A defriended Iran in China’s camp; and Delhi has no tipping point.

[Jask, located at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, would give the Chinese a strategic vantage point on the waters through which much of the world’s oil transits.Credit…Orbital Horizon/Gallo Images, via Getty Images]

Some 2-3 years back or so, I received an emailed letter from a Joint Secretary in MEA asking for what I thought India’s foreign policy priorities should be. It was perhaps a form letter sent out to others as well. I thought it was a bit late in the day for the Modi regime to ask for policy recommendations four years into its first term, and to me signaled an official acknowledgement that the earlier priorities — whatever they were — hadn’t worked. Nevertheless, I dutifully wrote back listing them with thumbnail justifications for each of them.

The list repeated the priorities I had, incidentally, put on a paper and handed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in November 2014 the only time he had called me in for “consultation”. I was part of an odd assortment of analysts, MEA beat reporters, a television channel’s “strategic affairs expert”, an owner-cum-editor-in-chief, and such like. Each of us had 5-minutes and then were treated to the PM’s ideas about this and that but mainly his achievements in Gujarat. There were no official note-takers, no follow-up, and the whole thing was a waste of time.

In contrast was the session I had (along with one or two other analysts) with Dr. Manmohan Singh over breakfast in mid-September 2004 on the eve of his first visit to the US to attend the UN General Assembly meeting. It was a proper and meaty discussion with lot of exchanges and the prime minister asking questions. On the PM’s side of the table were arrayed, among others, the NSA, Mani Dixit, and his Personal Private Secretary, TKA Nair (ex-IAS, Punjab cadre), both busily taking notes. I remember urging the PM to speak to President George W. Bush when they met on the sidelines in Hotel Astoria in New York about the need for a fairer, more equitable, nuclear order, failing to realize which, to say, India would feel free to test again and do whatever else was necessary to beef up its nuclear security. I also suggested he reinforce this message to the US government by repeating it publicly while in that city.

Gratifyingly, Singh told Bush what I had suggested, and repeated these points in a speech delivered a day later at an NRI function on Long Island. Perhaps, alarmed by what Bush heard, Washington got to work and, in conjunction with the usual suspects at this end, quickly turned Manmohan Singh. By the time the PM next visited the US in July 2005 he had committed to the strategically disastrous civilian nuclear cooperation deal that furthered the US nuclear nonproliferation goals by, for all intents and purposes, prohibiting the resumption of nuclear tests by India. The deal was negotiated by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA — one Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. The relentless criticism by a few of us about the prospective deal during the time it was being negotiated in the period 2005-2008 was used by Jaishankar — so he let it be known — to temper the ask by the US negotiators. Considering he gave away the store in the most one-sided deal imaginable, one wonders what Jaishankar thinks he got from the Americans. And, of course, I wasn’t called for consultation by Manmohan Singh again.

To revert to the session with Modi at 7, Race Course Road, given the time constraints I only argued the importance of the country using its hard power strategically. And in the paper given to the PM, I listed what his foreign and military policy priorities should be, reprising in bullet points some of the themes featured in my writings and books, particularly ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ published a year later in 2015. The priorities included restarting open-ended nuclear testing, treating China as primary threat, using the Taiwan and Tibet cards and equating Tibet and Kashmir as leverage against Beijing, nuclear missile arming Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations as a belated coercive counter to China’s deliberate transfer of nuclear weapons and missiles to Pakistan, and accelerated development of Indian air and naval bases in the Indian Ocean and points east (Northern Mozambique, North & South Agalega Islands in Mauritius, Trincomalee in Sri Lanka, Seychelles, the former RAF base on Gan Island in the Maldives, Na Thrang ion the central Vietnamese coast, etc) and particularly of relations with Iran as India’s strategic linchpin pivoting on the Chahbahar port.

Six years into his tenure and a year into his second term as prime minister, Modi has flapped around endlessly on terrorism and Pakistan, supplicated the Trump Administration on the H1B visa issue in the process encouraging Indian IT talent to be siphoned off to the US, signed the ‘foundational accords’, and tried to win some goodwill by buying high-value US military hardware, only to be rebuffed by Washington. The H1B visa was closed and there is little else to show for Modi’s hug and bumble diplomatic efforts. And he has tried to cultivate the Chinese supremo Xi Jinping with worse results. India got kneecapped in Ladakh. Modi is obviously a glutton for punishment because he is still pursuing a conciliatory China policy propelled by his own, strangely pacific, instincts where China is concerned backed by his MEA minion S. Jaishankar’s wrong advice.

It is clear the Indian government historically has had no clue about how to deal with China, and the Modi regime is as befuddled, relying as all previous regimes have done on the China Study Group/Circle to give policy direction. The CSG comprises a changing bunch of usually bumptious and blundering mandarin-speaking Sinophiles from MEA, intelligence agencies, and the military who are strategic dupes — latter day versions of Richard Condon’s ‘Manchurian candidates’ beavering away to advance Chinese interests. Modi has, however, compounded his and CSG’s mistakes of going overboard with China with his equally feckless policy of alienating almost all nations in South Asia and in the extended region, especially Iran. The result is a collision of policy streams that is sinking the Indian national interest with China as short and long term tactical and strategic beneficiary. It is almost as if Delhi had been taking dictation from Beijing!

Iran, the supposed linchpin of India’s Afghanistan and Central Asia policy, feels so defriended by India, so isolated, and so threatened by the US, it has not only economically signed on with China but has agreed to be its stalking horse in the Gulf. In 2008, the then head of the Iranian Navy Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari remarked at the opening of the naval base at Bandar-e-Jask that Iran was “creating a new defense front in the region, thinking of a non-regional enemy.” Doubtless, the non-regional enemy was America. Iran has now alighted on a military partnership with China to neutralize it.

Soon to be finalized is Tehran’s 25-year agreement that New York Times reports, will in furtherance of the Belt & Road Initiative result in China investing $400 billion in Iranian infrastructure, including the development of free-trade zones in Maku in northwestern Iran, Abadan at the confluence of the Shatt al-Arab river and the Persian Gulf, and on Queshm, a Gulf island; the build-up of that country’s 5G telecommunications network, and help to create Iran’s own Global Positioning System and even an Iranian version of the cyber Chinese Great Wall to control domestic cyber space and to keep the US and Western countries from waging cyber offensives.

In exchange, an energy starved China will be permitted to daily offtake 8.5 million barrels of oil — the minimum necessary output for Iran to remain a viable oil producer and, more significantly, to use the Iranian base at Bandar-e-Jask for its naval operations. Considering the location of Jask on the Hormuz Strait at the mouth of the Gulf, the Iranian and Chinese navies between them will be able to dominate maritime traffic to and from the Gulf and pose no end of trouble for the US 5th Fleet out of Bahrain. It may compel the US to speedily develop Duqm on the coast of Oman as a more secure berthing for its warships and army and air force contingents onshore. The current Iran Navy chief Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi’s exulting to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, in the wake of a recent trilateral Iranian-Russian-Chinese naval exercises that “the era of American invasions in the region is over” will have added credibility once the Sino-Iranian deal is signed and PLAN deploys its ships at Bandar-e-Jask.

The presence of the Chinese Navy in Jask will be still more problematic for India. Perhaps, one of the reasons Beijing chose Jask for naval positioning was because it was bothered by the prospect of the Indian Navy active ex-Chahbahar 76 nautical miles up the coast on Gwadar’s flank. With Jask, 157 nautical miles to the west of Chahbahar, in hand, and combined with its base in Djibouti, PLAN will be capable of shutting the Indian Navy out of the Gulf, or at least to force it to remain inactive and to practice extreme caution with regard to Gwadar. This is a beautiful Chinese strategic counter-move.

The situation is far worse for India because Delhi, under US pressure, has decelerated its project to develop Chahbahar. So while India has committed $500 million to it the absence of any real buildup may result in Tehran asking India to vacate Chahbahar altogether. That would be a tragedy beyond comprehension for India’s strategic interests in the larger region. Nevertheless, it is a real possibility because with Delhi failing to firm up comprehensive economic links with Iran in the last decade when it desperately needed friends and counted on India to come through by signing up for long term oil supply, etc and because Delhi began tacking ever more fully to the American wind that may cease at any time, the Rouhani regime in Tehran apparently felt it had no incentive to be nice to India. So to add to India’s mounting foreign policy problems, Modi has now, in effect, gone and lost Iran to China.

But there seems to be no relief anywhere else, certainly not in eastern Ladakh where, like the government, the Indian army too appears more eager to jaw-jaw with the Chinese than to prepare to fight the PLA if the Chinese refuse to withdraw completely from the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control in Pangong Tso and the Depsang areas, leave alone occupy the heights on the eastern bank of the Shyok River on the Galwan to protect the DSDBO Road. The PLA, moreover, is so well ensconced on the lake and at these two sites, the military level meetings — the 4th round is ongoing as I write this and, like the previous rounds, will also be infructuous — are meant to reach a dead end. These are exercises to test India’s military tipping point.

In this context, the Xi government seems to be almost daring Prime Minister Modi to order military action to evict the Chinese military from Indian land but is confident the Indian PM won’t do so. Xi, for his own reasons, is probably itching to find out what the PLA is capable of because if India can be easily cowed as the evidence shows, intimidating lesser states in Southeast Asia and on the South China Sea will be easier still. In this context, the speed with which the Indian army has adhered to the vague disengagement protocol suggests it is pretty slack and unwilling to force the issue on the ground.

Pangong Tso, the Galwan and the Depsang are far away from Delhi and the PLA’s dawdling on the Indian territory would be enough provocation for tough-minded Indian army chief and theatre commander to say enough is enough and initiate rapid and forceful actions to kick the PLA out of these areas and even annex some Chinese claimed land. Alas, India has long lacked such army chiefs and theatre commanders who will force Delhi’s hand by starting hard and sustained action to deflate China’s military pretensions and strategic designs. It would do India’s reputation a lot of good. In the event, the armed services give every indication of doing nothing, chancing nothing, in the hope things will somehow work out, except they won’t unless it is to further advantage China.

Indeed, the Modi government seems so frightened of Xi’s China, it couldn’t even muster the courage to slam China for its illegal absorption of Hong Kong at the UN Human Rights Council meeting July 2 in Geneva — a forum Beijing routinely uses to pillory India on Kashmir. Instead the Indian Special Representative Rajiv Chander on Delhi’s instructions mumbled this: “Given the large Indian community that makes Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China it’s home, India has been keeping a close watch on recent developments. We have heard several statements expressing concerns about these developments. We hope the relevant parties will take into account these views and address them properly, seriously and objectively.” He didn’t even name China! And some of us expect the Indian government and army to forcefully kick the Chinese out of Indian Ladakh?

The truth is the Indian government seems to have no backbone, no point where its humiliation tips over into anger and use of force against China. Even indirectly threatening China by nuclear missile arming Vietnam — the only country to induce respect and wariness in Beijing, is an option tremulous and weak-minded Indian governments in the last 35 years, including the present one run by Modi, have eschewed. India has thus enjoys a special status with Asian states who once looked upon it as ‘security provider’ — as beneath contempt.

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Surrendering a strategic choke-hold on the Karakorum

Across the Karakorams: India-China Dispute through the Centuries
[The Karakorum Range)

        

Retreating in the face of an enemy’s onslaught may be a tactical necessity. Withdrawing in anticipation of the situation getting sticky is inherently bad strategy but, as the record shows, it is one the Indian government reflexively follows when dealing with China. In eastern Ladakh, the Narendra Modi regime’s play safe-attitude combined with the army brass’ over-caution are allowing India’s main adversary and rival, China, to realize its expansive claims with minimum fuss. An undefined border – whatever the “peace and tranquility’ kind of agreements may say, permits military contestation and territorial gain-seeking. But it is Beijing that has shown the strategic foresight and the stomach to exploit it, leaving a disadvantaged India to always react, to scramble to recover lost ground.

     Maybe it is too much to expect the country’s political leaders and their handmaidens manning the apparatus of state – the generalist civil servants and diplomats with only passing knowledge of military affairs, to be mindful of, and learn from, the country’s own historical experience of dealing with China. It is inexcusable, however, for the Indian armed services to act innocent of the methods that fetched them success against the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the past.

     In September 1967, when India was still suffering from the trauma of defeat in the 1962 War, the 17 Mountain Division stopped the PLA cold. An Indian unit marking the disputed border at Nathu La with cantina wire was challenged by PLA troops, a scuffle ensued, the roughed up Chinese soldiers withdrew to their lines and then, without warning, opened up with heavy machine gun fire killing and injuring many Indian soldiers. Rearing for a fight, the redoubtable Major General Sagat Singh, commander, 17 Mountain Division, responded by having his artillery destroy a series of Chinese bunkers with accurate fire that had the PLA crying for talks. (The same Sagat Singh – the unheralded hero of the 1971 Bangladesh War, as Lieutenant General commanding IV Corps in an operation that he thought up on the spot, which was violative of his operational orders to stay put on the Meghna River, heli-lifted his forces across it for the dash to Dhaka.)

     Exactly twenty years later, the army under General Krishnaswami Sundarji, pretending to assess the time to mobilize forces in the northeast – Operation Chequerboard – began deployments. China took the bait, hinted at war, but the PLA found itself overmatched by speedy and massive Indian concentration — some 10 Divisions in all in Arunachal and Assam, three of them around Wangdung where there was trouble brewing. The Chinese once again beat a retreat and called for negotiations that eventuated in the 1993 ‘peace and tranquility on the border’ accord.

     Now fast-forward to summer 2020. The Indian government and army, having disregarded the intelligence generated by Indian satellites over the previous 8-10 months depicting considerable military activity and build-up by the PLA on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the area between terrain features – Finger 4 and Finger 8, on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake, upriver in the Galwan Valley and, ignoring the ‘no man’s land’, right smack on the LAC itself in the Gogra and Hot Springs areas, found themselves up a creek. The Indian and Chinese Corps commanders met June 6 to sort out matters. But on June 15 a detachment of the 16 Bihar Regiment went, boy scout fashion, to its doom. Intending to verify if the PLA had kept its promise and decamped from the Galwan, its members were bludgeoned by PLA troops wielding medieval era weapons (rods with embedded steel spikes, etc).

     Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar’s remonstrations and demand for the restoration of the status quo ante to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, June 17 elicited a straight-faced, formal, claim over all of the Galwan Valley and a counter-ask that the intruding Indian soldiers get out of Chinese territory forthwith. To indicate it meant business, China as a coercive tactic also positioned two brigades of artillery and armour, in the Depsang plains, threatening to open yet another sub-sector front.

     The Indian soldiers, unaware of the PLA’s penchant for springing local surprises, such as initiating hostilities with machine gun fire at Nathu La in 1967, were unprepared for one when they faced a Chinese attack with nail-studded batons. In the larger context, despite hundreds of unresisted PLA incursions, incremental annexations amounting to a loss of as much 1,300 sq kms of Indian territory in the new millennium, and periodically presenting India with newer territorial faits accomplis that the Indian army and government by doing nothing have, in effect, accepted a reshaped map of Ladakh favouring China.

     In the event, the Indian army’s quickly putting a matching force (of two plus Divisions) in place has been of no avail because it did not rapidly go into action to vacate the Chinese occupation of Indian territory. It fell into the trap of trusting in the diplomatic method to get its chestnuts out of the fire. Except, the July 5 Special Representative level talks between national security adviser Ajit Doval and Wang Yi produced little other than an iteration of Chinese claims on the Galwan, a non-withdrawal in the Pangong Tso area, and acceptance of the newly conceived “buffer zones” at Gogra and Hot Springs encompassing the land between the two claim lines. But with the buffer zones obliterating the concept of ‘no man’s land’ separating the two sides all along the LAC, this border safety belt is exposed to surreptitious PLA takeover. Didn’t Messrs Doval & Jaishankar foresee the unnecessary “buffer zones” furthering Chinese designs? Apparently not, but this is par for the course.

     China’s Galwan claims are to counter a potential Indian threat from the DSDBO (Depsang-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi) road to the Xinjiang Highway (number 219) connecting to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). That’s proactive Chinese geostrategics at work. In contrast are the Indian government and army. Having constructed the strategically-important DSDBO Road that permits support of the Indian military presence on the Siachen Glacier and potentially interdiction of traffic at the CPEC-Xinjiang Highway junction on the Karakorum Pass, they failed to take the most basic precaution of protecting it by occupying the heights on the mountain range on the eastern bank of the Shyok River running north to south, to pre-empt the PLA from dominating this road.

     Having messed up hugely, the Modi government and the Indian army – if they are not to permanently have mud on their faces – have no alternative but to ignore agreements and telephonic understandings if any, and expeditiously occupy the heights above the Shyok to safeguard the DSDBO Road,  and to waste no time in launching a limited, possibly intense, war to take back the Galwan fully and to recover Indian territory on the Pangong Tso at whatever cost. Anything less will, in practical terms, mean ceding these territories to China, imperilling the lifeline to Siachen, surrendering a potential Indian strategic military chokehold on the Karakorum, and reinforcing Beijing’s perceptions of India as a weak and pliable state it can safely mistreat.  

———–

Published as “The High Cost of a Loose China Policy” in my ‘Realpolitik’ column in BloombergQuint.com, July 10, 2020, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/the-high-cost-of-a-loose-china-policy

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No real disengagement in eastern Ladakh

China-India border: Why tensions are rising between the neighbours ...
[Bridge over the Shyok]

Much is being unwisely made about several developments on the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh.

One, that both the Indian and the Chinese armies are withdrawing some 2 kms from the Patrolling Position on the Galwan — the site of the barbaric PLA attack June 15 on an Indian patrol out to verify if the Chinese troops had left the area. This was promised by a Chinese Division-level commander, Major General Liu Lin, heading the South Xinjiang Military District, in his meeting June 6 at the Chushul-Moldo post with the GOC XIV Corps, Lt Gen Harinder Singh. It is the location where the Galwan River runs into the bigger Shyok River. Along the western shore of the Shyok running north to south is the strategic Depsang-Shyok-Daulat Beg Oldi (DSDBO) highway reaching the Karakorum Pass.

Satellite imagery shows the PLA has decamped from the bend up-river. It is very likely though that the Chinese troops up and left the area before the two sides agreed they’d do so because the seasonal snow-melt with freezing waters had swamped the PLA camp forcing the Chinese to get the hell back to their own lines on higher ground. Unless satellite images of that area when the Chinese actually departed indicate otherwise, this is what must be assumed by the Indian government to have happened. Delhi should not needlessly credit China with adhering to whatever was agreed upon in Chushul, when in actuality the flooding waters drove out the Chinese. Whence, it may be argued that it is only India that has really affected a pull-back of its presence on the Galwan. This is important because the Chinese government may be inclined to use the fact of the PLA troops being forced by an act of Nature to retreat as something they willingly undertook to do, and pitch it as a means of reviving mutual trust.

It leaves unclear what the Indian army hopes to do on the Galwan. Will it seek the cover of this minor disengagement to write off the chance of dominating the heights in strength on the ridge overlooking the DSDBO road by pleading deficiency in the logistics system? This seems to be the case because a news report refers to the difficulty of supplying such posts at 16,000 feet altitude the year round using the twin-routes via Zoji La and Manali? As an army source told a newspaper, “a semi-permanent habitat” presumably on this mountain range is not on the cards. ( https://indianexpress.com/article/india/lac-dispute-indian-army-troops-military-supply-chain-6490608 ).

In the event, the legitimate thing to ponder is this: If the Indian army misses the opportunity of permanently occupying the heights above the Shyok NOW, later may be too late. Because the PLA will surely preempt it by setting itself up on the ridge line. They have already signaled their intent to do so with their Galwan adventure. And because the statement issued in Beijing at the conclusion of the telephonic negotiation July 5 by the two Special Representatives — NSA Ajit Doval and the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi articulates the basis for such prospective action by reiterating China’s claim on the entire Galwan Valley. The statement issued by the MEA, of course, makes no mention of it. But China will naturally go by its document, not Delhi’s.

