Saturday, September 23, 2017



                 STATE OF THE ART 

Defence Minister Falls To A New Low With                       Ridiculous 

              'Clean The Garbage'

                Order To The Army

                    Lt GENERAL VIJAY OBEROI

Friday, September 22,2017

In just three weeks, the new Raksha Mantri has moved from the top of the charts to below the mid-way point.

Unless she understands and applies her mind to the legitimate tasks of the armed forces and their pride and ethos, she is unlikely to be accepted fully and the charts will keep sliding south.

Her latest and only ridiculous order, so far, is asking/tasking the army to clean up garbage and litter in the high altitude areas, left behind by uncaring and uneducated tourists. Preposterous comes to mind immediately, but let me not jump the gun, so that the reader fully understands what I am talking about.

The media had dubbed the recent cabinet reshuffle as the BJP plan for the 2019 General Elections and the appointment of the new Raksha Mantri (RM) more in gender terms rather than abilities! Maybe so, but my take, as well as the bulk of the military fraternity, was a sense of relief that this government has stopped treating the Defence Portfolio as a temporary pastime for its cabinet ministers.

It seemed that after three years of governance, the Prime Minister had at last learnt that Defence was neither a part-time portfolio, nor one for a light-weight leader, who had to struggle/muddle through the maze of the entrenched party members, who thought only about their own clout and the powers they wield.

They had become carpet –baggers, with their own agendas; and were prone to look down on light-weights as a species to be sent back to their small fiefdoms. They had no time or inclination to change the entrenched system.

Unlike a political novice like me, seasoned punters of the political scene were convinced from day one that an IIT graduate like Manohar Parrikar would not be allowed to last in the rough and tumble political system of Delhi, where power and pelf combined with the Indian Crab Syndrome had prevailed for decades and continues to flourish, irrespective of changes in the ruling parties. But let me not digress!

Prime Minister Modi, despite being a seasoned politician rewarded a loser at the elections with the two most important portfolios, viz. Finance and Defence, possibly because of political compulsions and maybe inadequate talent. He glossed over the well-known fact that the incumbent did not like the military, as he blamed them for his losing the only election he fought in his long political career!

However, when he brought back the gentleman again as a temporary stand-in, it was clear that he did not understand the importance of the defence portfolio! If he had gone back in time, he may have realized that giving two major portfolios to one person are fraught with danger. Let me amplify.

When the then RM, during PM Vajpayee’s time was forced to resign and Jaswant Singh, the competent Minister of External Affairs was given temporary charge of the Defence Ministry, the disastrous Agra Summit took place, possibly as there was one less adviser at the cabinet level!
The importance of a permanent Raksha Mantri is obvious, as (s)he is a member not just of the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS), but also of the Cabinet Committee of Political Affairs (CCPA) and Economic Affairs (CCEA), the three most important policy-making committees of the Executive. (S)he is also a member of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet. Independent advice is therefore essential, so that major policy decisions are taken after due consultations.

With the above background, let us now talk about the new RM. My initial reaction to her appointment was positive – as in my view she was a professional; was intelligent; dedicated; and possessed common sense.

The last is most important for an RM, as it is the ‘men behind the gun’ who are the most important part of the military and there is need for application of mind before issuing orders and instructions that affect them. I had observed these talents in her, initially when she was the official spokesperson of her Party, and later when she was given the important commerce portfolio. She had handled her portfolio well and not only used her considerable abilities to good effect, but built up a positive reputation of a feisty lady who kept the rapacious bureaucracy in line and carried out her assignments quietly, without the usual fanfare that our political leaders revel in.

I therefore welcomed her elevation to head an extremely important Ministry, especially as the indolent MoD officials, including four Secretary-level officials, need a strong leader to keep them in line. I earnestly hope that she is able to deflate their egoistic image of themselves!

Let me now come to the main purpose of this article. Many military and other analysts have offered their advice about defence and military affairs. Initially I had also planned to do the same, but before I could do so, the new RM has given me an opportunity to highlight the incorrect orders she has issued to the MoD (read armed forces) relating to handling litter.

Apparently this was done at the behest of PMO to clean up garbage left by tourists in high altitude areas and other sundry instructions regarding cleaning up military stations, cantonments and bases. These orders are absurd, to put it mildly.

Obviously, no one has reflected on some similar orders that had been issued in the late 1950’s that eventually resulted in the 1962 fiasco, as outlined in the succeeding paragraphs.

