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Monday, July 27, 2009

Making Kargil serve a purpose
India has not managed to bring the troubles in Kashmir to a close. And Pakistan has not dismantled the infrastructure of terror. In effect, little has changed since Kargil, writes Firdaus Ahmed.

27 July 2009 - A tenth anniversary has its limitations. It's too early to know what really happened, for protagonists are usually still around purveying their end of the story. For instance, Musharraf in his autobiography still continues with the line that the intruders were Mujahedeen, while we know that they were soldiers of the Northern Light Infantry. This was then a paramilitary outfit with soldiers largely recruited from the Northern Areas in Pakistani occupation. As a reward for its showing at Kargil, the NLI has since been absorbed into the Army as a 'regiment'.

Likewise, on the Indian side, celebrations to mark the tenth anniversary highlight the military victory, whereas the role of the Americans who prevailed on the Pakistanis to pack up and leave is glossed over. Thus, even while acknowledging the victory as a great martial feat, it bears recounting that had the Pakistanis not left under American tutelage, the war could have expanded beyond its Limited War dimensions. With both states having gone nuclear the previous summer, the outcome of such a war could have been grave.

During the Kargil War, the two states had not got their nuclear act together. India was surprised by the Pakistani reading of the nuclear era in its launching of Operation Badr. India had for its part launched the bus to Lahore. Pakistan, in turn, was surprised by the ferocity of Indian reaction, one that threatened to expand the scope of the border war. During the war, Bruce Riedel reports of Clinton telling the visiting Nawaz Sharif of the Army's nuclear preparations back home. Raj Chengappa, a journalist with access to the nuclear establishment, maintains that India upped its nuclear alert status to Level 3.

Little has changed

Ever since, both states have apparently given themselves the mechanisms to avoid making such errors in strategic thinking. The National Security Council in both states was nascent then. India's was then in its first year, while that of Pakistan though half-a-decade old was of little significance. Soon after the war, Pakistan's National Command Authority was set up in February 2000, while India's Nuclear Command Authority followed three years later in wake of Operation Parakram. Can these mechanisms and the learning since be taken as adequate to play the game differently?

Ever since the US weighed in on the Indian side at Kargil, a closer relationship between the two has developed.

Pakistan's Army - that had called the shots under Musharraf at Kargil despite there being a civil authority in place - remains in control of Pakistan's security and nuclear policy. Musharraf's back channel agenda and 'out-of-the-box' thinking were credible only to the extent he had the capacity to carry the Army along. The Army is presently engaged in riding out the pressure on it to do more against the Taliban without compromising on its earlier strategy of using extremists for strategic purposes.

India has not managed to bring the troubles in Kashmir to a close. Even though India is at a self-congratulatory moment, having conducted two credible elections in Kashmir, the potential for trouble remains. Pakistan has not dismantled the infrastructure of terror, nor has India made any noteworthy political intervention. Governance initiatives, admittedly imaginative, are nonetheless poor substitutes. In effect, little has changed since Kargil.

Instead, a near war in 2001-02 and a major crisis, 26/11, have occurred since. India has exercised restraint. Nuclear optimists argue that this restraint is due to the nuclear deterrence. Pessimists claim that the fact that crises keep recurring and have the potential for escalation indicates otherwise. To them any consideration of the context needs to factor in American presence and, post 9/11, heightened interest in the region. India has only temporarily been persuaded by the US that Pakistan will stay the course in the global war against terror. Allowing it an alibi through a distraction on the eastern front would debilitate the international effort. It would make the Pakistani state vulnerable to extremists.

However, it is possible to argue that Pakistan is not unaware of the impact of US presence. In trying to influence it through jihadi attacks claimed as renegade action, it hopes the US would prevail on India to concede ground on Kashmir. Its limited success has been in keeping India at bay. Withdraw the American factor and the story since Kargil would have been different.

The US factor

The American commitment in Afghanistan has been extended by Obama. It would bear watching what happens after the presidential elections in Kabul in August. Once the US gains a position of military advantage over the Taliban, it would likely strike a deal with the willing Taliban and leave as early as it can without loss of face. This could be as early as Obama's bid for re-election. Thereafter India and Pakistan would be left more on their own, though not entirely. Firstly, the US would not entirely disengage this time round, and secondly, as at Kargil, its good offices are readily available in a crisis. Without the US as benefactor, Pakistan would likely get less provocative. India would however be less restrained. Nevertheless, with Pakistan less provocative, India may not require to be aggressive.

The counter argument is that Pakistan may gain from a trade-off between the US and the Pakistani military. According to this scenario, while the Pakistani Army enables a tidy exit of the US from the region, it is given something in return - such as strategic space in both Afghanistan and in Kashmir. Therefore, India must fend for itself. For this, India appears prepared.

Learning from the Kargil episode and the subsequent standoff, it has given itself an offensive war doctrine, Cold Start. To stymie Pakistan's nuclear challenge of an Indian conventional attack, India has acquired a second strike capability and given itself an expansive nuclear doctrine promising 'massive' punitive retaliation. Thus, the stage is set for a future minus the US. Being prepared reduces the incentive to negotiate with Pakistan or for political ministration in Kashmir. The growing power divergence between the two states would keep the outcome in India's favour.

There is a second dimension to the dangers ahead. Ever since the US weighed in on the Indian side at Kargil, a closer relationship between the two has developed. What began in the post Pokhran II dialogue to arrive at a mutual comprehension between Jaswant Singh and Strobe Talbott is to culminate in the Indian prime minister being the first state guest of the Obama administration in November this year.

The Indian investment is one of longer term importance for the US, directed at the rising power likely to challenge its global position, China. Already, hyper-realist opinion-makers claim China may seek to divert the attention of its citizens from its economy-related internal troubles by attacking India in the near term. The former Air Chief while departing on pension - a moment when there is least reason to be reticent - opined that China is a 'greater threat' than Pakistan. General JJ Singh, Governor in Arunachal Pradesh, has stated that a build up of 60,000 troops in the border state is required.

As at Kargil, India could blunder into another border war and there is also no guarantee that this would stay limited as then. It would make better sense to acknowledge the primary requirement of the nuclear age and get into a meaningful huddle with both antagonists. Only a strategic dialogue in a standing forum can help avert dangers and alleviate conditions that give rise to such dangers. Only by setting this up can we truly honour the martyrs of Kargil; else they will have died in vain.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

#2915, 25 July 2009
Kargil: Ten Years On
Firdaus Ahmed

While crises under the nuclear overhang have punctuated South Asian security, Kargil was the first after the two states went overtly nuclear. It has since been followed by standoffs in 2001-02 and 2008. This has ignited a debate between nuclear optimists and nuclear pessimists. Optimists believe that nuclear weapons have that deterred war and where it did break out, like in Kargil, it remained localized. Pessimists see the potential of escalation in such crises and explain that the Kargil conflict remained limited due to American intervention. This underlines the continuing nuclear danger in South Asia, which acquires prominence in light of the strategic irrationality evident at Kargil. The Indians believed that advent of the nuclear era made war unthinkable and embarked on the Lahore process. The Pakistani military assessed that there was scope for a limited conventional conflict and launched Operation Badr. It obfuscated issues by claiming that the Line of Control was indistinct in the Kargil sector and that the operation was led by Kashmiri militants.

The Indians, buying into the Pakistani logic that there is a window for conventional conflict, have adopted a proactive conventional war doctrine, Cold Start. However, there is no debate on the contours of Limited War. This emphasizes the limitations in strategic thinking on both sides. This situation, described by Ashley Tellis as ‘ugly stability’ is likely to persist, a sense of ownership of the peace process is absent at the political level. Issues lending themselves to technical solutions, such as Siachen, Sir Creek, Baghliar and Tulbul projects, are held hostage to the larger vexed question of Kashmir. While confidence-building measures have expanded, the peace process – despite being accepted as ‘irreversible’ - continues to be vulnerable to negative forces. Thus, advances made since Kargil, while welcome, remain tenuous.

The problem of reading Pakistan correctly persists. Mistaking Nawaz Sharif’s position before Kargil as Pakistan’s, India misread the civil-military equations in Pakistan. India misread Musharraf twice over. Once at Agra and next by making the backchannel dialogue hostage to his term in office. There is much more scepticism for Zardari’s placatory statements like his acceptance that proxy war was promoted by Pakistan through ‘strategic assets’ who are more appropriately termed ‘terrorists’. Pakistan’s Army remains India’s foremost strategic problem. It has the backing of the US for its recently energized role against the Taliban. India is an interested bystander at best and a spoiler at the worst in the Af-Pak region, assuming that India wishes to do more on conflict resolution, fresh governments coming into office with Delhi and Srinagar.

Meanwhile, civil unrest continues in Kashmir over completely avoidable issues. Bringing back normalcy requires both political and governance initiatives. The political prong of normalization is taken as ‘done’ with the holding of elections. The Prime Minister’s Round Table working group on, “Strengthening Relations between the State and the Center,” has not even submitted a report. Thus, the situation has not changed materially since Kargil. The present preoccupation is over the withdrawal of the Central Reserve Police Force – foisted on the Valley by the Task Force on Internal Security.

Siachen was among the candidate causes of the Kargil conflict, but the issues continues to linger with Rs.30 million spent there a day. Militarization of Kargil and Ladhak is underway with the Ladhak Scouts, a paramilitary force under the Army, gaining the status of a regiment, which mirrors the case of Pakistan’s Northern Light Infantry comprising men from the Northern Areas.

