Tuesday, December 31, 2013

History & evolution of the omnipotent 'A' in Pak

Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country.

When Friedrich Leopold Freiherr von Schrötter (1743–1815), made this statement in the 18th century at the height of Prussian Army's prowess in Europe, he would not have imagined that many 'seminarists' would freely bandy the same term about Pakistan and claim to have coined the term themselves! 

But plagiarism apart, in the Indian sub-continent if any country fitted Schrotter's original statement, it is undoubtedly Pakistan. As an institution, the Pakistan Army has played the most dominant role in the nation's affairs almost immediately since its blood-soaked birth. That it has managed to hold onto the preeminent position despite successive military reverses against arch enemy India, speaks volumes of its influence in the country's polity and social life.

Western scholar Stephen P. Cohen and Pakistanis like Shuja Nawaz and Ayesha Siddiqa have written extensively and with great insight on the Pakistani Army but rarely has an Indian exclusively focused on the formation, evolution and dominance of the Pakistani Army. 

Rana Banerji admirably fills this gap in a slim but power-packed monograph, The Pakistan Army: Composition, Character and Compulsions. Born as a project for the Pakistan Studies Programme at the Jamaia Milia Islamia, the monograph is most comprehensive overview of Pakistan Army's history, doctrine and concepts in recent times.

Banerji of course is most qualified to write this authoritative volume. A 1972 batch IAS officer of the Assam-Meghalaya cadre, he was permanently seconded to India's external espionage agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RA&W) in 1982. Posted to Pakistan in 1988, he spent four eventful years in Islamabad watching a country in turmoil after Gen Zia-ul-Haq's death in a mysterious air crash, a caretaker government and the political rise of Benazir Bhutto as well as Nawaz Sharif. He continued to be part of the Pakistan desk in RA&W as he rose in rank and position in the agency.

After his retirement as Special Secretary in October 2009, Banerji has devoted his time to writing and watching Pakistan from outside the system. The monograph has clearly benefited from his vast experience and expertise in dealing with the affairs of India's perennial bete noire over a prolonged period.

Neatly divided into just seven chapters spread over 80 pages, the volume is important to read and keep as a reference handbook to all students of strategic affairs since it provides a wealth of data not easily available at one place. Banerji begins with the division of military assets between India and Pakistan at the turn of partition and how Pakistani Army Officers of the time felt aggrieved with the inequities forced on the newly-created nation. The insecurity of low numbers vis-a-vis Indian Army has continued to dominate the thought process in Pakistani Army's GHQ ever since. Banerji takes us through the transition of the Pakistani Army from Sandhurst to West Point, from the conspiracies within in the early years to the trauma of the 1971 defeat and from the Zia years to the changing socio-ethnic composition of the recruits with great felicity and mastery over facts.

The monograph also dwells at length on how the Pakistani Army's doctrines and concepts have tried to keep pace with changing threat perceptions. For instance, the development and acquisition of tactical nuclear weapons was apparently necessitated by India's post-2001 'Cold Start' doctrine. But from all evidence, Pakistan Army's most traumatic, and in recent years most educative, experience has been the Counter-Insurgency Operations it was forced to launch internally since 2003-04. That exactly a year ago, the Pakistani Army's 'Green Book'--an internal publication--describes, for the first time perhaps, domestic terrorist organisations and not India as enemy number one, is indicative of how the situation has changed in Pakistan.   

Of particular interest to Pakistan watchers would be the analysis of the tenures of ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence--Pakistan's premier spy agency) Chiefs over the years and how it remains a powerful arm within the overall power structure. As Banerji says: "After Gen (Ashfaq Pervez) Kayani ascended to the top position from ISI, and generally ever since ISI acquired a new lustre after the Afghan operations, a career or a posting in the ISI has emerged as a desirable option, with young officers of the rank of Captian, Major or Colonel enjoying far greater power, perks and privileges in the ISI than many of their peers in rather more routine Army Field assignments."

The monograph rightly concludes that the Pakistani Army is being buffeted by winds of change slowly starting to blow in Pakistan with the country caught between increasing civil society assertiveness on the one hand and the growing threat of Talibanisation on the other. Which way the Pakistani Army will turn is anybody's guess and Banerji rightfully refrains from coming to any definitive conclusion although he does warn that "changes in Pakistan could have major implications--domestically and for the region, especially for neighbouring countries like India and global powers like the USA."

As 2013 fades and 2014 arrives with renewed hope, the monograph should be a must-have for all students of the neighbourhood.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

No AC rooms in your city, Mr Chief Minister?


The media and social media are abuzz about the no-frills style of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar and Delhi's to-be-CM Arvind Kejriwal, both very unusual politicians in today's India.
But India has not seen a chief minister like Nripen Chakraborty whose spartan lifestyle and frugal habits were the subject of legend.

Nitin Gokhale remembers the late Tripura chief minister who should be a role model for all of India's luxury-loving politicians.

The year: 1986. The month: July. The place: Tripura's capital Agartala.

I was then working with the Guwahati-based daily newspaper, The Sentinel and had come to Tripura for a couple of stories. It was blazing hot and because of the monsoon, extremely humid too in Agartala.

There used to be one reasonably clean and 'standard' hotel in the state capital then. Most visiting journalists stayed and operated from this hotel.

A day after I had reached Agartala, a senior journalist then with a leading magazine (both the journo and the magazine will remain unnamed) arrived and duly reached the same hotel. Much to his shock, there were no AC rooms in the hotel.

He fretted and railed against this 'shortcoming' in Tripura and was boiling over with anger when he reached Chief Minister Nripen Chakraborty's office.

