USSR and US in Afghanistan
The story of the two superpower invasions of Afghanistan (by the US and USSR) is entirely about the parallels that ultimately obscure the obvious distinctions.
Even though Moscow was aware that requests for more weapons were frequently rapacious and based on greatly exaggerated numbers of Afghan personnel, the Soviet Union increased its economic and military assistance to the Mohammad Najibullah administration as it prepared to depart Afghanistan in 1988. Mikhail Gorbachev and his Politburo sought to make amends to Najibullah and his people for abandoning them to face the wrath of the American-trained, -armed, and -funded opposition because they felt sorry over the retreat.
Gorbachev was also aware of a certain matter of dignity. His foreign policy adviser Anatoly Chernyaev recalled in 2009 that “he said multiple times that we cannot just pull up our pants and make a dash for it, like Americans in Vietnam.”
After the decision was reached, it took the Soviets more than three years to go. The transfer of garrisons and military hardware involved complex procedures, with the new local owners receiving spruced-up barracks and recently tested weapons in addition to signed receipts. In his 2019 book, “The Limited Contingent,” General Boris Gromov, who oversaw the retreat, recalls how the Jalalabad garrison left their barracks:
The beds were tucked in neatly. There were slippers under the lockers, and even the bedside floor mats were in their proper places. The barracks were outfitted with all the tools required. The water supply functioned flawlessly.
The United States withdrew in 2021 with the goal of completing the withdrawal within a few months after President Joe Biden made the decision to do so. It destroyed certain equipment because it seemed more worried than the Soviets about its weapons ending up in the hands of Afghanistan’s potential new rulers. Even the things that American troops did leave behind, including keyless automobiles and trucks, were sometimes inoperable. Neither does the United States seem to believe in lengthy farewells, at least based on their surprise overnight departure from the Bagram Air Base. The Americans turned off the electricity, which cut off the water supply, and then they vanished.
And yet, whatever how different something may appear, it actually remains the same. Hours after the Russians left Jalalabad, the clean Soviet garrison town was pillaged, and Gromov reported that “all the more or less valuable property — televisions, audio equipment, air conditioners, furniture, even army mattresses — was sold through the city’s market booths.” The same incident occurred in Bagram shortly after the Americans left; thieves broke in and took whatever they could find of value.
In support of a Communist-led coup in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded the country as part of a Cold War expansionist policy. After 9/11, the U.S. attempted to destroy al-Qaeda, which is maybe a more honourable justification. In less than ten years, the Soviet Union lost about 15,000 personnel, while Americans (the Pentagon and private military organisations combined) lost less than half that number over two times as long. The US, which spent an astounding $2.26 trillion on the war, can live with that; at least they managed to break al-back Qaeda and kill Osama bin Laden, even if not in Afghanistan itself. The USSR achieved nothing by entering its Afghan war; pouring resources into the conflict’s bottomless pit only hastened the end of the Communist superpower.
But once more, it’s challenging to concentrate on these distinctions when the parallels are even more striking. According to Gromov, “207 out of 290 districts” were under the control of the “opposition” in early 1989, a collective term for numerous Islamist organisations and self-serving warlords. Afghanistan has 421 districts, though the exact number is always changing. The Taliban are reportedly in charge of around a third of those districts and district centres. So both superpowers purposefully abandoned weak governments and a sense of impending doom in the areas these governments still ruled. When the Taliban arose as a just movement promising to put an end to warlord rivalry and took over Kabul in 1996, they hung Najibullah, who had by that time long since lost power; Afghan officials who worked with the U.S. may certainly suffer the same fate if they do not depart.
And in all instances, Pakistan was crucial in foiling the superpowers’ attempts to restrain Islamist militancy. As long as Pakistan offers the Taliban protection, safety, training, equipment, and funding, the battle against the Taliban will be impossible to win. Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation with the fifth-largest population in the world, is impossible for us to defeat.
The accords on Afghan national reconciliation, which formed the basis for the Soviet withdrawal, were violated in 1989 by Pakistan. The Afghan rebels had outposts in Pakistan and recruited Afghans in nearby refugee camps, including fighters who would later join the Taliban. Like the U.S. today, the Soviet Union was unprepared to confront Pakistan militarily, so the U.S. and its Western allies helped enable the flow of weapons and money into the conflict zones from the neighbouring nation.
