The Challenge of Foreign Policy in our Neighbourhood

Immediate neighbours are most critical for any country’s defence. India’s case is no different. Every new government, when it assumes power, there is an opportunity for a course correction. Much is evolving all the time, a constant review of our options becomes necessary even as we keep consistency of objectives in perspective. DiConversations initiated a panel discussion, bringing together a rich diversity of opinion together. Participants included Ambassador Gautam Mukhopadhaya, IFS (retd), Ambassador TCA Raghavan, IFS (retd), Major General Jagatbir Singh (retd), Major General V K Singh (retd), former Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar, and journalist Iqbal Chand Malhotra, author and film maker. The discussion was anchored by Navin Berry, editor.

Navin: So, what is the big picture emerging today? With a new government taking charge in the coming weeks, new challenges keep appearing in our backyard, what kind of course correction is required?

Gautam: Let me just start from a slightly panoramic picture. When Prime Minister Modi began his first term with the neighbourhood first policy, with a very strategically calculated visit to Bhutan, followed by a very successful visit to Nepal, it seemed as though, the swearing in ceremony, where he invited a lot of the neighbours, it seemed as though there was going to be something fresh about the neighbourhood first policy. But what we have seen over the next, more or less 10 years now, is that ‘neighbourhood first’ policy has more or less been flat. We are not to blame for much of this, as others seem to shift their goalposts too often. There are countries with whom our relations also remain good. For example, Sri Lanka has seen a rocky relationship, but over the Sri Lanka debt crisis, we have come out perhaps better than, let’s say, our immediate competitor, China.

In Maldives, it has been a rocky relationship for some close to 10 years, and at this point, it’s probably at the lowest ebb. In Nepal, it has been a steady but also rocky relationship. But the common point is this, that I think broadly, which ever government it has been, whether it has been a Gujral government or a Modi government or an Indira Gandhi government, we’ve had two templates at looking at our neighbours. One is to act as the good big brother, and one is to act as the tough big brother. And the problem is that neither have worked. As a course correction, we need to evolve a new relationship which must appear to them as treating them as adults, so to say, and a respectful relationship.

And this is equally true at the public level in Bangladesh, or in Sri Lanka, or in Nepal, may not be there in Bhutan, but in Bhutan, we are already seeing that we have to make extra exertions to keep them on our side. So, I think that’s the big question that we have to ask. And can we have an adult relationship that is at the same time magnanimous, or at the same time somewhat asymmetrical, but it’s because it’s understood as the only country that actually has borders with all the others except Afghanistan. So, I think the framework in which we have cast our neighbourhood policy, I think we need to break out of that framework and come to a new kind of template. And that template, I should call it, more adult, for lack of any other description that I can provide.

Navin: Raghavan Saab, would you like to give your perspective on what Gautam is saying?

Raghavan: I agree with Gautam, but I would like to add that all neighbourhood relationships, this is not just India and its neighbours, but all over the world. They’re always rocky relationships because at the heart of a country’s foreign policies, is its neighbourhood policy. For the past quarter century till relatively recently, our general approach to neighbourhood relations had two components. By far, the more important component was the bilateral one. But there was always a narrative within which that bilateral relationship was embedded, which was of regional cooperation. I think in the last 10 years, the regional cooperation aspect has suffered very greatly. So, you are left without a narrative.

Navin: Are the ground rules changing? They are trying to find out solutions where they are not so dependent on us.

Raghavan: Yes.

Navin: Sri Lanka is finding majorly more economic assistance from China. China is all around. China has deeper pockets than us, but China is also able to be more aggressive. I think they’re also less accountable (as government, in their own country), for how they are holding their dialogue with other governments in power. We relatively, are more vulnerable, into introspection, what we are doing, as a democracy. I find that every few weeks, not months, something new is emerging out of Nepal, something out of Sri Lanka. They’re egging you, needling you all the time. In Pokhara they have asked the Chinese to bring tourists, they want to hand over Pokhara airport to the Chinese; Pokhara is a short flight from Gorakhpur. Can you imagine a Chinese airport, Chinese tourists (without any checks from our side) within an half-hour flight from Gorakhpur.

Raghavan: You see, the China factor provides opportunity and option to your neighbours, which didn’t exist earlier. You can’t say that you are taking advantage of your relations with me by opening up to someone else. No, the real world doesn’t work like that. Not any more, at least.

