Blinken in, blinkers on (augmented)

For India, Anthony Blinken as Joe Biden's Driver of Foreign Policy Is Good  News
[Jaishankar with Anthony Blinken]

Of course, it matters to India who becomes the US Secretary of State. With Anthony Blinken named by President-elect Joe Biden as his Administration’s chief diplomat, American foreign policy will regain its familiar moorings. Relieved traditional allies in Europe and Asia who had been asked to do the unthinkable — pay for the hitherto free ride on security the departing president Donald Trump had accused them of, will clamber back on to the US bandwagon, hoping a friendlier White House will not insist on reimbursement of the costs of stationing American troops on their soil. Except, it won’t at all be easy for the Biden regime to reverse any of Trump’s disruptive policies. Simply because NATO allies and Japan and South Korea, who began contributing more, per Trump’s demands, to the costs of collective security helped reduce US deficits somewhat and why is that not welcome news for the incoming government? This is now the new beneficial normal that Washington will do nothing to disturb.

Likewise, the transactional contours of Trump’s India policy will be hewed to by the incoming Biden dispensation and the frame of “strategic partnership” will stay fleshed out in the Trumpian manner. This country enjoyed absolutely no favours with Trump at the helm. The situation will not change substantially with Biden-Blinken at the wheel. Except on the policy margins. With Kamala Harris as Vice President, there will, for instance, be some easing of the visa rules to facilitate “family reunions” and to permit spouses of temporary H1B visa holders to seek employment — rules that Trump had tightened. But, with the ranks of the unemployed rocketing in these pandemic times as also the matching social welfare costs, removing visa restrictions on Indian techies will not be a Biden priority. Especially because he has promised economic policies to dissuade outsourcing of corporate back-office operations, software development, etc. and to incentivize US corporations into “in- sourcing”, bringing production units back to America. It is a policy followed from the Obama era. The result will be a continuation of Trump’s visa policies in all but name and active encouragement to US companies to shift their manufacturing hubs from China, not to India, but back to America.

This will be easy for Biden to do. Because, unlike the ‘little dragons’ of Southeast Asia, principally Vietnam, who very early configured extremely welcoming industrial milieus complete with skilled work forces in place, and attracted the first wave of Western manufacturing industries getting out of China, the Modi government in the last six years just talked, and talked some more, about India’s great demographic dividend, held investment melas, got Amitabh Kant of the Niti Ayog to paint bright jargon-laced pictures of an “economically vibrant India”, but did next to nothing in terms of actually improving the country’s “ease of doing business” standing, skilling the youth for advanced manufacturing jobs, or tackling the uncontrolled level of corruption faced by the ordinary citizen, what to speak of companies and corporations who keep tax officers and regulators off their backs by bribing them heftily. Transparency International has just published its annual ‘Global Corruption Barometer 2020’ and, despite all the digitizing, deregulating and improving the performance of government staff — the beat policeman, patwari/tehsildar on up, India is revealed as the most corrupt country in Asia, with a corruption rate of 39% (compared to 2% for the Maldives, which is in the same category as Japan!). Has any Indian media reported these findings? For the report see

Predictably in this context, foreign investors came, saw, shook hands with the Prime Minister, and got the hell out, preferring to invest in the more orderly and speedily-modernizing Vietnam and even in Bangladesh — fast rising as a middle income country and magnet for global industry in the subcontinent. Noting the trends, a leading article in the Pakistani newspaper, Dawn, gleefully called India “the sick man of South Asia”.

So, which American companies now in Asia, you think, will be targeted to close shop? Not the ones surely that already have their factories humming in Vietnam or Bangladesh, say, and making profits and prospering. Rather, it will be the companies which, espying the potentially vast Indian market are inclined, despite the horrible economic indices and bureaucratic obstacles, to set up presence in India. Because they have no stakes in India, as they do in Southeast Asian states, they can be more easily persuaded by tax concessions and other devices that the Biden Admin will soon roll out, to return home. So Delhi cannot reasonably expect to gain much on the economic or trade front, other than the US pushing India to buy more high-value military hardware — the hardy policy perennial when it comes to bilateral commerce!

The one positive that Trump’s Asia policy carried was its hostility to China. The Biden-Blinken duo are set to lessen the trade and military pressure on Beijing. Because, like Obama, Biden believes in a concordat with the Chinese. Recall that it was, in Modi’s words “my friend Barack”, who first talked of G-2, a consortium of the US and China running the world, an idea Xi Jinping quickly cottoned on to. This was bad news for India then; it will be an even worse development should it ever come to pass. In the main because the belligerent posture of the US Navy — the talk of a new fleet just for operations in the Indo-Pacific, designated the US First Fleet, notwithstanding, will be watered down with Washington hereafter striving to avoid military confrontation with China. For many in the Indian government, who seem not to understand this fact of life, let me put it bluntly: India will alone have to deal with China; there will be no US cavalry riding to the rescue of us Indians.

As to statements by Blinken, in his previous avatars as adviser to Vice President Biden, promising India military high-technologies, well, it turns out the Indian foreign policy establishment distinguished by its high gullibility quotient, are all in and happily parroting this line with a couple of former Indian ambassadors to the US in the van! The fact is Americans long ago realized that all they need to do is dangle the “transfer of military high-technology” carrot to get the Indian donkey to go where ever Washington wants it to. This has been happening from Prime Minister Vajpayee’s days. India has not received a single US-sourced high-technology to-date, all the talk of collaborations on advanced technology development vide the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, etc. have proved to be so much hogwash. The real US intention to string India along is evidenced in Trump abruptly pulling the US out of the underway joint project to produce a high-performance jet engine for combat aircraft.

Even as India got nothing, consider all that the good vibes and warm embraces fetched the US over the last two decades: the 2005 civilian nuclear deal (negotiated by minister S Jaishankar as MEA Joint Secretary) capped Indian nuclear weapons technology at the low-yield fission level; and the “foundational accords” — GSOMIA, LEMOA, COMCASA, and BECA, pulled India fully into the American orbit. These agreements have, at a stroke, robbed India of its “strategic autonomy” and signaled to Asia and the world India’s newly minted status as a US hanger-on. Wow! Some exchange this!

Reminds me of the bargain the European settlers obtained — buying Manhattan Island from those other Indians for a few shiny beads!

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bangladesh, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Japan, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, NRIs, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, technology, self-reliance, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons, Western militaries | 26 Comments

Modi seems likely to give ground in Ladakh

PM Modi's tank ride at Longewala
Modi in a tank at Longewala

Looking like some battling Old Testament figure transplanted to the Longewala border outpost in the Thar — a strikingly full white beard, camouflage tunic, dark glasses, and a BSF hat, riding an Arjun MBT, Prime Minister Narendra Modi once again proved he has no equal on the Indian political scene for engineering optics, or registering on the camera.

The PM’s presence among them and what he said was no doubt comforting to the army and para-military troops but it was largely unexceptionable stuff. But let’s consider his comments possibly pertaining to China because that’s the one adversary the Indian government and leaders over the decades stretching back to Jawaharlal Nehru have shown absolutely no instinctive feel for nor ever displayed the necessary confidence or desire to tangle with. That may be the reason why — by way of compensatory rhetoric during the BJP’s current tenure in government — bombastic talk has emanated from Modi exclusively directed at Pakistan!

There are three points in Modi’s peroration at Longewala troops that one can reasonably assume relate to China with which this country has been in a military faceoff since May this year in eastern Ladakh. One, he talked of the world being troubled by certain “expansionist” forces who sport a dated — “very 18th century” and “distorted mindset”. Two, he painted India as a country that “believes in policy of understanding others and making them understand but if an attempt to test [India] is made, then the country will give a fierce reply.” continuing standoff with China at Ladakh border. And finally, he mentioned India having the strength and, presumably the government he heads, having the political will to give — what else — a “befitting” reply to those challenging it. “The world now knows”, he asserted, “that India will not compromise with its interests even one bit.”

Take his points, one by one. Modi is quite simply wrong when he talks of territorial expansionism being an obsolete phenomenon. It reflects badly on the personnel in MEA and PMO advising him, who ought to have slightly deeper historic knowledge. In any case, hardheaded states on the make, such as China, intrinsically value territory and rely on strategic geography to establish an extended global presence. They covet the territorial space on land and sea of adjoining states especially if they are less venturesome, more passive, such as India, and have proved that territorial expansionism is very much on their agenda. Just because the Chinese allude to nonsensical history to buttress their dubious claims does not make China’s territorially expansive policies an anachronism — it is part and parcel of Beijing’s traditional approach of relating to lesser powers among which it clearly counts India. So, no, where China is concerned territorial expansionism is not passe’.

Are there clues in the other things Modi said that may indicate which way his government is leaning vis a vis a likely compromise with China? Beijing has not made it easy on the Modi regime. While eight painful sessions of fruitless talks between corps commanders on the border have come and gone without any progress to show for them, the Xi dispensation has not budged a whit from its original position that the Indian army vacate the heights on the Kailash range — the Rezangla ridge line — it showed the wit, for a change, to capture — beating the Chinese PLA to it. The only give on its part has so far been the offer to withdraw its forces to Finger 8 area in the Pangong Tso north area as long as India does not advance beyond its current presence on Finger 3 even though the Indian claim line extends to Finger 8! This supposedly is a Chinese concession!

Delhi, on its part, is seeking “comprehensive disengagement”. What does this mean exactly? Press reports quote Indian official sources as saying this would involve the two sides withdrawing an equal distance, something the Chinese seem inclined to accept because it will require the Indian army and Special Frontier Force units manning the Kailash heights to climb down encouraging the PLA, as several retired Indian generals have stated, to then quickly occupy these commanding hill tops and permanently disadvantage the Indian army. Considering that no other big power endows bilateral agreements with the ridiculous sanctity that the Indian government insists on doing, India has always lost out and will do so again as the PLA will quickly present Indian with a new Line of Actual Control — something I have been warning about from my first post on this subject mid-May onwards.