The current call to militarize the disputed Arunachal border with China has echoes of Kargil. India continues with the military approach to its border problems even as indications from society are to the contrary. While the attraction of officership in the services gained temporarily in the aftermath of Kargil and the drop in popularity since was arrested temporarily, due to the coincidence between the economic slowdown outside the military and the Sixth Pay Commission largesse within, the state has been remiss in observing military proprieties. The highest dignitary at Sam Bahadur’s funeral was a Minister of State and the tenth anniversary of Pokhran II went unnoticed last year. Ceremonies can be dispensed with if lessons that are rehearsed at anniversaries are assimilated. The memory of the young martyrs at Kargil of both sides requires that both states exert themselves to reach strategic maturity. This is best achieved by avoiding shedding more blood. The reaction to the resumption of dialogue with Pakistan in India is an indication that lessons remain unlearned.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Troubling Aspects Of The Bomb Blasts

By Firdaus Ahmed

16 September, 2008

If you have lost something on a dark night on a road lit by streetlights, it wouldn’t do if you only look for it under the light of the streetlights. This is what is currently happening with the bomb blast investigations. The usual suspects have been lined up – SIMI, HUJI, Lashkar e Tayyaba etc. There is no doubt that these outfits require to be under the scanner constantly. Investigations do serve the purpose of forcing these terrorist groups onto the backfoot. They also defuse any anger in the majority community that the provocative blasts and accompanying commentary in the form of incendiary emails is designed to stimulate. With investigation agencies seen as pursuing the perpetrators with vigour, any impulse of retaliation against the minority with mob frenzy is degraded. However, there are some troubling aspects, presently unnoticed, that need to be in the public discourse.

First is the choice of ‘al Arabi’ as the nom de guerre of the mastermind behind the emails. It can be expected that the person sending the emails is Muslim and is likely well versed with Islamic thinking. However, his choice of al Arabi is not the most apposite one. Wikipedia informs us Ibn al Arabi (July 28, 1165-November 10, 1240) was an Arab Sufi Muslim mystic and philosopher. Noted historian and Professor at Fletcher’s School of Law and Diplomacy at Tuft’s University, Ayesha Jalal, in her recently published book ‘Partisans of Allah’ says that because of his belief that the sacred was immanent in the world, he preached respect for other human beings irrespective of their specific religious traditions. His school of thought popularised his main ideas under the concept ‘wahdut al wujud’ – literally, ‘the unity of creation’, that perceived ‘Many as One, and One as Many’. This was in contrast with the opposed school ‘wahdut al shuhud’ (‘unity of appearances’), the adherents of which led by the known icon of fundamentalists, ibn Taymiyya, charged al Arabi of pantheism amounting to ‘shirk’ or the sin of association with God. His position was also attacked by Sirhandi, a medieval Islamic theologian who opposed Akbar’s policy of religious synthesis. He criticised al Arabi for rejecting the difference between Islam and infidelity (kufr) and thereby suggesting the status of infidels might be equivalent to that of believers.

Clearly, anyone so passionate as to let of bomb attacks in the name of religion would not subscribe to al Arabi’s vision. He would certainly not be using his name but would likely use that of his detractors. Therefore, the use of the al Arabi in the email id is a clue that investigation agencies need to look at. Deciding on the email id would not have been a job the perpetrators would have done without some thought since the public, who they wish to influence, would associate their deeds with this name. Clearly, not having been thought up by one who knows his Islam, it begs the question as to who else could have coined it.

Such an error has a notable precedence. The name ‘Al Faran’ of the terrorist group in Kashmir in the mid Nineties, that had held four foreigners hostage and later killed, turned out not to exist as a word in any language - Arabic or of Turkic origin. This put the incident into cloud, a suspicion reinforced by the extraordinary coincidence that the only foreigner who managed to escape was picked up by a helicopter of the Adviser to Governor then overhead the mountainous and forested fastness! While this episode may have been an intelligence operation by the state, the technique of influencing perceptions through action is not the provenance of the state alone. Non state actors are in it too as terrorism itself testifies.

Even the content of the email is worth attention. These are elaborate – the latest one being thirteen pages long - and virtually amount to a manifesto of hate. It has been commented by no less a terrorism watcher than the knowledgeable Praveen Swami that the writing is in the tradition of prose used in Lashkar propaganda pamphlets. This is a pointer to the origins of the email. Surely, then the originator would not then be operating under a mistaken email id. Instead, it brings to fore the possibility that the content of the email, though having a likeness to Islamist writings, could have been drafted by one familiar with these. This can be done by anyone literate and interested enough. Anyone in a creative writing class can replicate such an email after a few visit to the numerous hate sites of every community that exist on the world wide web.

Two other aspects of the emails provide us clues on the likelihood that they may have been designed to mislead. The first is from its previous email that preceded the Ahmedabad blasts. In it the terrorists refer to themselves as terrorists. This is not how terrorists would perceive themselves. They would instead believe themselves to be ghazis and would project themselves accordingly. In the same email, they have gone out of their way to warn off the likes of Lashkar from claiming the blasts and making it a point to mention that they have an indigenous origin. This is exactly how an impersonator group may like to wish the act to be perceived – one perpetrated by an Indian terrorist group. Therefore the selection of the name Indian Mujahedeen. Thus making the linkage explicit.

The second is that the email heralding the Delhi blasts included a reference for the first time to the two martyrs of the jihad against the Sikhs, Sayyid Ahmed Khan and Shah Ismail, in early eighteenth century. There is a whole chapter on these figures in Ayesha Jalal’s book that she launched in India only a month ago. These figures she considers important to development of ‘South Asian’ thinking on Jihad. They however do not figure in the Indian consciousness to the extent described by Jalal. For Jalal, whose origins are in Lahore, they are larger than life figures and therefore merit a chapter in her book. These historical personalities have suddenly found their into Indian milieu, though even Indian history students would find them hard to place. This means that the writers are not Indian Muslims. They could be from the land that takes them more seriously as inspiration. More likely, they have been alighted on by writers of the email in their hasty research to add authenticity to the email so as to make the linkage between the origin and a community more thorough. Since the book has just hit the stands with a splash, it has provided them the material needed, particularly as Jalal says that the duo are a motivation to jihadis who have their camps around the place of their martyrdom at Balakot near Kashmir in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Of course it could be countered that having trained at these camps the Indian Mujahedeen has also been influenced. But then the timing of their entry into an Indian consciousness does raise suspicion enough to include as a clue for investigation agencies to take seriously.

Therefore there is no need to restrict oneself to the usual suspects. There is a case for expansion of the list to include those with a motive. As any Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes' fan would know, possible motives guide investigation. While it is known that disaffected elements in minority have possible motives, such as revenge for perceived past wrongs, inciting majority reprisal etc., there is a case for widening of the list to include covert extremist groups in the majority community.

It does not require one to be overly cynical, but only worldly wise, to know that there exists a covert world. Political scientists studying communalism have revealed how riots were engineered in India in the Sixties through to the Eighties to influence elections. In such riots lasting a few days many people were killed and much property destroyed. Such riots are no longer occurring with their earlier frequency. What is happening now is the increased incidence of bomb blasts. There is no reason to presume that the ones who engineered riots in the earlier era would have any qualms in refraining from blasts. The only difference between blasts and riots is that the former is an incident restricted in time and space. Thus if political power is at stake there is enough incentive to resort to illegitimate methods. Utilitarian reasoning provides the legitimacy in that these are excusable in the ethical framework of ‘wider good for the wider number’. With elections due, there is no reason why a climate of insecurity would not have electoral dividend, especially with the preceding discourse already having created the conditions in which agents of the minority are solely taken as culprits by default. This amounts to no less than a ‘double whammy’!

That this is not overly far fetched is evident from the BJP leader Shrimati Swaraj stating confidently, in wake of the earlier set of blasts that occurred in BJP ruled states, that these could have been the handiwork of Congress agents! It of course does not need much political acumen to alight at who insecurity would serve to assist electorally, particularly with the incumbent riding high on a vote of confidence. It is possible that the central government is aware of some information that is too hot politically to handly; else by now it would have replaced its Home Minister for incompetence. That it has not done so is revealing. So is its case for a new federal agency to probe such cases, since it is possible that, among other reasons, such an agency is the dire need perhaps on account of some sections of state law appartuses being subverted or suborned.

Naivety is not an affordable luxury today for these are not innocent times. In the instant case, the imprint of non-state actors from far right extremist groups of the majority cannot be ruled out. Their showing in riots of the Nineties and in Gujarat shows that they would not be squeamish in resorting to the reprehensible tactics used, such as bombing hospitals to which casualties of their handiwork were evacuated to. Instead consider this: if the minority based terrorist group is to be maligned and by extension the minority, then the more revolting the act the better. In any case, if bombing is to be used as strategy, then there is unlikely to be any pulling of punches. Power over a billion citizens is a prize worth risking much for.

Obviously, there is little concrete evidence to back this. There wouldn’t be, would there; unless it is explicitly looked out for? Not much evidence that will pass the test in a court of law exists on who is behind the blasts despite close to six months of repeated bombings from Jaipur to Delhi. Does this blank not call for a wider arc of suspicion beyond the well worn eight hundred ‘sleeper cells’ thesis? Have questions competently raised by Teesta Setalvad and Ram Punyani on the Kanpur and Nanded blasts on accidental explosions in bomb-making sites of hindu extremist groups been adequately followed up? Can such suspicions continue anymore to be relegated as ‘conspiracy theories’ cooked up by irresponsible netizens?

The effort here has been to increase the arcs of the streetlights to widen the area of search. If investigation agencies are barking up the wrong tree then there is too great a price to be paid in keeping the street ill lit.
Making Strategic Sense Of Terror

By Firdaus Ahmed

16 August, 2008

The ‘Indian Mujahedeen’ has spelt out its manifesto in the warning email apparently delivered five minutes prior to the Ahmedabad attacks at media offices and headquarters of investigation agencies. The email gives out clues as to the motivations, aims and strategy. But first a look at the two strands of commentary that the blasts have evoked.

