Fighting for US objectives - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 26 January 2010

Fighting for US objectives

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, January 26, 2010

Does anyone recall a top American official publicly declaring that India would be justified in attacking Pakistan if terrorists struck Indian targets again?

I don’t. Which is why I believe more attention must be paid to what US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said last week in India, when asked whether he had counselled restraint to New Delhi in the event of another terror strike.

Gates’ reply: “I told all of the Indian leaders that I met with that I thought that India had responded with great restraint and statesmanship after the first Mumbai attack. The ability of any state to continue that, were it to be attacked again, I think is in question...”

That was more of a threat against Pakistan than Washington has made before. Underlining that, Gates emphasised, “’s not unreasonable to assume that Indian patience would be limited, were there to be further (terrorist) attacks.”

At that point (in New Delhi, on January 20), it could legitimately be argued that Gates was double-dealing, as America frequently does, sweet-talking India in India before heading off to Pakistan to repudiate his statement. But, this time, in Islamabad the next day, Gates repeated to Pakistan TV almost exactly what he had said in New Delhi. His words: “I believe that after the tragic attack on Mumbai that India was restrained in its response. But no country, including the United States, is going to stand idly by if it’s being attacked by somebody.”

Interesting, especially the similar phraseology, pointing to a pre-formulated response! Was Washington merely waving the India stick to nudge Islamabad towards greater cooperation in the Af-Pak war? Or, is the US starting to believe that Islamabad is a lost cause, and that India can be used — not just politically and diplomatically, but its hard power as well — to deal with Pakistan.

Unthinkable? Remember that a government’s public positions usually lag, in both time and emphasis, what policymakers agree to behind closed doors. It would be reasonable to assume that Robert Gates, while meeting Dr Manmohan Singh, was even more forthright in signalling America’s tolerance for the use of Indian force.

America’s dwindling patience is evident from more than just Gates’ warning. At the same time that Gates visited Delhi, two former US officials — General Richard Myers, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and William Schneider, until recently the Pentagon’s head of technology — were in India, sounding out key opinion-makers and policy-makers about the possibility of a growing military role for India in Afghanistan. The question at the heart of their discussions was: how best can Indian police organisations, e.g. the BSF, CRPF and CISF, take on a major role in training the Afghan National Police to look after security? Neither Myers nor Schneider seemed even slightly constrained by Pakistan’s entreaties to Washington to curb India’s role in Afghanistan.

Myers and Schneider, some might argue, are not from the US government; they merely represent an academic viewpoint! That distinction, however, is far less relevant in America. Washington works closely with its think-tanks, even outsourcing research that underpins key decisions: e.g. how best can the India card be played to ratchet up pressure on Pakistan? New Delhi’s mandarins must surely wonder if America — losing patience with Pakistan and calculating that US military action against Pakistan would be expensive, bloody, and the end of all influence in Islamabad — was signalling that if India wanted to do the dirty work, Washington would look away.

For Islamabad, though, Gates’ words will be nothing other than a stark threat. Superimposing the India stick on the traditional carrots of aid, weaponry and undying friendship, is a measure of Washington’s desperation in dealing with Pakistan’s reluctance to crack down on jihadi terrorism. Gates’ new stance will also highlight America’s shrinking interest in cultivating a benign image in Pakistan. Draining the abscess of radicalism is now a greater imperative.

Despite India’s satisfaction, Gates’ understanding is not an unalloyed blessing. Whenever the next major terrorist strike takes place — and Pakistan’s prime minister has declared that he cannot stop one — New Delhi will find its options dangerously narrowed. An inflamed public and a rampant media will challenge Indian policy-makers with the question: what now holds back India from retaliating against Pakistan? With international restraints loosened, Indian strikes on Pakistan’s territory would be a real option, and war not just an academic question.

But how ready for that challenge is the military? After the terrorist strikes on Parliament on December 13, 2001, and in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, the subcontinent stood poised on the brink of war. Despite General Padmanabhan’s brave statement, after the Parliament attack, that India would wage war with whatever equipment it possessed, the army asked the government for more time to prepare. With military modernisation remaining stalled for a quarter of a century, Mr Antony and his predecessors have set the scene for potential embarrassment.

India has done the diplomatic heavy-lifting for coercing Pakistan on terrorism. The military preparation, however, remains sadly lacking.


  1. Very Interesting article
    I wish it was possible to see the list of all top US people visiting India in the last one year

    Also the question is how under prepared are we. Do we have the capability to launch precision strikes against terrorist camps and then hold ground for their retaliation? I mean do we have no such capability or 50%?