In this context, the prime minister’s third point that “India will not compromise one bit” is rendered irrelevant. See what the PLA has done vis a vis the Y-junction on the Depsang Plains — they have blocked Indian patrolling units from reaching Indian areas northwestwards to the Karakorum Pass — the most strategic subregion — the so-called “sub-sector North” in army parlance. And because the Indian army has not forced the issue by forcibly removing the blocking PLA units, that entire area amounting to some 900+ sq kms has, in effect, been lost. So, while in theory Modi and MEA may, with a straight face, aver China has captured no Indian territory and that the LAC remains undisturbed, in reality PLA extensively holds Indian ground and LAC has been grossly violated.

It appears Modi is in no mood to ruffle Xi’s feathers and order offensive operations to push the PLA out of Y -Junction and to recover lost Indian territory. The GOC XIV Corps Harinder Singh was at fault when, instead of ordering instantaneous action to bulldoze through the PLA block when army patrols first encountered it, he waited for higher authorities to green signal some counter-move, which he should have known would never come, leave alone in time for him to do something decisive. This was a tactical decision that was unnecessarily elevated by the Leh Corps HQ to strategic, even political, decision-making level, which was not warranted.

On the negotiating front too India is losing. As I argued in my early posts on the subject, MEA by attributing PLA aggression to an “indistinct” LAC actually provided Beijing with a justification for its moves that it has used ever since. Seeing Delhi on the defensive, moreover, China is now discreetly shoving India into accepting its terms. Here’s where Modi’s “won’t compromise a bit” promise ought to kick in. But it hasn’t. The PM, moreover, has been equally squeamish in not demanding that PLA get the hell out of the Y-j on the Depsang and, if it didn’t do so, that the Indian army would do whatever is needed for Indian units to resume patrolling in that sub-sector to which the Indian army has been denied access. And when the PLA block is removed that precautions would be taken to prevent the Chinese from pulling such blocking maneuvers in the future.

Plainly, Modi, foreign minister S Jaishankar and NSA Ajit Doval have singly and collectively failed to make Beijing “understand”, among other territorial enclaves being contested, the importance the Indian government and people attach to controlling the areas with patrolling points 10, 11, 11A, 12, 12A, etc. north and northwestwards of the Y-junction. And it is clear India has been severely “tested” by the provocation of the PLA maintaining its blockade. So per point 2 of the Longewala speech: Where, oh, where is the “prachand” (fierce) response?

This brings us to the central issue. In the light of the foregoing arguments, would it be wrong to conclude that the PM’s latest speech was the usual hot air Indian politicians emit anytime they have an audience, in this case a captive one? There may be something after all to the lurking suspicion about the BJP government seeming keener than Beijing to arrive at a resolution of the problem even if it means surrendering Indian territory beyond the Y-j and, thereby, giving up the ghost of strategically dominating the Gwadar-bound Chinese commercial traffic, and military movements on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in support of Pakistan’s control of Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan, the region the Imran Khan government has incorporated as another province.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian para-military forces, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Tibet, Weapons | 40 Comments

The fatal go-slow on the Philippines

India vows to provide Philippines with anti-COVID vaccine |
[Modi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte]

Interacting with a visiting official Filipino team of mid-level diplomats and military officers some 15 years ago, I was repeatedly told that Manila very much desired defence cooperation with India. They hinted at how the IAF could extend its strategic reach and punch by using Clark’s Air Force base and the Indian Navy the Subic Bay naval base — the finest deep water port outside of Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, as their forward deployment sites in the region. These facilities in the Philippines were vacated by US forces by mutual agreement because Washington saw it as an economy measure and Manila as means to rid their country of the over-weaning American presence.

Plainly, Philippine regimes since before Rodrigo Duterte came on the scene have been thinking of ways to firm up their external security, espying in India, a newly nuclear weaponized country, just the non-intrusive but hefty counterpoise to China Manila valued. Duterte openly sought defence cooperation when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Manila for the 15th ASEAN Summit in November 2017 — the first time an Indian head of government had made this trip after Indira Gandhi did the honours 36 years earlier. At the same time, Manila has tried to be on the right side of China, proposing to drill for oil and gas jointly with a Chinese oil major in maritime territory claimed by both China and the Philippines.

This double game notwithstanding, a glance at the map shows just why Indian military and naval units at Clark’s and Subic Bay would hamper the Chinese Navy and, together with other Asian forces, such as the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, would if not scuttle, then hinder, Chinese plans for dominating the South China Sea and even the East Sea. Access to these facilities were there for Delhi’s asking if only governments here — first Manmohan Singh’s and then Modi’s, had an ounce of strategic vision, foresight, and drive. Absent these ingredients in the approach and outlook of Indian PMs and, therefore, in Indian foreign policy, MEA settled for an endless series of to-ings and fro-ings by Indian and Filipino diplomats and military delegations without the central issue of Clark’s and Subic Bay being ever directly addressed and an accord expeditiously negotiated to enable Indian units to be placed at these locations. Sure, there have been visits by Indian Coast Guard vessels exercising with their Philippine counterparts, and Indian warships on flag-showing missions have regularly dropped anchor in Subic Bay. But these events are trivial and of passing importance in the context of the primary mission of a forward presence of Indian armed forces.

U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay - Wikipedia
[Subic Bay — naval berthing docks on the right and air strip on the left]

Indicating how busy the two-way traffic has been of official busybodies and military officers, and of Indian warships to Philippine waters, is a press release on Indo-Philippine relations on the website of the Indian Embassy, Manila. The part of it related to defence ties is reproduced in full below ( ) to give the reader a flavour of the underway defence cooperation, which belying the promise and potential, is still pretty damn thin!

“The mainstay of bilateral defence cooperation continue to be capacity building and training, exchange visits of delegations and naval and coast guard ship visits. Secretary, National Defense, Delfin Lorenzana visited India with a five member delegation for the first ever bilateral defence minister level visit from 8-11 March 2018. Apart from bilateral interactions with his counterpart, he also visited defence establishments and defence equipment production centres in India. Philippines participated in the Def-Expo in April 2018 and is also slated to participate in the Def-Expo 2020 in Lucknow from Feb-5-Feb-9, 2020 represented by Mr Raymundo DV Elefante – Undersecretary for Finance and Materiel (USFM), Department of National Defence and Major General Reynaldo Aquino-Vice Commander, Philippine Army. 

“Indian Navy and coast guard ships regularly visit the Philippines and hold consultations with their counterparts. Indian Naval Ships INS Sahyadri and INS Kiltan visited the Philippines from October 23-26, 2019. ICGS Shaunak visited Manila on 1st February 2019 on the occasion of Indian Coast Guard Day. Indian Navy Vessel, INS Rana (D52) visited Manila from 23-26 October 2018.  ICGS Shaurya visited Manila from December 1-5, 2017, INS Satpura and INS Kadmatt visited Manila from 3-6 October 2017, Indian Coast guard Ship ICGS Samarth visited Manila from 7-10 January 2017, INS Sahyadri and INS Sakthi visited Manila on a goodwill visit to Subic Bay from 30 May -2 June 2016;INS Sahyadri visited Manila from 1-4 November 2015; and from 20-23 August 2014; ICGS Samudra Paheredar visited Manila from 19-22 September 2014; a flotilla of four Indian ships from the Eastern Fleet, namely INS Shakti, INS Satupura, INS Ranjit and INS Kirch visited Manila on a goodwill visit from 12-16 June, 2013.

“The participation of officers of the armed forces of both countries in various specialized training courses in each other’s countries has intensified, as have visits by National Defence College (NDC) delegations, including the first ever NDC visit from the Philippines to India. An Indian Armed Forces Officer has been regularly attending the prestigious Master of National Security (MNSA) course in the Philippines National Defence College in the last several years. A 27-member delegation from the College of War, Mhow visited in September, 2019. A delegation from the College of Defence Management of India visited Philippines from 23-31 October 2015 and again in October, 2018; a delegation from Army High Command Course of India visited the Philippines from 10-14 November 2014. 

“In recognition of the need to further strengthen defence cooperation, the Joint Defence Cooperation Committee was constituted and had its first meeting in Manila in January 2012 followed by the 2nd meeting in New Delhi on 24 March 2017. The 3rd Meeting India-Philippines Joint defence Cooperation Committee (JDCC) took place at Manila on 31 Jan 20. The meeting was co-chaired by Shri Bharat Khera, Joint Secretary (Planning), Ministry of Defence, India and Mr Teodoro Cirilo T Torralba III, Assistant Secretary for Assessments and International Affairs, Department of National Defence, Philippines. Prior to the JDCC Meeting, Service to Service Talks were held between the representatives of three major Services (Army, Navy and Air Force) of both countries. These talks facilitated a detailed review of bilateral defence engagements over the preceding years and establishment of a roadmap for enhanced engagements over the next three year period. During the JDCC Meeting, both co-chairs reviewed this three year engagement plan and also exchanged views on evolving regional security concerns as well as multilateral engagements. Both co-chairs conveyed their mutual commitment to enhancing the quantum, scale and depth of defence engagements. The meeting was fruitful in comprehensive exchange of views on future trajectory of India-Philippines defence cooperation activities and further consolidated the mutual engagements between both countries in the field of defence and security. The INTELLEX meetings have contributed towards sharing and exchanging information on a range of sensitive issues; the last INTELLEX meeting took place in Manila in January 2015 with the previous one being held in New Delhi in February 2013.”