In other words, no matter your morals, no matter how much time you spend or how many soldiers you lose, no matter whether you’re on the winning or losing side in geopolitical battles, what you’ll leave behind in Afghanistan will be scenes of looting, a weak regime that depends too much on your support and is unlikely to last for very long, tough local fighters who feel justified for years of adversity and gloating Pakistani generals across the border. Another constant was the country’s thriving opium trade, which neither the Soviets nor the Americans were able to stifle.
As much as the Soviets of the 1980s and the Americans of the first two decades of this century differ from one another, both stepped into Afghanistan with too little planning and too much arrogance and confidence — and knew from the start that they couldn’t stay. This persisting situation has less to do with the stubborn magic of the place than it does with the straightforward fact that. Both parties were confident in their greater military prowess and moral superiority. Both discovered evidence that some people accepted what they brought—each their distinct brand of secular progressivism—and believed this indicated that those ideals might spread. However, neither could last forever because colonisation is no longer acceptable, and neither Gorbachev nor Joe Biden was willing to discuss the idea. Given the high human and financial costs, neither of them has found Afghanistan to be worthwhile.
But just like the several Afghan insurgent groups that came before them, the Taliban saw their entire purpose and significance in remaining there forever. Local fighters still believe they are defending their nation and way of life in 2021 as they did in 1989. The Taliban can be very persuasive in this regard. You can outlive superpowers if you’re not going anywhere, regardless of what occurs, the cost, or the length of time you must pay. As Afghanistan’s example demonstrates, attachment to a location and a way of life is a potent constant that generates additional constants.
Why Afghan Colonisation was Destined to Fail
It has been said that nation-building is a fool’s errand and, in the case of a nation already known as the “graveyard of empires,” overly ambitious if not downright naive, as evidenced by the creation of a façade of a state in Afghanistan that melted away the moment international support was withdrawn.
There are intrinsic challenges to rebuilding Afghanistan, the most significant of which is geographic. Afghanistan is a landlocked country that shares borders with Pakistan, the Taliban’s biggest supporter, and Iran, whose authorities prioritise the chance to humiliate the US over any desire for regional security. International efforts to convince the region that stability is preferable to chaos failed because Afghanistan is essentially a secondary concern to other foreign policy priorities, especially the Iranian conflict with the US, the Pakistani conflict with India, and its ongoing apprehension over a pro-Indian government in Kabul. An uphill battle was unavoidable when two of your closest neighbours were determined to undermine nation-building.
A significant contributing aspect is economics because, other than a natural richness that has mostly gone unexplored due to security concerns, Afghanistan has no comparative advantage in any legal trade. The main sources of income are illegal mining, forestry, and narcotics like opium and more recently methamphetamine. Building a legitimate state in a society where most economic activity is illegal is more difficult since so many economically significant players oppose the expansion of the state’s authority into areas where they are operating. Additionally, the absence of obvious viable alternatives continues to be a challenge because many people within the state apparatus were also profiting from criminal activity.
Afghanistan is not a unified, monolingual nation-state, but rather contains a number of ethnic groupings, each of which crosses boundaries, adding to the complexity of Afghan society. The entry of extremely well-armed international forces trying to settle disputes by claiming long-standing foes were actually allies simply prolonged warfare. Managing these complicated dynamics and internal feuds amongst clans are challenging.
Several military leaders made the observation that democratic systems resulted in the government changing every four to five years, despite the fact that nation-building takes several decades. In recent years, a standoff had developed because the Taliban was aware of its inability to retain urban Afghanistan, where a small number of western troops and more contractors were deployed. This arrangement might have continued indefinitely, but the US presence was no longer popular, especially in the US. The Taliban believed they could just wait it out after it was announced that US troops would be leaving.
The fact that the invasion involved overthrowing a group of violent, tyrannical thugs rather than a popular administration may have been the US-led coalition’s best benefit. The issue was that, following the liberation, Iraq was subjected to lessons learnt about how easily less powerful adversaries may be overthrown. The nation-building project wasn’t started for a few years, giving the Taliban time to reorganise in safe havens in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and Afghans didn’t see much direct advantage until then.
Tolerance of corruption, which served as the Taliban’s rallying cry and highlighted the most difficult issue of nation-building in the conditions Afghanistan found itself in, served as the foundation for all of this. Not just the Taliban, but the majority of Afghans, questioned early assertions that the multinational presence would last forever. Families were strongly motivated to take steps to secure their future because there was always a chance that the state would fail. As a result, fewer resources were available to create new states, which decreased their likelihood because the more resources there were, the easier it would be to commit corruption. Smaller sums may have been distributed to more local administrative entities, improving service delivery and the legitimacy of the administration.