Project Amar (construction of barracks and family accommodation by troop labour) was carried out at the behest of the then RM-Krishna Menon, despite objections by the then Army Chief – General KS Thimayya, and were implemented by the ambitious Bijji Kaul, then GOC 4 Infantry Division at Ambala. The result was no training by the Division for war.

Even when the Division had been ordered to move to NEFA (now part of Arunachal Pradesh), plans were made by the then RM for Project Amar II, which were mercifully jettisoned at the behest of the Army hierarchy. When the war with China erupted in 1962, it was this very division that was annihilated. One need not go into any more details, except to say that if you use the armed forces for carrying out non-military tasks, the result is catastrophic.

Our northern borders continue to be in dispute. Hopefully, the sterling role played by the army in handling the over 70 days stand-off with China’s troops in the area of Dokalam only recently must be fresh in everyone’s mind. It ended well as our troops were well trained and well lead. Everyone agrees that till the border problem is solved, such incidents will continue. Yet, the mandarins sitting in the PMO have issued a stupid and illogical order stating that the army will clean litter left behind by uncaring tourists in high altitude areas, obviously abandoning their operational tasks and training. It is the dumbest order I have heard in the last half a century, if not more. The MoD as usual has acted as postmen and forwarded it to the armed forces and the new RM has publicly announced it during her maiden visit to Western Command!

The authority of the civil administration extends to the remotest corners of the country and includes the entire stretch of all land borders of India. It is the job of the civil administration to administer all assigned areas under their control. Why are they first not ensuring that no tourists leave any litter and if they fail to do so, they have the resources, funds and authority to clean up. The armed forces, both in field areas, peace stations and different types of bases have always kept their habitat clean, green and hygienic. They are actually models for the civilians to emulate. So why have such orders/instructions been issued?

I must also point out that in the last Pay Commission, despite vehement opposition by the armed forces, high altitude allowances for civil officials of all categories have been decreed to be more than the soldiers! Are they earning them?

It appears to me that since the Swach Bharat Abhiyan has made little headway, the government wants to boast of at least cleaning up the litter of tourists so that their propaganda machinery can at least save face by tom-toming this!

I would urge the RM, the PMO and the MoD to rescind this absurd order immediately.

(The writer is a former Vice Chief of Army Staff)

Friday, September 22, 2017

Who are the Rohingyas?


      Who are the Rohingyas?


                       Adrija Roychowdhury

Majority of the Rakhine Buddhists believe that ‘Rohingya’ is a fabricated religious identity. They go on to cite historical documents to claim that the Burmese past never had any community called Rohingya.

Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh. 

The long burning issue of the Rohingyas in Myanmar has recently become a point of debate in India, with the government insisting on their deportation for the sake of national security. Perceived threats to India’s national security is based on intelligence reports that connect radical Rohingya groups to Jihadist organisations. In their bid to get rid of the Rohingya refugees, the centre in India has been asking the Myanmar government to show restraint against the Rohingyas and to take them back.
India’s claim to send the Rohingyas back to Myanmar rests on the notion that the refugees are of Burmese stock. However, the issue at hand is that the Burmese do not consider the Rohingyas as their citizens and consider them to be immigrants who were brought in from Bangladesh during the British colonial rule. Further, Bangladesh, which remains the favourite destination for the Rohingyas facing atrocities in Myanmar, is of the opinion that they are natives of the Burmese state and should be protected there. The passing around of the responsibility of the Rohingyas from one state to another has resulted in this group of around one million floating in mid air to be coined ‘stateless’ by the United Nation.

                                NOTE: MANY ARE KIDs

Rohingya refugees walk on a muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh September 8, 2017.

While the issue of the Myanmar military’s crackdown upon Rohingyas has gained much international attention, the burning question underneath the entire crisis is who the Rohingyas really are. While on one hand claims of historical legitimacy in Myanmar by the Rohingyas have been thoroughly opposed by the majority Rakhine Buddhists, to the extent of denying them citizenship rights, on the other hand the scant historical substance being available to testify the precise origins of the Rohingyas in modern day Myanmar has further exacerbated the problem. What remains undisputed though is the inhabitation of Muslims in the Arakan region of Myanmar since the 15th century. When and how they transform their identity to the ethnicity of Rohingyas has been a matter that historians and anthropologists have been trying to decode for a long time now.
History of Islam in the Arakan region of Myanmar
The Rakhine (previously called Arakan) region of Northern Myanmar, which is largely believed to be the original home of the Rohingyas, has shared a porous border along the Naaf river with Chittagong in Bangladesh. Before the modern state of Myanmar came into being, this border was not exactly known to be a line of division between two separate communities and historical evidence shows a frequent movement of people across the border.

