Equal benefits for equal military action-related disability

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(Disabled soldiers under rehabilitation)

To highlight the plight of the soldier incapacitated in war and other military operations, the army chief had declared 2018 as ‘The Year of the Disabled Soldier’. The Year was marked by General Bipin Rawat frequenting major military centres to meet with groups of disabled soldiery, to buck up their spirits, hear their complaints and, in dire cases, dispense financial help to alleviate immediate distress. The sad tales particularly of injured jawans somehow surviving, not always very well, who have fallen through the cracks in the system and into unbearably hard times, and otherwise forgotten, are many. And, that’s a shame.

But this is not because COASs over the years have not done their utmost to solve such problems. It is just that the formal anomalies in the system in which  different benefit schemes with different classes of beneficiaries announced at different times, after different wars and contingencies, have created a confusing welter of benefits and categories of disabled. These range from jawans (from an earlier time) making do with a handshake by a commiserating chief,  meagrely augmented pensions, and perhaps a prosthetic ‘Jaipur leg’ or  a wheel chair (motorised, if he is lucky) to those given government jobs, granted petrol pumps by public sector oil companies, etc. and hence on easier street.

In the context of the ‘One Rank, One Pension’ Movement acquiring traction because of the disparity in post-retirement benefits, it is strange that the far more telling and intolerable disparity in the treatment of soldiers crippled in war and physically incapable of carrying on with life other than in abject penury, may have occasioned sympathy but not corrective measures that are desperately and urgently needed, whatever the cost. Prime Minister Modi to his credit came through on his OROP promise. He will do immeasurable, long overdue and lasting good if he, on his own, initiated moves and to equalize the benefits for equal military disabilty. With a possibly make or break 2019 elections in the offing, the extended social tiers of beneficiaries in the country who may gain from a more equitable schemata to match benefits with military service-related disability is a voter base that’s there to capture.

On the sidelines of an army seminar on mountain warfare yesterday, Gen. Rawat was discussing how, despite every effort made by army chiefs over the years to leave no disabled soldier uncovered by army/government welfare schemes, rehabilitation centres, and  army medical institutions doing quality work, the older generation of disabled soldiers continue to suffer from severely truncated benefits. Time is nigh to change this inequitous regime.

Getting legs blown off by mines, legs scythed at the thighs by enemy machine gun fire, termination of eyesight or hearing, or brain damage owing to flying shrapnel, loss of toes and fingers to frostbite, etc. are the routine risks run by those partaking of military hostilities, including counter insurgency, or by those patrolling and monitoring the country’s long and disputed borders in difficult terrains on two fronts in peace time. But the minimum the soldiers would expect is that, in case they get grievously hurt or die while pulling duty, they are taken care of, and their families have fair prospect.

To highlight just how miserable a disabled military veteran’s life can be, Rawat brought up the instance of a stalwart  of the 7 Maratha whose personal condition has been degenerating over the last 40-odd years because of a bullet lodged near his spine that was not surgically extracted because of the fear of inducing complete paralysis. The COAS met this old Maratha at a function for the disabled organised by Southern Command in Pune recently. This old man, seated next to Rawat at lunch, was being fed by his forty year old son. The son went away from the table to fetch his father something during which time the soldier tried to feed himself with a spoon. Given that his motor functions were all shot,  the food dribbled down the side of his mouth and spilled down the front of perhaps his only decent set of clothes that he had worn for the event. The son returned and seeing the mess reacted in public view, to the astonishment of the COAS, by slapping his father hard across the face. When Rawat remonstrated, telling the man that his father was the army chief’s guest and his behaviour was unacceptable, the unapologetic younger man related to Rawat his family’s miserable story — a story of just how the differential in disability benefits had impacted  them. It turns out the old Maratha warrior, a longtime widower, has been looked after by his son for some four decades now ever since the latter was 8 years old and who has remained unmarried, unemployed and the sole care-giver, eking out existence on his father’s small pitiable pension. The son then pointed out that the family of another MLI contemporary of his Dad’s, who was martyred in a later war, was given a petrol pump and in the years since has grown prosperous. He complained against the unfairness of this situation. Gen. Rawat asked the Command to make out a check for two lakh rupees in the soldier’s name — small recompense for the daily assaults on his dignity that he has to endure. On another similar occasion but in a northern city, the COAS was faced by an ex-jawan in a wheel chair with both his legs amputated at the knees who, referring to the bigger slate of benefits and increased pensionary payouts enjoyed by another like himself, present in that assembly, with only one of his legs shot off, remarked that “Benefits seem to be on the basis of legs lost or preserved”, implying that those who suffered no permanent physical harm benefited the most.

General Rawat, like his predecessors, has struggled to get a larger budgetary allocation for spending on modernizing and sustaining existing forces while being confronted by galloping pension and payroll expenditures, which include the costs of benefits and services for the disabled.  Pensions and pay and allowances constitute 56% of the 2018-2019 defence budget of Rs 2,79,305 crores, up from 44% in 2011-2012. Very soon, at current rate of increase, the pension and P&A bill will outpace the actual defence spend.  Even such schemes that require contributions by the beneficiaries –the Ex-servicemen’s Contributory Health System, for example, costs the exchequer some Rs 4,000 crore/year.

General Rawat is of the view that the Courts have compounded the problem. Thus, even short-service commission officers are accorded full canteen and ECHS benefits — something that is becoming unaffordable by the day. So new cutoffs are under consideration, such as benefits accruing only after a minimum 10 years service. Indeed the COAS revealed that the raft of canteen and health benefits are so attractive they are a  big draw for would-be servicemen from among the white collar demographic.

