Is India still sovereign?

 

Image result for pics of pompeo and mattis in delhi

[US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and US Defence Secretary James Mattis on the PM’s two flanks]

A nation can lose its sovereignty, defined as the ability independently to make decisions in its own interest, in a rush or incrementally. The signing of the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement with the United States this past week is the latest such increment in a series that began with the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott “strategic dialogue” and Next Steps in Strategic Partnership under the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee that prevented India from developing a genuine 12,000 mile intercontinental ballistic missile,and the 2008 civilian nuclear cooperation deal negotiated by the Congress party regime of Manmohan Singh which with “voluntary test moratorium” as the basic predicate, capped the Indian nuclear weapons capability at the boosted-fission level and well short of the tested and proven high-yield two-stage thermonuclear armament – the ultimate adjudicator of differences between countries.

The BJP government of NarendraModi, has done its bit in eroding India’s sovereignty by signing in 2016 the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement that will permit America to stage military operations from India air, naval, and army bases in the Indian Ocean region, and by following up last week in the ‘2+2 Talks’ with the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) – that will leave no part of the country’s most secret communications grid within the government and the military unexposed to US control. The 2+2 Meet involving the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries – SushmaSwaraj and NirmalaSitharaman clearly overmatched by Mike Pompeo and General James Mattis.

Thus, in a span of 18 years India has lost its sovereign policy space, wrecked its pretense of strategic autonomy, and consolidated its growing status as a comprehensive security dependency of America. Hardly to be wondered then that India has garnered the status of a treaty ally of the US in Asia akin to Japan, South Korea and Philippines. Ironically, it is at a time when European states, fed up with the record of American unreliability and arm-twisting, are planning a NATO of their own minus the United States.That the so-called “nationalist” BJP and the more “internationalist” opposition Congress party are equally responsible for bringing this country to this pass, tells its own sad story.

But why is COMCASA significant? It will allow the US to comprehensively penetrate the secure Indian communications network, including all command and control links not excluding the Strategic Forces Command (SFC). It means that with the US listening in on the most secret communications traffic within the government and between the Indian government and other governments, it can take measures to preempt decisions and shape policies to ensure Delhi doesn’t depart from the US line. It will also be in a position to hinder military communications between senior field commanders and frontline units, between theatre commands and Services Headquarters and the Indian government, and between the Prime Minister and the SFC in a nuclear crisis and, potentially, to over-ride the authority to fire nuclear weapons.

This potentially fatal vulnerability was the reason the Indian military initially opposed COMCASA. But when have the armed services really mattered, or even really been in the national security decision loop? Washington has always banked on the malleability of the Indian government and its functionaries, to get its way. This owes not little to the eco-system that’s in place in Delhi to promote and progress the US tilt in India’s stance,led by the Indian chapters of Washington think tanks peopled by senior Indian diplomats and the like – Brookings and Carnegie funded, incidentally, by Indian corporates.

The eco-system,more tellingly, works because of serving senior Indian civil servants and military officers suborned, in the main, by offers of “green cards”, work visas, and “scholarships” for their progeny. It constitutes the new set of inducements to sell the national interest down the drain; secret offshore bank accounts are passe’. (The entire eco-system is detailed in a section in my new book that’s just out — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’.)

The provisions in COMCASA prohibiting Washington from doing any of the bad things, including the sharing of information and data with adversary states, are but paper assurances reflecting the credulity of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of External Affairs. In reality, however, there is absolutely no enforceable guarantee that Washington won’t violate them. Worse, with the P-8Is, and antique platforms, like F-16s and the Sea Guardian dronethat Delhi is beingpressed to buy fitted with communications gear linked to a “blinking” US Global Positioning System and, more generally, to all platforms and guided ordnance in Indian employ,the entire Indian arsenalwill be exposed to technical misdirection. The second test of the Agni missile in the 1990s had to be aborted, for instance, because the US GPS it was plugged into blinked. India cannot prevent such mischief because it lacks the technical means to monitor and shut down COMCASA misuse.

