22 February, 2011

Talking to the Maoists?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

Uday India, Cover Story, 12 March 2011, http://www.udayindia.org/content_12march2011/cover_story.html

NOTE: "On February 22, though the Maoists initially agreed to release from captivity both the Malkangiri District Collector and the junior engineer, later on they retracted and freed only Majhi, the engineer. The ultras have placed more demands to free the bureaucrat. The Maoists continued with their tantrums. However, on February 24, Krishna was set free"

In the evening of February 16, a young bureaucrat and a junior engineer paid the price of being too honest and probably too fearless. The collector of Malkangiri district in Odisha was generally used to roaming around in his area of jurisdiction on a motorcycle and that too, without proper security. It is not only a bit, but quite unusual for a District Collector to be a maverick of this genre. And quite expectedly, he faced the consequences. 

The popular collector and the engineer were kidnapped by a bunch of pro-poor(?), ‘robinhood-type’ hoodlum Maoists. Following the modus operandi of the cross-border Taliban-esque terrorists, the Maoists placed their list of demands which necessarily contained the release of a couple of their top leaders. The government of Odisha reacted, no doubt, in an ordinary, predictable and characteristic fashion as had happened quite often in the past: from releasing terrorists in return for the daughter of a high-profile politician in Jammu & Kashmir to the release of a terrorist-mastermind in return of airplane hostages in the late nineties.

On Tuesday, February 22, a top Maoist Srinivas Srimanulu was granted bail by a local court in Odisha1. Though he got bail only in one case and four more criminal cases were pending against him, it is to be noted that the legacy of ‘releasing in return’ was re-initiated. Furthermore, the Odisha government initiated ‘talks’ with the Maoists to seek release of the concerned officers. Ironically, it is the Maoists who nominated the three ‘interlocutors’.

Finally though, such concessions paid off for the Odisha government as the abducted-duo were released2 by the Maoists on February 22. State Home secretary U N Behera said that the government has agreed to follow due process of law to withdraw cases against five Maoists, including Ganti Prasadam and Padma, wife of top Naxal leader Ramakrishna. The government also agreed that no coercive action will be taken by the security forces as long as the Maoists do not indulge in unlawful activities. But the Maoists, by definition, are a banned outfit !

Behera was however ambivalent on the release of Asutosh Sen, Sriramulu Srinivasulu, Gananath Patra and Jiban Bose, central committee members of the Maoists.

Well, this seems to be a season of ‘talks’ and compromises. And it is not only in India that ‘talks’ are taking place.

After an ‘aborted’ attempt in Sri Lanka, the Norwegian peace brokers are in the news once again. On 15 February, the Philippine government and Maoist rebels sat down for their first formal peace talks in more than six years3. The negotiations are taking place in the Oslo suburb of Nesbru. These are aimed at ending an insurgency that commenced in the late 1960s.

Coincidentally, on 12 February, few days before the Filipino rebels sat down with their authorities, Raman Singh, Chief Minister of Chattisgarh said that his government would not hesitate to consider any proposal for peace talks with the Indian Maoists4.

Interestingly on that very day, sharing the same dais, social activist Swami Agnivesh even appealed to both the government and the Maoists to opt for a 72-hour ceasefire to facilitate a peace process5.

In fact, this has been the standard programme on offer by Agnivesh and other like-minded activists so as to defuse tension in India’s hinterland which has been causing turbulence since 1967, a period quite similar to the insurgency in Philippine. According to Agnivesh and others, the peace process probably could have shaped up, but was abruptly halted when reports of death of the Maoist spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad surfaced in the first week of July, last year6.

Last year, in a letter to Swami Agnivesh, Azad had stated his party’s intentions of holding talks with the government. However, he was skeptical regarding the commitment of the Union government. He felt that the Home Ministry was probably trying to create a veneer of ‘talks’.

There were counter-allegations as well from New Delhi regarding the non-serious approach of the Maoists towards settling the bloodshed through deliberations. As a matter of fact, the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram had responded to a ceasefire offer of Maoists by issuing a statement on 22 February 2010. Quoting him: “I would like no ifs, no buts and no conditions for talks.”7

The Maoists had then sought for a conditional ceasefire; asking the Government to halt the paramilitary offensive against them for 72 days and involve suitable mediators for talks.

