Ashok K Mehta

Ashok K. Mehta is a radio and television commentator, and a columnist on defence and security issues. He is a former Major General of Indian Army. After joining the Indian Army in 1957, he was commissioned in the 5th Gorkha Rifles infantry regiment in the same year. He had fought in all major wars India went into, except the Sino-Indian War of 1962. And he was also on a peacekeeping mission in Zaire in the year 1962 and in the Indian Peace Keeping Force, Sri Lanka (1988-90) and it was his last assignment in the Indian Army. He is also a writer of several books and a founder-member of the Defense Planning Staff in the Ministry of Defence, India.

Vintage Hawksley thriller arrives

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A journalist can and often does become a person for all seasons: politician, diplomat, teacher, and of course a best-seller author of fact and fiction. Humphrey Hawksley — HH to some — is in that class. Besides he is a delightful person to know, a great raconteur.

What a cracker of a book- Ice Islands.

First, a disclaimer: Humphrey is a dear friend. But that notwithstanding, I have great respect for him as a reporter. His work as a BBC foreign correspondent has taken him all over the world with postings in Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila, Delhi, and Colombo. He has contributed to ABC, National Public Radio and other networks in the United States and global publication of his work includes the Financial Times, New York Times, Yale Global, Nikkei Asian Review, and others. So he’s no stranger to superpower rivalry, intrigue, and backstabbing – he’s reported on it extensively. Ice Islands may be fiction. But it has the hallmark of authenticity. The inside story of the Ukraine military campaign must have sub-plots inspired by his works.

Hawksley’s protagonist is the hard-as-nails Rake Ozenna who comes from the Alaskan island of Little Diomede right on America’s border with Russia. Little Diomede, I learnt, is a craggy, rough island with a population of around eighty Indigenous Alaskans living less than three miles across a narrow stretch of water from a Russian military base. Rake is a Major belonging to the Alaska National Guard. He is tasked with breaking into the Kato family, a Yakuza crime organization that is turning Japan against the United States. The weak link is Sara Kato, the family’s rejected daughter, whom Rake plans to turn into an informant. He is to approach her at a peace conference on the Finnish Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea. As Rake flies in, assassins murder a delegate who turns out to be the secret son of the Russian president. (We know this.) Sara is implicated. Rake is ordered to get Sara out and keep her safe. The action moves from the Baltic Sea through Washington D.C. to Hokkaido in northern Japan against a broader context of the unresolved dispute between Russia and Japan over the Kuril Islands or Northern Territories.

Sara is not the only female interest in the story: Rake’s old girlfriend, Carrie surfaces as the mental health therapist who analyses Sara (and Rake as well, much to his discomfiture). Rake’s boss Harry Lucas and his ex-wife Stephanie are also important arms of the plot, which has, as its subtext, an American President, John Freeman, who is at war with his executive. Rake has to navigate this maze, and take care of the charge under his protection, who is deeply conflicted – she has an elder brother whom she both adores and loathes. HH’s description of the murder of Sara’s twin brother Kazan – ritual murder carried out by the eldest, Michio, described in grisly detail, because Kazan is considered simply not ‘strong’ enough’ – sickens and revolts Sara. And yet, it is her family. Rake, himself from a dysfunctional family, empathizes.

Ice Islands is full of impressive technical detail which gives it the ring of authenticity. Rake favors a SIG Sauer P226pistol and a smaller 938. He also has a Beretta 92 semi-automatic. His calculations, as he weighs running a police check post with Sara beside him, is masterly tactics that only a trained soldier can appreciate.

