Monday, 31 October 2011

Broadsword interview: Ashok Nayak, CMD, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd

Nayak says: "It will be very difficult for an outsider to manage HAL"

by Ajai Shukla
HAL Bangalore
Business Standard, 31st Oct 11

After 38 years with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, the aerospace giant’s chairman and managing director, Ashok Nayak, will step down on October 31. There has been controversy on his successor, with the Air Force proposing an air marshal, a sidelined HAL director going to court, and the government finally choosing R K Tyagi, the current chief of Pawan Hans Helicopters.

Q. After you retire, HAL will be led by someone from outside HAL. Would an outsider be well placed to lead it into a technologically challenging future?

It will be very difficult for an outsider to manage HAL. The variety and the challenges are vast and not easily comprehensible even to insiders, at times. It will definitely be a challenge to an outsider, especially given the level of indigenisation (that we aspire to) and our efforts to manufacture aircraft inside the country.

You cannot come from outside, change the basic principle of indigenisation that we follow and then claim HAL has become a more efficient organisation. You have to have the same principles when anyone else comes.

Q. With a number of senior directors retiring in your wake, is HAL facing a leadership crisis?

Retirement is a law of life and we saw these bunched retirements coming. We proposed a restructuring plan to the government to control the sudden efflux of senior officials. We had proposed that the retirement age be raised from 60 years to 62 years for a short period of time, for a particular level of officers. This is under the government’s consideration.

Q. What have been the main achievements and highlights of your tenure as chief?

Our biggest achievement has been to keep up the tempo of our order book. On order with HAL today are 57 Hawk trainers, 73 Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainers, a second batch of 20 more Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and 12 Dorniers for the Coast Guard. An additional order for 42 additional Sukhoi-30MKIs is at an advanced stage (of processing).

The structural legacy that I will leave HAL is a strong ERP system for our manufacturing operations.

Q. HAL’s critics charge it is content as a licensed builder of foreign aircraft. It has built 600-700 MiGs, but does not design Indian planes.

This is a harsh judgement. HAL designed the HT-2 trainer years ago. We designed the Kiran, which the IAF aerobatics team (Surya Kiran) is flying… more than 250 Kirans have been built. We developed the HPT-32 trainer, which has flown more than 400,000 hours. Today it has problems and has been grounded (by the IAF), but that is a different issue.

Then, we developed the HF-24 Marut fighter, and built more than 120 Maruts for the IAF… pilots reminisce about these even today. It was prevented from being a thumping success by foreign countries, which ensured it was not supplied with a suitable engine. And, from the Marut, we went on to develop the Tejas and the Sitara trainer.

Now we will co-develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) with Russia. That is more daunting than all the other projects combined. So, we must be given due credit.

Q. HAL must now cope with a rush of licensed manufacture: Hawk, Su-30 MKI, the MMRCA, LCA, IJT, a whole stream of helicopters… and then the MTA and the FGFA. How will you manage all this?

The Hawk production line is well set… as also the manufacture of the Su-30 MKI. We will build the Sitara IJT in Kanpur, while a dedicated division in Bangalore will build the Tejas LCA. The production line of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter is also well set. We are building 25-30 helicopters per year and eagerly awaiting further orders.

Our basic plan is to raise our manufacturing capabilities by sub-contracting and outsourcing many more components to private vendors. In fact, we are trying to graduate into the outsourcing of entire sub-assemblies. For the Sukhoi-30 MKI line at Nashik, we have sub-contracted larger components, including the empennage and the control surfaces. But, there are limitations — this requires more investment from the sub-contractors and a longer-term commitment from them.

Q. There is a school of thought that HAL is too big and should be broken into smaller, nimbler companies to unlock its potential.

The global trend in defence corporations is towards consolidation, rather than breaking into smaller companies. Look at how many big companies have merged to form Boeing, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems.

Besides, HAL is a highly interwoven and interrelated company. To build a Dornier in Kanpur, the landing gear and the engine have to go from Bangalore. Many other components are being built in Lucknow. A centralised HAL brings all this together. Otherwise, with two or more different managing directors involved… remember, we are dealing with equals. If we break down into ‘nimble’ companies, we might find this synergy gone.

Q. HAL always complains about orders being placed piecemeal...

Our disadvantage is small numbers, because we cannot buy parts in bulk or set up large facilities in anticipation. For example, we have just received an IAF order for 20 Tejas fighters. I know that we will finally build some 200 Tejas, but can I set up, at this stage, a factory that can build 20-30 LCAs per year? I can’t, and so my unit price will be higher than it could be if a bulk order was placed. These are the systemic challenges.

Q. There has been criticism of HAL’s management of its huge cash reserves; this year, these will cross '10,000 crore. Why are they are not productively deployed?

It is true that we are conservative in deploying reserves to set up our facilities. This will all change for the big manufactures coming up: the Dhruv helicopter, the Light Combat Helicopter, the Light Utility Helicopter, and the MMRCA (medium fighter). New facilities are required to be set up and we will use our reserves for that. We intend to make systemic changes, improving our design facilities by bringing in tools like rapid prototyping.

Q. Looking back, how has HAL evolved over the years?

During my 38 years in HAL, we have grown into a far more professional aerospace organisation. Earlier, the thrust was on areas like maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Now, it is on high-tech areas like composites and engine technologies. The Su-30 MKI’s engine, the AL-31FP that we build at Koraput, is in a class of its own in complexity. Finally, we have grown the Indian aerospace sector by developing a network of suppliers.

Q. Has HAL’s working environment changed as the company grew?

HAL has actually grown smaller. In the mid-1980s, it had 40,000 people. Now, we’ve right-sized to 34-35,000 people, with more turnover being achieved by less because of continuous improvements in the processes of design, manufacture and production.

Q. What are your plans hereafter? Will you remain in the aerospace industry?

I’m not supposed to do anything for a year, so I will relax after 38 years of work. When that ‘cooling down’ period finishes, I will see. Some people have approached me, but I have not made any commitment. And, whatever I do will be far removed from HAL.

Friday, 28 October 2011

BAE Systems careful in expanding HAL role in Hawk

The Eurofighter undergoing final assembly at Warton, Lancashire. BAE Systems is dispensing with the capability to build Hawks at Brough, but says it will retain that capability at Warton (pictured here) and Samlesbury. BAE sees this capability as vital for competing in the T-X contract, the supply of trainers to the USAF

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Oct 11

Public sector aeronautical giant Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is in talks with BAE Systems about an expanded role in building Hawk jet trainers for the global market. A month after the UK-headquartered giant effectively shut down a decades-old UK production line for Hawks, HAL says that a share of that could move to the Hawk production line in Bangalore.

