Indian diplomacy

In diplomatic and strategic arena the new Narendra Modi led government has started on a sound footing with one to one meeting with the seven leaders of SAARC on his very first day of taking charge as the new Prime Minister of India. This has created a congenial diplomatic ambience for the new government to work with its various international partners.

The new Prime Minister has also received messages of congratulations and goodwill from all powers -big and small- and there seems to be a race to embrace the Modi government first. The countries which used to criticize Modi on his human rights record seems to have forgotten them and wants to add fresh page in bilateral relations. China went a step ahead and sent its foreign minister Wang Yi as Special envoy of the Prime Minister.

However, considering the contrasts in relations, it will not be long before Modi government will open his cards and some of the global powers begin to realize the inclinations of the new government.

Pakistan was first to get the clear message when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was told in no uncertain terms that relations will  proceed only in terror free atmosphere. Modi’s warning was preceded by a failed attack on the Indian Consulate in Herat, which conveyed a message to India that the Pakistan’s military establishment will not easily reconcile to the drastically changed political scene in India.

During the height of election campaign in India, when the Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was adopting tough postures towards both Pakistan and China, both countries reacted cautiously. After he took control of the new government, the Chinese leadership was effusive in its comments and tried to send very positive signals.  This must have been noted by Narendra Modi who has made four visits to China as the Chief Minister of Gujarat for inviting Chinese investments to his state.

While China seems to be extending olive branch to Modi, Pakistan continues to be a cause of worry.  The attack on Herat Consulate was the mastermind of Lashkar e Taiba , which was revealed by the outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai while on a visit to  New Delhi to attend the Modi swearing in ceremony. In fact the Pakistani Army Chief General Raheel Sharif had made a very provocative statement on Kashmir.  Though the new Indian government has tried to send conciliatory signals towards both arch rivals, with whom India has serious territorial and boundary disputes, the Indian security establishment will never ignore the Pakistan-China nexus against India.

Sensitive issues

In his address to his army commanders in the first week of May General Sharif described Kashmir as Pakistan’s jugular vein, which generated much media debate in both Pakistan and India.

Significantly among the audience present during General Sharif’s address was two Chinese PLA officers. The Indian strategic analysts and the Indian security establishment has taken note of this and are discussing the various pros and cons of the General’s statement in front of the Chinese military officers present among the Pakistani army officers.

Indian strategic observers are fearing two ominous developments post new Indian government, which of course has sent conciliatory friendly messages and expressions of goodwill towards Pakistani people and also intentions to resolve all disputes with Pakistan and China amicably. 

Both Pakistan and China will put strategic pressures on India through provocative statements and even create fracas on the LOC and LAC to gauge the reactions of the new Indian government.

Modi during his several election speeches had threatened to retaliate to any provocative strike on LOC with Pakistan and intrusion on LAC with China. Modi several times raised the emotive issue of beheading of two Indian soldiers on the Line of Control with Pakistan. It is now very clear, if we go by  various rhetorical statements of Narendra Modi in the run up to the Parliamentary elections, he will adopt a no nonsense policy towards both of India’s neighbors.

The BJP election manifesto also promised to revise the Indian nuclear doctrine, which will continue to dominate the discourse among strategic experts in India and abroad and will give excuse to China and Pakistan to adopt more aggressive nuclear postures.

The reaction to General Sharif’s statement on Kashmir evoked rare show of unity from India’s political class from ruling to opposition circles. Both Congress and BJP strongly countered the Pakistani Generals pronouncements on Kashmir.

Narendra Modi had also indicated in his election speeches his tough postures towards China. Hence it is assessed by strategic observers that both China and Pakistan, while expressing desire to improve and warm up relations with India, will be silently evolving strategies to put India under the new regime under strategic and military pressure.

Defence modernization

To counter this move,  the new government will have to first take serious steps to revive its defence modernization program, which has almost been suspended under the second term of the Manmohan Singh led UPA regime.

The UPA-2 dilly dallied on almost all major defence acquisition programs and its consequences will be felt during military standoff with the neighboring Pakistan and China.

That Pakistani army could occupy the Kargil heights in Kashmir for two long months in  1999 , is a grim reminder of the neglect of military preparedness by the previous Congress led government in India, and once again the aggressive looking Pakistani military leaders seems to be on provocative mood.

In the light of evolving strategic environment around the country and also in the near and far maritime domain, neglect of military preparedness will prove to be very costly for the country.

The two front challenge that Indian armed forces will face in future will be a daunting task to overcome. The Sino-Pak strategic nexus against India is likely to grow stronger with the new government in New Delhi. A country facing domestic instability amidst rising Jehadi challenge to its survival and an aggressive China on an expansionist mode should be a matter of concern for  the new Indian government and strategists.

The new Indian defence minister Arun Jaitley has indicated that the government will give top priorities to revival of defence modernization program, which has been halted since last few years.

Pending proposals

One of the major decisions the new government will have to take would be on the much touted Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft  acquisition program as the new defence minister has promised an early decision. Meanwhile the French government has taken a very smart move to impress the new government with a joint Indo-French Garud Air Force exercises in Jodhpur in the first and second week of June, in which the Rafale would be the key player.

The decision to acquire 126 Rafale , after being shortlisted as the first choice of the Indian Air Force , has already been delayed by more than two years.  The new defence minister will obviously be under great pressure to take an early decision.

However, there are many other pending proposals that the new government will have to seriously consider for an early implementation. The Indian Navy is facing a serious crunch of undersea platforms. The government had taken an in- principle decision to issue a RFP for six new diesel submarines, which is still waiting to surface.

The under construction six  Scorpene submarines are already facing a problem  of delay and the old Russian Kilo submarines are only a decade away from retirement. The four German Type-209 submarines also need overhaul and mid life update. To keep a regular eye on India’s maritime domain, the navy needs many more surveillance aircrafts, helicopters and warships.

The Army urgently needs long range artillery guns in all the three categories. Though the UPA government had taken a landmark decision to raise a new corps for deployment on the 4000 kms long Line of Actual Control with China, the government failed to take steps for equipping the Corps with new strike weapons.

The army currently faces biggest challenge from the China border which requires round the clock surveillance to check any intrusion or violation of the LAC. For this the army wants to equip its units with unmanned aerial vehicles of longer endurance, which is also awaiting decision. The Indian army has embarked on an extremely ambitious soldier modernization called F-INSAS program, which also needs to be speeded up.

The biggest military challenge posed to India is from the ballistic missiles, which are now in abundance with India’s neighbors. Though the Indian DRDO is seriously working on the anti-missile systems, which will safeguard vital political and military establishments from a missile attack, this will take many more years to fructify.

This defensive BMD system would be very expensive to acquire from abroad and Indian domestic program, though has reached final stage, and would need several tests to validate its efficacy. This program needs financial injection and the new government will find it hard to arrange sufficient funds in the current year’s budget. 

The next years defence budget can only be sound if the government has enough money in its kitty and a government focusing on many development projects will find it hard to arrange the money for defence acquisition.

However, the new government seems determined to revive the defence modernization and the armed forces can expect a good budgetary support.