Monday, 11 December 2017

Interview with Kieth Webster: “India is a US defence partner on par with NATO allies”

By Ajai Shukla
Edited interview in Business Standard
11th Dec 17

Keith Webster handled US-India defence relations for several years as a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration. Now a Senior Vice President with the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF), he talks to Ajai Shukla about the trajectory of the defence relationship.

Q.        Why has the US designated India as a “major defence partner” (MDF)?

In the US system, this was a very significant step. In May 2016, during the waning months of [former President Barack] Obama’s administration, we began debating in the Pentagon the need to cement the solid defence relationship we had achieved. We decided the best way to “immortalise” the relationship was to bring in the term “major defence partner” into the June 2016 joint statement between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama.

At a meeting with [Defence Secretary] Ash Carter that was attended by every political appointee in the Pentagon, I was the only career official in that office. I told them: “In nine months, I will probably be the only person here who will still be in this building (the Pentagon). I need this relationship formalised.” We proposed the MDP designation, and the Modi government accepted putting it into the [Modi-Obama] joint statement.

Later in 2016, there was a short exchange of letters between Ash Carter and [Defence Minister] Manohar Parrikar on what MDP broadly meant. And then, MDP was mentioned in our National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, signed by Barack Obama in December 2016. That means the legislation is in place on the US side.

Q.        What does MDP mean in practical terms for India?

While both governments have acknowledged MDP, we need to see how India defines it. When Secretary [Jim] Mattis returned from India in September, he said: “We need to work on this definition [of MDP].” I spoke to Secretary Tillerson about this when he was here in October. So the Trump administration will flesh this out with the Modi government: what exactly will MDP be?

Q.        As a MDP, where does India stand in the hierarchy of US defence partners?

The US has a pyramid of trust, based on which we part with military capabilities and technologies. Naturally, the best goes to the US military alone. Next, at the top of the pyramid are the allies that fight alongside us the most. That would be the “Five Eyes” [an intelligence-sharing alliance between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand]. One level below are the other allies who fight alongside us, which comprises NATO – “Old NATO”, as opposed to “New NATO”. India hasn’t figured in that pyramid of trust because we never fought as allies. But we are now friends. So we have moved India up, policy-wise, to near the top of the pyramid. Not to the pinnacle, but near the top of the pyramid.

Q.        Below the Five Eyes, but at par with older NATO members?

India’s status is consistent with members of NATO, other than the Five Eyes.

Q.        What about the category of “major non-NATO allies” (MNNA), which the US has designated Pakistan?

That status was unacceptable to India because there are 15-16 nations in that category, including Pakistan. We needed to do something unique for India, which is more than what we’ve done for Pakistan.

Q.        Why would India accept that its designation is above Pakistan’s in the hierarchy of allies?

Because our actions will prove it. Look at the F-16, the Block 70 as we call it now. That is well above your neighbour’s F-16s. What we are proposing for India reflects its status… I don’t believe Pakistan would be sold the F-16 Block 70.

Q.        What benefits does MDP provide India?

First, in transferring defence capabilities, India will be on par with NATO allies. Second, when we talk about “Make in India”, we can now transfer more critical technologies to Indian industries than without MDP categorisation.

Q.        Delhi worries that the Trump administration will be more transactional and focused on defence sales rather than a technology partnership…

In February this year, I too wondered: How do we reconcile “Make America Great Again” and “Make in India”? The good news is the Trump administration has reconciled that, specific to India. It fully backs everything the Obama administration proposed to India, including the exhaustive preparatory work been done on F-16 and F/A-18 “Make in India”.

The Heritage Foundation, which is close to the Trump administration, wrote on why it makes sense to support “Make in India” on the F-16, even though much of the supply would shift to India. The argument was: “An F-16 line in India is better than shutting it down. If an Indian line keeps twenty American suppliers in business, that’s better than zero.”