Even if the devolution of financial control, though not political power, a more assertive stance against Pakistan, and some early examples of the advantages of a post-Taliban government could have changed things, fundamental problems would still have existed. An alternate strategy would have simply allowed the current transfer of power to take place over the course of months or years as opposed to only a few hours.
Defense Cess – The Need or The Want of Need
With the Finance Ministry coming down heavily on the Fifteenth Financial Commission on the latter’s suggestion for creating a ‘Defense Modernization Fund’, the question pesters the general public at large as to whether a separate defense cess is really required. Seemingly, the capital needs of the Indian military do not seem to be a problematic scheme. It rather appears to envisage a separately structured funding program in furtherance of enabling the Indian military to work in a more well-ordered manner.
WHY THE FUSS?
The root of every operative that there is, is guided by the procedure laid under the Indian Constitution. Hence, a casual read of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution elucidates the responsibilities between the Union and the States. Subjects such as defense, and foreign affairs are on the Union list while responsibilities like public order, healthcare, etc. fall under the purview of the State List. The third list, i.e., the Concurrent List is a unique, centralizing feature adopted from the British Raj, that embodies the fundamentals of federalism. The list has both State and Union play a role with powers tilting towards the latter. It was due to this provision only that the government brought in the farm laws. However, while a large section of funds and resources rests with the Union in New Delhi, expenditure of those funds is at the behest of different States, the taxes of which is collected by New Delhi. Hence, the Financial Commission of today now distributes the revenue collected by the Centre to various States and therefore, supervises the financial commitments of the States and the Union.
Now, the problem with the creation of a special fund – in this case for ‘defense’- creates a special third category along with Union and State. Theoretically, the Finance Commission therefore will inadvertently split monies between Union, State, and the Defense Fund. It is interesting to note that the defense is a subject already under the Union List and therefore, the creation of a third category would only cause stress for States to give up funds for defense. Now much like the game of dominoes, if one separate fund is created, many other demands for the creation of special pockets for every governance function would surface, which would unnecessarily create disruption of the flow of funds to the subjects in either of the lists and therefore would go far beyond the provisions prescribed under the Seventh Schedule in the Constitution. Hence the downpour of the Financial Ministry on the 15th Financial Commission for the reasons that setting up a separate fund for a function that is already covered under the Union’s List is against good parliamentary practice is perfectly valid.
While the Finance Ministry may have rebuffed the request to create a different fund for Defense, it is however significant to understand how such a report was allowed to be tabled before the ministry in the first place. NK Singh, the chairman of the 15th Finance Commission, when posed with similar questions, contended that as per the legal opinion he received, the defense was a “shared responsibility of the Union and the states”. Defense is explicitly mentioned as the subject under Union List and the closest thing that resembles an iota of Defense is ‘Public Order’ which falls under the State List. In no way whatsoever, can anyone with the caliber and prudence as that of NK Singh can conclude that Defense is a shared subject. Furthermore, he also remarked that Finance Commission transcends the classification in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which is simply an inexplicable argument. Finance Commission is in no way empowered to transcend any part of the Indian Constitution, especially something as critical as the Seventh Schedule.
Another interesting aspect here is the branding of the ‘defense’ fund as cess. Tax and Cess are two different contributions to State welfare. While Tax is already existing in the form of GST and Income Tax, a cess is imposed as an additional tax besides the existing tax (Tax on Tax). Now while the former is kept in the Consolidated Fund of India CFI for the government to use it for any purposes it deems fit, the latter, though also kept in the CFI, can be used by the government after due appropriation from Parliament for ‘specified purpose’. Now, what rebranding of ‘general tax’ as ‘cess’ does is that it brings any revenue generated through cess under the ambit of ‘specified purpose’ resulting in states sharing any of that revenue. Statistically, cesses and surcharges that were around 10% in 2010-11 are almost doubled in the year 2021 figuring around 19.9%. This increase in cesses and surcharges is shrinking the divisive pool between State and Union, leaving States bleeding out to dry. Therefore, to have a defense cess under the ‘specified purpose’ funds would only hurt the States of the Country as the gap between State and Union’s resources would further increase.
THE NEED OR THE WANT OF NEED?
