Ambiguous news on the Wang front

The Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in India ostensibly to inspect the arrangements for the BRICS summit in Goa later this year. His more immediate task is to explore just how determined the Modi govt is to stick to the line it has taken on the South China Sea dispute, where India has joined with the US and Japan in urging Beijing to respect the Hague verdict rejecting China’s expansive nine dash line claims in the Sea. It is solidifying of the regional opinion around these Big Three that Beijing wishes to thwart.

He met today with the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, whose brief was to see if Beijing would cede ground on its veto to India’s entry into the Nuclear suppliers Group. Considering, the PMO runs the MEA, Swaraj was on short reins, but implicit in her task was freedom accorded her to hint to Wang that some kind of deal was possible — Beijing’s support for India’s NSG membership in return for New Delhi being less strident on the South China Sea (SCS) issue, because surely it cannot entirely disown the principle of freedom of navigation and the UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) that the International Court of Arbitration upheld.

Wang is here to do just the reverse, extract a promise of support on the SCS while yielding less than nothing on the NSG veto but to talk nevertheless, albeit very vaguely, of a “compromise” in the hope that PM Modi — keen on Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure projects in particular and eager for a BRICS summit success, can be suckered into making concessions.

It is this possibility that ought to worry the Indian people the most. Modi sees the BRICS Goa Meet as a means of balancing his overt tilt to America. But this works to China’s advantage because Beijing will ask for India, at a minimum, remaining “neutral” in the SCS dispute while retaining its veto on NSG, because President Xi Jinping will reasonably surmise that Modi is more in need of Chinese have, than he is in need of India’s on SCS — after all Beijing is dealing directly with Washington to muzzle its backing, for a start, to the Philippines.

Time and again, Modi has sprung a surprise, departed from the agreed upon policy line or game plan, even as Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and his colleagues in MEA in attendance have been nonplussed by the prime minister’s usually wrong moves for the wrong reasons. Sushma may not have committed to anything in the way Wang would have liked her to, but what is crucial are the impressions about the “give” in China’s NSG position that she conveys to Modi. If she mistakes Wang’s ambiguous words — and the Chinese interlocuters since Zhouenlai have been masters of ambiguity, as indicating some movement forward, then Modi may jump to conclusion — and whatever happens in the formal talks — will exercise his uniquely personalized diplomacy in Goa in October to offer what Xi wants in the expectation the Chinese President will reciprocate, when actually he will do nothing of the kind.

Playing the Game on Chinese terms is to be at the losing end. It is best, GOI points out that there is really no connection between the two issues — SCS is a global commons matter of universal concern and affecting global trade, NSG membership is only an Indian concern, and the twain don’t meet. Modi could, however, emphasize how there are many states in the SCS region fearful of China which have approached New Delhi for help and assistance and that with a few of them, such as Vietnam, Indian has direct and substantive energy and other economic interests that need to be protected. It is the scale of naval and military effort India may deploy in SCS that can be calibrated to minimize offence to China while requiring Beijing accommodate India on NSG by abstaining from the vote. This is the only deal that won’t imperil India’s strategic options and interests. Should this be made clear to Wang, and China is found agreeable, Modi will have the plank to grandstand in Goa.

Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, disarmament, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Japan, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, UN, United States, US., Vietnam | 4 Comments

Weekend musings — the inevitable Hockey debacle

Did anyone watch the India-Canada hockey match telecast yesterday evening from the Olympics at Rio? This was supposed to be a walkover game that would have secured India the 3rd spot in the group after Germany and Netherlands. Predictably, we botched it. We couldn’t even overcome a lowly Canada. What chances of our doing better against a more efficient Belgium next? Those who witnessed the game against Germany — the best showing yet by a talent-challenged Indian team, followed a day later by the match with the Dutch, must have noticed the nerviness of our players in the last quarter and the feeling of inevitability, especially with Germans swarming to attack in the dying moments of the game, that the Indians on the field would falter, and lose. It has been downhill thereafter. Now our team can be expected to let the Belgians run all over them, and then Australia. Given the certainty of loss, the question is defeat by how many goals?

The trouble is India’s performance on the hockey field is a near analog of the Indian government’s confused conduct of the country’s strategic foreign and military policy fields. We don’t seem to know what the game is about, do not prepare well, and show no will to fight and, as surely as night follows day, end up with egg on our face. In fact, the Australian coach of the Indian hockey team at the last (London) Olympic Games, Michael Nobbs summed it up beautifully: “The players need to to make a decision whether they are satisfied just to be in the Olympics…or, are they willing to be tough and make the commitment for the nation’s cause.” The Indian hockey players, four years later, as in the past, seem to believe that merely qualifying for the Olympics is enough, not winning any medals.

