'After Rafale, Pak Won't Come Near LoC'

Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief B S Dhanoa on Monday said that Rafale jets will the best combat aircraft in the Indian sub-continent and once these are inducted, Pakistan won’t dare to come near the Line of Control (LoC) or the international border.

In an exclusive talk with ANI on Rafale’s air-to air capability in a combat situation, Dhanoa said, “When the Rafale comes in, it will ensure that the deterrence of our air defence will increase manifold and they (Pakistan) will not come anywhere near our Line of Control or border. That kind of capability we will possess for which presently they (Pakistan) don’t have an answer.”

On the sidelines of a function organised here for the induction of four US-made Chinook helicopters, he was asked about the situation on February 27 when Pakistani F-16 jets tried to attack Indian military positions, a day after the IAF strikes in Balakot in Pakistan in response to the Pulwama terror attack.

The first Rafale aircraft under a 36-plane deal with France is scheduled to be delivered in September to the IAF.

In military circles, there has been a talk that if Rafales were in the IAF, these would have not have allowed the Pakistan planes to come close to the LoC. The Rafales will be armed with Meteor air-to-air missiles which have the capability of shooting down enemy planes at strikes ranges upto 150 kms.

Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa asserted that at present, it is going to be the best aircraft in terms of the weapons capability in the Indian sub-continent and would be also the best in comparison with what China and Pakistan have.

“We are going to get Rafale in the month of September. Rafale will give a tremendous jump to our capability and it is superior to all the aircraft in the inventory of both our adversaries,” he said.

He also outlined the salient features of the Chinook helicopters and said that these aircraft will be very useful for the IAF in high-altitude regions.

“Ability to transfer heavy loads and acclimatise troops from high altitude into another valley is a game-changing capability. If the enemy surprises us in any such valley, we can move troops immediately to such spots to get into battle. Our ability to do this is now enhanced for day and night with this helicopter,” he said.

Dhanoa, while asserting that inter-valley troop transfer will be helpful for the Indian military along borders with Pakistan and China, outlined that “the high-altitude game is more with China than Pakistan”.

Meanwhile, in response to a question on Pakistan’s claim that Air Chief Marshal Mujahid Anwar Khan flew a JF-17 and led from the front on its National Day, Chief Marshal Dhanoa took a dig at him saying he should be asked where was flying the fighter plane, in the rear cockpit?

Addressing the media during his visit to the Air Force Station at Jodhpur last year, he had said, “Rafale is always a need for the Air Force. It (fighter jets) took a long time to come. Others have upgraded their squadrons.”

The Rafale jet deal controversy has been on the boil over the last few months. Congress has alleged irregularities in the deal for 36 aircraft and claimed that the Narendra Modi government is buying them at a price much higher than the one that was being negotiated by the previous government.


#PulwamaRevenge – ‘India Responded Well’

I got to know about the Pulwama terror attack through television and my first reaction was sorrow mixed with anger. I kept wondering as to for how long our Indian soldiers will just be numbers; for how long will we keep losing our military and paramilitary forces for issues that can be prevented? I am glad that many sections of the media kept asking the right questions.

Though, I am no supporter of war, yet I feel Pakistan (because it has given protection to the JeM Commander Masood Azhar) must be sent a very strong message: hamari sharafat ko hamari kamzori mat samjho (our civility should not be mistaken for our weakness).

The surgical strikes at Balakot sent a very strong message that meant, ‘we won’t take things lying down anymore’. The civilians of Pakistan must be respected, but the terrorists living on Pakistani soil must not be spared. The Balakot strike was called non-military, pre-emptive action. It was necessary, since we can’t be sitting ducks waiting for more terrorist attacks, emboldening elements of terror.

However, having said all this, I do feel the government should accept there was intelligence failure during the Pulwama attack. The state of Uttar Pradesh has lost many of its men in the attack. The government should take good care of the old parents of jawans, who have lost their lives.

Many people are saying that important issues were getting sidelined as the war cry was getting stronger. But I don’t believe it. I feel the government is trying to manage everything quite well. For instance, the authorities in Uttar Pradesh were successful in carrying out the Ardh Kumbh Mela at Prayagraj, without any untoward incident during the turmoil. As for the issue of unemployment, yes the situation is not so good, but we cannot expect miracles in just five years.

