Boycott Chinese Products – smart or counterproductive?

Recent developments in India’s North East border involving China have given a rude jolt to many Indians. Although the standoff is still not over and always carries a risk of armed conflict, it may end up doing some good in the long run. Why? Because it has brought into sharp focus a few things:

  1. China’s overwhelming military superiority and India’s slow pace of catching up.
  2. China’s economic prowess that underwrites this military superiority
  3. How we have allowed Chinese products to control the Indian market and even every aspect of our daily lives.

Domination of Made in China

It is not just in India, even in Singapore, Dubai, London, Chicago or anywhere in the world, chances are 80-90% of the items you find in a typical departmental store are made in China. Other than vegetables and groceries, entire categories of products, shelf after shelf, are seemingly not manufactured anywhere else.

This domination took many years to achieve and has left in its wake closed factories, destroyed communities and devastated lives in many places. Given its scale and volumes, China will probably continue to do so and perhaps India is the only country in the world that has the capacity to challenge this domination. If only it takes decisive steps.

It is in this context that we have to take a look at #BoycottChineseProducts campaigns waged in social media as well as elsewhere, in India.  In fact popular legislators like Baijayant Panda have endorsed this.

https://twitter.com/PandaJay/status/888731188700958720

While it is good to see Indians waking up to the threat from dominance of Chinese products, we have to question if such boycotts are the real solution.

  1. Many products, as we mentioned earlier, are simply not made anywhere else. Laptops, Mobiles are good examples. While some are indeed made in Japan or Taiwan, these are the high end ones that may not be sold in India. Even they have components made in China! This makes any “boycott” impractical.
  2. Flood of Chinese products has of course, affected some traditional manufacturing but these have also given a kick start for technology upgrades, quality improvements and design changes to stay in the game. Aligarh locks, Sivakasi fireworks, motorcycles, pens made in India have all managed to survive and fight back. This can only be good for us.
  3. Although some jobs are lost, cheaper imported products help keep inflation low and enhance the purchasing power of anyone that is not directly affected. Therefore, overall the economy benefits.
  4. Attitude changes take longer, but is already happening. Instead of seeing businessmen and factory owners as “class enemies” to be fought to death, workers are slowly realising how global competition works and how it impacts their rice bowl. This means working together with their bosses to secure both their futures. The decline of Marxist militant unions that killed Indian manufacturing to benefit China both directly and indirectly, has to be seen in this context.
  5. Officially it is very difficult for any ruling party to be seen as too close to such boycott campaigns. China has been very clever in organising such boycotts whenever some human rights or other issue is raised by Western countries or Japan, Korea etc offend its “pride”. India has to learn this trick too. Plausible deniability is the key. We Indians are too clumsy and noisy in general to do such sophisticated campaigns and yet deny them without batting eyelids!

Better focus on Make in India

At the policymakers’ level, India should use this upsurge in nationalist sentiments to boost manufacturing in India. Tougher reforms including labour related ones, are easier to sell if positioned carefully.

For critical products such as mobiles and semiconductors, the entire supply chain has to be built up, brick by brick. This takes years but it is a good idea to take baby steps and monitor progress at highest levels.

India should also work closely with Western and Japanese, Korean companies often target of vicious boycott campaigns in China, to invest more in India and spread their risks. Recently Hyundai and other Korean firms bore the brunt of such campaigns.

For products that we can and do manufacture, often with better quality, imports from China has to be discouraged. Given WTO and other obligations, it is hard or even impossible to do officially. This is where public consciousness can play a role. There are dozens of such products – domestic appliances, garments, locks, plastic decor items or festival lighting, Ganapathy idols(!) and so on. But this cannot be a license to shady Indian manufacturers to push shoddy goods at higher prices.

Those in the know should highlight laws, rules and procedures that come in the way of Make in India and the government should proactively remove them. By any global benchmark, doing business in India, particularly for SMEs and micro enterprises, is still horribly complex, unproductive and stifling.

The wake up call given loudly and clearly by China’s over aggressive media, amplified by its allies in India should be used to our advantage.

Your comments are welcome!

 

 

 

China policy and strategic challenge

The ongoing standoff between India and China over the strategic “tri-junction” near Sikkim has resulted in a flurry of articles in online as well as traditional media. Most of the press in China itself (at least the English language versions which have been quoted extensively in Indian media) has been jingoistic, threatening and ominous. This is matched by equally solemn and grave messages from official Chinese circles only watered down as little as usual courtesies of diplomacy demands. There has not been even one article or Op-ed that says “Why don’t we figure out what the Indians really want and see if we can accommodate if that is reasonable?”

On the contrary India media has its share of leftists that advocate caution and even recommend acceptance of Chinese “demands” and overall suzerainty.

At the outset we have to be clear on what this crisis is NOT about – the so-called tri-junction in Doklam where, depending on who you believe, India has occupied some Chinese territory in a 1962 style blunder of aggression or the other way around. As if logical “proof” and convincing arguments matter in such cases, several analysts have gone about dissecting historical documents, treatises and correspondences to prove one or the other point of view right.

You may choose to believe in such fantasies if you choose to believe that China supports LeT / JeM terrorists because “it is not convinced over evidence” or vetoes support at NSG because “it is worried over selective exemptions”. China (or for that matter any superpower) treats treaties, conventions and past assurances as valid only as far as they serve its own interests. Even the agreement with Britain over Hong Kong as has been trashed as irrelevant, although it’s text or content, semantics etc. are no way in dispute.

Talking of flights of fantasies you have to read this article by Prem Shankar Jha for Wire. It seems we have misunderstood the Chinese who are building roads because Chinese companies are running low on order books! I suppose our comrades in media will say China is firing bullets because they have surplus steel.

John Garver seems to have his pulse on the real source of trouble in this excellent article from South China Morning Post. The simple fact is, China is pissed off because India has not accepted it as the regional “dada” or “Don” and wants to run its own fiefdom. The Narendra Modi government has gone further down this blasphemous track by engaging Japan, Vietnam, USA etc in ways China sees as a clear threat to its rise as unquestioned Asian superpower, a necessary step for global domination. So it wants to turn the screws. As simple as that.

