Wednesday, 22 April 2015

As Xi Jinping concludes Pakistan visit, the dollars do not obscure the questions

Xi Jinping addresses a joint session of parliament in "the house of his brother"

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Apr 15

China’s President Xi Jinping left Pakistan on Tuesday after a two-day state visit with the Nishan-e-Pakistan --- the Islamic Republic’s highest civilian honour --- pinned to his breast, having provided badly-needed infrastructure funding to a beleaguered and cash-strapped Pakistan.

Even so, the euphoria over the signing of more than 50 agreements during Xi’s visit, committing some $46 billion in Chinese funding for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, is tempered with apprehension.

Both sides know this 3000-kilometre passage from Kashgar in China’s restive Xinjiang Autonomous Region to Gwadar in Pakistan’s insurgency-affected Baluchistan, passes through these countries’ most chronically unstable areas.

Beijing fears for the security of its engineers and workers in Pakistan, several of whom have been killed in terrorist attacks, especially in Baluchistan. Earlier this decade Beijing had insisted on deploying People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in the Northern Areas for safeguarding Chinese labour there. New Delhi had strongly protested the stationing of PLA troops on Indian-claimed territory.

With Islamabad eager to reassure Beijing about safety of its personnel, Pakistani President Mamnoon Hussain told Xi in a one-on-one meeting on Tuesday that Pakistan would raise a 10,000-man security division dedicated to protecting Chinese workers in Pakistan.

According to Dawn newspaper, a major general would head this force, reporting directly to General Headquarters (GHQ), as Pakistan calls its army headquarters.

President Xi’s announcement of $46 billion in funding in Pakistan is the tip of the spear for Beijing’s so-called “Silk Road Economic Belt” project, which aims to extend Chinese infrastructure to South and Central Asia. First announced in Kazakhstan in 2013 and since renamed “One Belt, One Road”, this infrastructure development strategy has multiple aims.

At the security level, it aims to tamp down rising Islamist radicalism in Xinjiang, Pakistan and Afghanistan through economic development. Bringing development to Baluchistan is also expected to cool the decades-old insurgency there.

At the macro-economic level, extending infrastructure through Asia into Europe is expected to open up new markets to Chinese producers, whose domestic markets are stagnating in the face of overcapacity.

Finally, this provides China with a more remunerative use for its massive foreign currency reserves, much of which currently stagnates in low-yielding US treasury bonds. China’s foreign exchange reserves stand at $3.7 trillion, according to Beijing’s March-end figures.

Beijing dispenses this infrastructure funding through its so-called “policy banks” --- three government lenders that focus on financing infrastructure development in China and abroad. These are China Development Bank (CDG); Export-Import Bank of China (Ex-Im Bank); and Agricultural Development Bank of China.

The Financial Times quotes the Chinese financial website, Caixin, that China’s central bank has already disbursed $62 billion to two of these banks for the “One Belt, One Road” initiative. The CDB has received $32 billion in forex reserves, while Ex-Im Bank has received $30 billion.

China’s generous chequebook diplomacy has provided Pakistanis an opportunity to ridicule America, which has never come close to dispensing such largesse.

Even in arms supplies, Beijing has clearly overhauled Washington. Earlier this month, Washington notified the US Congress of its intention to sell Pakistan $952 million worth of defence equipment, including 15 AH-1Z attack helicopters and 1,000 fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles.

China, however, has bigger deals in the making. Beijing and Islamabad are in the final stages of negotiating the purchase of eight Chinese conventional submarines --- these could be either the Yuan-class Type 039A or Type 041; or the Qing-class Type 032. This $4-5 billion deal was expected to be signed during President Xi’s visit, but was eventually a notable omission.

Stationed in Gwadar with suitable reserves of spare parts and maintenance facilities and personnel, these submarines would allow the Pakistan Navy to support Chinese submarines of the same type whilst they operate in the Indian Ocean.

The authoritative Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) says Pakistan sourced 51 per cent of its arms imports from China during the period 2010-14. The US was in second place with 30 per cent, says SIPRI.

A significant part of China’s arms sales to Pakistan are accounted for by the JF-17 Thunder light fighter, which has been “co-developed” by both, but still has a large part supplied by China. President Xi’s flight was symbolically escorted by a detachment of eight JF-17s as he arrived in Pakistan and on his way out.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

INS Visakhapatanam shows growing Indian ability to build warships economically

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Apr 15

On Monday, eight months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the first Project 15A guided missile destroyer, INS Kolkata, the first of its successor class vessels --- INS Visakhapatnam --- was launched into the water at Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).

