Bound hand & foot, nuclear-wise in Tokyo and the cost of delaying Brahmos to Vietnam

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is Tokyo-bound, there to sign a nuclear cooperation deal along the lines of a similar deal in 2008 with the United States. Have often wondered in my writings this incomprehensible desire of the Indian government headed by whosoever — Manmohan one year, Modi the next — to hamstring the country strategically. This deal with Japan too will have the clause of the deal-break in case India resumes nuclear testing at any time in the future. Because Japan has grown more hypocritical with the years even when compared to India, this anti-nuclear attitude of the Shinzo Abe regime occasions even less understanding, given Japan can become a nuclear weapon state quite literally over little more than a weekend.But the Japanese government, long in the American shadow, is habituated to aping the US.

However, this N-testing provision as deal breaker is sought to be kept hidden by GOI and, at Modi’s request, Tokyo agreed not to mention this conditionality in the public document, but rather in a separate “secret” document, as if this basis for the deal is a big secret. The Modi PMO, however, fears it will unnecessarily remind and rile up the few of us who remain concerned about GOI so easily surrendering its sovereign right to credible nuclear security, by postponing open ended N-tests and thereby persisting with untested and unproven fusion weapons arsenal.

There’s also some doubt whether Modi will be persuaded by Abe to be a bit bolder in his foreign policy where China is concerned, because New Delhi’s posture turns leonine only when Pakistan comes into view. The Indian PM hasn’t had the strategic wit to shrug off American pressure and expeditiously transfer the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile to Vietnam. So, it is unlikely he appreciates the need to strategically hamper China all along its coastline in the South China Sea, the East Sea, and the Yellow Sea, or the value of intensive military cooperation with Japan.

This reluctance of Modi’s makes no sense whatsoever in the light of China shopping its supersonic cruise missile — CM-302 in its export form, YJ-12 at the Zhuhai Air Show. How long do Modi, Doval & Co. believe it will be before the Pakistan Navy secures this missile? It stands to reason they will not even appreciate the fact that India’s repeated buckling under US pressure and postponing the Brahmos transfer has lost New Delhi the opportunity to leverage the threats of arming other states on China’s periphery with this sea-skimming anti-ship missile to prevent to, at least, limit the sale of the YJ-12s to Pakistan.

Posted in arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Defence Industry, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Japan, Missiles, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, nuclear power, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 15 Comments

US elections — News X Round Table

Over the last weekend the News X TV channel aired a “round table” with Kanwal Sibal, the longtime Syrian journalist in Delhi al-Awwad, Pramit Chaudhri of Hindustan Times, and myself, on whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is better for India. It was a wide-ranging discussion. I argue, among other things, (as I did) in an Open magazine piece and featured on this blog a while back, that Trump, owing to his isolationist mindset and impulse to withdraw to Fortress America and pullback from NATO and Asia, will compel India to rely on its own resources to manage the China challenge, etc. rather than on external powers as has happened in the Manmohan Singh years and, more surprisingly, the three years of Modi. But with Hillary it will be more of “the same old, same old”. This discussion available at

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, domestic politics, Geopolitics, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Iran and West Asia, Israel, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., West Asia | 3 Comments

The significance of the ‘Mighty Dragon’

The Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter aircraft, known as the ‘Mighty Dragon’, flew publicly for no more than a couple of minutes – without pulling any manuevers — at the 12th Zhuhai Air Show in Guangdong province in southern China on November 1st. But it was enough to send worry coursing through the military corridors in the Asia-Pacific region.

The reasons are not hard to see. This aircraft is being developed by China as a stealth aircraft for long range strike, a counterpart of the American F-22 Raptor. With an unfueled range of as much as 1,500 nautical miles, the J-20, depending from where it is launched, can reach deep inside India in the west to farthest points in what Beijing refers to as the “second Island chain” stretching from Japan to Papua-New Guinea and northeastern Australia in the Pacific. Moreover, with a large weapons-carrying capacity, masses of this aircraft that China, with hard currency reserves totaling some $4 trillion, can now easily afford and produce, will be able easily to overwhelm almost any local opposition. While most of its specific features and capabilities are unknown and can only be speculated about, the J-20 is reportedly superior to the only competition in its class, the F-22, in terms of operational radius and the size of its onboard arsenal.

However, the aircraft on show at Zhuhai seems to be a prototype, not the final product. While the Chinese PLA Air Force have announced 2018 as the year for inducting the J-20 into service, it will more likely be another decade before it is technologically mature. Over ten years elapsed between the industrially advanced US Company Lockheed Martin, for instance, first displaying the F-22 and its joining the US Air Force. What can be deduced from its size are the facts that the J-20 can carry more fuel (and, therefore, has longer range) and more wordnance than the Raptor.