Secondly, the two sides moving back at Gogra and Hot Springs, was the easiest action to affect in the main because PLA did not cross the LAC at these locations. But, strangely, these are the places around which the two sides agreed to establish what is referred to as “buffer zones”. Are such zones different from the ‘no man’s land’ separating the two armies that has always existed and if so, in what way are they different? And what’s the purpose of these buffers and why at these points only? Or, is the buffer zone concept an enlargement of the no man’s land to reduce the frequency of enemy incursions and prevent head-on clashes? It would make sense if this concept were extendable to the rest of the LAC. Such a buffer zone would be helpful at the Y-junction on the Depsang plains the PLA has occupied, preventing Indian troops from legitimately accessing Patrolling Point 14. This is a flashpoint China apparently doesn’t want to deactivate.

Finally, does the requirement for the opposing forces to move back 2 kms not apply to the Pangong Tso area? Because here the PLA are entrenched not only on the shoreline with a motorable road connecting the terrain features Finger 4 and Finger 8, but also on the top of these hills — on Fingers 4,5,6,7 and 8 — an expanse of territory well within India’s claimline that Indian troops regularly patrolled as of last summer, i.e., until the 2019 patrolling season. There’s not a hint from the Chinese that the PLA will be moving out from these parts that boast of some pucca structures. So, how will annexation of this territory by China be reconciled by the Modi government with Minister S Jaishankar’s demand of June 17 for an unconditional restoration of status quo ante? Or, is Prime Minister Narendra Modi tending towards accepting this new territorial fait accompli?

The only good thing to occur with respect to the Pangong Lake is that the Indian Navy is sending its armed patrol boats. Hopefully, they will be manned by its Marine commando (MARCOS) — the country’s finest, most capable, Special Force. It may be recalled just how successful the Marcos were when deployed during Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat’s foreshortened tenure as CNS in the mid-90s on the Wullar Lake in Kashmir. They ruthlessly shut off attempts at riverine infiltration by the Pakistan-based Lashkar jihadis. We can expect the MARCOS with some unusual tactics to keep the peace, stop the Chinese from messing around, and instill the fear of God in the godless PLA troopers. Hereafter, the contest for the Pangong Tso is bound to be more even.

All of which leads one to wonder if there’ll really be a meaningful disengagement in this region controlled by XIV Corps? Yes, some small de-escalatory steps have been taken, but as matters stand, the PLA is still where it is ensconced on the Pangong, and China has reasserted its claim on the Galwan Valley. This last means the Chinese armed units have not withdrawn any great distance from their forward positions and can renew their annexation offensive at any time of their choosing. This is not progress towards a peaceful resolution. If anything, it should convince the Indian army to redouble its efforts at cementing its presence, especially on the Galwan ridge, and not pull back too much its forces or the warfighting wherewithal hauled up there — the howitzers and air defence missiles in particular, that constitute a deterrent. These should be here to stay.

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Prepare for limited war– Modi in Nimu, Ladakh

PM Modi reaches Leh to review security situation, interact with ...
Modi, after landing in Ladakh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had four aims in mind for his quick turnaround trip to Ladakh — the scene of the fiercest Indian hand-to-Chinese nails-studded baton fighting that led to the loss on June 15 of 20 personnel of a battalion of the 16 Bihar Regiment, including its CO Lt Col Santosh Babu.

The PM sought to (1) show support for the forces deployed in this high-altitude battlefield, (2) reassure the Indian people who have been disappointed by the BJP government’s stupefied inaction in the face of the unexpected Chinese tactics and occupation of territory on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control, (3) clean up his smudged nationalist image with optics showing him as a wartime leader on the frontline amidst Indian soldiers, and (4) signal President Xi Jinping that the cask of the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit has run dry, and were China to resort to further armed hostilities the Indian military would respond in kind. Whether this signal will be properly received and how Beijing will react to it, of course, remains to be seen. But at least and finally the PM conveyed his resolve and the army’s to stand their ground.

Except, and this is the troubling part, a senior army commander — it must have been one of the three senior most officers accompanying the Prime Minister — the Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane, or the General Officer Commanding XIV Corps Lt Gen Harinder Singh, undercut the ostensible thrust of Modi’s message by revealing to a newspaper the more limited type of operations contemplated by the Modi government and the army. “We have no intention of initiating any skirmish”, this officer is quoted as saying, “but any aggression from the other side will be fully repelled.”

This means India will undertake no military actions to remove the People’s Liberation Army units entrenched on the Galwan and the Pangong Tso in Indian territory, and right smack on the LAC at Gogra and Hot Springs, disrespecting the No Man’s Land separating the two sides on the Line from where the intruding PLA troops may or may not be evicted. But that the army will react in case there are further Chinese attempts to grab Indian land. This is to say that China gets to keep the territory it has already occupied at the first two sites and, for all intents and purposes, annexed. In this context, was Modi’s trip an eyewash to conceal the Indian government’s policy of not contesting the Indian territory expropriated by China? It fits in with the totality of statements issued by both governments in recent weeks. My worst fears (expressed in the May 25 post on this blog) have thus come true: Indian forces in eastern Ladakh were presented with a new territorial fait accompli which the Modi regime has accepted. Alas, this lonely Cassandra may, once again, be proved right.

Addressing the troops Modi said “The weak can never accomplish peace, the brave do.” This uplifting sentiment was undermined by an infirm grasp of international affairs and a somewhat shaky sense of history. “The age of expansionism” the PM declaimed, “is over, this is the age of development” and added “History is witness that expansionist forces have either lost or were forced to turn back.” That both these statements suggest just the opposite is apparent from the record of Sino-Indian relations and in the history unfolding in real time in Ladakh. A powerful expansionist China far from being punished and forced out of its ill-gotten territorial gains is, in fact, being rewarded by the victimized state (India) quietly reconciling to loss of territory. This impulse of China’s is manifested everywhere on its periphery — in the South China Sea where its Nine-dash Line encompasses almost all of this Sea, and now in the capture of India’s Galwan Valley and the Indian part of the northern shore of the Pangong Lake. This reality on the ground mocks Modi words!

To make it more farcical still, Modi chose on this occasion to channel his inner Donald Trump! Not once mentioning China by name in his address, he told the assembled troops that the enemy “has seen your fire and fury”, presumably at the June 15 Galwan clash, and received a strong, direct message. It may be recalled that in the wake of the threat of missile strikes by the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in August 2017, Trump warned North Korea that it “will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Modi rounded off with a trifle too high praise for the military, saying “You have proven time and again that the Indian armed force is mightier and better than everyone else in the world.” Such talk may bolster the spirits of the Indian mountain infantrymen who may be asked to fight at these forbidding heights. But the danger is that it may lull the military brass into their customary complacency. After all, if the Indian military is all that good, taking back the territory annexed by China should pose no real problems.

But to revert to the PM’s utterance about the inability of the weak to accomplish peace, unfortunately, it is India that is the weak party — its military, economic, diplomatic disparity with China too great to gloss over but too obvious for Modi to openly acknowledge. The sheer imbalance of power may leave India with dire options. Should China not peacefully vacate its occupation of Indian territory in toto, the limited war the Indian armed forces would have to undertake to roll-up and push out the aggressor PLA units will necessarily have to be backed by the threat of first use of nuclear weapons (the case for which is argued in extenso in my latest book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’). 

Activating the nuclear arsenal by bringing into the theatre mobile Agni missiles as nuclear cover for conventional operations is unavoidable. It will test the mettle and the political will and nerve of the Prime Minister. Modi better not fail.

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Not a Bang, but a slow leak of gas

34 Indian soldiers missing in Ladakh after India-China soldiers ...
[An Indian patrol in Ladakh]

This is getting seriously worrisome. The media was primed to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally speak about the national security crisis engendered by the bloody border clashes with China; a crisis that with every passing day growingly advantages Beijing. Instead, in his televised address this afternoon the country got more about the corona pandemic and his government’s steps to alleviate hunger of the poor — the hardest hit by it.

The armed confrontation with China is telling on the PM. Modi appeared thinner, deflated. It is as if Chinese President Xi Jinping’s move to expropriate Indian territory and zero out the possibility of an Indian military presence in locations (particularly on the Shyok River) potentially threatening the Tibet-Xinjiang highway (No. 219), has let the air out of the Narendra Modi balloon.

Perhaps, Modiji feels that not publicly addressing the fact of a realpolitik-driven adversary itching for a fight will somehow provide him greater purchase with Xi, keep the situation from spilling over into fighting, and allow him more time and negotiating space to persuade Beijing to call off its adventurism and restore the newly drawn Line of Actual Control (LAC) by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to its original alignment.

For all his rhetoric (lal ankhen jo dikhayega…etc) minus any mention of China, Modi is no fool. Hence for him to not make an almighty fuss about the brazen Chinese land grab and to act unconcerned, as if Xi’s turnaround and giving back the annexed Indian territory on the Galwan River and in the Pangong Tso area is round the corner, suggests the Indian PM is losing his grip on reality. Or, that he is massively misreading his supposed good friend Xi’s intentions (aided and abetted by the China-appeasers in the foreign service and by Minister S Jaishankar, who pulled time in Beijing as ambassador without knowing a word of Mandarin — talk of getting a runaround in the Forbidden City!).

In the event, Jaishankar’s attempts to lighten the mood by asking his opposite number, Wang Yi, to restore the status quo ante no doubt occasioned mirth in the Zhongnanhai. This because, in the wake of the bludgeonings of 16 Bihar personnel by the PLA, the Xi regime promptly justified its excesses to the world by claiming that the Galwan and the Pangong Lake are and have always been on its side of the LAC, and that the violence was triggered by trouble-making Indian soldiers trespassing into Chinese territory. So, there! The MEA, mealy-mouthed as ever, was preempted by Bejing spokesmen thus strongly making the Chinese case. Whether the Indian or the Chinese view is believed or disbelieved by the international community, what is certain is there’s no sympathy anywhere for India. What there is is the schadenfreude enjoyed by India’s neighbours who too often have felt Delhi’s heavy hand.

The plethora of news reports, especially on TV continue to give the impression of China quaking in its sandals now that the Indian army is entering the theatre in strength, and the IAF is placing Apaches, Su-30s, MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s at Leh and other satellite bases. Except, the IAF will have to fight outnumbered should hostilities begin, because PLAAF will switch a lot of its squadrons to this front.

The commentariat, for its part, appropriately featuring a covey of retired militarymen, diplomats, and the usual suspect columnists who started out by urging peaceful negotiation and sounding like MEA careerists, are inching towards more muscular options without any of them clarifying what that action should be and to achieve what end.

So the army is building up to near Division-level force strength in this sub-sector. But the PLA, expecting an Indian riposte, is already fielding brigade-sized artillery and armoured formations in the Depsang plains and beefing up its defensive positions in Chumar and elsewhere where they are emplaced in terrain-wise disadvantaged sites.

Meanwhile the marathon military-to-military talkathons continue at Chushul. The third round that began this morning is heading, as did the earlier ones, to an impasse. Delhi shouldn’t be fooled into expecting any outcome. The Chinese have always used these elongated negotiation sessions to tire out the opponent — not to reach a compromise solution. Decisive results will accrue, to paraphrase Maozedong, from the barrel of a gun, i.e., by a limited war at a minimum.

In this regard, there’s a debilitating belief as much within the government as outside that, if in real trouble, the US will help India out. Indeed, Trump’s pulling US troops out of Germany and the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s taking notice of happenings in Ladakh have been widely interpreted as the US Cavalry preparing to ride to rescue Indians! In actuality, the US is diverting its land forces from their NATO stations in Germany to South Korea and Japan, and last week mounted a 3-nuclear carrier (USS Nimitz, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Theodore Roosevelt) operation with some 180 combat aircraft on board and an escort flotilla of two cruisers and three missile destroyers in the Philippine Sea to deter Beijing from pulling a Ladakh-like surprise naval stunt in the nearby South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. This region is America’s focus, not Ladakh. So, if Delhi is waiting for America to take direct action, it may have to wait forever.

As I have been iterating from Day One, there was intelligence failure with Indian satellite information revealing the PLA build-up being ignored by the government for over a year. Lt Gen Kamal Davar, the first Director General, Defence Intelligence Agency, now hints at RAW — the first receiver of satellite data from DIPAC (Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre) being remiss in not passing on this information to the army. (See https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/indian-army-veteran-comments-on-india-china-border-clash-galwan-intelligence-lapse-military). Whosoever is responsible for this particular glitch, such snafus seem par for the course.

I have also all long argued that India must embark on a military counter. The Indian army cannot limit itself to just a holding action in case the situation hots up, which is what it may be planning to do. It has to act to vacate Ladakh of Chinese aggression in toto, secure the heights on the range fronting on the Daulat Beg Oldi-Depsang highway and the Shyok River, and to create a hefty military presence on the Pangong and the approaches to Karakorum Pass. Unless India does this it will perennially be at PLA’s mercy. To avoid such a denouement, the western sector of the LAC hereafter will have to be treated as a live military theatre, and developed into a staging area for military action across the LAC and into Tibet by the Indian army and air force. India cannot launch substantial offensive actions into Tibet without having at least three offensive mountain strike corps equipped with 30-35 ton light tanks, a capability the army doesn’t possess.

Politically, there’s little doubt Modi is stepping into what may be a troubling period for him personally. The Ladakh fiasco has shown him up, to use the Chinese phrase, as a “paper tiger”, one that may scare Pakistan some but is a dormouse once the dragon hews into view. The Opposition led by Congress party are mercilessly skewering Modi and unless he shrugs off his diffidence and orders the army to roll-up PLA aggressor units at whatever cost, he will be stuck with the taint of 2020 much as Nehru had the ’62 albatross around his neck. Banning of Chinese apps, barring Huawei and ZTE from the 5G sweepstakes, etc. are small potatoes for a Beijing set to realize its longtime strategic dream of accessing the warm water port of Gwadar as the entrepot for its western provinces. The objective of keeping India as far away from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor facilitating it is, therefore, a priority interest that China, by annexing Indian territory, has cemented. This is a military challenge India has to overturn — no two ways about it.

Trying the other day to do his bit to head off the bad notices his boss is attracting Home Minister Amit Shah only prompted a controversy. He messaged on Twitter that “At a time when the entire nation is united, Mr. Rahul Gandhi should also rise above petty politics and stand in solidarity with national interest.” This is a curious statement because, surely, the “national interest” doesn’t lie in everyone unquestioningly supporting Modi’s policy of military inaction. In the light of the PM’s June 19 statement which denied that the Chinese aggressed at all, it would mean that PLA’s annexing Indian territory is in the national interest! Say it is not so, Modiji.

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Occupying the heights

PLA post on the Galwan (Maxar Technologies via AP)
Patrol Point 14 (site of PLA clash with 16 Bihar) on the Galwan

PP 14 after PLA buildup
(PLA in the Hot Springs area)
Permanent PLA structures
armored vehicles, flatbed trucks to carry them, etc. in a PLA bulit-up area

Ponder the satellite pictures above released by Maxar Technologies of the US for worldwide public information showing the scale and degree of military buildup within a very short period of time without any matching construction, elaborate facilities and presence in these contested areas by the Indian army. This is the context for the military drama unfolding in realtime in eastern Ladakh and the political drama in Delhi and Beijing.

But first a piece of good news. The Indian army is finally paying attention and doing the elementary thing of securing the heights on the Galwan to prevent the PLA from dominating the Depsang-DBO-Karakorum Pass Highway. The pity is they didn’t do it until goaded into action by this blog — because I know of no other blogger/commentator/analyst/expert, who urged this early and publicly. The failure to take so basic a precaution of controlling the heights to protect this highway — a national strategic asset, suggests a lapse in professionalism and a laid back attitude of the army and the government that the country can ill-afford. It permitted the PLA to get not just a toehold but a foothold.

Except now, Indian soldiers have reached the crestline of the mountain range on the Shyok at the Galwan River confluence. This was reported several hours back on Twitter by wolfpackIN, which bit of good news seems credible because the retired Northern Army commander Lt Gen HS Panag retweeted this message on his twitter handle along with an exclamation “Excellent!” Retired generals are usually known to keep themselves in the know of happenings in the army commands they once headed.

Having done this initial bit, the army better plan on staying at these heights indefinitely starting with the coming winter months and accordingly establish a hardy logistics system to sustain this armed presence on the heights above Galwan but also, as proposed in an earlier post, along the ridge line above the Shyok River to the Karakorum Pass. The cost of setting up a supply line for all-weather posts on the Galwan peaks with communications gear can be extended to reach other high points at marginal additions in cost. In any case, the financial investment — whatever its size –is a secondary concern. The primary focus should be to prevent the PLA from increasing its footprint.

India has already lost a good part of the Indian side of the Galwan and Pangong Tso area. Firming up an Indian presence at the heights will disincentivize the PLA from taking what remains of our territory in that sector. Because the almost base-area kind of buildup at these sites, as well as in the Hot Springs area means the Chinese do not mean to withdraw, no matter what. If the Chinese stay, so should the Indian army.

The rest is piffle, including the statements issued pro forma by Beijing and Delhi, such as the one by the Chinese government about the official exchanges to-date being “candid and in-depth” and how both intend to “earnestly implement the important consensus” reached by the two Foreign Ministers S Jaishankar and Wang Li in their June 17 talks over the telephone, and — an ugly turn of phrase this — “actively accommodate with the two military forces to implement the outcome reached” at the June 6 and June 22 military level meetings. Conforming to this theme, diplomatic underlings from the two countries yesterday (June 25) agreed to “sincerely implement the understanding on disengagement and de-escalation” along the LAC.

The military commanders for their part announced they too had arrived at a “mutual consensus to disengage” without agreeing either on the timeframe for such disengagement and, even less, its modalities. There are so many of these military and diplomatic forums the head spins especially because they all seem to end up furthering China’s interest even as Indian diplomats are left twiddling their thumbs on the sidelines. Thus, another such body — the Working Mechanism for Consultation & Coordination on India-China Border Affairs (WMCC), too went through its motions and spouted a lot of useless words.

Predictably, these exchanges have ended up with the MEA wagging its finger saying things like both sides should “strictly respect and observe” the Line of Actual Control, and the Chinese Defence Ministry warning in no uncertain terms that “China has sovereignty over the Galwan Valley region and the Chinese border troops have been patrolling and on duty in this region for many years.” Except China’s are fighting words and straightforwardly pose a military challenge to India to prove Beijing wrong. The Modi government, however, does not seem interested in picking up the gauntlet.

This is evident from the contrasting attitudes and approaches. The Indian government relies on peaceful resolution and MEA mouths diplomatese. The Chinese government, on the other hand, asserts its unmaintainable claim over the Indian territory it has brazenly occupied and which, for all intents and purposes, stands annexed through the instrumentality of the PLA.

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Far from evicting the Chinese, India is throwing in the towel (augmented)

India, China troops have disengaged at Galwan, says army on clash ...
[Mountain supply]

Often the best thing for political leaders as well as generals, serving or retired, to do during volatile border crises of the kind India has on its hands is to resist the impulse to say something, anything, because their statements are usually overtaken by events.

The COAS, General MM Naravane, discovered no doubt to his discomfiture that a bare ten days after he talked about the two armies agreeing to, and being involved in, the process of “phased disengagement”, the situation erupted June 15 on the Galwan with the death by bludgeonings and drownings in the river of 22 Indian soldiers, including Lt Col Santosh Babu of 16th Bihar.

The mystery around why these killings by Chinese soldiers using nails-studded batons and similar type of weapons even occurred when Article 6 of the 1996 Agreement with China absolutely permits the attacked to use sidearms and infantry weapons in defence, only deepened when the former army chief General JJ Singh told a TV channel June 19 that this was because the army strictly followed the government’s injunctions against the use of force, any force, on the LAC. He apparently believed the government’s list of no-no’s over-rode Article 6’s provision for resort to lethal force. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s announcement June 21 that forwardly deployed field commanders were now free to retaliate in kind at least proved General JJ Singh right in terms of the previous rules of engagement. However, it doesn’t explain why the army in any way felt constrained by them — unless one assumes that officers up and down the command were, like General JJ Singh, unaware of Article 6, and if they were so aware, didn’t want to exercise their right of just response, not even to save themselves.

