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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.

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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”.


WARGAME GAGANSHAKTI: What is the IAF saying?

By Jugal R Purohit

New Delhi

In the early hours of Saturday, April 14, a fully-armed Sukhoi 30 – the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) frontline fighter plane – roared as it took off from the Kalaikunda air force station in West Bengal.

The Russian-origin combat aircraft was soon above Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea before turning back to land at Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Using mid-air refuelling, the Sukhoi, which can fly at a speed of 2500 kilometres per hour, demonstrated something any air force would give its right arm for – a reach of 4000km in a single flight.

But this did not happen in isolation.

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A Su30 undergoing mid-air refuelling during Gaganshakti 2018. Picture Courtesy: IAF

Consider this:

  • Between April 8 and 22, the IAF nearly shut all its training and pulled out nearly 1400 of its officers and 14,000 men for a wargame. Almost anyone fit to fly was directed to make themselves available.
  • In that period, nearly 1100 of its aircraft were specially deployed across the length and breadth of the country on ‘operational duty’.
  • So intense was the effort that fighter, transport aircraft, helicopters, Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) put together generated a staggering 11000 flights/sorties between them.

In conjunction with elements of the Indian Army and the Indian Navy, the IAF had mounted what many term as one of its biggest-ever exercise. They named it ‘Gaganshakti 2018’.

VIDEO: GAGANSHAKTI 2018 – IAF Presentation –

“If war were to happen tomorrow, we would like to be in a position where we can sustain a high tempo of operations. Gaganshakti 2018 was where we tested ourselves extensively and results were satisfying”, said an officer aware of the intricacies of the exercise.

While the exercise was initiated with a focus on India’s western borders, mid-way, the IAF re-positioned its forces on India’s eastern frontiers.

File Photo 1
IAF: In the mountainous terrain the movement of the troops from one valley to another is a challenging task. The redeployment of forces from one area of interest to another may at times take couple of days. Inter Valley Troop Transfer operations help to reposition the desired forces within a couple of hours. Picture Courtesy: IAF

The message was clear.

The IAF was publically practising for a two-front conflict.

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IAF: This assault included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS guided cargo platforms. The landing force was dropped behind the simulated enemy lines to soften up the likely resistance to our own armoured offensive. Picture Courtesy: IAF

But, there is more to the story.

World’s fourth largest air force, the IAF, is operating with 31 squadrons of fighter jets whereas it needs 45 squadrons.

Also, the IAF appears to be in deep financial trouble – from purchasing new equipment to maintaining the older one, the impact is pervasive.

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by veteran BJP leader Major General BC Khanduri (Retired) tabled its forty first report in Lok Sabha on March 13, 2018 (

  • (For 2018-19) Shortfall of Rs.6440 crore in the Revenue Budget is likely to impact the operational preparedness, ability to procure spares & fuel, apart from leaving gaps in training programs, serviceability of older systems and provision of basic amenities to the Air Force personnel.
  • …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.
  • …there appears to be a lack of sufficient sincerity towards capacity enhancement and modernization of the Air Force.
Major General BC Khanduri (R) is a BJP MP and a former chief minister

The report also reveals how the IAF from 2016 onwards was made to pay over Rs 2500 crore in customs duty, an amount which was to be reimbursed to the service but never was. In fact, out of its meagre resources, the IAF is set to further shell out Rs 1726.98 crore towards custom duties in 2018-19 too!

Indeed in the coming years, some of the earlier inked deals like the one for French fighter Rafale and American helicopter Chinook are expected to fructify. However, these are fruits of what has been inked in the past.

Yet, by the end of the next decade, the IAF will be left with a paltry 19 squadrons says the same Parliamentary panel.

An undated file photo of the J-20 released by Chinese state media XINHUA with the claim that these stealth birds had been commissioned earlier this year

A decade is all that separates a rapidly-modernising Chinese air force from the IAF which, as of now enjoys the upper hand in a trans-Himalayan encounter of the type Gaganshakti 2018 envisaged says Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retired), a veteran helicopter pilot.

“Today, we have better equipment, better support fleet and much better aircrew training. However if we cannot generate a top class next generation fighter in house in the coming decade, then it is anyone’s guess where India’s advantage will be”, he added.