Reading this dense prose would lead any reasonable person to assume that a pact for the use of the two main Philippine bases by the Indian military was long ago in the bag, and what is being worked out are the practical details, such as the legal status of resident Indian military men on short duration stay, etc. and for the prepositioning of stores for Indian frigates and missile destroyers at Subic and IAF fighter squadrons on rotation at Clark’s. That, as always in a non-strategic-minded India’s case, would be to assume too much! What other conclusion is there to reach?

I mean here’s the operative part of the MEA statement in the wake of the “virtual meeting” between the two foreign ministers — S Jaishankar and Teodoro Locsin Jr. on November 8. ” The two sides “agreed to further strengthen defence engagement and maritime cooperation…especially in military training and education, capacity building, regular goodwill visits, and procurement of defence equipment.”

The “procurement of defence equipment” is the only novel reference here, but what major indigenous Indian hardware would the Philippine forces be interested in? Well, there’s the Tejas LCA and, the Arjun MBT. But considering the Indian armed services have only grudgingly inducted these items and there are insufficient production lines to mass produce these items, especially the potential block buster, Tejas, these weapons systems are unlikely to be on offer. Of course, if the Indian government had any strategic-commercial sense –which is missing, it’d have not only pushed private sector companies to sell items they have independently produced, like Bharat Forge its excellent 105mm rifled gun and 155mm long range artillery, but lubricated such transactions by opening credit lines for Manila to use.

That leaves the only Indian armament all Southeast Asian countries fearful of China crave — the warship killer Brahmos supersonic cruise missile. But given how the Indian government, infected by its trademark terminal indecisiveness, has made a hash of the Brahmos deal with Vietnam, which has been in the works for a decade and a half, Manila cannot entertain much hope of securing it any time soon. This despite Vietnam being the one and only country China instinctively fears, which fact, I have argued for over 22 years now, is very good reason why Delhi should speed the Brahmos into Vietnamese hands and prioritize it over equipping the Indian military with it,

It is a matter of the gravest concern that the government so keeps getting in India’s way to make strategic good!! But that’s because Modi and his circle of advisers, led by the China Study Group, has injected such unwarranted fear and apprehension of China in the capillaries of the ruling dispensation, Delhi is afraid to do anything that could be taken amiss by Beijing. A habitually quaking Indian government is now a constant on the Asian stage, a reality China will happily continue to exploit.


Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, Defence procurement, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons | 10 Comments

Choice of poisons (augmented)

Trump reportedly alarms confidantes after he asks Mike Pence's loyalty -  Business Insider
]Trump & Pence: What do I smash next?]

It is stunning — the width and resilience of the incumbent President Donald J Trump’s vote base. Despite doing everything wrong, he could win a second term! On his watch, he grossly mismanaged the novel Corona pandemic and wrecked the US economy, spiked unemployment to unprecedented levels (30%), and stoked the deadly corona health crisis with ridiculous assertions (the virus will “disappear miraculously”) and laughable ‘snake oil’ remedies (insertion of “light” inside the bodies of infected patients and injecting common bathroom detergent into veins!!).

His record of reckless policies and corruption — his Secret Service protectors, for instance, are charged room and board at extortionist rates at Trump-owned hotels and golf resorts where the president invariably chooses to stay, and of a raft of foreign and economic policies designed to further his family’s interests — Trump properties in several countries (including India) coupled to his blowing up of Constitutional norms and political proprieties, has not fazed his followers who have elevated him to a cult figure. Trump is verily a Yankee version of the self-serving Indian politician!

He tarred the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris duo as carriers of “socialism” into America — a dog whistle for all kinds of people ranging from immigrants escaping socialist states (Cuba, Venezuela), anti-abortionists, to extreme racists who vow to use violence to return America to a supposedly pristine all-White past!

Except, he has run into headwinds building up over the last four years. Based on intense dislike of Trump and his destruction-derby mentality, the president has turned very large swathes of the American society against him. Educated, liberal, Whites, and bulk of minority and immigrant populations and even mainstream ideologically conservative Republican party voters — especially suburban house wives — who find the President’s crudities and excesses hard to accept. The mailed-in votes are still being counted in several crucial states, but the trend suggests Joe Biden and the democrats may squeak into the White House.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government, like the Manmohan Singh-headed Congress coalition regime, with Ministry of External Affairs in the van, invested a lot politically and diplomatically in Trump and the Republican party. While in the George W Bush and Barack Obama years Washington pushed its national interests using the liberal world order as cover, Trump dispensed with that pretense and made bilateral relations, to Delhi’s consternation, a purely transactional affair. Modi tried to get around this bump by personally cultivating Trump but it failed to pay dividend. His administration did not water down its antipathy to any and all channels of immigration from “shithole” Third World countries, involving illegal influx at one end to high-tech coolies India has funneled into the US using the H1B visa, at the other end, notwithstanding pitiable pleadings by Modi and his sidekick, S Jaishankar, at every meeting to ease up on the movement of skilled labour India can ill afford to lose. He imposed a policy of denying India the benefit of concessionary trade provisions in the Generalized System of Preferences and did not relent in the face of repeated supplications by Delhi.

The only favour Trump showed India — and here the shared threat perception of China and security of the Indo-Pacific region, has come in handy — is his pushing Modi to buy expensive, mostly dated, military hardware — M-777 light howitzer, F-16/21, etc. Delhi has compromised by making regular buys of transport planes — the C-1380J and C-17, and of maritime recon P-8I aircraft, to placate Washington and keep it engaged. Similar motivation has resulted in the Indian government in this past decade acceding to the four “foundational accords” (LEMOA, COMCASA. GSOMIA & BECA) desired by the US with “India-specific” exceptions being signed into them, which may not mean much. Even in purely transactional terms, India has received little in return for surrendering its freedom of action and “strategic autonomy”. Conclusion: Indian leaders, across the board, like to be taken for a ride.

The good thing, however, about Trump’s tit-for-tat basis of US foreign policy was that it took uncertainty out of the calculation! India, or any other country, knew exactly where it stood on any issue, what to expect, and the kind of deal Washington would be amenable to signing. But mostly it compelled friendly states to look out for their own interests and their own security. The reason why, on this blog, four years ago I welcomed Trump’s presidency and warned MEA to retool its US policy accordingly. It was advice the Indian government, of course, ignored to the country’s detriment. Because by persisting with a beggar bowl policy that looked to America for succour, the Modi government pushed India deeper into dependency status and lost the country respect in the world.

Biden, Harris vow to 'rebuild' America - Global Times
[Biden & Harris — hopeful]

With Trump possibly becoming history, what does a Biden-Harris Administration mean for India?

Firstly, a 180-degree turn is likely to be affected on the human rights front. Pramila Jayapal, a fashionably leftist Indian-origin Congresswoman from Washington state, prompted by the curbs in J&K, is spearheading an HR anti-India campaign. Not too long ago she introduced in the House of Representatives (the lower house of the US legislature) a resolution condemning India for denying Kashmiris rights and freedoms. The resolution HS Res.745 urged “the Republic of India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents”.

The significant thing about this resolution is that it managed to attract some 93 fellow Congresspersons from both the Democratic and Republican parties, constituting a quarter of the 435-representative-strong House, as co-sponsors. It may not have the force of presidential directive or executive order, but it could be the precursor of a punitive US policy. This initiative is in the context of the US Commission on Religious Freedoms recently charging India with restricting such freedom. “I have fought to strengthen the special US-India relationship, which is why I’m deeply concerned”, tweeted Jayapal, by way of explanation. “Detaining people w/out charge, severely limiting communications, & blocking neutral third-parties from visiting the region is harmful to our close, critical bilateral relationship,”

Indians being a sentimental people, we were pleased as punch when a half-Tamilian Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, admitted her love of idli with “really good Sambar” and for “any kind of Tikka”. This kind of familiarity led many to conclude that real India-friendly policies may be in the offing. And that being the VP places her in a good position to be her party’s presidential candidate in 2024. This last is winter dreamin’. The fact is the real reason why Biden hasn’t sailed through this election by walloping Trump as was expected in many American quarters is because the White majority is simply not ready for a coloured woman president to takeover from Biden.

The mere prospect of this may have turned many voters away from backing Biden. Indeed, if anything, the rethink in Democratic party circles will lead to the selection of a middle of the road white politician to be its standard bearer in the next election cycle given that Biden has already pronounced himself a bridge to the next generation of leaders. The question is what kind of leader? In realistic terms then, Kamala Harris because she has been a drag on the Biden ticket and is not acceptable to the white majority will not be acceptable to the Democratic party either in the future. There dies the Indian dream for our Kamala. It also ends the Democratic party’s dalliance with leftist policies which are anathema to most American people.

But what can one expect by way of Biden’s foreign and security policies? The advisers to Biden, are all Washington establishment type. Such as Anthony Blinken, who has been advising Biden since 2002 and was his National Security Adviser for eight years in the Obama Administration. Blinken is joined by Tom Donilon, sometime NSA to Obama, Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat who negotiated with Jaishankar the civilian nuclear deal with India, Kurt Campbell, a Far East expert, and Michèle Flournoy, who may become the first female US Secretary of Defence.

All of them have had a hand in propping up the old American treaty system in Asia and, this is important, balancing power in the subcontinent by tilting discreetly on Pakistan’s side. This does not mean the Biden dispensation will not try and build on the foundational accords to advantage US interests in the Indo-Pacific. Rather, that Messrs Blinken & Co., like the Trump Admin will be partial to not alienating Islamabad considering an Afghanistan solution is still hanging fire and generally to keep India muzzled. These advisers are divided on China with some of them believing that where China is concerned the US ought to show “humility” and carefully manage Sino-American relations. Others more realistically have talked of “great power competition” being back. They all share the view, however, that while Xi Jinping’s China and Vladimir Putin’ s Russia are powers to reckon with, they are convinced that the world can’t do without American leadership and that the US still needs to lead (on climate, for instance) even if it cannot any longer throw its weight around as it once did.

