The 311 Problem

The bureaucracy can’t be left out in the war on black money
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DEMONETISATION IS treating a symptom. The disease is systemic and grave, and relates to the institutionalised corruption in the vast, inefficient, wasteful and mostly ineffective administrative apparatus of the Indian state.

Consider what happened in Chennai after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise announcement on high-denomination paper currency. According to a person in the know, large stacks of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes held by the corrupt, bribe-taking bureaucracy, lower judiciary and the political class, instantly turned into waste paper. Unruffled, the triumvirate responded by simply sending bulging sacks of demonetised currency notes in their possession to contractors, influential litigants, and those seeking favours, with instructions to do the needful of converting the black money into white—however this is managed— and returning the laundered funds in like amounts. Assuming, reasonably, that this modus operandi was followed in the rest of the country as well, massive unaccounted-for sums in newly minted Rs 2,000 notes in the hands of civil servants (and politicians and the lower judiciary) will help cement the new black money economy, which Modi’s efforts at cleaning up cannot touch, unless his promotion of cashless transactions really takes off. But for the entire countryside and semi-urban concentrations to go online will take years, affording the underground economy enough time to consolidate.

In the 1985 centenary celebrations of the then ruling Congress party, Prime Minister Raijv Gandhi shocked the country by revealing that only 15 paise of every rupee spent by the Government actually reached the people in the form of some benefit or public service, while the rest went into paying the salaries and allowances of those manning the administrative structure, or was lost to leakage—meaning the routine siphoning off of public funds. Rajiv’s revelations did not account for the billions of rupees in ‘black’ extorted by officials up and down the central and state bureaucracies in the process of ‘serving’ the public. Predictably, no measures materialised to curb either of these menaces then, nor have any ameliorative steps been taken since, even as these problems have worsened.

A less regulated economy and a burgeoning consumerist culture after the 1991 reforms only motivated the triumvirate habituated to swilling at the public trough to put their snouts in deeper. It resulted, for instance, in the multi-billion dollar Commonwealth Games, 2G, coal auction, Embraer and assorted other scams of the Manmohan Singh era. With much larger amounts of monies coursing through a freer and more energetic economy, the illicit part has grown bigger. According to Gurcharan Das, former head of Procter & Gamble in India, other than the import- export trade, bribes to bureaucrats constitute the single biggest source of black money today. For an idea of the problem India is facing, consider this: some Rs 150 crore is reportedly extorted daily as bribes in just the Delhi Union Territory by the Transport Department and Traffic Police. Small wonder the black economy is estimated to be as much 30 per cent of the national economy.

RK Raghavan, former director, Central Bureau of Investigation, said in a recent op-ed piece that he was less worried about the corruption at the petty functionary levels—the beat constable, clerks, et al, which he claims is ‘part and parcel of the cutting edge of the administration’ than with ‘the rising graph of graft among Class I officers’, most notably in ‘key organisations’ identified by him as Income Tax, Customs & Excise, Enforcement Directorate, and even his own agency, CBI. The problem here is two-fold. Petty functionaries in Groups C and D (in officialese), the lowest paid categories, comprise nearly 60 and 30 per cent respectively of the government workforce of some 4 million, and deal directly with people. The Centre will find it difficult to monitor and mend their corrupt ways.

AT THE CLASS I officers-end, the trend since the 1980s has been for the Revenue Services to be the top choice of large numbers of the civil service merit-listers. With entrant- level officers steeped in cynicism and with an eye firmly on the main chance, the skyrocketing of corruption is natural. Moreover, the brazenness of senior officers in these ‘lucrative’ services is a lure for aspiring civil servants. It has long been a tradition among Income Tax Commissioners, for example, for their progeny at their weddings to be gifted gold ornaments by an endless line of supplicants. Modi would really stir things up in complacent official circles were he to order, for a start, the scrutiny of assets of retired senior officers in these Services over the last 40 years, while making active covert and overt surveillance a part of Service life hereafter, considering that the existing inhouse means of checking corruption—such as Vigilance Departments and state Anti-Corruption Bureaus— are ‘a joke’, as Raghavan puts it. It was Chanakya, after all, who long ago advised his king to mount a special watch on revenue collectors of every stripe, lest monies owed the state stick to their fingers.

But what makes civil servants audacious in their corruption is the certainty of escaping punishment. The procedural and administrative hurdles hampering the conduct of investigations into bureaucratic wrongdoing and ill-gotten wealth are daunting. These are put in place by the political class because it needs the help of babus to skim the cream off government contracts and otherwise manage the drip-drip denudation of the treasury. The Congress dispensation introduced a rule requiring the CBI to seek prior approval for investigating officers above the rank of Joint Secretary. The Supreme Court in May 2014 struck it down, with then Chief Justice RM Lodha ruling that ‘It grants absolute protection to corrupt officers from prosecution’, who he argued, ‘don’t need a shield like this merely because they are likely to be harassed.’

