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THAAD MAD BAD, Pt III: The True Nature of South China Sea Triangulation

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] t is easy to miss the nuanced maneuverings of the other states surrounding the South China Sea because of the giant political and diplomatic rumblings the two Great Powers of China and the United States create.

But those initiatives, while smaller and less explosive to mass media, are very important in understanding how the two Great Powers compete for attention, respect, and primacy in the region. A Reuters piece from April 2016 illustrates this effectively:

In telling the Group of Seven (G7) yesterday to butt out of its controversial maritime claims in East Asia, China has doubled down on an historic strategic blunder. Beijing’s belligerence in the South China Sea is especially imprudent. By refusing to compromise on its outrageous sovereignty claims, the government of Xi Jinping discredits its “peaceful rise” rhetoric and complicates efforts by member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “triangulate” between China and the United States. Continued Chinese muscle-flexing will only undermine support for president Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and push regional fence-sitters into the U.S. embrace. The most promising outcome for all concerned would be a face-saving climb-down by China.

While most western media reported this as a fairly benign constructive critique of Chinese transgressions, it is important to note how many subtle digs are embedded within the critique that can be taken as a direct threat to Chinese power. Bringing up the possibility of undermining the One Belt, One Road initiative is overtly hostile, given how much time, investment, and diplomatic cache China has put into the endeavor. More importantly, until that moment events in the South China Sea and development of OBOR were never conflated together. The former was traditionally seen as military/political power-flexing, while the latter has been rather expansively characterized in terms of mutually beneficial economic development. Trying to connect the two into some sort of quid pro quo for acquiescence is likely to only incite Chinese ire rather than capitulation. This is also how the term ‘face-saving climb-down’ would be inevitably interpreted in Beijing – as acquiescence and capitulation, not as the ‘most promising outcome for all.’

Most intriguing of all was the rather tame admission that China’s maneuvers are making it more complicated for ASEAN member states to ‘triangulate’ between the United States and the People’s Republic. It is easy to glance over that phrase as insignificant but it is not: in real terms ‘triangulation’ is not so much about seeking mutually-beneficial compromise or finding resolutions to problems that let all prosper and save face. Triangulation is strategic Machiavellianism: it is the effort to play the interests of the United States off of the interests of China, trying to leverage each so as to make individual gains for the strategizing smaller country. Triangulation takes place at every level of global interaction, all the way down to the smallest local level. This is no surprise. But journalism like the piece above is somewhat disingenuous: triangulating between China and the United States is not a benign activity that carries no loss and no sacrifice. Triangulation always involves such things. And China knows this. Writing pieces that try to overlook this reality simply avoids the diplomatic space China both operates in and is not willing to be outcompeted for.

Triangulation is also not uni-directional: going only from the lesser South China Sea littorals to China or the United States. Both of the Great Powers try quite diligently to angle on the triangulation: not only trying to maximize their bilateral relations with individual ASEAN members, but also outflanking and outwitting each other. A clear example of this just happened in the fall of 2016 when Philippine President Duterte made an official visit to Beijing and shockingly declared that he was basically done with the United States and was doing his own pivot to China. The fallout from this announcement is likely to be felt for years. The Philippines, after all, was arguably one of the most vociferous opponents of China in terms of South China Sea maneuvers and most aligned with US perspectives. Even now many analysts in America are unwilling to believe Duterte was not somehow coerced to make this declaration. But this is American hubris failing to note important aspects of the South China Sea dynamic: narratives change and change often.

For example, non-Western media sources have been documenting several personal-political reasons that might have motivated Duterte before making his China visit:

  • He is convinced the United States engages important issues like human rights only in the areas that directly benefit its strategic objectives, rather than as a universal dispassionate position. There are historical examples within Philippine history itself that make Duterte convinced of this with great passion.
  • He feels strongly about a long-standing American tendency to take the Philippines for granted as ‘brown little brothers’ (a reference all the way back to President Taft), rather than as a legitimate ally deserving equal respect.
  • As Mayor of Davao City there were at least two incidents that left a diplomatic distaste in his mouth: first involved a supposed illegal extradition of an American citizen out of the Philippines by the CIA (though the Agency denies this) and second revolved around alleged mistreatment in an American airport as he transited through the United States to another country. Both instances represent to Duterte that the US does as it pleases and is ‘uneven’ in how it respects supposed allies.