But Western analysts were quick to damn the J-20 as a bad copy of the F-22 and the advanced multi-role combat aircraft F-35, amalgamating design features from both these aircraft into it. Many years back, the US government had charged China with hacking the designs of the F-22 and the F-35 from the Lockheed Martin computers. The Russians meanwhile claim the J-20 resembles the MiG 1.44 design the Chinese bought from the Mikoyan Guryevich Design Bureau.

But what is important is not that the Chinese have built a fifth generation strike aircraft by stealing secrets from the US but the fact that they designed, developed, and are now manufacturing an entirely indigenous aircraft with great fighting potential. That China has been engaging in intensive technology espionage is nothing new; nor is it a surprise that they have obtained mastery in reverse engineering complex fighter aircraft, which started with it turning out inferior but cheap copies of ex-Soviet fighter planes late 1950s onwards. In fact China’s combat aviation industry has grown so versatile and competent, one of the most renowned aerospace analysts, Dr. Carlo Kopp of Australia, writes that “In terms of China’s ability to manufacture and deploy significant numbers of the J-XX [J-20] it is worth observing that in terms of raw “bang for buck” China’s defence industry is outperforming the United States’ industry by a robust margin.” And of the J-20, he asserts, that it “represents a techno-strategic coup by China, and if deployed in large numbers in a mature configuration, a genuine strategic coup against the United States and its Pacific Rim allies.” The plane’s development, he goes on to say, is “an excellent case study of a well thought out response to [the American air force] deployment” which will require “a disproportionate response in material investment to effectively counter.”

What is particularly galling from the Indian point of view is that India, despite a much earlier and better start, rather than being well ahead of China in the aerospace sector and in producing advanced combat aircraft, has become the world’s largest importer. It may be recalled that the entirely Indian designed and built Marut HF-24 that flew in 1961 was the first the supersonic jet aircraft to be built outside the US and Europe in the world. It was designed by a Indo-German team headed by the foremost fighter aircraft designer of his time, Dr Kurt Tank, who had built Hitler’s air force, and included a number of talented Indians aircraft designers.

Had the Indian government used the HF-24 project as a seedbed for talent and specialized skills to establish a full-fledged aviation industry in the country, India would by now have been among the leading countries in this sphere and the source of advanced military technologies generally. But then the humiliating 1962 War with China followed and a panicky Indian government began haphazardly to grow the Indian military. Thus, the MiG-21 from the Soviet Union was speedily inducted into IAF followed in the 1970s by the British Jaguar strike aircraft even though the Marut was a better in that role of low level attack. The successor aircraft to the HF-24 called HF-73 would have been even better, except the craze for foreign combat aircraft and for importing them had by now been institutionalized. And the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) that began by producing the wholly indigenous Marut has been reduced over the years to manufacturing various MiG planes and the Jaguar aircraft under license and has become skilled at little else except screw-driver technology.

HAL and other Defence Public Sector Units have stagnated at this low level of industrial competence, never ingesting such technology as was “transferred”, leave alone innovating technology. Some small things were reverse engineered, not whole aircraft or other weapons systems and weapons platforms, and the armed services sank further and further into the wasteful habit of importing all their requirements. Other than making an arms dependency of India, the import culture in defence hardware has spawned a system of deep corruption, with military officers, civil servants and politicians all being paid off handsomely by foreign equipment suppliers. This is the condition India finds itself in – the country spends more and more on defence imports and gets less and less in return.

China in the meantime is on the cusp of becoming a genuine global power, able to create and produce the most advanced military technologies and, increasingly, disadvantage India by onpassing Chinese-made aircraft, tanks, artillery, ships and submarines to Pakistan.

This is strange because, when pushed to the wall and imports were unavailable, India has designed and produced the most advanced armaments ranging from the Arihant-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile firing submarines, nuclear weapons, to the Agni series of extremely lethal and sophisticated missiles.

May be, if the Modi government cuts off the import option to the Indian military and begins to show confidence and to have faith in Indian talent and capabilities, and moves to integrate the public sector and private sector resources, the country could begin to realize self-sufficiency in weaponry. This will be the beginning of India becoming a great power.
The above piece was published (in translation) in the Hindi language Daily, ‘Dainik Bhaskar’ on November 4, 2016.

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Gutting the Tejas or Seventies’ fighter for 21st Century IAF zindabad!

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government has waxed “nationalistic” but almost every step and decision it has taken in the defence industrial sector to-date has not only regressed the possibility of India emerging as a military aviation and aerospace power but pretty much guaranteed India will remain the biggest importer of armaments in the world and an arms dependency.

In its continuing display of complete lack of faith and confidence in indigenous products, talent and capabilities, and wholly disregarding the quite extraordinary and proven operational qualities and world-wide market potential of the home-designed and built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, the Modi regime has now put out that India is in the market for as many as 300 combat aircraft worth anything up to $13-15 billion — only the up-front cost, as long as all these planes are “made” physically in India. This is seen as being in line with Modi’s “Make in India” policy, but it is actually a simpletonish take on indigenous manufacture.

