ICET — another stillborn Initiative, and GE 414 — a noose?

[Biden’s NSA, Jake Sullivan, & Ajit Doval in Washington, DC]

The US government and the Washington policy establishment has been aware for some time now of the brewing Indian dissatisfaction with America promising but not delivering advanced military and other technology. The Biden Administration has been wondering how best to try and mitigate the situation without altogether dismantling the present South Asia policy structure. It is an issue, many in Washington believe, was beginning to colour Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s evolving attitude to strategic cooperation with the United States in the Indo-Pacific.

This American take on the state of bilateral relations became clear in a seminar arranged not too long ago by a former senior Trump regime official at a Washington thinktank to facilitate my interaction with policy experts and the like. The topic was the state of Indo-US strategic linkages. Discussing the reasons for the halting progress in Indo-US strategic cooperation between the two countries, which has puzzled and dismayed many Americans, I elaborated why, in my view, this was so — essential lack of trust. Well into the discussion, my host asked me, point-blank to name the technologies the Indian military would like to get its hands on. I responded with indirection.

I mentioned assistance in developing a jet turbine engine for combat aircraft because it was an underderway collaborative venture that was abruptly terminated by President Donald Trump. Next I suggested silencing technology for diesel submarines that the US Navy has completely discarded in favour of an all nuclear fleet. And, in the context, moreover, of the Indian government’s unwillingness remotely to risk doing anything, take any action, however much it might be in the national interest, for fear of triggering an adverse US reaction, the need for Washington to signal New Delhi that sanctions won’t happen should India resume thermonuclear testing — something that is necessary for the country to obtain, for the first time, credible strategic forces featuring high-yield staged hydrogen weapons and, more importantly, deterrence-wise, psychological, parity with China.

These were deliberately hard asks and elicited mostly knowing smiles, because I had stepped into ‘no go’ territory and picked to see if there was any change or movement in the generally punitive-minded US’ India policy. For the most part, the US in the past 60 years obsessed about preventing India from securing an N-Bomb, failing which, sought to curtail, to the extent possible, its credibility. This America has succeeded in doing, thanks to the so-called “civilian nuclear cooperation deal” of 2008 negotiated by the present external affairs minister in his then avatar as Joint Secretary (Americas) in the Foreign Office. It has left this country with only the pretence of being a thermonuclear weapons state and the slimmest of chances of ever realizing Bhabha’s 3-stage plan to exploit the country’s vast thorium reserves for energy self-sufficiency. Among the many conditions accepted by Jaishankar were (1) nonresumption of underground nuclear tests that has left the thermonuclear weapons programme half-baked with a basic design that went phut in Pokhran in 1998, (2) a severe reduction in the number of the indigenous CANDU power reactors whose spent fuel was reprocessable into weapons grade plutonium, meaning both the sources and the quantity of weapons usable fissile material available to the weapons unit atTrombay were reduced, and (3) purchase by India of exorbitantly-priced light water power reactors from the US, France [and Russia] run on imported low-enriched uranium fuel which made India an energy dependency (like the arms dependency India already is), provided outside powers a stranglehold on power generation, putting Indian industry running on this electricity at their mercy, and starved the follow-on 2nd stage fast breeder reactor- and 3rd-stage thorium reactor-programmes of funds now diverted to buying imported reactors and fuel.

Moreover, even as the US policy of punishing India for not joining the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty was on over-drive, successive Administrations after Richard Nixon-Henry Kissinger’s breakthrough with Beijing, helped China modernize its economy and its military and satellite sensor and launch capabilities with dollops of techological aid starting with the ‘Orient Pearl’ programme during the Reagan era to upgrade the avionics suite on the Chinese MiG — F-7 and, in order to counterbalance India in South Asia and as inducement for Pakistan to participate in defeating the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan approved in 1979-1980 — and this was President Jimmy Carter’s NSA Zbigniew Brzezinski’s most damaging diplomatic move, Dengxiaoping’s transferring nuclear weapons and missile technologies to Pakistan. So much for the US as the foundational pillar of the global nonproliferation order.

As regards, the conventional submarine technology I brought up: Nobody expects the US to part with submarine tech of any kind for any reason — it hasn’t done so to its closest ally, Britain. The idea was simply to guage the reaction of Americans who have served in the US government and been longtime part of the policy circles.

In this context, the new Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies (ICET), enunciated in Modi’s meeting with Biden last year, and fleshed out by the two National Security Advisers, Jake Sullivan and Ajit Doval, on Feb 1, like the 2012 DTTI (Defence Trade and Technology Initiative) may end up being more a bandied about acronym than a policy vehicle actually delivering anything of note.

Parallel to the Doval-Sullivan meeting, the visiting US Under-Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, and Indian external affairs minister Jaishankar engaged in the usual persiflage that high officials of the two countries indulge in, occasion permitting. There was talk of, what else?, “policy convergences” presumably in dealing with China — the common threat, and of Washington’s supposed desire to help India become less dependent on Russian armaments — she called it “60 years of entanglement”, by doing what exactly? Why, relying on American arms instead, of course. This, incidentally, has been the strategic aim of US policy mid-1980s onwards when Reagan’s Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger visited Delhi with “an open order book” for India to access any piece of US military hardware and technology, or so I was told then by Weinberger’s adviser in the Pentagon at the time, Michael Pillsbury.

India’s relations with Russia and meeting its military (and energy) requirements are two separate and distinct policy streams, as Jaishankar no doubt made clear to Nuland. But the US apparently wants to see them merged. Whence, ICET, notwithstanding the DTTI already on the anvil producing nothing. While it it is all very well to dangle a carrot before a mule with blinkers, it is necesary now and then to replace the old carrot with a shinier, plumper, carrot for which the animal can keep lunging, and in the process pull a heavier load. Thus, going beyond DTTI , ICET promises cooperation in semi-conductor chip design and fabrication, artificial intelligence, and cyber warfare which, Washington hopes, will increase the motivation for the Narendra Modi regime to become more overtly active in militarily hemming China, especially in the maritime sphere and, on the side, help out the US economy by finalising a Free Trade Agreement (which negotiations are stuck on disagreements in numerous product/industry areas) and the US defence industry by making the by now customary deals worth billions of dollars for transport and maritime surveillance planes (C-17s, C-130s, P-8Is).

While collaborating on Fabs, AI and cyber is for the future, the immediate lure is the proposed production in India of General Electric’s 414 jet turbine engine for fighter aircraft. Like the nuclear deal that drove a stake through the heart of the Indian nuclear energy programme, accepting licensed manufaacture of this jet power plant that Jaishankar, Doval and the air force are pushing to meet immediate needs violate Modi’s ‘atm nirbharta‘ policy and principle. The need was for Doval and Jaishankar to stand firm on technical assistance on a timebound contract to get the indigenous Kaveri jet engine developed at the DRDO-GTRE (Gas Turbine Research Establishment) flying. Absent such a programmatic thrust, the nascent aviation industry in the country will have a hollow core. No aviation industry anywhere without a servicable homegrown and designed combat jet aircraft engine to work with, has amounted to much.

Worse, there is no guarantee that proposals for collaborative ventures in the Fab, AI and cyber fields, or even for the GE 414 engine, will sail through at the Washington end, considering the US government’s approval process will require them to run the gauntlet of export controls and other procedural restrictions in the Pentagon and, even more onerously, in the US Department of Commerce — the final clearing agency. Indeed, it is such bureacratic hurdles that were, incidentally, hinted at by a senior US official who is reported as saying: “I think on both sides we were quite candid about the challenges that we pose to each other from a regulatory standpoint. In many cases that gets in the way of the vision of deeper and broader technology cooperation.” [The Hindu, Feb 2, 2023] The “regulatory” muddle will always provide the US with an out, an excuse to not deliver on high-tech on time, or even at all. But it will also enable Washington to string the Indian government along for as long as it serves the US purposes by promising just the regulatory reform needed as being round the corner to keep Delhi hooked.

