Modi Dominatus

KAL, the ascerbic cartoonist for the Economist weekly lauded for its perceptive take on current leaders, developments and issues, in a year-ender, created a satirical aviary of political birds (reproduced above). Among the fowls of varied provenance, he identifies, the centrally featured, “Jingo-headed zealot Modi Hindi Dominatus”!

KAL’s take on Narendra Modi — while not flattering — suggests the Indian Prime Minister is registering on the international public consciousness. No small achievement this in an age of instant sensations and celebrities when the premium is on being noticed, even if with alarm, than to be not noticed at all.

Scanning the Indian political horizon, there seems no rival in vaulting distance of Modi, who has taken a firm hold of the people’s imagination in a way that only Jawaharlal Nehru did in the Fifties but for very different reasons. While Nehru effortlessly projected the image of a patrician-aristocrat who had found his calling as a leader of the masses, Modi, just as easily, conveys the message to them that as one of them, he has risen through dint of hard work and with a bit of luck that often attends on political success, to now be at the helm of affairs in the country, with no danger from family and hordes of hangers-on to besmirch his reputation and pull him down. Indeed, the death of PM’s mother living with another son of hers some 700 miles from New Delhi evidenced just how scrupulous Modi has been in distancing his family from his post. It has given him a peerless reputation that no other Indian leader can ever hope to match.

Into his eighth year in office, it is his aura of incorruptibility that, more than any other factor, is his political strength and strongest selling point. It has settled Modi in the hearts of the electorate, winning him and his Bharatiya Janata Party their unstinting support. He provides hope for a people who have for too long experienced the Indian government as a system of spoils where the winner bends the rules for personal gain and his local minions and party bigwigs milk the teats of expenditure on public works, social welfare programmes, and almost all capital acquisition schemes of the government, especially in high value areas of defence, industry, and telecommunications. The severance of service recently of several senior officials in the Telecom Ministry, including a Joint Secretary — which level of officers in all ministries and departments/agencies constitute the executive arm of government, suggests just how deep rooted the rot is.

The scale of corruption reached an apogee during Manmohan Singh’s tenure — a trend the PM would do nothing to stop because as a front for Sonia Gandhi (sporting the halo of one who had renounced the kingly crown when it was first offered her in 2008, but happy to work the remote control) couldn’t, as the “Congressiyas” at all levels, long accustomed to raiding the public till under party and government cover, did just that.

Modi, in this respect, has run an exemplary regime with almost no hint of personal financial malfeasance from any quarter. Because Modi’s PMO rides herd on all large expenditure programmes and contracts in all ministries, it has left little or no scope for the minor and major officials in the procurement loops to make whooppee in the manner they were used to doing. Far from doing away with corruption, however, the officials determined on having the channel of under-table earnings stay intact, have learned to tradeoff the higher risk of exposure and punishment with demands for bigger payoffs. Hence, the paradox of corruption at the Joint Secretary secretary-level on up being down even as the volume of commissions, bribes, and other illegal gratification has increased (or, so say the bribe givers of the foreign and Indian corporate worlds required to do business with the Indian government)! The computerisation and digitalising of government business and other reforms, notwithstanding, the discretionary power of civilian officials/unifomed officers, particularly in the acquisitions loops, has been retained. This means this power, traditionally used for harrassment and weighting choices, remains the preferred means of extorting bribes in money and kind from foreign and in-country vendors, original equipment manufacturers, and anyone seeking government custom. Alas, this is how the machinery of government functions and is kept lubricated even in the Modi era.

Until Modi quite literally tears down the extant apparatus of government and rebuilds it as a much smaller, more effective, version of its previous self minus the impedimenta of laws and rules of business from British times, India will limp along — the system prodding “the best and the brightest” among the youth to seek avenues of self-betterment abroad, even as Asia to the east of us gallops along with China into modernity and a happy future. Such radical makeover of the government is unfortunately not what Modi, a statist and hierarchy-minded leader, has in mind to do. He believes, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the system as-is will deliver with a bit of exhortaion from him here, a bit of tinkering by him there. It is a delusion, I concluded in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, the PM will persist with to the country’s detriment. This is a pity because, having captured the people’s heart and mind, he is in a position to do, as only Nehru before him was capable of doing — completely alter the government and the way its works. Instead, he seems content with doing little in that respect.

But, none of this will harm his political prospects. Not little because the BJP cadre, mostly affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), provides the party with a socio-cultural anchor that resonates with the traditional ways of thinking in the majoritarian Hindu society. It is hard, moreover, not to be impressed by RSS’ norms of high ideals, clean living, and its nationalist ideology, which can be faulted in its details, not in its basic thrust. Even more impressive is the fact that members of the RSS and, by extension, the BJP, actually live by these norms. As a high office-holder in RSS, Modi reflects the discipline of mind and of behaviour the organization inculcates in its followers. There is nevertheless dynasticism in his close circle of advisers and in BJP. But it is kept in tight check. His National Security Adviser Ajit Doval sought parliamentary seats for his sons from Uttarakhand but they were denied party tickets to fight elections. The PM’s confidante and Home Minister Amit Shah, likewise, was dissuaded from getting his son into politics in Gujarat. Jay Shah chose to head the state’s cricket board, a position he parlayed into running the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Historically, corruption has been the hallmark of all governments everywhere. Chanakya devoted many sections of his 3rd Century BC codicil, Arthshastra, to keeping tabs particularly on revenue collectors whom he did not trust to do right by the State. He recommended measures, including active intelligence, to police their activity. Mindful of the native proclivity to bribe giving and taking, and considering it indigenous to native systems of rule (Mughal and previous), the British expressly designed their system of colonial government to minimize it by restricting the role of Indians in government in purchases and service delivery, by installing financial advisers and the like for oversight at every turn. However well or ill it worked pre-1947, in independent India that system of government quickly turned into a bureaucratic nightmare — a viscousy mess of conflicting laws, rules and regulations that can delay decisions and implementation of decisions and ensure that what is implemented is not done well, leave alone wisely, with ambiguous file notings and paper-pushing as the default option for babus to fall back on.

So, the PM in his 2014 campaign talked of “Getting government out of business”, of creating a milieu where punitive rules are dispensed with and Indian entrepreneurs enouraged to be wealth producers and job-givers, to prosper in new tech and to generate, in the bargain, employment for the masses of aspiring youth, even as a helpful government with underway skilling programmes provides the necessary labour to drive industry. Eight years on, the government remains the main obstacle to the country’s rapid advancement in the economic sphere and on the atmnirbharta front in defence. Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman is still talking of investing in youth and in upskilling them, much as Modi did 8 years ago! For all his rousing rhetoric, the PM is surprisingly unwilling to rely on private industry as the vehicle for the country’s economic rise, and has been busy streamlining the dowdy, lossmaking, public sector enterprises rather than privatizing them. If his talk of reducing the footprint of government is just that — talk, where’s progress?

But a slate of unfulfilled promises will apparently not matter all that much when the general elections roll around in 2024. In fact, Modi’s re-election is now almost a certainty. His record of personal probity and upright behaviour is his ticket to victory, and will remain so as long as he contests elections. In comparison, there is Rahul Gandhi — the dynast flagbearer of the Congress party who, in a more congenial setting, would only need to nod his head for him to have the crown placed on it. In one way or another, the Congress party has shrunk into a cabal of fawning and calculating Gandhi family acolytes. So when Rahul G refers to the need for the opposition to come together and to propagate a rival ideology to compete with and defeat Modi, the question to ask is whether he is serious!

Consider how alive he is to the current reality and the social forces Modi has let loose. His “Bharat jodo” yatra may have earned Rahul a modicum of respect he didn’t earlier command. After all a man who “walks” the length of the country, albeit half of it in the airconditioned comfort of his travelling van, deserves some admiration. But then he got two things spectacularly wrong. First, the optics. Over the duration of the yatra, he sprouted a full greying beard and his looks, as a consequence, began acquiring a certain gravitas. He seemed by the time he entered the northern states to look more mature, more seasoned, less a “pappu”, which was good. But then the imagery got spoiled when he had his ex-scrap dealer of a brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, striding alongside him, reminding everybody that voting for Rahul and Congress meant possibly enabling the tainted Gandhis to return to feasting on the economic entrails of the nation. Who wants a return to that past?

More importantly, what is the ideology Rahul G hopes will upset Modi’s apple cart, come 2024? He hasn’t articulated any. But it is unlikely to be other than a return to the patronage socialism pushed by a strong central government — Indira Gandhi’s oeuvre. A revisiting of that economic disaster has to be avoided at all cost, because it will mean a return to having the public sector as the engine of economic recovery and rise, and we know how that went the last time. It realized, what became known derisively the world over as, “the Hindu rate of growth” of 2%-3% annually. Should Rahul skip to Manmohanomics the prospects would not be much better, because that’d involve tethering the Indian economy to that of the US. This’d be a recipe for India’s formally accepting a secondary power status tied to a receding power. Rahul’s and the Congress party’s vilification of the private sector leads to precisely these endpoints if their rule materializes. This is, in one sense, an ironic development because the Congress party boasts of more genuinely fecund intellects — Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, to name two, than the BJP. Were they to be instructed by the party to rethink the Indian system of government and the role of the private sector in national life, they’d no doubt come up with a host of good ideas. But because Congress is wedded to some strain of socialism or the other, and Rahul has no bright ideas of his own to suggest as guideline, Messrs Jairam, Tharoor and Co. wallow in dated economic notions they believe will resonate with the Gandhi Family’s interests.

There’s, however, a Modi weakness that the opposition is in no position to exploit — his partiality to “crony capitalism”. Modi’s vulnerability is obvious, but Rahul’s line of political attack — “suited booted sarkar” won’t work, as the 2018 elections proved. That is because the masses too, it turns out, want to be suited and booted as Modi is in his “rags to riches” avatar as Prime Minister. It is an aspiration Modi long ago worked into the message he pitched to the public when subliminally shaping its expectations of his government in Gujarat and later at the Centre, namely, that there won’t be doles/freebies or “revadi” but there will be government assistance for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is another matter that despite his trying, the government hasn’t become more amenable to servicing people’s aspirations. So, when Govind Adani, with a straight face, claimed in a recent TV interview to India Today, that his proximity to Modi had nothing whatsoever to do with his rocketing rise from smalltime trader to multibillionaire tycoon, but implied that the Gujarati identity he shared with the PM may have led some people to reach that conclusion, it highlighted his implicit belief that whatever part proximity to Modi may have played, his success owes more to his own ambition, business acumen, and propensity to take risks that have fetched him big rewards. And who can dispute such a reading?

Modi is set to dominate the Indian and South Asian scene and, perhaps, to feature prominently in international politics in the years to come because an honest politician — however ruthlessly he may practise politics on home turf, is a rarity as most leading politicians and heads of government in the world at-large (barring the Scandinavian countries and, perhaps, Japan) are variants of Donald Trump in their venality.

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‘Time to play hardball with China’

2 Interviews:with Rediff News and with Sputnik News

Interview with Rediff News published December 14, 2022 at


‘Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.’


IMAGE: A Bofors gun at the Tawang sector near the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

“Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China. India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing…It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

We are once again witnessing China in a very aggressive mood sending 300 Chinese soldiers to attack and take over an Indian post in the Tawang sector on December 9.
What do you believe precipitated this face off given that it has taken place in such freezing cold conditions?

There doesn’t seem to be any specific trigger for PLA skirmishes on, and intrusions across, the Line of Actual Control, such as the latest one last Friday in Yangtse in Tawang district.

It is apparently a strategy for the local commander to prosecute hostile actions as and when he is in a position to do so because the objective is to keep the disputed border unsettled.

It is a condition, Beijing hopes, will soften up the Indian government into a more territorial give-mode at the negotiating table.

This seems to be a reoccurring phenomenon with Indian troops facing a similar attack in the same sector on October 8, 2021.
In all, I understand 31 such attacks have taken place in this sector over the years with a prolonged attack having taken place during the Kargil war in 1999 which lasted 60 days.
How has India responded to these frequent and unprovoked aggressive actions?

XXXIII Corps — the largest formation in the Indian Army, responsible for defending India’s territorial claims on the LAC in the north east, is postured to react, which it is experienced and in a position to do.

But it is incapable of being proactive, or taking the fight to the enemy which, in fact, encourages the PLA to continue taking liberties and being provocative on the LAC.

Narendra Modi and Xi Zinping

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of China’s Communist party about to shake hands at the G20 summit at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana cultural park in Badung, Bali, Indonesia. Photograph: PTI Photo

China has been steadily developing its infrastructure in the north east and is known to have built 128 villages on its side of the border with each of these villages known to be housing 100 families each.
How much does our infrastructure match these development activities and does India’s military upgradation match that of China?

The Indian government woke up late to the value of infrastructure in the regions on the Indian side of LAC, and then only because the build-up of high quality roads and telecommunications network so tactically advantaged the PLA it could no longer be ignored.

Still, India is at least 15 years behind China in the density and quality of infrastructure, even if the buildup were to be put on a war-footing.

The territory on our side of the border is said to be much more difficult to negotiate than that of the Chinese side making this infrastructure development for India much more difficult.

That may be so. But engineering techniques to, say, construct roads in difficult terrain while much advanced elsewhere in the world are still to be fully adopted by the Border Roads Organisation.

Maybe it is time to speed up the underway infrastructure buildup by bringing in private sector engineering majors, such as Larsen & Toubro, to build roads and bridges, excavate tunnels, and set up dual-use telecommunications systems.

I understand the Chinese side has been using drones in this sector on a regular basis and did so in substantial numbers on November 9 while the Indian response was to bring in the Sukhoi fighter jets.

Remote-controlled Chinese drones have been active in eastern Ladakh for over a year now. But no Indian action was taken to counter them in kind for two reasons. One, India did not have drones with the range or the capacity to loiter over Chinese encampments for sustained surveillance.

And two, because such Chinese drone incursions may have been perceived as doing some good in that they informed the PLA sector commander of the concentration of Indian forces in the contested areas and their robust preparations for at least a short duration war. It may have dissuaded him from pursuing a more aggressive approach.

The flights by Chandigarh-based Su-30MKIs confirmed to the Chinese command the IAF’s operational readiness, just in case.

This latest transgression shows that China will continue to change the goal posts on this border issue in order to achieve tactical advantage over us.

So, what’s new? This is what the Chinese have been doing since the mid-1950s when they first laid down the highway connecting the mainland to Xinjiang through Indian Aksai Chin, which activity the Indian government was blissfully unaware of!

Is this being done by Xi Jinping in order to divert attention of the Chinese people from the internal issues troubling the country?
These include unprecedented and widespread protests over the zero Covid policy as also the fact that its economy is not doing well.

Maybe. But as explained in my response to Question 1, these incidents are more likely part and parcel of a policy to keep the disputed border on the boil.


IMAGE: Then Eastern Air Commander and now retired Air Marshal Dilip Kumar Patnaik visits the Vijaynagar Advanced Landing Ground in Arunchal Pradesh to review operational preparedness and interacted with Indian Army troops deployed there. Photograph: ANI Photo

The objective for Xi is to promote hyper nationalistic tendencies within the Chinese public and this objective seems to match the efforts of our own prime minister with his aim to create hyper nationalistic Hindutva to suit his political objectives.

Nationalism is useful to drive nation-building and to pursue policies for socio-economic uplift.

Both Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping are leaders who would like to restore to India and China respectively, their past glories — some of them imagined!


IMAGE: Troops of the Indian Army at the International Border. Photograph: ANI Photo

How should India match this belligerence given that China does not want to solve the border dispute?
China has said repeatedly that the whole of Arunachal is its territory and they consider it to be part of southern Tibet.

India has to aggresively counter the Chinese moves by not just reciprocating in kind, but going one better.

It is high time New Delhi played hardball. India should begin, for instance, to refer to ‘Chinese occupied Tibet’ and champion the cause of ‘Free Tibet’, recognise Taiwan as a separate sovereign entity, campaign for the rights of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and severely restrict the access Chinese goods and manufacturers enjoy to the Indian market.

Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free, and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.

The message from the recent 20th Chinese Communist party congress in Beijing was that the Chinese leadership will not soften its position either in eastern Ladakh or in Arunachal Pradesh.

Again, this is not a surprise. Chinese Communist party congresses haven’t varied in stating their country’s intention to realise territorially the China of yore, which includes, by Beijing’s reckoning, all the countries on the Himalayan watershed — Nepal, Bhutan and southern Xizang (that it calls especially the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh).

