My op-ed in Mint: Why India must pull its troops back from the border

Let’s call Pakistan’s bluff with Operation Markarap

In today’s Mint, Sushant and I argue that moving our troops back will compel the Pakistan army to act against the Taliban; and because it is incapable of doing so, will cause the United States to realise that there is no alternative to dismantling the military-jihadi complex.

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat—in the form of acceptance of a radical Islamist state with a well-developed nuclear weapons capability. It is in India’s interests that this point comes sooner rather than later. Needless to say, it is in India’s interests that the United States dismantle the military-jihadi complex. Clearly, this is far more important than merely putting some Lashkar-e-Taiba leader behind bars for carrying out the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.

Already, the Pakistani military establishment is under severe pressure from the United States to stop sponsoring jihadi militant groups on the one hand, and to actually join the fight against them on the other. Now, even in the unlikely event that the ISI decides to dismantle its jihadi connections, the army will still find it impossible to purposefully prosecute a counter-insurgency war against the Taliban. Why? Because the dominant belief among Pakistani military personnel—across the ranks—is that it is the United States that is the real enemy and the Taliban are righteous fighters for the Islamic cause. One only has to imagine what a brigade commander would say to his troops to motivate them to fight their compatriots to realise that the Pakistani army is incapable of fighting the Taliban. In a way, those who argue that the Pakistan army lacks the capacity to fight this war are right: but this is a lack of capacity that no amount of night-vision goggles and helicopter gunships can ameliorate. This unpalatable reality is obfuscated behind the India bogey—the pretence that the Pakistani army could do much better against the Taliban if only it didn’t have to defend itself from its much stronger adversary to its east.

If the ‘India threat’ were to recede, Pakistan—and for that matter the United States—will have no more excuses left to avoid having to do what is necessary. New Delhi should, therefore, call Pakistan’s bluff by mounting what we propose to call Operation Markarap.
Continue reading “My op-ed in Mint: Why India must pull its troops back from the border”

Dear Mr Narisetti

An Indian newspaper should keep its distance from the American political fray

Yes, it is not only unusual, but rather surprising that a serious Indian newspaper should endorse a candidate standing in an election in a foreign country. Your newspaper does not have that many readers in the United States and your voice is insignificant in the American political discourse. Your endorsement doesn’t influence the American voter one way or the other. But such practical considerations apart and regardless of its global implications, the US presidential election is essentially a matter for the citizens of the United States of America; a serious Indian newspaper shouldn’t interfere in their internal affairs.

You justify your decision to endorse on the basis that “what happens in this election has a critical bearing on India and the rest of the world— for good or bad—in light of the ongoing financial turmoil that started in America.” Fair enough. But the way to handle this—as you are already doing so well—is to advise the Indian government, businesses and society on what they must to do in anticipation and in reaction.

And by the way, it would be refreshing to see a major Indian newspaper make a well-reasoned endorsement of candidates and parties in India’s own elections. As a regular reader and occasional contributor to your fine publication, I look forward to that.

My op-ed in Mint: Clarity in defence expenditure

Time to stop putting the defence rupee in so many different pigeonholes

In our op-ed in Mint, Sushant and I argue that to convert defence outlays into outcomes, it is necessary to consolidate defence expenditure under one head.

Read on…

The guns and butter trade-off
It’s time for India to review its outdated practice of obfuscating the true defence expenditure

Finance minister P. Chidambaram’s Budget speech on 29 February will be more than two hours long, but an expense item of more than Rs1 trillion will be covered in a couple of minutes. Defence expenditure is the second largest item of non-planned expenditure. It was covered in 34 words last year. Continue reading “My op-ed in Mint: Clarity in defence expenditure”

My op-ed in Mint: Conscription is not the solution

The solution to officer shortages is military modernisation and liberalisation of education

In our op-ed in Mint, Sushant Singh and I argue that the shortage of officers in the armed forces is not an anomaly, and merely raising take-home salaries isn’t going to solve the problem. First, India needs a capital-intensive army and must allocate more resources to military modernisation. Second, the armed forces need to deepen their officer training programmes and build what they can’t readymade. Ultimately, India needs to increase the supply of employable graduates—for that, setting education free from government control is a must.

Read on…

Rough diamonds into leaders
Talented graduates are increasingly scarce and the search for ‘officer-like’ qualities will be increasingly futile. It’s time for other, harder strategies

What does the Indian Army have in common with the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council? Answer: They are all complaining of a shortage of employable graduates. The army is short of more than 11,000 officers. In 2005, a Nasscom-McKinsey report projected that the IT industry would face a potential shortage of 500,000 people by 2010.

The army may be looking for young people with “officer-like qualities”, while the private sector is looking for people of “management calibre”, but they are essentially fishing in the same pond. India produces three million graduates each year. But as Satyam’s B. Ramalinga Raju noted, “most of these are uncut diamonds that have to go through polishing factories, as the trade requires only polished stones”.

It is more than a coincidence that the Armed Forces were unable to fill available seats at the Indian Military Academy since the early 1990s—just after the P.V. Narasimha Rao government’s reforms dismantled the licence raj. Steady economic growth over the last two decades and the emergence of globally competitive IT, financial and manufacturing industries has increased the opportunity costs of joining the Armed Forces. Furthermore, productivity growth in these sectors is increasing wages: A young Indian will have to give up even more to join the Armed Forces, which offer relatively lower take-home salaries.

It is tempting to believe that merely raising military pay will address the issue of officer “shortages”. To do so would be to ignore the fundamental changes to the relative abundance of capital and labour in India’s growing economy. Continue reading “My op-ed in Mint: Conscription is not the solution”