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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Kashmir's scenery makes its way to the 'hinterland'
By Firdaus Ahmed
The head of India's land warfare think tank has this to say in his essay in the flagship product of the army funded center: 'The proxy war is one method of tying down the Indian Army, and it should be expected during any war, that this strategy will be escalated to choke the lines of communication and destabilise the hinterland ('

It is easy to see this in relation to Kashmir. The restive population would possibly hold-up Indian military convoys, enroute to battle by sporadic bouts of stone throwing. Even if not orchestrated by Pakistan, this can be inferred from the daily prime time display of their levels of alienation from India and from teenage girls joining the fray.

While this explanation caters for the reference to 'lines of communication' falling in J&K, where about one third of the army is deployed, one wonders what is the reference to 'destabilise the hinterland'? A little further in the article, a clue appears: 'The religious colour given to the Mujahideen war in Afghanistan is being replicated in India, in the hope that Indian Muslims will get radicalised, causing communal disharmony.'

Presumably, this explains the source of possible instability in the 'hinterland'. Clearly,
into the proxy war sink - in which the J&K problem has languished for the past two decades -
the security predicament of India's largest minority - its Muslims - is now being
 likewise sunk.

The think tank honcho explicates further ahead in the article in question the role such a proverbial fifth
column could play in hostilities. He calls for engineering a Tibetan uprising in relation to the circumstance
 of hostilities with China: 'The Tibetan people must be integrated into the overall plan to impose delay and
attrition on forces inducted after the commencement of a war. The Tibetan resistance must also be used for
 deep targeting and intelligence… The covert and hybrid war now in vogue, remains well suited to the TAR
where Tibetan nationalism has been suppressed, and has been simmering for decades.'

He perhaps visualizes this is the role Pakistan's ISI is setting up India's Muslims to play and some of India's
Muslims might oblige. This is not an individual opinion. It appears to be collectively held in the military. Here
is some anecdotal evidence.

This author lives in a Muslim majority locality in a city with a large Muslim population. In the locality is situated
 a military garrison. As with other military garrisons, it has been in uncomfortable cheek by jowl with its
surroundings. This was unremarkable earlier, when cities were relatively laid back. With cities turning dynamic,
 if not turbulent, and willy-nilly strangling the green military oasis in their midst, the garrison over time acquired
a wall, topped up as is the fashion these days not only with barbed wire but concertina coil. Thereafter, as
military budgets expanded, it gave itself guard towers two-storey high, to peer over the walls at every bend.
Lately, it has set up at every hundred meters or so atop its boundary wall a set of sandbags, reminiscent of
bunkers in J&K.

Whereas I could explain away the wall as a natural response to the bustle around it, the guard towers
appeared to be rather a pointed comment on what the garrison thought of its unruly and boisterous neighbours.
However, I cannot but notice that there is more to it than mere military irritation. The guard towers acquired
sentries with rifles. Some now have light machine guns. There is a bonafide bunker at the garrison's gates
that can do credit to any Srinagar street.

But what is a Muslim watching this garrison's transformation to make of the trench and bunker like toppings
to the wall all along its length? Do the inmates of this garrison believe that they would be assaulted and that
they might need to repel an assault in the midst of a city outside of J&K and India's north east? Why is
the main gate so configured as to ward-off a fidayeen attack? Is the Muslim majority locality such an eyesore
to this garrison? Would it hide jihadists who might wish to do a repeat of Kalu Chak?
 Does it hide fifth columnists who might want to
 interdict our brave soldiers setting off to a war with a Cold Start?

One can imagine and excuse those holed up in the garrison to put in ear plugs and swear under their breath (or
out loud as people are wont to these days) as the loud speakers in the seven mosques in the locality go off one
 by one. But do they also really think that those attending those prayers can potentially scale the walls of the
garrison to interdict troops on their way off to some borderland battlefield in the next war?

What this suggests is that there is a considerable buy-in into the canard of susceptibility of Muslims to subversion
- either by religious extremism or by our friendly neighborhood bogeyman. This has been a case long in the making.

Every now and again there are news reports of some or other techie caught finding his way to Syria. The police
in a southern state was exposed to be running jihadists websites so as to trap potential Muslim terrorists who
stopped by too often or lingered at the webpage too long. In Bhopal, a BJP ruled state, eight under trials were
 shot in cold blood. The latest news report had some jihad inclined Indian Muslims done to death by the Mother
 of All Bombs in the caves of Nangarhar. (There is no talk on the environmental crime perpetrated in the use of a
bomb on one of natures' wonders, no less blatant a crime than that of the Taliban knocking down the Bamiyan
statues or ISIS doing away with Palmyra).