The first is on management of counter terrorism. This perspective has it that Pakistan’s ISI has managed to create an Indian fifth column in the form of ‘sleeper cells’ in then minority community. These subscribe to radical Islamism as guiding philosophy. To them India is a land of infidels in which the supposed persecution of Muslims legitimizes ‘Jihad’ as a religion ordained response. The external global and inter-state contexts of GWOT and adversarial India-Pakistan relations respectively, manifest in India along the civilsational faultline that cleaves India. The prescription of the counter terrorism approach is transformation of India into a ‘hard state’ along the lines of Israel and the US with its homeland security driven agenda.

The second strand is a wider socio-political approach focusing on denying terrorists a legitimising cause. This involves understanding motivations, discerning the political context, highlighting policing excesses and suggesting long term measures to include preserving a secular polity, enlarging economic opportunities for the minority and reforming madrasa education. Commentary emanating from this perspective privileges internal causes such as the ascendance of rightist ideologies, incapacity of juridical and policing measures in curbing right wing violence and the deprivation-alienation linkage in forming the minority psyche. The prescription is in the state reclaiming its secular credentials and a professionalisation of its internal security and judicial mechanism.

It would appear that both highlight valid issues that should be pursued together. A proactive approach to internal security as advocated by the first strand is to deter future terror, downgrade impulse towards vigilantism and deprive the right wing the pressure point of India being a ‘soft state’. The long term approach is also necessary to address legitimate grievances, keep the state on even ideological keel and reduce the fertility of India’s internal space to manipulation from without.

A third perspective has not been explicitly articulated; but can be discerned from the subtext of the comments on the terror attacks originating from minority quarters. These unanimously and unambiguously condemn the terror purportedly perpetrated in their name. The call is for a concerted search for the terrorists and exemplary punishment. The subtext of suspicion of the origins of the so called ‘Indian Mujahedeen’ originates in incomprehension of the motives of the terrorists, given the strategic imbecility of both the terrorist acts and its justification as carried in the email.

An assessment of motives is in order. Even if revenge is ‘a dish best eaten cold’, revenge attacks six years since the pogrom in Gujarat brings into question the credibility of the motive. Why also target Banglalore and Jaipur in that case? If policing excesses, in follow-up of investigations of earlier terror attacks in Hyderabad and Mumbai, mentioned in the email, are factored in then the level of vengeance is wholly incommensurate and against the wrong targets. Vengeance attacks set the stage for an interminable cycle vengeance-provocation that could only lead to further marginalisation of the minority. They also edify the earlier misplaced formulation of ‘action-reaction’ heard in the wake of Godhra and other such hark back to history as reprisal now for acts in Babur’s time!

On stronger grounds as candidate motive is that these were to serve as a provocation for another pogrom against the minority. That these attacks have been in BJP ruled states and the email has incendiary references to the Hindu pantheon, the intention may have been for a minority targeting backlash that could be capitalised on by the group for legitimacy and penetration of the minority community. That there is no political front of the terror organisation that could take advantage of this detracts against this possibility. The obverse is that such a situation would only lead to continued ghettoisation of the minority and political ascendance of the majoritarian right wing, currently rudderless, in the run up to national elections.

The email also carries threat of future retribution in case minority communities’ rights are trampled. This appropriation of the protection function by this group does not carry the imprimatur of the wider community, undercuts ongoing efforts at ensuring the same through the liberal state and judicial intervention and has no possibility of substituting monopoly power of state agencies with respect to the function. In relation to the power and propensity to violence of right wing formations, the group miscalculates as to its relevance and potential. The liberal order, anchored in the constitutional order and a secular majority, is the only defence of minorities against right wing targeting and state culpability, to the extent there is, in the same.

The oft averred to ‘external factor’ requires interrogation. It is well acknowledged that India is off the radar screen of Arab-centric radical Islamism. The ‘ISI hand’ is a self-servingly exaggerated threat, predicated as it is on the potential of subversion of the minority; an expectation having well-spring in the contestable notion of nationalism that motherland and holyland need to be coextensive. It emerges that there is more to ‘Indian Mujahedeen’ than meets the media eye. The subtext of Indian Muslim wholesale condemnation of the group should provoke a closer scrutiny of its origins by investigation agencies.

Three suspicion raising pointers are necessary to record. One, in light of larger manpower requirement for the kind of attacks that took place, enormous coordination, considerable manpower and impunity would have been required to conduct these. Terrorist ‘sleeper cells’ having a cellular structure and already under watch of wary government agencies could not have been able to mount such a country-wide demonstration of their supposed power. Instead it is worth considering whether in this age of Information Warfare, a right wing conspiracy is not at root. The largescale movements - as seen from the routing of the two vehicles stolen from Navi Mumbai for placing of bombs in the hospitals in Ahmedabad and over two score bombs placed all over – indicate levels of impunity that cannot be commanded by minority elements in today’s India. This therefore could have origin in a right wing conspiracy with technical assistance from rogue elements of the Vanzara mould in a compromised state.

Two, casualties have been relatively less than earlier bomb blasts with the proverbial ISI hallmark. For an attack of this size, attendant vulnerability and likelihood of eventual exposure, the terrorist group would have had higher ambitions. Fewer casualties indicate an unaccountable ‘pulling of punches’, alien to the terrorist scheme. Also, the discovery of several unexploded bombs in Surat appears too pat by far. The terrorist group would not have run such high risks of exposure in operation and detection post-operation for infliction of the limited number of casualties actually felled. Therefore logically the needle of suspicion should point elsewhere to include those who could profit politically from the attacks. Such preparation was earlier detected in Nanded should arouse suspicion along this line.

Lastly, reflection on this very question. These blasts could only place terror, its origins and attempt at legitimacy in an ‘action-reaction’ logic irrevocably outside the pale. This would enable treating it as an act of ‘war’ and justify measures modelled on the ‘homeland security’ initiatives elsewhere. Bills on terrorism forwarded by some states, such as Gujarat, are pending President’s assent. Further, national elections are scheduled for next year and polarisation along communal lines may prove of electoral value to any political formation hoping to rely on the majority as a vote bank. The legitimising logic for such circles would be that ends justify the means and saving India by taking it over, through fair means or foul, is in their final analysis for the good of the country and its defining community.

There is therefore scope for expansion of the arc of suspicion beyond the usual confines in the aftermath of terror to include those not in the default lineup. While investigating agencies may like to take this on, it is a fit case for a Tehelka style exposure by intrepid investigative journalists.
Controlling The Men In Shadows

By Firdaus Ahmed

03 March, 2007

That there is a ‘dirty tricks’ department in each state is not a figment of a radical’s imagination. Since such organizations require to be low profile by nature and calling, little evidence surfaces. Counter intuitively, democracies are no exception. Valid suspicion has arisen over the role of respective agencies of the two leading democracies of the world, the US and India, in creating an environment justifying the recourse to military means by the two states in the ‘national interest’.

In the USA, two prominent films have dared to question the media propagated and popularly accepted version of 9-11. These are ‘Loose Change’, that has since become one of the most watched internet documentaries, and Dave vonKleist’s ‘911 In Plane Site’. They have thereby undercut the rationale of export of democracy through military means that the US is currently engaged in. They marshal their evidence to try and prove that the conspiracy behind the attacks is not a theory, but a probability, and the conspiracy has not been one hatched by the Al Qaeda.

They make a persuasive case that the plane that is believed to have hit the Pentagon was actually a missile since there was no wreckage of a plane at the site seen in the pictures and media coverage of the aftermath. Of the plane that could not hit its intended target, the White House, but crashed in a Pensylvania field, there is again no convincing proof of wreckage found at the site. More interestingly, in their version, the planes that crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center were not quite passenger planes. Instead they go on to prove that the buildings were pulled down in a controlled demolition and did not fall as a result of the crashes. Further they cover the efforts at a cover up of the trail by the authorities, adding to suspicion that there was something to hide.

Finding a motive is not difficult from a viewing of subsequent actions of the US. The invasion by the US of Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror has been critiqued by Chomsky et al as the US bid to control global energy resources and thereby usher in the neo-conservative’s vision of the New American Century. So as to overpower the isolationist streak in the US, those in power needed a Pearl Harbour equivalent attack to rally the nation in support of their intended wars. Now that these have run aground in appalling insurgencies and with Democrats eyeing the White House, more evidence substantiating the suspicion is will likely surface. Internal to the US, many privileges of freedom have been imposed on by homeland protection demands by the state’s security compulsions.

It is reasonable to assume that India is no stranger to the game. The Chattisingpora episode in which Sikhs were massacred in Kashmir has been competently probed by critical observers as Pankaj Mishra. There is also the case of five missing trekkers in Kashmir, abducted and killed by the Al Faran group. That the word ‘Faran’ does not exist in Arabic casts a baleful shadow over the theory of terrorist abduction.

More prominent has been the Parliament attack case. Arundhati Roy’s thirteen questions in a new book published by Penguin, ‘13 December, A Reader: The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament’, arguing for clemency for the main accused in the Parliament attack case, Mohammad Afzal, are demanding of answers.

It bears examination as to the extent of political control over the group, its ideological inclination, composition and any checks and balances that exist within and over it. In the absence of information this can only be a theoretical effort. It is known that the National Security Council is the political body at the apex of the national security system. However, it is known that at least two of the Ministers on the Council, the then Foreign and Defence Ministers, were not in the loop on the decision on India going nuclear in 1998. Below this body is the Strategic Policy Group comprising bureaucrats. The members only have positional authority and little expertise on national security, and on this account are unlikely to be ones vested with the powers in question. Clearly the institutional setup is at variance with the reality. Absent the necessary knowledge on the inner workings, an appraisal of the underside of the system is a fair start point.

