Follow by Email

Friday, September 23, 2016

India-Pakistan: In a dialogue of sorts

The Uri attack is being taken as one in a series of Pakistani outrages over the recent past in J&K. The tally from the Pathankot airfield attack could have been equally grave, with even aviation assets figuring in the toll. Likewise, had the terrorists taken the other gate nearby, they might well have ended up in married accommodation in police lines in the Gurdaspur attack.  This time round the terrorists got luckier, with fire doing most of the killing. Consequently, the calls for getting tough on Pakistan appear unexceptionable.
However, what if the Uri attack is seen as part of a sequence of attacks on each other that India and Pakistan are engaged in over the past few years? This requires stretching the imagination a bit in light of the persistent factoid that India clipped its offensive and covert operations capability when IK Gujral was prime minister. The constant refrain in the strategic discourse is that India is forever on the receiving end, needs to upgrade its capabilities and shift gears into an offensive mode.
Against such conditioning, to imply that India has been giving-as-good-as-it-gets would require asking Indians to suspend disbelief for a moment. Whereas Pakistan’s resort to terrorism is more in-your-face, India’s using Afghanistan as spring-board is much less so, making it difficult to comprehend. This involves giving some credence to Pakistani allegations, and Pakistan is not exactly believable. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to in face of the pattern of terrorism in Pakistan that we have nothing to do with it.
Subject to the terrorism inflicted on India, it would be delusive to believe that we have only fought back with war rhetoric and diplomacy. India has not used its military despite the military’s well-practiced ‘quick off the blocks’ routine of ‘Cold Start’. It has also not activated the military along the Line of Control. Superficially, it would appear that India is only relying on diplomacy and information war strategies. It is trite to repeat that for effect, diplomacy and rhetoric need to be backed by muscle. It begs credulity that India under the strongmen – Messrs. Modi and Doval – is merely relying on the ‘rope-a-dope’ trick, taking the punches and riding out the swings. Since it is not economic or military muscle India is displaying, surely, such muscle must likely be through some other instrument of national power. Clearly, there is more to India’s response lately than meets the eye. So let’s get real.
Our very own intelligence operatives - with Mr. Doval in the lead - are not second best, even if ISI has greater notoriety. Our boys have much experience behind them, even if they have not seen off a superpower and are about to see off another like the ISI. We have Bangladesh to our credit. We created Frankenstein Prabhakaran. We had a finger in the Sindhi and Mohajir pies. Kulbhushan Yadav, supposedly caught red-handed at intelligence work, is Indian. Besides, if Indian liberals and radicals are even half-right, we have at least some expertise in false-flag operations. And, finally, we own the copyright  to Chanakyan thought. 
Taking off our blinkers would help with a realistic perspective. Doing so will enabe seeing the Uri attack as one of a series of attacks indulged in by both intelligence establishments. Pakistan’s persistence with terrorism implies that its intelligence agencies are in a dialogue using terrorism with their Indian counterparts. Through this dialogic violence the two national security establishments are communicating with each other. The dialogue seeks out each other’s limits. While India is trying to flush Pakistan down the failed state route through proxy war using what Pakistan considers ‘bad terrorists’, Pakistan for its part is out to sensitise India that the more successful India gets at this, the more Pakistan would ensure that it drags India down with it too. This is diplomacy by dirtier means. The tone of the two states in the recent UN General Assembly session is played out more directly, through a bloodier and meaner instrument. 
The Kashmir issue and the current turmoil in Kashmir merely provide a setting. At one level, Pakistan would like to keep the problem in and of Kashmir alive; particularly, in light of India’s spin on the interpretation of the dispute to being retrieval of PoK and other areas from Pakistan. This explains Pakistan’s dressing up its terror attacks as attacks on legitimate military targets, plausibly attempting to lower their ‘terror’ quotient. Pushed on the back-foot by unrest in Kashmir, India is attempting to divert attention with references to Balochistan, even though doing so lets the cat out of the bag.
The Kashmir issue itself is resolvable, with governments on both sides including the more nationalist ones – NDA I and Musharraf respectively – coming close to agreeing on putting it on a back burner. That none has succeeded owes to the issue being a symptom. At yet another – higher - level, the game is much bigger than Kashmir.
For India it is to transcend Pakistan. For sane strategists doing so will help India break out of the regional box that consigns it at best as a regional power. But to closet Hindutvavadi strategists it is to transcend a history perceived in the Hindu nationalist narrative as one of subjugation. Those at the political helm and with hands on the reins of the national security establishment believe that India has had 1200 years of foreign domination that its seventy years of independence era have not exorcised. Pakistan is the ‘thorn’ that India needs to rid itself off for reconciling with itself, a necessary first step to regaining its millennia-old, millennia-long, pre-Muslim-advent, glory.
This is music to Pakistani ears. For Pakistan – or through the eyes of its military – this implies ensuring Pakistan does not go under, into an Indian (read Hindu) cultural embrace. Kashmir helps keep the military atop the Pakistani power structure. The military – aloft - keeps Pakistan from losing its Islamic moorings. This reading of Pakistan’s vulnerability to Indian colonization is shared by Islamists and terror minders in Pakistan. Whereas the Pakistani military has to be mindful of not killing the goose that lays the golden egg – Pakistan - the Islamists have no such obligation; instead, they might like to profit from India and Pakistan coming to blows. This makes the Pakistani military’s position difficult; not only must it take on India so as to keep the jihadists from running away with the agenda, but also to ensure that jihadists in their enthusiasm don’t burn the house down.
This better explains the protracted stand-off between the two, described by one long-time South Asia observer as a hundred-year war. Kashmir is not the ‘root cause’. It cannot be solved since it is symptom of a deeper – prior - ‘root cause’: religious extremism. Whereas in Pakistan it is through the army – that de facto runs the country - and Islamists being on the same page, in India religious nationalists are now in control of the government itself. Whereas in Pakistan Islamism has only subverted the state, in India religious nationalism now has – worse - captured it. Whereas in Pakistan the extremist-terror link is rather visible, in India it is much less so. This does not make India’s subscription to mirroring forces any less significant. That Pakistan needs a reset is widely acknowledged; but that India also needs a like prescription needs first acknowledging.