Notwithstanding such legal constraints, certain state governments, such as the one in Tamil Nadu, have made prior permission mandatory.

The question, therefore, arises: How is it possible that Central and state governments often act in such matters against the public interest, and, far from trying to minimise corruption and increasing accountability in government, provide safety to corruption facilitators among civil servants with a slate of rules and regulations which these babus themselves help draft?

The villain is a provision in the Constitution, Article 311, which provides those on the public payroll fairly comprehensive protection. Subsection 1 of this Article states plainly that ‘No person who is a member of a civil service of the Union or an all India service or a civil service of a State or holds a civil post under the Union or a State shall be dismissed or removed by an authority subordinate to that by which he was appointed’. Subsection 2 adds that ‘No such person… shall be dismissed or removed or reduced in rank except after an inquiry’ in which he is ‘given reasonable opportunity’ to refute the charges. This pretty much precludes, in practice, any kind of punitive action. Short of treason, serious defalcation and evidence of corruption so blatant or massive that it’s hard to ignore, an accused civil servant can get away with everything else.

Moreover, the due process for dismissal or removal from service, or reduction in rank, is so onerous, time- consuming and rife with dilatory procedures that, should an accused officer take recourse to them, he can ensure he retires with full and generous pension before he has exhausted his legal options. A concerned government can, however, compulsorily retire civil servants with questionable records of probity, propriety and performance after 25 years of service—by when, of course, they would already have done their damage. This doesn’t solve the problem, but the Modi regime has used it to rid the higher bureaucracy of deadwood and corrupt officers.

Crooked and dishonest civil servants, ranging from peons to government secretaries, cannot easily be ejected from service because the CBI needs to prove their guilt when what is required is for the accused to prove their innocence—which is the line along which Article 311 should be amended if the country is to be saved from black money-fuelled corruption.
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Published in ‘Open’ magazine, 2 December 2016, at http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/comment/the-311-problem

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PM Modi’s security policies for India imperfect but can be rectified

An isolationist American President Donald Trump will shrink the United States’ role and military presence abroad, and will be disinclined to assist India to deal with China or any other threat.

This is not a bad thing to happen considering the Indian government, which has relied on Washington since 2000 for succour, will be compelled hereafter to bank on its own wit, political will, initiative, and national resources.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has only laced the foreign and defence policies from the Manmohan Singh-era with some showmanship, but otherwise stayed with the old script.

Modi has not defined national interest, articulated a strategic vision, or followed hard-headed policies to bolster national security. What the country has witnessed is a lot of summitry, Pakistan bashing, inattention to big-power imperatives, the “same old, same old” subservience to the United States and accommodation of China, and continued emphasis on imported armaments furthered, ironically, by Modi’s signature “Make in India” policy.

No geopolitical drive is discernible in Modi’s approach. Stitching together a coalition of rimland states in the east to ring-fence China is floundering because of India’s faintheartedness in “speaking up” on the South China Sea dispute, delaying the transfer of the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam owing to US pressure, and reluctance to engage in meaningful military cooperation with Japan.

Meanwhile, China has swiftly encircled India land-ward, is delivering on the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and, seaward, has taken over Maldivian islands four nautical miles from the Lakshadweep chain. In comparison, India struggles to connect the Indian northeast with Myanmar, forget achieving anything as grand as the Ganga-Mekong connectivity announced by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in Vientiane 16 years ago.

To India’s west, the development of the critical Chabahar port, railway and roads northwards remains unimplemented, pending Washington’s approval. Linking Chabahar to Russia’s Northern Distribution Network will outflank CPEC and the prospective Chinese naval presence on the Baloch coast, and provide India access to Afghanistan and Central Asia, and Indian trade a cheaper land route to Europe. India has lost the first mover’s advantage in Iran and its goodwill.

The baleful US influence on strategic policy is reflected in India seeking entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and civil nuclear cooperation deals with all and sundry premised on its not conducting new nuclear tests, even when these are urgently required to obtain a credible thermonuclear arsenal and, at least, notional strategic parity with China. It has resulted in Modi postponing the test-firing of long-range, canisterised Agni-5 and sea-borne K-4 and K-5/K-6 missiles.

Further, foreign reactors are being bought at the expense of modernising the Indian nuclear weapons design and production complex, including the construction of the second Dhruva reactor to produce weapon-grade plutonium, which is progressing at a snail’s pace.

It mirrors the situation in the defence sector where rather than have the Defence Research & Development Organisation transfer the design and technologies of the formidable 4.5 generation Tejas Light Combat Aircraft to a consortium of Indian private and public sector companies to rapidly productionise, develop variants, induct in IAF and market the plane globally, the Modi government’s approach will likely kill this indigenous plane.

