Thursday, January 6, 2011



( To be read in continuation of my earlier article of January 2 titled “PLA, THE BAROMETER OF US-CHINA RELATIONS” at )

As Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, gets ready to visit China from January 9 to 12 and as President Hu Jintao’s State visit to Washington DC on January 19 approaches, the People’s Liberal Army (PLA) of China seems to have mounted a psychological warfare against the US by disseminating through the Internet and through the “ People’s Forum” columns of the Party-controlled “People’s Daily” two unverified and unverifiable news items which would add to the concerns of the US and ultimately of India too.

2. The first item, originating from the Japanese media, but disseminated in China without any comments regarding its authenticity, relates to a possible reconsideration by the PLA of the “no first use of the nuclear weapons” policy in order to provide for contingencies where China may undertake a pre-emptive nuclear strike. On January 6, the “People’s Forum” section of the “People’s Daily” carried the following report under the title “Chinese Forces Drop No First-Use Policy ?” attributing it to the Japanese Kyodo news agency without any comments on its authenticity: “ The Chinese military will consider launching a pre-emptive atomic strike if the country finds itself faced with a critical situation in a war with another nuclear state, internal documents showed Wednesday. The newly revealed policy, called "Lowering the threshold of nuclear threats," may contradict China's strategy of no first use of nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and is likely to fan concern in the United States, Japan and other regional powers about Beijing's nuclear capability. The People's Liberation Army's strategic missile forces, the Second Artillery Corps, "will adjust the nuclear threat policy if a nuclear missile-possessing country carries out a series of airstrikes against key strategic targets in our country with absolutely superior conventional weapons," according to the documents, copies of which were obtained by Kyodo News. China will first warn an adversary about a nuclear strike, but if the enemy attacks Chinese territory with conventional forces the PLA "must carefully consider" a pre-emptive nuclear strike. The documents suggest the Second Artillery Corps educate its personnel in worst-case scenarios for conflicts with other nuclear states. Akio Takahara, a professor of contemporary Chinese politics at the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Public Policy, said an adjustment of the PLA's nuclear threat policy as spelled out in the documents runs counter to President Hu Jintao's pledge that China will not launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike under any circumstances. "It is uncertain whether such policy adjustment represents a policy shift or has been in existence from before," Takahara said. "But a pre-emptive strike as assumed (in the documents) would apply to an extreme situation such as war with the United States, and that is almost inconceivable today. I think President Hu is aware of that."

3. This item was carried by the “People’s Daily” along with another unauthenticated item regarding China’s success in the development of a Stealth aircraft based on a pretended photograph of the Stealth aircraft that started circulating in China’s military-related blogs at the beginning of this year. This item, as reported in the “People’s Forum” under the title “Does China Intentionally Leak The Image of J-20?” said: “A photograph of what is reported to be a new Chinese stealth fighter and "carrier-killer" missile has prompted concerns that a tilt in the balance of military power in the western Pacific towards China may come sooner than expected. The emergence of the hi-tech weaponry - which would make it more difficult for the US navy and air force to project power close to Taiwan and elsewhere on China's coastline - comes at a politically sensitive time. Later this month, President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, will hold a summit in Washington aimed at patching up their differences after a niggling year in bilateral relations. The photograph, of what appears to be a prototype J-20 jet undergoing runway tests, has been circulating on the internet since last week, fuelling speculation that China's fifth-generation fighter may fly ahead of forecast.”

4. It added: “The defence ministry has yet to comment on the image, which seems to have been shot from long-distance near the Chengdu aircraft design institute. The photographer is also unknown, which has added to the mystery about its origins and authenticity as well as the motive of the distributor. But defence analysts believe this is the first glimpse of the twin-engined, chiselled-nosed plane that mixes Russian engine technology with a fuselage design similar to that of the US air force's F-22 "stealth" fighter, which can avoid detection by radar. If confirmed, it would be an impressive step forward for the Chinese air force, which until now has largely depended on foreign-made or designed planes. "I'd say these are, indeed, genuine photos of a prototype that will make its maiden flight very soon," said Peter Felstead, the editor of Jane's Defence Weekly. The J20 is likely to be many years from deployment, but the US defence secretary, Robert Gates - who visits Beijing next week - may have to revise an earlier prediction that China will not have a fifth generation aircraft by 2020. It is not the only challenge to US superiority in the region.”

