Saturday, July 08, 2017

When Modi meets Trump: Expectations are deliberately being kept low for US visit

No other foreign tour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has generated the kind of interest that his upcoming visit to the US is doing. No doubt it has to do with the personality of the current occupant of the White House, the unpredictable President Donald Trump.
GoI is keeping its fingers crossed and working out offerings for the visit: a UAV deal topped, perhaps, by one to make F-16s. Expectations of getting something in return are being kept deliberately low. Tamashas like the Madison Square Garden event of 2014 are out; Trump’s allergy to immigrants and immigration is well known. Issues like H1-B visas, trade deficit and market access, and the fight against terror remain in the books, but none of them are game changers. Our political relations still remain at the somewhat hyperbolic and declaratory stage. So, the actual danger to India is suffering collateral damage as a result of Trump’s policies elsewhere.
They have already created a sense of uncertainty in east Asia and Europe though their consequences for India are marginal. But there is one disruption that can be disastrous for us and it appears Trump has been working hard at it. This is roiling the volatile Middle East.
This is the most important external region for India, way beyond the much hyped Indo-Pacific. Qatar provides us 65% of our natural gas, Saudi Arabia 19% of our oil, along with significant amounts from Iran, Kuwait and Iraq. UAE is our third largest trading partner. Chabahar in Iran helps us bypass the Pakistani blockade and the region is a fertile ground for our private and public sector companies. The truly loyal 7 million strong diaspora remits $35 billion every year.
Trump’s outreach to the Muslim world has become an embrace of Saudi Arabia, a country central to the rise of Islamic extremism. Emboldened by Trump’s effusive support and leavened by a $110 billion arms deal, the Saudis have since led a draconian embargo on Qatar, ironically, for supporting terrorism. Trump added salt to the wound by attacking Qatar for funding terrorism “at a very high level”. He seemed to be unaware that Qatar hosts the biggest US military base in the region, set up after the Saudis kicked out the US. In the process Turkey, a key Nato ally, has lined up with Qatar, along with Shia Iran.
In the last two weeks we have seen a bizarre situation where the US has signed a $12 billion deal to supply Qatar air force with F-15 fighters, and the US state department has backtracked on the president’s words and demanded that the Saudis and their allies come up with a credible justification of their embargo.
The bigger danger is from the Trump administration’s Iran policy which the Americans say is still evolving. Trump accused Tehran of spreading terrorism even as the country re-elected reformist Hassan Rouhani as president. Last week, secretary of state Rex Tillerson openly advocated regime change in Tehran. Iranians, whose nuclear deal has been certified by the state department, are doing much of the ground fighting against IS, an alleged target of the Trump administration.
So we have all the ingredients of a crisis, indeed a possible war, in a region of extreme importance to India. As the record shows, its prime mover appears to be President Trump and his inept administration.
Modi has invested as much in the Middle East as in moving to a higher plane in his relationship with the US. His visits to Riyadh, Dubai, Tehran and soon Tel Aviv, have sought to carefully, but decisively, enhance Indian interests without falling foul of the multiple fault lines of the region. He overcame the “hesitations of history” to sign up on a joint vision for Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean with the US. But all this and more could go up in smoke if the Gulf goes up in flames, with a match lit by the president of the United States.
Times of India June 24, 2017

When Modi meets Trump - things will be a lot different

Next week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in the US for his long anticipated meeting with President Donald Trump. Given the circumstances, expectations are low, but the visit will be important in defining Indo-US engagement in the Trump era.
Officials are saying this is a “get to know you” kind of visit minus the hoopla that surrounded Modi’s first visit to the US as PM in 2014. This will be Modi’s fifth and shortest bilateral visit to the US since he took office, he made another visit to attend the multilateral Nuclear Security Summit in March 2016.