The people who have bought into this either don't know or don't want to know or, worse, don't care to know, that
there have been a spate of Muslims being let off by courts for want of evidence in cases of bombings attributed
 to jihadists. They evince no knowledge of the exposĂ© of the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association of the police
stories on some celebrated terrorism related cases as fabrications and figment of imagination. They are unaware
of the many Muslims remain in prison with cases pending, even in cases so stark as the Malegaon case, where
 extremist Hindus have been implicated for the bombings. They are perhaps happy that some courts are also
letting off Hindu perpetrators for planting bombs in a 'bomb for bomb' duet with supposedly Muslim perpetrated
terrorism mid-last decade.

Whereas such a distorted worldview can be understood of ordinary people who are lied-to much of the time
by mass media and subverted authority figures, how can institutions subscribing to this - such as our esteemed,
secular and apolitical army - be explained away? Is it so apolitical as to be a political innocent or, worse, ignoramus?

Retrospect makes it easy to see what has been engineered in India over the past decade and half.
A careful hearing to a speech by the current day national security adviser at a nondescript locale back in 2010 -
 unbelievably on Universal Brotherhood Day - provides some clues (; The intelligence czar, though retired, lets on that there is a
war on, with jihadists out to subjugate and convert India. (Thus, 'universal brotherhood' is baloney!) The terrorism
 India was subject to all through the century's first decade made this believable. To him, (Muslim) invaders came
 to India because it was 'weak' (and not because geography did not make it sensible for them to wonder off into
the surrounding deserts on the three other sides). Now it needs to be 'strong' and under a 'leader' with a 'vision'.
It is to his credit - and that of an ally the RSS - India has finally got there.

While getting all the way to Delhi, it made political sense to lampoon Rahul Gandhi. Were he to say that the greater
 threat to India is from saffronites, it would not be believed. But Mr. Gandhi got it spot on in his conversation leaked
 at wikileaks. Now, if only the institutions of state provide the necessary checks and balances rather than buy-in
into a strategic discourse contrived to capture and perpetuate a hold over power, India can yet be rescued.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The latest kerfuffle on the nuclear front has been stirred up by comments made last month by a Harvard faculty member of Indian origin at a conference at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. He opined that India has shifted or is shifting its nuclear doctrine from a retaliatory one to a one based on first-strike, which could well be in a preemptive mode. This means that India might well abandon no first-use, either soon as part of this shift or in face of provocation.
Anticipating the shift, a back of the envelop calculation done in this column two years back had it that at least 50 weapons would require to be dropped for setting back Pakistan’s retaliatory capability.
Presuming Pakistan manages to sneak in some of its own nuclear attacks timely and, later, its scattered nuclear forces fire off any remaining warheads in India’s direction, we could add some 20 nuclear strikes, not all of which will be impacting India since the early nuclear use by Pakistan might be in form of tactical nuclear weapons on its own territory against advancing Indian military columns. There would also be some knock-on detonations of Pakistani nuclear weapons subject to Indian strikes. Thus, we have a figure of about a 120 detonations, of which about a tenth could well be in India.
Though India would in this case receive strikes in the lower double digits, these might be tellingly directed at India’s nerve centers. 
A rough estimate is that India can expect up to 10 nuclear incoming strikes from the Arabian Sea. Assuming DRDO manages to down 5 of these, an overall 15 impacts would be the price to pay for ‘wiping Pakistan off the map’ in George Fernandes’ unforgettable phrase.
... assuming that two thirds of India’s strikes are airburst, about 25-30 Indian strikes will raise a dust, as would the 15 Pakistani bombs that manage to get through. Thus, we have a figure of about 45 mushroom clouds in the subcontinent, at least some of which would be in urban settings.
It is possible that given the dispensation currently in power in Delhi, there would be no compunction in eliminating Pakistan. Since the nuclear aftermath would provide an opportunity for gaining a firm grip over India, ostensibly to prevent chaos, there are incentives for a regime pre-disposed towards an authoritarian system.
Given this propensity, strategists would be well advised to think one-up. By selling first-strike as a doable proposition, they may end up with a political decision maker - with a self-belief in being a strong man and decisive - grasping the nettle.
How will this turn out?
India could well manufacture a nuclear trigger in the form of a chemical attack on its forces – a’la Tongking Bay incident that brought the US directly into the Vietnam war. Recently in Syria, purported chemical weapons used by the regime led to the US missile strikes. Similarly, attribution of chemical attacks to Pakistan could open it up for pre-emptive nuclear retribution, with information warfare later cluttering the truth.
Clearly, South Asia is closer to a nuclear conflict than strategists care to let on. They need to take nuclear scaremongering more seriously, and so must the prospective nuclear decision makers.
Given all this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be apprised of the possible dangers.
Firstly, Modi would be wise to query the numbers. He should double the numbers of Pakistani warheads credited here as striking India’s solar plexus. It would take considerably more chutzpah than he needed to face the critics of demonetization.
Secondly, he could be arraigned for genocide, if not in front of the International Criminal Court – which India has in anticipation taken care not to sign up to – but in innovative global criminal tribunals set up for accountability.
Thirdly, even if Pakistan is history, the saffronites’ ‘Muslim problem’ would not have gone away. Not only would Pakistani refugees inundate the border-states but they would be a conduit for a jihadi, hybrid war.
In this nuclear era, what should matter to the decision maker is not what we can do to the  enemy but what the enemy could do to us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Terror: More serious than most know

India is pursuing an initiative to forge consensus on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. Though terrorism has been in the sights of the international community now for some two decades, the initiative has not got a tail wind yet. Some of this lack of ballast owes to Indian credibility undermined by its own doing.