Now the situation can be analysed as:

  1. The alleged misdemeanors on India’s part simply a matter of misunderstanding or deliberate? Unlikely it is high school playground type misunderstanding or it would have been cleared off long ago.
  2. If deliberate, were they a reaction to similar Chinese perfidies which may or may not be deliberate? Again we are constrained to assume that this question has been posed to PRC and replies unsatisfactory or unconvincing.
  3. In other words, we are left with the assumption that Indian actions that offend China are the result of deliberate policy caused by factor over which China has done little or wants to do little to assuage Indian anxieties for its own good reasons.
  4. Which leads us to the natural next question – has India, like any good chess player, thought through the possible reactions from China, including the Doklam type standoffs and worse? Or has it simply muddled along and poked China perhaps under estimating the ferocity of China’s reaction? Our leftist media has lobbed precisely this charge at the Modi administration.
  5. Even if the “muddled along” assumption is true, one can safely assume that having seen the ferocity of the bite-back, India would pull back, once given some “face” and try some other trick to get back into the game after a cool off period. Particularly if the messages coming from Tokyo and Washington through private diplomatic channels is “You are on your own, son!”. One has to credit that much intelligence, patriotism and common sense to Narendra Modi and his Government.
  6. What if India predicted this sort of rabid reaction from across the Himalayas, and its strategy had always factored it in? What if help has been offered by powers that be? We will never know until it is too late. It means that India will not buckle so easily even if China escalates along other vulnerable sectors. What the result of such a confrontation would be is not for us to predict. Too many variables are at play, including timing, location, preparedness, security of supply lines, Tibet situation, international outcry, etc etc.
  7. It is of course, entirely possible that India has miscalculated its strengths and may get a bloody nose, as in 1962 or perhaps worse. But will this help China in any way? Chances are low. Capturing or holding territory in the North East (best case scenario for China) could make things worse. It would have only earned another century or more of unrelenting hostility. India would officially bid goodbye to ambivalent “strategic independence” and sign up lock stock and barrel with Uncle Sam’s camp.  Trump unlike diamonds, is not forever.
  8. We are assuming here that the scenario doesn’t descend into all out nuclear war in which case, oddly enough, things are easier to predict – India will probably cease to exist as a nation state, even as China suffers unacceptable damage. Precisely the sort of predictions that are offered regarding India Pakistan conflict descending into nuclear exchange.

What next?

The sensible course for China would be to stay focused on its primary mission – challenge USA as the global supercop & WBC champion. If it thinks India is a speed bump in that path better to sit down and discuss what is it that it can do to remove that irritant. If it means watering down the “sweeter than honey” relation with Pakistani terrorists, it should have the maturity to say “So be it”. This is because India is not trying to replace China as Asia’s No. 1, it is simply asking for a place in the sun for its own ambitions which need not threaten China’s.

And the sensible thing for India to do, even if it has thought through the scenarios and feels it can play this tough game, is to do exactly the same – sit with China and find out how much “kowtowing” is expected of it and can safely be done without sacrificing core interests and if that will keep China happy.

The logic of this argument is quite simple: We are no superpower and not going to be there anytime soon. Regardless of who we sign up with, some amount of strategic kowtowing is going to be necessary. After all, the only other game in town, Uncle Sam, is not offering any free passes. Why not sign up with our nearest neighbour? They are Asian, shared culture and can probably help tame Pakistan and let us focus on growth, something USA has not managed to do. If China does well and manages to trump US in the great game, we can heave a sigh of relief that we are in its good books and if it comes worse off, we can always resume the mini-great game. Sounds enticing?

But we are not too enthusiastic about signing up for pax-Beijing as an also-ran and probably a deputy sheriff for South Asia (Pakistan excepted). Others that have gone down the slavery route – Srilanka’s Rajapakse, Philippines’ Duterte among others, have very little to show for it.

It should also think carefully about the timing of any limited or unlimited conflict with China and the state of its own readiness in economic, military and other ways. The present standoff doesn’t appear to be initiated by India.

Of course, as Nitin Pai puts it if China has made up its mind to “teach India a lesson” and India has determined it can meet that challenge head on and give the Chinese some Hindi lessons of its own, nothing much can be done by us ordinary folks other than pray that the damage is not too high and that we emerge victorious.

 

 

 

Modi in US – Beware of terror trap

As Modi visits US to meet President Trump domestic media has been highlighting well known issues like the H1-B visa, Possible conflicts between “Make American Great Again” & “Make in India”, Paris accord etc. Expectations are lowered given the mercurial temperament of Trump and his past comments and policy decisions and the need for Modi to build a new relationship all over again.

Not much attention is being paid to one key agenda item – terror.

Terror may become a low hanging fruit, a good filler, convenient topic to discuss and forget other contentious issues, given the current global situation. Lofty press releases can be issued without much real work or progress and everyone feels good. So the temptation would be to spend too much time focusing on “terror”

That is where the danger lies! Why?

Because our terror problems are vastly different from USA’s.

  1. Even if you don’t agree with left loonies & their self flagellation anyone that has been following news over last 10,20 years should by now know this: West has paid for and purchased this current set of problems. Iraq, Libya, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, the list is endless.
  2. Regime changes enforced with brutal violence, often bombing from high up in the air with guaranteed civilian casualties, overthrow of secular, liberal dictatorships, endorsement of rabid fanatics of Muslim Brotherhood type, arming and funding dangerous jihadis with 7th century world views have all contributed to the terror problem that European cities and communities are facing today. If mainland America is somewhat more immune it is because of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans – an accident of geography.
  3. We cannot also close our eyes to the grim reality of USA funding jihadi terrorist generals of Pakistan with cash and arms worth “billions and billions and billions”, to borrow Donald Trump’s language, much of it used to spread terror against India and ironically against America itself!
  4. Despite decades of being cuckolded, American policymakers refuse to wake up as proven by recent articles in media seeking surrender to Pakistani “interests” in Afghanistan. One never knows, Trump may prove to be no different given past track record of American Presidents from Reagan to Obama.
  5. We can be proud that India has more than 100 million Muslims and despite this we don’t really have a serious genuine Islamic terror problem other than those created by Pakistan and its jihadi generals. This is the real truth.
  6. Like almost every other Indian of all colors, sizes and shapes, yes, Muslims have grievances but barring a microscopic minority they have not used terror to get them solved. (We have some concerns and suggestions to Modi government on this front but that is topic for another day).

