Thursday, September 25, 2014

Progress and Challenges Related to the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal

Dr Vijay K. Sazawal


This paper seeks to address factors that led to the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, initial expectations, how those expectations evolved over time, policy drivers that keep the two parties from reaching a rapid closure on the issue, and what it will take to make this deal a success.


The subject of granting “various rights and privileges available to signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) even though India would remain a non signatory” has come up in bilateral discussions between the U.S. and India ever since the U.S. lifted partial sanctions that were imposed following Indian nuclear tests in May 1998. In fact, a “non-paper” on the subject was passed by Jaswant Singh to his interlocutor Strobe Talbot during a meeting in London following the re-election of the NDA Government led by Vajpayee in 1999. Nothing came of it then as Democrats in charge of the U.S. government knew that it would be nearly impossible for them to deliver a deal that very few, if any, in their party would support. Furthermore, Mr. Talbot and his colleagues believed that if India was given such privileges so should Pakistan as the rivalry between the two would otherwise intensify to the detriment of regional security.
The subject resurfaced during the Bush Administration that followed Mr. Clinton in 2001. Mr. Robert Blackwill, who served as a foreign policy advisor to President Bush during the 2000 election campaign as a member of the “Vulcans” (foreign policy advisory group led by Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who subsequently became the National Security Advisor to the new President), was made the Ambassador to India. Ambassador Blackwill saw a strategic value in creating a special friendship between the U.S. and India, and knowing India’s desire to re-engage in nuclear commerce, strongly advocated support for such a deal. However, his resignation as the Ambassador in 2003, followed by the Indian election in 2004, put the deal on a relative backburner until Dr. Rice became the U.S. Secretary of State in 2005.

As much as the Indian Foreign Service officials and the then foreign minister, Mr. Natwar Singh, wanted to push for such a deal, the political leaders in New Delhi were not so sure. Dr. Rice made the nuclear deal the centerpiece of the U.S. effort to build a fundamentally different relationship with India, hoping it would lead to some bilateral nuclear commerce that would benefit American companies but she saw its importance mainly in creating a friendly environment for selling U.S. military hardware to India, the country being among the largest importer of arms in the world. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress Party leader, Sonia Gandhi, however led a fractious group of diverse political parties – from communists to regional heavyweights – and both were unsure if the deal would be approved by the Indian Parliament. Within India’s nuclear and security community, many saw the deal as a game changer, while an equal number of policy experts saw it as constraining the Indian “Swadeshi 3-stage nuclear program” intended to exploit to energy value of India’s abundant thorium, or infringing on Indian sovereignty and national security. The deal was eventually signed during Prime Minister Singh’s visit to Washington on July 18, 2005.

When the U.S. Administration made the deal public, it raised a lot of hue and cry among the American politicians as well. In particular, Congressman Henry Hyde, the powerful Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was incensed that the Bush administration will make such an exception for India. He called Dr. Rice to his chambers, and once the anger subsided, the Congressman asked how many jobs the deal would create in the U.S. nuclear industry as that information would be his rationale for seeking endorsement of the deal from fellow Congressmen in the Committee and in the full House. Dr. Rice, and her supporting team in the U.S. Department of State, had not assessed the value of deal beyond its strategic implications, and therefore did not have such information. The request was passed on to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), but no such data existed there either. In fact, outside of some classified data related to India’s weapons program, there was only sketchy information available about India’s nuclear power program among the scientific community in the U.S. Perhaps because India was under rigorous sanctions until then, no effort had been made to collect such data.
In February 2006, Mr. David Garman, the DOE Under Secretary, attended a meeting at the U.S. India Business Council (USIBC) in Washington where he asked if the U.S. industry had any data indicating how many jobs will be created by a possible nuclear deal with India. But the industry was equally ignorant, and I being the only nuclear specialist on the USIBC team was requested by Ron Somers, head of the USIBC, to prepare such a report.

India’s Nuclear Power Programme

I knew it was not going to be easy to explain the unique Indian nuclear power program and its future prospects to an audience unfamiliar with the rationale and progress of the nuclear program in India. The general expectation in the U.S. is that since India is a developing country with surging growth rates, it would require insatiable amounts of energy, including nuclear power, to meet growing demands in electricity. However, India’s nuclear power program is not geared to match immediate power needs of the country. India has an exquisitely planned 3-stage nuclear program which would result in nuclear contributing 25% or more electricity to the national electric grid by 2040 and beyond, utilizing indigenously designed and built nuclear reactors using India’s abundant thorium fuel supply. The overarching program is currently in stage 1 for power production (and deeply engaged in research and development of stages 2 & 3), which is contributing miniscule amounts of power, about 2.5% of the total electricity demand to the national grid, produced mainly from indigenously designed and built pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWR’s). Any near-term expansion of the stage-1 program would happen only if it technically supported the 3-stage program in order to ensure an optimum balance in fuel supply, reprocessed fuel, nuclear waste, and cost.

Indeed, technical experts in the Indian nuclear program had concluded by the mid-1990’s that eight (8) imported light water reactors (LWR’s) would be required during the stage 1 to supplement the planned construction of indigenous PHWR’s in order to generate sufficient spent fuel for reprocessing and subsequent use in fast reactors (stage 2) and thorium reactors (stage 3). Subsequently, the Union Cabinet approved purchase of eight imported reactors by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

When I wrote the paper for the USIBC in February 2006, I made it clear that the Government of India had given clearance to DAE to enter into contracts for up to eight foreign reactors, two of which were already under construction at Kudankulam, two additional imported reactors were planned to be built at the same site, and India was in serious negotiations with the French to procure two reactors to be sited at Jaitapur. Since six out of the eight imported reactors were already accounted for, that left open the possibility that India could buy two reactors from the U.S.

My report caused great consternation among the corporate community in the U.S. who were expecting huge reactor orders from India. Numbers like $100 billion in projected reactor sales were being tossed around in the USIBC and my report was unceremoniously shelved.

However, my report did draw the attention of Dr. Rice, who found it perfect for the article she wrote to “sell” the U.S.-India deal to the U.S. public and the U.S. Congress. Writing an op-ed piece in the Washington Post on March 13, 2006, she stated that, “…. Third, our agreement is good for American jobs, because it opens the door to civilian nuclear trade and cooperation between our nations. India plans to import eight nuclear reactors by 2012. If U.S. companies win just two of those reactor contracts, it will mean thousands of new jobs for American workers.”

As much as Dr. Rice saw the future of the new bilateral relationship with India mostly in strategic terms tied to defence sales, intelligence sharing, and a balancing act against the Chinese, the U.S. nuclear vendors began to express their unhappiness at the deal and wanted India to purchase additional foreign reactors. This was the time when the U.S. Congress had to approve a measure to grant an exception to India in order for the two countries to sign the civil nuclear “123” Agreement. There was a great degree of diplomatic and commercial pressure put on India to “come through” on its pledges and commit to purchase of additional reactors since the U.S. was single-handedly helping India to re-enter the global civil nuclear commerce.

