Pragati February 2010: The Mumbai Project

Almost three years ago, the Percy Mistry Committee report recommended that India develop Mumbai into an international financial centre. Like other plans to modernise the city’s infrastructure and public services, the Mistry Committee’s recommendations were substantially unimplemented.

This month, we argue that it is time for the Indian government to revisit the Mumbai project. It is also time for India to embrace an entirely new urbanisation paradigm.

Another highlight of this issue: Shashi Tharoor defends India’s continued engagement with the United Nations. On that topic, don’t miss the infographic on India’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations elsewhere in the issue.

We also cover topics in naval strategy; the importance of defence economics in planning and budgeting; intelligence relations between the CIA & ISI and the conflict in Balochistan. There’s a lot more.

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The Chapter 7 option

A UN mandate might make it easier for India to send troops to Afghanistan

In the July-Sep 2009 issue of Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, Brigadier Gurmeet Kanwal (retd) concludes his scenario analysis of Afghanistan with the following:

A peaceful and stable Afghanistan capable of maintaining its strategic autonomy is a vital national interest for India. It is a country with which India has traditionally enjoyed warm and friendly relations. Since the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001-02, India has contributed only soft power to the international reconstruction effort in Afghanistan. It has spent approximately US$ 1.5 billion for reconstruction, including building the Delaram-Zaranj highway, building and running schools and hospitals and in training the fledgling Afghan administration. As an aspiring though reluctant regional power, India must overcome its fear of overseas military interventions – occasioned by the ill-advised and unsuccessful foray into Sri Lanka in the 1980s – and stand up and be counted as a genuine rising power that is willing to discharge legitimate regional responsibilities.

Should India agree to send its troops to Afghanistan, it will do so only under a United Nations flag. A fresh UN Security Council mandate will be necessary under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Pakistan will be extremely reluctant to accept Indian troops being positioned in the Jalalabad-Ghazni-Kandahar triangle comprising the worst affected areas as it will see such presence as a direct threat. It will be more prudent to send Indian troops to either Mazar-e-Sharif in the north or Herat in the west and relieve US and NATO forces to fight in the east and south-east. India could send a brigade group (5,000 personnel) to begin with and gradually step up the force level to one infantry division (15,000 personnel) when a fully functional logistics system is in place – either from the south through Chabahar Port (Iran)-Zaranj-Delaram-Garland Highway or from the north through Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan. Both the routes will present formidable challenges for logistics, but none that cannot be overcome with methodical planning.

The present situation in the Af-Pak region has reached a strategic stalemate. To break out of the logjam, the international community must consider a fresh approach. The tactical situation calls for the infusion of a much larger number of professionally competent military personnel than NATO-ISAF are capable of mustering. If the challenge of fundamentalist terrorism is to be successfully overcome, the aim should be to close in with and fight the Taliban and the al Qaeda on the ground, rather than seeking to bomb them into submission from the air. Among others, the Indian army and air force can help to turn the tide. It is time the international community stopped playing politics with the future of a volatile region and called on the regional powers to play their rightful role. [IFAJ]

Now, here at INI, we are not big fans of supplying troops for UN peacekeeping operations merely because they are for UN peacekeeping operations. But it must be admitted that, in a positive sense, an Indian military deployment to Afghanistan is more likely if it has UN sanction. Also noteworthy is that Brigadier Kanwal, who has served in the army’s Directorate-General of Military Operations (DGMO), believes that the logistics hurdle of supplying up to 15,000 Indian troops is surmountable.

Copenhagen gains

No deal is a good deal, but the real deal is geopolitical

Back in October 2007, this blog had argued that because “it requires unprecedented international co-operation at a time of geopolitical flux…we can’t expect meaningful international co-operation on tacking climate change”. Instead “the immediate ray of hope is unilateral domestic action: states may be compelled to adopt sustainable environmental policies driven by a largely domestic cost-benefit analysis.”

This in the end, is what happened at the Copenhagen summit (see Saubhik Chakrabarti’s op-ed). That’s just as well, because it is not in India’s interests at this stage to be straitjacketed by an international treaty binding it not merely to carbon emission targets, but also to accept measurement and verification systems that would allow some unaccountable UN body to sit in judgement over India’s policies.

But the real gains were geopolitical—neither the United States nor China could have their way without India’s support. This fact was neither lost on the United States nor on China. The European Union is likely to realise it as soon as it recovers from its shock and sulk. Copenhagen, more than the G-20 summit earlier this year, provides an indication on how geopolitical decisions of the first half of the twenty-first century are likely to be made. If the UN system can accomodate the shift in geopolitical power, then those decisions are more likely to be made under the UN framework. If it cannot, the UN system will have to contend with faits accompli, much like the one in Copenhagen.

It would be dangerous for India to take this shift for granted—but despite the immensity of its national challenges, it must understand the strength of its own position in the international system and play its cards accordingly. Given the pace of the geopolitical shifts, it is imperative for India to strengthen and reform its diplomatic corps. In his interview with Pragati, Shashi Tharoor suggested that the government has approved an expansion of the foreign service and the implementation is in the hands of the civil service. Well, it had better hurry.

