Nuclear false alarm

(Agni-5 launch)
The latest edition of the Carnegie Nuclear Policy Conference in Washington that just ended featured American and foreign nuclear specialists chasing, as usual, the elusive nuclear catastrophe they are convinced is round the corner. There was also the obligatory alarm raised about South Asia. This year, the India-Pakistan “nuclear flashpoint” thesis was tweaked to claim that India has abandoned its No First Use (NFU) commitment and adopted a strategy, in case of an “imminent” launch, of a pre-emptive “comprehensive strike” against Pakistan. Such a course is being contemplated, it was argued, to spare the country the “iterative tit-for-tat exchanges” and prevent the “destruction” of Indian cities.This hair-raising conclusion was not supported by other than extremely flimsy evidence — three unrelated statements by separate persons. Let’s examine and contextualise these statements in turn. The erstwhile defence minister Manohar Parrikar stated not long after taking office that India would “not declare one way or another” if it would use or not use nuclear weapons first. This was said expressly to inject ambiguity of response that is crucial for the credibility of the Indian nuclear posture. This credibility was lost in 1999 when the previous BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee mindlessly made the draft-nuclear doctrine public, and later compounded the problem by replacing “proportional response” in the draft with “massive retaliation”. Incidentally, Parrikar’s avowal was in light of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political decision to not initiate a formal revision of the doctrine promised by the ruling party in its 2014 election manifesto.

The second reference is to the former national security adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon’s observation in his recent book that the Indian nuclear strategy has “far greater flexibility than it gets credit for”. The doctrine drafters in the first National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) intended and so shaped the doctrine, especially Section 4, to make it “elastic”, to enable escaping the limitations of “minimum” deterrence imposed by the prime minister in his suo moto statement to Parliament on May 28, 1998, before the constitution of the NSAB. The NFU declaration makes for fine rhetoric, distancing India from the hair-trigger situation Pakistan strives for the world to believe exists in the subcontinent. It is in Pakistan’s interest to talk up Hindu animus and predatory India, because it justifies not just its nuclear arsenal but its emphasis on first use of tactical nuclear weapons. In the event, treating NFU as a conditional constraint is what Menon hints at.


The third piece of proof trotted out is the views of retired Lieutenant General BS Nagal, a former strategic forces command (SFC) commander, particularly his view that a democratically-elected government cannot morally risk the decimation of the Indian people by sticking literally to the NFU pledge. It was during Nagal’s tenure at the SFC, it may be recalled, when the then NSA MK Narayanan publicly revealed that the military was not in the know of nuclear arsenal details and, by implication, that the SFC was not in the nuclear loop. It may therefore be safely deduced that the views Nagal has developed was outside the SFC ambit.


However, certain developments in the nuclear weapons sphere do indeed make possible an Indian first strike. Such as the ongoing process of canisterising Agni missiles, including presumably the 700-km range Agni I meant for the Pakistan and Tibet-Chengdu contingencies. It, in fact, provides the country not only with a capability for launch-on-warning but also for striking pre-emptively should reliable intelligence reveal an adversary’s decision to mount a surprise attack.

Nuclear missiles in hermetically sealed canisters are ready-to-fire weapons and signal an instantaneous retaliatory punch to strongly deter nuclear adventurism. Thus, all nuclear weapon states keep a part of their strategic forces in ready state, there being no guarantees that a confrontation or conflict with another nuclear power will keep to a sub-nuclear script. Having the wherewithal for pre-emptive action and launch-on-warning then is only a reasonable precaution.


Whatever their capabilities to fight nuclear wars, the chances of either India or Pakistan initiating a nuclear exchange for any reason are remote for the very good reason that western governments and analysts rarely acknowledge, because most of them are unaware or wilfully ignore the social context of India-Pakistan tensions, namely, the fact, whether anybody likes it or not, of these South Asian countries being organically linked.