Then there’s a powerful element in the Democratic party beholden to Bernie Sanders, which thinks that after the disastrous Trump term America is in need of internal repair and democracy building and that this should be priority, not foreign ventures. So for quite different reasons, the Biden Admin too may be inward-turned, preoccupied with righting the domestic scene scarred by racial turmoil and political unrest necessitating a rebuilding of the US polity.

This may mean that India will be left to its own devices to look after its own security and economic interests the best it can. If the Jayapal initiative is guide, the Modi government may be well advised to not harp over much, even if indirectly, on the Muslim-ness and Pakistani-ness of the terrorist threat India faces. Because unlike with the Trump cohort, such stance will have less traction in Biden’s Washington. However, Indian policies may be better received in Washington if it substantially reorients its national security policy to take on China instead but without expecting the US to pitch in other than marginally in the collective Asian-regional containment effort.

As to the belief prevailing in some circles in India that a Democratic party Administration will be more open in its trade policies and welcome a bigger volume of Indian exports, they will be disappointed. Like the President (Obama) he served, Biden has made plain that he is for “inshoring”, the opposite of out-sourcing, and aims to incentivize American companies and financial institutions to invest and grow the manufacturing and other industries in the US as a means of addressing the high unemployment problem. That rules out relief for India.

Whatever the difference in the outlook and approach of Republican Trump and Democratic Biden, for India it is a choice between poisons.

Posted in Afghanistan, arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence procurement, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Weapons | 21 Comments

Balakot & Abhinandan’s release– different and separate stories, one a failure, the other a qualified success (augmented)

Outlook India Photo Gallery - Abhinandan Varthaman
[Then CAS ACM Birender S Dhanoa and Abhinandan on his return]

The statement in Pakistan’s National Assembly Oct 28 by the former Speaker and Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) MP Sardar Ayaz Sadiq that Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in the presence of the army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, had pleaded in a parliamentary committee meeting to not make a fuss over the decision to release the Indian MiG-21bis pilot, then Squadron Leader, Abhinandan Varthaman, downed on February 27, 2019. Abhinandan was released some 60 hours after his capture. Regarding the Foreign Minister Sadiq said this on the floor of the Assembly: “With his legs trembling and sweat on the forehead, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said to us, ‘For God’s sake, let him [Abhinandan] go back now or else India would attack at 9pm’. “No attack was imminent; they only wanted to capitulate and send Abhinandan back.” Two days later (on Oct 30), Sadiq confirmed his statement. “I stand by my stance. I have numerous state secrets. I….head a Parliamentary committee on national security. I had neither given any irresponsible statements in the past nor would I do [in future],” he said.  

Party colleague and fellow MP Khwaja Asif confirmed the meeting, Bajwa’s presence in it, the latter’s briefing to the committee and his voicing the hope that the release would be accepted by India as a positive gesture. Then Asif too turned the knife. “You might have released Abhinandan to ease tensions between the two countries,” he said, “but I want to ask as to what has been the outcome of what you invested into this step.”

The raising of this issue by the opposition party at this time is doubtless to counter the bad press generated by Imran Khan’s October 2 charge that his chief political rival, three times PM, and head of PML(N), Nawaz Sharif, had “gone [to the United Kingdom] and is playing India’s game. He is attacking Pakistan sitting over there. He is 100 percent getting backing [from India], he is a coward and without that [Indian support], he could not be doing anything.”

Predictably, Sadiq’s and Asif’s statements were dismissed by Major General Babar Iftikhar, the director general of the Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Public Relations, as an “attempt to distort history” and to sow doubts about an air battle in which PAF had given the IAF “a bloody nose [which] is still hurting.” Abhinandan’s release, Iftikhar declared, was nothing “other than a mature response of a responsible state in order to give peace another chance”. He added for good measure that the PML(N) “narrative is being used to downplay India’s defeat and loss”, and that “In [the] circumstances when the enemy has imposed a hybrid war on Pakistan, all of us will have to move forward with great responsibility.”

Pakistan’s minister for science and technology Fawad Hussain Chaudhry, who is often deployed by the Pak PM when fighting words are needed, instead of addressing the Abhinandan release issue and calling Sadiq and Asif names as is the norm in the Pakistani parliament, contrasted the ruling party’s muscular approach to India to the soft approach adopted by the previous PML(N) government. He revealed that the terrorist attack on Feb 14, 2019 on a CRPF convoy was, in fact, his government’s handiwork. Seeking, perhaps, to needle Delhi he deliberately echoed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s words. “Humne Hindustan ko ghus ke maara (We hit India in their home)”, he said. “Our success in Pulwama, is a success of this nation under the leadership of Imran Khan.”

He thus unwittingly confirmed that his country sponsored terrorism and prosecuted terrorist actions. It fits in with the Indian government’s longstanding diplomatic campaign to punish Pakistan for being “the epicentre of international terrorism”. The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting in Paris only a fortnight or so back had given Islamabad one last chance to mend its ways — just six months, actually, to change laws, and incorporate various other measures verifiably to tamp down on the sources of terror inside the country, failing which to face crippling economic sanctions. FATF is a UN body tasked with shutting down channels of illegal and clandestine funding of terrorist outfits the world over.

Imran, shaken by the prospect of the FATF lowering the boom on Pakistan now that his own cabinet colleague had admitted in Parliament Islamabad’s role in cross-border terrorism, ordered Chaudhry to go on Indian TV to try and get the country off the terrorism hook he had hoisted it onto. A visibly shaken Fawad, realizing the enormity of his terrible faus pax, made the usual excuse a politician does when caught with his foot in his mouth. He lamely explained that his words were misquoted, taken out of context, an explanation that a contrite Sadiq, who had started the fracas, too resorted to because he now faces an upset army. (He tried Oct 30 to pacify Bajwa. “Attempts to link my statement with Pakistan Army is a disservice to the country. It can be heard clearly in the statement that I spoke about the government,” he asserted.) The Indian news show host — Rajdeep Sardesai, India Today TV — who seemed to be channeling his inner Arnab, rather than talking about the FATF dangers facing Pakistan, etc., hectored his guest to right there and then confess Pakistan’s culpability. Chaudhry stuck to his line that if the Indian media only read his entire speech they’d know that he was really referring to the post-Feb 26 PAF operation to hit India! He was, however, unable to explain why his words “post-Feb 26 PAF operation” came out sounding like “Pulwama”!

Much of this is old hat. What’s new is Sadiq’s revelation of the Feb 27 9PM deadline. There’s no reason to disbelieve Sadiq’s version both because it is, timeline-wise, specific and because it fits in with the milieu at the time in India where the public was clamouring for hard retaliation, which Modi promised if indirectly by saying so grave a Pakistani provocation would not go unanswered. The retired air force chief BS Dhanoa’s statement on NDTV yesterday evening that IAF was “in a position to wipe out their forward brigades” had Abhinandan not been returned only confirmed Sadiq’s story.

Clearly, it suggests that the Modi government was ready to escalate and turn the crisis into an armed conflict if the Imran Khan regime failed to comply with Delhi’s privately conveyed ultimatum. It is possible GHQ, Rawalpindi, were aware of the Indian preparations but not ready to pick up the Indian challenge.

Whatever the truth, Abhinandan, disregarded Indian Ground Control’s warning of an F-16 on his tail, chased another F-16 into Pakistani air space and was knocked off. He returned to a hero’s welcome, won a gallantry award (Vir Chakra), a promotion, and even shared a celebratory ride in a MiG-21 with the air chief. Unfortunately, IAF has been unable so far to come up with any evidence of an F-16 kill that Abhinandan claimed, a story the IAF and Indian government support. There’s, however, tell-tale proof of his ignoring ground control’s directive and indulging in some hot-doggin’ and losing, in the process, his aircraft to enemy fire. In that situation, I don’t know what to make of this trade-off.

But it is a story that is intertwined with IAF’s Balakot strike and its aftermath. The Indian air strike was in retaliation for the Pulwama incident. Pakistan’s version repeated by Iftikhar is that Indian warplanes violated Pakistan’s airspace but dropped their payloads in an uninhibited area of the mountainous region of Balakot when confronted by Pakistani aircraft and scooted home. Rejecting Indian claims of the destruction of terrorist camps and killing of terrorists, he pointed out that local and international media were accorded access to the bombsite soon after the supposed Indian strike and they found no evidence of the alleged destruction, etc., and in an action-reaction-reaction sequence PAF, Iftikhar averred, “decided to teach the enemy a lesson in retaliation” for the airspace violation and “responded in broad daylight. Not only did we give them a befitting response, but also shot down their two jets [and] Wing Commander Abhinandan was captured.”

Further, capitalizing on the friendly fire incident in the thick of the crisis on Feb 27, 2019 when an IAF Mi-17 helicopter was blown off by an Israeli Spyder short-range Surface-to-Air Missile positioned for air defence of the Budgam airfield, the Pakistan military spokesman attributed it to panic triggering of the SAM because the Indian forces, according to him, were frightened by Pakistan’s reprisal. He then skewered the IAF when he picked up on the view of certain service brass who blamed the absence of the Rafale combat aircraft for the air force’s failure, seeing it as an Indian acknowledgement of Pakistan’s aerial victory.

The postscript to this episode is that even though Bhadauria admitted the Spyder hit on the Mi-17 was a big mistake, and promised that those involved would be dealt with expeditiously, a year and half later there’s still no news — unless I missed it — of the two officers responsible for this mishap being cashiered and/or court martialed.