Take for instance recent headlines in India. Surely foreign embassies would be transmitting back to their capitals that the courts have let off Aseemanand - a self-confessed terrorist - for lack of evidence. Worse, they would also be reporting back that over a dozen Muslim men have been released from prisons since the high profile cases against them for terrorism did not fly.

If India does not itself - back home - take terrorism quite so seriously as to investigate and prosecute sensibly, why would India's diplomats talking of international terrorism in global forums be taken any more seriously?

This begs the question as to how seriously to take India? Taking up a more worrisome and a more important matter may help answer the question: the political use of terrorism and its discourse in internal politics in India.

This is self-evident from the turn the UP elections appear to have taken mid course. Unable to shake off the ghost
 of demonetization, the BJP appears to have got cold feet. The Muslim card has been hurled back
into the reckoning. As if on call, the Khorasan chapter of the ISIS made its appearance. A bomb blast led to
 investigations in a neighbouring BJP-ruled state that in turn prompted a day-long gun battle in a city in the
 state going to the polls against a holed up Muslim 'terrorist'.

Mere reference to Nepal based Pakistan aided Muslim 'terrorists' responsible for an earlier train derailment as
part of campaigning was not thought enough. More hands-on, visible, in-your-face-terrorism, needed conjuring.

Even the ISIS Khorasan chapter could not have thought up such an India debut. It did not have to. Those that keep
 watch on it in India appear to have stepped in on its behalf, providing it the free oxygen of publicity. The timeliness
of the framing of the news brooks no other explanation.

This is of a piece with the over-a-decade long pattern of bomb blasts. Muslims get picked up as suspects; are
prosecuted while being denied bail; are incarcerated; and if lucky, left off a decade on; and if unlucky, killed while
 escaping, such as most recently the unfortunate eight under trials in BJP-ruled Bhopal.

The script won the BJP the national elections. It collapses the 'internal Other', India's Muslims, with the 'external
 Other', Pakistan. Creating the connection was doubly useful. It showed up an India under threat that the
minority-appeasing Congress-led UPA could not possibly counter. Security needed a strong-on-security, BJP, and a
strong leader, Modi.

Though upfront, the BJP had development as its plank, it was one handed to it in the period of paralysis of the UPA II. 
The security plank was the one that was in-the-works over the decade prior. The spate of terror attacks since the
 mid-2000s were attributed to Muslim perpetrators, inspired by revenge for the Gujarat pogrom. Modi was depicted
as a key target, saved by the daring exploits of the likes of IGP Vanzara. Targeting of Akshardham temple placed
Gujarat at the frontline. Muslim perpetrators of terror were allegedly assisted by Pakistan that had taken to keeping
Kashmir quiescent but had expanded its shadow over the Indian hinterland.

This helped Mr. Modi acquire a larger-than-life image carrying him victory in the hustings. Since the strategy is now
tried and tested, the BJP has naturally fallen back on it to ensure like result at what are seen as a forerunner
 to the next national elections. While it is a commonplace that it is not possible to fool all the people all the time, this
has not stopped the BJP from trying. Perhaps the IB has alerted its political master that these are desperate times.

The curious fact is this. Since many Muslims have been let off for terror they did not commit, who has committed
those crimes? Hindutva inspired terrorists - such as Aseemanand, Pragya Thakur and their ilk - come in the
cross hairs. This means that many of the terrorist acts attributed in the popular imagination to Muslims have the
 finger prints of Hindutva votaries behind them.

However, the NIA is known to have asked prosecutors, such as Rohini Salian, to 'go soft' on such terrorists and
the courts are proceeding to give the benefit of the doubt to the likes of Aseemanand, with Pragya Thakur and
Maj. Purohit also reportedly lined up for similar kid-glove treatment.

This indicates either of two things: that saffron-inspired terrorists being of the same persuasion as the ruling
dispensation are let off owing to ideological affinity, or, more troublingly, they were put to it and having done their
bit are being let off.

Though the former possibility is comparatively mild, it puts paid to India's international position that there are no
 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists'. It makes clear that India - just as other countries including its bĂȘte noire Pakistan -
has its own set of 'good terrorists'.

The latter - that Hindutva perpetrated terror has political antecedents - deserves pause on two counts. The first
is the effect this had on the national discourse. It made out that the nation was under threat, enabling consolidation
 behind the Hindutva political formations and their champion, Modi.

The second is who were behind the manipulation of the Hindutva working hands. Were they acting independently to
 substitute the intolerable UPA? To what extent was their handiwork known to those so benefiting? And, finally,
 who were they? How did the intelligence establishment under UPA miss out on them altogether?