Coincidentally, I was also in the CM's office the next day when the senior journo came to interview Nripen-da as Chakraborty was universally known.

As a young media practitioner then, I was fascinated by the 'encounter' that followed between the chief minister and his interviewer.

The senior journalist was obviously used to being treated as a 'star'. His demeanour suggested he was almost doing a favour by interviewing the chief minister of a small, remote state like Tripura.

Nripen-da was his usual self: Quiet, firm and clear about his priorities and policies for the state.

As the interview neared its end and the atmosphere became slightly informal, the senior media practitioner, adopting a more patronising tone, said: "Chief minister saheb, your capital needs improvement. There's not a single hotel with AC rooms here. Not good for tourism or the image of the state you know."

Nripen-da smiled mildly and then asked a counter-question: "Do you see an air conditioner here, in this room? Neither me nor my people need these luxuries!" and dismissed the suggestion.

That was Nripen-da. Simplicity personified.

I do not know if the senior media personality ever went back to Tripura.

Today Agartala has excellent facilities with 'propah' hotels, but the current chief minister of Tripura, Manik Sarkar, is a down to earth politician with the usual trappings of power missing in his day to day life.
At a time when many of us are going ga-ga over Arvind Kejriwal & Co setting examples of austerity, it is important to recall Nripen-da and Manik Sarkar from the North-East who did not preach, but practiced simple living.

After that first meeting, one had at least half a dozen occasions to meet and observe Nripen-da from close quarters.

As chief minister for 10 years (1978 to 1988), he lived in the official bungalow, but it was shared by other Communist Party of India-Marxist functionaries. Of course, it helped that Nripen-da was a bachelor.

His bedroom and office was spartan like the man himself. There was no air conditioning either. He washed his own clothes and was an extremely frugal eater.
As my Agartala-based friend and fellow journalist Sanjib Deb recalls: "Nripen-da's breakfast consisted of murri (puffed-rice) and tea. Once I went to meet him early morning. As he came out of the bedroom, Nripen-da ordered a bowl full of murri for me as well."

"He loved his tea. I remember he always took three spoons of sugar in a tall glass in which he drank his endless supply of tea."

"'Sugar gives you the required stamina to last through the day,' he would explain if someone remarked on the excess sugar he consumed," Sanjib remembers.
A die-hard Communist, Nripen-da had fled to Tripura in the late 1940s after the police came looking for him in West Bengal. He built the Communist movement in Tripura, working with Dasarath Deb, a local leader.
In 1988, when the Left Front lost the state assembly election in Tripura, Nripen-da left the chief minister's official residence in a cycle rickshaw, carrying with him the same tin trunk with which he had entered the bungalow a decade earlier!

A graduate from Dhaka University and a master of economics from Calcutta University, he became a member of the undivided Communist Party of India in the 1930s.
He worked at times as a labourer in jute mills, sometimes as a sub-editor at the Ananda Bazar Patrika newspaper, but till the very end Nripen Chakraborty remained an ardent Marxist.

He passed away in 2004, months short of his 100th birthday.

Nitin Gokhale, one of India's best-known journalists, is Strategic Affairs Editor, NDTV. Nitin spent 23 years living in and reporting on the North-East..

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From my scrapbook: An interview with Atal Behari Vajpayee in 1985!

Look what I found in my scrapbook!! An interview with Atal Behari Vajpayee circa 1985!

He was visiting Guwahati in the immediate aftermath of the Lok Sabha elections in December 1984. 

The BJP was down to 2 seats in the Lok Sabha. He himself was defeated by the young and dashing Madhavrao Scindia. As a young upstart reporter (less than two years in journalism) when I asked him to analyse the result of the Lok Sabha results, he was candid enough to admit that Opposition lost because in Mrs Gandhi's assassination, it had lost the prime target of criticism!

Now 29 years later, when I look back, I laugh at my own naivety! 

I asked him as the last question (see below): What is the role of RSS in the BJP? 

His answer: "The RSS has no role to play in the BJP." 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Time to look at US as India's major strategic challenge

In the standard national security narrative that all of us contribute to, the usual instinct is to concentrate on two or three of India's major strategic challenges: the rise of China and New Delhi's past experience with Beijing; the ever present shadow of Pakistan and India's diminishing clout in the immediate neighbourhood.

Most of us continue to mainly write, discuss, analyse and criticise India's policy on these three issues but of late, I have had this nagging feeling that in the fog of information overload, we are somewhere losing sight of the threat posed to India by the United States of America and its approach to the rapidly changing geopolitics in Asia-Pacific.

Yes, you read right.I am indeed talking about US policies turning out to be India's major headache in the near future.

And no, this has nothing to do with the Devayani Khobgragade-Sangeeta Richard affair in New York.

Three or four recent developments in India's strategic neighbourhood in which the US has a role to play should raise alarm in New Delhi.

For over a decade, India has invested its goodwill, funds and manpower in strengthening an anti-Taliban regime in Kabul. Although it has so far refrained from supplying lethal military hardware, despite repeated pleas by Hamid Karzai, India has done everything else possible to help anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan. All that work is threatening to come undone now because Washington is in a hurry to exit from a war it no longer has stomach to fight. In the process, it is willing to bring the very forces it sought to keep out and entered Afghanistan in the first place.

Attempts to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate the Taliban in a post-2014 arrangement is one of the main proposals in the High Peace Council proposal called 'A Road Map for 2015.'  So far so good. But when the plan goes on to talk about the next step--that of giving the Taliban positions in 'the power structure of the state such as ministerial berths and governors' posts--the magnitude of the problem becomes apparent. There is more. The 'Road Map' gives Pakistan  a predominant and controlling stake in the proposed peace process, virtually institutionalising Rawalpindi's role in the post-2014 scenario. And all this with American blessings.