The anonymous minders of the nation’s security take the ‘hard decisions’. The core of the national security elite forms the ‘inside group’ that arrogates to itself ultimate power, the power to wage war and curtail lives and liberties in the national interest. The rationale is inevitably the larger common good, which the common man is unable to comprehend, and on that account need not be consulted. Those in this club of decision makers have an image of expertise which propels them into the inner circle. However it can be reckoned that their sense of social responsibility, democratic accountability and moral values which is germane to their contribution at this level of decision making, does not figure as criteria for induction into the apex of the system.

It is apparent that such core groups have acquired a vastly expanded power over lives of people and destinies of nations. Given the increasing cooperation between the two democracies including the Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism and the India-US Defence Policy Group, India is likely to learn from its stronger partner strategies that may prove inappropriate for our part of the world and democratic status. There is therefore, at a minimum, a need to be alert to the possibility of subversion of the state from within, and, more widely, to ascertain if those vested with power without having to account for it have a sustainable ethical grid.
The Minority Perspective On The BJP Manifesto

By Firdaus Ahmed

10 April, 2009

A party’s manifesto is not taken too seriously since the compulsions of power impact the promises in it considerably. In the coalition era, this is even more so. Therefore to assess the BJP’s position on security through its manifesto may be neither fair nor accurate. However, the exercise needs to be done if only to point out that the manifesto in its references to national security shows a remarkable insensitivity to minority concerns.

The very first reference to national security is on the Congress’ ‘abysmal failure to protect citizens from terrorism’. The verdict on counter measures is that ‘this is clearly not enough.’ Understandably the very first section after the Introduction is on national security. In this the first point is on terrorism. Unsurprisingly excluded from the list of terrorist activity in the Congress’ tenure is missing Malegaon. The overall impression is that the major instances of terror have been Muslim perpetrated, culminating in the 26/11 attacks by Pakistani terrorists.

Clearly, this bracketing of all terror instances is untenable as insufficient evidence exists of a minority linkage with the pattern of blasts in major cities last year. Since Malegaon investigations have not progressed adequately and the other possibilities with regard to BAD (Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Delhi) have been buried with the Batla House ‘encounter’. As intended by perpetrators other than the ‘usual suspects’, the trail has not been picked up. A canard thus takes on the status of a truth or ‘common sense’. It bears reflection as to why these attacks have mysteriously stopped since the Malegaon revelations. That the manifesto propagates the error as a given is explicable in light of the ideological orientation of the party. Having deliberately misperceived the problem, the solution can only be persistence in error.

The manifesto is keen that Afzal Guru hang. That this has not already happened, despite the strong incentive for the Congress to have wanted to profit from the action, indicates there is more to the Parliament attack case than meets the eye. Afzal Guru is perhaps an innocuous victim of a larger conspiracy which in media reports spread to the considerably autonomous ‘dirty tricks’ department of J&K police. Since invoking national security can help legitimize anything, one Indian less in keeping its secrets secure is really no big deal. That Afzal Guru lives bespeaks of substance to the book ’13 December: The strange case of the attack on the Indian Parliament’.

Illegal immigrants are seen as the unwitting foot soldiers of terror with their ‘vulnerability…exploited by the ISI and its jihadi front organisations as well as local terror cells to carry out bombings and provide logistical support to foreign terrorists (italics added).’ Securitisation of the problem of economic migration as an ‘internal security’ issue helps focus attention on the need for their eviction. Its yet another handle on the minority since the party intends to in ‘Launch a massive programme to detect, detain and deport illegal immigrants’ in its very first hundred days.

There is an element that has been missed in reflection on this issue thus far. It is the possibility of such a targeted drive arousing Bengali nationalism. Nationalism is multi dimensional with one or other identity facet coming to the fore. The break up of Pakistan in which religion was trumped by ethnicity is an example. The Bengali ethnic group is the largest on the subcontinent. Presently it is divided on lines of religion. It would be prudent to preserve the status quo from point of view of Hindu nationalism. That this possibility has not entered the discourse points to the religion tainted limitation of cultural nationalism.

More disturbing is that reference to a reversion to 2002, despite its lesson. The Manifesto states: ‘Coercive measures, including diplomacy, will be used to deal with countries which promote cross-border terrorism.’ This is accentuated in the linkage drawn between the global war on terror and internal security in its very next sentence: ‘India will engage with the world in the global war on terror while not compromising on its domestic interests, primarily protecting citizens from the ravages of terrorism.’ This portends a more proactive engagement with GWOT as it unfolds with greater potential for violence in wake of the Riedel-Holbrooke-Petraeus ‘Af-Pak’ strategy recently unveiled by President Obama. The contrived linkage with India’s internal security makes for a continuing overhang over India’s largest minority.

That peace would continue to prove elusive with Pakistan is a given if the manifesto were to guide its actions when in power. It maintains that, ‘There can be no ‘comprehensive dialogue’ for peace unless Pakistan…hands over to India individuals wanted for committing crimes on Indian soil.’ This eminently avoidable condition gives out the agenda of using Pakistan as the threatening other to deepen the roots of the BJP’s brand of majoritarian nationalism.

Security issues comprise the first 17 pages. Other issues are also given the by now mandatory ‘security’ tinge such as ‘food security’, ‘social security’ or ‘energy security’. The civilian led militarization of mother India is virtually complete.

In saying that ‘the BJP repudiates the division of Indian society along communal lines which has been fostered by the Congress and the Left in pursuit of their vote-bank politics’, the BJP attempts to obfuscate it’s resort to and greater success at the same game in attempting to make the denominational majority its vote bank. It has contradicted itself in stating that, ‘categorisation of communities as ‘minorities’ perpetuates notions of imagined discrimination and victimhood; it reinforces the perception of the ‘minority’ identity as separate from the national identity’ in a section title ‘Minority Communities’. This slip indicates that the defining reality of India is its being a symphony of minorities along differing dimensions. Forging of majorities therefore should not, and hopefully cannot, be on lines of religion as the BJP seeks. Its effort in this direction is laid bare from the last section of the manifesto detailing measures for ‘Preserving our Cultural Heritage’.

The manifesto indicates that secularism continues as an embattled concept. Giving secularism a fresh lease of life requires a judicious and informed exercise of the vote.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Looking at China, missing Pakistan New developments in India's nuclear posture vis-a-vis China inevitably impact the Pakistani nuclear program as well. We must recognise this implicit risk in our attempts at military parity with China, writes Firdaus Ahmed. - India's Army Chief commented recently that vertical proliferation by Pakistan was a 'matter of concern'. In the zero-sum game that constitutes India-Pakistan relations, cornering Pakistan in any manner makes sense. Therefore, General Kapoor's negative view of Pakistan's expanding nuclear arsenal is understandable. But upon reflection, it should be clear that the increase in number of nuclear warheads, and the reported shift to plutonium-based weapons should not be a worry - at least for the moment.
The US Congressional Research Service report of 15 May 2009 has brought out that despite having an assessed 60 weapons, "Pakistan continues fissile material production for weapons, and is adding to its weapons production facilities and delivery vehicles". This has been explained as Pakistan's attempt at creating a second strike capability. If this contributes to nuclear stability by enhancing its deterrence against India, it may be a benign development. However, when taken in conjunction with India's own weaponisation, this could equally herald a nuclear arms race.
see for article -

International treaties
The FMCT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are back on the US agenda. President Obama, in his famous Prague speech of April this year, has even unfolded an ambitious disarmament agenda. Presently India is skeptical of these initiatives. It is not known whether India has managed to create the amount of fissile material necessary for the magic figure of warheads considered necessary. There would be thrust to keep the pressure off as long as possible so that India could create the necessary stocks to last it into the indefinite future.
India has promised to participate in the FMCT negotiations and would consider signing on to the CTBT - as indeed it once had seriously done in the late nineties before the treaty was up turned by the US Senate. Since neither of these would transpire any time soon, and the disarmament agenda having been already ruled out by Obama as unlikely in his lifetime, India is not pressured. The stocks created in the interim would be enough for its purposes of being reckoned as a power in league with China. The same logic applies to Pakistan, since it has declared it would follow India into the CTBT, FMCT and improbably indeed also into the Non-Proliferation Treaty!
With India focused on parity with China, the likelihood of an arms race with Pakistan receives less attention. But the nuclear dimension of the India-Pakistan dyad will likely spring a nasty surprise one day, in case any of the crises the two states periodically undergo turns into conflict. For citizens, the safest best would be pressuring the government towards championing the three treaties coming up for discussion in the international domain even while it opens up a meaningful strategic dialogue with Pakistan. This would combine India's current power status with the moral weight of the Nehruvian years at both the international and regional levels - a Great Power alright but with a difference. ⊕
Firdaus Ahmed 20 Jun 2009
Inward lens for incoming government The buzz on the global front should not distract us from pressing matters at home. This would also make our security agenda more human and less state-centric, writes Firdaus Ahmed. One can be forgiven for thinking we're in 1909, rather than 2009. Emerging powers, anticipatory alliances, a scramble for colonies, terrorism, arms races, a belief in short wars, a cult of the offensive, speedy mobilisation schedules, militarism, all awaiting the proverbial spark. Minus the grand scale of the run up to the Great War, there are similar ingredients in the current setting: the global war on terror accelerates, emerging powers India and China seek strategic space, recession continues, the footprint of terror remains, nuclear weaponisation and unrecognised arms races continue, and military thinking on quick-start and short wars is dominant. What makes the comparison even tidier is the short fuse to all this tinder.
The buzz on the global front - and the many threats attendant to it - should not, however, distract us from matters that need pressing attention within the country. On most 'international' issues India is only an observer. This is also true for the events in the immediate periphery including the portentous and lamentable happenings in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it would only be prudent to acknowledge the fires burning within the borders.
The next government
The agenda of the incoming Indian government will depend on its complexion and composition. If it is of the centre-right, it will be outward oriented, and if of the centre-left, inward focussed. That much seems certain. This bias will in turn determine the approach to the various raging and incipient problems. But there is no escaping both dimensions of security - internal and external - regardless of who takes the reins of power. Not only would the government have to tackle the growing left wing insurgency internally, but also engage with the expanding instability in Afghanistan-Pakistan, among other demanding concerns.
Liberalisation has buoyed west and south India, but wide swathes of the rest remain untended.
See for balance article -