Beijing needs to be disabused of its notion that this can ever be achieved.


IMAGE: Indo-Tibetan Border Police women personnel patrol the area near the border with China in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

China needs to dominate this area and the only power that can stand against it is India.
Is this over-assertiveness on China’s part an attempt to cut us down to size, but for how long will we continue to find ourselves in this difficult situation?

Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China, and the world better adjust to that reality.

India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing by opening its market to its burgeoning industrial and manufacturing sector, and was reluctant to use the leverages it had (Chinese occupied Tibet, Free Tibet, Taiwan, Uyghur rights, market access).

It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi.

US and Western Europe likewise indulged China’s fantasies about an Asian order overseen by Beijing until the matter of the ‘nine dash line’ claims in the South China Sea and the security of Taiwan in the face of Chinese bellicosity melded with other issues — intellectual property rights, technology thievery, cyber warfare, and unbalanced trade, to revive concerns about the threat China posed to Western interests and to global peace and stability generally.

The result is a convergence of geopolitical, strategic and economic interests between India, Japan and other Asian States, the US and western Europe, and the beginnings of a collective effort to contain China.

China is giving US repeated warnings not to get close to the US.

Our response should be to tell Beijing to take a hike. And to warn Xi against getting close to Pakistan and proceeding with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Interview with Sputkink News published December 14, 2022 , at

Ladakh Standoff

The Indian and Chinese armies engaged in major clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2020. Since, relations between the two neighbors have remained tense.

Ex-Indian NSC Member Reflects on Arunachal Clash With Chinese Army

18:38 13.12.2022

Indian army vehicles move in a convoy in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Nestled between India, Pakistan and China, Ladakh has not just faced territorial disputes but also stark climate change. - Sputnik India, 1920, 13.12.2022

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said PLA troops had tried to transgress the de-facto border between India and China, with troops from both countries being injured.

Reacting to the clash in Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the situation is “stable” on its border with India.

“As far as we understand, the China-India border situation is stable overall,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, adding that the two sides had “maintained unobstructed dialogue on the border issue through diplomatic and military channels.”

Prof. Bharat Karnad, a former member of India’s National Security Council (NSC) and security analyst, shared with Sputnik his views on the latest incident on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Sputnik: The Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) clashed in Yangtse in Tawang on December 9. The two neighbors are currently engaged in both military and diplomatic talks in order to resolve the border deadlock in Ladakh. Is it possible that the face-off in the Arunachal sector was not an accident?

Bharat Karnad: The Chinese government never does anything that’s not preplanned. The clash in Yangtse, in the Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh, fits the bill.

This is also indicated by the fact that the PLA troops came armed for a fight minus small arms, but with wooden clubs with embedded nails, etc. — weapons of a kind that they previously used in the deadly Galwan encounter two-and-a-half years ago.

Sputnik: Do you regard this as part of a Chinese design to preempt the possibility of a future Dalai Lama being identified at the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama?

Bharat Karnad: China is intent on zeroing out Lamaist Buddhism in Chinese-occupied Tibet (COT) — that’s always been the long-term goal.

This objective has acquired urgency because of the current Dalai Lama’s age, which Beijing fears may prompt His Holiness to name a Tibetan child from the Tibetan exile community in India as his successor. It will mean that China’s attempts to subdue Tibet by integrating it into the mainland’s Han-Communist culture will continue to be complicated.

Sputnik: What kind of preparation — both military and infrastructure-wise — does India have in the Arunachal region? Does it lack capabilities in this particular sector?

Bharat Karnad: The XXXIII Corps — the largest corps in the Indian Army — is responsible for defending the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the northeast.

It is postured to take on the PLA, and is adequately equipped with sufficient stock of prepositioned stores to conduct operations even in the dead of winter, should Beijing choose to initiate hostilities.

Sputnik: Do you consider border tensions along the LAC as a persistent issue?

Bharat Karnad: Keeping the LAC unsettled with minor skirmishes and armed intrusions and otherwise to maintain a high level of tension is the Chinese strategy to keep the Indian army on its toes and tire it out. It’s because maintaining constant vigil at high altitudes is a damnably difficult business.

Such a military strategy is what Beijing employs as a means of pressuring the Indian government into making concessions at the negotiating table.

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Navy’s choice of Rafale-M endangers the naval Tejas and the entire indigenous combat aircraft programme

[Rafale-M taking off from carrier deck]

The Indian armed services, as I have long maintained, are really not serious about making the country self-reliant in arms, all their swearing by ‘atmnirbhar Bharat’ notwithstanding. The indenting by army under the “emergency financial powers” provision for 15,000 foreign-sourced Level-4 light body armour capable of stopping steel-core bullets at 10 meters for use by counter-insurgency troops in Kashmir, and the imminent decision by navy to go in for Rafale-Marine aircraft under its TEDBF (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter) programme, are only the latest manifestations of the military’s reluctance to give home-made products even a fighting chance.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, as far back as 2018 had readied for production tested technology for bullet-proof jackets weighing 6.6 kg using boron carbide ceramics that met milspecs. Indian companies — Tata Advanced Materials Ltd and MKU of Kanpur, have been exporting body armour for years. And yet, here’s the army misusing its emergency powers to secure “phoren maal”.

Death likewise awaits the indigenous navalised Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (NLCA) at the navy’s hands. The original air force variant of the Tejas LCA somehow survived IAF’s sustained efforts at killing it off, something the service had succeeded in doing with the home-grown Marut HF-24 fighter aircraft and its Mark-II version in the 1970s. The NLCA first performed a ski-jump takeoff demonstration at INS Hansa, Goa in 2017 and has since passed every performance metric from ‘sink rate’, angle-of-attack, to folding wing-tip, including perfectly executed take-offs and landings on Vikramaditya’s deck. (For technical details on the progress made in the NLCA programme and how it is being thwarted at every turn, see my 2018 book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, pages 289-305.) But it was nevertheless declared overweight and unfit for aircraft carrier duty — the protestations by the navy officered project that weight reduction was eminently doable and once outfitted with the more powerful GE 414 jet turbine engine, would meet reasonable requirements of range and payload capacity for single engined aircraft, making no headway with the Service brass.

Why? Because, well, the navy is well and truly embarked on the TEDBF — a cover, yeah, you guessed it, for importing the phoren Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, or the French Dassault Rafale-Marine, come naval Tejas or high water! And no, no atmnirbharta programme, or defence minister Rajnath Singh’s ‘No imports’ lists is going to stop them. However, the Rafale decision was made more palatable by justifying this imported TEDBF as an interim measure, a “stop gap” solution, until the heavier two-engined variant of Tejas became available in 2032 — or a decade from now. DRDO has promised the larger naval Tejas by then, which promise will be easier to keep considering just how adaptable the basic design is to a little upscaling for a twin-engined configuration, and because of the extraordinary progress in design and other avaiation technologies already made in the NLCA programme.

But the problem is this: Once the Rafale-M or the Super Hornet enter the Indian Naval carrier service and into the IAF as a 112-strong aircraft MMRCA fleet, the sheer inertia and the procurement logic (of reducing unit cost by buying larger numbers) will ensure follow-on buys of the Rafale or the F-18, and investments and interest in the Indian NLCA and successor carrier aircraft for the navy, and in the AMCA for the air force, will peter out.

This is, perhaps, what the Indian Navy and IAF want to see happen.

[The “customised” F-18 Super Hornet, with folded wing tips to fit the Vikrant lifts]

Assuming the Modi regime weathers the American pressure to buy F-18 and 26 Rafale-M are bought, 2032 is almost the timeline by which the sale formalities are likely to be completed and Rafale-M, if it is indeed chosen, is inducted in adequate numbers. Navy further decided that the always controversial pill of importing arms, this time the Rafale-M, would go down the government’s throat better if this TEDBF acquisition piggybacked on IAF’s Rafale deal. The case, was therefore, made that because IAF’s Rafale servicing and maintenance infrastructure was already in place, the cost-saving on this side-deal would be sizeable. Naval HQrs were confident the generalist babu-manned defence ministry would be unable to discern the spuriousness of this argument considering naval and air force fighting assets are rarely co-located.

Whatever the other ill-effects of the supposedly stop gap Rafale-M/F-18 acquisition, it will definitely write finis to the NLCA and hence also to the development of the twin engined naval Tejas, and possibly also the follow-on aircraft to IAF’s Tejas Mk-1A — the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft programme. The country then can kiss a royal good bye to genuine atmnirbharta and settle down in its long nursed arms dependency status. The fact is there’s just too much temptation offered by foreign firms for militarymen and civilians in the defence procurement loops that few apparently can resist. Senior uniformed officers, serving or retired, will never allude to it, but younger, more idealistic, officers in the Group Captain and equivalent grade, not yet compromised, readily point to the filthy lucre at work, all the hoo-ha about corruption-free G2G deals being so much pretense.

If the Modi government is serious about an “atmnirbhar Bharat” and wants to prevent the doing away by indirect means of the still infant indigenous defence industrial and aerospace capabilities, it can have a TEDBF, give the indigenous programmes much needed boost, and save tens of billions in hard currency — what it has to do is have Rajnath Singh immediately announce that the government has reconsidered its decision and the single engined NLCA programme will be put on a warfooting, and be the precursor to the wholly India made TEDBF– the 2-engine medium weight navalised Tejas — to fly off the Vikramaditya and Vikrant decks ten years from now. He should also announce that the government will look askance at all procurement proposals hereon from any military service for importing weapons systems and platforms that, intended or not, undermine the government’s atmnirbharta policy. And that the government will ensure by diplomatic means to not put the navy in harm’s way by asking it to pull distant missions beyond their ken. After all, it is diplomacy army generals, and flagrank military officers generally suggest, do they not, as the means to fend off for the nonce a conventionally superior China in Ladakh and elsewhere on the Line of Actual Control?

What are the chances the Modi government will do as recommended above?


Now let’s turn to Rafale-M and how India has been a boon to France, the French defence industry, and to foreign arms suppliers generally.

France invested some $50 billion in developing the Rafale combat aircraft and found no buyers, earning for this warplane the sobriquet of a “cursed” aircraft after a bunch of countries — Brazil, Libya, Morocco, and Switzerland serially rejected it.

Then in April 2015, India galloped on to the scene replaying its familiar role of upkeeping Western defence programmes — the proverbial knight coming to the aid of fair maidens in distress, this even as the enormously capable Indian private sector defence industry is in a permanent state of funk, pleading for custom to survive! The Indian beneficence in this case came in April 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Paris decided to short circuit the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) process and take Rafale in a government-to-government (G2G) deal ostensibly to cut the middleman, commissions, etc. out of the procurement circus. New Delhi plonked down $6.9 billion in hard currency for 36 “customized” Rafales for the Indian Air Force.

“Customized” usually means hanging a lot of bells and jangles on the hardware to make a duffer of a Third World customer feel he’s getting something extra for his hard earned and scarce money! (Even so, many people in the know claim the costs were padded to the extent of Rs 1,000 crore for each of the 36 Rafales IAF has acquired via the G2G transaction!)

By way of contrast, the same year — 2015, Egypt too jumped on board, agreeing to consider this warplane for its air force. But a cleverer Cairo signed up only in May 2021 for 24 of this aircraft with promise to purchase 30 more in due time for a total of 50 Rafales, to be paid for — wait for it! — with France’s own money! Paris agreed to finance the entire deal with a 10 year loan for the package worth $4.5 billion. With the euro’s annual inflation rate of nearly 11% (10.61% actually) in October 2022 as baseline, it means Egypt will secure at least 24 Rafales for virtually nothing! (Like the masses of military hardware India got in the “good old days” from the USSR at 2% interest, i.e, virtually free.)

France has cannily played on two aspects, that (1) unlike the US, and UK and Sweden (whose Gripen combat aircraft are powered by US engines and hence sanctionable), Rafale customers can be worry free — the supply of spares and service support being outside the numbra of potential US sanctions. After all, the Indian Navy remembers how its Westland Sea King anti-submarine warfare helicopter fleet was instantly grounded once US imposed sanctions in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, because the Sea King — a British licensed version of the Sikorsky S-61, had US components. And (2) that there are no ‘black box” technologies — an inducement for India to license manufacture the Rafale to meet IAF’s MMRCA need for another 112 aircraft, all technologies, including avionics, will be transferred. It is a tech transfer deal that does not include the high-value munitions (Meteor, Hammer, etc), of course!!

The revenues in billions of dollars generated from the sale of the 4.5 gen Rafale — exactly the same generation as the Tejas, will be poured into the 6th gen fighter aircraft France and Germany have just decided jointly to design, develop and produce by 2050. The sum of $3.8 billion for the first phase (labeled ‘1B’) for feasibility study has already been authorized.

Meanwhile, the indigenous Indian combat aircraft programmes will die a slow death from lack of service interest in them and consequent starvation of funds.

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Xi Jinping’s Third Term: What it means for India — Chanakya Dialogues

The Chanakya Dialogues were conducted by the Chanakya Foundation on Nov 12, 2022. In this particular session the discussion ranged from Chinese perceptions of India, Xi’s 2-track India policy, ways to tackle the China threat, to the sort of half-cocked atmnirbharta programme now underway. At

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Cathartic Transitions in Pakistan

[Bajwa with senior-most officers, Pakistan Army]

Just returned from a trip to Singapore and, especially, Cambodia which I had longed to visit and where I beheld the largest religious monuments of any kind in the world — the magnificence of Angkor Wat, built in early 12th Century by the Khmer emperor Suryavarman II in his capital of Yasodapura, and was immediately reminded of AL Basham’s book — The Wonder That Was India [note the past tense] I read as an undergrad at the University of California that tracked the rise of the Chola and Srivijaya empires in littoral Southeast Asia, and the still earlier Indic influences in that part of the world.

There it was hundreds of acres of temple complexes of at once enormous size and delicacy, celebrating the pantheon of Hindu gods and their many avatars — Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma (the temple dedicated to the last named being restored with the help and technical assistance of the Archaelogical Survey of India) but now with Buddha figures installed in them, and unending temple walls filled with friezes and engravings depicting the Ramayana, with one of the panels showing, as our mischief-minded but well informed guide, who identified himself as a “Hindu-Buddhist-animist”, slyly pointed out Sita sitting on Ravana’s lap having apparently succumbed to the irresistible charms of the Sri Lankan king! There was even Hanuman beer to quaff down with our meals.

Even as one ruminated over the lost glory, a conclusion I had reached in my book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, was strengthened, that India’s decline began when it stopped expanding territorially, and that it was territorial expansion that sourced the rapid spread of Hinduism and Hindu culture and values in maritime Asia, including China and Japan, and is why ‘Greater India’ happened. Juxtapose such history with statements by present day Indian leaders claiming India never coveted or occupied foreign lands, and you see the problem! Defence minister Rajnath Singh being only the latest neta to mouth such inanities.

Anyway back to the quoutidian concerns of South Asia!

Every few years when an army chief in Pakistan deigns to vacate his post, the country lapses into a succession crisis. There’s another such catharsis afoot in Pakistan today with the imminent announcement of the name of an officer to replace the current chief General Javed Qamar Bajwa who demits office by end-November. In the order of seniority — which means little, the list of possible successors features Lt General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah — the army’s Quarter Master General and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt General Sahir Shamshad Mirza — GOC, X Corps (Rawalpindi) and ex-Chief of the General Staff (CGS), Lt General Azhar Abbas, current CGS and former commander X Corps, Lt General Numan Mahmud, President of the National Defence University and ex-GOC, XI Corps (Peshawar), and Lt General Faiz Hameed, GOC, XXXI Corps (Bahawalpur) and ex-chief, ISI. 

If one is a betting man, the odds line up particularly against Faiz Hameed. It is unlikely Hameed will make it for several reasons. He loudly owned up to helping the Taliban defeat the US in Afghanistan and finds himself in the doghouse vis a vis Washington, and those whom the Americans detest have their prospects automatically dimmed in Islamabad. Worse, Hameed publicly tagged his future to the deposed Pakistan Tehreeq-i-Insaaf party PM — Imran Khan Niazi, himself hoisted into the kursi with ISI help, whom Bajwa has accused of propagating a “false narrative” about the Pakistan army (that it interferes in domestic politics and, surprise! surprise! plays favourites!!). For these reasons Bajwa unceremoniously removed Hameed from ISI and dumped him in Bahawalpur. As a consequence, the latter has, as the saying goes, a spitball’s chance in hell!

