Modi policy in tatters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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18 Responses to Modi policy in tatters

  1. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Re. “But its explanation that the exercise was meant to inculcate an anti-terrorist stance in the Pakistan army is laughable”

    That was a funny and sad at the same time. It was obvious it was directed at US acolytes in the Indian establishment. But these people have already done their job for the Americans and there is no way Modi can repair the damage, which in any case he does not want to.

    But the pace of developments do not suggest that the results of the policy failures becoming visible is just round the corner for us as a country.

    More alarming are the happenings in the international front at the moment which suggest that Russia itself may be getting its act together much too fast and much too successfully. The Russia-Turkey pipeline with bipartite investments exceeding 12 billion USD will be a reality around 2019. Turkey-EU relations are already damaged beyond repair thanks to American betrayal of Turkey in the Syrian war.

    Ukraine has been on American radar since before WW-2 and yet they have failed to stop Russian economy using Ukraine. If anything Ukraine is far far more dependent today on Russia then it was before the stupid American inspired civil war.

    Chinese had already thrown a lifeline to the Russians with the massive energy buy and token moral support in Syrian waters. Russian are not going to forget this lifeline, ever. The Russian need for India is eroding faster than ever.

    There was a mythic Russian need for warm water ports but Iran does that far better than India ever could have. Besides it is the Chinese now that need these IOR ports and not the Russians.

    And if the Pakis do not generally act like stupids with the Russians then they do have a better chance of roping in the Russians into the new Great game on their side. Pakis had turned the tables earlier too by linking up China and US against Russia (so they are not completely stupid strategically speaking). Funnily enough Pakis had a few years back suggested to India that both of us gang up against China. Some people from our side still imagine that as a missed opportunity. Which is even more funny because the Pakis eventually did exactly the opposite of what they had suggested.

    Russia-China-Pakis-Iran-Turkey may be even Phillipines at some later date could neatly divide Asia into a north vs south block.

    We will be stuck with the likes of Saudis and Islamists for good. I fear for a new wave of funding based subversion of Indian society. Islamic banking seems like the next happening thing in India and will give the exact fruits that the previous such subversion in the name of globalization gave. Americans will themselves push for this source of FDI funding for Indian economy which again will act more as a support for Paki long term objectives for India.

    US Army Chief Gen. Mark Milley, just a few days back gave his own ‘Munh Tod Jawab’ on TV. He is clearly rattled by the fact that Russians never even came close to biting the bait in Syria even while the Americans were presented with a clear possibility of Syria turning into another Vietnam, should the Americans commit foot soldiers. Russian capability for 4th Generation Hybrid Warfare is beyond the grasp of Mark Milley. Add to that the fact that all these actions are in the Russian near abroad. All this implies that Russians will progressively need less and less of India while American will as usual want to fund and fight their expeditionary warfare using some other guys resources and foot-soldiers. Russians seems to be living more and more like the way India of 1971 lived, though much-much less debilitated.

    Most telling was Gen. Milley’ admission that : “Other countries like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea went to school on us and closely watched how we fought. “They are rapidly modernising their militaries today to avoid our strengths in the hope of defeating us at some point in the future.” What he forgets that an insider like USMC Gen. Paul Van Ripper had already given them the taste of things to come in 2002 itself. Instead of listening to him these people went right ahead to push forth their high Capex doctrines which are useless today in the Asian context.

    I think we Indians should just hunker down strategically speaking even while trying our mighty best for gaining some minor economic sinew. Our look east policy had never even started in any real sense. Probably time to save whatever we can in the IOR and in Himalayas.

  2. &^%$#@! says:

    Very fine article!

