Wrong man on watch and SPP

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The Ministry of Defence is in desperately deep trouble for all sorts of reasons, including the most basic, namely, that the Government of India simply doesn’t have the financial resources to commit to large military acquisition and modernization programs. Especially at a time when the economic indices are slipping on all fronts from the GDP growth rate (down to 6.1%) to a stalled manufacturing sector. The general lethargy afflicting the economy means that, for want of funds, the Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has to nix the burgeoning demands of the Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley. One can see the dilemma Jaitley, holding clashing ministerial posts, finds himself in. He cannot create wealth out of stuttering economic progress and he can’t leave the requirements of the armed services hanging. And he can’t disappoint prime minister Narendra Modi for whom he is a harbinger of good times, and a mascot; Jaitley having crucially sided with Modi at the Goa meet when most of the BJP led by LK Advani was tilting towards Sushma Swaraj as the PM candidate heading into the 2014 elections.

Sure, Jaitley never was and is not now the man to run MOD. He has not a shred of interest nor intuitive feel for, or understanding of, the military or national security issues and cannot, for the life of him, decide between hard choices he is unable to make head or tail of. It was all very well for Finance Minister Jaitley to airily dismiss the indent for Rs 64,000 crores to raise and field the first of the mountain offensive corps (17 Corps). Quite another as Defence Minister to ignore the need for such a fighting formation in the face of a China challenge that far from abating, only intensifies. Like a cricket team that suddenly finds itself five wickets down, not many runs on the board, and relying on iffy tailend batsmen  to put up a respectable score, and a time frame of two years in which to revive the BJP team’s prospects, Captain Modi sent in a night watchman he trusted to ensure that there was no rout.

By nature, night watchmen are not expected to be other than cautious and to fiddle around at the edges, which is precisely what Jaitley has been doing at MOD after Manohar Parrikar’s return to Goa. He has a whole table load of issues to pronounce on but has taken no big decision. So unsure and uncomfortable is he in his charge in South Block, he did not want to even read out an anodyne speech MOD bureaucrats would no doubt have drafted for him for the upcoming annual Shangrila conference of defence ministers and security experts in Singapore — the Asian counterpart of the yearly Wehrkunde security conference held in Munich featuring defence ministers and other notables from NATO member states and from countries where NATO forces are involved, such as Afghanistan, whence President Abdul Ghani’s presence at the 2017 Munich Meet in February this year.

This may have been out of Jaitley’s justified fear that he’d have to face the media asking difficult questions, which would show up the Modi government’s pusillanimity in the foreign-military sphere. Such as, why India has not done much beyond talking of security cooperation with Asian littoral states, to actually taking substantive measures to contain China? Why Australia, despite its keenness in participating in the annual 2017 Malabar Exercise involving Indian, American, and Japanese navies to be conducted next month in the Bay of Bengal, has been barred from doing so, with Delhi insultingly limiting Canberra’s involvement to posting its naval observers on the decks of participating ships? Why India has been all but inactive in asserting its right of navigation in the hitherto free seas off Indo-China that Beijing has cordoned off as its own exclusive maritime domain in the South China Sea?  And why Vietnam — with Delhi not passing on the Brahmos cruise missiles to Hanoi, is veering away from India, and towards the US, to shore up its defences against China? Etc. One can intuit how Jaitley saw himself tripping up no matter what he said and potentially earning the ire of his boss. After all, Modi has routinely made much of his having enhanced the country’s international standing and status in his three years in office.

Now consider the long awaited  “strategic partnership policy” the MOD recently unveiled — mostly a formalization of the Dhirendra Singh Committee Report, on which the Modi regime has staked much in terms both of arms self-sufficiency and employment generation  — its ‘Make in India’ program.  It is a non-starter. For the simple reason that the major Indian industrial conglomerates that will be identified for their skilled manpower base, and industrial capacity and track record, are expected to approach established defence industrial majors in the West and Russia to produce technologically indate military hardware in four armament categories — conventional submarines, combat aircraft, helicopters, and armoured combat vehicles (tanks, ICVs, APCs). So far so silly. Why? Because other than Larsen & Toubro, Tata, and possibly Mahindra owing to its automotive infrastructure, each of them is limited in its own way and for different reasons and lack the requisite physical wherewithal and/or expertise to meet the bill as potential prime system integrators to become the Indian Boeing or Lockheed Martin.

Secondly, with the foreign suppliers unable to have (51% plus) controlling equity in the joint ventures with Indian partners, there is no incentive whatsoever for foreign defence industrial majors to transfer advanced cutting-edge technologies owing to concerns about IPR, and because they would not want to set up competitors in the business, etc. So, India will have a whole bunch Western companies clamouring to sell one or two generations old military hardware and sell run-down assembly lines. So, if this ‘Make in India’ approach is persisted with, the Indian military will become a repository of antique armaments. Such as the F-16. And the M-777 howitzer. But because some of the Indian strategic partners will be newcomers to the industry, not having ever produced a thing of military value, to wit Reliance Aerospace by the Ambanis, the outfit to be set by the Adani Family close to Modi, et al, they will happily settle for any crumbs thrown their way in terms of manufacturing tools and jigs discarded by a Boeing, Lockheed, Navatia of Spain, British Aerospace, or Saab of Sweden, etc. used to turn out obsolete weapons systems. And, inevitably these private sector companies, like their public sector counterparts, will be strung along by their foreign partners who will keep most of the high-value production for themselves and their home industries, sticking the Indian end of the JVs with base structures, compelled perennially to import the high-value items and tech as “black boxes” which, in turn, will be high revenue earners for the foreign company.