It is a warning to the Modi government to heed the past and the record, and to consume all US promises of advanced technology with tons of salt. The trouble is the Indian government and the Indian military find it hard to resist the easy option — buy the proven GE 414 jet engine, than commit to, and invest in, and otherwise forcefully drive the Kaveri engine project to completion with or without external help, and whatever it takes, including involving private sector talents and capabilities in a project accorded national priority and realised in “technology mission” mode (that got us the Agni series of ballistic missiles).

Or, the country and government should prepare to see the Tejas 1A, the navalised Tejas, and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, and the future of the aviation industry, in fact, held hostage by the GE 414 engine and, by extension, the US government. It will write finis to the nascent Indian aviation industry central to which is a homegrown design and development of a jet powerplant for combat aircraft — something to build around.

It is passing strange that, despite their questionable understanding of the national interest and, based on it, their negotiating records, Jaishankar and Company are allowed by ideologically differing governments repeatedly to cut crucial deals with the US that have amounted to putting a noose around the Indian strategic deterrent, and now will do the same with the defence, specifically aviation, industry and handing the rope to Washington with a hope and prayer that the Americans will desist from pulling it at a time of their choosing, for policy reasons of their own. .

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Modi Dominatus

KAL, the ascerbic cartoonist for the Economist weekly lauded for its perceptive take on current leaders, developments and issues, in a year-ender, created a satirical aviary of political birds (reproduced above). Among the fowls of varied provenance, he identifies, the centrally featured, “Jingo-headed zealot Modi Hindi Dominatus”!

KAL’s take on Narendra Modi — while not flattering — suggests the Indian Prime Minister is registering on the international public consciousness. No small achievement this in an age of instant sensations and celebrities when the premium is on being noticed, even if with alarm, than to be not noticed at all.

Scanning the Indian political horizon, there seems no rival in vaulting distance of Modi, who has taken a firm hold of the people’s imagination in a way that only Jawaharlal Nehru did in the Fifties but for very different reasons. While Nehru effortlessly projected the image of a patrician-aristocrat who had found his calling as a leader of the masses, Modi, just as easily, conveys the message to them that as one of them, he has risen through dint of hard work and with a bit of luck that often attends on political success, to now be at the helm of affairs in the country, with no danger from family and hordes of hangers-on to besmirch his reputation and pull him down. Indeed, the death of PM’s mother living with another son of hers some 700 miles from New Delhi evidenced just how scrupulous Modi has been in distancing his family from his post. It has given him a peerless reputation that no other Indian leader can ever hope to match.

Into his eighth year in office, it is his aura of incorruptibility that, more than any other factor, is his political strength and strongest selling point. It has settled Modi in the hearts of the electorate, winning him and his Bharatiya Janata Party their unstinting support. He provides hope for a people who have for too long experienced the Indian government as a system of spoils where the winner bends the rules for personal gain and his local minions and party bigwigs milk the teats of expenditure on public works, social welfare programmes, and almost all capital acquisition schemes of the government, especially in high value areas of defence, industry, and telecommunications. The severance of service recently of several senior officials in the Telecom Ministry, including a Joint Secretary — which level of officers in all ministries and departments/agencies constitute the executive arm of government, suggests just how deep rooted the rot is.

The scale of corruption reached an apogee during Manmohan Singh’s tenure — a trend the PM would do nothing to stop because as a front for Sonia Gandhi (sporting the halo of one who had renounced the kingly crown when it was first offered her in 2008, but happy to work the remote control) couldn’t, as the “Congressiyas” at all levels, long accustomed to raiding the public till under party and government cover, did just that.

Modi, in this respect, has run an exemplary regime with almost no hint of personal financial malfeasance from any quarter. Because Modi’s PMO rides herd on all large expenditure programmes and contracts in all ministries, it has left little or no scope for the minor and major officials in the procurement loops to make whooppee in the manner they were used to doing. Far from doing away with corruption, however, the officials determined on having the channel of under-table earnings stay intact, have learned to tradeoff the higher risk of exposure and punishment with demands for bigger payoffs. Hence, the paradox of corruption at the Joint Secretary secretary-level on up being down even as the volume of commissions, bribes, and other illegal gratification has increased (or, so say the bribe givers of the foreign and Indian corporate worlds required to do business with the Indian government)! The computerisation and digitalising of government business and other reforms, notwithstanding, the discretionary power of civilian officials/unifomed officers, particularly in the acquisitions loops, has been retained. This means this power, traditionally used for harrassment and weighting choices, remains the preferred means of extorting bribes in money and kind from foreign and in-country vendors, original equipment manufacturers, and anyone seeking government custom. Alas, this is how the machinery of government functions and is kept lubricated even in the Modi era.

Until Modi quite literally tears down the extant apparatus of government and rebuilds it as a much smaller, more effective, version of its previous self minus the impedimenta of laws and rules of business from British times, India will limp along — the system prodding “the best and the brightest” among the youth to seek avenues of self-betterment abroad, even as Asia to the east of us gallops along with China into modernity and a happy future. Such radical makeover of the government is unfortunately not what Modi, a statist and hierarchy-minded leader, has in mind to do. He believes, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that the system as-is will deliver with a bit of exhortaion from him here, a bit of tinkering by him there. It is a delusion, I concluded in my 2018 book — Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition, the PM will persist with to the country’s detriment. This is a pity because, having captured the people’s heart and mind, he is in a position to do, as only Nehru before him was capable of doing — completely alter the government and the way its works. Instead, he seems content with doing little in that respect.

But, none of this will harm his political prospects. Not little because the BJP cadre, mostly affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), provides the party with a socio-cultural anchor that resonates with the traditional ways of thinking in the majoritarian Hindu society. It is hard, moreover, not to be impressed by RSS’ norms of high ideals, clean living, and its nationalist ideology, which can be faulted in its details, not in its basic thrust. Even more impressive is the fact that members of the RSS and, by extension, the BJP, actually live by these norms. As a high office-holder in RSS, Modi reflects the discipline of mind and of behaviour the organization inculcates in its followers. There is nevertheless dynasticism in his close circle of advisers and in BJP. But it is kept in tight check. His National Security Adviser Ajit Doval sought parliamentary seats for his sons from Uttarakhand but they were denied party tickets to fight elections. The PM’s confidante and Home Minister Amit Shah, likewise, was dissuaded from getting his son into politics in Gujarat. Jay Shah chose to head the state’s cricket board, a position he parlayed into running the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

Historically, corruption has been the hallmark of all governments everywhere. Chanakya devoted many sections of his 3rd Century BC codicil, Arthshastra, to keeping tabs particularly on revenue collectors whom he did not trust to do right by the State. He recommended measures, including active intelligence, to police their activity. Mindful of the native proclivity to bribe giving and taking, and considering it indigenous to native systems of rule (Mughal and previous), the British expressly designed their system of colonial government to minimize it by restricting the role of Indians in government in purchases and service delivery, by installing financial advisers and the like for oversight at every turn. However well or ill it worked pre-1947, in independent India that system of government quickly turned into a bureaucratic nightmare — a viscousy mess of conflicting laws, rules and regulations that can delay decisions and implementation of decisions and ensure that what is implemented is not done well, leave alone wisely, with ambiguous file notings and paper-pushing as the default option for babus to fall back on.

So, the PM in his 2014 campaign talked of “Getting government out of business”, of creating a milieu where punitive rules are dispensed with and Indian entrepreneurs enouraged to be wealth producers and job-givers, to prosper in new tech and to generate, in the bargain, employment for the masses of aspiring youth, even as a helpful government with underway skilling programmes provides the necessary labour to drive industry. Eight years on, the government remains the main obstacle to the country’s rapid advancement in the economic sphere and on the atmnirbharta front in defence. Finance Minister Nirmala Seetharaman is still talking of investing in youth and in upskilling them, much as Modi did 8 years ago! For all his rousing rhetoric, the PM is surprisingly unwilling to rely on private industry as the vehicle for the country’s economic rise, and has been busy streamlining the dowdy, lossmaking, public sector enterprises rather than privatizing them. If his talk of reducing the footprint of government is just that — talk, where’s progress?

