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Thursday, December 30, 2010

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The coming decade of nuclear risk

Four decades without war since 1971 is attributed as a peace preserved in part by nuclear weapons. By the mid-eighties both India and Pakistan had workable, if untested, nuclear weapons. By then, Pakistan was at war, if one by proxy. By the end of the decade there were two wars, one in Punjab and another in Kashmir. India too was at war, with itself. That the two states have not come to trade blows directly, despite Kargil, the Parliament attack and recently Mumbai 26/11, to some, is evidence of the nuclear peace. Will it persist through the coming decade?

If nuclear optimists are right then the coming decade should, unlike the preceding three, be most peaceful. Both India and Pakistan are poised at triple digit mark in warhead numbers. In other words, both can inflict unacceptable damage on each other. While India may believe that doing so is equivalent of assured destruction of Pakistan, it may be wrong to think that this would not be MAD (‘mutual assured destruction’). Both have evolving delivery systems. While Pakistan relies on missiles, India is working towards a triad with China as excuse. Both have a decade worth of experience with command and control systems. Pakistan has a head start and the dubious advantage of its military collapsing the three levels of war – tactical, operational and strategic – with the political in its omnibus Strategic Plans Division. Though smaller, it can yet prove to be David to India’s Goliath. Peace is to rely on this for longevity. Will it stand the test?

The immediate challenge will be posed by the manner Obama’s war unfolds. Having missed the earlier deadline of mid-next year, it has been reset to end by 2014. If all goes well, the opposition will expand the war in frustration and anger. If things go wrong, then the opposition will expand the war in pursuit of glory. The West, riven by distaste for the war, may disengage, perhaps as early as 2012 – a juncture dictated by US presidential polls. In case of Obama being a one-term wonder, a Republican Bush II could persist in the folly. In the four combinations possible, trouble lies ahead. For Pakistan, worse is ahead. What does this mean in nuclear terms?

The obvious is in the interest all sides will evince in nuclear weapons. With the US persisting in ‘going after’ them, the terror groups will go after nuclear weapons. The nuclear nether world can be expected to be active; with the ‘black swan’ event being the cataclysm waiting to happen. The second, of interest here, is in the regional impact of instability.

Just as they began the last one, India and Pakistan begin this one at odds with each other. The previous one began with the Kandahar hijack and ended at Taj Mahal Hotel. The current one finds India awaiting Mumbai II expectantly. Periodic terror alerts mean that terrorists need to be lucky but once and the state always. The odds are with the terrorists. No peace talks are on to prevent one. Without the peace process there is also no buffer, once the proverbial spark hits the cinder.

It must be conceded both state have not piled up cinder deliberately. India has tried to address ‘root causes’, but has been unable to go the distance. In Kashmir, it has reluctantly set the three interlocutors to work. It is pursuing the Sachar Committee recommendations in respect of alleviating concerns of its minority. It has placed the perpetrators of majoritarian terror on notice. It has investigated the leading political mascot of the nationalist opposition. It has attempted to reengage Pakistan, but found itself short of political capital to continue.

Pakistan for its part has been restrained in its provocation in Kashmir. It has attempted to cope as best as it can with the troubled western frontier. It has stopped short of risking civil war to placate the West or to give in to Indian demands to dismantle the ‘infrastructure of terror’.

While both states have gone some distance, both have also wilfully stopped short. And that gap could yet prove fatal.

India has replaced its unstated promise of ‘Cold Start’ with ‘contingency operations’ in case of another Pakistani provocation. This spells its comfort levels with its ability to react militarily. While this capability was being built up after Operation Parakram of 2002, ‘Cold Start’ was part of the smoke screen for deterrence. Retracting from it now, seemingly at the behest of the US to enable Pakistan concentrate westwards, indicates that it is a perfected manoeuver that can now be placed in cold storage. Pakistan, in its military exercises Azm e Nau over the summer, has also practiced its response.

Both sides stand confident. Readiness of both at the conventional and nuclear levels should spell mutual deterrence. Such confidence is dangerous. Such confidence impels continuation of their tryst at the subconventional level. It also impels the argument in favour of the military option next time round were push to come to shove. Under the circumstance, the nuclear backdrop can come to foreground in short order.

All it awaits is a trigger event. The two states have not done enough to preclude this. The difference between the original Cold War and that raging within the region is precisely this: existence of unaddressed flashpoints. The outline has been around for about a decade since the Agra summit. It would involve Indian accommodation and Pakistani abandonment of its chosen path of proxy war. India does not have the political will to follow through and Pakistan’s Army has not been singed by the terror backlash adequately.

Apparently it will take a war to prod both to senses. The one good to accrue is that it would be a sure way to bring about a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone in South Asia. But, let’s be equally sure, it would be at a price!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Army's right to its opinion

24 December 2010 - The right of the Army to voice an opinion has been defended by Minister of State for Defence, Pallam Raju. The background to his defence was Omar Abdullah's complaint to the Prime Minister on an Army press release of a day earlier. The press release indicated that the decision to remove certain bunkers from Srinagar did not have the Army's concurrence.

The press release had stated: "Though it appeared to be a well-considered decision, the latest incident has raised many questions. It may have pleased a few separatists and their handlers in Pakistan, but what about the common man in the Valley? Will the reduced security and visible absence of security forces raise uncertainties, fear and doubt in the minds of the population during the long winter ahead?"

The Army Commander has since apologised for the offending press release saying it was unauthorised. The press release has been explained away as the 'personal predilections of a junior officer'. Yet, the Army being a highly centralised system, it is likely that the press release on a sensitive subject would have been vetted in the Command Headquarters Information Warfare section. The Army Commander, in tendering an apology to the Chief Minister, has apparently taken responsibility, as a good leader must, and there the matter could rest. However, does the contretemps have any ramifications?

This case can be seen as part of the continuum of the Army's unease with the security implications of moves towards normalisation of the Valley. These initiatives include the reported dismantling of 20 bunkers, removal of 1000 CRPF jawans and contemplation of removal of the notification of disturbed areas from some parts in Srinagar. The latter was to presage the progressive withdrawal of the AFSPA from the Valley where the security situation made it feasible.

The Army, understandably focused on the military dimension of the security situation, has apparently missed the larger gameplan unfolding.


The Army, understandably focused on the military dimension of the security situation, has apparently missed the larger gameplan unfolding. It has two aspects. One is wider regarding AFSPA as law. Deliberations in North and South Block have focused on diluting its less 'humane' parts by either reframing it or incorporating the legal cover the Army needs into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The Army Commander had earlier made his reservations on any dilution of the AFSPA, terming it a 'holy book'.

