Yuva - India

An interview with Lt. Gen. Gurmit Singh (Retd.)

India-Pakistan relations, Afghan Peace Process, Russia’s Troika and more (Part 1)

Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India, post which he visited Pakistan and met Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and other leaders in Pakistan. Russia also announced that it would supply military equipment to Pakistan to fight terrorism.

On the other hand, Charge de Affairs of the United States of America to Pakistan Angela Aggeler was hosted at Gwadar by Pakistan. The visit of the US Charge de Affairs to Gwadar comes amid China’s growing concerns over China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Also, to understand India’s role in the Afghan peace process and the overall development of Afghanistan in the future, We spoke to Lt Gen Gurmit Singh; who provided detailed insights and his assessment of the recent developments.

Lt Gen Gurmit Singh PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM superannuated as Deputy Chief of Army Staff, after nearly Forty Years of Service.  Distinctively. he held two PSO appointments i.e. Adjutant General and Deputy COAS. He Served in Kashmir from 2005 to 2014, as Brigade Commander in Baramulla, Brigadier General Staff in Srinagar, GOC Counter Insurgency Force in Kishtwar – Doda – Ramban, and as Corps Commander 15 Corps in Srinagar. He had been Director China and Addl DGMO in Military Operations. Had visited China seven times for Expert Group/Joint Working Group/ Annual Dialogue. Led Military delegation to Beijing, Urumchi, and Shanghai.

General visited Pakistan twice, as a delegate for defence-related talks. He was Military Observer in Iran with United Nations on Iran – Iraq Border, completed Training Course at National Defence University at Washington and Taipei, Taiwan, served in OP PAWAN in Sri Lanka 1988-90.

He is the recipient of Four President and two Army Chiefs awards for Distinguished service & Gallantry. He finished his schooling from  Sainik School Kapurthala, Punjab and was trained at National Defence Academy, Pune; thereafter he was in the Assam Regiment. M.Phil. twice from Chennai and Devi Ahilya Bai University, Indore, research scholar with JNU & ICS in 2003-04 and currently, is a Distinguished Fellow with the Centre for Land Warfare Centre, as well as, an Adjunct Fellow with the Institute of Chinese Studies. Currently, he also participates as Defence Expert on TV & Seminar Discussions.

 

GoaChronicle.com: Recently US Charge de Affairs Angela Aggeler was hosted by Pakistan at Gwadar. What is the significance of this development and its implications on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPAC)?

Lt Gen Gurmit Singh: It is interesting that Angela Aggeler visited Gwadar on 8th April. In fact, it’s the first time in 15 years that a US representative has gone to Gwadar.  In last  fifteen years, CPEC on all their projects, mainly in Gwadar has undergone a major change. Gwadar and Balochistan have seen many terrorist actions in recent times. Indicating it, as US-Pakistan maritime security related visit may be a cover up of other intentions. Gwadar is a major CPEC hub with huge investment already done.  Surprisingly, substantial security perimeter Fencings have been created around Gwadar. Insecurity of Pakistan is well visible. US highlighted that they have shared interests in this area. USA may be calculative for further IMF loans to Pakistan, as leverages. They discussed naval exercises, maritime cooperation and security related issues. But, what may not be visible is that US’s focus on withdrawal from Afghanistan, and Pakistan does have a role to play.  In Afghanistan scenario with current dynamics, they have large number of Talibani, actually operating from Pakistan. Pakistan has a dubious hand in instigating and creating problems in Afghanistan. US aims for expeditious and speedy withdrawal and targeting 11 September 2021 as EXIT benchmark.

 

I would say, the US is keeping a very glaring check on Pakistan from perspective of interference in the Afghan issue and China-Pakistan collusive as far as Gwadar is concerned.

There have been some recent moves by Russia towards Pakistan, corresponding with the drop in military sales to India of Russian military equipments. Off late, India has turned to French, Israeli, and American military equipment. Baluchistan is indeed worrying Pakistan and Angela Aggeler visit may be to present Pakistani perspective on these issues. USA representative’s ground visit and interactions in critical areas like Gwadar and Balochistan is rather important.

 

GoaChronicle.com: Is it concerning for China?

Lt Gen Gurmit Singh: Yes, it is concerning for China, with China-Pakistan collusiveness, and strategic investment of 64 billion US dollars in CPEC was a key decision between the two nations. President Xi Jinping’s priority and focus has been ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ and  CPEC is strategically important for them.  Gwadar is important for China , but Russian  entry into Pakistan and shadow  of USA obviously would be a major concern for China.