Now that the government is on board Article 6, the question is has the army made sure to rapidly arm all jawans and officers on the LAC with compact steel spiked maces and flails and instructions for their express use preemptively if they sense Chinese intent? Because otherwise, our mountain infantrymen will be in no better position than when surprised by the adversary on June 15 evening, and the outcome will not be different or any less bloody.

If the army brass were wrong-footed by surprise Chinese action, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual clean chit to China in his televised declaration of June 17 about the status quo not being disturbed at all was astonishing, considering TV channels in the previous days were regularly flashing commercial satellite images showing substantial military infrastructure buildup (pill boxes, depots, troop hostels, even kraals for armoured vehicles), dug-in artillery pits, and occupation of the entire area between topographic features Finger 4 and Finger 8 on the Pangong Lake, and similar construction by the PLA, inclusive of a helipad, northeast of the site of the imbroglio on the Galwan River.

The Indian people watching TV news are, unenviably, left to either trust their eyes (visual satellited data) or believe the PM.

I have been saying since the beginning of this territorial tussle that the Indian government had the imagery intelligence from Indian satellites making passes over these contested areas for over a year now when the PLA first initiated its construction activity. A person at the senior most level dealing with national security in the government confirmed this. The conclusion: Even as he was completely in the know, Modi did nothing. Not sure why though. Could it be because he expected that his personal relationship with the Chinese President Xi Jinping would motivate the latter to keep the LAC quiet? And, now by not acknowledging the Chinese buildup on the Pangong Tso and in the Galwan area, he is still affording Xi the maneuvering space to, even at this late date, pullout without “losing face”?

Beijing has been preparing its annexation plans for awhile and seemingly didn’t care Indian satellites were conveying photographic evidence of PLA activity to Delhi. Xi, it’d appear, was confident Modi would not react violently. The reports from those who accompanied Modi to Wuhan suggest the Indian PM was particularly taken by Xi’s deft personal touches, such as conducting the Indian leader around his birthplace (near that Chinese city), etc. The result is Xi is playing Modi like a fiddle.

Xi’s conviction about Modi’s inaction in the face of provocation may also be because of the 2008 agreement binding Delhi to not rake up the matter of clarifying the LAC (alluded to in the preceding post) that the US-based Stimson Centre Chinese-origin scholar Yun Sun (not Sun Lun — my mistake!) based her analysis on. Yun concluded, in effect, that Delhi is cognizant of the latitude China feels it has in redefining the LAC, and it is this that China has exploited. When asked about this and Delhi’s response a very high official who served in the UPA government tells me there was no such agreement and, in fact, that clarification about the LAC was sought in 2010 and again in 2012. “We drew the conclusion quite early in 2003-4 when it was clear that China wanted ambiguity about the LAC”, he writes in his message, “that the only real answer was on the ground. Hence the 72 GS roads, two extra divisions, the mountain strike corps, the reopening of ALGs etc. But you know all this. The other responses were diplomatic, or narrative building etc.”

As to why the lowland and the heights on the eastern shore of the Shyok River fronting on the Daulat Beg Oldi/Karakorum- Depsang road were not secured once the alignment of this road was fixed a decade or more back, well, there’s no satisfactory answer. A senior military man in the loop advised that I needed “to understand both the dynamics of LAC and the terrain”. Given that the PLA doesn’t have a much easier terrain on its side, the Chinese seem to be able to better cope with geography and the vicissitudes of the LAC.

In this mess, however Modi anticipates this crisis to peter out, one thing is certain, China will not give up the Indian territory it has occupied nor surrender the physical assets it has constructed. In short, Beijing will not negotiate away the land it has acquired by proactive action in the Himalayas. This about draws the limits on Indian diplomacy. The sooner Modi government accepts this reality the more expeditiously it can approve military plans for evicting the PLA intruders , whatever it takes, because there’s no alternative. Especially because it wouldn’t want to be in a situation where commercially available satellite images will belie, at every turn, the comfortable fiction it may choose to flog about there being no Chinese aggression and occupation, and no situation that a bit of jaw-jawing with the Chinese won’t smoothen out. Beijing will be happy to talk but will not move out an inch.

A limited war, as I have maintained from the start, is the only way to vacate these areas of the PLA. It is also imperative a more proactive army establish soonest possible and at whatever cost a presence on the eastern shore of the Shyok River, and especially on the Galwan, Cheng-chenmo valley openings on the Shyok, whatever the difficulties of terrain and the LAC orientation in these areas.

The Chinese seem to appreciate that old saw about possession being nine-tenths of the law. What the Indian government and MEA understand about the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty is anyone’s guess.

No doubt bent on cutting a deal, the Modi government urged the Army Commanders’ Conference to fall in line. It did, deciding to disengage across the board and to do so fairly rapidly based on the agreement reached by the Leh GOC Lt Gen Harinder Singh and the Chinese Maj Gen Liu Lin meeting in Chushul. Caution has been thrown to the winds. There’s no hint here of a proportionate withdrawal, with verification at each step that the PLA has pulled back as well. It will end up providing solace to Beijing and encourage it to get into the occupy, build-up, annex cycle that will leave India ever more vulnerable to Chinese military pressure.

Mark my words, the territory taken away by the Chinese will stay annexed. And this will be proven by commercial satellites a month hence which will show no change in the PLA force disposition on the Galwan and the Pangong Tso.

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Is Modi ceding Indian territory to China?

Chinese Bring In Bulldozers, Disturb Flow Of Galwan River: Satellite Pics
Chinese earth-moving equipment damming the Galwan River

                               

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement to opposition leaders regarding the crisis in eastern Ladakh has confounded the already existing confusion. His declaration, without mentioning China, that “No one has forcibly entered into Indian territory, there is no intruder inside our border, nor has any Indian post been captured by anyone” is contradicted by commercially obtained satellite imagery featured in television news reports. These clearly show the accelerated Chinese military build-up between the hill features Finger 4 and Finger 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake, and in the Galwan Valley — areas considered well within the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Military-grade imagery from Indian satellites with sub-metre-resolution cameras and contact reports from the field indicating Chinese penetration in strength were available to the government from the beginning but apparently went unheeded.

The Prime Minister’s denial about the Chinese occupying Indian territory minimizes political troubles for himself and suggests he is reconciled to India losing these areas. This may be for two reasons. One, the army’s assessment that evicting the PLA from these areas would be an impossibly difficult task, could escalate to serious hostilities, and rupture his relationship with Xi Jinping that he has personally invested in.

And two, the profound blunder committed by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2008 by accepting Beijing’s condition that “clarification of the LAC” be no part of bilateral documents (as revealed in an article by Sun Lun, a Chinese-origin scholar at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC). It legitimates China’s expansionist activity in Ladakh and elsewhere on the indistinct LAC.

Sun Lun’s stunning revelation is a severe indictment of the MEA and its seemingly la-di-dah attitude to Chinese takeover of Indian territory which, by some authoritative accounts, amounts to 60 sq kms in the present crisis and some 1,300 sq kms in the new millennium. It fuels Beijing’s policy of creeping annexation predicated on the border dispute remaining unresolved and the LAC undefined.

The oft-repeated Chinese promise to negotiate a final solution at the Special Representatives level that successive Indian governments have been fobbed off with, in the event, is only a diplomatic ruse to buy time for the PLA to realize China’s territorial claims by incrementally pushing the LAC India-wards, and presenting Delhi every now and then with new territorial faits accomplis.

     The capture by China of Galwan is a strategic stranglehold because now PLA can interdict at will the traffic on the newly built Depsang-Daulat Beg Oldi/Karakorum Pass highway sustaining the Indian army presence on the Siachen Glacier. The army fouled up by not pre-emptively securing the valleys and the heights on the Shyok, Cheng-chenmo and Galwan rivers fronting on this highway when its alignment was firmed up over ten years ago.

It has left India with no alternative than forcibly evicting the Chinese from the Galwan, whatever the cost, as the army did Pakistani troops in 1999 from the Kargil ridge because they imperilled the lifeline to Leh. However, Modi appears disinclined to risk it.

——-


Published in the Deccan Herald, Sunday, June 21, 2020 , at https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/is-pm-narendra-modi-ceding-indian-territory-to-china-851889.html

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India’s squeamish attitude towards China is a liability, the army should implement more violent rules of engagement and prepare for limited war

Over 5000 Chinese Soldiers Intrusion in the Indian Territory | The ...
[Confrontation in more peaceful times]

Developments on the border with China are taking a turn for the worst. The Indian government and army seem surprised by the vehemence of the intruding People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers when asked by patrolling Indian army jawans to keep to their side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). That they have in the last two weeks, time and again, resorted to violence suggests this is not an outcome of local imbalance of forces, or a tense situation going akilter, as many retired Indian generals believe is the case. Alone among the major armed forces of the world, the PLA is comprehensively top-driven, with the lower field and unit commanders enjoying little discretionary power. There’s simply too much at stake for Beijing to leave it to local commanders to blunder about in what is plainly a hazardous policy terrain.

     At the local level then the PLA troops are scrupulously following orders. There is little doubt their aggressive stance is prompted by the highest military authority in China — the Central Military Commission (CMC) — chaired by President Xi Jinping; this new found bellicosity as evident in eastern Ladakh as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. While exploiting the disjunctions in a COVID-19 ravaged world to advance its geopolitical goals, Beijing doesn’t want to tip the situation over into where everybody gangs up even more against it.

It is a risky exercise but Xi believes he can punish India – China’s putative rival in Asia, take it down a notch or two in the subcontinent, and show it up as a political light weight to its smaller neighbours (Pakistan, Nepal) so they can  take liberties with it. For this purpose the forward-deployed PLA units are instructed to physically belabour Indian troops and otherwise raise the tension and the temperature without having these encounters spill over into uncontrollable military hostilities. Beijing is convinced it can do this at no great cost and so far it has been proved right. The Modi government seems unable to muster other than timid and confused statements in response even as Indian jawans and officers are assaulted with barbaric weapons – steel spikes-embedded batons, cantina wire wrapped rods, etc. redolent of the medieval age.   

China’s belligerent reaction to the matching Indian border infrastructure build-up – far less dense than on the Chinese side, especially in eastern Ladakh, is hardly surprising and ought to have been anticipated by the Indian intelligence services and the army. It is curious the entire process of the PLA building up its encampments in the Galwan River Valley went unnoticed by any Indian agency. This doesn’t sound true because the Delhi-based Defence Image Processing and Analysis centre (DIPAC) that interprets Indian satellite-derived imagery data regularly onpasses its assessments to RAW, IB, PMO, Military Intelligence in Army HQrs, etc..

Moreover, given the sub-metre resolution cameras on Indian satellites the Chinese construction activity would have been picked up very early, perhaps, as far back as 8-10 months ago. So, how come the Indian army and Modi government were clueless?

     That the PLA is sitting pretty on the Galwan and in the area between the hill features Finger 4 and Finger 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake is in no small part because the Indian army is not proactive and did nothing as the Chinese constructed their facilities in both these locations. By controlling the foothills and the approaches to the Galwan River fronting on the newly constructed Karakorum Pass-Daulat Beg Oldi-Depsang road, complete with a superbly engineered bridge over the Shyok River, for instance, the PLA now commands the heights and is in a position to interdict Indian military traffic at will.

Considering this road supplies the army’s Bana Post on the Siachen Glacier and affords the Indian army easy access to the Karakorum Pass, the first thing the army should have done after the Border Roads Organization laid down the alignment for this road some ten years back was to protect this asset by pre-emptively securing the foothills and, hence, the heights on the Galwan, Cheng-chenmo, and Shyok rivers. It would have closed out PLA’s options on the Indian highway. The army blundered by not implementing so basic a precautionary military measure.

     Why it didn’t do so, is one of those issues where there will be a lot of finger pointing and no accountability. But this reflects a laidback attitude of the army that conforms to the Indian government’s equally lackadaisical, historically complacent, outlook when dealing with China. This combination has allowed the PLA, post-1962 War, to affect incremental grabs of Indian territory resulting in a loss of over 60 sq kms in the Galwan Valley alone and some 1,300 sq kms in all on the LAC fin de siecle onwards. This is the Chinese policy of creeping annexation that will surreptitiously realize for Beijing its territorial claims to the fullest extent.

Based on land grabs here, feints there, the PLA periodically presents the Indian army and government with new territorial faits accomplis that go unchallenged, whence there are ever newer alignments of the LAC and reality. This has happened on the Galwan and the Pangong Tso. It suits the Xi dispensation to keep the border undefined and to string Delhi along with promises of dispute resolution in the Special Representatives forum. The perennially hopeful Indian government always falls for it and may do so again.

The brutal killings of Indian infantrymen, including a Lieutenant Colonel of the 16 Bihar Regiment on the Galwan slopes has, however, radically transformed the crisis,  increased its political gravity. The Indian people will simply not be satisfied with Narendra Modi’s usual bluster – though he was quiet until last (June 17) evening when he voiced a wishy-washy commitment about responding in kind. In his televised statement the Prime Minister said India ‘will respond if it is provoked’. Not sure what he meant by ‘if it is provoked’ when the Chinese troops are already deep inside Indian territory on the LAC, have entrenched themselves there, and Beijing has declared the Galwan Valley and the area covered by Fingers 4 & 8 in the Pangong Tso region as parts of China.  Is this insufficient provocation? If so, then, perhaps, the government is setting the scene for India’s acceptance of this redefined LAC with the Galwan and Pangong Tso areas that PLA has newly occupied as Chinese territory.

That said, several steps need to be taken urgently. The Indian mountain infantrymen deployed on the LAC, other than normal weapons, have to be equipped with nail-studded heavy wooded baseball bat-type weapons with standing instructions for first use against PLA troops at close quarters.

The larger, more meaningful, action that’s imperative and will have to follow is a conspicuous military operation – not some Balakot-type of secret strike with a dubious outcome.

If in 1998 the Indian army forcibly vacated the Kargil ridge overlooking the road supplying Leh of Pakistan army’s Northern Light Infantry troops, then why would it and the BJP government tolerate PLA’s control of the Galwan frontage imperilling the lifeline to the Siachen Glacier, Daulat Beg Oldi, and the Karakorum Pass?

To those who argue that maintaining all-year outposts on the remote Galwan, Cheng-chenmo, and Shyok rivers would be prohibitively expensive and beyond India’s capacity, they need to be reminded that the army has for 40 years sustained its presence on the Siachen glacier, which is remoter and at a much higher altitude. Manpower wise, larger numbers of army units, on rotational duty, will need to be processed through the ongoing high-altitude acclamatization programme.

Whatever its financial, political and diplomatic cost, Modi can motivate the people to bear it, because his government cannot avoid ordering such a military operation to evict the Chinese. Nothing less will do, not if the PM means to retain even a semblance of his “nationalist” credentials.

It will mean embarking on a localised limited war, and some sections of the army, albeit in a minority support this option. Should the government approve such a mission, it will have to publicly define these parameters before it gets underway just so, like Pakistan in Kargil, China is aware from the start of the Indian military’s focus and severely limited goal.  By way of strategic cover for this action and to deter China from escalating this fight into something bigger – even though there’s zero possibility of this happening, India should publicize the forward deployment of Agni missiles, and alert the Arihant SSBN on patrol for possible attacks on China’s economic heart – the Shanghai coast and its immediate hinterland.

The recovery of the Galwan in particular can be preceded by a set of punitive economic measures to show India means business. One, Huawei should be banished from the telecommunications sector for security reasons. Two, extraordinary tariffs ought to be imposed on all Chinese goods without exception, justified in any case because of the hidden subsidies all exporting companies ex-China benefit from, and three, Beijing must be informed that this closing of China’s access to the Indian market can be reversed in stages depending on verifiable withdrawal of PLA from all the points where it has ingressed. The financial steps announced to-date by the government against certain Chinese companies are small time and don’t move the needle much.

It is doubtful if Delhi has the balls to do any of this. Especially because there’s no indication of Modi junking the Indian government’s historic appeasement mindset and relying on a military solution to restore the status quo ante, national self-respect and equilibrium in the relations with China.

———-

A shortened and edited version entitled ‘India-China standoff: Creeping land grab is classic Beijing feint; small punitive steps won’t help, Delhi must prepare for limited war’ published in Firstpost, June 18, 2020, at https://www.firstpost.com/india/india-china-standoff-creeping-land-grab-is-classic-beijing-feint-small-punitive-steps-wont-help-delhi-must-prepare-for-limited-war-8495321.html

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Time for Modi to use the brahmastra now that military escalation is on the cards due to Indian army’s blunder

Area of standoff between Indian and PLA troops in Ladakh part of ...

[A face-off now escalating]

I have been proved right so often where China is concerned it is almost besides the point to crow about it.

In all my books — from the first one in 1994 (‘Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond’) to the latest one (Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s global Ambition) in 2018, I have pointed to China as the premier, and only credible, threat that India has to fully commit its resources to somehow neutralizing. I have also repeatedly stressed that the difference between the Indian military and its Chinese counterpart, other than the differential in the quality and quantity of hardware and software available to them, is this: The Indian armed forces’ planning as regards China, is on best case basis, meaning as in the case of the current confrontation in eastern Ladakh, that there’s always diplomacy to fall back on, to defuse the situation should it come to a boil.

The Chinese on the other hand plan and act on the basis of worst case, and prepare accordingly. So, if the local PLA commander is instructed to test Delhi’s resolve by killing a few Indian soldiers on the contested border, their troops carry out the order without having any doubts that their escalatory actions can be followed up with decisive military hostilities on a larger scale. This is simply not so in the Indian case. Yesterday, the Modi government put out that forward field commanders are now free to initiate such retaliatory actions as they deem fit without first getting clearance from Leh or, perhaps, even Delhi.

But — and this the real difference — the Indian army is in no position logistically to escalate the hostilities in kind and to the levels the PLA is capable of doing owing to the dense border military-use Chinese infrastructure in place for some two decades. The Indian buildup has been hesitant, tardy and is, as yet, too thin on the ground to support the forward units engaged in aggravated tit-for-tat actions from spiraling into something more serious in the Galwan Valley and the Pangong Tso. Per a story in the Global Times — a Chinese government rag, in response to the killing of two Indian jawans and a Lieutenant Colonel, five PLA troopers were terminated and 11 more injured. While this is somewhat satisfying at a base level, it is small consolation considering the Indian army, lacking the wherewithal to fight a long duration war in the mountains, is plainly over-matched.

Military folk generally seem to have no bright ideas about what to do next other than, yea, sit down with the Chinese to resolve immediate issues. Lt Gen DS Hooda, the former Northern Army commander and presently adviser to the Congress Party who, along with me, was on an NDTV news programme earlier this afternoon to discuss these latest incidents, after saying the PLA’s violent actions constituted escalation — because for the first time there were fatalities, fell back on that tired old solution of talking this situation out with the Chinese. Implicit in his view that one finds mirrored in the thinking of a number of other retired senior army officers (such as Lt Gen Jaiswal, another ex-GOC-in-C, Northern Command, tapped by another TV channel) is his assessment that the Chinese having taken the measure of India will now relent and stick exclusively to the negotiating table without simultaneously pressing Indian forces militarily in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere on the LAC. How realistic is that?

As I pointed out in my preceding post, the Indian army finds itself in these straits because it committed the cardinal military mistake of not securing the heights in the Galwan, Cheng-chenmo, and Shyok river valleys fronting on the newly built Karakoram Pass-Daulat Beg Oldi-Durbuk-Tangtse highway supplying Bana Post on the Siachen Glacier, that affords India proximity to the Karakoram. Beijing, mindful of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, its gateway to the warm water port in Gwadar, being vulnerable to Indian military actions off the Karakorum Pass, moved to preempt India from utilizing its new road for the purposes of interdicting CPEC traffic by all but annexing the Galwan Valley areas deep inside the Indian claim line and, in fact, acquiring the location and the means to counter potential Indian pressure on CPEC.