One other issue of internal-external dimension is that of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The BJP manifesto promises 'Launch a massive programme to detect, detain and deport illegal immigrants' within a hundred days of coming to power. Clearly here is an explosive issue requiring application of thinkers outside of the narrow confines of the security establishment, to include media minders, Bengali intelligentsia and civil societies in effected states.
The other security issues are eminently in the domain of the internal, in particular left wing extremism. The latest multi-crore recruiting scam to surface from the cow-dust belt - on the recruitment for the COBRA (Commando Battalions for Resolute Action) battalions in specialised counter insurgency tasks in central India - indicates the flaws in the anti Naxal strategy. The dimensions of the scam, which has been going on since 2003, are still being unearthed. What is already clear is that the main force, the CRPF, designated for internal security tasks by the N N Vohra-led Task Force on Internal Security and approved by the Group of Ministers now stands compromised. The products of a corrupt system cannot be expected to take 'resolute action', but only to intrude on freedoms.
This has equal implications for the North East as well, where vulnerable and equally marginal communities are subject to incessant counter insurgency tactics of population control measures of state security agencies.
A singular focus on a developmental agenda for the Central as well as the North-eastern regions would help avert their future snowballing. Liberalisation has buoyed west and south India, but wide swathes of the rest remain untended. Developing these regions would alleviate India's Human Development Index standing of 132, given that theoretically insurgencies originate in a combination of two factors: lack of development and identity. Their sustenance in part by external intervention is not reason enough for treating them on par with genuine external issues by characterising them as proxy wars.
A greater focus on internal security issues would also likely have the effect of moving to a human security agenda instead of a state-centric one. This transition will not be easy, but there isn't any alternative, in the long run, and for this reason, even a right-of-centre government would need to engage with this reality at some point. Over the past decade, 'India Shining' has only given way to 'Jai Ho'. Electoral democracy is not enough; the masses need to be heard too in a democracy of substance. ⊕
12 May 2009
Awakening the somnolent state The common thread between our external and internal security predicaments is our approach to time. Most security issues are long-standing and seemingly interminable. If we understood why this is so, we can change it, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 11 April 2009 - India's borders are among the most curiously defended ones in the world. Being clubbed with Israel and the Koreas is not encouraging. The ceasefire along the Line of Control and in Siachen exists, but so does the potential of its ending in some dramatic cataclysm. Along the China border, hectic road building is underway to bring about operational parity with China. Internally, a considerable swathe of India is under the security blanket - J&K, the North East and 155 naxalite-affected districts in Central India. The Mumbai attacks and the bombing campaign in cities last year indicate the vulnerability of the rest of India.
The common thread between our external and internal security predicaments is the Indian approach to time. All these security issues are long-standing and seemingly interminable. The border problems with both neighbours date back to Independence and soon thereafter. The militarisation of Siachen is this month a quarter century old. The insurgency in the North East dates to the early years of the Republic. Assam and J&K were added to the area covered by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 1990. Naxalism has been at a slow burn in Central India for about a decade and it would take the state at least another decade before it can manage the challenge effectively. From this it is evident that the Indian state is reconciled to the long haul.
If we understood why this is so, that would help in arriving at solutions. Firstly, contested borders require getting the other side on board. For tackling the impasse, India is in search of the elusive 'position of strength' from which to negotiate. With respect to China this involves having the requisite numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems in terms of missiles of required range. With respect to Pakistan, there is a pretence at arriving at a mutually acceptable solution through the peace process that is supposed to progress the basket of issues. Being the relatively stronger power, India would prefer Pakistan submit; a circumstance Pakistan is actively denying us, since it is persuaded by the same logic that informs India's China equation.
Secondly, the problems require greater political will and capacity than any government and leadership has been able to muster at Delhi ever since Nehru was felled by the Chinese invasion of 1962. Thirdly, general apathy in society over these issues makes for very little pressure on the state to actively pursue resolutions. Fourthly, India's security managers in North and South Block are from a charmed circle of elite services, preferring bureaucratic games to 'belling the cat'.
Lastly, India has entrusted the various resolution efforts to negotiators with an uncertain political mandate such as former home secretaries Padmanabaiah and N N Vohra; a former policeman, M K Narayanan; and a career diplomat, Lambah. Lacking moral capital, civil society support and without any personal political capital, they have predictably only managed to hold fort. Their limited progress reflects not on them or their efforts, but on our system.
The Home Ministry is in the process of raising 79 battalions for meeting the various border guarding and internal security challenges.

See for balance article -

It is evident India's approach to conflict resolution requires a rethink. Firstly, the stranglehold of realist thinking - a state centric and power oriented world view - must be overturned through an inter paradigm debate. Secondly, there is need for the national political leadership to risk a conciliatory approach. Rajiv Gandhi's example is a positive one in that he succeeded in ending the Mizo insurgency and also put Punjab back on the road to recovery. The politicians would be greatly aided in this if civil society efforts also succeed. Examples of the Indira Goswami-led People's Consultative Group in Assam and the Committee of Concerned Citizens in Andhra Pradesh indicate the promise. Lastly, the American approach of putting a time line to strategies - such as ending combat operations by mid 2010 and exiting Iraq by 2011- helps focus the national effort, and India would do well to emulate this.
The state cannot be expected to reform itself any time soon. In the interim, therefore, 'We the People' in the form of a proactive civil society must energise the multiple peace processes held up at various stages by a somnolent state. ⊕
Firdaus Ahmed 11 Apr 2009
The coming fateful decisions The two protagonist South Asian states got their independence in the middle of the last century, and it is about time that they seize control of their mutual and intertwined destiny, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 07 March 2009 - South Asia is entering into the end game of the Global War on Terror. The Bruce Riedel-Richard Holbrooke review to be completed soon is to chalk out the direction of the war into the Obama presidency. The legacy of the Bush years is that public opinion is now against an overly militarised approach. Recession in the United States would also drive that country to alter its stance, since war-making is considerably more expensive than aid programs. A new, more placatory, approach towards the Muslim world would also be required to defuse the disillusion of the people there with American actions and inaction. However, the military prong will continue to be in evidence for a while longer, as America's new strategy, relying on the surge of US troops diverted from Iraq, plays itself out.
Pakistan's role in all this has likely been negotiated by General Kayani during his visit to the US last month, where a meeting of minds took place between the new administration and its two allies in the region, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who are otherwise at odds with each other . The truce signed in Swat is indicative of Pakistan's approach to the conflict. It would like to distinguish between the Al Qaeda on one hand and the Taliban on the other. The expansion of the Global War On Terror (GWOT) into Pakistan through drone attacks has evoked opposition in the tribal areas of North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and this is something that the Pakistani administration is keenly conscious of.
In return for distancing itself from its strategic terrorists assets directed against India, Pakistan would like to bring Kashmir to the table, no doubt. India is awaiting unfolding of the Obama strategy with some trepidation, especially with regard to Kashmir figuring in the context of an overall end game strategy. Its stance since the Mumbai attacks has understandably been to highlight Pakistani reliance on terror as a weapon. A drawdown in the GWOT could result in terrorist attention refocusing on Kashmir. Thus India hopes that the US stays militarily engaged till the defeat of the Taliban. This would also serve its interests in Afghanistan, since the Taliban would not be very amenable to India in case of their return into the power equations in Kabul.
The conservative-realist view is that Pakistan will continue to weaken, and this will prevent it from pursuing its perceived interests in Kashmir.

