Agnipath: Seminal Reset Now, But More Problems Later

An Indian army officer measures the height of a youth during a recruitment drive in Ahmedabad.
(Photograph: REUTERS/Amit Dave)

Agnipath – the scheme for a four-year ‘tour of duty’ as the mainstay of recruitment into the military services announced by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the other day, alas, has more negatives attending on it than clear-cut benefits.

Shedding Colonial Structures

The pros first: It is a seminal attempt at reconfiguring the imperial-era structured mercenary army that had won for the British their globe-girdling empire. In its post-1947 avatar, the Indian Army continued with its colonial institutions and affectations, such as the officers’ mess and cantonment culture, that has long irked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is, perhaps, the prompt for this underway policy to ‘Indianise’ the military.

National armed forces comprising sometime soldiers, Agniveers, may constitute—in one sense—a genuinely citizen military. But whether it will obtain an effective modern army, navy, and air force is an issue deserving attention.

It will be intriguing, in any case, to see how the army chief, General Manoj Pande, a veteran sapper, proposes to re-engineer the infantry-heavy army dominated by proud, single class, regiments (Gurkha, Sikh, Jat, Madras, Maratha, etc.) deliberately designed during the British Raj on the politically astute but divisive myth of the ‘martial races’ into an army of Agniveers.

Three Vastly Different Services

Rajnath Singh was joined at the podium by the three services’ Chiefs of Staff. But let’s be clear that it is the infantry-heavy army – the least technical among them, that will mainly take in the short service recruits because the navy and air force simply cannot be expected to do so. Their relatively small manpower requirements coupled with technology-based wherewithal and war fighting concepts deter them from following Agnipath.

Ironically, it is precisely the technical expertise imparted to entrance-level sailors and airmen in esoteric technologies to enable them in peacetime and war, to operate systems of all kinds (sonar, avionics, radar, communications, etc.), to run and maintain warships and aircraft, to upkeep powerplants and weapons and secondary systems onboard varied platforms, and otherwise to keep the Indian Navy and the Air Force in play, that makes them more readily employable in the civilian world should any of them seek an early exit from military careers or a second career post-retirement.

In other words, many of the positives Rajnath Singh claimed for the Agnipath programme, such as producing technically competent, high-tech workers that industry would gladly offtake and who will end up increasing labour productivity, and spurring industrial and GDP growth, etc., are an exaggeration. Because it is certain that the 25% of the Agniveer cohort who show any talent for technology will be retained by the army to run its high-tech equipment.

The reason for this is because of the differing nature of warfare the three armed services prepare for. While air and naval warfighting are, as mentioned, machine-intensive, land wars are manpower weighted. An army needs unending hordes of preferably youthful ‘boots on the ground’ to fight for and hold mountainous territory against a hostile China.

Moreover, training a person with a high school or higher education to handle an assault rifle and to master basic infantry tactics is manifestly easier, takes less time, and costs far, far less than getting a newly minted sailor to become an expert, say, in sonar operations or to turn an airman into a proficient combat aircraft jet engine mechanic

What After The Four Years?

The average Agniveer may join with the idea of achieving some technical competence at the end of four years of service, but will soon discover he is only another passed-over infantry grunt with no marketable skills to sell, other than—as is the case now—as a hire for the proliferating private agencies in the business of providing ‘security’ to buildings and compounds.

In the event, how much of an incentive is the Rs 12-14 lakh bounty promised the Agniveer at the end of his brief army tenure? Of course, Rs 12-14 lakh is not a sum to be sneezed at. For the masses of otherwise inadequately-educated and unemployable youth, this money is magnet enough. But as roughly 30,000 of each year’s Agniveer cohort—the current level of army retirees—is disgorged into the society two things might happen, neither of them good.

Discontent will spread fast among them once they realise their job prospects are as bleak as ever. The frustrated among them, now trained to use small arms and chemical explosives, may choose to use these newly acquired skills for criminal, even insurrectionary, purposes and emerge as a major law and order-qua-internal security problem for the country.

Or, and this is more likely, political pressure will begin brewing – grassroots up, almost from the programme initiation stage, especially in the population-dense, voter-rich, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, where the Agnipath intake can expect to be the largest – to convert the four-year contracted tenure of the Agniveers to 15-year military service with pension.

This is the usual end-state of all supposedly ‘temporary’ government workers ranging from clerks, school teachers, safai karamcharis to anganwadi helpers.

Compounding The Problem You Set Out To Solve

Is there a politician alive who will be able to resist such pressure, in an election year (which is nearly every year)? And, lo and behold, the army will become still more bloated, and the defence pensions budget more distended. The harbinger of things to come is the violent anti-Agnipath protest in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The youth demographic seems to be saying that patriotism and military service are good but they prefer pensionable jobs anywhere they can get them.

The Agnipath scheme designed to solve the problems of an aging army and ballooning defence pensions could end up, at best, only compounding them.

More immediately, assuming General Pande needs six months to firm up the new recruitment process, the Agniveer army could begin forming up only by next year or even by 2024 when the next Lok Sabha elections are due. Who is to say Agnipath won’t win Modi yet another term in office with a bigger majority, even if it means succeeding governments and the Indian taxpayers are left holding the can?


A version of this piece published 16 June 2022 in BloombergQuint (BQ) Prime, at https://www.bqprime.com/opinion/agnipath-seminal-reset-now-but-more-problems-later

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The Army’s sizing dilemma

Indian Army Recruitment 2018: Indian Army recruiting for multiple posts;  July 16 last date to apply

[An army recruitment rally]

An attribute of a poor over-populated Third World India, where a majority of the people still eke out a marginal existence is that no job, however dangerous, goes unfilled. It matters little if that vacancy is in the public or private sector, or how menial and risky it is. For those living hand to mouth — some 70% of the population of 1.3 billion, any job is better than not having one.

The most sought-after jobs for the masses of the barely literate unemployables, including cleaning sewers, sweeping city lanes, laying railway tracks or dumping hot bitumen to make roads in the heat of the noonday sun, are where the government (central, state, municipal) is employer. Because they promise a steady income and pensionable retirement.

Then there are the railways and the defence services — the two biggest central government employers.

The railways have 1.26 million persons on the payroll. The railway retirees totaling some 1.55 million people exceed the 1.25 million in active service, and the pension costs amount to some Rs 53,000 crores — fully 25% of the revenue of the railways (in 2021), with monthly pension averaging Rs 9,000.

55,000 personnel retire annually from the 1.4 million strong armed services, with defence civilians being in larger proportion. (The defence civilian was discussed in the previous post.) It has resulted in a perpetually growing defence pensioner community that has now ballooned to 2.6 million retirees. The average annual defence civilian pension is roughly Rs. 5.38 lakhs versus Rs. 1.38 lakhs for military pensioners, reflecting longer career spans for the former. 

The trouble is public and political pressure is the greatest on the railways and, especially, the armed services, to if not increase their manpower requirements than NOT to reduce them, nor in any way to restrict youth offtake from the traditional recruiting areas of Punjab, Haryana, et al. It is one of the reasons for India remaining stuck with a populous, industrial age, army that seems incapable of transforming itself into a force capable of cyber age warfare of the near future featuring Artificial Intelligence (AI), drone swarms, and autonomous weapons systems. This is so as much for want of political will as of financial and technological resources. The choice therefore is between investing in growingly expensive manpower, or in new fangled technology and exhorbitantly-priced in-date armaments.

Now collate the fact of a resource-constrained army with the nature of the youth demographic in the country. The “youth bulge” of a few years ago is flattening out. Young men and women below 25 years of age comprise half of India’s population. But of this 50%, the cohort in the 19-23 years age group — the feedstock for the army, actually peaked at 127 million last year (2021). Decreasing fertility rates owing to increases in education levels of women and their entry into the workforce is why. That is good news.

But this development in no way lessens the impact of the factors exacerbating the unemployment problem. The most devastating of these is the sub-standard education system mass-producing, for all practical purposes, illiterates. Instead of citing bone dry statistics, let me reproduce here an illustrative example of the tragedy being played out all too often in this country of too few even lowest category government jobs being chased by far too many supposedly well-degreed youth, featured in a monograph on India’s “demographic burden” by a French political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot. “When the Indian Railways announced that it would create 63,000 jobs – all situated in the lowest level of its employment ladder”, he writes, “20 million candidates applied, including 419,137 BTech degrees holders and 40,751 people with master degrees in engineering.” That is 318 applicants for each of the 63,000 “trolleyman” or track labourer jobs on offer! He doesn’t mention the riots that occur, albeit irregularly, at railway and army recruitment centres and rallies.

What this says about the “BTech” and “Masters” degrees liberally dispensed like so much confetti is best left unsaid. But the effect on those 19 million odd youth in the above railways case who failed to get even the meanest job they applied for, must be devastating. It highlights what I have in the past written about — the urgent need for the government to stress vocational training obtaining persons with skill-sets ranging from the quotidian (plumbing, electrician work) to really high-value (high-pressure welding, care and maintenance of robotic machines, etc.) with strict professional certification standards geared to industry needs. Instead, thanks to government policies a fairly unregulated educational sphere thrives with literally hundreds of thousands of colleges in just as many rinky-dink universities yearly pushing out into the labour market unimaginable numbers of unemployable youth with degrees in all sorts of disciplines that count for less than nothing. The analog here of students at the lower secondary level (according to newsreports regarding Delhi government schools which, incidentally, are among the better-run school systems in India!!) — Class 5 students unable to read Class 2 texts, or to do a simple division.

In any case, it is the 19-23 year old youth cohort at the centre of the latest army recruitment policy innovation that’s apparently being considered by the government. In order ostensibly to curb the defence payroll and pensions spend, it proposes a binding contract for all army recruits of four years service, with only a quarter of every cohort being retained after the initial 4-year tenure for longer service with the proviso that the time pulled upto that date of service extension is not counted for purposes of remuneration, seniority, promotion, retirement benefits, etc.

This is, for obvious reasons, a singularly silly scheme and has the fingerprints all over it of the Niti Ayog caboodle run by that glib, voluble, jargon-spouting super-annuated civil servant — Amitabh Kanth, heading it. It is unlikely any uniformed brass took it seriously. In any case, it was leaked to the press to ascertain the public reaction — the usual kite-flying exercise the government occasionaly indulges in. It has elicited a lot of heated responses.

Particularly noticeable was the reaction of a retired armoured corps officer, Major General Bishambar Dayal, in a May 29 Hindi TV news programme debate on the subject. He was so agitated, it is a wonder he wasn’t marched off from the TV studio to the police station charged with violating the infamous sedition law — Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.

Dayal first hinted reasonably that army HQ had no part in cobbling this 4-year “tour of duty” service concept. He then ranted — going seriously akilter as he went along — that the Indian army has never relied for success on technology as much as it did on highly motivated jawans. And how this idea of short term trooper level service system being proposed would blow up the traditional “naam, namak, nishan” basis of unit proficiency. He topped it by well, inciting — there’s no other word for it — the youth to come out on the streets to compel the government and the army to back down. When questioned he sheepishly acknowledged, however, that the prevailing policy of 15-year colour service with lifelong pension to follow of a manpower-intensive fighting force may not, after all, be sustainable. (Refer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnsqzvCkezA )!

The most alarming aspect, even more than his call to arms, as it were, to Indian youth, all rendered in thunderous fashion, was his view that the army had to retain its basic nature as primarily an employment generator and social escalator particularly for rural youth — because, he raved, the jawan is the “brahmastra”, not weapons or technology, and that, by implication, that any army plan to transition to a more compact, technologically in-date, fighting force, is to go down the wrong track! His opinions, perhaps shared by many other officers and Other Ranks, reveal the inertia the army appears to be cocooned in.

But in one respect Dayal is right. Right-sizing the army cannot be effected on the basis of a slapdash proposal sans thought such as this one, put together by God knows who, but needs to be done on the basis of a detailed study by the CDS secretariat to see the extent to which the current strength of the army and of specific combat arms and technical and other cadres can be pruned partially or fully to accommodate automated weapons systems driven by AI in the order-of-battle. Decisions will also have to be made about such parts of the military’s functioning that can be out-sourced based on their econo-military effect and consequences, and accordingly to alight on a force restructuring plan and programme.

Then again, if economizing on the forces and curbing expenditure on payroll and pensions is the immediate and urgent goal, why not revert to the original 5/7 year colour service the army had followed up to the 1970s before the lifetime employment notion was implemented, hurting the army’s agility, stamina and edge on the battlefield?

Indeed, in the classified report on defence expenditure as Adviser, defence expenditure I had prepared for the 10th Finance Commission chaired by the former defence minister, the late KC Pant, I had flagged the issue of pension costs soon outpacing the combined military modernization costs on capital account and the running/maintenance costs on revenue account. I had outlined a schemata for streamlining manpower management and flow from the army to the paramilitary forces and state police armed constabulariries. The Narasimha Rao government in 1995 had accepted that report in toto,

It was really a simple arrangement that was articulated. An average jawan after 7-year colour service would join the reserve but concurrently, after a short reorientation training for civilian law & order duties, join the paramilitary organization with vacancies for service until retirement. Because the demobilized and already skilled jawans would need no weapons, tactical, or technical training (signals, maintenance, logistics, etc), it would save the national exchequer huge sums of money currently spent on training and on related establishments of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, Border Security Force, Central Reseve Police Force, Industrial Security Force, et al all controlled by the Home Ministry. It would result, I contended, in these paramils becoming more effective in the field and displaying unit coherence and discipline — an inherent carryover from army service, that is not as readily evident in these paramilitary organizations. The financial benefit would be that the pension payout on military account would be deferred, leading to considerable cuts in defence pension allocations.This plan, suitably amended, deters pension-seeking by men in their late twenties, and needs only to be dusted off, fleshed out, and brought up-todate.

The core idea in it is to establish the army as the sole source of trained and skilled armed manpower for not just the central paramils but all state armed police units, including the police Special Forces (such as the Andhra Pradesh state police’s Greyhound force) active in counter-insurgency role. There is an in-built integrity to this scheme of armed manpower management that’s missing in current atomised arrangements that end up being a drain on financial resources and a waste of skilled military manpower — neither of which India can afford.

The positives of this model notwithstanding, it has no chance realistically of being adopted by the governments at the centre and in the states all of whom zealosuly guard their separate recruiting turfs because it is in the paramilitary and state police recruitment that politicians can exercise their power of patronage, besides having armed forces they can command and control.

So, the present way of doing things will be persisted with. Myriad paramils each with its own “culture” and “ethos” and, ironically, a desperate desire to be like the army in all respects — arms training, uniforms, insignia of rank, procedures and protocols end up being what they are — bad copies of the original. Moreover, because the paramils are run by Indian Police Service officers, these domestic law and order forces responsible for internal security end up with the characteristic ills of the Indian police, including corruption, lax operating style, and a “dheela-dhala” attitude.

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Modi Govt @ 8| Two vexing defence problems the Narendra Modi government has dealt with

Under the Narendra Modi-led government, we have seen a refreshingly bold departure from the past when governments seemed unwilling to deal with two defence-related problems: the pension issue, and the more debilitating matter of reliance on foreign arms 

————————

May 26 marks eight years since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister of India,
and since 2014 a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance
(NDA) government has been in power at the Centre. Where defence and national
security are concerned, the people of India have been told that this government
is sufficiently alert and effective in protecting national interests and
territory.

The government has proved particularly adept in wrapping itself around the
flag and associating with the military. Unwittingly though while resolving some
longstanding issues, other equally baffling problems have been created.

The government has delivered, for instance, on its ‘One Rank, One Pension’
promise — a nettlesome issue previous governments kicked down the road for want
of financial resources. In the 2022 defence budget of Rs 5.25 lakh-crore, the
Rs 1.19 lakh-crore pensions bill combined with the outgo on payroll expenses
exceeds the spend on force modernisation and maintenance costs. Should this
trend continue, India will soon be able to afford either an adequately sized
force, or the weapons to equip it supported by minimal stocks of spares and
ammo — not both.

It may be recalled that based on the projected economic growth rate, and
assumption of annualised 10 percent increase the defence budget was expected to
reach the 3 percent GDP level recommended by the 11th Finance Commission by
2004. In reality, the defence budget has stagnated at the 2-plus percent of GDP
level, and budgetary increases have barely kept pace with inflation. The
result: No buck, no bang! Still the armed services have managed somehow to
contend with live, disputed, borders with China and Pakistan. How well? Don’t
ask.

There is a simple two-pronged solution that has not so far occurred to the Government of India. First, to match the military manpower cuts, the strength of 400,000 ‘defence civilians’ employed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) should be slashed by half. India needs DRDO scientists, engineers, and the like, but can do without the horde of peons, clerks, stenographers, and section officers clogging up the MOD and other government offices everywhere. Official business conducted through a safeguarded computer network will eliminate the hopeless files-system and the endless numbers of babus associated with it, and coffee/tea machines can replace peons, and improve the MOD’s dismal operating efficiency.

Second, the defence civilian pensions should be shifted to the Government of
India administration pensions account, thereby, at a stroke, freeing up roughly
80 percent of the defence pensions bill monopolised by retired defence
civilians. It is monies the armed services can utilise to sharpen their
war-fighting capability.

Through these two steps the Prime Minister can be credited for, (1)
modernising the Indian military, making it razor-sharp, without raising the
defence allocation, (2) digitising and de-bureaucratising the MOD (as a test
bed for upgrading the government’s conduct of business), and; (3) removing the
demeaning caste-like hierarchy featuring low-grade workers.

The other major change in the defence sphere is the drive to make India
self-reliant in armaments. Again, Modi had the right idea with his aatmnirbharta policy.
Except, in the years since he mooted it, there has been more confusion and
drift than genuine progress; a situation not improved by a series of updated
defence procurement procedure documents issued by the MOD that regularly trip
up Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and ministry officials as much as they do the
military brass and public and private sector defence industrial companies.

No one is quite sure what aatmnirbharta means. Do foreign
companies producing dated military products (F-16 fighter plane, say) fit the
guidelines? But doesn’t that undercut the objective? To compound the confusion,
Singh in the past year has released lists of military goods the armed services
can no longer import, including major weapons systems such as helicopters,
artillery guns, warships, and submarines. It is supposed to encourage
in-country research, design, development and production of advanced weaponry,
and support systems, save the country tens of billions of dollars in hard
currency, seed a vibrant defence industrial ecosystem to meet the armed
services’ equipment needs, to generate export revenues, and have a multiplier
effect on the rest of the economy.

Singh’s negative lists, prima facie, suggest the government wants results
fast, to obtain which it is prepared to throw all concerned parties into deep
water, and hope they learn to swim. This, incidentally, is the correct approach
to shock the armed services, the MOD, and defence public sector units,
habituated to weapons systems screw-drivered from imported completely knocked
down (CKD) and semi-knocked down (SKD) kits, out of their licensed manufacture
comfort zone.

Denied the import option, the military will have to take ownership of
indigenous weapons projects and, crucially, prepare to fight with
Indian-designed armaments that may not initially meet the foreign weapons
standard. It is an unavoidable stage in making aatmnirbharta work.

The Modi years to-date have seen a refreshingly bold departure from the past
when the government seemed unwilling to deal with the two main tasks at hand,
namely, the pensions issue that had the entire military community up in arms,
and the more debilitating matter of reliance on foreign arms.

The solution for the first problem was enabled by the government’s readiness
to sequester the necessary funds and take a financial hit, and for the second,
was the decision to kickstart the Indian defence industrial economy by closing
off the imports channel, and incentivising the public sector and private sector
companies with promise of full order books. India may finally be on the way,
hiccups apart, to consolidating its military power.

———-

Published May 25, 2022 as part of a series of articles assessing 8 years of the Modi government in Moneycontrol.com, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/modi-govt-8-two-vexing-defence-problems-the-narendra-modi-government-has-dealt-with-8572091.html 

 

 

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A ‘get to know’ Quad summit and the missed US-2 opportunity with Japan

[Modi and the new Australian PM, Anthony Albanese]

One of the reasons the outgoing Conservative party prime minister Scott Morrison quickly conceded the elections was to give Canberra the time to prep the incoming Labour party PM, Anthony Albanese, for the Tokyo summit of the Quadrilateral heads of government, May 23-25. But, however, successful the Australian Foreign Office is in bringing Albanese upto speed, it is unlikely he will have crystalized his party’s views on anything as to begin negotiating substantively with his Quad counterparts, even less to commiting Australia to new initiatives. Especially because, it is still not certain that the ruling Labour Party will have a majority and have its own government, or whether Albanese will have to make-do with a coalition government with smaller parties and independents, which will necessitate policy compromises.

In the event, much of the summit will be spent with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, US President Joe Biden, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who technically is the most experienced of this lot of leaders in both foreign and military policy fields, getting to know the new Australian leader. Kishida was foreign minister from 2012 to 2016 in Shinzo Abe’s government and in 2017 pulled time as Japan’s defence minister.

But niceties apart, there are certain things about Albanese that will help him resonate with Modi. In his acceptance speech, he reminded the audience about his humble background — he grew up with his mother who is a “welfare pensioner” — something that’s bound to stir Modi’s empathy and fellow-feeling. Moreover, his promise to make his country “a renewable energy superpower” — meaning hydrogen, solar and wind power, parallels Modi’s own agenda of making India a leading “hydrogen power” by 2050. This could be the context for substantive collaboration in developing renewable energy technologies and, foreign policy-wise, will be the low-hanging fruit Modi and Albanese can pluck.

However, on issues relating to the Quad’s raison d’etre — containing China by all means, particularly military, there may be chasm between Australia and the other Quad members. With Morrison’s single-minded security-oriented approach missing from the Tokyo pow-wows, a wishy-washy attitude may prevail vis a vis collaring China. The work will thus be cut out for Biden to persuade Albanese to, at least, continue with Morrison’s policy of permitting the northern Australian coast to be built up as an extended staging area for American and other Quad air, naval, and land forces. In fact, to thwart the Chinese PLA, navy and air force from acting up in the South China Sea and, precipitously, against Taiwan, the US Army already has over a thousand troops stationed in Darwin. This port is also being configured to host US navy’s nuclear-powered attack and cruise and ballistic missile-firing submarines. How Albanese will dovetail these aspects with his government’s economic imperative to ease relations with China,is a matter of conjecture.

But given that the Australian economy has slowed down considerably — the main reason for Morrison and his party losing the elctions — and is in need of a quick “pick me up”, reopening the Australian market to Chinese goods is a fix Albanese will opt for. Chinese exports in the last 20 years registered a double digit annualised growth rate, in 2020 touching some $58 billion. In turn, Albanese will hope Beijing opens the tap for Chinese investments in the extractive and other industries and otherwise kick-start the Australian economy. Aware of the wind blowing its way, Beijing has already begun to incentivize this trend by increasing Australian revenues from importing, in the main, Australian grain, gas, iron ore, and coal. The intent, no doubt, being to weaken the security cooperation aspects of the Quad that the Xi Jinping regime has publicly voiced its displeaure against. Indeed, it is the fear of provokng China that thas resulted in both Delhi and Tokyo tippy-toeing around the military objectives of the Quad.

[Prime Minister Fumio Kishida]

And it is precisely this fear of China that has been the biggest stumbling block in ratcheting up the India-Japan strategic partnership. In Japan’s case, because it now also has a potentially rogue Russia run by Vladimir Putin, in a raggedy war in Ukraine in which the Russian army, for whatever reasons, has still not conducted an all-fronts smash-up campaign, potentially lashing out, as Tokyo suspects and, suicidally, opening another front on the Kurile Islands. This in any case is a contingency Tokyo is becoming alive to.

In India’s case, it is because of the Indian government’s and the Indian military’s seeming inability to think and act strategically — now part of their DNA. The chance for a really China-constrictor set-up was provided by Abe — the first Asian leader in recent times with a truly strategic bent of mind. In 2007, in his second year in his first short tenure of 2 years as prime minister he proposed the “security diamond”. He did so not in the US or in any European forum or even from a prestigious platform in his native Tokyo, but in his address to the Indian Parliament. It indicated the centrality he accorded India. Elected back to power in 2012 for a longer run as prime minister, a post he voluntarily vacated in 2020, Abe worked on that “security diamond”, fashioning it with Washington into the more practicable (and less abstract) Quadrilateral.

Tragically, that Quadrilateral, has been running in place and going nowhere since, in part because it lacks a military mission and motor which, in turn, can be attributed to Modi picking the wrong project to prioritise from among the items offered India by Abe during his January 2014 state visit — four months before Modi swept into power. In the following years, as flagship of the strategic partnership, Modi chose to install the Shinkansen highspeed railway connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad with Japanese credit worth $15 billion rather than use that money to set up a plant to produce the Shinmaywa short takeoff US-2 multirole maritime aircraft and its spares to meet the Indian Navy’s needs as well as the global demand!

[US-2 taking off]

Unanimously rated the best such aircraft in the world, the US-2 is adept variously in surveillance and reconnaissance, in the antiship attack role, in landing on a coin anywhere, including near oil rigs carrying provisions, repair material or rotational crews, or next to smuggler dhows or motorised craft carrying terrorists for seaborne attack (as on Mumbai 26/11 in 2008) or Somali pirates operating off Aden, allowing the on-board marine commando (MARCOS) in the latter instances to take care of business, or even to airlift Special Forces for expeditionary tasks on the Indo-Pacific littoral or in protection of friendly island-nations (Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles, Sri Lanka). It can do all this in really rough sea conditions, and is the pluperfect platform for patrolling and protecting 24/7 the country’s 572 widely dispersed island territories in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and in the Arabian Sea.

So, what does the most strategic-minded among the Indian armed services — the Indian Navy, do? it rejects Japan’s US-2 project, saying its immediate requirement of just 12 US-2s did not justify such expenditure and that it’d stick with the antiquated Dornier 228s instead. The Navy has understated its US-2 requirement. Just as replacement for the Dorniers, the Navy alone will need 27 US-2s and the Indian Coast Guard another 17, for a total of 44 US-2s — a very respectable first order for the Indian-built flying boat. But no, 12 is the number the Navy stuck to, never mind the full technology transfer and manufacturing wherewithal and training that Japan promised, or the contract for supply of Indian-made spares for US-2s everywhere, and even grant-in Japanese aid to finance the whole deal! (The US-2 fiasco is detailed in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, pp. 256-269.)

Hardly to be wondered then that Tokyo assessed India and its government to be not worth the strategic trouble, and reconciled itself to doing things “the India Way” — playing the short game for small gains. Hence, security cooperation is showcased by joint naval exercises and such. When a project with limited impact and then mostly in Modi’s Gujarat is preferred to one that’d have enabled India to secure a versatile flying boat, establish itself as the sole producer of the US-2 aircraft in the world, and to seed a genuine aerospace industry in the bargain, what’s left to say?

Still, if there’s any residual strategic wit remaining anywhere in the Indian government and the military one prays even at this late hour for that wit to manifest itself in a prompt to Prime Minister Modi to try and revive the Shinmaywa US-2 deal even if now India has to pay for it out of its own pocket.

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‘Don’t Expect US Help In A War With China’

A 2-part interview in Rediff News published on May 19 & May 20

Part 1 

‘The US will not want to tangle with China landwards.’
‘Nor will the US confront the Chinese navy seawards on India’s account.’

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at a joint news conference with United States Secretary of State Antony J Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III after the fourth India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue at the US State Department in Washington, DC. Photograph: Michael A McCoy/Pool via Reuters

Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, believes the time has come for the Narendra Damodardas Modi government to draw up a strategic non-aligned policy to suit India’s interests.

“India, its government, and Indians, generally, will have to get out of the debilitating habit of mind of expecting some big power to come to its aid and fight its wars,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal in the first of a two-part interview:

Home Minister Amit Shah said at a book launch in New Delhi on May 11 that Prime Minister Modi has transformed India’s foreign policy and made it subordinate to India’s defence and security interests.

This is true, especially in light of the Ukraine developments when the Modi government successfully resisted the relentless pressure the US and West European States, in particular, put on New Delhi to sever India’s arms and energy supply lines to Russia.

In the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, has India’s tight rope walking between looking after its interests vis a vis Russia without displeasing the US been a success? In the event of a Chinese attack in the future, will the US come to our rescue?
What about Home Minister Shah’s statement made on May 5 where he spoke about India reclaiming Pakistan occupied Kashmir?

India, its government, and Indians, generally, will have to get out of the debilitating habit of mind of expecting some big power to come to its aid and fight its wars.

  • That has never happened in the past and will not in the future — no matter what is at stake.

The US will not, in particular, want to tangle with China landwards — a policy inhibition nursed from the Korean War (1950-1953) when the US-led Allied forces suffered grievous losses and were pushed by the PLA back down to the 39th Parallel where the lines stabilised on the present North Korea-South Korea border.

Nor will the US confront the Chinese navy seawards on India’s account.

Washington may, however, channel real time intelligence, etc and do things that do not in any way involve American ‘boots on the ground’.

The aggressive ‘recovery of Pakistan occupied Kashmir’ issue raised by the Modi regime seems to be more a provincial and national political ploy to keep Pakistan and the domestic Opposition on the defensive, primarily because militarily it is a difficult goal to achieve what with Chinese strategic interests being directly engaged with the Belt and Road Initiative-related ‘China-Pakistan economic corridor’.

There is an equally strong possibility that with Russia’s increasing dependence on the Chinese, the Russians will also not come to our help in case of a Chinese attack.

Russia will not come to India’s direct assistance either.

It, in any case, will have enough on its hands for the next few decades by way of reconstructing its own economy (sans revenues worth some 300 million euros a day from export of oil and gas to Germany and other European States) and that of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine it will annex.

As far as the Russia-China nexus goes, Moscow is no strategic fool.

It is mindful of not being a cog in China’s hegemonic designs and is as wary of potential territorial inroads by China in mineral rich eastern Siberia as India is about a Chinese imperium in Asia and the PLA occupying Indian land in Ladakh and elsewhere.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi hands over the indigenously developed Arjun Main Battle Tank (Mark 1A) tanks to the Indian Army in Chennai. Photograph: PTI Photo

A perception that has gained ground as a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war is that Russian weaponry has not proved to be all that good and therefore demand for it will be reduced in the future.
Do you see that happening in the case of India which remains heavily dependent on Russia for arms supplies?

All weapons systems end up performing less than as advertised in brochures and by arms salesmen.

That said, yes, the Ukrainian partisans have revealed a major design flaw, for instance, in the T-72 main battle tank — the wrong placement of the ammo storage compartment under the crew cupola, which tends to blow up with the first guided anti-tank munition hit midship.

It is a matter of grave concern to the Indian armoured forces featuring the T-72.

Maybe, this will finally convince the armoured brass in the directorate in army headquarters to take ownership of the indigenous Arjun MBT (which handily beat the Russian T-90 and T-72 tanks in test trials in all weather, all conditions, all terrains!), and to buy this Indian combat vehicle in bulk and invest fully in its further improvement.

On the other hand, the Su-30MKI air superiority fighter and the MiG-29 for air defence have no peers.

But even these renowned planes pale in many performance aspects to the home-grown Tejas 1A! If the Ukraine crisis proves anything it is for the Indian military to ‘Buy Indian’ so that Prime Minister Modi’s laudable atmanirbharta mantra does not remain mere rhetoric.

I ask this question in the context that in a recent article, you have very caustically mentioned how the 2008 India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement which was supposed to deliver ‘20,000 MW by 2020’ and the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative to transfer advanced military technologies and high-value tech collaboration have hardly delivered.
The only important joint project to-date involving US assistance for developing a combat aircraft jet engine in India was called off by President Trump.
Why does the US have reservations in providing advanced equipment and technology transfer to India given that we are a member of QUAD?

The fact is the US does not like to share its top-end technology with anyone, including its closest allies, because it perceives it as the US military’s edge in battle.

For example, the United Kingdom — America’s closest, most intimate, ally invested several billion dollars in the development of the multi-role Lockheed F-35 combat aircraft and expected a wholesale transfer of its technology. But once F-35 got into production stage, Washington refused to pass on source codes for the software driving the onboard avionics. 

So, what chance, do you think, India has in securing really high military technology?

https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-dont-expect-us-help-in-a-war-with-china/20220519.htm

Part 2

‘This may indeed be India’s moment’

May 20, 2022 09:30 ISTGet Rediff News in your Inbox:email 

‘For the first time, all major countries are discovering India’s indispensability to their own foreign policy interests.’

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the federal chancellery in Berlin, May 2, 2022. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, believes the time has come for the Narendra Damodardas Modi government to draw up a strategic non-aligned policy to suit India’s interests.

“Despite being stonewalled by New Delhi on the Ukraine issue, the US, NATO States, Japan, Russia, and even China want India as their ‘best friend’ as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during his recent visit,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal in the concluding segment of a two-part interview:

You have argued that America and the European Union need India to ring fence China. Considering our close economic dependence on China, is that feasible?

Get the facts right! India does not depend on China for anything that cannot be bought from other sources.

It is China that depends on India’s vast consumer market to keep its industry in clover — the reason why the Modi government has to begin seriously limiting Chinese access to the Indian market.

Even as Indian companies operate under severe regulatory strain in China, Chinese companies are afforded full freedom by the Indian government to mint money, selling all manner of manufactures to Indians.

It is time the Modi regime wised up and did something meaningful to hurt China economically by simply evening out the economic playing field. Is that too much to ask?

Does being non aligned prevent India from evolving a strategic foreign policy to suit its own interests?
The Modi government says since India is being wooed by several foreign nations and this is ‘India’s moment’.

Goes without saying that being non-aligned increases India’s options and policy choices.

Good that the Modi government discovered the merits of this stance, even if a little belatedly.

This may indeed be ‘India’s moment’ because for the first time all major countries are discovering India’s indispensability to their own foreign policy interests.

This is why despite being stonewalled by New Delhi on the Ukraine issue, the US, NATO States, Japan, Russia, and even China want India as their ‘best friend’ as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said during his recent visit.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Modi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, April 22, 2022. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Do we have the economic muscle to hard talk the US, China and the EU given that our economic parameters are showing a downward slide?

India, because of its vast market, packs an economic wallop.

Ironically, it is the Indian government and trade and commerce ministry, in particular, that refuses to drive hard bargains, time and again succumbing to external pressures and to the institutional desire to be ‘responsible’ and hew to the World Trade Organisation and other norms even when no major power does that.

For evidence, look at all the unrestrained and unfavourable Free Trade Agreements the government has signed with all and sundry in recent years.

IMAGE: Ukrainian soldiers ride an armored vehicle en route to the front in the Donetsk region. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters

How would you evaluate India’s foreign policy especially in its handling of the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

The Modi government has achieved stellar success with its Russia-Ukraine policy — warding off Western pressure with ease while, even if for form’s sake, upbraiding Moscow for the invasion excesses, and otherwise managing to maintain a ‘balance’ between the feuding parties.

Do you see the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka impacting us in any way?

Hard to take pleasure from a neighbour’s dive into despond. But the ruling Rajapaksa family has been a pain in India’s butt.

The current Sri Lanka president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in particular, having it in for India for its support to the secessionist Liberation Tigers of the Tamil Eelam which he as defence minister ruthlessly crushed in the bloodiest of civil wars.

The good thing for India is that Gotabaya Rajapaksa having pushed his country wilfully into a nepotistic form of government in which family members held all the high ranks and wielded all the levers of power, and worse into a ‘debt trap’ laid by China and into bankcruptcy, all political parties in Sri Lanka including the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, are agreed that Colombo has to change course.

Here Modi’s far-seeing policy of opening multi-billion dollar lines of credit for Sri Lanka to use to offtake Indian commodities and consumer items to meet shortages and quell popular unrest, will help in getting India-Sri Lanka relations back on track.

https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-this-may-indeed-be-indias-moment/20220520.htm

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The Discovery of India’s Heft (but not yet of how to use it)

                 

[Modi and Jaishankar]

That India has clout if it acts independently in pursuit of narrowly defined national interest is something the Narendra Modi government apparently discovered, courtesy the Ukraine war. It reveals what is fundamentally wrong with Modi’s world view and how the S. Jaishankar-led Ministry of External Affairs assesses the world and India’s role in it.

     Initially skipping around moral issues to avoid condemning Russia for its messy military intervention, India became more forthright in pursuing its national interest. It was  uneasy about running afoul of the United States and the West but  unwilling to court President Vladimir Putin’s wrath.

     The balance of Delhi’s concerns was this: The US and European states, could be persuaded to be flexible on account of China, West’s other great rival, otherwise benefitting strategically. The Modi government hinted at the possibility of China using the Ukraine tensions to initiate hostilities across the disputed border as it had done in 1962 when exploiting the super powers’ distraction with the Cuban missile crisis to start the mountain war that India lost. It is a danger heightened by an unpredictable Putin, in a pique, slowing down the flow of military spares and creating no end of trouble for the Indian armed services. It eventuated in India’s “neutral” stance and abstentions on several UN votes, which preempted Putin from getting punitive.

     The success in dealing with the US and Russia led Jaishankar, at the Raisina Dialogue 2022, to declare, a trifle triumphantly, that “It’s better to engage with the world on the basis of who we are rather than try and please the world by being a pale imitation of what they are” and to not let “others define us, [or, have the] need to get approval from other quarters, [which] era”, he said, is “behind” us.

     This is very rah-rah and self-congratulatory, of course.  But the era he would like the country to forget is the one in which he had ceaselessly talked up India as needing to be part of “a rules-based order” — one dominated politically by the United States and the West, and economically by the US and China. It is a system, moreover, that because India had no part whatsoever in crafting, requires it to traipse through the minefields of clashing US, European, Russian and Chinese interests. In the event, like it or not, India and its interests are defined by whichever powerful country or countries it wants to sidle up to.

     Still, taking Jaishankar at his word, is he saying the extant correlation-of-forces was examined, India’s choices pondered, and decision made to pursue national interest by relying on itself? In that case, what’s not to like? Except, the success in resisting American pressure to disengage from Russia without alienating Washington, it must be noted, was at the sufferance of both the US and Russia.    

     The Indian foreign minister’s statement, however, suggested something else: A new, more disruptive, attitude and a departure from, what I have called, a “creeper vine” foreign policy that India adopted post-Cold War of clinging to the US to rise. Plainly, this is not so as Modi subsequently clarified. On the eve of his European tour, the PM reassured everybody that India’s rise would not be at the “cost” of any other country. So, disruption of the existing international order is not on the cards. In reality, it means India remaining what it has always been — a tame and timid country ready to ride any passing coattail with little gain in sight.     

     That’s not a surprise. The 2008 India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement promised “20,000 MW by 2020”, and the 2012 Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) advanced military technologies and high-value tech collaboration. Neither delivered. The only important project involving US help to design and develop a combat aircraft jet engine in India was terminated by President Donald Trump, notwithstanding the “Howdy, Modi!” and “Namaste Trump” galas in Houston and Ahmedabad respectively. And the series of DTTI and 2×2 meetings with the US have, like the Joint Working Group negotiations with China to resolve the border dispute, produced only promises to meet again.

     The “India as responsible state”-mantra that’s routinely rolled out to explain the country’s external behaviour has covered for India’s foreign and military policy inaction, lack of political will, loss of nerve, and for compromises at every turn. India has failed to respond to China’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan with like strategic arming of countries on China’s periphery. Incidentally, this was a late 1970s-vintage provocation the US was party to. Delhi then delayed the export of conventional warheaded Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam, Philippines, et al, until now but blamed Russia for not previously permitting such sale, when India had the indigenous short-range Prithvi missile that it could have liberally dispensed.  And India did not instantly retaliate with air strikes against significant targets within Pakistan when terrorists attacked Parliament in December 2001, and Mumbai in November 2008.

     The fact is India never needed to placate the US, nor required the Ukraine issue to assert its policy freedom. It is America, the European Union, and Russia as I have long argued, that crucially need India to ringfence China. No other country in Asia has the location, size and the all-round heft. What is missing is an Indian government with the vision, iron will and self-confidence to talk straight with Washington and to demand a substantial price for partnering the US — expeditious transfers of high technology and such. Instead, New Delhi appears content with the H1B visa crumbs Washington throws its way.

     For reasons of economic and military counterweighting and access to its market, the US, EU, Russia and China alike find India indispensable to their plans.  It is “India’s moment” alright but not, as former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran roundaboutly argues, to get closer to America. That would be to squander a glorious opportunity for the country to emerge as international system balancer and great power, unconstrained by partnerships with big powers. Alas, that is not the path Modi and Jaishankar are taking.