Q.        Over the last decade, the US has concluded a wave of arms sales worth over $15 billion. What do you think the next wave will consist of?

Hopefully, the F-16 and F/A-18. Realistically, even one of those would be huge. It would be a huge symbolic gesture of trust. A fighter aircraft is a power projection capability. Transport aircraft and helicopters are great, but to take that next step – to trust America or not to supply a power projection platform – and have the confidence that the US would be there through its service life, it would be hugely symbolic.

Q.        Would there be negative repercussions if India chose not to buy a US fighter?

Not really, but there would be huge disappointment. In the Pentagon I spent 30 per cent of my time on India, much of it pre-positioning the government approvals needed for making the F-16 and F/A-18 in India. We don’t normally do that. We normally require governments to request for a [weapons] platform and then we make the release decisions.

Q.        Would you call the Quadrilateral a step towards an alliance?

I think it’s huge. This was discussed for the past 3-4 years, and the fact that the Indian government has allowed this to be publicly discussed, no matter how it’s presented, is a huge step for me.

Q.        Is militarizing the Quadrilateral through Malabar an essential next step?

It would be a good, positive next step. We are not allies and, in our system, we have to have a reason for why we would transfer cutting edge technology to anyone. With allies, there’s a reason. But with India, what we have used to justify moving forward is cooperating on maritime domain awareness, search and rescue, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Q.        The co-development and co-manufacturing mantras; how are they going to work, given the huge asymmetry between US and Indian defence industries?

Indian industry will have to learn how to: crawl, walk, and then run. It has technology absorption challenges, as there are with anyone that starts this journey. You have to start somewhere, build a work force, build infrastructure… It’s not insurmountable.

Q.        When you talk co-development, you assume both sides have something concrete to bring to the table. In the Indian case, this is not always so…

That is true today. But it’s possible five or ten years from now. We don’t have to do co-development on Day One. You would [first] do some co-assembly, co-production and then graduate to co-development.

Q.        With close cooperation happening in the Joint Working Group on aircraft carriers, will the two navies be at the forefront of the defence partnership?

Yes, given the cooperation on aircraft carriers and maritime domain awareness. Also the Indian Air Force, because they fly [the C-17 and C-130 transport aircraft and will fly the Apache and Chinook helicopters soon.

Q.        Are there no lines of convergence between the two armies? In India, the army is the most important and influential service…

There is the M777 ultra-light howitzer [that the Indian Army has bought]. Maybe some day the Indian army will have the Javelin [anti-tank missile]. It is possible the Indian army gets some Apaches [attack helicopters] from the second tranche that has been ordered. There is an Apache Users Group globally that brings armies together. There are reports the Indian army is seeking new armoured vehicles; maybe there are some opportunities for cooperation there. I would argue there are promising lines of cooperation with the Indian army too. 

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Unlike India’s chaotic preparations in 1962, a Chinese war plan made months in advance

The Dalai Lama's escape (pictured here, struggling to the Indian border) led Mao to "teach India a lesson"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 17

On October 20, 1962, when China attacked Indian posts on the Namka Chu rivulet near Tawang, marking the start of the disastrous Sino-Indian war, the troops that conducted that attack – the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA’s) 11 Infantry Division – prepared for that battle in three years of battling Tibetan guerrillas, called the Chushi Gangdruk.

Earlier, on August 25, 1959, the first-ever armed clash between Chinese and Indian soldiers, took place when an Indian patrol ran into a Chinese company (roughly 100 soldiers) stationed in Migyitun “for work with the masses”, as Beijing euphemistically termed operations against the Chushi Gangdruk.

PLA General Yin Fatang reveals that, on June 11, 1962, the Tibet Military Command constituted the “Advance Command Post for China-India Border Self-Defence Counter-attack” code-named Z419 (“Z” stands for “Xizang”, or Tibet). Yin was appointed its political commissar.

Four days earlier, PLA General Tan Guansan, who had brutally put down the Lhasa revolt in March 1959, relayed orders from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee and Central Military Commission to prepare to fight the Indian army.

