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Have you ever asked yourself the question, how do I look from the outside? This is actually not a great question to ask. It can motivate us to be better people, but it can also keep us stressed out all the time. One of the reasons for human unhappiness is the anxiety of what other people think of us. Once we get past this, once we realize that no one thinks anything of us, that everyone is obsessed with themselves. That's when we can start being happy.


However, geopolitics is different nations and people. If you are in charge of India's defense or foreign policy, then how other countries think of us has real consequences or resentful. Pakistan may want to bleed us with a thousand cuts. A strong China may want to weaken us so that we can't ever be a threat to them, knowing that we can't really fight back in our short history as an independent nation, we have had costly conflicts with both China and Pakistan.


And yes, all those conflicts were costly, even if we did win a war against Pakistan because all conflict is a negative sum game, both parties lose. That is why the role of our armed forces is not just to win wars and secure our borders, but also to avoid conflict. An armed forces need to be strong, even if we hope like hell that we never actually have to use them. But our armed forces equipped for wars of the 21st century in a nuclear world, what is the relevance of conventional force?


What role can the military play in securing our place in the world of your father challenge?


Welcome to the Scene and The Unseen, our weekly podcast on economics, politics and behavioral science. Please welcome your host of its Barmer. Welcome to the scene in The Unseen. My guest today is Sushant Singh, one of the finest defense and foreign policy analysts in India. Sushant paid his dues in the trenches by serving in the Army for 20 years, which included a stint in Kashmir. He then went on to become a journalist, serving as a senior editor at the Indian Express and winning multiple awards.


He has taught at Yale and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi. I've been meaning to pick Suzanne's brain for a long time and we finally made it happen. In this episode, we discussed his time in the Army, the Kashmir issue, the India, Pakistan conflict, India, China conflict, the politicisation of our armed forces, as well as the state of our military. I've done episodes in some of these subjects before with the likes of Steinert Ragavan and General Prakash Men.


And so do go over to the Señores for those links. Before we get to this conversation, though, let's take a quick commercial break. Long before I was a broadcaster, I was a writer.


In fact, chances are that many of you first heard of me because of my blog, India Uncaught, which was active between 2003 and 2009 and became somewhat popular at the time. I loved the freedom the form gave me, and I feel I was shaped by it in many ways. I exercised my writing muscle every day and was forced to think about many different things because I had wrote about many different things. Will that phase in my life ended for various reasons and now it is time to revive it.


Only now I'm doing it through a newsletter. I have started the India and got newsletter at India on Gardot Substract dot com where I will write regularly about whatever catches my fancy. I write about some of the themes I covered in this podcast and about much else. So please to head on over to India on Gardot substract dot com and subscribe. It is free once you sign up. Each new installment that I write will lined up in your email inbox.


You don't need to go anywhere. So subscribe now for free. The Indian card newsletter at India and Gardot substract dotcom. Thank you. Sushant, welcome to the scene in The Unseen, thank you so much. It it's a pleasure being on your show. So before we get started talking about all the areas in which you have expertise are defense or foreign policy, geopolitics, so on and so forth, I'm curious to know a little bit more about you, because, you know, you you've had what seems to me to be a really rich life, spent 20 years in the Army being a senior editor at the Indian Express, a much respected analyst who writes for foreign policy as well.


But take me to before all this, take me to your childhood. Where where were you born? What was your childhood like? A little bit about it.


So I met I was actually I belong to the state of interpretation. And my early schooling took place in the city of Agra, the erstwhile capital of India, till the mogul and Purshottam moved it. Most people know it was the Taj Mahal. And after my graduation, I joined the Indian Military Academy and got commissioned in the Corps of Engineers in the Indian Army. I was a madrassa. So for 20 years in the Army, which included multiple stints in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, including Srinagar, Raja, potentially on the line of control Kargil sector much later after the war, and then also did a stint as a United Nations military observer in Cote d'Ivoire, in Ivory Coast, in West Africa.


And there were other postings all over the country, which is usual for an army officer. The most notable among them would be probably my stint on the India Pakistan border during Operation Paracon, which is the mobilisation of the Indian armed forces after the terror attack on parliament in 2001, where Indian army almost seemed prepared to go across and a lot of activity took place at that point in time. After serving for 20 years in the Army, I took premature retirement, voluntary retirement from the Army.


I held a corporate role for a short period of time about a year or so before joining the Indian Express, where I will eventually be deputy editor. But I served for six years and then moved on as the as a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research with the here in Delhi. Besides doing some of the things that you said, still following pursuing my writings and whether it is in foreign affairs or foreign policy or in other things other places, that in a nutshell is is what my life has been so far about.


No, that's a fabulous nutshell to compress all of that into three minutes is something that is not permissible and will unpack different parts of it as we converse. But take me back to before this struck me about your childhood. What kind of a kid were you? What was it like growing up in Agra? Why did you want to join the army? What were the other things that you wanted to do? What were your influences? And also give me a sense of your army life in terms of what was your day like, what kind of books read, what kind of music do you like?


So this is what I'm talking about. The pre liberalization in the early 1990s when India probably demolishing India, it was a very different India. Agra was for the different global Internet world. Are we all you know, I'm sure you remember those that period it as well. We all went to us, went to school on time, woke up on time, went to school, slept early, woke up early. I grew up reading a lot of Hindi magazines.


A lot of newspapers, of course, were a big thing that at that time, essentially the Hardy Boys and all the other things. And because I happened to go to an English medium school in ICSE school, I happened to read all the books in the syllabus because they're starting from where they do The Black Beauty to the Treasure Island to everything that that a convent educated young boy read in the 1980s going up to Lord of the Flies. In the end, it was standard, the full play of Macbeth and Merchant of Venice and, you know, 16 dead from Shakespeare, what have you and everything be worked.


So essentially that is what reading was about. Music was primarily a lot of Hindi film music. My mother was in the music and Hindi film lover, so we had a lot of Indian music. The English pop music came much later and I was much older in school and that was almost at that time, cassettes mainly. And that was what Michael Jackson and nothing going to change my love for you and all the all the rapping with you between now cringe at which will probably make it go retro and I'm that kind of stuff.


Yeah. So that was what it was like. But I grew up with a different city at that point in time and I reflected it off and my parents still stay in Agra and I reflected about it often that, you know, you could actually go and see an English movies would get released there. And I'm not talking just about certain movies or Steven Spielberg movies. I'm talking even about movies like The Airport seven, The Lost Horizon and very early school year, primary school years.


I actually did go and see those kind of movies in the early eighties, including The Jungle Book. And I don't know if you remember it, along with The Jungle Book, the India Pakistan cricket series, there was an hour long film on India Pakistan cricket series, which was shown along with The Jungle Book at that point in time, which I remember seeing at that point in time. So, yeah, it was a nice life. It was a very different life.


It was easy paced life. You you went and played some sport. You studied hard, usual middle class kid. My father was a doctor. You wanted to do well in life and in the works, you know, standard things. The Army thing came up primarily because, you know, you always are looking for a good job and I'll be honest about it. And also, it was a very exciting career. You as a young kid, everybody loves the uniform, the the razzmatazz and the and the glamour which is associated with that.


You always believe that you're going to be fighting twenty four by seven and it's all going to be all action and glamour, which is of course not true as one learns our hard way in life. And so essentially that is how I ended up in the Army as a very young man. I got commissioned to the age of twenty one and a half and. Yeah, and that's how the career started, though.


I always going to find this part of the conversation fascinating, especially when I'm talking to someone my own age, because it kind of makes me nostalgic, because I think young people today who have the whole world at their fingertips don't realise what kind of a circumscribed world we lived in, like all the books you named. And they were part of a very small set of books you're reading. If you're a kid, you're reading and writing Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew.


Then you go on to all these standard classics that you named. Even the kind of music you listen to in college was like extremely standard, whatever you actually got cassettes of. So all of that is sort of interesting. And even in terms of careers, you know, we had so few choices open to something which pertaining to it was like, you know, you had your typical doctor and engineering and army, of course, is another kind of option, almost seems like a separate world.


And people would want to do the civil services, all of that. I'm interested in another sort of aspect of what you kind of mentioned, which is that you would read a lot of indie magazines and newspapers. And one of the interesting sort of traits that I have, you know, explored in past episodes with people like a chemical and Rahul Wormer, who you know and you know, Gizella Wahhab, who also grew up in Agra, is a you know, with the fact that they were reading in these languages, reading in the reading something different from what the sort of the English speaking world was giving you of whether that kind of made a difference in your outlook, you know, later on in life.


And I would imagine not so much with no regard to your peers in the Army, but many, many years down the line with maybe your peers in the media, where I would expect that, you know, many of the people who write about foreign policy and defence and all that would be typical Latin's daily journalism. Now, breathing and speaking and thinking in English, tell me a little bit about that aspect of you that will you also then equally shaped by what you read in the languages?


Well, people like me will perhaps kind of stinted, although I did study Indian children in school, but were kind of stunted because we had access only to one very English kind of exposure.


Yeah, Ahmed, you know, I think that is to an extent all of us are influenced by what we read. If somebody probably read Tamil literature, Tamil magazines, they will probably be influenced by that. So if for a magazine like Parmelia, which was regular at my regular place or in the newspapers or Genset when she was editing it or other magazines and magazines and the articles in the journals, in the books, or whether it is jaishankar that you are reading or whether it is done by parties and dialogue that you are reading at that young age, you know, you may not make full sense of a lot of stuff and a certain sensibility.


And I would say at that time of a socialist sensibility which persuaded the British at that point in time, you would definitely get through and shape you. In many ways. It was a period of great flux and great in the 1980s in India. I think it's the most turbulent decade in so many ways in India's history. And to be seeing it from two different worlds the English world, the times of India, world religions of the world, and the from HoJo's, his and Tarmiyah of of the world.


I think the ability to see through two separate prisons, the same incidents, the same the same issues without getting polarised, without getting into kind of the haranguing debate that we see nowadays, I think that does help shape in some way it allows you to look at certain possibilities which others may not be open to. Others may explore much later in life.


More than that, it's a lot of it is late stage reflection where we believe we read something, but we realize that we read it much later and then we transpose it to our young again and thought that we had read it at that point in time. So that's that's why I reread it and dialogue or immediately. And then I realized that I didn't get a bit of it when I was much younger or even Premji on reading at an early age when he was 17, 18, 16.


You know, you really don't get what religion is trying to say till the time you understand the socio political context in which John is writing it, which comes later in life. At the time you were reading it more like a linear story, more like events happening one after the other, more like a good novel in that sense, without realising where it is situated, where it is located and what effect it does have, which I think. So the idea that you can go back to those books again and again, or maybe you could draw up on some of those experiences, does help in some way.


But let me say one more thing. And I'm saying this with as somebody who is a Hindi wallah, so to speak, even if I did not study in the language school the day, the slight amount of arrogance that has now come and a lot of people who actually studied in Hindi or who actually were growing up in Hindi speaking households, seeing that they are the only ones who understand the real India. And I think that arrogance is something which is not correct, which is not healthy.


And people should not believe that they hold a copyright over what people would call Lutyens Delhi or people who come from different sensibilities of understanding. And India's too lost and too complex a country to die with, country to. For any one of us to claim that we understand that country or even that district, the states in India are really big and those states are really big, we would not know. And especially because India has changed so quickly and so fast, it is very hard for any one of us to claim that we understand India because I grew up in X, Y, Z place, or I read magazines and newspapers and X, Y, Z language.


I think that's not fair on the rest of us. And it shows us kind of condescending attitude, which I find at times I find very repulsive.


That's fascinating. And there's a lot to think about in what you just said. And one of the points that really struck me is that made point you made about, in hindsight, reflecting and giving greater significance to something that happened in the past. And we might know, like I often think that when we remember our past, when we kind of reconstruct our youth, we also kind of making it up as we go along. I did a fascinating episode with Aanchal Malhotra where we discussed kind of the nature of memory and how the brain actually works is first we remember something, but the next time we remember it, we are not actually remembering the original event.


We are remembering the remembering of it. And so on down the line, it's almost as if there is a game of Chinese whispers in her head. And this was like a completely alien for me when I first kind of came across, which is where memory can be so unreliable. I'm also sort of struck by what you said about the arrogance of people who are sort of this almost this inverse of the snobbishness of language. Well, earlier, the people who would study English would load upon you and now the people who started endorsing or nonliving of the real India.


And it actually seems to me that people who have had a multilingual or genuinely multilingual upbringing, not just speaking different languages, but also reading in them and reading. Papers would have different lenses with which to examine the same ball, and at some level I think there is a deepening there which is valuable, each lens can also distort what you see. So I would not place a value judgment on it. I'm sure that there are these kind of trade offs.


But since we're speaking about that period, let me just kind of think aloud and take a brief digression into something wider, which is that when we look around at other schools today, like we know that the discourse around us is deeply polarized and that there is this move perhaps exacerbated by social media, where everything is being pushed towards the extremes, almost the opposite of the median certitude of innocence, where our politics is being pushed to these extremes and so on and so forth.


So couple of questions. One. Is it the case that society is also as polarized as the polarization in our discourse would indicate that are we much more divided than we used to be? And also, my sense of Indian culture has been something that while there are these kind of strands in it that one may not appreciate, it is also very assimilative, very rich, very diverse. That cliche of rocketry with everything in it is so accurate. So now when you look back on, say, the agro in which you grew up, the people around you in those times are things that you read in the newspapers and or even the English ones.


What is your sense?


Have we really changed that much as a society or does the media today in the discourse today only amplify a division that always existed amid the I would say that from the Agra that I grew up in to the aircraft that exists now, including some of my closest friends in school with whom I studied and who are either now businessmen, doctors, professionals, whatever they may be, and probably not at my age. I do find a shift from the kind of values that we grew up with, which we all identify with at a certain point in time.


Is that shift as horrible, as sharply divided as social media may like us to believe? May or may not be true, but there has been definitely a shift which has taken place that it would be unfair or incorrect for us to say that no shift has taken place rather be shifted like we are. No, I can't talk to someone who supports a political ideology I do not find conducive or healthy. That's not true. People, my friends still talk to me and all the old boys association still means so in that sense.


But are they still the same people who would, at that point in time, feel very repulsed by what the BAJRANG bill was doing or what was going on? Islamophobia that was developing in the early 90s? Clearly not. So there has been a shift. There has been a change. But has the change been to the extent to where it's a clear split, a very clear divide, where nothing moves between the two sides? I don't think that's that's true.


But Agra may be a particularly different case because Agra has always been, as you know, made a very major BJP stronghold. The whole region has had very strong roots owing to Mr. Vajpayee and the other leaders. It's not major riots after the demolition of Babri Mosque in 1992. So it has a history. It has a parcel, I know, to sit on a value judgment or two or to give an answer based only on Agra and particularly my section of society, whom I knew in Agra, which is predominantly an upper caste, affluent, well-to-do people would not be fair.


But the off the cuff, if you put a gun to my head, I would say yes, things have deteriorated. But are they really split wide open, which cannot be bridged? May not be true.


You are showing army roots by using the expression, if I put a gun to your head, listen to me. Civilians don't do that kind of thing. It's OK.


You can maybe whatever you put our chemical weapon or something down my throat or walk away.


Yeah. Thereby indicating that civilians also contain much evil. And I kind of wonder, just to sort of take the same point forward, that it's almost a cliche on my show to say that people contain multitudes. And this is something, however, that I've been thinking pretty seriously about recently, because the truth is that all of your friends who would once have been repulsed by the budget and but today may support that party and so on and so forth, they are not simplistic people.