——

Published in the Deccan Herald, May 9, 2022, at https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/comment/the-discovery-of-india-s-heft-but-not-yet-of-how-to-use-it-1107549.html

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The next CDS — Admiral Karambir Singh!

[Admiral Karambir Singh]

The Narendra Modi government, having looked at all options, including “deep selection”, have apparently determined that the former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Karambir Singh, who retired end-November 2021, is the best person to succeed the late General Bipin Rawat as Chief of the Defence Staff and Secretary, Department of Miltary Affairs. The announcement is likely to be made soon.

Unlike Rawat whose Pauri-Garhwal connections helped, Karambir is being brought in after considerable thought expended on his selection in the PMO and elsewhere, whence he will, in some respects, enjoy even greater backing in the inevitable bureaucratic turf battles and in fights over critical decisions.

When advocating Karambir’s appointment as CDS in a Dec 14, 2021 post on this Blog (https://bharatkarnad.com/2021/12/14/indias-next-chief-of-defence-staff-and-his-remit/), I had alluded to the “democratic” precedent of the US President, John F Kennedy, in 1961 installing a retired US Army Chief of Staff, General Maxwell Taylor, as his Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. By way of Admiral Karambir’s qualifications, I had said that, as a naval helicopter pilot he had professional skills and the experience to empathize with, and to win the respect of, the air force and of the helicopter-equipped army aviation wing and hence of the army — “the sort of background” few chiefs of staff have possessed, and which Rawat plainly lacked (leading to such boo-boos as his dismissal of the IAF as a “supporting arm”). And the Admiral will have to root out from the CDS secretariat his predecessor’s antipathy to expeditiously and extensively establishing military bases on the Indian Ocean littoral and in archepelagic island nations (Maldives, Mauritius, northern Mozambique coast, etc) and to carving out a ready-use expeditionary element in the Indian armed forces to counter China’s fast-growing footprint, and effectively handling crises, in the region.

His naval helicopter background is pertinent. Unlike aviator naval chiefs in the past — mostly carrier-borne fighter pilots (Arun Prakash, Sureesh Mehta) who flew combat aircraft off decks (VSTOL Harriers and, in Prakash’s case, also Hunter, as part of an IAF squadron during the 1971 War, in which stint he won the Vir Chakra), and with an attitude more akin to that of the “Fly-boys” in the air force, the no-nonsense Karambir flew Kamovs and, as CNS, wore his phlegmatism on his sleeve. It is a trait that will stand him in good stead as CDS when he will be required to juggle the demands of the three armed services and of the Coast Guard, and to alight on inter se priorities where expenditure programmes are concerned, on the one hand and, on the other hand, to deal with the sometimes difficult political leaders (Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh) and the civilian MOD bureaucracy, withut rubbing anyone too much the wrong way. What may have impressed the powers that-be is also the Admiral’s reputation as a “straight arrow” which, incidentally, will deter these other parties from pushing him on issues.

It will be interesting to see if as CDS, the Admiral stays with the Rawat plan for the consolidation of resources and “theaterization” of the numerous military commands, or tweaks it to make it more practicable. Many military stalwarts who have headed the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), such as the former CNS, Admiral Arun Prakash, believe that an excellent working model for integrating command and control as well as the fighting and other military assets already exists in the Port Blair-headquartered ANC. What needs to be done, they claim, is for it to be upscaled. Several such operationally integrated commands, they feel, would ease the movement towards a genuinely integrated Indian military, one in which the constituent services operate seamlessly.

The trouble with the ANC, however, is that all the good it does in fosterig a genuine “joint” mindset and habit of working is frittered away as soon as officers on rotation in the Command revert to posts in their original service on the mainland when they have to buckle on the same old mental and attitudinal straitjackets. Even minimal loyalty to jointness is prevented from getting cemented by the extant career reward structure — the Confidential Reports that count of the senior staff officers are written annually not by the Commander-in-Chief, ANC, but by the chiefs of the services they belong to. Thus, promising careers have been cut short because senior officers were perceived by their chiefs as being too wedded to the concept of jointness or too supportive of the integrated setup than was deemed good for the parent service!

This aspect of the ANC offers a peek into the promotion system that’s in desperate need of overhaul which, hopefully, the new CDS will undertake, pronto! This is an absolute imperative if an integrated military is ever to bcome reality. Indeed, Karambir Singh should consider incorporating a scheme for awarding additional points to officers for pulling time in joint units/organizations, and to define minimum thresholds of “jointness points” beyond senior-Major or equivalent level as prerequisite for promotion to the next higher rank. Institutionalizing such promotion schema will provide just the incentive necessary for the officer corps in the three armed services to become more military jointness- and integration-minded.

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Finally, a sapper as army chief

[The new COAS, General Pande]

It is generally believed that sapper and signals officers are the brainiest lot in the army, and for good reason. They are called on to have their wits about them in combat and required to come up with engineering solutions on the run for often complex problems in unfolding battefield scenarios. Good thing that finally a sapper — General Manoj Pande, has made it as COAS. The Narendra Modi government needs to be commended for this selection.

Combat engineers have until now been overlooked on the dubious basis that they are from a support arm. Except in reality, they are often the lead unit that allows them to display gut-wrenching valour of the type a Bombay Sapper, Lt Gen Premindra Singh Bhagat, say, showed as a raw Lieutenant in the World War II campaign in Eritrea in January 1941 that fetched him the Victoria Cross. Bhagat lashed himself to the front end of a Bren gun carrier and single-handedly cleared 15 minefields over 55 miles in 4 days, uprooting these mines laid by the Italian army around Galladat by hand, one at a time. He did his work regardless of two Bren carriers blowing up underneath him and the explosions puncturing his eardrums!

Bhagat had all the credentials and the seniority to succeed General GG Bewoor as COAS in 1974, but Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, fearing his popularity among the soldiery and reputation for straight-talking, played dirty. She extended Bewoor’s term by a fortnight, just long enough for Bhagat’s retirement date to come due and render him ineligible for promotion, and just so she could appoint a fellow Kashmiri, Lt Gen TP Raina, as COAS. But unwilling to pass up on Bhagat’s proven leadership nous, engineering skills and general competence, she installed Bhagat as chairman of the prestigious Damodar Valley Corporation which runs a series of hydel and thermal power stations in Bengal and Jharkand.

The next combat engineer who was overlooked by the government to fill the COAS post was army commander and Madras Sapper, Lt. Gen. DSR Sahni in 1993. For me he was special because he was an alumunus of my military school –to give its original moniker — King George’s Royal Indian Military College, Belgaum, which in my time (in the late Fifties-early Sixties) was simply King George’s School. As Northern Army Commander, Sahni hosted my visit as adviser, defence expenditure, (Tenth) Finance Commission in Sept 1992, to the Command HQrs, Udhampur. Between long discussions in his office and at his residence, he ordered me to do a darshan of Vaishnodevi, and deputised the Command’s chief signals officer, a KGS classmate as my escort.

Sahni’s clearly articulated Long View, in particular, was a revelation and convinced me the army needed him as its chief for his strategizing ability alone. Back in Delhi, I tried to plead his obvious qualifications for the COAS job to the powers that be but the Narasimha Rao government put General BC Joshi in the chair. This even though Joshi was medically unfit and should not have been in the running at all. But he wrangled a certificate to show his blood pressure was under control which was not the case, and died in office.

But why do sappers deserve more regularly to be considered for the COAS’ post? In the main because, as engineers they have a problem solving habit of mind and because from a supporting arm, they do not have the kind of blind loyalty to their combat arm that infantry, armour/mech and artillery officers effortlessly summon, and which loyalty invariably weighs in on their decisions, skewing them. Inherent in problem solving is objectivity, which is central to making sound decisions.

Why an engineering background helps in defence decisionmaking was evidenced during Manohar Parrikar’s time as Defence Minister. Parrikar, a mechanical engineer from IIT, Mumbai, and inarguably the most competent man in the history of the Republic to-date to hold this post, after a comparative cost-benefit analysis of Su-30, Rafale, F-16, and Saab Gripen, that involved mathematical calculations, sensibly chose the option of augmenting the Su-30MKI fleet rather than going in for an entirely new fighter aircraft requiring exorbitantly priced munitions and a new, expensive and separate maintenance infrastructure and specially-trained manpower. It earned Parrikar a one-way ticket back to Goa, because the Modi regime had unwisely plonked for a US$12 billion government-to-government deal with France for 36 Rafale aircraft, which will be more an albatross round IAF’s neck than an operational asset.

General Pande will have opportunities galore to showcase his problem solving-mindset and his objectivity, esecially in according inter se priority to the various competing procurement/modernization-related and maintenance-related expenditure programmes. It will decide the direction the army will move in and the kind of force it will become in the future. And also, with consistently wise and measured decisions, Pande will hopefully impress everybody ensuring, in the process, that combat engineers will not get the short shrift again.

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Pak on the boil: Time for Modi to display Chanakyan foresight

It is always bad news when a neighbouring country plunges into a political crisis. India faces double trouble with two adjoining states on the boil —Pakistan and Sri Lanka. While President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s exit may mollify the people and a belt-tightening International Monetary Fund (IMF) rescue programme save the Sri Lankan economy, no straightforward solution is in sight for Pakistan, where severe IMF strictures turbocharged the campaign against the Imran Khan government.

The situation in Pakistan is more nettlesome also because, apart from the IMF-imposed economic austerity, the dynastic leadership of the two main opposition parties—Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) under Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party—with a gaggle of Maulana Fazalur Rehman-led small religious parties in train, had a personal stake in regime change, what with the former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, in exile in London, being pursued on corruption charges.

But having unseated the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) regime, the opposition may find a deposed Imran an even greater challenge once he marshals his resources and PTI takes to the street and makes life miserable for the “khichdi” government of Shehbaz Sharif. In his address on the eve of the ‘no confidence vote’, Imran had warned this would happen. He seems to have majority support with the very large and motivated under-30 demographic in the country, fed up with rule by the dynasts, backing him.

In the political chess game in Pakistan, if government power is the king piece, the Pakistan army—as the guardian of the Pakistan ideology and the central prop of any civilian dispensation—is the queen piece that can manoeuvre any which way to ensure its interests are safeguarded. This translates into the Pakistan military getting its customary 16 percent share of the budget. Except last year, the national debt soared to 95 percent of GDP and 85 percent of the budget was apportioned to servicing it. This situation has been a long time developing and is expected to worsen, leaving little for the army—the reason why the Pakistani military brass, General Qamar Javed Bajwa being the latest, have discounted India as a threat; a position that undermines the Pakistan army’s raison d’etre. But Shehbaz reassured the Pakistan army by tying peace with India to the Kashmir dispute resolution. The withdrawal of the army’s support on account of Imran’s alienating the US led to his downfall.

But Pakistan’s straitened circumstances mean that war with India is unthinkable. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the right moves by calling for peace and a joint effort to resolve development issues. He can go further in his response to the moderation shown by GHQ, Pakistan, in recent years—prompt release of Wing Commander Abhinandan, non-reaction to the misfired Brahmos missile—by more fully orienting the Indian military China-wards. The redeployment of the I Corps, the army’s leading armoured strike formation, to the east is a beginning and, hopefully, will eventuate in a single armoured corps for Pakistan contingencies and the shifting of two strike corps worth of manpower and war materiel to raise two additional offensive mountain corps for the China front. Because one thing is certain—India cannot anymore afford to be delusional and prepare for a “two-front war”.

Fighting the far superior Chinese People’s Liberation Army in all domains, candidly speaking, is beyond the capacity of the Indian armed forces into the mid-term future, and why addressing this deficit should be India’s principal military concern and task hereon. It is a mission India should have embarked on post-1971 Bangladesh War when Pakistan was reduced and the minuscule threat it originally posed became non-existent. But political inertia and vested interests of various combat arms ensured the Indian government and military stayed stuck in the past.

Whatever the consequences for Pakistan, Prime Minister Shehbaz will be inclined, as his older brother Nawaz Sharif was, to open the border, resume trade, and negotiate the Kashmir issue through the backchannel. It had won for Nawaz Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trust and the memorable bus trip to Lahore, a promising peace process torpedoed by General Pervez Musharraf’s 1999 Kargil misadventure.

To encourage Shehbaz to proceed along mutually beneficial lines, Prime Minister Modi should consider opening billion-dollar credit lines for Islamabad to offtake Indian manufactures and agricultural commodities to tide things over. Billion-dollar Indian credits are working in Sri Lanka to distance Colombo from Beijing, and could help to wean Pakistan away from China.  It would display Modi’s Chanakyan foresight, set India and Pakistan on a course of irreversible peace, and put him, along with Shehbaz, in the running for the Nobel Peace Prize.                                                                                                  

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Published in The Sunday Standard, Sunday, April 17, 2022 at https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/voices/2022/apr/17/pak-on-the-boil-time-for-modito-display-chanakyan-foresight-2442086.amp

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Re-discovering strategic autonomy — thank you, Ukraine Crisis!

[Russian tank on a Mariuopol street — Day 26 of invasion]

Diverted by the prospect of easy pickings west of the Dneiper River, which did not materialize with the Ukrainian resistance showing more mettle and staying power than Moscow expected, Russia is getting back to achieving its original goal. As predicted in a February 23 post [“There will be no war over Ukraine, here’s why”] when hostilities were initiated, that limited goal was the absorption of the Russian-majority areas of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region and an eastern border belt comprising Mariuopol, Khersan and possibly Odessa as a logical extension of Kremlin’s 2014 move that annexed Crimea. That’s now the aim now. It will enable Russia to control the Sea of Azov and, more importantly, the Black Sea. The command of the Black Sea coast, in particular, eliminates Russia’s biggest vulnerability — NATO naval forces potentially exploiting the maritime approaches from the south.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s declaration in Parliament yesterday that India’s stand on Ukraine is guided solely by the national interest and, hence, that it can no more ignore the availability of Russian oil at discounted prices needed for growth than the looming China threat, which requires the military supply line to Russia be kept well oiled and the historically warm relations with Russia maintained, was a formal reassertion of India’s policy of strategic autonomy. It is several steps away from the conspicuous tilt to the US and the West manifested in the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with America that Jaishankar, ironically, had engineered as Joint Secretary (Americas) in the MEA. The three Indo-US foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA) that followed during Narendra Modi’s time as Prime Minister were merely the icing on the cake.

The relentless campaign waged by Washington and West European governments to pressure New Delhi into siding with them against Russia, was not a surprise. Washington pulled out all the stops, including a ham-handed effort by the Biden Administration’s advertised economic “hitman” and deputy National Security Adviser, Daleep Singh. He visited Delhi only to end up firing blanks and sounding silly with his public threats of “consequences” to India if it failed to fall in line with respect to imports of Russian energy and weaponry. “The more leverage that China gains over Russia, the less favourable that is for India. I don’t think anyone would believe that if China once again breaches the Line of Actual Control, Russia would come running to India’s defence,” he said. Appropriately, Daleep Singh said this on April Fool’s Day, because the obvious riposte to that is: Is there anyone anywhere who believes the US, India’s “strategic partner”, no less, will “come running to India’s defence” in the same situation?!

This makes one wonder why the US and the West expected India to make common cause with them on Ukraine, in the first place. Is it because of Jaishankar’s success in smoothtalking the US, in particular, into believing that New Delhi had turned a corner, was now more firmly with the West than ever before, and even gradually aligning its armament-sourcing accordingly?

That the sale of military hardware is, in effect, the lifebouy that’s keeping Indo-Russian ties afloat was accepted as a given by Messrs Lavrov and Jaishankar — a condition both agreed would not be upset. Referring to the same condition, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin informed the US House Armed Services Committee on April 6 that the American government agencies “continue to work with [India] to ensure they understand that it’s not in their …best interest to continue to invest in Russian equipment.” Coincidentally or otherwise, these exchanges happened just when Boeing is preparing to conduct a fly-off of the twin-engined F/A-18 from the static ski-deck at INS Hansa in Goa. This aircraft is competing with the Rafale-M[arine] and the Russian MiG-29K fleet air defence aircraft to outfit the first Indian (Kochi) shipyard-built aircraft carrier now undergoing final seatrials. The deal is for some 27 carrier aircraft worth several billions of dollars.

The sale of armaments is the lynchpin-reason persuading US and Russia to desist from pushing the Modi regime too hard on Ukraine lest it react by going the other way, the former because it hopes to replace the latter as prime arms supplier, and the latter because it expects to hold on to its pole position as the main high-value arms vendor.

In any case, had the Ukraine crisis not occurred, the Modi government would have had a more difficult time of shrugging off American and Russian pressure. Still, with the Ukraine issue front and centre, the Indian government rediscovered the joys and strategic benefits of remaining conspicuously neutral in disputes that do not directly involve India, and of exercising policy latitude and freedom of manoeuvre that such positioning affords it. Neutrality has allowed India to reassert its strategic autonomy and to play off the US and Russia against each other for strategic gain.

Abstaining from voting on resolutions in the Security Council has so far served India’s purposes. The resolution in the UN General Assembly later today (Thursday, April 7) moved by Lithuania to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN Human Rights Council on account of alleged Russian human rights violations, however, is a more testing proposition. Because an abstention will help the West, Moscow has warned it will be construed as an unfriendly act. Did MEA anticipate such a situation and alert the visiting Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov last week that Delhi could not not be consistent and not abstain? If it did, then India is in the clear. If it did not, then the question arises why not? And were the Indian Permanent Representative and his office and MEA at this end all sleeping on the job? After all, Vilnius aided by the US and Western delegations at the UNHQ in New York would have been busy this past fortnight getting the resolution up and marshaling the support for it.

If an abstention is unavoidable but Moscow was informed beforehand, it will be Kremlin’s call on how punitive it wants to get with India because that will possibly incur for Russia huge cost. Considering India has been firm about not taking sides and, given what’s at stake — global correlation of forces-wise, Moscow will likely lump it, as the US and its camp followers did on previous Indian absentions. This aside, the anodyne statements that Delhi has issued urging end to the conflict and offer of India’s good offices as peacemaker are par for the course. Not that either Kyiv or Moscow will accept Indian mediation when the direct line of communications between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky is buzzing, and it is only a matter of time before Kyiv accepts a compromise solution around Moscow’s original intervention aim.

The funny thing in all this is to see how the lot of Indian-origin academics and such in US universities and thinktanks have uniformly echoed the Washington line about India needing to come in on the side of the great and the good, of democracy and freedom. Their unsolicited advice, it is evident, is less owing to any conviction than personal professional gain: On such drivel are tenure tracks to the professoriate firmed up and “research funding” finagled. In which case why does the media in India take these guys seriously or feature their writing in op-ed space? May be because most Indian newspapers and television media intentionally or otherwise too are serving foreign interests?

Strategic autonomy is a function of India’s size, location, resources and potential. It is a necessity if India is to make anything of itself on the international stage. The leverage it gives India is something Modi, perhaps, is only now beginning to appreciate. Except, the correct lesson needs to be drawn, which is that when China next attacks India, New Delhi should at most expect sympathy but no material or other support from the US and Western European states, or America’s Asian allies (Japan and South Korea). Not because India “faulted” on the Ukraine issue, but because that’s the natural position for the uninvolved with their own national interests to look after, to alight on. It will be prudent, in the event, for Delhi to prepare to fight China on its own — no quarters asked or given, and whatever it takes, which last is what I have all along been advocating that India do.

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‘Modi can’t be seen in Xi’s company’

April 01, 2022 11:36 IST, Rediff News

‘The MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.’

IMAGE: The last time they met in person: Six months before the People’s Liberation Army occupied Indian territory in Eastern Ladakh in April 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shore temple complex in Mahabalipuram, October 11, 2019. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

Interview of Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research and author of Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, which analyses Prime Minister Modi’s military policies from 2014, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-modi-cant-be-seen-in-xis-company/20220401.htm?msclkid=21e0097fb18711ec9ad

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“Modi is convinced the army is incapable of recovering the lost territory. The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative — something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA,” Dr Karnad tells Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

It seems brazen of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to breeze into India after China occupied over 1,000 sq km of Indian territory in Ladakh in 2020. Just prior to his entry to New Delhi, he did not hesitate to criticise India on Kashmir at the OIC meet. Should he have been allowed to come to India?

Visits by foreign ministers are usually scripted affairs. There are no surprises and Wang Yi’s trip stuck to this norm.

However, what was unexpected was that (External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam) Jaishankar and the MEA did not have a hefty public riposte ready once Wang sang his aria on India’s mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims in J&K at the OIC meet in Islamabad.

  • The MEA should have highlighted China’s ongoing programme of genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and Wang’s hypocrisy and chutzpah in talking of Indian Kashmiris.

It would have rhetorically levelled the field for the diplomatic discussions Wang had with Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.

If India and China joined hands and spoke in one voice, Wang Yi said the world would listen to us. Was Wang Yi taking taking Indian support for granted?

Perhaps. More likely he was here, in the main, to plead for Modi’s presence at the 2022 BRICS summit that Beijing is set to host.

Modi and the MEA, hopefully, made it clear that the Indian PM can’t be seen in Xi Jinping’s company when China has, for all intents and purposes, annexed over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, and essentially that the Wuhan spirit and the Mamallapuram spirit have turned into vinegar.

Why should India and China be on the same page when we have fundamental differences on several issues, the most problematic remaining our border issue?
Propagandists in China are telling India to ‘forgive and forget’. Whatever do they mean by that?

India’s formally repeated stance that normalcy in relations are predicated only on the restoration of the status quo ante implies that New Delhi will choose to ‘forgive and forget’ once China returns all Indian territory and especially restores India’s frontage on the strategic Xinjiang Highway and the Karakoram Pass that is now lost owing to the PLA’s occupation of the Y-Junction in the Depsang Plains.

Instead of seizing this opportunity to have put pressure on China to reverse the land grab as also to show we mean business by stopping the import of several Chinese consumer goods, we have done nothing of the kind. Why is that when dealing with such a belligerent neighbour, India continues to use a soft approach?

The reason apparently is that Prime Minister Modi is convinced the Indian Army is incapable of recovering the lost territory.

The flipside of this view is that diplomacy is the only alternative, something slyly pushed by Jaishankar and the MEA.

Some observers believe that Xi Jinping is isolated and therefore this reaching out. Is this perception correct?

It is hard to read the politics within the Chinese Communist party councils and the corridors of power in Zhongnanhai (where the Chinese Communist leadership lives and works).

But there’s ample evidence to suggest that many powerful sections (in the Chinese Communist party) are upset for different reasons.

The PLA that Xi has assiduously courted, for instance, feels alienated because military solutions to forcibly reunify Taiwan, Aksai Chin and the Sennkaku Island chain have been held in abeyance.

Both India and China have not condemned the Russian attack on Ukraine, but India’s reasons for not doing so are different from that of China. Can you explain to our readers why our support is based on a different paradigm from that of China and will this support in the long run adversely impact our relationship with the US and Europe?

India’s neutrality on Ukraine is motivated principally by three factors.

One, the reality of the Indian military’s dependence on Russian hardware and spares and servicing support.

Two, the fact that Russia has been more forthcoming in assisting in high-technology projects (nuclear-powered submarines, for instance) and in providing frontline weapons systems than the US and the West.

And three, the geopolitics of maintaining India’s profitable status as an ‘indispensable State’ to both Russia and US and the West.

IMAGE: External Affairs Minister Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in New Delhi, March 25, 2022. Photograph: PTI Photo

Did Wang Yi come to India in the hope of creating a wedge between India and the US?

Wang couldn’t drive a wedge if he tried. India and the US are mindful of why they need each other — to deal with the menace of China!

Should Prime Minister Modi attend the BRICS and RIC summit?

Yes. Because the economic and trade thrust of BRICS in particular aside, it affords India the opportunity, I have argued in my last (2018) book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition to use the sidelines to sound out Brazil, Russia and South Africa with the aim of forming a loose and informal security coalition BRIS.

BRIS together with the modified Quadrilateral or ‘Mod Quad’ of India-Japan-Australia — a group of Southeast Asian nations or Quadrilateral minus the US — I have argued, would be able to ring fence China better than any other security arrangement.

The Mod Quad because the US has once again proved in Ukraine — its willingness to fight to the last Ukrainian — just how unreliable and untrustworthy it is as an ally and strategic partner.

India is playing host to several foreign dignitaries including the Russian foreign minister, the UK foreign secretary, the Mexican foreign minister… What is this indicative of?

Maybe because more countries are beginning to appreciate how important India is to the global correlation of forces and for a stable international system.

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India is Not Pumping the Brakes Hard Enough on China

        

                  [Foreign Ministers Jaishankar & Wang Yi]                                                          

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, having joined with Pakistan in berating India on Kashmir at the conclave of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) called by Islamabad, which he attended as an observer, breezed into New Delhi for a pow-wow with the Indian government, confident that he’d be able to convince the Narendra Modi regime to overlook that little matter of the Chinese annexing some 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh. And secondarily, to firm up Sino-Indian solidarity on Ukraine owing to “similar if not identical” views. “If China and India spoke with one voice,” he told the Press, “the whole world will listen. If China and India joined hands, the whole world will pay attention.”

Errors In Strategy And Thinking

Rather than using the God-sent opportunity to pay Beijing back in the same coin  and use Wang’s OIC provocation as a prompt for slinging the highly merited charges of “genocide” of Uyghur Muslims by China and thereby establishing equivalence between the Chinese foreign minister’s raking up mistreatment of Kashmiri Muslims and New Delhi’s siding with the Uyghurs for use as negotiating leverage in the future, the Ministry of External Affairs, as expected fluffed it.

“We reject the uncalled reference to India”, the MEA spokesman whimpered before pointing out the obvious that Kashmir was a domestic Indian issue and Wang had no business bringing it up. Is the Narendra Modi regime under the impression that this slight tap on the wrist is going to make the hardboiled straight shooters at Zhongnanhai rear up in fear of what New Delhi might do next?

Apparently, it is not just the MEA which believes this Indian non-response will have a salutary effect on the Chinese. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh too thinks the Modi government did right by not even acknowledging Wang’s straight right to India’s chin. Ram Madhav, who is a member of the central executive council of the RSS and a former national general secretary of the BJP, in an op-ed, not only failed to notice the missed chance of hitting back at China, he congratulated Jaishankar & Co. for sticking by neutrality on Ukraine, and on insisting that normal relations will only be on the basis of restoration of the status quo ante in eastern Ladakh. He explained such policies as being “as much about principles as about interests”.

This proved, once again, that neither the Indian government nor the ideologues of the party in power have the faintest idea about “principles” – which, incidentally, are distinguished by their absence in international affairs, and even less about “national interests”. If the Modi regime and the BJP were wise about the world, they would have throttled the unhindered flow of Chinese consumer goods to India at the first sign of Chinese hostilities on the Galwan in 2020.

The Modi government, perhaps, realizing the foreign policy boo-boo it had made with Wang belatedly appears to have leaked the story about an airborne “insertion” exercise involving 600 paratroopers in the Silguri Corridor being timed to coincide with the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, but to send what message? In 1958, a Chinese military delegation visited Ambala to observe a military exercise which featured waves of attacking aircraft paving the way for Indian infantry. Unimpressed, the Chinese delegation head while referring to the display of airborne firepower as impressive, asked the Indian army chief in attendance if aircraft would be available for ground operations in the mountains? Four years later, the Chinese supplied the answer!  

What China’s ‘Three Point-Approach’ Asks Of India

But, to get back to Wang, why was he hopeful of India joining hands with China considering the disputed border in Ladakh is live with 1 lakh troops on either side of the Line of Actual Control and the possibility of military hostilities at any time? Apparently, for two reasons. The Chinese government believed that owing to the fairly relentless pressure from the US and the West to side against Russia in the Ukrainian crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was sufficiently softened to welcome this Wang overture, confident New Delhi would perceive the situation the way it does — of two Asian powers standing with Russia being better than only one of them doing so and then exclusively facing the sanctions music for supporting Moscow.  And because, as in the past, the Indian government, he believed, could be bamboozled into compromising on its stated position on the border in Ladakh by vague promises of peace but, as always, on Chinese terms, which Wang, this time around, revealed as his “three point-approach”.

This approach is: Negotiating with “a long term vision” without the border dispute colouring India’s attitude; A “China-India-plus” initiative for joint projects in South Asia – which is a plea to not hinder Beijing’s realisation of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as part of its larger Belt and Road Initiative; and Cooperating with each other in multilateral fora.

The first point requires India to forget about the Chinese grab of  a vast expanse of Indian territory.

The second is an attempt to dilute opposition to CPEC and permit the Western Provinces of China – Tibet and Xinjiang, in particular, to have all-year, all-weather access to the warm water port of Gwadar on the Baluch coast, thus lessening the pressure on Chinese trade that otherwise has to negotiate the Indian-controlled Malacca bottleneck.

The third makes virtue of necessity because without a commonality of views and of policies on multilateral issues (trade, climate, etc.) the two countries would find themselves unable adequately to resist the US and the West, which seem intent on obtaining progress at the expense of India’s and China’s national interests. 

Fortunately, Jaishankar and Modi’s national security adviser Ajit Doval, despite Wang’s sweet-talking the latter (“China does not pursue the so-called ‘unipolar Asia’ and respects India’s traditional role in the region)”, held their ground at least for once.

Switching From Wang To Lavrov

The question is, with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov visiting New Delhi later this week, will the Indian government be deft enough to keep relations with Russia on track (setting up a rupee-ruble payments track, etc.), but point out the need for urgency by President Vladimir Putin to somehow bring closure to his mismanaged military invasion in Ukraine before it takes a toll, among other things, on India and Indian relations with Russia? At the same time, India needs to remind Lavrov about just how slippery and opportunistic China is as a strategic partner and why the long term threat it poses to both the countries should not be forgotten or underplayed for any reason.  

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Published in BloombergQuint.com, March 29, 2022 in my ‘Realpolitik’ column, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/india-is-not-pumping-the-brakes-hard-enough-on-china

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Ukraine in mind, India needs a nuclear option against China

                                                         [IRBM Agni-5 launch]

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s statement on 24 February upped the ante for all the parties involved in Ukraine. Sounding verily like his friend Donald Trump, his former American counterpart, Putin warned the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization against interfering in his plans for the erstwhile Soviet province; he promised consequences “such as you have never seen in your entire history”.  

This was interpreted as a threat to use nuclear weapons, encompassing a deterrence tactic that the Russians have developed — “escalating to de-escalate”. Meaning, strike so much fear of nuclear war in an adversary state that it decides not to engage or, if already committed, draws away from the fracas.

Clearly, the Kremlin has determined that Russia’s stake in keeping Ukraine out of NATO is high enough to merit escalating the conflict, if needed, to the ultimate level. So far, the US and West European countries have limited themselves to making sympathetic noises, imposing sanctions, and replenishing the Ukrainian military’s stocks of ammunition, anti-tank guided munitions, and shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. Because one thing no one in the West wants is to get embroiled in a war with Russia that could turn total. So, by way of an outcome, an ‘independent’ Ukraine with no links to NATO is a certainty, as are the Ukrainian coastlines on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov controlled by the Russian Navy. 

A nuclear state is a secured state

Except, the war in Ukraine begs the question: Would Russia have tried militarily to tame Kyiv if Ukraine had retained nuclear weapons in 1994 after the trilateral Budapest Memorandum signed with the US and Russia after the formal breaking up of the Soviet Union? The answer obviously is Nyet! It also proves the obverse, that a powerful nuclear weapon state can mount a conventional military offensive without fearing nuclear retaliation by nuclear allies of the targeted state. This is the premise for China’s aggressive moves in eastern Ladakh as also the South China Sea and against Taiwan. 

It highlights two basic nuclear facts of life, namely, that nuclear weapons endow a country — even if small, poor, and militarily weak — with absolute security, and powerful nuclear countries with the protective shield to further their interests using conventional military might. Such strategic benefits are why nuclear weapons are so sought after. 

It motivated China to secure nuclear weapons with the Soviet Union’s help to fend off a conventionally superior US, Israel with France’s to hold off the Arab states, and Pakistan and North Korea with China’s assistance to neutralise India’s and South Korea-US’ military edge. And why technologically capable Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan may soon go in for nuclear arsenals of their own to face down China because, as the US has once again shown, it will not take a Russian (or Chinese) bullet – nuclear or otherwise — for any ally (Japan, South Korea), quasi-ally (Ukraine, Taiwan), or “strategic partner” (India).

If India has to fight China all by itself, how will it do so? Definitely not under the illusion that its conventional forces are qualitatively on par with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and can wage a sustained war with it. The PLA can fight to a decision, in the main, because of a large and sophisticated Chinese defence industry that can quickly replenish the stocks of spares and whole weapons systems exhausted or destroyed in battle. It is an advantage that an Indian military equipped with imported armaments and a public sector-dominated defence industry stuck at the licensed production-screwdriver level of technology, does not enjoy.

What then? As I have long argued in my books and other writings, nuclear weapons are the only option against an overwhelmingly strong China. In this context, the Russian tactic of ‘escalating to de-escalate’ should be rejigged to deal with India’s prime and only credible adversary — the expansive-minded China. It will require seminal changes in the government’s attitude to nuclear weapons, the nuclear doctrine, and in the deployment of strategic forces.  

Change India’s nuclear doctrine 

The ill-thought out official Indian nuclear doctrine of “massive retaliation” is wholly inappropriate and as a deterrent useless. Of American origin, the massive retaliation concept was conceived in the late 1940s when the US had a nuclear weapons monopoly. In the second decade of the 21st century, this concept, combined with the principles of minimum deterrence and No First Use, constitutes a strategic handicap and major military liability. This is so because these three mutually cancelling concepts will ensure Indian nuclear weapons, other than for safely brandishing against Pakistan, will stay sheathed when it matters most against China.

The government has to change its view of nuclear weapons as mere symbols of power and see them, instead, as affording the country a dynamic military means to control the level and intensity of conflict with China by deterring the PLA from pushing its conventional military and terrain advantages, as the PLA has done in Ladakh. In this context, a revamped nuclear doctrine should state bluntly that Indian nuclear forces are oriented principally to the China threat, No First Use is discarded, and that a First Use nuclear doctrine is now operational but only against China. 

Further, to show India means business, New Delhi should announce a two-tiered strategic defence of atomic demolition munitions (ADMs) placed as nuclear tripwire to bring down whole mountain sides without venting radioactivity (because the collapsing earth will absorb it) on large aggressive PLA formations that breach the Line of Actual Control (LAC). And, as back-up, batteries of forward deployed canisterised Agni missiles, capable of launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning, comprising a short fuse deterrent. 

Such a posture of defensively arrayed ADMs and canister-borne Agni missiles will at once shift the onus and the responsibility for India’s nuclear use to China, especially if it is made clear by the government that their triggering will be dictated entirely by PLA actions in-theatre without exactly defining the nuclear use threshold to retain ambiguity and manoeuvring space.

Just as Russia and Western Europe know that they have too much to lose in a nuclear exchange by militarily challenging Russia in Ukraine, China needs to be convinced that the situation on the LAC has changed, and that India will hereafter not fight China on Chinese terms by restricting its actions to the conventional military field. 

The Indian government, alas, is painfully slow in learning military lessons and, where the threat of use of nuclear weapons against China is concerned, apparently has a mental block. This when such threats, based on a credible nuclear posture with ADMs and canisterised Agni missiles, can actually leverage more responsible Chinese behaviour. After all, whatever the cost to India of a nuclear exchange, the prospect of China likely losing Beijing, the Three Gorges Dam, the Lop Nor nuclear weapons complex, and/or its entire wealth-producing eastern seaboard, will compel President Xi Jinping and the PLA to do a rethink about the costs of not having a settled border with India, and speed up a negotiated resolution of the long-standing border dispute.

————-

Published in ThePrint.in, March 25, 2022 under the title — “India’s nuclear doctrine is useless. Discard no-first-use, say nukes are for China threat”, at https://theprint.in/opinion/indias-nuclear-doctrine-is-useless-discard-no-first-use-say-nukes-are-for-china-threat/886866/

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Bharat Karnad on “Need for a New Nuclear Strategy” in a virtual talk with BITS, Hyderabad, March 23, 2022

Invitation: A Session With Mr. Bharat Karnad @ Wed Mar 23, 2022 5:45pm – 7:45pm (IST)

WED, MARCH 23, 2022

A Session With Mr. Bharat Karnad

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Where

https://zoom.us/j/91404292091?pwd=RFhaVWtJamkwYjNkUEdDSTl1dGRWdz09

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Overdue desserts

[Shashi Kant Sharma, IAS, ex-CAG, fmr Defence Secretary]

The more one interacts, the more one knows, and the more familiar one gets with the rot of corruption, loot and pelf on an industrial scale entrenched in the Indian system of government at the central, state and local levels, which is eating away at the entrails of the military as well. That “make as much as you can, while you can”-mentality and attitude long ago established a foothold in the military, is common knowledge.

Whatever else the BJP governments under Narendra Modi since 2014 have not done, they have succeeded — to an extent — in curbing the kind of often brazen siphoning off of national financial resources at the senior bureaucratic and ministerial levels that was the norm in the previous decades. At the highest political level, it is now a couple of “crony capitalists” who are rumoured to be subsidising BJP’s successful election campaigns that does away with collecting small time funds for the party coffers.

The easiest way politicians, bureaucrats and militarymen discovered to rake in the moolah was through multi-billion dollar defence deals where the foreign vendors were only too keen to payoff in millions of dollars those in the procurement loop in return for multi-billion dollar contracts. The bigtime moneymaking began in the 1980s with the Rajiv Gandhi government, when “sophisticated” Italian methods and schemes for indirect payments were imported whole and subsequently localised. Especially useful were the turnkey projects — such as for the Snam Progetti fertiliser plants, managed by the infamous Italian middleman, Quatrocchi, with reach into the then PM’s home — recall all that? In the defence sphere, the deals for the German HDW 201 diesel submarine and, most memorably, the 155mm howitzer whose name — ‘Bofors’ entered the political lexicon, and spawned controversies. The AugustaWestland deal for helicopters and for the Pilatus turboprop trainer aircraft during the Manmohan Singh period, was at the tailend of that series of Rajiv Gandhi-era scams (after all Manmohan Singh, an unprepossessing sarkari economist, was hoisted into the prime minister’s seat by Sonia Gandhi, becoming by his own account an “accidental prime minister” and effectively a figurehead for a government run by remote control).

An attempt to bring those involved in the Augusta boondoggle to book is finally underway. The Central Bureau of Investigation has chargesheeted Shashi Kant Sharma, ex-IAS, former Comptroller and Accountant General of India and ex-Defence Secretary, who as Joint Secretary (Air) approved the deal for Augusta helicopters for VVIP use. But why it took the Modi regime nearly a year and a half to allow CBI to charge Sharma and his four IAF co-conspirators — retired Air Vice Marshal Jasbir Singh Panesar, Air Commodores SA Kunte and N. Santosh, and Wing Commander Thomas Mathew, is a murky mystery.

Sharma, amongst the smoothest operators, spent 10 long years in the MoD in various capacities to rise to the top. What he, a generalist babu, learned about military affairs during his time in the ministry is not known. But that he specialised in facilitating all manner of suspect, scammy defence deals, there’s no doubt. On May 6, 2016, in a post on “bureaucratic facilitators of corruption” I had written this: “The point to make is that bureaucrats, as handmaidens of corruption, invariably get away with the vilest wrongdoing, assisting their political masters to milk the system while keeping a lot or little for themselves as nest egg, even as everybody else gets hauled up. This has to end. Consider just how crucial the IAS babus are in the procurement game. The military service’s role is limited primarily to the drawing of SRs and then technically and professionally justifying the hardware pre-selected by the political leaders, the rest of the shortlisting process being so much eyewash — this has been the Congress Party’s record anyway. The DG Acquisitions, MOD, is actually central to approving hardware purchases. And Price Negotiation Committee (PNC) headed by Add Sec, MOD, Joint Sec (concerned service) and Defence Finance officers, with a one-star rank military officer asked to fill space at the negotiating table and not actually participate, firming up the contract. And because IAS babus in MOD are generalists — whose knowledge of military matters even after serving many years in the Ministry ranges between iffy and nonexistent, the contracts that accrue almost w/o exception favour the foreign vendor (whose negotiators are all specialists in legal nuances and technical minutiae in their fields and who run circles around the noncomprehending dolts on the Indian side).

