Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Sino-Indian border talks have been roiling like a long-brewing ginger-tulsi kadha––becoming bitterer in taste with each passing moment. If only the potion seethes well, might India and China accrue long-term health benefits from it. The outcome of the sixth round of talks doesn’t indicate that; it is another case of the same old wine being served in a new bottle––still focussing on defusing tensions.

The bad broad nibs…

Talks, and more talks, are in the offing––uncertainty and unease on the border have been prolonged. Divining the prospect of peace by reading tea leaves might not be possible since, mutually piqued, Modi and Xi are less likely to meet over a cup of tea in the near future. Yet I have been overzealous about the future.

Would the Queen––whose representative caused this Sino-India border problem by using some bad broad nibs to draw the region’s map––help foresee the fate of the subcontinent? Out of curiosity I tossed a Victorian era silver coin hoping to get some answers––war or peace; withdrawal or long drawn standoff….? When judgement becomes difficult, I have started believing in the predictions guided by a coin with the British monarchy on its face for they (the Brits) are at the root of most of the world’s problems of today. And lo and behold, the coin I tossed, bounced off the road, missed a drain narrowly and ended up through a perforated concrete lid into a bottomless well meant for rainwater harvesting. Now sealed some fifty feet below the earth’s surface, is (the much sought knowledge of) the future of this great country.  

Wooing and claiming territory in Africa

Rankled, I had almost decided to take a break from this Sino-India affair for a while when I saw Champagne––the wretched stray I introduced to my worthy readers in an earlier post titled, China’s Champagne Moment.” Those familiar with that dog’s demeanour will recall that, like China he had been claiming territory that was not rightfully his until one day, when other dogs got together and taught him a lesson. Through Champagne I had projected Beijing’s doom.

My forecast has not come true yet; it has not been proved entirely false either. Several countries, with the US in the forefront, have been striving to settle their scores with China. The anti-China sentiment is simmering with greater intensity now than ever before. And ever since I wrote that piece, Champagne has been behaving even more like China. Rather than fighting with the dogs in the neighbourhood, he has been trying to travel far and wide and woo the dogs he sees sitting on any kind of resources. The other day I saw him wooing a black dog at a construction site. It felt as if China were wooing Africa.

An anthropomorphised Lisa

Then two strikingly strange and unusual things happened.

One, Lisa, another dog appeared on the scene. She became popular with all the dogs in the area. They aligned with her as much because of her friendly demeanour as for the reason that they wanted someone to stand for them against the aggressiveness of Champagne.

Learning to K-O-W-T-O-W

Two, around the time the last round of Sino-Indian border talks concluded, Champagne was seen practicing ‘kowtowing‘… yes, K-O-W-T-O-W-I-N-G.”

Reverting to China. Behind the façade, Beijing is succumbing to the pressures created by several countries going against it and this is evident in its slowly eroding belligerence. In the last few days, since the standoff at Pangong Tso, China has not reacted with use of force, instead it has spent time at the negotiating table with India. This doesn’t go with China’s past stance and responses to such issues. Reasons for its restraint are better known to Beijing; others can only hazard a guess.

Meanwhile, Indian leadership has not been resting on its oars. It is trying to find the best way to the dragon’s heart out of the so many routes available. One is direct––from Delhi to Beijing. The other is from Delhi to Beijing via one or more of––Washington, Ottawa, Paris, Berlin, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Canberra, Tokyo, Manila, the sea in the South of China (some people erroneously call it South China Sea), Malacca, Strait, Hong Kong, Taipei, Lhasa, Xinjiang, et al. Needless to say, in the present circumstances, Xi Jinping will be pleased to meet Modi’s emissary travelling direct from Delhi to Beijing rather than following a circuitous route.

In the present situation, either China has nothing to say (less likely), or it doesn’t have the words to say, what it wants to say. Therein lie the reasons for no tangible progress in the talks and no further escalation in hostilities. Therein also lies the reason why Xi Jinping, like Champagne, might as well go indoors and refresh his Kowtowing skill––one doesn’t know when he’d need to fall back on the benefits of the ancient Chinese practice.

India would do well to prepare the ESCAPE HATCH for the dragon’s graceful exit.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Four days from now, September the 26th will mark the 37th anniversary of an event that, beyond a sliver of doubt, averted a nuclear war. On that day in 1983, Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov of the Soviet Air Defence Forces was the duty officer at Serpukhov-15, the secret command centre outside Moscow monitoring its early-warning satellites over the United States when alarms went off––computers warned that five Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles had been launched from an American base.

Colonel Petrov was a very important link in the decision-making chain. His superiors reported to the general staff, who would consult the Soviet leader, Mr Yuri V Andropov on launching a retaliatory attack. Since there was no rule about how long the observers were allowed to think before they reported a strike, Petrov took his sweet time absorbing the deluge of incoming information and ‘felt’ that the launch reports were ‘probably’ a false alarm. He, therefore, reported ‘a system malfunction’. “I had a funny feeling in my gut,” he told a newspaper later. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. I made a decision, and that was it.”

Petrov’s nuclear dilemma

Every second of delay on that day took away valuable time that the Soviet military and political leadership would have needed to absorb the inputs and react. Petrov told an interviewer, “… I couldn’t move. I felt like I was sitting on a hot frying pan.” It was at best a 50-50 guess, based on his distrust of the early-warning system and the relative paucity of missiles that were launched. He could afford the luxury of sleeping mulling over the inputs because 25 long minutes would elapse between launch and detonation. Petrov attributed his judgment to his training and his intuition. He had been told that a nuclear first strike by the Americans would come in the form of an overwhelming onslaught.