INS Visakhapatnam, the first of four stealthy destroyers coming up under Project 15B, began taking shape on January 23, 2013, when MDL started fashioning 2,800 tonnes of Indian-made warship steel into the warship’s hull. With this partly-build structure now floating in water, INS Visakhapatnam will be built up by 2017 into a 7,334-tonne behemoth. After trials, it will be commissioned in 2018 as India’s most heavily armed warship.

It will be joined in the fleet at two-year intervals by three successors: INS Paradip, INS Marmagoa and a fourth vessel, yet unnamed.

The most remarkable feature of these destroyers is not their 32 world-beating Indo-Israeli anti-ship-missile defences called the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM), or Barak 8; nor the arsenal of 16 Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles that can sink ships or strike land targets 295 kilometres away; nor the heavyweight torpedoes that can destroy enemy submarines 100 kilometres away.

The most remarkable feature of these warships is that, tonne-for-tonne, they are not just one of the world’s most heavily armed but also one of the cheapest.

India’s warship building edge

Displaces (tonnes)
Cost per tonne (US $)

INS Kolkata (Project 15A)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Guangzhou-class destroyer
Jiangnan Shipyard, China
INS Visakhapatnam (Project 15B)
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai
Daring-class (Type-45) destroyer
BAE Systems, UK
South Korea
KDX-III Sejong destroyer
Hyundai, South Korea
USS Rafael Peralta (DDG-51) destroyer
Bath Iron Works, Maine, USA
Akizuki-class destroyer
Mitsubishi, Nagasaki, Japan
Project 21956 destroyer
Severnaya, Russia
Hobart-class destroyer

Underlining the benefits of designing and building combat platforms in the country, the four Project 15B warships will cost the navy Rs 29,348 crore, an average of Rs 7,337 crore per destroyer. Tipping the scales at an estimated 7,334 tonnes, INS Visakhapatnam will cost the navy just about Rs 1 crore per tonne, or $159,750 in 2014 prices.

The Project 15A destroyers are built even cheaper --- at $92,210 per tonne --- but the fall of the rupee and inflation in labour and materials cost have raised the price of their successors.

Only China’s Guangzhou class destroyers were built cheaper, at $146,870 per tonne in 2014 prices. However, as combat platforms, Guangzhou-class destroyers are not in the same class as INS Visakhapatnam. Their anti-missile defence consists of 48 Russian-origin SA-N-12 Grizzly surface-to-air missiles, which have ranges of under 40 kilometres, depending upon the target. The LR-SAMs on the Visakhapatnam-class, in contrast, shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles --- the most significant threat to surface warships --- at ranges out to 70 kilometres, and have a far better hit probability.

Similarly, the Brahmos anti-ship/anti-surface missile, which is both supersonic and has a range of 295 kilometres, is regarded as superior to the Guangzhou-class’ YJ-83 anti-ship missiles, which have ranges of about 200 kilometres.

The Daring-class destroyers, which spearhead the Royal Navy’s surface fleet and which the United Kingdom boasts are the finest air defence destroyers in the world, cost an estimated 193,650 per tonne to build.

Few would dispute the technological pre-eminence of the US Navy’s DDG-51 destroyers, of which USS Rafael Peralta is the newest. Boasting the Aegis Combat System for air defence, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk strategic land strike cruise missiles; these Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the gold standard in multi-role capability. However, this capability comes at a prohibitive $205,000 per tonne, despite the economy of scale that comes from building about 100 of these warships.

Even more expensive is Japan’s Akizuki-class destroyer, which Mitsubishi is building for $232,370 per tonne; and Australia’s Hobart-class destroyer, designed by Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and built in Australia, which will cost the Royal Australian Navy an estimated $333,300 per tonne, more than double the cost of INS Visakhapatnam.

The capabilities that the navy has announced for Project 15B indicates the design of these warships --- rooted in the three destroyers of Project 15; and evolved into the three of Project 15A --- has continually improved. Although these vessels use the same power plant --- four Ukrainian M-36E Zorya gas turbines --- INS Visakhapatnam, which is significantly heavier at 7,334 tonnes than the 5,800-tonne Delhi-class destroyers of Project 15, can work up the same speed (30 knots, or 56 kmph).

