In Vladivostok, in a clinch or for convenience?

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[uh-oh! Putin to Modi!]

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon be in Vladivostok, there to attend an Economic Conference as chief guest. That the Russian President Vladimir Putin is hosting the Indian leader for a second such summit — the last time was in the former’s stomping ground, St. Petersburg, suggests that despite the Modi regime signaling Delhi’s closeness to the US at every turn, Moscow still espies some utility in having India figure prominently in its great power political game. And, of course, to have the Russian defence industry continue to benefit from such major arms sales as may fructify.

After all, Putin has been spectacularly successful, even though playing with a weak economic card, to push America geopolitically into a corner. He has stymied the US in the Middle East by simultaneously drawing Erdogan’s Turkey into its military sphere of influence with the foot-in-the-door sale of S-400 anti-aircraft system and propping up the Bashir al-Assad government in Syria, and thereby established itself as a seminal power in greater West Asia. Capitalizing on the estranged relations between West European members of NATO and Washington that the maladroit US President Donald Trump has managed to obtain, and his own threats to cutoff gas supplies to Germany, the strongest European state, Putin has ensured that NATO is about neutered. In Central Asia, lacking China’s economic ability to buy regimes with infrastructure projects and trade on concessional terms, he has sought a negotiated solution with Japan for the return of the Kurile Island chain to Tokyo, whence the certainty that Japan will be strung along. It will increase the degrees of separation between the US and Japan, on the one hand and, by cultivating Tokyo, put China on a strategic leash, on the other hand. Keeping things humming with India fits into this larger plan because, besides an Indo-Russian check on Chinese ambitions in the extended region, it at least notionally pulls Delhi away from Washington — a move aided and principally assisted by the Trump Administration’s almost pathological drive to alienate its allies and partners everywhere, including particularly in Asia.

Does Modi have any grand plan and strategy to rival that of the master Russian strategist gladhanding him in the Russian Far East? Apparently not (if one goes by his floundering and fairly unimaginative, non-Article 370 abrogation-related, foreign policy and the leanings of his reported foreign policy adviser, the RSS apparatchik Ram Madhav. Madhav’s level of intellect can be gleaned from his revealing op-ed quoting Francis Fukuyama, who became irrelevant over a decade ago. This is in line with ample past evidence that Madhav has a basic incapacity to do other than think derivatively. But this can also be said about such “thinking” as is being done by Ministry of External Affairs led by S Jaishankar. Picking up on the “Please the Master”-game fast, Jaishankar, for instance, had scheduled the annual heads-of-missions meeting, where else, at a Gujarat government resort at the feet of the gigantic Vallabhbhai Patel statue on the Narmada — a ploy designed mightily to please his boss. Shades of US Vice President Michael Pence, on a state visit to Ireland, to please Trump staying at a Trump-owned golf resort in Doonbeg on the west coast of that country, some 180 miles from Dublin, on the opposite, eastern shore, where he pow-wowed with the Irish Prime Minister — the gay, half-Indian, Leo Varadkar).

So, no great strategic game plan here. Consider that Defence minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with his Japanese counterpart in Tokyo and did not once mention the Shinmaywa US-2 maritime recon aircraft project the Shinzo Abe government many years ago offered India on a platter, prospectively even with financing! And Modi has been talking — yea, just talking — about ‘acting East’ from when he became prime minister 5 years ago. But why would Modi need a game plan when he can brandish promises to buy this and that pricey armament instead — a ploy he has time and again used with Trump, Macron, May and every other leader whose country has any kind of weaponry (and, in the case of Xi of China, Huawei 5G telecom systems that will implant Chinese spy and cyberwarfare wherewithal controlled by Beijing in the Indian communications grid) to sell? The fact that the Indian economy is running on empty has not deterred him, nor prompted him to rethink his policy of seeking to buy friendship with mega arms purchases. But then he doesn’t seem to have a better idea by way of leverage. Nor has Beijing’s hand-holding of Pakistan on the Kashmir issue (in the UN Security Council and elsewhere) elicited anything remotely punitive. Like say, censorious statements by MEA to chastise China for suspending civil rights and imposing an emergency in Hong Kong — the very thing Beijing accuses Delhi of doing in Srinagar Valley!

So Modi has gone to Vladivostok — a veritable Santa Claus bearing gifts — touting his proximity to his “good friend” Vladimir. He means to sign, per press reports, an accord to set up an “energy bridge” for Sakhalin oil to make up for the loss of oil from Iran, but also multi-billion dollar contracts for the AK-203 assault rifle production in India, the Kamov 226 utility helicopters, and the lease agreement for the second Akula-II nuclear-powered attack submarine.

As it is, the US Defence Department is weighed down by a lemon of an aircraft in US armed services’ inventories, the F-35! But Modi will not touch the one weapons platform that will make mincemeat of this plane and is sending shivers down Pentagon’s spine — the Kinzhal hypersonic missile-armed high-performance, 5th generation, Sukhoi-57. It is another matter that Moscow had long ago offered to co-develop this advanced fighter-bomber aircraft with India, which project the IAF, in its by now legendary wisdom shied away from, because it preferred the 4.5 gen French Rafale — the same generation combat aircraft, incidentally, as the indigenous Tejas LCA and, because Modi will feel the need to balance these Russian arms buys and to please Trump, the already 50+year old F-16!!! And this because the PM believes that producing or, more correctly, assembling, the F-16 in India will somehow add value to this plane and elevate it to the league of what — the Tejas, Su-57, Rafale, or the junky F-35? And all this at the expense of the Indian defence industry (Tejas), and relations with Russia (Su-57) and Japan (US-2) — the US-2 being the best aircraft of its kind in the world!

Way to go Modi, Indian government, and Indian military! Foreign defence industries have certainly hit a jackpot with you!

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When Pakistan now ups its game in Kashmir, respond with Special Forces (slightly augmented)

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( US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad with Pakistan COAS Gen. QJ Bajwa)

In the aftermath of the 9th Round of talks in Doha with the US the chief Taliban negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar announced that a deal for the withdrawal of some 13,000 American troops from Afghanistan was at hand. After 18 years of hard fighting the US has had enough and is calling it quits. General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, indicated that the 8,600-personnel strong military contingent that President Donald Trump said would stay on, were there to ensure that  “Afghanistan is not a sanctuary” for the assorted Islamic terrorists and freelancers from all over who are expected to seek safe haven in a Taliban-run Afghanistan.

