[Imran Khan being hauled off by the paramil Rangers]
Niazi’s are fatal for Pakistan. Lt General AAK ‘Tiger’ Niazi, the Military Governor of East Pakistan, presided over the dissolution of the unitary, if geograpgically ridiculous, state of Pakistan (with two wings a thousand miles apart). “Kaptaan” Imran Khan Niazi, who led Pakistan to cricket 1992 World Cup victory could end up ensuring martial law governments in all but name for the forseeable future with some coalition of non-Pakistan Tehreeq-i-Insaaf (PTI) parties acting as a jamhoori (democratic) front. The army would prefer, however, that Imran Khan retire hurt, accept a comfortable exile in London he knows only too well, and where all politically unwanted and inconvenient Pakistani politicians and ex-dictators find themselves in (to wit, Altaf Hussain of MQM, General Pervez Muharraf, Nawaz Sharif), free to dream, conspire, prepare and plot their political comebacks.
The trouble for Imran was that he had gnawed at the hand that had eased him onto the gaddi and his PTI into government with the enrollment of “electibles” from other parties induced/coerced to join his group, and otherwise propped up his rule. It didn’t expect that Imran’s ambitions transcended their support as he sought to emerge as a node of power independent of the army — drawing the people in millions to him personally and his cause. This was something new for the army because no political creature of theirs had, until Imran came along, shown the gumption to openly turn on his benefactors, collaring GHQ, Rawalpindi, as enemy of state and skewering the army as “fascist” and worse.
The shock and awe in the ranks of Pakistan army Generals was all the more sharp because they had so grossly misassessed Imran despite careful vetting by ISI, and because he seemed to play along for the first couple of years in the manner the army desired. Indeed, when COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa formally alighted on Imran Niazi as the army’s choice, GHQ had hoped the army’s future and its role as the political puppet master had been secured for at least a decade, if not more.
Their Man in Islamabad looked the part — tall, handsome, of sporting renown with a raffish past as an Oxford Blue, playing cricket for Sussex and, more sensationally, as a tabloid celebrity with an active night life and record of endless squiring and partying with London lovelies, where such things as sniffing cocaine is a minor but cultivated vice. It was a social whirlygig that eventuated in a child (Sita) out of wedlock and a marriage to a Jewish heiress, Jemima Goldsmith. Speaking the King’s English as it should be spoke, looking as dapper in a Blazer as in a Shalwar, Awami shirt and jacket, Imran ticked off all the boxes for GHQ as the person who would be a great showpiece for Pakistan and get the country and the army back into the good books of the US and the West.
After all, the country had had enough with the public blundering and embarrassments inflicted by his predecessor Nawaz Sharif who, when in the White House, by way of an interaction with an amused President Barack Obama, read falteringly from a small piece of paper, a scene repeated in Beijing where he tried to speak what he had memorized and still needed assistance from a lackey to recall the words he had uttered many times before about bilateral relations being “shahad se meetha, Himalaya as ooncha, samandar se gehra” etc. — flowery stuff that flowed past a visibly uncomprehending and uncomfortable Chinese Premier!
But then ISI and GHQ had not reckoned with Imran’s plans for making himself the centre of Pakistani polity and nation, a more enduring fixture in Islamabad than the army thought prudent. He uncorked his idea of a “naya Pakistan” in the general elections and then stirred in the vision of a new “Medina” — an Islamic welfare state of the Prophet’s time solicitous of women, the old and the poor. All this was heady rhetoric, but in real life and in his Banigala estate in the Margalla Hills ringing Islamabad, he couldn’t escape what he was. Imran took himself out of London but couldn’t prevent channeling the natural inner playboy in him. It also didn’t help Imran’s cause with GHQ that he went out of his way to rile Washington with an attitude that suggested a more even Pakistani policy as between the US and Russia-China. All these factors nailed him in his “do or die” struggle with the army.
It was fascinating to see from this side of the Radcliff Line, Imran Niazi in the last months of his upended tenure in office and in the year since poaking, provoking prodding, and goading the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, and the army establishment, and wondering when the PM would cross the redline and get his comeuppance. The rift finally occurred in 2018 when COAS General Asif Munir, then a Lieutenant General heading ISI, took a transcript of telephone conversations his agency had recorded — damning stuff indicating the involvement of Imran’s wife, Bushra Bibi, a rich divorcee and his 3rd wife (serially, not in a collective!) to the PM. Usually seen in a full head to toe religious camouflage, the begum was neck deep in major financial hanky panky (possibly relating to the shady real estate tycoon Malik Riaz and the “al Qadir Trust”).
This Bibi is not to be taken lightly though, being credited with turning a husband with a roving eye into apparently a chaste one woman man. That is until ISI, again, leaked to the press some salacious conversations it had electronically evesdropped on — fairly graphic “guftgu” it turned out, with a nubile lass from a well connected family who obviously provided the PM with diversion on careworn days from the presumably strict marital rigamarole of the Bushra. Who knows, it may have encouraged the Bibi to take even more liberties in exploiting her husband’s position and go after the filthy lucre, confident her spouse had lost even the moral pretence to wag a finger at her. So, naturally, the prime minister asked for Munir’s removal from ISI, only to have Bajwa turn him down in a nice way, telling him that Munir needed to complete his tenure in that post. That was the turning point in their relations, and culminated in the replacement a year back of the PTI regime with the uneasy coalition of the Muslim League (Nawaz) and Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party.
Actually, in a way, the Shahbaz interregnum has proved an electoral boon for Imran because the PTI regime’s economic policies had aggravated the economic conditions to such an extent they had begun spiralling into the ditch by the time Shahbaz Sharif took over, and he was stuck carrying the can for the economic downslide and faced the people’s ire. True, this spiral was reinforced with puzzling policies that Finance minister Ishaq Dar pursued, all the while huffing and puffing about how IMF dare not deny Pakistan the dollars, etc and this way made IMF’s recovery program a non-starter. Pressed by IMF, popular subsidies were periodically reduced, the price of petrol/diesel raised, and the cost of grain and other foodstuffs to the common man got on a fast escalator. It accelerated the erosion of the people’s support for the coalition government.
Still IMF was not satisfied. It asked for a longterm plan of action, still bigger cuts in subsidies and imposition of taxes on the wealthy which no government, including Imran’s, had considered doing. So even as the Pakistani economy was plunging with inflation at 30% plus rate, the Pakistani rupee crossing the 300 mark for a US dollar, a provision in the supposed economic recovery plan allowed the rich to continue importing super-expensive cars and monster SUV cruisers at a time when the hard currency reserves had dwinded to less than $3 billion! Skyrocketing prices, industrial shutdowns, jobless youth and no IMF credit nor investment from friendly sources resulted in near zero rate of economic growth and vaulting mass discontent. The scene was set for the May 9 conflagration. And Imran Khan supplied the spark — the incendiary charges and rhetorical jabs against Bajwa, the army, and the “imported government”.
The wild-eyed Pakistani youth who jammed the streets of Lahore, attacked army facilities, may not know who Janice Joplin is, or why that Sixties rock star’s lyrics — “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose” that became an anthem for a generation, so resonates with their calls for “azadi”. But Pak GHQ understood rightaway the danger to their corporate interest lurking in PTI’s campaign for change and freedom and how Imran’s rhetoric had fueled it. The army pulled the curtains down, or tried to, on this their latest experiment with PTI. Imran was shown scant respect as he was pummelled into an arnoured police van and dumped in a jail until a Court ordered his release. Other PTI leaders were picked up and deliberately mistreated in jails and pressured into resigining from PTI and even politics. A big bunch of them complied. Army then began appying the tourniquet. A medical examination ostensibly revealed traces of cocaine in Imran Niazi’s urine, suggesting the ex-PM had not quite given up on snorting the white stuff. This was done, and his telephonic and other indiscretions leaked to the public with a view to tarring his reputation, to alienating him from his youthful followers. It didn’t work. Far from being disappointed and disgusted with Imran and his begum’s corruptions and other antics, the whole exercise boomeranged. Imran’s manifest mistreatment strengthened instead the popular revulsion against the army and the coalition regime. His trial under Army Act with harsh penalties that the Shahbaz cabinet is pushing but GHQ is dithering over, could exacerbate the situation allround.
The army does not fear Imran as much as it does the masses roused by him and ready to offer battle to the military. This has never happened before but it is what Imran promised. He has become too big a political phenomenon and force, and the danger of a popular blowup/backlash against the army is too real for General Munir and his cohort to ignore. Despite his open threats, he can’t be silenced, and he cannot be herded out of the country or done away with in the manner Zulfiqar Ali Bhtto was in 1979 by his then military nemesis — the Delhi St. Stephens College alum, General Zia ul-Haq — by hanging him. Because a martyred Imran could prove far more dangerous and likely produce a permanent fissure in the society between the army and the people, and that will not bode well for the army. In fact, the Pakistan army is reportedly a house divided — a large officer faction enthused by Imran and upset with Bajwa and now Munir, no longer trusts the top brass to safeguard the army’s interests and, by the by, the country’s.
Imran has powerful leverage — the support of the people which the army will not want to again test on the street. He knows his best card and so does GHQ, and so do the people. All the more reason for the army to ensure that elections are announced but only after Imran is first taken off the stage, disqualified from contesting elections on some charge or the other. This solution suits the trifecta of the army, Shahbaz and PPP.
In fact, General Munir speaking two days ago at the Command & Staff College, Quetta, touched on the army’s basic fear of Imran Niazi’s demagogic leadership. “Those who are making futile efforts to drive a wedge and weaken the unbreakable bond between the people of Pakistan and its armed forces”, the COAS blustered, “will never be able to succeed …Pak Army, being one of the strongest armies of the world, with the blessings of Allah and undaunted support of proud people of Pak, can neither be deterred nor coerced by anyone.” He wasn’t here referring to coercion by India!
Not one to be easily intimidated, Imran mocked the army in return. When is “having a political opposition, holding public meetings, creating awareness among the people and mobilising them for the elections [become] obstacles in the way of democracy?”, he asked before reminding the people that “Democracy ends when there is no opposition.” In a more aggressive vein, one of PTI’s younger leaders referring to the continuing harrassment of party members twittered: “This tyranny will not endure.” With this kind of exchanges, one thing is certain: The political water in the rhetorical kettle will keep boiling, but to what effect?
The curious thing is the army and the three main political parties — PTI, PML(N) and PPP, all desire elections. But other than PTI, the other two parties want Imran Niazi out of the fray because otherwise they stand no chance. There’s a possibility that in return for the easing of pressure on himself and Bushra Bibi, and other concessions, Imran may agree to sit out the elections. But he may insist on nominating someone else from his party and go to the people to get his candidate elected. His choice will doubtless be someone who takes dictation from the newly acclaimed eminence grise in Banigala, but this situation will once again make for a stormy relationship with the army, and the situation would have come a full circle. In the dynastic parties, Nawaz Sharif and Zardari will be pushing their respective progeny, Maryam and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, to curry favour with GHQ and lead the charge. Except GHQ with these choices may be happier with the known devil — the weak and pliable Shahbaz than the unknown devils but may still side with Maryam, even Bilawal, than with Imran’s select leader of PTI.
Whichever party is permitted to win and whosoever becomes PM, it will be, as in previous elections, with the army’s help. It will mean the GHQ will still be in-charge and yet again operate from behind civilian democratic cover. The next elections in Pakistan will thus reaffirm the settled political system of army rule with a civilian democratic face. This is so because the option of a coup d’etat is now infeasible. Moreover, trying to manage an inherently unmanageable Pakistani state is a risky and cumbersome enterprise and something GHQ would ideally want nothing to do with. Why get saddled with the responsibility for everything going wrong — which is the likely outcome — when a “democratically-elected” government, doing the army’s bidding, can take the flak, face the music?
I have no patience anymore for uninformed commentaries on nuclear deterrence penned by people who wear their unfamiliarity with the broad swath of deterrence literature and with the empirical evidence of nearly 80 years of the nuclear age, on their sleeve. Missing the nuclear woods for the trees is one thing. Quite another for these worthies to convert the analects of minimal deterrence into articles of faith. With logic, reason and experience thus rested, who can argue with faith?
What particularly gets my goat are former flag rank military officers who are tigers when growling for more and more conventional weaponry but kittens mewing contentedly with just a small nuclear arsenal. This last because anything nuclear-related is the proverbial “black box” technology that they know nothing about, have never handled, and is a subject they don’t care to delve into. This doesn’t however prevent them from mouthing off on TV and writing op-eds and such that hew safely to the government line of the day. Like the infrequent official pronouncements, their views betray ignorance of the broad field and amount to little more than minimalist drivel that has acquired a smidgeon of legitimacy simply by its repitition! Like how nuclear weapons are for deterrence, not warfighting, how a responsible India is committed to credible minimum deterrence on the principle first voiced by General K. Sundarji in the 1980s when less was known about the utility of nuclear weapons than is the case now, that when a few will do why have more, etc., indicating a laid-back attitude to the country’s strategic security that, because it echoes opinions one hears in military circles, is truly worrisome.
However, what ‘s notably risible, and at once foolish and dangerous in this article is General Menon’s urging India to foreswear the use of Artificial Intelligence in nuclear forces and deterrence infrastructure. AI is a dawning technology that’s still in its formative development stage, meaning the universe of its uses is yet to be discerned, especially so its potentially wide-ranging military ramifications. The militaries and governments of the more advanced states are all struggling with this obviously revolutionary technology they have in its basic form, whence their utmost caution in rushing to judgement about AI. But Menon, apparently unaffected by any doubt or uncertainty, and confident he has grasped its various applications and functional significance sees clearly its downside even as such understanding has so far escaped the putative leaders in the field — China and the US.
The trouble is if the General actually has any technical knowledge of, and insights, into AI then these are not readily evident in this article. Rather, he seems to have conjoined, on the fly, nuclear weapons to AI, and because they are both pretty scary technologies, concluded that AI should play no part in India’s nuclear deterrence systems and posture! And further, that this gesture by India of preempting itself from such use of AI, will set an example to all countries, be a beacon of hope in the militarised global milieu, confirm the country’s supposed high moral stature and standing, and its leadership in a new area of arms control. Such a view exaggerates India’s international influence, and is unmindful of how India’s moral pretensions have seminally hurt national interest and security in the past.
May be Lt. General Menon and his ilk need a bit of reminding about the record of Indian moralising and airy-fairy thinking that, in converting nuclear security into a morality play, dumped the country into a deep strategic hole.
In an excess of idealism, Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1950s campaigned for a ban on nuclear testing in the atmosphere and under the sea. It led to the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty that India promptly signed, thereby immeasurably raising the costs of India’s weaponisation. Underground tests are far more expensive to conduct than nuclear tests in the atmosphere or in the extended seas around India. So, while Nehru played a wondrously successful double-game of secretly securing a weapons capability with the civilian uses of the atom and his campaign for disarmament as cover, he dithered fatally on moral-pacifist grounds when it came to testing and weaponizing once the capability threshold was reached with the commissioning in March 1964 of the plutonium reprocessing plant. Had the production of weapon grade plutonium been ratcheted up at this point and the government proceeded with testing and producing weapons when there were no international constraints, India would have automatically been, like China, one of the six 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty-recognized nuclear weapons states, and on a very different and rocketing power trajectory. Instead, by remaining sub-nuclear, India found itself in the NPT doghouse.
If Nehru’s terminal prevaricating wasn’t bad enough, Morarji Desai, PM during the Janata Party interregnum (1976-1979), who swore by “Gandhian values”, was determined on abolishing the country’s nuclear weapon-making capability altogether. Only an inspired rearguard action by a senior MEA official (M.A.Vellodi) thwarted Desai’s plan that, incidentally, had his foreign minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s support. Not surprisingly, the same inapt moralistic-pacific impulses mixed with the political desire to placate the US led to Vajpayee, now prime minister, to announce in 1998 the “voluntary moratorium” on testing in the wake of the Shakti series of tests despite being officially warned that the thermonuclear device (S-1) tested was a dud and more tests were necessary to obtain a certified and proven 2-stage Hydrogen Bomb. As a consequence, the country is presently stuck between and betwixt, with a flawed high-yield, simulation-jigged, fusion weapon packing zero credibility, and an Indian government, first under Manmohan Singh and, since 2014, under Narendra Modi, lacking the political guts and the will to act in paramount national interest and quite literally blow up the moratorium and the NPT-driven international system with an open-ended series of thermonuclear blasts.
That will help India obtain a versatile and potent nuclear inventory of simple fission weapons, of course, but also thermonuclear weapons of various weight-to-yield ratios as the bulk force, including megaton range warheads, complimented by rapidly tested and operationalised MIRV-ed (Multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle-ed) Agni Iintermediate Range Ballistic Missiles and genuine Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles of 12,000-mile range. Having thus displayed the resolve, if need be, to undermine the current global nuclear order combined with India’s economic muscle will, willy-nilly, gain the country entry into the councils of great powers.
This, I have long argued, is India’s gateway to great power, and not the flim-flamming diplomcy — G-20, SCO, Quad summits, and Modi flying hither and yon. Not that such diplomacy cannot be the window dressing for an Indian policy backed by real, not fictional, thermonuclear heft. But until then India will remain what it has always been — a supplicant, except these days it begs for military high tech, jet turbine powerplant design and engineering, H1B visas and, in return, is treated indulgently at least for the nonce by the US and the West, as something of a magnified nuisance, as the dog that’s taken into the tent, as US President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s advised in another context, just so it pisses out than be kept out only for it to piss into the great power tent.
Prakash Menon’s whimsical advice to forego AI when the country is still at the starting block of capability development epitomises the sort of self-abnegatory mindset that was more prevalent in the policy establishment in the past — of giving up leverage before acquiring it, and if and when acquired, negotiating it away (as in the case of the 2008 Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation deal that sent a whole bunch of indigenous natural uranium-fueled reactors into the international safeguards regime, thereby reducing the fissile material available for reprocessing to weapon grade)! It reflects still the traces of that thinking in government and in vast sections of the Indian intelligentsia and thinktank/academic community, who seem to be in thrall to the Hiroshima syndrome and believe that there are no good arms that can’t be done away with, failing which, controlled. Such sentiments resonate with powerful policy lobbies in the US and the West that have long sought a world where, as the late K.C. Pant memorably put it, the unarmed or the nominally armed are disarmed! But there are payoffs for such writing — offers of short term attachment in the flourishing thinktank industry in Washington/Europe and its extension, in Singapore, invitations to international seminars and conferences, etc..
That among this lot are former senior military officers, such as Prakash Menon, ought to be a matter of concern. Because, owing to their background, they are assumed by their foreign hosts to enjoy more access in government circles than they actually do, and to be privy to official thinking, which they are not and, hence, what they say and write is paid heed. They could, in the event, end up sending the wrong message about what the Indian government may be inclined to accept or may be induced/pressured into accepting bilaterally or in multilateral forums. Which is another way of saying that General Menon, et al, are, perhaps, taken seriously for no fault of their own.
Still, it doesn’t take away from the shallowness of their writings. Consider another recent, equally baffling, article by Menon (Should India make tactical nukes to counter China? Delhi’s no first-use rule has no room for it”, dated 4 April. at https://theprint.in/opinion/should-india-make-tactical-nukes-to-counter-china-delhis-no-first-use-rule has-no-room-for-it/1494421/ ) In it, the General, having swallowed whole that antique, entirely discredited, massive retaliation notion, contends, in effect, that India can do without tacnukes given that there’s no situation the threat of massive retaliation cannot solve, and hence that they are extraneous to need! Conceived as a knee-jerk reaction by the US early in the Cold War when the Soviet Union enjoyed massive conventional military superiority but had no atom bomb, the massive retalition idea was quickly discarded once Moscow tested a fission weapon in 1949. Then again, Menon is a votary of massive retaliation, not because he has given it thought, but likely because he does not want to stray far from the safety of the gazetted nuclear doctrine of January 3, 2004 featuring this concept and the No First Use principle.
By way of negativing tacnukes for the country, for instance, he dismisses the promised early use of tacnukes in a losing conventional war by Pakistan by saying India prepares to only fight limited wars and, in any case, that the mere presence of nuclear weapons on both sides dampens their nuclear ardour. As regards China, he accepts at face value its claim that it doesn’t possess tactical nuclear weapons and, moreover, that because a “big fight” is not what, he thinks, the PLA has in in mind to wage against India, that nuclear weapons use won’t come into the picture. Voila! why tacnukes? Such naivete and gullibility is excusable in an undergrad student, but in a Lieutenant General, albeit retired, it is positively alarming if such attitude is assumed to permeate the officer corps in the armed services. It certainly explains why Beijing finds it so easy, time and again, to get the better of India.
It turns out though that General Menon’s take on the country’s nuclear deterrent stance does not even fit reality! National Security Adviser to Manmohan Singh, his namesake, Shivshankar Menon, has written and spoken on numerous occasions about the fact that there may be military situations in which India could opt for nuclear first use and that, for all intent and purposes, the government and the Strategic Forces Command, unbenownst to Prakash Menon, long ago reverted, for practical reasons, to punitive retaliation/flexible response strategy touted by the 1998 draft doctrine produced by the first National Security Advisory Board, which posture, ipso facto, requires a large stock of tacnukes.
This doctrinal reversion has not been publicly ballyhooed; perhaps it should be so the likes of the Lt. General don’t consistently go off on the wrong track. It indicates there is more flexibility in the country’s response calculus than the former Military Adviser (MA) to the National Security Council (NSC) is in the know of. His advice that punitive response strategy replace massive retaliation is his contribution to the country’s debate on nuclear deterrence! But he apparently has no idea why punitive response mandates more tacnukes in the Indian arsenal which, in turn, undercuts his advocacy for ‘No Tacnukes’! (He may care to read my 2002 tome Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security for the deterrence literature-cum-Cold War experience underpinnings for why a punitive response strategy to be credible requires a big stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons of 2, 5,10 kiloton yields.)
There is, however, a curious aspect to the doctrinal rectification that Menon seeks. Such a modified doctrine, per conclusions drawn from Shivshankar Menon’s statements, has been in place since 2011-2014 when the General was, as mentioned, MA to NSC. That he knew nothing about this change confirms what is common knowledge that the Military Adviser is no part, and has never been, of any nuclear decisionmaking loop in government or the military. Indeed, as far as I know, no one holding that post has been allowed anywhere near Trombay. But it is still hard to account for Menon’s ignorance of a basic doctrinal change as realised in the field, and calls for more situtional awareness on his part. Absent that, Menon seems quite as much at sea as most everybody else in government and the military insofar as the nuts and bolts of nuclear deterrence are concerned, which is what AI and tacnukes are about.
[PTI Attack on Lahore Corps Commander’s residence]
The televised attacks by a crowd loyal to Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreeq-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, of Imran’s followers running amuck, torching the residence of IV Corps Commander (Lahore) are simply astonishing. General Headquarters (GHQ) Rawalpindi too came under attack, as did the compound of the Peshawar Corps commander. What is unfolding across the border has the feel of a popular uprising — a revolution even. Pakistan looks to be in the throes of what Imran desired: A “jihad for freedom”.
It is the first time in the seven decades of its existence that Pakistan is witnessing the army — the self-professed guardian of the Pakistan Ideology and the Pakistani State which has grown fat feasting on the country’s meagre resources, under direct and immense pressure from the masses, who until yesterday thought the army could do no wrong. The World Bank imposed austerity regime on an imports-fixated Pakistan economy has squeezed the common man with 30% plus inflation rate and a value-depleted Pakistani ruppee (300 P-ruppees today buy one US dollar). Notwithstanding, the Pakistan army still lives high on the hog. Fed up with the military’s long standing puppet master’s role in the politics of the country, the Pakistani people have turned on it.
The immediate provocation was the arrest of Imran Khan by the paramilitary Rangers operating under the direction of the army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). He was shanghied from the High Court premises, pummelled into an armoured police vehicle, and simply made to disappear. No one knows where he is. The former prime minister is charged with corruption, in the main, for the double-tripping of monies worth Rs 50 billion (190 million pounds) siphoned from the exchequer via UK banks and returned to Pakistan, a transaction facilitated by the real estate tycoon of ill-repute, Malik Riaz. Riaz is known for having army generals in his ample pocket, courtesy gifts of houses and plots in colonies he has developed on land his uniformed friends have helped him secure by fair, but mostly foul, means.
In any case, the 140-odd official charges against Imran announced by the Home Minister Rana Sanaullah, are not important.
What is significant is that the Game of Dare that Pakistan army and Imran have been engaged in, in the last 4-5 months has finally come to a head. Ironically, it is the army’s one-time pet and political creation who has turned on the army, confident now that he has successfully mobilised much of the population, especially in Punjab, and freed himself and PTI of the army’s control, that he can ride the people’s support into power and owe GHQ, Rawalpindi nothing. For this goal to be realized, however, requires the current government of Shabaz Sharif to call elections which it won’t do because it is sure to lose. Army can of course force Shabaz’s hand, which it is disinclined to do because it shares with him bad feelings for Imran and PTI.
Post-retirement the former army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa was time and again goaded by Imran Khan who publicly blamed him for unseating him as PM and installing the Shabaz Sharif regime run remotely by the London-based Mian Nawaz, the current prime minister’s older sibling and ruling party founder. It highlighted a fact of political life in Pakistan that no one is hoisted into power in Islamabad without the Pakistan army assisting in his elevation. It was, therefore, mortifying to GHQ, Rawalpindi, to find Imran biting the hand that had fed him.
It didn’t take long for the army to retaliate. ISI revealed in drips personal telephone conversations involving Imran’s third wife, Bushra Bibi. One such had the Bibi loudly upbraiding a servant for his handling of items taken from the toshakhana! Upping the ante, Imran responded by arranging leaks of Bajwa’s imcome tax returns that showed a phenomenal increase in the General’s wealth over his six-year term, apart from numerous prized plots all over the country, their title deeds magically materializing in the names of family members, including a suddenly rich daughter-in-law. Ouch! That hurt because Bajwa was considered a relative straight arrow, among the cleaner corps commnders, when he was picked by Nawaz to be COAS! Unrelenting, Imran then shoved army into a corner with friendly reporters encouraged to share with the public confidential conversations Bajwa had with them in early 2022 in which he candidly talked about the army being in dire straits and, for want of spares and POL (petroleum, oil, lubricants) unable to fight a war — the implied reason for his arranging with New Delhi in 2019 a ceasefire on the Line of Control in J&K.
What the Pakistan army is not used to is a political leader it propped up and then deposed fighting back by getting the people on his side. This is what Imran has done. Indeed, the army brass was given fair warning about violent mass response in case it tried to take him out. The Director-General, Inter-Services Public Relations, two days ago reacted by threatening Imran with consequences if he crossed the redline of continuing with his public campaign against Bajwa and the army.
This has always been the pattern: The Pakistan army chooses the man/party to be the “mukhota” for its rule and conducts elections to give their selected regime legitimacy. Invariably, that person/party fails to deliver on promises, or he becomes a nuisance or so unpopular because of corruption or unpopular policies that he becomes a political liability. Thereupon the army brass ditch him lest the sparks of the people’s discontent conflagrate into a wild-spreading fire that engulfs them. Then GHQ, Rawalpindi, acts — orchestrates street protests, makes life uncomfortable, giving it the excuse to replace the incumbent with someone new or, as in Shabaz’s case, someone known and old, using elections for the purpose of such installation.
With the people all riled and roused by Imran’s fiery rhetoric, it is a tricky situation Pakistan army finds itself in. It cannot hold a show trial and bung Imran into jail let alone hang him on trumped up charges as General Zia ul-Haq did Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, or force him into comfortable exile in Britain ostensibly on health grounds as Bajwa managed with Nawaz Sharif, but which like effort was rebuffed by the Pakistan People’s Party chief Asif Ali Zardari.
If nothing drastic is possible as regards Imran Niazi and the coalition headed by the Pakistan Muslim League led by the Nawaz-Shabaz duo cannot be relied on to win the next general elections, then what is the army under General Asim Muneer and his cohort to do without losing for it the privileged position it has enjoyed since 1958? It was in that year that tiring of a new PM every other month, Ayub Khan simply kicked all the politicians out and introduced to the people of Pakistan the downside of martial law government.
In far more testing social, economic and political circumstances roiled by terrorist actions of Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan intent on establishing sharia in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and the Baloch liberation groups, running the country, what to talk of governing it, has become virtually impossible. GHQ, Rawalpindi, may decide to cut its losses, withdraw into cantonments and let the politicians fight it out on the streets, which will trigger anarchy and who knows what the outcome might be for the army? Alternatively, it can exercise its tried and tested option — impose martial law. Such a move will have the backing for sure of the Shabaz government. which viscerally hates Imran and his PTI and, most importantly, of the higher bureaucracy, which has always preferred military rule to the uncertainties of electoral politics and civilian Raj.
[At SCO meeting of Defence Ministers — Rajnath Sigh and General Li Shangfu]
In a separate bilateral April 27 on the occasion of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting of defence ministers, Rajnath Singh and People’s Liberation Army General Li Shangfu began and ended their session with the Indian leader refusing to shake hands with his Chinese counterpart to show host country India’s disquiet about China’s continued unwillingness to disengage from forward positions in the Demchok area and in the Depsang Plains where PLA is in commanding position. The Narendra Modi government’s expectation was that the first step involving the pullback especially by the Indian Special Frontier Force unit entrenched on the Kailash Range heights and, therefore, directly threatening the sub-sectior-wise important PLA garrison in Moldo, would be quickly followed up by the Chinese withdrawing from the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains and the Demchok area. The perennial sap that it is, India found its expectation belied as the Chinese failed to deliver on the promise. Instead was witnessed the predictable spectacle of Shangfu acting as if nothing whatever is amiss in Ladakh and pleading for New Delhi to end the military standoff and normalise relations, entirely ignoring Rajnath’s assertion that the Chinese need to restore the status quo ante as existed in Spring 2019 before the PLA got into blocking positions, annexed that belt of Indian territory and, by way of reminder of who is boss, precipitated the bloody encounter on the Galwan River.
Not that Rajnath’s snub is going to resonate with Shangfu in the manner, say, US President Dwight Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’ pointedly ignoring Chinese Premier Zhouenlai’s proffered hand did in Geneva at the 1953 Indo-China peace conference. It was so resounding a public insult and hurt Beijing’s amour propre so deeply US President Richard Nixon, to salve the Chinese ego, made amends 20 years later when seeking an “opening to China”. He approached Chairman Maozedong with a big ingratiating smile and hands outsretched well before he got to anywhere near the aging supremo. America was forgiven but the incident has never been forgotton by Beijing which insists that Chinese diplomats still affect a certain hauteur when interacting with US officials at all levels and in every instance.
A weak-willed India and its government historically lacking strategic vision and thinking, tactial military nous and, despite six decades of experience of Chinese behaviour, has willfully suspended its disbelief and, by way of a default policy, accepted new sets of promises and commitments to maintain peace and harmony on the border. The result of the Indian government and its negotiators being so easily suckered is that Chinese leaders, PLA generals and government officials alike in meetings with their Indian counterparts can barely conceal their contempt (reflected in the above pic: a tense Rajnath facing an amused Shangfu!)
Beijing plays for time and tests India’s patience, straight facedly repeating the stock phrases about India, in effect, needing to move on and, by the by, to help the Chinese economy get back on its feet by accepting increased Chinese exports even if it means exacerbating the current trade deficit of some $70 billion!
But if Rajnath’s disdainful gesture is not a one-off thing but, rather, a calculated turn in the country’s strategy — a harbinger of a hard-nosed attitude and more stringent China policy, then the following logical follow-up steps are necessary:
For starters, instead of tippy-toeing around the option, New Delhi has to begin actually applying the tourniquet on bilateral trade, gradually closing off market access, firstly, to Chinese light manufactures and capital consumer goods (mobile telephones of every description, MG cars, Haier household goods — airconditioners, washing machines, etc.) and, secondly, shutting the door on the Chinese teleecom giants — Huawei, ZTE, etc,
The trouble is the government does not seem to be very resolute about a more confrontationist policy. The Indian government ruled that no telecom company, public sector or private sector, can go in for any 5G Chinese telecom gear for system modernization or conversion. Does this ban not uniformly apply? If it does then why has Vodafone Idea, for example, not got the message? Because recently Vodafone chose the Chinese company ZTE’s 5-G transmission gear worth Rs 220 crore to upgrade its network. Vodafone did so, it confessed, because of the competitive price on offer. But low priced bids, everybody knows by now, is made possible solely because of institutionalised subsidies provided such firms by the Chinese government. Except, such subsidies can be the reason, under World Trade Organization rules, to kick Chinese companies out of the Indian market for good by imposing punitive tariffs on them to make their products uncompetitive price-wise. It is a legal remedy the Indian government has so far not availed of regarding any commodity or goods when, in fact, no Chinese manufacture is not state subsidised in some manner or the other.
More worryingly, how did the ZTE-Vodafone transaction manage to escape the attention of various agencies of government tasked with putting an end to such deals? Surely, the National Security Council Secretariat has not approved of this contract as is required to be done. But if this deal is proceeding regardless, is it an indication — and it is the best spin on this development — that the Modi regime is leaving a little negotiating slack for itself, trying to see if the abeyance of a ban on residual deals involving Chinese telecom tech can be used to lever more give on Beijing’s part in border negotiations? This reading seems right considering the Coordinator for National Cybersecurity, retired army Major General Rajesh Pant, did not respond to a press query regarding the ZTE hardware sale in question.
If such deals are perceived as genuine leverage against China, then the Indian government is wrong on two counts. Firstly, the Xi Jinping dispensation has showed time and again it would rather the export revenues of Huawei/ZTE plummet than cede contested territory. Secondly, even if any concessions are made by the Xi Jinping government it will be to a United States it considers its peer rival and whose market it cannot do without, not to India. For instance, Huawei tried to offset Washington’s security concerns by offering American telecom companies source codes and operating algorithms for its 5G gear. No such offer has been made to India.
That is why vis a vis China, India, policy-wise, is in a zero sum context and has to blunt with the severest measures Beijing’s attitude that it can extract territorial, economic, trade, and political benefits by pressuring New Delhi and running diplomatic circles around the Indian government.
It is best to know that any Chinese 5G gear integrated into private sector telecom networks will instantly compromise the national tcommunications grid, by providing Chinese official hackers the pathways to penetrate only minimally protected central and state government communications networks. In fact, a Chinese telecom customer in Europe such as Germany, for instance, which has otherwise been reluctant to follow Washington’s lead, has become mindful of potential security breaches that could undermine its domestic and NATO communications systems. It has ordered its entire communications grid to be purged of all Chinese-origin components. German agencies have concluded — and this is of particular relevanve to India — that even if such gear is inspected and checked, and Chinese source codes are made available, not all embedded bugs can be detected or neutralised, and hence it is best to keep Chinese telecom equipment out.
(2) Treat all active negotiation channels with China, standoffishly including the apex Joint Working Group involving NSA level talks to resolve border issues, in the same pro forma way with designated Indian reps attending the meetings, marking their presence, and repeating the Indian position of no normalcy without restoration of the status quo ante on the LAC (as of Spring 2019), and showing no impatience whatsoever. It will signal to China that two can play at this game and that India is there for the long haul, that bilateral ties will continue to be in a political limbo for as long as it takes Beijing to restore the old LAC and, in line with the new, hopefully, strictly reciprocal policy, that this stance will now be backed by a slow but definite closing of the trade window and of market access.
Let’s see how Beijing reacts if such a course were followed..
Something of interest: In the interactive part of my above virtual talk, you’ll find Ambassador William Burns partaking of the discussion and suggesting as an aside that he hadn’t heard about the planned joint Indo-Israeli aerial attack on Pakistan’s nuclear weapons complex at Kahuta (outside Islamabad) in the 1982-1983 period — with Israel providing all the hard power and India the use of its air force bases and other military infrastructure in support of this operation. Israel the year before on 7 June, 1981, had taken out the Iraqi reactor complex, it may be recalled, with precisely this mix of F-16s to strike and F-15s flying combat air patrols to neutralise any resistance by Iraqi interceptors.
Coming from the current Director, US Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, his professed ignorance of any such Kahuta strike operation is unbelievable. Then again, the fact that CIA was deliberately kept in the dark by the Israelis is, well, believable. The Israelis may have calculated, or had an inkling, that any forewarning would lead to Washington pressuring Tel Aviv to cease and desist from such preemptive action that would have killed off a potential nuclear threat in the bud. Israel’s doubts about US intentions may have found echoes on the Indian side considering Indian intel agencies began tracking 1979 onwards Chinese moves to transfer fully worked nuclear weapon and missile designs, materials and manufacturing expertise to Pakistan.
Dengxiaoping on his January 29, 1979, state visit to the US had intimated — in a sense, sought permission from, President Jimmy Carter, to carry out such transfer. He got an OK, whence US’s complicity in China’s nuclear missile arming of Pakistan. By 1978, the Soviet-leaning and India-friendly People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan regime of Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin was well ensconced in Kabul, and was seen by Carter’s NSA Zbigniew Brzenzinski as both tilting the power balance in South Asia against the US and posing a threat to Pakistan. its pliable ally in the region. With a Soviet-friendly government of Indira Gandhi in India as well, it may have convinced the Carter Administration to let China onpass nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan. Indeed, General Zia ul-Haq building on Washington’s antipathy towards India dating from the Kissinger era used precisely the emerging great power situation post-1987 Saur Revolution in Afghanistan to justify Washington’s turning a blind eye to, and therefore, encouraging China’s nuclear assistance.
In my talk I erred twice (because I misremembered dates). I said the Kahuta strike operation was slated for “1986”, when it was actually 1982-83. And, I said Deng sought permission for nuclear weapons aid to Pakistan from George W Bush when, clearly, it was from President Jimmy Carter. This is to set the record straight.
China’s unexpected diplomatic success in finessing a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran — the poles, respectively, of sunni and shi’ia Islam between which the Muslim world is ostensibly strung, has sparked a little peace-making race.
Because all international negotiations are for geopolitical gain, it may be reasonably assumed that Beijing’s planting itself so conspicuously in Riyadh and in Tehran, has ensured for China virtually limitless sources of oil and gas to meet its burgeoning energy needs. With Gwadar on the Baloch coast too in its grasp, the prospect of its energy traffic through Malacca and Sunda Straits being disrupted at will by India, US and any hard-headed littoral and offshore state in Southeast Asia, singly or in groups, is now less of a strategic concern. With this combination of energy source and Gwadar, the Malacca-Sunda bottleneck stands outflanked, making possible an apparently uninterrupted and uninterruptible energy lifeline to serve both its “all-weather friend”, Pakistan, and its Far-western provinces (Chinese-occupied Tibet and Xinjiang, in the main) that are otherwise cutoff from the sea and, therefore, the world.
