Defensive Offence — Quad, Defence Modernisation, Afghanistan’s Future & Self Reliance

This is a recent extended interview in Hindi (mostly, and the best that I could manage!) with ‘Defensive Offence’ website. May be of interest.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brazil, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, Tibet, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries | 12 Comments

Jaishankar at his worst — a universe of difference he can’t see

Modi, Jaishankar know Beijing better than most, & that could help defuse  tension with China
[PM & Jaishankar: Saying what?]

A few hours before being discharged from a Delhi hospital forenoon today — yea, COVID or its variant/mutant put me there for the last nine days, despite my having taken the Astra-Zeneca double shot few weeks previously, so effects of this strain were, mercifully, relatively mild, which hints at just how relentlessly dangerous this virus is, but ‘am back online — I heard our esteemed External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar on CNS-News18. I am not any more surprised by anything the MEA minister says or does. I am beyond that and fully into being simply appalled instead.

With cremation fires lighting up the cityscape, mofussil areas, and the countryside alike, and graveyards everywhere full to bursting and unable to accommodate the dead, a suited-booted Jaishankar, staring into the TV camera, unctuously mouthed inanities. Firstly, he informed the viewers that the covid pandemic was a global thing — shades of Indira Gandhi –or was it Rajiv Gandhi? — defending herself against charges of corrupton by saying corruption was a global affliction, remember that! — the easier it’d appear for the Modi sarkar to disavow any responsibility for the unfolding public health catastrophe. Incidentally some projections show the COVID surge is yet to peak, or that there is another corona tsunami in the offing, in any case, it is something the Modi regime is singularly responsible for. And because it was a global phenomenon India, Jaishankar implied, would be part of a global solution with every country pitching in to help. If that help doesn’t come– and there’s every reason to expect it won’t materialize anytime soon, what will the Modi regime do? Sit on its hands? Make a beggarly nuisance of India?

With every major country scurrying to mobilize its own national resources to meet its covid requirements — the demand for which cannot easily be estimated, depending as it is on the estimated population size and receptivity curve, and thus only able and willing to render mostly symbolic assistance — cryogenic oxygen chambers, O2 concentrators and the like, massive offloading of rawmaterials for vaccine manufacture in India, is unlikely. As I said in the preceding post, it’ll be months before Indian vaccine factories actually begin humming. Meanwhile, the Indian government will have to make do with palliatives, like maxing oxygen industrial scale production and delivering oxygen cylinders to hospitals, etc.– which activity, thanks primarily to the Indian private sector, the country has less to worry about. So, what else does Jaishankar expect the rest of the world to do?

In this respect he mysteriously mentioned the cabal of G-7 and the trio of India, South Korea and South Africa as a special group concerting, he hinted, to resolve covid issues whether specifically in India or in all these other countries as well, he didn’t say. That wasn’t helpful.

Secondly, and this was even more troubling because it indicates just how deep down the dependency complex is now rooted in the thinking of the Indian policy establishment, he equated — and did so, oh, so, smoothly — the pandemic situations in the United States and in Western European countries who had suffered badly from the pandemic and came out of them, with India’s present condition, by saying, by implication, that the governments in these countries know what’s best for India to do in its present circumstances!!!

Has Jaishankar not been watching the TV screen and CNN this past year and not seen there’s a universe of difference between the Covid crises in America and in the West, generally, and the one India is enmeshed in right now? Hasn’t he looked at wailing men, women and children in thousands daily on television, people begging for puffs of life-giving O2, and the macabre scenes being played out all over of dead bodies being lit up wherever they can be — any vacant roadside spot will do — because the shamhshan grounds are piled thick and high and cannot take anymore custom?

Does this self-consciously clever EAM not see the manifest, obvious, absolute chasm in SCALE and DEGREE of the problem India is facing, and the depressing quality of his government’s ameliorative efforts when compared to the problem the US and Europe faced with the spiking pandemic and how they dealt with it? This is a country with 1.3 billion people — nearly a billion more than America, with a public health infrastructure at a small fraction of the US’. What the heck can the Biden Admin advise Delhi to do that it doesn’t already know it should have done, and considering Modi isn’t inclined to do the one thing Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, has suggested he do — order a full lockdown, again, for fear of bringing the stuttering Indian economy to a grating halt, what’s there to listen to?

Sure, even otherwise in general terms what the Indian government should have done is known to everyone in the Health Ministry at the centre and in the state governments. Indeed, all those responsible are only too aware of how badly they have fouled up every which way and are left scrambling to make excuses when not, like the UP chief minister, Adityanath, threatening to take people to court for claiming oxygen shortage! The fact is Prime Minister Modi is so thoroughly flustered he has lost his bearings and, of course, his elan. As mentioned in an earlier post, he got complacent too quickly and once the kumbh mela and state elections in particular rolled around, he couldn’t summon the political will to at least call off his campaigning in West Bengal — the real pandemic facilitators, and now finds that the Indian system cannot cope with real adversity when it has come acallin’.

How concerned Modi is with the ravages of the virus on the society, economy, etc and with how badly large masses of the Indian people are being impacted by this unmitigated disaster of his making, is hard to speculate. But there’s little doubt why he wheeled out Jaishankar before the media: It was to try and prevent an already humungous personal public relations calamity for Modi from snowballing into something lot worse — being perceived by the West whose regard and attention he seemingly craves more than anything else, as no more than a run-of-the-mill showy incompetent Third World head of government. Whatever the positive aura he tried to create for himself over the past 6-odd years is now dust, especially abroad.

