4 March 2014

Balanced approach to defence

04 March 2014

If a BJP-led NDA Government takes over after the Lok Sabha election, one of the first real challenges it will face is the growing disarray in the country’s military preparedness and policy. Innovative ideas are the need of the hour

This fortnight saw the BJP induct around a 100 ex-servicemen into the party, including notably former Army chief VK Singh. One issue that has been raised is of propriety. Does this mean an increasing politicisation of the Armed Forces? This issue has been discussed far too often to dwell upon. Perhaps the more germane issue to ask is how will India’s national security benefit from ex-servicemen joining India’s only right-wing party. Then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not need retired servicemen to validate his sacking of Navy chief Vishnu Bhagwat, and had the requisite strong security credentials to go further down the path of peace than any Congress leader ever could.

In India, we somehow tend to confuse and conflate the terms ‘right wing’ on security and ‘hawk’ with a pointlessly bellicose and economically unsustainable defence posture. Being right- wing on security involves being smart, not necessarily reducing the defence budget but rather extracting the maximum bang for buck from it — making every single rupee count. Being a hawk does not involve pointless obstinacy on negotiations or suicidal spending on defence. Rather it involves being fleet-footed and pragmatic, with a willingness to take action when necessary. However the willingness to take action is based fundamentally on a sound economic structure — a structure that creates accountability, thinks outside the box, and forces large, inflexible, lethargic Armies to turn fleet-footed and responsive.

The much-trumpeted ‘revolution in military affairs’ is largely described in India as being about smart weapons. It is not; what it is based on is a revolution in mindset and a revolution in accounting affairs. Gen VK Singh’s tenure should be remembered for his one great legacy to the Indian Army — the new Mountain Strike Corps being created to take on China. Sadly, for those of us on the economic right, the creation of this corps flouts every single principle of good economics and good defence. Its creation could have been taken out of the worst economic blunders of the Soviet Admiralty under Admiral Gorshkov (the man who gave his name to the INS Vikramaditya in its previous avatar).

For starters, even the most generous estimates show it will end up gutting our defence budget for decades to come. Given that every major Army has been downsizing and getting ‘leaner and meaner’, the Indian Army is the only one that seems to be getting ‘fatter and slower’ morphing from a leopard to a labrador. The closest parallel to this comes from the Soviet Union in its dying days; spending non-existent money on luxuries like seven different classes of nuclear submarine and three types of aircraft carriers. As it turned out these submarines killed more of their sailors than any Americans, and ended up directly contributing to the collapse of the USSR than they did the US.

Losing the Bay of Bengal

March 4, 2014 

As India dithered, China has deepened trans-frontier economic integration with most member states of the BIMSTEC, especially Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal. 


The next government must recognise that it is not a backwater but a strategic hub 

The next government must recognise that it is not a backwater but a strategic hub. 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Nay Pyi-Taw this week to attend a regional summit brings his decade of leadership of Indian diplomacy to a virtual close. His first trip abroad after he became prime minister in 2004 was to Bangkok to attend the first summit of the very same organisation with the rather ungainly name, the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC). His last foreign tour to the BIMSTEC summit in Myanmar is a good moment to reflect on the gap between Singh’s ambitious regional vision and the difficulties he has had in implementing it. 

When the BIMSTEC was set up in 1997, it seemed a huge opportunity for India to break out of the stagnant regionalism in the subcontinent. If the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was hobbled by Pakistan’s hostility towards India, the BIMSTEC was to provide an alternative route to regional integration between the eastern subcontinent and Southeast Asia. But the BIMSTEC today remains as ineffective as the SAARC. Delhi must own a lot of the blame. 

Consider, for example, the question of trans-border connectivity, which has become a buzz word in Indian diplomacy over the last few years. Singh has made connecting India’s Northeast to Southeast Asia through Myanmar a major strategic objective. India is also the coordinator for connectivity projects in the BIMSTEC. Delhi has sought to promote two different important trans-border transport projects. One would link the Indian mainland to the Northeast through Myanmar with a multi-modal transport corridor. By skirting the long Siliguri Corridor, the project would provide the Northeast much-needed access to the Bay of Bengal. The second was to develop an overland highway between India’s Northeast and Thailand through Myanmar. After more than a decade of talk, both projects remain unfinished. 


04 Mar 2014

Mutual trust, respect and open discussion could help resolve the problems of the civil-military relationship in India, writes Brijesh D. Jayal

It is no secret that the armed forces of the Union have, to an extent, been viewed by our ruling elite as a necessary burden. Reportedly at one time our first prime minister even wondered if they were needed. With this mindset it is little surprise that the armed forces have generally been kept out of national security policy making and showered with periodic superficial praise just to keep them in good humour. But beneath this veneer, not just their conditions of service but also their very status in the warrant of precedence have progressively and by design been degraded. It is, of course, a different matter when the country faces aggression and suddenly the armed forces become darlings of our ruling classes. It then becomes a race to be seen in the company of the uniformed fraternity, if only to get a few photo opportunity points. Television coverage of our netaslining up to receive our Kargil dead at the Palam military airport or gracing military funerals come vividly to mind.