Encouraged by its negotiating success in West Asia, China may be preparing to reprise its role in Ukraine. It has had the immediate effect of blunting the effects of bad press its military coercion against Taiwan is attracting. With Emannuel Macron, the peripatetic President of France who, perhaps to escape the labour unrest he uncorked in his country has taken to foreign travel to calm the political jitters, is in the forefront of European leaders asking Chinese President Xi Jinping to capitalise on his close relations with the Russian bossman,Vladimir Putin, and end the conflict in Ukraine. Realizing he may have gone out on a limb in courting Xi Macron, post-Beijing visit, urged all countries to eschew following either US or China!
These developments find the Narendra Modi government in something of a pickle. China’s Saudi-Iranian success has transcended in diplomatic and strategic value India’s policy in the Gulf of courting Saudi Arabia and UAE while tippy-toeing hand-in-hand with Iran — to-date its stellar diplomatic achievement. Now there’s an opportunity offered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s appeal to New Delhi to use its good offices to get Kremlin to accept a peace deal, an appeal the visiting Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister, Emine Dzhaparova, formally reiterated yesterday in MEA while also trying to cadge an invitation from Modi for Zelenskyy to attend the G-20 September summit in India. G-20 working group meetings in Arunachal Pradesh on March 25-26 went off without a hitch with China boycotting it, and the one scheduled in Srinagar (Jammu & Kashmir) on May 22-23 may not be attended by China (to win brownie points with Islamabad). The proof of success of Modi’s Gulf policy will be Saudi Arabia’s participation in it, and will clue us to the attitude of the Organization of Islamic Countries on the Kashmir issue.
A lot of successful diplomacy being one upmanship, Modi can hardly resist the chance of outshining Xi by bringing peace to Ukraine. So, let’s set the context before considering the pros and cons of India’s foraying into high value peacemaking and the likely results.
The bulk upload to the net of secret US intelligence files, presumably by a Pentagon insider, relating to Kyiv’s current military strategy and plans reveals Ukraine’s military limitations in waging an unending war. Russia is far better placed particularly with regard to military manpower. Putin has been reluctant to mobilize his country’s resources to the fullest because, well, he doesn’t need to. He has other means available to him to bring Ukraine to its knees. For one thing, the Wagner Group of fighters comprising prisoners and criminals trawled from Russian jails and penal colonies who are incentivised not to fail, has fetched Moscow unheralded success in the crucial battles on the Bakhmuth-Soledar Front. It has made nonsense of Kyiv’s plans for an offensive southwards and eastwards to cut off Russia’s early established Donbas landbridge to the Crimean Peninsula, which last was bloodlessly annexed by Putin in 2014.
In fact, the leaked American documents paint a frightfully grim picture of Ukrainian forces suffering hugely from attrition, from sheer physical exhaustion and, worse, fast-depleting ammunition and artillery shell stocks requiring ammo, for instance, to be rationed to its frontline troops. Nothing is better guaranteed to break the Ukrainian fighting spirit. Rapid NATO re-supply cannot correct the emerging disparities. While Abrams and Leopard tanks, armoured combat vehicles, lethal drones, and long range guns firing precision-guided munitions pulled from NATO reserves can be hauled to forward Ukrainian battlefields, and operational support from US cyber wherewithal and satellite-borne realtime intel feeds can be upped at any time, soon there may be no Ukrainians to man these weapons systems, crowning the cynical US strategy of fighting to the last Ukrainian. Given Ukraine’s smaller population base, the conditions are going to tilt more and more against its military, . This is why Zelenskyy is calling for peaceful foreign interventions to secure an end to the fighting. A desperate Kyiv is happy to accept such help from any quarter, and especially China and India.
We know what China’s “skin in the game” is; what is India’s?
In his recent meetings with Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar, the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken encouraged India to get in on Kyiv’s side, if not by openly supporting the Ukranian cause than by utilizing New Delhi’s long standing ties with Moscow and Prime Minister Modi’s personal rapport with Putin to get Kremlin to negotiate. The Indian government has not so far reacted positively to Washington’s prompting or Kyiv’s repeated appeals because, being terminally risk-averse, its instinct and impulse in most such situations is to plonk for discretion as the better part of venturesomeness. The fear of an adverse turn of events such that an Indian peace initiative turns into a political and diplomatic liability is the looming spectre influencing official thinking. Because, absent the sort of economic and strategic cushion that China can fall back on, New Delhi could end up alienating Russia for pushing too hard, and earning Washington’s ire for not pushing hard enough. And this is where matters stand.
The problem is this: New Delhi’s obvious priority as mediator will be to obtain a ceasefire. But why would Putin agree to one when he sees the Donbas corridor connecting the mainland to the Crimean Peninsula and the Black Sea secured, Russian forces entrenched roughly on the line Kharkov-Kherson, Ukrainian forces wilting across the entire front, and US and NATO unwilling to follow up their arms supply measures by putting their own boots on the ground? And, if Ukraine is left to fend for itself, how long can it last? Any which way one sees it, Ukraine will be compelled to accept peace on Russian terms, except the longer the war lasts the greater the possiblility of that country quite literally being ground to dust. But, why would Putin agree to India pulling Ukraine’s chestnuts out of the fire?
For two reasons. The best way for Putin to keep India engaged but distanced from the US-NATO led security coalition towards which it is gravitating, is to enhance Modi’s global stature by crowning his efforts at mediating the Ukraine conflict with success. Kremlin has nothing to lose by allowing such a peace because the solution will not stray far from the prevailing staus quo on the ground. It will involve terminating the carnage, formalising the territorial bifurcation with much of the Donbas absorbed into Russia and with provision for rationalizing the new border along straighter lines to enable consolidation of Moscow’s control of Crimea and command of most of the Black Sea coast — the original objective of its “special operation”. Ukraine can return to normalcy and to rebuilding and economically reviving the country with the help of a mini-“Marshall Fund” programme for Ukrainian reconstruction, to which Russia could be persuaded to contribute notionally, and thereby indirectly to accept some responsibility. This combined with a formal undertaking from the US and the West to not pursue Putin in the International Court at the Hague for human rights abuses, will put a closure to a trying experience for the world at-large. Modi will forever be beholden to Putin and Russia for burnishing his reputation, and will be Moscow’s friend for life.
The other reason for Putin to drop such a massive diplomatic success into Modi’s lap is metastrategic. It will raise India’s stock and, by the by, cut Xi Jinping, who is wallowing in his recent diplomatic triumphs, and China down to size. Historical Russian wariness of China coupled to the reality of an overweaning Beijing regime is actually a hurdle in Russia’s realising its strategic designs in Eurasia. Moreover, the longer the resource-draining war in Ukraine continues, the more Russia is weakened and China grows more powerful in relative terms. The all-round disparity between the two countries will widen until soon enough Putin will be reduced to a supplicant in Xi’s court. It is a denouement Putin will devoutly wish to avoid at all cost.
The incentive for Modi and India to midwife peace in Ukraine is, at a minimum, to deny Xi and China diplomatic and political edge in the internationaal arena. Building up India is in the strategic interest of both the US and Russia and curiously for the same reason — India as a credible economic, political, and military counterweight to China in Asia and the Indo-Pacific will ease the strategic burden and uncertainties for the two great powers who are rivals but are finding it equally difficult to get a handle on China.
These are the fortuitous circumstances India finds itself in. Modiji, don’t miss this opportunity — take a dive into big tme peacemaking. Who knows, there might be a Nobel Prize for Peace awaiting you as reward for your endeavours! After all Barrack Obama won one for doing nothing unless you call making that one high-sounding speech in Prague in April 2009 promising a nuclear disarmed world, something.
[Explosion of the Russian “too big to use” 60 megaton — “Czar Bomba” over the test site at Semipalatinsk on 30th October 1961]
A bit of serious reading is required by Indian decisonmakers and lay public alike on the issue of the missing thermonuclear security of the country in a milieu in which, even in government and the military, “opinions”, not informed views and perspectives, generally prevail. Hence, I am reprodcing below an article that the Indian army’s thinktank — Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi, requested me to write for the winter 2022 edition of its professional publication — CLAWS Journal. It is featured in pages numbered 25-43 of the recently released Journal issue.
Getting Serious About Thermonuclear Security:
Need for New Tests, Augmented Capability and First Use Doctrine & Posture
By BHARAT KARNAD
Abstract: India has been an economic and military punching bag for China. This is India’s fault because it has done less than nothing to counter the pummeling except occasionally reacting (as on the Galwan) and then only defensively. It is time India, a nuclear laggard, adopted the strategy conventionally weak nuclear weapons states (Pakistan against India, North Korea against the US) have successfully wielded against stronger adversaries by threatening nuclear first use, and by substantiating such threat by laying down short fuse, forward nuclear tripwires. For an India that has historically quailed before China, making this new more assertive stance credible will require significant measures — resumption of thermonuclear testing, emplacing a differentiated two-tiered doctrine that replaces the impractical “massive retaliation” strategy with flexible and proportional response notions pivoting on nuclear first use but only versus China while retaining the “retaliation only” concept for everyone else, and alighting on a tiered posture supported by the buildup of ‘soft’ strategic infrastructure (a separate strategic budget, specialist nuclear officer cadres in the three services, and a mechanism for oversight of nuclear weapons designing activity). It is a doable strategy the Indian government should not shy away from.
India from the get-go did little right, nuclear military-wise, and has paid the price for it. Strung out between moral pretensions, ideals of a peaceful world, strategic myopia, and foreign pressure, Indian governments have not pursued a straightforward policy the nuclear visionary, Homi J. Bhabha, urged 1962 War onwards — a series of open-ended underground tests of progressively higher yields culminating in a thermonuclear arsenal. It was a practicable policy once the weapons threshold was attained in March 1964. Instead, in the following decades there were sporadic nuclear tests aimed at scoring political points or making short term political capital, not securing a credible strategic deterrent. Bhabha’s strategic vision, moreover, got directed by the Trombay leadership of the 1970s and 1980s into the small arsenal-minimum deterrence channel that conformed with government views. It led to the testing “moratorium” in the wake of the 1998 Shakti series despite the government being informed of the thermonuclear/boosted fission device (S-1) “fizzling”, and to the 2005 civil nuclear cooperation deal with the United States conditioned on India not testing again. More alarming still, the nuclear weapons programme was nearly terminated by Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 in return for joint US-UK security assurances. And but for some inspired bureaucratic shuffling by an MEA official (M.A. Vellodi), the Bomb project would have been axed by Prime Minister Morarji Desai, ten years later, on the altar of Gandhian values. It would seem Indian nuclear weapons face greater peril from the country’s leadership than from external adversaries.
Whereas Pakistan had a clear idea why it wanted nuclear weapons — to prevent India from doing a Bangladesh in what remained of that country post-1971 War, there was no such clarity on the Indian side. Nuclear weapons were considered a moral abomination and danger to world peace and, after the 1974 test, as variously an antidote for chemical and biological weapons and even for terrorism. Even a humiliating military defeat in 1962 did not result in the hard-earned capability being converted into nuclear weapons. It is not clear why getting to the nuclear well but not drinking from it was thought to serve the national interest. It set the precedent for dealing the same way with other advanced technologies as well. The multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) technology, for instance, has been on the DRDO shelf since 2001-2002, but permission for prototype testing is still awaited.
It is not clear why getting to the nuclearwell but not drinking from it was thought to serve the national interest.
The country is in an extended strategic rut, but this is not recognized because of a sense of complacency – the Indian Establishment’s besetting sin where national security is concerned. Three sets of corrective decisions need to be taken fast: to (1) resume open-ended nuclear tests to obtain a panoply of proven nuclear and high-yield thermonuclear weapons and, in parallel, rapid test-launches and induction into service of long range MIRV-ed missiles; it will instantly endow the Indian strategic deterrent with clout, credibility and reach; (2) revise the “massive retaliation” doctrine with ‘credible minimum deterrence’ undertones into a two-tiered set of guidelines centered on nuclear First Use to tackle China, and retention of retaliation only principle for Pakistan, and configuring a deterrent posture accordingly; and (3) install the ‘soft’ but vital infrastructure supportive of the strategic forces. This article briefly discusses why these decisions are necessary.
Resumed thermonuclear testing is key
Commonsense is a precious commodity in short supply in the Indian milieu when it comes to nuclear weapons. Unless a new weapon technology is iteratively tested, its performance proved in all conditions to the satisfaction of the end-user, it is not deemed a reliable battle-ready system. It is a metric the armed services use for conventional military hardware. So, it is curious the Indian military accepts the performance of the more consequential thermonuclear armaments on the say-so of the government/Defence Research & Development Organization (DRDO)/Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). This is, perhaps, because the uniformed brass does not want to make a fuss over something it knows little about. Naturally, the judgment of experts is trusted. Except, the experts in this case are the very BARC-DRDO scientists and technologists who design and produce these weapons, and have a vested interest in proclaiming them first rate and, in the past, have rendered advice the government wanted to hear. For example, regarding the 1998 thermonuclear test.
Despite K. Santhanam, Director, Field Testing, Pokhran, writing to the government immediately after the S-1 test on May 11, 1998, that the hydrogen bomb had “fizzled” and advising more tests, the Vajpayee regime declared it a roaring success, and announced on May 28 a testing moratorium. R. Chidambaram, then chairman of the atomic energy commission (AEC), and his BARC cohort did two things to provide scientific cover for furthering the government’s political agenda of improving relations with the US but at the expense of the national interest. They claimed success for the hydrogen bomb on the basis of unconvincing seismic data, and despite nuclear veterans such as P.K. Iyengar, former chairman of the atomic energy commission and initiator of thermonulear weapons project, and A.N. Prasad, former director, BARC, strongly contesting such claims and offering technical assessments of the failure.  Chidambaram further asserted that India need never test again because between computer simulation and component testing the country would always have dependable thermonuclear weapons. Chidambaram and his successor at AEC, Anil Kakodkar, have been charged with “dereliction” for “obscuring the failures of their thermonuclear device design”, which Ashley J. Tellis suggests, getting the sequence wrong, “spurred Vajpayee’s decision to end nuclear testing prematurely before the performance of India’s highest yield warhead – which even at its maximum delivers just about 20 percent of the explosive power of China’s largest weapon – could be credibly demonstrated.” In any case, it enabled Vajpayee to forge the ‘Next Steps in Strategic Partnership’ with Washington, and his successor Manmohan Singh to sign the civil nuclear deal with the US conditioned on India not testing again. The nuclear deal and Chidambaram’s stance did lasting damage to the weapons programme.
Computer simulation can replace physical nuclear weapon tests only if a country has “exascale” computational capability (i.e.,“one billion billion” – 18 zeroes — operations per second) that only the US, Russia, and China have. Place the fastest Indian supercomputer, Pratyush, with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology capable of 20 petaflops (15 zeroes) capacity alongside, and the problem becomes evident. Assuming optimistically that BARC has a 150 petaflop supercomputer (a level Pratyush expects to reach, finances permitting), it is still dwarfed by the US ‘Summit’ and the Chinese ‘Sunway TaihuLight’ exascale supercomputers. More daunting still, in October 2021 China claimed revolutionary technological breakthroughs with its ‘Zuchongzhi 2.1’ supercomputer featuring superconducting quantum computing and photonics quantum computing that is “10 million times faster” than ‘Summit’!
India has to conduct open ended tests to secure a modicum of such data, which will be infinitely more accurate than information derived from ICF and computer simulation.
Next, consider the scale of resources required. What China spends is unknown. But US, for example, spends upwards of $5 billion annually on simulating thermonuclear explosions at its many weapons labs, and has as many as 700 highly rated scientists and engineers at each of these locations. These simulations are driven, moreover, by realtime injection of data from actual miniature thermonuclear explosions produced at an inertial confinement fusion facility (ICF), where plutonium pellets are bombarded by high intensity lasers to create fusion phenomena. Because India lacks the financial, technological and skilled manpower resources to replicate such experimental and computational capability in scale, resumption of underground thermonuclear tests is imperative. Vast explosion physics and material science data collected from actual weapon tests create a body of information about how temperature, pressure, density and other factors affect plutonium during a thermonuclear explosion and assist in designing better weapons. India has to conduct open ended tests to secure a modicum of such data, which will be infinitely more accurate than information derived from ICF and computer simulation.
The US has carried out 1,032 nuclear tests and fired 1,132 devices/weapons prototypes with total actual yield of 196,514 kilotons; USSR/Russia 727 tests, 981 devices fired yielded 296,837 KT; China 47 tests, 48 fired, produced 24,409 KT; North Korea six tests, six fired, yield of 197.8 KT; and Pakistan two tests, six fired yielded 51 KT. In the thermonuclear category, China has carried out nine tests, one 300KT boosted fission shot in 1965 and eight megaton (MT) weapons tests in the 3 MT-4 MT range. China’s weapons programme, besides design and material help, also benefitted from Russian thermonuclear test data (as did the UK, French and Israeli fission and fusion weapons projects from American test data) and Pakistan and North Korea from Chinese test data transferred to them as part of the “rogue nuclear triad”. As sensitive information sharing is ongoing within this triad, Islamabad and Pyongyang may not have to test again to enhance their strategic weapons profiles. With this triad in mind, any of the six nuclear tests, two of them thermonuclear, North Korea conducted in the last two decades offered reasonable cause to India to resume testing but New Delhi did not avail of it.
India is apparently satisfied with its three tests, six devices fired yielding a total of 70 KT, including the failed thermonuclear. According to Richard Garwin, one of the premier US thermonuclear weapons designers, some 2,000 things have to go right for a fusion device to explode to full yield. How are his Indian counterparts to discern which and how many of the two thousand things went wrong with the S-1 device, without a host of new tests, leave alone design new and upgraded thermonuclear weapons based on flawed data from one fizzled test? He also added that “without nuclear tests of substantial yield, it is …impossible to have any confidence in a large-yield two-stage thermonuclear weapon”. Chidambaram’s view, therefore, that a little tinkering with the basic design and some computer simulation is sufficient to validate Indian hydrogen bomb designs and upgrades, is absurd. Yet the government-BARC act as if Indian fusion weapons are the equal of thermonuclear armaments in other inventories.
In any case, if the Indian government had made up its mind not to test again, and knew it lacked ICF and the computational wherewithal, it should have at least extracted from the US its thermonuclear test data in return, the first time for the 1998 moratorium decision and, the second time, for the 2005 nuclear deal. This, incidentally, is what France did for ceasing nuclear testing after its last series of N-tests in 1996. It makes one wonder why the Indian government rarely acts in the country’s best interests.
To begin doing strategically correct and impactful things for a change, the Indian government should immediately order frequent test launches of MIRV-equipped long range missiles on a speedy induction schedule to provide targeting versatility and, more urgently, full-bore thermonuclear tests of yields in the 300KT-low megaton range, and get the deep excavation work underway soonest to prepare L-shaped tunnels at depths around 2,000 metres.
The US was never in a position to prevent India from testing and weaponizing had it been determined to do so, but it offered an excuse for Indian leaders to escape making difficult decisions. Jawaharlal Nehru in the early Sixties declined to proceed with weaponization, and in 1974 Indira Gandhi got cold feet after just one test. Had either of them proceeded with nuclear weaponization Washington could have done little about it. In the emerging international “correlation of forces”, US is unlikely to impose sanctions for restarting nuclear testing because it needs India more than India needs the US, and would prefer a proven Indian thermonuclear arsenal discomfiting the PLA at the southern Asia end of the Indo-Pacific.
A Two-tiered Nuclear Doctrine and Posture
The Indian establishment’s and the Indian military’s ambiguous attitude to nuclear weapons is reflected in the stock view of all and sundry that “nuclear weapons are for deterrence, not warfighting”. It undergirds the disturbing belief that possessing dread-inspiring bombs is good enough as symbols that their quality and quantity don’t matter, i.e, a 20KT Indian bomb has the same psychological and deterrent effect as a Chinese standard-issue 3.3MT warhead. This is the pixilated take on nuclear weapons and deterrence the Indian government has internalized and reflects a minimalization of nuclear weapons by political consensus. It eventuated in Prime Minister Vajpayee’s defining in Parliament on May 28, 1998, the two basic parameters of Indian nuclear doctrine and strategy — No First Use (NFU) and minimum deterrence.
A military doctrine is a guideline for action, not a straitjacket to squeeze strategy and operations into. The draft-nuclear doctrine produced by the First National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) in end-1998 encompassed Vajpayee’s parameters but, under the elastic rubric of “credible minimum nuclear deterrence” — credible relative to which adversary, minimum compared to what enemy force, and provisioned for strategic forces to grow and improve qualitatively. Inherent in NFU is the retaliation only principle, which the draft finessed to say “rapid punitive response”. It then passed into the hands of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Brajesh Mishra, a generalist civil servant of a type Dr. Santhanam dismissed as “a babe in the woods on nuclear matters.”
Amateurism surfaced in several aspects. Unprecedented for any country’s nuclear doctrine, the draft document was made public supposedly to generate debate. It led, as some NSAB members had warned, to foreign public and official pressure (mainly from the US and Western Europe) to define the size and quality of the “minimum deterrent” India proposed to have. It is not known what assurances were conveyed to these countries. But the slow-paced growth of the Indian nuclear arsenal in the new millennium is, perhaps, a consequence. India could have produced 175-200 additional weapons/warheads by now using its stock of separated reactor grade plutonium to obtain an arsenal the size of China’s. In any case, as of mid-2022, India had 160 weapons/warheads – the smallest nuclear weapons stock of any state, lagging behind Pakistan’s stockpile (of 165 weapons/warheads), and China’s (with 350 weapons/warheads expected to grow to 1,000-weapons by 2030). Ignoring the draft doctrine, the government in 2003 formalized a “massive retaliation” strategy, and stepped into an existential muddle.
Obviously, this strategy won’t work at any level against China – a comprehensively superior thermonuclear weapons-armed adversary. Mercifully, no Indian official has claimed otherwise. The infirmities in the massive retaliation strategy against Pakistan are many, and best illustrated by outlining certain contingent scenarios. The threat of the “massiveness” of response is supposed to so unnerve Islamabad as to dissuade it from initiating nuclear first use. The scenario is for the Pakistani nuclearized 60mm Nasr rocket hitting the lead armoured units of an aggressing Indian formation that has broken through the forward defences, penetrated into Pakistani territory, and is poised for a “break out”, providing the Pakistan army with plausible cause for going nuclear. Needing to make good on its threat, India will have to decide how massive its “massive retaliation” has to be? Clearly, destroying several Pakistani tanks in return won’t do, but an enemy defensive formation? Or, by way of jumping a step in the escalation ladder and pursuing the Russian “escalate to de-escalate”-strategy, attacking Pakistan’s II Strike Corps headquarters in Multan with a bigger tacnuke? The problem with escalation inherent in the intended Indian practice of massive retaliation is that it will deplete the weapons stockpile faster than Pakistanis can fire their weapons singly or in salvo, because the logic of such response requires more weapons to be expended in retaliation to achieve a greater level of destruction than is suffered by India from Pakistani first strike and follow-on attacks. Soon enough in this action-larger reaction sequence, Indian weapons will be exhausted even as Pakistan retains a residual force. In short, minimum deterrence is not compatible with “massive retaliation” strategy.
There’s another aspect to consider. Should Pakistan breach the nuclear taboo, the nature of subsequent action could be taken out of New Delhi’s hands by forces of nature. The winds in the winter campaign season blow west to east and could turn a Pakistani tactical nuclear strike inside Pakistan into a strategic war. How? Clouds bearing the resulting radioactivity could be carried by the prevailing winds into India where populations in border town and cities would be contaminated by radioactive rain, compelling the Indian government to skip the tactical response option and hit Pakistani cities. Any which way massive retaliation is gamed it leads to unedifying outcomes — why it was jettisoned by both US and USSR early in the nuclear age. It makes sense for India to revert to a flexible and proportional retaliation nuclear strategy implied in the “punitive response” notion featured in the NSAB draft doctrine. It provides a longer fuse, more political-military offramps for de-escalation, and dovetails with a small-sized nuclear force.
Actually, Pakistan is not a serious threat and does not merit nuclear attention for two reasons. One, because the exchange ratio in a nuclear war so lopsidedly favours India – two Indian metro cities for the extinction of Pakistan as a social organism, in the Spenglerian sense. Pakistan army will do nothing to facilitate such a denouement. And secondly, total war is inconceivable because India-Pakistan conflicts have historically been encounters of manoeuvre restricted in time, space and intensity and with little collateral damage. Nuclear sabre-rattling apart, shared culture, history, ethnicity, language, religion and social norms are, apparently, powerful inhibitors of wars of annihilation.
China, on the other hand, is a different proposition and demands a more aggressive approach. Its policy driver is its vision of its centrality in the world with policies geared to subduing neighbouring states/regions into acknowledging this. Disrupting Beijing’s “tianxia” geopolitical design and policies and blunting the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s military edge should, therefore, be the chief purpose of Indian policy. Except, the chasm between China’s nuclear and conventional militaries and India’s is real and widening. India has no choice other than to opt for an asymmetric strategy successfully adopted by weak nuclear weapons states against conventionally stronger foes — Pakistan against India, North Korea against the US, and Russia trapped in a losing war in NATO-assisted Ukraine. These countries have laid down short-fuse forward tripwires and threatened nuclear first use.
In theory, India has a triadic deterrent. The air vector is the weakest because, absent a genuine strategic bomber, medium-range strike aircraft (Su-30 MKIs) are tasked with this role. However, the chances of mission success are bleak owing to the circuitous routing over sea of this aircraft and of aerial tankers for mid-course refueling, and complicated tactical routing over densely air defenced mainland China. Leasing six of the advanced ‘White Swan’ variant of the Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber from Russia is an obvious solution. The sea vector has a different problem as the Arihant-class SSBNs are to be deployed in a protected “bastion” with restricted patrolling area in the Bay of Bengal. But their protection will consume a large fraction of the navy’s submarine and surface combatant fleets, thereby reducing the availability of ships and submarines for other duties, such as sea presence. In this respect, the SSBNs so disposed will become as much an operational liability in crisis as aircraft carriers requiring equally extensive protection.
The principle of not dividing a military force, mandates consolidating the nuclear fighting assets against China and involves, for a start, unilaterally moving nuclearized short range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) Prithvi and medium range (700 km) Agni-1 ballistic missiles (MRBMs) from the Pakistan border to the LAC in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, and grouping them with, say, nuclearized Prahar/Nirbhay-type area weapons. (Longer-range Agni-5 Prime missiles from hinterland launch points can hit targets in Pakistan as well as in China.) This collection of weapons forming the second tier of a forward deterrent posture on the LAC will balance the Chinese SRBM/MRBM forces in Tibet, the largest such concentration outside the Fujian coast opposite Taiwan. These missiles can be converted to canisterisation on LAC sites for ready use in launch-on-launch (LOL) and launch-on-warning (LOW) modes. China should be publicly warned, moreover, that firing of any missile southwards from the Tibetan Plateau would lead to LOL/LOW action because there’s no technology to distinguish nuclear from conventional warheads on incoming missiles, and prudence dictates that the worst be assumed.
Atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) – simple, compact, low-yield fission devices that can be easily designed and produced in bulk for placement in mountain sides of passes the PLA will likely negotiate, would constitute the tripwire and first tier. When triggered, the ADMs will bring down mountains on Chinese forces that have penetrated into Indian territory. The reason ADMs are ultra-credible weapons is because of their usability in that (1) they are activated only by enemy action, (2) there is no venting of radioactivity because the toppled mountains of earth/dirt will effectively absorb and entomb the gamma rays, and (3) they fit India’s passive-reactive-defensive military outlook and ideology vis a vis China. Optics-wise, moreover, the biggest virtue of this first nuclear use (FNU) policy is that ADMs will act as guillotine with the rope-tug releasing the falling blade handed to the Chinese theatre commander. The only thing about the revised doctrine that should be made public is this new wrinkle — first nuclear use solely against China. It will end the era of silk-glove handling of China and may even earn for India a smidgeon of respect from Beijing.
Filling the soft strategic infrastructure void
By their very nature, nuclear armaments are hard, high-end, but minus the soft supportive infrastructure their political and military value gets diminished. In the years since India became a declared nuclear weapons state in 1998, the government has not addressed three critical voids facing the country’s strategic forces. The first is the absence of an Indian version of the JASON Committee in the US. Reputed scientists including stalwart weapons designers are appointed as its members with a brief to check and professionally evaluate the scientific and technical viability of new nuclear weapons designs conceived by the weapons laboratories, recommend solutions for glitches they may discover, and even suggest novel design improvements to increase performance. India desperately needs such a committee in light of the experience with R Chidambaram, who stifled the weapons programme, is accused by BARC insiders of letting the experimental ICF at the Centre for Advance Technology, Indore, go to ruin, and for opposing the renewal of testing. Though essential, the BARC leadership is unsympathetic to having such oversight because they believe it questions their competence. This is where the government, for the sake of national interest, will have to over-rule the nuclear establishment and constitute a JASON Committee-type mechanism to curb the excesses of another Chidambaram.
The second void in fact refers to a budgetary innovation. It is time there was a separate budgetary stream for nuclear forces and infrastructure (including the development of military bases in friendly island-nations and countries on the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean littoral). A systemic solution was attempted during the Vajpayee government. It tried to implement a 1999 plan by Defence Research & Development Laboratory that mooted a “separate strategic weapons directorate” to indigenously design and develop long range, long endurance, weapons systems to ensure “strategic security” for the country. Such consolidation of the existing design, development, testing and production agencies under one roof would also have resulted in a singular funding stream. But despite Prime Minister Vajpayee and Defence Minister Jaswant Singh’s support this plan died because of bureaucratic politics. Too often programmes relating to strategic systems and infrastructure — nuclear weapons development and acquisition, MIRV, nuclear powered ballistic and cruise missile firing submarines, N-powered attack submarines, intercontinental range and intermediate range ballistic and cruise missiles, lease of Tu-160s, hardening of nuclear command, control, communications (NC3) net, excavation of L-tunnels for tests, and of mountain tunnel complexes for long range missile storage and launch sites, etc., are sidelined because they compete with conventional military priorities. The defence budget should rise to the 3% of GDP level recommended by the 15th Finance Commission and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence. A third of this enlarged defence allocation – 0.75%-1% of GDP, should be sequestered for the proposed Strategic Forces budget. Otherwise, the country’s meagre nuclear arsenal will continue languishing in the basement to carry on without political direction, until faced with Chinese nuclear coercion by when it will be too late.
The third element is the missing specialist nuclear officer cadre in the three armed services. “Without a specialist cadre that is fully versed and immersed in all aspects of nuclear deterrence — from designs of nuclear weapons and missiles to conceiving and designing command and control networks, from nuances in deterrence theory to practical problems of mobility, and from nuclear forensics to technology for secure command links”, I wrote in August 2012, “the country will be stuck with what we have: a Strategic Forces Command with military officers on its rolls who are professionals in conventional warfare but rank amateurs in the nuclear field. They have to perforce learn on the job, only for such learning to go waste once their three-year term ends, and they are posted elsewhere.” With the navy running SSBNs, it is the first military service to appreciate the benefits of a dedicated band of specialist nuclear officers. But its efforts have run into the problem of reconciling too few nuclear platforms and too small an officer cadre generally to carve up a separate nuclear stream. The army feels no need to have one because it is not concerned with what the artillery units are asked to fire as long as they control the missile launch units, and the air force has no strategic bomber fleet to make such an officer branch worth its while. The consequences of the missing military nuclear specialists are two-fold. The knowledge of nuclear issues within the SFC being shallow, the commander and his team cannot write up the QSRs for anything relating to nuclear armaments and strategic forces and infrastructure, and have to be satisfied with whatever DRDO-BARC dish out. And such advice as they are now and then called on by government to give is usually ignored, leaving it to the equally clueless generalists clogging up the system of stove-piped decision making to come up with what passes for strategic counsel in government.
Typically, strategic nuclear capacity, capability and infrastructure deficiencies take 25-30 years to makeup. The Indian government and military cannot afford to stick to their habitual tardiness in implementing the corrective measures. Smaller, weaker, nuclear weapon states with, survival-wise, smaller margins of error (Pakistan, North Korea, Israel) are naturally more serious and proactive where their nuclear security is concerned. Large and powerful countries (US, Russia, China) are not any less driven because they compete with each other for primacy in the strategic realm. India, uniquely, is the only big state which manifests a stunning level of nuclear complacency and incompetence. Sandwiched between two purposeful nuclear adversaries, for the Indian government to continue to do nothing to alleviate the situation would be to do something definitely wrong.
 Why thermonuclear weapons? Because, according to Richard Garwin, who first engineered the theoretical ‘Teller-Ulam’ configuration into a thermonuclear weapon, for a fission weapon to produce 200 kiloton yield would require 60 kg of plutonium or U-235, which amount of fissile material would suffice for 10 thermonuclear weapons in the megaton class, each weighing less than 1,000 lbs. See Bharat Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, Second edition [New Delhi: Macmillan India, 2005, 2002], p. 628.
 Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, pp. 400-420; Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy, pp. 65-71; P.K. Iyengar, A.N. Prasad, A. Gopalakrishnan, Bharat Karnad, Strategic Sell-out: Indian-US Nuclear Deal [New Delhi: Pentagon Press, 2009].
 S.K. Sikka, G.J. Nair, Falguni Roy, Anil Kakodkar, “The Recent Indian nuclear tests – A seismic review”, Current Science, Vol 79, Issue 9, November 2000, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237222667_The_recent_Indian_nuclear_tests_-_A_seismic_overview . Iyengar’s view based on various indices, such as large traces of the thermonuclear fuel — lithium deuteride, evidenced in the rock morphology in Pokhran, was that there was “partial thermonuclear burn”, not full combustion, and that’s a far cry from a workable weapon. See Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, pp. 412-413.
 Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, pp. 415-419.
 See his Striking Asymmetries: Nuclear Transitions in Southern Asia, [Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2022], pp. 200-201. As special adviser to US ambassador Robert Blackwill, Tellis helped shepherd the 2005 Indian-US nuclear deal at both the Washington and New Delhi ends.
 It is revealing that Tellis describes the moratorium on testing as a self-imposed “constraint” derived from “the political failures of the BJP leadership”. Ibid.
 “We want to be India’s defence partner of choice for India: US Official”, The Hindu, November 3, 2022. Also refer Ashley Tellis’ statement to an Indian daily, see “Idea Exchange: India may be compelled to test again and when it does, it’s in the US interest to avoid penalising it”, Indian Express, October 31, 2022.
 Santhanam said this specifically about Manmohan Singh’s NSA, M.K. Narayanan, a policeman, but it applies to most generalist diplomats/civil servants/policemen who have so far been appointed NSA. See “NSA a babe in the woods on nuclear matters: Santhanam”, PTI, The Hindu, September 25, 2009
 The reasons and the logic for an Indian thermonuclear force of some 470 weapons/warheads is detailed in Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, pp. 614-646. A 2015 ISIS study estimated India’s then stock of separated reactor grade plutonium at 2.9 metric tons – good enough for as many as 125 weapons/warheads. This stock of plutonium has grown since then. See Elizabeth Whitfield, “Fuzzy math on Indian nuclear weapons”, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, April 19, 2016, https://thebulletin.org/2016/04/fuzzy-math-on-indian-nuclear-weapons/
 Shyam Saran, ex-Foreign Secretary and then Convenor of NSAB, was reported as saying this: “India will not be the first to use nuclear weapons, but if it is attacked with such weapons, it would engage in nuclear retaliation which will be massive and designed to inflict unacceptable damage on its adversary.” See Indrani Bagchi. “Even a midget nuke strike will lead to massive retaliation, India warns Pak”, Times of India, April 30, 2013. For a response, see Bharat Karnad, “India’s nuclear amateurism”, New Indian Express, 28 June 2013.
 For a case arguing why tactical nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan is impracticable, unrealistic and extremely unlikely, see Bharat Karnad, “Scaring-up Scenarios: An Introduction” in Gurmeet Kanwal & Monika Chansoria, eds., Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: Conflict Redux [New Delhi: CLAWS and KW Publishers, 2014]. On the “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, see Joshua Bell, “Escalate to De-escalate: Russia’s Nuclear Deterrence Strategy”, Global Security Review, March 7, 2022, https://globalsecurityreview.com/nuclear-de-escalation-russias-deterrence-strategy/
 Bharat Karnad, Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition [Gurugram: Penguin-Viking, 2018], pp. 326-330.
 Karnad, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, pp. 328, 417.
 On the urgent need to build up the North and South Agalega island base in Mauritius, the Gan island base in Maldives, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka and Na Thrang in Vietnam, see Karnad, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), pp. 346-351.
A recent Sansad TV programme — ‘The Defenders’ featured a discussio on “China’s naval expansion” with Vice Admiral Satish Soni (Retd), former FOC-in-C, Southern Naval Command (Kochi) and, later, Eastern Naval Ciommand (Vizag) and myself, and may be of interset. It is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WBThhZpWVQ
[Russia foreign minister Sergey Lavrov making a point at the Raisina Dialogue]
The first anniversary of Russia’s unfinished “special operation” in Ukraine coincided this year with the G-20 Foreign Ministers Meet, which last made available foreign dignitaries for the annual gabfest grandly dubbed the “Rasina Dialogue” that the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) funds and sponsors. In other words, this is an out-and-out MEA affair that some Joint Secretary or the other should have orchestrated more carefully considering the session with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov on Febeuary 4 almost blew up into a diplomatic incident.
In a session dealing with the Ukraine conflict, the host Sunjoy Joshi, ex-IAS, took on himself the role, embarrassingly, of an uninformed Inquisitor, grilling Lavrov with deliberately provocative questions entirely blaming Russia for the military intervention in Ukraine that revealed astonishing ignorance of the post-Cold War history of great power politics, Ukraine and NATO expansion. Indeed, Lavrov, a consumate diplomat, was pushed into losing his cool. He publicly upbraided Joshi for not doing his “homework” before the session. Any workaday TV news reporter would have done a better job of reading up on material and asking thoughtful questions, rather than leading ones designed to rouse and rile the Russian minister, who reminded the audience that India’s “specially privileged strategic partnership” with Russia is unlike any relationship New Delhi has with any other country. [See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nihwViCcUW4 ].
It raises an important Question: If MEA is paying the piper, Joshi ought to have been singing a tune more in line with India’s policy of artful equivocation on this issue. MEA failed properly to brief this out-of-his-depth host or even vet his list of questions. In the event, shouldn’t the Ministry’s superintendence of this annual event have been more direct and effective, rather than leaving the proceedings to the mercies of an ignoramus or, worse, a motivated ex-babu, who all but skewed Russian perceptions of India and its interests? The Indian government cannot afford these sorts of diplomatic snafus.
[Destroyed Russian tanks and armoured combat vehicles in the town of Bucha, Ulraine]
Now to tackle the great mystery of why the mighty Russian army is making such heavy weather of its annexationist intervention in Ukraine.
