Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Chinese Needling in Sikkim

Note: This post must be read in conjunction with the following posts on the subject:

China’s recent aggressive move on the Sikkim border is nothing short of provocative. Destroying bunkers and suspending the Kailash Mansorovar yatra are hostile acts and need to be dealt with in befitting manner.

China is at it again; doing what it knows best – a blend of restrained aggression by carrying out “innocuous incursions into Indian territory” along with psychological warfare and propaganda.

In 2007 and 2008 PLA troops made incursions in the small tract of land referred to as the Finger Area  frequently — in 2008 itself about 50 Chinese transgressions had been reported in this area — and then started building a road that crossed this tract of land. It is in this context, the present standoff in the Sikkim- Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in Sikkim between the Indian troops and the Chinese troops must be viewed.

While the media focus was on the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s visit to Washington, tension was brewing in Sikkim along the Tibet border with China. A highly questionable version of the events put out by the Chinese Foreign Ministry claimed that Indian border guards (probably referring to the Indo Tibetan Border Police or the ITBP) had crossed the boundary and entered “Chinese territory” and obstructed what was “normal activities” of the Chinese frontier forces in Donglang area and that the Chinese had taken counter measures. And the Chinese Defence Ministry accused Indian troops of objecting to the building of a road in what it claimed to be Chinese territory. According to the PTI, the Chinese troops were reported to have destroyed two make shift bunkers of the Indian Army in the Lalten area of Doka La. (It needs to be mentioned that the PLA had destroyed a make shift bunker in the same area of Doka La in 2008). While what is being claimed as a counter measure may have occurred as part of the time-tested tactic adopted by the Chinese, it is extremely unlikely that the ITBP personnel (who do not carry arms in that area) would have carried out any transgressions across the border. This again is part of the nefarious Chinese propaganda.

In order to exert pressure on the Indians, the Chinese shut down the Nathu La pass entry for Indian pilgrims travelling to Kailash Mansarovar (a pilgrim site revered by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains) and called for the “withdrawal of the Indian personnel who had overstepped and trespassed into Chinese border." It is unclear whether the Chinese want a complete withdrawal of Indian troops from the Indian side or only those whom the Chinese have accused of crossing the border.

The Chinese provocation may be attributed to the following factors: One, China perceives a growing threat because of the close relations between India and the US and the mutual defence cooperation which it finds unsettling; two India in no uncertain terms snubbed Beijing on the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because of its objections to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is slated to go through Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK); third; India is going ahead with a Afghan air corridor bypassing Pakistan which the state-owned Global Times referred to as Indian stubbornness; fourth, India ignoring Chinese objections allowed the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in April 2017, which it foolishly has been claiming to be part of Southern Tibet. Lastly, according to Subir Bhowmick, a veteran journalist Sikkim is the only sector along the border where India has a tactical and terrain advantage. India’s decision of raising the mountain strike corps, though mired in financial uncertainties, has upped the ante. And hence the coercive tactics adopted by the PLA.

China is also concerned about the proposed purchase of 22 drones by India from the US. These drones will greatly enhance India’s surveillance capability in the Indian Ocean where China has been making significant inroads in the past few years.

Indian policy makers must understand one irrefutable fact that China is an aggrandizing power, a state that would use any means possible to grab territory. China has done it in 1962 and it virtually claims more than eighty percent of the South China Sea through the means of a dubious historical nine-dash line. According to the strategic affairs expert, China has been eating away at India’s Himalayan borderlands. This is a fact, howsoever bitter it may seem. China’s Global Times in its OP-ED has stated: China avoids making an issue of border disputes, which has indulged India's unruly provocations. This time the Indian side needs to be taught the rules.  

India cannot afford a showdown with China on border issues. It lags far behind China in terms of national strength and the so-called strategic support for it from the US is superficial. China has no desire to confront India. Maintaining friendly ties with New Delhi is Beijing's basic policy. But this must be based on mutual respect. It's not time for India to display arrogance toward China. India's GDP is only one-quarter of China's and its annual defense budget is just one-third. Having a friendly relationship and cautiously handling border issues with China is its best choice.

This piece can be interpreted as nothing but a warning exhorting the PLA to teach India a lesson. China needs to be cautioned that it can ill-afford a confrontation of any sort with India at a time when it is unveiling the B&RI and more importantly 1962 is history and China cannot expect India to commit the same blunders it committed at that time to be repeated. Diplomatic niceties do not work with a bully like China. It is time for India to bare its fangs in order to deter China from carrying out its incursions.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

London Bridge and Borough Market Terror Attacks

The United Kingdom is facing the brunt of jihadi terrorism. Instead of being in denial, the government needs to introduce radical measures which may not be entirely in consonance with Western values of freedom and rule of law.