The relief came in terms of a new analysis completed by the DAE in the summer of 2008, which was made public at the IAEA General Conference in Vienna in September 2008. The new analysis indicated that without additional LWR imports, India will have a deficit of 412 GWe by 2050 even after all other fuel sources like coal, hydroelectric, renewables, hydrocarbons, etc. are accounted for. But if 40 GWe in LWR’s are imported immediately (by 2020), it would have a “multiplier effect” of providing sufficient reprocessed fuel for stages 2 and 3 of the nuclear program and would wipe out the entire deficit predicted without imports in 2050. It seemed more like an empirical analysis given that the country lacked capacity building to ensure such mammoth expansion of nuclear power in just 12 years, but it provided the logic for subsequent planning within DAE.

Based on the new DAE analysis, and following the exception granted to India by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) on September 6, 2008, the Indian government sent a letter to the U.S. government (at the urging of then U.S. Ambassador, David Mulford) on September 10, 2008, affirming following key points:
  • India will offer two nuclear plant sites to American reactor vendors without any global tendering allowing them to build nuclear plants in India amounting to 10GWe or more, provided technical and commercial terms are acceptable to both parties and result in affordable power
  • India will complete the separation of its civil and military nuclear programs as per the agreed schedule, and implement the India-specific Additional Protocol as agreed with the IAEA on August 1, 2008
  • India will develop its nuclear liability regime consistent with the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC) for nuclear damage
This letter, unfortunately, created unintended consequences.

American vendors, noting that India had committed to buy U.S. reactors without competition, reacted differently than what India’s nuclear operator, National Power Corporation (NPCIL) had hoped for. Neither of the two vendors paid attention to the requirement that the tariff generated from the plant had to meet specific guidelines of the Central Electricity Board. Indeed, it is for that very reason NPCIL has created a business model where the plant designer/technology provider enters into an open “teaming arrangement” (as against a “prime-subcontractor” relationship) with NPCIL to work jointly, allowing NPCIL to bring its experience in value engineering, reforming supply chain efficiencies, reducing contingencies with discrete fixed-cost subsystem packages, etc., to be incorporated in the foreign designed plant to be built in India. But one of the U.S. vendors insisted on using its own business model which gave NPCIL diminished capability to explore ways and means of streamlining hardware and management costs quoted by the vendor. The second nuclear vendor decided to market in India its first-of-a-kind reactor, contrary to the Indian practice of requiring a foreign plant be licensed by the home country’s nuclear regulator and be already constructed or in substantial stages of completion elsewhere before it can be built in India. I am not sure how such a plant will be judged for establishing a viable tariff regime.

On the other end, India failed to fully comprehend the overwhelming influence of litigation and legal judgments that shape American business decisions. The commitment to pursue the CSC liability regime was made, in my view, without a full understanding of American sensitivities. In hindsight, it would have been easier for India to have signed to the Vienna Convention as Indian lawmakers are familiar with a long-standing Indian association with the IAEA, and such an approval would have received Parliamentary approval with minimal review. CSC could have been considered at some later stage in the future. There are presently two global nuclear liability regimes supported by the IAEA. The European law (“Joint Protocol”) is inconsistent with the U.S. domestic liability law called the Price-Anderson Act, whereas the U.S. law is consistent with the CSC. The U.S. has initiated a large diplomatic offensive to sign countries without a liability law to the CSC, and its insistence on the CSC is not directed only at India.

India passed a historic civil nuclear liability law in 2010, and Rules for implementing the Act were published in 2011. The U.S. government and American vendors deemed the law unsatisfactory and have been seeking a change in the law. India contends that the law is consistent with the CSC since Article XII.2 of the CSC allows harmonization of the CSC with domestic laws under certain conditions. The Indian government has repeatedly stated that it is willing to work with U.S. vendors “to develop mutually acceptable solutions to this issue within the four corners of its domestic liability law.” There is currently an impasse in this matter, and continuing discussions between the two sides have failed to resolve this matter until now. Meanwhile, one of the two U.S. nuclear vendors still does not meet Indian statutory requirements to sell its proposed Generation III+ reactor in India.

Delays in reaching a closure on the liability issue is also affecting other contiguous issues dealing with Administrative Arrangements under the 123 Agreement, and on a related issue dealing with the determination by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to place India in an authorization category for a case-by-case approval for nuclear “810” technology transfer to India. Experience with a scant few “810” technology transfer approvals for India indicates that the process is laborious and time consuming. Establishing even a limited design and hardware supply chain in India for U.S. nuclear vendors is mostly impossible at this time.

India has completed its obligations under the Separation Plan ahead of the December 2014 deadline, and ratified the IAEA India-specific Additional Protocol in June 2014.

There are, however, new perspectives evolving within the U.S. Government in regards to the liability issue. Recent thinking within the U.S. Government was mentioned by the Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, in testimony in the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee on July 16, 2014 when she stated that, “While we have not yet had detailed discussions with the new government in New Delhi on the way forward on civil nuclear cooperation, we believe that there may be an opening to address nuclear liability issues either through a legal framework or through other frameworks that can help create more surety on what the application of liability might be, so that it is not unlimited liability as the companies are rightly concerned.”

While the primary U.S. reactor vendors are insistent on a legislative fix, a flexible approach such as proposed by the U.S. Department of State opens possibilities for other options especially for sub-tier suppliers who, based on a case-by-case risk-benefit analysis, may find non-legislatives fixes to the equally effective in ensuring proper indemnification for their products and services with a broader appeal to serve the growing Indian nuclear market in addition to primary American nuclear vendors. However, creation of a sound nuclear liability insurance program by India is absolutely important in that case.

Finally, nuclear power is capital intensive and hence very expensive. Some countries are reconsidering whether to buy nuclear reactors or look at alternatives. The low price of electricity (and in India the price is among the lowest) puts additional pressure on nuclear vendors to reshape their business models and marketing strategies to meet customer needs. The traditional American business model used by American utilities and reactor vendors cannot and will not serve new and developing markets overseas. The mantra of “affordable power” places a burden on both owner-operator and nuclear vendors to demonstrate their collective ability/plans to meet consumer expectations on tariff, because without a customer there is no sale – whether or not the vendor selection is made competitively or by invitation. India has an envious record of being among the three countries (along with South Korea and China) that can put up a domestic nuclear plant at a much lower than average global overnight construction price. It would be unwise for the U.S. nuclear vendors not to adjust their business model in India, and for the U.S. government not to create an India specific “810” technology transfer regime that will maximize the use of local manufacturing supply chain, intellectually bright manpower, and access to other quality resources.

In closing, I am reminded of the brief statement that the Prime Minister made during his maiden visit to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) on July 21, 2014, stating that “Growing international nuclear cooperation is a welcome development, provided such projects can be timely, meet techno-economic viability and safety standards, and such partnerships result in substantial technology transfer.” I believe the two sides can reach a satisfactory closure with a better understanding of the situation and by being flexible to accommodate each other’s redlines.

In the end, there is no reason why the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal cannot be a shining example of successful cooperation between the two great nations.