In this regard, the COAS indulged in some humour. To rein in the spiraling costs all round, he proposed only half-jokingly, he said, to issue an order that all officers with hyper tension be denied their liquor quota from the canteen (of 12 bottles monthly) — which move would save the army several crores of rupees, because he said, the army couldn’t be expected to at once pay to create a problem —  by providing cheap liquor that exacerbates hyper tension — and also to treat it! The response (presumably of his staff) was, as Rawat put it, “Sir, how can you do this?!”

On a more uplifting note, Rawat indicated he had approached some corporate leaders to fund a corpus from which the COAS of the day could write checks to aggrieved disabled soldiers who, for whatever reason, failed to get benefits. An ability to write a check of rupees five lakhs for an old soldier at any time, a process freed from bureaucratic interference, he felt, would go some ways to redressing some of the ills that have crept into the system. The fact is a corporate fund for disabled soldiers that COAS can draw on will be a wonderful way of involving the wealthy corporate sector which benefits directly from the army keeping peace and protecting the nation. Some corporate leaders have already pledged Rs 200 crores to this Fund. One can only hope that this Fund will flourish and grow, and the disabled soldiers gain every which way they can. Rawat needs to be commended for a genuinely out-of-box initiative and will be long remembered if it takes off.

Posted in civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia | 1 Comment

Modi getting his comeuppance and the aftermath

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(The leading BJP trio in state elections of Amit Shah, Adityanath and Modi)

The drubbing Modi and, secondarily, the ruling BJP, was given by the Indian voter in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh is a testament to his remarkable good sense and equanimity. The surging frustration with Modi, in particular, found expression in even relatively good chief ministers — Shivraj Singh in MP and Raman Singh in C’garh, with much to show by ways of good governance, being trounced. It has less to do with seeing the same old faces seeking an extension of stay in office, than with the people firing a warning shot across the bow of the BJP ship Captains Modi, Amit Shah are steering, and which long ago lost direction and sense of positive purpose. Let us succinctly  jot down the main points and refer to some lessons prime minister Narendra Modi should learn unless he craves an early political vanvas in 2019.

  1. There was no clearer message by the people than that they didn’t care for the Modi at the centre who is helming a growingly illiberal Indian state where the cow is venerated, huge gobs of public monies invested in gau-shalas, and what people can or cannot eat, drink and wear is dictated by a straitjacketed version of Hinduism foreign to the vedas. That the youth have had it with the absence of mass employment programmes that is sought to be covered up by talk of digitisation of governance, etc. They want the Modi of 2014 to emerge from the quagmire, but if he does, he will carry far less conviction, and his talk of re-working the government to make it more accountable and less intrusive in the lives of ordinary Indians,  more readily dismissed as so much gas! And armed with evidence of five years,  his emphasizing of ‘Make in India’ that involves little more than, as I keep repeating, screwdrivering imported equipment, and otherwise turbocharging a genuinely indigenous defence industry, will be readily refuted.  In fact, he may well be accused of under-estimating the capability of the private sector that can, given its head, produce the most advanced technology. The issue is these are all things he actually promised in the 2014 Campaign, but did little to realize.
  2. The question to ponder is will the Prime Minister pay heed and make a drastic course correction? Probably no. And even if he were to do  so, where’s the time to show results? Hence the possibility that come next year’s general election the country will be staring down the barrel of a populist-wasteful, non-performing, coalition government that will retard India’s progress, leaving many of us ruing  how Modi, armed with the people’s sanction to restructure government and set the country on a radically new, more productive course, fouled up.
  3. Amit Shah, the BJP supremo and PM’s chief lieutenant, has proved he is no Chanakya of domestic politics (any more than Ajit Doval — Modi’s adviser on everything related to the working of government and the military — God forbid!,  is  Chanakya in the external realm), and that, if persisted with, his brand of political strategizing keyed to relentlessly  low politics will only dig a still deeper hole for Modi to slip into next year.
  4. Talk of Modi’s bad political instincts. He installed people he thought were like himself — pracharak of the RSS or Gorakhnath mutt type — Manoharlal Khattar, who made as big a god almighty mess in Haryana, as Adityanath has done in Uttar Pradesh, except neither of them had his political nous and resembled  bulls flailing around in deep water and stirring trouble BJP could have done without. Whether Modi now appreciates the limits of the Hindu hardline and how it demotivated even party devotees in urban areas (the small trader class already hurt by GST and demonetisation) where Shah, for some unfathomable reason, had deployed the blundering Adityanath, may not be known. But it would be politically reckless of Modi to not recognize that Khattar, Yogi and their ilk are political poison and will sink BJP’s residual chances in 2019. And by extension that the Hindu fringe groups like the Bajrang Dalis the Yogi patronises may get out the vote in the countryside and elsewhere alright, but against the BJP! It doesn’t speak well for Modi and Shah’s supposed  mastery of Indian politics and its slipstreams.
  5. Rahul Gandhi, contrary to his reputation, has proved himself fast on the uptake. He revealed that the 2014 election was a great classroom. He didn’t do this in his post-election results press conference, but he may as well have thanked Modi for being such an adept tutor, and how  all his temple-going and corruption charge hurling learned from Modi, fetched him results. Modi, Shah and that lot will hereon find it hard to trump Rahul on these and similar poll practices.
  6. And, finally, Modi’s hubris — “excessive pride and self confidence” as the word is described, led him to believe that no one could better him, that he was lord of the Indian political scene he surveyed, and that a second term in office was his for the taking. The Gods have a way of mocking such pretensions, and not just in hoary Greek tragedies, as the public did in this case. Modi’s promises of fast-tracked development and gigantic jobs generating schemes persuaded lots of people, especially the young demographic. Five years later they will hear the same rhetoric this time from Rahul. The point is not that the Gandhi scion will be any more persuasive, but that  widespread disillusionment with Modi will take its toll. It may not return him to Vadgaon, but will get him to Parliament (if he ensures a safe seat in Gujarat), perhaps, not as Prime Minister.
Posted in civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Intelligence, Internal Security, SAARC, society, South Asia | 6 Comments

