Feb 21, 2009

Pakistan and China: A Fraying Friendship?

The news of China and the Jamaat e Islami having signed a formal agreement, which should have all Indians worried, almost coincides with another piece in Time, parts of which should be music to our ears. Certain salient paragraphs are reproduced below.

However, with Pakistan's security situation growing increasingly volatile and economic conditions turning dire, there may be a turn in tide between these once intimate friends (China and Pakistan). "The situation is much different now than once upon a time," says William Kirby, T. M. Chang Professor of China Studies at Harvard University. "India has emerged as a much more powerful force in the region and Pakistan has not succeeded in the way that hopeful and loyal supporters had once imagined. It is now one of the great security risks in the region."(Emphasis mine)

Instead of increasing assistance to its old ally, Beijing has apparently been keeping a distance from Islamabad. During Zardari's visit in October, the Chinese snubbed the Pakistani President's request for a full-blown economic bailout. 

"The cooperation we saw during the Musharraf era just isn't there anymore," says Sayem Ali, an economist with Standard Chartered Bank in Karachi. "China would rather develop better relations with India and the U.S., which is not great news for Pakistan because it has always relied on China's help."   

We are now looking at a situation where China and India are on their way to becoming global powers(Emphasis mine) and Pakistan is really in a position of endemic crisis," says Kirby. "China can longer afford to make any unconditional guarantees — particularly where Pakistan is concerned.  

Pakistan’s ceasefire agreement with the Taliban in SWAT valley is certain to raise eyebrows globally. In all probability, the full import of this development has not sunk in fully across global powers. Neither is the Taliban likely to be satisfied with its control of the SWAT in NW Pakistan. The agreement would surely have come as a huge shot in the arm to them and it’s only a matter of time before they start looking to expand their influence to other parts of Pakistan. And that for Pakistan would be a step towards Anarchy, which surely is neither in India’s or the world’s interest.

Isn’t it about time the UN woke up from its somnolent inactivity towards Pakistan and intervened?

There was never a better time for India to seek to improve relations with the Red Giant. In times to come, China is sure to be a force to reckon with both economically and militarily. Unfortunately for us, with elections round the corner, our leaders are way too busy trying to woo their vote banks.

Hope this opportunity does not pass us by.

Feb 18, 2009


In my last post I brought out the adverse effects bureaucratic procedures were having on the modernisation plans of Indian Armed Forces. Here are some excerpts from a news item in Times of India.

  • A day after the interim budget disclosed the defence ministry had failed to spend as much as Rs 7,007 crore from last fiscal's capital outlay. The Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by defence minister A K Antony ..... gave the green signal to procurements of offshore patrol vessels, fast-attack craft and radars for both Coast Guard and Navy in a step towards bolstering coastal security. 
  • Despite the 26/11 terror attacks and their aftermath exposing huge gaps in the operational capabilities of armed forces, the defence ministry is yet to get its act together as far as removing bureaucratic red-tape (emphasis added) and formulating long-term strategic plans is concerned. 
  • The defence ministry has surrendered well over Rs 20,000 crore capital outlay funds in the last five years, which are basically meant for acquiring new weapon systems and platforms. (No prizes for guessing why)
  • Of the Rs 1,41,703 crore defence outlay in the 2009-10 interim budget, a 34.18% hike over last year's Rs 1,05,600 crore allocation, the capital component stands at a healthy Rs 54,824 crore. But unless the government takes urgent steps, the recurring ghost of unspent funds will continue to haunt the armed forces(emphasis added)

The last bullet sums up the inefficiency of our bureaucratic system and red tape. And let us not get fooled into believing that giving the green signal to procurements, means that things are about to change any time soon. It can take up to three years or more for forces to get equipped with newly acquired hardware, post the so called green signal. Such are our systems.

Read the full piece here.


The Mumbai carnage brought once again to sharp focus, the criticality of having a potent defence establishment in the country. Nobody for a moment has or is suggesting that the Indian Armed Forces are not up to the mark. Indeed we do have a first rate Army, an Air Force which is much more than a match for our western adversaries and last but not the least a Navy which is a force to reckon with in the sub continent. There are nevertheless indications to suggest that a lot more needs to be done to give ourselves the teeth to be able to act as a deterrent, not only to Pakistan’s war plans if any, but also to their strategy of proxy war. Over the last few decades Pakistan has in fact mastered this strategy of bleeding India with a thousand cuts and more.