Timeline - Indian Three Stage Civil Nuclear Program and the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal

Prime Minister’s visit to BARC on 21st July:
  • Three-fold increase in nuclear power at the end of 13th 5-yr plan, as planned
  • Growing international cooperation is a welcome development, provided such projects can be timely, meet techno-economic viability and safety standards, and such partnerships result in substantial technology transfer
  • Not to ignore self-reliance in the nuclear fuel cycle and proceed full steam with commercial utilization of thorium
India’s “Swadeshi nuclear fuel cycle”- The amazing vision of Dr. Homi Bhabha:
  • 1939: Bhabha denied re-entry into U.K.; plans for harnessing the power of atom without government (British colonial power) support
  • 1948: Free India constituted the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Bhabha selected as its first Chairman reporting directly to the PM
  • 1954: India announced its plan to harness the power of atom by maximizing utilization of its abundant thorium reserves; the program is directly at odds with key elements of the U.S. President’s speech at the UNGA on 8th December 1953
  • 1955: Unfettered access to the PM ensured that the Indian 3-stage indigenous nuclear development program is viewed synonymous with Indian leadership of NAM; Bhabha chaired the Geneva Conference preceding the formation of IAEA
  • 1956: India co-opted in the “Washington Group” to canvass for IAEA membership in NAM; India successfully argued against the creation of a uranium cartel and the centralized storage of plutonium to enhance IAEA membership
  • 1965: India joined the ENAC to propose principles for the NPT being considered
  • 1968: India announced in UNGA that it will not sign the NPT
  • 1970: NPT comes in force; India excluded from the 1971 Zangger Committee
India’s 3-stage program is thorium-centric and program’s scope and schedule has been affected by many challenges in implementing the first-of-its-kind approach:
  • 1965: Stage 1, which started with RAPP-1 operations, is initially hampered by limited uranium resources and Zangger/NSG restrictions, is now paced by capacity building and need for additional and accelerated plutonium stockpile based on cutting edge research and modelling in thorium fuel cycle by BARC
  • 1985: Stage 2 phase was initiated with operation of 40 MW Fast Breeder Test Reactor; 500 MW Prototypic Fast Breeder Reactor (PFBR) is expected to begin operations in 2014 (after a 2-year delay)
  • 1996: Stage 3 phase initiated with operation of world’s only 30 kW U-233 (derived from thorium) fuelled reactor; design of 300 MW Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) completed and site selection is underway
  • 1998: Import of foreign light water reactors (LWR) planned to shorten Stage 1 period; initial research indicated that 8 imported LWR’s are needed and received approval from the Cabinet, a reassessment indicates it could be as many as 40
  • 2025: Domestic LWR program operational to supplement or replace purchase of imported LWR’s to provide needed spent fuel quantity for generating reprocessed reactor fuel for Stages 2 and 3 programs
  • 2035: Technological challenges indicate that Stage 3, utilizing India’s abundant thorium, will not be fully commercialized until at least until 2035 or beyond. With proper planning for capacity building, fully indigenous Stage 3 may meet about 25% to 50% of electricity demand, resulting in a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases, and high reliability in assured fuel supply and energy security
Advent of Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation:
  • 1954: USA promoted “nuclear diplomacy” as part of the Cold War; India was a leading beneficiary, and the first Indo-U.S. “123 Agreement” was signed in 1956
  • 1963: Indo-U.S. agreement for “turnkey” construction of Tarapur 1&2 reactors (TAPS) signed; U.S. contractually required India to buy only U.S. nuclear fuel and put the plant under IAEA safeguards; TAPS connected to electricity grid in 1969
  • 1974: Indian nuclear test triggered U.S. sanctions, including stoppage of TAPS fuel supply; NSG was set up in a secret meeting in London in April
  • 1975 to shut out India from global nuclear commerce
  • 1978: The U.S. NNPA came into force; All prior 123 Agreements required renegotiation of bilateral civil nuclear agreements that are now very restrictive
A new chapter begins in the Indo-U.S. nuclear cooperation:
  • 2005: U.S. announced plans to grant “full” civil nuclear energy cooperation
  • 2006: U.S. Congress granted India exception from NNPA; new 123 negotiated
  • 2008: India agreed to buy U.S. reactors without global tendering, PROVIDED the mutually acceptable terms and conditions would result in a viable tariff regime for electricity generated
  • 2008: India Specific IAEA Safeguards finalized; NSG exception for India granted; New Indo-U.S. 123 Agreement finalized
  • 2009: India announced two nuclear sites for American nuclear vendors in Chhayamithi Virdi in Gujarat and Kovvada in Andhra Pradesh
  • 2010: Nuclear Liability Law passed by the Indian Parliament
  • 2011: Rules pertaining to the new liability law submitted to the Indian Parliament and published in the official Gazette
  • 2013: Westinghouse and NPCIL signed an “Early Works Agreement” prior to the visit of PM to the U.S.
  • 2014: Westinghouse completed initial tasks under the EWA and is reimbursed for its services by NPCIL
  • 2014: U.S. Government shows flexibility in resolving the liability issue, U.S. nuclear vendors however adamant; lost in the fog of corporate media buzz: the price of electricity to Indian consumers
(The author is an atomic industry expert. The author presented this paper at a talk by him at the VIF on Progress and Challenges Related to India’s nuclear deal, on August 8, 2014)

Published Date: 24th September 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Need to Appoint Impartial Governors

Dr M N Buch, 
Dean, Centre for Governance and Political Studies, VIF

Under Article 1 of the Constitution, read with the Preamble, India is sovereign and the sovereignty rests in the Union. The same Article makes India a Union of States, which means that whereas the collective sovereignty vests in the Union, the constituents of this Union also have elements of sovereignty. The relationship is important to understand because whereas in the United States under the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution the words used are, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people”. Under Article 248 of the Indian Constitution, it is the exact reverse in that the residuary powers of legislation on any matter not enumerated in the State List or the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule vest exclusively in Parliament. If residuary powers are vested in Parliament, how do we consider the States to have sovereignty? Here sovereignty comes from two considerations, the first being that without the States there can be no Union and the second comes from List 2 of the Seventh Schedule which gives exclusive legislative powers on all matters enumerated in this List to the State Legislature. Ultimately it is the exclusive power to legislate which introduces an element of sovereignty so far as the States are concerned.

Parts V and VI of the Constitution provide for a parallel Executive, Legislature and Judiciary for the Union and the States. In the case of the Union, Article 53 vests executive power in the President and in the case of the States, Article 154 vests executive power in the Governor. The President is Head of State for the whole of India and the Governor is Head of State for that particular State. No doubt that the Governor is appointed by the President under Article 155, whereas the President is elected under Article 54. This has been interpreted to mean that the Governor is the agent of the President and not an independent entity. Constitutionally that is a completely wrong interpretation, because in the matter of exercise of executive power, summoning of the Legislature, its prorogation and its dissolution, the Governor is totally independent of the President. Convergence only comes under Article 254 when both Parliament and the State Legislature have enacted laws on the same subject in a matter enumerated in the Concurrent List and there is a repugnancy between the two laws. Here the law of Parliament will prevail. However, the Governor may reserve a Bill passed by the State Legislature for the President’s approval in a matter under the Concurrent List so that either there is no repugnancy or the President approves the changes made in the State law, in which case the State law will prevail within the territory of the State. Otherwise, the Governor, under Article 163, functions according to the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers, not that of the President. In legislative matters, it is the Governor who gives assent to Bills passed by the State Legislature, unless he reserves any for the prior approval of the President. Just as the President functions according to the aid and advice of his Council of Ministers, the Governor is in exactly the same position vis-à-vis the State and, therefore, the two offices of President and Governor are in parallel and not in a position of superiority or subordination.