  3. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    I don’t quite understand why you believe the hot pursuit was not good or good enough. If followed up properly it is definitely a start. There are no guarantees for future but some of the following seem to be happening or can be expected:
    1) Russians will work with Pakis only with the express even if hidden agreement that Indian red-lines cannot be forced upon them.
    2) China likewise. If they wish to.
    3) Americans will know that LEMOA is not a free ride. Indian Forces will never need LEMOA for their own operations but then if they have signed LEMOA then they deserve at least this much leeway if not more. May be Americans themselves get convinced in future that Indian action needs to expand. Pakistan is our Taiwan in reverse and the world should be made to respect that.
    4) The non-state actors will not be as inexpensive to use as they were till now.
    5) The state actors will not have it as easy either because the non-state actors will accuse the state actors of betrayal if more such action takes place.
    6) India cannot obviously keep repeating this kind of action everytime and it may not even be needed but every once in a while Pakis will try to climb up the target value chain (from civilians to soldiers or smaller anti-civilian attacks to large scale civilian attacks). Such attempts are not going be risk free for the Pakis.
    7) True that the real change has not taken place but it would be too much to ask for real change basis just hot pursuits and that too only of a comprehensive kind that has been done. Give it some time and may in future it will be respected or escalated.
    8) The Indian forces themselves will be forced to find out ever newer ways of attaining their objectives in hot pursuits or precision strikes. May be the current situation where CIA tips are seen as an act of ally are in future acknowledged to be for what they really are – abandonment of such capabilities by Indian establishment.

    • Public announcement has given an advantage which is being fittered away by letting the narrative shift from Paki terror to all sorts of things about surgical strikes. Some people like Menon should not open their mouth. As part of their dharma as retired NSA they should support the action against Pakistan no matter how small the gain might be not sabotage present governments moves.

      Pressure on friends of Pakistan should continue. More proactive action is needed. China talk can and should be ignored. It’s not political gains of counterterrorism but use of terror for political gains that is the issue at stake. Chinese and Paki duplicity is not unknown to us. Their statements don’t hold any water. Response to China needs Agni 5, Arihant++ and anti dumping duties.

      We can do without major Chinese investment but trade imbalance is harming us more.

      I find this government has done good at one count which is FDI. PM speaking of Baluchistan, Durand line area and POK is also good.

      Turkey is under the grips of Islamist regime and its Pakistanization is underway. Russia will be mistaken to side with Islamist regimes and groups. They should never be encouraged as they back fire. Someone needs to talk sense into President Putin if he is thinking of using Turkey and Pakistan.

      India will have to clean the mess in the subcontinent itself whether the world supports or not. Afghanistan’s defeat of Taliban is the key to this clean up. Now American’s are changing tune and are talking about making safe havens in Pakistan no longer safe for Taliban but they won’t do anything on Let, JeM. That is our mess to clean.

      Finally I know it concerns people that India gets bogged down with Pakistan rather than looking to go global but problem near home is always priority. India can’t go global unless it solves Islamism in the subcontinent first. It’s the gift of Independence that British gave us. We have no option but to go through Pakistan’s final years. It wont give up the terrorists and there is no compromise we can make which will satisfy the Bakasura.

  4. KsytriaKhalsa says:

    Hi sir, Firstly just reading your latest book & loving it but hating that no ebook.

    Just wanted to say your writing is very good but, some advice given to me was:

    Use paragraph as macro & sentence as micro. Ie paragraph can be long but sentences should be short & flowing.

    One example is on page 16 starting with each ministry producing paper and more paper, the sentence is much too long.

    I want Indian authors to be at the top & we shouldn’t let simple issues detract from our message.


    Jai Hind

    • You are right. I do sometimes use long sentences. Will try and amend this tendency in my next book, which’s in the works.

      • KsytriaKhalsa says:

        Please possibly ebook as well? I like to finish books fast & so take every opportunity to do so.

        A paper version does not afford this opportunity & I want to preserve our forest cover. 🙂

        Jai Hind

  5. andy says:

    Since the 1971 Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty, Moscow has been India’s largest and most reliable defence partner for over four decades. Though the fall of the Soviet Union had troubled the Indian armed forces with a scarcity of spares and an antiquated arsenal, Russia continued to remain India’s trustworthy source of military equipment, despite new entrants such as Israel taking a chunk.

    Things seem to have dramatically changed in the last few years as American defence companies have begun to make a huge windfall through direct purchases under Foreign Military Sales (FMS)—they are probably destined to overtake Russian companies. Russia is aware of how the Indian defence market is soon to be ruled by US and other western firms. Even in the nuclear zone, Moscow could have been taken aback by the benevolence shown to Westinghouse on the Kovvada nuclear site which the Russians had eyed as an alternative to Haripur where the project has run into trouble due to local opposition.