Attackers drove a van at high speed into pedestrians on London Bridge before going on a stabbing spree in the nearby Borough Market area on Saturday 3rd June 2017 at about 2210 hrs in what British authorities described as terrorist incidents. The attack lasted only about eight minutes before which the jihadis were neutralized. Authorities urged the people on Twitter to “run, hide, tell” if they were caught in an attack. Latest reports suggested that about seven people were killed and several injured and three attackers were also shot dead by the police.

The attacks come days ahead of a June 8 election and less than two weeks after a suicide bomber killed 22 people at a pop concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England. Though there was no immediate claim of responsibility, it does not require a rocket scientist to determine who the attackers were.

The BBC showed a photograph of two possible London attackers shot by police, one of whom had canisters strapped to his body.

A Reuters reporter said some time after the attack began that he had heard loud bangs near the Borough Market area.

Witnesses described a white van veering into pedestrians near London Bridge and knocking over several people.

“A van came from London Bridge itself, went between the traffic light system and rammed it towards the steps,” a taxi driver told the BBC. “It knocked loads of people down.

“Then three men got out with hunting knives, 12 inches long and shouting "this is for Allah" went randomly along Borough High Street stabbing people at random.”

Islamic State earlier on Saturday sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram urging its followers to launch attacks with trucks, knives and guns against “Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

An elite Special Air Service - SAS - unit nick named 'Blue Thunder' is believed to have landed on London Bridge following the attack. Blue Thunder, who act on orders from the Home Secretary, are a 70-man strong unit formed after the 2015 Paris attacks and trained in tackling domestic terror scenarios.

Blue Thunder’s name comes from the unmarked blue Eurocopter Dauphin helicopter in which they travel. Photographs appeared to capture two of the aircraft landing on London Bridge shortly after the vehicle and stabbing rampage.

The civilian style helicopter is used to transport Special Forces troops around the country quickly and covertly. 

Similar attacks, in Berlin, Nice, Brussels and Paris, have been carried out by militants over the past couple of years.

“Following updates from police and security officials, I can confirm that the terrible incident in London is being treated as a potential act of terrorism,” Prime Minister Theresa May said.

London’s river Thames police said it was working with the lifeboat rescue service to help evacuate people caught up in the attack, described by police as a terrorist incident.

U.S. President Donald Trump took to Twitter to offer U.S. help to Britain. The White House said he had been briefed on the incidents by his national security team.

One woman told Reuters she saw what appeared to be three people with knife wounds and possibly their throats cut at London Bridge at the Thames river. Reuters was unable to immediately verify her account.


Police said they fired shots after reports of stabbings in the nearby Borough Market area. They also responded to an incident in the Vauxhall area further west, but later said it was unconnected to the van and knife attacks.

Streets around London Bridge and Borough Market, fashionable districts packed with bars and restaurants, would have been busy with people on a Saturday night out. BBC showed dozens of people, evidently caught up in the attack, being escorted through a police cordon with their hands on their heads.

BBC radio said witnesses saw people throwing tables and chairs at the perpetrators of the attack to protect themselves.

According to one witness, she saw a speeding white van veering into pedestrians at London Bridge. That witness told the BBC that the van hit five to six people. Reuters television footage showed dozens of emergency vehicles in the area around London Bridge. There were unconfirmed reports that it was a B&Q and Hertz van.

The incident bore similarities to a March 2017 attack on Westminster Bridge, west of London Bridge, in which a Muslim man Khalid Masood killed five people after driving into a crowd of pedestrians before stabbing a police officer in the grounds of Parliament.

Instead of being in denial, the government needs to introduce radical measures which may not be entirely democratic. These measures may include but may not be limited to deporting hate preachers, closing down places of worship where radicalism is fostered, curbing entry of so-called refugees/migrants and eliminating jihadis who have participated in the conflict in Syria/Iraq and returned to the UK. It is better to eliminate the terrorists before they cause mayhem than after carnage has taken place as it happened in the Borough market.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Beheadings at the Line of Control: Indian Countermeasures

India must not hesitate to use lethal force and other covert means to thwart the enemy’s design without fear of escalation and be prepared to fight a limited war under the nuclear shadow

Under the cover of heavy mortar fire, a Pakistani Border Action Team comprising Special Forces and jihadi elements in a pre-planned operation sneaked 250 metres across the Line of Control (LoC) into the Poonch sector of Jammu and Kashmir and beheaded two Indian security personnel on 1st May. It is learnt that the incident occurred when an Indian patrol of 8-10 soldiers was checking the border fence, a perilous task involving physically moving along the fence, very close to the Line of Control (LoC) in the Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch, to check for damage to the fence or its electronic sensors. Some media reports suggest that the incident occurred when a joint team of the army and Border Security Force had gone to check the veracity of an intelligence report that landmines had been planted by Pakistani troops on the Indian side. As per reports, at 0825 hours, Pakistani army's 647 Mujahid Battalion targeted India's forward post 'Kirpan' from its post 'Pimple' in Krishna Ghati sector.

