The Combined Commanders’ Conference (CCC); a premier brain-storming event of the Military Commanders from the three Services is being conducted this year at Kevadia in Gujarat. The three day conference from 4th to 6th March has the combined apex level military leadership of the country reviewing the security situation and defence preparedness of the Armed Forces, and deliberating pertinent organisational issues for evolving a joint military vision for the future.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will join the military commanders along with the team of Secretary level officers from the Ministry of Defence for deliberations from Day two of the conference. The Valedictory Session on the third and final day will be chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval also in attendance.
In a major change from the past, the scope of the conference this year has been expanded to make it a multi-layered, interactive, informal and informed event with the added participation of about 30 Officers and soldiers of various ranks from the three Services. Key events encapsulate series of discussions & deliberations on a range of issues pertinent to the Armed Forces and its role in nation building, with the participation of senior most political and bureaucratic hierarchy in addition to the multi-layered participation of military personnel.
It is interesting to note that the CCC in 2014 was held at Delhi. Since then it has been moved out to different venues across the country. The conference was held on board INS Vikramaditya in 2015 and in 2017 at the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun. The last edition of CCC was held in 2018 over a period of two days at Air Force Station, Jodhpur.
There have been several major developments in the Higher Defence Organisation since including appointment of first ever Chief of Defence Staff and setting up of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), and several important & multifarious issues affecting modernisation & transformation of the Armed Forces are currently under active consideration/ implementation.
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Imminent power vacuum in Afghanistan beckons India
The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan will leave a power vacuum in Kabul, which might signal the return of the Taliban. In such a landscape, should India take initiative and extend support and troops to the Abdullah Abdullah regime for greater stability in the region?
The US is likely to exit the landlocked Afghanistan soon. Does India have a stake in the troubled region of Afghanistan today? The answer is a poignant yes. And left alone, things will get from bad to worse.
Here is a leaf out of history. In 600 BC, the famous land of Ambhi, Kamboj and the valley of the five milky rivers, the Panchashira or Panjshir valley, bordered by the Hindukush ranges on the west, was a challenge for Alexander attempting his eastward conquest after Darius of Persia. A quote from an Ashwin Sanghi narrative goes, “But the Macedonian conqueror made short shrift of the arrangement of Darius and over-running the Achaemenid empire, dashed into Afghanistan and encountered the stiff resistance from the Kambojas tribes, called Aspasian and Assakenois, known in Indian texts as Ashvaya and Ashvakayana”. The Ashvakayans were the ancestors of the Afghans and Shivagupta was a famed king of the Ashwakayans.
The Hindukush, in the 21st century, is still India’s gateway to an international standing in the comity of nations.
US, AFGHANISTAN AND INDIA
The US entered Afghanistan in 2001. Two decades and four presidents later, current president Joe Biden sent across a message in April 2021 about an intention to withdraw US troops in September 2021. Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan. About 2,450 US soldiers have been killed and over 20,700 others have been injured in the war in Afghanistan. It is the longest running conflict for the USA. The date of this announcement coincided with the 20th anniversary of the attacks on US soil in 2001. Former President Donald Trump, who lost the re-election to Biden in November last year, had set the withdrawal deadline for the US on May 1 this year, which is now September 11. The implication of this has set the cat among the pigeons in Kabul.
Over the past 20 years, US involvement in Afghanistan has not worked out well for either side. The idea of OP Moshtarak was a classic example of the US’ disconnect with rural Afghans. In the initial years, Operation Moshtarak was launched in Marjah and Lashkar Gah. The concept of ‘killing a lot of Taliban and having tea with locals’ did not work out as the Taliban remained inseparable from the locals. Cultural advisers were then embedded with the US troops on ground to lend a community approach prior to operations.
The stage today is set differently from the first decade of the millennia. The Ahmed Shah Massouds and Dostams of the Northern Alliance are long gone. A power vacuum in Afghanistan would now bring back Taliban with a vengeance, revisit Mazaar-i-Sharif-like massacres and leave many ‘Najibullahs’ shamed in every street of Kabul. Invariably, a UN-led peace enforcement under the UN Security Council Chapter VII is the most likely scenario, which would evolve but probably after much wasted time and unnecessary bloodletting. This is the right time and place for India to take notice of the looming Taliban threat that will soon spill over to Kashmir, if it does not act now. Positive participation in peace enforcement is on the cards.
THE RATIONALE OF THE US DRAWDOWN
In 2009, as Vice President under Barack Obama, Joe Biden had strongly opposed expanding US military presence in the country and maintained that its goal should be restricted to counterterrorism missions. But despite his arguments, Washington went on to increase the number of its troops from 36,000 in 2009 to almost 1 lakh in 2010. It was only after the killing of Osama bin Laden by a SEAL team in Pakistan’s Abbottabad in 2012 that the US began winding down its presence in Afghanistan.
The decision to withdraw is based on data gathered by American intelligence, which suggest that Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups do not pose an immediate threat to the United States from Afghanistan, The New York Times reported. This is a clear indicator that ‘regional stability’ is not on the US platter. Given the Chinese activism against the US in the South China Sea, the USA has its bags full.
A VIETNAM OF A DIFFERENT KIND
A peek at Central America, Vietnam and Iraq would show the barren trail of US forces withdrawing around the globe. Recently on April 18, famous BBC correspondent Lyse Doucette, in her reflections, observed that the Taliban saw US withdrawal as a victory for them while at the Doha (US-Taliban) conference in Qatar in 2020. She observed that the Taliban will simply come back to Kabul, revert to an Islamic society, and Pakistan will again be flush with refugees fleeing an Islamizing Afghanistan where a witch hunt for all non-Islamic people would be on.