Transferring production to Bangalore is logical, says HAL’s chief, with the Indian Air Force emerging as the largest operator of the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) outside the UK. Close to 150 Hawks will wear the IAF roundels: an initial order for 66 Hawks, bought for Rs 6,600 crore in 2004; and another 57 contracted last year for Rs 5,500 crore. A third order for 21 more Hawks is currently being processed. Other than the first 24 Hawks that were imported ready built, HAL Bangalore will be manufacturing the rest.

“Last year, while negotiating the contract for 57 Hawks, BAE Systems wanted to give HAL additional work in building Hawks in the future. If BAE Systems gets a fresh Hawk order, HAL is looking for a large role in that build. What exactly, is still being discussed,” HAL chief, Ashok Nayak, told Business Standard.

The stakes are enormous for BAE and HAL. Up for grabs is the US Air Force’s “T-X program”, potentially the world’s largest-ever overseas aircraft procurement. With the USAF replacing its 40-year-old fleet of Northrop T-38 Talon trainers, BAE Systems is eyeing an order for at least 350 Hawks, with that initial order possibly rising to over 1,000 aircraft. The Hawk’s rivals in this contract are expected to be the T-50 Golden Eagle, built by Korean Aerospace Industries and Lockheed Martin; and the M-346 Master built by Alenia Aermacchi.

BAE Systems confirms to Business Standard that it is in discussions with HAL, but the company is keeping its cards close to its chest. There is sensitivity in transferring manufacturing to India at a time when BAE has just laid off 3000 skilled aerospace workers in the UK. Furthermore, if the Hawk is selected for the T-X programme, the USAF would probably insist that the initial, ready-built aircraft be sourced from the UK.

Says Andrew Gallagher, Managing Director and Chief Executive, BAE Systems India: “BAE Systems retains the capability to build Hawk in the UK to manage any additional export orders which may arise and will also continue to work closely with HAL on both current and future Hawk activities.”

According to the BAE website, “the Company has commenced consultation on ending (Hawk) manufacturing capability at (Brough).” But that capability will now be kept alive at two other BAE facilities --- Warton and Samlesbury --- which build the Eurofighter Typhoon and components for the F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter.

HAL is understanding of BAE Systems’ sensitivities, but also confident that there is a business case for HAL to play an expanded role in building Hawks. Says Nayak: “Naturally BAE Systems is worried about the comfort level of potential customers, who might prefer a made-in-UK Hawk. After all, you would want to buy a Mercedes only from the original dealer… not from a sub-vendor. For now, BAE Systems is looking at getting only a part of the production work done in HAL. But we have a fully up-and-running line… and we’d be happy building the entire Hawk.”

Notwithstanding the HAL chief’s confidence that HAL’s role will expand as a major Hawk production centre, industry sources point out that the USAF will insist that the bulk of the T-X order be built in America. Only the initial aircraft might be imported fully built.

Underlying BAE Systems’ continuing interest in HAL is a strategic logic that extends beyond the Hawk to the Eurofighter Typhoon. Having partnered HAL in setting up the successful Hawk line in Bangalore, BAE Systems (a major partner in the Eurofighter programme) believes that it has a credible argument that the Typhoon production line will also be set up smoothly.

“If Eurofighter is selected as the MMRCA solution for India there will be further opportunities to strengthen our relationship through Typhoon manufacturing and support,” says Gallagher.

Eurofighter-affiliated executives also argue that the Hawk is the natural trainer for fighter pilots who will fly the Typhoon. But this logic cuts two ways; in the T-X procurement, this argument is deployed by BAE Systems’ rival, Lockheed Martin, who argue that their T-50 Golden Eagle is the natural trainer for pilots who will eventually fly their F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightening II, both built by Lockheed Martin.

Update: The search for a crashed IAF Mig-29 and missing pilot

The IAF press release that I have posted below conveys an idea of the difficulties that are being encountered in locating the MiG-29 that crashed in the remote Lahaul valley while on a night training sortie on 19th October. The pilot of the aircraft is still missing.


New Delhi: October 27th , 2011

On 25 Oct 2011, the Task Force Commander Gp Capt P K Sharma VM, coordinating the search for the missing MiG-29 aircraft and pilot, confirmed locating crash site at 15000’ AMSL (above mean sea level) above ‘Chokhang’ village in ‘Lahaul’ area. He informed that several components of the aircrafts have been recovered after digging under the snow and rubble. These are being brought down to base camp for proper identification.

Earlier the crash site was located by aerial search and imageries received from the Remotely Piloted Aircraft and other aircraft which conducted the photo reconnaissance of the area. Though the inputs were correct, however, since the crashed aircraft had disintegrated into small pieces and the debris was spread across the slopes on either side of the ridge it could not be conclusively identified. Subsequently, sarpanch (headman) of ‘Thirot’ village had brought back some components with help of locals, identified to be of MiG-29, from the same area. However, the crash site could still not be confirmed as the area came under fresh snow fall. Also, soot and burn marks along the slopes as seen in our recce imagery as well as by villagers also disappeared under the snow.

The IAF search teams were dropped on the ledge 200m above the suspected crash site at an elevation of 15000’ AMSL. This is about 5000’ above the valley base along village ‘Chokhang’. The ground search party was divided in groups to cover the bowl and the slopes on either side of the ridge where the images had indicated presence of debris. At a gradient of 70-80 degree and in an avalanche prone area, the progress could not have been faster. Eight expert mountaineers including three from Army were dropped on the ledge by helicopter. They spent the night on the ledge with just basic survival gear. Visual reconnaissance of the area by helicopter on subsequent days could not confirm the exact crash site since the area was now covered under fresh snow.

Since 19 Oct the search parties have continued to manually clear the snow and digging the earth on these treacherous slopes using shovels and pickaxes in the area along the lines of impact, in search of the debris. In the mean time, a base camp was set up at 13000’ AMSL on a ledge to provide support to the search party. About 55 personnel in all including expert mountaineers from the IAF, Army and some hired mountaineers are involved in the search of the pilot & debris of the missing aircraft.

The task force commander routinely undertook aerial reconnaissance by helicopter to guide the teams to precise locations. The team was under threat from wildlife since fresh snow had claw marks of animals - suspected to be of bear in the area. Also, the bowl had accumulated ice with crevices that were covered under fresh snow, making the progress even slower.

The search team has, since the time of accident, worked under intense pressure battling attitude, weather and steep slopes. The Task Force Commander GP Capt P K Sharma VM particularly praised the missionary zeal displayed by Wg Cdr S K Kutty and Sqn Ldr N Rawat who headed the search teams. He said “it is unthinkable of anyone to agree to be perched on top of the ledge at 15000 feet and stay overnight without even a base camp set up for their support!’ this captures the essence of the camaraderie that air warriors have displayed in search of their missing colleague.