It is under Article 356, however, that the Governor reports to the President and that, too, only in matters in which the Governor is of the opinion that the government of a State cannot be conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and, therefore, the Governor advises the President to take over all or any of the functions of the State. If the President is convinced that such a situation has arisen and he decides to issue a proclamation in this behalf then, of course, the Governor will perform his functions in accordance with the directions issued by the President, in whom the government of the State will vest during the period of the proclamation. Here the Governor would become directly subordinate to the President. However, the Supreme Court has laid down stringent guidelines about the use of Article 356 of the Constitution and, therefore, a proclamation under this Article would be an exception rather than the rule and that, too, on very rare occasions.

Let us carry the argument a little further. Under Article 174, the Governor has the constitutional authority to summon the Legislature to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit. Of course he exercises this power on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The Governor may prorogue the House and he also has the authority to dissolve the Legislative Assembly. The President would acquire this power only if he has issued a proclamation under Article 356 and assumed the government of a State. Otherwise the Governor would be free to dissolve the House, provided that the Chief Minister on behalf of the Council of Ministers has so advised. He can appoint a caretaker Chief Minister and he can order fresh elections to the State Assembly. In this he does not need the approval of the President. This specific case is mentioned because the general theme of the Constitution is that whereas it has a centripetal bias and in matters mentioned in the Constitution the sovereignty of the Union prevails over the sovereignty of the States, it is still a federal polity in which the States enjoy constitutional powers rather than delegated powers. The Governors, under the scheme of things in the Indian Constitution, have an independent place of their own and are expected to function as impartial Heads of States within the territory of their own State. This brings us to the question about what sort of persons should be appointed as Governors. What should be their qualifications or other competence to occupy this high office? Unfortunately, the Constitution is silent in this behalf except to state what is given in Article 157, that is, that no one who is not a citizen of India can be appointed as a Governor and that the person so appointed should have completed thirty-five years of age. Under Article 158, the Governor shall not be a Member of Parliament or of a State Legislature and on his assuming office, if he is such a Member of a Legislature, he will be deemed to have vacated his seat in the House. Secondly, the Governor is prohibited from holding any other office of profit. Other than this there are no qualifications laid down for appointment as Governor. Theoretically he can be uneducated with a low intelligence quotient (IQ), with no record of public service or professional ability and, at least in explicit terms, is not even required to be sane. This probably means that even a certifiable lunatic could be appointed as Governor because there is no constitutional prohibition in this behalf. The Governor can be partisan, affiliated to a political party, notorious for bias on account of religion, caste, community or gender, but he can still be appointed as Governor. Is this the kind of person we need as Head of State?
It is a fact of which we can take notice that the Congress Party basically had four unspoken criteria for appointment of Governors. They were (1) Party hacks who had put in a few decades of service to the party at menial or low grade political level, who have expectations that now that the party has come to power their loyalty will be rewarded. (2) If the State Government is to be destabilised, then send in Romesh Bhandari as Governor. (3) Where the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of a State are on good terms, then send a Governor with the Chief Minister’s approval. (4) Decrepit politicians aged almost to the point of senility, with major health problems, could be sent to a Raj Bhavan to enjoy its comforts and avail of the high quality medical services which would be available to the Governor. In other words, use the Raj Bhavan as a nursing home for the aged and the sick.

The holder of the office of the Governor, as any other Head of State, has to be nonpartisan, unbiased, capable of understanding constitutional responsibilities, aware of the oath sworn under Article 159 to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and the law and devote oneself to the service and well-being of the people of the State. This means that the Governor should have at least those educational qualifications which would enable him to understand the laws, policies of government and consequences of following a particular policy, the constitutional validity of the orders passed by government and the responsible implementation of such policies so that the welfare of the people is enhanced. We cannot expect this of a totally illiterate person and, therefore, it is axiomatic that the Governor should have adequate educational qualifications to be able to read, analyse, understand and then decide.

Because the Governor is required to protect the Constitution, he has to be nonpartisan because the Constitution itself, through the Fundamental Rights, mandates the freedom of speech and expression, that is, the right of opposition and dissent. The Governor can defend this right only if he is politically neutral. Under Article 167, not only is the Chief Minister required to keep the Governor fully informed about the decisions of the Council of Ministers, but he is also required to furnish information relating to the administration of the State and proposals for legislation. The right of the Governor to ask the Chief Minister to obtain the views of the Council of Ministers on a matter decided by a minister alone is included in Article 167. Just as the Governor is required to act on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers, in the discharge of his duties as per the oath sworn by him, the Governor has the right to advise the Chief Minister on matters relating to the well being of the people. Though this advice may not be binding on the Chief Minister, nevertheless the Chief Minister would be bound to at least heed the advice and react to it. A Governor with a capacity to understand issues and analyse would be in a position to give proper advice to the Chief Minister. Therefore, none of the four considerations which have hitherto led to the appointment of Governors really has any bearing on what the Governor should actually be liked in terms of qualifications, ability to understand and analyse, project the well being of the people and generally act as a person who, through interaction with the Council of Ministers, is able to assist in good governance.

Right from the time of Indira Gandhi, the post of Governor has been used for the parking of people who are party loyalists and want a comfortable berth for themselves because they are otherwise worthless. It is unfortunate that the unspoken criteria laid down by the Congress have been adopted wholeheartedly by every government which has succeeded Indira Gandhi. However, under Congress rule, a few nonpartisan officers, one or two eminent people, an educationist or two found berths as Governor. The Janata Government ruthlessly sacked all the previous Governors and increasingly politicised the post. When Indira Gandhi returned to power, she dismissed all Janata Party appointed Governors and continued the process of politicising the post of Governor. Every successive government does just the same, but one had expectations from Narendra Modi that he would understand the constitutional importance of the post of Governor and would appoint persons who could act in a nonpartisan manner. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Nine Governors appointed by the previous government have been removed and in their place only party hacks have been appointed. For example, Kalyan Singh whose role in U.P. as Chief Minister when the disputed structure at Ayodhya was demolished has been subject to strong criticism has been sent to Rajasthan. Vajubhai Vala was Revenue Minister of Gujarat under Keshubhai Patel as Chief Minister and he did not enjoy a reputation for pea-green incorruptibility. He is a man without sophistication, but he has been sent as Governor to Karnataka whose capital, Bangalore, is the hub of the IT industry, is a technologically advanced city and is known for its cultural activities. Does the Raj Bhavan at Bangalore deserve Vajubhai Vala? Keshrinath Tripathy, who did not cover himself with glory as Speaker of the U.P. Legislative Assembly, has been sent to West Bengal. All the Governors appointed by the present government are politicians of no great merit and from whom we can expect no great contribution to the State where they are posted. In the case of Haryana, one wonders whether Kaptan Singh Solanki has been sent to replicate what Romesh Bhandari did in U.P? Not one of the Governors appointed can be expected to assist the State in providing good government. This is not what we expect of our government and by sending middle level politicians as Governors, the Prime Minister has completed the politicisation of a post which by its very nature should be apolitical. This is a cause of disappointment.