Here is a challenge for India: should India take the initiative and extend a stabilizing support with active troops to the Abdullah Abdullah regime? Much of the Afghan security establishment since the days of Hamid Karzai is trained by Indians; their diplomatic orientation is pro-India. A lack of expression by a strong Indian nation that has warded off the PLA adventurism would send wrong signals to the Taliban.
The recent remarks by the Chief of the Indian Army on Kashmir are a further indicator of the things to come. It is the right juncture for India to raise its concerns in the Security Council regarding the evolving Afghan conundrum. At this point, China is grappling with its Uighur problem and the US with its Quad issues is not likely to oppose as long as financial contribution comes from the G20 nations. That is a matter of detail for the UN Headquarters in New York and concerned UNHCR at Geneva. When the deployment is approved by the UN, India should be the largest contributor of troops.
The author is a veteran of the armed forces, having served 30 years with counter-terrorism and LC experience. As an Army aviator he has carried out extensive operational flying in J&K including Ladakh and participated in the Kargil conflict. An MPhil from Panjab University, he also has literary interests. Familiar with the terrain north of Pir Panjals, he focused on Afghanistan for his MPhil while at Panjab University. He took early release from service in 2017 and is settled in Hyderabad, now pursuing research in Defense and Strategic Studies.
CHINESE HYPOCRISY OVER HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES
China raising ‘India’s worrying human rights record’ is a classic case of pot calling the kettle black.
The CCP mouthpiece Global Times came out with an article on Thursday (15 April) titled “US not criticising India over human rights exposes hypocrisy” that desperately aimed at pointing out to the over hyped faux bubble of ‘India’s worrying human rights record’. Ironically, such statements by Chinese state media are perfect examples of the saying: “Pot calling the kettle black”.
All of a sudden, China showing concerns about the US, took up the noble initiative of warning her by highlighting the fact that “it‘s not in America‘s interest to become close partners with countries moving away from shared values.” Liu Zongyi also subtly reprimanded Biden by saying “Biden administration is rather restrained in speaking out against India‘s human rights violations” indicating a requirement of mid-course correction in consonance with American foreign policy.
Interestingly (as per the article), Global Times is not only a well wisher of the US but also for India as it points out the fact that “the Biden administration may use India‘s human rights issues as a bargaining chip, demanding India to make concessions at the economic level, or cooperate with the US”.
On 15 April itself, the Chinese embassy spokesperson Wang Xiaojian protested over the remarks made by US Indo-Pacific Command chief Admiral Phil Davidson and others in Raisina Dialogue about Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, by describing happenings in these regions as China’s internal affairs. “Making baseless and irresponsible remarks is not acceptable. We are firmly opposed to interference in China’s internal affairs by any country or anyone under any pretext,” he said.
In other words, conduct of systematic genocide by state, establishing rehab camps, human trafficking, organ harvesting & forced labours under state supervision, threatening by sending fighter aircrafts into ADIZ of another state, or curbing basic human rights of people by altering security laws & sending armed forces under that pretext are all internal affairs of China. However, passing of a bill in Indian Parliament regarding Indian Citizenship or management of farmers‘ produce in Indian market is definitely not an internal matter of India & China expects the US to come up with harsh comments on them. As such, China herself is absolutely justified in publishing Op-Eds on the topic in its state sponsored media.
REASON BEHIND THE RHETORIC
It does not require to be very erudite to fathom the reason behind China’s squealing. The past year has been awfully bad in almost every sphere. Putting the pandemic aside, which most of the global intelligentsia doubt to be a Chinese menace, China has taken a beating economically, geo strategically & even internally. But the Chinese heinous crimes that have caught the eye of everyone are its policies & HR violations against non-Han Chinese, be it the Uighurs, Tibetans or Mongols. In October last year, Germany led the statement of 39 countries including US, UK & Japan in expressing grave concern & condemning China over policies and Human Rights abuses in Xinjiang, Tibet & Hong Kong. Last month, EU, UK, US, Canada and other Western countries imposed sanctions on officials in China as a coordinated effort over HR abuses against the mostly Muslim Uighur minority group.
Similarly, Indian media has also been hyper vocal on China over these issues especially post Ladakh Standoff. As China failed to gain any upper hand over India in its Ladakh adventure and in fact, facilitated a strong alliance in the form of Quad, China wishes to kill two birds with a single stone by sponsoring such propaganda articles. One is to hide its own actions behind such stories & secondly to try & drive a wedge in between Indo-US relations that is all set to challenge its ambitions of hegemony in the Indo-Pacific Region.
Human Rights Watch in its annual report states, “This has been the darkest period for human rights in China since the 1989 massacre that ended the Tiananmen Square democracy movement”. “Since Xi Jinping came to power the repression has gotten worse and worse overall, in every aspect of Chinese society you can see how the party is becoming more intolerant of any kind of independent activity,” said HRW researcher Yaqiu Wang.
International response to worsening repression has made the rest of the world more confident in criticising China who until now were afraid of Chinese retaliation. 2020 provided them with ‘safety in numbers’, reflecting Beijing’s inability to retaliate against the entire world. In fact, this growing pressure did force Xi Jinping to bend as China for the first time revealed that 1.3 million Uighurs had gone through what it termed “vocational training centres”.
