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The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph in New Delhi
April 23, 2003
This article is the third of a six-part special series on Indo-US military relations. The first part dealt with the US attempts to gain access to Indian military bases and establish USAF airbases on Indian soil. The second focussed on how access to American technology could be the key to gaining entry into Indian bases.
The series is based on 'Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,' a US defence department-commissioned study, that is in possession of rediff.com
Indian bureaucrats, Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals could be 'easily slighted or insulted', are 'difficult to work with', harbour 'deep-seated distrust' of Americans, are mostly 'obsessed' with history than future and 'see the world through their perennial distrust of Pakistan'.
These scathing observations have been made by some 40 or so US policy makers in the Pentagon, state department, Pacific Command and the American embassy and reported by the Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions, a restricted US defence department document that is in possession of rediff.com.
And if that was not enough, here is a sum up by most of the American officers who have interacted with both India and Pakistan. "A number of American military officers who interacted with the Indians in the early 1990s revealed that they would much rather interact with the Pakistanis, whom they describe as more accommodating, flexible and easy to work with." Across board American policy makers believe that Indians 'cannot think strategically'.
"American military officers and policymakers in Washington hold high expectations that their interactions with the Indian military experts will produce a fruitful two-way strategic dialogue, but they argue that this has not yet happened," the report says. It further adds that the American military officials are 'frustrated' with the 'Indian unwillingness' to be active participants 'in and exchange of ideas'. In fact this was reflected in the military briefings before Defence Policy Group and Executive Steering Groups -- the two forums for military exchange between India and US. The Indian presentations were described as 'elementary and pedestrian'. "The presentations were either lacking in elaboration on Indian strategies, or focusing completely on Pakistan," the report elaborates.
Nearly every American policy maker said the Indians 'are easily slighted or insulted by US actions (or inactions)'. Also satisfying 'Indians' obsession with protocol with symbolic gestures can pay big dividends in the relationships', many of the observations in the report contends.
One American policy maker says the Indian mantra today is 'Musharraf cannot be trusted', and about a decade back Indians saw a 'Chinese periscope behind each wave in the Indian Ocean', referring to Indian claims of Chinese presence in Indian Ocean in the early 1990s.
In 1997, a year before the US nuclear sanctions were effected on India, the third Defence Policy Group meeting was cancelled because of 'India's sensitivity to protocol'. The Indian side pulled out after the US side deputed the Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, in place of the Under Secretary of Defence for Policy. The assistant secretary ranks 7th or 8th in civilian hierarchy of the US defence department, whereas the Indian side was to be led by the Defence Secretary, the highest-ranking civilian officer of the defence ministry.
Another occasion, an Indian Air Force chief took umbrage at the presence of personal security guards around an American General visiting New Delhi. The presence of security guards 'implied to the air chief that the General did not trust India to provide his security detail', the report explained. But funnily enough this was not told to the General, but was communicated to the American embassy in New Delhi.
Indian touchiness, says the report, is also visible in its deputation of officers to high-level interactions in the US, especially at the Pacific Command that deals with Indian military under US military strategy.
American policymakers believe that Indians would prefer to send their senior officers to Washington rather than to Pacific Command. In 2002, during the PACOM Joint Chiefs Conference, Indian sent a lower ranking officer because the Indian Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted his first trip to the United States rather than Hawaii.
When General V P Malik was the Indian Army chief he agreed to participate in the PACOM Joint Chiefs Conference only after he was assured a subsequent meeting with US Army Chief General Shinseki and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Shelton.
'Symbolic gestures' have significant impact on Indo-US relations, the Americans believe. President Bush's drop-in meeting with foreign minister Jaswant Singh in April 2002 at the White House and Richard Armitage's stopover in India in May 2001 to discuss National Missile Defence 'had an enormous impact' on the bilateral relationship, according to a South Asia expert of state department.
A US Colonel who has spent several years in India summed up, "For the Indians, the act is much more important than the substance; the theory is more important than execution; and the tactic is more important than strategy."
All Americans interviewees view Indian bureaucracy as a 'rigid and centralised, and incapable of supporting individual decision making'. Indians are 'non-responsive' because Indian communications with their American counterparts are 'inevitably late, incomplete, or non-existent'. Several have claimed that their emails to Indian officials for arranging meetings, visits and the like have received no replies on several occasions. One American who wanted to arrange a meeting with a group of Indians said his messages were sent to a 'black hole'.
"Several American interviewees complained that Indians made it difficult to plan an event because they would frequently withdraw from or cancel exercises at the last minute," the report says. The report claims initial meetings of Defence Policy Group were postponed at the last minute several times in mid-1990s by the Indians.
The report refers to the 'conflicts between Indians' intellectual approach to problems versus Americans' pragmatic approach'. One American policymaker said, "The Indian elites are quintessential intellectuals and the American military officers and businessmen who are not interested in intellectual engagements find the attitude off-putting and counter-productive."
Moreover, even today Americans 'harbour distrust of their Indian counterparts' for various reasons, not to forget the Cold War-era loyalties, the report admits.
However, officers in the Pacific Command of the US admit that Indian military is 'highly capable and well-trained potential partners' in their area of responsibility. They are also impressed by India's 'sophisticated tactics, operational training, and high level of technology, despite the resource constraints within which the Indian military must operate'.
One officer has admitted that the Indian military operation of moving 30,000 soldiers to earthquake ravaged Bhuj in approximately 72 hours 'is about the same amount of time the US military would require for the same operation'.
However, there are also warnings from the US side. Many say that the Indian military infrastructure is 'crumbling'. The neglect of the buildings of defence ministry and other military officers offer a 'glimpse of the challenges facing the Indian military as it modernises'. An American General said walking through the Indian Army headquarters was 'walking back in time'.
There is also sharp criticism of the excessive protocol followed by the Indian bureaucracy. Quoting an instance the report says that a couple of years back when Admiral Dennis Blair, then Pacific Command chief, visited New Delhi he was not allowed to hand over his business card directly to his Indian counterpart. Rather he was required to pass it to an official of the Ministry of External Affairs, who checked and passed it to an official of the defence ministry, who then verified it once again. And then it was given to the Indian General.
Part I: Target next: Indian military bases
Part II: US tech hold key to Indian bases
Part IV: Drawn, but not ready to fire
Part V: Tango's closer, but shop talk's taboo
Part VI: Spats apart, future's rosy
Photograph: US Navy/Newsmakers/Getty Images
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