Trump-Darroch Spat & Admiral Awati

National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (1977).

Rear Admiral MP Avati (later, Vice Admiral), the Commandant, wasn’t amused when cadets mocked him on the stage. It was an Inter Battalion Dramatics Competition and cadets acting as roadside magicians (madaris) had gone overboard with their act. With the wave of a wand one had turned an on-stage Admiral Awati into a goat; and the goat went bleating until the play lasted. The antics of the cadets were in bad taste.

Few appreciated that stage performance. Yet, to everyone’s surprise, the Admiral walked up to the stage after the play and started bleating somewhat like the cadets had done a while ago. He waited for the officers and the families to vacate the auditorium and when only the cadets were left behind in that closed space, he made another small speech, the sum and substance of which was: “Future officers of the Indian armed forces do not behave like this. I don’t approve of this sense of humour.”

Vice Admiral MP Awati PVSM VrC (graphic courtesy Latestlaws.com)

In the following days, did some heads roll? Were the producer, director and actors of the skit taken to task? Might have been; might not. Most of us never came to know. In fact, nearly half a century later, all that is of no relevance. What is really relevant is the message that went down to a thousand five hundred future officers, and through them, to thousands more. And the message was not about ‘mocking/ not mocking superiors’, but a more serious one––it was about the art of speaking one’s mind and leaving a lasting impression.

Fast-forward forty years; a different geographical location; different characters but quite a similar situation in some ways. When Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch wrote a memo to his government expressing his ‘free and frank’ opinion about President Trump and his Administration, he was performing his solemn duty as UK’s representative in the US. It is just that the confidential communication got leaked and embarrassed the governments and a whole lot of individuals on either side of the Atlantic.

The spat that followed is unprecedented. President Trump stopped short of declaring Ambassador Darroch persona non grata. Saying, “We will no longer deal with the ambassador,” and calling Sir Darroch, “Whacky,” was no less damaging. It would perhaps have been a different spectacle, had President Trump dealt with the situation in a more amicable way––like Admiral Awati––behind closed doors.

All-weather Friends?

Needless to say, at this moment the US-UK relations are at their lowest ebb since the Boston Tea Party. Yet, Ambassador Darroch’s resignation is not likely to be the proverbial last nail in the coffin of their partnership––they cannot afford to let it be. Even in times of extreme crisis these two all-weather friends have lived with certain amount of lack of trust. At the peak of World War II (1944), the Americans had put the pilots of the RAF in a (friendly) lock up in Purulia to maintain the secrecy of their B-29 Super Fortress bomber operations against the Japanese.

Country’s interest comes first!

Today, both UK and US are facing the worst crisis since World War II. The US is grappling with Iran, China, Syria, North Korea and Mexico (not to talk of the irritant that has cropped up because of President Trump’s recent racist tweets against congresswomen). The UK, on the other hand, has its hands full with Brexit and the urgency to form a new and stable government. The sacrifice of a diplomat on the altar of their mutual relations would be put on the back-burner for the time being; to be put under the carpet later.

At this juncture, any further dip in relations will be a monumental mutual loss. In a zero-sum game, who’ll gain from their strain? A third party?

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?!  

Could the US have Faired Better in World War II?

I have a question, and the one suggested by the title of this post, is not it. Dear readers, please bear the necessary preamble. With prudence bestowed by hindsight, let alone what the US did in World War II, everything done in the past, could have been done better, much better, indeed. The answer to that rhetorical question about the US and WW II therefore, is obviously: “Yes.”

How?

There are many answers to that one-word question. For now, let’s focus on just one, to get a point––by setting aside its prejudice against its blacks. In the America of the 1940s––even after 75 years of enactment of the Civil Rights Act, which gave the blacks the right to American citizenship––the blacks were still less-among-equals. Even the patriotic fervour of the day could not bring the two Americas together.

Among others, Jim Crow Laws and racial discrimination were the hurdles that delayed the contribution of blacks to a national cause that needed the support of every able-bodied individual, man or woman, direly. The Red Cross segregated the blood supplies to allay fears that infusion of negro blood would result in development of undesirable characteristics among those infused with it. As a result of the race riots in Texas and Michigan, black workers left the cities temporarily, causing a loss of work hours adversely affecting defence production. As per War Production Board estimates, two million hours of work were lost in the first two days of rioting alone. In the summer of 1943, when the War in Europe and the Asia-Pacific was peaking, there were 242 major race fights in forty-seven cities across the US. There was definite setback to the war effort.

That much for my preamble.

Fast forward to TODAY and NOW. Wars are on in different parts of the world; countries are involved directly or are fighting proxies. Many countries are under sanctions either by the US or coalitions of like-minded countries. The affected countries are retaliating. India, and many other countries are caught in the crossfire. Each warring side is conveying in its own way: “Either you are with us or against us.” Even if India is not on one side, for it to manage affairs in a fragmented world is becoming increasingly difficult.

Escalation of crude oil price in the international market is one of the obvious fallouts affecting India. In the prevailing world order, to be able to buy Rafale from France, S-400 from Russia, Chinook from the US, oil from Iran and surveillance equipment from Israel requires statesmanship and diplomacy of a superior order. In addition, attending to the war being waged by the insurgents and terrorists inside the country and on the borders, requires sustained effort, undisturbed by domestic worries.

India is faced with many wars. And then, we have Sabrimala Crisis, the Bihari Exodus (from Gujrat) and the many agitations, which bring the country to standstills on regular basis.

And now about the question that I sought to ask right in the beginning: Can we Indians do better in these on-going wars, and possibly, win them too?

India's Many Wars

With that one hindsight from the American experience in WW II, my military sense suggests: “Of course, we can definitely fair better.”

How?

Again, there are many answers. But a simple one is: By involving everyone regardless of which part of the country one comes from; each one doing his bit (and a little more) and letting others do theirs (and a little more). Since it is “WAR” we are talking about, a little bit of self-imposed military discipline is the need of the day.

Think it over:    Most protest marches are a loss of invaluable man-hours. All candlelight vigils are a senseless waste of petroleum resources leading to depletion of ozone layer.