For giving up so much, what has India got in return? It has lost its policy latitude and freedom. The waiver from sanctions for the Indian buy of the Russian S-400 air defence system under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act as Washington has made clear is only a one-off thing, not a blanket waiver. In other words, CAATSA sanctions are, in effect, a cocked pistol held to India’s head. It is a sign of things to come that the day this accord was signed Trump threatened India with denial of trade concessions, and the departing Pompeo advised Delhi to meet the November 3 deadline for the cutoff of Iranian oil flow to India, lest CAATSA sanctions get activated.

India would have been strategically empowered had a deal been negotiated to string the US along by approving contingent hookups by Indian forces utilizing the jerry-rigged-system facilitating short-term interoperability of the kind that has enabled the Malabar naval exercises, and case-by-case access to Indian military facilities, to match the CAATSA waiver mode. That way India would have furthered the principle of strict reciprocity and retained its own counter-leverage and leeway,and high-level cooperation with Russia and Iran.

With a fairly integrated Indian military communications network, however,Moscow will be fearful of the US’ reach into America-sourced aircraft compromising Russian-supplied Su-30MKI fighter planes in the IAF, and especially the Akula-II class nuclear-powered attack submarine with the Indian Navy. Small wonder the talks for leasing the second Akula are stuck. Does Modi expect the US to make up for this critical capability void? Remember, US companies are not willing to part with the upgraded avionics technology of even the 50 year-old F-16 fighter plane! And, even more,how does Delhi propose to manage the evolving Russia-China-Pakistan concert that Moscow has begun giving substance to with the first batch of Pakistan military officers heading for stints at the higher military training institutions in Russia, when it has failed miserably to handle the lesser Pakistan-China nexus?

The trouble is Modi’s tilt is less strategic than aspirational. His apparently unconditional love and admiration for America and his subaltern thinking have together imposed a low ceiling on India’s ambition. This explains why he has tolerated personal slights, from denial of US visa when he was Gujarat chief minister to, as the New York Times reported on 2 September, President Donald Trump making fun of him by frequently mimicking his accent in internal White House discussions.

That Modi is willing to swallow such insults is his business. Preventing the erosion of India’s sovereignty, national interest and security are the Indian people’s concerns.

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[A denatured version of the above article published in the online Open magazine, September 11, 2018, with the title “A bad deal” at  http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/guest-column/a-bad-deal

 

 

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The Hindu’s review of ‘Staggering Forward’

‘Staggering Forward-Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ review: Foreign policy in a hurry

'Staggering Forward-Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition' review: Foreign policy in a hurry

An examination of India’s diplomacy finds it wanting on many counts, from Pakistan to tackling ‘blind-spots’ like the U.S. and China

Books on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign policy have one thing in common: they come too soon. In order to judge the efficacy of any policy it requires more than the four years that the Prime Minister has occupied his position. One needs to put some distance between NDA-II’s tenure and present times in order to distinguish what was driven by policy and what is simply a reaction to a set of events.

Talks with Pakistan

Was the decision not to have talks with Pakistan a policy, for example? If so, why did the PM visit Lahore? If calling off talks was linked to acts of terrorism, then why were Foreign Secretary level talks scheduled in August 2014 cancelled over a meeting the Pakistan High Commissioner had with the Hurriyat? Similarly, if “Neighbourhood First” is a policy, what must one make of the 2015 blockade of Nepal, or the fact that outlays for all SAARC neighbours (with the exception of the Maldives) were actually lower in 2018 than they were in 2013? If stated goals are a parameter of policy, then how should one grade Modi on his twin-ambitions for the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group memberships? Finally, how does one judge success with the great powers as distinct from the past in such a time span: U.S., Russia and China, when each comes with its own legacy and historical baggage of ties over 70 years? Ironically, the area of Modi’s foreign relations that are seen as his best success, i.e. with West Asia, is not even defined as a considered policy by most.

Nevertheless bookstores abound with volumes on Modi’s foreign policy, including The Modi Doctrine: New Paradigms in India’s Foreign Policy (Ganguly & Chauthaiwale), Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister(Sreeram Chaulia), Modi’s World (C. Rajamohan), Modi’s Foreign Policy(Tremblay & Kapur), and Modi’s Midas Touch in Foreign Policy (Surendra Kumar). Many are simply hagiographies, written by admirers of the Prime Minister, and most are by adherents to a ‘muscular’ India that shows its ‘red eyes’ to adversaries, and takes its rightful place on the world stage beside other great powers. Criticism of Modi’s foreign policy, thus far, has been derided as the work of ‘weak-spirited peaceniks’, ‘Cold war relics’ or ‘champions of non-alignment’ (which is now a discarded policy).