This plan to outsource Afghanistan to Pakistan under the guise of ensuring stability in the region not only ignores the Afghan anger at Washington but more importantly shows up the lack of importance that  Washington attaches to New Delhi in South Asia. The fact is, any return of the Taliban in Kabul is bad news for India and US is not doing anything to prevent it despite professing to have India's interests at heart in the new-found bonhomie between the two in the past decade.

There are also straws in the wind indicating revived attempts by influential voices in Washington pushing the old Pakistani line that stability in South Asia can be achieved only if India and Pakistan resolve Kashmir quickly. The proponents of this line are sold on the idea pushed by Islamabad that it can step up and play a role in stabilising the Af-Pak region only if negotiations on Kashmir involve other regional players like Saudi Arabia and China, even if indirectly.

India must also be looking at the rapprochement between the US and Iran with some concern. Its been a lose-lose situation for New Delhi.When Washington and Tehran were on opposite sides, New Delhi dared not get too close to Iran for fear of annoying the US. Now, with the US likely to cosy up to Iran, the prospects of India's role in the Persian Gulf  getting marginalised further look real.

The third and final factor that should worry New Delhi is Washington's recent contradictory and timid response to China imposing the Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) over East China Sea. The US reluctance to confront Beijing on behalf of long-term ally Japan would have given India an idea how not to depend on Washington in times of crisis against China. Fortunately in this respect, India has stoutly resisted US overtures to align against Beijing.

Then there are niggling issues like the two sides finding themselves at odds in dealing with the fluid situation in Bangladesh. India believes that it needs to continue backing the Sheikh Hasina led Awami League in Bangladesh but Washington is openly hobnobbing with the Jamaat, seen as pro-Pakistan.

India and US have, since 2001, rebooted their relationship both in the areas of trade and even defence. That India has bought military platforms worth over 8 billion dollars from the US--the latest clearance to buy additional six C-130 J medium lift transport aircraft came as recently as three days ago--should not detract from the fact that New Delhi and Washington have drifted apart in recent months.

This is quite a change from the situation even two years ago.

As 2013 draws to an end, it is disconcerting to note that India's strategic challenge in South Asia comes not only from its traditional adversaries Pakistan and China but also from the US.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Politically weak govt, a staus quoist defence minister. Hopes for Indian Defence Reforms fade


Even at the best of times, the government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now in the last six months of its second term, has been reluctant to alter the country’s defense management architecture.
Now, with the Congress party’s moral and political authority further weakened after the severe electoral setback, Singh and his status quoist Defense Minister AK Antony are likely to put recent recommendations by a veteran group of strategic thinkers and former government bureaucrats permanently in cold storage, despite a half-hearted attempt to kickstart the process a month ago.
The Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security, given the mission of recommending changes in national security apparatus, submitted its report in 2012. More than a year later, in October this year, the Chiefs of StaffCommittee (CoSC), comprising India’s three service chiefs, came up with a blueprint for implementing some of the main recommendations in the Task Force report and sent it to the Prime Minister’s Office for a final decision.
The expectation was that by early 2014, if not by end of this year, the prime minister would restructure India’s forces to meet the mounting challenges in India’s near abroad and extended neighborhood.
The recommendations are not radical. They include appointing a four-star permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff for a fixed tenure of two years; creating three more tri-service commands: Special Operations, Cyber and Aerospace; and reverting the Andaman Nicobar Command to the Indian Navy.
Creation of the three new commands was deemed necessary to generate more synergy among the three services, seen as largely working in separate verticals. Although the new commands may take some time to become operational, actually setting them up was considered doable in the short term. According to the available details, the proposed cyber command is to be headed by a three-star officer drawn from either of the three services by rotation, the special operations command is to be led by the army, while the aerospace command would be headed by an air force officer.
The task force proposed returning the Andaman Nicobar Command – considered India’s springboard into East Asia and the South China Sea – to the Navy after more than a decade of treating it as a tri-service command. In contrast, the status of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) – custodian of India’s nuclear arsenal – is to remain unaltered.
The biggest sticking point apparently is the appointment of a four-star general or equivalent ranked officer from the Air Force or the Navy, who would act as an interlocutor with the political executive. To be called Permanent Chairman, CoSC, this officer would be a substitute for a long pending demand for a full-fledged five-star Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) along the lines of those in the U.S., U.K. or Australia, to act as a single point military adviser to the government.
Since the appointment of a CDS has been a major bone of contention between the Army and the Indian Air Force – with past experience weighing heavily – successive governments have shied away from going down that road. Appointment of a permanent chairman is believed to be a step short of appointing a CDS.
Based on some of the occasional interaction that this author has had with members of the Task Force, before and after the submission of the report, one aspect is very clear: There was no consensus on the creation of the post of the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), and this is what prompted the recommendation to appoint another four-star officer as permanent chairman of the CoSC.
Under the recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force, the permanent chairman would have a fixed tenure of two years and would be rotated among the three services. The officer will be assisted by the existing Integrated Defense Staff (IDS), headed by a three-star officer from any of the three services.
Over the past decade, the IDS has evolved into a barely workable tri-services structure with more than 300 officers drawn from the three services trying to function as a cohesive unit tasked with evolving “jointness.” On the ground however, jointness or inter-operability has remained patchy, at best.
The new post, the Task Force is hoping, will also bring synergy in major acquisitions for all the three forces. Often, the three services have worked independently in procuring same set of equipment, duplicating work and creating separate infrastructure when synergy would have saved billions of rupees.
However, critics of the new system say the recommendation to appoint a permanent chairman is simply old wine in a new bottle. It is seen as a non-starter because the chairman will remain ever dependent on each of the services for its personnel requirements. Personnel from each service will be lobbyists for their respective chiefs. Yet another opportunity, these critics say, to reform has been lost. The National Security System does not have to depend on seeking lowest common multiple solutions. It does not have to seek to appease lobbies and turfs.
However, many of the other recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Task Force would bring much-needed vigor to the management of India’s defense forces, and improvements in civil-military relations. From what is known, the task force had also sought integration of the Service HQ and Ministry of Defense by allowing more cross-postings, suggested shifting the focus of India’s national security strategy from Pakistan to China, recommended better Intelligence Coordination among agencies, and proposed the creation of dedicated financial Institution for access to energy, rare earths and raw materials from across the world.
This new structure could have been a major step in breaking the status quo in the country’s higher defense management. However the establishment in New Delhi is loathe to embrace change. Given the uncertain political climate, overcoming this resistance seems a tall order.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Why military diplomacy needs bigger role in India