This is why the positions of the competing sides in the South China Sea are not nearly as clear as the United States tries to portray it. It is not a single ‘good’ American narrative valiantly trying to push back an opposing ‘bad’ Chinese narrative. The competing narratives interact, engage, and evolve according to varying targets and objectives, sometimes on an almost daily basis. Most of the discussion of these narratives simply tackles actual military, political, and diplomatic maneuvers. Talk of island-building and weapons-systems carry the day, every day, with little attention paid to strategic theory. But strategic thinking, the disposition of philosophy, is something deeply important to China as it formulates and prioritizes its South China Sea policy. This is an area that America ironically downplays in the media while emphasizing within corridors of power. A simple analysis of strategic discussions that took place in the United States about the area, not even classified but actually public discussions accessible to all, quickly reveal why the Chinese narrative might have became obsessed with ‘defensive positioning’ within the South China Sea. That strategic analysis is the focus for part IV.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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The Challenges of Hybrid Warfare in Pakistan

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Hybrid warfare refers to the use of a mixture of conventional and unconventional military tactics and techniques in order to achieve strategic objectives. This type of warfare has become increasingly prevalent in recent years and has been utilized by numerous actors, including state and non-state actors.

Russians are considered to be the inventors of Hybrid war; the Russia-Ukraine hybrid war refers to a conflict between Russia and Ukraine that has been ongoing since 2014. The conflict began when Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Ukraine, such as Donetsk and Luhansk, declared independence from Ukraine and formed the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” In response, the Ukrainian government launched a military operation to regain control of the region, leading to a conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives.

Russia has been accused of providing military support to the separatists, including weapons, supplies, and manpower. The Russian military has also been accused of direct involvement in the conflict, including the use of Russian soldiers fighting in Ukrainian territory. Additionally, the conflict has been characterized by a sophisticated information warfare campaign that includes disinformation, propaganda, and cyberattacks.

The impact of the hybrid war in Ukraine has been significant, both for the country and for the wider region. The conflict has resulted in a large number of casualties and displacement, as well as significant economic and infrastructure damage. Moreover, the conflict has strained relations between Russia and the West, and has raised concerns about the security and stability of the region as a whole.

However, in the context of Pakistan, hybrid warfare has been a persistent issue due to the country’s strategic location and the presence of numerous internal and external security threats. The country has faced a range of unconventional challenges, including terrorism, sectarian violence, and insurgency, which have significantly impacted its stability and security. For instance, the assault on the Chinese consulate in Karachi in November 2018, Ali Raza Abidi’s murder in December, armed resistance to the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor in some areas of Balochistan, and the terrorist attack on the FC training facility in Loralai in January 2019 are all characterized as manifestations of hybrid warfare inside the nation.

Major contributors to the security situation in Pakistan:

One of the major contributor to the security situation in Pakistan is the state’s use of hybrid warfare tactics in its foreign policy. This has been particularly evident in the context of its relationship with India, where Pakistan has been accused of supporting militant groups that carry out cross-border attacks and same goes for India as the EU Dis info Lab, an independent non-profit organization based in Brussels, Belgium, that specializes in research and analysis of disinformation campaigns, primarily in the context of the European Union (EU), published a number of reports detailing disinformation campaigns aimed at various countries, including India.

In 2019, the EU Dis info Lab published a report, according to its investigative study titled “The Indian Chronicles,” India used 750+ websites located in 119 different nations to de-legitimize and isolate Pakistan internationally. The network was found to have links to the Russian government and was reportedly aimed at influencing public opinion on a number of sensitive issues, including the Indian elections, the situation in Kashmir, and tensions between India and Pakistan. The ultimate aim of all this is to keep Pakistan economically and politically unstable and to place Pakistan on the grey list of FATF, therefore, all this has further escalated tensions between the two countries and contributed to jeopardize the overall security situation in the South Asian region.