Naturally, the pertinent question at this juncture is that after a year, have both the government and the left-wing ultras mellowed down their approach? More importantly, the government of two states: Chattisgarh and Odisha seem to be kowtowing in front of the Maoists. They suspended their searching and combing operations as per the demands of the leftist-ultras.

It may be that Raman Singh’s recent declaration was in resonance with the gesture shown by the ultras in releasing a group of abducted jawans in Chattisgarh after a period of 18 days. The interesting part was that the jawans were not ill-treated by the Maoists at all. Nevertheless, this was basically possible as Chattisgarh agreed to suspend search and combing operation for 48 hours. The amusing aspect was the rebels had sought suspension of operations for only 24 hours.

What can thus be gleaned from the behaviour of both the parties in this low-intensity conflict? Is this mere rhetoric on the part of Raman Singh that he is agreeable to ‘peace talks’? Or is this a sign of ‘war fatigue’ for both the sides? Or do both the sides want to erect a façade of ‘talks’ to buy more time?

Going back to the Filipino case, the government and the Maoist-guerrillas have been involved in ‘stop-start’ negotiations for the last 25 years; without any concrete result however. In the meantime, the fighting has consumed close to 40,000 lives.

In a seminal work titled: “How Insurgencies End”, published by RAND Corporation in 2010, researchers Ben Connable and Martin Libicki have shown with the help of statistical data that the longer an insurgency lasts, the more likely the government is to win8.

In tune with this finding, it may be stated that the state-actors would generally benefit if a low-intensity insurgency lasts long. Moreover, until the rebellion spills into major towns and cities, the danger from an insurgency to the security of the nation-state is not really significant.

Even in the Indian context, it would be noteworthy to remember that the ‘talks’ between the Maoists and the provincial government of Andhra Pradesh was carefully utilised by the latter to discern information about the radical outfit’s top brass. And finally it was the two-pronged attack of the elite Greyhound force alongwith the agenda of development which paved the way for the victory of state forces in Andhra. As if to corroborate this, a senior Filipino insurgent was arrested on the eve of the February 15 talks near Oslo.

Bringing the guerrillas to the negotiating table is always accompanied by the danger of letting them regroup. But it won’t be unwise to talk to the ultras from a ‘position of strength’. At present, the government does have a psychological advantage though. The Indian Army has been given a green signal to set up a training base in the Abujhmaadh area of Chattisgarh9. This is the epicenter of Maoist activity in India and such a move must have had its impact on the rebels.

But the present crisis generated by the Indian Maoists has taken away some part of that advantage from the government. The abduction of an officer belonging to the elite Indian Administrative Services (IAS) in the Malkangiri district of Orissa10 in effect is a pointer to the fact that the rebels are not genuinely interested in ‘talks’. They are just tracing the well-tested path of kidnapping to get their demands met. In such a situation, doesn’t it project a weak face of the government to come to the negotiating table and release members of the banned outfit?

In these circumstances, it needs to be observed whether the Indian policymakers take up the Filipino formula or go ahead with the ‘successful’ Sri-Lankan brute force methodology to quell the Maoist insurgency. It can be added that even in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been dealt strongly by the government through focused counterinsurgency operations and the results have been positive.

On the other hand, the Indian Maoist leaders must appreciate that scores of Adivasis cannot simply be sacrificed at the altar of ideology. And furthermore, picking up honest officers who want to work for the masses surely would turn out to be counter-productive for them. The reason is simple. The Maoists feed on the Adivasis and the poor. That is, the more hapless and poor the Adivasis become, the more fertile would be the recruitment ground for the Indian Maoists. The kidnapping of the IAS officer in Odisha has given rise to mass protests against the Maoists, which in essence is what the Maoists detest. On the contrary, the state forces shall relish such blunders by the Maoists in the ongoing counterinsurgency warfare.

Will the IAF fire at the guerrillas in self defence at Abujhmaad?