“Make in India” is different from the more significant “Made in India”, which GOI has not cottoned to, despite the fact that at the heart of the latter concept is the designing aspect. Designing the Tejas is of the greatest significance, not the fact that it has foreign-sourced components. No major aerial weapons platform in Indian use is, by this definition, “Made” in India. But a large number of them fit the category of “Make” in India involving the same old, same old — the Meccano level screwdriver technology of assembling aircraft, Bofors guns, whatever, as per the design blueprint and the SKD (semi knock down) kits and CKD (completely knocked down) kits given by the supplier, that HAL and our Ordnance factories are a cock-a-hoop about. This is the same old scheme of licensed manufacture dressed up in new “Make” in India rhetoric. Except, instead of the Defence Public Sector Units doing the assembling, private sector companies, such Tata, L&T, and Reliance Aerospace, will now also do it, with no more likelihood than in the past of these companies ingesting imported technologies to the point where they are able to innovate the technology. And India will be left marching in place.

In all such license manufacture deals, moreover, the really high value components and assemblies, such as the Fire Control System in the avionics suite, sensors, etc. will come as “black boxes” that the supplier companies will make money out of selling to India, for the duration of the production of the production run of that particular platform, piece of equipment. In fact, the Swedish firm Saab in competition with Lockheed Martin with its F-15 and Boeing’s F-18 to sell the Gripen NG as MiG-21 replacement has been more honest than the American majors in stating publicly that the final negotiated unit price of their aircraft will depend upon how much indigenization India wants, the higher the Indian content, the steeper the price. In other words, if like Rafale India buys the Gripen off the shelf, it’ll be a lower price than if GOI is intent on realizing the fiction of “Make” in India, when the price will go through the roof. Except Saab has promised help with the Tejas-1A, an interim plane preceding Tejas Mk-II. But the trend is that whatever the Tejas model, it will end up outfitting no more than 4-5 token air defence squadrons.

The talk is Modi is going American and buying the F-16, and soon Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar will sign an agreement with LM to produce the F-16 fighter aircraft involving a local partner, likely Tata (Dassault of France hoping the 38 aircraft deal will lead to buying another 90 Rafales, has chosen the politically well-connected Gujarati firm of Reliance Aerospace to advance this aim). LM and Boeing began shaping their offers around the time Modi visited the US and President Barack Obama for the first time in Oct 2014, when the US President is reported to have impressed on Modi the desirability of buying the F-16/F-18. That’s when Modi’s calculation firmed up that buying expensive military hardware would concurrently buy the goodwill of the Western country he was visiting at any time. A few months later in April 2015, he pulled the Rafale rabbit out of his metaphorical hat to the great delight and acclaim of President Francoise Hollande and his entourage in Paris.

Rafale was a phenomenally wasteful buy. The transaction for the F-16 will trump it. The problems attending on the latter are many and the Modi government has a lot of explaining to do to the country. For instance, how come the F-16/F-18, old, very old, combat aircraft dating their initial development to the late 1960s, which were rejected outright by the IAF (in the MMRCA race) because Air HQ had claimed it lacked any potential for “further development”, is now suddenly acceptable to the IAF brass as its bulk aircraft of the future? And is it the considered policy of the Modi government that India pay by beggaring itself for, and be armed with, junk? And, what about IAF’s fears that the Pakistan Air Force being intimately acquainted with the F-16 for over 35 years can, on the turn of a page, devise tactics to counter it?

American commentators make the case that India could become the sole supplier in the world of Block 70 F-16s enhanced possibly to ‘Viper’ 5th-gen aircraft configuration with the Northrup Grumman SABAR (scalable agile beam radar)AESA radar, spares and services. But any F-16 cannot be advanced more than 4.5 gen w/o radical structural changes, which are not on. They also contend that India can extract the condition of sales stoppage to PAF. This would be small consolation considering Russia will most definitely and happily sell to PAF the Su-30s, which can run circles around most extant aircraft and certainly the F-16/F-18. So, PAF will be in the enviable position of working both the F-16 and the Su-30 to India’s aerial disadvantage. The strategic genius of the Modi govt and IAF never ceases to amaze. This will happen because Moscow will calculate it has nothing to lose with India increasingly imposing stiff new conditions on ongoing deals as an excuse to buying Western stuff. It was a belief that no doubt got a fillip by Parrikar telling the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoygu over the weekend that he needed Moscow to commit to 50% of R&D of the 5th generation fighter to be done in India when the aircraft is already in service with the Russian air force and there’s no more R&D to do! The fact that the Russians have incorporated three changes demanded by IAF — a more powerful engine derived from the 117 power plant as interim power plant before the new Saturn Izdeliye engine can be put in it, a 360 degree radar, and 2 IRSTs (Infra-Red Search and Track) systems, has apparently not impressed the Indian side.