These are some of a range of new details of the 1962 Sino-Indian war gleaned by Chinese scholar, Jianglin Li, from Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents and interviews with People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans. Li’s research is posted on the “War on Tibet” website in a research article entitled  “‘Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet’ and the China-India Border War”.

The war clouds began gathering in May 1962, when Beijing decided to “create conditions for peacefully resolving the border dispute” by “resolutely fighting back” against the advancing Indian army, says Wei Ke, director of Z419’s political department. Then itself, it was decided that the main front would be the eastern sector, specifically the Tawang and Walong areas. 

By October, 10,300 Chinese soldiers were placed under Z419 Command Post, charged with attacking India in Kejielang (Nyamjang Chu valley) and Tawang, according to a PLA “Studies on Battle Examples”.

Yin says: “From mid-June 1962, Z419 Command Post started to collect intelligence in the battle zone and work on a battle plan.” Intensive military training began, including individual training, unit training and battle exercises at regimental level. Based on the experience of fighting the Chushi Gangdruk, Z419 replaced physically unfit officers and soldiers. Well-trained rocket launcher operators were dispatched to Tibet from Wuhan, and artillery personnel were sent from several military commands. Beijing Military Command sent communications equipment and operators. Over one hundred English, Hindi and Tibetan interpreters from different areas were sent to Tibet for the coming “self-defence counter-attack”.

Meanwhile, in contrast with China’s formidable build up, the Indian Army was struggling to send to the border an inadequate formation of 2,400 soldiers – the ill-fated 7 Infantry Brigade – which was short of soldiers, arms, equipment and acclimatisation for high-altitude combat.

Beijing took the final decision to go to war in two meetings. The first was on October 8, between Mao Zedong and China’s top leadership – Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, He Long, Nie Rongzheng and Luo Ruiqing. The next day, Z419 received the pre-order for battle.

The die was cast, According to General Zhang Guohua, who was selected to command the battle; he flew back to Lhasa from Beijing on October 13th. A “Frontline Command Post”, positioned at Tsona, replaced Z419 for the battle.

The second meeting, at which the final go-ahead was given, took place at 1:30 p.m. on October 17. The Central Military Commission and Mao himself approved General Zhang Guohua’s battle plan.

Besides the PLA’s overwhelming advantage in combat soldiers numbers, Li’s research reveals the CCP’s Tibet Work Committee supported the frontline with a major logistic effort. It dispatched 1,280 party cadres to lead civilian workers functioning as logistical support teams. 32,237 Tibetans and 1,057 pack animals were drafted to load, unload and transport supplies, carry wounded soldiers back from battlefront, and clear up battlefields, etc. Over 10,000 civilians were drafted to repair and construct roads.

It is hardly surprising that, on October 20, Indian defences in the Tawang sector crumbled in hours. 

Friday, 8 December 2017

Chinese army prepared for 1962 war by fighting Tibetans

After Lhasa went up in flames in early-March 1959, the PLA fought 12 major battles in Tibet over the next 3 years

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Dec 17

In path breaking research into the Tibetan uprising in 1956-59 and the lead-up to the 1962 war, Chinese scholar Jianglin Li has accessed Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents and interviewed People’s Liberation Army (PLA) veterans from that war to present critical new aspects of that period’s history.

 Li’s research illustrates that Mao Zedong cynically regarded operations against the Tibetan resistance – called Chushi Gangdruk – as an opportunity to train the PLA.

This research rebuts earlier claims by 1962 war veterans like Yin Fatang, a former CCP boss in Tibet, that the PLA fought the 1962 war unprepared. A similar claim was made in the 2008 memoir of Ding Sheng, who commanded the PLA’s 54thArmy in Walong sector. Ding says that in October 1962, the 54th Army was scattered across Sichuan for agricultural work. On October 28, when he received the order to attack Walong, “the troops were hastily mobilized, issued warm clothing and rushed to Tibet for the battle at short notice”, Ding says.