On the other hand, the people at large trust and respect the armed forces in far greater measure as frequent polls show. Clearly there is far greater affinity between the people of this country and their armed forces than there is between the government and its armed forces. Just as the aam admi is treated with great respect in the run-up to the elections and he becomes irrelevant soon thereafter, the soldier suffers a similar fate in the events of war and peace. In our system of national governance it could be said that the soldier is the ‘aam admi’ within the government.

As election season dawns, it is no surprise that the flavour of the season is the genuineaam admi of the country being wooed by political aspirants of every shade. What appears new, however, are signs that for the first time in electoral politics the aam admiof the government, namely the soldier, is also finding political suitors.

When presenting the interim budget in the Lok Sabha the other day, the finance minister stated, “Hon’ble Members are aware of the long standing demand of the defence services for one rank one pension. It is an emotive issue, it has legal implications, and it has to be handled with great sensitivity.” He was, however, cautious in not providing the nation amplification of this very pregnant statement because at its heart lies everything that is wrong with how successive governments have handled vital issues of pay commissions for the armed forces, pensions, parity with their civilian counterparts and a host of allied problems.

Left Wing Extremism in India: Emerging Trends

Dr. N Manoharan 

Analysing the activities of Indian Maoists in the past one year or so, certain significant trends can be discerned. In terms of geographical presence and spread, the LWE persisted intensely in three states – Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Orissa – apart from significant presence in West Bengal, Bihar, and Maharashtra. At the same time, the left-wing extremists have successfully managed to penetrate into some of the states of the northeast and south of India and into few of the urban areas. In 2013, the Maoists continue to push the boundaries of the ‘Red Corridor’ and set up support bases in upper Assam and some of the tribal areas in the hilly interiors. The presence of Maoists is felt in pockets of Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Sivasagar, Golaghat and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh (adjoining Tinsukia). The Maoists have also been trying to extend their presence in southern India, especially around tri-junction of Tamil Nadu-Kerala-Karnataka. As far as urban areas are concerned, significant Maoist activities, especially of its front organisations, have been reported from places like Delhi, the National Capital Region (Gurgaon, NOIDA), Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Pune, Nagpur, Surat, Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Raipur, Durg, Patna, Hyderabad, Rourkela, Bhubaneswar, Guwahati and Chandigarh.

In terms of violence, the number of violent incidents and killings due to LWE has come down in 2013. However, though less in numbers, the attacks by Maoists have been intense and brutal. One of such ruthless attacks was made on a convoy of Congress leaders and workers at Jeeram Ghati in Jagdalpur district of Chhattisgarh on 25 May 2013 that claimed 28 lives and injured scores of others. Those killed included Mahendra Karma, a former Minister of Chhattisgarh and a former Lok Sabha member, Nand Kumar Patel, the state’s Congress chief, his son Dinesh Patel, former MLA Uday Mudliyar. Former union minister Vidya Charan Shukla and Konta MLA Kawasi Lakhma were critically injured. The convoy was an ideal target because of the presence of many high-profile leaders in one place, and that too with less security cover, passing through a most vulnerable area.

As far as the strength of Maoists is concerned, in the recent period, the Maoists have witnessed a shrink in the number of middle and top-level Maoist leaders due to killings or arrests or surrenders. This happened mostly in Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The most high-profile surrender was by Gudsa Usendi, secretary of the Dandakaranya Special Zonal Committee of CPI (Maoists) in January 2014. Yet, one cannot assert with absolute confidence that the LWE is on the wane.

India-China talks: why soft border is not an option

March 3, 2014

The Special Representatives (SR) talks between India and China on February 11, 2014, the seventeenth in the series that commenced in 2003, to find a political settlement to the boundary dispute yet again failed to come out with a resolution. Increasingly, the meetings have boiled down to merely “management” of the border rather than resolution. While the talks at the political level have not seen any breakthrough, the two governments have opted for a vigorous trans-border economic cooperation as instanced in the BCIM corridor that had its first meeting in December 2013 in China.

Apparently, such trans-border economic cooperation seems to complement the border dispute resolution mechanisms. However, such mechanisms leading to the creation of soft borders, which some experts strongly urge for, will not make the borders irrelevant. In fact, soft border is neither an option nor a means to resolve the India-China border dispute. This is because of the differing rationale underlining the soft borders in China.

Quite notably, China is pursuing its soft border strategy in the underdeveloped regions of the Yunnan province. The province falls under the rubric of the Western Development Strategy (Xibu Da Kaifa) launched in 1999 to spread development and prosperity to the Western and Southwestern regions of China. The Yunan province had been on the margins of economic development that ushered in the eastern coastal region post the 1978 reform under Deng Xiaoping. Evidently, the urgency for reform in the Western and Southern regions featured only when the Chinese government saw the linkage between underdevelopment and ethnic unrest. In fact, China is surrounded by a minority-dominated periphery in its north, west and southwest forming a crescent that constitutes 63.72 percent of China’s landmass. Explicably, the periphery is vulnerable not merely because of underdevelopment and associated ethnic unrest but more so, it abuts India with 3500 kilometers of disputed boundary.