Given the flood of Western media reporting of developments in Ukraine over the past year that the Indian media gobbled up whole, an average Indian would be forgiven for thinking that Russia is backpedalling on the battlefield against the hard-charging Ukrainians amply supplied with all manner of military hardware, tactical and strategic intelligence, and unflagging political support from the US and the West. Let’s first be clear about where the Russian army is on the ground and how much of eastern Ukraine is in Russia’s possession. Russians now fully control much of the Donbas corridor — roughly the line Kherson-Kharkiv, habited by Russian-speaking people on the eastern periphery of Ukraine, which is the bridge connecting mainland Russia with the Crimean Peninsula captured by Moscow after a fast, uneventful, campaign in 2014.
As mentioned in my very first post on the topic in February 2022, the need for Russia to command the approaches to the Black Sea and its coastline, is a strategic imperative Moscow had to achieve at all cost. The first part of that objective was realized with the absorption of the Crimean Peninsula. With the Donbas corridor too captured with heavy loss of life and destruction of most of the large towns in it, Russia, for the first time is potentially more secure now than it has ever been since the unravelling of the old Soviet Union in 1992. It is not exposed anymore and vulnerable to possible US/NATO military interventions from the Dardanelles, with Turkey, a NATO member, as the staging area for a from-the-sea push against Russia’s relatively weak underbelly.
Fine. So, how come the ingressing Russian armoured columns lost over 500 tanks and the advance by the Russian army, generally, seems so tardy?
Plainly, the Russian army expected it to be cake walk. Rolling in leisurely as the tanks did over highways without a thought about being ambushed, they were sitting ducks for the Ukrainian anti-tank units firing off their Kornet portable anti-tank munitions from the old stock before being replaced by the newer NATO Javelins. The resulting disarray was as much among the forward troops as the command ranks, and manifested the absolute unpreparedness of the Russian army to fight an actual war. The turgid Russian military bureaucracy only compounded the problem of incomprehension up all the way to the Kremlin and down do the trooper who was promised a picnic but got lethal firefights instead. Kyiv’s resistance and President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s emergence as a resolute wartime leader came as a rude shock to President Vladimir Putin, who was also surprised by the sheer volume of arms supply worth a stupendous $28 billion that the US funnelled into Ukraine emptying, in the process, the NATO stocks of shells and ammunition of all types, long range precision artillery, and even Leopard-2 tanks from the Polish and German inventories with American Abrams tanks awaiting transhipment. The American strategy to fight to the last Ukrainian is being well executed because, realistically, Ukraine has not a spitball’s chance in hell.
Still, why the Russian army’s lackadaisical approach in this conflict that Putin described as a “special operation”? Two reasons. Firstly, Ukraine has always been a problem for Russia, resisting assimilation to the maximum. And secondly, the Russian army always takes time to get up to battle speed. Let’s briefly examine each of these reasons.
There is Ukraine’slong history with Russia. And there’s Russia’s military troubles in Ukraine. Notwithstanding Putin’s claim of Ukraine being the “cradle of Russian civilization”, the largely Roman Catholic country has always nursed a separate and distinct cultural and political Tatar identity different from that of a Slavic Russia wedded to the Russian Orthodox Church. To go no further back than the civil war, the Bolsheviks and the Red Army had the most difficult time of it on the “south-western front”, meaning Ukraine. The revolutionary council of state for war presided over by Lenin and featuring, among others, Stalin and the founder and the first Political Commissar of the Red Army, Leon Trotsky, wrestled interminably with issues such as how much force to use against the rebellious Ukrainians without doing permanent political damage, how ruthlessly to fight the “White” Russian army massed around Kyiv and other major cities, and how to fight all out without alienating the Ukrainian masses — Lenin’s overarching concern, and with what consequences for the eventual Ukrainian Soviet in the nascent USSR. Perhaps, it is the kind of debate that preoccupies Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin today. Indeed, the indecision from the top got so militarily frustrating for the Red Army commander on that front — the redoubtable Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevski — inarguably the greatest military mind of the 20th Century who, for instance, first conceptualized “deep operations”, and whom Trotsky called “The reorganizer of the Red Army”, that he petitioned Trotsky to be allowed to prosecute a decisive war against the Ukrainian nationalists, or to be relieved of his command. (Tukhachevski and the cream of the Red Army General Staff were executed by a paranoid Stalin in the “great purges” and show trials of the 1930s.)
During the Second World War, Stalin’s Red Army had not only to face Hitler’s armies advancing on several fronts — Operation Barbarossa, June 1941, to occupy the European part of the Soviet Union, i.e., the line Archangel-Astrakhan, but had to deal with the rear area troubles in Ukraine (with its industry, grain, and oil fields) that Berlin had prioritised for capture, instigated by the Nazi-aligned nationalist armed groups under Stephen Bandera, and which forces also constituted the Ukrainian arm of the Gestapo. This to say that there’s an awful lot of bad blood between Russians and Ukrainians. Something akin to, yea, the Hindu-Muslim rift in the subcontinent!
The Russian army, historically, has been strategically surprised, taken time to react, to mobilize, and to get its forces up for a fight, before turning the corner and wiping out the adversary. It started in the modern era with Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia, his march stalling on the outskirts of Moscow not little because of the withdrawal eastwards by the Czarist armies committed to a “scorched earth” policy of destroying any and everything the French army could possibly use, a situation aggravated by the onset of icy weather and not improved by its pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Borodino. It was exactly the pattern repeated some 129 years later by “General Winter” and the Red Army under Marshal Georgy Zhukov decimating the German land forces and winning the war in Europe for the Allies.
It is this history of the Russian army’s pattern of success the US and NATO do not want to be victimised by — the reason why US and NATO will absolutely avoid having their “boots on the ground” even if Ukraine becomes extinct — which is not on the cards. Russia will have its Donbas bridge to Crimea, and that’s it.
To most Indians and Indian policymakers unschooled in military history, perhaps, an analogy may drive home the point — India’s grab of Goa in Winter 1961. The Indian military prepared for it as if it was some major operation. The 17th Infantry Division and 50th Para Brigade were fielded along with three Indian warships, and all the air resources the Western air command required. This array of forces was pitted against a skeletal Portuguese military group comprising some 8,000-10,000 troops, one sloop. one patrol boat, and two passenger transports at Dabolim, the sole air base. The size of the Portuguese army units can be explained by their having to put down guerilla actions carried out by the Azad Gomantak force, and the Goa Congress materially supported by India. Nehru had given sufficient warning of forcefully taking Goa — as Putin had made known his plans to annex the Donbas corridor. It prompted US President John F Kennedy to plead for some time to convince the Portuguese dictator, Antonio Salazar, to decamp gracefully. Nehru decided to force the issue but his regime’s instructions to the military were to achieve the goal with minimum damage and loss of life. Just how worried Nehru was about not harming the Goan people may be guaged by the order to the Western Air Command to damage the Dabolim runway but not the terminal building. In the event, on December 18, IAF Canberra sorties dropped 63,000 pounds of explosives with partial effect because that night a Portuguese Constellation aircraft with military and civilian families took off safely for a low level escape to Karachi, outwitting Indian radar!
[Portuguese POWs in Goa — do they look as if they were fighting?]
Now consider what would have happened had NATO heeded Salazar’s calls for Western military intervention to thwart Nehru’s designs. No disrespect to the Indian armed services, but they’d have been up against it had NATO cleared and then secured sea and air supply corridors channeling armaments, troops and air and naval platforms and generally military reinforcements to Goa. Would the Indian army, navy and air force, realistically, have managed to even put up a fight, considering they didn’t against the more primitive Chinese PLA less than a year later?
It puts the Russian intervention in Ukraine in perspective, does it not?
Modifying Tata’s Boeing-Airbus deal with co-production at its core is an opportunity for institutional course correction.
In a podcast the other day, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar boasted that the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi is the most “strategic” of any the country has had. One may have expected then that, in the context of India’s requirement in the years ahead of 1,500-1,700 commercial aircraft, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, and keeping the Aatmanirbharata (self-sufficiency) objective, the massive outgo of foreign exchange, and inherent economies of scale in mind, New Delhi would have helped configure the Tata deal for 400 single aisle and wide-body aircraft differently, premising it principally on co-production.
It would have laid down the principle of private sector companies consulting with the government while negotiating for capital acquisitions, and a template for aviation purchases generally, starting with the $115 billion contract Tata & Sons have signed with Boeing Company of the United States and the European Airbus consortium based in France. This deal is so big President Joe Biden crowed about it creating one million new jobs in America.
India’s belated insistence on co-production may upset Boeing and Airbus calculations. But they will concede the economic logic of making India a second production hub with converging global supply chains for their popular Boeing 737 and Airbus A-320 medium haulers as a cost-effective means of satisfying the burgeoning Indian and international demand for them, which Seattle and Toulouse by themselves will be hard-pressed to meet. Also, Washington and Paris can be expected to appreciate the strategic logic of thus firming up a partnership with India as a pillar for their Indo-Pacific policies.
In any case, New Delhi’s attitude should be clear and firm: co-production—that’s the deal, take it or leave it. What choice does either company have other than to take it? The customer is, after all, king.
Moreover, while Tata may sign the cheque, it is the country’s wealth being shipped out and the government has to have a say. Tata have so far only communicated an intent to buy aircraft; detailed contracts are still to be finalized. The Modi government ought to now ensure that clauses for co-production and system integration of these aircraft in India are central to the deal.
All these years, like the rest of the technology and common sense-challenged agencies of the Indian government when it comes to capital acquisitions, the Civil Aviation Ministry too acted as a “middleman” facilitating commercial deals with Boeing and Airbus and permitted politicians and babus to pocket millions of dollars in pelf. The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate are currently investigating decisions by the Congress regime of Manmohan Singh regarding the Air India-Indian Airlines merger and the subsequent order for 111 Airbus aircraft for Rs 70,000 crores.
Corruption apart, the Indian government had habitually played fast and loose with the country’s monies by letting airlines buy civilian planes that get the country little else in terms of substantial technological and manufacturing benefits. In return for the tens of billions in hard currency expended on buying planes of all kinds, a Boeing official revealed his company annually buys aviation goods and services from India worth a billion dollars. Is that a joke?
Now consider India’s main adversary—China, and how it has managed over the years to build up its civil aviation industry such that today most of its civil and military aviation needs are met by Chinese companies, such as the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC). It still buys long haul aircraft from Boeing and Airbus but that’s expected to end soon. The first of the COMAC models was the 100-seater ARJ-21, a flawed product Beijing peddles in Africa for half the cost of Boeing/Airbus aircraft. Its second model, the 170-seat C-919, however, is a medium range plane in the same class as Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A-320 Neo that Air India is buying.
The first thing the strategic-minded Chinese leadership did was exploit the opening to the US via the Richard Nixon-era “ping pong diplomacy”. It prioritized procurement of aviation technologies by fair means and foul. The very year (1972) Nixon met with Mao Zedong in Beijing, the Chinese Aviation Company of Shanghai bought a single Boeing 707 and promptly reverse-engineered it into the passenger aircraft, Y-10. Helped by President Ronald Reagan’s “Orient Pearl” tech-transfer programme, the Chinese air force likewise rapidly modernized its frontline F-7 (MiG-21) fighter aircraft fleet with advanced US avionics.
Simultaneously, Beijing began a decade-long negotiations with McDonnell-Douglas that fetched in 1985 a deal to co-produce the MD-80 passenger aircraft for both the Chinese and international markets. In time, the American company’s entire assembly line and production wherewithal, including computer-assisted design, etc. were bought out. Despite assurances to Washington, the metal-bending machines meant for the MD-80, for instance, were immediately employed in Chinese combat aircraft production. China paid $1.2 billion for the whole transaction. It was, perhaps, big money at the time but it obtained for China the technological know-how, know-why, and the latest aircraft manufacturing and management techniques that it has since utilized to produce modern civilian and military aircraft, assisted by a sustained programme of electronically filching US designs, technological secrets, and proprietory information.
It is the sort of strategic singlemindedness the Indian government and military need to be capable of. Indeed, the Indian government on the one hand takes pride in sticking by agreements at any cost, as Jaishankar affirmed in that podcast and, on the other, despite the PM’s efforts stifles indigenously-developed technology just so foreign hardware can continue to be purchased by all and sundry, especially the armed services. Aatmanirbharata can go suck.
Modifying Tata’s Boeing-Airbus deal with co-production at its core is an opportunity for institutional course correction. If Prime Minister Modi grabs it, besides generating literally millions of high paying jobs and raising the quality of skilled manpower, he will establish India as a production centre for high value Boeing and Airbus aircraft with gains spilling over into the military aviation sector, and a magnet for other high-tech global industries. Lose it, and India remains a technology plodder and client state.
Striving to make India a technology power self-reliant in armaments in the 21st Century and aware that the public sector never was, is not now, and never will be in a position to realize this grand objective by itself, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at AeroIndia 2023 in Bangaluru urged the burgeoning private sector companies in the country “to invest in India’s defence sector as much as possible”. He reminded them that their investment “will create new avenues for …business in many countries …apart from India [and that] there are new possibilities and opportunities” they “should not let go”.
Fine words from Modi laden with sentiment that over the last several years has fueled his atmnirbharta policy. If defence self-sufficiency could be obtained by rousing rhetoric and public exhortations alone, India would long ago have attained it. The problem is the eco-system for technology creation and innovation is being methodically stifled by officials of the over-bureaucratized Indian state. Despite the Prime Minister’s harangues, and PMO’s pressure and pushing and pulling, the Government of India system is such that the various agencies in it have neither uniformly followed the PM’s atmanirbharta directives nor, more importantly, internalized them. It has left the bureaucratic/technocratic nabobs ruling their small fiefs in innumerable ministries and departments of government free to impede at will the atmnirbharta initiatives. They selectively use old rules and regulations still on the books to justify decisions even when these have been superceded by new instructions! In other words, they cherry pick the rule and regulation to torpedo projects and programmes promoting atmnirbharta.
Take the case of a critical Tactical Communications (T-Com) project the Indian army has embarked on to obtain a secure, mobile, battlefield telecommunications net with system integrity for deployment along the borders, especially useful on the overlong Line of Actual Control in the mountains. System integrity is assured by having at its core technology that both hardware- and software-wise is ABSOLUTELY free of embedded bugs and malware — something that can only be guaranteed if it is wholly of Indian origin. Otherwise, the frontline army formations equipped with foreign tech will be as exposed and vulnerable to enemy cyber atacks and foreign penetration and manipulation as the rest of the country is by China’s Ministry of State Security.
This is so because the Indian Government did not display — surprise! surprise! — the strategic nous and foresight to prevent Huawei and other Chinese companies from freely selling at cut rate prices 4G gear developed by them with massive Chinese state subsidies, to public sector communications companies — BSNL and VSNL, and also to numerous private sector firms who entered the business some 20-odd years ago. As a result, the nationwide mobile telephone system, parceled out among several private sector firms and majorly based on Chinese telecommunications tech, serves as remotely activated intelligence sensors/platforms in situ for Beijing to exploit. China can monitor communications within India, subvert the Indian and state government decision processes, shut down power grids and industry, disrupt the economy by throwing the market and financial institutions into turmoil, and otherwise ruin this country at any time. This is Suntzu’s basic principle of strategy of winning without war at work!
The communications technology in question is radio telephony and involves voice/information modulated on to radio waves at radio frequencies meshing with internet protocol, etc. The technology to convert voice and data and to propagate this package via radio waves, is at the centre of it. It is used by all advanced militaries. The Indian armed forces are only now seeking it. Civilian mobile telephony is facilitated by static towers dotting the urban terrain and the countryside to which are attached “networking boxes” for voice/data conversion and radio propagation The military, however, has to have masts with antennae connected to these boxes that are latched on to mobile platforms to enable forwardly placed military units within range to access, via mobile telephones, a ready, all-weather, 2-way encrypted channel of communications with the unit commander/command centre. A collection of such mobile platforms can effectively cover an extended border to subserve tactical military operations.
The Indian army has woken up to the need for such a T-Com system. A ‘Project Management Office’ in the Signals Directorate, Army HQrs, a couple of years back drew up the military specifications (milspecs) for such a battlefield communications system, and companies were invited to tender initially for a “sample” system of 200 “networking boxes” connected to 10,000 mobile phones worth Rs 200 crores. The incentive was that on approval of technology, the winning bidder can expect to get the much larger contract for 5,000 of these boxes, each costing rupees one crore, for a deal valued at Rs 5,000 crores.
Some 22 companies entered the competition, 20 of them system integrators — meaning they have purchased various commercially available tech and components mostly from abroad and cobbled together a T-Com system that meets the milspecs, and involves no original, proprietory, technology of their own. Only two companies in the competition are Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) with their own patented technology, inclusive of hardware, software and the necessary algorithms. These firms — Lekha Wireless Solutions Pvt. Ltd and Signaltron, are both Bangaluru-based and in the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) category — the sort of companies Prime Minister Modi has publicly heralded as the cutting edge of the nation’s efforts to become a technology power. Signaltron even designed its own chip for its tech system!
In pre-bid meetings held last year, the two MSMEs informed the army Signals’ project management office and the Integrated Financial Adviser (IFA), Ministry of Defence — the nodal person approving this contract, that they were not in a position to meet one of the three “eligibility criteria” as per old corpus of rules that companies bidding for this contract were required to meet, namely, the one relating to the value of turnover which had to be greater than 30% of the project cost of Rs. 200 crores. This financial requirement has been superceded by a newer rule that mandates exceptions be made for MSMEs, which the IFA studiously ignored in this case. The other two criteria concerning evaluation of technology and ability to manufacture were easily met by both firms. Lekha and Signaltron were pointedly advised at these meetings to proceed regardless, and to prepare their technology for technical evaluation in February 2023.
Then, out of the blue, in end January this year, the two Indian MSMEs got a formal letter from the IFA rejecting their bids, thereby removing their technologies from even the technical evaluation stage. Incidentally, the army signals officers interfacing with these two companies had already become familiar with the technology of at least one of them, and were generally impressed by its quality and performance. In the wake of this sudden jolt, the MSMEs sought an explanation from the IFA, pleaded for meetings and, at a minimum, technical evaluation of their technologies. They received no response to repeated entreaties. Meanwhile, the formal evaluation of T-Com technologies, all of them foreign sourced, offered by the 20 other ‘system integrator’ companies, which began on February 8 ended on February 14, leaving Lekha and Signaltron the only bidders with patented and proven tech with a Valentine Day’s gift of being summarily kicked out of the technical evaluation phase and hence the bidding process as well!
In this tragic chain of events, hearteningly, the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), that was once a steadfast pusher of Huawei products, has turned the corner and is now one of the strongest supporters of indigenously-developed telecom technology. Senior DOT officials helped the two MSMEs negotiate the Byzantine maze that is the Government of India bureaucracy, opened doors for them in the Defence Ministry, and even wrote supportive letters, presumably, to the IFA. It made not the slightest difference. Indeed, it was DOT that helped Lekha to launch a pilot project for its radio-connected communications system in 100 villages in two Karnataka Districts (Tumkur and Mandya) to demonstrate its technology. More disquieting still, Lekha, a winner of the Innovation for Defence Excellence (IDEX) award in 2019, whose technology was cleared for field trials in 2021, and by next year expects to field original 5G technology, is presently outfitting 5 warships of the Indian Navy with a maritime variant of its T-Com technology in a deal worth some Rs 6 crores. If the army needed any military validation of Lekha’s technology, all the army project office had to do was inspect the underway naval project Lekha is successfully prosecuting. This was not done. Many industry-wallahs suspect the reason is lack of any real appreciation in the army of the new technology concerned with radio telephony as many in the Signals branch regard it as another version of Wi-Fi and, hence, do not want to challenge the civilian IFA’s decision!
Then again, because every department of the Indian government works in silos, and each armed service likewise functions in silos with different combat arms within each of these services functioning in their own mini-silos, no one person, no one organisation, in the entire MOD has any holistic idea of what technology is being employed where and being tested by whom, and with what results. So, every service and the IFA, under the slogan of atmnirbharta, goes off on its own in the technology arena, does its own thing! Atmnirbharta is the last thing this whole frightfully wasteful mess of a technology acquisition system has on its mind, and it doesn’t matter that it is sans vision, a long term road map, and accountability. It is also apparently beyond corrective measures, and does not give a damn for the Prime Minister’s defence self-reliance directives, dismissing it as so much political hot air, reducing Modi and his PMO, in the process, to passive spectators of this continuing boondoggle!
So, which are the companies likely to win the army’s T-Com contract? Why, two public sector units (PSUs) of course! — ECIL (Electronics Corporation of India) and BEL (Bharat Electronics Ltd). These two PSUs, not known for technology creation and innovation, have survived by doing the usual defence PSU stuff — screwdriver imported technologies, or tinker with them. In the present army’s T-Com case, ECIL and BEL are Trojan Horses for technologies from Ericsson of Sweden and Nokia of Finland, respectively. And Sweden and Finland recently joined NATO. So, if it is not China doing the damage, it will be NATO countries holding the Indian army’s battlefield-related operational command and control communications at risk. It seems the army is prepared to court such risk. Shouldn’t the Chief of the Army Staff, General Manoj Pande do something about this?
And, why, pray has the Integrated Financial Adviser, MOD, made this manifestly anti-national, anti-atmnirbharta decision? People in the know speculate that permitting Lekha and Signaltron to prove their technology and secure the T-Com deal would “open up a can of worms” because the present IFA and past incumbents in the post have over the years consistently and regularly disqualified Indian MSMEs from winning such technology contracts on the basis of the financial eligibility criterion that for obvious reasons they cannot meet (or they would not be counted among small and medium enterprises!). That there are considerations on the side offered by foreign OEMs to incentivise such decision-making cannot be ruled out, considering just how infused with corruption the entire defence procurement system is.
Disappointed and despirited, Lekha and Signaltron are being told by their contacts in MOD that the decision of the Integrated Financial Adviser, can only be reversed by “higher ups”, meaning by the PM and by Rajnath Singh who, alas, is a know-nothing, do even less cow belt politician who in technical defence matters has no clue about anything (but, if it is any consolation to anyone, is markedly better than one of his predecessors in office also from Uttar Pradesh, the late Mulayam Singh, who spent his entire tenure as Raksha Mantri kvetching about files not being translated into Hindi!).
It will require Modi and his PMO to wield the whip to bring this obdurate IFA to heel, and afford Lekha and Signaltron an opportunity to get their patented tech evaluated and approved, and to win the T-Com contract. It will help the winning MSME to scale up its capabilities for bigger, more challenging, national security tasks ahead, and send a message of hope to a down-in-the-dumps defence MSME sector. Either Modi pulls up the IFA and makes an example of him by punishing him with a posting to some far corner of the Lakshwadweep Islands where he can do little harm, or alternately hands him his retirement papers. Or, by doing nothing, prompts hordes of babus to make mincemeat of his atmanirbharta policy and programmes, leaving India exactly where it always was — a perennial arms dependency.
[Biden’s NSA, Jake Sullivan, & Ajit Doval in Washington, DC]
The US government and the Washington policy establishment has been aware for some time now of the brewing Indian dissatisfaction with America promising but not delivering advanced military and other technology. The Biden Administration has been wondering how best to try and mitigate the situation without altogether dismantling the present South Asia policy structure. It is an issue, many in Washington believe, was beginning to colour Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s evolving attitude to strategic cooperation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific.
This American take on the state of bilateral relations became clear in a seminar arranged not too long ago by a former senior Trump regime official at a Washington thinktank to facilitate my interaction with policy experts and the like. The topic was the state of Indo-US strategic linkages. Discussing the reasons for the halting progress in Indo-US strategic cooperation between the two countries, which has puzzled and dismayed many Americans, I elaborated why, in my view, this was so — essential lack of trust. Well into the discussion, my host asked me, point-blank to name the technologies the Indian military would like to get its hands on. I responded with indirection.
I mentioned assistance in developing a jet turbine engine for combat aircraft because it was an underderway collaborative venture that was abruptly terminated by President Donald Trump. Next I suggested silencing technology for diesel submarines that the US Navy has completely discarded in favour of an all nuclear fleet. And, in the context, moreover, of the Indian government’s unwillingness remotely to risk doing anything, take any action, however much it might be in the national interest, for fear of triggering an adverse US reaction, the need for Washington to signal New Delhi that sanctions won’t happen should India resume thermonuclear testing — something that is necessary for the country to obtain, for the first time, credible strategic forces featuring high-yield staged hydrogen weapons and, more importantly, deterrence-wise, psychological, parity with China.
These were deliberately hard asks and elicited mostly knowing smiles, because I had stepped into ‘no go’ territory and picked to see if there was any change or movement in the generally punitive-minded US’ India policy. For the most part, the US in the past 60 years obsessed about preventing India from securing an N-Bomb, failing which, sought to curtail, to the extent possible, its credibility. This America has succeeded in doing, thanks to the so-called “civilian nuclear cooperation deal” of 2008 negotiated by the present external affairs minister in his then avatar as Joint Secretary (Americas) in the Foreign Office. It has left this country with only the pretence of being a thermonuclear weapons state and the slimmest of chances of ever realizing Bhabha’s 3-stage plan to exploit the country’s vast thorium reserves for energy self-sufficiency. Among the many conditions accepted by Jaishankar were (1) nonresumption of underground nuclear tests that has left the thermonuclear weapons programme half-baked with a basic design that went phut in Pokhran in 1998, (2) a severe reduction in the number of the indigenous CANDU power reactors whose spent fuel was reprocessable into weapons grade plutonium, meaning both the sources and the quantity of weapons usable fissile material available to the weapons unit atTrombay were reduced, and (3) purchase by India of exorbitantly-priced light water power reactors from the US, France [and Russia] run on imported low-enriched uranium fuel which made India an energy dependency (like the arms dependency India already is), provided outside powers a stranglehold on power generation, putting Indian industry running on this electricity at their mercy, and starved the follow-on 2nd stage fast breeder reactor- and 3rd-stage thorium reactor-programmes of funds now diverted to buying imported reactors and fuel.
Moreover, even as the US policy of punishing India for not joining the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty was on over-drive, successive Administrations after Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger’s breakthrough with Beijing, helped China modernize its economy and its military and satellite sensor and launch capabilities with dollops of techological aid starting with the ‘Orient Pearl’ programme during the Reagan era to upgrade the avionics suite on the Chinese MiG — F-7 and, in order to counterbalance India in South Asia and as inducement for Pakistan to participate in defeating the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan approved in 1979-1980 — and this was President Jimmy Carter’s NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski’s most damaging diplomatic move, Dengxiaoping’s transferring nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan. So much for the US as the foundational pillar of the global nonproliferation order.
As regards, the conventional submarine technology I brought up: Nobody expects the US to part with submarine tech of any kind for any reason — it hasn’t done so to its closest ally, Britain. The idea was simply to guage the reaction of Americans who have served in the US government and been longtime part of the policy circles.
In this context, the new Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), enunciated in Modi’s meeting with Biden last year, and fleshed out by the two National Security Advisers, Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval, on Feb 1, like the 2012 DTTI (Defence Trade and Technology Initiative) may end up being more a bandied about acronym than a policy vehicle actually delivering anything of note.
Parallel to the Doval-Sullivan meeting, the visiting US Under-Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and Indian external affairs minister Jaishankar engaged in the usual persiflage that high officials of the two countries indulge in, occasion permitting. There was talk of, what else?, “policy convergences” presumably in dealing with China — the common threat, and of Washington’s supposed desire to help India become less dependent on Russian armaments — she called it “60 years of entanglement”, by doing what exactly? Why, relying on American arms instead, of course. This, incidentally, has been the strategic aim of US policy mid-1980s onwards when Reagan’s Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger visited Delhi with “an open order book” for India to access any piece of US military hardware and technology, or so I was told then by Weinberger’s adviser in the Pentagon at the time, Michael Pillsbury.
India’s relations with Russia and meeting its military (and energy) requirements are two separate and distinct policy streams, as Jaishankar no doubt made clear to Nuland. But the US apparently wants to see them merged. Whence, ICET, notwithstanding the DTTI already on the anvil producing nothing. While it it is all very well to dangle a carrot before a mule with blinkers, it is necesary now and then to replace the old carrot with a shinier, plumper, carrot for which the animal can keep lunging, and in the process pull a heavier load. Thus, going beyond DTTI , ICET promises cooperation in semi-conductor chip design and fabrication, artificial intelligence, and cyber warfare which, Washington hopes, will increase the motivation for the Narendra Modi regime to become more overtly active in militarily hemming China, especially in the maritime sphere and, on the side, help out the US economy by finalising a Free Trade Agreement (which negotiations are stuck on disagreements in numerous product/industry areas) and the US defence industry by making the by now customary deals worth billions of dollars for transport and maritime surveillance planes (C-17s, C-130s, P-8Is).
While collaborating on Fabs, AI and cyber is for the future, the immediate lure is the proposed production in India of General Electric’s 414 jet turbine engine for fighter aircraft. Like the nuclear deal that drove a stake through the heart of the Indian nuclear energy programme, accepting licensed manufaacture of this jet power plant that Jaishankar, Doval and the air force are pushing to meet immediate needs violate Modi’s ‘atm nirbharta‘ policy and principle. The need was for Doval and Jaishankar to stand firm on technical assistance on a timebound contract to get the indigenous Kaveri jet engine developed at the DRDO-GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) flying. Absent such a programmatic thrust, the nascent aviation industry in the country will have a hollow core. No aviation industry anywhere without a servicable homegrown and designed combat jet aircraft engine to work with, has amounted to much.
Worse, there is no guarantee that proposals for collaborative ventures in the Fab, AI and cyber fields, or even for the GE 414 engine, will sail through at the Washington end, considering the US government’s approval process will require them to run the gauntlet of export controls and other procedural restrictions in the Pentagon and, even more onerously, in the US Department of Commerce — the final clearing agency. Indeed, it is such bureacratic hurdles that were, incidentally, hinted at by a senior US official who is reported as saying: “I think on both sides we were quite candid about the challenges that we pose to each other from a regulatory standpoint. In many cases that gets in the way of the vision of deeper and broader technology cooperation.” [The Hindu, Feb 2, 2023] The “regulatory” muddle will always provide the US with an out, an excuse to not deliver on high-tech on time, or even at all. But it will also enable Washington to string the Indian government along for as long as it serves the US purposes by promising just the regulatory reform needed as being round the corner to keep Delhi hooked.
It is a warning to the Modi government to heed the past and the record, and to consume all US promises of advanced technology with tons of salt. The trouble is the Indian government and the Indian military find it hard to resist the easy option — buy the proven GE 414 jet engine, than commit to, and invest in, and otherwise forcefully drive the Kaveri engine project to completion with or without external help, and whatever it takes, including involving private sector talents and capabilities in a project accorded national priority and realised in “technology mission” mode (that got us the Agni series of ballistic missiles).
Or, the country and government should prepare to see the Tejas 1A, the navalised Tejas, and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, and the future of the aviation industry, in fact, held hostage by the GE 414 engine and, by extension, the US government. It will write finis to the nascent Indian aviation industry central to which is a homegrown design and development of a jet powerplant for combat aircraft — something to build around.
It is passing strange that, despite their questionable understanding of the national interest and, based on it, their negotiating records, Jaishankar and Company are allowed by ideologically differing governments repeatedly to cut crucial deals with the US that have amounted to putting a noose around the Indian strategic deterrent, and now will do the same with the defence, specifically aviation, industry and handing the rope to Washington with a hope and prayer that the Americans will desist from pulling it at a time of their choosing, for policy reasons of their own. .
KAL, the ascerbic cartoonist for the Economist weekly lauded for its perceptive take on current leaders, developments and issues, in a year-ender, created a satirical aviary of political birds (reproduced above). Among the fowls of varied provenance, he identifies, the centrally featured, “Jingo-headed zealot Modi Hindi Dominatus”!
KAL’s take on Narendra Modi — while not flattering — suggests the Indian Prime Minister is registering on the international public consciousness. No small achievement this in an age of instant sensations and celebrities when the premium is on being noticed, even if with alarm, than to be not noticed at all.
Scanning the Indian political horizon, there seems no rival in vaulting distance of Modi, who has taken a firm hold of the people’s imagination in a way that only Jawaharlal Nehru did in the Fifties but for very different reasons. While Nehru effortlessly projected the image of a patrician-aristocrat who had found his calling as a leader of the masses, Modi, just as easily, conveys the message to them that as one of them, he has risen through dint of hard work and with a bit of luck that often attends on political success, to now be at the helm of affairs in the country, with no danger from family and hordes of hangers-on to besmirch his reputation and pull him down. Indeed, the death of PM’s mother living with another son of hers some 700 miles from New Delhi evidenced just how scrupulous Modi has been in distancing his family from his post. It has given him a peerless reputation that no other Indian leader can ever hope to match.
Into his eighth year in office, it is his aura of incorruptibility that, more than any other factor, is his political strength and strongest selling point. It has settled Modi in the hearts of the electorate, winning him and his Bharatiya Janata Party their unstinting support. He provides hope for a people who have for too long experienced the Indian government as a system of spoils where the winner bends the rules for personal gain and his local minions and party bigwigs milk the teats of expenditure on public works, social welfare programmes, and almost all capital acquisition schemes of the government, especially in high value areas of defence, industry, and telecommunications. The severance of service recently of several senior officials in the Telecom Ministry, including a Joint Secretary — which level of officers in all ministries and departments/agencies constitute the executive arm of government, suggests just how deep rooted the rot is.
The scale of corruption reached an apogee during Manmohan Singh’s tenure — a trend the PM would do nothing to stop because as a front for Sonia Gandhi (sporting the halo of one who had renounced the kingly crown when it was first offered her in 2008, but happy to work the remote control) couldn’t, as the “Congressiyas” at all levels, long accustomed to raiding the public till under party and government cover, did just that.
Modi, in this respect, has run an exemplary regime with almost no hint of personal financial malfeasance from any quarter. Because Modi’s PMO rides herd on all large expenditure programmes and contracts in all ministries, it has left little or no scope for the minor and major officials in the procurement loops to make whooppee in the manner they were used to doing. Far from doing away with corruption, however, the officials determined on having the channel of under-table earnings stay intact, have learned to tradeoff the higher risk of exposure and punishment with demands for bigger payoffs. Hence, the paradox of corruption at the Joint Secretary secretary-level on up being down even as the volume of commissions, bribes, and other illegal gratification has increased (or, so say the bribe givers of the foreign and Indian corporate worlds required to do business with the Indian government)! The computerisation and digitalising of government business and other reforms, notwithstanding, the discretionary power of civilian officials/unifomed officers, particularly in the acquisitions loops, has been retained. This means this power, traditionally used for harrassment and weighting choices, remains the preferred means of extorting bribes in money and kind from foreign and in-country vendors, original equipment manufacturers, and anyone seeking government custom. Alas, this is how the machinery of government functions and is kept lubricated even in the Modi era.
Until Modi quite literally tears down the extant apparatus of government and rebuilds it as a much smaller, more effective, version of its previous self minus the impedimenta of laws and rules of business from British times, India will limp along — the system prodding “the best and the brightest” among the youth to seek avenues of self-betterment abroad, even as Asia to the east of us gallops along with China into modernity and a happy future. Such radical makeover of the government is unfortunately not what Modi, a statist and hierarchy-minded leader, has in mind to do. He believes, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the system as-is will deliver with a bit of exhortaion from him here, a bit of tinkering by him there. It is a delusion, I concluded in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, the PM will persist with to the country’s detriment. This is a pity because, having captured the people’s heart and mind, he is in a position to do, as only Nehru before him was capable of doing — completely alter the government and the way its works. Instead, he seems content with doing little in that respect.
But, none of this will harm his political prospects. Not little because the BJP cadre, mostly affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), provides the party with a socio-cultural anchor that resonates with the traditional ways of thinking in the majoritarian Hindu society. It is hard, moreover, not to be impressed by RSS’ norms of high ideals, clean living, and its nationalist ideology, which can be faulted in its details, not in its basic thrust. Even more impressive is the fact that members of the RSS and, by extension, the BJP, actually live by these norms. As a high office-holder in RSS, Modi reflects the discipline of mind and of behaviour the organization inculcates in its followers. There is nevertheless dynasticism in his close circle of advisers and in BJP. But it is kept in tight check. His National Security Adviser Ajit Doval sought parliamentary seats for his sons from Uttarakhand but they were denied party tickets to fight elections. The PM’s confidante and Home Minister Amit Shah, likewise, was dissuaded from getting his son into politics in Gujarat. Jay Shah chose to head the state’s cricket board, a position he parlayed into running the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Historically, corruption has been the hallmark of all governments everywhere. Chanakya devoted many sections of his 3rd Century BC codicil, Arthshastra, to keeping tabs particularly on revenue collectors whom he did not trust to do right by the State. He recommended measures, including active intelligence, to police their activity. Mindful of the native proclivity to bribe giving and taking, and considering it indigenous to native systems of rule (Mughal and previous), the British expressly designed their system of colonial government to minimize it by restricting the role of Indians in government in purchases and service delivery, by installing financial advisers and the like for oversight at every turn. However well or ill it worked pre-1947, in independent India that system of government quickly turned into a bureaucratic nightmare — a viscousy mess of conflicting laws, rules and regulations that can delay decisions and implementation of decisions and ensure that what is implemented is not done well, leave alone wisely, with ambiguous file notings and paper-pushing as the default option for babus to fall back on.
So, the PM in his 2014 campaign talked of “Getting government out of business”, of creating a milieu where punitive rules are dispensed with and Indian entrepreneurs enouraged to be wealth producers and job-givers, to prosper in new tech and to generate, in the bargain, employment for the masses of aspiring youth, even as a helpful government with underway skilling programmes provides the necessary labour to drive industry. Eight years on, the government remains the main obstacle to the country’s rapid advancement in the economic sphere and on the atmnirbharta front in defence. Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman is still talking of investing in youth and in upskilling them, much as Modi did 8 years ago! For all his rousing rhetoric, the PM is surprisingly unwilling to rely on private industry as the vehicle for the country’s economic rise, and has been busy streamlining the dowdy, lossmaking, public sector enterprises rather than privatizing them. If his talk of reducing the footprint of government is just that — talk, where’s progress?
But a slate of unfulfilled promises will apparently not matter all that much when the general elections roll around in 2024. In fact, Modi’s re-election is now almost a certainty. His record of personal probity and upright behaviour is his ticket to victory, and will remain so as long as he contests elections. In comparison, there is Rahul Gandhi — the dynast flagbearer of the Congress party who, in a more congenial setting, would only need to nod his head for him to have the crown placed on it. In one way or another, the Congress party has shrunk into a cabal of fawning and calculating Gandhi family acolytes. So when Rahul G refers to the need for the opposition to come together and to propagate a rival ideology to compete with and defeat Modi, the question to ask is whether he is serious!
Consider how alive he is to the current reality and the social forces Modi has let loose. His “Bharat jodo” yatra may have earned Rahul a modicum of respect he didn’t earlier command. After all a man who “walks” the length of the country, albeit half of it in the airconditioned comfort of his travelling van, deserves some admiration. But then he got two things spectacularly wrong. First, the optics. Over the duration of the yatra, he sprouted a full greying beard and his looks, as a consequence, began acquiring a certain gravitas. He seemed by the time he entered the northern states to look more mature, more seasoned, less a “pappu”, which was good. But then the imagery got spoiled when he had his ex-scrap dealer of a brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, striding alongside him, reminding everybody that voting for Rahul and Congress meant possibly enabling the tainted Gandhis to return to feasting on the economic entrails of the nation. Who wants a return to that past?