Dunford’s claim, on the other hand, that the residual US force will also try and “bring peace and stability to Afghanistan” is nothing more than a fig leaf for America’s cut and run operation, because what a force of 100,000 US soldiers plus couldn’t do, 8,600 troops certainly won’t be able to. After spending over a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and sustaining 2,400 deaths and ten times as many casualties since 2001 the US is a beaten power eager to rush back home to lick its wounds.

It is the small Intelligence-heavy US presence that’s supposed to provide Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government with the psychological, if not material, assistance and reassurance to conduct general elections later this year at a time when there’s no certainty of the Taliban permitting any of it, whatever Baradar may have committed to the Afghan-origin US Special Representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, tasked with putting together a passable deal. During the negotiations, Baradar and Company were, in any case, aware that Khalilzad had no extended time frame to work with considering Trump’s looming 2020 re-election campaign, and hence they could dictate terms. Trump being Trump, he has hinted that, depending on how successful a Taliban-headed coalition government is in keeping the Islamic extremists out of their country, US troops could be redeployed in Afghanistan. This is the usual hot air ejected by a defeated party scampering from the scene, even though the US has, over two decades, built a huge military infrastructure comprising 700 small and big bases and facilities, and can, in theory, use them for armed interventions in the future.

Not that any US President is ever likely for any reason to initiate another military adventure in Afghanistan. But why is Washington’s insistence that the Taliban in Kabul not allow al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and similar radical terrorist outfits to shelter in Afghanistan, important for India? Because, in the wake of the regularization of the status of Jammu & Kashmir within the Indian Union, Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Intelligence has no option other than try and lure these experienced IS and Qaeda fighters sporting the Iraq and Syria battle honours with cash and stoke their jihadist impulses to fight the kafir Indian state in Kashmir. ISI cannot get out of their heads the enormous success it has had using such means to trounce the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan and now the US-led International Security Assistance Force, which record it hopes to embellish in J&K.

The ISI will prosecute its IS-Qaeda strategy because Pakistan is now bereft of other options. After all, how much effect will Imran’s recommended mode of protest — Pakistanis standing in silence in public places and wherever for half an hour after Friday’s jumma prayers to express their solidarity with Kashmiris supposedly under the Indian yoke, have, really? Imran’s harrumphing threateningly about nuclear war, the cigar-chomping blunderbuss of a railways minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmad predicting onset of war by November (he didn’t say which year!) and General Qamar Bajwa’s visiting with formations of the Pakistan army’s strike corps (on Aug 28) and praising them for their splendid fighting posture in the face of Delhi playing it cool and responding with dismissive statements, has done two things. It has shown up the Pakistani leadership as a bunch of reckless dolts, while hiding the basic fact that Pakistan has no money to finance even minor hostilities and its military is in no position to wage any kind of war because its stock of spare parts and ammo won’t last more than a week at intense rates of expenditure. (This should not console Indians much, because our armed services’ counterpart stores are down to a fortnight’s worth of fighting — the comparative situation that exactly resembles what obtained during the 1965 conflict!)

Sans options what are GHQ, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad to do? There’s one thing they can do. They can order a change in tactics. The Valley boys and Mirpuri mussalman youth, previously trained and supported by ISI under the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba aegis, will be asked to pelt stones, place IEDs, and carry out similar actions, to keep Indian units busy and preoccupied, but leave the hard fighting to the murderous IS-Qaeda gangs channeled to J&K from Afghanistan. Such a strategy will serve many interests. It’ll help the Taliban regime to be on the right side of the US, Pakistan to escape the tightening UN Financial Action Task Force noose by pointing out that the troublemakers are from Afghanistan, and to keep the larger sunni cause of Islamizing Kashmir as the first step to realizing the Guzhwa-e-Hind (a balkanised India) objective — a long term project propelled and funded by Saudi Arabia and rich Gulf states, on track.

Should this be the course ISI follows then it will require some real changes in the way Indian forces have so far tackled the insurgency/secessionist problem in J&K. The Rashtriya Rifles (RR) on the frontlines, and the Indian army generally, will need to be more bloody-minded and ruthless to match these characteristic traits of the IS-Qaeda fighters, who give no quarter and ask for none. The RR may be found wanting. The fact is the best units to take on the battle-hardened Uzbek, Somali, Afghan, Arab terrorists comprising IS and Qaeda cadres are the Special Forces with the three armed services. Fielding them in Kashmir will be a test of their mettle. Their advantage is that they are not expected, or even supposed, to “fight by the book” and can match the terrorist fighting hordes in their cut-throat, irregular, tactics.

But for this SF policy to succeed will require fool-proof intelligence on a sustained basis to identify the origin of the terrorists fighting in any particular section of the operations grid. Because pitting the Indian SF against minor league terrorists and misguided Valley youngsters bursting with adrenalin, would be a waste of time and effort, and would result in the inexcusable — a strong force targeting minnows even as the real threat avoids engagement.

For Indian Special Forces, it will be a boon — an opportunity to take on the terrorist elite and best them, and while doing so sharpen their own considerable skill sets. This surely is better than whiling away their time in small-time incursions of small consequence across the Line of Control (that the Pakistanis say they will now treat as a ceasefire line) whilst being penny-packeted as Northern Army reserve, or in similar useless deployment.

Posted in Afghanistan, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Intelligence, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, Russia, russian military, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., West Asia | 2 Comments

Time for Magnanimity

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(Prime Minister Imran Khan and Pakistan COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa)

With the long overdue overturning of Article 370, the status of Jammu & Kashmir is now regularised within the Indian Union. In its wake, the Bharatiya Janata Party government seems inclined to gloat over diplomatically wrongfooting Pakistan and the United States and to consolidate its control over that province. It has entrenched Pakistan’s enmity which, in the larger strategic perspective, is not a good thing to happen.