Adding to this, another major contributor to the security situation in Pakistan is the rise of extremist and militant groups, such as the Taliban and Al Qaeda, which have been able to gain a foothold in the country due to the lack of effective governance and the presence of ungoverned spaces. These groups have carried out a series of devastating attacks, resulting in loss of life and property, and causing widespread instability and insecurity.

For instance, the conflict in the North-West region of Pakistan dates back to the 1980s, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The US and its allies provided support to the Afghan resistance fighters, many of whom were trained in Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, these fighters turned their attention towards the Pakistani state, leading to an insurgency in the North-West region. Over the years, various groups have emerged, some with links to Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, others with more local agendas.

In response to this threat, the Pakistani military has conducted a number of operations in the North-West region, including Operation Zarb-e-Azab and Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. These operations have had some success in reducing the threat from the insurgency, but the conflict remains ongoing. In addition to military operations, the Pakistani government has also employed various other tactics to counter the insurgency, including information operations, psychological operations, and development projects aimed at improving the lives of the local population.

While the conflict in the North-West region is the most notable example of hybrid warfare in Pakistan, there are also other examples of hybrid warfare in the country. For example, India has been accused of sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan, and there have been a number of high-profile terrorist attacks in the country that have been linked to India, even when we look into the course of history we get to know that the propagation of Mujib’s six-point plan, as well as the training and assistance provided to the Mukti Bahini’s violent separatist struggle, were all coordinated by India during the crisis in East Pakistan in 1971. In a similar line, the fact that India is still using proxies in the area to wage a Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC) against Pakistan may be used to examine the present scope of hybrid warfare against that country. Furthermore, there have been allegations of foreign intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, operating in Pakistan and using hybrid warfare tactics.

Along with this, Sectarianism also has been a major contributor to hybrid warfare in Pakistan, as the country has a long history of sectarian tensions between its majority Sunni and minority Shia populations. These tensions have often been exploited by external actors to advance their own interests, which has contributed to instability and conflict in the country.

One example of this is the rise of Sunni extremist groups, such as the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which have targeted Shia communities in Pakistan and have been responsible for a number of high-profile terrorist attacks. These groups are often seen as being supported by external actors, such as Saudi Arabia, which has a long-standing interest in promoting Sunni Islam in the region.

In addition, Iran has also been accused of supporting Shia militant groups in Pakistan, which has further fueled sectarian tensions and contributed to hybrid warfare in the country.

The ongoing sectarian conflict in Pakistan has also created a conducive environment for extremist groups to operate, and has weakened the state’s ability to effectively respond to security challenges. This has had a major impact on the stability and security of the country, and has hindered its progress and development.

Causes of hybrid warfare in Pakistan:

The causes of hybrid warfare in Pakistan are complex and multi-faceted, and can be traced back to a number of different factors. Some of the key causes of hybrid warfare in Pakistan include:

  1. Political instability: Political instability in Pakistan has contributed to the rise of hybrid warfare in the country. The country has a long history of political instability, which has created conditions that are conducive to the development of insurgency and other forms of hybrid warfare.
  • Geopolitical factors: Pakistan’s location in a volatile region, with hostile neighboring countries, has made it susceptible to hybrid warfare. The conflict in Afghanistan, and India’s role in the region, has also contributed to the rise of hybrid warfare in Pakistan.
  • Religious extremism: Religious extremism has been a significant factor in the rise of hybrid warfare in Pakistan. The country has a history of religious extremism, with various militant groups using religion as a means of achieving their objectives.
  • Economic factors: Poverty, unemployment, and economic inequality have contributed to the rise of hybrid warfare in Pakistan. In many cases, individuals who are unable to find employment and who are living in poverty are more likely to join militant groups, which can lead to the development of hybrid warfare.