Given this background, spending too much time on terror (which almost exclusively has come to mean Islamist terror) in discussions with US President will do more harm than good. Because it will be about THEIR problem not OURS. It will simply serve to further American interests which keep shifting like flavours of Ben & Jerry even if there is no regime change in America itself.  Simple example – is Qatar a terrorist state or an American base? Can it be both? Why are they sold armaments worth hundreds of billions?

The Americans will happy to sing song, hear us sing in perfect sync with their tunes on their terror problems but do zilch, zero to solve our problem which is Pakistan. That is one problem we have to solve ourselves.

Instead what we will get is lectures on human rights, democracy and what not. This, incidentally applies to Western Europe too.

Any discussion with Trump on terror should be private, low key, proportionate to its weight in the overall agenda and not talked about much in press conferences or public information releases. And the focus should be on OUR terror problem whose proximate cause is American funding of Wahhabi fanaticism in Pakistan.

West has enough money and muscle to solve their terror problem which, in case you missed it earlier, was caused by their own misadventures in Middle East and Africa.

Modi beware!

 

Turkish delight from Erdogan on Kashmir

Just prior to his recent India visit, Turkish strongman Erdogan, fresh from his referendum “victory” threw a curve ball at India – he offered himself (and Turkey) as mediator to help address the Kashmir issue.

Reactions have been varied. Wire columnist  thought Erdogan was reiterating his Islamist credentials in doing so. Hindu too was somewhat circumspect and didn’t seem to really like Erdogan’s meddling.

Prime Minister meets Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey at Hyderabad House during his State Visit to India (May 01, 2017)

Thankfully India’s reaction was mature and subdued. Instead of the usual theatrics whenever someone mentions the K word. That is a great start.

But what about the offer itself? Does it deserve rejection outright? Or worth analysing?

May not be a bad idea

Firstly, let us completely stay clear of Erdogan’s controversial and authoritarian track record and Islamist credentials. They are matters entirely irrelevant to this discussion.  Fact is he represents Turkey and will do so for another 10 years in all probability. Nothing else matters.

If anything that makes it easier for him to play a role.

Let us take a step back and see what options do we have to bring the Kashmir situation to a satisfactory conclusion?

  1. Wait it out. Let time be the medicine, increasing the gap between Pakistan and India in economic and strategic terms and wait for better sense to prevail so settlement can be on our terms or near about.
  2. Physical force. That is clearly out of question unless the provocation is strong enough to make it inevitable.
  3. Settle through talks in the short/medium term with the contours of the settlement along known lines – i.e., keep our part of Kashmir, give up on POK with some arrangement that saves everyone’s face.

Clearly the fourth option of simply giving up on Kashmir and settle on terms agreeable to present Pakistani dispensation is clearly not on the table. Unless again, it is forced by circumstances beyond our control.

Coming to the third option, it should be clear to us, given the nuclear situation, we simply don’t have the means to enforce anything on Pakistan.

Any agreement signed with the Pakistani civilian dispensation is not worth the paper it is printed on. Even if it were to be openly endorsed by the Pakistani military it is in all probability a “taqiya” which will be torn up at the earliest chance. Then we are back to square 1. Furthermore, Pakistani Army will simply take that as confirmation of its “success” and simply expand its shopping list. For all is military might and economic clout, $30b and three decades later Uncle Sam is still happily writing cheques and getting cuckolded. Do we stand better chance?

This is where a third party comes in provided it fulfills main criteria

  1. It has power to enforce any agreement. That power need not be economic or military, it can be religious.
  2. It is not totally biased against us, the best we can hope for, given that there is no such thing as “neutral” in global power politics.

Why Turkey?

Pakistan WILL NOT listen to USA because it has perfected the art of fooling them over multiple administrations and in any case that is a hard sell to the Abdul in the street. After all it is a kuffar power not exactly popular in the streets of Lahore.

Pakistan MAY listen to KSA for religious and monetary reasons but then KSA sheiks are beholden to the Pakistani generals to protect their own crumbling edifice. They make poor mediators.

Pakistan WILL listen to China but then China is just about the most biased and untrustworthy mediator one can find. Not even Modi can go the public and sell a plan brokered by China, except perhaps in Alimuddin Street and JNU.

Any other global power is completely worthless in this context. UK? France? You must be joking. Russia? May be 40 years back, not now.

That brings us to Turkey.

Turkey is a Sunni power and under Erdogan it has shifted away from its European identity to its Islamic roots. Just as Pakistan tried to wash away its South Asian roots and claim Arab, Turkish or Persian heritage, depending on season.

Which means if Turkey underwrites any agreement, it is easier for the Pakistani regime to “sell” it to its Abduls.

Moreover, we simply don’t believe Erdogan is anti-India. He may be pro Pakistan for religious reasons but that is to be expected. After all the so-called secular, anti-Islamist Army led regimes of Turkey were pro Pakistani too. His flexible and somewhat reasonable stance on Israel is a pointer.

That goes for much of the so-called “Ummah” too. Contrary to arms selling super powers like USA and Europe who probably want the conflict prolonged as it comes with bonus of keeping India in check, the Sunni Muslim world has nothing to gain by this conflict and even less to gain if Pakistan were to somehow by some miracle succeed in snatching Kashmir away. After all, at best this can only be done to the valley, not Jammu or Ladakh. Which only makes them even smaller minority in India in addition to permanently antagonising India forever. It also weakens India’s huge Muslim community.