“If the BJP govt is serious about accountability and bringing all the culprits in the Agusta, Pilatus, and potentially Rafale boondoggles to book, it better not overlook their main bureaucrat facilitator(s). Seek the counsel of the attorney general about whether a serving CAG can be prosecuted, at a minimum, for his apparent malfeasance and fiduciary irresponsiblity. If as CAG he cannot be touched by law, then it is incumbent on the govt to prepare an airtight legal case against him, and to prosecute him the day he demits office as CAG, which is only a year away. If the Gandhis and ACM Tyagi & “Fratelli Tyagi” and ACM Browne (now ambassador to Norway) [for the Pilatus contract] are to be made examples of, so should the IAS officers involved in these three deals.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/05/06/bureaucrat-facilitators-of-corruption/ ]

A follow-up Aug 19, 2016 post by me concluded thus: “As stated in earlier blogs, Shashikant Sharma on his retirement as CAG in 2017, needs to be investigated for his hand in the Augusta scam, but also for the C-17 fiasco. A start has been made by the CBI fingering HC Gupta (Retd, IAS) former Coal Secretary for the scam in that Ministry during the Manmohan years. There are more important, national security, reasons for investigating Shashikant Sharma and jailing him with a stiff sentence. It will have a huge effect on bureaucrats. Unless accountability becomes the norm, the present phenomenally lax system, ultimately of financial resources mismanagement, will persist, and India willfully reduced, by its minders, to a pauper.” [ https://bharatkarnad.com/2016/08/19/boeing-c-17s-shashikant-sharma-accountability/ ]

The latest developments far from being the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” as far as holding babus — the big time corruption enablers in government, accountable may actually point to why there’ll be no end to the ongoing gigantic level scamming, now manifested most conspicuously at the state and local levels. The scale of it may be guaged from the very visible fact of, say, the phantasmagoric 20,000 sq feet house of Jaipur pinkstone built for himself in a dry and barren sub-region of Maharashtra entirely free of any other signs of development, by a minor local government functionary — a mere zilla parishad chief in Beed, Marathawada, belonging to Sharad Pawar’s ruling Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra! (Hint to the Press — motor down to Beed over bad roads in Pawar’s bailiwick, to marvel at the palace this minor Kubla Khan has built in his Xanadu!!)

Such concerns arise because of the time it took the Modi government to permit the CBI to prosecute Messrs Shashi Kant Sharma & Co., and why to-date the retired Air Chief Marshal NK ‘Charlie’ Browne has been spared the “noose” for the Pilatus contract he pushed. Perhaps, people heading the present dispensation feared that should the BJP be voted out in 2024, they may face the same music on the Rafale fighter aircraft deal. Because, as a French press investigation has revealed, payments were made by Dassault Avions to Indians whether of the political class or those in the defence procurement decision chain is not clear, despite this being touted as a “commissions-free” government-to-government deal. The results of the recent elections in UP and elsewhere apparently put such fears to rest, emboldening the Modi government to finally act on the Sharma case.

But not going after Browne (for the Pilatus) and not making an example of him along with his predecessor, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi (for the Augusta helos), however, makes no sense unless it is that the government and CBI, startled by just how deep and widespread the tentacles of corruption have reached into the military, are being extra-cautious about hauling off scores of retired military brass to jail for other defence deals, lest this “demoralise” the armed services. This is to misread the sentiment among the rank and file of the military which’s clued in, with just about everbody in each service aware of the bad eggs in the officer corps; they would be happy and relieved to see the corrupt among them get, even if belatedly, their comeuppance.

However, the trend in babu circles in government in the last two decades is not to get caught with hands in the cookie jar. But, as I detailed in my 2015 book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, to ensure that prospective foreign arms/product vendors pay the fees and upkeep costs for their progeny in American/West European universities and/or guarantee them high-paying jobs after they graduate along with resident visas in the US, France, UK, Sweden, Italy, etc. It does away with signing potentially incriminating documents. And the placement of sons/daughters abroad is attributed by these babus naturally to their children being very bright! For companies that lose out on this or that deal, it is small price to pay for generating “institutional” goodwill this way. It is something they can cash in on in future Indian government deals and contracts, because babus down the line come to know of foreign companies (and their host countries) that happily pay in kind for services rendered.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Internal Security, Military Acquisitions, society, South Asia, United States, US., Weapons | 28 Comments

Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Three steps to break India’s arms-import shackles

[Indian army’s Brahmos missiles]

Whatever else the Russian armed intervention in Ukraine has done, it has hammered home to the Union government the perils of over-dependence on imported armaments. There are two aspects that are of special concern. First, is the danger of a military spares cut-off in case the Russian engagement in Ukraine extends into the future, highly unlikely though that is, because then the Kremlin will prioritise re-supplying its own troops.

Considering eastern Ladakh is a live border with China, as is the Arunachal Pradesh-front, the shutting down of the pipeline for spares owing to US sanctions on Russia, freezing of banking channels, etc., could mean a disaster for India should Beijing decide to renew hostilities. Summer — ideal campaign weather, is just round the corner, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is apparently itching to hand the Indian Army a drubbing.

Second, is a problem of our creation. Some 90-plus percent of the hardware in the employ of the Indian armed services is of foreign origin, or relies on critical imported components, to upkeep which requires mammoth amounts of spares and servicing support. But capital is mostly expended by the military on new acquisitions under the rubric of ‘force modernisation’, and not in replenishing ‘voids’ — the shortfalls of as much as 60-70 percent with regard to spares which a singularly inefficient public sector defence industry cannot make up.

Hence, the Indian armed forces are restricted both in terms of how long they can fight wars, and with what intensity. India-Pakistan conflicts, for instance, are of short duration because the two similarly-tuned militaries quickly run out of ammo. But China, almost entirely self-sufficient in arms and with a comprehensively capable defence industry, can fight for as long as it takes the PLA to force a decision.

It is all very well in the circumstances for ministers to extol atmanirbharta, and the services’ chiefs to swear by it. But that’s a cover, once the crisis passes, for everybody to get back to doing things the old way because, per received wisdom, it will ‘take decades’ for the government, the military and the industry to get on the same page and up to speed.

There’s a three-pronged alternative, however, that can deliver results in a short time. First, formally terminate all arms imports. Two, ramp up the defence R&D, and production ecosystem by bringing in proven private sector companies as prime contractors in prestigious defence projects. Larsen & Toubro, which already produces the Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarines, for instance, should be given charge of the 75i diesel submarine programme; the DRDO should transfer to Tata Aerospace & Defence and to Mahindra Aerospace the source codes of the Tejas 1A fighter and of its successor, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft; and Bharat Forge should be asked to improve the Arjun main battle tank, and design a light tank for use in Ladakh and Sikkim.

These programmes will establish widening tiers of associated specialist, high-technology MSMEs, with the additional production lines for the Tejas fighter plane, Arjun MBT, and the light tank augmenting the numbers of the same manufactured by the defence public sector units, for induction into the Indian armed forces, and for export.

Streamlined private sector industrial groups, moreover, will minimise waste, cut the fat, and add value. For instance, L&T needs only to buy a submarine design from a foreign vendor and a few select technologies, such as optronic masts, because it has learned to do everything else. This will pare the hard currency costs, estimated at $8-10 billion to just $1 billion!

On a war footing, these initiatives may take, say, five years to come to fruition. In the meantime, with imports halted, India’s conventional military muscle will suffer. But to ensure national security, India should do what China and North Korea did to offset their conventional military inferiority vis-a-vis the United States: They threatened first use of nuclear weapons. It deterred Washington from pushing US’ advantage.

This is the third prong of the alternative policy: India should announce a tweaked Indian nuclear doctrine and strategy permitting first use of nuclear weapons but only against China. Forward-deployed canisterised Agni missiles, capable of launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning, now entering India’s arsenal can act as nuclear tripwire — a short-fuse — to dissuade the PLA from breaching Indian defences.

Holding the wealth-producing coastal belt in China hostage to nuclear weapons is no bad way to check Beijing’s adventurism. It will require New Delhi to show iron will and to hold its nerve. Whether the Indian government can do that is the big question.

———–

Published in Moneycontrol.com March 14, 2022, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/russia-ukraine-conflict-three-steps-to-break-indias-arms-import-shackles-8230601.html

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, sanctions, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 32 Comments

‘Even if authorised, missile firing makes no sense’

This cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a “technical glitch”.’

[The BrahMos in flight]

India on Friday said a missile that landed in Pakistan on March 9 was fired ‘accidentally’ due to a technical malfunction. The defence ministry ordered a court of inquiry into the incident a day after Pakistan said a high-speed projectile launched from India entered its airspace and fell near Mian Channu in Khanewal district.

Interview of Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, by Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, Rediff.com 

———-

While the defence ministry has explained that the missile fired into Pakistan was due to a ‘technical malfunction’, former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash has tweeted that these missiles can never be launched accidentally but only when authorised.What does that indicate?

The Admiral is right. This seems like an unauthorised firing. Further, even if authorised, the firing makes no sense, because there was no active warhead. So, what was the aim?

This missile was accidentally fired on March 9, one day before the counting of votes of the assembly elections. Could there be a co-relation between these two events?

No. The co-relation is only in the minds of the conspiracy inclined, and there is no dearth of those in the country.

The missile mishap occurred on March 9, but the government came up with a clarification on March 11. Why this delay?

Well, the government was first waiting for a formal Pakistani protest. And it took another day to craft a diplomatic apology.

What does this say about their safety mechanisms and the technical prowess in the way these dangerous weapons are being maintained in India?

That’s precisely the worry attending on this misfiring.

Indeed, the Pakistani government was quick to capitalise on this incident of the Brahmos missile going astray.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Secrity Adviser Dr Moeed Yusuf publicly expressed concern and asked the international community to note the fairly casual manner in which missiles are operated.by the Indian armed forces.

He went on, understandably, to extend that concern to India’s handling of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems.

Such criticism is bound to have an effect on international opinion and hurt India’s self-confessed status as a ‘responsible State’.

The defence ministry seems to have landed with egg on its face.

A whole barnyard full of eggs, in fact. This is quite shocking and simply cannot be credibly explained away by referring to a ‘technical glitch’.

The triggering mechanism is a hardy piece of work including a firing sequence and a final authorisation.

How this process was obviated is a mystery.

Pakistan’s foreign office summoned India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad to lodge a warning that this unprovoked violation of its airspace could have endangered passenger flights and civilian lives.

Well, yeah, anything could have happened, including the missile, even with a dummy warhead, kinetically taking out a passenger aircraft.

In your view, could this have been a BrahMos cruise missile possessing nuclear capability?

The Brahmos missile has interchangeable warheads and can carry both conventional and nuclear weapons.

But most forward-deployed Indian cruise missiles are conventionally armed.

If it was a nuclear missile — albeit unarmed — is there a possibility in the future that the command and control system could fail again in the future which could have dangerous consequences for both nations?

Unless the government clarifies the nature of the ‘technical glitch’ everything is in the realm of speculation. That could include a faulty command and control system.

According to reports, Pakistani officials claim it was fired from Sirsa. How far is that assessment correct?

No reason to doubt the Pakistani claim because the Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, District Miani, is very advanced and capable of detecting cruise and ballistic missile firings and minutely tracking their trajectory.

————–

Published in Rediff.com, March 13, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/dr-bharat-karnad-even-if-authorised-missile-firing-makes-no-sense/20220313.htm

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Weapons | 19 Comments

Criminal laxity or is it complicity in the “misfiring” of the Brahmos missile? Strategic dimensions (Augmented)

[A Brahmos triggered]

[This augmented post incorporates new info relating to the incident presented in in Sunday newspapers, without changing its original thrust and tenor.]

The supersonic Brahmos cruise missile reportedly misfired by an army’ s missile battery from Sirsa landed fairly deep — 124 km — inside Pakistani territory, near Mian Channu, Khanewal District. The Pakistani air defence complex at Sargodha, Miani District, tracked it precisely with the Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Public Relations chief, Major General Babar Iftikhar, helpfully informing the press that the missile, which had been fired March 9 at 1843 hours had diverted of its own volition midflight and crashlanded in northeastern Punjab seven minutes later, at 1850 hours. Pakistan did not react other than by wagging a finger at India.

Doubtless GHQ, Rawalpindi, could not be more gleeful at this technological windfall. It has been just handed a dummy warhead-carrying whole Brahmos missile. The fallen missile — the star in the Indian army’s weapons inventory, unless fully destroyed by impact and even if it is so wrecked, some of its more interesting parts would be recoverable, is a boon to the Pakistan and Chinese militaries. These will be carefully disassembled, technically scrutinised, and a whole team urgently constituted at the Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, to likely get down to the business of studying the missile threadbare with a view ultimately to reverse engineering it. Of special significance in the Brahmos system is its super secretive ramjet engine of Russian make and its guidance system of Indian design and manufacture.

After deciphering all it can about the Brahmos system, the Pakistan army will pass on the same to the Chinese PLA, which has the CX-1 — a copy of the Russian supersonic Yakhont (NATO-designation — “Sunburn”) cruise missile equipping its forces. PLA will be only too glad to get its hands on this more sophisticated variety of cruise missile and, perhaps, tease more design and performance secrets from the wreckage than the Pakistani engineers at Kamra can.

Pakistan has been very lucky in terms of accidentally obtaining such advanced technologies, and China, by default, benefitting from access to them. It may be recalled that an unexploded subsonic Tomahawk land attack cruise missile fired from a US submarine in the Arabian Sea and on its way to a target in Afghanistan dropped down instead southwest of Quetta in August 1998. It was quickly retrieved by the Pakistan army and, just as quickly, handed over to the Chinese to deconstruct and learn things to incorporate into their own long range CJ-10 cruise missile. What they must have prized in the Tomahawk were three things — the terrain following Digital Scene Matching Area Correlator (DSMAC) guidance unit, the jam-resistant GPS, and the compact WDU-36 warhead. Certain aspects of the jet engine would have elicited interest too.

The May 2011 nightime raid to capture and kill Osama bin Laden in his house nestled just outside the Pakistan Army Academy at Kirkul left behind another technology treasurehouse — the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter with special stealth feaures carrying the US Special Forces. It crash landed in the bin Laden compound and had to be left behind by the Special Forces unit, though why the departing Americans could not have just lobbed a few grenades and decimated the crippled helicopter is not clear. May be the excitement got to them! In any case, the Pakistan army and the Chinese military were the beneficiaries, getting their hands on the stealth innovations of that helicopter. Such as its rivetless skin, the radar wave bouncing covering for the tail rotor gearbox, the tail-fin unit painted with “pearlescent” material, the tail-boom with retractable landing gear, a tail-rotor design with five or six blades for slower rotation and less noise and, particularly, the main counter-rotors system of short length and bevelled edges.

Now India has added to Pakistan and China’s luck by virtually handing over a Brahmos cruise missile to them! The adversary’s luck is India’s grave misfortune. Because the Pakistan army and the PLA will now be able to discern how exactly the missile works, especially in its guidance and targeting aspects and, more important, what counter-measures can defeat it in flight and at the terminal stage of its flight.

At a minimum, this incident suggests criminal laxity by the military personnel manning the concerned Brahmos missile battery. And at a maximum, that some of the Indian missileers were suborned by the Pakistanis. The Pakistani communications link and handlers stationed on the Indian side need to be hunted down. Because, surely, the Brahmos missile firing sequence and mechanism is not so simple as to have some person or persons accidentally trip a switch, and have a uh-ho! moment. It requires a deliberate set of steps quite deliberately taken by saboteurs in uniform. It is in Sargodha Central’s interest to claim that it saw the missile suddenly veer off mid-flight in a different direction than the one intended in order to shield the compromised/paid off Indians complicit in the act of getting a Brahmos to Pakistan-China. The first thing for the Court of Inquiry (CoI) that’s been set up to do is to disregard, with extreme prejudice, the Pakistan army’s account of it.

Actually, this episode hints at something lot more troubling — the “dheela-dhala” culture, the laxness that is a characteristic of the civilian parts of government, now seeping into the Indian military’s operational space that permits potentially easy penetration by enemy’s intelligence agencies. This trend if not arrested with ferocity could consume the armed services, and make nonsense of national security. It is also a matter for the counter-intelligence units in the Research & Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau to get between their teeth.

If, on the other hand, a genuine technical quirk in the missile or in its triggering mechanism is detected, or a problematic part of the Brahmos firing drill is identified — these will be easier to correct, of course. Still, it is something of a revelation that the series of electronic interlocks built into the triggering system of the missile can be bypassed. In which case, what’s the point in having these locks if anyone can avoid/preempt them and initiate the firing sequence? This is a most significant weakness in the missile system. Would it be very wrong, in the event, to assume that the strategic nuclear warheaded Agni missiles are under a similar locking system with the final authority to fire being easily side-stepped by the unit in the field?

This is a situation perfectly setup — even an invitation — for some demented missile personnel to go rogue and start a nuclear affray. Little wonder the Pakistan National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf has called attention to this incident claiming that India’s nuclear weapons are not in safe custody because the supposed custodians can independently trigger them. It will provide fuel for sections of the policy establishments in the West, which have always been apprehensive of nuclear weaponised Third World states, to claim that India has an unsafe nuclear arsenal and is a proto-rogue nuclear weapons state that enables its handlers of nuclear armaments to start a nuclear regional or even world war. To exacerbate the Indian government’s discomfiture, the Pakistan government has asked for a joint inquiry — which of course should not be acceded to. But it still leaves suspicions of an infirm command and control system very much in place.

Re-engineering the interlocks system in the missile triggering mechanism, one in which the option of manual over-ride at the local level is denied without an absolute final authorization, is an urgent necessity. These technical remedies will not, however, in any sense lessen the grievous damage done India’s cause with the most ballyhooed weapon in the Indian arsenal now cradled by Pakistan and China. India, alas, is not so bounteous that it can afford such lapses that gift military high-technology to its enemies.

Hope, however, that the usual path is not followed and things not hushed up. The air force officers and other ranks up and down the line and party in any way to this mishap will have to be held responsible. Those directly implicated will need to be drummed out of service and by way of exemplary, deterrent, punishment, put away for life in prison. In China, such “accident” would fetch some people the firing squad.

—————

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, DRDO, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 23 Comments

Why US, Russia Want India On Its Side

[Ukrainians hold weapons outside the regional administration building in central Kharkiv]

Rediff News Interview, at https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/why-us-russia-want-india-on-its-side/20220307.htm, published March7, 2022: Bharat Karnad explains some of the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The world order seems to be changing dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China seems to have emerged as the senior partner of Russia and both India and China seem to be on the same page vis a vis the Russian invasion.

Yes, the Volodymyr Zelenskyy regime is under siege, and has upset Putin’s plans for a quick operation by its refusal to be intimidated by Russian military power.

And the ‘correlation of forces’ has changed some, considering that NATO will now not be able to use the Ukrainian frontage on the Black Sea to attack Russia from the south.

China, for its part, is observing how the situation is developing, how Washington, in particular, is reacting and especially the step-up actions of the US and NATO.

These, sequentially, have progressed from initial verbal protests, airlift of a large volume of arms and ammo for tactical battle (by some press accounts totalling some $1.5 billion in the last three weeks or so), firming up of the NATO force posture, closing off of NATO air space to Russian aircraft, to announcing a slate of up-rampable economic and trade sanctions.

Beijing will know what to expect should it care to do an Ukraine in Taiwan in the future.

President Xi Jinping will, however, be reassured by the reluctance of the US to deploy its troops directly to fight the Russian forces in Ukraine.

But there are two changes of consequence in the pattern of big power conduct in international affairs.

The US trans-shipment of small value military equipment — the proverbial straw thrown to a drowning Ukraine, has only confirmed to Asian countries their apprehensions of the US as a fickle ally and unreliable security partner.

Equally, President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to reclaim for Russia, at whatever cost, its Cold War-era buffer zone and sphere of influence.

Is this the beginning of another Cold War with China and Russia pitted together on one side and the US on the other? Can the US be a match against these two powerful nations?

Cold War 2.0, perhaps. Except it is now US versus China as the principals, and predates the Ukraine crisis.

If the US-NATO tandem are more advantageously placed economically and diplomatically, the Russia-China nexus is weightier in terms of will power.

India seems to be caught in between with both the US and Russia wanting our support. We have not condemned Russia outright because we need their support to provide us with military hardware as also repairs, etc.

Actually neither the US nor Russia really expected India to side with one or the other side on the Ukraine issue.

It is just that the Vladimir Putin government had expected, and was politically prepared for and reconciled to India’s neutral positioning far better than the Joe Biden Administration, which had hoped to convince New Delhi to join like-minded countries unitedly to pressure Russia.

[Ukrainian soldiers stop on the road on March 5, 2022 in Sytniaky, Ukraine]

But India also needs military equipment, etc from US and other QUAD nations. How will they achieve this balancing act?

Right now, the arms supply relationship is hugely skewed in favour of Russia — some 70+% of hardware used by the Indian armed services are of Russian origin.

So there’s no question of achieving a balance anytime soon.

However, it is also this level of dependence on Russia that makes Moscow accept India going in for the occasional major weapons buys from the US and the West.

Such as the Rafale combat aircraft from France, M-777 howitzer and the versatile C-130J and C-17 transport planes from the US.

If US sees Russia in the days to come as being its main adversary, it may then concede China’s domination in Asia. This could be a nightmarish scenario for us with India finding itself in a situation where it will have to single handedly face military action from both China and Pakistan.
Do we have the military capability of being able to cope with this double whammy?

In the circumstances you describe, the US and the West desperately need India to strategically and militarily stretch China westwards, even as the US and AUKUS plus Japanese forces try and distend the disposition of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) air, land and naval forces eastwards in the South China sea, East Sea, and the Indo-Pacific generally.

There is no ‘double whammy’! Pakistan is too puny a State to matter to anyone or be meaningfully useful to any side, especially because Islamabad’s concern with keeping its channels open to Washington will always over-ride its desire to get closer to China.

[A view of an area near the regional administration building in central Kharkiv, March 1, 2022]

What kind of maneuverability will India have given our present economic and political situation?

India enjoys the maneuverability of a coming big power.

With its resources, and especially potentially large purchases of high value capital technology goods and promise of access to its vast market, New Delhi can economically benefit one or the other side and, should it decide to use its many military assets, including its central location in the Indian Ocean basin, it can decisively tilt the local, tactical and strategic balance.

It is this possibility that has persuaded Moscow to humour India and stayed Washington from getting punitive about India’s neutrality on the Ukraine issue.

Emboldened by the current situation in Europe, is there a possibility of China attacking Taiwan in the near future as is being predicted by some analysts.

It depends on how Beijing assesses the US and West European response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the lessons it has learned.

Unlike Ukraine that’s caught between and betwixt formal membership in NATO, the US is committed — it says, to maintaining the status quo and doing everything possible to help Taiwan defend itself.

Taiwan, moreover, is militarily a porcupine that can seriously hurt China should it try to swallow this island-State.

——


Possibly also of interest to readers of this Blog:

  1. “India’s Foremost Strategist Decodes Russia Ukraine Conflict | Bharat Karnad | Exclusive Interview”, on the (UK-based) podcast forum — ‘Prode’, uploaded to the net March 7, 2022 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsOUsmyz5FY
  2. The 12th BG Deshmukh Annual Endowment Lecture (virtual) of the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, on “India’s Geopolitics: What should be done to strengthen it” delivered on Wednesday March 2, 2022, the event chaired, and introductory and conclusionary remarks, by the former NSA and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, at
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Russian forces’ actions in Ukraine show a dilemma like Indian Army’s in 1948 Hyderabad ops

[An Ukrainian Molotov Cocktail spacialist]

The way the Russian forces are advancing in a halting fashion on the capital city of Kyiv and on Kharkiv — taking casualties and not always reacting harshly, suggests that this is not a war of the kind the Russian military is geared to fight. There is no semblance here to the victorious campaigns of Joseph Stalin’s Red Army against the German Wehrmacht in the Second World War or the sort of operations the Soviet military and its Warsaw Pact complement were prepared to unleash across the Fulda Gap during the Cold War.

This ruthless mode of warfare emphasizes a rolling barrage of ceaseless and devastating long range artillery fire in tandem with the equally relentless air-to-ground strikes by combat aircraft of the “frontal aviation” forces, which combined arms effort is meant, quite literally, to flatten the earth, and clear the path for the onrushing columns of armour and mechanized infantry. So, what explains the stumbling, bumbling, progress by Putin’s army in Ukraine?

Russia on Ukrainian soil

It is clear the Kremlin did not bargain for the inspiring leadership of the young Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, or for the resistance put up by the Kalashnikov-armed nationalists prosecuting holding actions alongside a competent military. These include strikes on Russian tanks and armoured personnel carriers by the TB-2 Bayraktar-armed drones purchased from Turkey, anti-tank guided munitions, sniper fire, and, at close quarters, expert attacks with Molotov Cocktails — the endless bottles of half-filled beer provided by a local brewery. Putin’s plans for intimidating Zelensky and Co. into submission has plainly failed.

But an agreement that retains for an Ukraine, minus the eastern “autonomous republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk in the Donbas region habited by Russian-speaking people, its freedom in return for not joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) may still be the compromise solution all parties will eventually agree to. Russia, moreover, is unlikely to restore to Ukraine parts of the Black Sea coast it captures, except on the condition that the naval infrastructure built on it, inclusive of the naval bases at Sevastopol and Odessa which, according to the 1997 partition agreement, is shared by the Russian and Ukrainian navies, is never allowed to be accessed by the United States and NATO navies. After all, Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was supposed to address precisely Russia’s vulnerability from the Black Sea approaches.

These geostrategic aims aside, there is no apparent premium for the Kremlin to so embitter Ukraine and its people as to make permanent enemies of them. This is reflected in the relatively small size of the deployed Russian force — just 175,00 troops strong — which is inadequate to forcibly take over Ukraine (for perspective, the Indian Army has some 650,000 soldiers in place to keep the Srinagar Valley “quiet”). And in the extremely wary and careful movement, for instance, by the Russian armoured component from Crimea to capture the city of Kherson intact, and then to permit the local government there to fly the Ukrainian flag from government buildings.

Such military behaviour was undoubtedly part of Putin’s plan for “restrained action”, symbolised by the precision attack on the “training” hub of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex, rather than on the nuclear reactors, and the immediate dousing of the resulting fire. The Zaporizhzhia power plant supplies 20-25 per cent of the electricity consumed in Ukraine, and a hit on it was to send a message to Zelensky to not tarry at the negotiating table. 

The other reason for Moscow ordering peaceful capture of nuclear power stations may be to take control of stocks of spent uranium fuel to pre-empt a future Ukrainian government from using them to make nuclear bombs. In any case, the moderation in Russian military operations is to minimize the offence given to native Ukrainians and to wait out/wear out the armed nationalist elements among them, rather than go in for wholesale slaughter of the population and destruction of cities. In this context, the Ukrainian resistance, while brave, is ultimately hopeless and is potentially useful only as a bargaining card for the Zelensky regime to play in the ongoing negotiations with Russia in Belarus.

A tactical dilemma 

The Russian forces in Ukraine, have, from the beginning, faced a tactical dilemma that’s not unlike what the Indian Army units, perhaps, faced when advancing on the “princely kingdom” of Hyderabad with the intent to amalgamate it into the Indian Union. The Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan, was determined on having a sovereign country right in the middle of peninsular India. His representative, the British barrister Walter Monckton, spent over a year negotiating with the home ministry under the no-nonsense Vallabhbhai Patel. ‘Operation Polo’ was launched on 13 September 1948, only after it became obvious to the Indian government that the Nizam was buying time and using the “standstill agreement” to equip his forces with weapons ferried from Karachi in old Dakota aircraft piloted by foreign mercenaries, with a view to resisting the unification. By 17 September it was all over.

Consider the situation confronting Major General JN Chaudhuri — the commander of the Indian force tasked with taking Hyderabad but with minimum fuss. Advancing mainly along the Vijayawada and Solapur-Secunderabad axes, the Commanding Officers of the lead elements from Poona Horse and 2/5 Gurkhas from the Vijayawada side with the 19th Field Battery and two squadrons of the Hawker Tempest fighter planes, ex-Pune, in support, and of the 9 Para, 3rd Cavalry, 13th Cavalry, 3/2 Punjab and 2/1 Gurkhas on the Solapur line, must have been terrified of getting into firefights with the Nizam’s forces, especially in the built-up urban areas as that would have resulted in unacceptably high civilian casualties. This is borne out by the tactics employed of not using strike aircraft or even mortars and engaging the Nizam’s soldiery, as much as possible, on the outskirts of towns and in the countryside. Fortunately, for the Indian Army, the commander of Osman Ali’s forces, General El Edroos, an Arab, had under him the Razakar rabble, not a professional army.

Imagine an alternative scenario and assume, for argument’s sake, that the Nizam’s 66,000-strong army — 55 per cent Muslim, was backed by the majority Hindu population in his quest for an independent Hyderabad. Now consider how much more difficult and delicate the Indian Army’s job would have been. Hyderabad would, of course, have been absorbed one way or the other into India. But the Indian military actions, in that case, would have had to have been that much more cautious, with each step tenuously taken for fear, say, of a rifle company of the Gurkhas taking the khukri to a terrified bunch of civilians caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or of wayward artillery shells taking out cultural symbols and historical monuments — a Char Minar here, numerous palaces of the Nizam there, or even the Hyderabadi infrastructure the people couldn’t do without — the railways, the power station, communications systems, road transport, post, telegraph, etc.

Seen in this light, one gets an inkling of just how unmanageable the situation can get for an army working under such constraints, and understand the impossible circumstances of the Russian land forces in Ukraine. And why they are moving and fighting so gingerly in the worst kind of mission that a conventional military can be asked to undertake.

For Russia, Ukraine is a site for an onerous ‘police action’; it is not a battlefield where anything goes.

——

This article published in The Print, March 6, 2022 at https://theprint.in/opinion/russian-forces-actions-in-ukraine-show-a-dilemma-like-indian-armys-in-1948-hyderabad-ops/859724/

Posted in arms exports, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Russia, russian military, Weapons | 29 Comments

Bharat Karnad delivers the BG Deshmukh Lecture at the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, March 2, at 6PM — Do log in!

Apologies for this belated notice, but if any readers of this Blog are interested in the subject of geopolitics and India’s options, have the time, and care to listen in and, perhaps, even participate in the Q & A session that will follow, please do log in at the appointed time on the Zoom link below.

This is an invitation to my lecture to be delivered (virtually) under The 12th B.G. Deshmukh Billimoria Endowment Lecture (Online) of the Asiatic Society, Mumbai, on “India’s Geopolitics:  What should be done to strengthen it?” on Wednesday 2nd March 2022 at 6.00 p.m. on Zoom.  Mr. Shivshankar Menon, Visiting Professor Ashoka University and Former National Security Advisor & Foreign Secretary, will preside at this online lecture.  The Zoom link for the lecture is given below:

Join Zoom Meeting at:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86782684225?pwd=QjRmeWR2bE5kN094ejZDY0VQSDJqUT09

    Meeting ID: 867 8268 4225            Passcode: 362322

Posted in Afghanistan | 22 Comments

There will be no war over Ukraine, here’s why

[Russian armour on the Ukrainian front]

Taking a risk here of being very wrong. But I don’t think there’s going to be a WAR over Ukraine despite all the developments to-date that led US President Joe Biden yesterday to declare that it was “the beginning of the Russian invasion”. His follow-on statement — “Let me be clear…We have no intention of fighting Russia. We want to send an unmistakable message though — that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO” explained just why.

It was not as if Kremlin was unaware that the US did not want to gut it out — engage in actual land war with Russia or, short of NATO countries being directly threatened, get tripped into one. But Ukraine is not formally a NATO member; the preparatory measures it has undertaken to gain entry into the Atlantic Alliance still leaves a big hatch that Biden has now used to escape his military dilemma. It left him free, on technicalities of Article 5 of the NATO Charter, to resile from a hard security commitment to Ukraine’s territoriality. Ukraine, after all cannot legally boast of even an “inch of NATO territory”. It was the setting for Putin to activate his plan for the long game.

What was the game plan?

Its larger aim was, of course, to prevent the enlargement of NATO. A militarily weak Russia was in no position since the demise of the Soviet Union in 1992-1993 to halt former constitutent states of the erstwhile USSR — Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and of the Warsaw Pact — Albania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary from formally joining NATO, thereby denuding Russia of its tier of buffer states and its legitimate sphere of influence in Europe. Putin’s more specific aim was to ensure the independent-minded Ukraine — where are located some very important and advanced technology laboratories, R&D facilities and factories of former Communist Russia’s defence industry, is not the latest in the line of ex-“soviets” to fall into NATO’s lap. Ukraine is potentially an enormous value addition to NATO’s southern flank, because it offers, because of mild weather, direct maritime approaches the year round via the Mediterranean, the NATO member Turkey-controlled Dardenelles, and the Black Sea, to Russia’s underbelly.

The first part of the Putin solution was achieved in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, which still left the possibility of a long Black Sea coast centered on the great ex-Soviet naval bases at Sevastopol (where the Indian Navy’s Kashin-class missile destroyers were worked up by Indian crews trained there) and Odessa opening up for NATO use. It necessitated the second part of the plan to shrink Ukraine landward and, if possible, seaward, to preempt NATO’s moving in on Russia from the Black Sea.

The success of the Putin plan was predicated on two things. There were popular movements of Russian-speaking populations around Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine clamouring to rejoin mother-Russia. These secessionist movements had kept Kiev from establishing Ukrainian writ over this, the Donbas region. Putin’s formal recognition of these areas as independent states, perhaps, as prelude to their amalgamation in Russia was, therefore, a foregone event. With Ukrainian sovereignty never physically established here, Russian forces being welcomed into these parts does not, in the event, constitute a violation of Ukrainian territory or a casus belli (cause for war). This is the extent to which Russia will deign militarily to intrude into “Ukrainian” space.

The other predicate was of a frightened, beleagured and overwhelmed government in Kiev acquiescing in Donbas’ secession and making other concessions on the Black Sea, for instance. This, however, has not happened. In the main because the young, nerveless Ukrainian President, Volodomyr Zelensky, has refused to be intimidated by Russia’s show of force. All that Putin’s huffing and puffing has done is burnished Zelensky’s ultracool image — a bold and courageous leader of the Ukrainian nation abandoned by craven allies, who is seen every day visiting the frontline, talking soberly to the soldiery, and infecting the Ukrainian people at-large with his calm until now when, in the face of Russian guns, they carry on as if it is just another dreary and cold winter they have to negotiate. This sort of chutzpah is plainly not what Putin expected. He had banked on a hysterical mob compelling Zelensky, scared witless, giving in, agreeing to concessions and peace on Russian terms. Because this hasn’t occurred, it has forced Kremlin to recognize the independent “republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk — possibly the first stage to their eventual absorption into Russia. This is all that Putin may have to settle for.

But how can Putin realize the cutting off of Black Sea access to NATO?

Russia, as per the 1997 partition agreement dividing the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, shares the Sevastopol naval base and its shore-based resources with the Ukrainian navy. That can prove icky for Putin in terms of an Ukrainian-NATO naval linkup. Some American analysts foresee Putin seizing Ukrainian territory up to the Dnepr River and an additional belt of land (to include Odessa) connecting Russian territory with the breakaway Transdniestria republic and thus separating Ukraine from the Black Sea and rendering what remains of Ukraine economically unviable. Or, avoiding military actions against the urban agglomerations of Kiev and Kharkive, Russia captures a belt of land between Russia and the Transdniestria republic (including the main cities of Mariupol, Kherson, and Odessa) to secure freshwater supplies for Crimea and block Ukraine’s reach to the sea. (Refer https://www.csis.org/analysis/russias-possible-invasion-ukraine)

The fact is neither Ukraine singly or together with NATO will be able to thwart such Russian designs. But these actions are substantive military actions, which will trigger, at a minimum, some blocking moves by US military forces deployed to Poland (including lead elements of the famed 82nd Airborne) inviting Moscow, in effect, to escalate. This Putin will be unwilling to do. Because it will mean full-fledged war with the massed artillery — the Russian “God of War”, opening up on three fronts, reducing Ukrainian cities to rubble. Just the optics of such action — recalling for the world the death and massive destruction visited upon Ukraine and the rest of Russia by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, which was paid back in trumps by Marshal Zhukov’s avenging armies crushing everything in their victorious path to Berlin — will be too daunting even for the hardened KGB agent in Putin to stomach.

But even limited objectives achieved in Ukraine will fatally hurt America’s credibility with its allies and strategic partners especially in the Indo-Pacific, credibility which is already shaken. Thankfully, the dangers of counting on the US when the chips are down, has finally dawned on the Narendra Modi regime, whence Jaishankar’s moves of late to keep Moscow humoured.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indo-Pacific, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 33 Comments

Stop fooling around: Get going with the K21-105 light tank

[The South Korean K21-105 light tank]

The need for reintroducing light battle tank (LBT)-equipped mountain forces into the army’s order-of-battle was first recommended in a classified report I prepared for the (10th) Finance Commission and submitted to the PV Narasimha Rao government end-1995. That report, mindful of accommodating an LBT fleet within the then budgetary allocation for armoured-mech units, also proposed restructuring the armoured and mechanised formations in the three strike corps featuring heavier Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) along the lines I have been advocating ever since — of a single composite corps (i.e., corps plus several independent armoured brigades) for the western front with the bulk units of the remaining two strike corps converted for mountain use with LBTs.

But a Pakistan-fixated army did not then bite. And DRDO failed to commit fully to the LBT project of building on the Sarath (BMP-1) chassis, leave alone, developing a lighter, down-sized variant, of the Arjun MBT because right through the 1980s and 1990s the army officially deemed an LBT unnecessary! Apparently, the Rommels and the Guderians of the Indian armoured corps could not even imagine the possibility of the Tibetan Plateau extending into northern Sikkim and eastern Ladakh being tank-friendly terrain exploitable by LBTs despite, mind you, wallowing in the lore of Col. Rajinder Singh ‘Sparrow’-led 7th Cavalry with its (ex-US) Stuart light tanks clearing the Zoji La Pass (at nearly 12,000 feet altitude) of Pakistani troops in November 1948 during the first Kashmir war. This action recovered the road connecting Srinagar with Kargil and Leh.

Meanwhile, starting in the 1970s the army plonked successively for the T-72, the T-72S and, in the new Century, the T-90, from Russia. It may have gained Moscow’s goodwill no doubt but also stifled the production of locally designed and developed MBTs and LBTs. This love affair with Russian tanks persisted even when the Arjun tank pitted against the T-90 MBT in extensive field trials in the 2000s handily beat the Russian item in all aspects, including in the two most critical metrics of armoured warfare — mobility and accurate firepower. This was insufficient reason, however, for the import-besotted armoured warfare directorate in army HQ, which like most other combat arms in the Indian military prefer foreign hardware, to switch its custom to Indian-made military goods. It has consequented in the continuing drain of vital financial resources that succesive governments — influenced by the counsel of “professional”, “technically competent”, advisers in the defence procurement loop — namely, the army’s armour directorate, apparently failed to stop. It undermined the economic viability of the Arjun MBT, whose stated deficiencies — slightly excess weight and width, could have been easily resolved over the years if only the armoured corps had taken ownership of, and helmed, the programme.

It has eventuated in a fairly ridiculous state of affairs. There are some 52 frontline armoured regiments. Of these, 33 regiments feature T-72s, 17 regiments the T-90s, and only two regiments (43rd and 75th) boast of the Arjun MBT. In terms of acquisition costs, imagine the hard currency outflows! These less nimble tanks — T-72s and T-90s — deployed on the Himalayan heights, moreover, find it difficult to fire up their engines in the cold mornings and require special fuel and elaborate warm-up rituals just so the power surges at the first “kick”. Even so, on any given morning more than half the tanks refuse to start! These MBTs are now deployed on the Depsang Plain in eastern Ladakh and in northern Sikkim against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army stocked with the 25-tonne ZTQ-15 ‘Black Panther’, a third generation — please note — light tank, powered by an engine designed for high-altitude use. Guess which force is going to run circles around the other when Xi Jinping, wishing to do an Ukraine in Ladakh, ramps up hostilities in summer that’s round the corner?

