All posts by Robinder Sachdev

Robinder Sachdev is Director of India Affairs at USINPAC. He is a recognized expert on foreign affairs and economic diplomacy, and writes extensively in leading Indian and U.S. publications. Mr. Sachdev has contributed to training programs in cross cultural communications for U.S. Navy and Department of State, and co-founded the Intercultural Management Quarterly published by the American University, Washington, DC. Mr. Sachdev is also President of Imagindia Institute, an independent think tank that works extensively amongst the Indian Diaspora and in India to promote the imagination of India.

Afghanistan – Getting the Bare Bones Right

As the US and NATO forces prepare for a withdrawal from the active theater in Afghanistan in 2014, and as Afghanistan heads into a presidential election in the same year, there is heightened concern about how the situation will play out.

In a manner of simple-speak, there are players within the country, and proverbially saying, without the country, who are each maneuvering to either minimize or maximize their positioning and stakes in the post-2014 scenario.

That the outcome of the situation in Afghanistan has immense ramifications on the country itself, the region, and globally is not a matter of concentric circles – with global security least and last affected.

Each geographic construct is at an equal scale of vulnerability if dysfunction, violence, and hatred breed in Afghanistan. Be it the men, women, and children of Afghanistan , Pakistan, the United States, any country in Europe, India, China, or, you name it.

Minimization versus Maximization

The various summits, conclaves, seminars, bilateral, track 2 and such diplomacy, the covert and intelligence assets, and the development aid, civic society engagements, inter-faith and a plethora of capacity building are all circling around this issue – how to minimize the ripple effects of an explosive Afghanistan.

On the other hand, an equally intense dynamic strategy is in progress by varied stakeholders on how to maximize their strategic interests in the vacuous space that is expected to emerge post-2014 in Afghanistan.

The intent of this column is not to analyze the strategies of maximization, minimization or optimization that are being considered, or countered amongst the matrix of stakeholders. Those shall be, and what results we see, for the good or bad, shall be.

Rather the goal of this column is to bring focus on a tactical strategy that can have a significant impact on the ground while the mile-high grand strategies inter-play.

There is perhaps only fact which is assured in a post-2014 Afghanistan. That there shall be geographic nodes within Afghanistan where some residual U.S. and NATO forces shall maintain a presence – irrespective of the outcomes of known and unknown negotiations and the power-play that emerges post-withdrawal of the forces.

Of course, the first objective of these outposts shall be to ensure their own security. More so in the newer environment when the withdrawal is abdicating the once-upon-a-time objective of foreign forces to bring peace to the entire country.

Thus, in a realistic scenario what shall be any tactical strategy that is real, on the ground – and with at least some chances of a modicum of success – as the country hurtles towards chaos and violence?

The Skeleton Strategy

The physical nodes across the territory of Afghanistan where the few and remaining U.S. and NATO forces will entrench themselves (and some of the Afghan outposts that can contribute to this strategy) will be the only outposts of security in a most likely situation in 2014 – with their influence extending to a radius of perhaps no more than one to two kilometers around the base.

Is it conceivable that these outposts, tens or hundreds of miles apart, are at least connected to and with each other? Via secure road-links? In fact the very planning of where to locate these outposts must be done with this strategy in mind. More on that later.

The entire military and any developmental aid that outside governments and agencies give to Afghanistan must be focused only on these road-links to create a bare-bones skeleton which can give confidence to the people and writ of the state of Afghanistan.

These corridors of connectivity, security, and development are the bare bones that will give hope to the people and nationalists of Afghanistan that peace is possible and can endure in this country. If, as is expected, the U.S. and NATO forces will be withdrawing into these nodal cocoons and not undertake any combat roles, then any capacity building of the Afghan security forces must firstly be focused on establishing peace and security among these inter-connected nodes.

Scholars of history and civilizations will note the key role that roads and routes played in the development of any society, community, nation, or civilization. Sure, the jury is still out whether the cities emerged first and then the nomads and traders created these routes connecting these cities; or, these cities emerged because the hunters, nomads, and traders took to settling in these locations as they progressed on their journeys.

Where are the joints of the skeleton?

History is history. We are now in the 22nd century, and cities and towns may have emerged in Afghanistan but they are not connected for free flow and exchange of people, trade, and ideas.