Which is also why other than routine boilerplate template noises at OIC which no one takes seriously, there has not been that much pressure on India to settle at Pakistan’s terms. This is only going to get better from India’s perspective as oil’s importance weakens along with that Middle East’s.

Interestingly, China which shares US/European vested interest in keeping India in check through such conflicts is slowly coming around to the idea that it is a strategy that will harm them more than it does India. The CPEC investments will go down the drain not to speak of export trade that hugely favors China. Again this will get better over time as India buys & integrates even more into the Chinese economy, political tensions notwithstanding.

Badly bruised in the Syrian affair, his reputation in tatters globally, with too many contenders for the mythical Caliph role within the Sunni Muslim Ummah, Erdogan may use Kashmir role to buttress his own credentials and to do so he knows he has to be reasonable with India’s position. A failure will only make him an even bigger laughing stock.

Pre-conditions

But then as we noted earlier, Pakistan has successfully fooled generations of US Presidents. It has nothing to fear from China. Russia too is embracing every loony or reckless state it can find, simply to cock a snook at Uncle Sam.

So we still cannot rule out the fact that Pakistan will use Turkey to draw up some settlement and then renege on its commitment. After all, Turkey hardly has any trade, economic or military levers on Pakistan to pull.

So that means there is a narrow set of circumstances and conditions that has to be met before India can publicly embrace this option:

  1. The broad contours of agreement are drawn up bilaterally using Track 2 or Track 3 channels.
  2. Our own Kashmiri “separatists” are on board.
  3. We know at least on paper the jihadi generals are on board.
  4. China is behind the idea.
  5. KSA has been sounded out.
  6. The Pakistani civilian regime simply wants Islamic rubber stamp on the deal to sell it to its beards. As ex-Ottoman state that once had moral authority over global Sunni Muslims, Turkey still has that goodwill. This is where Erdogan’s strong Islamist credentials help. Any deal will involve compromises and the beards may go ballistic with “Islam in danger” noise and that can be mitigated.
  7. We have clear well defined Plan B in place to deal with any betrayals, expansion of agendas and the like.

Clearly the first 5 items on the agenda will have to be done behind the scenes and bilaterally and only if successfully done can we openly get Turkey /Erdogan involved publicly. That is a big IF.

Because once we cross the rubicon of involving third parties formally, there is no going back.

For now it is best to counsel Erdogan to counsel Pakistan to start behaving and start talking behind the scenes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boycott of Chinese goods – makes sense?

After the recent Uri attack and China’s blatant siding with Pakistan on terrorism as well as the NSG matter, opinions are slowly hardening on the Indian side too. Now many Indians are copying a long used Chinese trick – boycotting Chinese made goods.

As everyone knows, China has been using this weapon for years now, mostly targeting Japan, occasionally smaller European states like Denmark that dare to raise inconvenient issues like human rights. State run media whip up a frenzy which is promptly followed up by social media “patriots”.

Now China is getting a taste of it’s own medicine although in much smaller, almost statistically insignificant doses.

Question then is, is it right? How does one go about it?

  1. First, it should be made clear the target is not Chinese people. In fact the message that should go from any such boycott is one of pain and not anger. Pain that Chinese government, unaccountable to its own populace, in supporting jihadi terrorist Pakistani generals and the deep state, is acting against the best interests of all three countries involved – China, India and Pakistan itself.
  2. Second, any such boycott should firstly involve change in lifestyle and behaviour. For example, richer parents buy plastic toys (almost 100% made in China) by the dozen for their kids only thrown away in the attic after a few minutes of play. Isn’t it better to avoid such gifts in the first place? After all most parents do it not so much for their kids but to massage their own egos.
  3. Most middle and upper class kids have way too much in clothing, much of it imported, though they hardly wear them once or twice before they outgrow them. Loving parents and relatives shower them with stuff they have no use for. Can we change that? That doesn’t take a boycott.
  4. We should be selective and choose items for which reasonable alternatives exist within India. And which helps our artisans and poorer citizens. Locks are a good example. Diyas (earthen lamps) instead of strip lighting is another. Thankfully clothing is mostly made locally but even here Chinese goods have swamped, particularly in specific sub-sectors like kids clothing, baby wear etc.
  5. Where there are no choices, such as mobiles and laptops that are 100% made in China and nowhere else, we have ask ourselves do we need yearly upgrades?
  6. It should be a reminder to ourselves and our babudom that the reason why we import practically everything from China at prices far cheaper despite considerable distance traveled is because of our own inefficiency and incompetence that treats business as evil, profit as immoral and businessmen worse than armed terrorists. It is odd that we have to learn the benefits of a fair but capitalist, investment oriented society from a supposedly socialist state. If alongside such boycotts, we can dismantle the numerous controls and paperwork and corruption that kill our SMEs we will need no boycotts in future.
  7. Government can also consider sensible regulations that avoid plastic and electronic wastage without directly targeting China. Europe forced most phone makers into using common interface for charging so they dont have to bundle a charger with each handset. Why can’t we ban such bundling? After all chargers can be made here for common use?
  8. Many “Indian” brands have actually given up on manufacturing and simply import stuff from China and sell it in their name. Obviously that brings bigger profits. Bajaj table fans are a good example. Same goes for most iron boxes, rice cookers, even bulbs and other such items sold in Indian shops. Our trade unions and government should sit together and ponder over why this has happened and what can be done about it. While this is slightly better than the situation in other countries such as Indonesia or Thailand where even brands are Chinese, it is small consolation.
  9. Whenever we buy something, it should become a habit to check where it is made. Most of us don’t even check expiry dates of foodstuff. Ask ourselves a simple question – why can’t it be made here? Is it super-duper high tech? Most likely not! Solutions will follow. Reforms pushed from ground up can never fail. If a million citizens change their thinking and push for change, that can exceed the impact a dozen think tanks and intellectuals shouting themselves hoarse.
  10. Government should publish and keep updated, a list of top 1,000 things that we import (not just from China) along with the quantity, value and other statistics. This list should mainly target things that end users buy in large quantities (such as mobile covers, chargers etc). It should be a wake up call to our entrepreneur class to see if they can make them, better, cheaper. In most cases, the answer is yes.