Strategies to Overcome its Implications:

Therefore, to get rid of hybrid warfare in Pakistan, a multi-faceted approach is needed that addresses the root causes of the conflict and provides stability, security, and prosperity to the people of the country. Some of the key steps that could be taken include:

  1. Addressing the root causes of conflict: The root causes of the conflict and security issues in Pakistan, such as poverty, inequality, and political marginalization, need to be addressed to ensure long-term stability and security. This could involve economic and social reforms, such as poverty reduction initiatives, job creation programs, and measures to promote political representation and inclusion.
  • Strengthening institutions: The institutions in Pakistan, such as the government, military, and police, need to be strengthened to effectively respond to the challenges posed by hybrid warfare. This could involve reforms to improve transparency, accountability, and efficiency, as well as increased investment in capacity-building and training programs.
  • Improving governance: Effective governance is critical to addressing the root causes of conflict and ensuring stability and security. This could involve reforms to improve the delivery of public services, reduce corruption, and promote transparency and accountability.
  • Building resilience: Building resilience to hybrid warfare requires investing in human capital, such as education and healthcare, and in the development of infrastructure and economic systems. This can help reduce the risk of conflict and improve the capacity of communities to cope with shocks and stressors.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, Pakistan has been facing various forms of hybrid warfare for decades, from internal conflict to cross-border aggression from neighboring countries. The implications of hybrid warfare in Pakistan are significant, both for the country itself and for the region as a whole, and the conflict in the North-West region remains a major challenge to the stability and security of the country. To effectively counter hybrid warfare in Pakistan, a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach is needed, including military operations, information operations, psychological operations, and development projects aimed at improving the lives of the local population.

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Why the Indo-Pacific turned out the US center of strategic gravity?

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As a dominant power, the US keeps grave concerns about its hegemonic position at all times. Because the decline of France hegemony by Britain in the 18th century constantly reminds the US that its domination could be collapsed too. So, in this fear, the US after being the single most dominant nation follows the conscious policy and keeps Germany and Russia at the top of the list of threats to its hegemonic position. And accordingly, the US steers its diplomatic strategies where Europe is ascertained as the US center of strategic gravity in terms of averting the challenges of Russia and Germany. To deter their series of threats, for example, the United States, as an observer, formally introduced the largest regional organization in Europe, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), in 1973, and by doing so, the United States influenced all European states and the Soviet Union’s first former members to join NATO. By all means, it can be argued that US diplomacy keeps its eyes on Europe at all times. But it was till the late 20th century. A question to ask, therefore, what happened then?

After then, the US twirled its strategic cap from Europe to Asia, and Indo-Pacific turned out the US center of strategic gravity. But why it happened? There are many factors, but I enroll some credible dynamics that influenced the US to turn its strategic eyes from Europe to Asia in terms of sustaining its hegemonic position.

The Rise of China

Since the 21st century, China has brought rapid change in its technological, political, military, and economic sectors. With aiming to prolong military power, for instance, China fixed up a record-breaking expenditure for the Department of Defense (DOD) by $230 billion in the last budget which was the second largest in the world behind the US. Along with this, China also surpassed its intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); whereas it was 20 stockpiles in 2002, at present the number ramped up to around 400. And it is estimated that China’s warheads will rise to 1,500 within the 2035 timeline. Moreover, China has now leapfrogged into a top position in terms of technologies; 5G communications, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum science, robotics, and space. Apart from these, China currently took place the second-largest GDP at 18 trillion in the world. And politically, China comprehended its strategic relations with ASEAN countries and it is playing a strategic role in the world system as a so-called ‘benign power’ and extending its alliances gradually.

Such the rise of china is beseeming as a threat that will decline the US hegemony in the future. According to Organsky’s power transition theory, the single most dominant power is dethroned by the second largest power, which has a faster-growing economy, greater political capability, and sufficient military muscle in comparison to the matured power. According to this logic, China, as the second largest power in terms of political capability and economy, can shatter the US hegemony at any time. So, to resist the “China rise as threat” with a strong hand, the US makes the Indo-Pacific the pivot area of its geopolitical strategies.