Much as they tried, the U.S. and NATO failed to create this connectivity between the cities and trade routes of Afghanistan. Therefore it is now necessary to re-look into the routes in Afghanistan.
Military and development planners now need to think not about cities and trading centers, but rather think about military outposts, and connect them to create functional roads and routes. And this brings us to the issue we highlighted earlier – where should the U.S. and NATO military outposts be located post-2014?

The answer is simple – these military outposts should be located outside the main trading cities and towns of Afghanistan. These locations must not be chosen for military exigency, and laziness of thought about location. Rather, these must be carefully mapped out, with a skeleton strategy clearly in the mind. Just because an ISAF air-base in some remote location has been operating for last ten years is no reason to locate an Afghan police training institute at this location. Shut down that base – and create a strategic node outside a town or city. Connect this node with another military node outside some nearby town or city.

Development money must be channelized to stimulate social and economic development along the route of these potentially-to-be-connected-nodes. This is the meat around the bones of connectivity.

A bare-bones skeleton in Afghanistan must stand up post-withdrawal of U.S. and NATO in 2014 – even a minimalist exemplar. It can be a hub-spoke, with few radials of even 100 miles each; or it can be a linear model of a corridor of a few hundred miles; or it can be a matrix of nodes. As long as there is security at end of the connecting nodes, and development at least 100 meters to each side of the connectivity.

While each outside stakeholder, ranging from Pakistan to the ISI, Taliban, Al Qaeda, The United States, Iran, Russia, and India, are trying to maximize their own interests; and while each internal stakeholder in Afghanistan is also trying to maximize its own interests – can we commit ourselves and force a consensus on a minimalist, bare bones, and skeleton strategy?

If the Afghan people and the international community are together not able to stand-up or progress towards such a skeleton, then we can all be rest assured that blood and mayhem shall be what we get – in Afghanistan and across the world.



India China Economic Union – An open letter

Dear PM Wen Jiabao and PM Manmohan Singh,

Only a sixth sense of mutuality and common sense can help China-India relations today. While the realities are being resolved and negotiated, we simultaneously and urgently need a powerful new idea of joint interest to both countries.

Economic entanglements are the surest guarantor of peace and development. India and China must start exploratory discussions of any variation of an economic union between the two countries. Working towards such a framework will ensure peace and economic development between both countries.

* The reality of the India China Economic Union may happen in 50 years or 100 years, but by progressing towards such an objective both countries will accelerate friendship and socio-economic development of one-third of global population.
* It is but obvious that in 20-30 years or by 50-100 years the relationship and economics will be so different that we cannot even imagine today. But one thing will be sure – the two countries and our people will be far deeply integrated and inter-connected in their economies, cultural understanding, people-to-people linkages, and global challenges.
* Sirs, you can see the future – kindly seize the moment and take a bold step.
* In advance of this summit in Delhi, we had been researching and modeling various thoughts to protect and advance the national interest of each country, as well to make a generational change towards friendship, peace, socio-economic and cultural relations between both countries.
* Our research shows that the first thing both our countries need today, is a sixth sense. The current and historic issues are too deep and will take time to resolve. While these issues are being resolved, it is now time to introduce, in parallel, a sixth sense in our relationship and to create a vision for an India China Economic Union.
* Other research, including a small web-based sample, shows that the topmost problem in relations between China and India is of mutual images, and mutual trust. Apart from the government in each country, this is the top concern in the publics too.
* Therefore the top priority of our leaderships today must be to find a solution to these two problems. By promoting this sixth sense of the imminence of an economic union, our leaders will guide the policy and publics of both countries towards peace, people-to-people relationships, and socio-economic development.
* Such a vision will lay the foundations for harmonious growth for hundreds of years ahead. Both countries should set up a joint working group and think-tank, funded with US$ 10 million by each country, as first step. This economic union may be modeled after the example of European Union or any variation, and the working group should present reports of the progress on sidelines of annual PM level meetings.

Premier Wen Jiabao is visiting India along with a business delegation of over 300 businessmen. Geopolitics, business and people-to-people linkages are all on the agenda. In all these meetings and discussions, the key underlying dynamic will be mutual images and trust.

Mutual Imagery and Trust

To improve mutual imagery and trust, both countries need to take several urgent steps. Each country should take responsibility to take 3 specific steps to build trust and image. These steps should be reflected in the joint communiqué which shall be issued during the visit.