It took the IAF nearly nine months to plan out Gaganshakti 2018. A conflict, however limited, may not provide such a cushion. The IAF is also mindful that the day they square off with China, Pakistan may jump in too.

“We have a task at hand. What we don’t have are the best tools. When will they arrive, no one can tell”, explained an officer.

He added, “With Gaganshakti 2018, we exercised our Plan B”.

Xi-Modi @ Wuhan: (Perhaps) We won’t know what happens but still there is a lot we do. My piece.

Even as the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ‘lay the groundwork for the Qingdao Summit’ to be held in June when the top leadership of SCO nations travel to China, in some ways, something very distinct has already occurred.

On Sunday, following discussions with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, China’s Foreign Minister and recently-appointed State Councilor Wang Yi declared that the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be holding an ‘informal meeting’ with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan as early as the next weekend.

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India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Wang Yi, her Chinese counterpart who is also now the State Councilor making him China’s foremost voice on foreign affairs. Pic courtesy: @IndianDiplomacy

“Xi and Modi will have strategic communication on the world’s profound changes, and exchange, in an in-depth manner, views on overall, long-term and strategic issues regarding China-India relations, Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese news agency Xinhua. (

How should this be seen?

In the words of India’s recently-retired Foreign Secretary and long-time China hand S Jaishankar to news agency ANI, “It is certainly a very bold step. They will be meeting in a casual environment. The agenda will be open. This will be much more personal and interactive”.

For Sino-Indian ties, if 2017 was the year of friction, marked by the Doklam stand-off and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, 2018 has seen more than a mere reset.

New Delhi struck the right conciliatory notes with Beijing when it came to dealing with the constitutional crisis in Maldives and the ‘Thank You India’ initiative of the Central Tibetan Administration. On its part, Beijing did not stand with Pakistan in February when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) moved to squeeze Islamabad over its support to extremist groups.

Dust has also settled on two matters considered important for New Delhi but which saw a unilateral suspension from Beijing’s end –re-opening the Nathu La route for Mansarovar yatra and sharing hydrological data on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers.

Yet divergence remains.

For India, Beijing’s multi-faceted involvement with Islamabad remains the biggest red flag. Irritants like blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and increasing its foothold in the Indian Ocean region have remained unresolved.

Though trade between the two nations has increased exponentially, so has the trade deficit in favour of China.

Indian Naval Ship (stealth frigate) INS Shivalik steams past the US Carrier during the ongoing Exercise Malabar-2015. Pic courtesy: Indian Navy

China views India’s embrace of US, Japan and entities on its periphery with suspicion. India’s pro-active role whether in engaging with nations in the Indo-Pacific littoral or in the military build-up along the border has been entirely unprecedented.

Seen from Beijing, the neighbourhood isn’t exactly welcoming at present. It has enjoyed better ties with Japan, Vietnam and Australia  in the past.  In addition, there is a resurgent United States which is willing to call its bluff whether in the economic sphere or in the strategic one.

What now?

History offers an interesting even if not entirely relevant lesson.

The year was 1989. The month was June.

In the heart of the Chinese capital, the country’s military had been used against its citizens. Thereafter unfolded the trauma at Tiananmen Square.

Not too long after, China’s competitor communist nation the Soviet Union too vanished.

India wondered if the Chinese would be interested in settling the boundary dispute over which the nations fought a bitter war only three decades before.

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, a junior diplomat in 1992 told the then Foreign Secretary JN Dixit, ‘Fears (from the Tiananamen Square and Soviet Union’s collapse) should make the Chinese leadership willing to ensure peace along the border with India, freeing the Chinese government to deal with more pressing concerns’.

Turned out, the Chinese were receptive.

In his book, ‘Choices – Inside the making of India’s Foreign Policy’, Menon notes that by September of 1993, the first agreement of its kind on the border between India and China had been inked.

What is important to note however is this – China today has a President who has secured a mandate ‘for life’ whereas Modi, almost at the end of his term, has to seek one next year.

POSTSCRIPT: As Sushma Swaraj boarded the aircraft to take her to Beijing on April 21, investigating agencies confirmed the location of the wanted diamond merchant Nirav Modi – Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.