Training and Intuition… where does India stand?

A typical military exercise––conducted at many of the military training institutes/ colleges/ establishments––has a Blue Force (India) and a Red Force (the adversary––Pakistan or China, implied or explicit). The exercises are realistic with full freedom to the participating officers––with 3 to 30 years of commissioned service; sometimes, including bureaucrats, diplomats and scientists––to let go of their imagination to plan and execute military operations until… someone in the Red Force threatens to use the nukes.

The exercise is paused and the director of the exercise (or the umpire) steps in and enlightens the attendees. Put in different words and with varying intensity, depending on the personality of the guru, the gist of what is repeatedly sermonised and hammered into the craniums of the participants is: “Like India, China has a No-First-Use (NFU) policy––therefore, use of a nuclear weapon by China against India is not a likely proposition. As regards Pakistan, although their leadership talks and acts insanely, they are not mad. Nuclear sabre rattling by Pakistan is, but a hollow threat. Pakistan cannot dare to strike India with a nuclear-tipped missile because even with a ‘second strike’ option, India has the capability to turn the whole of Pakistan into rubble…. We can cause unacceptable damage to any adversary if we are struck with nukes….”

The punch line delivered (invariably) with theatrical emphasis and the air of a political leader seeking to hold a moral high ground at a peace conference at the UN General Assembly reads somewhat:

“Nuclear weapons are not meant for fighting; they are there (only) for deterrence.”

This has now been going on for decades since the legendary Mr K Subrahmanyam drew up the draft of India’s Nuclear Doctrine, which communicated, along with India’s NFU status, the spirit that:

“Nuclear weapons are the weapons of last resort; they’ll be used only in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian Territory or on Indian forces anywhere.”

As can be seen, there is a subtle difference between what the genius, Mr Subrahmanyam enunciated and what the later gurus interpreted, communicated and taught to the lesser mortals––the military personnel and the scientists––people who would be expected to ‘handle’ the nukes when ordained by the political leadership. Over the years, the people, who would some day play Colonel Petrov in India’s case; have been getting inoculated with a different vaccine than should have been ideally prescribed.

An ambiguity at a crucial moment––nuclear weapons being weapons of last resort or being meant only for deterrence––borne out of years of training, can cost India dear because it would take just about five to ten minutes from a launch (in Pakistan or China) to detonation (in India). In a situation like Petrov’s, Indians would not afford the luxury of time. It is therefore, imperative that people who would some day be in the decision making chain and those who would be executing a political big decision (particularly the men in uniform and the scientists) be educated and trained to act decisively without dithering like Colonel Petrov.

Need to unlearn and re-learn

The need to unlearn and relearn the nuances of the Indian Nuclear Doctrine is also mandated by the recent behaviour of our neighbours. Let’s look at it this way. Pakistan knows that its nuclear sabre rattling does not perturb India, for India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff twice recently––one, by carrying out surgical strikes across the border after Uri terror attack; and two, by executing airstrikes against terror camps at Balakot in response to the Pulwama Terror Attack. In both those cases, Imran Khan first blabbered about the heightening tensions and the possibility of ‘inadvertent’ use of nukes, then ate a humble pie.

Humiliated at home and abroad on those counts, and coupled with a messed up economy and a battered national prestige (because of Pakistan’s terror links), the Khan is vulnerable to arm-twisting by three agencies––Pakistan Military; Pakistan-based terror outfits; and a Shylock-like China, whose debt makes Pakistan cringe. China is capable of using several levers to instigate its stooge, Pakistan to surprise India. Considering these mounting pressures, the cricketer turned puppet of a politician, might be forced to reconsider and carry out his nuclear bluff. The probability, although infinitely low, is not equal to zero. Therefore, it would be prudent on India’s part to cater for a ‘mistaken’ use of a nuke by Imran’s Pakistan.

To sum up, security, and nuclear security in particular, is a dynamic concept; its doctrines and understanding of the same by every link in the chain needs periodic review and refreshing. Exercising realistically with the nuclear option will convey a stronger ‘resolve’ to the adversaries and work as a more meaningful deterrence without changing anything on the ground.

Related Posts

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Shredded…

8:00 am.  Sunday, December the 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbour happened––a surprise military strike by the Japanese devastated the US naval base in the Pacific. Major US losses included: four battleships sunk and another four damaged and three each cruisers and destroyers damaged. Worse was the destruction of 188 aircraft. Even greater setback was the loss of 2336 men (killed) and 1,143 wounded.

Although the US avenged Pearl Harbour by nuke bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it left indelible scars on the American psyche.

After the end of WW II, the Americans turned almost the whole of Pearl Harbour into a War Museum. The USS Arizona Memorial with the list of the dead warriors; the tattered Stars and Stripes and copies of the next day’s newspapers and much more––keep jolting Americans. “Never again,” is the message writ large upon everything American in Hawaii.

Strafed wall: HQ US PACAF

On my first visit to Hawaii, Brigadier General Meryll drew my attention to bullet marks on the wall of a building of the Headquarters of the US Pacific Air Forces. “We’ve deliberately not repaired those craters left by the Japanese bombers––they remind us that we were caught napping once. Pearl Harbour will never repeat,” he said.

A solemn resolve.

Time erodes memories. America was caught napping again––9/11 happened. The US pounded Afghanistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. Those follow-up actions certainly did not avenge or offset the 3,000 innocent American lives lost in the ghastly attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

As if that was not enough, America lowered its guard yet again. Covid-19 pandemic is no less than another Pearl Harbour––close to 1,97,000 innocent American lives lost, and still counting. America blames this one on China. Yet, simmering internal strife and the forthcoming Presidential election has blunted weakened Uncle Sam’s ability resolve to punish its perpetrator.