1: “Orissa hostage crisis: Maoist gets bail as talks continue”, The Economic Times, 22 February 2011, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/orissa-hostage-crisis-maoist-gets-bail-as-talks-continue/articleshow/7548769.cms

3: Wojciech Moskwa, “Philippines start new peace talks with Maoists”, Reuters Africa, February 15, 2011, http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE71E1A920110215?sp=true

4: Joseph John, “Won't shy from talks with Naxals”, msn News, February 13, 2011, http://news.in.msn.com/national/article.aspx?cp-documentid=4915485

5: ibid

6: Uddipan Mukherjee, “What can the Maoists ‘Talk’ About?”, Uday India, August 21, 2010, http://udayindia.org/content_21august2010/cover_story.html

7:  “No 'ifs and buts' for talks with Maoists, says Chidambaram”, ExpressIndia, February 23, 2010, http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/No-ifs-and-buts-for-talks-with-Maoists-says-Chidambaram/583256/

8: Ben Connable and Martin C. Libicki, “How Insurgencies End”, RAND Corporation, 2010, ISBN/EAN: 9780833049520, http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG965.html

9: Supriya Sharma, “Army promises maximum restraint in Abhujmaadh”, TNN, February 15, 2011, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Army-promises-maximum-restraint-against-Maoists-says-they-are-own-own-people/articleshow/7501790.cms

10: “Maoists, Orissa Govt close to striking a deal?”, NDTV Correspondent, February 21, 2011, http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/maoists-orissa-govt-close-to-striking-a-deal-86902

14 February, 2011

Indo-Saudi Camaraderie: A Strategic Alliance?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

In March 2011, the Indian Army is expected to hold joint military exercises with the Royal Saudi Land Force (RSLF) in Saudi Arabia (SA). It is reported that India will also construct a mountain warfare training school there. However, official details are yet to be public.

As far as information is available, only the RSLF is to be involved in this exercise and not the National Guards of SA. In fact, in 2006, when SA had joint training with Pakistani forces, it was only the RSLF which took part.

Interestingly, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud is expected to visit India at the same time when the joint exercises would be held. Prince Turki is the person who was one of the ‘behind the scenes’ architect of the Mujahideen counterattacks against Soviet troops in Afghanistan during 1979-89.

 There are also reports that Pakistan army may establish a mountain warfare school in SA. It is to be constructed in the south-western region of the country in a town known as “Khamis”. Khamis-Mushayt (at an altitude of 6,700 feet) is also the Headquarters of the Southern Area Command and the home of the Field Artillery and Infantry Schools of SA. The general terrain of the area is hilly.

Oil and energy are the major parameters which define the relationship between India and the Gulf countries, which the former treat as its ‘extended neighbourhood’. However, India is pushing to enhance strategic ties with the region in its bid to realize its post-2005 ‘Look West Policy’. 

India has already discussed its intention of joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a permanent member. Hence, a warm relationship with the Gulf countries is a pre-requisite to garner necessary diplomatic support. In that direction, military cooperation with the Gulf countries to deal with common security threats like piracy and Islamic extremism is a feasible weapon.

Thus, a heightened camaraderie between India and Saudi Arabia may have, inter alia, the following implications:

1. India may be attempting to woo SA in order to diplomatically corner Pakistan as SA is a Sunni-Muslim country and a donor to Pakistan. So, having SA by its side, India can try to pressurise Pakistan in the international rostrum.

2. Though behind the scenes maneuvering of White House is hard to be outrightly rejected, however, this cannot be accepted to be the only reason for the joint exercises. It seems natural that Indian Foreign Policy is slowly but surely aligning with USA and its supposed allies in the Middle East: viz Israel and Saudi Arabia.

3. Third, but not altogether insignificant, this joint exercise could be interpreted as fairly routine that Indian armed forces periodically carry out with foreign countries. 

India is supposed to have the capabilities to help Riyadh in Mountain Warfare Training as it has a well developed Jungle Warfare School at a place called Variengte in the North-Eastern province of Mizoram (hilly tracts). Incidentally, armed forces of other nation-states (viz. USA) have also been trained in that school. Apart from Variengte, India has recently developed another counter-insurgency school at Kanker, in the Maoist-affected province of Chattisgarh. 

Furthermore, Indian ground forces are skillful in desert warfare because it had fought ground wars with Pakistan in the Thar desert region (North-Western part of India). Also, India's Main Battle Tank "Arjun" has specifically been developed for desert warfare. 

Presently, a number of Saudi army officers are attending training courses in India. And previously, on 10 May 2008, the then vice chief of Indian Army paid a two-day official visit to Riyadh, aimed at fostering defence cooperation between the two countries. 