The Rakhine (previously called Arakan) region of Northern Myanmar, which is largely believed to be the original home of the Rohingyas, has shared a porous border along the Naaf river with Chittagong in Bangladesh. (Wikimedia Commons)

In pre-colonial days, the region of Arakan was an independent kingdom, separate from both the Burmese kingdoms and the Mughal empire in India and Bengal. In 1459, the Arakan king is believed to have conquered Chittagong which had a dense Muslim population. In the years that followed, the Arakanese control in Chittagong led to an intimate relationship developing between the Muslims and the inhabitants of Arakan. Farzana Kazi Fahmida, an authority on humanitarian issues in South and South East Asia is of the opinion that “the Muslim influence in Arakan was so predominant that the Arakanese kings though Buddhist in religion, became somewhat Mohammedanised in their ideas.”According to Fahmida, the development of strong bonds between the Bengali Muslim and Arakanese population is the reason behind the influence of Bengali in Arakan.

In 1784, Burmese King Bodawpaya conquered the Arakan region and brought it under the control of the kingdom of Ava in central Burma. What followed was severe oppressive measures taken by the Burmese ruler against the Arakanese population and the latter rebelling against them. Thereafter, a large number of Arakanese (both Buddhists and Muslims) fled to the neighbouring territory of Bengal which was by now under British rule.

In 1784, Burmese King Bodawpaya conquered the Arakan region and brought it under the control of the kingdom of Ava in central Burma. (Wikimedia Commons)

When the British colonised Burma, they immediately brought Arakan under their full control. Since the Arakanese were facing severe persecution under the Burmese, they were happy to back the British, thereby further creating a sense of mistrust against them among the Burmese. Further, the British brought in a large number of farm labourers from present day India and Bangladesh, majority of whom belonged to Chittagong. This was done more as a measure to drown out any kind of resistance against British rule by the Burmese.

When the British colonised Burma, they immediately brought Arakan under their full control. (Wikimedia Commons)

The large numbers in which Indians, particularly the Bengalis, were brought into Arakan was a cause of great resentment to the Burmese population, who were now also in the process of developing strong nationalist feelings. After the Second World War, when the British left Burma, large sections of the Indian population followed. Those who were left behind were in any case in the bad books of the Buddhist Burmese population and soonafter a large number of communal clashes started taking place between the two groups. While the Arakanese Muslims, largely inspired by the formation of Pakistan along religious lines, started demanding an autonomous region for themselves on ethnic grounds, the independent government of Myanmar continued discriminating against them and later ensured that they do not receive legal citizenship status in the country.

The confusion over the ethnicity of ‘Rohingya’

The history of movement back and forth between Chittagong and Arakan forms the context for the development of a complex and fluid ethnicity which has over time acquired the name ‘Rohingya’ for itself. To a large extent the conflict between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims is based on a debate between the two groups over the historicity of the Rohingya identity in Burmese land.
Majority of the Rakhine Buddhists believe that ‘Rohingya’ is a fabricated religious identity. They go on to cite historical documents to claim that the Burmese past never had any community called Rohingya and that those who refer to themselves by the name are basically immigrants from modern day Bangladesh who were brought in by the British.

Those who claim to be Rohingyas have a key proposition about their identity, that they are Muslims with Asian and Middle Eastern roots belonging to Rakhine since the first millennium and that collectively they should be referred to has ‘Rohingyas’. (Reuters)