Use of diaspora
Unlike China or Mexico, India was not in Trump’s cross-hairs prior to becoming President. In his campaign speeches, he did lump India, along with China, Japan, Mexico and others for “ripping off” the US and taking away American jobs. But later in October, a month before the election, he participated in a fund raiser organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition (RHC) funded by Shalabh Kumar, and in his keynote address he said, “India and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House.”
During the current visit, Modi will avoid the kind of diaspora event he staged at New York’s Madison Garden. Given Trump’s allergy to immigration and immigrants, this could possibly provoke a negative reaction. The Modi team is well aware there are limits to using the diaspora to push Indian policy.
Photo: DailyO

The first issue that Modi will seek to deal with is that of H1B visas. The US allocates 65,000 of these visas to allow US companies to bring highly specialised foreign workers and in 2016 more than two lakh Indians had applied. Related to this is the anti-out sourcing stand of the Trump Administration which could impact on the $150 billion per annum IT industry in India.
There is a fundamental clash of interests between a Trump programme of America First and Modi’s Make in India idea. The challenge is to find the middle ground and see whether the two sides can cut a deal towards mutual gain.

Islamic radicalism
The second issue is that of China. Since he became President, Trump has bewildered the world with his shifting stances. Perhaps the most dramatic has been the shift on China where through the campaign he attacked China, promising to get tough on it on a range of areas from trade to the South China Sea.
But as President he has shifted track. Concern over America’s China policy is important for India which has reached out to the US and even made significant commitments such as committing itself to a mutual basing agreement and signing up on a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean with a view of balancing China’s rising power.
Third, India would like to fit its Pakistan concerns relating to Pakistan within President Trump’s hardline views on Islamic radicalism. But the US attitude towards Islamic radicalism seems confined to the Arab world and the Sunni/Shia interface. This is related to India’s hope of closer cooperation with the US whose position on Afghanistan is still evolving.
India is waiting for a broader long term US strategy for stabilising Afghanistan. However, it is clear from the limited increase in trainers and advisers being undertaken by the Pentagon that the US will pursue some form of “reconciliation” which could involve negotiations with the Taliban and the good offices of Pakistan. This would not fit into the Indian calculus, and it remains to be seen whether New Delhi is willing to adjust its position to meet American goals.

Gulf approach
Fourth, there is the issue of the Middle East, the one area where US and Indian interests have never quite been aligned and where the Trump disruption is at work. From the point of view of interests, this is arguably the most important external region for India.
This is where it gets 60 per cent of its oil and gas and from where an estimated 7 million of its citizens send back remittances worth $35 billion (Rs 2,25,600 crore) annually. Trade with GCC countries is of the order of $138 billion (Rs 89,00,000 crore).
Here, the US hardline on Iran threatens to throw a spanner in the works of our policy which seeks to carefully balance ties between the Saudi Arabia, GCC, Iran and Israel. The experience so far is that in dealing with the Trump Administration, it is the President himself who matters. He does not hesitate to upend policies recommended by his Cabinet colleagues or go back on his own views.
For this reason, the key outcome will be in the chemistry that develops through the Modi-Trump dinner meeting. There is nothing to suggest that this could go awry, but then, with Trump, you never know.
Mail Today June 19, 2017

Between opportunities and challenges

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Europe and to Kazakhstan has taken  place at an important conjuncture in global geopolitics. The withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord and the tensions in its ties with its allies like Germany have made the global geopolitical situation very fluid. The recent election outcome in UK has only added to this fluidity. Countries like China see this as an opportunity to fill the vacuum. India cannot compete with China across the board, but it needs to sharply upgrade its game to ensure that it does not lose out in the world order that is emerging. In this context, joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a positive move which enables India to play from the front foot.

India’s SCO membership rests upon the support India received from Russia and that it why the  most important leg of Modi’s European visit was the two day visit to Russia which followed upon his visits to Spain and Germany. Thereafter, he went to France. Russia is no ordinary country, it has been one of India’s steadfast friends in the past 70 years. And considering that there are really no contentious issues between the two countries and actual congruence on issues like terrorism, relations with Afghanistan and Iran, this relationship promises to deliver more in the coming decades.
Statements and declarations in all four  countries pressed the usual buttons—support for India candidature to the UN Security Council, strong criticism of terrorism and the conclusion of negotiations on a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. These indicate that they are issues that are being pursued by India.

