All posts by Jugal R Purohit

Television journalist who also dabbles in the written word. Through this blog I wish to put out original content into the open source based on my findings and work. Subjects of this blog include conflict, travel, history and security. Hope it's worth your time! Contact:

PATHANKOT ATTACK: Armed forces did well to take on terrorists but govt’s defensiveness hurt morale says top commander

Air Marshal_S.B.Deo
Air Marshal SB Deo (retired) was the senior-most military commander on the ground when the Pathankot air force station was attacked by multiple terrorists in the wee hours of January 2, 2016.

Having landed there hours before the terrorists struck and stayed after they were neutralised, Air Marshal Deo had a view of the counter-attack which few did. After hanging up his boots as the Vice Chief of the Indian Air Force last year, the distinguished air warrior who is also a FCL (Fighter Combat Leader) and a “Cat A” Qualified Flying Instructor with over 3800 hours opened up on his experience to BBC’s Jugal Purohit. 

The interview was conducted at Nagpur.

Jugal Purohit
BBC Correspondent Jugal Purohit

Q: The third anniversary of Pathankot attack is upon us. If you can tell us something about your role, your memories of what you saw.

A: By attacking an airfield, you are talking it to an entirely different level. Pathankot is situated in Punjab, not in J&K, not in any kind of disputed territory and airfields were never meant to be protected the way you are protecting your borders because airfields are in our territory and we are protecting the airfields only against aerial threat. So from that angle, it is a soft target and to this day I keep wondering why was the government on the defensive on Pathankot attack. It was a job well done.

Q: What in the government’s response made you feel that they were on the defensive?

A: I really don’t know. There was a very concerted media campaign that pulled out things that were thirty years old, people getting at GARUDs (IAF special forces) saying GARUDs are bad, GARUDs are this and that. For God’s sake you ask the army about Garuds! They’ve won one Ashok Chakra, (many) Kirti Chakras, Shaurya Chakras and…the government really didn’t have to be on the defensive. Let’s talk about Lt Col Niranjan (NSG officer who was killed by an IED on a dead terrorist’s body), the kind of press he got, its treason man! I can’t imagine and the rumours that he was taking a selfie! The GARUDs were hurt very badly. They came to me and said look at the kind of stories that are being leaked.

Q: It would have helped the morale had the govt not been that defensive?

A: Yes, it would have. Definitely. Government to my mind did not have to be on the defensive. Pathankot was a well handled operation. An airfield is a target rich environment. In an airfield there is so much to be attacked, there is fuel, aircraft and we managed to protect all that.

Q: Did you have a discussion with the govt over them being defensive and the impact it had on the men?

A: I did discuss, there were occasions. But the GARUDs proved themselves in Kashmir. It left me with little to say actually.









Q: How do you want people to remember Pathankot?

A: It was a job well done. Lessons have been learnt and I hope for Pakistan’s sake that something similar won’t happen again. Because if it does then Pakistan will have to pay a far heavier price than it did during the surgical strikes.

Two lessons that we learnt from Pathankot – one is a technical lesson which we always knew but something like Pathankot had to happen perhaps. That lesson is that 5.56 mm ammunition calibre of guns is of no use in such situations. Terrorists coming here are like rabid dogs, having pumped themselves with steroids and injections, they have lost fear and don’t expect to be looked after and want to keep pressing the trigger. We need ammunition that can kill, not merely injure.

Second concerns the perimeter security of bases. You will say three years have gone and what has happened but making a system like the Integrated Perimeter Security System (IPSS) foolproof and thereafter ensuring you follow all norms of procurement, it takes a while. And this is the first system that we are trying. So while I agree that it has taken longer than it should but still it is on track. So once such a system comes in and it is deployed at bases then you are far more certain that there will be no intrusions.







Q: NIA says terrorists were left undetected near the Military Engineering Services (MES) sheds where there were dilapidated sheds, some vehicles…

A: Let me tell you what their plan was. Their plan was to get out from there (MES sheds). Get to the vehicle yard, pick up a vehicle and drive inside. And once you have a vehicle with you and that was what we were worried about, that when you are inside a vehicle you can quickly move from place to place. They could have created havoc inside. So it was very important to isolate them and also to ensure that they were not in the technical area (where aircraft and vital assets are stored). We didn’t know where they were. So the first thing we did with the help of the army was to sanitise the technical area. That helped us a great deal. Once we were sure that they were not in the technical area we kept the airfield open, the NSG could fly in. Thereafter the army which has a lot of experience, withdrew for the night. They said they didn’t know where the threat could be. Even they could’ve been under threat. In fact the NSG wanted to split their resources and they had a discussion with us and decided to stay at the airfield only.





Q: If their plan was to take a vehicle and go around, the terrorists had one full day (they entered on January 1 and were detected on January 2 as per the NIA). What kept them from doing what they wanted to?

A: The time to attack is always the wee hours of the morning. So they have come all the way and they reached us by 4am and by then the base is sort of awake thus making it not the right time to attack. The right time is an hour or two earlier. And they need to rest so that they could prepare for a fight. So tactically, what they were doing was correct by waiting for the right time.

Q: So the terrorists waiting and planning in a way helped the IAF buy time too.

A:  Absolutely yes. We had a C130 aircraft airborne. I had the UAVs flying. Our communication worked well. We were getting a live display of whatever the UAV was seeing sitting in our control room. So that helped us.

First information of a possible terrorist attack came to me at 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon as the C-in-C (Commander in Chief, Western Air Command) and I got this from the chief of air staff (CAS) who was speaking to the NSA (National Security Advisor) and at that time we had the intelligence to show that yes, the airfield could be one of the targets. In fact when I reached there, there was still some of vacillation among authorities there whether it is a law and order issue or actually a terrorist issue till the time I clarified that if somebody cries wolf ten times then ten times you need to stand up – that is one lesson we have learnt.