The more troubling question is why the IAF is sticking pigheadedly to its story of the attack sortie against Balakot being a great success. As I concluded in my March 19, 2019 post IAF’s goofs and Delhi’s post-Pulwama debacle: A Post-mortem at , that mission whatever else it was, a success it manifestly was not. Commercially available satellite images of the Balakot hilltop featuring the supposed target area showed little had been ruffled on the ground.

I had then contended that if the Modi government had decided to risk escalation and, potentially, war by approving IAF’s strike mission then the selection by Air HQ — because picking an appropriate weapon would surely not have been left to an operational commander for such a politically symbolic task — of the Israeli SPICE 2000 precision-guided munition was the wrongest possible choice. If the objective was to leave a huge impression of Delhi’s resolve on the Pakistani government psyche, the ordnance had to produce a damned big bang to flatten the entire hilltop — trees, terrorists, terrorist camps and all, which result could only have been obtained by dropping 500kg-1000kg high-explosive guided bombs. And, in the event, the launching of the SPICE PGM from a distance simply did not make sense because it did not have the earthshaking impact that was required for not just the local people and the world to see but for GHQ, Rawalpindi to get the deterrent message.

This failure is absolutely the IAF mission planning staff’s and, ultimately, Dhanoa’s who signed off on it and on the choice of the weapon. The Modi-Doval duo cannot be faulted for relying on the professionals to do the job right, except to the extent that it did not have the requisite military expertise on hand in the PMO to go over the final mission plan, including the selection of weapons and, if it did have such experts on tap, that they failed to apply any correctives, or at least to warn the Prime Minister and NSA that the mission would fail to have the desired effect and the reasons why.

Posted in arms exports, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Islamic countries, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, Missiles, Pakistan, Pakistan military, SAARC, society, South Asia, Terrorism, UN, Weapons | 34 Comments

BECA (oh, no!) in the context of Indo-US relations

Live: Mike Pompeo, S Jaishankar Joing Press Conference Begins After Meeting  On H1-B Visa, S-400 Defence Purchase, U.S. Sanctions On Iran Oil
[Pompeo & Jaishankar — That’s what we are looking out for?]

The 2-day annual 2×2 meeting involving the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US, namely, Jaishankar and Rajnath Singh and Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper, respectively, begins six days before the American quadrennial elections on November 3 and the possible termination of tenures of Pompeo as US Secretary of State and Esper as the Pentagon boss. The chances of Joe Biden replacing Donald J Trump as US President are rated anywhere from the former squeaking through to registering a landslide win.

The ending of the one-term Trump presidency could quickly lead the Washington policy establishment, inclusive of the mainstream Republican Party which has been alienated and sidelined and has actively canvassed for Biden, breathing a sigh of relief and dismissing the last four years as an aberration. An aberration or whatever, it nevertheless revealed the basic self-centredness and the isolationist impulses at the core of US foreign policy. Trump gave his personal prejudices free run but was not ideological. He supped with Kim Jong-un of North Korea and was thick as thieves with Chinese president Xi Jinping while stomping on treaty allies in Asia and Europe because of his transactional belief that such tactics would best fetch America what he thought it deserved by way of substantive strategic/economic/political gain for putting out for its friends.

In Trump’s system the ask if promptly acted on fetched immediate returns. For instance, in May this year when Modi shipped hyroxychloroquine to the US peddled by the US president as remedy for the novel Corona virus, India received almost by return mail, as it were, relaxation in duties on Indian exports to that country. It was a glorified barter scheme at work and was only a variant of the usual Western liberal notions of world order requiring other countries to “follow the leader”, reflect its “democratic” values, mirror its strategic concerns, subscribe to free trade, and trust in multilateral organizations and treaty regimes that Washington can twist to protect its interests and secure advantages.

The US view of China as adversary predates Trump, of course. Nor has the Trumpian perception about India’s strategic usefulness in this part of the world differed from that of past Administrations. What was new starting in the new millennium was the unvarying insistence that India accept the 4+1 foundational accords to progress bilateral relations to a higher pitch. So we got the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) signed in 2002 to safeguard intelligence shared by the US, the 2016 Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) permitting each side to access the designated military facilities for refueling and replenishing military forces, the 2018 Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) valid for 10 years to facilitate interoperability, the fourth agreement up for signature at the forthcoming 2×2 meeting in New Delhi — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) to share geospatial and satellite data, and the ‘+1’ — the 2019 Industrial Security Annex that makes available to Indian private sector companies classified American industrial information to manufacture military goods previously restricted to the Indian government and defence public sector units.

In my books and writings, I have detailed why the four foundational accords while not being particularly useful to India may be a drag and end up actually hurting Indian military capability and conduct of operations, and undermining this country’s sovereignty. Take CISMOA, for example. In the guise of seamless communications between the fighting platforms of the two countries, easier penetration and hence the compromising of the most secret communications networks, including the Indian nuclear command and control links, has now been enabled. But in this post let me outline the reasons why I think BECA could be problematical.

The US has, via satellites, apparently digitally mapped the entire world. In military terms, BECA promises Indian forces and weapons platforms digitized maps so obtained of, say, China and hence the precise targeting coordinates for any Chinese military assets India may care to have in its crosshairs in a conflict. It will, in theory, also permit Indian missiles and other over-the-horizon standoff munitions once fired to reach distant points by helping them correct course mid-way and align properly to target in their terminal run for precise destruction. So far so good; where’s the hitch?

The trouble is the US, as dispenser and source of sensitive adversary target information, is in a position to monitor on real time basis the digitized data being accessed and, if its national interests of the moment are so served, to deny the user state such information and even to tweak the digitized data just enough to misdirect the fired weapon, and otherwise to dictate the outcome of such engagements. The US can then plausibly blame technical glitches in the Indian weapon for it going astray. No BECA can ever be drafted in such verifiable detail as to prevent the US from doing this. After all, India has no control over American satellites and, therefore, even less control over the kind of information they transmit at any time. So, there’s no guarantee that expensive Indian weapons fired at China will not be thus fooled around with by a third party. It needs no reminding that Indian and US interests even as regards China only overlap a bit but are far from convergent.

The cautionary tale to have in mind is what happened when the intermediate range Agni missile was first test fired in May 1989 and was oriented to “target” by the US Global Positioning System (GPS). The launch was fine and the telemetry in the initial stage indicated flawless performance, but with Indian ships monitoring its progress and stationed at the planned endpoint in the Indian Ocean, the missile entering the terminal stage in its flight suddenly plunged into the sea. What happened was that the American GPS had just then “blinked” sending the missile off course! India thereafter used the Russian GPS. It is not hard to imagine such a thing happening with Indian munitions dependent on US-generated target data being misdirected in wartime. With what consequences for India can only be imagined.

This is why India so desperately needs to be self-reliant in armaments and strategic support systems at any cost, including accelerating the pace of launching and operationalizing an Indian constellation of satellites to provide the Indian military indigenous blink-proof GPS and targeting wherewithal not prey to the interests of any outside power.

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Talking big, acting small re: Y-j on the Depsang

India's military brass wants swifter build-up of border infrastructure with  China | Hrdots
[Resupplying army in Ladakh]

Speaking at the Bloomberg Economic Summit yesterday external affairs minister S Jaishankar hinted at resolution of the border problems with China being sought through a yet higher channel than the Special Representatives level talks (Ajit Doval and Wang Yi) involving, apparently, Jaishankar and Wang. “Discussions are on, [but] what is going on [in that forum]”, said Jaishankar somewhat mysteriously, “is something confidential between us and the Chinese.” Well, Jaishankar better produce a rabbit out of that hat because nothing else has so far worked.

The MEA spokesperson was just as opaque, stating only that the two sides “exchanged serious proposals”. The Indian government says its sole interest is in arriving at a “comprehensive” disengagement covering all territorial friction points, meaning restoration of the status quo ante. Meanwhile, Beijing has been just as definite that if that’s what Delhi is waiting for it will have to wait for a very, very long time, if ever. Because it is interested for the nonce only in a Ladakh-specific remedy involving the Chinese PLA staying put in virtually all the areas they have intruded into across the LAC while asking the Indian army to decamp from its forward positions.

On this issue the Chinese urgently demand the Indian army vacate the heights it occupied around the Spanggur Lake in surprise moves that, for a change, froze the PLA out of the Rezangla ridge line that also includes ‘Black Top’ the highest point in that mountain range, which enables the Indian army to mount effective surveillance of the Chinese troop movements in the extended area and to launch timely counter actions to frustrate any offensive PLA activity.

But then, as happened very early in the confrontation when MEA offered the indistinctness of the LAC on the map and on the ground as reason for the hostile interface which the Xi regime thereafter used to justify all that transpired subsequently in eastern Ladakh, the MEA spokesperson this time around fouled up by once again offering the Chinese Foreign Office new talking points. He explained the lack of progress in the various parlays afoot by referring to the “complexity” of the disengagement process. “The two sides”, he averred, “have a better understanding of each other’s positions. Disengagement is a complex process that requires redeployment of troops by each side towards their regular posts on their respective sides of the LAC.” The Chinese negotiators can be expected to hereon gleefully embrace this so-called “complexity” of the mutual withdrawal process to stall all proceedings, and otherwise bring them to an impasse, and use it as plausible cause for refusing to back out of the annexed Indian territory.

Lately, and it is a bit a rich this, but Chinese Foreign Office spokesman have now taken to blaming India’s infrastructure buildup along the LAC as “the root cause of tensions” and implied that continuing with this activity besides “complicat[ing] the situation” would prevent “peace and tranquility” from returning on the LAC. To which his Indian counterpart, diffident and mealymouthed as always, stressed the need for both sides to adhere to all previous accords “in their entirety”.