* India has already announced introduction of Mandarin as an optional subject in schools. China must similarly introduce Hindi language in its school system. Also, China must ramp up English speaking skills among its citizens. Lack of English is proving an obstacle to better understanding and business with China.
* Both countries must promote people-to-people linkages. Through tourism, even a weekly flight with free seats; through cultural exchanges, even promoting film shoots in each other; and through youth and business exchange programs. The expatriate communities in each country must be guided by embassies to engage more with the host society.
* India must encourage its communist parties to act as a bridge in building relations with China. U.S.-India relations improved in large part due to a unique presence of an over 3 million strong Indian-American community. Similarly, with China, the communists of India can play a unique role in building image and trust between both countries.
* Any delegation which travels to the other country must be provided a three hour orientation and cross-cultural understanding of the country they will visit. The embassies should provide this service to their host country government. The chambers of business must provide this service to the business delegations they take.
* More Chinese students must be given generous scholarships to come and study journalism and MBA in India, and similarly Chinese government must attract Indian students to China. These future businessmen and media leaders will help to promote understanding and economic activity between the two countries and many may settle down in host country.

India China Economic Union

Improvement in mutual images and trust shall further pave the way for reducing fears and concerns of each country, and for creation of the India China Economic Union. India fears China’s “string of pearls” strategy, and China fears India is ganging up with the U.S. to restrain its growth. China is troubled by India’s stance on Tibet and Taiwan, and India is concerned with China’s behavior on its Western and Eastern borders.

Both countries also need to take fresh confidence building measures. China must vacate the portion of Kashmir which Pakistan ceded to it. India must clarify and settle the Tibet and Taiwan issue with China.

Thus a sixth sense of Indo-China relations will need a troika approach – all in parallel:

* Improvement of mutual imagery and trust,
* Fresh confidence building measures, and,
* A vision for creating the India China Economic Union.

Much of these may not happen in our lifetimes, or even for several generations. But some such framework will be a reality 100-200 years from today. By taking this visionary step, Sirs, you will leave an imprint on history for ever.


Robinder Sachdev

The Pamir Knot* peace deal

Reports have been emerging about U.S. involvement in Kashmir, and Pakistan’s repeated attempts to bring the Kashmir issue on President Barack Obama’s agenda when he visits Delhi in first week of November. Also, the matter of India’s seat at the UN Security Council now seems to be only a matter of time, and the Presidential visit is expected to be a step in that direction.

However, none of President Obama’s objectives of protecting the physical and economic security of the U.S. from major harm in the 21st century by the terror emerging from the vast lawless lands of Afghanistan and Pakistan shall be met unless China vacates Kashmir.

A historic Pamir Knot peace deal for the region requires that China must be involved in the security of this region – and irrespective of whichever framework or formula emerges about Kashmir, China must first vacate the lands of Kashmir that it occupies. The regions of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), and China-occupied Kashmir (CoK) must be merged to create a “Naya Kashmir”* independent of occupation. With democracy and right-to-self determination in the merged areas of PoK and CoK, the “Naya Kashmir”, the people of the region would have peace and prosperity, and not be cesspools of ignorant hatred and poverty, with access to even nuclear and others weapons and methods of mass disaster.

While India officially says that it shall brook no interference by any third party, the U.S. administration is understood to believe that a solution to the Kashmir issue will substantially improve peace and security in the region, greatly reduce danger to the domestic and global interests of the United States, and help it resolve the Afghanistan imbroglio. President Obama is under intense pressure to bring troops home from Afghanistan, and unless he succeeds there is great danger to not only the U.S., but entire Western nations and Pakistan itself.

I understand that this recommendation may be controversial initially – but we all now need to re-imagine the world for our next generations. Otherwise, the U.S., this region, and the world will face greater and greater threats in years to come. It is time for the U.S., China, and India to make a grand deal and bring peace and security to Pakistan and Afghanistan. It must also be impressed upon President Obama that in return for obtaining peace and security in Asia to safeguard American national interests, China must commit in perpetuity that it shall cease and desist from any machinations on India’s eastern borders.

*The Pamir is a high mountainous plateau that is sometimes described as a “knot” because it lies at the intersection of several of Asia’s great mountain ranges: the Himalaya, the Karakoram, the Hindu Kush, and the Tian Shan.

*Naya Kashmir, the word “naya” means “new” in Hindi language.


(The post originally appeared on the Imagindia Insititue website on October 22, 2010.)