The Imran Khan government will now move closer to China, firm up the Sino-Pakistani military nexus and, notwithstanding the possibility of running afoul of the Financial Action Task Force, persist with terrorism to keep the Kashmir issue alive. India can do something to pre-empt such a denouement, but it will require Prime Minister Narendra Modi to go against his own ideological grain and court political risk in order to achieve the ambitious multi-pronged goal of calming and stabilising a fraught situation, distancing Pakistan from China and drawing it as well as other adjoining countries into a loose South Asian security and economic arrangement, and of otherwise obtaining a pacified neighbourhood—the first necessary step to India attaining great power status.

This may be considered a tall order, but it is eminently realisable. It will mean Modi unilaterally implementing two telling but military-wise safe and significant security-related measures to address Pakistan’s perceptions of India as an existential threat and to reshape its attitude. What the Pakistan Army most fears are India’s three Strike Corps which, considering the opposition, is way in excess of need and, depending on how the costing is done, consume almost a quarter of the defence budget. The fear of being overwhelmed and compelled to use its tactical nuclear weapons is for General Headquarters, Rawalpindi (GHQR), the worst nightmare because it would result in getting coiled in a war of annihilation it cannot control and whose end—Pakistan’s extinction—it cannot avoid.

In contrast to this are the limited wars of manoeuvre that it has fought in the past and is prepared to fight in the future for which contingency India doesn’t need more than a single composite armoured-mechanised corps plus a few independent armoured brigades. But here’s the nub! The Indian armoured and mechanised forces constitute a bureaucratically powerful combat arm that will brook no restructuring even if the freed manpower and materiel are converted to light tanks and airborne cavalry to equip three desperately needed offensive mountain corps able to take the fight to China on the Tibetan plateau. Modi, however, can impose new force planning predicates on the military as he has done the Chief of Defence Staff system, especially because a meaningful Indian mountain offensive capability will strengthen his hand in dealing with Beijing.

The other decision Modi should take is to withdraw the forward deployed nuclear-tipped Prithvi short-range ballistic missiles from the western border, which other than shortening the nuclear fuse and turning every small crisis into a hair-trigger situation, serve no useful purpose. Should GHQR be rash enough to initiate nuclear action for any reason under any circumstances, the hinterland-based Agni longrange missiles can cover all target sets within Pakistan, so it is an entirely safe move to make.

Consider the consequences of these decisions. They will hollow out Pakistan’s view of a spiteful and malevolent India bent on destroying it, devalue China’s importance, erode the credibility of its nuclear arsenal and, in time, not only weaken the army’s primacy in the Pakistani state and society but also its rationale for cornering a big chunk of national resources. Further, it will lay the foundations for easygoing India-Pakistan relations that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged wherein, to use foreign minister S. Jaishankar’s words vis-a-vis China, “differences don’t become disputes”. The ripple effects of demilitarising the border, moreover, will be to induce Pakistan to formalise the ceasefire line in Kashmir as an international boundary and smaller neighbouring states to see India as a benign power.


Published as ‘Point of View’column in India Today, Aug 23, 2019. at

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Bummer in Biarritz — potentially

(Modi & Trump)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be headed this weekend for Biarritz, on the southwest coast of France, where the G-7 Summit is being held. The informal UN Security Council session on Kashmir a few days back has complicated things for Modi on several counts. Despite US’ formal stance supportive of the Indian position that revocation of Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution was an “internal matter”, President Donald Trump did not take no for an answer where mediation is concerned. Undeterred by the Indian government’s brush-off after such an offer was first made during the press conference he had in Pak PM Imran Khan’s company, Trump once again offered mediation on the Indo-Pak dispute yesterday and promised to raise the matter about his peace-making role with Modi when they meet in Biarritz.

Pakistan has, with some success, weaponized the human rights issue by lacing it with the imminence of a nuclear exchange. Imran has argued thus: the anger of Kashmiris owing to abrogation of Article 370 could result in a terrorist incident which Delhi will blame Islamabad for. It will launch a punitive strike, as happened post-Pulwama, to which the Pakistani military will reply, and this action-reaction sequence could result in conventional hostilities which, if they begin going against Pakistan, will lead to it ordering first use of N-weapons. By way of a historical metaphor, he said Pakistan would act like Tipu Sultan, not Bahadur Shah Zafar who abdicated his throne after the failed 1857 Mutiny, therefore, accepting before hand that, like Tipu, Pakistan would rather go down fighting — in nuclear terms, become extinct, than do nothing at all. (Refer .) If this is not a lot of hoo-ha I don’t know what is! This hot air got pumped when Indian media created a controversy out of nothing — Rajnath Singh’s fairly anodyne statement about Delhi in the future, depending on the circumstances, rethinking its no first use commitment.

But the mix of disputed territory, “occupation” forces, a restive native population, and nuclear weapons is a politically combustible story and Pakistan has made capital out of it. It is an endeavour China has helped overtly and UK covertly (as at the informal session of the UN Security Council and by permitting the violent demonstration outside the Indian High Commission in London). UK now has Trump’s “poodle”, Boris Johnson, in 10, Downing. Trump and Boris often talk to each other and given how impressionable the former is, there’s every chance of his being influenced by the latter’s Pak-leaning attitude. Who is to say this wasn’t manifested in the US President’s repeating his mediation offer to Modi in his telephone talk of Aug 22? Trump is motivated to act this way in the main because he does not want his special rep Zalmay Khalilzad’s “get the hell out of Afghanistan fast” plan by cutting a deal, any deal, with the Afghan Taliban to be imperilled by Pakistan potentially sabotaging it, which ISI can do. Washington apprehends it will do this if Islamabad perceives the US as standoffish on the 370-Kashmir issue. Which is to say that there’s lots there for Pakistan to work with to ensure the US stays entangled.

The problem for Modi is this: Trump can turn truculent and verbally vicious if he is frustrated on his initiatives by leaders of friendly states (to wit, Danish PM Mette Fredericksen, who having dismissed Trump’s offer “to buy Greenland” as “absurd” was called “nasty” by Trump, who then proceeded to cancel his planned state visit to Denmark!). Insulting statements by fellow strongmen, like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, on the other hand fetches from the US President — who is growingly recognized as an unreliable, unpredictable, dilettante, the sort of fawning attention that would embarrass even the smarmiest spittle licker in Lutyen Delhi.