The last question points to a degree of culpability of the intelligence and policing apparatus. They were complicit in
painting a false image of India being subject to Muslim perpetrated terror to the benefit of the right wing of the political
establishment. Not only did they not collect the necessary evidence to nail actual perpetrators but falsified the narrative
to implicate Muslims. This is subversion of more than mere justice.

The current day episode only deepens this understanding of the terror narrative in India. The sudden advent of the
Khorasan chapter - almost at a centralized will and to the very timely benefit of the Hindutva political formations - suggests
nothing else. If in the UPA period the rule of law apparatus was - as seen - out of governmental control, under the
current regime it is on the contrary completely under control. Not only can it, in full view, kill under trials, but
orchestrate terror acts, manipulate the media and, thereby, influence polls. This is potential subversion of democracy.

'Potential' is used advisedly. The UP results are awaited. It cannot be that the Indian voter cannot see through this
patently false narrative. Even polarization cannot blind so completely. While she may not vote for those who stand to
 benefit by manipulation of the terror narrative on this count - for such manipulation - but by rejecting them, she makes
 such attempts futile. Democracy can triumph yet. It cannot afford not to.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

COAS selection and the doctrine of ‘relative ease of working’ with

In wake of the selection of the next army chief, the notion that an abundance of operational experience is an indicator of strategic good sense has been debunked competently elsewhere. Some have argued that seniority is also not the best guarantee of enabling the best hand at the military helm. One argument that has been bandied about in favour of the double supersession, that of ‘relative ease of working’ with.
This has surfaced in two prominent publications, no doubt discreetly put out by the information warfare machinery at the ruling party’s command, both governmental and through its army of trolls. The underlying assumption is quite akin to selling demonetization, which in Amit Shah’s words needs being repeated a hundred times to become the logical thing to do to tackle black money, corruption, terrorism and to make India a cashless economy. Before it becomes a doctrine that will inform subsequent selections, it needs debunking.
A retired major general writes in The Wire:
A decision is more likely to be based on the ‘relative ease of working’ rather than just seniority. Relative ease implies certain qualities which are essential at that level, especially when, for example, the government is following a pro-active policy against India’s immediate neighbours… In simple terms, it is mutual understanding and commonality on thought and operational issues.
Josy Joseph writing for the once-credible The Hindu, lets on that, ‘Those close to the present government also argue that a factor taken into consideration was the ease of doing business with the new chief.’ He suggests that sources in-the-know have given out why the Modi government has gone in for its latest Tughlakian maneuver. This might just be the real reason why the army chief designate made it past two equally competent generals. 
A long-time military and intelligence watcher Saikat Dutta, writing for the, informs that the army chief designate caught the eye of the national security adviser at a previous interaction between the two during the planning and conduct of the supposedly trans-border operation in Myanmar against Naga rebels who had ambushed an army convoy. As the former army man, the information minister, had indicated then, it was the precursor to the more touted ‘surgical strikes’ of late.
Dutta writes: ‘Discussions at Army headquarters during the planning of this operation saw a close interaction between Rawat and Doval. Though the two men are years apart in age, the fact that both are Garhwalis helped them cement a working relationship.’ In hindsight, it can be said that this led up to Bipin Rawat’s move to South Block as Vice Chief and his subsequent elevation over the heads of his former boss at Eastern Command and his successor at Southern Command.
It appears that this is the most likely reason for the supersession and therefore calls out for like scrutiny by commentators as attended the other plausible reason touted, namely, operational experience. 
At the outset it bears mention that it was not Bipin Rawat who invited the national security adviser over to his operational area. Mr. Doval accompanied the Army Chief who landed up there to oversee a tactical level operation that perhaps directly involved at best two companies that could have well be overseen by a brigadier. More accurately put, it would be vice versa, with the army chief accompanying the super sleuth. Observers, noticing his omni-presence, had pointed to such hyper-activity not translating into strategic acumen. At the operational briefing, and perhaps when the operations were underway, there is no reason for Bipin Rawat to exercise self-censorship when sharing his views with Mr. Doval. That Mr. Doval found these palatable is now apparent.