There’s a price to pay for the army’s blunder in this respect. Unless Delhi ups the ante, and threatens to use the brahmastra it has had in its policy quiver but for incomprehensible reasons shied away from using, India will be permanently handicapped. Modi must now use this weapon and threaten China with the loss of access to the vast Indian market in which Chinese companies selling light manufactures, consumer durables (Haier home appliances, air conditioners, etc.), mobile telephony (Huawei, Xiaomi, Gionee, etc) and computer hardware (Lenovo), have acquired a near stranglehold. Modi has talked, as the predecessor Manmohan Singh government did, about requiring China to correct the completely unbalanced trade (with $70 billion Indian trade deficit) but has done precious little over the last six years to force the issue.

Moreover, owing to the Indian government and military’s sub-strategic, small country, mindset, India is hugely disadvantaged all long the LAC. Indeed, as I have argued in my book ‘Staggering Forward’ it is because of the widening military disparity with China that India needs to now go in for atomic demolition munitions in the mountains to stop any serious PLA ingress across the LAC in its tracks, and otherwise adopt a nuclear first use posture featuring forward deployed canisterised nuclear-warheaded Agni missiles that for the first time provide India with launch-on-launch and launch-on warning capability.

The current crisis should be prevented though from getting to beyond that fail safe stage. Modi can do this by publicly raising the economic stakes for Beijing by banning Huawei for security reasons from the Indian telecommunications sector altogether, and by imposing prohibitive tariffs — justified in any case because of the hidden subsidies that all Chinese exporting companies benefit from — on all China-sourced goods without exception, and barring Indian trading outfits — big and small — from buying any products whatsoever from China. The complete cutoff of access to the Indian market should be held in reserve as the ultimate punitive measure. To incentivize Beijing to act “responsibly” on the LAC, phased removal of the newly imposed tariffs should be predicated on complete and verifiable withdrawal of the PLA to well forward of the Indian claim line in eastern Ladakh.

Such hard decisions are bound to surprise Xi and induce in Beijing a sense of caution in dealing with India. Delhi has to use whatever works. India’s conventional military challenge such as it can muster is, from China’s perspective, laughable. The loss of access to the Indian market, however, is whole another matter altogether, and not something Xi will risk, given that Trump is closing off the American market to Chinese exports, and the Chinese economy is slumping. Now is the time for Modi to stop fooling around, stop pulling India’s punches.

This means playing hardball. But there’s no indication Modi has the political will and gumption to play it as Xi does, or the Indian army the will and endurance to fight it out against the PLA. This leaves India in a bad place.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Tibet, United States, US., Weapons | 65 Comments

An out and out army fiasco

LAC row | India, China agree to ease standoff - The Hindu

[Confrontation in the high desert]

Inattentive to satellite intel, lacking proactive thinking, absent preemptive action and now silk-gloving China’s occupation of Indian territory, the army has to explain this fiasco.

What’s the first, most basic, thing the Indian army should have done once the Border Roads Organization (BRO) began constructing the Siachen lifeline and access road to the strategic Karakoram Pass at the confluence of India and China — the Karakoram Pass-Daulat Beg Oldi-Murgo-Dubruk-Tangtse highway? Why, secure the heights on the approaches to the proposed Karakoram-Tangtse route on the Galwan, Chang-chenmo, and Shyok rivers, of course! Was this done? No! And why weren’t such basic precautionary protection measures taken?

The latest territorial grab by China has gone unaddressed by the army and is particularly egregious in the light of a similar earlier mistake made in Kargil. Except then following the intense 1999 “border war”, the Kargil heights were retaken from the Pakistan army’s unit that had sneaked in during the previous winter months when the Indian army had affected a seasonal withdrawal from the ridge. That war cost the country an awful lot in terms of lives, and military and financial resources. If the army went to war to recover the Kargil heights because otherwise the supply line to Leh would be imperilled, why did it do nothing preemptively to protect the border road, and why is it not enthused about forcibly evicting the PLA from the Galwan, in particular, to guarantee that Indian access to the Siachen Glacier and to the Karakoram Pass remains unimpeded in perpetuity?

Study the map below to identify what lies where.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UxQt3GI2ytqVPCSI0giIpgvAyNQoNoiR-uz-U6WT4SoM6E3alRymbjLQ8L4h_C4MlVfbkjY6FoPUsI6d45i2MJxQpfGbt_bJ2Zpvq3VbCv3FKJbUxVKVsA0xenZryquqeQnNg9SV
[A map with the main sites in contention clearly marked out, courtesy Lt Gen Oberoi’s piece mentioned in an earlier post]

The army apparently learned nothing from its Kargil experience, because it is being replayed today on the Ladakh front. Far from moving expeditiously and in tandem with the BRO construction to occupy the high points on the mountainous terrain adjoining the proposed highway, XIV Corps and Army HQrs failed to even heed, leave alone react, to the imagery generated by Indian satellites available for a long time now showing PLA construction crews building the infrastructure in the Galwan Valley, for instance. So now India is faced with the entrenched Chinese positions from where PLA can at any time interdict the Siachen supply line and otherwise sever the lines of communications to the Karakoram Pass.

The same do nothingness informed the Indian army’s inaction further south in the terrain stretching from Finger 4 to Finger 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake; this even though the process of the PLA units ensconcing themselves there, like on the Galwan, was no doubt flagged early by the Delhi-based DIPAC (Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre). By May this year when the army finally stirred into action, it was too late for it to do anything. Because unlike in Kargil, the army was unprepared for and unwilling to undertake hard action. Hence, the army neither advised, nor sought approval, from the Modi government to initiate military operations to rid the Galwan and Pangong Tso heights of the aggressor PLA units. An even worse spin in the context of the availability of the satellite imagery intelligence is that the army knew all along about the PLA build-up to dominate the heights but did not have the stomach for a fight, and so did nothing.

It may be argued by the army that preemptive action of the kind here outlined to occupy the Galwan heights and the areas Finger 4 to Finger 8, on the Pangong would have been a hugely arduous task because it would have involved moving considerable military mass to logistically difficult-to-maintain mountain sites. Except the army has been sustaining and supplying a force deployed in the still more inaccessible Siachen post at a higher altitude for nearly 40 years now. And there are Indian army units continuously undergoing acclamatization for rotational posting on the glacier. So, the army had both the wherewithal and the trained forces to occupy the mountain tops now in Chinese custody.

At the heart of the issue is the apparent unwillingness of the army and government to take actions, whether preemptive or post-PLA ingress, that could escalate into war with China, whence the Indian government and army brass’ inclination from the beginning to rely on diplomacy. Whatever the policy deficiencies of the panda-huggers in Modi’s PMO and the MEA, active monitoring of the Line of Actual Control, being proactive in the field, and making military moves to preempt China, and with the PLA in occupation of Indian claimed territory, to embark on remedial military action, are no part of their remit. At the nuts and bolts level, this is Indian army’s fiasco through and through. Because had the XIV Corps HQrs and the army been on their toes, paid more attention to the PLA activity in the Ladakh region and taken the obvious precautions to secure the heights abutting on the newly-built highway, thereby preventing the PLA from doing what it has done on the Galwan and in the Pangong Tso area, they would have had the Modi government’s approval for it. After all, what choice would the “nationalist” prime minister have had in that context? Instead, India is saddled with a situation.

What exactly was said during the over-long (3 hour) flag meeting June 6 at the Chushul-Moldo post between the Indian army and PLA delegations led by the XIV Corps Commander Lt General Harinder Singh and the PLA South Xinjiang Military District Commander Major General Liu Lin respectively may never be known, because the anodyne statement about an agreement to keep the peace isn’t especially enlightening. But the meeting and its context has highlighted two things: (1) The Indian army dispatched its commander of the entire Ladakh front, the Chinese only its sector commander — a Major General to India’s Lieutenant General, revealing the differing weight and importance attached by the two sides to the matter at hand, and (2) a parting of the views of the army and the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

“Both sides are disengaging in a phased manner. We have started from the north, the area of the Galwan River. A lot of disengagement has happened,” said the army chief General MM Naravane. “We have had a fruitful dialogue with the Chinese, it will continue and by and by the situation will improve.” He added: “It started with corps commander level talks …which has been followed up by a number of meetings at the local level between commanders of equivalent ranks and as a result of this lot disengagement has taken place. We are hopeful that through this continued dialogue, all perceived differences that we have will be set to rest.” [https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2020/jun/14/lac-standoff-india-china-disengaging-in-phases-says-army-chief-naravane-2156261.html]

Naravane’s disengagement spiel seems to apply to all the friction points on the LAC including Naku La in Sikkim and Galwan and Pangong Lake in Ladakh. His tone, moreover, hints at this whole ruckus being due to some small misunderstanding over an indistinct border, nothing that a bit of pow-wowing won’t clear up. The reality, however, is that there is now permanent stationing of PLA troops deep inside Indian territory in the Galwan and the Pangong sectors. As far as the Chinese are concerned the newly realigned LAC is something India can take it or lump it. There’s no third option, all the talks and negotiating will end up doing is embroider this fact. But it does indicate an Indian army that’s not only not up for a fight to restore the status quo ante but one that is reconciled to accepting the ever newer territorial status quos China with its expansionist actions will keep presenting it with.

The MEA’s unresponsiveness to a pointed question about troops on both sides moving back from their “standoff positions” in Galwan and the Hot Spring areas is puzzling. It also did not refute the fact that the PLA is not allowing Indian patrols beyond Finger 4 on Pangong Tso, which is 8 km from Finger 8 that India considers the LAC, meaning the intervening area (between Fingers 4 and 8) is now effectively under Chinese control (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-china-ladakh-border-standoff-mea-6454345/) It directly contradicts Naravane’s statement that the two sides are “disengaging” along the length of the LAC.

This difference in views could mean that while the army, in order to show itself in better light, is deliberately ambiguous and opaque about Chinese annexation, the MEA with less of its reputation to lose is sticking to the reality on the ground indicating ample loss of territory to China, along with India losing face in Asia.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, satellites, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Tibet | 102 Comments

No control, actually

LAC standoff: Indian, Chinese military initiate disengagement near ...
[Lt Gen Harinder Singh, XIV Corps commander with his PLA opposite number at their talk venue two days back]

India has no answer for China’s creeping annexation

———

For China, the unarmed skirmishes on the disputed border with India do not merit notice. The May 26-28 meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference ignored them. But the Ladakh confrontation is a muddled preoccupation of the Indian government with no clarity about what happened, how many People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops violated the 2005 Line of Actual Control (LAC), and the extent of territory illegally occupied by them.

According to former northern Army commander Lt Gen H.S. Panag, there is ingress by a brigade-sized PLA force in the Galwan River valley and in the Pangong Lake area, and occupation of some 60sqkm of Indian territory. If one adds the 640sqkm—which former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says India had lost up until 2013, and which may have doubled by now—the total territory ceded to China without a fight may exceed 1,300sqkm!

The astonishing thing is that these developments surprised the Indian government and the Indian Army. Why this should be so is a mystery, considering there was satellite imagery and that Chinese President Xi Jinping objected to the Indian infrastructure construction—never mind that it is a matching but less dense build-up on the Indian side—in his discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Summit on October 11 and 12, 2019.

Of particular concern to China is the all-weather road connecting Daulat Beg Oldi and Durbuk with Depsang, inclusive of the bridge over the Shyok river, to ease the strain of maintaining the Indian military’s presence on the Siachen glacier. Delhi had six months to prepare for an adverse reaction and to pre-emptively establish forward Indian military posts in the areas the PLA has now advanced into before the summer patrolling season began in April. It should have moved some long-range artillery, even if with an inadequate supply of shells, to put down stakes and show intent. But beating China to the punch is not India’s forte.

The passive-reactive Indian government banks on diplomacy to restore the status quo ante that the Army, lacking the offensive will, wherewithal and endurance, is unable to deliver.

This condition is a boon to the Xi regime, which can withdraw the PLA or not in this or that instance as it suits Beijing’s political purpose, while inexorably pushing the LAC India-wards. At each turn then, Delhi is presented with new territorial faits accomplis, reinforcing China’s policy of creeping annexation of Indian territory.

The prerequisite for such policy is an undefined border. To keep it so, but to make it easier for Delhi to swallow the incremental territorial losses, Beijing promises more productive talks—the next round will be the 22nd in the series—between the special representatives to exchange maps and resolve the dispute. The Indian government will again fall for it, hail it as a great diplomatic achievement. The excitement will abate until next summer when evidence of new encroachments will trigger armed face-offs along the LAC, and this unvirtuous cycle will repeat itself until China realises all its claims.

——

The above piece is published in The Week, current issue dated June 21, 2020, at https://www.theweek.in/theweek/more/2020/06/12/no-control-actually.html

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, society, South Asia | 26 Comments

The end of Trump

Mattis breaks silence, harshly condemns Trump's actions — 'He ...

[Defence Secretary Mattis and Trump]

Sometimes you know when a political leader’s career has ended. Losing an election, of course; in Donald Trump’s case, however, when General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the former US defence secretary, published a damning essay yesterday in the Atlantic magazine. The presidential election will just be a formality, clearing the White House of Trump. The Donald is a lame duck.

In the critical part of his article, Mattis says of Trump that he has “made a mockery of the Constitution” and “is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.” This is a straightforward plea to Americans to vote out Trump.

From the time of a rising Athens, the military has always been held in the highest regard in democracies because it represents in the most basic sense the people’s voluntary participation in their own defence and as the means to realize their ambitions for the nation. This slight digression about Athens is because US Marine General Mattis, known in the American military as the “warrior monk” and with a personal library of some 7,000 books, always carried into battle copies of Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War and Herodotus’ The Persian Wars. Any military man so aware of Athenian history would be only too conscious of how great a liability a half-literate demagogue and, by definition, incompetent leader is for a democratic country. The prompt for Mattis’ sounding the tocsin was Trump’s calling out US military units to deal with citizens taking to the streets in most large American cities to protest the public murder of an unarmed, unresisting, black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis.

Mattis’ slamming Trump has particular significance because the President had wrapped himself round the General when he inducted him in his cabinet in the first year of his term. His charge of the president undermining the Constitution arises from the 1st Amendment right freely to peacably protest. As many American stalwarts expect, Mattis’ coming out openly against Trump will motivate more senior military officers to do the same and undercut the incumbent president’s nationalist credentials. Moreover, so many and so highly regarded retired military leaders emerging in opposition will have a multiplier effect of influencing millions of military veterans — a large domestic constituency, to mobilize against Trump.

He has specialized in fakefully building up a reputation as a successful businessman, but it is unravelling. His flagship Trump Hotel in Washington, DC, for instance, is up for sale, he paid millions to the gullible who sought real estate business wisdom from his scam Trump University and paid very high fees, and threatened to take Trump to court, etc. Politically, other than his base — less than 30% of the white, evangelical, less educated crowd, he is becoming anathema to everybody else.

And things are not smooth sailing on the other fronts that matter either. There is Trump’s usual bluster but neither he nor his Republican Party have any solution for the corona pandemic, a slumping economy, trade war with China, 30 million unemployed, internal unrest owing to the racially-motivated police and vigilante killings, and alienated allies in Europe and Asia. In the event, the US presidency will be handed to Joe Biden of the Democratic Party on a platter along with control of the US Senate.

To paraphrase John Milton’s line, all Biden has to do to gain is stand and wait!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Europe, Geopolitics, United States, US. | 53 Comments

Band aid, tactical non-solutions, for China’s policy of creeping territorial grab

China increases military presence along India border » Sirf News

[Indian troops on LAC]

Strange, but there was no mention of the troubles the country is facing on the disputed border with China by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his latest monthly edition of radio talk “mann ki baat” on May 30. It is as if all is normal on the national security front and Beijing, emulating the Modi regime, has fully imbibed the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirits and is committed to resolving all issues peacefully. Except, a month plus into the confrontation with China, Beijing’s territorial grab at various points on the 3,800 km disputed border, especially in the western sector, is reality.

The Narendra Modi government and the Indian army’s response to this aggression has been along predictable lines. It is being officially stated that (1) there has been no territorial loss, (2) India has adequate forces to deal with any China front-related contingency, and (3) existing negotiation mechanisms at various levels ranging from field commanders at one end, MEA, to the hotline connecting the Prime minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the other end, are working to defuse the situation.

The third factor — diplomacy and negotiation — that the army and the government are stressing and is being publicized is possibly because that’s what they are relying on to restore a modicum of peace but on Chinese terms — meaning Delhi’s acceptance of the new territorial status quo, because the Indian army, honestly speaking, is in no position forcefully to restore the status quo ante. As regards, the first two assertions — well, to put it bluntly, they are false.

There has been serious and extensive capture of territory over time on the Indian side of the claim line by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), most recently and egregiously in the eight terrain features, called “fingers” abutting the Pangong Lake (discussed in the preceding post) . The wide-area satellite imagery that has been available to the Indian government since well before Narendra Modi became prime minister ought to have alerted the army and government to the larger picture of relentless expansion of its presence on the LAC but did not. Why not, is a legitimate matter for investigation. It proves not just the loss of valuable real state elsewhere, but particularly here in one of the most strategically sensitive regions.

The government’s military pointman on the China border issue, the Mandarin-speaking Lt Gen SL Narasimhan, one-time commander XXXIII Corps, Military Attache in Beijing, and presently a member of the National Security Advisory Board, firstly voiced the unexceptionable opinion that the reason PLA has acted up is to hinder military-use border infrastructure construction proceeding apace on the Indian side. Like the long, high altitude, Chewang Rinchen bridge across the Shyok River in eastern Ladakh connecting Durbuk with Depsang via Murgo. Secondly, he attributed the clashes on the LAC to the summer patrolling season, and conceded that territory may have been lost owing to an undefined border. He then adopted a variant of the MEA line that nothing’s amiss to make a perplexing statement: “I think [the Chinese] are trying to lay claim to their perception of LAC. I don’t think it should be seen as if they want to pick up territory or otherwise. It should be seen as they are trying to lay claim to their perception of the LAC.”

Well, what is it, General Narasimhan? Has the PLA ventured onto the Indian side and captured territory, or not? China’s laying “claim to [its] perception of LAC” surely amounts to its creating a new LAC and “picking up” Indian territory, no? Or does he think the enemy’s “perception of LAC” can be abstracted from his activity to realize his perception on the ground? In any case, what kind of hair splitting is this, and that too by an army general? In the event, nothing good can be assumed about the quality of his advice to the government. (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/face-off-along-lac-in-ladakh-chinese-build-up-will-be-matched-says-nsab-member-6432174/)

Narasimhan’s confused and confusing statements notwithstanding, there’s in fact a methodical buildup by the PLA of staging areas, including a forward air field in Ngari, shelters for infantry combat/light armoured vehicles and associated stores, permanent shelters for troops, etc. on India’s side of the claim line that leaves little doubt as to Beijing’s intent to convert this line into the new LAC, one from which it will not withdraw.

But this is not the sensible conclusion reached by the government. Modi’s thinking, embellished by MEA and the likes of Narasimhan, is reflected, for instance, in today’s newspaper op-ed by the ex-foreign secretary Shyam Saran, also Mandarin conversant, who believes that despite the construction by the PLA of military facilities on various sites on the LAC, China will withdraw upon a negotiated settlement. (See https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/as-the-lac-heats-up-reading-china-s-playbook/story-0b7pzNwsL282ktzMsj5YWK.html). It is an MEA pipe dream the Indian government has long been lulling itself into quiescence with. On the ground though, per Saran’s own report India as of 2013 lost 640 sq kms of territory — a loss that may have doubled by now with China’s policy of creeping occupation of contested and strategically important territory.