Thus far the Pakistani establishment used terror for its ends. Hereon, India shall mirror it. The dialogue though will likely continue, never mind that just as one between its diplomats, it is the dialogue of the deaf. The upshot will be a mirroring in India of what is already apparent in Pakistan. This, until some terror group gets remarkably lucky, and when it does so get, lift the dialogue to a crescendo: through nuclear blows. To paraphrase a wit’s view of the 1965 War as a ‘communal riot with tanks’, the next is one with nukes. Finally, India would have exorcised its Muslim demon and Pakistan its Hindu specter; notwithstanding, ‘husha, busha, we all fall down’.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Front Cover

The book is an outcome of patronage of editors of the publications in
which the commentaries here have appeared. The editors have given me
space to voice an opinion. I have tried to reciprocate by contributing
opinion pieces that were off the beaten track. To the extent that
editorial staff has had to improve the output, I am grateful to all who
have made the contributions presentable. The thoughts in the book are
however entirely mine and no other person/institution/organization is
responsible for the contents in any way of this book.


The book comprises my commentaries in Milligazette, Kashmir Times
and and a few other websites such as countercurrents.
org and I have reflected in the main on Indian politics,
Muslim condition, military issues, nuclear war, Kashmir and India-
Pakistan relations. The commentaries therefore would be of interest to
those who have lived in India and have witnessed the region go through
very interesting times this decade between mid 2014 and start of 2016.
The period saw the BJP come to power in India. The ideology of this
party to my mind had implications for the security of the country, the
region and India’s largest minority community, India’s Muslims. I have
largely reflected on these implications and have regrettably had to be
somewhat cautionary. To me, the right wing agenda of the BJP would
drive away the secular foundation of policy and rationalist grounding
of strategy. My commentaries mostly highlighted the dangers and
hopefully have served to alert the thinking public and the strategic
Externally, I think India under the new ruling party is out to try and
intimidate Pakistan into ‘giving up’. The strategy is not without its risks.
I have consistently pointed in particular to the nuclear dangers this
entails. Internally, India’s Muslim minority and Kashmiris are worried
by the majoritarian turn to polity. I have covered these concerns. I have
also looked at the possibility of politicization of the military in some of
the pieces.
Altogether, I think my vantage points have been off the mainstream.
As a result I believe that the angles and perspectives covered in the book
would repay a reader in that she would hopefully find them original,
interesting and refreshing. The book is in a way an extension of my earlier
two published by CinnamonTeal: Think South Asia and Subcontinental
In all, the liberal perspective has informed the writings and this
would serve to enhance the thinking on national security and strategy
that is largely stuck in the unprofitable realist groove. I hope the ideas
enthuse students and faculty, lay public, officials and officers. As with
Think South Asia, this book too is dedicated to people of South Asia,
who are, as its title suggests, in life and on earth together as one.


