Changing Guard at GHQR

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will soon anoint from among the three star contenders the successor to General Raheel Sharif and the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and, willy-nilly, the person around whom the Pakistani state will revolve for the next three-odd years (should he follow Raheel’s example and without much ceremony demit office on completing his tenure).

As per Dawn story of Aug 15, 2016 (at the seniority list reads as under:
1) Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed, Military Adviser UN Department of Peacekeeping Military Operations,
New York
2) Lt Gen Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff, retiring in Jan 2017
3) Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain, Chairman Heavy Industries Taxila, retiring in Jan 2017
4) Lt Gen Najibullah Khan, DG Joint Staff Headquarters, retiring in Jan 2017
5) Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed GOC, II Corps, Multan, retiring in Aug 2017
6) Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday Commander XXXI Corps Bahawalpur Aug 2017
7) Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa Inspector General Training & Evaluation Aug 2017

Maqsood and Syed are out of the running, the former because he is on extension and unlikely to give up on a cushy UN job with great retirement benefits, and a US residency to boot, and the latter because well he is not in a bonafide army post.

Among the remaining five, Zubair Hayat (who looks a bit like Anupam Kher in specs) from the artillery arm is believed to be the favourite, having also pulled time in other significant posts — GOC, II Corps, and DG, Strategic Plans Division (SPD) — the nuclear all-in-all organization in that country. If the odds are beaten and Hayat misses becoming COAS, then Najibullah from Hayat’s batch too will be overlooked.

Among Nadeem, Ramday, and Bajwa, bringing up the next senior echelon and the Aug 2017 batch of prospective retirees, Nadeem is the “soldier’s soldier” — besides commanding Pakistan’s Strike Corps, and the officer Raheel picked to be his Chief of Defence Staff (a post he later traded with Hayat not too long ago). He was previously DG, Military Operations, at GHQR, and, prior to that, as a Brigadier, was chief of staff of the Mangla Corps. An infantryman, his parent unit, interestingly, is the Azad Kashmir Regiment. Undoubtedly, Nadeem would appear to be Raheel’s choice for COAS. Except Nawaz has to the deciding and has had mixed luck with picking army chiefs.

The Pak Prime Minister has picked five of the seven army chiefs after Zia ul-Haq — Asif Nawaz Janjua (in 1991), Waheed Kakar (in 1993), Gen Pervez Musharraf (in 1998) and Gen Raheel Sharif (in 2013). To the PM’s credit his selections, Janjua and Kakar were gentlemen and constitutionalists, who believed in remaining secondary to the elected political authority. Musharraf was the bad egg who proved right the late General Tikka Khan’s observation about Pakistani heads of government unerringly picking their nemesis. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto chose the person featured last on the succession/seniority list of top dozen drawn up by Tikka, Zia ul-Haq. The clever Zia had done his homework well in the run-up to his selection and, as Tikka told me when I visited him at his home in Rawalpindi in December 1982 — my first trip to Pakistan, he laid the flattery on thick when Bhutto visited HQ 1st Armrd Division. There, in front of the assembled officers and men, Zia took out a copy of the Koran wrapped in green silk and, with his hand on the holy book, swore his eternal loyalty to the foolish Zulfi, a sucker for flattery. A flabbergasted Tikka, quite aware of Zia’s “chaploosi and tricks” as he called it, repeatedly pleaded with Bhutto to pick almost anybody else from his list of twelve. But Bhutto chose wrong. “Jab qayamat aati hai, kaun roke sakta hai” said a rueful Tikka to me. He was then under ‘House arrest’ imposed by his successor, and loudly abused Zia in choicest Punjabi when seeing me off within the earshot of the MI staffers and Mil Police doing pehra at the gate. I was in Islamabad to attend, along with Inder Gujral and K. Subrahmanyam, a Pak Army arranged affair billed as the “First Conference on Peace and Security in South Asia”. How time has passed and how little things have changed!