Combine the above two factors and we have a recipe for the establishment of a wasteful private sector analogue to the public sector mess of DPSUs — all keyed to licensed production of foreign items, a screw driver technology level the country has not progressed beyond since the fateful decision was taken by the Indira Gandhi government to manufacture the British Gnats, the Russian MiG-21s, and the British Jaguar, in the late Sixties and Seventies, rather than rely only on indigenously-designed armaments which was feasible given the opening made by the home-grown Marut HF-24 and the combat aircraft that would have naturally followed.

So, what exactly is the value of duplicating the public sector limitations in the private sector? This is the point I have been trying to make for many years now, and why I have been advocating since my days in the NSAB during the first years of the Vajpayee government the need for an an entirely novel solution: Integration of public and private sector defence industrial resources to productively combine the physical facilities of the public sector with the labour productivity, profit motive, and the sheer commercial drive to ingest technology and to create it of the private sector. This solution, as I have elucidated in official papers and in my books and writings, involves all the DPSU and Ordnance Board assets being divided into two nearly equal groups, capacity and capability-wise, and  L&T and Tata put in charge of these two competing defence industrial combines with the freedom to mesh their own skill-sets and competencies with those of the DPSU-Ordnance assets under their control, and to obtain technologies from abroad or to source them locally as they please, just so long as they are made aware of the weightage accorded to the indigenous technology content of their products when it comes to selecting items for bulk procurement. In this set-up the two Combines will be expected to compete for defence contracts, with the government willing to finance product development up to the prototype stage, and the runoff and selection conducted by a separate MOD agency. In this scheme, initiative, innovation and economic and industrial risk-taking will be rewarded with extra points when it comes to assessing the finished product. Moreover, the possible concern that this is another way to privatize valuable public assets is addressed by the fact that in this arrangement the grouped public sector companies far being sold to L&T and Tata, will fetch the government handsome rent for use of facilities and even royalty (which can be negotiated) for each major system rolling out of their assembly lines. In this context, Indian corporates will more willingly invest in niche capabilities not available in the groups they head, than in the SPP sort of scheme, where the returns on investment will be wholly dependent on the sort of technology foreign companies part with. I mean what’s the sale prospects for a JV trying to sell the late 1960s vintage F-16 to countries that can as easily and for the same or lesser price tag buy the Su-30? Will India ever stop being a sap?

Jaitley, who has made banal statements about ‘ Make in India’ policy promoting arms self sufficiency, does not seem to have even minimal appreciation of what’s involved, what it will take, and why going indigenous is at once the more onerous and more difficult option, but also one that is unavoidable and inescapable if India wants to get out of importing all its military equipment, and become a  genuine great power. Then again,  Jaitley is only the night watchman sent in to firm up the innings. Plainly, he doesn’t have the druthers  to risk an imaginative solution, because defence minister is a fulltime job and it is beyond him.

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The last, great, Jat — KPS Gill

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Returned from a fortnight’s family holiday in NY to find in the Sunday papers a socialite columnist fulminating about some wretched Srinagar Valley stone-pelter motivator being strapped to an army vehicle grill and driven around to deter his kind from acting up and, in another Daily, an extract from that one-novel wonder, Arundhati Roy’s new expectedly overheated mush about the atrocities by the State against  the hapless types, Kashmiris included, and similar literary hand-wringing. It leads one to wonder if the Indian liberals who mindlessly ape their Western counterparts in political correctness have at all mulled the mechanics of nation-building.

If nations were so easy to construct, the native Americans — misdubbed “red Indians” wouldn’t have been so ruthlessly divested of their continent by European intruders into North America and in a genocidal rush all but physically eliminated from the earth. It is easy after securing the land from “sea to shining sea” for Americans to tut-tut about human rights abuses every where else, especially in ethnically and religiously diverse countries still in the process of becoming nation-states.

Nation building, as I have long argued, is necessarily a bloody business, replete with massacres, pogroms,  mindless bloodletting, and acts of unimaginable mass violence. Compared with historical precedents, the Indian state has been almost gentle with this riotous riff-raff in the Srinagar Valley.  The Modi government and General Rawat need to be thanked, however; instead of pulling up Major Nitin Gogoi of the Rashtriya Rifles unit for lashing the stone thrower to the vehicle, for commending his initiative that instantly quelled the trouble-making mob.

Such rough and ready methods brought to my mind the fearless and of fearsome countenance — Kanwar Pal Singh Gill, former DG, Punjab, who is to be cremated later today (Sunday, May 28) in Delhi. I first met the formidable KPS at the behest of Khushwant Singh in 1987 or 1988.  Khushwant wondered if I’d help the Police supremo with his autobiography. I expressed my disinclination to be a shadow writer for anybody but at Khushwant’s insistence met KPS anyway at his heavily guarded Lodi Colony residence, and I am glad I did. I have yet to meet so physically imposing a man, with such a commanding disposition and so piercing a stare as would, I imagine, have turned many a Khalistani into jelly. The first thing he said taking my hand firmly for a shake was “I am MA in English Literature”. I took it to mean that the very notion that he needed assistance for crafting his memoirs was absurd. I was much relieved.  It was  evening and time for KPS to live up to his legend of downing a Black Label Johnny Walker bottle at a sitting. From his first peg to the last drop that was poured into his whiskey glass late into the night, he remained stone sober except for a very slight slurring of his speech in the last stretch — quite extraordinary tolerance for alcohol, with the seamless flow of his thoughts betraying little impact of the brew.   It was, as far as I was concerned, the beginning of a beautiful acquaintanceship.