Divided communities, continuing kith and kinship relations, shared religion and culture, mean that the so-called India-Pakistan “wars” are less wars, more “riots” — short periods of hostilities in geographically constrained spaces, hence the famously apt description of these by the late Major General DK Palit, originally of the Baloch Regiment, as “communal riots with tanks”.


Published in the Hindustan Times, March 31, 2017 with the title “Chances of India-Pakistan nuke war are remote”  and in the newspaper’s online edition with the title “Concerns about an India-Pakistan nuclear war are highly exaggerated” at




Posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Decision-making, disarmament, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, nonproliferation, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Forces Command, Weapons | 15 Comments

The Albatross void

TU-142M aircraft

(CNS ADM Sunil Lanba at the Tu-142 de-induction at Arrakkonam, March 29, 2017)

The fleet of 8 or so Tu-142 ‘Albatross’ maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft with the Indian Navy based in Arrakkonam (near Chennai) will stand decommissioned as of April 2017. It was inducted in 1988 with the navy issuing a statement hailing this aircraft for “their phenomenal maritime reconnaissance (MR) capabilities” and as “spearheading the Navy’s MR effort ever since”. It further added that it was “among  the finest aircraft of their kind in the world in addition to being the fastest turbo-props,”

A lot of frantic sorties have been launched in recent months regularly to as far down as South Africa, in order to rundown the remaining air frame time and wind down the clock on this Tupolev, almost as if the navy wanted to be done with it. But why has the good vibes about this bird turned over the years into antipathy towards it in a service that now finds itself without really long range MR and interdiction assets?

A very senior naval person of impeccable integrity and vast and varied experience with whom I had, a few days back, raked up the topic of the imminent de-induction of the Tu-142, responded that left to him he’d have tried and retained this aircraft and its capability. Russia has been offering 22 Tu-142s, from a huge store of this aircraft, possibly kept as war wastage reserve. He called today to say that as he was not an aviator, he had consulted with his naval aviation colleagues and was now persuaded by their argument that it was a damnably difficult plane to upkeep, and the attention it required after each sortie was just too onerous. In comparison, the Illyushin-38 for like missions in the ‘Sea stallions’ squadron based in Goa,  is a dream, easy to service and maintain, and a delight to operate.

The trouble though is the Il-38 has very little combat range compared to the Tu-142, and also a limited lethal payload capacity — the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, free fall bombs, and a short-range Air-to-air missile for self-protection versus the Kh-22 anti-ship cruise missile and the Kh-15A short range air-to-surface missile carried by the Tu-142.

What many in the navy are getting exercised about is their belief that Russia through their commission agent in India is stirring up a needless controversy about a contingent strategic void being created by the absent Tu-142s, given that the great expanses of the Indian Ocean still need surveillance and armed monitoring, a role the Il-38, optimized for what the Russians call the “coastal ASW” mission, simply cannot pull. Those having anti-Tu 142 views, however, point out that the offer of 22 or howsoever many planes the Indian Navy wants to offtake is because Kremlin has decided that it wants to revive an oceanic anti-submarine warfare capability for itself but lacks the financial resources to set up a factory to produce a new power plant for it. And here’s where an Indian buy of these aircraft was supposed to come in handy. It was expected to generate the funds for the Russian Navy to get a newly re-engined fleet of Tu-142s.

That this is Moscow’s way of modernizing its MR/ASW capability is not in doubt. That Indian agents will make a lot of moolah out of such a deal cannot be doubted either. That the Indian Navy has scarce monies and is in no position to “waste” any is also a fact. The question still looms — how is this strategic MR-ASW void to be filled? And if the Tu-142 is not the answer, what’s the alternative? P-8I? But the synthetic aperture radar on the P-8I, it is said, cannot pick up the Karachi port — which may be apocryphal view. but the fact is it has simply not panned out as the navy expected. Then again, neither did the Tu-142.

