STRING OF PEARLS: NOOSE OR NECKLACE? INDIA’S NEED FOR AN INTEGRATED NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN - The Daily Guardian
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STRING OF PEARLS: NOOSE OR NECKLACE? INDIA’S NEED FOR AN INTEGRATED NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN

China’s policy of encircling India to contain it—euphemistically referred to as the ‘String of Pearls’ doctrine—has over the last few years moved from a ‘threat in being’ to an actual threat.

Major General P. Rajagopal (Retd)

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Short of a miracle, the situation on the Line of Actual control (LAC) or border with China is unlikely to change in the coming months. India can continue to repose its faith in the Armed Forces defending the integrity and sovereignty of the country despite the harsh winters or the inhospitable terrain. However, the Chinese actions on the LAC, growing China-Pakistan nexus, coupled with the growing Chinese influence in the neighbourhood have brought in new challenges necessitating a fresh look at India’s future strategy. India shares land borders with seven countries and water borders with four – Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia. In a future war with China or Pakistan or a two front war, land and sea will be intrinsically linked. India has to leverage its strengths and weaknesses of one with the other. Hence an integrated land and maritime strategy coupled with a neighbourhood plan is imperative for India. For this to succeed, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar have to be seen as one integrated block, each having an effect on the other.

China’s policy of encircling India to contain it—euphemistically referred to as the “String of Pearls “doctrine—has over the last few years moved from a “threat in being” to an actual threat. In typical Chinese fashion they have gone about it quietly but firmly, tightening the noose over the past many years The Chinese intention has been to develop a network of military and commercial facilities along its sea lines of communication which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa running through several maritime chokepoints including Strait of Malacca as well as other strategic maritime centres of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Somalia. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and now its macro form of Belt and Road initiative (BRI) under which China will construct various land and maritime trade routes are also seen as a part of China’s larger military ambition. China has long realized the importance of maritime muscle to protect its economic interest in Indian Ocean and elsewhere and has been steadily working on it.

The Indian Ocean is a critical link in global trade routes, with 80 percent of global seaborne trade passing through it. Also eighty percent of China’s oil imports pass through the Strait of Malacca. This narrow waterway is a perfect choke point. India’s natural position in the Indian Ocean, with capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the mouth of the strait, would allow its Navy to cut it off in the event of a crisis or war. But increasingly China may be able to, quite literally, get around this. China has set up bases in the littoral Indian Ocean Region (IOR) nations including Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Djibouti and have invested heavily in few countries both on the East and West coast of Africa. Besides creating bases, over the years China has taken numerous steps to establish its supremacy in the sea and is building PLA (N) into a formidable force at a furious pace, investing in more aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates, modern ships, maritime reconnaissance aircraft, and submarines and so on. There is a huge force asymmetry and the gap is just widening. In just about 4-5 years China will show its flag in the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka is India’s nearest neighbour and very relevant for India’s maritime strategy. Though India has had robust relations with Sri Lanka for centuries, China has planted its feet in Sri Lankan soil as well with huge investments in infrastructure projects. Sri Lanka, forced into a debt trap has handed over Hambantota Port on a 99 year lease to China causing great concern to India. Recently Sri Lanka has been slowing down projects with India and Japan. Maldives is again another country which is strategically important for India. The relations are on an even keel after 2018 elections, when Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was elected President. India has taken a number of initiatives to bring Maldives closer, trying to ensure that changes in political dispensation does not change the relationship again. Myanmar is also strategically very important for India and shares land and maritime border with India. Chinese initiative of Belt and Road has invested heavily in Port Kyaukpyu and pipeline which will pump oil and gas to China. The importance of Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Myanmar in India’s maritime strategy cannot be overemphasized.

China and Pakistan grouped together will form the core of the plan. Pakistan-China collusion will remain the biggest worry for India in the foreseeable future. China has plans to invest billions of dollars in the economic corridor and in the Belt initiative in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). As part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) numerous deals involving billions of dollars have been signed. The Gwadar Port developed by China as part of CPEC will be used not only to assist Pakistan Navy but also to launch offensive against India in case of a Sino-Indian conflict. All this coupled with Chinese interest in Aksai chin has changed the complexion of relationship between China and Pakistan. It is no more one-sided—equally China also needs Pakistan. For this, China will continue to keep Ladakh as a pressure point while Pakistan will continue with its proxy war to keep India internally tied down.