 

 

PM Modi address to nation on Pathankot

Narendra Modi, PM
PM Narendra Modi

This is the draft outline of a speech which, in our opinion, PM Narendra Modi should give to the nation regarding the Pathankot attack. Of course, he should wait for the mopping up operation to conclude. He should also get some preliminary conclusions from the NSA team.

 

The speech has to be brief, to the point, poignant and without any politics or partisanship involved. It should come straight from the heart. Perhaps Modi is the only leader in this country capable of doing this.

The speech (draft)

Dear citizens

You are aware of the recent terror strike in Pathankot. Let me offer my sincere condolences to the families of brave Indians who laid down their lives to protect the nation and its assets. I join you in saluting their bravery. We lost x of our brave sons who died so that you, your children and our future are more secure.

As a nation, will should always remember their sacrifice. But as a great nation, we should always look forward too. In this connection, two vital questions have arisen that needs serious thought.

One is what should be our policy regarding talks with Pakistan.

We fully understand the anguish and frustration of many Indians who feel there is no point talking to Pakistan, which is a state sponsor of terror. Even we have made such demands in the past. My recent efforts in the direction of peace, including the Lahore visit, were with the hope that Pakistan has turned a corner, especially after facing several jihadi terrorist attacks in its own cities. You remember the Peshawar school attack that killed many children among others. We felt there is serious rethink underway in Pakistan, at least in some sections of its ruling establishment, that its terror policies are not only failing, they are becoming counterproductive. We also strongly believe that jihadi terrorism is our enemy, not the state of Pakistan or its citizens. Peace with Pakistan is our ultimate goal, continued hostility not in our interest.

Of course, while we look to the future with hope, we also take into account actual events and feedback from our intelligence. After the Pathankot attack, we are not going to call off talks with Pakistan. Instead we are going to bring this up in the next round of discussions with the civilian government of Pakistan as the first and only major topic, and see what their reaction is.

If we see some hope that they are with us in this battle, as they claim to be, that is good for all of us. We can work together to combat this evil, even as we discuss over problems and issues and find mutually acceptable solutions.

But if we find they simply use talks as a facade, they do not seek peace but share the jihadist goal of dominance over India, we will call off the talks and wait for better times. You have my assurance.

Second important question is, is there anything we could have done better? Are there lessons to be learnt?

There have been lots of criticism in the media and from our friends in the opposition over so-called intelligence failure, operational mismanagement, delay in concluding the operation etc. I am convinced our jawans as well as civilian and military leadership did their very best. They knew about this attack through our intelligence network and they deliberately decided to let the terrorists come to the airbase instead of chasing them all over the civilian areas of Pathankot. This would have been even worse.

This does not mean that everything is perfect or that things cannot be done better. We have to continuously improve our defenses and offensive capabilities to deal with jihadi terror. Better training, better coordination among various state and central agencies, clearer communication to media as well as the public are some of the things that come to my mind right now. But we have to let experts look at this issue in a proper way.

We are thankful to those who offer us meaningful criticism and suggestions, whatever be their political background or motive.

Towards this end, we have to be ready to accept criticism and seek the truth. NSA Doval has been tasked with identifying specific weaknesses and areas of improvements on an urgent basis. I will share with you his findings as soon as possible and also tell you about some of the steps we are taking to improve in future.

 

Jai Hind!

 

Peace after Pathankot

It had to happen. It was a question of when and never if. The biggest question, of course, is, “What next?”.  Let’s us look at that question

What next?

The options are quite simple to list out even if they are quite complicated to choose from. After all, logically there can be only these

  1. Carry on with talks as if nothing happened
  2. Carry on with talks but restrict topic to incident and terror in general.
  3. Call off talks

Did I miss any? Of course, any of the above options can be pursued with or without mounting a retaliatory strike, either covertly or overtly or both. That is an entirely different matter altogether.

Good Pakistan’s response is the key

What is the underlying logic behind the resumption of talks in the first place? It goes along following lines: “Not all Pakis are terrorists, there is a strong constituency for peace and coexistence, if not brotherhood, that should be engaged“. Then there are more altruistic drivers such as “the civilian regime has to be strengthened to weaken military’s hold on the country” etc.

The hope here is that over time, the peace lobby will gain strength, the anti-peace ones (aka mullah/military cabal) weaken and we all happily live ever after.

If this indeed was the logic it makes absolutely no sense to call off talks after one incident, however, major.

But the key would be the response of the “good Pakistan” to this incident. If the good boys pretend as if it is not their problem or present a long list of demands to even consider some action on the terror front, then calling off talks would be logical.

That looks like Option (2) doesn’t it? Yes. Initially at least, talks have to be around the incident itself in order to gauge good Pakistan’s response. If some sort of assistance is offered, and followed through, it makes eminent sense to upgrade talks to Option (1). Such assistance or reassurance could range from covert action against some of the JeM players (overt may be too damaging to Pakistan’s own internal stability even if accepted), to even oral assurances from military to rein them in, if this has not been offered as yet.

If the response is that “look, we are not in control of these loonies, what can we do?“, India has to present a list of things they CAN do, to offset. For example, handing over Dawood could be one. Transit concessions, MFN etc., could be others. They can even be asked to warn us in advance and share intelligence, instead of simply opening a pack of popcorn to watch the show.

In other words, there has to be some quid pro quo. It cannot be that Pakistan insists on the entire Kashmir issue (and all else) to be solved to its satisfaction, simply to move an inch on any other front.  We cannot be taken for a two year fool’s ride, like Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani, bending over backwards and yet getting nothing in return.

Covert or overt retaliation

No government can take this option off the table. Question is what will be the trigger level of provocation for each set of response. It also is a question on capabilities. Do we have the means to inflict damage to “bad Pakistan” without hitting the good boys? As Mohammed Taqi points out in his interesting column, (The Wire) Pakistani generals have chosen a calibrated provocation. It requires a nuanced response.

