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 scroll.in, 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
Saturday, November 19, 2016
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.’
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, 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.
 VIF, ‘Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community’,
 Arjun Subramaniam, India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971, New Delhi: Harper Collins, 2016.
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
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 indiatogether.org and a few other websites such as countercurrents.
org and thecitizen.in. 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
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?
Posted by firdy at 2:37 AM
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.