Moreover, bending to American advice, Modi is shunning Russian hardware – the Indian military’s mainstay, in favour of obsolete Western equipment. Jazzing-up, 1970s vintage, US F-16s and F-18s, earmarked for license production under “Make in India” policy, is akin to dressing up a crone as teenager and “Make in India” being reduced to cobbling together any old item locally.

It is prompting foreign firms to unload worn-out production lines for antique aircraft, etc. for hefty moolah, and private sector firms to join defence public sector units in assembling 50-year old fighter aircraft and such, involving screwdriver-level technology.

The indigenous design, research and development and industrial capabilities in both the nuclear weapons and combat aviation fields are also being strangled as scarce resources are diverted to mindless, cost-prohibitive buys ($6 billion for a 1000MW nuclear plant, Rs 59,000 crores for just 36 Rafale combat aircraft!). When the import option was unavailable, India produced advanced strategic systems – nuclear weapons, the Arihant-class nuclear powered ballistic missile-firing submarine, and Agni missiles. So making conventional armaments is not problematic.

It needs Modi to show faith and confidence in Indian talent and capabilities, shutdown the arms-import channel, including license manufacture deals, that has institutionalised corruption, force the armed services to take ownership of indigenous weapons projects, and hold concerned bureaucrats, service chiefs, department and project heads accountable for bringing nuclear and defence projects in on-time and under budget. Such steps, alas, are not in the offing.

Haphazard arms procurement, highlighted by the commitment of some $70 billion since 2014 to purchase (with mid-life upgrades) an assortment of aircraft and other military goods, is exacerbated by the absence of a mechanism in the government for prioritisation and the arbitrary handling of competing military demands.

Thus, monies are found for the Rafale acquisition because Modi announced it, but the raising of 17 Corps for mountain offensives against China is lagging behind for want of funds. It reinforces the skewed threat and military orientation, resulting in meagre funding of wherewithal for the China front, and in capital-intensive armoured/mechanised forces to subdue Pakistan whose total annual budget only slightly exceeds India’s defence expenditure.

There is much that is woefully wrong with the national security system, some of it attributable to Modi’s policies, but nothing that is not rectifiable.
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Solicited by the Hindustan Times for the ‘National Security System’ topic in its ‘Make a Change’ – section, and published on Saturday, Nov 26, 2016, at http://www.hindustantimes.com/analysis/pm-modi-s-security-policies-for-india-imperfect-but-can-be-rectified/story-5iGmzbvWYJ8tFXOUhNA2nN.html

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No ‘Bermuda Triangle’ off Chenai, but a Cyber attack on radar? (Amended)

Certain circles in the military and elsewhere in the Indian government dealing with extremely sensitive matters are abuzz with how the forward air defence radar in Avantipur was knocked out Wednesday, November 23 evening and how it stayed down until the next day, Thursday, November 24, when a slapdash air surveillance system was patched together. This was only the latest in a series of incidents that have left a lot of people really worried about the air defence.

The crashing in March 2015 of a Coast Guard Dornier off Chenai, and a few months later a night-flying Navy Dornier likewise diving into the sea may be attributed respectively to pilot error/technical malfunction and the pilot shutting off an engine mid-flight to practice recovery drill. In the former event, Reliance lent its deep sea recovery vessel to locate and recover the debris from a depth of 980 metres. On July 22 this year an IAF An-32 transport aircraft carrying 29 military and civilian Naval Armament Depot personnel, went down. It was on the Chennai-Andaman run, and as it was, according to defmin Manohar Parrikar, one of the Ukraine upgraded lot of An-32s, it may be safely assumed that technological decrepitude was not the reason. Now why were the debris from the Dornier sea crashes located and recovered, but not that of the Antonov plane?

Simply because while the CG and Navy aircraft all have pingers on-board, IAF has not thought it fit to equip its planes with pingers, equipment that has enough stored power to keep pinging even from deep sea the easier to home on to. It is only after this Antonov accident that IAF brass are talking of outfitting and then only the aircraft designated for the Andaman run with these locaters. Better late than never, I suppose.

But what about the Avantipur radar that left the entire approaches to Jammu & Kashmir, exposed without any air surveillance capability for some 12-15 hours mid-week? There may be nasty business afoot.

Many in the know are beginning to believe that rather than some freak occurrence of Nature, that the downing of the Avantipur radar may be the result of concerted cyber attacks.

These same experts point out that the Indian radar system can be switched off by remote means, such as through penetration via the Net and can even be made to turn on and target national assets by, for instance, mis-identifying IAF aircraft as adversary planes to possibly occasion fratricidal kills. And because the country relies wholly on imported hardware there is every the likelihood, as the former science adviser to the Defence minister and DRDO head Dr. Avinash Chander had publicly warned, of embedded bugs in foreign-sourced and upgraded aircraft being distantly activated, or the system penetration being such as to even spoof information on guidance equipment onboard to misdirect planes.