Nawaz made a similar mistake with Musharraf except, as it was bruited about in Islamabad circles, the PM was much impressed by the former SSG officer’s quality of no-nonsense directness, without keying on his over weaning ambition, which wasn’t a secret in army corridors. Bhutto paid for his bad choice with his life. Lucky Nawaz, it only cost him a stint as an exile in Riyadh.

Nawaz has to calculate that if Raheel’s top choice, Nadeem, is anything like his mentor, he can be relied on to go professionally about his business without ever entertaining thoughts about deploying the 111 (coup) Brigade. Except, it is precisely his professionalism and attainments in closing down a good part of the ISI-supported terrorist state apparatus, fighting the religious extremists in FATA and North Waziristan, and clamping down on the ever troublesome London-based Altaf Hussain’s MQM that not too long ago ran Karachi that Raheel may turn into political gold. He could be the the PM nominee of a political party and defeat the ruling Muslim League (N) in the next general elections. Whence, the advice to Nawaz from some quarters to confer a Field Marshal’s baton on Raheel and shove him to the sideline. As an FM he doesn’t ever retire, but equally he cannot go political either!

Hayat, in the event, would seem to be the safer selection. But Nadeem, the hardened military professional, appears (dispassionately speaking) the better choice for Pakistan at this time in its evolution as a state where the army is getting accustomed to playing second fiddle to the political masters. But is Nawaz feeling confident enough to appoint Nadeem?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism | 2 Comments

The Cost of Localising BRICS

Published as the ‘Open Essay’ in ‘Open’ magazine dated 21 October 2016, at
Let’s not induce the world to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan

HERE’S A CONTRAFACTUAL: Say, the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Uri hadn’t happened, and the much-trumpeted Indian ‘surgical strike’ in retaliation hadn’t materialised, the Eighth Summit in Goa of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group, far from pivoting centrally on the issue of ‘terrorism’ in South Asia, would have debated measures to increase intra-BRICS trade to inure these states against market-induced swings on Wall Street and in London. And discussed ways and means of this group emerging as a forceful political and economic bloc to balance the power of the United States and Western Europe, and to stabilise the international system careening off in different directions. The desire to rise as a geopolitical power house was the impulse behind the formation of BRICS in the first place. These countries had hoped that, as a collective, the group would fill the space previously occupied by the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc and the ineffectual Non-Aligned Movement in the post-1945 world, and generate synergy.

Sure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have still tried in the bilateral talks in the run-up to the summit to impress on the Chinese President Xi Jinping to relent on the matter of Masood Azhar and declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, and to dilute Beijing’s opposition to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which Indian officials and media alike insist on calling ‘prestigious’, when actually it is only a trade cartel that retards the comprehensive development of Indian nuclear military and civilian capabilities.

Pushing a singularly Indian agenda at the summit level, however, risked getting egg on the face, which is what happened in Goa. In the Declaration issued at the end of the summit, there was no mention of ‘cross-border terrorism’, nor were the Pakistan-supported terrorist gangs—Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba named (even as the Islamic State was identified). Modi’s attempts to have the BRICS grouping endorse the Indian position thus failed.

China was the big hurdle, which shouldn’t have surprised anybody. Every indication was available that Xi would not budge from China’s supposedly ‘principled’ stands on these issues. The foreign policy ‘brain bank’ of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs decided nevertheless to push ahead, and ran smack into the Chinese wall.

Physical intimacy with the former KGB agent in Berlin and no-nonsense Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was never on the cards, and just as well, because he had arrived at the summit site determined to recover his country’s position as the top arms supplier to India, failing which to sink Modi’s foreign policy, of which there were hints galore. Russian troops had just ended their first-ever joint exercise with Pakistan army units, and Moscow had sedulously stoked speculation in New Delhi and Islamabad about the flow to the Pakistani military of frontline Russian hardware at friendly prices and about a new and powerful Asian triad in the offing of Russia, China and Pakistan. More pointedly, the Kremlin had disavowed the statement in support of India’s retaliatory action for the Uri strike made by Russia’s ambassador in Delhi, Alexander Kadakin.