Well I was there to take stock of the situation since it had come from the highest of quarters and I had to satisfy myself and I would have gone back the next day if there was nothing but its just that when I was there the shooting started. So once the shooting starts then I can’t go back.  It looks very bad and and honestly for me it was a very exciting experience. I had a first look at how our young people fight and that was the most heartening thing.

Q: If you had issued instructions for the base to prepare assuming the terrorists had already sneaked in then why were the DSC men unarmed?

A: I agree with you. They should have been with weapons. They should not have come out in the open. If they just been under lock down. There would have been fewer casualties. It would have helped had they gone into a lockdown properly.

Q: How do you explain an operation where we don’t know how many terrorists there were?

A: Things are always very uncertain.

Q: How many terrorists were there in reality? If there were four then they were killed on Jan 2 and if there were six, which the NIA investigation does not there were, then we kept on the operation on for long.

A: NIA knows best, I really don’t know. Only a scientific inquiry can establish.

Q: We were told firing happened. Forces retaliated.

A: We did feel then that there was somebody inside but then strange things happen when you are under fire.

Q: Do you feel that perhaps there were some terrorists who may have escaped

A: No possibility of that. I don’t think so.

Q: When the Pakistani investigators were allowed inside Pathankot, was the air force consulted?

A: We were consulted. We made sure we broke the wall. They didn’t get to see anything else that they couldn’t have using Google.

Q: How do you see the impact of the Rafale on IAF and armed forces going forward?

A: Yes. Pace of acquisition will become slower. Defence preparedness will be compromised and we will also end up paying more for the delay that occurs.

Q: Far from bringing out cleaner process, you feel the impact of this controversy will be negative.

A: Yes. I can’t fault the procedures. They are sometimes far too pedantic. We should encourage people to take clean decisions.




Air Marshal SB Deo’s words provide a much needed understanding of what unfolded behind the high walls of the air force station at Pathankot in those critical hours.

Arguably the operation was a tactical success.

However it came at a steep price.

Three years later, the shadow of Pathankot continues to haunt the policy makers.

  • Barely five months before Pathankot was breached, a high-profile terrorist attack was carried out in Dina Nagar in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. This attack, at a driving distance of less than 30km from Pathankot, should’ve been enough to put the counter-terrorist mechanism into action.
  • The National Investigation Agency (NIA) in its charge sheet mentions that ‘four heavily armed terrorists infiltrated into Indian territory on 30.12.2015 from Pakistan, after illegally crossing the Indo-Pak border through the forest near the Simbal Border Outpost of the Border Security Force’. That they could not be confronted till 0235hours of January 2, 2016 raises questions about India’s preparedness. The NIA suggests that the terrorists after infiltrating the airbase post 4am on January 1 rested, made multiple calls to their relatives and handlers and could hide undetected for nearly 24 hours. Astonishing!
  • Another question concerns the number of terrorists who actually targetted Pathankot. If you ask the NIA, the number is four. The then defence minister, Mr Manohar Parrikar after touring the base following the attack had said, ‘NIA will confirm the presence of six terrorists’. Three years after, Air Marshal SB Deo remained unsure. Did some of the terrorists who attacked Pathankot managed to flee? Or was there an incorrect estimation made about the number of terrorists?
  • While describing the two terrorists who he claimed were the last to be eliminated, Mr Parrikar said they were armed not with AK-47 rifles but with pistols and grenades.
  • A parliamentary panel had hinted at Indian narco-syndicate facilitating the terrorists’ entry and journey into Pathankot. That was an issue left unaddressed.
  • While terrorists are supposed to not follow a pattern and throw up surprises, surprisingly, after Pathankot, many military bases in India have been attacked – Nagrota, Sunjuwan and Uri among others. What does this show?
  • Similarly the sequence of events at the airbase remains muddled. While all stake holders agree that the air force’s Garud commandos were the first to engage the terrorists, the then Defence Minister Mr Parrikar inside Parliament had said thereafter the NSG took the fight. However, the General Officer Commanding Army’s Western Command Lieutenant General KJ Singh under whose purview the Pathankot region fell said it was the Army and not the NSG that took on terrorists!
  • Pakistan which initially had shown support in investigating the case at its end, sent its Joint Investigation Team to India between March 27 – April 1, 2016. While the NIA claims it was provided with all elements including a visit to the air base, reciprocal cooperation has remained a non-starter.
  • India’s allegations against Pakistan whether it concerns terrorism or drug trade emanating from the latter into the former are not new. Yet, about 12km of the total 558km-long international border that the state of Punjab shares with Pakistan has been left unaddressed. Being riverine territory, erecting fences may not be possible but technological solutions have to be found.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) was approached for its comment but chose not to respond.


DEFENCE BUDGET: Was NDA better than the UPA?

Before we ride into the world of numbers and compare budget data, two lines by historian Geoffrey Blainey will help understand why this matters.

“Wars usually end when the fighting nations agree on their relative strength, and wars usually begin when fighting nations disagree on the relative strength”, he wrote.

For India, sandwiched between China and Pakistan, two closely aligned, nuclear-armed adversaries with whom India has fought wars and continues to have outstanding issues, the security environment is unlike what any other country faces.

And we are not even touching upon myriad internal security challenges yet where the intervention of the military cannot be ruled out.

A perception of weakness or degradation of military capabilities can trigger a military misadventure as past conflicts have proven.

It is in this environment that India’s million-plus armed forces seek better and increased resources.

The T-90 tanks at the Republic Day Parade in January 2019. Photo Courtesy: GD Mehra from the Ministry of Defence.

Let’s rewind now.

