The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

What General Deepak Kapoor really said

Oh! What a tangled web they weave!

Pakistani’s media and strategic community have been in fits over news reports of comments made by Chief of Army Staff, General Deepak Kapoor, on India’s war doctrine.

Reports in Pakistan’s media on Gen Kapoor’s alleged comments resulted in sharp rebukes from Pakistan’s government and army.  Pakistan’s CoAS Parvez Kayani said that India was charting an “adventurous and dangerous path…,” while Pakistan’s Foreign Office said that Gen Kapoor’s remarks “betray a hostile intent as well as a hegemonic and jingoistic mindset.”

Pity no one in Pakistan bothered to actually read what Gen Kapoor said.

The news report first broke on that venerable bastion of free and fair news reporting, The Times of India.  Insofar as the now contentious sections of the statement are concerned, the following was said:

The plan now is to launch self-contained and highly-mobile `battle groups’…adequately backed by air cover and artillery fire assaults, for rapid thrusts into enemy territory within 96 hours.

This was picked up by sections of the Pakistani media, who surreptitiously morphed the text to say:

The latest statement by the Indian Army Chief, General Kapoor, that India could fight a two-front war with Pakistan and China at the same time and end it successfully within 96 hours is highly debateable and contentious.

By any stretch of the imagination, the phrase “rapid thrusts…within 96 hours” does not equal “end it successfully within 96 hours.” But while many could be forgiven for being glib in the ways of military and strategic affairs, similar excuses cannot be offered for a former Director General, Institute of Strategic Studies.

There are several points that require clarification, with regard to Gen Kapoor’s statement:

  • Gen Kapoor’s statement was a reference the Indian Army’s “Cold Start” doctrine, which was born out of perceived inefficiencies in troop mobilization and response during Operation Parakram in 2001;
  • The process of formulating the new doctrine occurred during the leadership of Gen Padmanbhan in 2002;
  • “Cold Start” envisions eight “integrated” battle-groups making rapid thrusts into enemy territory, acting as a leverage as much against Pakistan as against possible diplomatic intervention by the international community;
  • “Cold Start” is still very much work-in-progress; there are significant imponderables that need resolution, not the least of which is an unambiguous rejection of the strategy by a key actor — the Indian Air Force.

Putting the above in context brings to light the true nature of “Cold Start” — it is a work-in-progress, contingency plan, formulated by the Indian Army, pending approval from other services and civilian leadership.

As far as talk of a two-pronged war is concerned,  India has a history of military tensions with Pakistan and China — two countries that have acted in concert to undermine India, strategically. No country would willingly pine for simultaneous wars against two nuclear-armed adversaries, but does that mean that they shouldn’t even plan for such a contingency?

Lest we forget, China deployed troops along its border with India at the behest of Yahya Khan and Henry Kissinger during India’s 1971 war with Pakistan. Therefore, the possibility of a two-pronged war isn’t quite far-fetched.

Of course, none of this is new information. To begin with, Gen Kapoor’s statements were willfully misrepresented by several Pakistani media houses. Having firstly misrepresented the General’s statements, they then indulged in a pooh-pooh campaign, calling the altered statements “dangerous”, and an exercise in brinkmanship.  A talk show on Dawn TV had the host repeatedly questioning the credibility of civilian supremacy in India’s military command-and-control!

Such campaigns serve two purposes:  inflate the threat of the adversary, and divert attention from domestic issues.  Amidst the scoffing, the self-righteous indignation and the testosterone charged rhetoric, no one thought to examine what was said by Deepak Kapoor or corroborate initial reports in Pakistan. Because that would have been self-defeating.

If Gen Kapoor went over the heads of his superiors and leaked sensitive information into public domain, he must be hauled up. If he articulated positions that were inconsistent with those held by India, he must be made to answer for them. He did neither. What Gen Kapoor did was to refer to an eight year old contingency plan, that, broadly speaking, everyone, including the Pakistanis have been aware of. So why the brouhaha now?

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Filed under: America, China, Foreign Policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Pakistan, pakistan army, Politics, World, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Manmohan’s US trip

India must aggressively pursue to protect interests and stake in Afghanistan’s future

Manmohan Singh’s visit to the US coincides with Thanksgiving week and the first anniversary of 26/11.  During the Prime Minister’s visit, the debilitating security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan will be on the agenda.  It is on this issue that some incredibly silly, wantonly naive advice is being shoved the US President’s way.

Two broad themes on India’s place in the regional security discourse seem to periodically appear, which can be summarized thus.  Firstly,  Pakistan feels threatened by the presence of a larger adversary at its eastern border. The main thorn in Indo-Pak relations is Kashmir. Therefore, solve Kashmir and receive a grateful Pakistan’s full commitment on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Second, Pakistan feels “strategically encircled” by India’s presence in Afghanistan.  An increase in Indian involvement would inflame Pakistan’s apprehensions vis-a-vis India. Therefore, in the interest of Pakistan’s sensitivities, an expansion of Indian involvement in Afghanistan must not be encouraged (or must at least be brushed aside).

Both these themes do an excellent job in confusing symptom (the “Kashmir” issue, and “strategic depth”) with root cause (Pakistan’s pathological neuralgia with India).  It is another issue of course that those advocating the “resolve Kashmir” approach haven’t ever come close to articulating how this feat is to be accomplished by Washington.