Militarily, it is time to look at China and Pakistan together and the need is to have an integrated plan to include land and maritime strategy and the necessary air capability to meet both challenges. The success in building our military strength will lie in our ability to assess the priority of land, air and naval forces and use of disruptive technology in an increasingly hostile neighbourhood. India needs a three aircraft carrier Navy to ensure sea control in our area of interest in the IOR, besides building up our sea denial capability. Control of Malacca straits will have a stranglehold on energy routes to China. It is well within India’s grasp either singly or in concert with other countries. This will send a powerful signal to China. India has to firm up its land and sea strategy to deal with the changed scenario. Timely and effective use of its airpower as part of the overall strategy will certainly be vital.

While building the military strength will take time, India has to take its gloves off and adopt a continuous, focused, graded approach which includes kinetic and non kinetic measures. Pakistan and China will continue with their nefarious designs to destabilise India immaterial of the present crisis being resolved or not. If this nexus is broken or kept under stress it will keep both countries under check – that will be a game changer for India. India has to make it difficult for China to operate at will in POK and GB and other areas. For this India will have to transport the war away from border to areas where it will hurt the countries. Otherwise we will be falling into militarization of the entire border with both the countries which has long term implications.

India has been keeping away from internal issues of both countries and has been reactive so far. Both China and Pakistan have taken advantage of this and have continuously targeted India in international forums, besides stirring up trouble internally in multiple ways. It is time to change. Both China and Pakistan have enough internal and external issues which must be exploited. The key to success will lie in selection of areas/issues to focus on for maximizing the dividends.

Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives are vital to our national strategic interest. China has exploited all the neighbouring countries by promising huge investments and slowly and steadily drawing them into a debt trap leading to loss of sovereignty and strategic freedom. The realization is setting in and India can step in and provide an alternate model. While India will not have the financial muscle to match China, it must use military diplomacy, proximity, close historic and traditional ties of many years, soft power ,trade, health, disaster relief, helping countries in the neighbourhood in the fight against Covid pandemic, sharing of technology and so on to ensure our vital national interests are protected. This needs a consolidated multidirectional, integrated neighbourhood plan. The plan should look at China and Pakistan together as one block: Building a combined land and maritime strategy with extensive use of non kinetic measures to break China –Pakistan nexus while simultaneously building a close relationship with other neighbouring countries. Only then can the “String of Pearls” be converted from a life-threatening noose into a value –enhancing adornment.

A paratrooper who had served in Ladakh at various levels, Major General P. RajagopalAVSM,VSM (Retired), has also commanded the division in Eastern Ladakh.

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Defence

Assam Regimental Centre conducts attestation parade in Shillong

Ashish Singh

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The Assam Regimental Centre held attestation parade of 331 batch in Meghalaya’s Shillong. 225 Recruits have now been attested in a scintillating ceremony conducted at Parson Parade Ground. The parade was reviewed by Major General P.S. Behl, Colonel of “The Assam Regt and Arunachal Scouts”. The ceremony was conducted with Covid-19 protocols.

The ceremonial attestation parade marks the completion of the training schedule for recruits in The Assam Regimental Centre. These young soldiers will be joining Assam Regiment Units at various locations.

Major General P.S. Behl, the Chief Guest and reviewing officer of attestation parade extolled the virtues of selfless service to the nation and recounted the contributions of the North East and Assam Regiment towards nation building. Complimenting the passing out batch for their immaculate standards, he exhorted the warriors from the North East to persevere in pursuit of excellence.

The reviewing officer also complemented the staff for having conducted the training following Covid protocols and using innovative methods which will help the young soldiers in serving the motherland in efficient manner. Swaying to the tilting tune of the Regimental song, the young soldiers erupted in joyous to mark on a successful transition from enthusiastic recruits to valiant soldiers.

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Defence

Passing out parade of 58 Gorkha Training Centre

Ashish Singh

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The passing out parade of Recruits of 58 Gorkha Training Centre was held at Happy Valley, Shillong. The passing out parade marks the culmination of rigorous Recruit training and completes the transformation of a determined recruit into a young soldier of the Indian Army.

In an impressive ceremony marked by immaculate turnout and precision marching, a total of 248 Recruits took ‘Oath of Affirmation’. These young soldiers will now be dispatched to the numerous locations of Indian Army, always dedicated to protect our  Motherland whenever the need arises.  

The parade was reviewed by Brigadier M Narendranath Sajan, Commandant 58 Gorkha Training Centre wherein he exhorted the Young Soldiers to strive to be the finest of Indian Army and congratulated them on this important juncture of their life. During his address, the Commandant stressed upon the importance of valour, honour, ethos & fine traditions of Indian Army.

