It can be difficult to separate the important from the unimportant on any given day. The reflections below mean to do exactly that – by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
“The world is in the midst of profound and complex changes; however, prospects are bright but the challenges are severe. We need to aim high and look far, be alert to dangers even in times of calm, have the courage to pursue reform and break new ground, and never become hardened to change or inactive.” This is a standard sentence of any high level Chinese foreign office communication. It’s very easy to sound smart when you use abstract language without quite specifying what it is that you’re talking about. One of the easiest things that you can do in a forecast is just say everything is going to stay the same. The challenge is to say what’s going to stay the same and what’s going to be different.
So what are these ‘profound and complex changes’ resulting in ‘severe challenges’ that the Chinese can perceive, while the rest of the world remains blissfully unaware? Who is initiating these ‘profound and complex changes’? Who is responsible for complicating the global geo-political/-strategic environment? Who stands to gain from it? It is obvious that it is the powers that manipulate, coerce and disrupt situations to undermine the power of others and gain from such a situation. India is still at the receiving end of such power games since it is not a power of global reckoning.
Be that as it may, India will be confronted with challenges and threats for which it must prepare. However, before venturing into the unknown – trying to forecast in the geo-political/-strategic realm -it would be worthwhile to scan through the significant events in the year gone by and reflect on the forecasts made and how India tackled them.
It’s very easy to sound smart when you use abstract language without quite specifying what it is that you’re talking about. One of the easiest things that you can do in a forecast is just say everything is going to stay the same. The challenge is to say what’s going to stay the same and what’s going to be different.
In the first issue of the Indian Defence Review of 2017, there were four issues of strategic import that were identified and listed. These were –Chinese PLA in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POK) blatantly violating the sovereignty of India; the ambiguity with regard to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh has not found resolution; terrorism in J&K continues unabated despite surgical strikes on the terrorists and targeting the Pak armed forces deployed on the Line of Control; and the threat of an inimical neighbourhood where China–finding new friends in a power playoff by India’s smaller neighbours– is getting increasingly entrenched. Back in 1967, Nixon wrote in Foreign Affairs Magazine – “The World cannot be safe until China changes. Thus our aim, to the extent that we can influence events, should be to induce changes.” It seems nothing has changed in the last fifty years!!
The above strategic issues, evidently, did not have solutions that could be pulled out of a ready reckoner. These are there to stay and will continue to engage the Government’s time and resources for some time to come. India has successfully maintained its stand on Chinese presence in POK despite a lot of lobbying by a section of liberal globalists within India and by China and its cronies to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and let the issue of ‘sovereignty’ pass! Along with it the LAC in Eastern Ladakh is a handy leverage with the Chinese which they have employed liberally in the last couple of years. In fact, today, the entire LAC has acquired a new dimension of being disputed over every inch of its length – Agreements and Talks between Special Representatives notwithstanding. Firing across the Line of Control has not unduly shaken the Pakistanis. Pak is focused on a long term strategy to project power into Afghanistan in pursuit of two overarching objectives: First, to install a government in Kabul friendly to its interests that would accept the colonial-era Durand Line as their shared border. Second, to shape a government in Kabul that would be hostile to India, thereby preventing an encirclement by its nuclear archrival.
The recent US ban on aid to Pak should be seen only as a temporary bonus, some new found ‘national interest’ in Washington can bring aid pouring back. As of now, Pak is emboldened to cock a snook at the US knowing that it can depend on its ‘all weather’ friend China and to some extent its new found friend, Russia. In fact a day after Trump’s tweet, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs came to its ally’s defence lauding Pak’s contribution to counterterrorist operations. India has to deal with Pakistan’s use of terror as a state policy on its own strength. New Delhi has depended far too long on the extra-regional world powers to intervene on its behalf. That will not happen. China’s foray into the Indian Ocean Region and establishing robust relationships with India’s neighbouring countries, at their beckoning, is here to stay. India can rest assured that these countries need India more than India needs them – so allow them their romantic fling with the fat wallet of a balding potbellied suitor.
There were other unforeseen geopolitical and geostrategic occurrences which dominated 2017. Globally, the North Korean nuclear missiles drama that held centre stage from March 1, 2017 and more particularly in the last quarter of the year was nowhere forecast or anticipated. In the Indian context the 73 day stand-off at Doklam was an unprecedented impasse which had the potential of spiralling into a conflict. Despite numerous ‘China watchers’ and profusion of experts on China, Beijing’s move to enter the territory of a third country to manifestly alter the status of the India-China boundary was totally unexpected.
The Rohingya exodus from Myanmar and the resulting migration to South Asia was not anticipated by the global institutions and no anticipatory actions were taken. Isolation of Qatar threw up a quaint situation for India’s overall relationship with the Arab world. Syria and the defeat of the ISIS is a big development in West Asia, but it is not yet the end of the crisis.
With this as a background, it would be worthwhile to try and anticipate global and regional events that will impact India in 2018.