But a slate of unfulfilled promises will apparently not matter all that much when the general elections roll around in 2024. In fact, Modi’s re-election is now almost a certainty. His record of personal probity and upright behaviour is his ticket to victory, and will remain so as long as he contests elections. In comparison, there is Rahul Gandhi — the dynast flagbearer of the Congress party who, in a more congenial setting, would only need to nod his head for him to have the crown placed on it. In one way or another, the Congress party has shrunk into a cabal of fawning and calculating Gandhi family acolytes. So when Rahul G refers to the need for the opposition to come together and to propagate a rival ideology to compete with and defeat Modi, the question to ask is whether he is serious!

Consider how alive he is to the current reality and the social forces Modi has let loose. His “Bharat jodo” yatra may have earned Rahul a modicum of respect he didn’t earlier command. After all a man who “walks” the length of the country, albeit half of it in the airconditioned comfort of his travelling van, deserves some admiration. But then he got two things spectacularly wrong. First, the optics. Over the duration of the yatra, he sprouted a full greying beard and his looks, as a consequence, began acquiring a certain gravitas. He seemed by the time he entered the northern states to look more mature, more seasoned, less a “pappu”, which was good. But then the imagery got spoiled when he had his ex-scrap dealer of a brother-in-law, Robert Vadra, striding alongside him, reminding everybody that voting for Rahul and Congress meant possibly enabling the tainted Gandhis to return to feasting on the economic entrails of the nation. Who wants a return to that past?

More importantly, what is the ideology Rahul G hopes will upset Modi’s apple cart, come 2024? He hasn’t articulated any. But it is unlikely to be other than a return to the patronage socialism pushed by a strong central government — Indira Gandhi’s oeuvre. A revisiting of that economic disaster has to be avoided at all cost, because it will mean a return to having the public sector as the engine of economic recovery and rise, and we know how that went the last time. It realized, what became known derisively the world over as, “the Hindu rate of growth” of 2%-3% annually. Should Rahul skip to Manmohanomics the prospects would not be much better, because that’d involve tethering the Indian economy to that of the US. This’d be a recipe for India’s formally accepting a secondary power status tied to a receding power. Rahul’s and the Congress party’s vilification of the private sector leads to precisely these endpoints if their rule materializes. This is, in one sense, an ironic development because the Congress party boasts of more genuinely fecund intellects — Shashi Tharoor, Jairam Ramesh, to name two, than the BJP. Were they to be instructed by the party to rethink the Indian system of government and the role of the private sector in national life, they’d no doubt come up with a host of good ideas. But because Congress is wedded to some strain of socialism or the other, and Rahul has no bright ideas of his own to suggest as guideline, Messrs Jairam, Tharoor and Co. wallow in dated economic notions they believe will resonate with the Gandhi Family’s interests.

There’s, however, a Modi weakness that the opposition is in no position to exploit — his partiality to “crony capitalism”. Modi’s vulnerability is obvious, but Rahul’s line of political attack — “suited booted sarkar” won’t work, as the 2018 elections proved. That is because the masses too, it turns out, want to be suited and booted as Modi is in his “rags to riches” avatar as Prime Minister. It is an aspiration Modi long ago worked into the message he pitched to the public when subliminally shaping its expectations of his government in Gujarat and later at the Centre, namely, that there won’t be doles/freebies or “revadi” but there will be government assistance for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. It is another matter that despite his trying, the government hasn’t become more amenable to servicing people’s aspirations. So, when Govind Adani, with a straight face, claimed in a recent TV interview to India Today, that his proximity to Modi had nothing whatsoever to do with his rocketing rise from smalltime trader to multibillionaire tycoon, but implied that the Gujarati identity he shared with the PM may have led some people to reach that conclusion, it highlighted his implicit belief that whatever part proximity to Modi may have played, his success owes more to his own ambition, business acumen, and propensity to take risks that have fetched him big rewards. And who can dispute such a reading?

Modi is set to dominate the Indian and South Asian scene and, perhaps, to feature prominently in international politics in the years to come because an honest politician — however ruthlessly he may practise politics on home turf, is a rarity as most leading politicians and heads of government in the world at-large (barring the Scandinavian countries and, perhaps, Japan) are variants of Donald Trump in their venality.

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‘Time to play hardball with China’

2 Interviews:with Rediff News and with Sputnik News

Interview with Rediff News published December 14, 2022 at


‘Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.’


IMAGE: A Bofors gun at the Tawang sector near the Line of Actual Control in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

“Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China. India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing…It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi,” Dr Bharat Karnad, the national security expert at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi-based think-tank, tells‘s Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal.

We are once again witnessing China in a very aggressive mood sending 300 Chinese soldiers to attack and take over an Indian post in the Tawang sector on December 9.
What do you believe precipitated this face off given that it has taken place in such freezing cold conditions?

There doesn’t seem to be any specific trigger for PLA skirmishes on, and intrusions across, the Line of Actual Control, such as the latest one last Friday in Yangtse in Tawang district.

It is apparently a strategy for the local commander to prosecute hostile actions as and when he is in a position to do so because the objective is to keep the disputed border unsettled.

It is a condition, Beijing hopes, will soften up the Indian government into a more territorial give-mode at the negotiating table.

This seems to be a reoccurring phenomenon with Indian troops facing a similar attack in the same sector on October 8, 2021.
In all, I understand 31 such attacks have taken place in this sector over the years with a prolonged attack having taken place during the Kargil war in 1999 which lasted 60 days.
How has India responded to these frequent and unprovoked aggressive actions?

XXXIII Corps — the largest formation in the Indian Army, responsible for defending India’s territorial claims on the LAC in the north east, is postured to react, which it is experienced and in a position to do.

But it is incapable of being proactive, or taking the fight to the enemy which, in fact, encourages the PLA to continue taking liberties and being provocative on the LAC.

Narendra Modi and Xi Zinping

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi and Xi Jinping, general secretary of China’s Communist party about to shake hands at the G20 summit at the Garuda Wisnu Kencana cultural park in Badung, Bali, Indonesia. Photograph: PTI Photo

China has been steadily developing its infrastructure in the north east and is known to have built 128 villages on its side of the border with each of these villages known to be housing 100 families each.
How much does our infrastructure match these development activities and does India’s military upgradation match that of China?

The Indian government woke up late to the value of infrastructure in the regions on the Indian side of LAC, and then only because the build-up of high quality roads and telecommunications network so tactically advantaged the PLA it could no longer be ignored.

Still, India is at least 15 years behind China in the density and quality of infrastructure, even if the buildup were to be put on a war-footing.

The territory on our side of the border is said to be much more difficult to negotiate than that of the Chinese side making this infrastructure development for India much more difficult.

That may be so. But engineering techniques to, say, construct roads in difficult terrain while much advanced elsewhere in the world are still to be fully adopted by the Border Roads Organisation.

Maybe it is time to speed up the underway infrastructure buildup by bringing in private sector engineering majors, such as Larsen & Toubro, to build roads and bridges, excavate tunnels, and set up dual-use telecommunications systems.

I understand the Chinese side has been using drones in this sector on a regular basis and did so in substantial numbers on November 9 while the Indian response was to bring in the Sukhoi fighter jets.

Remote-controlled Chinese drones have been active in eastern Ladakh for over a year now. But no Indian action was taken to counter them in kind for two reasons. One, India did not have drones with the range or the capacity to loiter over Chinese encampments for sustained surveillance.

And two, because such Chinese drone incursions may have been perceived as doing some good in that they informed the PLA sector commander of the concentration of Indian forces in the contested areas and their robust preparations for at least a short duration war. It may have dissuaded him from pursuing a more aggressive approach.

The flights by Chandigarh-based Su-30MKIs confirmed to the Chinese command the IAF’s operational readiness, just in case.

This latest transgression shows that China will continue to change the goal posts on this border issue in order to achieve tactical advantage over us.