Not that the spendthrift Modi regime cares, but let’s compare the costs involved. The aged and worn out F-16 assembly line from Fort Worth, Texas, will be moved to India. Factoring in the costs of setting up this antique production facility here and a maintenance infrastructure in India, will mean F-16 per plane cost of around $280 million, without weapons. This for an almost fifty year old aircraft! By the time, you factor the weapon cost, a “Make” in India F-16 unit cost will be upwards of $350 million — the price of the cost-prohibitive Rafale! Boeing, trying to be clever, has promised establishing an entirely new and more modern production line, except India will pay lots more for it. The unit cost of the F-18, in the event , is anyone’s guess. F-18’s selling point is it is also a carrier aircraft, yes, but requiring gigantic boats of 90,000+ tonnes of displacement, which can be blown out of the water by supersonic and the even more deadly hypersonic cruise missiles (homing in, broadsides, at seven times the speed of sound). But we Indians believe in afterlife and the Indian carrier hosting F-18s will have one too!

Modi is throwing around tens of billions of dollars of the country’s monies as if it were confetti — $20 billion for the Rafale (if only 36 are procured) and $35-40 billion for the upgraded (but without major architectural changes) and at most 4.5 generation F-16/F-18. Imagine what investing such amounts of money would do for the Tejas, a 4.5 generation fighter. Meanwhile, China has just flown its wholly, fully, completely indigenous 5th gen J-20 stealth fighter at the Zhuhai Air Show.

That such a great home grown aircraft as Tejas is thus being slowly, and with great deliberation, strangled by the Indian govt and IAF, just as these two entities had in the 1970s killed the other Indian MADE and extraordinary supersonic combat aircraft the Marut HF-24 Mk-II (also known as the HF-73), reveals just how devoid of strategic vision and will, of confidence and faith in India’s capabilities and in self-respect, the Modi govt is. That the imports-happy IAF never felt even a twinge of self-doubt when flying foreign aircraft when desi aircraft were there for its nurturing, is by now an old story. $30 billion in the Tejas programme would result in a 4.5-gen combat aircraft (more than equal of the ’70s vintage F-16] that would wipe the floor with the competition in the global market, especially in Africa and Latin America. But that would mean NO repeated pleasure trips to the IAF brass and MOD officials to the US and to oola la! – Paris, etc., no Green cards, no offshore accounts, no palatial residences for CASs after retirement, no, etc. etc.

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Seeing the light but dimly (on N issues)

It is a time for the few of us who have always felt that the Govt of India have been un-serious about the country’s nuclear security, pandered to every Washington nonproliferation whim, succumbed to every international arms control and nonproliferation measure engineered by the five NPT-recognized weapon states, surrendered its sovereign right to obtain the level of strategic deterrence India requires, and otherwise foolishly led the fight for a world free of nuclear weapons, to heave a great sigh of relief. The Indian representative at the UN Commission on Disarmament (CD), DB Venkatesh Varma, for the first time that I can recall, voiced the government’s grave reservations about both the means of disarmament — a conference in March 2017 — and its desired outcome — tasked to negotiate a “legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination”, at the meeting of the UN’s First Committee. India joined 15 other nations in abstaining in the the General Assembly on the non-binding resolution moved by Austria, Ireland, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and Brazil which was, however, approved by 123 votes to 38.

India, Varma said, has been “constrained” to abstain on the resolution and is “not convinced” that the proposed conference in 2017 “can address the longstanding expectation of the international community for a comprehensive instrument on nuclear disarmament.” And while reiterating the need for consultations to bridge the “deep and substantive” divide between the nuclear weapon states (NWS) and non-NWS India, he added, “attaches the highest priority to nuclear disarmament and shares with the co-sponsors the widely felt frustration that the international community has not been able to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations” and “share the deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”, in explaining India’s abstention. He also reminded the CD that India did not partake of the meeting earlier this year in Geneva of the open-ended working group, and so commits to nothing. However, India, Varma stated “has supported the commencement of negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament on a Comprehensive Nuclear Weapons Convention, which in addition to prohibition and elimination also includes verification. International verification would be essential to the global elimination of nuclear weapons, just as it has been in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Progress on nuclear disarmament in the CD should remain an international priority”. “International verification” are code words for killing all such initiatives because the US is and has always been seminally opposed to international inspectors poking around its nuclear complex. This is the real hurdle to any meaningful disarmament.

The nuclear Have-nots in their frustration have sought for a long time to deny the benefits of the Bomb to the five states recognized as NWS by the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, or had the good sense (India, Pakistan) to not sign it and have since acquired nuclear weapons. If they believe the NWS can be prevailed upon to part with their arsenals and return to their pristine non-nuclear weapons state status then they are more optimistic and have to get real. After nearly 50 years of banging their collective head on a stone wall of dismissal and disregard for the very notion of a ‘nuclear zero’ world they seem to have learned nothing.