Navin: Iqbal, from a journalistic point of view, just confining yourself to these three countries. What is your opinion?

Iqbal: Would like to go back into what Ambassador Raghavan talked about China, because I think that is the biggest foreign policy challenge and even economic policy challenge that is going to face the new government, that’s going to be sworn in early June. And the reason behind that is that the Chinese have today got a very big stake in what we call POK, because they have invested around $28 billion in building the Gunji Dam and the Diamer Bhasha Dam, which is going to generate 40 gigawatt hours of electricity, which is all being routed to Northern China, where 85% of the population live, and which has got an electricity shortage. And the waters of the glaciers in the Himalayas. There are 262 glaciers which are now in the process of melting because of global warming. And the Chinese have anticipated that. And alongside these dams, they’re building vast reservoirs, almost 75-80 km long, 15 km wide to store the water. And the passage of the water is through Ladakh.

Navin: Let’s come back to the three countries, we are talking. We’ll come to China, we’ll come to POK; POK is a very important issue.

V K Singh: I feel one thing is going to do with consistency. Our foreign policy has also changed with the governments, especially in the past, let’s say few decades. If you just compare it to a foreign policy of, let’s say of our neighbouring countries, there has been much more consistency. I also think that there should be a kind of faith in a country like us as an elder brother, that others should have that whatever they’re asking, and that we will and do deliver. So, there should never be any mismatch. We must ensure we come out as dependable and reliable brother.

And last point is regarding China and Pakistan. We wooed China for a long time, but militarily, they were always our enemy. If we have done our entire tactical military training, as well as strategic thinking at higher levels, it has always been that these two are our confirmed enemies. So, we’ve never taken them as friends as far as the military thinking is concerned.

Navin: Gautam, China has deep pockets. We are unlikely to match out their doles. Also, when we do something for them, we should let them talk about it. Do we speak too loudly about what we have helped with, leading to embarrassing them? The Chinese probably say it is a commercial arrangement. We mean well, don’t land up being seen so. China comes to help with strings and these get accepted.

Gautam: There have been areas where we have performed also, for example, in Afghanistan, we have performed under very adverse circumstances and also got the rewards. And you know, there are many other kinds of ironies. South Asia was once considered India’s backyard, even China treated South Asia as your (India’s) backyard. And they didn’t necessarily matter in this area. Now China is all over South Asia, and our neighbours realize that they can, they’re not in the monopoly of India anymore, that they can play the China card vis-a-vis India. And ironically, and this comes back to another issue, ironically, they don’t mind falling into the clutches of China, but they mind very much falling into our clutches.

Navin: What would be the possible reason for this kind of psychology?

Gautam: What you pointed out just now, and then one of the examples of that was in the Nepal earthquake. We went to town with that. So, you know, this is the sort of thing when I say that we act, you know, like we act like the big brother and almost you know, rub it in. And psychologically it affects our smaller neighbours that they feel that their noses have been rubbed in the dirt.

Navin: I feel upset with these situations as with my tourism connect with these countries, they are more socially, culturally with us as a community. We have so much in common with them, a shared past, and I don’t think this applies to the Chinese?

Gautam: Nothing.

Jagatbir: But the thing is, you know, it’s very different when you meet them socially and very different when you deal with them on a professional basis. So, socially we’ve interacted and served with Pakistani officers abroad and it’s like you are together all the time.

Navin: You are saying that at a personal level, they’re all with us?

Jagatbir: They are friendly with us. But they also often have a hidden agenda. So, you have to be very careful and clear about that.

Navin: So, would you say there is a need for a course correction somewhere at least with these three countries?

Gautam: I don’t think we should necessarily demonize them as if somehow their attitudes are bad, they are different. They also have their concepts.

Jagatbir: Yes. And like you said, China has not been interested in South Asia. That was the case. They’ve been friendly with Pakistan right from the beginning and very close friends.

Navin: I had a question, which I kept for later for discussion, but somewhere I get prompted to ask this, that we are trying to also keep our various doors open with regard to big powers, with regard to whom we support, whom we don’t support. Why do we expect Nepal or Sri Lanka to say, we only support you? They’ll also want to keep their back covered to say, that they are also friends with China. So, how do we learn to respect, as you said, that they will have also relationships with other countries.