This may be pertinent but I used Nobbs’ bemused statement post-London Games to say [in ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’, p. 525]: “New Delhi seems so thrilled with just being acknowledged as a country with some standing, so overwhelmed with inclusion in exclusive conclaves (G-3, G-8, G-20, etc.), and so satisfied with itself and the way things have gone so far in the new millennium, it doesn’t see the need to raise its sights, put in the effort, and do the things that will in fact make India a genuine great power. Then again it may be a cultural trait.” And, of course, whether in a national security crisis or on the sporting field, Indians can’t hold their nerve, becoming nervous wrecks ere the crisis peaks.

I schooled at the King George’s Military School, Belgaum (since then renamed the Belgaum Military School), previously known as the King George’s Royal Indian Military College — one of the five such institutions post-1947 (besides Belgaum, at Ajmere, Bangalore, Nowgong, and Chail), the forerunner of the numerous Sainik Schools run by MOD to provide the feedstock for the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla. [Was put in this school by my father who considered me a brat in need of discipline and also because my hometown, Dharwar, was just 48 miles away, in case the cry-baby ever wanted to run home! Graduated from KGSB aeons ago, in December 1963, in fact.]

Curiously what fills me with nostalgia about school days is not anything else but the wonderful hockey we, school boys, saw played on our hockey field. Belgaum hosts the centre of one of the great regiments of the Indian Army — the Maratha Light Infantry. At the time, MLI all by itself constituted the bulk force in Indian hockey — Shankar Laxman in goal, Right Back ML Jadhav, Bandu Patil Inside Right, and featured the fastest winger in the country (and the world?) never to don India colours (because while he outran any ball, he couldn’t adequately control it!), Outside Right Subedar Akalkot. The 1960 Rome-bound Olympics team, led by Leslie Claudius, played practice games against MLI on our field. And at least in two games that I vaguely remember, the MLI team, with its champion players in the team facing it, gave Claudius and his men fright. India won the Silver; Pakistan beating us for the first time for the Gold. The star turn was always Sub Major Bandu Patil, a wizard with the stick, so deft and quick silver, it was dazzling and exciting to watch. The usual melee in the middle out of which would routinely emerge Patil with the ball, speeding towards the adversary’s goal post while the opposing team members were still collecting their wits, running around trying to find the ball!

Now, and this is the point to make about not keeping up with the changing game — India kept emphasizing the dribbling skills of individual players even as by the 1970s the game was transitioning into a game of fast man-to-man lateral and deep passes, and striking the ball goalwards — first time, every time — when in the D, rather than dribbling ourselves into oblivion as Indian hockey stars still seem to want to do. Dhyan Chand was the genuine article, but not everybody can be one. But to this day, there’s no want of trying by every aspiring Indian hockey player to be Dhyan Chand, except such individual magic has long ago been superceded by the long pass-hard strike game stressing teamwork. The Indian hockey team members, despite their Dutch coach Oltmans’ no doubt fervent pleadings for change in attitude, seem not even to be aware that the way they play is obsolete!

Re: teamwork and stamina. Dribbling is anathema to teamwork. Players hogging the ball, showing off their ball-hawking competence usually lose the ball to hard-running opponents. Stamina is something Indian players seem invariably to be out of by the time the game clock shows 10 minutes to end-time. Indeed, one can see the energy levels exhausted by the third quarter. Stamina can ultimately be reduced to a matter of diet and physiology. Eating dal-bhaat is fine, but it does not provide the protein for the muscle mass that beef and red meat eating bigger, taller, heftier Europeans (and even Pakistanis, whose affliction is the same — in a word, the penchant to dribble, not to hit!) muster. In hard-dashing sports, at-most chicken (white meat)-eating Indians simply run out of gas, something one can palpably feel when watching the strained faces of Indian players in televised hockey games summoning the last ounce of energy to just stay upright at the final hooter.

Ultimately, the issue is to understand what the game is about now. The second order worry is the complacency that sets in with just the first glimmer of slight success (thus, after a hard-won victory in the first game at Rio over Ireland — IRELAND, for God’s sake), there were commentaries about how India was ready to take to the podium (!!!) and, finally, the express inability to prime oneself up for the job at hand. Whatever it is.