At the end of government formation in May 2014, the Narendra Modi government lacked a full-time defence minister. Arun Jaitley, who was also the finance minister would handle the defence portfolio it was said. Many spun it around to say this would help the defence forces since by default the defence minister would have the keys to finance ministry.

How has the script played out?

  • On July 10, 2014 Arun Jaitley delivered the first budget of the present government and allocated Rs 2,33,872 crore – nearly Rs 5000 crore more than what the UPA did in its final budget presentation in February 2014 which was a roughly 9 per cent hike on the defence outlay from 2013-14.
  • The first full budget of the present government was delivered on February 28, 2015. Budget to budget, the defence outlay announced worth Rs 255443 crore was a hike of nearly 9 per cent.
  • When presenting the union budget on February 29, 2016, Jaitley did not mention defence spending! While this raised eyebrows, it was later revealed that defence spending was pegged at Rs 2,58,502 crore – a mere 2 per cent growth over what was announced a year ago. Not surprisingly on December 15, 2015, Prime Minister Modi, addressing the Combined Commanders Conference on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya said, “At a time when major powers are reducing their forces and rely more on technology, we are still constantly seeking to expand the size of our forces. Modernisation and expansion of forces at the same time is a difficult and unnecessary goal.”
  • On February 1, 2017, the finance minister announced Rs 2,74,114 crore as the defence budget. Seen plainly against the year before, the increase in the budget was barely 6 per cent. Writing for the defence ministry-funded Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Laxman K Behera, a research fellow termed it ‘grossly inadequate’.
  • Last year on February 1, the finance minister allocated Rs 2,95,511 crore for defence – an 8 per cent hike from the budget of the year before.
  • In his maiden budget speech, finance minister Piyush Goyal said, “Our Defence Budget will be crossing Rs 3,00,000 crore for the first time in 2019-20.” Fine print revealed the total allocation to be in excess of Rs 3,18,847 crore – an eight per cent hike.

So was the NDA a better government when it came to providing the defence forces the resources they needed or was the UPA better?

Amit Cowshish, former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence said, “Between the two, the trend has hardly changed. The gap between what is projected as requirement and what is provided has been there for nearly 15 years. At different points that gap has widened or reduced but not filled.”

The Sukhoi 30MKI acquired from Russia is the IAF’s frontline fighter. Photo Courtesy: Ministry of Defence

When viewed from the perspective of serving armed forces senior officers or parliamentarians (including BJP leaders) defence budget under the Modi government has remained a sore point.

Here’s what some of them have said.

  • ‘As a percentage of the GDP has fallen but in real terms our budgets continue to grow and we have been promised that budget will be made available. We would have liked it to grow at a faster pace but there are competing demands and we are conscious of that.’ – Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) in November 2018


  • ‘…defence expenditure at 1.56% of GDP was at the lowest level since 1962 when India-China war was fought. In the current geo-political scenario, a country of the size of India cannot afford complacency…’ – Estimates Committee under senior BJP leader and MP, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi on July 25, 2018


  • ‘…the Budget of 2018-19 has dashed our hopes and most of what has been achieved has actually received a little set back. Committed liabilities of 2017 which will also get passed on to 2018 will further accentuate the situation.’ – Vice Chief of Army Staff to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in March 2018


  • ‘…percentage share of Air Force budget has declined considerably during the last few years…Allocations made under the capital head for the Air Force, which is largely accountable for modernization budget of the Service, has consistently plummeted. In the year 2007-08, it was to the tune of 17.51 per cent of the total defence budget and has gone down to 11.96 per cent in the year 2016-17.’ Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence in March 2018.

This piece first appeared on BBC HINDI news site on February 1, 2019

Indian Ocean our backyard, China can’t change status quo: CNS Adm Lanba


On the sidelines of the recently-concluded Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) summit in Kochi, I caught up with Admiral Sunil Lanba, Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy and Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC).

It was a wide-ranging conversation which began with the tenth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks followed by the issue of the PLA Navy in the Indian Ocean to South China Sea and the cooperation with the US navy, Australian Navy and Japanese or the so-called QUAD. We also spoke on India’s plans for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, follow on to the leased INS Chakra, plans for the construction of nuclear powered submarines and the shrinking military budget.


Q: Last week we’d seen the Indian PM congratulating the Indian Navy for the first deterrent patrol of (nuclear propelled nuclear weapons carrying submarine) INS Arihant however there are many commentators including a former chief of naval staff who has warned against ‘excessive jubilation at this stage could erode the credibility of the third leg (India’s nuclear triad)’. He has effectively called the navy and its planners to ensure a larger fleet of SSBNs and SSNs (both nuclear submarines). Would you like to tell us if you concur with this assessment?

A: I won’t entirely agree with that. We are conscious of the sea leg of our deterrence. The PM has said what needs to be said. There is a plan in place which is being executed as far as the sea vector of our nuclear deterrence is concerned and I will leave it at that. We have a thirty year building programme in place which also has six nuclear attack submarines as a part of that programme. We have started work on that programme and we are quite confident that we will get approvals from the government soon.

Q: With regards to international cooperation, what is the message that India is sending to the other (regional) navies. Am asking this because at this particular point in time, especially over the last ten years China has an unprecedented role in the Indian Ocean. They are deploying more ships, more submarines under the guise of anti-piracy patrol missions and of course with its economic heft it is trying to secure as many partnerships as possible in the Indian Ocean. So what is our message to all the navies?