The recent pattern of elevations would suggest the seniormost officer who is to be passed over is given an extra pip and appointed Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee — a post presently held by General Nadeem Raza. So the 18th Chairman, JCSC, will likely be Asim Munir Shah. With Hameed out of the picture, the race is then between Mirza, Abbas and Mahmud. Abbas as CGS has the insider’s odds on his side. But my intuition says it will be Mahmud who gets the nod because he is in a relatively innocuous post where it is difficult to make enemies and, therefore, seems politically to be the safest. This is no small metric considering Nawaz Sharif in 2016 chose Bajwa, who was Inspector General, Training and Evaluation, as army chief over corps commanders senior to him. Bajwa’s antipathy to Imran notwithstanding, the PTI head has raised such a stink over the next COAS’s selection that while picking Imran’s choice, Hameed, is out of question, Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, in consultation with Bajwa, may alight on Mahmud as the least objectionable candidate. This last is important because COAS’s appointment has to have President Arif Alvi’s consent, and Alvi is Imran Khan’s acolyte.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, its prime ministers have often chosen their memesis as army chiefs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked Zia ul-Haq, so down on the seniority list, he wasn’t even in the original “summary” the defence ministry drew up. And then at Bhutto’s insistence, Zia was included in the seniority list with reluctance by the departing COAS General Tikka Khan. As Tikka Khan told me when I visited him at his Rawalpindi home in December 1982 when he was under “house arrest” — Bhutto’s weakness was he was partial to flattery and loved flatterers. Aware of this, Zia as GOC II Strike Corps, Multan, laid it on thick when Bhutto visited his command headquarters. There, per Tikka, Zia quite literally kowtowed to Bhutto, even swearing personal loyalty to him with his hand on a copy of the Quran! Tikka recalled, with choicest Punjabi abuses, how hard he tried to dissuade Bhutto from choosing Zia, warning him of “qayamat”! Some years later Nawaz Sharif like wise selected Parvez Musharraf who, after his coup d’etat rather than hang him, as Zia did Bhutto, exiled him to Saudi Arabia.

So, it is hard to tell which officer on the short list catches Shabaz’s fancy and why, and with what ultimate result.

But let’s be clear just how extraordinarily high the personal stakes are. It means instant power and riches to the officer who is selected. Bajwa and his family members, for instance, have for no apparent fault of theirs (!) become billionaires in the 6 years of his tenure with proliferating property and prized land acquisitions in choicest locations in the West, in Dubai and, of course, in cantonment towns within Pakistan! The surprise is Bajwa’s tax returns, leaked to the media, reveal this!

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, India's Pakistan Policy, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, Internal Security, Islamic countries, Japan, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Sri Lanka, United States, US. | 1 Comment

Modi-Jaishankar accept China’s annexation of Indian territory as fait accompli?

[The departing Chinese ambassador, Sun Weidong, and Jaishankar]

Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador who is returning to Bejing, surely did not expect the Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, to crown his stint in New Delhi with an Indian policy turn that the Xi Jinping regime had long hoped for but could not in its wildest dreams have imagined would be gifted to it on a platter, on an unmemorable occasion, and without China having to pay a price for it. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, what Jaishankar did not say — which in this case is far more significant than what he, in fact, said, removes all the hurdles to normalization of bilateral relations that were stuck in the glitch created by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) surreptitious takeover in recent years of over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, mostly in the Depsang Plains. In an otherwise protocol dictated meeting October 25 in which a departing foreign envoy is bid farewell by the host foreign minister, the sort of event in which nothing of import usually ever happens, Jaishankar made Sun’s and Beijing’s day!

So, what did Jaishankar not say that may have bad consequences? According to media reports, the Indian foreign minister emphasized that normalcy would return to bilateral relations on the basis of “peace and tranquility” being re-established in the disputed border regions. There was no hint anywhere of Jaishankar forcefully iterating the specific condition India has so far insisted on — restoration of the status quo ante! And even if he did mention it in passing, not making a hoo-ha about it is just as revealing. It is very likely the absence of this phrase or its emphatic repetition, will be interpreted by Beijing to mean that New Delhi has accepted China’s grabbing of vast tracts of Ladakhi real estate as a fait accompli. One can expect Sun to have sent a note to Zhongnanhai mentioning this Indian concession, something Chinese interlocuters in the future will bring up as a principle-setting precedent to dismiss the notion of restoring to India its territory, and to make the point that the two countries should put the unpleasantness of PLA-initiated hostilites in eastern Ladakh behind them, and get on with the business of the Indian consumer doing what he is good at, namely, buying plenty of Chinese goods and manufactures to keep Chinese industries humming and making an already prosperous China wealthier.

Even as Sino-Indian tensions were asimmer, Chinese exports to India of capital machinery and intermediate goods (such as pharmaceutical ingredients) this year surged to a record high of nearly $90 billion even as Indian exports to China shrank by 36.4% and the balance of payments got further skewed. In the current two-way trade of some $125 billion, India’s take was a little more than $25 billion. It is a one-sided wealth-transfer trend the Modi government has done next to nothing to reverse.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the other day talked of completing what he called the “Kashmir mission” in the foreseeable future of taking back Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Baltistan. He justified it in terms of a Parliamentary Resolution. Curiously, Parliament’s 1962 Resolution, still standing, that requires the Indian government to fight and to do whatever else is necessary to recover “every inch of Indian territory” lost to China since before the 1962 War, is conveniently forgotten by the Modi regime.

Annexation of Indian territory began, it may be recalled, with parts of Aksai Chin through which the Chinese built the Xinjiang Highway amalgamated into Chinese-occupied Tibet that the Indian government became aware of only in 1958! Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rationalised India’s ignorance of such offensive Chinese carryings-on by saying it involved land “on which not even a blade of grass grew”. A similar appeasement-minded outlook appears to be congealing around the need to cut deals with Xi’s China that will, unfortunately, allow the Indian government formally to accept a China that is territorially expanding at India’s expense, but free up strategic policy space and resources to, presumably, belabour Pakistan!

One is not sure what to make of the Modi government’s obsession with reducing an already much reduced Pakistan. No country is more seriously tanking financially, politically and socially than Pakistan. Any dim-witted politician would take to heart Napoleon Bonaparte’s advice to not interfere when an adversary is making mistake after mistake, seemingly intent on taking himself down. With General Qamar Javed Bajwa apparently serious about detaching the Pakistan army from the snakepit that is Pakistani politics, but Imran Khan, disqualified from fighting elections on corruption grounds, just as focussed on bringing matters to a head with his underway “long march” on Islamabad with its potential for exacerbating domestic fissures and faultlines to the point of endangering the Pakistani state, that country is in for a rough ride. It is a situation, Imran expects, will compel the Pakistan army to either takeover the reins of power for another round of martial law rule, or comply with his demand to dislodge the Muslim League (Nawaz) government of Shahbaz Sharif and order elections which, he expects, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party to win. Any which way this mess gets sorted out, Imran is confident he won’t lose.

The only thing guaranteed to get the warring elements within the Pakistani nation to forget their differences are revelations of actions by the Modi-Doval-Jaishankar trio to weaken Pakistan. (In this respect, India’s squeak-by win in the T-20 World Cup opener in Melbourne hasn’t helped!). So, stand down!

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, geopolitics/geostrategy, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indo-Pacific, Internal Security, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Tibet, Trade with China | 11 Comments

‘Xi will wait for the Modi government to make the reconciliation moves’

Interview published in Rediff News October 20, 2022,


Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the think-tank in New Delhi, discusses the implications of Xi Jinping being re-elected for a third term as China’s leader for India and the rest of the world.

“The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal about the screening of the Galwan Valley footage where Indian and Chinese troops fought in June 2020 at the Chinese Communist party’s 20th party congress in Beijing on Sunday.

With Xi Jinping in all certainty getting a third term as general secretary of China’s Communist party this weekend and a likely third term as president of the People’s Republic of China in March, what does this mean for India and for the world?

More of the same. Meaning, that he will wait for the Modi government to make the reconciliation moves, which will not happen. Because Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has expressly refuted Beijing’s statement that normalcy was returning to Sino-Indian relations. He reminded the Xi regime that the territorial status quo ante had to be first restored before normalcy can have a chance.

For the world, Xi’s third term means aggravation of the Sino-US rivalry. With Washington and European countries rolling out a number of punitive anti-China laws to deny Chinese goods easy access to their markets, prevent it from stealing/hacking advanced technologies and disrespecting Intellectual Property Rights, and to reduce dependence on China for critical stuff, like semi-conductors, and on Chinese supply chains supporting their industries, and with (United States) President Joe Biden promising militarily to curtail Chinese moves at forcible Taiwan reunification, the military competition in the Indo-Pacific is set to become sharper.

Some weeks ago it was suggested that a palace coup had taken place and Xi had been sidelined. But obviously, this news was incorrect.

The politics of Zhongnanhai (the government complex in Beijing where the major leaders of the Chinese Communist party live and work) has always been difficult to read. But it is usually safe to disregard rumours of dire events happening behind its walls.

IMAGE: Xi at the opening ceremony of the 20th party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Xi has harnessed an aggressive nationalism which he claims will see the cultural and military rejuvenation of China. How far will he succeed in this objective?

With the Chinese armed forces afforded large budgets and a relatively free hand, Xi Jinping in his first two terms had already gone some ways towards turning China into a garrison State. His statements at the Communist Party Congress suggest he is doubling down on firming up the China ‘fortress’. In other foreign policy areas, like in the programmes of strategic outreach, for example, he has had mixed results. While many of the projects in his Belt Road Initiative (such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) have stalled, the Chinese presence in the western Pacific centering on the Solomon Islands has met with considerable success.

Xi’s goals can be achieved by creating a fighting military machine. Its force, albeit, was tested two years against India in Ladakh in which the Chinese more or less have achieved their objectives.

As usually happens with the Indian military and government, they had no clue about the stealthy Chinese advance onto the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and generally about the forward area buildup in eastern Ladakh. So when the PLA went overt with their tactical offensive on the Galwan river, they caught the Indian army and MEA with their pants down. It has forced India on the defensive.

IMAGE: Communist leaders applaud Xi at the party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Galwan Valley footage was shown at the opening of the party congress in Beijing on Sunday. What does that indicate?

The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it.

India put up a challenge to the Chinese army in Doklam in 2017, but ever since the Chinese have built up a vast infrastructure of roads and helipads claiming this entire area as their own. Do you see them blockading Indian forces in this area?

Tackling the PLA in the contested trijunction Doklam area has always been problematic because it also involves Bhutan. Powerful sections within Bhutanese ruling circles that Beijing has cultivated over the years want a rapprochement even if that riles New Delhi. That particular Bhutanese view seems to be that if ceding a bit of territory here and there to China generates goodwill, it may be no bad thing.

With Russia involved in the Ukraine war and with the US focus shifted to this conflict, the Quad no longer enjoys the kind of primacy in its mental bandwidth as was the case earlier. This is bound to benefit the Chinese who are free to carry out aggressive actions in South Asia.

It isn’t as if the Quad was ever operationalised or was militarily active. India, the US, Japan and Australia have all seen it as more of a loose political-military arrangement to discomfit China. Besides, the Ukraine imbroglio is a land-based contingency while the Indo-Pacific is a maritime theatre of conflict. The two require quite different sets of wherewithal and capabilities. So the US/NATO focus on the Donbas region that Russia wants to annex will only marginally affect its efforts in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea or the East Sea.

IMAGE: A telecast of the deliberations at the Communist party congress for journalists covering the event at a hotel in Beijing, October 19, 2022. Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters

Will Xi continue to issue periodic warnings against Taiwan or do you see any likelihood of a future attack?

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is far from imminent. After all, Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine have got Xi and the PLA thinking that, maybe, attacking Taiwan is not such a great idea! However, attempts at reunification are possible in the middle to distant future (20-50 years). But by then Taipei will likely have secured nuclear weapons for itself, making it immune to any Chinese adventure.

Why has there been such complete capitulation in China. Did Xi not face any opposition at all?

What capitulation? Xi always controlled the PLA and the other levers of power. So there was never any serious contender for power on the scene.

Is Xi going to see any breaks at all in his quest for Chinese supremacy as the number one power in the globe?

All trends and indices suggest that while it will be a hard slog for China to ascend to the numero uno status, it will always be a force to reckon with in Asia and the world.

How do you see the US response to these developments?

Well, the US and the West are taking all the measures necessary to prevent China from having an easy run to the top. Washington realiSes it made a mistake by helping China become a powerful trading nation and industrial power — the manufacturing hub of the world. In the future, it will try with its European allies and Japan and Australia to retard China’s relentless progress.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Bhutan, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, 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, Russia, russian military, society, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Taiwan, Tibet, Trade with China, United States, US., Western militaries | 1 Comment

The new CDS and the problems with the Agenda

[The new CDS, General Anil Chauhan]

After a long hiatus and endless speculation, the country finally has a Chief of Defence Staff and successor to the late General Bipin Rawat — General Anil Chauhan. Like his predecessor in this post, he is a Gurkha officer and, more importantly, a native of Pauri Garhwal — an origin they fortuitously share with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. The Pauri Garhwali fellowship aside, Chauhan’s time as Director-General, Military Operations during the Balakot strike operation that was, in reality, more a “political” and “public relations” stunt than a military success, may have earned him plus points at the PMO and appointments, after retiring as the Eastern Army commander, as Military Adviser to the National Security Council that Doval oversees and now as CDS and, concurrently, Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA), and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. (The DGMO’s brief during the Balakot op would have been to keep the army primed for hostilities in case Pakistan followed up the chase by its F-16s of the Indian strike aircraft in scoot mode with army action.)

Chauhan seems a run-of-the-mill careerist type who got lucky (in terms of political connections). He has no paper trail in terms of writings, public speeches, etc. that would clue us to the views he holds on military and national security matters and, even less, about what he means to do. It is obvious that when Rawat was anointed CDS, Modi-Doval had no road map on armed forces’ integation and theaterisation of commands, and Rawat felt free to voice some very definite but wrong-headed views. Such as the air force as a support service, expeditionary forces as unnecessary and, not for the right reasons, aircraft carriers as unaffordable luxuries. They ended up stiffening the resistance to his initiatives from the get-go. Chauhan while publicly more circumspect is reported by “government officials” as saying that there have been enough “discussions” already and “it is now time to move forward” on implementing theaterisation of commands, his priority.

But realization of theatre commands assumes that all three armed services are on the same page and, moreover, that a certain level of integration of the services has already been achieved — neither of which is true! Indeed, the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari preempted the constitution of the ‘Air Defence Command’ by announcing on October 4 the establishment of a new and separate operational stream within his service — the so-called Weapons Systems Branch headed by an Air Marshal-rank officer to control all of IAF’s surface-to-air missile and surface-to-surface missile squadrons and fleet of surveillance and attack drones! And, doubling down, he stated plainly that his service’s air power doctrine cannot be compromised, and added that theaterised commands would only complicate operational and other decisionmaking by adding another layer to it! So, whatever Chauhan has in mind to do, the IAF is not on-board.

But what’s the thinking in his parent service — the army. Consider the views of two retired officers, Lieutenant Generals Raj Shukla, whose last two postings as Commandant, Army War College, and head of the Army Training Command in Shimla, presumably afforded him the time to mull over issues in some depth, and Satish Dua, a former Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and GOC, XV Corps in J&K.

While conceding that “integrated theatre commands are an important structural correction”, Shukla in a somewhat confused and confusing Hindustan Times op-ed of Sept 30, considered them remnants of the “industrial era”, and hinted at “parallel pathways” to jointness courtesy “digital integration, tri-service clouds, Artificial Intelligence-enabled combat frameworks” which, he claimed, would produce “superior” “military autonomy” than theatre commands (but is military autonomy the objective of military integration?), before lurching sideways to urge General Chauhan to make “an immediate, accelerated and ambitious turn to the seas, even as we fortify our combat posture” on the disputed land border with China.