That the Indian government and military communications systems are entirely penetrated is easy enough to presume. Despite official warnings to everyone in the government, the armed services, the police orgs, and paramils, to not use gmail or yahoo, and to not hold long and sustained conversations on unsecured mobile phones, officers/officials any and everywhere and especially at the highest levels of government and in the PMO are seen routinely do be doing just this. With indiscipline and carelessness as the normal, India’s adversaries — even a lowly Pakistan with minimal cyber warfare/cyber terrorism capabilities, will always have it easy, what to speak of our more capable friends China and the United States. And given the fact that there is no expertise in government or in the Indian military or in the intelligence agencies for “penetration analysis”, and that the capacity of the National Intelligence Agency in all respects is pretty basic at best the country is, to use an American idiom, “up s..t creek”.

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‘Heart of Asia’, India’s role in configuring CG-6, & Aziz

India has been frozen out of all the regional and international Meets held to-date on Afghanistan all over the globe and hosted by adversary states (China), countries that are ostensibly friends but act friendly only when it suits their purpose and interests (United Stateds), and states that have been steady in their friendship even if the old bonds have withered of late due to neglect or out of deliberate choice (Russia). Considering how centrally India and Afghanistan are linked by history, this freezing out of India is intolerable. But no regime has protested or, better still, shown the wit, will, and strategic imagination to be disruptive as a means of highlighting India’s interests in that country by initiating its own peace process involving not only the Kabul regime, the various factions of the Taliban, Iran, and the Central Asian republics bordering Afghanistan to its north — Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. This would have been a unique constellation of countries to put together and the most immediately concerned that the religious fight between moderates and Islamic hardliners in Afghanistan not spill over into their territories. Such a grouping would have put India front and centre. But when was New Delhi last really innovative in its foreign policy? When the Indian government itself considers India a secondary player in Afghanistan, it is hardly to be wondered that other countries don’t think of involving India at all. So the “Heart of Asia” Conference scheduled for Dec 2-3 in Amritsar is something of a surprise, surprise that it has happened at all and, even more, that New Delhi has allotted itself the prime role in it.

Just so we all know — “Heart of Asia” was the phrase the Pak PM Liaqat Ali Khan originally coined in 1949 as an attempt to endow Pakistan with geostrategic centrality he hoped his government could leverage in the future. This title has now been expropriated by New Delhi to fit Afghanistan — a deft little move that must have left at least some history-literate denizens in the Pakistan Foreign Office to grit their teeth and not just bear it but decide that PM Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Affairs Adviser, Sartaj Aziz, should be the Pak rep at the Amritsar do!

The calculation appears to be that it is a way to have the so-called “composite dialogue” that functions in fits and starts, to start once more amidst the usual Indo-Pak farce — the ongoing two month old “war of befitting replies” and cross=border reciprocal threats of “surgical strikes” and worse! General Raheel Sharif, in his last week as COAS Pakistan Army, wanted to wax tough one last time, and did promising that if his forces were unleashed on a surgical strike we Indians would remember it “for generations”. This will no more make us quake in our chappals than Indian threats to do this, that or the other frightens Pakistanis.

In the event, whatever is talked about at the Amritsar Meet, the more important development would be the breaking of the ice for the umpteenth time should Aziz have some time on the sidelines with Narendra Modi, who is expected along with the Afghan President Abdul Ghani to open the conference. Official India will talk with Aziz — of that there’s little doubt. What’s up in the air is if not Modi than who? The indisposition of MEA Minister Sushma Swaraj means it will be MJ Akbar, MoS, MEA. So all the synthetic suspense in the media about whether Aziz would be issued a visa is so much diplomatic hoo-ha to create the impression that it is Islamabad that is seeking some guftgu, with Amritsar affording it cover. The fact is the Modi government too has been realizing the demerits of letting incidents on the border dictate policy (even something as heinous as the beheading of a patrolling Indian jawan in a sneak operation) rather than national interest. And Aziz’s presence offers an opportunity to gingerly open talks w/o losing face.

If the “Heart of Asia” talkathon does nothing else except mark India’s singular interest in being a party to the shaping of Afghanistan’s future, it will have done its job. With Ghani and Modi in tandem, Aziz will be remiss in his duty if he failed to communicate to his principals — Nawaz and GHQ-Rawalpindi, the depth of India’s intent to stay the course north of the Khyber Pass and be engaged with the numerous Afghan factions — both Taliban and tribal in the years to come. And its determination to supply Ghanis’s army, police, and intel the wherewithal, including heavy armaments — attack helicopters, tanks, APCs, etc. by financing the purchase of such milhardware from Russia, Ukraine, etc and transporting them via the Russian rail/road Northern Distribution Network for delivery directly to Kabul forces, as India has been doing for over a decade now. The point Aziz will hopefully take back home is that Islamabad’s efforts to take India out of the Afghan picture will simply not work, and may in fact redound to its disbenefit.