In the event, Jaishankar sought hard and predictably failed to do what his boss had asked him to do: Somehow cover up for Modi’s covid mismanagement and the sense of desperation it has spawned in the PM by mooting a global solution for a seriously, strictly, Indian problem he cannot avoid taking the blame for.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, Internal Security, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 18 Comments

Cost of Trusting America

[Biden taking his Covid shot]

The Modi government sent an SOS to the Biden White House almost three weeks back. Adar Poonawala of the Serum Institute — the largest producer of vaccines in the world with global sales of 1.5 billion doses of vaccines for every malady ranging from Polio, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis, Hib, BCG, r-Hepatitis B, Measles, Mumps and Rubella, with high-tech production capacity of 500 containers per minute, pleaded with the US President via Twitter to release raw materials for making the Astra-Zeneca Covid vaccine. All that has happened in response so far is that Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and all the other Administration biggies have clucked in sympathy and expressed their “solidarity” with India and Indians. Much good that will do India or the 350,000 Indians daily detected as virus stricken and the almost 3,000 Indians dying all over the country every day.

Even as the US government sits on its hands it has, according to newsreports, stockpiled covid vaccines in government depots, in other words, it is hoarding, over 100 million doses — which it isn’t releasing for use abroad just in case there’s a surge need for them within America. It is rushing oxgen concentrators, ventilators and similar stuff but not the 37 raw materials the ‘Economist’ has identifed as needed by India — and the Serum Institute in particular — to bulk produce the vaccine. The reason for this blockage is that Biden has invoked the Defence Poduction Act for vaccine manufacture, which means the needed raw materials can only be deployed as priority to speedily meet domestic production requirements, and cannot be diverted to India or any other country.

Meanwhile, Pfizer and other vaccine producers, espying huge profit, want the US government to go the World Trade Organization route to fix vaccine prices and to protect intellectual property rights. What this means in practice is that Serum Institute will be starved of the raw materials and the vaccine production will soon grind to a stop at its facility in Pune once the current stock of ingredients runs out. Biden can short circuit this lengthy WTO negotiating process, but won’t for the simple reason that he does not want to rub the wealthy pharma industry, intent on making money, the wrong way.

Where does that leave our dear leader, Narendra Modi, who has worn his love for America on his sleeve? He has advisers around him, like External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, who won’t hesitate to push India into the US camp whatever the opportunity or occasion, and at whatever cost to the country. Washington may be thinking along the same lines and may extort, say, an Indian military role in Afghanistan or seek activation, as some have speculated, of the Logistics Support Agreement to embark US Special Forces from Indian bases for operations against the Afghan Taliban after September 11 when the American military presence in that country is formally zeroed out. This would be in exchange for release of covid vaccine raw materials.

The reason such a deal is very possible is because of the realist, transactional, nature of US foreign policy and the unvarying American attitude to the world which, I for one, have long admired, and which I have held up for GOI-MEA to emulate. There’s no place here for sentiment, for emotions, for fellow feeling — there’s just the unvarnished fact of the National Interest, and nothing else, and any and all means are usable to further it. Realizing the national interest by this reckoning is a zero sum game, and as Biden sees it, reduced stocks of raw material could come back to bite him politically were the pandemic to skyrocket again in the US requiring heightened emergency production of vaccines at home. Biden is covering all contingencies that could potentially impact the US and get him in hot water.

This sort of thinking is entirely foreign — pun intended — to GOI, which begins planning for a any catastrope after it has occurred, in the case of the Covid pandemic only after several thousand people had met their doom. And then the bureaucratism and the centre-states tussles take over. Consider the rough sequence of the pandemic reaction by the Government. After the first complete country-wide lockdown, India was among the few countries that seemed to have contained the virus. It led to Modi’s shipping the vaccines in stock to all over the developing world per World Health Organization guidelines. It resulted in Modi and India winning a lot of friends and encomiums. But, more dangerously, it triggered the complacency that is always just below the surface where the Indian government is concerned and which is the bane of the Indian system. No sooner was there the barest glimmer of success then Modi and the entire top ranks of GOI were cock-a-hoop and short of publicly high-fiving everybody in sight, radiating self-satisfaction.

And then the real Covid Tsunami hit which the GOI had neither foreseen nor prepared for. Worse, the state carried on as if nothing was amiss — with literally millions milling in the Kumbh Mela in Allahabad and election campaigns proceeding at pace in West Bengal and elsewhere — perfect mediums for the rapid spread of the virus throughout the length and breadth of the nation.

Confronted wiith an unfolding disaster Modi did the first thing he could think of — call on the United States for immediate help, confident that American planes would, without hesitation, be winging loads of the raw material to the Serum Institute and other production facilities. Hopefully, the Prime Minister now knows better that America makes haste only when its tail is in the wringer, not when India’s is. Washington is already talking about the response timeframe of months, not days, leave alone weeks — for the main items — the raw materials to be officially released and airlifted. By then, who knows what the human toll in India will be? And how much good it will do?

At a minimum, Modi should heed what this analyst has been warning for decades in his books and other writings — that to construct an Indian foreign policy edifice on the strategic partnership with the US is to build on a foundation of quick sand, where Indian contingencies are involved. But it is also to setup an automatic positive response-cum-pressure system India will be subjected to anytime Washington calls on Delhi for any assistance or help which, if they aren’t immediately complied with, will instantly trigger punitive US actions.

