Friday, April 16, 2021

India’s Strategic Conundrums Multiply In A New US-China Cold War

A US-China Cold War could help deepen the US-India strategic partnership as both wish to counter China’s imperialism in Asia

The main strategic theatre of the US-China new Cold War is Asia. Economics and strategy are linked for both China and the US – and India. Authoritarian China’s astonishing economic and technological advance accounts for the worldwide spread of its Belt and Road Initiative, its growing military power and aggressive challenge to America’s primacy in Asia and to the state borders of India and other neighbours.

Ideological competition also characterises the new Cold War. President Xi has boasted about the merits of single-party communist rule in China, but President Biden is determined that the democratic US will stand its ground and confront autocratic China’s attempts to gain regional and world ascendancy. Biden’s determination may be good news for India, which needs strong friends against China. He wants the US and its partners in the Quad – Australia, India and Japan – to hold an expansionist China “accountable” in Asia.

A US-China Cold War could help deepen the US-India strategic partnership as both wish to counter China’s imperialism in Asia. The recent disengagement accord on Ladakh is not synonymous with the disappearance of China’s threat to India. So news about logistical security agreements and the recent joint India-US military drills in the Indian Ocean is good news.

Some factors make the US-China Cold War different from the US-Soviet one, creating strategic conundrums for India. First, neither the former USSR nor the US shared a border with non-aligned India or laid claim to its territory. India could therefore receive large Soviet and American investments, especially in its public sector, with confidence. In contrast, one of the antagonists in the new Cold War, China, contests India’s north-eastern border and is a territorial spoiler in South and Southeast Asia. That also makes it a threat to America’s pre-eminence in Asia and encourages closer strategic collaboration between India and the US.

Additionally, unlike the economically weak Soviet Union, China’s progress has made it a global economic hub and one of the largest trading and investment partners of many countries, including India, even as it threatens India’s state frontiers. Since last June’s border clashes, New Delhi has imposed restrictions on Chinese investment in India.

However, the year 2020 saw India trading more with China than with the US, despite the skirmishes in Ladakh and economic hardships created by the corona pandemic. India’s trade with China stood at $77 billion; with the US at $75.9 billion. Meanwhile, sticking points remain in India’s economic tie with a friendly America. For example, to Washington’s chagrin, the annual raising of import tariffs by the Modi government and its digital services tax has led the US to consider retaliatory tariffs of up to 25% on Indian goods ranging from shrimps to gold.

The imbalance of power between India and China is in the latter’s favour. Over the last two decades the Indo-US strategic tie has become stronger but question marks hover over Washington’s expectations of India partly because of its non-alignment, partly because of its close military ties with Russia. Since the 1970s authoritarian Russia, which is America’s ‘other’ antagonist, has been India’s top arms retailer. But does Washington really expect New Delhi to relinquish its Russian defence card, which strengthens India against China, unless it offers something comparable in return? In any case, India’s need for more economic and technological support highlights its wish for strategic autonomy and diversification of supplies.

Biden will be more receptive than President Trump to the views of America’s allies and partners. But defence secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India in mid-March revealed that American sanctions against India for buying Russia’s S-400 missile were not discussed because India has yet to acquire the system. His statement implied that the possible imposition of sanctions on India remains on Washington’s agenda.

At another level, Biden insists that democracy and concern for human rights must shape the world. Unlike New Delhi, he admits that the US doesn’t always live up to its own expectations. But he has stressed that its society is upheld by democratic norms and practices which his government intends to strengthen domestically and internationally.

The issues of democracy and human rights came up in New Delhi during Austin’s talks with Cabinet ministers – though not with PM Modi. New Delhi has remained silent on the talks. The public has only Austin’s statement at a press conference on these parleys. He explained that partners could make progress on “such issues” through meaningful discussions. That is important to the Biden administration which sees the US-China conflict as one about the utility of democracies or autocracies in the 21st century. Democratic states must prove that democracy works. India has yet to react to these ideas publicly.

India should deal adroitly with a situation in which it relies militarily, in different ways, on the US and Russia. Meanwhile, a belligerent China is India’s largest trading partner. America is the largest single market for Indian exports, but it criticises what it sees as India’s protectionist economic policy. As India’s main strategic helper the US encourages New Delhi to play a larger role in Asia. Neither wants a bellicose, expansionist China to gain the advantage in the new Cold War.

Sooner rather than later, India and the US must smooth the path they want to follow together with a view to countering China’s expansionism in Asia and its threat to India’s territorial integrity.

Pakistan’s Geopolitical Dilemmas Continue To Pile Up

A Pakistani HATF-1 ballistic missile clandestinely supplied by China

Pakistan today faces the geopolitical challenge of balancing between the US and China and choosing between Turkey and the Arab world, besides suffering from internal fault lines like the Pashtun, Baloch, and Sindhi movements amidst a highly radicalised society.