Caught napping…

Countries have their Pearl Harbour moments––October 1962 was India’s, when China attacked and occupied Indian territory by surprise. In the nearly six decades gone by, China has occasionally reminded India of that one time when India had dozed off. Galwan Valley incident was a rude reminder of the dragon’s sliminess. In fact, it was a jolt that let India learn its lesson hard, and fast. The result was evident in the swiftness with which Indian Army grabbed tactical advantage in the Pangong Tso Area. PLA will now use every arrow in its quiver to neutralise the Indian advantage. In all probability, the present lull is a prelude to yet another adventure by the dragon.

For whatever reasons, in 1962, India did not employ its combat air power against the Chinese. Likewise, during Kargil, restriction was imposed on the Indian Air Force on crossing the LAC. In both those cases, India paid an avoidable cost for not exploiting the full potential of its combat air power.

In the present situation, when the Indian Army is sitting pretty on heights overlooking the Chinese positions, it would be advisable to give the Air Force a free hand to plan and execute its operations in support of the Indian Army.

The supreme sacrifice made by the Indian Jawans in Galwan Valley is too recent an occurrence to be forgotten; it is never to be forgotten. 1962, India’s Pearl Harbour, is too unpleasant to be allowed to repeat.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

A day after the meeting between the External Affairs Ministers of India and China, the experts who went deep diving into the official statements of the two, to draw meaning, have not struck upon anything to write home about. Some are now trying to read the body languages of the two ministers during the ten-second photo-op with the Russian Foreign Minister. Until something significant trickles from their efforts, one might take a re-look at the antecedents of the Galwan Valley faceoff and the Pangong Tso standoff. On a dispassionate glance at the incidents in the rear-view mirror, one might just get inclined to draw a conclusion which, might be viewed with mixed emotions… and that inference is:

“Sino-Indian border issue is too serious an affair to be left to a single agency––political leadership, diplomatic corps or the military––to resolve.”

Beyond any doubt, the synergy of the trio has helped India hold the dragon at bay… until now.

The present situation can be summarised thus: India has a tactical military advantage in the Ladakh region––Indian Army will exploit that edge, if a need arises. While China is weighing and considering its options, India is consolidating its position––troops are getting more acclimatised and are stocking up to address the developing situation. China cannot possibly challenge Indian positions in the Ladakh region. If it opens another front elsewhere––say, Sikkim or Arunanchal, where its gains might be iffy––probably Indian troops would en-cash the advantage around Pangong Tso.

A China that now considers itself a world power second only to the US is less likely to eat a humble pie by accepting ‘status quo ante’ (for whatever it means), or by unconditionally withdrawing. A ‘publicised’ setback in Ladakh will affect China’s reputation and stakes elsewhere––Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and of course, in the sea on its south (some people call it South China Sea‘).

Imponderables are far too many to be summarised here. The time is running out. Suffice it to say that in due course winter will set in and it will become more difficult for Beijing to maintain its forces in the region than Delhi. Dragon is doomed if it accepts India’s terms for peace; it is doomed if it doesn’t. That perhaps is the reason for practically nothing coming out of the meeting between the ministers.

Can India help the dragon wriggle out of a situation it is responsible for creating?

Perhaps Sun Tzu’s Art of War can throw up an answer for India:

“When you surround an enemy [adversary], leave an outlet free…. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair. For you should not press a desperate foe too hard.”

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Chapter VII, Manoeuvring

Although not physically surrounded, Beijing’s dilemma in Ladakh is damning––to fight or to find a face saving way out of the imbroglio. While, the Indian Army is holding the fort, can the dragon be nudged into a diplomatic escape hatch from which it can emerge with a smile?

Is Mr Jaishankar listening?

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

[This follows from an earlier post: “Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface”]

News from India-China border isn’t very encouraging. Last month end situation became volatile in eastern Ladakh after India thwarted a Chinese attempt to occupy Indian territory near Pangong Tso. As it stands, India has occupied a number of strategic heights on the southern bank of the lake and strengthened its presence in other areas in the region. India has also rushed in additional troops and military hardware to the region.

The diplomatic and military level talks to ease tensions have failed. Also, nothing worthwhile emerged from the interaction between the Defence Ministers on the sidelines of the SCO Defence Ministers Meeting in Moscow on September 4, 2020. The probability of the success of a similarly planned meeting between the External Affairs Ministers scheduled on September 10, 2020 hovers closer to zero than 1. The reasons are understandable. India, having occupied positions of tactical advantage in Ladakh will be approaching the dialogue with a little more bargaining power than it usually does. China might want this status to change before discussing contentious border issues. Besides, unlike the Indian representatives who are empowered to take decisions, the Chinese representatives at such meetings are not authorised to take decisions.

Meanwhile, following reports of Chinese troops firing warning shots in Ladakh, troops on either side are on the razor’s edge. There are ominous signs that after having made relentless vain attempts at negotiating peace, the political leadership on both sides might pass on the baton to the military to ‘handle’ the issue.

‘War-mongering’? May be. Or, is it ‘wisdom’? Wisdom wrung out of the experience of 1962, which points at the dire need of military preparedness of a high order and readiness to deal with a belligerent neighbour.

Among others, one dimension of military preparedness is existence of support infrastructure along the border. Several projects related to new construction (and development of old ones) of roads, runways, helipads, ammunition dumps, logistics nodes, transit camps and military hospitals etc are under way. These projects are unprecedented and are to Beijing’s chagrin. Once ready, they will bolster India’s war fighting ability considerably. This will force China to invent alternate ways to breach India’s defences. That, in turn, might give rise to the need for India of developing more new infrastructure.