The second is of local significance, relating to the security aspect of the draw down in Srinagar. The Army had been called out in July for the first time since early nineties in 'standby' in case the agitations in the run up to the foreign minister's meeting in Islamabad got out of hand. Such a situation would have placed the Army in a delicate position, that it no doubt apprehends in case control over Srinagar by the central police forces is diluted.

With regard to the latter, the Army has the Corps Commander in Srinagar as the advisor to the Chief Minister in the Unified Headquarters looking after the Valley. His position, taken with approval of the next rung in hierarchy at Udhampur, has doubtless been taken on board in its decision making by the Chief Minister. In any case, Srinagar town does not have Army deployment and is the responsibility of the state police assisted by central police forces. The onus is therefore of the state, legally and structurally. Therefore, the apology was due.

But it does indicate a major perspective in the military. Outside the small print is the fact that the Army Commander is due to retire at year end. He can therefore choose to go the extra distance in firming up the military position. Army Commanders in the Indian system have considerable stature and power. This has proven disruptive at times in J&K, since the Army Commander curiously does not figure as the security adviser, though corps commanders, reporting to him, do.

That the Army has a right to an opinion is well understood. This enables it to perform its advisory function in a democracy. That it should voice its opinion is also useful - in providing access to its view for the attentive public. This helps make the democratic debate better informed. However, the question is whether it can voice it openly in a manner as to bring a policy and the policy-maker under cloud.

Watchful commentators, such as AG Noorani and Srinath Raghavan, are of the opinion that the military's repeated assertion of its position is an attempt to expand its role. Such views are based on the recent publicly-voiced position of the military by multiple personages at different occasions against deployment in Central India and against reformulation of the AFSPA. The point these critics make is that this ties down the policy maker's hands, since the politicians who make policy are often short of wide political capital, and would not like to be pilloried for going against professional judgment if things go wrong.

In the political process unfolding in the Valley, there is a need for calculated risks to be run to bring about a modicum of trust necessary for talks to proceed. Over a hundred youth have died in the summer agitations, and something substantive must be done to reverse this downward spiral. The slow and limited draw-down of visible security in Kashmir is part of this effort. The problem is that the Army is apparently not on board with this agenda.

This is a structural deficiency and a political gap that needs to be filled. The state government which is taking the initiative, backed by North Block, has only limited oversight over the Army, since the latter reports up its channel to South Block. Compounding this, the top brass of the armed forces is skeptical of political processes in general.

The Supreme Court judgment in the Nagaland Human Rights case against the AFSPA for the North East in 1997 had required that the armed forces maintain a relationship of 'cooperation' with the state when in 'aid to civil authority'. They are however outside the scope of authority of the state government. This means that the military is accountable neither to the state nor the Ministry of Home, responsible for internal security. It is instead accountable to the Raksha Mantri, who has no answerability for internal affairs. This divergence requires reconciling.

In the interim the onus is on the military leadership to navigate the structural deficiencies of the system by better formulation and articulation of the military's institutional position.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Varanasi was recently rocked by a terrorist explosion which targeted worshippers at the evening prayers ceremony at the Ghats. Two additional IEDs were recovered later. The Indian Mujahideen (IM), in an email reportedly sent from Mumbai, took responsibility for the attack. The ostensible reason was to avenge the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992; its plausibility was seemingly enhanced by the anniversary of the event only a couple of days earlier. Taken along with the bomb blast at the German bakery in Pune, it appears that India has not transited its past yet, despite the calm since 26/11.

That the IM are behind the blasts is the dominant expectation. Two recent headlines would indicate that the extremist group would like to claw its way back into reckoning. Recent media reports had it that the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing the events in Gujarat let off the Chief Minister for culpability in the events of 2002. The second was the earlier judgment of the Allahabad High Court on the disputed site in Ayodhya, splitting the land three ways. Extremists can be expected to have a grouse with both.

Pakistan’s shadowy ‘deep state’ can be expected to keep India off balance and seek to periodically remind it of its underbelly. A WikiLeaks-disclosed cable of a conversation with President Zardari post 26/11 shows him rationalizing the Mumbai attack as one that could not have been done without Indian collaborators. He hinted, referring to the Sachar Committee report, that India’s minority has reservations about India’s benign credentials, which may have led to some disgruntled Muslims lending a hand to the Pakistani terrorists.

The media, as is its wont, has latched on to the dominant discourse and furthered it. For the opposition to go after political dividend, both at the State and the Centre, can be expected. The government being on the back foot due to a poor political showing in Bihar and arraigned for corruption, would want to avoid opening up another front. Security analysts, sensitive to facts placed in the public domain by police, past commentary and their reputations, cannot be expected to chase after alternative explanations, termed ‘conspiracy’ theories. With the IM’s self-confession and Pakistan implicated by extension, there is little chance of all angles being explored. Therefore, the blast will be consigned as the handiwork of the IM, building up the notoriety of the group.

Nevertheless, revelations from ongoing investigations into the cases of terror bombings by majoritarian extremists by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) suggest that other candidate explanations cannot be ruled out. Earlier bombings by this terror group had been designed to implicate the IM and had succeeded in doing so till investigations revealed otherwise. The group is under considerable pressure, brought on by ongoing investigations identifying functionaries of the revivalist formations. The motive, if they are instead involved, could be diversionary. The other gain is to bring into focus a link, howsoever contrived, between India’s minority and wider global Islamist extremism as yet another stick to beat the minority with.

The domain of terrorism being murky and dirty, placing anything beyond their imagination is to give them undue credit. In their mind’s eye the political end justifies the means. In case this was minority-based, they were seeking to engineer a backlash - one not necessarily violent - that would then place them at the vanguard of ‘defence’ of the community. If numbering among the majority, discrediting the minority and the government would be two birds with one stone.

In the neoliberal scheme of things, the populace is too busy gainfully participating in India’s economic miracle. The expanded resource cake from the 9 per cent growth can be shared out in ending any perception of deprivation. A deprivation-alienation-terror link is made. Consequently the need is for statecraft that ensures social stability is maintained till the rising tide lifts all boats.

Periodic blasts prove that this is not enough. Action on three levels is required. At the international level, the impetus to radicalism needs defusing. The clash of extremisms emanating from Arabia between Wahabbism and Salafism has had a back drought thus far. With the war in AfPak set to continue till 2014, no end is in sight. At the regional level, the government could be more proactive on the Pakistan front. The July promise of a repeat meeting of the foreign ministers at the year’s end has not materialized. The sparring over the perpetrators of 26/11 continues. Reconciling with Pakistan has asymmetric benefits for India, including eased internal social relations.