Regardless of what we do or don’t do, silly macho comments by responsible members of government and the ruling party should cease. That serves no purpose and in fact ends up increasing pressure on PM Modi. There are no ‘training camps’ to raid. The entire country is one.

Here the best option appears to be to work with alone as well as with Afghan, Iranian and other intelligence in the short term to inflict some sort of pain. In the medium term, capacity building for stronger action should be pursued.  This has been seriously damaged by IK Gujral and the UPA regimes.

Given the deep distrust of the whiskey sipping Generals and the Pakistani establishment among the purer green cadre, it should be easy to find factions or groups more than happy to take a kufr’s aid to bring more purity to Pakistan, the land of pure. Balochi groups may be even more happy to help out, given their desperation for outside help in fighting an asymmetric war with the brutal Pakistani state.

But any such action has to be proportionate and carefully targeted to avoid needless escalation. The sole objective should be to send a message.

Prognosis

Chances are, India’s experience will be no different from Afghanistan’s. In other words, even as we keep talking, Pakistan would continue to mount covert attacks and pretend that they don’t control the show as much as they are thought to.

That’s when a serious call will have to be made on the entire matter. Unpalatable options may have to be given fresh look.

But until then, talks should go on. At least we can turn around to the international community and say, “look, we tried”.

 

 

What’s Modi up to in Pakistan?

The 90 minute visit to Pakistan by PM Narendra Modi has “stunned” most observers. None were expecting it. Ironically most leaders, including well protected NATO VIPs, visit Afghanistan unannounced, fearing terror attacks, Modi did so with enough prior notice in media and visited Pakistan stealthily!

Naturally speculation is rife in the media as to the events that preceded the visit and the visit itself of which very little is known other than cleansed disinfected stale media statements and tweets.

Let’s take a look at some of the possibilities. Most of these have been offered as logical explanations by some media pundit, political commentator or the other, so there is nothing new. Of course, Congress tied itself up in knots, offering several of these, often contradicting each other! Let us also assume that wasn’t the entire objective of the exercise 😉

Modi is just frivolous, he likes doing such drama, nothing comes out of it.

Naturally many that do not like Modi have advanced this theory. Modi is of course, not bothered by Congress and AAP making noise. They are never going to get the votes of the hardcore anti-Pakistan lobby. They’ll only end up looking like clowns, perhaps even lose some of their own Wagah candle kisser voters. But he sure bothers about his own core constituency that is conservative, supposedly against any interaction with Pakistan other than sending the army or air force. Why should he make things difficult for himself doing this, that too after the recent Bihar debacle that has weakened him somewhat?

This silly ‘explanation’ has to be dismissed without further consideration.

Modi is doing this to please the international community. So he can say, “look, I tried, it didn’t work”

This is of course, plausible. After all, there may have been some gentle prodding by Obama to ‘go talk to them’ or at least make an effort.  As US is keen on washing its hands off the Afghan mess so it can re-focus on the long term China threat, India Pakistan detente can make a bad mess look prettier.

But this also assumes that Modi is simply uninterested in any sort of peace with Pakistan. He is simply trying to shut a few mouths by making a token attempt and wait for the right moment to deal with Pakistan ‘problem’ militarily.

This argument can be resolved only when he remits office, not until then. We can also look for evidence to the contrary – that he wants to leave a distinct stamp on history. He can either do this by obliterating Pakistan so it ceases to be a problem for the next 100 years, or by doing a landmark deal that brings benefits without the costs of war.  Chances are, he is sensible and prefers the latter option.

He probably knows he is the only one who can do it for the foreseeable future. A 15 party coalition headed by Nitish Kumar or Rahul in 2019, even if they manage to defeat BJP/NDA, is unlikely to enjoy a free hand. That is because even if defeated badly, BJP is likely to secure 150+ seats in the LS, enough to make things difficult for any ruling coalition.

There is no plan, it is just theatrics

This is yet another Congress theory.  Simultaneously, its spokies have also floated the other theory (see below) that it is well planned and Parliament has been ‘bypassed’ and opposition deliberately kept in the dark. Pro Congress media divas have been pushing the Jindal angle – a story of prior coordination and choreography brokered by a businessman, effectively rubbishing their own “unplanned, unscripted theatrics” allegations.

Again, it is possible that Modi simply had a brain-wave sitting in Kabul sipping tea, talking to Nawaz Sharif over phone. But while it is possible (and likely) the trip itself may have been unplanned, the state of mind and the game plan that led to it can’t be dismissed casually. Particularly because it has been preceded by other moves such as Bangkok talks, Paris meet, FM Sushma Swaraj attending the Afghan summit in Islamabad etc. In other words, the no plan theory falls flat when circumstantial evidence is considered.

This is well planned, part of an overall master plan

While we may have two (or more) opinions on the potential success or failure, or its appropriateness or otherwise, we can surely say there is SOME plan.

Obviously we (and for that matter most media ‘experts’) don’t know what this plan is and we can, like a bunch of blind men looking an elephant over, can try to make some sense of it by observing evidence that is publicly available.

But we can suggest the contours of what this plan should be, from our own perspective and make some educated guesses on the likely roadmap as well as outcomes.

Enough of triumphalism

It is worthwhile here to diverge a bit and take a look at the triumphalist noise in some sections of our media and analyst community. It goes like this: Pakistan is all powerful now, everyone is queuing up at its door because it has so much influence on Afghanistan and Taliban in addition to its ‘strategic’ location. Modi was a fool all this while and is now waking up to the reality. Hence he is willing to surrender some of his earlier bombastic attitude and join the queue to talk.