More importantly, what is the ideology Rahul G hopes will upset Modi’s apple cart, come 2024? He hasn’t articulated any. But it is unlikely to be other than a return to the patronage socialism pushed by a strong central government — Indira Gandhi’s oeuvre. A revisiting of that economic disaster has to be avoided at all cost, because it will mean a return to having the public sector as the engine of economic recovery and rise, and we know how that went the last time. It realized, what became known derisively the world over as, “the Hindu rate of growth” of 2%-3% annually. Should Rahul skip to Manmohanomics the prospects would not be much better, because that’d involve tethering the Indian economy to that of the US. This’d be a recipe for India’s formally accepting a secondary power status tied to a receding power. Rahul’s and the Congress party’s vilification of the private sector leads to precisely these endpoints if their rule materializes. This is, in one sense, an ironic development because the Congress party boasts of more genuinely fecund intellects — Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, to name two, than the BJP. Were they to be instructed by the party to rethink the Indian system of government and the role of the private sector in national life, they’d no doubt come up with a host of good ideas. But because Congress is wedded to some strain of socialism or the other, and Rahul has no bright ideas of his own to suggest as guideline, Messrs Jairam, Tharoor and Co. wallow in dated economic notions they believe will resonate with the Gandhi Family’s interests.
There’s, however, a Modi weakness that the opposition is in no position to exploit — his partiality to “crony capitalism”. Modi’s vulnerability is obvious, but Rahul’s line of political attack — “suited booted sarkar” won’t work, as the 2018 elections proved. That is because the masses too, it turns out, want to be suited and booted as Modi is in his “rags to riches” avatar as Prime Minister. It is an aspiration Modi long ago worked into the message he pitched to the public when subliminally shaping its expectations of his government in Gujarat and later at the Centre, namely, that there won’t be doles/freebies or “revadi” but there will be government assistance for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is another matter that despite his trying, the government hasn’t become more amenable to servicing people’s aspirations. So, when Govind Adani, with a straight face, claimed in a recent TV interview to India Today, that his proximity to Modi had nothing whatsoever to do with his rocketing rise from smalltime trader to multibillionaire tycoon, but implied that the Gujarati identity he shared with the PM may have led some people to reach that conclusion, it highlighted his implicit belief that whatever part proximity to Modi may have played, his success owes more to his own ambition, business acumen, and propensity to take risks that have fetched him big rewards. And who can dispute such a reading?
Modi is set to dominate the Indian and South Asian scene and, perhaps, to feature prominently in international politics in the years to come because an honest politician — however ruthlessly he may practise politics on home turf, is a rarity as most leading politicians and heads of government in the world at-large (barring the Scandinavian countries and, perhaps, Japan) are variants of Donald Trump in their venality.
‘Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.’
IMAGE: A Bofors gun at the Tawang sector near the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo
“Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China. India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing…It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells Rediff.com‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
We are once again witnessing China in a very aggressive mood sending 300 Chinese soldiers to attack and take over an Indian post in the Tawang sector on December 9. What do you believe precipitated this face off given that it has taken place in such freezing cold conditions?
There doesn’t seem to be any specific trigger for PLA skirmishes on, and intrusions across, the Line of Actual Control, such as the latest one last Friday in Yangtse in Tawang district.
It is apparently a strategy for the local commander to prosecute hostile actions as and when he is in a position to do so because the objective is to keep the disputed border unsettled.
It is a condition, Beijing hopes, will soften up the Indian government into a more territorial give-mode at the negotiating table.
This seems to be a reoccurring phenomenon with Indian troops facing a similar attack in the same sector on October 8, 2021. In all, I understand 31 such attacks have taken place in this sector over the years with a prolonged attack having taken place during the Kargil war in 1999 which lasted 60 days. How has India responded to these frequent and unprovoked aggressive actions?
XXXIII Corps — the largest formation in the Indian Army, responsible for defending India’s territorial claims on the LAC in the north east, is postured to react, which it is experienced and in a position to do.
But it is incapable of being proactive, or taking the fight to the enemy which, in fact, encourages the PLA to continue taking liberties and being provocative on the LAC.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of China’s Communist party about to shake hands at the G20 summit at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana cultural park in Badung, Bali, Indonesia. Photograph: PTI Photo
China has been steadily developing its infrastructure in the north east and is known to have built 128 villages on its side of the border with each of these villages known to be housing 100 families each. How much does our infrastructure match these development activities and does India’s military upgradation match that of China?
The Indian government woke up late to the value of infrastructure in the regions on the Indian side of LAC, and then only because the build-up of high quality roads and telecommunications network so tactically advantaged the PLA it could no longer be ignored.
Still, India is at least 15 years behind China in the density and quality of infrastructure, even if the buildup were to be put on a war-footing.
The territory on our side of the border is said to be much more difficult to negotiate than that of the Chinese side making this infrastructure development for India much more difficult.
That may be so. But engineering techniques to, say, construct roads in difficult terrain while much advanced elsewhere in the world are still to be fully adopted by the Border Roads Organisation.
Maybe it is time to speed up the underway infrastructure buildup by bringing in private sector engineering majors, such as Larsen & Toubro, to build roads and bridges, excavate tunnels, and set up dual-use telecommunications systems.
I understand the Chinese side has been using drones in this sector on a regular basis and did so in substantial numbers on November 9 while the Indian response was to bring in the Sukhoi fighter jets.
Remote-controlled Chinese drones have been active in eastern Ladakh for over a year now. But no Indian action was taken to counter them in kind for two reasons. One, India did not have drones with the range or the capacity to loiter over Chinese encampments for sustained surveillance.
And two, because such Chinese drone incursions may have been perceived as doing some good in that they informed the PLA sector commander of the concentration of Indian forces in the contested areas and their robust preparations for at least a short duration war. It may have dissuaded him from pursuing a more aggressive approach.
The flights by Chandigarh-based Su-30MKIs confirmed to the Chinese command the IAF’s operational readiness, just in case.
This latest transgression shows that China will continue to change the goal posts on this border issue in order to achieve tactical advantage over us.
So, what’s new? This is what the Chinese have been doing since the mid-1950s when they first laid down the highway connecting the mainland to Xinjiang through Indian Aksai Chin, which activity the Indian government was blissfully unaware of!
Is this being done by Xi Jinping in order to divert attention of the Chinese people from the internal issues troubling the country? These include unprecedented and widespread protests over the zero Covid policy as also the fact that its economy is not doing well.
Maybe. But as explained in my response to Question 1, these incidents are more likely part and parcel of a policy to keep the disputed border on the boil.
IMAGE: Then Eastern Air Commander and now retired Air Marshal Dilip Kumar Patnaik visits the Vijaynagar Advanced Landing Ground in Arunchal Pradesh to review operational preparedness and interacted with Indian Army troops deployed there. Photograph: ANI Photo
The objective for Xi is to promote hyper nationalistic tendencies within the Chinese public and this objective seems to match the efforts of our own prime minister with his aim to create hyper nationalistic Hindutva to suit his political objectives.
Nationalism is useful to drive nation-building and to pursue policies for socio-economic uplift.
Both Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping are leaders who would like to restore to India and China respectively, their past glories — some of them imagined!
IMAGE: Troops of the Indian Army at the International Border. Photograph: ANI Photo
How should India match this belligerence given that China does not want to solve the border dispute? China has said repeatedly that the whole of Arunachal is its territory and they consider it to be part of southern Tibet.
India has to aggresively counter the Chinese moves by not just reciprocating in kind, but going one better.
It is high time New Delhi played hardball. India should begin, for instance, to refer to ‘Chinese occupied Tibet’ and champion the cause of ‘Free Tibet’, recognise Taiwan as a separate sovereign entity, campaign for the rights of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and severely restrict the access Chinese goods and manufacturers enjoy to the Indian market.
Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free, and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.
The message from the recent 20th Chinese Communist party congress in Beijing was that the Chinese leadership will not soften its position either in eastern Ladakh or in Arunachal Pradesh.
Again, this is not a surprise. Chinese Communist party congresses haven’t varied in stating their country’s intention to realise territorially the China of yore, which includes, by Beijing’s reckoning, all the countries on the Himalayan watershed — Nepal, Bhutan and southern Xizang (that it calls especially the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh).
Beijing needs to be disabused of its notion that this can ever be achieved.
IMAGE: Indo-Tibetan Border Police women personnel patrol the area near the border with China in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo
China needs to dominate this area and the only power that can stand against it is India. Is this over-assertiveness on China’s part an attempt to cut us down to size, but for how long will we continue to find ourselves in this difficult situation?
Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China, and the world better adjust to that reality.
India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing by opening its market to its burgeoning industrial and manufacturing sector, and was reluctant to use the leverages it had (Chinese occupied Tibet, Free Tibet, Taiwan, Uyghur rights, market access).
It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi.
US and Western Europe likewise indulged China’s fantasies about an Asian order overseen by Beijing until the matter of the ‘nine dash line’ claims in the South China Sea and the security of Taiwan in the face of Chinese bellicosity melded with other issues — intellectual property rights, technology thievery, cyber warfare, and unbalanced trade, to revive concerns about the threat China posed to Western interests and to global peace and stability generally.
The result is a convergence of geopolitical, strategic and economic interests between India, Japan and other Asian States, the US and western Europe, and the beginnings of a collective effort to contain China.
China is giving US repeated warnings not to get close to the US.
Our response should be to tell Beijing to take a hike. And to warn Xi against getting close to Pakistan and proceeding with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said PLA troops had tried to transgress the de-facto border between India and China, with troops from both countries being injured.
Reacting to the clash in Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the situation is “stable” on its border with India.
“As far as we understand, the China-India border situation is stable overall,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, adding that the two sides had “maintained unobstructed dialogue on the border issue through diplomatic and military channels.”
Prof. Bharat Karnad, a former member of India’s National Security Council (NSC) and security analyst, shared with Sputnik his views on the latest incident on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Sputnik: The Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) clashed in Yangtse in Tawang on December 9. The two neighbors are currently engaged in both military and diplomatic talks in order to resolve the border deadlock in Ladakh. Is it possible that the face-off in the Arunachal sector was not an accident?
Bharat Karnad: The Chinese government never does anything that’s not preplanned. The clash in Yangtse, in the Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh, fits the bill.
This is also indicated by the fact that the PLA troops came armed for a fight minus small arms, but with wooden clubs with embedded nails, etc. — weapons of a kind that they previously used in the deadly Galwan encounter two-and-a-half years ago.
Sputnik: Do you regard this as part of a Chinese design to preempt the possibility of a future Dalai Lama being identified at the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama?
Bharat Karnad: China is intent on zeroing out Lamaist Buddhism in Chinese-occupied Tibet (COT) — that’s always been the long-term goal.
This objective has acquired urgency because of the current Dalai Lama’s age, which Beijing fears may prompt His Holiness to name a Tibetan child from the Tibetan exile community in India as his successor. It will mean that China’s attempts to subdue Tibet by integrating it into the mainland’s Han-Communist culture will continue to be complicated.
Sputnik: What kind of preparation — both military and infrastructure-wise — does India have in the Arunachal region? Does it lack capabilities in this particular sector?
Bharat Karnad: The XXXIII Corps — the largest corps in the Indian Army — is responsible for defending the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the northeast.
It is postured to take on the PLA, and is adequately equipped with sufficient stock of prepositioned stores to conduct operations even in the dead of winter, should Beijing choose to initiate hostilities.
Sputnik: Do you consider border tensions along the LAC as a persistent issue?
Bharat Karnad: Keeping the LAC unsettled with minor skirmishes and armed intrusions and otherwise to maintain a high level of tension is the Chinese strategy to keep the Indian army on its toes and tire it out. It’s because maintaining constant vigil at high altitudes is a damnably difficult business.
Such a military strategy is what Beijing employs as a means of pressuring the Indian government into making concessions at the negotiating table.
The Indian armed services, as I have long maintained, are really not serious about making the country self-reliant in arms, all their swearing by ‘atmnirbhar Bharat’ notwithstanding. The indenting by army under the “emergency financial powers” provision for 15,000 foreign-sourced Level-4 light body armour capable of stopping steel-core bullets at 10 meters for use by counter-insurgency troops in Kashmir, and the imminent decision by navy to go in for Rafale-Marine aircraft under its TEDBF (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter) programme, are only the latest manifestations of the military’s reluctance to give home-made products even a fighting chance.
Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, as far back as 2018 had readied for production tested technology for bullet-proof jackets weighing 6.6 kg using boron carbide ceramics that met milspecs. Indian companies — Tata Advanced Materials Ltd and MKU of Kanpur, have been exporting body armour for years. And yet, here’s the army misusing its emergency powers to secure “phoren maal”.
Death likewise awaits the indigenous navalised Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (NLCA) at the navy’s hands. The original air force variant of the Tejas LCA somehow survived IAF’s sustained efforts at killing it off, something the service had succeeded in doing with the home-grown Marut HF-24 fighter aircraft and its Mark-II version in the 1970s. The NLCA first performed a ski-jump takeoff demonstration at INS Hansa, Goa in 2017 and has since passed every performance metric from ‘sink rate’, angle-of-attack, to folding wing-tip, including perfectly executed take-offs and landings on Vikramaditya’s deck. (For technical details on the progress made in the NLCA programme and how it is being thwarted at every turn, see my 2018 book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, pages 289-305.) But it was nevertheless declared overweight and unfit for aircraft carrier duty — the protestations by the navy officered project that weight reduction was eminently doable and once outfitted with the more powerful GE 414 jet turbine engine, would meet reasonable requirements of range and payload capacity for single engined aircraft, making no headway with the Service brass.
Why? Because, well, the navy is well and truly embarked on the TEDBF — a cover, yeah, you guessed it, for importing the phoren Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, or the French Dassault Rafale-Marine, come naval Tejas or high water! And no, no atmnirbharta programme, or defence minister Rajnath Singh’s ‘No imports’ lists is going to stop them. However, the Rafale decision was made more palatable by justifying this imported TEDBF as an interim measure, a “stop gap” solution, until the heavier two-engined variant of Tejas became available in 2032 — or a decade from now. DRDO has promised the larger naval Tejas by then, which promise will be easier to keep considering just how adaptable the basic design is to a little upscaling for a twin-engined configuration, and because of the extraordinary progress in design and other avaiation technologies already made in the NLCA programme.
But the problem is this: Once the Rafale-M or the Super Hornet enter the Indian Naval carrier service and into the IAF as a 112-strong aircraft MMRCA fleet, the sheer inertia and the procurement logic (of reducing unit cost by buying larger numbers) will ensure follow-on buys of the Rafale or the F-18, and investments and interest in the Indian NLCA and successor carrier aircraft for the navy, and in the AMCA for the air force, will peter out.
This is, perhaps, what the Indian Navy and IAF want to see happen.
[The “customised” F-18 Super Hornet, with folded wing tips to fit the Vikrant lifts]
Assuming the Modi regime weathers the American pressure to buy F-18 and 26 Rafale-M are bought, 2032 is almost the timeline by which the sale formalities are likely to be completed and Rafale-M, if it is indeed chosen, is inducted in adequate numbers. Navy further decided that the always controversial pill of importing arms, this time the Rafale-M, would go down the government’s throat better if this TEDBF acquisition piggybacked on IAF’s Rafale deal. The case, was therefore, made that because IAF’s Rafale servicing and maintenance infrastructure was already in place, the cost-saving on this side-deal would be sizeable. Naval HQrs were confident the generalist babu-manned defence ministry would be unable to discern the spuriousness of this argument considering naval and air force fighting assets are rarely co-located.
Whatever the other ill-effects of the supposedly stop gap Rafale-M/F-18 acquisition, it will definitely write finis to the NLCA and hence also to the development of the twin engined naval Tejas, and possibly also the follow-on aircraft to IAF’s Tejas Mk-1A — the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft programme. The country then can kiss a royal good bye to genuine atmnirbharta and settle down in its long nursed arms dependency status. The fact is there’s just too much temptation offered by foreign firms for militarymen and civilians in the defence procurement loops that few apparently can resist. Senior uniformed officers, serving or retired, will never allude to it, but younger, more idealistic, officers in the Group Captain and equivalent grade, not yet compromised, readily point to the filthy lucre at work, all the hoo-ha about corruption-free G2G deals being so much pretense.
If the Modi government is serious about an “atmnirbhar Bharat” and wants to prevent the doing away by indirect means of the still infant indigenous defence industrial and aerospace capabilities, it can have a TEDBF, give the indigenous programmes much needed boost, and save tens of billions in hard currency — what it has to do is have Rajnath Singh immediately announce that the government has reconsidered its decision and the single engined NLCA programme will be put on a warfooting, and be the precursor to the wholly India made TEDBF– the 2-engine medium weight navalised Tejas — to fly off the Vikramaditya and Vikrant decks ten years from now. He should also announce that the government will look askance at all procurement proposals hereon from any military service for importing weapons systems and platforms that, intended or not, undermine the government’s atmnirbharta policy. And that the government will ensure by diplomatic means to not put the navy in harm’s way by asking it to pull distant missions beyond their ken. After all, it is diplomacy army generals, and flagrank military officers generally suggest, do they not, as the means to fend off for the nonce a conventionally superior China in Ladakh and elsewhere on the Line of Actual Control?
What are the chances the Modi government will do as recommended above?
Now let’s turn to Rafale-M and how India has been a boon to France, the French defence industry, and to foreign arms suppliers generally.
France invested some $50 billion in developing the Rafale combat aircraft and found no buyers, earning for this warplane the sobriquet of a “cursed” aircraft after a bunch of countries — Brazil, Libya, Morocco, and Switzerland serially rejected it.
Then in April 2015, India galloped on to the scene replaying its familiar role of upkeeping Western defence programmes — the proverbial knight coming to the aid of fair maidens in distress, this even as the enormously capable Indian private sector defence industry is in a permanent state of funk, pleading for custom to survive! The Indian beneficence in this case came in April 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Paris decided to short circuit the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) process and take Rafale in a government-to-government (G2G) deal ostensibly to cut the middleman, commissions, etc. out of the procurement circus. New Delhi plonked down $6.9 billion in hard currency for 36 “customized” Rafales for the Indian Air Force.
“Customized” usually means hanging a lot of bells and jangles on the hardware to make a duffer of a Third World customer feel he’s getting something extra for his hard earned and scarce money! (Even so, many people in the know claim the costs were padded to the extent of Rs 1,000 crore for each of the 36 Rafales IAF has acquired via the G2G transaction!)
By way of contrast, the same year — 2015, Egypt too jumped on board, agreeing to consider this warplane for its air force. But a cleverer Cairo signed up only in May 2021 for 24 of this aircraft with promise to purchase 30 more in due time for a total of 50 Rafales, to be paid for — wait for it! — with France’s own money! Paris agreed to finance the entire deal with a 10 year loan for the package worth $4.5 billion. With the euro’s annual inflation rate of nearly 11% (10.61% actually) in October 2022 as baseline, it means Egypt will secure at least 24 Rafales for virtually nothing! (Like the masses of military hardware India got in the “good old days” from the USSR at 2% interest, i.e, virtually free.)
France has cannily played on two aspects, that (1) unlike the US, and UK and Sweden (whose Gripen combat aircraft are powered by US engines and hence sanctionable), Rafale customers can be worry free — the supply of spares and service support being outside the numbra of potential US sanctions. After all, the Indian Navy remembers how its Westland Sea King anti-submarine warfare helicopter fleet was instantly grounded once US imposed sanctions in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, because the Sea King — a British licensed version of the Sikorsky S-61, had US components. And (2) that there are no ‘black box” technologies — an inducement for India to license manufacture the Rafale to meet IAF’s MMRCA need for another 112 aircraft, all technologies, including avionics, will be transferred. It is a tech transfer deal that does not include the high-value munitions (Meteor, Hammer, etc), of course!!
The revenues in billions of dollars generated from the sale of the 4.5 gen Rafale — exactly the same generation as the Tejas, will be poured into the 6th gen fighter aircraft France and Germany have just decided jointly to design, develop and produce by 2050. The sum of $3.8 billion for the first phase (labeled ‘1B’) for feasibility study has already been authorized.
Meanwhile, the indigenous Indian combat aircraft programmes will die a slow death from lack of service interest in them and consequent starvation of funds.
The Chanakya Dialogues were conducted by the Chanakya Foundation on Nov 12, 2022. In this particular session the discussion ranged from Chinese perceptions of India, Xi’s 2-track India policy, ways to tackle the China threat, to the sort of half-cocked atmnirbharta programme now underway. At https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Lq_Id6WHBQ
Just returned from a trip to Singapore and, especially, Cambodia which I had longed to visit and where I beheld the largest religious monuments of any kind in the world — the magnificence of Angkor Wat, built in early 12th Century by the Khmer emperor Suryavarman II in his capital of Yasodapura, and was immediately reminded of AL Basham’s book — The Wonder That Was India [note the past tense] I read as an undergrad at the University of California that tracked the rise of the Chola and Srivijaya empires in littoral Southeast Asia, and the still earlier Indic influences in that part of the world.
There it was hundreds of acres of temple complexes of at once enormous size and delicacy, celebrating the pantheon of Hindu gods and their many avatars — Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma (the temple dedicated to the last named being restored with the help and technical assistance of the Archaelogical Survey of India) but now with Buddha figures installed in them, and unending temple walls filled with friezes and engravings depicting the Ramayana, with one of the panels showing, as our mischief-minded but well informed guide, who identified himself as a “Hindu-Buddhist-animist”, slyly pointed out Sita sitting on Ravana’s lap having apparently succumbed to the irresistible charms of the Sri Lankan king! There was even Hanuman beer to quaff down with our meals.
Even as one ruminated over the lost glory, a conclusion I had reached in my book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, was strengthened, that India’s decline began when it stopped expanding territorially, and that it was territorial expansion that sourced the rapid spread of Hinduism and Hindu culture and values in maritime Asia, including China and Japan, and is why ‘Greater India’ happened. Juxtapose such history with statements by present day Indian leaders claiming India never coveted or occupied foreign lands, and you see the problem! Defence minister Rajnath Singh being only the latest neta to mouth such inanities.
Anyway back to the quoutidian concerns of South Asia!
Every few years when an army chief in Pakistan deigns to vacate his post, the country lapses into a succession crisis. There’s another such catharsis afoot in Pakistan today with the imminent announcement of the name of an officer to replace the current chief General Javed Qamar Bajwa who demits office by end-November. In the order of seniority — which means little, the list of possible successors features Lt General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah — the army’s Quarter Master General and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt General Sahir Shamshad Mirza — GOC, X Corps (Rawalpindi) and ex-Chief of the General Staff (CGS), Lt General Azhar Abbas, current CGS and former commander X Corps, Lt General Numan Mahmud, President of the National Defence University and ex-GOC, XI Corps (Peshawar), and Lt General Faiz Hameed, GOC, XXXI Corps (Bahawalpur) and ex-chief, ISI.
If one is a betting man, the odds line up particularly against Faiz Hameed. It is unlikely Hameed will make it for several reasons. He loudly owned up to helping the Taliban defeat the US in Afghanistan and finds himself in the doghouse vis a vis Washington, and those whom the Americans detest have their prospects automatically dimmed in Islamabad. Worse, Hameed publicly tagged his future to the deposed Pakistan Tehreeq-i-Insaaf party PM — Imran Khan Niazi, himself hoisted into the kursi with ISI help, whom Bajwa has accused of propagating a “false narrative” about the Pakistan army (that it interferes in domestic politics and, surprise! surprise! plays favourites!!). For these reasons Bajwa unceremoniously removed Hameed from ISI and dumped him in Bahawalpur. As a consequence, the latter has, as the saying goes, a spitball’s chance in hell!
The recent pattern of elevations would suggest the seniormost officer who is to be passed over is given an extra pip and appointed Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee — a post presently held by General Nadeem Raza. So the 18th Chairman, JCSC, will likely be Asim Munir Shah. With Hameed out of the picture, the race is then between Mirza, Abbas and Mahmud. Abbas as CGS has the insider’s odds on his side. But my intuition says it will be Mahmud who gets the nod because he is in a relatively innocuous post where it is difficult to make enemies and, therefore, seems politically to be the safest. This is no small metric considering Nawaz Sharif in 2016 chose Bajwa, who was Inspector General, Training and Evaluation, as army chief over corps commanders senior to him. Bajwa’s antipathy to Imran notwithstanding, the PTI head has raised such a stink over the next COAS’s selection that while picking Imran’s choice, Hameed, is out of question, Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, in consultation with Bajwa, may alight on Mahmud as the least objectionable candidate. This last is important because COAS’s appointment has to have President Arif Alvi’s consent, and Alvi is Imran Khan’s acolyte.
Unfortunately for Pakistan, its prime ministers have often chosen their memesis as army chiefs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked Zia ul-Haq, so down on the seniority list, he wasn’t even in the original “summary” the defence ministry drew up. And then at Bhutto’s insistence, Zia was included in the seniority list with reluctance by the departing COAS General Tikka Khan. As Tikka Khan told me when I visited him at his Rawalpindi home in December 1982 when he was under “house arrest” — Bhutto’s weakness was he was partial to flattery and loved flatterers. Aware of this, Zia as GOC II Strike Corps, Multan, laid it on thick when Bhutto visited his command headquarters. There, per Tikka, Zia quite literally kowtowed to Bhutto, even swearing personal loyalty to him with his hand on a copy of the Quran! Tikka recalled, with choicest Punjabi abuses, how hard he tried to dissuade Bhutto from choosing Zia, warning him of “qayamat”! Some years later Nawaz Sharif like wise selected Parvez Musharraf who, after his coup d’etat rather than hang him, as Zia did Bhutto, exiled him to Saudi Arabia.
So, it is hard to tell which officer on the short list catches Shabaz’s fancy and why, and with what ultimate result.
But let’s be clear just how extraordinarily high the personal stakes are. It means instant power and riches to the officer who is selected. Bajwa and his family members, for instance, have for no apparent fault of theirs (!) become billionaires in the 6 years of his tenure with proliferating property and prized land acquisitions in choicest locations in the West, in Dubai and, of course, in cantonment towns within Pakistan! The surprise is Bajwa’s tax returns, leaked to the media, reveal this!
[The departing Chinese ambassador, Sun Weidong, and Jaishankar]
Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador who is returning to Bejing, surely did not expect the Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, to crown his stint in New Delhi with an Indian policy turn that the Xi Jinping regime had long hoped for but could not in its wildest dreams have imagined would be gifted to it on a platter, on an unmemorable occasion, and without China having to pay a price for it. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, what Jaishankar did not say — which in this case is far more significant than what he, in fact, said, removes all the hurdles to normalization of bilateral relations that were stuck in the glitch created by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) surreptitious takeover in recent years of over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, mostly in the Depsang Plains. In an otherwise protocol dictated meeting October 25 in which a departing foreign envoy is bid farewell by the host foreign minister, the sort of event in which nothing of import usually ever happens, Jaishankar made Sun’s and Beijing’s day!
So, what did Jaishankar not say that may have bad consequences? According to media reports, the Indian foreign minister emphasized that normalcy would return to bilateral relations on the basis of “peace and tranquility” being re-established in the disputed border regions. There was no hint anywhere of Jaishankar forcefully iterating the specific condition India has so far insisted on — restoration of the status quo ante! And even if he did mention it in passing, not making a hoo-ha about it is just as revealing. It is very likely the absence of this phrase or its emphatic repetition, will be interpreted by Beijing to mean that New Delhi has accepted China’s grabbing of vast tracts of Ladakhi real estate as a fait accompli. One can expect Sun to have sent a note to Zhongnanhai mentioning this Indian concession, something Chinese interlocuters in the future will bring up as a principle-setting precedent to dismiss the notion of restoring to India its territory, and to make the point that the two countries should put the unpleasantness of PLA-initiated hostilites in eastern Ladakh behind them, and get on with the business of the Indian consumer doing what he is good at, namely, buying plenty of Chinese goods and manufactures to keep Chinese industries humming and making an already prosperous China wealthier.
Even as Sino-Indian tensions were asimmer, Chinese exports to India of capital machinery and intermediate goods (such as pharmaceutical ingredients) this year surged to a record high of nearly $90 billion even as Indian exports to China shrank by 36.4% and the balance of payments got further skewed. In the current two-way trade of some $125 billion, India’s take was a little more than $25 billion. It is a one-sided wealth-transfer trend the Modi government has done next to nothing to reverse.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the other day talked of completing what he called the “Kashmir mission” in the foreseeable future of taking back Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Baltistan. He justified it in terms of a Parliamentary Resolution. Curiously, Parliament’s 1962 Resolution, still standing, that requires the Indian government to fight and to do whatever else is necessary to recover “every inch of Indian territory” lost to China since before the 1962 War, is conveniently forgotten by the Modi regime.
Annexation of Indian territory began, it may be recalled, with parts of Aksai Chin through which the Chinese built the Xinjiang Highway amalgamated into Chinese-occupied Tibet that the Indian government became aware of only in 1958! Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rationalised India’s ignorance of such offensive Chinese carryings-on by saying it involved land “on which not even a blade of grass grew”. A similar appeasement-minded outlook appears to be congealing around the need to cut deals with Xi’s China that will, unfortunately, allow the Indian government formally to accept a China that is territorially expanding at India’s expense, but free up strategic policy space and resources to, presumably, belabour Pakistan!
One is not sure what to make of the Modi government’s obsession with reducing an already much reduced Pakistan. No country is more seriously tanking financially, politically and socially than Pakistan. Any dim-witted politician would take to heart Napoleon Bonaparte’s advice to not interfere when an adversary is making mistake after mistake, seemingly intent on taking himself down. With General Qamar Javed Bajwa apparently serious about detaching the Pakistan army from the snakepit that is Pakistani politics, but Imran Khan, disqualified from fighting elections on corruption grounds, just as focussed on bringing matters to a head with his underway “long march” on Islamabad with its potential for exacerbating domestic fissures and faultlines to the point of endangering the Pakistani state, that country is in for a rough ride. It is a situation, Imran expects, will compel the Pakistan army to either takeover the reins of power for another round of martial law rule, or comply with his demand to dislodge the Muslim League (Nawaz) government of Shahbaz Sharif and order elections which, he expects, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party to win. Any which way this mess gets sorted out, Imran is confident he won’t lose.
The only thing guaranteed to get the warring elements within the Pakistani nation to forget their differences are revelations of actions by the Modi-Doval-Jaishankar trio to weaken Pakistan. (In this respect, India’s squeak-by win in the T-20 World Cup opener in Melbourne hasn’t helped!). So, stand down!
Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the think-tank in New Delhi, discusses the implications of Xi Jinping being re-elected for a third term as China’s leader for India and the rest of the world.
“The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal about the screening of the Galwan Valley footage where Indian and Chinese troops fought in June 2020 at the Chinese Communist party’s 20th party congress in Beijing on Sunday.
With Xi Jinping in all certainty getting a third term as general secretary of China’s Communist party this weekend and a likely third term as president of the People’s Republic of China in March, what does this mean for India and for the world?
More of the same. Meaning, that he will wait for the Modi government to make the reconciliation moves, which will not happen. Because Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has expressly refuted Beijing’s statement that normalcy was returning to Sino-Indian relations. He reminded the Xi regime that the territorial status quo ante had to be first restored before normalcy can have a chance.
For the world, Xi’s third term means aggravation of the Sino-US rivalry. With Washington and European countries rolling out a number of punitive anti-China laws to deny Chinese goods easy access to their markets, prevent it from stealing/hacking advanced technologies and disrespecting Intellectual Property Rights, and to reduce dependence on China for critical stuff, like semi-conductors, and on Chinese supply chains supporting their industries, and with (United States) President Joe Biden promising militarily to curtail Chinese moves at forcible Taiwan reunification, the military competition in the Indo-Pacific is set to become sharper.
Some weeks ago it was suggested that a palace coup had taken place and Xi had been sidelined. But obviously, this news was incorrect.
The politics of Zhongnanhai (the government complex in Beijing where the major leaders of the Chinese Communist party live and work) has always been difficult to read. But it is usually safe to disregard rumours of dire events happening behind its walls.
IMAGE: Xi at the opening ceremony of the 20th party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters
Xi has harnessed an aggressive nationalism which he claims will see the cultural and military rejuvenation of China. How far will he succeed in this objective?
With the Chinese armed forces afforded large budgets and a relatively free hand, Xi Jinping in his first two terms had already gone some ways towards turning China into a garrison State. His statements at the Communist Party Congress suggest he is doubling down on firming up the China ‘fortress’. In other foreign policy areas, like in the programmes of strategic outreach, for example, he has had mixed results. While many of the projects in his Belt Road Initiative (such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) have stalled, the Chinese presence in the western Pacific centering on the Solomon Islands has met with considerable success.
Xi’s goals can be achieved by creating a fighting military machine. Its force, albeit, was tested two years against India in Ladakh in which the Chinese more or less have achieved their objectives.
As usually happens with the Indian military and government, they had no clue about the stealthy Chinese advance onto the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and generally about the forward area buildup in eastern Ladakh. So when the PLA went overt with their tactical offensive on the Galwan river, they caught the Indian army and MEA with their pants down. It has forced India on the defensive.
IMAGE: Communist leaders applaud Xi at the party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
The Galwan Valley footage was shown at the opening of the party congress in Beijing on Sunday. What does that indicate?
The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it.
India put up a challenge to the Chinese army in Doklam in 2017, but ever since the Chinese have built up a vast infrastructure of roads and helipads claiming this entire area as their own. Do you see them blockading Indian forces in this area?
Tackling the PLA in the contested trijunction Doklam area has always been problematic because it also involves Bhutan. Powerful sections within Bhutanese ruling circles that Beijing has cultivated over the years want a rapprochement even if that riles New Delhi. That particular Bhutanese view seems to be that if ceding a bit of territory here and there to China generates goodwill, it may be no bad thing.
With Russia involved in the Ukraine war and with the US focus shifted to this conflict, the Quad no longer enjoys the kind of primacy in its mental bandwidth as was the case earlier. This is bound to benefit the Chinese who are free to carry out aggressive actions in South Asia.
It isn’t as if the Quad was ever operationalised or was militarily active. India, the US, Japan and Australia have all seen it as more of a loose political-military arrangement to discomfit China. Besides, the Ukraine imbroglio is a land-based contingency while the Indo-Pacific is a maritime theatre of conflict. The two require quite different sets of wherewithal and capabilities. So the US/NATO focus on the Donbas region that Russia wants to annex will only marginally affect its efforts in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea or the East Sea.
IMAGE: A telecast of the deliberations at the Communist party congress for journalists covering the event at a hotel in Beijing, October 19, 2022. Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters
Will Xi continue to issue periodic warnings against Taiwan or do you see any likelihood of a future attack?
A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is far from imminent. After all, Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine have got Xi and the PLA thinking that, maybe, attacking Taiwan is not such a great idea! However, attempts at reunification are possible in the middle to distant future (20-50 years). But by then Taipei will likely have secured nuclear weapons for itself, making it immune to any Chinese adventure.
Why has there been such complete capitulation in China. Did Xi not face any opposition at all?
What capitulation? Xi always controlled the PLA and the other levers of power. So there was never any serious contender for power on the scene.
Is Xi going to see any breaks at all in his quest for Chinese supremacy as the number one power in the globe?
All trends and indices suggest that while it will be a hard slog for China to ascend to the numero uno status, it will always be a force to reckon with in Asia and the world.
How do you see the US response to these developments?
Well, the US and the West are taking all the measures necessary to prevent China from having an easy run to the top. Washington realiSes it made a mistake by helping China become a powerful trading nation and industrial power — the manufacturing hub of the world. In the future, it will try with its European allies and Japan and Australia to retard China’s relentless progress.
After a long hiatus and endless speculation, the country finally has a Chief of Defence Staff and successor to the late General Bipin Rawat — General Anil Chauhan. Like his predecessor in this post, he is a Gurkha officer and, more importantly, a native of Pauri Garhwal — an origin they fortuitously share with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. The Pauri Garhwali fellowship aside, Chauhan’s time as Director-General, Military Operations during the Balakot strike operation that was, in reality, more a “political” and “public relations” stunt than a military success, may have earned him plus points at the PMO and appointments, after retiring as the Eastern Army commander, as Military Adviser to the National Security Council that Doval oversees and now as CDS and, concurrently, Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA), and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. (The DGMO’s brief during the Balakot op would have been to keep the army primed for hostilities in case Pakistan followed up the chase by its F-16s of the Indian strike aircraft in scoot mode with army action.)
Chauhan seems a run-of-the-mill careerist type who got lucky (in terms of political connections). He has no paper trail in terms of writings, public speeches, etc. that would clue us to the views he holds on military and national security matters and, even less, about what he means to do. It is obvious that when Rawat was anointed CDS, Modi-Doval had no road map on armed forces’ integation and theaterisation of commands, and Rawat felt free to voice some very definite but wrong-headed views. Such as the air force as a support service, expeditionary forces as unnecessary and, not for the right reasons, aircraft carriers as unaffordable luxuries. They ended up stiffening the resistance to his initiatives from the get-go. Chauhan while publicly more circumspect is reported by “government officials” as saying that there have been enough “discussions” already and “it is now time to move forward” on implementing theaterisation of commands, his priority.
But realization of theatre commands assumes that all three armed services are on the same page and, moreover, that a certain level of integration of the services has already been achieved — neither of which is true! Indeed, the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari preempted the constitution of the ‘Air Defence Command’ by announcing on October 4 the establishment of a new and separate operational stream within his service — the so-called Weapons Systems Branch headed by an Air Marshal-rank officer to control all of IAF’s surface-to-air missile and surface-to-surface missile squadrons and fleet of surveillance and attack drones! And, doubling down, he stated plainly that his service’s air power doctrine cannot be compromised, and added that theaterised commands would only complicate operational and other decisionmaking by adding another layer to it! So, whatever Chauhan has in mind to do, the IAF is not on-board.
But what’s the thinking in his parent service — the army. Consider the views of two retired officers, Lieutenant Generals Raj Shukla, whose last two postings as Commandant, Army War College, and head of the Army Training Command in Shimla, presumably afforded him the time to mull over issues in some depth, and Satish Dua, a former Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and GOC, XV Corps in J&K.
While conceding that “integrated theatre commands are an important structural correction”, Shukla in a somewhat confused and confusing Hindustan Times op-ed of Sept 30, considered them remnants of the “industrial era”, and hinted at “parallel pathways” to jointness courtesy “digital integration, tri-service clouds, Artificial Intelligence-enabled combat frameworks” which, he claimed, would produce “superior” “military autonomy” than theatre commands (but is military autonomy the objective of military integration?), before lurching sideways to urge General Chauhan to make “an immediate, accelerated and ambitious turn to the seas, even as we fortify our combat posture” on the disputed land border with China.