I hesitate to say more, for I don’t want to reveal the twists and turns in the plot. Suffice it to say that Hawksley is well-equipped to describe international intrigue. His earlier book, Dragon Fire, paints a nuclear war scenario involving India, Pakistan, and China. In that story, a renegade unit of a Tibetan militia maintained by the Indian Government steals a couple of aircraft and attempts an audacious assault on Lhasa to rescue an imprisoned monk. Simultaneously, General Hamid Khan grabs power in Pakistan and wants to get extreme Islamists in Pakistan to shut up so that they allow him to modernise the country. In Man on Ice (2018), Ozenna helps thwart an attempted Russian invasion of the U.S. Three Russians try to kill Rake during a presentation he’s giving at a Washington, D.C., conference without success. Meanwhile, Carrie is in peril inside Russia, where she has traveled to meet her Vice-Admiral uncle, Artyom Semenov, a specialist in submarine technology. Semenov is hoping to use Carrie to transfer some highly classified state secrets to the West. The operation is botched amid indications that the British embassy in Moscow has been compromised, leading to frantic efforts on Carrie’s part to stay alive. Rake goes to her rescue.

Comparisons are odious. But you can spot Stieg Larsson here, with flashes of Robert Ludlum (who specializes in the central theme of anarchy and chaos), Lee Child of Jack Reacher fame, and also a bit of James Bond. But running through all that is a seam of philosophy and tenderness. He describes a relationship, is not quite extinguished: ‘He rested a hand on each knee, giving her a look which even now melted something deep and undefinable inside her. It wasn’t love. It wasn’t sexual attraction. It was something magazines would find a name for one day.

Read Ice Islands. It is ….satisfying.

Criticism and free speech not welcome

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Imagine former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when alive or former Party President Rajnath Singh being removed from a BJP Chintan Shivir presided over by PM Modi. Unthinkable. Wrong. It is possible if Modi, as things are going, becomes the supreme leader of the BJP and the country’s ultimate ruler. But even then it will not be easy. In President Xi Jinping’s new China, under Emperor Xi (or Maximum Xi), anything is possible: from a warlike lockdown zero COVID policy where in some places COVID tests are held twice a day, to remove former President Hu Jintao (79) his predecessor from the closing day proceedings of the recent 20th National Party Congress. Journalists who were allowed into the Great Hall opposite Tiananmen Square have reported this event backed with video footage – many with more than one set of footage – of the stunning event which, but for this unprecedented incident, passed off with peace and tranquility.

The first reports of the tumultuous incidents appeared on BBC on 23 October which showed Hu’s ‘extraction’ with the explanation it was due to Hu being unwell. But the clips that have now become collector’s items, do not indicate an un-well Hu. He is shown remonstrating with the Emperor and also his protégé, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, sitting on Xi’s right. Nevertheless, he has whisked off the stage without a murmur from the 2300-odd delegates in the Great Hall.

The Hindu was the first Indian newspaper to report that something had gone amiss at the Party Congress. Ananth Krishnan wrote that Hu had attended the opening on 16 October and was known to be in ill health and sat beside Xi. Hu insisted on attending the last session despite health issues. On the closing day, he appeared to mistakenly take a white sheet of paper placed in front of Xi which the latter then removed away from him. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, reported that Hu was not feeling well so his staff took him to the room next to the venue meeting for rest. Throughout the Party Congress sessions, Hu was shown following behind Xi to indicate his hallowed status.

Meanwhile, on its Twitter handle, Xinhua’s reporter Li Jiawen reported the incident on the same lines as Krishnan. The event depicting Hu escorted out against his will when he insisted on attending the closing session has caused a stir. Anybody seeing the video footage will also draw this conclusion. Li’s tweet suggested that Hu should not have attended the session but he did so in defiance of Xi’s wishes. Observers that included several foreign media outlets interpreted Hu’s removal as preventing him from apparently expressing dissent on the removal of his faction (as part of collective leadership of the past) which represented their wipe-out from the leadership. With Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Wang Yang dropped and Hu Chunhua, demoted, (all from the Communist Youth League associated with Hu Jintao) the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee is now stacked with Xi loyalists.