For China, the periphery presents a security challenge. It has therefore, responded by initiating security-oriented strategy. The Western Development Strategy (WDS) that was devised to close the gaps of regional disparity essentially underscores the idea of defence through development envisioned in Deng’s notion of economic development culminating to political integration. In fact, the WDS is a manifestation of the classic Chinese security paradigm of neiluan-waihuan, meaning internal chaos would invite external invasion. The significance of neiluan-waihuan could be gauged from the fact that the developed coastal region of China comprising 41 per cent of the population covered 14 per cent of land while the underdeveloped Western region comprising 28.1 per cent of the population covered a huge 71.4 per cent of China’s land mass. Significantly, security of the core is dependent on the security of the periphery. The WDS has, thus, been envisaged to erase poverty and bring the periphery at par with the core.

India, the Middle East and Beyond

India has the chance to develop relations with key Middle Eastern countries. It will need skill to do so, however.

By Tridivesh Singh Maini
March 02, 2014

With general elections around the corner neither of the prime ministerial candidates are articulating their stand on crucial foreign policy issues, with the exception of the occasional mention of Pakistan, China and Bangladesh by BJP Candidate Narendra Modi. Similarly, there has been little media attention on key developments in the foreign policy domain. This is in stark contrast to earlier elections, where prominent leaders from both political parties articulated their foreign policy. In previous elections, especially in 2004 and 2009, foreign policy issues were at the forefront

With the media focused on the May election, visits by foreign dignitaries have passed with little remark. Yet January brought two important visits by Asian leaders: first by Korean President Park Geun-hye and then soon after by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was also guest at India’s Republic Day Celebrations. These visits saw discussion of a wide range of issues, economic and strategic, with the intention of strengthening India’s bilateral ties with both Japan and South Korea. Both visits helped bolster India’s Look East Policy, which was initiated more than two decades ago.

February also brought some high-level delegations to India, this time from Saudi Arabia and Iran. Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was in New Delhi for three days from February 26 to 28, while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also visited the capital on the last two days of the month.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are extremely important to New Delhi. Saudi Arabia is home to a large Indian population and is an important trade partner. Trade between both countries was estimated at $43 billion for 2012-2013, and was $32 billion for the period April-November period of 2013 alone. Crude oil imports by India are a major component of this trade. Yet while India is the fifth largest market for Saudi exports, the latter is also India’s sixth largest export market.

The crown prince met with Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on February 27. A number of issues were discussed, including trade, infrastructure cooperation and defense. Meanwhile, four memorandums were signed at an India-Saudi Business Forum. The two countries are also seeking to step up cooperation in the domain of infrastructure, a particular challenge for India, and have agreed to create a billion dollar joint infrastructure investment fund.

Righting India’s Defence Priority for Next Government

03 Mar , 2014

The recent tragedy of INS Sindhurakshak preceded by a spate of similar incidents in the Navy has once again highlighted the utter mess in which India’s defence modernization has been neglected. What is more deeply disturbing is that Anthony as the longest serving Defence Minister and his Defence Secretary did not have the morally to share the blame and tender their resignations. Not that their moral fibre in this context was not on test earlier including when we periodically lost scores pilots in multiple crashes of the ‘flying coffins’ (the MiGs), while MoD ducked under cover of serving officers saying they were fit for combat. Interestingly, on the ongoing court case by Wing Commander Sanjeet Kaila against HAL and the MoD, the officer has submitted a 3D animation of 2005 MiG-21 crash to Delhi High Court to demonstrate how the accident took place, and how he saved a village on the ground, while the burning plane with more than 3,500 litres of fuel could have burnt off the entire village.

…CNS resigned 15 months before his due date not just because of the accidents over which he could have had no control but also out of deep frustration of not enough being done to modernize the aging and over flogged fleet.

The media is agog with both the PMO and MoD sitting over a 2010 secret navy report highlighting the aging naval fleet, particularly criticality of the Kilo Class submarines. Yet, Anthony refuses to share moral responsibility despite the fact that the CNS resigned 15 months before his due date not just because of the accidents over which he could have had no control but also out of deep frustration of not enough being done to modernize the aging and over flogged fleet.

No doubt the military hierarchy has also shown loss of spunk over the years because anyone upright would be ruthlessly done away with; Vishnu Bhagwat, VK Singh and now DK Joshi. Incidentally, former CNS Vishnu Bhagwat had disclosed in confidence many weeks before his dismissal that he would most likely be shown the door since he was pressing for joint development of submarines with South Korea whereas the bureaucracy linked arms mafia wanted to buy the HDW submarines. But hitherto something more sinister is being talked about in hushed tones. During the mishap of INS Sindhuratna in August last year where 18 officers died, the CNS had then stated that sabotage cannot be ruled out, which gave a sinister ring and air on that count has still not been cleared. What naval sources wonder is the visuals of Sindhuratna with double hulls could hardly have fire sprouting outside if the fire was inside a closed compartment. In the case of INS Sindhurakshak too, the visuals appeared on electronic media simultaneous to the accident that occurred 200 nautical miles away at sea. Who took those visuals is what naval officers are wondering.