Assuming Jaishankar knows this, it is unlikely he has communicated any reservations — “Time to rethink our US policy”-kind of advice to the Prime Minister. But Modi should rely on his own political instincts and not bank on foreign countries to pull India out of the mess it peridocally gets itself into. Atm-nirbharta is so far mainly a mantra endlessly repeated without anybody in government or outside of it having the faintest idea of what it means. Modi should start by making the country self-sufficient in base pharma materials and chemical industrial necessities and incentivise their manufacture at home to ensure India does not again have to have its begging bowl out.

In the current crisis, GOI and its agencies, including the military, are filled with officials with scant knowledge of the US and how the American system actually works, in the main because, like all Third World officious types, they can’t get beyond the lure of America if not for themselves than for their children — green cards by hook or crook! — and hence, by habit, don pink-coloured glasses when viewing the US, including its invariably tardy reactions to life or death issues facing other countries.

The antidote to this raging Yankeeitis — and this, I admit, is derived solely from my personal experience — is exposure to America at an early age — in my case at the undergrad level. One then begins to understand the “belly of the beast”. But equally I began to appreciate just why the realpolitik the US unapologetically practices with weak states and strong alike is absolutely the right thing to do in a perennially unsettled and disorderly world. Having heard and interacted with American strategic realm heavyweights in graduate seminars at UCLA and in the larger California Arms Cntrol Seminar in the early to mid 1970s — and over 50 years since then, what has always impressed was their crystal-cut clarity of thinking, their precision when processing information and data, analytically dissecting situations and policies, and when proposing just as clear-headed solutions, which may not always be right but serves the US interest of the moment.

The world doesn’t change all that fast. Trust no big power to do the right thing by India, keep distance from all major states, do not sign any agreement that India is not ready to violate, and use the policy space that is thus created to maximize the benefits — are principles the Modi government and the MEA and military more generally should fruitfully follow, certainly when dealing with America.

Then there will be absolutely no reason for Delhi to trust in the US or be disappointed in case it does something unexpected, or even adverse, and less reason for Washington to be disappointed by anything India does in its own, singular, National Interest.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Indian state/administration, MEA/foreign policy, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 22 Comments

Thinking of Messing with Russia? Think again

August 2007: Putin is pictured carrying a hunting rifle in the Republic of Tuva
[Putin in Aug 2007 — hunting]

The most absolute ruler in the world today, other than Kim Jong-un of North Korea, is Vladimir Putin of Russia — not Xi Jinping in China, who has to play and balance a number of powerful entities and vested interests, especially the pampered People’s Liberation Army which, no surprise, has the run of the Treasury. It is the reason why the Communist party continues to be in the wheelhouse and Xi at the wheel. Putin has no such oppostion and rules virtually by decree. He also has the Stalinist State apparatus that never really disappeared, with KGB at its core, as his handmaiden.

Vladimir Putin spent long years in the State Committee for Security — KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti). Posted to the Second Chief Directorate (counterintelligence) in Dresden in East Germany during the Cold War, he was shifted to the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Operations) and finally to the Fifth Chief Directorate (Internal Security). He thereby pulled time in the three most powerful arms of the KGB. In analyzing ‘alpha male’ leaders — Modi, Trump, Putin, Xi, and Erdogan in the first chapter of my 2018 book ‘Staggering Forward’, I emphasized how during his time in the 5th Directorate Putin cannily linked up with the Russian Orthodox Church and. after becoming President, returned to it all the properties and lands expropriated by the State in the 1917 October Revolution, and won its loyalty. The reason why the Church supports him fully and gets him votes during elections.

Putin is a martial arts expert, hunts with a Baikal Rifle, sea dives for fun, rides around in a Harley Davidson Lehman Trike hog, has authored a regime of physical exercises to keep fit, and inaugurated the new HQ in Moscow of the Russian military intelligence (GRU) by loosing off a few rounds at a moving target in its underground firing range. When this man — the Russian President, says “We know how to defend our interests”, Delhi better believe he will not take anything lying down.

The Biden Administration signalled the end of the 4-year Trump-honeymoon with Russia by announcing a slew of economic sanctions against Russian entities and notables. Moscow retaliated and then upped the game just to see what Washington would do. So, on the southern NATO tier, Putin massed over 40,000 Russian troops, including as BBC reported, “16 tactical groups”, on Ukraine’s eastern border and in Crimea that he had annexed in February 2014. Ukraine Defence Minister Andrii Taran informed the European Parliament’s Security and Defense Subcommittee that Russian military strength on Ukraine’s borders may soon “reach 56 battalion tactical groups with 110,000 troops”.

Russia’s objective to eventually re-absorb all of Ukraine is based on Russia-leaning separatists already controlling much of the Donbas country in eastern Ukraine roughly upto the line Mariupol-Petrivsk-Donetsk-Horlivka-Debaltseve-Luhansk. Speaking April 13 at the NATO HQ in Brussels, a shaken Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned that Russia was “openly threatening Ukraine with war and destruction of our statehood”. But unlike in 2014, he added, “Russia won’t be able to catch anyone by surprise anymore”. Kuleba got it wrong.

Putin has been beefing up Russian forces on the Ukrainian front for a while now not so much to catch Ukraine, NATO or the US by surprise but to see if the American President, Joe Biden, is risk-acceptant enough to chance a military confrontation. Indeed, Moscow is going the extra mile to needle Washington by choking off Ukranian naval access to its Black Sea ports. The Ukrainian defence minister Taran fears this Russian blockade in the Black and Azov Seas is designed to severely hinder his nation’s “important trade routes in international waters” accounting for $103 billion in foreign trade. This action suggests Putin is intent on economically strangling Ukraine and daring Biden to do something. That he can throttle the confrontation up or down at will is indicated by his latest move to de-concentrate his forces on the Ukraine border.