No wonder that China behaves like a sulking schoolboy who has been reprimanded by all while his bench mate continues to get a pat on his back for everything he does or doesn’t. No matter the number of complaints he raises, everything seems to fall against the deaf ears of school staff. China might be a bigger economy or hold a larger military, but it certainly knows that unchallenged hegemony in the South Asia & Indian Ocean Region will remain a distant dream till India continues to enjoy global support & moral ascendancy over China.
After all, Sun Tzu said, “Divide & Conquer” and Xi, like a worthy student, won’t leave any stone unturned to break the strong alliance between India and the US, even if it calls for propaganda and rumour mongering. Knowing the Chinese acumen in this field we are sure to see many more propaganda pieces coming up with different contents but same motive in the coming months with a willing whole hearted support from its sidekick—Pakistan.
THE FIVE CANCERS OF PAKISTAN
Why Pakistan is plumbing new depths of toxicity and will continue to do so.
When we think of Pakistan the pictures which come to mind are its economy, nuclear weapons, terrorism, politicians, elite, Army, frontline status, Afghanistan, CPEC and so on. That is scratching the surface. Actually, these are only the symptoms. The diseases are deep-rooted and slowly taking the state into anarchy. In my opinion, Pakistan is beset by five cancers as under:
1. Bone Marrow Cancer: Religious extremism
2. Cervical Cancer: Rape
3. Brain Cancer: Killing journalists
4. Body Cancer: Population explosion
5. Stomach Cancer: Food insecurity
These cancers are now endemic to Pakistan with no solution. They are only growing more malignant day by day. The extent of the spread is evident in the words of their own people. Whether these cancers are terminal or not will be judged by history as it unfolds. However, I can judge that they are incurable and will be metastatic with time.
BONE MARROW CANCER: RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM
Hostage to Extremism @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1618140/hostage-to-extremism?preview and Beyond the Ban @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1618523/beyond-the-ban
TLP is a new phenomenon which has cropped up and taken the nation by storm. I had foreseen it and wrote about it in my earlier article, Pakistan Societal Fracture. It is being supported by TTP and the Pashtun movement. What is TLP? It is religious extremism down to the marrow… preaching anti-blasphemy. I call it bone marrow cancer. As I am writing this article, all French citizens have been asked to leave Pakistan including diplomatic staff. This is unprecedented. The state has capitulated to extremism of a paralytic variety.
It is not for the first time that a religiously motivated group has disrupted civic life but what happened this week is extremely serious. The state seemed to have disappeared as the followers of a radical cleric blocked highways and train tracks connecting the country’s main cities. Violent mobs held sway in many parts of the country. Most disturbing are the videos circulating on social media of some security personnel approvingly responding to the crowd.
The TLP emerged as a major political force in the 2018 election. The group might not have won a National Assembly seat, but it was the third largest group in terms of votes in Punjab.…How can a particular group become so emboldened as to paralyse the entire country? Once again, the TLP has succeeded in bringing the administration to its knees. The inaction of successive governments and the policy of appeasement has created a veritable monster. The PTI government’s overdose of religiosity has given impunity to extremist religious groups. Now the government faces a more violent form of zealotry. The spectacle of the mob beating police officers and making them hostage has exposed the false claims of the rule of law.
For more than four days, the PTI government remained mum in the face of pitched battles across Pakistan between activists of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and local police that erupted after TLP chief Saad Rizvi was arrested from Lahore. And then came the announcement by the interior minister that the organisation was to be proscribed…formal bans do not translate into substantial dents in the armour of religious militancy is explained in part by the fact that our strategic planners have not abandoned the policy of weaponising religion for political ends. We are a country of over 220 million people, most of whom are young. The rank and file of far-right militant groups remains mostly young boys and men, often those from the lower rungs of the social ladder…the TLP has put paid to the lazy notion that right-wing militancy is particular to any ethnic group. Most of the dramatic violence that played out over the past week took place in small-town Punjab, as well as Sindh’s urban centres. Pakistan is undergoing a youth bulge, then it follows that Punjab is home to a majority of this youthful population. Only a small percentage of this population is upwardly mobile. Most of the TLP cadres involved in the violent protests this past week hail from precisely that segment of youth that, even if it has aspirations for upward mobility, is imbued with an almost existential rage against the ‘system’…The TLP, like many other right-wing movements in Pakistan’s recent history, may not have come into existence without the establishment’s machinations. But it is far from an inorganic phenomenon that can be wished away by a ban….
CERVICAL CANCER: RAPE
Rape in Pakistan @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1618007/rape-sexual-aggression-not-aggressive-sexualityand @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1580011/in-pakistan-rape-culture-is-not-only-systemic-it-is-reinforced-at-every-level
These articles are a must read in full, the depravity of Pakistani society is stark. I would term rape as cervical cancer in Pakistan and the pain of being raped and being unable to do anything about it is bone chilling. It comes out threadbare in these articles. And these generals, they are busy selling their country with children and girls thrown in to China.
In all societies, there are people who are born into the prism of unbelonging. And to continue to survive, they have to pay a humanity tax to those who managed to escape such birth. The humanity tax is not a monetary payment; that is easy. The humanity tax is a performance designed to emotionally exhaust them. For my humanity tax, every few months I have to convince fellow country(usually)men, that I do not deserve to be raped. I have performed my humanity tax for the following people: complete stranger on the street, complete stranger on the internet, family member in my drawing-room, male colleague at my workplace, a professor addressing a classroom, a friend making a crass joke, a religious cleric addressing thousands of people.