Other video footage of the incident showed that twice Hu attempted to return to his seat: he was not permitted to return by his aides, fearing words of dissent from him. This supplements clips of how outgoing Politburo members Li Zhanshu, sitting to Hu’s left, took a file away from Hu while speaking to him. Then, Xi is seen giving instructions to the escorts who persuade Hu to leave not before he is seen muttering words to Xi and Le Keqiang. Krishnan had earlier reported that Hu’s removal was to ensure that he did not vote in the session where several sweeping amendments proposed Xi is “everything” in the constitution.

Richard McGregor of Lowy Institute Sydney described ‘truly extraordinary’ the incident that reflected a lack of basic courtesy to Hu while ‘wooden men elevated by Hu were frozen and dumbfounded in stony silence. Another video shows Hu going to look at the contents of the red folder in front of him only to be stopped by Lin. Hu later reaches for papers in front of Xi who puts his hand on them to prevent Hu from taking them. The footage read together tells the story: Health issues or not, one thing is clear; Hu could have created a big stir that was not in the script. Every event in the Party Congress is so perfectly choreographed that a misstep is almost impossible. Still Hu did it.

In the new Xi era, he is everything forever. His three aides promoted and chose military commanders in the Central Military Commission (CMC) only a powerful insider can rock the boat. Xi has ignored age caps, replaced rules with political standards (loyalty), and brought core interests (Taiwan, South China Sea, and Senkaku Islands) to the front and middle of the great rejuvenation. The video footage of the Galwan clash attracted applause. The image of the PLA commander, the injured Qi Fabio standing with his arms outstretched facing Indian soldiers heralded the start of the conference. Qi was one of the delegates. He was also the torchbearer during the winter Olympics. China has regaled Galwan heroes signaling longer winters in Ladakh. And rubbing salt on wounds PLA had earlier painted in red in 1962 on a stone at Nakula in north Sikkim. India has to show it is 2022, not 1962. But that will require using power.

India: Agniveer is killing regiment traditions

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Gorkha Training Centres, like other training establishments, where recruits are trained have been out of work for more than two years as recruitment was suspended due to COVID though it was possible to recruit and train with suitable precautions just as festivals, religious gatherings, election rallies, elections and so on were being held. The government took a calculated risk with manpower shortages in combat and combat support units and saved funds on recruitment, training, and salaries for over two years. 60,000 soldiers become pensioners annually. The downside: operationally deployed units were deficient on average of 80 to 100 men. Some infantry battalions deployed in friction points in East Ladakh were short of roughly a company strength that is 100 soldiers.

Agniveer has altered beyond comprehension the concept of recruitment – a cross between voluntary service and conscription. With few jobs going, the military has been turned into an employment avenue. Only Army Medical and Dental Corps and Electric and Mechanical Engineers have been excluded from Agnipath- a fait accompli. The political leadership which understands little about camaraderie, esprit de corps, and regimental ethos, unfortunately, has begun to take whimsical decisions. Sadly no one including Service Chiefs dared to question Agnipath: they were just so scared.

A major problem that should have been foreseen has arisen in the recruitment of Gorkhas. Nepal has shifted the onus on the decision of four-year recruitment to the next government following elections on 20 November. Being a national security issue related to the 1947 Tripartite Agreement on Recruitment, more thought and discussion were needed, said the Nepalese government. Just as in India, there are few takers for Agnipath, in Nepal too. Nepal does not generate jobs for its skilled and unskilled youth. That’s why nearly one-third of the country of 30 million is outside the country and gainfully employed. Remittances from them, tourism, and recruitment in the Indian Army constitute the mainstay of the economy. Like in India, Nepal has a residual Maoist problem led by NetraBikram Chand. Similarly, several armed and unarmed groups are lying doggo in Madhesh. The last thing Nepal wants is hundreds of demobilized Agniveers injected into society. It is a difficult choice that the next government will have to make. They are known to politicize the recruitment of Gorkhas into the Indian Army.

