficit with India (running at US$16.9 billion in 2018–2019) as a result of the Trump trip.

The US failure to pressure India on dairy exports shows the limits of US coercive policies on trade. But it also mirrors the closing down of the US H1B visa channel that Modi pleaded with Trump to keep open. It may convince Trump to further twist Modi’s arm to buy vintage military hardware that the Indian armed forces are unwilling to acquire, such as the venerable F-16 fighter aircraft in service with the Pakistan Air Force for the past 40 years but refurbished with new avionics and numeral designation (F-21).

Washington’s case is that manufacturing the 1970s vintage combat plane in India under license would be open sesame to more advanced military technology deals in the future. But it has failed to convince India because modern combat aircraft and other military technologies are readily available from Russia, France and Sweden. A consolation contract is in the works for the sale of 24 SH-60 Seahawk helicopters worth nearly US$2 billion from the United States to India.

The F-16 symbolises US reluctance to transfer high-value technology. Its reluctance was also highlighted by the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative that was meant to facilitate collaboration in cutting-edge military technology development but has not resulted in a single project to date.

For Modi to throw Trump a bone and consent to F-16 production as a flagship venture in his stillborn ‘Make in India’ program would risk ridicule and weaken his political standing. It would further fuel an opposition drive against his government that is already buoyed by the BJP’s successive electoral defeats in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Delhi. It may prompt Modi to move slowly on Trump’s request to remove the case-by-case approval for US forces to use Indian military facilities under the 2018 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). Another reason is that Modi is simultaneously cultivating relations with China.

In lieu of invigorating LEMOA, Modi may agree to sign the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share geospatial information via digitised maps for accurate terminal guidance of projectiles. BECA will complete the set of three ‘foundational accords’ that the United States has been hankering for, the other two being LEMOA and the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement.

Modi and Trump are alike in that they are both narcissistic, autocratic and hate to lose. Trump’s India trip may put both of them to the test. Neither will want to be seen as backing down or accepting accords contrary to India First and America First rhetoric for fear of domestic backlash. Personal bonhomie between Modi and Trump is real but it cannot plaster over the deep India–US differences in trade and technology or in geostrategic interests and calculations.

[Published in East Asia Forum, February 22, 2020, https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2020/02/22/a-high-optics-low-outcome-trump-trip-to-india/ ]

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Buying peace with Trump by buying arms

Howdy Modi event

[Modi and Trump at the “Howdy, Modi” event]

While the national interests of India and the United States overlap a little, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Donald J. Trump are personally in sync. This last is, perhaps, because they are alike — self-centered, autocratic, and relentless in playing to their political bases. So drama attends on any cooperation they can muster, especially in the foreign policy field because differing geographies dictate divergent approaches, tactics and strategies.

     Dealing with the mercurial Trump is like traipsing through a minefield. He threatens termination of trade and US military presence abroad to get his way. He perceives India as a soft target and is ranging on it, complaining about unbalanced trade, Indian software companies exploiting the H1B visa regime, Delhi’s delay in activating the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement that will permit US forces to use Indian bases, and about India’s reluctance to manufacture under license the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter aircraft outfitted with new doo-dahs and designation (F-21). Trump’s bargaining method is to insist the other side meet his demands or face pain. It has fetched him success with NATO allies (anteing up $400 billion in additional defence spending) and China (removing $75 billion in tariffs).  

     To prevent Trump tilting against India, Modi’s strategy is one of placating the US with periodic buys of non-lethal, defensive, capital military hardware – P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and C-17 and C-130J transport planes, Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk anti-submarine warfare helicopters (a contract for 24 of these rotary wing aircraft may be signed to mollify Trump), or outdated weapons systems (M-777 howitzer) that don’t occasion controversy abroad or scrutiny in the US Congress. However, far from softening Trump’s attitude, it has strengthened his belief that he can keep pushing because Delhi has nothing to pushback with – a view Modi apparently concurs in. How else to explain that in the last four years vis a vis  the US there has been no give and take, just give and more give on India’s part?

     Toting up the pluses and minuses and weighing the outcomes, a dispassionate assessment shows meagre returns on Modi’s policy. On Pakistan-sourced terrorism – the PM’s signature tune, the US has limited itself to making anti-terrorism noises at the Financial Assistance Task Force and other forums amounting to ineffectual posturing because it is not followed up by hard pressure on Pakistan and China. This pressure the US won’t impose because it needs a helpful Islamabad to extricate itself militarily from Afghanistan. For the same reason, Delhi’s longstanding request for “raw intelligence” on Pakistan-based terrorist gangs has been denied, with only “processed”, meaning appropriately diluted, possibly doctored, information being onpassed to Indian agencies.

     Further, despite Modi’s pleas, Trump is closing down the H1B visa regime, virtually eliminating the comparative low labour cost advantage of the $181 billion Indian software industry, and is pressing India to lift restrictions on US agricultural commodities and dairy products. With respect to the Indian government’s perennial hope of collaborating in advanced military technology development, the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative set up for the purpose has not resulted in even a single project. Delhi fails to appreciate that America won’t transfer in-date technology for love or money or disturb the military balance in South Asia it helps sustain.

     And what of the shared geostrategic objective? The US is determined to avoid armed conflict with China at all cost. In practical terms, therefore, for India there’s little beyond arms sales and simple military exercises. The annual Malabar naval exercise, for example, graduated to joint fleet air arm maneuvers only in 2019, its 24th year. But huge diplomatic energy is expended in the “dialogue” process – frequent Modi-Trump meetings, 2×2 summits, etc.. If dialogueing mattered all that much, the Indo-US “strategic partnership” would be flying.

     High time India explored an alternative security coalition organic to Asia of “rimland” states and offshore countries to strategically hamstring China. Such as a modified Quadrilateral involving the littoral and maritime assets-rich India, Japan, Australia and a Southeast Asian group of Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, an arrangement that would minimize an unreliable America’s role.


[A truncated version of this article with the title “Buying peace with useless arms” is published in The Week, issue dated March 1, 2020]

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CDS Gen. Rawat doing the right things first

Image result for pics of Gen Rawat

[Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat]

Heart sank when soon after his appointment as the first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat talked of the CDS in India working to a different tune than its counterparts elsewhere especially with his hint that he would adopt a collegial mode of decisionmaking with the Services’ Chiefs of Staff. This suggested a familiar mode of operations where the Service Chiefs would exercise their veto whenever their service interest was “compromized”.

So, it was a pleasant surprise to find General Rawat, moving very fast to embed the CDS system in the system of systems, announce three seminal developments. That these are three issues I have elaborated and analyzed at length, and fiercely advocated over the years, most recently in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), is particularly gratifying and indicates how ideas, through a process of osmosis, get injected into policy deliberations and get to the implementation stage.

Firstly, is the imperative of inter se prioritization; Rawat has made it the CDS’ prerogative. Deciding between the three Services’ expenditure priorities was always icky business given that the Defence Ministry shied away from its responsibility for choosing the programmes to fund from among competing demands and military requirements. Interestingly, Rawat has by way of curtain raiser selected, correctly, to emphasize the Indian Navy’s sea denial mission, i.e., submarines, over the sea control role performed by the aircraft carrier. And he has nixed the third carrier in favour of the Project 75i submarine and the nuclear powered hunter-killer subs, which together will cost the country a pretty penny. And this is in the face of an aviator, Admiral Karambir Singh, heading the navy. It speaks as much for the CNS’ foresight as Rawat’s long view and both need to be commended. The real test of Rawat’s design for an integrated military will be if he successfully pushes for the rationalization of the armoured-mechanized component of the land forces to obtain a single composite strike corps supported by several independent armoured brigades with the surplus manpower and war materiel from the demobilized two strike corps shifted to outfitting two additional offensive mountain corps for a total of three such formations for the China front.

Second, Rawat’s (and presumably Modi government’s) expressed need is for external bases. Such bases in the extended Indian Ocean region are absolutely necessary to ensure that China’s presence is always at India’s sufferance, meaning that India can keep out the Chinese Navy from “India’s lake” if that, at any time, serves its purposes. Have elaborated on the need for India to have forward presence in the oceanic proximal expanse — in North and South Agalega (in Mauritius), northern Mozambique (where India has a radar station), on Gan Island in the Maldives, Chahbahar in Iran, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, Singapore and Na Thrang in central Vietnam, and to explore with Philippines basing options at Clark’s air force and Subic Bay, and to permanently deploy a naval flotilla in the South China Sea constantly patrolling those waters, rather than bulk up the Andaman Command. Further, Rawat also hinted at beefing up the military-use infrastructure in that area, like lengthening the tarmac in Campbell’s Bay to take Su-30MKIs which should be accorded priority. Because once the base infrastructure and prepositioned stores and fuel depots are up, rotating naval surface combatants and strike aircraft will be easy.

And finally he talked of a “Peninsular Command” as a theatre command headed by a naval C-in-C, realizing in the process the geography-dictated notion of a unitary military operational space that I have long advocated. This is to follow the air defence command he means to establish by 2021 and five other theatre commands that are to be set up by 2022. This will streamline military planning, operations and operational logistics and thin down the manpower now positioned in 19 odd top heavy commands.

It is a pity Rawat has not so far been persuaded by the larger national benefits accruing from compulsory military service for the youth segment. It will not only help tackle the impossibly difficult pensions problem — which will not be resolved by raising the retirement age for several categories of skilled personnel that he has argued for. What will, other than compulsory service, is the army reverting to 7 years colour service with no pension but a handy monetary reward (of rupees one crore or more). Compare this with the permanent drain on the exchequer owing to pensions for the lifetime of soldiers that may be for as many as 40 years after retiring from service. There’s, in the event, no escape from the deluge of military pensions other than by the means mentioned above. The sooner Rawat gets down to accepting it the better it will be for the country. It will essentially require our shortsighted politicians to not look on the armed services, the army in particular (and, even more, the para-military forces) , as easy employment generators.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian para-military forces, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Vietnam, West Asia | 11 Comments

Defexpo 2020: What stood out & why, and why not an all-Indian light tank?

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[Bharat Forge’s 155mm 52 calibre artillery displayed at Defexpo 2020]

Defexpo 2020 ended its run at the swanky new exhibition ground, created especially for the purpose by the UP government in Lucknow, drew praise. A UP minister declared it a great success on the basis that some 200 MOUs were signed compared to just 40 during the previous version of the Expo held in Chennai in 2018. The minister needs to dunk his head in a bucket of iced water to wake him up to reality. MOUs mean next to nothing. Literally thousands of MOUs have been signed in the last decade, but the foreign direct investment in defence ventures is still almost zero.

But those who participated — and there were more than 200 of the most important Indian and international companies that displayed their wares or tried to cut deals for them, complained that having built the tremendous fair ground infrastructure, the Adityanath regime fouled up in a crucial area — in providing powerful telecommunications coverage to facilitate bulk data transmission for instantaneous displays on screens, laptops and especially smart phones which defence industry representatives these days use to conduct business. With no smart phones working — the telecom service coverage being nonexistent around the trade fairground or so spotty as to be useless any way, the Defexpo was a disaster. As a throwback to paper usage, interested customers demanded brochures, physical documents, and the like that have long since become passe’ and which no self-respecting company rep lugs around anymore! In short, Defexpo 2020 was a communications fiasco. It could have been averted by the UP government installing a bunch of microwave comms towers all round the defexpo grounds.

Strange that no media outlet reported on this astonishing snafu! This even though print and electronic media were present in strength what with prime minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh and UP chief minister Adityanath attending along with their retinues of PMO, Defence Ministry and Department of Defence Production babus and other hangers-on.

What was, however, a success was the confidence in evidence of Indian private sector military hardware producers who exhibited extraordinarily advanced, streamlined and sophisticated products. Foreign experts and company reps were impressed particularly with the sleek gun systems — Bharat Forge’s 155 mm 52 calibre long range gun, and this company’s ultra-light weight howitzer weighing a ton compared to the next lightest, which is a 3-4 tonner! The price too is something no foreign gun supplier can match — Rs 15-20 crore per piece for the 155 mm gun versus Rs 50-55 crores for an imported gun. A former Israeli general called it the “best gun of its kind in the world!” The Bharat Forge ultra-light weight howitzer with soft recoil technology, ideal for mountain ops, was likewise available to the army when the Modi government opted several years back for the American M-777 howitzer instead in a “government-to-government” deal. In other words, Modi chose to please Washington than put teeth in his own “Make in India” programme upped by Bharat Forge to the much higher value “Made in India” — design to delivery. It cost the country multiples for an old gun system when the locally designed, developed, tested and proven new generation piece was available for the taking.

The other product line that drew oohs and aahs from foreign visitors was, surprisingly, the stall of Adani Defence & Aerospace featuring a range of 7.62 mm assault rifles, machine guns and light machine guns manufactured in a unit in Gwalior set up with 49% equity partner — the Israeli company IWI. This unit has been established to meet current and future Indian demands, and for export. This was such strikingly modern stuff it left many an expert observer goggle-eyed. Obviously, the Adani majority partnership helped the defence ministry plonk for an initial order of 41,000 Adani assault rifles, an item the public sector Ishapore ordnance factory has struggled mightily for years to design and develop.

So the army’s need for two of the biggest and most basic goods — artillery of all kinds in mobile and towed mode can be locally met with the Bharat Forge guns that together with L&T’s K-109 Vajra form a formidable battery, and the military’s requirements of basic infantry weapons by the Adani assault rifles, etc.

If the army means what it says about going increasingly indigenous, a third item — the tank too can be fully home supplied. The Avadi DPSU produces the Arjuna main battle tank which the Indian government, if it was serious about its professions about advancing the Indian defence industry factory, should designate as the only equipment to outfit the country’s armoured formations (with the Russian T-72s/90s under phase out) and restrict the purchase of tanks to the Arjun MBT.

That will leave the field clear for an Indian light tank developed by mounting the Bharat Forge 105mm gun on a light tank chassis that Mahindra, with its expertise in armoured combat vehicles that also impressed at the Lucknow Defexpo, can easily design and produce. What will thus obtain is a 45 ton light tank to equip the first two Divisions of the mountain offensive corps under raising, with two more mountain corps hopefully in the offing, to adequately meet the contingent Chinese threat ex-PLA-occupied Tibet. Kirloskar can perhaps be roped in to design and develop a high torque engine for this light tank to operate optimally in the thin air at Himalayan heights. It is the sort of consortium approach, coupling the different competences of Indian firms that Bharat Forge, Mahindra, and Kirloskar can pioneer in the private sector.

Such consortia can, moreover, offer capital weapons platforms outputted within contracted time frames and cost parameters in deals that the imports-besotted defence ministry simply cannot refuse, and the defence public sector units are inherently incapable of matching.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Israel, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Tibet, United States, US., Weapons | 14 Comments

Restructuring of MEA misses out on basics

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[Jaishankar in MEA]

The new standard for career advancement in MEA is now clearly laid down: the success achieved by Narendra Modi’s mass interface with NRIs on foreign tours, particularly to Western countries (US, UK, Australia, et al) and which events, featuring host country notables, are seen by the PM as affirming his personal worth and standing in the world. The ambassadors lucky enough to be posted to countries where they were asked to manage these circuses have been uniformly rewarded. Modi’s interaction with “students” of the Tsinghua University in Beijing mightily helped S. Jaishankar to occupy the Washington ambassador’s post the latter craved and which, in turn, and with a little help from friends in the US government, eased his passage into the Foreign Secretary’ chair. Likewise, Navtej Sarna, who as High Commissioner to the UK impressed Modi by pulling off the massive assemblage of NRIs at Wembley Stadium with British PM David Cameron in attendance in November 2015 was promptly dispatched to the US as ambassador to work the NRI crowd there, which efforts eventuated in the “Howdy, Modi!” event in Houston last year, benefiting his successor Harsh Vardhan Shringla now promoted as Foreign Secretary. True, Rajiv Gandhi installed his favourite PK Kaul, ex-IAS, former cabinet secretary, and paid-up member of the “Kashmiri mafia” that surrounded his mother Indira Gandhi, as ambassador to the US in 1986. But success in arranging big events with a lot of hoopla has only now become a unique standard for promotion to FS-ship. As far as IFS officers are concerned, they have to be in the right place to cash in. That and pure luck with the timing of the PM’s tours!

But why this digression on the MEA promotions policy when the topic is the restructuring of MEA? No reason at all except to put down a marker (because by itself the topic of which diplomats make it to the top and why doesn’t deserve a separate post)!

An administrative shakeup or a reshaping of the decision making schematic is usually undertaken by a government when it finds the previous system failing to deliver. With substantive success in the external realm ranging from thin to scarce in the past 6 years, the Prime Minister, hoping for better results, has approved this restructuring to turn things around. But because in the Modi dispensation Modi alone matters, the contribution by careerist babus, including the incumbent external affairs minister, is limited to filling in the details of policies laid down by the PM. This fact won’t alter with the changes that have been rung in. What will is the process with more people involved in it. The restructuring may just muddy it up some more. How?

Well, the new scheme supposedly emulates the decision making system in corporations with “verticals” in well defined issue areas — cultural diplomacy, trade & economic diplomacy, policy planning & research, Africa, Europe, Indo-Pacific, international conferences, development partnership administration, new and emerging strategic technologies (NEST), etc. But look more closely and this rejigging exercise that has been in the works for some time now, appears to seek to remedy a problem faced mostly by senior ambassador-rank echelon whose members, at the additional secretary-level, found themselves with time on their hands and very little to do. But this was like elsewhere in the rest of the Government of India where Joint Secretaries run the show. The Joint Secretary-level officers are the sword arm with Secretaries being the public face, taking credit for things going right and the blame for things going wrong usually being carried by Joint Secretaries. The Additional Secretaries (ASs) in the middle in this setup end up twiddling their thumbs.

So, essentially the new MEA scheme is make work for ASs. They are being asked to “direct”, be directors of, the policy verticals which means what exactly, especially in the context of Jaishankar’s ambitious idea — taken from the American system — of placing mid-level diplomats in various line ministries — defence, trade and commerce, economic affairs, etc.? This raises questions about the basic problem even the unstructured MEA, with little presence outside its own ambit, confronted, namely, the remarkably small numbers of diplomats in service, just 930 or so. This is so small a figure, it barely surpasses the size (850) of the Singapore foreign service or that of New Zealand (885), a country with a population of 4.8 million (a figure equaling the population of just South Delhi!). Compared to Japan’s diplomatic corps in excess of 6,000 officers and, even more, China’s with 7,500 diplomats, and America’s 14,000, India’s foreign service is so dwarfed it is laughable to consider India and these latter countries as being in the same game. And yet the Indian government expects that somehow — perhaps by some tantra or magic, this small number of personnel available to MEA will be able to produce the outcomes their gigantic counterparts in Japan, China, and the US do. This is madness.

The Modi regime can restructure MEA all it wants, can experiment with this or that, but short of actually enlarging the Foreign Service ten-fold for a start, the results will still be the same — pitiable. That the annual intake into IFS tops off at 35 officers tells it own sad story. Then there’s the problem of entrant level quality. Civil services generally, and the IFS is no exception, have over forty years now stopped attracting the best and the brightest in the country with college graduates, who choose not to go abroad, understandably gravitating towards business schools and entrant level corporate salaries many times that earned by newbie babus and, even more, by the huge responsibility they are asked to shoulder in the very early stages of their careers with commensurate rewards and advancement of career prospects to follow. Other than transnationals, with more and more Indian companies having presence in foreign countries, senior positions abroad are almost a matter of course. So why would any bright, right thinking, young adult want to be a diplomat when he can do so much better in the private sector and hop, skip and jump to high positions — something simply not possible in government service wedded principally to the seniority principle, with merit and performance as secondary factors? Tumhara time ayega. Tees saal baad, ayega!

Of course, GOI has always had the option of increasing the size of the Indian Foreign Service. This it hasn’t done because of severe opposition from the Service itself as it wants to retain its “elite” status, which is equated by it to remaining small-sized. Why no government has thrust the IFS enlargement decision down the throat of the Foreign Office regardless is a mystery even though the fact of a small and fairly ineffective diplomatic presence being a foreign policy liability has long been acknowledged by the government. Sure, such enlargement plans would require a very large entrant intake and correspondingly large training institutions, such as the Foreign Service Institute, etc.

In the event, collateral entry in massive numbers is the short-term and medium-term answer. To-date the only conspicuous posting in this stream is of a politically connected journalist (who after a stint as media man to President Kovind) was appointed AS in MEA to polish up the Modi government’s public relations (PR). Whether he succeeded in his remit (of improving the perceptions of the Modi regime) is uncertain, but he is now being asked to help promote the country’s cultural diplomacy fronted by ICCR (Indian Council of Cultural Relations). Except, like Policy Planning, ICCR has been good only for providing the Foreign Office with parking slots for officers who wanted to stay on in Delhi pending appointments to better diplomatic stations (than the ones allotted them)! So much for cultural diplomacy.

PR is relatively easy stuff. Not sure if any collateral entrant has been accommodated in any really important position within MEA. This brings up the crucial matter of why manifestly successful persons from the high flying technology sectors or from trade and industry would want to enter MEA using this channel? What job satisfaction could they expect to derive in a situation where IFS(A) officers will be lording it over them and who will, at every turn, try to show them down? After all, one of the reasons the collateral entry scheme has not really taken off is owing to the resistance of the IFS(A) cadre which fears losing ground to technically sound, problem-solving minded, business managers, engineers, and the like, who would do a great job of bringing development assistance projects under the Development Partnership Assistance programmes in Afghanistan, Africa, the immediate neighbourhood, and Central Asia in time and within costs, and who have proved their druthers outside the confines of government and experienced real world problems and solved them (in contrast to UPSC selectees who have known nothing other than serving in government). One can see why such people would be perceived by careerists as threat whose influx in large numbers and regularization in service is to be prevented by any means and at all cost. The intention of IFS officers is to preserve their seniority, perquisites and promotion prospects which, of course, will be disturbed by the collaterals should they want to make a career of it, as some of them might, whence the determination to keep out the interlopers, failing which to minimize their flow into MEA and, in any case, to deny them a receptive and helpful eco-system lest they show success in endeavours where they failed.

The fixing of seniority, etc to ease IFS’ ill will towards collateral entrants have not been addressed by the Department of Personnel & Training or the GOI. It is easier to reconcile the lateral entry of 60-odd officers from other services who have joined the MEA because the presumptive condition is that these other service-wallahs will after short stints or eventually return to their respective cadres, services and ministries, hence, will not mar the promotion prospects of the IFS(A) officers, and therefore can be tolerated.

The seriously troubling matter facing GOI is regarding the collateral entrants. How to get top drawer talent, especially from the technology sectors (artificial intelligence, cyber, bio-engineering, genetically modified foods, quantum computing, robotics, experimental physics, etc.), in particular, into MEA to man the NEST vertical, for instance. There may be the occasional IIT-ian or engineer in the ranks of the IFS but it is unlikely these officers, given the pace of transformative technological change, will have kept up with the cutting edge in their engineering/scientific fields. This renders them as a cohort just as useless as the generalists bulking up the IFS in assessing technology trends, the country’s proven strength in these and allied spheres, etc., and puts them at as much disadvantage when negotiating with, say, Chinese and American diplomats specializing in these fields, as their generalist colleagues. It is the sheer disparity of knowledge and competence that will do in India’s national interest. And what India will end up with is a regular production of unequal treaties that MEA will get GOI to sign on. Realistically, the country will be faced with serial iteration of the 2008 “civilian nuclear cooperation” deal with the US-type of transactions that gut India’s sovereignty and the national interest.

Jaishankar, Modi’s pointman in MEA, will not resolve these issues because as an IFS(A) veteran he will do nothing to hurt his cadre. The MEA collateral entry scheme will, in the event, continue to attract only pliant journalists, media commentators, thinktankers, and such other generalists, who have failed to make a mark. Consequently, MEA is destined to remain grossly undermanned and institutionally incapable of carrying out an activist and comprehensive diplomacy on a global scale of the scale and intensity Modi has apparently in mind.

Posted in Afghanistan, Africa, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, MEA/foreign policy, Myanmar, Nepal, SAARC, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 3 Comments

Two-front War: A Convenient fiction

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[The first CDS, General Bipin Rawat, after handing over charge to the new COAS, General MM Naravane]

This piece published as ‘Upfront’ column in India Today, in issue dated February 3, 2020 at https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20200203-two-front-war-a-convenient-fiction-1639507-2020-01-24


It is almost de rigueur for a newly appointed military Chief of Staff to ritually make certain statements, for instance, about the supposed readiness of his armed service to fight a “two-front war”. General Manoj M. Naravane, however, displayed a disarming confidence in making them. Asked how he planned to do so, he said the “dual task formations” would switch between confronting Pakistan in the west and taking on China in the north and northeast. “In case of simultaneous threat from both directions,” he elaborated, “there would always be a primary front [where] the bulk of our forces and resources will be concentrated [while] on the other front, we will adopt a more
deterrent posture.” Trouble is, the military considers Pakistan the primary
threat and accordingly invests in, and deploys, its resources.

A real two-front war-fighting capacity would require India to have unlimited
financial resources to afford a comprehensively capable military, self-sufficiency in arms, and the industrial muscle for surge production of all military hardware, nuts and screws up, to quickly fill voids in military stores and lost equipment. But for an army with reportedly only 10 days of ammunition expended at intense rates of fire, Naravane’s is a remarkably sanguine assessment based on flawed assumptions. Namely, that war with China will be limited and unfold linearly and along expected lines, that the terrains in, and weaponry and skill sets required for, the two fronts are similar, and that Indian troops are versatile enough to fight the Pakistan army in
Kashmir one day and be airlifted to tackle the Chinese army in the Himalayas the next.

Such views are propagated essentially to preserve and legitimate the existing dated and dysfunctional force structure. Combat arms within this structure constitute vested,
often clashing, bureaucratic interests that have reached a modus vivendi they do not want disturbed. Thus, modernising and maintaining three-armoured strike corps with
heavy tanks as spear head account for a large chunk (19 to 26 per cent) of the defence budget and, owing to funding constraints, is at the expense of three desperately needed
specialised offensive mountain corps. Stuck in plains/desert warfare concepts, shifting resources to, say, Russian T-14 light tank-equipped mountain corps able to take the fight
to China on the Tibetan Plateau is opposed even if it means ineffectively working the T-72s from their redoubts on the high-altitude northern Sikkim plains where, on any given morning, 40 per cent of them are unable to cold start.

“Fighter mafias” run major air forces, including the Indian Air Force. In IAF, they phased out the bomber component in the 1970s after the medium Canberra bomber
ended service. Short and medium range combat aircraft, however, have been bought pell-mell from every imaginable foreign source. It has obtained, in the process, a fleet without any strategic reach or clout, and so diverse it is nightmarish to upkeep in peacetime, what to speak of in war. In fact, Soviet Union’s offer in 1971 of the Tu-22 Backfire strategic bomber, which would have been a ready delivery system for the Indian nuclear bomb tested and acquired three years later, was spurned and MiG-23BN
selected instead. Since the mid-1990s, the Russian advanced intercontinental range Tu-160 Blackjack bomber available for the asking has likewise been ignored. Indeed, dog in the manger-like IAF even prevented the Indian Navy from securing the Tu-22 and the strategic bombing role it had discarded, leaving the country with aircraft optimally usable only against Pakistan.

So, India finds itself in the sorry situation of “cavalry generals” and fighter jocks inflating the negligible threat from Pakistan, skewing the government’s procurement and other military priorities, and using the two-front war scenario to justify this system that has obtained for the country a severely limited, financially ruinous war-fighting capability, increased vulnerability to China and imperilled national security. Such
distribution of military attention and resources may suit the government of the day. Whether it serves the national interest is another matter.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons | 11 Comments

FATF decision — MEA surprised (!!), India embarrassed

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[Imran and Trump at World Economic Forum, Davos]

This is what someone high-up in the S Jaishankar-led Ministry of External Affairs admitted to a newspaper after the unpreventable debacle at the Paris meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on January 23: “It was a bit surprising the way US, UK, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and even Japan, all of them favoured Pakistan. There is a strong case against Pakistan, as has been since it was put on the grey list, it it was geopolitics at play…seems the changing geopolitical environment helped Pakistan.” (https://indianexpress.com/article/pakistan/changing-equations-in-region-help-pakistan-get-relief-at-fatf-meet-6232408/). That by end-2020 Pakistan will be well out of FATF is also something that has been all but communicated to Islamabad, this even though it has so far complied with only 7 of the 27 conditions but has been “deemed” by FATF, for reasons not clarified, as having met 17 of them.