Posted in Culture, Europe, Indian Army, Pakistan, society, South Asia | 29 Comments

Ditching the Excalibur and every other indigenous armament project

The army brass in 2012 decided they wanted a multi-purpose infantry weapon with interchangeable barrels — 5.56x39mm for conventional warfare and the 7.62x51mm for distant kills. Foreign weapons — CM 901 from Colt (US), VZ 58 from Ceska (Czech Republic), possibly SIG 716 or SIG 543 from Sig Sauer (Switzerland), the Israeli possibly Tavor X-95, and the Baretta ARX 160 from Italy — all came up short.

The Excalibur, indigenously designed & developed by the Armaments Research & Development Establishment, Pune and manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), was the Indian entry in this competition. Sure, ‘Excalibur’ is an odd name for an Indian 7.62mm infantry weapon. May be the Ordnance Factory Board hoped that its client, the Indian army leaders, besotted by foreign goods, wouldn’t notice it was not ex-British and would be entranced by the moniker. (Excalibur is the name of the sword stuck in a rock by Merlin, the wizard, that as the legend goes, attracted the young Arthur to pull it out and be crowned King of England — a feat that others failed at, whence Camelot, etc.) And, in any case, it was hoped by OFB that this name would magically win over the army brass who, alas, have proved they are immune to Excalibur’s allurements and appeal. At their annual conference in April 2016, the army commanders decided, in their wisdom or lack thereof that, no matter what, they were done with the Excalibur option and, in the face of the failure of the interchangeable barrels-based concept, that the service would go in for a foreign 7.62mm product as standard infantry weapon.

This despite the proven performance of the Excalibur in field tests in competition with the above-mentioned foreign weapons. A much improved derivative of the INSAS 5.56mm infantry weapon, the Excalibur can be fired in full automatic mode. It failed only twice in repeated and ceaseless firing of some 24,000-odd rounds, a miniscule failure rate level no foreign weapon was able to achieve. Excalibur also fared better in firing after being submerged for long periods of time in muddy water, etc., in other words it did better than any foreign gun in all-weather battlefield conditions the Indian army jawans are most likely to encounter.

But the army commanders, like other military leadership, apparently has a soft corner for “Western maal”. How else to explain their case in support of foreign weapons of 7.76×51 mm calibre that are able to kill an enemy soldier at 500 metres distance, which requirement controverts the modern-era basic logic of infantry weapon?

The whole point about an effective infantry weapon that seems to be lost on the Indian Army’s top leadership echelon is that it should incapacitate an enemy soldier for life, so that he thereafter becomes a social and economic burden for the enemy state to bear. If an enemy soldier is killed outright, there’s only the relatively minimal expense of disposing off the body and pensioning off the spouse. Then there’s the matter of the demoralizing factor — an enemy soldier with a grievous wound being carried away on a stretcher can psychologically unhinge other enemy troops in the vicinity. And there’s the factor of troopers being pulled from the frontlines to carry their injured comrades, thinning out the forward advancing line. This is the logic of the 5.56 mm item as close-in weapon capable of raking fire and gravely incapacitating an enemy at 100 meters, but not of killing fire.

For sure kills at a distance and for sniper missions, the Indian army has always used the Russian Dragunov SVD — derived from indisputably the finest infantry weapon in existence, the Kalashnikov. Had the US Army in the early 1960s the strategic wit to go for the light weight revolutionary plastic-bodied Armalite AR-15 assault rifle (designed by the legendary Eugene Stoner) in Vietnam, who knows, America might have won that war, and the AR-15 would have run the Kalashnikov close for the soldier’s affection worldwide. The US Army chose the heavier M-16 instead, which made a name for itself chiefly for being discarded at the first instance by American troops in the field, who’d pick up the Kalashnikovs from the Viet Cong guerrillas they killed.

So, tell me again, why are our army commanders keen on an imported 7.62??? Surely, not because they are unaware of the 5.56 logic.