Li’s research – which is posted on the “War on Tibet” website in a research article entitled  “‘Suppressing Rebellion in Tibet’ and the China-India Border War” – shows the PLA presented a formidable contrast to the poorly equipped and poorly acclimatised Indian troops.

CCP documents indicate that, in the three years from March 1959 to March 1962, the PLA fought 12 major battles in Central Tibet, targeting the Chushi Gangdruk. Li concludes that, when the 1962 war began, “It had been less than a year since Ding’s troops pulled back from Tibet after three years of fighting.”

Beijing’s hostility came even though India helped China sustain its occupation of Tibet. “In the early 1950s, China needed India’s help to send supplies into Tibet, so that the PLA could consolidate the occupation. India was quite generous in providing this help. In 1952, Beijing “used diplomatic channels” to ship 2,500 tons of rice from Guangdong province to Calcutta, and transport it up to Tibet through Yadong (Dromo). By April 1953, all the rice had arrived. This basically solved the food supply problem for PLA troops, and enabled them to establish a preliminary footing in Tibet”, according to a book, “Remembering Tibet – Collected Recollections of Advancing and Liberating Tibet”.

After discovering the existence of the border dispute in 1952, when the Chinese Foreign Ministry “absorbed the former foreign office of the Kashag (Tibetan government) and acquired its archival documents”, Zhou Enlai sought to buy time.

“India is still under British and American influence, so we want to win it over… [Border disputes] should be solved in future… due to insufficient documents now”, says Zhou’s 1954 directive on the border issue, according to Wang Gui, of the Tibet Military Command Political Department.

Unlike the patient Zhou, Mao had decided to teach India a lesson by end-March 1959, soon after the Tibet uprising and Dalai Lama’s escape to India. Wu Lengxi, who headed Xinhua and People’s Daily at that time, describes Mao fuming in a Party Central Committee meeting in Shanghai: “Let the Indian government commit all the wrongs for now. When the time comes, we will settle accounts with them”.

PLA aggression on the McMahon Line started right away, says Wang Tingsheng of the 54th Army Division. His memoirs recount: “PLA soldiers crossed the McMahon Line at three locations in pursuit of escaping Tibetans.”

Even so, Mao carefully lulled India into complacency, ordering the inclusion of a paragraph into a May 15, 1959 letter from Beijing to New Delhi: ““China’s main attention and principle of struggle is focused on the east, the West Pacific region, on the ferocious American imperialism, not on India, the southeast or south Asian countries at all. …China will not be so stupid as to make enemies with the US in the east, and make enemies with India in the west. Pacification of rebellion and implementing democratic reform in Tibet would pose no threat to India whatsoever.”

At the time Mao made this statement, PLA 11 Infantry Division was already fighting the Tibetan resistance in Chamdo. Three years later, on October 20, 1962, this battle-hardened division would start the Sino-India war with its attack on Indian positions on the Namka Chu rivulet, near Tawang.

Li shows that Mao viewed operations against the Tibetan resistance as training ground for the PLA, causing the use of disproportionate force and warfighting weaponry against Tibetan civilians. From January 22nd to February 19th 1959, Mao Zedong added written instructions to four reports on the Tibet situation, stating: “Rebellion is a good thing”, as it could be used to “train the troops and the masses”, and to “harden our troops to combat readiness.”

Xu Yan, a professor at the Chinese National Defence University, says the key differentiator in the 1962 war was combat experience. “Most of the troops of the [PLA] who fought at the China-India border have a glorious history”, he commented, “Besides that, they had also acquired rich combat experience in high and cold mountain regions in the five years from the Khampa rebellion in 1956 to the end of the suppression of Tibetan rebellion in 1961.”