So, what’s new? This is what the Chinese have been doing since the mid-1950s when they first laid down the highway connecting the mainland to Xinjiang through Indian Aksai Chin, which activity the Indian government was blissfully unaware of!

Is this being done by Xi Jinping in order to divert attention of the Chinese people from the internal issues troubling the country?
These include unprecedented and widespread protests over the zero Covid policy as also the fact that its economy is not doing well.

Maybe. But as explained in my response to Question 1, these incidents are more likely part and parcel of a policy to keep the disputed border on the boil.


IMAGE: Then Eastern Air Commander and now retired Air Marshal Dilip Kumar Patnaik visits the Vijaynagar Advanced Landing Ground in Arunchal Pradesh to review operational preparedness and interacted with Indian Army troops deployed there. Photograph: ANI Photo

The objective for Xi is to promote hyper nationalistic tendencies within the Chinese public and this objective seems to match the efforts of our own prime minister with his aim to create hyper nationalistic Hindutva to suit his political objectives.

Nationalism is useful to drive nation-building and to pursue policies for socio-economic uplift.

Both Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping are leaders who would like to restore to India and China respectively, their past glories — some of them imagined!


IMAGE: Troops of the Indian Army at the International Border. Photograph: ANI Photo

How should India match this belligerence given that China does not want to solve the border dispute?
China has said repeatedly that the whole of Arunachal is its territory and they consider it to be part of southern Tibet.

India has to aggresively counter the Chinese moves by not just reciprocating in kind, but going one better.

It is high time New Delhi played hardball. India should begin, for instance, to refer to ‘Chinese occupied Tibet’ and champion the cause of ‘Free Tibet’, recognise Taiwan as a separate sovereign entity, campaign for the rights of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and severely restrict the access Chinese goods and manufacturers enjoy to the Indian market.

Unless India ups the ante, Beijing will continue to believe its transgressions are cost free, and will feel encouraged to do more of the same.

The message from the recent 20th Chinese Communist party congress in Beijing was that the Chinese leadership will not soften its position either in eastern Ladakh or in Arunachal Pradesh.

Again, this is not a surprise. Chinese Communist party congresses haven’t varied in stating their country’s intention to realise territorially the China of yore, which includes, by Beijing’s reckoning, all the countries on the Himalayan watershed — Nepal, Bhutan and southern Xizang (that it calls especially the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh).

Beijing needs to be disabused of its notion that this can ever be achieved.


IMAGE: Indo-Tibetan Border Police women personnel patrol the area near the border with China in Arunachal Pradesh. Photograph: ANI Photo

China needs to dominate this area and the only power that can stand against it is India.
Is this over-assertiveness on China’s part an attempt to cut us down to size, but for how long will we continue to find ourselves in this difficult situation?

Beijing has never wavered in its conviction that the only Asian power that matters is China, and the world better adjust to that reality.

India’s stance never challenged this assumption of Chinese supremacy, but rather sought to buy peace with Beijing by opening its market to its burgeoning industrial and manufacturing sector, and was reluctant to use the leverages it had (Chinese occupied Tibet, Free Tibet, Taiwan, Uyghur rights, market access).

It is only when the viciousness of the Galwan incident surfaced in 2020 that some sense began to dawn on New Delhi.

US and Western Europe likewise indulged China’s fantasies about an Asian order overseen by Beijing until the matter of the ‘nine dash line’ claims in the South China Sea and the security of Taiwan in the face of Chinese bellicosity melded with other issues — intellectual property rights, technology thievery, cyber warfare, and unbalanced trade, to revive concerns about the threat China posed to Western interests and to global peace and stability generally.

The result is a convergence of geopolitical, strategic and economic interests between India, Japan and other Asian States, the US and western Europe, and the beginnings of a collective effort to contain China.

China is giving US repeated warnings not to get close to the US.

Our response should be to tell Beijing to take a hike. And to warn Xi against getting close to Pakistan and proceeding with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Interview with Sputkink News published December 14, 2022 , at

Ladakh Standoff

The Indian and Chinese armies engaged in major clashes along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in 2020. Since, relations between the two neighbors have remained tense.

Ex-Indian NSC Member Reflects on Arunachal Clash With Chinese Army

18:38 13.12.2022

Indian army vehicles move in a convoy in the cold desert region of Ladakh, India, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Nestled between India, Pakistan and China, Ladakh has not just faced territorial disputes but also stark climate change. - Sputnik India, 1920, 13.12.2022

Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday said PLA troops had tried to transgress the de-facto border between India and China, with troops from both countries being injured.

Reacting to the clash in Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said the situation is “stable” on its border with India.

“As far as we understand, the China-India border situation is stable overall,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, adding that the two sides had “maintained unobstructed dialogue on the border issue through diplomatic and military channels.”

Prof. Bharat Karnad, a former member of India’s National Security Council (NSC) and security analyst, shared with Sputnik his views on the latest incident on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Sputnik: The Indian Army and China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) clashed in Yangtse in Tawang on December 9. The two neighbors are currently engaged in both military and diplomatic talks in order to resolve the border deadlock in Ladakh. Is it possible that the face-off in the Arunachal sector was not an accident?

Bharat Karnad: The Chinese government never does anything that’s not preplanned. The clash in Yangtse, in the Tawang District of Arunachal Pradesh, fits the bill.

This is also indicated by the fact that the PLA troops came armed for a fight minus small arms, but with wooden clubs with embedded nails, etc. — weapons of a kind that they previously used in the deadly Galwan encounter two-and-a-half years ago.

Sputnik: Do you regard this as part of a Chinese design to preempt the possibility of a future Dalai Lama being identified at the birthplace of the sixth Dalai Lama?

Bharat Karnad: China is intent on zeroing out Lamaist Buddhism in Chinese-occupied Tibet (COT) — that’s always been the long-term goal.

This objective has acquired urgency because of the current Dalai Lama’s age, which Beijing fears may prompt His Holiness to name a Tibetan child from the Tibetan exile community in India as his successor. It will mean that China’s attempts to subdue Tibet by integrating it into the mainland’s Han-Communist culture will continue to be complicated.

Sputnik: What kind of preparation — both military and infrastructure-wise — does India have in the Arunachal region? Does it lack capabilities in this particular sector?

Bharat Karnad: The XXXIII Corps — the largest corps in the Indian Army — is responsible for defending the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the northeast.

It is postured to take on the PLA, and is adequately equipped with sufficient stock of prepositioned stores to conduct operations even in the dead of winter, should Beijing choose to initiate hostilities.

Sputnik: Do you consider border tensions along the LAC as a persistent issue?

Bharat Karnad: Keeping the LAC unsettled with minor skirmishes and armed intrusions and otherwise to maintain a high level of tension is the Chinese strategy to keep the Indian army on its toes and tire it out. It’s because maintaining constant vigil at high altitudes is a damnably difficult business.

Such a military strategy is what Beijing employs as a means of pressuring the Indian government into making concessions at the negotiating table.

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Navy’s choice of Rafale-M endangers the naval Tejas and the entire indigenous combat aircraft programme

[Rafale-M taking off from carrier deck]

The Indian armed services, as I have long maintained, are really not serious about making the country self-reliant in arms, all their swearing by ‘atmnirbhar Bharat’ notwithstanding. The indenting by army under the “emergency financial powers” provision for 15,000 foreign-sourced Level-4 light body armour capable of stopping steel-core bullets at 10 meters for use by counter-insurgency troops in Kashmir, and the imminent decision by navy to go in for Rafale-Marine aircraft under its TEDBF (Twin Engine Deck Based Fighter) programme, are only the latest manifestations of the military’s reluctance to give home-made products even a fighting chance.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Trombay, as far back as 2018 had readied for production tested technology for bullet-proof jackets weighing 6.6 kg using boron carbide ceramics that met milspecs. Indian companies — Tata Advanced Materials Ltd and MKU of Kanpur, have been exporting body armour for years. And yet, here’s the army misusing its emergency powers to secure “phoren maal”.