The alacrity with which the resignation of the CNS was accepted paved the way for knocking off another equally clean officer who was to become the next CNS should DK Joshi had completed his normal tenure as CNS; another ‘line of succession’ established as was done in the Army sending Generals VK Singh and KT Parnaik packing off? Significantly, while most of the mishaps in the Navy during last six months occurred in Western Naval Command, including sinking of INS Sindhuratna where 18 sailors died, the Flag Officer-in-Chief neither resigned last year nor received admonishment from Anthony. The news of his resignation now appeared briefly and has been blacked out altogether. Reportedly, he was promoted to Flag Officer-in-Chief rank when the CNS had not recommended him for such appointment. Reminds you of the Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command quietly flown to Delhi in an ARC aircraft and adorned with ranks of CNS by MoD while the then CNS Vishnu Bhagwat was still in office – the power of the bureaucratic mafia!

Diminishing Drones

Anurag Tripathi
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management

As the drawdown deadline inches closer, the United States (US) appears to have begun to appease its ‘ally’ in the war against terror, to ensure support for a safer passage to its troop as they return home. Crucially, US drone operations in Pakistan have been considerably scaled down. This is a significant change from what was witnessed during the earlier years of Barack Obama's presidency.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the US has carried out at least 277 drone attacks, resulting in over 2,548 fatalities since 2005 (all data till August 25, 2013). While drone strikes and resultant fatalities increased every year till the peak of 2010, they started to fall thereafter. Significantly, in comparison to 273 fatalities in 34 drone attacks in 2012, till August 25, the current year has witnessed only 15 such attacks and 112 fatalities over the same period.
Drone attacks in Pakistan: 2005-2013

Source: SATP, *Data till August 25, 2013.

According to the New America Foundation (NAF), a total of 2788 people have been killed in US drone attacks since 2005. According to the NAF data, five people were killed in 2005, 94 in 2006, 63 in 2007, 298 in 2008, 549 in 2009, 849 in 2010, 517 in 2011, 306 in 2012 and 107 in 2013 (till August 25).

The last major drone attack (involving three or more killings) took place on July 28, 2013, when eight Taliban terrorists were killed in a US drone attack at a house in the Shawal valley of North Waziristan Agency (NWA) in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Some other important drone attacks in 2013 include:

Strategic Trends in Asia-Pacific and its Implications for India


Events that are taking place in Asia-Pacific are a sub set of what is happening in Asia in particular and at the global level in general. While there has been an on-going shift of economic power to Asia, it is also quite apparent that most of the conflict spots of the world are in Asia. Rapid rise of People’s Republic of China (PRC) and its fast tracked militarisation has created not only its own geostrategic dynamics in the Asia-Pacific but also has caused reverberations at the global level.

In Angry Interview, Afghan President Karzai Says He Has Been Betrayed by U.S.

March 3, 2014

Kevin Sieff

Washington Post

KABUL — Hamid Karzai was in the midst of negotiating a security agreement with the United States when he met a 4-year-old girl who had lost half her face in an American airstrike.

Five months later, the Afghan president’s eyes welled with tears as he described visiting the disfigured little girl at a hospital. He took long pauses between words. Sitting behind his desk Saturday night, the man who has projected a defiant image toward the West suddenly looked frail.

“That day, I wished she were dead, so she could be buried with her parents and brothers and sisters” — 14 of whom had been killed in the attack — he said.

In an unusually emotional interview, the departing Afghan president sought to explain why he has been such a harsh critic of the 12-year-old U.S. war effort here. He said he’s deeply troubled by all the casualties he has seen, including those in U.S. military operations. He feels betrayed by what he calls an insufficient U.S. focus on targeting Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. And he insists that public criticism was the only way to guarantee an American response to his concerns.

To Karzai, the war was not waged with his country’s interests in mind.

“Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,’ he said in the interview, his first in two years with a U.S. newspaper.

In Karzai’s mind, al-Qaeda is “more a myth than a reality” and the majority of the United States’ prisoners here were innocent. He’s certain that the war was “for the U.S. security and for the Western interest.”

Such statements elicit scorn and shock from U.S. officials, who point out that Americans have sacrificed mightily for Afghanistan — losing more than 2,000 lives and spending more than $600 billion in the effort to defeat al-Qaeda and the Taliban and rebuild the country.

Some Americans call Karzai a delusional leader, an ally who became an adversary during the 12 years of his presidency.

The Fledgling Erdogan on the Indus

Arif Rafiq |
March 3, 2014

When Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif assumed the premiership for the third time last June, his priorities seemed to echo those originally pursued by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: reviving the economy, putting the military back in the barracks, achieving a political resolution to a longstanding ethnic separatist insurgency, and aiming for “zero problems” with neighboring states.

Sharif's agenda was nothing short of ambitious, especially given the difficult hand his Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) government was dealt. The preceding government led by the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) grossly mismanaged the country’s economy, stuffing state-owned enterprises (SOEs) that were already bleeding cash with party workers and treating the nearly empty state exchequer like an ATM machine. Since last June, the PML-N government has worked assiduously to fast track much-needed energy projects, the privatization of SOEs, and the auctioning of 3G and 4G wireless spectrum licenses. While its performance on the economy has been mixed at best — food inflation has spiked and growth will remain tepid for at least the next fiscal year — the PML-N government has earned what his predecessor failed to: the confidence of Beijing, which has offered tens of billions of dollars in assistance for energy and infrastructure development projects.

