The social media and the web is glut with issues pertaining to equivalence between the armed forces and the civil services, more specifically the AFHQ Cadre, and the issues pertaining to the Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFU). Many a correlation stems from mythical to distant historic events, in attempt to create rhyme with the current. Indeed, the heat so generated is inimical to efficient functioning of the Service HQ, causing its dark shadow on numerous others as and more important ongoing issues. There are also saner voices extolling the virtues of a conciliatory approach of mutual trust, and cautioning against stridency. The recommendatory direction to resolving the imbroglio is largely absent or underplayed, obviously implying the intractability and obstinacy of culling of an easy solution.
That the two issues of equivalence and NFU got entangled and intertwined is a truism. While the equivalence issue – as this article will delve into is certainly over four decades old, the NFU is of a recent origin, consequent to the 6th Central Pay Commission (CPC) Award. It was obvious that to bridge the gap within the Civil Services, the VI CPC awarded NFU, so that All India Services (AIS) and Group A Organised Services would attain the pay and pension upto an Additional Secretary in the Higher Administrative Grade scale. The attributes of an Organised Group A Service were laid down in 2009.
Though the issue is so well known that it requires no reiteration, yet for making the discussion wholesome and informed, it is being restated. Under the NFU schema, in the 6th CPC if an Indian Administrative Services (IAS) Officer is posted at the Centre to a particular grade carrying a specific grade pay in Pay band 3 or 4, then the officers belong to the batches of other AIS and the Organised Group A Services that are senior by two years or more and have not so far been promoted to that particular grade would be granted the same grade on non-functional basis. And this continues onwards to the HAG scale, giving in perpetuity, the IAS, a two-year advantage over other AIS and the Organised Group A Services, albeit on non-functional basis. Obviously there were no linkages envisaged with existence of vacancies. The AIS (other than IAS) and the Organised Group A Services have been representing, including with the 7th CPC, on removing the two-year advantage that the IAS possess. Stating that the Armed Forces have a different hierarchy, different scales and have their own structure, and are not Organised Group A Services, were not granted NFU. There is also a mention of the Military Service Pay (MSP). To kill the issue herein, the purpose of the MSP, which was granted till the rank of Brigadier, was different. It was to compensate for the trials and tribulations of service, and NOT to ameliorate the acute stagnation that the Services officers face. In the Services, over 97% superannuate at the Grade Pay of Rs 8700 of the 6th CPC regime or Level 12 of the 7th CPC.
It is important herein to mention that though the NFU was contemplated to be ‘non-functional’ and not a promotion in a functional form. It however did not turn out in that form. In the civil services nearly all obtained the advantage of the NFU, and hence there were no comparisons or equations; in the armed forces however there were close placements in the Military Engineering Service (MES)/ DGBR with the uniformed that were not covered by NFU. The cleavages appeared in no time, with the recipients of the NFU glossed over the ‘non functional’ part of the award, and quoted the higher grade pay to seek seniority and change in command and control systemic. As an example, a Superintending Engineer working under a uniformed Chief Engineer (grade pay 8900), jumped by NFU to Rs 10000 grade pay by say 20/21 years of service, sought a changed reporting system and perks, while in the Armed Forces this grade pay was applicable to a scanty few who were approved to Major General in say 32 years of service! The perks and privileges of service – travel entitlements and the like, were linked to the grade pay, thereby creating class differences and sharp undercurrents. Consequently, commencing from 2009 with the Chairman Principal Personnel Officers Committee (PPOC) raising the anomaly, and successive Chairmen Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Service Chiefs, and Adjutant Generals and their equivalent, the issue was constantly on top agenda. To top it, with intensive discussion by the Services with the 7th CPC, the Chairman of the Commission recommended that NFU be given to the Services, and Shri Vivek Rae, a member of the commission had, in his recommendations, while dissenting with the Chairman, stated that if at all NFU was to be given, it should, indeed, be given to the Armed Forces! It is instructive to read the Honourable Members’ view that, “…the Defence forces officers who are in no way lower in status or responsibility than Group A Central Services, though not classified as such, have fallen steeply behind IPS/IFS and 49 Group A Services. This has undermined the status and morale of the Defence Forces and has been a matter of serious concern for them over the last decade.” The Services position on NFU has been firmly, repeatedly and regularly postulated over last eight years, and stands on the firm foundation of conviction, that NFU is a must due to the acute stagnation that the Services officers face, and this obviously has Tri-Service consensus. Any contrary trolling is motivated, and is damaging to the aspirations of the officers, providing malicious pleasure to inimical elements.
It is necessary to shift track to the other contentious issue of rank equivalence with the AFHQ Civil Services, a designated Group B Service, which has recently been cadre-reviewed significantly. In its peculiarity, larger intake into the cadre is at Group B level, and with due time in service, the Cadre officers are promoted to Group A level. There is however some intake directly at Group A level too! The equivalence has seen many contentious decades, certainly goes back to 1988 designation of CR channels, which allowed Directors to be equated to Brigadiers. Consequently a spate of correspondence at varied levels till the Chairman COSC letter of 1992, reiterated functional necessity of this equivalence. In its aftermath the Service HQ for inexplicable reasons accepted a flawed equivalence in 2003, 2005 and 2008 for functional necessity –– correspondence which have been cancelled recently. Meanwhile regular cadre reviews have greatly restructured and expanded the AFHQ Cadre, without corresponding changes in the Service HQ, thereby constantly altering the command and control systemic. An issue that hung in a quandary for decades reached a crescendo, in the later half of 2016. A committee formed to reappraise the equivalence, with ADG Complaints Advisory Board (later DGMO) as member, remains unfinished.
Is there a way out of the imbroglios? The NFU case is yet subjudice, and the judgement will be far-reaching in consequence. Hence the debate needs to be pended till then, with hope that despite the rejoinder, a positive response will be forthcoming. Its in house implementation modalities should be contemplated, for seamless transition – including benchmarking and periodicity.
The equivalence is another matter. The Warrant of Precedence 1979 is stated to be for ceremonial and protocol purposes and it is only till Maj Gen rank. Drawing attention to any pre-Independence Warrant is of limited avail, the civil designations have dramatically changed! The transition of scales based on Grade Pay of 6th CPC to Levels of 7th CPC is explicit. The Pay Band 3 with grade pays of 5400, 6100, 6600 and 7600 are of ranks from Lt to Lt Col, have transited to levels of 10, 10B, 11 and 12A. Hence any statement that Captains/ Lieutenants will be equated to Section officers is far from actuality, and obviously germinates from a convoluted mind. The section officers are yet retained in Pay Band 2 and its equivalent levels in 7th CPC. This debate must end with a belief that the divide was deliberately planted as a methodology of information warfare, by those who tend to gain by damaging the cohesion of the Armed Forces Officers.
The likelihood of the stated Committee arriving at a firm recommendation seems distancing itself with time. There is a mention of formation of another expert committee. Pragmatically, the equivalence structure that has been firmed in and is in vogue for last forty years, howsoever incorrect or otherwise, may be difficult to be rescinded easily – being singularly contentious. Strange stalemate in actuality shows dilemma and the inability of policy-makers to correct the systemic – proverbially placed between the rock and the hard place! And status quo is problematic to the Service HQ, which, with regular cadre reviews of the AFHQ cadre, find adjustments in functioning and constantly amending command and control verticals extremely awkward, and the aversion of the trolling social media, to say the least, painful! At a glance the issue seems boxed in a no-go situation. This aptly brings to fore the conclusion that being a strongly divisive subject that defies clear solution, the debate must not be emotive or sentimental or to the galleries, for that will cause serious functional problems for the serving seniors in the Services HQ.
The Armed Forces are different indeed, and need to contemplate the issue internally. Why is a Director of AFHQ cadre promoted to PD, on posting to Service HQ, is designated as ADG? A Joint Director reports to the Service HQ as a Director! This equivalence had happened as the Service HQ had adopted designations of Director, Deputy and Additional DGs. The Service HQ needs to revert to rank based appointment across the board – as exist in the field/ peace formations. For example, a Maj Gen level administrative appointment is called MG Adm in field/peace formations, or a Colonel in charge of operations is Col General Staff (Operations). Similarly Service HQ need to conform to these appointments. The ADG Manpower Planning (MP) can be MG MP, the Military Secretary Branch should have MG MS A and B. The Directors should across the board be like Col Military Operations, and not Director Military Operations. The Government at the functional levels retains appointments as Deputy Secretary, Director, JS and Additional Secretary (AS). It is contended that we adopt our military rank based appointments, the appointments of ADG, DDG and Directors be done away with as they have led to the equivalence issue. In which case a PD should not be ADG as that would have no equivalence in the Service HQ, and should be PD only! As the Service HQ will have no ADG/DDG/Directors –the AFHQ Cadre requires no equivalence, and should retain their principal appointments, as they would, while posted in say Central Administrative Office.
The social media is unrelenting, and causes great consternation. Too many shibboleths get created, and are ruinous to the character and cohesion of the Services. The organisation is at the inflection point. The then Prime Minister had in 2008, consequent to review of the issues raised by the Armed Forces related to the VI CPC, approved a proposal for setting up of a High Powered Committee (HPC) to resolve the issues relating to command and control functions/status of Armed Forces other functionaries of the Government. The HPC, in the longer run, is the right way forward to ensure effective functionalities of the Government and the Armed Forces.
The humanities and social sciences teach us to question, analyze, debate, evaluate, interpret, synthesize, compare evidence, and communicate—skills that are critically important in shaping adults who can become independent thinkers.”
“Undergraduates will tell you that they’re under pressure—from their parents, from the burden of debt they incur, from society at large—to choose majors they believe will lead as directly as possible to good jobs. Too often, that means skipping the humanities.”