I experienced at first hand the electric effect KPS’ larger-than-life persona and reputation had in official circles. Appointed in 1992 as adviser, defence expenditure, to the tenth Finance Commission, by its chairman, KC Pant, former defence minister, I had the thrill of one day receiving a call from KPS. One of the persons manning the PBX at the Finance Commission came running into my office, blurting out breathlessly that “DG, Punjab” was on the line. He was so excited and so loud the entire floor of section heads and others outside my room was on its feet and, with virtually everybody who could, scrambling to get to where ever they might get to listen in on the conversation which, to everyone’s disappointment, was short. His longtime personal security in-charge, Inspector Sharma (if I remember the name right)  ascertained if I was on the phone before KPS came on line to ask in his genially gruff fashion if I was available to meet with him, etc. The mere fact of Gill calling me had my stock sky-rocketing. That day on, I was treated with tremendous deference, and basked in reflected glory. When I related this effect on people KPS chuckled. “They get impressed easily”, he said, with a smile and all the false modesty he could summon.

Later that year when I approached KPS for a chapter on his strategy to weed Khalistan Movement root and branch out of Punjab for a 1994 book of essays — ‘Future Imperilled: India’s Security in the 1990s and Beyond’ I was putting together as editor and published by Viking-Penguin, he readily agreed to, for the first time, elucidate at length the means he employed to eliminate, once and for all, the Khalistan menace, and the thinking behind his strategy. He joined many other luminaries who had agreed to contribute chapters, among them, General Khalid Arif, the de facto Pak army chief during General Zia-ul Haq’s reign, and Senator Larry Pressler (of the ‘Pressler Amendment’-fame) who revealed just how the US government was complicit in China’s nuclear missile arming of Pakistan. That book, for obvious reasons, is a collector’s item. Those who can get hold of that out-of-print book should, because it tells an astonishing story of how Punjab was pacified, and how Gill’s warnings about Bangladeshi occupation of the border districts of Assam went unheeded.

KPS detailed his strategy to me in colourful, not crude, language in our meetings, but his chapter was at once a sober articulation and a stinging rebuke of the Indian government. His trick, he wrote, was to turn the “Jat Sikh psyche” against the Khalistanis and their bedrock sympathizers in the Punjab. He said he visited villages devastated by Khalistani- Babbar Khalsa terrorists and their sidekicks, met with the families of those killed, maimed, or raped by the rampaging followers of Bhindranwale, picked out young adults from among them who had witnessed the atrocities committed against their kith and kin, or heard about the excesses, and recruited them into the Punjab Police ‘commando’ — a kickass organization shaped into a force of dreaded avengers to pay back the perpetrators of violence in their own coin.

No quarter was given. The young Jat Sikh lads recruited to the anti-Khalistan cause went about their business with a bloodymindedness that fetched decisive results quickly. The extremists on the run scooted as far away as possible, with many of them landing up in Canada (where annually they mourn their fallen and renew their growingly hollow, almost laughable, vow to obtain Khalistan from the safety of Toronto!).  What KPS was most hurt by and never forgave to the last was the Indian government’s attitude after the successful pacification program. His Punjab Police subordinates, the operational leaders who spearheaded the campaign against the Khalistanis were now vilified, hauled up by the courts for human rights abuses, and meted out jail sentences, even as PM Indira Gandhi’s promise to Gill of legal protection for the Punjab Police constabulary in the fighting frontline was disowned by the State. Thankfully, the ingratitude and callousness of the government in Delhi — which is what most hurt KPS — did not stretch to KPS himself. The Z level protection, which could have been at any time, if not removed then, thinned out, exposing him to retaliation by Khalistani remnants, remained in tact. He pointed out that the counter-insurgency success in Punjab was also because while the army cordoned off areas, it was the PP commando that went in and cleaned up Khalistani-infested villages and townships.

In that same piece Gill, who incidentally was member of the Indian Police Service, Assam cadre, had warned — as he had repeatedly done the government through official channels over several decades, of the dangers, of “a greater Bangladesh” emerging “right before our eyes” as he put it to me, with a 5-10 mile deep belt all along the Assam border with Bangladesh being “colonized” by Bangladeshis streaming over to this side, securing ration cards and citizenship papers with ease with the connivance of successive Congress party government apparatchiks. This happened as the Border Security Force acted as glorified spectators. Delhi did nothing with his warnings and his alerts. So, India now is saddled with a “disaffected Muslim” problem in Assam as also in the Srinagar Valley.

And the liberal establishment, with the Indian media in the van, still believes in making omelettes without breaking eggs. Fortunately, the Modi government will not let the eggs hatch. But that’s small consolation to many of us who fear the spinelessness integral to the functioning of the Indian State. The trouble is here on there will be no KPS Gill to come to India’s rescue.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, United States, US. | 12 Comments

Getting it consistently wrong in the ‘Red Corridor’


There are two narratives regarding the Naxals. One, that the Maoist rebels are on the run, their ranks decimated by desertion and paramilitary actions, and that the entire fighting element among them has shrunk to a small “hard core” group of experienced fighters. The other is a more skeptical take on the situation, that that this is so much brave talk to prop up the spirits because in reality ground is being steadily lost despite more roads being constructed and communications links established in the hinterland areas where hitherto government writ didn’t prevail because the apparatus of government — police and administration was absent. That the the truth lies somewhere in between can be taken for granted in view of the huge number of violent incidents that have been recorded and the ability of the armed “revolutionaries” to strike counter-insurgency troop concentrations, either in their bases, encampments in the field, and on the outskirts of big towns, such as Sukna where, in the most recent such incident 25 paralmils were slain.

The problem is this if 118 battalions of mainly CRPF, but also of ITBP, or some 120,000 troopers in all cannot make much of a headway, what are the prospects of improvements in the situation?