So far the US, other than venting hot air, has not reacted. Sustained Allied military action may, in any case, be difficult considering the NATO main air base in Incirlik in Turkey for a southern approach may be unavailable to US forces because America is in the same jam with Ankara as it is with Delhi — the S-400! President Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey has made clear — almost in so many words — that he will have the S-400 and, should Washington threaten CAATSA sanctions, NATO can go find another Incirlik for itself! By getting close to Turkey in the last several years, Putin may, in fact, have planned and prepared for a contingency as is developing. With so many chess-like moves (like cultivating Germany and other West European states with piped oil and gas), Putin has shored up his country’s security perimeter before going on the offensive. The point to make is this: Putin is a careful but ruthless player willing to push the envelope. For Modi to rub him the wrong way by sidling up to America may be to goad Moscow into unsheathing its numerous options which will only worsen the regional balance of advantage against India.

Consider how Erdogan in contrast is playing it. His stance, unlike Modi’s, is stern. Ankara is very sure what it brings to the table is something the US and NATO cannot do without. Modi, on the other hand, advised by the likes of Jaishankar, acts unsure, as if Delhi has no leverage at all with Washington. Thus, India’s peninsular expanse sticking halfway into the Indian Ocean, which makes it pivotal to any Indo-Pacific security scheme, is a basic fact of geography that is evident to any school child looking at a map but apparently isn’t visible to the Indian government. Or, why else would the Indian government be content with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s expressing satisfaction (in his January 30 telephonic talk with Jaishankar) with the state of bilateral relations which, other than the same old, same old — Malabar naval exercies, blah, blah, blah,… haven’t, in real terms, benefitted India much?

Trouble is the Modi government makes no demands on Washington, only concedes whatever the Americans want, as I have long been saying. Thus, Jaishankar did not challenge Blinken on the US not coming through on promises to transfer advanced military technology (made vide Defence Technology & Trade Intitiative 20 years ago!). Nor asked for a show of good faith by going beyond the transactional mindset and immediately reviving, say, the US participation in the Indian combat aircraft jet engine development programme which, Modi’s great and good friend, Donald Trump, abruptly terminated. Because Delhi makes few demands and doesn’t insist that these be met as condition for furthering cooperation, it has led Washington to assume it can rely on India to do whatever it bids it do without the US requiring to put out at all.

The Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was recently in town to assess the extant state of affairs. He assured the Modi government that Moscow, while not an ally of China was only partnering it in the latter’s face-off with the US, and that it would do nothing to hurt India’s vital interests. In return, he was told that the boom of the CAATSA sanctions hanging over India’s head, notwithstanding, the $5 billion deal for the S-400 air defence system was on. Instead of picking up on the space Putin is deliberately leaving for Delhi to maneuver in by, for instance, carving out a loose security coalition with BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-South Africa) out of BRICS by cutting out China, which I have detailed in my ‘Staggering’ book, Indian officials have been heard muttering within Moscow’s earshot about Delhi, may be, doing a rethink specifically on the S-400 contract and, more generally, on the time-tested military supply links with Russia. Modi, aided by his sidekick Jaishankar, seems intent on losing India the leverge with Putin and Russia. Wrong move!

Just to make sure India doesn’t deviate from its traditional policy line, Lavrov hopped across the Radcliffe Line and, in his meeting with Pakistan army chief General Qamar Bajwa, promised him whatever he wanted! By way of sprinkling gasolene on fire Moscow clarified that Russian arms supply to Pakistan would be limited to goods to fight terrorism with. One of the things in the pipeline, for instance, is the Kamov attack helicopter. May be these will be deployed by GHQ, Rawalpindi, in anti-terrorist ops!

The point to repeat and reiterate is this: Leaving aside for the nonce the matter of India’s faulty geostrategics, if the advanced quality of military technology is any of India’s concern — as it should be, then the record shows Russia has delivered, time and again — seminal assistance in the nuclear submarine project, Su-30MKI, etc. Waiting for the US to come through on anything remotely uptodate, technology-wise, is for the Indian armed services to wait “for Godot”. Not that this has deterred the present Indian government and the Indian military from yearning for America and the West to make good.

This lot needs to wise up fast though. Unrequited love is tolerable in adolescents. But not in alleged professionals (in PMO, MEA, MOD) tasked to safeguard India’s interests.

Posted in Africa, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Brazil, China, China military, civil-military relations, Decision-making, Defence procurement, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Indo-Pacific, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, North Korea, Northeast Asia, nuclear industry, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 28 Comments

On Youtube, recording of the debate on “wIll India be a super power?”

For those who missed out on the above debate and are interested…

Posted in Afghanistan | 13 Comments

Youtube recording of the ‘Will India become a super power’ debate hosted by Argumentative Indians April 18

For those who missed out on the above debate and are interested.

Posted in Afghanistan | Leave a comment

‘Will India become a super power?’ — panel discussion, Sunday April, 5 PM — Do join!


For those who have nothing better to do (!) on an early Sunday evening, please join the panel discussion on ‘Will India become a super power?’ hosted by the forum –‘Argumentative Indians’ today, April 18, 2021, at 5 PM IST.

Attendee Link:

Posted in Afghanistan | 21 Comments

“Wanna fight no more, no more, no more!”

Wounded soldiers in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan, in October 2007.