Death likewise awaits the indigenous navalised Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (NLCA) at the navy’s hands. The original air force variant of the Tejas LCA somehow survived IAF’s sustained efforts at killing it off, something the service had succeeded in doing with the home-grown Marut HF-24 fighter aircraft and its Mark-II version in the 1970s. The NLCA first performed a ski-jump takeoff demonstration at INS Hansa, Goa in 2017 and has since passed every performance metric from ‘sink rate’, angle-of-attack, to folding wing-tip, including perfectly executed take-offs and landings on Vikramaditya’s deck. (For technical details on the progress made in the NLCA programme and how it is being thwarted at every turn, see my 2018 book — ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’, pages 289-305.) But it was nevertheless declared overweight and unfit for aircraft carrier duty — the protestations by the navy officered project that weight reduction was eminently doable and once outfitted with the more powerful GE 414 jet turbine engine, would meet reasonable requirements of range and payload capacity for single engined aircraft, making no headway with the Service brass.

Why? Because, well, the navy is well and truly embarked on the TEDBF — a cover, yeah, you guessed it, for importing the phoren Boeing F-18 Super Hornet, or the French Dassault Rafale-Marine, come naval Tejas or high water! And no, no atmnirbharta programme, or defence minister Rajnath Singh’s ‘No imports’ lists is going to stop them. However, the Rafale decision was made more palatable by justifying this imported TEDBF as an interim measure, a “stop gap” solution, until the heavier two-engined variant of Tejas became available in 2032 — or a decade from now. DRDO has promised the larger naval Tejas by then, which promise will be easier to keep considering just how adaptable the basic design is to a little upscaling for a twin-engined configuration, and because of the extraordinary progress in design and other avaiation technologies already made in the NLCA programme.

But the problem is this: Once the Rafale-M or the Super Hornet enter the Indian Naval carrier service and into the IAF as a 112-strong aircraft MMRCA fleet, the sheer inertia and the procurement logic (of reducing unit cost by buying larger numbers) will ensure follow-on buys of the Rafale or the F-18, and investments and interest in the Indian NLCA and successor carrier aircraft for the navy, and in the AMCA for the air force, will peter out.

This is, perhaps, what the Indian Navy and IAF want to see happen.

[The “customised” F-18 Super Hornet, with folded wing tips to fit the Vikrant lifts]

Assuming the Modi regime weathers the American pressure to buy F-18 and 26 Rafale-M are bought, 2032 is almost the timeline by which the sale formalities are likely to be completed and Rafale-M, if it is indeed chosen, is inducted in adequate numbers. Navy further decided that the always controversial pill of importing arms, this time the Rafale-M, would go down the government’s throat better if this TEDBF acquisition piggybacked on IAF’s Rafale deal. The case, was therefore, made that because IAF’s Rafale servicing and maintenance infrastructure was already in place, the cost-saving on this side-deal would be sizeable. Naval HQrs were confident the generalist babu-manned defence ministry would be unable to discern the spuriousness of this argument considering naval and air force fighting assets are rarely co-located.

Whatever the other ill-effects of the supposedly stop gap Rafale-M/F-18 acquisition, it will definitely write finis to the NLCA and hence also to the development of the twin engined naval Tejas, and possibly also the follow-on aircraft to IAF’s Tejas Mk-1A — the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft programme. The country then can kiss a royal good bye to genuine atmnirbharta and settle down in its long nursed arms dependency status. The fact is there’s just too much temptation offered by foreign firms for militarymen and civilians in the defence procurement loops that few apparently can resist. Senior uniformed officers, serving or retired, will never allude to it, but younger, more idealistic, officers in the Group Captain and equivalent grade, not yet compromised, readily point to the filthy lucre at work, all the hoo-ha about corruption-free G2G deals being so much pretense.

If the Modi government is serious about an “atmnirbhar Bharat” and wants to prevent the doing away by indirect means of the still infant indigenous defence industrial and aerospace capabilities, it can have a TEDBF, give the indigenous programmes much needed boost, and save tens of billions in hard currency — what it has to do is have Rajnath Singh immediately announce that the government has reconsidered its decision and the single engined NLCA programme will be put on a warfooting, and be the precursor to the wholly India made TEDBF– the 2-engine medium weight navalised Tejas — to fly off the Vikramaditya and Vikrant decks ten years from now. He should also announce that the government will look askance at all procurement proposals hereon from any military service for importing weapons systems and platforms that, intended or not, undermine the government’s atmnirbharta policy. And that the government will ensure by diplomatic means to not put the navy in harm’s way by asking it to pull distant missions beyond their ken. After all, it is diplomacy army generals, and flagrank military officers generally suggest, do they not, as the means to fend off for the nonce a conventionally superior China in Ladakh and elsewhere on the Line of Actual Control?

What are the chances the Modi government will do as recommended above?


Now let’s turn to Rafale-M and how India has been a boon to France, the French defence industry, and to foreign arms suppliers generally.

France invested some $50 billion in developing the Rafale combat aircraft and found no buyers, earning for this warplane the sobriquet of a “cursed” aircraft after a bunch of countries — Brazil, Libya, Morocco, and Switzerland serially rejected it.

Then in April 2015, India galloped on to the scene replaying its familiar role of upkeeping Western defence programmes — the proverbial knight coming to the aid of fair maidens in distress, this even as the enormously capable Indian private sector defence industry is in a permanent state of funk, pleading for custom to survive! The Indian beneficence in this case came in April 2015 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting Paris decided to short circuit the MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) process and take Rafale in a government-to-government (G2G) deal ostensibly to cut the middleman, commissions, etc. out of the procurement circus. New Delhi plonked down $6.9 billion in hard currency for 36 “customized” Rafales for the Indian Air Force.

“Customized” usually means hanging a lot of bells and jangles on the hardware to make a duffer of a Third World customer feel he’s getting something extra for his hard earned and scarce money! (Even so, many people in the know claim the costs were padded to the extent of Rs 1,000 crore for each of the 36 Rafales IAF has acquired via the G2G transaction!)

By way of contrast, the same year — 2015, Egypt too jumped on board, agreeing to consider this warplane for its air force. But a cleverer Cairo signed up only in May 2021 for 24 of this aircraft with promise to purchase 30 more in due time for a total of 50 Rafales, to be paid for — wait for it! — with France’s own money! Paris agreed to finance the entire deal with a 10 year loan for the package worth $4.5 billion. With the euro’s annual inflation rate of nearly 11% (10.61% actually) in October 2022 as baseline, it means Egypt will secure at least 24 Rafales for virtually nothing! (Like the masses of military hardware India got in the “good old days” from the USSR at 2% interest, i.e, virtually free.)

France has cannily played on two aspects, that (1) unlike the US, and UK and Sweden (whose Gripen combat aircraft are powered by US engines and hence sanctionable), Rafale customers can be worry free — the supply of spares and service support being outside the numbra of potential US sanctions. After all, the Indian Navy remembers how its Westland Sea King anti-submarine warfare helicopter fleet was instantly grounded once US imposed sanctions in the wake of the Indian nuclear tests in 1998, because the Sea King — a British licensed version of the Sikorsky S-61, had US components. And (2) that there are no ‘black box” technologies — an inducement for India to license manufacture the Rafale to meet IAF’s MMRCA need for another 112 aircraft, all technologies, including avionics, will be transferred. It is a tech transfer deal that does not include the high-value munitions (Meteor, Hammer, etc), of course!!

The revenues in billions of dollars generated from the sale of the 4.5 gen Rafale — exactly the same generation as the Tejas, will be poured into the 6th gen fighter aircraft France and Germany have just decided jointly to design, develop and produce by 2050. The sum of $3.8 billion for the first phase (labeled ‘1B’) for feasibility study has already been authorized.

Meanwhile, the indigenous Indian combat aircraft programmes will die a slow death from lack of service interest in them and consequent starvation of funds.

