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Resetting India -Nepal relations needed to offset Chinese threats

Mukesh Ambani has added a feather to India’s cap by figuring among the richest in the world.

Lt Gen A.K. Bhatt (Retd) & Brig Narender Kumar (Retd)

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No bilateral relations between nations can be built on sentiment—whether it is based on faith, ideology or inheritance. Only those rooted in shared interests will endure. Relations will not remain everlasting if the interests of the people and nations are not renegotiated. The relations with Nepal were driven for long on shared culture, religion and geographical realities. The problem thus far has been a sense of “everlasting friendship” between India and Nepal without incorporating suitable changes to the historical treaties to accommodate new political, social and economic realities. The border dispute is a manifestation of multiple factors including new found competitive nationalism among the political parties of Nepal, structural changes unfolding in the external and internal context of the bilateral relationship and Nepal asserting strategic autonomy to renegotiate the 1950 Treaty of Peace and Friendship. New political elites of Nepal feel that relations with India cannot be frozen in time due to a treaty that has lived its utility.

When the founder of the modern Nepali state, Prithvi Narayan Shah, described Nepal as a “yam between two rocks”, he in fact hinted at the geo-strategic significance of Nepal and need for maintaining strategic autonomy and neutrality with India and China. In order to look ahead and repair, revise and revive the bilateral relationship, India must first understand why and how the territorial dispute has flared up. It may be tempting to start on a clean slate, but future visions will remain void if both sides don’t learn from past mistakes.

A POLITICAL CONFLICT TRAP

Nepal’s claim of approximately 372 sq km of Indian Territory in Kalapani area has caused considerable fissures in bilateral relations between the two countries. Kalapani issue has become a huge rallying point amongst the opposition parties in Nepal and it is now very difficult for the Nepalese Government or even the opposition parties to back off from their claim. It came at a time when India was engaged with China in a standoff along the Line of Actual Control. It gave new lease of life to the current Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli and he rode the competitive nationalism to tide over the current political crisis. The claim and subsequent issue of map has given birth to a permanent and long-term territorial dispute that is difficult to resolve and thus creating a conflict trap that will keep rising whenever the relations between two states take a turn to the South. Till now the political leadership of both countries were keeping this conflict under wraps, but now it has been unleashed and will remain on the prowl till a mechanism is worked out to set this conflict to rest. 

The question comes up, could India prevent the constitutional amendment of the map if Indian government had kept their ears to the ground? It is difficult to answer in “yes or no” but the fact of the matter is that India needs to have a new road map to engage with Nepal post changed political realities in Nepal. To control the damage, Nepalese leadership should ensure that Nationalism is not distorted to an anti-Indian feeling. Because that will narrow down the options to resolve this dispute in future. Let this dispute not become a pivot for China to exploit Nepalese sentiment.

THE CHINA ANGLE

If the relations are not reset and Nepal continues to drift away, it will become a major peril of corridor especially due to China- Pak nexus and manifestation of Three Warfares (3Ws) and Irregular Warfare against India. The open and porous border facilitates an active non-contact warfare by China and Pakistan to destabilise the heartland India. It gives an opportunity to inimical forces to exploit this porous border for smuggling of arms, drugs and fake Indian currency to give impetus to instability and also support Left Wing Extremists who have ideological and organisational linkages with Maoists of Nepal. Dr PV Ramana posits that the Maoist insurgents and PWG have formed the Indo-Nepal Border Regional Committee (INBRC) “to coordinate their activities” in Bihar. The bottom-line is that ideological and organisational linkages do exist and it can be exploited by China by extending material and weapon support to the LWE through Nepalese Maoists. Bigger threat is political and information warfare that can penetrate deep inside India’s heartland. China Study Centers especially along the India- Nepal borders are a greater threat that can cause instability in Gangetic Plains and disrupt East- West strategic lines of communication. Only way this threat can be managed is by restoring ties with Nepal and building resolute military to military relation between two armies.

INDIA, A NATURAL ALLY

Nepal has been embracing a policy of strategic diversification to reduce its dependence on India and enhance its non-aligned autonomy. In response India’s perceived economic blockade of 2015 was seen by Nepal as a right to deny and insulate Nepal from the outside world. That had caused major upheaval against India among the Nepalese youth and common citizens. India should consider Nepal as co-equal and develop relations not as a “protectorate but as a partner”. Because strategic space if abdicated by India will be encroached upon by China and that will become difficult for India to reclaim. India cannot blame China’s political interference in Nepal as a major factor for deteriorating relations between the two states. India not paying adequate attention to reset the road map for building relations is also a factor. It is very natural that two neighbours sharing a border of more than 1,800 km are bound to have some differences but these differences should not become disputes or else a third party will take advantage of it.