Strengthening India’s naval presence off Somalia

Remaining sensitive to the maritime balance of power

How success changes things. It was only a couple of months ago that Defence Minister A K Antony said that “as a policy, the government would not carry out hot pursuit of pirates, as it had wider implications.” Today, on the back of INS Tabar’s stellar performance, the Indian government has let it be known that not only will the naval presence be strengthened, but that it has allowed the navy to conduct hot pursuit into Somalian waters.

No, is not the Indian Navy that has come of age—rather, India’s political leadership has—with much kicking and screaming—shockingly realised how military capability can be used to advance India’s geopolitical interests.

That the INS Mysore, a Delhi-class destroyer will join and eventually replace the Tabar is a good thing. So is the decision to deploy an aircraft for aerial reconnaissance. For while there is much celebration on the Tabar’s sinking of a pirate mother ship, it remains exposed to asymmetrical warfare at sea. The Somali pirates are aggressive and their rocket-propelled grenades could cause some damage to naval assets. Explosive-laden speedboats could be used to ram naval ships if they are off-guard. But the naval ships’ weapons have greater range and superior firepower. Therefore the capability to engage pirate vessels while remaining outside their range is a source of tactical advantage. Aerial reconnaissance is one way to augment this capability. Another way is to coordinate with international navies patrolling those waters.

Coordination is also useful is to optimise patrolling arrangements. While coordination is necessary, placing the flotilla under a UN flag is unlikely to be the answer. The idea of a UN command has surfaced again. That is a dogmatic approach and adds the deadweight of bureaucratic and political control that is both unnecessary and counterproductive. If the UN peacekeeping has failed on land, there is no reason why it will succeed at sea. As we have argued it is timely for India to rethink the entire policy on overseas military deployments to ensure that these are effective, and serve the national interest. Another issue—as highlighted in our policy brief—is for the armed forces to develop “cooperation capital” that will allow them to coordinate with those of other countries on such missions.

Finally, commenting on the issue, the Indian Express asserts that “international naval presence in the region will work to everyone’s advantage”. The developments in Somalia do not support this conclusion, nor does it stand up to scrutiny. Much depends on the identity, capabilities and intention of the international naval presence in the region—India must remain sensitive to the maritime balance of power in the Indian Ocean region, and not get carried away by a rare moment in history where the world’s major powers appear to have a shared interest in one theatre.

My op-ed in Mint: On overseas military deployments

The need for a policy framework for unilateral action

In today’s Mint, Sushant & I call for a policy review on overseas military deployments:

…the emerging security environment and India’s increasingly global interests are likely to make the need for such deployments more frequent. Yet the current policy is dogmatic: Foreign deployments are contingent on being part of a UN mission. This is not only untenable, it also opens the door to an abdication of responsibility to protect India’s interests.

India must be ready to act unilaterally, but only dispatch forces to theatres—such as Somalia, Afghanistan or tsunami-hit littorals on the Indian Ocean—where its interests are at stake. Guidelines need to be developed to achieve twin objectives: strategic alignment with India’s geopolitical goals and operational flexibility for military commanders. [Mint]

Get the rest at Mint.

Making peace in Congo

India must stay and do the job well

The Acorn is a severe critic of India’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations around the world. There is a clear case for India to review its policy on overseas troop deployments—instead of enthusiastically signing up for every UN peacekeeping job that comes its way, India must only deploy its troops where its interests are directly at stake.

Given the rot that had set in the UN’s operations in Congo (MONUC) we had argued for India to immediately withdraw its troops from that theatre. That was earlier this year, before the upsurge in the ethnic war that now threatens to end up in yet another major humanitarian disaster. Now, MONUC’s failure in Congo proves our argument that the UN’s peacekeeping missions are “poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations”. But since Indian troops are in a situation where they can prevent large scale loss of lives, they must be empowered to do whatever is necessary to stop the violence.

Such is the mess in MONUC that the Indian troops believe their rules of engagement do not allow them to enforce the peace. This is absurd. As Pragmatic Euphony points out, the operation has been authorised under Chapter VII of the UN charter. This allows the commanders to authorise the use of force and launch combat operations. The Indian government must provide political backing to its troops in Congo. As has been noted in Rwanda in the 1990s, a demonstration of resolve by the peacekeepers can make the difference between a genocide and a mere bloodbath.

Meanwhile, the Indian government must put the UN Security Council on notice that Indian troops will remain in Congo only as long as it takes to stop this bout of violence.

The trouble with Europe

…is that it only wants to do the easy stuff

In an op-ed in European Voice, Richard Gowan argues that “it may be better for the EU to base a partnership with the world’s largest democracy not on values, but on a joint effort to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan.”

Realists will scarcely raise an eyebrow when someone argues that common ‘values’ are not a basis for relations between states. But Dr Gowan’s criticism of India’s dislike for the international human rights agenda that the EU likes so much does not take into account that the UN’s record on human rights is farcical. Moreover, the EU’s commitment to ‘responsibility to protect’ is largely rhetorical—and it is fair to question whether European countries have the stomach to fight other peoples’ fights. India is the only country that actually intervened in its neighbourhood to prevent potential genocides—twice (East Pakistan 1971, Sri Lanka 1987). In contrast, Europe’s conduct in the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda was, well, shameful.