The point that ‘sources’ in government and/or from the cultural nationalist front have put out is that the government required a chief who was amenable to its strategic shift, from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism. This they have now managed to get. What are the implications?
There is potential for politicization. An aspiring general can read the tea leaves. He can align his world view with that of the government. He can project himself as being ‘easy’ to work with. This obviously is not the case with Bipin Rawat, but those who follow would be keyed into this new-fangled principle of selection of apex military brass.
The famous case of BM Kaul, an officer of the service corps, being placed in charge to implement Nehru’s forward policy is rather well known. The officer who was against this policy, General Thorat, was shunted out. The supersession of General Sinha has a similar story attending it. He was reluctant to get the army involved cleaning up the Sikh unrest. His successor at Western Command, Sundarji, and the general who pipped him at the post, General Vaidya, were more willing to align with the government. A different angle to aligning with the government’s views or otherwise is from the episode in April 1971 when the army was asked to go into East Pakistan. General Manekshaw rightly demurred and gained control over the timing of the invasion. The results of the three examples are rather well known.
There is also one on potential possibilities. Take for instance the briefing by the then military operations and air operations heads to the BJP national executive at its party headquarters during the Kargil War. They were possibly corralled into it by the defence minister, a party ally of the BJP. Imagine a scenario in which General Vij, the then DGMO, declining the duty in light of its political repercussions. He would unlikely have made it to chief in his turn. On the other hand, his turning up for the briefing makes him out as pliable. That he succeeded Doval as head of the think tank, the Vivekananda International Foundation, suggests a likemindedness that well preceded his retirement.
The doctrine of ‘ease of doing business with’ therefore fraught. In the current case, the government wishes to have at the helm someone it believes shares its strategic orientation. This has the underside of giving rise to group think. The expectation of the army is that it would willingly say ‘Yes Sir’ on receiving its marching orders; that the army will be less process driven in terms of providing its input and feedback on the directions it receives. The ‘ease of doing business with’ formulation suggests a like-mindedness that is detrimental to national security decision making in that it deprives the government of unpalatable alternatives and diversity in options.
This is the practical manifestation of what in theory passes for subjective civilian control in which the government appoints a military brass that shares its views, rather than for professionalism that will enable it to receive a corporate view from the military that might be at variance with its own view or clash with the other inputs it receives such as from the foreign policy bureaucracy or intelligence agencies. Subjective civilian control was to the originator of the concept of military professionalism, Samuel Huntington, abusive of professionalism. It compromises the advisory role an apex military leader is to perform.
An example of the ‘ease of doing business with’, albeit one somewhat stretched, is from the last time round India wished to show its muscles. In the mid-eighties, Rajiv Gandhi and his whiz kids, that included Arjun Singh, were inclined to take India to a regional power status. This included moving from a brown water to blue water navy, upgrading its air force with the latest planes such as Jaguars, and allowing the army the run of the deserts to instill fear into Zia’s Pakistan. They had a visionary general in command who likewise liked painting on a wider canvas. By Rajiv Gandhi’s own admission, Exercise Brasstacks that Sundarji organized, took Indian an untimely a whisker away from war. Sundarji, tamed by the experience, was thereafter willing to fall in line with India’s viceroy in Colombo, JN Dixit, and the R&AW line that the Tamil Tigers were ‘our boys’.
The upshot is that there is no place for individual heroes in the national security pantheon. Neither Mr. Doval’s by now rather well-known intelligence exploits nor General Rawat’s operational experience can serve to substitute for robust institutional strength. This can only be obtained from institutions in national security performing as constitutionally and traditionally mandated. It cannot be through a measure of placing seemingly likeminded individuals at the helm.
In fact, the demonetization debacle suggests India direly needs leaders who can stand their ground. In the military sphere this is even more so since they have nuclear weapons and strike corps in their custody that the Modi-Doval duo may like to employ to embellish their 56 inch image, not necessarily the best and right use of these national assets.