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Xi Jinping’s Third Term: What it means for India — Chanakya Dialogues

The Chanakya Dialogues were conducted by the Chanakya Foundation on Nov 12, 2022. In this particular session the discussion ranged from Chinese perceptions of India, Xi’s 2-track India policy, ways to tackle the China threat, to the sort of half-cocked atmnirbharta programme now underway. At

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Cathartic Transitions in Pakistan

[Bajwa with senior-most officers, Pakistan Army]

Just returned from a trip to Singapore and, especially, Cambodia which I had longed to visit and where I beheld the largest religious monuments of any kind in the world — the magnificence of Angkor Wat, built in early 12th Century by the Khmer emperor Suryavarman II in his capital of Yasodapura, and was immediately reminded of AL Basham’s book — The Wonder That Was India [note the past tense] I read as an undergrad at the University of California that tracked the rise of the Chola and Srivijaya empires in littoral Southeast Asia, and the still earlier Indic influences in that part of the world.

There it was hundreds of acres of temple complexes of at once enormous size and delicacy, celebrating the pantheon of Hindu gods and their many avatars — Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma (the temple dedicated to the last named being restored with the help and technical assistance of the Archaelogical Survey of India) but now with Buddha figures installed in them, and unending temple walls filled with friezes and engravings depicting the Ramayana, with one of the panels showing, as our mischief-minded but well informed guide, who identified himself as a “Hindu-Buddhist-animist”, slyly pointed out Sita sitting on Ravana’s lap having apparently succumbed to the irresistible charms of the Sri Lankan king! There was even Hanuman beer to quaff down with our meals.

Even as one ruminated over the lost glory, a conclusion I had reached in my book — Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security, was strengthened, that India’s decline began when it stopped expanding territorially, and that it was territorial expansion that sourced the rapid spread of Hinduism and Hindu culture and values in maritime Asia, including China and Japan, and is why ‘Greater India’ happened. Juxtapose such history with statements by present day Indian leaders claiming India never coveted or occupied foreign lands, and you see the problem! Defence minister Rajnath Singh being only the latest neta to mouth such inanities.

Anyway back to the quoutidian concerns of South Asia!

Every few years when an army chief in Pakistan deigns to vacate his post, the country lapses into a succession crisis. There’s another such catharsis afoot in Pakistan today with the imminent announcement of the name of an officer to replace the current chief General Javed Qamar Bajwa who demits office by end-November. In the order of seniority — which means little, the list of possible successors features Lt General Syed Asim Munir Ahmed Shah — the army’s Quarter Master General and former head of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt General Sahir Shamshad Mirza — GOC, X Corps (Rawalpindi) and ex-Chief of the General Staff (CGS), Lt General Azhar Abbas, current CGS and former commander X Corps, Lt General Numan Mahmud, President of the National Defence University and ex-GOC, XI Corps (Peshawar), and Lt General Faiz Hameed, GOC, XXXI Corps (Bahawalpur) and ex-chief, ISI. 

If one is a betting man, the odds line up particularly against Faiz Hameed. It is unlikely Hameed will make it for several reasons. He loudly owned up to helping the Taliban defeat the US in Afghanistan and finds himself in the doghouse vis a vis Washington, and those whom the Americans detest have their prospects automatically dimmed in Islamabad. Worse, Hameed publicly tagged his future to the deposed Pakistan Tehreeq-i-Insaaf party PM — Imran Khan Niazi, himself hoisted into the kursi with ISI help, whom Bajwa has accused of propagating a “false narrative” about the Pakistan army (that it interferes in domestic politics and, surprise! surprise! plays favourites!!). For these reasons Bajwa unceremoniously removed Hameed from ISI and dumped him in Bahawalpur. As a consequence, the latter has, as the saying goes, a spitball’s chance in hell!

The recent pattern of elevations would suggest the seniormost officer who is to be passed over is given an extra pip and appointed Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee — a post presently held by General Nadeem Raza. So the 18th Chairman, JCSC, will likely be Asim Munir Shah. With Hameed out of the picture, the race is then between Mirza, Abbas and Mahmud. Abbas as CGS has the insider’s odds on his side. But my intuition says it will be Mahmud who gets the nod because he is in a relatively innocuous post where it is difficult to make enemies and, therefore, seems politically to be the safest. This is no small metric considering Nawaz Sharif in 2016 chose Bajwa, who was Inspector General, Training and Evaluation, as army chief over corps commanders senior to him. Bajwa’s antipathy to Imran notwithstanding, the PTI head has raised such a stink over the next COAS’s selection that while picking Imran’s choice, Hameed, is out of question, Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, in consultation with Bajwa, may alight on Mahmud as the least objectionable candidate. This last is important because COAS’s appointment has to have President Arif Alvi’s consent, and Alvi is Imran Khan’s acolyte.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, its prime ministers have often chosen their memesis as army chiefs. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked Zia ul-Haq, so down on the seniority list, he wasn’t even in the original “summary” the defence ministry drew up. And then at Bhutto’s insistence, Zia was included in the seniority list with reluctance by the departing COAS General Tikka Khan. As Tikka Khan told me when I visited him at his Rawalpindi home in December 1982 when he was under “house arrest” — Bhutto’s weakness was he was partial to flattery and loved flatterers. Aware of this, Zia as GOC II Strike Corps, Multan, laid it on thick when Bhutto visited his command headquarters. There, per Tikka, Zia quite literally kowtowed to Bhutto, even swearing personal loyalty to him with his hand on a copy of the Quran! Tikka recalled, with choicest Punjabi abuses, how hard he tried to dissuade Bhutto from choosing Zia, warning him of “qayamat”! Some years later Nawaz Sharif like wise selected Parvez Musharraf who, after his coup d’etat rather than hang him, as Zia did Bhutto, exiled him to Saudi Arabia.

So, it is hard to tell which officer on the short list catches Shabaz’s fancy and why, and with what ultimate result.

But let’s be clear just how extraordinarily high the personal stakes are. It means instant power and riches to the officer who is selected. Bajwa and his family members, for instance, have for no apparent fault of theirs (!) become billionaires in the 6 years of his tenure with proliferating property and prized land acquisitions in choicest locations in the West, in Dubai and, of course, in cantonment towns within Pakistan! The surprise is Bajwa’s tax returns, leaked to the media, reveal this!

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Modi-Jaishankar accept China’s annexation of Indian territory as fait accompli?

[The departing Chinese ambassador, Sun Weidong, and Jaishankar]

Sun Weidong, China’s ambassador who is returning to Bejing, surely did not expect the Indian External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, to crown his stint in New Delhi with an Indian policy turn that the Xi Jinping regime had long hoped for but could not in its wildest dreams have imagined would be gifted to it on a platter, on an unmemorable occasion, and without China having to pay a price for it. As far as the Chinese government is concerned, what Jaishankar did not say — which in this case is far more significant than what he, in fact, said, removes all the hurdles to normalization of bilateral relations that were stuck in the glitch created by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) surreptitious takeover in recent years of over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh, mostly in the Depsang Plains. In an otherwise protocol dictated meeting October 25 in which a departing foreign envoy is bid farewell by the host foreign minister, the sort of event in which nothing of import usually ever happens, Jaishankar made Sun’s and Beijing’s day!

So, what did Jaishankar not say that may have bad consequences? According to media reports, the Indian foreign minister emphasized that normalcy would return to bilateral relations on the basis of “peace and tranquility” being re-established in the disputed border regions. There was no hint anywhere of Jaishankar forcefully iterating the specific condition India has so far insisted on — restoration of the status quo ante! And even if he did mention it in passing, not making a hoo-ha about it is just as revealing. It is very likely the absence of this phrase or its emphatic repetition, will be interpreted by Beijing to mean that New Delhi has accepted China’s grabbing of vast tracts of Ladakhi real estate as a fait accompli. One can expect Sun to have sent a note to Zhongnanhai mentioning this Indian concession, something Chinese interlocuters in the future will bring up as a principle-setting precedent to dismiss the notion of restoring to India its territory, and to make the point that the two countries should put the unpleasantness of PLA-initiated hostilites in eastern Ladakh behind them, and get on with the business of the Indian consumer doing what he is good at, namely, buying plenty of Chinese goods and manufactures to keep Chinese industries humming and making an already prosperous China wealthier.