India has successfully maintained its stand on Chinese presence in POK despite a lot of lobbying by a section of liberal globalists within India and by China and its cronies to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and let the issue of ‘sovereignty’ pass!
With the progress in the execution of the projects under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), sovereignty of India has been subsumed but will remain a live issue through the year. China will use all manner of stratagems to get India on board the BRI to save face in what it too should have (or must have) realised has been a major diplomatic faux pas – violating India’s sovereignty. J&K, in its entirety, is Indian territory. To be sharing portions of the territory with the illegal occupiers of the territory is a mindset of a medieval era. On the contrary China is paranoid about the status of tracts of foreign territories over which it has fraudulent historical claims. The whole charade smacks of undisguised duplicity, to say the least.
Recent reports in Chinese media are condescendingly asking whether India had drawn the ‘right lessons’ from the Doklam incident, otherwise India would be repeating ‘Nehru’s mistake’. The blatantly confrontationist Chinese attitude is that the territory it claims is theirs and what India claims is illegitimate. And that they are always right! In the same article China lists India’s failed ‘neighbourhood first’ policy and the resentment that India’s “big brotherly” attitude has drawn in these countries due to its ‘interference in their sovereignty’! It’s a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. It also goes on to state that the Chinese are rethinking its strategic priorities and will go in a big way to develop the infrastructure in TAR. It claims that “India-China border will not be the same to the disadvantage of India”. India does not need to match China’s ‘hot wind’ with rhetoric. When the time comes the situation on the border must be handled with firmness and due moral authority and if need be military strength. The year will see aggressive and assertive actions along the LAC by the PLA.
Terrorism in J&K is being sustained by groups with Islamic fundamentalist leanings. The situation in the Valley is likely to be more radicalised. The Madrasas and the Mullahs are propagating the divide. The one off surgical strike has had no impact on the level of infiltration and terrorist activity in the Valley. Talking to the separatists’ or with Pakistan will not yield any solution as these groups are averse to accepting any compromise in their long standing demand of a full breakaway. The separatists will indulge in every mischief to stall/disrupt attempts to calm the situation in the Valley. There are enough Constitutional and legal provisions with the Government to get rid of the highly divisive anti-India Article 370. India needs to study the Chinese model of combating terrorism in Xinjiang. Strangely, the tough measures adopted by the Chinese have not drawn any protests/comments from World Human Rights Watch Groups or even the global Muslim community! Obviously there are different set of rules for the rich and powerful nations and for others. India cannot allow the likes of Masood Azhar, Hafiz Saeed and Syed Salahuddin to freely fan violence in J&K from across the Line of Control. US has done as much as it can but others, in particular China, will protect Pakistan for its own motives. The Indian pseudo secularists and liberalists, who condemn the government every time it takes any strong action, do so to protect their own interests’ first not India’s national interest. Demonising ‘Hindutva’ is the latest fad of this group. India has to resolve the issue of terrorism in J&K with its existing inherent strengths.
Is India’s “Neighbourhood First” a failed foreign policy initiative? According to China it is a failure – it claims that these countries resent India’s ‘Big Brotherly’ attitude. It is strange that the regional hegemon and bloated Yuan fed bully has the temerity to judge others. The neighbours are making the most of a good situation by playing one large neighbour off with the other larger one. That is understandable as these small nations stand to gain. But they also know they have deeper cultural and traditional ties with India and that the people have bonds which even the government in power cannot dare to overlook or brush aside. In this coming year the relations with Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Seychelles will be on an upswing. Initial stubbornness is likely from the Maoist government in Nepal. Maldives will continue to dither in establishing a clean and unfettered relationship with India. With Pakistan the relations have not (not) reached a level that William Zartman (as quoted by D. Suba Chandran) would refer to as “mutually hurting stalemate”!! It is a stalemate that neither country cares to change since there is no interdependency between the two in any arena of bilateral relations.
With Pakistan the relations have not (not) reached a level that William Zartman (as quoted by D. Suba Chandran) would refer to as “mutually hurting stalemate”!! It is a stalemate that neither country cares to change since there is no interdependency between the two in any arena of bilateral relations.
In August last year, US President Donald Trump named India a key partner in stabilizing Afghanistan in a speech outlining his new strategy towards South Asia that also saw him putting Pakistan on notice for being a global sponsor of terrorism. “We appreciate India’s important contributions to stability in Afghanistan, but India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States, and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan, especially in the area of economic assistance and development. We are committed to pursuing our shared objectives for peace and security in South Asia and the broader Indo-Pacific region,” Trump said. In response, India said it was “committed” to bringing “peace, security, stability and prosperity” to Afghanistan. “We will continue these efforts, including in partnership with other countries,” foreign ministry spokesman said. “We welcome President Trump’s determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists. India shares these concerns and objectives,” he added.