The deep selection of heads was done earlier with the foreign service bureaucracy and now with the army. In both cases, the credibility of the individuals in question is not in question. Indeed, that India’s foreign policy is in doldrums owes perhaps to a pushback of the foreign policy bureaucracy led by redoubtable S. Jaishankar, to dictation from the national security bureaucracy. Bipin Rawat is by that yardstick equally credible as a military leader. His test is how he does not allow his supposed buy-in to a ‘nationalist’ world view – or so spin doctors are rationalizing his elevation - get in way of his professionally arrived at input in and follow through with decisions involving Indian use of force. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Parrikar thesis

Manohar Parrikar can be excused the exaggeration when speaking back home in his backyard in Goa. On that count and since by now he has a reputation for shooting from his mouth, we can let the macabre in his allusion to ‘gouge out eyes’ of the enemy pass. However, is his declaration that Pakistanis have thrown in the towel - a trifle premature?
The way the defence minister put it, the Pakistanis hurting from a bout of cross border and trans-Line of Control (LoC) firing, sought out our Director General Military Operations (DGMO) to call a truce.  They have reportedly kept their side of the bargain since. Perhaps Raheel Sharif wanted to retire with a blaze of gunfire in the background, lest the memory of surgical strikes plagues him in retirement. 
Nevertheless, this is all for the good, since civilian casualties were also being regularly reported on both sides. These were of levels beyond what might be reasonably clubbed as collateral damage. Pakistanis, while appearing responsive to the pleading of their border populace, are interested in turning down the heat so that their army is spared paying for what the jihadis wrought.
The pitch is higher this time as evident from the surgical strikes, mutilations, attacks on military targets in the interior and the political rhetoric in India. Presumably for deterrence and as punishment, Parrikar threatens to give back double of what India receives. Does this help India in any way?
The terror attack in Nagrota is just another instance of a pattern of attacks over the past few years in which Pakistan has exacted a toll on our security forces. It has evidently moved away from targeting civilians in wake of the opprobrium it was subjected to post 26/11 Mumbai attacks.
The move is sensible from Pakistani point of view. Politically, it keeps the pot boiling in Kashmir, suggesting externally that all is not quite in Kashmir and internally to Kashmiris that they have not been entirely abandoned by it. Militarily, it helps tie down the Indian army in protective duties, thereby, tiring it out.
Then there is the culture of chowkidari in Indian army. The army throws manpower at every problem, ranging from warding of China (with a mountain strike corps) to grass cutting (with fatigue details). It can be expected to continue doing so as reflected in its recruiting and training systems.
However, the potential for Kashmir to boil over at a crunch is clear from the 133 days standoff across the state this summer. While India has sufficient paramilitary adept at suppressive duties in such conditions, they would likely aggravate the situation in the circumstance of war. Pakistan can thus potentially tie down the Rashtriya Rifles too. 
The upshot is that the offensive forces India has for deploying against Pakistan cannot upset the status quo in Kashmir. As they say, ‘mountains eat troops’. Mr. Modi’s reference to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit and Baltistan from the Red Fort ramparts is but chimerical.
Sure, India has offensive capability in the plains. While the offensive content of pivot corps can be blunted by Pakistan, India has locked up its offensive punch in strike corps, which can be unusable in the nuclear age. This has more to do with internal turf wars within the military than a war winning strategy . 
The logical next steps from surgical strikes and demonetization is war. Pratap Bhanu Mehta calls this a permanent revolution. India can blame Pakistan for making it go nuclear. Even so, India has not come up with an answer to break out of  the Pakistani sandwich of its conventional forces with irregular  war on one hand and nuclear war on the other. 
Consequently, if probed, Parrikar would be hard put to explain his thesis that India can put Pakistan’s ‘gouged out eyes’ back in its hand.  Gouging out eyes can certainly be done. India has the kilo tonnage for that, but putting the eyes back in Pakistan’s hand would be a tall order. For in the bargain India would also be blind.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Bhopal episode and the return of the hostage theory

The killings of eight undertrial prisoners after an alleged breakout of a high security prison in Bhopal are a message. This message is internally and externally directed. In its external orientation, it is a message by the security establishment to Pakistan that Indian Muslims are hostage to Pakistani good behavior. In its internal orientation it is a reminder to India’s Muslims that they are at the mercy of the majority and had on that count better stick to the right-wing sanctioned view of the straight and narrow.
This is not the first time in which undertrial prisoners have been gunned down. In fact, there is a well-known culture of police impunity stretching back decades. This goes by the term ‘encounters’. All manner of challenges to the state and criminality have been met with such staged killings, be it in counter-insurgency situations as Kashmir, North East and Maoist areas, but also in law and order situations in which noted criminals are bumped off.
