What is Delhi finally getting about America?

May be an image of 1 person, standing, sitting and indoor

[Jaishankar-Blinken talks at Hyderabad House]

It is not a coincidence that the announcement in Washington of the appointment of the Indian origin lawyer Rashad Hussain as Ambassador at-large for Religious Freedoms followed in the wake of the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s India trip and meeting with his Indian opposite number, S. Jaishankar. The US side had indicated that the issue of the deteriorating human rights situation in India would be raised, and Blinken did so. and tried to preempt the obvious counterstrike by accepting that the conditions and treatment of Blacks and other minorities in America is nothing to crow about. In this context, Jaishankar’s combatively framing the discussion in terms of how the two countries handle their diversity were apt tactics. That said, and the brazen hypocrisy of it notwithstanding, the US government will continue attacking India on this front. And one can expect Hussain will be mouthing off, making visits to India every time there’s a communal incident or eruption, and testifying before committees of the US Congress that will increasingly grate on Delhi’s nerves. Best for Jaishankar & Co., to brace for this onslaught.

Having long ago set itself up as “the shining house on the hill”, the US has habitually worn its democratic system and values on its sleeve even when its human rights record at home was abysmal. In the Cold War years before the 1965 Civil Rights Act, Blacks in the US did not have the right to vote and, in the American South, lived in an apartheid-like system of racial discrimination, including separate public utilities for Blacks. All the while Radio Free Europe, with powerful transmitters on the Warsaw Pact periphery, interspersed with Jazz and popular American music, broadcast 24/7 the virtues of freedom to the peoples of Eastern Europe, supposedly under the Soviet yoke. One thing the US doen’t display in its public posture is a sense of irony.

This to say that the Narendra Modi government cannot but expect to be at the receiving end of bad press in the US and the West, especially if it is unable to prevail on BJP-run state governments to tamp down severely on the extremist Hindu loony fringe. The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s attempts at narrowing the communal divide by saying Hindus and Muslims and other minorities of the subcontinent share the same DNA, and hence are brothers albeit with different religious affiliations will hopefully contain the more rabid elements, and prevent them from periodically providing Ambassador Hussain the stick to beat India with.

It is clear the Biden Administration seems intent on keeping the human rights situation in India and the geostrategic imperatives of collaborating with Delhi to keep China leashed in the Indo-Pacific, in different policy baskets. In other words, Washington hopes to be free to criticize India in the same way it does China on the matter of the East Turkestani Uyghur Muslims, say, but expects that India, recognizing the larger game in play, will ride out the American barbs and militarily cooperate with it. The onus is thus on Delhi to accommodate Washington, and not the other way around.

There’s a problem here. One hopes Jaishankar made it plain to Blinken that this double-faced approach won’t do. This is no small thing, not something Delhi can safely ignore, because it undermines Modi’s central premise for his pro-America, pro-West stance, namely, that India is a part of a concert of democracies facing an authoritarian China in Asia and the world, even if it is obvious that Indian democracy has still very, very far to go to maturation. But whatever the quality of its democracy, India is still nominally a democratic state in the developing world. This counts, but not for much.

The ruction over India’s democratic status apart, how did the rest of the July 28 Jaishankar-Blinken meeting go? Quad, Afghanistan and covid were reportedly the three main issues on the table. Re: Quad — surely any talks over China and the Indo-Pacific would have to be contextualized by the discussions Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State had with the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi July 25-26. This is what the US State Departgment spokesman Ned Price had to say: “The Deputy Secretary underscored that the United States welcomes the stiff competition between our countries—and that we intend to continue to strengthen our own competitive hand—but that we do not seek conflict with the PRC.” Had he stopped at strenghtening America’s “competitive hand”-bit, that’d have been fine. But his declaration that the US “does not seek conflict” raises the legitimate question about how far Washington would go in avoiding it? The most the US will do is send warships, on ocassion an aircraft carrier group on FONOPS (freedom of navigation patrols) through the Taiwan Strait or the South China Sea or, as happened some three weeks ago, deploy 25 F-22s from air wings in Alaska and Hawaii to Guam for in-theatre operations. These are largely symbolic gestures, not real commitment to fight.

America’s will to stand up to China is as suspect as India’s under Prime Minister Modi. Except, India is a frontline state and has much more at stake vis a vis China than does the US, and a much smaller margin of error. This isn’t helped by Delhi’s ridiculous optimism coveyed to the press about the 12th meeting of army commanders in Chushul leading to the PLA withdrawing from the Y-junction on the Depsang. It marked the kind of unrealism attending on Modi’s China policy dictated by that bunch of proven appeasers — the “China Study Group/Circle” whose list of flawed recommendations over the years would shame amateur sinologists everywhere.

Re: Afghanistan — Blinken may have responded to Jaishankar’s apprehensions at the turn of the events in the aftermath of America’s precipitate withdrawal by assuring the latter that the US means to continue supporting th Afghan National Army (ANA) by bombing and rocketing Taliban concentrations preparing for attacks on ANA garrisoned provincial capitals, cities and district capitals. There is also a mystery about where the attacking aircraft are taking off from — there have already been several strike sorties to-date. It can’t be carrier aircraft from ships stationed in the north Arabian Sea because they don’t have the range with full ordnance load to reach Taliban targets and get back. Bahrain and the base at Duqm in Oman too can be ruled out for the same reasons. There’s absolutely no doubt then that — notwisthanding promises to Mullah Ghani Baradar, the chief Taliban negotiator that Pakistan won’t allow any foreign power to use Pakistani military facilities against the Afghan Taliban, Islamabad has been arm-twisted by Washington to permit American combat aircraft to use the PAF base at Jacobabad for their anti-Taliban flights. The Jacobabad base has been available to the US Air Force/Navy/Special Forces for a long time now.

Blinken may have queried Jaishankar about what Delhi proposes to do to protect its investments in Afghanistan. Other than some reports in the Pakistani media that the Modi regime has dispatched some 3,000 troops — army or paramil isn’t clear, the Indian government’s response to appeals from President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul for military aid and assistance has teetered on uncertainty. Vivek Katju, a former foreign service colleague of Jaishankar’s, calls it “strategic paralysis”. The paralysis is less over what and how much of various military items to ship to Kabul; more over the substantial policy to adopt with regard to Afghanistan’s future and what role if any to play in shaping it.

India has a choice of some Taliban factions to support, fianancially and otherwise, but no real prospect of getting a regime of its choice. The existing Ashraf Ghani dispensation on the other hand is just the kind of progressive, liberal, government it’d like to see flourish in that country. It makes no sense for Delhi to support a Taliban govt of any kind but it makes ample good sense to try and sustain to the extent it can the Ghani government and, in parallel, begin putting back together the old Northern Alliance, just in case, the Taliban push to take over the cities and major towns and Kabul becomes shove. This will be the bloodiest phase of the underway civil war. The northern Alliance will have to be helped in every possible way to take back the border posts the Taliban have captured on the Amu Darya River accessing Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in particular, and to join with Iran in fielding a substantial and well armed Hazara shia militia to keep northwestern Afghanistan out of Taliban hands. The numerous forums, including the Russia-Afghanistan-Pakistan “troika”, where there’s endless talking, seem to be of little use under the circumstances, and India loses nothing to be no part of any of them.

Re: COVID — Whatever Blinken may have said, with the Delta variant of Corona virus now spreading like wildfire in America, it is doubtful President Biden will agree to increase exports of vaccine making materials for India to ramp up its vaccine production. One wishes the Modi govt, instead of going with begging bowls to the US and the Western pharma – Pfizer, et al for the vaccines, had invested more fully in the Indian Company, Bharat Pharmaceuticals, to scale up its production of its indigenously researched, designed, tested and winning product, Covaxin, as the low cost and effective vaccine alternative for India and the developing world.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, 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 democracy, Indian para-military forces, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US. | 15 Comments

Two developments: One strange, the other a big mistake

No link between NRC and NPR, says Amit Shah - The Hindu
Umm..said the wrong thing?

Something monumental happened and no one noticed. Not the Ministry of Defence, not the Ministry for External Affairs — the two ministries that will be most affected. Unless they have known about this and are quietly reconciled to this development by stealth. Or, because they do not take seriously the seminal change announced by Amit Shah, the Home Minister.

The undisputed Number Two in the Narendra Modi government, Amit Shah made public something that was at once strange and stunning. No one has commented on his statement or even reacted to it. Delivering the KF Rustomji Lecture on July 17 at the 18th investiture ceremony of the Border Security Force, Shah remarked that he “used to think if there is a security policy of this country or not?” This is a reasonable thing to wonder about. I have done so too. Then he elaborated a bit by adding a qualifier. “Till Narendra Modi became the prime minister”, Shah declared, “we did not have any independent security policy.”

But for the insertion of Modi into that line, I would agree with this conclusion. That India’s foreign and military polices and, therefore, the national security policies are not “independent” is, after all, a theme I have been dilating on for the better part of the past 25 years, especially in the context of America’s conspicuous role in the last decade and half in shaping and channeling Indian government’s thinking. So, you can understand my nearly jumping out of my skin at finding the Home Minister seemingly seconding my view, leading me, for an instant, to expect that Modi, having belatedly recognized the flawed policy system he was working with, had decided on a structural overhaul and a radical change of course.

That joy lasted the proverbial half second — the time it presumably took Shah to read the next line in his speech, which brought me down with a thud accompanied by much befuddlement. This effect would have been replicated on anyone who was paying attention to Shah.

The Home Minister, it turns out, was not referring to any foreign influences on Indian foreign and military or security policies, but rather was expressing his elation at the country’s “security policy” being unshackled from the malign influence of — wait for it — India’s “foreign policy”!!

To quote Shah per a newspaper report: the country’s security policy he declared “was either influenced by foreign policy or it was overlapping with the foreign policy” — both, by his reckoning, bad things to happen. “Our idea is to have peaceful relations with all” he continued, “but if someone disturbs our borders, if someone challenges our sovereignty the priority of our security policy is that such an attempt will be replied in the same language.” He added that this new security policy was a “big achievement” and “I believe without [it] neither the country can progress nor democracy can prosper.” He then congratulated “Modiji [for doing] this big job” before revealing that this policy had already been operationalized.
(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/articleshow/84499031.cms )

Is that too much to take in all at once?!

National security considerations are at the apex and dictate foreign and military policy choices and options. In the event, if Shah is to be taken at his word, it means primarily that the “security policy” making is now in the Home Ministry’s bailiwick, and secondarily, because disturbances on the border, “peaceful relations with all” and “challenges [to] our sovereignty” are apparently not “priority” with either the MEA or MOD, the Shah-led Home Ministry will put in place measures to implement these priority jobs. In other words, the task of managing relations with Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Pakistan are now transferred from South Block to Sardar Patel Bhavan. China, because it does the intimidating where India is concerned, is left for the MEA and MOD to handle. The MEA, MOD and the armed services on their part will feel relieved that in this new Shah scheme they will have something to do other than sit on the sidelines unprofitably twiddling their thumbs.

Then again, it may just be that nothing has changed and Amit Shah does not know what he is talking about. This is a real possiblity given how ministers read babu-drafted speeches they can’t make head or tail of, in which case, Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and his minions ought to be blamed for making the Home Minister sound, well, as not quite there! In this policy realm, is there anything more outlandish than what Amit Shah said?