There is a new self-created structural problem among Gorkha regiments. Previously 100 per cent of Gorkhas recruited hailed from Nepal. And many on retirement settled in pockets between the Chenab and Teesta rivers – the extent of the erstwhile Gorkhaempire. These Gorkhas are called Indian domiciled for purposes of recruitment and their share of recruitment has gradually increased, from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, while the remaining 60 per cent comes from Nepal. In 2016, a Gorkha battalion with 100 percent Indian-domiciled Gorkhas was raised on an experimental basis. 6/1 Gorkha Rifles was unique when it was born but later, it became difficult to sustain as Indian Gorkha recruits did not meet standards, even after lowering them. The failed experiment has led to a shortfall of Indian Gorkhas being met from Nepali Gorkhas. This lacuna has infected other Gorkha battalions as the 40 per cent quota for Indian Gorkhas is not being met. So instead of enhancing the quota of Nepali Gorkhas from 60 to 70 per cent, in its warped wisdom, the Army let other Gorkha regiments like 1 GR, 5 GR, and some others recruit Kumaonis and Garhwalis instead. 11 Gorkha Rifles,( late Gen Rawat’s Regiment) it is understood, refused to induct other ‘pahadis” to maintain the purity of KirantiGorkhas.

The government of Nepal is likely to decide by December whether it will allow Gorkhas to become Agniveers. Army Chief Gen Manoj Pandey told reporters after returning from a goodwill visit to Nepal where he was made honorary General of the Nepal Army, a historic tradition unique to India-Nepal relations, that if Nepal does not decide in time, their vacancies will be redistributed. To whom; he did not say. But it will be safe to assume Nepali-domiciled vacancies could go to Indian Gorkhas, who are already stressed by standards, and/or Kumaonis and Garhwalis for which there is a precedent. If Nepal decides not to opt for Agniveer, it will pose a serious problem for the future of the seven Gorkha regiments and the Gorkha Brigade as a whole. Were this to happen, it will be a big blow to the “Gorkha connect” and India-Nepal relations. New Delhi must fire on multiple cylinders to save the integrity of Gorkha regiments and the 75-year-old tradition.

CDS Gen Anil Chauhan, who is a blue-blooded 11 Gorkha officer is to shortly review Agnipath, especially the contingency if Nepal says ‘no’ to Agniveer. He will act in the national interest in recommending to Prime Minister Modi who has in the Nepali parlia to exempt the Gorkha regiments from Agnipath. This is vital for India-Nepal relations.

Gen Chauhan: The right man as India’s new CDS

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Better late than never aptly reflects the appointment on 28 Sep of former Lt Gen Anil Chauhan the diminutive and hard-as-steel Gorkha officer as the second CDS 10 months after Gen Rawat’s death, just when the grapevine was suggesting that the government would let the post expire following proddings by defence bureaucracy and sections of the IAF unhappy with it. In June, when the government enlarged the eligibility to include retired three stars, it became apparent that Lt Gen Chauhan was the government’s choice. Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar has retrieved some of his turf ceded to CDS who is senior several notches senior to Defence Secretary as a four-star and head of DMA. Mr Kumar was appointed as Military Advisor, former Lt Gen Khandare who was earlier NSA AjitDoval’s military advisor. Subsequently, Lt Gen Chauhan became MrDoval’s military advisor for nine months where he was nurtured for CDS..

A very senior General informed a veteran journalist that the next CDS would be from Uttarakhand. This followed a blog by strategic affairs commentator Bharat Karnad where he quoted sundry sources including the NSA to affirm the appointment of former CNS AdmKarambir Singh as the CDS. He said it was proper to appoint an officer from a service other than the Army to be CDS to assuage fears of the other two services. Last week, Indian Express Delhi Confidential mentioned about “uniqueness of Uttarakhand” as one district, PauriGarhwal, has produced luminaries like Gen Rawat, serving NTRO chief Anil Dhasmana, NSA AjitDoval, former Coast Guard chief Rajendra Singh and now Gen Anil Chauhan. What is the secret, it asks.