The above two are quotes from studies in the United States, from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and seem to resonate so well with the dilemma that children face at the crucial deciding years in Schools. For humanities, or liberal arts, are not meant for anybody who aspires to succeed in life!
As a follow-up to an erudite presentation on Technology Update, this issue came up for special mention recently in a Fellows Interaction at this Institution, on the officer-intake system largely relevant to the armed forces. With the Indian Navy (IN) and the Air Force (IAF) opting for total B Tech intake, and the Army still considering, National Defence Academy, the premier intake institution must be pulled in differing directions. First, the UPSC mathematics paper is supposedly so tough, that it has been authoritatively stated that the entire Academy has cadets of PCM (Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics) background at 10+2. Second, while the IN and IAF have no option but to study for the technical degree, the Army ones are split into BA and BSc – though all came in with PCM in school. The Academy’s academic curriculum hence has many subsets –BA, BSc, and the varied streams of B Tech.
Indeed, the technological ambit in the armed forces has grown immensely, the future wars will be technology driven. In fact the technological changes seem to drive doctrines and strategies in the armed forces, which lead to this inordinate rush for taking in all officers as technical graduates. This technological shine will but increase with artificial intelligence, quantum, nano, autonomous systems, robotics and the like.
On the contrary, the working environment within the armed forces is changing at a rapid pace, greatly influenced by the growing manpower challenges of attracting and retaining a quality workforce and shifting changes in social value systems. These trends cannot be treated as unimportant issues. Their interdependent effects will continue to exert powerful influences on the armed forces, its culture, and how military leadership is viewed. Gen George Patton in a valuable statement had stated, that “during actual war, in a sample of 100 combat troops, about 10% are courageous, 10% non-courageous and 80% can be influenced either way. Successful leadership consists of pointing the most courageous in the right direction and influencing the remaining to follow”.
To define humanities is a difficult task. However, it can be said in a few words that it is an academic discipline which deals with the study of the ‘Human Condition’. The social sciences have been characterized by a distinctive culture of enquiry. More so liberal arts prepare officers to make decisions about human complexity. There are many nondescript fields of genuine social sciences inquiries, area studies became the most prominent. History, geography international relations theories are many such fields, indeed war and peace are social science theories. While the relationship between liberal arts and the armed forces are yet unresearched, undoubtedly these provide a variety of capabilities to address the human dimensions of military organizations and their operational contexts. For instance, psychological and human performance criteria are firmly rooted in social science . Men who are to be led in war are not robots, and are not autonomous drones!
The officers in service also need to be are encouraged to widen their horizons from specialist areas of technical expertise, towards a more balanced coverage of wider strategic issues, requiring a level of critical, analytical, conceptual thinking and a complex problem solving approach. Creativity is one of the central competencies taught in the humanities and social sciences, and would be the most crucial factor for future success. Whilst communication and staff skills remain important, greater attention should be given to strategic issues and operational studies. A social science based education empowers the leadership to interpret the utility of data and findings intelligence professionals, research professionals, and policy makers put before them. Perhaps, no more important areas exist than in pure intelligence works, perspective planning and analysis and, logistical management.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) sciences are very important. In actuality, the choice between STEM and the social sciences is really a false one as armed forces need people trained in both – and not technocrats alone. In fact both disciplines need each other. It is opined that a social science-friendly approach empowers analysts to stop justifying data outcomes in favour of explaining them. Indeed increasing emphasis on humanities and social sciences will prepare officers to question, analyze, debate, evaluate, interpret, synthesize, compare evidence, and communicate to become independent thinkers. Armed forces require a fair admixture of variety of talents, and not a pure scientific/ technological approach that is currently underway. The army especially with its large human capital and intensive employment in counter terrorism require a balance. The officers’ intake should endeavour to provide fair opportunity to aspirants schooled in humanities in the army, even when the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force have decided for hundred percent technocrats.
Military leadership is yet and will ever remain imaginative, providing positive energy, cognitive thinking skills and abilities to build consensus and shape the environment by communicating effectively. Sacrificing study of Humanities on the altar of fast-paced march of technocracy will be at the peril of human empathy, critical reasoning and analytical regimen.
Indian Army Officers are a class apart. Why do lakhs of young boys barely in their teens aspire and compete to join the National Defence Academy and the Cadets Training Wing (CTW), for but 500 odd vacancies? Could this be just a mundane desire to seek an occupation or is it a calling! The profession of arms has traditionally been looked upon reverentially as ‘a calling’ – a term that denotes a kind of strong inner impulse to face formidable challenges, a fascination for uniform and a strong feel of nationalism – which propels the youngsters towards travails of Army life. This calling transcends self interest and remains associated with self sacrifice, dedication as well as subunit/unit and organizational bonding. The spirit of this calling always was, is and will forever remain a way of army life –hence is prone to jealousies from other governmental jobs. In the Army, this calling has retained its original glory the noble values of upholding “Naam, (honour), Namak) (consummate dedication) Nishan (unflinching organisational loyalty).” The army as an institution always took care of its own, albeit with the generous support of society.
Two pointers need addressal. First, has the idea of devotion to service waned and a primary occupational model or intensive careerism taken primacy, with ‘what’s in it for me’ thought? Second, is there a sociological transition underway among the Army officers taken as a society? The first is grossly untrue. Young officers have performed and continue to do so, unmindful of personal risk, in total devotion to the call of duty and the service to the nation for a very long time. The Generals of today had as young officers of yesteryears seen intense counter terrorist operations in the 80s and the 90s, faced the brunt of the bullet fired in anger of multi-fronts – including a very hot Line of Control and the Kargil War. The young professional officer of today heroically faces a different and difficult operational environment and unmindful of personal risk continues to lead troops and subunits by personal example. Indeed, the Army life hones the strong emotions of loyalty, nationalistic and regimental fervour among officers. This distinctive nature of military life – as a calling – inherent or honed in post joining the Army has not changed substantially over a long period.
The second pointer needs deliberation. As the saying goes, ‘… man without ambition is like a bird flying without direction’. Ambition of any officer is that strong desire, a dream to do or achieve certain aims, objectives, goals and targets in service life. It would give him a sense of direction and motivation, something to live for. That’s why ambition must not be snuffed too early in one’s career. Ambition in service life also enables the officer to be more absorbed, focused and motivated to struggle, strive hard and focus on self-improvement. Understandably, ambitions can differ from an individual to individual, though in the Army these have finite and tangible considerations. However, as is oft repeated, since service in the Indian Army is voluntary and aspirants are aware that promotional avenues not as promising as in other government services, an officer joining the service should be mentally prepared for inevitable supersession.
The Army career is a steep pyramid, with only 0.8% rising to be a Major General (equivalent of a Joint Secretary). But that is faraway for a young officer – though there may be a few who would dream of becoming Chief on day one of joining the service – and why not! However, a young officer in his formative years would most certainly aspire to become a Colonel – the first select rank, one that bestows the finest of appointments in service – that of a Commanding Officer of a unit. This would happen in say 15 to 18 years in the Army, when an officer is in his mid or late thirties. The ratio of officers considered for this select rank each year, and those who get selected to become a Colonel, is a paltry 30 percent or so! Given this pyramidal nature of the rank structure, all officers who rise in the profession to attain higher ranks do so in a highly competitive environment. This anomaly was sought to be corrected in the last ten years by increasing the Short Service Commission (SSC) intake. Unfortunately, some very elementary and easily achievable proposals to make SSC more attractive remain unimplemented thanks to some inexplicable rationale and characteristic apathy that is the hallmark of our bureaucracy! What’s disturbing is that just within the first ten years of service (actually when one misses nomination on the Defence Services Staff College), reality dawns on officers that in face of stiff competition, the likelihood of crossing the first threshold of promotional ladder to the select rank of Colonel may not be possible for 70% of them! Ideally speaking, this should not in adversely impact an officer’s performance and continual devotion to duty, yet there can be a difference due to the human factor.
India, at large, has become increasingly an all-round aspirational society and as such Army officers who are part and parcel of society cannot remain divorced from such aspirations. With extrinsic motivation driven by promotional avenues on the wane among 70% of officers within ten years of service, intrinsic motivation that originates from within the officer – like the calling to join the Army, may also be affected. The unit life – its izzat (honour) and the bonding, which is its raison de etre, may facilitate intrinsic motivation to last till the consideration for the first select rank. Subsequent twenty odd years, an officer is managed in a series of varied assignments, some of which may be deeply disconcerting and demoralizing. Resultantly, what would occur is a fundamental shift in the motivational basis, from a calling at the time of joining, to a mere necessity of an occupation—‘just another job, just another posting’.
As an aside it is necessary to refer to Non Functional Financial Upgradation (NFU) that came in for the Government Officers in 2008. This was basically a raise in salary and perks of an officer who reaches a seniority level that makes him eligible for promotion but cannot be promoted because of lack of vacancies. By virtue of its very premise, NFU was a Godsend policy for the Army officers who face extremely rapid stagnation. Accordingly, the Chairmen of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Chiefs of the Services and the Adjutant Generals (AG) and equivalent, from 2011 onwards, have continually and strongly represented to the Government, to the 7th CPC and to the empowered committees on the prime necessity of allowing NFU to the Armed Forces Officers. As a measure to offset the lack of promotional opportunities, NFU would also be recompense for early retirement as compared to other government officials of equivalent rank.
Making Short Service Commission attractive and adjusting their imbalance with Permanent Commission Officers would have singularly addressed the adverse promotional ratio at Colonel rank. The grant of NFU would have cumulated the gain. However, those in the realm of Governmental decision making have been hanging fire for too long, with NFU pending decision in the Honourable Supreme Court. However, besides governmental support to make military service conditions more attractive, there is a need to explore alternatives within the Army itself. But is it feasible to provide honour, respect and commensurate work environment to officers unlikely to make through in the first select promotion? That must become the key question for in-house policy makers. Adaptation and innovation are particularly relevant to today’s Army given the challenge faced. Though the issue requires in depth analysis with requisite data and prognostications, three pathways are considered.
