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BOOK REVIEW
Future shock
The Writing on the Wall. India Checkmates America 2017 by S Padmanabhan

Reviewed by Chanakya Sen

In a February 2004 joint combat exercise of the US and Indian Air Forces held in Gwalior, American F15C planes were defeated nine out of 10 times by Indian pilots flying Russian-made SU30Ks and MIG-21s. This set the cat among the strategic community pigeons, who inferred that a developing country with skills and equipment can stave off the mightiest. Former Indian army chief General Padmanabhan's elucidation of US-India conflict buttresses the case. The short war results in hasty retreat of the superpower, which faces a prepared and vigilant India.

The curtain raises in April 2003. Despite differing institutional perspectives on responding to the US invasion of Iraq, strategists concur that India could become a future object of US military whims. New Delhi's aversion to providing troops for the US-led stabilization force in Iraq and Washington's strong tilt towards Pakistan appear to be a casus belli. The Indian defense minister asks his service chiefs how asymmetrical and unequal wars, increasingly commonplace in the unipolar word, can be fought and won. He asks for detailed plans with 15 years lead time "to resist the USA if she turns rogue (p 27)."

A draft National Security Policy (NSP) is mooted, projecting a long-term defense outlay of 3.5% of India's gross domestic product. It prioritizes a new defense shield to intercept ballistic and cruise missiles over and around India as well as nano-chip integrated machines with artificial intelligence. NSP is guided by the reasoning that "in a unipolar world, the more friends one has, the greater one's security" (p 31). A strategic partnership with China is the centerpiece of this diplomatic coalition-building. On internal security, dialogues would be opened with misguided elements for settlement. In the Kashmir Valley, Indian army training and lessons learnt are to be improved for tackling mujahideen terrorism.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan president orders urgent strikes in Kashmir to pacify the religious parties raising the banner of revolt against him. The Inter-Services Intelligence hands jihadi groups a target list and timetable. Soft spots like the Vaishno Devi temple in Jammu and a civilian bus in Doda are identified. The bosses demand night vision devices and money to finish the job. Incidents of terrorist violence rocket in mid-2003, but India's announcement of sending an unmanned spacecraft to the moon before 2008 injects buoyancy into the national mood and sets tongues wagging on security implications for industrialized countries. India's decision to form a strategic block with China, Brazil, Mexico etc at the World Trade Organization Cancun meet also raises eyebrows.

By early 2004, the Chinese send signals to Delhi that "they regard us as a staunch opponent of US hegemonism" (p 76) . Towards the end of that year, Pakistan attacks the Naushera-Poonch-Rajauri sectors of Jammu and Kashmir. In counter-attacks, India seizes strategically valuable territory in Pakistan. The US demands an Indian pull-back, which is not complied with. As a US-India collision seems possible, Indian politicians close ranks and form a government of national unity. Though the US Seventh Fleet enters the Indian Ocean, the crisis tides over, but not without presaging what is to come.

The new government passes a multi-partisan national agenda with clear-cut policies towards separatist movements, culminating in peace accords in Nagaland, Manipur and Assam by 2008. Left-wing extremism also dies out with more just distribution of resources.

In late 2007, the Vietnamese UN secretary general proclaims expansion of the Security Council to admit India, Brazil and South Africa and reiterates that the UN is the only acceptable hope for all nations to retain their unique nationhood and integrity. India undergoes a significant accretion to its national power that the world observes and takes note of. Less developed countries increasingly look up to India for assistance. with the view that a "new and highly benign power had arrived to help others grow (p 126)."

In 2009, China proposes an Asian Security Environment (ASE) comprising Russia, India, Iran, Vietnam and the Central Asian Republics, provoking nightmares in Washington. The US ambassador in Islamabad tells the Pakistani president, "You, as a friend of both the USA and China must stop this happening (p 109)." Pakistan and the US see convergent interests in containing the "China-India axis", demonstrated when a terrorist attack in Jammu in 2010 is condemned in Beijing and wholehearted support is extended to India to take retaliatory action on Pakistan.

India's missile defense project Vajra is successfully tested in early 2010 as per schedule, thanks to red tape and corruption-free defense deals. Association of users into weapons development processes by integrating Indian army, navy and air force officers with scientists yields manifold positives.