Still, it is curious that Gen Chauhan’s appointment was “until further orders’ and not till attaining the age of 65 – the age limit for CDS. This injects an element of uncertainty about the longevity of his tenure. Relevant are comments by defence experts about a “government in a hurry” for the transformation of higher defence structures when it patiently waited ten months to find the right man for the job while he was available in NSA’s secretariat. The selection of Lt Gen Chauhan follows the government’s practice of carefully choosing service Chiefs.

Much has been written about his life in 11 Gorkha Rifles following the pattern of his regiment’s senior, Gen Rawat. He has authored two books ‘Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack’ and the ‘seminal Military Geography of India’s Northern Borders’ making him unarguably, India’s China expert. Editor of Force magazine, Pravin Sawhney said that as DGMO he endorsed the uniqueness of surgical strikes repudiating the Congress party’s claim that six similar strikes had been conducted during his time. According to Sawhney, Gen Chauhan while Eastern Army Commander, strongly endorsed the government’s intent to promulgate CAA and NRC as it would enhance national security. Sawhney contends that he has been appointed CDS for his expertise in counter-terrorism and for implementation of Agnipath.

Ten days before he became CDS, Gen Chauhan made an impassioned inaugural speech at Bharat Shakti’s defence conclave on Collaborative Approach to National Security and outlined its three key ingredients: territory, people and ideology, and values. He emphasized that national security was the responsibility of each and every citizen, civil society organization and think tank. While the government was responsible and accountable for national security others were part of the collaborative approach that he called ‘extended scope of national security. Earlier this year, Mr Doval had stirred a hornet’s nest when he extended the scope of national security.

The debate furiously engaging veterans about defence reforms have turned into sequencing: among capability building, jointness and theatrisation. The absence of a National Security Strategy which the DPC or IDS was to make and which the government thinks it already has unwritten, is the singular void troubling the strategic community. No White Paper or SDSR or even a Capability Review has ever been done. At present jointness is equated with upending or joining plans rather than joint planning. The IAF continues to grieve about the dilution of airpower after theatrisation, given it is stuck at between 28 and 31 fighter squadrons for the last two decades instead of the self-authorized 42 squadrons. The capability gap with China is increasing as we delay epochal defence reforms and make believe that Make in India is made in India. Without political intervention, which must include guidance, Gen Chauhan’s task of curating consensus is formidable. A review of Agnipath is vital and eradicating the colonial legacy must start within government including the police. Modernisation needs technology, which needs money.

As a fellow Gorkha and well-wisher of national security, I wish Gen Chauhan a full and fruitful term as CDS to complete Gen Rawat’s unfinished mission. I trust and am sure he will remember unique to India, the military’s three ideals: being professional, secular, and apolitical.

Lack of India’s China Card

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India missed a good opportunity in nudging the disengagement and de-escalation process at the Samarkand summit last week after China had made a surprise concession of disengaging from Hot Springs three days before the summit. Although Prime Minister Modi avoided eye contact publicly with President Xi, they attended two round table sessions and were present together at two ceremonial photo ops and in one, standing next to each other. But neither leader made any effort for a public handshake or a pull-aside.

Why did China make the disengagement gesture 13 months after the last disengagement and two months after the last Corps Commander’s talks to coincide with the Samarkand summit? Probably to demonstrate that negotiations on disengagement are progressing smoothly. That there would be no disruption from India at the summit on the border row was also on the cards, allusions were not absent. Modi said to Putin: “today’s era is not an era of war” pointed to Xi also. Given that Modi and Xi had cultivated a close rapport after 18 meetings between 2014 and 2019 but none since the LAC brush, it was not unreasonable to expect the effusive and backslapping Modi to extend his hand to Xi during the photo op. (it was he who famously said in June 2020: “no one came inside, nor is anyone inside Indian territory”, to the delight of the Chinese) A day before his 72nd birthday, Modi could not have been seen shaking hands with Xi when the opposition has been gunning for him over losing land to China. But it would have been a risk worth taking. At least the ice could have been broken. Much has been written about the disengagement process since the tragic unarmed Galwan clash. The 1993 and 1996 border protocols and subsequent border agreements of 2005, 2006, and 2012 Border Defence Cooperation Agreements have been violated by China and PLA. The policy change was initiated when Xi, who had been vice president became President in 2013. The modus vivendi to border dispute and bilateral relations initiated in 1988 was torn to shreds in 2020 preceded by ominous indicators at Chumar, Depsang, and Doklam.