So, would Modi be better off showing a bit of spine when the two meet on the sidelines of G-7, and what exactly should the Indian PM do? He can be rude and flatly turn down Trump’s offer — which approach, no matter what the Indo-Pacific security stakes, will lead to a rupture in personal relations that Modi has invested too much in by way of hugs and embraces and, more seriously, by way of buying at great cost to the country antique combat aircraft (F-16) and guns (M-777 howitzers) and, when in need to pacify Washington, with the military-MOD’s procurement staple of recent years — C-17 and C-130s transporters, to easily discard. Modi also daily faces Trump’s threats to raise tariffs on all imports from India pursuant to his belief that India, like China, doesn’t anymore deserve the “developing country” tag and hence the preferential treatment under WTO rules. Moreover, Trump has trashed Modi’s repeated personal pleas and the Indian government’s more formal pleadings over the past two-odd years by shutting down the H1B visa route to legal immigrant status taken by Indian techies and professionals, as well as the provision to deny entry to family members of these immigrants. This is Modi’s less than esteemable record — a consequence of giving in routinely to Washington, which he takes to Biarritz.

What is Trump expected to do in this context other than see Modi as a chump who, in exchange for small gestures, such as a counter-hug, gives away the store without getting anything in return? It is a one-way deal of the kind preferred by the transaction-minded Trump who otherwise respects counterparts who have a clear view of national interest and won’t bend but will happily massage his brittle ego as a means of playing him — something Putin and Kim Jong-un effortlessly do. (Trump, for instance, went nearly girly on August 9 re: Kim’s “very beautiful letter” and sided with the North Korean dictator, excused his missile firings, and berated the US-South Korean joint wargames and military exercises as waste of US money! See .) But becoming another Kim is obviously beyond Modi and, in any case, such a conversion may be too late in the day to be credible.

The real trouble ahead for Modi lies less in Trump’s being mediator than in his using human rights excesses supposedly committed on the allegedly hapless Muslims of the Srinagar Valley, laced with fears of a “nuclear flashpoint” that Imran and the Pakistani strategic enclaves have propagated, as a battering ram. In fact, he has indicated publicly that he’d do just this. In the wake of Islamabad’s sounding the nuclear tocsin to keep Kashmir in the international limelight and, per chance, to persuade more and more countries to support its case for UN intervention, the possibility of Trump leading the charge is a disquieting prospect. Already, Western Press and media have gone to town on this theme of the Indian armed services oppressing Kashmiris. Yesterday’s announcement by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh of establishing a cell in MOD to look into human rights complaints is a move to preempt this issue from becoming a major diplomatic headache. Will this stanch the growing criticism? No.

But there’s a tack that Modi can take that will stop Trump cold and almost instantly terminate US’ moral grandstanding, and prevent America’s European lackeys from following suit. He can tell Trump in Biarritz, in the friendliest terms but without the equivocation that foreign minister S. Jaishankar would advise him, that the nuclear alarms are a whole load of nonsense and a ploy to gain global attention but the harm done by Washington’s raking up the human rights issue and by its petty economic-trade policies, would be real, compelling his government to reconsider India’s involvement in strategically partnering with the US in the Indo-Pacific. The PM can refer gently to the case-by-case constraints on the full realization of LEMOA and COMCASA, which has raised the Trump Administration’s hackles, but which he should be warned, would become much worse with this American policy generating genuine ire among the Indian people and ill will for America.

Such a clear cut Modi message along with, ideally, Rajnath Singh being dispatched expeditiously to Moscow, will drive home that point nicely. Will Modi do this to earn from Trump a modicum of respect for himself and for India? Nah!


(Modi & Macron near Arc de Triomphe)

With Modi once again in France, can an order for additional Rafale combat aircraft be far behind? As long ago predicted by this analyst, the initial order for 36 Rafale combat aircraft was merely the French foot in the door. With Paris preparing to hardsell a second tranche of 36 Rafales, the larger IAF-French plan of outfitting the full 125 aircraft requirement for “medium” combat aircraft is fully underway. The French President Emmanuel Macron will probably offer for like initial sum (for the first batch but inflation-indexed) — nearly 8 billion euros — 2 more squadrons worth of Rafale.

Why Modi would accept such an offer when HAL has made a competing offer to produce 4 squadrons of the “super Sukhoi” variant of the Su-30MKI, with HAL chairman R Madhavan, calling it the “fastest means of getting” the IAF up to 42 squadron strength, is unfathomable. Madhavanm, playing hard ball, told the press that HAL, Nasik, produces a dozen Su-30s a year and has outstanding order from IAF for only 8-10 of this aircraft and then just to replace the losses due to accidents, and unless the Company’s order book is enlarged by year end, the entire Su-30 assembly line will become defunct. (See ) Perhaps, Modi is convinced that Rafale is an all round better, more economical buy than the upgraded “super Sukhoi” Su-30? If so, then really??!!

Now the nationalist Shri Modiji can buy into the IAF’s case that HAL is the premier white elephant defense PSU (along with Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd), which despite its awful production record is sustained expensively at taxpayer’s expense and produces flawed aircraft, all of which is true. But the Prime Minister confronts a dilemma: If he cold shoulders HAL, and permits it to run down, he increases IAF’s dependence on imported aircraft and, more, ends up transferring tens of billions in Euros to make Dassault Avions — the maker of Rafale, the French aviation industry and France wealthier. Is he willing in this way to impoverish India, kick the infant aerospace Indian defence industry in the guts, and politically risk flaring the Rafale embers? The political opposition may be non-existent now but Rafale can live on as an election issue for decades.

There’s an an optimized choice among options which, again, he is loath to make. Namely, as I have advocated, getting the Indian private sector centrally involved in combat aircraft production, which will create millions of jobs — unemployment being the country’s chief worry. It will require putting together a national industrial consortium of reputed Indian corporations, including L&T, Tata, et al, who will be transferred LCA source codes and algorithms by DRDO, who will then embellish the designs of LCA variants, develop and manufacture Tejas-1A, Tejas-2 and, derived from these, the AMCA (advanced medium combat aircraft) for IAF’s use as bulk combat aircraft, with derated versions (of IA, 2) designated for export from get-go. It will incentivize the private sector to become aviation players of note and provide competition to HAL making the latter more efficient and effective, and able to amortize the government’s investment of hundreds of billions of dollars into it over the last seven decades rather than (as newspapers report) have its low productivity and unaccountable work force agitate against government measures to “corporatize” it, other DPSUs and Ordnance Board factories.