The interesting thing is why did Shah, even in his muddled fashion, say what he did? May be the Home Minister is in an aggrandizing mood and believes diplomacy with adjoining states would be conducted better by him and his boys, and would like to wrench decisionmaking turf from the MEA and MOD, and find more military missions and such for the BSF and other paramils under his control to carry out? Or, with the neighbourhood blowing up around us the Home Minister is a bit jealous of his colleague, the external affairs minister, S Jaishankar for being, willy nilly, in the public eye. Except the foreign minister is in the limelight lately for the wrong reasons.

EAM Dr. S. Jaishankar leaves for 3-day official visit to Russia - NewsOnAIR  -
Missteping along

Diplomats, it is said should think twice or thrice before saying nothing. Jaishankar, perhaps, feels that because he has graduated from the ranks of babu to minister, he can let his mouth run wild, the diplomat’s characteristic tact be damned! He let this happen around the same day that Shah was asking the MEA to keep off security policy in order to make it more “independent”. What? How? Don’t ask!

Speaking to a virtual audience of his BJP partymen in a foreign policy training session, Jaishankar couldn’t resist boasting. “Due to us, Pakistan is under the lens of FATF and it was kept in the grey list”, he asserted. “We have been successful in pressurizing Pakistan and the fact that Pakistan’s behaviour has changed is because of pressure put by India by various measures.” He elaborated further: “FATF, as all of you know, keep a check on fundings for terrorism and deals with black money supporting terrorism. Also terrorists from LeT and Jaish, India’s efforts through UN, have come under sanctions.”

So, where was the diplomatic boo-boo?

FATF (Financial Action Task Force) is fairly unique in how it holds a targeted country’s feet to the fire. For instance, at the last FATF meeting in Paris in end-June Pakistan did not get a pass out of the institution’s ‘Grey List’ even though it fulfilled 26 of the 27 conditions because there was telltale evidence of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist outfits beneftting from monies Pakistani agencies had a role in laundering. By the same token, US will ensure, Pakistan never slips into the Black List which India wants, which will activate comprehesnive economic sanctions, because Islamabad is, owing to the civil war in Afghanistan, all but indispensable to America.

The trouble is this: Pakistan is in the FATF crosshairs because of its covert and overt support to the various terrorist outfits it has nursed for operations in Jammu & Kashmir which, in turn, keeps alive what, for all intents and purposes, is the dead 1949 UN Resolution 47 pertaining to Kashmir — the outcome of Jawaharlal Nehru’s referring the dispute to the UN.

India does not have to do a thing to keep Pakistan in the Grey List other than do what it has quietly been doing — list terrorist incidents traceable to Pakistan-based gangs and refer to their financial links to the Pakistan state. In that sense, the Indian government is merely an agency reporting terrorist incidents and the electronic/paper trails of terror financing; that this implicates Islamabad is by the way. This was done routinely and without fuss. Now Jaishankar has gone and spoilt it.

For the Indian foreign minister to publicly take credit and crow about India’s efforts in keeping Pakistan on the FATF’s warning list is to arouse suspicions among the European and other member states of this body about motives other than terrorism driving Indian government’s actions. Not that they are unaware of how much value and weight New Delhi attaches to keeping Pakistan on the FATF hook. But, for that very reason, they could at any time convert their decision into diplomatic leverage for use against India.

Indeed, the Pakistan Foreign Office was very fast in trying to corner India on just this point, claiming that New Delhi had “politicized” the FATF, and offered Jaishankar’s “confession” as it called his gloating, as proof for its charge. Such a claim is rendered credible because India is the co-chair of the Joint Group that assesses whether Pakistan’s warrants placement in the grey list in the first place. The more low key and objectively the Indian government acts in the FATF the more convincingly Pakistan crucifies itself by its own irrefutable acts of ommission and commission. Should Pakistan’s case of India politicizing the FATF take hold, however, Pakistan may well be let off on its good faith actions and for fulfilling most of the criteria and Indian interests will end up taking a hit

For Jaishankar to have thus imperilled India’s case and potentially loosened the FATF noose around Pakistan’s neck is an inexcusable mistake particularly for a supposedly seasoned former career diplomat to make. But then just may be Jaishankar felt pressured. Can it be Amit Shah and Jasihankar are both competing, trying to elbow each other out of Modi’s attention, by trumpeting the performance of the ministries they head?

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian para-military forces, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, United States, US. | 26 Comments

Use the Afghanistan mess to mess with China in East Turkestan

Kalashnikov-toting turbanators taking control?

In a punitive mood after the Islamic extremists whom the US had carefully nurtured and who, in the guise of the Al-Qaeda led by a one time CIA operative Osama bin Laden turned on their American masters and spectacularly brought down the trade towers in New York city and nearly finished off the Pentagon as well in Washington on 11 September 2001, the then US President George W Bush launched US forces to take out the medievalist regime of the one-eyed Mullah Omar in Afghanistan.

I had predicted then the Americans would be there for a while, but would be beaten black and blue and bundled out by the Taliban. 20 years later that prediction has come true.

Once again, and as is their wont, the US expeditionary forces showed as much punch as a bunch of pansies, running away from a fight as they had done from Saigon when between the Viet Cong guerillas and the People’s Army of Vietnam under the generalship of the legendary Nguyen Von Giap, US MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) was stomped into mulch, the last of the American troops and consular officials helicoptering out off the roof of the US embassy in end-April 1975.

Military defeat is the most wrenching of national experiences. The Chinese smash down in the 31-day Himalayan War 60 years ago (20 Oct-21 November 1962) so dented the image and reputation of the Indian army, it has still to fully recover from it. The Pakistan army, likewise, remains unreconciled to a sheepish-looking General AAK “Tiger” Niazi surrendering his pistol along with 93,000 troops in East Pakistan to General Jagjit Singh Aurora at the race course in Dhaka on 16 December 1971.

Military defeat cannot be masked. Or covered up. Or denied. The former US President Donald Trump’s sometime National Security Adviser, John Bolton, tried to do all three and, predictably, ended up sounding like a blithering idiot. With the last of the US forces decamping in C-130s in the dead of night, July 1, from the Bagram air base in Kabul, this shameful final act of cowardice and lily liveredness was sought to be explained away by Bolton. He claimed with a straight face on CNN that “We weren’t defeated. You have to be defeated to lose a war. We’ve given up because we’ve lost patience.”

Losing patience, walking away, from a war the US started, are synonyms for the American forces being pounced on and pummelled into submission — a result all the more stark considering the $1,200 Billion US spent in Afghanisan over the past two decades in a failing venture, before finally being run out of a country whose people, unlike Indians in India, have historically not taken kindly to foreigners tresspassing into their country. The humiliation at the hands of a scruffy band of sandal-wearing, Kalashnikov-toting, turbanators will be difficult for the US to live down. One thing is certain though, in the aftermath of their twin military fiascos in Iraq and now Afghanistan, Americans will not be sallying forth on a new military adventure any time soon.

And this is the US and the American military the Narendra Modi government is happy to outsource India’s strategic security against China to?!!

Still, with the Yanks out of Afghanistan and President Ashraf Ghani and the Afghan National Forces (ANF) hanging on for dear life at least in Kabul and the other cities, which uptill now have been spared the Taliban rush, New Delhi has to be clear-minded about its aims and surefooted in crafting a policy that will serve India’s national interests in the short, medium and long term.

Kabul is an invaluable prize for the taliban for a reason — the capital with all the embassies and international presence will legitimize its rule; without it, Taliban are only another set of pretenders. Washington has said a violent takeover of Kabul and other cities by the Taliban will lead to the US withholding diplomatic recognition. This is the reason why the loose Taliban High Command has tried to be reassuring about its behaviour once in power this time around — though the actions of its foot soldiers in the areas it has occupied have increased apprehensions about that country being pushed back into the dark ages — with the girl child imperilled, women’s rights suspended, and music and colourful garments attracting Taliban lashes, when not worse.

The pivotal issue is how long and credibly the ANF can keep up its morale and fight the Taliban surge that swept through 85% of the Afghan countryside. The July 16 incident in Dawlatabad in northwestern Balkh province where a 22-strong ANF Special Force element who, after putting up a valiant fight until their ammo ran out, tried to surrender only to have the Taliban, not conversant with Geneva Conventions or other niceties of war, simply line them up and shoot them down in cold blood. This along with the Taliban edicts to women to go into purdah and the men to not smoke or shave, will do one of two things. It could steel the hearts and the nerves of ANA commanders who with their troops are deployed in and around Kabul and in the 34 provincial capitals, into deciding they would rather risk an honourable battle and go down fighting than meet a dog’s death. Or, they may take a chance on the Talibans’ mercy and heed their call to surrender. In either case, the probability of the Ghani government surviving is problematic. Unless, and this is the big if, ANF holds on to Kabul and successfully repels waves of Taliban onslaught. There’s enough ammo and artillery shells with the ANF to do so in the short and medium term. Some eight Indian Air Force C-17 sorties to Kabul in the recent past, each with 40 tons of military supplies, will have increased the ANF stock of ample prepositioned stores the US left behind on its rapid exit out of the country.

The Afghan ambassador in Delhi, Farid Mamundzay, said the Ghani government and the ANF have an advantage in two decisive respects. It has some 400,000 troops and more than adequate military stores of all kinds, as against only 70,000 in the Taliban ranks. And they have air power which the Taliban don’t. Whence his request to India for help in augmenting the ANF’s helicopter force. 35-40 attack hepters, he thinks, would do the trick and he hopes other than India, the US and Russia will respond with transfer of these fighting whirlybirds. There may be a problem with this reading of the situation. The American forces with excess of everything, especially air power, failed to leave much of a mark on the Taliban. How can an ANF armed hepter fleet of 40 some aircraft make any real difference? Besides, what’s to prevent the Taliban from periodically blunting this edge by mounting attacks on city air fields like the one that a fortnight back destroyed two Blackhawk hepters on the ground in Kunduz? Or, intensifying their new tactic of assasinating helicopter pilots with the ANF?

But Ambassador Mamundzay is absolutely right in identifying the US, Russia and India as the three countries that can prevent the Taliban from taking over the country by sustaining an arms supply line. Moreover, under cover of the US forces marshalling its forces in the area, Russia is strengthening its military presence in the adjoining Central Asian states under the aegis of the Collective Security Organization (CSO). The Central Asian governments are worried about a backwash from a Taliban takeover of Kabul and Afghanistan, and how they’d have to deal with Islamic extremism. So should a future Taliban dispensation in Kabul turn rogue, the CSO states would be happy to be part of a corrective action.

Actively courting the ire of the US, Russia and India, could place the taliban in a no-win situation. Taliban targets can be directly reached by US, Russian, and IAF strike aircraft rounding over the Gulf and staging out of their Farkhor base in Tajikistan. This is the reason why I have pleaded for a long time for a fully provisioned IAF forward placement of a Su-30 squadron at Farkhor. Indian, American and Russian air strikes can take a heavy toll on the Taliban morale and its barebones logistics chain set up for them and, for some time, even managed by the Pakistan ISI. It can, for instance, prevent them from concentrating their war materiel and numbers for concerted attacks on major cities, in particular Kabul. This is what US air power essentially achieved.

