MiG-21 Bison & F-16 in the Eyes of a Goof

A New Golf Set

My pride in my brand new Grand Slam Powerbilt golf set was blown to smithereens when I saw a caddie––in tattered trousers and oversized shoes––lob a golf ball beautifully over a bunker on to a practice green. The club he used was not a branded lob wedge but the branch of a tree, which resembled a walking stick. I was incapable of performing that feat.

Unbelievable, but true!

Although the golf set I was using was gifted to me by Mahesh, my nephew, that incident, more than a dozen years ago, made me wonder, “Was it worth it to invest a couple of thousand rupees in a costly golf set, when a similar result could be obtained with an ordinary old set (or a stick)?” The example of the caddie lobbing a ball with a stick was playing on my mind. Secretly, I envied that urchin to no end.

I’ll give a pause to golf for the time being for there’s a more pressing issue to discuss.

The Indomitable MiG-21 Bison

The other day, an Indian Air Force MiG-21 Bison downed a Pakistan Air Force F-16. That’s what they say, and that’s what my feeling of nationalism, which is overflowing at this moment, makes me believe. In the many debates that ensued on the prime time television and in the electronic and print media, I found some people suggesting that MiG-21 aircraft was a match for the F-16. In fact, it was the other way round. They said, “F-16 is no match for the MiG-21 aircraft.” Mind the subtle difference!

F-16

Some suggested that Indian fighter pilots––with their Su-30 Mk I, Mirage 2000, Tejas and MiG series of combat aircraft––were too good, and were capable of matching any adversary. Hesitantly though, some experts broached the subject of urgency to procure the Rafale fighter aircraft. They felt that it was important to remove the doubts about the kickbacks before procuring the aircraft.

In a vibrant democracy people are not only entitled to opinions, they’re free to air them too.

Returning to golf. In due course of time I realised that the youngster could do little more than lob the ball a few yards away with that stick. To strike the ball long, or putt it, he needed a proper club––a stick of any shape or size was no good. When I gave him a pair of better shoes and one of my golf clubs, he displayed even superior prowess.

I set aside my envy and focussed on my game with the new set. My spirit was high; and my game improved––a few more pars and an odd birdie on the whole. I started winning more games against my usual partners. Interestingly, the scores of some of my opponents dipped. “How can we match your superior new golf set?” said one.

To conclude: Ability of the man behind the machine (equipment) matters; it is of utmost importance. But good equipment not only improves his performance but also raises his morale and goes on to intimidate the adversary. It’s time to address the equipment needs of the Indian armed forces in the right earnest. Today, the morale of the adversary is at a low ebb. Delay in enhancing our capabilities will give time to the adversary to recoup and re-muster its strength.

Balakot Airstrike & the Art of Drawing Lessons

A scientist placed a frog on a table and yelled, “Frog, jump!” The frog leapt forward two feet to the middle of the table. The scientist adjusted his spectacles, read the information flashing on the digital displays of the sophisticated equipment placed in the vicinity and scribbled some observations. He then picked up the amphibian and put it back at the starting point. Without any emotions, he removed (read “chopped”) its hind legs with surgical precision and yelled again, “Frog, jump!” The incapacitated being did not move an inch. “Eureka!” The heart of the jubilant scientist took a leap; he flipped open his notepad and wrote this inference: “The amputation of the hind limbs of an amphibian at an ambient temperature of 27ºC affects its tympanic membranes so that there is a hundred per cent loss of hearing (at 100 db, 25,000 Hz).

Drawing conclusions, inferences and lessons is an art.

Imran surrenders to a moustache

It is inappropriate to talk of a scientist and a frog when the flavour of the day is the airstrike by the IAF across the border at Balakot in Pakistan.

An expert with a TV channel has made an observation that Wing Commander Abhinandan took a hundred and thirty two steps in seven minutes to cross the Attari-Wagah border. Another one has concluded that Imran (Pakistan) surrendered to a moustache (that of Abhinandan).

That was for dark humour.

MiG-21 outwits F-16

On a serious note, a conclusion that some are drawing is that an F-16 aircraft is no match for a MiG 21 Bison. Perhaps it is a conclusion that has been reached a little too early by “experts” sitting in the cosy comforts of their drawing rooms. The fog of war has not cleared yet. Abhinandan’s version of the story is yet to become public.