This option, if it is taken, will mean the Modi government, for the first time, doing something tangible and substantive to promote indigenous design and production of capital military equipment rather than merely yacking about it and repeating the hollow mantra of “Make in India” ad nauseam.

So, what are the chances of such innovative indigenization programmes getting implemented on a war footing? Zero!

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CDS; reliance on locally-made products — does Modi mean for national defence?

(Armed services chiefs meeting Modi at the Red Fort — Aug 15, 2019)

Sometimes Prime Minister Narendra Modi comes up with pleasant surprises. There was the announcement in his address from the Red Fort ramparts about the chief of defence Staff (CDS). And the other was an exhortation to trust in locally-made products village-level up. Presumably, this applies to the Indian armed services as well who have, over the years, loudly voiced the indigenization mantra but, in practice, reluctantly supported home-grown defence R&D projects and outright rejected the hardware (Tejas light combat aircraft, Arjuna main battle tank) that resulted from them in order to protect their import options.

A CDS system has been in the works for the better part of forty years with every passing flag rank officer in the three armed services expressing a need for it, but those from the Indian Air Force in particular also offering caveats and urging a go-slow. Why so? No great secret this, because IAF has always feared that as the senior service and the one most directly involved in border clashes and counter-insurgency operations and, therefore, more in the public eye than either of the other two Services, the Indian Army would end up monopolizing the CDS post. The IAF is a large enough force for its opposition to CDS to not be ignored by any government. The Indian Navy, on the other hand, is too small to matter and other than extolling the virtues of a CDS, tactfully, kept itself out of the fray. So the CDS issue got strung out over the differences between the army and air force.

Post- Kargil border conflict, a high-powered Committee chaired by the late K. Subrahmanyam stated in the clearest terms that the absence of a CDS led to the slow and sketchy reaction and build-up to action of the Indian military to the capture in Spring 1999 of the Kargil heights by the Pakistan Army’s Northern Light Infantry. Some years later, during the Vajpayee interregnum a committee with Subrahmanyam in it and chaired by former defence minister KC Pant was constituted to look at the Higher Defence Organization. It too recommended establishment of a CDS structure for singular military advice to the government of the day. Too often, Prime Ministers and Defence Ministers, seeking the military’s counsel in a crisis, usually got advice favouring the Service the current Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, was affiliated with. But because the Chairman was a rotational post and did not outrank his fellow chiefs, his advice to the government was as often disputed by the other Services chiefs, leaving the government in its normal state of confusion. In this system, naturally, not only was an optimized military solution or decision difficult to obtain, and if made it was by happenstance, but the spurned chief ensured his Service’s role in coordinating military actions was half-hearted, and left something to chance.

Deposing before the Pant Committee I referred to how military “unification” was achieved in the US chiefly by President Harry S. Truman imposing the integration plan drawn up inside of three weeks by, no not a committee, but by one man — a chap called Ferdinand, adviser to Truman’s confidante, friend and Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. As a consequence, the Chairman, US Joint Chiefs of Staff-system came into being.

There is an anecdote worth retailing here to emphasize just how a strong political leader can cow down an equally strong military leadership opposing his moves. This is important: Truman took ownership of the Ferdinand Plan and hearing murmurings of dissent against it in the senior Service, the US Navy, called a meeting of frontline admirals — Chester Nimitz, Arleigh Burke, et al, who at one end successfully prosecuted massive fleet actions in the Pacific theatre against the Imperial Japanese Navy, and at the other end fought off German submarine wolf-packs and mounted the famous Atlantic and Murmansk convoys conveying American war materiel to European Allies and to Soviet Russia. Striding into the big hall where the beribboned admirals were seated, Truman simply said that he had heard that his unification initiative had attracted opposition and, in the event, he said, those who were against it should step up and resign right there and then! Stunned naval brass headed by Nimitz said nothing, and Truman signed the unification order for implementation soon thereafter.

I suggested to the Pant Committee that the PM impose a CDS on the military because such radical structural change in the higher defence organization could not be realized by consensus, and that under no circumstances should the government ask the Services’ chiefs for their views. Alas, an over-cautious Pant and his Committee recommended just this, eventuating in a dissenting note from the then Chief of the Air Staff, whence the matter was once again consigned to the cellar.

It is a very good thing that the Prime Minister publicly announced his CDS decision — so there’s no chance of back-pedaling. As Modi spoke the TV camera panned to show the relief on the face of the CAS, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, because now the decision to veto the CDS decision was taken abruptly out of his hands. The IAF will have to lump it and Dhanoa will be spared incoming fire from his air force colleagues and predecessors who had derailed such moves in the past.

The question arises: What kind of CDS system does the PM have in mind? The CDS secretariat in-being has been in existence for over two decades now in the form of the Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff. That’s a functioning body and not a problem. But how far will the process of integration go? Will the separate and purposely not co-located theatre commands of the three Services numbering some 19 Commands in all be pared drastically to a more manageable, say, ten military Commands, including the already (if inefficiently) integrated Andaman Command? These Commands could be Northern, Western, Central, Peninsular, Eastern, Space, Cyber, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics/Maintenance, with Northern, Western, Peninsular and Eastern being comprehensively-capable Theatre Commands and Space, Special Forces, Transport and Logistics supportive Commands. Common sense suggests that in such a scheme Peninsular, Cyber and Andaman Commands be headed by the navy, Space, Northern, Transport and Eastern Commands by the air force, and Western, Special Forces and Central Commands (the last also a reserve holding and hence numerically the largest Command able to deploy/switch its forces as required between theatres) by the army, and the Logistics/Maintenance Command with its chieftancy held in rotation. (Why such a distribution of Service responsibility will be discussed in another post, another time.)

