Ababeel, its intent, Hanoi’s response to Indian promises

On January 23rd, Pakistan test-fired what it claims is a missile, Ababeel, capable of carrying MIRV (multiple retargetable reentry vehicles) or multiple warheads, specifically to defeat the Indian Prithvi ballistic missile defence system. As has been pointed out in my writings since 2008, the Indian BMD is, like every other BMD system including the most advanced in the US (Patriot-3) and Israeli (Arrow-2) employ, assuming they are able to take-down single missiles fired in anger, are absolutely incapable of handling a missile salvo. In fact, so far the BMD technology has not been able to overcome the physics of the problem  and unlikely to in the near future. But what’s significant about Islamabad’s claiming a successful Ababeel launch is not that Pakistan at present has the MIRV technology or capability — it DOES NOT, but that the minders of the Pakistani state — GHQ, Rawalpindi, are so quick on the ball, and so intent on denying India even a sliver of psychological advantage even for a short while. What the Ababeel launch suggests is that Pakistan has approached and is in the process of gaining from the transfer of MIRV technology to it by China.

Recall that during Op Brasstacks in 1987 when Pakistan army feared its inability to contain an Indian armoured rush headed by Lt Gen Hanut Singh’s II Corps, and General Khalid Arif, VCOAS but de facto COAS on the other side, had taken the calculated risk of concentrating his main force plus army reserves –North and South, at the chicken-neck to cutoff Kashmir from the rest of India  if India proceeded to bisect Pakistan at the Indus, the canny Zia ul-Haq arranged for Kuldip Nayyar to “interview” AQ Khan, ex-Bhopal, and so-called “father of the Pakistani Atom Bomb” (though all the fathering and mothering was done by the Chinese nuclear scientists who had transferred the design and start-up materials — fissionable uranium, etc) and Dr Mubarakmand of the Pak Atomic Energy Commission, AQ Khan, and company were merely involved in screwing it all together). Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons only in 1990, but  AQ Khan’s exaggerated hints of Paki nukes at the ready and all that nonsense, hit its mark. Rajiv Gandhi and his government lost their nerve and called off the breakaway Op Trident, as his mother had done in early 1982,  when she had bailed out virtually at the last possible minute on the early-1982 strike on Kahuta planned jointly with Israel, and again early in 1984 when she stayed the IAF from carrying out its mission to take out Kahuta [planned incidentally by the late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, then Director, Operations (Offensive) at the Air Hqrs].  [The joint Indo-IsraeIi plan had, as I have mentioned in my books and writings, been communicated to me by Major General, Aahron Yaariv, Moshe Dayan’s legendary MI Chief during the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and I had written about it in the autumn of 1987.]

The point here is how wretchedly nervy the Indian government is as an institution, how easily it succumbs to mere braggadocio,  hence how strategic opportunities are missed, and how the cost to the country keeps mounting because of lily-livered prime ministers.

The Ababeel launch is nothing like the ruse pulled off by the Zia-AQ Khan duo in 1987. But it does show just how strategically Pakistan army thinks and is oriented, the very areas in which the Indian government and military  fall flat. Even with the concrete proof of China handing over MIRV tech to Pakistan after previously transferring, nuclear weapons and missile technologies, the Narendra Modi regime cannot get up the guts to strategically discomfit Beijing by nuclear missile arming Vietnam and every other disputant state on the South China Sea littoral bordering China, because of its twin-fear of upsetting Beijing and Washington!!!!!.

In fact, Hanoi is so frustrated with New Delhi and Modi’s unfulfilled promises, following on Manmohan Singh’s, regarding the Brahmos cruise missile delivery, it has decided to go with the Russian coastal battery version of the Yakhont — the Bastion,  to deter and destroy aggressor Chinese warships out of the Sanya base on Hainan Island. And further, rather than wait for an easy going Indian government to deliver the corvettes it had offered, it has settled on augmenting its fleet of the Russian Gepard-class (near 2,000 ton, full load) frigate, instead. Hanoi, understandably, is not taking very seriously the recent Delhi talk of shipping Akash SAMs to Vietnam.

India and Modi are on the point of absolutely losing, if they haven’t already lost, Southeast Asia to China. The wonder is there’s no understanding in the PMO, MEA, and MOD of what will be, or is being, surrendered in terms of the strategic spaces east of Malacca.

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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11 Responses to Ababeel, its intent, Hanoi’s response to Indian promises

  1. Parth Paul says:

    excellent article………..sir why u do not meet army chief or nsa or pm to push u r view pnt ……..these people are very much busy in tamasha of regular elections

  2. Satbir says:

    Is it not true that India cannot export Brahoms without Russia’s approval?.

  3. andy says:

    Re:”The point here is how wretchedly nervy the Indian government is as an institution, how easily it succumbs to mere braggadocio, hence how strategic opportunities are missed, and how the cost to the country keeps mounting because of lily-livered prime ministers.”

    Absolutely pertinent take on the sad state of affairs regarding Indian PMs and in turn GOI as a whole loosing their nerve just when the situation demands a robust counter and some decisiveness from the person leading the country.What could be the reason for such lily livered behaviour?Whatever the reason India continues to suffer the consequences of such meek decisions.

    One had expected the present dispensation to follow the principle of ‘for one tooth the whole jaw’but after a couple of surgical strikes in Myanmar and one in POK everthing is back to square one with some terrorist strikes in J&K going unpunished.Guess the POK strike was a one off event (probably condoned by the USA)when India should have been pressing hard with continued retaliation for terror attacks,since Pakistans nuclear bluff had been challenged and found wanting. This is again symptomatic of the malaise that affects the incumbents in 7RCR all to the detriment of the nation.

  4. The zero-sum mindset is never helpful in the understanding of the intricacies of diplomacy and international politics. Is the Narendra Modi government rebuffing Russia by having bilateral exchanges with the government in Kiev? Think it over.

    Of course, for obvious reasons, Kiev would like to foster such an impression but we aren’t morons to lap it up. It all began when the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Stepan Kubiv who landed in Delhi on Wednesday ‘attended’ the Republic Day parade on Thursday and left for Visakhapatnam for the Global Partnership Summit. (here and here)

  5. Maestro says:

    The Ababeel launch is nothing like the ruse pulled off by the Zia-AQ Khan duo in 1987. But it does show just how strategically Pakistan army thinks and is oriented, the very areas in which the Indian government and military fall flat.

    What is the reason for IA falling flat???

    • Not just the army, the military as a whole falls short for reasons detailed at length in my book — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), some of which may be found in my posts on this blog on the army (if that’s specifically what you are looking for).

      • Maestro says:

        thank you so much for your response! much appreciated……… but dont understand what makes PA to be strategically oriented??? IA and PA are; i believe the same as far as customs and training go……
        Again thank you so much for you response would love to read your book!

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