It's not like they shifted from one point to another point. There are many conflicting impulses within them. And all that has happened is that perhaps one particular impulse, one particular narrative strand has drawn them out a little bit more in that direction. But of many of the other impulses would remain, including assimilative impulses. And they enjoy all the gazelles and all of that, I'm quite sure. So my question is that what has happened in the past 20 or 30 years is that a particular strand of thinking about the world, about thinking almost in tribal terms, are during a certain kind of people thinking about one's culture and history in a particular way?


It was always a narrative within our society as a. Excellent book, Unforgettable shows, but it has gained dominance, and it strikes me that if it has gained dominance today, there is something about it that has been attractive to the people who have become attracted to it, like perhaps some of your friends who have gradually changed in that way. What do you think that is? And do you think that there are countervailing narratives that could also appeal to innocence, the better angels of the different angels of their nature, if we are not to put a value judgment on this particular narrative?


Very tough to say what really triggered those changes.


As you rightly said, those changes have taken place overall gradually over a period of time, and we see this dominant ideology at play. Obama has a great line in his new book and he memorized the first part. You know that some leaders come and I'm paraphrasing. And, you know, it's not the exact thing that some leaders come. They touch upon the dark side of the of the people and the dark side comes. Other leaders come and to touch upon the good side.


And he is actually referring to Trump in that sense. I know that all the venom, all the poison that you see comes out suddenly and all the anger comes out. And I do, like you said, maybe the narrative which had gained dominance, the certain kind of insecurity. So there are multiple factors at play. It is global factor of 9/11. Probably somebody on your show, I'm sure, must by now must have explained to you how Islamophobia, an anti-Islam thing, came up and nicely, beginning with the whole thing.


So, you know, is he somebody of my age? You have the demolition. The whole movement, which leads to demolition of the population, followed at the same time, simultaneously mixing it up with the insurgency in Kashmir, which really at one point in time people forget talking to break up. People really believe that Kashmir was going to break. Most of us have forgotten what the situation in Kashmir in 91, 92, 93 would like. No, it's very hard for us to now imagine the situation.


And at that point in time, I think that played into the whole narrative and eventually the political rise of a certain political force and the ideology which had always existed to be part of the decline of the political ideologies, the whole mixing of it with the economic reform, the rise of capitalism, crony capitalism, whatever you wish to wish to call it, all followed by 9/11 and the global environment around the same ideology, the rise of conservatism, art, so to speak, in a certain way.


All that at some level was mixing and matching Tildy dynamic really bust out in the open around the same time Mr President Trump comes to power and in India the BJP comes to. It's a journey, but a lot of factors which are happening in the background at the same time, along with the dominant narrative, the rise of the modern parties, the fact that they were parties which were rising, which threaten the existing status quo, whether it was the BSP, the speed with the world, they were not really something the existing parties, which were dominated by certain sections of cost and class, could digest.


So there was a lot of pushback against the change. They were trying to change the status quo. There was a lot of pushback against the status quo. And because caste system is this wonderfully created inequality. So even the middle class believed that there was somebody under them whom they could oppress. They they were trying to target them rather than trying to really go for equality. As fundamental as wonderful Latinization book, which clearly says that the idea of social justice in India was not about seeking equality while actually imposing your own inequality on somebody by capturing power.


So all those factors, the social challenge, the economic churn, the Jianjun globally placed in a context where Kashmir was happening, where massive political mobilisation was happening, Mondal was happening, 9/11 was happening, all that came together. And I think we landed where we landed up. I would even put Kargil as part of it, the fact that the militarisation of the Indian society, the fact that hero worship of a certain kind of thinking which took place at the India's first televised war, almost like the Gulf War in in the US.


And a great comparison is how the US media covered the Vietnam War and how they covered the Gulf War. Similarly, how the Indian media coverage of the military changed with Kargil is something which needs to be seen in these in the same context. And we see more and more of that going down the line. Yeah, it's fascinating.


I mean, obviously it's multifactorial and but much of what you mentioned, it's stuff that I've discussed separately here. The very interesting point that I muted that guest against raised for the first time is how the Kargil war was possibly at first televised confrontation in a sense, and could have also played a part which is so fascinating. And they're thinking about I mean, the interesting thing, as you spoke about the rise of conservatism, I would say it's the rise of the right wing policy because Trump is pretty much an anti conservative.


And even the BJP in many ways is a radical party without, you know, seeking to uproot so much that is embedded in our society, such as our tolerance and such as a cumulative nature.


But that to be fair, you know, and if you go back to the to the late 80s early. BJP is actually not a right wing party, it's actually a conservative party, Hindu Conservative Party, which has its origins in the Jun Sung, the Satendra Party and the Congress, or which are all merged in in the in the junta party. So you have the secondary parts of the world, which are part of the BJP who came from different strands of society.


So where we have landed up to may be hardcore right wing ideological project, but where we came from or the journey that we took, there were a lot of conservative points which allowed it to seamlessly get through because you said these guys are slightly different. They're not evil in that sense. They're not bad guys. They're just like slightly different. They believe in a certain way of life. And we should go with them.


And I think in that sense, the quibble I would you know, I would pick up with.


Yeah, no, no, that's absolutely a fair point. It's complex. And I did a pretty popular episode with finished up with the on this also addressing the BJP before Modi and all of those years. I mean, in fact, you know, in the 1980s when the BJP formed over the ruins of the party, it was the stated aim was Gandhi and socialism. And it's really because Congress took a move towards a certain kind of soft Hindu tour that the BJP felt compelled to go in and kind of reclaim that ground, which is very interesting.


And I telling that episode from the show notes, let's get back to the narrative of your life, as it were. And then you joined the army. What was the army like? What you expected, like what attracted you about the Army as opposed to all of the other sort of options? I mean, one, you mentioned it's a glamour and men in uniform looking supremely fit. And obviously, you know, all of that is there. But once you interpret what was Army life like, what did you enjoy?


What did you like about it or did you not like about it in the early years, the training period or or the early years, it was very enjoyable for a young man or, you know, it opens your eyes to the world. And as you rightly said, you know, I was from a pre Internet pre liberalisation generation. The Army actually showed you the world in some ways. It was a totally different world with the kind of a still had the a lot of traditions coming down inherited from the British in the original.


Very glamorous at that point in time and very fascinating. And, you know, so much of discipline, so much of clarity, very structured, regimented way of thinking all that are physically fit. No bloody civilians, you know, what do they know? Kind of if you are 21, 22 year old, it can be very intoxicating. It can really get to your head. You say, guys, we are superior to not to the whole idea in the military at that point in time that you are superior to all these people.


These guys are lesser, inferior human beings because you are disciplined, because you can run whatever 16 kilometers and this thing will run five kilometers with so much of it in twenty minutes because you can walk straight, talk straight, look straight. You can tell smartly you guys are superior beings. And so, you know, and for any human being, especially a 20, 22, 23 year old guy, it's very easy to believe that he's superior to others.


They don't read. In any case, all of us believe you believe it even now. I believe it is now that I'm so at that point in time, it just gets to your head. So that's wonderful. So you are completely intoxicated and you love it and you know that you love the fact that all this is happening. A lot of people are disillusioned as a young army officers when they are posted to police stations, because in police stations you are doing some bit of training or doing a lot of routine administration.


It's a very boring, thankless kind of job. It is not that challenging. Fortunately, I was lucky I landed up in Kashmir. I ended up in Srinigar early on for three years and she never got to that point of time was the peak of militancy. You know, I was a place called Jinnah. It used to be the old Jekyll's centre and it was the peak of militancy.


And as Saper officer, you young support officer, you would go with the immediate patrols, you would diffuse IEDs, you would make bridges, you will do all the other things dealing with explosives. So it was a challenging time and very, very difficult. So you were experiencing what really one does not realize at that point in time that one will never experience again in the military, actually. So I to straightaway go there was pretty enjoyable, pretty heady Innova and almost kind of validated the decision to join the army.


It is as you grow in service, as you do more, more peaceful things, as you go through routine administrative duties, as you realise that it is like any other organisation, any other bureaucracy. And yet with all these internal politics, everything, etc, then you slowly realise that this is a different and you also grow up. You will reflect back and reflect at things, look at things. And that is how one traverses the journey. But for me, the early years, at least the first five, six years of my service were really wonderful, were really enjoyable.


And they in some sense, they are still Nomaka in my life.


But but when you talk about the military or the military training, there is a great phrase in just one things memoirs about military training. And I actually admired it when I read it, because if some and he was saying that he thought about this when he was sixteen, he was in the National Defence Academy. And if somebody could think about that at 16 while he was undergoing military training after coming from male, that it actually breaks your military training, breaks you down and tries to fit you in a pattern.


And I try to resist breaking down. Without being pointed out, he said in my head, I decided I would not break down and would not form part of this pack, and I thought if somebody could actually think that at 16 and do it, it's amazing. And most people do not even realize that they are being broken down in the name of discipline, in the name of motivation. And we try to fit into a pattern for just one thing to realize it.


And that's why he decided to quit the army very early, fail, and then again went on to quit the army much later. It's a great couple of pages in his memoir, something called A Matter of Honor, that I thought that was a very apt description. But for lesser mortals like us, very difficult to ascertain at an early stage in life, it takes much longer to realize the bit of truth in that it may not be the full truth, but it contains a lot of truth.


That statement from just one, you know, that is in fact a staggering bit of self-awareness, like not just for someone 816, but anyone I mean, that kind of self-awareness where you can look at yourself and what's happening to you like that is pretty rare. So, you know, a smaller question and a broader question and the smaller question is not so much smaller, really, but it pertains only to you, therefore. But it's a larger question pertaining to you, which is not just wanting self-awareness.


And obviously not everybody can have that and all of that. But what is your image of yourself developing through this entire period? Like, of course, you are a young man. You get into the army, you've pointed out, you know, all the seductions of it. You know, your feet, your your feet and everyone. You probably you think you're smarter than everyone because you are being taught stuff within the army and all of those things are there.


But how is your self image then evolving over a period of time? Like how does Wisconsin see himself at 18 and 22 and 26 and 30? And how is that kind of progressing over time?


It's a tough question to answer, but I think at 22 or 23, the self reflection is more about that. I'm doing a great job. I'm doing a wonderful job, and perhaps I'm doing national service and I'm doing something which I'm trained for and I'm enjoying myself by age 30.


And I'm now just trying to calculate when I was when I was when I was the age when I was age 30 by age 30. It is, you know, as you go up the slightly up the hierarchy, you become more aware of the career, you know, the advance career advancement, the promotions, the courses, the routine administrative things and other bureaucratic norms which are there. And you also move along in your family life. You probably get married, you may or may not have kids or you are on your way to having kids, etc.


And that brings a different dimension to the whole life. What people expect you to be more responsible, your bosses, which is which they don't expect to give credit, where credit can be really brash and people will say, oh, he's a young man. So he's got a lot of George, as I called him the other. So all those things happen in that journey. Yeah, more self awareness, more self reflection starts coming in and you start looking at the world.


You are looking at the world outside. By that time, you know, when you are when you're 21, 22, you are probably among the earliest lot of your friends will settle down in life and earning a salary and, you know, having a good job by the time you are thirty. Most of your friends have settled down. They're earning they are also living a life. So you are able to even if you don't want to almost compare with others and look at others and see how they are doing by the time they are also settling down, how their life is.


And then you start reflecting on what could have gone better for them, what could have gone better for you. Yeah, that is a time when you start looking at yourself differently. You have done a couple of people staying positive, etc. You start wanting to do well in your career. All those things take place. So at that point in time.


So and at this point, I'd also sort of like to ask you about, like I find it interesting that you were sort of in two separate bubbles at two different points in time, one of which you already mentioned. It's the Army bubble where, you know, people within the army will look at themselves as different from the civilians and perhaps a little superior. But the other interesting bubble is the bubble which you are in when you were in Kashmir. Kashmiri people are, you know, one thing and you are in a bubble of your own as somebody from India, from mainland India, somebody who is in the army.


And in a sense, there is at some level, surely some sense where the local people look upon you with hostility as if you were oppressors, you were kind of in order for them. What was that sort of period like? Like what it felt like, first of all, for a person in the army in Kashmir at that point, what is your approach towards the local population? What is their approach towards you? And how does their thinking kind of deepen as the years go by?


Yeah, so the period that I'm talking about that we're discussing is the early 90s. And at that point in time, the of the situation was very tense in Kashmir and the army was really trying to regain control. In some ways. There was no civilian government in place in Kashmir and things had been very, very bad. A lot of army units, lot of paramilitary forces that had been had been pushed inside the pushed inside the valley. There was, of course, a lot of hostility from the Kashmiris towards the security forces.


But the equation was clear. The PA was with the security forces who were trying to establish some kind of order, some kind of, you know, take part. Don't leave the stamp of state past that point in time, trying to deal both of the militancy or the militancy that will support being supported by the Pakistan while also trying to find a way to deal with the civilian population. This is the period in Kashmir where it is more about dealing with the armed militancy and regaining some kind of control over the violence in the in the Kashmir Valley.


And there was, of course, as I said, a lot of hostility, which one could see. And people, the soldiers, the officers, a lot of them are dying, a lot of them losing their lives. A lot of militants were coming in from well-trained from Pakistan. And many of those who are coming, who had fought in Afghanistan and against the Soviet Union and had been freed after the war got over and all were fighting with the Taliban, all the forces, and were coming back.


It was a very tough period. The Indian army was itself learning how to deal with this kind of counterinsurgency. As you know, Indian army had only dealt with counterinsurgency in Nagaland before that audience. Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka was a totally different kind of experience against the LTTE. A lot of lessons which were learned from the LTTE could not be actually used against these militants, these militants who were trained and are in a totally different frame and and were using completely different things.


To give you an example, the kind of IEDs or the improvised explosive devices that the LTTE used, but more like Vietnam in that sense, you know, bamboo sticks, you know, all those deceptive, deceptive kind of things. But what you saw here was far more technologically advanced electronics, almost like with remote control, IEDs and all those other kind of things, pressure switches, things which were far more sophisticated or different. The tactics were different, a far more battle hardened people.


They had better weaponry in that sense. And the army, as you know, and the Indian forces since the time of 1950s in Nagaland do not use air power, do not use heavy weaponry. When I say heavy weaponry, they do not use mortars. They do not use artillery against any of the armed militants is a very rare example of the money poor in the late 1960s, a very powered use. So that actually makes it almost, if I may say, a battle of equals, so to speak, that he also the militant also has an AK 47.


I also have an AK 47 who is better with the weapon will win. But it is not like a duel in that sense. It's of course, there are more things in the numbers, the understanding of the terrain, the local support, all those factors come into play.


So it was a very tough period. The sympathy for the local population was limited at that point in time as the target was militancy and suppressing the violence. So that is how it was at that point in time. And the whole idea was about wresting back control of Kashmir and to ensure that it is that it remains a part of India and the sovereignty of the Indian state is not is not harmed. A lot of it was directed towards that.


I wrote a column a few years ago which was about sort of how the situation in Kashmir, it kind of evolved. And one of the things I wrote about in that was exactly what you said about counterinsurgency, which, you know, in fact the Iraq war. Even the Americans really hadn't figured it out. David Galula wrote of the famous book a few decades ago called Counter Insurgency Warfare Theory and Practice. And one of the early practitioners of this kind of warfare was, in fact, my one of my generals defined counterinsurgency as 20 percent military action and 80 percent political.