‘India First’

The latest book on this shelf, Bharat Karnad’s Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, is however, different for a number of reasons. To begin with, Karnad, who describes himself as a conservative strategist, is very much an adherent to the ‘muscular India’ policy. Long before Modi burst on the national scene, Karnad advocated staring down China, using force with neighbours who didn’t come to heel, and argued against India’s self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing. In his introduction, Karnad claims primary ownership of the “India First” concept since 2002, which became a commonly used phrase during Modi’s 2014 campaign. He also admits to having been disappointed by Modi’s foreign policy in practice, particularly on three counts: what Karnad sees as supplication to the United States, appeasement of China to the detriment of India’s influence in its neighbourhood, and a lack of respect for India’s strategic integrity including an over-yielding nuclear posture. “Candidate Modi roared like a tiger, as Prime Minister he has been a purring kitten when dealing with big cats,” writes Karnad, comparing Modi’s actions to “uncoiling his ruthlessness only against a weak and enervated Pakistan, and his domestic political opponents on the other.” The sentiment is startling because the author is otherwise himself a proponent of harsh measures against Pakistan’s military.

Staggering Forward… is its most incisive, even brutal, in its discussion of Prime Minister Modi’s style of diplomacy, with a chapter devoted to the ‘Impact of Modi’s Persona on Government’. While conceding that Modi’s “unselfconscious hugging” of world leaders is a “diplomatic innovation”, only possible because of his personal confidence levels, Karnad believes Modi’s “narcissistic” belief in a “God-given gift (Modi’s words)” to understand the world around him has reduced most officers of the Ministry of External Affairs to “glorified peons”. He also accuses the PM of conflating good personal ties with world leaders with an idea that they will be guided by India’s interests instead of the country they represent. Throughout the book, Karnad is clear that Indian foreign policy must tackle its two “blind-spots”: U.S. and China, and among the solutions he propounds are the ouster of the U.S. from the Quadrilateral (a ‘Mod-Quad’ with Australia, Japan and ASEAN) and the ouster of China from BRICS (BRIS).

The book is remarkably up-to-date, and discusses events through to the middle of 2018. Karnad even weighs in on the COMCASA agreement that was signed during the Pompeo visit this week. Two chapters focus on the task ahead for both military modernisation as well as defence procurement, with a detailed critique of the Modi government’s Make in India policy. The book is intense reading, with the prose clearly flowing from the angry pen of an author upset with every aspect of the direction India has “staggered forward” in. If it upsets the PM and his admirers, they can take comfort from the fact that it judges his predecessors even more harshly.

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[Published in The Hindu, Sept 8, 2018, at  https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/staggering-forward-narendra-modi-and-indias-global-ambition-review-foreign-policy-in-a-hurry/article24893081.ece

 

 

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India-US 2+2 Talks

This is a heated discussion that took place today in the ‘India Eye’ program hosted by Bharat Bhushan on Blueticknews on the net. It pitted two establishment types against me. Whose position is more protective of the national interest is for the viewers to judge, of course. But it is remarkable how the Establishment reps (including Yashwant Sinha — watch the video of the book launch panel discussion posted earlier) and Bhaskar, in particular, here who seem a little too overwhelmed by India’s limitations than are convinced by its inherent strengths. Strengths: Like, its unmatchable location and resources in the expanse of the Indo-Pacific region and, in the event, its indispensability to the US, and access to the world’s 2nd largest market. It is therefore, the sort of hard leverage that should have been wielded by Delhi to demand, at a minimum, of the US that India be given absolute waiver on CAATSA sanctions for anything India will do in the external realm as the basic condition for signing the COMCASA and partnering to the extent GOI deems, at any moment in time, to be beneficial to the countryh’s national interest. (This is one of the many themes developed, incidentally, in my book.) It is such thinking that’s being contested by Bhaskar and his ilk.