What is astonishing is that seasoned Indian diplomats, with Jaishankar in the van, are surprised that geopolitics is why so many of the Western countries and Japan that the Modi government has assiduously courted over the past 6 years have turned on Delhi and are now parroting the Chinese view that Pakistan should be rewarded for taking some actions to limit its support for anti-India terrorist gangs (LeT, JeM) active in Kashmir, to curtail the funds channeled to them and to close down the ISI-sourced terrorist money laundering operation generally. It shows just how clued MEA is to the verities of international relations! It is embarrassing the depths to which Indian diplomacy has plunged.

What is geopolitically obvious to every country in the world is apparently invisible to the Modi regime — that Pakistan having made itself pivotal to a solution in Afghanistan is now in a position to dictate how it wants to be treated where the niggling matter of its use of terrorism against India is concerned. Modi, Jaishankar, et al really believe that to the US and the West (with Japan as honorary member) the Pakistan army’s deployment of the LeT and JeM cadres in J&K is more important than Islamabad’s utility to them as the sole conduit to the Taliban! America, of course, sets the agenda with the European states and Japan following it like lemmings. The context is that Trump (like Modi), with little by way of success in his foreign policy bag but facing impeachment and a re-election process, desperately needs to show that it was his Administration that disengaged the US military from its fruitless and expensive thrashings about in Afghanistan — to date costing the US over a trillion dollars! However, to advance this aim Pakistan’s help is crucial.

Islamabad has long recognized the leverage it, therefore, has with the US as long as Afghanistan remains on the boil. But its leaders have often lacked the nerve to play the leverage game, which deficiency is now corrected. The result is that like its mentor China (on nonproliferation), Pakistan is glorying in its position on Afghanistan as a stoker of the problem and as an unavoidable part of any eventual solution which will be delayed as much as is earthly possible by ISI whatever the nature of Imran’s promises of assistance to Trump. That the Imran Khan government is preparing to play this high stakes game at this stage is not little due to the PM appointing as his Special Assistant for national security, Moeed Yusuf, a Washington thinktanker well versed both in geopolitics and regarding Washington’s pressure points, who hitherto had offered clinical counsel through his op-eds in Pakistani newspaper. We can expect more such adroit diplomatic maneuvering by Pakistan and success, and egg on the face of India’s leaden-footed diplomacy.

It is the Indian government’s willful policy blindness to Pakistan’s geostrategic significance to Washington, among other things, as lever to keep India in place and to extort the decisions it desires from Delhi, even in the absence of any US military embroilment in Afghanistan, that makes Modi’s search for “decisive” US-qua-FATF action against Pakistan at once futile and even tragic. Other than revealing the longstanding brain-freeze of the Indian government (that predated Modi regime) when dealing with the US and the West, on the one hand, and China on the other, the fact that it cannot even read the reality correctly, is sobering considering that it can so easily change, obtain and control a new reality were the country’s foreign and military policies not so instinctively and habitually subservient and skewed.

We know why Delhi kowtows to the US and the West (green card, and other considerations in kind, for progeny and relatives of diplomats and senior civil servants manning the Indian policy apparatus), but why does Modi genuflect before China even as Beijing repeatedly kicks it in the face, with FATF being only the latest instance? Hard to make sense of Modi’s bending backwards to make Xi happy unless it is his deep sense of inferiority and hopelessness that he projects — as Indian leaders before him have done — about India’s will and ability to stand up and hit back and, therefore, deciding preemptively to give up, not be in the big power game at all. It is the diplomatic version of the coronavirus sourced from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the site of the Modi-Xi summit and the “Wuhan spirit” that the Indian PM has evoked ever since.

There’s always the thoroughly compromised Jaishankar to offer explanations and rationales, and whose utterances, a former senior foreign service colleague of his dismisses as mere “justifications” of Modi’s policy tilt of the moment.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Internal Security, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Western militaries | 2 Comments

India: A Middling Power

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[Fountain Ink, a monthly published from Chennai, asked 10 persons in public life and, in its words, “from different stations with varied experience [to briefly answer a set of questions about] what time has wrought, how each relates to time and goings-on, of what gnaws at them even if their own individual lives are on an even keel and what inspires them.” The responses were collated and published in a piece entitled “The Story of us”, in this periodical’s January issue, at https://fountainink.in/reportage/many-eyes-many-stories. My take is reproduced below.


As a think-tanker, I have tried my damndest to influence Indian foreign and military policies specifically and the national security policy generally, with my contrarian hard power-realpolitik views. This I have attempted to do over the last 35-odd years via appointments in government and constitutional bodies (as member of the 1st National Security Advisory Board, and as adviser, defence expenditure, to the 10th Finance Commission), through books and writings, consultations with political leaders and with armed services’ chiefs and their senior advisers, and through lectures at the National War College, Army War College, Naval War College, College of Air Warfare, College of Military Engineering, College of Defence Management, and other senior military training forums, by participating in seminars and conferences, and by reaching directly to the people via public lectures, videographed talks on the net, and the less frequent TV news shows and newspaper op-eds. 

Despite the severe flux in global power politics and the international correlation of forces the essential inertness of the Indian government’s thinking and policies (through the decade) was simply astonishing.

India’s inert foreign policy is the bane of this country and prevents it from exercising its prerogatives and becoming a great power. Consider that Indian policy switched from leaning on the Soviet Union during the Cold War decades to tilting in the new millennium towards America. It started with the Narasimha Rao regime and continued unaltered in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi governments, notwithstanding the ideological differences between the left-of-centre Congress party and the right-of-centre BJP.  

The trouble is whatever their rhetoric, no leader or political party seems convinced about India’s big power bona fides, but seems united in seeing the country as a secondary, subservient, power that can only rise without giving offence to rivals (China) and on the backs of friendly great powers. Whence India’s “creeper vine” foreign policy, which is geared to winding India around some big power as support in order to rise like the creeper vine that needs a pole, a tree, or a lattice to climb. 

It is a tragedy starkly illustrated by the persistent scandal of importing arms, making foreign defence industries wealthy and affording supplier states diplomatic leverage, rather than trusting in indigenous talent and capabilities, which are abundant and of high worth and readily available especially in the private sector. So, as far as I am concerned, it has all been lose, lose, for India, ensuring the country remains in the new century what it has been for long—a middling power of little real consequence.   

It has been frustrating to see piddling states like North Korea and even Pakistan display the guts and gumption to be disruptive—which is what I have long argued India should be to earn the world’s respect, instead of what it has been doing—acting “responsible”, pleading to join clubs (UNSC) and cartels (MTCR, NSG) on their terms, treated with disdain, and getting sidelined and kicked in the shins for its troubles.  

I have become more impatient, not less, with age, impatient for India to amount to something in my lifetime which, sadly, won’t happen. 

On the personal level, it is pleasing to see my many books and views that have consistently advocated ways to make India a great power by pursuing this status the old fashioned way—by unwillingness to compromise on expansively defined national interests, by the wise use of national resources and, in Bismarck’s famous phrase, by blood and steel, being appreciated in policy establishments and strategic enclaves at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, starting with Nehru our leaders have sought great power the easy way—as entitlement, by popular international acclaim, and by pushing abstract goals, like India becoming a vishwa guru (whatever that means)!

The vibe I get from the decade is of little meaningful change in India’s national security policies and plans. India seems to be steadfastly marching in place and getting nowhere fast. As the Queen said to Alice in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, if you don’t know where you are going, any path will get you there. 

As an Edmund Burkean conservative, the hopes and expectations I had for a diminished role of government in national life and in the lives of the people (that Narendra Modi promised) have not panned out. As a realist strategist, I am appalled at how diligently our leaders and the government have frittered national resources and squandered opportunities to raise India’s stock as an independent nodal power and China’s premier rival in Asia and the world.  

Despite just about everything going wrong and the country stagnating, I still have absolute conviction that India will make good, become  a great power in spite of the government, not because of it. In fact, the political class and the government are, I have come to believe, the biggest liability for the nation, a millstone round the country’s neck, relentlessly dragging it down.

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The Insiders cabal preventing India’s rise as a telecom power


[Aruna Sundararajan, ex-IAS, former Telecom Secretary: Being feted for what, exactly?]

It is no exaggeration to say that almost the entire senior echelon of managers — technical and generalist — manning the state apparatus — ranging from the technocratic elite in the Department of Atomic Energy, DRDO, etc., Joint Secretary-rank officers on up of the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service and allied services, to senior military personnel, constitute a Fifth Column, a cabal of insiders, determined on tripping the country up at every turn as it struggles to rise, make a mark, in the world. The tragedy is they do this because of their godawful belief that they are doing right by India! With Government insiders like these, India does not need enemies.

Right now we are seeing just how, with the help of telecom ministry officials and other insiders, the Chinese are set to win a contract for 5G telecommunications system, even as these insiders have tamped down brutally on a bevy of indigenous private sector companies who have earned commercial success and are tech-innovation leaders, having obtained international patents and Intellectual Property Rights in the most advanced and edgy communications hardware and software spheres that constitute 6G!!!, and who are only pleading for a fair chance and an even field to compete with Huawei, which will be denied them. This is, no thanks, to the role of this 5th column comprising latter day Mir Jaffers, seths of Murshidabad who bankrolled Clive’s successful campaign at Plassey, and Mir Sadiqs (the original Gudu Khan who as Mir Sadiq became prime minister in Tipu Sultan’s government and betrayed his king; opening the gate on the Kaveri River of the Seringapatnam fort to the East India Company army of Indian mercenaries laying siege, leading to the annexation of the ‘Carnatic’ in May 1799 after the 4th Anglo-Mysore War).

It is the same cabal that has made India abjectly dependent on foreign arms suppliers, all but killing off the homegrown Tejas light combat aircraft, its derivative the advanced medium combat aircraft, and the Arjuna main battle tank.

Re: Indian government’s love for Chinese 5G. It is a denouement, notwithstanding, massive evidence available from all over the world that Huawei is a cyberwar front for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and allowing Huawei 5G and related hardware in any manner or form and even by way of the peripheral systems route into India, would be to essentially “open the gate” to the enemy. This development, moreover, is despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative prompted by the Swadeshi Jagran Manch’s championing of indigenous 6G technology that derailed the decision made several months back by Department of Telecommunications (then headed by Aruna Sundararajan, IAS) to sign the 5G contract with Huawei.

The consolation is there are still the proverbial handful who oppose Huawei from the inside, but apparently without much effect. There’s Dr VK Saraswat, Member of Niti Ayog and former Science Adviser to the Defence Minister and head of DRDO, whose frustration runneth over. To wit, his take on the soon to be underway 5G trials conducted by DOT-National Cyber Coordination Centre (NCCC) and the “dangers of allowing Huawei to participate in them.”

“Government should appreciate the fact”, wrote Saraswat in a January 6 note to Smita Purshottam, who retired as ambassador to Switzerland and is an uncommon IFS officer in that she passionately promotes indigenous technology and chairs the non-profit SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator, https://www.sitara.org.in) doing yeoman work to prevent India getting swamped by imported tech, “that once HUAWEI participates in the trials [it] would lead the show and we will not be in a position to bring out the features which could be the hidden security risk as HUAWEI will field the sanitised version [to which] our surveillance teams will not have access to all the layers of hardware and software.” “Once they  lead the trials and come [up] trumps technologically which is most likely then Indian [private sector] service provider[s] will have strong reason to overlook the indigenous solution and pitch for HUAWEI” he added. “To save the situation” he recommends that “a very strong team of [Indian] cyber security experts be constituted to go through the fielded software, including the source code, and [that the] hardware be cleared by critical criterion testing team. “[Unless this is done] I am afraid”, Saraswat concludes, “that we are in trouble.” This advice has so far not been taken by the Modi government.

But why would private sector telecom service providers prefer Huawai? Because it is the cheapest. And how is it the cheapest? Because of China’s built-in financial support as subsidies to capital goods exporters. And because of Huawei’s special connection to PLA leading to Xi Jinping making clear to Modi the last two times they met that the success of Huawei 5G in India would be the metric by which bilateral relations will be judged. Huawei is able to sell its 5G cheap because, according to Purshottam, the Chinese companies underbid “by as much as 70% [to] drive our companies out.” “The history of Indian telecom [in 3G and 4G]”, she writes, is to “allow Huawei and other Chinese companies a foothold, they underbid and takeover” the market, a cycle that is set to be repeated with 5G.

With Huawei 5G in, PLA cyber warriors will be sitting pretty and in a position to eavesdrop on all communications, including the most secret by penetrating the nuclear command and control links and the military network, generally and, when required, to disrupt at will all Indian economic and banking activity by making electronic financial transactions go haywire. It is the jeopardy the Chinese 5G will get India into that moved Purshottam to write a letter on 5 January to retired Lieutenant General Rajesh Pant, who has taken over as chief of the National Cyber Coordination Centre. Purshottam does some plain speaking. Because it is important, this letter is reproduced in full below:

“I am writing to you in great concern regarding the decision to allow Huawei to participate in 5G trials. We were under the impression that Government of India was fully aware of the security concerns resulting from the presence of any Chinese or even foreign company in sensitive 5G networks.  It is therefore not understood on what basis this decision has been taken. Governments around the world have banned Huawei and Chinese telecom equipment vendors, because of China’s extensive cyber-espionage activities and also because China’s proclaimed Military Doctrine centres on Information Warfare and the control of information networks. They have already seized control of many telecommunications networks in India.

“5G will enormously increase the danger to Indian national security with Chinese control of this advanced telecommunications network. 5G will enable Artificial Intelligence to run without hindrance, collecting and weaponizing Data gathered from Indian activities. There are umpteen military applications of these synergized technologies with China leading in digitisation and intelligentization of Warfare. The Chinese aim to become Number One in 5G and AI.

We are opening ourselves up to enormous security risks akin to the Himalayan blunder of 1962.  At least we were able to recover from it but we will never recover if we allow Chinese control of our telecommunications networks. This is a terminal decision which will adversely impact the lives of the Indian people and their security for decades to come.

“There is a budget proposal to fund indigenous development of 5G technologies. This should be expedited as India has many capable indigenous companies with 5G technologies. 5G is not one technology but a composite of many.  Many Indian companies possess the know-how in these areas. They need Government support to develop the missing technologies and also assurances regarding markets.

“There is no demand except from the vendors for 5G technology as yet in India. Our industry hasn’t reached that level, and compromising our national Security so that some kids can download faster movies is not a viable trade-off. We must develop our own technology.

“We request you to ensure India’s National Security and convene an all India meeting of Industry and Government so as to reconsider this decision and ban Chinese companies from India’s networks.  5G must be deployed with indigenous equipment. The task must not be given to agencies which have betrayed India’s interests in the past, or frittered away taxpayers’ money on foreign consultancies.  The funding should be given to a specially created entity along the lines of the Delhi Metro involving security and defence forces, Industry and Government. This is too critical to be given to agencies which have no proven record of successful execution of indigenisation or Make in India.  History will not forgive us for taking a wrong decision on this vital, critical issue. The advice of experts close to the Chinese Government must not be heeded.”

The irony is that among those Purshottam refers to as “experts close to the Chinese Government” is Arogyaswami Paulraj, former Indian Navy officer, who designed and developed the APSOH sonar which became the Fleet sonar of the Indian Navy, founded CDAC, etc, left for Stanford University in 1990 and there invented MIMO (Mulitiple input, multiple output) technology that has revolutionized telecommunications, holds 80 patents, founded several cutting edge tech companies, including Aruba networks that marries Artificial Intelligence elements to WiFi networks for data analytics, sold these companies and got immensely rich. Entirely inattentive to national security concerns, Paulraj contends that Chinese 5G is the fastest route for India economically to come up to speed in the telecom sector. As to why India needs to be in the 5G forefront when the potential capacities of existing 3G and 4G systems remain unused, Paulraj does not say. Several questions arise: With the US banning Huawei 5G why is Paulraj pushing it on India? What does he get out of doing so? And what are his connections to China?

But because in Modi’s world anybody with an American stamp of “success” cannot be wrong, Paulraj’s counsel is gospel. Or, as a SITARA member MJ Shankar Raman,who owns the Sahasra Solutions software company, heard one of the top insiders say, “We should not be too nationalistic and foolish.”

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India may be dragged into war against Iran

Image result for pics of General Soleimani

[General Qassem Soleimani]

The assassination by a killer drone of Iran’s Pas Daran (Revolutionary Guards) chief, Major General Qassem Soleimani, on the express orders of the US President Donald J. Trump is the sort of historical blunder that will rank with President George W Bush’s initiation of war against Iraq in 2001 to takeout President Saddam Hussein on the blatantly false charge of Baghdad readying nuclear weapons. The Bush decision set fire to West Asia, and completely destabilized an already volatile region that Saddam had kept a lid on by strongarm measures.

Saddam was the hinge on which West Asian peace rested. He had for several previous decades somehow managed to balance the interests of the sunni and shia communities in Iraq, and maintain order, often by bloody means, something both the Saudi led sunni bloc and the Iran-headed shia bloc grudgingly acknowledged. That order was upended. Now Trump’s murder of Soleimani is likely to start a spiral of violence and targeted strikes against American military presence and US economic interests in the Gulf, in Iraq where shias predominate, and generally in the extended area stretching from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Hormuz to Central Asia in the north, Pakistan in the east, and Syria and the Levant in the west. As it is, the Iraqi parliament is on the verge of voting for a resolution asking the US to get out of Iraq.

Hugely respected in the region as much for his political acumen and military expertise as for his understanding of the religio-ethnic dynamic in greater West Asia, Soleimani founded the al-Quds force for action in Iraq after the US military intervention there. Deployed against what Tehran considers the greatest danger to Islam — the US-Israeli combine, and also to fight the spurious caliphate of the murderous al-Baghdadi, the al-Quds force and the Kurdish paramilitary force, Peshmerga, were primarily responsible for reducing the Islamic State to nothing, which actions were discreetly supported by Saudi Arabia — the ostensible guardian of Mecca. The real reason why the people by and large held Soleimani in high regard was because of his physical courage; he led from the front.

It is very possible that with Pakistan getting dragged into the melee with likely attacks on US targets mounted by Iran-backed elements in that country, India will be asked by Washington to not only share intelligence — and in case Pakistan becomes too hot for the US forces to stage military missions out of, to permit American military units to operate out of Indian air force and army bases along the border with Pakistan. In Jaishankar-Rajnath Singh’s recent 2×2 summit with the Pompeo-Esper duo in Washington, the American side was eager particularly to activate the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that will allow the US military the use of Indian facilities for, among other things, anti-Iran operations.

Permission under LEMOA will be demanded by the US because, with the general elections coming up, Trump will be compelled for political reasons to up the ante — meeting an Iranian counter thrust with a bigger strike — rather than to cool down the situation by making some sort of friendly gesture and even reparations to Tehran in terms of say, weakening the US-led sanctions regime. With much of Islamic Asia, including Pakistan, now unwilling to be any part of this action-reaction sequence, the only two countries on Iran’s flanks — Russia standing aside for the nonce before jumping onto Tehran’s side should America escalate with too much force — are Turkey to the west and India to the east.

Erdogan began building bridges to Iran with his visit to Tehran in January 2014 that was hailed by the Iranian foreign ministry, “As two neighbors and Muslim countries, ….enjoy[ing] many commonalities and many cooperation opportunities”. Indeed, before meeting with Trump in Washington in November last year, Erdogan had hosted a controversial Iranian diplomat who had a hand in an attack on certain Jews in Buenos Aires. So it is improbable that Ankara, which is already on the outs with the US owing to Erdogan’s purchase of the S-400 air defence system, will allow the NATO base at Incirlik to be used for air or any other activity against Iran. That leaves India exposed to US pressure.

One of Narendra Modi’s major claims of foreign policy success is his supposedly warm personal relations with Trump. It has so far fetched absolutely nothing for India and all the country has to-date witnessed is a one-way relationship where Modi keeps trying to please the US with unending concessions and deals for military hardware but receives no consideration whatsoever in return. With a confirmed America-firster — Jaishankar in MEA, moreover, the advice offered Modi is to give the US more and more even if it gets India less and less in return. His natural aptitude for hard bargaining that Modi boasted about is nowhere in evidence, at least not in terms of any substantive strategic gains and economic benefits. What benefits anybody can point to are mainly negative ones, meaning things like US restrictions on India techie movement could have been more severe, limitations on imports of Indian manufactured goods more onerous, etc.!

At the heart of the worry about India getting engaged, willy-nilly, in American initiatives hurtful to Iran, is that Modi, like most Indian politicians, is a proven sucker for praise and flattery, and Trump’s laying it on thick will be irresistible to the Indian PM. One need only recall the “Howdy, Modi!” Houston event and how elated Modi seemed when Trump rained accolades on him, to gauge the dangers ahead.

It may be best for the Modi government to, for once, do the right thing and preempt any approaches for help by Washington, by wagging its finger and asking the US and Iran to refrain from doing anything to escalate tension and, as a well wisher, to suggest to Washington that it make amends, by easing economic pressure on Tehran as prelude to negotiations for ending the long US-Iranian diplomatic impasse. It may be the way to regain for an over-US tilted India room for diplomatic manouevre, some slight self-respect and, perhaps, even an affirmation of shared interests with Iran.

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The Usual Suspects

[CDS General Rawat, and three Chiefs of Staff — Naravane, Karambir Singh, and Bhadauria]

A book review by me published in India Today, Dec 30, 2019 issue

Anit Mukherjee, The Absent Dialogue: Politicians, Bureaucrats, and the Military in India, Oxford University Press, 2020.


Civil-military relations in India are sensitive, tense, fraught with dread, and involve three parties – the armed services on one side and the tag team of politicians and bureaucrats on the other, tussling on eggshells. In this fandango, more effort is expended in turf battles, ego-status hassles, and furthering sectional interests than in working cooperatively to obtain speedy results. Enjoying superior position, the tag team mostly has its way, leaving the military to make do with what’s offered. Reduced almost to an afterthought, national security is not served well.  

     There is so much so seminally wrong with the existing system of national defence, it is hard to know where to start or whom to blame for the mess. In this book, Anit Mukherjee, a former armoured corps officer turned academic, identifies the villain — by his lights the “absence of dialogue” between the three players. But it is too pat an answer. Nevertheless, by addressing the problem of military effectiveness in terms of the lack of dialogue on weapons procurement, jointness, officer education, promotion policies and defence planning, he usefully pulls together information and insights based on interview research to highlight the ills plaguing the system that are widely known and have long been recognized as stumbling blocks. (A list of senior retired and serving military officers, bureaucrats and civilian experts who were interviewed is appended.)

     A persuasive case is made that the extant state of civil-military relations is because there is no credible existential threat, “low salience [of defence] in electoral politics”, and because there is no real incentive to change. And that status quo is preferred because it preserves for the military its functional autonomy and for the babu-dominated politician-bureaucrat nexus the entirely satisfactory system of “power without accountability”. It is this context that the author fleshed out by tracing the state of civil-military relations through the tenures of the prime ministers to-date. 

Jawaharlal Nehru established the system of overarching and disabling civilian control which may be democratic India’s strength and also major military weakness because generalist bureaucrats have tended to gum up the works. Civil-military relations reached heir apogee during the Indira Gandhi era when political involvement at every stage led to smooth inter-agency and inter-service coordination culminating in the successful 1971 Bangladesh war. The lesson that hands-on role by leaders is key, however, stays unlearned. The power balance tilted towards the military during the Rajiv Gandhi years when the showy army chief General K. Sundarji held sway. In the wake of controversial military operations (Brasstacks, Sri Lanka) and the Bofors scandal, the bureaucracy reasserted itself. In this milieu, disruptive institutional innovations are not countenanced.

The Committee on Defence Expenditure geared to curbing military spending did not survive the VP Singh interregnum because the armed services and the ministry of defence (MOD) bureaucrats alike found it “inconvenient”. In similar vein, a powerful Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) recommended by the Kargil Committee is unlikely to be realized with the Narendra Modi government favouring the Naresh Chandra Committee’s concept of a defanged four star CDS    .

     The absence of technical expertise and domain knowledge in MOD is the real scandal here, and Mukherjee dilates on it. He makes the telling point that uniformed officers are as much generalists as civil servants because the formers’ experience and professional training is so narrowly tactical they, like civilians, muddle along, unable to cope with the minutiae of technology trends, geopolitical developments, and the strategic scope and scale of effort needed for modern national security planning.

     What the author misses out on is the crucial matter of political leaders shirking responsibility. Instead of setting goals, prioritizing threats and expenditure programmes and tasking bureaucrats and military to implement decisions, they rely on babus to, in effect, make them. This is the source of all the troubles, resulting in overbearing defence civilians, languid pace of decision-making, and a raft of seemingly irresolvable problems bedevilling India’s national security policy.


[Review at https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20191230-the-usual-suspects-books-1632416-2019-12-29 ]

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A Decade of Regression and Squandered Opportunities

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stumble up the steps in Kanpur on December 17 was symbolic of the country staggering into the future instead of striding confidently into the third decade of the new Century. Most of India’s woes have been self-inflicted. The BharatiyaJanata Party government that came to power in 2014 promising a world of real and radical change – recall the rousing slogans “India First”, “Less government, more governance”, and “Government has no business to be in business”, has well into its second term delivered on none of them.  What it has produced is a country emerging as America’s poodle and as appeaser of China – India’s primary security threat and strategic, ideological, and economic rival in Asia and, at home, a relentless drive to polarize India along communal and religious lines for petty political gain that bids fair to rent the social fabric and engender lasting turmoil. 

Ironically, at the same time as the Modi regime rammed the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) through Parliament, a law apparently ultra vires of the Indian Constitution (Article 14) that set off deep social tremors all over the country, the neighbouring  Pakistan—Indian government’s favourite whipping boy, took the first strong steps towards liberal democracy and the rule of law. That country’s Supreme Court did the unthinkable – tried the coup de’atatist and former Pakistan Army chief, General Parvez Musharraf, for treason and sentenced him to death for violating the Constitution! Clearly, the two countries seem headed in opposite directions.

If the political situation is on the boil, India’s economic plight is alarming. Rising unemployment and a growth rate that many fear will soon subside to the socialist era “Hindu rate of growth” of 3%, means that millions of youth – the so-called “demographic dividend” that Modi earlier talked up, the bulk of them unemployable “educated illiterates” unattended by government skilling programmes, could combine with the violent street protests stirred by CAA, to render India truly ungovernable. Whether the disturbances remain on the front page or not, Modi’s cynical politics and widening resistance to it, are bound to exacerbate centre-state relations and further roil the economic prospects. This slide in India’s political and economic fortunes is mirrored by the Modi government’s failures in the external realm.

     As it is, by staying with a policy sourced from Narasimha Rao’s time, and continued by subsequent Prime Ministers – Manmohan Singh and now Modi, of getting close to the United States apparently at any cost, India’s freedom of diplomatic action and ability to leverage its contingent or “issue-based” support has eroded markedly. Playing off the US against Russia, Russia against China, and US against China to benefit India, is not easy when Delhi has already revealed its cards, namely, intimacy with Washington, estranged partnership with Moscow, and wary accommodation of China.

     With respect to America, Manmohan Singh mumbled (whence President George W. Bush’s half-jokey comment that he needed a translator when talking to the Indian PM). Chanting the mantra “20,000 megawatts by 2020”, he pretty much surrendered the country’s sovereignty by signing a civilian nuclear deal with the US that barred India from conducting new thermonuclear tests. 2020 is nigh, there’s no sign of the promised nuclear energy surge, but there’s the Indian strategic deterrent limited to proven fission bombs. It has put India in no position to ever challenge China’s proto-hegemony in Asia.  The only way India can throw off these shackles is to resume hydrogen bomb testing and leaving it to Washington to call off the deal. This the US cannot do because geostrategically it has no other friendly state that is also hefty and can help contain China, which is striving to displace the US as the predominant power. Indian leaders it would appear have no sense of the country’s inherent strengths or of the leverage it can wield if it has a mind to.  

Modi has proved that he is not the one to unshackle India. His innovation—if you can call it that is unrestrained embracing, and his deployment of arms purchases to achieve unambitious goals. Global leaders may have gotten used to his hugs and learned gamely to reciprocate. But their seeming effusiveness has not translated into enduring gains for India. His bonhomie with US President Donald J Trump has led to no give whatsoever on Washington’s part on any of the issues Modi has flagged. So every time Modi meets with Trump, he signs up for more P-8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft and transport planes – C-17, C-130, the staple buys. In return, for enriching the US defence industry, Modi asked for small things and got smacked in the face. He lobbied hard for a loosened H1B visa scheme to benefit Indian techies. It fetched a tightened immigration regime instead, forcing Indian companies –on the pain of loss of market — to invest in the US resulting in the reverse flow of capital and employment gain for America. Supplicating  for easier entry for its manufactured export goods, Delhi was pressed to ease restrictions on imports of American dairy and meat products.