The trick for the Indian government is to continue playing on both sides. India can promise more development aid and infrastructure construction assistance to the Taliban. Further, Indian intel agencies have had productive contacts over the years with certain factions of the Taliban. Because the Taliban operate in discrete fashion, each faction in effect fighting its own subregional war for supremacy, it is not that difficult to act against some factions inimical to Indian interests without alienating the friendly ones. And because of the transactional nature of relationships with the Taliban, even the not so friendly sections can be won over by money and other considerations. Pakistani media is full of reports and commentaries suggesting the Indian support and subsidy for the Tehreeq-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) means Delhi holds a whiphand and can destabilize Pakistan at any time.

The ideal solution of course is for an inclusive coalition Afghan government that the Taliban have talked around without giving a clear yes or no answer in the various talks held in peace forums from Doha, Istanbul to Moscow. The Taliban obviously believe thay can wait out the Ghani regime and the patience of its external supporters, in the hopes of Kabul and other cities falling into their lap without a fight. In the meanwhile, they have strategically this time, prioritised the taking over of the main roads, check posts and entry points into Afghanistan.

The Taliban have already captured the border posts over the Amu Darya River connecting Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. They realized how because these routes remained in enemy hands, certain western and north western provinces became hotbeds of resistance that the Taliban, when they were in government last, were never able to quell. Thus, the Tajik Ahmed Shah Masood ruled the Panjshir Valley and Colonel Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek, with his 20,000-strong complement of ethnic fighters, was a spoiler. So, this time, not wanting to repeat the past, the Taliban have first overrun all border areas and main crossing centres with Tajikistan (Sher Khan Bandar, Panj River) , the Badhgis border with Turkmenistan, Islam Qala in the Herat province fronting on Iran, and the Wakhan corridor facing China.

The Durand Line on the Khyber and across the lower length of Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan is Taliban’s own play ground. Islamabad and GHQ, Rawalpindi, are rightfully worried that working in conjunction with the TTP, the Afghan Taliban, after pacifying the rest of their country and taking Kabul, will realize the old Afghan dream of regaining for Afghanistan its traditional border before the British Raj annexed the territory upto the Marghala Hills in Islamabad. That will be an unexpected denouement to the Independent Pakhtunistan problem! With the Baloch insurgent movements, moreover, operating out of southwestern Afghanistan and the secessionist movement in Balochistan on the boil, the emerging situation is fraught with the utmost danger for Pakistan.

This is where strategic good sense needs to inform India’s Afghanistan decisions. Delhi can play the old game of tightening the pincer on Pakistan — Baloch National Movement, Balochistan Liberation Army, et al, on one side and the Afghan Taliban-TTP on the other side. This will fetch small returns.

Or, it should opt to do the wise thing to subserve India’s metastrategic interests — use the back channel with Islamabad to, in return for Pakistan government settling on a Kashmir solution with the LOC as international border — loosened for to- and fro- movement by Kashmiris on either side, incentivizing, motivating and materially supporting the Afghan Taliban and TTP (away from Pakistan) and against Godless Communist China, and towards liberating fellow Muslim Uyghurs of East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and helping them throw off the Chinese yoke. The mountainous Wakhan Corrdor as Taliban guerilla war staging area is almost too perfect for this purpose. It is an enterprise that will have wide support of just about every country that wants to pull China down a peg or two and otherwise help that aggressive Communist state to implode, and which category includes, the US, Russia, most European countries and almost all Asian states.

Pakistan is small fry. Please Think and Act Big and real Strategic, Modiji. You can task your NSA Ajit Doval, with this his biggest Game.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indo-Pacific, Internal Security, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Tibet, United States, US., West Asia | 46 Comments

Maddening CDS-cum-Military Theaterisation Muddle (Augmented)

Bipin Rawat Takes Charge as India's First CDS - See Pics
Hail CDS!

India’s first Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, has been visible and vocal the past few months on television and public forums explaining what his priorities are, starting with the theaterisation of military commands. Both the CDS and theaterization were recommended by the 1999 Kargil Committee chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyham. These were part of the reforms the Committee had suggested to realize ‘jointness’, absent which the country had managed to put one over the Pakistan army in the last border conflict but at great cost.

India and Indians can’t be thankful enough that there’s always the Pakistan army to rescue us from our military follies because, unmindful of its resource limitations, it screws up by not thinking strategically before lurching into action.

The lack of coordination (owing to the then air chief, Anil Tipnis, not satisfied with an ask for help by the army chief General Ved Malik, insisting on a written directive from the government to use aircraft) led to the Indian Air Force taking no part in the first two weeks of the hostilities. And when it finally was activated, it did so with armed helicopters which were promptly shot down as was a combat aircraft logging, in the process, a startling attrition rate and all inside the first few hours of deployment. The reason the IAF offered for this fiasco was that it had not prepared for war in the mountains!

In line with how the Indian system works — the country got the body first — the Integrated Defence Staff, the supposed secretariat for CDS, as recommended by the Kargil Committee, before the Indian government realized, some 20 years later, that something was missing and around 2019 attached a head, namely, the CDS, to the IDS body. Thereafter, moving with commendable speed, it filled this newly created post with the then soon-to-retire army chief, General Rawat, the sort of grounded infantryman anyone would be happy to take advice from.

But before being pitched headlong into the chair, Rawat failed, apparently, to take the precaution of inquiring from the government about his role, what was expected of him by way of agenda and priorities and, most importantly, what slate of powers the CDS post would be endowed with as these powers would have to be carved out of the decisionmaking turf the services chiefs lord over. This was necessary in order to implement decisions that would require the CDS to work through, over and around the inevitably resisting services chiefs of staff, each of them zealously protective of his own part of the field and preventing encroachment of any kind by any body. Once in the CDS’s chair, Rawat realized he was the proverbial fifth wheel of a running vehicle and served no useful purpose.

For all the pomp and ceremony attending on his CDS position Rawat found himself, in effect, as nothing more than head of the Integrated Defence Staff, but with bigger office and perks. For the Services chiefs he was an imposition but as primus inter pares (first among equals) and so designated by the Cabinet Committee as the single point source of military advice to the Defence Minister and, hence, the government, he could, in theory, insert himself in the military decision-making process with more consequence than the chairman, chiefs of staff committee (CCoSC) in the previous schema could. Except, the CCoSC was an established institution and over the years a gentleman’s understanding had evolved. Because the senior most serving chief served as chairman, each service chief would get his turn and, as chairman, had the opportunity to serve his service’s interests, push his service’s pet projects and programmes. Now insert into this mix a fourth four star but take out the old structure and what you get is a new player who is as much nuisance as inconvenience. It was a recipe for gumming up the works.

To correct this mess, the government then compounded it by creating without much thought or deliberation an organization for a CDS to head and so the country got yet another department of government — the grand sounding Department of Military Affairs (DMA), because IDS HQrs, a subordinate entity, obviously wouldn’t do. So DMA is now in place with a near full establishment on paper — AdSecs, Joint Secs, etc. Except no one from the superior civil services or the armed services wants to serve in it, because it is still a stand alone appendage with no real standing or power. Why, because, again, Rawat, in a tearing hurry to become secretary to government forgot that as army chief he was principal secretary to the government and, as a former CCOS pointed out to me, heading the DMA is actually a substantive demotion. In effect then, all the services chiefs actually bureaucraticaly outrank the CDS and head of DMA, Rawat!

And because Rawat didn’t take care before taking the job of fleshing out the power and authority of the CDS, which he could have done by exploiting to the max his Pauri-Garhwal connections to the powers that be, he and the CDS post are in the unenviable position of remaining transfixed between and betwixt. Because ultimate decisions, short of the PM, pertaining to national defence are still made by the Defence Secretary who retains the responsibility for the country’s military security, and outranks the CDS in every respect!

So, one can see why Rawat cannot push the theaterization of military commands through with the IAF standing in the way. The CAS Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria explained in a TV intervew that his service was not against theaterization per se, but rather that it wants it done just “right”. Of course, if the IAF had its way, it will never happen because it is loath for the sake of jointness or anything else to give up its operational prerogatives and control over its assets. But for the deadlines set by the government, this would be grist for endless disagreement without closure. The IAF, more than the self-confident navy, has always been reluctant to dilute its separate corporate identity even if for a good cause. And it has not fought shy to go to any extent.

Just how petty the IAF can get was revealed by a former commander-in-chief (CINC) of the integrated Andaman Command — the first demonstration project for jointness. He reveals how the IAF refused, for instance, to cede its land to the Command, land where the CINC hoped to build living quarters and recreational facilities for IAF and other military personnel on base, at a time when airmen were living in tents. And not to give ground even in matters of protocol, he recalls how airmen waiting for a service bus invariably failed to salute the CINC passing in his car because he was from another service and how they went to great lengths to avoid doing so. When this CINC asked the IAF chief at the time about it, he was told that that was because the IAF men did not have their caps on. To avoid such protocol situations from arising the IAF component commander, under instructions from IAF Hqrs, then changed the location of the bus stop!

The Andaman Command experience points to the major issue at the core of the integration problem. The authority to write annual confidential reports (ACRs) of officers, which defines the limits of the CINC. In the current circumstances, CINC, Andaman Command, writes the ACRs of his deputy from a different service and of each of the component commanders. Except the final vested authority on the ACRs rests with the services chiefs in Delhi. Should the deputy chief or any of the component commanders act in any way considered detrimental to the interests of the service as determined by the chief, well he and his ACR are fixed, promotion prospects marred. In other words, even in an integrated setup, loyalty to the parent service is paramount or an officer gets it in the neck, hardly the incentive for officers serving in integrated commands to feel loyalty for the joint setup. Or, for the Command to come up with optimized battle plans and crisis solutions involving use of all resources. So what would the falloff be in terms of the Command’s military efficiency and effectiveness? I reckon it would not be insignificant.

A simple reform of making the CINC the final authority in ACR writing will do more to generate loyalty in an integrated military structure than all the endless gassifying on the subject by politicians and militarymen. This is the stickiest point and no service chief will make concession. It requires the defence minister and, if he is averse, the prime minister to simply lay down the law and, by diktat, affect this change. No debate on the topic, no discussion, no endless file pushing in the Defence ministry, no nonsense!

The other immediate issue are the proposed plans for theaterization. The trouble with them is their byzantine nature. There’s so much opacity and such a tangle of crossed lines it is hard to know whose authority will work when, where, and how, and over what. For instance, Rawat in a recent TV interview talked about his priority — the proposed integrated air defence command that will make a single commander in charge of all air space management, including all air activity by assets held by the three armed services, this to avoid, as he put it, fratricidal kills. (See https://youtube.com/watch?v=wwhbsvN9o_l .) These air assets are inclusive of everything from the army’s longrange artillery firing shells to 40 km range because at apogee they reach 15 km altitude in their ballistic course, drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, to combat and transport aircraft, in other words every last thing of military use that flies.

Then Rawat talked of the extant complication: He tried to explain why because of the live borders with Pakistan and with China, the IAF’s northern and western air commands will continue as they are. He did not clarify just how all the flying objects with these two air commands will fold into the air management scheme overseen by CINC, Air Defence Command, and how utter confusion can be prevented. Untangling the operational control over the multitude of assets in these three commands will be a nightmarish exercise with what results will be decided by the outcome of the next war!

The aforementioned fomer Andaman command CINC believes there’s no way to resolve such problems other than for the three armed services chiefs to sit around a table with, perhaps, the CDS presiding, and working out just how and where the fighting assets in particular are to be distributed, located and controlled at literally every moment in time — which aspect will become crucial in case of crisis and hostilities. This is inherently difficult business, and the CDS and his staff will have to work the details out with Bhaduaria, Admiral Karambir Singh and General MM Naravane and their respective staffs, and find appropriately dynamic solutions.