9/11 Terrorist Attack

On September 11, 2001, the 19 militants affiliated with the Afghani Islamic extremist group Taliban-Al Qaeda staged jointly a terrorist attack on the American Pentagon (known as the World Trade Center) and dispatched more than 3,000 people. From this fact, the US defined terrorism as a great threat to its hegemony because it has already asserted that can destroy its dominant position at any time. For Statista, 37,001 terrorist attacks were cracked out in south Asia from 2007 to 2021 manifesting that the blaze of terrorism has been spread out mostly over this area. In this context, the Indo-Pacific region is identified as the counterterrorism pivot. As a result, the US kept its strategies towards Indo-Pacific to encounter terrorism.

Offensive Intention of North Korea

In 1950, North Korea wielded an offensive invasion against South Korea which was a pro-western country. On account of this, the US, as a friend to take revenge in place of South Korea, gave economic sanctions on North Korea under the Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA) that was exercised till 2008. Consequently, the US-North Korea bilateral relations have gone out as more antagonistic.

But before 2009, North Korea did not carry out any potential challenge against the US threats for interest. For the first time in 2013, Kim Jong-un after being the supreme leader of North Korea launched a robust attack on US interests by conducting a ballistic missile test on Japan which was a great alliance of the US. Following that, in 2016 and 2017, North Korea again tested ballistic missiles nearby South Korea and the US that ghostly set ablaze the US hegemony. At that time, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that in terms of warhead stockpiles, North Korea has ramped up from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could challenge us at any time.

And that’s happened so in 2022, North Korea carried out an unprecedented 63 ballistic missile tests nearby the US and its alliance’s territory. So, the US policy along with UN resolutions evoked North Korea to curtail its ballistic missiles. But Kim Jong-un directly refused their denuclearization voice and even motivated his country to continue the development of nuclear power. Therefore, undoubtedly such behavior of Kim Jong-un determines an offensive intention that can carry out a strong attack on US hegemony believed by the US intelligence community. For this reason, the US kept its strategic eyes on North Korea under the Indo-Pacific umbrella.

Geographical Proximity regarding Alliances

To sustain the hegemonic position in the international system, the single most dominant nation has to provide economic assistance, political support, and security to its alliances. In this context, the US has played the parental responsibilities (PR) for its alliances since it became a hegemon in the 20th century. At present, we can see that Asia-based US alliances are facing more threats than the other alliances of the world. Such as; India, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea which are US-friendly states are constantly confronting the security threats of China and North Korea. China, driven by expansionist ideology, constantly seeks to the way of how to control Ladakh, Sikkim (India), and Doclam territory (Bhutan) by military forces. Not only that, but China by following the One-China principle also assaults Taiwan’s sovereignty since 1992. On the other hand, North Korea escalates its aggressive intention in Northern Limit Line (NLL), a maritime border between South and North Korea, and ups tensions in the South’s city of Sokcho. Even more, North Korea’s series of military actions, namely its consecutive launches of ballistic missiles, threaten the peace, security, and stability of Japan.

Therefore, as a hegemon, it is the US’s responsibility to encounter those rising threats that challenge its hegemonic position through the geographical proximity of its alliances. In this regard, the US triggered its strategic gun toward Asia where its alliances faced more threats than others.

In all these views, it is asserted as a conclusion that the Sino-US competition is continuously making the Indo-Pacific region very complicated that will be prolonged so far in the future. But, in this region, it is required for underdeveloped or developing countries like Bangladesh to remain vigilant about the Sino-US geopolitical game and must avoid being the KABAB MEIN HADDI of their politics.