Imran has the edge on Modi

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(Pakistan PM Imran Khan)

Returned after nearly a week’s trip to the Balkans visiting Dubrovnik in Catholic Croatia, Kutar and Budwa in Russian Orthdox Montenegro and Mostar in Muslim Bosnia-Herzogovina — all former provinces of a once unified Yugoslavia that Marshal Josef Broz Tito had forged into a union of disparate peoples in the ‘partisan war’ against Hitler’s military forces, and which religious separate states were carved out of the debris of the  Austro-Hungarian Empire in the post-World War I peace conference at Versailles in 1919. Croatia and Montenegro that I visited were  Western, more modern and prosperous and contrasted sharply with the rundown, impoverished Bosnia, with the urban spread in, say, Mostar, featuring the famous 15th Century single arched bridge over the River Neretva built by the Ottoman Turks, and the familiar small shops crowding criss-crossing narrow lanes, and the smoke of grilled kebabs wafting through them — felt more like home but Third World plus. It is interesting to mention here that on my last trip to the then still existing Yugoslavia in 1983 — I visited Sarajevo, the western most outpost of Islam in Europe, and was told by the Grand Mufti of the great mosque there — a fine example of Ottoman architecture — that the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzogovina would have an independent state. It was a prospect pooh-poohed by the Yugoslav government officials I met in Belgrade.  I wrote about it then — possibly the first mention anywhere of the likely emergence of an independent country in Muslim Bosnia!

I mention the majoritarian religions in these “new” countries because it is precisely the resurgence of the religious identity at the expense of national identity that some 25-30 years ago sank the great experiment in secular state building  Tito had managed with aplomb. The supreme irony is this: While just about any and everyone I talked to in these independent states recalled Tito with great respect and even fondness, and conceded that life generally in a united Yugoslavia was more orderly and way better in many respects than what they presently have, they were all equally emphatic that the balkanisation of Yugoslavia, facilitated by numerous players but materially assisted by the US military intervention, was a good thing to happen and long overdue. Unsurprisingly, the Croatians and Montenegrans made no attempt to hide their antipathy, even hatred, for Muslims and Islam generally, which attitude of contempt the Bosnians heartily reciprocated for Christians and Christianity.

What I was told and how I perceived things there played out in my mind in the background of our own circumstances. Like the Balkans in the 1990s, South Asia, but on a far vaster and ethnically more heterogeneous scale, where every imaginable kind of people have lived, sometimes fist by jowl, but generally peaceably for millennia, and where the whole complex fell apart in 1947, on account of religion.  Religious faith is a curious thing that’s often trifled with by politicians for low gain but to devastating effect. To state the obvious — it is the exploiters of religions who are the great dividers, not religions themselves. But religion does not centrally intrude into in India-Pakistan relations, in most part because, to the mortification of the Pakistan ideologues, there are now more Muslims in India. Imran Khan’s decision to construct a “Kartarpur corridor”, however, has a different religious tinge.

If you cut out the publicity-seeking hijinks of the boisterous middleman — Navjot Singh Siddhu, the sometime India opening bat and Punjab minister who’s proving a handful for chief minister Amarinder Singh, and consider Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of free, visa-less, access to Indians and followers of Guru Nanak Dev to visit one of the most important Sikh holy places, then he needs to be commended, especially because there’s nothing comparable on the table from the Indian side.  It is Imran’s own unique gambit — initially referred to by a Pakistani notable as a “googly” (where Imran is concerned, can the cricketing idiom be avoided?) that  elicited a like trivial Indian response — an opening move is to resolve, if possible, the tiresomely disputatious relations between India and Pakistan that have done neither country any good, but prevented both and the subcontinent from emerging as a power bloc that the world would have to reckon with.

In his recent televised meeting with India media persons, Imran made many interesting statements, some in reply to questions. Among these in no particular order, that the Pakistan government  has according to UN Resolution 1267 sanctioned Hafiz Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Tayyaba terrorist outfit, that the 26/11 case against Hafiz is in the courts and thus sub judice.  When reminded about the several occasions in the past about the sequence of the Kargil intrusion following Vajpayee’s Lahore visit, the 26/11 attack on Mumbai in the wake of the 2007  meeting of PMs in Sharm el-Sheikh, he brushed it off by saying simply “I am not responsible for (what happened in) the past.” And then went on to say that the two countries better make move on from these incidents of the past and capitalise on the fact that  “There’s no animosity between the peoples of the two countries” and reiterated that every section of Pakistani society, including the army, is now on “the same page” and agrees in the consensus view that neither nuclear-armed country has an option other than to live in peace.

But, there are problems. Pakistan has said that the basic predicate for peace is the resolution of the  Kashmir dispute. India, on the other hand, while claiming all of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, Gilgit, Hunza and the Northern Territories, has maintained there cannot be talks without- Pakistan ceasing its support for terrorism and giving evidence  of it (by ideally handing over Hafiz Saeed, et al). The trouble is Delhi has stuck to this position for a while, disallowing resumption of any talks, “composite” or any other or even through the “secret channel” that in the Manmohan Singh era comprised Ambassador Satish Lamba from this side. Imran is showing more flexibility. He has suggested, for instance, that Kashmir be less in the public eye, which he claimed was because of the actions of the Indian army. Were the imagery of turmoil in the Srinagar valley to be absent, the optics, Imran implied, would become amenable for bilateral  talks in his country. In a separate meeting with Pakistani editors he mentioned that he had “2 or 3 options” in mind to pursue on Kashmir which, he realistically says, he cannot presently do with India entering the 2019 general election season, but without spelling out these solutions. But surprisingly, to the Indian newspersons he indicated his preferred solution that he said Musharraf almost clinched in 2007 and which he said, in so many words, because it was supported at the time by GHQ, Rawalpindi, would be acceptable to Pakistan army in the future as well.