Military literature in India often is limited to focusing on operations undertaken by men and women in uniform. Rarely does it analyse or weave in the civil or diplomatic decisions that dictate military action. The absence of a wholesome narrative is perhaps symptomatic of the deep suspicion that hangs over relations between the civil and military bureaucracy. Gen VP Malik's latest book India's Military Conflicts and Diplomacy: An Inside view of Decision Making, gives us a peep into how the military gets roped in or left out in important national decisions, depending on who is at the helm. It is an insiders account and not a ringside view.

As India's Army Chief for three years (1997-2000)--the 1998 nuclear tests and Kargil conflict happened on his watch--Gen Malik had been part of India's highest decision-making apparatus on security and defence. But even before he became the Army Chief, he was involved in and witness to some momentous events that needed India's military intervention in the immediate neighbourhood.

When in 1988 Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom was under siege from rebels determined to overthrow him in Male, Indian armed forces created history by successfully capturing the mercenaries and the rebel leader after flying 3,000 km from Agra to Male! All the three forces--Army, navy air force--contributed to the smooth conduct of an unprecedented operation. But very little is known about the way India's politico-diplomatic leadership of the time reacted to the situation. The book fills that gap.

As Gen Malik writes: "While the military operation, a part of the mission, was witnessed and discussed widely all over the world, not many people are aware of the drama that took place at the highest level of the government before the concerned political, military and civilian leadership worked out a joint plan for the intervention.The single most factor for our success in the operation was the speed at which it was decided, planned and executed jointly by the armed forces...unfortunately, many of these lessons have been lost at the political and bureaucratic levels. This has happened primarily because no one prepared a complete report on the decision making process, planning and coordination in any of the different ministries or service headquarters of the government."

There have been numerous debates about the condition of the country's higher defence management apparatus. Instead of evolving into a seamless structure in the six decades since Independence, it has in my view degenerated into a disjointed, fractious entity with ad hoc appendages getting added on to existing mechanisms further muddying the waters. Gen Malik has taken examples of India's military-diplomatic forays in recent decades to illustrate the need for improvement in higher defence management of  the country. Operation Pawan, India's disastrous military intervention on Sri Lanka under Rajiv Gandhi and Gen K. Sundarji is analysed in some detail and so is Operation Shakti, India's successful nuclear tests in 1998.However for me, one of the bonus of this book is the insight provided by Gen Malik on Operation Khukri, India's peacekeeping operation in Sierra Leone, the West African country under a UN mandate. It is one of the best examples of successful military-diplomatic-political intervention.

If foreign and defence policies are considered two sides of the same coin, as Gen Malik writes, then it is incumbent upon both the defence and external affairs ministries to have a certain level of trust, confidence and understanding. That cooperation, despite occasional successes, remains a chimera in Indian context. Very often, the Indian military's advice is at variance with India's diplomatic stand. India's recent engagements in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Bangladesh and the mess that New Delhi finds itself in some of these countries is, in my view, result of the two ministries working in independent verticals.

Gen Malik's book, his second after the one exclusive focused on the 1999 Kargil conflict, is an important work simply because a former military chief has highlighted the shortcomings in the diplomatic-military synergy. His aim is to draw lessons from India's own experience in these matters. Written in a easy-to-understand manner and peppered with several anecdotes many of us remember hearing about, the book is a must read for students of military history. Gen Malik also has first hand account from many of the main players involved in some of these operations. As a former Army Chief, he of course has the advantage of knowing and working with many of them!

Gen Malik concludes: "Given today's rapidly changing geo-strategic environment, it is imperative that we change our mindset and attitude and look beyond narrow boundaries defined by 'turf' and parochialism. Politico-military strategy is too vital a subject to be dealt with in watertight compartments. We need to re-engineer our national security paradigm and defence management structure and processes to make them more holistic and broad based. Only then can we be fully prepared to take on the role that we see for ourselves in the global community..." In short military diplomacy is needed to be taken more seriously.