Delving into the challenges facing Chauhan, Dua’s op-ed on the same day in the Times of India was less futuristic and more hopeful that the new CDS will “carry forward” Rawat’s “endeavour”, further the cause of “civil-military fusion”, and prepare the system for “multi-domain warfare” by utilizing the DMA. He regards theaterisation as a means of using “existing resources for an optimised combat effectiveness”, which he admits will be no easy task to realize. But he advises Chauhan to take “strong decisions” if he finds “unanimity” among services chiefs missing meaning, apparently, that he should hold Air Chief Marshal Chaudhuri’s feet to the fire, ride roughshod over the IAF’s objections to the air defence command, while ensuring that this “transition” is “smooth”. How the CDS is to do all this, Dua doesn’t say.

Shukla’s and Dua’s writings — and one can refer to a bunch of other similar articles by serving and retired military personnel on the subject of jointness-integration-theaterisation, are symptomatic of the problem. It is all airy-fairy stuff. Everybody knows where to go but no clear-cut ideas of how to get there.

Some 20 years ago at an army symposium in Bangalore I presented a paper that envisaged four stages leading to forces integration — cooperation, coordination, jointness, integration. I said then that the Indian armed services are stuck in the first stage of cooperating, willy-nilly, during crisis and war, and that coordination some time happens if, say, NDA coursemates from different services decide to work closely outside usual channels in an emergency, and that the last two stages of jointness and integration are thresholds realistically so far beyond realization as to be mere abstractions! Into the third decade of the new millennium, little substantively has changed.

A major restructuring of armed forces is not a joke, or indulged in on a political whim. It requires a singularity of vision and, ideally, years of serious and sustained study and inter-services discussions, and interactions at the services HQ-level, in-depth reports from in-house and diverse external sources — informed analysts, academics, thinktanks and management consultants that explore the technology trends and management imperatives, different models of military manpower usage, systems of procurements and budgetary allocations, experiences of military integration in other countries, and involves fleshing out of alternative schemes of jointness and the costs of such transformation, and finally wargaming and practical exercises to test and validate the alternative schemata of operational wartime and peacetime decisionmaking to see what works best. That’s how the most effective mix of military and nonmilitary elements and the meshing of different decisionmaking. command and control designs, can be discovered and armed services restructured in the most effective way. As far as I know, none of this has happened and yet the country is embarked on a major reordering of its armed forces.

Surely, the Modi government can’t be very serious about military integration and theaterisation of commands, because as things stand now the underway efforts seem like passing political fancy. But two moves would still make a difference even if the ground is inadequately prepared for such overhaul. Because more time cannot be wasted on the preparatory work; it will have to be the trial and error method. The Prime Minister has, firstly, to be the principal stakeholder in this exercise and use the whip against the military pooh-bahs and laggards undermining/delaying the process. This may involve firing reluctant services chiefs of staff and retiring principal staff officers in Services headquarters. And secondly, and more importantly, he has to invest Chauhan with the necessary authority — the CDS cannot be the first among equals; in a military milieu that won’t work. He has to be a five star officer — a Field Marshal/Admiral of the Fleet/Marshal of the Air Force, who outranks everybody and whose orders and instructions the services chiefs can ignore or resist at their peril. Absent these steps, Modi may as well whistle for theaterisation.

The Prime Minister may care to learn a lesson or two from the American experience. In the US, President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson took ownership of the unification plan and were the political piledrivers, who pulverzied the objections of the military, especially the senior service — the US Navy, and brusquely dismissed the parochial fears of the Admirals of renown — the Chester Nimitz’s and the Arleigh Burke’s, who had gained fame in the Second World War and opposed military unification. There was also no great body of studies and reports leading to the military integration and the emergence of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. There was but a single design for unification outlined in a short paper authored by a single person, not a committee — Stimson’s adviser and confidante, a man named Ferdinand. The trial and error method here led to an exercise in rectification and a second defence system overhaul in the 1980s — the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

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Technology & War, Understanding strategic threats, Chinese influence ops in India

This TEDx talk, recorded in July 2022, on the above subject of “Technology & War” may be of interest

Two more recent (Aug 23 and Sept 13) talks on DEF TALKS regarding ‘Understanding strategic threats to India’ and on ‘Chinese influence operations in India’ below

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Why Putin Is Threatening A Nuclear War

Rediff News  interview of Sept 24, 2022 on the Ukraine crisis reproduced below, and at

‘When the war against Ukraine that Putin started is not going the way he was expecting it to and his military options are getting onerous, a bit of nuclear sabre rattling is what he hopes will turn things around for him and Russia.’

IMAGE: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an event marking the 1160th anniversary of Russian statehood in the city of Veliky Novgorod, Russia, September 21, 2022. Photograph: Sputnik/Ilya Pitalev/Pool via Reuters

Is President Putin’s frequent sabre rattling on the use of nuclear weapons a sombre warning to Western countries? A genuine threat? Or is he simply bluffing.

Dr Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the Delhi think-tank, and a national security expert explains the chain of developments taking place following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“No one in Moscow expected Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to react the way they did nor anticipated that the US/NATO would set up an arms supply line enabling Ukrainian forces,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

Why is President Putin resorting to frequent nuclear sabre rattling? Are these threats creating the desired fear in the West as Putin would like to believe?

When the war against Ukraine that Putin started is not going the way he was expecting it to and his military options are getting onerous, a bit of nuclear sabre rattling is what he hopes will turn things around for him and Russia.

But it is not having the effect he expected in the main because a 75-year-old nuclear use taboo is hard to overcome, particularly because conventional military setbacks in Ukraine and that too of Russia’s making, don’t seem serious enough provocation.

IMAGE: A view of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia region. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

How is Nato indulging in ‘nuclear blackmail’ of Russia? Is the territorial integrity of Russia being threatened as Putin claims?

Well, the context is this. The informal understanding of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum that promised joint US-Russian-UK security guarantees for Ukraine in return for Kyiv giving up its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal, was that Ukraine would remain outside NATO. Moscow believes this was violated by the moves underway to fast-track Ukraine’s membership in NATO.

And that once inside the NATO fold, Ukraine could invoke nuclear protection clauses of the alliance — which Moscow interprets as ‘nuclear blackmail’, to prevent Russia from achieving its objective of annexing the Donbas-Crimean flank to the Black Sea.

Crimea was forcibly absorbed by Russia in 2014.

According to Putin, this flank, with an ethnic Russian majority, that connects Crimea and Donbas to Russia, but outside Moscow’s control would imperil its access to, and render it vulnerable from, the sea and therefore constitutes a security threat.

Are these warnings being issued by President Putin so that Western countries stop their escalation of weapon supply to Ukraine?

Certainly, the US/NATO supply of armaments, especially precision-guided munitions (PGMs), to Ukrainian forces have frustrated Russian plans for rapid armoured thrusts to take the Donbas region.

Whether threats of use ‘of all available means’ will prompt the US to terminate the military supply pipeline is doubtful — the strategic gains from keeping Russia thus militarily engaged in Ukraine and progressively weakening are too substantial to forego.

IMAGE: Ukrainian soldiers repair a Russian tank captured during a counteroffensive operation near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region. Photograph: Sofiia Gatilova/Reuters

During the recent Modi-Putin interaction in Samarkand, President Putin told Prime Minister Modi that while Russia was keen to end the fighting, the Ukrainian leadership did not want to negotiate a peace settlement. How far is that perception correct?

Hard to know what the truth is when faced with conflicting Russian and Ukrainian accounts.

The facts are these: Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 without much Ukrainian resistance.

Moscow believed that for the same reasons Kyiv would not hugely oppose the Russian takeover of the Donbas.

Except, Ukrainian President Vlodoymyr Zelenskyy was unwilling to cede this territory as well to Russia with or without a fight. So both in a sense are right!

With the kind of reverses the Russian army has faced recently in Kharkiv and with there being no cessation of weapon supplies to Ukraine so far, do you see Russian reverses on the battlefield on the rise and if that is indeed the case, will there be a likelihood of Putin resorting to the use of nuclear tactical weapons in the future?

The use of tacnukes is not likely for reasons of the nuclear taboo already mentioned. But Putin is, perhaps, using such threat of use by way of a Russian doctrinal innovation, namely, the principle of ‘escalate to de-escalate’.

Meaning, make the threat of tacnuke use real and imminent enough to raise fears in Washington about the situation spiraling into a strategic exchange, and thus compel it to pressure Kyiv into halting hostilities and into some kind of accommodation with Moscow.

IMAGE: Destroyed Russian tanks in Ukraine. Photograph: Irina Rybakova/Press service of the Ukrainian Ground Forces/Handout via Reuters

The world is also interested in getting a clearer picture of what is happening at the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, with its six reactors, making it the largest nuclear power station in Europe which is being operated with the help of Ukrainian workers.
Each of Zaporizhzhia’s reactors would cost $7 billion to replace, and with fighting going on around the plant experts do not to rule out a Chernobyl-like disaster.

Zaporizhzhia could be another Chernobyl. Then again not.

Putin, perhaps, has in mind to use the threat to strike this massive nuclear power station as a hostage to ‘good’ behaviour by Washington and Kyiv. But such tactics are risky because any radioactivity leakage as a consequence of a hit on it could affect the Russian hinterland too because radioactive clouds could easily float across and drop down as rain and infect the Russian countryside or urban areas.

But the reported missile attack on a hydroelectric plant just 300 metres from the nuclear reactors at another Ukrainian nuclear power station in Yuznoukrainsk in southern Ukraine could be a signal to the US and NATO that Moscow’s nuclear use threat is ‘not a bluff’.

IMAGE: Russian grenade launchers captured by the Ukrainian armed forces during a counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region. Photograph: Press service of the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/Handout/Reuters

The holding of a referendum set to take place in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia over the weekend provides an interesting subtext to the ongoing developments. Why is this referendum being held in the first place?

The referendum ordered by Putin in these areas is retroactively to endow the Russian actions to annex the Donbas region of Ukraine with a veneer of legitimacy and as a means of showing popular support for the Russian campaign of ‘reunification’. And also, just may be, as a means of blunting Western calls for Russian reparations for the destruction visited upon Ukraine by the war.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Samarkand, September 16, 2022. Photograph: Kind courtesy @narendramodi/Twitter

Has the Ukrainian invasion proved to be a major miscalculation on the part of Russia?

Yes, because no one in Moscow expected Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people to react the way they did, nor anticipated that US/NATO would set up an arms supply line enabling Ukrainian forces to fight without worrying over much about whether their stocks of guns, ammo, artillery and PGMs to sustain such a fight, would last and for how long.

Moscow also miscalculated about just how much of a public relations disaster this war has been.

While Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people are seen as heroic in resisting aggression, Russia and its military are seen as bumblers, with much of the world perceiving the conflict as an avoidable misadventure.

It is bad news when even friendly states, such as India and China that Moscow had hoped would sit on the fence, think it best to distance themselves from Russia.

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A Grand bargain — a Ladakh DMZ for McMahon Line, is absent. Jaishankar’s peace on a piecemeal basis benefits China.

[Jaishankar: Making the wrong point?]

The one thing tried and tested diplomats are not supposed to do is use wrong words that convey or signal the wrong message, and provide ammunition to the adversary.

In the wake of the verified pullback (begun Sept 8, completed Sept 12) by Indian and Chinese PLA troops from the Gogra and Hot Springs areas of Ladakh, the external affairs minister S Jaishankar said this yesterday, to quote him in toto: “You have heard me speak many times about the border. I don’t think I would say anything new there today, except I would recognise that we had disengagement at P[atrolling]P[oint]-15 and the disngagement as I understand was completed and that is one problem less on the border.”

The inelegance of his statement [sure, it was extemporaneous, but diplomats are supposed to be able to think on their feet and, at all times, speak carefully] — repetition of words (engagement) and wrong construction (“new there” — where?; “new” about the “border” is, perhaps, what he meant to say) apart, what the minister said is disturbing, more so in light of the MEA spokesman’s statement of Sept 9 elaborating on the short press release issued a day earlier.

Take the most important point in the MEA statement, that India and China will “cease forward deployments in this area in a phased, coordinated and verified manner, resulting in the return of the troops of both sides to their respective areas.” What are the “respective areas” being referred to here? The area to which Indian units have retreated to are, of course, in India. But so is the “area” the PLA troops have got back to!

Thus, the Indian government has implicitly accepted a Ladakh remapped by China! Worse, another point in this MEA statement commits India to ensuring that there will be no attempt unilaterally to change the new “status quo” that’s obtained. A third important point promises talks to “resolve the remaining issues along LAC and restore peace and tranquility in India-China border areas”, including the PPs 10, 11, 12, 13, presumably, along the same lines. With the PLA controlling the Y-Junction — the entry point, as it were, to the Depsang Bulge adjoining the Xinjiang Highway, Indian units cannot access these areas.

The question to ask the Modi regime, therefore, is this: Has it first of all accepted the Chinese 1959 claim line? This latest agreement would suggest it has. It means New Delhi, in effect. has formally renounced India’s historic border with China. China has offered the solution of a buffer zone to be implemented piecemeal — as a means of separating the two armies and avoiding hostile encounters of the 2020 Galwan kind. One such partial buffer zone was earlier established with the Tibetan exiles-manned Special Frontier Force units climbing down from Rezang La, and other posts on the Kailash Range heights in exchange for the PLA withdrawing from the Finger 3 terrain feature on the northern shore of the Pangong Tso. That was a bum deal.

Now another swath of land running across Gogra and Hot Springs too is a buffer. Once fully negotiated, Beijing hopes the buffer zone would stretch all the way from the Depsang to the Pangong Lake. In fact, senior army officers indicate that the PLA commander at the recent 16th session of the corps level army commanders’ meeting communicated that China may consider vacating the Depsang Plains in return for India accepting such a buffer zone. The former Northern Army commander, Lt Gen HS Panag, too hints that such an arrangement may be in the works. (See )

Presently, there are three claim lines — one that India has historically recognized as the Sino-Indian boundary (and so identified in the map below). The second line is the 1959 Chinese claimline (dotted yellow line) incorporating the entire mass of territory in northeastern Ladakh and Indian Aksai Chin totaling some 1,000 sq kms. And the third line is the Line of Actual Control (in red). Except there is a belt of Indian territory between the second and the third lines the Chinese have intruded into and are negotiating about. They would like to see this in-between territory converted into a Depsang to Pangong Tso buffer zone, in effect, a de-militarized zone (DMZ) a’la the 38th Parallel in Korea delineated for military reasons by US President Harry Truman, the Soviet jefe maximo, Josef Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the post-WW II Potsdam Conference in July 1945.

[Map of contested Ladakh & Aksai Chin. Source: The Print]

It is in this context, that Jaishankar’s comment of “one problem less on the border” merits concern. Look at the map again. Would any government sign away India’s sovereignty on so large a piece of national territory without making a case for it, and participating in informed debates within Parliament and outside just because the Prime Minister needed to create a conducive milieu for his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Samarkand?

The Chinese are seemingly working on the principle what’s mine is mine, what’s yours is also mine barring what you are ready to fight for, and India on the basis that whatever I can get from China is fine. Over the years,this fairly lax Indian attitude has enabled a mostly peaceful, because stealthy, takeover of Indian territory by the Chinese until the territorial creep led to the 2020 Galwan encounter, when the two forces began eye-balling each other over territory between Beijing’s 1959 claim line and the LAC in eastern Ladakh.

With India having lost so much territory already, the Modi government would ideally like China to agree on the LAC as border. Except, this requires a restoration of the status quo ante that Jaishankar has been iterating for a while now. But the Chinese, realizing that New Delhi can be pushed around easier than they had earlier assumed, have made it amply clear they are unwilling to ease their stranglehold on the Y-Junction and permit Indian access to the Depsang Plains short of India signing off on an extended DMZ that will prevent the Indian army from militarily exploiting proximity to the Xinjiang Highway or endangering the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor branching off at the Karakorum Pass.

Jaishankar may well argue that the territory lost to the Chinese in earlier years was owing to a force majeure situation — China’s marshalling an irresistible force. But if the argument is that this piece of Indian land has been under Chinese occupation since the mid-1950s when they built the Xinjiang Highway through it and an inattentive New Delhi let the PLA gobble up that part of Aksai Chin, and that realistically, India is not now nor will ever be in a position to get it back, then the issue becomes what is India getting for, in effect, accepting Chinese sovereignty over it?

There’s no sign of Jaishankar countering the Chinese proposal for a DMZ and India’s reconciling to Chinese sovereignty over the 1,000 sq kms of captured territory in northeastern Ladakh by demanding that Beijing recognize the McMahon Line in the east, as part of a grand bargain — a solution, incidentally, first offered by Zhouenlai to Jawaharlal Nehru in the Fifties and again by Dengxiaoping to Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s. Such a final solution for a vexed border dispute would make sense, and not be difficult for Modi to sell to the Indian people. But there’s no such grand bargain on the anvil, which makes this particular deal in Ladakh more onerous.