The Visakhapatnam’s crew of 325 officers and sailors, include an air complement that operates the ship’s two helicopters. The destroyer carries 1,000 tonnes of fuel, which allows it to patrol the oceans for 8,000 nautical miles (15,000 km; 9,200 miles) at 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph). For entering an area that has undergone a nuclear, chemical or biological (NBC) strike, the Visakhapatnam has a “total atmosphere control system”, which cleans the air through a filter system.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

For building light fighters in India, Saab officials want government-to-government deal

While the govt talks up the IAF's need for a light fighter, Maharashtra CM, Devendra Fadnavis, in a Gripen fighter in Sweden on Wednesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Apr 15

On April 10th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had requested France for 36 Rafale fighters, built by Dassault Aviation, to meet the Indian Air Force (IAF) need for 126 fighters. Since then speculation is rising about a second global vendor that might fill the gap, building light fighters in India, alongside an Indian partner.

In interviews with state-run broadcaster, Doordarshan, and with the daily newspaper, Hindustan Times, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar explicitly stated the IAF urgently needs light fighters, a requirement the Rafale does not meet.

Likening light, medium and heavy fighters to a scooter, car and bus respectively, Parrikar told Hindustan Times it would be wasteful to deploy a big, heavy Rafale where a smaller fighter would do. “Two people can travel in a bus, but that would be wasting resources”, he said.

For short-range, short-duration missions that are currently performed by the single-engine MiG-21, Parrikar told Doordarshan the IAF needs a light fighter, not the Rafale.

“Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. Tejas [Light Combat Aircraft] is a replacement for MiG-21. Or, if we build some other fighter under “Make in India”, that is also possible”, said Parrikar.

New Delhi’s growing and explicitly expressed interest in light fighters has been noted by Swedish company, Saab, which had offered its highly regarded JAS 39 Gripen E light fighter in response to the tender eventually won by Dassault’s Rafale.

Even as Parrikar talked up the need for a light fighter, Maharashtra’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on Wednesday visited Saab’s facility in Sweden, where the Gripen NG fighter is built. From there he tweeted a photo of himself in the cockpit of a Gripen and a message saying: “It was great to be at the aerospace & defence company SAAB at Linkoping, Sweden. Promised a defence manufacturing policy in Maharashtra soon.”

Top Saab officials tell Business Standard that, even before Fadnavis, the chief ministers of UP and Gujarat --- then Narendra Modi --- had held discussions with Saab.

A top Saab official told Business Standard on condition of anonymity: “If we are approached by the government of India, Saab would be happy to partner the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) or an Indian private company in not just manufacturing fighters in India, but in developing real capabilities for building a single-engine fighter for the IAF.”

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has not yet approached Saab directly, speaking only through the media.

However, in 2012-13, the DRDO had solicited Saab’s help in co-developing and manufacturing the Tejas Mark II in India. Besides the similarities between the Tejas and the Gripen --- both single-engine, light fighters --- Saab had upgraded the Gripen D to the Gripen NG by replacing the General Electric F-404 engine with the more powerful GE F-414.

That is exactly what the DRDO plans to do for upgrading Tejas Mark I to Mark II specifications.

In 2012, DRDO chief VK Saraswat had sent Saab a “Request for Information”, followed in January 2013 with a “Request for Proposal” inviting Saab to jointly audit the Tejas design with DRDO.

As Business Standard reported last year (June 17, 2014, “Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful”) Saab proposed an 8-10 month long audit of the Tejas design, after which a fresh design would be jointly finalised and a manufacturing line established with Saab’s expertise.

Saab had proposed as far back as 2011 to co-develop the Tejas Mark II and roll it out from a new manufacturing line within five years. Saab had then demanded 51 per cent ownership of the joint venture company that built the new Tejas.

Saab says, in June 2013, when a joint design contract seemed imminent, a new DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander, took charge. He told Saab a foreign partner for co-developing the Tejas Mark II could be selected only through an international tender.

Now, Saab officials say they will insist on a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement, if they are to assist India in developing and manufacturing a light fighter in India. Under the UPA government, this would have been a deal breaker. Mr Parrikar, however, stated on Monday: “These important decisions need to be taken at government-to-government levels.”