Home Minister Rajnath Singh apparently believes two things that (1) injecting the more effective and disciplined army and its counterinsurgency arm — the Rashtriya Rifles, and the Indian Air Force with air support, would begin to tilt the balance of power against the Maoists, and (2) high-technology paraphernalia, such as drones, remote sensors, etc., will compensate for the manifest lack of spirit shown by the paramils, who are thus dragging down the effort.

Moreover, in this sort of operational scenario IAF helicopters are a big No-No. These whirly-birds clattering down in forest clearings to lift and offload CI troops are about as useful as deploying tanks would be. In fact, all that the rebels would then have to do is wait for the helos to unload a fighting contingent for them to know their targets and the drop zones. Regularly using combat aircraft or attack helicopters in ground attack mode, as the estimable former air chief heading for the hoosegaw, SP Tyagi, had suggested in trumpeting the supposed COIN attributes of the British Hawk aircraft, would be even more disastrous, because the cumulative costs of such missions (including protection of nearby satellite air fields where they’ll be based) in terms of kill-rate or interdiction success will be minimal. Despite the US Air Force dropping more bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam than were dropped on the Axis Powers by the Allies in WW2, the North Vietnamese logistics system was only minimally disrupted during the Vietnam War, 1965-72.

Such thinking, loved by the political pooh-bahs and service brass, gives me the shivers. For God’s sake what specific training would the army or even its RR elements be able to impart to the paramils? The army operates withing the context of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a very different, less onerous milieu than the one the anti-Naxal cops face.

Time and again I have iterated in my writings that history shows that only small groups of committed, and materially well rewarded, commandos, who live off the land, spend long time in the field in hunter-killer groups of two or three personnel, work in complete radio silence over a vast area, and are left free to use their best judgement to do what to whom and when,  track and spy on Maoist groups, identify the leaders, and otherwise hunt down their prey without observing any Marquess of Queensberry rules, can rid the landscape of this kind of scourge.

Again, as I am fond of recounting, the only American fighting group the outrageously brave Viet Cong feared were the very Special Forces in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) who moved silently on foot, were lightly armed, unencumbered by communications equipment, or any tell-tale camping wherewithal. These were the ghosts who killed without making a sound, highly individualistic men not given to following orders but determined on achieving results. They’d be gone in the jungles for 6 months at a time, never to touch base except when they trickled in singly (so as not to draw attention).

So, why can’t a Special Commando Force for internal missions to quell insurgencies be formed outside the usual orgs, unstymied by any police protocol, and able to operate outside the rule of law but with full government sanction? Oh, sure, there are a whole bunch of paramil “commando” groups with fearsome names — Cobras, Greyhounds, etc. But these are neither by training nor disposition the genuine article, too heavily armed to be very foot-mobile, and mostly because they are tied to the road-borne logistics umbilical of rear area bases.

The true jungle commando should never be seen, or heard, never publicized, never in uniform, their presence never acknowledged, with their recruitment and remuneration channels managed separately by restricted personnel within PMO sworn to secrecy,  but whose success can be gauged by the areas sanitized, and the degree of sanitization achieved.

But why is such a solution unlikely? Because the exclusiveness of such an outfit is precisely why the IPS which is expert in mucking up things and should be kept as far away as possible — would oppose it. And because the bureaucratized Indian state won’t allow such units to function freely.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Western militaries | 8 Comments

India unprepared for Erdogan’s unsolicited offer to play peacemaker on Kashmir

India’s President Pranab Mukherjee looks on as Prime Minister Narendra Modi shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a Rashtrapati Bhavan banquet in New Delhi on May 1, 2017. (Photographer: Subhav Shukla/PTI)


Before Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy of cultivating Turkey as an important pillar in his ambitious policy for the Islamic world and West Asia generally could materialize, the visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threw a spanner into the works. As a curtain raiser, he surprised the Indian government not only by bringing up the ticklish issue of Kashmir and the need for “a multilateral dialogue” to resolve the long standing dispute, but personally expressed a desire to broker a deal between Modi and his “dear Friend” Nawaz Sharif. Erdogan’s tactless, “in-your-face”, shocker reduced the extended conversation the Indian Prime Minister had planned to have with the visitor, to a strained iteration by the former of the Indian position that Kashmir was a domestic matter not open to outside mediation.

This episode raises the troubling matter about the preparations for Erdogan’s trip. Why was it so badly managed by Foreign Secretary K. Jaishankar and the Ministry of External Affairs that the Indian government had not an inkling of what was in the Turkish leader’s mind regarding Kashmir and how he would publicly express his views? This development was all the more galling because state visits are minutely scripted affairs in which nothing is left to chance and very little said by the principals that is unexpected. If the Foreign Office had no clue about what was in the offing, naturally there was nothing the MEA could have done diplomatically to preempt and divert the Turk from having his say and roiling the situation.

Perhaps, the Turkish Embassy in Delhi failed to alert their President to India’s sensitivities on the Kashmir issue, or Ankara decided to go ahead and be disruptive anyway, and risk the fallout. In the event, it duly turned into a diplomatic disaster. Erdogan’s getting back on script — extolling the similarities in Indian and Turkish cultures and restating Ankara’s support for India’s permanent membership to the UN Security Council — did not, however, retrieve the situation. In his “one on one” with the visitor, an apparently unsettled Modi, confused about whether to push his agenda at all, sputtered on about the enormous potential for Indo-Turkish trade and economic intercourse, after he had, one assumes, desultorily, stated India’s policy of resolving the Kashmir dispute bilaterally with Pakistan.