Modi worsens India’s doctrinal muddle
Ram Madhav’s Akhand Bharat And Modi’s Pakistan Policy
The conspiracy angle to the Pathankot episode
Fighting the ISIS: India should measure its steps
The Chennai floods and India’s strategic underside
India-Pak bonhomie: Can it last?
The Paris attacks and India’s Muslims
Is Mani Shankar Aiyar right?
‘Pakistani idiocy’: A general gets it half right
Whither Modi, and, at one remove, India?
The military musical chairs
Getting practical over an important report
Why Ramchandra Guha speaks too soon
What is really driving India’s Pakistan strategy?
A Viewpoint: Home Minister Brings ‘Saffron Terror’ Back on the
Look who’s doing yoga now!
Kashmir: Not the moment for a tryst
India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather
The seeds of India’s ‘tough guy’ image
Kashmir and India’s Muslims
How deep does our prejudice run?
Contesting the Mushrif thesis
China policy: Will economics trump the military stance?
Undoing injustice to Kashmiri Pandits
What will it mean to have India as a ‘security provider’?
Kashmir: Fifty years since 1965 War
Deconstructing Mr. Modi’s speech
Strategy for the Modi era
Challenges of the brass in a political minefield
Kashmir : Looking back a quarter century on
What the maritime ‘non-incident’ on New Year’s Eve tells us
What is a moderate Indian Muslim to do? @Chetan_Bhagat
Where veterans refuse to give up, what does the future hold?
India-Pakistan with Kashmir in between
The pebbles ahead in Mr. Modi’s comfortable ride
Is the army court’s verdict on the Machhil killings enough?
Kashmir: Hooda walks the talk
Can PM Modi pull it off?
Mr. Modi’s next stunt
Kashmir : Politicisation of security and its consequences
Sunburn warning for India’s day in the sun
What is Mr. Modi’s Kashmir strategy?
Messiah Modi: What to make of him?
Indo-Pak talks: Getting past the eyewash
The Fear That Does Not Speak Its Name
Modi forges a commitment trap
Majoritarian terrorism: The resounding silence
Normalisation of the terror narrative: The response
The Echo of Gaza closer home
What the PM did not say out loud at Badami Bagh
Will Modi relook at ‘massive’ retaliation in India’s nuclear doctrine?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

 A War at Hand
A press release on the 18th anniversary of the Pokhran II nuclear tests by the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP) sounds the alarm on a possible future. The press release states: ‘The Modi government’s evident lack of professionalism in foreign policy and the ideological penchant for jingoism to divert public criticism on domestic issues has only worsened the situation and there are apprehensions that the BJP might promote war hysteria as we reach closer to the next elections.’
This is unusual pessimism when Modi is only set on his third year. He is looking towards the dividend from his several visits abroad. He is set to be off to Iran, Israel and the US soon. He has put the tweezers on Pakistan by holding out on talks until it proves responsive on terrorism. Internally, he is putting the Congress out to dry. The results from the recent provincial polls might embolden him to further corner the UP government in the run up to poll next year. The first salvo has been the televised entry of a water train to Bundelkhand. His heavy artillery, Subramanian Swamy, elevated to Rajya Sabha for the purpose, is busy setting the scene for a revival of the Ram Mandir issue. With UP in the kitty, Amit Shah no doubt already has his eyes set on the following national polls, perhaps heralded as was the case with Rajiv Gandhi’s shilanyas, with the ‘bhoomi poojan’ – in today’s parlance - for a Mandir.
So which of the two scenarios will shape up: the usual despondency of the marginalized naysayers or that of upbeat Hindutva plotters? Curiously, both can end up true. The only surety is that if it takes a war to help keep Modi in power, there could well be one.
Since Modi is merely two years in the chair, he has not yet been abandoned by his development supporters. He is deftly attempting to pin any blame for lack of the promised neo-liberal dividend on the Congress’ grandstanding in parliament. This is designed to evict them from the upper house, enabling a clear coast for his corporate backers. Having given them full play over the past two years, his saffron supporters can be expected to continue with him. His blind eye allowed them a succession of sticks to beat the minority with. He has left off their mascots – Messrs. Vanzara et al. In any case, he has his trump card – the mandir – up his sleeve in case their faith in him lags. Therefore, it is too early to write off Mr. Modi as the naysayers have done.