[Bloodied US troops — in retreat from Afghanistan]

The Americans have thrown in the towel; its military will soon slink out of Afghanistan. US President Joe Biden, over-riding Pentagon’s objections, announced the evening before the pull-out of all American troops from the “endless” Afghan war by September 11 because, he explained, “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result.” This is how the punitive US intervention to avenge the 9/11 attacks on the twin Trade Towers in New York closes, as ignobly as America’s cutting and running from Syria, Iraq and still earlier from Vietnam. And no amount of dressing up this fact by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in his sudden dash to Kabul — “the partnership is changing…[it] is enduring” — will hide the truth of a beaten America and its military hightailing it out of Afghanistan.

It proves once again that the US does not have the staying power to prosecute long wars, that once engaged, the mounting deaths of American soldiers (some 2,500 to-date) and escalating costs (well in excess of $ 1.2 trillion over 20 years) of fighting a difficult war in distant battlefield begin taking their toll. All it needs is a highly motivated and resilient foe, strong of will even if minimally armed — as are the Afghan Taliban and earlier as were the Viet Cong, to slowly suck the spirit out of the armed intruders. And notwithstanding the ultra-advanced weaponry and battlefield support systems of the US expeditionary military in Afghanistan, the US forces — Washington lately realized — simply don’t have it in them to defeat the Afghan Taliban. Hence, Biden’s scoot option.So much for the reliability in crisis of the US as partner and ally! This is a warning to Asian states and to Prime Minister Modi, NSA Ajit Doval, S Jaishankar and his crowd in MEA and the Indian military brass seeking solidification of the American connection.

However, it was the leader of the opposition, Republican senator Mitch McConnell who accurately described the situation in Afghanistan post-Biden’s decision. “We’re to help our [Taliban] adversaries ring in the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks”, he said, “by gift wrapping the country, and handing it right back to them.”

It is likely the Taliban will assume the reins of government in Kabul. But it is also a possibility that such a denouement may not obtain anytime soon for several reasons. The Uzbek group controlling northern Afghanistan under the warlord, Colonel Abdul Rashid Dostum, with a private army of some 40,000 Uzbeks, has never liked the Taliban and will not accept their writ. Also the area that was once the foremost Afghan guerilla leader the late Ahmed Shah Massoud’s home ground — the Panjsher Valley — is where the ethnic Tajik Afghans reside and where the Taliban don’t hold sway. Both the Uzbek and Tajik ethnic provinces of Afghanistan, on the other hand, support the present regime of President Ashraf Ghani — Delhi’s longtime partner. Then there are the shifting interests of four other players in the Afghan mix — Pakistan, Russia, China, Iran and India.

From the time of the Soviet occupation, Pakistan was the US umbilical that materially sustained the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Russians; which mujahideen of Pashtun stock then signed on with the Taliban led by the one-eyed Mullah Omar, until it was forcefully overthrown by the US. Thereupon the Taliban returned to what they were best at doing — waging an asymmetric war, now against the American military in the new millennium. The problem for Pakistan is that the backwash from this episode led to the “Kalashnikov culture” with attendant availability of small arms and ammo seeped into Pakistani Punjab and into tribal areas in Waziristan, etc recently “pacified” by the army. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) emerged from these elements and has attained a certain critical mass, with its influence spreading farther and deeper in the countryside.

TTP’s activity has paralleled the rapid growth of the even more reactionary Islamist group — the Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), which the Imran Khan government outlawed April 13 — perhaps at Pakistan Army’s prompting. This after the Imran dispensation had conceded many TLP demands, including one that won’t be realized — cessation of diplomatic relations with France for its anti-Muslim measures (banning hijab, etc.). The ban on this outfit resulted in its cadres assaulting leaders, organizing ‘chakka jams’ and shutting down most cities a day later (April 14). But the larger official intent was to prevent TLP from undertaking its threatened Long March on Islamabad to impose targeted mass pressure on the government to meet still more problematic demands.

As usually happens in such circumstances, the tendency will be for outlier, ideologically disparate, outfits such as TTP and TLP arrayed against the Pakistani state, to forge tactical and logistics links to assist each other in realizing their slightly different agendas. Then there are fellow travellers in this extremist-Islamic bloc in Pakistan, such as Lashkar-E-Taiba/Pasban-E-Ahle Hadis and Jaish-E-Mohammed/Tahrik-E-Furqan, which are militant on the Kashmir issue and on the frontlines of the anti-India front, but are being held back by Islamabad which does not want these groups to precipitate terrorist incidents in J&K that, besides pushing India and Pakistan into another cycle of mutual recrimination and possibly low level hostilities, will once again drag Pakistan to the brink, tipping the country from the ‘Grey List’ into the UN Financial Action Task Force’s ‘Black List’. This will automatically trigger lethal sanctions and sink Pakistan economically for good. The direction in which this is headed was signalled by the UK government two days back, for the first time, including Pakistan in a list of 16 states identified as assisting terrorists.

To add to this roiling mess are the ongoing activities of freedom fighters in Balochistan and the stirrings of rebellion among the minority shia community who suffer the sharp end of sunni hate, and have had enough. This especially involves the Hazaras and other shia communities who constitute a majority in Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan, where public protests against Pakistan’s sunni excesses have mobilized the local people, and which condition of popular alienation the Imran government and the Pakistan army are in mortal dread of.

Russia intiated its own forum to achieve peace in Pakistan, the one that left out India. Moscow’s interest is in seeing that Taliban form the government in Kabul, because of the belief that this is the only way to contain and limit this menace to Afghanistan. Russians have always feared that should the US military remain in Afghanistan, some of the Taliban fighters who are driven out will begin reaching the Caucasus region and once there will radicalize Russia’s southern tier. China too sides with Russia in that it too is afraid of the Taliban influencing the restive Uyghur population of Xinjiang. Beijing rather trusts Pakistan to continue to manipulate the Taliban factions and to tamp down on this danger. The strategic interests of Iran, on the other hand, in several aspects, overlap India’s interests and those of the Ghani government, and of the Uzbek and Tajik groups — in that Tehran doesn’t want an extremist sunni regime ensconced in Kabul and, if it is somehow installed, then Iran will be inclined to do whatever is necessary to undermine it. This makes for a shared Indo-Iranian interest and for Delhi to begin preparing at a minimuman an arms pipeline, as in the past, to these opposition groups.