Had he the presence of mind, and proper briefing by MEA for just such contingency (which should have been anticipated; after all Turkey has regularly voted in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation against India on the Kashmir issue) Modi could have stopped Erdogan in full flow by not so delicately raising the issue of “independent” Kurdistan carved from the Kurdish majority areas across three countries – Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and flummoxed the Turkish President in return. Ankara, after all, has always dealt savagely with the freedom-seeking Kurds, refusing in recent times to fall in with Washington and treat the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, as the most effective force in the field against the Bashir al-Assad regime in Syria, which Turkey opposes.

Erdogan’s motivation to be peace-maker in the subcontinent was possibly sparked by the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Indian origin Nikky Haley. In trying to make an international splash as the new chairman of the Security Council, the newly appointed Haley stressed America’s right as global do-gooder to intervene in far-off disputes. “It’s absolutely right that this administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and very much wants to see how we de-escalate any sort of conflict going forward,” Haley said on April 5. “So I would expect that the administration is going to be in talks and try and find its place to be a part of that and we don’t think we should wait till something happens.” It was a fairly straight forward way of prospectively legitimating any intervention the US President Donald J Trump may undertake.

Hard to see though why Erdogan believed he had a chance at getting into the Kashmir peacemaking business when the US, with much greater leverage and reach in both India and Pakistan, has repeatedly failed. Whatever he thought were his chances, what is certain from the run of events is that Erdogan was determined to bring Kashmir into play. And, to evince at least some positive reaction in the region to his proposal, it is likely Ankara, while keeping the enunciation by Erdogan of a possible Turkish role secret from Indian government interlocuters in the run-up to the visit, had informed Pakistan Prime Minister Sharif about it. It is revealing that Sartaj Aziz, the foreign affairs adviser to Nawaz Sharif, rather than the usual Pakistani spiel, welcomed the Turkish leader’s initiative by picking up on the concern Erdogan voiced for human rights violations and mounting casualties in Kashmir to justify a multilateral approach that Islamabad has always sought even as India’s call for bilateral dialogue was slammed by him as “no longer credible”.

The still larger question that that has loomed over the Kashmir dispute for a long time is why even states friendly to India, rather than taking Delhi’s protestations seriously, assume the dispute is ripe for their beneficial intervention? Because of two reasons: Delhi’s inability by whatever means to contain the unrest in the Srinagar Valley and the spiraling of violence, which makes India vulnerable to international pressure. And, secondly, the fear that ultimately this local turmoil, if unchecked, could in slow stages graduate to cross-border hostilities with Pakistan and – this is the “Flashpoint” thesis that is the favourite of Western thinktanks and governments alike – escalate into nuclear war.

Published in BloombergQuint.com, May 3, 2017, at https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/2017/05/03/why-did-turkeys-erdogan-offer-to-play-peacemaker-on-kashmir


Posted in Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, MEA/foreign policy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, UN, United States, US., West Asia | 21 Comments

One-off action or sustained punishment by FIRE?

Image result for pics of armies on the ceasefire line in kashmir

It is incomprehensible that the Pakistan Army, that branched off from the parent Indian Army at Partition, which in its pre-1947 avatar was celebrated for its sense of “Honour”, has taken to doing what it has done by way of killing Indian soldiers and then mutilating their bodies . Of course, honour was a conveniently imperial notion the British cleverly used to control the native sepoys by reinforcing their traditional fidelity to personal izzat. It helped the colonial overlords ensure that a mercenary force retained its loyalty to the British crown to the very last and kept the subcontinent in chains. So ‘honour’ is not a concept that can be lightly dismissed as irrelevant, even as legacy — even if this legacy led shamefully to a few thousand Britons at the height of the Raj cowing down a half-billion Indians with a native army. (Just how this was managed  in Philip Mason’s 1974 paean “A Matter of Honour: An Account of the Indian Army, its Officers and Men”).

It is hard to believe that, unlike the Indian Army which has retained that standard, the Pakistan Army has, in a matter of a few decades, been reduced to a horde of punch-drunk medieval barbarians. It is one thing for Pakistani soldiers to engage in cross-LOC operations or in Special Forces actions in Indian Kashmir, quite another, however, for them to disembowel, behead, gouge out eyes, and otherwise carve up the bodies of Indian counterparts they have killed on the ceasefire line.

There have been too many such atrocities in the last few years (three so far, including the latest one) — succeeding similar acts of savagery displayed by the Pakistanis in the 1999 Kargil border war (while the Indian army, in contrast, returned the properly-draped  bodies of Northern Light Infantry-men killed in Indian offensive actions, with respect), for these to be passed off as stray acts of needless brutality.  If this leads to the obvious conclusion that such atrocities are actually sanctioned and authorized by GHQ, Rawalpindi, as a legitimate ‘ruse de guerre’, then that puts a different spin on these developments and needs to be responded to in kind.

Just may be, the Indian Army is behind the times and needs to be less “propah” and more wild and atavistic. Here I am reminded of veterans of the 1965 War recalling the fact that the capture of large numbers of Pakistan Patton tanks at Assal Uttar and elsewhere owed not little to the Pakistani tankman’s fear of being burned alive with direct Indian shots. Many Indian officers witnessed Pakistani cavalrymen jumping out of tanks and running for their lives, rather than staying in their armoured vehicles, fighting to the last shell (a ‘la Lt Arun Khetrapal, PVC, 17 Horse) and get roasted.

With superstitious Pakistani peasant soldiery convinced that they have to avoid getting burnt alive at all cost, lest they miss out on the good afterlife offered by shahadat in battle, in mind, shouldn’t a series of sustained retributive actiona across the LoC be planned involving uniform and extensive use of flame throwers? Because quite literally  fire is what terrorizes the Pakistani soldiers out of their fighting wits, it is time to deploy it against them. A spate of sustained actions by regular front line units and Para-commando units held as Northern Army reserve wielding bazookas, will have more than a mass deterrent effect on the Pakistani army on the LoC, it may psychologically cripple the Pakistani jawans on the Kashmir front and, once the word spreads, the Pakistan Army.