A total of 149 sorties have been flown toward toward the search and rescue effort till 25 Oct 2011. While considerable time has elapsed since the accident, none the less, search has continued with a missionary zeal. In words of the AOC-in-C WAC, Air Marshal D C Kumaria, “the search would continue till we reach to the bottom of case and arrive at definite conclusions”.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Indian Navy's second Project 28 corvette, INS Kadmatt, launched in Kolkata

The MoD press release on the launch of the second anti-submarine corvette, INS Kadmatt, which is being build under Project 28, is pasted below in full


Kolkata: October 25, 2011

The Indian Navy’s modernization quest under ‘Project-28’, to stealthily hunt and destroy lurking enemy submarines, got further bolstered with the launch of the second indigenous ‘Anti Submarine Warfare’ (ASW) corvette ‘Kadmatt’ - named after an island in the Lakshwadeep archipelago of India - built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), at Kolkata, today.

Conforming to the centuries-old maritime tradition of ship launches by a lady, Smt Mamatha M, launched ‘Kadmatt’ from the GRSE main yard in the presence of her husband, Raksha Rajya Mantri, Dr. M.M. Pallam Raju, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition (CWP&A) of the Indian Navy, Vice Admiral N.N. Kumar, GRSE Chairman and Managing Director (CMD), Rear Admiral K.C. Sekhar and other GRSE workers and office bearers.

GRSE is slated to launch four ASW corvettes for the Indian Navy each costing nearly Rs. 1,700 crores apiece. Kamorta, the first in the series was also earlier launched by Smt Mamatha on April 19, last year. Kamorta after fitments is expected to be delivered to the Indian Navy in June 2012 and Kadmatt in March 2013. The keel of the third ASW corvette meanwhile was laid in August 2010. The remaining two ASW corvettes scheduled to float out next from GRSE yards are Kiltan and Kavaratti.

Dr. Pallam Raju in his address expressed delight that 50 percent of the total work on the frontline warship Kadmatt was completed prior to the launch as against 40 percent for the first ASW ship Kamorta launched in April, last year. “This is a record of sorts in the warship-building scenario,” he said. The on-schedule ‘build programme’ would ensure timely contractual deliveries adding to the might of the country in its projection as a blue water navy of our region, he also said.

Stating that Indian Navy and Coast Guard have huge requirement of ships to be met without any time and cost overruns, Dr. Raju emphasized that timely delivery of ‘quality ships’ was the need of the hour. “Modern shipbuilding technology and tools must be adopted to achieve this objective,” he stated.

Urging GRSE to put into practice effective mechanisms to meet challenges posed by the Indian private sector, Dr. Raju said shipyards (defence) have to concentrate on implementation of time-tested quality practices, effective corporate strategy, establishment of reliable and stabilized vendors and most importantly, training and up-gradation of its human resources to the lowest level.

GRSE, a category-I Mini Ratna DPSU (Defence Public Sector Undertaking) since September 2006, has for the first-time achieved a turnover of over Rs. 1,000 crores, in the last fiscal. With a healthy order book position currently pegged at over Rs.10,000 crores, GRSE has also embarked on a major modernization drive of its infrastructural facilities at a cost of over Rs. 530 crores to bolster its shipbuilding capabilities.

Following visits to various modernization sites earlier on Monday (October 24, 2011), Dr. Raju in his address at the ship launch lauded the efforts and stated, “GRSE modernization when completed next year will almost double the shipbuilding capacity of the yard enabling construction of large and more sophisticated warships using modern modular construction technology in a much shorter time frame.”

The modernization of the main yard includes construction of a 180 x 29 mts dry dock with portable shelter, an additional 180 x 23 mts inclined berth with portable shelter, module hall for assembly of pre-outfitted blocks upto 230 Tons, laying of a 250 Tons Goliath crane and a paint cell. Upon completion, the constructions will double the existing building docks and treble the dry docks besides creating of a new slipway.

The ASW corvettes -- deemed Kamorta Class Ships – with more than 80 percent indigenous content, capable of fighting under NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) environment are designated as super-sophisticated frontline warships with stealth features. The 109 metres long, 12.8 metres wide ship with an approximate displacement capacity of 3,000 Tons can achieve a maximum speed of 25 knots.

The ship powered by four 3888 KW diesel engines at 1,050 rpm has an endurance to cover nearly 3,450 nautical miles at 18 knots and can carry a helicopter on board. Each ship can accommodate 17 officers and 106 sailors.

The anti-submarine warfare capability is largely achieved due to the low signature of radiated underwater noise. The ship having indigenous weapon and sensor suites is equipped with super-rapid gun mounting, anti-aircraft guns, torpedo launcher, rocket and chaff launchers. The ship fittings include early warning, navigation, fire control radars and under-water sensors with integrated communication and electronic warfare systems.

21 more Hawks for IAF's Surya Kiran aerobatics display team

Procurement of Hawk trainers has begun for the Indian Air Force's Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team, one of only three in the world that fly nine-aircraft aerobatics. An additional 21 Hawks will be contracted with BAE Systems, besides the 123 Hawks that India has already bought.

by Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
25th Oct 11

The Indian Air Force’s vaunted aerobatics display team, the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team (SKAT), could soon be enthralling spectators with cutting-edge aircraft. The IAF has initiated the procurement of 21 additional Hawk aircraft, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Bangalore. Hawk advanced jet trainers would allow SKAT to fly faster, turn tighter and manoeuvre more spectacularly, than was possible with the vintage Kiran Mark II trainer aircraft that they have flown since 1996.

With the additional Hawk procurement underway, HAL chief, Ashok Nayak told Business Standard that HAL would build another 21 Hawks as soon as it completes the 123 aircraft, ordered by the IAF and the Indian Navy. “The IAF has initiated the follow-on procurement of 21 additional Hawks from BAE Systems. These are mainly for its aerobatics team, but also to replace the couple of Hawks that have been lost in crashes,” says Ashok Nayak, the HAL Chairman.

The SKAT, highly regarded despite the old aircraft it performs in, is one of the few aerobatics teams that fly nine aircraft in close formation. To stage its heavy and technically demanding routine of nine-aircraft performances, the SKAT is authorised 18-19 aircraft.

The only other military aerobatics teams that fly nine-aircraft formations are the UK Royal Air Force’s Red Arrows, which also fly the Hawk; and the Snowbirds, from the Royal Canadian Air Force. Other aerobatics teams perform with fewer aircraft. The Thunder Birds (US Air Force), with six aircraft; Blue Angels (US Navy), with six aircraft; the August 1st Aerobatics Team (China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force, or PLAAF), with six aircraft; and the Patrouille de France (French Air Force), with eight aircraft. The Russian Knights (Russian Air Force) have flown varying numbers of aircraft, but never nine.