Even as Sino-Indian tensions were asimmer, Chinese exports to India of capital machinery and intermediate goods (such as pharmaceutical ingredients) this year surged to a record high of nearly $90 billion even as Indian exports to China shrank by 36.4% and the balance of payments got further skewed. In the current two-way trade of some $125 billion, India’s take was a little more than $25 billion. It is a one-sided wealth-transfer trend the Modi government has done next to nothing to reverse.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the other day talked of completing what he called the “Kashmir mission” in the foreseeable future of taking back Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Baltistan. He justified it in terms of a Parliamentary Resolution. Curiously, Parliament’s 1962 Resolution, still standing, that requires the Indian government to fight and to do whatever else is necessary to recover “every inch of Indian territory” lost to China since before the 1962 War, is conveniently forgotten by the Modi regime.

Annexation of Indian territory began, it may be recalled, with parts of Aksai Chin through which the Chinese built the Xinjiang Highway amalgamated into Chinese-occupied Tibet that the Indian government became aware of only in 1958! Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had rationalised India’s ignorance of such offensive Chinese carryings-on by saying it involved land “on which not even a blade of grass grew”. A similar appeasement-minded outlook appears to be congealing around the need to cut deals with Xi’s China that will, unfortunately, allow the Indian government formally to accept a China that is territorially expanding at India’s expense, but free up strategic policy space and resources to, presumably, belabour Pakistan!

One is not sure what to make of the Modi government’s obsession with reducing an already much reduced Pakistan. No country is more seriously tanking financially, politically and socially than Pakistan. Any dim-witted politician would take to heart Napoleon Bonaparte’s advice to not interfere when an adversary is making mistake after mistake, seemingly intent on taking himself down. With General Qamar Javed Bajwa apparently serious about detaching the Pakistan army from the snakepit that is Pakistani politics, but Imran Khan, disqualified from fighting elections on corruption grounds, just as focussed on bringing matters to a head with his underway “long march” on Islamabad with its potential for exacerbating domestic fissures and faultlines to the point of endangering the Pakistani state, that country is in for a rough ride. It is a situation, Imran expects, will compel the Pakistan army to either takeover the reins of power for another round of martial law rule, or comply with his demand to dislodge the Muslim League (Nawaz) government of Shahbaz Sharif and order elections which, he expects, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party to win. Any which way this mess gets sorted out, Imran is confident he won’t lose.

The only thing guaranteed to get the warring elements within the Pakistani nation to forget their differences are revelations of actions by the Modi-Doval-Jaishankar trio to weaken Pakistan. (In this respect, India’s squeak-by win in the T-20 World Cup opener in Melbourne hasn’t helped!). So, stand down!

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‘Xi will wait for the Modi government to make the reconciliation moves’

Interview published in Rediff News October 20, 2022,


Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor in national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the think-tank in New Delhi, discusses the implications of Xi Jinping being re-elected for a third term as China’s leader for India and the rest of the world.

“The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it,” Dr Karnad tells Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal about the screening of the Galwan Valley footage where Indian and Chinese troops fought in June 2020 at the Chinese Communist party’s 20th party congress in Beijing on Sunday.

With Xi Jinping in all certainty getting a third term as general secretary of China’s Communist party this weekend and a likely third term as president of the People’s Republic of China in March, what does this mean for India and for the world?

More of the same. Meaning, that he will wait for the Modi government to make the reconciliation moves, which will not happen. Because Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has expressly refuted Beijing’s statement that normalcy was returning to Sino-Indian relations. He reminded the Xi regime that the territorial status quo ante had to be first restored before normalcy can have a chance.

For the world, Xi’s third term means aggravation of the Sino-US rivalry. With Washington and European countries rolling out a number of punitive anti-China laws to deny Chinese goods easy access to their markets, prevent it from stealing/hacking advanced technologies and disrespecting Intellectual Property Rights, and to reduce dependence on China for critical stuff, like semi-conductors, and on Chinese supply chains supporting their industries, and with (United States) President Joe Biden promising militarily to curtail Chinese moves at forcible Taiwan reunification, the military competition in the Indo-Pacific is set to become sharper.

Some weeks ago it was suggested that a palace coup had taken place and Xi had been sidelined. But obviously, this news was incorrect.

The politics of Zhongnanhai (the government complex in Beijing where the major leaders of the Chinese Communist party live and work) has always been difficult to read. But it is usually safe to disregard rumours of dire events happening behind its walls.

IMAGE: Xi at the opening ceremony of the 20th party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Thomas Peter/Reuters

Xi has harnessed an aggressive nationalism which he claims will see the cultural and military rejuvenation of China. How far will he succeed in this objective?

With the Chinese armed forces afforded large budgets and a relatively free hand, Xi Jinping in his first two terms had already gone some ways towards turning China into a garrison State. His statements at the Communist Party Congress suggest he is doubling down on firming up the China ‘fortress’. In other foreign policy areas, like in the programmes of strategic outreach, for example, he has had mixed results. While many of the projects in his Belt Road Initiative (such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) have stalled, the Chinese presence in the western Pacific centering on the Solomon Islands has met with considerable success.

Xi’s goals can be achieved by creating a fighting military machine. Its force, albeit, was tested two years against India in Ladakh in which the Chinese more or less have achieved their objectives.

As usually happens with the Indian military and government, they had no clue about the stealthy Chinese advance onto the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control and generally about the forward area buildup in eastern Ladakh. So when the PLA went overt with their tactical offensive on the Galwan river, they caught the Indian army and MEA with their pants down. It has forced India on the defensive.

IMAGE: Communist leaders applaud Xi at the party congress on Sunday, October 16, 2022. Photograph: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The Galwan Valley footage was shown at the opening of the party congress in Beijing on Sunday. What does that indicate?

The Chinese leadership considers the Galwan surprise a great tactical military success, and wants to wallow in it.

India put up a challenge to the Chinese army in Doklam in 2017, but ever since the Chinese have built up a vast infrastructure of roads and helipads claiming this entire area as their own. Do you see them blockading Indian forces in this area?

Tackling the PLA in the contested trijunction Doklam area has always been problematic because it also involves Bhutan. Powerful sections within Bhutanese ruling circles that Beijing has cultivated over the years want a rapprochement even if that riles New Delhi. That particular Bhutanese view seems to be that if ceding a bit of territory here and there to China generates goodwill, it may be no bad thing.

With Russia involved in the Ukraine war and with the US focus shifted to this conflict, the Quad no longer enjoys the kind of primacy in its mental bandwidth as was the case earlier. This is bound to benefit the Chinese who are free to carry out aggressive actions in South Asia.

It isn’t as if the Quad was ever operationalised or was militarily active. India, the US, Japan and Australia have all seen it as more of a loose political-military arrangement to discomfit China. Besides, the Ukraine imbroglio is a land-based contingency while the Indo-Pacific is a maritime theatre of conflict. The two require quite different sets of wherewithal and capabilities. So the US/NATO focus on the Donbas region that Russia wants to annex will only marginally affect its efforts in the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea or the East Sea.

IMAGE: A telecast of the deliberations at the Communist party congress for journalists covering the event at a hotel in Beijing, October 19, 2022. Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters

Will Xi continue to issue periodic warnings against Taiwan or do you see any likelihood of a future attack?

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan is far from imminent. After all, Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine have got Xi and the PLA thinking that, maybe, attacking Taiwan is not such a great idea! However, attempts at reunification are possible in the middle to distant future (20-50 years). But by then Taipei will likely have secured nuclear weapons for itself, making it immune to any Chinese adventure.

Why has there been such complete capitulation in China. Did Xi not face any opposition at all?

What capitulation? Xi always controlled the PLA and the other levers of power. So there was never any serious contender for power on the scene.

Is Xi going to see any breaks at all in his quest for Chinese supremacy as the number one power in the globe?