The most alarming possibility is this: After firming up its Ladakh end, China will begin moving on Arunachal with a view to detaching the Tawang District where the main Tibetan Lamasaries are located, and which the Chinese call “southern Tibet” in the hope that here too New Delhi can be strong-armed into striking a territorial deal on Chinese terms. In that case, there will be war, the outcome of which though uncertain potentially favours the PLA, which is advantaged in every way. It may not be a military disaster for India on the scale of 1962, but could dent the army’s reputation in lots of ways.

It is precisely such a denouement that MEA may be worried about and why it is trying to distance itself from it. For instance, Jaishankar’s Ministry has already begun putting out commentaries via retired diplomats commentating in the media that it was the army commanders at their parleys in Chushul who hammered out the deal for the disengagement in Ladakh, without once hinting that the said army commanders negotiated strictly per MEA script and instructions. (See )

Still, it boggles the mind that the Indian government is party to realizing peace on the LAC on a piecemeal basis, which serves China’s purpose. By not linking negotiations regarding the western theatre (Ladakh) to developments in the eastern sector (Arunachal Pradedsh), Beijing can stretch out the negotiations concerning the LAC indefinitely — the tactics it has successfully used so far. This is not in India’s interest.

Modi has to see the wisdom in insisting that the deal is for all of the disputed border, or there are no negotiations at all, and let the local conditions then dictate whether there will be hostilities or not. But in that case, and looking holistically at the bilateral relations, New Delhi will have to begin ramping up punitive actions, trade sanctions, etc to slowly but conspicuously begin closing off the open access to the vast Indian market the Chinese Companies have so far availed of. Modi has to communicate to Xi that either China agrees to have all round good relations without the distraction of a militarily live border, or India prepares for all-round hostility, and that there’s no middle ground.

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‘China Wants To keep India On The Hook’

Interview of Bharat Karnad published in Rediff News, September 12, 2022 08:54 IST at

‘This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied.’
‘The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.’
‘An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!’

IMAGE: September 11, 2022: Army Chief General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande on his visit to Ladakh to witness Exercise Parvat Prahar. General Pande was briefed on operational preparedness by commanders on the ground. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter

“This is only a shallow disengagement conceded for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

“It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose,” he adds.

How far can the present Gogra disengagement be seen as a positive step, breaking of the gridlock as it were, or is it being done keeping the SCO meet in mind?

This disengagement, while good in itself in that it reduces the possibility of armed units of the two sides coming quite literally to blows with proximal patrolling, is essentially a Chinese attempt to see the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit mid-September pass off without incident.

It also seems like a placatory or even an incentivising move to ensure Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the heads of government meeting.

Beijing continues to claim that the April 2020 status quo is a result of India’s illegal crossing of the Line of Actual Control and is therefore not acceptable to China.

This is the offensive negotiating strategy Beijing has always adopted in a nutshell — claim that because it is India that has intruded into Chinese territory, it is Indian troops that need to vacate all the land they have illegally occupied or encroached upon, thereby reinforcing its claims on Indian territory.

And because, the MEA/Indian government never asserts its own position in equally blunt manner, in the optics of this confrontation, it is India that ends up looking like the aggressor!

Will this disengagement which incidentally only involves only the going back of 50 troops on both sides lead to greater de-escalation of troops or is this only another ploy by the Chinese?

The first thing to keep in mind is that this withdrawal by both sides is happening on Indian territory!

This was Indian land the PLA advanced on and occupied. The Chinese then ‘negotiated’ a pullback of their troops a small distance on Indian territory even as Indian jawans draw back further into India from the forward position.

An apparently satisfied Indian government says this is a great move for peace! How great is that for China!

In any case, this is only a shallow disengagement conceded by the Chinese for immediate political gain, namely, Modi’s presence at the SCO heads of government meeting in Samarkand.

It is neither a permanent withdrawal nor the harbinger of a more enduring arrangement and, even less, a first step in the process of formally delineating a boundary which does not serve Beijing’s purpose.

It is better to keep the dispute on simmer, bring the situation occasionally to boil, and keep India on the hook,

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh, February 16, 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

The Depsang Plains area remains a critical flashpoint. This area has seen massive deployment and buildup of Chinese troops since May 2020. Do you see any signs of this being resolved.

No. Because the capture of the Depsang Bulge is critical in military geography terms to the People’s Liberation Army holding on to — and thus denying to India — the vast border frontage northeast of the Y-Junction, on the northern shore of the Shyok river and adjoining the southern Tibet area through which passes the Xinjiang Highway (GS 219).

The significance here is that the GS 219 bifurcates at the Karakoram Pass to become the arterial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor terminating in the warm water port of Gwadar on the Balochistan coast.

Were India to retake this sub-sector on the Line of Actual Control, it would have a stranglehold on the highway — the lifeline to Xinjiang, and the Karakorum Pass, which China will not allow.

Hence, the PLA will never pull back from its foward position in the Depsang Plains.

IMAGE: General Pande interacts with officers and troops in Ladakh. Photograph: ADG PI – Indian Army/Twitter

The Chinese army continues to block the Indian Army to their traditional PPs 10,11,12,13 since April 2020 having moved 18 km inside what India considers to be its own territory…

Because all these patrolling points are in the area northeast of the Y-Junction pivotal, for reasons alluded to in my response to the previous question, to the PLA and China.

The basic problem for India has always been to hold the nearly 500 km-long line — Daulat Beg Oldi-Demchok in the Depsang Plains, in which mission the army has manifestly failed, losing ground over the years in small parcels until now when the PLA has annexed and absorbed some 1,000 sq kms in this whole sub-sector.

If Modi-Jaishankar (Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar) somehow get President Xi Jinping to agree to a ‘restoration of the status quo ante‘ involving this piece of territory, it will be a very tremendous diplomatic feat.

The Chinese have built massive infrastructure in eastern Ladakh which includes a key bridge in the Pangong Tso area. Also, they have doubled the deployment of fighter aircraft in the Eastern Ladakh sector.
What has our response been to this?

The Pangong bridge constructed on the north shore to connect their garrisons in the Khurnak Fort area to Moldo will cut the PLA forces’s transit time from one to the other area from a couple of days to only a few hours.

And the PLA Air Force bases have gone up from three to 30 in the southern Tibet region, and increased deployment from some 30 combat aircraft to reportedly as many as 300 combat aircraft.

The IAF’s response, insofar as what can be made out, is the occasional aircraft sortie along the southern Pangong Lake shore with extreme care taken to offer the PLAAF no provocation. This is in reaction to the PLA Air Force combat aircraft flying well beyond the Line of Actual Control into Indian territory almost at will and unmolested by IAF.

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong lake area in Eastern Ladakh in February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

China is not at all happy to see the growing closeness developing between Japan and India on military matters including conducting joint military drills and advancing their security relationship.

I have always maintained that China and the PLA are spooked by two countries: Vietnam, who gave the PLA a bloody hiding in 1979 when they deigned to invade northern Vietnam to, what else, ‘teach Hanoi a lesson’ and instead were taught one.

It was an embarrassing defeat and the PLA hightailed it out of the battle areas.

And the other is a militarised Japan.

The ‘rape of Nanjing’ and the horrors committed against the Chinese population by the Japanese imperial land forces have so seared the Chinese consciousness, Beijing still has nightmares.

And so I have long advocated that India should do every thing possible to stoke these Chinese fears.

It ought to urge Tokyo rapidly to build up militarily — a process already initiated by the late prime minister Abe Shinzo, and offer strategic nuclear cooperation with Japan in whatever form (and to Taiwan).

And nuclear missile arm Vietnam as payback for Beijing’s equipping Pakistan with nuclear missiles.

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Ek dhakka aur do – topple the NPT regime, skewer China!

[The Chinese delegation at the 2022 NPT RevCon]

It was only appropriate that Russia, the country that proved just how foolish and ridiculously naive Ukraine was to trust the trio of the United States, Russia, and Britain and surrender its share of the erstwhile Soviet Union’s thermonuclear arsenal, courtesy the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, prevented a consensus “final document” from emerging at the 10th edition of the five-yearly UN Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon).

This conference periodically to assert the primacy of the NPT regime, delayed for a couple of years by the COVID pandemic, began in New York August 1 and concluded August 26. Considering how relations between Russia and the US are heading south, the Russian action, in effect, kicked the RevCon into life support, bringing the future of the NPT itself into question. Russia did so to protest the reference in the draft paper to the alleged Russian attacks on or near the Zaphorizhzhya nuclear power station. Many European states felt that even an accidental strike could create a Chernobyl-like nuclear catastrophe. In other words, Moscow used an issue unconnected with nonproliferation to damage the NPT regime. And, a damned good thing to happen from India’s strategic point of view!

As observers at these RevCons, Indian diplomats dish out the usual disarmament pablum produced by the DISA (Disarmament and International Security) Division in MEA. Just as well that nothing, if anything, of note was said by them because otherwise it’d have been reported at least in the Indian Press (even if no other media takes notice). The correct thing for Delhi to have done from the time of the first RevCon in May 1975 was to give it a miss. And it should have been followd up by boycotting the subsequent RevCons to signal India’s unhappiness with the global nuclear order lorded over by the five “NPT recognized” weapons states — the US, Russia, UK, France and China. Instead, while not being a signatory to the NPT and therefore not bound by its rules, India has acted all along as if it is a bonafide member of this treaty that was, incidentally, originally designed by Washington in the Sixties to keep India from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold!

Delhi is in the forefront of the worldwide nonproliferation effort just so it is in America’s good books, eager to burnish its image as, what else, a “responsible” state. To be perceived as such has required grave compromises to be made by various Indian governments. Such as refraining from selling and exporting entirely indigenously developed technologies related to the Bomb and to 220MW heavy water-moderated light water reactor-based power plants. China should long ago have been paid back in kind for its policy of nuclear missile arming Pakistan in the early 1980s by transferring nuclear-warheaded Prithvi and later Agni ballistic missiles and Brahmos cruise missiles to countries on China’s periphery. It is an option I have been advocating from 1998 and my time in the (First) National Security Advisory Board, but which is now getting shut down because the Indian government seems intent on shackling itself to the do’s and don’ts of the Nuclear Suppliers Group — an offshoot of the NPT, and entry into which group, ironically, is subject to a Chinese veto!

The 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US — negotiated as I keep reminding everyone, by the then Joint Secretary (Americas) in MEA and now foreign minister, S Jaishankar, furthers Washington’s twin nonproliferation goals of ensuring that India sticks by the “voluntary moratorium” on nuclear testing announced by Atal Bihari vajpayee in May 1998, which capped the Indian N-weapons tech at the simple fission 10-20 kiloton level. Except, without new and open-ended nuclear tests, the Indian strategic deterrent will be minus proven thermonuclear weapons (because the fusion device tested in the 1998 tests was a dud). This deal was supposed to enable India access to US N-tech. Except, India never really needed US civilian nuclear technology in the first place what with Trombay having mastered all three fuel cycles (uranium, plutonium and thorium). But this rationale provided the Manmohan Singh government with political cover for signing the deal which actually is a strategic liability. Especially so, considering Manmohan Singh’s promise of “20,000 MW by 2020” was predicated on India buying multi-billion dollar Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors that the US Atomic Energy Commission refused to certify as safe! None of this matters now, because the aim of successive governments Narasimha Rao’s onwards was less to buy anything from the US than to pacify Washington by deliberately keeping India a sub-par nuclear weapons state.

A government that means to push India into global reckoning as a country that will get to the top by any and all means, and only abide by treaties and conventions it negotiates has, to-date, not emerged. Instead of putting the fear of God into the P-5 and the big power NPT managers that either India gets what it wants or it will strive to bring down the whole UN caboodle, and particularly the unfair and inequitable NPT-based international nuclear order, like the barrage of explosive charges (in a 9-second TV spectacle last Sunday) did the illegal 30-storey structure in Noida, India talks big, acts small and helps the US and the West perpetuate the status quo.

If Modi wants to change things, do right by India, and pitchfork the country into the ranks of meaningful powers — if only as a spoiler on the world scene, he can and should break out of the system of self-restraint and, firstly, resume nuclear testing; secondly, waste no time in ignoring the NPT-NSG restrictions and onpassing nuclear weapons technology and N-power reactors — perhaps as a package! — to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines and whoever else wants it, and is willing to pay for it. These two actions will instantly destroy the NPT order, and begin seriously to unravel the UN. North Korea with its regular nuclear and missile tests has long offered provocations, as do the nuclear buildup plans of the P-5 with the US, Russia and China in the lead. This development, by the way, directly contravenes Article VI of the NPT mandating nuclear weapons stockpile reductions by the Five NPT-acknowledged powers in return for the rest of the 191 members of this treaty regime foreswearing the Bomb.This is a very good reason to torpedo the NPT.

The plea here then is for India to be disruptive like China is. Ambassador Fu Cong at the RevCon, extolled the virtues of “self-defence” while Chinese strategic forces are on an overdrive to achieve the 2,500 thermonuclear weapons/warheads strength by 2030 — a deterrent size and timeline laid down by President Xi Jinping. In other words, China, unlike a discombobulated India that takes its nonproliferation pledges seriously, is determined to be the equal of the US and Russia in this and every other respect. Meantime, Modi’s India appears content to be bested by Pakistan, its 150 nuclear warheads/weapons beaten by 160 Bombs in the latter’s employ.

Thirdly, India should needle China all it can and on every issue that riles Chinese sensibilities. Thus, India should be in the forefront of publicizing the UN report accusing China of gross human rights, genocidal, abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang using tactics honed by the PLA in Chinese-occupied Tibet, and repeatedly urge Beijing to respect the nationalist urges of the Uyghurs seeking an independent East Turkestan, and get under the Chinese skin that way. Simultaneously, Delhi should with much fanfare and public hoo-ha celebrate Taiwan and support international efforts to solidify that country militarily and symbolically even offer Taipei “strategic weapons technology”– not that Taiwan needs any help in crafting nuclear weapons of its own . Taiwan’s own N-weapons programme was compelled by the US into a state of dormancy, but if activated can produce a weapon inside of 3-6 months. In the interim, India can offer Taipei some 2 dozen warheads as deterrent for fitting into the nosecone geometries of Taiwanese mssiles. This measure combined with Delhi’s publicly disavowing the “one China” paradigm on the basis of China not respecting the “One India” concept encompassing all of Jammu & Kashmir, including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Baltistan, and the principalities of Hunza, Gilgit, Chitral et al in the “Northern Areas”, will put the fat on fire.

And, finally, what will it take for Prime Minister Modi to shut down Chinese access to the Indian consumer market where Chinese companies continue to make a killing? And why does his government continue to ease the rules for Chinese firms? Like the exemptions the Finance Ministry announced for Chinese companies yesterday exporting green energy tech and components to India? Would it take another round of military clashes in Ladakh or in Arunachal? Why are Jaishankar and his MEA promoting the idea of Modi’s meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit to be held mid-September? Is Modi really all that much of an innocent, and has no clue about what’s what with Xi and China? And that the PM’s interest in somehow restoring a pre-Galwan clash-like normalcy to his personal relations with the Chinese supremo and to bilateral relations, cannot be realized without hurting India?

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Understanding Strategic Threats to India

[On parade, the Chinese Dong Feng (East Wind)-41 ICBM, with 8-10 MIRVed thermonuclear warheads]

This interview for Def-Talks, conducted by Aadi Achint, is a sort of “stream of consciousness’ session where I range far and wide, but with the aim of counterpoising the official views and the opinions of just about all the members of the media/Press commentariat who do little more than embroider the government line of the day. It may be accessed below.

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ITBP on LAC — accepting the new Chinese normal?

[ITBP patrol on the LAC]

The August 15 issue of a pink paper announced to the consternation of many that the Narendra Modi government is considering handing over the 3,488 km long disputed border with China to the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police to manage. The main reasons adduced for such handover is apparently “to avoid border conflicts” and, even if belatedly, to realize the “one border, once force”-concept approved by the last Bharatiya Janata Party regime in 2004.