And he Lorensen seven pillars of wisdom, once spoke about how good war upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife stockwood and eating soup with the knife, in fact, seems a very sort of vivid description of what it would have felt like. And one of the points that they kind of made, and there's a great book by Fred Kaplan called I think the Insurgents about the insurgents within the American army, including David Petraeus, who try to sort of bring this new wisdom to the fore after the Iraq war went downhill.


But talk about again, go back to the 20 percent military, 80 percent political part and see that what an army must do in any situation of such insurgency is what they call clear, build, hold. Let first you clear the ground of all the terrorists who are coming from outside, and then you kind of consolidate that and all of that. And a lot of it involves getting the local population to your side. And this seems to me to have been a spectacular failure of the Indian army in Kashmir, but that essentially the Indian administration that I won't just say the army alienated local Kashmiris.


And a lot of that just happened the way the incentives went down. For example, David David also wrote a book called The Generation of Rage in Kashmir, where at one point he talks about how, you know, the number of kills, the number of terrorists killed became a metric for the advancement of the forces. So he speaks about how good officers and units sometimes competed to notch up higher numbers, stop quote. He talks about how there was a bump him of culture.


Suspects were routinely killed in encounters. He gives cases where innocent people are taken from one area to the other, killed pastor of a terrorist to get rewards, and this kind of continues like the of those. For example, there's one barrel from his book, which I quoted in my column, which struck me as striking. That will hit bottom experiences in 2005 when he was in his late teens, abusive officer accused him of being a militant, dramatically holding a pistol to his head and then tortured him mentally until he broke down.


He was released after administering. The state government intervened, but the swaggering officer threatened while letting him go that he would discover weapons from the car and then blow up that car with the boy in it. The boy was studying in Class 11 when he became a victim of such torture and threats. The reason was agreed that officer wanted the boy's new black Indigo Girls topcoat. And there was a Ducey's overall point is that the situation in Kashmir was actually becoming much better during the time Vajpayee had his talks with Nawaz Sharif and, you know, in the middle of the 80s.


But it suddenly became much worse because the administration just kept treating the locals in a sense, the way the British treated us, if not far worse, looking back in that period with, you know, perhaps a lot of the wisdom you have in hindsight as well. Would you see the Indian army made big mistakes there in the 1990s? And if so, what were they?


So I made a very long question and very tough question to answer for a former Army man. But let me put it this.


The insurgency and the counterinsurgency in Kashmir, at least what I have understood, the way I look at it is actually divided into two parts. One is the period between eighty nine and ninety six. And of course there are multiple parts to it.


Dahli pathological flirt and then the killer declines. The killer is the urban local know Kashmiri Azadi kind of a group which is replaced by a more pro Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen which actually suppresses the elephant, almost finished the year at that point in time. Then comes the period of the suicide bombers, the suicide attack of the Fedayeen who start attacking. And this is all happening within the 90s, within 96. And I'm 96 as a marker because of the elections that took place, which were supposedly successful.


Both the Laksamana as well as the assembly elections, assembly elections brought forward to the government, to government, to party. And around the same time, you have the counterinsurgents party and the and the others who were propped up by the state to fight against the insurgency.


The whole endeavor at that point in time, in this period. When you look from the angle of the state, Indian state at that point in time, what somehow get control of this situation? And the only thing that the metric or the metric for bringing the control was can I suppress the violence?


And I know for a fact that the idea Manoj Joshi probably has quoted in his book on Kashmir about that period, it's very clear that the why is the local afraid of the militant and not afraid of the army remain inside. Look at it wrongly, but try to think of an institution, a state, an organisation under tremendous pressure and almost an instrument of last resort, believing that things were slipping away and trying to regain control. That was the mindset with which that period was approached in 96.


So in 1996 comes to power with a huge majority. And I think there is a shift that takes place in Kashmir around that time. And I'm not going to say the shift is radical in some ways, but there is some semblance of democracy at that point in time. The Army's behaviour that not only the behavior of the security forces changes. And I saw this in my own eyes, even in a place like Srinagar, the behavior changes. You people could walk up to their local MLA, etc.


who could come if there was something wrong or something which was harsh being done by the security forces and could represent even a semblance of democracy could actually allow that to happen in Kashmir at that point in time, from 96 until almost 2003, 2003, when the cease fire takes place on the line of control.


And this is the peak of the Vajpayee Musharraf engagement. And this is really the high point of that indeed is a totally different phase of insurgency where actually violence does not come down. But army, the security forces response becomes less harsh. Now, I'm not going to argue with you and say everything was fine, everything was hunky dory, and we were like completely following everything in the world but know. But this is the period when the chiefs of Army staff's commandments are told to everyone.


People are actually sent behind bars. People are punished through court martials for any excesses. People are being held to account in whatever manner that they were being held to account, whether through the channels of the military or through other channels of the of the state. And this is a time when violence actually does not go down in 2001, if I'm not wrong, is the peak of militancy in Kashmir in terms of legality at some 3000, 4000 people died in Kashmir in 2001 from 2003 when the cease fire takes place.


And 2001 is actually when Musharraf goes on television and says they know that we will stop all militant training, we will do everything, etc, etc., 2000, 2001, 2002 and by 2003 of the cease fire, the militancy suddenly comes down. And by 2012 we have one hundred more people dead. And I think 2012 is the lowest in militancy. And then it again, it's a secular decline, almost like 400 or 300 or 200 like like 2012.


If I am not wrong with the period when less people died in Kashmir than they died before 89 and a normal robbery, that that whatever violence you would have on the streets and towards 2012 there a rise which really shoots through the roof both 2015 and 2016. Woodhaven. So in the whole thing, how I put it is, you know, eighty nine to ninety six more desperate face when you try to regain the amount of control, ninety six to two thousand three and a more stable kind of, you know, more trying to find a balance between how to use the strong arm as well as trying to win the hearts and minds, so to speak.


But there's a conversation that is going on. It's not a perfect thing, but the conversation that is going on. And then from 2003, the end of the militancy is coming down Mufti's from the government in PDP, from the government with Congress. And then Omar comes to power with Congress. The state governments is asserting that the part of this whole structure, which is created in Shinagawa, in Jammu, where they where they had the committees which have the military within it, and from 2003 to 2014 15 is a totally different phase of militancy in Kashmir.


And it is around 2015, 2016 that militancy and all this time more local than supported by Pakistan really shoot through the roof. So I don't know if you're aware, but this year, so far, every single militant who has been killed in Kashmir Valley is a local. There's no foreign military. Yeah, this is a stunning data. I don't think in the last thirty years we have ever had a where there was no foreign militant killed. So if it continues, I don't know whether it will continue or not.


But a few days back, no foreign militants had been killed. And that is the phase in which I think the Army's response becomes more and more strong. Armed response, which we saw in south Kashmir, which we saw in the in the photograph of that of the gentleman being taken on a blown out of a jeep and all those kind of visual public images which were not condemned by the state or people were not punished for those transgressions. But we were justified and in some cases even being rewarded for what they were doing at that point in time.


And I think that's the journey Kashmir has seen in some ways. It's not been a happy journey for Kashmiris. It's not been a happy journey for the Army. I don't think any institution benefits by being in this kind of environment for a long period of time. And probably there was a time when things could have been settled better if the state administration had been much more stronger, much more powerful, if the army had been more willing to take a certain amount of risk.


If Pakistan was not as perfidious as it was, if probably Afghanistan was not in turmoil and the Americans were not trying to pacify it with Pakistani support, all those kind of things, what if there are a lot of counterfactuals? There are a lot of what ifs that can be used. But unfortunately, now we are at a point in Kashmir where it looks pretty bad from the perspective of the Kashmiris in Kashmir you speak to doesn't really have nice things to say about the Indian state.


And that's pretty hurtful for most of us.


You know, that chronology dovetails exactly with what they've done describes in his book. In fact, earlier I said the watch by Nawaz Sharif talks, but we've spoken Dipo, obviously, I mean, Vajpayee, Musharraf. So in 2003 starts getting better. But what happens and this is probably not just an Army issue, it's a BSF issue. It's a police issue. Big deal does in his book writes about how the people who became senior police officers in the late 80s were people who grew up at the height of the insurrection.


So they were used to strong arm methods. There was massive rent seeking because the street was using its power. There was daily humiliation. Like at one point he wrote skort. Most men had at some point been abused, slapped or kicked on their way after a soldier had looked at their ID card or they had watched a father or an uncle being slapped or ordered to do squats while holding his ears on me to stand on his hands with his feet propped against a wall on a public road while neighbors and relatives passed by, humiliation was one of the keys to control stop good entirely sounding worse than the British were with us.


And the question here is, how do we think of something like. Legitimacy like you actually served in Kashmir at one point in the early 90s and like you said, this is in the first phase where a lot of the militancy was coming from outside. You've said that the locals trusted the army more than the militants. And in a sense, they're caught between a rock and a hard place. But this question of how legitimate you are considered to me is really important, because if you're not considered legitimate, if you're looked upon as an occupier, then every arrest is an abduction.


Everyone who every local who dies for whatever reason, it can be looked upon as a murder. So what was your experience there in Kashmir like? Did it evolve over a period of time? And do you feel that in a sense, you know, like going back to that whole counterinsurgency formula that is 20 percent military and 80 percent political? Is that something you agree with? And was this something that the Army was not equipped to do, that you're equipped to win the military part of it?


How the hell do you do the rest of it in hindsight, when we look back at that period, what other kind of feelings that one can see? And what would the army, having learned from all of those lessons, be in a better place to do the job? If you had to sort of in a groundhog kind of Groundhog Day, kind of relive history again? Two things.


One is that the army actually acted against a lot of misdemeanours. So I will not say that every element was punished, but everything wrong that was reported or brought into the public domain, people did get punished and people went behind bars. People suffered for their promotions, all those things. They were not taken lightly. In that sense. Maybe the reason may not be human rights, but the reason maybe that the institution did not want the discipline to go down.


Maybe the reason was that the institution did not want it to be perceived badly by the public. A larger public, large Indian public. Maybe that's the narrative in the country was different. The larger political administrative sentiment in the country thought different. Maybe the courts in the country thought differently at that point in time. So there was no reward for doing something wrong. And if you got caught, you know, you were in trouble. There's no doubt about that.


And people did get punished for it, that that's something which we must recognize. So we just want that as if it was free for all that everything that went unpunished and was rewarded. And that that's not true in Army's defense. I must say that in the defense of the security forces or the or the Indian state, now, that's debatable whether it was up to the right extent when it should have been done, whether it really, really allowed us to build trust.


And, you know, we have the example of the Americans in Vietnam, Americans in Afghanistan, Iraq. You know, this is the whole debate, which is like none of us have the answers to that debate. In that sense, could the Army have provided the final solution or the.


And I'm not using the final solution and it's not going to court, unfortunately.


So I'm sorry. Nor could the Army have provided a more lasting permanent solution to the problem in that sense on its own. I don't think that was possible by the very nature of the army without the other arms of the state taking their responsibility, including the political leadership and being supported by the central in a big way. And those opportunities were there at multiple points in time, especially when the violence has subsided in the early 2010. And then in the early part of the previous decade, there was a possibility that something like you remember the debate around the removal of ISPA from urban areas of Kashmir, which was supported by Mr.


Pritchard as the oil minister and others. But the UPA was opposed by the Army and the Defence Ministry and then defence minister again. And it could not be there were moments which are not grasped in Kashmir very clearly. And these movements cannot grow politically more than by the military. I would not want the military to go and start telling the politician how to do politics. That would be more like Pakistan than within the military was doing what it was being told to do what I thought was the right thing to do within the domain of independence that it was given, within the task that it was given, there were mistakes made.


I think everybody in the army would accept that there were mistakes made. Some of them went unpunished and some of them were, of course, punished. Things could have been done better than could have been done in a much smarter way, a much better way. And but the nature of the organisation, the nature of the institution, the certain inherent characteristics to which the military looks at various rules and military is not the police for a reason or not the gendarmerie or the paramilitary for a reason to come into play, because you at the end of the day, you do not want to reduce the military to a paramilitary force or to a police force because it has to deal with an external enemy and deal with an external entity.


There's a psychological mindset of the organisation of the institution, which is different from other security forces and which does come into play at many points in time. It is also that, you know, if the paramilitary forces failed, they will call in the army, the police will call me paramilitary forces. But if the army fails, whom do you call it? You really cannot call in anybody. So I think that pressure of having to succeed if I fail, then there's nothing after me.


It's almost like the number seven or number eight batsmen in cricket. If I felt the pressure of somebody batting and that's the thing. I'm trivializing the. What I'm saying is that nothing after me, so I really need to so, you know, people can make decisions under that kind of pressure, which are not the decisions. They will look back very fondly at a few years down the line. And I think that's how I would characterize it. That's how I would I would put it across.


You know, that analogy about the number seven batsmen is spoken like a true IT skater because this was true in the 80s, No.7 Otagi together. But today today we have such pleasant betting that you are going to come out of the army context just as someone who's kind of lived in Kashmir and I assume you have some familiarity and affection which goes beyond whatever your army experience might have been. What do you feel when you look at it today? Like I thought what happened a couple of years back and of course, I had a great episode on this with their mutual friends who, you know, struggle.


And I remember being very despondent at the time because I thought India has lost Kashmir for two decades, like I cannot. And especially after what has happened since where for months and months they have no Internet. And I mean, everything that happened just felt that it was a huge turning point towards the worse. What's your sense of all of that?


Yeah, that episode with Schnozzle, by the way, a great episode is a very dear friend and a very dear friend. And what more can I say? Actually, it's very, very sad, in fact, that Kashmir is a deep place, that it isn't. And the Kashmiris had to undergo all that they have undergone in the last couple of last couple of years, including denial of basic rights like the weather, the Internet, or whether it be freedom to move or to do other things, and the whole characterisation of Kashmiris as being something different from Indians.


And I'm saying Indians in inverted commas, the way the whole narrative has been framed on certain news television channels and the way it has been politically exploited. It leaves me very, very despondent. And, you know, it raises the fundamental question, are we in Kashmir for the land or are we in Kashmir also for the people who really have led the Kashmiris down in a big way? And for all those of us who think that we may not speak for Kashmiris today because it doesn't really matter, they are one part of the thing and they have a different history, narrative, context.


We realized sooner or rather than later that it can then come to other parts of the country has been one of my closest friends with a very reputable Kashmiri journalist and I'm not going to name him here, but he says that guys don't think that what's happening in Kashmir won't happen in India tomorrow. A lot of this is what is been tried there is then being used in the rest of the country. So I think that's something Indians, if not for out of any altruistic motives or reasons of ideology, at least for their self-preservation, in for their self-interest, a of people should actually think about Kashmiris and stand in their support or not allow the violation of human rights in Kashmir to the extent that has happened in the last couple of years, at least.


No, it's tragic, and I actually meant well that it might even be too late for that. I mean, it reminds you of the name of the poem, right, where fossicking for and I didn't speak up. And then they came for being the nickname for and then they came for days and then they came for me. And there was no one to speak of for me broadly. And you see. Right. In fact, playing out in the sense that when 370 was repealed, Kejriwal actually became a cheerleader for the government and put out that tweet about how he supports the move.