A: As far as the Indian Ocean, India and the Indian Navy is concerned we have a foreign cooperation roadmap in place which has whole of government support. We have been working on that with other departments for capability enhancement and capability building in which we have built ships for a number of littoral countries in the Indian Ocean Region, we provide a large lot of training assistance and also hydrography where we have carried our surveys of waters of a number of littoral countries of the IOR. As far as the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) goes, we have come a long way in the ten years that the IONS has been. We were the founder nation on IONS. In the ten years that IONS has been we have achieved a lot. We have a charter of business rules in place approved by all member states. We have three working groups on HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief), maritime operability and information sharing which has done some work especially the HADR group which headed by India. We are the largest navy of a littoral country in the Indian Ocean Region we bring a great deal of capability to bear. You talked about the Chinese navy and deployment. They have been here since 2008. At any given time you have 6-8 Chinese ships in the IOR. They have a permanent deployment of an anti piracy escort force in the form of two frigates or destroyers along with a tanker. We keep a close eye and monitor. We have changed our deployment philosophy to mission based where we have a ship on permanent deployment in the Gulf of Aden and the Andaman Sea in the mouth of the Malacca straits, also as part of the Bay of Bengal in the northern Arabian sea and the gulf, southern Indian ocean and central Indian ocean. We keep a close eye. We monitor. We are much better informed about the maritime domain on the ingress and entry of all ships into the region. We work in close coordination with like minded countries and are quite confident of delivering maritime security to others.

Q: Do you get a sense that there are many countries that would like to play India versus China and secure benefits for themselves?

A: Every nation has its own priorities and interests including in the maritime domain and they would like to do what is best for their own country. We have been conscious of this. We work with like-minded nations, countries and our partners. We follow a very different model from what China follows where we look at intrinsic capability enhancement and development and we have been working and have made great deal of success and movement forward and we have been conscious on not falling into this trap of India versus China in any of our partner countries.

Q: You’ve earlier said that China has managed to change the status quo in South China Sea. Would you say China is attempting to change the status quo in the Indian Ocean as well?

A: The situation in South China Sea and the Indian Ocean are entirely different. I stand by my statement that China has changed the status quo in SCS. In my opinion, I do not think that the Chinese will be able to change the status quo in the Indian Ocean region. They have their interests in the sea lines of communication and the IOR carries a large percentage of their trade. They have invested in infrastructure projects in a number of Indian Ocean countries in the form of development of ports, some of them have not done too well financially and we have been working along with government departments, the whole of government to safeguard our maritime interests. And I am quite confident that the status quo in the Indian Ocean will remain in our favour.

Q: My question was about their intent. Do you see a Chinese intent to change the status quo in the IOR?

A: There is no stated intent to change the status quo. I do not think so, the Indian Ocean is our backyard. We are conscious of it and we work towatds it so that we have a favourable situation in our favour.

Q: Last year, we saw a Chinese submarine docked in Karachi. Before that one had docked in Colombo. Since the Indian Navy maintains a close watch on the Chinese in the IOR, have any other submarines show up in the IOR?

A: They have been deploying to the IOR since 2013. There was a gap where there was no deployment since the end of last year where for a year there was no Chinese submarine deployed in the IOR. Just last month there was a re-deployment last month of one submarine which we monitored and were able to detect when she entered the IOR. We have been keeping an eye on the IOR. And am confident that we have the capability of doing it.


Q: In August this year, the Maldivian High Commissioner to India said it was time that the Maldives became self-relief and wanted Indian personnel and equipment can now be sent back? To many observers it was a huge blow to the ties of India and Maldives. Do you concur with that view?

A: I do not. Our personnel and asset continue to be deployed in the Maldives. We have worked with them to provide capability and capacity. We will continue to do so.

Q: It’s been ten years since the November 2008 attacks. The government has put in efforts to prevent a repeat. However my question is about the source. Since the government believes that it was in Pakistan. The infrastructure that spawned the terrorist attack remains or has been dismantled?

A: We will look at it in two ways. First is our own capability post the attacks. We have come a long way in beefing up our coastal security construct. A number of agencies have worked together. The navy was made overall responsible. WE have worked in close coordination with the Indian coast guard and coastal states and a number of agencies involved in coastal security. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been put in place, capabilities have been enhanced of the coast guard and the navy. We have a coastal surveillance chain in the form of radars and Automatic Identification System (AIS) in place. We exercise with all coastal states and marine police departments so we have a robust mechanism in place and we are prepared to handle this challenge. The second part of your question about the infrastructure in our neighbourhod in Pakistan – that infrastructure ecists. They still use it as a means of policy of terrorism so we are well prepared to thwart any infringement which may take place.

Q: Last year India initiated its engagement with the so-called revived QUAD (Quadrilateral involving India, US, Japan and Australia) at the level of the foreign ministry level but we don’t do that in terms of navies or in terms of exercise. Would it hurt or help the navy if there were to be a military dimension to this so-called QUAD?

A: At the moment, the QUAD is restricted to dialogues between the departments (foreign ministry) at the joint secretary levels where we have looked at foreign cooperation, freedom of navigation and economic activities in the Indo Pacific region. There is no military dimension to the QUAD at the moment. As and when the decision will be taken to move the QUAD forward or expand the ambit, we will take it.

Q: Will it help you?

A: In the IOR, it will not any difference because we are well prepared to handle things on our own.

Q: India has access to the Duqm port in Oman. India was also building a joint naval facility at the Assumption Island in Seychelles. Where has India reached in exploiting those facilities?

A: As for the Duqm port, there has been a proposal that was exchanged and negotiations with Oman are going on ansd when they we will have access to facilities in Duqm. As far as Assumption Island goes, there is still dialogue between the government of India and Seychelles.

Q: On one hand the government celebrated the anniversary of the surgical strikes and on the other hand the budgets for defence services have gone down drastically. Reforms haven’t happened. Many observers have made the allegation that military has been starved for resources and made ready to be played politics with.

A: We have a capability development plan drawn out by the forces. As a percentage of the GDP has fallen but in real terms our budgets continue to grow and we have been promised that budget will be made available for capability enhancement and development and I am quite confident that the government will provide.

Q: But the parliament reports are saying something rather alarming.