Both nations today have to realise that apart from the strong historical relations guided by a common culture, religion and similar language is also supported by Geography. The Indian ports and transit access, protected by special trade and transit treaties is a commitment which needs to be honoured by India. Even though China has provided…special trade and transit facilities by way of dry ports and roads, the long distance from the eastern coast of China to Nepal via Tibet, approximately 4000 kms is just not a cost-effective option. Initially China may subsidize services and goods passing through this long corridor as it meets the objectives of Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative. However, if Nepal has to take a cue from Sri Lanka’s experience let it be clear that a decade later it is the people of Nepal who will pay the price for their political miscalculation. Many countries in the African continent today are suffering because of the free largess initially offered by China in the form of soft loans for development of infrastructure. Is this the future which Nepal is looking at? According to a report by the Survey Department of Agriculture Ministry of Nepal, China has illegally occupied Nepal’s land in several places spreading over seven bordering districts. Unfortunately the Oli Government has kept silent over this land grab. China believes in debt slavery and Nepal could be forced to surrender its strategic autonomy if it allows China to continue to make economic, political and cultural inroads in Nepal. Though there is a vocal anti-India lobby in Nepal, but the people with this new development along the Northern borders are equally resentful of China.

Nepal shares a long and open border with India the special privileges which are given to all citizens of Nepal are unique. In fact, a citizen of Nepal can work anywhere in India including the Armed forces as well as reside in any part of India. These privileges are not reciprocal for Indian citizens which is quite understandable because of the size of Nepal. Apart from the Army there is a large population of unskilled workers from Nepal working in the industrial and agriculture sector. Nepal will never have an ally that offers its citizens free access for work, education, health services, tourism, travel, religious pilgrimage and business. Such a facility has been extended by India to the Nepalese citizens without reciprocation from Nepal. Closing down the border and treating Nepalese citizens as per diplomatic protocol followed globally will harm the interests of the people of Nepal. Therefore, Nepal must exercise caution and restrain not to burn the bridges that may become difficult to rebuild in future.

MILITARY DIPLOMACY A BRIDGE TO INITIATE THE DIALOGUE

India has been shy of using military diplomacy with its neighbours, whereas there are special relations and close ties between Indian Army and Nepal Army that has been rarely exploited to reset the ties between two nations. After long hiatus of nearly more than four months, relations between India and Nepal could be set in motion, the visit of Indian Army Chief General M.M. Naravane to Nepal, where he will be conferred with the title of the honorary Chief of the Nepalese Army is a much-needed initiative for stabilisation of relations between the two close neighbours. This special tradition of bestowing the title of honorary Chief on each other’s Army Chief dates back to the period of Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw who was proud enough to change his name to Sam Bahadur as a homage to his brave Gorkha brethren. This military tradition has helped in strengthening military to military relations between the two Armies. Fortunately, this tradition has continued despite some occasional ups and downs in the relation between the two nations. It is a good initiative that the leaders of both the nations have taken a pause and allowed military to military engagement to take place to kick-start the dialogue between two neighbours. It is a positive step that the Indian Government has sent their Army Chief and the Nepalese Government by willingly receiving him and honouring him. The President of Nepal bestowing the honorary General’s rank and the PM of Nepal meeting him in the capacity of Defence minister needs to be understood in a positive manner. It is pertinent to mention that Nepal Army has always acted as a permanent ambassador of India in Nepal due to their long association with the Indian Army. However, off late India has neglected this aspect and it must be given impetus by building bridges with the Nepalese Army and police.

Both the Governments need to take this visit as a trigger for a new beginning, an opportunity to reset our relationship to the current strategic realities, the recommendations of the Eminent People’s Committees report which is available with the Government could be a guideline. A very important part is that the relations between the two strategic neighbours should not be taken hostage by irresponsible media or local domestic political considerations in either of the nations.

WAY FORWARD

Most crucial aspect is building bridges with the people. The strong connect India maintains with the ex-servicemen of Gorkha regiments in Nepal needs to be consolidated. India still remains an economic destination for the people of Nepal. In fact, citizens of Nepal should be granted access to utilise the health care, education institutions along the borders for the common good of the citizens of the border areas of both countries. Villagers living along the Kali River should be allowed to use the road Dharchula-Kalapani for movement ‘to and from’ Dharchula. India needs to send a message that this road is built for collective good of India and border citizens of Nepal.