Waking up, as if suddenly from a stupor, the army finally and formally evinced an interest in a light battle tank. And then, predictably, its armoured wing took an axe to its own feet. Colonel Ajai Shukla, ex-CO, Hodson’s Horse, and currently Military Editor, Business Standard, reported last year that “A major hurdle to the [LBT’s] design is that the army has not yet shared with the DRDO its notion of what design features and performance it would like. This is usually shared in a document called the ‘preliminary staff qualitative requirements’, or PSQR. Without this, the DRDO’s designers are groping in the dark.” And then to compound matters, the army, Shukla wrote, “is soft-pedalling the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) proposal to manufacture in L&T’s facilities a line of at least 500 light tanks, which will be powered by the same 28-tonne chassis, hull and engine that powers the K-9 Vajra.” The last of the K-9s — a 155mm, 52mm calibre long range gun mounted on tracks — a mobile artillery adjunct to the T-72s and T-90s, was delivered recently to the army by Larsen & Toubro under a contract that, unlike the Defence Public Sector Units-handled defence deals, came in under cost and right on time!

DRDO is making the best of an uncertain situation created by the army by mooting this proposal, which not only uses the L&T’s skilled manpower and production line, now lying fallow at its K-9 production plant in Hazira, to meet an urgent army need but, aware of the systemic problems of designing a new LBT to the army’s GSQRs and then producing it at the DPSU — the Heavy Vehicles factory in Avadi, is suggesting a shortcut. It proposes to get the South Korean firm, Hanwha Defence, to once again partner L&T to speedily produce its K-21 LBT with a rifled 105mm gun. The trouble is the armour directorate and the army are caught between realizing their desire and choosing the optimal course.

Ideally, the army would like to issue a global tender for an LBT in order ultimately to down select a lighter version of the T-14 48 tonne Armata tank with rapid fire capability because of an unmanned turret geared for automatic loading and firing, that the Russians are pitching as the perfect light tank for the Indian army. Global tendering means a long and laborious process that can go on, literally, forever until the army gets its way. As against this option, is the less cumbersome path offered by L&T-Hanwha. The K-21 at 25 tonnes is well within the army’s 30 tonne weight limit. More importantly, besides its ability to take out targets by direct fire, its turret is designed so the gun can elevate 42 degrees and fire as a howitzer, lob shells that is, at targets 10 kms away, over mountains. Even more significant, it will be built at the Hazira plant — in Gujarat, and how will this not please Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

But it all depends, as Jane’s reported on 9 February, on the category the Defence Ministry chooses to place the LBT production deal in. That will decide if and to what extent a foreign vendor can be involved. Of course, MOD, in turn, will be hugely influenced, by the army in case it backs DRDO’s Gujarat-friendly proposal. The good thing is it will incentivise other companies in the private sector defence industry to get more fully into designing and developing armoured vehicles generally, if included in the deal with L&T is permission for it to export a down-rated version of the K-21. An economical LBT, which has the Indian army as its chief customer, will instantly create a very large export market for it in the neighbourhood and, widely, in the ‘le tiers monde’.

Further, with an initial order of 500 LBTs, incorporating some very fine electronics, fire control system, etc. DRDO developed for the Arjun MBT, and the Indian light tank’s potentially big global market staring it in the face, Hanwha will be only too happy to hand over every thing, including its tank design cell, to India. With so many things going right for a change in this specific area, if the Indian Defence Ministry and army still foul up — God knows, they tend to do so oftener than not, then they should know that India is being set up for a shellacking by China.

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Where are the wellsprings of new and novel foreign policy ideas? (Augmented)

393 S. Jaishankar Photos and Premium High Res Pictures - Getty Images
[Founts of ideas?]

Not too long ago in Islamabad, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s National Security Adviser, Dr Moeed Yusuf, did something unexpected. On the occasion of the Margalla Dialogue 21, he confessed that the Pakistan government lacked the capacity to digest all information and data and provide useful inputs to the making of national security policy. In the last couple of years in harness, having acquainted himself with the weaknesses of the policymaking process, he has sought to strengthen it. Yusuf’s solution: Attach the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI) — a leading government-funded thinktank to the NSA ‘s office and then connect it on a secure and realtime comunications link with other select thinktanks in the country to ensure both the widest possible base of disparate expert views on a range of policy issues, and then to ensure the policy products that accrue are institutionally accessible to the NSA, and other decisionmakers in the various ministries and agencies of Pakistan government, presumably, including the Pakistan Army. IPRI and other orgs, in this scheme of things, appear most significantly to have available for their analyses classified material accessed by line officers in the Foreign Office and elsewhere in government.

Owning up to this institutional debility was the great hump Yusuf pushed the Pakistan government over. He was an outsider who had the PM’s confidence; he could do it. It could be the beginning of a continuous stream of research papers distilled into ‘executive summaries’ for dissemination within the concerned agencies and the Pakistan government at-large. Yusuf is trying to replicate in Islamabad the policy-wise live intellectual milieu of Washington, DC, of which he has vast experience. Before taking up his present post, he headed the South Asia programme at the US Congress-funded US Institute for Peace. (The mark against him is that as an American ‘Green card’-holder it was problematic for Imran to appoint him his NSA and, in any case, that his advice will always be suspect for leaning US-wards.) Except, Imran hoisted him on to the chair anyway, seemingly tired of the same old, same old, foreign and military policy line fed him by the entrenched policy elite.

That’s the hump India will make no effort to cross because Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a votary of the policy Establishment as-is, having moulded it into his handmaiden. So the country will continue to be handicapped by the manifest shortfalls in India’s foreign and military policy-making process, with his two prime advisers — the NSA Ajit Doval and external affairs minister S Jaishankar only too happy to do the PM’s bidding. The result over the last seven-odd years are policies dawdling in the ‘comme ci comme ca’ (French for neither good nor bad)-realm. This is fine by Modi. And also, for obvious reasons, by Messrs Doval and Jaishankar — because they don’t have to mentally exert themselves much, if at all.

An example: The only refreshing departure from the old foreign policy is the cultivation of the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia. It is fetching huge geostrategic gains — and was Modi’s idea. He instinctively understood that it is not the IT professionals pining for the US H1B visa who will produce recurring and longterm benefits for the country but the masses of carpenters, masons, plumbers, electricians, janitors and clerks in the UAE and elsewhere and, at a higher level, financial and business managers , engineers and and medical doctors and technicians running the Gulf economies and health and engineering systems who, clockwork-fashion, send back remittances and are the economic pillars requiring solidification. They keep homes and hearths in India warm, kitchen stoves, now gassified, lit up, and their children in “English-medium” schools — such and other activities collaterally pumping state and regional economies. Last year, the remittances were worth US$ 83 billion and this in a “flat year”, courtesy the vagaries of the COVID pandemic! Thanks to this Modi policy the majority Hindus in this expat workforce now even have their own temple in UAE to propitiate their Gods in. And there are yoga classes for those interested in attending them in Riyadh and other Saudi cities where, until the other year, women were not permitted to walk around/shop unescorted by men of the family and, horror of horrors, drive cars! The “feel good” sentiment of this Gulf diaspora translates into votes at home, positively affecting even Muslims in the Indian workforce in the Gulf and their dependents back home.

The assorted sheiks and emirs and the King-in-waiting of Saudi Arabia — MBS (Mohammed bin Salman) are no chumps. (The Saudi ambassador to the US in the 1980s with similar name triggered much mirth for South Asians — Bandar bin Sultan or, was it Sultan bin Bandar, in either case everyone asked about the monkey?!) Sharing native cunning with Modi, they are only too aware that the sandy parcels they lord over are living on borrowed time. Saudi Arabia with 17% of the world’s remaining oil reserves of some 260 billion barrels — second largest after Venezuela, pumps out 10.2 million barrels every day amounting to 3.7 billion barrels extracted annually. Meaning, these keffiyeh-sporting monarchs can expect to live high on the hog for as little as another 60 years but for no more than 70 years on the outside. Then what? A return to the Bedouin paradise in the desert, desultory grazing of camels, what?! Appalled at this prospect, they are weighing investment destinations to guarantee large incomes into the oil-less future and see the emerging economies, with India in the van, as their best bet. Hence, the Saudi ambassador in Delhi promised in December 2020 that $100 billion investment was “on track”, and the Gulf emirs are financing malls in Srinagar Valley (sending shivers in Islamabad which fears this will bury Articles 370 and 35A for good, formalising for the world Modi’s absorption of Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir into the Indian Union).

Could Jaishankar or Doval ever have summoned such bravura political instincts to suggest this turn in India’s policy? It is because the PM knows they are career babus incapable of any new policy ideas, but that’s why he hired them. They are there not to think but to implement whatever the boss comes up with. You still need the heavers of policy wood! It has reinforced Modi’s view of himself as his own best thinktank, even if there’s much less to show for it in other policy areas! And, zero movement on a critical strategic issue — resumption of thermonuclear testing to inject credibility into an Indian arsenal filled with unproven and, therefore, useless simulation-designed hydrogen weapons. And this despite being offered every possible provocation and justification for open-ended nuclear testing — the Chinese proxy North Korea’s relentless nuclear and missile testing regimes, and the unhindered transfer of the resulting technological advances to the third member of this rogue triad — Pakistan, and US’, Russia’s, and China’s ongoing nuclear modernization programmes to obtain, among other things, more usable low yield thermonuclear weapons by minimizing radio active fallout. But Delhi’s priority remains to keep Washington placated and pacified, its nonproliferation policy objectives of freezing India’s weapons technology at the 20KT threshold, safely achieved.

To return to Yusuf’s IPRI initiative, is there any possibility of a counterpart development here? Of course, not. Why not? Firstly, because of the secrecy phobia. In an age where there’s very little worth classifying — almost all of the material involved in crafting policy finds its way, one way or another, to the open global information commons, the Official Secrets Act, etc are an anomaly and are, perhaps, retained just so the top people in government feel important! Only 3%-5% of information coursing through Indian official channels deserve the “secret” or “top secret” label and less than 1% of it merits the highest classification status for extremely sensitive information. Secondly, because the IFS officers manning the MEA, like their fellow generalists in the other civil services, especially the shortsighted IAS honchos manning the Defence Ministry, and Departments of Space, Atomic Energy, et al, are loath to share any information with thinktankers — information being power, etc. This attitude in the information age is laughable. More perspicacious analysis can be penned by analysts sitting in Delhi, say, than by staffers in distant embassies churning out turgid despatches. Those habiting MEA are disadvantaged further by another fact once revealed to me by an ex-IFS appointed foreign minister, Natwar Singh, according to whom the last “book” most MEA officers are likely to have read was when cramming for the UPSC! So much for keeping professionally abreast of new thought currents and trends to inform Indian foreign policy-making!

The MEA-subsidised Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses now prefixed with the late defence minister’s moniker to become Manohar ParrikarIDSA, for its part is marking time, remaining right where it was at its founding in the mid-1960s — a bunch of academics with wings clipped. Denied access to any worthwhile technical or other policy-related information, the bulk of the faculty comprise researchers of JNU-type, making-do fulltime by embroidering the policies of the government of the day. There’s no published evidence of any original thinking being done. Whole lifetimes in MPIDSA are wasted by its staffers producing very little that’s new or novel. Further, to guarantee this remains so is installed a retired diplomat as “Director General”, whose brief seems to be to not let disruptive ideas-persons rile the Institute’s “unndata” — MEA/MOD.

Much of why IDSA is what it is can be laid at the door of the late K. Subrahmanyam — the Institute’s long-serving second Director (the first, it is usually forgotten, being retired Major General Som Dutt). KS made no effort to bring IDSA institutionally into the policymaking process in MEA and MOD, despite his unique standing, in the words of his son, external affairs minister, S Jaishankar, as the ultimate “insider-outsider”. He was centrally involved, not the IDSA he headed, in influencing policy. Many senior staffers in the Institute during his stewardship of it complained that Subrahmanyam was like “a Bunyan tree” — letting nothing grow underneath it. But KS’ was a wonderfully fertile intellect yoked, unfortunately, to policies hurtful of the national interest. He argued forcefully for India’s going weapons nuclear in the early 1970s but, post-1998, hurt the natural development of India’s nuclear deterrent by his advocacy of “minimum deterrence”. Likewise, his case for getting in thick with the US post-Soviet Union’s collapse in 1992 terminated in the 2008 US-India civilian nuclear deal, and the foundational accords (LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA), which other than restricting Indian nuclear weapons development, has curtailed India’s policy latitude and strategic choices, and shrunk India’s international profile to a Western dependency.

Jaishankar explained his father’s policy journey from steadfast friendship with Russia to wanting India to climb into America’s lap in the new Century, for instance, as adjusting to the changes in international reality. That’s one way of putting it. Jaishankar was speaking at the conclusion of IDSA’s virtual K Subrahmanyam Memorial Lecture on 3rd February. The eminence who delivered this year’s lecture was Edward Luttwak, a longtime fixture on the strategic policy scene in Washington, who in his talk on an intriguing subject — “Applying the K. Subrahmanyam method today”, rationalised KS’ counterproductive policy slants in terms of, what he called, “linear logic”. I failed to understand what Subrahmanyam’s logic that Luttwak was expounding on, was about. It seems to me that logic linearly applied better fits a simpler international system of the early Cold War era — a duopoly with defined blocs and lots of room for manuever by third parties. It is less pertinent, however, in a world in electric flux in the new millennium and why, in the event, riding US’ strategic coattails is a big mistake.

Luttwak said “Americans would be outmatched by the Chinese numbers”, whence his fairly banal “antidote” conforming to KS’ view, of India and the US needing to “align” to deal with China — the common threat. Luttwak thereafter recommended an “organic alliance” of India, Japan and the US, and argued, among other things, why aircraft carriers in the Indian Navy would be easily sunk, but nuclear attack submarines would lend an edge.

Listening to Luttwak, some of his ideas sounded familiar. It occurred to me that I had been propounding the notion of an “organic security” system in Asia in all my books starting with in my first one in 1994 –‘Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond’. And I have been crying myself hoarse about carriers being a naval liability for India for as long (most recently in a detailed analysis in my 2015 book – ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, pages 349-351!

But because, as Imran Khan said in his opening address at the Margalla Dialogue, Pakistanis (and Indians too) are partial to everything offered up by Westerners, may be the Indian government/MEA/MOD will now incorporate the “organic security” system notion in their policy rhetoric and considerations and the Indian Navy will begin stressing SSNs for its order-of-battle!!

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Xijinpingistan is why India should co-opt Pakistan

Rules of the new game: Can India do business with an Imran Khan-led  Pakistan? - Cover Story News - Issue Date: Aug 13, 2018
[Imran Khan with Prime Minister Modi, 2016]

It is my perennial lament. I pen it again, with sorrow, on the country’s 73rd Republic Day. (Yea, I watched the parade — but what’s with the marching columns with .303 rifles of World War I vintage, or the 60-year old Centurion tanks on carriers? And, how come every imported flying object was featured in the massive fly-past but not the home grown Tejas LCA?)

The lament is about the Indian government being so addle-brained it still doesn’t know which is its one true enemy — Xijinpingistan, a fact that, in one sense, is at the root of all our external problems and the country’s subordinate status. [The suffix ‘stan’ to denote the orientalizing of the Communist Chinese state as a cult along Stalinist lines!]As a people, we are so blinded by traditional prejudices and cultural bias, rational strategizing goes out the window. I am referring to the anti-Muslim sentiment, of course.

This factor has shaped India’s foreign policy, undermined vital national interests, and shrunk the country into a dependency and a pawn in the global chessboard of power politics. It offers an object lesson for other well endowed states on how not to screw things up and connive at one’s own reduction. The real tragedy, however, is that no one — not the people at-large, not the government, and not the policy establishment, has learned from this still unfolding fiasco, because no one thinks anything is seriously wrong!

Antipathy to subcontinental Islam, Muslims, anything remotely local Muslim-related (and even Urdu language, aka Hindustani — a mellifluous hodge-podge of Arabic, Farsi, and a host of dialects of the Gangetic Plains that Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who was barely able to mouth it but imposed it as state language on Pakistan where it was alien to both its western and eastern wings!) is real, and a horrendous liability. Externalized and cemented into India’s Pakistan policy, this antipathy has diverted the country from taking on Xijinpingistan by criminally frittering away national resources and effort. If, as I keep saying, New Delhi misperceives Pakistan, which is at most a military nuisance, as a full-blooded threat, then it is no surprise it gets very little else right in the national security sphere either. The result is the Indian government and the Indian military have saddled the nation with the problem of a menacing Xijinpingistan which, frankly, they seem incapable of handling but, curiously, makes them more determined to beat down Pakistan!

Xijinpingistan (also known previously as Dengxiaopingistan and, still earlier, as Maozedongistan) is, however, doing India and Indians a favour. By clubbing the slumbering, lumbering and slow-witted trimurti of Indian government, Indian military, and the Indian foreign policy establishment, on their heads with ceaseless military moves to grab more and more Indian territory, disadvantage Indian forces in-theatre and on every dip in the terrain, and consolidate the disputed border along its desired lines in eastern Ladakh it has, sort of, wakened India and, possibly even the Indian government, to the mortal danger that it poses. But still nowhere enough for the country finally and irrevocably to orient itself strategically, militarily, economically and diplomatically to take on Xijinpingistan.

The latest frictive development is the bridge nearing completion over the sort of elongated boomerang-shaped Pangong Lake, to connect its Moldo garrison on the southern shore with its stronghold on the Khurnak Fort on the northern bank. Khurnak marks nearly the mid-point of the lake and was under Indian control until the 1962 War when the Gurkha unit — 3/1, I think, posted there was swamped by the PLA. The fact of the Khurnak area as Indian territory was not contested by Maozedongistan in the numerous meetings the two sides had in the period leading up to the ’62 hostilities. As always and in its usual reactive mode, MEA is all aflutter about this new construction, reminding the world just how casual and negligent the Indian government has been since 1947 about losing territory and more, how it has lacked the guts militarily to vacate the creeping annexation by the adversary on the Line of Actual Control. Aware that the Modi regime is as noodle-spined as the earlier Indian governments, and will do nothing no matter what the latest outrage or provocation, the Xijinpingi official rag — Global Times, editorially advised Delhi to stop making a “fuss” about that bridge.  (https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202201/1246411.shtml )

An obedient GOI is bending over backwards to not make a fuss about developments in Ladakh. It is important to gain perspective though: Maozedongistan succeeded with its 1962 hostilities to strip India of its military big power pretence. Dengxiaopingistan nuclear missile-armed Pakistan and, at a stroke, strategically crippled India by tying it militarily to a hapless and flailing state on the flank which move, incidentally, only reinforced New Delhi’s predisposition to mistake a cat for a tiger, and then crowned this strategy by making it all cost-free and economically profitable for itself by getting the appeasement-minded-Indian establishment to accept heavily unbalanced bilateral trade. So, hey, can Beijing be blamed for believing that the Indian political leadership across parties is a “confederation of dunces”?

In this context, Xijinpingistan’s capture and formal absorption of the Indian Aksai China region of eastern Ladakh, vide its new sovereignty law, is by MEA’s debased reckoning, a mere blip! And it will so remain even when a yet more adventurous Xi orders a new round of territorial grab come this Spring and summer. Once again, the Indian army will be “surprised”, will get quickly on the backfoot, and scrounge around for reasons to explain why it neither anticipated, nor resisted, the PLA.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan in Islamabad filled a hall with government officials and the like to announce in the first week of the New Year a National Security Policy [NSP-1, 2022-26] that’s been in the making since 2014. News reports about its contents suggest that the only new thing in it is its discovery of “geoeconomics” at a time when Xijinpingistan’s bullish, one-sided, economic profit-mongering policies have turned the rest of the world against the idea of economic interdependence. Of course, there’s the obligatory mention in the NSP of India needing to reverse the abrogation of Constitution Articles 370 and 35A conferring special status on Jammu & Kashmir, before a dialogue can be initiated to realize the fruits of normalcy. Except, without normalcy in Indo-Pak ties any tilt by Pakistan towards geoeconomics is nonsense.

But, most noticeably, this document heralds Islamabad’s inward turn, its principal focus shifting to the revival of a plunging economy by increasing trade and export revenues, attracting foreign investment, and somehow riding out the economic crisis engulfing Pakistan. Pakistan is in a dual debt trap and is obliged to service debts owed the International Monetary Fund and China. Debt servicing will take up some 70 percent plus of the budget into the forseeable future. Because the Pakistani currency is expected soon to fall to 200 rupees to a US dollar level, and because Pakistan imports just about everything what people buy by way of esentials grow pricier by the day with neither China nor IMF in a mood to cut Islamabad slack. It is forcing the Imran Khan government to take on still more debt to payoff current creditors, and willy-nilly to push that country deeper into “circular debt” — a vicious cycle it cannot easily escape.

To add to Imran’s troubles, his regime’s main prop — the Pakistan army, accustomed to living comfortably off some 16% of the budget, is uneasy. With some 70% of the budget sequestered for debt repayment, 16% of the remaining 30% in absolute terms leaves the Pakistan government next to nothing to spend on health and social welfare, after other government expenditures — in the main, the salary bill of government employees, the railways, P&T, and the public sector industry, is met. The international pressure to generate more revenues to payoff these spiralling debts means increased taxes on petrol, grain and foostuffs, gas in the kitchen stove, and such, until now when the Pakistani people have their cup of woe runneth over. Their discontent stoked, the Pakistani people are sliding into a rebellious mood, a terrible situation exacerbated by rising sectarian and terrorist violence unleashed by several well-armed, well funded and highly motivated outlier elements.

Among these are the extremist Tehreeq-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) fighting to obtain strict sunni salafi rule. In October last year, it dug up arterial highways (the Grand Trunk Road) and held the country hostage until the Imran Khan government capitulated (which ending mirrored the farmer agitation on Delhi’s borders). Then there is the Tehreeq-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) whose disregard for the Durand Line is reflected in its aim to wrest FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province away from Pakistan for a Greater Afghanistan either for the Taliban regime in Kabul or, more ambitiously, to spin off into a twin Sharia-run emirate. Soon after ending the ceasefire agreement with the Imran govt on January 23, a bunch of explosions rocked Pakistani cities TTP took credit for. Then there are the freedom fighters of the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baluch National Army (BNA), who are accused of getting support from India, and the embryonic sub-regional nationalist movements in Sindh and the shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. All these groups are insurgent in nature and the Pakistani state has failed to quell them.

The Pakistan Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) find they are hoist with their own petard. Having at America’s behest originally spawned, nursed and deployed jihadi terrorists to oust the Soviet occupation forces from Afghanistan in the 1980s, they find they cannot distance themselves from the various orgs that have splintered from that mujahideen whole, including the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda (recall that Osama bin Laden was among the mujahideen ranks fighting the Soviet troops) and Daesh (Islamic State) and its Khorasan variant, or prevent a blowback in terms of the more rabid sections among them turning on their one-time benefactors — the Pakistan army and state. The ISI, on its part, has resisted shutting down these terrorist/mujahideen gangs because of their utility as coercive instruments to target India and, as trouble-making leverage, to extract monies and policy concessions from the US and the West. Hence, the Pakistan army wants nothing to do with anti-terrorist/counter-insurgency ops, like the one it mounted in FATA some years back. The Pakistani paramilitaries and the police are left facing the brunt.

If the internal situation is beyond alarming, the external milieu isn’t less onerous for Pakistan. With the US distancing itself, Islamabad is minus the surefire option of relying on Washington to douse any startling Indian military reaction to terrorist incidents that ISI-nurtured Kashmiri militants may engineer within Kashmir or elsewhere in India. The Arab states in the Gulf find India a more promising partner and have all but abandoned Pakistan. Firming up the nexus with China only heightens its strategic dilemma without easing the debt-trap, even though most of the infrastructure associated with the China-Pakistan Economc Corridor (CPEC), including the Gwadar port, will mostly serve Xijinpingi interests. Also, Xijinpingitsan is not convinced Pakistan can stop sunni mullahs from Pakistan and Afghanistan from infiltrating through the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang and there radicalizing the restive Uyghur Muslim majority population, or that the Pakistani state can protect the Chinese staff and labourers working on CPEC projects. The $11.4 million extracted from Islamabad by the Xijinpingi state as recompense for the six or so Chinese killed in the terrorist attack on the bus carrying them to project site, may have made the Chinese CPEC employees in Pakistan more attractive targets. Worse, a Taliban-run Afghanistan has worsened Pakistan’s position on the frontier because the fate and the future of FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa now depend on how hard the powerful Taliban Afghan defence minister Mullah Yaqoob (son of the emir of the first Taliban regime, Mullah Omar) will push to recover these once Afghan territories.

With just about everything that can go wrong going wrong for Pakistan, the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has almost thrown up his hands, and left the floundering Imran government to its own devices, to make peace with India if it can. The desperately difficult straits Pakistan finds itself in is an obvious prompt for the viscerally anti-Muslim/anti-Pakistan elements in the Indian society to rejoice. But for them to see this as the beginning of the end of Pakistan is delusory. Whatever happens, Pakistan will no more fall apart than India will for any reason.

Incidentally, Bajwa is the third successive Pakistan army chief, after Ashfaq Kayani (2007-2013) and Raheel Sharif (2013-2016) to publicly declare that India is not a threat to Pakistan, but that armed militants of all kinds active within that country are the primary threat. This even as the Indian government and the Indian armed forces hyperventilate about Pakistan, which is less credible as a threat than as a joke.

I have repeatedly challenged senior military officers over the years to prove how Pakistan, whose GDP is one-thirteenth that of India’s, and whose total annual budget is less than India’s defence budget, can realistically be a threat. And have argued in my writings and books — see Why India is Not a great Power (Yet), that generosity will cost India nothing. That the Indian army can safely and unilaterally remove all forwardly deployed field units from the western border, and the Strategic Forces Command can do the same with nuclear-tipped short range ballistic missiles. And that, these two steps in tandem, I contend, will be the ultimate security and confidence building measures to induce GHQ, Rawalpindi, into sort of trusting India, and to feel somewhat reassured that India will do nothing to imperil Pakistan.

Taking such “de-militarization” steps, moreover, will free scarce financial resources, manpower, and war materiel that currently sustain a wasted aggressive forward posture on the western front symbolized by the three strike corps on the Gujarat-Rajasthan-Punjab front. And as I have detailed, it will help rationalize the three strike corps-based force structure into a single composite armoured corps for Pakistan contingencies while shifting the bulk of the now freed resources into the raising of two additional offensive mountain corps (OMCs) to augment XVII Corps now almost fully formed. Hopefully, the three OMCs can take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau, and not just get locked down defensively on the LAC, or in bases on the plains (like XVII Corps in Panagarh).

Once the above moves eliminate its sense of insecurity, Islamabad will reconcile to reality and gladly grab at any figleaf of an “honourable” accord. The draft Musharraf-Manmohan Singh agreement is on the table. It can be tweaked to accommodate the new reality of separate Jammu, Ladakh and Valley administrative jurisdictions post-removal of Articles 370 & 35A.

But is it too much to expect some strategic soul within the vast edifice of the Government of India, just one person with clout in the Modi dispensation, to see such strategic opportunity not so much to push Pakistan’s head under water but for the Indian army as the senior service to take the lead in aligning the armed forces and the country more centrally against Xijinpingistan?

Even as the new military orientation and alignment is being implemented, the more urgent twin prong of this policy should be to rescue Pakistan from the abyss of economic disaster, domestic turmoil, and further encoilment in Xijinpingistan’s CPEC design. The Modi regime did the wonderfully good and right thing of providing Sri Lanka, which is in hock to Beijing and has just $1.5 billion as usable reserves, a billion dollar credit line. It has initiated the process of drawing the ruling Rajpaksa family away from the deadly lure of easy Xijinpingstani credit. It has already fetched India the strategic oil farm and a potential naval presence in Trincomalee that Lord Nelson called the finest deep water port in Asia. This is the blueprint for slowly but steadily diminishing the dragon’s footprint in India’s backyard. The hectoring and arm-twisting of neighbouring states have to be replaced by offering substantive deals which they cannot refuse and which will end up benefiting India strategically. Pakistan, like Sri Lanka, is ripe for co-optation, and should be given immediate economic assistance — a billion dollar credit line? At the other end, efforts need to be enhanced to bring Bangladesh more rapidly into the subcontinental fold, because Dhaka seems lately to be slipping into Xijinpingistan’s grasp. In this respect, why not provide all the adjoining countries free access to the Indian market for their wholly produced commodities and manufactures? This is economically feasible because the Indian economy is large and rich enough to afford and absorb such intra-subcontinental trade.

In any case, India is in a better place now to realize something it has not so far attempted — a pacified neighbourhood with all the adjoining states, including Pakistan, plugging naturally into the Indian economy, riding the connectivity infrastructure (railways, roads and communications networks) radiating outwards from India towards the subcontinent’s extremeties, producing peace and loads of common good in, what I have in my books called, the “Greater South Asia co-prosperity sphere”. This goal is entirely achievable. It is a nice thought to end the day with.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, 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, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, Tibet, United States, Weapons, West Asia | 92 Comments

China’s almost brahminical contempt for India

Indian Embassy In China Celebrates India's 75th Independence Day - Assam  Press
[The hideous-looking Indian embassy in Beijing]

It is heartening to see a militaryman, albeit retired — Lt General Prakash Katoch, ex-Special Forces, finally ask the question I have been asking for some 30 years now: Has the Indian government drawn red lines for Beijing not to cross? [ https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/newsdetail/index/4/21313/bridge-over-pangong-tso ].

The answer to the General’s question is no. And this is historically been the case from the days when Jawaharlal Nehru personally managed the country’s China policy. On the other hand, have the Chinese laid down red lines on the ground for India to respect and parameters for negotiation for Delhi to observe? Of course, and repeatedly. Worse, each new redline drawn by Beijing was meekly accepted by the MEA & Indian government, formalizing a new fait accompli every time only for it to trigger a new round of Chinese territorial creep and impositions.

So, why this discrepancy? Because once Beijing got India’s measure in military terms with the PLA not just handily beating, but humiliating, the fabled Indian army of Second World War repute, the way was cleared for Beijing to keep exploiting the moral and psychological edge they had gained on the Indian military. Mind you, this was the great Indian Army the PLA confronted on the India-Tibet border which had, after all, brought down Rommel’s Panzar armee Afrika, and ground the famed 33rd and 55th Divisions of the Japanese Imperial 15th Army into the dust in Burma and, therefore, aroused quite a bit of wariness in the PLA operations command planning the October 1962 hostilities. Except, the Indian army folded and Beijing realized that neither Indian governments, Nehru’s and the subsequent ones, nor the Indian army had the fight in them. Whence the process began of dictating red lines to Indian negotiators in the numerous forums, including the military-to-military talks involving theatre commanders, to push the de facto border India-wards.. This has become fairly routine practice because for Beijing it is risk free, cost free.

The pattern is this. Some PLA troops pitch a tent in an area Beijing desires, install markers, return a few summers later, and based on the self-same markers — a pile of stones, a painted slogan, a tattered flag left behind, claim the area as their own, with Chinese foreign ministry thereafter referring to it by some ridiculous Chinese name they have given the encampment. If the piece of land is particularly strategic and prized, a spurious history is invented for it about some ruler of the southern Han or the other sending an expedition in the distant past or similar nonsense, to legitimate and consolidate the territorial grab. Such piecemeal annexation and absorption of Indian border areas is relentless. And, voila! every other year a newly delineated LAC is on the negotiating table that the Indian side meekly accepts. For the Chinese, it really is that simple and they know that where India is concerned aggression pays.

The latest PLA offense — the building of the bridge over the Pangong Tso proximal to the old Khurnak Fort is on the line connecting it to Moldo — the two current PLA strong points from where the Chinese ousted the Indian army in 1962. This is only the latest example of Chinese brazen-ness and, as the Indian defence ministry now concedes, cuts the travel time between them from 12 hours to as little as 3 hours, enabling rapid switching of forces. It is the same Moldo post, incidentally, where the PLA garrison felt pressured by the Indian Special Frontier Force troops occupying the Kailash Range heights around Rezangla — heights overlooking Moldo that the Indian government — ever so sensitive to Chinese demands and helpful to China’s cause, ordered vacated nearly a year back, in February 2021, in exchange for the PLA not patroling the ‘Fingers’ 5 to 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake which is Indian territory the Chinese annexed!

Unsurprisingly, the MEA’s reaction to the Pangong bridge was along expected lines, noting that

Regarding reports about a bridge being made by the Chinese side on Pangong lake, government has been monitoring this activity closely. This bridge is being constructed in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years now. As you’re well aware, India has never accepted such illegal occupation.
Indian and Chinese soldiers exchange sweets at Hot Springs Demchok on LAC in eastern Ladakh. Credit: Indian Army
[Gifting sweets to PLA troops on the LAC]

Notice that far from hinting that such construction was unacceptable and that India will counter with military measures, whatever the cost, the MEA, accepted the bridge as a fact of life India can do little about. If by such means the Indian government is reconciling frequently to the changing Chinese delineation of the Sino-Indian border, why doesn’t the Narendra Modi regime stop the charade, go the whole hog, recognize the Chinese claimline in toto, and hand over all the Indian territory China contests because that’s what’s going to happen over time any way if Delhi does not mean to use force to defend and protect Indian territory,or take back the areas the PLA has stealithily occupied?

Meanwhile, after each new disruption caused by PLA action that violates the status quo, dumbfounded — or perhaps, simply dumb — Indian diplomats housed in that perfectly hideously designed building housing the Indian embassy in Beijing — an architectural horror reflecting Indian ‘PWD chic’ aesthetic also evidenced in the new MEA building on the Rajpath, issue mealymouthed protests, even as the Indian government on its part tries as hard as possible to ignore such provocation. And a horde of panda-hugging retired diplomats rationalize for an ignorant media each new Chinese provocation as not something to get worked up over, and even less to treat as casus belli (cause for war).

It leaves the lead units of the Indian army, who invariably fail to either preempt PLA actions, or forcefully react to PLA intrusions — assuming in the first place that field intelligence had been generated in time, to await instructions from Delhi, ending up, likewise, twiddling their thumbs, doing their best imitation of the MEA and Indian government, and hoping that ignoring the latest incremental loss of territory due to China’s map-changing tactics will, somehow, make the problem go away! Or, more optimistically, expecting that gifts of Indian sweetmeats (on New Year, Diwali, whatever!!) will lead to grateful PLA commanders responding to Indian niceness returning recently annexed Indian territory!

There’s a limit to the Indian government and military’s gullibility, naivete, pusillanimity, and just plain strategic stupidity — not that we have scraped the bottom of that barrel yet. Is there even a single instance of a “China specialist” in the Foreign Service and even among the retired lot of diplomats who while in service or after retirement has advocated military measures to deal sternly with China?

Indeed, the garden variety Mandarin blubberers spending time in Beijing, Shanghai and elsewhere if anything do a lot of harm, They retrun home to fill the China Study Circle/Group or as, in the case of the most recent ambassador, Vikram Misri, to join the PMO as the third deputy National Security Adviser (the other two DyNSAs being langotia yaars of the NSA, Ajit Doval, from the IPS). What are the chances he will counsel the PM of the diminishing returns of continuing to appease China in the manner India has been doing since… for ever? Nil, because the advice he offers the PM is likely to be along the lines evidenced in his statements in the virtual farewell meet he had with the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, December 6, 2021.

Misri had nothing to lose by being brutally honest and publicly telling the Xi Jinping dispensation via Wang what Indian ambassadors have long needed to say but shied away from saying, that India has had it with Beijing playing India for a fool, and that Delhi will not take it any longer, will certainly not put up with the PLA gobbling Indian territory in bits, and that the Chinese strategy of wearing out Indian negotiators in endless talks, has run its course. That’s not what he said though, chosing rather to speak tangentially as his predecessors have done: “Our relations comprised both opportunities and challenges,” he intoned, “and even though certain challenges since last year had overpowered the vast opportunities in the relationship.” If one wasn’t aware of China’s capture of a vast slice of Indian territory northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh in summer last year, and consolidating its military hold on it, one would be forgiven for believing that Misri was referencing a minor blip in otherwise warm and smooth bilateral ties.

Contrast Misri’s and the Indian government’s defeatist approach laced with awe of China to the “wolf warrior” attitude of Chinese diplomats. A junior official in the Chinese embassy in Delhi publicly upbraided Indian Members of Parliament as if they were a bunch of errant school boys for attending a function hosted by the Tibetan Government-in-exile. Or see how the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman reacted to the brouhaha in India over the Pangong bridge and the MEA’s reminder that this construction was “in areas that have been under the illegal occupation by China for around 60 years [which] India has never accepted”. China’s response: An airy dismissal. Asserting that he was “not aware of” any untoward situation in that area, the Chinese spokesperson informed the international media that such infrastructure build-up “falls within [China’s] sovereignty.”

Professionaly habituated to banal language, Indian foreign service types are wont to repeat that old saw about disagreeing without being disaggreeable. This is fine if one knows the animal they are dealing with. But mostly they seem to have a wrong fix on Xi Jinping’s China. Consider how the newly appointed Chinese ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, began his innings in Washington in September last year. “If we cannot resolve our differences”, he told the Joe Biden Administration, “please SHUT UP”!! And he proceeded to wag a finger in the US government’s face, warning of “disastrous consequences” should it follow the “Cold War playbook”. Diplomatic quarters in Washington are still reeling from that assault, awed by this newby Chinese envoy’s gambit. It took balls, but Qin was no doubt told by President Xi to take a hammer to the Washington establishment, which he did with gusto.

That’s the sort of national self-respect and self-confidence Indians can only dream about Indian leaders, ministers, army generals and MEA officials sporting. Would Modi ever, in any circumstances, instruct the Indian ambassador to do a similar plainspeak in Beijing? Or, order the newly installed Commander, XIV Corps (Leh), Lt. Gen. Anindya Sengupta, in the manifestly useless and futile talks scheduled for January 12, to be abrasive, initiate the meeting by not shaking hands with his Chinese opposite number and, by way of signaling seriousness, walking out of the meeting after telling the PLA general that there’s only one-point on the agenda to discuss — the mechanics of the PLA’s vacating its aggression, pronto, and then staying the hell out. And demand that Army HQrs issue standing orders to the forward deployed Indian units to make the LAC live with artillery duels and ceaseless tactical action to wrest back lost territory any which way they can, and at any cost? This won’t happen, of course.

It leaves me to wonder at another level about the aptness of the contempt and disdain China has always shown, and continues to show Indian leadership and the Indian government — a treatment they so richly deserve, but India and the Indian people don’t. How deliciously ironical it is then to contemplate this almost brahminical attitude of Beijing’s towards India!!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, society, South Asia, Tibet, United States, US. | 80 Comments

Two national security problems India must address in 2022

The Crisis after the Crisis: How Ladakh will Shape India's Competition with  China | Lowy Institute
[India & China: Eyeballing, wrong direction?]

There are two significant national security failures of longstanding that need correction. Hopefully, 2022 will be the year that practical solutions begin to get implemented.

China has occupied some 1,000 sq miles of strategically important Indian territory in the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh. The Narendra Modi government’s response, other than talking about China needing to restore the “status quo ante”, has been underwhelming. India’s China policy needs a massive course correction to institutionalise a strictly reciprocal — tit for tat — approach. India needs to strategically arm Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines as Beijing has done Pakistan.

Chinese market access has to be restricted to the same level Indian exporters face in China, and the flow of Chinese automobiles, mobile telephony goods, and light manufactures ought to be shut down. If the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the Centre wants India to replace China as the ‘workshop’ of the world, it should begin at home by jettisoning the still suffocating regulatory and bureaucratic controls.

The hardline policy has to be complemented with appropriate military force structuring. While the Indian Army may be able to mount a passable defence with massed forces to match China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presence on the disputed border, it lacks the capacity to snatch back lost territory.

Such capability can be obtained by three offensive mountain corps (OMCs) for sustained proactive or aggressive action, and become financially viable only if the army’s three armoured strike corps — good only for the minor front against Pakistan — are reconfigured into a single composite corps for any Pakistan contingency. The remaining two strike corps need to be converted for mountain use with light tanks for high altitude operations.

These two formations, along with the Panagarh-based OMC (XVII Corps), will provide the means for the army to punch/counterpunch the PLA hard, and together with the existing defensively arrayed mountain divisions constitute a formidable fighting force able to blunt the PLA’s edge across the Himalayas, and limit Chinese influence in the extended region. Such repurposing of the armoured-cum-mechanised forces, if made part of the ongoing military reorganisation, that includes theaterisation, will minimise resistance to it within the army.