Delving into the challenges facing Chauhan, Dua’s op-ed on the same day in the Times of India was less futuristic and more hopeful that the new CDS will “carry forward” Rawat’s “endeavour”, further the cause of “civil-military fusion”, and prepare the system for “multi-domain warfare” by utilizing the DMA. He regards theaterisation as a means of using “existing resources for an optimised combat effectiveness”, which he admits will be no easy task to realize. But he advises Chauhan to take “strong decisions” if he finds “unanimity” among services chiefs missing meaning, apparently, that he should hold Air Chief Marshal Chaudhuri’s feet to the fire, ride roughshod over the IAF’s objections to the air defence command, while ensuring that this “transition” is “smooth”. How the CDS is to do all this, Dua doesn’t say.
Shukla’s and Dua’s writings — and one can refer to a bunch of other similar articles by serving and retired military personnel on the subject of jointness-integration-theaterisation, are symptomatic of the problem. It is all airy-fairy stuff. Everybody knows where to go but no clear-cut ideas of how to get there.
Some 20 years ago at an army symposium in Bangalore I presented a paper that envisaged four stages leading to forces integration — cooperation, coordination, jointness, integration. I said then that the Indian armed services are stuck in the first stage of cooperating, willy-nilly, during crisis and war, and that coordination some time happens if, say, NDA coursemates from different services decide to work closely outside usual channels in an emergency, and that the last two stages of jointness and integration are thresholds realistically so far beyond realization as to be mere abstractions! Into the third decade of the new millennium, little substantively has changed.
A major restructuring of armed forces is not a joke, or indulged in on a political whim. It requires a singularity of vision and, ideally, years of serious and sustained study and inter-services discussions, and interactions at the services HQ-level, in-depth reports from in-house and diverse external sources — informed analysts, academics, thinktanks and management consultants that explore the technology trends and management imperatives, different models of military manpower usage, systems of procurements and budgetary allocations, experiences of military integration in other countries, and involves fleshing out of alternative schemes of jointness and the costs of such transformation, and finally wargaming and practical exercises to test and validate the alternative schemata of operational wartime and peacetime decisionmaking to see what works best. That’s how the most effective mix of military and nonmilitary elements and the meshing of different decisionmaking. command and control designs, can be discovered and armed services restructured in the most effective way. As far as I know, none of this has happened and yet the country is embarked on a major reordering of its armed forces.
Surely, the Modi government can’t be very serious about military integration and theaterisation of commands, because as things stand now the underway efforts seem like passing political fancy. But two moves would still make a difference even if the ground is inadequately prepared for such overhaul. Because more time cannot be wasted on the preparatory work; it will have to be the trial and error method. The Prime Minister has, firstly, to be the principal stakeholder in this exercise and use the whip against the military pooh-bahs and laggards undermining/delaying the process. This may involve firing reluctant services chiefs of staff and retiring principal staff officers in Services headquarters. And secondly, and more importantly, he has to invest Chauhan with the necessary authority — the CDS cannot be the first among equals; in a military milieu that won’t work. He has to be a five star officer — a Field Marshal/Admiral of the Fleet/Marshal of the Air Force, who outranks everybody and whose orders and instructions the services chiefs can ignore or resist at their peril. Absent these steps, Modi may as well whistle for theaterisation.
The Prime Minister may care to learn a lesson or two from the American experience. In the US, President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson took ownership of the unification plan and were the political piledrivers, who pulverzied the objections of the military, especially the senior service — the US Navy, and brusquely dismissed the parochial fears of the Admirals of renown — the Chester Nimitz’s and the Arleigh Burke’s, who had gained fame in the Second World War and opposed military unification. There was also no great body of studies and reports leading to the military integration and the emergence of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. There was but a single design for unification outlined in a short paper authored by a single person, not a committee — Stimson’s adviser and confidante, a man named Ferdinand. The trial and error method here led to an exercise in rectification and a second defence system overhaul in the 1980s — the Goldwater-Nichols Act.
‘When the war against Ukraine that Putin started is not going the way he was expecting it to and his military options are getting onerous, a bit of nuclear sabre rattling is what he hopes will turn things around for him and Russia.’
IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an event marking the 1160th anniversary of Russian statehood in the city of Veliky Novgorod, Russia, September 21, 2022. Photograph: Sputnik/Ilya Pitalev/Pool via Reuters
Is President Putin’s frequent sabre rattling on the use of nuclear weapons a sombre warning to Western countries? A genuine threat? Or is he simply bluffing.
Dr Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the Delhi think-tank, and a national security expert explains the chain of developments taking place following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“No one in Moscow expected Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to react the way they did nor anticipated that the US/NATO would set up an arms supply line enabling Ukrainian forces,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
Why is President Putin resorting to frequent nuclear sabre rattling? Are these threats creating the desired fear in the West as Putin would like to believe?
When the war against Ukraine that Putin started is not going the way he was expecting it to and his military options are getting onerous, a bit of nuclear sabre rattling is what he hopes will turn things around for him and Russia.
But it is not having the effect he expected in the main because a 75-year-old nuclear use taboo is hard to overcome, particularly because conventional military setbacks in Ukraine and that too of Russia’s making, don’t seem serious enough provocation.
IMAGE: A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters
How is Nato indulging in ‘nuclear blackmail’ of Russia? Is the territorial integrity of Russia being threatened as Putin claims?
Well, the context is this. The informal understanding of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that promised joint US-Russian-UK security guarantees for Ukraine in return for Kyiv giving up its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal, was that Ukraine would remain outside NATO. Moscow believes this was violated by the moves underway to fast-track Ukraine’s membership in NATO.
And that once inside the NATO fold, Ukraine could invoke nuclear protection clauses of the alliance — which Moscow interprets as ‘nuclear blackmail’, to prevent Russia from achieving its objective of annexing the Donbas-Crimean flank to the Black Sea.
Crimea was forcibly absorbed by Russia in 2014.
According to Putin, this flank, with an ethnic Russian majority, that connects Crimea and Donbas to Russia, but outside Moscow’s control would imperil its access to, and render it vulnerable from, the sea and therefore constitutes a security threat.
Are these warnings being issued by President Putin so that Western countries stop their escalation of weapon supply to Ukraine?
Certainly, the US/NATO supply of armaments, especially precision-guided munitions (PGMs), to Ukrainian forces have frustrated Russian plans for rapid armoured thrusts to take the Donbas region.
Whether threats of use ‘of all available means’ will prompt the US to terminate the military supply pipeline is doubtful — the strategic gains from keeping Russia thus militarily engaged in Ukraine and progressively weakening are too substantial to forego.
IMAGE: Ukrainian soldiers repair a Russian tank captured during a counteroffensive operation near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region. Photograph: Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters
During the recent Modi-Putin interaction in Samarkand, President Putin told Prime Minister Modi that while Russia was keen to end the fighting, the Ukrainian leadership did not want to negotiate a peace settlement. How far is that perception correct?
Hard to know what the truth is when faced with conflicting Russian and Ukrainian accounts.
The facts are these: Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 without much Ukrainian resistance.
Moscow believed that for the same reasons Kyiv would not hugely oppose the Russian takeover of the Donbas.
Except, Ukrainian President Vlodoymyr Zelenskyy was unwilling to cede this territory as well to Russia with or without a fight. So both in a sense are right!
With the kind of reverses the Russian army has faced recently in Kharkiv and with there being no cessation of weapon supplies to Ukraine so far, do you see Russian reverses on the battlefield on the rise and if that is indeed the case, will there be a likelihood of Putin resorting to the use of nuclear tactical weapons in the future?
The use of tacnukes is not likely for reasons of the nuclear taboo already mentioned. But Putin is, perhaps, using such threat of use by way of a Russian doctrinal innovation, namely, the principle of ‘escalate to de-escalate’.
Meaning, make the threat of tacnuke use real and imminent enough to raise fears in Washington about the situation spiraling into a strategic exchange, and thus compel it to pressure Kyiv into halting hostilities and into some kind of accommodation with Moscow.
IMAGE: Destroyed Russian tanks in Ukraine. Photograph: Irina Rybakova/Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via Reuters
The world is also interested in getting a clearer picture of what is happening at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with its six reactors, making it the largest nuclear power station in Europe which is being operated with the help of Ukrainian workers. Each of Zaporizhzhia’s reactors would cost $7 billion to replace, and with fighting going on around the plant experts do not to rule out a Chernobyl-like disaster.
Zaporizhzhia could be another Chernobyl. Then again not.
Putin, perhaps, has in mind to use the threat to strike this massive nuclear power station as a hostage to ‘good’ behaviour by Washington and Kyiv. But such tactics are risky because any radioactivity leakage as a consequence of a hit on it could affect the Russian hinterland too because radioactive clouds could easily float across and drop down as rain and infect the Russian countryside or urban areas.
But the reported missile attack on a hydroelectric plant just 300 metres from the nuclear reactors at another Ukrainian nuclear power station in Yuznoukrainsk in southern Ukraine could be a signal to the US and NATO that Moscow’s nuclear use threat is ‘not a bluff’.
IMAGE: Russian grenade launchers captured by the Ukrainian armed forces during a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. Photograph: Press service of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters
The holding of a referendum set to take place in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia over the weekend provides an interesting subtext to the ongoing developments. Why is this referendum being held in the first place?
The referendum ordered by Putin in these areas is retroactively to endow the Russian actions to annex the Donbas region of Ukraine with a veneer of legitimacy and as a means of showing popular support for the Russian campaign of ‘reunification’. And also, just may be, as a means of blunting Western calls for Russian reparations for the destruction visited upon Ukraine by the war.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Samarkand, September 16, 2022. Photograph: Kind courtesy @narendramodi/Twitter
Has the Ukrainian invasion proved to be a major miscalculation on the part of Russia?
Yes, because no one in Moscow expected Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to react the way they did, nor anticipated that US/NATO would set up an arms supply line enabling Ukrainian forces to fight without worrying over much about whether their stocks of guns, ammo, artillery and PGMs to sustain such a fight, would last and for how long.
Moscow also miscalculated about just how much of a public relations disaster this war has been.
While Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people are seen as heroic in resisting aggression, Russia and its military are seen as bumblers, with much of the world perceiving the conflict as an avoidable misadventure.
It is bad news when even friendly states, such as India and China that Moscow had hoped would sit on the fence, think it best to distance themselves from Russia.
The one thing tried and tested diplomats are not supposed to do is use wrong words that convey or signal the wrong message, and provide ammunition to the adversary.
In the wake of the verified pullback (begun Sept 8, completed Sept 12) by Indian and Chinese PLA troops from the Gogra and Hot Springs areas of Ladakh, the external affairs minister S Jaishankar said this yesterday, to quote him in toto: “You have heard me speak many times about the border. I don’t think I would say anything new there today, except I would recognise that we had disengagement at P[atrolling]P[oint]-15 and the disngagement as I understand was completed and that is one problem less on the border.”
The inelegance of his statement [sure, it was extemporaneous, but diplomats are supposed to be able to think on their feet and, at all times, speak carefully] — repetition of words (engagement) and wrong construction (“new there” — where?; “new” about the “border” is, perhaps, what he meant to say) apart, what the minister said is disturbing, more so in light of the MEA spokesman’s statement of Sept 9 elaborating on the short press release issued a day earlier.
Take the most important point in the MEA statement, that India and China will “cease forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner, resulting in the return of the troops of both sides to their respective areas.” What are the “respective areas” being referred to here? The area to which Indian units have retreated to are, of course, in India. But so is the “area” the PLA troops have got back to!
Thus, the Indian government has implicitly accepted a Ladakh remapped by China! Worse, another point in this MEA statement commits India to ensuring that there will be no attempt unilaterally to change the new “status quo” that’s obtained. A third important point promises talks to “resolve the remaining issues along LAC and restore peace and tranquility in India-China border areas”, including the PPs 10, 11, 12, 13, presumably, along the same lines. With the PLA controlling the Y-Junction — the entry point, as it were, to the Depsang Bulge adjoining the Xinjiang Highway, Indian units cannot access these areas.
The question to ask the Modi regime, therefore, is this: Has it first of all accepted the Chinese 1959 claim line? This latest agreement would suggest it has. It means New Delhi, in effect. has formally renounced India’s historic border with China. China has offered the solution of a buffer zone to be implemented piecemeal — as a means of separating the two armies and avoiding hostile encounters of the 2020 Galwan kind. One such partial buffer zone was earlier established with the Tibetan exiles-manned Special Frontier Force units climbing down from Rezang La, and other posts on the Kailash Range heights in exchange for the PLA withdrawing from the Finger 3 terrain feature on the northern shore of the Pangong Tso. That was a bum deal.
Now another swath of land running across Gogra and Hot Springs too is a buffer. Once fully negotiated, Beijing hopes the buffer zone would stretch all the way from the Depsang to the Pangong Lake. In fact, senior army officers indicate that the PLA commander at the recent 16th session of the corps level army commanders’ meeting communicated that China may consider vacating the Depsang Plains in return for India accepting such a buffer zone. The former Northern Army commander, Lt Gen HS Panag, too hints that such an arrangement may be in the works. (See https://theprint.in/opinion/no-war-no-peace-in-pp15-but-china-wants-more-in-depsang-plains-charding-ninglung-nala/1129023/ )
Presently, there are three claim lines — one that India has historically recognized as the Sino-Indian boundary (and so identified in the map below). The second line is the 1959 Chinese claimline (dotted yellow line) incorporating the entire mass of territory in northeastern Ladakh and Indian Aksai Chin totaling some 1,000 sq kms. And the third line is the Line of Actual Control (in red). Except there is a belt of Indian territory between the second and the third lines the Chinese have intruded into and are negotiating about. They would like to see this in-between territory converted into a Depsang to Pangong Tso buffer zone, in effect, a de-militarized zone (DMZ) a’la the 38th Parallel in Korea delineated for military reasons by US President Harry Truman, the Soviet jefe maximo, Josef Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the post-WW II Potsdam Conference in July 1945.
It is in this context, that Jaishankar’s comment of “one problem less on the border” merits concern. Look at the map again. Would any government sign away India’s sovereignty on so large a piece of national territory without making a case for it, and participating in informed debates within Parliament and outside just because the Prime Minister needed to create a conducive milieu for his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand?
The Chinese are seemingly working on the principle what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is also mine barring what you are ready to fight for, and India on the basis that whatever I can get from China is fine. Over the years,this fairly lax Indian attitude has enabled a mostly peaceful, because stealthy, takeover of Indian territory by the Chinese until the territorial creep led to the 2020 Galwan encounter, when the two forces began eye-balling each other over territory between Beijing’s 1959 claim line and the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
With India having lost so much territory already, the Modi government would ideally like China to agree on the LAC as border. Except, this requires a restoration of the status quo ante that Jaishankar has been iterating for a while now. But the Chinese, realizing that New Delhi can be pushed around easier than they had earlier assumed, have made it amply clear they are unwilling to ease their stranglehold on the Y-Junction and permit Indian access to the Depsang Plains short of India signing off on an extended DMZ that will prevent the Indian army from militarily exploiting proximity to the Xinjiang Highway or endangering the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor branching off at the Karakorum Pass.
Jaishankar may well argue that the territory lost to the Chinese in earlier years was owing to a force majeure situation — China’s marshalling an irresistible force. But if the argument is that this piece of Indian land has been under Chinese occupation since the mid-1950s when they built the Xinjiang Highway through it and an inattentive New Delhi let the PLA gobble up that part of Aksai Chin, and that realistically, India is not now nor will ever be in a position to get it back, then the issue becomes what is India getting for, in effect, accepting Chinese sovereignty over it?
There’s no sign of Jaishankar countering the Chinese proposal for a DMZ and India’s reconciling to Chinese sovereignty over the 1,000 sq kms of captured territory in northeastern Ladakh by demanding that Beijing recognize the McMahon Line in the east, as part of a grand bargain — a solution, incidentally, first offered by Zhouenlai to Jawaharlal Nehru in the Fifties and again by Dengxiaoping to Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s. Such a final solution for a vexed border dispute would make sense, and not be difficult for Modi to sell to the Indian people. But there’s no such grand bargain on the anvil, which makes this particular deal in Ladakh more onerous.
The most alarming possibility is this: After firming up its Ladakh end, China will begin moving on Arunachal with a view to detaching the Tawang District where the main Tibetan Lamasaries are located, and which the Chinese call “southern Tibet” in the hope that here too New Delhi can be strong-armed into striking a territorial deal on Chinese terms. In that case, there will be war, the outcome of which though uncertain potentially favours the PLA, which is advantaged in every way. It may not be a military disaster for India on the scale of 1962, but could dent the army’s reputation in lots of ways.
It is precisely such a denouement that MEA may be worried about and why it is trying to distance itself from it. For instance, Jaishankar’s Ministry has already begun putting out commentaries via retired diplomats commentating in the media that it was the army commanders at their parleys in Chushul who hammered out the deal for the disengagement in Ladakh, without once hinting that the said army commanders negotiated strictly per MEA script and instructions. (See https://asiatimes.com/2022/09/disentangling-india-china-himalayan-standoff/ )
Still, it boggles the mind that the Indian government is party to realizing peace on the LAC on a piecemeal basis, which serves China’s purpose. By not linking negotiations regarding the western theatre (Ladakh) to developments in the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradedsh), Beijing can stretch out the negotiations concerning the LAC indefinitely — the tactics it has successfully used so far. This is not in India’s interest.
Modi has to see the wisdom in insisting that the deal is for all of the disputed border, or there are no negotiations at all, and let the local conditions then dictate whether there will be hostilities or not. But in that case, and looking holistically at the bilateral relations, New Delhi will have to begin ramping up punitive actions, trade sanctions, etc to slowly but conspicuously begin closing off the open access to the vast Indian market the Chinese Companies have so far availed of. Modi has to communicate to Xi that either China agrees to have all round good relations without the distraction of a militarily live border, or India prepares for all-round hostility, and that there’s no middle ground.
‘This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied.’ ‘The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.’ ‘An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!’
IMAGE: September 11, 2022: Army Chief General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande on his visit to Ladakh to witness Exercise Parvat Prahar. General Pande was briefed on operational preparedness by commanders on the ground. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter
“This is only a shallow disengagement conceded for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells Rediff.com‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
“It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose,” he adds.
How far can the present Gogra disengagement be seen as a positive step, breaking of the gridlock as it were, or is it being done keeping the SCO meet in mind?
This disengagement, while good in itself in that it reduces the possibility of armed units of the two sides coming quite literally to blows with proximal patrolling, is essentially a Chinese attempt to see the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit mid-September pass off without incident.
It also seems like a placatory or even an incentivising move to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the heads of government meeting.
Beijing continues to claim that the April 2020 status quo is a result of India’s illegal crossing of the Line of Actual Control and is therefore not acceptable to China.
This is the offensive negotiating strategy Beijing has always adopted in a nutshell — claim that because it is India that has intruded into Chinese territory, it is Indian troops that need to vacate all the land they have illegally occupied or encroached upon, thereby reinforcing its claims on Indian territory.
And because, the MEA/Indian government never asserts its own position in equally blunt manner, in the optics of this confrontation, it is India that ends up looking like the aggressor!
Will this disengagement which incidentally only involves only the going back of 50 troops on both sides lead to greater de-escalation of troops or is this only another ploy by the Chinese?
The first thing to keep in mind is that this withdrawal by both sides is happening on Indian territory!
This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied. The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.
An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!
In any case, this is only a shallow disengagement conceded by the Chinese for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting in Samarkand.
It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose.
It is better to keep the dispute on simmer, bring the situation occasionally to boil, and keep India on the hook,
IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh, February 16, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
The Depsang Plains area remains a critical flashpoint. This area has seen massive deployment and buildup of Chinese troops since May 2020. Do you see any signs of this being resolved.
No. Because the capture of the Depsang Bulge is critical in military geography terms to the People’s Liberation Army holding on to — and thus denying to India — the vast border frontage northeast of the Y-Junction, on the northern shore of the Shyok river and adjoining the southern Tibet area through which passes the Xinjiang Highway (GS 219).
The significance here is that the GS 219 bifurcates at the Karakoram Pass to become the arterial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor terminating in the warm water port of Gwadar on the Balochistan coast.
Were India to retake this sub-sector on the Line of Actual Control, it would have a stranglehold on the highway — the lifeline to Xinjiang, and the Karakorum Pass, which China will not allow.
Hence, the PLA will never pull back from its foward position in the Depsang Plains.
IMAGE: General Pande interacts with officers and troops in Ladakh. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter
The Chinese army continues to block the Indian Army to their traditional PPs 10,11,12,13 since April 2020 having moved 18 km inside what India considers to be its own territory…
Because all these patrolling points are in the area northeast of the Y-Junction pivotal, for reasons alluded to in my response to the previous question, to the PLA and China.
The basic problem for India has always been to hold the nearly 500 km-long line — Daulat Beg Oldi-Demchok in the Depsang Plains, in which mission the army has manifestly failed, losing ground over the years in small parcels until now when the PLA has annexed and absorbed some 1,000 sq kms in this whole sub-sector.
If Modi-Jaishankar (Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar) somehow get President Xi Jinping to agree to a ‘restoration of the status quo ante‘ involving this piece of territory, it will be a very tremendous diplomatic feat.
The Chinese have built massive infrastructure in eastern Ladakh which includes a key bridge in the Pangong Tso area. Also, they have doubled the deployment of fighter aircraft in the Eastern Ladakh sector. What has our response been to this?
The Pangong bridge constructed on the north shore to connect their garrisons in the Khurnak Fort area to Moldo will cut the PLA forces’s transit time from one to the other area from a couple of days to only a few hours.
And the PLA Air Force bases have gone up from three to 30 in the southern Tibet region, and increased deployment from some 30 combat aircraft to reportedly as many as 300 combat aircraft.
The IAF’s response, insofar as what can be made out, is the occasional aircraft sortie along the southern Pangong Lake shore with extreme care taken to offer the PLAAF no provocation. This is in reaction to the PLA Air Force combat aircraft flying well beyond the Line of Actual Control into Indian territory almost at will and unmolested by IAF.
IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh in February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
China is not at all happy to see the growing closeness developing between Japan and India on military matters including conducting joint military drills and advancing their security relationship.
I have always maintained that China and the PLA are spooked by two countries: Vietnam, who gave the PLA a bloody hiding in 1979 when they deigned to invade northern Vietnam to, what else, ‘teach Hanoi a lesson’ and instead were taught one.
It was an embarrassing defeat and the PLA hightailed it out of the battle areas.
And the other is a militarised Japan.
The ‘rape of Nanjing’ and the horrors committed against the Chinese population by the Japanese imperial land forces have so seared the Chinese consciousness, Beijing still has nightmares.
And so I have long advocated that India should do every thing possible to stoke these Chinese fears.
It ought to urge Tokyo rapidly to build up militarily — a process already initiated by the late prime minister Abe Shinzo, and offer strategic nuclear cooperation with Japan in whatever form (and to Taiwan).
And nuclear missile arm Vietnam as payback for Beijing’s equipping Pakistan with nuclear missiles.
It was only appropriate that Russia, the country that proved just how foolish and ridiculously naive Ukraine was to trust the trio of the United States, Russia, and Britain and surrender its share of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s thermonuclear arsenal, courtesy the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, prevented a consensus “final document” from emerging at the 10th edition of the five-yearly UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon).
This conference periodically to assert the primacy of the NPT regime, delayed for a couple of years by the COVID pandemic, began in New York August 1 and concluded August 26. Considering how relations between Russia and the US are heading south, the Russian action, in effect, kicked the RevCon into life support, bringing the future of the NPT itself into question. Russia did so to protest the reference in the draft paper to the alleged Russian attacks on or near the Zaphorizhzhya nuclear power station. Many European states felt that even an accidental strike could create a Chernobyl-like nuclear catastrophe. In other words, Moscow used an issue unconnected with nonproliferation to damage the NPT regime. And, a damned good thing to happen from India’s strategic point of view!
As observers at these RevCons, Indian diplomats dish out the usual disarmament pablum produced by the DISA (Disarmament and International Security) Division in MEA. Just as well that nothing, if anything, of note was said by them because otherwise it’d have been reported at least in the Indian Press (even if no other media takes notice). The correct thing for Delhi to have done from the time of the first RevCon in May 1975 was to give it a miss. And it should have been followd up by boycotting the subsequent RevCons to signal India’s unhappiness with the global nuclear order lorded over by the five “NPT recognized” weapons states — the US, Russia, UK, France and China. Instead, while not being a signatory to the NPT and therefore not bound by its rules, India has acted all along as if it is a bonafide member of this treaty that was, incidentally, originally designed by Washington in the Sixties to keep India from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold!
Delhi is in the forefront of the worldwide nonproliferation effort just so it is in America’s good books, eager to burnish its image as, what else, a “responsible” state. To be perceived as such has required grave compromises to be made by various Indian governments. Such as refraining from selling and exporting entirely indigenously developed technologies related to the Bomb and to 220MW heavy water-moderated light water reactor-based power plants. China should long ago have been paid back in kind for its policy of nuclear missile arming Pakistan in the early 1980s by transferring nuclear-warheaded Prithvi and later Agni ballistic missiles and Brahmos cruise missiles to countries on China’s periphery. It is an option I have been advocating from 1998 and my time in the (First) National Security Advisory Board, but which is now getting shut down because the Indian government seems intent on shackling itself to the do’s and don’ts of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — an offshoot of the NPT, and entry into which group, ironically, is subject to a Chinese veto!
The 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US — negotiated as I keep reminding everyone, by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA and now foreign minister, S Jaishankar, furthers Washington’s twin nonproliferation goals of ensuring that India sticks by the “voluntary moratorium” on nuclear testing announced by Atal Bihari vajpayee in May 1998, which capped the Indian N-weapons tech at the simple fission 10-20 kiloton level. Except, without new and open-ended nuclear tests, the Indian strategic deterrent will be minus proven thermonuclear weapons (because the fusion device tested in the 1998 tests was a dud). This deal was supposed to enable India access to US N-tech. Except, India never really needed US civilian nuclear technology in the first place what with Trombay having mastered all three fuel cycles (uranium, plutonium and thorium). But this rationale provided the Manmohan Singh government with political cover for signing the deal which actually is a strategic liability. Especially so, considering Manmohan Singh’s promise of “20,000 MW by 2020” was predicated on India buying multi-billion dollar Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors that the US Atomic Energy Commission refused to certify as safe! None of this matters now, because the aim of successive governments Narasimha Rao’s onwards was less to buy anything from the US than to pacify Washington by deliberately keeping India a sub-par nuclear weapons state.
A government that means to push India into global reckoning as a country that will get to the top by any and all means, and only abide by treaties and conventions it negotiates has, to-date, not emerged. Instead of putting the fear of God into the P-5 and the big power NPT managers that either India gets what it wants or it will strive to bring down the whole UN caboodle, and particularly the unfair and inequitable NPT-based international nuclear order, like the barrage of explosive charges (in a 9-second TV spectacle last Sunday) did the illegal 30-storey structure in Noida, India talks big, acts small and helps the US and the West perpetuate the status quo.
If Modi wants to change things, do right by India, and pitchfork the country into the ranks of meaningful powers — if only as a spoiler on the world scene, he can and should break out of the system of self-restraint and, firstly, resume nuclear testing; secondly, waste no time in ignoring the NPT-NSG restrictions and onpassing nuclear weapons technology and N-power reactors — perhaps as a package! — to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines and whoever else wants it, and is willing to pay for it. These two actions will instantly destroy the NPT order, and begin seriously to unravel the UN. North Korea with its regular nuclear and missile tests has long offered provocations, as do the nuclear buildup plans of the P-5 with the US, Russia and China in the lead. This development, by the way, directly contravenes Article VI of the NPT mandating nuclear weapons stockpile reductions by the Five NPT-acknowledged powers in return for the rest of the 191 members of this treaty regime foreswearing the Bomb.This is a very good reason to torpedo the NPT.
The plea here then is for India to be disruptive like China is. Ambassador Fu Cong at the RevCon, extolled the virtues of “self-defence” while Chinese strategic forces are on an overdrive to achieve the 2,500 thermonuclear weapons/warheads strength by 2030 — a deterrent size and timeline laid down by President Xi Jinping. In other words, China, unlike a discombobulated India that takes its nonproliferation pledges seriously, is determined to be the equal of the US and Russia in this and every other respect. Meantime, Modi’s India appears content to be bested by Pakistan, its 150 nuclear warheads/weapons beaten by 160 Bombs in the latter’s employ.
Thirdly, India should needle China all it can and on every issue that riles Chinese sensibilities. Thus, India should be in the forefront of publicizing the UN report accusing China of gross human rights, genocidal, abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang using tactics honed by the PLA in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and repeatedly urge Beijing to respect the nationalist urges of the Uyghurs seeking an independent East Turkestan, and get under the Chinese skin that way. Simultaneously, Delhi should with much fanfare and public hoo-ha celebrate Taiwan and support international efforts to solidify that country militarily and symbolically even offer Taipei “strategic weapons technology”– not that Taiwan needs any help in crafting nuclear weapons of its own . Taiwan’s own N-weapons programme was compelled by the US into a state of dormancy, but if activated can produce a weapon inside of 3-6 months. In the interim, India can offer Taipei some 2 dozen warheads as deterrent for fitting into the nosecone geometries of Taiwanese mssiles. This measure combined with Delhi’s publicly disavowing the “one China” paradigm on the basis of China not respecting the “One India” concept encompassing all of Jammu & Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Baltistan, and the principalities of Hunza, Gilgit, Chitral et al in the “Northern Areas”, will put the fat on fire.
And, finally, what will it take for Prime Minister Modi to shut down Chinese access to the Indian consumer market where Chinese companies continue to make a killing? And why does his government continue to ease the rules for Chinese firms? Like the exemptions the Finance Ministry announced for Chinese companies yesterday exporting green energy tech and components to India? Would it take another round of military clashes in Ladakh or in Arunachal? Why are Jaishankar and his MEA promoting the idea of Modi’s meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to be held mid-September? Is Modi really all that much of an innocent, and has no clue about what’s what with Xi and China? And that the PM’s interest in somehow restoring a pre-Galwan clash-like normalcy to his personal relations with the Chinese supremo and to bilateral relations, cannot be realized without hurting India?
This interview for Def-Talks, conducted by Aadi Achint, is a sort of “stream of consciousness’ session where I range far and wide, but with the aim of counterpoising the official views and the opinions of just about all the members of the media/Press commentariat who do little more than embroider the government line of the day. It may be accessed below.
The August 15 issue of a pink paper announced to the consternation of many that the Narendra Modi government is considering handing over the 3,488 km long disputed border with China to the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police to manage. The main reasons adduced for such handover is apparently “to avoid border conflicts” and, even if belatedly, to realize the “one border, once force”-concept approved by the last Bharatiya Janata Party regime in 2004.
The deep ingress into, and occupation of sizeable Indian territory by China — in excess of 1,000 sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction abutting on the Xinjiang Highway, has not only not been acknowledged by New Delhi but is something Defence Minister Rajnath Singh continues studiously to ignore. He spares no occassion, in fact, to promote the fiction, for instance, that not an inch of Indian ground has been annexed by the People’s Liberation Army. The newsreport also disclosed that ITBP has 180 border outposts, with 140 troopers stationed in each of them, for a total of 25,200 deployed on the LAC. And that two years ago, an additional 47 ITBP border outposts were sanctioned — 34 in Arunachal Pradesh, the rest in Ladakh. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/govt-examining-plan-to-give-lead-role-to-itbp-along-lac/articleshow/93562475.cms)
This little bit of kite-flying by Home Ministry bureaucrats is because they see it as an opportune time to wrench control of the LAC from the Indian army and Defence Ministry, and expand their turf. After all, their minister, Amit Shah, is the second most powerful man in the country and the Prime Minister’s only political confidante. What he can be made officially to desire is pushable as long as a good case can be made for it to Modi who will, however, need some convincing. Modi can be expected to be uneasy. His last two initiatives in the national defence field have not been the successes he was expecting. Resistance from within has all but stalled the process of integrating the military services, and the Agnipath-Agniveer programme has drawn political flak and sparked countrywide protests in the unemployables-rich BIMARU (Bihar-Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh) belt that is also electorally consequential. And, 2024 general elections are just two short years away.
The late Jaswant Singh’s son, Manvendra Singh, who left the ruling BJP for Sonia-Rahul Gandhi’s Congress to improve his political prospects — talk of scampering on to a sinking ship! — in a recent article ( https://theprint.in/opinion/dont-give-itbp-lead-role-at-lac-it-will-weaken-local-command-mha-mod-turf-war-is-hurting/1087732/ ) contended correctly that Home Ministry’s taking charge of the live China border will result in duplication of costs and procurement systems, and both weaken the logistics and force management on the LAC and, by implication, needlessly complicate an already fraught problem of sustaining a credible deterrent presence on the Himalayan heights.
But the more worrying aspect of such decision is the intention behind it. Could it be a prelude to Modi cutting a deal with the Chinese President Xi Jinping wherein the precondition — “restoration of the status quo ante”, i.e., the return of all the land the PLA has to-date occupied/absorbed in exchange for normalcy in bilateral relations that external affairs minister S Jaishankar has repeated ad infinitum is junked, China gets to keep what it has annexed and India, well, lumps it? Meaning, Delhi accepts the Chinese terms and the new territorial normal, including the LAC drawn expansively on the Chinese 1959 claimline imposed by Beijing in Ladakh, in the Dok La trijunction area and elsewhere? Such a “compromise” will also require the Indian government, as per the Chinese demand, to reiterate the “One China” principle.
What’s the basis for the above conclusion?
For one thing, the Ministry for External Affairs/Government of India has not to-date ever placed the Tibet and Taiwan issues on the same political plane as Kashmir, the whole of which Beijing has never ackowledged as part of India. Thus, as far as Beijing is concerned, there are two claimants to the erstwhile Princely Kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir, and the portion consisting of Gilgit, Hunza, Baltistan and the other principalities (Chitral, Nagar, etc) falling within the ambit of “Northern Areas” and illegally in the possession of Pakistan, is Pakistan’s, with Pakistan, moreover, having a legitimate claim on Indian J&K as well. The Xi dispensation right up to the 2020 Galwan River clashes kept turning the knife in India’s side by initiating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for example, without at anytime referring to the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai accord which specifically mentioned the indeterminate status of J&K pending a final settlement between India and Pakistan. This, at a minimum, required Beijing to secure Delhi’s consent for CPEC as it passed through Kashmir territory claimed by India. But no such diplomatic assent was sought from Delhi, and China proceeded to treat the Northern Areas, implicitly, as integral to Pakistan through which it could construct the CPEC highway via the Karakorum Pass to Gwadar and related projects.
India, in the mean time, continued to respect Chinese sensitivities and unreservedly backed the concept of “One China”. This as Taiwan opened an embassy in Delhi masquerading as a “Trade mission” and sought, even if obtusely, diplomatic recognition. (Indeed, it was rumoured during the brief rule by Chandrashekhar as Prime Minister, Nov 1990- June 1991, when the country’s economy was in dire straits and the country’s holdings of gold had to be flown to the vaults of the Bank of England in London as collateral for loans, that Taipei would gladly take care of India’s then external national debt totaling some US$8-$10 billion for permission to fly the Taiwanese flag on its mission, which offer was rejected!). In any case, in 2003 Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his state visit paved a policy path that internalised the Chinese terms, losing India the little leverage it had left, by accepting Tibet as part of China (in return for Beijing accepting Sikkim as a state in the Indian Union)! The offending Joint Communique reflected MEA’s traditional passive-frightened attitude to China and matching negotiating skills! It is a document the Chinese embassy gleefully reminds the Indian media of. Finally riled enough to take offense, the MEA only relatively recently stopped talking of ‘One China’ and then did not come out swinging by equating ‘One China’ with ‘One India” inclusive of all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — a policy I advocated in in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet). Worse, the Indian government has been traipsing around the issue of Taiwan and India’s growing ties with Taipei — economic, trade, technological and military, without tipping over into recognizing Taiwan as a separate and distinct entity whose sovereignty Beijing needed to be mindful of.
So, how does all this tie in with Home Ministry’s ITBP-LAC gambit? Unfortunately, the loosely worded Indo-Tibetan Border Police Act, 1992, enacted in 1996, describes the task of ITBP (like that of the other paramilitary organization — Border Security Force) as “ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith”. In effect, it makes these paramils, theoretically at least, the equals of the army. It may help buttress Home Ministry’s legal arguments for putting the ITBP in harm’s way on the frontlines on the LAC. But because this paramil is nowhere as well equipped or organized for warfighting, and lacks the requisite ethos for combat as the army is, the ITBP units will be an impediment and hindrance to the army, which even though handicapped in other ways, will have to take care of business. So, if the ITBP is manifestly operationally incapable, how does it help to position it in the van to take on the Chinese group armies?
The answer is in the newsreport unveiling this damnfool idea. It suggested that having the ITBP on the LAC would reduce the possibility of military conflict. In most countries, paramilitaries are tasked to police/monitor settled, clearly demarcated, and internationally recognized borders. The border with China is not delineated whence territory on either side of the disputed LAC is up for grabs. Except, whenever opportunity presents itself the Chinese People’s Liberation Army grabs Indian territory; on the other hand, the Indian army doesn’t reciprocate by taking over parcels of real estate on the Chinese side. Beijing’s standing instructions to the PLA, in the event, are apparently to stake claims on Indian territory patrolled by Indian soldiers, occupy any land devoid of an Indian military presence, and to exploit the Indian army’s disposition policy by capturing areas/posts from where Indian units are usually withdrawn during winter because the absence of a network of border roads, communications setups, storage depots and other support infrastructure, makes it impossible to prop up a forward presence in strength.
The Pakistan army elements occupied the posts on the Kargil heights vacated by Indian troops in high winter and precipitated a limited war in 1999. And it led the PLA to annex strategically important territory in the general area of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains, and on the Galwan and elsewhere and to confront the surprised Indian army with a fait accompli. It is the sort of territorial aggrandizement the Indian army usually makes no attempt to forcibly try and reverse. Now that the PLA is well settled in these formerly Indian areas, Beijing is looking forward to capturing more territory and not to restoring previous conditions as pleaded by Jaishankar. If in these circumstances the Modi government wants to avoid military hostilities, whom would they rather have on the LAC facing the Chinese — the Indian army, which is apt when pushed to shove back, or the paramilitary ITBP officered by persons from the Indian Police Service and with little real warfighting capability?
In the wake of the 1962 war, the ITBP was orginally raised as Special Forces, trained by US Rangers for enemy rear area operations and bulk-manned by Tibetan youth from the exile community who would be motivated to do maximum harm to PLA lording it over their homeland. Over time, the Tibetan strength in this paramil dwindled and ITBP became just another Home Ministry-controlled police unit recruiting from all over and deployed in roles it had no business playing. Such as “aid to civil”, fighting Naxals in the Red Corridor, or doing more quotidian jobs, like security duty at airports, etc. But then this is what the IPS leadership of the ITBP is most comfortable doing, and fits in with why some in the Modi government, who are not keen on having armed confrontations with China, would would want an inoffensive police-type oufit out there on the LAC!
