Recent media reports that China started nuclear testing and Trump administration is also mulling ideas to initiate nuclear testing is the precedent of extremely dangerous trajectory in the 21st century. The erosion of arms control framework, may bring us to the obsolete ruins of nuclear testing sites. This paper will discuss the emergence of possibility of limited and high yield nuclear tests by the major nuclear powers especially the US China and Russia at the global level, and India and Pakistan at the regional level. We will note and observe trends which will decipher the quite resurgence of nuclear weapons test sites, not just for delivery means but for its actual yield. The erosion of arms control treaty was perceived as impossible a decade ago, and the arms control frameworks and the verification procedures evolved enough which become routine for the members of any such frameworks, after resurgent posturing from Russia and the new dislike for treaties by the administration in US, which sought solo flight in the global affairs by scraping and renegotiate almost every deal and agreement America made since its came into being. This new fragmented world is reintroducing some serious nuclear fallouts, almost from all the nuclear weapons states, with new ones in the offing, as the commitment to proliferation is eroding, the nuclear testing can be seen in the near future.
Prelude: Throughout the ages the invention of weapons systems brought about a seismic change in the world, whether it’s a castle warfare techniques of the medieval wars, where a formidable castle was an enduring challenge for the invaders, the castle was considered as the political and military heart of any territory, without getting control of the castle the invaders were considered as defeated in their mission. The siege warfare emerges to exhaust the castle strength by laying a siege. The evolution of weaponry to have a decisive edge in any conflict remained the prime focus of humans. The careful examination of conflicts over the ages shows that conflicts intent evolved overtime, first it was about getting more territory, then it shifted to arable lands, then acquiring supremacy through both, the religion was a late entry into the fray, the ideas and ideologies away from religion also shaped the dynamics of conflicts, the ideologies played a crucial role in the conflict we see today. The emergence of nuclear weapons after the two horrific great wars, was the single most event which changed the conflict we see today. The American atomic bombs may have killed millions, but the very nature of this weapons changed the way we see conflict and wars.
The memory of the cold war generation in Europe, Americas and Soviet Union, is a stark reminder that the world divided in two poles on the basis of ideology and economic system, put their bet on the most powerful weapons system human ever built and used, the nuclear genie from 1945 onwards was captured in a transparent fragile glass, but its horrific consequences was periodically shown to the world in the form of nuclear explosion by both poles. The nuclear testing is still the stark reminder of the world which was convinced enough to turn the world into ashes, if other side tried to intrude into its sphere of influence or resort to force to pursue that end. The colonial and major powers used a vast swath of land, air and sea for the nuclear testing. The nuclear testing have two intended objectives to demonstrate the power of the weaponry, and to show the rival pole that they are willing to pursue any end if they are threatened. Vast literature available on the emergence of nuclear testing, testify these findings. The nuclear explosions in the cold war era where not just limited to the gigantic blasts, but were also introduced at the small level, by experimenting atomic weapons at the battlefield and asymmetric or sabotage level, in the form of man pack. The legacy of nuclear testing still haunt us in many ways, whether it’s the cases sought by Marshall Islands and the ex-French colonies against its colonizers, the United States and France and ex-Soviet Union, the nuclear testing today have many facades and emerges as a well-researched area in the nuclear politics realm, the history of nuclear testing by all the 5 major nuclear powers is a history of human suffering. Nuclear explosion is all history and there is much written on the topic, from the world first nuclear explosion to the last one in contemporary history when North Korea tested its thermonuclear weapon on 3 September 2017. We will focus on the possible emergence of nuclear testing in South Asian region. Both India and United States was the first country to detonate a series high yield nuclear weapon in the bravo test in 1954, followed by the Soviet Union in 1961, the explosion was the most powerful in the human history, the bomb was labeled as Tsar Bomba means Tsar’s bomb.