One visit by the Chief of the Army Staff may not be sufficient and thus there is a need to have a permanent presence of Indian military leader in Kathmandu either by way of posting a Gorkha Regiment General as an Ambassador or Special Envoy to Nepal. This engagement must remain unbroken and resilient. Nepalese Army and even the civil bureaucracy are more comfortable in dealing with a Nepalese speaking Army envoy who understands their language and ethos better than a diplomat who has lesser linkages with the people on the ground. The tenure of late Lt Gen S.K. Sinha as an ambassador is a proof of it.

India should guarantee unobstructed access to the port and dry docks. However, Nepalese government should be made accountable to ensure that the access will be unconditional if Nepal does not work against the strategic interest and national security of India.

India should be open to renegotiate the Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950. The Eminent Peoples Committee Report could also be examined to give a new direction to the India-Nepal relations.

India must invest in upgrading its cross-border infrastructure and economic assistance to Nepal: There are now new rail and road links, an electronic cargo system for Nepali goods to transit via Indian ports, inland waterway navigation plans, and a new cross-border pipeline for petroleum products. These projects must be pursued at fast pace because it will bring economic benefits to both nations.

Lt Gen A.K. Bhatt (Retd) is an Infantry Officer from 9th Gorkha Rifles. He is a former DGMO, GOC 15 Corps, and Military Secretary of the Indian Army. Brig Narender Kumar (Retd) is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) and former Distinguished Fellow, USI (New Delhi). The views expressed and suggestions made in the article are solely of the authors in their personal capacity and do not have any official endorsement.

Most crucial aspect is building bridges with the people. The strong connect India maintains with the ex-servicemen of Gorkha regiments in Nepal needs to be consolidated. India still remains an economic destination for the people of Nepal. In fact, citizens of Nepal should be granted access to utilise the healthcare and educational institutions along the borders.

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Defence

HAWK-I SUCCESSFULLY TEST-FIRES SMART ANTI AIRFIELD WEAPON

Ashish Singh

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In a big boost to the indigenous Hawk-i program, HAL successfully test fired a Smart Anti Airfield Weapon (SAAW) from the Hawk-i aircraft off the coast of Odisha. The indigenous stand-off weapon developed by Research Centre Imarat (RCI), DRDO is the first smart weapon fired from an Indian Hawk-Mk132. “HAL has been focusing on the Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign. The Company owned Hawk-i platform is being extensively used for certification of systems and weapons developed indigenously by DRDO and CSIR labs” said Mr. R. Madhavan, CMD, HAL.

The aircraft flown by HAL test pilots Wg Cdr (Retd) P Awasthi and Wg Cdr (Retd) M Patel executed the weapon release in a text book manner and all mission objectives were met. The telemetry and tracking systems captured all the mission events confirming the success of the trials. Mr. Arup Chatterjee, Director, Engineering and R&D, HAL said HAL is indigenously enhancing the training and combat capability of Hawk-i. HAL is in discussions with Indian Armed Forces for integration of various weapons on Hawk platform. The Hawk-i is HAL’s internally funded program offering  the Indian Armed Forces an upgrade and combat capability for the Hawk, transforming it into an Advanced Jet Trainer providing training on sensors and weapons in peacetime into a potent combat platform during conflict. The SAAW is an aircraft launched, advanced, precision strike weapon of 125 Kg category used to attack and destroy enemy airfield assets such as radars, bunkers, taxi tracks, runways within a range of 100 kms.  SAAW has been earlier successfully test fired from Jaguar aircraft.

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Navy reveals tableau for Republic Day Parade 2021

Ashish Singh

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Traditionally, the Naval Tableau paraded during Republic Day Parade is aligned with the Navy’s theme for the year. This year’s theme is Indian Navy—Combat Ready, Credible and Cohesive. The nation is also commemorating the golden jubilee of the victory in 1971 war as Swarnim Vijay Varsh. The Indian Navy proved its mettle as a credible force to reckon in 1971 war proving its combat efficiency and hence this year’s tableau aims to showcase the Navy’s stellar role as a credible force during the 1971 Indo-Pak war. The forward part of the tableau showcases the attack on Karachi harbour by missile boats. The attacks were undertaken as part of Operation Trident on 03th/ 04th Dec night and Operation Python on 8th/9th Dec night. The tableau depicts a missile boat firing the missile and also the route taken by the attacking units during both the operations as track charts on sides of the Tableau. The rear section of the tableau illustrates the Navy’s aircraft carrier INS Vikrant conducting flying operations with Sea Hawk and Alize aircraft. The air operations from Vikrant led to sizeable damage to ships and shore installations of East Pakistan and contributed immensely towards the liberation of Bangladesh.