For Imran’s  interaction with the Indian media see the youtube link below:

Imran, of course, is absolutely right. The 2007 plan Musharraf negotiated  had three basic points. One, both sides of Kashmir would come under a commission manned by representatives from the two countries to oversee the affairs of all of Kashmir.  Secondly, free travel, trade and other interaction would be permitted between the two Kashmirs, except every time Indian or Pakistani Kashmiri crossed the line he would have to have his identification papers stamped. And finally, other than police for constabulary duties there would be phased  deconcentration of Indian and Pakistan army unit from their respective sides of the province.  Why Delhi accepted this draft-accord is clear — the requirement that Kashmiris to-ing and fro-ing across the line would have to have their identity papers stamped in essence asserted both Indian and Pakistani sovereignty and acknowledged these territories as wholly and inseparably parts of India and Pakistan. Why Musharraf accepted the deal was the fig leaf provided Islamabad which, in reality, helped the Pakistan government to ease itself out of  championing the Kashmiris’ cause and hence wash its hands off the Kashmir issue one and for all while claiming Pakistan would have its hand in on the steering heel of Kashmir affairs, courtesy the joint commission — supposedly a great concession extracted from Delhi.

Yes, this last was how Musharraf was going to ballyhoo the deal to ensure it slid down the throats of the Pakistan establishment and people without their gagging on it. Alas, even this small, nonexistent “victory” if conceded to Pakistan, the Congress party regime of Manmohan Singh felt would enable the Bharatiya Janata party in opposition to make an electoral feast of it, and so the done deal was turned down. As I have long asserted in my books and writings, this is the only and obvious solution to put the Kashmir issue to rest. Would a re-elected Modi be any more willing to change his stance and accept this solution considering Imran has already flagged it as his and Pakistan army’s choice?

Modi is forced into this position of having to react to Imran’s peace overtures because of two things: He messed up by not following through on the logic of his original move of inviting with much fanfare all South Asian heads of government to his 2014 inauguration — a grand and most effective gesture that promised so much, given that Pak PM Nawaz Sharif was there, all prepped to resume dialogueing and otherwise ready to partake of any other peace moves Modi had in mind to run with. Instead, Modi fell into the familiar Delhi rut except now the demonisation of Pakistan (on terrorism)  kept pace with his domestic political agenda of firming the Hindu support base with intemperate Muslim bashing over cow slaughter and by keying up the Bajrang Dal type of vigilantism. Will a manifestly less liberal Indian state run by Modi, post 2019, be any more receptive to resolving the Kashmir issue and making enduring peace with Pakistan?

It is here that Imran has played a most brilliant card — “Kartarpur corridor”. It may not compel Modi to negotiate on Kashmir but it has preempted him from doing anything silly, like actually initiating military hostilities for any reason. Why? Because as Imran explained to Indian reporters the entire sector fronting on the corridor saw the most massive Partition massacres in either Punjab of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and the promise of unhindered Kartarpur access will sentimentally and emotionally disarm the Sikhs (who fill some leading Indian army regiments of infantry and armour/mechanised units)  and firm up their resolve particularly in Indian Punjab against disturbing the status quo with military action. Whence his confident declaration to the Pak media that “After Kartarpur, it will be very difficult for India to create hate against Pakistan.”

There’s only so much hate-mongering Modi, Adityanath and that entire cohort can do to wring political profit. because already, one senses the turning of the tide — the results of the state elections next week especially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are bellwether of this. The killing of the UP police SHO in Bulandshahr by a Bajrang Dali may have capped Adityanath’s ambition but, more importantly, also Modi’s tendency to go overboard with the Hindu-cow card.

But there’s the sharp side to Imran’s Kartarpur gesture that one cannot ignore because it also holds out an internal security threat to India should Modi continue with his anti-Pakistan rhetoric and policies after 2019. Hot-headed elements in Sikh communities in the West (UK, US and Canada, in the main) calling themselves ‘Sikhs For Justice’ (SFJ) have long nursed the thoroughly impractical notion of the Sikh state of Khalistan, which the late Khushwant Singh, I recall, had lampooned as an idea propagated by fellow religionists with a vacant space (khali stan) between their ears, and have always made more noise at the margins than their numbers would suggest! (Incidentally, in the recent Congressional elections in the US, the Khalistan campaign lost one of its most ardent supporters, California Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, who failed to win the election in the 48th District. He was a real pain in India’s ass because he also backed Pakistan on Kashmir — I was appalled hearing him expound his ill-informed views at a Washington conference on Kashmir in the mid-2000s.)

Well, SFJ means to influence the masses of Indian sikh pilgrims visiting Kartarpur starting next year when the corridor, as Imran has promised, becomes operational to support what it calls ‘Referendum 2020’ on an independent state of Khalistan per the UN Charter provision for self-determination. For which purpose SFJ plans to sponsor the travel to Kartarpur by 10,000 Indian sikhs in order “to educate and inform” them of this right that they can exercise. The SFJ founder,  Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, called the  corridor “a Bridge to Khalistan”, saying the proposed “Kartarpur Sahib Convention is pivotal to referendum campaign as this will be the first ever global gathering of the Sikh separatists from foreign countries with the Sikh people from Punjab.”

Now SFJ has made plain its aim, even though the awful experience of the ruthless quelling of the last such uprising by the then DG, Punjab Police, the late, great and redoubtable KPS Gill, has chastened Sikh Punjabis against again being part of any such misadventure. The Pakistan army and ISI, however, couldn’t be more delighted at the prospect of thus reviving the Khalistan Movement in Indian Punjab and, at a minimum, needling India if Delhi continues to stiff-arm Islamabad and Imran on negotiating peace in Kashmir. But with the Sarajevo Mufti in mind SFJ phenomenon should be treated with the utmost caution and dispatch.