In terms of internal security, it needs acknowledging that much has been done, such as acting on the Sachar report on the one hand and exposing majoritarian terrorism on the other. Much is also on the anvil, such as operationalizing the NCTC. The government can only do so much. It is for the majority and minority, in their multiple communities, to reach out to each other externally and deny intellectual space to extremism internally. One thing is certain: the media will be of little help.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Obama helped India along in its search for greatness. During his visit, he reckoned India was a candidate for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Obama’s visit is being followed in quick succession by Medvedev, Sarkozy and Wen Jiabao. This owes not so much to the comparatively pleasant Indian winter, but to the percentage change in its yearly GDP.

Opinion is upbeat not only because of a selective view of the Indian reality but also due to perceptions of relative power. Europe is in trouble economically. The NATO, exhausted by Afghanistan, decided at its summit in Lisbon to leave by 2014. Declining populations in Russia, Japan, Europe and elsewhere and an ageing China are contrasted to India’s youth bulge yet to play itself out and its seeming energy. Manmohan Singh’s recent East Asia trip suggests that India’s strategic location is seen in fresh light as a check on a rising China. Obama’s visit, and his remainder itinerary across China’s periphery, can be read as an acknowledgement of this. The belief that India can now be an equal partner of the US can hardly be faulted.

Strategic commentary has it that this is in Indian interests since it would replicate the manner other great powers achieved such status. For instance, the Chinese first latched on to Communist Soviet Union and thereafter to the US. This assistance enabled China to get to its current position as the second superpower. India could also follow this route, using the proximity to the US for its own ends. India’s case as a potential great power cannot be pursued as a ‘free rider’. India would require lending a shoulder, alongside democracies in running the world. Since such reasoning is gaining uncritical acceptance, it could do with a critical once over.

Firstly, the analogy is stretched. In the period of US-China patch up, the dangers of the Cold War turning hot were well past, the last instance being 1962. China’s relations with the Soviet Union were also on the mend since the nadir of 1969. This is not the case with India since its border problem with China remains in the news. In case India was to weigh on the side of the US, it would complicate the problem by having the superpower competition figure as a factor. Also, local and regional problems would acquire wider ramification. This would endanger its growth path, sought to be benefited by such closeness.

Second, China, due to its closed system was an autonomous player in the relationship. India could instead end up a ‘junior partner’. Is this term merely a bogey of the political left? America’s relations with states that have been close to it, such as one closest to India’s western border, suggests that the embrace is certainly useful for some sections of the state and society. Even its allies have to suffer the consequence of dependence, such Blair’s Britain being inveigled into unpopular wars. Any tie up would have an internal political price. China could bear this due to its closed system. India’s internal deficits, particularly on the governance front, make this debatable.

Lastly, the Soviet Union was a satisfied power. Therefore, China did not get embroiled in great power games, including those that brought down the Soviet Union in the eighties. India would not have like luxury since the Chinese challenge is underway, best evidenced by its access denial strategy based on missiles and submarines. Even if the China front remains dormant, China would take care to keep India tied down on the other front by proxy.

Strategists bewail India’s lack of will to power. On that count, their analysis, in its focus on the structural, neglects the internal political and social consequence. A true appreciation of power - the staple for realists - would include being sensitive to India’s deficiencies and vulnerabilities. The structural level reasoning limits political choice and agency, making for poor strategy. Unless realists are countered in debate, their argument and dominance of the strategic community may carry the day, restricting India’s foreign policy choices.

Economy-centric neoliberals, in control of policy currently, find the neorealist logic appealing. Their case is that without growth, India’s internal contradictions would overwhelm it over time. Growth would be slower and will have indeterminate outcome. Closeness to the US may have a price, but worth paying in India’s interests such as access to high technology, investment, weapons etc. In any case, India is autonomous and in control. They iron out jagged edges in emulating the US in creating a regime of interdependence, such as through making China India’s largest trading partner.

India is ready for great power status, but not for great power games. How can it gain the former without the latter is the key question? To some it cannot be otherwise, in fact, being in the game is the sign of arrival. To others, India has been up there before and done it differently. It can be so yet again, even if to the disappointment of its self-styled strategists, middle classes and diaspora.
Muddling along

30 November 2010 - India's 'strategic community' comprises two distinct circles with little overlap. One can be termed the 'mainstream' and the other 'alternate' (Kanti Bajpai). While the reference point for the former is the state, for the latter it's society. Consequently, mainstream strategists have an external orientation to their discourse, concentrating on high politics; the latter is more internal oriented. While one is enamoured of India's rise and place in the global order, the other is more sensitive to its vulnerabilities and inadequacies.

Their prescriptions too are understandably poles apart. The state, to which both their commentary is directed, has to play balancer, and ends up being at the receiving end of criticism from both sides.

The 'community' can be imagined as comprising sub-circles of intelligence, military, police, foreign and administrative services, and technologists. There are several academic policy-wonks, co-opted for their expertise or proximity with one or other sub-circle. The denizens of this intellectual realm, usually retired, have continuing links with their respective fraternity. This keeps them current.

Their utility for their sub-circle of affiliation is in projection of issues with the desired spin into the public discourse. This helps build a constituency for any changes that the respective bureaucracy of affiliation seeks. In this role they amount to a pressure group. The upside of this is that the debate is in the open domain. The downside is that it is susceptible to manipulation.

Many of the 'mainstream' stalwarts are tapped by the government on account of their reputation as resource persons or integrity for security-related input. The National Security Council (NSC) system enables formal access to this in the form of the multi-disciplinary National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) having more than a score experts charged with rendering policy advice. There is considerable jostling to serve on this since it facilitates visibility, perks and information access otherwise unavailable due to a closed security establishment.

This is the closest India gets to the revolving door system in the US in which experts, comprising academics and retired professionals, rotate between appointments in the administration with the change in parties running the government. The NSC Secretariat also hires a few experts at various bureaucratic levels. The quasi-governmental think tanks have similar billets. Gubernatorial appointments and Special Interlocutor are the incentive.

The 'alternate', no less strong, present and omniscient, is the conscience keeper of the nation. Perhaps Arundhati Roy is its most visible sword bearer. They are better represented in the faculties of universities. They have their set of think tanks, but there is little interaction between the two sets. They are not less visible though, since they are more articulate, have greater information available being outside the purview of the security establishment, and having several fronts to engage with in the broad ambit of economics and social science. Their input is directed more at the Planning Commission, the National Advisory Council and the line ministries. The Finance Ministry is perhaps the lone one accepting lateral induction of experts at various levels in the hierarchy, including the higher rungs, otherwise dominated by the IAS.