The Saab Gripen has so far proved more popular in the international market than the Rafale. While Rafale has not yet found a single overseas buyer (Egypt and India have expressed interest), the South African, Czech, Hungarian, Thailand and the United Kingdom have acquired the Gripen. In addition, the Brazilian, Polish and Slovakian air forces have expressed interest. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Army divided against army; BJP against BJP: Supreme Court will hear controversial army promotion case on 22nd

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Apr 15

The Supreme Court today put off by a week its hearing of a landmark case on an issue so contentious that it has divided the army right down the middle; and even senior echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

At stake here is the principle for promoting officers to higher rank. The army currently favours the infantry and artillery, saying these arms face harsher service conditions and need younger commanders. Challenging this in what is now a keenly watched cause celebre are 191 serving officers who argue the army is an integrated whole and promotion should be equitable.

The BJP’s national spokesperson, Meenakshi Lekhi, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer, is spearheading the case against her own party’s government. Lekhi has routed the government in the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) on March 30. She could also win in the Supreme Court, which will hear the case on April 22.

Fighting alongside Lekhi is legal eagle Harish Salve, who is working free of cost.

Lekhi says this case is important enough for her to confront her own party’s government. “At stake here is the cohesiveness and unity of the entire officer corps. The army has to remain united. Favouring one or two arms divides the army and weakens India’s military capability”, she told Business Standard

The disagreement is over distribution of vacancies for four senior ranks --- colonel, brigadier, major general and lieutenant general. Before 2009, vacancies were equitably divided on a “pro rata” basis --- i.e. in proportion to their numbers --- between the arms and services that made up the army. These include “combat arms”, i.e. armoured corps, infantry and mechanised infantry; “combat support arms”, i.e. artillery, engineers and signals; and finally “services”, which discharge logistic functions like repair and supply.

The AFT notes this balance was upset in 2009, when new “discriminatory” promotion rules handed out most vacancies to the two biggest arms --- infantry and artillery. Suddenly, with these additional vacancies, 60 per cent of infantry and artillery lieutenant colonels found themselves getting promoted to colonel. Meanwhile other branches had approval ratings as low as 26 per cent.

This injustice was extended to the higher ranks of brigadier and general, where the vacancies for each branch correspond to the number of colonels it has.

The AFT ruled that this violated “the fundamental right of equality of opportunity”, and ordered the army to redistribute vacancies equitably and reconvene all promotion boards to the rank of colonel held since 2008.

For the army, re-holding these promotion boards is a major challenge. “This is like ordering the replay of all cricket series held in the last five years, including the World Cup, after discovering an earlier flaw in the rules”, laments a general.

Even so, the Supreme Court wants an early decision. On Wednesday, it overruled the army’s request for three weeks to prepare its case, allowing only one week, given that a promotion board is scheduled for 28th.

The apex Court has ordered the army to place promotion boards on hold until the matter is heard on 22nd.

The instrument for allocating extra vacancies to the infantry and artillery was the so-called Ajai Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC), chaired by a well-respected defence secretary, which was mandated in 2001 to create a younger army. One AVSC recommendation was to promote officers faster by creating more vacancies --- 1484 additional colonels; 222 more brigadiers; 75 new major generals and 20 additional lieutenant generals.

These additional vacancies were to be created in two tranches. In December 2004, the first 750 colonel vacancies were equitably distributed, based on each branch’s officer strength.  In November 2008, as the AFT notes, the remaining 734 vacancies were given mainly to the infantry (441) and artillery (186). The other eight arms/services got just 59 vacancies between them, with 48 discretionary vacancies retained by army headquarters.

The AFT judgment termed this “a malicious act of reverse engineering to justify discrimination in allotment of vacancies”.

Whilst the impugned policy was being formulated (2001-2009) all army chiefs and key promotion policymakers were from either the infantry or artillery.

These generals suggested the AVSC had recommended additional vacancies to the infantry and artillery in order to bring younger officers in command.

In fact, former defence secretary Ajai Vikram Singh has clarified to Business Standard: “There was no talk of having any special provision for the infantry or artillery.” 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

In addition to Rafale, India could also buy light fighter to replace MiG-21: Parrikar

MoD says it could bring in company other than HAL to build fighter in India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Apr 15

With Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi facing tough questions over the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters, announced on Friday during his visit to Paris, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, appeared on Monday on the state-run broadcaster, Doordarshan, to explain this move.

Parrikar was unable to clarify how many Rafales would eventually be bought, or what price would be paid. Noting that there had only been an in-principle decision at the PM’s level, he said: “We have not detailed its price and terms and conditions yet… the (Indian and French) teams will now sit and work out details”, he said.