As the ASE approaches inauguration, the US senses a new military alliance more powerful than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and decides to take covert and overt measures to prevent its opening. Diplomatic pressures through itinerant officials are used to sow dissension among member states. Restrictive trade practices are introduced against participant states. To "bring India to its senses", the US steps up military aid to Pakistan, playing the old card of balance of power in South Asia. Undeterred, ASE agreements come into place by the end of 2015, by which time India is substantially ready for major conflict.

In April 2015, Syed Salahuddin, the supreme commander of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (HM) terrorist outfit under house arrest in Pakistan is brought back to India through a bloodless intrigue. He disbands HM. Pakistani intelligence gathers that more jihadis active in Kashmir are contemplating surrender. In high dudgeon, the Pakistani president enjoins a debilitating strike at the Jammu and Kashmir government's convoy shifting to the summer capital Srinagar. Over 80 persons are killed and 134 wounded. India's retribution destroys the Muridke headquarters and Kotli office complex of Lashkar-i-Tayyaba by aerial bombing, killing its leader Hafeez Muhammad Sayeed. A prominent jihadi madrassa (seminary) is destroyed and the new director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence is assassinated swiftly.

Pakistan's military ruler desperately turns to the US for a formal treaty alliance with Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. The US president nods saying, "I expect you to keep the Indians so busy that they do not have time to finalize the Asian Security Environment (p 202)." An advisory group from the US Special Operations Command works in tandem with Pakistan to sabotage Indian nerve centers.

In March 2016, an Indian commercial ship is sunk by Pakistani naval forces released from duty on paper. Delhi sets a time-bound ultimatum for the saboteurs to be handed over for trial. The US national security adviser informs India that "if it comes to an Indo-Pak war, we shall fight on the side of our ally (p 219)." India withdraws the ultimatum after the US appeals to avert war and promises to rein in Pakistan.

Behind the scenes however, US agent provocateurs are sent into India and other ASE component states to engineer riots, sabotage and to provide a last resort option of triggering war between Pakistan and India. US Special Forces personnel blow up the strategic Jawahar Tunnel linking Jammu and Srinagar in July 2017. India demands surrender of all responsible persons in 10 days. The Pakistani president eyes an opportunity of a lifetime in Indo-US flare-ups and declares war against India, with the chilling assurance, "With the US on our side, victory is assured (p 238)."

The Pakistani armed forces suffer serious setbacks in the war as Lahore is surrounded by Indian troops on the first day of the war itself. In the Oval Office, the American president is told that unless Washington enters the fight, its ally would be defeated and "religious fanatics may capture power and the bomb (p 242)." US carrier battle groups move into the war zone to launch seven Tomahawks at Indian high-value targets, only to be decapitated by the Vajra missile defense umbrella. Indian electromagnetic pulses powered by "e-bombs" incapacitate American phones, electric grids and computer networks. When some Indian communication satellites are destroyed by US action, Delhi switches to backup satellites of allied countries within a record 45 minutes. A UN resolution stops the war with a unanimous ceasefire of all permanent members of the Security Council within two days of active hostilities.

In Pakistan, the mullahs attempt a palace coup using zealous sections of the army unhappy with the setbacks against India. Indian armed forces that make inroads come to the rescue and save the Pakistani president, effectively ending the war. So weakened is the latter that he concedes control of Pakistan's nukes to US control and lets India take the whole of Jammu and Kashmir. The defeated general also sends to the Indian prime minister "far-reaching proposals that will end, forever, our terrible relations of the last 70 years (p 266)."

Padmanabhan's forward planning idea carries relevance at a time where there is "no limit to which the US would not go if she perceived even the faintest threat to her national security (Preface)." The most fantastic assumption of the book is the China-India alliance, which remains tantalizing yet unrealistic in today's lenses. But then, as world politics is churning rapidly, no future shock is really a shock. Padmanabhan deserves kudos for a holistic approach to security and an original imagination.

The Writing on the Wall. India Checkmates America 2017 by S Padmanabhan. Manas Publications, New Delhi, 2004. ISBN: 81-7049-175-4. Price US$35, 300 pages.

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Aug 7, 2004




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