(Next: Part II: China’s preparations for attack)

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

A test for the defence minister: end this nonsense about scrapping India's BMS project

Ms Sitharaman’s decision on whether to kill the BMS project or not will reveal her commitment to building real indigenous capability in defence

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Dec 17

Senior Indian Army generals, who grew up before smartphones became a part of our daily lives, are blundering in scrapping as “too costly” the ~5,000-crore project to indigenously design and develop a Battlefield Management System (BMS). More tech-savvy junior officers understand the importance of the BMS, which will provide frontline combat soldiers with a real-time tactical picture of the battlefield to help them deal with “the fog of war”. But generals call the shots, and now a defence ministry okay is all that is needed to cancel this promising initiative. 

The success of the US Army in Gulf war I (1991), when Saddam Hussein's well armed and battle hardened Iraqi Army folded in less than 96 hours, amply demonstrated the power of a networked force. The defence ministry must also evaluate the army's wish to foreclose the BMS in the light of the Chinese BMS (named Qu Dian) which began deployment 10 years ago. Even Pakistan is working on their own BMS named Rehbar.  If the Indian military wishes to avoid the fate of Hussein's forces, it too must network its battlefield units securely and robustly.

Then there is the need to prioritise "Make” category projects -- including  the BMS, there are only three in the pipeline. These harness Indian defence industry to develop “complex, high-tech systems”, with the government reimbursing 80 per cent of the development cost. Such projects build design and development skills and systems integration capability, which is far more important than “Make in India” projects, which merely involve assembling imported components and systems to blueprints provided by a foreign “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM) under “transfer of technology”. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s decision — whether to kill the BMS “Make” project or nurture it — will be a revealing indicator of her commitment to building real indigenous capability in defence.

Why is the BMS more important than buying the tanks and guns for which the army wants to save its money? A BMS is a “force multiplier” that uses information and communications technology (ICT) to enhance the effectiveness of the field force and the weapons they operate? An example of this in civilian life is Google Maps. Buying a fast (and expensive) car has limited benefits in terms of reaching one’s destination sooner, but Google Maps’ software does that more effectively. It chooses the fastest route by “crowd sourcing” traffic conditions, with user inputs updating this dynamic element in real time. This allows for the most efficient use of the road. Extrapolating this cheap and commonsensical solution to the battlefield, the “crowd-sourcing” of inputs from friendly elements on the battlefield — soldiers, weapons systems or surveillance devices that form a part of one’s own force — builds up a common operating picture of the battlefield that is updated in real time. The “battlefield transparency” this creates enables soldiers and combat commanders to react to emerging situations faster than the enemy. Network centricity is all about being faster on the OODA loop – the action sequence of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act – than the adversary. In non-military terms that means being quicker in picking up and identifying the enemy, deciding how and with what weapons to engage him, and then actually doing so. A strong BMS system that provides battlefield transparency, and enables the immediate use of firepower and manpower, creates greater combat effect than expensive tanks, guns or fighter aircraft that are unable to use their capabilities to full effect. 

Although creating a BMS combat network would be cheaper than buying weapons platforms, it still requires the expenditure of significant sums. In 2011, the defence ministry approved the BMS for an overly optimistic ~350 crore. Other worldwide benchmark projects indicate $1.5-2.0 billon dollars in initial investments towards developing BMS-type “force multiplier “capabilities. 

Today, the combined cost quoted by the two “development agencies” (DAs) – one, a consortium of Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) and Larsen & Toubro; the other between Bharat Electronics Ltd and Rolta India – is a more realistic ~5,000 crore. This would be paid out over five years, but the army is unwilling to earmark even ~1,000 crore per year for this revolutionary project, which would harness India’s demonstrated skills in information technology. Given the range of technologies that it would galvanise, the BMS would be not just a “force multiplier” for the military but equally for the ICT economy. 