When it comes to national security, there are natural limits to what Sharif can do. The army has historically remained autonomous from civilian control, especially when it comes to dealing with domestic and foreign militants. This imbalance cannot be corrected overnight.

Also, bordered by Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran, Pakistan’s domestic insurgent and terrorist threats are deeply intertwined with complex regional politics. For example, the head of the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main Islamist insurgent group fighting Islamabad, operates from safe havens in Afghanistan — a miniaturized, mirror image of the Afghan Taliban safe havens inside Pakistan. Resolving Pakistan’s own Taliban problem hinges on a political settlement between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban — something that will not be possible until after Afghanistan’s elections this April. To its credit, the PML-N government does recognize that its principal national security challenges are interwoven. As a result, it has been keen to stabilize relations with Kabul, New Delhi, and Washington as leadership transitions take place in Afghanistan and India.

Pakistan: The Darkness Deepens


Dhruv Katoch

The writ of the Pakistani state is eroding at a pace that has raised alarm bells across the world. Pakistan confronts a freedom movement in Baluchistan, violence in Karachi, a raging sectarian conflict across the country, loss of control to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA, violence spreading to Punjab and a failing economy. To add to its woes, the country stands internationally isolated. The mood of the country is despondent. As per Kamila Hyat, “it appears to drown out hope and keep people moored to the idea that little lies on offer for them in a country that day by day seems to be falling apart”.[i]

In this backdrop, the Government initiated peace talks with the TTP. In a real sense, the Taliban is at war with the Pakistani state. The TTP has openly stated that their leader, Maulana Fazlullah, should head the Pakistani state and bring the whole country under their brand of Sharia. The representatives appointed by the Government to talk to the Talban were sympathetic to the TTP; so much was not expected from the talks. The three core demands of the TTP were unconditional release of prisoners, to include Dr Usman, who was the mastermind of the attack on General Headquarters, withdrawal of troops from FATA and compensation for the losses suffered during drone attacks and military operations. It would have been difficult for the Pakistan Government to accede to these demands. As per Ayaz Amir, “…We are striving for peace by revealing our exhaustion and lack of spine. The peace of exhaustion only leads to concessions. How much is the state of Pakistan willing to concede?[ii]The TTP however took the decision out of their hands by beheading 23 FC prisoners held by them in Afghanistan, forcing a breakdown of talks.

The Pakistan military responded to the Taliban brutality in like fashion, by carrying out air strikes and artillery bombardment of suspected TTP hideouts in FATA. The military claimed success in such operations, but such claims are questionable. High speed aircraft fitted with precision munitions can take on point static targets, but would achieve little if tasked to engage small bands of militant groups. Helicopter gunships have better capability in this regard, but their approaching sound would give adequate time for the militants to disperse and hide. In all likelihood, the strikes would have caused a huge amount of collateral damage, without in any appreciable manner denting the sway of the TTP. Civilians have already started moving out of the area. If war erupts in North Waziristan, then this trickle is likely to become a flood, further adding to Pakistan’s woes.

Is there a debate about Nasr/Hatf-IX within Pakistan?

Arun Vishwanathan
Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, India.
February 27th, 2014

On November 5, 2013 Pakistan flight tested its short range battlefield missile Nasr/Hatf-IX. The test involved successive firing of four missiles (Salvo) from a multi-tube launcher. As compared to the first (April 19, 2011) flight test which was carried out from a two-tube launcher, the remaining flight tests (May 29, 2012, February 11, 2013 and November 5, 2013) were carried from a four tube launcher.

However, this was not the only – or even the most significant – difference between the four flight tests. The most significant departure was the language used in the Inter Services Press Release (ISPR) press release following the fourth Nasr flight test. The ISPR press releases following the earlier tests here, here and here had unambiguously claimed that the Nasr “carried nuclear warheads (sic) of appropriate yield.” Though the remaining text of the statement is largely similar to the earlier press releases, the statement following the fourth flight-test is different in one aspect. The statement claims that the missile, “contributes to the full spectrum deterrence against threats in view of the evolving scenarios.”

Comparison of the statements following the four Nasr flight tests

First Flight TestApril 19, 2011 Second Flight TestMay 29, 2012 Third Flight TestFeb. 11, 2013 Fourth Flight TestNov. 5, 2013
Launcher type Two-Tube Four-Tube Four-Tube Four-Tube
Number of missiles fired Not mentioned, possibly single missile was fired Not mentioned, possibly single missile was fired Two missiles in quick succession Successive launches of four missiles (Salvo) (4x)
Statement regarding Nasr’s nuclear capability Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield Nasr carries nuclear warheads of appropriate yield Nasr contributes to the full spectrum deterrence against threats in view of the evolving scenarios

Though a few months have passed, the question of the change in the wording of the statement following the fourth Nasr flight test has strangely not received much attention.

In discussions with this writer, several officials and scholars have shared an interesting bit of information. It seems there is a debate currently underway among Pakistan’s decision-makers about the Nasr. One camp seems to suggest that the Nasr is useful while the opposing camp is of the view that Nasr in some ways weakens the robustness of the Pakistani nuclear deterrent.