The Rohingya Muslims on the other hand, are of the strong belief that their community has had deep rooted existence in Burmese past and that they are indeed original inhabitants of Rakhine. As part of her project to understand the Rohingya’s sense of identity, Farzana Kazi Fahmida carried out an extensive research project in the South East corner of Bangladesh that currently houses a large number of Rohingya refugees. Her interactions with the refugees revealed that the Rohingyas, in their socio-cultural space exhibit a strong sense of identity rooted in the Burmese homeland.
However, the Rohingya claim of having a Burmese past is disputed not just by the Rakhine Buddhists but also by scholars who claim that the word ‘Rohingya’ cannot be found in any historical source, except a single late 18th century text. What is undisputed though is that the term ‘Rohingya’ gains popularity among the Muslims of Rakhine from the 1950s and 60s, the moment in time when the Mujahid rebellion against the Burmese government demanding a separate state for the Arakanese Muslims was at its inception. Jaques P. Leider, an authority on South East Asian history writes in his work that “until the 1990s, ‘Rohingya’ was recorded in most media not as an ethnic or religious denomination but as an appellation of insurgents that resisted the Myanmar government and sought the creation of an independent Muslim state near Bangladesh.”
Those who claim to be Rohingyas have a key proposition about their identity, that they are Muslims with Asian and Middle Eastern roots belonging to Rakhine since the first millennium and that collectively they should be referred to has ‘Rohingyas’. Historical evidence on the other hand shows that there was no single unified Muslim community in precolonial and colonial days, but that majority of the Muslims in the region were those who had been brought in from modern day Bangladesh. 

Remarking upon the disparity between the Rohingya claim and the historical evidence, Leider notes in his work that “when anything ‘Muslim’ in Arakan history is qualified in the Rohingya discourse as ‘Rohingya’, the words ‘Rohingya’ and ‘Muslim’ become dogmatically fused in a single meaning where the connotations of ethnic Muslim plurality, which were typical for the region during the early modern period are disappearing, or become, at least blurred.”

While the historicity and identity of the Rohingyas was at the heart of the conflict between them and the Burmese state, the cases of humanitarian assault on the community by the Myanmar military has turned it into what is being referred to as an instance of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Over time the Rohingya issue has transformed into that of a refugee crisis, with Myanmar, Bangladesh and India brooding over their origins and destination. 

What has been largely overlooked so far is the case of a fluid, complex ethnic identity, with multiple roots, that as a result of modern day politics solidified into a single umbrella term called the ‘Rohingyas’.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

OROP : ************ .and the faujis are angry


        OROP......and the faujis are angry


       Col Dabby S De mello (Retd)

Ex-servicemen are engulfed by a smouldering disconnect following the inept handling of the OROP issue by the government. In their sunset years, they are being made to feel as if they are a spent force.

Posted at: Sep 19, 2017,

In times of war and not before,
God and soldier we adore.
But in times of peace and all things righted,
God is forgotten and the soldier slighted.