The other failure is regarding the aatmanirbhar (self-sufficiency) policy marked by confused thinking. Will the country be genuinely self-sufficient in arms if foreign supplier companies ‘make’ — in reality merely assemble — their products in India? This is exactly the ‘screwdrivering’ level of manufacturing technology the defence public sector units (DPSUs), such as HAL, Mazgaon Dockyard, et al, and the ordnance factories, have been mired in for the last 60 years.

They are habituated to license-manufacture contracts requiring them to just unpack the imported Completely Knocked-Down kits and Semi-Knocked-Down kits, and to screwdriver the various components and assemblies together to obtain weapons systems. Even here the advanced technologies pertaining to the weapons payload, propulsion, situational awareness, avionics, complex fire control systems, communications, etc. are transferred only as ‘black boxes’.

This process is labelled ‘indigenous production’, and the resulting ‘Made in India’ warships, submarines, and combat aircraft are boasted of as having 80 percent indigenous content, when this proportion is by weight, not value, as most high-end technologies that cost a bomb are imported whole, and account for 70 percent or more of the total contract value.

Further, these ‘screwdrivered’ DPSU-Ordnance Factory projects characterised by sloth, sleaze, corruption, bad work ethos, and low labour productivity and quality control rarely come in on time, or within cost. Worse, there is minimal technology ingestion, little reverse engineering, and no technology innovation and creation worth the name. This is the vicious arms dependency cycle the Department of Defence Production (DPP) in the defence ministry, the military and the DPSU-dominated defence industry now perpetuate in the guise of aatmnirbharta!

The stranglehold of the DPSUs in defence-related production is a liability. No government to-date has shown the political will, and economic common sense to integrate the highly-accomplished private sector into the national effort by allowing them to compete with the DPSUs for major military procurement deals. Consequently, accomplished firms with skilled workforce survive on sub-contracts from these DPSUs.

Consider the Tejas light combat aircraft. HAL’s annual production capacity is 16 aircraft; a second assembly line will double it, but won’t prevent the stretching of the induction period of the 83 Tejas the Indian Air Force has indented for, and to meet the potential demand for it abroad. The solution is multiple Tejas production lines requiring the DRDO to transfer source codes to several private sector companies for them to produce this aircraft and its variants in bulk for the IAF and for exports. Besides enabling the nascent Indian aerospace industry to take-off, it will create high-paying jobs, and generate revenues to amortise the vast investments made in this sector.

But who takes the long view in New Delhi?

————–

Published in Moneycontrol.com, Dec 31, 2021, at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/opinion/two-national-security-problems-india-must-address-in-2022-7886621.html

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, 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, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, Weapons | 30 Comments

India’s next Chief of Defence Staff and his remit

As Gen Bipin Rawat takes charge as CDS, PM Modi says institution reflects hopes of 1.3 bn Indians
[Prime Minister Modi and the late General Bipin Rawat, CDS]

Soon after the death in a helicopter crash of General Bipin Rawat, the first Chief of the Defence Staff and Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA), the army began canvassing for its chief, General MM Naravane, to fill the CDS post on the basis of seniority.

Whom seniority favours at any given time is happenstance, not a qualification. Had this accident occurred, say, a week or so before the navy chief retired November-end, Admiral Karambir Singh would have been a shoo-in. As a naval pilot, moreover, he had the experience to deal professionally with the air force and army aviation and hence the army — the sort of background few chiefs of staff possess, and Rawat lacked (whence his dismissal of the Indian Air Force as a “supporting arm”). Seniority is a bonus not a prerequisite and, in any case, was ignored by the government when appointing Rawat as army chief in 2016 superseding two officers.

Rawat’s appointment was no bad thing because CDS is a quintessentially political post. To prompt the military to get on with integration required both the political will of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to drive the process and a CDS, au fait with his vision, to thrust jointness down sometimes resisting throats of the military services too bureaucratically entrenched to fall in readily with the restructuring demands made of them. The PM’s confidence in Rawat was due to the latter’s native Pauri-Garhwal connection with Ajit Doval, his National Security Adviser, whom Modi trusts. Having made the political decision to re-order the armed services, Modi needed someone he could rely on to not botch things up.

The Modi-Doval thinking on the subject of CDS and military integration can be outlined thus: First establish the CDS post, next install a person of choice in it, and then hope he carries out their remit within the constrained bureaucratic ambit he is placed in, but help him out by backing him in the inevitable bureaucratic tussles.

It helped that Rawat was the senior most service chief when he was made CDS. It pre-empted the carping that follows any military promotion not based on seniority. Even so, Rawat faced covert defiance because the government avoided doing the one thing in a hierarchy-minded military that would have eased his dealings with the serving chiefs of staff — raised CDS to Field Marshal or equivalent 5-star rank to establish a clear line of authority and obviate foot dragging. But that would have raked up the politically sensitive matter of installing a military supremo, which has been anathema to the country’s political leadership and government. The Modi regime instead vested “the first among equals”-notion with bureaucratic heft the nascent CDS system cannot carry, unless future CDSs are guaranteed the same access to the PM and NSA that Rawat was, which’s unlikely.

Scanning the senior serving ranks, including the chiefs of staff, no name jumps off the page in terms of visioning capacity, broad-based professional competence or, importantly, proximity to Modi (or Doval). A former Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar has suggested sifting through retired four and three star-rank officers of note. By this reckoning Admiral Karambir Singh is a frontrunner, as is the former Deputy Chief of the Army Staff (Plans), retired Lieutenant General Subrata Saha responsible for pushing indigenous procurement by the senior service. There is a democratic precedent for such decision. President John F. Kennedy appointed retired army General Maxwell Taylor as Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff. Alternatively, Kumar mentions “deep selection” preferably of an officer with tenure on the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS). But hoisting a CDS junior to the services’ chiefs is recipe for ruction. His solutions to unburden the CDS of “paper work” by reverting “statutory matters relating to appeals, representations” to the Defence Secretary, and appointing a Special Secretary reporting to the CDS to handle the “drab [administrative] work” of the DMA, however, are worth considering.

Still, the military integration process has, in a manner of speaking, been initiated. There is a plan, albeit army-friendly, that Rawat and the IDS worked on. Consider the schema Rawat publicly sketched out on 15 September. It envisions four theatre commands — for the Pakistan front, the China front, national maritime security in the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean, and the Andaman and Nicobar Integrated Command tasked with the defence of island territories. Further, while cyber warfare and Space/air defence have merited separate commands, not so logistics, intelligence, and Special Forces as was talked about earlier, which are the necessary adjuncts, along with cyber and Space/air defence, to the theatre commands.

This design has faced tremendous resistance from the armed services and not just because it involves collapsing 17 military commands into just six Commands — four theatre commands plus the two commands for support functions, and the concurrent loss of administrative and operational control by the services’ chiefs. But because it, prima facie, seems slapdash and insufficiently thought through.

There are some obvious deficiencies in the Rawat plan. Are Space and landbased and airborne surveillance and air defence systems banded together just because, as Rawat said, some artillery shells reach 15 kms into space, this when anti-satellite weapons for offense and retaliation will be in vogue in future conflicts? Where’s the sense, moreover, in splitting the navy’s focus between the open seas and “island defence”, or in the Coast Guard being relegated, implicitly, to a naval auxiliary? And why in the maritime security domain are the coastal/brown water roles not the Coast Guard’s bailiwick, true blue water missions not the preserve of the navy, and the Andaman Command not tasked expansively to consolidate Indian military presence on either side of the Malacca, Sunda and Lumbock Straits? In the event, wouldn’t the goal be better served with a capability and missions based integration? It would entail, for example, the aviation assets in all the Services being concentrated — with the exception of aircraft carriers — in distinct national commands for helicopter and fighter aircraft-based Ground Support, Air Defence, Strike and Transport.

Military integration is too important an issue for the Modi government to make a hash of by implementing a bad plan. Hopefully, the next CDS will present to the government for approval a more balanced and coherent jointness scheme featuring capability-cum-mission based integrated Commands.

———-

[Published in my occasional ‘Realpolitik’ column in BloombergQuint.com Dec 14, 2021, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/indias-next-chief-of-defence-staff-and-his-remit ]

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, domestic politics, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, satellites, society, South Asia, South East Asia, space & cyber, Special Forces, United States, US., Western militaries | 29 Comments

Pilot error killed Rawat

Who is General Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff, India's First CDS
[The late General Bipin Rawat, CDS]

Some people just look the part. May be it was the rakish tilt of the Australian bush hat sported by the Gurkhas, and underneath it the broad, bluff, face, and a cheery confident demeanour. But the late, well respected, Bipin Rawat fit the cinematic image of the likeably tough, plain speaking infantry General.

General Rawat, heading the military affairs of the country as the first Chief of the Defence Staff died because of errors commited by a spatially disoriented pilot, not because of bad weather.

The crash in the Nilgiris of the Mi-17, the workhorse utility helicopter of the Indian military, that killed the CDS and others is already being attributed, a little too conveniently, to “weather conditions” by retired IAF officers on television programmes. The truth is that IAF stalwarts and the Service itself instinctively and institutionally shy away from blaming the real reason for many aircraft crashes — pilot error, because doing so, they believe, would reflect poorly on the training and competence of the pilots in question, and of IAF pilots generally.

Indeed, what may have really happened in Coonoor is this: The helicopter rose from the valley floor to 6,000 feet altitude in an attempt to clear the mountain tops for its final descent into the Wellington bowl crested by the Defence Services Staff College. But, in the light mist that was hugging the mountainside, a momentarily disoriented Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan piloting the craft simply flew into the mountainside instead of turning away from it. However, experienced the pilot, spatial disorientation is a fact of life and happens oftener than is admitted by authorities in India .

This rendering of the incident conforms with the eye witness accounts related on TV newscasts by tea plantation workers and others who witnessed the accident as it unfolded. One moment they saw a helicopter rising into view, the next a fireball as the plane rammed into the tall trees on the mountain slope, its rotors scything through them, even as the aircraft crumbled into a melted metallic mess.

A recent analog of the Rawat accident is the mishap that killed the Los Angeles Lakers basketball star, Kobe Bryant, and eight others in February this year. He was riding with his friends in a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter he had hired with a pilot with 10 years flying experience and over 8,500 flying hours on this type of aircraft. Taking off in clear skies from an Orange County airport in southern California Kobe’s helicopter veered towards the Pasadena Hills where they were supposed to alight. Except, the hills skirting the Pacific Highway suddenly shrouded over by mist rolling in from sea is where the disoriented Sikosky pilot, misjudging his landing site, slammed his aircraft into the hillside, failing to clear the top by some 30 feet.

During a public hearing held by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to consider the likely cause of this crash, its chairman Robert Sumwalt said the pilot most likely suffered from an episode “of spatial disorientation,” described by him as “the powerful, misleading sensations that can confuse a pilot conducting a visual flight who loses visual references, and what types of training can be effective in countering this effect.” “We have seen this accident before, unfortunately,” confrmed NTSB board member Michael Graham. “Helicopters continue the VFR (visual flight rules) flight into meteorological conditions and unfortunately lose control of the aircraft due to spatial disorientation.”

The country has lost a good man, a good soldier and solid miltary leader in Rawat. His loss is not going to be mitigated by the IAF blaming the weather for it. The Indian Air Force has to become more responsible and to begin assessing realistically why air accidents occur in the country, and why pilot disorientation in flight — not at all an unusual phenomemon, is not acknowledged as the prime cause for the many fatal crashes its aircraft annually suffer. Advanced air forces have no problem owning up to the occasionally spatially disoriented pilots crashing aircraft.

Hopefully. starting with the ‘Court of Inquiry’ looking into this Mi-17 mishap, the IAF will begin to honestly accept and possibly acknowledge pilot error in terms of sheer disorientation as the reason for such aircraft accidents.

Posted in civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Military Acquisitions, Russia, society, South Asia, United States, US. | 34 Comments

Tricky geopolitics and appeasement by arms purchases

46-modi-and-putin
[Modi has Putin in a clinch]

The official read on the summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 6, alongside the inaugural2x2meeting of the foreign and defence ministers of both countries — respectively S. Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh, and Sergei Lavrov and General Sergey Shoygu, is too sanguine for comfort.


Indian foreign policy is dictated less by geostrategics or long-term policy calculations than by immediate tactical political concerns, in the instant case, the need to pacify Moscow. So, the Modi regime is doing what Indian governments have done in the new millennium to get big powers on its side —  appeasing them with arms purchases. To palliate Moscow, a draft mutual military logistics support agreement, similar to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement signed with America in 2019, has been readied to strategically equalise the situation. It is topped by a new spate of arms contracts for short range air defence systems, helicopters, assault rifles, etc worth over $5 billion.


This is in line with balancing India’s buys from the US over the last 20 years for mostly 1960s vintage military technology – M-777 light howitzers, C-130 and C-17 transport planes, and in New Delhi’s acquiescing in Washington’s ploy to use the 2012 Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI) not to promote any worthwhile collaboration in the military high-tech sphere, as was promised, but to push for production of obsolete American weapons systems in India, such as the 1970s vintage F-16 fighter aircraft.

All this because Washington is convinced the Narendra Modi government values the fact of the production of something/anything in India, and not what is produced. It suggests the confusion at the heart of Modi’s Atmanirbharta programme and his government’s failure to use DTTI to pit the high-quality military hardware Russia provides along with technology transfer against the dated tech the US offers to make the point that the differential in technology and the American unwillingness to part with high-end tech are too significant a factor to ignore. That’s the kind of plain talk Americans understand but the Indian side is reluctant to deploy.


This is the arms supply scene in a nutshell and the backdrop for the Modi-Putin summit. The trouble is this meeting comes at a difficult time.


What restricts Russia

Western intelligence agencies, the Ukrainian government, and NATO, which are tracking real-time build-up and offensive maneuvering by 100,000 Russian troops in the Donbas region of the border with Ukraine — a former constituent republic of the USSR and now member of NATO — believe invasion is imminent. Moscow long ago made it clear it would not countenance an expansion of NATO, and to prove it is serious, snatched Crimea from Ukraine in Spring of 2014 and wants to add parts of eastern Ukraine, to its bag if it can. Russia has drawn the “red line”, indicating Ukraine is within its sphere of influence. The Biden Administration has responded by promising to beef up Ukrainian defence capability.


Short of a Russian invasion, that’s where matters will stand. Except, determined to dominate its periphery, Putin could create an international flashpoint by using some Ukrainian defensive step as pretext to attack.

If Moscow initiates hostilities, New Delhi can expect to be squeezed in a power play. Washington will demand that India, as a fellow democracy, act in concert with the West to oppose the Russian aggression. Depending on the timing of possible Russian hostilities, the 9 December virtual conference of democracies called by President Joe Biden to which India and Pakistan are invited — the old hyphenation there? — but, strangely, not Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, could end up as a means of pressing Modi to join the “democratic” consensus on Ukraine and to pressure his government, which mistakenly believes India is in no position to resist.


Putin , on the other hand, will expect India to be mindful of Russia liberally dispensing advanced weaponry and sensitive military technology (think Arihant-class nuclear powered ballistic missile-firing submarines!). He will hope that New Delhi will say or do nothing to irk Russia. Whether Modi will be able to side with Washington — how much and how successfully, without upsetting Russia, is the game to look out for.


In this regard, Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh in their 2×2 meeting will no doubt make much of New Delhi risking  punitive provisions in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act or CAATSA to stick with the $5.43 billion deal for five squadrons of the Russian S-400 air defence system.


However, there was never any chance of CAATSA being invoked because the US has too much to lose strategically if it does so. India is central to the security of the ‘Indo’ part of the Indo-Pacific and pivotal to holding off China, especially with President Xi Jinping itching to validate his newly acquired “helmsman” status by precipitating a showdown on Taiwan. Washington also doesn’t want to lose the political foothold it has gained in New Delhi over the last 25 years, courtesy Indian PMs putting out for the US, and a host of American think tanks who have set up shop in New Delhi and are manned by retired civil servants, senior military officers and diplomats peddling US-tilting policy options to the government.


Pakistan: Russia’s leverage against India

Except, there’s Putin. No slouch at the strategic chess game, the Russian President has already made a blocking move, putting in place Russia’s new Pakistan policy to ensure Modi does not deviate much, or go overboard on Ukraine, or other combustible issues. Sometime back, Moscow agreed to sell assault helicopters to the Pakistan army. On 26 November, Moscow and Islamabad initialled a wide-ranging draft-accord for economic coopertion, topped by a proposal for a 1,100km long north-south gas pipeline to stream 12.4 billion cubic metres of Russian gas to Pakistan, a deal to be formalised by February 2022, and for collaboration in the telecommunications, information technology, and various other fields.


Should New Delhi not heed these warnings, Putin will surely up the ante. Instead of making do with second-rate Chinese copies of Russian hardware (JF-17, a Chinese version of MiG-21), Pakistan may be able to access the latest and progressively more advanced Russian military equipment.


The geopolitics-minded Putin will not push India beyond a point though. He wants India in Russia’s corner as he expects relations with China to sour sooner rather than later, owing to clashing interests and friction points. Among these is the Russian fear of Chinese annexation by stealth of natural resources-rich Siberia. There’s already a flood of Chinese petty businessmen and labourers settling down in the Siberian districts adjoining the Chinese border, taking local Russian wives, and spawning not just a new breed of colonisers of the vast empty spaces in the Russian Far East but a consequential demographic creep that could lead to Chinese-origin people becoming a majority, in time to buttress Beijing’s claims on that part of Russian territory. Beijing is, after all, expert at alluding to some historical event or the other of a Chinese emperor or his emissary long ago reaching Vladivostok and points north or whatever and etching “a nine-dash line” in Siberia, who knows! — to claim all of it as China’s eminent domain!! Who is to say this won’t happen? It is, in any case, a nightmare prospect many Russian strategists worry about.


The other probable cause for a falling out is Central Asia.  Beijing is rapidly advancing its BRI (Belt Road Initiative) objectives via rail, road, air and telecom connectivity schemes along with massive commercial investments that are increasingly making the Central Asian Republics economic captives of China. It is stoking Moscow’s fears of a China growing too big too fast to contain. It is a subject where the interests of Russia converge with those of India and even the US, none of whom cares to have China dominate Asia, or even the Central Asian economies, which last could potentially have “a narco-terrorist” Afghanistan , an “insolvent [Pakistan] with nuclear weapons”, and India. in that order, falling like nine pins to the status of tributaries of China.

 
Where Modi’s going wrong

But Modi, hoping for rapprochement with China, has adopted a conciliatory attitude advised by the apex China policy forum within the government — the China Study Group (CSG) — appeasing Beijing by backing its contention that it has not intruded into the Indian side of Line of Actual Control. Reality is, over 1,000 sq miles of Indian territory northeast of the Y-Junction in the Depsang Plains in eastern Ladakh has been de facto annexed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.

Such defeatist counsel is emblematic of a soft-headed Indian foreign policy. Look at what it has fetched the country: An India not doing anything proactive, or acting assertively and on its own to protect its territory and vital national interests. Instead, it is trying desperately to appease big powers by making arms purchases to get them on its side in a possible military conflict with China while seeking to postpone such contingency by appeasing the adversary with an approach that soft-pedals its aggression.

But such appeasement of friends and main adversary won’t obtain a more congenial correlation of forces. Nor is it a substitute for India needing to fight its own battles by itself and preparing to pay the price for it, because one thing is certain — the status quo ante in Ladakh that Jaishankar keeps talking about as a prerequisite for normal relations, will not be restored at the negotiating table.

———–

[Published in The Print on December 4, 2021 under the title — “When Modi meets Putin, he should move India away from the cycle of ‘appeasement by arms buy’” at https://theprint.in/opinion/when-modi-meets-putin-he-should-move-india-away-from-the-cycle-of-appeasement-by-arms-buy/776249/ ]

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Is there a Gujrati Way of Statecraft?

PM Modi is a disappointment only because he is the only hope': Authors  Rajeev Mantri, Harsh Madhusu- The New Indian Express
[PM Narendra Modi inaugurating the gigantic statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, near the Sardar Sarovar dam]

I ask this question because many of us see the dots but don’t connect them. Aakar Patel, a Gujrati and sometime India head of Amnesty International, did in an article after the 2014 general elections about four Gujrati leaders who have — for good or ill — shaped India and its politics. He wittily summed up the Gujju Maha-Four and posed his own question thus: “One hundred years ago, a Gujarati man arrived from South Africa to save Indians from the British. Some years after that a Gujarati man arrived from London to save Muslims from Hindus. Some years after that a Gujarati man arrived to save India from disintegration. This year a Gujarati man arrived to save India from corruption, underdevelopment, lack of hygiene and other stuff. The question is: Why do you people need so much saving? And why must Gujarati Man always have to do it?” considering his state constitutes only 5% of the country’s population. (https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/9bPcjodNrxhX8bZaj7q2wK/An-introduction-to-the-Gujarati-man.html)

Aakar Patel was, of course, referring respectively to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Narendra Modi. His mock-serious query, however, raises an interesting issue of whether there is, in fact, an identifiably Gujrati way of statecraft, just as there’s supposedly a distinctly British way of diplomacy, and of war, or an American way of conducting international relations, or even a Pakistani way of war. Patel identifies the Gujrati trait of showing no talent for war or things military which he attributes to the fact that the last time Gujratis actively took up arms was against the invading Afghan looter Allauddin Khilji and then in a losing effort in 1297 AD. “Useless at fighting, Gujarati Man”, he writes, “has forgotten the smell of freedom, so long has he been under the thumb of Afghan, Mughal, Maratha and Englishman.”

While all the fighting spirit was thus leached out of Gujratis and other Indians in a system of peace imposed by elements external to the state when not foreign to the subcontinent, the natives of Gujrat did what other Indians didn’t do as well — channel the violence and competitiveness natural to homo sapiens into business and politics, until now when the Gujrati brand of business and politics reflects unmatched cunning, ruthlessness and amorality — qualities which if yoked to advancing national security, for instance, would have done the country a lot of good. Instead, Gujratis in particular became productive camp followers of the British in their colonizing efforts in Africa, opening up the African hinterland to petty commerce with their “dukus” and earning the eternal hostility of black Africans as exploiters (which is evident to this day in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda). The Maha-Four characterised these Gujrati qualities in their politicking on the national scene.

This Gujrati behaviour was, however, unlike that of the other people in what was pre-1947 India, who seemed so beaten down and sapped of will the British were surprised at just how easy it all was, how owing to very little resistance from the locals, they had taken over India. When not in a triumphalist vein attributing the acquisition of this territorial jewel in their crown to the manifest destiny of an all-conquering race, the British pointed to the “cowardice” of “the Hindoo” — an agnostic description, incidentally, to cover all the peoples of India — Hindu, Muslim and others alike, as the reason for their success.

Robert Orme, the historian who as secretary to Robert Clive travelled with him on his military campaigns in the Gangetic Plains wrote after the Battle of Plassey (1757) that brought down Sirajudaulla, Nawab of Bengal, and laid the foundations of the British Raj, that the Indian was the “most enervated inhabitant of the globe [who] shudders at the sight of blood, and is of a pusillanimity only to be excused and accounted for by the great delicacy of his configuration.” It was an impression reinforced by the vegetarianism practised by many Hindus, which is also of paramount social concern in Gujrat. Except, the passivity and pacifism displayed by the Indian populace was only for the firangi because Indians, whenever permitted to do so, happily cut each other’s throat, driven by localised animus that curiously spared the British during the Raj. It was a short step from there for Rudyard Kipling by the end of the 19th Century to commend colonialism and to enjoin the US to carry the “White man’s burden” until then supposedly borne manfully by Britain, of bringing order to much of the world peopled by “lawless breeds”.

So, what has this bit of social-colonial and imperial history got to do with with Gujrati statecraft? Every thing!

Central to the Gujrati mindset is “dhanda” — business — and the pursuit of personal profit. By its very nature, it involves genuflecting before the powerful and compromising and conciliating with them and, generally, avoiding activities disruptive of good relations, like tension-mongering, violence and war. In this context, posturing is permitted, not so taking matters to a breakdown of ties. And should things not work out, to consider use of force but only against the weak.

Judging the main actions of each of the first three among the Gujju Maha-Four by the above metric reveals that (1) the three freedom movement leaders — Gandhi, Jinnah (until the 1920s) and Patel were, like all members of the Indian National Congress, collaborators with the British who did not believe in, nor advocate, the violent overthrow of the Raj but were committed to winning freedom legally, through “Constitutional means”, i.e., by working within the limits dictated by the British, (2) Patel, ever the practical Gujrati, pushed for Partition based on his experience of Muslim League ministers making the Nehru-led Interim government (1946-47) non-functional, this even as Gandhi, typically sent mixed signals about conceding Pakistan (and Jawaharlal Nehru opposed it); (3) Patel, unlike Nehru, also supported the giving of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan in return for Jinnah accepting Junagarh and Hyderabad in India, and was for a complete exchange of populations to enable India and Pakistan to emerge as wholly Hindu and Muslim respectively, which proposal was negatived by Nehru, and (4) Gandhi, Patel and Jinnah all trusted the English enough to want continued close association with Britain after independence despite Britain’s horrific colonial record — an intolerably demeaning system of racial apartheid, its long standing policy of sharpening Hindu-Muslim differences eventuating in the bloody partitioning of the country, and sustained looting of India and transfer to Britain of unimaginable wealth that, in current value, amounts to some $47 TRILLION according to recent calculations by the Columbia University economist Utsa Patnaik.

A similar pattern of behaviour fueled by the same dhanda imperative informs Modi’s actions and policies. Consider this: Very like Gandhi, Jinnah and Patel, Modi is very mindful of appeasing the powerful, taking care not to upset or alienate either the US or China, and reluctant to respond aggressively to even the direst provocation offered by them.

Thus, notwithstanding the American record of over 60 years of subterfuge, sabotage and stratgems that, in the main, sought to “balance” India in South Asia by conventionally arming Pakistan, and to keep India non-weapons nuclear, failing in which aim and for the sake of restoring “balance”, approving China’s transfer of nuclear weapon and missile technologies and design expertise to Islamabad, and the fact that the US pressured the Congress party regime of Manmohan Singh to refrain from reacting to the seaborne strike on Mumbai by Pakistan ISI-sponsored terrorists, Modi trusts America to do right by India.

Modi, from day one in office, courted the US, going out of his way to accommodate Washington by aligning Indian policies with US strategic interests. He signed the three “foundational accords” — LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA, for instance, that could result in US armed forces utilizing Indian bases for military operations in the Indo-Pacific — the reason why his Congress party predecessor Manmohan Singh refrained from doing so because he felt it was politically risky.

And Modi very early bought into Xi Jinping’s transparently bogus line of a concert of India and China for the greater good of Asia. This was to be cemented by the airy promises Xi made in Wuhan and reiterated at the Mammallapuram summit of tens of billions of dollars worth Chinese infrastructure investment funds to turn India into another version of Shanghai. A Prime Minister would have to be particularly naive and gullible or, as is more likely, predisposed to act in this way, to fall for this Chinese approach. But Modi fell for it.

His belief in the value of friendship with China is such that he has persisted with the policy of not demanding recognition of “One India” inclusive of all of Jammu & Kashmir for recommitting to the “One China, two systems” that Beijing has flogged, and with the “No tit- for-tat” policy — of not responding in kind, even if belatedly, to Beijing’s proliferating nuclear bombs and missiles to Pakistan by speedily onpassing nuclear warheaded medium and short range missiles and other armaments to countries on China’s border — Vietnam, Indoensia and Philippines. And, two years into the Chinese absorbing 1,000 sq kms of manifestly Indian territory in the Depsang Plains adjoining the Karakorum Pass in eastern Ladakh and the construction of “villages” on disputed territory in Arunachal Pradesh and in the trijunction area with Bhutan, he remains unwilling to even admit the Chinese PLA have annexed Indian land. And, far from instructing the army to vacate the Chinese military presence from Ladakh by any and all means and at whatever cost, he has, in effect, formalized the Chinese claim lines on the Pangong Tso by coupling the withdrawal of PLA units from terrain features — Fingers 3 and 4 — on the northern shore of the lake, with the retreat of Indian SFF units from the Kailash Range, thereby losing India a major foothold and the last vestiges of negotiating leverage with China.

So, OK, Modi is a realist about Indian military capabilities and aware of the difficulty of forcibly removing the PLA from Indian real estate. But why did he have to walk the extra mile to second Beijing’s stated position that its army had not intruded into Indian territory even an inch by, in fact. claiming “Koi andar ghus ke nahin aya hai”? In any case, one can see why Xi desires rapprochement with Modi’s India (on Chinese terms, of course).

Meanwhile, our esteemed foreign minister S Jaishankar, conforming to the PM’s policy proclivities, mouthed inanities such as his contention that Sino-Indian relations were going “through a bad patch”, as though the dispute with China is some small clubhouse disagreement at the Delhi Gymkhana about which the Indian government does not need to be disagreeable. And, that Beijing has understood the message he has been trying to send since the Galwan encounter first came to light in May 2020 that the restoration of territorial status quo ante is the precondition for resumption of normal relations, as if China cares two hoots for the return of normalcy because even a supposedly strained relationship has not hurt annual Chinese exports to India, which remain in excess of $70 billion. So, what’s the incentive for China to pullback its forces from the sizeable area it has grabbed? In other words, Jaishankar’s self-proclaimed clear messaging has not registered on Beijing.

And as regards the US, Jaishankar has assumed the role of America’s bullhorn in the region. Addressing a Bloomberg economic event November 19, unprecedentedly for India’s foreign minister, he justified the US posture, calling the reality of a strategically receding America, post-military defeat in Afghanistan, “ridiculous” and advising the audience “not to confuse” the ongoing global “rebalancing” with USA’s “decline”. He sounded verily like an earnest junior public relations staffer at the US Embassy! This was ineffably sad both because of the optics and because of substance, considering US President Joe Biden and the newly designated “Helmsman”, Xi, had decided in their November 15 virtual summit “to chart a more positive course” as reported by the US Institute for Peace. Meaning, Washington is prepared to cut a seperate deal with Beijing, leaving its Asian allies and strategic partners, including India, to scurry around to secure their own interests the best they can!

Then again, if you don’t acknowledge a problem, it doesn’t exist!

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Interview with Rediff News on India-China

[he Indian Army deploying M-777 ultra-light howitzers i Tawang District]

National security expert Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research is not surprised at the Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat’s comments on the precarious security situation on both our northern and eastern borders.

Prof. Karnad spoke out to Rediff.com‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal about how the Chinese have now turned their focus towards our eastern border.

The first of a two-part interview:

Why has General Rawat stepped into troubled waters by contradicting the US department of defence report highlighting that China is building a 100 house civilian village in Arunachal Pradesh?

Apparently, General Rawat is unable to resist his urge to rise to every media bait, rather than refer the question, as he should have done, to the MEA which articulates the country’s responses on all external-related issues.

ISRO satellites would have confirmed to our military intelligence wing by now whether this construction has taken place on the ground?
MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday that India had taken note of the DOD report and that this was not unexpected since China had undertake similar construction activities.
Even if this construction is taking place to accommodate their military, this is akin to a warning signal for us.

Yes, Indian satellites have enough resolution to identify encroachments by the Chinese even in mountainous areas and, over time, to pinpoint the structures that have come up.

Such information would have been available to the Defence Image Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) and hence to the military, defence ministry, MEA and the rest of the government as soon as the first ingress was made by the PLA many years back.

This much is evident from the Pentagon report’s mentioning that ‘these infrastructure development efforts’ had occasioned ‘consternation’ in the Indian government, and the subsequent MEA statement that such illegal buildup by China has been ongoing for several ‘decades’ which, in fact, is a damning indictment of the government as much as of the army, and the Indian military, generally.

This is not the first time this has happened. We were witness to the strange drama where Prime Minister Modi said on June 19, 2020 that there ‘is and has been no intrusion by the Chinese’ which contradicted the press note issued by the MEA on June 17 after External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar had spoken to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi that the Chinese had crossed the LAC and erected a structure there?

This is obviously a case — all too frequent in the Government of India, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, and the brain of this entire organism — the PM and the PMO, not being sure what the immediate response and the longer term policy should be and therefore unable to coordinate positions taken by the PM, MEA, and the armed services.

The PLA occupies 1,000 square kilometres of our land.
We appear to have agreed to their terms in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.
What effect will this have on our army commanders when they go for talks with their Chinese counterparts on this contentious issue?

India may have agreed to keep talking and, presumably, negotiating with the Chinese for the restoration of the status quo ante, which Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has repeatedly said is the prerequisite for return of normalcy to bilateral relations.

Except, by withdrawing from the Kailash Range heights held by the Special Frontier Force units in return for minor pullback by the PLA from terrain features Fingers’ 3 and 4 on the Pangong Tso, India not only lost the army several important vantage points, but the Modi government the negotiating leverage to obtain the PLA’s withdrawal from the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains.

And, it has permanently unsettled India’s negotiating strategy, assuming there is one, by accepting, ipso facto, the Chinese annexation of the area proximal to the Karakorum Pass of national security interest to India.

What will the repercussions of this be for India given that there are 23 such ‘areas of differing perception’, be along the entire length of the India-China boundary stretching from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh to the east?

Why wouldn’t so strategically-minded an adversary, such as China, not militarily exploit to the maximum Indian timidity, stupidity, and cupidity all along the LAC and legitimate, as it has done so often in the past, the fait accompli of incremental territorial grabs which, by the way, is its strategy and policy as implemented on the ground?

Already, after 13 rounds of talks, it appears as though India has conceded Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains to China, so it should come as no surprise that the Chinese are now asserting themselves in the Eastern Sector?

Having secured their western flank by first pushing and then freezing the Indian forward line in Ladakh, the PLA are now begining to concentrate their attention on Arunachal Pradesh they call ‘South Tibet’ to acquire which is Xi Jinping’s dream end-state.

https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/bharat-karnad-pla-is-now-concentrating-on-arunachal-pradesh/20211115.htm

——————–

Interview, Part Two:

Why Xi Is In A Hurry About Arunachal Pradesh

November 17, 2021, Rediff News,  

‘Xi is keen that the remaining three territories still outside the Chinese ambit — Taiwan, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Senkaku Islands in the East Sea — be absorbed by the Communist regime by the time the centenary of the revolution rolls around in 2049.’

  • General Rawat made a very strange statement at the Times Now Summit where he has said, ‘Locals (in Kashmir) are giving information about terrorists. Now they are saying they will lynch the terrorists which is a very positive sign that is coming in. If there is a terrorist operating in your area, why should you not lynch him?’

Don’t confuse two separate issues. If the locals, suffering from collateral damage of anti-terrorist actions by the army and state police are fatigued enough to be driven to ‘lynch’ a terrorist in their area, that is their business and, in a sense, not preventable.

Had General Rawat advocated open lynching of such miscreants, then that would be an objectionable thing for the CDS (Chief of Defence Staff) to do. But that is not what Rawat said.

India and the US already have a military intelligence sharing agreement. How successful has this proved in the past?

The intelligence-sharing arrangement has been there for some twenty years now.

The trouble is that while the US secures ‘raw intelligence’ from us, what we get in return is ‘processed’ intelligence that is run throuh several filters by the US agencies keeping in mind American national interests and policy vis a vis, say, China and Pakistan, before it is passed on to Indian intelligence.

This is neither particularly helpful nor equitable.

For instance, the US government had prior information about the 2008 seaborne strike on Mumbai but gave no inkling of it to New Delhi.

Rahul Gandhi tweeted that ‘our national security is unpardonably compromised because the government has no strategy.

It is natural for Opposition leaders to make hay while the sun of misreading China and the attendant policy discomfiture shines on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

With Xi Jinping set to remain in power for life, will we see an increase in the aggressive policies being pursued by China?

Xi has just had the Communist party plenum declare him ‘the helmsman’.

The last beneficiary of this title was Deng Xiaoping, who singlehandedly guided China into becoming an economic and trading powerhouse and the fairly wealthy country that it is now.

Xi, it turns out, is only a wannabe Deng, but without any of the foresight shown by that genuinely great Chinese leader in realising for China its supposed old imperium.

Xi is keen that the remaining three territories still outside the Chinese ambit — Taiwan, Arunachal Pradesh, and the Senkaku Islands in the East Sea — be absorbed by the Communist regime by the time the centenary of the revolution rolls around in 2049.

https://www.rediff.com/news/interview/why-xi-is-in-a-hurry-about-arunachal-pradesh/20211117.htm

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MEA letting the military carry the can for the Chinese-occupation of Indian territory on LAC

ANI on Twitter: "EAM S. Jaishankar, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman,  Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, Army Chief General Manoj Mukund  Naravane, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh & Indian
[Jaishankar and CDS, Gen. Rawat]

It was a very clever political move that foreign minister S Jaishankar pulled yesterday by instructing the MEA spokesperson publicly to differ with the Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the military on the worrisome matter of “dual use” Chinese habitations that have sprung up on the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Based, presumably, on photo imagery correlated with digitised terrain mapping data available to the US government, the Pentagon in its 2021 annual report to the US Congress on Chinese military power stated categorically that several of these modern hamlets have recently been put up by the PLA on the Indian side of the claim line.

Instead of waiting for the MEA to pronounce on these “villages” — which issue was bound to be raised Rawat, prompted by the media, rose to the bait and, fell in with the line he thinks is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position voiced last summer that no Chinese intrusion has taken place anywhere along the LAC. The simple minded General conceded that such buildings had indeed come up. But he suggested these were on the Chinese side of the LAC and were for the purpose of “billeting” the civilians and PLA soldiers posted to the Indian front. The little space he left himself to maneuver out of possible trouble was his qualifying his reference to the LAC with the Indian army’s and government’s “perception” of it. This sort anbiguity has allowed the army and the government to escape accountability for the Indian territory absorbed by China. Except, Modi’s ill-considered remark exonerating China was so laughably wrong he has not repeated it for fear of further damaging his credibility, which fact Rawat had not noted before reacting in the same vein.

But Jaishankar had. With his antennae picking up signals that this issue could become the proverbial political hot potato should the opposition go to town about the Modi regime accepting the Chinese land grab without as much as a squeak, the foreign minister sought deftly to distance himself and his Ministry from Rawat and the military. At his behest, the MEA — assuming it is speaking for Modi and the BJP goverment, not Rawat — immediately contradicted the CDS. Stating that the Chinese had, in fact, violated the LAC and constructed these villages on illegally occupied Indian land, it disclosed it had made a “strong protest against such activities”, as if such protests by a meek and timid India ever register on Beijing. But it left Rawat dangling in the wind.

Such a preemptively defensive MEA statement was considered necessary by Jaishankar because the Pentagon report had also put him in an embarrassing situation by declaring baldly that “these infrastructure development efforts” had occasioned “consternation” in the Modi government, which makes it plain that the GOI, MEA and the Indian army were all aware of the Chinese ingress well inside Indian territory for quite some time. It also reveals that they did not want to publicly complain, convinced that what the Indian people don’t know won’t hurt them, and that making a brouhaha over lost territory would only pressure the Modi government to try futilely to recover the said parcels of land — something the Indian army is not capable of, and hence that it was sensible to say and do nothing! And then Modi’s best friend power, the US, had to go and spoil it.

This was also the logic behind Modi’s original statement in 2020 summer about “koi andar ghus ke NAHI aya hai” and the army’s attempt to misdirect by referring yesterday to a biggish encampment that has emerged in Longju on territory lost in 1959 which does not address the issue of the many other such pucca villages built by the PLA on the Indian side of the LAC since.

What’s not a surprise are the Chinese villages on Indian territory — a result, I said in my 2018 book, of Beijing’s policy of creeping territorial aggrandizement that requires the local PLA and Communist Tibetan authorities to build on newer pieces of Indian land before periodically presenting what’s built and the real estate so annexed as faits accompli that a passive-reactive Indian government and armed forces feel compelled to reconcile to because, well, they can’t do much about it.

What’s more interesting, is the larger game that’s on where the institutional rift opened up between the MEA and the military doesn’t matter all that much. The military by itself being a light weight in intra-governmental politics and power games, Jaishankar’s showing up Rawat on this issue is really to get at the CDS’ patron, his fellow Pauri-Garhwali, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. If Rawat is made to look like a political liability, it will reflect poorly on Doval and proportionately strengthen, Jaishankar hopes, his hand and relative power positioning in Modi’s court.

And that’s the game that’s afoot, Dr Watson!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, South Asia, Tibet, United States, US. | 23 Comments

China’s N-buildup, CSC responsible for India’s non-response, and the Abhinandan issue

[The canisterised Dong Feng-31 missiles on parade in Beijing]

There’s not a thing China does wrong strategically and not many things India does right. Whence my advice to the government in my 2015 book – Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), that owig to its institutionalized inability to think and act strategically, it should merely imitate whatever China does.