Of course there will be controversy about any suggestions made regarding the qualifications for the post of Governor but as a starting point of debate, one should attempt some suggestions or a few considerations which must go into the appointment of a person as Governor. First and foremost, no active politician should ever be appointed as Governor. This means that for at least five years prior to such appointment the person should not have participated in any active politics, nor should formally be a member of any political party. The person appointed should not be more then seventy years of age and should not be considered for more than one additional term of reappointment. The person should have had formal education at least to the collegiate level, with preference being given to a post graduate degree holder. The person could be a professional such as a lawyer, doctor, etc. He could be a technocrat, an academician, a renowned architect, a person who has earned distinction in literature, someone who earned distinction as an administrator or diplomat, a successful farmer, environmentalist or social activist, someone who has served the armed forces or the police and has earned a reputation for integrity and professional competence, a businessman with a clean record or anyone from any profession who has exhibited the ability to think and perform, whilst earning a reputation for honesty. For example, A.R. Kidwai, an educationist, served with honour as Governor of Bihar, N.N. Vohra is handling a difficult situation in Jammu & Kashmir with aplomb and Lieutenant General Nirbhay Shrma has gained a fine reputation in Arunachal Pradesh. Unfortunately no politician has ever been able to rise above the narrow partisan interests of the political group to which he belongs. That is why Ved Marwah of the IPS was successful in Manipur, whereas Kamla Beniwal bombed in Gujarat. The present government led by Narendra Modi, which is a pathfinder in so many matters, would perform a great service to India if it codifies the principles on which Governors should be selected. In the long run, an impartial Governor would always be more useful than one who is partisan.

Published Date: 23rd September 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Monday, September 22, 2014

China Eyeing Enhanced Role in Afghanistan Post US Drawdown

Monish Gulati

China's Foreign Ministry on 18 July said that it had appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan, underscoring its concerns on the political and security developments in the country. Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan (between 2002 and 2004) and India, has been named as the special envoy and will have "close communication" with Afghanistan and other relevant parties to help "ensure lasting peace, stability and development for Afghanistan and the region", the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in its statement.

Recent events, both internal and external, appear to drive the ramping up of Chinese interest in Afghanistan. Continued disturbances in Xinjiang, cooling of relations with Myanmar, Pakistan’s tussle with its internal security, Saudi-Iran rivalry and the developments in Afghanistan itself are some of the drivers. To that end, Sun Yuxi’s appointment not only signals Chinese concerns regarding possible threats emanating from the region, but also an intent to firm up some of its geo-economic initiatives in the wake of US drawdown from Afghanistan. This article examines the current Chinese focus on Af-Pak.


One of China's chief worries is that Uighur militants, who are fighting for a separate state called East Turkestan in China's Xinjiang region, will step up their activities by exploiting the security vacuum in Afghanistan after most of the NATO forces withdraw by the end of the year. China believes hundreds of Uighur militants of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) are holed up in the tribal areas straddling Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is a good cause for the Chinese worry- despite employing a wide range of measures it has failed to get a grip on the insurgency in Xinjiang.

Early on 28 July, the last day of Ramadan, 215 Uighurs armed with knives and axes attacked a police station and government offices in Elixku and Huangdi towns in Shache County in Xinjiang.1 Chinese police shot dead 59 attackers in response and 37 civilians also died during the incident. A total of 13 armed Chinese personnel were killed and about 67 people were arrested in this connection. On 30 July, Jume Tahir, the Imam of China’s largest mosque in the westernmost city of Kashgar was attacked as he was leaving the Id Kah mosque and stabbed to death.2 The 74-year-old Imam, who was also a former deputy to the official National People’s Congress (NPC), was reportedly supporting China’s Communist party by publicly speaking out against the wave of violence in Xinjiang and accusing the separatist Muslims for halting progress and social and ethnic cohesion.

The recent Ramadan violence is amongst a string of incidents that have been taking place in Xinjiang over past few months. Among the most shocking incidents was a market attack in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in which 39 people were killed in May, and a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station at Kunming in China’s southwest in March, which left 29 dead. Earlier this month, Chinese courts in Xinjiang sentenced 32 people to prison terms ranging from four years to life for terrorism-related charges. In June, authorities executed 13 people, and sent more than 100 to jail in a public mass sentencing on mostly terrorism-related offences in Xinjiang.

China’s approach to curb insurgency in Xinjiang is a combination of economic inducements and harsh security measures. To that end, it seeks to bring economic development, jobs and higher standard of living to Xinjiang by creating economic corridors or Silk routes through the region to the Central Asian Republics and Pakistan.

The insurgency in Xinjiang has been acquiring external dimensions. According to China's special envoy for the Middle East, Wu Sike, Muslim extremists from Xinjiang have gone to the Middle East for training and some may have crossed into Iraq to participate in the upsurge of violence there.3The Af-Pak region is key to curbing the disturbances in Xinjiang; both in terms of promoting economic development of the region and denying sanctuaries to the Uighur militants.


Appropriately Sun Yuxi commenced his charge with a visit to Kabul, and on 23 July, he had talks with President Karzai and presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani on separate occasions. During his stay in Afghanistan, Sun also met with US and European Union ambassadors to the country as well as the head of United Nations Assistance Mission.4

Sun reaffirmed China’s support for the ongoing political and reconciliation process in Afghanistan and said if groups in Afghanistan including Taliban reach agreement on national reconciliation then nobody will make trouble."So far we have not directly got involved with Afghan groups including Taliban and we place our hope on the new government." He said he will visit US, Russia, India and Iran to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

On Afghanistan's future, Sun said the immediate and most important task is to achieve reconciliation for all parties and sectors as only nationwide reconciliation is an effective measure for long term stability. He added that China is concentrating on economic development and raising standard of living to help create peace and security in Afghanistan and to that end the private sector must be involved.


In his first presser in China on 21 July, Sun Yuxi had praised Pakistan and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for their fight against terrorism and all but absolved them of any involvement in the recent attack on the Indian consulate in Herat.5Sun Yuxi said "I think ISI has been effective in fighting against terrorism. I do believe that Pakistan government or any responsible agency of Pakistan will only fight against terrorism instead of being involved with any terrorist." Sun told the media that he saw in the future, the Pakistan government playing an important and positive role in the peaceful reconstruction of Afghanistan.

While visiting Pakistan, Sun Yuxi called on the Pakistani Foreign Secretary and expressed China's solidarity with Pakistan in this endeavour and appreciated Pakistan's contribution to global efforts against terrorism.6 Pakistan highlighted its constructive engagement to promote regional cooperation. The two sides also conferred on the Ministerial Meeting of the Heart of Asia/Istanbul Process, to be held in Tianjin, China.

At the same time, Pakistan is eyeing Beijing’s proposed huge investment of about $40 billion over the next eight years in the country’s energy, water, coal, roads and other infrastructure projects. China has reportedly commissioned a "preliminary research study" to build an international rail link connecting its westernmost city of Kashgar in Xinjiang with Pakistan's deep-sea Gwadar Port, according to the Director of Xinjiang's Regional Development and Reform Commission.7 The 1,800-km China-Pakistan railway is planned to also pass through Pakistan's capital of Islamabad and Karachi, with land ports to India and Afghanistan also being proposed.