There will be some 40+ countries in Amritsar. New Delhi’s main thrust should be to weave the six countries mentioned in the lead para (above) — India, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, formally into a core group, making it pivotal to the issue of war and peace in Afghanistan and the extended region. Call this collection Core Group-6 (CG-6). Pakistan, after due consideration, should at best be accorded “observer” status. China, US, and Russia should likewise be kept as outside players looking in, not permitted entry. If India holds strong and true, this core group will too. If New Delhi vacillates in the face of US eagerness to influence the proceedings, then the whole thing will be another hopeless diplomatic boondoggle, prospectively achieving nothing.

With President Donald Trump running the show in a retrenching America post-January 20, 2017, and keen to get the 10,000-strong US Special Forces out of Afghanistan soonest, the CG-6 will naturally acquire salience. Assuming the Indian government has the vision and the stamina to see this thing through, it will have to guard against Washington pressuring New Delhi to exclude Iran from the CG-6 or curtail its role in it. The US has no real stake in Afghanistan and cannot, and should not, be allowed to screw things up by imposing its distant agenda on the countries in the region. Tehran is important to India and Afghanistan, even if it rubs the US the wrong way — but that is America’s lookout, not our concern.

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More, Mr. Parrikar

He is duty-bound to confound assessments of India’s nuclear deterrent.
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Deterrence is a mind game. Nuclear deterrence is even more psychologically weighted because at stake, quite literally, is a nation’s survival as a “social organism”, to use the words of the geopolitical theorist Halford Mackinder.

What makes nuclear deterrence work is the ambiguity and opacity shrouding its every aspect. These range from weapons/warheads, delivery systems, their deployment pattern, command and control system to details about storage, reaction time, and physical, electronic and cyber security schemes, the weapons production processes, the personnel involved and policies relating to all these elements. The more anything remotely connected with nuclear hardware and software, strategy, policies, plans and posture is a black hole, the greater is the uncertainty in the adversary’s mind and the unpredictability attending on the deterrent. Moreover, pronouncements emanating from official quarters that obfuscate matters and generate unease, especially about India’s nuclear weapons-use initiation and nuclear response calculi, enhance the sense of dread in the minds of adversary governments. Dread is at the heart of successful nuclear deterrence.

It is the responsibility of the Indian government to make the ambiguity-opacity-uncertainty-unpredictability matrix denser, not make it easier for adversaries to plumb its political will and to read its strategic intentions by clarifying nuclear issues. The adversaries one needs to keep in mind are as much the obvious ones — China and, to a lesser extent, Pakistan — as the “friendly” countries, such as the US. The US, in particular, was at the forefront of preventing India from crossing the nuclear weapons threshold, failing in which enterprise, it has done everything to ensure India stays stuck at the low-end of the nuclear weapons technology development curve. It insisted that India does not resume underground nuclear testing, or depart from the US understanding of limited nuclear deterrence. It may also be recalled that, for geopolitical reasons of containing India to the subcontinent during the Cold War, Washington disregarded its own proliferation concerns and watched China nuclear missile-arm Pakistan even as it preached responsible behaviour to New Delhi.

In this context, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s wondering why no-first-use (NFU) is assumed to be a restraint on the Indian nuclear forces is just the monkey wrench that needed to be thrown into the Western considerations of this country’s nuclear security. American think-tanks help the US government to achieve its nuclear non-proliferation objectives, propagating, for instance, the hollow India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” thesis that Washington has often used to pressure a usually diffident and malleable New Delhi. Pakistan naturally supports this thesis as a means of legitimating its fast-growing nuclear arsenal, as do many Indian analysts for their own reasons.

No surprise, then, that Parrikar’s stray thoughts on NFU have shocked the large community of flashpoint believers and acted as bait for George Perkovich, one of the stalwart proponents of this idea, to rise to it. He uses the morality card — the loss of India’s supposed “high ground” which has been sufficient by itself in the past to subdue the Indian government — and labels Parrikar’s statements as “superficial, perhaps, dangerously so” (see his “Impolitic musings”, The Indian Express, November 15, at http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/manohar-parrikar-india-nuclear-policy-4375606/). The truth, however, is that Perkovich — and by extension, Washington — is worried that Parrikar has upended the US-qua-Western nuclear construct for South Asia.

But NFU is less of an issue for Perkovich than his desire to get Parrikar to explain “whether and how” India means to enlarge its nuclear forces and infrastructure and “revise its operational plans” contingent on New Delhi’s apparent jettisoning of NFU. In this respect, it is pertinent to note that besides its intelligence agencies, Washington has always relied on American think-tankers and gullible Indians to help winkle out details of the Indian nuclear deterrent — Perkovich’s primary intent. I recall that at a 1.5 track meet held under the US government’s aegis in San Diego in December 1998 the hosts called in a surviving Manhattan Project biggie, Herbert York, to impress on the Indians there the dangers of the nuclear course India was embarked upon. They banked on an Indian patsy — the joint secretary (Americas), MEA — to repeatedly ask K. Subrahmanyam and me to speculate about what weapons strength constituted a “minimum” deterrent.