The culmination of high yield weapons by both countries provided them with evidence about the actual data about the status of damage, in few of the explosion actual military assets are being placed in the range of tests to gauge the effects of nuclear explosion of those assets. The history of nuclear testing and fissile material seem capped till the Obama presidency, but the Trump administration’s revival of the old concepts, like new tactical nuclear weapons, the space force and possible future nuclear tests, as the Trump’s America seem to negate the global treaties and frameworks, the recent pullout from the intermediate nuclear forces treaty, opened the hatch for the testing of new delivery systems, the hypersonic both in Intercontinental ballistic missiles ICBMs and cruise missile realms are ready to be developed by the leading weapons manufacturers.
As the established and time tested, treaties and arms control frameworks fell apart in the form of CFE treaty, INF treaty and the slow but sure erosion of the Open skies treaty, because of the growing mistrust between the major global powers. As we revisit the history of nuclear history, it has three visible trends, that is development of the warheads, its development system, followed by the sabre rattling and potential threats because of offensive nuclear postures In the form of doctrines and strategies, followed by the new frameworks to control the threat, by reaching a common understanding to eliminate the threat posed by that weapon system. The complete architecture of arms control which was the bedrock of global security by not just minimizing the nuclear threat, but excluding it entirely from the conflict scenario, is now crumbling, both at global and regional level. Few years back the concept of crumbling of the arms control framework was unimaginable, though various factors were there to rollback treaties but both Obama administration and Russian government never tried to go for such options, but the world saw a revival in the form of new start and later at regional level in proliferation realm when EU and US opted to go for a treaty with Iran. The spirit of rule based order was seen in all these steps, where threat was being caped using the existing frameworks, which neutralizes threat to the world peace posed by the nuclear realm. The commitment and trust factors are driving major stakeholders away from their global commitments, which already initiated the global arms race, in which the possible resumption of nuclear tests may make a debut, the last reported US nuclear explosion was in the 1992, at the dawn of the new world order, the France and others closed in 1996. The regional nuclear rivals, has its solo show stealer in the 1998, after that the only nuclear mad child North Korea remained in news because of their nuclear testing.
Regional Nuclear Rivals: These explosions Pakistan are observing a moratorium on further nuclear explosions but the changing nature of leadership in India pose a threat to this mutual understanding. The US and French companies involved in the nuclear commerce with India and the recent push by the US to make India a de jure nuclear power by admitting them in the Nuclear Supplier Group, is a step seen with suspicion by Pakistan and China. The blind western eye on India in its human rights violations, and other global issues, mainly with Pakistan shows US clearly accommodating India, in the club, where they have the luxury to go ballistic in the nuclear realm. Pakistan opposition to the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty FMCT and the US and Indian support to the treaty shows that they lift India out of the fissile material deficiency, and India at any stage can turn this fissile material allowed to obtain for energy use, for the weapons purposes, the steps which validate this argument, are the inclusion of India in various strategic export control regimes, like Wassennar Arrangement, Australia Group, Missile Technology Control regime, MTCR, and its push for NSG Nuclear Supplier Group. India Pakistan nuclear equation can only be balanced with parity between both at the nuclear level. Any gigantic leap on Indian part which is already happening, will move Pakistan away from its commitments, as national interests and its security won’t allow it to observe those moratorium, and will ward off its defensive strategies which are in place since it detonated its first device.
Make in India may mark the end of moratorium: Defense acquisition is normal activity in almost every country, countries acquire weapons from foreign countries according to their arms forces need, few countries in the world go all alone to suffice their defense needs, the prime example of such counties are United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom and France, means all the UNSC permanent members, others countries rely heavily on foreign purchases to either feel safe or threaten others by those acquisitions. India is among this second tier vast grouping which rely heavily on foreign input for its defense needs. India under Nrendar Modi introduced an ambitious plan to convert Indian defense needs into entirely domestic domain, to lessen and at later stage eliminate any foreign input in its defense acquisition, in nuclear realm they gain much by signing up to nuclear deals with United States, France and Russia, at the space level they made sufficient advances, by thrusting for ingenious GPS system and space Prowse which can seriously rival that of major powers, Indian military plans in almost all domains defy its regional posture which they tout being influenced by China and on later stages Pakistan, but its military ends are truly global In nature. Whether its acquisition related to naval assets or aerial combat fighters they are pushing for indigenous build and operate model, by purchasing technology from the lead tech countries. The Indian nuclear programme is running full pace and unnoticed in the western circles because of their newly formed alliance against China. India at later stage may come up with their nuclear testing plans. Totally ingenious India for its defense need and its global economic clout will make it hard for the global powers to punish India the way did in the aftermath of 1998 nuclear tests.
Pakistan and the nuclear tests: Pakistan being vigorously pushed by the leading western scholars in their famous Stimson’s paper the Normal Nuclear Pakistan, written by Toby Dalton and Michael Krepon. The paper said that Pakistan should not wait for India and tread its own way to join the test ban framework. This will put pressure on India, to sign up to those frameworks in response, citing Pakistan recognition at the global level. Pakistan nuclear weapons program remained robust, and emerge as one of the most advanced among the nuclear weapons, the rational posturing vise a vis India, and various proposals being presented by Pakistan, to introduce a strategic restraint regime, and others measures to sign up to those frameworks which can put a visible limit on the uncontrolled arms race being imposed by India on Pakistan. The introduction of other domains into the nuclear foray by India, such as the concept of nuclear triads, aircraft carriers, to carry out long range nuclear air strikes, to dilute Pakistan defenses, the expansion is disturbing enough for Pakistan to commit to any such frameworks in recent future, because the south Asian nuclear politics is still an unfinished business, as Pakistan is being dragged below by its opponent in parity. Any future decision by India to test nuclear devices, whether low of high yield will invite Pakistan to demonstrate its capability to maintain deterrence vis a vis India, and thus remain relevant in the nuclear game. The political and economic fallout will be worse for Pakistan as compared to India. But looking at the development at international and regional level it seem possibility that nuclear testing may become a headline in the strategically unstable South Asia.
China and nuclear testing: China remained the only constant in nuclear equation. Its swift and decisive nuclear forces seem to replace Russians in the Western strategic lens, as the growing literature in leading research organizations is dedicated to China vs. United States nuclear equation, discussing number of delivery means, the strength and type of payload, its role and place in nuclear arms control domain, and the offset technologies China is pursuing and testing in nuclear realm. The Chinese being the efficient partner in nuclear nonproliferation and arms control domain remain committed to nuclear peace.
Russia and nuclear testing: The Russians being labeled as bully in the recent skirmishes in the nuclear realm, by introducing a series of violations, in various treaties and frameworks, most notably the cold war milestone called INF intermediate nuclear forces treaty. The CFE treaty and other framework related to fissile material was set aside by the Russian Federation, citing it as contrary to Russia’s global influence and non-compliance from west. The Russian concept of Poseidon which is in its infant stages, the concept is terrifying for test ban advocates, as the Russian calculations of this weapons till now is only limited to computer generated models, the downward trajectory in US West relation, with harsh sanctions in place, and Russia fighting it out with extending influence In other parts of the world, like Middle East, Asia, Arctic and the Eastern Europe, the United States and Russia may find them in the loggerheads, to offset any coercion in the future the nuclear testing to demonstrate its new arsenal seem possibility.
The Russian introduction of hypersonic missiles in the nuclear and conventional realm, forced other western powers like France and United States to keep up with the pace, in the nuclear delivery, France announced to have hypersonic missiles by 2021, United States also on project to introduce such missiles. The steps in the delivery means by all the rivals, won’t be limited to the delivery means alone, the strength of any weapon is its payload, the gradual evolution of kilotons to megatons, and then its fragmentation according to strategy in the cold war era and post-cold war era, will require these powers especially Russia to come out of computer simulation and test weapons in real time, to reintroduce the concept of arms control for the 21st century, where weapons, range, payload, target and all other parameters got new definitions. The US seem to initiate or follow the testing, as there already plans in place. The Russian actions shows that they are planning for this eventuality to happen.
United States and Nuclear test ban : The US remain the only nuclear weapons state to have conducted the most nuclear tests to gauge its weapons vitality for both performance and signaling purposes. United States is not party to comprehensive test ban treaty. Under Obama, various programs like Nuclear Security Summit and Proliferation Security initiative were bolstered and used to ensure nuclear safety and security, the administration dedicated much focus to these areas, but its last leg the fourth summit was briefly politicized and the major nuclear power Russia skipped the summit, citing nuclear bias. The NSS remained active platforms to discus and implement ideas, the Trump administration is not willing to commit to such platforms.
The nuclear testing threat from United states is two pronged, one, it’s from the United States itself, and second, the United states commitment and concrete steps to export nuclear technology to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states like United Arab Emirates, the geopolitical standing of these countries is precarious in a troubled region, which cite Iran as a security threat, the Iran nuclear program is a no secret and they like United States and Israel are vary of the Europe efforts to stop Iran from acquiring bombs. The India Pakistan nuclear rivalry completing its second decade proved to be the enduring one, but with a rational underpinnings, both countries maintained the relevance of these nukes, by not restoring to cold war’s hair trigger strategies, nor the weapons are being put on table as option like the North Korean regime, the North Korean like nuclear brinkmanship is anticipated from Iran and its Arab rivals, if they get their hand on these weapons.
The nuclear testing genie can erupt from the Arabian sands, because of the blind us strategic exports. With trump at the helm, the United States which is developing and upgrading its SSBN fleet, may find it necessary to test the trident or its successor, with a new payloads. One enduring feature remained constant at the end of cold war, is the development of delivery system but no side tested its revised and updated payload. The evolution in fissile material technology is evident from the fuels like MOX and others, the payload for nukes evolved over time, adding lethality to the device. . The cold war strategies like massive retaliation flexible response are dust now, all the strategies were carefully designed citing the delivery means and payload used in those devices, United States and Russia are both convinced to have updated nuclear delivery means to dilute each other strategies, the nuclear testing remain the most relevant item after they get their hands on updated delivery means.
Nuclear Testing in Brexited Europe, France and UK nukes: The nuclear testing in Europe is not a realistic assumption, France carried out almost its nuclear tests on the foreign occupied territories and islands. The last one being in 1996, The France resorting back to nuke testing holds no ground, the same hold true for United Kingdom, which also remained committed to the nuclear test ban, in the greater interest of humanity. Others factors being on the back foot in this realm, is the gradual military weakness of both countries vis a vis their rivals, the parity is unachievable and they still rely on united states to guard them against any future nuclear threat.
Conclusion: The examination of developments that occurred in all these nuclear countries shows that, the halt in the nuclear weaponry that the world saw in the first two decades of the 21st century is disappearing. Large scale nuclear developments, commitments for upgrading and replacing those weapons with new one is established fact. The United States will have new SSBNs operating in the oceans, a force that clearly offset the major power like China and even Russia, Russia offsetting United States in aerial delivery means, China being the newcomers among both of them on the path to have efficient nuclear force to take on the largest nuclear weapons states, Pakistan, India parity dilemma, European countries grappling with their own security dilemma, all these factors surely bring back the nukes as tool for the survival. A lot have been appearing and written on the delivery means but they payload problem is just resurfacing, and these nuclear weapons states may initiate a new wave of cold and hot tests to rewrite the rules of nuclear game in their respective regions. The major powers need to commit to the test ban, the world may not see high yield testing in the near future, but once a low yield new material weapon is tested by any power, it will reverse the gains of test ban, and will give reprieve to others to start the menace of nuclear testing, which is not just lethal from the environmental and human perspective but will also relive the horrors of nuclear winters, which have just started to fade from the human memory.
War to End or War to Follow?
“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline”. These were the recent words of US president Joe Biden in his address to the impending US withdrawal of Afghanistan. Whilst his opinion paints a ghastly picture for the forthcoming months, the negotiations run rampant to strike the common ground. However, with continued attacks being launched by the Taliban followed by incessant threats to the US regime to withdraw its troops by the agreed deadline, a hard stance seems legitimate both from the US front and the NATO: both facing a quandary that could either end the decades’ long warfare or fuel insurgency for decades to come.
The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11th Attacks in 2001. Although the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed a similar suit, the stint lasted only 26 days in a massive scale drive to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction; allegedly in tandem with the looming threat posed to the United States by the World Trade Centre debacle. However, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be one of the costliest wars; both in terms of artillery and military men.
Cited as one of the rarest areas of agreement between President Biden and his predecessor, Mr. Donald Trump, both favoured the ‘Bring an end to the endless war’ slogan. Before leaving the office, Mr. Trump signed a waiver to ordain the Pentagon to level down the US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 troops, bypassing the reservations of the congress to retain the level at 4000 troops. President Biden, despite being prudent of the hasty withdrawal, rejoiced the idea to bring the soldiers back. In line with his narrative, the US recently proclaimed to withdraw the remaining combat forces from Iraq whilst retaining only the training forces in the country. The 3rd round of talks between Washington and Iraq culminated with the joint statement: “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF [Iraq Security Forces], the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks”.
It is evident that the US wants to enact the plan to bring back the troops, however, Afghanistan poses a paradox in comparison to Iraq. While alleged Iran-backed militants continue to lock horns with both the ISF and the US troops, the US has consolidated a stronger hold evidenced by the recent rebuttal via airstrikes against the Iran-backed militants in Syria. The US holds the premise that Iran seeks economic relief and thereby has no incentive to disrupt the peace but to maintain it. Similarly, the US wants to make a compromise with Iran via renegotiating the JCPOA accord, with a possibility of stretching the ambit to include Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and the regional proxy wars purportedly financed by Iran, before a hard-line administration takes over the Iranian parliament later this year. So, with a fledgling Iraqi military and expanding prospects of negotiation with Iran, the US could safely pull out the troops whilst still maintaining pressure and presence in the guise of militaristic training in Iraq.
Afghanistan paints a graver reality in contrast. Despite rounds and rounds of negotiations over months, the continued violations of the agreement by the Taliban are making it riskier to draw out the troops. While the US wants to maintain its presence in the country, the wavering Ghani-administration adds oil to fire. A war that has claimed more than 2500 US soldiers and millions of civilians could face an impasse as the 3-week timeslot narrows over the decision-makers. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly claimed that the Taliban have not fully lived up to the commitments they made in the February 2020 agreement: “Violence levels are too high for a durable political settlement to be made”.
The Biden administration, CIA, and NATO face a dilemma to decide the mechanism of withdrawal before the clock ticks through. As the terror groups propagate in the neighbouring Middle East, an unplanned withdrawal could drive the entire region into jeopardy. This might be the primal concern of president Biden and the Pentagon. The flailing ISIS could find haven in the political fiasco the unravels after the US completely withdraws from the country, leaving the Afghani government at the whims of the insurgents. However, expecting a complete withdrawal is just naivety. The US is known to covertly operate hundreds of secret bases in cahoots with NATO throughout the infringed nations. While it’s supposedly claimed that the Taliban are privy to the location of the bases in Afghanistan, nothing definitive could be added in edgewise to the argument.
An alternative, and quite a plausible notion at present, could be an outright refusal to withdraw the troops before the Taliban strictly adhere to their side of the deal. The resulting warfare would subsume the past 2 decades of mayhem. The deal would most likely completely crumble and perish. The evidence is scattered over the last three months. In March, the attack on the Afghan security checkpoint in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz left 6 soldiers dead. An attack a few days ago in the province of Herat left 9 Afghan police personnel dead when the Taliban militants targeted two police checkpoints. The recent blow came when the Taliban attacked the NATO airbase in Kandahar: a base frequented by 100s of US troops. The brazen attitude and timing of the attacks could not send a clearer message of warning to follow the deadline.
President Biden faces a choice now. While the cards are clustered and the consequences are muddled, the foremost decision hangs: How to go about the negotiations? Whilst made abundantly clear that the troops might not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, he confidently patched his perspective by adding:“Can’t picture the US troops still being in Afghanistan next year”. So, while the agreement stands to make a safe withdrawal, the deadline of May 1st poses a challenge if the exceeding violence alludes to any clue. With mounting pressure from the republicans and a synonymous example of withdrawal in Iraq, President Biden should ideally emphasize on withdrawal of the troops, even if not entirely. This would allow the Biden administration to elongate the negotiations to quench violence instead of retreating without question. However, execution is the key. Deviating from the agreement forged by Mr. Donald Trump or taking an aggressive stance could easily incite the chaos further: making the Afghan war translate into Biden’s war for decades to follow.
Dual Use Technology Imports Aiding Pakistan’s Covert Nuclear Programme
A recent threat assessment report by the Norwegian security agencies reportedly highlighted the unhindered exploitation of dual use technology by Pakistan. Norwegian authorities have determined Pakistan to be among the countries posing greatest threat to them. With this report, Norway became the latest country to raise alarm about the ‘Pak’ practice of bypassing all international safeguards in gaining latest nuclear technology on the pretext of using it for education and health.
However, Norway is not the only country to realise the immense risk stemming from transferring critical technologies to Pakistan. Its assessment follows several other countries’ public acknowledgement of the nuclear threat posedby Pakistan. Czech Republic in its report titled “Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2019” also drew global attention towards Pakistan misleading the world in procuring internationally controlled items and technologies to aid its nuclear programme.
The evidence of Pakistan’s covert nuclear programmes go well beyond these reports. In 2019,the US Department of Justice indicted five persons associated with a Pakistan based front company for operating a network that exported US origin goods to Pakistan. The indictment identified 38 separate exports involving 29 different companies from around the country between September 2014 and October 2019. The network used to conceal the true destinations of the goods in Pakistan by showing front companies as the supposed purchasers and end users. However, US Justice Department statement disclosed that the goods were ultimately exported to Pakistan’s Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission without export licenses. Both AERO and PAEC are on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List, which imposes export license requirements for organizations whose activities are found to be contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests.
Similarly, German authorities disclosed in 2020 that Pakistan had sought technology for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) “in order to retain a serious deterrent potential against ‘arch enemy’ India”. The agency provided a detailed account of Pakistan’s efforts to steal information and material about nuclear weapons.
However, to fulfill its destructive agenda, Pakistan does not shy away from using the name of its poor public and students. Its government has repeatedly claimed that it seeks the dual use technologies for social and economic upliftment of the country by utilizing the technology in its health and education sectors.
But, these baseless arguments no longer seem to cut the ice with western countries. Meanwhile, on their part, Pak officials have complained against the latest Norwegian report on grounds that other countries may deny access to technology to Pak students for their advanced studies and Pakistani researchers would be refused admission to International institutes and universities. However, the Norwegian authorities have maintained their stance as based on independent assessment of the issue, including confidential inputs.
Several instances of Pakistan having gained access to dual technology in the garb of peaceful purposes have come to light in the recent years. And the risk continues considering Pakistan’s terror background and its history of stealing technologies from different parts of the world. It is the unsavory reputation of Pakistan as a troublemaker that has gone global and the country is viewed with suspicion even when humanitarian considerations come to fore.
Given the poor governance standards and history of failure of civil institutions in Pakistan, these observations provide a justification for apprehensions of the western countries. It remains to be seen whether these disclosures lead to sanctions or new export controls against Pakistan or the country again succeeds in misleading the world by playing victim’s card.
Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases
Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.
India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.
India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.
In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption
has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.
Shady background of Defsys
Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.
The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.
Rampant corruption in India
Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.
Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended
India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.
Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.
He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.
The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.
According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.
Legal cover for middlemen
Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.
Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual
There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.
The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.
For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”
Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product
Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.
India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)
India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.
In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”
According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.
Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more. Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.
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