This would be my first time as a voter and I am pretty excited about it. I will definitely vote for BJP, especially because I feel Narendra Modi has given a big boost to self-sufficiency/self-employment. Now youngsters are venturing beyond just thinking for themselves or operating merely for profit, they now also think about how to generate employment for others. Yes, the government needs to improve itself on many counts, but we need to give them a second chance.

Is Riyadh Brokering An India-Pakistan Peace Deal?

There has been heightened diplomatic activity between Saudi Arabia and India in recent weeks. Saudi Arabia’s state minister for Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir was on a short visit to New Delhi, his second in less than a month. He was in the capital for just over four and a half hours during which he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and held talks with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj.

Officially, India described Jubeir’s visit as a follow-up meeting to the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s trip to New Delhi in February, after the Pulwama terror attack. That trip of Salman to India and Pakistan was overshadowed by the rising tension which nearly aerial strikes and dogfight in the air between the two nuclear armed neighbours. Incidentally, during the OIC meet in the UAE, where Sushma Swaraj was a special invitee, Jubeir had a meeting with her; his third with the Indian foreign minister. Saudi Arabia’s energy minister was also in India over the weekend. Significantly, Jubeir was in Pakistan the week before his India’s visit.

These visits from Saudi officials within a short span of time are unprecedented and given rise to speculation about the Gulf nation is working at a peace deal between India and Pakistan. However, with Indian elections due to begin in April, that move will have to wait. While it is certain that India will never agree to a third party involvement, Saudi Arabia has enormous influence in Pakistan and can play a pivotal role in restraining the Pakistan Army from protecting and supporting anti-India terror outfits.

With Pakistan’s economy in dire need for funds, the Saudis have stepped in with emergency funding of $6 billion soon after Imran Khan took over as Prime Minister. Additionally, projects worth $20 billion were announced during the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan. All this gives the Saud kingdom an added leverage to influence the Pakistan Army, which dictates the India policy.

The Asian tour by the Crown Prince was seen as an exercise to salvage his profile, battered by allegations that he was responsible for the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. MBS was once the toast of the western world for his attempts to transform Saudi Arabia into a moderate, modern Islamic kingdom.

The murder of Khashoggi has dented his image. MBS has been shunned by Western powers and his visit to Asia where nobody would question his role in Khashoggi episode would have been a relief. To his advantage, President Donald Trump regards Saudi Arabia as an important allay and MBS as a key element in his desire to bring Iran to heel. The Crown Prince is also close to Trump’s Presidential aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner.  

Saudi Arabia is said to have played an important, behind-the-scenes role in lowering tension between the two nuclear armed neighbours. US National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were also involved in the exercise and did much of the heavy lifting, though both were in Vietnam for President Donald Trump’s second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The Saudis worked from the forefront in tune with the US for reducing tension in the subcontinent.

Riyadh is walking a tight rope between India and Pakistan in the current crisis, trying to balance its traditional close friendship with Pakistan, with growing ties with India. During the Crown Prince’s visit to Pakistan, the joint statement issued at the end mentioned that nations should avoid “politicization of the UN listing regime”, in an obvious reference to New Delhi’s attempts at declaring the Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar a global terrorist. India is learnt to have conveyed to Saudis that Pakistan should take “irreversible, verifiable and credible steps against all terrorists without any discrimination” sought their pressure for dismantling Pakistan’s terror infrastructure.

India’s ties to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries have been in place since the time when dhows from the region had thriving trade with the coastal India. The spice trade flourished and Indian traders too sailed to the Gulf region. In modern times, India and Saudi Arabia were on the opposite side of the Cold War divide. Though India had diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia soon after independence, the relationship was at best transactional.

The oil boom led to thousands of Indians working in the region and sending back much needed foreign exchange, but the political ties remained weak. In any conflict with Pakistan, the Saudis chose to back Pakistan, which sent detachments from Pakistan Army as guards for the Royal family. However, 9/11 as well as the Arab spring changed Saudi attitude. Eleven of the 9/11 terrorists were from the kingdom, besides the key plotter Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda. A nervous Saudi monarchy cracked down on terrorists. Jaswant Singh as foreign minister made a landmark visit to the Kingdom in October 2000. That was an ice breaker. 

