Category Archives: Defence And Strategic Affairs Blog

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s visit to India – Another milestone to strengthen ties between the two nations

Indo US Defence Ministers PCThe logistics support agreement which has been under negotiations for over 10 years was finally brought to a conclusion on Tuesday, where the two countries agreed “in principle” to a logistics exchange agreement to enable both militaries to use each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies. However, Defense Minister, Manohar Parrikar and Ashton Carter made it clear that the agreement does not entail deployment of American troops on Indian soil and will be signed in a few weeks or months to come.

To take bilateral ties to a level never seen before, both sides agreed to set up a new Maritime Security Dialogue between officials from the respective defense and foreign affairs ministries. A “White Shipping” agreement is also proposed in the near future. This strategic partnership between India and the United States is defining the 21st century; we’ve already witnessed the remarkable changes in the relationship between the two nations. The countries also share a joint vision for peace, stability and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region with the Joint Strategic Vision released by President Obama and Narendra Modi in January.

Here are some key points that were discussed during Carter’s visit:

India is the world’s biggest arms importer and wants access to US technology, so it can be a key part of the PM’s Make in India initiative to boost domestic manufacturing.

The US is also hoping to sell F-16 or F-18 fighter jets to India that involve a major co-production deal with more than 100 fighter planes to be manufactured in India in collaboration with an Indian partner company.

Carter told NDTV that the recent sale of F16s to Pakistan was based on the assumption that these jets will be used to fight terrorism and does acknowledge India’s objection to this decision.

The main negotiations revolved around the transfer of technology for GenX aircraft carriers to be manufactured in India, including jet engines and helmet mounted displays for fighter pilots.

The US is also keen to work with India to counter China’s dominance in the South China Sea; however there have been no discussions about a joint Indo-US fleet for this matter, but the two countries will work closely together.

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.



Roadmap to a stable, secure and prosperous Afghanistan

There is no doubt that after more than two decades of war and militancy, Afghanistan today is a country precariously poised at the crossroads of history. As the Obama administration mulls its various options for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014, the role of western and regional powers like India in Afghanistan’s rehabilitation process comes sharply into focus. No country wants a repeat of 1989, when the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan precipitated a Pakistan backed militancy uprising in India’s northern State of Kashmir and the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan. Stability in Afghanistan is vital to stability and peace in South Asia and the world.

As a new but politically fragile Afghanistan explores the path to reconstruction and development, what are the strengths and problems at hand? How can the West and the regional powers help Afghanistan chart out a balanced roadmap to unified, secure, stable and prosperous future?
The recent transfer of leadership of security from the U.S. led NATO coalition of forces to the nascent Afghan armed forces opens up urgent and critical venues for continued support in intelligence, training, counter insurgency and logistics. With USA as a key partner, Afghanistan is also counting on partners like India in providing training for Afghan security and police forces.

Reconstructing Afghanistan remains a major challenge and it is only possible through enduring political will, international cooperation and major materials and manpower support. Meanwhile, 60 countries including many foreign aid organizations are working on projects providing basic services like education, electricity and healthcare including larger projects like building roads, dams, schools and hospitals. The country needs long term commitment and sustained focus on such projects to develop cadres of educated, Afghan professionals and officials who can then help chart its independent future.

For 250 years now, Afghanistan has withstood external forces as one nation despite deep ethnic divisions in the county. Today, these tribal factions are vying for a say in the political and military future of the country. How should the country accommodate the interests of all its distinct nationalities, including Pashtu, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Pashaei, Noorestani, Baluch, Aimak, Turkmen , Gujjar, Brahui, Pamiri etc. to work together to build one strong nation of Afghanistan? How should the country facilitate dialogue with various political and insurgent groups to negotiate peace for the future? There is an urgent need to ensure a fairly shared platform for all parts of the civil society, including women’s groups, returning refugees and former insurgents.

Afghanistan possesses abundant reserves of mineral ore; the U.S. Geological survey estimates it to be worth between $900 billion-$3 trillion of untapped mineral deposits. How can this national wealth be safely translated into building a prosperous future for all Afghan citizens and not frittered away to corruption? In Agriculture, despite having only 12% of arable land, 80% of Afghanistan’s population depends on farmland for its livelihood. The country needs agriculture revitalization strategies to wean away from decades of highly profitable, but illegal, opium cultivation to sustainable projects involving food crops, livestock, irrigation and energy generation.
The challenges facing Afghanistan today are many, but a secure, stable and prosperous future for the country is possible with inclusive political strategy, fair exploitation of its natural resources and strong and continuous support from the international community. These challenges also provide Afghanistan with unique opportunities that could play a vital role in ensuring stability and security not only for its citizens but for those of Asia and the world.



Afghanistan, its Security, Stability and Prosperity

USA and other NATO led troops of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are now preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan.  As a matter of future policy USA will leave some elements behind to be able to exercise and influence events in Afghanistan. However rebuilding Afghanistan will be a herculean task. It will require international support, humongous human and material resources, and a steadfast political commitment. The size of the country , the extent of the human needs, the absolute decay of  infrastructure, and the scarcity of local professional capacity combine to make restoring Afghanistan an immense challenge.