In any case, just how unconnected to field reality the IPS officers leading ITBP are may be judged by the statements made by its sometime Director-General, Sanjay Arora, a policeman from Tamil Nadu cadre. He is reported by Press as saying “Our preparation on LAC is fantastic” and that the ITBP “is ready for any eventuality” and by way of a nugget of wisdom adds that “China is a country like us”!! (See https://www.aninews.in/news/national/general-news/our-preparation-on-lac-is-fantastic-ready-for-any-eventuality-itbp-dg20211115202607/ ). It is hard to know what to make of Mr. Arora other than that he is given to hyperbole and is completely ignorant of the adversary his force may face. Lucky for him, he was recently shifted from ITBP and made Police Commissioner, Delhi, and will not be helming the paramil when PLA initiates live action!
Controversy has been triggered mostly in air force circles by my last post regarding the IAF leasing the upgraded and advanced ‘White Swan’ variant of the Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber, specifically over whether Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha actually said India would be going in for this aircraft.
I leave it to the readers of this blog to see and hear the former Air Force Chief’s mentioning the need for a “bomber” in his keynote address at the First edition of the Chanakya Dialogues and, in the interaction session, his response to my direct question about the leasing of the White Swan from Russia, and decide if he indirectly confirmed that such a deal was in the works.
See The Chanakya Dialogues | VISION 2035: AEROSPACE CAPABILITY OF INDIAN ARMED FORCES | ACM ARUP RAHA at
‘It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.’
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, in Wuhan, April 28, 2018.
Will Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan have a domino effect across the world?
Can India use its fallout to turn the tables to its advantage against China?
Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, discusses the possible outcomes of the Pelosi visit.
“The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
I have always maintained that China is less (strong) militarily than it projects itself and when challenged by a resolute adversary usually thinks better of it and either does nothing or, as in the post-Pelosi trip Taiwan case, lets off steam ex-post facto.
It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.
It is obvious that Xi Jinping does not want to precipitate matters till the Chinese Communist party’s 20th congress in October and he succeeds in getting an unprecedented third term. The stakes are too high for him, but will he find different ways to get back at the US? Is that likely in the near future and what form will that take?
The results of the 20th party congress are a foregone conclusion. Xi has strengthened his support among the key elements of the State, especially the PLA by cultivating the base and installing leaders/commissars/commanders of his choice in strategic posts.
The question is can Xi get punitive without hurting China’s interests? He can’t. The access to US technology and talent is already closed off. But despite tariff increases, America is the richest market that it (China) simply cannot afford to lose.
So other than a symbolic gesture here, a fired-up confrontational rhetoric there, and continued fire drills and combat aircraft flights crossing the median line and offering the barest provocation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing will do nothing.
IMAGE: A Taiwan Air Force Mirage 2000-5 aircraft lands at the Hsinchu air base in Hsinchu, Taiwan, August 7, 2022. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters
Some experts believe if China receives a rebuff in Taiwan, Xi will seek to scale up China’s international status by seeking a military victory against India. Is this likely to happen? Is India ready to meet such a challenge given that the Chinese have been strengthening their positions on the Indian territory they took over in 2020?
Xi will get China into even deeper trouble if he thinks he can vent domestic pressure building up because he did nothing to prevent Pelosi from visiting Taipei as he had promised, by initiating hostilities against India.
The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.
When this assumption is proved wrong. Modi will be forced to take conspicuously strong economic measures to severely restrict bilateral trade of nearly $126 billion in 2021 heavily favouring China.
It is in India’s interest that China continues to be engaged with Taiwan and the US, so as to decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack. By October, winter will have set in the upper Himalayas, will that decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack on Ladakh/Arunachal Pradesh?
For the reasons adduced above, there’s no possibility of China militarily acting up anywhere along the disputed border anytime soon.
IMAGE: A People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft flies over the 68 nautical mile spot, one of mainland China’s closest points to the island of Taiwan, August 5, 2022. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters
If we tie up the knots, is the recent US arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and Pelosi’s visit, all part of a concerted US attempt to reclaim its leadership in the global arena?
You assume that the US is capable of expertly manipulating developments and juggling various policy balls in Arab West Asia, Israel, India, Iran, China, Taiwan when, in reality, like India, it is in the business of dousing this or that bushfire as the occasion demands.
There’s no hard strategy as such because as Henry Kissinger famously said America is too wealthy, too powerful, to need to plan or even strategise!
Nancy Pelosi’s visit factored in the fact that economic conditions in China are not so good and China being an export driven economy will not be in a position to face economic sanctions.
That’s what most effectively deters a mercantilist China — the threat of the loss of markets.
Some experts believe QUAD has not created the kind of momentum expected from it.
True. But was it ever really expected to? It is precisely the reason why I advocated in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, that a better geostrategic arrangement to serve Indian interests is for India to securitise two schemes — a modified quadrilateral or Mod Quad with the US, retaining a role of the extra-territorial balancer it has always performed but otherwise replaced in the Quad by a group of capable Southeast Asian States, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India South Africa) — BRICS minus China.
BRIS will work because Russia is as keen as the US in ensuring India is enabled to balance China’s growing power in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
IMAGE: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Photograph: Kind courtesy Tsai Ing-wen/Twitter
Will growing tensions between China and Taiwan affect the supply of semi conductor chips given that Taiwan is the largest producer of these chips in the world?
China is setting up its own very large fab units to produce high calibre chips.
In the period it will take to erect these facilities, it has to rely on TMSC and other Taiwanese chip producers because it cannot anymore get them, nor the chip manufacturing wherewithal from the US.
Already we are witnessing a major conflict raging between Russia and Ukraine. Given global warming etc, is this the time to precipitate more military action in the eastern hemisphere?
Global warming will exacerbate the tensions between the developed North and the developing South with mass migrations from climate-affected countries of Asia, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South America to the more prosperous nations of Europe and North America.
The Indian Air Force seems to be getting over the strategic hump, perhaps with a little push from the PMO, and will soon acquire the advanced and upgraded version of the Tu-160 Blackjack called the ‘White Swan’. This transaction, after the S-400 and help in hypersonic weapons technology, confirms Russia’s status as the sole supplier to India of prime military technologies (even if for a hefty price!).
This was disclosed in a throwaway line about a “bomber” being acquired by IAF, which was preceded by a generous acknowledgement — “Mr Bharat Karnad will be happy to know”, by the former CAS, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha. He was delivering the keynote speech yesterday at the first edition of the ‘Chanakya Dialogues’ hosted by the Chanakya Foundation in New Delhi. On further questioning by me, he confirmed that the aircraft in question was the Tu-160.
By way of another casual remark, he also indicated that a nuclear-warheaded version of a hypersonic glide weapon may soon be on the way. No doubt it is an armament that will be carried in the White Swan’s weapons bay.
It will reverse the obdurately tactical and theatre-level orientation of the IAF brass for 70-odd years. It resulted in August 1971 in the IAF rejecting the Tu-22 Backfire bomber offered the Air Marshal Sheodev Singh Mission by the Soviet Defence Minister, the legendary Admiral of the Fleet, Sergei Gorshkov. Moscow had not reckoned with the obstinately nonstrategic mindset of Air Chief Marshal PC Lal — regarded, incidentally, as a great leader by the IAF!– and his cohort running the service at the time. Indeed, Gorshkov was so certain the IAF would jump at this offer he had a squadron of this bomber aircraft painted with IAF roundels and parked on a military base outside Moscow for flight to India. Nonsensical reasons were offered for this plainly idiotic nyet decision by IAF — the pilot needed to be winched up into the cockpit, the aircraft, ex-Bareilly, would not reach cruising altitude before crossing into Pakistan, etc. Pakistan! — for God’s sake, with no hint of China as the obvious threat to neutralise with this bomber and this, mind you, at a time when the Bangladesh War was in the offing and China had already threatened to intervene if India moved militarily against Pakistan! So what did IAF choose instead? MiG-23BN — no joke!! Worse, the IAF, dog-in-the-manger like, not only did not want the Backfire for itself, it later prevented the Indian Navy from buying this aircraft for maritime surveillance, fearing the Navy was trespassing on its turf by expropriating the strategic bombing role. (These and other details first revealed and analysed in my 2002, 2nd ed 2005 book – ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security.’)
Post-1974 and India’s possessing very basic 12 kiloton gravity nuclear bombs, the Tu-22 would have been a credible recallable manned option as nuclear deterrent before India obtained in the late 1980s the first of the Agni land-based missiles. The Tu-22 could have been replaced with newer versions of the aircraft, including the latest, most advanced, Tu-22M3, and would now have comprised a more compelling two-pronged air vector in the nuclear triad along with the Tu-160.
It is always heartening when something one has ardently advocated over the years begins to take shape, becomes reality. [For the case made for a genuine strategic bomber, and this aircraft in particular, see pages 335-336 in my 2015 book –‘ Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.] The negotiations with Russia are apparently in the final stages for securing on lease six – a third of a squadron — better than nothing! of the supersonic, fly-by-wire, 4-man crewed Tu-160. It will leave the frontline Russian fleet with 29 of these aircraft, because only a total of 35 ‘White Swans’ have been built. Published material suggests the White Swan Tu-160 (the equivalent of the American B-1 strategic bomber) has a 70metres/second climb rate, max speed of 2,200 km/h and cruising speed of 960km/h, unrefueled range of 12,300km, and combat radius of 7,300km.
One version of the bomber runs on hydrogen fuel, which may be right up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for converting the country to a hydrogen economy. Though for reasons of fuel/fueling aspects, the aircraft India leases will likely stick with the variant run on enhanced aviation fuel.
To show off its astonishing endurance, the Russian Air Force staged a Murmansk to Venezuela sortie in 2008 (to show support for the regime of Left-leaning President Nicolás Maduro Moros at a time when the Obama Administration was tightening the sanctions screw on it), and in 2010 a 23 hour patrol covering 18,000 kms over the Russian landmass.
The options and possibilities this bomber offers should make the mouths of IAF warplanners and operations guys water. Preparatory planning should begin for nuclear targeting by the White Swans of the most distant Chinese targets — Beijing!, with the more critical, but relatively proximal, targets, such as the Three Gorges Dam and its system of downstream dams and the Lop Nor nuclear weapons complex in Xinjiang left, if necessary, for the Su-30MKIs to take out. The Sukhois can be embarked from Tezpur/Kalaikunda in the one case, and the Ainee base in Tajikistan available to IAF, in the other.
The problem IAF will have is in basing the Blackjack. The Bareilly base — which ran the Canberra medium bomber and the MiG-25 Foxbat high-altitude surveillance aircraft, won’t do. Bareilly is too near major and satellite PLAAF airfields on the Tibetan plateau in the central sector of the LAC, not to pose risks to the White Swans based there. A base in southern central India will be the safest and best option considering the “long-legged” Tu-160 will still be able to hit deep inside China, and have IAF air defence/interceptor aircraft out of a string of air bases in northern India as protective tier.
[ US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group]
There are some very nervous people in Washington and Beijng, each wishing the other side regains good sense in time and backs down. The person who will decide the direction the latest Taiwan crisis will take is the powerful Speaker of the Lower House of the US Congress — the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a plucky 80 + year old California Congresswoman, who has always been a drama queen. She means to pay the Taiwan a visit. The Biden Administration tried to deflect this political venture by asking her to postpone her visit for the nonce on some trumped up reason or the other, not cancel it. This would save both America’s face and China’s and put off the crisis to another day.
Till last heard, Pelosi will have none of it; her trip is on. She revealed to the media that the Biden Administration fears the aircraft carrying her could be be ambushed, shot down by Chinese combat aircraft in the air corridors cleared for her flight to Taipei. This assumes that Beijing will, in fact, follow through on its promise of severe response in case Pelosi disregards the “One China principle”, proceeds on her Taiwan goodwill mission, and precipitates a crisis. While it will prove that Beijing’s huffing and puffing wasn’t all bluff, the shooting down of Pelosi’s aircraft will quickly ratchet up the crisis to a flashpoint.
The US military is rounding into business. The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group left Singapore July 27, heading towards Taiwanese waters, no doubt to be on hand to, among other things, provide Pelosi’s plane, which will have US aircraft ex-Guam for protecton, augmented fighter escort if needed for her flight into Taipei, and otherwise to be in the van of the US military units in the area in case President Xi Jinping decides he has too much to lose domestically by allowing the American leader to carry on unhindered after instructing his regime to make so much hoo-ha about it, and orders the PLA air force and PLA navy into action.
A tense General Mark Milley, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, flanked by the Commander-in-Chief US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Chris Aquilino, in Sydney to attend the 24th Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense Conference, said: “We will do what is necessary to ensure a safe…conduct of [Pelosi’s] visit…I’ll just leave it at that…what that results in we’ll have to wait and see.”
This is too delicious a strategic crisis to ignore, It pits America against China in a test of wills with the prospect of only one side coming up tops. It is a test case of future confrontations in Asia. On two previous relatively recent occasions, China thought better of it and withdrew. In response to PLA’s firing surface-to-surface rocket and missile barrages, President Bill Clinton in 1995 ordered the USS Chester Nimitz carrier strike group into the Taiwan Strait. In 2007 the USS Kitty Hawk strike group loitered in the same Strait without eliciting any Chinese response. That Beijing reacted so strongly this time around, thereby deliberately and with forethought raising the ante, suggests that Xi and his military commanders in the Central Military Commission are confident that the PLA forces, much improved, can take on the US.
How will this crisis pan out? There are only two possibilities,
Pelosi decides this is all too much and scrubs the Taiwan trip handing Beijing a political victory it will milk to the max reinforcing. in the process, China’s tendency, in General Milley’s words, to “bully or dominate” other nations. The fiasco will further erode what credibility America has left as ally and strategic partner, and showcase Washington’s unwillingness to stand up to the emerging Asian behemoth, and likely provide not only Taiwan, but also Japan and South Korea, with more motivation to acquire nuclear weapons and, security-wise, become independent of the US.
The second possibility is that Xi will recognize that all the Chinese angst and vituperation against Taiwanese secessionism and American provocation is not going to raise the fighting quality of the PLA forces, and any hostilities may prove to the world what many already suspect that China is not a peer rival of the US, that the Chinese navy’s shiny new aircraft carriers — Liaoning and the Shandong (sans aircraft!), for instance, are like the rest of the PLA, paper tigers, good enough only to scare, say, India with!
In this confrontation with so much riding on it, there will be a winner. My money is on China getting cold feet because, by my reckoning, PLA, PLAAF, PLAN are still 20 years away from being America’s military equal.
‘This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.’ ‘They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.’
IMAGE: General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande, the chief of the army staff, on his visit to Ladakh in May. Photograph: ANI Photo
Dr Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, analyses why there has been a muted Indian response to the Galwan clashes which took place between Indian and Chinese troops two years ago.
“Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
Two years after the Galwan clashes, there is an accusation by some analysts that China continues to steadily encroach on Indian territory and has taken over almost 4,000 km of Indian territory. How far is this assessment correct?
Given the 24/7/365 surveillance via various sensors, including those mounted on Indian and friendly foreign satellites, it is unlikely India has lost territory to this extent since the Galwan incident.
That said, the 1,000-odd sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain the PLA occupied much before the clashes on the Galwan river remain in China’s possession.
A large part of this Chinese deployment has reportedly been in the Depsang Plain. This continues to be a dangerous development given that the Chinese aim to build a connecting road up to PoK.
The significance to India of the territory China now occupies is that this traditionally Indian area is alongside the arterial Xinjiang Highway that branches off southwards at the Karakoram Pass to constitute the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
This territorial loss means the Indian Army is blocked from moving northwards from Daulat Beg Oldi to apply military pressure at the conjunction of the PLA-Pakistan army interests on the Karakoram Pass, and thus threaten the CPEC.
This is what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intended with pre-emptively capturing that swath of land.
The Chinese are building another bridge over the Pangong Tso lake to improve their logistics in countering our troops positioned there.
The Chinese plan obviously is to have redundancy in connectivity by building a number of roads, shunts and bridges linking the northern and southern shores of the lake under their control.
It enables them to consolidate their logistics infrastructure, and launch a concerted military action on either shore at a moment’s notice.
IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh in February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
We have had 15 rounds of border commander talks since April 2020, but there is little talk of a reversion of positions to status quo ante pre April 2020 when these talks first started. Analysts believe we are back to the 1959 position.
The periodic field commanders’ meetings are a waste of time and of no real account other than affording these uniformed folks some downtime with tea and samosas!
I long ago suggested that the Indian Army should not partake of these conferences the PLA does not take seriously.
I had warned precisely of such a denouement at the very beginning of this confrontation in eastern Ladakh.
It was Pollyanna-ish of the Indian government, in any case, to expect China would ever agree, for any reason, to the restoration of the status quo ante.
Why is there no White Paper on these talks providing the public at large details about what was discussed and what were the lessons learnt from the tragic death of our 20 soldiers on the night of June 15-16, 2020?
There’s no White Paper because it will have very little to report other than that China has not, and will not, move an inch from their proclaimed 1959 claimline which, by the way, Beijing never formally resiled from.
IMAGE: Indian Army soldiers stand guard at the Zojila Pass. Photograph: ANI Photo
Nor is there any clarity from the government or the army about what led the Chinese army to occupy Indian land. Or is this just a Chinese continuance to continue with their objective of ‘salami slicing’?
The PLA is into ‘salami slicing’ of Indian territory with a definite design (such as blocking Indian access to the Karakoram Pass). Such activity is not purposeless.
Why has the government’s response to China been so muted in contrast to the chest thumping that goes on each time something happens along our border with Pakistan?
This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.
They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.
In retrospect, what exactly was discussed between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping at their 18 meetings prior to this standoff? Can this be seen as another betrayal by the Chinese as happened in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962?
Look, the Chinese negotiating tactics are always to first delineate the border as per historic claims and then to change the status quo on the ground to conform with those territorial claims.
The rest is artful waffling and stretching the negotiation in time and space to hope that the other side loses patience and gives in.
Zhou Enlai in the 1950s did offer Nehru a territorial swap — recognition of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh for Indian acceptance of the Aksai Chin the PLA had built the Xinjiang Highway through.
That was not a bad deal for Nehru to have accepted then. He didn’t.
IMAGE: General Pande interacts with Indian troops posted in Ladakh. Photograph: ANI Photo/Indian Army twitter
Was it a prudent decision to have given up the Kailash Range getting little in return? What is our actual position today in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plain?
IMAGE: Prime Minister N D Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist party and president of the People’s Republic of China, at their informal summit in Mamallapuram, October 12, 2019. Photograph: Press Information Bureau
Trade with China continues to grow with India hardly being in a position to stop its dependence on Chinese imports. Is there any serious attempt to curtail Chinese imports?
Indian imports in trillions of rupees from China are growing by nearly 50% annually, and the repatriation of profits in billions of dollars in hard currency by Chinese companies is keeping pace.
It is among the bright spots in the current Chinese economy and something Beijing would not like to disturb.
Reason why the PLA is pretty quiet in Ladakh even in the summer military campaign season.
Delhi can change this situation in a trice, but percieves Chinese exports to India as negotiating leverage with Xi Jinping, which it is loath to give up.
Is it not time for the political leadership to come forward and take charge instead of leaving this issue to the generals especially given the fact that China has changed the goalposts?
Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role.
Just how nonexistent gun violence is in Japan can be guaged from the astonishingly lax security provided the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There was no security cordon worth the name — with the few tasked with protecting him, apparently standing around the place unconcerned, letting the assasin approach from the most open and vulnerable entirely unsecured area behind Abe. The manifestly unprofessional Japanese security police are blameworthy, of course. But the fact is the use of guns is entirely unknown in Japanese society (except by the yakuza — the criminal underworld, who gun down each other). Even so, there was just ONE gun use-related death in Japan last year compared, say, to some 15,000 deaths in India (and according to CNN, 45,000 in the US)!
The loss to Japan of Abe is immeasurable and on several counts. First, he ended the era of apology, of 70 years of Japanese remorse, for World War Two excesses, which China relentlessly milked. The Nanjing wartime massacre was perennially used as a moral cudgel to beat up on Japan and to extort from Tokyo hundreds of billions of dollars in reparations post-1945 in the form of cash, grant-in aid and assistance, massive investments to build up the Chinese economy, and of technology transfers. Think Shinkansen Japanese high speed rail technology that the Chinese ingested, developed further, and applied to now field, perhaps, the largest high-speed railway network in the world! No more bowing and scraping to Beijing, Abe decreed, leave alone paying China exactions!
Secondly, and with more long lasting effect that had China sweating with fright, he spearheaded the successful effort to get the Japanese Diet in 2014 to reinterpret the non-belligerancy clause — Article 9 — in the so-called ‘peace Constitution’ imposed by the US, which prohibited Japan from arming itself with offensive weaponry, to now permit the government more flexibility in the use of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, preemptively if necessary and in support of allies and friendly states. Considering the absolute unreliability of its ally US’ extended deterrence, it paves the way for Japan sometime in the future to go in for nuclear weapons. This, from India’s perspective, will be a very good thing to happen.
But most importantly, Abe conceptualized the ‘security diamond’ — later formalised into what is now the Quadrilateral of Japan, India, Australia and the US. He did so publicly in a 2007 address to Indian Parliament, indicating at once just how much significance he attached to having India as one of the four pillars of a collective security scheme he was putting together to secure Asia’s future and blunt China’s coercive edge.
His immense respect, regard, love and warm feelings for India were for intensely personal family reasons. Shinzo Abe was the scion of a powerful political dynasty with pre-War roots founded by his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was the economic czar of the Japanese puppet regime of Manchukuo that the imperial Japanese government established in the 1930s to colonize eastern China. Kishi barely avoided being branded a war criminal by the post-War International Military Tribunal in Tokyo — the Asian version of the Nuremberg Trials, which decided to imprison/hang a dozen of the senior most Japanese wartime leaders. Of the eleven judges on the Tribunal, only the Indian judge, Justice Radhabinod Pal, refused to return a guilty verdict on the Japanese leaders, earning for himself and for India eternal gratitude of the Japanese nation. Indeed there’s a monument to Justice Pal at the controversial shinto Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo where the war dead are venerated, and which temple Abe made it a point as PM to visit (as few of his predecessors in office had dared to do). Kishi’s career revived in the 1950s; he founded the Liberal Democratic Party and as Prime Minister led the country for three years, 1957-1960. His father, Shintaro Abe, was a leading member of LDP and foreign minister in 1982-1986 and was among the first to evince substantial Japanese interest in strong ties with India.
The fact is Shinzo Abe was the strategic brain and the driver of the Quadrilateral — the one person most responsible to try and get the disparate interests of the four pillar countries of the Quad to mesh. US President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and Washington’s interest since in containing China through such an arrangement was in no small measure due to Shinzo Abe’s private and public Quad advocacy and persistence in pitching this arrangement as a much needed strategic and economic counterweight to the emerging colossus in Asia and the world — China. Moreover, the successful policy of Japan joining India to provide quality infrastructure buildup on concessional credit terms but minus potential debt traps to African countries to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, has made inroads and manifests Abe’s foresight.
His keenness to make India a hefty maritime power eventuated in his offering India the US-2 multi-role flying boat — inarguably the finest such fighting machine in the business, complete with its manufacturing technology and processes that included the shifting of the entire Shinmaywa design and production capacity and plant to India, to set this country up as the sole producer of this aircraft in the world. In a pinch, Abe would have gladly arranged the funds to subsidize this entire deal. But then the Indian Navy stepped in, rejecting the aircraft deal in a mindboggling show of such utter shortsightedness as to make the decision reckless, bringing into question that Service’s basic intent and institutional mindset. No explanation was available from the Defence Ministry other than that the deal exceeded the Navy’s requirement of 12 such aircraft!!
This when there’s no better weapons and transport platform anywhere with potential for immediate strategic impact in the Indian Ocean region, and good for all sorts of maritime ops ranging from island defence, anti-piracy action, dropping Indian Navy’s marine commando on a dime in the vast oceanic expanses for any purpose, shutting down contraband trade by interdicting smuggler vessels/dhows, to anti-ship strikes besides the more mundane roles ferrying crews to oil rigs, search & rescue missions, etc.. As the sole manufacturer of this plane, moreover, the prospect was for all countries with seaward exposure lining up to buy ithe US-2.
The point to make is the Modi government could have reversed the Navy/MOD’s idiotic — there’s no other word for it — decision and plonked for the Shinmaywa transaction as a readymade building block of an indigenous arms industry that the Prime Miister has been talking about from his earliest days as PM. But there was no one, not a single person anywhere in the extended Indian government’s security apparatus and in the military or even the Coast Guard, with a small fraction of the strategic sense of Shinzo Abe to see the merit in this deal and to seal it! (Instead, the billions of dollars in Japanese funds are being invested in Modi’s vanity project — the Shinkansen high speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail link, which after all these years of construction is stuck, unable to acquire some piece of land.)
Indeed, the rejection by the Indian Navy of the US-2 available on the most favourable terms imaginable ranks with the Indian Air Force’s even more incomprehensibly foolish rejection (first detailed in my 2002 book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security) of the Tu-22 Backfire strategic bomber that was offered by the Soviet Union as far back as August 1971 to top off, as it were, the Treaty of Cooperation and Friendship signed at the time that made the unhindered prosecution of the Bangladesdh War possible, notwithstanding the US attempt at military coercion (USS Enterprise aircraft carrier Task Group in the Bay of Bengal). If the legendary Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Navy, and Defence Minister, Sergei Gorshkov, was the man who failed in his efforts to gift the Tu-22 longrange strategic bomber to the Indian Air Force — think how this would have beefed up the Indian nuclear deterrent vis a vis China, it was Shinzo Abe’s proffered gift of the US-2 the Indian Navy turned down earlier in the new millennium. Talk of spurning gift horses!
And this is the Indian military that aspires to be strategic, and wants to be taken seriously as a strategic force? And this is the Modi government that hopes to carry strategic weight in international councils, make India a power of strategic consequence? Really?
Little wonder then that the Indian government under Modi, as under previous prime ministers, remains as stubbornly unstrategic as the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, and has simply not risen to the scheme that Shinzo Abe articulated and, other than bilateral and multilateral naval exercises (Malabar) and endless jaw-jawing at ministerial and foreign ministry official levels, has done nothing of note in operationalizing the Quad or, over the years, realizing a hard Indian and collective Asian response to China’s interminable provocations and acts of belligerance. This trend is something Abe no doubt regretted to his last day.
What to speak of military countermoves, the Modi government refuses to curtail Chinese exports to India touching Rs 7.02 trillion in 2021-2022 — a 45% increase over the previous year! And Chinese firms operating in India are repatriating profits totaling billions of dollars without much let or hindrance. So, the situation is Beijing, military-wise, slapping India silly but below an all-out conflict threshold, and is rewarded with letting its companies make outlandish profits! How could things be any better for Xi? Why would China want to change the situation even a bit?
Let me illustrate the problem. The Modi government has got up the gumption, finally, to at least do innocuous things that Manmohan Singh regime didn’t do because Beijing frowned upon them. So recently HH the Dalai Lama was felicitated on his 87th birthday by Modi, and his trip to Ladakh is being facilitated by the government. This is fine. But Beijing studiously takes no notice of Indian concerns about Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism and is bent on easing that country out of the Financial Action Task Force’s Grey List, and will likely succeed the next time FATF meets in Paris. It continually burnishes Pakistan’s military capabilities with top-end advanced radar and avionics suites for its PAF’s JF-17 fleet, and augments the Pakistan Navy with Type 054 frigates (Taimur and Tughril) with sophisticated sensors and anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons. It is also hellbent on somehow completing the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) to take a stranglehold on the Baloch coastline radiating east and west from the Gwadar port. Further, despite the Pakistan army’s reluctance, one hears Beijng has succeeded in armtwisting Islamabad into stationing a Chinese security force in Pakistan to protect Chinese engineers and expat CPEC labour force. This force can become a nucleus of an expeditionary Chinese formation inside Pakistan that India may have to contend with, and is a troubling development. And in eastern Ladakh, it launches taunting aircraft sorties that have repeatedly flown over Indian posts and deep into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. This is the context in which Beijing publicly berates Delhi for bilateral relations taking a dive.
The Modi regime. meanwhile, rather than instructing the Indian forward air defence units to shoot down any intruding aircraft as warning to China and to show India’s willingness to escalate, swallows these insults, and is content with the army and IAF’s inaction. On the diplomatic front the Modi dispensation is just as passive. It hasn’t reacted by, say, the PM inviting the Taiwan ambassador (passing off as trade representative) for tea at 7, Race Course Road, and the external affairs minister S. Jaishankar or even the NSA Ajit Doval initiating a chinwag in Taipei as an incentive for Xi Jinping to order the PLA to vacate the 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory it has occupied on the Galwan and in areas northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain. So India’s image in the Chinese mind as an easily intimidated dormouse around a snorting and stomping dragon, is cemented, motivating still more outre Chinese behaviour.
The irony is the strategic space in southern Asia is daily becoming less receptive to Chinese interests — a situation Delhi should speedily exploit. Consider Sri Lanka – not too long ago a leading Chinese outpost. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fleeing from his official residence in Colombo in the face of protesters breaking through the security cordon means an end to the Rajapaksa family government that over the last decade reduced Sri Lanka to penury, not little owing to the debt racked up with China to fund rank unprofitable projects in the Rajapaksa home ground around Humbantota, including modernizing the port that sees little traffic. Wisely, the Modi government has been generous in routing energy supplies to that country and opening multi-billion dollar lines of credit to enable essential purchases of foodgrains, etc. But Jaishankar & Co. in MEA have to ensure that whatever the agreement signed with the new Colombo government, it should ruthlessly require the ditching of accords with China that permit Chinese naval and other forces to access Sri Lankan bases or to stage out of them, and to begin zeroing out the Chinese economic presence from that country. The question is will Delhi move rapidly and with great resolve to help Sri Lanka become independent of China for good to India’s strategic benefit?
The despiriting reality, however, is that while India has been presented with ample opportunities to strategically discomfit China, Modi has not availed of them because, for some unfathomable reason, whenever Beijing hoves into view the Indian government seems to get cold feet. The sturm and drang that Modi so effortlessly summons to beat up Pakistan, rhetorically and otherwise, turns to jelly when confrontng China.
In the event, is it even fair to expect that Modi will suddenly shake off his apprehensions and the deep down unwarranted fear of China to tackle Beijing boldly, for a change donning Shinzo Abe’s mantle, and taking up where his good friend left off, as leader getting up an Asian coalition to pin China down?
Amongst a host of idiotic policies the Indian government followed until at least the turn of the Century was to shun arms exports. High-minded reasons were trotted out — India, a moral and responsible state, couldn’t possibly be in the dirty business of selling arms, etc. Never mind that we were onpassing small arms, ammo, 105mm field guns, and so on — but on a small scale — to friendly states and countries in the neighbourhood.
There were more practical reasons, however, that KC Pant, defence minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet in the mid- to late-1980s, alluded to. He once told me of the issue he was then wrestling with relating to, yes, “commissions”, bribes, call it what you will, that needed to be liberally handed out to all manner of people up and down the procurement systems in potential customer countries who had shown interest in this or that piece of Indian-produced military hardware. It is a mirror image, incidentally, of the tandem system of defence sales-bribes worked by foreign arms suppliers pushing multi-billion dollar arms deals to the Indian military. Names like Bofors, HDW, AugustaWestland have passed into lore, symbolizing the extraordinary levels of corruption that are endemic to big arms contracts. The evidence of corruption has upended governments (Rajiv Gandhi’s), implicated armed services’ chiefs of staff (Air Chief Marshal ‘Bundle’ Tyagi) and otherwise made the public aware of the seedier aspects of arms transactions, including, allegedly, the government-to-government deals such as the one that fetched the Indian Air Force the French Rafale combat aircraft.
So the question is, if bribing is de riguer and almost a standard operating procedure in the arms business, how’s the Indian government formally to account for the taxpayer’s money thus spent even if in a good, national, cause of making friends and influencing countries by selling them arms and, by the by, generating revenues and giving a fillip to the indigenous arms industry? Such was the dilemma Pant struggled with. He also wondered about nut & bolt issues involved, such as whether a separate sales agency needed to be set up in the Defence Ministry, but worried that civilian officials and military officers manning it would, on the one hand, be hamhanded in the delicate business of bribe giving and taking that could blow up in the Indian government’s face and, on the other hand, whether these Indian arms sales personnel would have enough integrity not to pocket some of the hard currency commission-funds that would have to be set aside for this nefarious purpose! In other words, some kind of ‘black budget’ outside parliamentary and other scrutiny of the kind, say, RAW, the external intelligence agency, operates.
Thank God, the Indian government (in the Modi years) has matured in its thinking, entered the real world, and authorized the defence manufacturing units to sell their wares, however they are able to do so, with the necessary diplomatic/military and other assist from Delhi easing the way to the extent possible. Defence Attaches in Indian embassies, expressly tasked to “sell” Indian-made military goods, do the early spadework, and the Indian defence public sector units follow up, what with the government urging a ramping up of exports to amortize the enormous public investment in the DPSUs.
The DPSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) knew, once the Tejas light combat aircraft had reached prototype stage, that it had a winner on its hands. The showcasing of this 4.5 generation Indian designed and developed delta wing supersonic fighter aircraft in air shows starting with the one in Bahrain in 2016, in Dubai in end 2021 and, most recently, in Singapore in February this year, was followed a month later by five LCAs from the Sulur squadron deployed to an international air war exercise (Cobra Warrior 22) conducted by the RAF in Britain involving many advanced air forces. All this has has padded Tejas’ reputation as a fast, agile, and highly maneuverable and modern combat aircraft. Moreover, with a competitive price advantage it has obvious attractions for countries with limited means or limited needs. After Bahrain, over a dozen regional air forces showed interest. Air force chiefs from several of these interested countries, including from Central Asia, have flown the LCA and are admirers of the plane’s handling characteristics.
For starters, Malaysia, after a fly-off, has indented for 18 Tejas (with 18 more as possible future buy). It beat the far costlier Russian MiG-35 and the South Korean FA-50, the manifestly less capable Chinese L-15 & JF-17, the Turkish Hurjet still only a prototype, and the Italian Leonardo M-346 trainer jerryrigged to pass off as a fighter/attack LCA M-346FA but minus an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, which’s standard equipment on Tejas. (The Leonardo LCA features a mechanical scanning radar.) Should the deal for Tejas be sealed, it will highlight an ongoing policy of military cooperation. In 2017, a complicated deal was hammered out involving the transfer to IAF by Malaysia of all 12 MiG-29Ns in its employ in exchange for Indian HAL spares and assistance to upkeep its Su-30s fleet — an arrangement that apparently built up trust between the two air forces.
Impressed as much by its quality as by its relatively economical cost, Egypt has a more ambitious Tejas programme on its mind. The Egyptian Air Force wants to produce this aircraft in their own country to meet a much larger requirement of 70-odd aircraft. HAL’s sweetener is a package deal involving Tejas LCA technology transfer and a parallel assembly line for the Dhruv utility helicopter. It was too good a deal for Cairo to refuse. In any case, the successful culmination of the Egyptian Tejas programme will be an ironic counterpoint to the joint project with Egypt mooted by Jawaharlal Nehru to produce a “nonaligned” combat aircraft. India was tasked to produce the airframe which it did — the HF-24 Marut; Egypt failed to develop an appropriately powered jet engine, leaving the IAF to manage with a flying-wise fine fighter plane but with an underpowered, make-do, Orpheus jet power plant taken from the Gnat.
Argentina is in the market for 12 LCAs and has sequestered some $700 million for the deal. The only other planes in the race are the Russian MiG-29 and MiG-35 and the Chinese JF-17, which no one wants. The niggle here is Britain — its 1982 Falklands War animus still simmering — has vetoed the sale of Tejas because it has British components, in the main, the Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat system and the Cobham radome of composite materials for low observability. But HAL has conveyed assurances that it has designed and is well on its ways to testing and producing an indigenous zero-zero ejection seat system as also a quartz radome. Further, the Argentinian insistence on tech-transfer in any case is easily met.
The trio of Malaysian, Egyptian, and Argentinian Tejas deals located on three different continents should hopefully spark an interest in this aircraft in the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
The fly in the ointment, however, is this: Does HAL have a large, ready to go and comprehensive after-sales service setup? This is a void HAL better fill up fast as priority because the LCA sales will amount to a frustrating nought if the Malaysian, Egyptian and Argentinian Tejas end up being grounded or fail in flight because of local perceptions of bad spares support and servicing flaws/failures by the supplier firm as happened with the HAL supplied Dhruv helicopters to Ecuador. That pioneering venture to prise open a new market soured because of Ecuadorian dissatisfaction with the spares and after-sales service, which were blamed for the crash of 4 of the 7 Dhruv helicopters delivered between 2007 and 2009. Quito scrapped that contract.
Agnipath – the scheme for a four-year ‘tour of duty’ as the mainstay of recruitment into the military services announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the other day, alas, has more negatives attending on it than clear-cut benefits.
Shedding Colonial Structures
The pros first: It is a seminal attempt at reconfiguring the imperial-era structured mercenary army that had won for the British their globe-girdling empire. In its post-1947 avatar, the Indian Army continued with its colonial institutions and affectations, such as the officers’ mess and cantonment culture, that has long irked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is, perhaps, the prompt for this underway policy to ‘Indianise’ the military.
National armed forces comprising sometime soldiers, Agniveers, may constitute—in one sense—a genuinely citizen military. But whether it will obtain an effective modern army, navy, and air force is an issue deserving attention.
It will be intriguing, in any case, to see how the army chief, General Manoj Pande, a veteran sapper, proposes to re-engineer the infantry-heavy army dominated by proud, single class, regiments (Gurkha, Sikh, Jat, Madras, Maratha, etc.) deliberately designed during the British Raj on the politically astute but divisive myth of the ‘martial races’ into an army of Agniveers.
Three Vastly Different Services
Rajnath Singh was joined at the podium by the three services’ Chiefs of Staff. But let’s be clear that it is the infantry-heavy army – the least technical among them, that will mainly take in the short service recruits because the navy and air force simply cannot be expected to do so. Their relatively small manpower requirements coupled with technology-based wherewithal and war fighting concepts deter them from following Agnipath.
Ironically, it is precisely the technical expertise imparted to entrance-level sailors and airmen in esoteric technologies to enable them in peacetime and war, to operate systems of all kinds (sonar, avionics, radar, communications, etc.), to run and maintain warships and aircraft, to upkeep powerplants and weapons and secondary systems onboard varied platforms, and otherwise to keep the Indian Navy and the Air Force in play, that makes them more readily employable in the civilian world should any of them seek an early exit from military careers or a second career post-retirement.