A: Yes, as percentage of the GDP defence has gone down but since GDP has been growing so in real terms there is marginal growth in the budget. We would have liked it to grow at a faster pace but there are competing demands and we are conscious of that and accordingly we have drawn up our capability enhancement. There is a priority plan. There is a priority plan being developed by all three services and we are following that.

Q: You did not respond to whether you think there is politicization of the armed forces taking place

A: I am not going down that road.


Q: Induction of INS Arihant – many commentators including a former navy chief has said that just one nuclear submarine (i.e INS ARIHANT) is not enough. India needs a fleet of nuclear submarines and that excessive jubilation over one submarine can hurt not help

A: PM has spoken about the deterrence patrol and I have nothing more to add. What you are talking about, i.e more number of submarines as part of the sea-based deterrence (ability to fire nuclear weapons using a submarine), we are working on that of having adequate number of submarines and that is all I want to say.

Q: In December last year, you said work has commenced on building more nuclear submarines.

A: There are two types of nuclear submarines. First is SSN which is a nuclear powered submarine, an attack submarine and the other is the SSBN (INS ARIHANT type). The last time when I said something about it was about SSNs. We have secured the approval for the construction of six SSNs. Currently the navy is working on the design and we will get approval to take this ahead for construction of six SSNs.

Q: Is India considering a nuclear-propelled aircraft carrier too and do you believe this is likely to materialize anytime soon?

A: We have initiated discussions with the defence ministry over our second indigenously-made aircraft carrier. We had examined the propulsion plant. The speed required for the size of the proposed carrier, we initially were keen for nuclear propulsion. But now, there are electrical propulsion plants that are available and we have decided that the next aircraft carrier will be conventionally powered aircraft carrier.

Q: India has (on lease from Russia) a nuclear-propelled submarine, INS Chakra and that lease is expiring soon. We have been hearing that talks have been on for a while on this lease with Russia. What is the progress?

A: We are talking to Russia for leasing a second nuclear-propelled submarine.

Q: Has there been a breakthrough?

A: That’s all I would like to say. Meanwhile the INS Chakra is with us, on patrol and we are discussing with the Russians, a proposal to extend its lease.

Q: It has been ten years since the November 2008 attacks. I am aware that the government and the Indian Navy has initiated several measures to secure the coastline. Since the government holds Pakistan as the place where the terrorists were trained and sent from, do you believe that the infrastructure that spawned this attack has still exists or it doesn’t?

A: There are two sides to my response. First is our own preparedness to deal with this issue. In the last ten years we have progressed a lot when it comes to coastal security. Better prepared. Coordination between multiple agencies on this issue are better integrated. Our Standard Operating Procedure between navy and the coast guard has been set up. Coastal security exercises happen and in January next year an exercise called SEA VIGIL when the entire mechanism of coastal security and states will participate. So we are better prepared. The second point about infrastructure of training in our neighboring country, that exists.

Q: The source is existing now, you mean to say

A: Yes it is.

Q: There was a recent report that said that despite all your efforts, there still are 2.2 lakh fishing boats which are less than 20 metres in size and are untraceable when it comes to our radars. Why are we here after 10 years?

A: In the last decade, all fishing boats have now been registered. Biometric ID cards have now been made and issued to all fishermen. You spoke about AIS transponders. We have done a pilot project with ISRO in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu where a small, low cost AIS transponder has been fitted on 1000 fishing boats and which can be tracked through satellite by us. We have also operationalized a radar chain along the entire Indian coast, phase one is operational and phase two is being worked upon. So even if these small boats are not showing up on one radar (AIS), we have means to track them in other ways. There is better monitoring at landing points, harbours and we are better informed.

Q: By when do you see these 2.2 lakh fishing boats also coming in line with others and monitoring them becomes easier?

A: Once this pilot project succeeds we will be able to launch a pan-India effort to replicate it.


Q: In March 2018 you said that Gwadar port in Pakistan had not yet seen the Chinese navy operating out of there. Have you seen any military activity thereafter?

A: Till date, we are yet to observe any military activity there at Gwadar by the Chinese navy. China has said it is a commercial port. So we are yet to witness any naval activity from the Chinese there.

Q: China is an observer here as we witness the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). You recently said that China changed the status quo in the South China Sea. Do you acknowledge that by various ways and means China is attempting a change in status quo in the Indian Ocean region as well through bases, partnerships, deploying ships and submarines?

A: Since 2008, the Chinese navy has been permanently deployed in the Indian Ocean Region and at any time 6-8 of their warships are here. Like what you are referring to in the South China Sea, they have not been able to change the status quo in the form of permanent military facilities in the Indian Ocean. Yes, their first overseas base has been made in Djibouti but I will not say that the status quo in the Indian Ocean has been changed. The South China Sea situation is very different from the Indian Ocean and I do not think they will be able to change matters here like they did in the South China Sea.

Q: You are the seniormost military commander among the three services today and the government talks about India being the world’s fastest growing major economy yet your budgets are going doing. Yet the Parliament reports say that your budgets are shrinking year on year. This is happening in the face of an aggressive China. Is the government not able to appreciate your needs or is there a communication issue which explains why the divergence?

A: India is growing. We are a part of the economy. What our requirements are known to the government and we remain hopeful.

Q: But your budgets are not increasing.

A: Our budgets have increased but the share of defence budget to the GDP has fallen. Needs of the three services are known and I am quite confident that the requirements will be addressed.

Q: There is a festering issue about litigation of the defence ministry with their own veterans and retired soldiers. Matters have reached Supreme Court often. Even former defence ministers have stressed on the need for litigation against soldiers to be resolved. Why?

A: A dialogue on this issue has happened with the ministry of defence. The main issue of litigation is about pension and disability pension. Ministry also decided last year to not challenge disability pension cases. This matter has been resolved at a major level.