First, though welfare is germane to motivation and would certainly spur efficiency in peace and war but the Army is certainly not a welfare fixated organisation. It is essential to ensure that every officer feels that he is ‘wanted ’in the assignment and that it provides him requisite professional challenges. While inspiration is something that an officer must seek to ingest from outside, aspiration is something that must be cultivated within by himself. A bouquet of tasks performed by generalist staff, having learnt on the job, could be specialized by focused training of officers who could not make into the empanelled lot, as per aptitude. Though there are departments that handle such issues, it will be advantageous to train and post officers to handle law, land, works, finance and procurement, in various headquarters. It will feasible to re-orientate faculties of officers to such specialist fields, provide elongated tenures where essential, and hence create repository of such expertise with durable memory. Such an expert job would satisfy an officer’s dignity, keep him mentally stimulated and fulfill expectations in a respectful and wanted assignment.
Secondly, there are operational domains that are expanding in warfare that do not have expertise currently in their entirety, which is the next pathway. Information warfare in its manifestations transcends existing expertise. These can be like perception management, psychological operations and counter propaganda, social engineering, disinformation and ‘weaponization’ of social media. There are also realms of back-end (or stand-off) workers in modern warfare, like those in cyber stream, operating weaponized drones and satellites. These spheres are opening up in newer and newer vistas that require modern militaries to be on top. Officers of caliber and prowess can select domains of interest, and can be of great value in contemplating and in the execution chain of future warfare.
The third pathway is the vista of professional military education. In professional grooming, there are shortfall in studies on social sciences like war and peace, strategy, International relations (IR) theory and practice, area studies, and even military history. These would provide avenues to officers to study in Universities and impart knowledge, direct growth and groom senior officers to be better all round professionals.
There will be naysayers, citing paucity of officers and many other routine and mundane objections to such proposals. The existence of such large numbers of non-empanelled officers, and those seeing the writing on the wall even prior to the first select rank consideration, have to be propelled towards more productive pastures. Largely, this may be achievable in-house without the mandatory Governmental sanctions. However, it will mandate a re-think on Officer Human Resource Policies. Study leave should be on subjects that the officer has aptitude for, and the organization can best avail services subsequently. Study leave also should not be restricted to non-empanelled officers. The officer posting management hence must not be stuck into two to three year mode. As an example, IR professional officers could have a much longer tenures in National Defence College, Army War College and Defence Services Staff College – which will provide him stability in personal life and imparting knowledge.
Being aspirational is one of the most positive qualities an officer can possess because it pushes him forward to become a better equipped individual, and his utility to the organization, respectfully, is assured. As the Army looks forward to an uncertain future, it must adapt, innovate, and institutionalize both past experiences and future opportunities to better prepare us for the next war in whatever context that conflict will emerge. Innovation has to take place in periods of peace when there is time to think through problems. Management of officers stuck up the awfully steep pyramid, requires serious innovation, soonest!
Post abrogation of the Article 370 and 35A, Pakistan has announced a slew of measures leading to fresh estrangement in relations. Kashmir issue had over the last seven decades become the raison de etre for Pakistan, the very identity of the nation that, the abrogation has totally rattled the Pakistan establishment. Pakistan’s reaction could then be stated to be largely on expected lines, in downgrading of diplomatic relations with India and sending emissaries to the UN, China and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to ratchet up ante against India. The PM of Pakistan also warned of Pulwama type of terror incidents and even referred to conventional war. Pakistan’s high-pitched campaign however found no significant response in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and its protégé, Taliban, too rebuked it. The relations have indeed reached its nadir, though it is not the first of its kind, recollecting Op Parakaram of 2002 or post Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008.
Historically, however, India and Pakistan have witnessed an upliftment in relations post a serious conflictual scenario. The Karachi agreement on 27 July 1949 came in after nearly a year and a quarter of fighting in Jammu and Kashmir. Post Nuclear blasts of 1998 came in PM Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore in early 1999; after the terrorist attack on the Parliament in Dec 2001, and the ten-month coercive military stand-off of 2002, a ceasefire on the Line of Control was accepted in 2003. It is but obvious that between Indian and Pakistan, channel of communications commences soon post conflictual scenarios or a catastrophic event, to bring in rapprochement in relations and easing of tensions.
Contextually, formal diplomacy, also called Track I, comes to the fore, utilising official, governmental channels. On the other hand Track 2 diplomacy or backchannel diplomacy resorts to non-governmental, informal and unofficial contacts or even private citizens or groups of individuals, sometimes non-state actors. Indeed, Track 2 diplomacy, also called back channels, is not a substitute for Track one, it supplements and assists officials in managing and resolving conflicts by exploring possible solutions away from the public view and without the requirements of formal negotiation or bargaining. There is also Track 1.5 diplomacy where official and non-officials cooperate in conflict resolution. Back channel between adversaries is not considered a pejorative; on the contrary, it is a well-established method of cooling, and bringing in calm in otherwise intransigent situations. Safire’s Political Dictionary calls back channel “…a seemingly unofficial but direct method of high-level communication, bypassing the usual routes of messages through bureaucracies.” Obviously, herein the communication would be between adversaries, very sensitive in nature and undertaken through reliable and credible go-betweens.
History abounds with back channels of governments that have negotiated peace, placated situations, secured the release of prisoners and saved face among the public. In many a situation, the gradual declassification of documents reveals these back channels. The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs was averted in part thanks to the secret back channel between the then Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Anatoly Dobrynin, Soviet ambassador to the US. Additionally, KGB officer in Washington, Alexander Feklisov had opened a back channel with ABC television news reporter John Scali, suggesting a deal that included a dismantling of bases under United Nations supervision, and that Cuba would not accept offensive weapons of any kind to avoid US invasion of Cuba. UK too had similar negotiations with the Irish Republican Army in 1972 that led to some rapprochement. In the Cold War the US and Soviet Governments used journalists, intelligence agents and private individuals to communicate between the White House and the Kremlin. Intelligence agents are best in that they confabulate with adversarial ones while in missions abroad and elsewhere. They are able to maintain ideal links and long time relations that can convey credible communications with the adversarial camp in the best cloak and dagger manner, to pursue political ends!
As has been stated above, Track 2 or back-channel diplomacy is not new in the context of India and Pakistan, and has been part and parcel of the fundamental way interstate relations are being conducted. A prominent Track 2 initiative between India and Pakistan was the Neemrana dialogue that took place under the auspices of the United States Information Services (USIS) in 1990 and was later joined by American foundations and German nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The first meeting was held in Neemrana Fort in Rajasthan, India in October 1991, hence the name! The group comprised of former diplomats, former military personnel, academics, media persons, NGO workers and academics from India and Pakistan. The two countries revived the Neemrana Dialogue with a group of 14 led by former foreign ministry secretary Vivek Katju and included a former cabinet secretary and a former naval chief and visited Islamabad in 2018. The Pakistani side included former minister Javed Jabbar former foreign secretary Inamul Haque, and the former State Bank of Pakistan governor, Ishrat Hussain among others.
There has been a significant increase in the number of Track 2 initiatives between India and Pakistan. The Chaophraya Dialogue is an Indo-Pak Track 2 initiative jointly undertaken since 2008 by the Jinnah Institute (JI) and Australia India Institute (AII) to encourage informed discussion on bilateral relations and enhance stakes in peace. Teams under the India Pakistan Soldiers Initiative for Peace have crossed over the borders, discussing peace! There are some new initiatives like the WISCOMP annual workshop, the Pugwash Conferences, Ottawa Dialogue, and so on. At a stage it was stated that there existed more than twelve highly institutionalised Track 2 groups between India and Pakistan.
At official levels too, during UPA 1, special envoys from India and Pakistan had been holding talks in hotel rooms in Bangkok, Dubai, and London. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reportedly used back channels in 2007 to work out a draft framework agreement on Kashmir. A book written by former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri had provides an in-depth account of the Back-Channel dialogue between India and Pakistan that took place during his tenure between 2005 and 2008. The negotiations had reached an advanced level, and both countries were discussing signatures and announcements. Away from the media glare two interlocutors, India’s Ambassador Satinder K. Lambah and Pakistan’s Tariq Aziz, had been talking. Much more recently, in NDA 1, there had been reports of meeting in Murree between PM Nawaz Sharif and Indian Steel Magnate Sajjan Jindal. This was initially kept secret but later was acknowledged by Mariam Nawaz in a tweet.
In addition to formal and back channel diplomacy and dialogues, the reliance on spies to be message couriers even between adversaries is deemed to continue and even flourish. That brings to fore the methodologies prescribed by Gen Durrani, who headed the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. In the seminal book titled ‘The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace’, Gen Durani and former RAW chief AS Dulat have indicated new vistas for spies back-channel work between India and Pakistan, with specific reference to a counter-terrorist environment. Using the coinage of ‘Choreographed Response’ the conversational book indicates that in case of episodic events like the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001 or Mumbai in 2008, “…it couldn’t be forever that India would not respond. India’s reaction would be: is Pakistan going to get away with it? The Indian Army would think about how to respond and come to the conclusion: attack Pakistan”. Gen Durrani adds that “…the two countries, if they are sensible, will ask their back-channel: Mr Dulat you know Asad Durrani on the other side, let’s discuss how to handle it. Both would say, yes, because of India’s compulsion there are three-four places where you can bomb, just make sure there’s not too much damage.” The General uses the term “Choreographed Response or Choreographed Surgical Strike” for orchestrating such a response. To add fuel to fire, he states that “we understand, India, you have to do something. Our political compulsion is that we (Pakistan) must also respond. So for your ten bombs, we’ll throw one, don’t mind (sic). Without doing much damage on the ground, we can get out of that sticky situation. You give a befitting reply to Pakistan, and we respond by saying, we don’t take things lying down.”