And now they've come for him and now they've gone for Delhi. And what are you going to do? And the larger mindset which applies to all of us and your friend is absolutely right when he says that it holds a lesson for all of us. The larger mindset is that the state looks at itself as a colonial state in the sense that they are the rulers and we are the subjects. And the moment you become subjects and not citizens, then everything is up for grabs.


And first, it happened to the Kashmiris where there's no reason that if that mindset is pervasive and their mindset is even pervasive in the people, not just in the state, then what are you kind of going to do about it?


So, yes, what I missed the whole point is, as you rightly said, citizens, not subjects and the citizens. What is the difference between a citizen and a subject that a citizen has certain inalienable rights which are bestowed upon it? And it is essentially we do not see those rights being spoken of. We see that trusty state trust an individual. You know, he is giving you this. She is giving you that. Take it and be happy.


And also and so, so much of amount of money is coming. It's not that I have certain rights which are much attention to me and which I enshrined to me not only in the Indian Constitution, but even without the Indian constitution as a human being. I met many people. Forget that the cases for habeas corpus, which are upheld by the various high courts during the emergency and this is beautifully explained in putting up an island because of the new book on the emergency, were not upheld because of the Constitution, because the Constitution was in abeyance, fundamental rights, and they were upheld on the grounds that certain rights are inaudible to a person, to a human being, with or without the constitution.


And habeas corpus is one of those rights. In today's times, the habeas corpus is not being apparently your habeas corpus petitions have been lying for four months. Habeas corpus is the very basic fundamental right of habeas. How can you have a liberal democracy if habeas corpus is not being upheld? The Supreme Court, with due respect, you and I'm to be charged for contempt of court, but the Supreme Court, with due respect, saying that, you know, you can go but not do politics or can go and see him go and touch him and give him medicine.


But don't do this. That is what habeas corpus is presenting. Why is he being kept behind bars or the fact that Mahboba mostly or Farooq Abdullah Abdullah, the gates were being shut down during the elections and they're not being allowed to go out. How do you justify the images being put out? And this goes beyond the Constitution. This goes to us as human beings. These are certain rights which which over the years have emerged. And this is how those rights, while doing the emergency, has well by the various high courts.


And you know how it went on from there. The Supreme Court came in and the new new laws were brought in and the 40 Second Amendment, etc, etc. But this is what we have completely forgotten when it comes to the Kashmiris and to the way the Indians, all the institutions of the Indian state, have dealt with this situation. It's almost like a death with a thousand cuts that the various institutions of the state, whether it is the parliament, whether it is the or whether it is the judiciary, whether it is the other accountable and constitutional bodies who have not really upheld in that sense.


That's a fantastic point. And it's something that I will again underscore w underscored that, you know, that our rights are not something that are granted to us by a benevolent state that we necessarily require the Constitution to have. We are all human beings. We have some autonomy, some dignity and all of that. And I'm glad you sort of share that Lockean vision, as it were, on most of the world. Yeah. I mean, before we sort of descend into mutual despair, I think let's take a quick commercial break, think some happy thoughts and come back and talk about the army and the rest of your journey and where we stand today, right after.


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And hey, for a 15 percent discount use code unseen. That's right. Unsign for 15 percent off at Indian Colors dot com. Welcome back to the scene in The Unseen, I'm chatting with Suzanne sing about, you know, his time both in the Army and later as an analyst and a serious thinker on all of these issues. And I'm not going to ask you about the Army. See, like what is very interesting is that we got a slice of the same army that Pakistan got a slice of, and this was a colonial era army which was set up to essentially, you know, to control the people, you know, Stephen Wilkinson and his book Army and Nation writes about how, you know, the British had this vision of India.


As you know, they divided it neatly into pieces and costs and all that. So they picked from what they call the Marshall races, Punjabis and so on, and they put them in the army to control the rest of the people. And and, you know, there was always this fear that what is going to happen after independence? Will there be clashes? And what we saw and you know, when Ambedkar argued for a separate Pakistan, one of the kind of, you know, in his 1941 book, I think also in Pakistan, one of his points was that what's going to happen with the army and how is that dynamic going to play out?


And we saw how it played out in Pakistan, but in India, it didn't play out that way because there was a great sort of consciousness of what could go wrong and what we needed to do in the nation that we were. Tell me a little bit about that period, because it seems crucial we could have gone in another direction. Of course, that we didn't is because of certain decisions made in 47 certain directions we took with regard to the army.


Tell me about how the army evolved in the decades after independence and what really was going on there.


So, you know, Clinton Stephen Wilkinson's book is absolutely fantastic. And the last chapter actually answers this question, which you have raised. He talks about the various AQ proofing measures that were taken, the whole idea of race and how the army tried to move away from the idea of caspase this thing and try to control who became what kind of percentages of people that they had so that there could be no dominant group could control the army. And the third point, which he makes, and as well as my uncle Michael, read a fantastic book of a thin book, black of our book name, probably Allenville by email, which we can add in the north, which India and Pakistan actually took different paths, and why one remained democratic on the other end.


And the fact that the Communist Party, with a more institutionalized structure, which operated in a manner which could deal with the diversity of the country, allowed it to deal with the Army as a more representative, popular institution of the country could deal with the army in a much better manner. It was not easy, as you know, with Korea and a lot of others. There was they were they were there because of the tension and pushback at some point in time, but because of the institutionalised nature of the Indian polity and the leadership and the uncertain steps that they took, they could handle one point, which nobody actually speaks about and which I think needs to be understood, is that the Indian army did not emerge out of the independence movement.


It was not an army of the revolution. It is not the place. It really is an army of the Communist Party of China. It is not the army or the Chinese state or it's not even arming of various Latin American state or Southeast Asian states who fought for the freedom of the country along with the southern people, locals. And then once they became free, they become the national army. The Indian army became a national army despite being a colonial army.


It was a fantastic switch, which it did, which it played by fundamentally saying that we are a professional force, have a professional army, we do our job professionally. We were playing a role in the professional army earlier and we are playing our job with a professional army now. And our rules are different than the democratic norms under which we are operating and we will continue to operate within these norms. It is not only in all seventy one. Stephen Cohen says 71.


Many of us may say 90s or late 80s into stocks, taking a more nationalistic tone where the army starts representing the nation or becomes the epitome of the nation. And when then it starts happening, it of course starts controlling the mindspace of the people far more as far greater influence on policy making then when it is, you know, slightly cut off from the mainstream politics in that sense. And I think the fact that it was not an army which emerged out of the independence movement, which slightly put it slightly on the back foot and also allowed it to Rycroft, reimagine its role, its position in the new set up in India opposed to independence, which allowed Indians to, along with all the other factors that Wilkinson and to mention, allows India to actually not go to Pakistan.


So Pakistan actually does not have a freedom movement. It's not something that they really fought for from the British in that sense, unlike India. And so so it's a totally different experience that they undergo. And of course, then they lose. They lose. Generally, they lose. Liaqat, immediately after that, there's huge turbulence. And then then you realizes that, you know, they are here when they go and clean Karachi over four or five days ahead.


That is great at this great institution. And then he suddenly realizes that why am I the defence minister, the army chief? Why can't I be the. Governor-General of the country and, you know, and the whole thing completely takes a totally different tone in India, in contrast to the generals who try to get into politics, did not do well for a couple of elections, did not do well at all.


It was from one of the consequences in Bombay that he lost a lot of other people out of the military. Officers did not do well when they tried to bring out the military past. So people like just one thing, and that's the only military officer who has really gone up the chain and become the defence minister. The foreign minister, the finance minister was just one thing. And I think he really did not tom-tom his military background to that to that extent.


So a couple of threads and I'll go through them one by one, and the first of those threads is that obviously the China what happens? And that kind of changes a civil military dynamic where there is this sense that there wasn't enough dialogue between the army and the government. And the army was asked to do things which it could not have done. And had there been a proper processes in place of dialogue between the two, it would not have happened.


What is also happening at this time is that natural sensibility doesn't want what happened in Pakistan or what would happen in Pakistan to happen here. So there is significant civilian control over the military. But a lot of this happens in a lot of districts, a form of bureaucratic control where there is a ministry with orders about things and all of that who are now in charge of the entire armed forces. And obviously, this has proximate effect of keeping the military away from politics.


But does it have also have an ultimate effect or an effect down the line, a second order effect of sort of ossifying processes where in the same sense that the bureaucracy all over India governance has become so ossified and almost paralyzed in certain ways? Does a similar thing happen in the army, especially you've, I mean, written at great length about how there just isn't enough money, it's not a modern force, it's not being modernized, and you almost see sort of the negative impact of that.


What's your sense on what this you know, this dynamic is of this bureaucratic control over the army and the pros and the cons and the directions it's going? And 1962 is a complicated one.


I'm sure you did the episode with three, not you did one episode of it sooner than his first book.


I haven't done one specifically in China, but in the case of war and peace in modern India, his first book actually talks about it. So the so the whole reality and the myth of how much of it was abdication of civilian responsibility and how much of it was bureaucratic control. But yes, it is true to a great extent that at least the the armed forces, not only the army, but the armed forces, believe that bureaucratic control has been detrimental to their growth and to their development.


And that has allowed that has kept them away from the political leadership, which has been a constant complaint and constant complaint. That we are not under bureaucratic civilian control does not mean bureaucratic control. It means political control of parliamentary control, back to the control by the people, to the parliament or to the political leadership. Now, that's a debatable point, and it's something there are two sides to it all.


Political executives operate through bureaucracies. Bureaucracies are normal instruments, including civilian bureaucracies. And if you replace civilian bureaucracies with military bureaucracies, would they be operating any differently now? That's a question which is a difficult question to answer, but that's a question which most people can grapple with and I do not have an answer to.


Could India have done better if there was less bureaucratic control and the and the armed forces were given more independence? It's a question which is very difficult to answer, and I don't think we still have an answer to that over the years.


So especially in the last 20, 25 years, a lot of freedom, a lot of independence has come to the armed forces and come to the military leadership in what the 1971 war is a great example of really political leadership and the military worked closely. That was a success. But the fact that even Bluestar or i.p gave up power in Operation Pavane there also the military leadership was very closely aligned with the political leadership or brass tacks where India and Pakistan almost came to war in 86.


Those things also happened when the political and military leadership was very closely aligned.


The budgets were very high period of highest military budget. As defense budgets are depleted of military and Rajiv's time, they are the four percent of the GDP. At that point in time. We are now down to, what, two percent or something? Something like that. So it is that period, even in that period that doesn't lead to great, great results, great outcomes in that sense. So it is very hard to say what the right mix is and what leads to the right answers and what doesn't lead to the right answers.


Is there the right balance? And I think that's a very dynamic balance. What most people think is that a static balance. You know, you arrive at a solution and that that's what it remains. I think when the military conflict is imminent or when the Army's armed forces are fighting a war or they are about to fight a war, then the balance of the military relationships would be completely different from a peacetime scenario of where the political leadership would probably be more hands off, allowing the military to train for itself, do things.


But the fundamental thing where I think most people fail to understand civil military relations is if you look at it only through the prism of the relationship between the military as an institution and the civilian leadership as an institution, it is actually not that it deals with the whole of the society, the military's position in the society, how military affects the society. It also deals with how military deals with politics. How does it work with operate in politics? How does it look at politics?


And essentially, the point that I am trying to make is that. It is not a full circle thing there, just not two points which are engaging with each other. There's also a larger blob of the public which is there to which the democratically elected leadership is responding, which is also being influenced by the army. When the army deals with this larger blob, it indirectly can pressurize the political leadership to take various decisions that it takes. So it is just not that there's a ball line which goes between whatever you want to call it, the civilian executive and the military leadership.


There is also a big dashed line which goes to this blob called the larger public opinion and which can be operated through the media as primarily media is the vehicle through which it operates and to which it allows you to shape the narrative. And there are numerous examples of this.


We spoke about the removal of officers from the urban areas of Kashmir and the in of the last time. That, as an example, is the withdrawal from Seattle that has been well recorded, that the then army chief went into the meeting and said, no, that cannot be we cannot move it from scratch at the last moment, which did not allow a deal to take place with Pakistan. I'm not saying whether it was right or wrong, but the fact is that the military leadership did have a say in doing it after creating a narrative or the fact that a new China strike was created after a lot of articles came out in the Indian media between 2011 and 2014 saying that India needs a new strategy for China to fight to take on the Chinese threat.


Of course, that strike would never come true because it's such a financially taxing option that no government can afford to have. It has not been fully there so far. It remains only partially true. But the point I'm trying to make is that the political leadership and the military leaderships interact not only directly between the leaders, but also to the public in which media starts playing an important role. And through that, a lot of actions, a lot of decisions which are taken are influenced or happen in that context are situated in that context.


And so I'm just thinking aloud here that would it then mean that if there is a growing nationalism happening in the country and obviously the armed forces are sort of tied in with that nationalism and you're proud of the soldier, and how can you protest about X, Y or Z, then your soldiers are dying at the border. All that rhetoric is it does it then become natural for the armed forces to be drawn towards politics? Like at one point you've written about how during peacetime generally people complained to him that, you know, the images of the three service chiefs were being used in BJP advertising.


And he was like, well, you know, what is this? You can't do this. And yet, just a few years later, you know, you have Bipin Robert after Balakot playing along with the macho political rhetoric of taught them a lesson and so on and so forth, rather than keeping a distance. And obviously, there is now the precedent of, you know, former generals actually joining the cabinet and so on, which in terms of incentives, just creates completely the wrong incentives, because now you can, you know, play up your time in uniform and turn it into political capital and all of that.


So and somehow over the decades, it seems to me, you know, like whatever overtures go to your choreopoem might have made towards running in politics after he retired, before he retired, he was non-political. In fact, after independence, I believe he sent a letter out to his forces saying that whatever happens, we shall not have anything to do with politics and it's off to politics. He went in the other direction that no one is refueler. That wall is falling.


No. Two, should there be a line that one draws who defines the line? Why is the line defined that way? And what institutions and what rules of the game can keep their distance for distance needs to be kept.


So the distance between the civilian and the military is healthy because, as you said, military leadership comes with a certain halo and a certain aura of sacrifice, which is hard for any civilian leadership to match any civilian opponent. And that is why you can't have a former military officer in the United States without a special sanction being given the post of the defence secretary in the U.S. And when General Austin Lloyd Austin actually gets the post, he cannot use these children.


So his secretary, not a journalist. You know, this is completely different from how because, you know, you can't show kids that you are a former military officer. You are here as a civilian completely only and only in your capacity as a civilian. So you cannot actually use Iran. And when Biden unknowingly or inadvertently used his rank a couple of days back last week, I think there was an article in The Washington Post which clearly pointed out that Biden should not have done that.


It's a grave error on his part to call him General Austin and not secretary of state. I think that the fundamental dividing line between the military and the civilian political leadership. Can you draw a hard and fast rule? Can you like a Chinese wall between the two? I think that's very hard to do in a democracy, because you cannot say that somebody who's just up in uniform cannot fight an election. There have been this debate about whether people who have served in very senior posts in the government, they should have a five year cooling off period before they can enter politics.


I don't know how viable it is and how. But this, as in most other things, in a liberal democracy, it has to be about norms. What are the kinds of norms that are being followed by people who are in those positions of influence and power? No, everything cannot be legislated. Everything cannot be guided by rules. What is the kind of values? What is the kind of norms that people follow? And I think that is what will determine the course of the Senate relations in India and where it goes, whether the military gets even more closely aligned with the political leadership.