Raghavan: I think in the last few years, this aspect about highlighting what you’re doing, especially with Maldives and Sri Lanka and Nepal, has turned out to be totally counterproductive. So, there should be a course correction with Maldives, the way we, mention locating an aircraft or two and one helicopter over there. It was bound to happen. The kind of reaction, which there was, they get the feeling that we try to bully our neighbours, so evidently in public.

Navin: But are we doing that continuously even now?

Raghavan: But I think the China factor has made us lose our balance. And we have excessively securitized all these relationships. We don’t talk about cooperative frameworks. We emphasize the security aspect. We emphasize their dependence on us excessively. And I think that really calls for the course correction.

Rakesh: Ambassador, if I may comment on the Nepalese claim on Indian directory with Dharchula, I think that’s a new and a very big irritant.

Raghavan: This issue has been around for such a long time – but we should ask why has it become an issue today? You have to see how you approach the issue.

Navin: As Ambassador Gautam mentioned, they’re finding ways and means to drum up issues, to put you down and use that opportunity to say China is also a friend.

Raghavan: I think the Nepal issue, if one is clear, the issue actually acquired its present cutting edge after the 2019 legislative changes when you came out with a new map of J&K. Otherwise it’s been, it was on the back burner for years together that nobody even heard about.

Navin: But also, the fact that each of these countries have their own political compulsions internally. Nepal is doing something or the other, Sri Lanka has got some other angles happening. In Maldives, the ‘Quit India’ lobby won the elections. Is it possible that we are actually getting less and less relevance within our own backyard, which is very detrimental for our security in the future?

Gautam: Dharchula issue has been there for a long time. All this time it has been dealt with quietly, discreetly. So, the question is, why have they suddenly felt the need to make such a hype over it, to go public with it, to issue currency notes, which show the boundary marked in that area. There is a grievance. They also know that to some extent, they have the cover of China behind them. The fundamental question is, why can’t these be dealt with? Differences will always be there. They will also be boundary issues. Why can’t these be dealt quietly? Why are they becoming politicized? You know, because obviously this is playing to some gallery. Why is there that gallery in the first place?

Navin: Moving ahead, China. My single summing initial spark is to say that in March our imports from China have gone high enough to make China the biggest trading partner for India. They’ve put U.S.A behind. And at a time when we are saying that we have problems with China, the stalemate continues, our official stance is that they have not occupied any territory. We are in the midst of ongoing discussions, there are perceptions, differences in perceptions of what is your land, what is my land. But question here is, what next for the new government in this sector?

Jagatbir: Our basic problem with all our neighbours, with our two immediate neighbours, that is Pakistan and China is the security thing, the first major problem, if you resolve that, everything else is secondary. And that is the borders. You are not clear on any borders. A Lieutenant Governor of a state has said the other day that our borders with China are invisible.

The resolution has to be done. For resolution to take place, there has to be give and take. Some of our senior ministers have gone ahead to put a stake on POK.

Iqbal: How is he going to wish away Diamer Bhasha Dam issue. How is he going to wish away the Chinese army? So how is he going to wish away the 60,000 Chinese troops?

Navin: So, this one question, how serious are we about this POK issue?

Iqbal: Even more important than this issue is the impact of this China trade, which has led to a de-industrialization of the Indian economy over the last 15 years. The trade deficit has gone from about $25 billion in the last 10 years to over a hundred billion dollars. And our biggest problem today is of generating employment. And those industries, metal manufacturers, chemical engineering that could generate employment, have been wiped out by this liberal policy allowing Chinese imports. They have destroyed our industry. And how is that industry going to come back and how are the jobs going to be created? And who is going to finance this trade deficit? Because at this rate, the rate at which it is going, it’ll probably reach in the next five years, it’ll reach 150 billion dollars. Who is going to pay for this?

Navin: My question to you is that we said four months ago, six months ago, that we are going to put curbs on the import of laptops and things like that. 47% surge in March in import of laptops.

Iqbal: You have no value edition of any consequence here. Even these Apple phones that we are exporting $14 billion. The import of the sub-assemblies is $12 billion. You’re hardly doing any value addition of any consequence. We are only helping traders who are actually bringing the Chinese goods and they’re turning them around and selling them here, or they’re re-exporting them. Nobody’s looking at this. The industrial base of this country that was so insidiously erected over the last many years has been wiped out. And is going to continue to be wiped out because there’s too much competition from the Chinese. This is apart from the border issue. This is a much more vital issue because it affects our stomachs, it affects our ability to feed our people.