The only way in which Afghanistan can return to the state of lasting peace is to establish a political procedure by which various Afghan tribes and leaders can develop a common national agenda. This method can offer opportunities for extensive and widespread participation of various Afghan groups at all levels, and must realistically account for current power realities in the country. The solution agreed to by the Afghan factions represented in Bonn is only the first step towards a long-term process of creating a unified, representative, and stable government. It will require consideration not only to the political process itself, but also to security and public order needs, justice concerns, and economic and social needs. A new, steady Afghan government must be an essential partner in the struggle to prevent terrorists from using the country’s domain once again.

Afghanistan’s economic potential majorly depends on economic links to their neighbors for everything from markets for its agricultural products, infrastructure investments, and a possible natural gas pipeline. Given high debt burdens and severe governance challenges throughout the region, addressing economic and political development in both a regional and bilateral context is peremptory.

The potential of Afghanistan’s professional diaspora living all over the world must be tapped to contribute to a strengthening of the socio-economic sector. Return of committed, educated and skilled Afghanis, along with increased investment and the opening of trade channels, are needed to reverse the substantial “brain drain” that Afghanistan has suffered due to over three decades of violent conflict.

US India Political Action Committee (USINPAC) in association with American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC) and Foundation of India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS) is organizing a conference focusing on the issue of   Afghanistan and the Region: Security, Stability and Prosperityon Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at the Capitol Hill, Washington DC. The conference which has been divided into 3 sessions will be graced by some of the most eminent speakers, in short the people who matter. Here is the schedule:

Session 1- 10:00 A.M to 11:15 A.M

Management of Transition and Ensuring Stability


  • Congressman Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs (Opening Speaker)
  • Congressman Joseph Crawley, Co-Chair, Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans
  • Mr. Kanwal Sibal, Former Foreign Secretary of India
  • Ms. Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, Heritage Foundation
  • Mr. Micheal O’ Hanlon, Director of Research, Brookings Institute

Session 2- 11:30 A.M to 12:30 P.M

India, Afghanistan and Regional Security (Keynote Session)


  • Congressman Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Mr. Rajnath Singh, President, Bhartiya Janata Party,  (BJP) India
  • Mr. Amrullah Saleh, Former Head of Afghan Intelligence

Session 3- 1:00 P.M to 2:30 P.M

Moderate and Balanced Afghanistan- Imperative for Regional Security


  • Mr. Ajit Doval, Former Director, Intelligence Bureau (IB), India
  • Mr. Mehran Baluch, Baloch Leader
  • Mr. Senge  Sering, President, Institute of Gilgit Baltistan Studies Moderate and Balanced Afghanistan- Imperative for Regional Security

The conference aims to engage communities to discuss factors affecting security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and surrounding region. The sessions will focus on critical dimensions of a balanced and unified strategy that can lead to Afghanistan’s stable and secure development. Participate in the discussion on how the management of political environment can be a force to bring peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and its consequential effect on nearby nations including India. We hope that you will be able to join us for this unique conference where leading international speakers are featured.


Attendance Strictly by RSVP only


Investing In Security: Developing US-India Defense Relations

Once unthinkable to a level of being a taboo subject during the cold war, US-India military relations have grown exponentially since the signing of a new Defense framework agreement in 2005.  Annual bilateral training exercises (known as Yudh Abhyas involving India’s 99th Mountain Brigade and the American 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade) have been warmly received and annual US sales of military equipment to India now top $8 billion.  Given ongoing and serious security challenges in the region, fostering even more efficient and effective US-India defense ties is a critical bilateral priority with significant potential yet to be tapped.

American Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter made a visit to New Delhi a year ago and stressed the urgency of exploring bilateral missile defense cooperation.  Ongoing debate over FDI liberalization of India’s defense sector has dominated dialogue since, but consultations on joint co-development of military systems could be the breakthrough that helps generate considerably more trade and boost U.S. export revenue.

On purely strategic grounds, India must show greater resolve in developing its ballistic missile defense capabilities.  Its neighbors China and Pakistan possess formidable ballistic and cruise missile forces.  Internal political and ideological concerns within the government over becoming more interlinked with the United States on defense matters over traditional suppliers like Russia, and how it affects India’s strategic authority, will have to be addressed in a more serious and urgent manner.

Given that Pakistan has refused to commit to a no-first-use policy and grave international concerns over the safety and security of sensitive Pakistani military equipment, the United States should make every effort to help India develop missile defense technology and overcome compulsions to do so purely indigenously.  The American experience in South Asia over the past ten years have exposed a rather pressing need for The United States to find and develop more stable and reliable strategic partners and stronger, more co-operative guarantors of regional stability.  If longstanding biases can be overcome, it will considerably improve the security situation in Asia and further one of the critical bilateral relationships in the geopolitical sphere.