While we celebrate our victory, The Indian Navy has also acknowledged the courage and sacrifice of the Naval personnel who wrote this glorifying chapter of the Naval history. The tableau showcases photographs of eight naval awardees of Mahavir Chakra one of which was posthumous. On the sides of the trailer are murals depicting various ships that participated in the war, commando operations (Operation X) undertaken by the Navy along with MuktiBahini and the surrender ceremony at Dhaka. While the Navy has many other operations to its credit during the 1971 war, the paucity of space on the tableau precludes showcasing all those elements. The tableau is an attempt to highlight the most significant aspects of Naval operations conducted during 1971 war and pay rich tributes to those who were involved in these. I sincerely hope the Naval tableau would evoke the spirit of pride and patriotism amongst the audience witnessing the parade and a sense of nostalgia amongst those who participated.

INDIAN NAVY AT REPUBLIC DAY 2021

Naval Band: World renowned brass band of the Indian Navy led by Sumesh Ranjan, Master Chief Petty Officer (Musician) Class II.

Marching Contingent: Naval Contingent of 96 young sailors, proudly led by Lt Cdr Lalit Kumar as Contingent Commander and Lt Cdr Sune Phogat, Lt Aditya Shukla and Sub Lt Agastya Chaudhary as Platoon Commanders.

Indian Navy Tableau: The tableau being paraded is in pursuance with the Tri-Service theme “Swarnim Vijay Varsh”. The Tableau commanders are Lt Cdr CS Ruben and Lt Cdr Surbhi Sharma. The Indian Navy proved its mettle as a credible force to reckon in 1971 war proving its combat efficiency and hence this year’s tableau aims to showcase the Navy’s stellar role as a credible force during the 1971 Indo-Pak war.

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IAF VICE CHIEF VISITS CAW, DRDO HYDERABAD AND AIR FORCE ACADEMY

Ashish Singh

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Air Marshal H.S. Arora, Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS) visited College of Air Warfare (CAW), Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Missile Complex DRDO Hyderabad and Air Force Academy on Friday. On his arrival at Air Force Station Begumpet, he was received by Commandant, College of Air Warfare, who apprised him of various courses being conducted at CAW. During his visit to CAW, the VCAS delivered a talk on contemporary situation to the Course Officers undergoing prestigious Higher Air Command Course (HACC). He also interacted with the directing staff and impressed upon the necessity of Op readiness and expectations from future leadership of Indian Armed Forces. The Air Marshal visited Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Missile Complex, DRDO, Hyderabad. Mr. MSR Prasad, Distinguished Scientist and Director General, Missiles and Strategic Systems along with Dr Dashrath Ram, Director DRDL and. BHVS Narayana Murthy, Director RCI updated the progress on DRDO projects related to IAF.

During his visit to the various technology centres at RCI, the Air Marshal undertook review of MRSAM system which is soon to be inducted in the IAF. He interacted with senior scientists of RCI and DRDL. He emphasised on the need for indigenous and mission mode development of missiles and weapon systems. He also assured scientists of full cooperation and support from IAF for the indigenous R&D efforts by DRDO. At Air Force Academy, the VCAS was received by Air Marshal IP Vipin, Commandant Air Force Academy. He was given a detailed presentation on the training activities being undertaken at the Academy. During his visit to AFA, the VCAS inspected and reviewed progress of various critical infrastructure projects being developed at AFA. He also flew a sortie on Pilatus PC-7 Trainer Aircraft and Hawk Aircraft. Pilatus PC-7 trainer and Hawk aircraft have significantly transformed ab initio and intermediate flying training of Pilots in the Indian Air Force.

Apart from imparting training to the fighter pilots of IAF, Hawk aircraft is also used by ‘Suryakiran’ the aerobatic team of IAF. The Air Marshal lauded the relentless efforts and sincere hard work of the Officers and Airmen of Air Force Academy in the process of transforming young Cadets into professional competent Military Officers.

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Defence

MILITARY INSTITUTE TECHNOLOGY CELEBRATES 10TH RAISING DAY

Ashish Singh

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The Military Institute Technology (MILIT), Girinagar, Pune, celebrated the 10th Raising Day earlier this week. Few events were undertaken in scaled down manner in view of Covid-19.

Addressing, the staff at MILIT on the occasion, AVM Vivek Rajhans, VSM, Commandant, recalled achievements of the Institute through the past year and acknowledged the efforts of MILIT in ensuring conduct of training for tri-service officers even in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Other events organised include a lecture by Vice Adm R Hari Kumar, AVSM, VSM, on ‘Theaterisation of the Armed Forces’ which was delivered online and attended by over 150 tri-service officers.