These types instill fear in the Indian population about the horrible things that would befall India if it doesn’t toe the American line, or fall in line with Washington. Anything more defeatist is hard to imagine. They end up doing most of the hard work work for the US of pulling India — the government and the people — into the US orbit. God save India from the Indian policy establishment (compromised by the US — which subject is tackled in a section of my new book ‘Staggering Forward’).

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Video of ‘Staggering’ launch

The two separate (or two-part) videos of the panel discussion at the launch on Thursday, Aug 30 at the India International Centre, of my newest book, ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, published by Penguin, followed by a Question & Answer period, may be found on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rn8q2EGUuXQ&feature=youtu.be and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=75N0x6Pb2UY&feature=youtu.be .

During the panel discussion something entirely unprecedented happened. For the first time ever (as far as I know) a military man, Admiral Arun Prakash, publicly challenged a politician (Jairam Ramesh). He held politicians responsible for not having the requisite vision and drive and for turning the country into an arms dependency, and denied that military is in any way to blame. Indeed, the Admiral — as you will see — even shushed Jairam up when the politician tried to intervene when he was talking.

Watch these videos — revealing in many respects.

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Toeing the American line

The Damocles’ sword of US sanctions will hereafter hang over India and compel New Delhi to toe Washington’s line on everything — Russia, Iran, non-proliferation, removal of tariffs on imports from the US, etc.

Moneycontrol Contributor@moneycontrolcom

Bharat Karnad

The 2×2 talks between the Indian and United States foreign and defence ministers — Sushma Swaraj and Nirmala Sitharaman, and Mike Pompeo and James Mattis respectively — scheduled for September 6, will end in India’s capitulation if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Narendra Modi signs the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA).

This accord will enable the US to comprehensively penetrate — horizontally and vertically — India’s most secret communications and command and control networks, including the Strategic Forces Command overseeing nuclear security. Official sources have said that the Modi dispensation is satisfied by Washington’s assurances that no information, classified or otherwise, routinely picked up by the US agencies monitoring and listening in on the Indian national security communications traffic will be divulged to third parties. Scout’s honour!

The level of gullibility displayed by the Indian government’s trusting Washington to do the right thing is astonishing, considering the US record is one of consistently selling India short. For instance, the intelligence picked up by US agencies in 2008 that the Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services intelligence-controlled terrorist groups were planning a seaborne attack on Mumbai was not conveyed to Delhi and the 26/11 mayhem ensued. This mind you when Delhi had made common cause against terrorism with Washington in the wake of the 9/11 strike on New York.

 

The COMCASA, following up on the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) that will allow US troops and military assets to stage military operations in the extended Indian Ocean region out of Indian air, naval and army bases will formally mark the loss of India’s strategic autonomy. What may derail this accord, at least temporarily, and discomfit immediate US plans, is something else altogether — India’s buy of the S-400 air defence system potentially drawing economic sanctions under the recently passed US law, Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

The troubling Section 231 in this Act says that sanctions are mandated on any entity or entities engaging “in a significant transaction with . . . the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation,” and Section 235 deems sanctionable “any transactions in foreign exchange that are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States” and prohibiting “any transfers of credit or payments between financial institutions or by, through, or to any financial institution, to the extent that such transfers or payments are subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and involve any interest of the sanctioned person.”

The prickliness of the issues involved has led to an impasse. A former MEA official, Rakesh Sood, in superficially outlining in an op-ed piece the well-known problems with CAATSA, offers no solution other than suggesting unhelpfully that the two sides think “creatively”.

Ashley Tellis of Carnegie, who pulls weight in Washington and, incidentally, with Modi, doesn’t doubt that the S-400 system is the best of its kind in the world and that the combination of the Patriot surface-to-air missiles and the Theatre High-Altitude Air Defence system the Americans have offered is not a match. Even so, he conceives of three options for Delhi. The Modi government, he says, can “scuttle” the S-400 deal and buy into the lesser US system, or string Russia along and “defer payment” to avoid precipitating sanctions, or “Make a deal with Trump” — the option Tellis favours, by speedily agreeing to several high-value transactions for US hardware — the F-16 combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force and the F-18 carrier aircraft for the Indian Navy, that are “lucrative enough to the United States and remarkable in its potential geostrategic impact.” India’s purchase of these 1970s vintage aircraft will certainly be lucrative for America alright but what “remarkable …geostrategic impact” they will have, is a mystery!