As regards India, China is aware of the US influence on its Afghan policy and that as US forces withdraw, sooner or later Washington will lose its effective veto over more aggressive Indian approach. If Afghan politics and security start to unravel or India feels it has been short-changed strategically, it is likely to make its own costs and benefits calculations and chose a path of greater intervention.8 There would therefore a requirement to factor in Indian interests to some measure.


Sun Yuxi statements during his visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan are indicative of Chinese approach to Af-Pak. Pakistan is the primary partner, who will play a dominant role in the reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan. Efforts will be made to integrate the Taliban into politics and governance at the provincial level and ideally at the national level. Chinese capital would power the Kashgar-Gwadar economic corridor; Pakistan would ensure its security and indirectly contribute to the security of Xinjiang. Exploitation of natural resources would be the main plank of the Chinese strategy to revive Afghan economy and Pakistan would gain the control of the Afghan transit trade.
Beijing has come to perceive that its near-term aims in Afghanistan are consistent with those of the US, that being fighting terrorism and avoiding a relapse into civil war. To the extent the two sides disagree, it is over the specific sources of threat; Uighur separatists or al-Qaeda. Beijing, therefore, appears remarkably eager to cooperate with the US in Afghanistan. However, the key is how China is reading the situation in Afghanistan; does it anticipate a complete US drawdown from the region by 2016 or will find space to articulate its interest despite US presence in a counter-terror posture in Afghanistan. If not would it look to squeeze out US from the region with support from Pakistan; which would make it easy for it to negotiate with the Taliban and of course call the shots in Af-Pak .

Russian buy-in would come from the fact that it would get access to a land route for selling its gas; diverting it away from Europe and expand its arms supply to Afghanistan and other nations in Central Asia. It would assist in curbing narcotics trade and receive support in checking the rise in Islamist militancy. Iran would get to retain its cultural influence in Western Afghanistan, sell gas to Pakistan and probably India through a land pipeline and have the main Chinese “silk route” to Europe running through northern Iran.

In the coming few months Beijing would be focussed on the establishment of the new Afghan government and the Istanbul Process, a ministerial-level dialogue that brings together all of Afghanistan’s neighbours and major donors. China is hosting the next conference in Tianjin and is eager to make it a meaningful event by using the meeting as a means to confer the international community’s approval on the next Afghan government.

China is also conscious of the fact that its top down approach of doing work may not succeed in post-Karzai Afghanistan and that it would need Pakistani support. To this end, some Chinese officials even suggest that the present diplomatic initiative is aimed at expanding Chinese regional expertise and capacity to understand the political dynamics in developing states.

In the current situation, with the US seemingly keen on just curbing terrorism emanating from Afghanistan (and directed at the US), it would most likely be happy to go along with China as long as these objectives are achieved. The current imbroglio in Ukraine would to an extent have compromised the Russian stand in support of India, when faced with Chinese opposition. India would most probably then be coerced into accepting the Chinese game-plan in Afghanistan, with the prospect of TAPI/IPI, a land port on the Kashgar-Gwadar corridor and SCO/ APEC membership thrown in as sweeteners.

  1. Dozens killed in terror attack in China’s Xinjiang, Agence France-Presse , July 30, 2014.
  2. ‘Imam of China’s largest mosque stabbed to death,’ Al Arabiya News, July 31, 2014.
  3. Ben Blanchard. ‘China says may have citizens fighting in Iraq,’ Reuters, July 28, 2014.
  4. China to give more support for Afghanistan's development: Envoy,, July 26, 2014.
  5. Sutirtho Patranobis. ‘China's new Afghan envoy lauds Pak spy agency ISI,’ Hindustan Times, July 21, 2014.
  6. ‘Pakistan, China renew resolve for Afghan peace,’ The Nation, July 28, 2014
  7. China launches study to build rail link to Pakistan via Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, PTI, June 28, 2014.
  8. Daniel Markey.’ Afghanistan Anxieties Reign in India and China,’ CFR, July 24, 2014.
(The author is an independent analyst based in New Delhi)

Published Date: 22nd September 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Mountain Strike Corps along Indo -Tibet Border and Strategic Advantage

Lt Gen (Retd) Gautam Banerjee, 
Executive Council, VIF

“Begin, be bold and venture to be wise” – Horace

Cause for a Mountain Strike Corps

Right from the days when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) decided to use military power to address its border issues with India, the Indian Army suffers from a serious operational debility. This debility arises from an absence of counter-offensive capability across the watershed of the Indo-Tibet Border or the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Indeed, India’s defence oriented military strategy remains inconclusive unless it has within its ambit a viable component of autonomous counter-offensive or riposte capability to confront the aggressor with counter-threat(s) that forces him to divert or recoil from his venture.

The decade past has found that Beijing, perhaps buoyed by fruition of her military modernisation, is no more able to restrain from exercising her tactic of forcing gradual migration into claimed territories. Having already firmed up her possession of the Aksai Chin and Shaksgam Valley, she is engaged in preparing grounds for her next phase of expansionism through outlandish claims over the Arunachal Pradesh and many other bits. Accordingly, the LAC is subject to increasing intrusions at Hayuliang-Fish Tail, Asaphila-Longju and Lungma-Kerang areas in the Eastern Sector, Thag La – Barahoti areas in the Central Sector and Chumar, Demchok, Pangong Tso, Depsang Plains and Daulat Beg Oldi areas in the Western Sector of the Indo-Tibet Border. In the process, the PRC has advanced its notional claim-lines well into the Indian territory.


Captain B H Liddell-Hart had argued, with substance of historical proof, that though neither flamboyant nor spectacular as the offensive, it was the defensive strategy in most cases that brought assured victory in the end. However, there is a caveat. According to the universal ‘Principles of War’, for a defensive strategy to come successful, an effective offensive content must be intrinsic to each level of its prosecution. It is so that the various stages of defensive operations to harass, delay, resist, limit and cause attrition to the enemy’s attacking forces have to be infused with offensive characteristics. At the tactical level, this principle manifests in the form of the defender’s raids, spoiling attacks, reinforcing manoeuvres and local as well as deliberately planned counter-attacks, the last named being an exclusive operation for which contingency plans are made and forces earmarked.

Further, as the history of warfare teaches, to trigger final collapse of the enemy’s aggression, a capability to undertake autonomous counter-offensive – as distinct from the aforementioned ‘counter-attack’ phase of a defensive battle – at a place and time of the defender’s choosing must be but imperative to what may essentially be an ambit of defensive strategy.

Beyond the Line of Defence

Navies perform their mandate of defending national waters and coastlines by engaging in operations beyond the nation’s maritime boundaries. The Air Forces too target the enemy beyond the national air space; only in case of hostile ingress would they direct their attack into own territory. In similar vein, in order just to maintain the sanctity of a given line of defence but no more, ground forces have to resort to offensive action across that line. To be really effective, these offensive operations – call it counter-offensive or riposte – have to be launched from distinct firm base(s) and at timing(s) that are well clear from the tumult of defensive engagements; needless to state, in the contemporary context, all of these would be joint serviceoperations. The purpose here is to exploit those sectors where the aggressor prefers to remain in relative dormancy, and so upset his strategic designs by disrupting his force-matrix, terrain-orientation and ‘task-to-time’ equation. The United Nations Forces’ offensive on Inchon in the Korea War of 1951-53, India’s counter-offensive in the Lahore Sector during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan War and Israel’s encirclement of the 3rd Egyptian Army in the 1973 Yom Kippur War are apt demonstrations of this principle.