The deep ingress into, and occupation of sizeable Indian territory by China — in excess of 1,000 sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction abutting on the Xinjiang Highway, has not only not been acknowledged by New Delhi but is something Defence Minister Rajnath Singh continues studiously to ignore. He spares no occassion, in fact, to promote the fiction, for instance, that not an inch of Indian ground has been annexed by the People’s Liberation Army. The newsreport also disclosed that ITBP has 180 border outposts, with 140 troopers stationed in each of them, for a total of 25,200 deployed on the LAC. And that two years ago, an additional 47 ITBP border outposts were sanctioned — 34 in Arunachal Pradesh, the rest in Ladakh. (

This little bit of kite-flying by Home Ministry bureaucrats is because they see it as an opportune time to wrench control of the LAC from the Indian army and Defence Ministry, and expand their turf. After all, their minister, Amit Shah, is the second most powerful man in the country and the Prime Minister’s only political confidante. What he can be made officially to desire is pushable as long as a good case can be made for it to Modi who will, however, need some convincing. Modi can be expected to be uneasy. His last two initiatives in the national defence field have not been the successes he was expecting. Resistance from within has all but stalled the process of integrating the military services, and the Agnipath-Agniveer programme has drawn political flak and sparked countrywide protests in the unemployables-rich BIMARU (Bihar-Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh) belt that is also electorally consequential. And, 2024 general elections are just two short years away.

The late Jaswant Singh’s son, Manvendra Singh, who left the ruling BJP for Sonia-Rahul Gandhi’s Congress to improve his political prospects — talk of scampering on to a sinking ship! — in a recent article ( ) contended correctly that Home Ministry’s taking charge of the live China border will result in duplication of costs and procurement systems, and both weaken the logistics and force management on the LAC and, by implication, needlessly complicate an already fraught problem of sustaining a credible deterrent presence on the Himalayan heights.

But the more worrying aspect of such decision is the intention behind it. Could it be a prelude to Modi cutting a deal with the Chinese President Xi Jinping wherein the precondition — “restoration of the status quo ante”, i.e., the return of all the land the PLA has to-date occupied/absorbed in exchange for normalcy in bilateral relations that external affairs minister S Jaishankar has repeated ad infinitum is junked, China gets to keep what it has annexed and India, well, lumps it? Meaning, Delhi accepts the Chinese terms and the new territorial normal, including the LAC drawn expansively on the Chinese 1959 claimline imposed by Beijing in Ladakh, in the Dok La trijunction area and elsewhere? Such a “compromise” will also require the Indian government, as per the Chinese demand, to reiterate the “One China” principle.

What’s the basis for the above conclusion?

For one thing, the Ministry for External Affairs/Government of India has not to-date ever placed the Tibet and Taiwan issues on the same political plane as Kashmir, the whole of which Beijing has never ackowledged as part of India. Thus, as far as Beijing is concerned, there are two claimants to the erstwhile Princely Kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir, and the portion consisting of Gilgit, Hunza, Baltistan and the other principalities (Chitral, Nagar, etc) falling within the ambit of “Northern Areas” and illegally in the possession of Pakistan, is Pakistan’s, with Pakistan, moreover, having a legitimate claim on Indian J&K as well. The Xi dispensation right up to the 2020 Galwan River clashes kept turning the knife in India’s side by initiating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for example, without at anytime referring to the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai accord which specifically mentioned the indeterminate status of J&K pending a final settlement between India and Pakistan. This, at a minimum, required Beijing to secure Delhi’s consent for CPEC as it passed through Kashmir territory claimed by India. But no such diplomatic assent was sought from Delhi, and China proceeded to treat the Northern Areas, implicitly, as integral to Pakistan through which it could construct the CPEC highway via the Karakorum Pass to Gwadar and related projects.

India, in the mean time, continued to respect Chinese sensitivities and unreservedly backed the concept of “One China”. This as Taiwan opened an embassy in Delhi masquerading as a “Trade mission” and sought, even if obtusely, diplomatic recognition. (Indeed, it was rumoured during the brief rule by Chandrashekhar as Prime Minister, Nov 1990- June 1991, when the country’s economy was in dire straits and the country’s holdings of gold had to be flown to the vaults of the Bank of England in London as collateral for loans, that Taipei would gladly take care of India’s then external national debt totaling some US$8-$10 billion for permission to fly the Taiwanese flag on its mission, which offer was rejected!). In any case, in 2003 Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his state visit paved a policy path that internalised the Chinese terms, losing India the little leverage it had left, by accepting Tibet as part of China (in return for Beijing accepting Sikkim as a state in the Indian Union)! The offending Joint Communique reflected MEA’s traditional passive-frightened attitude to China and matching negotiating skills! It is a document the Chinese embassy gleefully reminds the Indian media of. Finally riled enough to take offense, the MEA only relatively recently stopped talking of ‘One China’ and then did not come out swinging by equating ‘One China’ with ‘One India” inclusive of all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — a policy I advocated in in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet). Worse, the Indian government has been traipsing around the issue of Taiwan and India’s growing ties with Taipei — economic, trade, technological and military, without tipping over into recognizing Taiwan as a separate and distinct entity whose sovereignty Beijing needed to be mindful of.

So, how does all this tie in with Home Ministry’s ITBP-LAC gambit? Unfortunately, the loosely worded Indo-Tibetan Border Police Act, 1992, enacted in 1996, describes the task of ITBP (like that of the other paramilitary organization — Border Security Force) as “ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith”. In effect, it makes these paramils, theoretically at least, the equals of the army. It may help buttress Home Ministry’s legal arguments for putting the ITBP in harm’s way on the frontlines on the LAC. But because this paramil is nowhere as well equipped or organized for warfighting, and lacks the requisite ethos for combat as the army is, the ITBP units will be an impediment and hindrance to the army, which even though handicapped in other ways, will have to take care of business. So, if the ITBP is manifestly operationally incapable, how does it help to position it in the van to take on the Chinese group armies?

The answer is in the newsreport unveiling this damnfool idea. It suggested that having the ITBP on the LAC would reduce the possibility of military conflict. In most countries, paramilitaries are tasked to police/monitor settled, clearly demarcated, and internationally recognized borders. The border with China is not delineated whence territory on either side of the disputed LAC is up for grabs. Except, whenever opportunity presents itself the Chinese People’s Liberation Army grabs Indian territory; on the other hand, the Indian army doesn’t reciprocate by taking over parcels of real estate on the Chinese side. Beijing’s standing instructions to the PLA, in the event, are apparently to stake claims on Indian territory patrolled by Indian soldiers, occupy any land devoid of an Indian military presence, and to exploit the Indian army’s disposition policy by capturing areas/posts from where Indian units are usually withdrawn during winter because the absence of a network of border roads, communications setups, storage depots and other support infrastructure, makes it impossible to prop up a forward presence in strength.

The Pakistan army elements occupied the posts on the Kargil heights vacated by Indian troops in high winter and precipitated a limited war in 1999. And it led the PLA to annex strategically important territory in the general area of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains, and on the Galwan and elsewhere and to confront the surprised Indian army with a fait accompli. It is the sort of territorial aggrandizement the Indian army usually makes no attempt to forcibly try and reverse. Now that the PLA is well settled in these formerly Indian areas, Beijing is looking forward to capturing more territory and not to restoring previous conditions as pleaded by Jaishankar. If in these circumstances the Modi government wants to avoid military hostilities, whom would they rather have on the LAC facing the Chinese — the Indian army, which is apt when pushed to shove back, or the paramilitary ITBP officered by persons from the Indian Police Service and with little real warfighting capability?

In the wake of the 1962 war, the ITBP was orginally raised as Special Forces, trained by US Rangers for enemy rear area operations and bulk-manned by Tibetan youth from the exile community who would be motivated to do maximum harm to PLA lording it over their homeland. Over time, the Tibetan strength in this paramil dwindled and ITBP became just another Home Ministry-controlled police unit recruiting from all over and deployed in roles it had no business playing. Such as “aid to civil”, fighting Naxals in the Red Corridor, or doing more quotidian jobs, like security duty at airports, etc. But then this is what the IPS leadership of the ITBP is most comfortable doing, and fits in with why some in the Modi government, who are not keen on having armed confrontations with China, would would want an inoffensive police-type oufit out there on the LAC!

In any case, just how unconnected to field reality the IPS officers leading ITBP are may be judged by the statements made by its sometime Director-General, Sanjay Arora, a policeman from Tamil Nadu cadre. He is reported by Press as saying “Our preparation on LAC is fantastic” and that the ITBP “is ready for any eventuality” and by way of a nugget of wisdom adds that “China is a country like us”!! (See ). It is hard to know what to make of Mr. Arora other than that he is given to hyperbole and is completely ignorant of the adversary his force may face. Lucky for him, he was recently shifted from ITBP and made Police Commissioner, Delhi, and will not be helming the paramil when PLA initiates live action!

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, domestic politics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Ocean, Indian para-military forces, Indo-Pacific, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Taiwan, Tibet, United States, US. | 22 Comments

The Chanakya Dialogues | China: Pushing The World To The Edge |


Controversy has been triggered mostly in air force circles by my last post regarding the IAF leasing the upgraded and advanced ‘White Swan’ variant of the Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bomber, specifically over whether Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha actually said India would be going in for this aircraft.

I leave it to the readers of this blog to see and hear the former Air Force Chief’s mentioning the need for a “bomber” in his keynote address at the First edition of the Chanakya Dialogues and, in the interaction session, his response to my direct question about the leasing of the White Swan from Russia, and decide if he indirectly confirmed that such a deal was in the works.


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‘Modi has done little to punish China’

‘It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.’

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, in Wuhan, April 28, 2018.

Will Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan have a domino effect across the world?

Can India use its fallout to turn the tables to its advantage against China?

Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, discusses the possible outcomes of the Pelosi visit.

“The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.


The biggest takeaway for India from the Pelosi visit and the subsequent belligerent display of Chinese firepower against Taiwan should be that China can be contained.
Are there lessons India needs to learn from this?

I have always maintained that China is less (strong) militarily than it projects itself and when challenged by a resolute adversary usually thinks better of it and either does nothing or, as in the post-Pelosi trip Taiwan case, lets off steam ex-post facto.

It is only when Beijing sees a country with an infirm political will such as India that it acts up as the PLA has done in eastern Ladakh.

It is obvious that Xi Jinping does not want to precipitate matters till the Chinese Communist party’s 20th congress in October and he succeeds in getting an unprecedented third term.
The stakes are too high for him, but will he find different ways to get back at the US?
Is that likely in the near future and what form will that take?

The results of the 20th party congress are a foregone conclusion. Xi has strengthened his support among the key elements of the State, especially the PLA by cultivating the base and installing leaders/commissars/commanders of his choice in strategic posts.

The question is can Xi get punitive without hurting China’s interests? He can’t. The access to US technology and talent is already closed off. But despite tariff increases, America is the richest market that it (China) simply cannot afford to lose.

So other than a symbolic gesture here, a fired-up confrontational rhetoric there, and continued fire drills and combat aircraft flights crossing the median line and offering the barest provocation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing will do nothing.


IMAGE: A Taiwan Air Force Mirage 2000-5 aircraft lands at the Hsinchu air base in Hsinchu, Taiwan, August 7, 2022. Photograph: Ann Wang/Reuters

Some experts believe if China receives a rebuff in Taiwan, Xi will seek to scale up China’s international status by seeking a military victory against India. Is this likely to happen? Is India ready to meet such a challenge given that the Chinese have been strengthening their positions on the Indian territory they took over in 2020?

Xi will get China into even deeper trouble if he thinks he can vent domestic pressure building up because he did nothing to prevent Pelosi from visiting Taipei as he had promised, by initiating hostilities against India.

The Modi regime has so far done little to punish China by way of cutting off Chinese access to the Indian market in the hope that this show of moderation will dissuade Beijing from resuming offensive military activity in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh.

When this assumption is proved wrong. Modi will be forced to take conspicuously strong economic measures to severely restrict bilateral trade of nearly $126 billion in 2021 heavily favouring China.

It is in India’s interest that China continues to be engaged with Taiwan and the US, so as to decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack. By October, winter will have set in the upper Himalayas, will that decrease the likelihood of a Chinese attack on Ladakh/Arunachal Pradesh?

For the reasons adduced above, there’s no possibility of China militarily acting up anywhere along the disputed border anytime soon.

IMAGE: A People’s Liberation Army Air Force aircraft flies over the 68 nautical mile spot, one of mainland China’s closest points to the island of Taiwan, August 5, 2022. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

If we tie up the knots, is the recent US arms deal with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the killing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri and Pelosi’s visit, all part of a concerted US attempt to reclaim its leadership in the global arena?

You assume that the US is capable of expertly manipulating developments and juggling various policy balls in Arab West Asia, Israel, India, Iran, China, Taiwan when, in reality, like India, it is in the business of dousing this or that bushfire as the occasion demands.

There’s no hard strategy as such because as Henry Kissinger famously said America is too wealthy, too powerful, to need to plan or even strategise!

Nancy Pelosi’s visit factored in the fact that economic conditions in China are not so good and China being an export driven economy will not be in a position to face economic sanctions.

That’s what most effectively deters a mercantilist China — the threat of the loss of markets.

Some experts believe QUAD has not created the kind of momentum expected from it.

True. But was it ever really expected to? It is precisely the reason why I advocated in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, that a better geostrategic arrangement to serve Indian interests is for India to securitise two schemes — a modified quadrilateral or Mod Quad with the US, retaining a role of the extra-territorial balancer it has always performed but otherwise replaced in the Quad by a group of capable Southeast Asian States, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India South Africa) — BRICS minus China.

BRIS will work because Russia is as keen as the US in ensuring India is enabled to balance China’s growing power in Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

IMAGE: US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, left, with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Photograph: Kind courtesy Tsai Ing-wen/Twitter

Will growing tensions between China and Taiwan affect the supply of semi conductor chips given that Taiwan is the largest producer of these chips in the world?

China is setting up its own very large fab units to produce high calibre chips.

In the period it will take to erect these facilities, it has to rely on TMSC and other Taiwanese chip producers because it cannot anymore get them, nor the chip manufacturing wherewithal from the US.

Already we are witnessing a major conflict raging between Russia and Ukraine. Given global warming etc, is this the time to precipitate more military action in the eastern hemisphere?

Global warming will exacerbate the tensions between the developed North and the developing South with mass migrations from climate-affected countries of Asia, the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, and Central and South America to the more prosperous nations of Europe and North America.

Published by RediffNews, Aug 9, 2022 at

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IAF will finally get a strategic bomber

[Tu-160 White Swan in a refuelling exercise]

The Indian Air Force seems to be getting over the strategic hump, perhaps with a little push from the PMO, and will soon acquire the advanced and upgraded version of the Tu-160 Blackjack called the ‘White Swan’. This transaction, after the S-400 and help in hypersonic weapons technology, confirms Russia’s status as the sole supplier to India of prime military technologies (even if for a hefty price!).

This was disclosed in a throwaway line about a “bomber” being acquired by IAF, which was preceded by a generous acknowledgement — “Mr Bharat Karnad will be happy to know”, by the former CAS, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha. He was delivering the keynote speech yesterday at the first edition of the ‘Chanakya Dialogues’ hosted by the Chanakya Foundation in New Delhi. On further questioning by me, he confirmed that the aircraft in question was the Tu-160.

By way of another casual remark, he also indicated that a nuclear-warheaded version of a hypersonic glide weapon may soon be on the way. No doubt it is an armament that will be carried in the White Swan’s weapons bay.

It will reverse the obdurately tactical and theatre-level orientation of the IAF brass for 70-odd years. It resulted in August 1971 in the IAF rejecting the Tu-22 Backfire bomber offered the Air Marshal Sheodev Singh Mission by the Soviet Defence Minister, the legendary Admiral of the Fleet, Sergei Gorshkov. Moscow had not reckoned with the obstinately nonstrategic mindset of Air Chief Marshal PC Lal — regarded, incidentally, as a great leader by the IAF!– and his cohort running the service at the time. Indeed, Gorshkov was so certain the IAF would jump at this offer he had a squadron of this bomber aircraft painted with IAF roundels and parked on a military base outside Moscow for flight to India. Nonsensical reasons were offered for this plainly idiotic nyet decision by IAF — the pilot needed to be winched up into the cockpit, the aircraft, ex-Bareilly, would not reach cruising altitude before crossing into Pakistan, etc. Pakistan! — for God’s sake, with no hint of China as the obvious threat to neutralise with this bomber and this, mind you, at a time when the Bangladesh War was in the offing and China had already threatened to intervene if India moved militarily against Pakistan! So what did IAF choose instead? MiG-23BN — no joke!! Worse, the IAF, dog-in-the-manger like, not only did not want the Backfire for itself, it later prevented the Indian Navy from buying this aircraft for maritime surveillance, fearing the Navy was trespassing on its turf by expropriating the strategic bombing role. (These and other details first revealed and analysed in my 2002, 2nd ed 2005 book – ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security.’)