The Union in 2019, empowered the Finance Commission with additional Terms of Reference to enable it to make a suggestion on how to create the fund. Defense Ministry further stressed on the need to increase focus on national security and warranted states to share the financial burden of maintaining and upgrading the security apparatus, including buying weapons from global suppliers, etc. Defense Ministry urged that subjects like Terrorism, insurgency, and securing national borders should be recognized as a shared responsibility for the Union and States, rather than leaving it just for the Union to take care of. The demand though extremely urgent goes beyond the nexus of the Constitution. Furthermore, the 10th Finance Commission also laid down the principle that cess and surcharge should be temporary and rare.
Union has always been seen complaining about limited resources and funds and yet does not shy away from spending money on subjects concerning the State List. Cribbing about not having enough money to fund its core function of defense and catering to the electoral compulsions by spending money on state subjects – Union has only made things difficult for itself and confusing for the public at large. A demand from the Home Ministry for a seed corpus of Rs. 50,000 crores to be carved out of dues from States for Central Armed Forces deployment is simply a result of the Union being derelict in its responsibilities. The constitutional remit of defense is often sidelined during elections and therefore, it is natural for the union to have a dry state of funds to cater to its core duty. It is therefore the job of the Finance Commission to stop the political drivers in their path and prevent populist rhetoric from influencing devolution. Instead, the Commission seems to be a puppet of the Union, to say the least.
101 Years of CCP – Is the Chinese Dream Fading Away?
“The Chinese charm you when they want to charm you and squeeze you when they want to squeeze you; and they do it quite systematically.”
– ‘The Revenge of Geography’, Robert D Kaplan
It has been a century of glory, a century of turmoil, a century of single-party leadership, a century of suppression of dissent and human rights, and a century of disdainful pursuit of Mao’s Chinese dream. On one hand there has been the pressure to create a magnanimous image in front of the suppressed Chinese populace, and on the other lies the consequences of lofty ambitions of expansionism, colonisation of nearby islands, economic take-over of poorer nations in Asia and Africa, and military arm-twisting in the region. There are thousands of stagnated overseas projects, incomplete military R&D accompanied by struggling military equipment sold to other countries, and the notoriety brought in by spreadingCOVID-19 and bringing the world to a standstill for almost two years. Is Xi Jinping caught between the devil and the deep sea?
Having enjoyed an absolute monopoly of power, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has authoritatively ruled China for a hundred years now. Motivated by the Bolsheviks, and sold to the innocent people as a party for peasants, workers and students in 1921, the past 100 years of CCP have been stained with brutal massacre of student protestors at Tiananmen Square in 1989, unceasing Human Rights violation and harsh repression of Uyghurs and other Muslims in the Xinjiang region, and the sudden disappearances of media activists who have voiced their opinions against the party or its members. It has been reported that the detainees in the re-education camps of Xinjiang province are forced to pledge loyalty to the CCP, forego religious (Islamic) practices and patronise Mandarin.
The CCP in pursuit of Xi’s Chinese dream of becoming a global leader in 2049 has initiated manyambitious but crafty projects like the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) and has pumped many irrecoverable loans into smaller Asian and African countries. In addition, millions of dollars’ worth money has been invested in building military infrastructure and progress territorial/ seaward expansion to assert China’s illegal claims on bothland and sea. However, of late, the world has woken up to the Chinese deceit.
The genesis and spread of COVID-19 from China has fuelled anger, suspicion and reluctance for the world to engage with China. The post-COVID world order, with horrific examples of economic and financial meltdown of client states like Pakistan and Sri Lanka, has further marred China’s reputation. China is being called out more and more for its illegal military aggression in the South China Sea, debt-trap diplomacy, IUU (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated) Fishing, unauthorised spying usingcivilian research vessels, and ultimately the COVID-19 pandemic. Even its traditional clients in Asia and Africa are getting wary. The world at large neither finds China as an honest investor to expand trade and commerce nor do the bigger multi-national brands prefer to invest in China for their manufacturing/ production hubs and businesses.
The years ahead look even more bleak. The humungous amount of money lent by China in most developing countries either as part of BRI or Debt-trap diplomacy are unlikely to credit their balance sheets in the years to come. While this certainly affects the Chinese banks, but it also hampers contribution of that money into their own GDP/ national economic efforts including businesses and domestic investments. As Xi Jinping is headed for an unprecedented third term in power, the country is likely to dive into rougher waters. China’s failed ‘Zero-COVID’ policy and re-emergence of widespread infection has brought the nation and the Chinese economy to a standstill. Failure of Beijing Olympics has reinforced the already shaking global confidence in a tightly choreographed China.