Nevertheless, the Modi wave does seem exhausted. It suffered two reverses too many: Delhi and Bihar. The students at JNU and elsewhere have severely embarrassed him, so much so that hagiography on social media and in the media is not at the earlier levels of din. Indeed, the Arun Shourie interview has put him on notice with his support base in the middle class. If the Congress was to pull out the ace up their sleeve – Priyanka Gandhi – then Mr. Modi’s inner worry will begin to show. This is where the scenario of the CNDP will kick in.
The tinder is already piled up. Pakistan is being squeezed. From diplomacy being on hold, it can be inferred that the game who-blinks-first is on. This may take a season or two to play out, interspersed with episodes of the by now familiar reaching out, such as a prospective Modi visit to Islamabad in autumn, and pauses thereafter in close succession. Depending on how ‘successful’ the intelligence and psy war game pans out, the closer Pakistani establishment will get to exasperation. Absent conflict resolution, with Kashmir on the usual edge, they will have an outlet.
India has kept its military honed for just such an eventuality. It has most recently practiced its moves involving both a strike corps and a pivot corps in Exercises Shatrujeet and Chakravyuh II respectively. While the former witnessed the drop of a whole para brigade; the latter too is advertised as having an element of air envelopment. This suggests that Special Forces would be speeding up operations, both for the pivot corps in the initial stages and for the strike corps in the penultimate stage. What speeding up means in face of Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons, now a half decade old, is moot.
The expectation is that Pakistan will in the event be self-deterred on three counts. The first is easy to dismiss as has been competently done in the hallowed pages of International Security. The expectation is that the Pakistani civilian casualties from its own tactical nukes would be of such an order as to be prohibitive. This is predicated on the misconception that Pakistan would launch several strikes in order to stop India’s conventional ingress. This leads to the conclusion that since Pakistan would not be able to countenance such casualties, there would be no nuclear first use; thereby, enabling Indian attack. QED. However, this can be debunked as willfully misrepresenting the manner Pakistan would go nuclear and its aims in doing so. The most plausible such use would be to unmistakably signal crossing of a threshold by India troops who would thereby be best advised to back off. 
The second is that Indian troops would in a broad swathe hold Pakistani population centers hostage. This reading of India’s operational plans suggests that India will deliberately troop into developed terrain, in which its mechanized capability is most unsuited, in order to avoid giving Pakistan targets for tactical nuclear first use. This suggestion is in face of the in-your-face military history of this century in which even superior militaries have got bogged down in demographic terrain. Therefore, even if for argument sake it is granted that there is no nuclear first use – there are targets aplenty in the rear of such troops in a toe-to-toe mode – such troops can be likened to putting their hands into a beehive of irregular, jihad inspired fighters.
The third is that since Pakistan cannot be sure of not being ‘wiped off the map’ in any escalation and especially so if India keeps to its nuclear word of ‘massive’ retaliation, Pakistan would play conventional ball. All three arguments though easy to refute nevertheless serve to incentivize Indian use of its military power.
Such power would be at Mr. Modi’s beck and call if and when he gets into a tight internal political spot. As seen, politics is no longer what it used to be for a Modi used to referring to himself in third person. If the long standing observation of Ashis Nandy holds water, then Mr. Modi would unlikely follow Manmohan Singh in self-denial.  Mr. Singh modestly forewent using the military instrument in face of 26/11. The difference this time round is that Mr. Modi need not wait for a ‘provocation’. If the alleged Pakistani observation from their visit to Pathankot airfield is to be believed, Indian security minders could well trigger off a ‘provocation’. Even the famous parliament attack has drawn credible speculation as being a ‘curious case’. In fact, sound military strategy requires seizing the initiative and not leaving such onerous decisions as war to the whims of passing jihadis. War itself is seldom reactive; only its outbreak is often papered over with such spin. With an intelligence czar at the helm of national security, Chanakya niti of such an order cannot be entirely ruled out. 
To conclude, the naysayers in CNDP are only partially right. There would not only be war clouds, but also war to enable Modi’s emulation of Indira’s Goddess Durga act. It might be safer to wish Mr. Modi political good health over the balance of his tenure. May the Make-in-India tide lift all boats, including Pakistani ones.  Amen.