All trends and indices suggest that while it will be a hard slog for China to ascend to the numero uno status, it will always be a force to reckon with in Asia and the world.

How do you see the US response to these developments?

Well, the US and the West are taking all the measures necessary to prevent China from having an easy run to the top. Washington realiSes it made a mistake by helping China become a powerful trading nation and industrial power — the manufacturing hub of the world. In the future, it will try with its European allies and Japan and Australia to retard China’s relentless progress.

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The new CDS and the problems with the Agenda

[The new CDS, General Anil Chauhan]

After a long hiatus and endless speculation, the country finally has a Chief of Defence Staff and successor to the late General Bipin Rawat — General Anil Chauhan. Like his predecessor in this post, he is a Gurkha officer and, more importantly, a native of Pauri Garhwal — an origin they fortuitously share with the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval. The Pauri Garhwali fellowship aside, Chauhan’s time as Director-General, Military Operations during the Balakot strike operation that was, in reality, more a “political” and “public relations” stunt than a military success, may have earned him plus points at the PMO and appointments, after retiring as the Eastern Army commander, as Military Adviser to the National Security Council that Doval oversees and now as CDS and, concurrently, Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA), and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. (The DGMO’s brief during the Balakot op would have been to keep the army primed for hostilities in case Pakistan followed up the chase by its F-16s of the Indian strike aircraft in scoot mode with army action.)

Chauhan seems a run-of-the-mill careerist type who got lucky (in terms of political connections). He has no paper trail in terms of writings, public speeches, etc. that would clue us to the views he holds on military and national security matters and, even less, about what he means to do. It is obvious that when Rawat was anointed CDS, Modi-Doval had no road map on armed forces’ integation and theaterisation of commands, and Rawat felt free to voice some very definite but wrong-headed views. Such as the air force as a support service, expeditionary forces as unnecessary and, not for the right reasons, aircraft carriers as unaffordable luxuries. They ended up stiffening the resistance to his initiatives from the get-go. Chauhan while publicly more circumspect is reported by “government officials” as saying that there have been enough “discussions” already and “it is now time to move forward” on implementing theaterisation of commands, his priority.

But realization of theatre commands assumes that all three armed services are on the same page and, moreover, that a certain level of integration of the services has already been achieved — neither of which is true! Indeed, the air force chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari preempted the constitution of the ‘Air Defence Command’ by announcing on October 4 the establishment of a new and separate operational stream within his service — the so-called Weapons Systems Branch headed by an Air Marshal-rank officer to control all of IAF’s surface-to-air missile and surface-to-surface missile squadrons and fleet of surveillance and attack drones! And, doubling down, he stated plainly that his service’s air power doctrine cannot be compromised, and added that theaterised commands would only complicate operational and other decisionmaking by adding another layer to it! So, whatever Chauhan has in mind to do, the IAF is not on-board.

But what’s the thinking in his parent service — the army. Consider the views of two retired officers, Lieutenant Generals Raj Shukla, whose last two postings as Commandant, Army War College, and head of the Army Training Command in Shimla, presumably afforded him the time to mull over issues in some depth, and Satish Dua, a former Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff and GOC, XV Corps in J&K.

While conceding that “integrated theatre commands are an important structural correction”, Shukla in a somewhat confused and confusing Hindustan Times op-ed of Sept 30, considered them remnants of the “industrial era”, and hinted at “parallel pathways” to jointness courtesy “digital integration, tri-service clouds, Artificial Intelligence-enabled combat frameworks” which, he claimed, would produce “superior” “military autonomy” than theatre commands (but is military autonomy the objective of military integration?), before lurching sideways to urge General Chauhan to make “an immediate, accelerated and ambitious turn to the seas, even as we fortify our combat posture” on the disputed land border with China.

Delving into the challenges facing Chauhan, Dua’s op-ed on the same day in the Times of India was less futuristic and more hopeful that the new CDS will “carry forward” Rawat’s “endeavour”, further the cause of “civil-military fusion”, and prepare the system for “multi-domain warfare” by utilizing the DMA. He regards theaterisation as a means of using “existing resources for an optimised combat effectiveness”, which he admits will be no easy task to realize. But he advises Chauhan to take “strong decisions” if he finds “unanimity” among services chiefs missing meaning, apparently, that he should hold Air Chief Marshal Chaudhuri’s feet to the fire, ride roughshod over the IAF’s objections to the air defence command, while ensuring that this “transition” is “smooth”. How the CDS is to do all this, Dua doesn’t say.

Shukla’s and Dua’s writings — and one can refer to a bunch of other similar articles by serving and retired military personnel on the subject of jointness-integration-theaterisation, are symptomatic of the problem. It is all airy-fairy stuff. Everybody knows where to go but no clear-cut ideas of how to get there.

Some 20 years ago at an army symposium in Bangalore I presented a paper that envisaged four stages leading to forces integration — cooperation, coordination, jointness, integration. I said then that the Indian armed services are stuck in the first stage of cooperating, willy-nilly, during crisis and war, and that coordination some time happens if, say, NDA coursemates from different services decide to work closely outside usual channels in an emergency, and that the last two stages of jointness and integration are thresholds realistically so far beyond realization as to be mere abstractions! Into the third decade of the new millennium, little substantively has changed.

A major restructuring of armed forces is not a joke, or indulged in on a political whim. It requires a singularity of vision and, ideally, years of serious and sustained study and inter-services discussions, and interactions at the services HQ-level, in-depth reports from in-house and diverse external sources — informed analysts, academics, thinktanks and management consultants that explore the technology trends and management imperatives, different models of military manpower usage, systems of procurements and budgetary allocations, experiences of military integration in other countries, and involves fleshing out of alternative schemes of jointness and the costs of such transformation, and finally wargaming and practical exercises to test and validate the alternative schemata of operational wartime and peacetime decisionmaking to see what works best. That’s how the most effective mix of military and nonmilitary elements and the meshing of different decisionmaking. command and control designs, can be discovered and armed services restructured in the most effective way. As far as I know, none of this has happened and yet the country is embarked on a major reordering of its armed forces.

Surely, the Modi government can’t be very serious about military integration and theaterisation of commands, because as things stand now the underway efforts seem like passing political fancy. But two moves would still make a difference even if the ground is inadequately prepared for such overhaul. Because more time cannot be wasted on the preparatory work; it will have to be the trial and error method. The Prime Minister has, firstly, to be the principal stakeholder in this exercise and use the whip against the military pooh-bahs and laggards undermining/delaying the process. This may involve firing reluctant services chiefs of staff and retiring principal staff officers in Services headquarters. And secondly, and more importantly, he has to invest Chauhan with the necessary authority — the CDS cannot be the first among equals; in a military milieu that won’t work. He has to be a five star officer — a Field Marshal/Admiral of the Fleet/Marshal of the Air Force, who outranks everybody and whose orders and instructions the services chiefs can ignore or resist at their peril. Absent these steps, Modi may as well whistle for theaterisation.

The Prime Minister may care to learn a lesson or two from the American experience. In the US, President Harry Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson took ownership of the unification plan and were the political piledrivers, who pulverzied the objections of the military, especially the senior service — the US Navy, and brusquely dismissed the parochial fears of the Admirals of renown — the Chester Nimitz’s and the Arleigh Burke’s, who had gained fame in the Second World War and opposed military unification. There was also no great body of studies and reports leading to the military integration and the emergence of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. There was but a single design for unification outlined in a short paper authored by a single person, not a committee — Stimson’s adviser and confidante, a man named Ferdinand. The trial and error method here led to an exercise in rectification and a second defence system overhaul in the 1980s — the Goldwater-Nichols Act.

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Technology & War, Understanding strategic threats, Chinese influence ops in India

This TEDx talk, recorded in July 2022, on the above subject of “Technology & War” may be of interest

Two more recent (Aug 23 and Sept 13) talks on DEF TALKS regarding ‘Understanding strategic threats to India’ and on ‘Chinese influence operations in India’ below

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