As far as counterinsurgency is concerned, the general capability of Saudi troops is still under the scanner as they are yet to fight successfully any sustained internal insurgency. Historically speaking, they have defeated the Yemeni forces in 1969 and also took part in the Gulf War in 1991: both of which were conventional battles. Moreover, in terms of rank, SA is at the 24th position and India is at 4th position in the category of military prowess.

Currently, SA wants to upgrade its anti-terrorist skills (the possible Al-Qaeda threat spilling from Yemen) and seeks help in that regard. Some American forces are still residing in SA in the wake of the Gulf War and the country remains a heavy importer of US defence equipments.

Actually, the landmark visit of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to India in January 2006 as the Chief Guest of Republic Day celebrations opened a new chapter in the Indo-Saudi bilateral relations. King Abdullah referred to India as his ‘second home’ and signed the “Delhi Declaration”. It was the first such bilateral document ever signed by a Saudi King. The ‘Delhi Declaration’ provides a comprehensive road map for bilateral relations. Several Agreements/MOUs were signed during the visit including MOU on Combating Crime, Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement and the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement.

The momentum generated by extensive bilateral interactions after King Abdullah’s visit culminated in the historic visit of the Indian Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to Saudi Arabia from February 27- March 1, 2010. Dr Singh held discussions with King Abdullah and both leaders signed the “Riyadh Declaration” which outlined a “new era of strategic partnership” between the two countries in security, defence, political and economic areas.

It is not difficult to extract American interests in a better cooperation between India and SA. The sole purpose of the US is to erect an alliance of US-Israel-SA-India in Asia so as to counter Iran and China. How both SA and India react to such a covert American ambition is to be keenly watched.

10 February, 2011

The Chinese J-20 and its ramifications

Article No.:    1751     Date:    09/02/2011

Centre for Land Warfare Studies


It was nothing less than ironical when an Indian-born American was convicted of espionage, and that too in clandestine deals with China.

Noshir Gowadia was recently sentenced to 32 years in prison on the charge of selling details of the engine exhaust system of the B-2 bombers. Interestingly, the technology that has been passed by Gowadia helped Chinese engineers in designing a stealthy cruise missile.

However, the significant aspect of the secret deal could be that it was used by the Chinese in developing their fifth generation fighter aircraft: termed the J-20.

It has surely evoked a worried countenance from diplomatic and military quarters the world over. Americans have been deeply hit, not much due to the probable efficacy of the stealth aircraft, but more so due to the psychological aspect of Beijing tilting the Asia-Pacific strategic equation toward itself.

The J-20 Stealth fighter aircraft is definitely a ‘Big Stride Forward’ for China if not a Great Leap Forward of the Mao Zedong days. The flight testing of the aircraft in early January, in this new decade has sent strong signals in different directions.

First, the Chinese maneuver was obviously intended towards USA. To synchronise the test with Defence Secretary Robert Gates' visit was perfectly symptomatic of hegemonic ambitions of China in Asia-Pacific. Gates reached Beijing on 11 January to meet his Chinese counterpart to resume top-level military consultations that were stalled since Washington announced a $6 billion arms sale to Taiwan about a year back.

On top of this, Hu Jintao's statement that he was kept in oblivion of the flight testing of J-20 hardly makes much sense and rather erects a facade of ‘benign gentlemanship’ which the Chinese are constantly attempting to project their 'peaceful rise' concept. Interestingly, it has even cast some doubts regarding the real hold of the Communist Party over the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

In this regard, China analyst Andrew Erickson of the US Naval War College opines: “The PLA may have its own perspective and its own organizational interests, but the Party still controls the gun.”[1] 

Furthermore, the test also preceded the Hu-Obama Summit. Again real military signals across to the US, no doubt. However, at present, America’s prowess as far as the fifth generation fighter goes, is leagues ahead than that of China's.

Second, the J-20 from Chengdu airfield had a pointer towards Taiwan too. Beijing is clearly upholding its 'One China Policy'. And Taiwan has reacted bluntly. In fact, barely 7 days after the test flight of J-20, Taiwan conducted a public test firing of 19 surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. Taiwanese President Ying-Jeou was present during the drill. Unfortunately, a quarter of the missiles missed their targets, raising obvious questions about Taiwan’s readiness to defend itself against any future Chinese attack.

The third signal was aimed towards Japan. This was to psychologically pre-empt any strategic-military ambitions harboured by Tokyo and to deter it in the naval disputes. However, it must have given Robert Gates the desired opportunity to showcase much of the products of Lockheed Martin to the Japanese in the wake of the J-20 flight.