Then there are issues that Russia will not sign on such as  the support for the freedom of navigation and the UNCLOS, an oblique criticism of China and the South China Sea. Germany agreed to a general reference, while Spain took the step of agreeing with India that the South China sea issue needed to be resolved through peaceful means and avoidance of “unilateral actions that raise tensions.”

Spain and Germany are also important in the context of its recent accession to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR),   and the Wassenaar Arrangement, NSG and Australia Group which it is seeking to join.  All three countries are supportive on India on these issues.
But Russian views on Pakistan are nuanced.  While it is a strong friend of India and has strongly condemned terrorism, it has not endorsed India’s tough stand on Pakistan. In an interview with PTI, President Putin said that the assessment of whether Pakistan is fuelling terrorism is “up to you [India]” and added that Pakistan was taking “immense steps to stabilize the situation in the[ir] country.”

Visits to Russia usually have practical outcomes. And so it was with the present visit which led to the two countries to sign an agreement to build two new reactors in Kudankulam and a loan of $ 4.2 billion to build them. In his interview with PTI Putin referred to “deep cooperation in delicate areas such as missiles,” something Russia has with no other country. He noted that Indo-Russian defence cooperation is at an “unprecedented level in its volume and quality.” Hopefully the visit would have given a push to stalled projects such as the manufacture in India of the Kamov 226T helicopter and  the fifth generation fighter. India’s ongoing cooperation on the second nuclear propelled submarine and the extended range Brahmos are of great strategic importance.

Despite all the political hype surrounding the visit, the fact is that India’s economic engagement with all three countries is below par. India total trade with Germany is just Euro 18 billion and its FDI in India is just about Euro 1 billion and India’s investment in Germany ae around Euro 7 billion.  Trade with Spain is just about $ 5 billion, though surprisingly, Spain’s FDI in India at $ 2.32 billion, though low, is double that of Germany’s. Indo-French trade was Euro 8.58 billion in 2016, French investments in India are around Euro 6 billion and India’s investment there is Euro 188 million.

The biggest underperformance in economic ties is with our friend Russia. Total trade last year was just $ 7.71 billion which was actually a decline of 1.5 per cent over 2015. Russian investments in India are of the order of $ 16 billion and Indian investments in Russia are about $ 13 billion, mainly in the energy sector. Of course, this does not take into account the money spent by India in buying defence equipment and spares.

One big problem India has with Germany and Russia is the lack of a free trade agreement. Talks with Germany on an FTA stalled in 2013 after 16 rounds  and since then bilateral treaties with Germany and other European countries have also lapsed. FTA talks with the Eurasian Economic Union anchored by Russia are yet to get underway. There is an impression among many countries that India is a difficult country to deal with on trade issues.

When looking at our ties with these European countries it would be useful to compare them with those of China. In 2016, German trade with China was of the order of Euro 170 billion, making it Germany’s most important trade partner. Total German FDI in China is around Euro 50 billion, Chinese investment is around Euro 18.5 billion. Bilateral trade between China and Russia is of the order of $ 69.5 billion in 2016 and is growing rapidly. China’s investment in Russia is around $ 40  billion and growing. China has ben on a buying spree in Europe, acquiring companies with a view of enhancing its own capabilities. They have bought companies dealing with robotics, telecom, aviation, energy, fashion and entertainment.

Beyond these figures are the trends over the horizon. China’s OBOR project aimed at consolidating ties with Europe and all three countries that Modi visited play an important role here. This year,  2000 or so trains will go from cities in China to European destinations like Madrid, Duisberg in Germany. Most of them travel through the Russian railway system. China is also developing maritime linkages via the Mediterranean into the heart of rich Europe. China’s strategy of Eurasian consolidation is closely linked to its aim of becoming a developed country by 2050 and it is systematically working towards it.