Comparing the multiple intrusions of 2020 with Sumdorong Chu in 1988 which took nine years to resolve is patently incorrect. It was a different era when India and China were co-equals economically and militarily.. At Sumdorong Chu, military commanders took bold initiatives in occupying heights dominating PLA intrusions at Wangdung unlike in East Ladakh where Indian forces were caught napping. Dispute resolution resulted in the mutual pullback, prompting then BJP opposition MP Jaswant Singh to remark: “why are we withdrawing from our own territory”.

China has managed to promulgate its 1959 Claim Line from Depsang to Demchok in serious adversity. It is instructive to analyse India’s current self-inflicted dilemma. Unlike in the central and eastern sectors, the LAC is better defined and more settled by the McMahon Line than in the west where the LAC is seriously contested. In the east, our forward posture was triggered off by the PLA intrusions in Sumdorong Chu where defences and posts are close to MacMahon Line. In the west, mainly Leh was defended with vast areas along the LAC unmanned and covered with dispersed ITBP and Army posts from where ITBP and Army patrolled up to the 65 patrolling points up to a line behind the LAC. The Chinese had their own perception of LAC that was never revealed.

In April 2020, in a surprise sweep, PLA easily occupied positions across Indian LAC corresponding to their 1959 Claim Line . The mammoth intelligence failure was compounded by political and operational lapses. After the disengagement from Hot Springs (PP 15) on 8 September which Foreign Minister S Jaishankar called “one problem less”, another buffer zone bereft of patrolling rights has been established on the Indian side of LAC. At Depsang, 18 km on the Indian side of LAC PLA has blocked access to five Patrolling Points and at Demchok to four Patrolling Points. Konchok Stanzin, the counselor for Chushul, said: “our troops have gone back from PP 15 and PP 16 which we had for 50 years, we lost winter grazing ground”. The Chinese have also effectively blocked two Indian offensive launch pads at Demchok and Daulat Beg Oldie-virtually transforming the area into 1000 sq km of DMZ.

On 9 May, COAS Gen Manoj Pande said: “We have to restore status quo ante April 2020”. Diplomacy has to be restored to the Xi-Modi level; their 19th meeting could be at the Bali G20 summit in November. Meanwhile, plans should be made to establish BOPs in Ladakh to prevent further salami slicing.

Sajid Javed: Man Behind Truss’s Victory

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I’m wandering across Scotland spreading time between tasting Scotch, admiring the stunning terrain, imbibing the Scottish way, and witnessing historic political events in the UK from Melrose, on the Scottish-English border. Dominating the news are two events: the battle for No 10; and the embarrassing failure of HMS Prince of Wales to sail.

At 12.30 PM Monday, the Conservative Party at Westminster chose Foreign Minister Liz Truss over Rishi Sunak with a surprisingly small majority to become Prime Minister of Britain following the coup against Boris Johnson in July. Truss’s win was widely predicted and only a miracle could have helped Sunak win. Commentators said they would ‘eat their hat’ or any other item of accouterment was Truss to lose. The UK is not yet ready to have a non-White as Prime Minister.