The Idea of 17 Corps

By the Year 2007 or so, the extent of build up of the PRC’s military infrastructure along the Indo-Tibet Border had at last stirred the Indian Government’s conscience. Thus, it raised two army divisions and beefed up air power to round off India’s defence capability in the Eastern Sector. However, the void of that element of autonomous offensive action which must be intrinsic to any defensive strategy, remained unaddressed. That is the deficiency which is sought to be filled by the raising of a ‘Mountain Strike Corps’, the proposal for which had been pending with the Government since some years past; the Depsang La incident in April 2013 may have been the last straw. That was when the Chinese troops set up camp well behind India’s LAC and refused to budge, just as it had done earlier in the Zimithang, Asaphila and Hayuliang areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Demchok area in Ladakh, thus highlighting – for the nth time - the helpless situation that could confront India should Beijing decides to spurn India’s entreaties to vacate intrusion.

According to the official version and its implications, the 17 Corps is under raising at Ranchi, where during the Second World War, General William Slim’s 14th Army had geared up to win back Burma from the Japanese, and where the Eastern Command Headquarters was located till 1953. Once fully raised, the Corps Headquarters would move to establish itself at Panagarh in West Bengal, another World War II logistic base from where the wars in Burma and China were sustained. The Corps would have two specially structured mountain divisions - 59 & 72 Divisions - headquartered at Panagarh and Pathankot respectively. Besides, there would be two each of independent armoured and infantry brigades, one of each being located in Ladakh in the West and the other two stationed in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh in the East. A Corps being a very large formation of nearly 70,000 troops and vast paraphernalia of weapons, equipment, transport etc., the brigades and units, numbering above 200 odd, would be located variously from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh. Another division is reportedly being considered to be orbatted to this Corps in which case the strength would be around 90,000 troops. Of course, there would be many changes affected in the force-structure and their locations as the Corps shapes up in step with its evolving concepts of operations.

The idea of 17 Corps is unique in military history. No field formation has ever been assigned to operational contingencies so fluid, across so distinctly separated frontages and axes spread over 4000 odd kilometres, over freezing deserts of 4300 to 5300 metres altitude where living itself is no less a battle, to prosecute offensive operations as a corollary to strategic defence. These challenges are sought to be tackled over the next seven odd years, to which end elaborate surface and air transportation, communications and base infrastructure are to be created along the border belt. Formations and units are to be located close to air bases and surface communication hubs, expansion of the Air Force transportation, railways and border roads being a step complementary. Even then, it would have to be a formation that is structured to operate at the far ends of tenuous lines of communications, build up and deploy astride rudimentary axes after acclimatising the troops over one to two weeks, and prosecute offensive operations in confrontation with a great military power.
The charter is mind boggling. It is doable of course, but there are complexities and concerns to be dissected in all seriousness and addressed with strategic sagacity. Therefore, a discussion on the core considerations would be in order.

Role and Objectives

The likely role of 17 Corps, within the overall ambit of the nation’s defensive strategy, may be envisaged in light of the preceding discussion. Foremost, it would be to launch in counter-offensive - autonomous or conjoined with other formations - to unhinge any military aggression. Next, it would be to balance out territorial loss in one sector by sallying out in sector(s) of choice, to secure, in part or whole, the Indian version of the boundary alignment. Other roles could be to deploy to limit and destroy the attacking forces, or to invest the adversary’s ingress and to evict it if necessary. In other words, besides its classical counter-offensive role in war, even in ‘no-war’ scenarios when the option of forcible eviction of the intrusion may not be exercised in order to avoid escalation, it would be possible to, firstly, contain the intrusion, and secondly, to counter it by advancing the LAC in some other location – a sort of tit-for-tat.

Proceeding further, the first question to arise in the context of any worthwhile ‘strike’ relates to the possible objectives of significance. Obviously, the objectives would be such as to unhinge PRC’s military aggression, and that purpose would be indicative of the optimum depth of operations. Starting from the Indo-Tibet-Myanmar Tri-junction and ending at the Aksai Chin, the Western periphery of Gongrigabu Qu (River)-Chayu, the Southern periphery of Yarlung Zangbu (Brahmaputra River)-Langquen Zangbu (Sutluj River) and the Eastern periphery of Lingzi Tang-Kailash Range - inclusive of the Western Tibet Highway or its subsidiaries - could be that reckonable depth.

Within the aforementioned belt, one class of objectives could be territorial in nature. Considering the historical legacy, these territorial objectives may be broadly identified as: one, in the North-East, the areas West of Chaya (Rima) and South of Nyngchi, Tsona Dzong, the Chumbi Valley, Khamba Dzong and the Brahmaputra River; two, the Mansarovar (Mapam Yumco)-Sutluj River Belt in the Central Sector; and three, in the Western Sector, the Pangong-Indus (Senge Zangbu) Valleys and the Depsang-Soda Plains. Herein, any of the tactically feasible axes of operations, single or multiple, leading to territories across the LAC or up to and beyond the Indo-Tibet Border may be activated. Indeed, there are many possible areas which may be logistically upgraded within a decade or two to support offensive operations of battle formations ranging in composition from brigade group size to two divisions plus; some of these axes may even be upgraded in just a few year’s time. Notably, while the desolate terrain may not offer classical military objectives, the very act of pulling off territorial riposte would be sufficient to lever India’s cause. Besides, targeting logistic hubs at Nyngchi, Gyangze, Ngari, Rudog and some more, denial of bridges over Yarlung Zangbu and Langquen Zangbu, and breach of the Western Highway or its subsidiaries would definitely tell upon the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) aggression.

The other class of objectives could aim at force-destruction, in which the attacker would be contained in hostile terrain, weakened and then destroyed. Notably, the modest scale of India’s retaliatory strike in comparison to China’s doctrine of massive offensive may not be an issue – just penalising and holding up a giant would dampen his blustery, and therefore could be seen as a politico-military redemption.

Organisational Structure

By far the biggest challenge in raising the 17 Corps would be to structure a potent and cost-efficient force and equipping it for the kind of terrain - and as a corollary the kind of warfare - it would be called upon to master. In that context, recourse to replication of orthodox tactics, structures and equipment profile would offer strong attractions. However, having seen that the force, terrain and mission, all three are unparalleled, adoption of templates would be a grave mistake. For the right organisation to be devised therefore, it would be appropriate to evaluate the functions of the terrain and conceptualise appropriate battle tactics to harness its nuances.

From India’s view point, the terrain is like a funnel, its narrow stem widening into an expanse as the watershed is approached and the Tibetan Plateau unfolds. Resultantly, for nearly three-fourth of the 300-450 kilometres to the watershed, deployment of forces would have to be along relatively narrow, steep, winding and rugged valleys, mostly over single axes, with availability of shunts and laterals few and far between. Obviously, forces would have to move and deploy in echelons over restricted axes till they cross over to the plateau-land whence they would have the option of either diverging or converging combat power to reduce selected objective(s). Indeed, in that remote and desolate expanse of cold high altitude desert, the quantum of force-application would be decided by the logistic capability to field and sustain battle formations. As a corollary, the Corps may need to divide itself to operate astride multiple axes, even across multiple sectors – North-East, Central and West – in varying combinations of divisions and independent brigades to sally out into the plateau-land.