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Why Parrikar failed in Defence


(Parrikar with PM)

Few Defence Ministers began their tenure with such high expectations and ended it on such low key with almost nothing to show for the two-odd years spent as the military’s boss, as Manohar Parrikar. Returning to Goa without making the slightest ripple in a ministry crying out for hard political decisions and implementation of even harder solutions, may be something of a record.  Even so, were we all wrong in hoping Parrikar would do big things differently, logically, with oodles of practical good sense? For one as a graduate of IIT, Mumbai, it was expected that he would bring an engineer’s approach and problem solving methodology to issues of national security, especially those relating to the conventional forces that in many respects are mathematical in nature.

He started out promisingly. The MMRCA race was decided by the time Manmohan Singh demitted office. It only remained for the incoming BJP government to  sign on the dotted line of a contract for the Rafale aircraft that would enrich France, the French economy, the French aerospace sector, and specifically, Dassault Avions, without doing much for IAF’s fighting ability.  He did the unexpected, showing the greatest reluctance to sign a contract, Parrikar pondered more economical options in lieu of the Rafale. He came to the obvious conclusion that the entire ‘medium’ category in combat aircraft is bit of  a hoax perpetrated by IAF. This may be seen in his exploring a Hi-lo solution revolving around the Su-30 MKI license-produced by HAL in Nasik as the high end fighting platform, and the indigenous Tejas as the low end bulk combat component. His publicly observing that the price of a single Rafale can fetch the IAF three Su-30s, arguably the best multi-role fighter plane currently flying barring the F-22 Raptor, and his refuting the IAF’s charge propagated through the media that the Sukhois suffered from heavy downtime, by talking of its serviceability rate as comparable to any other aircraft in the fleet, suggested that here was a defence minister who was prepared to take Air HQrs head-on.

Then prime minister Narendra Modi’s Paris trip happened in April 2015 and, voila! just like that, there was the announcement of  a buy of 36 Rafales — a ridiculous figure because it meant the IAF could do very little with it in terms of strengthening its force posture or warfighting capability. They were too few in number to operationally matter, and too costly to risk in hostilities, but may prove useful to Vayu Bhavan as a wedge to wangle the resources to get an additional 100-200 Rafales in the future. This decision marked Parrikar’s slide. He could not in good conscience act gung-ho about Rafale, equally he couldn’t be seen,or even politically afford,  to oppose the PM.

This is a sidebar– but why Modi made this decision remains a mystery,  considering the Rafale makes little military, political, or economic sense. If, as is being alleged, President Francois Hollande lubricated the Rafale deal by promising Indian nuclear weapons designers access to the French inertial confinement fusion (ICF) chamber in Bordeaux so that India’s unproven and untested thermonuclear designs can be validated short of explosive underground testing, and also finessed, by triggering miniature fusion reactions in the ICF facility, then Modi has taken a big gamble. Paris has not always delivered on its contractual or even secret executive-level agreements. Assuming they do this time, where’s the guarantee that the French won’t pass on the Indian ICF data to its friends and allies, thereby compromising the Indian deterrent? Moreover, is a paper promise of access to ICF, Bordeaux, worth the escalating costs of the Rafale, considering Indian scientists continued to gain from access to the Russian ICF in Troitsk, outside Moscow?

In any case, Parrikar was never the same again. He chose thereafter to do what any lay politician has done as defence minister — surrender to the autonomy exercised by the civilian bureaucrats running his ministry. Leaving it to the babus to do all but formally make decisions meant he sidelined himself, and wound up enmeshed in the Gordian knots of red tape he had set out originally to untangle.

One is tempted to compare Parrikar’s fairly undistinguished time in office with that of the longest serving defence minister, AK Antony, in the preceding Congress Party coalition government. Unlike Parrikar, Antony, a lawyer, understood the pitfalls of decisionmaking and was wary of civil servants weaving a web to victimize politicians. Zealous in protecting his reputation for absolute propriety, he shunned all decisions concerning procurement of major military hardware — Project 75i, MMRCA, howitzers, etc. Consequently, in his eight years as defence minister nothing was decided on the big ticket items, nothing was bought.