All the talk of advanced military technology collaboration and transfers from Vajpayee’s time have begotten nothing except first Barack Obama’s and now Trump’s pressuring India to go in for the antiquated F-16 fighter plane decked out with shiny bells and whistles and a new moniker — F-21, and for its production line as well to service, other than the aircraft with IAF, a non-existent market. It is a project that’s likely to be furthered under the ‘Make in India’ programme that the Indian Air Force head Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has called a sham. It will add to the $14 billion worth of military hardware purchases from the US Modi has already committed to.

India’s relationship with America however one-sided, has complicated its ties to Moscow. A once steady friend is now openly flirting with Pakistan, promising it latest armaments, and handing over Mi-35 attack helicopters and, at the other end, forging strong military technology and manufacturing links with China. India is hit with a double whammy. Desperate to keep President Vladimir Putin in good humour, Delhi contracted for the S-400 anti-aircraft air defence system it didn’t really want but bought anyway as gap filler in India’s layered ballistic missile defence (BMD) which won’t work because there’s no technology anywhere that can fend off salvo firings by enemy states of missiles and rockets. India desperately wants the second Akula-class nuclear powered hunter-killer submarine. But Putin has tied it to other capital military deals such as the Amur-class diesel submarine for the navy’s Project 75i and, the more commendable 50 ton T-14 light tank for the army’s mountain offensive corps. With both the US and Russia angling to monopolize the Indian arms market at the expense of the indigenous weapons design, development, and manufacture programmes (such as the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, its derivative Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, Arjuna main battle tank) India’s national interest is gutted.

In bilateral trade with China of some $100 billion, India’s deficit is some $65 billion.  Seduced by Xi Jinping’s promises of investment in infrastructure and of imminent resolution of the long simmering border dispute, Modi has played footsie with Beijing. During his nearly six years in office there has been no Chinese investment nor a border accord, but there has been frequent summiting and partaking of the “Wuhan spirit” and, lately, the Mamallapuram spirit, which appear to be merely exchanges of vaporous rhetoric and nothing substantive on the ground to show for it. But Beijing has no complaints. It gets to keep its beneficial trade imbalance intact, and notwithstanding every assessment claiming the PLA-funded Huawei Company’s 5-G technology as cyber Trojan Horse, it remains in the running to outfit the Indian telecommunications system.Talk of being taken for a ride! But that’s not the half of it.

China is Pakistan’s sheet anchor and makes no bones about it. Besides financing the China-Pakistan Corridor (CPEC), Beijing is the champion of Islamabad’s causes and protector of its interests in the UN and other international fora. On December 16, in the latest such initiative, it moved a resolution in the Security Council to discuss the Kashmir issue, and has prevented the Financial Assistance Task Force from sanctioning Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism. Despite China’s manifest antipathy to India, Modi has refrained from using market access to trip up the Chinese economy, or in a belated response to Beijing’s dastardly proliferation of nuclear missiles to Pakistan, from arming the states on China’s periphery and in the South China Sea with nuclear and long-range weapons to strategically straighten out Beijing.

     In this decade of diplomatic shuffle, old friends with historic ties have been given the heave-ho, disrespected, and even discarded on Washington’s say so. Though central to India’s strategic plans for a presence in Afghanistan and Central Asia via the rail and road grid radiating northwards from Chabahar port that Delhi said it would fund, Iran has been treated as a pariah, the flow of Iranian oil has been drastically scaled back and energy reliance on Tehran cut from 13% to less than 2% in three years, and the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline has been shut down for good. So cheap energy has been sacrificed for the pricey nuclear power that Manmohan Singh and now Modi are determined to buy by procuring exorbitantly priced reactors from the US, Russia, and France, courtesy the 2008 nuclear deal. In a similar fit of strategic short-sightedness, India has gone slow on intense military cooperation with Japan – the one country China is apprehensive about. It has even turned down Tokyo’s offer to transfer the production line of the US-2, the finest maritime multi-role aircraft in the world.

India in the last ten years has done little of note other than beef up its image as a foolish giant of a nation, at once gullible, exploitable, spendthrift and self-abnegating, fulfilling every big power’s wish as a friend or, as China would happily attest, as an adversary.


[A shortened version of this piece appeared in my occasional ‘Realpolitik’ column in BloombergQuint.com, 28 December 2019, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/indias-foreign-policy-a-decade-of-regression-and-squandered-opportunities ]

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Surrendering strategic space, steaming into trouble

Image result for pics of jaishankar and rajnath singh with pompeo and esper

[Rajnath Singh and Jaishankar in 2+2 meeting in Washington]

The decisive section in the Joint Statement issued Dec 19 at the end of the India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Washington related to Building an Enduring Defense and Counterterrorism Partnership. It has had some doozies in it. Clearly, the Modi government is so committed, as the Statement said, to ” a comprehensive, enduring, and mutually-beneficial defense partnership and to expand all aspects of their security and defense cooperation” that the price India will end up paying is apparently of little concern to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is like, as the Press has reported, the government’s willingness to ride out the unrest attending on the Citizenship Amendment Act for what the Modi-Amit Shah duo hopes will be long term political gains to them personally and to the Bharatiya Janata Party generally from deepening the communal-religious divide.

The section talks of realizing “the India-U.S. Major Defense Partnership (MDP)” with expanded “military-to-military cooperation” with the “new [annual] tri-service, amphibious exercise – TIGER TRIUMPH” involving the Indian Navy and, on the American side, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Central Command, and Africa Command. Its intention is “to expand similar cooperation between their respective Armies and Air Forces” to supplement the yearly Malabar exercise. All this is no bad thing. Moreover, placing an Indian officer to liaison with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, and inviting the US military to the 2020 MILAN multilateral naval exercise to support “capacity building efforts in the Indo-Pacific” is also fine. And, there are definite gains from an agreement to set up maintenance, repair and overhaul depots in India for aircraft — but for which planes would be interesting to know. Because these aircraft would have to be in large enough numbers to make the MROs a cost-effective proposition. But OK, so far so good.

Except, all the military exercising, forging service-to-service links, and MROs are essentially cover for the two things Washington has been desperate for: (1) the implementation of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) for “secure communication capabilities between the Armed Forces, including the Armies and Air Forces” and (2) the Industrial Security Annex (ISA) facilitating the exchange of “classified military information between Indian and the U.S. defense industries”. Unfortunately, ISA seems designed by Washington to prevent Russian military hardware from being manufactured here under license.

COMCASA, I have long maintained, is an ‘Open Sesame’ for the US formally to penetrate India’s most secret communications grid, including the nuclear command and control net. It can then potentially interfere — if it isn’t able to do so already without the COMCASA, with the communications between the PM (the final nuclear firing authority) and SFC in any crisis.

Paying up tens of billions of dollars to Lockheed and America for the obsolete F-16/F-21 will mean Finance Ministry telling IAF there’s no money for the Tejas LCA programme. And Lockheed is all set to shift the F-16 assembly line from Fort Worth, Texas, to wherever Tata wants to set it up in India. As Tata, VP for global relations (or something), S. Jaishankar pushed the Modi government to buy the F-16. As our esteemed foreign minister he will be saying aye in a cabinet of rubber stamps when Modi brings the F-16 contract to acquire this decrepit old plane for the IAF up for approval. Quite a racket this.

To return to my main thesis, the separate private sector defence industry geared to buying military goods phased out by the US military will be facilitated by the ISA. This is because the US companies do not want their Intellectual Property Rights compromised by having the DPSUs that have produced Russian equipment, to make their products. It stretches the imagination to know what American tech is worth hiding in a 50-yer old F-16, given that its so-called “advanced” avionic packages will come as “black box” technologies for the lifetime of the plane’s production run that Tata and the Indian secondary chain suppliers will have no hand in producing anyway.

But this is only half of our troubles. With the US insisting on sealing defence industries producing their items, Russians too will feel, prestige bound, to argue that DPSUs outputting their more modern, newer generation, Su-30 aircraft, for instance, should be insulated against tech-stealing by Americans.

Where will this end? With two completely separate US- and Russia-sourced fleets, and US oriented private sector and Russian-aligned DPSUs, the Indian military will find itself in an operational quandary if Washington and Moscow also insist — which would be the next level of their gamesmanship — that Indian air force, naval and army bases too cannot have “their” weapons platforms operating from the same bases or use a common logistics infrastructure. This is madness. And India, by trying to be too clever by half — the late K. Subrahmanyam’s special card (sought to be played by his son, Jaishankar) — is stepping right into its own carefully constructed pagal khana.

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Head-banging on CDS

Image result for pics Lt Gen Naravane with naval chief karambir

[Lt Gen Naravane, Admiral Karambir and VCAS Air Marshal Arora on Navy Day]]

There’s a lot of head-banging going on in PMO over the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) issue. With the economy plummeting and bad news marching in in battalions with another self-inflicted wound — the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo decided is worth the short term costs — escalating turmoil, including unrest in Delhi, because it would beget perennial political payoffs in terms of polarizing the electorate along religious lines every time general elections and major state level polls come into view. There’s, however, a felt need to take the people’s eye off the extant troubles and on to some “achievements” the BJP government can showcase.

One such issue on the platter is CDS, a decision that’s acquired a certain urgency if the first person to hold this post, the current army chief General Bipin Rawat, who retires end of December, is to be the man. So there’s not much time. Rawat’s “elevation” has been rumoured for a while now. This appointment would be least disruptive because he is the senior most among the current serving chiefs anyway, even though a four star CDS isn’t much of an elevation and will not prevent the coming functional friction with the three services chiefs, including the successor army chief.

There are other options the PMO may be considering that military circles are agog about. Among these is appointing the Vice Chief of the Army Staff Lieutenant General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who is the presumptive COAS, as the first CDS. It will bring the next senior army man, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander, into the succession picture. Except the navy head Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria may baulk at serving under a junior — Naravane, as the “first among equals”. So, this too is problematic.

If the Modi regime shies away from making Rawat the first CDS, it may be politic, say many senior military officers, to appoint Admiral Karambir to the position as single source military adviser to the government. The present Chief of Naval Staff is a thorough professional, and a straight arrow. Especially helpful is the fact that Karambir is a naval aviator (helicopter pilot) and an air force brat to boot, his father being a retired Wing Commander. And so he’s a person who absolutely appreciates air power and will not shortchange the Indian Air Force, the fear of which motivated its 40-year rear-guard action against the establishment of the CDS system.

In fact, the IAF’s opposition to CDS is the cover behind which the government has advanced the idea of a 4-star CDS, and not a genuinely senior person as a (5-star) Field Marshal, something the civil bureaucracy has violently opposed and which development the political class too has felt queasy about (owing to the old fear about an all-powerful military officer staging a coup).

It will be interesting to see if Modi prefers a non-Rawat choice for CDS and who it will be.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Indian Army, Military/military advice, society, South Asia | 7 Comments

A space debris accord with US to clip India’s options

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[A pictorial representation of space junk]

According to NASA, space junk is a serious problem, and the figures (below) are daunting. To-date there are (1) some 500,000 pieces of space debris between 1 and 10 cm, (2) more than 21,000 pieces larger than 10 cm, and (3) more than 100 million pieces below 1 cm. Moreover, most orbital debris is within 2,000 km of the Earth’s surface, and the biggest concentrations of debris are found at 750-800 km. Only 7% of space junk is functional, and all debris is hurtling at speeds reaching 28,163 km/h (17,500 mph), putting in peril thousands of low and high orbiting satellites that are critical to the modern world. Satellites map, spot natural resources, collect weather and agriculture-related information, transmit all manner of data, and facilitate global telecommunications, not to mention their military uses (surveillance, target tracking, and weapon guidance over long distances).

There have so far been over 5,000 satellite launches, with decrepit satellites long past their use-by date orbiting uselessly and adding to the debris. “Atmospheric drag” naturally pulls the junk, like decommissioned low earth orbit satellites, into the earth’s atmosphere and burns them up on re-entry but this takes time and cannot be relied on to clear the debris fast. Other means have to be used to achieve this aim. Such as boosting the old geosynchronous satellites into higher “space graveyard” orbits in the 36,000 km belt above the earth.

Space debris problem needs addressing by all countries. So, why does an agreement on space junk that the Narendra Modi government is eager to sign with the United States dangerous for India’s national security interest?

Let’s consider the “Orbital Debris Mitigation Standard Practices” executive order that President Trump signed in 2018, which was updated this year. It is the likely template for the accord that the Indian government is about to sign with the US. Trump’s order has 5 objectives. The first one is to control debris larger than 5mm released “during normal operations” over 25 years — with normal nowhere defined — and require spacecraft/upper stages to be designed such as to “minimize”, preferably, “eliminate”, such release. The 2nd objective to reduce debris from”accidental explosions” and mandates engineering and probability assessment methods to judge a spacecraft’s propensity for such explosions,which figure will have to be less than 1 in 1000. Moreover, energy sources within spacecraft would have to be depleted, and propellant burns and compressed gas releases designed to avoid collision and consequent explosion. The 3rd goal is to select safe flight profiles and operational configuration to prevent these from adding to the debris. The spacecraft will, in the event, have to be designed to ensure the probability of collision with debris 10 cms and larger to be no more than 1 in 1000, and that it can survive hits by microastroids and 1 cm sized debris without hurting its post-mission disposal prospects.

The 4th objective is to mitigate post-mission disposal of satellites/space structures by, in the main, enabling direct re-entry, atmospheric drag enhancement measures, maneuvering to different orbits, and by direct retrieval within 5 years of mission completion, with these disposal measures attaining 0.9 level probability. The 5th objective is regarding “constellations” of 100 or more tiny spacecraft, with each needing to have a high disposal rate (of 0.99). Further, small LEO satellites and cubesats will have to be engineered for a lifetime of 25 years.

Some of these concerns are being taken up by the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) but the bulk of the problems and solutions are as the US has stated them. If it was an entirely UN initiative, there’d be some merit in joining the talks. But what negotiation exactly have ISRO’s Space Situational Awareness & Management Centre (SSAMC) and MEA conducted outside of, and within the, 2+2 context, with the counterpart US agencies before the Modi government decided to sign this agreement? As far as one can make out, there may have been an exchange of notes and some perfunctory discussion, but no real interaction between technical experts of the two countries. This would mean that India has accepted the US standards in toto. The question to then ask is whether ISRO has the advanced technological and design competence to develop upper stages/spacecraft which meet American performance criteria? And if ISRO can’t meet them, America will, presumably, wield its favourite stick to beat India with — sanctions, as an agreement violator!

Such space debris agreement may well require India to share the engineering parameters of its spacecraft as well as their mission profiles (“operational configuration”, etc. — 2nd and 3rd objectives) with Washington. That would make ISRO products and missions an open book and preemptively close off even informal cooperation with DRDO to produce heavy lift ICBMs with larger payload carrying capacity of single weapons and MIRV-ed warheads.

The more troubling aspect is why sign a bilateral agreement that limits what India can and cannot do in space, when over 50 odd countries have satellites and will not be bound by any of its strictures? India can choose to be responsible on its own account and take care to design spaceware that does not exacerbate the space debris problem, even adhering to the US norms. But there was simply no need to sign an accord that binds India hand and foot. Compare China’s pattern of international behaviour. It never signs any bilateral or multilateral agreement until almost all other nations have signed it, and then uses its reluctance to sign as diplomatic leverage to get what it wants. India is invariably the first to get on the wagon and gets screwed in terms of the lost freedom of action and space for diplomatic maneuver. But trust Delhi to never learn from the past and to keep repeating the same mistakes.

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BJP’s in-house strategist’s “strategically decisive India”

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[Ram Madhav]

T’is winter-time and all the established media houses and media wannabees schedule their elite outreach programmes to try and make themselves relevant to policymaking and policymakers, to wit the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, etc. Just got back from a shindig arranged by WION TV network on “World Order: Talking Diplomacy” where the keynote speaker Ram Madhav, BJP General Secretary and in-house expert on foreign policy and presumably also strategy, dilated on the topic “Strategically Decisive India 2020”, which was a good reason to attend it.

Narendra Modi, he said, has added several “new dimensions” to India’s foreign policy. Elaborating further, Madhav said that the prime minister had (1) “shed romanticism” and the institutional “resistance” to engaging with other countries, which is judged by the number of visits by the PM and foreign minister; (2) adopted “practicalness”and proactiveness”; (3) de-hyphenated India and Pakistan, and compelled the countries of the world to take a “stand alone approach” to India; and, most importantly, (4) to the 5 panchamrit principles, he added, few more, namely, samman (respect and honour for Indians and India), samvad — “greater engagement with “people [abroad] who matter” that helped reshape the country’s image in the world and also involved effective “diaspora diplomacy”, “suraksha” (security for Indians and India) and “”samriddhi” — the cultural angle. As regärds the last, Madhav said Modi does not hesitate to to use Indian culture as a diplomatic tool, or as he put it, he “does not mind wearing culture on his sleeve”.

He then said — and this is a very ambitious formulation — that in the strategic realm, “India needs to have its own club”, that India’s leadership has to be asserted before it is accepted, and that the defunct SAARC and BIMSTEC type orgs won’t do because India cannot lead them. This club, he added, will have to “turn east” and India will have “to rise as leader in the Indo-Pacific”. The current international institutions, he averred, by way of filling in the background, cater to Europe and the West and not to Asia and the East. This fact, he implied, is what offered Delhi the opportunity to conceive of this club. Further, he attributed this new nomenclature of the Indo-Pacific, as replacement for Asia-Pacific, to Modi’s efforts during the Obama Administration. The question is, he observed, “How to make India central in the Indo-Pacific region”.

All these things are expected, per Madhav, to turn India into a strategically decisive country by next year!

In this region, moreover, managing China will, according the Madhav, require “skill” and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) won’t be “comprehensive without India”and hence that Delhi can afford to wait until its conditions (in the main, insistence on the 35% value add in products sourced from the RCEP member states to prevent China channeling exports of finished consumer and capital goods to India via third countries) are met. RCEP being “äll about markets” it cannot do without the vast Indian market, he maintained.

Replying to a question about the religion-based Citizens (Amendment) Bill (CAB), he made the cogent point that it was based on the 1950 Assam Expulsion Act (AEA) that Jawaharlal Nehru promulgated which addressed the problems caused by Muslims from the then East Pakistan streaming across the border into India and upsetting the local ethnic composition and disturbing the peace, which pattern continued after 1971. And that CAB, like AEA, was necessitated by Partition of India along religious lines. Whence these Bills eased/will ease the absorption of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians expelled from, or pressured to leave, Pakistan, Bangladesh, but deny citizenship status to incoming Muslims, including the Rohingyas from Myanmar.

Finally, Madhav blamed the prevailing “market sentiment and climate” for the economic downturn in the country.


This is a full slate of issues on which Madhav voiced his opinions. The points he has made helps us understand the way the Modi regime perceives the world, crafts Indian foreign policy, and sees its own successes. Let us broadly but briefly assess these claims.

With respect to the supposedly new dimensions of foreign policy introduced by Modi, one can take issue with many of them. It is easy to contend, for example, that eliminating policy resistance to engaging with the West was, in truth, originated by the Manmohan Singh government with its disastrous nuclear deal with the US and its drumbeat of pleas for admission into such tech cartels as the Nuclear Suppliers Group — both policy streams Modi has persisted with. However, Modi did pioneer the opening up to Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states, until now when these countries have for the first time and in their national interest set aside religion as a factor to see a stable India as a long term market for their energy and as a safe investment destination. That it has thus marginalized Pakistan’s hitherto consequential role in this sub-region is a dividend that may or may not have been anticipated. And more, it is here in the Gulf area that the claim of de-hyphenation packs credibility with the Arab states closing in with India at the expense of Pakistan. Elsewhere though, Europe, US, and the rest of Asia faced with India’s reflexively anti-Pakistan attitude at every turn has only forced these countries to junk the standalone approach to India they may have adopted during the Manmohan Singh era when Delhi strove for the easing of relations, to naturally react by re-hyphenating these terribly squabbling South Asian states, much to India’s detriment.

Ridding Indian foreign policy of romanticism is fine but where’s the evidence of proactive measures? There has been a lot of tall talk about security cooperation with Indian Ocean states, countries of the Southeast Asian littoral, and with Japan but little that is concrete, unless one counts the Shinkansen 5E series high-speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad link that’s run into rough weather with the new Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray withdrawing permission for its construction in that state, thereby grounding this flagship Indo-Japanese venture. Modi has not disturbed even little the old normal of the Indian government and MEA working at a maddeningly slow pace, reducing this government to all promise and no delivery on projects Modi has offered the host states on his frequent travels. The Kaladan connectivity project that was to plug Myanmar into the Indian economy is nowhere near completion some 20 years after it was initiated. The Development Assistance Programmes (DPAs) I & II in MEA with a brief to oversee timely and within cost delivery of Indian funded projects are a scandal, and has generated more ill will, doubt and distrust of India over the years in Southeast Asia, Indian Ocean area and Central Asia than any good they might have done. This perfectly deplorable state of affairs hasn’t changed an iota during Modi’s tenure. In this context it is hard really to see even a glimmer of success of Indian foreign policy vis a vis the developing world.

The panchamrit + 4 principles are fine on paper, but have created problems. For instance, the successful diaspora diplomacy is the spawn of samvaad. But in asking diasporic Indians to be national assets for their new countries it may have reinforced NRIs to become wielders of foreign influence in India, which in any case they were inclined to do. This is most evident in the India-origin Americans working to get Indian national interests more in sync with US policies.

The India-led club is a mite too ambitious a concept for Modi because his policy stance has so far oscillated between compromising with China and accommodating the US, something that makes nonsense about India’s pretend autonomy while making Asian states of the Indo-Pacific wary because it mirrors what they themselves are doing. In which case, what benefits do they gain from joining India’s club? Had India stood its ground and not surrendered leverage and turf on virtually every issue of contention with US and China, had Modi not backpedaled on the radical economic reforms he had promised in 2014, removed the dead hand of government from the economic sphere with rapid privatization of the public sector, incentivized skilling programmes and employment generation schemes on a war footing and otherwise propelled the growth rate instead of doing nothing and seeing the economy now tank, India presently a 2.73 trillion economy despite all the systemic restraints and constraints, would have achieved double digit growth, ensured the PM another two terms in office for certain, and set India up as a coming power.

It isn’t at all clear how absent any administrative reforms and radical economic overhaul, a strategically decisive India will emerge, much as all of us might want earnestly to believe that it would somehow do so even without any course correction.

If Modi carries on as he has done to-date, BJP will be lucky if it can put a lid on the growing discontent of the masses inevitably spilling out on to the streets. In this situation, BJP may not survive the 2024 general elections and Modi’s reputation is unlikely to remain untarnished. Madhav’s claims about an India club may then come back to mock Modi. I mean which nation would want to emulate India, or be led by it? And why?

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Pussyfooting around the truth

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[Jaishankar in Rajya Sabha]

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar skirted around the truth with his professional diplomatic flummery in the Rajya Sabha yesterday. Asked about India’s chances about securing a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, he said ” “Well, I will hope soon.” But then realizing he had gone too far in raising hopes, quickly corrected himself in the very next sentence. “I am realistic enough to know”, he added, “that it is a long and patient effort. We are not lacking in patience and not lacking in our perseverance and we are not lacking in our aspirations. We will get that one day. I am very confident and it is progressing step by step.” Ah,”one day”. He should have been honest and replied “never”, certainly not if India under Modi (persisting with the policy of his predecessors) continues enthusiastically to subscribe to and support the current world order.

Why? Because it is mightily inconvenient to slice up the international power pie six ways, when the existing 5 powers have each a fifth of the pie. Which country among the present permanent five members — US, Russia, China, UK and France — is idiot enough to want diminution of its power and authority that the permanent UNSC status endows them with? Pleading pitifully for the sixth seat in the UNSC — a glorified talk shop, displaying “patience” and “perseverance” and seeking “to progress step by step” in this regard, won’t do it, and hurts India’s self-respect and amor propre, not that the Indian government seems to care, won’t do it.

What will, I have argued, is if India becomes so excessively disruptive of international norms and the extant system that the P-5 are compelled to accommodate it in their ranks,or face a breakdown in their carefully constructed global power edifice. The example to follow is Maozedong who simply ran roughshod over the UN and its “rule-based international order, repeatedly cocked a snook at it, drove the US-led UN forces south of the 38th parallel, fought General Douglas MacArthur’s army to an impasse on the Korean Peninsula, and then enjoyed the great fortune of having a Third World chump in Jawaharlal Nehru surrender a Permanent seat offered India to China, just so that country took its rightful place at the global apex!!

India, as a non-signatory, could have made a beginning by upsetting the global nuclear apple cart that the P-5 had cobbled together by ignoring the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty and responded with alacrity to China’s clandestine transfers of nuclear materials, expertise, bomb designs and missile systems to Pakistan starting in the mid-1970s by shipping whole N-bombs to Vietnam and, in time, to other states on China’s borders who expressed a desire for such armaments. Recall that China invaded Vietnam in 1979 and got a bloody nose for its troubles, the aggressor PLA Group Army leading the charge actually being defeated by the Vietnamese irregulars who took to the field before the Vietnamese army could see action. Given its security context, wouldn’t Hanoi have appreciated such a gesture and permanently put the Chinese dragon’s tail in a twist in a way the Pakistani nuclear deterrent has done to India? And consider the strong message that Indian action would have sent Beijing, and the absolute parity in geomilitary terms that would have subsequently achieved for India. Instead, under Manmohan Singh, India finally succumbed to the NPT and signed the civilian nuclear deal negotiated by, who else, our truly — S Jaishankar, then a relative small fry — Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, and now the country’s foreign minister, no less. As a result of the N-deal the possibility of India ever securing credible thermonuclear weapons to match China was thus dashed.

The fact is it is still not too late for Delhi to activate this option. But then Narendra Modi, as he has shown, would rather be patted on his back by the West and China for showing restraint when anything nuclear and to do with Beijing are concerned, and be celebrated for India’s “responsible behaviour” than serve the hard Indian national interest.


Jaishankar said one other important thing in Parliament — this regarding the Russian S-400 air defence system. It is  “very clear” to everybody, he declaimed that India took decisions on merits. “We will not be influenced”, he observed,”by other countries on what we do in terms of our national security and defence. If we have committed to the S-400 agreement, which we have, then other countries need to respect that decision.” Sounds nice, doesn’t it though? One little problem. He talked of the “merits” of weapon systems India buys from a slew of foreign countries as an explanatory variable.

Doesn’t this open up the matter of the Modi regime and F-21 — the venerable 50 year old “museum ready” F-16 fighter aircraft by another name which Jaishankar, in his capacity, incidentally, as head of the Tata Group’s global operations (or some such designation) pushed the BJP government to buy? Would Jaishankar in the cabinet when the decision comes up tout this aircraft’s “merits”, which other than permitting Tata — a haloed Indian company that has gone down the wrong path under Ratan Tata, to assemble it and rake in the money in cahoots with Lockheed Martin, has no real benefits. Unless you count the dubious gains from India from plugging into the US global value and production chain.

Jaishankar single-handedly negotiated the nuclear deal that finished off India’s nuclear ambitions. Who is to to say he, as foreign minister, won’t be equally persuasive — considering the direction in which prime minister Modi is leaning, in getting the Country to plonk for this perfectly inappropriate F-16 buy and kill off the indigenous Tejas LCA and its AMCA derivatives and what remains of the Indian Air Force’s fighting capability? When he does, we will be left pondering the “merits” of the F-16 in IAF colours he will no doubt reveal.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, disarmament, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, UN, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 32 Comments

Time for Modi govt to turn the screws on China re: treatment of Uyghurs

Image result for pics of uyghurs detention camps in Xinjiang

[A Chinese Uyghur concentration camp in Xinjiang]

Narendra Modi practices realpolitik at home but gets cold feet and displays a flagging will against an overweaning adversary such as China to a point where it is not unreasonable to conclude he shows no understanding of it, leave alone knowing when to turn the screws on an adversary and to not so subtly discomfit it, and rally international pressure against it.

Beijing, in like situation, showed no hesitation in joining Pakistan to raise alarms in the wake of the abrogation of Constitution Article 370 about India’s mistreatment of, and human rights violations against, the supposedly hapless Kashmiris. This while its ambassador in Delhi proclaimed the need for both countries to be mindful of each other’s “sensitivities”. This policy of double-dealing double talk is normal for China, something Beijing has masterfully executed against a fear-wracked Indian government apparently so apprehensive of crossing Beijing that whatever the scale of provocation, it has chosen to ignore it and generally to subside gently into doing as China wishes.