Why can’t Jaishankar instruct his ministry spokesman to emulate the latter’s Chinese counterpart and vociferously demand the Chinese hand back all territory taken by force, and relinquish the infrastructure built up in the Aksai Chin — the first of which was the Xinjiang Highway constructed starting in 1955-56, and refer to this as, in fact, “the root cause” of all bilateral troubles and ill-will? These are two lines and their variants that should be iterated with vehemence and absolute conviction every time MEA spokespersons open their mouth.

But why do Indian diplomats come out like shrinking violets when compared to the Chinese Foreign Service staffers? In part because the former think their forte is the English language and they can weave a web of words to entangle the Chinese. In actuality, however, it is the new breed of Chinese diplomats posted to Delhi and in Zhongnanhai who speak good English, often are far better read and informed, and who, language-wise, end up hoisting Indians with their own petard.

Worse, when these MEA-wallahs can’t think of anything to say to the press they fall back on recounting the spurious tactical advantage the Indian army has supposedly gained on the Finger 4 feature on the Pangong Tso (spurious because the area Finger 4 to Finger 8 has already been lost to the PLA) and about the more real gain, courtesy the Spanggur-Rezangla area under Indian control. But what they never mention is the crucial and significant negative of the extant state of affairs — the 960 odd sq kms northwestwards of the Y-junction to the Karakorum Pass on the Depsang Plains in PLA’s hands.

The Chinese have achieved this by simply blocking Indian troops from accessing India’s traditional patrolling points beyond the junction. That XIV Corps and Indian army HQrs have not so far thought it worth their while to plan and execute an Indian army operation, obviously by Special Forces, to outflank and isolate PLA’s blocking force by going around the mountain range on the Y-junction rather than waiting for the PLA to permit Indian patrols, is pretty much allowing this bit of Indian territory to settle in China’s lap.

This lack of military initiative where China is concerned, alas, reflects the civilianizing of the military leadership — and not in a good way — to a point where risk-aversion has become part of the institutional DNA and central to the thinking of the military brass.

Like our political leaders, our armed services chiefs too have learned to talk big, act small.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, corruption, Decision-making, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, SAARC, society, South Asia, Tibet | 28 Comments

Where to begin with Biegun and 2×2

Trump Meets Rajnath Singh, S Jaishankar, Discusses India-US Ties
[2×2 in Washington — Jaishankar evoking mirth in US Secretary of State Pompeo, but not in the Pentagon boss Mark Esper or, for that matter, Rajnath Singh]

Biegun, unfortunately (in Hindi) means, “without redeeming quality”!

Still, let’s give the US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun arriving in Delhi Oct 12 the benefit of doubt. He will be here to set up the scene, firm up the agenda, for the next edition of the 2×2 meeting Oct 27-28 involving the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries.

In the lead-up to this visit, Biegun made the sort of noises to the Indian media that Americans know will put the foreign policy establishment in Delhi in the right mood to, as has been typical of Indian representatives who go weak in the knees when dealing with their American counterparts, to give away far, far more than India can ever hope to receive. After all, heading the MEA is the arch symbol of India’s giveaway culture — S. Jaishankar who signed the unequal and entirely unfair 2005 nuclear deal, and then contrived to stay on to reap the rewards!

Biegun made clear the American approach. After the de rigeur comments about the shared democratic values, etc., at some do called by the US India Strategic and Partnership Forum, Biegun responded to a question about what more the US can do on defence cooperation, export controls and tech transfer, by playing to this country’s conceit as a “world power” and potential “net security provider” to countries in the extended Indian Ocean region. “We’re very eager to help India become and remain a world-class power in contributing [to] net security rather than worrying about net security and how it affects their interests. And I think defence cooperation is a key avenue for this.” He thus pointed out that Delhi does more talking about providing security than actually doing so.

Having slyly shown India its rightful place as talker more than doer, Biegun used his initial comments as launch pad for the business end of his trip and that of the Americans at the forthcoming 2×2 meeting — selling antiquated military hardware to squeeze the last cent for American defence companies before their production lines are junked, sold for scrap metal. He called India’s desire for self-reliance in armaments a “countervailing trend” that while appropriate in some sense, doesn’t jell with Washington’s ideas. “I get that”, he said. “No country wants to be entirely dependent on other parties.” But on this subject, he said, “Even…a partnership as close as the United States-India, can be tested… I understand that”, he continued smoothly, “but I think it can’t come at the exclusion of giving India the best-in-class defence capabilities, and I think India’s going to find a very willing and creative-thinking partner in the United States [in the time ahead] in that exact area.”

There’s no question that the US Government (starting in the George W. Bush era) has been very creative indeed in first fluffing up that tottering old granny of a combat aircraft from the Sixties — the toothless F-16 in new raiment, presenting it as an entirely new ‘F-21’ just for the yokels, and then pressuring India to go in for this bill of goods. Indeed, the Industrial Security Annex (ISA), as part of the General Security of Military Information Agreement, signed at the last 2×2 round in Washington in December 2019, is meant specifically to facilitate Lockheed Martin’s sloughing off the F-21 to the IAF and Boeing selling its F/A-18 Super Hornet for use on aircraft carriers to the Indian Navy. At the time of ISA signing, defence minister Rajnath Singh, hoped it would “enable smooth transfer of technology and information between private entities of the US and India.”

So, F-16 is apparently “the best-in-class” capability Washington is generous enough to want India to buy for billions of dollars that India does not have, and even if it did, it is money that could be better spent on stuff that is more critical to national security than aged aircraft looooong past their sell-by date.

It is another matter that the requirement for 114 single engine fighters was created by IAF at the Indian government’s behest to accommodate Washington. It was spun off from, and as an additionality to, the supposed need for Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft that the purchase of 36 Rafales partially met. Have presciently maintained all along — look up my posts- that the acquisition of the F-21 was always Jaishankar’s priority in whatever capacity he found himself in government, or outside of it. Chosen by Lockheed as its “strategic partner” per the Defence Procurement Procedure, the Tata Group has been itching ever since to produce the F-21 in India, and so hired Jaishankar as ‘President for Global Affairs’ in April 2018 to push for it. Jaishankar was appointed by Tata straight after he demitted office as Foreign Secretary, with the Prime Minister waiving the 2-year “cooling off” period rule applicable to all retiring civil servants. From this perch he canvassed for the Modi regime’s approval for the F-16 deal purchase. Tata hit the jackpot when little over a year later its President for Global Affairs was anointed foreign minister, putting him in a position to lubricate the F-16 transaction from within the cabinet. It’s just a matter of time.

So, as I had long ago warned, brace yourselves because the F-16 will soon be expensively in the IAF fleet for the Pakistan Air Force to make mincemeat out of in prospective encounters — and all this at the poor Indian taxpayer’s expense! It is necessary to reiterate Jaishankar-qua-Modi government’s follies because they are going to cost the country plenty.

But to return to Beigun; at the said Forum in Washington he emphasized that for US’ strategy for the Indo-Pacific to be successful “we have to tap into the full scale…of economics,…of security cooperation, and that’s impossible to do without India as centrepiece….So as important as I’d like to think the United States is to this strategy, it’s not going to be successful for us without India also standing side by side”. And then he went to dilate on the Quadrilateral — India, Japan, Australia, US, before re-emphasizing India’s importance to this geopolitical scheme, and urging India not be a “passive player”. And then as if to stress that it was beyond the Indian government’s ability to think expansively and strategically, he concluded, that “Quad concept has really helped India find a place in the Indo-Pacific — in the larger Indo-Pacific theatre [and] it’s…obviously…in our interest to have India as a partner in these issues.”

What is significant is that earlier this summer Biegun had for the first time called US’ China policy a failure, and issued a mea culpa for China-friendly policies of the last 30-odd years. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 22, 2020, he said — and this is worth quoting in extenso:

“Across multiple administrations the United States has supported China’s entry into the rules-based international order in hopes that China would be a partner in upholding international law, norms, and institutions and that the United States and China could develop a friendly relationship with reciprocal benefit. Over more than three decades, U.S. policies towards the PRC have advanced that goal through a massive outpouring of international assistance and lending, foreign investment, facilitation of Chinese membership in global institutions, and the education of millions of China’s brightest scholars at our best schools. Where this Administration diverges from previous Administrations is in the will to face the uncomfortable truth in the U.S.-China relationship that the policies of the past three decades have simply not produced the outcome for which so many had hoped, and that the United States must and take decisive action to counter the PRC.

“As stated in the 2017 National Security Strategy, despite the huge dividends to the PRC in terms of prosperity, trade, and global influence that United States support and engagement has delivered, Beijing has instead chosen to take increasingly hardline and aggressive actions, both at home and abroad; and China has emerged as a strategic competitor to the United States, and to the rules-based global order. We find the U.S.-China relationship today weighed down by a growing number of disputes, including commercial espionage and intellectual property theft from American companies; unequal treatment of our diplomats, businesses, NGOs, and journalists by Chinese authorities; and abuse of the United States’ academic freedom and welcoming posture toward international students to steal sensitive technology and research from our universities in order to advance the PRC’s military.

“Other areas of concern include China’s increasingly assertive use against partners and allies of military and economic coercion and state-sponsored disinformation campaigns, including, among others, India, Australia, Canada, the UK, ASEAN Members, the European Union, and several other European countries.”

The US Deputy Secretary of State then outlined the actions the Trump Administration was taking to counter China. “Across the Indo-Pacific region, the United States is deepening relationships with the countries that share our values and interest in a free and open Indo-Pacific. Last September, we held the first ministerial-level meeting of the United States, Australia, India, and Japan, marking a new milestone in our diplomatic engagement in the region. We are enhancing our alliances with Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand, which have helped sustain peace and security for generations, and we are furthering our engagement with ASEAN, an organization central to a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our security assistance to South China Sea claimant states and our recent rejection of the PRC’s maritime claims helps partners protect their autonomy and maritime resources. We are working with the Mekong countries to ensure sustainable development and energy security.