If one can consider the fact that bombs are not going off every other day in Pakistani cities and TTP is yet to takeover a district or two, and Balochistan remains part of Pakistan as a major triumph, there can be some merit to this argument. But by any decent standard, Pakistan is a long way from being a normal state that domestic (let alone foreign) businessmen dare to invest in. The oil bonanza is gone, likely forever, seriously undermining its key source of free cash from Saudis and UAE. The Arabs are in fact worried their own dollars are digging the graves of their regimes by feeding the Islamist monster they no longer control. Pakistan’s other benefactor, China, is facing enough economic problems at home, slower growth and need to cut excess capacity created by over investment. All the big talk of $46 billion ‘belt and road’ remains just that – big talk and may remain that way even ignoring security problems. And the costs – India getting annoyed and playing its own games with USA, are mounting by the day making it a worthless game in the long run. The very fact that Uncle Sam is washing hands off Afghan mess also means he is no longer going to write big cheques to the Pakistan army for logistics support, worthless as it was. Even President Ghani is getting fed up, because Pakistani generals don’t seem to have the means to bring Taliban to the table.

Pakistan (and its friends among the left wing in India) should be living in a fools paradise if they can assume that simply because it shares a border with troubled Afghanistan, it has a massive geo strategic advantage it can milk for eternity to bleed India while keeping its own home safe and secure. Far from it.

What’s the way forward?

  1. It should be clear to everyone things are at a stalemate. China is unable to ‘use’ Pakistan to stop India or restrict its options. Pakistan is unable to change India’s behavior by using terror proxies. It is not able to get Taliban to rule Kabul. Nor is Kabul able to defeat them, with or without US help. India is not able to ‘fix’ Pakistan once for all militarily. And then there is ISIS that doesn’t dance to anyone’s tunes but only obeys the Quran.
  2. This stalemate can go on for years, as it has been going on for years anyway. But in case you missed the point earlier, there is ISIS, that doesn’t dance to anyone’s tunes but only obeys the Quran. This wildcard entry has changed the game for all players, big or small. The only difference is the extent to which each player worries about it. Clearly Pakistan has to worry the most because it has ploughed and fertilised the field, sown the seeds and grown the crop of Islamist fanaticism and jihadi mindset only to see the “crop” ready to be harvested by the purer green ISIS. And the rest have to worry because Pakistan has enough nukes.
  3. China’s top priority is to fix its domestic economic mess that has serious implications for the future of its communist regime itself. It just doesn’t have the bandwidth for adventurism that too against a rising India that is steadily jacking up the price for China’s game plan.  Modi has shown India can deliver a big market and huge gains on the positive side, should China be ready to play ball.
  4. Uncle Sam has lost all interest in Middle East and its oil. It’s economy has moved on. All he wants from the region is for Islamist terrorism to remain bottled there and not bother mainland USA or Europe. He can, in order not to lose face, keep, at relatively cheap cost, sufficient forces in the Af-Pak arena for decade or more to ensure Taliban can never overrun Kabul even if it can’t be defeated.
  5. Pakistan simply can’t continue its self poisoning strategy for that long hoping to gain mysterious strategic depth and leverage against India when Uncle finally leaves. Along the way it can stage a Mumbai or two and slow India down by 1-2% but nothing more can be gained.
  6. It is in this context we have to see Modi’s recent moves. India too has to get its economy moving if it has to challenge China’s rising clout in the region and more importantly to win elections.
  7. Given all this regional context, the contours of an eventual settlement and the road map can go like this:
    1. Put a lid on the Kashmir issue by agreeing to current borders either immediately or after a cooling off period
    2. Turn the Afghan problem into an opportunity by getting Pakistan Army to give up its paranoia over India’s investment there.
    3. Obviate the need for terror proxies so Pakistan can begin a genuine cleanup of its system instead of the farcical changes to extract dole from USA. This strengthens its democratic institutions too.
    4. Strengthen regional connectivity and economic integration including transit rights across Pakistan and pipelines going the other way for everyone to gain.
    5. Ensure the discord and conflict between India and Pakistan doesn’t become valuable playing cards for this or that super power.
    6. Bring China into the game by promising huge market that can absorb most of its excess capacity. In addition, China gets reassured India will not get close to USA/Japan beyond a certain point
    7. All of this eventually leads to a situation where Asia manages its own affairs, limiting Uncle’s role with India and China playing their rightful role as regional-cum-global powers

Obviously there is a lot of big ifs in a process this complicated and for results to be so spectacular. It may take years. But some items in the check list such as (1) and (2) above are definitely possible. Particularly the Kashmir one, though intractable by assumption, has seen several near deals along similar lines. It just takes political will.

Item (3) may be beyond control of even Pakistan army depending on how the Middle East / ISIS situation evolves but the best India can do is to have Pakistan army at least stay neutral and not actively cultivating such groups. To have the Pakistani generals actively pursuing and bumping off anti-India jihadis would take years of peace and non-conflict.

Item (4) depends on (1) and (2) and can be realised fairly quickly. (5) would take a lot of trust and time. (6) is a bonus although as someone (Mulayam?) predicted India China conflict/rivalry/competition would last decades longer than India-Pakistan one and hence needs altogether different strategy.

Lastly (7) would probably remain a utopia at least for our lifetime!

 

NSA Talks: No point talking

Instead of running around in circles, raising expectations all around and wasting precious time, Modi sarkar should stick to the latest decision on Pakistan – no talks as long as terror is there.

Few facts are indisputable

  1. Pakistan has no interest in helping India deal with terror from its soil, even if you suspend credulity and believe that it is purely caused by non-state actors without any official patronage. The recent denial of Gurdaspur terrorist’s citizenship is clear proof, if any is needed.
  2. Pakistan has been fooling, lying to and killing Americans in Afghanistan even after taking $20-$30 billions of American money, despite overwhelming military superiority of Uncle. There is no way it is going to do anything different with India, a much weaker power threatened by its stolen nukes.
  3. Although it has been taking action against some terror groups, these have ALL been groups threatening the regime directly. Or threatening the west without any collateral benefits to the Pakistani military. It has done zilch against Afghan facing terrorists, and will do absolutely nothing against India specific terror groups. No amount of talks or surrender is going to change that. Pro Pakistan commentators in India making big noise over ‘change of heart’ should start reading the news.

So what should India do?