The dire need to create infrastructure in times of crisis is a recurring issue. In 1947, service personnel and the refugees led by Lieutenant Colonel Pritam Singh built a 600-yard runway at Poonch in six days. In another case, tonnes of barbed wire were airdropped to barricade the advancing Chinese (Sino-India War 1962), even as troops were engaged in fighting. Whether it served the intended purpose, is doubtful. During the Berlin Airlift, building from a scratch 17,000 Berliners––men, women and children­­––worked in 8-hourly shifts to construct a runway at Tegel. Those (Poonch and Berlin) were cases of people rising to the occasion.

US Navy’s Construction Battalions (CBs) better known as Seabees have institutionalised speedy creation of infrastructure in times of crisis––a desideratum for fighting forces. Formed following the attack on Pearl Harbour when the task of turning imminent defeat into victory seemed almost insurmountable, the Seabees are very well equipped teams renowned for building bases, bulldozing and paving thousands of miles of roadway and airstrips, and accomplishing numerous other construction projects in different war zones since World War II. They constructed six 8500+ feet runways at the rate of one runway per 53 days; over 18 kms of taxiways; hard-standing to accommodate over 400 bombers, and accommodation for 50,000 personnel and office complexes, on the islands of Tinian and Saipan in a record time of less than a year during World War II. Seabees have been deployed around the globe supporting a variety of humanitarian missions and contingency operations. They were among the first forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks to upgrade and repair airfields.

To sum up, it is humanly impossible to make the long borders physically secure. While creation of border infrastructure does go a long way in securing the borders, it is also an endless process. There’s a case for creating teams of experts that can undertake rapid construction work of any type, anywhere, anytime: during wartime or during humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. Lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic has rendered a large number of ‘experts’ jobless. It should be possible to enrol volunteers to be employed and paid to serve ‘when the need arises’.

The need could be round the corner.

Other posts in the series:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Chinese incursion into the Galwan Valley earlier this year was but a-matter-of-routine. Nothing new, that’s something China had been doing for decades––entering Indian territory; sometimes withdrawing, but occasionally occupying pockets, and presenting them as ‘disputed areas’ at subsequent talks.

Salami slicing!

India’s response to that provocation surprised the world to no end. Among other options, a tough stance was the least expected, because until then people had judged India on the basis of its meek response to similar incidents in the past. The response dazed even the Indian public who had been in some kind of unspoken or grudgingly spoken awe of the dragon ever since the 1962 debacle.

India’s reaction was a Black Swan Event––unprecedented in its nature, spectacular in its impact. Now, military pundits and strategists are scratching their heads analysing, explaining and justifying the behaviour. The outcomes and the spinoffs of the transaction have been meaningful, and many. Importantly, it has raised the bar on the quality of India’s retaliation to Chinese military adventurism. That India will be even more assertive in such situations in the future is the new ‘expected’ norm. China will do well to take this change into account in its future calculations.

The talks at the diplomatic and the military levels to de-escalate tensions and to restore peace in the region have not made much headway. There is a definite dearth of points of convergence and trust has been conspicuously absent from the scene. A word about the complexity of the Sino-Indian border issue would be in order. Decades of diplomatic foot-dragging have complicated the already complex matter. Now, to resolve the issue appears to be as difficult as untangling a plateful of spaghetti or unscrambling an egg. Both, China and India have taken rigid stances and are unwilling to relent. It is anybody’s guess that the prevailing uneasy calm will end either in peace or will escalate into greater hostility. There’s however, an ominous tilt towards the possibility of the latter. Presently, both sides are trying hard to be in a situation wherein they can negotiate from a position of greater strength.

Meanwhile, General Bipin Rawat, the Chief of Defence Staff of India has declared that India is prepared for a military option, if the talks fail. In making such a provocative statement, the General might have only carried out the orders of the political leadership, because ‘good’ Indian generals do not normally air provocative views against a neighbour unless we are already at war. So, let the General roar and let the countrymen rest assured that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will give a clarion call through his ‘Man ki Baat‘ when the time is ripe. Period.

In a recently recorded video message, Mr Pravin Sawhney, Editor, Force Magazine dissects General Rawat’s words and iterates that unless backed by military power, warnings mean little; he’s so right on that count. He goes on to project India’s extreme vulnerabilities and concludes that it would take at least six months to prove the General’s claim of preparedness. After eulogising China for its varied capabilities––conventional warfare, cyber warfare, anti satellite (ASAT) capabilities, artificial intelligence capability, the capability to disrupt communication networks of India, its nexus with Pakistan et al.––he concludes that a war between China and India, if it were to take place, would be like the First Gulf War between the US and Iraq respectively, implying that India would be routed technologically even before the troops engage in land battle. At the end of a 20 plus-minute video in which he paints a dismal picture of India’s war preparedness and petrifies Indian viewers, he urges that the clip be circulated. For me, a replay of the video led to the distillation of the man’s suggestion, which to my mind conditioned by years of rigorous military life sounded somewhat like this:

“SURRENDER TO CHINA WITHOUT FIRING A BULLET!”

Echo of that implied suggestion so ‘F-O-R-C-E-fully’ made by Mr Pravin Sawhney rings menacingly in the mind until long after one turns off the video. Another look exposes the sense of insecurity of the presenter and the shallowness of his arguments. The naysayer and the pessimist in him, finds India’s faults and deficiencies well nigh infinite. If only he could realise, China is not the US; India, not Iraq. Unwarranted anxieties of the timid will only prove to be countervailing factors in India’s efforts to deal with that country. That said, there is good reason to listen carefully to the meaningful signals, if any, in the cacophony of deafening alarm bells that the paranoid Mr Sawhney rings.