The rest of us can only hope and pray our adversaries will show some consideration and not thrust a war on us before the three services chiefs and the CDS iron out the integration wrinkles.

On the larger issue of military integration, however, the minimum that is expected of the CDS is that he will be familiar with the other two services, their inventories, their capabilities, and of the whole host of specialist skills and competences they represent and embody. In this respect, Rawat has disappointed. He has not shown the necessary knowledge of, leave alone insights into, even the basics of air and naval warfare. Just how deficient he is in his appreciation was showcased by his calling the air force a mere “supporting arm” which, in this day and age, is inexcusable and almost a goad to the IAF to stand its ground against theaterization. Not content, Rawat then almost revelled in his ignorance of the differences in combat flying conducted by the air force and the navy. Sounding verily like one of the generalist babus populating the defence ministry, who can’t tell the business end of a gun from their elbow, he said he can’t see why IAF pilots cannot fly their aircraft off carrier decks, and naval pilots their planes from air bases!! In Rawat’s mind, flying is flying — what’s the big deal?!! The small matter of the vast and consequential differences in aircraft and in combat flying over land and at sea off aircraft carriers is for him of little concern. Ooh, boy!!!

With Rawat as CDS, the Modi government better begin to worry about the sort of military “integration” that may materialize under his charge, and its overall effects on the armed forces’ efficiency and effectiveness.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, 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 Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indo-Pacific, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Weapons | 55 Comments

Drone danger: Just waking up to it?

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Sure!

Drones which dropped small explosive packages on the Jammu air base just missed hitting — not by much — a helicopter unit parking area and the air traffic control tower. Consider this a trial run.

What if a parked hepter had been struck? Depending on whether it was armed and ready with a full ordnance load of missiles, rockets and bombs, and a full tank, and on how many other hepters were in the vicinity, this would have been a humungous fratricidal fire attack — the first exploding hepter destroying other aircraft.

That the realtime photoimagery or IR sensor guidance was available to the drone platforms and that the hepters were in the crosshairs suggests its handlers were after big targets and wanted this to have a big demonstration effect. Logically, then the attacked aircraft would have to be expensive ones; in this instance, that means the targets were the attack helos stationed at the Jammu AFB at the time, or deployed there for the nonce.

There are two types of high value attack hepters in service with the IAF — the AH-64 Apache and the Russian Mi-24. In rounded figures, the Apache costs Rs. 695 crores or US$ 100 million each; the Mi-24 comes in at around US$ 14 million. If it is officially contended that what the drones missed were utility/transport hepters then the unit cost of the Russian Mi-17 is some US$ 9 million.

Now, let’s calculate the exchange ratio — the ratio of the cost of the drone lost to the cost of the destroyed hepters — the adversary would have obtained had the attack operation succeeded. The cost of the drone, assuming it was equipped with miniaturised camera, etc and a communications link, wouldn’t have exceeded Rs. 2 lakhs or US$ 2,700. Had the drone taken out, say, one Apache worth $100 million the exchange ratio just in monetary terms would have been 1:37000!! Had two more Apaches been thus destroyed the ratio would have mounted to 1:111,000. If we assume a single Mi-24 was hit, the exchange ratio would have been still terrifically lopsided at 1: 5186. In case it was the Mi-17, the E-ratio would be 1:3333.

You get the idea.

A former CAS, S Krishnaswamy, has penned an op-ed, post-Jammu attack, when everybody has suddenly become alive to the threat posed by drones/UAVs. (https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/drone-detection-system-jammu-airfield-bomb-attack-7380116/). He says drones are means of terrorism, that “hundreds of drones” could be launched by Pakistan to “harrass” India, and then alights on the surefire solution senior Indian military officers always do when they get the problem wrong and are otherwise fresh out of ideas — he talks imports! By way of a throwaway line Krishnaswamy mentions helicopters in anti-drone role. Presumably, he is referring to the directed energy (laser) doo-dah on the Apache able to disable lowflying drones. The Apache in anti-drone role, however, is nonsense because it will require an improbably large fleet of AH-64s to be in the air all the time, 24/7/365! This Apache mention is a prelude to his recommending buying systems to detect and to destroy drones abroad.

From this ex-Air Chief Marshal’s piece — one thing is clear. He hasn’t a clue about the evolving nature of drones and neither does the IAF brass who, over the years, have never seriously mulled the drone/UAV as principal offensive weapon system and surveillance platform. Tool of harrassment — really??!! Nor how drones/UAVs are helping manned combat aircraft to obsolesce fast because anything worth targeting is more vulnerable to small, highly agile, inexpensive drones than a new fangled combat aircraft our blinkered fighter-jock community leading the IAF into the future may insist on procuring. And he and the IAF pooh-bahs know even less about indigenous capability.

In this respect, a small but revealing episode. The day before yesterday, out of the blue, a retired Vice Chief of the Air Staff called me up. He asked me to republish an op-ed of mine he says he read 10-15 years ago that warned about the danger from drones, which he said was “prophetic”. He recalled how he had gone with my article to meet the then Air Force Chief and his Principal Staff Officers to ask them to do what I had urged in that piece: Take drones seriously, because they are the future, only to be told by them that “Karnad is a maverick”. Maverick in IAF terminology is a term of abuse.

Actually, I first talked about drones and unmanned aerial platforms making combat aircraft obsolete in 1986 in a two part series published in the then Khushwant Singh-edited Illustrated Weekly of India. It was written from Washington and after discussing the subject with many leading lights in the US, such as Jacques Gansler, then Under-Secretary of Defense in-charge of acquisitions. Given the technology trend path, I had recommended in those articles that, rather than waste time and money on the Light Combat Aircraft project that was just getting started and which aircraft I predicted would be dated by the time it hit the tarmac, HAL, IAF and the Indian government would be better off if they concentrated on designing and developing a family of drones/UAVs for various roles in aerial warfare of the future.

It earned me, on my return to India, the anger of the then science adviser to defence minister V Arunachalam and a trip to the LCA project in Bangalore and a briefing by its director, Dr Kota Harinarayanan. Enjoyably, I was, perhaps, amongst the first outsiders to actually sit in a live LCA glass cockpit mockup with fly-by-wire, and engage in what can be termed a dynamic video game of an aerial fight of me in the LCA versus one, two, or three “raiders” being managed by the head of the avionics software group, a US-trained engineer. (This was a long time ago and I hope I got most things right about the B’lore trip!) And I liked what I saw.

It is another matter that seeing the IAF time and again make a hash of things by choosing yet another foreign fighter plane and waste national resources while stepmothering the indigenous LCA into near extinction, I have been all for the Tejas to make it and for its technologies to be continuously upgraded and for larger, more modern and lethal variants to be funded. Meaning, if the IAF is damn fool enough to believe manned aircraft will be viable well into the 21st century, then I’d rather the government pour national resources — your and my tax money — into the homegrown Tejas and Indian industry than in a deal for an imported item that will improve the bottomlines of Boeing or Lockheed or Sukhoi or Mikoyan or Dassault or Saab or EADS.

The reason I say the IAF brass are clueless is mainly because they seem entirely unaware of the drone/UAV technologies — hardware and software — of the most sophisticated kind being designed, developed and marketed in India. According to a hard count by Group Captain RK Narang, there are 26 private sector companies, who are at the cutting edge of drone tech and doing well. He made this list for SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Research Accelerator) — a forum founded and headed by a retired diplomat, Smita Purushottam, which has relentlessly pushed indigenous technology and has repeatedly succeeded in getting the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene, especially in the telcommunications area where the Ministry of Telecommunications and its various agencies seem bent on sabotaging Narendra Modi’s atmanirbharta policy by letting in foreign 5G technology vendors by the backdoor. A seasoned IAF helicopter pilot and author of the usefully informative 2020 book — ‘India’s Quest for UAVs and Challenges’, Narang was, until he retired earlier this year, the leading proponent of UAVs in IAF. One suspects though that while his seniors in service indulged him by supporting his research, his recommendations were not taken too seriously by Air HQrs. Hope they will do so now.

It seems to me that were these 26 firms to work together per a single plan and integrate their resources, they would produce a world class series of surveillance, warfighting and attack drones including drone swarms operating in distributed (artificial) intelligence mode, as also anti-drone technologies. Such an enterprise should long ago have been underway with the IAF helming it. But considering its regressive mindset the chances of its doing so are, well, zero. In the main because IAF brass fear that drones/UAVs will divert resources from combat aircraft acquisition programmes they are wedded to come hell or high water! Such purchases will be made even if these aircraft stand next to no chance of surviving actual fight with drones. Indeed, these aircraft will be lucky to get off the ground in the face of attacking UAV/D-swarms.

Relying on DRDO to perfect its drone and anti-drone systems, like land-based and airborne low energy lasers to shoot down drones/UAVs, and IT systems to scramble their guidance loops, is unnecessarily to lose time and money. Most countries are fast-forwarding their drone/anti-drone projects by going commercial — that is, getting companies vending whole drone systems and related technologies for commercial use, to build more rugged and capable drones and unmanned aircraft to milspecs for military use. This is the way to go and Narang’s list of Indian companies should ideally be immediately involved and commissioned by the Ministry of Defence to have time-certain delivery of finished drone weapons and surveillance systems and anti-drone tech systems. Because this is private sector where time is money there’ll be no time or cost over-runs.

Except, as in all advanced technology areas where procurement is featured, the process is deliberately elongated by everybody in the acquisition hierarchy and in the DRDO in the hope that IAF and Indian govt will opt for the usual, derated, inherently compromised, foreign hardware, and that this will involve a lot of foreign trips, lavish “entertainment” — “commissions” anybody? and, who knows what else. Can the Indian firms provide them such goodies? Of course, not.

So import everything!! Third World/Fourth World modus operandi zindabad!!

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian ecobomic situation, Intelligence, Internal Security, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, society, South Asia, technology, self-reliance, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 40 Comments

An Open Letter to the Prime Minister: Careful, Modiji, you are treading water!

Nearly 1 Million Likes In Less Than 24 Hours For PM's Pic From Kolkata

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

Your Minister for External Affairs, S Jaishankar, who as ambassador to the US arranged the Sept 28, 2014 public relations circus with NRIs at the Madison Square Garden in New York (when Barrack Obama was President) which won your heart and fetched him first the Foreign Secretary-ship and later a Cabinet berth, no doubt considers himself an expert on all matters American. Hopefully he has warned you just how markedly the political ground has shifted in Washington from when your “jigri dost” and “yaar”, the Republican, Donald Trump, inhabited the White House to now when the Democrat Joe Biden, occupies it.

This has happened less because of developments at the US-end than because of the carryings-on of your select chief ministers in BJP-ruled states here, especially Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. Adityanath may be faulted for taking to heart the belief permeating all state governments and central govt agencies alike that the way to impress you is to go at Muslims and your political opponents quite literally with hammer and tongs.

In the age of lightning fast visual, aural and written communications — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — the very electronic mediums you have successfully used to marshal support and to instantly reach out to and message tens of millions of people at the flick of your finger, physical and verbal abuse of citizens whether by neighbourhood goons or by local and state police acting as hand-maidens of chief ministers of the day, captured on mobile phones and broadcast realtime to the world, can be absolutely devastating for the concerned CM, of course, but even more for your fast eroding image and reputation, Modiji.