Talks with Taliban: war by other means

March 3, 2014

Talks with Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have occupied the centre-stage in Pakistani politics today. However, these talks are not new. The state of Pakistan has had so many deals with the militants in the past, such as the Shakai Peace Agreement in 2004 with Nek Muhammad; the Sararogha Peace Agreement in 2005 with Baitullah Mehsud; the Swat Agreement in 2008 with Mullah Fazlullah. Nevertheless, all these talks were followed by military operations. During 2008-2009, for example, the army had launched operations like Operation Sirat-i-Mustaqeem (Righteous Path) in Khyber, Operation Rah-i-Rast (Thunder Storm) in Swat, and) Operation Rah-i-Nijat (Path to Salvation) in South Waziristan. While such operations succeeded in pushing back the Taliban advance, they could neither reverse the trend of Talibanization in Pakistan, nor demolish the terror infrastructure in the tribal terrain.

The ground realities are different now. The situation in Pakistan today is very fragile. Despite the progress on the democratic front, there is a sense of helplessness on how to tackle the menace of terrorism. Unlike in the past, Islamabad appears quite weak vis-à-vis Taliban while it keeps chanting its commitment to talks with TTP, despite the provocation and retaliation from the army.

At the moment, the TTP has succeeded in dividing the political elite in Pakistan. It is competing with the Pakistani state at various levels—first and foremost, at the psychological level. Over the years, it has managed to induce ideological sympathy for its Islamist agenda among certain groups and instilled fear among others. Thus, the society seems to be divided into two groups— one which empathizes with TTP and provides political and ideological support to it, and the other wants to fight it, but feels demoralized by the timid policies of the government. In all, the people are getting resigned to the possibility of either a TTP takeover or greater Talibanisation of Pakistan.

Since the last one decade, people have been fed with the conspiracy theory that TTP is a reaction against the US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s support to war on terror. The truth lies somewhere else. Afghan Taliban existed even before 9/11 and there were sympathisers of Taliban in the tribal areas of Pakistan, some of whom had joined the Taliban army in its efforts to establish control over whole of Afghanistan. Following the US attack on Afghanistan, the Pakistani contingent came back home to roost. Within few years they called themselves TTP. These forces have gone from strength to strength, primarily because of the inability of the state to evolve a coherent and consistent strategy to handle this menace. The result has been obvious; the TTP has declared Pakistan army its principal enemy and killed more than 6000 security personnel so far.

Since the latest round of talks began, after offer of fig leaf by Nawaz administration on February 9, the TTP has not stopped its terrorist attacks. They have launched more than 20 attacks in which over 120 have been killed.[fn]http://www.thenews.com.pk/article-138381-Taliban-present-three-demands-for-ceasefire- [/fn] The Army which has been asked to keep restraint and support peace talks is losing its patience, in the face of growing attacks on its men, the latest being the beheading of about 23 Frontier Corps soldiers, who were under TTP custody.[fn]http://www.dawn.com/news/1086243/army-maintains-its-considered-silence[/fn]

Counter-Terrorism: This Is How You Deal With Islamic Terrorists

February 28, 2014:

Although Bangladesh has much less of an Islamic terrorism problem than India and Pakistan, there is still some Islamic terrorism there. This was seen recently (February 23rd) when a prison van carrying three convicted Islamic terrorists was ambushed. One of the police escorts was killed and the attackers wounded three others. The three prisoners were freed and made a getaway with their liberators. Two of the escapees had been convicted of terrorism and sentenced to death. One of these men was found the next day and shot to death when he refused to surrender.

All the terrorists involved here, and apparently there liberators as well, belonged to JMB (Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh). The prisoners and those who freed them belonged to a militant faction of JMB that preaches and practices terrorism. Most of the JMB organization (which claims over 100,000 members) is technically non-violent.

In 2005 all of JMB was banned because of growing Islamic terrorist violence that could be traced back to JMB. Since then JMB has suffered heavy losses and the number of attacks it has made have declined to practically nothing. Meanwhile dozens of active members were convicted and sentenced or prison or execution. The executions continue to take place. Despite all this JMB (now believed to have adopted another name in an attempt to escape police pressure) still posts videos on the net claiming that it still operates training camps near the Indian border and has thousands of trained Islamic terrorists ready to strike. But in the last year there have been no attacks, unless you count the recent ambush that freed three JMB members.

The government believes that some training camps exist and continue to impart both ideological and arms training. It's all because of money. Banning radical groups like JMB does not destroy them. That’s because these groups started as social welfare operations intending to improve the lives of ordinary Bangladeshis. There’s a lot of corruption and poverty in Bangladesh so any social welfare organization, even one with a religious agenda, has plenty of popular support.

Tibet’s Enduring Defiance

MARCH 2, 2014

On Feb. 27, 2009, three days into the Tibetan New Year, a 24-year-old monk in his crimson and yellow robe emerged from the confines of the Kirti Monastery into the streets of Ngawa, in a the Tibetan area of southwestern China. There, in the shadow of a 98-foot-tall monument to the gods of longevity, the man burst into flames — thus sparking the first of many self-immolations that spread across the Tibetan regions of China.

