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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Stopping Nuclear War

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The direction of likely nuclear developments has been summarised in a top article in a leading daily recently ( The occasion was launch of the nuclear submarine, INS Arihant. The laundry list includes at least two more nuclear submarines, though the eventual figure is ten. Three air craft carriers including the Gorshkov yet to fetch up from its Black Sea port. Nuclear tipped submarine lauched missiles of a greater range than the present 700 km of the K 15 experimental missile. Missiles of the IRBM class, Agni III and Agni V and ICBM Surya, to target the eastern seaboard of China and beyond have been recommended. The missiles are to be MIRV’d, that is fitted with multiple independently targeted warheads. To enable targeting spy satellites for all weather 24x7 cover. Missile defences are to be built up, in collaboration with the US and Israel. With three decades of missile and two decades of nuclear development, accuracy of missile delivery and variegated warheads are surely already a reality. To protect these developments, the article recommends staying out of the CTBT, that is in the news once again, and participation in the FMCT negotiations, since the interim decade before their culmination would gain India adequate fissile material to join in. In all it devotes one and a half lines to the disarmament question, indicating the writer’s inclination. That there has been no follow up top article on the contrary, tragically implies this is an unchallenged position.

The whole gamut is likely to be in place in a decade, though each of these pieces is in place to a limited degree now. Navigating the interim is as fraught as the possible situation tens years on. Though exaggerated, reports are of a threat to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The threat of a future 26/11 continues to loom, witness the controversy over security surrounding the international badminton championship in Hyderabad. The rhetoric in respect of China had a spike to coincide with the thirteenth meeting between the two special interlocutors in Delhi in early August. While an Indian hyper-realist predicted Chinese invasion in 2012, a Chinese website countered with its take on a Chinese assisted disintegration of India. If this is bad enough, consider what India’s nuclear preparation that peak in about a decade imply. It is apparent that a pessimist view is taken of the long term, for which presumably the nuclear trajectory is to prepare us to meet.

Advances in the missile and nuclear fields are played up in the media and have votaries in the strategic community. The argument is that this helps deter adversaries keeping a close watch as also reassure all that India’s defences are on course. This has political dividend and keeps the technological momentum going. It builds a constituency behind the developments, enabling their continued funding and legitimacy over time. They would then become irreversible, for it would take a lot of explaining and political capital to slow or turn these round. The expectation is that these developments would make for deterrence not only of nuclear weapons use against India, but also war itself. They would enable India to match up to China, helping in negotiations from a position of equality. This would help resolve the border dispute. It would place India in the big league, enabling it to fulfil its ‘responsibilities’ as a great power with a reach from Aden to the Malaccas. Pakistan is ignored in this discourse, so much so that in a farewell address in Delhi the outgoing Chairman of India’s Chief’s of Staff Committee failed to mention Pakistan at all in his prepared speech.

It should not take a nuclear war for these developments to be challenged. Even if the technological momentum is not reversible, the technology need not be operationalised. A critique would help lend balance to the debate in the public domain. The usual arguments against such a course can first be dispensed with, since the developments are evidence of their failure already. That it is economically prohibitive enterprise is countered by the argument that an India, growing at nine per cent can afford it. That deterrence can fail is undercut by the logic that this is not reason enough not to try. That it results in militarization of India and its otherwise resolvable disputes is met with the argument that passivism of Mother India is what led to her subjugation for the past millennium. That India’s priorities should be internal security and development is countered by saying that defence and development are complementary. That India’s militarised approach would result in a security dilemma for its neighbours is demolished by maintaining that India is the one that is reactive to a security dilemma imposed on it by its implacable neighbours. The vision of mushroom clouds over the country does not hold attention since it is taken as fiction. Arguing that India cannot cope best indicated by incompetent municipal response to monsoon showers is negated by pointing to the National Disaster Management Authority and the battalions under it. Thus, there is no way nay-sayers can get an argument in, even edgeways.