For the armed forces of any country to be potent, they require competent personnel and state of the art military hardware. The Indian Armed Forces are unfortunately, challenged on both fronts. The intake of officers in the Armed Forces has been suffering for a long time, especially post the economic liberalization since the nineties. While on the one hand our military challenges are mounting, the number of personnel volunteering to stand up and defend the nation is dwindling. We have it here from the Army Chief himself.

"The armed forces have, after a study, come to the conclusion that the army is not too attractive as a career for a young man, who is looking for employment...for good productive life," Kapoor said in an interview.

                                                                                                -General Deepak Kapoor.

Well, it hardly required a study to be conducted to come to this conclusion. We have to accept that we are well past the day and age when we could expect, the cream of the country to join the defence forces. To make matters worse, more and more officers are queuing up to quit service due to dissatisfaction or better prospects outside. Maybe if the current recession continues for a reasonably long period, the better lot might be forced to choose this as an option.  In order to attract able young men in numbers required, not only do we have to make the services more attractive monetarily but also improve service conditions considerably. Developments like veteran soldiers returning their medals to the President, or the government not paying timely heed to the services demand to address anomalies of pay commission, do not auger well for the morale of the forces.

The other area of grave concern is the modernization of the forces. Regular increase in budgetary allocation for defence notwithstanding, the Indian Armed Forces are far from being the lean and thin fighting machine that they ought to be. The forces in fact are plagued with an acute shortage of critical hardware. A case in point is the deficiency of Air Defence equipment. To quote the Directorate General of Air Defence.

“Air Defence capabilities are hollow. Ninety seven per cent of its equipment is approaching obsolescence.”

The Navy and the Air Force are also plagued with similar criticalities. The CAG has pointed out the gaping holes in critical defence areas, including the fast dwindling strength of Naval submarines. What is causing these criticalities? Is it lack of budgetary support? Is it lack of political will or is it lack of long term vision. While all these factors are responsible, the greatest hurdle seems to be the Bureaucrac,y one of the worst legacies of the British. Our procedures are archaic and slow. It is most unfortunate that even six decades post independence, we have not been able to streamline our procedures in tune with the need of the of the times. All plans of modernization of the defence forces therefore have been lying quagmired in bureaucracy and red tape for ages. And finally when these plans do see the light of day, they are on the threshold of becoming obsolescent. The rot has to be seen to be believed. The defence minister himself stated that there is a need to address red tapism. We can scarcely blame the Brits for having left us with this legacy. We have to blame ourselves for having failed to put in place fresh procedures more in keeping with the times.

The extremely short tenures of senior military commanders is not helping matters either. The tenure of a service chief is seldom more than two years and that of senior field force commanders barely over a year. Implementation of the AVSC report, has further reduced tenures of senior commanders. Jack Welch, the erstwhile CEO of General Electric, was at the helm of affairs of his company for two decades. That is the kind of time that one requires to transform an organization and optimize efficiency. Conception to fruition cycle is a long and tedious one. How can an organization progress, if the very direction of progress changes course every alternate year?  

It is obvious that we have not learnt our lessons from the 62 debacle or the Kargil conflict. The Kargil Committee Report has been left to gather dust and is yet to be acted upon even a decade hence. Lack of long term vision, tendency of the government to accord priority to populist measures required to retain Power at the centre rather than address the more important issues of national security have taken a toll on our defence preparedness.

These are dangerous times that we live in today. With the Taliban threatening to take over Pakistan, having taken over SWAT valley in NW Pakistan already, the threat from our western quarters is getting closer. The spectre of war will always be looming large over the horizon in times to come. It would be foolhardy to believe that the international community would bail us out of a situation, like it did during the Kargil conflict. War is going to be at our doorsteps without much warning, and we will hardly have time to prepare ourselves at the eleventh hour.

Will the powers that be, come out of their somnolent inactivity, for some serious soul searching and act before it is too late.


Feb 12, 2009


Well, well, well! Look what we have here. An admission of complicity, if only partial, in the Mumbai carnage from Pakistan.