More familiar with the mufussil and tehsil from their early careers, senior bureaucrats reinforce the inward focus, to the chagrin of the diplomatic community and the military.
The government, comprising the politicians and the bureaucratic levels, has the task of integrating the input and facing the critique. This perhaps can be considered as the third circle, the security Establishment as the 'official' strategic community. The politicians are savvy about and sensitive to the internal front. Their competence and interest in the external front, the staple for the 'mainstream', is considerable less so. This leads to the criticism that the state lacks a strategic culture and will to power. Instead, it is indicative of the unacknowledged relative strength of the 'alternate'.

Power is exercised through the bureaucrat-controlled ministries. These are the preserve of the 'steel frame', the IAS. More familiar with the mufussil and tehsil from their early careers, they reinforce the inward focus, to the chagrin of the diplomatic community and the military.


The bureaucratic stranglehold over the police in particular, makes the retired police fraternity bitterly critical and with ample reason. The military veterans' community too considers the military yoked by the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence. This owes to the elite service presence in not only the nodal ministry but also its control over the finance ministry. The allied services play out their subordinate role with unwarranted zest, enabling a more pervasive control of the bureaucracy. The disadvantage is in a corroding steel frame unable to hold up the weight of a continent sized polity. This, however, makes for a balance between the 'mainstream' and 'alternate', that in other states is usually inclined towards the former.

While the democratic space is enriched by the resulting cacophony, the articulation of a strategic doctrine by the state is difficult. The political party running the government is averse to giving those disappointed by such articulation a target; therefore the absence of a strategy document on the lines of the Strategic Defence Review of the UK and Nuclear Posture Review of the US. This results in a listless strategic orientation to the state. Without explicit direction from the political class, the bureaucrats have greater discretion but without corresponding expertise. Thus contestation between the 'mainstream' and the 'alternate' has the unintended fallout of holding up the security policy of the state.

The upshot is that the security policy ends up as 'more of everything for all'. For instance, in the internal security front, the central police forces are set to expand by another 38 battalions over the coming decade, in addition to the expansion over the last decade that made the CRPF the largest paramilitary in the world. The Army too has raised three score Rashtriya Rifles units for internal security in the decade prior to that. Caught in the advocacy between development and police action, the state prevaricates in Central India, with Operation Green Hunt proceeding unacknowledged.

Likewise on the external security front, there are several militaries in the offing instead of an integrated 'joint' one. For instance there are mechanized forces; mountain forces for two theatres, North and North East; different counter insurgency forces for Kashmir and North East; an amphibious force; and nuclear forces based on triad. Currently, an 'out of area' capability is in the works, mistaking the rhetoric in speeches for policy, such as references by the prime minister or defence minister to India's interests ranging from Aden to Singapore.

The strategic community - or rather the three strategic communities - have a democratic function in enriching the open domain. There is no escaping the parochialism in the mainstream communities, nor the critical brakes applied by the alternate on India's great power aspirations. The 'official' strategic community's inadequacy, at both the political and bureaucratic levels, leads to the system 'muddling along' between bouts of activism such as in the reorganisation of higher structures after Kargil and of the homeland security turf in wake of 26/11.

It is worth pondering if the miracle of India is due to or despite all this.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Book review
India Over the Years

First Draft: Witness to the Making of Modern India
BG Verghese
New Delhi: Tranquebar Press, 2010
Pages: 573
Price: Rs 695

BG Verghese has lived a life coextensive with the growth of India as a fledgling democratic republic when he joined the Times of India in 1949 to a potential great power today. In his book he bears ‘witness to the making of modern India’ from the vantage points that his career as a journalist and writer offered him. Multiple areas of expertise acquired along the way, in particular developmental journalism and security; help make his perspective a unique one. Not only has he been an observer taking care to record his views, but has also been a participant in engaging with some of the monumental questions that India has faced along the way. The book is a testimony of his inspiring energy even in the evening of his life.

The book is appropriately named First Draft, set to serve as the ‘first draft’ of history for historians to do a more deliberate job. Two such histories of the period find mention in his Preface, historians Bipan Chandra, Aditya and Mridula Mukherjee’s India After Independence and Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Given India’s well known lack of a sense of history and government’s penchant for keeping information classified, such efforts serve to refresh readers of all ages of the antecedents and context of the times, past and present. Indeed, Verghese’s ring side view of history on the make over the years makes for a compelling reading. This owes to several advantages for readers that Verghese subsumes in his person such as being a journalist he is able to convey the tone and texture of events and issues through light prose. But more usefully for readers, his integrity, liberal perspective and the sympathy of his treatment of various topics adds to the value of the book.

The book begins with a self-introduction, tracing his roots to Kerala. The catholicity of his upbringing in a military family and appreciation for India’s diversity acquired in the Doon School shape his prism for viewing the world. His subsequent education in St Stephens College and Cambridge University serve to place him in the best position to take on life in a newly independent nation. His marriage to Jamila, the daughter of Reverand Barkatullah, a convert from Islam, can only have added to the breadth of his humanism. That his sons are named Vijay Khurram and Rahul Salim is telling in itself.

His early experience when posted in Delhi with The Times helped him gain acquaintance with several areas of interest, such as the development schemes beginning with the first five year plans. His insight into security affairs can be attributed to his covering the 1962 War, the end of which saw him as one of two Indian reporters left in a forlorn Tezpur evacuated by the administration and inhabitants. His abiding interest in issues of increased topicality such as environment and climate change dates to his covering of the subcontinent’s river water issues for over half a century. His political sense owes to his service in Indira Gandhi’s secretariat as information adviser (1966-68). This could only have been honed further in his subsequent stints as editor with the Hindustan Times (1969-75) and Indian Express (1982-86). His copious knowledge of the development sector has been enhanced by hands on experience with grass roots NGOs and Gandhian institutions in the sabbatical from journalism he had between his two editorships.

It would appear that ‘retirement’ has only made him busier. Tying down a fellowship with the reputed Center for Policy Research, he was able to pursue the several issues that interested him to the benefit of the policy makers and the wider reading public. It is befitting that the government has attempted to benefit from his experience through bodies like the Kargil Review Committee (1999-2000), Prasar Bharti (1997-2003) and the National Security Advisory Board (1998-2000). It is a different matter that not all his input has seen the light of day. But the book helps keep the spotlight on the work yet remaining.

Among the issues close to his heart that he reflects on with authority and at length are politics, the long neglected North East, developmental concerns, press freedom and regulation and the manner to address problems in tribal areas. The landmark political events ranging from the Nehruvian apogee to the Gujarat pogrom, are all there, covered with an insider’s finesse and a editorialist’s critical eye. His insight into security matters is refreshing in that it is not one of a practitioner, but from non-core areas such as development of tribal areas and the North East while being sensitive to the aspect of cultural preservation and respect. His heading of the Press Council’s enquiry at the behest of the Army into the allegations of rape in Konan Poshpora in J&K helped India ward of pressures in the 1990s. His membership of Kargil Review Committee is recounted, giving an understanding of how even a government appointed committee can deliver. His abiding reservation is on the manner information is horded by the government despite its potential to strengthen democracy, the nation and contrary to the government’s belief, also the state.