In a society that does not even have a word for rape, the act itself is very common. I can do what everyone does to try to jar you. I can give you statistics. Tell you how according to massively underreported numbers from Punjab alone, 256 cases of rapes were reported in the first month of this year; that is more than eight rapes in a day. That national statistics imply a woman was raped in Pakistan every two hours in 2020, but the conviction rate of rapists remained 0.3%. I can tell you that in 2020 again, 2,960 cases of child sexual abuse were reported, 49% of them were boys. And in a majority of the total cases—1,780 cases—the accused was either a relative or an acquaintance.
Here is an incomplete list of all that has been raped in this country: women wearing jeans, women wearing a chadar, men in jeans, men wearing shalwar kameez, girls in school uniforms, boys in school uniforms, a donkey with no clothes on, a chicken with no clothes on, a toddler in whatever it is that toddlers normally wear, a dead body seven feet under the ground and wrapped in a shroud. Rape is not common because the punishment is not harsh enough, rape is common because the rapist is aware he is most likely going to get away with it. It is not the legislation, but the execution of said legislation that is the problem.
In this country, where women who ask for their rights are called sex workers in a national newspaper and no one bats an eye; where a woman’s attire is blamed for a global pandemic; where when a woman gets kidnapped, social media is flooded with comments from men wishing she gets raped because she “deserves” it; where women are forced to marry their rapists because they got pregnant due to the rape, do not, do not, have the audacity to tell me that anyone meant “both” genders when they spoke of “fahashi” and “pardah” (from the first article).
Rape culture in Pakistan is systemic. It is reinforced at every level; from blaming women for ‘getting themselves raped’ to never really expecting men not to rape women. The idea that men simply cannot be expected to control their baser impulses in the presence of women has been normalised. The premise that ‘getting raped’ is a woman’s fault for driving alone, on the wrong road, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, without a suitable escort, etc, is just another way of saying that the men who assaulted her couldn’t have helped themselves. For some absurd reason, most men are comfortable with the assumption that all men are inherently rapists, but some decent ones choose not to rape women (from the second article).
BRAIN CANCER: KILLING JOURNALISTS
The Perils of Being a Journalist @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1618139/the-perils-of-being-a-journalist
Every nation depends upon its press and media to think for it. Journalists think for the nation… they could be left right or centre… eloquent or not so…they could be paid or unpaid. They present issues to the public and make them aware of options which are available and the choices they have to make. When these people are muzzled of gunned down it by a section of the society it is tantamount to cancer of the brain or lack of it.
Being a journalist in Pakistan is a dangerous proposition. A noose is put around your neck when you begin and it is tightened gradually as journalists you know are ‘disappeared’ or harassed or murdered outright. Many of those who manage to stay afloat are targets. The tiniest act of rebellion or upsetting someone powerful can constitute a real threat for the journalists of the country.
One can go on and on enumerating the killing and intimidation of Pakistani journalists. One can go on and on about how the cases are never solved. All of it is pointless for the simple reason that everyone knows that those who do not toe the line or are outspoken are targeted and made an example of.
This then is the primitive state of public discourse in Pakistan. Instead of tolerating differing points of view, instead of creating forums where divergent views can be expressed and discussed and a culture of tolerance fostered, the voices of those who disagree are muffled in various ways by various actors, state or non-state. This is not very different from what primitive man faced when he did not agree with his tribe. He would be made an example of to warn the rest of the clan. Pakistan’s legacy of authoritarianism means that no one pays much attention to the growing roster of threats to journalists.
BODY CANCER: POPULATION EXPLOSION
Missing Threat by @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1614874/missing-threat
Very erudite article on population problem facing Pakistan. Beautifully compared—Bangladesh development vs Pakistani non development. To me the scary part is… 340m Pakistanis by 2050… they are more than a nuke! Need to think ahead and out of the box. Will the day come when the question arises whether we have to shoot down impoverished Pakistanis on the border fence or accept them as part of our humanity?
The national security dialogue last week renewed hope that finally Pakistan plans to focus on its own issues and rising internal non-traditional threats. Included in the agenda were climate change, water security, food security and a host of other challenges.
However, it did not go unnoticed that there was no reference to concerns regarding our unabated population growth rate or planning for projected population numbers. Once again in a policy shift that stressed greater introspection for national security issues, the conversation on population is missing. Clearly, 220 million people, growing at twice the level of others in the region, with threats to their livelihood and survival, were not deemed an important topic.
Bangladesh is now posting statistics showing that child mortality is half the levels in Pakistan and its citizens will live five years longer on average, while female literacy has gone up to 72 per cent (compared to 47pc in Pakistan). If we do not care about these statistics, we certainly should when other figures that do matter to our powerful leaders are presented. Our per capita income today is approximately $1,400 while that of Bangladesh is above $2,000; their foreign exchange reserve is $42 billion, ours is half that at about $21 billion; their economic growth during the pandemic last year was 5.2% compared to our -0.4% or so.
Bangladesh has achieved replacement fertility of 2.1 children allowing them to make investments in people and their education and health. Our fertility today is 3.6 children per woman. Bangladesh will stabilise at 200m, implying its population size will level off at that maximum for many years while we leap beyond the 350 million-plus mark in a few decades. Who is more likely to prosper, combat pandemics, improve health systems, maximise exports and become more prominent as a nation?