5. It further said: “China has refurbished a Ukranian aircraft carrier and wants to build its own by 2020. A more immediate threat is posed by China's adaptation of an intermediate-range ballistic missile - the DF-21D - to target US aircraft carriers. This project is also further advanced than previously believed. Admiral Robert Willard, the US navy's commander in the Pacific, warned last month that the weapon - nicknamed the "carrier killer' - had reached "initial operational capability". Faced by this threat US battle groups are likely to take a more withdrawn position if there is a standoff over Taiwan than they did in 1996, when the USS Nimitz sailed through the strait. "The main implication of China deploying this system is that it would certainly make the US navy pause before deciding to project naval power into the South China Sea region during a time of tension," said Felstead. But China's ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said today that his country had no ambitions to rival US military power in the western Pacific region.”

6. The “People’s Forum” added: “While China's economy grows rapidly and the US remains sluggish, fears of a shift in the balance of power are likely to grow. It will not happen overnight and worldwide, but China appears to be steadily pushing the US back from its shores in a strategy know as "area denial". The government has not confirmed this approach. Chinese nationalists want their country to be more assertive, but they say the priority is to improve defence of an increasingly wealthy coastal region. The "area denial" strategy can be seen as China trying to manage its own market and routes to main trading partners such as South Korea and Japan. "We don't need the US to be the policeman in the west Pacific area," said Song Xiaojun, a former naval officer who now edits military magazines. "China's priority is to develop its near sea defence, because our economy is concentrated on the coast. But we have to reconsider the concept of 'near sea' to fit a modern age in which military threats can come from far away. China must improve its defences, but that does not mean we are a threat. Only arms merchants would say that to persuade the US to raise military spending. The US is far ahead," he said.

7. The second item regarding the Stealth aircraft also appears to have been taken from foreign media, but the “People’s Forum” section does not identify the newspaper or magazine from which it was taken

8.The dissemination of these items has come in the wake of the recent comments by PLA officers and the Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie regarding the possibility of regional conflicts. The greater interest taken by the US during 2010 in developments in the South China and East China Seas and what the Chinese see as the more assertive US policy in the Korean Peninsula are seen by the PLA as containing the possible seeds of a regional military conflict into which China might find itself sucked. The Chinese thus see the Taiwan issue, the South China and East China Sea developments and the tension in the Korean peninsula as capable of triggering a regional military conflict if China and the US do not conduct themselves with maturity and responsibility.

9. While trying to avoid an escalation of tensions over military-related issues in its relations with the US, China has to be prepared for contingencies where a regional military conflict of a conventional nature becomes unavoidable due to reasons beyond its control. That is the message the PLA has been seeking to convey. ( 7-1-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



The roots of extremism are spreading in Pakistan. This is obvious from the assassination of Salman Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, by a policeman belonging to the Elite Force of the Punjab Police at Islamabad on January 4.

2.The event is even more worrisome than the brutal assassination of Benazir Bhutto at Rawalpindi on December 27,2007, because of the mixed reactions that it has evoked. Benazir's assassination evoked widespread shock and grief all over Pakistan. There were no reported incidents of people welcoming her assassination. The assassination of Taseer has been condemned by some and welcomed by others. Many---not necessarily confined to the clergy--- have welcomed it as a well-deserved punishment by God because of his criticism of the blasphemy law.

3. Was Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Taseer, acting alone or was he part of a conspiracy? It is too early to know the answer to this question. Will we ever know? Will the truth behind the assassination of Taseer ever be found out or will it be covered up as were the assassinations of Benazir in 2007 and her brother Murtaza Bhutto in 1996 or the death of Zia-ul-Haq under mysterious circumstances in a plane crash in 1988? Many instances of death and destruction at the hands of extremists in Pakistan remain undetected either because of poor investigation or because of a lack of courage to investigate lest the investigator himself become a target of the extremists or because of a deliberate cover-up.