V K Singh: But let me just add one small point to what he said. Aatma Nirbharta is supposed to be self-sufficiency or self-reliance defense products or defense related. It should also be in all others.

Coming to discuss strategic defense issues, I do not think that we should talk about China and Pakistan as two different countries. I think very strongly these two have combined as one enemy, and we should treat them equally. Earlier in India, we used to have a primary front and a secondary front. Today, we can’t define a primary front and a secondary front. Secondly, the amount of infrastructure that the Chinese have built within Pakistan. Nothing stops the Chinese to come around, even from that side. Look, these are all possibilities. And I feel where we are lacking on the strategic part is our anticipation.

Iqbal: You look at one thing that from the Defence Minister Anthony, to Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, to Defence Minister Sitharaman, and the current Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, everybody has been timid in their approach towards the Chinese. For what reason do we have to be timid? We are a nuclear power. We have got friends like the Americans and the Israelis. We have the QUAD. Why do we need to be timid? It’s appeasement from the last 15 years of the Chinese. Every time they say something, we all get into a huddle.

Navin: Ambassador Garcetti is on record when he was asked about QUAD and he said, India is in the driver seat. What I read out of it is that in QUAD, it is India who was sitting in the driver’s seat. It is India who is going to drive where do we take QUAD next? At the moment, it’s an economic cooperation between these four. It’s a stationary vehicle. It hasn’t got a movement yet. So, we are saying there is a QUAD, but we don’t want to commit more to it because we, we are waiting for China to say they are willing to see our perspectives and understand we can be better friends, too. At another level, we could also be trying not to become an area of conflict in global terms, which we certainly don’t wish to become.

Jagatbir: Even the QUAD, everybody talks about it. But even a simple thing like the Indian Ocean, there’s a difference in definition of the Indian ocean. Which is the area you view as the Indian ocean, which is the area America views as the Indian ocean. There’s a vast difference. America says it is till the east coast of India. We say it is till the east coast of Africa.

Navin: What about the new Pakistan-China axis? What about the new Russia-China axis?

Jagatbir: So, if you see QUAD, you look at India, what’s actually the reality is that all your land borders are sealed. You go out only from the sea. You have no trade going through Pakistan. You have no trade going through China. Then you had a border in Afghanistan, which is a POK. You have no trade going there.

Navin: So, Jagat, if you went ahead with QUAD and made a military alliance, none of the countries have a border with China.

Jagatbir: Officially we’ve never gone on for any alliance. That word is taboo. So today you talk of strategic autonomy and earlier you talk about non-alignment. Both these, they mean the same thing. Actually, are you equidistant from the major powers? The answer is no. You always tilted towards somebody or you lean towards or be aligned more towards somebody, or you are aligned to your interest. So, we were aligned against China at some time, and the only country that came to your aid in 1962 to a large degree was America. At that time, Russia never came to your aid because they were too preoccupied with what was happening in Cuba.

Then, there was an air defence exercise held in India for the responsibility and security of India operation. And to widen it, so that is not under one, Australia and UK were also part of it. And after that, there was what they call the ADA air defence agreement between India and US. And that then died its natural death after ‘65. In 1965, China was the one who planned the operations for Pakistan. In 1971, China was neutral.

Navin: You see India moving forward on QUAD?

Gautam: I think we are very sensitive to China for the reasons that you mentioned. If you remember, QUAD actually began with the 2004 tsunami crisis. And it wasn’t the humanitarian response to the tsunami crisis that the Americans got the idea that perhaps, you know, starting with humanitarian response, disaster response, we can start building a kind of coalition. People already started talking about an Asian NATO, if you remember right. And in fact, the subsequent term, I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing, the subsequent term towards a more of economic strategic grouping, you know supply chain resilience and stuff like that was because basically we were perceived as the ones who were not willing to take this in a more military direction because it could be provocative to China, right?