There are many opportunities for India through its close political ties with Russia and Germany. One of these is the International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), a multi-modal transportation project that will ferry  containers from Indian ports like Kandla and Mumbai to Russia and Europe via Iran. So far little has been done to promote the scheme, except to test its feasibility. Likewise it needs to speed up the linkages to Central Asia through Chah Bahar.

It is not surprising therefore that in Astana, Modi played a low key game. After all this was the first meeting India was attending as a full member. Nevertheless, he did make it a point to tell the audience, which included Nawaz Sharif and Xi Jinping, that India strongly  supported connectivity projects, but wanted them to take into account issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity. Perhaps India’s membership in SCO could provide the answer to the challenging issues that divide New Delhi, Islamabad and Beijing.
Greater Kashmir June 14, 2017

Modi can't take India-America ties for granted with US President Trump

President Donald J Trump’s decision to torpedo the Paris Climate Change Agreement is yet another manifestation of the US decision to walk away from the very world order that it constructed and benefited from in the last 70 years.
It comes on the heels of a marked shift in America’s attitude towards NATO — the key alliance the US crafted and led since World War II — believed to be a signal of the changed times.

Antagonising NATO
Since World War II, the US national security doctrine emphasised the importance of preventing the rise of any dominant regional player in either Europe or East Asia. Through NATO, and its alliances with Japan and South Korea, the US maintained its global primacy.
The US still claims to uphold NATO, but Trump’s boorish performance at the NATO summit last month made it clear that things are not the same. He not only berated his fellow NATO members for not spending enough on their defence, but also pointedly refused to endorse its key Article 5 committing the alliance to a common defense where an attack on all.
As for the East, the US secretary of defence, Jim Mattis, who was in Asia to make a major policy address at the annual Shangrila Dialogue, sought to reassure America’s Asian allies about his country’s willingness to stand by them, but he has found himself having to defend his president’s isolationist policies.
Trump’s criticism of NATO and his decision on the climate agreement could not but cut the ground from under Mattis’ feet. This had, in any case, been preceded by the American pull out from the Trans Pacific Partnership which had been designed as the linchpin of the American pivot to Asia.
trumpbdx_060517021646.jpgTrump’s boorish performance at the NATO summit last month made it clear that things are not the same.

Mattis’ focus was on North Korea, because developments there directly threaten the United States through its ICBMs. For the present, this will reassure Japan and South Korea, but it certainly does not answer all the issues that confront them.
True, on the eve of the Mattis visit, the US Navy conducted a patrol past a reef claimed by China. But all Mattis had to say was the Chinese activities in the South China Sea undermined regional stability. It is no secret that the US is not willing to push China beyond a point because it needs Beijing to deal with North Korea.

Assertive China
So Mattis said that not only was conflict with China “not inevitable” but that “our countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit.” This could hardly have inspired the ASEAN which is, in any case, deeply split over China.
As for Europe, its dilemma is palpable. On one side its trans-Atlantic ties are foundering, and on the other, an increasing assertive China is seeking a closer embrace through its One Belt One Road scheme.
In the process, Beijing is systematically wooing Central and Eastern Europe, as well as seeking to enhance its investments in Europe. Already this had led to a weak European response to its activities in the South China Sea.
Where does India figure in all this?
New Delhi is going through the motions of pretending everything is normal. Even though it boycotted the OBOR summit, it is readying to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a military, political and economic grouping run out of Beijing.
Perhaps one part of India is quite comfortable with the statist and authoritarian model that the principals of the SCO — Russia and China — represent.