The so-called unity within the CCP is dwindling and is likely to intensify in the days to come. Crackdown on opposition and disappearance of lawyers and human rights activists is causing massive chaos in the Chinese hinterland. Thanks to brutal control over media, China has managed to mute news reports about hundreds of protests in provinces like Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang etc which may trigger the beginning of a major revolution against the present order. Only time can predict tomorrow’s China, but today’s China is a grim story of political turmoil, military mis-adventures, slow economic growth, shaky reputation and an authoritative government.
The UAV Boom in India
Drones have been essential in the Russia-Ukraine conflict for both reconnaissance and strike operations. Drones have been assiduously utilised by Ukraine to monitor the movements of Russian troops, gather intelligence about them, and engage in infantry and artillery combat. Particularly, their military has targeted the Russians using loitering munition “spy ghost,” designed by the US for Ukraine. The Ukrainians have made considerable use of the Turkish Bayraktar drone for both attack and intelligence operations. One facet of contemporary warfare—the employment of drones for both observation and retaliatory action—has been highlighted by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the earlier conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia.
To address demand in the security and defence sectors, the Government of India (GOI) has concentrated on obtaining cutting-edge technologies. India has long relied on nations like Israel for its drone needs, but this reliance is gradually giving way to domestic solutions. The drone-related culture in the Indian military is evolving. The Army Aviation Corps is now responsible for ensuring the most effective use of drones, which was formerly handled by the artillery. In light of the ongoing standoff with China, the Indian Army is now using drones at the LAC for observation purposes, which is a big move. Previously only used by the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Army is now for the first time pursuing loitering weapons.
Despite the effects of the worldwide pandemic on several sectors of the economy, the India UAV market, which was valued at $830 million in FY2020, is anticipated to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.5% between 2021 and 2026. By the end of 2021, the Indian UAV market might reach $900 million, which is important given that the worldwide UAV market is now valued at $21.47 billion, according to the Observer Research Foundation (ORF).
UAVs have been essential during the COVID-19 epidemic in a variety of capacities, including as a tool for law enforcement, a platform for the delivery of medical supplies, and an e-commerce platform. However, because of sporadic lockdowns imposed in nations around the world that produce and supply UAVs and associated parts, there have been halts or delays in production supply chains because of a lack of raw materials and the labour force required to carry out manufacturing and assembly operations. Although there are prospects for American UAVs and component makers to sell to India, it should be highlighted that the domestic manufacturing market is expanding, which is raising the level of local competition, both for civil and defence uses. Joint ventures have emerged in the UAV industry as a result of the ambitious “Make in India” project of the Indian government, which aims to promote homegrown production in a variety of industrial sectors. Indian startups have also made a lot of forays into the UAV market.
Indian UAV Policies & Reforms
For anyone flying an unmanned aerial vehicle in India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) India published a new set of drone laws and regulations in June 2021. The operator of a UAV must apply for and get a unique identification number in accordance with the new regulations before operating the UAV, unless an exemption is granted. UAV operators will have to submit information on the Digital Sky platform, which is a MoCA-led initiative to control UAV operation and traffic in India, in order to obtain this identifying number. In order to draw investments into this industry, certain Indian state governments have also developed original UAV policies.
The Indian UAV industry is divided into three major segments, similar to the worldwide UAV market: Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), End Users, and Aftermarket. Rotating wings, fixed wings, high-altitude long-endurance (HALE), medium-altitude long-endurance (MALE), and unmanned combat aerial vehicles are among the UAV kinds that are currently available (UCAV). In addition to manufacturing, there are prospects in the fields of hardware, software, and value-added components.
In India, the use of commercial UAVs is expanding at an exponential rate in the following industries: forestry, mining, power, railways, construction, highways, e-commerce, homeland security, smart city and urban development initiatives, and media. Applications for collecting and sharing real-time data include site inspections, surveillance, and monitoring.
Opportunities for anti-drone systems exist in the defence industry, particularly in the fields of sensors, phased array radar, radio frequency (RF) sensor, electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) systems, navigational satellite jammer systems, and RF jammer and laser-directed energy weapon (Laser-DEW) systems. After the recent UAV attack on the Indian Air Force station in Jammu, the need for anti-drone equipment has grown even more. Border security, crime prevention and control, and anti-terrorism applications are other potential areas of application.