In both cases, the usual rampaging waste of national economic resources was avoided but at the cost of weakening force readiness and modernization, by Parrikar because he permitted the civil servants to create an impasse at every turn, and by Antony because he deliberately avoided taking any decision at all.

Not sure which is better — Parrikar’s mode or the Antony operandi.

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More Disruption Please

THE RULING BHARATIYA Janata Party’s success in the recent state elections, crowned by the stunning results in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has stamped Narendra Modi as a political man without parallel perhaps in the history of the Republic. No Prime Minister so far has sported such keen political antennae that pick up the slightest tremors of popular anger and angst, gauge the people’s frustrations and despair, and shape the voters’ collective consciousness and cater to it with appropriate government action and policies. He can apparently do no wrong. Everything he attempts, however dubious, turns into a political windfall (to wit, demonetisation). That unerring sense of what will play at the grassroots level is instinctive, not something learnt over time. If this were not the case, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav would now be preparing for bigger things, one as Congress party chief busying himself to replace Modi at 7 Race Course Road two years hence, the other as UP Chief Minister consolidating his hold over the country’s most populous province and positioning himself in national politics to pole vault into the Prime Minister’s seat should the opportunity arise. But compared to Modi, these two seem like amateurs, ‘bachcha log’ playing at power daddies. Then again, there’s no stalwart political leader elsewhere in the country who is the Prime Minister’s equal. With BJP boss Amit Shah playing Tonto to his Lone Ranger, Modi has tamed the opposition and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and about wrapped up the 2019 General Election as well.

However, for a politician who has overturned every political rule of business at home, remade his party, and is in the process of making the country over, the surprise is that he has not been disruptive in India’s international relations. Disruption is what got China to where it is now, has strengthened Pakistan’s hand in dealing with great powers, and provided North Korea the wherewithal to hold the US at bay. The adoption of a disruptive attitude and policy mindset that has helped other countries make it in the harsh global milieu should commend itself to Modi, who has embarked on realising a brash ‘new India’. This will run smack into the Ministry of External Affairs’ traditional advice to prime ministers emphasising continuity and caution, counsel that Modi has faithfully followed since May 2014. His foreign and military policies are a copy of those pursued by the much reviled Congress Government of Manmohan Singh. But it is not a recipe for a ‘big bang’ impact.

The ‘short-term maximiser’ policies that Manmohan Singh followed, mixed more recently with the drumbeat about terrorism and ‘surgical strikes’ to pressure Pakistan, have about played themselves out. It has never made strategic sense, moreover, for India to buy goodwill of the West and Russia by signing multi- billion dollar deals for high-value military hardware, and this approach won’t persuade the Trump administration to leave the H1B/L1/H4 visa channels slightly ajar for Indian techies to squeeze through. Nor will any big power relent on India’s membership to the UN Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or even the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum— unless Delhi shows it means business.

What is not recognised in Delhi is just how crucial reaching a modus vivendi with Pakistan is to India’s great power ambition. Pakistan is sufficiently strong, especially with military, economic and technological aid and assistance provided by China, huge transactional fees (as a frontline state on Afghanistan) extracted from the US, and a Russia loosening up on military supplies, to seriously hinder India’s plans. Maybe Modi is aware of the importance of cultivating Pakistan. His clearing the visit by three Members of Parliament, including Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party, to attend the Asian Parliamentary Assembly in Islamabad soon after the announcement of the game-changing Uttar Pradesh election results, is a good sign. Perhaps the Prime Minister will follow this up by reviving the Musharraf solution for Kashmir. Atal Bihari Vajpayee almost accepted President Pervez Musharraf’s July 2001 proposal, which offered Islamabad a fig leaf to back out of championing the Kashmir cause by forming a joint India-Pakistan body to ‘oversee’ the state’s affairs even as each country retained sovereign authority over J&K territory in its possession. It’d have turned the Line of Control into the de jure border. But with Vajpayee’s advisers distrusting Musharraf’s promises about stopping jihadi terrorism, that solution was interred in Agra.