Since his association with all these issues has been over the years, the issues resurface in the chronologically set book. This serves to update the reader even while keeping his attention. His last chapter dwells optimistically on current day headlines such as terrorism, including majoritarian terror, Naxalism, economic change and land alienation etc. Embedded alongside are his answers, impelled by a liberal vision. The text is complemented by value adding sepia-tinted photos covering a lifespan and five appendices on structural and information reforms. Of interest also is that a full life at the periphery of the vortex need not be at the cost of family and friends. Clearly, by that standard of a life lived well, Verghese passes with distinction. This adds to his credibility as the interpreter of our today.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Madhusree Mukerjee, Churchill’s Secret War: The British Empire and the Ravaging of India during World War II, Chennai: Tranquebar Press, 2010, pp. 352, Rs 495/-, ISBN 978-93-80658-47-6

India’s most widely read historian, Ramchandra Guha rightly praises Mukerjee’s book as ‘a major contribution to Indian history and to history of the Second World War.’ The author has convincingly laid the blame for the Bengal famine and the resulting three million deaths at Churchill’s door. Her thesis is that ‘Churchill and his advisers chose to use the resources of India to wage war against Germany and Japan, causing scarcity and inflation in the colony’ that led to 1.5 million deaths by the official account. The ‘deprivation and anarchy of the fractious era had torn the fabric of its society’, enabling the ‘divide and rule’ policy that eventuated over time in the mutually antagonistic nations, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The author begins the work with the establishment of the British in Bengal with Robert Clive’s take over in 1757. The first famine among a series that reduced India’s prosperity to dependence on British rule was in 1770. Clive, who was once a clerk, returned to become the richest man in Britain. Though member of the House of Commons, he was tried for corruption but absolved of charges of retaining gifts that were the property of the company. His life befittingly ended in suicide. Over forty rebellions rocked India over the next hundred years till the anniversary of the hundredth battle of Plassey when central and northern India erupted. The Bengal Army being at the center of the ‘Sepoy Mutiny, policies were put in place by the Crown that took over India to keep the Bengali ‘babus’ in check. Later the province was divided along linguistic and religious lines and the capital shifted out of Calcutta to Delhi. The Viceroy’s taking of the colony into World War II without consulting the Congress governments in power set the stage for the famine.

Fearing the war coming to India’s doorstep on losing Burma, a ‘scorched earth’ policy was embarked on. Provisions such as rice, transport facilities were removed from coastal Bengal, lest they be acquired by the Japanese who were expected to arrive by sea. The Quit India movement, diversion of resources to the Indian Army fighting in far away theatres around the Mediterranean Sea, printing of money to pay for the purchases and an untimely cyclone conspired to bring on the famine. With the Subhash Bose led INA at the gates, insurgents in Bengal preparing to welcome him and patriots responding to Gandhi’s call of ‘Quit India’, Churchill was called upon to ‘make a choice that would tilt the balance between life and death for millions: whether or not to expend valuable wheat and shipping space on providing famine relief to Bengalis.’

The book’s contribution lies in establishing the link between Churchill’s decisions on this score and his world view. The author shows that Leopold Amery, secretary of state for India, and the Viceroy, Wavell, attempted to respond to the famine, but were stymied by a combination of Churchill and his adviser, Lindemann, who achieved peerage as Lord Cherwell. Mukerjee writes, ‘If the United Kingdom had an Achilles’ heel, it was the stomach.’ Having experienced temporary shortages due to German U Boat action in the First World War, the British created stocks to last three months. Churchill appointed Lindemann to watch over the feeding of Britons. Lindemann, as head of S (Statistics) branch, also prioritized the logistical machinery of warfare. Thus, he was to advise on the utilization of shipping resources available and lent by the United States, between the equally compelling civil and military demands. Mukerjee makes that case that the ideas of eugenics that Lord Cherwell propounded and the racism these spelt influenced his judgment. While shipping resources were available, these were not diverted to save Bengalis by being deployed to import rice from Australia and elsewhere. This was in consonance with Churchill’s own perverse thinking, expressed in typical Churchillian prose as recorded by Amery in his diaries. An example of Churchill’s thinking on colonies and their inhabitants, is recorded by Amery thus, ‘(Churchill) came very near to suggesting that we really could not let Indian starvation or multiplying too fast interfere with operations.’ The author competently goes into tonnages of shipping, the alternative demands such as the supposed need for creating stockpiles in case the Balkans were liberated, and the rice and wheat that could have been brought in to mitigate the food crisis of 1943 to demolish the view that the famine was yet another work of nature. It was essentially man made, brought on by decisions taken by figures imbued with a racist mentality. Interestingly, Churchill was in the midst of a fight with Hitler, an extremist on this score.

The author’s description of the famine is blood curdling. It is a heartening that the democracy has ensured that such a predicament has not recurred in India, even if malnutrition persists as reminder of India’s underdevelopment despite its aspiration for double digit growth rate figures. The author taps the experiences of survivors of the famine, now in the twilight of their lives. Their stories of rural strife and urban horrors of the period make a riveting reading in the two chapters ‘In the village’ and ‘On the street’ respectively. The author weaves into the narrative the fallout of the Quit India movement at the local level in the form of a micro nationalist revolt under the local leader Dhara in Tamluk. She leaves the question unanswered as to why the people did not rebel, did not fight for taking over horded stocks. In his review of the book in Outlook, to these Swapan Dasgupta adds another: why the famine never became a pan Indian issue. His suggestive parting line is that ‘Mukherjee’s (sic) nationalist narrative dosen’t provide the answers but they suggest awkward possibilities.’
IPCS Article #3246, 28 September 2010
AfPak: Beginning of the End?

In an attack on Pakistan from Khost province in Afghanistan, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) forces killed 50 Taliban insurgents. The NATO spokesman rationalised the attack as “ISAF forces must and will retain the authority, within their mandate, to defend themselves in carrying out their mission.” This action has been taken as a violation of its sovereignty by Pakistan. Pakistan has indicated that it “will be constrained to consider response options” since there exists no agreement on such ‘hot pursuit’ with the NATO force in Afghanistan, the ISAF.

After a lull resulting from the devastating floods in Pakistan, AfPak is back in the news with a bang. Two possible interpretations exist. One is that the attack manifests the energy of the ‘surge’ that has by now been finally completed, and Petraeus’ determination to prevail in the asymmetric conflict. The second more negative one is that it could be indicative of frustration within the ISAF against a wily foe having sanctuary across the Durand line.

In either case they potentially herald the beginning of the end. The end state could once have been visualised along the line of engagement and cooption of Taliban. Such attacks make this remote and instead are pointers that the strategy of herding the Taliban to the table through the surge has not worked. The possible end state now staring in the face is destabilization of Pakistan with expansion of the war into FATA in hope of ending the sanctuary. While the attack by itself does not presage follow-up attacks, it does indicate a strategy of reliance on military force.

In the pre-flood scheme of things, indicators pointed to increased readiness of the Pakistan Army in ending the sanctuary in North Waziristan through military action. However, with the Army deployed in flood relief, this was not to be. The attack can be seen as a substitute for the military operations that were to be otherwise conducted by the Pakistan Army. The drone attacks, continuing since the Bush presidency and intensified in the Obama period, may now be supplemented by both ‘boots on ground’, if only temporarily, and Apache helicopters. This has precedence in isolated cases earlier, with in one instance, over ten Pakistani Rangers being killed for providing cover to the retreating Taliban. It bears watching if there would now be a switch to a more aggressive military posture.

Earlier the logic put forth was that such areas constituted ‘ungoverned spaces’. Since the writ of the government in Islamabad did not run in these areas, interdiction of Taliban presence required being done. Pakistan was not in a position to do anything about it, it had tacitly agreed to the drone attacks even while putting up a token protest. Thereafter, Pakistan had taken on the onus of constraining the Taliban presence through Operation Rah-e-Nijat etc. However, it would have been obvious to the NATO that these were directed more against the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) Pakistan that was anti-state rather than the Afghan Taliban contesting the ISAF. For the ISAF strategy to work denial of bases in FATA was necessary; therefore these attacks.

What do they portend? Over the immediate term, it could be indicative of retribution through bombings etc in Afghanistan to include Kabul. Of greater consequence is what could happen on the Pakistani side.

Apprehending this, Pakistan was quick to challenge the attacks, so as to send the message to the Taliban that it was not culpable. This reveals the apprehensions Pakistan has in the possibility of the Taliban turning against it. Given that the Taliban has proven a formidable foe even for the NATO, Pakistan has so far preferred to have it on its side. In case the Taliban were to lose the secure sanctuary, it would not need Pakistani state support and thus could turn against the Pakistani state.

A deepening of the already convergent interests with the Pakistani Taliban would make the combined Taliban implacable. The TTP through bombings even during the calamity of floods has demonstrated its reach. The Pakistani state has proven inept in its response to the floods and lost credibility. Its Army is unwilling to go the distance in taking on the different groups of Islamists together. Given its ideological inclinations and institutional interest in cohesion, it is doubtful it can be pushed to do so either. Clearly, Pakistan cannot be relied on to clean up the fallout of policy options adopted by the NATO.

Since all this is clearly discernible, it begs the question as to why the continued reliance on the military template. The optimistic answer is that once the hand of the Pakistani military is forced, it would go after the Taliban of all hues. This can be made possible by the Taliban being provoked into challenging its hosts. The Army’s willingness has been worked on considerably through incentives such as the IMF bailout, a three year extension to Kayani etc. This is the time to call collect.

Obama’s exit strategy relies overly on Petraeus’ military reputation. Time will tell if the risk was a calculated one.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The tangled triangle
31 August 2010 - The Pentagon report, Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, 2010, has opened a fresh chapter of India-China friction. The report had let on that China had moved CSS 5 Medium Range Ballistic Missiles to Tibet. Following on its heels, the latest headline is that India has cancelled a few military confidence-building engagements with China in wake of China not granting a visa for the visit of the head of India's Northern Army.

SEE for full article....

China for its part is miffed at the unpublicised meeting of the Dalai Lama with the Prime Minister last fortnight. It had raised objections to the visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang last year and also to that of the PM. It is also rankling perhaps from India taking objection to China's work on infrastructure in Gilgit in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. India is lobbying with the NSG to block two Chinese nuclear reactors bound for Pakistan. But more significantly, China is wary of India's drawing closer to the US signified by the nuclear deal with the US in 2007. The deal has since culminated in the Parliament passing the Nuclear Liability Bill, paving the way for closer ties in the run up to the Obama visit in November.

China sees itself as hemmed in by the US' presence as an 'Asian' power. Hillary Clinton upset China when she raised the issue of territorial claims at the ASEAN regional forum in July, referring to China's claim of 'indisputable sovereignty' over the South China Sea. The US Pacific Command chief has claimed that the US is mindful of Chinese 'assertiveness'. The report to Congress mentions that Chinese military modernisation that attempts to deny US access to Asia through acquiring a ballistic missile capability to hit US' giant air craft carriers. This is the latest twist to the long standing trans-Pacific disagreement along several dimensions such as North Korea's nuclear ambitions and US interests in Taiwan.

India risks being sucked into the incipient global rivalry between a hegemon and a rising challenger. Thus far it has attempted to maintain relations with both states without reference to the proximity or otherwise of the second. In this, for example, India not only exercised its military regularly with the US, but also has had two rounds of exercises with China. However, a view is emerging that while not alienating China there is a case for India to lean towards the US.

India's strategy has been to engage China ever since the visit of Rajiv Gandhi to Beijing in 1988. Vajpayee upgraded the joint working group on the border talks to a higher level with the National Security Adviser to serve as India's special interlocutor. These initiatives have since resulted in China becoming India's largest trading partner, with trade likely to hit $60 billion this year.

Alongside, India has been upgrading its military capability in the east. It has moved from what it terms 'dissuasive defence' to 'active deterrence'. This means a move away from conventional 'deterrence by denial' to an ability to punish, based on two additional mountain divisions. These are under raising presently as part of four to be raised to eventually form part of an offensive 'strike' corps for mountains. This is coupled with infrastructure development, specifically 72 strategic roads along the border. The idea is to bring home to China that India too is a rising power.

The current low ebb may owe to China warning India tacitly against explicitly weighing in on the side of the US. It has created a two-front problem for India in arming Pakistan in both nuclear and missile delivery fields. It may now be keeping India's focus eastwards so as to bail out its friend Pakistan, passing through a period of uncertainty. It is constantly balancing India in its own backyard in its relations with Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The message is that India has its vulnerabilities, and these could be aggravated at will.

India needs to borrow a page out of the Chinese success story. Ever since 1978, China has attempted to maintain a stable environment to continue on the growth path. It has resolved its border problems with all states and placed others, such as with India, on the back burner. It has simultaneously raised its military capabilities to eventually be able to break into the superpower league.

India is in a similar position. It requires stability so as to remain on the growth trajectory. In case it is displaced or distracted, then it would not be able to cope with its monumental problems, leave alone match China or be a useful partner for the US. It therefore needs to stay out of the China-US equation.

The argument to the contrary doing the rounds is that India needs to get closer to the US since it needs technology, both civilian and military, and capital. The US would tacitly oblige since it would help balance China, but would extract a price in terms of strategic autonomy from India. Some believe that this is a price worth paying, while others believe that such proximity would make the US dependent on India and therefore would strengthen autonomy. More importantly, it would ensure that the magic 10 per cent growth figure is met. Given such growth, India would be able to arm itself, reorder itself internally and get its periphery to bandwagon. This is a seductive visualisation of the future.

The choice not offered by those making these arguments is whether India can stay non-aligned. India has inclined towards the US as a hedge against China. But China looms as a threat to India to the extent India seems to incline towards the US. Therefore, if India was to stay non-aligned or equidistant, then it gains time to protect its national interest of stability for economic growth. China then would not need to prop up Pakistan as their proxy either. This would give India the space of about a decade or a generation it needs to set its house in order. Greater distance from the US may entail a slower rate of growth, but it would be growth that would be certain.

Even while India tells China when to lay off, it needs to revisit why the relationship is as it is. Non-alignment may serve our interests once again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010


India’s Grand Strategy is not given out in a written policy document. However, its contours can be pieced together from the Prime Minister’s statements such as the yearly one from the ramparts of the Red Fort and from the actions being taken by the government on various fronts. This article attempts to make sense of India’s grand strategy. In doing so, it arrives at a conclusion markedly different from the spate of somber commentaries that greeted India’s Independence Day.

The refrain is that UPA II is a dysfunctional dispensation, much prone to infighting. Its coalition partners, tying down hefty ministerships in agriculture and railways, are a liability. Critics have it that the aging Prime Minister is waiting for handing over the reins to the next generation of the Gandhis. The party is in disarray in its critical home base, Andhra Pradesh. Kashmir burns. The CBI is barking up the wrong tree in Gujarat. The CRPF is lost in the jungles of Central India. The multiple blockades in the North East cast a shadow over the future. The CWG have driven the corruption index through the roof. Inflation is also through the roof. The Bollywood commentary on the times, Peepli Live, is entirely plausible.

The main line of critique is that India requires to grow at ten per cent in case it is to accommodate the demographic trends staring India in the face. India’s rise is to be economy driven and the economy is to be private sector led. This would place it favourably in the eventual face-off with China later. This requires infrastructure needs and governance and security issues to be addressed by the government. Since the government’s approach appears slovenly, India is said to lack variously national will, grand strategy, leadership etc. India is adrift.

However, a review of the initiatives of the UPA II seems to suggest that it is embarked on the right direction. Whether it gets anywhere, time will tell. It has major initiatives, in the tradition of UPA I’s coup de grace of MGNREGA and RTI, in the offing. There is the Right to Education Bill that seeks a demographic dividend. The Food Security Bill is to cast current reports of godowns overflowing with rotting grain a part of history. A revised Nuclear Liability Bill is to enable future energy needs for the growing economy. The trade with China, our largest trading partner, is set to top $ 60 billion. This would help avert conflict and moderate crisis someday. India has offered aid to Pakistan in its hour of need with the PM talking to his Pakistani counterpart on phone in an act of ‘disaster diplomacy’ of potentially long term consequence.

But two particular advances on the internal security front dispel the notion of a non-performing government. The two foremost threats have over the past decade been the rise of Maoism and of terrorism.

Though the casualty figures of the CRPF rightly suggest that action against Naxalism leaves much to be desired, the story has more to it. The latest is that the final clearance for South Korean steelmaker Posco’s project at Jagatsinghpur, in Orissa, will have to wait till settlements rights under Forest Rights Act, 2006, is complete.
Jairam Ramesh’s MoEF plans to send a team to undertake, ‘with due diligence’ in the words of the news report, the settlement of forest dwellers’ rights. Apparently there is cause to suspect the Jagatsinghpur collector’s report which said, “no claim for settlement of rights from tribals and traditional forest dwellers has been received.”

But more significantly, the mining giant, Vedanta, has been found to be afoul of the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act in collusion with state officials implementing a fast tracked policy of mineral exploitation with political blessings. The NC Saxena committee report in preserving the Nyamgiri Hills, sacred to the Dongaria Kondh and the Kutia Kondh tribes, prevented a real life adaptation of the theme of the Hollywood megahit, Avatar.

This implies the state is serious, to the extent it can, of taking the ‘root causes’ approach to counter insurgency. In not deploying the military to chase down Naxals and persisting with CRPF, at some political cost, it has sensibly not militarized its response. Instead, it appears resolved that the experience in Bellary, the stronghold of BJP leader Sushma Swaraj and the Reddy brothers propping up the BJP ministry in Bangalruru, is not to be repeated. A commission under the Commission of Enquiries Act of 1952 is on the cards. A National Mining Regulatory Authority Act is in the pipeline.

Clearly, the Sonia headed NAC appears to be back in action. NC Saxena is one of its members. To it is credited the backing of the common man for the Congress in the last elections. It has appropriated to itself the need to ensure that growth is an inclusive process, as promised by the Prime Minister from the Red Fort: ‘When our Government came to power in 2004, we resolved to build a new India under a progressive social agenda. We wanted the fruits of development to reach the common man.’

There is a consensus that India needs to come to grips with the Arjun Sengupta report pegging the poverty figures at 836 million people living on less than Rs 20 a day. The divergence is on the means to this end. Those enamoured of the growth rate opine that trickle down from the ten per cent figure is necessary to reduce these. Headlines, such as farmers protesting land alienation to the Noida-Agra expressway, indicate that this may not be enough.

The second major initiative is that of the Supreme Court. The Court appointed CBI team has zeroed in on the junior home minister in Gujarat for an ‘encounter’ killing, one passed off as one Jihadi terrorist less. Alongside another minister, Kodnani, has been displaced from the ministry for her role in the Gujarat pogrom by the working of the Raghavan team, yet again one appointed by the Court. This constraining of the forces of majoritarian nationalism is what has led in part to the absence of terror attacks, perpetrated by extremists of any camp, over the recent past.

From a security point of view those dispossessed by India’s infrastructure needs would be vulnerable to revolutionary propaganda. The Maoist threat, reportedly already in urban alleyways, would grow. Response incapacity would make the right wing stake claim to steward the state. The majority-minority cleavage would reopen for exploitation, reinforcing plausibility of the right wing’s claims to having answers.