It is not material that Lt Gen (retd) Asad Durrani was held guilty of violating military code in co-authoring the book with India’s former intelligence head and punished him by stopping his pension and other benefits. The very theme and method prophesized in this kind of back-channel, challenges the sensibilities of the Indian Nation. At least 174 people, including civilians and security personnel were killed in the Mumbai attacks – which without doubt emanated from Pakistani soil, with official complicity. With an air of superciliousness and disdain to the pain, anguish and anger in India, by simply scoffing the Indian sentiment, it is recommended that once such an attack happens, back-channel would provide three-four places that Indian security forces can bomb or target, just make sure there’s not too much damage! And there would be a reciprocal response by Pakistan, ten is to one! This is informing India that episodic terror events sponsored by Pakistan will continue, and the post event under-hand management be planned! The fact that the Pakistani deep state sinisterly and with skullduggery caused death, injuries, pain and anguish to Indian population, is completely glossed over, and is taken as given!
Playing with national sentiments, challenging the emotional fervour in India, by shadowy choreographic response, as was being advocated by the ex-ISI Chief, will not deter Pakistan from its stated long drawn policies of continual support to the proxy war. Accepting this folly will further embolden the adversary to continue high profile terror attacks. Any solace provided to Pakistan by any choreography will only embolden it to continue to undertake such ventures at periodic intervals. It is another matter to seek to deceive and assuage the anger in the Indian population and security forces, by sinisterly providing response options to counter terrorist strikes that have been doctored by intelligence back channels.
Centuries ago Kautilya had stated “…if there is equal advancement in peace or war, one should resort to peace.” Kautilya believed war was only a continuation of politics by other means and considered it the last option, as did Clausewitz, many centuries later. Currently it seems that the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A have brought situation to such an impasse that it seems well nigh improbable that there exist any common grounds to recommence negotiations. However, India and Pakistan have in worst of circumstance retained enough poise to exchange data on nuclear establishments in the beginning of each year, or that Indus Water Treaty has withstood the test. In time again diplomatic and back channel attempts will commence to bring about a positive change. It is conceivable that thanks to external cajoling, sheer pragmatism, the pressures of the people-to-people contacts or the strain of Pakistan’s internal dynamics (including FATF), some contacts will be initiated. Therefore, Track 1 or 2 mechanisms eventually will re-establish a modicum of rapport that can be foundational for resolving intractable problems between India and Pakistan. This must be welcomed, and even strengthened. As time passes the current impasse of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A should settle down by deft handling of the situation.
On a separate plane, in countering terrorism emanating from across the border, the Security Forces response options must be well considered, commensurate and firm, but not choreographed. It is emphatically stated that back channels must not be adversarial to India’s own national sentiment and national interests! Similarly, Track 1 or 2 to succeed and find their strength to pursue national goals, it has to be based upon demonstrable hard power, and the national resolve and will to use it when need be.
On 16 April 2013, ITBP discovered a new Chinese six tent position near Raki Nullah in the Sub Sector North of Eastern Ladakh. On 18 April, when the Indian Army asked PLA to withdraw to its original positions, the PLA produced a map which was part of the annexure to a letter written by Zhou (Premier Chou en Lai) to (PM) Nehru, to buttress its case… an indicator that the PLA had come prepared. As the laid down protocol of military disengagement did not succeed, a face-off began, that lasted almost three weeks, five high decibel border flag meetings. A significant step was taken by the Indian Army under the guidance of the Northern Army Commander, some 500 km away from Depsang. The Indian Army constructed a tin shed to a point known as 30 R in Chumar. On the 23 April, the PLA tried to strike a deal with the Indian Army by linking from the Depsang plains to…removing the tin shed in Chumar (30R). On 05 May both sides disengaged from Depsang plains and the Indian troops returned to their old position in Chumar after dismantling the 30 R tin shed.1 The event narrated is significant in the light of the recent transgressions on the Line of Actual Control since 05 May 2020, that have not been fully resolved even after a series of Border Personnel Meetings – including the one led by the 14 Corps Commander, as a first, on 06 June 2020.
At this juncture it is relevant to flash back to the letter written by Premier Chou en Lai dated 07 Nov 1959, which postulated ‘…each side withdraw 20 kilometres … from the line up to which each side exercises actual control in the west (Ladakh). Shivshankar Menon has explained in his book ‘Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy’ that the LAC was “described only in general terms on maps not to scale” by the Chinese. Zhou (Chou en Lai) clarified the LAC again after the war in another letter to Nehru: “To put it concretely … in the western and middle sectors it coincides in the main with the traditional customary line which has consistently been pointed out by China”.
During the Doklam crisis in 2017, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson urged India to abide by the “1959 LAC”.2 Shyam Saran has disclosed in his book ‘How India Sees the World’ that …India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when (PM) Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993 and the two sides signed the Agreement to Maintain Peace and Tranquillity at the LAC. The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed. 3 The sketch shown herein clearly indicates that Chinese reference to ‘1959 LAC’ deliberately muddies the waters, understanding fully that it cannot be translated to map and ground especially in Eastern Ladakh. It can only be done physically, as was done on the delineation of Line of Control with Pakistan in 1972.
India and China have been negotiating on the boundary question for long through a number of mechanisms. Though talks had commenced in 1981, Joint Working Group (JWG) was established in 1988, for ensuring peace and tranquillity in the border areas and making recommendations for an overall solution to the boundary question India and China agreed to Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) through bilateral agreements signed in 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013. The Special Representatives (SR) mechanism was established in 2003 to explore from the political purpose of the overall bilateral relations in the framework of a boundary settlement. Both JWG and SR are exclusive mechanisms. April 2005 Agreement referred to a package settlement (as against a sector-by-sector approach previously).
It has been nearly six decades since the 1959 letter and 1962 War, and three decades since negotiations began, but the issues remain unresolved. Over time the Chinese developed intensive infrastructure, especially metalled roads right up to their perception of LAC. In the last twenty years, India too has undertaken immense strides in developing infrastructure despite the fact that Ladakh remains cut off for six months a year. New Cantonments with complete eco-system have been developed in Tangste-Darbog (near the Pangong Tso) and Nyoma. The axial and laterals roads in Eastern Ladakh, have been extensively developed. Over the last decade and a half, the Darbog-Shyok Daulat Beg Oldie (DS-DBO) road had been extensively used for sustenance of forces in Sub Sector North in the winter season when the River Shyok was frozen. This got an immense fillip and with the inauguration of Bridge on the River in August 2019.
The current situation in Eastern Ladakh needs deliberation. “Transgressions” which occur with regularity are mutually and amicably resolved, even without reaching the media, under the provisions of the various agreements by CBMs like the ‘banner drills’ or ‘Border Personnel Meetings’ (BPM). However, in the last decade, there has been a distinctly a high level of belligerence by the PLA as outlined below:
- The ‘face-offs’ for nearly a decade have transcended to a higher plane, that does not lead to disengagement for a very long time, fisticuffs, brawls, use of batons and finally firming in an adversarial atmosphere for a long time. The incident at Raki Nullah in April 2013, mentioned above, showed a failure of CBMs, as disengagement did not take place. Subsequently Chumar, Pangong Tso, Demchok, Hot Springs and recently Galwan River, have witnessed such events annually. Solace cannot be drawn from the fact that none of these incidents have led to firing due to immense self control and discipline. Events have a life of their own and that the following ones will not spiral out of control and create an international incident, and even limited escalation, cannot be guaranteed.
- India’s development of roads to the border posts has been progressing. However, the stage has now reached to create ‘last mile connectivity’ to the LAC, at places linking up with that created by the Chinese. This invariably results in a violent response from the Chinese and prolonged face-offs. It is likely that the current face-off at Galwan River and Pangong Tso are results of similar creation of feeder tracks. This advantage that the Chinese possess gets translated into denial of patrolling by our units to our LAC, by executing a deliberate face-off, utilising their road network. Case in point is Pangong Tso, where, while tasked to move to Finger 8 (own LAC), and as movement from the track on the rock face from Finger 3 to 4 takes time, PLA is able to move by vehicles from Sirijap and deny progress at Finger 4/5 itself. This invariably leads to a brawl at that area. It is utterly inexplicable and illogical that while the Chinese have developed infrastructure till the tail end of their perception of LAC, they resort to violence in denying the same to us. On the one hand, the Chinese refuse to move forward on delineation processes, and on the other they prevent our patrols to touch-base at our designated patrol points.
- The established CBMs, the protocols and the architecture to avoid physical contact of PLA and own units, and the BPM mechanism to disengage or resolve issues, is gradually failing, or is at its seams. Though positive benefits of discussions at the BPMs are undeniable, if their outcomes do not immediately translate into disengagement, and the face-off gets prolonged, there could be frayed nerves.
As has been argued above, the Chinese are intransigent on commencing a delineation process, on allowing last mile connectivity to us to our LAC, denying patrolling to the same (which leads to physical clashes) and tangible progress in BPMs. It is becoming convenient to ascribe motivation of the Chinese to external pressures, the apparent internal anxieties due to the COVID-19 situation, the enhanced levels of aggression it has shown against some of the nations on its periphery, or any reaction to abrogation of Article 370/ own references to Aksai Chin. All of these did not exist in the last eight years, when such aggression from PLA was similarly evident.
