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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

India’s New Narratives to Twist Embarrassment into Strategic Opportunity

This article is a sequel to my earlier published piece, “India –China Standoff; the Tactical Face of Strategic Contest”. This is an attempt to bring to limelight the ongoing Indian desperate efforts to not only cover up domestic politico-military embarrassment but also to twist it into a strategic opportunity by spreading newly crafted narratives by its well placed diasporas in American government, print and electronic media and think tanks. Since one Chinese minor military move has taken the wind out of imprudently inflated balloon of Nazi Hindutva, unashamedly practiced by PM Modi led BJP/ RSS government even to the chagrin of thoughtful Indians; the initiation of new narratives of running with the hare and hunting with the wolves looks ridiculously awkward.

Quite obviously Modi government is facing crises of credibility both at home and abroad due to non-availability of any significant political, diplomatic, economic or even military response to Chinese initiative in Ladakh and along the entire LAC. Since Indian attempts to leverage membership of Quad Group and title of American new strategic ally for Asia-Pacific policy execution didn’t materialize against expectations as bear hugged Trump doesn’t believe in free lunch. Therefore, red faced Indian defence minister had to rush to Russia with some shopping spree of military hardware (Mig-29, SU-30, S-400 Missile defence system, K-class submarines, T-90 Tanks etc worth more than US $ 16 billion) not only to please old guards but primarily to beg for easing tensions with China that had shown India its place in the region, cutting it to size and sending clear message to Quad that China is capable of taking care of her strategic interests especially when it comes to any threat to BRI projects. The fine kick delivered at the back of an Indian soldier and throwing him meters away in Ladakh by a PLA warrior has now been strategically slammed even better with Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh lost to China; and Pakistan-China strategic partnership on CPEC including Gwadar deep sea port getting further reinforced and Kashmir coming to global spotlight as UN unfinished agenda with China now asserting as a third stakeholder. China-Iran 25 years economic and security strategic partnership pact worth US $ 400 billion and Iran kicking out India from Chabahar port, oil refinery and 628 km long rail projects linking Chabahar-Zahedan and onwards expanding across borders to Zaranj Afghanistan is the latest blow to Indian dreams in the region and a great boon for China’s BRI.

India had already spent unprecedentedly high amount of US $ 71 billion during 2019; and now is forced to run from pillar to post to spend even more on military and defence related infrastructure. Between 2008 and 2020, India ordered seven different major US military platforms. The US is India’s fourth-largest source of arms after Russia, Israel and France, with India–US defence trade increasing significantly from US$200m in 2000 to over US$20bn, after the induction of the two recent procurements. Key factors in this growth include the US recognition of India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016, and the signing of three defence cooperation agreements between 2016 and 2019. This could have a catalytic effect on India approving the acquisition of additional US military equipment, including six anti-submarine warfare P-8I Neptune. That will further exasperate the plight of more than 600 million poor Indian people kept camouflaged under cover of Bollywood movies, false propaganda, hate culture against minorities, Islamophobia, atrocities in Kashmir, abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A of Indian constitution that deprives mandatory special status granted to Kashmir/ Kashmiris, illegal allotment of Kashmir domicile to Indians to change demography of Kashmir, citizenship amendment act depriving Muslim immigrants right of Indian citizenship and belligerence against all neighbouring countries. With just one cool headed Chinese light stroke on the right pressure point, Modi’s poor performance on economic front, unfulfilled promises to poor farmers, unemployed and health facilities starved Indian masses, saffronisation and inadequacies of Indian Armed Forces stand badly exposed. The irrational dream of maha bharat sold to its followers by RSS/BJP by falsely projecting herself as a delivery boy among Quad countries by relegating Russia for America has obviously been shattered, putting India in a catch-22 position.

So here comes the barrage of typical remorseful and meandering narratives from well embedded Indian in the US and few other Western countries’ governments, think tanks and media for turning China’s inflicted sheer embarrassment into another opportunity to do face saving, restore broken mask of hypocrisy; and to beg, borrow or buy diplomatic support and enhancement of defence capabilities to the glee of sponsoring global military industrial cartels. The Indian activists are now busy in sending out messages to policy and decision makers in Quad Group and some other European countries that they are all losing India by not standing tall against China; with focus on asking specific technologies, weapons and equipment that could help India to contest and contain rising China and subdue other regional countries (without stating) with enhanced strategic military capabilities. At present Indian lobbyists are asking US policymakers to assess as to how current India-China confrontation exposes Indian strategic vulnerabilities i.e. deficiencies in India's national security "software" & strategic assessment; India’s sensitivity to and concentration on continental borders (trading off with a maritime focus); and India's dependence on Russia. US policy makers are being convinced that If India is required to act as a pivotal node of the American Asia-Pacific policy and if US wants to grab this chance(trap), US policy shifts can assist to alleviate (if not fix) above stated three challenges, while expecting greater reciprocity. This could include greater C4ISR collaboration, security assistance packages, and interoperability workarounds to Russian hardware. In barter, the US could hope for a more institutionalized intelligence relationship, diplomatic support in the region (e.g. US presence at Diego Garcia), and visible operationalization of defense ties inclusive of complex joint exercises, operations, and even basing access to enhance deterrence….all lucrative traps to entice America without losing Russia…paradoxical to say the least.

The Indian inconsistent new narratives raise many questions. Is Indian dream of gaining strategic balance against China realistic keeping Indian current and future economic potentials? Is India not plunging herself in to greater game prematurely even if BJP continued to live in a delusional make belief world? How would Russian President Putin (the great) cater to keep a fine balance in arming India without irking China besides keeping India out of American orbit? Are Indian strategists not aware of the history and ultimate fate of American allies? How would India survive with all hostile neighbours kept under duress in the last seven decades now allied with China? How would India cope with weakening economy, more internal political polarization and much hyped fissiparous tendencies? Will West risk sharing advanced technologies with India keeping in view her partnership with Russia? Why would West (US led NATO and Quad) still invest on a lame horse that lost its very first minor race?

Pakistan will have to constantly remain cognizant of the ever widening strategic balance vis-à-vis India, which must be offset in time by Tri-service Joint defence productions with China. A more forceful whole of government and full spectrum approach needs to be consistently followed up on resolution of Kashmir issue with at least one permanent UN Security Council member standing with Pakistan as a strategic partner now. It goes without saying that China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and all other regional countries need to stand united for common prosperity and security.

14 July 2020

~ Saleem Qamar Butt, SI (M), (R) is a senior Army officer with rich experience in International relations, military diplomacy and analysis of geo-political and strategic security issues.

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