Tellis’ solutions are basically premised on Delhi’s malleability. Except this last is an attribute inherent in Modi’s US policy animated by his conviction that accommodating the US will fetch dividends. Alas, the past and current developments reveal America as eminently untrustworthy. The fact is the waiver of sanctions on the S-400 means nothing, because it is one-off.

The Damocles’ sword of sanctions will hereafter hang over India and compel New Delhi to toe the US line on everything (Russia, Iran, non-proliferation, removal of tariffs on imports from the US, etc.). The irony is that the supposedly “nationalist” BJP government has reduced India to this state.


[Published in MoneyControl with title ‘India must not surrender its foreign, defence policy to United States’, Sept 3, 2018 https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/politics/opinion-india-must-not-surrender-its-foreign-defence-policy-to-united-states-2911101.html

 

 

 

 

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Limitations in our heads

 

Image result for pics of virat kohliImage result for pics of haider ali

(Kohli, Haidar Ali)

Trust the Indian cricket team to collapse ingloriously as they did in Southampton yesterday. Surrendering sheepishly  from a winning position this time, when they were in the 140s for 3 wickets, repeating the pattern of loss in the 2nd Test at Edgbaston with the same scoreline — 2 down for about the same number of runs. What started the slide on both occasions (if I recall the details of the Edgbaston defeat properly) was the Captain — and the only fighter in the desi outfit, Virat Kohli, showing every intent and determination to reach the target, getting past the 50-run threshold and showing signs of settling in to shepherd a win, but failing. It began a slide that saw India stymied and out of the game then, and again at the Ageas Bowl, this time downed by an even bigger margin. No guts, no fortitude, no patience, no sense of fighting spirit whatsoever. Just some plain mindless thrashing about with the bat by the likes of Pandya and Pant. So, instead of being in a position to replicate the Don Bradman-led Aussie team of 1948 of coming up from 2-down to win the 5-match series, the Indian team folded as is their wont without so much as a whimper after Kohli’s inning.  Something similar happened in the T-20 game I watched this summer in Cardiff where after Kohli came the deluge. So whatever the format India loses once the Captain is out.

Kohli, usually the only Man standing — among lily-livered team-mates, is the fissile core around which the Indian cricket team either sizzles or fizzles, mostly the latter on foreign soil where series wins against cricketing powers are rare.  Why is this so? Kohli explained to an English cricket reporter that for the Indian players the problem is that “the limitations” of their ability are “in their heads”. The implication was clear: Get over this, over the feelings of inadequacy, and lo! and behold, life may become simpler, and being victorious becomes the norm, not the exception. Apparently, Virat has overcome his sense of his own limitations and become the master of the field whose very presence radiates outwards to envelope teammates and to sow apprehension in the adversary.

Doesn’t what Kohli say have resonance for the country, an all-time loser nation that the Polish sociologist Stanislaw Andreski tellingly described India as “the land of subjugations” —  used to losing, and always prepared deferentially to make peace on the enemy’s terms?  Ni victory of arms  of native forces officered by the British doesn’t count, and neither does the 1971 War for Bangladesh — a sort of intra-mural win by a bigger more powerful part of the once British Indian Army over a smaller, weaker, part. That leaves the country’s cupboard bare of anything remotely resembling military success.

And the cricket team’s falling apart ere the captain departs the field is the analog of India’s historical pattern. Adversaries from Alexander the Great’s days quickly learned that any native Indian army could be run off the battlefield simply by getting rid of the king — sitting conspicuously on the war elephant at the centre of the Indian ranks — verily the ‘Gajpati’ beloved of the ancient Indian order-of-battle — directing battle from his perch — but as easy to bring down as his pachydermal mount, with a storm of well-aimed arrows and hard-thrown spears. Once the leader is taken out, the native armies inevitably broke and ran, deserting their king and country. The result: Porus in chains and his realm — all of the lands on the Indus and its tributaries in the Punjab become a plaything of the Macedonian monarch. An unending chain of foreign conquerors and looters since have feasted of  India’s wealth, succeeding by following Alexander’s script to fell Indian states.