Unfortunately, such fiery retribution seems unlikely. Because the only retaliatory measure the Indian Army could immediately think up was to lose off a barrage of small arms and mortar fire — the expected response the Pakistanis are  always prepared to absorb. The Indian Army may as well do nothing for all the impact it will have. It is all very well for the part-time defence minister Arun Jaitley to promise that the mutilation of the bodies of the Sikh regiment JCO and a BSF trooper will be avenged.  Quite another thing for Delhi to do the right thing and make it clear to Gen Qamar Bajwa and his cohort that India means business by executing some seriously disruptive actions.

The need is for a sustained programme extended over months, possibly a year or two, to terrorize the fighting man in the Pak Army with the prospect of an end he mortally dreads — death by burning. The prelude to such a programme should be the raining down of leaflets in Urdu threatening just such retributive justice for the excesses committed against Indian soldiers. It will unhinge the forward-placed Paki units, soften them up for the kill, so to say. by keeping them on tenterhooks.

But can the Modi-Doval duo that talks big — with only a single so-called “surgical strike” to boast of so far — act meaningfully for a change in the military arena? I doubt it, what with the Indian PM’s Washington trip slated for sometime in June and hence his felt need to not get Trump all riled up by getting their “partner in crimes” in Afghanistan — the Pakistan Army, loved by the US Defence Secretary General James Mattis and Trump’s NSA Lt Gen HR McMaster, on the hop.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons | 8 Comments

Joint Forces Doctrine — passive, defensive inward-turned, and disappointing

Image result for pics of indian strike corps in action

This was not unexpected, but still it is surprising just how unventuresome, diffident, hesitant and, therefore, thoroughly fainthearted the ‘Joint Doctrine Indian Armed Forces’ really is. Issued by Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), Ministry of Defence, this document supposedly outlines the jointness mission for the military. As such, it is a fairly innocuous bit of paper indulging in banality-mongering to the max, taking extreme care to not touch on the practical aspects of integrating authority, military resources, and effort. It is a document that at best reflects an intent to realize jointness in the indeterminate future.  Because, on the ground, the individual services still reign supreme and who regard IDS more as encumbrance than help.

However, IDS and its work is played up by the military brass whenever they sense movement by government to restructure the higher defence organization by replacing the existing order with a Chief of Defence Staff-system. When Manohar Parrikar was around there was real fear that one fine day he’d take it into his head to get on with the long pending job of major organizational reform and restructuring. Whence, this document was conceived as a way to postponing even an interim solution of a permanent 4-star post as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, recommended by the Committee headed by the arch bureaucrat, Naresh Chandra. Known to his 1956 IAS batchmates as “ustaad” for his ability to size up a situation, manage it, run circles around politicians and the lesser civil services, and generally maintain the status quo in which babus are top-dogs (especially in MOD), Chandra was not about to suggest anything radical. Sequentially chief secretary, Rajasthan, and at the centre, defence secretary, home secretary, and finally, cabinet secretary before beginning his unending post-retirement tenures in government, including being retained by Atal Bihari Vajpayee as Indian  Ambassador to the United States, Chandra was one of the charter members of the bureaucratic clique that has pushed and pulled Indian policy towards close India-US ties at the expense of every thing else. He sided as cabsec, it may be recalled, with those in Delhi (K. Subrahmanyam, Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, et al) and keeping up the drumbeat from Washington where he was appointed ambassador in 1996 for India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  With Finance Minister Arun Jaitley back as part time defence minister, everybody who counts in the military hierarchy seems reassured that the pressure is off, and the incumbent raksha mantri  does not have the time or inclination to do anything substantive. In that sense, this “doctrine’ is the military brass’ collective sigh of relief!

There’s much to question in this paper, but here’s my reaction to certain aspects of it (in no particular order of importance)  that stuck me as problematic.

1)  In the sub-sections (pp 1-2) on “National Aim” and “National Interests”, for instance, there’s no mention anywhere about extending India’s influence in South Asia, Asia, and the world. In other words, the Indian armed forces are happy where they are and with the country where it is, namely, sidelined even in the extended region.

In this circumscribed sphere, the armed forces, described as the “Military Instrument of National Power” (p. 6), have their utility limited to being “a means of deterrence and conflict resolution”. While acknowledging their “coercive nature” the paper stresses the armed forces being “gainfully employed” in “non-conflict situations and natural disasters”, in short a uniformed version of, what, Oxfam or similar social service agency?!

2) Have railed in all my writings for some 30 years now about the wrong threat perceptions animating the Indian military. When one gets so basic a thing wrong, what can the armed forces get right? Anyway, here’s proof, albeit indirect, about just which threat our military is preoccupied with — Pakistan. In a section entitled “Strategic environment scan”, the document speaks (p. 7)  of “the requirement to safeguard our territorial integrity” owing to the “disputed borders” and lists the Line of Control in the west first, not the Line of Actual Control where the threat is scarier.

A related section (pp. 8-9)  on “Security Threats and Challenges” rather than speaking straightforwardly about China, Pakistan, etc., talks obliquely about competition for resources, of “inherited faultlines” and “increasing blurring lines of traditional and nontraditional challenges”.