This is a time for restraint; time to hold the horses and to avoid jumping to conclusions. Drawing inferences, conclusions and lessons is an art, a rare art. It better be left to the real experts.

For now, the question is:

Would the availability of a state of the art fifth generation fighter aircraft in IAF inventory have deterred Pakistan from daring to enter Indian airspace?

An expert is not needed to answer that question.

Pakistan, India & the Art of War

Dictionaries left by the British in the government offices at the time of India’s Independence were torn apart so that a country could take the pages with the alphabet from A-L and the other could own those with M-Z. That was the level of mutual antagonism between India and Pakistan on the eve of partition in 1947 as per Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The hostility has compounded over the years. While Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sought to wage a war for a thousand years, General Zia ul Haq was determined to bleed India through a thousand cuts.

India-Pakistan

The two neighbours have pursued different Arts of War over the years. Pakistan has bled India for over three decades through covert operations. India has borne the brunt of acts of terrorism sponsored by Pakistan without retaliating decisively against that country, or against those orchestrating the attacks from its soil. The terror strike at Uri, and the one at Pulwama that left over 40 CRPF men dead, has changed the status quo. It has made India deviate from a path of reconciliation and take the path of retaliation.

The Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi gave the armed forces a “free hand in choosing the time, place and the nature” of the response to Pulwama Terror attack. He added that each drop of tear of the families of the martyrs would be avenged. The Rubicon had been crossed. The pre-emptive airstrike by IAF fighters on the terrorist training camps at Balakot (Pakistan) twelve days after the Pulwama terror attack, left Pakistan stunned, as if struck by an earthquake.

In effect, the aftershocks have been no less spectacular. India withdrew the “Most Favoured Nation” status accorded to Pakistan, and raised the excise duty to 200%. India’s action to re-commence work on the dams on the Indus and other rivers has jolted Pakistan. Although indirect, the withdrawal of security to the separatist leaders in J&K has also been a setback to Pak interests. To the detriment of Pakistan, all the opposition parties in the Indian Parliament have also pledged support to the government. Through conscientious diplomatic effort, India has managed to get Pakistan isolated on the world stage. Even China, its all-weather friend has since maintained graveyard silence. The US called on Pakistan to immediately end the support and dismantle the safe haven provided to the terrorist groups operating from its soil. The invitation to India as the ‘Guest of Honour’ to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Meeting in Abu Dhabi has been the proverbial last straw that has broken the camel’s (read Pakistan’s) back.

Pakistan released Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the IAF pilot who had landed up in Pak custody after ejecting from his fighter aircraft. Although, Imran Khan said that it was a goodwill gesture to promote peace, the fact is that an isolated Pakistan has succumbed to the cumulative pressure created by India.

With its economy in shambles, Pakistan cannot afford to wage a full-scale war. Besides, a full-scale war can lead to its dismemberment; trouble is brewing in the country’s northwest. Pakistan now knows well the consequences of waging a proxy war against India. In one of his televised addresses recently, Imran Khan had spoken of possible ‘miscalculation’ by either side. If he was obliquely hinting at the possible use of nukes, he is also aware of India’s ability to absorb the first strike and India’s capability of a second strike. For sure, he is well aware of the asymmetry, too.

The Art of War

Sun Tzu says: “When you surround an army (read enemy), leave an outlet free. This does not mean that the enemy is to be allowed to escape. The object is to make him believe that there is a road to safety, and thus prevent his fighting with the courage of despair.

Has India left a road to safety for Pakistan? What’s it?

India has left an option for Pakistan. Pakistan’s road to safety (and peace for its people) is through handing over the likes of Masood Azhar and Dawood Ibrahim to India, and to dismantle the terror training camps flourishing in its backyard.

A Black Swan at Balakot

Black Swan: Rarity, impact & predictability

A Black Swan event has three attributes. First, it is (most) unexpected; cognition excludes any likelihood (at all) of its occurrence. Second, its outcome is spectacular. And the third, despite its unexpectedness, people get down to concocting explanations to justify its occurrence. These can be summed as rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective predictability. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, The Black Swan explains the concept.