India’s role
But India can hardly be comfortable with the sight of the US, upon which it has come to rely on unconscionably in the past decade, behaving the way it is doing. Its embrace of Saudi Arabia and the very obvious push to destabilise Iran are bad news for New Delhi.
There is nothing in Modi’s recent tour to Europe to suggest that there are viable options there. India’s trade with Europe pales into insignificance as compared to China. As for investments, China’s outward and inward investment from Europe is orders of magnitude greater than ours.
Besides, Europe is badly distracted by Brexit, dissonance with the US and the repeated terror strikes by home-grown jihadists. A lot of hope now rest on Modi’s meeting with the US president. Trump’s critique of India’s climate change stand is not a happy augury. It would be a brave man who will argue that the visit will go well.
If time-tested allies like Germany feel that the time has come for them to think of going on without the US, there is little reassurance for India which needs some means of balancing a China which is spilling onto its neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean, and pursuing deep ties with Iran to enhance its energy security and connectivity with Central Asia and Europe.
Mail Today June 5,2017

What Lies Ahead for India After Joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation

India’s membership of the SCO is a manifestation of the reality that India’s interests are as much in the Indian Ocean as the Eurasian landmass.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Astana, Kazakhstan, to attend the 17th summit of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), in which India and Pakistan participated as full members, does not have the razzmatazz of his visits elsewhere. His encounter with Nawaz Sharif, his speech at the summit, his meetings with the principals like President Xi Jinping of China, were all low key, perhaps befitting our rookie status in the organisation.
Nevertheless in his speech to the summit, he emphasised the importance of upholding the principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity in formulating connectivity schemes (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). He also raised the issue of sustainability and inclusivity and spoke of India’s commitment to the Chahbahar project and the International North South Transportation Corridor, and its desire to join the Ashgabat agreement. He spoke of the importance of the fight against terrorism, as well as radicalisation, recruitment and financing, and said that the SCO efforts in this direction were praiseworthy. In attacking terrorism, Modi was not as direct as he has been in other recent instances when he pointed fingers at Pakistan.
Likewise, Indian official noted that the Modi-Xi meeting was “positive and cordial”. Clearly, Modi did not badger Xi on account of Nuclear Suppliers Group and Masood Azhar, leader of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed, this time. He remained content to tell Xi that the two sides should strengthen their coordination and communication in international affairs, respect each other’s core concerns and appropriately handle their differences. This mirrored the Chinese view where, according to Chinese foreign ministry, Xi told Modi that the two states should “appropriately control and manage differences on sensitive issues.” Modi acknowledged in a tweet that his discussions with Xi were about “how to improve and further ties.” China will assume the presidency of the SCO in 2018.
Joining the SCO is a smart move by India that will offer us a long term, rather than any short-term, gain, provided we understand what that means. By itself, China would not have liked to include India in the grouping. But it has done so at the insistence of Russia and has finessed things by insisting on simultaneous membership for its protégé Pakistan.
India’s membership of the SCO is a manifestation of the reality that India’s interests are as much in the Indian Ocean as the Eurasian landmass. Srinagar and Leh are nearly at the same latitude as Kabul and north of Lhasa and Kandahar.
Indian history reflects this duality since it features great maritime empires such as that of the Cholas, as well as the continental ones of the Mughals. The grand strategy of British India, who shaped the identity of India as we know it now, was to maintain total control of the Indian Ocean, even while ensuring no major land power came within striking distance of India.
Independent India has always been friendly with Afghanistan and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it befriended Central Asia. But in recent years, with Afghanistan in turmoil and with Pakistan blocking land access, India had to take the back seat to China, which has used its proximity to not only develop important economic linkages to Central Asia and Afghanistan, but it is now using the region as a junction for its ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt heading to Europe.
The SCO membership offers multiple opportunities to Indian diplomacy. First, it provides a platform for India to engage Pakistan in a wider regional setting. Our ties with Islamabad are not going to be permanently frozen as they are now. In fact, the SCO platform may be a good way to unfreeze them by pushing Pakistan to enable India’s overland access to other SCO countries. It is true that Pakistan can always be counted on to cut its nose to spite its face. But some prodding by other members like China and Russia could help and it is difficult to believe that Pakistan will maintain its blockade forever.