To discuss on the future of Pakistan and its impact on geopolitical dynamics, Usanas Foundation and Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) jointly organised an in-house webinar on “Pakistan’s Future: Geopolitical Dilemmas, Economic Woes and Troubling Fault Lines” by bringing together prominent experts on Pakistan from India as well as the world.

The speakers in the event were Deputy Director of Asia Program at Woodrow Wilson Centre, Michael Kugelman; Former Bureau Chief of Reuters and Pakistan expert, Myra MacDonald; geopolitical expert Sushant Sareen; Member of the National Security Advisory Board and VIF consultant, Tilak Devasher; and the Director of Vivekananda International Foundation, Arvind Gupta.

Pakistan is a troubled state, and its geo-strategic location makes it troublesome for the region and the globe. During the recent Islamabad Security Dialogue, General Bajwa’s speech suggested that there is a possibility for new thinking evident in Pakistan’s policymakers. The new thinking aims at making Pakistan a geo-economics’ hub and project its image as a responsible state focussed on development. However the participants were sceptical whether such new line of thinking can be sustained or not as Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir proxy war and its support for the rogue Taliban regime will prevent all possibilities of cutting of ties with the terrorist organisations. Geo-Economic will shift the state narrative from security to development which will not be in the best interests of the Pakistan's army which continues to have a disproportionate control over the state resources.

On the diplomatic front, Pakistan will face new dilemmas and conundrums. Islamabad’s growing proximity with China, Russia and Turkey will alienate the US and the Arab Muslim world.

The experts also suggested that Pakistan’s future will be a lot like its present, at both – domestic and the international sphere. Domestically, let’s take the example of the economy which is severely struggling under the weight of inflation and austerity necessitated by the next IMF package. These problems are created by long-standing problems such as a low tax base, heavy reliance on non-competitive textile exports, and inability to capitalise on a large young population due to lack of education and vocational training. There will also be more challenges in the future, such as a lack of natural resources like water. Pakistan is already water insecure and climate change will only exasperate the situation and the country is also running out of indigenous energy supplies, even with the leeway brought by Chinese investments.

Further, Pakistan is a country that provides an environment that gives rise to extremism, from school textbooks to speeches of religious figures, extremism is everywhere evident. Troubling fault lines in Pashtun Tahafuz movement, Baluchistan freedom movement will continue to threaten Pakistan’s territorial integrity.

Pakistan’s another problem arises from the continuing centrality of Kashmir in its foreign policy. Eminent South Asia experts of the event argued that Pakistan will continue to peruse the Kashmir issue in international forums. The army will continue to cause friction with India because if it seeks out peace with India, it will no longer be able to justify its role and authority. The revocation of article 370 has a brought a sea change in Kashmir’s conflict dynamics. The militancy is dying a slow death. New political leadership is emerging through the recent district development council elections. India’s harsh crack down on terrorist organisations and terror financing has dealt a death blow to the Islamist and terrorist ecosystem in Kashmir.

In Afghanistan, the situation is worsening. Pakistan is supporting Taliban. After Taliban comes to power, situation will further deteriorate, with adverse effect on regional and global geopolitics. And, in the process, Pakistan will also suffer.

Pakistan is a failing state, but it never seems to fail, nor does it succeed. Pakistan’s economy currently only benefits the military and civilian elites, and as long as that continues, they have no incentive to change the status quo. How can the status quo be changed? With democracy? But Pakistan has moved backwards in terms of democracy.

However, Pakistan will have to walk the talk. To follow through its lofty announcements made in the Islamabad Security Dialogue, it will have to bring sweeping political and economic reforms which will have major political and social costs. Hence, it is highly unlikely that Pakistan will undertake them.

One of the speakers explained, “All the problems that exist in Pakistan today have existed for seven decades and are only getting worse. Every time there is a glimmer of hope, it does not take long for it to be dashed. The moment a government in Pakistan comes to power, people begin to pull it down. This is not a normal level of opposition that occurs in other countries. Given the political instability in the country, it is reasonable to assume that the government will undertake serious reforms, but Pakistan does not have the political brain to undertake these reforms”.

He added that Pakistan requires dire reforms in the economy of the country. Some of the reform is being forced upon on Pakistan by the IMF. If Pakistan undergoes IMF reforms, then there will be massive pains that the people will have to suffer, and if they don’t go forward with the reforms, then the economic slide continues. It is very clear from the numbers that Pakistan is entering into a debt trap situation. The majority of the debt is not being used for infrastructure projects, but used to meet the daily needs of the government and that is unsustainable. According to recently revealed numbers, the Chinese have given Pakistan 10-11 billion to allow it to continue functioning. But the main question is – how much more will China be willing to give Pakistan?

This speaker said that Pakistan hopes that CPEC will be their outlet to the world and will allow them to prosper. But the fact remains that China already has multiple outlets to the rest of the world and establishing a link to central Asia will not drastically change the country’s fortunes. There are multiple other access routes to central Asia indicating that CPEC may not even be used by other nations.