It was enough to unnerve the Modi Government and get it to agree speedily to deals for big-ticket items that had been hanging fire, but even so, like all India’s military procurement schemes, had not been thought through. Thus, Rs 39,000 crore was committed to buying just five batteries of the S-400 Triumf system that promises an all-in-one air defence solution, able on paper to neutralise airborne threats ranging from drones, combat aircraft, to missiles. Except, optimised for the anti-aircraft mission, it is no more able to neutralise incoming salvos of enemy missiles than the Indian Prithvi interceptor ballistic missile defence system can (or any other extant BMD system, including the Israeli Arrow-2 and the American Patriot PAC-3).

Once he had an agreement for the purchase of high-value armaments in hand, Putin made the requisite reassuring noises, but stopped short of joining the Modi-driven campaign to skewer Pakistan as the ‘mother ship’ of international terrorism. In fact, like Xi, he agreed to nothing more than anodyne statements in the Goa Declaration, such as, ‘We strongly condemn the recent several attacks against some BRICS countries, including that in India’ and calls to expedite the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the United Nations. The Chinese and Russians are no dummies in playing hardball.

While the host country always enjoys some leeway in channeling the summit discussions, overdoing it has its costs. What, for instance, would Presidents of Brazil and South Africa, Michel Temer and Jacob Zuma, respectively, reduced quite literally to sideshows in Goa, have made of India’s almost manic focus on Pakistan-centred terrorism? Even though they might have had a whiff of the direction the proceedings would take under Modi’s ministrations, they must have been surprised to find themselves asked to take sides and join in making India’s anti-Pakistan song the BRICS summit’s signature tune.

Curiously, India’s Foreign Secretary K Jaishankar tried to bring the BRICS states in line by intoning rather sternly on the opening day that “no country can be agnostic on terrorism”. Agnosticism implies a high church and tenets that can be questioned. In this case, the dogma was the coupling of Pakistan and terrorism that would brook no questioning. This was but a short step from pillorying the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and, by extension, Islam as a seedbed of terror. It didn’t work.

Perhaps Jaishankar misspoke. If, on the other hand, he was voicing New Delhi’s seriousness in getting fellow BRICS countries to swallow whole India’s terrorism concerns wrapped in its patent perception of Pakistan as threat, then he was attempting to do something even more tricky and difficult. Seeking to conflate the separate BRICS views of the international security situation with India’s national interest was a politically impossible task.

That the Indian Government actually expected BRICS to hitch itself to its anti-Pakistan terrorism wagon suggests it is not properly oriented with the international diplomatic landscape. No country will subsume another country’s threats, even less expend scarce politico-diplomatic capital on issues extraneous to its own immediate interests and realpolitik goals. China has Uyghur nationalism to contend with—a problem that’s going to grow in the future. Especially if, as is already evident, stalwart jihadis—veterans of singularly violent wars against the unbeliever in locations as diverse as Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan—trickle back home, there to use their expert knowledge and experience of guerrilla fighting, Kalashnikovs, and improvised explosive devices to formally wage a brutal war for an independent East Turkestan in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. But this prospect, while alarming, cannot prompt Beijing to give up on Pakistan, a most useful strategic ally in riling its two prime adversaries, India and the US, and affording it a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

Moscow, on its part, has dealt with Islamic dissidents in its Muslim enclaves in the Caucasus—Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia—with rough and ready methods, and has generally succeeded in forcefully pacifying these peoples, at least for the nonce. Brazil has no terrorist problem and Muslims in South Africa are part of the Indian diaspora dating to the mid- to-late 19th century, who inspire less friendly feelings than resentment in the majority Black population. Modi’s move to make Kashmir-centred terrorism the preoccupation of the BRICS summit was, therefore, a stillborn initiative that did not have a spitball’s chance in hell. The consolation was that Brazil (whose nearest brush with terrorism were the Tupamaro urban guerrillas active in neighbouring Uruguay up until the 1970s) and the heads of state of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal who were in Goa to liaise with their BRICS counterparts, were prevailed on to condemn Pakistan’s support for terrorists.