Introspection!

Today, when India and China are at daggers drawn, the chunks of information on military capabilities of the two countries that are available in the open domain, rather ‘fed’ to the public, could be quite inaccurate. Under the circumstances, a SWOT analysis could go awry; it could be an exercise in futility. Therefore, more prudent and fruitful approach to deal with the darned dragon at this moment would be to focus on exploiting all available means and resources to bolster the existing military capacity and capabilities. Therein is the genesis of this five-part blog post––this part being the Preface. The posts that follow will discuss issues related to boosting military manpower, bolstering border infrastructure and military capability, refining military thinking on the use of nuclear weapons and the idea of mustering external influence to bear on the adversary and more.

Following posts in this series are now available:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

Oh, Those Chinese!

Believe it, or not! But, it is a recorded fact of military history and is true as true can be. The soldiers for the Chinese Federal Army that supported the Allied war effort in the Asia-Pacific region during the Second World War were recruited in a peculiar fashion.

Men, considered expert at recruiting, would suddenly descend upon a neighbourhood and cordon off a few blocks. Then they would work into the centre like beaters on a wild animal hunt. Once the unsuspecting boys were rounded up, they’d be given a physical examination to determine if they were eligible for service. This examination consisted solely of their dropping their pants. If they were old enough to have pubic hair, they were in the Chinese army.

God knows for how long after the WW II, that system of recruitment continued.

Unwilling little dragons (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

Needless to say, those youth were anything, but volunteers. The unwilling little dragons were potential hazards to military operations. For one, they were extremely fearful of flying. In one case, an aircraft crashed because several panicking recruits jumped out as their plane picked up speed on the take off run. The rest dashed to the rear of the plane to follow suite. That led to over-weighting the tail, causing the aircraft to stall into the ground.

They had a horrendous sense of humour. When they did get used to flying as passengers, they considered it a big joke to open up the cargo door of an aircraft in flight, point to something interesting below and entice a buddy to peep out, and then push him out. An occasional troop-carrying plane would arrive at its destination with one or two men short.

Scared of air travel (Graphic courtesy Printerest)

This one is even more bizarre! The recruits believed that an evil dragon was following them at all times and constantly sought to evade it. They endeavoured to stay just a step ahead. The aircraft provided a means of getting rid of the dragon. All that a recruit had to do was to run in front of a taxying aircraft. The closer he came to the whirling propellers, the surer he was that the dragon following him would be chopped to pieces by the propeller blades. Quite often, a dragon-fleeing Chinese would run into the propeller blades himself. It would make an ungodly mess, with pieces of ‘Chinese’ flying everywhere. The spectators would roar with laughter at the ghastly sight. Oh, those Chinese!

Of what relevance is the above information today to the Indian Jawan standing vigil at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China?

Well! Well!

The country we call People’s Republic of China, came into being on October 1, 1949. Going by simple logic, there is a chance that quite a few senior members of the present day People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China might have been recruited and might have led life as described above. And for sure, all of them must have been trained and groomed by people who would have gone through the queer recruitment procedure and lived the fear of the dragon.

Again, as brought out, PLA is not a volunteer army, not a very seasoned one either (as compared to the Indian Army). It has not fought many wars. In its war against Korea, it suffered huge losses (nearly 2,09,000 dead/ wounded). In its war against India (1962), its losses were 700 (nearly half as many as India’s nearly 1400).

Psychological warfare through social media has been ‘ON’ for a long while. Chinese propaganda machinery has projected the PLA to be a ‘professional’ army. But their recent actions at the LOC suggest otherwise. They are cruel, not brave; they are unscrupulous and (we hear) they have no respect even for the dead. They have a swarm mentality.

In the words of Air Marshal Vinod Patney (the IAF veteran of Kargil fame), “The Chinese are not six feet tall.”

So?

Dear Jawan, know your adversary and know yourself. Although today’s Chinese soldier might be well trained and might wield a state-of-the-art weapon, he is not a willing and motivated being. He lacks experience too. But don’t get carried away––he is slimy, untrustworthy.

You have inherited war fighting from the best in the business. You are a professional army seasoned over many years of war fighting: in WW I, WW II and in the wars with Pakistan and China itself. Besides, thanks to Pakistan sponsored infiltration attempts, your war fighting skills have remained honed and tested. 

We hear that in the recent encounter in Galwan Valley, some rules of engagement had deferred your response to the back stabbing by the Chinese. It led not only to the martyrdom of our brave hearts but mutilation of the bodies of some of them.

Next time, if ever it comes to fighting with primitive weapons make the best use of them. But pray don’t stoop to pay back the adversary in their coin. The time one spends in mutilating a dead warrior could be utilised better to slit another (enemy) throat or chop another (enemy) head.

Just remember, you are there, not to lay down your life for the country but to kill the enemy to protect India’s territorial integrity. Jai Hind! (Author’s Note: The Chinese history discussed in this post has been sourced from “Over the Hump,” a book authored by Lieutenant General William H Tunner)

Modi’s Rabin Predicament and a Belligerent China

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s short speech this afternoon (June 17, 2020) to the nation on the border skirmish with China can be summed in just one word: “R-E-S-O-L-V-E”. “Our Jawans died fighting; their sacrifices will not go in vain,” he had said. One was reminded of a similar resolve when he had displayed exactly the same emotion after the Pulwama Terror strike and…

Resolute in Crisis

And Balakot happened.