In other words, many of the positives Rajnath Singh claimed for the Agnipath programme, such as producing technically competent, high-tech workers that industry would gladly offtake and who will end up increasing labour productivity, and spurring industrial and GDP growth, etc., are an exaggeration. Because it is certain that the 25% of the Agniveer cohort who show any talent for technology will be retained by the army to run its high-tech equipment.
The reason for this is because of the differing nature of warfare the three armed services prepare for. While air and naval warfighting are, as mentioned, machine-intensive, land wars are manpower weighted. An army needs unending hordes of preferably youthful ‘boots on the ground’ to fight for and hold mountainous territory against a hostile China.
Moreover, training a person with a high school or higher education to handle an assault rifle and to master basic infantry tactics is manifestly easier, takes less time, and costs far, far less than getting a newly minted sailor to become an expert, say, in sonar operations or to turn an airman into a proficient combat aircraft jet engine mechanic
What After The Four Years?
The average Agniveer may join with the idea of achieving some technical competence at the end of four years of service, but will soon discover he is only another passed-over infantry grunt with no marketable skills to sell, other than—as is the case now—as a hire for the proliferating private agencies in the business of providing ‘security’ to buildings and compounds.
In the event, how much of an incentive is the Rs 12-14 lakh bounty promised the Agniveer at the end of his brief army tenure? Of course, Rs 12-14 lakh is not a sum to be sneezed at. For the masses of otherwise inadequately-educated and unemployable youth, this money is magnet enough. But as roughly 30,000 of each year’s Agniveer cohort—the current level of army retirees—is disgorged into the society two things might happen, neither of them good.
Discontent will spread fast among them once they realise their job prospects are as bleak as ever. The frustrated among them, now trained to use small arms and chemical explosives, may choose to use these newly acquired skills for criminal, even insurrectionary, purposes and emerge as a major law and order-qua-internal security problem for the country.
Or, and this is more likely, political pressure will begin brewing – grassroots up, almost from the programme initiation stage, especially in the population-dense, voter-rich, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Agnipath intake can expect to be the largest – to convert the four-year contracted tenure of the Agniveers to 15-year military service with pension.
This is the usual end-state of all supposedly ‘temporary’ government workers ranging from clerks, school teachers, safai karamcharis to anganwadi helpers.
Compounding The Problem You Set Out To Solve
Is there a politician alive who will be able to resist such pressure, in an election year (which is nearly every year)? And, lo and behold, the army will become still more bloated, and the defence pensions budget more distended. The harbinger of things to come is the violent anti-Agnipath protest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The youth demographic seems to be saying that patriotism and military service are good but they prefer pensionable jobs anywhere they can get them.
The Agnipath scheme designed to solve the problems of an aging army and ballooning defence pensions could end up, at best, only compounding them.
More immediately, assuming General Pande needs six months to firm up the new recruitment process, the Agniveer army could begin forming up only by next year or even by 2024 when the next Lok Sabha elections are due. Who is to say Agnipath won’t win Modi yet another term in office with a bigger majority, even if it means succeeding governments and the Indian taxpayers are left holding the can?
An attribute of a poor over-populated Third World India, where a majority of the people still eke out a marginal existence is that no job, however dangerous, goes unfilled. It matters little if that vacancy is in the public or private sector, or how menial and risky it is. For those living hand to mouth — some 70% of the population of 1.3 billion, any job is better than not having one.
The most sought-after jobs for the masses of the barely literate unemployables, including cleaning sewers, sweeping city lanes, laying railway tracks or dumping hot bitumen to make roads in the heat of the noonday sun, are where the government (central, state, municipal) is employer. Because they promise a steady income and pensionable retirement.
Then there are the railways and the defence services — the two biggest central government employers.
The railways have 1.26 million persons on the payroll. The railway retirees totaling some 1.55 million people exceed the 1.25 million in active service, and the pension costs amount to some Rs 53,000 crores — fully 25% of the revenue of the railways (in 2021), with monthly pension averaging Rs 9,000.
55,000 personnel retire annually from the 1.4 million strong armed services, with defence civilians being in larger proportion. (The defence civilian was discussed in the previous post.) It has resulted in a perpetually growing defence pensioner community that has now ballooned to 2.6 million retirees. The average annual defence civilian pension is roughly Rs. 5.38 lakhs versus Rs. 1.38 lakhs for military pensioners, reflecting longer career spans for the former.
The trouble is public and political pressure is the greatest on the railways and, especially, the armed services, to if not increase their manpower requirements than NOT to reduce them, nor in any way to restrict youth offtake from the traditional recruiting areas of Punjab, Haryana, et al. It is one of the reasons for India remaining stuck with a populous, industrial age, army that seems incapable of transforming itself into a force capable of cyber age warfare of the near future featuring Artificial Intelligence (AI), drone swarms, and autonomous weapons systems. This is so as much for want of political will as of financial and technological resources. The choice therefore is between investing in growingly expensive manpower, or in new fangled technology and exhorbitantly-priced in-date armaments.
Now collate the fact of a resource-constrained army with the nature of the youth demographic in the country. The “youth bulge” of a few years ago is flattening out. Young men and women below 25 years of age comprise half of India’s population. But of this 50%, the cohort in the 19-23 years age group — the feedstock for the army, actually peaked at 127 million last year (2021). Decreasing fertility rates owing to increases in education levels of women and their entry into the workforce is why. That is good news.
But this development in no way lessens the impact of the factors exacerbating the unemployment problem. The most devastating of these is the sub-standard education system mass-producing, for all practical purposes, illiterates. Instead of citing bone dry statistics, let me reproduce here an illustrative example of the tragedy being played out all too often in this country of too few even lowest category government jobs being chased by far too many supposedly well-degreed youth, featured in a monograph on India’s “demographic burden” by a French political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot. “When the Indian Railways announced that it would create 63,000 jobs – all situated in the lowest level of its employment ladder”, he writes, “20 million candidates applied, including 419,137 BTech degrees holders and 40,751 people with master degrees in engineering.” That is 318 applicants for each of the 63,000 “trolleyman” or track labourer jobs on offer! He doesn’t mention the riots that occur, albeit irregularly, at railway and army recruitment centres and rallies.
What this says about the “BTech” and “Masters” degrees liberally dispensed like so much confetti is best left unsaid. But the effect on those 19 million odd youth in the above railways case who failed to get even the meanest job they applied for, must be devastating. It highlights what I have in the past written about — the urgent need for the government to stress vocational training obtaining persons with skill-sets ranging from the quotidian (plumbing, electrician work) to really high-value (high-pressure welding, care and maintenance of robotic machines, etc.) with strict professional certification standards geared to industry needs. Instead, thanks to government policies a fairly unregulated educational sphere thrives with literally hundreds of thousands of colleges in just as many rinky-dink universities yearly pushing out into the labour market unimaginable numbers of unemployable youth with degrees in all sorts of disciplines that count for less than nothing. The analog here of students at the lower secondary level (according to newsreports regarding Delhi government schools which, incidentally, are among the better-run school systems in India!!) — Class 5 students unable to read Class 2 texts, or to do a simple division.
In any case, it is the 19-23 year old youth cohort at the centre of the latest army recruitment policy innovation that’s apparently being considered by the government. In order ostensibly to curb the defence payroll and pensions spend, it proposes a binding contract for all army recruits of four years service, with only a quarter of every cohort being retained after the initial 4-year tenure for longer service with the proviso that the time pulled upto that date of service extension is not counted for purposes of remuneration, seniority, promotion, retirement benefits, etc.
This is, for obvious reasons, a singularly silly scheme and has the fingerprints all over it of the Niti Ayog caboodle run by that glib, voluble, jargon-spouting super-annuated civil servant — Amitabh Kanth, heading it. It is unlikely any uniformed brass took it seriously. In any case, it was leaked to the press to ascertain the public reaction — the usual kite-flying exercise the government occasionaly indulges in. It has elicited a lot of heated responses.
Particularly noticeable was the reaction of a retired armoured corps officer, Major General Bishambar Dayal, in a May 29 Hindi TV news programme debate on the subject. He was so agitated, it is a wonder he wasn’t marched off from the TV studio to the police station charged with violating the infamous sedition law — Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
Dayal first hinted reasonably that army HQ had no part in cobbling this 4-year “tour of duty” service concept. He then ranted — going seriously akilter as he went along — that the Indian army has never relied for success on technology as much as it did on highly motivated jawans. And how this idea of short term trooper level service system being proposed would blow up the traditional “naam, namak, nishan” basis of unit proficiency. He topped it by well, inciting — there’s no other word for it — the youth to come out on the streets to compel the government and the army to back down. When questioned he sheepishly acknowledged, however, that the prevailing policy of 15-year colour service with lifelong pension to follow of a manpower-intensive fighting force may not, after all, be sustainable. (Refer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnsqzvCkezA )!
The most alarming aspect, even more than his call to arms, as it were, to Indian youth, all rendered in thunderous fashion, was his view that the army had to retain its basic nature as primarily an employment generator and social escalator particularly for rural youth — because, he raved, the jawan is the “brahmastra”, not weapons or technology, and that, by implication, that any army plan to transition to a more compact, technologically in-date, fighting force, is to go down the wrong track! His opinions, perhaps shared by many other officers and Other Ranks, reveal the inertia the army appears to be cocooned in.
But in one respect Dayal is right. Right-sizing the army cannot be effected on the basis of a slapdash proposal sans thought such as this one, put together by God knows who, but needs to be done on the basis of a detailed study by the CDS secretariat to see the extent to which the current strength of the army and of specific combat arms and technical and other cadres can be pruned partially or fully to accommodate automated weapons systems driven by AI in the order-of-battle. Decisions will also have to be made about such parts of the military’s functioning that can be out-sourced based on their econo-military effect and consequences, and accordingly to alight on a force restructuring plan and programme.
Then again, if economizing on the forces and curbing expenditure on payroll and pensions is the immediate and urgent goal, why not revert to the original 5/7 year colour service the army had followed up to the 1970s before the lifetime employment notion was implemented, hurting the army’s agility, stamina and edge on the battlefield?
Indeed, in the classified report on defence expenditure as Adviser, defence expenditure I had prepared for the 10th Finance Commission chaired by the former defence minister, the late KC Pant, I had flagged the issue of pension costs soon outpacing the combined military modernization costs on capital account and the running/maintenance costs on revenue account. I had outlined a schemata for streamlining manpower management and flow from the army to the paramilitary forces and state police armed constabulariries. The Narasimha Rao government in 1995 had accepted that report in toto,
It was really a simple arrangement that was articulated. An average jawan after 7-year colour service would join the reserve but concurrently, after a short reorientation training for civilian law & order duties, join the paramilitary organization with vacancies for service until retirement. Because the demobilized and already skilled jawans would need no weapons, tactical, or technical training (signals, maintenance, logistics, etc), it would save the national exchequer huge sums of money currently spent on training and on related establishments of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force, Central Reseve Police Force, Industrial Security Force, et al all controlled by the Home Ministry. It would result, I contended, in these paramils becoming more effective in the field and displaying unit coherence and discipline — an inherent carryover from army service, that is not as readily evident in these paramilitary organizations. The financial benefit would be that the pension payout on military account would be deferred, leading to considerable cuts in defence pension allocations.This plan, suitably amended, deters pension-seeking by men in their late twenties, and needs only to be dusted off, fleshed out, and brought up-todate.
The core idea in it is to establish the army as the sole source of trained and skilled armed manpower for not just the central paramils but all state armed police units, including the police Special Forces (such as the Andhra Pradesh state police’s Greyhound force) active in counter-insurgency role. There is an in-built integrity to this scheme of armed manpower management that’s missing in current atomised arrangements that end up being a drain on financial resources and a waste of skilled military manpower — neither of which India can afford.
The positives of this model notwithstanding, it has no chance realistically of being adopted by the governments at the centre and in the states all of whom zealosuly guard their separate recruiting turfs because it is in the paramilitary and state police recruitment that politicians can exercise their power of patronage, besides having armed forces they can command and control.
So, the present way of doing things will be persisted with. Myriad paramils each with its own “culture” and “ethos” and, ironically, a desperate desire to be like the army in all respects — arms training, uniforms, insignia of rank, procedures and protocols end up being what they are — bad copies of the original. Moreover, because the paramils are run by Indian Police Service officers, these domestic law and order forces responsible for internal security end up with the characteristic ills of the Indian police, including corruption, lax operating style, and a “dheela-dhala” attitude.
Under the Narendra Modi-led government, we have seen a refreshingly bold departure from the past when governments seemed unwilling to deal with two defence-related problems: the pension issue, and the more debilitating matter of reliance on foreign arms
May 26 marks eight years since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India, and since 2014 a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has been in power at the Centre. Where defence and national security are concerned, the people of India have been told that this government is sufficiently alert and effective in protecting national interests and territory.
The government has proved particularly adept in wrapping itself around the flag and associating with the military. Unwittingly though while resolving some longstanding issues, other equally baffling problems have been created.
The government has delivered, for instance, on its ‘One Rank, One Pension’ promise — a nettlesome issue previous governments kicked down the road for want of financial resources. In the 2022 defence budget of Rs 5.25 lakh-crore, the Rs 1.19 lakh-crore pensions bill combined with the outgo on payroll expenses exceeds the spend on force modernisation and maintenance costs. Should this trend continue, India will soon be able to afford either an adequately sized force, or the weapons to equip it supported by minimal stocks of spares and ammo — not both.
It may be recalled that based on the projected economic growth rate, and assumption of annualised 10 percent increase the defence budget was expected to reach the 3 percent GDP level recommended by the 11th Finance Commission by 2004. In reality, the defence budget has stagnated at the 2-plus percent of GDP level, and budgetary increases have barely kept pace with inflation. The result: No buck, no bang! Still the armed services have managed somehow to contend with live, disputed, borders with China and Pakistan. How well? Don’t ask.
There is a simple two-pronged solution that has not so far occurred to the Government of India. First, to match the military manpower cuts, the strength of 400,000 ‘defence civilians’ employed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) should be slashed by half. India needs DRDO scientists, engineers, and the like, but can do without the horde of peons, clerks, stenographers, and section officers clogging up the MOD and other government offices everywhere. Official business conducted through a safeguarded computer network will eliminate the hopeless files-system and the endless numbers of babus associated with it, and coffee/tea machines can replace peons, and improve the MOD’s dismal operating efficiency.
Second, the defence civilian pensions should be shifted to the Government of India administration pensions account, thereby, at a stroke, freeing up roughly 80 percent of the defence pensions bill monopolised by retired defence civilians. It is monies the armed services can utilise to sharpen their war-fighting capability.
Through these two steps the Prime Minister can be credited for, (1) modernising the Indian military, making it razor-sharp, without raising the defence allocation, (2) digitising and de-bureaucratising the MOD (as a test bed for upgrading the government’s conduct of business), and; (3) removing the demeaning caste-like hierarchy featuring low-grade workers.
The other major change in the defence sphere is the drive to make India self-reliant in armaments. Again, Modi had the right idea with his aatmnirbharta policy. Except, in the years since he mooted it, there has been more confusion and drift than genuine progress; a situation not improved by a series of updated defence procurement procedure documents issued by the MOD that regularly trip up Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and ministry officials as much as they do the military brass and public and private sector defence industrial companies.
No one is quite sure what aatmnirbharta means. Do foreign companies producing dated military products (F-16 fighter plane, say) fit the guidelines? But doesn’t that undercut the objective? To compound the confusion, Singh in the past year has released lists of military goods the armed services can no longer import, including major weapons systems such as helicopters, artillery guns, warships, and submarines. It is supposed to encourage in-country research, design, development and production of advanced weaponry, and support systems, save the country tens of billions of dollars in hard currency, seed a vibrant defence industrial ecosystem to meet the armed services’ equipment needs, to generate export revenues, and have a multiplier effect on the rest of the economy.
Singh’s negative lists, prima facie, suggest the government wants results fast, to obtain which it is prepared to throw all concerned parties into deep water, and hope they learn to swim. This, incidentally, is the correct approach to shock the armed services, the MOD, and defence public sector units, habituated to weapons systems screw-drivered from imported completely knocked down (CKD) and semi-knocked down (SKD) kits, out of their licensed manufacture comfort zone.
Denied the import option, the military will have to take ownership of indigenous weapons projects and, crucially, prepare to fight with Indian-designed armaments that may not initially meet the foreign weapons standard. It is an unavoidable stage in making aatmnirbharta work.
The Modi years to-date have seen a refreshingly bold departure from the past when the government seemed unwilling to deal with the two main tasks at hand, namely, the pensions issue that had the entire military community up in arms, and the more debilitating matter of reliance on foreign arms.
The solution for the first problem was enabled by the government’s readiness to sequester the necessary funds and take a financial hit, and for the second, was the decision to kickstart the Indian defence industrial economy by closing off the imports channel, and incentivising the public sector and private sector companies with promise of full order books. India may finally be on the way, hiccups apart, to consolidating its military power.
[Modi and the new Australian PM, Anthony Albanese]
One of the reasons the outgoing Conservative party prime minister Scott Morrison quickly conceded the elections was to give Canberra the time to prep the incoming Labour party PM, Anthony Albanese, for the Tokyo summit of the Quadrilateral heads of government, May 23-25. But, however, successful the Australian Foreign Office is in bringing Albanese upto speed, it is unlikely he will have crystalized his party’s views on anything as to begin negotiating substantively with his Quad counterparts, even less to commiting Australia to new initiatives. Especially because, it is still not certain that the ruling Labour Party will have a majority and have its own government, or whether Albanese will have to make-do with a coalition government with smaller parties and independents, which will necessitate policy compromises.
In the event, much of the summit will be spent with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who technically is the most experienced of this lot of leaders in both foreign and military policy fields, getting to know the new Australian leader. Kishida was foreign minister from 2012 to 2016 in Shinzo Abe’s government and in 2017 pulled time as Japan’s defence minister.
But niceties apart, there are certain things about Albanese that will help him resonate with Modi. In his acceptance speech, he reminded the audience about his humble background — he grew up with his mother who is a “welfare pensioner” — something that’s bound to stir Modi’s empathy and fellow-feeling. Moreover, his promise to make his country “a renewable energy superpower” — meaning hydrogen, solar and wind power, parallels Modi’s own agenda of making India a leading “hydrogen power” by 2050. This could be the context for substantive collaboration in developing renewable energy technologies and, foreign policy-wise, will be the low-hanging fruit Modi and Albanese can pluck.
However, on issues relating to the Quad’s raison d’etre — containing China by all means, particularly military, there may be chasm between Australia and the other Quad members. With Morrison’s single-minded security-oriented approach missing from the Tokyo pow-wows, a wishy-washy attitude may prevail vis a vis collaring China. The work will thus be cut out for Biden to persuade Albanese to, at least, continue with Morrison’s policy of permitting the northern Australian coast to be built up as an extended staging area for American and other Quad air, naval, and land forces. In fact, to thwart the Chinese PLA, navy and air force from acting up in the South China Sea and, precipitously, against Taiwan, the US Army already has over a thousand troops stationed in Darwin. This port is also being configured to host US navy’s nuclear-powered attack and cruise and ballistic missile-firing submarines. How Albanese will dovetail these aspects with his government’s economic imperative to ease relations with China,is a matter of conjecture.
But given that the Australian economy has slowed down considerably — the main reason for Morrison and his party losing the elctions — and is in need of a quick “pick me up”, reopening the Australian market to Chinese goods is a fix Albanese will opt for. Chinese exports in the last 20 years registered a double digit annualised growth rate, in 2020 touching some $58 billion. In turn, Albanese will hope Beijing opens the tap for Chinese investments in the extractive and other industries and otherwise kick-start the Australian economy. Aware of the wind blowing its way, Beijing has already begun to incentivize this trend by increasing Australian revenues from importing, in the main, Australian grain, gas, iron ore, and coal. The intent, no doubt, being to weaken the security cooperation aspects of the Quad that the Xi Jinping regime has publicly voiced its displeaure against. Indeed, it is the fear of provokng China that thas resulted in both Delhi and Tokyo tippy-toeing around the military objectives of the Quad.
[Prime Minister Fumio Kishida]
And it is precisely this fear of China that has been the biggest stumbling block in ratcheting up the India-Japan strategic partnership. In Japan’s case, because it now also has a potentially rogue Russia run by Vladimir Putin, in a raggedy war in Ukraine in which the Russian army, for whatever reasons, has still not conducted an all-fronts smash-up campaign, potentially lashing out, as Tokyo suspects and, suicidally, opening another front on the Kurile Islands. This in any case is a contingency Tokyo is becoming alive to.
In India’s case, it is because of the Indian government’s and the Indian military’s seeming inability to think and act strategically — now part of their DNA. The chance for a really China-constrictor set-up was provided by Abe — the first Asian leader in recent times with a truly strategic bent of mind. In 2007, in his second year in his first short tenure of 2 years as prime minister he proposed the “security diamond”. He did so not in the US or in any European forum or even from a prestigious platform in his native Tokyo, but in his address to the Indian Parliament. It indicated the centrality he accorded India. Elected back to power in 2012 for a longer run as prime minister, a post he voluntarily vacated in 2020, Abe worked on that “security diamond”, fashioning it with Washington into the more practicable (and less abstract) Quadrilateral.
Tragically, that Quadrilateral, has been running in place and going nowhere since, in part because it lacks a military mission and motor which, in turn, can be attributed to Modi picking the wrong project to prioritise from among the items offered India by Abe during his January 2014 state visit — four months before Modi swept into power. In the following years, as flagship of the strategic partnership, Modi chose to install the Shinkansen highspeed railway connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad with Japanese credit worth $15 billion rather than use that money to set up a plant to produce the Shinmaywa short takeoff US-2 multirole maritime aircraft and its spares to meet the Indian Navy’s needs as well as the global demand!
Unanimously rated the best such aircraft in the world, the US-2 is adept variously in surveillance and reconnaissance, in the antiship attack role, in landing on a coin anywhere, including near oil rigs carrying provisions, repair material or rotational crews, or next to smuggler dhows or motorised craft carrying terrorists for seaborne attack (as on Mumbai 26/11 in 2008) or Somali pirates operating off Aden, allowing the on-board marine commando (MARCOS) in the latter instances to take care of business, or even to airlift Special Forces for expeditionary tasks on the Indo-Pacific littoral or in protection of friendly island-nations (Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka). It can do all this in really rough sea conditions, and is the pluperfect platform for patrolling and protecting 24/7 the country’s 572 widely dispersed island territories in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and in the Arabian Sea.
So, what does the most strategic-minded among the Indian armed services — the Indian Navy, do? it rejects Japan’s US-2 project, saying its immediate requirement of just 12 US-2s did not justify such expenditure and that it’d stick with the antiquated Dornier 228s instead. The Navy has understated its US-2 requirement. Just as replacement for the Dorniers, the Navy alone will need 27 US-2s and the Indian Coast Guard another 17, for a total of 44 US-2s — a very respectable first order for the Indian-built flying boat. But no, 12 is the number the Navy stuck to, never mind the full technology transfer and manufacturing wherewithal and training that Japan promised, or the contract for supply of Indian-made spares for US-2s everywhere, and even grant-in Japanese aid to finance the whole deal! (The US-2 fiasco is detailed in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, pp. 256-269.)
Hardly to be wondered then that Tokyo assessed India and its government to be not worth the strategic trouble, and reconciled itself to doing things “the India Way” — playing the short game for small gains. Hence, security cooperation is showcased by joint naval exercises and such. When a project with limited impact and then mostly in Modi’s Gujarat is preferred to one that’d have enabled India to secure a versatile flying boat, establish itself as the sole producer of the US-2 aircraft in the world, and to seed a genuine aerospace industry in the bargain, what’s left to say?
Still, if there’s any residual strategic wit remaining anywhere in the Indian government and the military one prays even at this late hour for that wit to manifest itself in a prompt to Prime Minister Modi to try and revive the Shinmaywa US-2 deal even if now India has to pay for it out of its own pocket.
A 2-part interview in Rediff News published on May 19 & May 20
‘The US will not want to tangle with China landwards.’ ‘Nor will the US confront the Chinese navy seawards on India’s account.’
IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at a joint news conference with United States Secretary of State Antony J Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III after the fourth India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at the US State Department in Washington, DC. Photograph: Michael A McCoy/Pool via Reuters
Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, believes the time has come for the Narendra Damodardas Modi government to draw up a strategic non-aligned policy to suit India’s interests.
“India, its government, and Indians, generally, will have to get out of the debilitating habit of mind of expecting some big power to come to its aid and fight its wars,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal in the first of a two-part interview:
Home Minister Amit Shah said at a book launch in New Delhi on May 11 that Prime Minister Modi has transformed India’s foreign policy and made it subordinate to India’s defence and security interests.
This is true, especially in light of the Ukraine developments when the Modi government successfully resisted the relentless pressure the US and West European States, in particular, put on New Delhi to sever India’s arms and energy supply lines to Russia.
In the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, has India’s tight rope walking between looking after its interests vis a vis Russia without displeasing the US been a success? In the event of a Chinese attack in the future, will the US come to our rescue? What about Home Minister Shah’s statement made on May 5 where he spoke about India reclaiming Pakistan occupied Kashmir?
India, its government, and Indians, generally, will have to get out of the debilitating habit of mind of expecting some big power to come to its aid and fight its wars.
That has never happened in the past and will not in the future — no matter what is at stake.
The US will not, in particular, want to tangle with China landwards — a policy inhibition nursed from the Korean War (1950-1953) when the US-led Allied forces suffered grievous losses and were pushed by the PLA back down to the 39th Parallel where the lines stabilised on the present North Korea-South Korea border.
Nor will the US confront the Chinese navy seawards on India’s account.
Washington may, however, channel real time intelligence, etc and do things that do not in any way involve American ‘boots on the ground’.
The aggressive ‘recovery of Pakistan occupied Kashmir’ issue raised by the Modi regime seems to be more a provincial and national political ploy to keep Pakistan and the domestic Opposition on the defensive, primarily because militarily it is a difficult goal to achieve what with Chinese strategic interests being directly engaged with the Belt and Road Initiative-related ‘China-Pakistan economic corridor’.
There is an equally strong possibility that with Russia’s increasing dependence on the Chinese, the Russians will also not come to our help in case of a Chinese attack.
Russia will not come to India’s direct assistance either.
It, in any case, will have enough on its hands for the next few decades by way of reconstructing its own economy (sans revenues worth some 300 million euros a day from export of oil and gas to Germany and other European States) and that of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine it will annex.
As far as the Russia-China nexus goes, Moscow is no strategic fool.
It is mindful of not being a cog in China’s hegemonic designs and is as wary of potential territorial inroads by China in mineral rich eastern Siberia as India is about a Chinese imperium in Asia and the PLA occupying Indian land in Ladakh and elsewhere.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi hands over the indigenously developed Arjun Main Battle Tank (Mark 1A) tanks to the Indian Army in Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo
A perception that has gained ground as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war is that Russian weaponry has not proved to be all that good and therefore demand for it will be reduced in the future. Do you see that happening in the case of India which remains heavily dependent on Russia for arms supplies?
All weapons systems end up performing less than as advertised in brochures and by arms salesmen.
That said, yes, the Ukrainian partisans have revealed a major design flaw, for instance, in the T-72 main battle tank — the wrong placement of the ammo storage compartment under the crew cupola, which tends to blow up with the first guided anti-tank munition hit midship.
It is a matter of grave concern to the Indian armoured forces featuring the T-72.
Maybe, this will finally convince the armoured brass in the directorate in army headquarters to take ownership of the indigenous Arjun MBT (which handily beat the Russian T-90 and T-72 tanks in test trials in all weather, all conditions, all terrains!), and to buy this Indian combat vehicle in bulk and invest fully in its further improvement.
On the other hand, the Su-30MKI air superiority fighter and the MiG-29 for air defence have no peers.
But even these renowned planes pale in many performance aspects to the home-grown Tejas 1A! If the Ukraine crisis proves anything it is for the Indian military to ‘Buy Indian’ so that Prime Minister Modi’s laudable atmanirbharta mantra does not remain mere rhetoric.
I ask this question in the context that in a recent article, you have very caustically mentioned how the 2008 India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement which was supposed to deliver ‘20,000 MW by 2020’ and the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative to transfer advanced military technologies and high-value tech collaboration have hardly delivered. The only important joint project to-date involving US assistance for developing a combat aircraft jet engine in India was called off by President Trump. Why does the US have reservations in providing advanced equipment and technology transfer to India given that we are a member of QUAD?
The fact is the US does not like to share its top-end technology with anyone, including its closest allies, because it perceives it as the US military’s edge in battle.
For example, the United Kingdom — America’s closest, most intimate, ally invested several billion dollars in the development of the multi-role Lockheed F-35 combat aircraft and expected a wholesale transfer of its technology. But once F-35 got into production stage, Washington refused to pass on source codes for the software driving the onboard avionics.
So, what chance, do you think, India has in securing really high military technology?
May 20, 2022 09:30 ISTGet Rediff News in your Inbox:email
‘For the first time, all major countries are discovering India’s indispensability to their own foreign policy interests.’
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the federal chancellery in Berlin, May 2, 2022. Photograph: Press Information Bureau
Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, believes the time has come for the Narendra Damodardas Modi government to draw up a strategic non-aligned policy to suit India’s interests.
“Despite being stonewalled by New Delhi on the Ukraine issue, the US, NATO States, Japan, Russia, and even China want India as their ‘best friend’ as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during his recent visit,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal in the concluding segment of a two-part interview:
You have argued that America and the European Union need India to ring fence China. Considering our close economic dependence on China, is that feasible?
Get the facts right! India does not depend on China for anything that cannot be bought from other sources.
It is China that depends on India’s vast consumer market to keep its industry in clover — the reason why the Modi government has to begin seriously limiting Chinese access to the Indian market.
Even as Indian companies operate under severe regulatory strain in China, Chinese companies are afforded full freedom by the Indian government to mint money, selling all manner of manufactures to Indians.
It is time the Modi regime wised up and did something meaningful to hurt China economically by simply evening out the economic playing field. Is that too much to ask?
Does being non aligned prevent India from evolving a strategic foreign policy to suit its own interests? The Modi government says since India is being wooed by several foreign nations and this is ‘India’s moment’.
Goes without saying that being non-aligned increases India’s options and policy choices.
Good that the Modi government discovered the merits of this stance, even if a little belatedly.
This may indeed be ‘India’s moment’ because for the first time all major countries are discovering India’s indispensability to their own foreign policy interests.
This is why despite being stonewalled by New Delhi on the Ukraine issue, the US, NATO States, Japan, Russia, and even China want India as their ‘best friend’ as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during his recent visit.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, April 22, 2022. Photograph: Press Information Bureau
Do we have the economic muscle to hard talk the US, China and the EU given that our economic parameters are showing a downward slide?
India, because of its vast market, packs an economic wallop.
Ironically, it is the Indian government and trade and commerce ministry, in particular, that refuses to drive hard bargains, time and again succumbing to external pressures and to the institutional desire to be ‘responsible’ and hew to the World Trade Organisation and other norms even when no major power does that.
For evidence, look at all the unrestrained and unfavourable Free Trade Agreements the government has signed with all and sundry in recent years.
IMAGE: Ukrainian soldiers ride an armored vehicle en route to the front in the Donetsk region. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters
How would you evaluate India’s foreign policy especially in its handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict?
The Modi government has achieved stellar success with its Russia-Ukraine policy — warding off Western pressure with ease while, even if for form’s sake, upbraiding Moscow for the invasion excesses, and otherwise managing to maintain a ‘balance’ between the feuding parties.
Do you see the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka impacting us in any way?
Hard to take pleasure from a neighbour’s dive into despond. But the ruling Rajapaksa family has been a pain in India’s butt.
The current Sri Lanka president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in particular, having it in for India for its support to the secessionist Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam which he as defence minister ruthlessly crushed in the bloodiest of civil wars.
The good thing for India is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa having pushed his country wilfully into a nepotistic form of government in which family members held all the high ranks and wielded all the levers of power, and worse into a ‘debt trap’ laid by China and into bankcruptcy, all political parties in Sri Lanka including the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, are agreed that Colombo has to change course.
Here Modi’s far-seeing policy of opening multi-billion dollar lines of credit for Sri Lanka to use to offtake Indian commodities and consumer items to meet shortages and quell popular unrest, will help in getting India-Sri Lanka relations back on track.
That India has clout if it acts independently in pursuit of narrowly defined national interest is something the Narendra Modi government apparently discovered, courtesy the Ukraine war. It reveals what is fundamentally wrong with Modi’s world view and how the S. Jaishankar-led Ministry of External Affairs assesses the world and India’s role in it.
Initially skipping around moral issues to avoid condemning Russia for its messy military intervention, India became more forthright in pursuing its national interest. It was uneasy about running afoul of the United States and the West but unwilling to court President Vladimir Putin’s wrath.
The balance of Delhi’s concerns was this: The US and European states, could be persuaded to be flexible on account of China, West’s other great rival, otherwise benefitting strategically. The Modi government hinted at the possibility of China using the Ukraine tensions to initiate hostilities across the disputed border as it had done in 1962 when exploiting the super powers’ distraction with the Cuban missile crisis to start the mountain war that India lost. It is a danger heightened by an unpredictable Putin, in a pique, slowing down the flow of military spares and creating no end of trouble for the Indian armed services. It eventuated in India’s “neutral” stance and abstentions on several UN votes, which preempted Putin from getting punitive.
The success in dealing with the US and Russia led Jaishankar, at the Raisina Dialogue 2022, to declare, a trifle triumphantly, that “It’s better to engage with the world on the basis of who we are rather than try and please the world by being a pale imitation of what they are” and to not let “others define us, [or, have the] need to get approval from other quarters, [which] era”, he said, is “behind” us.
This is very rah-rah and self-congratulatory, of course. But the era he would like the country to forget is the one in which he had ceaselessly talked up India as needing to be part of “a rules-based order” — one dominated politically by the United States and the West, and economically by the US and China. It is a system, moreover, that because India had no part whatsoever in crafting, requires it to traipse through the minefields of clashing US, European, Russian and Chinese interests. In the event, like it or not, India and its interests are defined by whichever powerful country or countries it wants to sidle up to.
Still, taking Jaishankar at his word, is he saying the extant correlation-of-forces was examined, India’s choices pondered, and decision made to pursue national interest by relying on itself? In that case, what’s not to like? Except, the success in resisting American pressure to disengage from Russia without alienating Washington, it must be noted, was at the sufferance of both the US and Russia.
The Indian foreign minister’s statement, however, suggested something else: A new, more disruptive, attitude and a departure from, what I have called, a “creeper vine” foreign policy that India adopted post-Cold War of clinging to the US to rise. Plainly, this is not so as Modi subsequently clarified. On the eve of his European tour, the PM reassured everybody that India’s rise would not be at the “cost” of any other country. So, disruption of the existing international order is not on the cards. In reality, it means India remaining what it has always been — a tame and timid country ready to ride any passing coattail with little gain in sight.
That’s not a surprise. The 2008 India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement promised “20,000 MW by 2020”, and the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) advanced military technologies and high-value tech collaboration. Neither delivered. The only important project involving US help to design and develop a combat aircraft jet engine in India was terminated by President Donald Trump, notwithstanding the “Howdy, Modi!” and “Namaste Trump” galas in Houston and Ahmedabad respectively. And the series of DTTI and 2×2 meetings with the US have, like the Joint Working Group negotiations with China to resolve the border dispute, produced only promises to meet again.
The “India as responsible state”-mantra that’s routinely rolled out to explain the country’s external behaviour has covered for India’s foreign and military policy inaction, lack of political will, loss of nerve, and for compromises at every turn. India has failed to respond to China’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan with like strategic arming of countries on China’s periphery. Incidentally, this was a late 1970s-vintage provocation the US was party to. Delhi then delayed the export of conventional warheaded Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam, Philippines, et al, until now but blamed Russia for not previously permitting such sale, when India had the indigenous short-range Prithvi missile that it could have liberally dispensed. And India did not instantly retaliate with air strikes against significant targets within Pakistan when terrorists attacked Parliament in December 2001, and Mumbai in November 2008.
The fact is India never needed to placate the US, nor required the Ukraine issue to assert its policy freedom. It is America, the European Union, and Russia as I have long argued, that crucially need India to ringfence China. No other country in Asia has the location, size and the all-round heft. What is missing is an Indian government with the vision, iron will and self-confidence to talk straight with Washington and to demand a substantial price for partnering the US — expeditious transfers of high technology and such. Instead, New Delhi appears content with the H1B visa crumbs Washington throws its way.
For reasons of economic and military counterweighting and access to its market, the US, EU, Russia and China alike find India indispensable to their plans. It is “India’s moment” alright but not, as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran roundaboutly argues, to get closer to America. That would be to squander a glorious opportunity for the country to emerge as international system balancer and great power, unconstrained by partnerships with big powers. Alas, that is not the path Modi and Jaishankar are taking.
The Narendra Modi government, having looked at all options, including “deep selection”, have apparently determined that the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh, who retired end-November 2021, is the best person to succeed the late General Bipin Rawat as Chief of the Defence Staff and Secretary, Department of Miltary Affairs. The announcement is likely to be made soon.
Unlike Rawat whose Pauri-Garhwal connections helped, Karambir is being brought in after considerable thought expended on his selection in the PMO and elsewhere, whence he will, in some respects, enjoy even greater backing in the inevitable bureaucratic turf battles and in fights over critical decisions.
When advocating Karambir’s appointment as CDS in a Dec 14, 2021 post on this Blog (https://bharatkarnad.com/2021/12/14/indias-next-chief-of-defence-staff-and-his-remit/), I had alluded to the “democratic” precedent of the US President, John F Kennedy, in 1961 installing a retired US Army Chief of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, as his Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. By way of Admiral Karambir’s qualifications, I had said that, as a naval helicopter pilot he had professional skills and the experience to empathize with, and to win the respect of, the air force and of the helicopter-equipped army aviation wing and hence of the army — “the sort of background” few chiefs of staff have possessed, and which Rawat plainly lacked (leading to such boo-boos as his dismissal of the IAF as a “supporting arm”). And the Admiral will have to root out from the CDS secretariat his predecessor’s antipathy to expeditiously and extensively establishing military bases on the Indian Ocean littoral and in archepelagic island nations (Maldives, Mauritius, northern Mozambique coast, etc) and to carving out a ready-use expeditionary element in the Indian armed forces to counter China’s fast-growing footprint, and effectively handling crises, in the region.
His naval helicopter background is pertinent. Unlike aviator naval chiefs in the past — mostly carrier-borne fighter pilots (Arun Prakash, Sureesh Mehta) who flew combat aircraft off decks (VSTOL Harriers and, in Prakash’s case, also Hunter, as part of an IAF squadron during the 1971 War, in which stint he won the Vir Chakra), and with an attitude more akin to that of the “Fly-boys” in the air force, the no-nonsense Karambir flew Kamovs and, as CNS, wore his phlegmatism on his sleeve. It is a trait that will stand him in good stead as CDS when he will be required to juggle the demands of the three armed services and of the Coast Guard, and to alight on inter se priorities where expenditure programmes are concerned, on the one hand and, on the other hand, to deal with the sometimes difficult political leaders (Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh) and the civilian MOD bureaucracy, withut rubbing anyone too much the wrong way. What may have impressed the powers that-be is also the Admiral’s reputation as a “straight arrow” which, incidentally, will deter these other parties from pushing him on issues.