That leaves India with a menu of options — not all of them clearcut or without risk. Depending on whether the secret UAE-facilitated back-channel diplomacy with Pakistan delivers a modicum of peace, meaning that Islamabad conveys it is reconciled to the Constitutional change of status for Kashmir, etc., Delhi can callibrate its moral and material support for the Ghani government, strengthen its old links to the Tajik and Uzbek factions, provide such covert help to TTP and Baloch fighters as furthers India’s national interest, and cooperate with Tehran in propping up the Ghani government for as long as it lasts, and then to upkeep an all-effort insurgency against the Taliban faction that assumes control in Kabul.

In this context CDS General Bipin Rawat’s worrying yesterday about the US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan creating “a vacuum” hints at the Indian government’s diffidence in dealing with an unfolding situation where India has lost none of its cards. This view is in contrast to his counterpart Pakistan COAS General QJ Bajwa’s “welcoming” US military pullout. Whatever the Modi regime thinks is lost with the US militarily out of the picture, Washington, Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad need to be made to appreciate that India — if it plays its cards right and that’s a big if considering Delhi increasingly takes its cues from Washington — has the power to be, if not the decisive actor, then a spoiler in any political arrangement in Afghanistan that doesn’t take India’s interests fully into account.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indo-Pacific, Iran and West Asia, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Relations with Russia, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons, West Asia, Western militaries | 19 Comments

India shoved further into the corner in eastern Ladakh

The full version of the interview of mine below. The “edited” one carried by Rediffnews April 15, 2021, at


Q.1 There seems to be no breakthrough in the marathon 13-hour military talks that took place between the Indian and Chinese corps commanders last week. In fact, they did not even issue a joint statement this time around. Why was that the case?

A: The 11th edition of the talks between the Indian and Chinese theatre commanders ended as most of the earlier ones had done – without any progress at all. This was so, perhaps, because the two sides were asserting, in different ways, their respective positions that neither party was prepared to back down from, minimizing the prospect of negotiation by compromise.

Q.2.The PLA has not agreed to troop pullback from the contentious areas which include PPS 15,17 and 17A in the Hot Springs-Gogra-Kongka La areas where they have a sizeable troop presence in the rear areas. Nor are they willing to de-escalate in the Depsang area. What does this indicate?

A: It shows clearly the PLA’s intention to not withdraw from advantageous positions it is holding on to in terms of the Indian patrolling posts you mention and at the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains while, at the same time, getting the Indian army to back down from terrain features benefiting it.

Q.3.The question repeatedly being asked is why the gains accrued by occupying the Kailash range and Trishul Heights were frittered away for a disengagement to take place in north bank of the Pangong Tso lake and not for concessions in the Depsang Plains?

A: This is the point I have been making from the time the Indian SFF first occupied he Kailash range heights in September 2020 last year that the one thing the Indian army should not do is surrender these high points for any reason but rather that the SFF and other units should strengthen and consolidate their hold of these favourable points.

Q4. From all indications it appears as though India is inclined to agree to the Chinese terms in Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains or so one would surmise by the interviews given to the media by the Northern Indian Commander where it seemed as though he were attempting to disassociate himself from this problem claiming the problem in the Depsang Plains predates April 2020 and therefore will is not part of the current round of negotiations So, are we willing to concede around 18 kilometers of territory occupied by the PLA?

A: This is a ridiculous stance for the Northern Army commander, Lt. General Yogesh Kumar Joshi, to take of disavowing whatever happened before he assumed his post and, even more astonishing, that he says he is responsible ONLY for what has occurred in the field AFTER he took over. The army commander, in other words, is willing to take “credit” for the linked withdrawal of the SFF-Indian Army troops from the Kailash Range heights and the PLA from Fingers 4 to 8 on the northern shore of the Pangong Lake – which has hurt the army’s relative military positioning vis a vis the PLA in that sub-area, but is quite content to have the Chinese stay put on the Gogra-Hot Springs and at the Y-Junction on the Depsang. And that, owing to his acceptance of the latter situation, he and his Command have signalled that they will NOT do anything to recover the nearly 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory thus lost, de facto, to the PLA.  This sort of reticence should earn Lt. General Joshi, at a minimum, removal from service, unless these are the express orders from the Army Chief General MM Naravane who in turn, factually reflects the directive from Government of India to avoid a re-triggering of hostilities at all cost.

[Disengaging on the Pangong Lake]

Q5. Of course the government’s stand is that what was of priority for them was to ensure that the eye to eyeball troop confrontation between the two armies on the banks of the Pangong Tso lake be halted as this could lead to an escalation. With China being the aggressor, why should the Indian government / army have been so afraid of a confrontation?

A: This does not make sense. Why would the Indian Army be afraid of eye-balling the PLA on the Pangong and elsewhere in eastern Ladakh? After all, it is precisely an aggressive posture telegraphing that the Indian Army is quite prepared to give as good as it gets that will give PLA commanders and Beijing pause for thought.

Q6. Several defence analysts point out that it is obvious that the Chinese were not willing to disengage further because India has no leverage space with them and therefore it is unlikely they will reduce their troop concentration in eastern Ladakh. If that is the case, what will the consequences of this be for India?