    On the other hand, there are sufficient signs of India being increasingly drawn into the US strategic ambit. Besides the increasing dependence on the US on a range of strategic domains—from nuclear, defence, space and high-end technology—India has now crossed a critical frontier by signing strategic agreements like the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA). While many observers treat this as a virtual military alliance, to China such actions embody India beginning to play the ‘hedging role’ against it for Washington.

    To Moscow, this might be signal that the time-tested friendship is ripe for review. Despite being its arch-rival, New Delhi seeks all opportunities to engage Beijing and address issues of divergence.Unfortunately, it may have fewer options to soothe the disgruntled Russians, for whom a smaller slice may no longer suffice. While Russia heeded India’s opposition when it opened initial channels with Islamabad in the last decade, its decision to go ahead with the joint military exercises, in spite of Uri, indicates the diminishing leverage Delhi has with Moscow.

    The military exercises with Russia and the purported Chinese declaration of support (later denied) in the event of hostilities with India are shots in the arm for Pakistan at a time when it faces international isolation. With the US no longer on its side, Pakistan stands to tremendously gain by promoting greater interactions within this axis. Therefore, it might not be surprising if Russia is soon invited to participate in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a means for Pakistan to counter India’s economic might.

    In many ways, the Pakistan – Russia relationship and their common bonding with China echoes Liaquat Ali Khan’s statement of 1949 that “Pakistan cannot afford to wait. She must take her friends where she finds them.” The statement, intended at appeasing Moscow, was then a reflection of Pakistan’s resentment about Washington’s favoured treatment of Jawaharlal Nehru. Things seem to have turned a full circle as Pakistan confronts a similar strategic call.

    Though Russia and Pakistan are exploring other avenues for engagement, China will prove to be the lynchpin in building this budding alliance into a formidable platform challenging American writ in the region. Needless to say, these developments are a wake-up call to India on the need to reorient its great power relationships. India’s over confidence in striking an effective balance between Moscow and Washington seems to have seriously eroded. Having ignored these warnings for long, New Delhi needs to invoke new meaning in its relationship with Moscow.

    If the apparent motives behind the Russian moves could be dissected, it seems more likely that Moscow not just intends a re-balancing in the region, but also wants to create space for its own elevation to the centre-stage. Going by the current trends, the Russian grand strategy seems not just to continue countering the US primacy but also displacing China as the primary countervailing force in this region, even while ensuring China incurs the costs of resisting the American influx. This game-plan fits into Putin’s own pivot involving a number of direct interventions (Ukraine and Syria), passive engagement (Iran and Pakistan) and crisis profiteering (SCS, Turkey, ISIS) as means to expand the Russian sphere of influence across Eurasia.

    Another significant reason for reaching out to Pakistan is that Russia, which has very good relations with Iran, can play a pivotal role in building the Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline. Russia and China are looking for opportunities to collaborate with Pakistan not only in defence, but also in other areas like developing ports and in the Iran -Pakistan- China gas pipeline.

    In a report “Pakistan is the zipper for pan Eurasian integration” published by the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Andrew Korybko, a well known political analyst, states, “Pakistan can play a catalytic role in bringing Eurasia together, because of its unique position of gatekeeper in the region.” According to the author, “with the unified trilateral assistance from Russia, China, and Iran, Pakistan can become Eurasia’s economic ‘zipper’ and linking these (and perhaps even SAARC’s) economies together in an emboldened multiple future.

    It is, therefore, not surprising that Russia has recognized the importance of Pakistan as its strategic partner and has agreed to supply attack helicopters and is conducting a joint military exercise with Pakistan. We may soon see the Russia -China-Pakistan axis operating to counter the influence of the United States in Asia.

     India should avoid allying with the United States or any other country, as such moves would not be in its interest. Moreover, we have seen in the past that unlike Russia, the United States has not been a dependable ally. Their attempt to reach out to India is part of their larger strategy to counter China and Russia.

    India needs to pursue a balanced approach when it comes to its strategic relations with Russia, the United States and China. It would be in India’s interest not to be seen aligning with any particular country, as we are now seeing a shift in the foreign policy of all the nations mentioned above. All these major powers are driven by their own self-interest, and yesterday’s enemies are becoming today’s friends. India should continue to pursue its own independent foreign policy that is not shackled by alignments with any particular power block.But with LEMOA already signed this might just be wishful thinking.