But the army commanders’ collective desire has run smack into the defence minister Manohar Parrikar’s dogged insistence on the Indian military going seriously indigenous. So Excalibur is back in the picture, except the senior flagrank types in the army are trying their damndest to somehow kill off this option. Any indigenous armament has to run an obstacle course in MOD and against the armed services. Indeed, Excalibur’s troubles in many ways mirror the problems the Indian designed Arjun MBT is facing with the armoured combat arm. It has beaten every foreign tank, including the Russian T-90S in every field trial and test, and yet it’s being sidelined, and tanks are being imported from Russia. Parrikar is in the right to oppose the French Rafale and to fully support the Tejas Mk-I and Mk-II options. But where the M-777 light mountain gun is concerned, he has erred by preferring it to an equally capable artillery system available in-country.

Parrikar and the Modi government have to decide for once and for all whether they are serious about propelling forward an Indian armament design and development capability, or whether this is just rhetoric the PM can now again wax eloquent with. If the BJP regime is serious then they should institutionally shut down the import route in all its manifestations, and dismantle the military procurement system that, notwithstanding the DPP-2016 still favours the import option under cover of the “MAKE in India” policy. Make in India should be replaced with “MADE in India” and appropriate reforms rung in. But, who wants that?

Of course, getting rid of armament imports will leave a whole bunch of Generals, Air Marshals, Admirals, and officers downstream in the acquisitions loop crying in their cups — because they will be suddenly denied foreign trips, padded accounts, and scholarships for progeny, rich post-retirement jobs offered by Indian companies fronting for foreign suppliers, etc., which benefits political leaders and senior bureaucrats have availed of from the early days of the republic. But the military is catching up fast on this corruption front! (The eye-popping extent and scale of corruption in the Indian armed forces to match the extant corruption in the civilian quarters of the Indian government, is revealed in Josy Joseph’s book — A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India.)

Posted in Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Politics, Israel, Military Acquisitions, Russia, SAARC, society, South Asia, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries | 22 Comments

Time to revive a “Kuka” Parrey-type Group in Kashmir

One of the reasons, other than fatigue of the people absorbing the costs of insurgency, that the intifada-style uprising in the Srinagar Valley that had gained momentum following the 1989 state elections in Jammu & Kashmir, which New Delhi tried to manipulate and ended up botching completely, petered out, was the effectiveness of the counter-insurgency group headed by the former MLA, Mohammad Yusuf (“Kuka”) Parrey. The Parrey group — Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen, was anti-Islamist and sought a more seamless integration of the state with the secular Union of India. Parrey was killed in a militant ambush in Bandipore in 2003 by when his group, after its huge successes in the war to keep militancy and militants out of Kashmir, had been all but disbanded.

True, the Kuka Parrey fighters operated on a grid mapped out by the Indian army, which also provided on an ongoing basis logistics support, accurate and realtime intelligence, communications wherewithal, and such other assistance in operations as these doughty Kashmiri fighters required. As part of the fish active in Kashmiri waters, they notched up signal successes in turning the fight around, not least because of the spirit of Indian nationalism instilled in its cadres, which due to a process of social osmosis affected the social milieu and influenced the rest of the social milieu as well. Whence the eroding of the militancy and growing participation in electoral politics evidenced in the last two state and general elections.

Whatever caused the insurgency to come back into the picture in Kashmir, it may be time to revive and incentivize a cadre of Kashmiri youth to take up the gun against the militants relying umbilically on material support, safe havens, and training on Pakistan’s deep state. If one cares to examine how Parrey originally gathered his group of motivated youngsters around him, this shouldn’t be too difficult. Among Parrey’s fighters there were many who joined him for purely mercenary reasons, which is perfectly fine. There are huge numbers of the educated unemployables available to choose from to inspire, and to train to fight the militants, and otherwise gradually to strangle their support base in the Kashmiri society.

Time is nigh to pursue this option also because the Pakistan-merger seeking Hurriyat headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani has declared open war on the state law & order apparatus by threatening to name Kashmiris serving in the state police and paramilitary organizations involved in anti-militant actions. By doing this, Hurriyat intends to virtually paint a bull’s eye on the backs of each native policeman and paramilitaryman, identifying the targets for the militants to eliminate. In all his 83 years, Geelani never before made this sort of mistake, and it is a grievous one that New Delhi should capitalize on. Geelani has handed the perfect incentive to Kashmiris responsible for maintaining law and order and desirous of protecting themselves and their extended families and circle of friends and acquaintances, to fight the militants. It is a strong motivation for them to make the fight with the Hizbul Mujahideen of Sayeed Salahuddin and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba of Hafiz Saeed, and their ISI handlers in the shadows, a personal one. Perfect opportunity and time, in other words, to again form and field a nationalist, anti-Islamist, counter-militancy force skilled in guerrilla warfare and hit-and-run tactics.