The surest way to demolish the present thoroughly unfair and unequal global nuclear order would be for the Latin American states leading this most recent charge, such as Brazil and Mexico to abrogate the 1967 Treaty of Tlatelolco that rendered the Caribbean and Central and South America a nuclear weapons free zone, and for the tech-wise capable Brazil to embark on a nuclear weapons programme, which will prompt its rival, Argentina, to shrug off its nuclear reticence. These twinned events will formally mark the breakdown of the NPT order and the message will reverberate through P-5 corridors, albeit, not to much effect on the NWS beyond the hand-wringing by disarmament idealists in the US and western Europe.

India could tip the NPT order over into the abyss, as I have been advocating for nearly two decades now, simply by resuming open-ended testing of high-yield thermonuclear weapons, something desperately needed to inject credibility into the fusion weapons arsenal we profess to possess, and to finally bring the weapons reliability and quality on par with India’s first rate missile delivery systems, in particular the Agni-5 IRBM. This is most seriously in the national interest, but no Indian government has had the nerve, the guts, and the political will to take the decision to restart N-testing because of the fear of US reaction and the potential trashing by Washington of the 2008 nuclear deal. Actually, nothing will serve India’s interests better nor be more welcomed by those who are truly nationalist-minded than for the nuclear deal to be junked. It will allow New Delhi to regain self-respect and genuine latitude of action and autonomy in foreign and strategic policies. Alas, Vajpayee started India’s downward slide, and Manmohan Singh and since 2014 Narendra Modi have preferred to be permitted White House visits than to firm up India’s thermonuclear stance. Whence, India is in the state it is — losing face and losing ground on all fronts.

If the vote to abstain in CD suggests a certain stiffening of the country’s hitherto noodle-spined outlook and policy, there’s contrary evidence to show that this vote is but a mirage, a diversion to cover up for staying true to the nuclear deal-course plotted by Washington.

It is not clear why the Modi regime, for instance, so wants an agreement for civil nuclear cooperation with Japan, which Tokyo has agreed to “in principle”. It has no real technologies to peddle other than one of its corporations, Toshiba, desiring to sell the Westinghouse 1000 line of reactors to India. This segues into Modi’s (as it did with Manmohan’s) conviction that the shortcut to making up the energy deficit is to fast forward nuclear power. To achieve this Modi has stressed imports of enriched uranium fueled reactors, which will for their lifetime be hostage to imported fuel bundles. It will ensure India adheres to its N-deal commitments, thereby ruling out further Indian explosive nuclear testing.

The more feasible alternative that makes economic sense of trusting in the indigenous natural uranium, heavy water moderated, INDU power plants is, of course, outside the pale. But it is consistent with the Modi government’s view also in the defense sector. Thus, Modi would in both these industrial spheres representing leading technologies rather enrich and sustain foreign nuclear and defence industries at humungous cost to the country than invest the same sums in installing INDU power plants at a speeded up pace at home and developing and selling in the global market the 220MW and the more advanced 700 MW INDU power plants.

That Modi time and again makes the wrong issue the standard to judge the success of his foreign visits by, is evident from GOI’s emphasis on signing a N-civilian cooperation deal with Japan, when Tokyo is clearly unwilling to accommodate New Delhi’s insistence that such an agreement not contain Japan’s right to resile from it in case India resumes testing. Modi is to visit Tokyo for the annual summit on Nov 11-12. Coming from Japan — a country that’s a virtual nuclear weapons state and can actually field an N-weapons inventory inside of a few weeks, this is a bit rich. But, of course, Japan has long chosen to ride its nuclear victimhood (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) into a permanent opposition to India’s nuclear weapons. Why it is not strategically plain to Tokyo that a nuclearised Japan and India at the eastern and western flanks of China, and to the Indian government that nuclear warheaded Brahmos cruise missile-armed Vietnam in China’s soft underbelly in Southeast Asia, will squelch for once and for all Beijing’s dreams of dominating Asia, is a mystery.

So there’s ample foolishness and very little clear-headed thinking going round in New Delhi and Tokyo. This is so perhaps because governments in both these countries seem tied to America’s apron strings and are doing their best to live up to being “umriki tattoos”.

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Changing Guard at GHQR

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will soon anoint from among the three star contenders the successor to General Raheel Sharif and the new Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) and, willy-nilly, the person around whom the Pakistani state will revolve for the next three-odd years (should he follow Raheel’s example and without much ceremony demit office on completing his tenure).