And yet Indians learn no lessons from history, from regular humiliations of the past. So the “honour”-minded Prithiviraj Chouhan defeats Mahmud Ghori in the first Battle of Tarain in 1192 AD, displays compassion or foolishness, does not pursue a defeated and wounded foe, only to see him return the next year for the 2nd engagement at the same site, but this time gets isolated, whereupon, taking no chances, Ghori promptly ends the former’s life.  See any parallels between the compassion shown Ghouri as a matter of Rajput chivalry and modern India’s priding itself as a “responsible” state invariably having its interests trfampled underfoot by “friends” and foes alike??

And see how instead of ridding their minds of self-doubt and jettisoning feelings of weakness and limitation, as Virat Kohli has done, our leaders are suffused by the infirmities of the state and society and therefore are risk-averse in extremis, always ready to compromise?

It is not for no reason that Waterloo was coupled to the playing fields at Eton. Though  the Duke of Wellington never said anything about it. But he did come away impressed with the Peshwa army at the 1803 Battle of Assaye and his wars with Tipu Sultan in the Deccan. The pity is the Peshwa forces were in a position to force the issue at Assaye, but didn’t. And Haidar Ali, likewise, had run the British forces ragged, according to the then Colonel Arthur Wellesley (the Duke before he was ennobled) and brought them on several occasions to the point of defeat, but rather than waging a war to oust the firangi from the land for once and for all — difficult at the time, it is true, given too many divisions in the land and everybody fighting each other rather than the Brits — he ended the First Anglo-Carnatic War in 1769 with the Treaty of Madras with the submissive British. These are the situations when Wellington first and repeatedly used his famous phrase — “This was a close-run thing!”, subsequently made famous at Waterloo. Small consolation for Indians.

(In Wellesley’s subsequent wars against Haidar’s son, Tipu Sultan, he learned the lesson to not take the Indian king head on. In the last of the Anglo-Carnatic wars, he instead did what Clive had done at Plassey  — bribe a court insider — another Mir — Mir Sadiq — Tipu’s vazir, to in the dead of night open the gates to the impregnable fort of Seringapatana on the Cauvery River. That was 1799. Has much changed since then with COMCASA on the anvil and LEMOA already signed and India with leaders with their heads still full of their own and the country’s supposed limitations?)

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Why Not Show Pakistan The Same Consideration Shown To China?

The strikingly silly hoo-ha on Indian television over the non-event of the quip-a-second cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu – a rank made-for-television entertainer and Punjab government minister, embracing the Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa at the swearing-in ceremony of a fellow cricketer, Imran Khan, as Prime Minister – only reveals how easily something so trivial can be transformed into jingoistic excess.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a letter to his incoming Pakistani counterpart, has welcomed Khan’s assuming power as an opportunity to reset bilateral ties.

Why Not Show Pakistan The Same Consideration Shown To China?

The operative parts of Imran Khan’s optimistic messages are his hinting at trade as the ‘Open Sesame’ to a genuine rapprochement between the two countries of the subcontinent, and the need to resume dialogue to resolve the Kashmir dispute. What exactly is so offensive or untoward about this? Surely, it is nobody’s case that ramping up bilateral growth and economic and investment interlinks won’t improve the chances of peace, and ensure it becomes the new normal in South Asia.

In fact, it was the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad Ajay Bisaria who in May this year talked of potential annual trade of $30 billion if only the Pakistan government eased up on its regime of restrictions.

A good part of this trade would involve the formalisation of the indirect ‘switch trade’ that presently takes place with Indian consumer goods of all kinds – marked for export to Dubai on merchant ship manifests, offloaded with the same ships anchoring outside the immediate Karachi waters. The annual loss of revenue to the Pakistan exchequer from this informal channel is in billions of dollars. It is money the Tehreek-e-Insaf party government can use to fulfil its election promises in the social welfare sector. After all, Pakistan’s hard currency reserves dwindling to less than $9 billion cannot but worry Imran Khan to conniptions.

So, there’s every incentive for Islamabad to accept the formalisation of the informal Indo-Pak trade. And here is the new Pakistan PM talking about just this, and generally about open trade tempering a needlessly rancorous relationship.

Why Not Show Pakistan The Same Consideration Shown To China?