The choice is between two paths: we can focus on one of the largest non-traditional threats or on ‘big boy’ issues. I fear I know which path Pakistan will take. So, let us be prepared for the consequences for internal security and viability as the threat implodes with all the pressure exerted by 340m Pakistanis by 2050.
STOMACH CANCER: FOOD INSECURITY
Food Insecurity @ https://www.dawn.com/news/1595706/low-earnings-and-agricultural-neglect-push-pakistan-into-food-insecurity
This article is dated. I have reproduced it here to give an idea of the continuity of the problems in Pakistan. The average Pakistani is trapped in a mountain of personal debt besides the burden of state debt…he has had to contend with a double-digit inflation in food prices ranging from 10-20%. There is no food basket at the end of an imaginary rainbow also… the number of poor will reach 75 million in a year… the problem started only in 2018…
Life was not as hard two years ago as it is today for Tariq Mahmood, a 39-year-old taxi driver in Islamabad. He works seven days a week for 12 hours a day but rarely has more than a few hundred rupees left after feeding his family.
Mahmood said he has not felt this dejected by his dwindling finances in the past 14 years. For cab drivers like him the real culprit is not Covid-19, which shut down businesses, or the advent of ride-sharing services, which siphoned off customers, but spiralling food prices.
“I cannot afford the education of my child after paying for food for the family,” Mahmood told The Third Pole: “All my savings dried up during the lockdown and now I’m trapped under a mountain of debt,” he said.
Reflect on the content of all these articles. They are fully interrelated. Pakistan is plumbing new depths of toxicity and will continue to do so; trying to make peace with this nation is like sleeping with a cobra. However, we have to live with it. In my opinion, we will have to do something out of the box to maintain peace. We are looking at an unstable and volatile AfPak region beyond control of the Pakistan Army, in which case these greedy Pakistan generals might even externalise the situation. Never has Pakistan dealt with a loaded gun to its head more lethally.
Lt Gen P.R. Shankar was India’s DG Artillery. He is highly decorated and qualified with vast operational experience. He contributed significantly to the modernisation and indigenisation of Artillery. He is now a Professor in the Aerospace Dept of IIT Madras and is involved in applied research for defence technology. His other articles can be read on www.gunnersshot.com.
The TLP emerged as a major political force in the 2018 election. The group might not have won a National Assembly seat, but it was the third largest group in terms of votes in Punjab… How can a particular group become so emboldened as to paralyse the entire country? Once again, the TLP has succeeded in bringing the administration to its knees. The inaction of successive governments and the policy of appeasement has created a veritable monster.
Being a journalist in Pakistan is a dangerous proposition. A noose is put around your neck when you begin and it is tightened gradually as journalists you know are ‘disappeared’ or harassed or murdered outright. Many of those who manage to stay afloat are targets. The tiniest act of rebellion or upsetting someone powerful can constitute a real threat for the journalists of the country.
HARPOONS@50: AWAITING RESURGENCE
The 50th anniversary of the Harpoons also marks the 50th anniversary since the last war.
April 17, 2021, marks the Golden Jubilee of one of the most important Air Squadrons of the Indian Navy, the Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS) 330. With the commissioning of this Squadron on 17 April 1971 at INS Garuda at Kochi, six brand new Seaking Mk 42 helicopters that had arrived from the UK a few months before the 1971 war, got a formal unit. On that occasion, the Squadron also got its official Crest, duly approved by the President of India. The Crest shows a writhing shark that symbolises an enemy submarine, in the last throes of its painful demise, with a blood laden harpoon impaling it. The surprised shark looks up to see its killer, but sees only the menacing golden wing of the Fleet Air Arm attached to the head of the harpoon. Fittingly, the Squadron and the people who serve there are referred to as Harpoons.
MEMORIES OF A GOLDEN TIME
I had the privilege of becoming a Harpoon in 1990 and I was lucky to be there at the right time in history. The world’s most lethal multirole helicopters (MRH) then, the Seaking Mk 42Bs, had just replaced their older cousins, the ones that came in 1971, and there was an unbelievable air of invincibility at sea, centred around the mother squadron, INAS 330. With more Seakings available on the Godavari class ships, each of which carried two Seakings, the Arabian Sea was reduced to a pond. The new Seakings, rightly called Flying Frigates, were real force multipliers. Today as INAS 330 reaches its 50th birthday, there are too many great memories for a large number of people to cherish. Memories of personally experiencing virtually every major element of warfare at sea.
The most exhilarating memories are of hunting submarines. This is done best, hovering about 50 feet above the waves, even on rainy, moonless nights. Hunting, done in complete darkness, straining every nerve to recognise weak metallic echoes from a submarine, through the dull noise of the huge helicopter seeping in through our tight-fitting helmets, gazing at various electronic displays, manipulating many controls, communicating within the aircraft and with the rest of the Fleet in short spurts and all this, with the promise of sure disaster, in case something went wrong with the aircraft. With shared danger of this kind come, memories galore, of brilliant friendships and lifelong bonding too. Being there, during the most golden period of the squadron in its fifty years, was a rare fortune.
But milestones in history have limited use if they are treated only as occasions for reliving the glories of the past and revelling in them. Milestones are better used for reflection, for learning from the past and for using the lessons of the past for charting the way ahead. Here is an attempt at that.