In fact, it only seems to confirm the apprehension that the recent events at Galwan, Pangong Tso and Hot Springs were certainly not localised, and with the one at Naku La, were orchestrated from the apex, maybe even the CMC. This places own forces in a serious quandary that mandates that status quo should not be allowed to persist interminably! Four issues need resolution soonest. First is the disengagement of forces from ongoing face-offs, to the locations pre 05 May 2020. This must be achievable without any give or take. Second, is the assurance that own patrols will be able to move to the designated areas, as hitherto fore, without deliberate blocking by PLA. As to reach the farthest end of own LAC is an imperative, a schedule can be arrived at with the PLA that does not lead to contestation. Third, is to intimate that we WILL undertake the last-mile connectivity to facilitate our management of the LAC, something that PLA has already largely completed. And lastly, and most importantly, re-examine the protocols and the laid down architecture of CBMs. This is to ensure that the next such event does not spiral out of control.
Let it be stated herein, that the trend of events indicates that prolonged face-offs may be the new normal. Galwan and Pangong Tso, in this context are important, but harbingers of what may follow. As this article goes to press, there are positive indicators through media reports that disengagement and withdrawal of forces had been agreed to in Galwan Valley and the area of Hot Springs, as a consequence of the BPM held on 06 June 2020. On Pangong Tso, however, further consideration will be required. A holistic addressal of the issues above should be included in future deliberations between the two militaries to obviate recurrences.
Without undue bravado and boast, let it be dispelled that Indian Armed Forces in Eastern Ladakh and along the LAC, in the 21st century, are any pushover in conventional conflict or even a skirmish, whatever be the force asymmetry. Or that Chinese designs in Gilgit-Baltistan and in Eastern Ladakh can be co-terminus! Exactly to the contrary! On inflexible face-offs that are most likely, the April 2013 event mentioned above and the September 2014 response at Chumar must become copy-book for Army’s planned methodology of strategizing-tactics hereinafter. Such opportunities are galore, and can easily turn the tables. Contingent on the fallout of the BPM held on 06 June 2020, opportunities can even be created at this juncture, to force a serious consideration to the PLA!
It may be however necessary for the Army to consider acquisition of ‘sunrise’ capabilities of the LAC, a subject for discussion separately. It is imperative also to examine at the Apex, the optimal force levels for the LAC, as the move of contingency forces from plains is counter-productive in their timeliness in location and the apprehension that it creates in public opinion. The Government-Armed Forces must also evolve a dynamic information dissemination policy; otherwise, know-all ‘experts’ take advantage of the vacuum and with total inaccuracies, cause grave consternation within the armed forces, and the nation at large.
Discipline of the Indian Armed Forces, in warfare or in skirmishes is a virtue, but it must not be confused with being ‘meek’; it is a sign of strength, awaiting release at the opportune moment!
Indeed, the Soltoro Ridge with the Shyok River to its West, the Siachen Glacier and the Nubra Valley and the Saser Muztagh with the Shyok River to its East, is a great geostrategic obstruct to any collusive designs of Pakistan and China. With the Shaksgam Valley in the Trans-Karakoram Tract handed to the Chinese, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Aksai Chin (territories that rightly belongs to India) and Tibet to the East, the region is an immensely important geo-strategic arena. The recent transgressions in the Galwan and Cheng Chenmo Valleys of Eastern Ladakh, the region is in focus with various analysts opining that further Chinese threat to the Siachen Glacier, in an effort to marry up with Gilgit-Baltistan. It is imperative, hence, to examine the pieces of the adversarial puzzle, to ascertain if they tend to make a whole.
A short description will be necessary. Karakoram (KK) Range running East to West has with four major passes– the Karakoram Pass (the Pass of Black Gravel, 18176 feet), Col Italia (that leads to Rimo Muztagh and the Rimo Glacier), Turkestan La (at the head of the Siachen Glacier) and Indira Col (the northernmost pass on the Saltoro, named after Goddess Laxmi). Trans-Karakoram Tract has four large glaciers that drain into the Shaksgam River, which flows due west and finally joins the Yarkhand River. From the KK Ridge, two sub-ranges or offshoots are of major relevance. The first is the Saser Muztagh emanating west of KK Pass, and moving in South Easterly direction. The Rimo Muztagh with Rimo Group of peaks and Rimo Glaciers, emanating from the KK Ridge feed the Shyok River which runs parallel to the Saser Muztagh. West of Saser Muztagh is the famous Siachen Glacier fed by a series of glaciers like the Teram Shehr. The Siachen Glacier develops into the Nubra River, which is a tributary of Shyok. The Second sub-ridge from KK Ridge is the Saltoro, West of the Siachen Glacier/ Nubra River, on which the Indian Army units are deployed. The Shyok and Nubra Valleys are approached over the Ladakh Range via Chang La and Khardung La passes.
Chinese in Gilgit-Baltistan
West of Saltoro Range is Gilgit-Baltistan, which is a part of Jammu and Kashmir, illegally occupied by Pakistan after Partition in 1947. According to Article 1 of the Constitution of Pakistan which defines Pakistan’s territory, areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir are not constitutionally parts of Pakistan. Article 257 further stated that these areas formed part of the princely State of Jammu and Kashmir. On 30 April, Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s decision allowed the federal government’s application to set up a caretaker government and conduct provincial assembly elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). India on 03 Dec 2018 voiced strong opposition to Pakistan’s reported move to declare Gilgit (Pakistan) as that country’s fifth province, and hold elections.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, Ghanche (the word Gangchay in Balti means “glacier”) District, west of the Soltoro Ridge, is the easternmost district of Gilgit–Baltistan and is largely inhabited by Balti speaking Noorbakshi Muslims. Gilgit-Baltistan is endowed with enormous water and mineral resources, Pakistan, in collusion with China, is set to make it one of the world’s largest mining pits. A mass protest took place in the Ghanche district of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) against the Islamabad`s decision of leasing the pasture land to China for mining. It has been stated that 300 mining leases were awarded to Chinese mining companies in Ghanche District for the much-valued mineral deposits of uranium, gold, copper, marble and precious stones. In the entire Gilgit-Baltistan, reckless mining by greedy Chinese firms are threatening the eco-system in the region.
The Chinese have literally taken over the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) on lease with over 2000 licences granted by Islamabad to different Chinese companies to mine uranium and other precious minerals and metals used in hi-tech sectors like space. The impact of such massive exploitation of natural resources on the local community and environment would be immeasurable. The region is already under severe stress due to dramatic climate change sweeping the mountainous areas.1 The Pakistan government has leased land in Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 30 years to work on a few projects whose security the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China has taken charge of. Some of those are hydro-electricity works, railway projects, tunnels for the railways and roads.2
In May 2019, Pakistan’s Board of Investments (BoI) approved the fast-track development of nine SEZs, including Moqpondass, which is about 40 km from the city of Gilgit towards Skardu. Construction began immediately after the signing of the agreement. Although the Pakistani government’s CPEC website says the area allotted is 250 acres, satellite imagery shows that the Chinese are utilising an area of more than 750 acres. The area occupied by the construction company consists of a storage area, a cement concrete production and mixer plant, and two crusher plants.3 China’s state-run China Power and Pakistan army’s commercial body Frontiers Works Organisation signed an accord to construct the Dam ($5.85 billion) last Wednesday. Diamer Bhasha Dam, probably the world’s highest concretised dam, will stand at a height of 272m with the capacity to hold 8 million acre feet of water. It plans to generate 4,500 mw of power.
The Trans Karakoram Tract
In the strategic Shaksgam Valley, construction activity is evident with China building a 36-km long road and military posts.4 Historically graziers from Hunza had been utilising pasturelands in the Shaksgam Valley. It is likely that eventually, a road alternative to the Karakoram Highway, would be constructed, through the Shaksgam Valley. This will connect NH G219 directly with the Skardu-Gilgit road, thereby bypassing the long-loop from Khunjerab Pass, along NH G319 to Kashgar-Urumuqi.
The feeder road built eastward through the Shaksgam, Raskam and Shimshal Valleys link Gilgit with Hotan, which is situated at the cross- section of Tibet-Xinjiang Highway and the Hotan-Golmud Highway, which links Xinjiang to Qinghai province. Likewise, the feeder road stretching along the southern rim of Xinjiang connects Gilgit with Aksai-Chin and reduces the distance between both regions by more than 800 miles.5
The Over-riding Importance of Aksai Chin
Much is written and known about Aksai Chin. There are plains, plateaus, rivers and the KK/ Lakhtang Range which moves in a North-South direction in Aksai Chin. From the area’s lowest point on the Karakash River at about 14,000 feet (4,300 m) to the glaciated peaks up to 22,500 feet (6,900 m) above sea level, this is an extremely inhospitable, desolate and largely uninhabited area. Though Karakash River flows generally northwards towards Kun Lun Range/ Hotan, three major Rivers move from Aksai Chin to finally merge into Shyok in Sub Sector North – the Chip Chap, the Galwan and the Cheng Chenmo.
The NH G219 from Hotan, Xinjiang, enters Tibet over the Kun Lun Range at the Tserang Daban, a 16700 feet high pass and moves through Aksai Chin towards Rutog. The G219 is approximately 150km from Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO), and has a number of axials and laterals in the Aksai Chin. Though movement for vehicles can be feasible in plains and plateaus, due to defiles, high/ low passes and undulating region larger move will be restricted to roads and tracks.
Prognosticating Geo-Strategic Relevance
It is a truism that the Chinese are located on all three directions of Eastern Ladakh-Siachen area. In Gilgit-Baltistan there are obviously geo-political and economic/ pecuniary interests in exploitation of the riches of the area, and to make CPEC a successful venture. There will be some presence of PLA/ other uniformed forces, though it cannot be quantified due to lack of information. In Trans-Karakoram Tract, which has larger glaciated areas, infrastructural development and creation of alternative axes may be relevant. In Aksai Chin, however, the NH G219 is of an over-riding importance, and maximum areas that can provide depth to it, would be important to China.