Also Read: Pakistan Should Beware an Easy Chinese Bailout

It is a promising opening that the Bharatiya Janata Party government, if it has any strategic sense, should jump at widening by:

  • adopting a facilitative mindset,
  • initiating enabling measures,
  • clearing lines of credit and approving banking channels, and
  • preemptively easing the processes of encouraging commerce.

That said, it is also clear that General Headquarters in Rawalpindi is no more likely to terminate its terrorism leverage it can utilise to keep the Indian armed forces and government distracted, than India giving up on supporting Baluch freedom fighters to keep the Pakistan army committed and unsettled – as revealed by Prime Minister Modi in his 2016 Independence Day address from the Red Fort.

Covert options will be nursed by both sides until such time as they both decide that their favoured jihadis/freedom fighters are more trouble than they are worth.

This won’t happen any time soon, however.

Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed votes in the general election in Pakistan, on July 25, 2018. (Photograph: AP/PTI)
Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed votes in the general election in Pakistan, on July 25, 2018. (Photograph: AP/PTI)

In any case, which country does what first before the dialogue caravan begins rolling becomes moot once both capitals seriously assess what’s at stake.

The chief beneficiaries of a squabbling India and Pakistan are China and the United States.

They are able to play off the South Asian states against each other, egging on one and then the other, to serve their distinct national interests.

For instance, the U.S. has been vocal about its anti-terrorism stance but Washington has time and again made plain—and this has not been paid attention to by Delhi—that their concern is mainly with Pakistan assisting the Afghan Taliban factions fighting the NATO forces in that country, and not with Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar, or Hafiz Saeed.

Consider China: The so-called China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is increasingly recognised by Pakistanis as a debt trap that would permit the Chinese to put down roots and redo the ‘East India Company’ scene from some 300 years ago.

An exclusive, heavily guarded, colony to house the 50,000 strong Chinese labour force working on CPEC is coming up in Gwadar, and resembles the small fortified trading post the British set up in Surat with a firman secured by the British ambassador Sir Thomas Roe from Emperor Jehangir some four centuries ago.

What may transpire in the years to come cannot be anything but disastrous for Pakistan.

A  shipping container sits beyond an excavator outside a workers camp, operated by China Overseas Ports Holding, in Gwadar, Balochistan, Pakistan, on  July 4, 2018. (Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg)
A shipping container sits beyond an excavator outside a workers camp, operated by China Overseas Ports Holding, in Gwadar, Balochistan, Pakistan, on July 4, 2018. (Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg)

What is certain, however, is that the Belt and Road Initiative, of which CPEC is part, will load Pakistan with debt amounting to over $90 billion on the original $46 billion credit funding by Chinese banks. While Imran Khan has no choice other than to assure Beijing about his government’s commitment to CPEC, he can’t be unmindful of how Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port and related infrastructure project has panned out. In lieu of Colombo’s inability to service the debt, China has secured a 99-year lease for it.

Other Asian states are awakening to the danger that easily available Chinese credit portends. The prospect of unpayable debt and subsequent Chinese takeover has motivated Myanmar, for instance, to limit its risk and financial exposure by reducing the Chinese stake in its Kyakpau seaport multi-nodal project from $7.6 billion to $1.3 billion, and Malaysia to simply terminate two Chinese-funded projects worth $22 billion.

Wouldn’t a desperate Pakistan, if offered half a chance, grasp eagerly at an alternative?

The vast and cascading benefits of open trade with India are:

  • The multiplying revenues generated by allowing India’s Central Asia and Afghanistan trade to access the Karachi-Peshawar highway.
  • The royalty on gas piped through the 1,814 kilometre long, north-south Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline that India has signed up for and expected to transfer 33 billion cubic feet of natural gas.
  • The $7 billion plus 2,135 kilometre long, west-east Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline terminating in Barmer, which will shift 30 million standard cubic meters each of natural gas per day to India and to Pakistan.

This is the scale of energy that both India and Pakistan desperately require to fuel their economic progress.

The supreme tragedy is that the strategically handicapped and permanently shortsighted Indian governments, particularly in the new century, have sacrificed the greater strategic good for the trivial satisfaction of discomfiting Pakistan and in the process pushing the latter more seriously into the China orbit.