  6. andy says:

    India has sent out a RFI for a new single engine fighter jet to be manufactured under make in India.There are just two aircraft that fit this requirement ,one is the F16 and other is Grippen E, any views on which one should be selected?

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Gripen E.

      Sweden is the only country not visited by Modi till date.

      Besides India urgently needs to pay a lucrative tribute to the Swedes too.

      Warna log kya kahenge!?

  7. anonymous says:

    I totally support Modi and especially Ajit Doval for their policies. Time will only decide whether their policies are good or bad.Most of the time Empirical data take precedence over logical deductive reasoning. Retired NSA like Menon who only knew how to sail the boat, just survive and support congress government hardly cared about India. China has been using our Brahmaputra river water and he was totally fine with it. People following philosophy of being silent and being only at receiving end from adversaries will never help the nation. Making deliberate decision and prompt execution could lead us towards success.

  8. MS says:

    What you suggest is not easy if the intent(of our leaders) is for forging a great business and trade relationship with America-though we are sucked into the seller-buying mitiary relationship. If the leader(s) want a strong relationship with America for whatever reasons(theirs could be different from ours), how to do the same-what is your take?

    I have not seen your incisive thoughts on this new relationship-Russia-China-Pak. I suspect it is born our of the practical(reflecting their real situation) and it could be stronger than if it had been otherwise like ideologic familiarites. Now it is irreversible, what do you say? How could India stay relevant when the game is being played here in Asia and the focus of economic prosperity has also shifted here.

    Are we doing a mistake by looking so hard and with so much of expectation at the west when everybody is looking at Asia including the west? We did not look at west when China started looking at US, and now making up for that, is it so!

    Lastly, I read in papers China paid 3 Billion for six batteries, and India is paying 5 billion but not mentioned why? Is it a sign of losing leverage?

    How to do the balancing act-let us hear from you. I liked your statement- So, Kremlin is making known the strategic costs India will have to bear, “costs the US cannot make up”. Do you come across people who are aware of this?

    Most important-if you were in that room, how would you sketch the path to be taken ahead?

  9. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    With Rafale we had already ensured that LCA and AMCA will not serve their primary purpose of seeding an aviation industry. Soon there would be F-35 chatter replacing the teens chatter and that will be sold as a great progress in international affairs.

    Whatever was remaining was killed off by LEMON.

    Now onto BRICS.

    We had some trade going with the Chinese which happened with full connivance of Indian babudom since last 20 years. The contours of the trade were that India will never grow its own industry so that Chinese can supply cheap goods and eventually Americans will replace the chinese. So far so good. Now the people from our side wish to take the second jump to restricting for example the chinese mobiles and importing Iphones instead. But the failure of the recent Sanghi call to boycott Chinese goods shows how exactly a country starved of own goods and own production systems and own capital accumulation behaves.

    People are speaking with their monies and their foot going in for a system of markets that are the cheapest overall for the country. Their atma knows that for such a heavily subverted country you continue on this path till you get access to corrected nationalist policies to promote production and capital accumulation in/for/by Indians.

    But no sir, our honchos will have none of it. Just to show their loyalties they have even suggested the hair brained scheme that BRICS nations should use own currency for inter-se trade. Here is Hamid Ansari the VP of India marking the crazy solution to India’s grave problem of small USD exchange reserves which are like 11 months of imports only.

    Refer :
    “India’s import cover improved to 10.9 months in March
    This is because of the foreign exchange reserves improved from $350.3 billion to $360.18 billion in between September 2015 and March 2016”

    Yaar kise ullu bana rahe ho? What will the Chinese do with 50 billion USD worth of Indian currency year on year every year, which represents the yearly trade surplus:

    Chinese cannot give it back to India for imports they will make in future, because we make nothing. We only do imports. We also only talk about Make In India which has no price even in Indian currency because its just cheap talk. Chinese cannot even off-load it all to the Russians because we have no trade worth mentioning with the Russians.