Potential end-users are prevented from maximising the use of UAVs in their operations by the policy environment for UAVs in India. The present drone regulations state that all UAV importers must first get a “Certificate of Manufacture” before submitting an application via the Digital Sky platform to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The importer must submit an application for the granting of an import clearance certificate to the Directorate General of Foreign Trade after receiving approval from DGCA (DGFT). The Directorate General of Foreign Trade shall regulate the import of unmanned aircraft vehicles and systems (DGFT).
To impart the essential skills to operate their UAVs in India, international providers may need to engage in training and certification programmes. Building up this infrastructure is crucial to preventing supply-related sector bottlenecks. International suppliers may be encouraged to form joint ventures or participate in the production or assembly of UAVs in India via “Make in India” incentives, such as the relaxing of FDI laws. This will increase the number of local rivals in the already crowded field of domestic producers, making it harder for global OEMs to compete on price.
India clearly has the potential to become the worldwide hub for the newest drone technology because of its persistent commitment to embracing innovation to address societal and environmental problems. Government encouragement and loosened regulations will also provide manufacturers and drone businesses the much-needed boost they need to reach previously unimaginable heights.
COVID-19 – A Disaster Management baggage or A National Security Concern?
As COVID-19 cases start to intensify again after a short and peaceful interlude, the viral disease again stresses the issue that whether the disease is just a mere health emergency confided to its medical liabilities, or is it a National Security concern at large as it ostensibly affects the decisive decade i.e., 2020-2030. The Covid outbreak has conveniently presented an opportunity to reconsider the current emergency and disaster-response authorities. Not only has the disease threatened the well-being of the nation and its population but also has diverted the attention and resources of the government away from other national security threats. Hence, it is necessary for a country like India to explore and amend the old statutory framework that simply negates the healthcare challenges as national security threats. Furthermore, the geographical challenges which India anticipates with respect to China in terms of war increases manifold ever since the controversy regarding Covid-virus being synthesized in Wuhan’s lab has surfaced. The controversy did not gain major traction with WHO and other global authorities brushing it away by calling it a baseless narrative. However, if at all there is a possibility of the virus being intentionally homegrown or domestically synthesized, India should put its guards up against a major biological war.
It was on March 13, 2020, when President Donald Trump invoked the National Emergency Act and the Stafford Act in response to the novel coronavirus. It was the first time that a leader of a State equated a Health crisis to a National Emergency. Needless to say, the risks of Covid were exceedingly high and the casualties caused were also unparalleled. Therefore, as the well-being of the nation was threatened and the attention and resources of the government were diverted into one single crisis as opposed to other major risks, calling it a National Security concern is simply textbook-accurate. However, the current US Federal Law is rusted when it comes to dealing with high-risk virus outbreaks that have catastrophic consequences. While it acknowledges that disease outbreaks as potential threats to national security, the orientation however is statutorily limited in preparation and prevention but has absolutely no strategical way out once the disease spreads domestically. The organization of emergency response in Federal Law presently is unilateral as opposed to the disease in hand which is rather multi-lateral.
Covid-19 has not yet perished and it is highly unlikely that it is the last one of its kind. Future diseases with more serious casualties are likely to occur again as also attested by Bill Gates in one of his Ted Talks Speeches. Hence it is necessary that disaster response and national security should not be branched into two separate paradigms by the policymakers and must be conjoined into one. Acknowledging public health crisis naturally constitutes national security and is, therefore, an important conceptual step. Hence as for the US, the Federal Law must fill up the gaps that Covid-19 has thrown a spotlight on. For instance, invoking National Emergency Act was surely a brilliant move but it lacked execution. It was not exactly Congress but the law, in general, that was weak. The nature of the said statute is such that the Federal structure takes a back seat when the provision is invoked and consequently the states are left with a very large leadership vacuum which is an absolute necessity in response to such a crisis., As a result, President Donald Trump and his cabinet were widely criticized for this move as the underlying statutory framework limits the federal government’s involvement in disaster response.