*The interview was translated and first carried by:



MALDIVIAN CHIEF OF DEFENCE FORCES: Country which helps us militarily at that scale is India…Chinese more focused on developing business

Q: How to view China’s growing engagement with the Indian Ocean region?

A: China is one of the strongest, very industrialized and a huge country and they would also find ways to enahce trade and development and defensive areas. Maldives being in the middle of the Indian Ocean with thousands of ships passing through our sea lanes of communication. There should be freedom and there should be no hindrance whether for trade or humanitarian purpose.

Q: Are you suggesting that the Chinese keep the local sensitivities in mind? Or are you saying someone’s obstructing them?

A: Always we should not apply the rule of jungle to our waters and region. We should be sensible to the sensitivities of others. It is important especially for countries like China, India, European powers, the US, they a lot to contribute to other regions. That will only benefit them too, isn’t it?


Major General Ahmed Shiyam 

Q: In the month of August, there was an element of tension seen and felt in India. There was talk of a possible conflict near the time the emergency was imposed in Maldives. Do you see the potential for a conflict existing in the Indian Ocean especially with major powers over Maldives?

A: I don’t think so. What happened was very localized in Maldives. Things didn’t happen the way they were portrayed. Politics is like that. People spoke for their advantage. But I saw that India and Maldives have always had very good relations and I think the only country which helps us militarily at that scale is India and India has always been with us, whether it is military economic or education, in everyway India is helping and playing a responsible role in the area. With regards to the Chinese, I think they are more focused on developing business, economic matters, infrastructure  plans and. The chance for development whether China or India should come equally but when we chose a military partnership, we must be careful.


Q: Isn’t China’s role more military in nature?

A: No, that was not true. I also saw in media that Maldives sold islands to the Chinese. That is not true at all. We as Maldivians wil never give any land to be occupied by a foreign power. Anywhere in the world, no independent country will allow. That news was speculated by some parties saying that China has bought islands from Maldives. That is not true. In Maldives we have something one island one hotel policy because some of our islands are smaller than a football field. There is a process from our tourist ministry where people can acquire for a period of time as per rules set by tourism ministry and there there is no difference whether it is India, China or Europe. Nobody owns it. It is a kind of lease. It has nothing to do with the military.

Q: Is it true that the Maldives has asked India to take back its personnel and equipment deployed with in your country

A: We wanted to go for a better option. Naturally everyone would want that. Since so many small runways are coming up all over, it will be more effective to have aircraft than helicopters. That is the issue.


Q: So you are not against India equipment or Indian presence?

A: Of course, we also would like to do things on our own. Initially we can get help but we should try and stand on our feet as quickly as possible rather than always asking.

Q: Has the process ended? Is there a deadline?

A: It is going on. Recently, last year when we were offered a Dornier aircraft and we sent a pilot to be trained and when this plane arrives, our pilot will be ready. We should be ready to take over the whole operations as fast as possible. That is very important and that is what I call becoming self-sufficient through friends. I don’t believe in always asking someone else for our responsibilities.

Interview first appeared on BBC INDIA

REPORTING IN MAOIST-AFFECTED AREAS: A journalist’s identity is his biggest security

Frankly, I’ve lost count of it.

Of the number of times I’ve travelled safely on a road that may have been mined; trekked without being disturbed by Maoist fighters only a shouting distance away; reported uninterrupted from a hamlet where ‘dada log’ (as Maoist fighters are referred to by the locals) are present and watching; or calmly left a site and later heard gunshots there.

I’ve even reported from a site where dead bodies of security personnel were stuffed with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that mercifully did not go off.

In these scenarios, I believe, my identity as a journalist was known to all involved.

There is also another scenario in which you could lose your life, often in a case of mistaken identity.

There is one truth that stands taller than most when reporting from inside India’s Maoist heartland – you better be lucky, always.

And yet, there are rules one must respect.

At least I did and ensured my team followed them too.

What I will now say may sound ironic, especially in the light of killings witnessed yesterday in Bastar’s Dantewada district. However, I firmly believe a journalist’s identity, by default his integrity and impartiality, is still his biggest security.

I’ve been asked — why don’t you take security cover along when you travel in these areas?

My answer has always been — because I don’t need one.

Seldom has my work in these areas been disrupted or even as much as threatened. I am referring here to interference by villagers, the administration or the Maoists. If and when I did face a roadblock, I would deal with it as an independent entity.

Mukram village in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma region is notorious for its poll boycotts. Maoists don’t simply visit the village, they live here a security source had told me.

Of course, being a faceless and, thus, a less accountable entity, I’ve maintained my distance with the Maoists as against the other two.

What does this mean when it comes to the nuts and bolts?

Well, it means being and acting thoroughly independent, the way it was supposed to be.

Whether concerning accommodation or arranging a vehicle, I’ve seen colleagues seeking assistance, sometimes even favours, from their contacts in the police or in the administration.

Like it or not, you are being watched. And those watching you won’t need to justify before concluding that you too are a party to the conflict.

Following work-related interactions, I’ve not hesitated in walking out from the relative security and comfort of a paramilitary camp and sleeping in a hut belonging to a local contact in a nearby village.

In my early days of covering the Maoist conflict, following persuasion from a friendly police officer, I did travel with him in his vehicle between two camps in West Bengal’s Lalgarh.

I was lucky that day.

Some of the other things I’ve learnt over the years include never moving around in a white coloured-car (lest it is mistaken for a government vehicle), pasting enough A4-sized papers with ‘PRESS’ written over them on your vehicle, walking with your mike and camera clearly visible and not falling for adventurism.

I cannot end this piece without addressing the elephant in the room — the responsibility of media organisations.