That however, as the former Army Chief himself knows, is a tall order, at least in the foreseeable future. And that is the tragedy of India, a wannabe regional, if not a global power!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

ADIZ is a zone of safety, not risks, a zone of cooperation, not competition, says China

East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (Source: Ministry of National Defense/China Daily)
BEIJING, Dec. 3 (Xinhua) -- Following is a statement made by Geng Yansheng, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, on China's establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ):
The Chinese government announced the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone on Nov. 23, 2013. It is a necessary measure for China to protect its state sovereignty and territorial and airspace security. It is conducive to maintaining flying safety in international airspace, and is in line with international laws and conventions. The announcement of the East China Sea ADIZ has earned understanding and recognition from an increasing number of countries and peoples, but misunderstandings or even distortions also exist. Representing the Chinese Defense Ministry, I make some interpretations on some issues that the outside world is concerned about.
Some people take the ADIZ to be a territorial airspace by falsely saying that China violates other countries' interests; some equate the ADIZ with a no-fly zone, accusing China of severely undermining the freedom of overflight. Both statements are incorrect. An ADIZ is essentially different from territorial airspace or no-fly zones. It is not a country's territorial airspace, but an international airspace demarcated outside the territorial airspace for the purpose of identification and early warning; it is not a no-fly zone, and will not affect the freedom of overflight, based on international laws, of other countries' aircraft. According to international practice, a country can identify and verify aircraft entering its ADIZ. China's ADIZ was established to set aside enough time for early warning to defend the country's airspace, with defense acting as the key point. The zone does not aim at any specific country or target, nor does it constitute a threat to any country or region.
Some people doubt China's monitoring capabilities in the East China Sea ADIZ. The Chinese military's determination and volition to safeguard the security of national territory and territorial airspace are unwavering, and the military is fully capable of exercising effective control over the East China Sea ADIZ. Generally, supervision and control are exercised through reported flight plans and radar response and identification, among other means. Military planes can also take flight if necessary to identify entering targets. Measures to be taken are based on factors such as an entering aircraft's attributes -- military or civilian, the extent of threat, or distance. Fighter planes are unnecessary when an entering aircraft is found to pose no threat to us, but necessary surveillance is needed; when the entering threat is ascertained to reach a certain extent, military aircraft will be mobilized at an appropriate time to dispose of the situation. It is well-known that civil flights pose no threat in most circumstances. China always respects other countries' freedom of overflight according to international laws, so that international flights that fly normally within the rules in the East China Sea ADIZ will not be affected, as such is the fact.
Some people say that China's requirement of reporting flight plans is unusual, and a very few countries have even pressured their civil aviation companies and demanded that they should not report flight plans to China. There is no unified international rule as to how to ask other countries to report flight plans to the ADIZ demarcators. Many countries require aircraft flying over their air defense identification zones to report flight plans beforehand. China is not special in doing so. Actually, since the announcement of the East China Sea ADIZ, a majority of civil aviation companies with their air routes traversing the area have reported flight plans to China's civil aviation department, including some airlines of Japan. We have also noticed that some countries' military planes took it seriously after China's announcement of the East China Sea ADIZ. China's requirement of reporting flight plans and relevant information is conducive to ensuring flight safety and avoiding misunderstanding and misjudgment, considering heavy air traffic in airspace over the East China Sea. A very few countries' insistence on not reporting flight plans is not beneficial, nor responsible.
We have noticed that a very few countries have said that China's setting up of the East China Sea ADIZ has unilaterally altered the East China Sea's status quo, and escalated regional tension. The fact is that they established an ADIZ as early as 1969 and later expanded its scope many times to only 130 km toward our coastline from its west end, which covers most of the airspace of the East China Sea, so they are not qualified at all to make irresponsible remarks on China's lawful and rational act. Since September 2012, Japan has been making trouble over territorial disputes, staging a farce by announcing that it would "purchase" the Diaoyu Islands, frequently sending vessels and planes to disturb Chinese ships and planes in normal exercises or training, openly making provocative remarks such as shooting down Chinese drones, playing up the so-called China threat, escalating regional tension, creating excuses for revising its current constitution and expanding its military, trying to deny the result of the World War II, and refusing to implement the Cairo Declaration and the Potsdam Proclamation. Japan's actions have seriously harmed China's legitimate rights and security interests, and undermined the peace and stability in east Asia. China has to take necessary reactions. A very few countries must earnestly reflect on their actions and correct their wrong remarks and wrongdoings. Other parties concerned should also mind their words and actions, and should not do things to undermine regional stability and bilateral relations. Other parties should not be incited, or send wrong signals to make a very few countries go further on the wrong track, which will follow the same old disastrous road and undermine regional and world peace.
China unswervingly adheres to the road of peaceful development and a defensive national defense policy. The East China Sea ADIZ is a zone of safety, not risks, a zone of cooperation, not competition. We are willing to conduct active communication and consultation with relevant parties to jointly safeguard flight safety and promote peace, stability and development in the Asia-Pacific region.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Will the CCS bite the bullet?

More than a year after the Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security submitted its report to the Prime Minister, one is hearing of a forward movement towards implementation of some of its recommendations. Although the report has not been made public--contrary to the earlier promise--the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), comprising the 3 Service Chiefs, has worked out a blueprint for a new higher defence management structure for the armed forces and sent it to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) last month. 

Even the Technical Coordination Group (TCG), headed by the National Security Adviser and comprising top secretaries to the Government of India (GoI) has reportedly cleared the proposal for presentation to the Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS), the country's highest decision making body on matters of defence and security. It is anybody's guess however if--not when--the CoSC proposals would be put up for the consideration of CCS! For, ultimately, this new structure would be a major step in breaking the status quo in the country's higher defence management and the 'deep establishment' in New Delhi is loathe to change. The question is: can the CCS overcome resistance from the well-entrenched bureaucracy and bite the bullet? 

Even as we await that decision, this is what has the CoSC proposed. According to sources in the know, the plan mainly is to:
  • Appoint a 4-star permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff for a fixed tenure of two years
  • Create three more tri-service commands--Special Operations, Cyber and Aerospace.
  • Revert the Andaman Nicobar Command to the Navy
Creation of the three commands may take some time but is doable in short term. According to available details, the proposed cyber command will be headed by officers from the three services by rotation but special operations command will be led by the army but assisted by the air force and the navy while the aerospace command would be headed by an air force officer to be assisted by officers from the other two services. The ANC is proposed to be the Navy's 4th Command. The status of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC)--custodian of India's nuclear arsenal--will however remain unaltered. 