And there are two parts to it and one without taking any names. The fact that the military is being operated more and more in support of a certain political ideology and a certain political leadership is, of course, worrisome. But the fact that the military leadership is being chosen by overlooking seniority for no very strong reason creates an incentive for a lot of senior leadership to show that they are politically aligned. It's a very natural thing to do. If I know that anybody can be picked up and if I want to be five or six guys, I would like to be seen in liked by the political powers that be so that I am picked up.


So while seniority on paper seems like a very bad idea in practice, especially as it had been practiced, unless there's a reason why it needs to be priest based, strong reason why it needs to be briefed.


Handpicking people for various posts by overlooking seniority, especially in the military, has a certain disadvantage in a politically volatile, politically not stable country society like I don't want to say stable in that sense. What I mean to say is politically not mature enough society like India, where institutions do not perform their role to the extent that they should perform.


But just to respond to one of the sort of things that you said earlier, which was about how there are things which you can't legislate for everything, that certain things come from values which have become part of the convention and all of that. And I have to admit, I'm a little skeptical of that, because to me, all values ultimately derive from incentives, not in a direct sense, but incentives change behaviour and then behavior toward a period of time becomes embedded in a culture and values change accordingly.


So I do think that's a bit of an issue. But moving on from there, like if you speak of if you leave aside the thorny question of the politicisation and so on, what is a state of our army today like one? Here's a different analyst saying that, look, our conventional army is in really bad shape if we had a conventional war with Pakistan. Of course we won't. And we can go into those reasons. But if we had a conventional war with Pakistan, we would probably we might even lose.


And, you know, you've written in the past about how there is a budgetary crisis within the army. You wrote a twenty eighteen piece which are linked from the show notes, where you spoke of, you know, the Army vice chief talking to a group of employees. And what he said, and I'll quote from your piece, quote, The Army vice chief told the ambassador, 68 percent of the Army's equipment is Wintech. And the capital budget doesn't even cater for the committed payments of 125 ongoing procurement deals.


Leave alone provide funds to replace the vintage equipment. There is no budget for making emergency procurements, also providing perimeter security to army camps susceptible to terrorist attacks. The pause to buy ammunition and spares for critical stocking levels needed for 10 days of war fighting have been delegated to the defence services, but not enough funds have been allocated for it. On top of that, the Army will be saddled with an additional bill of rupees 5000 crore due to increased taxes because of GST.


But no additional money has been made available for it besides being salaries. There is little else that the Army will be able to do with the money given by the government. Stop, Gordon. As you go on to point out in your piece, it's the same with the Navy and the Air Force and so on. So what kind of is the situation? Do we have the kind of modernized army that we need? Is is this sort of a precarious situation?


I would not I would not agree with the contention that India is going to lose to Pakistan in a conventional war. No, I don't think that's true. I don't. And I don't know of any analyst with any Indian analyst who actually said that.


What I think people say something like this for rhetorical purposes. So, you know, I think the argument is that we do not have the kind of military superiority, but that we would need to have for an outright victory over Pakistan. So it's not that India would lose to Pakistan in a conventional conflict, that that clearly is not a possibility. But the fact that India would not have the kind of conventional superiority that Pakistan would sign know another Takai kind of agreement in December 1971, kind of a moment that looks unlikely.


We don't have the kind of military superiority when it comes to China. And of course, it's a totally different ballgame. It's just not the idea of conventional superiority in terms of number of times or number of soldiers, number of aircraft, submarines, ships or whatever you have. It's also about the new technology that the Chinese army really has really mastered and brought to the fore. So the play actually mocks itself against the US Army. And it is looking at.


It is looking at. It is looking at, you know, unarmed drones, it's a totally different kind of warfare that they are fighting. It's a new generation of warfare that they are fighting. And the Americans have been acknowledging the fact that the Chinese are benchmarking themselves against the US inside Borini in robotics and in all these other things, all these modern things that they're facing. So India has a double crisis when it comes to China. It does not have the kind of technological advancements that the Chinese army is pursuing.


It even does not have the old world. Conventional superiority or the conventional possibilities are the wrong word. A conventional military power that it had earlier will be able to ward off our hold the Chinese. Now, when you combine the two together, if you have a collusive threat from China and Pakistan, that the situation really, really becomes tough. So I'll give you simply two the two things. The U.S. military is director of the defense ministers directive of the last one, to the best of my understanding, came out in 2009, asked the armed forces to be prepared for war, to have their stocks and ammunition and stores for 30 days of intense war fighting and 30 days of normal war fighting.


So the rate of ammunition expenditure intense is three times the rate of normal rate of expenditure. And these are all the tables for which it has been generated. So essentially, you need to be prepared to fight on two fronts for 40 days of intense war fighting. Now, the army does not have the ammunition for what you intended or essentially for 10 days of fighting. They started building up in Mr. Pakistan time as defense minister for 10 days of fighting.


So if the directive is for 40 days of war, fight with the defense minister of the country, speaking on behalf of the cabinet assigned, which has not been amended, then want the armed forces to be prepared for that. The money has not been provided for. That is as simple as that. The fact that the that the Air Force is supposed to have 42 squadrons of all fighter aircraft and which are down to 30, which includes the 21, which still includes the the teenagers, and they make 21 another aircraft.


It's not that everything is so circle and everything, and they are still thousands. There are only nine, all refurbished and modernized, but still older generation aircraft that are there. So these are severe shortcomings which have not been made up by the government by providing the kind of resources that the armed forces need. The point is that the armed forces have been told that you should be prepared to deal with both defense simultaneously so armed forces have to prepare for it.


Now, how do you prepare for this? You know, you prepare yourself by training. You prepare leadership by doctrine and by equipping yourself, by resourcing yourself. While the resources have not been made available to the armed forces to essentially equip themselves or to prepare themselves so they can talk about all the training, they can talk about all the doctrine, they can talk about the situation. And, you know, they can talk about all the kind of language linguistics.


But the fact of the matter is that the babydoll does not exist to fight on both the front. And the whole idea is somehow it will magically happen that we will not fight on both fronts. The probability political leadership is convinced that we will not fight on both fronts or maybe even not on even one front. Maybe somehow, diplomatically, we will be able to resolve the situation with China so that we don't have to go to a war. And to presume that the Chinese do not understand it or the Pakistanis do not understand it, I think is a mistake.


And going into the future as the difference between India and China increases and as Pakistan becomes a subset of the Chinese problem for India, the collusive trade problem could really become big. Let me explain to you in a different way. Let's say in the sixty five or nineteen sixty five conflict, what happens in Pakistan is coming to Kashmir. Lombardo's Shastri decides to open up the Punjab. And the last time he says, I will be opening up the whole of EBE, whereas the Ayoob and Puto thought that they will only be the war would be limited to Kashmir.


We have already sent our infiltrators, etc.. And then we will do and we will we will take over Kashmir. They get surprised when Shastri decides to expand the war to the international border. Now, what happens in a two front war? The most likely a two front war scenario. For example, the Chinese come to Ladakh or wherever they come in, the army moves in. It has to move some of its resources, which are dedicated for the Pakistan border, to deal with the Chinese threat, including moving of your arms, ammunition, resources, etc.


. The Pakistanis decided to take some part of Kashmir, whatever part of Kashmir. They decide on military grounds. And I'm not even talking about the which is a different ballgame altogether based on lapsang. That's a different story altogether. And they try to take on some part of Kashmir. What would India have done in normal course? India would have gone done what you did if it was a single front war. If Pakistan occupied Kashmir, a part of Kashmir, India would go and open a different and conventionally try to fight in Afghanistan, Punjab, and and threaten and put pressure on Pakistan.


Now, if India is also engaging China at the same time, there is no possibility of going down and opening Punjab or Rajasthan or going anywhere. You would only want to restrict it and somehow find a way defensive back in. That is the kind of military challenge, strategic challenge that is being posed to India by the two front columns of text, which most people do not seem to realize or seem to appreciate. I think the military appreciate to some extent, but the fact they are constrained by the lack of resources which have been provided to them by the government, which makes the situation very tricky for them.


You know, no military leader can go and say no army chief or achieve what is or can go and say, well, I cannot fight a two front war. We are not capable of fighting a two front war. The government will step aside and go home. Why are you here if you cannot fight a two front war? So all this lip service is paid, all the rhetoric is said about the war and we will fight a two front war.


We'll find a way. There is a method. We make a primary fight and we make a secondary front. But the fundamental fact is that the resources are simply not there to fight on two fronts. The resources are simply not there to even fight on the Chinese front alone. And if it is a two front thing, then we are going to be under real pressure from Pakistan as well. And I think that should worry most Indians, whether you look at Pakistan and China as several front or whether you look at Pakistan as a subset of the Chinese threat or the subset of the Chinese Chinese front in that case.


So I'll ask you about India, China, India, Pakistan in much more detail after this. But before that, to kind of drill down a little bit more on this question, like what this is fundamentally is that there is a problem of resources now, even if there is also a sort of an intellectual obfuscation or denial that this is a problem at all to different extents. I mean, different extents of denial within the different establishments assumed that everyone was on the same page.


And we all agree that this is a problem and that therefore this is a problem of resources. My next question is looking at the state of the economy and the way our state is set up. It's a two part question. Number one, is this problem solvable in an ideal world? And number two, is this problem solvable in the actual world as it is now with the political economy being the way it is in an ideal world?


The problem is we need to grow at 20 percent per annum and maybe we can solve it, because I thought in my ideal ideal world, I mean, everyone's will is aligned in the same direction, but the resources out there know if the resources are what they are.


So just to give you a simple example, but the total capital expenditure of the government of India, and I'm told by the government of India, not the state government, but the government of India, is total capital expenditure or one third of it. 32 percent, 31 percent, 33 percent. Let's call it one third of it. Over the last five years, on an average, one third of it goes towards the defence capital expenditure. Now, there's no way you can increase that without stopping everything else.


You will not be making any infrastructure in this country. No bridges, no roads, no highways, no expressway, no major hospitals, no major infrastructure would be coming up. Is it because you want more resources for capital procurement and more resources means that if the resources are not increasing, the pie is not increasing, the cake is not increasing, then the then the share will come from other infrastructure, other capital expenditure, and that is just not possible.


So even in an ideal world, if everybody is aligned together, the simple fact that the cake is not big enough for everybody to share, especially in a country like ours where development is is the need of the hour, it would be very it's just not possible to balance the equation. The two sides of the equation cannot be balanced in that manner. It is just not possible to balance that equation. And I think that is what so fundamentally we are stuck at.


Therefore, the only answer, as everybody say, is that economic growth, the only answer to India's national security, would be very high levels of economic growth over a sustained period of time. That would allow you to spend more on national security, more on defence and build up those resources. It cannot be done by any by waving a magic wand at all and certainly not at the level of economic growth that we have witnessed since the democratisation in 2016.


It has been very, very tough. So you quoted the 2018 Army by chief's statements to the parliamentary standing committee. The funniest part is that that same gentleman very quickly joined the BJP a few months later.


I well, that something which really boggles my mind, I would like, OK, so this is it. I don't know what I do. I don't even know how to interpret this thing then or what to make of it.


It's like a good mutual friend and it didn't pay off. Say is that the best foreign policy is economic growth. And that's of course for multiple reasons. One reason is you have a larger pie and you can spend more on your defence. But another reason is you change the incentives for everyone else. If you are big enough, you know, someone like China would rather trade with us than try to make random villages in other natural pradesh. Like what is even the point of that?


You know, one of the interesting things you said while you were speaking about the way the politicians kind of think of the army is that you pointed out that they actually think that there will be no war at all, that EPICA. We have to have an army water going. We'll sort sorted out by other efforts. And it seems to me also that there is a kind of thinking which would go right now that we are a nuclear power now that there is a nuclear deterrent in place, the actual conventional army, while it needs to exist in practice.


This could be a bit of an artifact because you're never having a conventional war. There is a threshold you will never cross because the danger of going nuclear is simply too high. In a sense, both India and Pakistan going nuclear has actually taken away an advantage, like whatever advantage we had in conventional terms is now equalized because in a game 30 cents, you are never going to go beyond a certain threshold. You will have, you know, the optics of Balakot and surgical strikes and all of that to satisfy the local political constituency.


And we will discuss that later as well. But then the question is that how is the army to think of itself? Like on the one hand, you pointed out about how the Chinese army is modernizing with alien robotics and all that. I am guessing that there must be many aspects of the Indian armed forces which are actually redundant in terms of technology. How are we to think of that? And how is the army to think of itself when the army needs to exist to be sort of a pawn in the geopolitical games but is never actually going to be used?


That seems to be a certain kind of school of thought that is out there. So what's your response? Yeah, so there are two ways I look at it.


Well, expand it to more than the army, the armed forces, so the armed forces will have a role to play the Navy perhaps in the Indian Ocean region, because it's such an important region trade wise. If you dominate the Indian Ocean region, you control a lot of this thing and you can put pressure on various countries, including China. You can wave the Indian flag are clearly a blue water navy would be a great idea. And that's what Navy has been advocating for itself for the last few decades, if not more, at least 20, 25 years that they've been advocating that we want to be really blue water.


Navy are three carrier navy to be able to take out the Indian flag foden far and wide and really be controlling the Indian Ocean in the sense what the inverse of what China is China say is Indian Ocean is not Indian Ocean. India says, I want to make Indian Ocean, Indian Ocean in that sense for the Army particularly. The whole idea is that how do we find a way in which we can impose the nation's will on an adversary under the nuclear threshold?


So the whole idea, the whole strategy, the whole thing is, can I do something by moving in quickly? What was called the cold start later on called the proactive operations boy, whatever the name you may want to give to it, the whole idea is, can I move in quickly, grab a certain piece of territory or a certain piece of valuable territory with or break the adversary center of gravity, so to speak. So and do it rather quickly and under the nuclear threshold so that it comes to the negotiating table or concedes or listens or whatever you want to get it done or even humiliated or even threaten it.


That's the way the armed forces have responded to the changing dynamics of having the nuclear weapons. Let's also understand that nuclear weapons at the end of the day are political weapons. The Indian armed forces do not control the nuclear nuclear weapons, are control politically. And whatever would happen would happen as a decision, as a political decision, not as a military decision. In Pakistan, Villamizar Khan handed over the nuclear weapons to the military. Even in Pakistan, they were not controlled by the military.


And now they are they become military weapons, especially. They have brought in these short range tactical nuclear weapons and they brought in these small missiles. They are almost using them at the lowest in the army for to threaten India, that if that go nuclear, which is not the case in India. So when the military operates over the military plans for its operations, it really does not factor in nuclear weapons at the in the first instance. And there's a very high bar for use of nuclear weapons since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


We saw that during the Korean War. And since then, there's a very, very high bar for the use of nuclear weapons.


It would really take something or even Pakistan or India to even threaten the use of nuclear weapons or to use them. So even you give the example of Balakot, the fact that Indians went and attempted an air strike, a deadly air strike inside Pakistan proper, the fact that Pakistan and the Indians had a missile strike, Pakistan is threatening a missile strike. And Minister, somebody went and said an election speech that we haven't kept them for for Diwali. But the fact is that nuclear weapons still remain a distant thing in the India Pakistan calculus.