Recent writings by senior retired army officers attest to this territorial loss. The outspoken Lt Gen HS Panag, Northern army commander 2006-2008, is forthcoming on this score. Panag, it may be remembered, was transferred by the then army chief General Deepak Kapoor to the Central Command to serve out his career for initiating an investigation into the so-called “eggs and tents” scam occurring during his predecessor Kapoor’s tenure in Udhampur, (See https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Army-chief-gets-his-way-Panag-shifted-out-of-JK/articleshow/2814108.cms)

Panag writes that “the PLA has crossed the LAC and physically secured 3-4 km of our territory along Galwan River and the entire area between Finger 5 and Finger 8 along the north bank of Pangong Tso, a distance of nearly 8-10 km. There also seem to be minor incursions in the area of Hot Springs, in Ladakh’s Chang Chenmo River valley and at Demchok.” More worryingly, the territory the PLA has actually secured may be many times more because, he asserts, “the intrusion by regular troops is not linear like normal border patrols going to respective claim lines. If a brigade size force has secured 3-4 km in Galwan River, it implies that the heights to the north and south have been secured, thus securing a total area of 15 to 20 square km. Similarly, along Pangong Tso, the PLA brigade having secured 8-10 km on the north bank would have also secured the dominating heights to the north to physically control 35-40 square km. And if China subsequently realigns its claim line based on the areas secured, the net area secured would increase exponentially.” [Refer https://theprint.in/opinion/china-believes-india-wants-aksai-chin-back-thats-why-it-has-crossed-lac-in-ladakh/430899/].

Labeling the slow but deliberate occupation of Ladakhi real estate as “provocations”, the more cautious vice chief of the army Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi, 2000-2001, writes, that on the 489 km-long LAC in Ladakh, the “traditional disputed points” at Trig Heights and Demchok, are “now expanded to ten” with China raising fresh disputes on the Pangong Tso and at Chumar. Oberoi also recalled from his time as member of the China Study Circle, the apex China policy-making body, that MEA’s accommodationist ideas invariably prevailed over the army’s views. (https://www.thecitizen.in//en/NewsDetail/index/4/18814/The-Many-Reasons-For-Chinas-Transgressions-Across-LAC).

Interestingly, while both Oberoi and Panag blame the dual-control the army wields on the LAC, and particularly in the Ladakh sector, with the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police for the surprise the PLA was able to spring on the army, the latter also rounds off on the external intelligence service RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) for the fiasco. “At the strategic level, it was the failure of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) to detect the build-up of the PLA formations from the rear bases to replace the border defence units”, avers Panag, before admitting that the army’s “tactical surveillance with UAVs and patrols has been inadequate to detect this large-scale movement close to the LAC.”

According to Panag, brigade-sized PLA forces are deployed in the Galwan valley and the north bank of Pangong Tso, and possibly “precautionary deployment…at likely launch pads for offensive and other vulnerable areas along the LAC”, with adequate reserves no doubt placed to be readily at hand “to cater for Indian reaction/escalation”. In support are the upgraded Ngari base hosting fighter aircraft, with “additional troops” posted in the Depsang plains, Hot Springs, Spanggur Gap, and Chumar. This is a good reading of the state of affairs in Ladakh.

[Reproduced below are the two maps, perhaps, with his own markings that General Panag attached with his article.]

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Likely-area-secured-by-PLA-in-North-Bank-Pangong-Tso.jpg
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Likely-area-secured-by-PLA-in-North-Bank-Pangong-Tso.jpg

But what is transparent to Panag is not so plain to Narasimhan. According to the latter, it isn’t at all clear to the government and the army brass just how many PLA troops there are on or proximal to the LAC, nor the specific numbers of PLA troops that may have transgressed into Indian territory to set up camp. “I have heard variations from 500 to 5,000 to 10,000. It will be extremely difficult to predict,” he states. But the adversary’s force strength is not a matter of “prediction” but a conclusion to be reached on the basis of multiple-sourced information and intelligence, lot of it available in the open realm. But this only points to the larger problem — the Indian military’s inability to estimate the kind of forces the PLA High Command can bring to bear against it, in this case, what forces can be detached at short notice from the 200,000-strong main force based in Tibet to partake of contingent hostilities on the LAC. Without this predicate, plans cannot be made for resisting the operational punch of such PLA deployment. In the circumstances, Narasimhan’s comment that “It is not required to predict the numbers…. if there is a build-up from Chinese side, there will be an equal build-up from our side” is less than reassuring.

In the event, is it the army’s contention that it will be able to summon a Tibet-based PLA sized force if and when it is needed? If so, then unbeknownst to many of us we, the armed services included, are inhabiting cloud cuckoo land where military prowess can be conjured out of thin air, the country is ‘atm nirbhar’, and there’s nothing the country needs to do save await the multi-trillion dollar economic great power status round the corner. Alas, in the real world, the severely depleted War Stock of ammo, artillery shells, and chemical explosives means the movement of guns and longrange artillery to the Ladakh frontlines is of little avail. A down-to-earth assessment would question the Indian army’s ability to survive 6-7 days hostilities against the PLA conducted at full tilt, even if restricted to the LAC.

The still grander malady lurks elsewhere. Here I can do no better than revert to my pet theme of two-odd decades that the army, because it disproportionately stresses the minor Pakistan threat, has lacked the resources to invest in comprehensive capabilities to fight China defensively on the LAC and, even less, offensively across it, leave alone take on China and Pakistan in a two-front war — an unwarranted boast the Indian military brass routinely make. It was a case last iterated in my India Today column of January 26 this year [Refer https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20200203-two-front-war-a-convenient-fiction-1639507-2020-01-24; it was posted on this blog].

As detailed in my earlier writings and at length in a chapter in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), there is a practical solution, the only one, staring the country in the face, short of the Modi sarkar committing 3%-4% of GDP every year for the next 15-20 years for the purpose of achieving an all-aspect force for the China front that is as large as it is sophisticated, and matches up with the PLA on all counts. Such gigantic fund sequestration being unlikely, my solution is unavoidable. It requires the implementation of far reaching measures — the army reverting to 5-7 year colour service for jawans and in lieu of pensions a one-time grant to demobilized jawans (to slice the pensions/payroll expenditure by half or thereabouts), majorly derating the Pakistan threat, rationalizing the three strike corps into a single composite corps, and diverting the freed up manpower and relevant war materiel to raising two additional offensive mountain corps equipped with light (30-35 ton) tanks, for a total of three such corps each with, among other things, integral air assault/air cavalry units for taking the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan plateau.

These and other recommendations were featured in the classified report I authored, as adviser, defence expenditure, and which report was ceremonially submitted along with the main documents by KC Pant, chairman, 10th Finance Commission, to the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, and hence to the (Narasimha Rao) government, exactly 25 years ago. That report, relegated to a back shelf in some office in the Ministry of Defence, must by now have collected a heap of dust.

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A Cowering Response To China’s Provocations May Lose India More Territory

Pangong Tso, in eastern Ladakh, on the border with Tibet. (Photograph: Government of India)

[Pangong Tso]

It is not hard to see why China decided at this time to pick at the scab of disputed border with India by starting ruckuses along the length of it at Daulat Beg Oldi, Galwan Valley, the Pangong Lake, Bararahoti, and Naku La in Sikkim. Xi Jinping and his ruling cohort find their pretense to Asian hegemony challenged in their own backyard. Developments in Taiwan and Hong Kong have shred China’s “one country, two systems” policy. President Tsai Ing-Wen, elected to a second term, has made it clear that Taiwan is separate from China and sovereign. The people of Hong Kong, with less latitude, are fearlessly resisting rule by Beijing’s puppets.

     Elsewhere, the United States is embarked on a Cold War that is halting China’s economic gravy train. By pouring advanced weaponry into Taiwan America is making the difficult task of invading that garrison-state People’s Liberation Army (PLA) generals dream about, unthinkable. Japan is waving China off the Senkaku Islands, and the freedom of navigation patrols by several extra-territorial navies in the South China Sea and assertive actions by littoral states are making nonsense of China’s “nine dash line” claims.

That leaves the big, cowering, India an easy target for Beijing to coerce to show other Asian countries who is boss.

What is unusual about the latest Chinese provocations are the medieval arms the PLA wielded in the encounter in the Pangong Tso area of eastern Ladakh. An Indian army colonel and a major accompanying a small patrolling unit were grievously injured early May by Chinese troops swinging solid wooden batons with protruding nails! Perhaps, it is time Indian soldiers are armed, other than the standard infantry weapon, with hefty wooden clubs with embedded steel spikes for free use at close quarters against PLA soldiers.

The still greater surprise was the nonresponse of the Indian army and government. The spokesman of the army’s Eastern Command, almost condoned Chinese provocations saying “Temporary and short-duration face-offs between border-guarding troops do occur as boundaries are not resolved.” The Ministry of External Affairs, equally conciliatory, conceded PLA had disturbed India’s “normal patrolling patterns” in Ladakh, but referred to the “established mechanisms to resolve such situations peacefully through dialogue.”

It is as if the clubbing of senior Indian officers is normal and the Chinese are amenable to quiet persuasion. No hint here of what this portends for the armed monitoring of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) or of the potential for such designed eruptions to escalate into war.

Such anodyne statements, moreover, do three things. They demoralize the frontline troops, hide from the public the seriousness of India’s deteriorating military situation vis a vis China, and by reflecting the acute timidity characteristic of the Indian government and army leadership when confronting China, encourage Beijing to be even more obstreperous. Aggregated, such reactions only reinforce Beijing’s contempt for India and convince it to push India around some more.

Rajnath Singh interacts with Army Chief General MM Naravane, in Delhi, on Feb. 21, 2020. (Photograph: PTI)

[ Defence Minister Rajnath Singh with General MM Naravane]

The latest events on the LAC may have shaken Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s confidence in his policy of rapprochement with China that pivots overmuch on his personal relations with the Chinese President Xi Jinping. Otherwise the apex meeting of the principals called by Modi on May 26  would not have so quickly followed the May 23 briefing of defence minister Rajnath Singh by the army chief General MM Naravane who bore ill-tidings from his Ladakh trip, with national security adviser Ajit Doval and chief of the defence staff General Bipin Rawat in attendance.

Obviously, the situation is grim and getting worse. While the decision by the PM forcefully to oppose the Chinese changing the status quo on the LAC and especially in the sensitive Daulat Beg Oldi sector is reassuring, it fails to address the central problem of sustained piecemeal territorial aggrandizement by China.

Just how much territory has been lost is revealing.  Punchok Stobdan, a native Ladakhi and former ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, refers to a 2013 report by Shyam Saran, former foreign secretary (2004-2006) that indicated China had until then annexed 640 sq km of Indian territory deploying  “area denial” measures that, in effect, changed the alignment of LAC on the ground. It is an activity, incidentally, that has proceeded unmolested by Indian forces. With China creating new status quos and Delhi accepting them there’s every incentive for Beijing to persist with this “no cost” policy.

Invariably there’s strategic intent behind Chinese moves.

Regarding the Chinese claim of 80 sq kms in the Chumur region containing the Tible Mane (stupa) holy to Tibetans, for instance, Stobdan points out that its control is “critical” for the safety of the Leh-Manali road. And, in an extended geographic context, why the PLA is “desperate” to grab the Lukung Lake area to stage operations from to cut off Indian access to the Chip Chap plains, the Aksai Chin in the east and the Shayok Valley to the north, and how this will create a new LAC bracketed by the Indus and Shayok rivers. Gaining control thus of the southern side of the Karakoram range China, he explains, can then reach the Siachen Glacier from Depsang and cover “the Tashkurgan junction from where the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) crosses into Gilgit-Baltistan”. It will weaken India’s proximity to, and leverage over, CPEC, the Indian military’s hold on Siachen and, according to Stobdan, permit the diversion of the waters of the Shayok, Galwan and Chang-Chenmo rivers to Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin.

Army Chief General MM Naravane meets jawans during his visit to the base camp in Siachen, on Jan. 9, 2020. (Photograph: PTI)

[Army Chief General MM Naravane in Ladakh]

China’s “occupy, build-up, intimidate, occupy some more, build-up”-policy begun in the early 1950s and proceeding apace has hollowed out India’s paper claims. More brazenly, Beijing is justifying PLA actions on the basis that India is constructing roads, bridges and airfields on its side! If the Modi government fails to implement a policy of absolute reciprocal actions, such as filling vacant spaces beyond Indian claim-lines with  armed encampments, allowing the Indian army to blow-up offending Chinese infrastructure and, by way of retribution, ambushing passing PLA troops, and relies only on endless and futile negotiations, then India should be prepared for a map thoroughly changed by  China.   


Published in my ‘Realpolitik’ column in BloombergQuint.com, May 28, 2020, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/india-china-tensions-cowering-response-to-chinas-provocations-may-lose-india-more-territory

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Why China is doing what it is doing and Delhi is doing little

[An Indian soldier stopping a PLA soldier — a mobile pic hurriedly snapped]

The Press reported that on Saturday May 23 the Army Chief, MM Naravane, briefed Defence Minister Rajnath Singh about the state of affairs in the Ladakh sector of the Line of Actual Control he visited in the days previous. That the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat attended this briefing suggests the situation is more worrisome than the army has let on.

Indeed in a short interview carried by Indian Express May 14, (https://indianexpress.com/article/india/army-chief-mm-naravane-downplays-india-china-border-skirmishes-in-ladakh-and-sikkim/) Naravane was complacent, pooh-poohing the violently intrusive tack the PLA has taken in asserting China’s territorial rights to the detriment of India’s claims. “All such incidents are managed by established mechanisms where-in local formations from both sides resolve issues mutually as per established protocols and strategic guidelines given by the PM after the Wuhan and Mallaparam summits,” he averred. He clarified, helpfully, that such confrontations arise due to the unresolved “differing perceptions of the alignment of boundaries”. To tamp down on speculation regarding the potential for such incidents to snowball into active hostilities, he added that the Chinese aggression in the Pangong Lake region of eastern Ladakh and on the Sikkim border in the Naku La section (on May 5-6) are not “co-related nor do they have any connection with other global or local activities”. In other words, that these were one-off incidences with no connecting policy skin and that the Indian media would do well not to play them up.

However, on May 13 newspapers had reported serious injuries to a Colonel and a Major in the Pangong Tso environs because they were clubbed by the intruding Chinese troops with a new version of a medieval weapon — nail-studded wooden batons — that were being swung freely and with intention to do harm. In short, it was not latest in the series of mildly frictive pushing and shoving matches (as at Dok La in 2017) that have to-date typified Sino-Indian border interactions.

Apparently, General Naravane and the Modi government do not consider the use against senior Indian field officers of long nail-studded wooden clubs by Chinese troops an escalation nor perceive such incidents to be other than of little account because their public statements seem to be drafted by the worst of the panda-huggers in the Ministry of External Affairs. The best possible spin on this is that Army HQrs have imbibed a bit too much of the Wuhan and Mallapuram spirits brewed up by Modi than is good for India’s security, thereby indicating that they cannot be relied upon to call a spade a shovel where China and LAC are concerned, let alone to respond heftily in kind. Not for the forward deployed Indian units then the retaliatory joys of cracking open a few senior Chinese officers’ heads with a policy of ambush and hammer.

A weak-kneed Indian government has long been suspected as infecting the Indian military with its preference for shambolic gestures instead. So, two Su-30s were dispatched from the Leh air base to patrol the skies around the Pangong Lake located at 5,000 metre altitude to do what good is anyone’s guess. Because a Sino-Indian agreement to peacefully manage the LAC bars combat aircraft from flying within 10 kms of it. If an aerial gesture had to be made, why did the PMO (which has to clear any and every proactive measure or meaningful action and reaction on the 3,800 km-long China border) not deploy an armed helicopter or two for low-level flying the PLA troops could see to deter them from physically belabouring Indian soldiers in the cruel manner they did? Helicopters are permitted by the same accord to fly within one kilometre of LAC. In any case, the minimum response to such PLA atrocities should have seen Naravane decree that, along with normal infantry weapons, every Indian soldier be armed with a heavily weighted baseball-type bat with sharp protruding metal spikes he can pull out and smash PLA troopers’ faces with with at the first hint of trouble at close quarters. This, of course, hasn’t happened.

Indeed, Indian army brass have taken great care to mention that these border ruckuses also involve Indian troops, thereby in effect equating Indian soldiers guarding the peace on LAC and the Chinese troops disrupting it, perhaps, because they expect the Indian jawans to stand still while getting whacked in their faces. In fact, the over-conciliatory tone adopted by Naravane with subdued action in train may now be the military’s norm. This even when PLA troops seem at liberty, when not wielding their 5.8 mm QBZ-95 assault rifle, to clobber Indian soldiers with metal spiked clubs. The Indian political and military leadership alike take comfort, ironically, from the short duration of these faceoffs, little realizing that such PLA actions can, when not meant to intimidate, instantly lead to unanticipated but planned follow-up actions. Absent the sort of dense military use infrastructure buildup on the Chinese side of LAC and beyond into Indian territory, the Indian forces, will find such moves hard to resist.

Ponder, for the nonce, the PLA’s modus operandi. The Pangong Lake terrain features 8 hilly features, referred to as “fingers”. The western side of the lakefront is claimed by India, with Delhi stating that the LAC, running alongside these fingers, “co-terminates” with Finger 8. China, on the other hand, asserts its rights to almost all of the lake barring the 45 km lakefront held by India. By Delhi’s reckoning, Finger 2 lies wholly within Indian territory, except PLA built a 5 km motorable road in this area in 1998 when the Indian army was busy evicting the Pakistan army’s Northern Light Infantry from its redoubts in the Kargil heights, and which road the Chinese have patrolled with light vehicles ever since. There’s similar construction, for instance, in the Finger 4 area. In other words, even as China has constructed such roads, the Indian army and government contend that no such infrastructure has come up! The better, presumably, to deny that any violation of the LAC has taken place at all!

Does this not mean that anytime the PLA aggressively stakes its interest in a piece of contested territory, Indian army and government all but readily concede it? So, the likely future is for a slow territorial aggrandizement by China — an exercise in which the Indian army and government are and will, in equal parts, be complicit and for which they are culpable.

That leads us to the issue of why it is that Beijing decided to stir up trouble in the first place along the entire LAC, including the Central Sector, with armed interventions even in and around Barahoti, which until now was considered “settled” border, meaning about which neither side had any problems? There are two sets of reasons — one military-political, the other internal.

“It has come to our attention that some political forces in the US are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new Cold War,” declared Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last evening at a press conference in Beijing. The possibility of a Cold War of the kind that brought down the Soviet Union in the early-’90s and which the Xi Jinping regime believes Trump’s America can unleash, is very much on Zhongnanhai’s mind. The vilification campaign against China as the locus genesis of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the closing off of America to Chinese travelers and most exports, and the sanctioning of Chinese high-tech companies (Huawei, et al) is perceived by Trump as only the opening shot in this war. The undertaking by the World Health Organization to examine the coronavirus spread and to assign responsibility for it, will provide Washington with the ammunition to begin orchestrating a much wider, more telling, international political criticism and effort to quarantine and globally sideline China by cutting off its revenue stream, market access, and strategic reach.

In just the first two months of 2020 China’s exports, according to the South China Morning Post, dropped by 17.2% with that country for the first time since 2009 experiencing a trade deficit of US$7.09 billion, compared to the surplus of US$41.45 billion over the same period last year. This could be a prelude to a plummeting of the Chinese economy, a process that could accelerate should Beijing reject the demands by disparate countries of sub-Saharan Africa and even states like Pakistan to write off infrastructure projects-related debt totaling hundreds of billions of dollars that have have so far been racked up. In that case China stands to lose both goodwill and markets and still be saddled with unserviced debt that Beijing can do nothing about short of wiping it off its slate at heavy cost to itself.

Along with a downward spiraling economy, there’s the military angle. The US Navy has increased its freedom of navigation patrols through the waters of the South China Sea at a time when Vietnam and Malaysia at the two ends of the Southeast Asian littoral, far from backing down, are actively protecting their maritime assets and brown water and blue water territories. And as if to worsen the situation from the optics as well as the substantive ends, Taiwan has resoundingly re-elected Tsai Ing-Wen to, in effect, sound a death knell for the “one country, two systems” conceit Beijing has nursed all these years. “We hope that this election result”, said President Tsai, “can give the Chinese government an accurate message: the Taiwanese people reject ‘one country two systems’. We value our democratic lifestyle, and we defend our sovereignty.” Complicating the situation some more for China, Tsai has promised help to Hong Kong. Taiwan will, she said in a Facebook post, “even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong’s people with necessary assistance”. In the last four months, there has been a 150% increase in immigrants to Taiwan from Hong Kong.