It will be interesting to see if as CDS, the Admiral stays with the Rawat plan for the consolidation of resources and “theaterization” of the numerous military commands, or tweaks it to make it more practicable. Many military stalwarts who have headed the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), such as the former CNS, Admiral Arun Prakash, believe that an excellent working model for integrating command and control as well as the fighting and other military assets already exists in the Port Blair-headquartered ANC. What needs to be done, they claim, is for it to be upscaled. Several such operationally integrated commands, they feel, would ease the movement towards a genuinely integrated Indian military, one in which the constituent services operate seamlessly.
The trouble with the ANC, however, is that all the good it does in fosterig a genuine “joint” mindset and habit of working is frittered away as soon as officers on rotation in the Command revert to posts in their original service on the mainland when they have to buckle on the same old mental and attitudinal straitjackets. Even minimal loyalty to jointness is prevented from getting cemented by the extant career reward structure — the Confidential Reports that count of the senior staff officers are written annually not by the Commander-in-Chief, ANC, but by the chiefs of the services they belong to. Thus, promising careers have been cut short because senior officers were perceived by their chiefs as being too wedded to the concept of jointness or too supportive of the integrated setup than was deemed good for the parent service!
This aspect of the ANC offers a peek into the promotion system that’s in desperate need of overhaul which, hopefully, the new CDS will undertake, pronto! This is an absolute imperative if an integrated military is ever to bcome reality. Indeed, Karambir Singh should consider incorporating a scheme for awarding additional points to officers for pulling time in joint units/organizations, and to define minimum thresholds of “jointness points” beyond senior-Major or equivalent level as prerequisite for promotion to the next higher rank. Institutionalizing such promotion schema will provide just the incentive necessary for the officer corps in the three armed services to become more military jointness- and integration-minded.
It is generally believed that sapper and signals officers are the brainiest lot in the army, and for good reason. They are called on to have their wits about them in combat and required to come up with engineering solutions on the run for often complex problems in unfolding battefield scenarios. Good thing that finally a sapper — General Manoj Pande, has made it as COAS. The Narendra Modi government needs to be commended for this selection.
Combat engineers have until now been overlooked on the dubious basis that they are from a support arm. Except in reality, they are often the lead unit that allows them to display gut-wrenching valour of the type a Bombay Sapper, Lt Gen Premindra Singh Bhagat, say, showed as a raw Lieutenant in the World War II campaign in Eritrea in January 1941 that fetched him the Victoria Cross. Bhagat lashed himself to the front end of a Bren gun carrier and single-handedly cleared 15 minefields over 55 miles in 4 days, uprooting these mines laid by the Italian army around Galladat by hand, one at a time. He did his work regardless of two Bren carriers blowing up underneath him and the explosions puncturing his eardrums!
Bhagat had all the credentials and the seniority to succeed General GG Bewoor as COAS in 1974, but Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, fearing his popularity among the soldiery and reputation for straight-talking, played dirty. She extended Bewoor’s term by a fortnight, just long enough for Bhagat’s retirement date to come due and render him ineligible for promotion, and just so she could appoint a fellow Kashmiri, Lt Gen TP Raina, as COAS. But unwilling to pass up on Bhagat’s proven leadership nous, engineering skills and general competence, she installed Bhagat as chairman of the prestigious Damodar Valley Corporation which runs a series of hydel and thermal power stations in Bengal and Jharkand.
The next combat engineer who was overlooked by the government to fill the COAS post was army commander and Madras Sapper, Lt. Gen. DSR Sahni in 1993. For me he was special because he was an alumunus of my military school –to give its original moniker — King George’s Royal Indian Military College, Belgaum, which in my time (in the late Fifties-early Sixties) was simply King George’s School. As Northern Army Commander, Sahni hosted my visit as adviser, defence expenditure, (Tenth) Finance Commission in Sept 1992, to the Command HQrs, Udhampur. Between long discussions in his office and at his residence, he ordered me to do a darshan of Vaishnodevi, and deputised the Command’s chief signals officer, a KGS classmate as my escort.
Sahni’s clearly articulated Long View, in particular, was a revelation and convinced me the army needed him as its chief for his strategizing ability alone. Back in Delhi, I tried to plead his obvious qualifications for the COAS job to the powers that be but the Narasimha Rao government put General BC Joshi in the chair. This even though Joshi was medically unfit and should not have been in the running at all. But he wrangled a certificate to show his blood pressure was under control which was not the case, and died in office.
But why do sappers deserve more regularly to be considered for the COAS’ post? In the main because, as engineers they have a problem solving habit of mind and because from a supporting arm, they do not have the kind of blind loyalty to their combat arm that infantry, armour/mech and artillery officers effortlessly summon, and which loyalty invariably weighs in on their decisions, skewing them. Inherent in problem solving is objectivity, which is central to making sound decisions.
Why an engineering background helps in defence decisionmaking was evidenced during Manohar Parrikar’s time as Defence Minister. Parrikar, a mechanical engineer from IIT, Mumbai, and inarguably the most competent man in the history of the Republic to-date to hold this post, after a comparative cost-benefit analysis of Su-30, Rafale, F-16, and Saab Gripen, that involved mathematical calculations, sensibly chose the option of augmenting the Su-30MKI fleet rather than going in for an entirely new fighter aircraft requiring exorbitantly priced munitions and a new, expensive and separate maintenance infrastructure and specially-trained manpower. It earned Parrikar a one-way ticket back to Goa, because the Modi regime had unwisely plonked for a US$12 billion government-to-government deal with France for 36 Rafale aircraft, which will be more an albatross round IAF’s neck than an operational asset.
General Pande will have opportunities galore to showcase his problem solving-mindset and his objectivity, esecially in according inter se priority to the various competing procurement/modernization-related and maintenance-related expenditure programmes. It will decide the direction the army will move in and the kind of force it will become in the future. And also, with consistently wise and measured decisions, Pande will hopefully impress everybody ensuring, in the process, that combat engineers will not get the short shrift again.
It is always bad news when a neighbouring country plunges into a political crisis. India faces double trouble with two adjoining states on the boil —Pakistan and Sri Lanka. While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s exit may mollify the people and a belt-tightening International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue programme save the Sri Lankan economy, no straightforward solution is in sight for Pakistan, where severe IMF strictures turbocharged the campaign against the Imran Khan government.
The situation in Pakistan is more nettlesome also because, apart from the IMF-imposed economic austerity, the dynastic leadership of the two main opposition parties—Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) under Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party—with a gaggle of Maulana Fazalur Rehman-led small religious parties in train, had a personal stake in regime change, what with the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in exile in London, being pursued on corruption charges.
But having unseated the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime, the opposition may find a deposed Imran an even greater challenge once he marshals his resources and PTI takes to the street and makes life miserable for the “khichdi” government of Shehbaz Sharif. In his address on the eve of the ‘no confidence vote’, Imran had warned this would happen. He seems to have majority support with the very large and motivated under-30 demographic in the country, fed up with rule by the dynasts, backing him.
In the political chess game in Pakistan, if government power is the king piece, the Pakistan army—as the guardian of the Pakistan ideology and the central prop of any civilian dispensation—is the queen piece that can manoeuvre any which way to ensure its interests are safeguarded. This translates into the Pakistan military getting its customary 16 percent share of the budget. Except last year, the national debt soared to 95 percent of GDP and 85 percent of the budget was apportioned to servicing it. This situation has been a long time developing and is expected to worsen, leaving little for the army—the reason why the Pakistani military brass, General Qamar Javed Bajwa being the latest, have discounted India as a threat; a position that undermines the Pakistan army’s raison d’etre. But Shehbaz reassured the Pakistan army by tying peace with India to the Kashmir dispute resolution. The withdrawal of the army’s support on account of Imran’s alienating the US led to his downfall.
But Pakistan’s straitened circumstances mean that war with India is unthinkable. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the right moves by calling for peace and a joint effort to resolve development issues. He can go further in his response to the moderation shown by GHQ, Pakistan, in recent years—prompt release of Wing Commander Abhinandan, non-reaction to the misfired Brahmos missile—by more fully orienting the Indian military China-wards. The redeployment of the I Corps, the army’s leading armoured strike formation, to the east is a beginning and, hopefully, will eventuate in a single armoured corps for Pakistan contingencies and the shifting of two strike corps worth of manpower and war materiel to raise two additional offensive mountain corps for the China front. Because one thing is certain—India cannot anymore afford to be delusional and prepare for a “two-front war”.
Fighting the far superior Chinese People’s Liberation Army in all domains, candidly speaking, is beyond the capacity of the Indian armed forces into the mid-term future, and why addressing this deficit should be India’s principal military concern and task hereon. It is a mission India should have embarked on post-1971 Bangladesh War when Pakistan was reduced and the minuscule threat it originally posed became non-existent. But political inertia and vested interests of various combat arms ensured the Indian government and military stayed stuck in the past.
Whatever the consequences for Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz will be inclined, as his older brother Nawaz Sharif was, to open the border, resume trade, and negotiate the Kashmir issue through the backchannel. It had won for Nawaz Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trust and the memorable bus trip to Lahore, a promising peace process torpedoed by General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 Kargil misadventure.
To encourage Shehbaz to proceed along mutually beneficial lines, Prime Minister Modi should consider opening billion-dollar credit lines for Islamabad to offtake Indian manufactures and agricultural commodities to tide things over. Billion-dollar Indian credits are working in Sri Lanka to distance Colombo from Beijing, and could help to wean Pakistan away from China. It would display Modi’s Chanakyan foresight, set India and Pakistan on a course of irreversible peace, and put him, along with Shehbaz, in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.
[Russian tank on a Mariuopol street — Day 26 of invasion]
Diverted by the prospect of easy pickings west of the Dneiper River, which did not materialize with the Ukrainian resistance showing more mettle and staying power than Moscow expected, Russia is getting back to achieving its original goal. As predicted in a February 23 post [“There will be no war over Ukraine, here’s why”] when hostilities were initiated, that limited goal was the absorption of the Russian-majority areas of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region and an eastern border belt comprising Mariuopol, Khersan and possibly Odessa as a logical extension of Kremlin’s 2014 move that annexed Crimea. That’s now the aim now. It will enable Russia to control the Sea of Azov and, more importantly, the Black Sea. The command of the Black Sea coast, in particular, eliminates Russia’s biggest vulnerability — NATO naval forces potentially exploiting the maritime approaches from the south.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s declaration in Parliament yesterday that India’s stand on Ukraine is guided solely by the national interest and, hence, that it can no more ignore the availability of Russian oil at discounted prices needed for growth than the looming China threat, which requires the military supply line to Russia be kept well oiled and the historically warm relations with Russia maintained, was a formal reassertion of India’s policy of strategic autonomy. It is several steps away from the conspicuous tilt to the US and the West manifested in the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with America that Jaishankar, ironically, had engineered as Joint Secretary (Americas) in the MEA. The three Indo-US foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA) that followed during Narendra Modi’s time as Prime Minister were merely the icing on the cake.
The relentless campaign waged by Washington and West European governments to pressure New Delhi into siding with them against Russia, was not a surprise. Washington pulled out all the stops, including a ham-handed effort by the Biden Administration’s advertised economic “hitman” and deputy National Security Adviser, Daleep Singh. He visited Delhi only to end up firing blanks and sounding silly with his public threats of “consequences” to India if it failed to fall in line with respect to imports of Russian energy and weaponry. “The more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breaches the Line of Actual Control, Russia would come running to India’s defence,” he said. Appropriately, Daleep Singh said this on April Fool’s Day, because the obvious riposte to that is: Is there anyone anywhere who believes the US, India’s “strategic partner”, no less, will “come running to India’s defence” in the same situation?!
This makes one wonder why the US and the West expected India to make common cause with them on Ukraine, in the first place. Is it because of Jaishankar’s success in smoothtalking the US, in particular, into believing that New Delhi had turned a corner, was now more firmly with the West than ever before, and even gradually aligning its armament-sourcing accordingly?
That the sale of military hardware is, in effect, the lifebouy that’s keeping Indo-Russian ties afloat was accepted as a given by Messrs Lavrov and Jaishankar — a condition both agreed would not be upset. Referring to the same condition, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin informed the US House Armed Services Committee on April 6 that the American government agencies “continue to work with [India] to ensure they understand that it’s not in their …best interest to continue to invest in Russian equipment.” Coincidentally or otherwise, these exchanges happened just when Boeing is preparing to conduct a fly-off of the twin-engined F/A-18 from the static ski-deck at INS Hansa in Goa. This aircraft is competing with the Rafale-M[arine] and the Russian MiG-29K fleet air defence aircraft to outfit the first Indian (Kochi) shipyard-built aircraft carrier now undergoing final seatrials. The deal is for some 27 carrier aircraft worth several billions of dollars.
The sale of armaments is the lynchpin-reason persuading US and Russia to desist from pushing the Modi regime too hard on Ukraine lest it react by going the other way, the former because it hopes to replace the latter as prime arms supplier, and the latter because it expects to hold on to its pole position as the main high-value arms vendor.
In any case, had the Ukraine crisis not occurred, the Modi government would have had a more difficult time of shrugging off American and Russian pressure. Still, with the Ukraine issue front and centre, the Indian government rediscovered the joys and strategic benefits of remaining conspicuously neutral in disputes that do not directly involve India, and of exercising policy latitude and freedom of manoeuvre that such positioning affords it. Neutrality has allowed India to reassert its strategic autonomy and to play off the US and Russia against each other for strategic gain.
Abstaining from voting on resolutions in the Security Council has so far served India’s purposes. The resolution in the UN General Assembly later today (Thursday, April 7) moved by Lithuania to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council on account of alleged Russian human rights violations, however, is a more testing proposition. Because an abstention will help the West, Moscow has warned it will be construed as an unfriendly act. Did MEA anticipate such a situation and alert the visiting Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov last week that Delhi could not not be consistent and not abstain? If it did, then India is in the clear. If it did not, then the question arises why not? And were the Indian Permanent Representative and his office and MEA at this end all sleeping on the job? After all, Vilnius aided by the US and Western delegations at the UNHQ in New York would have been busy this past fortnight getting the resolution up and marshaling the support for it.
If an abstention is unavoidable but Moscow was informed beforehand, it will be Kremlin’s call on how punitive it wants to get with India because that will possibly incur for Russia huge cost. Considering India has been firm about not taking sides and, given what’s at stake — global correlation of forces-wise, Moscow will likely lump it, as the US and its camp followers did on previous Indian absentions. This aside, the anodyne statements that Delhi has issued urging end to the conflict and offer of India’s good offices as peacemaker are par for the course. Not that either Kyiv or Moscow will accept Indian mediation when the direct line of communications between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky is buzzing, and it is only a matter of time before Kyiv accepts a compromise solution around Moscow’s original intervention aim.
The funny thing in all this is to see how the lot of Indian-origin academics and such in US universities and thinktanks have uniformly echoed the Washington line about India needing to come in on the side of the great and the good, of democracy and freedom. Their unsolicited advice, it is evident, is less owing to any conviction than personal professional gain: On such drivel are tenure tracks to the professoriate firmed up and “research funding” finagled. In which case why does the media in India take these guys seriously or feature their writing in op-ed space? May be because most Indian newspapers and television media intentionally or otherwise too are serving foreign interests?
Strategic autonomy is a function of India’s size, location, resources and potential. It is a necessity if India is to make anything of itself on the international stage. The leverage it gives India is something Modi, perhaps, is only now beginning to appreciate. Except, the correct lesson needs to be drawn, which is that when China next attacks India, New Delhi should at most expect sympathy but no material or other support from the US and Western European states, or America’s Asian allies (Japan and South Korea). Not because India “faulted” on the Ukraine issue, but because that’s the natural position for the uninvolved with their own national interests to look after, to alight on. It will be prudent, in the event, for Delhi to prepare to fight China on its own — no quarters asked or given, and whatever it takes, which last is what I have all along been advocating that India do.
‘The MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.’
IMAGE: The last time they met in person: Six months before the People’s Liberation Army occupied Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh in April 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shore temple complex in Mahabalipuram, October 11, 2019. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter
“Modi is convinced the army is incapable of recovering the lost territory. The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative — something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.
It seems brazen of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to breeze into India after China occupied over 1,000 sq km of Indian territory in Ladakh in 2020. Just prior to his entry to New Delhi, he did not hesitate to criticise India on Kashmir at the OIC meet. Should he have been allowed to come to India?
Visits by foreign ministers are usually scripted affairs. There are no surprises and Wang Yi’s trip stuck to this norm.
However, what was unexpected was that (External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam) Jaishankar and the MEA did not have a hefty public riposte ready once Wang sang his aria on India’s mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims in J&K at the OIC meet in Islamabad.
The MEA should have highlighted China’s ongoing programme of genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and Wang’s hypocrisy and chutzpah in talking of Indian Kashmiris.
It would have rhetorically levelled the field for the diplomatic discussions Wang had with Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
If India and China joined hands and spoke in one voice, Wang Yi said the world would listen to us. Was Wang Yi taking taking Indian support for granted?
Perhaps. More likely he was here, in the main, to plead for Modi’s presence at the 2022 BRICS summit that Beijing is set to host.
Modi and the MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.
Why should India and China be on the same page when we have fundamental differences on several issues, the most problematic remaining our border issue? Propagandists in China are telling India to ‘forgive and forget’. Whatever do they mean by that?
India’s formally repeated stance that normalcy in relations are predicated only on the restoration of the status quo ante implies that New Delhi will choose to ‘forgive and forget’ once China returns all Indian territory and especially restores India’s frontage on the strategic Xinjiang Highway and the Karakoram Pass that is now lost owing to the PLA’s occupation of the Y-Junction in the Depsang Plains.
Instead of seizing this opportunity to have put pressure on China to reverse the land grab as also to show we mean business by stopping the import of several Chinese consumer goods, we have done nothing of the kind. Why is that when dealing with such a belligerent neighbour, India continues to use a soft approach?
The reason apparently is that Prime Minister Modi is convinced the Indian Army is incapable of recovering the lost territory.
The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative, something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA.
Some observers believe that Xi Jinping is isolated and therefore this reaching out. Is this perception correct?
It is hard to read the politics within the Chinese Communist party councils and the corridors of power in Zhongnanhai (where the Chinese Communist leadership lives and works).
But there’s ample evidence to suggest that many powerful sections (in the Chinese Communist party) are upset for different reasons.
The PLA that Xi has assiduously courted, for instance, feels alienated because military solutions to forcibly reunify Taiwan, Aksai Chin and the Sennkaku Island chain have been held in abeyance.
Both India and China have not condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, but India’s reasons for not doing so are different from that of China. Can you explain to our readers why our support is based on a different paradigm from that of China and will this support in the long run adversely impact our relationship with the US and Europe?
India’s neutrality on Ukraine is motivated principally by three factors.
One, the reality of the Indian military’s dependence on Russian hardware and spares and servicing support.
Two, the fact that Russia has been more forthcoming in assisting in high-technology projects (nuclear-powered submarines, for instance) and in providing frontline weapons systems than the US and the West.
And three, the geopolitics of maintaining India’s profitable status as an ‘indispensable State’ to both Russia and US and the West.
IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New Delhi, March 25, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo
Did Wang Yi come to India in the hope of creating a wedge between India and the US?
Wang couldn’t drive a wedge if he tried. India and the US are mindful of why they need each other — to deal with the menace of China!
Should Prime Minister Modi attend the BRICS and RIC summit?
Yes. Because the economic and trade thrust of BRICS in particular aside, it affords India the opportunity, I have argued in my last (2018) book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition to use the sidelines to sound out Brazil, Russia and South Africa with the aim of forming a loose and informal security coalition BRIS.
BRIS together with the modified Quadrilateral or ‘Mod Quad’ of India-Japan-Australia — a group of Southeast Asian nations or Quadrilateral minus the US — I have argued, would be able to ring fence China better than any other security arrangement.
The Mod Quad because the US has once again proved in Ukraine — its willingness to fight to the last Ukrainian — just how unreliable and untrustworthy it is as an ally and strategic partner.
India is playing host to several foreign dignitaries including the Russian foreign minister, the UK foreign secretary, the Mexican foreign minister… What is this indicative of?
Maybe because more countries are beginning to appreciate how important India is to the global correlation of forces and for a stable international system.
The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, having joined with Pakistan in berating India on Kashmir at the conclave of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called by Islamabad, which he attended as an observer, breezed into New Delhi for a pow-wow with the Indian government, confident that he’d be able to convince the Narendra Modi regime to overlook that little matter of the Chinese annexing some 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh. And secondarily, to firm up Sino-Indian solidarity on Ukraine owing to “similar if not identical” views. “If China and India spoke with one voice,” he told the Press, “the whole world will listen. If China and India joined hands, the whole world will pay attention.”
Errors In Strategy And Thinking
Rather than using the God-sent opportunity to pay Beijing back in the same coin and use Wang’s OIC provocation as a prompt for slinging the highly merited charges of “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims by China and thereby establishing equivalence between the Chinese foreign minister’s raking up mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims and New Delhi’s siding with the Uyghurs for use as negotiating leverage in the future, the Ministry of External Affairs, as expected fluffed it.
“We reject the uncalled reference to India”, the MEA spokesman whimpered before pointing out the obvious that Kashmir was a domestic Indian issue and Wang had no business bringing it up. Is the Narendra Modi regime under the impression that this slight tap on the wrist is going to make the hardboiled straight shooters at Zhongnanhai rear up in fear of what New Delhi might do next?
Apparently, it is not just the MEA which believes this Indian non-response will have a salutary effect on the Chinese. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too thinks the Modi government did right by not even acknowledging Wang’s straight right to India’s chin. Ram Madhav, who is a member of the central executive council of the RSS and a former national general secretary of the BJP, in an op-ed, not only failed to notice the missed chance of hitting back at China, he congratulated Jaishankar & Co. for sticking by neutrality on Ukraine, and on insisting that normal relations will only be on the basis of restoration of the status quo ante in eastern Ladakh. He explained such policies as being “as much about principles as about interests”.
This proved, once again, that neither the Indian government nor the ideologues of the party in power have the faintest idea about “principles” – which, incidentally, are distinguished by their absence in international affairs, and even less about “national interests”. If the Modi regime and the BJP were wise about the world, they would have throttled the unhindered flow of Chinese consumer goods to India at the first sign of Chinese hostilities on the Galwan in 2020.
The Modi government, perhaps, realizing the foreign policy boo-boo it had made with Wang belatedly appears to have leaked the story about an airborne “insertion” exercise involving 600 paratroopers in the Silguri Corridor being timed to coincide with the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, but to send what message? In 1958, a Chinese military delegation visited Ambala to observe a military exercise which featured waves of attacking aircraft paving the way for Indian infantry. Unimpressed, the Chinese delegation head while referring to the display of airborne firepower as impressive, asked the Indian army chief in attendance if aircraft would be available for ground operations in the mountains? Four years later, the Chinese supplied the answer!
What China’s ‘Three Point-Approach’ Asks Of India
But, to get back to Wang, why was he hopeful of India joining hands with China considering the disputed border in Ladakh is live with 1 lakh troops on either side of the Line of Actual Control and the possibility of military hostilities at any time? Apparently, for two reasons. The Chinese government believed that owing to the fairly relentless pressure from the US and the West to side against Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sufficiently softened to welcome this Wang overture, confident New Delhi would perceive the situation the way it does — of two Asian powers standing with Russia being better than only one of them doing so and then exclusively facing the sanctions music for supporting Moscow. And because, as in the past, the Indian government, he believed, could be bamboozled into compromising on its stated position on the border in Ladakh by vague promises of peace but, as always, on Chinese terms, which Wang, this time around, revealed as his “three point-approach”.
This approach is: Negotiating with “a long term vision” without the border dispute colouring India’s attitude; A “China-India-plus” initiative for joint projects in South Asia – which is a plea to not hinder Beijing’s realisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of its larger Belt and Road Initiative; and Cooperating with each other in multilateral fora.
The first point requires India to forget about the Chinese grab of a vast expanse of Indian territory.
The second is an attempt to dilute opposition to CPEC and permit the Western Provinces of China – Tibet and Xinjiang, in particular, to have all-year, all-weather access to the warm water port of Gwadar on the Baluch coast, thus lessening the pressure on Chinese trade that otherwise has to negotiate the Indian-controlled Malacca bottleneck.
The third makes virtue of necessity because without a commonality of views and of policies on multilateral issues (trade, climate, etc.) the two countries would find themselves unable adequately to resist the US and the West, which seem intent on obtaining progress at the expense of India’s and China’s national interests.
Fortunately, Jaishankar and Modi’s national security adviser Ajit Doval, despite Wang’s sweet-talking the latter (“China does not pursue the so-called ‘unipolar Asia’ and respects India’s traditional role in the region)”, held their ground at least for once.
Switching From Wang To Lavrov
The question is, with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visiting New Delhi later this week, will the Indian government be deft enough to keep relations with Russia on track (setting up a rupee-ruble payments track, etc.), but point out the need for urgency by President Vladimir Putin to somehow bring closure to his mismanaged military invasion in Ukraine before it takes a toll, among other things, on India and Indian relations with Russia? At the same time, India needs to remind Lavrov about just how slippery and opportunistic China is as a strategic partner and why the long term threat it poses to both the countries should not be forgotten or underplayed for any reason.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement on 24 February upped the ante for all the parties involved in Ukraine. Sounding verily like his friend Donald Trump, his former American counterpart, Putin warned the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization against interfering in his plans for the erstwhile Soviet province; he promised consequences “such as you have never seen in your entire history”.
This was interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons, encompassing a deterrence tactic that the Russians have developed — “escalating to de-escalate”. Meaning, strike so much fear of nuclear war in an adversary state that it decides not to engage or, if already committed, draws away from the fracas.
Clearly, the Kremlin has determined that Russia’s stake in keeping Ukraine out of NATO is high enough to merit escalating the conflict, if needed, to the ultimate level. So far, the US and West European countries have limited themselves to making sympathetic noises, imposing sanctions, and replenishing the Ukrainian military’s stocks of ammunition, anti-tank guided munitions, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Because one thing no one in the West wants is to get embroiled in a war with Russia that could turn total. So, by way of an outcome, an ‘independent’ Ukraine with no links to NATO is a certainty, as are the Ukrainian coastlines on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov controlled by the Russian Navy.
A nuclear state is a secured state
Except, the war in Ukraine begs the question: Would Russia have tried militarily to tame Kyiv if Ukraine had retained nuclear weapons in 1994 after the trilateral Budapest Memorandum signed with the US and Russia after the formal breaking up of the Soviet Union? The answer obviously is Nyet! It also proves the obverse, that a powerful nuclear weapon state can mount a conventional military offensive without fearing nuclear retaliation by nuclear allies of the targeted state. This is the premise for China’s aggressive moves in eastern Ladakh as also the South China Sea and against Taiwan.
It highlights two basic nuclear facts of life, namely, that nuclear weapons endow a country — even if small, poor, and militarily weak — with absolute security, and powerful nuclear countries with the protective shield to further their interests using conventional military might. Such strategic benefits are why nuclear weapons are so sought after.
It motivated China to secure nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union’s help to fend off a conventionally superior US, Israel with France’s to hold off the Arab states, and Pakistan and North Korea with China’s assistance to neutralise India’s and South Korea-US’ military edge. And why technologically capable Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan may soon go in for nuclear arsenals of their own to face down China because, as the US has once again shown, it will not take a Russian (or Chinese) bullet – nuclear or otherwise — for any ally (Japan, South Korea), quasi-ally (Ukraine, Taiwan), or “strategic partner” (India).
If India has to fight China all by itself, how will it do so? Definitely not under the illusion that its conventional forces are qualitatively on par with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and can wage a sustained war with it. The PLA can fight to a decision, in the main, because of a large and sophisticated Chinese defence industry that can quickly replenish the stocks of spares and whole weapons systems exhausted or destroyed in battle. It is an advantage that an Indian military equipped with imported armaments and a public sector-dominated defence industry stuck at the licensed production-screwdriver level of technology, does not enjoy.
What then? As I have long argued in my books and other writings, nuclear weapons are the only option against an overwhelmingly strong China. In this context, the Russian tactic of ‘escalating to de-escalate’ should be rejigged to deal with India’s prime and only credible adversary — the expansive-minded China. It will require seminal changes in the government’s attitude to nuclear weapons, the nuclear doctrine, and in the deployment of strategic forces.
Change India’s nuclear doctrine
The ill-thought out official Indian nuclear doctrine of “massive retaliation” is wholly inappropriate and as a deterrent useless. Of American origin, the massive retaliation concept was conceived in the late 1940s when the US had a nuclear weapons monopoly. In the second decade of the 21st century, this concept, combined with the principles of minimum deterrence and No First Use, constitutes a strategic handicap and major military liability. This is so because these three mutually cancelling concepts will ensure Indian nuclear weapons, other than for safely brandishing against Pakistan, will stay sheathed when it matters most against China.
The government has to change its view of nuclear weapons as mere symbols of power and see them, instead, as affording the country a dynamic military means to control the level and intensity of conflict with China by deterring the PLA from pushing its conventional military and terrain advantages, as the PLA has done in Ladakh. In this context, a revamped nuclear doctrine should state bluntly that Indian nuclear forces are oriented principally to the China threat, No First Use is discarded, and that a First Use nuclear doctrine is now operational but only against China.
Further, to show India means business, New Delhi should announce a two-tiered strategic defence of atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) placed as nuclear tripwire to bring down whole mountain sides without venting radioactivity (because the collapsing earth will absorb it) on large aggressive PLA formations that breach the Line of Actual Control (LAC). And, as back-up, batteries of forward deployed canisterised Agni missiles, capable of launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning, comprising a short fuse deterrent.
Such a posture of defensively arrayed ADMs and canister-borne Agni missiles will at once shift the onus and the responsibility for India’s nuclear use to China, especially if it is made clear by the government that their triggering will be dictated entirely by PLA actions in-theatre without exactly defining the nuclear use threshold to retain ambiguity and manoeuvring space.
Just as Russia and Western Europe know that they have too much to lose in a nuclear exchange by militarily challenging Russia in Ukraine, China needs to be convinced that the situation on the LAC has changed, and that India will hereafter not fight China on Chinese terms by restricting its actions to the conventional military field.
The Indian government, alas, is painfully slow in learning military lessons and, where the threat of use of nuclear weapons against China is concerned, apparently has a mental block. This when such threats, based on a credible nuclear posture with ADMs and canisterised Agni missiles, can actually leverage more responsible Chinese behaviour. After all, whatever the cost to India of a nuclear exchange, the prospect of China likely losing Beijing, the Three Gorges Dam, the Lop Nor nuclear weapons complex, and/or its entire wealth-producing eastern seaboard, will compel President Xi Jinping and the PLA to do a rethink about the costs of not having a settled border with India, and speed up a negotiated resolution of the long-standing border dispute.
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The more one interacts, the more one knows, and the more familiar one gets with the rot of corruption, loot and pelf on an industrial scale entrenched in the Indian system of government at the central, state and local levels, which is eating away at the entrails of the military as well. That “make as much as you can, while you can”-mentality and attitude long ago established a foothold in the military, is common knowledge.
Whatever else the BJP governments under Narendra Modi since 2014 have not done, they have succeeded — to an extent — in curbing the kind of often brazen siphoning off of national financial resources at the senior bureaucratic and ministerial levels that was the norm in the previous decades. At the highest political level, it is now a couple of “crony capitalists” who are rumoured to be subsidising BJP’s successful election campaigns that does away with collecting small time funds for the party coffers.
The easiest way politicians, bureaucrats and militarymen discovered to rake in the moolah was through multi-billion dollar defence deals where the foreign vendors were only too keen to payoff in millions of dollars those in the procurement loop in return for multi-billion dollar contracts. The bigtime moneymaking began in the 1980s with the Rajiv Gandhi government, when “sophisticated” Italian methods and schemes for indirect payments were imported whole and subsequently localised. Especially useful were the turnkey projects — such as for the Snam Progetti fertiliser plants, managed by the infamous Italian middleman, Quatrocchi, with reach into the then PM’s home — recall all that? In the defence sphere, the deals for the German HDW 201 diesel submarine and, most memorably, the 155mm howitzer whose name — ‘Bofors’ entered the political lexicon, and spawned controversies. The AugustaWestland deal for helicopters and for the Pilatus turboprop trainer aircraft during the Manmohan Singh period, was at the tailend of that series of Rajiv Gandhi-era scams (after all Manmohan Singh, an unprepossessing sarkari economist, was hoisted into the prime minister’s seat by Sonia Gandhi, becoming by his own account an “accidental prime minister” and effectively a figurehead for a government run by remote control).
An attempt to bring those involved in the Augusta boondoggle to book is finally underway. The Central Bureau of Investigation has chargesheeted Shashi Kant Sharma, ex-IAS, former Comptroller and Accountant General of India and ex-Defence Secretary, who as Joint Secretary (Air) approved the deal for Augusta helicopters for VVIP use. But why it took the Modi regime nearly a year and a half to allow CBI to charge Sharma and his four IAF co-conspirators — retired Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, Air Commodores SA Kunte and N. Santosh, and Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, is a murky mystery.
Sharma, amongst the smoothest operators, spent 10 long years in the MoD in various capacities to rise to the top. What he, a generalist babu, learned about military affairs during his time in the ministry is not known. But that he specialised in facilitating all manner of suspect, scammy defence deals, there’s no doubt. On May 6, 2016, in a post on “bureaucratic facilitators of corruption” I had written this: “The point to make is that bureaucrats, as handmaidens of corruption, invariably get away with the vilest wrongdoing, assisting their political masters to milk the system while keeping a lot or little for themselves as nest egg, even as everybody else gets hauled up. This has to end. Consider just how crucial the IAS babus are in the procurement game. The military service’s role is limited primarily to the drawing of SRs and then technically and professionally justifying the hardware pre-selected by the political leaders, the rest of the shortlisting process being so much eyewash — this has been the Congress Party’s record anyway. The DG Acquisitions, MOD, is actually central to approving hardware purchases. And Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) headed by Add Sec, MOD, Joint Sec (concerned service) and Defence Finance officers, with a one-star rank military officer asked to fill space at the negotiating table and not actually participate, firming up the contract. And because IAS babus in MOD are generalists — whose knowledge of military matters even after serving many years in the Ministry ranges between iffy and nonexistent, the contracts that accrue almost w/o exception favour the foreign vendor (whose negotiators are all specialists in legal nuances and technical minutiae in their fields and who run circles around the noncomprehending dolts on the Indian side).
“If the BJP govt is serious about accountability and bringing all the culprits in the Agusta, Pilatus, and potentially Rafale boondoggles to book, it better not overlook their main bureaucrat facilitator(s). Seek the counsel of the attorney general about whether a serving CAG can be prosecuted, at a minimum, for his apparent malfeasance and fiduciary irresponsiblity. If as CAG he cannot be touched by law, then it is incumbent on the govt to prepare an airtight legal case against him, and to prosecute him the day he demits office as CAG, which is only a year away. If the Gandhis and ACM Tyagi & “Fratelli Tyagi” and ACM Browne (now ambassador to Norway) [for the Pilatus contract] are to be made examples of, so should the IAS officers involved in these three deals.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/05/06/bureaucrat-facilitators-of-corruption/ ]
A follow-up Aug 19, 2016 post by me concluded thus: “As stated in earlier blogs, Shashikant Sharma on his retirement as CAG in 2017, needs to be investigated for his hand in the Augusta scam, but also for the C-17 fiasco. A start has been made by the CBI fingering HC Gupta (Retd, IAS) former Coal Secretary for the scam in that Ministry during the Manmohan years. There are more important, national security, reasons for investigating Shashikant Sharma and jailing him with a stiff sentence. It will have a huge effect on bureaucrats. Unless accountability becomes the norm, the present phenomenally lax system, ultimately of financial resources mismanagement, will persist, and India willfully reduced, by its minders, to a pauper.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/08/19/boeing-c-17s-shashikant-sharma-accountability/ ]
The latest developments far from being the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” as far as holding babus — the big time corruption enablers in government, accountable may actually point to why there’ll be no end to the ongoing gigantic level scamming, now manifested most conspicuously at the state and local levels. The scale of it may be guaged from the very visible fact of, say, the phantasmagoric 20,000 sq feet house of Jaipur pinkstone built for himself in a dry and barren sub-region of Maharashtra entirely free of any other signs of development, by a minor local government functionary — a mere zilla parishad chief in Beed, Marathawada, belonging to Sharad Pawar’s ruling Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra! (Hint to the Press — motor down to Beed over bad roads in Pawar’s bailiwick, to marvel at the palace this minor Kubla Khan has built in his Xanadu!!)
Such concerns arise because of the time it took the Modi government to permit the CBI to prosecute Messrs Shashi Kant Sharma & Co., and why to-date the retired Air Chief Marshal NK ‘Charlie’ Browne has been spared the “noose” for the Pilatus contract he pushed. Perhaps, people heading the present dispensation feared that should the BJP be voted out in 2024, they may face the same music on the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. Because, as a French press investigation has revealed, payments were made by Dassault Avions to Indians whether of the political class or those in the defence procurement decision chain is not clear, despite this being touted as a “commissions-free” government-to-government deal. The results of the recent elections in UP and elsewhere apparently put such fears to rest, emboldening the Modi government to finally act on the Sharma case.
But not going after Browne (for the Pilatus) and not making an example of him along with his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi (for the Augusta helos), however, makes no sense unless it is that the government and CBI, startled by just how deep and widespread the tentacles of corruption have reached into the military, are being extra-cautious about hauling off scores of retired military brass to jail for other defence deals, lest this “demoralise” the armed services. This is to misread the sentiment among the rank and file of the military which’s clued in, with just about everbody in each service aware of the bad eggs in the officer corps; they would be happy and relieved to see the corrupt among them get, even if belatedly, their comeuppance.
However, the trend in babu circles in government in the last two decades is not to get caught with hands in the cookie jar. But, as I detailed in my 2015 book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, to ensure that prospective foreign arms/product vendors pay the fees and upkeep costs for their progeny in American/West European universities and/or guarantee them high-paying jobs after they graduate along with resident visas in the US, France, UK, Sweden, Italy, etc. It does away with signing potentially incriminating documents. And the placement of sons/daughters abroad is attributed by these babus naturally to their children being very bright! For companies that lose out on this or that deal, it is small price to pay for generating “institutional” goodwill this way. It is something they can cash in on in future Indian government deals and contracts, because babus down the line come to know of foreign companies (and their host countries) that happily pay in kind for services rendered.