For the Indian Army, the areas of Saltoro Range, the Siachen Glacier, the Ladakh Range and the icy heights of areas of Batalik-Kargil-Drass, across the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) and LOC are sacrosanct, and are stoically defended. Even the Siachen Glacier has well settled down to a systemic. For offensive-defence, and for domination of two lines, the current force posture is credible; there may be requirements of additional construction or upgradation of road-infrastructure, which must be an on-going proposition. As is always so, there would always be side-stepping of forces to a plan. The Eastern Ladakh is another matter. Having procrastinated for over half a century, the infrastructural development and creation of complete eco-system in the last decade has been significant. Hence, the strategic and operational plans for the sensitive LAC are underway, the continuing skirmishes notwithstanding.
Contextually, hence, it is argued that to prognosticate a geo-strategic collusion between the two adversaries in this region, which can turn the tables for the Indian Armed Forces, would be to allow imagination run riot. The severe lay of the land, the harsh vagaries of climate and the strength of the Armed Forces in executing combat in super high altitude areas, precludes a generalisation of geo-strategic linkages. It is only uninspired envisioning that states of prosecution of threat from one adversary, to manifest into marrying up with the other! This argument is not to operationally compartmentalise and segregate the two, but to challenge the imaginative aggregation being undertaken in some print and largely in audio-visual medium. Suffice it say that in Gilgit-Baltistan, with the incipient internal turmoil, and despite the presence of Chinese in varied forms, our ascendant position must be retained.
With the increasing LAC pressures and skirmishes, and this becoming the new normal, there may be need to envisage both modernity and imagination in planning. Four pathways at this juncture may be in order:
- There is an optimal need to create real-time ‘eyes and ears’, a modern Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system – from space to ground, with secure networking, communication and data-linkages. This cannot be hinged on the altar of financial and budgetary controls, or to long-drawn, open-ended developmental processes of the DRDO/ Defence PSUs. Expertise of the kind envisaged may well be available within the nation largely.
- A re-appraisal of the force-level mandatory needs be done. At every skirmish, the rush of additional forces and capabilities from elsewhere is detrimental to long-term planning. The over-burdened and largely under-utilised capabilities on the Western Front may be re-allocated, without being detrimental.
- Internal capability management within Ladakh and also in Jammu and Kashmir can also be considered, from comparatively dormant areas. In this context, the strong potency of the ‘sons of the soil’ should not be allowed to be dissipated mundanely. Also the Siachen-loop turnover also mandates an imaginative planning, to foreclose a transient outlook towards Eastern Ladakh – area under focus.
- And, lastly, there is but no alternative to modernity of capability, in imbibing electronic and cyber warfare, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), Space, and the like. These are no more force multipliers, but independent realms of warfare.
In sum, the linkages being established between Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang (Kashgar-Hotan) and Tibet (Rudok and onwards) would remain dependent on peripheral roads like the G219, or offshoots through Trans Karakoram Tracts. Eastern Ladakh and the Siachen-Soltoro are and will remain a strong obstruct to any collusive adversarial designs in perpetuity. Predicting geo-strategic relevance of skirmishes at DBO, Galwan or Cheng-Chenmo, with larger designs towards Siachen and onwards towards Gilgit-Baltistan, will remain in fertile imagination, only.
The Dragon is awake, and is vigorously seeking to establish Pax Sinica! Of the two milestones of the 100th anniversaries of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2021 and 2049 respectively, the first will be a big event in the tenure of the current President Xi Jinping. During the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, the Congress had emphatically laid down for China, to be ‘…a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence’ by the middle of the twenty-first century. It was decried that the 26, July 2021 centenary of the CCP is all about celebrating the success of the Party in transforming China and rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation. The last also included “recovery of sovereignty over Chinese territories lost through the imposition of unequal treaties by hostile foreign power”, reiterating that by 2021 the “China Dream” would be achieved.
All efforts to be recognised as a great power have been seemingly jinxed by the coronavirus outbreak that emanated from Wuhan. This frustration might be showing, as evident in the belligerence against the peripheral nations! China cannot allow this, and will assiduously assert in all manners. This is apparent in the altercations and assertiveness in Eastern Ladakh in May and June 2020, along Galwan and Cheng Chemo Rivers and Pangong Tso. It is hence necessary to prognosticate on the border management posture and for conventional operations in the long term.
The foundation of the management of Eastern Ladakh was laid down in the Protocols and the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the four formal agreements of 1993, 1996, 2005 and 2013. The 1993 Agreement on Maintaining Peace and Stability predetermined that there would be no use of force or a threat to use force and respect and obey the actual control line. The 1996 Agreement laid down CBMs and was like a no-war pact dictating no use of military capability against the other side, especially within two kilometres of LAC. The 2005 Protocol included that if the border personnel of the two sides come to a face-to-face situation due to differences on the alignment of the Line of Actual Control or any other reason, they shall exercise self-restraint, and on coming face to face, shall not use force or threaten to use force, cease their activities in the area, not advance any further, and simultaneously return to their bases. The India-China Border Agreement of 2013 emphasised that neither side shall use military capability against the other side, and that their respective military strengths shall not be used to threaten or attack the other side. With the experience of face offs over the years, a caveat was added that the two sides shall not follow or tail patrols of the other side where there is no understanding of the LAC.
It has become apparent that LAC was incurably faulty concept. This was largely because the LAC was without any formal delineation and demarcation, an issue studiously and deliberately procrastinated by the Chinese. The last eight years had clearly revealed that the Chinese have deliberately ensured that the ill-defined nature of the LAC was retained as leverage on India, to undertake premeditated aggression at regular intervals with well planned psychological campaign. The gross violations of protocols, had happened in Raki Nalla, Chumar, Pangong Tso, Demchok and Doklam, when the Chinese troops refuse to move back, and the face offs were prolonged. There were sporadic incidences of scuffles and fisticuffs. It must be categorically stated that suitable Indian Army drills were followed; weapons were always carried by the troops, albeit exercising restraints, in safer mode.
The issues have come to a head on the brawls on Pangong Tso and the face-offs in Galwan River Valley in May 2020. At Pangong Tso the PLA troops yet remain firmed in Indian Territory, on the Galwan River Valley there ensued major fracas on 15 June 2020, in with primitive weapons used by PLA caused twenty casualties of Indian troops and indeterminable ones, but obviously large numbers, on the PLA.
It is time to reassess the gamut of border (LAC) management posture (BMP), taking a step forward from current disengagement and de-escalation, which is under discussion between the commanders of the two armies in Eastern Ladakh. There are three facets to this. One is the domination of the LAC by the Army patrols and deployment as per dicta laid by the Government. Two, are the Rules of Engagement (and disengagement) on coming in contact with PLA. The entire LAC in Eastern Ladakh must be considered as a contentious zone, prone to engagement. Such situations can occur for patrols which are out for longer durations, away from their bases and where coming in for assistance for a blocked patrol will become difficult or time consuming. Such a patrol has to fend for itself in the interim. And three, is the BMP of the most intractable areas – Demchok, Depsang/ DBO, Galwan Valley, Cheng Chenmo Valley and Pangong Tso, where issues have reached a crescendo.
Contextually, Indian commanders and troops on ground will hereinafter be having total absence of trust about the PLA. This will manifest itself in three pointers. Firstly, simply stating, in areas where differences exist on the alignment of the LAC, Indian patrols have a right to touch-base at the terminal points laid down. Any deliberate attempts to deny this by the PLA, taking advantage of better communication structure on their side, is not acceptable, and will have to be contested. This is the basic of BMP, and either China agrees to commence delineation/demarcation, or there would be continual engagements that could well become physical. Secondly, it must be recognised that soldiers have a right to defend themselves and their unit against imminent threats, as the right to individual and unit self-defence, which allows soldiers to protect themselves against immediate threats, regardless of other limitations on use of force. Indian soldier is hardy and strong, and will not resort to pettiness of using medieval weapons that the Chinese have used, for that is not his wont. He is trained to tactically handle a situation and use firearms as necessary. In the next situation that happens to be akin to Galwan Valley/ Pangong Tso, sub-units will be prophylactically positioned, and will undertake tactical operations. Thirdly, with the devious and scheming nature of PLA, it is well-nigh feasible that they could surreptitiously occupy contentious areas that are intermittently patrolled by us. This will create a difficult situation, consequently. The changed circumstances dictate that the Army will have to occupy certain permanent positions, identical to Line of Control (LoC), to preclude such an eventuality.
In appreciation of the open-ended nature of Chinese threat, the Rules of Engagement (ROE) for BPM must be amended in favour of the Indian Army soldiers and commanders, to undertake protective deployment as tactically considered necessary, and to use firearms, to protect himself and the unit. Although, it is being argued that ‘military must not be given freedom, as it amounts to abdication of political responsibility and opens the doors to future crises of conflict’, this cannot be at the cost of losing precious soldiers lives and own territory, by a deceitful and untrustworthy enemy. The Nation cannot allow her soldiers to go on BMP, with hands shackled by diplomatic protocols and CBMS, while the adversary has disdain for them, and operates ad lib! If need be, the CBMs can be renegotiated, or enforced diplomatically, if PLA is willing to follow diplomatic niceties! New ROE must be promulgated soonest, even unilaterally, to suggest a message to the opposing bully. The ROE must be pragmatic, firm and forward looking, with explanatory contingencies. A case in point is the handling of a face-off of transgressing PLA troops mounted on horses!
Clearly, India does not want war; the nation is steadily and with single minded devotion on the path for socio-economic development of her peoples, with long term goals. However, there are ominous clouds on the horizon, and the Indian Armed Forces needs to prepare for the long haul. This perspective is examined and analysed in four distinct considerations.
First, contextually, in spite of all friendly mechanisms with other nations, China is a neighbour with contested borders and, hence, any future estrangement with China will inevitably be for India to handle independently. Indeed with China projecting itself as being ‘Responsible (sic) Great Power’, it will force early cessation of hostilities. This argues for a high grade tactical readiness. Indian Armed Forces have to be mindful of our stringently belligerent and opportunistic western adversary, who may also pitch in support.