Beginnings are important. The Royal Indian Navy (RIN) was a small coastal force for seaward defence duties. The larger role of defending India, was looked after by the Royal Navy (RN), with RN Fleets at Trincomalee and Singapore and a small squadron at Bahrain. So, Indian Officers in the RIN had limited experience in the larger aspects of maritime warfare. To complicate matters, the small RIN had to be apportioned between the new born Indian and Pakistani navies. This included personnel too, thus further diluting the indigenous naval talent available at independence. Senior indigenous naval leadership, capable of high-level policy making was absent in 1947, as under the British, Indians had started becoming Officers of the executive branch only in the 1930s. Naturally, we had to depend on the British for advice in the beginning. That was a peculiar situation. It was akin to a freshly divorced husband advising his ex-wife on living her future life well. The ex-husband was sure to protect his interests. The British as a country was no different. They did try to palm off some of their not-so-great platforms to us, for commercial gains.
But several British Officers on loan to the IN showed integrity. For instance, Commodore D.W. Kirke, the Chief of Naval Aviation, whose opposition enabled IN to acquire the brand new French ASW Reconnaissance Alize for Vikrant, over the old and difficult to maintain, British Garnett. This was one of the first episodes of an amazing capability that India has shown since independence, the ability to take autonomous strategic decisions, based purely on its own interests. Many times have India surprised those who sat smug, assuming that they had India in their pocket. Perils of taking old civilisations for granted perhaps. But bridges too are never burnt. Just when someone is upset at a lost business opportunity, there would be a purchase from them, to bring cheer. Wisdom of old civilisations, perhaps. Big ticket deals are never easy for any government. Goodwill has to be spread around, mainly as cash.
The helicopter story for Vikrant, which starts with the smaller ones for Search and Rescue (SAR) was no different. The British tried to sell their Dragonfly, but India chose the French Alouette. The Dragonflies were older in technology, more difficult to maintain and more expensive than the ultra-modern French Alouettes. True to form, this didn’t prevent IN from getting the next big thing, in fact one of the most important elements of airpower at sea, MRH, from Britain. They had the 10 Ton Seaking Mk 42s, the most capable Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter in the world then. The Seakings were so new, that they entered service with the IN, almost immediately after they entered service with the RN.
ASW HELICOPTERS: ESSENTIALS OF EVOLUTION
Post WW-II, the world was seeing frenetic efforts at developing ASW. The terrible losses German submarines had forced on the Allied Forces during the two World Wars was not the only reason. With the Cold War getting colder and the USSR basing their offensive capabilities majorly on submarines, the ASW situation was getting serious. Ironically, the credit for making the most reliable helicopter went to a Russian, Igor Sikorsky, whose ‘S 6A’ helicopter won him glowing accolades at a military competition held at Saint Petersburg in 1912. He was just 23. In 1919 he became a US citizen, founded the Sikorsky Corporation and went into making one of the most successful series of helicopters in the world. Talk of nations attracting talent. Westland Helicopters Limited (WHL), UK, bought a licence from Sikorsky and began to produce one of the most successful maritime helicopters in the world. Talk of nations buying the right technology and turning it into a great business model.
With the US loaning a submarine, USS Diablo, to Pakistan in 1963, IN had a new enemy to think of. That this came immediately after the 1962 debacle was bad news. Two years later, when Diablo, renamed Ghazi, claimed some diabolic action off the Saurashtra coast in the 1965 war, there was reason to take notice. To quote Admiral GM Hiranandani, the erstwhile official historian of the Indian Navy, ‘the acquisition of new French Daphne class submarines by the Pakistan Navy increased the urgency of acquiring Anti-Submarine helicopters. In 1968, a proposal was made for acquiring 12 Seakings. Sanction for the acquisition of six Seakings was accorded in 1969 and in 1970 an order was placed for their delivery in 1971. Concurrently an order was also placed for the acquisition of the MK 44 homing torpedoes.’ Talk of buying the best, to cater for the worst.
A MIXED BEGINNING FOR HELICOPTER-BASED ASW
Catering for the worst, is more than just buying the best. There are many more aspects to it. As per Adm Hiranandani, after acceptance trials in the UK, our helicopters were utilised to train our aircrew in the UK. The first batch (of crew) returned to Kochi in April 1971. On arrival, all access to the Seakings and their documentation was restricted on a ‘need to know’ basis, (never a great idea when war looms). The second batch, after tactical training at the British Naval Air Station at Culdrose, reported directly to Mumbai in October 1971, two months before the war started.
ASW helicopters are best employed from ships, as an integral resource deployable at will. But when they arrived in 1971, they could have operated only from Vikrant, because the world itself had not got around to operating helicopters from smaller ships. Vikrant having been earmarked for operations on the East Coast where submarine threat was assumed to be lesser than on the West coast, the Seakings remained ashore. That PNS Ghazi finally met her end outside Visakhapatnam harbour, ostensibly while lying in wait for Vikrant, is an eternal reminder of the perils of assumptions and even careful assessments about enemy intentions in war.
When Naval Headquarters at Delhi signalled the likelihood of a pre-emptive Pakistan strike on 14 October, four Seakings were moved from Kochi to Mumbai. However, the use of the Seakings was defensive and lustreless. Official Naval history has this to say. ‘Due to their newness and shortages of technical equipment, they were not utilised to their full potential during the 1971 War. It took another two years for the Seaking’s potential to be fully realised.’ In the war per se, Pakistani submarine threat was assessed to be serious off the Gujarat coast and FOC in C West decided to deploy the 14th Frigate Squadron along with the Seakings operating from Mumbai to eliminate the submarine threat off Diu. The Seaking helicopters were to operate in the southern sector of the search area closer to Mumbai and thereby have longer Time on Task.’