This is a nice one-two punch the Imran government has conceived. Either way Imran and Pakistan cannot lose, and Modi and India cannot win. More, the moral high ground as well as the optics are on Imran’s side as peace-seeker.


Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, guerilla warfare, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US. | 9 Comments

Why India does not deserve to be Permanent Member of the UN Security Council

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(Prime Minister Modi addressing the UN General Assembly)

The Indian ambassador to the UN in New York, Syed Akbaruddin, made the predictable pitch on behalf of the so-called G-4 — India, Brazil, Japan, and Germany, at the UN General Assembly (UNGA) debate on UN reform a couple of days back for these countries to join a revamped UN Security Council as Permanent Members but with a twist. “Naysayers”, he fumed, the frustration showing in his voice, “cannot be allowed to cast a dark shadow over the entire membership and hold the overwhelming majority back.” India’s position that all the tarrying and prevaricating and delaying tactics should end, and that a vote on the UNSC expansion issue be called soonest in the UNGA, where each UN member state has one vote and no country has veto.

Delhi/MEA surely isn’t so dense that it can’t see the obvious, that the 12 state ‘United for Consensus’ group, headed by Italy and including Pakistan, which opposes any reconfiguring of the UNSC, is not primarily to blame — though the procedural wrangles instigated by this group have pretty much tied up the deliberations in the Inter-Governmental Negotiations (IGN) forum set up to resolve this issue. IGN has been working for several decades with little to show for all the verbiage that’s been expended. The riposte by Maleeha Lodi, the Pakistan ambassador, was that if differences are found difficult for the US, Russia and China to reconcile in the present Security Council, enlarging the body with more permanent members would only ensure a complete gridlock or worse.

The principal hurdle specifically to India’s entry, however, are the two countries the Indian government in the new Century, helmed by both the BJP and the Congress party, has bent over backwards to appease — the United States and China. The Trump Administration has made it plain it supports only a “modest” increase in permanent seats. This by way of saying that Washington would happily countenance its treaty allies, Japan and Germany, in the UNSC but not India or Brazil — though to the Indian PM’s face US functionaries have assured support.  China, on its part, has declared it is against “arbitrarily launching text-based negotiations” in IGN as demanded by India; the larger reason, of course, is to deny both its Asian rivals a leg up. Again, Beijing does not say it’s not for India at the high table but hints at its unwillingness to see Japan in the Council, knowing fully well that no move will ever be made to just ease India’s entry into UNSC.

India’s yearning for a permanent seat in the Security Council raises the pertinent question whether India deserves it. Because the five current permanent members  (P-5) — US, Russia, China, UK and France are great powers and have traits in common (including the last two which are long into the imperial dusk). They all have hefty nuclear forces, modern militaries to reckon with, are security providers with extra-territorial military presence, with France even in the Indian Ocean (on Reunion Island in the French Indian Ocean Territories and the Heron base in Djibouti), generate advanced technologies in all fields and are frontline technology innovators, have a whole bunch of Third and Fourth World states the world as arms dependencies, courtesy vigorous arms sales schemes, are large foreign aid donors with extensive and tested development and infrastructure assistance programmes, high volumes of global trade and extremely strong and active economies, and relatively high standards of living. So, does India, other than possession of simple, low yield, nuclear weapons (that in quality, perhaps, lags behind a lowly Pakistani arsenal), meet any of these metrics?

Our case rests on the following arguments: that India (1) boasts of a large fraction of the world population, (2) is a “responsible state”, (3) is a longstanding democracy and an exemplar of liberal values (4) contributes disproportionately to UN peacekeeping missions, (5) shaped the post-WWII international system by championing anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and anti-racism, (6) is a steadying influence in a disordered world, (7) has always taken taken the lead role in furthering universal good — disarmament, climate accord, solar alliance, etc., (8) has never been expansionist or coveted foreign territories, but has no neighbour at peace with it,  and (9) is a trillion dollar economy, except 40% of its population is below the poverty line.

The P-5 and India are divided neatly in the nature and the attributes of power they exercise — the former wield hard power which also helps their soft power to be more effective. India is a power mostly limited to the subcontinent, its impact and influence outside of it being iffy at best.

And yet the Indian political class and the bureaucrat-dominated system remain entirely innocent about the main ingredients of great power and what the country needs to do to become one. The irony is India has all the requirements of great power except the crucial ones — the political vision and will, the ruthlessness and drive, the resolution to not take guff from anyone, selectively to strengthen only military wherewithal with strategic reach and clout, the cussedness and single-mindedness to slyly but consistently prosecute disruptive, risk-acceptant,  policies, that upend global regimes and upset every inimical P-5 state’s apple cart. That’s how China became a great power and now dictates to the world.

But India, alas, has no Dengxiaoping, no leader to challenge the world and motivate the Indian people to work for the nation’s cause, only gasbags furthering their advantage in domestic politics while using India’s democracy as an excuse for the country remaining a perennial also-ran.

Surely then such a country cannot credibly ask in good faith for a permanent seat in UNSC to preside over a world it had no role in making, and has even less of a role in running. The P-5 have to feel sorry enough for a “flailing” India to accommodate it, which won’t ever happen. So India is fated to remain on the outside, like a beggar with face pressed to the windows of a posh eatery.



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Major General equals Brigadier: How does that work?

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(COAS Gen Rawat with the red-banded possibly Nepal army brass)

Reorganizing, restructuring and generally getting the fighting forces fit for future wars is a good thing and the exercise undertaken by the army chief General Bipin Rawat to do just this needs to be commended. Some four sets of studies are underway, with some of them in a more advanced state wending their way up the army and MOD bureaucracy.