In this respect, I recall what KPS Gill, ex-DG, Punjab Police, long ago told me, that the best recruiting poster for anti-militancy fighters are two things — fear (of losing their own lives and putting the lives of family and friends in danger) and revenge. In the Khalistani insurgency of the 1980s Gill exploited what he called the “Jat Sikh mentality” of avenging the wrong done a person and his family. Gill remembered going to villages in the Doab and elsewhere, rounding up young Sikh boys who had seen their parents or siblings killed and raped by the Khalistanis, and telling them that he would give them the license to go after these killers, hunt them down like vermin, and let them have the satisfaction of personally executing the wrong doers and, if they were unreachable (because they had found refuge in some bolt hole in Pakistan, California, Canada, or the UK), their immediate relatives. It was a horrific saga but Gill bloodily killed off that insurgency.

In Kashmir, it is the fear for one’s life and threat to family and friends that will gain for the nationalist cause adherents both within the Kashmiri police and paramils and their extended social circles, and whose guerrilla actions can then be sustained without too great an expenditure of resources by the Indian state. The Indian army, instead of being on the front lines, can then be engaged in cordoning off suspected areas (as happened in Punjab and during Kuka Parrey’s time in Kashmir) while leaving the more onerous task of dealing with the young men heeding the call of the late Burhan Wani, to the locally-raised vigilantes.

Time for NSA, Ajit Doval, to wake up and muster this option soonest, as part of the larger scheme of things that includes coming down hard on the sympathizers and (potential) recruits of the Islamic State and such others as are dreaming of another khilafat, and helping sections of the Pakistani and the Afghan Taliban to achieve their aims.

Posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia | 25 Comments

UN SG race — India has no stake

It is that time in the international calender again when a new person has to be elected to the post of Secretary-General of the United Nations Organization.

Shashi Tharoor, the Congress Party MP from Kerala, may ruefully recall, no doubt with some heartburn, this underway process, considering how wrong it went for him the last time this happened in the summer of 2006. How his attempt to secure a promotion from UN Under-Secretary General for Communications to SG, bombed. Tharoor’s candidacy was undermined by four factors: His relatively thin credentials (in contrast to most candidates who are usually ministers, if not foreign ministers or even prime ministers), Tharoor was only a UN apparatchik — the former SG Kofi Annan’s public relations manager, first in Geneva at the UN High Commission for Refugees headed by Annan, and later in New York when his UNHCR boss made it, almost at the 11th hour, as Africa’s candidate in 1997); his ambition outpacing his support among the (s)electors — the members of the Security Council; the feeble, almost nonexistent, canvassing on his behalf by the Indian Permanent Mission, New York (in this respect, he mistook Sonia Gandhi’s approval that fetched him Manmohan Singh’s formal support for MEA/Indian diplomats in the field going all out to campaign for him); and, the balance of influence that tilted on the side of the self-effacing South Korean minister for foreign trade and civil servant, Ban Ki-moon. A curious aside, along with Tharoor, Abdul Ghani, the President of Afghanistan, was candidate.

There’s the curious mechanism of successive “straw polls” (among the member states of the Security Council) that winnow the field until only one person is left, when he/she is installed by consensus to head the UN. Of the top five finishers in the first straw poll held July 21, in which the male candidates beat out the female candidates and the former Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Guterres topped it, four were Eastern European: Slovenian president and U.N. official Danilo Türk, UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria (came in 3rd); former Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremić, and former Macedonian Foreign Minister Srgjan Kerim. Of the others in the running, Argentinian foreign minister Susana Malcorra and Ban Ki-moon’s ex-UN deputy came in 8th, and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, and Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusić, didn’t fare well. In fact, Pusic, who came in last, has quit the race.

This is around the time in the game when the old Great Power politics kicks in. Everybody is agreed that it is time for a woman to take charge, a secondary concern is also that the candidate be from East Europe. Russia has covered both these bets with its preferred candidate, Bokova, a Russia-educated Bulgarian who formerly served as a deputy minister in Sofia. The US however thinks Malcorra is the better choice, to coordinate whose campaign, Secretary of State John Kerry betook himself to Buenos Aires for consultations.

Moscow can reasonably expect China to back Bokova, and among states doing two-year stints as non-permanent members, Ukraine, Angola, Senegal, and the Leftist regime-run Venezuela, to do so as well. The US will have UK and France on the side of Malcorra besides, possibly Egypt, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Spain, and Uruguay.