What could have been more appalling PR than that mobile video gone viral of an aged Muslim being beaten and bruised, his beard pulled and finally sheared, and being forced to chant ‘Jai, Shri Ram’? Bad advertisement for the ‘Ram Rajya’ Adityanath is presiding over and wants you, Modiji, to endorse! No wonder it has sent Adityanath into apoplectic fits and UP policemen scurrying to find the villains responsible for this excess of electronicaly transmitting the UP reality to the world.

Fewer and fewer people remain unaware of how bad things really are on the ground, Mr Prime Minister. But once Twitter, Instagram and Facebook showcase this reality — the media and those in power in the West, who take their cues from the leading press and media outlets, will begin to let their outrage show. If you think — or if Jaishankar has given this spin, that given how the US finds itself in a Russia-China vice with Russian combat aircraft yesterday dropping fragmentation bombs in the path of a British warship that had strayed into Crimean waters off Sebastopol and, at the other end, the Chinese military making noisy preparations (or so the always hyperventilating ‘Global Times’ reports) for possible invasion of Taiwan, that the Biden Admin would be too preoccupied to make a song and dance about some Muslims in India getting roughed up then, I am afraid, you are being given faulty advice.

We know, you have been trying hard to impress Biden & Co and are keen to recover for yourself the kind of personal traction you enjoyed in Washington during Trump’s tenure but, so far, you have striven without much success. This was evidenced in the leisurely way in which the Biden Administration responded to your frantic calls for help when the 2nd wave of the Covid pandemic hit. Your pleas for speedy export to India of materials and ingredients needed to produce the vaccines here, instead of expeditious processing, was met with a lot of empathetic gas and platitudes. US officials hee-ed and haw-ed but did nothing about actually shipping to India bioreactor bags, cell culture mediums, lipid nanoparticles, microcarrier beads, etc. even as the crisis reached levels of extreme god-awfulness — dead bodies by the hundreds every day thrown into rivers when not set afire at road sides.

For two months and more the Biden White House tarried, calculating how much of what ingredient export would hurt the US production of vaccines and how that would affect the President’s campaign for optimum vaccination, which had a July deadline, by when it was wrongly estimated that levels of 60+ percent of the American population would be vaccinated and herd immunity achieved. Washington announced a couple of days back that this deadline would not be met.

I had warned in my blog post (https://bharatkarnad.com/2021/04/27/cost-of-trusting-america/ ) of April 27 that someone in your PMO may have alerted you to, that the export of vaccine ingredients to India wouldn’t even begin to get underway for several more months at the very least, and that to turn to America for succour in an emergency was futile. And so it has proved. Of course, the US pharma companies (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson) agreed happily to export their vaccines at high profit margins and on the basis of a liability exemption, meaning if anyone in India dies from the vaccine the company can’t be held responsible in law! (It is like the exemption the US company, Westinghouse, has secured from your government about its unproven AP 1000 nuclear reactors it wants India to buy — all such transactions enabled by the civilian nuclear cooperation deal negotiated by your cabinet colleague, Mr Jaishankar!).

If you, Mr Prime Minister, weathered the bad covid publicity and felt comforted, you ought to dust off that sense of complacency because you may be heading into a press freedom storm set off by the afore-mentioned human rights video and by the insensible response to it by your government of pressuring Twitter, Instagram and Facebook into strict self-censorship with the threat of legal troubles and punitive actions. Most companies may squawk some and submit. Then again they may not because the criticism on the twinned human rights-press freedom issue is now acquiring US Establishment legs. The rule of thumb is that whenever Washington Post or New York Times editorializes on an issue it is because that issue is front and centre in Washington.

On June 23 a Washington Post editorial, after surveying the rather fraught situation in India, pointed to the demonstration effect of the Indian government’s actions in the rest of the developing world of muzzling the media and the leading tech communications platforms. It concluded by saying that “What happens in India, …matters a great deal even in nations thousands of miles away — because it sends a signal about what one populous and prominent country thinks still-developing national Internets should look like, and also because it sends a signal about what other countries are willing to tolerate. So far, the United States and its allies have remained largely silent amid this erosion of free expression on the Web, leaving domestic companies on their own to stand up for civil liberties overseas, or to back down. Every day this silence does more harm.” (See https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/the-united-states-cant-keep-ignoring-indias-internet-abuses/2021/06/23/1e4c2490-d2c1-11eb-a53a-3b5450fdca7a_story.html )

Never mind the cant and hypocrisy of this Washington Post editorial, considering the US Congress is currently discussing and debating draft legislation to impose restrictions on, and to limit the freedom of, Twitter and Facebook!

But this cannot be any consolation to you, Mr Modi, nor should it surprise you because the US government routinely holds America to one standard, and applies far stricter metrics to judge other countries by which, incidentally, is a trait of all great powers throughout history!

Assuming the Biden White House cuts you and your dispensation some slack, the “Progressive” element in the Democratic Party won’t. Led by Pramila Jayapala, the Congresswoman from Washington State, whose request for a meeting was turned down by Jaishankar on one of his Washington trips during the Trump presidency for reasons that can only be explained as pique, thereby earning for India her personal enmity, can be expected to lead a furious charge. It is not clear whether Jaishankar’s handpicked team in Washington headed by Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu is up to the job of blunting it, especially because the Congressional lobbying help provided the Indian embassy by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee may not be available in quite the same degree because the new coalition government of Naftali Bennett will need all the help it can get to hold off the same Progressives in the US Congress from targeting Israel for nearly sparking off a hot war against the Palestinian regime of Mahmoud Abbas. And because the RSS-leaning Hindu support base among the NRIs in America is on the defensive, unable to answer for the institutionalised ill-treatment of Indian Muslims and for the sly encouragement of the loony Hindu fringe that you and your government are accused of.

You may be reading the domestic political situation right — there’s no one better at it than you. So, you have begun sporting a fuller beard, and have discarded gold-threaded suits for plainer more plebian clothes, still well cut. With a shawl stylishly draped over the shoulder, you look verily like Rabindranath Tagore from a 100 years ago. It gives you the desired sagely appearance as you approach the next general elections when the contest will be tighter. But 2024 is also when Biden may seek re-election. In any case, he will have less time for India or you in the intervening years. The minimum you should ensure doesn’t happen between now and then is that Hindu-Muslim tensions don’t flare up both because the anti-Muslim tilt distracts your government from urgent nation-building tasks and because it fetches you and the country bad international press which, in turn, will attract hurtful US Congressional actions that Biden with his own agenda and priorities, will not be willing or be able to prevent or even divert. Heading into next general elections none of this can be good news for you.

Do take this missive in the right spirit, Mr Prime Minister, because it is written by someone who, as early as 2011 in his writings championed your election as PM on the basis of your conservative economic ideology and hoped you’d free the indigenous talent and entrepreneurial genius from bureaucratic shackles and let India fly. Six years into your rule, you have failed to deliver on that promise, and are relying on statist-socialist solutions for enormous problems, when you ought to know these don’t work (and haven’t for seven decades!).

With your nationalist background, moreover, I had hoped you would by now have put India on the broad gauge track to great power as your adoption in 2014 of the ‘India First’ philosophy I have been advocating since 2002, promised. Disappointingly, I find you have shunted the country onto that old narrow gauge foreign policy line, huffing and puffing to nowhere –badgering Pakistan, kowtowing to China, opting to ride America’s coattails in the Indo-Pacific and, profession of atmanirbharta notwithstanding, permitting the military to binge on arms imports.

Your most significant success to-date has been ridding the Constitution of Articles 370 and 35A. You deserve all the accolades not because it put Kashmiri Muslims in their place, but because the Indian Union of states cannot long endure if only one state is accorded special status. Otherwise, your prime ministership has been bare of substantive achievements. Still, everyone expects you and the BJP to win the next elections because of the absence of a halfway decent alternative. But few will be cheered by this prospect, especially if things continue to proceed as they have done in your first term and so far into your second term.

Respectfully yours,

Bharat Karnad

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, 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 democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, indian policy -- Israel, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Indo-Pacific, Internal Security, Islamic countries, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, NRIs, nuclear industry, nuclear power, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 47 Comments

Kashmir issue: Back to the future?

Fissures in Gupkar alliance after Kashmiri leader’s Delhi visit
[The so-called Gupkar Alliance of J&K parties]

On Thursday June 24, the leaders of all political parties active in Jammu & Kashmir, but especially the Srinagar Vale, will gather in Delhi at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. There will be the old knowns — the Abdullahs (Farooq & Omar) of the National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), but also smaller outfits such as Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. Apni Party, in particular, promises political fireworks in the future. It has been building up its cadre and engaging in mass contact programmes before 5 August 2019 when Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution were abrogated, earning for the dissenting top echelon of the NC and PDP a longish stint of house arrest. It cleared the political space for Apni Party to put down roots. Bukhari hopes to do in the Valley what Aam Admi Party of Arvind Kejriwal did to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Congress in the capital — decimate them, and force their dynastic leaders into retirement, replacing them with grassroots representatives who have found their voice and a role unconstrained by the activities of the usual favour seekers and entrenched supporters of the NC and PDP.

Having participated virtually lastweek with the G-7 leaders meeting in Cornwall, UK, who emphasized the importance to international peace and order of democratically-run states, Modi wanted to be on the same page as them. Never mind that democracy may not be faring all that well in the West! The defeated Donald Trump’s residual but resilient support in America is combining with the doggedly uncooperative Republican party in opposition to erect institutional and procedural barriers to voting by minorities in all American elections. The French President Emmanuel Macron was slapped in the face when gladhanding in a crowd, etc. Modi could have wagged a finger at them. Instead Modi addressed the unease in certain American circles about the Kashmir issue, by now calling an all J&K parties’ meeting and, as goodwill gesture, even released an aide of Mehbooba Mufti’s, Sartaj Madni.

Pakistani press and even some sections here have interpreted this Modi initiative as a precursor to the BJP government restoring the status quo ante in Kashmr with Art 370-35A back in place and a return of the tried, familiar and failed situation of the past. See https://tribune.com.pk/story/2306115/restoration-of-old-iiojk-status-on-cards. This is a gross misreading of the political tea leaves, and underestimates Modi’s nous.

By junking 370, India had passed the point of “no return” the day it was abrogated. Pakistan, the Abdullahs and the Muftis, however, have been slow to catch on. What the Prime Minister has in mind with the June 24 meeting is to encourage all the parties to participate in the separate elections in the three units — Valley, Jammu, and Ladakh, of what once constituted Indian J&K. There are no problems with Union Territories — Jammu and Ladakh.

The Valley potentially posed a problem but not anymore. That is because of a new party in Kashmir affairs, the Apni Party, which has gained traction. Without Bukhari’s outfit in the political mix NC and PDP had negative leverage in terms of the Abdullahs and Mehbooba refusing to fight elections. But with Apni Party eager to test its budding political support in the Valley, NC and PDP cannot afford to sit out an election and lose what chance they still might have to reestablish their political bonafides, presence and even their duopoly in the Muslim majority Srinagar region.

Nothing has so decisively helped Modi to advance his plan of permanently trifurcating not just J&K — ridding the system of the Art 370 anomaly was only the first step, but the politics of J&K than the emergence of Bukhari’s Apni Party.