The biggest sticking point apparently is appointment of the Chairman Chiefs of Staff since it would involve shifting one of the three current service chiefs to that post at the very least. However, given that the political leadership is preoccupied and weakened, it is unlikely that the proposal will get to the CCS in the current government's tenure. Which is a pity since many of the other recommendations of the Naresh Chandra Task Force--when implemented--would bring in the much needed vigour in management of India's defence forces. From what we know, it had also asked for integration of Service HQ and Ministry of Defence by allowing more cross-postings, had suggested shifting focus of India's national security strategy from Pakistan to China, recommended better Intelligence Coordination between all agencies and creation of dedicated financial Institution for access to energy, rare earths and raw materials from across the world.

From some of the occasional interaction that this author has had with a few members of the Task Force, before and after the submission of the report, one aspect is very clear: There was no consensus on the creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), leading to recommendation to appoint another four-star officer as permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC).

The Permanent Chairmam according to the recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force, will have a fixed tenure of two years and will be rotated among the three services. This officer will be assisted by the existing Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three star officer from any of the three services.

Over the past decade, the IDS has evolved in a barely workable tri-services structure with over 300 officers drawn from the three services trying to function as a cohesive unit tasked with evolving "jointness." On ground however, jointness or inter-operability has remained at best patchy.

The new post, the Task Force is hoping, will also bring in synergy in major acquisitions for all the three forces. Often, the three services have worked independently in procuring same set of equipment, duplicating work and creating separate infrastructure when synergy would have saved hundreds of crores of rupees.

However, critics of the new system say the recommendation to appoint Chairman CoSC is nothing but old wine in new bottle. It is a 'no go' because the Chairman will remain ever dependent on each of the services Army, Navy & IAF for its personnel requirements. Personnel of each service will be 'lobbyists' of respective Chiefs. Yet another opportunity, they say, to reform has been lost. National Security System does not have to depend on seeking Least Common Multiple (LCM)-solutions. It does not have to seek to appease lobbies and turfs.

The solution, some in service officers say, lies in divesting the three Chiefs of operational command of forces. Let them be Chiefs of respective Staff - 'resource providers to joint operational/ strategic commands' - content with recruiting, training of personnel; holding and maintaining equipment; and executing related administrative functions.

Appointment of CDS is however the prerogative of the apex political authority, namely the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). It can choose from panel of names forwarded by the three Services. There should be no rotation to appease services. Choice of apex political authority has to be final.

In absence of a common meeting ground on deciding to appoint a CDS, the Naresh Chandra Task Force recommendation can however be utilised in the interim in creating more cohesion among the services. For instance, the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, who will have a fixed two year tenure can be made in charge of making net assessment about the strengths and weaknesses of India’s adversaries—China and Pakistan—in a holistic manner, taking into consideration inputs from all the three services and cross-referencing those inputs with other agencies like the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and RAW. Currently, the three services send their individual assessments just to complete formalities to the IDS where it remains buried in files that never see the light of the day.

Over a decade after a CDS was recommended by the Group of Ministers (GoM) in the wake of the Kargil conflict, there is no unanimity on that issue yet. Given the strong differences within the services as well as in the political class, could this be the best arrangement for now? Or is it too impractical?

To find the right answers the government should have made the Naresh Chandra Task Force report public and let a healthy debate ensue.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

India's Emerging Blue-Water Navy

My latest piece in The Diplomat


On November 16, the Indian Navy finally took delivery of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Adm. Gorshkov, at Sevmash Shipyard in northern Russia's Severodvinsk town. The acquisition marks a new phase in India’s quest to become a true blue-water navy.

The handover ceremony of the 44,570-tonne carrier is sure to have generated more than a passing interest within the PLA Navy and across the rest of the continent, since India will be the only country in Asia to have two aircraft carriers in its fleet. Admittedly, the 55-year old INS Viraat is “long in the tooth” as India's Navy Chief Admiral D. K. Joshi himself described it in a recent interview, but it will continue to operate until India's locally built carrier INS Vikrant becomes operational by 2017. 

At the moment, only the U.S. Navy brings that sort of capability to Asia. Although it is coming five years late – the original delivery was scheduled for 2008 – the Vikramaditya will give India the ability to project raw naval power in its “near abroad” as well as in its extended neighborhood. With a capacity to carry two dozen Mig-29 K fighter jets and 10 Kamov helicopters at any given time on board and fitted with the latest sensors and missiles, the brand-new aircraft carrier will boost the Indian Navy's firepower significantly.

But the Vikramaditya is not the only reason why the Indian Navy feels upbeat about its future capabilities. Naval aviation, long treated as a poor cousin of surface combatants in the Indian Navy, is exhibiting some new chutzpah of late. Days before Defence Minister AK Antony and flew to Russia with Joshi, the nation’s Defence Acquisition Council approved the purchase of four more Boeing P8I maritime patrol and antisubmarine aircraft in addition to the eight already contracted. The first of these eight planes was in fact parked at INS Dega airfield for everyone to see when Joshi formally inducted the newly acquired Advanced Jet Trainers Hawks into the Navy, to take training of Naval fighter pilots to the next level. The second P8I landed in India on November 15.

INS Dega, a small air station under Eastern Naval Command, is set to become Indian Navy's biggest air base on the eastern seaboard soon. The expansion of air assets in the East is just one of the several plans that the Indian Navy has unveiled to strengthen its presence in the Bay of Bengal and support India's “Look East Policy.” The P8Is are set to replace the hardy but old Soviet-made Tu-142 M aircraft that have been the backbone of the navy's long range maritime patrols – with flights lasting up to 16 hours at a stretch. The P8Is are expected to play a major role in the Navy's  surveillance role in the Indian Ocean as well as Malacca Straits.