“It may be worked out that we will buy another 90 Rafales… The ‘Make in India’ part will be decided only after government-to-government talks”, said Parrikar.

Contradicting himself later, Parrikar said India could not afford 126 Rafales. “We must remember that Rafale is a top-end, multi-role fighter… but it is quite expensive. When you talk of 126 aircraft, it becomes a purchase of about Rs 90,000 crore”, he said.

This is the first time an official has revealed the amount Dassault had quoted for 126 Rafales. Media speculation had favoured a figure of $15-18 billion. Parrikar’s revelation of Rs 90,000 crore come to about $15 billion.

Parrikar made the far-reaching announcement that, in addition to the Rafale, India could buy a second foreign fighter, in the lightweight category, to replace several MiG-21 squadrons that will retire this decade.

“Rafale is not a replacement for MiG-21. LCA Tejas is a replacement for MiG-21. Or, if we build some other fighter under “Make in India”, that is also possible. If we build another single engine [fighter] in India, which is possible, that could be a replacement for the MiG-21”, said Parrikar.

Indian Air Force (IAF) planners do not favour buying two new types of fighters. Yet Parrikar has thrown up a tantalizing prospect for light fighter builders like Lockheed Martin, which had offered the F-16IN Super Viper to India; and Swedish company, Saab, which had offered the Gripen NG.

It has been widely speculated across the industry that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group was interested in building the Rafale, supplanting Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Parrikar has now stated that production in India would be open for companies other than HAL.

“Initially HAL would be preferred, but that need not [remain the case]. Since we’ve started a new file, we don’t need to stick with the RfP (Request for Proposals, or tender) conditions.”

On Monday, Parrikar had scrapped the 2007 RfP for 126 MMRCA, which had mandated that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would build 108 fighters in India.

Intriguingly, the defence minister blamed the competitive procurement model that had been followed in the MMRCA tender for its eventual collapse. Said Parrikar: “It is wrong to do an MMRCA type deal using an RfP model. You cannot compare different types of aircraft like the F/A-18, Eurofighter and Rafale. All three have different strengths and capabilities. All three are probably good enough planes… One of them was made L-1 (lowest bidder). The entire procedure was completed and then we find that the entire procedure will have to be repeated all over again. How do I answer air force?”

Parrikar also blamed the preceding United Progressive Alliance government for handling the MMRCA procurement poorly. In fact, it was the National Democratic Alliance government of the early 2000s that ordered competitive procurement.

More than once, Parrikar referred to the Rafale’s capability for delivering weapons on deep-lying strategic targets --- his reference to a “strategic purchase” apparently hinting at a nuclear delivery role.

“Rafale is a strategic purchase and should never have gone through an RfP. These important decisions need to be taken at government-to-government levels. Modiji took the decision; I back it up”, the defence minister said.

“The penetration capability of this aircraft (Rafale) is 1,000-1,100 kilometres. The other [IAF] aircraft penetration range is 300-450 kilometres. So we get double the penetration,” said Parrikar, again referring to deep strike capability.

In what would not be welcomed in the IAF, the defence minister stated he might compromise with the IAF’s sanctioned squadron strength, instead accepting a lower figure. “Forty-two squadrons is the strength approved. We should have at least 37-38 very active squadrons”, said Parrikar. 

That meddlesome Punjabi army: Book review of Steven I Wilkinson's book, "Army and Nation"

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th April 15

Title:  Army and Nation: the Military and Indian Democracy since Independence
Author:  Steven I Wilkinson
Publisher:  Permanent Black (Ranikhet, India)
Length:  295 pages
Price:  Rs 795

Entire library shelves already groan under the weight of civil-military relations textbooks that try to explain a fascinating paradox: the contrast between the Indian and Pakistani armies. Despite their similar origins and organization ethos, how did the former remain scrupulously apolitical, while the latter evolved into a byword for military meddling in politics?

Given the brainpower already applied to this question, one might imagine the last word had already been said. But Steven I Wilkinson --- who is Nilekani Professor of Indian and South Asian Studies at Yale University --- breaks fresh ground in zooming in on a structural fault line that he says largely explains the Pakistan Army’s penchant for political intervention. Mr Wilkinson focuses on the ethnic imbalance within that army, where Punjabis form a large majority. A well-recognised tenet of civil-military relations holds that a military recruited predominantly from a narrow segment of the populace tends to become politicized. It becomes a guardian of certain specific interests, unlike a “national” army that is recruited equitably from across a country’s ethnicities, religions and geographies.