Such killings have included Muslims among victims, such as the case last year in which five undertrial Muslim prisoners in Nalgonda were gunned down in cold blood by their escort party of Telangana police under the implausible excuse that they were attempting to make good their escape. That Muslims are not the sole victims is clear from the incident the same week when 20 alleged red-sanders smugglers were killed by the Andhra police.
From this it might appear that the opening paragraph above is somewhat overblown, resulting perhaps from an emotional reaction to the incident in Bhopal. However, such an observation would be plausible if this article was written in the immediate wake of the incident when the video and audio footage from the scene went viral on the internet. A few weeks on the observation in the first paragraph, that was then at best a suspicion, has congealed somewhat and is worth examining for what it is worth.
In the light of the messaging seemingly immanent in the killings, the hostage theory needs a reprise. The hostage theory was propounded by Jinnah when he became an adherent to the two-nation theory. He was against the vivisection of the two Muslim majority provinces, Punjab and Bengal. He therefore felt that retaining the minorities in the Muslim and Hindu majority parts of India would ensure that the majorities ruling on the other side would mete out fair treatment to respective minorities.
In the event, the minorities voted for Partition with their feet, vacating their traditional homelands in wake of Partition in a wave of violence on both sides. The Nehru-Liaquat pact after the crisis in 1950 stabilised the situation resulting from Partition. Over time, the numbers of non-Muslims in the two Muslim majority states that emerged out of British India became fewer and fewer, mostly due to a perceived insecurity in these states.
In India, the situation was more habitable and Muslims not only chose to stay but have relatively been more secure than their Hindu counterparts in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. However, over the last quarter century, coinciding with the rise of the right-wing in Indian politics, the question of security of India’s Muslims has come to fore. The Gujarat carnage has been the nadir. With the country electing the then chief minister of Gujarat as its prime minister, it is a question that can only continue to linger.
In the official Indian narrative, India has attempted to reach out to Pakistan. The invite to Nawaz Sharif to Mr. Modi’s swearing in ceremony and Mr. Modi’s susrprise visit to Pakistan are taken as evidence. However, since the military calls the shots in Pakistan, India has not been able to make a dent on Pakistan’s policy of proxy war in Kashmir and support to terrorism in the rest of India. This has led to firmer action on India’s part lately, best exemplified by Ram Madhav’s call for a shift from strategic restraint to strategic proactivism. The results are already visible along the Line of Control with the army engaging in surgical strikes and almost daily fire assaults and the paramilitary force, the BSF, also joining in with fire exchanges along the IB in J&K.
If the matter had rested at this, it would have been but a return to the situation as existed in the nineties and restricted to J&K. However, there is the wider Muslim agenda of the right-wing that needs unfolding.  BJP has gone a step further in proposing amendments to the citizenship bill which will enable non-Muslim minorities in the neighbouring countries to gain Indian citizenship. This measure, among others, heralds the creation of a Hindu state in the image envisioned in the Hindutva philosophy adhered to by the ruling party. For the Muslims living in India, the prime minister, recalling the injunction of his ideological mentor Deen Dayal Upadhyay in a speech in Kozhikode this past September, proposed ‘purification’.
It is clear that in the right-wing world view it is at the interstices of India’s external and internal security planes that Indian Muslims are located. The external factor is their association with the two nation theory and with Pakistan. This explains the oft-used term, ‘Go to Pakistan’. The internal is that Muslims are to lead lives as dictated by the right wing. In the words of one of its leading lights, Golwalkar, Muslims constitute an internal security threat, who, in his words, ‘may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, for less any preferential treatment, not even the citizen's rights.’
This is the context of the Bhopal incident. The killings have come in the backdrop of a worsening regional security situation, with Pakistan’s terror attack in Uri having been responded to by Indian surgical strikes. The killings were on Diwali, when there is a heightened expectation within the intelligence agencies of terror incidents. The killings can thus be interpreted as a warning to Pakistan not to indulge in any terror action in India. Internally, they serve to warn off Indian Muslims who the intelligence community perhaps believes are susceptible to Pakistani overtures for creating trouble in India. In effect, Indian Muslims are to be held hostage to Pakistani good behavior.
This interpretation of the Bhopal encounter killings suggests that the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon. In the near term the ruling party requires the polarization since it is faced with polls. Its latest demonetization misstep indicates that it would be paying a price in the UP elections. Therefore, the status quo on the Indian Muslim security question is likely to persist till the national elections. The unfortunate and inescapable conclusion is that Muslim insecurity can only be alleviated once the nation, in particular our Hindu brethren, show the ruling party the door at the next democratic opportunity. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The myth of ‘strategic restraint’