It is no secret that there is disconnect between the UPA and the Obama administration on the way forward in Afghanistan.  There are two aspects to this disconnect — one, th UPA administration has been blind to US’s plans in the region (and consequences to India’s interests), and two, the Obama Administration has been unable to present a coherent, consistent vision for Afghanistan, mired as it is with internal squabbling.

But Obama, who ran on a canvas promising to withdraw troops from Afghanistan is under pressure to act, if only to placate his fellow Democrats and voters.  The Obama administration sees greater regional involvement as a solution that would allow for a phased US withdrawal.   Hence Richard Holbrooke’s  recent diplomatic sojourns to China and Russia.

The role that India will play in this “regional approach” will perhaps become more apparent after the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington. Rightly, as the preeminent power in the region, India’s involvement is not only “beneficial”, but imperative.

But the status of “regional power” is not achieved through birth-right.  It must be  earned, and if India believes itself to be the preeminent regional power, it must start acting like one. Unquestionably, this involves taking tough decisions not only on what India would “prefer to do” in Afghanistan, but what it must do to safeguard its interests.

Thus far, India has stayed away from overt involvement in shaping the politics in Afghanistan, choosing instead engage in the (noble) pursuits of building schools and roads and training the Afghan police force.  “Soft power”, Shashi Tharoor calls it.  But soft power is credible only as long as someone else is willing and able to do the dirty yard work.

What if that “someone else” leaves? Who will step in?

A power vacuum in Afghanistan with a weak, de-legitimized government in Kabul constantly being undermined by a reinforced and invigorated Taliban and affiliated networks presents a scenario for India where its overall influence in the country will diminish, relative to that of China and Pakistan.

Economic investments in Afghanistan (totaling over $1 billion), development of ties with the country’s civilian polity and strategic importance of Afghanistan to an energy-starved nation, make such a scenario unacceptable to India.

There is simply too much at stake for India not to be meaningfully involved in a regional approach to the Afghanistan problem.  Indeed, India’s contribution to such a regional solution must span across all realms, including security/law enforcement, political reconciliation and delivery of social services.  In this regard, offering a larger Indian contingent to train Afghanistan’s security forces, can be a small, but important first step.

US administrations will always have India doubters, just as they will their  share of Indophiles.  India’s goal within the construct of the “regional approach”  must be to aggressively defend its interests in the country, while playing a meaningful role in addressing the current crisis and defining the future of Afghanistan.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Barack Obama, China, Foreign Policy, India, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , ,

Indian media discourse on China’s 60th

China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1, 2009.  It did so with the pomp and circumstance befitting a significant milestone.  Fireworks, aerobatics,  even a  female militia in miniskirt ensemble, and of course, contingents from the world’s largest armed forces.

In India, media coverage was distressingly predictable.  Labeling the military parade China’s “massive display of strength”, the media harped on about how the People’s Republic overwhelms India in military might.  Like this wonderful piece, called China vs India: Military might put together by an “NDTV correspondent” on their website (and also broadcast as a news item on television).

The article gives you a blow-by-blow of China’s relative superiority — 6,000 more “airplanes” in the PLAF, 100,000 more troops.  Run of the mill, factually incorrect observations — like Chinese plans to build and induct an aircraft carrier by 2010.  For those with an eye for the bleeding obvious, 2010 is next year.  And lest the nuclear arena be ignored, the article points out that China’s most potent warhead tested was 4 mT, whereas apparently an Indian nuclear test yielded 50 kT.  The author should have disclosed this a few weeks ago — it would have put an end to this ruccus.

Reading this article, you get the sense that China overwhelms India militarily and that the sanest thing for the Indian army to do under the circumstances is to pack up and go home.  Except, defense and national security aren’t played out on balance sheets or through inventory counts.

Any Chinese military misadventure is contingent on a number of factors, including India’s conventional  military capability, analysis of the impact of war on China’s economy and global standing, prospects of game-altering strategic alliances should war be imposed on India, and of course, China’s definition of “acceptable damage” and its assessment of India’s ability to cross that threshold via a nuclear assault.

Of course, not once was any of this remotely brought to the fore during India’s marathon coverage of China. To do so would be to bore an already disengaged audience about the intricacies of military strategy and international relations.  Why complicate matters when you can shock and scandalize someone and quickly cut to a commercial where Yuvraj Singh tries to sell you a Fiat Grande Punto?

Georges ” le Tigre” Clemenceau once said “war is too important a business to be left to soldiers”.  Disengagement of the public from matters relating to national security has led to very low levels of accountability in the defense of India.  Of the TV news anchors and “on-site” correspondents, not many can talk intelligently on such areas and ask probing questions to defense guests.  Comically, (and speaking of “le Tigre”) this blogger remembers TV coverage of the Kargil War, where one TV-news personality made repeated references to “Tiger Hills”, like it was some dashed hill station.

Today, the only honest, probing and meaningful analysis is conducted mostly by think tanks, whose publications are, unfortunately, only read by other think tanks. The Filter Coffee has long held the position that discussion on the defense of India needs to move away from think tanks and into our living rooms.  It is only then that true accountability can be demanded, both from the system, riddled as it is with bureaucratic inefficiency and corruption, and from the media, who today get a free pass on peddling half-truths and sweeping generalizations on an unsuspecting public.

As it stands today on matters of defense and national security, the media fails the very democracy it says it is protecting.

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Filed under: China, Foreign Policy, India, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, indian media, Indian Navy, nuclear weapons, World, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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