Indeed, far from being under any obligation to throw light on NFU or any other nuclear issue, Parrikar is almost duty-bound to air his “personal views” more frequently on the subject and thus keep confounding assessments regarding India’s deterrent.
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Published in the Indian Express on November 21, 2016, at http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/manohar-parrikar-india-nuclear-policy-4386333/

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Solidifying India-Israel relations with miltech quid pro quo; 1982 Indo-Israeli plans for Kahuta strike

The Israeli President Reuven Rivlin begins his six-day trip to India today — the first by the Israeli head of state. This is a lead-up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s long awaited state visit in January 2017 to Israel to mark the 25th anniversary of the establishment of regular diplomatic relations between the two countries by the Narasimha Rao government. Time to recall just how much progress has been made, and how much more needs to be done, in forging strong Indo-Israeli strategic links. I first wrote a major two-part op-ed article for the Hindustan Times in 1982 exactly a decade before GOI girded up its loins to do just that — the usual lag time for New Delhi to do anything, advocating an upgrade in the bilateral ties from the one-way Consular level — with just an Israeli Consulate in the Peddar Road area of Mumbai but no reciprocal Indian presence anywhere in Israel — to normal ambassadorial representation. For the Israeli diplomats posted in Mumbai it was a high-risk station that also fetched career rewards, so some of the best in its foreign service corps opted for three years of inconvenience and hemmed in life with a lot of security.

These articles — possibly the first in the public realm — were met with shock, a flurry of barely concealed abuse, and the Left-leaning policy Establishment grandees, such as the old Indira Gandhi adviser and Congress government heavyweight from the 1970s, PN Haksar, adopting a high moral tone in their attacks. Other than the obvious strategic benefits, the main line of my argument I had made was that giving away anything free, especially something so precious as diplomatic support for the Arab causes, including Palestine — for which last the Arab states did nothing except show eagerness to fight the Israelis to the last Palestinian — not even maintaining a semblance of neutrality on the Kashmir issue when Pakistan regularly raised it in forums like Organization of Islamic Countries. Such genuflection, far from serving the national interest only generated contempt for India in the Arab world and demands for more give by Delhi!

A year later, I was reporting on the Israeli military advance into Beirut where I met with the Israeli army chief Moshe Dayan’s legendary MilIntel head from the 1956 Sinai Operations, retired Major General Aharon Yaariv then in Reserve and called up for duty, at the Kiryat Shimona kibbutz just this side of the Israeli border. It was Yaariv who told me over breakfast the story of how Indira Gandhi had first approved of an Israeli strike on the Pakistani uranium enrichment centrifuge complex in Kahuta in 1982 with Indian help but called off the raid just before it got underway.

The Israelis who had taken out Saddam Hussein’s Osiraq military reactor in Baghdad in June 1981 had planned the attack, according to Yaariv, thus: A sortie of six IsAF F-16s and like number of F-15s flying combat air patrol (CAP) were to come in from Haifa over the southern Arabian Sea into Jamnagar where the crews would rest up for a couple of days, and tie-up last minute, minor, changes in the flight and mission plans. The IsAF strike and CAP aircraft would then take off from Jamnagar, fly over central India and into Udhampur where previously IsAF C-17s would have landed with a cargo of deep penetration and detonation weapons for use on Kahuta targets. The Israelis had warned GOI that their aircraft would fly with Israeli roundels and entirely unmasked because, as Yaariv put it, they didn’t trust the Indians, who would be the principal beneficiaries, to not claim that it was a solely Israeli initiative in which India had no role whatsoever. “We wanted India to be fully involved and implicated and to share in the responsibility for the mission”, he told me, even though the IsAF could have carried out the entire operation all by itself using aerial refuelers as was done on the strike on the PLO HQ outside Tunis (over 1,500 miles away) in 1985. The plans were thereafter for the Israeli F-16-F-15 complement to top off their tanks, upload the special heavy ordnance on fuselage points and take off, flying in the lee of the mountains to avoid Pakistani radar detection, before coming into the open for the final bomb run over target — two F-16s at a time drooping their loads and egressing as the F-15s circled overhead to take care of any interference by PAF air defence aircraft. The attacks completed the F-16s would continue flying west, out of Pakistani airspace, before dipping southwards and returning to home base. The IsAF aircraft breaking out into the open from the mountain shadows would not have afforded PAF and Pakistani RBS-70 anti-aircraft guns (ex-Sweden) enough time to erect and fire away. (Wrote about it first in the Sunday Observer in the mid 1980s.)