For the pilots of SKAT, the transition to Hawks represents a generational shift. Before SKAT was formed with the Kiran Mark II in 1996, another IAF aerobatics team, “The Thunderbolts”, flew the Hawker Hunter fighter. The Thunderbolts, too, performed nine-aircraft routines.

Besides the advantages of switching to the Hawk, the withdrawal of the Kiran Mark II from SKAT is driven by another pressing reason: the IAF’s shortage of trainer aircraft.

The entire IAF fleet of HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers has been grounded since July 09, after 19 pilots died in 17 Deepak crashes over the years. Today, IAF rookies are herded for their first flying lessons into the relatively complex Kiran Mark I aircraft. For the next stage of intermediate training the IAF requires all the Kiran Mark IIs that it can muster. In the circumstances, maintaining an entire squadron (the SKAT team comprises the IAF’s No 52 squadron) for aerobatics seemed unjustifiable.

But, given SKAT’s glamour quotient, the IAF is keen to get it back in the air. Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne has demanded the team starts performing again in their new Hawks within three years.

Going by HAL’s projections, that seems unachievable. HAL is projected to finish building IAF’s first order of 66 Hawks (contracted in 2004 for Rs 6,600 crore) by mid-2012. Thereafter, 57 more Hawks have to be manufactured for the IAF and the Indian Navy as per a Rs 5,500 crore contract signed last year.

“Next year we will build 13-14 Hawks; and then step up production to 19 Hawks from 2013 onwards. That means 57 Hawks will be delivered by late 2015. Then we can build 21 more Hawks by the end of 2016,” says Nayak.

For the struggling UK aerospace industry, that opens an intriguing prospect: will the IAF insist on building its latest order of 21 Hawks in the UK, arguing a pressing need to get the SKAT performing again? Industry sources say, given the recent budget cuts in the British aerospace industry, this would be a welcome proposal.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Managing Pakistan

In the Pakistan of today, India has no good options. All it can do is to keep a dialogue going while keeping its powder dry

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 11

It should be no surprise that the American discourse on post-2014 AfPak is shifting as it becomes evident that the troop thin-out will leave behind an Afghanistan in turmoil if not outright civil war. In recognition of the bare-knuckle conflict that lies ahead, discussion has moved on from the soft issues of Afghan democracy, women’s empowerment and eradication of corruption to kinetic topics like the transition of security responsibility. Washington’s big security bugaboo is now the possible entry of the Al Qaeda into the power vacuum left behind by departing US troops. And Paul Yingling, of the George C Marshall Centre, has revived another favourite US nightmare, pointing out that the “truly unique threat to the West” is actually in Pakistan where radical ideology flourishes “less than a day’s drive from the world’s least secure nuclear arsenal”.

New Delhi must be alert to these changing US concerns because, even in ignominious withdrawal, Washington will continue to shape the AfPak stage on which Pakistan will act. American thinking follows a predictable pattern: when Pakistan-based jehadi fighters are killing US troops in Afghanistan, the threat is more immediate. In such circumstances, worried US defence officials would naturally squeeze Rawalpindi by publicly castigating the Inter-Services Intelligence for supporting the Haqqani network. But in the months and years ahead, as US troops withdraw, the view from the ground in Afghanistan will yield primacy to a longer-distance view from Washington. America’s strategic concerns will inevitably shift from the locally influential Haqqani network, to long-range threats to US soil like “Al Qaeda havens” and “jehadi nukes”.

But the AfPak region will remain on Washington’s radar even if closer to the periphery. Some 30,000 US troops will remain stationed in Afghanistan even beyond 2014, their charter including drone strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, the “epicentre of global terrorism”. This will create a mutual dependency with Pakistan: America would need ground intelligence and airspace co-ordination from Pakistan; while Rawalpindi would want to direct drone strikes towards anti-establishment jehadis (like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) while safeguarding its cultivated killers (like the Lashkar-e-Taiba). Paradoxically, therefore, even as US logistical dependency on Pakistan reduces, its place would be taken by an enhanced intelligence and operational relationship.

It would be unrealistic, therefore, for New Delhi to hope for a stronger American line on Pakistan in the short and medium term. In the long term, however, continuing US-Pak co-operation would most likely stall on the rocks of growing radicalisation within Pakistan. With most Pakistanis convinced that Washington has railroaded Rawalpindi into its crusade against Islam, America has become a hate figure that in many ways overshadows India.

While the Pakistani establishment rides the anti-American tiger, this is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the US provides a convenient scapegoat for many of the problems that beset Pakistan. It is almost an article of faith in Pakistan (and like all good lies, this has a kernel of truth) that America’s presence in Afghanistan has destabilised the tribal areas. Anti-Americanism provides Islamabad a fig leaf while engaging with its “all-weather friend”, Beijing. But there is also a tricky downside: Pakistan’s leaders can no longer explain why they continue to stretch out a beggar’s bowl to the “crusaders” and militarily co-operating with the infidels in killing “brother Muslims”.

As radicalisation grows in Pakistan, especially among a new generation of soldiers; as Islamists whip up public outrage over the inevitable collateral damage from drone strikes; as an increasingly isolated Pakistan becomes more insular and conservative; and as American domestic opinion makes it difficult for Washington to continue its handouts to a terrorism-tolerant, military-dominated nation of America-haters, the US-Pakistan relationship is foredoomed to bitterness.

New Delhi, therefore, is far-sighted in its realisation that Washington’s ability to influence Pakistan and nudge that country away from the abyss is perceptibly declining. The US continues to tackle symptoms rather than disease, warning against support to the Haqqani network, but seemingly unwilling to take on the underlying ecosystem that nurtures terror as an instrument of national policy. America deploys aid and exchange programmes in fruitless attempts to win Pakistani hearts and minds, but seems unwilling to put pressure for reforming an education system that breeds exclusivity and hate.

In the circumstances, can China be expected to manage the Pakistan problem? Certainly Beijing has a bigger stake than Washington in a less dysfunctional Pakistan. Recent statements from Beijing indicate growing concern over the spread of Islamist militancy to the Muslim Uighur areas of Xinjiang. The Karakoram highway and a planned infrastructure corridor linking Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea only make sense if they pass through secure areas. The soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army already guard Chinese construction teams working in the Northern Areas, in the Pakistan-occupied side of the Khunjerab Pass. As Pakistan’s military grows ever more conservative, Beijing will also come to share America’s apprehension about nuclear weapons falling into terrorist hands.

China today commands far greater influence than the US within the power centres of Pakistan, despite having given Islamabad a mere fraction of the military and humanitarian assistance that Washington has doled out over the years. But even Chinese influence might count for naught since the cannons rolling around the Pakistani deck are in nobody’s control. For India, there are no good choices currently. All that New Delhi can do is to keep a dialogue going while keeping its powder dry.