The New Year celebrations had been muted, as Tibetans privately remembered those who had suffered in a harsh Chinese crackdown on Tibetans a year earlier — all of those who were murdered, jailed or disappeared. In the March 2008 repression, at least four Tibetans were reportedly executed, more than a thousand illegally detained and countless others went unaccounted for.

Tapey, who like many Tibetans goes by one name, had left a note warning that he would set himself on fire if the prayer ceremony commemorating the victims of the 2008 crackdown was canceled. When the order came down forbidding memorials, Tapey followed through on his threat.

Beginning with the case of Tapey, I set about documenting on my blog the circumstances of each self-immolation. Never could I have anticipated that so many Tibetans would follow his lead and give rise to a new mode of protest. Over the years, I had trouble keeping up with how fast the flames were devouring life after life. All told, 131 Tibetans have attempted suicide by self-immolation. Tapey survived, as have some others. But ascertaining exactly how many lived through the flames is impossible to know; the police take them away, and they remain incommunicado.

Never before have so many Tibetans sacrificed themselves to protest Chinese rule. The self-immolations, which continue to this day, show that even after more than 60 years of Chinese control of our land and livelihoods, Beijing is far from winning the hearts and minds of Tibetans and the resistance has not diminished in the least. All the while, Beijing pursues its policy of violent suppression, never heeding Tibetans’ demands for equality for all and the return of our spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile for more than half a century.

Those who do not understand the plight of the Tibetans see self-immolation simply as suicide. Yet there are so many other ways to die. Why would anyone choose to commit suicide by having every inch of his body charred? This question holds the key to the driving force behind these desperate acts: Self-immolators seek to protest in the most extraordinary manner by suffering what ordinary people could not possibly bear.

*** A grand new strategy for China

By Francesco Sisci

BEIJING - A major military and diplomatic shift is occurring in Asia. It is pushing China to reconsider its strategic priorities and this is causing a domino effect in regional politics.

The change is spawning a maze of new alliances. To prevent everything from unraveling, the US and China must find a new common ground that enables collaboration on the world's biggest quagmires - Central Asia and Middle East. This is necessary for peace in both the Middle East and the Pacific region.

The pivot to Asia and the collapse of the old Asian order
In the next plenary session of the Chinese parliament in March, the National People's Congress will complete the launch of two  commissions the party set up at the plenum last November - one on reforms and another on national security. The latter is not simply a new administrative organ, but purports to be an important change in China's grand strategy.

So far, China's security environment has been plagued by a lack of coordinated control and strategy [1] in the face of a potentially very insecure geopolitical situation. [2] China's biggest strategic weaknesses - its vague, disputed sea borders and location surrounded by countries closer politically to the US - might have been one of the reasons behind America's "pivot to Asia".

The pivot is the ultimate reason for the new Chinese National Security Commission and the new grand strategy. The pivot also stems from the failure of Beijing to seize opening offers made by US President Barack Obama in 2009. [3]

Before that, China did not need a grand strategy: its sheer size made it formidable enough to intimidate its smaller neighbors through conventional warfare. They were scared of being overcome by the human wave of the Chinese population. In a way, China was too big to be defeated, since its defeat could cause bigger troubles than a Chinese victory.

Against bigger threats of a nuclear attack, China kept a minimal yet effective nuclear force of ballistic missiles. This was based on a simple strategic realization: you don't need to threaten the annihilation of your enemy to keep him at bay, it is enough that a credible threat of even a limited nuclear attack is in place. There is no need to spend too much money building a huge nuclear arsenal when just a few missiles will do the job.

The People’s Liberation Army: Post Plenum III

01 Mar , 2014

President Xi Jinping (centre) and Premier Li Keqiang (to Xi's left) at the third plenary meeting with other Politburo Standing Committee members (from left) Zhang Gaoli, Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan (Photo © Xinhua)

The Third Plenum admitted that the forthcoming reforms would decide the destiny of modern China. The statement concluded with “the need to deepen reforms in order to build a moderately prosperous society, and a strong and democratic country, as well as realize the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.” Xi Jinping’s reforms may remain a dream. Sinocism, an excellent newsletter which analyzes the current events in China, commented: “The decision is impressive and shows that the leadership is both aware of and committed to deep reforms. …the truly hard part is not the drafting but the implementation of changes that will affect interests throughout society. But at least Xi has clearly articulated [his] resolve and vision for reform.” Is it enough?

The new leadership in Beijing had decided to bet on development and reforms…

The Central Committee’s Third Plenum

“China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is striving to maintain its glorious wartime reputation by advancing military reform and putting paid to the ethos of decadence,” said an editorial of The PLA Daily, the day after the Third Plenum of the 18th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee (a four day-conclave held from November 09 to 12, 2013). The Party had just delivered two new Leading Groups: one on reforms (it was expected) and more surprisingly, a National Security Committee (NSC).

The new leadership in Beijing had decided to bet on development and reforms, “The general objective of the approved reforms is to improve and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics …development is still the key to solving all problems in China,” affirmed a statement of the Central Committee. Xi Jinping and his colleagues seem to have seen the clouds gathering in the Middle Kingdom’s sky; for the present Emperors, the only way to avoid the fate of former Soviet Union (where the internal security apparatus had become weak, corrupt and ineffective), was to act fast; reforms needed to be introduced at once, or else the Communist Party’s days would be counted.