Afghanistan is seen by India as its extended neighbourhood. For the last three decades Pakistan has denied India a land route through Khyber Pass. However, India determinedly over came all such hurdles and obscurantist tendencies. Finally the first Indian ship docked at Chabahar in November 2017 bypassing Pakistan to access Afghanistan through Iran. Six more ships carrying consignments of wheat for Afghanistan will be loaded in Kandla, Gujarat. India had earlier secured an air freight corridor over Pakistan in mid-June 2017 and had transported nearly 981 tons of fresh fruit to Afghanistan. This development has opened vistas for more robust relations with the Central Asian Republics who until now had no option but to depend on China to meet their requirements. In due course of time it will be India that will be asking China about the resentment being harboured by its western neighbours due to its domineering behaviour! Meanwhile, Pakistan has offered China land at Jiwani in Balochistan, mid way between Gwadar and Chabahar, to set up a security base. China has also indicated that it may connect Gwadar to Chabahar by a road under the BRI rubric. India must maintain its single minded aim of using the Chabahar port and allied facilities to reach out to Afghanistan and the CAR states despite any detractors’ interventions.
The Rafale Multi Role Combat Aircraft deal was scaled down from 126 aircraft to 36 aircraft but even the first one is yet to land in India. The S-400 Russian Triumf–a state of the art newer generation lethal long-range air defence missile system– was selected for induction into the Army Air Defence Corps but continues to languish. In July 2017 India along with 17 other countries participated in the ‘Tank Biathlon’ in Russia. Indian Army’s two T-90 tanks took part in the competition but were disqualified due to mechanical failure resulting from the substandard parts in assembling the tank in India. They lost out to the older versions of T-72 fielded by most of the other competitors. India withdrew the RFP for over 400 launchers and more than 8000 Spike anti-armour missiles from Israel. However, in a week, a few days before the scheduled visit of Israeli Prime Minister, the deal has been revived under a Government to Government deal clause, even as the DRDO continues to develop the NAG ATGM – something that has been going on for decades.
The separatists will indulge in every mischief to stall/disrupt attempts to calm the situation in the Valley. There are enough Constitutional and legal provisions with the Government to get rid of the highly divisive anti-India Article 370.
The Infantry is short of hand grenades because the DRDO has not yet been able to master the development of a four second time delay fuse for the new multi-modal hand grenade. A few years ago, there was a case of faulty electronic Variable Time fuses of the artillery which shocked the army, because it was suddenly confronted with a situation of all artillery ammunition being unusable across the board. The decision to acquire/buy outright/buy and make/make a CQB Carbine and Assault Carbine has been languishing for nearly a decade. The 9mm Sten Machine Carbine of WW II vintage had been withdrawn from service but had to be reissued by the Ordinance Depots since any replacement was nowhere in sight. Incidentally, there was no ammunition for these in service Carbines since the OFB had stopped manufacturing that ammunition. The process for acquisition of a multi-calibre (5.56mm/7.62mm) assault rifle was abandoned at the end of a long series of field trials when a fresh proposal was formalised with a revision of the calibre (7.62mm) for an assault rifle for Infantry. The OFB suddenly raised its hand claiming that it will manufacture this assault rifle! The OFB has been manufacturing the 5.56 INSAS Rifle for three decades but has not been able to rid the weapon of its many faults and drawbacks. For it to now claim it is ready to develop and manufacture a new assault rifle is facile and incredulous!!Four Lakh OBF workers struck work and refused lunch on Jan 10, 2018, because the Government had outsourced 250 items being manufacture by the OFB to private industry. If that is going to be the trend in privatisation of defence production in India – Make in India will remain mere sloganeering.
The Chinese ridiculed the preparation of the Indian military during the Doklam stand-off stating that India had barely 10 days worth of ammunition in reserve for an intense war. If that was true, why should such a situation have arisen? It could be because of OFB’s capacity to manufacture is limited and all weather storage for ammunition of all types is woefully (yes to even repeat-woefully) inadequate. Someone has to take effective charge to turn things around. The Armed Forces is not the government’s personal property. It is the nation’s asset, to protect the people and their way of life. The People have a right to know why the current pathetic state of affairs in military preparedness continues to persist.
Internal social and political stability is an essential prerequisite for a nation to pursue its interests and progress on the path of holistic development. India’s chaotic democracy and liberal freedom has led to a culture of opposing all decisions by any government at the Centre. The huge bulge of youth in the country’s demographic profile is providing a surfeit of pliable aggressive mobs for any cause to oppose authority with violence and destruction of public assets and property. Social media is a lethal tool being used by inimical forces. India is hugely vulnerable to disruptive forces well funded by external sources. The year ahead is going to witness serious internal disruptions, compounded by an irresponsible media.
Truly the external and internal situation India faces is ‘profound and complex’. India has to devise a democracy with ‘Indian characteristics’ to meet the requirements internally. Externally the challenges from the China-Pakistan combine will need firm and deft handling. Make in India is becoming merely a symbol because it is not bearing fruit on ground. This is resulting in a poorly equipped military which might just have to once again lament – “we will fight with what we have,” And that will be a sad refrain.