A: India has no space to leverage PLA withdrawal because the Indian government and army have been remiss all these years in not proactively strengthening the vulnerable Indian posts or building up supporting infrastructure in selectively prioritized areas, such as Sub-Sector North, adjoining the strategic Karakorum Highway critical to both China and Pakistan because this Highway – GS 219 has a branch – China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, diverting south at the Karakorum Pass.

Q.7. Are these commander level talks trying to arrive at some settlement around the April 2020 incursion without addressing the entire border problem. Why did the government agree to sector by sector negotiations in Ladakh rather than negotiate it as a whole. By agreeing to do so, India has fallen into a trap laid by the Chinese. Why were negotiations not conducted across the entire area?

A: These mil-to-mil talks are a waste of time – have always been –and merely afford China an excuse to do nothing at the political level – Special Representatives level — which is where a solution will be hammered out.

[CDS General Rawat interacting with troops in Ladakh]

Q.8 While Indian government has gone overboard on stating that there have been no Chinese incursions on Indian territory, a US military commander Admiral Philip Davidson has blown the lie on the Indian government face by stating that the Chinese PLA has not withdrawn from several `forward positions’ which they have occupied. This statement was not contradicted by the Indian government?

A: All the US Indo-Pacific Commander Admiral Davidson has done is repeat what I for one have been saying since the PLA armed incursions came to light in June last year. Nothing big there, unless it is to point out that the Indian government and media take something coming out of America more seriously than they do what’s being openly said by informed analysts here.

Q9. Does the statement of Admiral Davidson not contradict Minister of Defence Rajnath Singh’s statement in Parliament that we have made no concessions to the Chinese?

A: Of course, it does (if you lend Davidson’s words weight)

Q 10. India seems to have foregone their grazing rights in  the Demchuk area with this land being occupied by Chinese Tibetan graziers. Ladakhis continue to complain against this but the Indian government has failed to take any action on the ground?

A: The record of Ladakhi graziers taking their herds to the Depsang Plains is strong evidence for India’s negotiating position, except it is now trumped by the PLA simply  establishing their presence – something the local administration, Indian government and army should long ago have proactively done.

[Logistics fetching up]

Q11. Why has the issue of the massive failure intelligence failure highlighting the Chinese PLA build up not been acted upon?

A: The Indian government wakes up after the fact when it can do nothing, or rather lacks the will to prosecute military actions to reverse these adverse PLA-driven developments. Which ought to make everybody wonder what good, if anything, our numerous civilian and military intelligence agencies do

Q12. The fact that the Indian government is willing to make massive concessions means they understand that this is not going to impact the mood in the Indian army. India seems to have a history of making concessions whether it be in Tashkent of at the Simla Agreement. Which country cedes so much territory with no assurances on the ground?

A: The Indian Army brass is very much in sync with the GOI’s thinking and happy for the government to make concessions to China just so long as they do not have to actually fight the PLA.

Q13. Would it be correct to say the 35-year old treaty of the maintenance of peace and tranquillity along the LAC has been trashed to the dustbin of history. China wanted to teach the Indian political class a lesson for making claims that Aksai Chin and POK were all part of India and in response to their redrawing of Indian maps making such claims?

A: The peace and tranquility accord signed was a sham from the start, because it was a way for the Indian government, intel agencies and the military to avoid reorienting fully to the only credible threat India faces, namely, China.

Q.14. Would it be correct to state that our present leadership is more interested in playing to the domestic class rather than in pursuing policies that suit India’s geo political needs?

A: Not sure what you mean by “domestic political class”. Surely, no section of Indian society wants a dishonourable peace with China; and geopolitics has perennially been India’s overarching strategic weakness.

[Showing the flag on the frozen Pangong Tso]

Q15. In 2013, when the Chinese moved into Depsang Plains, India took a diversionary chunk of territory in order to get them to negotiate. Why was no attempt to put pressure on the Chinese this time around.

A: Two reasons: No political will, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi conflicted about how much to alienate President Xi and imperil the supposedly good personal relations the two have cultivated and the possibility of massive Chinese infrastructure investment. And inadequate military capability with the Pakistan-fixated army reluctant to commit its resources more fully to the extended China front.

Q.16. It seems to me that there is no hope of returning to status quo ante of April 2020? Is it correct that all the new buffer zones that have been created post April 2020 are now on the Indian side of our patrolling points?

A: By and large, true.

Q.17 To come specifically to the Gogra Hot Spring area, so you see any concessions?

A: Chinese, unlike Indians who can’t see beyond their noses, act always with the long view in mind. So, no, PLA is unlikely to concede on Gogra and Hot Springs, or remove its blockade of the Y-Junction in the Depsang.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, SAARC, society, South Asia, Special Forces, Tibet | 3 Comments

Will the DDG-53 FNOP get Delhi thinking again?

USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53)
USS John Paul Jones

For thirty years now I have been writing about the reasons why India needs to have heavy healthy scepticism when tackling the US, and why Washington’s record has earned it a high level of distrust. Except four successive governments under Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and, since 2014, Narendra Modi, entirely unmindful of this history, have acted as if India is America’s peon.