Modi’s speech catapulted me back in time to a historical event. In July 1976, another Prime Minister in another country was faced with a crisis of similar intensity but a different dimension. A hundred and four Israelis were held hostage by terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. They were demanding release of a number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails on charges of terrorism. The deadline was fast approaching at the end of which, they had threatened to kill the innocent civilians.

The rescue operation 3000 odd kms away from Israel entailed flying through hostile Arab territories. An error of judgement could cost lives: lives of the hostages, lives of the rescue team. So he––supported by his Cabinet, and the opposition led by Menachem Begin––decided to capitulate to the terrorists.

For Rabin, 104 Israeli lives were precious. He also knew that his decision (to capitulate to the terrorists) would mean the collapse of Israel’s policy of not surrendering to terror––a policy it had taken years to build, at a formidable cost in innocent blood (Note: Israel has swapped terrorists for hostages in extremely rare cases). Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was caught between the devil and the deep sea.

Yitzhak Rabin

While the preparations were still on to negotiate the release of the hostages, Rabin ordered his men in uniform: “Bring me something we can implement.” Circumstances pushed the terrorists’ deadline back by a few days and the military came up with a daringly dangerous, but workable plan. There could be up to 20 casualties (hostages) under normal circumstances. But, if the terrorists had even a minute’s notice, everyone could be killed, including all the commandos.

While giving a go ahead to the military, Rabin kept the Israeli parliament informed. Without doubt, it was one of the toughest decisions ever taken by any Israeli government. Rabin made it clear that if the raid (Operation Thunderbolt, later rechristened, Operation Netanyahu) failed, the government would have to resign. But when the final vote was called––kudos to a very sensible and well-meaning opposition––all hands were raised in favour of the Prime Minister’s decision. None doubted his intentions; none asked him to pledge his head.

Rest is history.

Returning to the India-China standoff in the Galwan Valley. China has orchestrated the standoff at a time when the world, including India, is busy fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. China thought that it would be able to get away with ‘murder’. It was a miscalculation, for if, one were to go by unconfirmed media reports, China too has suffered substantial losses.

The Chinese Foreign Minister is now talking of de-escalation. Going by the antecedents, any such Chinese suggestion needs to be taken with extreme caution. In fact, looking at China’s most recent belligerence, it would be prudent to carry a gun in one hand when the other one holds out an olive branch. It has become imperative to prepare militarily for a long haul. While at it, the diplomatic corps could get into overdrive and help China arrive at its Champagne Moment (read post titled “China’s Champagne Moment”). Now is the time!

Think of it… today Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s situation is not much different from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s. In this moment of crisis, he (Modi) has displayed great resolve. We, the people need to stand by him. While the military and the diplomatic corps go for the dragon’s jugular, the least that the rest of us can do is: “TO-BE-OUR-BEST-SELVES.”

Need that be elaborated?

Again, like the Israeli parliamentarians in 1976, the elected representatives of the people of India will have an opportunity to prove their worth when they meet on Friday, June 19, 2020 to discuss the standoff at the behest of the Prime Minister. History will judge them (and Prime Minister Modi) by their actions on that day.

Postscript

After reading this post, one of my dear friends concluded that I was suggesting that the opposition parties must support Modi and that they would be judged in the future on that basis. He did not agree with the suggestion for the opposition parties to prove themselves. In his opinion, Modi must first win the trust of the people. He added that lately he has taken the people for granted. He has the penchant for being in the limelight at the expense of everything and wants people to believe that he can do no wrong. He needs to learn to be humble, promise less and do more. He can’t keep experimenting with lives of the people without being accountable.

Is Mr Modi listening? People aren’t just looking up to you; they are ‘watching’ you.

To my concerned friend: When I said ‘Modi’, I meant ‘the Prime Minister’. I would have made the same suggestion (to support the man in that office/ chair) had the PM been Mr Rahul Gandhi, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mr Kejriwal, Mr Surjewala, Ms Mayawati, Ms Rabri Devi, or anyone else for that matter. I feel that it does no good questioning the leadership in the midst of a grave national crisis (two in this case: Covid-19 pandemic and the standoff with the Chinese). If people feel let down today or in the future, they’ll have an opportunity to replace him in the next general election. Let’s not forget, when time came, the docile Indian democracy showed the door to the likes of Mrs Indira Gandhi. My suggestion to the parliamentarians is to stand by Modi, the PM (not Modi, the man) when it comes to make a difficult choice in national interest. Remember, Winston Churchill was shown the door by the British people despite England’s victory in WW II.

The Unforgettable Throttle Dutt and his Flying Machine

C-119 Fairchild Packet…

Legend has it that after the Korean War the Americans didn’t want to take that aircraft back to the US and offered it to India at a paltry Rs 5,000/- an aircraft; some say, the aircraft were passed on for a mere USD each. A number of them were certainly donated by the US, to address India’s dire need. Does that matter now? Not really!

C-119 Fairchild Packet

Packet aircraft remained the mainstay of the IAF’s transport aircraft fleet from the mid-1950s (around the time when its production stopped) until the workhorse was finally given a place of honour in the Air Force Museum at Palam (March 31, 1986). Whether it was to serve the UN in Congo or to airlift relief supplies to Egypt and Hungary; whether it was to land guns and men at Chushul (India-China War, 1962) or to paradrop troops over Tangail (Liberation of Bangladesh, 1971); whether it was to ferry Prime Minister Nehru on a state visit across the Iron Curtain to Moscow or to ship Lieutenant General AAK Niazi from Dacca to Nagpur (1972)––Packet did it all, and did it in style and with élan. The Packet fleet also undertook air maintenance task and paratrooping training as a matter of routine.