India has no say in this selection, but will likely be approached by both Russia and the US to do what it can to push their respective candidate by building up a bit of head steam in the UN, and it can get dirty as Moscow and Washington up their stakes. It is best New Delhi keeps out of this tangle altogether as India has nothing whatsoever riding on the outcome.

Posted in Afghanistan, Africa, Asian geopolitics, China, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, Japan, Latin America, Northeast Asia, Russia, South Asia, UN, United States, US. | 2 Comments

Why Donald Trump is Good for India

NOTHING IS MORE dreaded by liberal America than the potential presidency of Donald J Trump. He means to blow up the foundations of the existing global order along with the current set of US foreign and military policies. Notionally ‘Republican’ in his ideological moorings, Trump has declared he will tear up all free trade agreements, end refugee, immigrant and even visitor flows into America from nations “compromised” by “radical Islam”, including France and Germany, and, in order to generate well-paying jobs at home, stop US companies from outsourcing work offshore. Most significantly, his government will require, he says, treaty allies and strategic partners to pay their “fair share” for the military protection provided to them. Trump will terminate alliances, including NATO, since he perceives these as vehicles for allies to free-ride on security accorded by the US that drains its wealth and saps its spirit. Americans have always believed that ‘there is no free lunch’; Trump has extended this principle to assert there’s no free protection either.

International security arrangements are protection rackets, after all, and, one way or another, beneficiary countries do end up paying. Tokyo coughs up what it delicately calls ‘omoiyari yosan’ (compassion monies) amounting to several billions of dollars annually for the US military presence in Japan. It is armed security this country could well do without if the ‘peace constitution’ imposed on it by the US did not prohibit the Japanese from gaining militarily self-sufficiency in the first place. If it is amended, Japan can acquire nuclear weapons within weeks. It is a direction Trump has urged not just Japan but also South Korea to take.

Washington’s looser, more laissez faire attitude to nuclear self-defence and non-proliferation should ease fears of possible US- led sanctions and thus liberate New Delhi from its self-imposed America-placating strictures, motivate it to resume underground testing, and obtain a versatile arsenal by filling it with proven and credible nuclear and thermonuclear weapons of various yield-to- weight ratios. More consequentially, it can arm Vietnam with nuclear missiles as payback for China’s doing the same with Pakistan. India, Japan and Vietnam armed with such weapons would effectively ring-fence China. If that doesn’t sober it up fast, nothing will. Nations on the periphery of China will find Beijing becoming more receptive to equitable solutions for its border dispute with India and for others in the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands. Chinese leaders will have to worry that any show of bellicosity may push more adjoining countries to seek nuclear empowerment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets along well with US President Barack Obama. He may get along even better with Trump—and then again, perhaps not—because they seem to be cut from the same cloth in many ways. Both are self-centered and share the same personality traits. The Republican Party presidential candidate has confessed, for instance, that he consults only himself when it comes to foreign policy matters. “I’m speaking with myself, I know what I’m doing,” he told an interviewer. “I listen to a lot of people… But my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff.” Personal instinct and gut-level feelings are also what Modi banks on and which take precedence over the advice of experts and professionals. Trump’s boast, moreover, that he is able to do this because, as he put it, “I have a very good brain”, has shades of Modi’s preening reference to his own “56-inch chest”.

Trump’s neo-isolationist stance, however, packs the potential for the most lasting effects. With him implementing punitive policies, withdrawing the US behind Fortress America, and pulling up the drawbridges, international institutions such as the United Nations and economic forums such as the G-20 will become defunct, and the Indian Government will face a world bereft of the comfortable certainties of the past. With no assurance of an economic safety net or security shield, it will be compelled to look out for the country’s interests, muster the economic, military, technological and industrial resources necessary to fight off China or any combination of rivals and adversaries on its own. Should New Delhi relapse into its old habit and ask Washington to act as rescuer, Trump will demand that India sign up as a treaty ally, and, of course, pay for any military deployment.