Why does developing two BMS prototypes cost so much? The other ICT-based networks the army is developing — such as the “artillery command, control and communications system”, which integrates fire support from artillery guns; or the “battlefield surveillance system” that integrates surveillance systems — are basically software systems. These will ride on a communications network called the “tactical communications system” (TCS), which is being developed as a separate “Make” programme. The BMS, however, is intended for the combat soldier, who would outpace communications networks like the TCS, especially in situations like an advance into enemy territory. The BMS, therefore, requires its own communications backbone, built on sophisticated “software defined radio” (SDR) that provides enormous flexibility with its ability to function on disparate “wave forms”. This means the BMS must have advanced communications technology, on which the information technology component is fully integrated. All these must be engineered as part of the project. The US Army tried in vain to ride its BMS on a generic radio, the Joint Tactical Radio System.  Some $15 billion later, they realised the hardware and software had to be engineered together in a “system of systems” approach. Each element and device in the BMS has to be planned for SWAP (size, weight and power), and a range of waveforms have to be created. 

The day of reckoning for the BMS is December 29, when the two DAs must submit their “detailed project reports”, including final price estimates, to the Defence Production Board (DPrB), which the defence secretary currently heads. The ministry is currently squeezing the DAs to bring down their prices by over 30 per cent, even if that means reducing the scope of the BMS project. It is mind-boggling to see a government that claims to be committed to defence preparedness and indigenisation haggling with defence industry over a project that would bring to the Indian military a “revolution in military affairs”, albeit three decades after it transformed the US military’s way of warfare. It is time for Ms Sitharaman to step in and end this nonsense. 

Sunday, 3 December 2017

India-Afghanistan beyond the Durand Line

My Enemy’s Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet Invasion to the US Withdrawal
By Avinash Paliwal
(Hurst & Company, London, 2017)
380 pages

Given Afghanistan’s importance in India’s foreign policy and security calculations, there is a regrettable dearth of literature on New Delhi’s contemporary relations with that wild and romantic country. Filling that void partly is Avinash Paliwal’s new book, which purports to be, “A definitive account, grounded in history, of the strategic axis between New Delhi and Kabul.”

The summary on the cover’s back leaf continues: “India’s political and economic presence in Afghanistan is often viewed as a Machiavellian ploy aimed against Pakistan. The first of its kind, this book interrogates that simplistic yet powerful geopolitical narrative and asks what truly drives India’s Afghanistan policy.”

If Paliwal, a lecturer at the University of London, had let his well-researched historiography tell its own story, it would have convincingly illustrated what regional specialists know to be the case: that New Delhi has strategically promoted a stable and united Afghanistan, free of Pakistani influence. This is motivated less by altruism than by the conviction that an independent Afghanistan’s default relationship with Pakistan would be inherently oppositional – for reasons as diverse as the colonial baggage, and the still unsettled Durand Line border that cleaves through a sprawling Pashtun populace. Then there is the Afghan resentment about a large neighbour ruled by domineering “Punjabi” elite – as Afghans commonly refer to Pakistanis – meddling in their internal affairs.

Instead, the author has burdened his account with a clumsy theoretical framework –that Indian policymaking vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been controlled in turn by two ideologically opposed groups: the Conciliators, who build goodwill with, and politically engage, all Afghan groups regardless of their affiliations, including the Taliban; and a second group, the Partisans, who befriend only those Afghan groups that are clearly opposed to Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. Since My Enemy’s Enemy is a reworked version of the author’s doctoral thesis, the theoretical underpinning presumably comes with the package. Yet it interferes with the flow of the narrative, annoyingly diverting it into irrelevant cul-de-sacs about whether an event was the handiwork of the Conciliators or Partisans.