What China is doing is building up its nuclear forces, reaching the threshold of 1,000-odd deliverable nuclear weapons and still larger numbers of missiles. The Pentagon in its 2021 (annual) report to the US Congress on Chinese military power conveyed this piece of information with as much alarm as surprise. Why so? Because successive US administrations have trusted in the line taken by the likes of Jeffrey Lewis rather than the assessments of experts like Lawrence Korb and the Pentagon’s own intel supplied by the US Defence Intelligence Agency, who counted the missile silos, the very long tunnels bored into mountain sides as missile emplacement and firing sites, monitored the traffic to them as picked up by satellite imaging and other sensors, and came up with more realistic numbers of nuclear missiles with the PLA Second Artlliery Strategic Forces (SASF). Indeed, the US DIA had concluded by the late 1990s that China had some 800 nuclear weapons and missiles. The 200 or so added since then is par for the course.

This was the SASF figure I based my analysis on and suggested in my 2002, (2nd edition in 2005) book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, that because the likely operational strength of the Chinese arsenal would be some 500 missiles, with the rest held in reserve, and because a goodly number of these are India-targetable medium range ballistic missiles (MRBMs) and intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), the minimum Indian strategic force size needs prudently to be around 475 thermonuclar weapons and delivery systems, without counting the reserves. And that, this force size should be elastic enough and automatically increase to be within striking distance of whatever weapons level China attains over the years. This was necessary I argued to ensure that (1) notional strategic parity is maintained, (2) the Chinese conventional military prowess is blunted, and (3) China is never able to wield the psychological edge of thermonuclear superiority in any prospective confrontation. By my 2002 standard, the Indian SFC should now have a minimum of approx 900 nuclear weapons.

But with the “minimum deterrence”-wallahs having the ear of the government from the beginning and convincing all incoming PMs about the supposed wisdom of small nuclear forces, successive governments have thought nothing about taking an axe to India’s own nuclear weapons manufacturing capability to please and pacify external powers, chiefly the US. So, the civilian nuclear deal was negotiated with America and the option of resuming testing signed away. In keeping with the minimalist thinking, the freedom of policy choices and military options too was surrendered by agreeing to the Missile Technology Control Regime and the Wassenaar Arrangement. And by seeking membership in NSG, New Delhi will ensure India cannot respond, even if it wanted to in the future and belatedly, to Beijing’s nuclear weapons and missile proliferation to Pakistan by hurting China in equal measure by arming its neighbours with like strategic armaments. Having thus painted itself into a corner, Manmohan Singh and now Narendra Modi are embarked on a policy, as I have argued, that is tantamount to outsourcing India’s strategic security to the US.

As if to prove that this is indeed the case, India has let Pakistan outpace it in producing nuclear warheads and bombs. The Pakistan army’s Strategic Plans Division has in excess of 150 nuclear weapons; India’s Strategic Forces Command, on the other hand, has apparently leveled out at 110 weapons or thereabouts. And as mentioned in a previous post, India has been even more niggardly in producing and fielding Agni-5s and, more detrimental to the national interest, has consigned the indigenous MIRV-technology that enables a single missile to carry multiple warheads to the rubbish heap. What else does refusing to test and induct the MIRV system mean?

But minimum this, and minimal that, sort of thinking fits in with the advice on China given by an unending line of foolishly optimistic mandarin-speaking diplomats, intel types, and their ilk crowding the China and East Asia Desks in the MEA, the Beijing ambassador and Foreign Secretary posts, and the apex level policy forum — the ‘China Study Circle/Group’ (CSC). CSC and all within it are terminal misreaders of Beijing’s intentions, underestimators of Chinese military strength, and unapologetic surrenderers of India’s military and other initiatives because they value Sino-Indian relations more than they do the national interest. The CSC has been so wrong about China so often, it is a surprise anybody takes it seriously. But hark, the Indian government does! Even though, no Prime Minister in his right mind should have done other than terminated this cabal long ago and those within it dismissed from service with extreme prejudice. Instead, CSC continues in its merry way — pushing India deeper into the hole it has dug for the country and the Indian military.

The last such bit of harmful counsel was the negotiating parameter that resulted in the pullback of the Special Frontier Force units from the Kailash range — the only Indian action that showed initiative and was of some consequence, in exchange for the PLA withdrawing from ‘Finger 3’ on the Pangong Lake. These worthies expected that the Chinese, suitably softened, would suddenly start behaving like a good neighbour and withdraw from the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain, to allow the Indian army to once again patrol Gogra, Hot Springs, and other points proximal to the Karakorum Pass. Predicatbly, India fell for a Chinese mirage and, thanks to CSC, lost the slight leverage it had with the occupation of the Kailash heights.

The expertise of these desi China specialists and professional policy bunglers stops at a benign reading of the Chinese threat. They mirror the kind of nonsense the China lovers in the US have been spewing for decades. These MEA mandarins and CSC members propagate the view about the Chinese Communist party leadership being driven by the purest of motives, and believing in “no first use”, and in “minimum deterrence” and, despite the altercations on the border and PLA’s relentless massing of forces in the Tibet theatre, why the Modi regime should talk it out with Beijing, and similar piffle. Those more besotted among them try to display their deep understanding of everything Chinese by citing all kinds of supporting evidence — gobbeldygook references to party plenums, Confucius, “warring kingdoms”, Suntzu, and obscure warriors, strategists and whatnot, that while, perhaps, plausible sounding, are usually off kilter. In the main because their rationalizations and justifications of Chinese actions are informed more, it seems, by sentimentalism and delusions of what could have been if only Xi Jinping had not sported his hardline approach. Dengxiaoping’s “long handshake” with Rajiv Gandhi in 1986 is still recalled, and the illusory promise of ‘Chindia’ — the combined Asian powerhouse of the two countries in the new Century is mulled over.

Characteristically, these thinly veiled China sympathizers have habitually missed out on the traditional animus fueling Beijing’s India policy. Lest it be forgottgen, Deng strategically screwed India; he was the architect of the policy that has proved the most strategiclly damaging — establishing Pakistan as a nuclear weapons state. Except, it is only another version of Maozedong’s clear-eyed ruthlessness in pulling India down by showing up the Indian army in 1962 as an imperial era ‘paper tiger’ with pretentions. If Rajiv Gandhi was taken in by Deng’s avuncular behaviour, Atal Bihari Vajpayee (and his alter ego — Brajesh Mishra) by Jiang Xemin’s promise of peace, and if Modi, had drunk a little too much of the Wuhan and Mamallapuram “spirits”, he is now sobered enough to crash down to the earth, what with his government seemingly so bewildered by Xi’s actions in eastern Ladakh and along the Line of Actual Control that his China policy is stranded in a “no man’s land”. Who is to blame for this state of affairs other than the consistently gullible Indian leaders and their compromised advisers in MEA and CSC?

Just how confused the Modi government is is plain from the non-use of the weighty economc leverage provided by denying Chinese exports access to the Indian market. It has resulted, ironically, in Chinese exports touching a new high (some $67 billion in 2020!), further skewing the balance of payments problem already hugely favouring China. It is not as if Indian exports to China are high value or big revenue earners as, say, German exports to China are — some 700,000 Mercedes Benz passenger cars were reportedly sold in 2020. So, India has little to lose by legally restricting Chinese exports. After all, China is the prime enemy country, is it not? Then why accord it favourable treatment? Shouldn’t Chinese exports to India be severely curtailed, and Indian retailers, including petty shopkeepers, deterred from stocking and selling Chinese goods and light manufactures, on the pain of punitive fines and even jail time? Why this has so far not been done is a mystery, considering such measures are legitimate under the GATT and Doha Round provisions for fair and equitable trade, and because it is the right of countries to protect their economies from being inundated with cheap goods and stuff produced by heavily subsidized Chinese industries.

A fearful Indian government shies away from undertaking even reciprocal actions in the economic, diplomatic and military spheres in response to Xi’s precision targeted policies and actions. In the event, for Modiji to believe India can become China’s equal by carrying on strategically as it has these past few decades, is to do a lot of day dreamin’. But, dreams cost nothing.

——-


National hero IAF pilot Abhinandan flies MiG-21 again; pictures go viral |  Photogallery - ETimes
[WingCo Abhinandan with the then CAS ACM BS Dhanoa in a 2-seater MiG-21 Bison]

The news about Wing Commander Abhinandan making a time-grade promotion to Group Captain made me think about what brought him notoriety. He is perhaps the only fighter pilot in history to be awarded a gallantry award — Vir Chakra, for being shot down over enemy territory after a questionable, if not imaginary, kill by him of an enemy warplane. The IAF and the Indian government doubled down on the story that the combat aircraft Abhinandan shot out of the skies was a Pakistani F-16 even when it had too many holes in it. He was welcomed back, feted as a war hero with the then Air Chief, BS Dhanoa, even flying a celebratory sortie with him in a twin-seater MiG-21 Bison. Such are the small successes IAF is now reduced to.

Not to go into the details of this episode, but what really happened? In broad brush terms, Abhinandan was obviously hotdoggin’ it, picked up an adversary aircraft on his radar, went after it in hot pursuit, fired off a shortrange R-60 air-to-air missile. That missile hit something; he claimed it was an F-16. In the heat of the pursuit, he little realized he had intruded into Pakistani airspace and, too late to maneuver and scoot out of trouble, found himself and his MiG-21 shot down by a PAF plane that had him in its “cone”.

But it was not an F-16. The fact that no team from Lockheed Martin — producer of the F-16 aircraft, hightailed it to India or Pakistan to ascertain the details of that engagement is proof enough that no hardware of their’s was involved.

If it was not a PAF F-16, many IAF veterans speculate what Abhinandan had in his sights was an ex- Chinese-built JF-17. Two parachutes were observed floating down after that fighting incident, conforming to the fact of two pilots of two downed aircraft. So, why have Abhinandan and the IAF stuck to the F-16 story? Because, well, there is more glory in shooting down a frontline F-16 than a Chinese ripoff of a Russian MiG-21 — the JF-17.

And why was Abhinandan so speedily released? For one thing because, it is said, the IAF, backed by the Modi government,warned PAF that should anything happen to Abhinandan in captivity, or he not be returned forthwith, it was prepared to go to war — a threat that worked, especially on the Imran Khan government. The question arises: Why did the IAF make such a threat? Because, Abhinandan’s father, also a MiG fighter pilot, Air Marshal Simhakutty Varthaman, retired in 2012 as commander-in-chief, Eastern Air Command, and the IAF brass had made his son’s expeditious release by Islamabad, its personal business.

The troubling question: Would the IAF HQ have gone to bat for Abhinandan as aggressively, and decorated him with a VrC, had he not, in a sense, been IAF royalty?

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Weapons | 32 Comments

Nuclear-wise, India is seriously handicapped (by govt!)

Agni 5, India's Longest Range Ballistic Missile, Successfully Test-Fired
[Agni-5 – Lift Off]

A decision approving a series of test firings of the Agni-5 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) has been pending for the last 10 years. When it was finally taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi it was done, it seems, again on a one-off basis, and with some reluctance. As to why this should be so is one of those mysteries only Modiji can unravel. It is clear the trigger for the test launch of Agni-5 was not some longview calculation in the wake of the news of the spectacular Chinese test of a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS) in the guise of testing a hypersonic glide vehicle, but an attempt by India, a nuclear minnow, to say: Hey, notice me — I’m in the game too!!

Just how far ahead China is may be guaged from the Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, calling the Chinese achievement “significant” and a near “Sputnik moment” for America.

First re: Milley’s Sputnik ejaculation. The US was startled out of its wits when the Soviet Union in October 1957, launched the first man-made satellite — the 80kg, football-sized, orbiter — Sputnik-1, which event the History Division of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), heralds as the “Dawn of the space age”. Incidentally, NASA was created by the stirred and much shaken Eisenhower Administration in 1958. It led, in that period, to the US handily winning the space race by landing Neil Armstrong on the moon in May1969, and meeting President John F Kennedy’s May 1961 challenge to the American science & technology community and industry to do so by the end of that decade.

The shock in a complacent Washington at China’s successfully testing FOBS is as great as when a doubting US was rendered aghast at the Soviet Union’s pulling off a Sputnik some 65 years ago. We can now expect a full-fledged arms race in space to get underway with American companies being pushed, pulled, prodded and incentivised to, as soon as possible, have the US military not just field an array of FOBS, but also technology to neutralize hypersonic glide weapons able to home in on targets at 21 kms per second (Mach 5 to Mach 7 speeds) after transiting through space and re-entering the earth’s atmosphere.

The Chinese FOBS occasioned the 5,000 km Agni-5 IRBM test, which was a sort of small, “me too” reaction by India. There’s no parity, of course, because DRDO’s hypersonic programme is having the usual kind of troubles with this tech relating to the design of the glide vehicle (for smooth reentry) as also with the propellant mix for the initial and terminal phases of hypersonic flight. It may not be like for like, but Agni-5 is the only weapon available to India to blunt Beijing’s tendency to show India up as a strategic nonentity and to prevent nuclear bullying of the kind the Indian army, in the conventional arena, routinely suffers at the hands of the PLA on the disputed border.

Hence, the great mystery about the Indian government’s reticence in showboating with the A-5. And why it is that these Agni’s aren’t regularly fired into the southern Indian Ocean after pointedly sending Beijing notices warning Chinese naval and merchant ships to keep off the designated target areas (whether there are any Chinese ships in the vicinity or not); the idea being to make a splash on the minds of Chinese strategists who are contemptuous of what they consider India’s strategic pretensions.

At the heart of this tragedy is a wimpy Indian government. Consider the pattern: Talented and highly motivated missileers at the Advanced Systems Laboratory, Hyderabad, design and develop missiles of various kinds and associated weapons technologies only for things to come to a shuddering halt as Delhi dithers endlessly first on testing, and then on inducting and deploying these systems, thus keeping the country in a state of peril.

The reason the A-5 is a formidable weapon is its “guidance on chip” — its unique selling point, that gives it extraordinary accuracy at extreme range. [For more details about ‘guidance on chip’, see my posts from 2012! — “Agni-5 tidbits”, April 23, 2012 at https://bharatkarnad.com/2012/04/23/agni-5-tid-bits/ and “Agni-V – guidance on chip”, April 26, 2012 at https://bharatkarnad.com/2012/04/26/agni-v-guidance-on-chip/%5D.

In the CEP (circular error probable) metric to assess accuracy of missiles, the Indian A-5 is as good as any missile in the world. In the event, the country should by now have had, quite literally, hundreds of these missiles — conventional and nuclear warheaded, to provide flexible strike options to take out the most distant countervalue or counterforce targets in China. Alas, test firings of the A-5 have been few and far between, and even though there are variants of the A-5, including one that is road mobile, the A-5 technology would gain refinement from many more and regular test firings. The strategic situation versus China is aggravated, moreover, by a low production rate of Agni-5s with its numbers to-date in the arsenal constituting only a fraction of the desired strength. But at least the A-5 has some testing behind it. They also remain relatively exposed owing to a marked deficiency of invulnerable mountain tunnel complexes to store and stockpile these Agni’s and, in crisis, to trundle out into firing positions clear of the mountainous overhang. The tunnel complexes is was I had advocated during my time on the first National Security Advisroy Board and then in my 2002 book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security.

The equally indigenous MIRV (multiple independently maneuverable vehicle) technology that allows a single missile to carry several warheads and to fire them at widely dispersed targets has not been so lucky. Designed, developed and readied for testing as far back as 2001-2002, the MIRV design and tech has been collecting dust in ASL ever since. Three governments in the new millennium –Vajpayee’s, Manmohan Singh’s and Modi’s, have felt no urgency whatsoever to give the green signal to test the MIRV prototype! More likely, as I have argued in my books, they have succumbed to American pressure to not test and induct this disruptive tech. Meanwhile, China took only a couple of years, from design to deployment, for its MIRV-ed missiles to enter the PLA strategic rocket forces’ inventory. [For details of the Indian MIRV tech, see my 2008 book — India’s Nuclear Policy].

If all these factors were not liability enough, we have the Indian government whose lack of strategic intellect is shocking, if not surprising. The collective ignorance of the phenomenon of nuclear deterrence and its dynamics in the highest reaches of the government, the military, in the bureaucracy, generally, and in MEA in particular, is a sad but costly joke at the expense of national security. It is evidenced in the statement issued by the Indian government following the IRBM test launch: “The successful test of Agni-5 is in line with India’s stated policy to have credible minimum deterrence that underpins the commitment to ‘No First Use’.” !!! This is on par with the endlessly repeated piece of idiocy mouthed by politcal leaders, military chieftains, and addle-brained diplomats alike that “nuclear weapons are meant for deterrence, not war fighting.” These strategic-nuclear illiterates are also convinced, for instance, that India’s gazetted doctrine emphasizing “massive retaliation” works even though the last two decades have clearly proven otherwise with even Pakistan mocking India’s nuclear posture by continuing to play the terrorism card and by speedily building up its stock of tactical nuclear weapons whose first use pronouncements, it surmises and the record bears it out, clearly deters India from exploiting its conventional military edge.

Despite the examples of Kim Jong-un threatening to take out Tokyo and the mid-Pacific US military island base of Guam in response to Trump’s talk of “fire and fury” that led to Trump slinking away and earlier, of China preparing to go with nuclear first use if the US tried to impose its military will, Delhi sticks with the simpletonish, one dimensional, view of the utility of nuclear weapons. Hence, the voicing of half-understood concepts like ‘minimum deterrence’ and ‘no first use’ from the Indian government and its representatives. It has consigned the country to a state of permanent strategic disadvantage and left it with no means to leverage a more respectful Chinese attitude to India’s national interest and its position on LAC, or to dissuade Beijing from pushing and pressuring this country at every turn. Xi Jinping and his team are by now only too aware that the Indian worm — nuclear or otherwise, does not turn.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indo-Pacific, Japan, 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, satellites, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, technology, self-reliance, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 46 Comments

China taps in the Bhutanese nail in India’s strategic coffin

From LPG to space, PM Modi seeks to expand India-Bhutan ties beyond  hydro-power | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
[Modi going to inspect a Guard of Honour presented by the Bhutanese Army in Thimpu]

“Who will not want a friend and a neighbour like Bhutan?” an elated Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked rhetorically, after wrapping up his visit to Thimpu, August 19, 2019. “The two countries are living the definition of true friendship.”

He had just concluded a warm, friendly, and successful visit during which 10 Memoranda of Understanding were signed in several fields ranging from space, avaiation Information Technology, power and education. Modi also inaugurated the Rs. 4,500 crore, 720MW, Mangdechhu hydroelectric power plant in central Bhutan, one of a series of power projects India has helped finance and build over the years to harness that country’s rivers to the tune of 10,000 MW — a milestone reached last year. It is electricity an energy starved India buys back at remunerative prices in a virtuous cycle of joint Indo-Bhutanese planning, Indian investment and construction, and goodly economic returns for both parties.

Two short years later, it was the turn of Beijing on Oct 14, 2021 to crow that the “deadlock” had been broken in the talks begun in 1984 with Bhutan to settle the border, and that the latest (24th) virtual round — of characteristically interminable negotiations (a tactic the Chinese use to break the opposing side’s patience and resolve), had resulted in Thimpu agreeing to a three step process for final demarcation of the disputed Sino-Bhutanese border, and the establishment of formal diplomatic ties.

Soon India will no more have Bhutan to itself . Wth a doubtless big, fully manned, Chinese embassy in Thimpu contesting the diplomatic space with India, the Chinese will overwhelm the Bhutanese with offers of infrastructure projects and easy credit to built them and, perhaps, a Chinese military training scheme and transfer of armaments to compete with IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team). Bhutan too will begin doing what other South Asian states — Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Maldives, have learned to do do — profitably play New Delhi off against Beijing. That’s the least of the problems though.

What’s really worrisome is that MEA had no inkling about this development, was caught unawares and was surprised by this breakthrough coming down the pike. For Bhutan, an Indian protectorate in all but name, to keep such an important decision — one to cut a deal with Beijing a secret, suggests Thimpu may be willing to agree to an exchange the Chinese had proposed in 1997: Beijing giving up its claims in central Bhutan for territory in western Bhutan that includes the Doklam trijunction with India. Except, per an earlier three way agreement, any decision on Doklam has to be in consultation with India. It will be interesting to see how Thimpu and Beijing manage this, assuming MEA doesn’t just lay down as is its habit and let the Chinese run a steamroller over its diplomats.

Doklam is where Chinese ingress by way of roadbuilding southwestwards towards the Siliguri corridor — the “chicken’s neck”, had almost sparked hostilities in June 2017. Some 270 Sikkim-based Indian troops alongside two bulldozers had then stopped the Chinese road construction. That standoff did not, however,result in a PLA withdrawal from that area and the Chinese completed the road. Then in mid-2020, while India was preoccupied with the Chinese transgressions in eastern Ladakh, Beijing laid claim to the Sakteng wildlife sanctuary in eastern Bhutan. In response, India proposed constructing a road through the Yeti region of Bhutan to Tawang, cutting the distance to Guwahati by 150 kms to enable faster shifting of land forces in an emergency. It is not known whether there’s progress, if any, in this project. And this is where matters stand today.

The historic pattern is that India always reacts and reacts some more, never ever taking the initiative at any time for anything in terms of aggressively occupying contested land, especially where China is concerned. It seems fearful of the inevitable Chinese response, which it apprehends the Indian military will not be able to deal with. The Indian army is silently complicit in this arrangement because it doesn’t — if it can help it — want to tangle with the PLA handing it, in the process, the psychological edge. Signalling in any way reluctance to engage in military action is tantamount to ceding ground.

How one wishes for a dashing General Sagat Singh to emerge from somewhere, take charge, and get a fist up PLA’s nose, as he did as GOC, 17 Division, at Nathu la in 1967.

Meanwhile, with Bhutan in the bag China has about finished its grand geostrategic design of encircling India, and confining it to its subcontinental strategic coffin. Circlement and counter-encirclement are at the core and the very essence of Chinese military maneuvering and strategy. It is something the strategically dim-witted Indian government has historically been unable for some incomprehensible reason to even envision, let alone practice. So, while India’s neighbourhood is now palpably under Chinese control with Pakistan posing as Beijing’s stalking horse, the Chinese periphery is terra incognita and, owing to Indian diplomatic and military passivity, is getting beyond India’s political-military reach. In this respect consider the heavy weather the Indian government has made over the last 20 years of merely transferring Brahmos cruise missiles to Vietnam when this should have been A-1 priority. Indulging periodically in Malabar naval exercises with the US and other navies in the seas WEST of the Malacca Straits is not going to cut it.

Ah, yes, but as I have always reassuringly reminded everybody, there’s fortunately Pakistan to berate and beat up on, and threaten more Balakots with — no matter that the original Balakot aerial excursion, as I had mentioned in a post soon after that “operation”, was a bad joke, a non-event. (Refer my March 19, 2019 post — “IAF goofs and Delhi’s post-Pulwama debacle: A post mortem” at https://bharatkarnad.com/2019/03/19/iafs-goofs-and-delhis-post-pulwama-debacle-a-post-mortem/)

Pakistan, I suspect — Home Minister Amit Shahji please note — would welcome your verbal “sturm und drang” topped with such harmless military Indian actions!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nepal, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 42 Comments

Taiwan — NOT a flashpoint, but India opportunity

2 US Navy Warships Sailed Through Taiwan Strait, Challenging China
[A US naval flotilla in the Taiwan Strait]

An imminent Sino-US war over Taiwan makes for sensational analysis, but is unrealistic and, military-wise, unsound assessment of likely hostilities. A spate of ill-informed media commentaries and the like have been published, many of them by Mandarin-speaking former diplomats who ought to know better. A former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, for instance, in an op-ed (https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/a-taiwan-flashpoint-in-the-indo-pacific/article36933319.ece) propagated the questionable thesis about China initiating an offensive on the grounds of a growing power imbalance — of Beijing acting sooner to forcfully reunify Taiwan with the mainland because doing so later would mean having to contend with a more powerful enemy lineup with a nuclear submarine equipped-Australia firming up the forward maritime stance of the new military alliance on the block — AUKUS (Australia-UK-US).

Further, his contention of bilateral Taiwanese capital stock worth some $188.5 billion in 1991-2020 or 15% of Taiwan’s GDP invested in China versus China’s $2.4 billion investment in the island-nation trade far from adding up as evidence actually suggests a contrary conclusion — a disincentive for Beijing going to war in the context of other sources of FDI slowly drying up, and China getting slowly economically isolated.

The massive flyovers staged in recent days by the PLA Air Force over Taiwan are, moreover, no more precursors of war than the US Navy periodically despatching its warships on freedom of navigation patrols (FONOPs) through the Taiwan Strait, or US troops regularly visiting Taiwan to jointly train with the Taiwanese armed services. As actions go, these are more show of force and symbolic than provocative. Had the Chinese planes dropped bombs or the Taiwanese air defence systems brought down an intruding aircraft or two is when the fat would be on fire. This last won’t happen because the Democratic Progressive Party government in Taipei, convinced America would offer no more than expressions of solidarity in defence of Taiwan, has no reason to challenge Beijing. And because all the talk out of China, including by Xi Jinping, about reunification — peaceful or otherwise notwithstanding, PLA simply does not have the capacity for a sustained military invasion and capture of the offshore island, especially one that, intelligence and cyber-wise, long ago penetrated the mainland defences and would have almost instantaneous knowledge of any decision to invade made by the CMC (Central Military Commission), which would void the surprise element. The PLA generals know all too well that an invasion would trigger an all-out Taiwanese response.

More than half of any Chinese invasion fleet is expected to be sunk by concentrations of shore-based Harpoon cruise missiles supported by a host of Taiwanese air and sea launched land attack and anti-ship cruise missiles — the 120 km range Hsiung Feng II, the 150km Hsiung Feng III, and for strategic deterrence the 600 km range Hsiung Feng IIE, and the 120km short range Wan Chien ballistic missile. Taipei is also developing on a war footing masses of the 2,000km range Yun Feng cruise missile to reach Beijing. And any attempts at aerial bombing is negatived by a dense and effective Taiwanese air defence. But even without the Yun Feng, Taiwan’s missile forces can, at a minimum, devastate the entire manufacturing base around Shanghai and its hinterland and up the Fujian province coast opposite Taiwan, and fully wreck the flourishing Chinese economy. Taipei knows this, and so does Beijing.

Sure, the 2049 dateline looms by which Xi Jinping would ideally like to see a reunified China with Taiwan accommodated in some version of a “One China, two systems” compromise. But while Xi may be an ideological blowhard, he is not a military idiot, however much he is urged by certain higher sections of the PLA command to once and for all and early sort out the Taiwan problem. So, where’s the question of war?

Indeed, just to clarify the Taiwan situation for an Indian audience, the possibility of forcible reunification of Taiwan with China is less of a flashpoint than Kashmir is — and this when the prospects of the Pakistan army attempting to wrench Jammu & Kashmir from India’s grasp is less than zero — whatever posturing Indian generals and militarymen eager to justify a wonky Pakistan-fixated Indian force structure and the ocassional brain-addled Pakistani politicians, may say.

From an Indian perspective, nothing would better serve India’s national interest than for China’s economy to get it in the neck and for Beijing to get diplomatically sidestreamed with a PLA misadventure against Taiwan, and one would very much hope that Xi is somehow persuaded by his military chieftains to start a real hard affray that Taipei is compelled to react violently to. But because this is unlikely, what’s next best India can do, proactively?

It has been Taipei’s policy before the DPP regime under President Tsai Ing-wen hove into view of Taiwan prudently disinvesting from China and moving its monies to more politically receptive climes. It was the context for the Taiwanese trade representative in Delhi — ambassador by another name, complaining to me some 20 years ago that the Indian government was doing nothing much, if anything, to attract Taiwanese investment capital in order to kickstart India’s development as a manufacturing hub for the world — something Indian governments Vajpayee’s onwards have been yacking about but doing little substantively to realize, and to otherwise assisting Taiwanese capitalists and manufacturers to do for India what they did for China in the Eighties and after.

The BJP government of Narendra Modi, on its part, seems entirely unmindful of the need to intensely cultivate Asian investors and companies, especially Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean, to shift their production bases to India with attractive tax holidays, automatic “one window” clearances, and extensive language training and cultural acclimatization to speedily create a class of Mandarin-speaking Indian youth, say, to act as intermediaries, whose absence the Taiwan ambassador in Delhi long ago asserted was the single biggest obstacle — the other being the oppressive bureaucratism of all state authorities, state and central, to the flow of Taiwanese capital and production wherewithal into India. It is a problem the Indian government has failed to address.

While Modi’s ardour for Chinese infrastructure investment may have dropped down to realistic levels owing to happenings in eastern Ladakh and elsewhere along the extended Line of Actual Control, it is replaced by a hope of convincing American companies for FDI increases and manufacturing investment. Except, the Biden Administration’s priority is not India’s economic betterment, but welcoming investors from everywhere just so that the so far “jobless growth” produces more employment in the US.

Taiwan, Japan and South Korea are the biggest investment and technology sources India can productively tap, which the Indian government has done little to court and incentivize. It is time the DRDO, IISc, Bengaluru, and the IITs begin collaborating, for example, with the National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology in Taipei that is designing and helping local companies produce world class weapons, platforms amd sensors to arm its own military. This is so because the Modi dispensation, unfortunately, is hung up on the US and the West as the locus geneses of these things, enabling Washington to play New Delhi like a fiddle with S. Jaishankar, the most destructively pro-American diplomat in history as first Foreign Secretary and now foreign minister advancing Modi’s harmfully overt policy tilt. Just what such policies have fetched India and how much real weight Modi packs in Washington, in the US, the West and in the world generally, as a result was evidenced from not a single major American newspaper covering the recent Modi-Biden meet in the White House, the so-called Quad summit in Washington Sept 24 — what little exposure this last event got related to the nuclear submarines to Australia-angle, and from the fact that Modi addressed a near empty hall in the UN General Assembly, September 25.

The sooner Modi appreciates that India’s future is tied to the future of Asian states whose interests too clash with those of China, the lesser will be the delay for the present counterproductive US-dependent Indian strategic security policy to correct itself and get back on track to genuine “strategic autonomy”.

Other than the necessary economic initiatives to attract Taiwanese, Japanese and South Korean investment capital and manufacturing, and technology, the Modi government can signal India’s strategic intent by ordering regular and frequent sailings of Indian warships and flotillas, through the disputed waters of the South China Sea, of course, but more meaningfully also through the Taiwan Strait with Indian naval vessels carrying out, to begin with, simple jackstay-kind of exercises with the Taiwan Navy and docking pointedly at major naval bases on the island-state’s east coast, such as Su’ao, headquarters of one of its leading units — the 124th Fleet.

Isn’t it time India responded in kind to Chinese naval sailings in India’s Indian Ocean domain and Chinese surface combatants and submarines docking at Karachi or in Humbantota at will?

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A Post-AUKUS World And India’s Options

President Biden hosts \'Quad nations\' meeting at the Leaders\' Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework at the White House in Washington. Credit: Reuters Photo
[Uhmm….partner, eh?]

Whatever the other effects of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, it has transformed global geopolitics. It sparked four notable geopolitical events. Apprehending China as potentially the principal beneficiary of the emerging order in Central Asia and, through its most important regional client, Pakistan, in southern Asia and, possibly, the Indian Ocean region as well, the United States countered with a new military alliance with its old Anglo-saxon partners — AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and US) to replace the moribund Cold War-era ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, US). 

Paris reacted with vehemence with a visibly agitated French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling it a “stab in the back”. Not only because France lost a US$ 65 billion contract with Australia for its Barracuda diesel submarine that would have kept its high-tech military sector  in the clover for a while but because a supposedly trusted, traditional ally, the US, trumped it by offering a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) along with its production expertise, something  Canberra could not refuse. It led to Paris renewing its call for a European security alliance that  Germany too supports and for the same reason that NATO, rather than protecting Europe and advancing European interests, acts as a handmaiden of the US.

Besides damning AUKUS as a destabilizing move and a strategic provocation, Beijing has reacted by mooting an Africa Quadrilateral of China, Russia, France or Germany, and a group of African countries as counterweight, also to the India-Japan-US-Australia Quadrilateral.  But this Africa Quad is a stillborn idea, their immediate anger aside, because neither France nor Germany  intends to deal a deathblow to NATO, and because few of the prospective African member states  want to alienate  the US.

That leaves the future of the original ‘Security Diamond’ or Quadrilateral to contain China that the former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe had conceived in 2007 up in the air. AUKUS has occasioned serious doubts about the utility of the Quad other than as its strategic backup — a distinctly subsidiary role neither India nor Japan signed up for. In order to mollify hurt sentiments and to preempt a rethink on the Quad by New Delhi and Tokyo, President Joe Biden  convened the Quad summit in Washington and scheduled one-on-one  meetings with Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Yoshihide Suga September 24-25. But these meetings have not dissipated the confusion and doubts about America’s intentions.

Arming Australia with a fleet of nuclear attack submarines is, however, a US decision with a fallout. Apparently, Washington considered the fast-changing Asian and international ‘correlation of forces’ to be alarming enough to part with its military crown jewels — technologies  constituting  the Virginia-class SSN firing Tomahawk long range cruise missiles, a deal that includes the wherewithal  to manufacture the boat. To speed up the process of nuclearizing the Australian Navy, moreover, the US reportedly is even considering handing off to the Aussies the three Guam-based Los Angeles-class SSNs as platforms for training crews and maintenance personnel. Until now, the UK was the only country to benefit from such American technological largesse, with Britain being helped to produce eight Trafalgar and Astute-class SSNs and four heavier Vanguard-class nuclear powered ballistic missile-firing submarines (SSBNs).

An Australian Navy with Tomahawk-equipped SSNs does three things. It terminates any plans President Xi Jinping may have had to invade Taiwan with a naval armada and forcibly assimilate it into mainland China by 2049, the centenary year of the Communist revolution, by when Beijing expects the country to surpass the US as the wealthiest country in the world and as a military power to be at least the equal of America. Secondly, it heralds the end of the inequitable nuclear nonproliferation order based on the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty. With the US onpassing lethal nuclear technologies to an ally, Washington will be in no position any longer to preach  nonproliferation and sanction proliferators. 

And thirdly, it  starts the clock on Japan and South Korea acquiring  nuclear arsenals of their own, convinced as they would be by now that while the US will go to any extent to protect its interests and those of its fellow Anglosaxon partners, and AUKUS is evidence of it, traditional Asian allies of the US cannot bank on Washington to effectively deliver extended nuclear deterrence against an aggressive China. Thinking along these lines began in recent years in Tokyo and Seoul around when the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2015 advised the Japanese government to go get nuclear weapons to tackle the nuclear sabre rattling North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. And this when the far more onerous security threat then as now continues to be China. The US reticence in challenging Beijing militarily is as pronounced with the Democrat Joe Biden in the White House as when Donald Trump was president. But it meshes with America’s long term objective of a G-2 ruling condominium with China that was first outlined by President Barack Obama.  AUKUS only furthers this aim. 

Most of these developments are unhelpful from the Indian perspective. For instance, building up Australia’s naval muscle will not lessen the Chinese pressure in the Himalayas. But the alacrity with which Washington transferred its most sensitive military technologies to Australia has  contrasted badly with the American foot-dragging evidenced in the 2012 India-US Defence Trade and Technology Initiative that, other than hot air and shrill sales pitches for the antique F-16 (dressed up as a modern F-21) fighter aircraft, has to-date produced no transfer of  advanced technology or any collaborative project.

On the collective security front, with AUKUS emerging centre stage, the Quad has receded into the background as has India’s importance. India can, however, avoid becoming a bit player in an US security scheme by organizing an India and Japan-led  modified Quadrilateral (Mod Quad) with Taiwan replacing Australia and a group of Southeast Asian nations substituting for the US, with AUKUS free to cooperate or not with the Mod Quad militaries in restricting China’s options. India has no other alternative to retain its independent strategic status and standing.


——–

Published in my ‘Realpolitik’ column in BloombergQuint.com Sept 27, 2021, at: https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/quad-modi-biden-meet-a-post-aukus-world-and-indias-options

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True Inflection point: AUKUS vs. Quad


[Biden announcing the AUKUS military alliance]

The future of non-Sinic Asia has reached a true inflection point. The new military alliance of the US, UK and Australia (AUKUS), superseding ANZUS (Australia-New Zealand-US), is set up to exclusively protect Western interests against a recklessly ambitious China in what is now called the Indo-Pacific. There is no other way to put it, but this is the old white Anglosaxon order (that excludes Gallic France, the new/Slavic European members of NATO, and even Japan, accorded, if anybody cares to recall, “honorary White”status by the apartheid regime in white-ruled South Africa, which suited the US and Western Europe fine) trying to maintain its hold in a much-changed Asia.

Having once again been militarily beaten by a wilful Asian people and forcibly ousted from Afghanistan in a 20-year war whose cost is estimated to be as high as USD 14 Trillion, AUKUS is a natural reaction of the US and its hangers-on to retain their relevance in a continent the Anglosaxon powers have long dominated, and post-1945, tried to dominate.

An impasse in the Korean war in the Fifties followed by a humiliating defeat in Vietnam after a nearly 15-year wasted military effort should have forewarned Washington about what to expect when taking on a highly motivated indigenous foe disinclined to tolerate foreign invaders. This is where great power hubris once again kicked in only for the US forces to discover that remote warfighting by drones piloted from Nellis air force base in Nevada is ultimately no match for AK47-armed groups primed for a religious war— a jihad, ready to suffer any privation and absorb unimaginable human losses. It is an end-state the US government should have expected considering it had uncorked the Extremist Islamic djinn in Afghanistan just to get even with the Soviet Union in the Cold War that had seen Soviet material help to North Vietnam result in the military humbling of the US in 1972. It is the very same CIA-funded and mobilized mujahideen who had run the Soviet occupation troops out of Afghanistan who form the core of the Afghan Taliban that victoriously took Kabul August 15.

The Afghan fiasco crystallized AUKUS as much in response to the fear of Afghanistan emerging as a potential jumping-off point for China to acquire unhindered access to the warm water ports on the Arabian Sea and, more importantly, to the ”Wells of Power” in the Gulf and the greater Middle East of Olaf Caroe’s conception. Caroe, British India’s Foreign Secretary in the 1930s who last served as Lt. Governor of the North West Frontier Province during Partition, was referring to the oil resources of Iran and Arab West Asia. It is the source of energy still for much of the world and especially China, which depends on this oil to fuel its rise as the Numero Uno economic and military power in the 21st Century. China is taking the place of Imperial Russia in the old Great Game of the colonial era, and of Soviet Russia of the 1980s, when the West apprehended it reaching for the Indian Ocean. Its rise is what the AUKUS alliance is gearing up to thwart by preventing Beijing’s access to Pakistan’s Gwadar and Iran’s Chahbahar, and to the region’s oil wealth via numerous connectivity projects under its Belt & Road initiative (BRI), including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

With AUKUS on the scene, the Quadrilateral (Quad) of India, Japan, Australia and the US, has obviously been pushed strategically to the sidelines, and is important only as a pseudo supportive military mechanism. Indeed, the primacy of AUKUS in the Indo-Pacific has been emphasized by Washington promising Australia transfer of technology and wherewithal to manufacture eight nuclear-powered, possibly the Los Angeles-class, attack submarines — the crown jewels of America’s military hightech — the sort of technology India does not remotely have a chance of getting. It will immeasurably enhance the Australian Navy’s sea denial capability against anything the PLA Navy (PLAN) will qualitatively be able to field in the foreseeable future. Canberra, courtesy AUKUS, will also be able to incorporate into its military forces the cutting edge US Artificial Intelligence and cyber warfare hardware and algorithms New Delhi can only dream about, however frightful and threatening China becomes in these realms in the future to India.

This takes care of American interests without in the least addressing India’s landward or maritime concerns about PLAN’s capacity to egress in mass west of the Malacca Strait. Because the one thing Washington will demand in return is that the Australian N-sub fleet be deployed to mesh with the US Naval presence essentially to block PLAN activity as envisaged by Beijing in the ”first island chain” and beyond.