Further, with the high spending of Pakistan in terror funding in place of investing in governance, Pakistan also faces the risk of being put on the FATF Blacklist if it is unable to stop terrorist funding. Inflation in Pakistan is also a major issue as according to sources, 80% of Pakistan’s families spend a majority of their income on food. The process of wheat has shot up to manifold in Pakistan in the past two years. Additionally, the average consumer is spending Rs. 66,000 more for electricity than he was 2 years ago. A decade ago, Pakistan faced emergencies in terms of water, electricity, and education. Today, these problems have only grown to the level of disasters. Pakistan uses 95% of its water resources to run one of the world’s most inefficient irrigation networks leading to a severe shortage of water. In the sector of education, 50% of Pakistan’s children do not attend primary schools and for those that do, there are massive dropouts. The percentage of dropouts increases in higher standards. What this means is that in an increasingly technological world, Pakistan is setting itself up for failure.

PLA Reluctant To Restore April 2020 Status At Gogra, Post-US Kabul A New Theatre

India has made it amply clear that it will not allow China or any power to exercise veto over its foreign policy

The 11th round of India-China military talks on disengagement and de-escalation from Gogra-Hot Springs area of East Ladakh did not yield the required result with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) reluctant to restore April 2020 status quo along the 1597-km Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector.

While the Indian Army in a statement after April 9 dialogue called for completion of disengagement at all friction points to set the stage for de-escalation, it is evident from the meeting that more rounds of dialogue would be required to achieve the desired objective. “The PLA stopped short of restoring April 2020 status quo ante at Gogra-Hot Springs area and have submitted certain proposals from their side for consideration of the Indian Army. The complete disengagement in this area will take time and more persuasion,” said a senior official.

Diplomacy aside, the PLA clearly wants that Indian Army recognise its new positions along the Ladakh LAC beyond patrolling point 15 and 17A and is very reluctant to go back to its dug-outs before April 2020. “There are some 60 Chinese troops ahead of its April 2020 positions in the Gogra-Hot Springs area and disengagement remains incomplete till status quo ante is restored. Once this step is completed, the next step would be to address the patrolling rights of Indian Army in Depsang Bulge, a 2013 legacy issue,” said another official.

Although External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has defined India as an enlightened power with strategic domain way beyond Malacca Straits and Gulf of Aden, China is expected to continue in Middle-Kingdom mindset of 18th century now that US is withdrawing from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

India has made it amply clear that it will not allow China or any power to exercise veto over its foreign policy or get beaten by Cold War phraseologies for being a leading partner in QUAD security grouping and a very close ally of France. The Modi government is, however, aware that withdrawal of US from Afghanistan will mean that China will exercise influence in the Islamic Republic through its client state Pakistan and its proxy, the Taliban. The issue has got further complicated with Russia and Iran also being close partners of rising China resulting in weak opposition to so-called Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan on the ground. This will allow ultra-conservative Taliban to take over Afghanistan and also give much needed strategic depth to Pakistan and allow China to expand its Belt and Road Initiative all the way up to Iran via Kabul. In short, Islamic radicalisation will further increase in Afghanistan and China will expand its area of influence to West Asia and Africa.

‘Russia's Military Ties With Pakistan Limited To Counter-Terrorism’

Lavrov had suggested during his Islamabad visit, in a message for Pakistan Army, that South Asian disputes should be resolved in a civilised manner and based on international law

Russia made it clear on Wednesday that its military cooperation with Pakistan is limited to the supply of equipment meant to bolster fight against terrorism and cannot be compared with the depth of India-Russia ties.

Days after Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov’s Pakistan visit, Russia’s ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev and his deputy Roman Babushkin told media persons that there is “no reason to think there are divergences or misunderstandings between Russia and India as far as Pakistan is concerned”.

Russia is committed to fulfilling all arms deals with India, including the contract for S-400 air defence systems, despite the threat of US sanctions, said Kudashev and Babushkin.

Referring to Lavrov’s visit to Pakistan, Babushkin said, “Russia is following its commitments and there is a limited cooperation with Pakistan, as compared to India. However, the fight against terrorism is our common agenda. So we also help Pakistan (by) providing anti-terrorism equipment and holding dedicated exercises.”

The deputy envoy said Russia respects the Simla Agreement of 1972 and Lahore Declaration of 1999 which leave no scope for third party mediation in India-Pakistan affairs. The decision by India and Pakistan to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire on the Line of Control is “a very important step in terms of ensuring regional stability”, he said.

Lavrov had suggested during his Islamabad visit, in a message for Pakistan Army, that South Asian disputes should be resolved in a civilised manner and based on international law. The diplomats were briefing a select group of media persons following Lavrov’s recent visit to Delhi to prepare the ground for the annual India-Russia Summit to be held later this year.

“We have independent relations with India and Pakistan and other countries, while ties with both are based on their own merits,” said Babushkin. “All three countries are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and cooperate in areas such as such regional security and the fight against terror, which envisages capacity building and exercise.”