A startling proposal (commented on in an earlier post) in one such study — if the balloons being floated for some time now in the press and electronic media to gauge public reaction are any guide — relates to doing away with the posts of Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant Colonel, and eliminating altogether the process to select officers for the Major General rank from among the pool of eligible Brigadier-rank officers. Any person making it past Colonel-rank, in other words, automatically becomes General! A lot wrong here.

Before discussing the problems that will be spawned by such a move, let’s be straight about the intent behind this automatic, double-promotion measure, because there’s nothing very secret about it. Military officers, top to bottom, have resented the fact that officers in the Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service step on a career escalator that takes them to the top most levels without a hitch. The army’s peeve is that 80% of IAS officers make it to Joint Secretary in the government of India (or Additional Secretary in state governments) where as only 6% of military officers become Major General — the Joint Secretary equivalent in the Warrant of Precedence.

The Army HQrs (representing the senior and largest armed Service)  have tried long and hard and by all means at their disposal over decades  to even things out some for its officer cadre in terms of salaries, perks and other career benefits by improving the odds of mid-level officer attaining two-star flag-rank. The trouble is the babus and the police  have steadily created more posts at the higher levels (Inspector General rank and above) allowing more policemen to occupy them resulting in army officers of the same age and commissioning year being soon superceded in rank and salaries by their counterpart  police officers. This rankles and the army has sought to match by inflating the strength pf officers at higher ranks and conjuring up new posts for them to fill.

In 2007, in the wake of recommendations by an in-house study, COAS Gen. Deepak Kapoor pushed for Brigadier rank to be re-designated ‘Brigadier General’ (as in the US military) with the accompanying uptick in salaries, perks, and allowed officers in this rank to, for the first time, fly their flag on staff cars, etc, a privilege hitherto reserved for Major General rank officers and above, which privilege they retain. Defence Minister AK Antony did not, however, approve the nomenclatural-cum-substantive upgrade to Brigadier General. There the matter festered and is something the Rawat plan for restructuring the army hopes to address. Except, the scheme equating or merging Brigadier and Major General ranks and the related move to fill the Staff roles at Army HQrs with Lt. Colonels and Colonels and reverting Captains, Majors et al to the field, may not be the right tack.

It is a truism that not every officer who excels in leading men in battle or in the field  necessarily makes a good General. Indeed, the colonel-rank terminus for most army officers is the standard for most armies, and  the Indian army too has hewed to it since 1947. To man the army’s 14 corps, 49 divisions, and 240 brigades, the government has authorized 49,933 officers.  The shortfall is of some 7,000 officers per news reports. A recent, credible, approximate breakdown (available on Quora) of the strength of officers is 60 Lieutenant Generals, 270 Major Generals, 850 Brigadiers, 4,500 Colonels, and 41,000 Lieutenant Colonels and lower, for an army cadre of 46,681 officers in all in a 1.3 million strong army. These are credible figures because 6% of 4,500 (colonels) — which is presumably the personnel base in the army’s calculation for promotion to higher ranks — making Major General is 270 (Refer 3rd para above.)

How does this compare with the situation in other major armies/militaries? While in the Indian context, the Major General to Brigadier ratio is 1:3, the Brigadier to colonel ratio 1:5, and the Major General to colonel ratio 1: 16, the respective ratios for the US army are 1: 0.96, 1:33, and 1:33. For the Russian armed forces as a whole (after the reforms initiated in 2007 by Defence Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov and the slicing of the higher ranked officer strength by half),  the ratio of higher ranked officers to colonels is roughly 1:6; and in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army the promotion climb is steeper still (no figures are hazarded by experts re: the breakdown of PLA officer cadre by rank). In this comparison, the US army boasts of the brightest promotion possibilities for colonel rank officers, and the absolute certainty that those who make it to Brigadier-General will go on to sport two stars.

There is an innovation the PLA has introduced in its structure in terms of designating higher ranked officers — especially with two grades in the crucial Brigadier category, one stream sent on “combat zone” postings, the other on Staff duties, because all higher formations  in Chinese land forces are being reformed to brigade size as the optimum and highest formation in war and peace. There is some slight similarity here to what the Rawat reforms are envisaging with the contemplated merging of the Brigadier and Major General ranks, with the former designation reserved for field postings and the latter — seemingly higher  rank for those pulling Staff duties. It would make more sense if the designations were reversed, and the Major General rank given to officers in the field, unless this is by design because desk jockeying is considered a higher calling. Though the immediate model may have been the navy where Brigadier-level officers afloat are called Captains and those ashore Commodores.

But whether this correction is made or not, such a measure would embed unresolvable tensions and friction between Brigadiers and Major Generals and generate perpetual bureaucratic feuding at the expense of operational efficiency. A now manifestly top-heavy structure — all Chiefs and no Indians! — will further dysfunctionality. If, on the other hand, the scheme sugars up the Brigadier category of officers in the field with promise of career incentives to compensate for the perceived designation edge, then the Major Generals will rise in revolt. In any case, what different metrics would be used for posting an officer as Brigadier or, alternately, Major General?  How does the army plan to deal with the ensuing disaffection?

A more problematic aspect of this slate of reforms is the proposed zeroing out of the numbers of Captains and Majors at the Army HQrs supposedly to save money. The Indian Army, owing to its colonial past when Indian officers were denied posting and therefore experience in General Staff work, i.e. in war planning, force structuring, strategy, higher logistics management, etc. has always been handicapped by a  weak General Staff. The failure to come up with  imaginative offensive and defensive war plans is a stark evidence of that. (No, the success of the “blitzkrieg” in East Pakistan in 1971 doesn’t count, because the original operational plan under COAS, Manekshaw, and theatre commander Jagjit Singh Aurora, was for Indian forces to merely capture a thin sliver of East Pakistani territory and for the provisional government of a free Bangladesh in exile based in the Salt Lake area of Kolkatta to be installed there and to have it negotiate separation and freedom from Pakistan with General Yahya Khan’s regime. But for the Chief of Staff, Eastern Command, then Major General JFR Jacob’s inspired plan fashioned on the move of the forces deployed around East Pakistan to avoid Pakistan army strong points and to rush pell-mell towards Dhaka, the results would have been nothing as decisive as what transpired.)