At 96, the ailing but most loved Queen did not ask the heir to the throne, Prince Charles to swear in Liz Truss, a ceremony that was performed for the first time at Balmoral Castle during her 70-year reign and not Buckingham Palace where thousands of tourists pay Pound Sterling 30 (Rs 3000) for a guided tour. Instead, yesterday the Queen received the PM-in-waiting Truss for the ‘kissing of the hand’, forming the government, and a photograph. In 1908, King Edward VII gave an audience to Herbert Asquith when the monarch was relaxing at the French coastal resort of Biarritz. Both Truss and Sunak had agreed to meet the Queen wherever she was, with Sunak adding: “the PM serves her Majesty”. For Indians, Sunak reaching so close (and yet so far) to becoming PM must be something to celebrate.

On 27th August, the Daily Telegraph put out a two-page supplement for its guesstimate of the Truss cabinet. Expected for the three most senior posts of Chancellor, Home Secretary, and Foreign Secretary are Kwasi Kwarteng, Suella Braverman, and James Cleverly. Kwarteng is a free marketeer and a consistent political ally of Truss. Together they have advocated low taxes, low regulation economy, and minimum governance. John Redwood and Jacob Rees-Mogg are likely to assist the Chancellor. Braverman will have the challenging mission of ending illegal immigrants across the Channel (last Sunday 1061 crossed over). She’s known to have favoured their deportation to Rwanda, since suspended by the courts. Braverman, a child of Kenyan and Mauritian immigrants had described the British empire as “on the whole, a force of good”. For Foreign Secretary, Truss’ likely choice and replacement are James Cleverly assisted by Tom Tugendhat, who was one of the PM aspirants. Cleverly was a junior minister in the Foreign Office.

Tugendhat, a former Army officer, and like Truss a China hawk is chairman Foreign Affairs select committee. Ben Wallace, the current Defence Minister, is likely to keep his job. He has advocated a higher defence budget which agrees with Truss’pledge to raise it to 3 per cent of GDP. Some other ‘likelies’ in the Cabinet are Sir Ian Ducan Smith as leader of the House, Nadeem Zahawi whose leadership bid failed spectacularly, as Health Secretary, and Ranil Jayawardene of Sri Lankan descent as Environment Secretary. Whether Sunak will be in is the big question. He has said he wants to support the Conservative Government in “whatever capacity”.

Sajid Javed who triggered the coup against Boris Johnson and later backed Truss may be rewarded with a ministerial post. Big names likely to be left out are Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab, and Alok Sharma. The Truss government faces enormous economic challenges especially meteoric energy bills. While the pound sterling is struggling, funding the National Health Service is the other big challenge. The never-ending row with France is back in the spotlight. When asked last week whether she considered Macron a friend or foe, Truss replied: ‘the jury is out’. Macron’s response: ‘The UK is a friendly nation, regardless of its leaders’. Macron added: ‘if Britain and France cannot determine whether they are friends or enemies, then we are heading for serious problems.

An embarrassing event that Britain could have done without last week was the failed maiden voyage to the US of the UK’s largest (65,000 tonnes) aircraft carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, dedicated to Nato. Earlier this year, the second aircraft carrier, Queen Elizabeth, was on a long tour of the Indo-Pacific which included exercises with the Indian Navy. A British Gurkha veteran I spoke to, was puzzled about the four-year Agnipath scheme. Operation BoJo (return of Boris Johnson as PM) many Brits feel, could happen before Christmas following a no-confidence vote in Truss so that he can lead Tories into elections in January 2025. Labour is ahead in the recent polls. India is hoping the FTA under India-UK Comprehensive Strategic Partnership due by Diwali will happen and the price of Scotch will be deregulated. Cheers from Melrose!

Pakistan: Why did Khan lose his job?