Kudashev described military cooperation as one of the most important tracks of the India-Russia relationship and said all arms deals were on track despite the threat of US sanctions under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

“Together with India, we don’t recognise bilateral sanctions as they are illegal tools of unlawful and unfair competition, pressure and even blackmail. It was clearly stated by the two foreign ministers in the course of their exchange,” said Kudashev. “With regard to the S-400 and other agreements, both sides are committed to the agreed timelines and other obligations. This contract is being successfully fulfilled.”

Kudashev said that while India is Russia’s “closest friend and trusted partner” and both sides have convergence on a majority of global and regional issues, including Afghanistan, Russia continues to have some concerns about the Indo-Pacific concept.

Both Kudashev and Babushkin described India as a key partner in efforts to ensure security and stability in Afghanistan, and said New Delhi would be part of discussions under the Moscow Format and eventually the “extended troika”. They said India can help in building regional consensus in efforts to find a solution in the war-torn country.

In response to a question on India-China tensions linked to the standoff on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), Babushkin said, “We are following the developments at the LAC and we would encourage India and China to continue disengagement efforts in order to promote constructive and forward-looking dialogue.”

Emphasising this, he said, “This is a very important precondition for regional stability and certainly we would encourage both sides to take advantage of our common multilateral platforms. They are very much scheduled at the highest level in the course of the year, including the BRICS summit, SCO Summit and RIC Summit.”

UAE Is Mediating Between India And Pakistan, Says Senior Diplomat

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates’ envoy to Washington confirmed the Gulf state is mediating between India and Pakistan to help the nuclear-armed rivals reach a “healthy and functional” relationship.

Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, people with knowledge of the matter had told Reuters.

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba said in a virtual discussion with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution on Wednesday that the UAE played a role “in bringing Kashmir escalation down and created a ceasefire, hopefully ultimately leading to restoring diplomats and getting the relationship back to a healthy level”.

“They might not sort of become best friends but at least we want to get it to a level where it’s functional, where it’s operational, where they are speaking to each other,” he said.

Ties between India and Pakistan have been frozen since a suicide bombing of an Indian military convoy in Kashmir in 2019 traced to Pakistan-based militants that led to India sending warplanes to Pakistan.

Later that year, India’s prime minister withdrew Indian-ruled Kashmir’s autonomy in order to tighten his grip over the territory, provoking outrage in Pakistan and the downgrading of diplomatic ties and suspension of bilateral trade.

Otaiba also said that Pakistan should play a helpful role in Afghanistan, where the United States plans to start withdrawing U.S. troops on May 1 to end America’s longest war.

The Emirati official voiced concern that an abrupt U.S. withdrawal would constitute “reverse progress” by serving the interests of “the more illiberal forces” in Afghanistan.

“The question is if the three parties (the U.S., Taliban and Afghan government) can reach an agreement that they can all live with,” Otaiba said.

“It’s hard for us to see a way to stabilise Afghanistan without Pakistan playing a helpful role,” he added.

Turkey is due to host a peace summit for Afghanistan from April 24 to May 4 meant to jump-start efforts to end the war and sketch out a possible political settlement.

France Advises Citizens To Leave Pakistan After Serious Threats: Sources

Thousands of Pakistani Islamists had clashed with police earlier this week in protest against the arrest of their leader ahead of rallies denouncing French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad

France has advised French citizens to temporarily leave Pakistan and warned of serious threats to French interests in the country, two diplomatic sources said on Thursday, after violent clashes there this week.

Thousands of Pakistani Islamists had clashed with police earlier this week in protest against the arrest of their leader ahead of rallies denouncing French cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.

For Muslims, depictions of the Prophet are blasphemous.

The diplomatic sources said that a message had been sent overnight to French citizens and companies following threats by hard line Islamist group Tehrik-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) to target French interests.

The sources said the embassy sent a message to French residents in Pakistan recommending that French nationals leave the country and French companies shut down activities temporarily "due to the serious threats to French interests in Pakistan".

Relations between Paris and Islamabad have worsened since the end of last year after President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to a French history teacher who was beheaded by an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin for showing cartoons of the Prophet in a class on freedom of speech.

The images sparked anger and protests in the Muslim world, especially in Pakistan, and even saw a Pakistani minister forced to withdraw comments she made that Macron was treating Muslims like Nazis had treated Jews in World War Two.

Last year, TLP ended a similar protest against France only after the government signed a deal agreeing to endorse a boycott of French products and making a move in parliament to expel French ambassador. It had this week demanded the envoy be expelled.

Pakistan has said it would outlaw the group and the arrest of its leader this week sparked further protests against France.

"It's a serious situation and we know that in Pakistan things can escalate quickly," said one of the diplomatic sources.

Pakistan's embassy in Paris did not immediately respond for comment.

Nepal Rejects Reports of Indian Businessmen Getting Chinese Vaccines In Kathmandu

Nepal's Health Ministry on Thursday dismissed media reports that some Indian businessmen have received Chinese vaccines against the coronavirus in Kathmandu to be eligible for travelling to China.

Some media reports claimed that dozens of Indian businessmen flew from New Delhi to Kathmandu just to get the Chinese vaccine after Beijing made it mandatory for those wishing to visit China for business or study purposes to get vaccinated with the Chinese vaccines.