As per Dawn story of Aug 15, 2016 (at the seniority list reads as under:
1) Lt Gen Maqsood Ahmed, Military Adviser UN Department of Peacekeeping Military Operations,
New York
2) Lt Gen Zubair Hayat, Chief of General Staff, retiring in Jan 2017
3) Lt Gen Syed Wajid Hussain, Chairman Heavy Industries Taxila, retiring in Jan 2017
4) Lt Gen Najibullah Khan, DG Joint Staff Headquarters, retiring in Jan 2017
5) Lt Gen Ishfaq Nadeem Ahmed GOC, II Corps, Multan, retiring in Aug 2017
6) Lt Gen Javed Iqbal Ramday Commander XXXI Corps Bahawalpur Aug 2017
7) Lt Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa Inspector General Training & Evaluation Aug 2017

Maqsood and Syed are out of the running, the former because he is on extension and unlikely to give up on a cushy UN job with great retirement benefits, and a US residency to boot, and the latter because well he is not in a bonafide army post.

Among the remaining five, Zubair Hayat (who looks a bit like Anupam Kher in specs) from the artillery arm is believed to be the favourite, having also pulled time in other significant posts — GOC, II Corps, and DG, Strategic Plans Division (SPD) — the nuclear all-in-all organization in that country. If the odds are beaten and Hayat misses becoming COAS, then Najibullah from Hayat’s batch too will be overlooked.

Among Nadeem, Ramday, and Bajwa, bringing up the next senior echelon and the Aug 2017 batch of prospective retirees, Nadeem is the “soldier’s soldier” — besides commanding Pakistan’s Strike Corps, and the officer Raheel picked to be his Chief of Defence Staff (a post he later traded with Hayat not too long ago). He was previously DG, Military Operations, at GHQR, and, prior to that, as a Brigadier, was chief of staff of the Mangla Corps. An infantryman, his parent unit, interestingly, is the Azad Kashmir Regiment. Undoubtedly, Nadeem would appear to be Raheel’s choice for COAS. Except Nawaz has to the deciding and has had mixed luck with picking army chiefs.

The Pak Prime Minister has picked five of the seven army chiefs after Zia ul-Haq — Asif Nawaz Janjua (in 1991), Waheed Kakar (in 1993), Gen Pervez Musharraf (in 1998) and Gen Raheel Sharif (in 2013). To the PM’s credit his selections, Janjua and Kakar were gentlemen and constitutionalists, who believed in remaining secondary to the elected political authority. Musharraf was the bad egg who proved right the late General Tikka Khan’s observation about Pakistani heads of government unerringly picking their nemesis. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto chose the person featured last on the succession/seniority list of top dozen drawn up by Tikka, Zia ul-Haq. The clever Zia had done his homework well in the run-up to his selection and, as Tikka told me when I visited him at his home in Rawalpindi in December 1982 — my first trip to Pakistan, he laid the flattery on thick when Bhutto visited HQ 1st Armrd Division. There, in front of the assembled officers and men, Zia took out a copy of the Koran wrapped in green silk and, with his hand on the holy book, swore his eternal loyalty to the foolish Zulfi, a sucker for flattery. A flabbergasted Tikka, quite aware of Zia’s “chaploosi and tricks” as he called it, repeatedly pleaded with Bhutto to pick almost anybody else from his list of twelve. But Bhutto chose wrong. “Jab qayamat aati hai, kaun roke sakta hai” said a rueful Tikka to me. He was then under ‘House arrest’ imposed by his successor, and loudly abused Zia in choicest Punjabi when seeing me off within the earshot of the MI staffers and Mil Police doing pehra at the gate. I was in Islamabad to attend, along with Inder Gujral and K. Subrahmanyam, a Pak Army arranged affair billed as the “First Conference on Peace and Security in South Asia”. How time has passed and how little things have changed!

Nawaz made a similar mistake with Musharraf except, as it was bruited about in Islamabad circles, the PM was much impressed by the former SSG officer’s quality of no-nonsense directness, without keying on his over weaning ambition, which wasn’t a secret in army corridors. Bhutto paid for his bad choice with his life. Lucky Nawaz, it only cost him a stint as an exile in Riyadh.

Nawaz has to calculate that if Raheel’s top choice, Nadeem, is anything like his mentor, he can be relied on to go professionally about his business without ever entertaining thoughts about deploying the 111 (coup) Brigade. Except, it is precisely his professionalism and attainments in closing down a good part of the ISI-supported terrorist state apparatus, fighting the religious extremists in FATA and North Waziristan, and clamping down on the ever troublesome London-based Altaf Hussain’s MQM that not too long ago ran Karachi that Raheel may turn into political gold. He could be the the PM nominee of a political party and defeat the ruling Muslim League (N) in the next general elections. Whence, the advice to Nawaz from some quarters to confer a Field Marshal’s baton on Raheel and shove him to the sideline. As an FM he doesn’t ever retire, but equally he cannot go political either!