Sunday, May 08, 2016

World War II redux in the nuclear age

Media reported that at the late April culmination of the Mathura based 1 Corps Exercise Shatrujeet, the parachute brigade comprising 3000 soldiers was air dropped from the heavy-lift C-17 Globemaster-III, C 130 J Hercules, IL 76 and Antonov 32 aircrafts ‘deep inside the enemy's territory’.
The media goes on to quote Major General PC Thimmaya, the divisional commander of Red Eagle Division which is part of the corps being exercised, as saying that it was ‘somewhat closer to what the allied forces did against Germany in the World War II’. He reportedly said, "It reaffirms the Indian Army's strike capabilities with impunity." 


In his reference to World War II, Maj Gen Thimmaya perhaps had the popular image in mind right out of Operation Market Garden. In that battle, Gen Sir Brian Horrocks XXX Crops led Montgomery’s 21st Army Group across Netherlands into Germany. 


The second image is of the fabled drop of the parachute battalion, 2 Para, at Tangail in a bid to hasten the dash for Dacca. The Paras were to cut off a retreating Pakistani brigade at a river bridge. The urgency of reaching Dacca owed to rumours of the American 7th Fleet setting sail from the Pacific for the Bay of Bengal. Ending the war with the early capture of Dacca became priority, whereas the initial war plan was only to capture enough territory to set up a Bangladeshi government.
The third image conjured up is from Gulf War I in which the US military doctrine of the Cold War years, the AirLand battle – combined air and ground operations – was tested. General ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Shwarzkopf’s Operation Desert Storm  had as its trump card the ‘Hail Mary’ maneuver. 