(Image source:

U.S. and India need a grand Thorium Partnership

This memo is proposed for urgent consideration by President Barrack Obama on the course ahead in U.S.-India relations. Today, when machineries of both governments are whirring to engineer a big bang from the upcoming Obama-Singh summit in Delhi in November, it is recommended that top class horsepower must immediately be allocated to the cold calculus and implementation of a Thorium Partnership between the United States and India.

Thorium Partnership

A Thorium Partnership between the U.S. and India shall yield pioneering benefits and fast-track a technology path towards radical energy security of both countries, as well as for global needs. It is inflexion time in global search to get off fossil fuel dependency and to identify an alternative source that can deliver gigantic scale of energy generation. Thorium fuel is the answer.

Nuclear energy can be generated by using uranium or thorium as fuel in the reactors – however thus far it is only uranium that is being used worldwide, while the technology to exploit thorium as a fuel is many years away. Though there has been some research and development on thorium in a few countries, India is the only country which has invested major research into this technology, and today is a world leader.

Importantly, using thorium as fuel for generating nuclear energy is the only technology path that will hugely reduce the growing risk of nuclear waste management and proliferation – a renaissance of nuclear energy now looms all over the world and it will create large pools of nuclear waste with which no one knows what to do, including in security-risk prone countries. The problem of thorium based waste management will be initially about the same as it is at present.  However, when recycling and closed fuel cycle is implemented in terms of their full potential the thorium based waste will make the problem virtually disappear. This will bring a huge relief to both countries and to global community.

A Thorium Partnership with India will give the United States access to the resulting industrial grade technology, and assured supply of a benign and potent fuel (thorium) for its domestic needs for next hundreds of years from a stable, democratic country – India holds 30% of world reserves of thorium; while the partnership will help India to significantly accelerate its energy and food security. Also in the long term, world supplies of uranium are expected to last no more than 50 – 80 years by various estimates, and thereafter thorium fuel shall be the only route to generate nuclear energy.

India has a substantial technical lead in the development of thorium based nuclear power and has the only operating power plant based on thorium in the world.  However, it might still take another 15-20 years for India to reach mass implementation for power generation based on this technology. A strategic partnership with U.S. will cut this time to technology maturation in half or more and thus the benefits to India’s economic development will be immense.

While it doggedly continues on its R&D path to develop thorium based solutions, in order to fast track development of thorium based technologies India needs large scale research labs set in remote areas since the radioactivity levels in such labs are high. At present India does not have any such facilities – whereas the United States does have infrastructure where such experiments and trials can be carried out. Additionally, the U.S. has a huge problem of nuclear waste at its hands which is ticking like a time bomb – the partnership shall bring a solution to this dilemma also, since thorium based power plants will use this nuclear waste material to generate power.

Upon industrial grade readiness of thorium based reactors, the two countries can jointly export and market a complete bundled technology and fuel solution to other third countries – thereby reducing threats of nuclear proliferation, weaning global communities away from fossil fuel dependency, aiding rapid scaling of energy capacities, and alleviating dangers to climate change – and thus rendering a historic shift in global energy, geopolitics, and food security.

In long term, the scale of technology and economic benefits reaped by the U.S. and India from this partnership may rival the scope of what DARPA enabled in technology and economic benefits to the U.S. by sponsoring and fast tracking R&D of the Internet. This partnership shall help to create high technology and green energy jobs in the U.S. and India, and bring technology spillover benefits to various other sectors in domestic economies of both countries resulting from the fast track R&D initiative in a most complicated technology.

Thus, the partnership is not about money or scientific assistance to either party, but is primarily born out of recognition of core competencies, assets, and needs of each party. With an aggressive can-do attitude this partnership shall bring a true revolution for the energy, food, and geopolitical security needs of this century.
Towards such objective, it is therefore proposed that India and the United States immediately establish a partnership for research, development, commercial planning, strengthening the educational and human resource expertise and implementation of thorium based power plants and energy solutions in India and the United States, and third countries.

Various details of the partnership – the mechanism, the policy, the physics, the engineering, the IPR, and several such matters, and protection of sovereign interest will of course be fiercely negotiated and addressed by each country during discussions on this partnership, along with the scientific assessment of mutual roles. Ours is only to lob this road-map in the public sphere – and to push for an assessment of acute national, and mutual domestic and global interests.

On November 7, 8, or 9, 2010, in the Indian parliament when President Obama addresses over a billion Indians via their elected representatives, or when Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh hosts a joint press conference with President Obama, with a megaphone to the world that addresses the global six billion, both countries must announce this bold and visionary partnership.