Hayat, in the event, would seem to be the safer selection. But Nadeem, the hardened military professional, appears (dispassionately speaking) the better choice for Pakistan at this time in its evolution as a state where the army is getting accustomed to playing second fiddle to the political masters. But is Nawaz feeling confident enough to appoint Nadeem?

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Terrorism | 2 Comments

The Cost of Localising BRICS

Published as the ‘Open Essay’ in ‘Open’ magazine dated 21 October 2016, at
Let’s not induce the world to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan

HERE’S A CONTRAFACTUAL: Say, the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Uri hadn’t happened, and the much-trumpeted Indian ‘surgical strike’ in retaliation hadn’t materialised, the Eighth Summit in Goa of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group, far from pivoting centrally on the issue of ‘terrorism’ in South Asia, would have debated measures to increase intra-BRICS trade to inure these states against market-induced swings on Wall Street and in London. And discussed ways and means of this group emerging as a forceful political and economic bloc to balance the power of the United States and Western Europe, and to stabilise the international system careening off in different directions. The desire to rise as a geopolitical power house was the impulse behind the formation of BRICS in the first place. These countries had hoped that, as a collective, the group would fill the space previously occupied by the Soviet Union-led Eastern bloc and the ineffectual Non-Aligned Movement in the post-1945 world, and generate synergy.

Sure, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have still tried in the bilateral talks in the run-up to the summit to impress on the Chinese President Xi Jinping to relent on the matter of Masood Azhar and declare Pakistan a state sponsor of terrorism, and to dilute Beijing’s opposition to India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which Indian officials and media alike insist on calling ‘prestigious’, when actually it is only a trade cartel that retards the comprehensive development of Indian nuclear military and civilian capabilities.

Pushing a singularly Indian agenda at the summit level, however, risked getting egg on the face, which is what happened in Goa. In the Declaration issued at the end of the summit, there was no mention of ‘cross-border terrorism’, nor were the Pakistan-supported terrorist gangs—Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Toiba named (even as the Islamic State was identified). Modi’s attempts to have the BRICS grouping endorse the Indian position thus failed.

China was the big hurdle, which shouldn’t have surprised anybody. Every indication was available that Xi would not budge from China’s supposedly ‘principled’ stands on these issues. The foreign policy ‘brain bank’ of the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of External Affairs decided nevertheless to push ahead, and ran smack into the Chinese wall.

Physical intimacy with the former KGB agent in Berlin and no-nonsense Russian President, Vladimir Putin, was never on the cards, and just as well, because he had arrived at the summit site determined to recover his country’s position as the top arms supplier to India, failing which to sink Modi’s foreign policy, of which there were hints galore. Russian troops had just ended their first-ever joint exercise with Pakistan army units, and Moscow had sedulously stoked speculation in New Delhi and Islamabad about the flow to the Pakistani military of frontline Russian hardware at friendly prices and about a new and powerful Asian triad in the offing of Russia, China and Pakistan. More pointedly, the Kremlin had disavowed the statement in support of India’s retaliatory action for the Uri strike made by Russia’s ambassador in Delhi, Alexander Kadakin.

It was enough to unnerve the Modi Government and get it to agree speedily to deals for big-ticket items that had been hanging fire, but even so, like all India’s military procurement schemes, had not been thought through. Thus, Rs 39,000 crore was committed to buying just five batteries of the S-400 Triumf system that promises an all-in-one air defence solution, able on paper to neutralise airborne threats ranging from drones, combat aircraft, to missiles. Except, optimised for the anti-aircraft mission, it is no more able to neutralise incoming salvos of enemy missiles than the Indian Prithvi interceptor ballistic missile defence system can (or any other extant BMD system, including the Israeli Arrow-2 and the American Patriot PAC-3).

Once he had an agreement for the purchase of high-value armaments in hand, Putin made the requisite reassuring noises, but stopped short of joining the Modi-driven campaign to skewer Pakistan as the ‘mother ship’ of international terrorism. In fact, like Xi, he agreed to nothing more than anodyne statements in the Goa Declaration, such as, ‘We strongly condemn the recent several attacks against some BRICS countries, including that in India’ and calls to expedite the adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism at the United Nations. The Chinese and Russians are no dummies in playing hardball.

While the host country always enjoys some leeway in channeling the summit discussions, overdoing it has its costs. What, for instance, would Presidents of Brazil and South Africa, Michel Temer and Jacob Zuma, respectively, reduced quite literally to sideshows in Goa, have made of India’s almost manic focus on Pakistan-centred terrorism? Even though they might have had a whiff of the direction the proceedings would take under Modi’s ministrations, they must have been surprised to find themselves asked to take sides and join in making India’s anti-Pakistan song the BRICS summit’s signature tune.

