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Militarization of South Asia

January 29, 2010

The world is changing and changing faster than we think it is. The Cold War is over but an undercurrent of another Cold War is right on our horizon. There has already started another tug of war, this time between the West and China. China with its four thousand kilometer border with India sees India as a threat to its global ambitions. India is being propped up by the west as a counter to the increasing sphere of influence of Beijing. India has no option but to side with the west as she finds this also as an opportunity to further her regional and economic ambitions. From the string of pearls that I discussed in my earlier article ‘China’s Expanding Horizons’, there has been a significant increase in India’s arms purchases in recent years. India is feeling threatened by the growth of China both economically and militarily. With the secrecy that surrounds China’s military capability, it becomes incumbent for a country like India to be cautious about its own security concerns vis-à-vis neighbors like China and Pakistan.

Pakistan is playing a double game. While not leaving the coat-tails of the west it is increasingly veering towards China. Islamabad is playing one against the other. For the West, Pakistan is hugely important for their war against terror, as the supply lines pass through Pakistan. They are therefore pandering to whatever Pakistan is demanding. The latest Pakistani demand for the drone technology has been granted to Islamabad by the US and I will not be surprised if these drones are used on the eastern border more than on the west, for which they were acquired in the first place. Pakistan has also got latest version of F-16’s from the US. These surely cannot be used against the Taliban. The only country that these nuclear capable fighter aircrafts can be used against is India.

The latest news is that Pakistan is offering bases to China. According to Shen Dingli, a well known columnist, China is planning to set up bases in Pakistan in order to expand its area of influence in the region, especially as a counter to American influence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is also reported that such bases will help China counter the Uighur insurgents in the Xinjiang province. A Chinese base in Pakistan can be a very real threat to India’s security concerns. While we have a base in Tajikistan, it is a very rudimentary outfit with little strategic importance except for a token presence in Central Asia.

Chinese bases in Pakistan will have wide ranging strategic ramifications. With military bases comes responsibility too.  Will Chinese bases help reduce radicalism in Pakistan? Will this mean greater stability in Pakistan? Militarily this development will surely be a threat to India. India will feel encircled with China in the north, Pakistan with Chinese bases in the west and Burma (a veritable Chinese colony) and Sri Lanka completing the encirclement of India. Pakistan will unleash greater diplomatic salvos not only at India but also at the West. Pakistan will play more vigorously one against another with the West and will be more blatant with its demands. The drones are only the beginning and their list of demands could be unending. One positive fall out of any such bases developed by Beijing would be the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. If at all Beijing actually gets down to building bases in Pakistan, they must realize that with this comes a host of responsibilities too. Any adventurism from Pakistan will have to be okayed by Beijing. In effect, Beijing will have to take responsibility for a very errant boy with very lethal weapons that have become a global cause for concern. Obama in his State of the Union address mentioned an international initiative that will ensure that nuclear weapons do not fall in the hands of terrorists and other nefarious elements. China will be a key player in any such global plans.

What one can be sure of, if such a move fructifies, is that infiltration from Pakistan side will increase, were China to have a permanent military presence inside of Pakistan. The policy of trying to vanquish India through a ‘thousand cuts,’ will be pursued more vigorously and India should expect more problems on its western front. Such obvious expansionism by Beijing will raise the hackles of Washington and it will be interesting to see as to how the West reacts to any such moves. The US has military presence in Pakistan, and were Beijing to move in, in all probability, the Americans will be asked to go. As it is, American military personnel in Pakistan are facing hostilities from the Pakistani establishment.  Private security companies like Xe (earlier Blackwater) have all but stopped operating in Pakistan. The American aid to the Pakistan army is sill significant and many of the Corps Commanders in Pakistan army have allegiance to the West. But this could change, were Beijing ready to foot the military expenditure of Islamabad. Any such economic help from Beijing will come with its own strings attached, but then that should not bother Islamabad too much. They would however, hate to put all the eggs in one basket and would love to carry on playing one against the other. The West cannot ignore Pakistan, at least till the time they are in Afghanistan. If one were to believe President Karzai, the West should remain entrenched in Kabul forever. This gives him security and the monetary aid flowing is always welcome.

Indian reaction to the developments in South Asia is on expected line. We are bracing ourselves up for any eventuality. India is on a buying spree of military hardware. We have purchased P8 reconnaissance anti submarine aircrafts worth more than a billion dollars. The Hercules military transport aircrafts will make it to Indian hangers, another billion dollar deal with America. Then we have ordered 145, 155mm howitzers from the Americans to replace the aging Bofors guns that served the Indian Army magnificently. This deal is worth more than $600 million. We have ordered some advanced radars to man our borders, again from the Americans. This is also a multi-million dollar deal. Then we are purchasing AWACS from Israel with American approval. One such advanced warning system on an IL76 frame has already been delivered and another two are on the way. Another few billion dollar spent. Then we are going to buy 126 advanced fighter jets and the buzz is that this deal is also going the Washington way. It could well be that we go in for a mix of F16 and F18’s to bolster our air defences in this multi-billion dollar deal. We are collaborating on the development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft with the Russians on the lines of stealth F22 fighter jet of USAF. We are buying an aircraft carrier Admiral Groshkov from Russia along with MiG 29K aircrafts. We are also building an aircraft carrier in the Cochin shipyard and again the Russian MiG 29K will be aboard the aircraft carrier that should be ready by 2014. India is also being leased a nuclear submarine by Russia for ten years in an undisclosed deal. We are purchasing Scorpene submarines from the French. Then we have a missile development program which has ballistic missiles as well as surface to surface and air to air missiles. BRAMHOS with Russian cooperation has been a resounding success. India has also developed a Shaurya surface to surface missile with a range of 700 kilometers. India has developed a fighter aircraft Tejas with GE404 engines and modern avionics. This should replace the aging MiG21’s that are being phased out.