This was the last time India had the chance credibly to stop Pakistan from crossing the N-weapons threshold. Predictably, we fluffed it — Indira losing her nerve. Or, perhaps, because Washington got wind of the mission and pressured Indira into halting it. An attempt to revive a purely Indian attack mission in 1984 when Air Cmde Jasjit Singh was Director, Ops (Offensive), in Air HQ, didn’t even get off the ground — this time Rajiv Gandhi, who had taken over from his assassinated mother, negativing it. (These ops and the politics of the planned strikes analyzed in my books — ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ and ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’.)

The country has paid dearly and repeatedly for the absolute risk aversion in-built into the Indian govt’s thinking and policies, until now when the Indian military, and particularly the Indian Air Force, too is infected by it, and has become fully risk-averse. Consider how in 2001 after the Pak terrorist attacks on Parliament and again post-terrorist strike in 2008 on Mumbai, the IAF was asked if it could retaliate instantaneously. On both occasions the CASs (Anil Tipnis & Fali Major respectively) at the time begged off, pleading various excuses. And, as retailed by the then COAS Gen Ved Malik, how Tipnis at the start of the Kargil ops went “bureaucratic”, saying he wouldn’t respond to the army’s request for air support w/o proper authorization!

But, I have gone off on a jag. To get back to India-Israel relations: In the early 2000s, had sent a paper to the then Israeli Home Minister Uzi Landau detailing why India and Israel should mesh their arms industries in a mutually beneficial arrangement involving Indian capital for joint advanced weapons R&D in Israel and Israel transferring the production of bulk conventional military weapons systems — Uzi LMGs, tanks, artillery, etc. to India that both Indian and Israeli militaries would off-take, thereby building up trust and intimacy of the closest kind to benefit both. Landau, on a trip to Delhi in those years, visited with me and we talked some more. He was especially taken by my idea of the quid pro quo that investment of Indian capital in developing sophisticated armaments and then sharing them with India would enable Tel Aviv to be less reliant and therefore freer of the strings Washington often pulled to hamper and hinder Israeli foreign and policy aims (most recently by denying for a long time the Elta 2052 computer for the Indian indigenous ASEA radar project, permitting only the less powerful Elta 2032 to be put in it). Had also pushed this with Jaswant in MEA, and with others in the 1st BJP govt. However, for reasons unknown to me this idea never took off, possibly because of Delhi’s apprehensions or, more likely, because Tel Aviv discovered that India is better as a paying customer than as technology development partner and financier sharing in the IPR for the military tech so developed. Whatever the reason, this eminently strategic idea remains uncultivated. As always, when good ideas are not followed up, India is the big loser.

It is an idea Modi can take up with Rivlin and if seriously proposed is something Tel Aviv will be hard put to turn aside.

There’s another idea I had advocated before the Vajpayee govt closed down for the nonce the N-testing option with the “voluntary test moratorium” which Modi, unfortunately, reaffirmed two days back in the N-deal with Japan — close cooperation in the nuclear weapons field. India can offer Israel the underground testing facility to fire off its weapons, because it simply doesn’t have the vacant space for this purpose. It last did it in 1979 in Pelindaba with the help of the White-ruled South Africa. And India would gain from sharing knowledge in weapon/warhead miniaturisation, etc. — something seriously for the Indian govt to consider. Modi will have Rivlin’s ear.

Now Cyber and Space have opened up as areas of intense cooperation. There’s lots of it ongoing, it is true, in the field of micro-satellites for low earth orbits and tactical intel, etc. But not nearly enough in the Cyber security sphere where India, despite its software strengths, is lagging well behind the leaders. More on this some other time.

Unless India begins relentlessly and remorselessly to think strategic and act strategically, the country has no hope of making a mark in the world.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Israel, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 11 Comments

Trumping the system

A hard bargain, but good for India
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DONALD J TRUMP COCKED a snook at the political system, smashed the competition within his own party, alienated just about every constituency in America, rhetorically trampled on old shibboleths, openly courted President Vladimir Putin and the country’s old Cold War nemesis, Russia, even asking the Kremlin to cyber-dabble to derail Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party in the general election, waved off the A-listers of his own Republican Party panel of policy experts who had disavowed him, trashed the political play-book, and for his excesses was rewarded by the American voter with the presidency of the United States.

Trump’s ascent must remind Prime Minister Narendra Modi of his own rather dramatic rise as an insurgent upsetting the old order within the ruling BJP headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who wanted to contest the top job one last time, and then comprehensively beating the two-term Manmohan Singh-led Congress Party Government at the hustings.