According to the modus operandi adopted by Pakistani troops on forward posts, the exposed Indian patrol first came under intense fire from automatic weapons which Pakistani soldiers had stealthily deployed in temporary positions just across the LoC.

With two Indian soldiers injured in the firing, jihadi fighters of the BAT darted across the LoC under cover of firing by Pakistani troops, killed the personnel, beheaded them amd returned to their side of the Loc with heads as trophies.

The deployment of BAT is a well-rehearsed tactic by Pakistan that creates deniability by using jihadis to cross into the Indian side. In the event of any jihadi being killed or captured, the Pakistanis disown it as an infiltration attempt. The Pakistani regulars remain on their side of the LoC providing covering fire to the BAT. This tactic of mutilating Indian soldiers, though employed at the local commanders’ level has the full support of the Army’s top brass.

This was not the first time that Pakistan indulged in mutilating the bodies of the Indian soldiers on the Line of Control.  There have been three instances of this inhuman and despicable conduct since India conducted a surgical strike in the end of September 2016. This unsoldierly action has gone on unchecked primarily because the retribution by Indian forces has not had the desired effect. The response or punitive action by India has been too little, too late to deter Pakistan. India has several options before it to bleed Pakistan. The question is does it have the political will and the capability to execute such acts. Inadequate punishment fails to deter Pakistani violations, while an excess could set off a cycle of escalation that could spiral out of control. India is constantly mired up in this question of the kind of action it must adopt to punish Pakistani.

It is extremely imprudent if the Indian state were to sit and draw up a plan of action after every such cross border violation and inhuman conduct by the rogues from across the border. A blue-print or a Standard Operating Procedure must be in place to completely render the Pakistanis impotent of waging either an all-out war or an asymmetric war.

The Indian military does not have a tri-service plan for immediate retaliation to such inhuman violations. This would generally involve pre-selection of Pakistani Army or jihadi targets, earmarking of the aircraft or teams of Special Forces to hit the pre-determined targets and having defensive measures for possible retaliation by Pakistan.

The options, without elaborating the ways and means of executing them and at the cost of repetition, are firstly to target the terrorist leadership of the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Hizbul Mujahideen and all Kashmir and India-centric groups based in Pakistan and Af-Pak which are involved in bleeding India. Secondly, assassinate the top brass of the Pakistani ISI in Pakistan or outside. Thirdly, target Pakistani interests worldwide by means of sabotage and assassination. Fourthly, repeated pre-emptive strikes across the LoC and International Border targeting the terror infrastructure in Pak-Occupied Kashmir. And last but not the least swift retaliatory strikes in the event of any cross LoC violations very similar to Israel. These are extremely difficult options for which the political leadership and the military must be resolute and in sync with each other. And equally important is the fact that all arms of the military and civilian intelligence agencies must work in close coordination and in tandem.

India must reconsider reviving the Technical Support Division, a covert unit set up during the tenure of General V. K. Singh when he was COAS. (It was reportedly tasked with preparing, planning and executing special operations “inside depth areas of countries of interest and countering enemy efforts within the country by effective covert means”. Main areas of operations were North and Northeast India, and against adversaries in neighbouring countries. The Army’s internal approvals for raising the TSD reportedly said it would “enable the Military Intelligence Directorate to provide a quick response to any act of state-sponsored terrorism with a high degree of deniability”. Such covert units are necessary to counter the threat posed by Pakistan and China though such units may be frowned upon in democracies).

It doesn’t need to be reiterated that India’s inconsistent Pak policy is one of the reasons for the current state of affairs. India cannot have trade ties and back channel talks when Pakistani policy has been to bleed India with a thousand cuts.  The Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu said: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory; tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Today India neither has a strategy nor does it have tactics to deal militarily with Pakistan.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Kulbhushan Jadhav: A Case of Pakistani Subterfuge

Pakistan is a rogue state which will stoop to any level and take recourse to any form of deception in order to achieve its “unholy objectives”

An Indian naval officer arrested last year and charged with espionage and sabotage was sentenced to death Monday, the Pakistani military said, a decision that is likely to further strain relations between the two nations.

The condemned naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested in March 2016 in Baluchistan, the restive province in South-West Pakistan, where a separatist insurgency has simmered for decades. While Jadhav was believed to be in Iran, running a cargo business or business to service dhows and ships from the port town of Chabahar, Pakistan claimed to have arrested him from the border town of Chaman in its province of Balochistan, bordering Afghanistan. Pakistani military officials described the capture of Mr. Jadhav as a major counterintelligence victory. He was accused of running a clandestine terror network within the province and of participating in various activities meant to destabilize the country.