    An interesting response to another strike could be heavy deployment in Afghanistan. Pakistan will surely sweat with India on both sides of the border
    I have always believed the war in Afghanistan is not just a US war. Every country fearful of a constant terrorism supply need to tackle Afghanistan. Although development as a tool of war needs to be increased as a proportion, but sooner or later everyone has to fight this

  2. well US will never fully support PAK, fact is US will always choose to support India, the only reason why they arm pak is to give them the ability hit terror targets, but if push comes to shove, the US will help India dismantle pak's millitary infrastructure.

  3. Nice article. Telling last two lines. Sad that we know our problems and are not seeking solutions rapidly.
    GE a 'corporation' can make aero engines- India the 'country' can put the kaveri in the sky
    The INSAS still isnt as good as the AK
    Armed forces have a officer shortage, navy has a Sub shortage, Air force has a plane shortage, Army needs everything from bullets, tanks, artillery and what have you.


  4. It sounds very stupid that we are setting benchmark for intensity of terrorists attacks for provoking any military response. Wonder what this response will be there to solve, if it will be carried out only because 100 Indians have died in place of 99.

  5. Once more very good article and hitting the nail on the head. As you have stated, Army is in no way prepared to fight a war at short notice. We saw that during parliament attack, 26/11 and even before that during kargil war. But I also believe that in Afghanistan, we have legitimate stake and whatever we are doing is not to fight US objectives but to make sure our interests are secured and protected.

    Thanks again for informative article.

  6. An interesting situation might be unfolding here. However, in such a scenario would US give assurance that China would not be interfering if such a limited war does happen.

  7. Very close to bulls eye I would say.

    Military modernization has indeed been stalled, I suspect deliberately by political forces to take the option of military adventurism out of India's calculations.

    One more point that one must consider here is:

    1. If India and Pakistan go to war, that will mean the end to Pakistan military's reign in that country. This will normally mean that the Jihadi groups and the mullahs will sweep into the vacuum with even the pak army allowing them to take center stage for a while.

    Now unless India and the US and Britain are willing to go all the way, and getting Aftaf Hussain, The Balochs and the Pashtoons aboard to simultaneously scecede from pakistan punjab, this problem will not be solved.

    This will merely end up as a border war, with the mad mullahs and jehadis coming in and more trouble for India in the future.

    2. If indeed Pakistan is still a nuclear weapons state, its nukes will have to be taken out of the equation very early on. As to how this is to be done, given that the US has been rehearsing plans to take them out for about a decade now, is a question that must be answered.

    3. There is then the question of economic losses to India as a result of any such war. There is the question of rebuilding the newly formed states with economic assistance. The US, Japan and Europe will have to be on board.

    4. China will have to be placated to give up pakistan, and to keep india's eastern borders quiet. They will no doubt demand their pound of flesh. The US and Japan again will have to be involved.

    Until these aspects are satisfactorily answered and resolved in the minds of the Indian planners, India will not go to war.

    Please elaborate on this.

  8. Sorry to say but Antony is deaf minister. Can we make Chidambaram or Mukharji as defense minister ?

  9. Does this mean that US knows there will be an attack in India? Prbably in a scale larger than Mumbai and this is a indirect request to Pak to take measures to prevent the same?

    Also, US always protects its interests first!!! All others come next (IMHO this is nothing wrong and India should think this way India too!!)

  10. Absolutely agree with you. Pakistan does have a professional army which is relatively well equipped. It's not going to roll over; not going to be at all easy for the Indian Army, Air Force or Navy, specially the army, which has not really upgraded itself during the last 10 years. If you tabulate the actual inductions in the last 4-5 years, it amounts to very little. Tanks: less than a 100 T-90's(in addition to the 310 got earlier)plus 45 Arjuns and 260+ T-72-Upgrades; ICV's: about 300 BMP2's, plus a few upgraded BMP-2MkII's; Arty: Nil, in fact, numbers have depleted; MRBL's: 36+ Smerch's and 40+ Pinaka's; Aviation: Nil, a few UAV's. In addition a few LandAttack Bhramos. And 1 (not 2) Mountain Div (56th) as of now. That's the lot, for 1.12 million strong army, with threats from China and Pakistan.

    The Army really does need to wake up.

  11. Ajai, what option really india have in case terrorist attck continue, can india do something without talibanising entire pakistan, like low strikes like what mossad does against specific individual targets, and slowly plan how to break pakistan into several parts by elements within

  12. If another 26/11 takes place the indians will do nothing but hold cabinet meetings and run to the fbi.

  13. Again a very well written and cogent article.

    Obama administration have clearly seen through the Pakistani military and intelligence's duplicity on the issue of terrorism. Pakistani army hunts with the Taliban and runs with CIA. With US economy in deep trouble and public support eroding rapidly for the Afghan campaign, Obama has but very little choice left. He can either continue with this expensive farce or take the Pakistanis by the balls and ask them to deliver.