There is so great a chasm in the strategic interests and the approach to security of the five BRICS countries, the possibility of arriving at a consensus on any issue, except in the most vapid terms, is remote. That leaves only the economic sphere where there’s some movement. So, small achievements, such as the setting up of a credit rating agency to help the BRICS’ offshoot, the New Development Bank, to function better, were duly celebrated in Goa. But this group has yet to acquire economic salience because BRICS doesn’t act as a single economic-cum-negotiating unit since the economic interests of constituent states too diverge greatly.

The potential is huge though. According to the BRICS page on the Ministry of External Affairs site: ‘In 2015, BRICS countries accounted for a total nominal GDP of [$]16.92 trillion, equivalent to 23.1% of world GDP. Their territories are home to 3.073 billion inhabitants (53.4% of the population). Its exports amounted, in 2014, US$3.48 trillion. Imports in that same year amounted to US$3.03 trillion. Since 2001, the BRICS have more than doubled their share of world exports. In that year, the group represented 8.1% of world’s total exports; in 2015, they accounted for 19.1% of that total.’

But, intra-BRICS trade constitutes only a small part of the global trade, and is skewed. While it grew 163 per cent between 2006 and 2015, from $93 billion to $244 billion, the bulk of it was in the two dyads—China-India and China-Russia. Modi has projected the trade figure to touch $500 billion by 2020 at a time when serious disagreements have surfaced at the 15th G-20 economic summit held in Hangzhou, China, just last month over market distortions induced by hidden and indirect state support that Beijing is said to have used to sustain high levels of Chinese exports. On this issue, India sided with the United States and Europe against China. Xi made his by-now- stock promise to ease access to the Chinese market by Indian exporters, a promise his regime has made to the US and European governments as well. India’s trade imbalance with China is currently valued at $50 billion (of the total bilateral trade of some $70 billion). The fact is that an inequitable trade regime within BRICS fundamentally undermines the possibility of realising the group’s potential economic clout.

But the Goa summit will be remembered mainly as India’s futile efforts at localising BRICS. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets a great deal of store by international summits and conferences. But unless he stops trying to convert every multilateral and bilateral meet into a diplomatic slugfest targeting Pakistan, not only will India’s larger interests not be served, but it will induce the international community to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan. When Indian foreign policy is so imbued with parochial concerns, it is hard to imagine it accomplishing much beyond affording extra-territorial big powers the opportunity to intervene and shape the outcomes they desire.


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Dissolving to farce

It never takes long for an India-Pakistan fracas to dissolve into a farce. The unintended fun has arisen from the Bharatiya Janata Party government not giving up on the “surgical strike” issue to wring every last drop of political capital out of it. Except, the claim of this retaliatory action of being generically different from previous such cross-LoC actions by Special Forces (SF) has now been officially hollowed out by Foreign Secretary K. Jaishankar, who merely repeated the statement by his predecessor Shivshankar Menon that the only difference was that the Narendta Modi government to make it public but added mysteriously that going public was in order to unveil a new “strategy”.

What strategy? The one of carrying out “limited-calibre, target-specific, counter-terrorist operations”. OK. But publicly owning up to an anti-terrorist operation is no bad thing if a really major aim was achieved. But when the goal itself was pretty minor — of destroying some LeT/JeM staging camps and killing anybody getting in the way, as the FS’ explanation itself suggests, it is hard to transform it into a military spectacular without the whole episode turning into one generating mirth. All a retired, much respected paratrooper general who visited me the day before yesterday could do when asked about the unfolding comedy was to make embarrassed noises. He couldn’t make head or tail of it anymore than anyone has been able to.

