Friday, May 9, 2014

More to it than just an evening in Paris

My article More to it than just an evening in Paris appeared yesterday in the Edit Page of The Pioneer. 

If the new Government is serious about improving defence preparedness, it will need the support of reliable and strategic partners. France should be right on top of that list

Here is the link..

The election campaign will soon come to a close. By and large, it has been a lively exercise, and even though some commentators described it as the ‘ugliest’, looked at retrospectively, the massive affair was rather decent (it is obvious that loose cannons can’t learn to shoot in a civil way in one day).
One regret is that the candidates concentrated mainly on India’s internal issues, forgetting external affairs and defence, which are so crucial at a time when India aspires to become a superpower. With most pollsters prophesying that the NDA will be able to form the next Government, what does it mean for India’s foreign and defence policy?
The BJP manifesto speaks of foreign relations based on the concept of ‘Nation First and Universal Brotherhood’. This does not help much to grasp future policies. Mr  Narendra Modi’s party, however, affirms that it plans to “reboot and re-orient the foreign policy goals, content and process… We will build a strong, self-reliant and self-confident India, regaining its rightful place in the comity of nations.”
In an interesting analysis in The Times of India, Ms Indrani Bagchi quotes some of Mr Modi’s advisors who suggest that export promotion and defence should be added to the script of the Ministry of External Affairs. “While the US is rightly accused of over-militarising its foreign policy, India leans too far in the opposite direction. Think Colin Powell,” Ms Bagchi writes.
It is not sure if the MEA can ‘think Powell’, but one can hope that at least the Ministry of Defence will think ‘military’. A small sentence in the BJP manifesto could indeed make a difference for India’s preparedness (if implemented of course): “Ensure greater participation of Armed Forces in the decision-making process of the Ministry of Defence”.
It may not be easy for the new Government to find individuals who have the capacity to breathe a new life into these offices of South Block. After years of hibernation, old habits will not disappear in one day. Hopefully, the next Prime Minister will find the rare birds to rejuvenate the MEA and the MoD.
Another issue will be to find long-term and reliable partners. India’s foreign policy should not only be dependent on a nasty procurer or biased lobbies in the US Congress. In order to re-balance its foreign policy, India should deepen its relations with old friends such as Japan, Israel and France.
Let me mention more in detail the relation with France which I have followed for years. On November 30, 1962, just 10 days after China invaded an unprepared India, General Charles de Gaulle wrote to Jawaharlal Nehru: “We cannot approve that border claims are settled by military action which is in any case is disproportionate with [China’s] proclaimed objectives”. At that time, India had already acquired several military aircraft from France: Ouragan/Toofani (from Dassault), Mystère and Alizée (from Bréguet) were used by the Indian Air Force.
After President François Mitterrand’s visit to India in 1982, the collaboration took a new turn; a contract was finalised to buy off-the-shelf 40 Mirage-2000s. There was no question of technology transfer at that time, though India still uses the ‘refitted’ Mirage today.
The real change came in January 1998 with the Strategic Partnership signed during President Jacques Chirac’s visit to New Delhi, which was followed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s trip to Paris later that year. Before reaching New Delhi, the French President had declared that he was keen on an “ambitious partnership”. In Paris, Mr Vajpayee affirmed: “Both countries share a perspective that the new world order has to be a genuine multi-polar world order.” The partnership gave a tremendous boost to bilateral relations.
It is unfortunate that in the last few years, the Ministry of Defence has been napping. For example, the contract between France’s MBDA and India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation to jointly develop a short-range surface-to-air missile, to be used by the IAF and the Navy, was finalised a year ago. Unfortunately, some babus are sleeping on the file. Why? Nobody knows. India is losing time and money.
One of the several outcomes of the 1998 Strategic Partnership was the organisation of regular joint air (Garuda) and naval (Varuna) exercises. Who remembers today that France was the first country to conduct joint air exercises with India? In February 2003, Garuda-I took place in Gwalior.
The fifth edition of Garuda is presently happening at Jodhpur airbase. Four Rafales from the Lorraine squadron and one air-refueller landed in Rajasthan a few days ago to participate in the most sophisticated exercises.
The 100-or-so French personnel accompanying the fighter planes are used to the scorching heat. Lorraine is based at the Al Dhafra airbase, near Abu Dabi. For 10 days, the IAF with its Sukhoi-30 MKI, Mig-27 UPG and one Ilyushin II-78 refueller, will be practicing with the French Air Force.
Incidentally in April, two Rafales and a C-135 FR air refueller demonstrated the plane’s strategic reach. They flew from their base in Istres, near Marseille in France, to Reunion Island in the southern Indian Ocean. The non-stop flight took some 10 hours and 35 minutes and involved five in-flight refuellings!
At the same time, Pakistan, always eager to emulate India’s realisations, organises a joint drill with the Chinese Air Force; code-named ‘Shaheen (Eagle)-3’. It is held at the Rafiqui airbase in the northeastern province of Punjab.
Last year at the Bangalore airshow, during an informal talk with the French Air Chief, General Denis Mercier, I asked him to characterise India-France relations. He just said “trust” and quoted the example of the (previous) Garuda joint air exercises. He explained that with only few countries was France so confident to “share”, and this translated into extremely meaningful joint exercises.
One can only hope that the current exercises will make the new Government realise the importance of finalising the ‘Mother of All Deals’ for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. The Rafale of Dassault Aviation was selected two years ago, but since then not much information has filtered from the corridors of the MoD.
If in a few years, if India possesses a fleet of 126 Rafales, plus 50 ‘refitted’ Mirages-2000, 150 SU-MKIs, a couple of Scorpene submarines, the Vikramaditya aircraft carrier and hopefully the indigenous Tejas, it will have a formidable deterrence tool.
During his recent visit in Xinjiang, close to the Indian border, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his soldiers: “The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in wartime”. He also said: “I am very concerned about your equipment and training.... You must have the effective means.”
The Indian forces too need good equipment and proper training. Reliable partners are also required. Let us hope for the best.

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