China has donated 800,000 doses of vaccines to Nepal.

There is no possibility of Indian businessmen getting the Chinese vaccines in Nepal as those wishing to get vaccinated must produce their identity before receiving the jab, said Ganesh Shrivastav, information officer at the Ministry of Health and Population.

"We have been regularly maintaining the record of those receiving vaccines against COVID-19, so there is no possibility of someone getting vaccinated without disclosing their identity," he told PTI.

Srivastav said that he has clarified the issue to Indian authorities.

Not On The Same Page At Sea

L’affaire Lakshadweep shows not a betrayal by the U.S. but a different understanding of navigational freedom

India’s strategic community was agitated last week when the USS John Paul Jones carried out a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands. Indian observers reacted with shock and dismay at what some described as an unnecessary provocation by the U.S. Navy. The disquiet in Delhi was heightened by an unusual press release by the Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, that said the operation, which was carried out in India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), “asserted navigational rights and freedoms… without requesting India’s prior consent”. Many saw this as political signalling by the U.S., oddly, at a time when U.S.-India relations are on a high.

Different Interpretations

In the aftermath of the incident, the U.S. Pentagon defended the military operation off India’s waters terming it “consistent with international law”. For the U.S. Navy, FONOPs are a way of showing that the maritime claims of certain states are incompatible with international law. India’s requirement of prior consent for the passage of foreign warships through Indian EEZs, U.S. officials believe, is a violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Articles 56 and 58, Part V of the Law of the Sea, they point out, entitle U.S. warships to high-seas freedoms in the 200-nautical mile EEZs of another coastal state.

India interprets the maritime convention differently. Indian experts note that the UNCLOS does not explicitly permit the passage of military vessels in another state’s EEZ. When it ratified the convention in 1995, New Delhi stated, “India understands that the provisions of the Convention do not authorize other States to carry out in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives without the consent of the coastal State.” This position is consistent with India’s domestic law — the Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones of India Act of 1976 — and remains unchanged.

Despite disagreements over navigational freedoms, however, India and the U.S. have refrained from a public airing of differences. Indian observers have come to accept U.S. FONOPs as an instrument in Washington’s military and diplomatic toolkit that gives the U.S. Navy leverage in the contest with China in the South China Sea. U.S. officials, too, have learnt to take Indian posturing in their stride. Washington knows New Delhi’s real concern is the possibility of greater Chinese naval presence in Indian waters, in particular the threat of People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines near Indian islands. Delhi’s pronouncements on foreign military activity in Indian EEZs, they know, don’t need to be taken literally.

Needless to say, U.S. FONOPs in Indian EEZs have been relatively low key, serving mainly to check a box on the U.S. Navy’s record of activity in Asia. Since 2016, the U.S. Navy has carried out three forays through Indian EEZs keeping well outside Indian territorial waters. In contrast, U.S. warships challenged excessive Chinese claims thrice in 2016, four times in 2017, six in 2018, eight in 2019, and nine in 2020. Most patrols are said to have come within 12 nautical miles of the territorial sea limit around China’s islands. Those statistics say something about the U.S. Navy’s strategic priorities in Asia.

Lakshadweep: A Smart Choice

The choice of Lakshadweep for the FONOP doesn’t seem incidental. U.S. planners are likely to have known that a U.S. naval foray close to the ‘strategic’ Andaman and Nicobar Islands would be controversial. Besides necessitating a response from New Delhi, it could have exposed a wrinkle in the relationship that both sides have so far been discreet about: the disagreement over interpretation of the UNCLOS. U.S. planners are likely to have calculated that a naval operation in the waters off Lakshadweep would be unremarkable. With maritime boundaries around the Lakshadweep more settled than the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (where straight baselines on the Western edge of the islands have in the past raised uncomfortable questions), Indian officials could even afford to ignore the operation.

To guard against any misreading of intent, the U.S. Navy coupled its FONOP in Indian waters with another sail through the territorial seas of the Maldives, a country with which the U.S. signed a defence agreement in 2020. The idea, ostensibly, was to signal to China that the U.S. Navy is committed to uphold the rules-based order in the waters of opponents and partners alike. Alas, the U.S. 7th Fleet erred in releasing a press statement that set the issue ablaze. Once social media picked up the story, it took on a life of its own.

Bridging The Divide

There are lessons for both India and the U.S. from l’affaire Lakshadweep. The U.S. must recognise that FONOPs have implications for New Delhi that go beyond the infringement of Indian jurisdiction in the near seas. Such operations normalise military activism close to India’s island territories that remain vulnerable to incursions by foreign warships. The U.S. Navy’s emphasis on navigational freedoms in the EEZs encourages other regional navies to violate India’s domestic regulations in the waters surrounding the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. U.S. hectoring on the subject isn’t acceptable as Washington is yet to ratify the UNCLOS.