The Royal visit of 2006 brought about a sea change in ties. King Abdullah became the first Saudi monarch in 51 years to visit India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went personally to receive the king at the airport. Since then, things have continuously brightened up. Narendra Modi visited Saudi Arabia in April 2016 and gave a further push to the relationship. India believes that ties with Saudi Arabia have developed beyond the traditional buyer and seller of oil to an all-embracing, comprehensive, strategic partnership. A strategic partnership council will be convened soon for efficient co ordination between the two countries.

Saudi Arabia has helped India get back terror suspects who often took refuge in the kingdom. In 2012, Riyadh sent back Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal, who had taken a Pakistani passport to hide in Saudi Arabia. He is suspected to be involved in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. Again, in December 2016, Abdul Salam involved in printing fake Indian currency notes, was deported from the Kingdom and handed over to Indian authorities. This was unthinkable before 9/11. Today, worried about the future of the monarchy, the kingdom is going all out to fight terror.

Both countries hope to expand ties to a solid economic one. The Crown Prince has assured investments up $100 billion in India. Riyadh is also committed to help building India’s strategic oil reserves and has spoken of investing in India’s infrastructure sector. Also, there has been buzz about investing in agriculture, getting farmers to grow for export exclusively to Saudi Arabia. Discussions are on.

The positive outcome in relations between India and Saudi Arabia is the growing strategic and economic co operation. However it would be foolish to assume that Saudi Arabia will not give more weightage to Pakistan. Riyadh and Islamabad have a thriving relationship. Former Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif is the head of a Sunni military alliance, involved in Yemen. Every major Pakistani political party have close ties to Saudi Arabia’s ruling family. It is therefore left for Indian diplomats how they can turn the current India-Pakistan tension, which has led to increased Saudi interest in the region, to its advantage. How they leverage strategic and economic benefits out of Saudi Kingdom’s peace efforts will decide India’s interests and stature in Asia, as well as on the world map.

Pulwama Revenge

#PulwamaRevenge – ‘Much To Answer’

WhatsApp was the medium through which I received the news of the Pulwama terror attack that martyred more than 40 of our CRPF jawans. Thank God for small mercies! I don’t think I would have been able to bear the visuals had I seen the news suddenly come up on TV. It was a ghastly sight and left a deep scar, much like the 2008 Mumbai attacks. The attack has brought up many baffling, unanswered questions.

The most important being why were 2,500 CRPF men travelling together? Weren’t they sitting ducks in a conflict zone like Kashmir? This has to be an inside job and the government must figure out how the intelligence failure occurred.

I must say I was happy about the surgical strike at the Jaish e Mohammed camps at Balakot, but not the war cry on TV news channels and social media platform thereafter. War is not the solution. The hot-headed ones in our country forget that our war is not against Pakistan, but that our war is against the scourge of terrorism. Similarly, the war cheerleaders in Pakistan also need to understand that terror has somehow become synonymous with Pakistan as far as it world image is concerned. Why make it worse by rattling sabers?

People who are busy warmongering seemed to have signed a death warrant of sorts. Wasn’t Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s bloodied face enough to show what a war really meant? Captain Nachiketa, Captain Saurabh Kalia and Fighter Pilot Ajay Ahuja’s stories too haven’t been forgotten.

Having said that, I quite like the BJP’s decisiveness and prompt and timely action in this matter. And no, I don’t think important issues are being sidelined in the name of fighting terrorism. Agar zinda hi nahi rahenge, to baki issues ka kya karenge? — We need to be alive in the first place to talk about other issues.

There might be lack of quality jobs, but that doesn’t mean that there are no jobs. At least the middle-class has quite a few options and people need to take their local leaders to task also for job creation. These local leaders then need to meet with their senior leaders to find solutions for real issues. The government does need to take care of the lower-income group though. The government is endowed with a Cabinet so that all sections/segments of society can function smoothly. And the Cabinet should be put to proper use. I voted for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But this time around, I think I have matured and have developed a deeper understanding of issues. I am going to keep a sharp eye on the government and see whether it delivers on all fronts, only then will I decide whether to vote for BJP or not. The individual candidate representing the area I live in, his work/credentials, would also determine which way my vote goes.