The murmurings inside PLA circles about forcefully stopping the Independent Taiwan wagon in its tracks, now that it might pick up speed, by invading that fortified island-nation is mired in serious doubts about whether the Chinese military, despite the out-sized growth in its capabilities, can pull it off. Worse, the relative pimple of a problem — Hong Kong, is proving nettlesome; its people long used to democratic rights and freedoms are resisting Beijing’s attempts at curbing them. It prompted Beijing to simply end that erstwhile British colony’s status as an entity separate from China — no pretense here about two systems, etc. The President for life, Xi Jinping, suddenly finds his dilemma to be like the proverbial frog’s in the warming bowl of water — unable to jump out because China still benefits all round from propping up the current international system, but facing far too many challenges to do nothing.

With the welcoming world order China exploited since Dengxiaoping’s time in the late 1970s collapsing around it, and Taipei and the Hong Kong people throwing down the gauntlet, Xi no doubt feels uneasy and, therefore, senses he has to do something. More so because internally there are sections within his support base in the PLA and the Communist Party which are inclined to blame Xi, in the instance of Taiwan and Hong Kong, for doing nothing and doing something a little late respectively, and on the other hand, for needlessly goading America into action by disregarding Deng’s aphorism about “hiding your strength, biding your time” by openly flexing China’s military and technological muscles guaranteed, even without an impulsively bellicose Trump in the White House, to get the US all riled up and ready to get at China’s throat.

So, PLA felt compelled to let off steam safely and a calculating Beijing to allow it, but against whom? Hong Kong is in the bag — small change, Taiwan cannot be invaded, Japan cannot be run out of the Senkaku Islands, Russia cannot be pushed around, Vietnam cannot be browbeaten, and taking on the US is surely to end China’s dream run. That leaves the usual target — the weak-willed, strategically dim-witted, India to pick on. But this too is a balancing act. Beijing has to calibrate the hostilities in a way so as to not precipitate a war and lose a huge market that grows more precious by the loss of markets elsewhere, but nevertheless to show up a big India and America’s friend as a country without a fight in it, and to hold out this non-confrontation as an episode for other Asian states watching the show to learn from.

In the circumstances, what should a self-respecting India do, assuming such an avatar emerges by magic?

Well, Delhi can follow what I have been advocating over the last 20-odd years. In no particular order (1) ask Beijing to shut the f…k up on Kashmir, and take to wagging an admonishing finger at Beijing on every forum now that it has tethered the freedom loving Hong Kongese to the Chinese Communist totalitarian yoke; (2) publicly initiate negotiations with Taipei to upgrade the extant trade and consular relations into a full fledged diplomatic relationship with the sovereign state of Taiwan, and use Taiwan’s manifest superiority in high-technology to upgrade India’s manufacturing base, and industrial and military wherewithal — a perfect riposte to Beijing’s recently raking up the Sikkim status issue; the “virtual participation” in President Tsai’s investiture ceremony by BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan ought to be a precursor event; (3) officially bury China’s spurious “one country, two systems” policy by withdrawing support for it with respect to Taiwan, Hong Kong and also Tibet, the last on the legally sound basis, I have long advocated, of Tibet not being genuinely “autonomous” in any way and hence no part of China as Delhi had originally recognized it, thereafter India should spearhead a worldwide “free Tibet” Movement; (4) openly support the Uyghur cause and use the OIC to mobilize the Islamic opposition to China’s systematic denigration of the native Muslims there and for turning Xinjiang into a vast prison camp for the natives; (5) cutoff imports of all goods from China, and having done that negotiate small incremental increases in access to the Indian market in return for strict reciprocity in trade and commerce combined with a heavily punitive regime to prevent small and big time traders within India from transacting any goods from China, and the formalization of LAC as formal border; (6) as current chairman presiding over WHO, use the underway scrutiny of China on the Covid-19 issue to skewer China and pillory it as an opaque and irresponsible state not worthy of respect from the international community; (7) for God’s sake, use the precedent of China’s secretly transferring nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan to pay back Beijing in the same coin, even if 40 years too late, by onpassing the very same technologies, or better still, the nuclear warheaded Brahmos cruise missile, to any state on China’s periphery desiring the ultimate means of militarily keeping Beijing quiet. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, are you listening?!, and (8) by way of meta-strategic arrangements, minimize China’s global salience by weaponizing BRICS by excising China from it and getting Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa (BRIS) into a loose and informal security coalition; and to complement it by sewing up a similar coalition to India’s east — the ‘Mod Quad’ — the Quadrilateral of India, Japan, Australia, and a group of rich and capable Southeast Asian countries minus the unreliable United States. It is an organic security scheme that will permanently box in China politically, militarily and economically with a marginal, extra-territorial, role for the US should it want one.

What India will actually do owing to a long habit of slavish thinking and a self-abnegatory mindset is this: It will continue doing what it is doing — trying simultaneously to curry favour with both Beijing and Washington — a high theme of the late K. Subrahmanyam’s supposedly superlative thinking Modi subscribes to and is now bureaucratically furthered by his son, S. Jaishankar as MEA minister. It is a policy previous governments, for reasons that are incomprehensible, have been entranced by and which Modi feels will serve him as well. But he does not see, as Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh did not in their time at the helm, about what will, in fact, transpire. In attempting to be too clever by half, India will end up getting sucker-punched by both. But to be laid low thus requires India to be a sucker, and that is what India has time and again proven to be. And a sucker, as WC Fields reminded us, never gets an even break.

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Uncertain outcomes from Sitharaman’s latest Defence industrial reform announcements

Broadsword: DRDO looks beyond HAL for Tejas production

[Tejas assembly line]

The announcement by Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman that there would be a “ban” on imports of armaments was music to my ears and meant that something I have long been advocating had finally come to pass. This was so until she qualified her remark by adding that the Defence Ministry would produce a negative list of weapons systems whose imports are barred and that there’d be deadlines for each of these items from when this ban will come into effect. So an escape hatch has been left open for the armed services to continue sourcing their high-value hardware/software requirements and keeping them out of this list. Should the Services fail to convince the defence ministry on this, they will no doubt endeavour to extend the deadlines so that most of the arms import transactions in the pipeline come in under the wire.

The point is not that reasons cannot be adduced for this or that military product to not be on this list. But rather that such a course of action will be used by the armed services habituated to “buying foreign” to persist with this habit. As a result, even a modicum of self-sufficiency will be hard to achieve. Because it is certain the Services HQrs will fight tooth and nail to ensure that their main weapons platforms — main battle tanks, combat aircraft, diesel submarines, helicopters and ballistic missile defence systems and the like, inclusive of their associated electronics, and systems and sub-systems, remain outside the negative list. It could, in effect, leave the country still forking out enormous amounts of hard currency to foreign suppliers even as the process to make India self-reliant stays unachieved.

One can only fervently hope that the Modi government will be rude and ruthless in first enlarging the list of defence items that cannot anymore be bought from foreign vendors and, simultaneously, nullifying or at least drastically pruning the underway deals.

Given the capabilities especially in the private sector — navy’s Project 75i cannot, in the context of nuclear submarine building wherewithal in-country, be permitted to import other than the design and certain highly specialized technologies, such as mast optronics from competing submarine builders (Rubin Bureau of Russia or DCN of France or ThyssenKrupp Marine of Germany); there’s absolutely no need for importing self-propelled and towed artillery, or tanks when there’s the Arjun MBT to refine and design-wise down-scale to obtain a 30-ton light tank for Tibetan plateau use prospectively by the offensive mountain corps; and even less point to flying in foreign combat aircraft to fill the IAF’s MMRCA fleet when there are Tejas derivatives, such as the AMCA to fast forward. For sure, there’s need for foreign assistance in re-working the Kaveri jet engine and there’ll be no dearth of companies competing for India’s custom. But that doesn’t mean the country has to buy a combat aircraft with it. Which is to say that the procurement principle the defence ministry should follow is to buy the specific technology India is deficient in, not the whole damned weapons system package that gets us nothing and in the bargain loses us our purse!

Moreover, with the private sector leading the charge the country is primed to realize inside of 5-7 years Prime Minister Modi’s goal of ‘atm nirbharta’ in weaponry if he is serious about it. But this will require the Indian military and government, as I keep iterating, to trust in Indian talent and invest in Indian programmes to deliver the most sophisticated military goods.

The danger to attaining the above goal is in Sitharaman’s announcement of the other defence industry-related reform, namely, the raising of FDI limit to 74%. The expectation apparently is that foreign arms manufacturers allowed to set up shop freely and with no prior authorization, will jump at the opportunity. Not so fast, Speedy! There would be no problem and such ventures would be welcome if foreign defence companies set up their arms production plants here, and benefit from labour cost advantages, using India as a manufacturing hub mainly for exports. They may be induced to do that only if GOI also allows them guaranteed sales in India. This could lead to foreign vendors setting up factories to dump a whole bunch of obsolete or fast obsolescing weapons/platforms by assembling them here for the Indian armed services, thereby pushing off into the indefinite future the possibility of the Indian military becoming technologically in-date and consequential.

Thus, Lockheed, for instance, which has already tied up with Tata to produce in India the F-21 (the vintage F-16 by another numeric) will come in fast and try and seal a deal with the IAF. From the Washington end Trump can be relied on to do the pushing which our main man, Modi, is unlikely to resist, he being only too eager to please Trump at every turn. (Refer the PM’s expressing his gratitude yesterday to Trump for his promise to send, unbidden, some excess ventilators the US has no use for possibly because these Chinese-produced items have been found to be defective!)

But there are larger issues here that remained unaddressed by Sitharaman. 70% equity and controlling shares is all very well, but before foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers take up the offer, won’t they insist, as regards labour, on hire and fire practices prevailing in the West and elsewhere so they don’t ever get stuck with a low productivity workforce they can’t be rid off? And won’t these foreign firms also insist on ‘one window’ clearance for all permits, local level up, so they aren’t mired in red tape nor compelled to function at the sufferance of defence production babus as Indian companies are forced to do? And further, will the potential investors not demand that the land acquisition be simplified and facilitated which will need the centre and the state governments to be on the same page? The Finance Minister said nothing about any of these things. Result: There’ll be some uptick in foreign interest but no rush into India from foreign quarters, unless they too get the sort of consideration that Lockheed is banking on.

Revamping the land and labour laws, rules and regulations, is a prerequisite for the country becoming a workshop to the world. The Modi regime has done next to nothing in the last 6 years in these respects, other than floating the ‘Make in India’ rhetoric, but still wants India to become a manufacturing station servicing global needs. So much for building a house roof down!

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Russia, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 37 Comments

An “atm nirbhar” (self-sufficient) India, great! In armaments too, Mr Prime Minister? – Augmented

[Modi at the DefExpo 2020]

Whether by coincidence or design, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two most recent speeches — first on the National Panchayat Day and the second, the TV address yesterday which, incidentally, was the third one on the coronavirus crisis and the first in terms of promising a comprehensive economic package, had a common theme. It was self-reliance. “The global contagion has …taught us”, he said April 24, “a very important lesson; that we have to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. It has taught us that we should not look for solutions outside the country” and added that the fact that “we should not depend on others for fulfilling our needs is centuries old…”

Sure, he then veered off, as the occasion demanded, into suggesting that villages should become self-sufficient in their needs raising, in the process, the Luddite nightmare that Mahatma Gandhi — who had strange ideas and did even stranger things — had conjured up when he talked of India as a collection of “village republics”!!

In the address last evening there was considerable confusion — which is increasingly the hallmark of the PM’s public utterances. His khichdi speech mixed self-reliance with global welfare and with India making a place for itself in “the global supply chain” before turning 180 degrees and urging the strengthening of “the local supply chain” and the Indian people needing to trust and buy Indian products as a first step towards making them “global brands”. Modi concluded by saying that “Self-reliance leads to happiness, satisfaction and empowerment” and how “Our responsibility to make the 21st century, the century of India will be fulfilled by the pledge of self-reliant India.” He ended with an exhortation: “Now we have to move forward with a new resolve and determination. When ethics are filled with duty, the culmination of diligence, the capital of skills, then who can stop India from becoming self-reliant?”

Who, indeed? Unless it is the government itself.

Coroniavirus vaccine is fine. Supply-chain aspirations are good. It is a pity though Modi did not in his speeches once touch on the one sphere, that of armaments where India absolutely has to become self-reliant to maintain its sovereignty which has been sliced away over the last 60-odd years due to the military’s relentless hardware buys from abroad for which the politicians, bureaucrats, DPSUs and Ordnance factories and the armed services’ brass are almost equally to blame. It is a vicious circle any of the numerous PMs in power could have broken, but did not.

So, Indian politicians’ blathering on and on about self- reliance is a bit rich and counter-pointed most glaringly in the country’s almost total, abject and shameful dependence on foreign armaments. This last, moreover, is at the cost of indigenous effort, talent, and capability richly available if the government only looks for it outside the waste and corruption-ridden defence public sector units (DPSUs) and Ordnance factories. To put these latter wretched, money guzzling, government-owned defence ministry-run agencies, maintaining whose health at whatever cost is the defence production department’s sole remit, in-charge of the task to achieve arms self-sufficiency is to take the axe to national interest. It is to put a partially blind man at the steering wheel of a bus and expect he will take us to the destination, when the surprise will be if India gets to the gate without mishap.

After almost surrendering the telecommunications future to the PLA outfit, Huawei, and China, the government, prompted by organizations such as SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator), is finally permitting Indian private sector high-tech achievers to enter the field of 5G and potentially even 6G systems. SITARA is headed by an unusual former Indian diplomat, Smita Pushottam; unusual because the Indian Foreign Service usually breeds foreign arms lovers. Similar telecom sector type thrust will have to be given by the Modi regime in defence, aerospace, and electronics sectors generally, lest national security continue to be willfully compromised. There is more than critical mass of Indian companies with skills and competences in these fields to free the country from the “commissions and considerations in kind”- racket within the portals of government that lubricates the present procurement system.

The danger though is that Modi, who is his own and only adviser, will decide to buy antiquated fighters (F-16-F-21) and such and compel Indian industry to produce this trash item just so his ‘Make in India’ programme is not seen as an out and out fiasco.

The only consolation is the treasury will be emptied out with 10% of the GDP or Rs 20 lakh crore ($260 billion) staked by Modi to revive a moribund economy, with industrial output down by 16.7% and sliding downwards, and an annual growth rate estimated at best to be no more than 1%-2% this year and at the worst decline to negative growth in this fiscal.

In the event, now may be the time, if he is really serious about self-reliance, for Modi to announce an end to all purchase of armaments, and aerospace systems and sub-systems, and high-value electronics components, as I have been advocating, and for his government to stop dilly-dallying [detailed in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)] and put up the money for establishing a high value microchip fabrication facility to drive the technology sector. It will mean, by way of a beginning, the long overdue dismantling of the extant procurement processes and systems in the defence ministry and the departments of Space and of Electronics.

We may do well to recall as a cautionary tale the country’s sorry condition in the electronics field being the result of the historic blunder committed by the late MGK Menon-led electronics commission in the 1970s, which advised the Indian government to concentrate on developing software capability while ignoring development in-country of computer hardware capability. It allowed companies like TCS, Infosys, et al to grow and prosper, of course, and all to the good, but did not help India become comprehensively independent in high-technology. Whence the awful state the country is in with Huawei and China lording over us in the telecom sphere, as does every half-way industrialized state supplying India where armaments are concerned.

In the defence arena the indigenous capabilities that produced the Tejas LCA, the nuclear-powered submarine, and the Arjun MBT as the principal technology programmes can be enabled to seed design-to-delivery projects for future advanced manned and unmanned combat aircraft, conventional diesel submarines, and various infantry combat vehicles, including a light tank derivative (for Tibetan plateau use) for the mountain corps, for instance. This is the time for Modi to take such disruptive measures and bring the armed services forcefully in line and ensure the success of his government’s “atm nirbharta” policy.

But, as I conclude in my latest book — ‘Staggering Forward’ Modi may not be the leader to take hard decisions to realize technological autonomy because, among other reasons, he is too besotted by the US and the West to not sustain the entrenched import culture inside the government which benefits them, his rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons | 42 Comments

Pakistan’s diplomatic counter-offensive

India has feasted diplomatically on Pakistan’s complicity in terrorist acts over the past two decades. There was a credible enough case made for the UN Financial Assistance Task Force (FATF) to put Pakistan on its sanctions’ ‘grey list’ owing to Islamabad’s well-known role in mobilising Islamist militants from West Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to replicate the Taliban success in Afghanistan in Jammu and Kashmir.

The troubles began for Pakistan with the 9/11 strike in 2001, propelling to the forefront terrorism and Islamic extremists as existential threats to int­ernational order. Islamabad’s use of jihadis began to draw censure and, in the wake of the 26/11 seaborne attack on Mumbai by Pakistan-based terrorists in 2008, sealed that country’s standing as a sponsor of terrorism, legitimating India’s ret­aliatory actions. For Pakistan, the political and economic costs began to outweigh the politico-military gains from using terrorism to wage asy­mmetric warfare. Once the pariah status took hold, foreign countries became wary of dealing with Pakistan, a Pakistani passport became a liability, foreign direct investment dried up, its economy plummeted, exacerbating, in the pro­cess, societal faultlines. Even the Gulf countries, hitherto staunch supporters, began to distance themselves.

This allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pitch India as a partner of choice for these sta­tes, consolidate its position as supplier of cheap labour and safe destination for Arab petro-dollar investment. The warming of ties also permitted these Arab states to leaven their autocratic rep­u­tation by associating with a democratic India. The muted response of the United Arab Emirates to the abrogation of Article 370 and Saudi Arabia’s agreeing with Delhi that it was an “internal matter” crowned India’s West Asia policy, handing PM Modi his only real foreign policy success.

And then the corona pandemic struck. For the first time, Islamabad saw a clear way to not only blunt India’s charge of fostering terrorism but to push Delhi on the back foot. This they did by conflating the actions of local authorities to corral attendees of the Tablighi Jamaat meet in Delhi as potential COVID-19 spreaders with three unconnected issues—alleged human rights abuses in J&K, ill treatment of Muslims under the BJP dispensations in Uttar Pradesh and other states, and the Citizenship Amendment Act, which triggered nationwide protests and was des­cribed by Islamabad as a “pogrom” against Muslims.

It was this storm of supposedly anti-Muslim measures that burst on the Indian government, something Islamabad gleefully capitalised on and Islamic countries could not ignore. Pakistan, in any case, was working since August last year to erode the support for India in the Islamic bloc. In February-end this year, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged India to end violence against Muslims, and Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan asked Delhi “to stop the massacre” of Muslims, a phrase repeated by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamanei, on March 5. Following the April 28 release of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) report recommending that the state department designate India as a country of ‘particular concern’, Kuwait condemned the “violence” against Indian Muslims, an emboldened Gulf Cooperation Council may follow suit, and Arab activists are using social media to excoriate the Indian government for fuelling “Islamophobia”.

India is in a pickle, its policy of equipoise between Sunni Gulf states as source of energy and remittances (worth $80 billion annually) and Shia Iran as pivot, and its plan for a south-north road and rail grid out of Chabahar port affording access to Afghanistan and Central Asia while helping the Indian Navy outflank its Chinese counterpart in Gwadar collapsing under the weight of the growing disillusionment of Islamic countries with India. This may also hurt Indian strategic interests in Southeast Asia, especially in Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia. With Al Qaeda and the Islamic State weakening and terrorism off centre-stage, international relations are returning to their old moorings where human rights matter. Which is why Pakistan now has “organised cruelties against Indian Muslims” to bludgeon India with every time Delhi cries “terrorism”. 

————-

This piece published as ‘Up Front’ column in India Today, issue dated May 18, 2020, at https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/up-front/story/20200518-pakistan-s-diplomatic-counter-offensive-1676132-2020-05-09


Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., West Asia | 27 Comments

Embraer available, will India grab it? Nah!