                                                —Rudyard Kipling

Veteran servicemen at a protest seeking OROP in New Delhi. PTI

Manohar Parrikar apparently is an ardent fan of the legendry poet Rudyard Kipling. Within a month of his swearing in as Raksha Mantri, he has revealed to the country that the nation no more holds the defence services in high esteem. His reason: "These days, people don't look up to the military in high esteem since there has been no war for so many years."
True, there has been no general war, but just count the horrendous losses suffered in the interim years, battling an insurgency and terrorism, largely the creation of the failed political ideologies, and at times open support to anti-nationals. Coming, therefore, from a Raksha Mantri whose mandate is to uphold the morale of the three services, this statement was most shocking. Parrikar is neither rustic nor illiterate. Nobody becomes an IITian with limited knowledge. All the more reason his disparaging remarks are repugnant. But by saying so, did he bare his party's mindset towards the faujis or that of the collective conscience of the Indians  as a whole? The revelation, true or false, by  the Raksha Mantri, spoke volumes about the way Defence Services will be treated by the NDA (read BJP). The entire defence fraternity was shocked and felt angry.
September 15, 2013, remains a sad day for the exservicemen (ESM) for, on that day, they got carried away by the rhetoric and honeyed words of Narendra Modi, the NDA's prime-ministerial candidate, during the ESM rally at Rewari. Having seen their stock lowered by the earlier governments, they, rightly or wrongly, allowed themselves to be considered a vote bank by the BJP, a decision they now regret. In his election bhashan, Modi promised to honour the long-pending demand of One Rank One Pension (OROP) in its entirety and true essence, if NDA was voted to power. That it was voted to power with an unexpected majority was also due to the faujis voting en bloc for the BJP, a fact it  should remember. Faujis, for whom an oral commitment is sacrosanct, felt utterly cheated and decided to take an unprecedented step — peacefully protest throughout the country with Jantar Mantar as the pivot. To press home their rightful demands, the ESM, mostly in their twilight years, have been sitting on a relay hunger strike on a footpath near Jantar Mantar non-stop for more than two years. How disgracefully can the government and its leaders behave with the faujis is a new and bitter experience for a disciplined force. And they are angry. 
ESM’s Tiananmen moment
Early morning of August 14, 2015, was the ESM’s Tiananmen moment, when the might of the state pitted itself against peaceful demonstrators; young policemen were allowed to manhandle grey-haired retired soldiers (many of them war-decorated ones) and widows engaged in a peaceful and permitted protest near Jantar Mantar. No one from the government apologised for this shameful behaviour. The faujis have not forgotten that day, and are angry.
To break the protest movement, the government even attempted to create an officer-jawan divide by maliciously goading another set of retired jawans to set up an alternate OROP stage a few feet away from the main protest tent at Jantar Mantar. From there, the misguided jawans denounced their officers by reading out the script handed out to them; what sort of government is this that uses such lowdown methods against its own veterans? Fortunately, this misguided lot soon realised its folly and joined the main protest, but the collateral damage it did to the strong officer-man bond which sustains our military, is frightening; a damage which can seriously impair the fighting abilities of our defence forces. The entire fauji fraternity took no time to fathom the design of the establishment and is angry.  
Finding far too many anomalies, some very serious, in the notification issued on OROP, the ESM rejected it outright and conveyed it in no uncertain terms to the government. To address the anomalies, the government on December 14, 2015 constituted a one-man judicial committee comprising a retired chief justice and asked for his recommendations within six months, a job which could be done within a month. After five months, the government maliciously extended its term by six months, apparently to tire out the protesting ESM.  The honourable judge finally submitted his report on October 26, 2016, but more than nine months later, the report has not been made public. Maybe the judge was convinced about the genuineness of OROP demands and has recommended in favour of the ESM. If that be so, implementation of his   recommendations can be a win-win situation for the government as well as for ESM. But the govt hasn't budged from its hardened stand and as a result, the faujis are angry.
Babus vs faujis
The establishment continues to pit the bureaucracy against the defence services, resulting in systematic degradation of the services. An  undesirable and unhealthy civil-military equation exists today.  The faujis are not oblivious to the step-brotherly treatment meted out to them vis-a-vis the bureaucrats and are very angry.
Due to the inept handling of the OROP issue, and indifferent attitude of the establishment on many other matters, including the warrant of precedence, a smouldering disconnect has engulfed these men who once were sentinels of our borders during their prime years, but are now considered a dispensable and a spent force. Their collective protest has been on for 27 months, but none from the establishment has bothered to discuss a way out with them. The faujis have started feeling that they are being treated unfairly and are angry. 
By now, the Pradhan Sevak knows too well that the one-time raise given to the military pensioners is not the OROP approved by the two parliamentary committees; yet he mocks the ESM by repeatedly misinforming the countrymen from just about any platform, "Hamari govt ne fauji bhaiyon ko ek rank-ek pension de di hai!" What an emotional assault on the naïve veterans! No fauji, whether in or out of uniform, remains emotionally unmolested by the government's highhandedness and indifference, and is angry.
There are more counts on which the faujis are angry, the manifestations of which have not gone unnoticed by the BJP thinktank. Their appeasement has commenced and is gathering momentum to bring them back, yet again in good humour. But there is a saying that you cannot fool everyone all the time. The vote bank it created in 2013, and successfully milked in 2014, can't be left unamused. 2019 is not far and 4.91 crore voters make a formidable electorate. All media is put in high gear to woo the ESM by cosmetic gestures. Courtesy the BJP, faujis are no more apolitical or gullible as in 2014. They know their vote will make a difference, like it did in 2014. 
The faujis are angry and not without reason. Let us not forget that this patriotic lot of Indians also includes the soldiers in uniform guarding the borders in most adverse conditions. Populist measures of the state to keep their morale to the optimum will never be enough. The cumulative anger of these forgotten soldiers needs to be addressed the soonest in national interest. In military parlance, it is the captain of the ship that must bear responsibility for the errors of his command, no matter who lower in the chain, may have been responsible. Whether by design or by default (heeding to biased advice from biased advisers), whatever, the Pradhan Sevak is responsible for the current state of affairs. 
PS. Let the statesmanship prevail over ego and faujis be also taken along in the Sab ka Saath venture. Far too many elections have been won on the name of the fauj, faujis and "surgical strikes". It's high time the BJP won their hearts by giving the ESM their rightful due. By staging a countrywide peaceful protest, they are only reminding the Pradhan Sevak to fulfil the promise he made to them at Rewari. Can the BJP risk antagonising this large vote bank, if their promises are not fulfilled? I am not too sure. Jai Hind. Jai Hind ki Sena. JaiHind ki Bhootpoorv Sena. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Diplomacy in Doklam: New Strategic Ground for India in South Asia