But arguing against the nuclear enclave and its retainers amounts to a national service. Lets take a scenario ten years on. China has built up infrastructure in Tibet to an extent that it could transport troops onto the plateau in short order. Newspaper reports already have it of an exercise underway in China to test precisely this ability. This has led to India’s recent emphasis on border infrastructure. Over the next half decade or so, India would be at a disadvantage. However, the scenario is situated a further half decade down. By then the two regional adversaries are expected to face off over strategic space and leadership in Asia. India’s economy, population numbers and its relationship with the US would be the drivers of its challenge of China. That the border is to be unresolved till India gets round to gaining parity with China, enables it to serve as a flashpoint. Consider the case in which despite equal military capabilities, due to some or other operational level move, one of the two states is losing. In case of India, this would have a direct impact on the North East, as indeed it did in 1962. In case of China, the impact would be on its hold over Tibet, that is already increasingly tenuous. Though both states subscribe to the No First Use, its not impossible that the loser could countenance using nuclear weapons to get out of a tight spot. This may be in the tactical mode in the battlefield or at a higher level in greater depth to stem reinforcements routes into the theatre. The consequences for escalation are stark. Neither state, contending then for super power status, would back down. A nuclear war would jeopardise effort of the preceding four decades of growth. The only gainer it appears would be the US, with both its challengers in self destruct mode.

A study in the context of an India-Pakistan conflict by the National Resources Defence Council in the US has it that sixty million casualties could result in a nuclear war in case fifteen cities are targeted. This would be equally true in an India-China context too. The nuclear trajectory of India closely parallels that of the states in the Cold War. There is no guarantee that the next Cold War, one between India and China, would remain cold. Good sense would be in not acquiring a capability for national suicide. Even as the nuclear enclave has acquired a power difficult to dislodge, building up a peace movement of equal weight is the only way ahead.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Successful deterrence? Hardly.

29 February 2008 - It is being argued in scholarly circles that despite the crises that have periodically punctuated the recent history of the subcontinen, there has been no war owing to successful operation of the 'nuclear deterrence' principle. Knowing that the other side too has the ultimate weapon, neither side has resorted to war to settle its political differences or to gain military advantage due to the fear of the war escalating to the nuclear level. This is seen as a continuing successful case of nuclear deterrence in South Asia.

The problem with such reasoning is that is legitimises nuclearisation into perpetuity. Redefining peace as merely the absence of war is troubling, for nuclear weapons remain an existential threat not only to the other side as deterrence theory asserts, but also to possessors. Even so, to those who argue that deterrence has dissuaded political heads from choosing war as an option, we should point out that deterrence remains untested in war.

In wake of Operation Parakram - the year long military stand-off of 2002 - arguments echoing international relations theorist Kenneth Waltz's formulation in favour of nuclear proliferation, that 'more may be better', appear to be gaining ground by default. Sumit Ganguly, an influential presence on the scholarly beat with his ten books on the strategic scene in South Asia, in a co-authored work with Devin Hagerty, Fearful Symmetry: India-Pakistan crisis in the shadow of nuclear weapons (Seattle, Univerity of Washington Press, 2004), contends that the crises have not turned into conflicts on account of three factors: one is the operation of conventional deterrence; next is the peace-making role played by the US; and lastly is the successful operation of nuclear deterrence.

A refutation of this view is in order, for the simple reason that crises have in fact often not turned into conflicts for reasons other than nuclear deterrence. The crisis of the pre-nuclear era, that of the 'fourth round' of 1984 and 'the war that never was' of 1987, to use the catchy titles of the knowledgeable Ravi Rikhye's idiosyncratic books, are not considered here. In 1990 too, India shifted troops from its North East to cope in Kashmir, as also to respond to Pakistan's reply to India's Exercise Brasstacks called Exercise Zarb-e-Momin. Such manouevres signal war clouds, evident from the example of Egypt, which launched the Yom Kippur war of 1973 under the guise of going in for military exercises. Thus war, not being an option, cannot be said to have been deterred by the existence of nuclear weapons, which both states by then are now known to have had only a screw's turn away.

In 1998, the intervening period between Pokhran and Chagai, witnessed considerable rhetoric on part of India principally to goad Pakistan into testing, and thereby legitimising India's tests and deflecting the ensuing international criticism. Discussion of the possibility of preemptive action by India was academic, as the tests by Pakistan were more a demonstration of capability, it reportedly having used the Chinese test site at Lop Nor earlier to acquire the capability.