And last but not the least; J-20 has implications for the Indo-Russia partnership on strategic and defence technology. Actually both the countries are involved in a combined project of building a fifth generation fighter called T-50. In fact, a number of successful sorties have already been made by the Russians. Naturally, after J-20, the Russo-India duo would have to pull up their socks.

J-20 seemed to be the world’s first Stealthy Strike fighter aircraft. On the other hand, F-22 of USA and T-50 are considered Air Superiority fighters. J-20 has been optimized for ground attack role. Sheer length of the aircraft (estimated to be 60-65 feet long) suggests that it not only can carry heavy weapons but also larger internal fuel for long range missions.

J-20 is supposed to have more than 3000 km in range which suggests that whole of North India along with North Eastern region of the sub-continent will be under its range. Hence the threat level to India only increases.
Australia's independent defence think tank, Air Power Australia asserts: “Whether the J-20 is a proof of concept demonstrator, or a prototype for a volume production combat type, what the design demonstrates is that Chinese engineers have mastered advanced stealth shaping techniques.”

However, the think-tank cautions: “The design displays repeated application of United States developed shaping design rules used previously in the F-22 Raptor design, and in some portions of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter design”.[2] 

Thus, doubts have been cast on the actual ability of the Chinese to acquire the stealth technology. There is a murmur by some analysts that PLA Air Force (PLAAF) probably pieced together the J-20 design from an American Stealth F-117A which was shot down in Serbia in 1999 during a NATO air strike.

In fact, Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies says: “The J-20 is reminiscent of the Russian MiG-1.42 both in terms of plan, form and also with regard to the rear fuselage configuration.”

Quite interestingly, Barrie notes: “The MiG program was canceled by the Russian government around 1997.” Now, does this indicate any Sino-Russian collusion? Unlikely, since the Russians themselves are yet to fully develop their own stealth fighter and naturally would not appreciate the Chinese to come up ahead of them. But a secret information pass-over may not be ruled out altogether.

Keeping aside the Chinese elation, there are possible weaknesses of the J-20. After the first flight, some aviation experts suggested that J-20 was just a Technology Demonstrator aircraft as it did not contain any internal weapons bay. They feel that the Chinese are still at least five years away from fielding a true fifth generation fighter aircraft.

And to quote Erickson: “China’s J-20 fighter has the potential to be a formidable air combat system in the Asia-Pacific region, but a number of technical hurdles will need to be overcome before mass production can commence.” However, PLAAF Deputy Commander General He Weirong says that J-20 may become militarily operational between 2017 and 2019.

The Indian Response?

The Indian Air Force (IAF) already has a Multi-role aircraft project which can switch between role of fighter aircraft and a ground attack aircraft.
Some defence experts hold the view that IAF has taken the right decision to stick with fully Stealthy Multi-role aircraft rather than a Semi-stealthy Strike aircraft.

India’s Ministry of Defence is also supposed to carry out a study on the
J-20 and IAF will be accordingly briefed on it. If IAF feels that Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft-Multi-role Combat Aircraft (AMCA) requires any changes in the wake of J-20, then Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will be notified.

On the other hand, the Indo-Russian T-50 is designed to have a top speed of approximately Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound. Moreover, the aircraft will be equipped with radar whose beams are electronically steered to detect targets with maximum accuracy. India is a key partner in this project and is expected to pay a sizeable chunk of the $3 billion to fund the development of the stealth fighter.

Interestingly, the Indian Strategic Community has apparently remained unfazed about the J-20 flight. Their view is that the Russians are adept at Aircraft technology. Thus, India does not really need to worry since we are in the ongoing collaboration. However, a mere perusal into the Asian Military Balance (2010) released by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, points to the bare fact that India is a laggard in terms of military competence vis-à-vis China.

Gurmeet Kanwal echoes such a sentiment when he writes in Tribune: “the military gap between India and China is growing steadily due to the double-digit annual growth in the Chinese defence budget while India's military modernisation continues to remain mired in red tape.”

Furthermore, India is too much dependent on foreign help in making that giant leap into the ‘higher’ technology regime. Examples abound: viz. Cryogenics, Stealth technology, Cruise Missiles, Anti-Satellite Weapons, battle tanks, Civilian Nuclear Energy and the like.