The ultimate example of a brilliant General Staff tradition was the Prussian General Staff, founded in 1807 by General Gerhard von Schornhost who intended this body to “support incompetent Generals, providing the talents that might otherwise be wanting among leaders and commanders”. This General Staff reached its acme during WWII as part of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (High Command of the unified German forces), and is still the wonder of the military world in the imaginative war plans it time and again came up with in war and attendant crises.

The German General Staff, it must be noted, was formed out of a select group of officers, subaltern up, picked for their military intellect and skillsets, and rigorously trained in all aspects of war, posted to the field and back again, who enjoyed the right to appeal to a higher commander if they felt the plan of their field commander was flawed, and formed the spine of all military campaigns.

If Lieutenants, Captains and Majors in the Indian Army are to be denied intense General Staff experience and GS duties are to be the bailiwick of Lt. Colonels and Colonels with the background only of regimental work and holding down rotational posts then the army’s General Staff is destined to remain its greatest infirmity.

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Decisively Submissive

Donald Trump and Narendra Modi (Photo Imaging: Saurabh Singh)

(Modi and Trump in a clinch)


Delhi’s compliance with Washington on Iran will let China gain influence


The omnibus US sanctions policy under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) targets India on two fronts. Regarding Iranian oil, the Bharatiya Janata Party government of Narendra Modi has less than a 138-day reprieve. India will have to show substantial progress during this period in“zeroing” out its energy supplies from Iran, or face the music. On the other front, India is sought to be punished for continuing to buy military hardware from Russia. The Donald Trump Administration has justified sanctions ostensibly hurting Iran and Russia – with whom India has had historically strong ties– in terms of curbing their supposedly “malign” activities.

Because being in the good books of America at any cost, including self-respect, national interest and strategic common sense, is apparently the Modi regime’s top priority,India finds itself in the familiar role of a supplicant begging for exceptional treatment. The National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s numerous interactions with the poobahs in Washington failed to budge the US from placing India squarely within the crosshairs of its sanctions policy meant to coerce friendly states into doing its bidding. Coercion being President Trump’s preferred means of dealing with allies and “strategic partners”, with consultation reserved for its foes — Russia, China and North Korea.

But the Trump Administration’s waiving sanctions on India despite its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defence system should have alerted Prime Minister Modi to the geostrategic factors driving its India policy and how these constitute the leverage Delhi could have used to shape a more assertive response to US sanctions. The fact is in the entire Asian littoral no country, other than India,has the resources, territorial expanse and pivotal location for staging and sustaining massive military operations in the Indo-Pacific region. Without India, US military forces would be restricted, as they are now, to concentrated deployment at the two ends – US 7th Fleet out of Yokosuka, Japan, and the US 5th Fleet in Bahrain. In this context, the question the PM should have asked himself is not whether India can manage without an indifferent America, but whether the US can do without a friendly India.

Except by appearing too eager, too ready to please, Modi showed obsequiousness, a quality Trump disdains, respecting willfulness and strength in leaders and nations. It led Washington to assume, correctly as it tuned out,that the BJP government, unmotivated by national interest, can be fobbed off with small favours, such as conditional waiver of CAATSA sanctions on Iran oil and the buy of the Russian S-400 system. And that the Modi dispensation will happily be a party to India’s strategic reduction as camp follower.

In the event, rather than putting in place an alternative sovereign banking channel to facilitate India-Iran trade, such as the one contemplated with Russia, and a “blocking statute” providing legal cover for Indian companies doing business with Iran – the sort of move the European Union has made in response to US’ Iran sanctions, and otherwise ruthlessly using geopolitical logic to leverage a hands-off attitude to India’s Iran and Russia policies from Washington, Modi caved in.

India’s strategic autonomy and policy freedom as a result are being compromised, the decimation of this country’s longstanding Iran policy being an egregious example. Modi is siding with the US in strangulating Iran’s oil and gas-based economy. The US aims to slash Iranian oil production to some 300,000 barrels per day – the bare minimum necessary for survival, from a high of 3.9 million barrels in 2004. Delhi has done its bit by cutting its Iranian oil imports by a third with more to follow, even expensively retrofitting Indian refineries that previously processed Iranian crude with the wherewithal to process Saudi oil.

The consequence of India’s complicity in furthering the American design means that Tehran will close in with China as savior and degrade its ties to India. Instead of India cementing its vantage point in Chabahar, consolidating its presence in the Gulf, and radiating its influence northwards to Afghanistan and Central Asia, it will be Beijing in the driver’s seat. Worse, the possibility of pincering the Chinese and Pakistan navies ex-Gwadar and ex-Djibouti on the Horn of Africa (where China has established a military base)with Indian naval presence in Iran and Seychelles, will be nullified. Domestically, it will erode BJP’s support among the Indian shia community.

Doval recently referred to India under Modi as a “decisive” power. India is decisive alright — decisively submissive to the US (and China). Bad policy from a supposedly strong “nationalist” leader and government.