What is also increasingly normal for Delhi is the shameful wagging of its tail at Xi’s China, which contrasts sharply with the Modi regime’s almost malevolent reaction to even the littlest burp from Islamabad. It shows up this country to the world – to use Mao’s favourite words for Nehru’s India — as “an imperialst running dog”, except that empire is now Chinese!

India and China are ideological rivals, and as such cannot, in theory, abide each other’;s political systems and ideologies. Nothing should be more distasteful to Delhi in this context than the open and systemic victimization of a whole people by a country with an authoritarian Communist dispensation. And yet, in the last 40 years and more India has not officially raised the issue of the cultural genocide in Tibet (referred to by Beijing as Xizang) against its Lamaist Buddhist population, and now against the Uyghur Muslims in the area traditionally known as East Turkestan (that China calls Xinjiang). It is another matter that both these territories — one forcefully annexed by the PLA in 1949, the other transferred by Stalin to Mao in the 1950s, were only tenuously connected to China, their historical linkages to the Yellow Emperor more Chinese pretence than actual historical fact.

Until the new millennium, Beijing was happy to let Xinjiang remain an economic and social backwater because it was strategically critical. Its vast arid expanse providing the perfect location for China’s nuclear weapons development and underground explosive testing complex at Lop Nor. But with 9/11 and the rise of radical Islam, which was manifested in stray incidents of Uyghurs knifing Chinese settlers, Beijing acted preemptively to nip the Islamic terrorist threat in the bud.

First it moved in a huge PLA presence with severe surveillance and policing measures and followed up some five years ago with an official campaign to eliminate this latent threat altogether by re-educating the Uyghur youth — the most likely recruits for Islamist causes. Over time this programme of re-education has taken the shape of a series of barbed wire-laced, high walled, high-tech detention centres in which over a million young men are presently incarcerated, undergoing what Beijing quaintly refers to as “vocational training”.

These “camps” using modern and heinous brain-washing techniques perfected during the Korean War of the early Fifties are supposed to help mainstream the Uyghurs into Chinese national life, but in reality divests them of their separate Muslim and ethnic identity. The so-called “China cables” recently leaked to the West are the first view of Beijing’s how-to manual for non-Uyghuring the Uyghurs by means that China successfully tested and used against the Tibetans in Tibet — a sustained programme of alienating the natives of these lands from their cultural roots, religion and traditions. Indeed, these concentration camps are a follow-on to Chinese laws that have made illegal even the vestiges of Islam in East Turkestan, including beards, worry beads, and Muslim names for children.

In July this year, 22 EU states wrote formally to Beijing to permit UN officials to inspect these crowded internment centres and to prevent the ill-treatment of the Uyghurs by the Chinese state. The methods Beijing has adopted to rub out Uyghurian sensibilities are so extreme, egregious and Orwellian, the UK Foreign Office has demanded in diplomatically acceptable language “an end to the indiscriminate and disproportionate restrictions on the cultural and religious freedoms of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.”

It is the right time for Delhi to dig the spurs into China’s flank and demand that Uyghurs be treated humanely and their rights respected by Beijing. It would be the right sort of action to take at this time because it would mean diplomatically piggybacking on the pro-Uyghur UK and EU sentiment and initiatives. It will also be payback for Beijing’s complaining about Kashmiris being hounded by Indian security forces. There’s moreover no hypocrisy here. It is one thing to ask the Srinagar Valley Muslims to stay indoors in their own homes, quite another thing for an entire generation of Uyghurs and Tibetans to be locked up in vast prisons.

The Question is will Prime Minister Modi show some slight stomach, at a minimum, for a diplomatic fight with China? Will he muster the gumption to stick it to Xi on the human rights issue and mirror the Chinese ploy by simultaneously having his mouthpiece, Jaishankar, go against his grain and voice concern for the well being of Uyghurs and Tibetans who have suffered the historic misfortune of their countries taken over by a dastardly China, and instruct our ambassador in Beijing to speak unctuously of cooperation for the greater good of mankind or some such nonsense. Shouldn’t India, for once, stand up and be counted with other countries as supporters of minorities and their absent human rights in China?

Alas, as on so many other previous occasions, Modi will show no such enterprise for fear of diplomatically ruffling China’s feathers. He will thus miss out on an historic opportunity to do the right thing — mobilize international opinion against Beijing and shove China into a corner. More importantly, he will forfeit the chance to make the point that if the Uyghur populated Xinjiang is an internal security matter for China, Kashmir is even more so for India, and thereby publicly put Beijing on notice that two can play at this game. It may even win Modi some respect from Xi Jinping.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, society, South Asia, Terrorism, Tibet, UN | 18 Comments

Modi: Not quite an Indian Trump

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[Modi- Trump]

Spent the last fortnight in New York lazing around doing nothing much. But couldn’t escape the newspaper coverage and press commentaries regarding India. Unfortunately for the Narendra Modi government 3-4 issues blew up at the same time — the dense, pea soup, pollution engulfing Delhi, the Indo-Pakistani novelist Aatish Taseer’s getting kicked out of India,which got conflated with the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya Ram temple verdict favouring the Hindu majoritarian point of view, and the gloom over India’s economic slowdown.

Each issue in its own way has marked Modi’s signal failure separately on the environmental, social, and economic fronts. Modi’s troubles, in fact, eerily parallel Donald Trump’s in the US. Cut from the same populist and nativist broad cloth, and sporting like psyches, the two find themselves in a rut of their own making. Trump because he successfully whittled away the power of the bureaucracy in Washington, DC, and now finds himself facing impeachment in no small measure because the bureaucrats have turned on him at his impeachment hearings for essentially ignoring them, and bucking the procedures and the laid down process. And Modi because he did just the opposite, trusted the permanent secretariat — the careerist babus to deliver on his agenda which requires a massive reordering of the apparatus of state and the government system, something he obviously has no stomach for and is simply beyond the ken of generalist administrators who are like canaries being asked to pull a plow. In other words, Trump is being dumped on for doing too much, being too disruptive, and Modi finds himself in doldrums for owing allegiance to the status quo and doing too little to reform the government system he presides over.

The two are also similar in their petty politicking for personal and partisan gains. This aspect is evident in Trump’s case in his ceaselessly vilifying his opponents, and in Modi’s for demonizing Indian Muslims and, by extension, Pakistan and adopting political postures injurious respectively to social harmony and peace prospects in South Asia. The two strongmen, moreover, are known generally to run their own brand of personalized diplomacy that at times seem quixotic and geared to making international splash than achieving anything tangible, leave alone lasting. Both of them in their psychological makeup are, as analyzed in my book ‘Staggering Forward’ narcissistic bullies, picking inevitably on weak nations abroad and weaker sections in their own societies (Muslims, immigrants) to make political capital. If Trump has his fortified border on Mexico, Modi has his National Register of Citizens in Assam and elsewhere.

Trump has strong views on environment and is in denial of the underway effects of climate change. He has followed through by simply pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accord and pretty much writing finis to this global effort. So Trump acts as he believes. Modi, on the other hand, has taken up the cudgels and is championing a global consensus on climate change. But between doing something to actually clean up the air, water and environment and keeping a domestic vote bank happy, he has opted to do the latter. Hence, with pollution assuming killer proportions the Indian PM has done less than nothing to pressure the state governments of Punjab and Haryana — the latter under BJP coalition rule into taking punitive action against stubble-burning farmers fanning the fires and the smoke that poison the air around Delhi. He has opted instead to have his cabinet colleagues scapegoat the Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal for the persisting fatally dense smog. This is pretty rich! In other words, Modi is less a man of his convictions than is Trump.

And on the economic front, Trump has not shied away from using market access to hammer out skewed trade pacts to narrowly benefit the US and, at home, has thrown overboard the raft of confusing rules and regulations hindering the growth of commerce, trade and the economy. Meanwhile, Modi ballyhoos every small uptick in the country’s rank order on the “ease of doing business”-scale as his own special accomplishment even as the Indian economy is in reality taking a decisive turn for the worse, with decreasing exports, investments, and FDI flows, higher fiscal deficits, and a decelerating growth rate. Overseeing this mess is Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman whose idea of doing something meaningful is to call in corporate honchos to her office for advice without bothering to take notes or instruct her ministry officials to record the points made. Unless she has mimetic memory –which she doesn’t — all this valuable communication and advice from industrialists and senior corporate managers is reduced to so much prattle she pays no attention to. But she seems more intent on these occasions to have official photographers click away, producing pics for the media showing her beaming in the company of these experts and wealth producers while learning absolutely nothing from them.

Modi and Trump also have in common the fact that they are played for suckers by dictators. Trump hangs on every little word and friendly gesture by the North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un. Likewise, far from being skeptical about Chinese President Xi Jinping and his promises, Modi keeps extolling the Mamallapuram spirit (presumably a distillate of the ephemeral Wuhan spirit!) and cutting unfavourable deals with the US even as Trump treats him with disdain (as he does most foreign dignitaries), peremptorily rejecting the Indian leader’s invitation to be the chief guest at the 2020 Republic Day parade, and forcing Modi to make do with Jair Bolsonaro, the rightwing authoritarian Brazilian President who, like himself, has come to power on a wave of big promises and public adulation.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Latin America, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia | 6 Comments

How the Modi-Adani link hurts defence indigenization

Image result for pics of gopla adani and modi

[Gopal Adani and Prime Minister Modi]

In democracies, successful politicians reward their financiers, the money bags who helped them on their way up. This is a different type of beneficiary than the one who opens up his purse to fill the coffers after the ruling party is ensconced. The former kind comprises in some sense visionaries who espy the potential in select politicians and are willing to back their hunch. They are risk-takers, because what they do involves possibly alienating the political competition not so favoured by them. But should the bet come good, it doesn’t just rain goodies, it pours.

The Adani Family is headed by Gautam, who vaulted from a small-time polyvinyl plastics importer in the 1980s to head a $12 billion global conglomerate with diverse interests ranging from mining, energy, to infrastructure today. The Adani Group is in this happy position because of Gautam’s knack for political talent spotting. He got close to Narendra Modi whose rapid ascent from RSS pracharak to BJP apparatchik in Gujarat to chief minister and now Prime Minister paralleled the Adani family’s rocketing prosperity until now when Gautam Adani is Modi’s go-to person in the world of finance and industry.

Being Modi’s mascot has helped Gautam A to speedily and vastly diversify his business and industrial interests and the Adani Group to have a sudden but solid international presence. The latter’s closeness to the source of power has lubricated the growth of the Adani Group in far-off lands. Its controlling interest in the massive Carmichael coalmine project in Queensland that will involve the erection of 9-10 thermal power plants fructified 3 months ago in the teeth of environmental resistance. This may be owed in part to Gautam’s backing Scott Morrison to become the Australian Premier, but equally important was the perception in Canberra that helping the Adanis would win the Australian government the attention of Modi and India. It is no secret that the only other person in the room when Modi met his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott during the former’s state visit in November 2014 was Gautam A, and that the Comprehensive Economic Partnership accord the two countries signed on that occasion pivoted at least partially on the Adani investment in the extractive industry down under being realized.

A go-getter politician’s link up with a go-getting financier is always a paying proposition for the latter. The Birlas and the Bajajs converted their assistance and proximity to Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress Party in the pre-independence era into lucrative licenses and permits Jawaharlal Nehru’s quasi-socialist state bestowed on their one-time benefactors post-1947. Their political investment payed-off handsomely. Little has changed, except the dramatis personae. Dhirubhai Ambani (and now his son Mukesh) and Gautam Adani are the latter day Birlas and the Bajajs. What they want they by and large manage to get from the Modi government. The usually obdurate Indian bureaucracy manned by generalist nincompoops is in this situation rendered a willing handmaiden. (The story of just how Mukesh Ambani’s Jio venture has so quickly become a virtual telecommunications monopoly is illustrative of the state of affairs. Refer Daniel Block, “How government decisions are helping Reliance Jio monopolise the telecom sector”, Caravan, 01 February 2019, at https://caravanmagazine.in/reportage/government-helping-reliance-jio-monopolise-telecom )

Infrastructure is Modi’s priority and also it seems of the Adani Group. Other than ports and Special Economic Zones where this conglomerate has invested heavily, Gautam A desires to have an impact in the civil aviation sphere. And so, as India Today (of Aug 26, 2019) noted, the Airport Authority of India, disregarding the Union Finance Ministry’s criteria, swung into action to ensure his Group, with zero experience in airport management, took control of the Thiruvananthapuram airport. Other airports may in like fashion fall into the Adani lap. Concluding along the lines of an intrepid Filipino entrepreneur who with regard to doing business in India observed that “It is not ‘know how’ but ‘know who’ that matters”, a fortnight back the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), joined with the chemical majors — the German BASF and the European firm Borealis, to partner the Adanis in setting up a $4 billion chemical complex — where else? — in Mundra, Gujarat, a state that boasts the maximum number of Adani investments and projects. (See “Adani partners UAE’s Adnoc, Germany’s BASF for $4 billion chemical venture”, PTI, Economic Times, Oct 17, 2019).

Adanis and Ambanis not too long ago decided to enter the even more lucrative defence business — the fact that weapon system costs increase exponentially every couple of years may have been the big attraction. Their decision to dive into the deep end meant for instance tie-ups with foreign companies in the combat aircraft and submarine categories. Larsen & Toubro in on the technically complicated nuclear powered ballistic missile firing submarine (SSBN) programme from its initiation in the 1980s is now in a position easily to handle a conventional diesel-electric submarine. For these reasons it was a shoo-in to bag the contract for the navy’s Project 75i. i.e., until Anil Ambani’s Reliance Naval and Engineering Ltd (RNEL) entered the scene as a spoiler by throwing a monkey wrench into the procurement process. RNEL that bought off the Pipavav shipyard and just like that set itself up as a submarine producer, contended the navy’s tilt was due to a son of a Rear Admiral in the procurement loop being employed by L&T. This charge brought the entire 75i project to a juddering halt as the Defence Ministry began its slow, spirit-sapping inquiry. This at a time when the most worrisome aspect of national security is not the decline in the fighter squadron strength as IAF makes out but the sheer falloff in the sea denial capability of the Indian navy with a fast attriting submarine fleet in the face of an expanding Chinese surface combatant presence in what should be India’s lake — the Indian Ocean.

With RNEL playing interference against and essentially seeking to sideline L&T, the Adanis stepped in smartly for what it believes will be easy pickings. Literally out of nowhere and at the proverbial last minute, the Adani-Group bid for the Rs 45,000 cr 75i project to build six conventional submersibles. The other bidders — the wasteful and laggardly defence public sector unit (DFSU) Mazgaon Shipyard Ltd (MDL), L&T, and RNEL all own shipyards. Adani Group’s chutzpah was in bidding with no shipyard of its own but with a prospective tie-up on paper with another equally hapless DPSU, Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL), which has one in Vishakhapatnam. HSL is infamous for taking over a decade to merely refit the navy’s EKM Kilo-class subs! By which standard, the first Adani-HSL diesel sub can be expected to take to water in what, 20-25 years from now even with a chosen foreign (Russian, Swedish, French, or German) partner?!!

But the Adanis are nothing if not politically agile. Couple this fact to a politically fleet of foot Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and what the nation gets is, for example, a facility to assemble. in collaboration with Elbit Systems of Israel. the dated Hermes 450-class drones, rather than the up-to-date Hermes 900 series. All such projects, including the 75i, promoted under cover and rubric of ‘Make in India’ furthers the aim of full armaments indigenization not a whit.

Indeed, in the case of 75i submarine, as I have repeatedly pointed out in my writings, the scam is bigger and deeper. Barring such technologies, such as mast optronics and silencing, the country — thanks to the SSBN production capability — has most technologies and wherewithal to wholly design and build conventional subs. In this situation, the reasonable thing for a self-respecting, resource-scarce, country to do would be to just buy a submarine design along with certain technologies from one of the vendors, rather than the whole boat which will leave the onus with the OEM to decide what technologies to transfer to the Indian partner, eventuating in no worthwhile technologies being transferred. This last is what happened with the Project 75 Scorpene where MDL is contracted to import “black box” technologies for the duration of the production run of this submarine from the French firm, DCNS. And this pattern will definitely be repeated were a new company entirely innocent of any sub production experience, like RNEL or the Adani Group, to be gifted the contract — however this is managed — by the navy at the prompting of the Modi government. Consider moreover the hard currency outgo at the point of first acquisition, i.e., a down payment: Instead of $500 million or Rs 4,000 crore — which is all that a foreign submarine design will cost, the country will be forking out in excess of Rs 50,000 crore — or over ten times as much money. The humungous lifetime costs over 30 years in the latter case will be multiples of this amount!

With defence industry burdened with and suffering from such spurious ‘Make in India’ projects and programmes, India cannot ever hope to be really self-reliant in arms, and hence be really sovereign. This to say that with the Adanis and Ambanis cashing in on their political connections, the national interest gets cashed out.

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Steve Cohen, RIP

Image result for pics of steve p cohen

[Steve Cohen]

The last time Stephen P Cohen and I corresponded was in late December 2017-January 2018 when I greeted him on Hanukkah (the occasion for Jews all over to celebrate the revival of the Second Temple in Jerusalem). It was my first intimation that Steve had the dreaded Parkinson’s disease — a fact he revealed without ceremony or trace of self-pity. “I [am] soldiering  on”, he wrote, “with a minor case of Parkinson’s, not a pleasure but I can manage.” And, in the picture he attached with the note, he identified “the whole Cohen tribe” — six children (most, if not all, of them, like their father, budding academics and scholars of note) along with their spouses and a proliferating brood of grandchildren he reveled in.

Steve personally knew or worked with every South Asian analyst, academic and scholar researching the regional pol-mil issues and great power politics concerning the subcontinent. His reputation was established with his pioneering twin studies on the Indian Army and the Pakistan Army that applied the methodology and analytics developed by one of his gurus, Morris Janowitz at the University of Chicago. In the latter book he memorably disarmed the Generals then ruling the roost during the Zia years who he expected would be upset with his take on them and their armed Service with a quote from the Quran that “a drop of a scholar’s blood is more precious” than victories in battles. He mentored over the years a bunch of Indians and Pakistanis, shepherding many of them through the PhD program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne. Always eager to encourage new voices, different viewpoints, he was just as intent on convincing foreign skeptics of America’s benign intentions.

In off hours, Steve delighted in rating the universities, thinktanks, and foundations hosting international and regional talk-fests (conferences , seminars) in terms of the quality of exchanges, of course, as well as creature comforts afforded the participants. A meet we both attended arranged by Fundacao Oriente (Oriental Foundation) of Portugal (funded per government diktat by the revenues earned from the gambling tables of Macao when it was still a Portuguese colony) was high up in his affections in no small part because an invitation meant air travel by First Class, a Merc with chauffeur awaiting you at the Lisbon airport to cart you around for the duration, especially useful if one sought to discover in style and some luxury the beautiful little bays and fishing villages dotting that portion of the Atlantic coast, and stay at a beautiful resort on a cliff overlooking the ocean that masqueraded as the Foundation’s conference centre! An invite from the Fundacao, he chuckled, was therefore to be prized.

Great company though he was in these foreign locales, I remember him most for something else. In this business, I have found, one can occasionally luck into a true scholar and intellectual who, while completely disagreeing with your conclusions, is appreciative of such analytical rigour and/or sweep of analysis as one has mustered. Steve was this rare person. (Ashley J Tellis of Carnegie Washington too fits this category.) Their reactions to my writings is what I have prized most primarily because their criticism was always infused with goodwill, the weaknesses they perceived in my arguments were clearly identified and the differences with me robustly argued. How can one not gain from such company? In this respect, Steve’s (and also Ashley’s) catholicity was in the grand European intellectual tradition (of European Jewry in particular).

I first met Steve in Allahabad (as it was then called) of all places at a 1981 Conference on Indian Ocean politics (or some such subject). He was intrigued by my perspective and engaged me in a personal dialogue that lasted for the rest of the time I was acquainted with him in his tenures at the U of Illinois, US State Department, and at Brookings. He would on the side alert me to books (sent him as drafts by publishers) coming down the pike and whenever I passed through Washington unfailingly arrange get-togethers with his colleagues in Brookings, lunches in eateries around the Dupont Circle with various South Asian experts, or tete-a-tetes with US government officials.

Our relationship flourished despite my consistently rubbishing US nonproliferation and South Asia policies generally. Even so I was surprised by his generosity. After reading the draft of my first big 2002 book, which among many other things, recommended rapid weapon thermonuclearization — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security (whose secondary title — ‘The Realist Foundations of Strategy’ was provided incidentally by Tellis, then stationed in Delhi as adviser to US ambassador Robert Blackwill, who had read the manuscript), Steve urged me to be the first SmithKline Fellow at Brookings in 2001 (if I recall correctly). He had recently secured huge funding from this pharmaceutical company for a South Asia visiting scholars program. I declined the invitation because it would have meant taking up residence in Washington, DC, for 9 months — too long, I felt, to be away from Delhi.

It was after my book was published that Steve was at his most touching. “I rue the fact that Brookings lost the opportunity to publish your work”, he emailed me. It was high praise because as a critic and friend he was sans pareil. And he wrote a Foreword for my 2008 book India’s Nuclear Policy published by Praeger that helped propagate my views to the American security enclaves too steeped in the US nonproliferation policy discourse to readily appreciate the logic of a contrary viewpoint.

Steve was a GOOD man — to me the highest praise any person can draw, made better by Bobby, his companion and wife of some 5 decades whom he was head over heels in love with to the last. He referred to her fondly as “the begum”. He was perhaps the most influential among the second generation South Asia scholars in the US in the main because he had empathy in abundance and instinctively understood things subcontinental.

He will be sorely missed. And the sphere of South Asian studies will be poorer for his absence.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, United States, US. | 1 Comment

India’s challenge in Afghanistan

Image result for pics of Muqaddesa Yourish

[Muqaddessa Yourish]

In an informative interaction in CPR this morning, the youngish and well-spoken Muqaddessa Yourish, until recently Deputy Commerce Minister of Afghanistan and former civil servant who headed her country’s civil service reforms commission, provided several insights into the unfolding Afghan political scene. Having lived in India (she graduated from Pune University) and loving the freedom and openness she experienced here, she was certain, for instance, that India would best serve Afghanistan’s interests by by primarily marshaling and deploying its “soft power” — Bollywood films and music, and by continuing with its policy of assisting in the processes of “reconstruction and reconciliation” in her country.

This did not mean, she said, pointedly, that India should end the presence of its Intelligence agencies but ruled out Indian military boots on the ground. She further opined that rather than designing a future post-reconciliation democratic setup in Afghanistan in Western terms, Kabul should try and replicate the Indian political system where even the smallest ideologically dissenting groups and religious and ethnic minorities have a say. The Taliban, she felt, may come around to accepting such a system because its cadres are drawn to “modern” life in Kabul and other major Afghan cities and towns that are not disconnected from tradition or even religious activity. She revealed that during the recent ceasefire, many of the youthful Taliban fighters swarming into Kabul were amazed to find modestly dressed women covering their hair and mosques in the city, something they had not expected. Indeed, this experience, Ms. Yourish said, led the Taliban chieftains to conclude that ceasefires hurt their cause by demotivating their fighters and denuding the ranks off them. Ceasefire offers the young Taliban, they fear, the opportunity to escape the fighting altogether — a big lure in light of the relatively modern amenities of the city which the frontline fighters cannot seem to resist when compared to the harsh life and the vicissitudes of fighting the Afghan National Army (ANA). The officers and JCOs of ANA, incidentally, are trained in Indian Army institutions, which programme along with “equipment support”, she hoped, the Indian government would continue.

Being candid, she did not dispute the fact that Taliban controlled much of the Afghan territory — some observers aver the Abdul Ghani regime’s writ runs and then sporadically over at most 10% of the country. But, she explained, that “control” did not mean hard and permanent grip by either side, because depending on the way the fighting goes in any area the control too shifts virtually every few hours, in other words, that the situation is fluid.

The former Minister Yourish did not hold out much hope for the so-called “peace talks” being conducted by the US representative Zalmay Khalilzad, whose sole aim is to get the US forces out of Afghanistan fast by persuading the Taliban to not target the withdrawing American military units. Significantly and correctly she called the peace talks — “US-Taliban talks”, one that has left the Ghani government out of the negotiating loop.

This then is the Afghan context Delhi is faced with. When America finally cuts and runs, and the Ghani crew and the Taliban sit down to hammer out a mutually acceptable compromise — very feasible because the Taliban’s initial max position of re-imposing an “emirate” with all the Islamic extremist frills — sharia law, women in bondage, modernism rejected in all its aspects, as Muqaddessa asserted, will during the negotiations itself erode owing to the exposure the Taliban fighters have had to the attractions of Kabul. And so Mullah Baradar — the chief Taliban negotiator, may end up signing a deal reflecting an albeit, water-downed liberal order in Afghanistan acceptable to all parties.

Because of its reconstruction work — building of dams, highways, Parliament house, etc, India has won grudging respect from the Taliban. Delhi can increase India’s acceptability by encouraging the friendly sections to give some to get a lot. But, India should expect the worst and keep its powder dry as the saying goes by strengthening India’s old links to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance. It will also help now that Ahmad Masood, the son of the “Lion of Panjshir” the late Ahmad Shah ‘engineer’ Masood, assasinated by al-Qaeda agents in 2001, has entered the arena. (“Engineer” because he was studying to be a civil engineer at a polytechnique before picking up the gun against the Russians). Masood made life miserable for the Soviet occupation troops and was a real thorn in the side of the one-eyed Mullah Omar’s Taliban regime. Reflecting his great father’s philosophy, the well-read Masood Junior (Sandhurst, BA from King’s College, MA from the City University of London) says this: “That’s the real fear [that] we are legitimizing terrorist groups across the world” by rewarding the Taliban with the chance to rule even though they sport “very extreme mentality and very extreme ideology”. (See his short interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6PaLdZaPV8 ). The son has encapsulated the reasons why his father vehemently opposed the Taliban.

Besides the Uzbek Col. Abdul Rashid Dostum and his Northern Alliance, Delhi should invest in Ahmad Masood, who thinks like his father and is insurance against the Taliban turning rogue on India’s interests in Afghanistan at any time. That’s the best bet because the truth is India cannot do without Afghanistan as a comrade-in-arms in our part of the world that’s going slowly akilter.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US. | 4 Comments

New opportunities that will be wasted

Image result for pics of kovind and duterte

[Kovind and Duterte]

This past fortnight, I was away, participating in the Yushan Forum 2019 in Taipei — an annual effort by the Taiwanese government to forge regional partnerships in the face of unrelentingly punitive policies of the communist China regime to isolate Taiwan, and thence to Istanbul where I sensed considerable unease among the people about the turn Erdogan’s war with the Syrian Kurds may be taking, especially after the videos telecast by CNN showing wanton killings and other atrocities on unarmed civilian Kurds by the Turkish-supported militia in the van of the action. While Ankara, with its critical buy of the S-400 air defence system may have gained some slight capacity to water down Russia’s enthusiasm for the joint front comprising its new found partners — the indefatigable Kurds, and its old ally — Assad’s army, which’s fetching up for a fight, things on the ground may spiral out of its control.

But it is the right time for the Modi government to payback Erdogan’s gambit to insert himself and Turkey into Kashmir affairs by offering Delhi’s good offices for mediation with the Kurds. Of course, Delhi won’t do any such thing because its timorous policy mindset won’t allow it to.

It is precisely this timorousness, or may be it is plain timidity, that may also prevent Delhi from grabbing the opportunity available at the other end of Asia, in the Philippines. Among the most significant state visits in recent years by India’s leaders is the one underway by the country’s President, Ram Nath Kovind — only the third in the last 70 years, to the Philippines, a long neglected archipelagic state that a strategically challenged Delhi has accorded far less importance to than it deserves. This situation is sought to be corrected but whether sufficient seriousness, intensity and purpose will be summoned by the Modi government remains the central question.