As Joshi told this writer in an interview for Indian broadcaster NDTV on board INS Jalashwa, the navy's biggest amphibious ship: "The first P8I has already arrived and is in the process of being accepted. Various acceptance trials are in progress and by the end of the year we will have three of them and others following in quick order next year. That brings into this region a capability that has not existed before. It’s a brand-new aircraft, apart from the platform which in any case is a proven Boeing aircraft. The fit has been to the specification the US Navy currently has. So therefore the capabilities that are coming into our hands are absolutely state of the art."

Another capability the Indian Navy quietly added earlier this year was a dedicated communication satellite for its exclusive use. The satellite is expected to fully stabilize by the end of December. Launched with the help of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the naval satellite is described as a force multiplier by senior naval officers. It covers the Navy's entire area of interest in the Indian Ocean and beyond. The satellite handles all data transfers for maritime domain awareness and the entire range of communications and networking needs of the Indian Navy. "It brings an entirely new dimension in network operations and in maritime operations," Joshi told this writer a fortnight ago, speaking about the satellite for the first time in the public domain.

In fact, but for an accident on board a refitted conventional submarine, INS Sindhurakshak that killed 18 sailors and sank the boat after an unexplained explosion in Mumbai harbor, the Indian Navy could have celebrated 2013 as one of its most significant years in terms of ramping up its capabilities. For instance, the nuclear reactor on India's first locally built nuclear-powered submarine, the INS Arihant went “critical” in August, marking a major milestone in India's effort to acquire a credible nuclear triad. One more year of sea trials will allow the Arihant to become operational by the end of 2014. With at least three more locally manufactured nuclear submarines in the pipeline, the Navy is hoping to overcome one obvious weakness in its arsenal: depleting submarine strength.

 The force levels of conventional submarines is down to the single digits and with delivery schedules for two building projects running way behind time, naval headquarters is naturally worried about its submarine arm. Joshi admitted as much: "Submarine-force levels I agree with you are under strain," he said, not wanting to sound too alarmist. He also hastened to add that by 2017-18 the two major submarine building projects will be back on track.

The big picture is indeed positive for the Indian Navy. Its long-term Maritime Capabilities Perspective Plan had identified a mix of two major roles for the force: One, the traditional blue water operational capability and two, a plan to effectively counter threats closer to the coast. It is steadily working towards achieving that objective.

In April 2012 a new naval base, INS Dweeprakshak (Island Protector) was put into operation at Kavaratti in Lakshawadeep, the tiny island chain, southwest of mainland India. Although the Indian Navy has had a small presence on the strategically important islands for the past decade, its decision to open a permanent base emanated from recent incidents of piracy very close to these islands. The Navy has captured at least 100 pirates and foiled several piracy attempts in this area in recent times.

The Navy is also in the process of setting up Operational Turn Around (OTR) bases, Forward Operating Bases and Naval Air Enclaves along the coast, which would enhance the reach and sustainability of its surveillance effort on both the coasts. In 2011, the Navy focused on creating operational and administrative infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Lakshadweep and Minicoy Islands, considered the country's strategic outposts.

Given the extensive plans presented to parliament, it is evident now that the Indian Navy is in the midst of its most ambitious expansion plan in the past three decades. Senior officers point out that the Indian Navy's perspective-planning in terms of force-levels is now driven by a conceptual shift from numbers of platforms – that is, from the old bean-counting philosophy – to one that concentrates on capabilities.

As the Indian Navy Chief pointed out in our interview: "The navy has great reach and sustenance. Long sea legs. We can reach out to distant waters, and sustain ourselves, bring our combat potential to where it is so required." With strategic planners predicting future conflicts in the Indo-Pacific, the Indian Navy's rising profile will be keenly watched across the region and beyond.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

So it's going to be 17 Mountain Corps?

Earlier this week Indian Army's top brass, comprising the Army Chief, the Vice Chief and the 7 Army Commanders, met to clear the promotion of nearly two dozen Major General rank officers to Lt. Generals. One of these to be promoted officers--the names of those approved for the next rank should become public in less than a month's time--will have the honour to raise and head India's 1st dedicated Mountain Strike Corps, to be most probably numbered 17, cleared by the government in July.

South Block, the British time building that houses among others the Army Headquarters, is right now in the middle of fine tuning the contours of the formation to be reportedly based at Ranchi in Jharkhand. 

Top sources say while Panagarh in West Bengal will witness the raising of two new Mountain Divisions, the location for the third is in the final stages of discussion. All the three new divisions will eventually come under the new 17 Corps to be based in Ranchi. Significantly, Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh was in Ranchi over the last two days, ostensibly to pay a visit to the 23 Division based there. So what will it be called? 17 Corps? Or 17 Mountain Corps? I am yet to get a clarity on this though surely Army HQ has already thought about it or even finalised it.

India already has 13 full-fledged Corps. Three of them, the Bhopal-based 21 Corps, Mathura-headquartered 1 Corps and 2 Corps, located at Ambala, are designated as Strike Corps. But all of them are tasked for an offensive against Pakistan. The 17 Corps--as a dedicated Mountain Strike Corps--will specifically provide an offensive option against China if required.

The budget of Rs 64,000 crore for the new corps  is to be spent over seven years –- which is just as well since raising new formations as large as a Corps is not an easy task. It is further difficult to make that formation capable of mountain warfare. For mountains gobble up troops; they take a heavy toll on man and machine. 

The decision on 17 July was somewhat reminiscent of a similar choice exercised by the UPA government almost over four years ago.