Secondly, appreciably the Government and the armed forces are already charged with the future, should be preparing for a technological war. The inevitability and importance of a technological conflict exclusively or hybridised, utilising the lately configured Strategic Support and the Rocket Forces, is undeniable. This requires separate analysis, concerted planning and preparations, which must be underway.
Thirdly, in conventional war, if it happens, in Eastern Ladakh, the terrain and harsh climatic conditions obtaining are grossly inhospitable, forcing movement in set axes, narrow valleys, very high mountain passes and defiles, will take immense toll on men, material and logistics. In no way, it can be stated that operations for the Chinese will be proverbial cakewalk! The PLA will be strained to create substantial force asymmetry, especially at the point of application where it seeks a favourable decision, including all measures of guile and deception. And yet will fall well short of forces against formidable defences, despite best use of technology and precision targeted fire support. It must be stated without undue bravado or boast, that Indian Armed Forces are masters of defence and offense in Super High Altitude Areas, and are battle-hardened and inoculated. As history loudly proclaims (Pirkanthi 1948, Hajipir 1965, Kargil heights 1999, Walong and Rezangla 1962), this is Indian turf. The joint war fighting conceptual precepts must, however, remove the force asymmetry from contention.
Fourthly, war fighting must have two significant elements pre-planned. One, an offensive content is mandatory, which mandates availability of forces, and pre-selection of suitable viable objectives. Cessation of hostilities must exhibit a kind of consolidated balance. Two, the entire plan should be based on guile, cunningness and deception, like series of unimagined trip wires and traps, to pay back in the same coin and more.
To achieve this five pathways are proffered. First, is the optimal requirement to reconsider the area of responsibility of the only division responsible for Eastern Ladakh. The LAC in Eastern Ladakh alone is larger than the complete Line of Control opposite Pakistan, and about 65% of the complete LAC in North East, an impossibility to retain effective control by a single division. To state that during operations alternatives can be exercised, is doing injustice to a major sector that has significant peace time (BMP) and wartime commitments. Splitting the LAC in Eastern Ladakh into two formations is mandatory to manage the vast sector. Similarly, the focus of the Corps Headquarter, which stands severely divided against two major opponents and the management of the Siachen Glacier, should re-focus towards the larger and long term adversary. Additional Headquarters necessary can easily be found internally, without fresh raisings.
Second, there is need for specialisation, like creating a specialist alpine force (alpine word is only indicative of capability). Resources exist, based on the ‘sons of the soil’, the formidable Ladakh Scouts. This immense resource, raised for a purpose, has been frittered by allowing permanence in peace station or deployed on the glacier. It will be singularly advantageous to create such an exclusive alpine force based on Ladakh Scouts, located in Ladakh, by reconfiguring additional units of mountain troops, if necessary. Such a force will greatly lend to offsetting asymmetrical advantage, and be an effective deterrent even in BMP. Similarly in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and the Central Sector, infantry units of compatible regiments can be converted into alpine units, to an adequacy of requirement. It may also be necessary to rework the organisational structure of these units, tailored to task, than be modelled on an infantry unit.
Third, there is an immense siphon of the infantry units on the Siachen loop, which effects the focus of the units, as a tenure Eastern Ladakh is taken only as an in or out transit. It is time that this ad-hocism is obviated.
Fourth, is the issue of quality and quantity of mechanised forces equipment in the Eastern Ladakh. The PLA has already transited to and is training with light tanks for formations employable in the region. The narrowness of valleys, the steep gradient of ridges, paucity of spaces to deploy them, very limited width of corridors of their usage and the mechanical constraints themselves dictate against heavier tanks. What is imperative is high angle fire, multiple weapon systems (guns/cannon/ATGMs). On a tracked or wheeled configuration, a much lighter vehicle will provide mobility and agility operationally, in the terrain obtaining in the area. A BMP II or such ICV could well fit the requirement. This needs a pragmatic analysis, based on employment issues in sub-sectors Eastern Ladakh than based on turfs.
Fifth and most importantly the axial infrastructure is the bane of Ladakh. Hamstrung by being cut off for over six months a year is a singular disadvantage for logistical management and turnovers in the region. There also exist a few mandatory laterals which require specialist technology to complete. Warfare cannot remain hostage to dithering in obtaining international expertise, if need be, to expedite connectivity.
In sum, Indian destiny stands tied to Chinese behaviour on the Northern Borders. The armed forces are poised and ready to take on any onslaught, even on date. However, China’s rise and belligerence and stuck-up nature in progress of negotiations of LAC is a given; the grievous loss of lives in Galwan Valley on 15 June 2020 and the intransigence across the front, must be taken as an opportunity, to refashion BMP and war fighting, in perspective.
In the early 1970s, the name Haji Mastan used to trigger much fear in India. He was among the early smuggler kings who lived by crime and exploited criminal networks — gold, some drugs, electronics, and liquor, which mainly formed contraband those days.
There were vast smuggling networks to evade the authorities, but their main effect was a marginally negative impact on the economy and a few inter-gang shootouts. These were people who did what they did for self-enrichment, and the power that went with it.
They got involved with terrorism, as Mumbai saw in the 1993 bombings when a series of 12 bomb explosions on March 12, 1993, resulted in 257 fatalities and 1,400 injuries. The bombings were ascribed to Dawood Ibrahim, leader of a Mumbai-based international crime syndicate called “D-Company”. Dawood was assisted by subordinates Tiger Memon and Yakub Memon.
He is listed as an “international terrorist” by the UN and the United States and carries a bounty of $25 million on his head.
The recent Financial Action Task Force (FATF) pressure on Pakistan has led to the partially admitted presence of Dawood in Karachi. However, his networks continue to flourish in India despite the marked success of India’s intelligence agencies.
What is the linkage between crime syndicates and transnational terrorists? To comprehend this, take the example of Pakistan. In 1989 it chose to target India through what is called asymmetric or sub-conventional war.
Terrorism forms the core of this, with many other domains forming part of the low-intensity conflict spectrum. Pakistan chose to launch its strategy in Kashmir and over a period of time established an efficient network of local overground workers from different segments of society.
The network covered civil society members, lawyers, businessmen, politicians, media persons, members of the clergy, faculty, and students of universities, and much more. Due to the prevailing sub-nationalist trends in J&K, it was not difficult doing this.
However, Pakistan’s strategy desired extension of the hand of proxy conflict to hinterland areas and important cities of India to give substance to its chosen strategy of “war by a thousand cuts”. It was not easy doing this.
Finding reliable proxies, creating networks, embedding sleeper agents, transporting warlike material, having access to large-scale finances, and creating empathy in some elements of society is never a simple set of tasks. It takes years to build these through networks.
In the search of the means to take the proxy war into the rest of India, Pakistan got a shot in the arm with the destruction of the Babri Masjid in December 1992 and the communal riots that followed; both acting as facilitators for the extension of its strategy.
Its target was not difficult to choose, as Mumbai offered itself due to its strategic significance as India’s financial capital.
Mayhem by violence would disrupt investments, lead to serious suspicions of the minority community, create cleavages in society, and cultivate a resultant trust deficit that would assist Pakistan to exploit at will.
However, the other major consideration for the selection of Mumbai as the target was the pre-existence of criminal networks, with the D-Company leading them. A foreign hand could ride on these networks for a cost.
With networks on its side, Pakistan thus had available human resources, weapons, finances, communications, and local knowledge. With explosives supplanted, it was a ticking bomb.
Criminal networks got their first major experience of terror that did not differentiate between targets; every incidental target is justified in the rationale of terrorists, especially those with ideological orientation. People of all faiths died or were maimed in the acts on March 12, 1993, and thereafter.
Dawood Ibrahim, who evaded the hand of Indian law, managed to create a reported network of 5,000 criminal elements with an annual turnover of $2 billion. The D-Company is suspected of having provided the logistics for the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s terror attack on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, besides a host of other attacks in 2002, 2006, and 2011.
A total of 600 people died in these various attacks in Mumbai. With each event, Dawood Ibrahim’s criminal-cum-terrorist profile enhanced a couple of notches and he has been known to keep the company of international terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
In 2006, India submitted a list of 38 most wanted terrorists, including Dawood Ibrahim, to Pakistan, but the latter continued to play a hedging game knowing that the D-Company and its head was an invaluable asset for it.
With the FATF investigation against Pakistan, India in recent months has mounted pressure at the UN. On August 6, 2020, India highlighted the nexus between international terrorism and organized crime, quoting the case of UN-designated terrorist Dawood Ibrahim, who has been living in Pakistan ever since his involvement in the 1993 Mumbai blasts.
India went on to state: “If the international community can successfully defeat the Islamic State, a similar focus on addressing threats posed by proscribed individuals and entities such as Dawood Ibrahim and his D-Company, the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad will serve humankind well.”
The continuous Indian diplomatic campaign to highlight Pakistan-sponsored criminal and terrorist links that have acted as its proxies in India is apparently bearing fruit, with Pakistan reportedly admitting the existence of Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi.
However, Pakistan is a past master at subterfuge and evasion of responsibility. Its admission on one day and denial the next is part of an old strategy which it continues to play with the FATF.
With international success against ISIS and Al Qaeda, a renewed and energetic Indian campaign to nail Dawood Ibrahim is the call of the hour so that the FATF can effectively take note and place Pakistan on notice to deliver or perish on the blacklist. But only time can tell if it will happen this time.
For the better part of the last four months and more, strategic experts, China watchers around the world, military institutions, and others have been wracking their brains about the course of events in Ladakh. With close to 80,000 troops concentrated in balance on both sides of the LAC, the chances of a decisive military engagement appear close to zero.