In fact, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, a true maverick among regional leaders, who is as unpredictable as he is purposeful, referred candidly to the Indian government’s inattention despite Manila’s efforts at engaging it. Both countries, he noted, “are diversifying partnerships, rebalancing old ones and strengthening those that have traditionally been on the margins of our diplomacy.” But with the essence of the Hindustani phrase — “daer se aaye, durust aaye” perhaps in mind, he welcomed “India’s role in [Philippines’] defense capability upgrade program against the backdrop of our growing security cooperation” because as “countries strategically located in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, we [have] shared interest to protect our maritime commons and advance the rule of law in our maritime domains.”  But aware of Delhi’s inability to muster strategic focus, Duterte warned, albeit gently, that while “We hope to look back on this day as a milestone in our relations, the day when we set out to turn promise into reality, and potential into concrete benefits” it will require, he said, “a deft and agile diplomacy that empowers us to maximize opportunities for cooperation in a complex external environment.” ( https://www.tataydigong.info/duterte-president-of-india-agree-to-fight-terror-threats/ ) He thereby put his finger on a crucial Indian failing. “Deft and agile diplomacy” is, after all, not one of India’s strengths, or the country wouldn’t be in the dire strategic straits it finds itself in where China holds the whip hand.

Delhi may, however, be belatedly waking up to Philippines’ geostrategic usefulness in dealing with a rampaging China even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought not very successfully to inject a dose of Mamallapuram intimacy to the flagging Wuhan spirit. Unlike Modi, Xi Jinping, however, limits the nonsense about peacefully concerting with an obvious and manifest rival only to rhetoric, which costs him nothing, but leaves him free to pursue China’s interests without compromising them in the least, while gleefully expecting India to constrain itself — as it has always done — by following through on the Indian PM’s rhetorical flourishes.

But to return to topic, what sort of security cooperation does Manila have in mind? A couple of months back the leader of an Indian army team visiting Philippines had the remit to offer the Duterte government a “carte blanche” in this respect, in effect, asking Manila to list whatever it thought it needed by way of capacity build-up to militarily ward off China. Mightily impressed, the Philippine regime responded almost immediately with a long wish list, which is at the core of the “defence capability upgrade” Duterte referred to. But the Filipinos also offered India a glimpse of the kind of information Indian armed forces may find operationally useful. Such as real time information about Chinese naval assets, Chinese paramilitary naval vessels, and Chinese merchantmen with military equipment transiting the waters abutting on the Philippines.

For starters, India for the first time will be posting a Defence Attache in its embassy in Manila, who will become the official liaison for facilitating security cooperation particularly in the maritime domain. This will soon result in Indian assistance in erecting and, may be, even manning, radar and electronic intelligence stations on the main and outlier Philippine islands, transfer of naval capital hardware — fast attack and patrol craft and in the future, modern multi-role frigates and submarines, and training to handle and service these complex platforms.

In return, Manila will be more than amenable to the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force using the vast former US naval base at Subic Bay, the finest deep water harbour outside of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay, and Clark’s air force base, as their forward operational posts with pre-positioned stores in the region. An Indian flotilla and air complement able thus to replenish, restock, and change crews at will in Subic Bay and at Clark’s, will translate into a virtually permanent Indian naval and air presence on China’s door step. It presents India with an extraordinary prospect and capability to bottle-up China’s Navy and naval aviation. But, as detailed in my last book, Why India is not a great Power (Yet), it is the vision-limited nay-sayers in the Indian Navy and in the Pakistan-fixated IAF who may put hurdles against such distant deployment, assuming a suddenly strategically imaginative and live Modi regime desires it.

If Philippines is a must-do security project for India, upgrading relations with Taiwan is an imperative. At the Yushan Forum, President Tsai ing-wen reaffirmed her country’s innovative “south bound policy” featuring in the main India, Australia and New Zealand. In discussions with officials at the highest levels of the Taiwan foreign ministry, it is clear cooperating intensively with Taipei in the military and cyber spheres can seriously hurt and therefore contain China. When, in my presentation and more informally I reiterated my longstanding advice to the Indian government to adopt tit-for-tat policies and in exchange for Beijing’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan that has permanently strategically discomfited India, to return the favour and nuclear missile arm countries on China’s periphery, senior Taiwanese officials reacted, supposedly in a lighter vein, saying “Please pass on some of these nuclear weapons to us!” There were also hints that Taipei had not altogether forsaken its own nuclear weapons option. Taiwan was pressured to close down its atom bomb project in the 1990s by, who else, its ostensible guardian — America!

What made an equal impression on the Taiwanese was my conceptualization of an “Asian Security system for Asia by rimland and offshore Asian states” to box in China that I have articulated in my books and other writings. It caught the fancy of the popular media, particularly online news outlets, and suggests it can gin up traction if India proposes it as a collective venture in this fraught time when Trump’s America is proving too thin a reed for Asian states to rest their security on.

It is still not too late for Delhi to recover the lost politico-military ground by, firstly, putting in motion the ‘Óne India’ concept — an extension of the government’s “One Country, one Constitution” notion generated post-Article 370 abrogation, inclusive of all territories of the erstwhile princely state of Kashmir not excluding the portions presently occupied by China in Aksai Chin, and by Pakistan, demanding that all friendly states sign up for it. It’d be a direct counter to Beijing’s ‘Óne China’ principle its foreign policy adheres to. And secondly, by ratcheting up military security relationships with states bordering China, landward and seaward, with pride of place in this security system accorded Vietnam. Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia.

A singularly focussed Indian government, practicing hard realpolitik of this kind — something I have advocated for over 30 years now, will immediately vault India into a power that China and the United States will find hard not to respect. Alas, no Indian government to-date — not the ones run by the Bharatiya Janata Party, and even less by the Congress party, has quite grasped the necessity for India to lead the charge against China in Asia, a role almost every Asian country without exception would like India to play as a means of reining in China, making an unreliable US more expendable, and of protecting their interests.

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The coming pain from putting eggs in the US and China baskets

Image result for pics of modi, trump and Xi

Forewarned apparently does not, for the Bharatiya Janata Party government, mean being forearmed.

In writings prior to and in my recent books — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) in end-2015 and Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition in late 2018, and in articles, op/eds and media interviews since, have been warning incessantly of the deep hole Prime Minister Modi is digging India into by thoughtlessly climbing on to Donald Trump’s bandwagon at one end and reflexively appeasing Xi Jinping and China at the other end. Troubles, as a result, may be coming home to roost in flocks.

After the over-hyped Houston tamasha and the equally overwrought media coverage of the PM’s UN General Assembly peroration which fell flat because, other than painting India as a do-gooder nation and cultural icon — a view there’s no international consensus about, Modi harped on terrorism and its source — the unnamed Pakistan. As former MEA Secretary Vivek Katju (in an op/ed) has correctly surmised, the terrorism issue has about run its course in terms of diplomatic traction it affords Delhi and puts the brakes on Pakistan’s attempts to get out from under the terrorist sponsor tag. This issue has been milked for all it is worth and has now become a barren cow. That Islamabad will not transit from the “grey list”to the “black list” automatically triggering sanctions is a certainty primarily because Washington can’t do without its help in re-starting talks with the Afghan Taliban. Moreover, the sunni Gulf nations’ siding with India has about peaked, the evidence for which is the fact that Prince Mohammad bin Sultan of Saudi Arabia used Imran Khan as the medium to initiate backdoor negotiations Tehran rather than stick with the US’ blow hot-blow cold strategy. The Iran-aided Houthi rebels’ drone attack on the premier Saudi oil refining complex that virtually instantly collapsed 40% of that country’s oil production capacity, sobered up Riyadh damn quick. So the sunni Arab states want to cut a deal with shia Iran, and the country most to benefit from this rapprochement will be Pakistan. As repeatedly stressed in previous posts, had India maintained its neutrality in the US-Israeli-Gulf versus Iran fight and not treated Tehran shabbily at Washington’say-so, Modi would have been in a position not only to mediate — a role successfully assumed by Imran Khan, but to secure unending long term energy supplies at a basement price from that region by subtly playing off Iran and Saudi Arabia, while retaining leverage with both. This in turn would have beefed up Delhi’s bargaining power with Trump. This power to strike beneficial deals with Washington, Tehran and Riyadh is no longer available to Delhi.

With Trump in a political slump and headed towards impeachment, leaders of countries who risked closeness with his Administration will feel the heat. While Volodymyr Zelensky of the Ukraine, Boris Johnson of Britain and Scott Morrison of Australia are in the line of fire in their own countries for cultivating proximity to Trump and their regimes may suffer should the Democrats cease control after the 2020 elections in the US, India may suffer some. Modi has made himself a target by openly canvassing the NRI vote for Trump at the ‘Howdy, Modi’ do as stated in my preceding post. Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar airily downplayed such a downturn by giving a twisted and unconvincing explanation for Modi’s foray into domestic American politics. Except, unlike Zelensky, Johnson and Morrison, Modi may not be hurt by this development because he will continue to sell himself to the Indian masses as someone Trump has special fondness for even if such supposed fondness has not, and will not in the future, fetch India any give on Washington’s part on any of the issues where the interests of the two countries collide. This much is clear.

At the World Economic Forum, for instance, the US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross asserted that a trade deal with India could be obtained in “five minutes” if India conceded American demands on e-commerce benefiting Amazon, etc. and, in any case, that his counterpart Piyush Goyal would have to make all the concessions to equalize the terms of trade. The fact that he did not raise the matter of US agricultural and dairy exports to India — the other sticking point, suggests that Delhi has already thrown in the towel. So, we can expect a surge in imports into this country of American agricultural and dairy produce, with the effected small trader, farmer and milk producer in India, being thus left in the lurch — as predicted in a post prior to the last one. Incidentally, Ross also waved aside concerns about the US treating India and China in the same way even though the trade deficits with the two Asian states are $17 billion and $419 billion respectively! So, which country, do you reckon, Trump would like to be on the right side of? So, why is Jaishankar sanguine about reaching a trade deal? That is because as experts in succumbing to charms-qua-pressure at the negotiating table, Delhi will compromise and keep compromising the national interest until there’s nothing left to compromise. Relations with China epitomize this Modi tendency institutionalized in MEA by Jaishankar.

The lead for setting the agenda for the Modi-Xi summit in Mamallapuram Oct 11-13 has been taken by Beijing. Luo Zhaohui, former ambassador in Delhi and currently vice minister after conferring with Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale, glided past all the Chinese provocations, the latest being Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi pointedly voicing support for Pakistan on Article 370 at the UNGA, one of only two leaders to do so, the other being Erdogan of Turkey, to say that the emphasis would be on keeping the “Wuhan spirit” — whatever that is — in play. “It’s clear that both sides won’t give up their longstanding positions on core issues”, he told a newspaper, “and the summit will be about carefully calibrating positions to satisfy the other partner and to take care of each other’s sensitivities.” Come again!! The only country whose sensitivities have so far been taken care of is China; this being the case, why would Beijing not want to continue with what has transpired so far?

Consider: Regarding Kashmir, China claims territorial interest even though it annexed most of the Aksai chin area, constituting almost a third of the erstwhile princely kingdom of Kashmir, as early as 1958, and then was ceded more parts of it by Pakistan vide the 1963 Ayub-Zhouenlai accord. But the Indian government has never, but ever, diplomatically raked up this matter of forcible absorption of Indian territory.

India gave up its inherited rights and privileges in Tibet even though, per the 1913 Simla Agreement, Tibet’s status was formalized as an Indian protectorate. With the HH Dalai Lama’s forced exile in Dharamshala India has been cagey about supporting him and the Lamaist traditions and, with Vajpayee’s 2003 visit, all but washed its hands off the issue. So, that option that India had, and still has, of activating the Tibet card has not materialized because Vajpayee’s recognition was for the Tibetan Autonomous Region as part of China, but because China has never permitted Tibet any autonomy that recognition is void — or so I have argued for years together, allowing India to get back into the Tibet tangle. But the fainthearted pussies in GOI/MEA want to have nothing to do with it. The Indian military has played its part in this sordid affair by not appropriately building up its warfighting capability in hinterland Tibet, choosing to stay stuck on a defensive line with Indian officers occasionally quaffing down maotai with the Chinese at flag meetings (as recently reported in the press)!

Further, Tibet, as I have maintained, should have been equated with Taiwan and Beijing’s insistence on the öne China, 2 systems-principle should have been countered with “One India”-principle with China requiring to acknowledge Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Aksai Chin it occupies as parts of India’s Jammu & Kashmir province. Delhi may then negotiate with Beijing for the latter to keep its part of the Aksai plateau, but the principle has to be held sacrosanct. Because China will not be easily moved, India should establish full-fledged diplomatic relations with Taiwan and formally ramp up its defence linkages with Taipei.

And most egregiously, Beijing has so far got away with nuclear missile arming Pakistan. A strong-minded government in Delhi should long ago have retaliated by transferring like armaments to all countries on China’s periphery, especially Vietnam with the kind of fighting spirit that India can only dream of. That would quieten down China as nothing else would. But again instead of tit-for-tat, we have stayed our hand. Talk of self-abnegation and outdoing the Mahatma!

And at the UNGA, when Wang Yi raised the matter of Kashmiris, was even a First Secretary at the UN Mission tasked by way of right of reply, about all of Xinjiang being turned into a vast concentration camp with Uyghur Muslims disallowed from manifesting any symbols of their religion — Islamic names, beards, prayer beads, madrassas? (When a hyperventilating Imran, talking a mile to the minute about the poor Kashmiris oppressed by the Indian army, was asked about the state of the Uyghur Muslims he answered blandly that he knew nothing about them!)

And talking of trade, it is so unbalanced it is surprising the Modi government has done less than nothing about it even as it presides over wealth flowing in torrents from the Indian coffers to the Chinese treasury. And yet there are Fifth columnists in the corporate world eager to drag in the Huawei — an out and out PLA funded operation — 5G system Trojan Horse inside India’s portals, chief among them Sunil Mittal of Bharti Airtel who, incidentally, is also the lead financier of an American Trojan horse already active in Delhi policy circles — Carnegie India.

With the entire caboodle of Indian political class, government, the corporate world, military, and the intelligentsia, seeing nothing wrong about the course the country is embarked on, India’s future cannot be other than bleak.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Taiwan, Terrorism, Tibet, UN, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, West Asia | 11 Comments

This spells trouble

A lot of things were wrong, or went wrong, with the Houston-do starring Narendra Modi and Donald Trump. Not that anyone here noticed them, everybody being too busy singing hosannas for the budding Trump-Modi camaraderie on display.

Let’s start with the pic above: See Trump’s condescending, proprietory, hand on Modi’s shoulder? No self-respecting leader — unless he heads a rank small and inconsequential country and hence has no choice — would allow a big power leader to show him up in an obvious sort of way as junior partner (or, should that be pardner in Texan lingo?).

It reminds me of the US-Philippine war (1899-1902) that the US waged against the freedom movement led by Emilio Aguinaldo after Spain ceded that Asian colony to America vide the 1898 Treaty of Paris. That military campaign was justified by Washington as “saving our little brown brother” and in terms of a programme of “benevolent assimilation” in the American sphere. The publicity photos and posters distributed by the US military from its headquarters, in Manila and outlying areas, in fact featured two standing figures — one a big, white, smiling American with a hand on the shoulder of the smaller brown befuddled Filipino.

True, Modi, far from befuddled, rejoiced in the Trumpian display of insulting physical familiarity, something he brought on himself with his prior record of trademark hugs and embraces. In his first term, it startled foreign leaders but are now shrugged off by them as hazards of their trade. He went so far to curry favour with Trump as to offer his own successful election campaign slogan to suit the US President in his upcoming re-election campaign — ab ki baar Trump sarkar! It is not for nothing that Trump at this venue called Modi “America’s most devoted and loyal friend”.

That apart, Modi, in a small way, sought to influence American people to vote Trump. With the Impeachment proceedings underway against Trump in the US Congress and the issue of Russia assisting Trump in the 2016 elections with offensive cyber strategy of fake news that hurt Hillary Clinton’s chances, being investigated threadbare, Modi’s enthusiasm in pitching Trump to US voters could come in for some scrutiny. Especially because a couple of Democratic Party presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, have already hit out at India’s treatment of Kashmiris, etc.

Even if no Congressman takes notice of Modi’s attempts at interference in the internal affairs of the US, the fact that such a thing happened formally and openly could be a precedent for legitimating such influence peddling by foreign powers in Indian elections. Is it too much of a stretch to see a re-elected Trump mosey over to India on a state visit to return the favour and try and secure a 3rd term for Modi in 2024? Indeed, what was until now covert activity — the US routinely provided election funds to Right-thinking politicians while Moscow filled the Indian Communist parties’ coffers and, emerged as a principal funder of Indira Gandhi’s Congress party in the early 1970s. But such help was usually hush-hush except hereafter foreign entities will feel less inhibited in this regard. It is a ripple effect Modi did not ponder before becoming a carnival barker for Trump in Houston.

All this would be fine if the entire Houston tamasha was perceived as a bit of escapist political theatre and dismissed as so much diplomatic dross. Except, Modi and his government seems inclined to read more into the optics of the event than is warranted. The truth is all the posing, sweet talking and hand-in-hand “victory” lapping by Trump joining with Modi, comprised just a contingent ploy by Trump to be nice to the foreign leader he was sharing the moment with. However, Modi, Jaishankar & Company deliberately or otherwise misread and misrepresented this whole affair.

Thus, the Modi government’s joyous take on Trump’s voicing his antipathy towards “radical Islamic terrorism” as an endorsement of Modi’s Kashmir related-actions was falsified soon enough. When Trump was asked whether he sided with India against Pakistan when he talked of Islamic terrorism he stated that he was referring to Iran and, disingenuously, that that was the country he thought Modi was alluding to as well!!

Now switch over to Trump’s meeting Imran in New York yesterday. Sure, Imran didn’t get much traction from his nonsensical nuclear war-mongering spiel. It afforded the US president an opportunity to publicly revive his offer of mediation on Kashmir; but he failed to bring up the matter of Islamic terrorism because, well, Islamabad holds the Afghanistan card.

So, it doesn’t seem Modi got more out of Trump than Imran did with lot less effort and and near zero expenditure of money (versus millions of albeit NRI dollars for staging the show at the NRG Stadium in Houston). But there was a difference. Modi gave a lot to receive very little from Trump. For instance, as anticipated in my previous blog he has compromised on allowing US agricultural commodities to be sold in the Indian market to the detriment of the beleaguered Indian farmer. There may even be a provision permitting the imports into India of dairy items at the cost to the country’s dairy industry. And, of course, Delhi will be hard put to resist the American push the antiquated F-16 under the guise of transferring military technology and, God alone knows, what other dated technologies at the expense of the infant indigenous defence industry.

Is this fair exchange — Trump’s jollying Modi around for the emptying of the Indian treasury, and hollowing of Indian agricultural and industrial economy?

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 14 Comments

How Bad is the bargain in the offing? Modi & Trump

Narendra Modi in USA in 1994

[Around 1999, Modi outside the White House fence on a US State Dept-hosted trip]

A public interview of Narendra Modi at 1800 hrs last evening on ‘India’ TV channel featured the host, Rajat Sharma, lobbing fluff-ball questions but, on occasion, receiving surprisingly revealing answers from the Prime Minister. For instance, Modi said he lets his “heart rule his head” when meeting with world leaders and relies on “personal chemistry”, but uses his head when it comes to negotiating. Amplifying on his method, he added: “hum na aanken utha ke bolte hain, na ankhen juka ke, hum ankhon mein ankh daal ke bolte hain.” (I don’t raise my eyes, nor lower them, I meet the gaze of the other person.)

This “Modi operandi” about squares with his personality attributes and his approach and way of working. [For a psychological profile of Modi and comparison with the other strongmen currently on the international stage — Vladimir Putin of Russia, Donald Trump of America, Erdogan of Turkey, Xi Jinping of China and Shinzo Abe of Japan, and how his personality traits have impacted Indian politics and policies, see my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.] It leads one to ponder the trade and other deals he will be striking with Trump when they meet Sept 22 in Houston at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ reception by the NRIs, and on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session the PM will address on Sept 26.

However these deals turn out, the US State Department apparently hit the jackpot when, at the turn of the last Century, it invited Narendra Modi, then a senior BJP apparatchik in Gujarat to partake of a trip for a select lot of youngish Indian political leaders who the US government hoped would be useful to US interests in the future. It was a trip Modi alluded to yesterday in the TV event. Bedazzled by the wealth, order and prosperity of the US, Modi, with his small town background, was by his own reckoning instantly besotted. The problem for the country is that he has stayed besotted ever since, when as Prime Minister he’s expected to show a bit more restraint in his enthusiasms for America, or any other country, if only to preserve India’s leverage with them, and especially Trump who believes in pushing his advantage to the max.

Modi seems now to be circling back to what generated excitement early in his first term at least among NRI communities in different parts of the world and won him international media attention. A vast arena filled with some 50,000 prosperous Indian-origin Americans, gathered in Houston, who when not screaming their support for Modi will raptly hear his speech — the usual string of self-congratulatory spiels laced this time with references to the Balakote strike and Article 370 abrogation, aimed at making the NRIs feel good about themselves, about Modi, about India. Such an event is god-sent for any politician. More so because it will be beamed live back home by Indian TV channels and lapped up by the travelling press corps.

Not one to miss a political trick or a friendly crowd, and opportunity to make capital, US President Trump has happily signed up for the event. The external affairs minister S. Jaishankar predictably deemed Trump’s presence at the Houston show as “high honour”. That Trump will thus kill several birds with a single stone, is another matter.

Trump will try and ride Modi’s coat-tails in terms of translating the regard and fan-following the BJP leader enjoys among NRIs into votes for himself and his Republican Party slate of candidates in next year’s presidential elections. Besides, Trump, like Modi, likes big boisterous tamashas with TV cameras whirring– and the Houston affair will fit that bill. But, as has already been indicated, Washington will use Trump’s agreeing to be with Modi on the podium to leverage a more advantageous trade deal for the US. That Jaishankar is overseeing the Indian negotiating team’s efforts spells danger for the national interest because his record is one of accepting the most onerous US conditions in return for small returns. His most disastrous handiwork is the 2008 nuclear deal he negotiated as Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA, which by formalizing Delhi’s willingness to forego further underground explosive testing capped the technology level of India’s nuclear arsenal at the basic fission armaments-level.

Modi, on the other hand, besides furthering his personal diplomacy by hugging and embracing the US President, will try and project his great camaraderie with Trump as at once consolidating the special relationship he says he enjoys with Trump and as reflecting the warmth in Indo-US friendship. Modi has stoked this “friendship” by nearly “zeroing” out oil supplies from Iran at the cost of imperilling the Chabahar port and India’s geostrategics pivoting on land connectivity to Russia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. He will seek small-time favours such as asking Trump to upbraid Pakistan for its role in sponsoring and spreading terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir, and on this score to read the riot act to Imran Khan when the latter meets him New York. This will be hugely popular with people here. Despite this Imran will be successful in getting Trump to water down the stiff terms for the IMF loan Pakistan is seeking to tide over economic difficulties. What choice does Washington have after all considering that without Pakistan the US military retreat from Afghanistan is not possible, not if saving face is also on the agenda.

Modi will return home before Imran Khan starts retailing his sob story to the UNGA about “genocide” in Kashmir — has Islamabad consulted the dictionary when using this word? — and how global inattention could lead to a nuclear war that will engulf the globe! It is not clear how all this will occur considering the Indian government has made a purely domestic political move of revoking Articles 370 & 35A, unless Islamabad follows up by facilitating some damn fool terrorist incident that will be easily traceable to ISI and GHQ, Rawalpindi, to which India will respond. Imran has been realistic enough to concede that Pakistan will lose a conventional conflict that may ensue whereupon, he and others have threatened that Islamabad will be left with no choice other than to use nuclear weapons. Except doing so will make Pakistan extinct. Indeed, Imran’s cabinet colleague Ali Mohammad Khan, with even less restraint, has upped the rhetoric by giving the emerging situation a hard religious tint. The unification of J&K with India, he claims, is the first step in the Guzhwa-e-Hind (War for India) predicted in the Hadith. Of course, none of this will obtain in the main because the party with everything to lose — the Pakistan Army, wouldn’t want to!

But to return to our main theme, as one can readily see, between Modi’s eagerness to be satisfied with little by way of quid for India’s quo, and Jaishankar’s willingness to give away the store in return for next to nothing, the Indo-US trade deal that’s to be finalized BEFORE Trump sets foot in Houston, will likely feature an easing of restrictions on American agricultural commodities and, particularly, dairy products. Soon we may find costlier US-sourced milk, butter, cheese and other such goods pushing out Amul items and their local counterparts from our shop shelves. Poor gau-mata! And, Good-Bye to the “white revolution” that the milk cooperatives-based Amul dairy industry of Gujarat began in the country!

Next, Modi’s supposedly close friend, Trump, will demand that India hurry up and take the aged aunt of a fighter plane — the venerable all gum and no teeth F-16, off Lockheed’s hands while filling its corporate purse. And because the Modi regime is disinclined to trust small Indian companies with advanced tech capabilities, inclusive of patents and intellectual property rights to produce the 5G wherewithal and the Chinese Huawei 5G is ruled out for security reasons, Trump will pressure Delhi to buy American 5G telecom gear and systems produced by Cisco and Qualcom, making India cyber security-wise vulnerable to the US instead.

Modi’s trade deal will thus darken the already bleak prospects of the Indian farmer, the Indian dairy industry, and the indigenous technology sector, with the combat aircraft sphere in the van with the foundational Tejas LCA project. Yet, when all is lost, the PM will crow about how his ‘Make in India’ is such a roaring business success producing what? Ah, yes, a 50-year old fighter aircraft the rest of the world is discarding.

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India’s missing kootayudha (covert warfare)

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[The PM, Doval and Jaishankar]

There may be some interest in hearing a videographed talk by me on covert warfare in traditional Indian statecraft and in the country’s external policies for the Srijan Talks forum. It is available on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8MzHkuvU_Q&feature=player_embedded

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Tibet, Weapons | 11 Comments

Enlarging India’s Engagement Envelope With Russia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been hosted by President Vladimir Putin at two successive showcase events staged at the two ends of Russia – the 22nd “International Economic Forum” in St. Petersburg in May 2018 and, last week, the Fifth “Eastern Economic Forum” (EEC) in Vladivostok. Moscow has traditionally used such conferences to consolidate its relations with friendly countries and to sweeten up states it seeks to cultivate, whence the invitations to attend the EEC, besides Modi, to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed and Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa.

Russo-Indian relations are stuck in a rut and have been for a while, notwithstanding the flowery rhetoric. In a September 2017 meeting with his then Indian counterpart, Sushma Swaraj, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described Indo-Russian friendship “as strong as stone”. This was presumably in response to Pakistani leaders routinely talking of relations with China as “higher than the mountains, deeper than the sea, and sweeter than honey” (in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s words) and Beijing reciprocating in a more measured tone by calling Pakistan an “iron brother”.

What these descriptions mean, and whether they suggest that Sino-Pakistan relations are stronger than Indo-Russian ties – because iron cuts stone, is anyone’s guess.  In practical terms though Russia, and its predecessor state the Soviet Union, have over the last seven decades put out for India. It has not, however, made for satisfactory relations.

But in pursuit of newer geopolitical schemes to fit their changing national interests and the uncertain times, neither country has thought it fit to pull away from the other because both governments appreciate the geostrategic utility of keeping close. The importance to Delhi of Russia to prevent the United States and China from becoming overbearing is matched by Moscow benefiting from proximity to India in its big power politics.  While the intention to grow their uni-dimensional relationship into a multi-dimensional one is not lacking, India seems unable to move other than with great deliberation when fluid international circumstances demand a faster pace and more driven policies.

To date, Russian assistance in licensed production of equipment and sales to India of advanced military hardware (such as the S-400 air defence system) and of lease of otherwise unavailable weapons platforms, such as the Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and, possibly in the future, long range Tu-160M long range bombers, have been the strategic glue. But this aspect is sought to be underplayed.

In the run up to the EEC, the press reported numerous arms deals awaiting signature in Vladivostok, including Indian production of AK 203 assault rifle and Kamov 226 helicopters, none of which were signed. Delhi apparently feared riling US President Donald Trump. Instead, in an attempt to enlarge the engagement envelope Modi talked up the one billion dollar Indian credit line to provinces in the Russian Far East, approval of 50-odd accords worth $5 billion, and the 150-member strong delegation of Indian entrepreneurs and industrialists accompanying him to explore business prospects.

     The September 5 Joint Statement issued at the end of the annual 20th Indo-Russian summit between Modi and Putin that piggybacked on the EEC, declares their interest in diversifying the bilateral links. To emphasize which, some 28-29 of the 81 points in the Statement pertain to trade, commerce and economic issues generally, including those referring to Russia as supplier of oil and gas, versus 16-17 points dealing with security-related matters. Also, there was mutual support for each other’s geopolitical tilts. Eight points – some of them elaborated at considerable length, stress the importance of multilateralism and multilateral forums, which are anathema to the Trump Administration but music to Putin’s ears. Likewise, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is touted as a means to obtain “a multi-polar world order based on equal and indivisible security” – a common Indo-Russian goal directly challenging Beijing’s and Washington’s designs tending to bipolarity in the international system. It was the G2 concept the Barrack Obama government was partial to but Trump has jettisoned, preferring the confrontational style of the Cold War that saw USSR, its primary opponent, decimated.