“Last month, I joined Secretary Pompeo in Hawaii to meet with our Chinese counterparts. In the two-day discussion the Secretary stressed that deeds, not words, were the pathway to achieve mutual respect and reciprocity between our two countries across commercial, security, diplomatic, and people-to-people interactions. He made clear our determination to push back against Beijing’s efforts to undermine democratic norms, challenge the sovereignty of our friends and allies, and engage in unfair trade practices, but at the same time, he also outlined areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges.”

Two things to note: Firstly, that Washington has defined India’s centrality to America’s Indo-Pacific strategy and hence also Delhi’s leverage. The question is will Modi, Jaishankar, and the PMO-MEA lot habituated to giveaways rather than selling India’s participation dear, strictly condition Indian military involvement in Quad activities on monitorable tech-transfer and assistance to specific programmes, like the one to design and develop a scalable Kaveri jet turbine to power present and future Indian-designed combat aircraft? I think not. After all, the Trump Administration not too long ago shelved any collaboration in developing a jet engine in India because of Pentagon’s concerns about parting with cutting edge technologies and the Indian government did not even object. So one can expect the Modi government to make much of wasteful, vapid transactions for the F-16 and the like designed to keep India an arms dependency.

And secondly, refer to the last bit of Biegun’s Congressional testimony reproduced above: After cataloguing all the reasons why China cannot be trusted, he repeats Pompeo and Washington’s readiness to discuss with Beijing the “areas where the United States and the PRC could cooperate to solve global challenges”. In other words, as long as the US can however and by whatever means ensure that China does not step on its toes, it wouldn’t care a fig before throwing the interests of the other countries of the Indo-Pacific overboard. This is the harsh reality that ought to contextualize Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s deliberations with Biegun, but won’t.

Indo-Pacific is absolutely crucial to India’s security, but an unreliable US as the central pillar of the Quad is a liability. The reason why I have been advocating the concept of the Modifed Quadrilateral — Mod Quad — of India, Japan, Australia and a set of Southeast Asian states to include principally Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, and Singapore that can more than even the balance of power with China. It is the only geostrategically organic and feasible solution the Modi government ought to be realizing instead of pursuing the chimera of the US as centrepiece in India’s security architecture. Combined with BRIS — Brazil, Russia-India-South Africa (BRICS minus China) as a complementary globe-girdling but loose security coalition harnessing the power and capacities of Russia, Brazil, and South Africa as well that Delhi should do its utmost to obtain, India could — with this twin security schema (elaborated in my 2018 book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’) — get into a position to dictate terms to China. And to even win America’s respect that Delhi so craves.

But this’d require a sea change in the mindset of the Indian government and military and, more specifically, in the thinking and approach of Prime Minister Modi. Of this last, however, there’s no sign.

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Enabling the enemy – China.

Camaraderie marks start of Modi-Xi 'informal summit' - The Hindu
[Modi-Xi — dialoging in better times]

It is not difficult to read China. But the so-called Mandarin-speaking China experts in the government who comprise the China Study Circle/Group (CSG), or whatever it is they call this unit these days made up with diplomats, and military attache and Intelligence-types — careerists all, seem intent — as is their bureaucratic habit — on configuring what they say to what they think the jefe maximo (maximum leader) wants to hear. In this context, it is less important for these officials to have their fingers on the adversary Chinese establishment’s pulse than not to rock the proverbial boat in Delhi.

Distinguished mainly for being so wrong so often about China — wrong here refers to recommending over-cautious turns in policy that actually assist, enable and advance the enemy’s cause and interests, the CSG’s greatest achievement appears to be that it is nevertheless taken seriously, relied upon for advice in crafting the larger China policy as also the tactical ploys and stratagems attending on unfolding events and crises. It says more about the country’s leaders and the quality of advice they are satisfied with than about the said advisers.

Then there are the China specialists in the academe and thinktanks who cheer the CSG-GOI’s every fear-stricken move from the op-ed webinar galleries, taking care to dissemble, calling for moderation, de-escalation and standing down in the face of Chinese provocations, lest Beijing slam the door shut on their academic advancement by denying them visas, and access to official documents, official interlocuters, and the Chinese seminar circuit. The only sinologists in the world who get away with being critical of Beijing are American and then only because the power balance still tilts towards the US.

Recall that in the military confrontation in eastern Ladakh now in its sixth month, the Xi government initially denied anything was amiss. But then the Indian military and government provided Beijing with the perfect excuse and justification for its territorial aggression: the Line of Actual Control is not delineated on the map nor marked on the ground, hence the presence of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army units on the Indian side is, well, understandable! It has since become the standard rationale for the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson to argue that not only have Chinese troops not crossed the LAC it is Indians who violated it, precipitating the June 15 clash in the Galwan Valley and, by preemptively taking the heights on the Rezangla range around Spanggur Lake, are inviting — and this is the favourite phrase PLA uses to cloak a military initiative — “a defensive counter-attack”! As I have said in my posts, this amounts to India withdrawing from its own territory.

Learning nothing and forgetting nothing, MEA’s reaction to Beijing’s reviving the old 1959 line as the disputed border, which upends 50 years of Sino-Indian diplomacy and some 4-5 agreements predicated on China’s acceptance of the present Line of Actual Control pending a final settlement of the border dispute, was again to soft-peddle the enormity of change in China’s position. Instead of a strong counter, it apologetically retailed the history of claims and counter-claims, and of various agreements since the 1950s. This has only reinforced Beijing’s view of India as a weak entity that can be railroaded into an agreement unfavourable to itself.

The tougher, more consequential, response ought to have been — and still can be — is for Delhi to declare that India too reverts forthwith to the border the colonial regime negotiated with the Tibetan government in 1913 in Simla disavowing, in the process, Nehru’s acceptance of Chinese suzerainty over Tibet and, even more emphatically, the Indian government’s later acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over that God-forsaken country over which Han China has no credible claim whatsoever other than in the abstract of the Chinese Emperor notionally denoting all adjoining states seeking a normal relationship as vassals, which tactic has been the Chinese norm in dealing with nations beyond its pale.

In practical terms, what China’s reaffirming the 1959 line means is that the PLA’s forcibly rearranging the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh is being justified ex-post facto. It leaves over 1,000 sq kms of Indian territory annexed either by direct occupation in the Galwan Valley, the Hot Springs area, etc and, indirectly in the Depsang Plains, by simply blocking Indian access to the area northwestwards of the Y-junction. Unless this blockade is militarily removed at whatever cost, it will result in the Modi government, for all intents and purposes, surrendering vital Indian territory. Once passed into Chinese hands, this sector will then become the staging ground for holding the DSDBO highway and Indian presence on the Saltoro Ridge and the Siachen Glacier hostage to Beijing’s whim. What is just as definite is that all the WMCC meetings and discussions at the Special Representatives level won’t get Beijing to restore the status quo ante that external affairs minister S Jaishankar publicly said was the Modi government’s goal.

The point about dealing with China is never to bring up diplomatic understandings, refer to past documents and agreements, etc. but to make matching territorial claims that exceed Chinese ones in their outlandishness. And to have all Indian officials preface their statements about India’s claims as being “clear and unchanging” — the crossed t’s and dotted i’s in its negotiating record to the contrary notwithstanding. China’s going outre should signal India’s going ballistic with its own wordy excess.

What has India to lose? If the Indian government still believes that the Wuhan and Mamallapuram spirit that President Xi Jinping pumped up Prime Minister Narendra Modi with retains its headiness and relevance then we may be in deeper trouble than we think. Because Xi has made it plain that his larger objective has always been to expansively secure China’s territorial ambit in Central Asia and especially its strategic investment in Pakistan by firming up its hold over Aksai Chin that was centrally part of Maharaja Hari Singh’s domain in Jammu & Kashmir.

May be, it is time for the Gujarati businessman in Modi to recognize that he has been conned by Xi, that he has a bum deal on his hands. And that his China policy needs an overhaul, a radical course correction.

Because there’s a tendency in the government (and, dare I say, in the higher military echelons) to hyperventilate at the very thought of actual war in the Himalayas, let’s be absolutely certain about one thing: the PLA is in no position to wage a sustained war in Ladakh or anywhere else; that Xi has bitten off more than he can chew in terms of getting the gander up of all its neighbours, including distant maritime ones — the US, and Australia, and that it is time for the Indian government to shake off its strategic lassitude and make life as difficult for China as is possible.

The following steps, in order of priority, have been advocated by me for over 25 years (in my books and other writings) and now is the time to implement them on a war footing:

  1. Condition India’s acceptance of the ‘One China’ concept on Beijing’s acceptance of ‘One India’ policy — with ‘One India’ to include all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Gilgit and Baltistan — the territory legally acceded by Hari Singh to the Union of India in 1947.
  2. Should the Xi regime fail formally to accept ‘One India’ inside of a year, and in any case to renounce all previous Indian positions, and begin preparations to diplomatically recognize the sovereign Republic of Taiwan, and accept the Senkaku Islands as Japanese, denounce the Chinese nine-dash line in the South China Sea as fanciful and the sea-territories claimed by Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, and Malaysia as entirely valid per UNCLOS guidelines and the verdict of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
  3. Begin expeditiously arming Vietnam, Philippines, and Indonesia, for starters, with supersonic Brahmos cruise missile batteries to be installed on the coasts fronting on the South China Sea on extreme priority basis, meaning even at the expense of equipping Indian army formations with this weapon. This should constitute the policy of belated but necessary payback for China’s nuclear missile arming Pakistan. It will instantly render inactive China’s powerful South Sea Fleet ex-Sanya base on Hainan Island and “narrow the seas” as I have contended for the Chinese Navy. The threat of loading nuclear warheads on these Southeast Asian Brahmos missiles can be an option Delhi can use to keep Beijing unbalanced.
  4. Lead international campaigns in the the United Nations General Assembly and in the First Committee, and elsewhere for a ‘Free Tibet’ and for Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang to throw off the Chinese yoke, and materially and financially help sustain these Freedom Movements. And diplomatically begin referring to Tibet as ‘Chinese occupied Tibet’ and Xinjiang as East Turkestan. India can also channel and facilitate its friends with whatever assistance is appropriate among the Afghan Taliban to wage a full-fledged jihad in East Turkestan, again as payback for the longstanding Chinese help to rebel movements and insurgencies in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland, in particular.
  5. Invest in factories to refine and produce rare earths to zero out dependence on China for these metals critical to sensitive electronics and other technology sectors.
  6. Begin choking off all trade and commerce except that which is carried on in strictly reciprocal basis.