The stickiest issue for Modi will be who to appoint the first five star Chief of Defence Staff in the rank of Field Marshal and equivalent — Marshal of the Air Force and Admiral of the Fleet (because the CDS will necessarily have to outrank the services chiefs of staff if the whole exercise is not to be reduced to an impractical mess). In this context, the selected CDS will have to be an officer who has shown foresight, displayed vision (which two attributes presume a certain level of intellect), and exhibited tact. US Chief of Army Staff General George C. Marshall when confronted with choosing the Supreme Commander Allied Forces, Europe, to lead the war effort against Nazi Germany advised President Franklin D. Roosevelt to appoint Dwight D. Eisenhower and not a “fighting General” like George Patton or Omar Bradley, because of his proven organizational skills — something Modi should keep in mind when nominating the CDS.

So, the trick question — who among the extant service chiefs or among all the three star-rank officers below them in the three Services has a professional record manifesting the skills to get the most out of diverse oganizations and will make the best CDS?


Modi in his Red Fort address to the nation spoke about trusting in locally made products. Does he really believe this? If so, why hasn’t it been evident in his government’s major military procurement decisions all of which without exception have settled on or are inclined towards imported armaments and foreign military-use systems? The score card on this count is irrefutable: the French Rafale combat aircraft (and Swedish Gripen and American F-16 in the wings), the US Apache attack helicopter, Russian T-90 MBT, prospective Spanish, French, Russian, or German involvement in the Project 75i diesel submarine programme, etc.

To claim, as the armed Services do in their own defence, that no indigenously designed and developed weapon system meets their operational standards, is a lot of bull. Arjuna MBT has beaten the T-90 hollow in all test trials in different terrains and weather conditions. Tejas is a beautiful 4.5 generation fighting platform given short shrift by IAF when it could fill the IAF fleet and be the basis for future derivative combat aircraft of all kinds and meet the Service’s light, medium and heavy fighter-bomber requirements. Arihant-class “boomers” — nuclear powered longrange ballistic and cruise missile-firing submarines (SSBNs) are of indigenous design, developed and manufactured at home, and yet, if navy is to be believed, we need foreign design and technology for the technologically simpler and less demanding conventional submarine — when all that is needed are specific technologies, such as electro-optic masts, AIPS (Air Independent Propulsion System), and cavitation and other noise reduction. And why Apache when there’s the HAL’s attack helicopter and Kamov 226 utility helos when there’s Dhruv?

Once the armed services know they cannot opt for foreign hardware, they’ll perforce commit heart, mind, and resources to indigenous armament projects with enormous export potential to Africa, the immediate neighbourhood, Southeast Asia, Central Asia and Latin America. These are military products with a ready market. From having the shameful tag as the world’s largest arms importer, India could become a very consequential exporter of arms.

Modi is supreme leader with no rival on the horizon within his party or elsewhere in the Indian polity and can do anything he wishes. He made the decision for CDS. Following on his reference to indigenization he should now declare that his government will not anymore permit armament imports, that’s it, khalas, no foreign military goods. This decision will unleash precisely the “änimal spirits” he says he wants to see driving the Indian economy, generating new technologies, and jobs by the millions in Medium and Small Scale Enterprises — India’s mittelstand — at the cutting edge of this national effort.

And, oh, yes, he will also need to get HAL, Mazgaon Dockyard Ltd and other “white elephant” defense public sector units, who have dragged the Indian defence industry into the mud, out of the frontline of defence industry and get the more productive and efficient Larsen & Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Mahindra Aviation, Bharat Forge, and even Reliance Defence centrally into the game. Private sector companies driven by the profit motive are the future and answer to India’s defence problems.

As a Gujrati with “business in my blood” as Modi put it, the Prime Minister should see clear to doing these above things. He has wasted five years on his romance with the bureaucracy and the public sector. Time to wake up, Mr Modi, and do what’s right for India because you politically can and because no matter how much time you think you will have in power, it could all change in a trice!

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Kashmir, Hong Kong, Huawei, and Indian infirmities

Attendees walk past a sign for Huawei Technologies at the MWC Shanghai 2019 trade show on June 27. Photo: Bloomberg

[Building a Fully Connected Chinese Intelligence world alright!]

Soon after trashing Article 370, the first instinct of the Modi government was — no guesses here — to conciliate. S. Jaishankar, the external affairs minister and designated batter whenever China or the US hove into view, was sent off running to convince Beijing that this move did not threaten China’s interests, and to offset the effects of pleadings by his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mohammad Qureishi who had hightailed it to the Chinese capital to drum up support. But with Modi having previously described the abrogation as a purely “internal” matter, where was the need to reassure or explain a move to obtain a more perfect Indian Union to the eastern neighbour with no locus standi on the Kashmir issue other than as an annexer by stealth of India’s Aksai Chin territory (the Maozedong regime in the mid-1950s expropriated an eastern portion of this region to build the Highway connecting its western Xinjiang province to the mainland through Chinese-occupied Tibet), and as acceptor of a gift in 1963 of another, contiguous, part of the same Aksai Chin that China coveted by an Ayub Khan eager to court Beijing’s patronage vide the Sino-Pakistan accord. In this context, the Zhongnanhai had the gall to say that revoking Article 370 impugned Chinese sovereignty! Instead of reacting strongly to such ridiculous statement followed by equally silly advice urging Delhi to show restraint because, according to Beijing, the situation was fraught in the region, Modi dispatched Jaishankar to apply balm and seek understanding. Rather, shouldn’t the MEA have publicly reminded China about the unrest in Hong Kong and about sustained Chinese actions unsettling the South China Sea and told Beijing, in so many words, to mind its own damned business?

Despite the gravest affronts and provocations to India’s territorial integrity and sovereignty over the years, Delhi has steadfastly refused to come out with its own ‘One India’ Doctrine and to equate it straightforwardly with the ‘One China’ principle Beijing insists all countries respect. Either China accepts all of the territory of the erstwhile “princely kingdom” of Kashmir, including Gilgit, Hunza, and Baltistan, and every last square inch under occupation of the Forces Command Northern Areas, Pakistan Army, as inalienable Indian territory, or India treats Tibet and Hong Kong under differentiated Chinese control, and Taiwan a fully independent and sovereign country, as very separate national entities. This is the sort of hard choice no Indian government has ever offered the hard-headed authoritarian rulers of Communist China. Indian governments from Nehru’s days have unfortunately sought China’s friendship and repeatedly got kicked in their teeth for their trouble. The Modi regime just as frequently and haplessly invokes the “Wuhan spirit”, urging “sensitivity to each other’s core concerns”, and allows Beijing to pile insult on injury (with its media arm, Global Times, warning that integrating Kashmir with India raises doubts about India’s credentials as potential permanent member of the UN Security Council — a status China enjoys — it must never be forgotten — because Nehru gifted it to Beijing, when international circumstances conspired to have both the Soviet Union and the US in the mid-Fifties wanting India to take the seat vacated by Chiangkaishek’s Taiwan!).