A former Finance and Education minister in Mehbooba Mufti’s government, Bukhari was kicked out, in 2019 perhaps, because of his ambitions, and promptly founded the Apni Party which won almost instant support from the BJP. So, it is not unfair to conclude that Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari and his party are beneficiaries of Modi’s calculus. Apni party spun off from the PDP in March 2019. But Bukhari has denied he is in cahoots with the BJP. Indeed, he has publicly made common cause with the NC and PDP on the matter of restoration of statehood of J&K. He explained his two meeings with Modi — once in 2019 and another a year later as an attempt by him to convince the PM to fill the vacant government posts in J&K with locals, and to finesse the domicile rights to prevent the unhindered influx of “outsiders” into the province.

Restoring J&K’s status as a single state entity is unachievable, but even more so is the restoration of Articles 370 and 35A, which are history. But Bukhari has been careful not to demand the latter! In real terms though Bukhari is likely to accept the formal territorial and political trifurcation of J&K, if he can assume the “gaddi” in Srinagar (with no latitude for the Valley government to move to Jammu in the winters!). Whether just the Valley will be designated ‘Kashmir’ is a loaded issue, but one that Modi and Amit Shah can use as leverage against the NC and PDP leadership — better to be elected and referred to as Chief Minister of Kashmir than Chief Minister of ‘Srinagar Valley’, surely.

This is precisely the denouement Islamabad fears the most, the reason for Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureishi repeatedly internationalizing the Kashmir issue and especially the possibility of Delhi reconfiguring Kashmir demographically by settling outsiders in the Valley to tip the balance against the Muslim population, and demanding that the UN Security Council take up the matter and bar India from proceeding to do what’s in Modi’s mind to do.

The trouble is Pakistan cannot reasonably make that case because the only relevant Security Council Resolution No. 47 of April 21, 1948 requires as prerequisite for holding a “free and impartial plebiscite” the removal of all Pakistani natives — military, police and others as of date from the erstwhile ‘princely kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir” inclusive of Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan (since referred to by Pakistan as ‘Northern Areas’). The second step was for India to remove its military but to maintain a skeletal police force to carry out constabulary functions (law & order). The final step was for a plebiscite under the UN’s aegis to ascertain the will of the peoples of all of J&K including Northern Areas. Pakistan never removed its armed forces then or at anytime soon thereafter, until now, 70-odd years later, when that prior condition, because it cannot be met, has rendered Resolution 47 moot.

In fact, in the early 1950s — I think it was 1954 — General Ayub Khan issued orders for the ‘Azad Kashmir forces’ (AKF) to be regularized and integrated into the Pakistan army. The special status of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the validity of UN Resolution 47 ended then and there. The August 2019 Art 370 abrogation only belatedly completed that process begun by Ayub Khan. This was so because AKF were made up by large remnants of the tribal Pashtun ‘raider’ force who never returned to their homes in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and settled down in POK. This raider force under then Brigadier Akbar Khan, it may be recalled, invaded the princely kingdom at Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s behest in September-October 1947. And then the worst thing that could happen from India’s point of view, happened. As advised by his nominee as free India’s first Governor-General, Lord Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru decided senselessly to refer the dispute to the UN for resolution. That fatal decision is mainly to blame for the mess India finds itself in. It owns a truncated J&K minus the strategically significant Northern Areas.

For the Pakistan Foreign Office, therefore, to keep squawking interminably about getting the UN to compel India to respect and to comply with the provisions of that outdated Resolution would be understandable if Pakistan government agreed somehow and credibly to rid POK of 30%-40% of its population which can be traced genealogically to the original raider force members. How that’s to be done is anyone’s guess! Once that happens India can agree to the UN-mandated plebiscite which, given the disaffection of the mostly shia peoples of Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan, will result in most of that population voting to merge with India. Along with the bulk votes from the Ladakh and Jammu areas, the results of the plebisite will be in India’s favour — assuming every last vote in the Valley goes Pakistan’s way.

But the orginator of the idea to treat the different regions of the 1947 J&K as discrete geographic units for the purpose of ascertaining the wishes of the various peoples is not Modi but rather, Sir Owen Dixon — an Aussie judge appointed by the Security Council to obtain conditions on the ground to facilitate a plebiscite. Dixon suggested that for the ease of conducting it, it be carried out in geographically distinct territorial blocs. He concluded after touring both sides of Jammu & Kashmir that a majority of the people in Muzaffarabad and adjoining areas and in the Northern Areas were inclined to join Pakistan, while Ladakh and Jammu were for merging wth India, and the population of the Srinagar Valley was undecided but leaning towards India. Other than the changed attitude of the people of Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan, plebiscite votes 70 years later would generally fall along the lines Dixon foresaw!

Incidentally, India agreed to Dixon’s plan of thus electorally demarcating J&K for the purposes of the plebicscite, Pakistan opposed it on the grounds that Nehru had promised a plebiscite “in all of Jammu & Kashmir”!

This bit of history is to highlight the sheer ridiculousness of Pakistan’s demand. But it has not kept Qureishi and his predecessors in office from periodically making it. The Permanent Five, including Pakistan’s so-called “iron brother” China, in the Security Council are aware that this is an insurmountable problem and Resolution 47 is a dead letter, a no-go solution, and that no one can do anything about it other than to carry on disregarding Pakistan’s case for a defunct Resolution. It is akin to a hopeless and futile effort to disinter the body of a long dead relative, and to try and revive it! Then again Islamabad apparently believes in miracles! Apni Party, National Conference and the People’s Democratic party too, but for different reasons, would have to do the same — believe in miracles — to think Modi will return J&K to its status and condition prior to August 5, 2019.

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Carpe diem, India?

PM Modi meets IFS probationers | YouTube

[PM Modi meeting with IFS probationers]

It is hard to know if the poet Horace, in 23 BC, was being satirical or optimistic about the future of Rome with his cry “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero”— ‘seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one’ — after Augustus Caesar had vanquished his domestic foes, ended the Republic and began the Empire by pacifying Iberia, conquering Egypt and installing himself as the pharoah.

The foreign policy comparisons  

Horace came to mind with three recent, probably unrelated, events. In his column (The Times of India, 29 May), BJP Rajya Sabha MP Swapan Dasgupta fulminated against the “left liberal” and “global ‘woke’ fraternity” for slamming Narendra Modi’s management of, and his government’s performance during, the Covid-19 pandemic and hinted darkly at the “Old Establishment” forging “alliances with foreign entities” to pull down India and besmirch the Prime Minister. But there is also a minuscule group of socially liberal right-wingers that has been lambasting Modi 2016 onwards for something a lot worse – for not even making an effort to deliver on his election slogans and promises. “Minimum government, maximum governance”, “Government has no business to be in business”, and “atmnirbharta”, they argue, have remained just rhetoric in the Modi oeuvre, even as conservative precepts touting individualism and the rapid privatisation of the public sector are ignored.

On 2 June, a government order proposed to dock the pensions of retired intelligence officers and the like who reveal some skulduggery or cloak-and-dagger business in their memoirs, and tasked the current heads of departments they worked in to decide what revelation breached which sensitive information threshold. While unexceptionable — the vetting requirement is standard in CIA and MI 6, for example — department heads in the Indian context, however, are likely to play safe and redact all interesting stories. This may preserve national secrets but render a potential bestseller-manuscript dud on arrival, and aspiring memoirists sans fat book contracts.

The vetting directive and the shrill reaction to criticism generally suggest a thin-skinned Modi regime that wants to ensure its advertisements about itself are not publicly shredded. Unfortunately, such actions don’t burnish India’s democratic credentials or the Prime Minister’s personal reputation.

A day later on 3 June, four foreign service stalwarts – Kanwal Sibal, Shyamala Cowsik, Veena Sikri and Bhaswati Mukherjee — fronting for something called ‘Forum of Former Ambassadors of India’ (FFAI) published an apologia for Indian foreign policy post-2014 in The Indian Express. It started with an attack against “those who were at the helm of our foreign and security policies in the past”, “relentlessly” criticising “Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policies”. This article drew interest in part because Jyoti Malhotra highlighted in her 8 June column in ThePrint that FFAI is patronised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological fount and political bedrock. These critics of Modi the FFAI is at loggerheads with, it turns out, are members of the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG), which like FFAI, is of recent vintage. The former founded in 2018 is more settled with a proper Constitution, etc; the latter, currently better placed, is still finding its feet, its defence of Modi’s record marking its public debut. If CCG has in its ranks former National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon and ex-Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, who served Manmohan Singh and, by Dasgupta’s reckoning, constitute the “Old Establishment”, FFAI is led by Sibal, Foreign Secretary for a couple of years in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. At one level, this seems to be an intramural fight to influence the public perceptions of Modi and his policies.

And why the comparison isn’t worth it

There is, however, nothing to choose between the quality of CCG’s defence of the Manmohan Singh-era foreign policies, when the strategically debilitating civil nuclear cooperation deal with the United States was formalised, for example, and the policies of the successor BJP government during which the three “foundational accords” were signed with America, and the Quadrilateral (India, US, Japan, Australia) to contain China in the Indo-Pacific articulated. They are both equally incoherent and disjointed, reflecting the confusion at the heart of Indian foreign policy. (For substantive critiques of the foreign and national security policies under Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi, refer respectively to my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet) and my 2018 book Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambitions.)  

Indeed, Sibal, et al, in trying to argue that CCG’s criticism is unwarranted because its leading members had a hand in crafting Manmohan Singh’s policies that Modi has persisted with, acknowledge that the BJP government has, Gulf countries apart, done absolutely nothing new in the foreign policy field, there being “clear continuities”, as they put it, in Modi’s approach to the neighbourhood, the United States, China, Russia, and the Quadrilateral – the “security diamond” (not “Indo-Pacific” they claim was) conceived by Shinzo Abe in 2007.  But FFAI’s assertion, for instance, that “The Modi government has paid far more attention to its neighbours than the previous government”, does not mean relations with most of them have improved, nor that Modi’s “109 visits abroad, visiting 60 countries” other than as a record of his travel, really benefited India. These are the sorts of elementary mistakes CCG and FFAI representatives make in overstating the alleged successes of Modi and Manmohan Singh in external affairs.

Trouble is FFAI seeks protection from brickbats for the BJP government on the ground that in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic it deems a “national calamity”, the country has to be “united”. This self-serving argument, smacking of the desire to ingratiate itself with Modi seeks, in effect, blanket immunity from criticism for those in power because India, after all, faces some calamity or the other all the time.

Where both Congress and BJP failed

Both the Congress and BJP governments can be seen to have failed if the ‘India First’ metric — originally conceptualised by this analyst in 2002 (‘India First’, Seminar, Issue 519, 2002) which Modi flogged in his first election campaign — is used to judge Indian foreign policy. This is so because the ‘India First’ tilt, predicated on overturning the regional and international status quo, has been missing. Reason why a heavyweight India has all along boxed in bantamweight-class, and desperately needs disruptive foreign and military policies to carve out an independent strategic space and role for itself with appropriately re-configured armed forces. But this sort of thinking is anathema to risk-averse Indian policymakers whether in the BJP or Congress, and their sympathisers in FFAI or CCG.

More damagingly, Indian regimes, of whatever ideological stripe, have stayed stuck in the subordinate State mindset, cementing the country’s standing as a pawn on the global chessboard. Preoccupation with the risk/reward calculus of band-wagoning with the US or Russia or China has resulted in nothing meaningful being done to make India, a nation with natural heft, a player. Or, to help the country to seize the moment.