This larger American game plan was signalled by US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken reportedly asking foreign minister S Jaishankar, in their meeting, for the Modi government’s permission to stage drone strikes on targets in Afghanistan — whatever these might be, from north Indian bases and, worse, to have India train Da’esh (Islamic State) irregulars in Rajasthan — as reported by ANI, for use by the CIA. That India appears committed to launching drone attacks and to train IS militants suggests Blinken proposed these actions as basically anti-China — the likely targets being CPEC and PLA units in Baltistan, and the IS to infiltrate the Uyghur society and radicalize Xinjiang, to render the Chinese management of its western province difficult.

Never mind that the IS-angle backs what has long been suspected about Da’esh’s antecedents as a CIA invention that for a time went rogue under al-Baghdadi — meaning it turned against US interests in Iraq and Syria, before recently recovering its US patronage. Assuming the newly formed Taliban emirate has approved of these anti-China moves on plausible deniability-basis because it hopes to milk China for monies and such BRI benefits as it can, these measures cohere with India’s strategic interests of undermining China every which way.

There may also be a view in some quarters that just as certain sections of the Tehriq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are amenable to creating trouble for the Pakistan army and state, the IS too could be marshalled for similar purpose. But then as Krishna Menon once reminded the Eisenhower Administration which justified US arms aid to Pakistan by saying it was defensive weaponry meant for use only against the USSR, that there’s no gun that fires in only one direction, what is the guarantee the IS, finding Chinese Xinjiang a hard nut to crack, won’t turn on India and, being Islamic fundamentalists, get on the Ghazwaa-e-Hind track instead to violently Islamise India? Further, training IS flies in the face of our own experience with preparing the LTTE to battle Colombo. We know how that turned out, don’t we?

Such are the dubious assurances Prime Minister Modi will be seeking when he meets President Biden in Washington in person on September 24 — knowing fully well they will count for nothing because Washington, in any case, always acts on its interests of the moment, and because its metasrategic interests — G-2, the condominium of the US and China proposed by President Barrack Obama to rule the world, converge actually with those of Xi Jinping’s Beijing. And Biden, mind you, was Obama’s Vice President through two terms.

Moreover, Biden is no Donald Trump, and looks askance at the deteriorating human rights and religious freedom situation in Modi’s India. Blinken has publicly upbraided the Indian government on these counts. And, no, Modi’s attempts to get around this inconvenient reality by getting Biden into embraces and bear hugs, will not help.

Perhaps, the PM can use his time with Biden usefully by doing and saying nothing of any consequence. But utilize the sidelines of the Quad summit to have a private talk with the Japanese prime minister to see if India and Japan can further the cause of collective security against China by fostering a modified Quad of India, Japan, a group of Southeast Asian nations and, formally, Taiwan (to replace Australia).

Asian states immediately bordering China on land and sea actively partnering against China is the model of a security architecture organic to Asia, of security by and for Asian states. It can be of enduring strategic value, if only some government in Delhi will wrap its mind around this idea. It is something I have been advocating for over 20 years now. Because there is no other credible alternative for India and other littoral and offshore Asian states.

What the Modi government will actually do in the difficult circumstances it finds itself in is predictable. It will join up with the other outlier, France. Upset because Australia is about to cancel the USD 65 Billion deal with Australia for the Barracuda diesel submarine, which cannot compete with the American offer of nuclear-powered subs, Paris will be only too happy if India adopts this sub for its Project 75i, and will massage Modi’s ego no end to achieve it. Macron will happily match Modi’s every embrace with a hug of his own. After all, it worked for President Francois Hollande vis a vis the Rafale fighter plane!

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More ideas re: Afghanistan — (1) consolidate the front against the ISI-run Haqqani Network, (2) absorb the 120-odd Afghan military trainees in India and utilize them strategically!

31 Afghan Army Cadets Graduate From Indian Military Academy - The Khaama  Press News Agency
[A pic of a graduating class of Afghan Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Militarty Academy, Dehradun]

India’s last day as (the monthly rotating) chairman of the UN Security Council resulted in a watered down version of a resolution whose anti-Taliban sting was removed because of threat of Chinese veto. But even then China and Russia abstained from voting. India also decided on August 29 against joining in the joint statement signed by 98 countries of the world that announced their willingness to accept Afghan nationals. Had India signed on it would have meant taking in those Afghans who worked in, and with, the Indian embassy in Kabul and in the consulates in Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif and included Afghans, who over the years, have been instrumental in gathering useful intelligence and doing other such work inside that country.

These actions taken together with the government’s precipitate pull-out of India’s diplomatic presence lock, stock and barrel from Afghanistan for no good reason other than that it blindly and lemming-like followed the Biden Administration’s actions, reveal that having serially done these very foolish things, the MEA is fresh out of ideas — bright or not — about what to do next. It suggests the vaccuous state India’s Afghanistan policy has plunged into.

My Aug 17 post, in the event, in which I first pleaded the case for immediately recognizing the Taliban emirate in-being and raking in the benefits from being the first mover in this respect and impressing the top Taliban leadership with this display of good faith, set the proverbial cat among the MEA pigeons. Because accepting this advice would show up India’s earlier decision of abandoning the Kabul ambassy and the consulates as thoughtless, hasty and wrong. My August 27 contribution in the Face-Off section of the Times of India — and reproduced in the preceding post, fleshed out the arguments some more. Since then a significant thing happened.

Yesterday, a senior Taliban leader dealing with foreign affairs in the leadership team, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, made the effort and took the initiative to contact the Indian mission in Qatar, conveying to Ambassador Deepak Mittal the Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader-led interim dispensation’s eagerness to have India not only return to Kabul and continue with the development projects in that country, but to get overland and aerial traffic routes opened through Pakistan for trade and commerce with India. Assurances were also given that Afghan territory would not be allowed to be used as staging areas by any terrorist outfits associated with the Taliban in their final push for Kabul, namely, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), and possibly even, Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K), for attacks in Jammu & Kashmir, and that the Indians and their dependents, and Indian-origin Afghans would have safe passage to India. All these utterances by Stanikzai, incidentally, merely reiterated what Barader had publicly stated earlier..

That Stanikzai made the effort to call on ambassador Mittal is significant for several reasons. One, it couldn’t have pleased GHQ, Rawalpindi, and ISI in particular that despite India’s formal anti-Taliban stance and hurtful follow-up actions, the Taliban are keen — and are going out of their way to make it obvious — that they want India back in Kabul. This may be because, as I have argued, the Taliban leadership wants desperately to have India as a hefty counterpoise to Pakistan in Afghanistan’s national life. Secondly, that it also wants India to be a strategic counter-weight to an overweaning China which could provide the Barader team with a range of economic, political, and even military options. And finally, because India’s resuming its diplomatic presence in Kabul will establish a direct and physical communications channel the better, from the Taliban perspective, to work the counterpoise to Pakistan and the strategic counterweight to China aspects of its policies. Indeed, the first mover recogntion advantage could be translated into lucrative concessions — which is what the Indian government should pitch for — to Indian companies, especially to mine Afghanistan’s rare mineral — Lithium — reserves.

It is significant too that the Taliban spokesperson reacted to Islamabad’s complaint that the Taliban seem unable to prevent the Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan’s violent actions against the Pakistan army by saying that that is an issue the Pakistan government will have to sort out with the TTP! It should have given many in the Indian government pause to reconsider its wait and watch policy.

But predictably, the English language TV news channels trying to curry favour with the Modi government assembled talking heads against the recognition option; they ranted and raved, their rhetorical excess centered on the unwarranted belief that the Taliban are the same old gang of extremist Islamic yahoos and cuthroats of medievalist mindset last encountered in the 1990s and the early 2000s, and that they cannot be trusted to do anything right by India. Further, that Messrs Barader & Stanikzai’s assurances do not amount to much because Taliban Central cannot control the violence junkies constituting the outlier organizations — Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Islamic State-Khorasan bent on doing India harm. And, hence, that the almost inert “wait and watch” is the right policy for India to adopt. So far though almost all these assumptions, presumptions, and predicates for a do-nothing policy have proved to be wrong.

The Taliban leadership has shown it has learned its lessons from the Mullah Omar period (1996-2001) when that regime was happy for Afghanistan to be a backwater, and thus to cut itself off from the world and to survive hand-to-mouth. The new Taliban leadership has determined that to continue in that mode would be to again paint a big bull’s eye on their backs, making their regime vulnerable to future military interventions especially if it also remains a safe haven for al-Qaeda and IS-K. Moreover, it has discovered that Afghanistan has changed. Whatever the flaws and deficits in governance of the Hamid Karzai and Ashraf Ghani governments, they created in the last 20 years a thriving urban middle class with educated and career-minded womenfolk in the lead, that had the Afghan society tippy-toeing into modernity. This middle class now constitutes 30% of Afghanistan’s population and is the driver of its economy — something Barader and his cohort recognize as an element they cannot do without. Whence their pleas to Afghan professionals — engineers, educationists, lawyers, bueaucrats and technicians, trying to get the hell out of the country, to please stay put and help them to run Afghanistan.

Also of note is why the Taliban cadres — under the effective control of Mullah Yaqoob — Mullah’s Omar’s son, who is in-charge of military operations and is the likely Taliban defence minister, by and large displayed restraint in treating the police and Afghan militarymen who surrendered or accepted the new authority. And how the strategic lessons they learned made them prioritise the capture of border checkposts on the Durrand Line with Pakistan, such as Spinboldak, and with the various Central Asian Republics on the Amu Darya River that at once brought the sources of customs revenue into their hands and placed them in a position to choke off military and other supplies to the new “Northern Alliance” now forming in the Panjshir Valley under the leadership of Amrullah Saleh, Ahmad Massoud, and possibly Col. Abdul Rashid Dostum, to militarily oppose the Taliban government.

The Stanikzai connection though is a useful pointer to a unique advantage India has. Stanikzai, an ex-Afghan National Army veteran graduated in 1982 — the 119th Course — from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. His course-mates remember him as a normal sort of guy who participated in all the activities and made friends easily. Surely, it cannot be denied that the time he spent at IMA and the exposure he had to India, has made him like this country, which liking is reflected in his taking the Qatar initiative. He can be expected to act favourably towards India in high Taliban decisionmaking circles. But none of this can happen if India stays stuck with its current policy of seeing everything Taliban through the glass darkly, and dealing and communicating with the Taliban apex only through indirect means and at a remove.

Fostering a connection with the until rcently Doha-based Stanikzai-Barader ‘political’ faction who negotiated the US withdrawal with the American representative Zalmay Khailzad, is particularly important because it is in contestation for power within the yet to be formed government with the ‘military’ faction under Yaqoob, who have dismissed the former as soft, luxury-loving, group who took no part in the hard fighting. Except the Yaqoob cohort are also at daggers drawn with the ISI proxy — the Haqqani Network, also in the fray.

This only highlights the need for an active Indian embassy in Kabul, without which India is simply not in a position, for instance, to bring together the Barader and Yaqoob factions in order to consolidate this front — which is in India’s national interest, strategically and geopolitics-wise, against the ISI-directed Haqqani fighter group.

In this fraught situation, it has been suggested by a former ambassador to Afghanistan, Vivek Katju, that India re-man its embassy in Kabul and communicate directly with the Taliban leadership without, however, according the prospective Afghan emirate diplomatic recognition, just yet. It is the typical MEA way of doing every thing half-cocked and by half-measures, and will get India nowhere.

But Stanikzai’s IMA background underlines the dilemma faced by some 80 graduating gentlemen-cadets in the current batch of the IMA, and some 40 other Afghan army officers undergoing specialized military training in different military institutions in India. What do they do when there is no Afghan army to go back to? The government has decided to let all of them finish their training, which’s fine. Then what? Having not signed the August 29 statement to voluntarily take-in fleeing Afghans and absorb them here, the Indian government has, in a sense, washed its hands off even those Afghans who worked for India as embassy and consulate staff and in various other capacities. This is a crying shame, and this decision needs to be urgently reversed.

Such a reversal would offer the 120-odd Afghan army officers in training in India the chance to settle down in India along with their families — whose protection and safe journey to India should be speedily negotiated with the Taliban. How would these officers be useful? Think of how these officers with fluency in Pashto and Darri languages can be deployed by the army Special Forces for distant operations, and in mountain fighting on the LoC. Indeed, a small SF unit along the lines of the SFF (Special Frontier Force composed of Tibetan exiles) of hard-trained Afghan armymen for trans-border covert actions can be set up — India’s own version of the French Foreign Legion! And how a select lot among them can be inducted into the army’s Military Intelligence Directorate for gathering of strategic intelligence in the neighbourhood. And, female members in the families of these Afghan officers, once in India, could be hired by the external services division of All India Radio and Doordarshan to beam news and other programmes in Darri and Pashto languages, including targeted information campaigns to Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province and Afghanistan.

The stranded Afghan army trainees in India are a precious national security asset that has fallen into our lap. It will be criminal to let it go waste.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, SAARC, satellites, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons | 41 Comments

Recognizing the Taliban emirate increases India’s options

[Indians and Aghan dependents Airlifted from Kabul]

Wars occur, popular unrests happen, foreign interventions fail, governments fall, regimes change. These are constants of the Third World scene. Hence, there were no real surprises in the recent developments in Afghanistan. Predictably, the United States ran out of political will, the finger pointing over “Who lost Afghanistan” has begun in Washington, Ashraf Ghani got out of harm’s way, and the Afghan National Army disappeared like the two trillion dollars America spent on the “never ending war”. The only surprise was how with a minimum of fuss the Taliban reclaimed Kabul.

     Now comes the tricky part for all the countries with a stake in Afghanistan of doing a hard count of gains and losses, and configuring future policies.  This requires getting a fix on the prospective Taliban system, and the attitude of the five countries in play — India, Pakistan, China, Russia and the United States.

     An emir advised by a guardianship council is the sort of sunni dispensation outlined in two Taliban-sourced documents — the 1998 ‘Dastur Emarat Islami Afghanistan’ drafted by some Islamic scholars at the bidding of the previous emir, Mullah Omar, and the ‘Manshur Emarat Islami Afghanistan’ of 2020 vintage. Both papers reject electoral democracy as lacking sanction of the Shar’ia. The leadership cohort headed by Habaibullah Akhundzada and Abdul Ghani Barader have so far sounded reasonable, promised an inclusive government and amnesty, but armed opposition is nevertheless coalescing. 

     Because the Taliban are a force of mostly Gilzai tribesmen, other Pashtun tribes could join the Tajiks, Baloch, and the shia Hazaras in making common cause with the former President Ashraf Ghani’s deputy, Amrullah Saleh, and NSA, Hamdullah Mohib, controlling several intact Afghan army units, and the Tajiks loyal to Ahmad Massoud congregating in the Panjshir Valley. With Col. Abdul Dostam mobilizing the Uzbek faction, resistance is firming up, potentially stronger than the Northern Alliance of yore.  

     India, Pakistan, China and Russia fear that, contrary to its pronouncements, the Taliban could coordinate with the al-Qaeda, Da’esh (Islamic State), Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad elements who were part of its victorious sweep through Afghanistan to respectively foment trouble in Kashmir, Talibanize Pakistan (via Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan — TTP), radicalize the Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang (by infiltrating armed militants through the Wakhan Corridor), and to spread “terrorist ideology” in the seven Muslim majority enclaves (Tatarstan to Bashkortostan) in Russia’s southern tier. China believes it can buy the cash-strapped Taliban’s compliance with massive credit and infrastructure projects (in return for concessions to mine lithium, gold, and copper, and extract oil and gas Afghanistan is rich in). Russia, publicly pro-Taliban, thinks it can encourage the adjoining Central Asian states to help the Panjshir opposition, which Tajikistan is already doing. Pakistan hopes its ISI can work the Quetta and Peshawar shuras it has hosted since the US initiated the war in 2001 to defang the TTP. All three countries are convinced they need to formally recognize the Taliban regime at the earliest to effectively pursue their separate goals.

     India mindlessly followed the US lead and got out. America has reinforced its reputation for unreliability and India, by forsaking a Kabul presence and direct dialogue with the Taliban leadership, has lost the ability to closely manage its interests. Rather than “wait and watch”, India should garner first mover advantage by immediately recognizing the Afghan emirate. As a surprise move in the face of Western efforts to isolate the Taliban regime, India’s interests will be accommodated by the grateful mullahs, also because, TTP aside, it will be a counter-leverage against Pakistan. A diplomatic foothold will consolidate India’s influence and more effectively neutralise anti-India groups, such as the Gulbadin Hekmatyar-led Hizb-e-Islami, active in Kabul.  This move, moreover, can draw on the enormous goodwill and popularity India enjoys, courtesy Bollywood musicals, Afghan cricketers in the IPL, etc. with the nearly 30% of the urban population the Taliban need to connect with.

     The now experienced firm of Barader and Akhundzada understands that establishing an emirate is one thing. But constituting an “inclusive government” is something else, and that strict implementation of the Sha’ria will deny it the legitimacy it craves in a still West-dominated world. However, association with a democratic India will, to some extent, soften the Afghan emirate’s image, raise its acceptability levels, and incentivise the ruling clique to foster substantive relations with India. New Delhi can offer more development projects and this work has been appreciated by the Taliban for good reason. The India-financed and built Zaranj-Delaram Highway, for instance, has eased the transportation of opium poppy from remote fields to makeshift heroin processing labs on the Iran border, and increased manifold Taliban’s revenues from the illicit drug-trade.  

     The benefit of such a realist and clear-sighted policy is that it does not prevent India from maintaining its longstanding links with the Panjshir coalition.  Indeed, the first mover recognition – the carrot, and the threat to strengthen ties with the resistance – the stick, wielded together will serve India’s strategic interests better than any other option can.


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Published in Times of India, August 27, 2021 with the title — “Taliban recognition: India should be a first-mover as it serves our interests” in ‘Face-Off’ arguing for Afghan emirate recognition, with former ambassador to Afghanistan, Gautam Mukhopadhyaya, making the government’s “wait and watch” case, at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/times-face-off-with-the-taliban-takeover-of-kabul-a-thorny-question-confronts-india-should-we-recognise-the-taliban-two-experts-examine-options/articleshow/85675208.cms

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US., West Asia | 50 Comments

What should India’s Talibani Afghanistan policy be? Main point — recognize the Taliban government IMMEDIATELY

[Riding in to power]

The US has high-tailed it out of Afghanistan. A pithy, darkly humourous, speculation of what will happen next in America in the wake of its military humiliation by a ragtag Taliban force, was provided by the mountaineer, Joydeep Sircar, who corresponds with me fairly regularly. “By the end of 2021”, he confidently prophecies, “Hollywood will produce multiple movies showing how heroically the Americans fought and defeated the Taliban as a first step towards airbrushing history. By 2025 a large portion of the American public will believe the USA won in Afghanistan. American military thinkers will produce scholarly works showing Afghanistan was a victory because the USA took 20 years to run away whereas the USSR took only 7, and managed a higher Taliban body count. [Indian army officers] deputed to the US War College will come back full of dollars, and praise the US skill in seizing defeat out of the jaws of stalemate.”!!! He could have added by way of a last line that a bored US will then scout the map to see where it can intervene next to change a regime or build a nation.

The Afghan National Army (ANA) the Americans funded and sustained over 20 years simply melted into the countryside, or the urban chaos, Taliban having done an exemplary job of signalling to those wearing military and police uniform that unless they abandoned their posts and all ideas of fighting, when caught they’d be shot like dogs, or hung from the nearest rafter. But how and why did this happen and with such suddenness and finality? Mohan Guruswamy has come up with some revealing statistics that point to the problem. Over the last 20-odd years the US and the West annually poured into Afghanistan grant-in aid worth $60-$70 Billion. The Ashraf Ghani dispensation (and before him Hamid Karzai’s) yearly spent about $11 Billion. The revenue it generated totaled $3 Billion. Simple Math suggests that this left roughly $68-$78 Billion as “loose change” for Hamid Karzai (2001-2014) and Ashraf Ghani (2014-2021) to play around with. This was the scale of corruption — a readily accessible and replenishible trough of hard currency every minister and senior official and military officer liberally helped himself to. It sapped, in the process, the fighting spirit of the army and the police and hollowed out the government. Signs of this were available with the ANA desertion rate of some 9% before Biden’s announcement of full military pullout rising to some 26% after it. The Taliban needed to merely tip over the shell of the Ashraf Ghani regime and of the ANA.

With the Taliban in Kabul and a warning from Washington to not in any way hinder the evecuation of American citizens, the only activity being witnessed is at the Kabul airport where masses of people are seeking desperately to get the hell out, some — as seen in video clips — even clinging to the tyres in the landing systems of giant C-17 transport planes as they took off, being shaken loose as the aircraft gained altitude, and plunging to their death.

This time around though the armed Taliban motorized units in Kabul seem more disciplined, and are doing things differently. They haven’t as yet dynamited the new India-funded and built Parliament building, for instance, as they did the Bamiyan Buddhas during their first stint in power, 1996-2001, under the one-eyed Mullah Omar. In fact, the official directive to the residents of Kabul is to carry on with their lives as usual but to respect the prohibitions on women. Whence, large bill-boards featuring women models selling this or that have been blackened. And the Taliban field commanders holding court in the presidential palace, pending the imminent presence of their leaders, are posing in the grand hall, not tearing it up.

The new Talibani emirate in the offing will be run by a trio. There is Habaibullah Akhundzada who is emerging as the spiritual head, Mullah Abdul Ghani Barader the founder, along with Mullah Omar, of the Taliban, heading the negotiations with the interlocuters from various countries, including India, in Doha, and the likely future Emir, and the man in-charge of military operations and controlling the fighting cadres — Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yaqoob. It will be interesting to see how the tensions between the stalwart, Barader, and the scion, Yaqoob, get worked out, or don’t and with what results, once the regime starts functioning.

But how do developments affect the neighbouring states and how are they preparing to handle their prospective relations with a Taliban government?

Of all the proximal countries, Pakistan is at once in the most advantageous position and, danger-wise, the most exposed. It has earned leverage with the Taliban owing to hosting and housing the leaders and their families in Quetta and in Peshawar for two decades after they were run out of Kabul by George W Bush’s regime-changing intervention post-26/11 attack on New York in 2001. Both these cities now boast tribal shuras presided over by these leaders comprising Afghans, who to- and fro- and longtime refugees from camps dotting the Pakistani side of the Durand Line in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province (KPP) that notionally separates the two countries.

The problem for Pakistan that I alluded to in a previous post on this subject is this, the refugee Taliban element along with the Haqqani Network led by Sirajuddin Haqqani dominating the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) in northwestern Pakistan is only tenuously under Barader-Yaqoob’s control. Their ambition could drive them to want their own fief and to fight for an independent Pakhtunistan incorporating the southern Afghanistan belt and KPP. So, even though Taliban Central may feel beholden to ISI, the Taliban in Pakistan who form the bulk of the Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have no such loyalty, and have, in fact, waged a war for many years against the Pakistani state. More recently, some of the TTP foot soldiers have gone across the Durand Line to assist the Taliban mainforce take Kabul, which they didn’t expect to be the child’s play it turned out to be. So, one can readily see how grave a threat TTP poses to Pakistan. The issue for ISI is whether Islamabad can cash in on Taliban gratitude and get it translated into a pacified TTP on the ground.

For China the Taliban takeover is a double-edged sword. They have the monies to simply bribe the Taliban into complying with their objectives. These are to (1) keep Islamic extremists — al-Qaeda and Islamic State (Da’esh), in the main, nesting in Afghanistan, from staging armed infiltrations into the Muslim Uyghur province of Xinjiang through the strategic Wakhan Corridor and stirring up that pot — a prospect Beijing is paranoid about, and (2) facilitate the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) of which CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) is flagship venture, and other rail-road, and oil-pipeline connectivity projects in Central Asia. China will also offer its trademark infrastructure buildup programme and as a financial fallback option for the Taliban who in government will be strapped for cash because of two things. Firstly, Afghanistan government’s financial holdings (some $9.4 Billion) are held in US treasury bonds, etc., and the Biden Administration has announced Talibani Kabul will not be allowed access it. And, secondly, Taliban generates most of its independent revenues — which helped it finance its war — from growing poppy and converting it into heroin for mostly the US and West European markets, and amounts to a whopping $8-$10 Billion annually. Should Washington also further constrict this latter illicit trade with more world-wide policing, Taliban will be in trouble. This is the reason why the Taliban have been fairly well behaved to-date. But China would not care to have this drug trade directed to its mainland, and will be just as apprehensive of that possibilty. Beijing will, of course, be happy to fork over oodles of monies as also millions of dollars worth military hardware of all kinds, to prevent this from happening. But for all these considerations Beijing, as is its wont when dealing with Third World states it wants to have transition into clients, will extract a steep price. In Afghanistan’s case, it is its extraordinary natural resources and mineral wealth. Soon we will be hearing about Kabul approving generous concessions to Chinese companies to tap into Afghanistan’s oil and natural gas reserves, and to mine coal, iron ore, gold, copper, lead, and zinc.

Does China ever not come out on top?

Russia’s concerns are different. It wants to minimize the role of the US and the West in Afghanistan and Central Asia at-large. Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has asked the Chinese government to coordinate its Afghanistan-related policies with Russia, and together to build up an anti-US front in Eurasia, which goal President Xi Jinping will be extremely enthused by. At the same time, though Moscow will strive to keep the Central Asian ‘stans from being tempted by Beijing’s economic promises and gravitating militarily towards China. It wants a return of the Soviet-era sphere of influence in Central Asia and Afghanistan is a key player for some of the same reasons that China perceives it — it does not want the Islam of al-Qaeda and Da’esh to spread to Central Asia or to its own smaller provinces around the Caspian Sea.

India has a few things going for it that other countries don’t. Barader and his leadership team in Doha have let it be known publicly that the Taliban appreciate the good development work India has done and the projects it has invested in in their country and, short of interfering militarily in Afghanistan’s internal affairs — something he warned Delhi against doing, have no interest whatsoever in diverting excess fighting manpower from their country to Kashmir or any such external cause. The Afghan cultural goodwill for India, moreover, transcends the Taliban-nonTaliban divide. Everybody there loves Bollywood films and cricket (especially after the success of several local boys in IPL). So much so that it was said during the Soviet occupation period that the Russians found an easy way to round up the Taliban in the cities and towns: Raid cinema theatres mid-show of Bollywood blockbusters where the bearded AK47-toting cadres, otherwise of severe mien, would be found dancing in the aisles and singing along in the song sequences! How strategists underestimate the power of Bollywood naach-gaana!

The trouble for India is not from the Taliban or the TTP. But from the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) fighters who too went north to help the Taliban establish the emirate and, having done their bit, will now feel free with ISI encouragement to turn their attention to Jammu & Kashmir. Taking on these war-seasoned LeT and JeM fighters will not additionally tax the Indian army, which has become expert in tackling them. Rather the core problem for India is how to preempt China from putting down strong roots in Afghanistan?

Offering more development aid and infrastructure assistance and generally building on Afghan goodwill is one way. But how can Delhi ensure China does not corner all the Mining concessions in Afghanistan and, by other means, enhance its strategic presence in that country? There’s only one way — and I’ll stress this: IMMEDIATELY RECOGNIZE THE TALIBAN GOVERNMENT IN KABUL before eveyone else does. The first-mover advantage will impress Barader and Co. no end and incline them, pari passu, to give weightage to Indian proposals in contestation with China in economically developing that country, once we also offer military goods at “friendship prices” and our diplomats emphasize and keep propagandizing China’s inhumane treatment of Uyghur Muslims.

Such formal recognition will require a 180 degree turnaround from the position the Modi government has so far adopted — more, it seems, to please the Biden White House than to serve India’s national interest, of not recognizing the Taliban government owing to its bad human rights record and its plonking for a manifestly undemocratic system — which’s in line with the US policy. I am not sure how it helps India’s cause for its government to be a thekedar (guardian) of democracy in the region.

A former ISI chief, retired Pakistan army Lieutenant General Assad Durrani has, perhaps, mischievously suggested that India buy the Taliban government’s compliance on various issues, pointing out that even the US military that was supposedly fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan paid them $150 million annually to enable smooth passage of American truck convoys carrying supplies sustaining the American military operations in Afghanistan. Such payouts are actually a reasonable and realistic way around such Talibani intransigence as might be encountered!

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Partition pathologies: Why keep picking at a drying scab on a wound?

Narendra Modi's Independence Day Speech at Red Fort
Modi at the Red Fort

One wonders if Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked his foreign minister S Jaishankar what he thought about his idea of India hereafter commemorating August 14 — Pakistan’s Independence Day — as ‘Partition Horrors Rememberance Day’, before he tweeted it and the Home Ministry notified it. Because it has very real, god-awful and enduring ramifications.

Partition happened, Independence followed but 74 years after that bloody bifurcation the deep wound was drying out, developing a thickened scab in the process of perhaps leaving a small scar indicating the psychological recovery of the peoples on either side of the Radcliffe Line from the trauma impacting Punjabis in particular who lived through that time of excesses committed by, and against, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, in that horrid August of 1947. Except, August 14 will now keep reminding Indians about that ghastly period when sense had left the people. It will be like periodically picking on a scab until the dried up wound is raw again, which will keep the wound from drying out.

Modi’s observation that the displacement of millions of innocent people and loss of lakhs of lives owing to the “mindless hate and violence caused by the partition” and his hope that this Day will “keep reminding us of the need to remove the poison of social divisions, disharmony and further strengthen the spirit of oneness, social harmony and human empowerment” is, in the event, somewhat disingenuous, though politically and electorally, perhaps, productive. Bad memories long since interred will thus be stirred up on a yearly basis. The Pakistan government called it a “political and publicity stunt that only seeks to divide” and called it a “hypocritical and one-sided” invocation of “the tragic events and mass migration that occurred n the wake of independence”. The opposition parties here have slammed it as “divisive and diversionary politics”.

My wife is a Punjabi. My father-in-law was from Mogha, East Punjab, on this side of the Radcliffe Line where his family owned land; my mother-in-law was from Miani, Sargodha District, West Punjab, on the other side of the R Line. Her sister was married to an Inspector in the Punjab Police and was the one most to suffer the pangs and terrors of Partition. How she and her three young sons, one virtually a babe in arms, made the perilous and palpitating journey in a train from Lahore put on it by her husband’s Muslim colleagues in Punjab Police who escorted her from Dera Ghazi Khan, and how every moment on that wretched death train in its stop and start journey with men with bloodlust in their eyes and knives and swords in their hands entering and exiting the compartments killing passengers crammed into them but somehow missing my wife’s aunt and her then very young cousins huddling terror-stricken underneath the lower berths, the mother quite literally sleeping on her baby son, hoping he won’t cry and give them away, was an unforgetable passage that passed into family lore.

So, Partition was very, very bad; emotions and memories jangling and jostling on the tip of the eye colouring the post-1947 world as it passed by for that generation of Punjabis. My father-in-law’s hate for Muslims, however, was at once visceral and sublime. This was a man who when at St. Stephen’s College (as he recalled those days) befriended Zia ul-Haq (yea, ex-Probyn’s Horse and army chief who imposed the nizam-e-mustafa on Pakistan, and finished off its future) and ribbed him incessantly, calling him “Mullah” for being a strict namazi.

Hailing from a family with roots in the pleasantly temperate and sedate environs of Dharwad (in north Karnataka), I could never make head or tail of this kind of anti-Muslim rage and hate. And still can’t.

But I see that unthinking rage against Pakistan reflected even now in some retired and serving Punjabi military officers as they tortuously try and explain to me why the Indian army, navy and air force need to prioritise taking down Pakistan militarily. For the life of me I can’t see how they don’t see the obvious that Pakistan is a small, big-talking, military nuisance and sideshow at best, and why the institutionalised antipathy towards Pakistan is a strategic liability that has dragged India down since 1971 when ironically, having reduced Pakistan to its western wing, the Indian government and the military brass rather than moving on and making preparations to take on China, gave into their base and myopic instincts and began fixating on Pakistan instead.

Little wonder India has slipped down in the world. This even as China has gone from strength to strength, taking care to keep Pakistan afloat nuclearly and otherwise, just enough to have India on edge, and all this as it laughs its way to Great Power. Whatever else Partition Horrors Remembrance Day does, it will perpetuate India’s bottom-feeder status but, hey, we will have a lowly Pakistan for company. That should make us happy and keep the world entertained with South Asia’s never ending Punch and Judy show!!

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INS Vikrant — a naval liability

INS Vikrant to get LRSAM Cover Soon - ELE Times
INS Vikrant

Indian warship building has finally come a full circle after 250 years. It was in the 1780s that the Royal Navy impressed by the man’o wars in the 100 ton-1,000 ton range made from hardy Malabar Teak that the team of shipwrights under the Parsi master builder Luwji Nusserwanji Wadia constructed at the East India Company’s shipyard in Bombay for the trading firm’s use, ordered a number of frigates from the Wadias for its frontline service. Now the Kochi shipyard has turned out what will doubtless be the flagship of the Indian navy — a 40,000 ton aircraft carrier, the new INS Vikrant, presently undergoing sea trials.

Still, the country is not all there yet. Just as the HMS Cornwallis type of ships of Bombay pedigree were, in the heyday of Pax Britannica, equipped by 3 ton guns wrought in Britain, most of the high value weapons and other hardware on board Vikrant are of foreign origin as are the aircraft designated to fly off its deck.

So, we are still stuck with that inconvenient reality since the follow-on to the Leander-class frigate, the Godavari-class, were built at Mazgaon in the late 1970s, that while 80-85% of the carrier is indigenous, it is more by weight than by value. The 15-20% of the weight made up by the shipborne guns, missiles, sensors, and data/information fusion, navigation and other paraphernalia enhancing situational awareness constituting the high value end of technology and the bulk of the cost of the aircraft carrier, are all imported.

That said, the capability to construct aircraft carriers is no mean achievement. It is just as consequential as India’s capacity to design and build its own nuclear-powered ballistic missile-firing submarines (SSBNs). Except the Indian carrier-making capability is coming to fruition just when the age of the large ships is coming to a close. The Wadia shipbuilders never transitioned from sail to steam-powered ships and hence slipped into a backwater. There’s every danger that unless the Indian Navy and shipyards adjust fast to the naval requirements of the future, they too could soon become relics.

Which brings the discussion to the operational value of aircraft carriers in the coming era of supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles and remotely piloted automoumous weapons platforms. Here I can do no better than reprise the arguments I made against this type of warship in my last two books — on pages 350-351 in ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ published in 2015 and on pages 373-376 in ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ released in 2018.

There are three main negatives of the aircraft carrier, other than their extreme vulnerability, as mentioned. to supersonic and, soon hypersonic, anti-ship cruise missiles that will be in the employ of all potentially adversary navies. These are:

1) Aircraft carriers are prized targets, both because of their symbolic value and enormous cost — the Vikrant price tag is US$ 8-10 billion with its complement of strike aircraft and early warning and anti-submarine warfare helicopters. So, the enemy will prioritise their destruction early in a war by any and all means — strikes by land-based and carrier-based combat aircraft, by ballistic and cruise missiles launched from air, ships and submarines, and submarine-fired heavy torpedoes. In the event, an aircraft carrier at sea is all but unprotectable considering the kind of guided ordnance that can be fired at it, not just singly but in salvoes from too many firing points that cannot all be adequately covered.

2) Even so, by the very nature of this ship, a navy would mobilize a dense, layered, defence for its protection. At a minimum, this will mean that six to eight frigates and missile destroyers and a submarine used as picket will need to be deployed as an escort flotilla for a single carrier. Unless, the Indian Navy grows to have some 300 capital ships, taking away a large fraction of the current naval strength of some 50 capital ships just to protect aircraft carrier assets makes no sense whatsoever, especially as such protection will result in a seriously thinned-out sea presence of the navy even in the proximal waters of the Indian Ocean. With Vikramaditya and Vikrant in the Eastern and the Western Fleets respectively, say, as many 16 surface combatants and two Kilo-class submarines as pickets will instantly become unavailable to the navy for any of a host of other missions in case of hostilities. This to say that deploying carriers will prevent a very large fraction of the naval force from being available for a range of offensive and defensive sea control and sea denial missions.

3) For the cost of a single aircraft carrier, moreover, the Indian Navy could have secured as many as 3-4 each of the multi-purpose frigates, missile destroyers/mine sweepers and diesel submarines, or a mix of any of these war ships. In a time of financial austerity, it makes more sense to augment fleet strength than to induct one or two flashy aircraft carriers.

Serious doubts have begun to be voiced in the US naval quarters and security enclaves generally about the survivability and hence the continued utility about the large 100,000 ton Gerald Ford-class nuclear powered aircraft carriers for many of the same reasons adduced above. But let’s assume the Indian Navy is, in fact, able to protect its carriers as it claims, the question to ask is whether it serves the national security interests better for two aircraft carrier groups to be able to hold sway over two mobile circular areas, each of 250 miles in radius centered on the carriers in the vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, what to speak of the immeasurably vaster oceanic areas of the Indo-Pacific, than a whole bunch of smaller (2-3 ship) flotillas and submarines, singly or in packs, creating hell for adversary navies? The latter is obviously the more cost-efficient and operationally versatile option.

Surely, an objective analysis will show what I long ago concluded that INS Vikramaditya, the new INS Vikrant and the third carrier, INS Vishal (whenever its construction is approved) are high cost sitting ducks ready to be shot up at will by the enemy, and a real all-round liability for the Indian Navy and the country.

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Published in the Chanakya Forum, Aug 9, 2021, at https://chanakyaforum.com/ins-vikrant-a-naval-liability/

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Should India Reassess its One-China Policy?

‘Argumentative Indians’ website had this panel discussion July 26 with Jay Ranade (former China specialist in RAW), Manjeev Puri, an ex-diplomat, Major General SB Asthana (Retd), Chief Instructor, Unted Service Institution of India, Shruti Pandalai of IDSA, and yours truly.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, SAARC, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Taiwan, Tibet, UN, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 5 Comments

What is Delhi finally getting about America?

May be an image of 1 person, standing, sitting and indoor

[Jaishankar-Blinken talks at Hyderabad House]

It is not a coincidence that the announcement in Washington of the appointment of the Indian origin lawyer Rashad Hussain as Ambassador at-large for Religious Freedoms followed in the wake of the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s India trip and meeting with his Indian opposite number, S. Jaishankar. The US side had indicated that the issue of the deteriorating human rights situation in India would be raised, and Blinken did so. and tried to preempt the obvious counterstrike by accepting that the conditions and treatment of Blacks and other minorities in America is nothing to crow about. In this context, Jaishankar’s combatively framing the discussion in terms of how the two countries handle their diversity were apt tactics. That said, and the brazen hypocrisy of it notwithstanding, the US government will continue attacking India on this front. And one can expect Hussain will be mouthing off, making visits to India every time there’s a communal incident or eruption, and testifying before committees of the US Congress that will increasingly grate on Delhi’s nerves. Best for Jaishankar & Co., to brace for this onslaught.

Having long ago set itself up as “the shining house on the hill”, the US has habitually worn its democratic system and values on its sleeve even when its human rights record at home was abysmal. In the Cold War years before the 1965 Civil Rights Act, Blacks in the US did not have the right to vote and, in the American South, lived in an apartheid-like system of racial discrimination, including separate public utilities for Blacks. All the while Radio Free Europe, with powerful transmitters on the Warsaw Pact periphery, interspersed with Jazz and popular American music, broadcast 24/7 the virtues of freedom to the peoples of Eastern Europe, supposedly under the Soviet yoke. One thing the US doen’t display in its public posture is a sense of irony.

This to say that the Narendra Modi government cannot but expect to be at the receiving end of bad press in the US and the West, especially if it is unable to prevail on BJP-run state governments to tamp down severely on the extremist Hindu loony fringe. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s attempts at narrowing the communal divide by saying Hindus and Muslims and other minorities of the subcontinent share the same DNA, and hence are brothers albeit with different religious affiliations will hopefully contain the more rabid elements, and prevent them from periodically providing Ambassador Hussain the stick to beat India with.

It is clear the Biden Administration seems intent on keeping the human rights situation in India and the geostrategic imperatives of collaborating with Delhi to keep China leashed in the Indo-Pacific, in different policy baskets. In other words, Washington hopes to be free to criticize India in the same way it does China on the matter of the East Turkestani Uyghur Muslims, say, but expects that India, recognizing the larger game in play, will ride out the American barbs and militarily cooperate with it. The onus is thus on Delhi to accommodate Washington, and not the other way around.