And it would be your point that we are the only country that actually has a border and has a boundary problem and has a larger kind of geopolitical contestation with China. These are good enough reasons for us to do that. But essentially, we are ambivalent about that. And I would go so far as to say that in many ways we have become weaker and weaker vis-a-vis China until about 2004 after the Y2K phenomenon. And India was seen as a big emerging economy. The Chinese were willing to consider us as almost equals. And they were beginning to have a kind of new respect for us, and they were willing to look for a kind of modus operandi. And that’s the time that they started talking Asia is big enough for two rising powers.

Iqbal: Two quick interjections. The first is that our military exercises, Malabar with the US Navy started in 1992 or 93. So by the time the tsunami happened, we’d already been exercising with them for 12 years. So, there was a lot of interoperability that was already happening. And they went, you have to go slow on these things because they had to wean us away from the Soviet orbit, the former Soviet Union.

Jagatbir: The interoperability is a later term. First you have cooperation, interoperability, you have same based sending matching frequencies, matching weapon platforms in a seamless manner.

Iqbal: The second thing that it was important was that in 2003 when Prime Minister Vajpayee went to China, he again signed a comprehensive deal recognizing Tibet without getting anything in return for us.

Gautam: So that has always been a problem. One of my very close friends says this about the Chinese. That the Chinese are masters in cultivating an inbuilt retention in even their closest relations, which they can twist and turn as and when they feel like. We have a tendency of actually surrendering our parts in order to show our good faith and good intention.

Until about 2004-2005, they were willing to sort of walk with us towards a kind of, Asia is big enough for both of us. Then I think two, three things happened. One is they saw that we were beginning to tilt more and more towards the US.

And secondly, China itself, the gap between India and China started sort of expanding hugely. Plus, you had the emergence of Xi Jinping and these factors then combined into, then China’s aspirations became first condominium, if you remember Clinton’s visit where they were trying to do a US China condominium. Then from there it started becoming actually contesting US’s pre-eminence in the world. So today a lot of people would argue that China is no longer negotiating for or working towards a kind of global condominium, but it’s working towards global pre-eminence. And arguably the US has retrenched and to a considerable extent, if you see that they’re not playing the game with China in Afghanistan or they’re not playing the game with China in Burma for example, they’ve lost their interest in democracy. So, these two, three things happened as a result of which today, China does not consider us an equal, and it’s considering us as somehow veering towards the United States. And all this has contributed to a kind of, I would say unsavoury treatment.

Navin: So, when the new government takes charge, two questions, assuming, and which obviously the bigger signal coming, the BJP and Mr. Modi is back. Do you see some kind of correction happening? Because a lot of it has not worked.

V K Singh: But before that we must look at that correction and we must suggest something. Is that this is the right time to have a military understanding? We had one in ‘71, which worked. It was the turning point of that war. And today there is unequal comparison between the military might of China and India. If it was this much earlier, it is that much now more, you can’t catch up. And the way we are going with it, it is only increasing. And I also say, like I said earlier, that don’t look at these two as separate enemies. Look at them as one. If China is so strong and so is Pakistan. Pakistan may be going down economically, politically everywhere, but not militarily; militarily, they have recently got as many as 320 tanks. So militarily, they’re going strong. What I’m trying to say is this is the time where India does need to look at a proper security alliance. But there are so many other similar issues where the gap is becoming wider.

Jagatbir: I don’t agree about a formal security alliance, but I mean definitely we need certain closer linkages with, and we have to maintain linkages with both Russia, China, and today we have four countries whom we depend upon heavily for military things – Russia, US, France, and Israel.

Raghavan: You know, my view is slightly different. First of all, we don’t have border disputes with Pakistan and China. We have major territorial disputes. You have, you know, you’re talking about Pakistan claiming the whole of Jammu & Kashmir. China claiming Arunachal Pradesh. These are major territorial disputes, which are not going to be resolved quickly. Secondly, I think for military planning purposes it’s good to plan for Pakistan and China acting in alliance.

But, and this is a very big but, we should always guard against self-fulfilling prophecy. I think there is a tendency in India to think that something which is theoretically possible is happening right now. It’s not. China and Pakistan have different military perspectives on India. Nobody can explain why, why post Galwan when you are really stretched in Ladakh, why did the Pakistanis agree to a ceasefire on the LOC at that time? There’s no reasonable explanation if the two were acting in tactical coordination.