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Defence in the new age of AtmaNirbhar Bharat

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Authors: Dr. Manan Dwivedi and Shonit Nayan*

Make in India is an all pervasive, all subsuming and all intrinsic entity to the new trajectory of innovation and development which the nation is adhering to with hits larger idiom of becoming a super power by 2047, with the other name being the nomenclature of indigeneity. India has been strengthened both symbolically and materially through the modicum of its G-20 Presidency and its role as a non-permanent members of the hallowed portals of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with the entire conceptualization of the concept of human security, which itself takes us back to our Vedic and the Sanatani past.

               As a neophyte when one dwelt inside as a kid into the tales of the long gestation time periodswhich go into acquiring new weapons technology and weaponry itself for the nation’s Defense forces, several rudimentary efforts have been in sway by the New Delhi denomination. The manner in which the TATA’s are tying up with the Boeing and the Airbus industries and the pace at which Adani has partnered with Lockheed Martin, makes a concerned citizen get up and take notice. There was a manner in which stories percolated to us that by the time a particularly potent weapon system would be operationalized by the military, it would have turned outmoded and obsolete. Still, the more optimists amongst us can avail of the pride that now the New Delhi dispensation has made it clear to the Global Defense investment and manufacturing interests that the foreign firms have to establish manufacturing hubs and nodes if they want to emerge as the key exports to the Indian Defense establishment. Also, as an attendant fact, the tangible narrative ascertains that the foreign firms would be free to export Defense weaponry to the foreign nations too while manufacturing in the country.

As an instance, Tejas is a single engine, Delta wing and multirole fighter designed by the Aeronautical Development agency with the Hindustan Aeronautics Agency, they are meant to replace the aging fleet of MIG-21’s in order to improve the aggressive and defense outreach of the Indian Air force and Indian Navy.  The Tejas are part of the extension of the LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) which seeks to bring India in parity with few forces and their defense establishments. Keeping in view the fact and the attendant practice of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the new Tejas Mark 1 an aircraft carries 40 improvements over the Tejas aircraft built in 2015. Thus, the canny optimists amongst us can hope for better and ebullient news as far as the LCA and other procured and ingeniously manufactured weaponry is concerned. One need not relegate to the backburner the fact that the weaponry aid to the besieged Ukraine has stymied and effectively blocked the invading force of Moscow. With the Ukrainian President Zeklensky clamoring for more state of the art armaments such as the Leopard tanks from Poland and Germany, the significance kill potential of advanced machinery and their tell tale application serves as the “ differential “ between  a military and Defense victory or a debacle and a defeat.

Self reliance in defense production has been one of the key attributes of the Indian defense Policy since the 1960’s. In the 2018 make in India defense programme there is an added emphasis on theskill enhancement and the technological expertise of the employees in the Aerospace and the Defense industry. The Defence Production Policy further elaborates and relates that, “Centres of Excellence with industry participation and with Government support, will be set up in niche areas to enable development of frontier technology areas with active involvement of academia and R&D institutions. 19.7 Competitive funded prototyping will be pursued during the design process to address the multiple challenges of technical feasibility, affordability, producibility and supportability.”

The Defense Production Department seeks to spawn a qualified and comprehensive production infrastructure in order to prepare weapons and platforms of the order of tanks. Fighter- multirole jets, helicopters, submarines, earth moving equipment, armored vehicles and heavy vehicles to add teeth and robustness to the Indian Defense establishment with the added carrot to the foreign investors who can further on export their weapons wares to other nations too with Indian stations serving as the manufacturing hub for the larger region. Thus, expediency, returns and self reliance all amalgamate into pitchforking India into the larger firmament of Defense production and Trade. Still, it needs to be emphasized that AtmaNirbharta does not contain itself into the constraints of plane jane self reliance but the entire vision of the conceptualization earmarks the new found perch and confidence of a rising India. It’s also a striving to let us relegate to the backburner, the dark shadows of Colonialism and place an end to the slave mindset of the nation’s hoi polloi and make them and the defense industry to gel with global innovation currents along with the stress on comprehensive citizenship.

*Mr. Shonit Nayan is a Programme Fellow at India Smart City Fellowship Program, Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs

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