If despite a horrible record of violating contractual obligations, the Indian Government trusts Washington, Paris and London to deliver specialised ordnance and critical military spares in crises, Modi can surely take the far lower risk of trusting Pakistan to stick to its word. And now there’s a Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is mulling the Indian model to keep the army out of politics. Were Modi to show the slightest interest in a Musharraf-type compromise, an entente with Pakistan is possible, with Bajwa likely supporting the Nawaz Sharif regime.

It will forever rid Indian policy of its Partition pathologies and the tendency to externalise communal tensions in society into mindlessly adversarial relations with Pakistan. The result will be that the United States, Russia and China, in the main, that have manipulated Delhi by calibrating their approach to Pakistan, will be bereft of that lever. It will be the foreign policy reset the country has long been looking for, raising India’s stock and Modi’s standing in the world, and comprehensively enhancing the country’s geopolitical stature and diplomatic leverage. With the big powers losing their punch, Modi can play off the US against Russia, Russia against China, the US against China, and generally position India as the global power balancer able to twist the outcomes of regional and international forums to India’s advantage.

IN TANDEM WITH those developments, Modi has to ensure that India ends its arms dependence on foreign countries by rejigging his ‘Make in India’ programme. Apparently because of lack of clarity on its objectives, this policy has so far cued the licence manufacture by private sector players of obsolete weapon platforms, such as F-16 combat aircraft of early-70s’ vintage. Constituting a parallel capability to that of defence public sector units for assembling weapon systems based on screwdriver-level technology will not, however, make India self-sufficient in arms. Nor will it help set up a profitable, self-sustaining, high employment-generating national defence industrial powerhouse that acts as a technology innovator. For such an industry to be viable, India would need the integration of public and private sector resources, economies of scale, and a military fully reliant on indigenously designed weapons and equipment.

Yet, decisions to meet military needs with imports get more egregious by the day. The latest is the Navy’s opting for an imported carrier fighter plane at the expense of the navalised Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, thereby all but killing the latter’s development as a flagship enterprise that showcases the country’s capacity to design and produce complex weapon systems. The foreign aircraft for our Kochi-built aircraft carriers won’t be inducted before 2025, by when the naval Tejas, of reduced weight, would be available for induction. In the face of reckless foreign procurements by the armed services, Modi has to do something revolutionary: announce the termination of all underway defence deals and ban all armament imports. Since the addiction of Indian armed services to foreign military goods could cost the country $250-$300 billion over the next 25 years, going ‘cold turkey’ is the only remedy. There will be withdrawal pains, but if this ban is combined with making the military brass and Defence Ministry bureaucrats in the acquisitions loop—everybody, that is, from the armed services’ chiefs to the defence secretary—formally accountable and responsible for bringing indigenous armament projects in on time and within allotted cost frames, the impact will be enduring. With a Damocles sword hanging over their necks, you can bet there’ll be no pussyfooting.

Negative reactions from supplier states grown fat on arms sales to India can be expected. But Modi can ward them off by warning that any untoward action will mean an instantaneous cut-off of access to the Indian market. It will have a salutary effect. In this respect, Modi may care to recall that it was precisely the Western technology denial regimes of the 1980s and the consequent absence of an import option that compelled India to become entirely independent in strategic armaments—ranging from nuclear-powered ballistic missile firing submarines and accurate long-range missiles to nuclear weapons. Replicating such results in the technologically far less challenging conventional weapons sphere should not be difficult.

It only needs a strong-willed Modi to shut down the deeply entrenched arms import eco-system in Delhi that features foreign arms companies, commission agents, and hordes of facilitators within and outside government. If the Modi dispensation has so far escaped being tainted by defence scams and charges of corruption, of bribery and payoffs, that have tarred many reputations in the past (including Indira Gandhi’s), and brought down the governments of Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it is a matter of luck. Unless the arms import lobby is weeded out, root and branch, the influence on Indian policy of the US, France, Russia, Israel and the UK will remain unchecked, and the resulting corruption will end up soiling the BJP Government’s escutcheon, doing Modi’s reputation and his 2019 re-election prospects no good.