Something so obvious should have been kept in mind when the Modi regime chose to announce it to the world. So, a bit of chest-thumping doesn’t hurt. But it is precisely this He Man-activity the PM had asked his BJP colleagues to refrain from. As if to further roil the issue, defence minister Manohar Parrikar attributed the decisiveness shown by Modi and himself in ordering SF retribution for the Sept 28 terrorist attack on Uri to a mindset firmed up during their time in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Not to be contained, Modi, on the basis, of this SF action compared India to Israel. A more inapt comparison is hard to conceive. The actions would have been comparable had the Indian reaction been more in the Ram Madhav-articulated mould of “jaw for a tooth”. Actually, the Israeli retaliatory principle is rearranging the skull for a slap — which metric doesn’t fit any Indian military action to-date (other than 1971 war to liberate Bangladesh).

At a practical level, Israeli retaliation believes in methodically eliminating the leadership — if hydra-headed, a head at a time. It is something the Israeli Intelligence is geared for, because it seeks realtime information about the evolving Hezbollah or militant Palestinian leadership race. No sooner a controlling head surfaces, it is chopped off in response to usually small Palestinian provocation. Whole Arab villages are bombed for a katyusha rocket attack. This is simply not the sort of counter-insurgency, anti-terrorist wars, or even hard-hitting conventional military conflicts, the Indian Army is either prepared for or ordered to fight.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Internal Security, Israel, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism | 11 Comments

Mindless military procurement – S 400

The BJP government of Narendra Modi seems well set on the course of mindless military procurement. With so many strategic military areas to cover and a host of choices to strengthen national security available, trust Modi, Parrikar and Co. to splurge scarce resources on the wrongest buys imaginable. After committing US$30 billion for 36 — too few to make a difference but too costly to disregard the downstream costs — of the by and large useless Rafale “MMRCA” from France, naturally another equally flawed acquisition for the Russian S-400 supposedly anti-everything in the air from drones, aircraft to missiles, was approved in a move mainly to placate Moscow. Whether to make or firm up friendly relations, Modi apparently thinks armament purchases are the prime instrument. India will be paying through its nose for the Rafales and the S-400 long after the Modi dispensation is history. True the US$ 10.5 billion plus will mainly cover the cost of some five batteries of the advanced Russian air defence system, but also involve buying four of a new class of frigate, and to produce some 200 Kamov utility helicopters under license in the country. So, there’s a variety of armaments which buffers the S-400 purchase (rather than a single combat aircraft — Rafale) for like vast sums of money.

But why S-400, comparable to the US THAAD (Theatre High Altitude Area Defence)? May be because it is versatile able, owing to the Russian design philosophy of having a single tube fire different interceptors, such as the 400 km range 40N6, the 250 km range 48N6, the 120 km range 9M96E2, or the 48 km range 9M96E, to pull different missions. So this is an all-in-one air defence solution. Except, like all AD systems, it is optimized to take out ECM-laden, high-flying, combat aircraft, not incoming missiles. And it is very expensive. Given the conniptions when ever GOI contemplates nuclear missiles, India is buying this system as BMD (ballistic missile defence), with the Indian S-400 likely equipped with the 40N6 interceptor.

So, why is this bad? For one thing — what happens to the Indian BMD programme that VK Saraswat (now member of the Niti Ayog) during his time as DRDO head had protected and nursed so carefully? This BMD system operates on the principle of the twin Prithvi missile interceptors, one trying to take out an incoming missile in direct hit mode in exo-atmosphere, failing which the second interceptor destroys it in the endo-atmospheric milieu. As Saraswat himself admitted to me — and it is so revealed in my book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, the Prithvi BMD may be effective, if at all, in killing single missiles, but simply will not be able to handle missile salvos — which is exactly how Pakistan and China will fire their missiles. So, what good is it, considering no BMD system anywhere in the world has done better than the Indian system in real-live firing, and none has fared at all well? If BMD is such a concern, the Rs 39,000 crores would have been better invested in increasing the production rate of strategic missiles, and in the indigenous development of a genuinely effective system to take on massed attacks? And, some of the monies could have been expended in strategically firming up an area in which India has zero capability, namely, manned long range high altitude bomber?