We are obviously not suggesting war. We dont have sufficient information to do so. What we do suggest is

  1. Just stop talking about talks. No point wasting time with six monthly gestures that lead to nothing.
  2. Beef up internal security. This will blunt effect of any terror attack, minimise casualties and reduce frequency of attacks. More than money, clever strategy and execution is the key. Crowd sourcing some of the steps can work wonders.
  3. Work on Pakistan’s friends and benefactors. Keep pointing out to them increasing cost of their rearing snakes.
  4. Focus on economy.
  5. Focus on covert options – Exploit internal fault lines of Pakistan in Balochistan and elsewhere.
  6. Don’t let media circus distract from above goals.
  7. Slowly build capacity in every respect.
  8. War proof economy as far as practicable, build civil defence capabilities.

If all this is done, India can pick and choose when to take the battle to Pakistan’s heartland. It will have to be done one day.

 

 

 

Taliban leadership change – victory for Pakistan?

As reported, Taliban as well as Afghan Govt announced the death of Mullah Omar and the appointment of Mullah Akhtar Mansour as his successor. There have also been reports of dissents, walkouts by rival groups in the meeting to (s)elect him. As if all this is not confusing enough, we also hear Haqqani Sr, leader of the so-called Haqqani network has also died.

The timing and location of the deaths of these two leaders have been disputed. But it seems to be widely acknowledged that announcements were made or initiated by Pakistan. In addition to controversy and confusion, these two events have also resulted in delay to the Afghan-Pak (Taliban) talks monitored by China and US.

What’s going on?! Why would Pakistan release this news at this point in time?

Let us assume for the moment that Pakistan has finally given up on using its terror proxies in Afghanistan and is now pushing peace aggressively. This could be because they found that strategy harming them more, or due to pressure from USA and China or whatever. This also doesn’t mean that strategy has been given up vis-a-vis India where the pressure from USA is rather mild and that from China or Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s other main sponsors, is non existent. It is also entirely possible the ‘strategic depth’ policy has been merely mothballed for better days in the future.

The question now is, why would Pakistan release (or plant) this news now, knowing it will throw monkey wrench into their ‘peace’ plans, at least temporarily? That too barely days after planting another fake statement from Mullah Omar blessing these talks?

Pakistan had no choice

We can only conclude that Pakistan did not have much choice. The charade has been going on for too long, too many people knew or were getting to know the truth. And ISIS had already openly challenged Taliban cadre to prove Mullah Omar’s existence or join their group. “Caliph” Baghdadi even attacked Omar as demented, “ignorant prince of war” (1) His boast that ISIS achieved in two years what Taliban couldn’t in 10 has lot of truth, whether we like the results or not.

Indeed, Mohd. Taqi, writing for Huffington Post seems to think Pakistan’s hand was forced by Afghanistan to either deliver him or his support for the talks. (3)

Ideally, Pakistan would have preferred to keep the news in cold storage for a few more months, until talks produce some desirable results, get “Omar” to bless the package and then conveniently die. This also tells us, the talks are going nowhere. Or highly unlikely to produce the results Taliban and/or Pakistan wants in the near term.  Despite advances in the battle field, Afghan army is not looking at closing shop and surrendering anytime soon and Uncle Sam is waiting in the wings, ready to restore balance with drone or air strikes, should that scenario become more likely.

Just as it did with Karzai, Pakistan may have misread President Ashraf Ghani. While he may seek peace with Pakistan and see it as the main facilitator, he has and is also strengthening direct links with Pakistan’s handlers in China and USA. His strategy to rope in US and China is more likely part of plan to keep Pakistan’s ambitions in check. This gives the generals a little bit less room to play their games. Again, here Pakistan’s ideal scenario would be a weakened Afghanistan, militarily staring at defeat or retreat, led by a regime disliked by Americans and Chinese, loved only by India, crawling on all fours to Rawalpindi. Clearly President Ghani is not going to get there anytime soon though Karzai ticked many of those boxes.

Where do we go from here?

Clearly, the recent admission of Mullah Omar’s demise would stun the cadre even though they may have suspected it or even known it. It only reinforces Pakistan’s “reputation” for double speak and treachery among the battle hardened foot soldiers many of whom have no love lost for their main backer. After all, a steady stream of fake press releases from ISI HQ purportedly by Omar kept them fooled all this while.

While several analysts in the West and in India see this as yet another triumph for Pakistan, the fact is Taliban don’t trust them any more than the average Afghan does. They’ll have one less reason to do so with this news. Furthermore, the pull of ISIS, seen as more pure green, and more successful, will be irresistible to some. To the few that get tired of all this and want to go back to peaceful life, Afghan government, funded by the West will be a more attractive proposition.  Pakistan will still be in their memory as an exploiter not to be trusted. Even Mullah Omar was quoted as having said its better to go to USA than trust Pakistan! (2)

All this means Pakistan is less likely to be in a  position to achieve its strategic goals after years of poisoning itself trying to control Afghanistan, and using that, control events in Kashmir and seek leverage against India.

Whichever way events turn out, Pakistan is likely to find itself at loser’s end. A strong Taliban would give it headache in the west, make it global pariah and drag it to 8th century Arabia, a weak, faction ridden Taliban running in all directions will rob it of the sole value it can provide to Afghanistan and the West. If you are not running the show, why talk to you?! A Taliban defeated or incapacitated will not be good news for Pakistan either. In that scenario, Afghanistan can go ahead with internal reconstruction leaving Pakistan to deal with the toxic side effects of its 40 year old great game.

As we mentioned earlier in another article, India has to merely get a large bowl of popcorn and watch the show, not fret about being unable to do much about the unfolding game. They’re doing quite fine without our muddling anyway!

 

1. http://www.iraqinews.com/iraq-war/isis-leader-al-baghdadi-describes-taliban-leader-demented-ignorant-prince-war/

2. http://www.newsweek.com/mullah-omar-dead-taliban-afghanistan-pakistan-358247

3. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mohammad-taqi/mullah-omar-death-break-taliban_b_7912678.html?ir=India&adsSiteOverride=in