Air raid on the terror camps in Balakot (Pakistan) by IAF fighters in the wee hours of February 26, 2019 displays these three attributes of a Black Swan event. The event was unexpected, keeping the feeble Indian response to similar provocations in the past: the Parliament Attack (2001), the Mumbai Terror Attack (2008), and the Pathankot Terror Strike (2016)… the list is long. And, even after the recent terror attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama, there was a view that India lacked the will to respond to such provocations. On that occasion, as always, whether India had a Strategic Culture to respond to provocations became a point of intellectual debate. I too had contributed my anna bit to the discourse (Read Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture).

The Balakot Air Strike

Let alone the outcome, which is being questioned by Pakistan, the very act of the IAF fighters crossing the border and releasing ordnance over the terror camps is a spectacular act. It was unimaginable until it happened; how it stunned everyone needs no further elucidation.

Volumes can be written on the third attribute––on the retrospective predictability. People attribute the happening of Balakot Air Strike to so many reasons: The political will, the pressure from the people, the moral high ground, the economic and military power that India wields today, and its recent diplomatic achievement in isolating Pakistan…. There are as many explanations as the number of armchair strategists.

In retrospect, the surgical strike by the Indian Army after the Uri Attack was a Black Swan event too.  

In the immediate present and now, Uri and Balakot are a thing of the past. The success of those raids/ attacks has raised the bar for India––several notches in one go. Now, a stage has been reached when perhaps even a Neptune Spear type raid (killing of Osama Bin Laden) by the Indian Special Forces to eliminate any of the terror leaders hiding in Pakistan will not come as a surprise, not even for the Pakistan’s military. Thus, even if it were to come to pass, a raid to eliminate the terror leaders, it would not qualify to be a Black Swan event. By implication, its success might be iffy.

For sure, Uri and Balakot are a thing of the past. The return gift from Pakistan for India’s Black Swan––another Black Swan––is a much anticipated and awaited thing. And, for sure, no amount of preparedness would be enough to fully absorb a true Black Swan event.

So?

Let the political and the military leadership and the diplomatic corps of the day have their way. They have pulled it this far; they definitely have plans for the future. While they are doing their bit to restore some semblance of normalcy in the region, they are also prepared, to the extent possible, to meet the retaliation on all fronts. The noise and din in the streets and in the media can only distract them.

Prudence demands that they be allowed to concentrate.

Chocolates, Child & An Attractive Offer

Jim studies in a school. All children do. But his school is a school with a difference, where four R’s (the fourth ‘R’ being learning by rote) are not a part of a curriculum. Education is imparted in a rather unique way. When a child sees an aeroplane and asks a question, he is told about the flying machine and is waylaid (“waylaid,” seems to be an inappropriate word; “encouraged,” might be a better choice) to ask more questions. Sometimes the learning that starts from an aeroplane covers gliders, helicopters, fighter aircraft, sky, clouds, eagles, butterflies, flowers, colours, Wright Brothers, parachutes… literally everything that possibly strikes a child’s imagination in any direction. The teacher makes use of every tool in her bag to kindle the child’s imagination. Like in this case, she resorts to origami to make a paper aircraft, and she makes use of drawing to sketch a colourful butterfly.

Origami

The parents get educated too, and take charge at home. “Never say, NO to a child,” is the one thing they bear in mind always.

The other day, Jim received some chocolates from his uncle, forty of them in a box, and wanted to eat all of them instantly. An interesting conversation ensued. A lifetime of education is sandwiched between two of Jim’s utterances to William, his father: ‘Dad I want to eat all the chocolates now’ and ‘Dad, I don’t want to eat all the chocolates now.’ Here goes the conversation:

Jim: “Dad, I want to eat all the chocolates now. I like them so much. Please, Dad.”

William: “Can you eat them all? How many are there? Count!”

“One, two, three, … 39.” [Jim’s counting skill gets exercised.]

“Good! You ate one at noon. What’s the time now?”

“The hour hand is between five and six and the minute hand is at six,” Jim scratches his chin. “Hmm! It’s half past five.” [Jim gets practice in reading the hands of a clock and telling time.]

“Very good, indeed! I like that. I am so happy, you can now tell me the time. Here’s another chocolate for you.” [Jim feels victorious. He feels proud of his achievement. Happily he removes the wrapper and pops the chocolate in his mouth.]