If Beijing has toyed with India in the diplomatic field, it has just as successfully played India for a sucker in the trade realm, mounting serious pressure on the Modi government to relent on security considerations and permit Indian telecommunications market leaders — Vodafone Idea and Bharti Airtel, with their architecture based on the Huawei 4G gear, to upgrade to that Chinese Company’s 5G equipment, and also to keep relying on other Chinese-origin manufacturers such as ZTE. Huawei, incidentally, was funded and nursed to maturity by the People’s Liberation Army and almost all Chinese telecom Companies have such PLA and Chinese intelligence linkages. The only apparent reason Modi did not succumb is because of the Trump Administration’s counter-pressure to bar Huawei 5G from the Indian scene, and not because the Indian government concluded on its own that for the country’s communications grid to pivot on Huawei systems would be to drag the Chinese dragon dressed up as an attractive Trojan Horse right into the centre of India’s communications hub, thus creating untold cyber security vulnerabilities.

If this wasn’t the case, why were Vodafone and Airtel allowed to go in for the Huawei 4G in the first place? This, mind you, was in the face of a public campaign launched at the time — among other writings that warned against such buys, see my innumerable posts on this issue at the time — opposing the entry of key Chinese telecom technology and highlighting the almost farcical assurances the Manmohan Singh government accepted from Huawei that, security-wise, its goods were clean, posed no dangers and that the technology checking centre it proposed setting up at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, would adequately address India’s anxieties. It is another matter that no such centre ever came up, Airtel and Vodafone plonked for the Huawei 4G, and India’s capacity to resist Chinese cyber attacks that PLA has indicated will be in the van of its military offensives, was instantly undermined.

According to a recent Report authored by NK Goyal, President of the Association of India Communications Multimedia And Infrastructure (CMAI) “The malware/ backdoor can be made possible either in the equipment supplied initially or upgraded/modified by software later on, hence the risk. It’s really hard to find a security hole unless one know[s] exactly where to find it. A backdoor could be hard-coded into the silicon on a Huawei chip, then activated remotely, potentially opening with a few keystrokes the contents of an entire network to the Chinese military.” After warning about the official tendency of the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) and the Indian government generally to pooh-pooh the very real cyber dangers posed by the Chinese telecom technologies, the Report warned that in the process of trying to find “evidence of spyware” in “all our phone/computer chips, and in the Artificial Intelligence who-knows-where”, India shouldn’t get stuck with buying and installing Chinese-origin equipments embedded with electronic bugs, viruses to disable whole networks and backdoors to tap information. After all, Goyal concludes logically, “China is leading the world in spying on its citizens: Can we possibly imagine that they’re not planning on spying on us?”

The Modi government is embarked on the same blundering path that Manmohan Singh opted for, by not completely closing off the Indian 5G market to the Chinese telecom giants. Learning nothing from the past and ill-informed about the longstanding Chinese intent and efforts at subversion, a Committee headed by the Principal Scientific Adviser — a biochemist with little knowledge of cyber warfare-related telecom technologies, will reportedly soon recommend that Chinese equipment be included in the 5G rollout. This committee, per revelation by Smita Purshottam, only consulted with the telecom Companies who are hand-in-glove with Chinese equipment suppliers. Purshottam retired as our Ambassador to Switzerland and now heads SITARA (Science, Indigenous Technology & Advanced Research Accelerator), an organization dedicated to promoting indigenous technology at all levels in every sphere of national life, and particularly in the defence sector,

But returning to Purshottam’s point, it makes commercial sense for Airtel and Vodafone with Huawei 4G, for example, to upgrade cheaply to Huawei 5G than switch over to qualitatively matching or better Indian-developed technologies and systems, national security be damned! This Committee supposedly took enormous care to ignore Indian Companies (such as Saankhya Labs) fully capable of designing and manufacturing 5G and even 6G hardware and software, for which technologies they already have patents and hold Intellectual Property Rights! So it is reasonable for Purshottam to argue that India “leapfrog to 6G”, while also indigenously designing and producing 4G and 5G telecom systems for the extant Indian market and for exporting to developing countries who will be receptive to purchasing Indian technology. The African Union headquarters, for example, not too long ago discovered that the Chinese had hacked its classified communications network. Such a policy of fully indigenizing Indian telecom for national deployment and as export revenue earner will generate employment and act as “massive multipliers” consolidating India’s position in the forefront of telecommunications tech. This is now an imperative also because, according to Purshottam, 80% of “India’s sensitive networks…are already in Chinese hands, thanks to the Department of Telecommunications’ irresponsible handling of a strategic asset — our telecom networks.” Capture of Indian 5G, she avers, will “exponentially magnify” Beijing’s capacity for “cognitive communications [which linked to Artificial Intelligence] means we are surrendering control over unknown realms” to a belligerent adversary nation.

Worse and astonishingly, the Modi government is taking the same approach to de-indigenizing the telecom sector and forcing end-users to rely on foreign imported hardware and software, as it has done in the defence field where, willy-nilly, it is promoting armament imports even as the soaring Modi rhetoric exhorts ‘Make in India’ — sadly, a thinly veiled programme for screwdrivering and license-producing US, Swedish, French, Russian, Israeli military-use systems!