Because of the demand from the Strategic Forces Command, and perhaps my fevered advocacy from my time in NSAB (and since in my books and writings), the Indian Air Force finally and reluctantly agreed to buy/lease the Tu-22M3 ‘Backfire’ bomber from Russia. But, and extraordinarily, it asked for just FOUR of this bomber. This is consistent with IAF’s conviction that the country’s strategically capable air arm remain marginal if not nonexistent. A plainly bemused Moscow advised Delhi that an indent for 20 Tu-22M3s (i.e., a squadron plus reserve) would make better sense as it will ensure that, at any given time, at least ten of the aircraft will be ready to takeoff (and a single Tu-22 would be operational if only four of the bombers are inducted into IAF service)! That the Russians had to proffer this practical advice speaks volumes of IAF’s strategic sensibility.

The more one examines the Indian military’s procurement priorities, the more dismayed one gets. When our armed services falter at so basic a level, what hope for national security?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Military Acquisitions, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 29 Comments

Modi policy in tatters

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is finding his foreign (cum military) policy in tatters on several fronts.

His attempt to coerce Pakistan into acknowledging that there’s a new game afoot and that every terroprist incident will trigger a prompt response in kind hasn’t worked. GHQR (General Headquarters, Rawalpindi) has not risen to the bait nor have the cross-LoC terrorist shootups stopped. The much trumpeted “surgical strikes” did not prevent/dissuade/deter the Pakistan army minders of the LeT/JeM cadres from launching attacks on Baramulla and following that up with the strike on Pampore, where the jihadis are holed up in a educational institute from which premises, the paramils have, so far, failed to clear, even as they have taken many casualties.

Manmohan Singh’s NSA, Shivshankar Menon, has explained, to no one’s surprise, that cross-LoC covert ops by Special Forces are routine and differ from the “surgical strike” policy only in that the BJP dispensation wanted to get some political benefits from going public with it, whence the need for grandstanding.

That there’s no known retaliation by Indian forces for the Baramulla and Parampore attacks suggests one of two things, that having thought through the situation the Modi PMO has thought it best to revert to the covert war norms, thereby permitting both the Indian and Pakistan armies plausible deniability for actions undertaken by either across the LoC; or, they are stuck to a metric mentioned in a previous blog — of publicly-acknowledged retaliation on the basis of unacceptable level of military fatalities. This last makes no sense. The former option of returning to covert ops is more sustainable and, properly planned and executed, has far greater potential for disruption in PoK.

Modi’s parallel policy prongs of getting China’s backing for a policy of retaliation, and of keeping Russia on India’s side even as Delhi scampers to the US side in the unfolding power politics are, likewise, failing. The Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baoling was categorical: “No country”, he said, “should pursue its own political gains in the name of counterterrorism.” (See This pays put to Modi’s idea of getting the BRICS countries (at the Goa summit) to support the idea of an international convention against terrorism. MEA would be best advised to ditch this initiative than have it rejected in the plenary.

Trying to shore up its leverage in Delhi, Moscow has done the obvious thing of talking arms supplies to Pakistan on concessionary terms no doubt, and given expression to its policy trend by conducting a military exercise — the first of its kind ever, with the Pakistan army. Sure, on Delhi’s protests Moscow arranged to move the exercise from the Baltistan area of PoK to the Pak interior. But its explanation that the exercise was meant to inculcate an anti-terrorist stance in the Pakistan army is laughable. Except, the whole episode portends the firming up of a Russia-China strategic cushion for Pakistan to fall back on — something I have warned about in my books, and all my writings. The Vladimir Putin regime is unlikely to accept being fobbed off with contracts for additional VVER 1000 nuclear power units at Kudankulum, in return for not reacting adversely to Delhi’s favouring exorbitantly priced US and Western military hardware buys at the expense of India’s longstanding military supply relationship. So, Kremlin is making known the strategic costs India will have to bear, costs the US cannot make up. It will pretty much ensure that Modi’s departing from the country’s tested policy of some five decades as international power balancer will end up diminishing India globally.