     India, of course, would like nothing better than to see another bout of “hot peace”, this time to reduce a bumptious China in the Indo-Pacific. Whether or not that goal is achieved, Beijing’s preoccupation with America’s security initiatives will lessen Chinese military pressure along the Line of Actual Control and is welcomed by Delhi. But the attitude of a passive beneficiary is unbecoming, because Modi seriously underestimates India’s leverage with the U.S. and with China. No other Asian country has India’s all-round heft to balance China strategically, and with Beijing’s access to the U.S. market closing, only the vast consumerist-minded Indian middle class can absorb what China manufactures.  

The Joint Statement, however, hints at the larger geostrategic gains from opposing detrimental moves by US and China on the global chessboard. If India’s Eurasia policy is pivoted on connectivity to Afghanistan and Central Asia and landward to Russia via a rail and road grid radiating from the Iranian port of Chabahar, Russia’s Middle East strategy rests on a Turkey-Syria-Iran linkup under Moscow’s aegis to balance the Islamic bloc headed by Saudi Arabia supported by Washington, whence Moscow’s warning to Trump to not take its neutrality for granted in case he imposes a war on Iran. Thus the Vladivostok Statement favours (1) “an inclusive peace” in Afghanistan that Delhi has sought, (2) respect for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of the Bashar al-Assad-ruled Syria propped up by Russia, and (3) “mutually beneficial and legitimate economic and commercial cooperation with Iran”, which Washington has already sanctioned  several Indian and Russian entities for.

     A timid Modi feels India cannot get too close to the US without upsetting Russia and vice versa even as China looms, as much a security threat as an economic and ideological one and, therefore, fails to take the hard decisions to escape the thrall of the big three powers. Without a truly grand strategic vision and plan, his government makes do with tactical counters, actions and maneuvers. A security architecture that neutralizes China and minimizes the role of an unreliable America in non-Sinic Asia’s security is not valued. A geopolitical setup to further these objectives based on loose security-minded coalitions minus the US and China, to wit, BRIS (Brazil-Russia-India-South Africa), not BRICS, and “Mod Quad” (India, Japan, Australia, and a group of rich and capable Southeast Asian nations), and not the Quadrilateral, is not followed.

Parts of such potentially decisive groupings are already in place owing to India’s involvement in BRICS and its “Look East, Act East” policy. But the missing vision and direction from the Modi government mean policy voids that events such as EEC cannot fill.


Published in my occasional ‘Realpolitik’ column in Bloombergquint.com on September 11, 2019, https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/enlarging-indias-engagement-envelope-with-russia

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Bolton out and India’s standing with the US becomes trickier

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[Bolton looks on disapprovingly (?)]

The bureaucratic winner of John Bolton’s ouster as National Security Adviser to President Donald J Trump is Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State. It was well known in Washington that Bolton and Pompeo got along like two favourites with competing charms in the harem angling for the Sultan’s attention, meaning each sought to undermine the other, with the latter having the inside track. Pompeo is oily, always adjusting to Trump’s mood and attitude to issues on the day. Bolton was his gruff — take it or leave it — self, confident that his proven neocon credentials since before the presidency of George W Bush, would not only protect him but permit him to push his own agenda. Wrong presumption.

The fact is that between a disruptor President intent on cutting big legacy deals and an unilateral interventionist sidekick resisting them, the sidekick had to go! Bolton had a long list of interventionist achievements — in the main, pushing the US into “regime changing” policies in Iraq (based on the entirely fictitious notion that Saddam Hussein was embarked on a nuclear armaments programme) and to remove the Mullah Omar-led Taliban government in Kabul in the wake of the 9/11 attack on New York, resulting in the near complete disorder in West Asia that persists to this day, and an endless war in Afghanistan against a foe long known for frustrating foreign invaders. And, he was also the main proponent for an air strike on Iran’s nuclear complex — an attack that was all to set to go in — with Israel active in support, and only awaited a go signal from the White House — which never came. Trump may be a shallow and a callow US President, but his domestic political instincts cannot be faulted.

With 2020 re-election in mind, Trump is serious about extracting America from the 18-year war in Afghanistan, reversing his predecessor Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) riveted together with major West European countries to put off Iran’s going nuclear, and forging a deal, any deal, with Kim Jong-un of North Korea, even at the expense of a treaty ally South Korea, as long as it allows Trump to crow he had brought “peace” to the Korean peninsula. Let’s briefly see what’s at work on these three issues.

Having promised withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan he couldn’t go into the next presidential election cycle with the Taliban gaining ground and getting into a position to redo in Kabul vis a vis the US what the Viet Cong-North Vietnam did in Saigon with the last American troops desperately helicoptering out of Afghanistan and out of trouble, except now it will be the advancing Taliban columns in sight. Such bad optics would defy any “fake news” that Trump and Fox News may concoct, and ignominiously terminate his presidency.

Negotiating a face-saver with Kim would be considered a success. Because Kim has not only stood up to Trump’s threats but countered by upping the ante and repeatedly rubbing America’s face in the mud, demanded that the warmongering Bolton be removed — a message delivered periodically with the firing of missiles to remind Trump he means business, but held out the prospects of a deal that could be personally negotiated with the US president. It has telegraphed to Trump the dangers of another war — this time in the east — that the US would willy-nilly get sucked into, and played on Trump’s confidence in his self-advertised deal-making skills. So far, Kim has had his way in every thing but Trump believes that he could render Kim pliable with offers of a “Marshall Plan” to develop North Korea as another East Asian economic success story. With such a deal in hand on the eve of the elections, he would win it as the maker of enduring peace in Korea, and stabilizer of an “American order” in Northeast Asia.

Iran is a nettlesome problem. Egged on by Bolton and the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump almost ordered a catastrophe in the Gulf with the proposed air attack. Had the USAF sorties gone through, Tehran would have been forced into a situation where not to use its huge stock of missiles of various range, even if indiscriminately, against any and all targets in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Israel would be to permanently lose them. Under attack by American forces, Iran’s reasonable “use them or lose them” posture would have ended in much of anything of economic and military value in Iran being reduced to rubble, of course, but the Iranian missiles — developed with much care and diligence with Russian and Chinese assistance, especially by the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard), would have rained ruin on all the oil and commerce rich sunni Arab kingdoms, sheikhdoms and emirates in the Gulf. It would have plunged the international energy trade into a death spiral, reduced both the leading and sunni and shia countries of the world, and pretty much spelled finis to US influence in the extended region. And because Russia, in order to head off just such a denoument, had warned that it would not remain neutral in the face of such war against Iran, and because with Israel being hit — and depending on the scale and degree of destruction — Tel Aviv could well have unsheathed its nuclear sword. It had the potential of a nuclear Armageddon, something that had been avoided during 50 years of the Cold War-hot peace between the US and the Soviet Union post-World War Two. Even a duffer in the White House would have had such a scenario play out in his mind. It was enough provocation in any case for Trump to call an end to this madness round the corner by getting rid of Bolton. The better path, therefore, was to think about jaw-jawing with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, who would be inclined to some sort of compromise, short of reverting to the JCPOA, that would lift the sanctions off his country’s back.

Imagine three grand “negotiating successes” — with the Taliban in Afghanistan, Kim in North Korea, and Rouhani in Iran, it’d be unprecedented and make him — Trump would reason — irresistible to the voters in next year’s election.

Except Bolton, paradoxically, was good for India. He didn’t care two bits for India, of course, but he did for certain principles of action. In February this year when the Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval betook himself to Washington to curry support for the Balakot strike post-Pulwama terrorist incident, it was Bolton who signaled approval on the basis that India had every right to “self defence”. Such an approval may not be forthcoming the next time India considers forceful action because Bolton’s replacement — whosoever he/she is — will likely mirror Trump’s essential tendency to maximize leverage and not go with any principle. An inkling of what Delhi can expect in the future was available yesterday, the very day when India and Pakistan were squaring up on 370 and Kashmir at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. Unbidden, Trump again offered himself up as a possible mediator despite the clearest indication by the Modi government that no such external interference was necessary or would be countenanced. The trouble is Trump is aware that Modi is no Mullah Baradar, Kim or Rouhani and that, surrounded by appeasers in his Cabinet, like Jaishankar, he will be inclined, when he is squeezed, to squeal and compromise just to be in America’s good books.

And, re: the UNHCR session: Two things were noticeable. Secretary (East) who put forward India’s case, did not once mention Pakistan’s irrefutable record of ethnic cleansing since Partition when the non-Muslim population in that rumps state was reduced from 15% to less than 1%, this when Islamabad has used the international media megaphone to blast India for abrogating Articles 370 & 35A as prelude to “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir. Nor did the Secretary harp and iteratively on the state of Gilgit and Baltistan (G&B) where methodical genocide is being committed against the shias of that region by the sunni state by way of straightforward killings and resettling of Mirpuri Mussalmans to change the demographic profile, and adding to Pakistan’s disreputable record on human rights.

Indeed, MEA has only recently started to mention G&B when talking about Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — a wrong long pointed out in my writings. Because it neglected for whatever reasons to desist from bringing in the status of, and the deplorable conditions of shias and others demanding freedom in, G&B, the world has been led to believe that the outstanding dispute is only about Indian J&K. This is entirely the Indian government and MEA’s fault.

The other thing was the televised speech, perhaps, in a follow-up session of UNHCR by someone who seemed to be a mid-level functionary in India’s UN Geneva mission. This person read from from the paper in front of him so rapidly, almost as if he feared a guillotine coming down on his neck, to be all but incomprehensible to anyone who was listening. One can argue it didn’t matter because most attendees at these meets are bored to tears and usually manage to sleep with their eyes open! The problem with Indian diplomats in Western settings is their accent, pace and diction when making India’s case. Even in the best of instances, there’s the trademark slightly Indian sing-song lilt when they speak, to which is coupled the haste to make the point. The result usually is the intended audience gets the drift without quite making out what’s said. This is a longstanding problem compounded in recent times by those who have joined the Foreign Service via the UPSC on the basis of regional language competence — a growing proportion of the ‘A’ stream in IFS. May be it is time for the MEA to find funds to set up a language lab for English at the Foreign Service Institute that all entrant level officers would be required to undergo for English language certification. And to think the Indian diplomatic service was, albeit very long ago, known for its drafting prowess.

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In Vladivostok, in a clinch or for convenience?

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[uh-oh! Putin to Modi!]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon be in Vladivostok, there to attend an Economic Conference as chief guest. That the Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting the Indian leader for a second such summit — the last time was in the former’s stomping ground, St. Petersburg, suggests that despite the Modi regime signaling Delhi’s closeness to the US at every turn, Moscow still espies some utility in having India figure prominently in its great power political game. And, of course, to have the Russian defence industry continue to benefit from such major arms sales as may fructify.

After all, Putin has been spectacularly successful, even though playing with a weak economic card, to push America geopolitically into a corner. He has stymied the US in the Middle East by simultaneously drawing Erdogan’s Turkey into its military sphere of influence with the foot-in-the-door sale of S-400 anti-aircraft system and propping up the Bashir al-Assad government in Syria, and thereby established itself as a seminal power in greater West Asia. Capitalizing on the estranged relations between West European members of NATO and Washington that the maladroit US President Donald Trump has managed to obtain, and his own threats to cutoff gas supplies to Germany, the strongest European state, Putin has ensured that NATO is about neutered. In Central Asia, lacking China’s economic ability to buy regimes with infrastructure projects and trade on concessional terms, he has sought a negotiated solution with Japan for the return of the Kurile Island chain to Tokyo, whence the certainty that Japan will be strung along. It will increase the degrees of separation between the US and Japan, on the one hand and, by cultivating Tokyo, put China on a strategic leash, on the other hand. Keeping things humming with India fits into this larger plan because, besides an Indo-Russian check on Chinese ambitions in the extended region, it at least notionally pulls Delhi away from Washington — a move aided and principally assisted by the Trump Administration’s almost pathological drive to alienate its allies and partners everywhere, including particularly in Asia.

Does Modi have any grand plan and strategy to rival that of the master Russian strategist gladhanding him in the Russian Far East? Apparently not (if one goes by his floundering and fairly unimaginative, non-Article 370 abrogation-related, foreign policy and the leanings of his reported foreign policy adviser, the RSS apparatchik Ram Madhav. Madhav’s level of intellect can be gleaned from his revealing op-ed quoting Francis Fukuyama, who became irrelevant over a decade ago. This is in line with ample past evidence that Madhav has a basic incapacity to do other than think derivatively. But this can also be said about such “thinking” as is being done by Ministry of External Affairs led by S Jaishankar. Picking up on the “Please the Master”-game fast, Jaishankar, for instance, had scheduled the annual heads-of-missions meeting, where else, at a Gujarat government resort at the feet of the gigantic Vallabhbhai Patel statue on the Narmada — a ploy designed mightily to please his boss. Shades of US Vice President Michael Pence, on a state visit to Ireland, to please Trump staying at a Trump-owned golf resort in Doonbeg on the west coast of that country, some 180 miles from Dublin, on the opposite, eastern shore, where he pow-wowed with the Irish Prime Minister — the gay, half-Indian, Leo Varadkar).

So, no great strategic game plan here. Consider that Defence minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo and did not once mention the Shinmaywa US-2 maritime recon aircraft project the Shinzo Abe government many years ago offered India on a platter, prospectively even with financing! And Modi has been talking — yea, just talking — about ‘acting East’ from when he became prime minister 5 years ago. But why would Modi need a game plan when he can brandish promises to buy this and that pricey armament instead — a ploy he has time and again used with Trump, Macron, May and every other leader whose country has any kind of weaponry (and, in the case of Xi of China, Huawei 5G telecom systems that will implant Chinese spy and cyberwarfare wherewithal controlled by Beijing in the Indian communications grid) to sell? The fact that the Indian economy is running on empty has not deterred him, nor prompted him to rethink his policy of seeking to buy friendship with mega arms purchases. But then he doesn’t seem to have a better idea by way of leverage. Nor has Beijing’s hand-holding of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue (in the UN Security Council and elsewhere) elicited anything remotely punitive. Like say, censorious statements by MEA to chastise China for suspending civil rights and imposing an emergency in Hong Kong — the very thing Beijing accuses Delhi of doing in Srinagar Valley!

So Modi has gone to Vladivostok — a veritable Santa Claus bearing gifts — touting his proximity to his “good friend” Vladimir. He means to sign, per press reports, an accord to set up an “energy bridge” for Sakhalin oil to make up for the loss of oil from Iran, but also multi-billion dollar contracts for the AK-203 assault rifle production in India, the Kamov 226 utility helicopters, and the lease agreement for the second Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.

As it is, the US Defence Department is weighed down by a lemon of an aircraft in US armed services’ inventories, the F-35! But Modi will not touch the one weapons platform that will make mincemeat of this plane and is sending shivers down Pentagon’s spine — the Kinzhal hypersonic missile-armed high-performance, 5th generation, Sukhoi-57. It is another matter that Moscow had long ago offered to co-develop this advanced fighter-bomber aircraft with India, which project the IAF, in its by now legendary wisdom shied away from, because it preferred the 4.5 gen French Rafale — the same generation combat aircraft, incidentally, as the indigenous Tejas LCA and, because Modi will feel the need to balance these Russian arms buys and to please Trump, the already 50+year old F-16!!! And this because the PM believes that producing or, more correctly, assembling, the F-16 in India will somehow add value to this plane and elevate it to the league of what — the Tejas, Su-57, Rafale, or the junky F-35? And all this at the expense of the Indian defence industry (Tejas), and relations with Russia (Su-57) and Japan (US-2) — the US-2 being the best aircraft of its kind in the world!

Way to go Modi, Indian government, and Indian military! Foreign defence industries have certainly hit a jackpot with you!

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When Pakistan now ups its game in Kashmir, respond with Special Forces (slightly augmented)

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( US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad with Pakistan COAS Gen. QJ Bajwa)

In the aftermath of the 9th Round of talks in Doha with the US the chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar announced that a deal for the withdrawal of some 13,000 American troops from Afghanistan was at hand. After 18 years of hard fighting the US has had enough and is calling it quits. General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that the 8,600-personnel strong military contingent that President Donald Trump said would stay on, were there to ensure that  “Afghanistan is not a sanctuary” for the assorted Islamic terrorists and freelancers from all over who are expected to seek safe haven in a Taliban-run Afghanistan.

Dunford’s claim, on the other hand, that the residual US force will also try and “bring peace and stability to Afghanistan” is nothing more than a fig leaf for America’s cut and run operation, because what a force of 100,000 US soldiers plus couldn’t do, 8,600 troops certainly won’t be able to. After spending over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and sustaining 2,400 deaths and ten times as many casualties since 2001 the US is a beaten power eager to rush back home to lick its wounds.

It is the small Intelligence-heavy US presence that’s supposed to provide Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government with the psychological, if not material, assistance and reassurance to conduct general elections later this year at a time when there’s no certainty of the Taliban permitting any of it, whatever Baradar may have committed to the Afghan-origin US Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, tasked with putting together a passable deal. During the negotiations, Baradar and Company were, in any case, aware that Khalilzad had no extended time frame to work with considering Trump’s looming 2020 re-election campaign, and hence they could dictate terms. Trump being Trump, he has hinted that, depending on how successful a Taliban-headed coalition government is in keeping the Islamic extremists out of their country, US troops could be redeployed in Afghanistan. This is the usual hot air ejected by a defeated party scampering from the scene, even though the US has, over two decades, built a huge military infrastructure comprising 700 small and big bases and facilities, and can, in theory, use them for armed interventions in the future.

Not that any US President is ever likely for any reason to initiate another military adventure in Afghanistan. But why is Washington’s insistence that the Taliban in Kabul not allow al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and similar radical terrorist outfits to shelter in Afghanistan, important for India? Because, in the wake of the regularization of the status of Jammu & Kashmir within the Indian Union, Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Intelligence has no option other than try and lure these experienced IS and Qaeda fighters sporting the Iraq and Syria battle honours with cash and stoke their jihadist impulses to fight the kafir Indian state in Kashmir. ISI cannot get out of their heads the enormous success it has had using such means to trounce the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan and now the US-led International Security Assistance Force, which record it hopes to embellish in J&K.

The ISI will prosecute its IS-Qaeda strategy because Pakistan is now bereft of other options. After all, how much effect will Imran’s recommended mode of protest — Pakistanis standing in silence in public places and wherever for half an hour after Friday’s jumma prayers to express their solidarity with Kashmiris supposedly under the Indian yoke, have, really? Imran’s harrumphing threateningly about nuclear war, the cigar-chomping blunderbuss of a railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad predicting onset of war by November (he didn’t say which year!) and General Qamar Bajwa’s visiting with formations of the Pakistan army’s strike corps (on Aug 28) and praising them for their splendid fighting posture in the face of Delhi playing it cool and responding with dismissive statements, has done two things. It has shown up the Pakistani leadership as a bunch of reckless dolts, while hiding the basic fact that Pakistan has no money to finance even minor hostilities and its military is in no position to wage any kind of war because its stock of spare parts and ammo won’t last more than a week at intense rates of expenditure. (This should not console Indians much, because our armed services’ counterpart stores are down to a fortnight’s worth of fighting — the comparative situation that exactly resembles what obtained during the 1965 conflict!)

Sans options what are GHQ, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad to do? There’s one thing they can do. They can order a change in tactics. The Valley boys and Mirpuri mussalman youth, previously trained and supported by ISI under the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba aegis, will be asked to pelt stones, place IEDs, and carry out similar actions, to keep Indian units busy and preoccupied, but leave the hard fighting to the murderous IS-Qaeda gangs channeled to J&K from Afghanistan. Such a strategy will serve many interests. It’ll help the Taliban regime to be on the right side of the US, Pakistan to escape the tightening UN Financial Action Task Force noose by pointing out that the troublemakers are from Afghanistan, and to keep the larger sunni cause of Islamizing Kashmir as the first step to realizing the Guzhwa-e-Hind (a balkanised India) objective — a long term project propelled and funded by Saudi Arabia and rich Gulf states, on track.

Should this be the course ISI follows then it will require some real changes in the way Indian forces have so far tackled the insurgency/secessionist problem in J&K. The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) on the frontlines, and the Indian army generally, will need to be more bloody-minded and ruthless to match these characteristic traits of the IS-Qaeda fighters, who give no quarter and ask for none. The RR may be found wanting. The fact is the best units to take on the battle-hardened Uzbek, Somali, Afghan, Arab terrorists comprising IS and Qaeda cadres are the Special Forces with the three armed services. Fielding them in Kashmir will be a test of their mettle. Their advantage is that they are not expected, or even supposed, to “fight by the book” and can match the terrorist fighting hordes in their cut-throat, irregular, tactics.

But for this SF policy to succeed will require fool-proof intelligence on a sustained basis to identify the origin of the terrorists fighting in any particular section of the operations grid. Because pitting the Indian SF against minor league terrorists and misguided Valley youngsters bursting with adrenalin, would be a waste of time and effort, and would result in the inexcusable — a strong force targeting minnows even as the real threat avoids engagement.

For Indian Special Forces, it will be a boon — an opportunity to take on the terrorist elite and best them, and while doing so sharpen their own considerable skill sets. This surely is better than whiling away their time in small-time incursions of small consequence across the Line of Control (that the Pakistanis say they will now treat as a ceasefire line) whilst being penny-packeted as Northern Army reserve, or in similar useless deployment.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., West Asia | 2 Comments

Time for Magnanimity

Image result for pics of general bajwa

(Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa)

With the long overdue overturning of Article 370, the status of Jammu & Kashmir is now regularised within the Indian Union. In its wake, the Bharatiya Janata Party government seems inclined to gloat over diplomatically wrongfooting Pakistan and the United States and to consolidate its control over that province. It has entrenched Pakistan’s enmity which, in the larger strategic perspective, is not a good thing to happen.

The Imran Khan government will now move closer to China, firm up the Sino-Pakistani military nexus and, notwithstanding the possibility of running afoul of the Financial Action Task Force, persist with terrorism to keep the Kashmir issue alive. India can do something to pre-empt such a denouement, but it will require Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go against his own ideological grain and court political risk in order to achieve the ambitious multi-pronged goal of calming and stabilising a fraught situation, distancing Pakistan from China and drawing it as well as other adjoining countries into a loose South Asian security and economic arrangement, and of otherwise obtaining a pacified neighbourhood—the first necessary step to India attaining great power status.

This may be considered a tall order, but it is eminently realisable. It will mean Modi unilaterally implementing two telling but military-wise safe and significant security-related measures to address Pakistan’s perceptions of India as an existential threat and to reshape its attitude. What the Pakistan Army most fears are India’s three Strike Corps which, considering the opposition, is way in excess of need and, depending on how the costing is done, consume almost a quarter of the defence budget. The fear of being overwhelmed and compelled to use its tactical nuclear weapons is for General Headquarters, Rawalpindi (GHQR), the worst nightmare because it would result in getting coiled in a war of annihilation it cannot control and whose end—Pakistan’s extinction—it cannot avoid.

In contrast to this are the limited wars of manoeuvre that it has fought in the past and is prepared to fight in the future for which contingency India doesn’t need more than a single composite armoured-mechanised corps plus a few independent armoured brigades. But here’s the nub! The Indian armoured and mechanised forces constitute a bureaucratically powerful combat arm that will brook no restructuring even if the freed manpower and materiel are converted to light tanks and airborne cavalry to equip three desperately needed offensive mountain corps able to take the fight to China on the Tibetan plateau. Modi, however, can impose new force planning predicates on the military as he has done the Chief of Defence Staff system, especially because a meaningful Indian mountain offensive capability will strengthen his hand in dealing with Beijing.

The other decision Modi should take is to withdraw the forward deployed nuclear-tipped Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles from the western border, which other than shortening the nuclear fuse and turning every small crisis into a hair-trigger situation, serve no useful purpose. Should GHQR be rash enough to initiate nuclear action for any reason under any circumstances, the hinterland-based Agni longrange missiles can cover all target sets within Pakistan, so it is an entirely safe move to make.

Consider the consequences of these decisions. They will hollow out Pakistan’s view of a spiteful and malevolent India bent on destroying it, devalue China’s importance, erode the credibility of its nuclear arsenal and, in time, not only weaken the army’s primacy in the Pakistani state and society but also its rationale for cornering a big chunk of national resources. Further, it will lay the foundations for easygoing India-Pakistan relations that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged wherein, to use foreign minister S. Jaishankar’s words vis-a-vis China, “differences don’t become disputes”. The ripple effects of demilitarising the border, moreover, will be to induce Pakistan to formalise the ceasefire line in Kashmir as an international boundary and smaller neighbouring states to see India as a benign power.


Published as ‘Point of View’column in India Today, Aug 23, 2019. at https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20190902-time-for-magnanimity-point-of-view-1590562-2019-08-23

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Terrorism, Tibet | 14 Comments

Bummer in Biarritz — potentially

(Modi & Trump)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be headed this weekend for Biarritz, on the southwest coast of France, where the G-7 Summit is being held. The informal UN Security Council session on Kashmir a few days back has complicated things for Modi on several counts. Despite US’ formal stance supportive of the Indian position that revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution was an “internal matter”, President Donald Trump did not take no for an answer where mediation is concerned. Undeterred by the Indian government’s brush-off after such an offer was first made during the press conference he had in Pak PM Imran Khan’s company, Trump once again offered mediation on the Indo-Pak dispute yesterday and promised to raise the matter about his peace-making role with Modi when they meet in Biarritz.

Pakistan has, with some success, weaponized the human rights issue by lacing it with the imminence of a nuclear exchange. Imran has argued thus: the anger of Kashmiris owing to abrogation of Article 370 could result in a terrorist incident which Delhi will blame Islamabad for. It will launch a punitive strike, as happened post-Pulwama, to which the Pakistani military will reply, and this action-reaction sequence could result in conventional hostilities which, if they begin going against Pakistan, will lead to it ordering first use of N-weapons. By way of a historical metaphor, he said Pakistan would act like Tipu Sultan, not Bahadur Shah Zafar who abdicated his throne after the failed 1857 Mutiny, therefore, accepting before hand that, like Tipu, Pakistan would rather go down fighting — in nuclear terms, become extinct, than do nothing at all. (Refer youtube.com/watch?v=jMFIXhrdlebA .) If this is not a lot of hoo-ha I don’t know what is! This hot air got pumped when Indian media created a controversy out of nothing — Rajnath Singh’s fairly anodyne statement about Delhi in the future, depending on the circumstances, rethinking its no first use commitment.

But the mix of disputed territory, “occupation” forces, a restive native population, and nuclear weapons is a politically combustible story and Pakistan has made capital out of it. It is an endeavour China has helped overtly and UK covertly (as at the informal session of the UN Security Council and by permitting the violent demonstration outside the Indian High Commission in London). UK now has Trump’s “poodle”, Boris Johnson, in 10, Downing. Trump and Boris often talk to each other and given how impressionable the former is, there’s every chance of his being influenced by the latter’s Pak-leaning attitude. Who is to say this wasn’t manifested in the US President’s repeating his mediation offer to Modi in his telephone talk of Aug 22? Trump is motivated to act this way in the main because he does not want his special rep Zalmay Khalilzad’s “get the hell out of Afghanistan fast” plan by cutting a deal, any deal, with the Afghan Taliban to be imperilled by Pakistan potentially sabotaging it, which ISI can do. Washington apprehends it will do this if Islamabad perceives the US as standoffish on the 370-Kashmir issue. Which is to say that there’s lots there for Pakistan to work with to ensure the US stays entangled.

The problem for Modi is this: Trump can turn truculent and verbally vicious if he is frustrated on his initiatives by leaders of friendly states (to wit, Danish PM Mette Fredericksen, who having dismissed Trump’s offer “to buy Greenland” as “absurd” was called “nasty” by Trump, who then proceeded to cancel his planned state visit to Denmark!). Insulting statements by fellow strongmen, like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, on the other hand fetches from the US President — who is growingly recognized as an unreliable, unpredictable, dilettante, the sort of fawning attention that would embarrass even the smarmiest spittle licker in Lutyen Delhi.