But New Delhi, too, must rethink its stand on freedom of navigation in the EEZs. It isn’t enough for Indian officials and commentators to say U.S. FONOPs are an act of impropriety. The reality is that India’s domestic regulation is worryingly out of sync with international law. India’s declaration of straight baselines delineating zones around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (on the Western edge), in particular, is a discrepancy that cannot be explained as a minor departure from the provisions of the UNCLOS.

The U.S. Navy sail through the waters off Lakshadweep highlights a gap in the Indian and American perception of navigational freedoms, complicating an already complex domain of international maritime law. Yet it is not the betrayal of a friend that many have sought to portray the FONOP to be.

US Slaps Sanctions On Russia, Expels 10 Diplomats Over Poll Meddling, Cyber Attack

The sanctions have come in retaliation for what the US says is Kremlin's interference in US elections and other hostile activities including a massive cyber attack

The United States on Thursday announced economic sanctions on Russia and expelled 10 diplomats. This has come in retaliation for what the US says is Kremlin's interference in US elections and other hostile activities including a massive cyber attack.

The White House said that US President Joe Biden's executive order on sanctions " "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilising international action".

US found support from its NATO allies as it slapped sanctions on Russia. The bloc supported the move taken in response to Moscow's "destabilising activities", an alliance statement said.

"NATO Allies support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilising activities," the statement said.

Russia Talks Tough

Russian reaction on US sanctions has expectedly been tough. Russian foreign ministry on Thursday said that it was "unavoidable" that Moscow would respond to sanctions. It also said that it had called Washington`s ambassador in Moscow for 'tough talks'.

Russian foreign ministry also said that Biden's decision to slap sanctions on Russia contradicted his stated desire to normalise ties.

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that the United States` hostile steps had dangerously raised the temperature of a confrontation between Moscow and Washington and that it would have to pay for damaging bilateral ties.

Earlier, Kremlin expressed its displeasure as news of potential US sanctions did rounds in US media. Russia said at that time that going ahead with sanctions would "not help" a possible summit between Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"What is currently being discussed -- likely sanctions -- will in no way help such a meeting. That is unambiguous," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, as reported by news agency AFP.

Tensions between Russia and the West have been rising in recent weeks amid Russia's troop build-up near Russia-Ukraine border. The separatists in Ukraine's Donbass region have caused violence. Ukraine alleges that the separatists enjoy support from Moscow, a claim Russian denies. The US has assured Ukraine of help in the the current situation.

India's Military Chief General Bipin Rawat Concerned About US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

President Joe Biden has said that U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America`s longest war

New Delhi: India is concerned about a vacuum developing in Afghanistan following the proposed withdrawal of United States and NATO forces from the country, the chief of the defence staff said on Thursday (April 15).

General Bipin Rawat told a security conference that the worry was "disruptors" would step into the space created by the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. He declined to name the countries that could act as disruptors, news agency Reuters reported.

President Joe Biden has said that U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America`s longest war, rejecting calls for them to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation`s grinding internal conflict.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would mean bringing to an end the country's longest war, spanning across two decades.

Since the US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban after the September 11, 2001 attacks, America has spent more than USD 1 trillion in fighting and rebuilding in Afghanistan.

About 2,400 US soldiers have been killed, along with tens of thousands of Afghan troops, Taliban insurgents and Afghan civilians.

IAF Commanders Begin 3-Day Conference; Review Country's Security Scenario

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had attended the Air Force Commanders' Conference last year also

New Delhi: Top commanders of the Indian Air Force on Thursday began a comprehensive review of the security challenges facing India, including along the Line of Actual Control, on the opening day of a three-day conference.

The bi-annual commanders' conference was inaugurated by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh at the Air Headquarters in Delhi.

In his remarks, Mr Singh complimented the IAF for its overall efforts to maintain combat readiness and its approach to deal with future challenges, sources said.

The commanders reviewed the overall security challenges facing the nation including the situation in eastern Ladakh, the site of a standoff between the Indian and Chinese militaries.

The Indian and Chinese armies have been engaged in negotiating disengagement from the remaining friction points in the region after completing withdrawal of troops and weapons in the north and south banks of the Pangong lake in mid-February.

In the course of the conference, the commanders will also discuss strategies and policies relating to further enhancing capabilities of the IAF in view of the future challenges facing the country.

The commanders will also deliberate on various welfare and human resource measures to improve administrative efficiency in the force.

The conference is being attended by the Air Officers Commanding-in-Chief of all commands of the IAF, all principal staff officers and all director generals posted at the Air Headquarters in Delhi.

Army Jawan Injured In First Shooting At LoC After Renewal of Ceasefire Pledge

This is the first such incident that took place along the LoC since the last week of February

Army sources said it is not yet clear if the soldier, identified as Jasvir Singh, who has since been brought to Srinagar’s 92 Base Hospital for specialised treatment, was injured due to the firing from across the LoC by militants attempting to breach the divide line or due to “mistaken firing”

Srinagar: An Indian soldier was injured in a shooting incident in a forward area along the Line of Control in J&K’s Kupwara sector late Tuesday night.