As it turned out, we lost INS Khukri to a submarine in the area. It emerged that the Seakings could have been better utilised operating from Diu but they were considered to be defenceless if attacked by Pakistani aircraft. The Navy asked itself many questions and found honest answers for future use. One among them was that ‘since the Daphne class submarine›s anti-ship capability was known to be superior to our ASW capability, should the ASW operation have been launched at all?’ Happily, ‘the consensus was that in war, it is unacceptable to let an enemy submarine threaten you on your doorstep – it has to be hunted.’ That is an eternal lesson for those in the field, for those who control operations from shore, for those who build and run navies and for those who provide for the whole enterprise. The man in the field will fight with what is at hand. It is everyone’s duty to enable him in doing his job.
LESSONS TO REMEMBER
Between May and October 1971, the Seakings were used to train aircrew and ground crew. Meanwhile, the Tactical School (now Maritime Warfare Centre) at Kochi studied Seaking’s capabilities and limitations, for promulgation of preliminary Tactical Instructions. While promulgating these instructions, NHQ consulted the crew available in India, which was the first group of crew that had received only familiarisation flying at UK. As this group had only limited information of operational use, the preliminary evaluation was to prove misleading. Further, the Tactical School’s Seaking books were given high security classification, causing the people who mattered, remaining ignorant of the aircraft’s potential.
LEARNING FROM THE PAST
With four wars in the first 27 years of existence, the government and the armed forces had learnt good lessons. The government became aware of the importance of ensuring strong military capabilities, balancing the money available, with the myriad requirements of an impoverished country emerging from colonialism. Unavoidable gaps in military capability had to be bridged through other means like diplomacy and foreign policy. The result was there for the world to see. The 1980s saw a virtual explosion of naval capabilities and this reflected on the Fleet Air Arm too. The mighty Seaking Mk 42Bs, were an important part of that great capability surge in the Indian Navy.
In the decade after the 1971 war, the Indian Navy carefully charted out options for all round upgradation of military equipment, and some much-required indigenisation. In the field of MRH, it was to be a two-pronged approach. For indigenisation, HAL was to first make a smaller MRH to develop skills and confidence. A larger one could follow later. Meanwhile, to meet operational needs, some MRH were to be imported. The choice fell again on Seakings. But this time, there was a difference. As I have written elsewhere, the aircraft was to be equipped with state-of-the-art Weapons, Sensors, Communication systems, Navigation systems and most importantly, a Tactical Mission System (TMS) to integrate everything so that operating them becomes humanly possible. The mix was eclectic. Air to Surface Missiles (British Sea Eagle), Torpedoes (Italian A244S), Depth Charge Mk 11 (Indian), Radar (British), Dunking Sonar (French), ESM (Italian), Sonobuoy System (British), Tactical Air Navigation System (British), V/UHF & HF Communication systems (USA) and a British TMS.
This was the first time anyone was attempting to integrate this stupendous mix of capabilities into one helicopter. The best part was that this entire architecture was designed by India, to be executed by WHL.
The 42Bs arrived in India between 1988 and 1990 through possibly the best ever induction process. The planning, placement of a core team in UK for almost five years, extensive training of over thirty air crew and adequate ground crew in UK, timely creation of infrastructure in India, preparation of training facilities and material, and subsequent utilisation of the core team from UK on their return to India, were without blemish. The golden decade that followed, was natural.
DOWNS AND UPS
India’s nuclear test in 1998 brought on US sanctions. The linkages of globalisation created echoes of it elsewhere too. Maintenance support for which we were dependent on the British, was now unavailable. Unfortunately, the indigenous development of a good MRH had also faltered. The Fleet Air Arm had to re-adjust. The Harpoons now had the tough job of continuing to fly their aircraft, using every trick in the book. It was more than just tricks in the book. There was much raw courage too. A mature service also did its best to make things as comfortable as possible.
True to form, the man on the field did his best, with what was at hand. The Harpoons experimented, adapted, reoriented, added on several equipment, unlearnt some lessons and continued to remain operationally credible. They continued to execute some incredible Rescue Missions, picking up distraught people from stricken ships, burning platforms, sinking boats, flooded areas and high-rise buildings. They delivered supplies to disaster hit areas and continued to provide service beyond their logical capabilities. The rich pedigree of the Harpoons motivated them to continue to shine.
After two decades of straining to perform their classical role, the Harpoons are poised at the threshold of yet another beginning. Later this year, they expect to receive the third wave of MRH in their history, 24 MH 60 R helicopters from the US, again, from the Sikorsky family. While the $3 billion India will pay for these helicopters is big, even bigger, is going to be the operational gains for IN. As the Harpoons are poised to receive their new birds, there are several questions to be asked to ensure that old lessons are not lost sight of. Have the good aspects of the induction of the 42Bs been replicated? Have provisions been made to avoid the mistakes made with the utilisation of the first lot? Have we put a plan in place for the indigenous development of a MRH that can soon join the new MH 60Rs? That is critical, as the real need for MRH is much beyond the 24 contracted for.