So, would Modi be better off showing a bit of spine when the two meet on the sidelines of G-7, and what exactly should the Indian PM do? He can be rude and flatly turn down Trump’s offer — which approach, no matter what the Indo-Pacific security stakes, will lead to a rupture in personal relations that Modi has invested too much in by way of hugs and embraces and, more seriously, by way of buying at great cost to the country antique combat aircraft (F-16) and guns (M-777 howitzers) and, when in need to pacify Washington, with the military-MOD’s procurement staple of recent years — C-17 and C-130s transporters, to easily discard. Modi also daily faces Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on all imports from India pursuant to his belief that India, like China, doesn’t anymore deserve the “developing country” tag and hence the preferential treatment under WTO rules. Moreover, Trump has trashed Modi’s repeated personal pleas and the Indian government’s more formal pleadings over the past two-odd years by shutting down the H1B visa route to legal immigrant status taken by Indian techies and professionals, as well as the provision to deny entry to family members of these immigrants. This is Modi’s less than esteemable record — a consequence of giving in routinely to Washington, which he takes to Biarritz.

What is Trump expected to do in this context other than see Modi as a chump who, in exchange for small gestures, such as a counter-hug, gives away the store without getting anything in return? It is a one-way deal of the kind preferred by the transaction-minded Trump who otherwise respects counterparts who have a clear view of national interest and won’t bend but will happily massage his brittle ego as a means of playing him — something Putin and Kim Jong-un effortlessly do. (Trump, for instance, went nearly girly on August 9 re: Kim’s “very beautiful letter” and sided with the North Korean dictator, excused his missile firings, and berated the US-South Korean joint wargames and military exercises as waste of US money! See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqdS5hIdp4Q .) But becoming another Kim is obviously beyond Modi and, in any case, such a conversion may be too late in the day to be credible.

The real trouble ahead for Modi lies less in Trump’s being mediator than in his using human rights excesses supposedly committed on the allegedly hapless Muslims of the Srinagar Valley, laced with fears of a “nuclear flashpoint” that Imran and the Pakistani strategic enclaves have propagated, as a battering ram. In fact, he has indicated publicly that he’d do just this. In the wake of Islamabad’s sounding the nuclear tocsin to keep Kashmir in the international limelight and, per chance, to persuade more and more countries to support its case for UN intervention, the possibility of Trump leading the charge is a disquieting prospect. Already, Western Press and media have gone to town on this theme of the Indian armed services oppressing Kashmiris. Yesterday’s announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of establishing a cell in MOD to look into human rights complaints is a move to preempt this issue from becoming a major diplomatic headache. Will this stanch the growing criticism? No.

But there’s a tack that Modi can take that will stop Trump cold and almost instantly terminate US’ moral grandstanding, and prevent America’s European lackeys from following suit. He can tell Trump in Biarritz, in the friendliest terms but without the equivocation that foreign minister S. Jaishankar would advise him, that the nuclear alarms are a whole load of nonsense and a ploy to gain global attention but the harm done by Washington’s raking up the human rights issue and by its petty economic-trade policies, would be real, compelling his government to reconsider India’s involvement in strategically partnering with the US in the Indo-Pacific. The PM can refer gently to the case-by-case constraints on the full realization of LEMOA and COMCASA, which has raised the Trump Administration’s hackles, but which he should be warned, would become much worse with this American policy generating genuine ire among the Indian people and ill will for America.

Such a clear cut Modi message along with, ideally, Rajnath Singh being dispatched expeditiously to Moscow, will drive home that point nicely. Will Modi do this to earn from Trump a modicum of respect for himself and for India? Nah!


(Modi & Macron near Arc de Triomphe)

With Modi once again in France, can an order for additional Rafale combat aircraft be far behind? As long ago predicted by this analyst, the initial order for 36 Rafale combat aircraft was merely the French foot in the door. With Paris preparing to hardsell a second tranche of 36 Rafales, the larger IAF-French plan of outfitting the full 125 aircraft requirement for “medium” combat aircraft is fully underway. The French President Emmanuel Macron will probably offer for like initial sum (for the first batch but inflation-indexed) — nearly 8 billion euros — 2 more squadrons worth of Rafale.

Why Modi would accept such an offer when HAL has made a competing offer to produce 4 squadrons of the “super Sukhoi” variant of the Su-30MKI, with HAL chairman R Madhavan, calling it the “fastest means of getting” the IAF up to 42 squadron strength, is unfathomable. Madhavanm, playing hard ball, told the press that HAL, Nasik, produces a dozen Su-30s a year and has outstanding order from IAF for only 8-10 of this aircraft and then just to replace the losses due to accidents, and unless the Company’s order book is enlarged by year end, the entire Su-30 assembly line will become defunct. (See https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/hal-pitches-for-4-more-squadrons-of-su-30mki/articleshow/70668419.cms ) Perhaps, Modi is convinced that Rafale is an all round better, more economical buy than the upgraded “super Sukhoi” Su-30? If so, then really??!!

Now the nationalist Shri Modiji can buy into the IAF’s case that HAL is the premier white elephant defense PSU (along with Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd), which despite its awful production record is sustained expensively at taxpayer’s expense and produces flawed aircraft, all of which is true. But the Prime Minister confronts a dilemma: If he cold shoulders HAL, and permits it to run down, he increases IAF’s dependence on imported aircraft and, more, ends up transferring tens of billions in Euros to make Dassault Avions — the maker of Rafale, the French aviation industry and France wealthier. Is he willing in this way to impoverish India, kick the infant aerospace Indian defence industry in the guts, and politically risk flaring the Rafale embers? The political opposition may be non-existent now but Rafale can live on as an election issue for decades.

There’s an an optimized choice among options which, again, he is loath to make. Namely, as I have advocated, getting the Indian private sector centrally involved in combat aircraft production, which will create millions of jobs — unemployment being the country’s chief worry. It will require putting together a national industrial consortium of reputed Indian corporations, including L&T, Tata, et al, who will be transferred LCA source codes and algorithms by DRDO, who will then embellish the designs of LCA variants, develop and manufacture Tejas-1A, Tejas-2 and, derived from these, the AMCA (advanced medium combat aircraft) for IAF’s use as bulk combat aircraft, with derated versions (of IA, 2) designated for export from get-go. It will incentivize the private sector to become aviation players of note and provide competition to HAL making the latter more efficient and effective, and able to amortize the government’s investment of hundreds of billions of dollars into it over the last seven decades rather than (as newspapers report) have its low productivity and unaccountable work force agitate against government measures to “corporatize” it, other DPSUs and Ordnance Board factories.

This option, if it is taken, will mean the Modi government, for the first time, doing something tangible and substantive to promote indigenous design and production of capital military equipment rather than merely yacking about it and repeating the hollow mantra of “Make in India” ad nauseam.

So, what are the chances of such innovative indigenization programmes getting implemented on a war footing? Zero!

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CDS; reliance on locally-made products — does Modi mean for national defence?

(Armed services chiefs meeting Modi at the Red Fort — Aug 15, 2019)

Sometimes Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes up with pleasant surprises. There was the announcement in his address from the Red Fort ramparts about the chief of defence Staff (CDS). And the other was an exhortation to trust in locally-made products village-level up. Presumably, this applies to the Indian armed services as well who have, over the years, loudly voiced the indigenization mantra but, in practice, reluctantly supported home-grown defence R&D projects and outright rejected the hardware (Tejas light combat aircraft, Arjuna main battle tank) that resulted from them in order to protect their import options.

A CDS system has been in the works for the better part of forty years with every passing flag rank officer in the three armed services expressing a need for it, but those from the Indian Air Force in particular also offering caveats and urging a go-slow. Why so? No great secret this, because IAF has always feared that as the senior service and the one most directly involved in border clashes and counter-insurgency operations and, therefore, more in the public eye than either of the other two Services, the Indian Army would end up monopolizing the CDS post. The IAF is a large enough force for its opposition to CDS to not be ignored by any government. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, is too small to matter and other than extolling the virtues of a CDS, tactfully, kept itself out of the fray. So the CDS issue got strung out over the differences between the army and air force.

Post- Kargil border conflict, a high-powered Committee chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyam stated in the clearest terms that the absence of a CDS led to the slow and sketchy reaction and build-up to action of the Indian military to the capture in Spring 1999 of the Kargil heights by the Pakistan Army’s Northern Light Infantry. Some years later, during the Vajpayee interregnum a committee with Subrahmanyam in it and chaired by former defence minister KC Pant was constituted to look at the Higher Defence Organization. It too recommended establishment of a CDS structure for singular military advice to the government of the day. Too often, Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers, seeking the military’s counsel in a crisis, usually got advice favouring the Service the current Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, was affiliated with. But because the Chairman was a rotational post and did not outrank his fellow chiefs, his advice to the government was as often disputed by the other Services chiefs, leaving the government in its normal state of confusion. In this system, naturally, not only was an optimized military solution or decision difficult to obtain, and if made it was by happenstance, but the spurned chief ensured his Service’s role in coordinating military actions was half-hearted, and left something to chance.

Deposing before the Pant Committee I referred to how military “unification” was achieved in the US chiefly by President Harry S. Truman imposing the integration plan drawn up inside of three weeks by, no not a committee, but by one man — a chap called Ferdinand, adviser to Truman’s confidante, friend and Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. As a consequence, the Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff-system came into being.

There is an anecdote worth retailing here to emphasize just how a strong political leader can cow down an equally strong military leadership opposing his moves. This is important: Truman took ownership of the Ferdinand Plan and hearing murmurings of dissent against it in the senior Service, the US Navy, called a meeting of frontline admirals — Chester Nimitz, Arleigh Burke, et al, who at one end successfully prosecuted massive fleet actions in the Pacific theatre against the Imperial Japanese Navy, and at the other end fought off German submarine wolf-packs and mounted the famous Atlantic and Murmansk convoys conveying American war materiel to European Allies and to Soviet Russia. Striding into the big hall where the beribboned admirals were seated, Truman simply said that he had heard that his unification initiative had attracted opposition and, in the event, he said, those who were against it should step up and resign right there and then! Stunned naval brass headed by Nimitz said nothing, and Truman signed the unification order for implementation soon thereafter.

I suggested to the Pant Committee that the PM impose a CDS on the military because such radical structural change in the higher defence organization could not be realized by consensus, and that under no circumstances should the government ask the Services’ chiefs for their views. Alas, an over-cautious Pant and his Committee recommended just this, eventuating in a dissenting note from the then Chief of the Air Staff, whence the matter was once again consigned to the cellar.

It is a very good thing that the Prime Minister publicly announced his CDS decision — so there’s no chance of back-pedaling. As Modi spoke the TV camera panned to show the relief on the face of the CAS, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, because now the decision to veto the CDS decision was taken abruptly out of his hands. The IAF will have to lump it and Dhanoa will be spared incoming fire from his air force colleagues and predecessors who had derailed such moves in the past.

The question arises: What kind of CDS system does the PM have in mind? The CDS secretariat in-being has been in existence for over two decades now in the form of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. That’s a functioning body and not a problem. But how far will the process of integration go? Will the separate and purposely not co-located theatre commands of the three Services numbering some 19 Commands in all be pared drastically to a more manageable, say, ten military Commands, including the already (if inefficiently) integrated Andaman Command? These Commands could be Northern, Western, Central, Peninsular, Eastern, Space, Cyber, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics/Maintenance, with Northern, Western, Peninsular and Eastern being comprehensively-capable Theatre Commands and Space, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics supportive Commands. Common sense suggests that in such a scheme Peninsular, Cyber and Andaman Commands be headed by the navy, Space, Northern, Transport and Eastern Commands by the air force, and Western, Special Forces and Central Commands (the last also a reserve holding and hence numerically the largest Command able to deploy/switch its forces as required between theatres) by the army, and the Logistics/Maintenance Command with its chieftancy held in rotation. (Why such a distribution of Service responsibility will be discussed in another post, another time.)

The stickiest issue for Modi will be who to appoint the first five star Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of Field Marshal and equivalent — Marshal of the Air Force and Admiral of the Fleet (because the CDS will necessarily have to outrank the services chiefs of staff if the whole exercise is not to be reduced to an impractical mess). In this context, the selected CDS will have to be an officer who has shown foresight, displayed vision (which two attributes presume a certain level of intellect), and exhibited tact. US Chief of Army Staff General George C. Marshall when confronted with choosing the Supreme Commander Allied Forces, Europe, to lead the war effort against Nazi Germany advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt to appoint Dwight D. Eisenhower and not a “fighting General” like George Patton or Omar Bradley, because of his proven organizational skills — something Modi should keep in mind when nominating the CDS.

So, the trick question — who among the extant service chiefs or among all the three star-rank officers below them in the three Services has a professional record manifesting the skills to get the most out of diverse oganizations and will make the best CDS?


Modi in his Red Fort address to the nation spoke about trusting in locally made products. Does he really believe this? If so, why hasn’t it been evident in his government’s major military procurement decisions all of which without exception have settled on or are inclined towards imported armaments and foreign military-use systems? The score card on this count is irrefutable: the French Rafale combat aircraft (and Swedish Gripen and American F-16 in the wings), the US Apache attack helicopter, Russian T-90 MBT, prospective Spanish, French, Russian, or German involvement in the Project 75i diesel submarine programme, etc.

To claim, as the armed Services do in their own defence, that no indigenously designed and developed weapon system meets their operational standards, is a lot of bull. Arjuna MBT has beaten the T-90 hollow in all test trials in different terrains and weather conditions. Tejas is a beautiful 4.5 generation fighting platform given short shrift by IAF when it could fill the IAF fleet and be the basis for future derivative combat aircraft of all kinds and meet the Service’s light, medium and heavy fighter-bomber requirements. Arihant-class “boomers” — nuclear powered longrange ballistic and cruise missile-firing submarines (SSBNs) are of indigenous design, developed and manufactured at home, and yet, if navy is to be believed, we need foreign design and technology for the technologically simpler and less demanding conventional submarine — when all that is needed are specific technologies, such as electro-optic masts, AIPS (Air Independent Propulsion System), and cavitation and other noise reduction. And why Apache when there’s the HAL’s attack helicopter and Kamov 226 utility helos when there’s Dhruv?

Once the armed services know they cannot opt for foreign hardware, they’ll perforce commit heart, mind, and resources to indigenous armament projects with enormous export potential to Africa, the immediate neighbourhood, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Latin America. These are military products with a ready market. From having the shameful tag as the world’s largest arms importer, India could become a very consequential exporter of arms.

Modi is supreme leader with no rival on the horizon within his party or elsewhere in the Indian polity and can do anything he wishes. He made the decision for CDS. Following on his reference to indigenization he should now declare that his government will not anymore permit armament imports, that’s it, khalas, no foreign military goods. This decision will unleash precisely the “änimal spirits” he says he wants to see driving the Indian economy, generating new technologies, and jobs by the millions in Medium and Small Scale Enterprises — India’s mittelstand — at the cutting edge of this national effort.

And, oh, yes, he will also need to get HAL, Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd and other “white elephant” defense public sector units, who have dragged the Indian defence industry into the mud, out of the frontline of defence industry and get the more productive and efficient Larsen & Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Mahindra Aviation, Bharat Forge, and even Reliance Defence centrally into the game. Private sector companies driven by the profit motive are the future and answer to India’s defence problems.

As a Gujrati with “business in my blood” as Modi put it, the Prime Minister should see clear to doing these above things. He has wasted five years on his romance with the bureaucracy and the public sector. Time to wake up, Mr Modi, and do what’s right for India because you politically can and because no matter how much time you think you will have in power, it could all change in a trice!

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Kashmir, Hong Kong, Huawei, and Indian infirmities

Attendees walk past a sign for Huawei Technologies at the MWC Shanghai 2019 trade show on June 27. Photo: Bloomberg

[Building a Fully Connected Chinese Intelligence world alright!]

Soon after trashing Article 370, the first instinct of the Modi government was — no guesses here — to conciliate. S. Jaishankar, the external affairs minister and designated batter whenever China or the US hove into view, was sent off running to convince Beijing that this move did not threaten China’s interests, and to offset the effects of pleadings by his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mohammad Qureishi who had hightailed it to the Chinese capital to drum up support. But with Modi having previously described the abrogation as a purely “internal” matter, where was the need to reassure or explain a move to obtain a more perfect Indian Union to the eastern neighbour with no locus standi on the Kashmir issue other than as an annexer by stealth of India’s Aksai Chin territory (the Maozedong regime in the mid-1950s expropriated an eastern portion of this region to build the Highway connecting its western Xinjiang province to the mainland through Chinese-occupied Tibet), and as acceptor of a gift in 1963 of another, contiguous, part of the same Aksai Chin that China coveted by an Ayub Khan eager to court Beijing’s patronage vide the Sino-Pakistan accord. In this context, the Zhongnanhai had the gall to say that revoking Article 370 impugned Chinese sovereignty! Instead of reacting strongly to such ridiculous statement followed by equally silly advice urging Delhi to show restraint because, according to Beijing, the situation was fraught in the region, Modi dispatched Jaishankar to apply balm and seek understanding. Rather, shouldn’t the MEA have publicly reminded China about the unrest in Hong Kong and about sustained Chinese actions unsettling the South China Sea and told Beijing, in so many words, to mind its own damned business?

Despite the gravest affronts and provocations to India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the years, Delhi has steadfastly refused to come out with its own ‘One India’ Doctrine and to equate it straightforwardly with the ‘One China’ principle Beijing insists all countries respect. Either China accepts all of the territory of the erstwhile “princely kingdom” of Kashmir, including Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, and every last square inch under occupation of the Forces Command Northern Areas, Pakistan Army, as inalienable Indian territory, or India treats Tibet and Hong Kong under differentiated Chinese control, and Taiwan a fully independent and sovereign country, as very separate national entities. This is the sort of hard choice no Indian government has ever offered the hard-headed authoritarian rulers of Communist China. Indian governments from Nehru’s days have unfortunately sought China’s friendship and repeatedly got kicked in their teeth for their trouble. The Modi regime just as frequently and haplessly invokes the “Wuhan spirit”, urging “sensitivity to each other’s core concerns”, and allows Beijing to pile insult on injury (with its media arm, Global Times, warning that integrating Kashmir with India raises doubts about India’s credentials as potential permanent member of the UN Security Council — a status China enjoys — it must never be forgotten — because Nehru gifted it to Beijing, when international circumstances conspired to have both the Soviet Union and the US in the mid-Fifties wanting India to take the seat vacated by Chiangkaishek’s Taiwan!).

If Beijing has toyed with India in the diplomatic field, it has just as successfully played India for a sucker in the trade realm, mounting serious pressure on the Modi government to relent on security considerations and permit Indian telecommunications market leaders — Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, with their architecture based on the Huawei 4G gear, to upgrade to that Chinese Company’s 5G equipment, and also to keep relying on other Chinese-origin manufacturers such as ZTE. Huawei, incidentally, was funded and nursed to maturity by the People’s Liberation Army and almost all Chinese telecom Companies have such PLA and Chinese intelligence linkages. The only apparent reason Modi did not succumb is because of the Trump Administration’s counter-pressure to bar Huawei 5G from the Indian scene, and not because the Indian government concluded on its own that for the country’s communications grid to pivot on Huawei systems would be to drag the Chinese dragon dressed up as an attractive Trojan Horse right into the centre of India’s communications hub, thus creating untold cyber security vulnerabilities.

If this wasn’t the case, why were Vodafone and Airtel allowed to go in for the Huawei 4G in the first place? This, mind you, was in the face of a public campaign launched at the time — among other writings that warned against such buys, see my innumerable posts on this issue at the time — opposing the entry of key Chinese telecom technology and highlighting the almost farcical assurances the Manmohan Singh government accepted from Huawei that, security-wise, its goods were clean, posed no dangers and that the technology checking centre it proposed setting up at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, would adequately address India’s anxieties. It is another matter that no such centre ever came up, Airtel and Vodafone plonked for the Huawei 4G, and India’s capacity to resist Chinese cyber attacks that PLA has indicated will be in the van of its military offensives, was instantly undermined.

According to a recent Report authored by NK Goyal, President of the Association of India Communications Multimedia And Infrastructure (CMAI) “The malware/ backdoor can be made possible either in the equipment supplied initially or upgraded/modified by software later on, hence the risk. It’s really hard to find a security hole unless one know[s] exactly where to find it. A backdoor could be hard-coded into the silicon on a Huawei chip, then activated remotely, potentially opening with a few keystrokes the contents of an entire network to the Chinese military.” After warning about the official tendency of the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) and the Indian government generally to pooh-pooh the very real cyber dangers posed by the Chinese telecom technologies, the Report warned that in the process of trying to find “evidence of spyware” in “all our phone/computer chips, and in the Artificial Intelligence who-knows-where”, India shouldn’t get stuck with buying and installing Chinese-origin equipments embedded with electronic bugs, viruses to disable whole networks and backdoors to tap information. After all, Goyal concludes logically, “China is leading the world in spying on its citizens: Can we possibly imagine that they’re not planning on spying on us?”

The Modi government is embarked on the same blundering path that Manmohan Singh opted for, by not completely closing off the Indian 5G market to the Chinese telecom giants. Learning nothing from the past and ill-informed about the longstanding Chinese intent and efforts at subversion, a Committee headed by the Principal Scientific Adviser — a biochemist with little knowledge of cyber warfare-related telecom technologies, will reportedly soon recommend that Chinese equipment be included in the 5G rollout. This committee, per revelation by Smita Purshottam, only consulted with the telecom Companies who are hand-in-glove with Chinese equipment suppliers. Purshottam retired as our Ambassador to Switzerland and now heads SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator), an organization dedicated to promoting indigenous technology at all levels in every sphere of national life, and particularly in the defence sector,

But returning to Purshottam’s point, it makes commercial sense for Airtel and Vodafone with Huawei 4G, for example, to upgrade cheaply to Huawei 5G than switch over to qualitatively matching or better Indian-developed technologies and systems, national security be damned! This Committee supposedly took enormous care to ignore Indian Companies (such as Saankhya Labs) fully capable of designing and manufacturing 5G and even 6G hardware and software, for which technologies they already have patents and hold Intellectual Property Rights! So it is reasonable for Purshottam to argue that India “leapfrog to 6G”, while also indigenously designing and producing 4G and 5G telecom systems for the extant Indian market and for exporting to developing countries who will be receptive to purchasing Indian technology. The African Union headquarters, for example, not too long ago discovered that the Chinese had hacked its classified communications network. Such a policy of fully indigenizing Indian telecom for national deployment and as export revenue earner will generate employment and act as “massive multipliers” consolidating India’s position in the forefront of telecommunications tech. This is now an imperative also because, according to Purshottam, 80% of “India’s sensitive networks…are already in Chinese hands, thanks to the Department of Telecommunications’ irresponsible handling of a strategic asset — our telecom networks.” Capture of Indian 5G, she avers, will “exponentially magnify” Beijing’s capacity for “cognitive communications [which linked to Artificial Intelligence] means we are surrendering control over unknown realms” to a belligerent adversary nation.

Worse and astonishingly, the Modi government is taking the same approach to de-indigenizing the telecom sector and forcing end-users to rely on foreign imported hardware and software, as it has done in the defence field where, willy-nilly, it is promoting armament imports even as the soaring Modi rhetoric exhorts ‘Make in India’ — sadly, a thinly veiled programme for screwdrivering and license-producing US, Swedish, French, Russian, Israeli military-use systems!

Purshottam discloses how this deplorable imports-fixated official mindset and procedures and procurement system-in-place prevailing in the defence field is being replicated in the telecommunications sphere. It is an approach involving (1) Chinese companies subsidised by Beijing being allowed “ruthlessly” to “underbid Indian Companies in telecom tenders”, (2) DOT refusing to release outstanding dues amounting to over Rs 1,000 crores owed to Indian Companies, (3) “one-sided discriminatory” bank guarantees being demanded of Indian telecom companies, and none from Huawei and that lot, and (4) Indian Companies being thus forced to “run around the world seeking expensive certifications”. By such means Indian Companies were ruled out of the running to supply 4G tech. (Refer Smita Purshottam’s eye-popping Aug 13 op-ed in Financial Express at https://www.financialexpress.com/opinion/telecom-networks-the-changing-face-of-conflict/1673863/ )

Come another Independence Day, and tomorrow we will all once again hear Modi, the Prime Minister, with rapt attention as he lists the achievements of his government. But look deeper, and one sees that so little has changed. As a nationalist and promiser of “maximum governance, minimum government” he is presiding over the worst excesses of empowered bureaucrats, not empowered people. The country, as a result continues to reel, its economy continues to plunge, but an unaccountable government continues happily to splurge monies the nation doesn’t have on imports and more imports, even as the benefits of transferred wealth and millions of high-paying jobs in defence and telecom sectors are enjoyed by Western defence majors, and China is helped to root telecom monopolies in India. If this is nationalism, then it is of a type I’m unaware of.

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Article 370 is finally history; now need to stiffen national resolve to brush off US (and other Western) pressure

NC president Farooq Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and leaders of other mainstream parties at an all party meeting in Srinagar on Sunday. 	(Photo: H.U. Naqash)

(J&K leaders apprehending historic change)

The most offending and offensive Article of the Indian Constitution — Article 370 has finally been rid off (and automatically also Article 35A). Good riddance! Why there was so much hesitation for so long by ruling parties across the board (including the BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee) in deboarding an Article described in the Constitution as “temporary” is beyond understanding and cannot be explained except as political calculation routinely taking precedence over the national interest. It only kept fueled the legal fiction that J&K was separate from India and, hence the impression that was abroad, that it was negotiable.

This is the first substantive good and correct step relating to national security that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken in an otherwise bleak 5-year record in office of seemingly endless series of misconceptions of national security, and equally serious misreadings of the regional and international reality, resulting in patently wrong foreign and military policies and diplomatic missteps that have progressively weakened India and its geostrategics. But re: 370 Modi has done the right thing, and has to be lauded for it.

(All the gassy rhetoric in Rajya Sabha about J&K, as a consequence of the tabling of the’Reorganization Bill’, soon turning into another Palestine, or a South Sudan, or an East Timor, or whatever…is nothing more than fear-vaping by the opposition who, odds-on bet, know nothing about any of these places mentioned, leave alone their histories, whence their facile forebodings.)

There were a lot of historical tid-bits revealed by some of the speakers in Parliament, especially the RSS ideologue and BJP nominated MP Rakesh Sinha, most importantly that Lal Bahadur Shastri contemplated trashing 370 in 1964 not long after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in May that year. But one must be aware of the political thinking behind Nehru’s decision to stop the Indian Army’s push to Muzzafarabad and thereafter to fully recover what is now PoK, which was followed by his most unfortunate decision to take the issue to the UN. But as Subramaniam Swany rightly pointed out in the debate as regards the latter move, Nehru did so in 1949 without his Cabinet’s approval, leaving the door open for the Modi government legitimately to withdraw the issue from the UN and reversing 70 years of international interference and frustration for India!

But Nehru had, at that time, made a defensible political decision. The situation was this: With the India Army poised to retake PoK, Sheikh Abdullah told Nehru that were he to recover PoK, the Mirpuri-dominated population of that region aligning with the competitor Muslim Conference party would, in an election, vote against siding with India and create trouble, but that he, a “democrat” would ensure that his National Conference party would vote to stay with India. It convinced Nehru to terminate the military recovery of PoK and even to take the matter to the UN where, per Mountbatten’s advice, the Security Council would quickly decide in India’s favour; in thee event, killing two birds with a single stone. Nehru the gullible bought into this perfidious design of Britain. (Much of this is supported by archival material, see Prem Shankar Jha’s book — ‘Kashmir 1947’.)

The scrubbing of 370 has, among its other virtues, a realpolitik reason. By making Ladakh a Union Territory, Delhi can cultivate the shias of the Kargil region in order to influence the Hazara shias and the still majority shia population of Gilgit and Baltistan (G&B) in PoK — areas hosting Pakistan Army’s Forces Command Northern Areas. This will create a sort of shia equipoise in the larger erstwhile Kashmir territory vis a vis the dominant sunnis among the Punjab mussalmans of Mirpur (Mirpuris) and the Srinagar Valley, and making life that much more politically difficult for Pakistan in G&B.

But Modi will now face a Trump suddenly beholden to an Imran Khan who promised to ease the retreat of the US-led International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan by persuading the Taliban to hold off as the US military cuts and runs. Part of the Trump-Imran deal was renewal of American pressure on Delhi to allow US or other international mediation, as Islamabad has publicly announced, to preempt which Modi hurried through with throwing out Art 370 and related impedimenta.