Non-wars without the need for deterrence

The role of nuclear weapons in the two major events post-nuclearisation requires more careful refutation. Pakistan chose the site of its Kargil adventure with care. This is attributed to its desire to limit India's reaction, cognizant that the scale of the reaction would determine the nature of the subsequent conflict, which could assume nuclear proportions. If we are to remove nuclear weapons from the equation, it would yet be proven that Pakistan would still have chosen the same site for its intrusion.

See for balance article -

The extended crisis of 2001-02 too requires further probing, for there is more to the issue of the Parliament attack than the popular narrative lets on (see 13 Dec: The strange case of the attack on the Indian parliament, published by Penguin Books in 2006). But even with a plausible casus belli, India did not go to war, and this is taken as Indian prudence brought on, amongst other factors, by presence of nuclear weapons. But what is more likely is that economic and strategic interests in India deflected any possibility of a war, and no further 'deterrence' was needed to dissuade it from one. In Pakistan too, there was no question of contemplating war, for it was by then fully immersed in the Global War on Terror.


Once each crisis is put into perspective, the role of nuclear deterrence becomes self-evidently a fallacy. Unfortunately, the nuclear deterrence argument is gaining ground, and one expects to see more of this in future, thereby increasing nuclear dangers. Arguments on their utility have therefore to be relentlessly exposed, lest the dangers continue to mount.

The plain fact is that most of the thought exercises about deterrence are way off the mark; there are any number of other reasons that can fully explain why India and Pakistan have not moved to a point of open conflict, and the possession of nuclear weapons is only incidental. Still, they are always looked at as more important than is the reality, because this fits nicely with the 'seminar circuit', which is happy to discuss nuclear weapons if only for the simple reason that, like the Himalayas, 'they are there'! ⊕

Firdaus Ahmed
29 Feb 2008
Making Kargil serve a purpose

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.

See for balance article -

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. ⊕

Firdaus Ahmed
27 Jul 2009

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Vignettes Of India's Security Culture

By Firdaus Ahmed

03 August, 2009

The rape and murder of two young women in Shopian, the acceptance by the NHRC probe of the Delhi Police version of the Batla House encounter, the killing of a PLA member in custody in Manipur as evidenced by the photos published in Tehelka, and the furore over the mention of Baluchistan in the India-Pakistan Joint Statement tells us something of India’s strategic culture. This article seeks insight into India’s security culture through a snap shot of these four occurrences over the recent past.

That there was an attempted cover up in the Shopian incident implies that there was a ‘felt need’ for the same. Clearly then this was to protect the culprits, implying that the culprits are possibly known. There is no reason to resort to a cover up if there is nothing to be hidden. The unilateral additions made by the police to the report of Justice Jan that enquired into the case are reportedly slanderous about the deceased and their family. The portions disowned by the enquiring judge mention the ‘possibility’ of one of the deceased ‘developing some relation with others.’ The point of the investigation is to bring out who these alleged persons were, for they would have motive in murdering the victims to hide their association. That the police have signally failed to follow up only serves to prove there is a connection to the security apparatus that needs hiding. That the state machinery to include the Chief Minister has thereafter concentrated on the peripheral aspects, such as how much was conveyed up the reporting channel etc, has led to the need to apprehend the culprits being lost sight of. This only reinforces suspicions that the culprits were from the security forces or those having links with the security apparatus in the state, which since its partial outsourcing to the likes of the Ikhwan includes those in plain clothes. That the increasingly politicised debate has now gone back three years to the 2006 sex scandal bespeaks of the security culture in Srinagar.

As a final word on the Batla House encounter, the NHRC report states: ‘We are clearly of the opinion that having regard to the material placed before us, it cannot be said that there has been any violation of human rights by the action of the police party.’ It is quite obvious that any ‘material’ that was to be ‘placed’ before an enquiry could have been worked upon to give it the desired spin over the interim. Therefore, the enquiry was logically expected to go beyond the ‘material placed before us’. In failing to do this, it has set a precedent and devalued the credibility of the NHRC.