The severe dictates of the terrain attributes may be turned into tactical advantages provided organisation, tactics, equipment and logistics are customised in exclusivity. For example, induction, establishment of logistic bases and movements through the rugged mountains on Indian side of the watershed may well be rendered much safer from air and missile attacks as compared to the enemy on the plateau-land who would be open to detection and interdiction from air-ground operations. Even from the consideration of time and space, the factors would not be adverse towards India when the traversing distances, communications and altitudes are weighed in comparison. Lastly, when well reconnoitred and adapted to, the plateau-land would offer to the Indian forces good scope for ‘behind the line’ operations.

Factoring analogies from past campaigns as well as concurrent tactical concepts, the tactics would hinge upon manoeuvre of multiple combat elements to shape the battle-matrix and followed up with sharp engagements, rather than a replay of mass assaults of the kind propagated before the advent of Revolution in Military Affairs. The objectives could either be communication and logistic hubs, or opponent forces. Indeed, the campaign would follow the eternal practice of what is currently described as ‘Hybrid Warfare’, in which 4th Generation battles would shoot-off from field formations engaged in deliberate offensive campaigns. Of course, dominance in air power would play a singular role in reconnaissance, information war, destruction, interdiction, support to ground operations, troop mobility and logistic sustenance of the war effort.

In the overall context therefore, organisation and equipment for the 17 Corps have to be exclusive. For example, the Corps may be composed of integral scout, reconnaissance and special service units and brigade groups integrated into flexible mix of light and heavy combat arms. It may also have to be structured for transportable, manoeuvrable and higher volume of fire-power and enhanced grouping of support arm elements. Similarly, provision of in-built force-multiplication elements of information warfare - like command and control warfare, reconnaissance, intelligence preparation and deception – and geo-spatial survey teams would be mandatory for the Corps to fulfil its role. Above all, the Corps operations must be tuned to true articulation of air power for manoeuvre, air assault and operational logistics.


Needless to emphasise, it would be wise to equip 17 Corps with transportable and manoeuvrable war-like equipment, the loss of mass being compensated by higher scales of holdings and brisk operational momentum. The problem is that the global arms industry has not found it profitable to invest in development of weapons and equipment that answer to the characteristics of high altitude mountain warfare, and therefore most such equipment do not form part of importable inventory. Most of its theatres of war being mountainous, India’s defence planners could have turned this dearth into self-advantageous force-superiority through indigenous research and development. Regrettably, they failed to adapt to that rather obvious need, confined as they were with dated notions about ponderous characteristics of mountain warfare. Equipping the 17 Corps in a manner operationally desired would therefore require specific design modifications, field trials and mix of import and customised production under an overarch of economical viability. Given India’s system of functioning, the officially promulgated time-line of seven to eight years to acquire the right range of weapons and equipment may therefore turn out to be rather tight.

But more than that, optimal equipping of the 17 Corps would be an exercise advantageous only if the Indian military fraternity sets out to assimilate what weapons and equipment that may be readily acquired, and subsume the qualitative shortcomings into specifically devised battle-tactics and operational procedures. In other words, to begin with, it would be wise to foster tactical ingenuity to customise orthodox tactical concepts, and accept redundancies in scales to overcome lesser performance from what military hardware is available at hand. Great armies are known to do so; Indian Army has done so before.

Logistic Springboard

The quantum of force that can be committed to offensive operations through a given sector would be dictated by the extent of sectoral logistic capacity, existence of operational axes therein, and the robustness of these. Besides, final outcome of trans-Himalaya operations would be decided by logistic survivability of that force in a terrain so unliveable. By implication therefore, based on the intended counter-offensive tasks of the 17 Corps, logistic infrastructure would have to be developed, both in terms of sectors and axes of possible operations as well as the quantum of likely force-application along those sectors and axes. This capability would have to be built up in the form of static installations - such as roads, air-heads, administrative bases, dumps, services, survivable-habitat, etc – as well as expendables like ammunition, rations and fuel. Besides, once across the watershed, the burden of logistic sustenance would require to be extended, insulation, portability and mobility being the key determinants in this case. Further, logistic capacity-building would have to be maximised to conform to foreseeable operational contingencies. No doubt, planning and build up of logistic infrastructure calls for intelligent forethought and deliberate time-and-cost intensive undertaking at the national level.

Even if well within India’s engineering capabilities, infrastructure development projects would necessitate deployment of additional construction agencies and enormous funding; these two factors would determine whether the projects would take a decade or double that to be in place. As for the turnover or replacement of expendables, the challenge would be even more complex. Life-cycle stocking and turnover of ammunition in itself would be a tedious and costly commitment. Lastly, in environs so excruciatingly hostile, air-power would have to play a lead role in forward provisioning to the forces for them to survive and fight. The period of seven or eight years for the Corps to be fully operational must have been decided based on such considerations. But as to the implementation, there must be alacrity - India’s traditional elephantine pace would not deliver.

In adopting the above mentioned measures, logistic services to be integrated at unit, formation and theatre levels would have to be freed from the standard templates and reconstructed according to the unique conditions of Himalayan warfare, grouping of detachments, manpower, load handling equipment, mobility and communications being the thrust areas. The orthodox advocates of the ‘teeth-versus-tail’ issue may have to reconcile to larger complements of logistic services if they set their hearts to winning a war in the High-Himalayas.

Notably, not just the raising of a Mountain Strike Corps, it would be the build up of commensurate military infrastructure that would signal to the adversary, the scope and options of India’s military deterrence. To forestall military adventurism from PRC therefore, Indian defence planners would be wise to break-out of the festering stagnation that grips infrastructural development in border areas.

A Larger Strategic Dividend

If there is one matter to which the Indian psyche would never reconcile, the military debacle and political drubbing India got in 1962 from Mao’s China would be that one. No wonder therefore that even when conscious of the People’s Liberation Army’s overwhelming combat power, making China pay heavily for any future aggression remains a matter of faith for all Indians, indeed the Indian Armed Forces. So far this aspiration had been stifled by the void of autonomous offensive capability that, to reiterate, must form part of any worthwhile defensive strategy. Raising of a Mountain Strike Corps will therefore round-off the Indian strategy for the defence of its territories. No doubt, the cabal of India baiters cannot be enthused by the advent of the 17 Corps.

Raising of the 17 Corps is one of the landmark events of India’s military strategy. However, to make the best of this unique military formation, the Indian defence fraternity must prepare to prosecute wars that are exclusively ‘Indian’ in nature – exclusive in terms of tactical concepts, force-composition, and balance in deployment.

Finally, as military history tells us, when marshalled with tactical innovation, a strategic force of the nature of the 17 Corps will invariably offer a range of strategic options which may go beyond its role initially mandated. Articulated with free flow of strategic acumen, this military asset therefore may offer exponential peace dividends.