Horrific Knife Attack in China Leaves 33 Dead

Authorities vow justice as a group of men it says are Xinjiang separatists attack a crowd in Kunming.

By James Pach
March 02, 2014

In one of the deadliest acts of terror in China in recent memory, a group of ten knife-wielding assailants attacked passersby at the Kunming Railway Station in the southwest of the country on Saturday night, killing at least 29 and wounding another 130. Police also shot and killed four of the attackers and captured one more. The other five are on the run, according to reports. State broadcaster CCTV said two of the attackers were women, one of whom was killed by police and the other captured.

Local Kunming government officials say that evidence at the scene point to separatists from China’s restive Xinjiang region, in what is being called “an organized, premeditated violent terrorist attack.” China’s state media outlet Xinhua quotes domestic senior Chinese security official Meng Jianzhu as vowing to “severely punish” the attackers “according to law.” Those comments were later echoed by President Xi Jinping, who also heads China’s security commission. The Global Times reports that Xi has asked “law enforcement to crack down on violent terrorist activities in all forms.” It also notes that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his hope that “those responsible will be brought to justice.”

The attack follows an incident in Tiananmen Square last October, in which a man drove an SUV carrying his wife and mother into a crowd and set it on fire. That attack killed five people and injured 40, and profoundly shocked the nation. Beijing said that the attack was the work of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Speaking with The Diplomat last year, Uyghur American Association president Alim Seytoff rebuffed that claim, questioning whether the ETIM even existed. Uyghur rights groups in general have denied claims that Uyghur separatists are behind the recent violence.

Near East and Far East: Not So Distant

The U.S. should not treat its Asia commitments as distinct from its role in the Middle East.

By Amitai Etzioni
March 03, 2014

Many observations about the Near and Far East view them as if they were worlds apart. Thus, the U.S. pivotis typically understood to entail moving forces, funding and attention from one region to another. Some U.S. warships, we are told, are to be moved from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean, and some Marines from Afghanistan to Australia. More generally, the pivot is reported as involving a withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and strenuously avoiding engaging in the Syrian civil war, while simultaneously forming new military alliances with Vietnam, seeking a return of U.S. forces to the former Naval Base Subic Bay in the Philippines, and clarifying that the United States-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security extends to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. In short, curtailing U.S. commitments and involvement in the Near East and extending them in the Far East.

Actually, there is a profound link between the two theaters: namely whatever takes place in the Middle East greatly affects what takes place in Southeast and East Asia. The more the United States turns out to be a fickle, unreliable ally of its longstanding friends in the Middle East—especially Saudi Arabia and Israel—the more the leaders of South Korea and Japan will worry whether they can rely on the United States’ defense umbrella. Similarly, the more Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain must worry about the backing of the U.S.—the more Vietnam and the Philippines are likely to worry about being trampled as the elephant and tiger rumble.

Israel would not have been born without the United States’ support. Since 1948, a succession of American presidents, a wide array of public leaders from both parties, and the media have treated Israel as a close and critical ally of the United States. The House Foreign Affairs Committee recently approved a bill that would designate Israel a “major strategic ally,” a label afforded to no other country. In a speech to “the people of Israel” in March 2013, President Barack Obama stated that “the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.”

However, mistrust of the U.S. is now widespread in Israel. Many believe that Obama and large portions of the American public are keen to avoid any new entanglements in the Middle East, come what may. Many Israelis fear that the deal that is now being negotiated with Iran will lead to the breakdown of the sanction regime; that Iran will continued its clandestine development of nuclear arms; and that it will dash to assemble a handful of nuclear weapons just as the Obama administration is packing to leave. Indeed, the Israelis cannot help but note that many American observers, including some highly regarded ones, already argue that the United States could contain a nuclear Iran just as it contained the U.S.SR and that doing so is a better option than starting a war to avoid an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Conflict in Syria & possibility of peace

Reconciliation, justice and peace in Syria remain elusive and remote. The gulf between the two warring sides is so wide and the Syrian opposition so divided that a consistent position cannot be expected from the opposition. 

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency purportedly shows people attending the funeral of civilians killed in the village of Maan, in Hama province. AFP/SANA 

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) achieved the almost impossible recently by adopting a unanimous resolution on providing access to humanitarian aid to Syria, breaking a deadlock that pitted Russia and China against the Western powers. Syria has been devastated by civil war, in which upwards of 140,000 people have been killed, 6.8 million displaced and 9.5 million are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. 

UN special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi speaks to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (R) during a news conference after the Geneva-2 peace talks in Montreux in January. Reuters 

The UNSC displayed such unanimity last when it voted to rid Syria of its chemical weapons capability. Russia and China have vetoed three UNSC resolutions proposed by Western powers to pressurise the Syrian government of President Bashar Al-Assad since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011. 

In January, the world's peacemakers met in the Swiss city of Montreux, dubbed as Geneva-2, as a follow up to the earlier Geneva talks. Iran's exclusion from the talks and the pictures leaked by a Syrian government defector showing people being tortured and killed had cast a shadow over the talks. First invited to join by the UN Secretary-General, the invitation to Iran was abruptly withdrawn after objections by Western powers, particularly the USA.