Finally, there is one more scenario, albeit a fictional one. General ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan post retirement put his thoughts into his somewhat ambitiously titled book, The Writing on the Wall: India Checkmates America 2017


The four scenarios need to be seen against the single most significant factor in crisis and conflict today, the nuclear factor.
A World War II Operation Market Garden like scenario presumably would enable the strike corps 1 Corps, known to operate under the South Western Command, to gain the green belt astride River Indus once it gets past the semi-developed terrain opposite northern Rajasthan. To expect that this can be done with ‘impunity’ – presumably implying lack of nuclear threat or response from Pakistan – is self-delusional.
The second scenario has the Paras enabling quicker war termination on advantageous terms. In 1971 War, the war aims expanded in scope with the success achieved by forces on the ground. If the Paras, now designated as Special Forces, are to be so employed today, they risk a quicker lowering of the nuclear threshold by Pakistan.


The paradox is that the closer India gets to conventional military success the more vulnerable it gets to nuclear deterrence failure.

The third scenario resembles closest the possible employment of the parachute brigade practiced in Exercise Shatrujeet. 


In his book, Paddy has the army cutting into Sindh. This can be enabled by the parachute brigade deploying ahead in ‘pivots’ or defended areas in enemy territory to, for instance, prevent counter poising movement by Pakistan’s reserves. This could enable the strike corps to strike deep. Alternatively, it can be landed in aid of Baluch rebels further to the rear of Pakistani forces. If Pakistan’s posturing of its tactical nuclear weapons is to be taken seriously, such attempts would trigger its nuclear response. Not to take it seriously is to seriously misread nuclear weapons.
Finally, is the seemingly benign scenario in which Indian – and US – Special Forces take over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. 


... it could trigger unpredictable consequences. Pakistan’s paranoia dates to the supposed Indian-Israeli threat to its nuclear status of the early eighties. Pakistan is already on record threatening retaliation towards India, whatever the source of the threat.
This analysis suggests that having the capability of deploying a para brigade into battle, howsoever impressive, is not an unmixed blessing. The intent is perhaps to deter Pakistan by showing it that India can dismember it once again as was done in 1971, irrespective of its tactical nuclear weapons.

However, ‘Shatrujeet’ - the exercise name - means ‘one who conquers enemies’. Attempting such conquest now is only to risk mutual defeat. That this has not been grasped fully by the Indian military suggests that India has not quite moved into the twenty first century and the nuclear age.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Can India provide a new lens to the ISIS challenge in Syria?
A 97-party umbrella group, the High Negotiating Committee, and the Assad regime have agreed to a temporary pause in fighting in the Syrian conflict that went into effect in the last weekend of February. While the Syrian Kurds are party to the ceasefire, it does not, however, cover continuing military action by all parties against those defined as terrorists by the UN Security Council : the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the al- Nusra front. The latter two are to face ‘defeat’.
The challenges ahead are easy to spot. 
For full article see -
The question is how to ‘defeat’ it and how to go about doing so. It is here that India, which currently does not figure in the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) comprising of 17 states and their international organisations, could chip in.
As its predecessor Al Qaeda has proven, it is easy for an ISIS-like group to dissolve and melt away. The Al Qaeda’s dispersal from Afghanistan has aggravated problems from Pakistan to Nigeria, with Yemen and Somalia in between. If dissent against the Western sponsored world order and Western influence over Arab regimes is an idea, it will be difficult to defeat since both – the world order and its implications for Arab lands - are set to continue. Therefore, in a sense, the problem is not going to go away, even if ISIS hold over a third of Syria and of Iraq is unfixed militarily.
The military containment and rollback of ISIS is already underway.  In Iraq, several cities have been retrieved such as Tikrit and Ramadi. The Iraqi Kurds have also taken Sinjar. The Syrian Kurds have pushed the ISIS out of Kobane and are closing on Raqqa. The Western coalition airstrikes now number in five digits. Russia has also joined the bombing, even if so far it has concentrated more on helping its ally Assad fight off the Free Syrian Army combine.
Once the ceasefire is in place in the rest of Syria, the squeezing from the air can only intensify. International action from areas where foreign fighters originate is also well underway and Turkey has clamped down on financing, oil supplies and recruiting routes. Unable to recoup losses, ISIS will be set back considerably.
For full article see -
The defeat of ISIS therefore should not come about through the usual means that the notion of defeat conjures up. The means should be political. India can play a role here owing to its advantage of being equi-distant from both sides of the conflict. Its legacy of non-alignment and current foreign policy of multi-alignment places it in a suitable spot to sell some ideas on conflict resolution to its friends on both sides. As a multi-religious state in a proximate region it has a legitimate interest in amicable conflict termination.
India can push a ‘root causes’ approach in line with UN principles. It should extend to eliminating ‘pull factors’ that give rise to foreign fighters – primarily Arab and from Western countries - in the first place.
It may be counter-intuitive to suggest democracy as an antidote to ISIS, which is taken as its antithesis. However, setting back religious extremism requires giving more space to Arab nationalism. What is clear is that as long as the West finds suppressive Arab regimes more amenable, the ISIS as an idea will not wither. India as a leading post-colonial democratic state is best positioned to foreground this home truth.
The daunting Syrian peace process set to restart in the early part of March requires every national shoulder, including an Indian one. Even if it is a process characterized by ‘one hesitant step after another’, the direction cannot exclude involvement of Syria’s east at some juncture in the process, which means defeating the ISIS but with non-military means. This would entail separating the nationalist, Baathist and tribal elements from violent religious extremists. A military template only pushes them together.
Will the suggestion be taken on board? The West has the ISIS as a magnet for its dissidents, helping it pin them down in a foreign locale. It gives the West a rationale to continue shaping the Middle East. The Arab regimes too export their dissidents to ISIS territory where they can then bash them with impunity. The Russians gain the logic to remain in Syria now that their immediate task of preserving Assad is done. The Shia spectrum would not like Sunni fighters being let off the hook.
Clearly, it can only devolve on the UN, perhaps aided by external players such as India, to chip-in with the otherwise obvious suggestion. India has played a role even in its infancy in untangling intricate conflicts such as in Korea. While the world might look its way soon scouting for blue helmets, India must bring new ideas to the table. For this, it needs to once again reach into the wellsprings of its non-violent experience and philosophy. It can yet play the role of a great power, but with a difference.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