Pakistan has claimed that Jadhav had infiltrated into Pakistan for “espionage and terror activities” and was in touch with Baloch separatists. They also claimed that Jadhav was travelling on a false passport, which identified him as Hussain Mubarak Patel, a resident of Powai in Mumbai. Mr. Jadhav is also known to spell his surname Yadav.

The Pakistani military said Mr. Jadhav was a “spy” who “was tried through Field General Court-Martial,” referring to a court-martial trial of heinous crimes, dedicated to cases involving foreign agents and spies.

The Pakistani military also asserted that Mr. Jadhav confessed before a magistrate that he was assigned by India’s spy agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, “to plan and organize espionage and sabotage activities” in Baluchistan Province and Karachi, the southern port city that is the country’s commercial hub.

India disputes Pakistan’s accusations, which has often been the case in the testy relations between the two estranged, nuclear-armed neighbors. India gave a starkly different version of Mr. Jadhav’s arrest and profession.

Indian officials accused Pakistan of kidnapping Mr. Jadhav, whom they described as a former Navy officer, and said that repeated efforts for access to Mr. Jadhav were denied.

According to certain media reports, Kulbhushan Jadhav had reportedly approached Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) a number of times but his offers were turned down by the agency. According to The Indian Express report, between 2010 and 2012, Jadhav repeatedly had wanted to offer his service as a freelance intelligence operative but the organisation rejected the offer citing it will be ‘too much of a risk’.

In 2010, he had given proposal to R&AW, that his dhow, the Kaminda, can be used as a tool to gather intelligence on Pakistan’s port project at Gwadar. But “R&AW had little interest in Jadhav’s intelligence-gathering proposals,” the report said. However Anand Arni, the long-serving head of R&AW’s Pakistan Desk, who had retired in 2012, said “I will only repeat what I said on Monday which is that Jadhav was not an asset of the agency. Retired officers are never made assets, and we would certainly never send anyone on a clandestine mission with an Indian passport. You are free to believe or disbelieve me,” the report said.
In a videotape released by Pakistan’s military last year, Jadhav says he was recruited by R&AW in 2013, 10 years after setting up his base in Chabahar. However, there is no officer, past or present, bearing the name he cites as his handler — Joint Secretary Anil Kumar Gupta. In the videotape, Jadhav also claims he had contact with National Security Advisor Ajit Kumar Doval, who served as Director of the Intelligence Bureau in 2004-2005, before taking up his current assignment in 2014. There is no evidence, though of such contact, and intelligence insiders said it was profoundly unlikely an intelligence service’s asset would be granted an audience with the NSA.

It is extremely difficult to say with certainty whether the former naval officer was working for the Indian intelligence. It is plausible that Jadhav was conducting a legitimate business in Chabahar and was abducted from the Iran-Pak border by an extremist outfit called Jaishul Adil linked to Al Qaeda and thereafter sold to the ISI. Barring Pakistan’s assertion that he was involved in espionage, there is little evidence to show that he was involved in espionage.

Having got an Indian, and that too a former naval officer in their custody, Pakistan thought it may reap political dividends by accusing India of fomenting terrorism inside Pakistan. However, India has resisted this and till date has been exerting diplomatic pressure on Islamabad without resorting to a tit-for-tat. India made it known that it sought consular access to Jadhav on thirteen occasions and Pakistan refused to grant access to the prisoner; he was not permitted to legal representation and his sham trial was conducted in secret by a Field General Court-Martial. How New Delhi hopes to attain its objective of getting one of its citizens illegally detained by a rogue state with only diplomatic means is anybody’s guess. Pakistan is an entity which has scant respect for international law or any law for that matter; it does not give a damn for human rights of its own citizens much less of Indians accused of espionage in its custody. Alleged Indian spies like Ravindra Kaushik, Sarabjit Singh and many others have died in Pakistani jails in the past several decades. Expecting Pakistan to hand over Jadhav is like chasing a chimera.

If Jadhav ought not to meet the same fate as that of the legendary Israeli spy Elie Cohen, India needs to change track in dealing with Pakistan. India needs to pay Pakistan back in the same coin. One of Pakistani Army’s own needs to end up in Indian custody. Indian agencies have the wherewithal to make this happen. There already have been unconfirmed reports of the “disappearance” of a retired Pakistan Army Lieutenant Colonel Mohammad Habib Zahir, a Pakistani artillery officer who may have worked as an undercover ISI agent runner in Nepal from Nepal’s Lumbini on 6th April. It is also being reported that this Pak officer was involved in the abduction of Jadhav. If India is not thinking on these lines it needs to start building its capabilities to conduct snatch operations not only in South Asia but beyond. Instilling fear in Pak’s military establishment is the only way in which India and Indians can be kept safe. In the meanwhile Pakistani subterfuge continues.