    As you noted correctly, India has very limited options if a war like situation indeed arises. Legions of ministers and babus have completely crippled our defence preparedness. It is not the lack of resources or budget but rather the lack to vision and political will to modernise the Indian military. Rifles, protective wear, night vision, artillery, tanks, missiles, ships, submarine. You name it and we don't have it.
    Shri Antony is stalling the military, blacklisting every company, but he is completely unable to stop his own ministry from being part of the corruption and graft culture. But All Iz Well, All iz well.

  14. Great article! if the US really wants to be on India's side?! then they really need to win India's trust - how?
    1) give us the dual use techs, just as the PM has said - (that gives India a reason to trust them, when we know they can trust us with their techs)
    2) reduce weapons sale to the terror sponsoring state - (even they should know India isnt ready to fight yet)
    3) support India's involvement in the Afghan nation (mostly for civil purposes - but I would love to see an IAF base there - pearls around the terrorists, anyone?!)

  15. He did not 'repudiate his statement' because he was handing out 'obsolete' UAV's to them

  16. Well, the article and subsequent comments seem to suggest that we as a nation need to use force against Pak, more so because the US seems to incline towards Ind (which I doubt). With due respect, I differ with this opinion.

    At this point of nation building, we can't afford to derail the positive momentum meticulosuly gained over the last 18 years. Look around you, we see people busy with their activities, collectively trying to make their lives better. That in itself is a significant achievement for a deeply religious/socialist nation, which was busy haggling about mandir/masjid issues just 20 years back.

    And internationally we have been de-hyphenated from Pakistan because we have been a) patient with our neighbours b) focussed with our own development c)righteous in our foreign policy (to a large extent). We need to focus on the core nation building issues for the next 20 years atleast, ensuring the country's tomorrow is better than today. Till that time, the nation has to painfully endure these sacrifices, i.e casualties in future terror strikes.

    Any (mis)adventures like a limited war with Pak/ sending military to Afg will be short term gains but long term mistakes, in my view. We don't need to teach a lesson to a nation which is frankly a dying state. Our chanakyas know this fact, and that in my view is reassuring.

    When it comes to Force, offense is practised by a man who has nothing to lose; and we have lots to lose at this juncture.

  17. Sushant,

    I'm staggered by your conclusion that this article recommends the use of Indian force against Pakistan!

    Every line of the article, starting from the heading, argues that the US appears to be veering around to the view that Pakistan's intransigence makes it worth considering the use of Indian force, or at least the Indian threat to make dealing with Pakistan easier. But do let me know which part of the article indicates that I am recommending that India falls into the trap of becoming a handmaiden of the US!!

    Maybe my writing style needs improvement. Am mystified!

  18. I guess this is a good time for me to exit the stock markets and wait ....

    I'm sure some Pakistani Yahoo will come calling with an AK-47 to express their IEDology !

    Will Re invest when the markets tank again when we attack Pakistan !

  19. Ajai,

    I could take home the following observations from your commentary, correct me if I'm wrong

    a) The government held back from attacking Pak after 26/11 partially due to fear of diplomatic backlash from international community (specially the US)

    b) Now that Uncle has partially strengthened its pro-India stance (if we take Gates comments on face value), the cost of using force has further decreased for India

    c) We are not prepared militarily (the trivial observation)

    All these points gave a subtle hint that our decision making body would like to exercise the military option, if the diplomatic and military costs are reasonably under control. I want to contest this hypothesis.

    My intention was to highlight that these are only visible costs. Cost of war often tends to exhibit a domino effect, the best example is unfolding in Pushtoon lands as we speak.

    Its getting clear that if Uncle Sam loses the Afghan war, it would certainly not be because of visible costs.

    P.S There is nothing wrong with your writing style, keep writing..

  20. Sushant:

    a) The government held back from attacking Pak after 26/11 partially due to fear of diplomatic backlash from international community (specially the US)

    WRONG ASSUMPTION... you're superimposing what you think upon what I've written! My argument is that the government held back from attacking Pakistan because its armed forces were not yet ready... but it subtly used the international pressure argument to defuse domestic pressure to react against Pakistan.

    When India is ready and willing to go to war, international pressure won't hold it back.

    b) Now that Uncle has partially strengthened its pro-India stance (if we take Gates comments on face value), the cost of using force has further decreased for India

    NOT IN THE ARTICLE... though you're correct in this observation.

    c) We are not prepared militarily (the trivial observation)


    All these points gave a subtle hint that our decision making body would like to exercise the military option, if the diplomatic and military costs are reasonably under control. I want to contest this hypothesis.