    If the Indian babudom and Sanghis were serious then they should have used this extra cash to re-invest it in the nation through the Russians and Iranians who are big energy suppliers to the Chinese. But that would be politically ‘in-expedient’ for India. Somebody must keep up their worth for the Americans otherwise how can it be ‘good’ for India.

    The Chinese boycott is just a hogwash like everything else. Why don’t they first create some production muscle. Nearly all the land in all the states is stuck up in litigation or licence permit raj. The accumulated private capital in gold is sought to be used for deficit financing by government. The labour is either highly politicised (when stagnant) or on the other extreme of being completely footloose because they do not own anything anywhere and are economic banjaras in their own country.

    Meantime half the country goes onto to use American funded online retailers to buy chinese products with Indian money even while vast populations either don’t have a job or are only part employed. Great beta. Who could have bettered this.

    So why exactly are we holding the BRICS summit for. What will India achieve with BRICS? May be part from making some more noise about Paki terrorism on an unrelated international forum.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      So this is what we achieved with BRICS

      The Indian establishment end up signing the IGA for the S-400.
      Refer –

      So now we will be paying more to have the Indian BMD caged up into a ‘can do’ project.

      And our establishment did that when they know that Russia will be moving now towards Pakistan.

      Pakis have like 20 odd high value support aircraft (AEWC+Transporters+VIP) that can be targeted. While all their fighter aircraft have to fly such small distances to reach their staging areas that they can easily do that lo-lo-lo profile bothways. What use is S-400 against Pakis?

      In Tibet OTOH there are so many ballistic missiles stationed that the only rationale response is deterrent force BM. Besides the airspace is so vast and the ratio of PLAAF support aircraft to fighter aircrafts so lopsided that we will hardly have enough targets for the S-400.

      What will we gain by stationing hundreds of SAMs against a few 10s of targets?

      Looks like the whole world will benefit from our agreements, save India.

      Chalo ji now all of India can spend their lives defending Rafale, LEMOA, S-400 and Single engined fighter (F-35?), for next 30-50 years. Waise bhi ab India mein OFB ke bum-patakhon aur FDI wale CKD kit fighters ke siva kuch aur to banega nahi.


      Though it seems like the modernized Talwar class are going to come in. These are something, that cannot bind us to anybody and will make for some real good use in our extensive waters. We don’t have to do expeditionary warfare for a long long time unless the objective is to satisfy the itch of western influenced officer class. And in near waters having a larger number of these multipurpose vessels should prove to be very helpful.

      So typically our establishment takes 1 small step forward for every 2 big steps in the opposite direction. Personally speaking I was never interested in high doses of irrelevant ‘mine is bigger’ rights. I just hope these singular small step forward are good enough to give us some relevant security even if minimal.

    • andy says:

      Re:The Chinese boycott is just hogwash
      As per a report in the economic times the boycott of Chinese goods is having an effect ,about 30% lesser China made are being sold.Although this will hurt the Indian traders more than the Chinese since stocks were procured 2 to 3 months back.But if the trend continues then the traders who burn their fingers now will think twice before importing Chinese made stuff.
      See more:

      Chinese goods sale to drop 30 per cent this Diwali, says CAIT

      “NEW DELHI: Sale of Chinese products may decline by 30 per cent on this Diwali compared to last year as per the market report from various states, says traders body CAIT. 

      “As per indications available from the markets of different states, as of now there seems to be an expect decline of about 30 per cent in consumption of Chinese products on this Diwali in comparison to last year which in itself would be a strong indication to China and other countries as far as the consumption of Chinese goods in India is concerned,” the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) said in a statement. 

      According to statement, the social media has once again prove its strength as the calls to boycott Chinese products this Diwali festive season circulating on social media since last fortnight have made inroads in the houses as well prompting even children and women not to use China-made products on ensuing festive season.” 

      • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

        I had posted a longish reply that somehow did not go through.

        So trying this one. May be this will. Shows how and why the boycott of China call is best described by ‘Saanp chala gaya ab lakeer peethe rah gaye’:

        Some parts of GoI are merely using the dip in data on 4 almost continuous days of off in the Customs houses to peddle a complete falsehood. Essentially a way to hide what they actually allowed to happen in last few years.

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