On the other hand, New Zealand under the able leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Adern garnered lavish global praise for controlling the Covid-19 pandemic exceedingly well. While, thinkers and authorities like Thomas J. Bollyky, director of the Global Health program at the Council on Foreign Relations believe that the nation has an advantage of a relatively isolated location which invariably means that the country has far fewer visitors from China or other infected areas. In addition, the director also contended that the country is also small and rich with a population widely spread out, and therefore, the success of Kiwis cannot be replicated in a populous country like the US. However, the arguments appear to be mere evasive assumptions, and credit to New Zealand’s administration must be given on all accounts, especially for taking immediate cognizance of the disease, unlike President Donald Trump who completely trivialized the issue when it first surfaced.
India’s imminent need to take cognizance of Bio-Warfare
With a strong sense of ‘We are in this together’ echoing around the world, there has been a fair share of blame game amongst the countries as well. While the infamous ‘virus escaped from Wuhan Institute of Virology’ remains at the top of the ‘it’s your fault’ pyramid, the US remains second. And it’s China that has blamed the US Army for bringing the Virus to their country. Chinese diplomacy has simply rested its argument on the fact that the virus was engineered in the US and was deliberately sent to China to halt the country’s progress. The blame game will continue to exist suiting to different political spheres of distinct nations. However, it is imperative for India to consider, collocate and confidently approach the possibility of bioterrorism.
Indian military at large is not as technologically advanced as the militaries of China and the US. Although training programs concerning chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, the programs are on the back burner stewing in their own resourceless gravy. Furthermore, the country has a wide population with health facilities already taking a knee due to this pandemic. Thus, the possibility of a bio-warfare happening is indicative of India already sitting on a virus time-bomb. Japan has already taken cognizance of the matter and has started building its response against a bio-terror attack. For the first time, the country has imported five types of live viruses – Ebola, Marburg, Lass, Crimean-Congo, and South American viruses to study detection and precaution measures. Something, which India does not actively intend to do.
Another reason why India must not dismiss the possibility of a bio-war attack in the near future is simply the rise in the number of Bio-genetics labs in the US, China, and other states. While Iran and North Korea are believed to possess chemical weapons, countries like the US, Europe, Russia, and Australia also have around 50 functioning or under-construction security labs solely for the study of dangerous pathogens and churn out efficient results for their respective countries. In addition, virus sensors are largely ineffective and hence it becomes increasingly easy for a terrorist to simply ferry a contagion to other countries. The said virus can be mixed with powders, and aerosol sprays or can be infected through main, envelopes, or newspapers.
Chemical weapons were recently used in Afghanistan where people were seen suffering from blisters, severe anxiety, etc. Pertinent to mention, China endorsing and recognizing the recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the nation experiencing biochemical attack episodes projects a highly probable image of the former vehemently supplying the latter with weapons and armory. Therefore India, on all accounts, must not be an ostrich for biochemical or genetic warfare in the coming future. While the United Nations explicitly bans the use of chemical weapons, the regulations are only bound to the member countries and thus can easily be used by an adversary. Quoting the former Chief of the Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat, a country like India must be prepared for all kinds of threat.
Virginia Hall: The Dauntless Spy
Working as an Allied spy undercover was demanding. They pretended to be ordinary citizens, creating false names, documents, and cover stories while establishing confidence within secretive networks created through shared sorrow and purpose. And they did it all while fearing being found by French double agents, Nazi sympathisers, or the Gestapo. Many were apprehended and killed by gunshot or hanging.
Members of the French Resistance, the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) fought complicated and sophisticated fights that helped reverse the course of World War II. Virginia Hall Goillot was one of their most notorious operators.
Hall worked with the SOE, OSS, and CIA for almost 20 years. Her French Resistance colleagues dubbed her La Dame Qui Boite or the woman who limps. The Gestapo eventually used the term in whispers about her victories against them. Fascination and intrigue were all she got – she was never arrested by the people who were after her. Even after her legendary career, she avoided discussing it.
Foray into the World of Spies
Hall attended Radcliffe and Barnard Colleges for a short time. She then moved to Paris to study and fell in love with the country. She opted to pursue a career as a diplomat.
She wanted to be an ambassador, but the State Department turned her down despite her repeated applications. It’s worth noting that women made up only six out of 1,500 US ambassadors at the time. Hall was hired as a clerical assistant at a US consulate in Turkey. However, she shot herself in the foot while bird hunting. Her left leg was amputated below the knee due to gangrene. Her rehabilitation was arduous and painful, as she learnt to walk with a clumsy wooden limb. It was, however, a watershed moment. Her injury may have actually strengthened or reawakened her resilience, allowing her to do great things.