There’s a problem here. One hopes Jaishankar made it plain to Blinken that this double-faced approach won’t do. This is no small thing, not something Delhi can safely ignore, because it undermines Modi’s central premise for his pro-America, pro-West stance, namely, that India is a part of a concert of democracies facing an authoritarian China in Asia and the world, even if it is obvious that Indian democracy has still very, very far to go to maturation. But whatever the quality of its democracy, India is still nominally a democratic state in the developing world. This counts, but not for much.

The ruction over India’s democratic status apart, how did the rest of the July 28 Jaishankar-Blinken meeting go? Quad, Afghanistan and covid were reportedly the three main issues on the table. Re: Quad — surely any talks over China and the Indo-Pacific would have to be contextualized by the discussions Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State had with the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi July 25-26. This is what the US State Departgment spokesman Ned Price had to say: “The Deputy Secretary underscored that the United States welcomes the stiff competition between our countries—and that we intend to continue to strengthen our own competitive hand—but that we do not seek conflict with the PRC.” Had he stopped at strenghtening America’s “competitive hand”-bit, that’d have been fine. But his declaration that the US “does not seek conflict” raises the legitimate question about how far Washington would go in avoiding it? The most the US will do is send warships, on ocassion an aircraft carrier group on FONOPS (freedom of navigation patrols) through the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea or, as happened some three weeks ago, deploy 25 F-22s from air wings in Alaska and Hawaii to Guam for in-theatre operations. These are largely symbolic gestures, not real commitment to fight.

America’s will to stand up to China is as suspect as India’s under Prime Minister Modi. Except, India is a frontline state and has much more at stake vis a vis China than does the US, and a much smaller margin of error. This isn’t helped by Delhi’s ridiculous optimism coveyed to the press about the 12th meeting of army commanders in Chushul leading to the PLA withdrawing from the Y-junction on the Depsang. It marked the kind of unrealism attending on Modi’s China policy dictated by that bunch of proven appeasers — the “China Study Group/Circle” whose list of flawed recommendations over the years would shame amateur sinologists everywhere.

Re: Afghanistan — Blinken may have responded to Jaishankar’s apprehensions at the turn of the events in the aftermath of America’s precipitate withdrawal by assuring the latter that the US means to continue supporting th Afghan National Army (ANA) by bombing and rocketing Taliban concentrations preparing for attacks on ANA garrisoned provincial capitals, cities and district capitals. There is also a mystery about where the attacking aircraft are taking off from — there have already been several strike sorties to-date. It can’t be carrier aircraft from ships stationed in the north Arabian Sea because they don’t have the range with full ordnance load to reach Taliban targets and get back. Bahrain and the base at Duqm in Oman too can be ruled out for the same reasons. There’s absolutely no doubt then that — notwisthanding promises to Mullah Ghani Baradar, the chief Taliban negotiator that Pakistan won’t allow any foreign power to use Pakistani military facilities against the Afghan Taliban, Islamabad has been arm-twisted by Washington to permit American combat aircraft to use the PAF base at Jacobabad for their anti-Taliban flights. The Jacobabad base has been available to the US Air Force/Navy/Special Forces for a long time now.

Blinken may have queried Jaishankar about what Delhi proposes to do to protect its investments in Afghanistan. Other than some reports in the Pakistani media that the Modi regime has dispatched some 3,000 troops — army or paramil isn’t clear, the Indian government’s response to appeals from President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul for military aid and assistance has teetered on uncertainty. Vivek Katju, a former foreign service colleague of Jaishankar’s, calls it “strategic paralysis”. The paralysis is less over what and how much of various military items to ship to Kabul; more over the substantial policy to adopt with regard to Afghanistan’s future and what role if any to play in shaping it.

India has a choice of some Taliban factions to support, fianancially and otherwise, but no real prospect of getting a regime of its choice. The existing Ashraf Ghani dispensation on the other hand is just the kind of progressive, liberal, government it’d like to see flourish in that country. It makes no sense for Delhi to support a Taliban govt of any kind but it makes ample good sense to try and sustain to the extent it can the Ghani government and, in parallel, begin putting back together the old Northern Alliance, just in case, the Taliban push to take over the cities and major towns and Kabul becomes shove. This will be the bloodiest phase of the underway civil war. The northern Alliance will have to be helped in every possible way to take back the border posts the Taliban have captured on the Amu Darya River accessing Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in particular, and to join with Iran in fielding a substantial and well armed Hazara shia militia to keep northwestern Afghanistan out of Taliban hands. The numerous forums, including the Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan “troika”, where there’s endless talking, seem to be of little use under the circumstances, and India loses nothing to be no part of any of them.

Re: COVID — Whatever Blinken may have said, with the Delta variant of Corona virus now spreading like wildfire in America, it is doubtful President Biden will agree to increase exports of vaccine making materials for India to ramp up its vaccine production. One wishes the Modi govt, instead of going with begging bowls to the US and the Western pharma – Pfizer, et al for the vaccines, had invested more fully in the Indian Company, Bharat Pharmaceuticals, to scale up its production of its indigenously researched, designed, tested and winning product, Covaxin, as the low cost and effective vaccine alternative for India and the developing world.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian para-military forces, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US. | 15 Comments

Two developments: One strange, the other a big mistake

No link between NRC and NPR, says Amit Shah - The Hindu
Umm..said the wrong thing?

Something monumental happened and no one noticed. Not the Ministry of Defence, not the Ministry for External Affairs — the two ministries that will be most affected. Unless they have known about this and are quietly reconciled to this development by stealth. Or, because they do not take seriously the seminal change announced by Amit Shah, the Home Minister.

The undisputed Number Two in the Narendra Modi government, Amit Shah made public something that was at once strange and stunning. No one has commented on his statement or even reacted to it. Delivering the KF Rustomji Lecture on July 17 at the 18th investiture ceremony of the Border Security Force, Shah remarked that he “used to think if there is a security policy of this country or not?” This is a reasonable thing to wonder about. I have done so too. Then he elaborated a bit by adding a qualifier. “Till Narendra Modi became the prime minister”, Shah declared, “we did not have any independent security policy.”

But for the insertion of Modi into that line, I would agree with this conclusion. That India’s foreign and military polices and, therefore, the national security policies are not “independent” is, after all, a theme I have been dilating on for the better part of the past 25 years, especially in the context of America’s conspicuous role in the last decade and half in shaping and channeling Indian government’s thinking. So, you can understand my nearly jumping out of my skin at finding the Home Minister seemingly seconding my view, leading me, for an instant, to expect that Modi, having belatedly recognized the flawed policy system he was working with, had decided on a structural overhaul and a radical change of course.

That joy lasted the proverbial half second — the time it presumably took Shah to read the next line in his speech, which brought me down with a thud accompanied by much befuddlement. This effect would have been replicated on anyone who was paying attention to Shah.

The Home Minister, it turns out, was not referring to any foreign influences on Indian foreign and military or security policies, but rather was expressing his elation at the country’s “security policy” being unshackled from the malign influence of — wait for it — India’s “foreign policy”!!

To quote Shah per a newspaper report: the country’s security policy he declared “was either influenced by foreign policy or it was overlapping with the foreign policy” — both, by his reckoning, bad things to happen. “Our idea is to have peaceful relations with all” he continued, “but if someone disturbs our borders, if someone challenges our sovereignty the priority of our security policy is that such an attempt will be replied in the same language.” He added that this new security policy was a “big achievement” and “I believe without [it] neither the country can progress nor democracy can prosper.” He then congratulated “Modiji [for doing] this big job” before revealing that this policy had already been operationalized.
(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/84499031.cms )

Is that too much to take in all at once?!

National security considerations are at the apex and dictate foreign and military policy choices and options. In the event, if Shah is to be taken at his word, it means primarily that the “security policy” making is now in the Home Ministry’s bailiwick, and secondarily, because disturbances on the border, “peaceful relations with all” and “challenges [to] our sovereignty” are apparently not “priority” with either the MEA or MOD, the Shah-led Home Ministry will put in place measures to implement these priority jobs. In other words, the task of managing relations with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Pakistan are now transferred from South Block to Sardar Patel Bhavan. China, because it does the intimidating where India is concerned, is left for the MEA and MOD to handle. The MEA, MOD and the armed services on their part will feel relieved that in this new Shah scheme they will have something to do other than sit on the sidelines unprofitably twiddling their thumbs.

Then again, it may just be that nothing has changed and Amit Shah does not know what he is talking about. This is a real possiblity given how ministers read babu-drafted speeches they can’t make head or tail of, in which case, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and his minions ought to be blamed for making the Home Minister sound, well, as not quite there! In this policy realm, is there anything more outlandish than what Amit Shah said?

The interesting thing is why did Shah, even in his muddled fashion, say what he did? May be the Home Minister is in an aggrandizing mood and believes diplomacy with adjoining states would be conducted better by him and his boys, and would like to wrench decisionmaking turf from the MEA and MOD, and find more military missions and such for the BSF and other paramils under his control to carry out? Or, with the neighbourhood blowing up around us the Home Minister is a bit jealous of his colleague, the external affairs minister, S Jaishankar for being, willy nilly, in the public eye. Except the foreign minister is in the limelight lately for the wrong reasons.

EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar leaves for 3-day official visit to Russia - NewsOnAIR  -
Missteping along

Diplomats, it is said should think twice or thrice before saying nothing. Jaishankar, perhaps, feels that because he has graduated from the ranks of babu to minister, he can let his mouth run wild, the diplomat’s characteristic tact be damned! He let this happen around the same day that Shah was asking the MEA to keep off security policy in order to make it more “independent”. What? How? Don’t ask!

Speaking to a virtual audience of his BJP partymen in a foreign policy training session, Jaishankar couldn’t resist boasting. “Due to us, Pakistan is under the lens of FATF and it was kept in the grey list”, he asserted. “We have been successful in pressurizing Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan’s behaviour has changed is because of pressure put by India by various measures.” He elaborated further: “FATF, as all of you know, keep a check on fundings for terrorism and deals with black money supporting terrorism. Also terrorists from LeT and Jaish, India’s efforts through UN, have come under sanctions.”

So, where was the diplomatic boo-boo?

FATF (Financial Action Task Force) is fairly unique in how it holds a targeted country’s feet to the fire. For instance, at the last FATF meeting in Paris in end-June Pakistan did not get a pass out of the institution’s ‘Grey List’ even though it fulfilled 26 of the 27 conditions because there was telltale evidence of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist outfits beneftting from monies Pakistani agencies had a role in laundering. By the same token, US will ensure, Pakistan never slips into the Black List which India wants, which will activate comprehesnive economic sanctions, because Islamabad is, owing to the civil war in Afghanistan, all but indispensable to America.

The trouble is this: Pakistan is in the FATF crosshairs because of its covert and overt support to the various terrorist outfits it has nursed for operations in Jammu & Kashmir which, in turn, keeps alive what, for all intents and purposes, is the dead 1949 UN Resolution 47 pertaining to Kashmir — the outcome of Jawaharlal Nehru’s referring the dispute to the UN.

India does not have to do a thing to keep Pakistan in the Grey List other than do what it has quietly been doing — list terrorist incidents traceable to Pakistan-based gangs and refer to their financial links to the Pakistan state. In that sense, the Indian government is merely an agency reporting terrorist incidents and the electronic/paper trails of terror financing; that this implicates Islamabad is by the way. This was done routinely and without fuss. Now Jaishankar has gone and spoilt it.

For the Indian foreign minister to publicly take credit and crow about India’s efforts in keeping Pakistan on the FATF’s warning list is to arouse suspicions among the European and other member states of this body about motives other than terrorism driving Indian government’s actions. Not that they are unaware of how much value and weight New Delhi attaches to keeping Pakistan on the FATF hook. But, for that very reason, they could at any time convert their decision into diplomatic leverage for use against India.

Indeed, the Pakistan Foreign Office was very fast in trying to corner India on just this point, claiming that New Delhi had “politicized” the FATF, and offered Jaishankar’s “confession” as it called his gloating, as proof for its charge. Such a claim is rendered credible because India is the co-chair of the Joint Group that assesses whether Pakistan’s warrants placement in the grey list in the first place. The more low key and objectively the Indian government acts in the FATF the more convincingly Pakistan crucifies itself by its own irrefutable acts of ommission and commission. Should Pakistan’s case of India politicizing the FATF take hold, however, Pakistan may well be let off on its good faith actions and for fulfilling most of the criteria and Indian interests will end up taking a hit

For Jaishankar to have thus imperilled India’s case and potentially loosened the FATF noose around Pakistan’s neck is an inexcusable mistake particularly for a supposedly seasoned former career diplomat to make. But then just may be Jaishankar felt pressured. Can it be Amit Shah and Jasihankar are both competing, trying to elbow each other out of Modi’s attention, by trumpeting the performance of the ministries they head?

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian para-military forces, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US. | 26 Comments

Use the Afghanistan mess to mess with China in East Turkestan

Kalashnikov-toting turbanators taking control?

In a punitive mood after the Islamic extremists whom the US had carefully nurtured and who, in the guise of the Al-Qaeda led by a one time CIA operative Osama bin Laden turned on their American masters and spectacularly brought down the trade towers in New York city and nearly finished off the Pentagon as well in Washington on 11 September 2001, the then US President George W Bush launched US forces to take out the medievalist regime of the one-eyed Mullah Omar in Afghanistan.

I had predicted then the Americans would be there for a while, but would be beaten black and blue and bundled out by the Taliban. 20 years later that prediction has come true.

Once again, and as is their wont, the US expeditionary forces showed as much punch as a bunch of pansies, running away from a fight as they had done from Saigon when between the Viet Cong guerillas and the People’s Army of Vietnam under the generalship of the legendary Nguyen Von Giap, US MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) was stomped into mulch, the last of the American troops and consular officials helicoptering out off the roof of the US embassy in end-April 1975.

Military defeat is the most wrenching of national experiences. The Chinese smash down in the 31-day Himalayan War 60 years ago (20 Oct-21 November 1962) so dented the image and reputation of the Indian army, it has still to fully recover from it. The Pakistan army, likewise, remains unreconciled to a sheepish-looking General AAK “Tiger” Niazi surrendering his pistol along with 93,000 troops in East Pakistan to General Jagjit Singh Aurora at the race course in Dhaka on 16 December 1971.

Military defeat cannot be masked. Or covered up. Or denied. The former US President Donald Trump’s sometime National Security Adviser, John Bolton, tried to do all three and, predictably, ended up sounding like a blithering idiot. With the last of the US forces decamping in C-130s in the dead of night, July 1, from the Bagram air base in Kabul, this shameful final act of cowardice and lily liveredness was sought to be explained away by Bolton. He claimed with a straight face on CNN that “We weren’t defeated. You have to be defeated to lose a war. We’ve given up because we’ve lost patience.”

Losing patience, walking away, from a war the US started, are synonyms for the American forces being pounced on and pummelled into submission — a result all the more stark considering the $1,200 Billion US spent in Afghanisan over the past two decades in a failing venture, before finally being run out of a country whose people, unlike Indians in India, have historically not taken kindly to foreigners tresspassing into their country. The humiliation at the hands of a scruffy band of sandal-wearing, Kalashnikov-toting, turbanators will be difficult for the US to live down. One thing is certain though, in the aftermath of their twin military fiascos in Iraq and now Afghanistan, Americans will not be sallying forth on a new military adventure any time soon.

And this is the US and the American military the Narendra Modi government is happy to outsource India’s strategic security against China to?!!

Still, with the Yanks out of Afghanistan and President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan National Forces (ANF) hanging on for dear life at least in Kabul and the other cities, which uptill now have been spared the Taliban rush, New Delhi has to be clear-minded about its aims and surefooted in crafting a policy that will serve India’s national interests in the short, medium and long term.

Kabul is an invaluable prize for the taliban for a reason — the capital with all the embassies and international presence will legitimize its rule; without it, Taliban are only another set of pretenders. Washington has said a violent takeover of Kabul and other cities by the Taliban will lead to the US withholding diplomatic recognition. This is the reason why the loose Taliban High Command has tried to be reassuring about its behaviour once in power this time around — though the actions of its foot soldiers in the areas it has occupied have increased apprehensions about that country being pushed back into the dark ages — with the girl child imperilled, women’s rights suspended, and music and colourful garments attracting Taliban lashes, when not worse.

The pivotal issue is how long and credibly the ANF can keep up its morale and fight the Taliban surge that swept through 85% of the Afghan countryside. The July 16 incident in Dawlatabad in northwestern Balkh province where a 22-strong ANF Special Force element who, after putting up a valiant fight until their ammo ran out, tried to surrender only to have the Taliban, not conversant with Geneva Conventions or other niceties of war, simply line them up and shoot them down in cold blood. This along with the Taliban edicts to women to go into purdah and the men to not smoke or shave, will do one of two things. It could steel the hearts and the nerves of ANA commanders who with their troops are deployed in and around Kabul and in the 34 provincial capitals, into deciding they would rather risk an honourable battle and go down fighting than meet a dog’s death. Or, they may take a chance on the Talibans’ mercy and heed their call to surrender. In either case, the probability of the Ghani government surviving is problematic. Unless, and this is the big if, ANF holds on to Kabul and successfully repels waves of Taliban onslaught. There’s enough ammo and artillery shells with the ANF to do so in the short and medium term. Some eight Indian Air Force C-17 sorties to Kabul in the recent past, each with 40 tons of military supplies, will have increased the ANF stock of ample prepositioned stores the US left behind on its rapid exit out of the country.

The Afghan ambassador in Delhi, Farid Mamundzay, said the Ghani government and the ANF have an advantage in two decisive respects. It has some 400,000 troops and more than adequate military stores of all kinds, as against only 70,000 in the Taliban ranks. And they have air power which the Taliban don’t. Whence his request to India for help in augmenting the ANF’s helicopter force. 35-40 attack hepters, he thinks, would do the trick and he hopes other than India, the US and Russia will respond with transfer of these fighting whirlybirds. There may be a problem with this reading of the situation. The American forces with excess of everything, especially air power, failed to leave much of a mark on the Taliban. How can an ANF armed hepter fleet of 40 some aircraft make any real difference? Besides, what’s to prevent the Taliban from periodically blunting this edge by mounting attacks on city air fields like the one that a fortnight back destroyed two Blackhawk hepters on the ground in Kunduz? Or, intensifying their new tactic of assasinating helicopter pilots with the ANF?

But Ambassador Mamundzay is absolutely right in identifying the US, Russia and India as the three countries that can prevent the Taliban from taking over the country by sustaining an arms supply line. Moreover, under cover of the US forces marshalling its forces in the area, Russia is strengthening its military presence in the adjoining Central Asian states under the aegis of the Collective Security Organization (CSO). The Central Asian governments are worried about a backwash from a Taliban takeover of Kabul and Afghanistan, and how they’d have to deal with Islamic extremism. So should a future Taliban dispensation in Kabul turn rogue, the CSO states would be happy to be part of a corrective action.

Actively courting the ire of the US, Russia and India, could place the taliban in a no-win situation. Taliban targets can be directly reached by US, Russian, and IAF strike aircraft rounding over the Gulf and staging out of their Farkhor base in Tajikistan. This is the reason why I have pleaded for a long time for a fully provisioned IAF forward placement of a Su-30 squadron at Farkhor. Indian, American and Russian air strikes can take a heavy toll on the Taliban morale and its barebones logistics chain set up for them and, for some time, even managed by the Pakistan ISI. It can, for instance, prevent them from concentrating their war materiel and numbers for concerted attacks on major cities, in particular Kabul. This is what US air power essentially achieved.

The trick for the Indian government is to continue playing on both sides. India can promise more development aid and infrastructure construction assistance to the Taliban. Further, Indian intel agencies have had productive contacts over the years with certain factions of the Taliban. Because the Taliban operate in discrete fashion, each faction in effect fighting its own subregional war for supremacy, it is not that difficult to act against some factions inimical to Indian interests without alienating the friendly ones. And because of the transactional nature of relationships with the Taliban, even the not so friendly sections can be won over by money and other considerations. Pakistani media is full of reports and commentaries suggesting the Indian support and subsidy for the Tehreeq-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) means Delhi holds a whiphand and can destabilize Pakistan at any time.

The ideal solution of course is for an inclusive coalition Afghan government that the Taliban have talked around without giving a clear yes or no answer in the various talks held in peace forums from Doha, Istanbul to Moscow. The Taliban obviously believe thay can wait out the Ghani regime and the patience of its external supporters, in the hopes of Kabul and other cities falling into their lap without a fight. In the meanwhile, they have strategically this time, prioritised the taking over of the main roads, check posts and entry points into Afghanistan.

The Taliban have already captured the border posts over the Amu Darya River connecting Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They realized how because these routes remained in enemy hands, certain western and north western provinces became hotbeds of resistance that the Taliban, when they were in government last, were never able to quell. Thus, the Tajik Ahmed Shah Masood ruled the Panjshir Valley and Colonel Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, with his 20,000-strong complement of ethnic fighters, was a spoiler. So, this time, not wanting to repeat the past, the Taliban have first overrun all border areas and main crossing centres with Tajikistan (Sher Khan Bandar, Panj River) , the Badhgis border with Turkmenistan, Islam Qala in the Herat province fronting on Iran, and the Wakhan corridor facing China.

The Durand Line on the Khyber and across the lower length of Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan is Taliban’s own play ground. Islamabad and GHQ, Rawalpindi, are rightfully worried that working in conjunction with the TTP, the Afghan Taliban, after pacifying the rest of their country and taking Kabul, will realize the old Afghan dream of regaining for Afghanistan its traditional border before the British Raj annexed the territory upto the Marghala Hills in Islamabad. That will be an unexpected denouement to the Independent Pakhtunistan problem! With the Baloch insurgent movements, moreover, operating out of southwestern Afghanistan and the secessionist movement in Balochistan on the boil, the emerging situation is fraught with the utmost danger for Pakistan.

This is where strategic good sense needs to inform India’s Afghanistan decisions. Delhi can play the old game of tightening the pincer on Pakistan — Baloch National Movement, Balochistan Liberation Army, et al, on one side and the Afghan Taliban-TTP on the other side. This will fetch small returns.

Or, it should opt to do the wise thing to subserve India’s metastrategic interests — use the back channel with Islamabad to, in return for Pakistan government settling on a Kashmir solution with the LOC as international border — loosened for to- and fro- movement by Kashmiris on either side, incentivizing, motivating and materially supporting the Afghan Taliban and TTP (away from Pakistan) and against Godless Communist China, and towards liberating fellow Muslim Uyghurs of East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and helping them throw off the Chinese yoke. The mountainous Wakhan Corrdor as Taliban guerilla war staging area is almost too perfect for this purpose. It is an enterprise that will have wide support of just about every country that wants to pull China down a peg or two and otherwise help that aggressive Communist state to implode, and which category includes, the US, Russia, most European countries and almost all Asian states.

Pakistan is small fry. Please Think and Act Big and real Strategic, Modiji. You can task your NSA Ajit Doval, with this his biggest Game.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indo-Pacific, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Tibet, United States, US., West Asia | 46 Comments

Maddening CDS-cum-Military Theaterisation Muddle (Augmented)

Bipin Rawat Takes Charge as India's First CDS - See Pics
Hail CDS!

India’s first Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, has been visible and vocal the past few months on television and public forums explaining what his priorities are, starting with the theaterisation of military commands. Both the CDS and theaterization were recommended by the 1999 Kargil Committee chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyham. These were part of the reforms the Committee had suggested to realize ‘jointness’, absent which the country had managed to put one over the Pakistan army in the last border conflict but at great cost.

India and Indians can’t be thankful enough that there’s always the Pakistan army to rescue us from our military follies because, unmindful of its resource limitations, it screws up by not thinking strategically before lurching into action.

The lack of coordination (owing to the then air chief, Anil Tipnis, not satisfied with an ask for help by the army chief General Ved Malik, insisting on a written directive from the government to use aircraft) led to the Indian Air Force taking no part in the first two weeks of the hostilities. And when it finally was activated, it did so with armed helicopters which were promptly shot down as was a combat aircraft logging, in the process, a startling attrition rate and all inside the first few hours of deployment. The reason the IAF offered for this fiasco was that it had not prepared for war in the mountains!

In line with how the Indian system works — the country got the body first — the Integrated Defence Staff, the supposed secretariat for CDS, as recommended by the Kargil Committee, before the Indian government realized, some 20 years later, that something was missing and around 2019 attached a head, namely, the CDS, to the IDS body. Thereafter, moving with commendable speed, it filled this newly created post with the then soon-to-retire army chief, General Rawat, the sort of grounded infantryman anyone would be happy to take advice from.

But before being pitched headlong into the chair, Rawat failed, apparently, to take the precaution of inquiring from the government about his role, what was expected of him by way of agenda and priorities and, most importantly, what slate of powers the CDS post would be endowed with as these powers would have to be carved out of the decisionmaking turf the services chiefs lord over. This was necessary in order to implement decisions that would require the CDS to work through, over and around the inevitably resisting services chiefs of staff, each of them zealously protective of his own part of the field and preventing encroachment of any kind by any body. Once in the CDS’s chair, Rawat realized he was the proverbial fifth wheel of a running vehicle and served no useful purpose.

For all the pomp and ceremony attending on his CDS position Rawat found himself, in effect, as nothing more than head of the Integrated Defence Staff, but with bigger office and perks. For the Services chiefs he was an imposition but as primus inter pares (first among equals) and so designated by the Cabinet Committee as the single point source of military advice to the Defence Minister and, hence, the government, he could, in theory, insert himself in the military decision-making process with more consequence than the chairman, chiefs of staff committee (CCoSC) in the previous schema could. Except, the CCoSC was an established institution and over the years a gentleman’s understanding had evolved. Because the senior most serving chief served as chairman, each service chief would get his turn and, as chairman, had the opportunity to serve his service’s interests, push his service’s pet projects and programmes. Now insert into this mix a fourth four star but take out the old structure and what you get is a new player who is as much nuisance as inconvenience. It was a recipe for gumming up the works.

To correct this mess, the government then compounded it by creating without much thought or deliberation an organization for a CDS to head and so the country got yet another department of government — the grand sounding Department of Military Affairs (DMA), because IDS HQrs, a subordinate entity, obviously wouldn’t do. So DMA is now in place with a near full establishment on paper — AdSecs, Joint Secs, etc. Except no one from the superior civil services or the armed services wants to serve in it, because it is still a stand alone appendage with no real standing or power. Why, because, again, Rawat, in a tearing hurry to become secretary to government forgot that as army chief he was principal secretary to the government and, as a former CCOS pointed out to me, heading the DMA is actually a substantive demotion. In effect then, all the services chiefs actually bureaucraticaly outrank the CDS and head of DMA, Rawat!

And because Rawat didn’t take care before taking the job of fleshing out the power and authority of the CDS, which he could have done by exploiting to the max his Pauri-Garhwal connections to the powers that be, he and the CDS post are in the unenviable position of remaining transfixed between and betwixt. Because ultimate decisions, short of the PM, pertaining to national defence are still made by the Defence Secretary who retains the responsibility for the country’s military security, and outranks the CDS in every respect!

So, one can see why Rawat cannot push the theaterization of military commands through with the IAF standing in the way. The CAS Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria explained in a TV intervew that his service was not against theaterization per se, but rather that it wants it done just “right”. Of course, if the IAF had its way, it will never happen because it is loath for the sake of jointness or anything else to give up its operational prerogatives and control over its assets. But for the deadlines set by the government, this would be grist for endless disagreement without closure. The IAF, more than the self-confident navy, has always been reluctant to dilute its separate corporate identity even if for a good cause. And it has not fought shy to go to any extent.

Just how petty the IAF can get was revealed by a former commander-in-chief (CINC) of the integrated Andaman Command — the first demonstration project for jointness. He reveals how the IAF refused, for instance, to cede its land to the Command, land where the CINC hoped to build living quarters and recreational facilities for IAF and other military personnel on base, at a time when airmen were living in tents. And not to give ground even in matters of protocol, he recalls how airmen waiting for a service bus invariably failed to salute the CINC passing in his car because he was from another service and how they went to great lengths to avoid doing so. When this CINC asked the IAF chief at the time about it, he was told that that was because the IAF men did not have their caps on. To avoid such protocol situations from arising the IAF component commander, under instructions from IAF Hqrs, then changed the location of the bus stop!

The Andaman Command experience points to the major issue at the core of the integration problem. The authority to write annual confidential reports (ACRs) of officers, which defines the limits of the CINC. In the current circumstances, CINC, Andaman Command, writes the ACRs of his deputy from a different service and of each of the component commanders. Except the final vested authority on the ACRs rests with the services chiefs in Delhi. Should the deputy chief or any of the component commanders act in any way considered detrimental to the interests of the service as determined by the chief, well he and his ACR are fixed, promotion prospects marred. In other words, even in an integrated setup, loyalty to the parent service is paramount or an officer gets it in the neck, hardly the incentive for officers serving in integrated commands to feel loyalty for the joint setup. Or, for the Command to come up with optimized battle plans and crisis solutions involving use of all resources. So what would the falloff be in terms of the Command’s military efficiency and effectiveness? I reckon it would not be insignificant.

A simple reform of making the CINC the final authority in ACR writing will do more to generate loyalty in an integrated military structure than all the endless gassifying on the subject by politicians and militarymen. This is the stickiest point and no service chief will make concession. It requires the defence minister and, if he is averse, the prime minister to simply lay down the law and, by diktat, affect this change. No debate on the topic, no discussion, no endless file pushing in the Defence ministry, no nonsense!

The other immediate issue are the proposed plans for theaterization. The trouble with them is their byzantine nature. There’s so much opacity and such a tangle of crossed lines it is hard to know whose authority will work when, where, and how, and over what. For instance, Rawat in a recent TV interview talked about his priority — the proposed integrated air defence command that will make a single commander in charge of all air space management, including all air activity by assets held by the three armed services, this to avoid, as he put it, fratricidal kills. (See https://youtube.com/watch?v=wwhbsvN9o_l .) These air assets are inclusive of everything from the army’s longrange artillery firing shells to 40 km range because at apogee they reach 15 km altitude in their ballistic course, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, to combat and transport aircraft, in other words every last thing of military use that flies.

Then Rawat talked of the extant complication: He tried to explain why because of the live borders with Pakistan and with China, the IAF’s northern and western air commands will continue as they are. He did not clarify just how all the flying objects with these two air commands will fold into the air management scheme overseen by CINC, Air Defence Command, and how utter confusion can be prevented. Untangling the operational control over the multitude of assets in these three commands will be a nightmarish exercise with what results will be decided by the outcome of the next war!

The aforementioned fomer Andaman command CINC believes there’s no way to resolve such problems other than for the three armed services chiefs to sit around a table with, perhaps, the CDS presiding, and working out just how and where the fighting assets in particular are to be distributed, located and controlled at literally every moment in time — which aspect will become crucial in case of crisis and hostilities. This is inherently difficult business, and the CDS and his staff will have to work the details out with Bhaduaria, Admiral Karambir Singh and General MM Naravane and their respective staffs, and find appropriately dynamic solutions.

The rest of us can only hope and pray our adversaries will show some consideration and not thrust a war on us before the three services chiefs and the CDS iron out the integration wrinkles.

On the larger issue of military integration, however, the minimum that is expected of the CDS is that he will be familiar with the other two services, their inventories, their capabilities, and of the whole host of specialist skills and competences they represent and embody. In this respect, Rawat has disappointed. He has not shown the necessary knowledge of, leave alone insights into, even the basics of air and naval warfare. Just how deficient he is in his appreciation was showcased by his calling the air force a mere “supporting arm” which, in this day and age, is inexcusable and almost a goad to the IAF to stand its ground against theaterization. Not content, Rawat then almost revelled in his ignorance of the differences in combat flying conducted by the air force and the navy. Sounding verily like one of the generalist babus populating the defence ministry, who can’t tell the business end of a gun from their elbow, he said he can’t see why IAF pilots cannot fly their aircraft off carrier decks, and naval pilots their planes from air bases!! In Rawat’s mind, flying is flying — what’s the big deal?!! The small matter of the vast and consequential differences in aircraft and in combat flying over land and at sea off aircraft carriers is for him of little concern. Ooh, boy!!!

With Rawat as CDS, the Modi government better begin to worry about the sort of military “integration” that may materialize under his charge, and its overall effects on the armed forces’ efficiency and effectiveness.

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Drone danger: Just waking up to it?

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Sure!

Drones which dropped small explosive packages on the Jammu air base just missed hitting — not by much — a helicopter unit parking area and the air traffic control tower. Consider this a trial run.

What if a parked hepter had been struck? Depending on whether it was armed and ready with a full ordnance load of missiles, rockets and bombs, and a full tank, and on how many other hepters were in the vicinity, this would have been a humungous fratricidal fire attack — the first exploding hepter destroying other aircraft.

That the realtime photoimagery or IR sensor guidance was available to the drone platforms and that the hepters were in the crosshairs suggests its handlers were after big targets and wanted this to have a big demonstration effect. Logically, then the attacked aircraft would have to be expensive ones; in this instance, that means the targets were the attack helos stationed at the Jammu AFB at the time, or deployed there for the nonce.

There are two types of high value attack hepters in service with the IAF — the AH-64 Apache and the Russian Mi-24. In rounded figures, the Apache costs Rs. 695 crores or US$ 100 million each; the Mi-24 comes in at around US$ 14 million. If it is officially contended that what the drones missed were utility/transport hepters then the unit cost of the Russian Mi-17 is some US$ 9 million.

Now, let’s calculate the exchange ratio — the ratio of the cost of the drone lost to the cost of the destroyed hepters — the adversary would have obtained had the attack operation succeeded. The cost of the drone, assuming it was equipped with miniaturised camera, etc and a communications link, wouldn’t have exceeded Rs. 2 lakhs or US$ 2,700. Had the drone taken out, say, one Apache worth $100 million the exchange ratio just in monetary terms would have been 1:37000!! Had two more Apaches been thus destroyed the ratio would have mounted to 1:111,000. If we assume a single Mi-24 was hit, the exchange ratio would have been still terrifically lopsided at 1: 5186. In case it was the Mi-17, the E-ratio would be 1:3333.

You get the idea.

A former CAS, S Krishnaswamy, has penned an op-ed, post-Jammu attack, when everybody has suddenly become alive to the threat posed by drones/UAVs. (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/drone-detection-system-jammu-airfield-bomb-attack-7380116/). He says drones are means of terrorism, that “hundreds of drones” could be launched by Pakistan to “harrass” India, and then alights on the surefire solution senior Indian military officers always do when they get the problem wrong and are otherwise fresh out of ideas — he talks imports! By way of a throwaway line Krishnaswamy mentions helicopters in anti-drone role. Presumably, he is referring to the directed energy (laser) doo-dah on the Apache able to disable lowflying drones. The Apache in anti-drone role, however, is nonsense because it will require an improbably large fleet of AH-64s to be in the air all the time, 24/7/365! This Apache mention is a prelude to his recommending buying systems to detect and to destroy drones abroad.

From this ex-Air Chief Marshal’s piece — one thing is clear. He hasn’t a clue about the evolving nature of drones and neither does the IAF brass who, over the years, have never seriously mulled the drone/UAV as principal offensive weapon system and surveillance platform. Tool of harrassment — really??!! Nor how drones/UAVs are helping manned combat aircraft to obsolesce fast because anything worth targeting is more vulnerable to small, highly agile, inexpensive drones than a new fangled combat aircraft our blinkered fighter-jock community leading the IAF into the future may insist on procuring. And he and the IAF pooh-bahs know even less about indigenous capability.

In this respect, a small but revealing episode. The day before yesterday, out of the blue, a retired Vice Chief of the Air Staff called me up. He asked me to republish an op-ed of mine he says he read 10-15 years ago that warned about the danger from drones, which he said was “prophetic”. He recalled how he had gone with my article to meet the then Air Force Chief and his Principal Staff Officers to ask them to do what I had urged in that piece: Take drones seriously, because they are the future, only to be told by them that “Karnad is a maverick”. Maverick in IAF terminology is a term of abuse.

Actually, I first talked about drones and unmanned aerial platforms making combat aircraft obsolete in 1986 in a two part series published in the then Khushwant Singh-edited Illustrated Weekly of India. It was written from Washington and after discussing the subject with many leading lights in the US, such as Jacques Gansler, then Under-Secretary of Defense in-charge of acquisitions. Given the technology trend path, I had recommended in those articles that, rather than waste time and money on the Light Combat Aircraft project that was just getting started and which aircraft I predicted would be dated by the time it hit the tarmac, HAL, IAF and the Indian government would be better off if they concentrated on designing and developing a family of drones/UAVs for various roles in aerial warfare of the future.

It earned me, on my return to India, the anger of the then science adviser to defence minister V Arunachalam and a trip to the LCA project in Bangalore and a briefing by its director, Dr Kota Harinarayanan. Enjoyably, I was, perhaps, amongst the first outsiders to actually sit in a live LCA glass cockpit mockup with fly-by-wire, and engage in what can be termed a dynamic video game of an aerial fight of me in the LCA versus one, two, or three “raiders” being managed by the head of the avionics software group, a US-trained engineer. (This was a long time ago and I hope I got most things right about the B’lore trip!) And I liked what I saw.

It is another matter that seeing the IAF time and again make a hash of things by choosing yet another foreign fighter plane and waste national resources while stepmothering the indigenous LCA into near extinction, I have been all for the Tejas to make it and for its technologies to be continuously upgraded and for larger, more modern and lethal variants to be funded. Meaning, if the IAF is damn fool enough to believe manned aircraft will be viable well into the 21st century, then I’d rather the government pour national resources — your and my tax money — into the homegrown Tejas and Indian industry than in a deal for an imported item that will improve the bottomlines of Boeing or Lockheed or Sukhoi or Mikoyan or Dassault or Saab or EADS.

The reason I say the IAF brass are clueless is mainly because they seem entirely unaware of the drone/UAV technologies — hardware and software — of the most sophisticated kind being designed, developed and marketed in India. According to a hard count by Group Captain RK Narang, there are 26 private sector companies, who are at the cutting edge of drone tech and doing well. He made this list for SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Research Accelerator) — a forum founded and headed by a retired diplomat, Smita Purushottam, which has relentlessly pushed indigenous technology and has repeatedly succeeded in getting the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene, especially in the telcommunications area where the Ministry of Telecommunications and its various agencies seem bent on sabotaging Narendra Modi’s atmanirbharta policy by letting in foreign 5G technology vendors by the backdoor. A seasoned IAF helicopter pilot and author of the usefully informative 2020 book — ‘India’s Quest for UAVs and Challenges’, Narang was, until he retired earlier this year, the leading proponent of UAVs in IAF. One suspects though that while his seniors in service indulged him by supporting his research, his recommendations were not taken too seriously by Air HQrs. Hope they will do so now.

It seems to me that were these 26 firms to work together per a single plan and integrate their resources, they would produce a world class series of surveillance, warfighting and attack drones including drone swarms operating in distributed (artificial) intelligence mode, as also anti-drone technologies. Such an enterprise should long ago have been underway with the IAF helming it. But considering its regressive mindset the chances of its doing so are, well, zero. In the main because IAF brass fear that drones/UAVs will divert resources from combat aircraft acquisition programmes they are wedded to come hell or high water! Such purchases will be made even if these aircraft stand next to no chance of surviving actual fight with drones. Indeed, these aircraft will be lucky to get off the ground in the face of attacking UAV/D-swarms.

Relying on DRDO to perfect its drone and anti-drone systems, like land-based and airborne low energy lasers to shoot down drones/UAVs, and IT systems to scramble their guidance loops, is unnecessarily to lose time and money. Most countries are fast-forwarding their drone/anti-drone projects by going commercial — that is, getting companies vending whole drone systems and related technologies for commercial use, to build more rugged and capable drones and unmanned aircraft to milspecs for military use. This is the way to go and Narang’s list of Indian companies should ideally be immediately involved and commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to have time-certain delivery of finished drone weapons and surveillance systems and anti-drone tech systems. Because this is private sector where time is money there’ll be no time or cost over-runs.

Except, as in all advanced technology areas where procurement is featured, the process is deliberately elongated by everybody in the acquisition hierarchy and in the DRDO in the hope that IAF and Indian govt will opt for the usual, derated, inherently compromised, foreign hardware, and that this will involve a lot of foreign trips, lavish “entertainment” — “commissions” anybody? and, who knows what else. Can the Indian firms provide them such goodies? Of course, not.

So import everything!! Third World/Fourth World modus operandi zindabad!!

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