Second, it is an opening for India to reach out to China, bilaterally as well as to deal with Pakistan. China is seeking to promote its China-Pakistan economic corridor. But Chinese investments in Pakistan will not provide the returns they seek, unless the Pakistani economy is integrated with the larger South Asian region. China is not unaware of India’s importance as a market and as a destination of its overseas investment. It is for this reason, it has taken a fairly relaxed stance on New Delhi’s rejection of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Third, it provides India with a hedge for its maritime strategy which emphasises cooperation and developing security networks with the US, Japan, Australia and Vietnam. With the US pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its posture on the erstwhile Asian pivot uncertain, India needs to shore up its continental strategy. Even Japan is now backtracking a bit and seeking to reach out to China by supporting BRI and considering membership in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
As for India, it is right and proper for the government to emphasise India’s claim over Gilgit-Baltistan, pending the resolution of the dispute with Pakistan. However, there is also something called pragmatism. New Delhi needs to take a pragmatic approach to the projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, considering it has lived with the Karakoram Highway that passes through Gilgit-Baltistan since the 1970s. India could negotiate this issue with China, possibly getting Beijing to lift its hold on the funding of development projects in Arunachal Pradesh. Pragmatism, of course, will have to be a two-way street. But it is the only road to what the Chinese call “win-win” formulations in the India-China-Pakistan context.
In this, the presence of Russia in SCO is an important element. Moscow has never been too enthusiastic about China’s goals of closer integration of China, Russia and Central Asia because it considers its former republics as part of its own sphere of influence. Even today, though there is formal cooperation between the BRI and the Eurasian Union, the latter keeps Chinese trade away from Central Asia, to the extent that it can. Russia is an old friend of India because they have a congruence of interests. The SCO will now have a roughly triangular shape with China, Russia and India being three important points and given China’s growing military power and its economic strength, India and Russia may find common cause in shaping the future of Eurasia.
From the point of view of its new members, the most interesting aspect of the SCO will be its military component. It may be recalled that the organisation itself sprang from the Shanghai 5, an outfit that emerged from border demarcation and demilitarisation negotiations between China and the Central Asian republics.
In 2001, it gave way to the SCO, and included Uzbekistan and, in 2002, its charter was fleshed out with the view of resisting the US push in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Its charter spoke of the goals of promoting cooperation in politics, trade, economy, technology and so on and to making joint efforts to promote peace, security and stability. Its two permanent bodies are the secretariat in Beijing and the Regional Anti-terrorist Structure based in Tashkent.
There have been a regular stream of military exercises and in  2007, the SCO also signed an agreement with the Russian-led Central Security Treaty Organisation for closer cooperation and joint exercises. This stoked fears in western countries that it was emerging as a counter-weight to NATO. However, with the American failure and draw-down from both these places, the push towards a closer military integration of SCO has also reduced.
Since then Beijing has moved bilaterally by developing pipelines and railroad routes to shift the centre of gravity of the CARs towards China. In this it has moved carefully so as not to upset Russia, which had created the customs union of the CARs and Russia into an Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), an energy powerhouse holding a significant proportion of the world’s energy reserves. But the relative weakness of the Russian economy and the strength of the Chinese, has resulted in steady gains for the latter, including a proposal announced after a Russia-China summit in march 2015 to link BRI with EAEU. The idea is to move towards an free trade agreement.
For Russia, an Asian pivot is a means of off-setting the economic sanctions of the West European nations, while for China, it is part of a long term project that seeks to integrate Eurasia under Chinese auspices. For the Chinese, Xi in particular, the assumption of the chairmanship of the SCO, which overlaps many important BRI initiatives, will be an important means of positioning Beijing as a leader of globalisation in the Trump era.
It could well be the forerunner of an Asian security system, of the type Xi proposed in 2014 when he presided over the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence building measures in Asia (CICA), an outfit that fits in well with SCO since it was initially mooted by Kazakhstan. Today, CICA counts as its members countries of SAARC, GCC, China, Russia, Turkey Vietnam, Mongolia and Israel.
As we enter the SCO, we need to look at the larger context of Asian geopolitics, and the inroads China has already made and plans to make through BRI. As Modi hinted, India is not without options such as its Chahbahar scheme and the International North–South Transport Corridor. But this requires resolute leadership, especially since the Trump administration seems determined to rock the Iran agreement boat.
The Wire, June 10, 2017