“Is it sticky,” asks William, and without waiting for an answer, continues, “You know Jim, chocolate sticking between the teeth can cause tooth decay. Do you remember Tom (Jim’s friend) visiting the clinic with toothache?”

“But I brush my teeth twice everyday, and I’ll do it without fail even today.” [Jim re-commits himself to good hygiene.]

“How many chocolates would be left if I give you two more?”

“Thirty-six.” [Arithmetic again.]

“Do you know how many days would thirty-six chocolates last if you eat four chocolates every day,” William asked Jim raising his hands and gesturing as if the remaining stock of chocolates would last an eternity.

“Hmm! I don’t know?” [Jim concedes ground but is lured by William’s gesture into finding out: “How many days?”]

“Let’s see.”

Chocolates & Arithmetic

William gets a sheet of drawing paper and nudges Jim to draw several coloured boxes using sketch pens and a ruler. He makes Jim number them too. [Jim is excited getting to use his Dad’s sketch pens and ruler. He learns to draw squares using the ruler. Then William makes Jim place four chocolates in the area marked by each coloured box on the drawing sheet. He makes the little one count the boxes that are filled with chocolates––each box signifying a day.]

“Those chocolates will last me nine days if I have four a day.” [It was a ‘Eureka’ moment for Jim. He was excited at arriving at that mathematical conclusion. William cheered the little boy, “Oh my God! Those chocolates will last you nine days!” There was extra emphasis on, “N-I-N-E.”]

Doll for Ann

“Besides, you’ll have sufficient chocolates to share with Ann (Jim’s cousin) when she visits us over the weekend. I’ll also make some dolls for Ann using the chocolate wrappers. Do you want to enjoy the chocolates for N-I-N-E (even more emphasis) days, share them with Ann and present her some dolls too,” William proposed. [The offer was too attractive for Jim to decline.]

“Dad, I don’t want to eat all those chocolates now.”

[Jim’s chocolates lasted more than a week. More importantly, he was mighty happy sharing some with Ann.]

[Note: This story was narrated to me by my nephew, Abhinav Goyal.] [For Abhinav: Thanks dear, for sharing that story. Please excuse the shortcomings in narration.]

Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture

A couple of years ago, I was at a seminar where many eminent people from different walks of Indian life had gathered to share their thoughts on India’s Strategic Culture. The discussion, which began with great bonhomie, metamorphosed into an animated debate. There were those who eulogised all great Indians from Manu to Manmohan Singh. They recalled with reverence Shivaji, Maharana Pratap, Rani Laxmibai and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. They spoke in praise of Ashoka and Chandragupta Maurya; Mohanjodaro and Harappa; Nalanda and Takshila…. They were convinced that Chanakya and his Arthashatra were as great (read, “greater”) than Sun Tzu and his Art of War. They talked of the wars India has won against Pakistan including the surrender of 93,000 Pakistanis (1971). They skipped the Sino-India War (1962) and went gaga over India’s Space and Nuclear capabilities and its rich and varied culture and heritage…. “Wow! What a Strategic Culture!”

Chanakya

People on the opposite bench spoke of the so many times India has been invaded. They recalled some names with a lot of venom––Genghis Khan, Timur, Ghazni, Ghauri and the East India Company…. They argued that the Kashmir issue was poorly handled in 1947; we are still paying the cost of bad decisions. They held Prime Minister Nehru responsible for the debacle in 1962. They argued that the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 shouldn’t have been allowed to leave India; there was no question of releasing Masood Azhar. On the issue of the rescue of President MA Gayoom of the Maldives (Operation Cactus, November 1988), they were sure that India (like the US, the UK, and Pakistan etc.) shouldn’t have extended military assistance––the returns were not commensurate with the risk involved. For sure, India was the proverbial cat’s paw that pulled the chestnuts out of the fire for the Maldivians. In Kargil, India was caught napping…. “Does India have a Strategic Culture at all?”

In the Q&A hour, intellectuals raised doubts, asked questions and commented. I kept mum for I didn’t want to prove my ignorance. I felt relieved when the learned chair concluded that it was important to define the term “Strategic Culture” before one could talk about “India’s” Strategic Culture and there was no clear definition of that term. My relief knew no bounds when, during the high tea after the event I interacted with people and discovered that most of us (if not all) were sailing in the same boat.