Thirdly, and this, I will put somewhat crudely because there’s not enough time. I think we have an excessively idealistic view of the United States when we talk about military alliances with western partners or with the US; you know, because our sons and daughters live in the US we see it as a benign force. Actually, it’s not, they act in their own interests. You have to coordinate with them to some extent, yes, for intelligence purposes, QUAD can be useful, but let’s not forget that none of them, as you said deal with China as an immediate neighbour. And those are countries which are in a totally different orbit. You cannot compare yourself with the UK or Australia or US because those countries are at a different existential level than you are. So, I don’t think we should get carried away. I agree. I think the diasporic influence on our current policy is extreme and it has to be corrected. Certainly, a post correction is required.

Iqbal: One point I want to make is that the Chinese stake in Pakistan is very, very strong. It’s always an existential issue for them, the survival of Pakistan, because their Belt and Road Initiative provides the oil and the gas option, because they have an issue with Malacca Straits that bring them 90% of their oil at present. And that could be blocked by the US and say the Indians or the Japanese. Therefore, they want an option that comes through Pakistan, it goes by land all the way up to Northern China. It is also much cheaper. So as regards the flow of oil and gas to the Chinese economy and as regards the generation of electricity, which is very important for the semiconductor industry, which has got relocated in Xinjiang, electricity and water are the two major raw materials apart from sand for building semiconductors. Pakistan is very vital. They’re integrated. The Pakistan army is integrated with the PLA and the PLA is based in POK.

V K Singh: You’re right. And, so just this point there, is too much of cooperation. There are two different entities. I agree, but we cannot rule this out.

Raghavan: As I said, for military planning purposes. It’s good to plan, yes, but, when you bring military planning into popular narratives or into foreign policy strategic planning, it’s a different issue.

V K Singh: But all said and done, the point is the involvement of these two militaries, we cannot rule out and we should always plan. Like you said, I think for a worst-case scenario.

Raghavan: For military planning, you always plan on the basis of capacity. You know, because if the potential exists, then a threat exists. So, you have to plan accordingly, but you cannot make foreign policy and strategic planning on the base of capacity alone. It also has to be based on number of other factors. Otherwise, we’ll be in the trenches all the time. If you just start reacting to potential threats and capacities.

V K Singh: Don’t need to react. We need to anticipate. That was my point.

Gautam: To your question about course correction on China, see course correction on China, gap has gone so far, but it will take a long-term strategy to do that course correction, whether with a new government, if the government is the same, whether that kind of course correction will even begin. I doubt. Because what we are going to see is that this relationship that has been developed over 10 years will continue into the next five years. And if an alternative government comes into power, it is possible that there is a course correction. But the actual, you know, evolution of that new means, an alternate if an alternate government, then maybe there is a chance for a cost correction. But it’ll be a difficult one and it’ll be a long one. And we will go through some very, tough times on that.

Navin: One very critical issue, and I’m really grateful to have amidst us a senior police officer Neeraj Kumar, 20 years ago, we as a poor, relatively poor, relatively undeveloped country, but the first, I think, major country in the world was facing the threat of terror. And we were emerging and being seen worldwide as incapable of handling terror. Then suddenly this terror became an international phenomenon. It’s there as a threat all over Europe. It’s a threat all over the US. It’s a threat even in China. It’s a threat all over. So, I’m asking the question that in this global play, India’s role, how much terror is playing a part in terms of cooperation, in terms of alignments? Is that going the right way? Because terror is in everybody’s backyard?

Neeraj: I think the international cooperation on the front of terror has been extremely satisfactory, especially our various treaties. So, US and other countries who have helped us a lot in building our capacities. At one time we were seen as always at the receiving end. But you may have seen how the incidents of terror have come down in recent years. And here I like to point out that unlike earlier times when the threat was emanating mostly from Pakistan, my sense is that we have to be very careful with Bangladesh as well, because a lot of terrorist activities are now shifting to Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a launching pad for various terror groups. And God forbid if there is any instability in Bangladesh, or if the present regime fails, and the army and others come to power, then there’s going to be a major threat from Bangladesh.

I don’t know how far our diplomat friends would agree with this view. More or less, we have managed to deal with terror successfully, and we have very good partnerships with other countries who are affected by terror. Our intel co-ordinations have also improved tremendously. So, we have to build up on all that. But going into the future, we have to be very careful with Bangladesh.