Monday, 17 October 2011

New warship projects stalled by MoD’s JV freeze

The new modular yard being constructed at Mazagon Dock, Mumbai. Built in partnership with Fincantieri, its completion next year will mark MDL's transition from old-style construction methods

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 11

Planning has stalled for building new indigenous warships for the Indian Navy. This after Defence Minister AK Antony, rattled by protests from private shipbuilders, scuttled a proposed JV on 26th Sept between public sector shipbuilder, Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) and the private Dahej-based Pipavav Shipyard; and announced a freeze on warship building JVs until a formal policy was formulated.

That effectively places all new warship projects on hold. Senior MoD officials point out that, with defence shipyard capacities already filled by ongoing warship projects, JVs were intended to create fresh capacities by coupling the public defence shipyards’ expertise and experience, with the large unutilised capacities of India’s new private-sector warship bulders. But with these JVs now on hold, at least until a new policy is finalised, no Indian shipyard has both the capacity and expertise to build a new line of warships.

“We cannot just hand over a contract to build major capital warships to a private shipbuilder with no track record; there are tens of thousands of crore rupees at stake in such projects, and potentially years of delay. Nor can we give any more contracts to public sector shipyards; their order books are full for years to come. Until we finalise the new JV policy, any new warship project will go by default to a foreign builder,” a top MoD official told Business Standard.

Stuck in the pipeline are at least two major warship projects: Project 15B, which involves building four 6,800 tonne destroyers for Rs 29,325 crore; and Project 75I for building six conventional attack submarines for an estimated Rs 20,000 crore. Also potentially threatened is Project 17A for building seven stealth frigates.

Nor is the government clear about who will formulate the new policy on warship building JVs. While the public sector defence shipyards are owned by the MoD, the Ministry of Shipping and the Ministry of Heavy Industry also have jurisdiction over the private shipyards.

At the heart of this logjam is the government’s decision last year to speed up warship construction through public-private partnership. When the MoD was processing the financial sanction last year for MDL to build four destroyers under Project 15B, the Finance Ministry (MoF) objected. Commenting on the draft note being prepared for the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the MoF noted MDL’s time and cost overruns on all its recent projects and pointed out that the same was likely to happen in Project 15B.

A Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit report in March pointed to MDL’s delays of 4-5 years in constructing the first ship of various projects. The CAG report also highlighted a cost overrun of 226% on Project 15A, the predecessor to Project 15B, for which sanction was being processed.

The MoF, therefore, suggested that an overloaded MDL adopts the Public Private Partnership (PPP) model for building Project 15B. The risk of delay, the MoF opined, could be minimised by co-opting a suitable private sector shipyard with idle warship building capacity. MDL, it was suggested, should select a private shipyard and form a JV that could build Project 15B.

This was an unpalatable suggestion for the MoD’s Department of Defence Production (DDP), which oversees the MoD’s four public sector shipyards --- besides MDL, there is Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the recently acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL). The PPP model meant sharing profits with a private sector shipyard. But rather than turn down the MoF’s recommendations and risk having it oppose the sanction of Project 15B in the CCS, it was decided to cater for the MoF’s concerns. In late 2010, the MoD’s acquisitions head instructed MDL to select a suitable private sector shipyard as a JV partner.

Accordingly, MDL approached a range of private shipyards for Expressions of Interest (EoI) “for synergising efforts of MDL in shipbuilding”. It asked shipyards for “a business plan and a joint collaborative strategy to meet challenging timelines in order to liquidate the order book of MDL.” This was published in major national dailies in March. In a follow-up letter (PRO/3001/2011-12/26 dated 11th May 11), MDL asked for EoIs to be submitted by 31st May 11. Candidates were invited to visit MDL “to gain first hand appraisal of the infrastructure, processes and procedures of the Yard.”

Eventually, after an MDL team visited private sector candidate shipyards to evaluate their strengths and capabilities, a short list was drawn up of four shipyards: Larsen & Toubro; ABG Shipyard; Pipavav Shipyard; and Bharati Shipyard. Final presentations were made to MDL’s board on 23rd August, with shipyards presenting their joint collaborative strategy. Two days later, MDL asked for more details but, on 9th Sept 2011, before those could be presented, MDL selected Pipavav Shipyard as its JV partner.

The resulting flurry of protests from the other three private shipyards triggered the defence minister’s personal decision to set aside this selection until a policy on JVs was formulated.

MoD and MDL sources strongly defend Pipavav’s selection, arguing that its location and facilities make it a shoo-in as MDL’s partner. Says a top official who was intimately involved in the decision-making, “Pipavav Shipyard met MDL’s strategic requirements: it is located on the west coast, close to MDL; it possesses a dry dock for constructing large warships, which matches MDL’s method of building in a dry dock. In any re-evaluation, Pipavav will emerge the natural choice.”

Business Standard has learned that Pipavav’s bid was also the most aggressive. Contemplating a JV with a paid up capital of Rs 50 crore, Pipavav volunteered to contribute Rs 49 crore, with MDL contributing Rs 1 crore. On the board, however, there would be equal representation and MDL would have the effective right to nominate the chairman.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Myanmar largest Indian aid recipient after Afghanistan

Myanmar's president Thein Sein, on a groundbreaking visit to India, inspects an honour guard at Rashtrapati Bhavan (India's presidential palace) on Friday

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Oct 11

China’s smaller neighbours have long been wary of the imposing proximity of the Middle Kingdom. In 1946, when Vietnamese resistance leaders considered Chinese help in throwing off the French colonial yoke, Ho Chi Minh believed China was the greater threat. Dismissing the suggestion, the canny Vietnamese leader famously declared, “The last time the Chinese came (to Vietnam), they stayed a thousand years… I prefer to sniff French dung for another five years than to eat Chinese dung for the rest of my life.”

Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, currently on a groundbreaking visit to India, is hardly immune to such fears. With his authoritarian regime driven by a global deep-freeze into Beijing’s sweaty embrace, the growing Chinese presence in Myanmar, looms uncomfortably large especially in the northern region that borders China’s Yunnan province. Myanmar’s decision-makers in their purpose-built capital, Naypyidaw, have begun balancing that unequal relationship. After a year of bold internal liberal reforms, Thein Sein is reaching out to the international mainstream beyond ASEAN. His springboard is New Delhi, which maintained relations with Myanmar in the face of international pressure, including criticism from Barack Obama in a speech to India’s parliament last November.