If you are a journalist, when was the last time you were taught about how to conduct yourself in a conflict zone? Before you were asked to take the first flight into a story, did you or anyone else make an assessment made of the risks involved? Did you find out or were you briefed about measures to take in case anyone got hurt?

If you are an editor, did you prefer an amazing story or an interview over the safety and security of your crew? Did you pull your reporter up for not going into harm’s way and getting you ‘exclusive’ visuals?

Many may, understandably so, turn defensive upon reading this. However, when else will we prioritise the safety of our journalists if not now!

I’ve worked with many editors whose sense of responsibility and sensitivity when it comes to the safety of their crew is anything but encouraging.

For those trapped in this cycle of violence, the ruthlessness of the Maoist insurgency is an unfortunate way of life. As a journalist, study it, respect it.

For those who look at it merely as a piece of ‘prime time news’ and an opportunity for comical debates, keep your distance.


S-400 MISSILE DEAL: India stamps her feet and Washington’s blinking (for now)


It was an annual summit between the heads of states of two nuclear powers, two nations who’ve worked together through critical junctures in history.

Yet it was also a summit where expectations were fixated on one line.

And when that one line was there, in print, little else mattered.

The reference here is to the deal for five, Russian S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile systems for Indian Air Force (IAF). The contract for the supply of these systems was ‘concluded’ said point number 45 of the Indo-Russian joint statement. While the cost of the system is reportedly in excess of $5.4 billion, there was no official word.

‘The S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.” 


For reasons we will go into a little later, Washington’s current crusade against Moscow is likely to land this deal and thereby India’s key interests in its crosshair.

Before proceeding, a little context will help.

The IAF, said to be the world’s fourth largest air force, is in dire straits.

While it must hold ‘at least’ 45 squadrons of fighter jets to defend India’s airspace (each squadron can consist of 17-18 fighter jets), what it holds is 31 ‘active’ squadrons. Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in its report in December last year was informed by the IAF that ‘as 14 squadrons of MiG 21, 27 & 29 (fighter jets) are due for de-induction in next 10 years, the present level of 33 squadrons will further go down to 19 by 2027, and may further reduce to 16 by 2032’. When it heard the response of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the same committee remarked, ‘The issue of depletion in squadron strength has been taken up repeatedly by the Committee over the years. However, no concrete measure seem to be taken hitherto.’

Does it then come as a surprise that the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa only on Wednesday termed the S-400 along with two squadrons of French Rafale jets, as a ‘booster dose’?

There is yet another side to the IAF’s predicament.

In the words of Ajai Malhotra, who was India’s Ambassador in Moscow between 2011 and 2013, “the S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.  With there being no comparable choice available and with China also signing up for the S-400 system, it has become a necessity for us”.

Now let’s shift focus to Washington.

Smarting under what it believes was Russian meddling in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the presidency and acting with a burning desire to make Moscow pay, the US Congress last year brought in a legislation named ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

What it does is to force the President’s hand in imposing five or more sanctions ‘with respect to a person the President determines knowingly, on or after such date of enactment, engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.’

Malhotra’s successor in Moscow and currently the head of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), PS Raghavan contextualised it by saying, “CAATSA requires President Trump to say that India has reduced its dependency on Russia. But there is nothing to show that India has.”

If after determining that India’s actions do constitute a ‘significant transaction’, America’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury initiate sanctions using Sec 231 of the Act, using Section 235 of the CAATSA, President Trump can waive or delay the imposition of sanctions.

To be sure, it is not an act that Trump signed happily.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

There is one more thing he said that day,a line which many pragmatists in Delhi and elsewhere are holding onto.

He added, “(CAATSA) disadvantages American companies…because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies”.

Speaking of the defence sector alone, ‘American companies’ that Trump referred to have benefitted immensely from their entry into the Indian bazaar.

modi putin
Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Unfortunately for India and fortunately for international defence equipment manufacturers, India has emerged an even stronger importer of weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2013 and 2017, India accounted for 12 per cent of the global share of imports, the highest for any country.


And the one country that has gained the most is not Russia but the United States.

Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Malhotra analysed, “Sanctioning India would meet neither Trump’s nor indeed larger US interests”.

Still no one wants to predict how Washington is going to react to a deal it did not want signed.

Observers however are firm – sanctions or no sanctions, when it comes to national security, India must protect her interests.

Malhotra said, “Let quiet diplomacy do its task of making the Americans better understand our position and appreciate our very genuine concerns. We may well take US views into account as regards Iranian oil, but will not do so in cases where our national security is involved”.

Even if the S-400 deal goes through with India unpunished, there are concerns about the long-term.

Raghavan remarked how US officials have more than once enunciated their desire to end India’s reliance on Russia. “After all, this is about selling major defence platforms to India. However, the level of technology that India gets from Russia, the US simply can’t give as yet, due to a variety of reasons,” he added.

Using acts like CAATSA, the US may want to make India move more firmly into its orbit which would basically mean making India more accountable and amenable to buying US platforms and moving away from Russia.

What must India do?

Raghavan offered the last word

“What the US needs to understand is India is in a very difficult position. We have to balance ties with China and Russia both on terms favourable to us, not the US. But you know, a deal is always possible”.

Isn’t that what Trump thinks too?

To salvage Kashmir, Modi needs three strategies plus an end to the brashness

Emerging from the foothills of the Pir Panjal range in Jammu and Kashmir, river Jhelum is known for the speed and ferocity with which it barges into Srinagar before entering Pakistan.

Yet when seen against the rapid developments in the state in the last fortnight, Jhelum appears to have been outpaced.

Former CM Mehbooba Mufti addressing the press following the day’s developments on June 19 in Srinagar. Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times

The experiment of the BJP aligning with the PDP, termed as the coming together of two poles, now lies buried.

Yet that is not the subject of this essay.