This is the first such incident that took place along the LoC since the last week of February when India and Pakistan had agreed to strictly observe all agreements on ceasefire along the de facto border and other sectors.

However, Army sources said it is not yet clear if the soldier, identified as Jasvir Singh, who has since been brought to Srinagar’s 92 Base Hospital for specialised treatment, was injured due to the firing from across the LoC by militants attempting to breach the divide line or due to “mistaken firing”.

Giving details of the incident, sources said the Indian Army personnel manning the “Anil Post” along the LoC, about 32 km from the district headquarters of Kupwara, observed some suspicious movement close to their post at around 10.30 pm on Tuesday. An alert soldier who was on guard duty at its access fired a few rounds from his service rifle. That was when Singh, 46, sustained a bullet wound, and given his condition was airlifted to Srinagar early Wednesday, the sources said. “It is not, however, clear if the Jawan sustained the injury due to the suspected infiltrators’ fire or in mistaken firing,” the sources said.

India’s director-general of military operations (DGMO) Lt. Gen. Paramjit Singh Sangha and Pakistani DGMO Maj. Gen. Nauman Zakaria had on February 25, after holding a discussion to review the situation along the LoC and all other sectors in a “free, frank and cordial atmosphere” over their established telephone hotline, announced that the two armies had begun observing a ceasefire along the borders in J&K from the midnight of February 24.

The pledge was welcomed by the UN Secretary-General, the United States and several other countries, and brought smiles on the faces of the border residents who had suffered immensely due to unending military tensions and frequent bouts of skirmishes between the troops across the divide line over the years.

Armed Forces To Deploy 5G Network For AI, Unmanned Vehicles

In 2018, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recommended 3300 -3600 megahertz band for the commercial 5G deployment in the country that included 100 megahertz held by the naval forces which has recently been vacated by the Ministry of Defence

NEW DELHI: The Indian army, navy, and air force are likely to embrace the next generation (5G) technology to bring artificial intelligence (AI) and unmanned vehicles to centre stage in a bid to compete with the most advanced armed forces worldwide, according to a top official.

"Armed forces also will need to migrate to 5G network considering the use of unmanned vehicles and AI in future," Ajay Kumar, Secretary, Ministry of Defence said, adding that, "the ministry will take necessary steps to take forward 5G connectivity with relevant use cases."

Fifth generation or 5G technology-driven telecom network is touted to bring low-latency communications to the mainstream with a range of enterprise wide use cases across agriculture, manufacturing and retail verticals in addition to defence applications.

Kumar, however added that the 5G is at a nascent stage in India yet, and no commercial deployment has taken so far in the country, while the Indian forces are keen to leverage the futuristic technologies.

In October last year, the US Department of Defence said it would spend $600 million for 5G experiments and testing at a few military sites, after increased efforts by China to make 5G a reality in many defence applications following investments in AI, quantum computing and under-sea cables.

Experts say that the move to adopt 5G technology and artificial intelligence would usher into entirely different use cases, and would eventually boost defence capabilities to pre-empt the enemy. The country's defence-centric next-generation network would require new contiguous frequencies, and according to analysts, only highly-efficient bands would make a suitable case for such a critical sector.

"A separate set of spectrum may be taken for defence applications and protocols may be required to be modified to suit the confidentiality of communications," Rakesh Malhotra, a Delhi-based telecom consultant said.

In 2018, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had recommended 3300 -3600 megahertz band for the commercial 5G deployment in the country that included 100 megahertz held by the naval forces which has recently been vacated by the Ministry of Defence.

DoT Set To Earmark More Bands For 5G Under Updated Spectrum Allocation Plan

"We have had extensive discussions with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), and agreed to vacate spectrum as per mutual agreement," the top official said. The Ministry of Defence would adhere to the network gear procurement process in accordance with the 'trusted sources' framework.

"The equipment procured through trusted sources needs to be considered," Kumar added. Recently, the National Cyber Security Coordinator (NCSC) has laid down the framework for trusted sources to overcome backdoor apprehensions.

Kumar said that the ministry is in the final process of creating a robust Network for Spectrum (NFS) infrastructure consisting of fibre-based cable deployed by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) for armed forces. "A major portion of the NFS project is complete and we expect full completion shortly," the official added.

In 2012, the MoD and DoT conceptualised a network to connect critical defence locations, under the NFS initiative including components such as optical-fibre backbone, satellite network, and network management systems.

Sail-Bhilai Steel Plant Rolls Out Yet Again For India's Space Research Mission

New Delhi: Yet another consignment of MDN 250 slabs supplied by Misra Dhatu Nigam Ltd (MIDHANI) was successfully rolled into plates in SAIL-Bhilai Steel Plant’s Plate Mill on 12th April 2021 for use in the satellite launch vehicles (SLV) of ISRO. Midhani slabs weighing 40 Tonnes were successfully rolled into 20 numbers of 9.3 mm thick plates in presence of Shri Sanjay Sharma, CGM (Plate Mill) and senior officers of Plate Mill, the Plant’s Research & Control Lab including Shri Ramakrishna Sudhir, GM-RCL (FP, NDT & Planning); Bipin Kumar, GM-RCL(FP & NDT), from Instrumentation Department and other associated depts.