India’s forbearance has been vindicated. Over the last year, Myanmar’s civilian (but military-controlled) government has liberalised the media, eased controls over the internet, and begun releasing political prisoners. On Tuesday, a government-appointed human rights body --- a novel concept in Myanmar --- publicly called for the release of “prisoners of conscience”. In a move towards reconciliation, dialogue has begun with the face of democracy in Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi.

All this increases India’s comfort in hosting President Thein Sein; the joint statement issued after his meeting with India’s prime minister today welcomed Myanmar’s “progress in moving towards an open and democratic framework.” Also gratifying to India would be Myanmar’s decision last month (in response to domestic opposition) to suspend work on a $3.6 billion hydroelectric dam that was to supply power to China. Beijing insists that the differences will be settled, but this is a jolt to China’s ambitious infrastructure ambitions in Myanmar, including a corridor of roads, railways and pipelines linking Yunnan, in China, to Kyauk Phyu port in the Bay of Bengal.

India, meanwhile, is stepping up its role in building Myanmar’s infrastructure. During talks in New Delhi today, India granted Myanmar more than $800 million worth of lines of credit for infrastructure projects, including “railways, transport, power transmission lines, oil refinery, OFC link, etc.” A major Indian thrust is emerging in the development of Myanmar’s agriculture sector, including irrigation projects. Myanmar is emerging as the biggest recipient of Indian development aid after Afghanistan, where India has committed $2 billion.

This is a positive new direction to New Delhi’s engagement with Naypyidaw, which has often been hamstrung by issues relating to insurgencies in India’s northeast. Four Indian states --- Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram --- share a 1,643-kilometre land border with Myanmar’s Kachin and Chin states and Sagaing division. After their independence, India and Burma (“Myanmar” came into usage only in 1989) agreed to continue the British tradition of allowing border tribes to move and trade freely within a 40-kilometre belt on either side of the border. But the Naga insurgency ended that; with Naga militants transiting through Burma to and from training camps in China’s Yunnan province, New Delhi unilaterally imposed a permit system in 1968.

In 1994, as relations warmed after a quarter century of chill, New Delhi and Yangon signed the Indo-Myanmar Border Trade Agreement. This allowed for a Land Customs Station (LCS) at Moreh, in Manipur, which permits three forms of trade. Residents of the 40-kilometre border belt can barter locally produced goods worth up to US $1,000, with a simplified documentation system. Secondly, barter trade is permitted in 22 items up to a value of $20,000, provided the traders have an Importer Exporter Certificate (IEC) from the DGFT. Thirdly, any Indian trader can export goods to Myanmar through LCS, Moreh as regular export in accordance with the Foreign Trade Policy.

Today both countries agreed to expand that commerce. Another LCS will be established between the two countries. A “Trade and Investment Forum”, incorporating businessmen from both countries, will “expand the basket of goods under border trade, [and arrange the] visit of an Indian banking delegation to Myanmar to facilitate better trade and payment arrangements, etc.”

As Myanmar opens up to India, New Delhi’s immediate challenge is to win over politically alienated factions in its own northeastern states, which threaten to play spoiler in physically connecting India with Myanmar. Access to the Moreh LCS in Manipur is controlled by a multitude of Kuki and Naga tribal factions, with National Highway 39 --- running through Nagaland and Manipur --- blockaded for months at a stretch. In the circumstances, ambitious Indo-Myanmar projects like the Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Project, which seeks to connect Myanmar’s Sittwe Port with India’s northeastern states like Mizoram, will remain hostage to internal conflicts within India.

President Thein Sein, who began his three-day state visit to India on Wednesday with homage at Buddhist shrines in Sarnath, Kushinagar and Gaya, is accompanied by practically his entire cabinet and the Chief of General Staff in the Ministry of Defence. He returns to Myanmar tomorrow after a morning visit to the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Agni-5 missile to fly half-way to Antarctica

The Agni-2 roaring off the launch pad at Wheeler Island last week. This same test range will witness a full-range test of the Agni-5 in December, which will see the missile flying 5000 kilometres to a designated target halfway to Antarctica.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Oct 11

After three successful ballistic missile tests during the last fortnight, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is finalising preparations for the big one. In December the giant Agni-5 missile will undergo its first-ever test, blasting off from Wheeler Island, on the Odisha coast, and travelling its full range of over 5,000 kilometres to a target in the southern Indian Ocean.

The Agni-5 is debuting with a full-range test for two reasons. Firstly, so that there is no question about how far the missile can strike. Secondly, to test not just the missile, but also whether the DRDO’s monitoring networks can cope with such enormous ranges, tracking the Agni-5 every moment en route to a target 5000 kilometres away. This will involve transporting a DRDO team and its tracking equipment on Indian Navy warships deep into the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

“The Agni-5 missile will travel halfway to Antarctica. The missile’s designers are certain [about the missile’s range] but we will demonstrate it for the users,” says Dr Avinash Chander, Chief Controller for Missiles and Strategic Systems in the DRDO.

As director of the Hyderabad-based Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Chander oversaw much of the development of the Agni-5. Talking exclusively to Business Standard, he describes how the three-stage, 50-tonne, 17.5-metre high missile will be powered off the Wheeler Island launch pad by its giant first stage; within minutes it will be in space, powered by a brand new, all-composite second stage. After heading southwards for 2,000 kilometres it will cross the equator. Then it will hurtle through space for another 3000-kilometers or so, re-entering the atmosphere over the Tropic of Capricorn and splashing down at the target somewhere between the southern tip of Africa and Australia.

Following international practice, the DRDO will issue advisories before the test, giving out the launch window and warning shipping and air traffic to stay clear of the target area.

Explains Chander: “No Indian missile has ever travelled so far except for ISRO rockets. But those remain in space and there is no requirement to monitor their re-entry. Besides, space is a collaborative environment, with establishments worldwide cooperating in tracking a rocket. For the Agni-5 we have to develop a network of tracking systems, which will do the job out to 5000 km and beyond. And our ships will have to be at the target area to collect the data.”

While the Indian Navy had declined to officially comment, senior sources confirm that one of the navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) will position itself at the target end, with a DRDO team on board, equipped with tracking and communications equipment.

The DRDO predicts a highly accurate missile, which will strike within a few hundred metres of the designated target even after travelling 5000 kilometres. This would allow the operational version of the Agni-5 to carry a smaller nuclear warhead. “Megaton warheads were used when accuracies were low. Now we talk of [accuracy of] a few hundred metres. That allows a smaller warhead, perhaps 150-250 kilotons, to cause substantial damage. We don’t want to cause wanton damage [with megaton warheads]”, says Chander.

The Agni-5’s 5,000-kilometre range, say nuclear strategists, is carefully calibrated. It can reach targets across the globe, except for America and Australia. This prevents alarm bells from going off in friendly capitals, while establishing and strengthening nuclear deterrence against all possible enemies.