In Lucknow on May 29, on the eve of the Narendra Modi government completing four years, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh offered a one-liner when it came to speaking about his ministry’s achievements in Jammu and Kashmir. He said, “Our Government has successfully eliminated 619 terrorists in four years, compared to 413 terrorists killed during four years of UPA Government for the period 2010-13”.

Matters on the ground however are hardly as simple.

Scenes from the aftermath of the floods in Kashmir in 2014. The author was witness to the massive exercise launched to rescue everyone stranded, whether tourists or locals. This one was taken at Srinagar airfield.

From the summer of 2014, when New Delhi deployed its might towards pulling ordinary Kashmiris out of harm’s way during the floods and the Prime Minister’s subsequent Diwali in Srinagar to a historic voter turnout and the coming together of the BJP and PDP to form the state government.

From the peaks of optimism of a ‘development-oriented’ agenda for alliance to the depths of darkness in eruption of public anger following the killing of militant Burhan Wani and the 7 per cent voter turnout for Lok Sabha bypoll last year.

From the ‘jubilation’ over the retaliatory surgical strikes and the killing of over 200 militants in a single year by the security forces (213 in 2017) to the subsequent announcement of the Ramzan ceasefire.

From the death of that ceasefire to the death locally elected governance in one of India’s most troubled states.

Things have been anything but simple, anything but predictable.

The only constant has been the intent of the Pakistani state, consistently accused by India of fomenting trouble in the state.

How is it to live in a literal state of flux?

Image from my visit to the valley in 2016. This was the scene in north Kashmir’s Handwara town.

Muneeb Mir, a businessman based out of Pampore in the volatile region of south Kashmir told me, “On the ground, there is only confusion and chaos, with no one seemingly in control. We all want something to cling to, something to hope from but there is nothing. We are rapidly going back to how bad the situation was when militancy first erupted in the 90s”. One of the residents told me they spend days wondering where next has violence erupted and at which moment the government would suspend internet services.

With the state set to witness the Governor’s rule, what is the hope they have from the centre? “A further hardening of stance at least till 2019 elections,” Muneeb added.

Another resident of the state who I spoke said even before the collapse of the state government, governance had all but stalled. Elected representatives are no longer able to as much as address their constituents forget about getting work executed.

Within the society, many say, the space for conversation has shrunk. Tempers run high and divergence is not liked. A young freelance journalist from south Kashmir said, “The sentiment of alienation has never been addressed. Woh sentiment zinda hai (that sentiment is alive) and the grouse erupts in different ways. I have seen people losing it, sometimes some demand azaadi even when they face a traffic problem in Srinagar!”

The deterioration of sentiments came along with that of the security scenario. Levels (, whether in terms of civilians, soldiers or militants killed in 2017-18 have regressed, they today mirror what was seen nearly a decade ago.

Though taken in 2014 in the RS Pura sector on Jammu region, matters have only worsened thereafter. Courtesy: Indian Express

Coming to the population along the state’s border, whether the Line of Control (LoC) or the International Border (IB), data shows their plight has seldom been as bad after India and Pakistan agreed to a ceasefire in 2003. Violations of the ceasefire agreement, as recorded by India, have seen a massive spike in 2017-18. While there were four civilians who died out of these violations between 2004 to 2013, in the period thereafter, 67 deaths have been recorded. Similarly, whether it is the Army or the Border Security Force (BSF), if 35 fatalities were recorded from 2004 to 2013, the number has shot up to 94 as on February 2018. ( since the state election in 2014, the BJP has been actively involved in the governance of both, the state and the centre.

What has been its strategy?

In September 2016, months after Burhan Wani’s killing evoked outrage which took Delhi by surprise prompting many to seek a dialogue, BJP’s General Secretary Ram Madhav had famously said ‘not talking was also a part of strategy’.

Instead of normalising ties with the society and isolating those who profess violence, where has this lack of engagement taken us?

The BJP’s professed approach in fact flies in the face of classic counter-insurgency practices.

Lieutenant General Rostum K Nanavatty who retired as the chief of the Northern Command in his book Internal Armed Conflict In India gave us a sense of where the blame lied. He wrote, “Protraction of conflict is essentially because of the government’s inability to capitalise on the successful conduct of operations by the security forces – to build civil counter-insurgency capacities within the state; to provide good governance and to arrive at a mutually acceptable political solution to the problem”.

Former Director of the IB, Dineshwar Sharma has been meeting the stakeholders. Courtesy: NDTV

Former Director of Intelligence Bureau (DIB) Dineshwar Sharma appointed last year as Delhi’s point-person on the ground recently said, “There are historical facts about the Kashmir dispute, nobody can deny that. But the main cause of unrest today is that over the years more negative kind of influences have gone into the minds of the youth; may be this has come from the internet, social media, the way politics is played, the way people keep publically airing their views, I think that has affected”. (

More than ever perhaps, Delhi needs to substitute brashness with boldness.

Bravado, as is said, may stir the crowd but courage needs no audience.

As things stand, the security set up is no longer bound by a ceasefire.

Yet three clear strategies need to be incorporated.

First must be a robust counter-radicalisation strategy that works towards ensuring that the youth do not fall prey to what they receive on the open web.

Second, the wheels of governance in the state need to move. The state alone can lend confidence to its teachers, students, doctors, traders and citizens that normalcy can and will arrive.

And at the end comes the question of trust.

basant rath
IG Traffic in J&K, Basant Rath. Courtesy: New Indian Express

Muneeb Mir from Pampore cited the example of Basant Rath, the Inspector General of Police in the state and said, “Why is he able to go to the heart of Srinagar and play cricket with the youngsters whereas no one else from the government goes there without massive security? It’s because people trust his intent. For a long time, everyone has suspected Delhi’s intent. Its actions till date have only re-affirmed this suspicion”.