See for balance article -

Presently the conservative-realist view is that Pakistan will continue to weaken, and this will prevent it from pursuing its perceived interests in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The hope is that military and political pressure by the US would degrade the challenge of the Taliban. In case the US requires assistance then, in provisioning military assistance, India's role and importance would get further buttressed, and this would have the indirect effect of further fencing in Pakistan's options.
This position, however, is based on flawed assumptions. One is that a failing Pakistan is in India's interests. Two is that the Taliban can be rolled back militarily. A mere contrast between the immense deployment in the easier terrain and against lesser opposition even at the peak in Kashmir and the formidable terrain and vast spaces and more militarized opposition astride the Durand Line should dispel the notion. Last is that Kashmir can be kept cauterised from the instability across the Line of Control.
Quite the opposite of all this is true. A weakening of the Pakistani state would lead to a relative strengthening of its opposition which comprises the Taliban and sympathetic elements in the state and the Army. Since only the Pakistani state and the Army can contain and roll back the Taliban, albeit with assistance from the US, to weaken it would be counter productive. This desirable outcome can only be brought about through a combination of political and military measures.
The US is interested in eliminating the Al Qaeda. Pakistan's objective is to reclaim spaces lost to the resurgent Taliban. This it can do by championing an end to operations against the Taliban in return for accommodating Taliban in post-Karzai power structures in Kabul. The Taliban for its part would require to promise not to entertain global terrorists now or in the future. Ceasing operations within its territory would defuse the nationalist blow-back that is strengthening the Taliban within Pakistan's borders. Therefore there is a strong likelihood of politics staging a comeback after a long eclipse by the military prong of grand strategy.
In this case, India would do well to rethink its approach. What are the strands of the alternative, liberal-rationalist approach?
The liberal-rationalist alternative
Nailing the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack requires India and Pakistan to be on the same side. This involves strengthening the Pakistani government rather than cornering it. Since the US cannot do without Pakistan, it is neither possible nor necessary to attempt to put a wedge between the two. Therefore, India should use the aegis of the Pakistani state to get to the organisers of the terrorist outrage. Secondly, India should welcome the politico-military strategy that is to be unveiled by the Obama administration. This could involve military restraint even in face of the next provocation. This would be a severe test but in the national interest statesmanship should trump short term political calculations. This our polity is quite capable of; with electioneering making rhetoric more aggressive.
Thirdly, Indian interests in Afghanistan would continue to be protected irrespective of the complexion of the regime there as any regime would need Indian assistance and expertise in rebuilding the country. The present apprehension that the Taliban would be averse to India owes to the two being on opposite sides of the current war. But in the war termination efforts India needs to reposition itself so as to be indispensable to the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Its over-identification with its erstwhile allies the Northern Alliance and northern ethnic groups could be realigned with deft diplomacy and tugging at purse strings. Fourthly, the relative calm in Kashmir should be seized on to progress negotiations predicated on greater autonomy for the state. This could have a parallel track later in getting Pakistan to acquiesce with India's political approach in line with people's aspirations. The aim would be defuse any ?pull? factor in Kashmir that could attract unwanted terrorist energies from across the Line of Control.
The strategy would require a strategic dialogue with Pakistan. This is inescapable if strategy is to originate in South Asia as against it being framed in Washington as at present. The two protagonist South Asian states got their independence in the middle of the last century, and it is about time that they seize control of their mutual and intertwined destiny. For that to eventuate, first the liberal-rationalists would require to prevail over the conservative-realists. It can be left to the electorate to decide on the merits of the two arguments. ⊕
07 Mar 2009
2009: A preview of security issues India begins 2009 from a position of strength. But how it approaches security issues in the internaland external security planes will determine how it ends the year, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 21 January 2009 - New Year's Eve, being for revelry, seldom heralds in the New Year. Instead events that foreshadow it do. For instance, 2002 began with the parliament attack of 13 Dec 2001, and the year 2008 was set off by Benazir Bhutto's assassination. By that yardstick, 2009 can be dated to have ended last November itself. Beginning with the hideous terror attacks of 26/11 last year, 2009 may come to be judged as a pivotal one in South Asian history.
The aftermath of the Mumbai events has brought India and Pakistan close to blows. Stakes in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) raging in our vicinity being high, hot words were exchanged instead. The Islamist plan of diverting the Pakistani army from operations against the Taliban on its western borders was defeated. The Lashkar's attempt at highlighting India's internal problems by masquerading as the 'Deccan Mujahedeen' failed, with the bodies of the would-be Jihadis being denied space in Muslim graveyards. In repudiation of action purportedly in their cause by their self styled guardians, 60 percent of Kashmir's electorate turned out at polling stations; this within six months of Arundhati Roy informing of Kashmir's psychological secession from the idea of India.
See for balance article -

India is in a critical position. The 'proactive' school is for greater involvement of India in the conflict. Alarmist headlines indicate that the Taliban are closer to Delhi than Delhi is to Lucknow. Votaries of a 'boots on the ground' approach see a threat in a spillover of the conflict this side of the Indus. Awaiting the threat at the doorstep is seen as a replay of the much denigrated 'Panipat syndrome' that, in this perspective, underpins India's somnolent strategic culture. Future terror attacks would strengthen this position; quite in keeping with the design of perpetrators of the attacks. India would be back at the juncture it has already traversed twice before, in December 2001 and 26/11.
Counter-intuitively, a decision on India's involvement or otherwise is not likely to be made based on the pros and cons, but instead would depend on the relative strength of the liberal segment of the political spectrum as against that of the right wing. Recent state elections, touted as a 'semi-final', have not thrown up a clear winner. The strategy of implicating the minority in staged terror attacks by fringe elements of the right wing and using 26/11 to project the ruling party as 'soft' on terror has not paid dividend.
The approach of the national elections would likely see a more aggressive right wing and also a rightward shift by the ruling party, unwilling to lose the potentially largest 'vote bank' comprising the majority. Consequently, media fanned public opinion could swerve national policy to a more 'proactive' stance than the precedence of a policy of restraint adopted by India would suggest. In case a Hindu nationalist government is in place in the latter part of the year, India's likely response can easily be assumed.
Kashmir's trajectory would also be an influence. The ascent of the third generation of the Abdullah family to power is very promising. It speaks of energy, youth, imagination and a lack of baggage. Omar Abdullah has also had administrative experience at the highest levels as union minister. Thus governance delivering the electorates demand of 'bijli, pani, sadak' would benefit. However, the consequential aspects are in the hands of the Centre, namely human rights, demilitarisation, autonomy and devolution of powers to sub-regions.
While the central government understandably would not be able to take any major initiative in light of national elections soon during Omar Abdullah's 'honey moon' period, the manifestos of the UPA and NDA, and possibly of the Third Front, should include their policy approach to Kashmir. Thus, on coming to power there would be no further loss of time in implementing the policy package. Mistaking the elections in Kashmir as an end in itself, would be to yet again let the Kashmiris down. In case India is to escape ill winds from across the Line of Control - a negative spiral in the GWOT could easily cause this - it has to approach Kashmir with greater dispatch.
Central and north-east India too cannot be ignored. The death toll in the north-east crossed 1000 in 2008, bringing the internal conflict there within the widely accepted definition of 'war', in this case an internal conflict. 'Liberated zones' are known to exist in central India. These call for an introspective security policy. The fashionable position to the contrary needs to be questioned. Election time is best for this. 2009 provides the opportunity to rethink India's destiny.
At the beginning of the year, India is poised such that she could go along either path. Just as in the earlier era when non-alignment made strategy easy to formulate, equally today Indian interests are reflexively seen as being aligned to those of the US. Since US presence and actions are contributing to a strengthening of Islamist forces in the region, we should be careful not to mistake the problem for the solution. Can the year be one in which India works along with its fellow states within a regional arrangement such as the SAARC to fashion a regional solution to the problem of extremism? ⊕
21 Jan 2009
An indirect response to terror What India does or does not do is critical to the two power centers in Pakistan. The triumph of democratic forces there cannot be done without such Indian help, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 07 December 2008 - Evidence of a Pakistani hand in 26/11 is stark. It was an operation planned and carried out by the Lashkar e Toiba, also called Jamaat ud Dawa. The level of complicity of the Pakistani state itself - in the form of the ISI and the Army - is likely to be negligible, though we cannot rule out the association of rogue elements from these entities in the conspiracy. What is certain is that the Pakistani state, through acts of omission and commission, has provided a facilitative environment in which such an organisation as the Lashkar can function with impunity.
This structural vulnerability of the Pakistani state is largely because its Army dominates its institutional structure. But the current problem is also due to the popularly unwelcome American presence in the region. The terrorist attack in Mumbai is only the most recent and visible impact of this situation in Pakistan.
India has been forced to be firm with Pakistan, demanding strong action in a demarche. A number of opinions have also been aired cautioning against an over-reaction, with even the doyen of Indian strategists, K Subrahmanyam pitching for a tempered response. This proves that suitable military action in response to the attacks has not been ruled out, and this has been acknowledged frankly by Indian officials. The form such military action could take ranges from a minimum of cruise missile attacks on known terrorist infrastructure, such as the Lashkar headquarter at Muridke, to much weightier options that are presently uncalled for. Frankly, extreme military responses are not an option, given the spin-off impacts these would have.
Nonetheless, Pakistani intransigence could prompt a beleaguered Congress government to take military action, albeit buttressed by political and diplomatic measures. India does have a clear case for undertaking military action. The capability, legitimacy and political utility of the action are not in question. That still leaves one other important question: Would it be effective?