Half way into his five year term, the grand scheme of Modi and his team (Messrs Doval, Jaishankar, et al) seems headed for a fall, as they have made plain their intent to carry on in this vein even if it runs India, foreign-military policy-wise, into the ground.

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Battle of “befitting replies”

The unending Indian claims and celebrations about the “surgical strike” Sept 28 across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir and the Pakistani refutations that any such intrusion happened across what they call the “working boundary” are transiting from the tiresome to the comic. That the Modi government chose to make the punitive response to the Uri attack by PoK-staged terrorists such a big deal suggests two things: One that the Indian Army and military generally have such a low bar for achievement and are so starved of any operational success that even the smallest, meanest, actions are blown out of proportion as full-scale victories in major war. Sure enough, between the Indian cross-LoC op described as a “befitting” response, and Pakistanis, including General Raheel Sharif promising a “befitting” reply to any further Indian intrusions, the exchange has settled into a verbal fusillade from both sides of “befitting” responses.

It only proves the point I have long made in my writings that India-Pakistan military encounters are unserious kerfuffles. Neither side can really generate either the popular enthusiasm or the effort for a real war! Indians and Pakistanis, cut from the same cloth, are too much into each other, too much part of each other, to credibly sustain enmity of the hard kind, notwithstanding the mullahcracy on that side and the Hindutva-wadis on this side. Whence India-Pak “wars” are dismissed by most major countries as periodic eruptions of little consequence, like seasonal boils on skin. Except, with Pakistanis time and again bringing up the threat of use of tactical nukes, these encounters are now jokes with an edge.

But, how credible is the prospect of Pakistani initiation of nuclear weapons use when the outcome for that country is sure and certain extinction? So, N-use is practiced nonsense Islamabad purveys only because it finds that the Indian government, which is never able to hold its nerve in a crisis (attacks on Parliament, Mumbai, etc), is easily rattled at the slightest mention of Nukes. So why shouldn’t the Pakistanis brandish this “Allah ki dain”?

But let’s get back to getting real, and the usual Ind-Pak contretemps.

True, the prime minister advised his colleagues and fellow BJP-partymen to stop their chest-thumping. But he did so more than a week after the event, by when a hysterical media, TV in particular, had gone bonkers, with hyperbolic patriotism. Who can stop the Times Now 9PM anchor from screeching and screaming his head off and trying desperately to induce a heart-attack or a blood clot in himself? (Had the novel experience of sitting mute in one edition of this program after an initial innocuous interjection as all the invitees were imitating the anchor in out-shouting each other.) The mystery about why Pakistanis, some of them reputable, subject themselves to insulting behaviour of Indian TV comperes was, however, clarified to me. The Pakistanis are paid US$1,000 for each appearance. That is a cool 80,000 Pakistani rupees for agreeing to become targets for ten minutes of harangue. Two appearances a month will heftily increase the monthly income. Pakistanis being nobody’s fools, more and more of them want to be seen on Indian TV, as a means of bolstering their hard currency earnings, and burnishing their own nationalist credentials by trying to act more outrageous than the anchor. So much for Indians and Pakistanis engaging in public debate.

What apparently has hurt Islamabad to the quick was the CNN-associated Indian channel playing an obviously Indian Intel-given tape of conversation picked up between a Special Branch “SP” in PoK and “IG, (Pak) Punjab” about Pakistani fatalities from Indian SF action, adduced as evidence of the Indian action. The Pak Foreign Office spokesperson was livid, and reprimanded “the world renowned” CNN for indulging in an “unethical and fraudulent act” of disseminating disinformation, and threatened “necessary legal action”. (See This can only happen on the subcontinent where the trivial is routinely exalted into the tremendous (to use a pet Trumpianism).