“Agni-5 will take us to a level of 5,000-km plus class of missile systems which meets all our threat requirements,” said VK Saraswat, the DRDO chief at a public function recently.

The Agni-5’s range just keeps it in the class of intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs), which are missiles with ranges of 3,000-5,500 kilometres. DRDO sources indicate, however, that the Agni-5 could easily be ramped up into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), having a range greater than 5500 kilometres.

The Agni-5 is similar in size and weight to its predecessor, the Agni-3, with a range of 3,500 kilometers. But the extensive use of composite materials allows the Agni-5 to propel a warhead 1500 kilometers further. While the first stage remains unchanged from the Agni-3, the second stage is significantly lighter, being made of composites. This has allowed a third stage, also composite, to be fitted, extending the range of the missile.

Engineering the third stage was a major technology challenge. “The third stage, which slopes into the warhead stage, has a conical motor. So far, we have only been doing cylindrical motors; never a shaped motor,” explains Chander.

Another distinctive feature of the Agni-5 is its “canisterisation”. Hermetically sealed into an airtight canister that is mounted on a flatbed truck, the missile can be easily transported and fired quickly by hydraulically raising the canister into the vertical firing position. Made from high-strength maraging steel, the canister must absorb enormous stresses during firing, when a thrust of 300-400 tonnes is generated to eject the 50-ton missile The canister also provides a hermitically sealed atmosphere in which the missile is stored safely for years.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Cooperation as well as friction at the Russia-India defence meeting

Apex Russia-India defence meetings are increasingly characterized by frank speaking. The press release pasted below tells the story in typically understated style.



New Delhi: Asvina 13, 1933
Tuesday, Oct 05, 2011

In a spirit of a cooperation and understanding, India and Russia held their annual meeting to review the defence ties in Moscow on Tuesday (04 Oct 2011) and expressed ‘readiness to take all necessary measures to further expand the cooperation on a mutually beneficial basis’.

In a Protocol signed after the Eleventh meeting of the India-Russia Inter-governmental Commission on Military Technical, co-chaired by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony and his Russian counterpart Mr AE Serdyukov, the two sides noted with satisfaction that that during the period under review various diligent steps have been taken ‘to deepen interaction in the development of defence technologies, modernization of military equipment and joint manufacture of military-purpose products’.

‘Such cooperation involves the strengthening of interactions between the Armed Forces, defense industry enterprises and research agencies of the two countries’, the Protocol noted.

Visibly happy at the outcome, Shri Antony told a group of Indian journalists shortly after the talks: “Distinct improvements have taken place in the pace of progress of many critical projects in the last one year. We value our friendship a great deal. Together we would like to consolidate our relationship and take it forward”.

At the talks, the Indian delegation included the Defence Secretary Shri Shashikant Sharma, Secretary Defence Production Shri Shekhar Aggarwal, Indian Ambassador Shri Ajai Malhotra, Lt Gen MS Buttar, Air Marshal RK Sharma, Vice Admiral NN Kumar, Chief Controller of Research & Development of DRDO Dr. Avinash Chander, CMD Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Shri Ashok Nayak and DG Acquisition Shri Vivek Rae.

Speaking at the meeting, Shri Antony said India-Russia defence relationship has grown both in content and scope over the years. He said India highly values the time tested, strong and multi- faceted relationship with Russia.

‘There is a strong impulse, both at the level of the Government and among the people of India to further strengthen our special strategic partnership which is based on mutual trust and complimentarity of interests. The world in general and our region in particular, are witnessing significant developments which have an impact on regional and global security. In the evolving scenario, the special strategic partnership between our two countries assumes even greater significance. Both our countries must continue to strengthen our joint efforts to address these challenges’.

Listing some of the projects where both sides have put in years of effort to bring success, hri Antony said, ‘The project for joint development and production of the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, BrahMos missile system, licensed production in India of T-90 tanks and SU-30 MKI aircraft are proud examples of our strong relationship. We are sure that the success of these projects would be models for the implementation of several other projects of mutual interest’, he said.

Referring to planned delivery of Aircraft Carrier INS Vikramaditya, Shri Antony said, ‘We are keenly awaiting the induction of the Aircraft Carrier into the Indian Navy. This project has attracted considerable public attention in India. We hope that the induction will take place, on schedule, by end 2012. We also hope that all activities on the MiG-29K are completed to achieve synchronization with the aircraft carrier’.

Nevertheless, Shri Antony drew the attention of the Russian side to the vexing issue of delayed export clearances for vital repair equipment for already contracted weapons systems. This has been affecting supplies of defence equipment and spares.

The Russian side assured the Indian side that the matter was receiving attention at highest levels in the Russian Government and efforts would made to institutionalize measures to avoid such delays in future.

Shri Antony expressed India’s concern at the tardy progress made in the design and development of the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MTA). The two sides agreed to accelerate the progress of this Project and they would be meeting later this month.

With regard to the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), being jointly designed and developed by India and Russia, both sides noted that the first stage of the preliminary design contract has been successfully completed and the second stage of the PD Contract is to be finalised before September, 2012. The training programme for the Indian engineers covering nearly 20 courses was completed in July, 2011. Both sides agreed to continue discussions for finalization of the R&D contract as per the agreed time lines of the general contract signed in December, 2008.

In his address, the Russian Defence Minister Mr Serdyukov described India-Russia defence tie as a ‘stable and promising relationship’. During the discussion, the Russian side spoke about their views on offsets. The Indian side informed that the Indian offset guidelines are presently under revision.

Regional security situation was also discussed by the two sides.

Mr Serdyukov hosted a banquet in honour of the visiting Indian delegation.

Shri Antony returns home tonight

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Antony arrives in Moscow for apex defence meet

One of the more interesting MoD press releases, describing Defence Minister AK Antony's visit to pay homage at Victory Park, the Russian memorial to soldiers killed in The Great Patriotic War of 1941-45. Enjoy!

Ministry of Defence press release: 4th Oct 11

Review of the entire spectrum of defence cooperation and exchange of views on regional and global security situation will take place at the Eleventh Meeting of the India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation(IRIGC-MTC) to be held in Moscow this evening. The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony who flew into the Russian capital last evening along with a high level delegation will co-chair the meeting with his Russian counterpart Mr AE Serdyukov.

The Indian delegation includes the Defence Secretary Shri Shashikant Sharma, Secretary Defence Production Shri Shekhar Aggarwal, Lt Gen MS Buttar, Air Marshal RK Sharma, Vice Admiral NN Kumar, Chief Controller of Research & Development of DRDO Dr. Avinash Chander, CMD Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Shri Ashok Nayak and DG Acquisition Shri Vivek Rae.