See for balance article -

India is on a growth trajectory that could lead Great Power status. It is beginning to act as one, having entered into a strategic partnership with the US, best signified by the nuclear deal. It has dispatched its Navy to control piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The recent electoral turn out in Kashmir has reinforced the comfortable conclusion that the Kashmir problem is winding down. Its major antagonist, Pakistan and its army are in a difficult situation. Indeed, the Mumbai attack can be viewed as an attempt by a failing Pakistani establishment to escape its predicament by provoking an Indian reaction. Given all these, India could simply allow the cards to build up more favourably, as they already appear to be doing.
Is this the same as 'doing nothing'? Not at all - it is only the continuation of the things are already tilting the equation in India's favour - our economic growth and continuing expansion of military capabilities. And it needs to be done for two reasons.
Firstly, the outcome of the global war on terror is as yet uncertain. Any redoubled efforts from a President Obama to make Afghanistan the 'central front' is unpredictable. Secondly, the Indian position on Pakistan has always had internal ramifications too - because right wing politics regularly attempts to exploit this for its political ends. India is not out of the woods on this score, as evident from the attention brought to it by the heroic martyr of the anti-terrorist operation in Mumbai, gallant IPS officer Hemant Karkare. Any response to Pakistan now also becomes a response to political questions within India; this is all the more reason we should take a long-term view.
The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel from an earlier time. Pic:
India could also take some steps to address Pakistan's concerns, out of its own self-interest. The power asymmetry between the two nations is a great source of fear in Pakistan; this can be tackled in part by confidence building to mutually reduce both nations' forces. This would also result in depriving the Pakistan Army a rationale for occupying the controlling heights of the Pakistani state. Similarly, seeking a just and long-term solution to the Kashmir issue should be done regardless of a Pakistani angle in any case. Doing so would impact Pakistan positively, diluting the Islamists' rationale for anti-Indianism.
In addition, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week, we must insist that Pakistan itself take up the war against its Islamists with more seriousness, and show results. If the country wants us to believe, as President Zardari said after the terror attacks, that Pakistan too is a victim of terror and should not be seen as a perpetrator, then it is only fair that the world demands an appropriate response from Pakistan. Without this, the claim of victimhood rings hollow, and is likely to be understood as a wink-wink strategy of running with the wolves while howling - but not hunting - with the hounds.
Only Pakistan can control its internal menace. Any external intervention would only exacerbate the problem. Incentivising such Pakistani state action against reducing the power of the Army in its power structure and that of Islamists in its society would require accommodation on India's part. What India does or does not do is therefore critical not only to its current security predicament but also to the wider GWOT. The eventual triumph of democratic forces there cannot be done without such Indian help.
The outcome for India in a democratic peace subsequently is an incentive. India has postponed addressing these two issues meaningfully, hoping to transcend Pakistan economically and militarily. Recognising that this is not possible is the foremost message of the Mumbai attacks. Heeding the message is only the first step to regional rapprochement through the adoption of an indirect anti-terror strategy. ⊕
07 Dec 2008
How deep is the rot? If Lt. Col. Purohit's activities are only one instance of something wider, then the Army has a real problem - namely, the penetration of majoritarian religious ideology into the historically secular defence forces, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 20 November 2008 - Three equally serious issues regarding the Indian armed forces demand our attention at this juncture. The first was sparked off by Shekhar Gupta's opinion piece on the non-compliance with the cabinet approval of the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, and the implications for civil-military relations. Since Gupta has been following military developments since India's peacekeeping foray into Sri Lanka and has even spent a productive year at the reputed International Institute of Strategic Studies, his perspective cannot be easily discounted.
The second development, a more muted step, is the development of 'second strike capability' by India. India has tested the silo launched version of the K 15 missile called Shaurya, that had earlier been tested from an underwater launch platform.
Each of these two developments require greater public attention, but it is the third that has caught the eye of the media and the public. Daily revelations in the case of Lt. Col. Purohit's association with terrorist activities have grabbed the headlines. Virtually every news item on this topic begins with the preface that Purohit is the 'first ever serving officer to have been arrested for such a crime. It has prompted the legitimate question as to whether his case is an aberration, as the Army has put it, or if it is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.
The worry is that if Purohit's activities are only one instance of something wider, then the Army has a real problem - namely, the penetration of majoritarian religious ideology into the defence forces. It is not an issue that can be wished away by a default reliance on the professionalism of the armed forces. It can be hazarded that since this issue has not been examined very much earlier, even the services would not know enough to judge whether such a threat has developed within their ranks. There is no information on this aspect available in the public domain, either, with the dominant view being that the services are - and have always been - apolitical and secular.
Nonetheless, we must contend with the evidence of the Lieutenant Colonel. If there is one Purohit, despite the army's professionalism and secularism, why not more? To answer this question, it behoves the military leadership to make an objective assessment, and if necessary institute corrective procedures right away.
It would be logical to expect that the armed forces would also be a focus of any ideological project, since these forces would need to be diluted or outflanked before the new ideology could take full power.

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It would be logical to expect that the armed forces would also be a focus of these forces. Being the 'last bastion', it would eventually be the armed forces that would require to check their accession to power, particularly if it is unconstitutional at any future juncture. The armed forces are also where the majoritarian ideology would need to mount its greatest effort, since the culture of the forces has historically been apolitical, professional and secular. Therefore, this culture would need to be diluted over time, without which the eventual success of the project could not be achieved. Therefore, it is unwise to believe that the armed forces would have escaped the radar screen of the nebulous leaders and planners of the project.
The armed forces are also unlikely to be able to detect the subtle nature of the effort. Historically, they have never seen themselves as being under threat of subversion. Secondly, their professional training and limitations of political understanding makes them less able to detect the myriad forms of penetration. Thirdly, the penetration itself may appear altogether a good thing, for it would appear, to begin with, in the guise of nationalism and morale-enhancing stress-relieving religion. Lastly, but no less important, is the increase in acceptance of the hindutva philosophy over the last two decades among the middle classes that contribute most of the officer corps. This would likely make the social space in the military tend towards that of the wider society, even while not mirroring it.
Contending with militants and mercenaries claiming to be engaged in a jihadist enterprise can only serve to heighten this tendency, as was the case with Lt Col Purohit, during his tenure in Kashmir. As to the extent of this possibility, the military would require to check and satisfy itself.
It is a well known theoretical insight from the field of military sociology that the conservative tendency of the military as an institution, and of military men as individuals, gives it a bias towards conservative-realist political persuasions. In the Indian context, this has been brought out in a book by Lt Gen Mahajan - A Career in India's Armed Forces (New Delhi: Ocean Books, 2000), thus: "Military ethic is conservative and therefore is naturally attracted to rightist political ideology which may appear 'good for the defence forces'. Both the rightist politicians and higher military commanders must be made wary of this affinity which paves the way for the politicization of the armed forces (p. 131)."
The political program of the conservative right can be expected to have a greater acceptability and following in the military. Whether the military would be able to differentiate the extreme right agenda is moot. Spotting this as a possible threat would require the military to first be sensitive to the possibility of the threat. This has now been unmistakably been revealed by the Purohit episode.
The onus on the military is thus to institute internal checks and procedures. The Army would be remiss were it to confine these to the instant lessons from this case, such as checking that the war material recovered in counter insurgency operations is deposited and that secret military intelligence funds are not misappropriated. Instead the most efficacious measures that need to be taken lie in its cultural domain.
The threat of the Hindu Talibanisation of India is real. Some of the blasts that were earlier attributed to terrorist groups originating in the minority are now appearing to have been perpetrated by elements of the saffron combine. Remember that these attacks were not claimed by the groups, such as Abhinav Bharat, and were instead designed to further implicate the minority as a potential fifth column. Therefore, the attacks should be seen as a prelude to a takeover of the state itself. There is therefore greater urgency to understand the phenomenon accurately.
One important difference between these states and India is in the manner of the state's response. Arab and North African states, and of late even Pakistan and Bangladesh have been relatively harsh in checking the Jihadist challenge. India on the other hand is more alert to minority-perpetrated terrorist challenges, as against the more dangerous one that aims at eventually changing the constitutional complexion of the state itself. Instances of the Purohit variety instead tend to be regarded as vengeful in motivation, and also as aberrations.
But such attitudes gravely underestimate the risks, and also overlook the evidence. These terrorist activities cannot be wished away as instances of revenge, for it they were mere revenge attacks they would have been claimed as such. Nor can they be wished away as aberrations. Even if references to 'aberrations' are made for public consumption, the military would do well to quietly use the opportunity to conduct a thorough spring cleaning. This would deter future 'aberrations', while reassuring the country that the Army remains capable of fulfiling its ultimate role as the 'last bation'. ⊕
20 Nov 2008
Military cooperation with the US: A mixed bag A future government that is without the check of a strong opposition could strike out on a course that is markedly divergent from India's past record of abstinence from geo-political conflicts, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 26 October 2008 - Military diplomacy has become a routine activity over the past decade. It is testimony of India's enhanced stature in global affairs. Its growing power, strategic location and independent foreign policy have led many states to seek to engage India. In turn, India has expanded the footprint of its influence by reaching out beyond its immediate neighbours to states in the outer arc of its area of interest, and even further away in Africa and South America.
Long standing military cooperation apart, India has not only deepened its relations with its 'strategic partner' the United States; but has also conducted joint exercies with its northern neighbour, China. Such engagement has - out of necessity - been of varying intensity and scope, depending on the respective mutual advantages sought. Thus we have various mechanisms of engagement, such as defence policy groups, joint working groups, joint training and exercises, exchange of visits and so on. This article reflects on implications of this phenomenon with respect to Indo-US military cooperation.