Other shortcomings have been pointed out by those following the case closely such as the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group. However, even as the ‘material placed’ before the enquiry is reported as bringing out the group as carrying out a series of terrorist crimes, that the police party leader did not wear a bullet proof jacket while attempting to arrest them is explained away that the reason cannot be second guessed by the commission. The commission records that, ‘there is ample and sufficient material before us which leads to the irresistible conclusion that there was imminent danger to the life of members of the police party.’ All the more reason one would think warranting a bullet proof jacket.

The Indian Mujahedeen is described in the ‘material placed’ as a group ‘found to be involved in terrorist activities in different parts of the country for the last several years.’ It is fairly well known that the IM came into the limelight for the first time only last year with the blasts targeting the larger cities. This shortcoming in the ‘material placed’ has apparently not detracted from its credibility in the eyes of the commission. The commission refrains from dwelling on the issue of whether those killed were terrorists; yet explains police party actions as self defence. In case the commission was to play a mental game and take them as innocent for the sake of an intellectual exercise developing the scenario, then action as going in without a bullet proof jacket makes sense. Therefore, there was reason enough even from the ‘material placed’ for the commission to take a proactive route and go beyond the ‘material placed’ in its enquiry. That it failed to do so constitutes the evidence being marshalled in this article on the India’s security culture.

The Tehelka photo feature of the killing of alleged insurgent Chonghkhum Sanjit in Imphal by Manipuri police commandos is chilling in the extreme. That this was done in broad daylight speaks of a culture of impunity. In the logic of the security forces this display is perhaps explicable. The message to the insurgent underground watching is that there are no holds barred in the contest; a message that would no doubt be lapped up by the insurgents. The Punjab model is being played out in the North East. Those doing the killing appear Manipuri. One set of natives is set on another in a version of divide and rule. The nadir of this strategy has already been reached in the silent killings of relatives of ULFA insurgents in Assam. There is a subtext to the picture that has perhaps escaped the planners. In this the message to people is that the judge and executioner have been conflated. The implications are stark for the culture of protest that has been perfected in Manipur by the sacrifice of icons as Irom Sharmila and actions as the women who stripped to shame the Assam Rifles out of the Imphal Fort. Two inferences can be drawn from the pictures. One is that the state has lost control over its security apparatus. Worse is that this is a demonstration of the level of its control. The latter is most likely truer. It can be wagered that the enquiry that will no doubt follow, forced by the unrest presently on in Manipur, will not be able to trace those who ordered this. What happens in a provincial capital can only draw on what transpires in the national capital.

Lastly, is the contrived breast beating partially over the mention of Baluchistan in the Joint Statement emanating in Sharm es Sheikh. This also involved a march by opposition MPs led by the leader of the opposition to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Prime Minister has clarified on the floor of the Lok Sabha that he agreed to the mention knowing that ‘India’s hands are clean’. This is difficult to accept at face value; since, he – though honest - had earlier opined that Mr. Bush was a much ‘loved’ US President in India! The criticism was however not on this account but that Pakistan had managed to highlight its version on India’s intelligence managed covert role in the Baluchistan insurgency. In the security logic, it is entirely understandable for India to fuel Pakistan’s fires to sensitise it that it too lives in a glass house. Talking about the issue gives India a handle to bring this home to Pakistan and force a mutual winding down of this propensity of both states to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. But to insist that India ‘has nothing to hide’ either implies naivety or a loss of political control over India’s external intelligence agency. With the furore greeting the mention, it is unlikely that India would countenance talks on this issue, implying that the covert operations designed to hurt Pakistan in retribution for its well recorded proxy war in Kashmir will continue. This war by intelligence agencies would not be in the interest of either Baluchis or Kashmiris or indeed the other subcontinental nationalities, but is of a piece with the adults-only games played by states.

Clearly, India’s security is gravely threatened by insurgency and terrorism. India’s response as witnessed in the four cases does not recommend itself. It is no wonder then that India continues to be beset with problems of state consolidation. It is as yet a developing state still transiting through the state making and nation building stage. It would do well to recognise that it cannot skip the stage of national consolidation in its haste to becoming a great power.