When Nazi Germany invaded France during World War II, Hall volunteered to drive an ambulance for the French. France was quickly surrounded and forced to evacuate to Britain. She was introduced to British intelligence after an accidental meeting with a spy. This one-legged American woman was among the first British spies dispatched into Nazi-occupied France in 1941 after receiving scant training. She pretended to be a New York Post reporter.
Cover tales are vital for any effective spy, not just to escape foreign foes but also to maintain secrets among peers in the case they are apprehended. People and families with legitimate names, real locations, and real occupations face huge reprisals from the Germans. The Gestapo’s standard practice was interrogation and torture, and many people’s spirits were broken. Because the United States was still a neutral nation in the war, Hall’s cover as a French-American stringer for the New York Post allowed her dispatches to be published unfiltered. Brigitte LeContre became her public persona, and her SOE reports were sent under a variety of codenames throughout the war, including Marie Monin, Diane, Germaine, and Nicolas.
Encounters with the Gestapo
There were setbacks, particularly in the beginning, when members of her network were apprehended and killed. Hall, on the other hand, was a natural spy, always one step ahead of the Gestapo, the German secret police. Virginia Hall was, to some extent, unnoticed. She was able to exploit the Gestapo’s chauvinism at the time. Neither the Germans nor the British believed that a woman could be a spy early in the war.
Hall was based in Lyon, a city in eastern France. She first sought refuge in a convent, where she persuaded nuns to assist her. She made friends with a female brothel owner and learned that French prostitutes had obtained intelligence from German troops. Hall arranged and provided safe shelters and intelligence to French resistance fighters. This was not overlooked. The Germans realised they were pursuing a hobbling lady.
Hall’s look was continually changing. In the course of an afternoon, she might be four distinct ladies with four different code names. Klaus Barbie, the notorious Gestapo officer known as “the Butcher of Lyon” for the thousands of people tortured and slain by his men in France, was the guy she was after. “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!” Barbie ordered “wanted” posters of Hall, which featured a drawing of her above the words “The Enemy’s Most Dangerous Spy — We Must Find And Destroy Her!
Around the end of 1942, the Nazis appeared to be closing in on Hall. She narrowly escaped to Spain after a difficult trek that entailed travelling 50 miles in heavy snow through the rugged Pyrenees Mountains for three days. Hall was detained when she arrived in Spain because her passport lacked an entry stamp. She was liberated after six weeks and returned to the United Kingdom.
Back to France
The United States, on the other hand, was beefing up its own intelligence arm, the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, which had little presence in France. The Americans required Hall, but Nazis were everywhere, making her job much more difficult.
In 1944 and 1945, Hall’s second tour in France was even more successful than the first. She ordered airdrops for the resistance fighters, who detonated bombs and destroyed railways. Villages were recaptured long before Allied forces marched deep into France. Hall’s network grew to 1,500 people at its peak, including a French-American soldier named Paul Goillot, who would later become her husband.
She relocated frequently, took numerous aliases, and used techniques unique to her character while working with the OSS. Gestapo and Nazi sympathisers were on the lookout for suspected spies as D-Day approached, and she was the most wanted. Hall pretended to be a milkmaid, dressed in ancient, flimsy clothes and bleached her naturally brown hair grey. During the day, she worked as a farmer in secret, and at night, she ran resistance missions. During some of the contacts, German troop movements and information were exchanged, while others included airdrops to the Maquis. Hall put the parachutes in a donkey cart and handled the supplies to obscure the evidence of the drops from adjacent surveillance teams.
And what did Hall say about the war? She never talked about it.
Both the British and the French privately acknowledged Hall’s assistance. President Harry Truman intended to honour Hall with a public ceremony at the White House. Hall declined, stating that she preferred to stay anonymous. The Distinguished Service Cross was awarded to Hall by William Donovan, the OSS chief, making her the only civilian woman to win one during WWII. The only outsider at the wedding was Hall’s mother.
Hall subsequently went on to serve for the newly founded CIA, which succeeded the OSS, for 15 years, largely at the headquarters. These were not her most joyful days. She thrived on the adrenaline rush of acting on her own in the field during a battle. She was now mostly confined to a desk. Hall left the company in 1966 and never spoke publicly again. Her tale was kept hidden from the public until she died in Maryland in 1982. Much of her World War II work is still classified. Virginia’s bag radio, British ID, and several personal files are on display at the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC.
She rarely spoke of her wartime work, saying, “Many of my friends were killed for talking too much.”
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