After left-liberals, Muslim are next

The ongoing fight for India’s educational spaces is easy to explain. Placing the left-liberals on the back-foot is essential for the RSS combine and the ruling party. For the RSS combine it is to wrest the intellectual space and for the ruling party to silence embarrassing questions and observations on its governance. For both, subduing this constituency is a necessary step in the shaping of the battlefield for the application of Hindutva to changing India yet to come.
For readers of this journal, who shall be subject of the ‘yet to come’ Hindutva measures, the pertinent aspect of prime time news today is the wearing down of their first line of defence. India’s Muslims are safe in India owing to liberal Hindus. Their standing up to the right wing extremists is a trench line behind which India’s Muslims breath easily. Reckoning as much, the Hindutva brigade is out to wrest them from their holdouts.
Obviously, India’s Muslims cannot be bystanders, for it is their own fortifications that are being whittled. They will surely be the next targets, once the conscience of the nation in the form of left-liberal opinion has been deterred into silence. This is not to say that Indian Muslims are already not facing the brunt. The various campaigns of beef ban, love jihad and ghar wapsi are testimony. The fact is that these and plenty of Hindutva to come yet will be further emboldened.
The left-liberals through their fight back on campuses across the country, return of awards and constant red flagging of Hindutva initiatives were punching above their weight. Not only was this hurting Mr. Modi’s aura, projected abroad, but also the electoral prospects of his party within. It is not as if Rahul Gandhi’s following of his political instincts by turning up at campuses likely scares the regime. However, with both the economy and polity being more demanding than a talent-challenged cabinet could deliver on, there was a need to stifle the constant sniping by left-liberals from the educational spaces and the media.
The well-worn principle of the intelligence game - impose on one to frighten the rest - is in play. Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy and now Kanhaiya Kumar are examples. It is not for the first time Mr. Modi busies himself inaugurating the likes of Make in India and Rurban initiatives even as he maintains his telling silence. To believe that there are two scripts at play in face of such consistency would be naïve.
Clearly, making sense of the happenings is easier than thinking through what to do about them. The events in Patiala House courts bring home the predicament of the Muslim youth accused of terrorism elsewhere in provincial and lower courts where there is little reach of the national media and where media is present it is of the Hindutva persuasion. There are dozens of Vikram Singh Chouhan equivalents with their ties, as those of Chouhan, extending up the political food chain of the far right. There also are OP Sharma-like legislators, waiting to exult in impunity. India is now replicating Modi’s Gujarat.
Only awaited are national level Maya Kodnani look-alikes and these would not be long in coming once the UP election comes into view. The tactics are already bare. The attempted sullying of Umar Khalid and Kanhaiya Kumar with a terrorist and Pakistani connection makes this clear. The allegation of ABVP serving as agent provocateurs in their ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ chants shows how easily a case can be manufactured for a crackdown.
There is no cause for alarm that the left-liberals will go under easily. Currently, they are on a roll in a counter attack that is seeing their ranks swell from Delhi to Jadhavpur. If the levels of fight back sustain and translate into electoral roll back of the BJP, begun in Delhi and impelled further in Bihar, into the forthcoming elections in east India, it would decisively push back the enemy at the gates. However, till then, which means till year end, there is reason for being alert.
Both the academia and media are now divided. The push back from the right wing cannot be too long in coming. The newly appointed VCs in both Hyderabad University and JNU have right wing backing. To counter the Sardesai-Dutt-Varadarajan camp, there is the one-man-army, Arnab Goswami. The manner the Delhi police over-reacted indicates the levels to which officialdom is ready to stoop. The liberal intelligentsia is only a fraction in terms of numbers and shrillness of devotees of Messiah Modi. The latter want the Gujarat model, warts and all. The Left parties are in hibernation and the Congress searching for a leading light. This brief survey of relative strength suggests that even in case the left-liberals win this round, they would stand exhausted for the multiple fights on several fronts yet to come.
What is the state of play on the Indian Muslims front? They stand divided. The Barelvis are being propped up in state-funded gatherings to rile against those perceived as Wahabis. A Modi acolyte is Chancellor of a university. The two great universities, AMU and JMI, have been outflanked by the Center’s changed stance on their minority status. Muslim electorates are being enticed by communitarian parties such as the MIM, which for its relative gains appears willing to overlook absolute gains by the right wing party at the cost of regional and national parties. While the Vice President has on occasions voiced his concerns discreetly and courageously, there is little efficacious word from the Muslim political spectrum on the latest controversy.
Finally, there is the pull of the strategy argument that staying out will keep the right wing from maligning the liberal-left spectrum as Muslim ‘appeasers’. Staying out would keep the right wing from playing the religion card. This is a battle for the soul of Hinduism as a tolerant religion much as it is of India. Therefore, the Hindus need to expose and marginalize their home-grown extremists and wrest Hinduism back to safety.
In summation, it can be said that yet another episode in the expansion of right wing’s control of India is ongoing. This time round the stakes are rather high since silencing the left-liberals would be to mute a critique itself. This for India’s Muslims could prove an existential loss, since they serve as our shield. It stands to reason then that a view needs to be taken of our involvement, levels of this and proceeding expeditiously with its rolling out.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Gen Rao’s place in the history of Kashmir