New Delhi has been too complacent for too long, confident that in any dire situation an extant great power will rush to India’s aid. India’s big power rhetoric aside, its foreign policy has been like that of a cripple on foreign crutches, or like a pepper vine needing to wind itself around a sturdy tree to climb and prosper. In the 1950s and 60s, India relied on the US and the Soviet Union; in the following two decades, exclusively on the Soviet Union; and in the new century, on the United States. Trump will kick the crutches from beneath the Indian Government’s shaky worldview and mindset. Worse may follow in the economic sphere. Trump’s populism has been his winning card. He has promised that he will bring industry and jobs back to the US. This he means to do by cutting off access to the American market of those countries enjoying what he deems to be unfair advantages—in terms of hidden subsidies, tariffs and preferential treatment of home companies— and by curbing the outsourcing of work to foreign shores.

Globally, India’s biggest comparative advantage vis-à-vis other countries is in the Information Technology (IT) and IT-enabled services sector. It accounts for 67 per cent of the $124-130 billion market pie, employs 10 million people and is expected to grow to $350 billion by 2025. The trouble is that this vast edifice—a prime advertisement for a globalised and modernising India—will come crashing down if access to the American market is curtailed and H-1B visas are stopped. These visas permit Indian firms to send engineers and technicians to work in the US on Indian wages— Trump’s reason for shutting down this business altogether.

This industry is a vehicle of middle-class aspirations, and since the late 1990s, New Delhi has been very mindful of keeping the US door ajar for it and courting the votes of this burgeoning section of society. Getting close to America was an aim of the governments led by AB Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh, as it now is of the Modi Government. They have striven to forge a ‘special relationship’ with the US for another reason too: a ‘strategic partnership’ as a security hedge against an aggressive China.

THE HISTORICAL RECORD of countries seeking a ‘special relationship’ with the US, however, is not good. Winston Churchill as wartime British prime minister, and in his second term at 10 Downing Street in the early 1950s, discovered that it meant Britain being treated as a supplicant, a second-rate power, and having to tolerate unending slights. A Trump-led America will be even more insufferable in these respects, and falling in with the US may mean swallowing one’s pride and accepting insults and supercilious behaviour. Then again, recent policy trends suggest the Indian Government may not be averse to becoming a subsidiary power.

Even so, assuming there are limits beyond which the Indian people won’t accept the belittling of India, the country will be left with no alternative than to fend for itself and safeguard its extended interests. It will be a signal departure in that India will, per force, have to discard the habit of leaning on foreign countries for anything, ruthlessly pare the government and the public sector, task the private sector with the bulk of economic effort, including achieving self-sufficiency in armaments, and, with regard to foreign and military policies, insert steel in them, make them disruptive, reorient Indian diplomacy towards realpolitik, and enable India to emerge as an independent power that friends and foes alike fear and respect as much for its clout as its unpredictability. But for these benefits to accrue, Americans first have to elect Trump as their president.

Published in ‘Open’ magazine, July 29, 2016 at

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Arundhati G, RIP

India was lucky to have Ambassador Arundhati Ghose, as the Indian Representative at the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), Geneva, in 1995-96 negotiating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Her diligence in keeping abreast of the often secret meetings and machinations of the five so-called Non-Proliferation Treaty-recognized nuclear weapons states (P-5), kept India out of trouble. She thus thwarted the CD proceedings designed to corral this country into a Test Ban and freezing its nuclear weapons technology at the level of an unproven basic fission device. There were procedural moves devised by the P-5 and similar surprises US and its camp followers in Western Europe that were prevented from being sprung on the Indian delegation by Arundhati and her team. MOreover, her straight talking to her US counterpoint left Washington in little doubt what they were up against, which was capped by her ringing affirmation in the plenary voicing India’s final rejection of the CTBT, her now justly famous declaration that India would not sign that flawed treaty “not now, not ever”.

For those who care to know more about Arundhati’s finest hour, the most complete account of the evolving thinking of GOI and the P-5 machinations, and her maneuverings around the diplomatic booby-traps and mines laid by the dastardly Five in the CD, according to Ghose, is in my tome ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’. She repeatedly referred to this book in her well-attended (and perhaps, last) public talk on “India and the CTBT Negotiations” at the Raja Ramanna-founded National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore,on Nov 29, 2015 (text at She “would recommend”, she told the audience, “that anyone interested in the discussions military, scientific and political at the time, refer to Karnad’s book (pages 370-390).This also contains information on the negotiations themselves, based largely on interviews with me, soon after my return from Geneva to India in 1997 when my memory was still fresh.”