Published in ‘Open’ Magazine, March 17, 2017, at

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ITBP — best paramil, rising with new roles

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) is the best para-military around, with very good operational ethos and habits. Recognizing its abilities, the Modi government has decided to put it in charge of the country’s border with Myanmar. In fact, the 15 new battalions  that the Assam Rifles (AR) — India’s oldest paramilitary organization, is raising will now go to ITBP instead, even as it takes control of the border with Myanmar, and tries to shut off the flow of arms to rebel movements and insurgents active in the northeast. A Cabinet note formalizing this enlarged role of ITBP coupled with pullback of Assam Rifles from border policing has been prepared and will be put to the Cabinet for approval very soon.

This shock of Assam Rifles, officered by the army, no less, has hit Army HQrs, which has not come to terms with its officers and the AR’s established modus operandi being directly blamed for the continuance of tribal insurgencies in that region and is, understandably, resisting the move.  Army’s loss of face aside, the failure of army led AR in the last few years has become so pronounced, a drastic solution is believed necessary. Of special concern was intelligence that army officers deputed to the AR were a mostly compromised lot. As much to blame were the Assam Rifles’ method of basing its units some 40-50 kms behind the actual border, which only helped the unhindered movement of insurgents, arms and ammo. This in turn kept the insurgencies oxygenated. There’s, moreover, enough evidence with the government to suggest that the flow of Chinese arms into the northeast was facilitated by China through the Kachin Army it controls in northern Myanmar.

The government examined ITBP’s performance not just on the Tibetan border, but also its sterling successes in one of the worst Naxal-infested areas, the Narayanpur District of Chhattisgarh. Some eight  ITBP battalions are deployed there and has resulted in the Marxist guerilla fighters in that area being on the run, desperately avoiding fights. The reason for this, it is realized, was because of ITBP tactics. Firstly, Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the main force in anti-Naxal ops, sticks to the roads in the hinterland and uses lorries for movement. Owing to their road-boundnes, Naxalites routinely mine these country roads, blow up truck transports carrying CRPF units, register mounting casualties, and hurt the morale and emphasize the ineffectiveness of government forces. Further, the ease with which the Naxal cadres operate and their aggression in tangling with CRPF only burnishes their reputation with the local tribal people, firms up their support among the latter, and reinforces Naxal control of the ‘Red Corridor’ running from the Andhra region all the way north to the Nepal border.

ITBP personnel, on the other hand, used to walking  and preparing to fight in mountainous terrain — there being no roads or other infrastructure in the Himalayan uplands, have no problems in establishing their presence and wrenching back control from the Naxals in the areas its units are posted to. Deploying for 2-3 weeks at a time on long range patrols, ITBP jawans and officers live off the land, move rapidly and stealthily  in the jungles, and hunt down and eliminate Naxal fighters. Unused to such tactics by these foot-mobile government forces, the Naxals run because they can’t match the ITBP firepower either. Thus, the areas assigned to  ITBP soon become devoid of  Naxals. A DG, Chhattisgarh, reportedly mused rather loudly that if he had sufficient ITBP units, his state would be rid of these home-grown ideological insurgents  in double-quick time.

Further, AR’s inflexible strategy of staying back from the border is in sharp contrast to the ITBP’s of installing itself right on the border it monitors. This impressed the PMO as did  the other attributes (some of which are discussed above). These aspects taken together convinced Prime Minister Modi that ITBP was the force to rely on to seal the Myanmar border, prevent the rebels from easily replenishing their arms & ammo stocks owing to its support base across the border, choke off the insurgencies, and compel the rebel groups to come to the negotiating table.