Thursday, July 06, 2017

New Blitzkrieg Or No War

The last point made in the controversial interview given by Indian Army (IA) chief General Bipin Rawat was his belief that ‘limited war’ with Pakistan was not likely. In this point at least, the general is not beating the drums of war, though the same cannot be said of some of his colleagues like Air Force chief B.S. Dhanoa, who directed the IAF to be ready for a short-duration war with Pakistan last month. The key and simple lesson of the many wars of history is that it is easy to start them, but very hard to figure out how they will end. Ask the Germans in 1939, the Japanese in 1941, or, for that matter, the Pakistanis in 1965. When it comes to war, there are simply too many independent variables at play.

It is important to reflect on this, considering the rising temperatures in Jammu & Kashmir, where the Indian Army’s corporate belief is that it is involved in a proxy war with Pakistan. The Army may be sanguine that war with Pakistan is not around the corner, but the same cannot be said of the social media or the jehadi anchors who, in the absence of a coherent government policy, influence policy in an unconscionable manner.
On paper, the Indian military vastly outnumbers its Pakistani counterpart both quantitatively and qualitatively. India’s army is 12 lakh strong, compared to Pakistan’s 6,50,000. The IA has 4,000 tanks, including 1,600 T 90s, while  the Pakistan Army (PA) has some 650 MBTs and 1,000 second-line tanks. The difference is even more marked in the case of the Air Forces and the Navies.
 New Blitzkrieg Or No War

India’s Cold Start strategy now has little surprise. And the Pakistani Army has focused on stopping and trapping them. India lacks the capacity for precision long-range strike to knock out the Pakistani military in a short war, as, for example, the Americans did with Saddam Hussein or the Taliban. There is nothing in the equipment and organisational profile of the IA today, which indicates it can quickly breach or bypass the ditch-cum-bund defences in Punjab, or make a breakthrough in the mountain terrain, where there are limits to emp­loying forces and firepower. It could do better in the desert, but ‘doing better’ could well mean reaching the Indus, with its attendant escalatory consequences.

India’s military modernisation is a patchy process, leaving key gaps in its force profile. For example, it lacks self-propelled artillery, which would be vital for any armoured thrust into Pakistan. Likewise, its mobile air defence systems are seriously outdated.
There are two aspects to Indian efforts—the first is modernisation, or replacing obsolete equipment; the second is enhancing its capabilities to newer and qualitatively higher levels. As the record shows, it is managing the first task with considerable difficulty. Given the modest increases in its military budget, it is hard put to replace older systems and acquire new equipment.
In any case, even if the Modi government manages to cut through the thicket of delays, it will be a decade before that equipment is meaningfully assimilated into the Indian military to make a difference. Indeed, the present focus of the government has been to make up shortages in ammunition, missiles and critical equipment for the so-called War Wastage Reserves (WWR). So, while there has been an improvement in India’s ability to undertake a war now, it is only in the sense of making existing and, in many cases, obsolete equipment battle-worthy.

Since the Kargil war, India has explored ways and means of deterring Pakistan’s proxy war. It first theorised on the concept of ‘limited war’ and then, after the Operation Parakram fiasco of 2002, began to think of a Cold Start doctrine, through which it would quickly grab key bits of Pakistani territory in bites small enough to avoid crossing the nuclear threshold.
However, as of now, offensive forces have not been stationed near the border for a quick move, and neither have they been provided weapons and equipment for the task. So, any Indian offensive will tread on the beaten path of a long mobilisation, which would rob Cold Start, or its new version, ‘proactive strategy’, of the  element of surprise.
Rawalpindi believes that it has sufficient forces to blunt any Indian military venture. After the 1965 and 1971 experience, Pakistani war plans no longer dream of planting their flag on the Red Fort. Instead, the PA has been practising ways to halt any Indian ingress and to use ground defences to trap Indian thrusts by counter-offensive manoeuvre.