No finer Indian diplomat held the fort so courageously in the international arena in the face of concerted attacks. But the real hero, per Arundhati, was the prime minister who, at that crucial moment in time, was HD Deve Gowda, often derided by his opponents and the media as a PM who quite literally slept on the job. Except he had the earthy and instinctive understanding about the roots of national power, and once the stakes were outlined to him that signing the test ban treaty would close off India’s chances of ever becoming a nuclear weapon state, with great certitude he verbally instructed Arundhati, back in Delhi for consultations, to reject the CTBT outright.

Considering how most of the influential circles in the capital leavened by the advocacy of the strategic community elite headed by K. Subrahmanyam — its “doyen” and his acolytes in the govt, IDSA, and the media, among them the late Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (Retd), and which advocacy was backed by the then chairman, atomic energy commission, R. Chidambaram (and still adviser S&T to PM), had prepared the political and public relations ground for India affixing its signature to the CTBT, a nervous Ghose asked Deve Gowda for written instructions to that effect. Thus armed, Arundhati sallied forth to Geneva, there to bury the CTBT.

What ifs of history — what if a supposed sophisticate or a West-leaning pol had been PM (say, Rajiv, or Inder Gujral, or Vajpayee — or the de facto PM at the time, the late Brajesh Mishra, or Manmohan Singh or, dare we mention, Modi?)– not Deve Gowda, he’d not have hesitated to order Arundhati to sign on the dotted line, and thereby permanently strategically crippled India.

It must be recalled that those who promoted CTBT signature also led the charge on the N-deal with the United States, and those who opposed the CTBT were the same small handful of us — one or two strategic analysts and the old guard from Trombay — the late PK Iyengar, AN Prasad, A. Gopalakrishnan, who just as vehemently campaigned in 2005-2008 against the nuclear deal with the United States, which from the beginning has sought to shackle India and, with the nuclear deal, succeeded to a considerable extent. (See our collated public writings in the latter episode in the book ‘Strategic Sellout: The Indian-US Nuclear Deal [2009]’). We relentlessly pounded GOI’s movement towards and its eventual succumbing to US pressure and blandishments. Again the strategists pushing for the deal were Subbu, Jasjit, and that caboodle in the official corridors, the media, and now doing duty in Western thinktank (Carnegie, Brookings, IISS) branches setup in Delhi to shape GOI’s policies. Not surprisingly, just about every thing that’s going wrong with that N-deal, CSC, including the perils of the buys by Modi of the six cost-prohibitive, untested and unproven Westinghouse AP 1000 reactors after his most recent US visit, which purchase, hazards-wise, could prove calamitous, was prophesied by the deal’s critics (See ‘Strategic Sellout’).

The point that Arundhati — a confirmed disarmament-walli by the way, repeatedly confessed to me, and something she alludes to in her NIAS talk, is how unprepared the Ministry of External Affairs is to negotiate on technical issues, such as anything related to nuclear, which requires some very serious domain knowledge. And why it is imperative to have permanent institutional mechanisms where the technically proficient scientists and engineers are in periodic consultations, so that Indian diplomats at the negotiating end and by way of MEA’s institutional memory. are brought up to to speed on where not to give way, where to cede ground, grudgingly, and the bulk of issues that are non-negotiable and if put on the table how carefully to configure legal escape routes and safeguards to always leave open the option for the country to ease itself out of tight corners and onerous treaty commitments.

Having quickly realized that neither of us was going to be able to convince the other on N-disarmament and big power-driven arms control measures, where we were invariably on opposite sides of the argument, our mutually respectful relationship settled into a breezy, jokey, affair. Whenever we met I’d good naturedly rib her for her “naivete” and she’d throw up her hands in mock horror at my “love of the Bomb”. The wonderful thing was that our differences only spurred us to tap each other for information and insights, though the traffic was mostly one way. Plainly said, what I know about MEA’s attitude to disarmament and how it evolved, and about the workings of DISA (disarmament and international security affairs) Division in that ministry was gleaned from her. She kept up with the goings-on in MEA and especially DISA as current officers in that Division are in one way or another her proteges or have matured under her influence penumbra.

Many of us knew of the cancer consuming her. But because she didn’t make too big a fuss about it, many of us who met her now and then didn’t either. Cancer or not, she wouldn’t give up her cigarettes or the tiny ‘Altos’ lozenges she chewed on. She was a fixture in the seminar/conference circuit relating to India’s nuclear policies. That stopped earlier this year. And then the day before yesterday we heard she had passed on.

Arundhati will be sorely missed — a Wonderful old Gal with real fighting spirit. RIP.

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