For example the author argues that Partisans in New Delhi ignored the Afghan Mujahideen (or the Peshawar Seven, led by Pakistan-backed commanders like Gulbudin Hekmatyar) during the anti-Soviet jihad from 1979-89, and through the Soviet-backed presidency of Mohammad Najibullah for three years thereafter. But, in 1992, when Najibullah was overthrown and the Mujahideen took power in Kabul, the Narasimha Rao Doctrine of 1992 facilitated the return of Conciliators, with New Delhi resolving to deal with whoever was in power in Kabul, the Mujahideen at the time. The pendulum swung again in 1996, when the Taliban evicted the Mujahideen from Kabul. The Partisans regained sway in New Delhi, keeping India aloof from the Taliban, even though the latter wanted ties with India as a hedge against Pakistani domination.

In fact, what drove Indian policymaking through this period was not the rise or fall of Partisans and Conciliators. In the case of the Rao Doctrine in 1992, the same Indian policymakers were taking decisions before and after that policy watershed. Indian engagement with Afghan groups was always driven by their apparent closeness to Pakistan, and the degree to which they were regarded as acting at Pakistan’s behest. Therefore, India shunned the Mujahideen until 1992 because they were being remote controlled from Pakistan against the Soviets. Once they came to power in Kabul, India cultivated leaders like Ahmed Shah Massoud, who were inherently opposed to Pakistan. When the Taliban swept to power in 1996, dialogue with Kabul went into limbo, not because of some imagined Partisan resurgence in New Delhi, but because the Taliban was perceived as handmaidens of Pakistan. For this same reason, Indian policymakers abjure dialogue with the Taliban to this day.

Notwithstanding this diversion, the author painstakingly reconstructs Indo-Afghan relations, drawing on the Kabuliwallah connection that creates a natural bond between Indians and Afghans, tracing relations from independence, through the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan to the upheaval that began with Mohammad Daud’s coup in 1973. He rightly brings out how India’s support for Pashtun independence, announced by External Affairs Minister Swaran Singh in the Lok Sabha, built bonds with Afghanistan’s Pashtuns that endure to this day. Yet, Afghanistan, walking a tightrope between India and Pakistan, took a balanced position during India-Pakistan wars and on the Kashmir issue.

While the author has clearly carried out extensive archival research, the same cannot be said about interviews with key Indian policymakers. For example, Vivek Katju and Arun Singh, who handled the all-powerful Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk at key periods, have not been interviewed. Nor has Satinder Lambah, India’s points-man with Kabul after 9/11, when the Taliban was overthrown and Afghanistan entered its current trajectory. Instead, too much credence is given to anonymous interviews with intelligence officials, many of who betray a tactical rather than strategic orientation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the author’s description of the Bonn Conference in December 2001, which settled on Hamid Karzai as Afghanistan’s first post-Taliban president. Paliwal recounts that New Delhi came off the loser in Bonn, since it was unable to get Burhanuddin Rabbani – allegedly an Indian “proxy” – elected president. In fact, those of us in Afghanistan and Bonn during that period are aware that Satinder Lambah, having already calculated that Afghanistan’s delicate ethnic balance required a Pashtun as president, had already persuaded the powerful Panjsheri leaders to accept Hamid Karzai as president. With this deal in his pocket, Lambah played a key role in the famous “midnight conference” in Bonn, where the deadlock was broken by choosing Karzai as president and a raft of Panjsheri leaders were accommodated in key portfolios. This, along with the fact that Panjsheri units constituted the bulk of the Afghan National Army, and Panjsheri monopoly over the Afghan intelligence services, gave India enormous leverage in Kabul, post-Bonn.

The author has been let down by sloppy editing, with the pages littered by numerous factual and grammatical errors that should have never passed an editor’s eye. Rajiv Gandhi is called his mother’s “younger son”; Jaswant Singh became foreign minister and defence minister in 1998 ( in fact, he took on the defence portfolio only in 2000); some 1,000 Afghan officers trained in India every year (it is 100 officers); and many more.

Notwithstanding the errors, Dr Paliwal’s book is a fascinating read that will surely be a prescribed text for university courses on South Asia – especially after a second edition polishes the text and eliminates the mistakes.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Navy chief admits damage to INS Chakra

Over last three months, Indian ships refuelling from US tankers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Dec 17

For the first time, the navy has officially confirmed that INS Vishal, its second indigenous aircraft carrier that will be built in the 2020s, will be a conventionally-powered vessel, not a nuclear powered warship as earlier envisaged.