The Pakistan Army may be half of that of India’s, but it also has half-million strong reserves. India, too, has such res­erves, but the Pakistani advantage is that a significant portion of its Army comes from three districts in Punjab, making mobilisation of reserves a swift and meaningful process. Further, PA formations are located close to the border and and they can be quickly deployed in forward defences.
In reality, the situation has not changed much since 2002, when Musharraf boasted that he had blocked the Indian Army because the forces that Pakistan maintained were well above the ratio required to effectiv­ely counter the Indian Army.
The IAF does have a significant edge over its Pakistani counterpart and can carry out punitive bombardment of targets, but Pakistan will certainly retaliate and with its ballistic missiles it has the capacity to do so. This would put us on an escalator tow­ards a larger, all-out war.
We cannot ignore the new dynamics of the Sino-Pakistan relationship. Indian diplomacy has singularly failed to break this nexus, despite the fact that it has been around since the 1960s. Instead of weakening, it is strengthening by the day and it has important military consequences.

During the Bangladesh War of 1971 and the Kargil conflict of 1999, Beijing studiously avoided supporting Islamabad beyond a point. That situation may not hold this time around, considering the more hawkish overall posture of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, its changed attitude to Arunachal Pradesh and the generally poor state of Sino-Indian relations.

It was only a limited conflict; still Kargil today would cost Rs 2.28 lakh cr (Assuming an average annual inflation rate of 6% since 1999, when the Kargil war was estimated to have cost Rs 10,000 cr a week)​
New Delhi must also contend with the sharper increases in Beijing’s defence spending. It should be clear to everyone that our government cannot provide more money than it does for our defence forces. Indeed, a RAND Study comparing India and China noted that ratio of Chinese to Indian military spending will grow, and in addition “reported ineffectiveness and inefficiencies in the Indian research, development, and acquisition system suggest that, unless India succeeds in major reforms, the gap between China and India in the production of actual defense capabilities—quantitative and qualitative—could  be even larger”. This study was issued in 2011; six years later there are no signs yet that deep reforms are being undertaken to make the Indian military more effective in terms of its equipment and organisation.
The really big question mark relates to the issue of nuclear weapons. A  massive Indian thrust and an imminent Pakistani conventional defeat means that Islamabad’s hand will inch towards the nuclear trigger. And therein lies the danger. China and India are such large countries that even conventional setbacks will not be treated as being a catastrophe, but Pakistan is brittle. Given its geography, it is inherently vulnerable and, more dangerously, it is psychologically insecure vis-a-vis India, and hence the threat of use of nuclear weapons in the face of defeat is a real one.

And it is this danger that would bring external intervention into any war-like  situation, either through the US and its allies, or by China. The US concerns are dual—the first set relates to instabilities that could affect the outcome in Afghanistan, something for which Washington still looks at Islamabad for help. But neither the US nor the world community can stand by if nuclear war clouds gather in the region, because any nuclear conflagration will have global consequences.
There are many chicken hawks in India who say that the Pakistani threat to employ nuclear weapons is a bluff. Perhaps it is, but it is a tough one to call. Dealing with them is not easy, with just four or five weapons and a missile that can only go half way to the US, North Korea has stymied the greatest power in the world.
India may believe that nuclear weapons are merely to deter adversaries, but the Pakistani doctrine is quite clear—they are for ensuring that it does not suffer military defeat at the hands of India. Anyone familiar with the PA’s  hatred for India should know that it would be quite willing to cut Pakistan’s nose to spite India’s face.
Outlook June 12, 2017