Diplomacy in Doklam: New Strategic Ground for India in South Asia


Thursday, September 7, 2017

Doklam issue: China’s Xi Jinping has a PLA Problem


Doklam issue: China’s Xi Jinping has a PLA Problem


                     Brahma Chellaney

The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief of the 

People Liberation Army’s joint staff department, 

General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to 

clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for 

precipitating the standoff in the first place.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stands on a military jeep as he inspects troops of the People's 

Liberation Army during a military parade in July 2017 (Xinhua via AP)

The Doklam debate has missed one key element: The mutual withdrawal deal was clinched just after Chinese President Xi Jinping replaced the chief of the People Liberation Army’s (PLA) joint staff department. This topmost position – equivalent to the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff – was created only last year as part of Xi’s military reforms to turn the PLA into a force “able to fight and win wars”.
The Doklam pullbacks suggest that the removed chief, General Fang Fenghui, was an obstacle to clinching a deal with India and probably was responsible for precipitating the standoff in the first place. Fang was fired just days after he hosted America’s highest-ranking military officer, General Joseph Dunford.
To be sure, this was not the first time that PLA belligerence in the Himalayas imposed diplomatic costs on China. A classic case was what happened when Chinese President Xi Jinping reached India on a state visit in September 2014. Xi arrived on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday with a strange gift for his host — a predawn Chinese military encroachment deep into Ladakh. The encroachment, the worst in many years in terms of the number of intruding troops, overshadowed Xi’s visit.
It is bizarre that the PLA would seek to mar in this manner the visit of its own head of state to a key neighbouring country. Yet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s earlier visit to New Delhi in 2013 was similarly preceded by a 19-km PLA incursion into another part of Ladakh that lasted three weeks.
Such provocations might suggest that they are intentional, with the Chinese government in the know, thus reflecting a preference for blending soft and hard tactics. But it is also possible that the provocations underscore the continuing “disconnect between the military and the civilian leadership” in China that then U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates had in 2011 warned about.
Xi’s purges of generals and admirals and other reform-related actions have been designed to consolidate his authority over the PLA and ensure that it does not blindside the government. But as Fang’s firing and other latest changes in the PLA leadership highlight, Xi is still working to bring the military fully under his control.
During his 2014 India visit, Xi appeared embarrassed by the accompanying PLA encroachment and assured Modi that he would sort it out upon his return.
Soon after he returned, the Chinese defence ministry quoted Xi as telling a closed-door meeting with PLA commanders that “all PLA forces should follow his instructions” and that the military must display “absolute loyalty and firm faith in the party.” He has conveyed that same message repeatedly since then, including recently on the 90th anniversary of the PLA’s creation. Had civil control of the PLA been working well, would Xi repeatedly be demanding “absolute loyalty” from the military or asking it to “follow his instructions”?

Under Xi’s two immediate predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, the PLA gradually became stronger at the expense of the party. The military’s growing power has troubled Xi, a former military reservist whose present wife — folk singer Peng Liyuan — is a civilian member of the PLA, holding a rank equivalent to major general.
As part of his effort to reassert party control over the military and carry out defence reforms, Xi has used his anti-corruption campaign to ensnare a number of top PLA officers. He has also cut the size of the ground force and established a new command-and-control structure.
But just as a dog’s tail cannot be straightened, asserting full civil control over the PLA is proving very challenging. After all, the party is ideologically and morally adrift and depends on the PLA to sustain its political monopoly and ensure domestic order. The PLA, with its soaring budgets and expanding role to safeguard China’s overseas interests, sees itself as the ultimate arbiter of Chinese nationalism.
The structural change in China parallels what happened in Imperial Japan, which rose dramatically as a world power in one generation after the 1868 Meiji Restoration. Boosted by war victories against Manchu-ruled China and Tsarist Russia, the Japanese military gradually went on to dictate terms to the civilian government, with tragic consequences.
The PLA’s increasing clout has led China to stake out a more muscular role, including resurrecting territorial and maritime disputes, asserting new sovereignty claims, and using construction activity to change the status quo. It won’t be long before the PLA rekindles Himalayan tensions with a new encroachment.
China’s internal politics clearly has a bearing on its external policy. China’s prospective rise as a praetorian state will adversely affect the security of its neighbours.
Brahma Chellaney is a geostrategist and author