Kashmir Times, 5 February 2016

The second of two back-to-back obituaries of military leaders lately, with that of ‘Jake’ Jacob being the first, has been of Gen Krishna Rao. Clearly, obituaries of both were effusive and with good reason. The military careers of both registered a high watermark in the liberation of Bangladesh and both went on to serve the country further in uniform and when out of it in a gubernatorial capacity.
Of the two, interest of readers of this publication is in Gen Krishna Rao’s significant presence in the recent history of Kashmir. What is well known is his tenure at the Raj Bhawan and its continuing ramifications. What is less well known is how the situation came to such as pass in Kashmir in first place.
But first, what is rather well known. Rao was there at the beginning. The political situation resulting from then Governor Jagmohan’s handling of the political impasse in the mid-eighties culminated in the late eighties. The election in the interim in 1987 yielded up a rich harvest of disaffected youth, promptly capitalized on by Pakistani intelligence agencies. A spiral in initially low level anti-India violence started, including the selective killings of Kashmiri Pandits. Governor Jagmohan’s tenure ending led to appointment of Rao in his place for his first tenure in J&K. Rao having served a five year stint in the North East was a figure with experience in handling restive states. Portents of the situation worsening had perhaps led to the choice of an army man for the job.
In the event, his was a turbulent first term. Pakistan’s low intensity war continued, unacknowledged by either side, with Tika Lal Taploo being killed that September, among the first of about 220 Kashmiri Pandits who have died since in the conflict. It witnessed the turning out on the streets of large numbers of people in the last December of the eighties during the Rubaiya Sayeed crisis. The final straw was the announcement by the government of the return of Jagmohan as Governor. Jagmohan was a tough administrator and having just finished a five year stint in Srinagar was thought to be the best bet. Perhaps Rao was seen as too close to Abdullah.
Not only did Rao resign, so did Farooq Abdullah miffed that his political rival Mufti Sayeed had foisted his nemesis Jagmohan on him once again. This resulted in a vacuum in Srinagar at a crucial time, in the run up to Republic Day. Even as Jagmohan hastened to Srinagar for what turned out his ‘frozen turbulence in Kashmir’, the Valley was astir. On 19 January, the police took action under uncertain authority, setting-off agitated crowds on Srinagar streets the next day and setting up the Gowkadal incident. The rumour was that Kashmir was building up to a boiling point culminating on 26 January in a unilateral declaration of independence. In the following weeks, many of the 24000 Kashmiri Pandit families that have left Kashmir exited.  
Jagmohan left in a hail of bullets that not only accounted for Mirwaiz Farooq but also for some 60 members of his cortege. At a time when some are returning state awards, he recently collected a Padma Vibhushan for his stewardship of Kashmir at the outbreak of the troubles. His successor ‘Gary’ Saxena is credited with holding firm, but only to pass on the baton to Rao. The dynamics between Rao, his home minister Chavan and Chavan’s deputy, Rajesh Pilot, and the relations (later even familial) of the latter with Kashmir’s most prominent politician Farooq Abdullah, led to Rao’s second chance at the helm.
In retrospect, it appears that Krishna Rao had a single mandate from Prime Minister Narasimha Rao: conduct elections. The aim was legitimate, a return to democracy rather than rule from Delhi. India’s newly liberalising economy needed investment and in the post Cold War climate, the sole superpower, the US, needed to be placated. India’s human rights record was under question and Narasimha Rao had to dispatch both Kashmir’s lead politician Abdullah and opposition leader Vajpayee to Geneva to retrieve lost ground. The economy could not do with another round of war with Pakistan. India’s military might had to be turned inwards.
Creating the conditions for elections and the timing of it was left to General Rao. He began well in his handling of the vacation of Hazratbal shrine. However, General Rao, a former army chief to boot, ended up relying solely on the army to deliver. For its part, the army had a full job on its hands. It had recovered weaponry enough to equip two divisions worth of troops. The insurgency was now more of proxy war with the indigenous face, the JKLF, being eclipsed by the ISI supported Hizb and the foreign fighter dominated Harkat. Apprehending a long term engagement in Kashmir, the army determined that it should not detract from its ability to hit back at Pakistan. It raised the Rashtriya Rifles and pumped these troops into Kashmir in the mid-nineties. It also turned to turn coat militants by creating the Ikhwan.
The Unified Headquarters set up by Rao himself was however not a link between him and the army. This came to a head in the Charar-e-Sharif episode which witnessed Rao quarrelling with his tools and scapegoating the UHQ head, his adviser Home and fellow general, MA Zaki. The event led to elections postponed to the following year, giving Seshan, the election czar, time to conduct a reckonable election. Elections helped India’s case in Kashmir, even if some of the glitter was lost in the tough line India was forced to adopt in face of Pakistan’s continuing challenge. Thus Gen Rao delivered on the aim set by his prime minister. Rao handed the baton back to Saxena, who had two eruptions - the Kargil War and the legislative assembly/parliament attack aftermath – to deal with.
When Kashmir’s history gets to be written dispassionately sometime in the future, it will be said that there were missed opportunities aplenty in Kashmir. The first was when Jagmohan applied the military template, which according to his adviser, Ved Marwah, was not quite necessary when policing action and investigation of firings resulting in uncalled for deaths  could have served the situation. The second was in wake of Hazratbal when Rao at the helm could have exploited the effect of the mature handling of the situation, that  included the soft touch of negotiated end to the crisis by Habibullah and even serving of ‘biryani’ to militants. Habibullah in his account soto voce suggests that there was more to his removal from the scene in an accident than meets the eye. That the militants got a hiding on surrendering suggests there were forces for the alternate way of handling militancy. It is clear that they won out under Rao’s tutelage.
That said, now for the less visible and indirect influence of Rao on Kashmir. Kashmir erupted at the turn of the decade when the Berlin Wall had just come down and freedom and liberation (‘azadi’) were in the air. India was relatively cowed after its economy coughed and its politics tumbled; its main supporter, the Soviet Union, went into a fright; and its adversary Pakistan became triumpalist over its success in laying out the ‘bear trap’ in Afghanistan. Whereas the semi-fictional scenario Operation Topac was exaggerated, the ISI was itself surprised by the windfall it received in early 1990. So much so that Benazir Bhutto’s fiery jumping into the act in early February after the birth of her child was almost inevitable.  Pakistan could not but grab the chance it had only partially created and which India had done more to hand over.
Pakistan needed this since it was long looking for an opportunity to tie down India’s military power. India’s military power had received a fillip in the eighties. The military upgrade that in the event made India’s economy dive, was a brainchild of the Rao-Sundarji combine. It is here that Rao’s indirect role kicks in. After India’s military victory in 1971 that made it a regional power, India in the mid-seventies set up a study group under Rao to chart out its military’s turn towards mechanization. This was firmed in under Rao when as Chief he conducted the first memorable large scale exercise, Ex Digvijay. Pakistan, worrying that this time its mainland would be shred by Indian pincers, sought to under-cut India’s power by first fostering insurgency in its launch pads in Punjab and then extended it into J&K, when India offered the border state as a fertile ground a platter through the rigging of elections in 1987 under Abdullah’s and Jagmohan’s watch. In effect, Rao’s success carried forward by Sundarji resulted in the insurgency in Kashmir that then required Rao’s direct attention.
There was one other manner in which Rao tangentially influenced Kashmir. As Chief he was said  to have been close to the Congress. When his time came to hang up his uniform, he pitched for Gen Vaidya to succeed him over the prior claim on seniority of Gen Sinha. Gen Vaidya was winner of two gallantry awards. Gen Sinha on his part left the service, only to follow Gen Rao, if not as Chief, then two decades on as Governor J&K, appointed by the earlier NDA government. While Rao tilted to the Congress, Sinha tilted to the opposition. While both can be credited with setting the stage for political generals of today, Sinha’s has been a baleful cultural nationalist, if not communal, legacy in Kashmir. He completely reversed the healing touch of early this century, so much so that today Kashmiri youth express interest in the ISIS even while that organization has only rhetorical interest in Kashmir.
Rao, as with the other governors in the nineties, bore a great brunt. He had the wide shoulders necessary. It must be said that if Pakistan had its way then things would have been much worse.