———-

[Published in ThePrint, June 14, under the title — “No great choices between the two ex-diplomats’ camps. Both equally incoherent” at https://theprint.in/opinion/no-great-choices-between-the-two-ex-diplomats-camps-both-equally-incoherent/676971/ ]

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Light tank, finally! But the System permits babus to again play the fool

DRDO offers two options to develop an Indian light tank – Defence News of  India - Defence News of India
[DRDO-L&T light tank in firing trials]

The Indian army has one offensive mountain corps (OMC) and another — I Corps — one of the three Strike Corps previously assigned to the plains/desert sectors, recently converted to mountain warfare in the face of Chinese aggression in eastern Ladakh. As I have been arguing in my books and writings for the last 25-odd years, two OMCs are still nowhere adequate for sustained warfighting across the length of the disputed border — the Line of Actual Control (LAC) — in Chinese-occupied Tibet. The army requires a minimum of three OMCs equipped, not with heavy tanks (T-72s and T-90s) outfitting the remaining armoured Strike Corps (II and XXI) now that I Corps is out of the plains warfare picture, but with a genuine, high-altitude optimised, armoured vehicle for offensive operations on the Tibetan Plateau.

The heavy tanks are deployed in the XIV Corps sector on the Ladakh front and in the northern Sikkim plains, but with what level of effectiveness is unclear. The trouble is the T-72s and the T-90s do not perform at all well in the thin air and cold of the Himalayas. So, as I mentioned in my last book (‘Staggering Forward) on any morning, 40 percent of the tanks controlled by XXXIII Corps in the northeast, fail to start and need all kinds of extra ministering to warm up their engines before they can get going. One can readily see why they are a liability in the Himalayas and why a new breed of light tanks is desperately needed for the OMCs.

The army was not entirely unmindful of this requirement, having approved in 1986 the DRDO development of a light tank with a turret and 105 mm smooth bore gun on the Sarath armoured personnel carrier (ex-Russian BMP) chassis. But because they were mostly fixated on Pakistan, the army brass never got down to actually indenting for a light tank believing that such an acquisition would be at the expense of the Russian MBTs required for the western front. Even so, if it did not actually demand a light tank, the army did not kill the programme either. DRDO kept tinkering and periodically produced newer versions of the design.

The latest such iteration is a genuine light tank (LT) to compete with the Chinese ZTQ-15 LT with a 105mm rifled gun with the PLA in Tibet. The Light Tank programme is one in which DRDO is partnering the private sector defence major, Larsen & Toubro. In the aftermath of the fiasco in eastern Ladakh the army finally woke up to the China threat that I have been warning about for ever, and looked around for a light tank to latch on to. The first instinct of the armour brass was to go in for the 18 tonner Russian Sprut — a product that was originally designed as an air-portable armoured vehicle to be dropped alongside Russian airborne forces. Except, given its manifest weaknesses as a fighting platform — too light and inoffensive, the Russian army rejected it. Only 25 units were built and stored. With Ladakh on fire, Rosoboronexport State Corporation — the Russian arms exporting agency, saw an opportunity to sell this lemon as a light tank to its longtime customer — the Indian army. Perhaps, persuaded by the reasons for its Russian counterpart turning down the Sprut, the Indian army too — fortunately for the country, did the same.

The DRDO-L&T light tank is a quite different and more serious animal. The army’s initial order is for two regiments worth some 40 light tanks, with another tranche of three regiments or 60 LTs in train. L&T has used the Vajra chassis and fit a turret and a 105 mm gun secured from CMI (Cockerill Maintenance & Ingénierie) of Belgium on it. Incidentally, Vajra is the mobile artillery gun system L&T produced with tech-transfer from South Korea, which originally got the engine and transmission technology from Germany, and delivered the same to the army within cost (Rs 2,400 crores) and ahead of schedule, possibly the first Indian military procurement project to do so!! The delivery of 100 Vajra systems was completed by February-March this year, when the last of the units had to be delivered to the army only by June!

As regards, the light tank, DRDO & L&T were able to accelerate its development because of the latter’s experience in designing the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) and developing the requisite technology for it, and incorporating many of the features and technologies of the FICV into the LT. Thus, other than the engine, transmission and the gearbox everything else is indigenous, including the tracks and the hydropneumatic suspension. The turret and the gun can be produced in-house by L&T if there is a large enough army order for light tanks to enable the Company to scale up the production and make the whole thing financially profitable and, therefore, viable. In any case, the success of the Vajra artillery system and prospectively of the light tank, is what happens when you trust a proven private sector firm to produce military hardware, rather than leaving it to the laggardly defence public sector units. It usually works out rather well for the country. Indeed, the DRDO has been influenced by L&T’s efficiency in doing things, conducting the weapon development and production business.

In any case, the first of the LTs would have been with the army by now but for a new officer taking over earlier this year as Director-General, (Armour) at the army headquarters. Lieutenant General KS Brar, the new man in, proceeded to change the milspecs of the light tank, when his predecessor had accepted the prototype LT that was three tons above the designated 30 ton weight with the understanding that DRDO and L&T would quickly bring down the follow-on batch of tanks to meet the lighter weight threshold. General Brar, however, demanded that the LT weigh no more than 25 tons, which required redesigning and reengineering a whole new product. But, and this is admirable, he showed foresight in also insisting that this lighter tank integrate into it the mobile Tactical Communications System (TCS) and the Battlefield Management System (BMS) assigned to L&T and Tata respectively to develop. At 25 tons, moreover, the LT would be transportable by Il-76s and C-17s of the Indian Air Force.

The problem is the TCS and BMS projects have stalled for over a decade now because the Ministry of Defence has played the usual Scrooge when it comes to private sector companies — and been reluctant to defray in full the development costs of these two systems, without which financial support L&T and Tata, who designed and developed the TCS and BMS systems to prototype stage, find themselves unable to proceed beyond it.

What’s that old saw? For want of a nail, a horse could not have a horse shoe, without a horse the General could not lead his forces, without the General the battle and the war was lost! With generalist babus helming the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Defence Production (DDP), whose formal remit is to keep the wasteful and unproductive melange of DPSUs, Ordnance factories, and DRDO labs in the clover, the defence private sector gets shafted, and without the private sector in the game national resources are not maximally used and India’s armed services keep importing hardware to meet their urgent needs, and India’s security is rendered hostage to the policy whims and national interests of supplier countries. And India’s cause is lost.

By the way, the Ministry of Defence is quite happy to annually squander huge monies on DPSUs, Ordnance factories and DRDO — Rs 22,000 crores in 2021 for R&D alone, but is reluctant to fund L&T’s and Tata’s development costs for the TCS and BMS amounting to Rs 200-300 crores!! Who loses? Specifically, Indian armoured and mechanised forces. Because were Indian tanks — heavy and light, armoured personnel carriers and Infantry Combat Vehicles of the mechanized forces, to be equipped with the TCS and BMS, they would be able with the TCS on board, for instance, to have a video link to surveillance drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and realtime information on enemy’s force disposition “on the other side of the hill” and, with the BMS fusing data and communications links to all fighting platforms in theatre, the army and, with the appropriate communications interface, air force would be able to deploy their fighting assets more effectively to obtain decisive results.

This would be good for national security, right? Yea, but not so convenient for the risk-averse babus in MOD and DDP who worry that handing over development costs to private sector companies for projects that may not produce the goods, may lead in the future to investigations being launched by the government of the day into how public monies were thus siphoned off to some private sector company or the other, and to haul up the babus who made the decision years ago to so divert funds. So, why would these babus imperil their retirement years by doing the right thing? Safer for them to slough off tens of thousands of crores of rupees to the public sector — the DPSUs, Ordnance factories, and DRDO and see this level of country’s wealth go down the drain, year after year, with no questions ever asked, or accountability ever fixed for the sheer wastage of scarce financial resources and for nonperformance of the public sector units.

This is why India’s defence and security are being sucked steadily into the black hole of public sector from which the Indian government apparently cannot escape, even when it is led by Narendra Modi, who swore to rely more and more on the private sector — remember his 2014 campaign slogan/declaration “Government has no business to be in business!”? — and whose atm nirbharta policy, therefore, seems to be a cruel joke he is continuing to play on the nation. Because without a new system of administration, new “rules of business” for all ministries and departments of government, and rules of accountability for all public sector enterprises, Modi can talk up an atmnirbharta storm all he wants but it will leave nothing in its wake.

I concluded in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, that Modi lacks the vision, the strength of his own conviction and especially the political will to fully and completely makeover the system, apparatus, and processes of the Indian government, and is too much the statist to, if not rid the country of the public sector incubus, than to more productively use its extensive and modern facilities for better outcomes. No one believed in the rightwng credentials of Modi more, and no one has been more disappointed than I to find — six years into his rule that Modi has turned out to be just another run of the mill “neta” worried about the next election, not a leader and visionary concerned with having a facilitative government and driving India to pull itself up by its own bootstraps in all sectors, starting with defence and national security — the first charge on any government.

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Murky carryings-on of babus in DoT and its Wireless Planning and Coordination wing aimed at torpedoeing indigenous 5G technology and Modi’s (telecom) atmnirbharta programme

telecom secretary Anshu Prakash: Latest News, Videos and Photos of telecom  secretary Anshu Prakash | Times of India
[Telecom secretary Anshu Prakash — going to do whose work?]

Time and again bureaucrats, regularly and routinely, blow up technology self-sufficiency initiatives, defying Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public professions of atm nirbharta in high technology. This is so for one of two reasons. Firstly, because the PM’s directives are simply ignored, especially by “technical” departments of government — such as the telecommunications ministry under cabinet minister Ravi Shankar Prasad. Or secondly, as I argued in my 2015 book — Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet), because each ministry and every agency within Government of India feels free to act as a soverign entity, the PM of the day — Modi — and his directives be damned!

In the case of the 5G technology, both these factors seem to be at at work. This is further to my statements on this subject on Defensive Offence forum (in my last post) where I mentioned that for the telecom ministry atm nirbharta apparently means keeping the Chinese majors Huawei and ZTE out, but handing over India’s telecom domain to Ericsson of Sweden, Nokia of Finland, and Samsung of South Korea. These foreign companies have set up units in India to assemble mobile phones from components imported from here and there but mostly from the parent firms. This screwdriverng level of technology the defence public sector units have specialized in, apparently satisfies the atm nirbharta standards for the generalist babus, in this instance, secretary and ex-officio Chairman of the Digital Telecom Commission, Anshu Prakash, IAS (Union Territory cadre) running the Department of telecommunications (DoT). Prakash, it is plain, has not the faintest clue about 5G or anything remotely technical relating to telecom. Lucky for Prakash his career, like those of other secretaries in GOI, does not depend on his knowing anything he pronounces on.

If Anshu Prakash has some slight knowledge in anything, it is Health. He was Health Secretary in Delhi government. So, how did this fellow become telecom secretary? For one of two reasons. One of them being luck of the draw — the reason why Prakash’s predecessor for the same reasons Aruna Subramanian was hoisted into the post. This is the value-neutral explanation. In that post she proved herself partial — as news reports and a previous post of mine related to her biases based on news reports, etc from her time in the ministry reveal, to China and the People’s Liberation Army offshoots Huawei and ZTE for the 4G+ systems in the country transitioning to 5G gear and systems. Huawei and ZTE have since been banned from the Indian market despite Subramanian’s best efforts, only to have the vacated space occupied, in her successor Prakash’s tenure as secretary, by Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. This is as acute an internal security threat as when Huawei and ZTE were monopolizing India’s telecom scene. It is a danger the DoT-WPC are actually nurturing!