He also complemented the staff for having conducted the training following Covid protocols and using innovative methods which will help the Young Soldiers in serving the Country in more efficient manner. In the presentation ceremony Recruit Abhishek Sakia was awarded the Overall Best Recruit & Recruit of 8 GR and Recruit Manish Ale Magar was awarded Best Recruit of 5 GR (FF).

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Defence

COMBINED COMMANDERS’ CONFERENCE BEING HELD AT KEVADIA, GUJARAT

Ashish Singh

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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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Defence

Turkmenistan Special Forces commence combat ‘free fall’ training in India

Ashish Singh

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The Indian Special Forces (SF) have, over a period of time, earned immense respect and reputation of being one of the finest Special Forces in the world due to their professionalism, operational expertise, and sacrifice. Special Forces of friendly nations including the US, Australia, countries of Central Asian Region and the Middle East have increasingly shown their desire to train with the battle-hardened Indian SF troops. In response, the Indian Army‘s Special Forces have increased their engagement with their counterparts from friendly nations.

Based on a request from the Turkmenistan Special Forces, the Special Forces Training School (SFTS) of the Indian Army, which is a unique institution providing training to the Indian Army‘s Special Forces, has commenced training of paratroopers from the Turkmenistan Special Forces in Combat Free Fall as a precursor to a series of other customised professional courses which will assist in capability enhancement of Turkmenistan Special Forces.

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Defence

Major Gen Arvind Kapoor is the new Addl Director General of NCC, Gujarat

Ashish Singh

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Major General Arvind Kapoor took over as Additional Director General, National Cadet Corps (NCC), Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu from Major General Roy Joseph who proceeded on superannuation after completing thirty eight years of distinguished service.

Maj Gen Arvind Kapoor an Armoured Corps Officer, is an alumni of the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He is a Post Graduate in Defence Studies from Madras University.

The General Officer has rich and varied experience in serving in different terrains. He has also done tenure in NCC as Group Commander, Ahmedabad. The General Officer was posted as Chief of Staff in High Altitude Terrain in a Corps Headquarters, prior to being posted as ADG of Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu.

The General Officer has also attended all important courses of instructions, the notable amongst them include the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, the Higher Defence Orientation Course at Mhow and the Senior Defence Management Course at Secunderabad.

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Defence

VICE ADMIRAL ATUL KUMAR JAIN TAKES OVER AS THE NEW CISC

Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jain paid obeisance to fallen heroes at National War Memorial in New Delhi upon taking charge of the crucial CISC position.

Ashish Singh

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Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jain has assumed the charge of the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman (CISC). Before taking over the CISC charge, he was the Eastern Naval Command Chief based at Vizag. The new Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC) Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jain paid obeisance to fallen heroes at National War Memorial in New Delhi upon taking charge of the crucial CISC position.

ABOUT VICE ADMIRAL ATUL KUMAR JAIN

Vice Admiral Atul Kumar Jain was commissioned in the Indian Navy on 1 July 1982. He is an alumnus of Sainik School Rewa, National Defence Academy (Pune), the Defence Services Staff College (Wellington), the College of Naval Warfare (Mumbai) and the National Defence College (Pretoria, South Africa).The Flag Officer is a Gunnery and Missile Specialist. During the earlier part of his career, he has held various operational and staff appointments, both afloat and ashore including Gunnery Officer of Destroyers INS Ranvijay and INS Ranvir.

He has commanded Indian Naval Ships Nirghat (Missile Boat), Khukri (Missile Corvette), Rajput (Destroyer) and the indigenous Guided Missile Destroyer, Mysore. He also had the privilege of being the commissioning Executive Officer of INS Brahmaputra and the Fleet Operations Officer of the Eastern Fleet at Visakhapatnam.

His appointments ashore include Director Naval Intelligence (Protocol), Director Foreign Liaison and Principal Director Staff Requirement at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), New Delhi.He was appointed as the first Flag Officer Commanding Karnataka Naval Area, Karwar on promotion to the Flag Rank on 3 October 2011 as Rear Admiral. Thereafter, he commanded the prestigious Eastern Fleet and then served as the Chief of Staff, Southern Naval Command. On promotion to the rank of Vice Admiral on 1 April 2015, he tenanted the appointment of Controller Personnel Services (CPS) at IHQ MoD(N) and then served as the Chief of Staff, Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam. The Flag Officer also held the appointment of Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Policy Planning & Force Development), at HQIDS, New Delhi and was the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command from June 2020 to February 2021.

He took over as the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee on 2 Mar 21.For his distinguished service, he was awarded Vishisht Seva Medal in 2009, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal in 2015 and Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 2020.

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