Post-1974 and India’s possessing very basic 12 kiloton gravity nuclear bombs, the Tu-22 would have been a credible recallable manned option as nuclear deterrent before India obtained in the late 1980s the first of the Agni land-based missiles. The Tu-22 could have been replaced with newer versions of the aircraft, including the latest, most advanced, Tu-22M3, and would now have comprised a more compelling two-pronged air vector in the nuclear triad along with the Tu-160.

It is always heartening when something one has ardently advocated over the years begins to take shape, becomes reality. [For the case made for a genuine strategic bomber, and this aircraft in particular, see pages 335-336 in my 2015 book –‘ Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’.] The negotiations with Russia are apparently in the final stages for securing on lease six – a third of a squadron — better than nothing! of the supersonic, fly-by-wire, 4-man crewed Tu-160. It will leave the frontline Russian fleet with 29 of these aircraft, because only a total of 35 ‘White Swans’ have been built. Published material suggests the White Swan Tu-160 (the equivalent of the American B-1 strategic bomber) has a 70metres/second climb rate, max speed of 2,200 km/h and cruising speed of 960km/h, unrefueled range of 12,300km, and combat radius of 7,300km.

One version of the bomber runs on hydrogen fuel, which may be right up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan for converting the country to a hydrogen economy. Though for reasons of fuel/fueling aspects, the aircraft India leases will likely stick with the variant run on enhanced aviation fuel.

To show off its astonishing endurance, the Russian Air Force staged a Murmansk to Venezuela sortie in 2008 (to show support for the regime of Left-leaning President Nicolás Maduro Moros at a time when the Obama Administration was tightening the sanctions screw on it), and in 2010 a 23 hour patrol covering 18,000 kms over the Russian landmass.

The options and possibilities this bomber offers should make the mouths of IAF warplanners and operations guys water. Preparatory planning should begin for nuclear targeting by the White Swans of the most distant Chinese targets — Beijing!, with the more critical, but relatively proximal, targets, such as the Three Gorges Dam and its system of downstream dams and the Lop Nor nuclear weapons complex in Xinjiang left, if necessary, for the Su-30MKIs to take out. The Sukhois can be embarked from Tezpur/Kalaikunda in the one case, and the Ainee base in Tajikistan available to IAF, in the other.

The problem IAF will have is in basing the Blackjack. The Bareilly base — which ran the Canberra medium bomber and the MiG-25 Foxbat high-altitude surveillance aircraft, won’t do. Bareilly is too near major and satellite PLAAF airfields on the Tibetan plateau in the central sector of the LAC, not to pose risks to the White Swans based there. A base in southern central India will be the safest and best option considering the “long-legged” Tu-160 will still be able to hit deep inside China, and have IAF air defence/interceptor aircraft out of a string of air bases in northern India as protective tier.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, 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, Latin America, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, sanctions, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Tibet, United States, US., Weapons | 72 Comments

Flashpoint! Taiwan Strait?

[ US Navy’s USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group]

There are some very nervous people in Washington and Beijng, each wishing the other side regains good sense in time and backs down. The person who will decide the direction the latest Taiwan crisis will take is the powerful Speaker of the Lower House of the US Congress — the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, a plucky 80 + year old California Congresswoman, who has always been a drama queen. She means to pay the Taiwan a visit. The Biden Administration tried to deflect this political venture by asking her to postpone her visit for the nonce on some trumped up reason or the other, not cancel it. This would save both America’s face and China’s and put off the crisis to another day.

Till last heard, Pelosi will have none of it; her trip is on. She revealed to the media that the Biden Administration fears the aircraft carrying her could be be ambushed, shot down by Chinese combat aircraft in the air corridors cleared for her flight to Taipei. This assumes that Beijing will, in fact, follow through on its promise of severe response in case Pelosi disregards the “One China principle”, proceeds on her Taiwan goodwill mission, and precipitates a crisis. While it will prove that Beijing’s huffing and puffing wasn’t all bluff, the shooting down of Pelosi’s aircraft will quickly ratchet up the crisis to a flashpoint.

The US military is rounding into business. The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike group left Singapore July 27, heading towards Taiwanese waters, no doubt to be on hand to, among other things, provide Pelosi’s plane, which will have US aircraft ex-Guam for protecton, augmented fighter escort if needed for her flight into Taipei, and otherwise to be in the van of the US military units in the area in case President Xi Jinping decides he has too much to lose domestically by allowing the American leader to carry on unhindered after instructing his regime to make so much hoo-ha about it, and orders the PLA air force and PLA navy into action.

A tense General Mark Milley, Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff, flanked by the Commander-in-Chief US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Chris Aquilino, in Sydney to attend the 24th Indo-Pacific Chiefs of Defense Conference, said: “We will do what is necessary to ensure a safe…conduct of [Pelosi’s] visit…I’ll just leave it at that…what that results in we’ll have to wait and see.”

This is too delicious a strategic crisis to ignore, It pits America against China in a test of wills with the prospect of only one side coming up tops. It is a test case of future confrontations in Asia. On two previous relatively recent occasions, China thought better of it and withdrew. In response to PLA’s firing surface-to-surface rocket and missile barrages, President Bill Clinton in 1995 ordered the USS Chester Nimitz carrier strike group into the Taiwan Strait. In 2007 the USS Kitty Hawk strike group loitered in the same Strait without eliciting any Chinese response. That Beijing reacted so strongly this time around, thereby deliberately and with forethought raising the ante, suggests that Xi and his military commanders in the Central Military Commission are confident that the PLA forces, much improved, can take on the US.

How will this crisis pan out? There are only two possibilities,

Pelosi decides this is all too much and scrubs the Taiwan trip handing Beijing a political victory it will milk to the max reinforcing. in the process, China’s tendency, in General Milley’s words, to “bully or dominate” other nations. The fiasco will further erode what credibility America has left as ally and strategic partner, and showcase Washington’s unwillingness to stand up to the emerging Asian behemoth, and likely provide not only Taiwan, but also Japan and South Korea, with more motivation to acquire nuclear weapons and, security-wise, become independent of the US.

[Liaoning in the Hong Kong waters]

The second possibility is that Xi will recognize that all the Chinese angst and vituperation against Taiwanese secessionism and American provocation is not going to raise the fighting quality of the PLA forces, and any hostilities may prove to the world what many already suspect that China is not a peer rival of the US, that the Chinese navy’s shiny new aircraft carriers — Liaoning and the Shandong (sans aircraft!), for instance, are like the rest of the PLA, paper tigers, good enough only to scare, say, India with!

In this confrontation with so much riding on it, there will be a winner. My money is on China getting cold feet because, by my reckoning, PLA, PLAAF, PLAN are still 20 years away from being America’s military equal.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, China, China military, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, Indo-Pacific, Japan, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Taiwan, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 61 Comments

Should India discard No First Use Nuclear Doctrine?

Those who may be interested in the subject but missed the online debate, it is available on at

The discussion on this important topic hosted by “Argumentative Indians” is scheduled for 7 PM IST today –Sunday, July 17, 2022.

Those among the readers of this blog who have nothing scheduled for this evening may care to join in, in the live, on-line, debate.

The link is

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, disarmament, 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, Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, North Korea, Northeast Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Taiwan, United States, US., Weapons | 15 Comments

Interview on China and developments in Ladakh — Rediff News

‘PLA is into ‘salami slicing’ of Indian territory’


Last updated on: July 13, 2022 19:10 IST 

‘This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.’
‘They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.’

IMAGE: General Manoj Chandrasekhar Pande, the chief of the army staff, on his visit to Ladakh in May. Photograph: ANI Photo

Dr Bharat Karnad, Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, analyses why there has been a muted Indian response to the Galwan clashes which took place between Indian and Chinese troops two years ago.

“Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

Two years after the Galwan clashes, there is an accusation by some analysts that China continues to steadily encroach on Indian territory and has taken over almost 4,000 km of Indian territory.
How far is this assessment correct?

Given the 24/7/365 surveillance via various sensors, including those mounted on Indian and friendly foreign satellites, it is unlikely India has lost territory to this extent since the Galwan incident.

That said, the 1,000-odd sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain the PLA occupied much before the clashes on the Galwan river remain in China’s possession.

A large part of this Chinese deployment has reportedly been in the Depsang Plain. This continues to be a dangerous development given that the Chinese aim to build a connecting road up to PoK.

The significance to India of the territory China now occupies is that this traditionally Indian area is alongside the arterial Xinjiang Highway that branches off southwards at the Karakoram Pass to constitute the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

This territorial loss means the Indian Army is blocked from moving northwards from Daulat Beg Oldi to apply military pressure at the conjunction of the PLA-Pakistan army interests on the Karakoram Pass, and thus threaten the CPEC.

This is what the Chinese People’s Liberation Army intended with pre-emptively capturing that swath of land.

The Chinese are building another bridge over the Pangong Tso lake to improve their logistics in countering our troops positioned there.

The Chinese plan obviously is to have redundancy in connectivity by building a number of roads, shunts and bridges linking the northern and southern shores of the lake under their control.

It enables them to consolidate their logistics infrastructure, and launch a concerted military action on either shore at a moment’s notice.

IMAGE: Indian and Chinese troops and tanks disengage from the banks of the Pangong Tso lake area in eastern Ladakh in February 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo

We have had 15 rounds of border commander talks since April 2020, but there is little talk of a reversion of positions to status quo ante pre April 2020 when these talks first started.
Analysts believe we are back to the 1959 position.

The periodic field commanders’ meetings are a waste of time and of no real account other than affording these uniformed folks some downtime with tea and samosas!

I long ago suggested that the Indian Army should not partake of these conferences the PLA does not take seriously.

I had warned precisely of such a denouement at the very beginning of this confrontation in eastern Ladakh.

It was Pollyanna-ish of the Indian government, in any case, to expect China would ever agree, for any reason, to the restoration of the status quo ante.

Why is there no White Paper on these talks providing the public at large details about what was discussed and what were the lessons learnt from the tragic death of our 20 soldiers on the night of June 15-16, 2020?

There’s no White Paper because it will have very little to report other than that China has not, and will not, move an inch from their proclaimed 1959 claimline which, by the way, Beijing never formally resiled from.

IMAGE: Indian Army soldiers stand guard at the Zojila Pass. Photograph: ANI Photo

Nor is there any clarity from the government or the army about what led the Chinese army to occupy Indian land. Or is this just a Chinese continuance to continue with their objective of ‘salami slicing’?

The PLA is into ‘salami slicing’ of Indian territory with a definite design (such as blocking Indian access to the Karakoram Pass). Such activity is not purposeless.

Why has the government’s response to China been so muted in contrast to the chest thumping that goes on each time something happens along our border with Pakistan?

This reluctance to respond forcefully to Chinese PLA provocations and outright aggression has as much to do with Prime Minister Modi personally, as with the institutional mindset of the MEA or even the Indian Army.

They are scarred by the 1962 War and are still cowed by China.

In retrospect, what exactly was discussed between Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping at their 18 meetings prior to this standoff?
Can this be seen as another betrayal by the Chinese as happened in the case of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1962?

Look, the Chinese negotiating tactics are always to first delineate the border as per historic claims and then to change the status quo on the ground to conform with those territorial claims.

The rest is artful waffling and stretching the negotiation in time and space to hope that the other side loses patience and gives in.

Zhou Enlai in the 1950s did offer Nehru a territorial swap — recognition of the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh for Indian acceptance of the Aksai Chin the PLA had built the Xinjiang Highway through.

That was not a bad deal for Nehru to have accepted then. He didn’t.

IMAGE: General Pande interacts with Indian troops posted in Ladakh. Photograph: ANI Photo/Indian Army twitter

Was it a prudent decision to have given up the Kailash Range getting little in return? What is our actual position today in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plain?

It was the biggest strategic blunder the Modi regime committed by agreeing to withdraw the Special Frontier Force unit from the heights in exchange for paltry returns — the PLA’s drawing back eastwards a bit from the terrain feature Finger 3 on Pangong Lake’s northern shore.

Again I had warned against this unequal deal.

IMAGE: Prime Minister N D Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Chinese Communist party and president of the People’s Republic of China, at their informal summit in Mamallapuram, October 12, 2019. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Trade with China continues to grow with India hardly being in a position to stop its dependence on Chinese imports. Is there any serious attempt to curtail Chinese imports?

Indian imports in trillions of rupees from China are growing by nearly 50% annually, and the repatriation of profits in billions of dollars in hard currency by Chinese companies is keeping pace.

It is among the bright spots in the current Chinese economy and something Beijing would not like to disturb.

Reason why the PLA is pretty quiet in Ladakh even in the summer military campaign season.

Delhi can change this situation in a trice, but percieves Chinese exports to India as negotiating leverage with Xi Jinping, which it is loath to give up.

Is it not time for the political leadership to come forward and take charge instead of leaving this issue to the generals especially given the fact that China has changed the goalposts?

Let’s be clear: It is Modi, and Modi alone, who is responsible in toto for India’s foreign and military policies. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is just the medium and has no say in these matters other than overseeing their conduct and implementation; and army generals have even less of a role.

Published in Rediff News, July 13,

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, 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 ecobomic situation, Indo-Pacific, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Tibet, Trade with China | 13 Comments

With Abe gone, can Modi lead an Asian anti-China front?

[Abe & Modi]

Just how nonexistent gun violence is in Japan can be guaged from the astonishingly lax security provided the former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. There was no security cordon worth the name — with the few tasked with protecting him, apparently standing around the place unconcerned, letting the assasin approach from the most open and vulnerable entirely unsecured area behind Abe. The manifestly unprofessional Japanese security police are blameworthy, of course. But the fact is the use of guns is entirely unknown in Japanese society (except by the yakuza — the criminal underworld, who gun down each other). Even so, there was just ONE gun use-related death in Japan last year compared, say, to some 15,000 deaths in India (and according to CNN, 45,000 in the US)!

The loss to Japan of Abe is immeasurable and on several counts. First, he ended the era of apology, of 70 years of Japanese remorse, for World War Two excesses, which China relentlessly milked. The Nanjing wartime massacre was perennially used as a moral cudgel to beat up on Japan and to extort from Tokyo hundreds of billions of dollars in reparations post-1945 in the form of cash, grant-in aid and assistance, massive investments to build up the Chinese economy, and of technology transfers. Think Shinkansen Japanese high speed rail technology that the Chinese ingested, developed further, and applied to now field, perhaps, the largest high-speed railway network in the world! No more bowing and scraping to Beijing, Abe decreed, leave alone paying China exactions!

Secondly, and with more long lasting effect that had China sweating with fright, he spearheaded the successful effort to get the Japanese Diet in 2014 to reinterpret the non-belligerancy clause — Article 9 — in the so-called ‘peace Constitution’ imposed by the US, which prohibited Japan from arming itself with offensive weaponry, to now permit the government more flexibility in the use of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, preemptively if necessary and in support of allies and friendly states. Considering the absolute unreliability of its ally US’ extended deterrence, it paves the way for Japan sometime in the future to go in for nuclear weapons. This, from India’s perspective, will be a very good thing to happen.

But most importantly, Abe conceptualized the ‘security diamond’ — later formalised into what is now the Quadrilateral of Japan, India, Australia and the US. He did so publicly in a 2007 address to Indian Parliament, indicating at once just how much significance he attached to having India as one of the four pillars of a collective security scheme he was putting together to secure Asia’s future and blunt China’s coercive edge.