The other reason for babus getting prized secretary posts is because what the person did in his previous post pleased the central government, reason enough for empanelling him/her for promotion. This is a motivation for babus in contention to conduct their duties with an eye to pleasing the PM/central government of the day. What may have helped Anshu Prakash to be rewarded with DOT Secretary post is his clash as Chief Secretary, Delhi Government, with the elected Aam Admi Party (AAP) chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, when he claimed in end-February 2018 that he was attacked by AAP MLAs. Some weeks later he mobilized the UT cadre officers in the Delhi govt secretariat and led a “candle light march” to protest the physical danger they apprehended from the AAP. It certainly got Prakash noticed by Modi’s BJP govt which has been going hammer and tongs against Kejriwal eversince his re-election for a second term. This possibly got Anshu Prakash into DoT.

So, welcome to the Government of India world where generalist civil servants, such as Prakash, act in contravention of worthwhile measures ordered directly by the Prime Minister. So much for the systemic change affected by the Narendra Modi regime over the last 6 years and the power and authority exercised by the Prime Minister and his PMO run by the superannuated Gujarati-speaking Gujarat cadre IAS officer and Principal Private Secretary to the PM, PK Mishra, who is trying to emulate his namesake from Vajpayee’s time, Brajesh Mishra, in being at the master controls of the over-bureaucratized GOI. This last is something Modi in his 2014 election campaign promised he’d remedy, but hasn’t!!

What is it about Anshu Prakash and 5G that has got me — as it should every Indian — so incensed? The Economic Times on May 11 carried a story 9 ( https://telecom.economictimes.com/news/telecom-secretary-puts-on-hold-5g-trial-spectrum-allotment-to-saankhya-labs-iisc-bengaluru/82545622 ) of how the telecommunications ministry ostensibly headed by Ravi Shankar Prasad but actually run by the IAS babu, Anshu Prakash, has put on hold the allocation of spectrum to Saankhya Labs and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore — the institution founded by the Physics Nobel laureate CV Raman and funded by the Tata’s, and the only Indian science institution that consistently ranks among the top scientific research organizations in the WORLD, for the testing of their separate, entirely indigenous, 5G technologies developed by them. Why, pray?

Well, because Saankhya supposedly did not follow due bureaucratic process. So what did Saankhya Labs do? Did it do something heinous such as jerry-rig the process so its technology being tested could take undue and unfair advantage? Or because it tried some other underhand means? NO, NO, but actually because Saankhya did something lot worse! It followed the laid down rules a little too scrupulously!!! But let’s follow the story.

The ET report based on info from “Government and industry insiders” suggests that Saankhya and IISc erred by not applying for the spectrum directly online to the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) wing of DoT, as mandated by the rules, but chose to approach “DoT’s Standards, R&D & Innovation (SRI) division”. “Minutes of an internal April 29 meeting of DoT’s SRI division show that specific directions were given to WPC’s Regional Licensing Office (RLO) in Chennai, ‘to issue experimental 5G spectrum licences to Saankhya Labs and IISc without any further delay by April 30’ itself. The RLO-Chennai was also ordered to grant such trial 5G spectrum to both applicants for six months, extendable upto 1 year. ET has seen a copy of the minutes of the meeting that was attended by senior officials of Saankhya Labs and IISc. Subsequently, Saankhya was granted in-principle experimental 5G airwaves in the premium 700/600 Mhz bands in Bengaluru to run trials for convergence of broadcast and broadband networks, while IISc was offered trial airwaves (in the 3.5 Ghz/2300-2400 Mhz bands) for testing in its campus lab.”

IISc, more experienced than Saankhya in dealing with GOI, tried to separate itself in this process, explaining to ET via its spokesman that “We have obtained a provisional license which was approved and signed by the Deputy Wireless Advisor, WPC …we are awaiting the grant of the final license, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks.” Saankhya, per ET, did not respond to its queries, which the pink newspaper took to mean confirmation of WPC’s charge that it had, in fact, done something wrong. This even though ET also informed its readers that “According to the meeting minutes of DoT’s SRI wing, Saankhya needs trial 5G spectrum as it has IPRs [Intellectual Property Rights] and its products have global appeal and also recognised by US Federal Communications Commission’. The SRI Division, DoT, apparently was impressed by the fact, as ET also reported that “Saankhya has reportedly received a certification from the FCC [Federal Communications Commission in the United States] for its broadcast radio head (BRH), which enables convergence of broadcast and mobile networks and helps digital terrestrial broadcasters boost their reach and market share.”

Meaning, Saankhya, a proven chip-designer, has developed a technology, for which it has secured US and other international patents and which tech America is keen on buying and incorporating into its telecommunications grid in order to advance it. It was reason enough for SRI Div in DoT to speedily approve a spectrum license for Saankhya, which action irked WPC because it was bypassed. In this internal, intra-agency, DoT turf war WPC, it would appear, packs bigger clout, with head babu Prakash, whose technical knowledge extends to near zero!

Notwithstanding SRI Div’s good reasons for issuing Saankhya the license, the ET story continues thus: “But government insiders said the hasty manner in which such trial 5G spectrum was issued to Saankhya and IISc did not go down well with top officials in the DoT’s WPC wing, and the matter was put on hold after a review by telecom secretary Prakash and Wireless Advisor G K Agrawal.” The ET quotes from a May 5 “internal [DoT] communication“ by Agarwal which says “As directed by Secretary (Telecom), when Joint Wireless Advisor (JWA) along with myself were also present, the matter (pertaining to decision on experimental licences) is to be kept in abeyance till further orders, and JWA, RLO (Regional Licensing Office)-Chennai be informed for necessary action.”

Let’s flesh out the issue some more of the trial spectrum allocation to Sankhya-IISc, which got derailed, which the ET story didn’t do. What follows is known to everybody and his uncle in the telecom field, in the industry at-large, and certainly beyond DoT in the rest of the government which, incidentally, leaks information like a sieve. Indeed, there’s no national secret not spilled by motivated government officials when it serves their purposes.

In 2019, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) set up a Committee under Dr. Abhay Karandikar to decide on the rules for the issual of experimental 5G spectrum. Karandikar is Director of IIT, Kanpur, and earlier was Head of the Electrical Engineering Department IIT, Mumbai, head of its Research Park, and previously worked with ISRO and with the High Performance Computing Group at CDAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing), Indore. The Karandikar Committee — not headed by a babu and hence not intent on creating new bureaucratic bottlenecks which is what most such committees in any ministry end up doing, decided reasonably that if the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) Wing of DoT — incharge of issuing licenses, failed to act on an application within 8 weeks of its submission, the license would be deemed as granted. It was this provision that WPC led by the above-mentioned GK Agrawal objected to vehemently. He may even have put down WPC’s objection on file.

But Saankhya, following the Committee’s rules, assumed that because they had not heard from WPC or anybody else in DoT that everything was go and it could proceed. It sought the license from the SRI office, Chennai, which was quickly given for the reasons of its acceptability in the US, the sort of American Good Housekeeping seal that has cleared bureaucratic logjams in GOI in other policy areas in the past in a jiffy.

In Nov 2020 Saankhya applied for “a radiating outdoor experimental license as per the policy” in the unused 700Mhz and 580Mhz bands. Per articulated policy, it did not require any such permission because this was way past the 8-week deadline for WPC decision imposed by the Karandikar Committee. But the company owning the towers on which the Saankhya tech systems needed to be installed insisted they get clearance from the WPC as it feared trouble without it. Repeated follow-ups up until March 2021 yielded no response from WPC. So, it is said, in early March 2021, Saankhya decided to approach the SRI Div within DoT. To resolve matters, in April 2021, Member (Technology), Telecom Commission, K. Ramchand called a meeting of all stake holders. [Correction: originally the text mentioned Peeyush Agrawal as Member Telecom. Agrawal, a lateral entry official, unfortunately, died within months of assuming office in 2018 and was replaced by Ramchand.] WPC head Wireless Advisor GK Agrawal, was also called for the meeting chaired by Ramchand but, conveniently, didn’t attend. The minutes of the meeting were circulated and an in principle approval given to both IISc and Saankhya, who attended this meeting, to start the trials for 6 months.

It brought a huffing and puffing GK Agrawal — the non-attendee at the Ramchand meeting, more interested in asserting and protecting WPC’s control of the licensing bottleneck — to secretary Anshu Prakash to whom this was all gobbledegook anyway. But to be fair to Anshu Prakash, GK Agrawal perhaps because of his objection on file — notings by stakeholders are sacrosanct and no secretary dares over-ride such objections put down on paper by even the junior most under-scretary in his ministry, and Prakash did not, but rather played along with the WPC head. Incidentally, the power of the officials — as in most GOI bureaucratic processes lies precisely in postponing/delaying decisions until, well, some potential beneficiary or the other coughs up … well, we know how that goes from umpteen such cases, don’t we?! So the inevitable happened, GK Agrawal on the basis, one presumes, of his noting prevailed on Prakash to stop the licensing process in its tracks under cover of a reexamination of the process, a usual time-consuming tactic, when all the secretary needed to do was read the report of the empowered Karandikar committee and throw out GK Agrawal’s objection which, considering his decision, Anshu Prakash didn’t do.

Meanwhile — and this reveals how a willing media is often used by officials in their intra-agency bureaucratic turf warfare, the Economic Times, having got the dope from someone in the DoT — who that source is, is fairly clear from the above exposition, published its story on May 11, which revealed the decisive meeting called by Ramchand, which as per the Karandikar Committee Report provisions, over-rode WPC. It was after the ET story falsely vilifying IISc and Saankhya became public that DoT formally informed these two spectrum allotees that their licenses were stalled pending inquiry. In other words, ET’s so-called investigative story was the hook on which DoT tried to hang its decision. Once the ET story came out there was one other casualty. Ramchand resigned a fortnight before his retirement possibly to avoid all the muck attending on this Prakash decision.

None of this could have escaped PK Mishra at the PMO. Why didn’t he take up the cudgels on behalf of the atmnirbharta policy that’s supposedly dear to the Prime Minister, and pull up Anshu Prakash, and especially GK Agrawal, and so send the right message to other babus up and down the GOI system gumming up the works on Modiji’s agenda that such obstructionism won’t be tolerated? Is it because IAS solidarity is so strong that PK Mishra didn’t want to collar Prakash, and get him transferred to public sanitation or some such department where his Health background would be put to better use?

“Daal main bahut kucch kala hai”, Modiji. If you don’t want these IAS babus and technical bureaucrats, who have grown fat, rich and lazy in their sinecures from saying no to all homegrown technology, and making a complete monkey out of you, and a nonsense of your atmbirbharta programme, you’d do well to pay attention to atleast your flagship policies, and see that the confusing welter of rules and regulations are streamlined and such bureaucratic barriers arbitrarily erected don’t hurt homegrown high tech, that incessant turf wars are curbed, and babus,such as GK Agrawal and Anshu Prakash, are punished for their recalcitrance and tardiness in realizing your aims and ambitions for a tech-wise self-sufficient and self-reliant India.

At a minimum, an investigation into just how and why the indigenous 5G technology is sought to be torpedoed, will be a good and salutary beginning.

It is not too late for you, PK Mishraji, to do the needful, before Modi rounds on you. There’s too much accumulating debris from policy and systemic failures in recent years that you may end up having to answer for.

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