What the red line is, we really don't know when. I don't know what Pakistan's red line is. We can all keep on assessing that. And I always believe it's our dynamic red line. What, India's red line with China. If there's a red line, what is it? And that probably keeps on waiting depending on time and place. I think while the nuclear weapons have affected the way wars are fought, Kargil happened after the nuclear weapons had come into play and they are mobilizing problem after nuclear weapons and of the program, India decided to undertake a new thinking on goal to start operations, proactive operations, etc.


. And I think that's how the thinking is going on currently within the. Armed forces with the way they are, they are trying to operate in this environment. So tell me about Barack Obama, because you actually saw that you were actually, as you mentioned, you know, at the border and all of that waiting to take the Indian flag to Lahore and just kind of blunted that, you know, how much of it was theater, how much of it was actually preparing for war, should it happen like at that moment in time?


What did you think the probabilities were? What did you find more desirable? And even that, of course, probabilistic thinking comes into play, how far would we need to be pushed before we actually went to war, for example? Which is a separate question, and I can ask you that with your current head on. So tell me a little bit about that and then also how the dynamic of India, Pakistan relationships have been playing out since, because like you pointed out, you know, 9/11 kind of changed a lot that I remember traveling to Pakistan to cover a cricket tour in 2006.


But I was also writing pieces for The Wall Street Journal. And one economist amateur said that, listen, we don't call al-Qaida al-Qaida. We call it Al Qaida because of all the money that flooded into Pakistan after that happened. And obviously then they would because Pakistan was helping them with the so-called war on terror. They would you know, the US would turn a blind eye to what was happening in India and and all of that. So there's that interesting dynamic playing out.


How has that relationship kind of evolved over the last 20 years or so under, of course, a nuclear shadow, but even apart from the just the politics of both countries.


So in Barack Obama with a very young officer. So it's really not really understanding the larger dynamics of how probably the decisions were being taken. But I can say that as a matter of some minds were led by India on which is like the first preparatory stage before you go to war. And actually, I mean, certainly a lot of casualties took place in bilingual mind. They were accidents which are par for the course, etc. Those things happen. But there was serious preparation at that point in time.


And at one point in time, it almost seemed that India had decided to go into Pakistan and and launch. Well, clearly, there was a lot of international pressure which came from the US primarily and from others and which stop, eventually stop India. And then there was a whole theory then that a lot of not a lot has been written about it, whether India genuinely wanted to go to war and only wanted to convey to the West that we are serious and therefore took all those steps because how do you credibly convey that that they are serious?


And which brought Musharraf to make those announcements on the Lashkar e Taiba indigestion moment, which he made on live television, and then the Indian army pulling back from the borders. And there were a couple of things which happened very clearly, that the mobilization timings, the timing for the forces to mobilise from the permanent locations to the to the forward lines, those timings were just not kept up by the army. And there's something which came out in all these study reports after the war.


They took a lot of time to really reach those forward lines. And also, if something was planned within 10 days, they got 30 days, 35 days, 40 days to reach. So that completely upset all the planning that had gone on till then and clearly showed that some of the planning was unrealistic. That is what led to the whole idea of Carlstadt operations. Can you move certain forward? Because the window is very short before the Western countries Western powers intervene.


Can you use that window to quickly go in rather than having this massive Second World War kind of mobilization where it takes months for you to reach the border and then decide to go to war? And by the time Western leaderships and Western diplomats have come in and put pressure on you so as not to, that was the one big change which took place after Peracha. But that has not been tested so far and has not been checked by or tested on the ground by the by India since.


But a lot of talk, a lot of discussion, a lot of practice, a lot of rehearsals have taken place on that.


What is the dynamics between India and Pakistan when it comes to proactive operations goals that Pakistan has built, the whole idea that India will launch Goldstar operations? I will go proactive operations to the maximum. It has, of course, prepared for it. And I need to conducted multiple exercises where they practice and rehearse their responses to it and they claim that they are better prepared for it. And they also claim that they brought the tactical nuclear weapons. They have missiles to deal with this kind of challenge because the Indian army would move in very, very quickly and occupy a certain territory.


And the only way for them to stop it was to fire certain tactical nuclear weapons, which are like low output, nuclear weapons. So that is the kind of dynamics that has taken place because of bad outcome and what happened after the attack on Indian parliament. Well, that's that's kind of fascinating and, you know, the other part of the question that I asked was that I assumed that you were in charge of sort of decision making. What is a threshold at which you said, OK, we have to move in now, we have to actually go to war?


Or is there no threshold because the nuclear option is just too expensive? And if there is no threshold, if you are never actually going to war, if you're just going to posture, then the other side surely knows that and can take advantage of that. Right. So, you know, how does that sort of it's almost a game theoretic situation, except that it's not actually chicken chicken because both sides know the other one won't be crazy enough. But who's going to stop first?


Yeah, so it is clearly a game theory. It does apply there. And that's what will decide how the call is taking. What is it that you want the adversary to do? And if it concedes, then you don't do it, then your threat is clearly credible. How credible is your package is the question? And to have a credible threat, you need to have the armed forces. What will be the reasons for which India would go to war?


My sense is a very big bad, an attack on Indian soil, which can be seen to have come from Pakistan and where Pakistan is unwilling to punish those terrorist leaders or hand them over to India. And then that would lead to a kind of retaliation on Pakistan. And the other situation is that there is too much of political instability in Pakistan and no Pakistani leader tries to capture Kashmir in Kashmir for whatever reason, something of a military leader which is far ahead of Musharraf in that sense and tries to recapture Kashmir and try to try some funny things that would of course, India would clearly open up a conventional military option, conventional military war at that point.


I think those are the two scenarios where I think India would go in for a conventional war and whether this will lead to the nuclear option being exercised or nuclear option coming into play is something which every single analyst has debated and written about and spoken about. And I don't think anybody has an answer, but I think everybody will agree that there is an inherent risk involved in the escalation ladder. So if you think that you are the one controlling the escalation ladder, they are all sides playing the game.


I know there are a lot of miscommunication and misapprehensions happening at the same time, and it can clearly lead to situations where the escalation ladder may not be controlled by you. And I think that's something which everybody worries about. That is something which nobody knows how it will play out once the first shot is fired. You know, the enemy also has about that. There are two sides who have a vote on this. And I think that's something which which is what stops prevents makes people think twice before committing to opening a front or in a conventional war or going for a conventional war.


And it also strikes me that it is easy for us to get complacent and say that, listen, you know, no one's actually attacked anyone with a nuclear weapon since Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So it's not going to happen. And imagine that the situation will last forever. And I'm reminded of this beautiful book I'm reading right now by a German writer called Stefan Zweig, who fled Nazi Germany and killed himself in 42. But just before that, he published this book called The World of Yesterday, where he's talking about the pre World War One year.


And he's essentially saying that we were under this liberal illusion that all our problems are solved, that, you know, a liberal vision of the world is won over. There will be no more terrible wars. You know, all these other problems, like hunger, famine, etc, will gradually solve and nothing will happen. And little did we know. And he's talking about his people. Voting with it is almost like a Fukuyama esque end of history kind of sense to it that we've sorted everything it's done and then suddenly everything goes nuts.


And when we talk of nuclear weapons, I also think that at some level it's kind of dangerous to think that nothing will ever happen. This is all just it's a political tool because, you know, of course, nothing will happen until something does. And you know that there's no reason to kind of assume complacency. The other sort of difficult angle in this is that this is not just two states. It's not just the state of India and the state of Pakistan, which determines what happens between India and Pakistan.


Like you've pointed out in this recent piece you wrote on foreign policy, talks can be derailed as much by violence, you bomba in Kashmir as by the powerful deep state in Pakistan or by the strengthened anti Pakistan Hindu majority. An electoral legend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stopcock the idea being that there can be some lone rogue actor who can set something off. And then there is, of course, the fog of war where you don't know that what happened.


Is this really the state of Pakistan doing this? Are these rogue actors within the deep state? Is it a lone suicide bomber? Possibly when a local guy in Kashmir who's doing all of this, all of that uncertainty is also kind of built in. So so that complicates the whole situation so much more, doesn't it? Yeah, definitely.


I mean, just going back to Fukuyama, the loveliest part of Fukuyama's story is that his initial essay. We had a question mark at the end of this title. Yes, it's a misunderstood as he gets a lot of flak for. So chinwag completely changes everything, as you know. So that's just going to say what the other statement that you made about the nuclear weapons, you know, given there will never be a nuclear war. No, I don't think anybody should ever say that.


They will never be. And that would be the only question where I was. But what I was responding to was your premise that nuclear weapons have made the Indian armed forces redundant enough. That's what I was saying, is, no, they are not redundant. They continue to exist despite the nuclear weapons.


It was you miss my question, mark. It was a question more than a promise.


Yeah, fair enough. Just to clarify that people should not misunderstand. The whole idea is that despite the nuclear weapons, the conventional military, the conventional armed forces have a role to play, which they have tried to reorient themselves for themselves, devise for themselves. It doesn't mean that the nuclear weapons cannot or cannot be used or will not be used or there is some kind of that. They are kept only as a showpiece, which will never be used.


As far as the India Pakistan relations are concerned, there are many factors, but India Pakistan relations are to be considered. The simple and the most fundamental factor is that there is a certain narrative on both this. There's a narrative on the Indian side and there's a narrative on the Pakistani. That narrative is embedded in history, in politics and religion and colonialism, in every geopolitics, in every single framework that the modern political sociopolitical world has, it is embedded in every single thing in geography and history.


Everything, whatever we can think of that narrative is the fundamental structural factor where we believe that Kashmir belongs to us. And the Pakistanis have occupied a certain part of Kashmir, including Pakistan, which should come to a logically and we are going to take it at any cost. Whereas the Pakistani side believes that Kashmir has been grabbed by India's Muslim majority state has to be part of that fundamental dissonance. That fundamental gap has not been breached. It is the structural factor.


Unless we fix that narrative gap, how are we going to fix the problem? I don't see any kind of quick fixes. We can deal with it eventually. As you see today when we are recording the show, Imran has sent a letter to Modi responding to Modi's letter of on twenty third march on Pakistan day. And Iran has again said that the core issue in Jammu and Kashmir, because Prime Minister Modi had said that the core issue is terror that is coming from outside, who fundamentally we are operating within a structure that are structurally it is not possible to align.


These are two parallel tracks which will keep on going parallel know I'll keep on talking terror. They will keep on talking about Kashmir. Unless the narrative is fixed, you cannot align those two and everything else that you know that can lead to this whole process going kaput actually flows from that, whether it is the alone terror attack like what happened in Alabama. You know what? When 22 year old guy with a suicide car and 20 cases of explosives in his car banging into to be a bus or it is somebody else doing something similar or some elements of Pakistan army who believe our deep state, who believe that Pakistan is conceding too much, trying to try and do some stunts on from their side, which has happened earlier as well from the Pakistani side.


And, of course, the a danger, as you said, Mr. Modi, is the whole politics, majoritarian Hindu politics, anti Pakistan narrative, which he has used in various state assembly polls, whether it is that it is not like whether Uttar Pradesh, Pakistan has been a constant factor, which has been in both. How does he sell peace with Pakistan since 2002? And whether you remember the Musharraf campaign at the time, he has always used Pakistan as an enemy and trying to show himself as somebody who's trying to who has dealt with Pakistan very efficiently and very effectively and very boldly.


So I do not know how this narrative, how this problem of narrative on the Indian side and on the Pakistani side can be bridged, which very much with all these other problems of lone wolf lone terrorist with Pakistani rogue state, with Indian dominant Hindu majority political ideology in India. How do you fix this? I really don't know. That is so anybody who believes that this process is permanent, irreversible and will lead to a solution of the problem needs to get a.


I am not convinced that the solution is that easy and can be found so quickly. The closest we came to a solution is the time when you were in Pakistan covering the cricket series. That is the time we came with the four point formula etc, and that the whole process got derailed on the Pakistani side because Musharraf got involved with that whole loyals crisis and then completely everything then stopped. And then since then we have never been able to do that.


The closest we have come to this thing. I've spoken to some senior Indian diplomats who have dealt with Pakistan over the years, and they say that Pakistan always overreaches either out of a certain defensiveness or out of certain aggressiveness, whether they do certain things after the war in order to be very aggressive about about what Pakistan wanted or Bhutto in Shimla after the 1971 war, where he's trying to say, oh, please save me, I'll be hanged if I concede you're too much kind of a thing.


They have always overreached in a sense, and that overreach has not allowed any solution to come to. Of course, the practical answer, as most people would tell you, sane people would tell you, is that why don't you make the line of control the actual border? And that is something which has been discussions Toshka people who were attached. Tashkent have said that this was discussed at Tashkent as well. And this was agreed almost informally between the two sides, between human Shasti, that we should make the line of control, the international border at some point in time.


But I don't think now with the kind of narrative that we have and the kind of ideology that we have on our side, which believes in the whole idea of a country which doesn't believe that partition was the right thing, it would be very difficult for them, for anyone to go and say, OK, that we are giving away Pakistan occupied Kashmir to Pakistan or Pakistan to Pakistan and still take a very strident anti Pakistan line electorally and in their election campaign to a sort of three third strike me.


Well, you know, you were talking just now, and one of them is I agree that it seems and it's almost like the Israeli-Palestinian issue, that it doesn't seem to be a resolution to. As a narrative are just so opposed, having said that, I think that the Kashmir situation is one that could have resolved itself through decades if we had only taken the effort to integrate Kashmiris within our economy. In fact, around the time that I was in Pakistan around that time that, you know, Musharraf and watch, you were talking about chilling out.


David Devdas writes about how the youth of Kashmir at that time became aspirational. They wanted to do numbers, they wanted jobs, they wanted all of that. But things just fell backwards from there. And if things had gone in a different direction and they could have felt that there is value in it for being part of this Indian Union, maybe things could have been different. But that's an aside and amusing in any way. It is moot because it is too late for that.


Very sadly. The other interesting part about narratives is one, of course there are the narratives about Kashmir, but then there is also this local sort of political narrative, this nationalistic narrative that Pakistan is always the enemy, where you keep telling your enemies really want to go to Pakistan. You know, it's become part of the vocabulary in that sense. So how do you see the danger of the narrative itself making reality go in a certain direction? Like, you know, if the prime minister is in a political fix and you have no option but to raise the kind of temperature, like, in fact, what we saw with the surgical strikes, which, you know, luckily didn't lead to anything beyond that, but where, in fact, you inadvertently played a part in a little number that came out of that narrative.


So do take an aside and tell us about that and then you can address the larger question.


This will give us the Acento as it happened that the army that the army was briefing, that they announced these these these surgical strikes across the line of control. And if I remember correctly now, they said five places had been hit, which were these points from which people were being sent across and somebody and fellow journalists or television journalists or indeed any channel actually asked me because I you observed in that area, what does it mean? How many people would be dead and in such a place?


So I said, you know, five, six, seven people could be there is a very small, old disused bunkers kind of places from where, you know, militants and or terrorists are sent across. And the last thing that's in the in that sense. So I said, what, five to seven people in a bunker can hold a small bunker, can hold an old bunker. That's what that's how it will be. And five of them have been here.


But a moment later, I realize and there are those two or three screens which play on the in that room in the Army headquarters in the South Lawn. And I realize that on one of these screens, he's going live on mobile and he's telling that 30 to 35 people have been killed because five bunkers have been five places have been hit. And each of them holds seven people. Thirty five people. And suddenly you have the headline. Thirty five people.