Farewell to Packet

A look at that aircraft would make one marvel at its ability to defy the laws of gravity and the Principles of Flight. In appearance it was quite un-aircraft-like––its designers called it a Flying Boxcar. Others, less kind in their treatment of the workhorse, gave it the epithet of Flying Coffin. One wonders, “With not-so-appealing (streamlined) features, how a Packet aircraft used to (at all) get unstuck, let alone get airborne and stay afloat?” Well! Packet aircraft had a wingspan of 110 feet. Its engines were the most powerful engines ever built in piston engine era. They produced 3500 horsepower for a weight of 3350 pounds, that is, more than a horsepower per pound of weight. With that brute power, the aircraft could land at Daulat Beg Oldie, the highest airfield in the world. That was in the years 1962 to 1965––more than half a century before the first C-130J Super Hercules landed there. The great Indian Jugaad of installing a jetpack atop the fuselage gave Packet aircraft the added power needed to achieve marvellous feats. Interestingly, Packet was the only aircraft, which had both, piston engines and a jet engine to provide thrust.

My first acquaintance with the aircraft was in February 1982 when I flew for an air experience. And, before I could get the real feel I had boarded the aircraft a second time, for my first parachute descent. In the following 35 years, as a Parachute Jump Instructor (PJI) I have jumped from nearly a dozen different types of transport aircraft of the IAF––from the vintage Dakota and the Caribou to the state-of-the-art Special Operations aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules. But the memory of the jumps made from Packet aircraft is indelible.

As the mind perambulates between now and those days, I recall that it was the magnificent men who flew that machine that really made jumps and life so memorable. I feel that Packet used to fly not because of its overly powered engines, but because of the willpower of the men in blue. Volumes can be written about those memorable days and those heroes. Today I’ll recall just one.

They called him Throttle Dutt.

As the name suggests, he was indeed throttle-happy––ever eager to hop into the cockpit and fly off. Rex Raymond, his course-mate thought, that nickname suited SK Dutt also because of his resemblance to the thin (read, “slim”) shaft of the throttle of a Piper Cub aircraft, which they flew as youngsters. We, the Parachute Jump Instructors (PJIs) knew that if there was an airworthy aircraft on the tarmac and Throttle was around, we’d get our fill of jumps––he would stop only after the task was completed.

Throttle Dutt

Whenever Wing Commander SK Dutt dropped us, we would land in the Drop Zone, evenly scattered on either side of the centre; his name spelt confidence. He would often come to our crew room and, over a cup of tea discuss almost everything under the sun. He was a voracious reader. No wonder, some of his buddies called him Professor.

That day I was anxious about the jump; I had reasons to be in that state of mind.  It was my first outstation jump as an independent spotter. Wing Commander GJ Gomes, our Chief Instructor at the Paratroopers Training School had detailed me to take charge of the Skydiving Demonstration at the ASC Centre at Gaya. It meant that I would be required to work out the release point depending on the prevailing winds and advise the pilot to drop the jumpers. To achieve that, I would be required to lean out of the open door of the aircraft in flight and advise the captain on the intercom to steer the desirable course, with last minute corrections. Skill of the skydivers apart, a good understanding between the pilot and the spotter was the key to pinpoint drops.

I had lined up the skydivers on the tarmac at Gaya Airport and had just completed the pre-jump briefing, when a smiling Throttle Dutt and Squadron Leader Venkiteswaran (the pilots) arrived and signalled us to emplane. They wished me good luck and were about to board the aircraft when Captain Anil Kumar, one of the jumpers walked up to Throttle Dutt and said, “Sir, Khajuraho will be on our way when we fly back to Agra after the demonstration jump…” Then, with wickedness swirling in his eyes, the young officer added, “How about flying a little low over the temples. May be we’ll get a glimpse of the beautiful statues.” He laid extra stress on ‘the beautiful statues’.

Throttle chuckled equally slyly and nudged him towards the aircraft ladder as if to say, “Son, first go and do a good jump.”

The demonstration went off very well. All the skydivers landed in the designated target area in front of the spectators. Wing Commander Gomes was pleased; the crew complimented me when we reached the tarmac after a lavish lunch and fanfare, which are synonymous with such demonstrations. Incidentally, with that jump I completed another century of safe landings. Very soon we were airborne again, heading for Agra. There would be a refuelling halt en route, at Allahabad.

Partly the fatigue, and partly the odd beer or a gin and lime cordial that people had downed at lunch, started taking its toll. Wickets fell one after the other. Within minutes of our departure from Gaya, more than half of us were asleep; the other half were fast asleep. None kept track of time. The chit-chit in the ears caused due to the aircraft’s descent and the mild thud associated with the landing, jostled people from their deep slumbers. Rubbing the eyes and trying to get the bearings right, someone asked, “Allahabad? How much time will we take to refuel?” That question went unanswered as more and more people got up and started looking out of the windows. Sleepiness and the fogging caused by their breaths on the cold Perspex conspired to keep them from getting their dead reckoning. It actually didn’t matter because: Throttle Dutt would ensure our return home by dinner.

As was customary, people waited for the Captain of the aircraft to come out of the cockpit and deplane first. Then, they would form a beeline to the nearest rest room. The fastest would get relief first. “Guys!” Throttle Dutt said as he clapped twice and drew the attention of the people still shuffling restlessly in their seats. “I am giving you exactly one hour and fifteen minutes,” he looked at his wristwatch and continued,” It is three now. Be back by four fifteen. We are in Khajuraho; the temples are not far. You can have a look as I get the aircraft refuelled.” He exchanged a meaningful glance with the young officer who had made the suggestion at Gaya Airport.