His immense respect, regard, love and warm feelings for India were for intensely personal family reasons. Shinzo Abe was the scion of a powerful political dynasty with pre-War roots founded by his maternal grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who was the economic czar of the Japanese puppet regime of Manchukuo that the imperial Japanese government established in the 1930s to colonize eastern China. Kishi barely avoided being branded a war criminal by the post-War International Military Tribunal in Tokyo — the Asian version of the Nuremberg Trials, which decided to imprison/hang a dozen of the senior most Japanese wartime leaders. Of the eleven judges on the Tribunal, only the Indian judge, Justice Radhabinod Pal, refused to return a guilty verdict on the Japanese leaders, earning for himself and for India eternal gratitude of the Japanese nation. Indeed there’s a monument to Justice Pal at the controversial shinto Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo where the war dead are venerated, and which temple Abe made it a point as PM to visit (as few of his predecessors in office had dared to do). Kishi’s career revived in the 1950s; he founded the Liberal Democratic Party and as Prime Minister led the country for three years, 1957-1960. His father, Shintaro Abe, was a leading member of LDP and foreign minister in 1982-1986 and was among the first to evince substantial Japanese interest in strong ties with India.

The fact is Shinzo Abe was the strategic brain and the driver of the Quadrilateral — the one person most responsible to try and get the disparate interests of the four pillar countries of the Quad to mesh. US President Barack Obama’s “pivot to Asia” and Washington’s interest since in containing China through such an arrangement was in no small measure due to Shinzo Abe’s private and public Quad advocacy and persistence in pitching this arrangement as a much needed strategic and economic counterweight to the emerging colossus in Asia and the world — China. Moreover, the successful policy of Japan joining India to provide quality infrastructure buildup on concessional credit terms but minus potential debt traps to African countries to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, has made inroads and manifests Abe’s foresight.

His keenness to make India a hefty maritime power eventuated in his offering India the US-2 multi-role flying boat — inarguably the finest such fighting machine in the business, complete with its manufacturing technology and processes that included the shifting of the entire Shinmaywa design and production capacity and plant to India, to set this country up as the sole producer of this aircraft in the world. In a pinch, Abe would have gladly arranged the funds to subsidize this entire deal. But then the Indian Navy stepped in, rejecting the aircraft deal in a mindboggling show of such utter shortsightedness as to make the decision reckless, bringing into question that Service’s basic intent and institutional mindset. No explanation was available from the Defence Ministry other than that the deal exceeded the Navy’s requirement of 12 such aircraft!!

This when there’s no better weapons and transport platform anywhere with potential for immediate strategic impact in the Indian Ocean region, and good for all sorts of maritime ops ranging from island defence, anti-piracy action, dropping Indian Navy’s marine commando on a dime in the vast oceanic expanses for any purpose, shutting down contraband trade by interdicting smuggler vessels/dhows, to anti-ship strikes besides the more mundane roles ferrying crews to oil rigs, search & rescue missions, etc.. As the sole manufacturer of this plane, moreover, the prospect was for all countries with seaward exposure lining up to buy ithe US-2.

The point to make is the Modi government could have reversed the Navy/MOD’s idiotic — there’s no other word for it — decision and plonked for the Shinmaywa transaction as a readymade building block of an indigenous arms industry that the Prime Miister has been talking about from his earliest days as PM. But there was no one, not a single person anywhere in the extended Indian government’s security apparatus and in the military or even the Coast Guard, with a small fraction of the strategic sense of Shinzo Abe to see the merit in this deal and to seal it! (Instead, the billions of dollars in Japanese funds are being invested in Modi’s vanity project — the Shinkansen high speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail link, which after all these years of construction is stuck, unable to acquire some piece of land.)

Indeed, the rejection by the Indian Navy of the US-2 available on the most favourable terms imaginable ranks with the Indian Air Force’s even more incomprehensibly foolish rejection (first detailed in my 2002 book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security) of the Tu-22 Backfire strategic bomber that was offered by the Soviet Union as far back as August 1971 to top off, as it were, the Treaty of Cooperation and Friendship signed at the time that made the unhindered prosecution of the Bangladesdh War possible, notwithstanding the US attempt at military coercion (USS Enterprise aircraft carrier Task Group in the Bay of Bengal). If the legendary Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Navy, and Defence Minister, Sergei Gorshkov, was the man who failed in his efforts to gift the Tu-22 longrange strategic bomber to the Indian Air Force — think how this would have beefed up the Indian nuclear deterrent vis a vis China, it was Shinzo Abe’s proffered gift of the US-2 the Indian Navy turned down earlier in the new millennium. Talk of spurning gift horses!

And this is the Indian military that aspires to be strategic, and wants to be taken seriously as a strategic force? And this is the Modi government that hopes to carry strategic weight in international councils, make India a power of strategic consequence? Really?

Little wonder then that the Indian government under Modi, as under previous prime ministers, remains as stubbornly unstrategic as the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force, and has simply not risen to the scheme that Shinzo Abe articulated and, other than bilateral and multilateral naval exercises (Malabar) and endless jaw-jawing at ministerial and foreign ministry official levels, has done nothing of note in operationalizing the Quad or, over the years, realizing a hard Indian and collective Asian response to China’s interminable provocations and acts of belligerance. This trend is something Abe no doubt regretted to his last day.

What to speak of military countermoves, the Modi government refuses to curtail Chinese exports to India touching Rs 7.02 trillion in 2021-2022 — a 45% increase over the previous year! And Chinese firms operating in India are repatriating profits totaling billions of dollars without much let or hindrance. So, the situation is Beijing, military-wise, slapping India silly but below an all-out conflict threshold, and is rewarded with letting its companies make outlandish profits! How could things be any better for Xi? Why would China want to change the situation even a bit?

Let me illustrate the problem. The Modi government has got up the gumption, finally, to at least do innocuous things that Manmohan Singh regime didn’t do because Beijing frowned upon them. So recently HH the Dalai Lama was felicitated on his 87th birthday by Modi, and his trip to Ladakh is being facilitated by the government. This is fine. But Beijing studiously takes no notice of Indian concerns about Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism and is bent on easing that country out of the Financial Action Task Force’s Grey List, and will likely succeed the next time FATF meets in Paris. It continually burnishes Pakistan’s military capabilities with top-end advanced radar and avionics suites for its PAF’s JF-17 fleet, and augments the Pakistan Navy with Type 054 frigates (Taimur and Tughril) with sophisticated sensors and anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons. It is also hellbent on somehow completing the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) to take a stranglehold on the Baloch coastline radiating east and west from the Gwadar port. Further, despite the Pakistan army’s reluctance, one hears Beijng has succeeded in armtwisting Islamabad into stationing a Chinese security force in Pakistan to protect Chinese engineers and expat CPEC labour force. This force can become a nucleus of an expeditionary Chinese formation inside Pakistan that India may have to contend with, and is a troubling development. And in eastern Ladakh, it launches taunting aircraft sorties that have repeatedly flown over Indian posts and deep into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control. This is the context in which Beijing publicly berates Delhi for bilateral relations taking a dive.

The Modi regime. meanwhile, rather than instructing the Indian forward air defence units to shoot down any intruding aircraft as warning to China and to show India’s willingness to escalate, swallows these insults, and is content with the army and IAF’s inaction. On the diplomatic front the Modi dispensation is just as passive. It hasn’t reacted by, say, the PM inviting the Taiwan ambassador (passing off as trade representative) for tea at 7, Race Course Road, and the external affairs minister S. Jaishankar or even the NSA Ajit Doval initiating a chinwag in Taipei as an incentive for Xi Jinping to order the PLA to vacate the 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory it has occupied on the Galwan and in areas northeast of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plain. So India’s image in the Chinese mind as an easily intimidated dormouse around a snorting and stomping dragon, is cemented, motivating still more outre Chinese behaviour.

The irony is the strategic space in southern Asia is daily becoming less receptive to Chinese interests — a situation Delhi should speedily exploit. Consider Sri Lanka – not too long ago a leading Chinese outpost. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s fleeing from his official residence in Colombo in the face of protesters breaking through the security cordon means an end to the Rajapaksa family government that over the last decade reduced Sri Lanka to penury, not little owing to the debt racked up with China to fund rank unprofitable projects in the Rajapaksa home ground around Humbantota, including modernizing the port that sees little traffic. Wisely, the Modi government has been generous in routing energy supplies to that country and opening multi-billion dollar lines of credit to enable essential purchases of foodgrains, etc. But Jaishankar & Co. in MEA have to ensure that whatever the agreement signed with the new Colombo government, it should ruthlessly require the ditching of accords with China that permit Chinese naval and other forces to access Sri Lankan bases or to stage out of them, and to begin zeroing out the Chinese economic presence from that country. The question is will Delhi move rapidly and with great resolve to help Sri Lanka become independent of China for good to India’s strategic benefit?

The despiriting reality, however, is that while India has been presented with ample opportunities to strategically discomfit China, Modi has not availed of them because, for some unfathomable reason, whenever Beijing hoves into view the Indian government seems to get cold feet. The sturm and drang that Modi so effortlessly summons to beat up Pakistan, rhetorically and otherwise, turns to jelly when confrontng China.

In the event, is it even fair to expect that Modi will suddenly shake off his apprehensions and the deep down unwarranted fear of China to tackle Beijing boldly, for a change donning Shinzo Abe’s mantle, and taking up where his good friend left off, as leader getting up an Asian coalition to pin China down?

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Exporting the Tejas LCA; spares & servicing support better be good

Tejas LCA — flying into the international market

Amongst a host of idiotic policies the Indian government followed until at least the turn of the Century was to shun arms exports. High-minded reasons were trotted out — India, a moral and responsible state, couldn’t possibly be in the dirty business of selling arms, etc. Never mind that we were onpassing small arms, ammo, 105mm field guns, and so on — but on a small scale — to friendly states and countries in the neighbourhood.

There were more practical reasons, however, that KC Pant, defence minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet in the mid- to late-1980s, alluded to. He once told me of the issue he was then wrestling with relating to, yes, “commissions”, bribes, call it what you will, that needed to be liberally handed out to all manner of people up and down the procurement systems in potential customer countries who had shown interest in this or that piece of Indian-produced military hardware. It is a mirror image, incidentally, of the tandem system of defence sales-bribes worked by foreign arms suppliers pushing multi-billion dollar arms deals to the Indian military. Names like Bofors, HDW, AugustaWestland have passed into lore, symbolizing the extraordinary levels of corruption that are endemic to big arms contracts. The evidence of corruption has upended governments (Rajiv Gandhi’s), implicated armed services’ chiefs of staff (Air Chief Marshal ‘Bundle’ Tyagi) and otherwise made the public aware of the seedier aspects of arms transactions, including, allegedly, the government-to-government deals such as the one that fetched the Indian Air Force the French Rafale combat aircraft.

So the question is, if bribing is de riguer and almost a standard operating procedure in the arms business, how’s the Indian government formally to account for the taxpayer’s money thus spent even if in a good, national, cause of making friends and influencing countries by selling them arms and, by the by, generating revenues and giving a fillip to the indigenous arms industry? Such was the dilemma Pant struggled with. He also wondered about nut & bolt issues involved, such as whether a separate sales agency needed to be set up in the Defence Ministry, but worried that civilian officials and military officers manning it would, on the one hand, be hamhanded in the delicate business of bribe giving and taking that could blow up in the Indian government’s face and, on the other hand, whether these Indian arms sales personnel would have enough integrity not to pocket some of the hard currency commission-funds that would have to be set aside for this nefarious purpose! In other words, some kind of ‘black budget’ outside parliamentary and other scrutiny of the kind, say, RAW, the external intelligence agency, operates.

Thank God, the Indian government (in the Modi years) has matured in its thinking, entered the real world, and authorized the defence manufacturing units to sell their wares, however they are able to do so, with the necessary diplomatic/military and other assist from Delhi easing the way to the extent possible. Defence Attaches in Indian embassies, expressly tasked to “sell” Indian-made military goods, do the early spadework, and the Indian defence public sector units follow up, what with the government urging a ramping up of exports to amortize the enormous public investment in the DPSUs.

The DPSU Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) knew, once the Tejas light combat aircraft had reached prototype stage, that it had a winner on its hands. The showcasing of this 4.5 generation Indian designed and developed delta wing supersonic fighter aircraft in air shows starting with the one in Bahrain in 2016, in Dubai in end 2021 and, most recently, in Singapore in February this year, was followed a month later by five LCAs from the Sulur squadron deployed to an international air war exercise (Cobra Warrior 22) conducted by the RAF in Britain involving many advanced air forces. All this has has padded Tejas’ reputation as a fast, agile, and highly maneuverable and modern combat aircraft. Moreover, with a competitive price advantage it has obvious attractions for countries with limited means or limited needs. After Bahrain, over a dozen regional air forces showed interest. Air force chiefs from several of these interested countries, including from Central Asia, have flown the LCA and are admirers of the plane’s handling characteristics.

For starters, Malaysia, after a fly-off, has indented for 18 Tejas (with 18 more as possible future buy). It beat the far costlier Russian MiG-35 and the South Korean FA-50, the manifestly less capable Chinese L-15 & JF-17, the Turkish Hurjet still only a prototype, and the Italian Leonardo M-346 trainer jerryrigged to pass off as a fighter/attack LCA M-346FA but minus an AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar, which’s standard equipment on Tejas. (The Leonardo LCA features a mechanical scanning radar.) Should the deal for Tejas be sealed, it will highlight an ongoing policy of military cooperation. In 2017, a complicated deal was hammered out involving the transfer to IAF by Malaysia of all 12 MiG-29Ns in its employ in exchange for Indian HAL spares and assistance to upkeep its Su-30s fleet — an arrangement that apparently built up trust between the two air forces.

Impressed as much by its quality as by its relatively economical cost, Egypt has a more ambitious Tejas programme on its mind. The Egyptian Air Force wants to produce this aircraft in their own country to meet a much larger requirement of 70-odd aircraft. HAL’s sweetener is a package deal involving Tejas LCA technology transfer and a parallel assembly line for the Dhruv utility helicopter. It was too good a deal for Cairo to refuse. In any case, the successful culmination of the Egyptian Tejas programme will be an ironic counterpoint to the joint project with Egypt mooted by Jawaharlal Nehru to produce a “nonaligned” combat aircraft. India was tasked to produce the airframe which it did — the HF-24 Marut; Egypt failed to develop an appropriately powered jet engine, leaving the IAF to manage with a flying-wise fine fighter plane but with an underpowered, make-do, Orpheus jet power plant taken from the Gnat.

Argentina is in the market for 12 LCAs and has sequestered some $700 million for the deal. The only other planes in the race are the Russian MiG-29 and MiG-35 and the Chinese JF-17, which no one wants. The niggle here is Britain — its 1982 Falklands War animus still simmering — has vetoed the sale of Tejas because it has British components, in the main, the Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat system and the Cobham radome of composite materials for low observability. But HAL has conveyed assurances that it has designed and is well on its ways to testing and producing an indigenous zero-zero ejection seat system as also a quartz radome. Further, the Argentinian insistence on tech-transfer in any case is easily met.

The trio of Malaysian, Egyptian, and Argentinian Tejas deals located on three different continents should hopefully spark an interest in this aircraft in the rest of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The fly in the ointment, however, is this: Does HAL have a large, ready to go and comprehensive after-sales service setup? This is a void HAL better fill up fast as priority because the LCA sales will amount to a frustrating nought if the Malaysian, Egyptian and Argentinian Tejas end up being grounded or fail in flight because of local perceptions of bad spares support and servicing flaws/failures by the supplier firm as happened with the HAL supplied Dhruv helicopters to Ecuador. That pioneering venture to prise open a new market soured because of Ecuadorian dissatisfaction with the spares and after-sales service, which were blamed for the crash of 4 of the 7 Dhruv helicopters delivered between 2007 and 2009. Quito scrapped that contract.

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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

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Indo-Pacific, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, technology, self-reliance, Terrorism | 19 Comments

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 )!

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.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, guerilla warfare, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Intelligence, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, space & cyber, Special Forces, Terrorism, Weapons | 31 Comments

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

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

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, at 



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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 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?

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 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.

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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

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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 (, 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.                                                                                                  


Published in The Sunday Standard, Sunday, April 17, 2022 at

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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


“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 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.  


Published in, March 29, 2022 in my ‘Realpolitik’ column, at

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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, March 25, 2022 under the title — “India’s nuclear doctrine is useless. Discard no-first-use, say nukes are for China threat”, at

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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

When 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm


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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.” [ ]

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.” [ ]

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 March 14, 2022, at

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, 


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 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, March 13, at

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.


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Why US, Russia Want India On Its Side

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

Rediff News Interview, at, 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
  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

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:

    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

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.  ( )

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.

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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? [ ].

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!!

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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, Dec 31, 2021, at

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