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Making nuclear sense The outcome of such exercises is that it builds 'interoperability'. This translates as mutual understanding, shared procedures, cohesion and with time could eventuate in a common world view and attitudes. This is necessary in the likelihood of future deployment in coalition operations. That last bit - the possibility of being deployed in a battle as part of a coalition - should prompt a mid-course review of the necessity for greater military cooperation.
India has been propositioned even earlier, for troops in Iraq, for instance. Sections in the government that were agreeable to this request were thwarted from the initiative by an alert parliament and considerable opposition from other the media and public too. And thought it is not officially being considered, in the media there has been some discussion of the possible deployment of Indian troops in Afghanistan. Having barely managed to scrape through a parliamentary challenge to the Indo-US nuclear deal, the government is in no position to consider this question, however.
The key thing to note, though, is that this question periodically returns. Before long, commentary on the desirability and necessity of Indian contribution to such operations, already present, would enlarge its constituency and votaries to become the strategic 'common sense'. A future government that is without the check of a strong opposition could strike out on a course that is markedly divergent from India's past record of abstinence from geo-political conflicts. Having given itself the capability for such participation through military cooperation, India could - at some time in the future - venture uninhibited into the field under the belief that it is fulfilling its manifest destiny as a great power.
To argue that closer military engagement is not always a good thing, we must first be clear on the extent and nature of the opposition. The argument goes that the US, being the sole superpower, would in any case do what it intends to in any future conflict. Therefore it would be in India's interest to get into its good books by playing along as much as possible, and in the process derive as much mileage as possible. The Indo-US nuclear deal is an example in which India has managed to derive certain benefits in high technology in the nuclear, space and industrial sectors by being amenable to US interests, without straying overly into the American orbit. India thus could benefit from being a 'partner', even without being an 'ally'.
This is fairly straightforward and impeccable, but - and maybe for that reason - it also obscures the downside. The US has a larger gameplan. This is self-evident from the no strings attached Indo-US nuclear deal. It is fairly clear that the US is not looking only for commercial benefits, for the $32 billion market would have to be shared with an eager France and expectant Russia. The strategic outcome the US seeks is to have a rising India on its side in the reshaping of the world order from the post-Cold War unipolar moment to a multipolar configuration.
The challenge of China, reemergence of Russia and the waning of the military alliance NATO requires the US to insure the future, with it at the helm and India and other nations in tow. Therefore it has attempted to build India into a major power. Should India buy into this scheme uncritically, as most in the strategic community are wont to, then it would amount to a radical reshaping of its foreign policy. This is not a far-fetched proposition, given the right wing buildup in India's domestic polity in light of its past record and future vision for India.
The muted celebrations of the Indo-US deal suggest that India cannot afford great power pretensions at the moment. This was compelled by the political turmoil in wake of the series of bomb blasts in India's metros. Thus, what was intended as a grand victory to carry the government into election mode was pushed off the headlines by an internal Indian reality at odds with its intended global role.
However, the argument for a greater global role approaches this differently. It depicts an India under siege from Islamism from the West and China from the East, in keeping with Huntington?s infamous ?clash of civilizations? thesis. This requires an Indian counter with the assistance of the US. Since this assistance would also be beneficial to the US itself, this is seen as the beginning of a co-equal relationship - one that could therefore be progressed. This perspective is increasingly becoming dominant in strategic circles, aided by some timely reinforcement from US think tanks. Since this is a political question, it should be raised on the election trail as a national security issue.
With elections looming, our reasons for a new foreign policy should be debated more widely and critically, so that the choices made are not merely reflective of who wins the elections, but also of what specific outcomes are in India's national interest. ⊕
26 Oct 2008
In Muslim India, an internal battle The struggle to wrest back interpretations of Islam from the extremists could give security a boost, but more importantly, it could halt the marginalisation and ghettoisation of Muslims in India, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 21 September 2008 - By now the 'common sense' on the terrorist attacks besetting India over the last six months is that these are the handiwork of a new group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen. The group has been emboldened enough to broadcast its manifesto in the form of emails delivered to media centres and intelligence hubs prior to the attacks. It is reported that this is a hard line, breakaway faction of the banned SIMI, that has arrived at its name by dropping the first and last alphabets of the acronym of its mother organisation.
An encounter in the bylanes of a crowded locality near Jamia Millia resulting in the death of a crack Inspector from Delhi's Special Cell has established the presence of terrorist cells in minority pockets. This, and other incidents have provoked considerable soul-searching - in the government in particular, with no less than the Home Minister being on the firing line.
And there are visible signs of new intent, even if not resolve, to tackle the growing threats. Policing has received a fillip in terms of infusion of budget, equipment and ranks; a research wing has been established in the Intelligence Bureau; talk of raising a federal intelligence agency to tackle issues requiring coordination between the centre and the states is reaching a climax; and a stringent anti terror legislation, that excludes the 'draconian' portions of the earlier POTA, is in the offing. These steps in the right direction should all have been taken long ago, irrespective of the acceleration that the terrorist attacks have provided them now. Better late than never.

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The changes that the blasts have wrought is that while earlier minority security problems were local, today this has an all-India character. There is however no all-India minority representative organisation. This is all for the good; the community and the nation having been let down thoroughly once earlier by the Muslim League with such pretensions. If the terrorist vanguard in the form of SIMI and the IM or the underworld led by D Company is allowed to fill this vacuum in their self projection as saviours, then it would be a national calamity. The onus therefore is on the state and mainstream parties, particularly those manifestly and self-professedly secular, to ensure ventilation of grievances and redress.
The state is rightly disarming the terror cells that falsely claim to protect minorities, but it would do well to also reassert its monopoly over force by equally expeditiously neutralising saffronite extremist groups that now feel emboldened by the growing chasm between the communities. Not coincidentally, the agenda for the forthcoming elections has already been set by the blasts, and the cudgel has been taken up by Hindu nationalist parties in earnest, with Narendra Modi as the flag bearer for the stern-faced L K Advani. Right thinking parties need to take on the right wing, and put the real issues before the masses at the voting booth.
An internal battle
The minority community, for its part, must foster a positive outcome out of all this. Withdrawal is not the answer. An intra-community dialogue needs to be continued, to wrest back the concept of Jihad, usurped by the extremists, to read 'ethical conduct', and not 'holy war'. This is an effort that has already begun with the fatwa from Deoband and the gathering of Muslim clergy in Delhi on the issue early this year. Since the militant posture adopted by the militants in the ranks is largely projected as saving the community's honour, the concept of quam ki izzat needs to be redefined to read excelling in all fields of endeavour - as had been the requirement of the Holy Prophet in his urging that his followers outdo others in good deeds.
The outcome of this internal battle will determine the level and energy of external support in the form of state intervention, and would also preserve the community from manipulation by political parties. This would also counteract the ghettoisation and marginalisation being forced on it by Hindu extremist groups.
The international climate is also grim, marked by the Global War on Terror going awry. In the sub-continent, this has potential to set free parochial winds manipulated by global interests. In the deepening psychological Partition underway, India has a vulnerability it cannot see exposed. Thus far the linkages made in strategic commentary between Islamism abroad and the Indian minority predicament could easily be shot down as contrived, since no Muslim Indian fought alongside the Taliban or was on Al Qaeda database. Nor did any non-Kashmiri Muslim Indian join the Kashmiri insurgency. If India's problems and their resolution were to converge with that of the global one, this would only benefit the global players on both sides of the conflict and their covert allies within the polity; but will be to India's detriment.
A sense of urgency is thus needed, in all actions by all quarters. The minority community needs to acquire agency by reasserting 'religion as faith', and not 'religion as identity'. It could, in doing so, strengthen the hands of the state and the liberal political segment in grappling with the larger internal demon by far - majority extremism. ⊕
21 Sep 2008
Mid-year chakravyuh With the government firmly in ostrich mode on issues of internal security, and the external situation appearing more complex than our laid-back approach can handle, India awaits its Abhimanyu, writes Firdaus Ahmed. 27 August 2008 - The year started off with the promise of virtually ending up as an election year. And almost on course, the break-up of the coalition took place, paving the way for the expected polls. But even a week is a long time in Indian politics, and things have changed considerably since then. And now, the security situation alone should lend pause to any talk of elections soon.
A mid-year security round up would reveal India is living through 'interesting times', in the Chinese sense of the term. Globally China has unmistakably announced its arrival by bagging a higher haul of golds at the Olympics than the United States. In the Caucasus, Russia has made it clear that it has not faded into history as a 'has been' global power. The developments in the Indo-US nuclear deal clearly indicate which side India will be on in the coming contest for global primacy. The Global War on Terror (GWOT) in the region is set to escalate. All regional states are in various stages instability arising from state transformation. There is status quo in the two strategic dyads - India-Pakistan and India-China - meaning there is no headway being made in the peace processes underway, nor the likelihood of any.
Internal security has received a grave setback with the 'Indian Mujahedeen' entering the scene as a player. Kashmir is boiling over, with Jammu keeping pace for the first time. Left Wing extremism has from time to time demonstrated its ability to break into the headlines, but since it never stays there long enough, one can safely conclude that the current neglect can continue without imperilling security unduly. The North East remains a cauldron, with the ULFA outfit that has come over-ground in Upper Assam able to go about making its anti-immigrant case more openly and with greater consequences for the future.
And rounding off the picture is a notable trend in security management in which parochial forces are permitted to get away with violence for want of professional policing. All in all, on the security front, it appears to be business as usual on the security front, and peace is firmly beyond the horizon. What this sobering picture portends depends largely on the approach the Indian state adopts.
Kashmir has emerged from a period of improved security indices to resoundingly negate the notion that the situation is under control.

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Against these pressing issues, long-festering situations such as those in Central and North-East India have unfortunately been temporarily eclipsed. These constitute existential threats and consume innocent lives. They are doubly disadvantaged in being seemingly remote, physically and in the consciousness, from 'mainland' India. A military in control should imply that the situation be addressed politically. This is even the position of the military and is a cardinal doctrinal point in countering insurgency. However, the Indian state awaits the trickle-down effect of economic reforms to create the conditions in these areas for band-wagoning with the rest of India.
The 'ostrich' strategy is based on the logic - or illogic, really - that the demonstration effect of Indian political accommodation in one place would make internal conflicts elsewhere more difficult to tackle. But if there is one lesson to be learned from the way the Kashmir situation has come to climax this summer, it is that the government's counter insurgency 'strategy of exhaustion' has drained only itself, of physical, administrative and moral authority in virtually all areas of internal conflict. To repeat that blunder in Assam or Naxal areas would be calamitous for India.
Clearly, there is much to make the security community work overtime. Two approaches have been aired. India can either pro-actively grasp the opportunity of strategic collaboration offered by the US, and respond to the security challenges thrown up by it more directly. The other choice is to bide its time, and introspect on first developing the various power indices, such as bringing down levels of poverty from 40 per cent of the population - comprising one third of the worlds poor - according to the latest World Bank findings.
India awaits its Abhimanyu, the proverbial Indian voter whose wisdom has repeatedly saved the country. ⊕
Firdaus Ahmed 27 Aug 2008