Curiously, India’s Foreign Secretary K Jaishankar tried to bring the BRICS states in line by intoning rather sternly on the opening day that “no country can be agnostic on terrorism”. Agnosticism implies a high church and tenets that can be questioned. In this case, the dogma was the coupling of Pakistan and terrorism that would brook no questioning. This was but a short step from pillorying the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and, by extension, Islam as a seedbed of terror. It didn’t work.

Perhaps Jaishankar misspoke. If, on the other hand, he was voicing New Delhi’s seriousness in getting fellow BRICS countries to swallow whole India’s terrorism concerns wrapped in its patent perception of Pakistan as threat, then he was attempting to do something even more tricky and difficult. Seeking to conflate the separate BRICS views of the international security situation with India’s national interest was a politically impossible task.

That the Indian Government actually expected BRICS to hitch itself to its anti-Pakistan terrorism wagon suggests it is not properly oriented with the international diplomatic landscape. No country will subsume another country’s threats, even less expend scarce politico-diplomatic capital on issues extraneous to its own immediate interests and realpolitik goals. China has Uyghur nationalism to contend with—a problem that’s going to grow in the future. Especially if, as is already evident, stalwart jihadis—veterans of singularly violent wars against the unbeliever in locations as diverse as Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan—trickle back home, there to use their expert knowledge and experience of guerrilla fighting, Kalashnikovs, and improvised explosive devices to formally wage a brutal war for an independent East Turkestan in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang. But this prospect, while alarming, cannot prompt Beijing to give up on Pakistan, a most useful strategic ally in riling its two prime adversaries, India and the US, and affording it a gateway to the Indian Ocean.

Moscow, on its part, has dealt with Islamic dissidents in its Muslim enclaves in the Caucasus—Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia—with rough and ready methods, and has generally succeeded in forcefully pacifying these peoples, at least for the nonce. Brazil has no terrorist problem and Muslims in South Africa are part of the Indian diaspora dating to the mid- to-late 19th century, who inspire less friendly feelings than resentment in the majority Black population. Modi’s move to make Kashmir-centred terrorism the preoccupation of the BRICS summit was, therefore, a stillborn initiative that did not have a spitball’s chance in hell. The consolation was that Brazil (whose nearest brush with terrorism were the Tupamaro urban guerrillas active in neighbouring Uruguay up until the 1970s) and the heads of state of Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal who were in Goa to liaise with their BRICS counterparts, were prevailed on to condemn Pakistan’s support for terrorists.

There is so great a chasm in the strategic interests and the approach to security of the five BRICS countries, the possibility of arriving at a consensus on any issue, except in the most vapid terms, is remote. That leaves only the economic sphere where there’s some movement. So, small achievements, such as the setting up of a credit rating agency to help the BRICS’ offshoot, the New Development Bank, to function better, were duly celebrated in Goa. But this group has yet to acquire economic salience because BRICS doesn’t act as a single economic-cum-negotiating unit since the economic interests of constituent states too diverge greatly.

The potential is huge though. According to the BRICS page on the Ministry of External Affairs site: ‘In 2015, BRICS countries accounted for a total nominal GDP of [$]16.92 trillion, equivalent to 23.1% of world GDP. Their territories are home to 3.073 billion inhabitants (53.4% of the population). Its exports amounted, in 2014, US$3.48 trillion. Imports in that same year amounted to US$3.03 trillion. Since 2001, the BRICS have more than doubled their share of world exports. In that year, the group represented 8.1% of world’s total exports; in 2015, they accounted for 19.1% of that total.’

But, intra-BRICS trade constitutes only a small part of the global trade, and is skewed. While it grew 163 per cent between 2006 and 2015, from $93 billion to $244 billion, the bulk of it was in the two dyads—China-India and China-Russia. Modi has projected the trade figure to touch $500 billion by 2020 at a time when serious disagreements have surfaced at the 15th G-20 economic summit held in Hangzhou, China, just last month over market distortions induced by hidden and indirect state support that Beijing is said to have used to sustain high levels of Chinese exports. On this issue, India sided with the United States and Europe against China. Xi made his by-now- stock promise to ease access to the Chinese market by Indian exporters, a promise his regime has made to the US and European governments as well. India’s trade imbalance with China is currently valued at $50 billion (of the total bilateral trade of some $70 billion). The fact is that an inequitable trade regime within BRICS fundamentally undermines the possibility of realising the group’s potential economic clout.

But the Goa summit will be remembered mainly as India’s futile efforts at localising BRICS. Prime Minister Narendra Modi sets a great deal of store by international summits and conferences. But unless he stops trying to convert every multilateral and bilateral meet into a diplomatic slugfest targeting Pakistan, not only will India’s larger interests not be served, but it will induce the international community to re-hyphenate India and Pakistan. When Indian foreign policy is so imbued with parochial concerns, it is hard to imagine it accomplishing much beyond affording extra-territorial big powers the opportunity to intervene and shape the outcomes they desire.


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