Given the high level of institutionalized US-leaning policy tilt of the Government of India spurred by a bunch of factors, such as most senior Indian diplomats and military officers having their children in America, being part of the American thintank (Carnegie, Brookings — now under another guise, Aspen) circus in Delhi pushing the US policy line, etc that I have been warning about, I am not at all surprised the Indian government is surprised by the US Navy alerting the world to the fact that one of its ships, USS John Paul Jones, an Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer (DDG-53), had willfully violated Indian maritime territory, and sailed through the waters close to the Lakshdweep Islands without so much as ‘by your leave’, as courtesy demanded. It is as much this sailing as the egregious statement that followed about the ship asserting its right of untrammeled transit issued by the US government that is cause for worry.

The Indian Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC), Gurgaon, tracking Jones in its eastward path from the Gulf area, was aware it had transgressed into Indian territory but did not raise a stink about it. India did not contest, and was not contesting, this ship’s passage. So why did Washington feel the need to make a public hullabaloo about this ship being on a Freedom of Navigation Patrol (FNOP), implying that by word and/or deed Delhi, in some sense, opposed it? That the FNOP reference also mentioned China, whose claims in the South China Sea and in the Taiwan Strait are regularly flouted by US carriers groups, flotillas, or single ships, makes this incident even more curious.

If India — America’s supposed ‘strategic partner’ in containing China, is equated by Washington, with China, then what does it say about where India stands vis a vis the US in the larger geostrategic game that’s afoot?

The US is not a signatory to the 1982 UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). But, like every other international treaty-multilateral agreement within its eyeshot that the ridiculously shortsighted and idiotic Indian government, at the MEA’s behest, signs blindly without thinking about its longterm ramifications, the country once again finds itself holding the shortend of the stick. Delhi got quickly on board the UNCLOS without waiting for the US to first sign. Why was this last important? There’s the unresolved matter of the largest island, Diego Garcia, in the Chagos Archipelago claimed rightfully by Mauritius, a claim India has from the start backed. When Britain vacated the space ‘east of Suez’ in the 1970s it handed over Diego Garcia to the US, which promptly built a very imposing naval and air base on the island, complete with nuclear submarine pens, ship repair facilities, and vast storage tanks for oil and depots for prepositioned stores to sustain major military deployment in the Indian Ocean.

The prickly issue is two-fold: One, as it did elsewhere — partitioning India, for instance — Britain departed the area but not withhout doing prior mischief. It had no right to detach Diego Garcia from the rest of the island group, and even less right to transfer it to the US without Mauritius’ concurrence, which’s what it did. So, how’s the US presence on this island to be treated when America has no legitimate right to be there in the first place? India is well within its rights to treat the US presence on Diego Garcia as illegal, and act on this basis. And two, the US disrespects Indian claims off Lakshdweep extending some 220 kms out to sea as India’s Exclusive Economic Zone per UNCLOS that the US wants nothing to do with even as its representatives Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Biden’s NSA Jake Sullivan crow about all countries needing to heed a “rule based order”! What’s that again?! So the US means to follow only those rules that serve its purposes, in which respect how is it different from China?

China signed this treaty on the same day as India did in December 1982. Except, as its shenanigans in imposing its nonseniscal ‘nine-dash’ exclusive claim line — which is ultra vires of UNCLOS provisions indicates, Beijing signs pieces of paper without intending in the least to respect them. This is in contrast to India’s attitude which signs damnfool agreements all the time and then, boy scout fashion, follows them not just in the letter but also in the spirit — doubly hampering the country’s pursuit of national interest.

Obviously, the sailing by DDG-53 was to rub India’s nose in the dirt and to let the Indian government know that the US will do damn well as it pleases torpedoing, in the process, even pretensions to sea-based order UNCLOS promotes and which the US champions in the South China Sea.

This puts the Narendra Modi regime in bit of a political pickle. Already buffeted by Congress party’s charges about corruption attending on the Rafale deal and anti-corruption provisions missing from the contract with the French company Dassault Avions, it now has to put up or shut up where the US is concerned. Modi must miss his fellow-Alpha male leader Trump in the White House with whom he had cultivated a working relationship. With the Biden Administration, the Modi government has had to face one insult and slight after another. Various US agencies have slammed his government for human rights abuses, pushed India down the list on the religious freedom count and Freedom House has rated India as only a “partially free” country, imposed counter-tariffs to hurt Indian exports, etc. This is bad enough.

But for the US to treat India as potential strategic impediment in the same class as China, is something else altogether. It undercuts Modi’s entire foreign policy centering on the US that has been vigorously pushed by the external affairs minister S Jaishankar, who as Foreign Secretary shephered the four foundational accords and earlier in his career as an MEA babu negotiated the completely unequal 2005 nuclear civilian nuclear cooperation deal that, by barring future testing, froze Indian nuclear weapons technology at the low yield fission level.

The operative part of these developments is this: The next time IMAC begins tracking US Navy ships and finds one heading towards Indian waters, Indian Naval ships will have to be ready to impose the UNCLOS rule of law to keep them out. The crunch will come when that US ship simply disregards Indian naval warnings, then what? What exactly will the Indian ships do in response — fire a missile across the bow of the American ship as a warning? What if the US ship counters by firing a salvo to miss the Indian naval ship(s), will the Indian ship(s) be ordered to escalate proceedings? Should the Modi regime and Indian Navy not be ready and prepared for such contingency?

If, on the other hand, the Indian government and Navy again do nothing, or plan on doing nothing, how can they respond differently if a Chinese warship does exactly the same thing? Meaning, the US ships are setting a precedent for other navies to violate Indian territorial seas at will. Already, India and Indian government have been shown up — nothing new here! — as weak, willing to take guff from anybody, because they are too spineless, too unwilling to court risk, to up the ante. To restate an old saw — with friends like the US, who needs enemies?

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, Indo-Pacific, Intelligence, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US., Weapons, Western militaries | 53 Comments