It's actually I just give a mathematical answer to a very, you know, kind of how do I put it away? Theoretical question I answer. And it suddenly became inadvertently a kind of headline, the thirty five and certainly every other journalist in that room, television journalist in the room, started getting calls that, you know, this channel is running thirty five days. Why are we not running thirty five dead. And then they started running. I think these figures, whatever those figures were, which eventually led to whatever the figures that they like, but we still don't know how many actually died.


Pakistan claimed to, but I don't know whether that number was a three. I think Pakistan claim I don't know whether the number was right or not. Now, the bigger question, can the narrative push India and Pakistan down a dangerous path? Yes, I think that danger remains, especially because the emotion has been whipped up to such an extent. And the people genuinely believe that, you know, Pakistan is something which needs to be either destroyed or annihilated or completely finished, that it would be very difficult if something is probably not a narrative is created that something is happening from Pakistan for India to say that it would not punish Pakistan.


So, you know, you did it after Obama. You'll get enough to agree on anything similar that happens. You have raised the bar to an extent where you would be forced to do something to send a message. And as you said, if there's a scenario which is painted in which it is happening in a certain political context, where there are huge political costs to inaction or to not doing that kind of action, the choice would be a very tough one for the political leadership to make.


And it is likely that the decision would be whatever on the Boulder side and not on the side of not not not doing this. If they were friendly relations, if they were the kind of environment that you had in 2006, India probably got away by not doing anything after 2008 militarily except going after it diplomatically and putting so much of pressure on Pakistan that it really squeezed Pakistan very heavily diplomatically but did not militarily punish Pakistan. Now, the military punishment to Pakistan, this this is punitive strikes.


These are punitive in nature. They are not essentially strikes which are acting as a deterrent, that they do not deter Pakistanis from not doing it again. So you can punish them, but it doesn't change their behaviour. You punish them with the surgical strike. They still. What happens to Balakot, but the militancy does not come down in Kashmir or the line of control does not become peaceful. Also, a lot of people call it political theater meant for domestic consumption, because if you're not really altering the behavior of the adversary, then what is this about?


It's what what is its strategic importance? And I think that's a question which remains unanswered. And that's a question which a lot of people need to ask as to what the value of these strikes is if they are not deterring Pakistan or forcing it to alter its behavior.


I mean, the value is obviously domestic consumption. But then the point is that every time it's like a hit of a drug that even for domestic consumption, you'll have to take it up one notch. And while you don't actually change the adversaries behavior in a positive way, you can affect it in a negative way if they then have to play to their political constituencies and respond in some way. And I guess there's always a danger of that happening. My next question is about before we get to Indochina, which is fascinating in itself and will take up some time, but just to end up with sort of the India Pakistan with the question about recent events, which is that, in fact, I like I heard that President Biden's administration made a little bit of a difference in the way India approaches all of this.


In fact, an insider told me a couple of days ago, I don't know how true this is. Maybe you'll have more information. But one of the reasons that Internet was restored in Kashmir was that the Biden administration situation made it a precondition for talking further to Modi. And equally, they've kind of said that, listen, you really have to learn all this anti Pakistan rhetoric and all of that, which is where in these current elections you don't have so much anti Pakistan talk or almost any anti Pakistan talk coming from the BJP because they're kind of now chilling.


So how big a role is sort of the US approach to this whole situation?


Yeah, I mean, just coming before this question, let me let me just rewind to the statement you made at the beginning of the question about the narrative and the political calculation that can lead to Pakistani response. So what has happened so far in the two instances, the surgical strikes and the Balakot strikes, how the Pakistanis have dealt with it is they completely denied the surgical strikes. This had nothing happened, so they didn't need to respond. The narrative from their side was on the when it came to Balakot, they said that the Balakot airstrikes did not hit the target, did not lead to any casualties.


So it was really an effective strike. And then they came back and did whatever little they did on the Indian side of the line of control. So in that sense, they also found a way to address their own political constituency without really climbing up the escalation ladder. Now, that's pretty lucky on the part of both countries. It may or may not happen every single time. And I think that's where the fear that you raise really comes into play.


Things can quickly go out of hand in such a scenario. You know, just to give a counterfactual, if the Indian fighter pilot had died in Pakistan army custody after Balakot, the Indian response would have been completely different and Pakistan would have no no kind of easy card on their in their pocket to hand over to India.


The fact that Pakistan is Imran went to Imran Khan, went to Pakistani parliament and announced that they were handing over to the defuse the crisis in a big way. Let's say the Indian fighter pilot had been had died in Pakistani custody for whatever reason, whether he was told that he was injured during the flight or whether he was beaten up by these by these civilians, villagers when he was captured, they were beaten by the Pakistani military when he was captured. Think of the whole situation, how it would have developed.


Pakistanis would have had no way in which they would have diffuse the crisis. The emotions and the tempers in India were running so high that it would have been not it would not have been possible for anyone to advocate that let's not go and do something more with Pakistan. So it is those kind of situations, accidentally or otherwise, which can really lead to a crisis completely going out of hand, especially, as you said, the two countries which are armed with nuclear weapons are getting back to other question about the Biden administration's role.


Very clearly the Kashmir internetting, whether it is true or not, the fact is that the State Department did welcome it in a very enthusiastic manner, that it was done, which was clearly a signal for a lot of things, the fact that the that the US defence secretary, not general matters, but not General Austin, but Secretary Austin, when he came to India, the fact that he chose to go public and the press conference and say that he had spoken to India about the backsliding of of democracy and various democratic freedoms, clearly indicated that it wanted to send a message to the Indian side.


This Democratic Party, the current Democratic Party, as you know, has a lot of people who are far left on the progressive side. And historically, the Democratic Party has been and this administration particularly has been speaking tough on many issues with many other countries. And if India has to stand in contrast to China, particularly on the issue of democracy and liberal values, then I think there would be pressure on India, whether said or unsaid, to deal with those issues.


It's not something India. And get away lightly with because of China. It's something that would come into focus, even if it's not spoken publicly or spoken semi publicly as Secretary Alston did. It definitely plays and will continue to play a part in the India U.S. relations going forward.


Let's talk about China now, because China suddenly kind of burst onto the consciousness in the sort of adversarial framework, as it were in the last few years. You know, we lost a 60 to war and that kind of happened. And then for decades, it's almost like there's been nothing. There have been these little outstanding disputes. But there's going to be no action. It's almost as if we're too small for China to bother with. And when we start becoming big, you could argue we start becoming big as a market as well, where the manufacturers can sell stuff.


So, you know, why would they create a conflict or go for conflict and all of that? And equally, the situation is, like you pointed out, that if there was a hypothetical world in a thought experiment with China, we would, of course, not stand a chance. And they know that. And we know that's well beyond the point. There's really not much we can do. That's my layman's understanding of it. Obviously, there are nuances to it, and you'll correct me.


So tell me a little bit about what's brewing here. What are China's motivations? What is the predicament that India finds itself in where, for example, we can't even admit that we've got some territory for domestic political reasons. Obviously, you know, and in the middle of all this, like all India do band or tick tock, which I loved, which is like really sad, but and which empowered many people in, you know, small town India and rural India who didn't have any other platform that spoke to them.


So it's just tragic to at multiple levels. I just feel horrible about that. But what's happening, just enlighten us.


So essentially, there is a line which goes directly to the Chinese behavior changes around 2012, 2013 with respect to India, whether they believe that they were coming on to their own, whether they believe that India was getting too closely aligned to the US, whether they believe the time had come when the existing arrangement between India and China, which had held, quote, for some 20 odd years, had no longer had the behavior changes around that time. And this is all the officials who dealt with China at that point in time have now, in hindsight, said that this is the time when things start changing, but changing with China, China's behavior becomes more assertive, more aggressive.


It starts pushing more. It has better infrastructure, better economy. And everything is the major turning point comes in, Dakhla, in 2017, this is the India Rudan Tibet border, China border. And as you know, the Chinese are coming and making a road which we believed was in Bhutanese territory. The Chinese believe it was in their territory. We can't we went down from our post on the Indian side into what we believe was part of this territory and what Chinese believe was in their territory and stopped the Chinese physically from making that road there.


The standoff lasted seventy three days. It was a tough standoff. But the message that China got was that Indians were now aggressive enough to come down and stop us on our soil. Think it from the Chinese perspective, and, you know, if you read some of the Chinese documentation around the time I have spoken, written about it in his new book as well. It's a great book, by the way, on India China relations. This is when the shift takes place in China's thinking and it starts looking at India that India is trying to be too aggressive and trying to do something.


And a lot of Chinese thinkers have spoken about it, written about it. It is around the same time that the India you start deepening the all these agreements that India is signing, the Prime Minister Modi and President Trump is the Bornholm between them and the agreements that India and the US are signing. And there is an impression that the that Beijing gets at the time that India is only acting at the behest of the US, which is completely untrue, which is just completely untrue.


And then the whole fracas around the revocation of Article 370 or to which China objected and India fluidness foreign minister to go and brief them or to brief the Chinese at a very, very short notice. And the Chinese did not like the captain issuing statement after statement, whether it was in the UN or whether it was by the foreign ministry. There's a whole sequence of events and whole sequence of documents that are there which show that the Chinese were not happy the way the people bifurcated and the Article 370 was revoked.


They believe that India was trying to again assert its original claim on Tibet on site, which which is which India historically had. That's primarily my understanding of what the Chinese were objecting to, not to what was happening to Kashmiris, that they are going forwards. And Chindia. So what they were primarily objecting was, was India is trying to reassert its line. And this flows from how they dealt in 2017 in India and they were acting at the behest of the US.


All this led to the situation which erupted in Ladakh last year, where tensions had been brewing for some time, going back to at least October 2019, when independence for Lake on the waters of the Indian and Chinese forces had clashed and started. Indian soldiers are very badly injured who had to be lifted to the nearest military hospital. They were so badly injured with a very serious clash. And those clashes led to situations where Indian patrols were being stopped by the Chinese.


Indians are also pushing back in certain areas and and trying to be aggressive for very obvious local reasons. You have to be aggressive against against an adversary. You cannot allow an adversary to ride roughshod over you. And one thing led to another deadly time in early May, late April, early May 2020. That is, the Chinese decided to replace their border guard and troops with the regular. And that is when the crisis really erupted. What we read about on the 5th of May, the flash on background, so like so many people got injured on the Indian side, et cetera, et cetera.


And then, as you saw, one thing led to another, the Chinese coming in and occupying Digitas, whether it was in whether it was in Galván, whether it was in hot spring, whether it was and go grab it, that went wrong. And so although all those actions took place, whether they moved forward in depth on planes to stop Indian patrols, strategically the most important area, then they came down and don't talk as much to the south, close to the border.


They came down and dumped them off to areas where they had not come down. They crossed the nahlah something called the CNN Sharding. So for the I don't know, I don't remember the whole thing, but it's called the CNN because they CNN and came down this side. So that is all that happened. And eventually Indians moved and occupied certain areas in late August, early September on the south Lebanon. So they can change it to the Indian tanks.


And the Chinese Chinese tanks were barely a few meters apart for all those months. There were rounds fired in the air, some hundred twenty two hundred rounds fired. We don't know where the physical clashes took place, but troops were face to face. In that area are tanks for face to face in that area before the disengagement took place in some disengagement took place in January and the whole buffer zone, no patrol zone was created in that in that area, in the whole situation.


I missed out on the big media clash in Galván on 15th of June, 29 soldiers lost their lives and those were the first lives that were lost after nineteen seventy five on this China India border. There were also ten people who were released, 10 soldiers, including four of those who were taken captive, who were released after three days. I read a report somewhere which said that at least 50 Indian soldiers were taken captive and others were released much earlier and only 10 were released after, after, after.


And it's an Indian report. It's an it's an Indian website. And it's only neutral, in fact, that the report was there. And that was a big crisis. The Chinese did acknowledge that they had lost four of their soldiers in that in that clash, in that single one. And that really led to that to them both going through the roof on both sides, despite the prime minister saying four days after the after the killing that there's no Chinese on Indian territory now going because I had no better words to that.


The framing to that to that effect, almost meaning that there's not nobody on India, no Chinese and Indians, which was clearly not the case as the satellite imagery, all these commercial satellites, commercial satellites showed us. So the situation that we have now coming back to the present is that there's been a complete disengagement on the North Bank and South Bank and also south bank of and also it where we had moved in later and which allowed us to have an advantage.


And that has been bargained for. This version of this, but no patrolled buffer zone on the north back. The Chinese continue to remain in the areas of Hotspring and Cobra, that song and Amchok in this. I've spoken to another military senior military leaders who have come under that commander that there are they all of them say that that song is the most worrisome. And I'll take a couple of minutes to explain why that song is most worrisome. That song is very close to the Karakorum past.


Just south of Karakoram is a flag area. It's a flat area in which the Chinese have five roads which are coming to that area where they can use their army. And it forms a kind of a wedge was this from. So if if Chinese come from this side, from the east and move into lapsang and Indians only have one road to which they can maintain the new road which they constructed, the Chinese government occupied someplace. And if they overcome one single mountain range, which is there, which is defended by Indians, by by India, then they could actually cut down the Indian supply long line to the southern English.


Which would then allow the Pakistanis to move in from their side and occupy the Southern. So that is what fundamentally the issue is. This is the only place where China and Pakistan can physically meet territorially on the Indian territory. There are the place where they can physically meet. It does not mean that China will go and occupy the Seattle militia. It only means that it will facilitate the Pakistani attack to capture southern English, which is something which India occupied in eighty four and at a very high at a very high cost.


And that is something which really, really worries the Indians the most. And that song is not really defensible in that sense because of the current configuration there. And this is what most military commanders believe. It is not easily defendable and the Chinese continue to block Indian Indian patrols in diphthong even now as we speak. I saw a short interview by the Army chief a few hours ago where he said that the problem will be resolved eventually. We are still talking about these places and I think that remains the biggest worry as of now for the Indian army and for the Indian political leadership, that there are areas where disengagement has not taken place.


And that song is one of the foremost areas where that disengagement is not taking place. I would, in fact, go and go out on a limb and say that that song is far more important than depend on strategy. Bongbong, let me be very good for tourist reasons, for for reasons of civilian Democratic leadership going, the civilians going. There are a lot of tourists going there, but strategically is the area of diphthong, which is far more important and which remains unresolved till now to tell me what are the implications of the growing closeness of China and Pakistan.


Like, on one hand, you could take the negative view that they are both antagonistic towards India. And this is a classic example of how they can kind of come together and really squeeze us. But on the other hand, I did an episode with our friend Barnicoat Assignee a couple of years back or maybe even three years ago, where I asked him the same question. And his point was it can also look the other way, that it's China has deep economic interests in Pakistan and therefore they want Pakistan to stay out of conflict and stay out of trouble and the economy to progress because it's obviously a positive sum game in all of that.


So it can also work the other way. So how do you see this dynamic kind of playing out? And also the interesting thing is that whereas as far as India is concerned, you know, China and Pakistan are natural allies, but from the U.S. point of view, you know, they've kept Pakistan close to themselves. You know, the relationship that deepened after the war on terror began, so to say. But at the same time, they want India as a counterbalance to China in the subcontinent.


So what is the whole dynamic of this China Pakistan relationship and how it could affect us?


I don't know if you are aware that around a week or so back, a note from the Pakistani government was leaked by by a Pakistani important and a social media handler, which clearly showed that the Chinese had during the crisis last year had asked the Pakistanis to mobilize to put pressure on India, and the Pakistanis refused. And that allowed them to build certain confidence with the Indians so that they could go for this kind of deal that they're going that they're going to ahead on the line of control.