There are many other military deals big and small that have been inked between the West and India that are beyond the purview of this article. Suffice to say that India is responding to the regional threats seriously and is doing all she can to safeguard her borders. The internal threats that loom large are a part of this regional tug of war that has made South Asia the most dangerous neighborhood in the world. India has no option but to take her security seriously. This is being seen by the West as a good business opportunity. They know that with a burgeoning foreign exchange reserve of more than $250 billion India can afford such extravagance. While the west does not blink an eyelid to buy off the Taliban with a $500 million purse, they do not see India as a frontline state that we have become and therefore need military aid to supplement our resources. They are projecting a poor country like India as a potential superpower and that is just not true. What is true is that India can ill-afford such military expenditure that seems to be unending. The Americans are saying that with India purchasing American equipment, we will have better strategic understanding and mutual compatability in facing regional threats, what they refuse to admit is that these are expenses that India is making to ensure safety of not only her borders but to ensure peace the world over. In that India is doing a service to the democratic world. What India is doing for the region and for the world peace is going unnoticed and we still have millions starving and a huge number of illiterates – perhaps the highest in the world. For security of the region, we are foregoing the basic needs of our people. This new Cold War is costing India a lot. This burden must be shared by the international community.

Update 30.01.2010: Those who scoff at US-China rivalry should note the way China has reacted to $6.4 billion American arms sale to Taiwan. This military package includes 114 Patriot missiles, 60 Black Hawk helicopters and Harpoon missiles among other things. China has banned all those companies from doing any business in China that are involved in this arms sale. It may be added that after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre the US had barred all arms sale to China as did the EU and therefore any such ‘ban’ may not have any real effect on those companies that are involved in this deal.

The recent cyber attack on Google had also raised the hackles of Washington. Hillary Clinton made that amply clear. The issue of artificial undervaluation of the yuan has been a prickly issue between the US and China as has been the human rights concern of the West vis-a-vis China. With increasing might of Beijing and the economic equilibrium shifting East, the west is insecure.

It may be added that the US stands by the One China policy. Washington is however, concerned about the rising military might of China and experts have evaluated that in case of an invasion of Taiwan, the west may not be able to react in time. This sale of basically defensive weaponry is to ensure that Taiwan is able to defend itself and be able to face any eventuality.

Update 01.02.2010: There are reports that Hakimullah Mehsud, the chief of the Taliban, has been killed after being hurt in a drone attack. He had a reputation of being daring and audacious. The suicide attack in Afghanistan in which seven CIA operatives were killed was attributed to Hakimullah Mehsud. There are others that deny reports of his death. Hakimullah had assumed responsibilities of the Taliban after the death of Baitullah Mehsud.

There are other reports of deep Taliban influence within Pakistan army. There are reports that some Pakistan army officers had forwarded information to the Taliban about planned Pakistan army offensives in western Pakistan. This should not be a surprise as the Pakistan army and the Taliban have members that come from the same tribes and the same villages. Radicalism in Pakistan army is increasing and anti-US sentiments are taking firm roots. It will be interesting to see as to how long the Americans can make Islamabad tow their line.

Incidentally, after the reports of Hakimullah’s death an oil tanker meant for the western forces, caught fire when it was hit by a suicide attack in Peshawar. It is not clear as to how many people died in the attack.

Update 02.02.2010: China is now threatening the US that if their President Obama meets Dalai Lama then there shall be further complications in the Sino-US relations. There is no other country in the world that takes such tough stand against the US. This development has come after the US decided to give Taiwan a military package of more than $6 billion. This was reported by Chris Buckley and Ben Blanchard as follows:

China said a possible meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama would further hurt Sino-U.S. relations, and vowed to go ahead with sanctions against U.S. companies selling arms to Taiwan.

China has become increasingly assertive in opposing meetings between the Dalai Lama and foreign leaders, and a meeting between the exiled Tibetan leader and Obama would add to the litany of troubles between the world’s biggest and third biggest economies.

Clearly, the lines are drawn and the relations have seen a nose dive. Experts on China are taking a stand that this development shall not be in the interest of the western world lead by the US.

Update 19.02.2010: Obama has met the Dalai Lama despite strong opposition from the Chinese. Fittingly they met in the Map Room. Perhaps they were working at the task at hand and the room was just the right place!!!

One Comment leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 10:14 am

    Thank you for the great content. I am glad I have taken the time to see this.

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