 

 

GoaChronicle.com: How do you see India’s role in Afghanistan in near future since India has investments worth 3 billion dollars and also holds goodwill in Afghanistan. Also, Pakistan has repeatedly denied India’s role in Afghanistan on multiple occasions on various platforms but the United States had to make India a part of the Afghan peace process.

 Lt Gen Gurmit Singh: First, I would like to highlight that India and Afghanistan have a strategic partnership, the agreement was signed in 2011. In fact, India would always like to see Afghanistan as peaceful, sovereign, and stable, but unfortunately they have had 19 years of war in this area, which was spearheaded by the United States. Before that, they have had USSR invasion, which was one of the causes for disintegration of the USSR.  It has been a long period of suffering for Afghanistan. Although in Feb 2020, there was a welcome step, wherein the USA under President Trump had planned withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2020 or by 1st May 2021. There was a sight of withdrawal of US troops from this area.

From the Indian perspective, principally we desire national peace and reconciliation process to go through successfully in Afghanistan. Secondly, we want Afghanistan-led, owned, and controlled peace processes. India’s focus is on development. We have assisted in socio-economic aspects, capacity building, infrastructure, humanitarian aid. We have also assisted them in military training, education and infrastructure, for them to anchor enduring peace. 2019 Survey Map of India related to Ladakh, clearly highlights India’s border with Afghanistan of 136 km.

The moment we integrate Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit Baltistan with India we have a one-to-one border with Afghanistan let there be no doubt about the whole aspect of it.

Our focus is on infrastructure development, training, and peace within Afghanistan and we are ready to contribute so that Afghanistan has peace for itself.

 

GoaChronicle.com: Recently, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited India followed by Pakistan. He ended up spending more time in Pakistan. Russia agreed upon selling weapons to Pakistan to curb terrorism. How do we classify which weapons will fight terrorism and which are the weapons which would be used against India? Is Russia giving us assurance that the Russian weapons will not be used against India looking at Pakistan’s history of using high calibre weapons in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas)?

 

 Lt Gen Gurmit Singh: Absolutely, this is the first time a senior Russian leader has visited Pakistan in decades and his visit was hyphenated with visit to India. This was indeed surprising, as earlier whenever Chinese leaders would visit India, they  would hyphenate visit with other countries in South Asia  i.e. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Pakistan. It has been a pattern of the Chinese and has now been duplicated by Russia. Russia is also concerned about developments in Afghanistan and is a major priority for Russia.

In 2018, MI-35 helicopters were sold to Pakistan by Russia, which was quite a concern with India, because India and Russia has been the most reliant partner as far as defence cooperation on military equipment is concerned. India-Russia friendship has seen ups and downs, but principally has remained constant over the years. Recently, India has adopted pluralism as far as the defence acquisition is concerned, with opening for French, Israeli, and American markets, and thus, correspondingly, the amount of imports from Russia has dropped and it definitely affects Russian economy too.  Appreciating defence and security priorities of Russia in Baltic, Syria, and constant cold war dynamics with US may be their calculus for reorientation.

In fact, QUAD evolution has affected the strategies of Russia to an extent.  The summit of the QUAD leaders on 12th March without naming China, as threat, indirectly gluing on the challenge of China was evident and pointed.  The reset of geo politics in post or amidst Covid was loud and clear with targeting China. Russia has definitely has read deep into these changes. Russian foreign minister during his visit to Pakistan was pointedly critical about the QUAD.  Both had also jointly mentioned the issue of the Jammu and Kashmir situation from human rights perspectives.  Post abrogation of Art 370 of Indian Constitution on 5th Aug 2019, Pakistan’s Narratives and propaganda on Kashmir have been completely uprooted and scrapped.

Pakistan’s strategy, concepts, narratives have been completely blown to the winds on 5th Aug 2019. Pakistan and Russia, discussed their long-term multidimensional strategic partnerships, purchase of weapons, and diplomatic-level talks on infrastructure development. But glaringly, Pakistan is at the lowest strata as far as the economy is concerned and they are talking about the purchase of military equipment from Russia, is genuine or just a farce projection. They also discussed forthcoming exercises between the Armies and Navies.

To me, it appears as creation of leverage rather than a substantial change. If Russia gets friendly with Pakistan, then the whole circle is completed wherein Russia came to Afghanistan, Pakistan joined the US and fought against Russia, the breakup of USSR and now Russia again wants to link with Pakistan which indeed is very puzzling.

Link for Part 2 of the Interview

Pushkar Joshi

Intern, Goa Chronicle

DISCLAIMER: This article reflects author’s view point. Goa Chronicle may or may not subscribe to views of the author

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