How will Modi hold up under Washington’s full court press — because Trump will have to show his hand before Imran (read GHQ, Rawalpindi) delivers on the last mile, as it were? Besides brushing off pressure and threats of dilution of US commitments on the antique F-16-level technology etc that Modi seems enamoured by, the Indian PM will have to show that India means business. This last will have to be evidenced in the manipulation of the Indian hand in Afghan Taliban’s affairs. A section of the Afghan Taliban has been successfully courted and cultivated by Indian intel (just as it has done its sister outfit — the Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan). These contacts will need to be activated to torpedo the US-Pak plan, to prove India cannot be ignored. But this will have to be done in tandem with making peace with Tehran, whom the Modi dispensation has seriously alienated, and to recommit to Chabahar and the connectivity projects linking up with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia.

This is obviously a tall order for Modi who has swung Indian foreign policy so far over to the American side, that it has eroding creds with Moscow. Meanwhile, Xi of China sits on the sideline like the wily giant panda ready to put its weight behind the winning move. Absence of geostrategic foresight is why and how India has thus further empowered an already strong China. This is what all my warnings over the years were about. Now, Modi is in a double squeeze and Trump will only hope he will cry “Uncle (Sam)”!

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 9 Comments

Payoffs post-Trump-Imran meeting

(PAF’s 2-seater F-16D)

The dust has not quite settled on the little matter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting Donald Trump, per Trump, to mediate on the Kashmir dispute. Because, in the face of foreign minister K Jaishankar’s “categorical denial” in Parliament regarding any such request, the US President’s Special Assistant Larry Kudlow asserted before TV cameras that “the President does not make up things”. [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iriKCIeiF0U ]

So, no one’s any nearer to knowing what actually transpired in Osaka and what it is that Modi said to the US President, 20 days later, to prompt Trump’s offering himself to Imran and the world as potential arbitrator. And, oh, yes, all the usual retired diplomats — foreign secretaries and the like, and the entire lot of lesser commentators, who until now vociferously backed Modi’s policy of cultivating America as a central pillar of Indian foreign policy, suddenly discovered the US cannot be trusted!

Imran returned home a hero having consolidated Pakistan’s status — surprise! surprise! — as the indispensable front line state the US desperately needs to zero out its military presence in Afghanistan at any and all cost, along with a goodies bag for the Pakistan armed services, which indubitably is the first tranche of upfront payoffs — a $125 million package to retrofit 12 PAF F-16Cs and six two-seater trainer version F-16Ds with the technologically updated Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 jet engine with 79 kiloNewton dry thrust and 129.7 kN with afterburner. Most likely, senior PAF officers accompanying the COAS General Qamar Bajwa, who was part of Imran’s delegation, wangled the EEP (Engine Enhancement Program) version.

The P&W website reveals the EEP as incorporating advances in such areas as turbine materials, cooling management techniques, compressor aerodynamics, and electronic controls, from the F-22 Raptor’s turbofan engine and from the propulsion system in the latest American combat aircraft F-35 jet power plant, thereby increasing the “Depot maintenance interval” of the warplane from 4,300 to 6,000 hours or, to put it differently, from 7 to 10 years, while easing upkeep procedures and reducing the lifetime costs by almost a third. In other words, PAF is well on its way to at once refurbishing its entire F-16 fleet, lengthening its life, and making it more affordable.

Again by design and, perhaps, to suppress any hard reaction from Delhi, the US insisted on placing 60 Lockheed representatives in Pakistan (whether on PAF air bases, is not clear) constituting a Technical Security Team (TST) to monitor the end-use of these revamped F-16s. Except, a Pentagon official told Indian news agency, PTI, that the Americans would be there to also, as he put it, protect the engine technology, presumably from being onpassed to China — one of the usual channels Beijing has used over the years to access US technologies. Pakistan, for instance, shipped an F-16 for Chinese engineers to study and reverse engineer its many technologies when it was first inducted into PAF in 1982 and, likewise, moved the high-performance, silenced, rotor system in the US helicopter that crashed during the 2011 American Operation Neptune Spear to take out Osama bin Laden, to China for a decent amount of time before returning the damaged ‘copter to America.

The fact is even with Americans exercising physical oversight of the revamped F-16s, there’s no way they can prevent these aircraft from being flown to satellite air fields ostensibly on routine exercise either for the Chinese aviation designers and engineers to closely inspect them there, or to embark them on offensive sorties (assuming the TST is really there to deter such uses, which is doubtful).

Curiously, at the same time as the F-16 deal was announced in Washington a couple of days after Imran’s departure, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency issued a statement saying that India had asked to buy spare parts and test equipment for IAF’s C-17 transport planes, and that it “is seeking personnel training, among other things, “for an estimated cost of $670 million.” India, it added, “needs this follow-on support to maintain its operational readiness and ability to provide Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) assistance in the region…[and] will have no difficulty absorbing this support into its armed forces.” Both the press releases announcing the F-16 upgrade and the the Indian buy of C-17 support, iterated that these sales “will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” 

And, outside of hightailing it out of Afghanistan, that’s the entire US strategic game plan and objective isn’t it — to maintain by whatever means and at all cost “the basic military balance” in the subcontinent? It is also apparently China’s. Because, such military balance encourages Islamabad to continue engaging in cross-border terrorism, keeps India distracted with the Pakistan bogey and unprepared and incapable of diverting the limited resources to tackle the more substantive China threat, even as Washington and Beijing are free to carry on with their big power struggle to gain ascendancy in the Indo-Pacific while exploiting, in separate and similar ways, the squabbling India and Pakistan for their own purposes.

The pity is the Modi government (and the section of the Pak-phobic Indian media) are so blinded by their hate as to miss seeing the larger Sino-US strategic scheme in play to keep India down.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons | 22 Comments

Trump lied but what’s the truth? (Augmented)

Image result for pics of trump and modi

Below is US President Donald J Trump’s controversial quote in extenso pertaining to his offer of personal mediation to resolve the Kashmir dispute. This was in his exchange with the Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan presently in Washington ostensibly to “reset” Pakistan-US relations:

“I was with Prime Minister Modi two weeks ago [at the G-20 Summit in Tokyo] and we talked about this subject (Kashmir). And he actually said, ‘would you like to be a mediator or arbitrator?’ I said, ‘where?’ (Modi said) ‘Kashmir’ Because this has been going on for many, many years. I am surprised that how long. It has been going on (for long).”

“I think they (Indians) would like to see it resolved. I think you would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be a mediator. It should be….we have two incredible countries that are very, very smart with very smart leadership, (and they) can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that. So all those issues should be resolved. So, he (Mr. Modi) has to ask me the same thing. So maybe we’ll speak to him. Or I’ll speak to him and we’ll see if we can do something.”

Obviously and, as he is known routinely to do, Trump invented the lie on the spur of the moment to burnish his image as potential peacemaker — that Modi asked him in their Tokyo meeting if he would be “mediator or arbitrator” on the Kashmir dispute. But just as he time and again trips over his own lies, he did so again in his very next bunch of statements, when he stated that for him to mediate Modi would have “to ask” him to do that. Trump apparently warmed up to that idea of mediation after Imran iterated the old Islamabad line of the Kashmir problem needing a US intervention to be resolved, whence the American leader’s prospective lunge for that peace-maker role with his declaration with the royal “we”: “We’ll speak to him [Modi]” before immediately moderating it to “I’ll speak to him [Modi] and we’ll see if we can do something.”

Now, whatever else Prime Minister Narendra Modi may be he is not politically daft and, considering how much of a live-grenade issue Kashmir is, simply couldn’t have said anything of the kind attributed to him by Trump. But was there a reference to Kashmir in his tete-a-tete with Trump that led the latter to concoct a story around? It would appear so.

Based on the fact of Delhi, over the past two decades and especially during Modi’s tenure, incessantly squawking to Washington about Pakistan’s nefarious hand in Kashmir affairs, one can reasonably surmise that the Indian PM brought up Kashmir in their talk by way of, perhaps, a throwaway complaint and may have added for good measure that were Pakistan to butt out, all related problems would be promptly resolved. So, when Imran brought up Kashmir, Trump probably impulsively responded the way he did, in part because while Modi’s grasp of the English language is adequate, it is not nuanced and so any passing reference to peace in that region may have been interpreted by Trump — who in any case hears what he wants to hear rather than respond to something that was actually said — as some sort of invitation to him to arbitrate. The US President’s ability to spot Kashmir on the map of the world may be suspect but he was free with his views about what prevails there. With Imran looking on, scarcely believing what he was hearing, Trump described the Kashmir situation “as bombs everywhere, bombs all over the place… it’s a terrible situation”! ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jff2Cp7vLjg ) How does that sit with the Indian government and with Modi who has staked so much of his foreign policy on making India revolve around US interests?

Sure, the US State Department sought to douse any political fire in India that Trump’s statements may have started by quickly endorsing the Indian government’s line of any resolution of the Kashmir dispute necessarily being through means of bilateral negotiations. But Trump’s ham-handed attempt only highlights the ever-present danger of Washington somehow insinuating itself into the dispute resolution process, which the Indian government willingly disbelieves until a televised event such as this happens.

I have for a long time now maintained that Modi is doing just about every thing wrong with his policy of unilateral friendship and strategic concessions vis a vis the United States. Much of this is due to his unrequited enthusiasm, even love, for America and things American that blinds him to the serious cost of his approach — a steady erosion of the national interest. But Trump extemporaneously also made clear his dichotomous view of the world when, in referring to Afghanistan, he said that the US would not any more play “the policeman” of the world — meaning that he was “extricating” US forces from that country, but added that if he wanted to he could end the Afghanistan war in no time at all by killing “10 million” people, by using weapons of mass destruction, such as thermobaric bombs (fuel air explosives). In other words, he set up the US as either playing the global policeman or using WMD! And this is the American President, also with his curious views on Kashmir, that Modi is banking on to assist him in furthering India’s interests?

There’s lots Modi can do to right his policy of tilt. He can begin by resisting the temptation to show of his English language skills and speak to world leaders, and particularly Trump, only in Hindi (even better, in Gujarati) in which he’s more fluent. It will also put the foreign leaders off their game — a strategy routinely used by the Chinese nomenklatura and perfected by Maozedong’s premier, Zhouenlai. It is a diplomatic method studiously followed by North Korea and other countries that have successfully dealt with the US and the West generally.

Native languages as diplomatic tool is something MEA has never used, leave alone exploited, to the country’s advantage. Because in head-to-head exchanges between leaders, the one using other than English is always at an advantage. For instance, were Modi to carry on diplomatic business only in Hindi or Gujarati — albeit inconveniencing foreign minister K. Jaishankar with only street-level acquaintance with Hindi and none at all of Gujarati — foreign interpreters/note-takers helping out their leaders will be hard put to get it right. So when aide memoirs/diplomatic notes are shared the Indian note will naturally have precedence. This is precisely the tactic Chinese interlocuters have traditionally used to baffle foreigners, and to obtain the diplomatic edge. President Vladimir Putin too speaks only in Russian in his formal exchanges even though he has a better handle on the English language than Modi.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Russia, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US. | 7 Comments

Amateurs Inc.

Image result for pics of Modi and trump
[An overjoyed Modi in a clinch with Trump]

It is by now a historic habit for India to miss opportunities, avoid contestation and, when absolutely pushed, lose from a winning position, in the main, because we can’t seem to keep our heads or our wits about us. This is as true for cricket as international affairs. At Old Trafford the supposedly famed top batting order collapsed with, on paper, a doable run chase to realize. In the external realm the Indian government for over two decades now, and helmed in the last five years by Narendra Modi, has likewise shown negligible strategic sense and intent, not appreciated the country’s many strengths nor leveraged them, and finds itself in reality collared by both Washington and Beijing, confused only about which side to appease at any given time and with what (making capital buys here, compromising on trade there, or offering some other concession.

Those who claim and believe that all this tilting, bowing, scraping and fawning is for show and that the alleged masters of the strategic game, namely, the firm of Modi, Jaishankar & Doval, is manipulating all comers to India’s advantage ought to be alerted to the fact that this Indian trio has fared worse on the realpolitik scale than the two predecessor regimes in the new Century, and have proved themselves amateurs going up against US and China — the most prominent and ruthless practitioners of hard realpolitik with a long record of success. Indeed, there’s not a single instance of an Indian foreign policy feint, initiative, measure or move of Modi’s in the last half decade and counting that surprised, offended, or pushed Washington and/or Beijing on the defensive– a simple metric to judge whether Delhi is doing something right by upsetting everybody equally. In fact, far from racking up any noticeable positives or substantive gains for the country, the Modi regime’s attitude, performance, and policies have smacked of gullibility laced with unwarranted complacency that it is doing great, and that persisting with whatever line it has been following so far is best.

Look at the recent record. Delhi countenanced a year of US tariffs on Indian steel and aluminum before responding weakly in kind, and then softened the blow by cleaving in half the perfectly legal imposts under WTO provisions on Harley-Davidson motorcycles coming into India only because every time Trump opens his mouth he raises this issue, making it some sort of benchmark for bilateral trade. Elsewhere, the US International Commission on Religious Freedom socks it to India, the terrorism-funding Sikhs for Justice Forum is permitted to indulge in activities in the US to reignite the Khalistan cause in Indian Punjab, India is frozen out of the Afghanistan peace talks at Pakistan’s behest, and the visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warns India, as Kipling had the tommies tell Ganga Din, to “put some juldee” in de-friending Iran and severing its arms supply links to Russia lest the boom of economic sanctions under the 2006 Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) and the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) respectively, be lowered. He made it clear that the waiver of sanctions was temporary, meant to afford time to Delhi to zero out imports of oil from Iran, and of armaments from Russia. And on Delhi’s push-for issue — the H1B visa, Trump has decisively shut this channel down!

But knowing how much Indian leaders crave a shabash from Westerners, Pompeo interspersed his fingerwagging with praise for the Modi-Jaishankar duo for turning off the Iranian oil spigot in India and, flushed with the US success in achieving this outcome, which is completely unfair to India and antithetical to its larger geostrategic interests of accessing Russia-Europe, Afghanistan and Central Asia to balance the spreading Chinese influence via Chabahar port, he urged Delhi to sign on to an equally inequitable “fair trade” as the US sees it, which will do in the Indian economy. It entails, among other things, an eased up flow of US agricultural commodities into India at the expense of the Indian farmer, allow US companies generating consumer data to retain it in servers abroad, stricter intellectual property rights enforcement to cripple, say, the Indian pharmaceutical companies specializing in reverse-engineering cheaper formulations of expensive drugs marketed by Western pharma majors which has proved a boon for affordable healthcare the world over, including America, blocking Huawei and China out of the Indian market for 5G systems for the sake of “security stability”, without any Indian official refering to just about every bit of telecom and computer hardware and software purchased from the US and the West being similarly packed with as many, if not more, electronic bugs, back doors and Trojan Horses.

However, the safest, most secure, option of relying fully and comprehensively on locally designed and produced 5G systems which Indian companies with advanced technological capabilities (such as Sankhya Labs) can easily design and develop in- country, but which capability remains unused because, ironically, the BJP government headed by Modi that bills itself as “nationalist” does not trust anything Indian! Just as the Indian armed services want to have nothing to do with home-designed goods even though the 5th generation Tejas light combat aircraft out-performed the Rafale for mountain ops (in so basic a thing as a cold start at the Leh air base, for instance), and the Arjun main battle tank beat the Russian T-90 hollow in all the rigorous test trials conducted in different terrains and altitudes. What more do India-produced weapons systems have to do to prove their mettle? Oh, yes, they cannot generate commissions for middlemen and funds for the party in power!

It is in this socio-cultural context, that Delhi entertains a constant stream of, when it is not senior American officials from the Pentagon and US Commerce Department, then American and Western defence industry representatives and arms salesmen, all of them stressing the virtues of India switching from the hardy Russian military equipment to the delicate American and European hardware that require kid treatment to operate at even reduced efficiency levels. To wit, French Mirage 2000 and Rafale combat aircraft and their requirement of airconditioned hangars. The US with much less need of Indian custom but able to muster lot more pressure on the Modi government is determined to sell the 1960s vintage F-16 hung out with bells and whistles to impress a Third Wold military and a new and alarmingly bulbous midriff that makes nonsense of its stealth claims. Even if the IAF resists, will Jaishankar, who came straight to the foreign minister’s chair from canvassing for this aircraft as an employee of Tata Corp keen to manufacture this plane under license, do other than counsel Modi to green-signal this project? And, in the event, will the current CAS, BS Dhanoa, or his successor (Nambiar, AOC-in-C, Western Air Command or some one else) have it in him to offer his resignation to stall such procurement?

It is another matter, that this ‘Make in India’ F-16 project mocks the very purpose of the PM’s ídea to make India self-reliant in arms with what — a fourth generation minus fighting platform long past its sell-by date? But this is precisely the arms imports path charted by Nirmala Sitharaman, who as Finance Minister has continued from where she left off as defence minister, by making provisions in the 2019-2020 budget for the military services to obtain foreign armaments at will on the specious basis that the armed forces need quality weapons. Implicit in this view is the belief that anything designed, developed and produced in India is second rate. She never applied her mind, and neither has the PM or anyone else in the Modi government, to setting up the private sector as a competing supplier of arms by compelling DRDO to share the source codes for the Tejas warplane and the Arjun tank, for a start, with firms like L&T, Bharat Forge, and Mahindra Aerospace, et al with the will and the wherewithal to produce world-class military goods for the Indian services and for export from the get-go in order to provide the scale and to attract massive investments and ensure quality products. That’s the surefire way, pradhan mantriji, to set up employment and economic value multipliers, and to rejuvenate the slovenly defence public sector units and ordnance factories. Stories of just how bad DPSU products are, are legion. Just one example: Newly assembled Jaguars coming out of HAL sport leaking fuel lines!

But India’s reliance on imported guns, etc has a long history. As pointed out in my book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in 1498, and some of his gunsmiths jumped ship and set up a foundry to sell guns to the Zamorin — they sold 400 of guns within a year but no indigenous industry ever developed in Calicut or anywhere else. But the same Portugese reached Canton in 1521, started the same arms trade, but within a period of 2 year the Chinese began designing and forging guns. A similar pattern emerged in Japan in 1654 where the Portugese arrived and sold guns and within 20 years Japanese guns exceeded European guns in quality. It also reveals why India remains poor and technologically backward and China and Japan are superior economies and powers.

Then again, when forced to rely on oneself India has produced the goods in the strategic sphere, ranging from nuclear weapons, accurate long range missile and even the Arihant-class “boomer” — a longrange ballistic and cruise missile firing nuclear powered submarine, for God’s sake, and the Indian Navy still thinks it needs to go in for yet another conventional submarine from abroad that will decant even more of the national wealth into foreign pockets and defence industries with its Project 75I, and the IAF still hungers for an augmented Rafale fleet and even antique American aircraft when from the Tejas template can be derived all manner of differently missioned combat aircraft.

All that is required is for Modi, Rajnath Singh and Sitharaman to sit down, think clearly, generate some slight foresight to see that imports will only keep India an arms and technological dependency, and that now’s the time for them to make the hard decision of banning all arms imports, getting the private sector into the defence business, and changing the parameters of the game so long skewed against the national interest. Because there’s nothing well-heeled foreign countries are more grateful for to the shortsighted Indian government and military than that they keep buying weapons systems, telecom equipment, etc from them even though India is eminently capable of making them all at home.

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Strange GST slabs as they affect Development and Defence

India's Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman arrives to present the 2019 budget in Parliament, New Delhi, India July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi - RC11D7AF71F0

[Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on the way to presenting her first budget]

There has been only a notional increase in Finance Minister Sitharaman’s defence allocation. It may not be sufficient to deal with even the rate of real inflation, what to speak of price tags on military hardware that gallop at almost a geometric pace.

There’s one aspect of the general budget with impact on defence acquisitions that Sitharaman did not clarify — whether the amendment of the slabs in the existing Goods & Services Tax (GST) structure will be part of her effort to simplify and streamline it, which is what she promised in her budget speech, because of the glaring anomalies in the GST slabs that Arun Jaitley created. The sort of absurdities that resulted were flagged in my recent book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ (Pages 317-318). But here’s reiterating some of them.

The current scheme boasts of numerous and confusing rate-slabs often not aligned with the larger objectives. It was early recognized as being flawed, as they inflated the procurement costs all round. Putting all production machinery in the 28% GST bracket has meant, for instance, that if machinery is bought related to intermediate and capital goods for, say, Rs 100, with GST of 28%, Rs. 128 is lost right away by the buyer. With 3 years as payback period – the average age of a modern machine, where are the funds to invest even under the ‘Make in India’ rubric?

Similarly, if building infrastructure – roads, highways, etc. is a priority for the Modi government, shouldn’t excavators, road rollers, and so on have been in the 5% GST category? Likewise, as regards the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, sanitaryware attracts 18% GST! Also consider the Jan Awas Yojna (for low cost public housing) – the doors, window frames, etc. that go into a house costing Rs. 2.5 lakhs under this Yojna has a GST component of 18%. In the event, won’t fewer houses be built for the same fund allocation?

In any case, the GST slabs of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28% are arbitrary. On what basis did Jaitley decide 5% for this item, 8% for that and 18% GST slab for ‘services’.

     Now ponder the GST effect specifically on defence production costs. Warships and aircraft are in the 5% slab. But the propulsion system in warships is pegged at 28%, army’s tanks are pegged at 28%, and 3-tonners – the trucks most commonly used to move troops, etc. was originally in the 28% category. Moreover, everything connected with the railways attracts 5% GST, anything connected with space is 0%.

Without the 28% GST more goods would be produced in the country, more people would be employed, the country’s wealth would grow faster and India will progress faster.

If 100 trucks get made now, without GST 128 trucks would have been manufactured, with more impetus provided for steel production, rubber production for tyres, and so on. Worse still is the working capital requirement. The GST rules mandate that an input tax credit can be claimed only when the next producer up the chain pays up. An aircraft is produced in 3 years, so the manufacturer of components, say, has to wait for three years to get paid.

Hopefully, Sitharaman will get round — sooner the better — to ironing out such GST kinks. The armed services will then be able to purchase more of what they want for the allotted quantum of funds. But, significantly, this kind of a wonky GST system ends up making arms imports cheaper because the global supply chains tied to major foreign armaments makers are not subjected to Indian GST.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Weapons | 3 Comments

North Korea in stronger position than India vis a vis nuclear weapons


[Kim Jong-un and Trump at Punmunjom on the DMZ, Korea]

“I never expected to meet you at this place,” a smiling North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un said to the US President, after he had induced the latter with the hinted promise of a quick deal to cross the line on the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) and step into North Korea. “Big moment,” Mr Trump replied, a little lamely, “tremendous progress.”

There’s tremendous progress alright but mostly by Kim to compel Trump to back down, two steps at a time, from the forward position staked by his NSA, John Bolton, the main architect of a policy to denuclearize North Korea by force or through talks. Except, Washington discovered that talk of force merely prompted Kim to up the ante and promise nuclear reprisals if the US acted tough. It was a response that had sufficient credibility for Trump to sue for peace on North Korean terms. This much is evident from reports after the Trump-Kim meeting at Punmunjom in the De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) yesterday (June 30) that referred to the US being reconciled to letting Pyongyang keep its existing nuclear arsenal if the North Korean dictator agreed, in principle, to have his main nuclear complex and associated facilities periodically inspected by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA).

Kim agreed to these terms after verifying the hydrogen bomb designs gifted by China through repeated testing of thermonuclear weapons. The fifth and sixth tests were of hydrogen bombs, with the last such underground explosion on 3rd September 2017 clocking in at as much as 270-370 kiloton yield — a genuine thermonuclear blast. So, before Kim agreed to safeguards on anything, he had ensured that his thermonuclear weapons inventory was physically proven and in fine fettle.

Contrast this with India’s negotiating strategy executed by the then MEA Joint Secretary S. Jaishankar, and now foreign minister, that secured for India an outcome that guarantees the country will remain a pretend thermonuclear power. This because the pre-conditions built into the 2008 civil nuclear cooperation deal are such they are actually an economic deterrent against Delhi resuming testing, thus reducing that option to a theoretical one which, Washington is certain, will never be exercised.

A major economic deterrent, for instance, is the supply of low enriched uranium fuel for the imported American Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors and the French Areva 1000 reactors costing tens of billions of dollars being instantly terminated if India tests again, resulting in electricity going off the grid and these reactors slowly grinding to a halt and becoming dead investments. One can see just how fearful any Indian government would be of violating the no-testing terms. This then is the strategic corner Jaishankar, with supposedly finely honed negotiating skills, pushed India into because he ignored the history of big powers intent on imposing their will being repeatedly frustrated by states, such as North Korea and to an extent even Pakistan, with the overarching will to forcefully advance their national interest and prepared to be seriously disruptive if they don’t get their way. With PMs and the governments since 2004 led successively by Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi being content with Western flattery and with having their egos skillfully massaged, what is consolidated is India’s status as a large but hollow power that can be any super power’s handmaiden.

If North Korea proceeds down the road Kim has picked for his country, it is near definite that it will, by itself, have de-fanged the United States and so conspicuously that America’s residual will to assert itself in Asia for any reason will be zeroed out. Will India, with its billowing reputation for following the US, pack the same political punch as an otherwise lowly North Korea? No, and for the good reason that Pyongyang has the most destructive thermonuclear weapons and the ultimate adjudicator of interstate relations, at hand, even as India will be left brandishing its piddling fission bombs that scare nobody.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, nonproliferation, North Korea, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, SAARC, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons | 14 Comments

Making pre-concessions to placate the US

Image result for pics -- trump and modi in Tokyo G-20

[Abe with a “there he goes again”-look , a bemused Trump, and an earnest Modi, perhaps, repeating something the other two have heard many times before! — at the G-20 summit in Tokyo]

The most important meeting at the G-20 summit in Tokyo from India’s national interest point of view was the one Prime Minister Narendra Modi had with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was left to Xi to utter the substantive — that China, Russia and India take “global responsibility” for the downward-spiraling international economic situation and protect it against the vagaries of US President Donald Trump’s whimsical turns and about-turns, in the main pitching for new financial instruments and channels to prevent the trade and commerce of these three countries being held hostage by US policy of economic sanctions as first resort. While Delhi has apparently firmed up a Euro channel for hard currency payments to Russia for import of armaments, it does not want to be too vocal about thus bypassing US sanctions.

In response to Xi’s voicing the above meta-strategic economic concern, Modi, true to his growing “one-tune canary” reputation, tagged terrorism as “the biggest threat to humanity” and, by extension, put Pakistan in the dock, insisting that Moscow and Beijing join Delhi in convening an international conference to fight terrorism. It is such small successes the Modi regime seems to excel in. So, yes, Russia and China may well support such an Indian initiative because it means expending very little political capital while notching up IOUs with Modi. The PM apparently feels buoyed by his success in selling this line to the US, with Pompeo in an interview to an Indian daily talking about Washington doing “a 180-degree turn with respect to Pakistan” and referring to America’s role in pressing Islamabad on the UN Financial Action Task Force provisions. This sort of Delhi-pleasing gestures, as I have long maintained, mean little because the US is unlikely to let go of Pakistan or permit it to sink in a terrorism morass, certainly not until Pakistan remains the indispensable front line state for war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and now the means of frustrating China’s plans for securing the Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea — the 21st Century version of the 19th Century Great Game in which Britain did all it could to stop Imperial Russia moving south across the Hindukush to acquire a warm seawater port, except now China replaces Russia and a whole bunch of Asian states, including India, and the US are in the place of Britain.

Meanwhile, the meeting of Modi, Japanese premier Shinzo Abe and Trump produced another variety of hot air — “sharing views” about joint efforts in the security, connectivity and infrastructure fields to counter the lure of China’s Belt & Road Initiative in Southeast Asia and offshore states in that region and in the Indian Ocean region generally. So even as China builds and rapidly consolidates its presence in the extended region, this threesome of democracies just talks, and talks some more!

Back home in the wake of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit, foreign minister Jaishankar made public the fact that he stood his ground on the purchase of the Russian S-400 Air Defence system on the basis of “national interest”. This last came as great relief considering every right thinking person in Delhi is on tenterhooks every time he sits down to negotiate anything with the Americans — his tell-tale record of giveaways to Washington being too obvious to ignore. But then one recalls the Modi government’s announcement a fortnight before Pompeo’s trip of a buy of 10 additional P-8I armed maritime reconnaissance aircraft worth $3 billion to augment an existing fleet of 12 such aircraft already in Indian Navy service, and the unavoidable conclusion is that this purchase was a pre-concession made to the US to prevent Pompeo raising a stink over the S-400 and Iran.

So, how is the national interest served when the Modi-Jaishankar duo merely bought peace in the short term and forked out $3 billion for the privilege?

Posted in Afghanistan, Africa, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 2 Comments