Discussion, and the debate over, I consigned “Strategic Culture” to some far recesses of my mind for I had more pressing issues to turn to; we all have pressing issues, including children. Publication of my book was top on my list of priorities at that time.

Until Pulwama…

Rummaging Pulwama

Today everyone, literally everyone, is talking (on television, texting, tweeting, whatsapping…) about India’s Strategic Culture, or some such thing––the same debate and the same arguments have resurfaced. Only the discussants are more vociferous, more clamorous and very aggressive.

I wonder: “At this point in time, is a definition of Strategic Culture or a knowledge of India’s Strategic Culture important? Is it going to help in any way? Is this the time to think of doctrines, recall principles of war, military strategy––the theory?”

I am reminded of a young cricketer at the nets a day before a major game. Just when he hit the ball over the boundary, his coach came to him and said that that was not the way to hit the ball. He reprimanded him for his wrong technique and started teaching him the ‘textbook’ way of doing what he was doing.

“But where’s the ball, coach?” the player asked as he looked at the ball being recovered from the spectator stand.

In tune with what I said the other day, I add:“The time to learn theory has long gone; it is time to act. Rummaging Pulwama for India’s Strategic Culture will be an exercise in futility. Let those on the stage perform unhindered. Let others just W-A-T-C-H. Those of us who have performed our acts really well (when we were on the stage) will be approached for direction, if deemed necessary.”

Kandahar Hijack: A Revisit in the Aftermath of Pulwama

Among others, a phoenix that rises after almost every terror strike is the issue of hijack of the Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 (Airbus A300) en route from Kathmandu to Delhi on December 24, 1999. The crisis ended after India agreed to release Masood Azhar, along with some other terrorists. The released terrorists were later implicated in other acts of terror, like the gruesome murder of Daniel Pearl (2002) and the Mumbai Terror Strike (2008).

Hijacked Indian Airlines Airbus 300 at Kandahar

Therefore, after Pulwama, a recall of Kandahar appears to be a natural public impulse. The decision of the Bajpai Government to barter Masood Azhar for the passengers and the crew is being criticised yet again. Many are suggesting that India should not have let go of Masood; it is being lamented that India is paying the cost for that ‘wrong’ decision. It is fashionable to cite the example of Israel in dealing with terror strikes and their policy of never-succumbing-to-the-demand of the terrorists to release their brethren in return for Israeli hostages.

The fact is that Israel does have a rigid policy on the subject. Israel has dealt with situations on case-to-case basis. Kozo Okamoto, a member of the Japanese Red Army fighting for the PLO was caught alive by the Israeli security forces after the Lod Airport Massacre in 1972 (17 killed; 22 injured). Although sentenced to life imprisonment he (along with some PLO members) was bartered for a few Israeli soldiers held by the PLO.

In another case, Israel had almost agreed to release PLO men in its jails in return for the hundred odd Air France passengers (mostly Israeli) held hostage at Entebbe Airport (Uganda 1976). But the delay in the return of Idi Amin (the Ugandan dictator who was away) to Kampala gave them an opportunity to plan and carry out the daring raid to rescue the hostages (the daring Entebbe Raid). The Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was supported by the entire parliament.

The Israeli leadership decides when, and when not, it is in Israel’s interest to accede to the demands of the terrorists and acts accordingly. The public and the opposition parties do not question the wisdom of the leadership––they do not pester the leadership either way.

Returning to Kandahar, the Indian leadership did what it considered best under those circumstances. Post Pulwama, it is unfair to criticise the then government and the security forces for their actions. Kandahar is past––lessons have been learnt and ways of dealing with similar situations in the future have been worked out.

In the current situation, all political parties have shown remarkable maturity by extending support to the government. It would be best to leave the government and the military leadership (who are in the know of things) to decide the best course of action.

Pulwama Terror Strike

A parting thought.

For Israeli state, it is a question of survival; they have reason to respond to situations the way they do. They also have full support of major world powers in everything they do. Our leadership and military has to go it alone. We’ll do well not to breathe down their necks as they plan and execute an appropriate response. Let’s not indulge in candlelight marches, burn tyres, and block roads to pressurise those who need to remain calm at this juncture. Think of it: such actions only cause global warming, traffic snarls and loss of productivity. Still worse, they might force a knee-jerk reaction. Let’s give the government and the military the elbowroom to act freely.