The Institute also undertook a tree plantation drive with the help of Mr Raghunath Maruti Dhole, of Devrai foundation, where in over 650 native trees were have been planted in two separate locations, which would be developed into a ‘Ghann Vann’ (mini dense forest) and a ‘Dev Rai’ (Sacred Grove).

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INS MUMBAI: 20 YEARS OF GLORIOUS SERVICE TO NATION

The ship has been at the forefront of major naval operations like 2002 Op Parakram, 2006 Op Sukoon, helping evacuate Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan citizens from Lebanon, and 2015 Op Rahat, evacuating Indian and foreign nationals from Yemen.

Ashish Singh

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INS Mumbai, a frontline guided missile destroyer of the Indian Navy celebrated her 20th anniversary on 22 January. The ship’s association with Mumbai city is unique as it is the only IN ship stationed at her namesake city.

The ship has an extremely illustrious lineage and rich legacy of dominance at sea since her first avatar of HCS Bombay in 18th century. Of the fifteen ‘Bombays’, preceding the present one, nine were warships. The tenth one is named after “Mumbai” in tune with change in nomenclature of the city. 

The ship’s motto is “Aham Prayptam Tvidametesam Balam”, which translates to “I am Invincible”, resonates with the spirit of the  city. The ship’s crest also draws inspiration from the City depicting the main gateway entrance to the Bombay Castle Barracks commissioned in 1951 in the honour of great Maratha Admiral Kanhoji Angre. 

INS Mumbai, built indigenously at Mazagon Dock, is the latest of three P-15 class destroyers and was commissioned by the then Governor of Maharashtra Dr P.C. Alexander. Since commissioning, the ship has rendered yeoman service to the nation and has always excelled in all her endeavours. She was adjudged the ‘Best Ship’ thrice and the ‘Most Spirited Ship’ twice which is a rare feat for any warship.

With a displacement of over 6500 tons, the ship is manned by 350 sailors and 40 officers. The majestic ship spanning 163 metres in length, 17 metres at the beam, propelled by four gas turbines is capable of achieving speeds in excess of 32 knots.  Fitted with an enviable, state-of-the-art weapons suite, which includes Surface to Surface Missiles, Surface to Air Missiles, Anti-Submarine rockets and torpedoes, the ship can unleash lethal firepower upon the enemy. The ship also operates all kinds of helicopters in the naval inventory, which are its extended eyes and ears.

The ship has been at the forefront of major Naval Operations like Op Parakram (2002), Op Sukoon (2006: evacuation of Indian, Nepalese and Sri Lankan citizens from Lebanon) and Op Rahat (2015: evacuation of Indian and foreign nationals from Yemen). 

With an aim of fostering greater understanding of combat-potential and synergising the available means and resources of the armed forces, the ship is affiliated to Maratha Light Infantry Regiment of the Indian Army. The raison d’etre of the affiliation is to produce a battle winning combination in war.

Interestingly, various parts of the ship have been christened after iconic locales in the city of Mumbai. To name a few, the entrance to the ship is called the ‘Gateway’, dining halls are called ‘Khau Galli’, and the Flag staff light is called ‘Prongs Lighthouse’. Tucked away like ‘Virar’ in one corner is the Quarterdeck, while the Helo deck is known as ‘Sahar Airport’ and the awe-inspiring panoramic view from the ship’s bridge is referred to as ‘Malabar Hill’.

To commemorate her 20th anniversary, various events like blood donation camp, tree plantation drive and a run between two prominent locations of Mumbai; Girgaon Chowpati to JK Kapur Chowk, Worli, where, the ship’s model is installed, were conducted.

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INDIAN NAVY UNDERTAKES MEDICAL EVACUATION FROM MERCHANT SHIP

Ashish Singh

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On 21 January, based on an input received regarding a medical emergency onboard a Singapore flag merchant vessel MV Eagle Tampa received at the Joint Operations Center at Headquarters Western Naval Command, a Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) was executed by the Indian Navy. The ship, which was 18 nautical miles off the coast of Mumbai, reported a patient, Geetha Selvaraja, a 34-year-old Malaysian citizen, to be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease and was experiencing difficulty in breathing.

Attempts by ship‘s agent JM Baxi & Co to transfer the patient to a tug failed due to high swell in the area. The patient being unconscious, also added to the complexity of the transfer. Following confirmation of two failed attempts to transfer the patient to the tug, an Indian Naval Seaking helicopter from INS Shikra was scrambled for MEDEVAC.

The helicopter picked up the patient from the ship and returned to INS Shikra. The patient was then transferred to Saifee hospital by private ambulance.

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