As I have argued, China has already done its worst, shot its bolt, as it were, where India is concerned. I mean, what worse can Beijing do to India after deliberately proliferating nuclear missiles to Pakistan? India so far has retaliated so meagrely as to merely confirm Beijing’s contempt for the Indian government and Xi’s perception of Modi as pliable.

What other provocation does Beijing have to offer India for you, Modiji, to wake up from your apparent China-induced stupor?

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Jaswant Singh, RIP

Jaswant Singh

As people you know, love, respect and admire immensely depart the stage, a hollowness grows in the heart, and the world gets dimmer.

Major Jaswant Singh, long time Member of Parliament and erstwhile Foreign Minister, Defence Minister, and Finance Minister of India in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government and formerly Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission (before that institution morphed into the present day Niti Ayog) passed away this (Sunday) morning after six years of being comatose. It was deliverance of sorts.

In over 40 years of living in New Delhi and becoming familiar with many political movers and shakers, there’s no person I found more policy wise and intellectually stimulating and engaging than Jaswant. Oozing old world charm, he combined courtliness with a sharp mind and a deliberate way of speaking in his deep gravelly voice that no doubt brought the regimental risaldar-majors to clicking their boots. He was delightful company, easy to converse with, his interests wide and varied. I remember sitting hours with him in his book-lined study with Western classical music — Brahms, Schubert, Franz Liszt playing softly in the background as he ruminated on some issue or the other that he wanted my views about.

Recently returned from California, I first met him in 1979 at his Tughlak Lane residence when he was the leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Apparently, some of my op-eds had jiggled his curiosity. By way of breaking ice and aware he had resigned from the army to enter politics I wondered which infantry regiment he belonged to. He reacted like it was a slap in the face. “Infantry?!” he growled, measuring my gall. “Cavalry, man, cavalry! Central India Horse!” He related how as a Gentleman-Cadet in 1953 at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, he had won the tent-pegging contest and was handed the prize by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Another faux pas on my part occurred soon thereafter when I was invited by him to dinner at his home. In my regulation uniform of those days — shirt and jeans, I entered his bungalow and advanced to the fireplace — it was winter — there to find a large man turning around and offering his hand, and saying “Jodhpur”! Astounded and uncomprehending — I mean, how can someone announce himself by calling the name of a city? — I gamely offered my hand in return and said “Karnad” this time eliciting like incomprehension on his part. What’s Karnad — a one-two gun salute wallah, at best? Had I been more observant, I would have noticed on entry to — instead of on my way out of — Jaswant’s ministerial compound the fancy car with a flying pennant and a red plate announcing ‘Jodhpur’, and correctly surmised that royalty would be in attendance. Instead, the two of us kept peering at each other, each as puzzled as the other until Jaswant scooted in to save the situation, explaining to “Baapji” — the Maharaja of Jodhpur, who I was. He thereby offered me a handle to now and then jocularly rib him with — “Jaswant, you are a feudatory!” and his mock admonition, “Bharat, you have respect for nothing!” It was the beginning of a warm and wonderful relationship. Among other things, he introduced me to dum phukt Rajasthani cuisine.

It turns out Baapji was responsible for first discovering Jaswant’s political talent that exceeded military careering, and helped him to get elected to Parliament from Jodhpur (if I remember right). It was a short, hop, skip and jump from that running start for the erudite Jaswant to be recognized as a leader in the Jan Sangh and then for him to rise as a founding member of the Bharatiya Janata Party and, in many respects, the political go-to person for Vajpayee (Brajesh Mishra being Atalji’s alter ego).

Even as the BJP was the government-in waiting during the years of Narasimha Rao, Jaswant was the undoubted shadow foreign minister. Then BJP was in power and it continued the Congress policy of cosying up to the US. Before almost every meeting in the series of 19-odd meetings to hammer out the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership that Jaswant had with the US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott in the Clinton Administration in various locations in the US, Germany, etc., I sent him a note anticipating the kind of positions the American might take and Jaswant’s options. More often than not, I was right because I’d receive hand-written notes from him saying so and how he had used this or that variation of my suggestion and why, in retrospect, he rued not taking this or that tack I had recommended! I didn’t mind his using me thus as a sounding board for ideas that he deployed in an attenuated form, always thanking me for my “impassioned” counsel. I kept warning Jaswant that the US means to hogtie India, prevent it from becoming a thermonuclear weapons power — a warning, unfortunately, he didn’t heed, arguing that an understanding would further the national interest! The NSSP was prelude to the 2005 nuclear deal with the US that, in fact, capped Indian nuclear capability at the 20KT fission weapons level.

He also didn’t take my advice that he should be the first one to write an account of his negotiations with Talbott on NSSP, reminding him that his interlocuter was a professional analyst who turned out books on a coin, and should Talbott beat him to a book, that would become the standard history, and he’d be scrambling to refute the American’s rendering of the facts, and how the unique Indian perspective Jaswant brought to the bargaining process would be lost. Jaswant kept putting it off until predictably Talbott produced his 2006 book — ‘Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy and the Bomb’.

The real crick in the Vajpayee regime’s joint was the unending clash of egos and bureaucratic turf battles between Jaswant (then in the Planning Commission) relying on MEA resources when negotiating with Talbott, and Mishra. The latter had parlayed the gratitude Vajpayee felt for Brajesh’s father, DP Mishra, the Congress party chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, who helped him get elected from Gwalior and tried to lure him into the Congress Party! — into first appointing him as India’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York during the Janata Party rule when Vajpayee was foreign minister and, when BJP formed the government in 1998, into getting himself installed as Vajpayee’s National Security Adviser-cum-Personal Private Secretary thus becoming, in effect, the de facto prime minister! Time and again the two — Jaswant by now in his various posts as foreign minister, defence minister or finance minister, and Brajesh — collided on policy matters, requiring Vajpayee to referee, except it was invariably Mishra who came up tops. Jaswant couldn’t abide him.

When as foreign minister, we used to sometimes sit on his lawn or his verandah for Saturday sandwich and beer, MEA secretaries would scurry around with files, appalled at the informality with which I treated their Minister whom they sir-ed while I called him Jaswant! On one occasion, a discussion with Jaswant led to his asking me to send him a note. Apparently, he passed my note to the then Joint Secretary (Americas) with ‘for action’ penned on it, resulting in the said Joint Secretary exasperatedly calling me to say “Bharat, why don’t you tell me what you want done, rather than going through my Minister?!” This may have boosted my ego but I was aware that the MEA guys were doing everything and more to divert Jaswant, water down my suggestions. It was a game they predictably won, and Jaswant owned up to it! It was all done in good humour though. But he nominated me to the National Security Advisory Board when it was first formed in 1998 and kept abreast, in particular, of developments in drafting the nuclear doctrine, a job K. Subrahmanyam as the Convenor, one other person, and I were engaged in because we seemed to be the only ones in the 27-member NSAB conversant with the nuclear deterrence history and literature. Except, the draft doctrine, to our chagrin, was made public to win some brownie points with Washington. And Jaswant was designated by Vajpayee (prompted by Mishra) to publicly refer to the finished doctrine paper as only “a draft” the better, I was informed, to preserve for the government some room for diplomatic maneuver.

Jaswant was the fixture in all my book launches, starting with my 750-page tome — ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ in 2002 in which I was critical of the BJP government’s nuclear weapons policy and for misdirecting and limiting the country’s nuclear weapons programme. I remember Jaswant sitting stoically on the podium, with a slight smile playing on his face, as I laid out the main points in the book and then had K. Subrahmanyam and Arundhati Ghose, India’s ambassador to the UN Disarmament Commission in Geneva, dissect and debate my thesis.

He asked me in 2006 to be a panelist at the launch of one of his books — ‘Travels in Transoxiana’. At that event, I expressed my astonishment at how beautifully he wielded the English language and why I simply didn’t believe him when he said that he had a Hindi medium school education, and was introduced to the language only when he was 15 years of age! One has to read his Transoxiana written almost in Curzonian style to appreciate just how polished Jaswant’s intellect was. I often take this book down from the shelf to read a passage here, a page there, to remind me how lucky I am to have had Jaswant Singh for a friend. For my money, he is the most intellectually accomplished, culturally rooted foreign minister/defence minister/finance minister India has ever had.

I am grateful to Jaswant for great many things. Among these was that he persuaded his cousin and fellow-cavalryman, the legendary Lt General Hanut Singh of Poona Horse-fame, to meet with me. It was the most educational three days I spent in the latter’s last command, the Armoured Corps Centre in Ahmednagar.

Jaswant is no more; he will be sorely missed but will stay on in the memory of those with the good fortune to have gained from his company.

Jaswant Singh, rest in peace.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Central Asia, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Europe, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian Politics, MEA/foreign policy, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US. | 14 Comments