This morning, Shri Antony drove down to the Victory Park where he was accorded a ceremonial guard of honour amidst light drizzle. Shri Antony also laid a wreath at the World War-II Memorial.

Located on and around the Poklonnaya Gora - the hill where Napoleon waited in vain to be given the keys to the city when his troops were surrounding Moscow in 1812 - the park is set in an area steeped in Russian military history.

Victory Park was initially laid out over an area of 98 hectares in 1961, although work on the creation of an architectural memorial was only mooted in the Politburo in 1983. The original plan to level the hill and replace it with a 250-meter high column - was abandoned in the turbulent eighties. The Plan was revived during the tenure of President Yeltsin, when it was considered imperative to get the long-delayed project finished in time for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945). Work on Victory Park was completed in 1995, and is something of ‘a last gasp for the Soviet tradition of monumental triumphal art’.

The central avenue is called "Years of War": It has five terraces, symbolizing the five years of conflict, and there are 1,418 fountains - one for every day. It runs past a memorial chapel, mosque, and synagogue to the circular Victors' Place, which has a triangular obelisk soaring 150 meters and surmounted by a statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory. Behind this lies the crescent-shaped Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which gives a detailed but staid overview of Russia's appalling loses and eventual victory.

On 9 May, Victory Day in Russia, the park becomes the center of Moscow's celebrations, and as many of the remaining veterans and survivors as can make there way here, along with scores of the younger generations. In Russia the emphasis is on celebration rather than remembrance, and this is one of the most popular public holidays.

Down to the last friend

With Pakistan-US ties in trouble, Islamabad is banking heavily on Beijing. But how substantive is the "all weather friendship"?

The "jointly developed" JF-17 Thunder fighter undergoing flight control testing.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Oct 11

The long relationship of convenience between Washington and Islamabad is deeply troubled again but far from ended. On the eve of his retirement, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (backed by his boss, Defence Secretary Leon Panetta), baldly accused Pakistan of supporting jehadi networks. But both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have toned down the Pentagon’s accusations; and Mr Mullen himself, in a subsequent press interview indicated that his outrage was not about ISI’s links with terrorists. He was angry mainly because those terrorists were now killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.

Mr Mullen, in case anyone does not yet know, had accused Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of using the Haqqani network – the virulent, North Waziristan-based jehadi faction that holds sway in the Afghan provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost – as a proxy to further its interests in Afghanistan. In his words, “The Haqqani network acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency.”

Five days later, after Pakistani anger and US backtracking, Mr Mullen was asked by National Public Radio why he had timed his bombshell for now. Mr Mullen answered, “…I am losing American soldiers. The Haqqanis are killing American soldiers. And from that perspective, I think it’s got to be addressed, which is the reason I spoke to it.”

In case anyone had missed the message, Mr Mullen went on to say, “…it is the intensity, the severity, and, quite frankly, for me as a senior military officer in America, the fact that it is so intently focused right now on killing Americans that I felt it necessary to speak up.”

Mr Mullen’s anger at Pakistan’s systematic sponsorship of terrorism only boils over when US soldiers are killed.

The US chief, who has gallantly endured severe passive smoker risk during some 30 meetings with his Pakistani counterpart, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, admitted that he had been expressing concern since 2008 about Rawalpindi’s cohabitation with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But, since action against LeT has been confined to declaring it a terrorist network (with no mention of its official sponsors), the unintended message is: stick to killing Indians; hands off Americans.

For these reasons and others, New Delhi is not holding its breath in the expectation of tough action against Pakistan. Indian policy makers recognised that the Washington-Islamabad equation, given its transactional nature, will settle back into equilibrium, albeit with a greater level of mutual loathing. But the trend line suggests that the relation will eventually become unsustainable, eroded steadily by a combination of developments: the expanding reach of Pakistan-based jehad; growing radicalisation in mainstream Pakistan; the related upsurge of anti-Americanism; growing US capability for cross-border intervention in Pakistan; and Pakistan’s declining importance as a logistical lifeline as US forces draw down in Afghanistan and the Northern Delivery Network grows in capacity.

That Pakistan recognises this is evident from its almost frantic embrace of China. And the vital question for Indian policy makers is: how substantive is Beijing’s ardour for Islamabad? New Delhi too easily swallows Pakistan’s portrayal of the “all-weather friendship” rather than Beijing’s noticeably more measured enthusiasm. Even given China’s post-1949 strategic tradition of balancing India in South Asia, the unquestioning belief that Beijing is unchangingly, implacably hostile to India is a self-fulfilling prophecy that condemns New Delhi to the strategic back foot in South Asia, boxed in by a numerically and economically superior axis. While this is precisely the impression that Islamabad wants, Beijing’s recent actions and statements are hardly those of a country eager to be Islamabad’s new superpower patron.

Soon after Osama bin Laden’s killing in May, Pakistan announced that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had invited Beijing to build a naval base at Gwadar. In many Indian eyes, Gwadar represents the apogee of Han deviousness, the most valuable of the “string of pearls” with which China will garrotte India. But Beijing quickly slapped down Pakistan, officially declaring that it had never heard of such a proposal. Having contributed $200 million, some 80 per cent of the overall cost of developing Gwadar as a container terminal, China seems content without a custom-built naval base on the Makran coast. Besides, Gwadar is hardly the strategic godsend that Islamabad projects. Tucked into the remote Baluchistan-Iran border, land access to Gwadar runs through areas ravaged by Baluchi militancy.

Next, credible reports suggest that General Kayani, spooked by the bin Laden raid and worried by the possibility of more such violations of Pakistani sovereignty, has asked Beijing for a formal defence pact. But with China clearly unwilling to be drawn into conflict over Pakistan, there has been public silence about this.

In July, when the US held back $800 million in military aid, Pakistan insinuated that China would make good that shortfall. But Beijing quickly clarified that China would provide assistance only for economic and social development.

There is growing scepticism within Chinese companies about the safety of operating in Pakistan. Last week, China Kingho Group, a major Chinese coal mining company, walked away from a $19-billion deal to mine coal in southern Sindh, citing security concerns. That blow was softened somewhat when Global Mining, another Chinese company, committed $3 billion for a mining-cum-power generation project in the same area. But, as the security climate worsens, China’s ventures in Pakistan are steadily drying up.

Despite this, China remains Pakistan’s last hope — hence Mr Gilani’s syrupy oratory when China’s Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu came calling last week while Mullen was belabouring Pakistan. With Sino-Pak friendship traditionally described as “higher than mountains, and deeper than oceans”, Mr Gilani mawkishly tagged on, “stronger than steel and sweeter than honey”. But Pakistani rhetoric will hardly prevent a rising China, eager for global respect, from re-evaluating a relationship that was based on nuclear and missile proliferation, arms supply and crude balance of power calculations in South Asia.