With procrastination, inefficiency and graft being major impediments to defence autarky; New Delhi becomes a less likely candidate for a potent player in the effulgent Asia-Pacific dynamics.


The Enigma of Space

Geopolitics, pp 52-54, February 2011, http://www.geopolitics.in/feb2011.aspx

A perusal of the institutional website of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shows the basic template of the Indian Space agenda. The words of the father of Indian space programme, Dr Vikram Sarabhai are embedded in it.

It reads: “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society………”

In fact, such a vision is also seconded by Rodham Narasimhan, the present director of India's Space Commission. He asserts that India’s forays into space are basically along the development paradigm, which concerns among others, “communications, remote sensing, and agricultural crop production.”

One thing is difficult to go unnoticed however. ISRO proclaims of a Human Space Flight and overtly ambitious planetary explorations as couple of its envisaged missions by 2025. Furthermore, ISRO also adds a comparatively novel agenda that it aims to use satellite based communication and navigation systems for security needs.

Such declarations though, appearing as deviations from the charted territory, probably have a sound logic since on the other hand; New Delhi’s ever-growing belligerent neighbour China has a slightly different outlook towards the agenda of utilising ‘space’.

In November 2000, Beijing published a ‘White Paper’ outlining the goals and guiding principles for its space programme. The core aspects can be enunciated in a nutshell:

“…….making the development of space activities cater to and serve the state’s comprehensive development strategy. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the significant role of space activities in implementing the strategy of revitalising the country with science and education and that of sustainable development, as well as in economic construction, national security, science and technology development and social progress.”

A simple comparison will easily elucidate the different regimes in which the two governments tread in terms of space activities. While Beijing also attaches importance to development pertaining to communications and socio-economic growth of a nation-state, it is not at all averse to ‘national security’ which arises as a spin-off from such activities.

However, India appears to be reluctant to ascribe any military significance to its space programme, more so in an explicit form. The phrase ‘security needs’ have necessarily been kept vague and basically pertains to internal security threats. Possibly such a reluctance forces Johnson-Freese, a China space specialist to assert that both India and Japan have space capabilities matching China's but, not the “political will” to use them the way China has.

Based on official statistics placed by ISRO, India has about 21 satellites. Out of them, ten are communication satellites, revolving in Geo-stationary Earth Orbits. Moreover, there are four surveillance satellites with imaging capabilities. They have resolutions of less than 2.5 metre. Furthermore, there are seven earth observation satellites.

Interestingly, these satellites are of dual use; that is, can be used for defence purposes too. But, till date, a military satellite per se, is absent.

However, the Indian Defence Ministry in May 2010, unveiled plans for dedicated military satellites for the Navy, Air Force and the Army. The purpose seems to address the specific space based communication requirements of the defence forces.

Apart from this, there are some further developments which indicate that New Delhi is considering to widen its options regarding space activities. Incidentally, ISRO has already achieved considerable expertise with regard to Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) and has gone for successive commercial launches in a successful manner.

Nevertheless, there are still ‘more than miles to march’ for ISRO as it is yet to acquire efficiency in the Geo-stationary Launch Vehicles (GSLVs). The GSLV Mark-III is an ongoing project in that direction. It has been the fallout of the American muscle-flexing in a post-1991 world which coerced Russia not to part with the Cryogenic technology to India, citing obligations to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

In fact, the lack of cryogenic technology has hindered India’s growth trajectory in terms of Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), which are perceived as effective deterrents in an envisaged war-clime with Beijing.

In that regard, the ‘Christmas failure’ (on December 25, 2010) of ISRO to successfully launch the GSLV-F06 puts the Indian Space programme in a spot of bother. ISRO now has only one Russian cryogenic engine at its disposal. Hence if future ventures of Chandrayan-II, heavy payload-based communications satellites and other ambitious programmes are to see the light of the day, ISRO needs to bring the extraordinary out of its bag. Moreover, a failure in the ‘first stage’ of the rocket (as happened in the ‘Christmas failure’) does not augur well for the Indian Space programme.

Actually, any space maneuvering by India, though concealed within the yoke of the socio-economic model, has a security aspect naturally tied to it. And the rationale is provided by the rapid strides made by its northern neighbour, with which India has a persistent border problem. Hence, any move made by the Chinese in space, necessarily has an Indian countermove coming up.