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Pakistan at 75 is at its chaotic best. It is at war with itself, deeper into political and economic holes. Writing in The Dawn on 14 August 2022, Mahir Ali said: “prompt and drastic measures are necessary to save Pakistan from virtual bankruptcy but our rulers seem to be content with obtaining foreign gifts to feed people and relying on heavier doses of foreign aid for maintaining some semblance of economic development”. This Ali quotation is taken from a Pakistan Times editorial of 14 August 1958. Pakistan’s many worries could go Sri Lanka’s way, an issue that has been debated in the last few months. For the first time, its Army Chief, Gen Qamar Bajwa had to send an SOS to US State Department and traditional donors Saudi Arabia and UAE. Where China figures in this firefighting is unclear but it recently indicated that Beijing’s relations with Rawalpindi are a lynchpin of Pakistan-China ties. On his last visit to Islamabad Foreign Minister Wang Yi especially traveled to Rawalpindi to meet Gen Bajwa. Chinese military spokesperson noted: “China and Pakistan are all-weather strategic partners, true friends and iron brothers that share weal and woe”. After 1998, Pakistan acquired nuclear weapons. No one wants a nuclear Somalia is a common refrain.

Pakistan approached IMF in May for the 18th time in its short history. The current account deficit has increased from USD600bn in 2017 to USD3500bn in 2021; the Pakistani rupee is at its lowest ever against the USD at Pakistan Rs 240 with imports severely restricted and oil prices shooting up. Saudi Arabia has transferred USD 4bn including the amount for oil financing and rolled over an existing debt of USD4bn. Equally worrying is political instability, one of the reasons for economic turmoil. The PML-N-led coalition under Shahbaz Sharif which unseated Imran Khan in April in a no-confidence motion is on a sticky wicket after its political stronghold Punjab fell to Imran Khan’s PTI.

The Election Commission of Pakistan on 2 August ruled that PTI accepted prohibited funds from various sources including Arif Naqvi, a philanthropist living in Dubai. The Supreme Court will adjudicate and this could lead to a ban on the PTI. The timing of the ECP order is interesting as a funding case is also pending against PML N. Voters concerned with livelihood issues blame PML N for their grief. PML N will hobble PTI so it cannot function. Gen Bajwa’s replacement is to be found in September before he steps down in November. The new Army Chief may decide on early elections.

75 years on, civil-military relations have institutionalized the role of the Army as the ultimate custodian of internal and external challenges. In Pakistan, the Army and bureaucracy became the primary institution of governance due to a weak Muslim League.

Directly or indirectly, the military has ruled Pakistan with a democratic façade aided by the judiciary. Khan’s attempt to interfere with the Army’s internal affairs cost him his job. His Chief of Staff, Shehbaz Gill is in jail for urging the military not to obey illegal orders. Khan also burnt his fingers at the US, blaming it for the fall of his government.

The many lows and one high of India-Pakistan relations need repeating. The lows resulted in wars. The one high was between 2003-07, ironically after the terror attack on Parliament. Back channel talks between Satinder Lambah and Tariq Aziz paved the way for the resolution of Kashmir. This, of course, did not happen. Prime Minister Modi tried to mend fences with Pakistan but soon his patience was overtaken by muscular impulses. The door to formal dialogue is shut since the 2000 beheading of Indian soldiers. A brief effort was made by the government to restart dialogue failed because of the unrealistic condition that talks and terror will not go together.

Further the reading down of Article 370 has made talks a distant dream. But the problem of Kashmir cannot be wished away. Kashmir figures periodically in the UNSC, is texted in the Simla and Lahore Agreements, and China has made itself a third party to the dispute. It took preemptive measures for the security of Aksai Chin following Home Minister Shah’s threat to retake it. India now has a second live front.

Neutralising the Pakistan front politically and diplomatically is vital. Former High Commissioner to Pakistan, Sharat Sabharwal in his book India-Pakistan Conundrum: Managing a Complex Relationship says: “India’s Pakistan policy born out of anger and false notions of national honour, caused more harm than good”. If India sets its own house in order including J&K, Pakistan will not be able to fish in troubled waters, he adds. Mahir Ali’s story last week carried this headline: “Pakistan has learnt little from India while India has taken the worst lessons from Pakistan”.