But what of the joint effort to deal with the crisis in Afghanistan then? As a concept that is a good basis for improving relations between the EU and India, for their interests coincide. Not, however, in the manner Dr Gowan proposes.

Rahul Chandran, an Afghanistan expert at the Center on International Cooperation in New York, suggests an alternative. India should make a security guarantee to Pakistan, promising not to launch any future war in return for more co-operation on Afghanistan.

The US and NATO could underwrite this guarantee, backing confidence-building measures and mediating disputes. European NATO members would play second fiddle to the U.S., but their continued presence in Afghanistan would back up India’s offer. [EV]

Because Mr Chandran ignores the fundamental reason for India to even consider launching ‘a future war’, the whole idea becomes absurd. The tension along the India-Pakistan border is linked to Pakistan’s extant policy of using cross-border terrorism to push its anti-India agenda. The threat of war, therefore, is the way in which India escalates Pakistan’s costs of using terrorism as a policy instrument. So unless the US and NATO can underwrite a Pakistani guarantee that it will stop cross-border terrorism, it is absurd for India to promise anything.

It is characteristic of the European free-riding mindset to want to ‘underwrite’ guarantees made by the Indian government, ‘backing confidence-building measures or mediating disputes’. Dr Gowan doesn’t explain just why India would want the Europeans playing this role. If the EU is really serious about building a closer relationship with India, it has to develop a better appreciation of India’s interests.

Debating UN peacekeeping

Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal

Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.
Continue reading “Debating UN peacekeeping”

My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back

The case for India to scale down its UN peacekeeping contributions

Sushant K Singh and I argue that controversy in Congo is a wake-up call for India to review its policy on UN peacekeeping. A slightly edited version of the following appears in today’s Indian Express.

A recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama found that Indian peacekeepers were among those engaged in smuggling drugs, arms, gold and ivory at the UN mission in Congo. In a recently released report, UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) found three army personnel guilty of minor charges but did not find evidence on the more serious ones. (Indian Express, 11 June).

To be sure, Indian blue helmets were not the only black sheep. But the fact that India finds some of its troops in the dock along with those of the Pakistani army should provide little comfort to defenders of India’s continued involvement in the poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations that characterise UN peacekeeping.

In response, the Indian government has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. Now, the UN itself has little incentive to pursue the allegations aggressively. Given that there is more demand for peacekeepers than its member nations are willing to supply, it is hardly likely to do anything that will embarrass countries—most of them from the developing world—that do contribute troops. So it was perhaps the outcry over the Congo episode that compelled it to announce that “the same (Indian) peacekeepers will not be accepted in future missions”.
Continue reading “My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back”

When will Iran have its Bomb?

Watch out for the Big Bad Row

The IAEA submitted its latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme to its board of governors on 26th May. (via V Anantha Nageswaran). The report points out that Iran has been operating its assembly of 3000 IR-1 centrifuges at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant with greater efficiency and is in the process of adding another similar assembly. It is experimenting with advanced centrifuge designs (modified Pakistani P2 designs, replacing maraging steel rotors with carbon fibre composite ones), although these remain employed in the pilot stage.

The IAEA report finds Iran guilty of both procedural violations (reporting installations post facto, rather than in advance) as well as for not providing satisfactory accounts of alleged weapons development activities (preparing an underground shafts for testing, testing detonators and warhead designs, and modifying the Shahab-3 ballistic missile to carry a nuclear warhead). [See Arms Control Wonk‘s post]

So what does this tell us about the all important question: when will Iran have a bomb ready?

Assuming that Iran does not have other secret nuclear plants well hidden from the public eye, the reasonable assumption is that Iran will use the Natanz facilities to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) that will go into its bomb. According to Jeffrey Lewis’ handy calculator, Iran will need between 156 to 293 days to produce enough HEU for a bomb. If it gets the second assembly of 3000 centrifuges operating, that period will be halved, to about 78-147 days. As Dr Lewis’s calculations show, the time to produce sufficient HEU gets shorter if more centrifuges become operational, or their efficiency improves.

In addition to having sufficient quantities of HEU, Iran must also have a functioning weapons design—again thanks to Pakistan and A Q Khan, that should not be too difficult.

But Iran’s centrifuges are not yet producing HEU. The IAEA is keeping watch over the nuclear material and the centrifuge cascades in the Natanz facility. It is likely to know if and when the Iranian authorities decide to go into the bomb mode. A possible indicator of this happening is when Iran and the IAEA have the Big Bad Row. Depending on how many centrifuges Iran has working then, we can estimate the time it will take to produce and assemble a bomb. That could be anywhere between 78 days (if the second assembly is operational) to 293 days (if only the existing one is operational). If you are looking for a ready reckoner: you can assume that Iran has the bomb three months from the Big Bad Row.

(Some Europeans are going to look silly when that happens. So will the some Americans. But other events—both ugly ones and not-at-all-ugly ones—might well spare them from the embarrassment. )