Navin: Am I right in saying that terror is probably more devastating in potential than an army standing on borders? Because terror can strike you sitting at home.

Neeraj: That’s why it is called proxy war.

Navin: And now the new phase of terror also is the cyber wars, and the chip thing. There was an item today that some 8,000 vehicles of BMW and all the rest, they have a chip, which can be used and blocked.

Iqbal: No, they have a back door, where they can take charge of the vehicle, which is all because of the Chinese chips. And the Chinese chips are the most potent weapon that they have. And they did this with this American destroyer, which in 2015, the propulsion system collapsed in its trial. So, they had to then remove all the Chinese stuff. So that’s a big thing. And all the Russian equipment that comes out of Russia has Chinese electronics. So, all of them have got back doors built into it. So, they’re very vulnerable because of that.

Navin: So last five minutes, individual takes from the evening from all my panelists?

Raghavan: Well, I just will make two brief points. Firstly, I think on terrorism the point made, it’s quite right that our technological capacities have improved tremendously because our external interfaces have strengthened. The second point is that I think for the new government, the challenges are the same, but the two central issues which are the Russia-Ukraine War and the Israel situation with Gaza, they have a solitary lesson for us that don’t take your neighbourhood for granted and try to invest in a diplomatic and political dialogue no matter how serious the problems. Because the last place you want to be is like between Russia and Ukraine, where neither side is going to be win.

Jagatbir: You know, these two ongoing conflicts have major lessons for us, which are seriously affecting the way we thought. The first lesson is we thought, we always started all our discussions with short and swift war based on our experience in 1971. That is over. Long attritional wars back again. And to fight a long attritional war, you have to have sustenance and sustenance across equipment, across supplies, across trained manpower. So, it’s also a huge technology war. Next is every country has to develop hard power. There’s no shortcut. The deterrence will only lie at hard power. The third thing is that Putin has turned nuclear on its head. When nuclear weapons first came out, nuclear weapons came out to end the war after that. That was US in World War II. After that, nuclear war was a deterrent, five countries that have it, they deterred fighting each other during Cold War. Putin has turned that all on its head.

He says, nuclear weapons, I’ve got a nuclear weapon because I’ve got a nuclear weapon that gives me the power to carry out a war, to use it, to threaten use of it. Now, whether he uses it or not is different.

Next thing the war has taught us, it is precision weapons. We need technology? Then is the cost. What is the cost of defending a lightweight thing like a drone? You spend more money in knocking the drone down than the cost of the drone. Is it worth it? What is the damage and what is the cost?

V K Singh: Where to get that drone, get him in the air or get him on the ground. It is more cost effective to get him on the ground before he takes off. You need more than building military equipment. You need a strong industrial base that can sustain a battle. That is the most important. And, you should not look for the first round fired and you’re looking for ammunition.

Jagatbir: You cannot manage just with the public sector. It has to be a mix of public and private sector because the private sector can get in certain technologies which are denied to a public sector. So, you have to mix and you have to have an interface between this.

So, and the last thing which arises during these conflicts, you have to have a backing of a UN permanent member of the Security Council. Look at the two conflicts that are taking place. Russia is doing what it can in spite of anybody saying whatever they want because they are member of the Security Council with the veto vote and Israel, everybody’s saying genocide, genocide, genocide. You’re crying off, but they’re backed by US. So, you have to have a backing of somebody. So, when you talk of alliance, and don’t say security alliance, but you have to be close to some country who will give you that backing all the time.

Gautam: I think building on what Neeraj said I agree that we have made a big success of, you know, preventing terrorism. Terrorism itself is actually a failure of politics. There is also this other thing that somehow, we have emerged, we are now a world power. We have all the attributes of being a world power, but we are not yet there!  You call the world multipolar or unipolar. The reality is that what Russia has shown in the Russia-Ukraine war is that there are three poles. The three poles are the US, China, and Russia. Everybody else needs one of these three to do whatever they do.

Navin: In today’s day and age where we are globally confronted with the big power equations in our own neighbourhood, we need to hold our own people together. And, I think somewhere, my hope is that when a new government comes to power, we need to make this big bold statement to say that we will not pursue anything which divides society. A strong and unified India is the most critical ingredient to defending ourselves. We need to keep our country together. My people need to be kept together as one nation.

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