Well, I didn't know that. That's fascinating. Yeah. So the idea that that the that the Chinese would not want Pakistan to be involved does not seem to hold the the Pakistan may not be in North Korea. I agree with you to China. That's fine. But even North Korea doesn't listen to China. So Pakistan will not listen to China or Pakistan as other friends. But it is Saudis, whether it is UAE may not be today but earlier or Turkey or or us, as you say, US has had certain interest in Afghanistan for which it needs Pakistan's help.


So Pakistan has more friends and may not listen to China always. But clearly the strategic picture shows that the Chinese would want Pakistan to come into play against India and use it, but that also, as you rightly said, gives India the option of dealing with Pakistan. So Pakistan feels confident enough to deal with India because it thinks that it has something up its sleeve that allows India to go ahead. And actually, it's a kind of counterintuitive thing, but actually allows you to do it in the way it has happened.


Now, if Pakistan wants, as you said, economic growth, development, whatever, peace in any sense of what in whatever limited way, it would then say, see, guys, I did not go along with China. I didn't fight. So why don't we do a deal? And that's something which what which we are almost seeing happen this week. So this may, in a sense, have come to India's advantage in a way that India can do a deal with Pakistan.


But as we discussed earlier, the whole political narrative in India and the structural factors, how do we do a deal with Pakistan? Because essentially, if you do a deal with Pakistan, if you can find peace with Pakistan, there are two fronts. It actually goes away because the Chinese are not going away. Let's be clear. Everybody knows globally, as you saw the New York Times piece today, the Chinese are very clearly positioning themselves as ideologically opposed to the US led grouping, saying, clearly, we stand here.


This is what we are. We are not taking it lying down. And we are going to push bring countries on our side and we are going to say that this is what it is. And this and as a country which shares a land border with China, a disputed land border with China, India cannot afford to walk away from the Chinese shadowless. The Chinese threat is going to remain and is going to increase by India as the as a major country in Asia will have to live with it.


Pakistan need not necessarily be a threat or an adversary to you if you can do a deal with Pakistan. That's my sense. But of course, there are many ifs and buts and the least of all being the Indian political scenario. But there are other things within Pakistan itself. There are huge fault lines that are huge problems within Pakistan. The whole narrative of Pakistan as to why it exists, why the country exists would be under threat of the peace with India.


The whole idea of Kashmir, what happens to Kashmir? Is it integral to Pakistan's existence? All those questions come into play. So I am not really I am not sanguine, but I believe that the answer actually lies in India doing a deal with Pakistan to resolve one front and then try and find ways to deal with the Chinese threat or try and do a deal with China to resolve the crisis. I think it would be a bad for the Indian economy.


It will be bad for the Indian military, Indian military, and it will be very bad for the Indian strategic calculus if the two front head is not removed, because as we have seen from this current crisis or rather the crisis, we just disengagement that just taken place. It is a real threat. And it can and it can lead to situations where where India can be put under pressure, which will lead to more spending on the military, which will put it, which would further impinge on our economic growth and make us economically unattractive in some ways.


And, you know, like any conflict is a negative sum game. You know, the Indochina conflict also seems directly, but it feels worse for India. Like you have pointed out, you wrote in a recent piece in foreign policy that, you know, it might seem to be a stalemate, but it's actually a stalemate that China is better equipped to handle for a couple of reasons. Number one, they have far deeper pockets, like you pointed out elsewhere, that their defense budget is nearly four times as much as India.


Their economy is nearly six times bigger. And that gap has actually widened during the pandemic because somehow they've even though it started there, they've kind of handled it better than we managed. So that's one thing. And the other thing is that all of this distracts our security forces from the other front. So to say that the opportunity cost for India was manning the China border and being alert and all of that is far greater than it is for China because they've got such a massive and modern force.


So what are your kind of thoughts on that? Because it seems to me that, you know, we come off worse no matter what we do. And to some extent, our basket of options there is in thinking of how best we can limit our losses until some point, maybe through diplomacy, maybe through trade, we can just, you know, get past this. What's your sense of the Indian thinking on this and what are the realistic options in front of us?


Like if you were in the Foreign Ministry now, what would you be telling the Chinese? What would you be trying to do?


So the argument that I make that I make is that even if the the political imperative is that India cannot afford to lose any territory to China, and if that is the political imperative, even if this crisis gets resolved in some way, India would have to deploy its forces closer to the border, ground forces closer to the border to prevent any loss of territory. Now, with the budgets and with the finances as they are, as we have discussed again and again, this would mean that India cannot really build its Navy, which needs to go out in the Indian Ocean region and do what it needs to do along with other global partners, which is which is what would make India more attractive to the two its core partners.


If it can go out in the in the Indian Ocean region and can do what it needs to do in the seas or can take on a very fast growing Chinese navy navy in the region, that is the opportunity cost essentially, which comes from there. Now, why does that cost come? That cost comes because of the political imperative of not losing any territory.


No, militaries do not think that they are fine with losing territory because he can either go back and capture that same piece of territory again. So by using military force and if they can, they can go and capture another valuable piece of adversary's territory so that they can negotiate on the table and exchange those two pieces of land. So losing territory is no big deal militarily, but politically in India, especially with a more powerful country like China, it is a very big deal.


And that is what forces India that if India could do what is called a peculiar quid pro quo, you come and capture something in Galván, I'll go and capture something. And a child or Tibet or wherever or wherever else I'll go, I'll go and capture some territory. So you would jolly well then, you know, you will be going to the negotiating table and that will make it. That's something which was advocated in Nonalignment 2.0, which was produced in 2013 by the current situation where I'm at the center of a policy.


So that is essentially where the whole problem lies. The fact that India is unwilling to do what you pick, you want China and the political imperative is that you cannot lose anything. So if we had a way by which we could regain lost territory, we would not need to deploy as we are planning to deploy it, as we are trying to deploy to minimise any loss of territory. And I think that is a more exhausting option of trying to deploy in that manner.


So I hope you realize that the Chinese do not deploy all across the border like we deploy. They actually come from doing that one in 50 kilometers far behind and then moving because they are very confident about probably, as you said, the power differential that they have are the last major deployment they did was close to the place where Indians stopped them. They've created a big military base, a satellite images that have shown since. So that is where I think probably an answer would lie if the military was confident enough and had the political mandate to go and do a quid pro quo.


There are areas where they can certainly go in and occupy a certain piece of Chinese territory. Chinese cannot defend every single piece of land and they are not 60 feet tall. But again, in that sense. So we need to recognize that. But that would mean taking a certain political risk in terms of losing certain territory initially, that that would provide the ideal solution, a rational solution to this kind of a problem where we get bogged down trying to defend every inch of.


I think also that comes from the whole historical narrative or not even one inch of territory will be lost to the US, to the adversary. I think that political line, which is so filmy in its nature, has completely made it very difficult for our political leaders to be sensitive about territory because of historical reasons. They are a land dominated country. The landscape as we are in a highly populated, dense population density is very high. India was not united before earlier.


So you don't want to lose any piece of Turkey because you are worried if you start losing territory, there would be other areas where you really would lose territory and would do nothing about it. You know, the whole fracas over the Bangladesh to the exchange of villages went on for so many years and Supreme Court and everybody got into play because you just don't want to lose any territory whatsoever for any reason, which I think India and India should be politically confident after so many years of independence.


This is not the end of the 1950s where it needs to really defend every inch of territory or claim that it is defending every inch of territory. It needs to be far more confident and thinking more strategic terms, more military terms while dealing with the territory.


And what is your thinking and the thinking of experts in the field about what China wants? Because it seems to me that in all of this, like, let's say al-Qaeda, Colombo's sort of, you know, like a provocation for them. But at this moment in time, listen, I'm sure they don't want a few little piddly bits of territory on the border. What difference does it make to them? What do they really want? At what point if we can credibly communicate that, listen, we'll work with you, we won't necessarily be useless counterbalancing Asia.


Let's work together, Lestrade together. You know, our entire country is a market for your goods and all of that. Then is it a way of getting to that kind of table and just changing the tune and, you know, sorting this military issue through politics, through diplomacy, through whatever? Yeah, perhaps there is.


But as our foreign minister suggestion that he himself doesn't know the reason why the Chinese are it. So I guess for me, he's on record if Indian foreign minister does not know why the Chinese have done this. It's hard for you or me or any other analyst to actually assess why these people I'm sure the Chinese would have told him in the various meetings or his diplomats in various meetings why they have done what they did in the dark. Clearly, as you said, it seems to be something about the counterbalancing that the Indians are doing along with the along with the US.


And is there a way in which India can assure the Chinese without being subservient to them, without consulting its own interests? I think that still remains to be seen. China is really coming out in some way, looking very, very assertive in so many ways. I don't know if there is a way in which India can operate with the with China without conceding on its sovereign interest. I would be watching very carefully in the coming months when President Xi is supposed to come to India for the BRICS summit, et cetera, as to what happens or if President Xi and Prime Minister Modi actually undertake another informal undertaking of the informal summit and arrive at some other formulation, some of the solutions and what kind of give and take takes place, whether India wants to concede something on the barai or something else takes place.


I would be very carefully watching the rest of the for signs on India, China. I don't think we should not assume that everything is lost on India or China, and there is no way that nothing can be gained despite the push by the Biden administration and the Colebrooke. At the end of the day, if there are parts of the administration which are engaging with China, John Kerry is holding a meeting on environment and climate with his Chinese counterpart. So David Apostate remains a very distinct possibility that the Indian and Chinese government may find a way to engage and find and do some give and take some exchange through which they find certain answers to their current predicament and create structures where these tensions do not arise.


The old structures created in the same time probably have outlived their utility and the new structures for for peace. Building work, for resolving tensions could be have to be formulated under a new framework by the two governments.


These are really hopeful words, you know, made that be clarified. Butter and sugar in your mouth, basically up communication. Good and sort of and you know, you've outlined in the course of this India that the security the challenge to India's national security pretty well is Pakistan. There's China. There's a pressure of a two front war. There is a trading economy, you know, part of which also feeds into the whole problem of our armed forces not being modernized enough and not being enough revenue for that.


All of these are sort of valid points. Would you add something to that and then to go further, what would you say if you look over the next 10 years, what would you say is a best case scenario and worst case scenario in terms of India's national security, like what could go wrong or and how could we actually, you know, make progress on all these fronts?


So remember, there are four things which are which are the national security imperatives when the unity, unity of India's India's unity, territorial integrity, essentially what I'm talking about, sovereignty, you know, whether it was non-alignment, whether it is strategic sovereignty, whatever, what we want to use. Can India take sovereign decisions as a sovereign and a sovereign power that it is a national security imperative? The third national security imperative is internal security, internal security. So that is a rule of law and there is development, growth, peace, business, et cetera, et cetera, within the country.


And the fourth thing is a global standard. Can India really reach that kind of global standard? So within those four parameters through which the Indian national security paradigm has to be judged of what could go wrong, what could go right and what could obviously go wrong is you could face these urgent crises in Kashmir, in the north and in the northeast, the two areas where the situation has not really stabilized, especially if things go wrong in Bangladesh of Sheikh Hasina, because clearly leading Sheikh Hasina is there.


She's very close to the Indian government and things are fine. But if she goes away, I do not know what kind of situation would emerge in Bangladesh and what impact it would have in Northeast, particularly with whatever is going on in Myanmar, in Myanmar right now.


So the situation in India's neighbourhood essentially could lead to crises in Northeast, could lead to a crisis in in Kashmir, Pakistan. And of course, that on top of that, that you could have in Pakistan, China threat collusively coming into play and China trying to bring all the neighbourhood countries, whether it is Nepal, whether the Sri Lankan more lives into its orbit of influence and trying to put India under pressure. That would be the worst case scenario that everything going on mean.


We don't know what everything is going on, on Kashmir has gone wrong. NE has gone wrong. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Pakistan, everything is gone. That's the worst case scenario. That's possible. Probability can vary in Nepal may not go wrong. Sri Lanka may not go wrong. Bangladesh may not go wrong. But probability is low. But everything can go wrong. That's what. And go right in there, results through political means, not through military means and the results, the problems and problems in the Northeast, whether it is Mogollon Money, et cetera, and finds a way out, India finds a way to engage with Bangladesh in a manner that once the Sheikh Hasina administration is not there, it does not lose its credibility.


And it's the sea inside Bangladesh. And India is able to find a way to deal with China, as you said, where they can both cooperate and compete at the same time without getting into adversarial positions or having this enmity of such a high standard with them militarily confronting each other or challenging or challenging each other. And India can at the same time have a deal with Pakistan where it's no longer a threat. And such a scenario, India would rather devote more of its political energies and economic resources towards development, growth, poverty alleviation than towards its military, and devoting this whole narrative, national narrative around who our enemy is and how we need to tackle that enemy.


We would rather be talking about how to lift these seven point five zero people who have been pushed into poverty during the pandemic and all the other challenges of inequality, of illiteracy, of joblessness that really India needs to tackle. India really doesn't India should not be for India at this point in time. Pakistan or China should not be the real problem. The real problem is what our own country citizens of the country office. I think that's what the best case scenario for India would be.




And I think, in a sense, your advice for India would also be the same as your advice for any individual that if you sort out the problems within, then you can sort out kind of the problems without. So before ending this episode, I just want to kind of get back to the personal, because you made this interesting journey that you're a young boy growing up in Agra. Then you've joined the Army. You've spent some time in the army, you've moved on to the you know, you've become a journalist and now sort of a think tank, as it were, looking for CPR.


So, you know, so how do you look at this current path that you're on? In a sense, it's kind of accidental because obviously, if you don't join the army, you don't end up here either. So what do you feel about your current path? What are the things that make you look forward to the day when you wake up in the morning? Is it writing? Is it reading? Is it just talking to smart people? You know, what drives you?


So the current path is good. You know, I have taught at Yale. I taught in the political science department at Yale in 2019 for 2019. They have again invited me to go and teach there. That's something I look forward to again, going and teaching there. It's a wonderful university, wonderful environment, lovely place to be there. Other than that, the fact that I am able to think, read and write without being CPR is a great place to work.


By the way, my boss Yamini here, she's a wonderful person and they give a lot of freedom for people to do what they want to exercise without putting them under pressure. It's a kind of place which allows you to intellectually engage and do things that you wish to do without really looking over your shoulder is a great opportunity at this stage of my life. Other than that, what do I think when I wake up? When I wake up, I actually look forward to just reading, writing and meeting interesting people.


All three things actually reading and reading and meeting interesting people, but and writing less writing is less of a hassle because now I do find serious writing. Being able to produce new ideas more regularly, I would challenge. I admire people who are able to write very high quality stuff very regularly. It's not something that that comes naturally or easily to me. But reading and meeting interesting people definitely drives me everyday. Yeah.


And as the show in this episode is a witness to, I get to meet interesting people as well. So, Sushant, thanks a lot for being a guest today on the scene in The Unseen. I really appreciate your time and insights. Thank you so much.


I mean, it was a pleasure. It's been a long show. Thanks. Thanks a lot. If you enjoy listening to this episode, head on over to the Señores for many, many links into rabbit holes. My friends, if you want to follow Sushant on Twitter, you can do that at Sushant, since that is saying so. Sue S.H., NPR, CNN. And you can follow me along with my Amitay Army. You can browse past episodes of the scene in The Unseen, at scene unseen.


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