3) In pondering the “Nature War (sic) and character of conflict/war” (p. 10), the attributes of future wars are listed as “ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable and hybrid”. Whew! Scrounging together all these adjectives, leaves the big Question open — so what threats is India to prepare for? Because the forces required to fight short, swift, lethal, intense, precise counter-force wars are surely quite distinct and different from those needed to engage in necessarily long duration conflicts that are ambiguous, uncertain, non-linear, unrestricted, unpredictable, and hybrid.  When minds are not applied, vapid statements like this result.

It reminds me of Reagan’s jibe against Walter Mondale when the latter advanced a fairly inane proposal in the 1984 US presidential elections – “where’s the beef?”

4) Part of the problem — other than passing off the banal as profound — is with the language. In getting inventive in using the English language, the result is sometimes at once grating and incomprehensible, to wit, (p. 12) — “There are four levels of of War; Political/Grand strategic , Military strategic, Operational and Tactical; each level being twisted to the other.” In this construction, “each level being twisted to the other” appears in italics — meaning what? That the authors themselves know that this phrase makes zero sense, or that there’s a meaning the reader is not supposed easily to divine?

Further in a slightly confused discussion on “Generations of War” (p. 13) — again the language and content problem emerges — there is a statement of war transiting quickly from 1st generation to 5th gen hybrid warfare of today which ends with this — “Simply put, it is a war in which one of the major participants is not a State but rather a violent non-state actor or non-state actor sponsored by a State”, thereby synthetically separating non-state actors from the patronage of the adversary state, which division carries little weight in the practical world.

In the section following, on “India in Conflict/War” (p. 14), the paper refers  to an “operationally adaptable force” almost as an imperative without anywhere explaining how the country is to obtain it. This harks back to my #3 above. Is such a force to be the all-purpose military capable of short intense wars as also long duration attrition conflicts? If so, it was all the more necessary IDS had at least sketched out how this is to be achieved and at what cost, or whether such a force is to be cobbled together without disturbing the current force structure, in which case, the still more germane question: how?

5) In the chapter on “Military — An Instrument of National Power” and section therein concerning “Functions of Military Power” that dilates on conventional offensive and defensive operations (p. 19), we have such gems as “offensive operations” are to address “The adversary’s centre of gravity” by “attacking enemy’s criticalities….” etc. If this is a primer on the military, what is such stuff doing in a doctrine? This is succeeded by a para on offensive ops wherein is semi-detailed “A philosophy of pro-active defence” that the document claims is “most suited for India”. This reveals the Indian military’s eagerness to, perhaps, conform to NSA Ajit Doval’s fairly elementary (some would say, even simplistic) rendition of “offensive defence”. This explains the document’s emphasis on “defensive operations” by “ensuring security of own forces, secur[ing] bases for launching forces and creat[ing] favourable conditions for offensive operations” without even hinting at how this is to be achieved.

In line with such thinking is the section on “International Defence Cooperation” (p.22) which talks of this pol-mil-diplomatic  activity without once mentioning the absolute predicate for such military outreach and presence, namely, military bases in the Indian Ocean Region and in the states on the landward periphery  (such as in Central Asia). Staying and operating from homeland bases, the country is expected to “leverage” the achievement of “National Security Objectives”. This is like proposing to lift a tub while standing inside it. Hard, in the event, to take much of this document seriously.

6) This unsophisticated, college sophomore-level paper rounds out by analyzing Jointness, observing correctly, for a change, that military integration is mandated by resource constraints and will make possible “centralized planning” and appropriate allocation of resources to obtain “the right mix [of forces] at the right time and place” and “a high level of cross-domain synergy”. (p. 39) But after saying all this about the urgent need for integrating the military but realizing that they had gone out on a limb with their masters, IDS quickly backtracks, reiterating on the very next page (p. 40) that all the preceding material notwithstanding, “It does not imply physical integration” of the three armed services.

7) This is almost a throwaway line, but on page 50, the document asserts, in the context of establishing a joint “Special Operations Division” the fact that “the possibility of a conventional war under a nuclear overhang recedes with attendant political and international compulsions”  but stops short of saying that this is just the reason for a major overhaul of the extant military force structure, especially the rationalization of the three strike corps for exclusive use on the Pakistan front into a single composite corps that I have been advocating for nearly 25 years now, and transferring the materiel and human resources to form additional two offensive mountain corps for use against the Chinese PLA in Tibet.  This would be the sort of force rejig that cries out to be implemented. Except the existing armed services are inclined to preserve and protect at all cost the present system in which each service is virtually sovereign and acts autonomously, and even if such a military hurt the national interest.

8) More disarmingly, this IDS paper is upfront about needing to strike “a balance between indigenisation and foreign purchase essential to India’s military independence and modernization” (p. 54). This translates into continued reliance on imported armaments especially because, like a drug to an addict, even a small amount of the opiate can worsen the addiction. Going cold turkey, as I have argued, is the only way out, as any level of foreign purchases is inimical to the country’s “military independence”. The prerequisite here is for an iron political will, which is missing.

9) And absent is any nod to the nuclear deterrent other than a wary affirmation of credible but minimum deterrence that reflects IDS’ lack of appreciation of the fast worsening nuclear correlation of forces and of  any insights or knowledge of the field. The doctrine refers to the need to shift conventional force structuring from a threat-based template to a capability-based one. The Indian strategic deterrent too could do with a similar change in its fundamentals, which is what the document should have said.

10) And, finally, there’s a pointed last page (61) reference to the perennial military-bureaucrat tension, saying “The functionaries in the MoD ought to be enablers” and facilitators of “free flowing communication” between the political class and the armed services, to make possible “critical and timely decision making”. To expect the babus to be honest brokers, so to say,  rather than another variety of vested interests gumming up the works in the national security field, is to expect too much. Here again the absence of a strong political vision and hand on the MOD tiller is to blame, but remains unmentioned.