Published as a ‘Web Exclusive’ by Open magazine, Nov 16, 2018, at




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Opportunities stay missed

Image result for pics of 2018 Indian Ocean Naval symposium in Kochi

[CNS, ADM Sunil Lanba, and RADM Hossain Khanzadi, chief of the Iranian Navy in Kochi]

Thank God for the Indian Government showing some sense in inviting the Iran naval chief, Rear Admiral Hossain Khanzadi, to attend the 10th Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) conducted in Kochi, HQrs Southern Naval Command Nov 13-15.  Billed as a home-grown maritime initiative in the new Century that is aimed at information sharing to obtain “mutually beneficial outcomes” (per an Indian Navy press release), IONS has 36 member and observer states (Australia, Turkey, Netherlands, etc) . Given the Modi regime’s incurable desire to please Washington every which way and then some, the permission to Iran was by no means foreordained, considering Delhi seems intent on upsetting Tehran by falling in with the US policy of killing Iran’s oil economy softly with sanctions. Why else has India reduced its Iranian oil off-take by a third? So Khanzadi’s presence was a welcome departure from what was  expected.

On the other hand, the Modi government was true to form on Pakistan. Despite our immediate neighbour to the west being a charter member of the 36-member IONS, it was disinvited from the Kochi event. It led Pakistan to warn that the “precedence of selective invitations” will “erode the spirit of the forum”. This is no small matter, given that the Symposium is meant to encourage “cooperative capacity-building to deal with common security concerns” and partake of collectively helpful activities, like information sharing at the heart of the Information Fusion Centre, located in peninsular India, that the Indian Navy has been authorized to establish. Singapore has such a centre to keeps tabs on merchant ships plying the Malacca Strait and the proximal waters.

With the Indian and Singapore IFCs connected, there will be in an interlocked information grid spanning the seas from the Philippines to the arc Simonstown-Suez-Hormuz to track and mount surveillance of “white shipping” in this oceanic expanse. It could be the information/data base to instantly identify Chinese merchant vessels in the “theatre-switching strategy” — if PLA acts up on the land border, India turns the screw on Chinese naval and merchant marine in the Indian Ocean — that Delhi is enamoured by. This even though such a strategy, as I have argued, promises to be ineffectual — the reasons why have been elaborated by me in in previous posts and in much detail, particularly in my book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, and won’t be repeated here.

But it is precisely the military undergirding of the IFCs that may have played on the Pakistan-induced paranoia the BJP government suffers from.  It is in line with Modi’s complaining bitterly  about the 26/11 Pakistani villains Hafeez Saeed and the LeT lot being “mainstreamed” into the Pakistan system (because they have been allowed to fight elections)  — as has by now become the Indian norm — to US Vice President, Mike Pence, on the sidelines of the Asia summit in Singapore Nov 14. In response, Pence said little that was relevant to the issue of Pakistani terrorism raised by Modi. Just how noncommittal the American VP was may be gauged from Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s statement issued after the Modi-Pence meet:  “There was some good understanding of how we can move forward in building cooperation in counter-terrorism, and both countries recognized this as a challenge we have to fight together and along with the rest of the international community.” This as, the American idiom goes, does not amount to a “hill of beans”! Likewise, Modi’s pleas on the other issue that the BJP government cries itself hoarse about — the fast-closing H1B visa channel for Indian tech coolies with his talk of India as a “treasury of talent” and of people capable of technological innovation, fell on deaf ears.

If India boasts of such huge talent and capacity for innovation, well, how about making the Indian milieu receptive to upwardly striving young engineers, scientists and doctors by removing the dead hand of the Indian government from the lives of the Indian people, Mr Modi, so that Indians can fulfill their aspirations in their own country, and you wouldn’t have to beg for consideration from Western leaders? But, of course, such thinking is not on the prime minister’s mind. In the event,  the Indian PM received not a nod in acknowledgement from Pence about the issue Delhi has been hammering away at for all of Modi’s so far 4 and half years in office.

By making so much about the supposed threat from Pakistan and thus raising that country’s stock in the world for which Islamabad should be eternally grateful, it stands to reason that with IONS gone, another opportunity to bind the countries of southern Asia into an economic whole to benefit India at the centre of it, this one to do with the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline, too will go waste.

Muhammetmyrat Amanov, the Turkmen CEO of the TAPI pipeline project recently announced to an industry conference in Dubai that it was on track, with the total cost being reduced from from $10 billion to $7 billion, with the first, foundational, stage costing only $5 billion. “We are planning”, he said, “to make a final investment decision in the first half of next year and then, stage by stage, finalize construction in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India.” He also stated that the gas would be flowing to Afghanistan by next year end and to Pakistan inside of two years. What has helped the TAPI project to be up and running is the financing secured from German agencies whose credit line will fund the purchase of the necessary capital equipment.

The question, therefore: Is the Modi government aware of any of these developments and on the same page as Mr Amanov? Oh, yes, the then minister of state MJ Akbar reiterated India’s commitment to TAPI pipeline when visiting Ashgabat in end-February this year, talking of it as a “benchmark” of regional cooperation. That’s the formal stand. Because the fact is, after the initial burst of enthusiasm, Delhi’s attitude to this energy boon, astonishingly, has been preternaturally tepid. Sure, the Indian government doubts whether, given the existing conditions, the gas will flow freely across Afghanistan and Pakistan. But then Delhi has insisted that payments for the gas will be made only on actual delivery to the Indian end of the TAPI terminal for onward distribution. Fair enough. But doesn’t Amanov’s statement suggest that the Turkmen government has worked out the arrangements for the smooth and uninterrupted flow of gas with Ghanis’s Kabul and Islamabad? So, where’s the problem and why the hesitation? Unless it is that Modi doesn’t want Pakistan to gain from the transit duties on the gas which will be a substantial sum of monies earned by Pakistan with the Asian Development Bank estimating that the TAPI pipeline will be profitable only if a minimum of  30-33 billion cubic metres of gas annually flow through it.

Meanwhile, China is waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in to buy the Turkmen gas and extend the  pipeline eastwards to grow the economy of Xinjiang,  if India falters. What are the odds that India won’t  (falter, that is)?

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