In mid-2013, a group, referring to itself as ‘members of India’s strategic community’, brought out a press statement at their haunt, the Vivekananda International Foundation that read: ‘It is time that policies are devised that will impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror to India, and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these policies and actions. A proactive approach by India towards Pakistan must be the order of the day, as it will yield us much better results than those garnered by policies of appeasement which have regrettably been pursued by us for years.’[1]
The group amongst which was Mr. Doval, current day national security adviser, has since captured the national security policy making establishment. The results are self-evident, with India’s Pakistan policy taking a final policy turn – after several ‘pirouettes’, in one apt phrasing. Today, if prime time strategists are to be believed, India is following a doctrine of strategic proactivism, jettisoning the strategic restraint of the preceding NDA and UPA periods.
The jury is still out on whether the shift is indeed as marked as its votaries shout about. After all, a set of ‘surgical strikes’ in wake of the Uri attack, are not qualitatively different from those India has reportedly engaged in over the years, dating back to Sharad Pawar’s stint at the defence ministry’s helm. Only, now India is acknowledging outright what it has been at all along, and, while doing so, noticeably couching its language so as to align its action with international law and with the tenets of limitation in the nuclear age.
There are two divergent inferences from this lack of shift: one that the strategic doctrine does indeed continue to be one of strategic restraint; and, two, that what passed for strategic restraint earlier was instead - unacknowledged and misinterpreted - strategic proactivism. Agreeing with the proactive strategy votaries, here a case is made that the second inference is more in accord with reality.
Contrary to the conventional  thinking, the argument here is that strategic restraint is a myth and that India instead has a healthier record of strategic proactivism, though kept well under wraps till Mr. Modi stepped up to unwrap it in the run up to a consequential round of elections in UP and Punjab soon.   
Those spearheading strategic restraint rummage the cupboard of history to make their case that India has been a power always imposed on by nefarious neighbours, particularly Muslims to its north west. This explains their reject of the last thousand year strategic history of the subcontinent as not quite ‘Indian’ since India’s strategic trajectory was not dictated by natives as much as foreigners, with Muslims settled in India for over half a millennium continuing to be regarded as foreigners, including the likes of southerner Tipu Sultan.
A reading of the introductory chapter to the book India’s Wars,[2] by a member of the – by all accounts - apolitical and secular military brass and on the faculty of an august institution that turns out its future higher commanders, informs as much. He writes that he is ‘inclined to look at the Mughals as foreigners who ravaged India.’ He finds the Haidar-Tipu sojourn in the Deccan as relatively short and therefore not worth including alongside the martial exploits of the contemporaneous Marathas and Sikhs to his dating of the origin of the modern Indian army. He chooses to miss out on an opportunity to rehearse the secular imagery - Ranjit Singh, a Sikh; the Peshwas, Hindus; and Tipu, a Muslim – keeping colonialism at bay. His wards at the National Defence College cannot exit its portals unscathed by such history telling. Since this mythology shall get wider as the Modi era firms in, it is best exposed sooner than later. 
The more popular discourse within strategic circles – reproduced in the book – is that India – ever the ‘good guy’ - has since Independence been on the receiving end of its neighbours. That it did go on to retake PoK in 1949, has left regaining it as the ‘unfinished business of Partition’ – a newly minted interpretation of the phrase used hitherto by its adversary. In 1962, instead of throwing in the towel, Nehru should have chased the Chinese back, and used air power to do so, since they would have been caught on the wrong side of the Himalayas in the fast approaching winter then.
In 1965, India should have proceeded with the war beyond its three weeks since Pakistan was exhausted. In this line of thinking, giving back Haji Pir later at Tashkent is the quintessential example of India’s softness. In 1971, India should have used the PoWs as pawns in getting Pakistan to give up its Kashmir obsession. In the various crises unleashed by mega terror incidents, India should have ‘taught Pakistan a (military) lesson’. That it has apparently finally followed their advice explains the loud cheers following the Uri riposte.
All this papers over India’s proactivism. In 1947, it was first off the military-blocks by refraining from signing the Standstill Agreement even as it interestedly watched the Maharaja borrow its proxies, the Patiala State forces, for operations in Kashmir. Later, the timely arrival of its regular army led to chasing the tribal invaders back to Uri. In 1962, its ‘forward policy’ prompted in some measure the Chinese invasion. In 1965, it pulled the rug from under Pakistan by stretching the war zone to include the Lahore front from Pakistan’s plan to keep it confined to Kashmir. It returned Haji Pir in order to incentivize the firming in the ceasefire line as a mutually acceptable finality. It vivisected Pakistan in a well thought through intelligence, diplomatic and military operation over the better part of 1971. It is foolish to sell the notion that it could have ignored its compulsions under the Geneva Conventions to keep Pakistani troops hostage to Pakistan signing on the dotted line giving away Kashmir. It was assertive all through the eighties, be it in Sri Lanka or internally in Punjab.
By the nineties, it rightly understood that it was in the nuclear age. Internally, it deployed its army to quell the insurgency in Kashmir and Assam. The claim that IK Gujral shut down the R&AW’s external operations itself suggests that these were well in hand; and it also needs noting that the Gujral doctrine of unilateral concessions to neighbors had one notable exception, Pakistan.
In wake of terror attacks, the consistent call in the Delhi-centric strategic community has been to militarily take down Pakistan a peg or two. The army came up with a doctrine to enable India to do so, Cold Start. India’s devotion of a proportion of its liberalization-expanded national cake to gain the wherewithal to do so, indicates strategic proactivism not of the immediate kind but a future oriented one. This does not in any way make it less ‘proactive’, at least not where it matters, in General HQ, Rawalpindi. Alongside, the several attacks on Indian consulates across the Durand Line, suggests that it checkmated Pakistan’s redoubtable ISI in its own backyard, Afghanistan. The insertion of the reference to Baluchistan by Pakistan to the meeting’s outcome as far back as in the Sharm es Shaikh meeting in 2009 indicates that Indian interests in Baluchistan are not particularly recent. Diplomatically, India not only de-hyphenated itself from Pakistan and got up close to the US, but has managed to distance the US from its ‘most allied ally’ Pakistan.    
It is apparent that India’s strategic postures and actions cannot easily be taken as strategic restraint. Instead, strategic restraint was not so much a misnomer, but appears to have been conjured to dull attention to India’s strategic moves. It helped justify the moves as resulting from neighbours ganging up to pose it a ‘two front’ problem. It obscured the security dilemma of its principal neighbour stemming from India’s low-profile strategic proactivism, including of the long-term kind.
Strategic restraint did involve keeping the military sheathed for good reasons, but being militarily restrained does not fully equate with strategic restraint, since strategy has several instruments at its command – intelligence, diplomacy, economic - all of which more than compensated for any military restraint. At tripling of the defence budget over this century cannot by any stretch qualify as military restraint either.
In effect, India has been strategically proactive for long, only now its people are being let in on the state secret. Acknowledging this is the first step back from the nuclear brink. Newly minted strategic proactivism entails not only going too far but also to be seen to be doing to. Against a Muslim red rag held by equally charged religious extremists, this is a sure recipe for nuclear disaster. Averting this requires, as the second step, adopting strategic restraint for real.

[1] VIF, ‘Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community’,
[2] Arjun Subramaniam, India’s  Wars: A Military History 1947-1971, New Delhi: Harper  Collins, 2016.