This is all very good, and ITBP deserves all the kudos. But it has nested problems the government should address. As its name suggests ITBP is meant for the Indo-Tibetan border, its skills and competences honed for the specific Himalayan milieu. Dissipating its role and mission by pitting it against Naxals, the northeastern insurgents, etc. is to end up blunting its core expertise, and diminishing its utility. India needs more specialist forces on Line of Actual Control (LAC), in the main, because the Chinese PLA believes there are no big wars, only small wars that become big. In other words, the country and government need to strengthen ITBP, make it a genuinely powerful force on China border to ensure that should small-time hostilities be initiated by PLA, they remain small. ITBP’s usefulness should, in fact, be enhanced by (1) recruiting Tibetans from the exile community in India, and (2) the officers in particular given Mandarin language training in order to make them proficient in handling small scale Chinese contingencies, generating intelligence, and having the capacity to gauge Chinese intentions, all on their own. In other words, ITBP should be assisted to become an even more consequential China border force.

If, however, the ITBP ethos and tactics are prized, then why not depute on short term basis the specialist ITBP officers to run Assam Rifles, and to lead counter-insurgency state police and CRPF units in the fight against Naxals? Their task will be to train AR, CRPF, et al to become more like ITBP in their fighting skills and methodologies, and to get the jawans from these latter units off their butt, off trucks, and on foot for long term deployment without much logistics support, in the jungles of Central India to finish off the Naxals once and for all, and to shut down the flows of everything, including armed rebels, from Myanmar. This is the best solution.

On its part though,  ITBP morale is hurting because, for all its efficiency and effectiveness, it is controlled by Indian Police Service officers occupying top posts, rather than allowing the Force’s own encadred officer corps to fill these positions and run ITBP. This is cause for much heart-burning and discontent, and the Modi government will be well advised to pay heed. IPS officers, like their counterparts in the Indian Administrative Service to which most of the IPS recruits aspired, have become a generalist cadre with no specialist skills or domain expertise, and generally muck up things as IAS members do elsewhere in running very disparate agencies of government with only minimal understanding of what they should ideally be doing. If ITBP is a good force, it will become even better if their own officers are given the opportunity to run it. And because, ultimately, it is the quality of officers that distinguishes one paramil org from another, one thing you don’t want is a thoroughly disaffected ITBP officer corps.

Posted in China, civil-military relations, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Myanmar, SAARC, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Special Forces, Terrorism, Weapons | 27 Comments

Tejas & the single-engined fighter aircraft debate

Perhaps, of interest: A video debate on the merits of sticking with Tejas vis a vis producing the Swedish Gripen E or the American F-16 Blk 70, featuring RK Tyagi, former Chairman, HAL, AVM Kapil Kak (Retd), R Rajagopalan ORF, and yours truly. Also included are the commercial pitches made by Saab and Lockheed Martin reps at AeroIndia 2017. Judge for yourself what makes more sense. It is at:


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Counter China on Tawang solution, and rid Maldives of Abdulla Yameen

It is not surprising that in the wake of the Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar’s most recent visit to China, Beijing has hinted at its solution of choice to resolve the border dispute. India, this solution goes, can have the rest of Arunachal Pradesh and freeze the border at the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh and in the Central Sector, but will have to cede the Tawang Division containing the Tawang Monastry, which is at the very core of China’s Tibet problem.  “The major reason the boundary question persists is that China’s reasonable requests have not been met,” says Dai Bingguo, the former Counselor in the Zhongnanhai and one of the latter day architects of China’s India policy. “If the Indian side takes care of China’s concerns on the eastern section of the border, the Chinese side will respond accordingly and address India’s concerns elsewhere.”

So, what’s the problem with Dai’s solution? First of all it only exacerbates India’s strategic problems while robbing Delhi of the one serious leverage it does have — Tibet. With Tawang in Chinese custody, China will kill two birds with a single stone. It will position China permanently on this side of the Himalayan watershed and enable it to consolidate its military position on the plains. That strategic problem the Chinese PLA faces of credibly sustaining military actions on the Indian side of the LAC will be instantly gone. Beijing will then feel free to build up militarily on its own territory in the Tawang wedge with what horrific results for India’s security can only be imagined.