Taken in toto though, this paper is a lot of thin air masquerading as Joint Doctrine. Pity about this. Because serious thought is warranted regarding all aspects of the Indian military. Alas, this paper contains little of it.

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Russian offer of MiG LMFS, F-16, etc. as India faces a troubled world

Persons in the know say Russia is offering India the co-development of the MiG 1.44 in the updated LMFS configuration with a conformal bomb bay. Some years back, as noted in this blog, IAF then in the throes of the MMRCA decision had rejected the 1.44.  The Russian Air Force is streamlining its inventory to two types of combat aircraft — the “super” Su-30 and the MiG LMFS, Su plus a new generation strategic bomber to replace the Tu-160 Blackjack. The US Air Force is likewise restricting itself to the one type, all-purpose fighter plane — F-35 and its service variants.

If IAF is planning on a similar exercise as it should be doing then, as yet, there’s no hint of it. In any case, for the combat complement one type of aircraft, if anybody has any sense, has to be the indigenous Tejas LCA and its future variants, like the AMCA. It is the other type that will prove to be headache for the country. Just too many aircraft manufacturers are chasing down that slot, and have selected their Indian commercial partners in this venture with an eye firmly on the proximity of these partners to prime minister Modi. Dassault has tied up for its Rafale with Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aerospace and the Sweden’s SAAB for its Gripen E with the other A in the business world — the Adani’s. Neither Ambani nor Adani have done any aircraft production and have no production wherewithal ecen of a rudimentary kind set up by Mahindra. The only industrial engineering firm that has the resources, if not the actual experience, is L&T which, incidentally, dithered when asked in late 2014 to set up a Tejas production line to compete with HAL. This to say the country faces a nearly bare cupboard where the private sector manufacture of complex fighter aircraft is concerned.

The situation is actually a lot worse. With Trump in the White House, Modi’s earlier plan (hatched during the Obama Administration) of siddling up to the United States seems to have been upended. Not only has Washington not given a fig about Delhi’s concerns on the H1B visa issue but has gone ahead and issued an executive order to tighten up the Indian techie entry channel. It was just the prompting that other countries needed to put in place their own systems of minimizing the entry of Indian IT  and other qualified personnel. So Australia followed up by amending its 457 programme, notwithstanding Ausi PM Turnbull’s selfie taking with Modi on the Delhi metro, and Singapore clamped down as well. So all the channels are shutting down in Delhi’s face.

And, far from rearing up against China, Trump turned into a pussycat after hosting the Chinese President Xi Jinping at his resort White House in Florida, Mar-e-Lago, purring about how well the two had got along and why every thing is hunky-dory where US relations with Beijing are concerned. Meanwhile, Beijing jumped up and down and renamed certain parts of Arunachal Pradesh as a first step to claiming them outright, even as a confused and inactive Delhi has done little but mumble in its cups, when the right cartographic response should have been, as I have long suggested, for a start showing  Tibet in a colour other than the Chinese red in all Indian maps, to denote its questionable status as per the December 21, 1961 UN General Assembly Resolution seeking self-determination for Tibet. (India’s Kashmir will not be any more jeopardized because China, as it is, has by its actions supported Pakistan’s case.)  This in the context of the Dalai Lama finally showing grit to declare that he may in fact discover his reincarnation here (perhaps, to preempt Beijing’s announcing its own Dalai Lama as it has threatened to do).  Instead, MEA and PMO are most exercised about Cmdr Yadav in Pakistani captivity when Pakistan’s intent is plain — to use him as pawn to trade for ISI’s own Lt Col Mohammad Habib Zair, first lured to Lumbini in Nepal by RAW and then, if Pakistani sources are to be believed, shanghaied into India. In other words, with most of Modi’s foreign policy world collapsing around him, his government, typical of GOI, is preoccupied with the least important issue at hand!

Meanwhile — to return to the subject of aircraft! —  Lockheed is marshaling its considerable resources in Washington to pressure Modi when he visits Trump in June, into buying the museum-ready F-16, to add to the M-777 howitzer. If Modi could be cajoled into impulse purchasing the Rafale, there’s no guarantee he won’t succumb to Trump’s hectoring, lose his nerve and forget the leverage India has always had but which Delhi has never exercised — its vast, still quite open, market of a billion+ people, or succumb to the canny US President massaging the PM’s ego by various contrivances while dipping into Modi’s pockets for oodles of money he may be willing to shell out on India’s behalf for little in return.

Minister Nirmala Seetharaman has not so gently hinted that an obstreperous Trump will have to deal with the operations of US companies being hampered in India if the US does not ease up and here, again, she stressed the wrong issue — the H1B visas, when there are other graver concerns that should be agitating the government. But whether Modi will be clear in communicating Seetharaman’s intent and sticking by it once Trump rolls out the big guns, meaning the big Indian business houses that usually push the Washington line on everything, is another matter.

As suggested in a previous post, Arun Jaitley is not, unlike his predecessor Parrikar, the man to show at least some resistance against Modi. He’s there precisely to stand beside the PM with the national purse open and his mouth closed. The Finance minister has little instinctive interest or understanding of defence and national security matters except in the perfunctory sense. There’s every reason to believe, for instance, that as defence minister he has not so far studied the IAF’s requirements list and the best way to meet it, and understood the techno-economic sense of making Tejas the main combat aircraft for air force and navy, come what may, or considered just how to deal with the Navy’s expenditure plan amounting to Rs 123 Lakh crores in the foreseeable future. Because every rupee expended in extraneous spending such as on F-16 is a rupee denied the armed services to spend more wisely in the nation’s interest.

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