The winter is six-eight weeks away and fresh positions at the LAC have recently been occupied by both sides. At the same time, two sets of high-level political engagements have taken place in Moscow during the SCO meetings. Nothing negative has emerged from these but there have been no breakthroughs either, placing the onus of further talks at the military level for a possible step forward; that is at best a decision to wait and watch.
The external affairs minister’s meeting resulted in a broad understanding that transactionally reiterates the past protocols. The question then arises as to where all this is heading because none of it inspires any hope for disengagement on the ground. China has had issues through 2020 with many nations, including the US, Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Japan, but nowhere has it come down to a near military showdown. Why it decided to move militarily against India and then did not fully pursue that line is a question-begging an answer. Strategic clarity is missing.
There could yet be military exchanges in the period leading up to winter; for Xi Jinping, this is an awkward period, especially with the fifth plenary of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in October 2020. Equally, October is likely to see the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which has suddenly emerged as a very important platform for India and China. If the Russians want to add value to the SCO’s Moscow summit, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi would be urged to attend.
Raging turbulence at the LAC is hardly the environment the Russians would like at such a juncture and the Chinese too may not wish to perturb them. Thus, a tenuous peace could exist but shorn of all trust. With an unlikely reduction of forces and a stiff winter ahead, the military resources of both sides are likely to stay put. China’s PLA could still afford to partially drawdown, retaining the ability to rapidly reinduct. On our side, that luxury is difficult due to terrain constraints in winter.
The feasibility of an odd skirmish exists if China wishes to make a statement before winter. Contingent upon when the heavy snow comes, and that could be as late as December, an effort to put India on warning by attempting eviction of one or more of the fresh Chushul occupations by the Indian Army remains a possibility, but the chances of it succeeding appear extremely remote. China is likely to stay put with an optimum number of troops and seek to build up from a new and indeterminate situation in April-May 2021. All the more reason why we need to know what its intent is.
The initial postulation was that it was to set a new narrative for Chinese domination for the post-COVID world order, against nations considered to be emerging as immediate competitors. The use of wolf warrior diplomacy to cow down these nations was alluded to. If we go by that understanding, a conflict situation should have been expected. The PLA came with insufficient troop strength to inflict a defeat or it came with unrealistic contempt and realized the Indian military and political confidence a little too late. Alternatively, China perhaps completely misread India’s ability to defend its interests and raise the stakes by a near mobilization to all the potential pressure points along the northern border, that too with a COVID-affected economy looming in the backdrop.
What perhaps started as a short-term coercive action by China to set the stage for the nebulous post-COVID situation has now turned into a millstone. It, therefore, needs to be converted into and pursued more with a long-term perspective. China’s ill-conceived strategy has actually resulted in enhanced Indian strategic confidence, especially after the recent turn of events in Chushul. That strategic confidence must be seen as a continuum from the events of 5 August 2019 when India abrogated the special constitutional provisions for J&K and published new maps of its territories, which included Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK, and Aksai Chin.
It had perturbed Pakistan no end and many of the Indian actions related to this had effectively limited Pakistan’s options. China’s initial coercive action in May-June 2020 was visualized by some as collusion with Pakistan to dilute the emerging Indian strategic confidence. With none of that achieved, it’s a long call that China is now awaiting the world of 2021 after the US Presidential election and potentially the beginning of a post-COVID-19 world.
How must India prepare itself for such an eventuality? While military resources for the moment appear reasonable, fast-track acquisitions for the prioritized domains of air defense, artillery, anti-tank missiles, surveillance equipment, protective gear and more must continue irrespective of the economic conditions. India is paying the price for past tardiness and cannot ignore the transformational needs of the Armed Forces. The Ladakh deployment is near permanent now; that means more formations are required because reserves have been sucked in here.
At least two additional divisions as reserves for the Army HQ and Northern Command are imperative. The Navy and the Air Force have their share of needs. The Indian Navy’s more proactive involvement in the Indian Ocean appears a given if we have to be seen as an effective player of the Quad and the maritime domain. On the diplomatic front, India’s squaring up to China has given a boost to its image. It must use this image positively with the right strategic messaging to Beijing of the futility of its intent. India has the will and potential to look at its future position in the world order delinked from China. This needs to be clearly projected through its military actions and diplomatic dealings. As a start, it must ensure there is no stepping back from the Kailash Range positions in Chushul, something now set in stone.
Ambassador of India to Myanmar & GCTC Advisory Board Member
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi called his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on August 14. Qureishi asked for Russia’s support on Pakistan’s move, together with China, in the UN Security Council, to condemn India’s action to amend Articles 364 and 35 (a) of its Constitution. Qureishi’s demarche included the usual Pakistani propaganda about alleged Indian violations of “human rights” in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to the Russian official statement, the phone call to Lavrov, “at the initiative of the Pakistani side,” focussed on India’s decision “to change the legal status of the State of Jammu and Kashmir”. Lavrov, in response, “emphasized the need for de-escalation of tensions”. He added: “There is no alternative to resolve differences between Pakistan and India, except bilaterally through political and diplomatic means. Representatives of Russia to the UN adhere to this consistent position”.
Barely 48 hours later, the Joint effort by China and Pakistan, in a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, was rejected almost unanimously, by other members of the UN Security Council, including the US, Russia, France, and Germany. Some eyebrows were raised on the actions of the British Deputy Permanent Security in the Security Council, who was seen encouraging the Chinese delegation to demand an open meeting of the Security Council.
Given the attacks on Indians and the Indian High Commission in London in the days that followed, it is obvious that the British Government is condoning and perhaps even encouraging, less than friendly actions, against Indian interests. New Delhi will hopefully respond strongly and appropriately on issues like British requests for a Free Trade Agreement, after the UK’s Brexit Divorce, from the European Union.
Russia has consistently supported India on the Kashmir issue. In November 1955, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev referred to the decision taken by the Kashmir Constituent Assembly in 1953, to join the Indian Union. He remarked: “The people of Kashmir had already decided to join the Indian Union”. Russia’s 100th veto in the UN Security Council on June 22, 1962, was against a Resolution moved by Ireland, duly backed by the US and its allies, seeking selective implementation of parts of past UN Resolutions, alluding to a plebiscite in Kashmir. Interestingly, this came a year after a Soviet veto of a US-led resolution in December 1961, seeking to reverse the liberation of Goa, by India.
The Soviet Union vetoed three Security Council Resolutions directed against India, during the December 1971 Bangladesh conflict. Some non-permanent members, duly backed by a virtual Sino-American alliance, initiated these resolutions.
The UK and France abstained from backing these resolutions. A little known fact is that the Russians warned the Chinese against any involvement in the Bangladesh conflict, with a huge deployment of their mechanized forces and airpower, along the Kazakhstan border.
When the US Seventh Fleet’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise, entered the Bay of Bengal in December 1971, a Russian nuclear submarine trailed it. When the Soviet Union collapsed, President Clinton persuaded Russian President Boris Yeltsin to halt all cooperation with India’s space program. Bypassing Yeltsin, Russian scientists passed on designs of cryogenic engines for India’s space program.
Given American hostility aimed at “containing” Moscow, a cash-strapped Putin’s Russia naturally moved towards a closer relationship with China, while it watched what it believed was an increasingly close embrace of Washington, by New Delhi. While Moscow and New Delhi had cooperated closely in countering the Taliban in Afghanistan, India worked closely with the US, after the US intervention in Afghanistan, post 9/11.
The Sino-Russian global entente today primarily aims at containing American unilateralism. While Putin has opened the door for arms purchases by Pakistan, Islamabad does not have the hard cash to pay for Russian weapons. Russia has also joined China to cooperate with Pakistan, on attempts to broker peace in Afghanistan, as the Americans prepare to wind down their presence there. Putin has, however, consistently held that the Kashmir issue should be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan. The Russian position on its border disputes with Ukraine is also that these issues should be settled bilaterally. Moreover, Crimea has historically been a part of Russia. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had rather impetuously, handed it over to Ukraine, in 1958.
Moscow’s concerns about the India-US relationship were substantially assuaged when, disregarding threats of American sanctions on arms purchases from Russia, India announced that it was going ahead with a $5.43 billion deal to purchase S 400 surface-to-air missiles from Moscow.
It is also clear, especially after Modi’s recent visit, that India is not going to bow to threats of US sanctions on its acquisitions from Russia, including on indigenous production of AK 203 rifles, lease of nuclear submarines, purchase of TU 22 bombers, and modernization/upgrading of current Russian equipment.
Modi’s visit to Russia’s resource-rich the Far East, including Vladivostok, has given a new “Look East” dimension, to India’s relations with Russia.
While India was already an investment partner in the production of natural gas in Russia, Modi’s allocation of $1 billion for Indian investment in Russia’s the Far East will set the stage for expanding cooperation in areas like imports of LNG and coal from Russia.
Trade-in items like LNG and coal are set to get a boost with the establishment of an energy corridor between Vladivostok and Chennai. India also has a keen interest in imports of Russian diamonds. Russia played a helpful role in ending global nuclear sanctions against India. It now leads the world in building nuclear power plants in India.
Distrusting the Chinese
The Russians have for long feared that large numbers of Chinese would move in and take control of their sparsely populated territories, across their north-eastern borders. This is an important reason for Russia welcoming Indian and other foreign investments and personnel for projects in the Far East. Despite the present Sino-Russian bonhomie, the Russians deeply distrust long-term Chinese intentions. Even today, Moscow hedges its bets and keeps its channels of communication and cooperation open, with both India and Vietnam.
The US also today seeks maritime and economic cooperation with both India and Vietnam, to counter Chinese power and territorial ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region. Indian diplomacy will, in coming years, remain focussed on the emerging power equations between the US, China, and Russia, in a world where the US and Russia will be the major players in the global energy sector.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan