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Thursday, September 17, 2009

CALL OUT THE NIA!

Ishrat Jahan died in an ‘encounter’, her life claimed by encounter specialist DG Vanzara, a DIG of the Gujarat Police now in jail for the killing in yet another ‘encounter’ of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausarbi. In the Sohrabuddin case, a superintendent of police of the intelligence bureau and an officer of the Rajasthan cadre were also involved. The Ishrat Jahan case recently hit the headlines because of the courageous report of Metropolitan Magistrate, SP Tamang. Of consequence is the supposed motive of the police officers involved, that of seeking promotions based on their performance against ‘terrorists’. This apparently understandable motive anchored in human greed serves only to paper over a grimmer reality.

Those killed were billed as members of the terror outfit Lashkar e Tayyaba out to assassinate the chief minister of Gujarat. This is a plausible construct in light of the strained communal relations in Gujarat post the carnage of 2002 and sustained propaganda on the suspect nationalist credentials of the minority. The terror connection serves to justify ‘encounters’ in the public mind, creating heroes of ‘specialists’. However, this serves to eclipse a divergent construct. Such encounters, and media hype surrounding them, have instead served to create and project an image of a minority with external linkages. When seen in the light of the various bombings of questionable origin across the country culminating in 2008, the political project appears to have been for creating and sustaining an image of a ‘fifth column’ in India’s midst. The hoped for fallout was likely as not to influence perceptions and craft an electoral majority nationally out of denominational majority. It’s a political project that has deeper roots not only in compromised state structures, which by now describes the state of the Gujarat police accurately, but also in formations that claim a cultural rather than political agenda.

While the RK Raghavan led Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team would likely throw up more light on this angle as it culminates by end this year, the National Investigation Agency, set up with considerable fanfare in wake of 26/11, should be put to work on this case. What requires probing is the manner the intelligence bureau advisory on terror has been taken by the Gujarat police as rationale for the killings of Ishrat Jahan and three others. Filed by an under secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs on August 6 before the Gujarat High Court, the affidavit confirms that Ishrat Jahan, Pranesh Pillai alias Javed Shaikh, Amjad Ali Rana and Zeeshan Johar as terrorists linked with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The affidavit was filed on a plea by Ishrat’s mother for a CBI probe. The Times of India reports that an IPS officer, Rajinder Kumar, of the Gujarat cadre, once the state IB chief between 2002 and 2005 and now an Intelligence Bureau joint director, was responsible for most of the intelligence inputs on Gujarat encounters. Thus emerges a questionable connection stretching from Maharashtra, from where the abductions for the fake encounters took place, through Gujarat where these were executed to New Delhi where the rationale was apparently manufactured. This is a fit case for the NIA to earn its credentials, set a precedent and lay out its own standards for itself.

The NIA was created in December last through the NIA Act. It was meant to enable the Center to act in cased of national import through the inclusion of a schedule of central acts covering offences against the state, terrorism, atomic energy, anti-hijacking, weapons of mass destruction etc. Since ‘terrorism’, of which the ‘encounters’ and bombings are part, acquired a nation wide footprint, it requires a central agency to probe. With revelations of Hindu terror groups, such as an army intelligence officer led Abhinav Bharat involved in terror, and linkages in right wing subverted police and intelligence apparatus in concerned states, there is a case for central intervention for investigation and outing of the truth. Some states having rightly raised objections based on constitutional issues as center-state relations and the lack of consultations prior to the NIA Act being rushed through has led to the Home Minister promising a revisit to the Act. However, objections could have suspect motives such as restricting scope for additional scrutiny of the center so as to constrict the possibility of unpalatable revelations. The increases the immediacy with which New Delhi must take the checks and balances introduced to their logical conclusion.

Another long pending measure is warranted to be progressed using this juncture as opportunity, that of police reforms. It appears from the pattern discerned here that sections of the police stand compromised through infiltration of majoritarian sympathisers. Their placement in key positions and unprofessional actions now constitute a threat to the secular character of the state. Core values being threatened thereby, they are an existential security threat. Underway is virtually an ongoing coup in slow motion from within, one that can be speeded up in case the political constellation at Delhi is right once again in future. Police reforms, mandated by the Supreme Court in response to the PIL of former DGP, Shri Prakash Singh, require progressing and monitoring by the MHA. A professionalisaton of the police could set back this agenda, to the extent it exists, besides being a project worth pursuing on its own merits.

India is a veritable conglomeration of minorities along differing axes as ethnicity, persuasion etc. The difficulty of creating a majority based on shared primordial affinities has not dissuaded its activists. Their project requires creation of an ‘Other’ to succeed. They have managed partially to control the discourse through ‘black propaganda’, by succeeding in attribution of all terrorist incidents as minority perpetrated. This has political utility for such forces in marginalising the minority even while elevating their political agenda as the only way a culturally-defined nation can safeguard and cope with the externally-inspired internally-abetted aggression. Therefore, the Ishrat Jahan case has wider ramifications. Clearly, attribution of comparatively innocent self-interest of the involved police officers in these killings would be to obfuscate the political connection and context of these crimes.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Emulating the US

The proceedings of the CCS are appropriately not in the open domain. Only its decisions, where required, are made known to the public, as was done in case of its endorsement of India’s nuclear doctrine in January 2003. However, the recent washing of dirty linen in public by those in the CCS during the NDA’s first term over the Kandahar hijack episode bespeaks of lack of institutionalisation of national security decision making at the apex level. This is of a piece with India’s amorphous strategic culture. While matters are likely to have improved in the decade since owing to the National Security Council and its secretariat having firmed in, there is a case for bringing greater formality into the proceedings of bodies such as the CCS, the NSC and the Political Council of the NCA.

These three bodies, having virtually identical membership, are vested with decision making responsibility in the national security sphere. Since the system has not let India down so far, there is no cause for unwarranted alarm. However, this is no reason not to constantly improve it. It would then be able to cope with the demands it may be faced with in future. Two scenarios buttress this point. In the first, there could be difficulty in case there is a weak minority government in power, as was being apprehended in the run up to the elections only a hundred days ago. Representatives of various fractious parties without a national profile could in such a circumstance be taking decisions that, while within their responsibility, could be outside of their ken. The second is in formulation of India’s response in case of breakdown in deterrence. Whatever the decision arrived it, in the aftermath of the resulting nuclear exchange India would require an explanation of the rationale. Since life would not be the same again, accountability would require to be apportioned. For doing this adequately there is need to institute procedures now.

Learning from the US experience is in order. Three aspects stand out. One is that those charged with policy and decision making can be held directly responsible. Replication would do away with the proverbial ‘kitchen cabinets’ that have characterised the Indian system, at least till the late eighties. So much so that such informal bodies virtually crafted India’s nuclear trajectory till the Shakti tests. Reforms would minimise the baleful influence of unaccountable lobbies, such as that exercised by parent ideological formations on political parties. The recent stewardship by the RSS of a troubled BJP indicates that there is more to exercise of constitutional authority than meets the eye.

Second, is the manner the US maintains records. Not only is the historical record is enriched by perspectives of players, for instance Nixon’s take on Indira Gandhi in 1971; but, more importantly, they can be held accountable. The latter may not be required so much in case of wrong decisions, but more so in case of mal-intent. Perversely, it is taken as an ‘achievement’ that there are no written records of India’s transition to becoming a nuclear power!
And lastly, the release of these records into public domain. This would help not so much with building the sense of history that Indians reputedly sorely lack, but with keeping a check on leaders. For instance, prospective Prime Minister’s would not be emboldened with impunity into fudging their role in national decision making that’s gone wrong for some reason! While such deliberations are understandably kept out of the remit of the Right to Information Act, perhaps thirty years on these could be made public as done elsewhere. This would help researchers understand the compulsions and analysts to recommend improvements in the approach to security. Presently, relying on whistle blowing, such as happened recently over the hydrogen bomb ‘fizzle’, bespeaks of much ground yet to be traversed for India to acquire a credible, functional and accountable system.

It is interesting to speculate on why India’s national security system is both impervious and underdeveloped. Answering the question, ‘Who benefits?’ could provide the clue. One answer this question would not throw up is the legislative. Legislative accountability of the executive could do with emulating the US, even though theirs is a Presidential system. While parliamentary committees do perform, US style congressional hearings help. This would lend balance in a system which otherwise lends itself to competing constituencies pulling in wilful ways. A recent example is the manner a section of scientists have expressed an interest in further nuclear tests. Taking a call on whether India needs a thermonuclear based deterrent is not within their ambit; yet the controversy.

The recent remarks of the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee on the developments in Pakistani nuclear deterrent underlines that India is in a dangerous neighbourhood. It is also an aspiring great power. Both require continuous evolution of its national security system. The gravamen of the otherwise discrete controversies over this month, is that the Indian system is still a work in progress.

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Yet another nuclear controversy

Earlier in end May at the end of a book release function, India’s Army chief, when quizzed on developments in Pakistan’s nuclear capability recounted in the US Congressional Research Service report, remarked, "They require a certain minimum amount (nuclear capability), but ... Pakistan's attempts to increase the number of its nuclear weapons is a matter of serious concern." Yet again when accosted by the press, this time during his visit to the army's Artificial Limb Centre in Pune, for his opinion on the Federation of Atomic Scientists reporting on Pakistan increasing its warhead haul to 70-90, he said, "There is a difference between having a degree deterrence, which is required for protection, and going beyond that. If the news reports of (Pakistan) having 70 to 90 atomic bombs are correct, then I think they are going well beyond the requirement of deterrence."

A report comments that ‘Kapoor's implied suggestion that India could have to revisit its no-first use policy’. Quoting the hyper-realist duo of the think tank, Center for Policy Research, it gives out Brahma Chellaney’s take that there is need to review India’s “deterrence posture”; while the other analyst, Bharat Karnad, is reported as saying ‘no-first-use is not a substantive declaration’.
The report revisits the recent controversy over the thermonuclear test in the Shakti series having turned out a ‘fizzle’ maintaining ‘that the Indian nuclear arsenal needs refurbishing, if not the need to carry out more tests, to maintain its nuclear programme’s cutting edge.’ Thus we can see that favourite hobby horses of players in the nuclear field have been hitched to the Chief’s remarks, though the Chief himself has not implied anything of the sort.

Since this time round he was speaking in his new capacity as Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, his remarks acquire a greater degree of significance. The Chairman in the Indian system oversees its Strategic Forces Command, responsible for the nuclear arsenal. Understanding the General is necessary in order to dispel the spin self-interested forces with a nuclear agenda are using the media for.

On both occasions, the Chief was engaged in a function unrelated to the nuclear issue. The earlier remark can be taken as his preliminary observation. Charged with safe-custody of India’s national security, he cannot be expected to say that nuclear developments in India’s neighbourhood are not of concern! However, the second time round, he would be voicing India’s considered take.

Firstly, India cannot second guess Pakistan. Since the numbers India possesses is not known, Pakistan would require making an educated guess and reacting accordingly. Therefore, its figure need not necessarily coincide with India’s expectation. Both countries consider the ‘minimum’ of their ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to be a dynamic, security situation related, number. Secondly, this perhaps brings out India’s purpose. The Chief had earlier said, "I think the world community should put the kind of pressure which is required on Pakistan to cap the enhancement of their nuclear capability.” The context this time is that Pakistan has in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, that is considering introducing the Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, stalled talks by citing national security. Which means there is an incipient arms race on in the region.

This can be attributed to India pegging its numbers by clubbing Pakistan and China together as a twin front problem. The resulting numbers can be perceived by Pakistan as conferring on India an ability for a disarming first strike. Thus the movement upwards in Pakistan’s stocks has rightly been taken as an attempt to gain a stabilising second strike capability. Given that India is buttressing its second strike capability by the recent launch of the INS Arihant, there could be no objections to Pakistan doing likewise, particularly since on both occasions the higher end was pegged at 90 warhead. Doing so, as the Chief has done, only serves to hyphenate India to Pakistan yet again, and secondly allows the forces wishing India to proceed down the arms race route to take advantage of his voiced concern.

The suggestion that increase in Pakistan’s arsenal requires reconsideration of India’s NFU pledge is untenable. Since by reaching 90 warheads or thereabouts, Pakistan still does not gain first strike capability, there is no cause to revisit the pledge. Rescinding it carries the danger of what Schelling called ‘the reciprocal fear of a surprise attack’ or an avoidable tendency toward pre-emption. This is not a theoretical possibility in the India-Pakistan dyad given the mutual vulnerabilities and fears they harbour. While India wishes to use the conventional plane to react to Pakistan’s proxy war, even if in a limited way, Pakistan, feels a need to use the nuclear card to stall the same. This reliance on the nuclear capability is heightened in the situation as obtains at present in which its Army is contending with the Taliban, if reluctantly, even while the threat exists of India reacting conventionally in face of another 26/11.

The timing of the other controversy over whether India needs to test again is suggestive. India had earlier been prepared to accede to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. In the event the treaty had been stalled by the US Senate not ratifying it. With the possibility of the US championing it once again after a decade long hiatus, forces in India preferring that India maintain its option to test are exerting themselves. Their scientific position is that India does not have the requisite computing power to go ahead with arsenal development without testing. Even if this is true with respect to the hydrogen bomb, deterrence is not necessarily a function of a thermonuclear capability when merely a fission or boosted fission based arsenal can serve the same purpose adequately. H Bombs on the other hand lend themselves to city-busting, a prospect best avoided if deterrence were ever to break down. Thermonuclear weapons have other advantages, such as ‘more bang for the buck’ and being lighter payloads easier to deliver. This technological advance led to the doctrines that eventuated in the MAD arsenals of the superpowers. There is no call to replicate the cold war experience in Southern Asia.

Thus, while every development in the nuclear plane is indeed a cause for concern, the manner such concerns are appropriated by interested constituencies and the way these manipulate the media, has been starkly witnessed in the latest nuclear episode. Their inner motives require to be revealed so that public opinion exercises a check over politicians, who neither know nor care enough to ward off such pressures.

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