Well that is some diplomatic coup for the Indian establishment. One can be sure that this admission from Pakistan did not come easy. It is in fact a result of sustained effort, persuasion, diplomatic efforts, posturing at the highest levels…………………………sam, dam, dand, bhed not only by India but almost the entire International community. In particular, pressure from countries like the USA, UK, France etc. is what has resulted in this admission. And mind you, it must be at the cost of incurring the wrath of all the fundamentalist elements in Pakistan that this admission has come.

A sense of despondency was already beginning to set in to the Indian psyche. Nevertheless, better late than never. Faced with the dismal prospect of being ostracised from the international community especially the western world, Pakistan which is at the very edge of financial collapse, should aid from the World Bank not be forthcoming, had very little choice. However it would not have been surprising if the Pakistani establishment had chosen to defy the world and stick to its erstwhile stand. Fanaticism after all runs deep not only in the Pakistani populace, but also in the Pakistani establishment.

Credit in fact is due to the Pakistan government for having made this landmark admission given the kind of pressures that the government must have faced from the multiple centres of power in the country.

Let's all hope that this heralds the turning of a new leaf in Indo – Pak relations, which would favour both countries. However, given its past track record, I would be very surprised if this turned out to be a real change of heart. In all probability, Pakistan has been forced to make this admission, but it won't be long before they fall back to their old ways and its business as usual for the Jehadis and Taliban being nurtured in the country. History of the sub continent tells us that India alone cannot exert the kind of pressure on Pakistan, that is required to keep the rogue elements in check. The onus now, lies squarely on the International community, to keep the pressure up, and ensure cleansing of this rogue state. Any let up on this account would only be, at their own peril.

For more on BBC : http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7885261.stm

Feb 10, 2009


It was a convincing series win for India in Sri Lanka. Cricket is not by a long way my favourite sport, and I did point that out in my earlier post 'Cricket and the Olympic medal.' But for good or for bad, Cricket in India, is a national pastime. So how can I keep myself completely cut off from the national mainstream? And to be honest the 20-20 format of the game is fun to watch. And today's match against Sri Lanka was indeed a cracker. I don't remember the last time the Indians put up such a spectacular show, winning a series so convincingly, especially on foreign soil.

My heartiest congratulations to the 'Men in Blue' for a most convincing victory in the series. Full marks to the Pathan brothers in particular for having played a cameo role in today's dramatic win.

However I was shocked to see the flamboyant Yuvraj Singh come out to the field to receive prizes(surely he knew he was due to get a few prizes) that he probably richly deserves, in shorts………………………………… and more shockingly bathroom slippers.

Come on man! Grow up. The country is watching you. You think you are Cool. I think you are a Fool.

Feb 1, 2009


Our heartiest congratulations to Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza for having done all Indians proud by winning the Australian Open Mixed doubles title. It was a first grand slam victory for Sania. And its after a long long time that an all Indian pair has gone out and won us a Grand Slam title. Ever since the highly successful duo of Mahesh and Leander broke up, we had all but given up hope of any tennis victory featuring an all Indian team.

What makes this victory even more sweet is the fact that the Indian duo were actually given a wild card entry into the event. In the men's section both Mahesh and Leander have been highly successful and highly ranked doubles players. In his previous six mixed doubles Grtand Slam titles, Mahesh has paired with the likes of Martina Hingis, Mary Pierce, Daniela Hantuchova, Elena Likhovtseva etc. These are some of the top names in women's tennis. It would therefore not have been too difficult for Mahesh to have found a more illustrious or higher ranked partner. Therefore, Mahesh needs to be complemented for having chosen Sania as his partner making it an all Indian pair.

Mahesh and Leander, ever coming back together as a team seems almost out of question, we must therefore hope and pray that this partnership with Sania achieves even greater glory and scales even greater heights than Mahesh and Leander ever did. One cannot but wonder, what Mahesh and Leander, the man with lightning fast reflexes, could have done together, had they not chosen to part ways. They would possibly have been in the same league as the legendary 'Woodies' of Australia.

All the best Sania and Mahesh. Keep up the good work and may you go from strength to strength from here on.

And before I sign off, heartiest Congratulations to the Delhi lad Yuki Bhambri for his triumph in the junior event. All the very best to Yuki for a bright future.

I watched the Indian duo's progress in the tournament and wondered what the Taliban and the Mullahs would have to say to the end of the match hugs and kisses that Sania was sharing with her male partner and fellow competitors, not to mention the short skirts. Thank God there is no Fatwa against her. Or is there?