The well-known Punjabi domination of the Pakistan Army has been previously acknowledged as a cause of political interventionism. Yet, no earlier scholar has gone into the detail that Wilkinson presents. Marshalling a trove of official data beginning from the late 19th century, he illustrates how British military administrators systematically “Punjab-ised” the Indian Army. After the 1857 uprising, British recruiters drew mainly from areas that had not revolted against the British, particularly Punjab, but also the North West Frontier Province, Jammu, Garhwal and the Gurkha areas.

This deliberate Punjabi dominance was perpetuated through the post-1857 decades, through the army’s massive expansion during two World Wars and, incredibly, even in post-independence India and Pakistan, in particular during the expansion of the Indian Army after the 1962 Sino-Indian war. Wilkinson tellingly illustrates how the Indian and Pakistani military establishments, long after independence, continued to blindly follow British “martial race” policies. While Pakistan’s Punjabi machismo sits well with such notions, it is hard to understand why India continued this myth, especially given the Congress Party’s stated commitment to broad-basing recruitment across all states.

In proving his thesis, Wilkinson overcomes government opaqueness by drawing on official government statements in parliament, and reports such as those of parliament’s standing committee on defence. This provides an object lesson to Indian researchers and academics.

An especially interesting section describes how Pakistan’s army was short-sightedly allowed by Pakistani politicians and generals to become even more Punjabi. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 (in large part because of the “Punjabi” army’s brutal crackdown on Bengalis) peeled away the handful of Bengali units, making Punjabi domination even more overwhelming. Thus was created the narrow-based force that Baluchistan, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Northern Areas still regard with suspicion.

As Wilkinson weaves his narrative, supported by official numbers and statistics, it is like watching a train crash in slow motion in the rear view mirror. Pakistan’s disintegration and the secession of Bangladesh seem almost fore-ordained, given the deep-rooted, internalised contempt amongst Pakistani Punjabis for Bengali soldiery. This even as East Bengal simmered (as it had since British times) at having to generate the economic resources to pay for a military that generated employments, cantonments and facilities only in West Pakistan.

Wilkinson also focuses on how the Congress Party, and Jawaharlal Nehru in particular, systematically “coup-proofed” the Indian Army, which Indian freedom-fighters had warily regarded as a bastion of colonial thought. The author quotes from a memo that Nehru shot off to generals who were obstructing the Congress’ plans for Independence Day celebrations in August 1947, in which he reminded them that “If any person is unable to (implement government) policy, he has no place in the Indian Army.”

Already, in September 1946, Nehru had removed the military commander-in-chief from the cabinet. This was sequentially followed by downgrading military ranks in the “official order of precedence”; substantial reductions in military pay and perks, including 40 per cent salary cuts for officers; discouraging military officers from giving public speeches; downgrading the position of commander-in-chief to chief of army staff, and preventing top commanders from staying too long as generals, after which (the author says) they were shipped off to far-away countries as envoys. The first army chief, General Cariappa, retired at 53 and was sent as ambassador to Australia. In a move laden with symbolism, Nehru himself shifted into the erstwhile commander-in-chief’s residence, today the iconic Teen Murti Bhavan.

Sadly, this riveting, well-written book, which will undoubtedly be a reference work for future scholars, is marred by numerous glaring inaccuracies. The author is apparently unaware that officers are selected through competitive examinations and interviews, and that the number of Punjabis at any time is purely coincidental, not a reflection of policy. Nor does he factor in, while studying the number of Punjabi army chiefs, that the top job usually goes to whoever is senior-most when a chief retires. He claims General Thapar (a Punjabi) was appointed chief by then defence minister Krishna Menon “so as to block General Thimayya’s pick for the job”. In fact, the outgoing army chief never gets to pick his successor, and Thapar was anyway the senior-most after Thimayya.

In recounting the names of army chiefs “side-lined” as envoys after retirement, the author does not explain why so many chiefs were not sent abroad, but retired quietly in India. In writing on the politics of senior army appointments, Wilkinson has apparently relied heavily on Neville Maxwell’s writing, not the most accurate and impartial of sources. It is hoped that subsequent editions of this book are cleansed of these errors.