No friendship is permanent. What is white today, can turn black tomorrow. Meanwhile, the enemy is busy proliferating submarines. There is not much time left, for a carefully considered reorientation. But here, we miss a great teacher. War. The 50th anniversary of the Harpoons also marks the 50th anniversary since the last war. That calls for much study of history. Meanwhile, the Harpoons continue to remain sharp, ready to surprise lurking sharks, whatever the odds.
Commodore G. Prakash, Nau Sena Medal, served the Indian Navy for 35 years. A specialist in aviation and anti-submarine warfare, he has held several command and staff appointments at sea and ashore. He has been speaking and writing on military and strategic affairs for long. He is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With four wars in the first 27 years of existence, the government and the armed forces had learnt good lessons. The government became aware of the importance of ensuring strong military capabilities, balancing the money available, with the myriad requirements of an impoverished country emerging from colonialism. Unavoidable gaps in military capability had to be bridged through other means like diplomacy and foreign policy.
Infiltration and narco smuggling attempt foiled along LoC in Karnah forests
Indian Army, BSF along with J&K Police foiled a narco smuggling attempt in forward areas of Tangdhar Sector last night and recovered 10 kg of narco estimated to be approximately Rs 50 crore. This is the second consecutive busting of ‘Pak-sponsored narco terror model’ in the past one week. Incidentally, a 10 kg heroin consignment was recovered from the same general area a week ago in a joint operation, however, this time smugglers were spotted carrying the narcotics along the Line of Control. Indian Army & BSF’s strong anti-infiltration posture denied the smugglers accompanied by Pak-based terrorists, the opportunity to cross the fence. It further forced them to abandon their consignment and flee on being challenged. The operation to identify individuals of Karnah Tehsil involved in this activity was in progress during filing of this report. Local sources have affirmed high likelihood of arrests of certain kingpins in upcoming days.
Narco terrorism has been Pakistan’s long espoused model to culturally degrade the social fabric of the border areas of Kashmir & Punjab. This attempt of Pakistan to support smugglers with armed terrorists has exposed the nexus. Pak handlers controlling the nexus, get money in lieu of Narco supplied which is in turn used to fund terror organisations operating in Pak & PoK. Pak Army is a key stakeholder in this Narco-Terror nexus which involves using of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control as cannon fodder. The modus operandi involves pushing the handlers and smugglers across the borders with an aim to exchange the drugs in lieu of money to support the militant organizations. Parents and Civil Society in the past have been urged to play their role in strengthening their fight to combat the menace for the larger benefit of society. Pak’s nefarious designs has not only affected youth of J&K but also those in PoK who are involved in Narco consumption & smuggling.
Explosives Recovered – Major Incident Averted in Karnah by Army & Police
In a major success to Security Forces deployed in Karnah, 15 sticks of Plastic Explosives were recovered on Monday evening owing to high state of alertness of the Army and Police. Last week, a specific intelligence was received on likely explosives being exchanged near Jama Masjid of Tangdhar. Security Forces increased alertness level and monitored the area through a comprehensive surveillance grid. A detailed search by the Army Bomb Disposal Team led to recovery of the explosives which was supposedly being transhipped to hinterland. The operation was conducted in the heart of Tangdhar market with zero inconvenience to locals as per the market vendors who were eye witness to the precision operation.
IAF’s 2-day commanders’ conference commences
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressed the biannual IAF Commanders’ Conference (AFCC-21) on 15 April 21 at Air Headquarters. Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), welcomed the Defence Minister, Gen Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and other senior officials from the MoD. During his address, Rajnath SIngh expressed happiness that the conference coincides with the birth anniversary of the Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC. He congratulated IAF for ensuring a timely and befitting response to the sudden developments in eastern Ladakh. He advised the Commanders to draw up long term plans and strategies for capability enhancement to counter future threats. He appreciated the critical focus of IAF towards reorienting for the future.
Speaking about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the RM appreciated the role played by the IAF in assisting other Govt agencies in their task. Referring to changing international geopolitics, he observed that the perceptible shift of focus from Trans-Atlantic to Trans-Pacific has become more obvious in the recent past. Changing dimensions of war would now include advanced technologies, asymmetric capabilities and info-dominance, and it was very important that the IAF’s preparations for the future must include these aspects. Reiterating the Prime Minister’s vision of ‘Self Reliance’, the RM stressed on the need to promote Atmanirbharta in Defence Infrastructure. He added that the IAF’s order for LCA would result in a substantial boost to the domestic defence industry and will be a game changer from the indigenisation perspective. He urged the Commanders to continue their efforts for achieving even greater results in the field of indigenous defence production and aircraft maintenance. He added that national security and economic development are complementary aspects of national policy. The IAF’s support for the indigenous industry would result in the development of MSMEs in this field which will simultaneously serve the cause of self-reliance and socio-economic development of the country. He urged the Commanders to take stock and implement all directions issued by the PM during the Combined Commanders’ Conference. He stressed on the need to continue to work proactively towards the integration process currently underway, implementation of the joint logistics plan and to enhance synergy in areas of joint planning and operations.
In his closing remarks, the RM assured the AF Commanders of the wholehearted support from the Ministry of Defence in achieving the goal of being a potent Strategic Aerospace Force. He expressed confidence that important decisions taken during the conference would enhance the combat potential of the IAF. The Commanders’ Conference will conclude today evening. The status of strengthening current combat capabilities and the action plan for making IAF a future-ready combat force would be examined. Issues pertaining to systems, reforms and restructuring for ensuring more efficient processes across all domains and optimised operational training will also be discussed.
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