For instance, the Chinese have sent humans to space three times. They have developed their land-based ICBMs. Moreover, they are in an apparently enviable position in terms of Anti-Satellite (ASAT) and Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) programmes, as far as India is concerned.

Thus, keeping in mind not only the aspect of prestige of matching China inch by inch, India is forced, all the more by strategic demands, to catapult its space programme to tally with that of Beijing.

ISRO’s former Chairman Dr Kasturirangan says that India has entered the “expansion phase” of its space programme since it has achieved the initial goals of economic growth with the help of space technology. Now, according to him, India can afford the luxuries of space science and possibly even human spaceflight. And with the overwhelming success of the nation-state’s first lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-I, probably he is quite right.

India’s future ambitions are the development of GSLVs, further lunar exploratory missions (Chandrayan-II), a two-stage-to-orbit reusable launch vehicle, human spaceflight, and further international cooperation to expand its horizons. The commercialisation in this venture has already received a strong fillip with the creation of Antrix Corporation, which markets Indian space capabilities around the world.

However, in a direct comparison with China, the Indian space programme appears to be lackadaisical and lacklustre. While both the countries started off more or less at the same time in the 1970s, China surely has outpaced India.

Continuing the comparisons between the two countries, it goes to show that where China has already exhibited its prowess in ASAT capabilities by successfully destroying an old satellite of itself in 2007, India is in a rudimentary stage in that regard. In fact, China also scores over India in terms of the number of satellites in orbit, with its 57 well over India’s 21.

Very recently, China’s space programme was in the news as on October 01 2010, it launched an unmanned lunar probe, Chang'e-II. This was part of the project to send a human being to the moon around 2020. China has also announced that it plans a manned space station by 2020.

Now, the moot question is whether both India and China are embarking on a ‘headless’ competition to have an edge against each other as the next leader in Asia? Or is venturing into space a natural consequence of high growth in technology? Moreover, is China over-stretching its resources like the erstwhile Soviet Russia in showcasing its space prowess? And if India follows China in that path, will it not dig its own grave in terms of the rationale of economics?

Furthermore, such developments portend a vigorous militarisation of space which is not desirable. In fact, Colonel Deepak Sharma of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi warns of such a possibility. He opines that “the vulnerability of space assets is a function of dependence on those assets”. Thus higher the dependence on space system, the higher will be the vulnerability. Hence, he advocates that the dependence on space assets needs to be reduced and in future, such a scenario is likely because of induction of the latest state-of-the art ‘other’ systems.

The negative aspects of weaponisation of space and the empty notion of self-aggrandisation notwithstanding, India certainly cannot negate its prospects of bolstering the space programme. With China’s ambitious rise in the backdrop, it is not only necessary, rather imperative for India to build upon the space activities and that too with alacrity and without compromising quality. Nonetheless, a couple of things are noteworthy in this regard.

One, India should not overstretch its financial resources so as to ‘just compete’ with China. Beijing may follow that particular path vis-à-vis America and might foment ambience of a new Cold War in Asia. But India needs to be prudent in that venture. Presently, the Chinese space budget is around US $2.2 billion per annum whereas India is way behind at almost one-third the amount. Hence, India needs to activate its budgetary allowances and aim for targets within prescribed durations. At the same time, financial destabilization needs to be thwarted by avoiding a blind adherence to the China Model.

Second, the Indian policy-makers need to appreciate that space is slowly emerging as the fourth frontier of warfare as it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore space-based technology in our daily lives. And hence in the eventuality of a conventional war, India faces the risk of being rendered handicapped in terms of communications if it does not develop an effective deterrent in that direction.

To be dependent on the satellites of other countries in order to decrease the risk factor is a negative way of solving issues. More so, when ISRO has already developed a commercially viable space programme, a natural shielding becomes a necessity.

Donald Rumsfeld’s vision of a ‘Space Pearl Harbour’ and Ronald Reagan’s views on Space Wars might be too extravagant at present for the Indian scenario; however, that must not deter India to actively pursue an ambitious space programme with a vision of sending a human being to space and or with an over-ambitious plan of reaching Mars.

However, for such grand plans to fructify; international collaboration must be in the offing and in which both China and India can play significant role. Since both are yet to be parties to the International Space Station, both of them shall keep on contesting, with each other and with the rest of the world as well.