    THERE ARE NO SUBTLE HINTS IN MY ARGUMENT. Let me set out the argument simply.
    1. The US, sick and tired of Islamabad's stonewalling, wants to use the India threat against Pakistan.
    2. That removes the international pressure argument from the scene. That means more domestic pressure on New Delhi to react militarily after the next terror strike.
    3. And with the military not prepared, that's not a happy place to be.


    The domino effects of war are well known and need little elaboration. And, as you mention in your first post, the Indian polity is hardly inclined towards war.

  21. Ajai, just as we have finished reading your article here comes the confirmation from USA.

    ToI reports "US okays 145 howitzers worth $647 million for India". Now when I do a little research on m777, it is startling to note that it saw the first action in Afghanistan. Clearly this sale has been done with some sort of eye on Afghan operation. Not to mention that this puts Pakistan in the crosshair directly.

    It seems like uncle Sam has started to tighten the noose around the Pakistanis. I just hope that we get enough of these guns and other specialised counter-insurgency gear in much larger number. We ain't gonna fight this war for free, at least we can learn that from the Pakistanis.

  22. Dear Broadsword and Shushant,

    I am getting disappointed by a realization that Indian Security Mangers (or call them polity) consider use of "force" as one of the primary methods for internal application but most of the time they develop cold feet when its comes to its external use notwithstanding 71, Sri Lanka or Maldives. In fact thoughts of external application of Force are glossed over.
    Also, the argument of development is erroneously pitted against military preparedness where as it is absolutely essential to be and remain secure to achieve unhindered development. Peace is foundation of prosperity and India has to secure its expanding economic interests. Both can not be secured without existence of a credible force in being and ready to be used. It appears development as such is not understood.

    Giving something to our future generation also includes giving them a secure environment with lesser degree of fear than that exists today. Indian managers of security have not been able to provide Security to its citizens internally and externally. Most of the time such pontification as that of Shushant is the result of efforts to grab our meager resources for furthering self interests rather than its judicious utilization and bringing development. In fact Indian polity, their management of resources and mis-governance is the biggest bane and obstacle in growth as proved in last 60 years.
    How come we Indians suddenly have only become so focused on money matters that we just do not care for other aspects of what constitutes good living conditions? Does Shushant suggest that bearing an anguish of attack on Parliament, Mumbai or loosing a few lives regularly is less painful than an elite remaining hungry for a day ? That is what our constitution does not provide for.
    Prioritization is a must but neglect of other vital aspects is sure shot guarantee of losing of what ever one would have gained. Balance is the mantra. India needs strategic balance of which credible force is a vital ingredient.
    I sometimes wonder if we are again getting into our traditional conceptual traps of a mindset due to which we had been securing peace by offering our tender bellies with the condition that those remain at least half filled. A belly which can be kicked is not even half fed is history says something.

    The arguments offered by Shushant though high sounding, seem to be dreamy and faulty...

  23. Shuklaji,
    In the January edition of force magazine it has been stated that, comparative trials of Arjun MBT was taken with T-72 & T-90S. It is learned that in these trials Arjun came out as winner, which has pushed the army to raise the initial order to 250 enough for six regiments with a possible product improved order for another 250 as Mark II version.


  24. Yes,
    Please enlighten us as much as is possible on the MBT comparative trials.

    The light howitzers M-777 are intended for heliborne transport for the mountain divisions I think. More likely to be deployed in J&K either along the LOC or the LAC.

    The question is, are these transportable by Mi-17s are will India want to go in for another american product - the Chinook to transport these?

    BTW aren't the numbers of the howitzer order too small? Any possibility of a much larger follow on order?

  25. According to wikipedia:
    The M777 weighs 4100 Kg a piece.

    The Chinook has a carry capacity of 28,000 lb (12,700 kg) cargo

    The Mi-17 has a carry capacity of 4,500 kg (10,250 lb) external hardpoints.

  26. mi-17 can carry much lesser load in actual operating conditions,as low as 1000 kgs only.this wt is for sea level with wt of fuel incl

  27. Dear Ajay and Shushant,

    While you debate on Afghanistan and Pakistan being Indian or Us Objectives, Chinese have fearlessly announced Pakistan to be their real objectives having taken control of Afghan minerals.


    Indian elites may keep pontificating on their bureaucratic socialism (meaning equal opportunities of looting for politicos, bureaucrats and journos) and show the poor Indians how great diplomats they are, Chinese pragmatist are on their way to establish bases in Pakistan, Nepal and Trincomalee.

    Only two hours drive from Amritsar, Gorakhpur and Chenai !

    Great. here in India we are busy bashing our Generals and degrading our defense capabilities. Do we need Chinese to defeat us when we have people within to do that ?


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