It is worth mentioning that with several members of the Plate Mill team that has so far been engaged in rolling of Midhani slabs not present due to Covid conditions, a new team was prepared and deployed for rolling.

Bhilai Steel Plant's Director (I/c) Anirban Dasgupta and Executive Director Works Rajeev Sehgal congratulated Plate Mill and members of other departments involved in successful rolling of the Midhani slabs.

This was the 13th time that MDN 250 slabs have been rolled under strict tolerances into plates of desired thickness for use in SLVs used in India’s space research programs.

Successful rolling of maraging steel in Plate Mill has been achieved by meticulous planning in association with MIDHANI & VSRC. These forged slabs of special steel of very high strength and high temperature resistance consisting of high percentage of expensive alloying elements were rolled into thinner plates of 9.3 mm thickness. Special care is taken during reheating of the slabs and rolling. Stringent technological norms have been formulated and followed by the entire collective of Plate Mill, RCL & Instrumentation Depts along with several other associated departments.

The previous occasion when 40 Tonnes of MIDHANI slabs were rolled in SAIL-BSP’s Plate Mill was on 20th Oct 2020, prior to which rolling took place on 29th July 2020. The plates rolled were for use in ISRO’s satellite launch vehicle that would launch India’s ambitious Space Mission programme, Gaganyan.

SAIL-BSP has been contributing to India’s space programme of launching satellites at regular intervals by rolling MDN 250 slabs supplied by MIDHANI, Hyderabad into 9.3 mm thick plates at Bhilai’s Plate Mill. The plates have been used in outer motor casing of PSLV and GSLV satellite launch vehicles of ISRO, including SLV used for launching Chandrayaan.

The rolling of these slabs is an excellent example of synergy and team effort between Plate Mill and RCL of Bhilai Steel Plant, M/s MIDHANI, Vikram Sarabhai Space Research Centre (VSRC) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Besides supplying rails for Indian Railways, BSP supplies wide and heavy plates for Indian Navy’s warships and required grades of steel for infrastructure projects and varied industrial applications. By rolling out the special grade slabs as per stringent specifications for use by ISRO for its space missions, SAIL-Bhilai has taken another step forward in the direction of “Atmanirbhar Bharat.” The first lot of slabs from MIDHANI was rolled at Bhilai’s Plate Mill in Oct 2009.

In Feb 2020, MIDHANI slabs had been rolled in presence of senior officials of MIDHANI and Vikram Sarabhai Space Research Centre. Officials of MIDHANI and VSSRC have now reposed trust & confidence in SAIL-Bhilai’s technical expertise and the experienced team of Plate Mill, RCL & Instrumentation Depts. The task of overseeing the entire process control had been entrusted by M/s MIDHANI and VSSRC to Bhilai’s Quality & RCL Team and CGM (Plate Mill).

Indian Navy Deploys Assets For SAR of Missing Fishermen At Sea Off Mangalore

Mangalore sea accident: Navy deployed as search for 9 missing fishermen intensifies

The accident took place at around 2 am on April 13 when a Singapore-registered container ship, 'MV APL LE HAVRE' collided with IFB Rabah, the mechanised fishing boat which had 14 fishermen on board.

"Two specialist diving teams are undertaking snag line search in the area in an effort to locate the sunk fishing craft," the Indian Navy confirmed.

A day after three fishermen drowned to death and nine others went missing after a fishing boat capsized off Mangalore coast on Tuesday, the search was intensified for the others with the Indian Navy deploying its surface and air assets.

Patrol vessel INS Subhadra reached the site — 40 nautical miles west of New Mangalore — during the early hours of Wednesday from Karwar with a diving team. “Two specialist diving teams are undertaking snag line search in the area in an effort to locate the sunk fishing craft,” the Indian Navy confirmed.

In addition to this, Indian naval ships Tillanchang and Kalpeni along with naval aircraft from Goa have also been deployed in the area to augment search and rescue efforts of the India Coast Guard (ICG) vessels.

The accident took place at around 2 am on April 13 when a Singapore-registered container ship, ‘MV APL LE HAVRE’ collided with IFB Rabah, the mechanised fishing boat which had 14 fishermen on board.

The fishing boat is owned by Jaffer, a resident of Kozhikode in Kerala.

The ICG rescued two members — Sunil Das (34) from West Bengal and Velmurukan (37) from Tamil Nadu — successfully after which they were shifted to a hospital in Mangalore-Udupi. An official statement from the ICG identified the deceased as Manik Das (40) from West Bengal, Alaxander (45) and his uncle aged 50 from Tamil Nadu.

The fishing boat is owned by Jaffer, a resident of Kozhikode in Kerala. He had communicated to the authorities that seven out of the 14 crew members were from Tamil Nadu while the others were from West Bengal and Odisha.