Embraer ERJ-145 series - program supplier guide

[ERJ-145 — one of Embraer Company’s bestselling medium haul passenger aircraft]

Twitter has been justifiably agog with the news of Dr RK Tyagi, former Chairman, HAL, writing to minister for civil aviation Hardip Puri, urging him quickly to get the Indian government to bid for control of the Embraer Company of Brazil for as little as $5 billion, Boeing having withdrawn from its 80% stake in it worth $4.2 billion. This Brazilian firm specializes, among other things, in producing various bestselling passenger aircraft (such as 30-110 passenger carrying E2 and ERJ-145 series of single engine, single aisle, transporters) which can also converted to maritime reconnaissance, aerial early warning, cargo, and VVIP flight missions. In fact there are already a number of these aircraft flying in India. Just to provide perspective: India has failed to manufacture any such plane despite a number of underway projects over the past 30 years to design and produce them. Acquiring Embraer will thus vault India into the front ranks of aircraft producers.

In his letter dated 27th April 2020 to Puri, Tyagi mentions that the projected demand by 2035 in India for these types of aircraft is between 350 to 500. So it makes ample economic sense to grab Embraer at this time, and act fast to do so before “other other players, potentially China, enter the scene and pitch for the Embraer stake”. He adds that “Apart from the possibility for phased manufacturing in India, there is also the potential to attract OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) of aircraft engines, wheels and braking and landing gears, avionics, etc to set up MRO (Maintenance and Repair Organizations)/manufacturing in India since the scale and size of the business are potentially sustainable. It will also add to indigenous design and engineering skills.”

Tyagi recommends that (1) “the extant opportunity be [expeditiously] seized”, (2) “An interim Expression of Interest” be “communicated to the Government of Brazil to bid time”, and (3) “India actively considers acquiring a 51% stake into Embraer either through a SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle) created by equity participation by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited acting alone or in partnership with the private sector.” Private sector participation by such Indian firms as L&T and/or Mahindra, or Godrej Aerospace makes ample sense in terms of spreading the risk and distributing the benefits, such as transfer of technology and skills, of this acquisition. Indeed, Indian twitterites have been besides themselves enumerating the immense possibilities of such a deal. Such as producing the Tejas LCA in Embraer production facilities to sell in the promising Latin American market.

In case, his acquisition idea finds favour with the Modi government, Tyagi suggests constituting “a small team of policy/industry experts”, and ends his letter with a warning: “This may be once in a lifetime opportunity for us” and hence, by implication, not to be missed. It is copied to defence minister Rajnath Singh, PK Mishra, principal private secretary to the PM, and Amitabh Kant, ceo, Niti Ayog.

What are the chances this proposal for securing controlling shares in Embraer will be entertained by the Modi government, and these four notables — Messrs Puri, Singh, Mishra and Kant will succeed in speedily getting the Prime Minister’s and, more important, Finance Ministry’s approval and release of the necessary funds, and that in the meantime MEA is tasked to discuss the topic to the Bolsonaro government in Brazil and prepare the politico-economic ground for such Indian investment, and to seek his help in keeping out other potential bidders, especially China? President Jair Bolsonaro, after all, was wined, dined and feted as the chief guest at the Republic Day parade this year and will have warm memories of his Delhi sojourn and, if properly approached, would be receptive.

One wishes though that the Modi regime had by now articulated a strategic vision such as the one proposed in my ‘Staggering Forward’ book of a smaller geostrategic grouping of BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa) derived from the purely trade and economically oriented BRICS. An Indian majority stake in Embraer would fit nicely in a BRIS schemata. Any which way, this deal justified by the Indian government, the right touch may be provided by Modi broaching this topic directly and personally to Bolsonaro in a phone call, leaving their respective government functionaries to work out the details.

So what’s the proverbial fly in the ointment? Well, Puri, a former diplomat, Mishra and Kant are all civil servants used to working in a certain leisurely bureaucratic style and pondering procedural hurdles at length, rather than getting on with it and showing some urgency in cutting through the red tape. The mind boggles at the potential of this transaction and how Embraer in the Indian fold would turbocharge Modi’s so far idling ‘Make in India’ policy and programme, generate huge employment, and keep the immense Indian wealth that has to-date been frittered away in arms imports, within the country.

Is all this enough for these durbans (gatekeepers) to Modi to get their political master to act without losing time? And if adequately briefed, will Modi have the foresight to pilot the Embraer company acquisition through the bureaucratic thicket that is the Government of India? Time will soon tell or, as is more likely, when newspapers report that China has already grabbed Embraer even as Delhi is still at the starting gate mulling over the matter!

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Latin America, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, Weapons | 31 Comments

From the source of wonky ideas, another one!

[Trump and Angela Merkl in smooch mode; Modi looks on]

With every passing oped of his, it becomes more difficult to take Ram Madhav, General Secretary of the ruling BJP and sometime RSS pracharak, seriously. The upside, however, is these pieces provide no end of amusement. One can see just how desperate Madhav is to impress Narendra Modi with his flattery and supposed profundity (as reflected in quotes from here and there). His articles are a baffling mix of disjointedness and incoherence, spiked with random mentions of people, bits of history, and recent developments. Taken together they make no sense. For instance, his latest — “India can collaborate with the US and Germany to mould a new world order” [https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/coronavirus-global-lockdown-exit-strategy-ram-madhav-6385391/].

In this piece may be found references to Trump, Modi’s “democratic activism” — whatever that is (because there is no explanation), coronavirus, Niall Ferguson, Hitler, nationalism, ultra-nationalism, World War Two, Mao, Dengxiaoping, China, modern day Germany, and God knows what else, arrayed almost in bullet-points with no connecting tissue and constituting a melange that does not support his conclusion, which is that “In the unfolding new world order, India, along with countries like America and Germany, can play a pivotal role in building a world based on ‘human-centric development cooperation’ as suggested by Modi. It is time for a new Atlantic Charter: Environment, healthcare, technology and democratic liberalism can be its foundations.”

For a geopolitical grouping to amount to much, it has to be underpinned by geographic logic and power balancing imperatives. Consider any strategy or alliance for tactical or strategic reasons, for short-term gain or for the long haul, and one discovers two factors at work — geographic considerations and the desire to balance power against the dominant or would-be dominant state. Both these factors aligning is when a coalition or geopolitical strategy achieves success. 16th Century onwards, Britain practiced its ‘continental strategy’ of preventing any single continental power from attaining dominance. In pursuit of this strategy, Britain enforced a naval blockade of Napoleonic France in 1804, responding to which Napoleon enforced a ban in 1806 on European powers trading with Britain. Otto von Bismarck, who forcibly amalgamated the Germanic states in Central Europe into a single powerful entity, created an alliance system crowned by the 1882 ‘Triple Alliance’ featuring Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Italy to isolate chief rival, France. Imperial Russia, France, and Britain building on the 1894 Franco-Russian accord forged the 1904 ‘Triple Entente’ to hem in an ambitious Germany. Britain and Japan turned treaty allies in the first 2 decades of the 20th Century ostensibly to fight off Imperial Russia in Asia but in actuality to protect their colonial interests in China and Korea. In the throes of revolution, Russia signed the 1918 Brest-Litovsk Treaty with the German-led bloc of Central European powers to stabilize its borders. Some 20 years later, in August 1939, a month before the onset of the Second World war, Germany and Soviet Russia signed the Ribbentrop-Molotov accord to carve up Poland. Post-1945, the so-called “Atlantic Charter” (that Madhav bungs in for no good reason in his piece) resulted in NATO, reacting to which the USSR formed the Warsaw Pact consolidating, in the process, the US and Soviet spheres of influence in Europe. To firm up Communist solidarity and the control of the bulk of the Eurasian landmass, the Soviet Union closed in with Mao’s China to present a solid front to the West generally, and to the US and its allies in the Pacific specifically.

By what geopolitical or geostrategic metric and in what conceivable way does a grouping in the present day of a receding America, a much reduced Central European state, Germany, with no great independent military capability to speak of, and India, a country that has over time relentlessly marginalized itself to a point where it does not even pull its weight in its own backyard, leave alone assert itself as the primary rimland power in Asia, in a position to shape the world order as envisaged by Madhav? There’s, moreover, obvious natural affinity of race, culture, religion, etc., between the US and Germany, an affinity in no way shared by either of these countries with India.

Just how much of an interloper India is in a US-European concert is depicted starkly in the pic above where Modi and, by extension, India stand forlornly, watching the American and German leaders whoop it up even though German Chancellor Angela Merkl can barely conceal her contempt for Trump and thinks the US an unreliable ally, and Trump has labelled Merkl’s policies “insane” and has threatened to withdraw military support for Germany. There is nevertheless much there in the long term, Trump notwithstanding, for a new Atlantic Charter. But how can India expect to muscle in on this US-European partnership, considering there’s almost no serious overlap in the strategic interests of the US and Germany on the one hand and India on the other hand, unless one counts as common interest a peaceful global security milieu and a liberal trade regime which everybody craves, including the arch-global disruptor of the current order, China?

So the question of these three states getting together to construct a new international system does not arise. Also because there’s the inconvenient fact of what it is the three countries bring to the table. The US comes in with unmatched military and economic power, Germany pitches in as the European economic behemoth able to swing the European Union behind it. In comparison, Modi and India can boast of little more than the former’s flatulent ‘vishwa guru’ conceit (that Madhav predictably waxes on). Delhi, with a failing Indian economy and constricted strategic vision and policies and, therefore, limited military clout, cannot even get its immediate neighbours to support it.

In the circumstances, pray, what can India contribute to ‘human-centric development cooperation’? The US and Germany, having achieved by their own effort high living standards, have excelled in human centric development; in comparison India has stumbled through 70-odd years of socialist development that Modi in his time in office has done nothing institutionally to correct, other than ring in cosmetic changes in the functioning of a still corrupt, inefficient, wasteful, and ineffective apparatus of government that persists from socialist times but produces very little governance. So, does Madhav’s “human-centric development cooperation” not seem like a plea for alms, an artful dressing up of the beggar’s bowl?

Wanting to capitalize on the imagery involving the PM, on Modi’s flying around hither and thither, visiting every country under the sun, and conferring with the high and mighty in international meets — the sort of activity the corona pandemic has shut down, Madhav conjures up, if only for the sake of op-eds, alliances out of thin air, fueled by nothing more, it’d appear, than passing whimsy! Damn good reason to deny him the role he apparently seeks for himself as some sort of intellectual vanguard, God forbid, for the PMO and the BJP government, unless Modi wants to further trivialize himself and India in the eyes of hardened professionals crafting foreign policies elsewhere in the world.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Northeast Asia, Russia, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Western militaries | 11 Comments

What the Indian military should be doing in COVID times

Raksha-Anirveda

[Indonesian Navy officers at the jetty in Surabaya to welcome INS Rana, Nov 2018]

Hard for one’s admiration for China’s single-minded drive to at all times advance its strategic interests come rain or shine or the corona virus, to not grow by leaps and bounds. Nothing diverts Beijing and the Chinese military in particular from flexing its muscle, asserting its rights and claims, and seeking to frighten the local opposition to get out of its way in a region it intends to dominate absolutely. Even as that country is fighting the COVID menace successfully — and why not? It created the corona bio-weapon, lost control over it, regained it, mounted an integrated scientific effort to tame it and will likely be the first to patent a vaccine and make oodles of money out of its sales worldwide — the PLA Navy did not forget its mission.

Two new “districts” were announced by Beijing a few days back to administer several rocky outcroppings that are being fashioned into man-made islands with dredged up sand, etc. in the disputed but appropriately named Mischief Reef area which Beijing claims in its entirety. Around the same time and a little to the west, a Chinese survey ship accompanied by an armed Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel contested a Malaysian ship drilling for valuable seabed minerals within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Simultaneously, a large Vietnamese boat fishing offshore was rammed by a CCG corvette. But, last week when three US warships (America with a F-35B complement onboard, missile cruiser Bunker Hill, and missile destroyer Barry) in an expeditionary task group (detached from the carrier task force headed by the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which lies anchored mid-Pacific in Guam owing to a coronavirus infected crew) turned up in the South China Sea in what is described as “security and stability operations”. And it exercised with an Australian warship (HMAS Parmatta), prompting Beijing sanctimoniously to urge the US and Australia to please “not disturb the peace” in the region! That’s chutzpah for you!

Beijing has turned such acts of brazen territorial annexation mixed with a wagging of fingers at out-of-area powers daring to register their presence, into high statecraft. These Chinese actions are carried out so smoothly and with an attitude of such utmost conviction and routine-ness, hardly any one notices they are irregular, illegal and contrary to international norms and leave the poor littoral states with nothing to do than protest in vain.

So the militaries of the countries that matter in the Indo-Pacific are not doing nothing, haven’t locked down themselves into inactivity. What about the Indian armed forces though, what are they up to?

The army, admirably, has done well in the anti-COVID-19 fight, putting up all manner of facilities for sequestering corona-infected people, making available its medical staff, etc. As the senior and the largest of the uniformed services, the army, however, has serious problems as regards its personnel. Training courses have been cancelled, the transfers of officers postponed, and to minimize the exposure to the C-virus annual leave-taking has been delayed. Officers nominated to attend the Staff College at Wellington and various higher command courses — stepping stones to promotion, etc. but unable now to do so will be hugely affected, their upward progress and the process suddenly disrupted. The Military Secretary in Army HQrs tasked with the career management of officers will, perhaps, for the first time in the army’s history earn his keep, as he struggles to come up with metrics for promotion that are fair and, importantly, are seen to be fair. The new scheme may end up inadvertently victimizing a few officers or even an entire cohort with the push from below, from the next year’s batch of officers in training courses and so on. This to say, the promotion ladder will become steeper still for these unfortunates.

Then there’s the other problem with the stand-still arrangement in place. Can officers, JCOs, NCOs and jawans in presently forward-based units be kept in place beyond the usual 2-year rotational stints, and can the lower ranks be denied home leave, and with what effect on their morale and the fighting quality of the unit? Further, the army will need to compulsorily isolate everyone returning to forward units from leave for 14-days. This will mean that at any given time all the forward units will be under-strength in terms of the personnel on leave and those held in the wards prior to re-induction and hence unable to serve on the frontline.

Nevertheless, to show it is no slouch at fingering Pakistan — the only and the easiest way it seems to get into the good books of the Narendra Modi government, the army has been busy keeping the western border live, or that’s what Pakistani newspapers report. No period has been as busy as the present, complains Pak army’s DG, ISPR (Inter-Services Public Relations) to its Press in terms of Indian artillery firings, small cross-LoC ops, sniper shootings, etc. The front with China, on the other hand, is ho-hum peaceable with all parties, including China and PLA having a stake in keeping things quiet on the LAC in the north and northeast. This last suits the Indian army well because it lacks the wherewithal, other than for defensive actions including, presumably, pushing-shoving matches a’la Dok La 2017. No chance here of cross-LAC artillery duels, snipers picking off targets of opportunity, and small team incursions to beat up on straying, unsuspecting PLA soldiers.

The Indian Air Force strives hard to offer no provocation to China. Even so there’s the occasional news report of an Indian MiG-29 or Su-30 going down with no clue as to why the fighter plane did so, or what happened. It is always possible with sorties out of Tezpur and other satellite fields launched to familiarize Indian pilots with the mountainous terrain and to get them to operate in some comfort that PLA rockets, guns, missiles slaved to surveillance, tracking and targeting radars have struck Indian combat aircraft. Not, mind you, that IAF has ever acted on this premise and suspicion and responded accordingly. All its vim and venom seems reserved for the western front.

The Indian Navy has reported several cases of corona-hit naval personnel. Social distancing and other measures while being practiced ashore are impractical in the confined spaces of surface combatants and, more so, submarines. COVID apart, the navy can’t lose sight of its operational tasks. At any given time, there is at least one flotilla sailing in the blue water. The trouble is most such short Indian naval deployments are off Aden and in the Gulf region generally, with the seas east of the Malacca, Lumbok and Sunda Straits, by comparison, being ignored even though it is there the navy can do the most strategic good. All the political rhetoric of meeting the Chinese threat head on, preferably collectively, and MILAN and bilateral exercises, such as the November 2018 Op Samudra Shakti with the Indonesian Navy off Surabaya notwithstanding, Indian flotillas showing flag in the South China Sea are a relative rarity. Sure, an exercise was conducted in May 2018 with Vietnam and, under a new cooperation scheme, another a year later in April 2019 in Cam Ranh Bay. But one hopes COVID isn’t the excuse for not having a third such exercise very soon this year.

Mutual unfamiliarity may require more time for preparation and planning of joint exercises. But this fact alone reveals that neither the Indian government nor the Indian Navy have acted with any sense of urgency in investing in close relations, besides the Vietnam and Singapore navies, with the Southeast Asian littoral navies, and linking up with them at the institutional level. In fact, the underway training programmes with Vietnam, such as joint exercises, training submarine crews and inducting the supersonic Brahmos cruise missiles, could be the template for intense naval cooperation with the other Southeast Asian states as well. These could be supplemented by the Malabar exercises (with US, Japanese navies) in the area and joint “sail throughs” in the South China Sea by warships from several countries. Indian, Japanese, American and Philippine ships did this in May 2019.

Brahmos, I have long argued, is the patented Chinese warship killer and the decisive weapon that uniquely will have a power multiplier effect for India when dispersed to friendly Southeast Asian countries in China’s backyard. Because then the entire South China Sea will be become hazardous for China’s most powerful South Sea Fleet as well as its so-called ‘secret’ fleet meant for the Indian Ocean, both headquartered in the Sanya naval base on Hainan Island. This requires the Indian government and naval brass to prioritize, as I have been pleading with the highest in the land for the last 25 years or so, to expeditiously equip all of the littoral and island nation navies with the Brahmos. Indeed, Brahmos-armed Indonesian, Philippine, Malaysian surface combatants and shore batteries along with their Vietnamese counterparts could, between them, compel the much touted Hainan-based fleets to stay locked up in Sanya and, in case they ventured into deeper waters, to carve ’em up.

The value of the Brahmos with Southeast Asian nations is a strategic prong Delhi for incomprehensible reasons has been unconscionably slow to appreciate. The other two prongs are megaton yield thermonuclear forces (discussed at length in my books) and the regularization of the Indian naval presence in the South China Sea with a flotilla formally and permanently deployed in-area with ships and crews rotated out of basing arrangements in Singapore, Cam Ranh Bay, Subic Bay (Philippines) and Sabang (Indonesia) as part of the new geostrategic grouping — the “Modified Quadrilateral” or “Mod Quad” of India, Japan, group of Southeast Asian states, and Australia that India should put together (detailed in my latest book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition). Having Indian warships on South China Sea station showing the flag 24/7 365 days, and sporting the fighting attitude that Admiral DK Joshi, when he was CNS, hinted at when he declared that any attempt by the Chinese Navy to do anything untoward will be met with force, will alone convince Beijing not to trifle with India.

Moreover, only with the above described three-pronged trishul in hand will India and Modi’s “Mamallapuram spirit” (ex-his summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in December 2019) acquire potency. The rest is so much gas that Delhi usually vents and is of little account.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, society, Special Forces, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 36 Comments

Ram Madhav makes a laughingstock of Modi and his foreign policy

Ram Madhav heckled at TANA meet
[Reading his master’s latest twitter message?]

Slow news week and month to-date (and months to follow?) are inescapable with the world under corona lock down conditions. There’s need for some laughs or at least diversion from what one’s doing — re-reading classics (Herman Kahn’s On Thermonuclear War) and watching television shows one didn’t find time for (6-part BBC series from the Nineties of John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with the incomparable Alec Guinness playing George Smiley, the counter-intelligence MI5 head ferreting out a longtime Russian spy in the British secret service). It means transiting from the sublime to the ridiculous. Let’s do so any way and deal with the latest instance of foreign policy-related tripping by Ram Madhav, RSS pracharak and General Secretary of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Like his earlier literary efforts, this too is unfailingly sophomoric.