Modi will, however, find Trump in the White House less socially convivial than Barack Obama but politically more simpatico, especially if the former plays the ‘Muslim card’ and gets the US to dump on Pakistan. Indeed, ‘Hindus’ residing in the US, who arranged for a Bollywood-style event in New Jersey a fortnight back in support of Trump, claim to have contributed ‘millions of dollars’ to the Republican’s election campaign, delivered the PIO vote to Trump in this state as also in Florida, and now hope to cash in by shaping the prospective Trump administration’s approach to South Asia. A member of this group, Dharam Dass, originally from Trinidad & Tobago, called me from New York to say this group would enlist the Trump regime in doing bad things to Pakistan, a possibility some in the RSS and BJP may happily clutch at. Such enthusiasms may get a leg up with the 58-year-old former US Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn advising Trump.

A paratrooper, Flynn served with the 82nd Airborne Division and was the theatre intelligence chief during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan, 2004-2007, and later partook of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Retired in 2014 after two years as Pentagon’s head spook—Director, US Defense Intelligence Agency, he was tapped for advice by a number of Republican presidential hopefuls, among them Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz and Trump, because of his reputation as a hard-charging, no-nonsense, call-a -spade-a- shovel kind of soldier who had run afoul of the Obama administration. They liked his pungent criticism of ‘failed’ Obama policies in West Asia and the Maghreb, his attributing the intervention in Libya following the previous bad experience in Iraq and the nuclear deal with Iran to “zero strategic thinking out of [the Obama] White House” and to “a national security structure that has lost its way when it comes to strategic thinking and strategic decision-making.”

In the event, Flynn ended up joining Trump’s team at a time when better known, more highly regarded defence intellectuals and military professionals shied away from associating with the Republican nominee. Trump’s gratitude may translate into Flynn’s appointment as the next US Secretary of Defense, or National Security Advisor.

So, what are Flynn’s beliefs that may resonate with the Hindu fringe? In an interview published in the Washington Post on August 15th, 2016, he said that “Islam is an ideology and there’s a religious component to it that’s radicalised and in some cases it masks itself behind that religion, especially in our country, because of freedom of religion.” He went on to say that extremism is in the nature of Islam, asserting that “there’s a diseased component inside the Islamic world, the Muslim world… It’s like a cancer and it has metastasized and grabbed hold in a much bigger way”. “There is,” he added, “a problem in the Islamic ideology” but that this “significant expansion of radical Islamism” was not called out by a politically correct Obama.

Obviously, the containment of extremist Islamist ideology in the Muslim world, including Pakistan, could be a baseline for the Modi Government to egg on the Trump administration. Flynn also echoes Trump’s sentiments about restricting the flow of Muslim immigrants into the US from, among other countries, Pakistan. In any case, Flynn’s clincher is in his extending Trump’s line on NATO states having to pay for the US military presence in Europe to American client states in West Asia and in the US Central Command area (encompassing Pakistan and Afghanistan). Wealthy countries in this region, he said, would have to pay “for the relationship they want to have with the United States, to continue to provide some means of security and stability in the region” or, in lieu of financial compensation, Washington, he stated “can put a different set of demands on these guys. Our conversations have been too polite. Our conversations have been political conversations with political people who try to be politically correct and not with people who can say, ‘Okay, what is it we want to have going forward?’” Such a demand could involve, according to Flynn, the countries having to take verifiable steps to cleanse their societies of the extremist virus.

In this context, the problem for the Modi Government may be this: The Pakistan Army and political circles are past masters at emptying American wallets while ostensibly fighting terrorists. Islamabad has benefitted from similar US programmes of quid pro quo in the ongoing US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance, that have generally ended up enriching and strengthening the traditional elites in that country. And Messrs Trump and Flynn, consistent with their policy vis-a-vis NATO and West Asia, may demand either that India pay in cash for the US blunting the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, or pay in kind by fielding Indian Army units alongside US Special Forces deployed in Afghanistan—not the sort of bargain New Delhi may be looking for.

Russia, far from being a bugaboo for Trump, is a country the US president- elect thinks he can do business with as long as the Kremlin shows the US, in Flynn’s words, proper “respect”. China is another matter. Sino-US relations may be in for a bumpy ride because Trump will feel hard-pressed to deliver on his promise to correct the trade imbalance with China, renegotiate new terms, or shut off Chinese access to the US market, and thereby start a trade war. In either case, India is in a position to exploit the US fears of China, on the one hand, and to force Beijing to deliver on its infrastructure investment promises and actually open up the Chinese market to Indian goods, on the other hand.

The core benefit to India (as argued in my ‘Why Trump is Good for India’, Open, July 29th, 2016) could be that it will cure the Indian Government of perceiving the US as the foreign policy crutch of choice in the new millennium. For too long, New Delhi has banked on outside powers to protect and advance its interests. India will have to learn to rely on itself and its own resources as Trump presides over an America that cannot any more afford its own primacy.
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Published as “Trust in Trump” in ‘Open’ magazine, Nov 11, 2016, at http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/the-american-dream-2016/trust-in-trump

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, China, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, US., Western militaries | 11 Comments