4. The result: The difficulty in identifying the roots of extremism and eradicating the problem and in quantifying the extent of the threat posed by extremism to Pakistan itself in the first instance and then to the rest of the world. The winds of Islamic extremism generally blow from Pakistan. There are pockets of Islamic extremism in other countries too---Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia to give some examples. There are more instances of extremism spreading to other parts of the world from Pakistan than from these countries. If one has to counter Islamic extremism ideologically one has to start destroying its roots in Pakistan. Islamic extremists from all over the world tend to look upon Pakistan as the ultimate sanctuary not only because of the favourable terrain in the tribal belt, but also because of their confidence that they will enjoy public and state support in Pakistan.

5.Many institutions in Pakistan have turned out to be the spawning grounds of extremism and terrorism---- mosques, madrasas, the Army, the Air Force, the US-trained Special Services Group (SSG), the Elite Force of the Punjab Police etc. Some of these such as the SSG and the Elite Force were specially raised and trained to deal with extremism and terrorism and to protect the VIPS. They have turned out to be the breeding grounds of the evils they were meant to fight. Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of the so-called 313 Brigade allied with Al Qaeda, reportedly started his career in the SSG before he gravitated to terrorism.

6. One has reasons to worry as to which are the other institutions which might have already been infected, though not detected so far. How about Pakistan's nuclear and missile establishment? What faith can one place in Pakistan's assurances that this has remained unaffected by extremism. Tomorrow, if a threat erupts unexpectedly from the nuclear and missile establisment, what form will it take? Leakage of material and technology to the terrorists? Seizure of material and establishments by extremist trojan horses in order to use them for intimidation? Both possibilities are there, but a definitive assessment is rendered difficult because of a lack of data.

7. While the Pakistan Army has taken some action against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in the Pashtun belt, the Pakistani authorities have not taken any action to confront extremism ideologically. Their pretense of reforming and modernizing the madrasas has allowed the madrasas to continue to produce extremism and terrorism. Their education system has received very little attention. More money has flown from the US for providing arms and ammunition to the Armed Forces than for improving and expanding the education system. The interest taken in the initial months after 9/11 in the modernization of the madrasas and for improving the education system has petered out.

8. No attempt has been made to reduce the influence of Wahabi clerics in the Armed Forces and the Police. The clerics were introduced by Zia-ul-Haq. Their influence remains strong. The Wahabised clergy provide the religious justification for acts of extremism and terrorism. In 1993, the Clinton Administration placed Pakistan for six months in a list of suspected state sponsors of terrorism and forced Nawaz Sharif, the then Prime Minister, to sack Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, the then chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and some of his colleagues, who were suspected of being mixed up with the Afghan Mujahideen. In October 2001, before starting the operations against Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban under Operation Enduring Freedom, the administration of George Bush forced Gen.Pervez Musharraf to remove from the post of ISI Director-General Lt.Gen.Mahmood Ahmed, who was suspected of being mixed up with Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Since then, there has been no action against any other officer of the ISI despite strong suspicions of their being mixed up with the Jalaluddin Haqqani group and despite evidence of the role of the ISI in the terrorist attacks against the Indian Embassy in Kabul and the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai.

9. As a result, the ISI has gone back to its old ways of inaction against extremist and terrorist organizations and the breeding grounds of extremism. The administration of Barack Obama might have stepped up the Drone strikes in the tribal belt, but it has not been able to make the Pakistan Army and intelligence act firmly against the breeding grounds of extremism. There has hardly been any action by the Pakistani authorities to counter extremism ideologically. Factories of extremism and jihad are once again sprouting, providing a never-ending flow of new recruits to the extremist and terrorist organizations.

10. The assassination of Taseer is a wake-up call not only for the Pakistani authorities, but also for the international community. Extremism is again on the forward march in Pakistan.A comprehensive strategy to force Pakistan to act firmly against the breeding grounds of extremism is the urgent need of the hour. ( 6-1-11)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )