The past week was by all accounts a momentous one, as no less a person than former Pakistani President and former Chief of the Army Staff, Gen (Ret'd) Pervez Musharraf, assertively disclosed what has been a 'no-go' area for India's mainstream media and the otherwise hyper-ventilating broadcast media thus far: that India's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) has, since 2002, waged a highly successful covert war against Pakistan by actively rendering all kinds of financial assistance to Balochistan-based separatists. But mind you, such covert warfare has not been waged by the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), but by the tri-services DIA and Afghanistan's Riyast-i-Amniyat-i-Milli, and in addition to his routine assignment as India's Defence Adviser at the Embassy in Kabul, Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta was officially dolling out huge financial assistance--as ordered by the DIA--to the Baloch separatists as and when required. For the past one year such activities being undertaken by the DIA wer, in fact, openly discussed by both serving and retired senior military officials at both the Armed Forces Gymkhana and the United Services Institution within the National Capital Region. It, therefore, did not come as a great surprise to South Block when Brig Mehta was specifically targetted for assassination by the Pakistan Army's Peshawar-based 324 Military Intelligence Battalion . This in many ways is reminiscent of the era ranging from the mid-1980s and early 1990s during which RAW had succeeded in gaining the trust of what would later morph into the Northern Alliance. In fact, by 1986, despite India's official recognition of the then Soviet-backed Afghan regime led by Dr Najibullah, India had begun extending medical assistance to the guerrilla forces led by the legendary leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and as a consequence of this, one wing of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) was completely cordoned off by South Block and it was there that all those Mujahideen wounded in battle while fighting the Soviets under Massoud's leadership received the urgent medical attention that they deserved. So impressed was the Northern Alliance by India's humanitarian assistance that this relationship, at first opportunity, got elevated to a higher level when, in the early 1990s after the breakup of the USSR, the Northern Alliance succeeded in securing Tajikistan's approval for an Indian Army-run field hospital to be established at Farkhor.
Last week also saw BrahMos Aerospace successfully test-firing the Block 2 version of the BrahMos supersonic multi-role cruise missile's land attack variant. But here again, India's mainstream media failed to illustrate what has thus far been a severe shortcoming for both BrahMos Aerospace and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO): there are NO available firing ranges in India that can host test-firings of surface-to-surface or air-to-surface battlefield support missiles (like the BrahMos or Prithvi SS-150/SS-250) out to their maximum range envelopes! The firing range at Pokhran where such missiles are routinely test-fired, measures at most 58km and that too after two villages have been temporarily evacuated, even though the DRDO has been pleading with the MoD since the late 1990s for making available a firing range that can support missile firings out to 100km over land.
Yet another revelation for me last week was an update on the launch status of the nuclear-powered Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV): the new Project Director has, rightly, adopted a cautious attitude towards advancing the launch-date of the hull by conducting a thorough and controlled 'flushing' of the ATV's complex network of steam piping associated with the vessel's BHEL-built heat exchanger, which had previously proved to be quite problematic. In addition, the new-design vertical silo for housing a yet-to-be-available 8,500km-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is now being removed from the ATV's hull as the priority is to--as part of the ATV's multi-phase sea trials schedule--firstly, establish the ATV's hull integrity under operational conditions, and secondly, to establish the functional maturity of the ATV's nuclear propulsion system. Only after these two milestones have been achieved that the weaponisation phase will be put to effect. The Govt of India's Cabinet Committee on National Security last January decided to accord only 'conditional & on principal' approval for constructing two ATV-derived vessels: one being the SSBN and the other being the escorting SSN.--Prasun K. Sengupta
Coming up soon: how the Indian Navy recently saved the Scorpene SSK project from being scuttled by the already-concluded investigations into allegations of corruptions, and how exactly the 'agents' involved with the deal and their principals succeeded in legally covering up their tracks and skirting around the 'Integrity Clause' that was integral to the procurement contract.