It is an endless action-reaction sequence with Pakistan, in turn, always ready to cut off its nose to spite India’s face. So China gains.

Apparently, the Indian government is quite sanguine about Pakistan emerging, in the decades ahead, as a full-fledged Chinese colony and a Chinese People’s Liberation Army military base, and does not care to do anything positive to head off this eventuality.

The irony couldn’t be missed: Just as the Siddhu-Bajwa hug was unnecessarily creating heat and fogging up the Indo-Pak picture, prime minister Modi was meeting with General Wei Fenghe, Chinese defence minister and former commander of the PLA Rocket Force, and saying soothing things, like “Maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas is indicative of the sensitivity and maturity with which India and China handle their differences, not allowing them to become disputes” and referring to Sino-Indian relations as “a factor of stability in the world”.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Defence Minister of China, General Wei Fenghe during a meeting in New Delhi on  August 21, 2018. (Photograph: PIB/PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the Defence Minister of China, General Wei Fenghe during a meeting in New Delhi on August 21, 2018. (Photograph: PIB/PTI)

Also Read: Emperor Xi And The Kowtow Imperative

He went on to praise the “increased momentum” of high-level contacts, including in the defence sphere.

What must Wei make of this except that Modi, like previous PMs, is a sap?

Have any Chinese leaders ever gone dreamily overboard in their rhetoric the way their Indian counterparts routinely do?

And this when, in reality, China is the gravest security challenge that India faces but, ostrich-like with its head buried in the sand, it refuses to even acknowledge. It is seemingly convinced, in the manner Nehru was vis-a-vis Mao’s China, that to act adversarially towards China is to make an enemy of it.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong at Beijing, on October 23, 1954. (Photograph: Ministry of External Affairs)
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong at Beijing, on October 23, 1954. (Photograph: Ministry of External Affairs)

It is a line, incidentally, that Mandarin-speaking Indian diplomats continue to profess, and which Modi, to his great demerit, has bought into.

So, let’s set the scene: There is an unresolved border with China that the PLA periodically violates at will with small incursions that number in the hundreds every year and, occasionally in more conspicuous actions such as at Dok La in the summer of 2017 or previously in Demchok. Secret Chinese military documents mention the need to once again “teach India a lesson”.

On the world stage, China consistently trips India up diplomatically and undermines Indian interests, and because Delhi has put a premium on it, prevents the possibility of this country becoming a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Further, it exploits India’s open market to exacerbate India’s balance of payments problem in excess of $70 billion annually owing to unbalanced trade.

Chinese goods stand on display in a stall near the Nathula Pass in Kyongnosla, Sikkim, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)
Chinese goods stand on display in a stall near the Nathula Pass in Kyongnosla, Sikkim, India. (Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg)

And China has initiated a ‘hybrid war’ with India (using persistent cyber attacks), bulked up its military capabilities on the 4,000 kilometre-long Line of Actual Control and formed the secret ‘Fourth Fleet’ specifically to counter this country’s control of the Indian Ocean with permanent bases in Djibouti and Gwadar.

And still, the Indian government agrees to military exchanges and joint war exercises with the PLA and is committed to interminable talks concerning the undelineated border!

Why doesn’t the Modi government then adopt the same approach to Pakistan, which has problems with India that are similar to those China does but on a far smaller scale that can do this country less harm, when dealing with China can do India no end of harm?

Why not restart a dialogue on an open-ended basis with Islamabad to:

  • resolve the Kashmir issue,
  • open the Indian markets to Pakistani trade, and
  • have high-level military exchanges and joint war games with the Pakistan military.

Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani troops on the LoC can continue gunning it out if they must, and ISI and RAW can keep at their covert operations.

The returns for India from having a more catholic and multi-pronged Pakistan policy of talks at the government level, unhindered two-way trade and cultural and sports exchanges, and small arms duels on the LoC will beat by miles any good that being pals with China will ever do.

 

Modiji, Ajit Dovalji, keep your eyes on the strategic ball – worry about the China threat bearing down on this country. But first, stop jumping on to the table every time the Pakistani mouse squeaks.


Also do watch and hear my videographed comments on this subject put up with my ‘Realpolitik’ column, Published as BloombergQuintOpinion, 

 

 

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