Purshottam discloses how this deplorable imports-fixated official mindset and procedures and procurement system-in-place prevailing in the defence field is being replicated in the telecommunications sphere. It is an approach involving (1) Chinese companies subsidised by Beijing being allowed “ruthlessly” to “underbid Indian Companies in telecom tenders”, (2) DOT refusing to release outstanding dues amounting to over Rs 1,000 crores owed to Indian Companies, (3) “one-sided discriminatory” bank guarantees being demanded of Indian telecom companies, and none from Huawei and that lot, and (4) Indian Companies being thus forced to “run around the world seeking expensive certifications”. By such means Indian Companies were ruled out of the running to supply 4G tech. (Refer Smita Purshottam’s eye-popping Aug 13 op-ed in Financial Express at )

Come another Independence Day, and tomorrow we will all once again hear Modi, the Prime Minister, with rapt attention as he lists the achievements of his government. But look deeper, and one sees that so little has changed. As a nationalist and promiser of “maximum governance, minimum government” he is presiding over the worst excesses of empowered bureaucrats, not empowered people. The country, as a result continues to reel, its economy continues to plunge, but an unaccountable government continues happily to splurge monies the nation doesn’t have on imports and more imports, even as the benefits of transferred wealth and millions of high-paying jobs in defence and telecom sectors are enjoyed by Western defence majors, and China is helped to root telecom monopolies in India. If this is nationalism, then it is of a type I’m unaware of.

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Article 370 is finally history; now need to stiffen national resolve to brush off US (and other Western) pressure

NC president Farooq Abdullah, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and leaders of other mainstream parties at an all party meeting in Srinagar on Sunday. 	(Photo: H.U. Naqash)

(J&K leaders apprehending historic change)

The most offending and offensive Article of the Indian Constitution — Article 370 has finally been rid off (and automatically also Article 35A). Good riddance! Why there was so much hesitation for so long by ruling parties across the board (including the BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee) in deboarding an Article described in the Constitution as “temporary” is beyond understanding and cannot be explained except as political calculation routinely taking precedence over the national interest. It only kept fueled the legal fiction that J&K was separate from India and, hence the impression that was abroad, that it was negotiable.

This is the first substantive good and correct step relating to national security that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken in an otherwise bleak 5-year record in office of seemingly endless series of misconceptions of national security, and equally serious misreadings of the regional and international reality, resulting in patently wrong foreign and military policies and diplomatic missteps that have progressively weakened India and its geostrategics. But re: 370 Modi has done the right thing, and has to be lauded for it.

(All the gassy rhetoric in Rajya Sabha about J&K, as a consequence of the tabling of the’Reorganization Bill’, soon turning into another Palestine, or a South Sudan, or an East Timor, or whatever…is nothing more than fear-vaping by the opposition who, odds-on bet, know nothing about any of these places mentioned, leave alone their histories, whence their facile forebodings.)

There were a lot of historical tid-bits revealed by some of the speakers in Parliament, especially the RSS ideologue and BJP nominated MP Rakesh Sinha, most importantly that Lal Bahadur Shastri contemplated trashing 370 in 1964 not long after Jawaharlal Nehru’s death in May that year. But one must be aware of the political thinking behind Nehru’s decision to stop the Indian Army’s push to Muzzafarabad and thereafter to fully recover what is now PoK, which was followed by his most unfortunate decision to take the issue to the UN. But as Subramaniam Swany rightly pointed out in the debate as regards the latter move, Nehru did so in 1949 without his Cabinet’s approval, leaving the door open for the Modi government legitimately to withdraw the issue from the UN and reversing 70 years of international interference and frustration for India!

But Nehru had, at that time, made a defensible political decision. The situation was this: With the India Army poised to retake PoK, Sheikh Abdullah told Nehru that were he to recover PoK, the Mirpuri-dominated population of that region aligning with the competitor Muslim Conference party would, in an election, vote against siding with India and create trouble, but that he, a “democrat” would ensure that his National Conference party would vote to stay with India. It convinced Nehru to terminate the military recovery of PoK and even to take the matter to the UN where, per Mountbatten’s advice, the Security Council would quickly decide in India’s favour; in thee event, killing two birds with a single stone. Nehru the gullible bought into this perfidious design of Britain. (Much of this is supported by archival material, see Prem Shankar Jha’s book — ‘Kashmir 1947’.)

The scrubbing of 370 has, among its other virtues, a realpolitik reason. By making Ladakh a Union Territory, Delhi can cultivate the shias of the Kargil region in order to influence the Hazara shias and the still majority shia population of Gilgit and Baltistan (G&B) in PoK — areas hosting Pakistan Army’s Forces Command Northern Areas. This will create a sort of shia equipoise in the larger erstwhile Kashmir territory vis a vis the dominant sunnis among the Punjab mussalmans of Mirpur (Mirpuris) and the Srinagar Valley, and making life that much more politically difficult for Pakistan in G&B.

But Modi will now face a Trump suddenly beholden to an Imran Khan who promised to ease the retreat of the US-led International Security Assistance Force from Afghanistan by persuading the Taliban to hold off as the US military cuts and runs. Part of the Trump-Imran deal was renewal of American pressure on Delhi to allow US or other international mediation, as Islamabad has publicly announced, to preempt which Modi hurried through with throwing out Art 370 and related impedimenta.

How will Modi hold up under Washington’s full court press — because Trump will have to show his hand before Imran (read GHQ, Rawalpindi) delivers on the last mile, as it were? Besides brushing off pressure and threats of dilution of US commitments on the antique F-16-level technology etc that Modi seems enamoured by, the Indian PM will have to show that India means business. This last will have to be evidenced in the manipulation of the Indian hand in Afghan Taliban’s affairs. A section of the Afghan Taliban has been successfully courted and cultivated by Indian intel (just as it has done its sister outfit — the Tehreeq-e-Taliban Pakistan). These contacts will need to be activated to torpedo the US-Pak plan, to prove India cannot be ignored. But this will have to be done in tandem with making peace with Tehran, whom the Modi dispensation has seriously alienated, and to recommit to Chabahar and the connectivity projects linking up with Afghanistan, Central Asia and Russia.

This is obviously a tall order for Modi who has swung Indian foreign policy so far over to the American side, that it has eroding creds with Moscow. Meanwhile, Xi of China sits on the sideline like the wily giant panda ready to put its weight behind the winning move. Absence of geostrategic foresight is why and how India has thus further empowered an already strong China. This is what all my warnings over the years were about. Now, Modi is in a double squeeze and Trump will only hope he will cry “Uncle (Sam)”!

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