This raises the question: Why are GOI and Indian military so keen to prove the veracity of the Special Forces action when there’s very little riding on it? Had the “surgical strike” been a meaningful one deep (30-50 kms) inside PoK, and had there really been fireworks in terms of meaningful damage to the Pak army terrorist support infrastructure, there would have been reason to crow that terrorist outrages in the future would involve progressively higher cost for the Pakistan military. Such action did not take place, which makes it hard for the Modi regime to play up the Sept 28 op as other than a declaration of intention that hereafter cross-LoC retributive actions will be the norm.

Except, Pakistan answered with the strike on Baramulla, with the attackers getting away scott-free — melting away into the drakness, and there was no “befitting response” this time. So, may be what the Uri episode has actually done is lay the benchmark measured by the scale of military deaths as trigger for Indian retaliation. That’s a start because asymmetric warfare cannot be cost-free to Pakistan. The cost threshold to the Pak Army, however, needs to be raised manifold for it to prove a deterrent to GHQR (General Headquarters, Rawalpindi).

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Let the Army have a go at the LeT/JeM in PoK!

I wrote the last post yesterday that the reaction to the Baramulla strike on the RR camp ought to be a sustained operation against the terrorists deep inside PoK. This morning, Economic Times on its front page had an intriguing story “Army wants Six Months to Smash PoK Terror Ops” ( about Army HQrs seeking sanction from the Modi government for a sustained cross-LoC drive against ISI-managed and Pakistan army protected LeT/JeM infrastructure. Without sounding too bloodthirsty, GOI should authorize such a strategy. It will free the army to realize its plan without its having to seek political approval at every turn or before every action. If the army is essentially demanding that professionals be left free to obtain the outcome GOI wants, then it is time that such a carte blanche, in fact, be given.

For one thing because the army seems to be fired up, especially because of the criticism about the complacency and lax attitude permeating the military that, time and again, permits jihadis to stroll in and shoot up army camps and kill jawans at will, the army is reacting in this visceral fashion. This is a good thing to see happen. It shows there’s some self-respect left in the Indian land forces after all.

Defence minister Manohar Parrikar too should be enthused and grant the army the license to proceed because he has after all taken the credit for instilling “self confidence” in the armed forces for too long acting like Hanuman drained off his confidence before his Lanka operation! In other words, Parrikar has taken on the persona of Hanuman’s friend in the Ramayana epic — Jambuwan, the Bear who reminds the great Monkey God of his inherent strength and advises him to shake off his diffidence, and get on with the job of defeating the enemy. [This is a curious thing to happen, because in my book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’ I use this episode as the curtain raiser in the first chapter, to liken the Indian nation to Hanuman, who is in a funk and unable to gauge his own enormous strength.]

Now that the army is all fired up, it will be tragic if not criminal to see such stoked-up spirit go waste. Parrikar should advise Modi to OK the army’s plans for eliminating the terrorist scourge — whatever it takes, however long it takes.

There’s yet another reason the army should be given the go-ahead. It is the first time in a very, very long time that the army is thinking along such proactive offensive lines. Such initiatives should be heartily encouraged. Talking of variants of Cold Start doesn’t help — because it is an inherently impracticable, over-expensive, set of plans that only cavalry generals get worked up about, but will fail to deliver the outcome of conventionally subduing Pakistan. But the army’s plans of carrying out a scheme of strikes ought to gain traction with PM Modi, even if his NSA Ajit Doval establishes links with his opposite number in Pakistan, and agrees to calm things down.

It will be especially interesting to see is how the Indian army, in pursuit of its strategy, will deal with the Pakistan army that will rise to protect the terrorist outfits and will fight the Indian Special Forces in PoK.

To limit India-Pak relations to just the one formal Doval track, without also allowing the army to be active on a parallel track, by getting on with whatever it has in mind to do, is to fall back on the old belief that only resumption of talks will matter in the context of the supposed success of the “surgical strikes” fueling the conviction that a sufficiently chastised Islamabad will now follow Delhi’s script. It won’t, but assuming the Indian army successfully beats up on the terrorists and the Pak army support system, it will certainly give GHQR pause for thought.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces | 34 Comments