The then outgoing UPA-I government's Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) was meeting for the last time before the results of the 2009 general elections were to be announced. The sole item on the agenda: Enhancing India's military preparedness against China.

According to insiders present at that meeting, some of the members of the CCS wanted to leave the decision to the next government but better sense prevailed and days before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's first UPA government went ahead and sanctioned raising of two new Mountain Divisions for deployment in India's north eastern State of Arunachal Pradesh, an area claimed by China as South Tibet. In addition, the Indian Air Force was given the go ahead to reactivate half a dozen Advance Landing Grounds (ALGs) spread all along the Arunachal-Tibet portion of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between the two countries and base additional squadrons of Sukhoi-30 combat jets in Assam.

The goal was to plug existing gaps in India’s preparedness along the Arunachal Pradesh-China frontier. The two new divisions were to include a squadron of India’s armoured spearhead—Soviet-built T-90 tanks--and a regiment of artillery. 

Now four years later, the two mountain divisions have completed their recruitment, equipping and orbatting in the North-east. One of them--the 56 Mountain Division--after being raised in Nagaland's Zakhama area has been placed at Lekhabali, north of the Brahmaputra adding teeth to Indian Army's presence in East and Central Arunachal Pradesh. The other new Division--71--headquartered at Missamari in the plains of Assam, will enhance troop deployment beyond Tawang in West Arunachal Pradesh in addition to the 5 Mountain Division already stationed at Tenga.

The new mountain corps will require light artillery which can be easily transported, even airlifted in the highest mountains. Given India's painfully-slow process of weapons acquisition, empowering the Mountain Strike Corps quickly will be a big challenge. 
It is all the more necessary for the government to walk the talk in making the new formation a reality by adhering to timelines.

Thankfully, both in Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh on the frontier with China, India's strategic planners have started to make amends for decades of lethargy and apathy.

China watchers will recall that it was in  2006 that the Cabinet Committee on Security(CCS), which takes the final decision on India's security matters had decided to reverse the decades old policy of NOT building infrastructure in the border areas, lest the Chinese get easier access to Indian areas in the event of a skirmish!

The late realisation and start to improve infrastructure--both military and civil--in these remote areas however means that at least for decade, India's military preparedness there will remain tenuous.

Over the past one year, having travelled to both Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, I am convinced that India has the right intention but somehow lacks the means to get its act together in building and improving infrastructure. There are multiple agencies involved in planning and giving clearances for border projects. Although the  Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is primarily responsible for road and bridge building in these areas, it is hampered by a number of shortcomings. Having told the BRO to construct 73 strategic Roads in 2006, it was expected that these roads will be ready by its original deadline of 2012. Unfortunately on a fraction of the work has been completed

As a quasi-military organization the BRO is entrusted with building and maintaining these strategic roads and come rain or winter, its labourers work to keep the only road link to Tawang in Arunachal Prdaesh open through the year but at the moment they are fighting a losing battle, as I saw during my travel there. The fault lies not with them but with people higher up who planned  the widening of the only road without building an alternative.
Constant landslips, frequent blockades are a recurring challenge. But landslides apart , BRO officials told me that they are plagued by a shortage of labour in this sector. Earlier, large groups from Jharkhand and Bihar made their way to these parts.  No longer, since now plenty of work is available in their home states. Excruciatingly slow environmental clearances both by the central and state governments add to the delays. In Arunachal Pradesh, nearly five months of Monsoon followed by a couple of months of intense cold and snowfall means, the working season is limited to less than six months. 

In Ladakh too, the situation is no different. Snow and severe winter leaves the road and infrastructure builders just about six months of work time through the year. But as state government officials in a remote sub-division like Nyoma in south eastern Ladakh told me last fortnight the clearances have started flowing in faster than before. The road from Upshi to Demchok for instance is currently witnessing intense broadening and improvement work. Demchok is the place where maximum face offs have occurred between Indian Army and Chinese PLA patrols. The Indus also enters India at this extreme south-east corner of Ladakh.

 India owes it to its own forces to put in place better infrastructurealong the China frontier  and provide border guarding forces like the ITBP better facilities than the current ones. Although there is clamour to entrust the India-China border fully to the Army or bring the ITBP fully under the Army's control, so long as the ITBP is deployed on the front line, it deserves better treatment. 

Similarly, the Centre and the State government must go the extra distance to support the nomadic tribes that live along the remote Ladakh frontier. The further these grazers keep going in search of pasteur for their cattle, the better it is for Indian authorities to lay a claim on the undemarcated borders. These nomads should get full material help in their quest for a better life and access to more grazing land in the border areas.

We all recognise that 2013 is not 1962.

India's military capability is far far better than it was then; And finally there is too much at stake for Beijing to launch any overt aggression.

But as I wrote earlier, what has not changed is the Chinese tendency of bullying weaker neighbours and its policy to keep redefining 'core' interests according to circumstances. Policy making in China is one continuous process. In India on the other hand, it varies according to personalities and political parties in power. While the military in India has overcome the trauma of the 1962 defeat, civilian policy makers appear to be still bogged down by the burdens of the past in dealing with China.

Policy makers in India must be mindful of the fact that military preparedness and trying to improve diplomatic relations are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Following is the list of India's Corps with their locations:

1 Corps--Mathura
2 Corps--Ambala
3 Corps--Rangapahar (Dimapur)
4 Corps--Tezpur
9 Corps-Yol
10 Corps--Bhatinda
11 Corps-Jalandhar
12 Corps--Jodhpur
14 Corps--Leh
15 Corps--Srinagar
16 Corps--Nagrota
21 Corps--Bhopal
33 Corps--Sukna (Siliguri)