In an op/ed published today (https://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/covid-19-and-the-contours-of-a-new-world-order-analysis/story-DUqursm0t8sunJl1gaBJmO.html), Madhav grandly pronounces the end of US’ current “America first” type of nationalism — and by extension the ‘India first’ kind of thinking that Prime Minister Narendra Modi once swore by, and the rise of a “more integrationist” “post-Covid-19” world. As evidence, he refers to America turning to China, India and South Korea for hydoxychloroquine and medical equipment (masks, ventilators, etc.). It is a simpletonish take on international developments that mistakes powerful countries making decisions to serve their national purpose of the moment, such as obtaining from abroad this or that item unavailable or in short supply at home, for a geopolitical trend. It certainly does not make for a growingly interdependent world for God’s sake! To top it, Madhav thinks that a country with a nationalist approach and looking to advance its national interests is also, ipso facto, “isolationist”! Really?

Undeterred by the prospect of seeming deranged and rendering the PM’s endeavours grandiose, he likens Modi facing the corona crisis, his so far failed attempts at rejuvenating the economy, and his over-modest initiative to involve other South Asian states in mustering a collective response to this disease to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s confronting the Great Depression of the 1930s, beating Hitler and, after the Second World War, building the international system anew! How such an Indian effort, even if eventually successful, that stumbled at the first (Kashmir) hurdle, can be equated with the US and Allies defeating the Axis powers and building post War “global institutions”, etc. may boggle the mind of some of us but does not faze Madhav any because he next calls on Modi “to don the Rooseveltian mantle and take the lead” in shaping a new post-covid order!

Madhav raises Modi’s sights still higher in the next paragraph, urging him to look farther back in history and reprise for, what he plainly believes is an expectant world, US President Woodrow Wilson’s role in the First World War and realize the ideals he voiced of “liberal internationalism, democracy, non-intervention, collective security and humanitarian cooperation” to which, he says, Modi “has shown his commitment”. If these were the Sixties one would be tempted, using the idiom of those days, to wonder “what it is that he [Madhav] is smoking!”

The fact is there are no common contextual factors from that era for Modi to work his new Wilsonian magic with. Further, Madhav may do well to heed the fate that befell Wilson’s pet project — the League of Nations, the precursor of the equally hapless United Nations of our day: It ended in a shambles, beginning with his own legislature (the US Congress) rejecting America’s membership in it, and even more Wilson’s guiding principle: “Open covenants openly arrived at”. Because, quite simply, that’s not how the international system of sovereign states worked then or works now, a 100 years later. Ethics and morality are distinguished mainly by their absence in practice, if not in rhetoric, and the meanest, narrowest, interpretation of the national interest is all that drives foreign policies.

Madhav’s oped suggests his reading is limited to newspapers and periodicals, that he picks up on names — Joseph Nye, Yuval Harari, and Parag Khanna — in intellectual fashion, and whom he quotes by way of inaptly constructing the case he does. But because he seems fascinated by it and lest he again draw any serious parallels, may be, he should bone up on the history of Wilsonian idealism at the core of which was protecting and advancing the US national interest.

By way of fundamentals, to believe that India and Modi today are in the same position as the US and Wilson were in 1919 and the Treaty of Versailles when the US became the predominant global power, or America and Roosevelt (and Harry Truman) were in 1945 when the US consolidated its numero uno status, is beyond silliness and to make a laughingstock of India and Modi. Feeding a leader’s ambition is one thing, fueling his megalomania is something else altogether. Modi, by all indications may get his ego regularly massaged by Madhav, foreign minister S. Jaishankar and their ilk. But the PM, one hopes, is more of a realist than he lets on, or these servitors around him, believe. But what if the latter have read Modi right?

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US. | 11 Comments

Next Corona steps: Modi’s options

[Delhi under lock down]

The 3-week country lock down Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced will have run its course by April 15. He is having a teleconference today with the chief ministers of all the states to decide on follow-up measures. The governments of Punjab and Odisha have already jumped the gun. Influenced by the experience of other countries and driven by a sense of abundant caution, Amarinder Singh and Naveen Patnaik have decreed that their states will continue to be locked down until the month end. This is a reasonable first step that the PM too will, in all likelihood, announce whenever next he addresses the nation. Especially because an ICMR study has concluded that India would have had some 8.2 lakh COVID-19 positive cases by April 15 had it not been for the nationwide lockdown. (Curiously, per a news report, the Health Ministry denies there is any such study!)

India is still in the early stage of the pandemic in most part because of the lack of diagnostic testing on an adequately large scale. Hence, a representative sample is not available with the government to build a contagion spread model on, to draw an India-specific COVID curve with, and otherwise to alight on a set of preventive actions to flatten it. India’s response to-date has been typically hybrid, taking a little from here, a bit from there, which is fine. But what are these other models?

South Korea has been the most successful and now touts the manner in which it has dealt with the COVID-19 crisis as its principal means of soft power. It mapped and tracked the movement of the disease through its human carriers, was absolutely transparent about its methods, persuaded its people to observe strict norms of personal and public conduct, activated wide-area surveillance, and speedily tested a very large number of people. What aspect of the South Korean model is beyond India’s ken? Why, the discipline of the people, of course! Unless there are police vans roaming around enforcing the curfew, as is the case in Delhi, warning people to stay indoors, or else, the success the country has so far had would be missing. But it also means a somewhat oppressive milieu and, willy-nilly, suspension of individual freedoms. This last is precisely what’s held against the Chinese model.

The authoritarian system in China simply closed off the danger areas, lopped off what little freedom the people enjoyed, and imposed a compulsory screening, identification, isolation and treatment system nation-wide. Even if the Indian government has no democratic qualms, it cannot emulate this model because it simply does not have the policing wherewithal or the harshly punitive but disciplined system of collective order, and zero capability of the kind China has routinized to track through a mobile apps the movement of almost all of its people remotely exposed to the virus. The British model first tried out and then quickly discarded was based on the Darwinian principle of letting the most susceptible and vulnerable, particularly the aged, to succumb to the virus and die in order to conserve resources to keep alive a younger demographic. This is grisly and for obvious reasons a non-starter. In Israel, borders have been closed to people from any country identified as with the virus. A variation of this is already current in India except, even after the lock down announcement, airlines flying in from all over disgorged passengers with a sieve-like testing regime manned by the predictably inefficient health staffers at airports. So the afflicted as well as the asymptomatic carriers were allowed to fan out all over the country to ensure the disease reached pandemic proportions.

What next? Because Modi seems to take his cues from America, this may be of interest. The reputable periodical ‘The Scientific American’ reported about a recent American Enterprise Institute (a think tank) study that offers a four-phase “road map to reopening.” The first phase involves, it says, “slowing the spread of new infections with physical distancing measures, such as closing schools and having people work from home. In the second step, individual states can reopen when they have the capacity to identify, test and isolate most people with COVID-19 and their close contacts—but some distancing will still be required. In the third, remaining restrictions can be lifted when an effective therapy or vaccine becomes available or when data show widespread immunity. The final stage, after the current pandemic is over, will be to invest heavily in research and health care to prepare for the next one.”

Using the metrics in this report, India is clearly in the first phase. It is also perfectly plain that the non-BJP-ruled states are marching to the beat of their own drum and, as in the case of Punjab and Odisha extending the lockdown, are ahead of the Central government. Apparently, what we are witnessing here is what’s happening in the US where the state and local governments are doing what they think is best for the people under their jurisdictions. Except in Washington a completely impulsive and wayward President, Donald Trump, is needlessly mucking up things with his ill-informed takes on the disease and its spread. Here a more deliberate Modi is advancing by small steps.

Considering that the state governments are closer to the ground reality which may differ hugely from state to state in this vast country, may be what Modi should do is leave it to the political dispensations in the states to decide how they want exactly to proceed in terms of timelines and programmatic details as long as generally a standardized protocol (that all agree on) for phased elimination of COVID-19 is followed.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Israel, Northeast Asia, SAARC, society, South Asia, United States, US. | 1 Comment

Modi once again under Trump’s gun, this time re: corona medicine

Trump's 'scandalous harangues' are an impeachable offense - The ...

[Trump: Do it!]

On April 4, Prime Minister Narendra Modi revealed on twitter that he “Had an extensive telephone conversation with President @realDonaldTrump. We had a good discussion, and agreed to deploy the full strength of the India-US partnership to fight COVID-19.” The PM apparently considers it a matter of great honour to be conferring with the American head of state on almost anything, and loses no time in letting this be publicly known. The reason Trump had called was to ask Modi to expeditiously release for export to the United States hydroxychloroquine that the Indian government may have stocked up on. In response, the PM reportedly told Trump that his government will consider his request but first examine the consequences of releasing this drug for sale to the US.

Trump is convinced this anti-malaria drug has a future as an anti-corona medicine. He has also to remedy a situation that may see his political goose being cooked because he had initially dismissed the C-virus as a scare conjured up by the Liberal establishment opposed to him. His medical advisers, however, are unanimous in warning that this chemical compound is unproven as solution for COVID-19, and that it is highly toxic when not used under strictest supervision. Whether Americans, despite being adequately warned, ingest this drug as a prophylactic on the basis of their President’s advice and die in vast numbers, is US’ concern. What India has to worry about is whether Delhi will ship off this medicine to the US, leaving India high and dry if hydroxychloroquine is discovered, on the off-chance, to actually be a panacea for the corona crisis. With respect to corona, India is still at the low end of the COVID-19 curve largely because of a near complete lack of specialized mass testing. For all any one knows, the corona may have already afflicted five or ten times as many Indians as the 4,000 patients under care. Five lakh testing kits are only this week arriving, ironically, from China. Even so, in the context of the 1.3 billion population, the disease, it may be fair to conclude, is still in its nascent phase with herd-contagion and spread in the country still to take-off and when it does infections may peak in the next two months or so. Thus, prudence suggests Modi should be cautious, not go overboard in emptying out the country’s stock of hydroxychloroquine for America’s benefit.

Except the option of not sending supplies of this drug to the US is now denied Modi who, in any case, has shown himself to be a little too fearful of alienating the US and otherwise too eager to please Washington. This tendency is what the US and Trump have to-date exploited. Two days after his conversation with Modi, Trump disclosed to the Press just what transpired in that phone call to the Indian leader. It turns out that far from pleading with Modi, Trump had demanded India forthwith sell to the US its holdings of the anti-malarial drug, or face punitive action. “I spoke to [Modi] Sunday morning, called him, and I said, we’d appreciate you allowing our supply to come out”, said Trump. “If [Modi] doesn’t allow it to come out. That would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” And retaliation, he hinted, would be that old staple — tightening the screws in the ongoing bilateral trade deal negotiations.  

Consider Trump’s proprietorial reference to “allowing our supply to come out”. Does this mean that the US government through its embassy and/or via American pharma companies, their subsidiaries or middlemen agencies have already bought off a lot of India’s hydroxychloroquine stockpile, and having done so are only awaiting the Modi government’s approval for air-freighting it to America? Whether or not this quinine-containing drug is the answer for COVID-19, India will need it, besides malaria, to treat ailments like rheumatoid arthritis, etc. and so keeping a biggish stock of it to meet domestic need makes sense. In any case, it is India’s sovereign right, by way of husbanding its own resources to tackle a pandemic to negate any commercial contracts that spirit away important drugs from the country. The question is will Modi exercise this right, or succumb to American pressure?

Meanwhile, because of America’s marked dependence on China for pharmaceutical and medical products Beijing has Washington over the barrel. Indeed, as a March 4 commentary in Xinhua,the official Chinese news agency, put it, China can send the U.S. to “the hell of the novel coronavirus pandemic” by banning exports of all medical supplies.

It is not just Trump, but US’ attitude vis a vis India generally, that is really at issue here. I have been warning (in my numerous books and in writings over the past two decades) about Washington seeking to imprint US interests and concerns on India’s policies, starting in the new Century with the 2008 civilian nuclear deal and, in the Modi era, with the foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA) that have transformed India into a subsidiary ally. It is a goal successive Indian governments (under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh, Modi) have helped Washington realize. These regimes have acted on the flawed premise that an aspiring India can ride to great power status, as I keep harping, by kowtowing to extant great powers — US and China, in the main. It has only earned India kicks up its backside, but Delhi has not been disabused of this view. Then again, if our leaders display no self-respect, it is hardly to be wondered that India will continue to be treated with utter contempt which, incidentally is now reserved, as many West European states find, exclusively for America’s allies and friends.

The worm is, however, turning in Europe at least. Emmanuel Macron in France is leading the charge on shaping an autonomous European identity, policies and even a European military freed from the impedimenta of treaty ties to the US. Germany, the economic giant of Europe under Angela Merkl too has finally decided that enough is enough. The apparent breaking point has been reached with the Trump Administration “confiscating” 200,000 Thailand-made masks ordered by Germany, and arm twisting a German pharma research company reportedly on the cusp of a corona vaccine breakthrough to surrender exclusive rights to it to US companies. It moved the German Home Minister, Andreas Geisel, to equate such actions with “piracy” and to add that “This is no way to to treat transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, we shouldn’t resort to the tactics of the Wild West.”

With treaty allies like Germany being treated with such insensitivity, India can expect only worse. But the Indian government doesn’t get it, perhaps, because Modi (like his predecessors in office) instead of being driven by ‘India First’ imperatives, is casting about, as always, for a safety line from the US which, however, works and has always worked solely on the ‘America First’ principle.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 7 Comments

Corona, GOI-Delhi govt failures re: Tablighi Jamaat Meet, and Modi’s froth & foam

Markaz Nizamuddin Chief Maulana Saad Untraceable, Has FIR Against Him For Violating Covid-19 Guidelines

[The recent Markaz Nizamuddin Meet of the Tablighi Jamaat in Delhi]

Time to dispassionately lay the blame for the single, most dangerous, event responsible for the Coronavirus spread throughout the country — the annual meeting hosted by the Markaz Nizamuddin of the Tablighi Jamaat led by the numskull of a Maulana, Saad Kandhalvi. The blame is shared by the Central and Delhi governments and by the various police entities which means, of course, that no senior bureaucrat or police officer or any agency will ever be held responsible for the fiasco. Finger pointing at everybody else which’s, in fact, the norm in these situations, is already proceeding apace.

So, let’s start by looking at the Central government. That the COVID-19 was spreading radially outwards and very fast from the Chinese city of Wuhan had become definitively known by the first week of January. It was so taken note of and flagged within the Indian government. If most visas to the foreign attendees of the big Tablighi showcase Meet were issued after January first week, as seems likely, then both the Home Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs — the twin-issuing authorities should be hauled up. The MEA did not alert the Modi government about the demand for visas by foreign followers of the Tablighi Jamaat at a time of the corona pandemic. The Home Ministry, the ultimate authority in visa approvals, was likewise blissfully inattentive.

That so big a “religious”, possibly combustible, event was in the works would have been known, should have been known, to the Delhi Police a good 4-6 months before it actually happened. Why? Because the Nizamuddin area police station is bang next to the mosque where the meeting had been called. Even assuming the information about the virus and its spread was first available to the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi and the Nizamuddin police station in-charge only after the Prime Minister announced his 3-week countrywide lock down March 26, the local authorities, concerned about the potentially troublesome Tablighi Meet, ought to have taken normal precautionary measures. Such as, in consultation with, or in spite of, the Tablighi leader, either calling it off or postponing it.

Given the political sensitivity about the activity of organizations such as the Tablighi Jamaat, the Delhi Police controlled directly by Modi’s political intimate and the country’s Home Minister Amit Shah, ought to have instructed Delhi Police to be at the ready, deployed Intelligence officers, operating undercover, to report on the inflammatory address by Maulana Saad, and for arrangement to be made for his prompt arrest in case anything provocative was uttered by him, and otherwise posted rapid action police forces in the area to deter troublemakers and clamp down on violence if it erupted. The inaugural session where Kandhalvi mouthed all manner of socially irresponsible, even incendiary, stuff, occurred but none of these above actions were taken.

The Maulana’s virtual fatwa to the milling thousands at the Meet to ignore the official lock down because, in any case, this virus was punishment called down by Allah for the people’s sins which, if it did nothing else, enhanced the negative impressions of Islam in the society at-large and fired up the majoritarian animus against Indian Muslims. However, owing to a completely unprepared Delhi Police who acted as if they had no inkling of anything, no immediate arrest was made, and he was allowed to go “underground”.

Far, far worse from the COVID-19 crisis point of view, between the Health Ministry at the Centre under Dr Harsh Vardhan, a Member of Parliament from Delhi, who should have known and done better, and the AAP government’s Health Department, they made an awful hash of things. In the main, both abjectly failed to impose a complete quarantine of 2 weeks on the entire Markaz Nizammuddin congregation (to detect infection and isolate the infectors and infectees of whom there reportedly were many). It permitted the lot of the Tablighi followers to walk about freely in the larger Nizammudin area and leisurely to return to their home states and countries, thereby helping the pandemic to spread everywhere. The slate of decisions not taken and of missed actions are particularly horrific and appalling in light of the Prime Minister’s announcement around that time of a countrywide lock down.

The AAP government is taking refuge in the fact that while it may order Delhi Police to do this and that, under the split law & order system in Union Territories, the Delhi Police doesn’t heed its orders. This is correct in theory but begs the question: Did the Kejriwal regime actually issue any orders banning the Tablighi event, failing which to order the arrest of Kandhalvi after he spouted patent nonsense, and to forcefully, if necessary, quarantine the attendees — transporting them en masse to, say, camps set up by the army in Delhi’s vicinity? Apparently not. So both the Central and Delhi governments are in the dock for the law & order-cum-public health debacle that has ensued.

This has larger foreign policy implications. Which country, South Asian or other, will take Modi government’s programme involving a reach out on the corona pandemic, seriously?

And, finally, what to make of the Prime Minister’s televised address to the nation this morning urging the people to shine a light at 9 PM for nine minutes on Sunday, March 5, when everybody was expecting some guidance on whether the current lock down will be extended, and how his government means to cope and what the citizenry is supposed to do at the end of 3-weeks? The media talked of the likelihood of Modi broaching the subject of a staggered lock down to get at least some level of economic activity in the country off and running. Alas, of this there was not a mention but we are being asked to follow up the public beating of thalis, and generally making noise in appreciation of medical personnel, et al on the corona frontline, with now lighting up diyas and waving lit up mobile phones.

There’s a sneaking and well-merited fear that the Modi government quite simply has no good and substantive ideas, coming up with only hollow symbolic gestures of a kind the Prime Minister loves. Thank God, he at least warned the millions of educated illiterates populating our cities against milling around waving battery-run torches on Sunday, as they did when beating thalis!!

Hopefully, his next televised address will be less froth and foam and more beer!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Nepal, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka | 6 Comments

A Corona calamity is in the offing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia | 6 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

modi saarc ani

[Modi video-conferencing with SAARC leaders]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian Foreign Policy: A mere jumble of words?

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

[PM Modi and Jaishankar]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Anti-Muslim Riots: Modi’s huge strategic mistake

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

[Anti-Muslim riots, Delhi]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for pics of modi and trump at Mtera

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A high-optics, low outcome Trump trip to India

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

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

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

Optics is clearly the driver of this visit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buying peace with Trump by buying arms

Howdy Modi event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———  

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

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CDS Gen. Rawat doing the right things first

Image result for pics of Gen Rawat

[Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restructuring of MEA misses out on basics

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[Jaishankar in MEA]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Afghanistan, Africa, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, MEA/foreign policy, Myanmar, Nepal, SAARC, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 4 Comments

Two-front War: A Convenient fiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons | 12 Comments

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

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[Imran and Trump at World Economic Forum, Davos]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India: A Middling Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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India may be dragged into war against Iran

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[General Qassem Soleimani]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Usual Suspects

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Decade of Regression and Squandered Opportunities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———-

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

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Surrendering strategic space, steaming into trouble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Head-banging on CDS

Image result for pics Lt Gen Naravane with naval chief karambir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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[A pictorial representation of space junk]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, Culture, Decision-making, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, satellites, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US. | 6 Comments

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

Image result for pics of ram madhav

[Ram Madhav]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

——-

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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