Indian Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba told a press conference on Friday that the navy is going in for a “65,000-tonne, two-deck, CATOBAR (catapult take off but arrested landing), conventionally powered” carrier. It would incorporate the latest “EMALS (electro-magnetic aircraft launch system) and AAG (advanced arrester gear)” developed by US firm, General Atomics, for launching and recovering aircraft.

First reported by Business Standard (October 27, “Navy drops cherished dream of nuclear-powered aircraft carrier”), this has now been officially confirmed.

The chief of naval staff (CNS) also confirmed the navy’s ongoing acquisition of 57 multi-role carrier-borne fighters (MRCBF) was meant for both indigenous aircraft carriers – INS Vikrant, which would be commissioned in end-2020, and INS Vishal which would take another decade.

With the Naval Tejas fighter unsuitable for deployment, the MRCBF procurement is regarded as essential by the navy, said Lanba.

Providing an update on the MRCBF procurement, Lanba said the navy’s Request for Information (RFI) that had been floated earlier this year had received four responses. Sources say these are from Boeing for its F/A-18E/F, Dassault for the Rafale Marine, Saab for its Gripen Maritime and from Russia for an updated MiG-29K, which the navy is already flying.

“We will take the [MRCBF acquisition] process forward. But the middle of next year, we should be able to float the RFP (request for proposals, as the tender is called)”.


The CNS confirmed worrying rumours about underwater damage to INS Chakra, the nuclear attack submarines that the Indian Navy had taken on a ten-year lease from Russia in 2012.

“The Chakra has suffered damage to her sonar dome. Two [hull] panels have been dislodged. A Board of Inquiry has been constituted to find out the cause. A joint team of the Indian Navy and the Russian side has assessed the damage. We have ordered the panel at the soonest”, said Lanba.

The chief dismissed reports published last month in Russian newsmagazine, Kommersant that US Navy officials had been permitted to visit the Chakra during their recent visit to India. “No American person has seen the submarine from nearby”, said Lanba tersely.

In good news for the navy’s depleted submarine fleet, Lanba revealed that Project 75I – which involves building six conventional attack submarines with “air independent propulsion” (AIP) – has made progress.

“We have a 30-year plan for a total force level of 24 submarines. Project 75I is the first project being progressed under the Strategic Partner (SP) model. We have floated an RFI for identifying OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). Responses have been received from four OEMs and they are under examination. A committee has been constituted for identifying the Indian strategic partner.

Pressed to identify the four OEMs who have expressed interest in Project 75I, Lanba named German submarine maker, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS), French shipmaker Naval Group (formerly DCNS), Kockums of Sweden and Russian armament supplier, Rosoboronexport.

Asked whether Mitsubishi Heavy Industries had expressed interest in supplying its highly regarded Soryu submarine, Lanba cryptically responded: “The Japanese have expresed their inability to compete.”

It remains unclear whether the Japanese believe their submarine’s price is uncompetitive, or whether they are reluctant to sell warfighting equipment to India.

The SP model for procuring weapons platforms involves identifying an international OEM with an in-service platform that meets the military’s requirements. Simultaneously, an Indian SP firm is identified with the manufacturing skills to build that platform in India with transfer of technology.

Indigenous SSN

The navy chief also acknowledged an indigenous project to build six nuclear attack submarines, termed SSNs (the acronym for “sub-surface nuclear”).

“It has kicked off and I will leave it at that. It is a classified project. The process has started,” said Lanba.

The navy chief also revealed that India and US had “operationalised” an agreement for “reciprocal logistic support”, termed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), signed in August 2016. “Our ships are taking fuel from US tankers during anti-piracy patrols [near the Horn of Africa]. This began about three months ago”, he said.