Throttle Dutt had chosen to refuel at Khajurao instead of Allahabad––it was his way of keeping the morale of the people around him high without, of course, compromising operations. Four thirty was the closing time for that less used civil airport. For the next ninety minutes Throttle would have a tough time handling the airport staff.

It took the greater part of a long minute for the import of Throttle’s communication to sink into the heads of the jumpers. And when it did make sense, they got into action; they couldn’t afford to waste another minute. It was precisely a three-minute, all male striptease inside the aircraft, at the end of which men were in smart casuals. They couldn’t have gone out in the streets in overalls and dungarees.

In the next few minutes two scores of crew cut men were out in the narrow streets invading the sleepy little town of Khajuraho. They caught hold of any means they could––cycle rickshaw, auto-rickshaw, tonga and some even jogged to reach the tourist attractions.

Meanwhile at the airport…

A worried air traffic controller begged Throttle Dutt to clear the tarmac. He said there wasn’t enough space to accommodate an Air India B 737 aircraft scheduled to land in a while. Throttle assured him that he would move his aircraft further back and create enough space on the tarmac for the incoming B 737. Then, Throttle got into the cockpit, started up the engines and used reverse to create manoeuvring space for the B 737 in full view of a spellbound Airport Staff. It was a sight, they had never seen––they had never seen any aircraft, let alone a massive one of the size of Packet, moving backwards under its own power. 

And although that act of reversing the aircraft on that small manoeuvring surface impressed the controller, it did not allay his anxiety. He now urged the crew to get airborne by four thirty; that was when the watch hours at Khajuraho Airport would cease. Throttle assured them that we’d leave in time.

Back at the Temple site––they went; they saw; and they felt conquered! How the jumpers felt after their visit to the Temples could be the subject of another piece. Suffice it to say that they did not talk about it. Perhaps, how Throttle Dutt made it possible for the bunch of those curious men, and the effort it took to reach the heritage site, was more interesting and memorable than the beauty and the artwork people got to witness there. Period. The entire lot was back at the airport in time for the take off. They lined up and got into the aircraft hurriedly. Throttle Dutt gave an impish smile to a beaming Anil Kumar as he climbed the ladder to take off for Agra.

Dead Men Tell No Tales. Do Dead Terrorists Do?

There was carnage in Sri Lanka last month on Easter Sunday. The Lankans had somehow missed out on (read “doubted”) the lead provided by the Indian intelligence agencies and paid a heavy price for it (Aftermath of Lanka Blasts: Of Open Stable Doors and Bolting Steeds). Perhaps some of the blasts could have been averted had they heeded the Indian warning. Oh really!?  But then those very Indian agencies that provided a ‘clue’ to the Sri Lankans could not place a finger on the Pulwama terror attack in time. Was it a ‘lapse’ or ‘failure of intelligence’ as the media often dubs it? Can they be held responsible (squarely) for the terror strike? There are no straight answers to those rhetorical questions. There can’t really be. One can debate them, with no conclusion whatsoever, till the cows come home.

Needless to say, the job of the intelligence agencies is becoming tougher by the day. Sifting the mountains of information that they come across and zeroing on what matters, before the terrorists execute their missions, is not an enviable job. It is definitely more challenging than looking for a needle in the haystack.

Time to take stock

Dead men tell no tales but dead terrorists do. If one were to go by the media reports, the security forces have recovered a sketch from the body of a terrorist killed in an encounter in Shopian earlier this week. The sketch indicates that terror groups are planning suicide attacks at Indian Air Force bases at Srinagar and Awantipur.

How seriously, can such ‘sketches’ or any other clues be taken? Is another Pathankot, Uri or Pulwama brewing? May be; may not be. Could this ‘sketch’ just be a red herring; could the actual target be different––Delhi? Mumbai? Bengaluru? Hyderabad? Noida? Ghaziabad?

Read on, for a lesson from the past…

Target?

At a time when the World War II was peaking and the Germans and the Italians were wondering about the Allied plans in the Mediterranean, the British engineered a smart ruse. They got the body of a soldier, who had died of pneumonia and dressed him in the attire of a Royal Navy Courier and gave him the identity of one ‘Major Martin’. They secured a briefcase to his wrist, the way classified documents were carried in those days, and left his body floating at sea, off a Spanish Port. The briefcase contained ‘secret’ letters––addressed to British diplomats in Cairo indicating an Allied intention of landings in Greece. As expected, the dead Major Martin was found by some Spaniards and handed over to their Government officials. The Spaniards photographed the documents before handing over the body (and the briefcase) to the British Naval Attaché in Madrid. And again, as expected the Spaniards turned over the photographs of the documents to the Germans who took them to be genuine.

The ruse worked; the Germans were grossly misled. The British and the American airborne forces landed at Sicily and ‘surprised’ the Germans.

“Dead men (and may be, dead terrorists) can tell cooked up tales to cover their trails.”

So?

That terror groups in Jammu and Kashmir are planning attacks in the Valley is a new normal. In this instance the intelligence agencies have logically concluded that Pakistan-based groups might carry out an attack on May 23, the day when counting of votes for Lok Sabha election 2019 will take place. Although, as per the reports, Indian Air Force bases in Srinagar and Awantipur are the likely targets, nothing prevents the terrorists from changing their mind. Or, do they already have a ‘different’ plan? Who knows? Therefore, a really tough time awaits the intelligence agencies and security forces.

Three simple things that a common man can do to strengthen their hands are:

  • Share information only if it is a must, after verifying the truthfulness.
  • Travel and congregate only if it is a must––roads clear of undue traffic, and less crowded public spaces, enhance the efficiency of the intelligence and security personnel.
  • Stay vigilant.

Not a tall order?!