BBC News, October 15, 2022 – “Russia had recently been sending old T62 tanks, built in the 1960s.”

All nations go weapon hunting; it is always good to have a good collection. Collections are always for display and have no relationship with need. Tiny nations stand in queue to buy Mach-3 jets, though the sonic boom cannot happen over their own tiny sky and they have to borrow airspace from a neighbouring country for that marvel of modern technology where windows are rattled without an explosion. Whenever a senior leader goes to some country, one of the points of discussion is purchase of weapons. Even persons who are not leaders in the political sense, share this pastime with leaders; remember Adnan Khashoggi – when any leader was short of weapons, he would turn to Adnan. He had Chandraswami, spiritual advisor to him and to Indira Gandhi, advising when and how to sell for maximum efficacy keeping in mind the position of constellations. This fishy business had support of fishermen from the coast of Karachi to the Kamchatka Peninsula, if you know where that is. These are secret labyrinths, open only to the initiated like Ajmal Kasab and his friends as they travelled to India to kill and burn Tata’s Taj from the days of the Raj.

It is thus that much should not be read into the recent reports that Putin was going to buy weapons from North Korea. Kim has been on the weapons card table for long and Pakistan’s translator-turned-nuke-maker A. Q. Khan was an honoured member of this elite club. He merely photocopied the centrifuge designs given to him at EU for translating, shared these with Kim in exchange for missile designs that he shared with Ruhollah Khomeini, in exchage for a bit of personal wealth, that acrues to any good player on the card table. The US wanted to extradite Khan for this little game but the sagacious Musharraf generously allowed him to live and die on the Pakistani soil in exchange for the bulk of Khan’s earnings at the table. Kim makes good copies of Chinese weapons that were good copies of the Russian weapons and so Russian soldiers will be at home with “what goes around, comes around.”

Yet, these are stories of bygone days. North Korea is a small country and what Kim can give in a month shall be blown up over Ukraine in half a day. Arms dealers of yore are now wary of the trade since Bofors days when a new norm was evolved that there will be no verifiable middlemen and no verifiable commissions. Without these lubricants, supplying arms to countries in need has fallen to retail trade, who can most charitably be described as lone-wolf gun runners who deal with lower levels and provide enemy intelligence to get into business. We are not saying this, it was the talk between Putin and his commander of the Special Military Operation who was nagging Putin about lack of arms. Putin was indignant; ask me not what I can give you, tell me what you can give me without my giving anything to you. I can give you 62-year old soldier, 62-year old tank. The soldier has hands to hold the weapon, eye to take the aim. Tank has the gun and you have to find the ammunition. The whole world’s armies are modernising. Where do the old weapons go? Have you talked to your counterpart Mullah in Afghanistan. Biden had left a lot of stuff there so that when the Taliban are hungry, they can barter. Have you talked to your peer in India; they reeplaced .303 rifles recently and my sources tell me they are still usable. Show some initiative!

Back in Delhi, the Indian General was scratching his head. Russia wants to buy all the .303s. They say they are setting up a museum. I have a million – that many show pieces? He talked to the defence minister. He said Russians are our friends, the museum is a ploy and we should give them what they want. Finally, the deal was for 300,000; 10 for each barrel of oil. Putin assured the defence minister that if someday they want to buy back, all those that do not fall in the hands of Ukraine will be returned. This was simple compared to the difficulties before the Afghan Mullahs as they sat on the floor working furiously on the calculators. Biden had not left any .303, but there were AK-47 in plenty, in addition to Uzis, anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, helicopters, radars – you name it. The Chinese had taken only one piece each for reverse engineering and had given 100 tons of wheat for each weapon, irrespective of the size, weight or purpose. Mullahs were happy with Xi as they did not like calculating. The Russian general had paper work to do and after considerable discussion, the “by weight” formula was agreed upon, 100 tons of wheat for each ton of weapon or weapons. But Mullahs were good with deals; the Taliban defence minister phoned Putin – Why bother with the left overs here, take opium, process into heroin, sell to America, get dollars, go to Nicaragua, get guns. Putin said all the guns there were given by him or by Xi. No problem, said the Mullah. You can consider it buy back and now those guns have value addition; these are almost holy having been used by the revolutionaries. Some might have been used by those who served tea to Che Guevara or washed his uniform. We shall give a lot of opium if you have something used by Osama.

Back on the front line, a different kind of struggle was going on. Ukrainian soldiers had nothing to do with it. They were relaxing, smoking, playing cards. The metal scrap dealers had set up shops and were buying all the weapons that the Russian conscripts were bringing by the truck loads. They were buying not for melting the steel. These scrap dealers were the Marwaris from India; after buying all the stuff as scrap, they were supplying it as weapons back to the Russian general. Who can make better use of the Indian idea of metempsychosis than the religious Indians themselves!

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