But let’s assume Dai’s solution is a mere negotiating gambit — the first move, what should India’s response be? Not jump on this wretched deal as the best Delhi can get, which I suspect is what Jaishankar will suggest to prime minister Narendra Modi. This counsel Modi should reject with extreme prejudice.  A reasonable counter should skirt around the Tawang issue by promising measures to ensure the Tibetans in India don’t pose any security problems to China in the future, and to tie this up with Beijing getting Pakistan to vacate its occupation of Balawaristan (Gilgit-Baltistan and all of the Northern Areas). To sweeten this transaction, Delhi could offer to sign on to the CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor) project.

Of course, this is “a bridge too far” for the Chinese to get to, let alone cross,  and is generally unrealizable even with Beijing’s friendship with Islamabad that in Chinese words is “deeper than the sea, and higher than the mountains”,  but that’s the whole idea. If China can forward a perfectly ridiculous, one-sided, solution of India ceding Tawang and tout it as reasonable, then why should Delhi quail at responding in kind with a nonsensical remedy with an equally straight face?

The larger strategic calculus is simple enough. Resolving the territorial squabble by other than legitimating the LAC as international border makes no sense, because now the Indian Army is fairly well entrenched at the eastern and the western ends, and however much the PLA may huff and it may puff, it cannot easily overcome the Indian military buildup in these regions. Should an Indian government at any time begin to think strategically for a change and shift the Indian armed forces’ operational focus north and east-wards, away from Pakistan, Delhi will have the monies to get 17 Corps going, raise two additional mountain offensive corps, and the wherewithal to conduct a remorseless kuttayuddha (covert war) in Tibet using Tibetan exiles in India, and to link up this effort with the activity of the radicalized Uyghur Muslim “splittists”  gathering strength with the defeated Baghdadi’s ISIS guerillas now reportedly streaming back home, and intent on realizing a “river of blood” in Xinjiang — yea, per the old saw of the enemy of my enemy is my friend — then we can create a really bad situation for China at its western extremities. To obtain that condition, why not persist with the status quo?

Isn’t it time to rid the Maldives of the troublesome President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom? He is proving to be a major headache. When he visited Delhi in April 2016, he gave no indication of what he had up his sleeve. And, in any case, is Indian intelligence even in the neighbourhood so poor that the Modi govt had no inkling of Yameen’s long-lease of the Faafu Atoll to the Sauds? If there’s any strategic foresight anywhere in Delhi, it is time to show  it in Male. Modi should  immediately dispatch a naval flotilla with a MARCOS contingent to the Maldives and  instruct the Indian High Commissioner there, Rajeev Shahare, to visit with Yameen and tell him to nix any draft-agreement leasing any Maldivan atoll to anybody except India, and definitely not to Saudi Arabia, the locus genesis of the Salafi-Wahabbi incubus infesting the Islamic regions, the rest of the world, and India’s Kerala. This may crimp Modi’s not fully baked strategy of cultivating Riyadh and the Gulf emirates, but Maldives in India’s backyard cannot be allowed under any circumstances to pass under Saudi and hence wahabbi-terrorist control.

Shahare should remind Yameen that just as the Indian Army’s airborne ops (Op Cactus) in 1988 summarily dealt with the mercenary coup d etat-ists headed by Abdulla Lutufi, and saved his relative the then beleaguered President Abdul Gayoom’s goose, a dose of pointed MARCOS attention may do him no good. Liberalizing the Maldives, forcibly if need be, is not a bad idea for Delhi to undertake. A government of the Maldives Democratic Party requires to be installed in Male with India’s trusted friend Mohammad Nasheed as President.

It is because India has not taken care to preserve and protect its national interest by periodic displays of  good old “gunboat diplomacy” that it has suffered so many reverses in its maritime approaches.  Time for Modi to correct this situation, for Abdulla Yameen to depart the Male shore, and to round up the salafists, including the locals, who have taken up the radical Islamist Cause. May be the Faafu Atoll can be turned into a Guantanamo -style hard prison for Islamic extremists.

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