India is not out of the woods yet. A ten per cent growth rate, as seen, may not be the right route out. The Center appears to be on the right track. The hope is that it does not get waylaid.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

articles of firdaus at

Talk another day
Both India and Pakistan have independently concluded that they would be able to extract better concessions from the other at a later date.
National Security
July 2010

Soldiers in our own images
The multi-ethnic reality of India must find expression in its institutions, especially those charged with security. Plus, there are other reasons to broadbase recruitment further.
National Security
June 2010

Pause the mineral economy
Let the mineral wealth of Central India remain untapped until the people there acquire the capacity to negotiate the terms for its use and benefit directly from doing so.
National Security | Mining
May 2010

AFSPA: Between battle lines
Two recommendations to repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act have been ignored. The Army is right to insist on its view, but there are things that can be done to improve matters.
National Security
April 2010

The government versus the military
The armed services have given a long wishlist of material to be procured, but the Defence Minister is in no hurry to accommodate them.
National Security
March 2010

Surgical strikes: Missing the mark
Some months after advocating limited and focused attacks on Pakistan-based terror camps, FICCI has a rethink. Corporate concerns and the armed forces' unpreparedness are finding common ground.
National security
January 2010

Much hullaballoo, little cause
Of course the military should be prepared for conflict. However, whether to engage in such conflict, and how, is a decision for the civilian leadership.
National security
December 2009

Our view, their view, the world-view
President Obama will raise the Kashmir issue during the PM's visit to the White House. The many views of the problem and its consequences will have to be balanced.
National security | Jammu and Kashmir
November 2009

A job for an infantryman
At best the central police and paramilitary can hold an area once it is taken back, but clearing it and handing it over to them can only be done by the Army.
National security
October 2009

The nuclear numbers game
India claims that Pakistan is stockpiling more nuclear weapons than it needs for minimum deterrence. But this could just turn out to be an excuse for it to do likewise.
National security
September 2009

Wanted: A peace movement
Arguing against the nuclear enclave and its retainers is a kind of national service, and we must press on, no matter how futile it may appear at times.
National Security | Peace
August 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.
National Security
July 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.
National Security
June 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.
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.
April 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.
March 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.
January 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.
December 2008

How deep is the rot?
If Purohit's activities are only one instance of something wider, then the Army faces a real problem over the penetration of majoritarian religious ideology.
Peace and Security
November 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.
Peace and Security
October 2008

In Muslim India, an internal battle
The struggle to wrest back interpretations of Islam from the extremists could boost security, and halt the marginalisation and ghettoisation of Muslims in India.
September 2008

Mid-year chakravyuh
With the government firmly in ostrich mode on issues of internal security, and the external situation appearing complex, India awaits its Abhimanyu.
Peace and security
August 2008

Making nuclear sense
As the strategic enclave has grown, the agenda of political discourse has been usurped by 'high politics'. This has wide implications for democracy.
Peace and Security
July 2008

Is Vox Populi good enough?
In Advani's worldview, populist sorrow and re-election after the Gujarat riots amount to democratic endorsement of whatever happened, and is sufficient political accountability.
Peace and security
April 2008

Successful deterrence? Hardly.
The absence of open conflict between India and Pakistan is cited as proof that nuclear deterrence works. But there have been unacknowledged conflicts.
February 2008

Internal security agenda for the new year
The happenings in Pakistan, which have culminated in the unfortunate assassination of Benazir Bhutto, are equally portentuous for India.
January 2008

Expansion in Indian nuclear theology
Retired Army Chief General Shankar Roychowdhury, writing in a popular security magazine, says India's nuclear doctrine must be revised to cover the additional threat of sponsored nuclear terrorism that could, as part of Pakistan's proxy war, prove to be the 'Future Shock'. Firdaus Ahmed analyses the General's views.
November 2007

The Nagaland model for Kashmir
Pakistan, under pressure in the Global War on Terror (GWOT), has restrained its hand in the proxy war. By most accounts, Kashmir appears headed towards peace. This is the right juncture to approach the issue politically, both in its external and internal plane.
Peace and Security
September 2007

This summer, at a border near you
The United Stated-led Global War on Terror is all set to come up to India's doorstep this summer, with Pakistan's move from being a 'frontline state' to becoming a theatre of war. For India, a reflexive anti-Pakistani stance or a fashionable pro-American one are not the only choices. writes
March 2007

The Indian Army: crisis within
The army has apparently delivered on its mandate of ensuring the return of an environment more conducive to law and order since more than a decade, in Kashmir. But the recent spate of suicides and fratricides within are showing that the army is under stress, a slide that the political side can and must prevent.
January 2007

Lessons from recent wars
The impact of 9/11 has brought in a greater permissibility in the use of force by states. With terrorist attacks taking their toll of innocents by design, a move away from the earlier restrictions on use of force appears defensible. Like its strategic partners, India too might act on this higher latitude for war.
Peace and Security
September 2006

Grand manoeuvre, yes, but to what end?
That Ex Sanghe Shakti concluded in the plains of Punjab without much ado indicates the determination of both India and Pakistan to keep temperatures below the now usual levels of the summer campaign in Kashmir. However, this positive should not cloud the questionable premises of Ex Sanghe Shakti.
Security | Opinions
July 2006

Politicisation and the Indian military
While agreeing with General S Padmanabhan who says in his recent book that "politicisation of the military is a self defeating exercise in a democracy," it is difficult to concede that "greed for fish and loaves of office" is how the politician would corrupt the military establishment and wrench it from its apolitical moorings.
Security | Books
April 2006

Muslim headcount: A useful controversy
The furore over the counting of minorities in the armed forces has taken attention away from what such a survey might reveal. Are the minorities adequately represented in the security services? This question too should concern secular-minded citizens.
Peace and Security
March 2006

Security agenda: 2006 and beyond
Now that political alienation has been redressed to some extent by democratic changeovers, the presence of the Army in Kashmir can be more boldly reduced. The coming year is one of many possibilities, but it will be followed by an even more important year, and the opportunities at hand now must not be lost.
Peace and Security
December 2005

Of nukes and counter-nukes
What is the threshold for Pakistan to use its nuclear weapons? Public statements by knowledgeable insiders addressing this question may only be a decoy, and at any rate the pressures of war might trigger unforeseen lower thresholds for the use of nukes. Alertness and public scrutiny are both warranted.
Peace and Security
October 2005

Second Strike and false security
In Second Strike: Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia, Rajesh Rajagopalan articulates that ‘the probability of nuclear weapons use is less in the India-Pakistan feud'. This is comforting, and perhaps on that account, dangerous, because of the false sense of security its conclusions give rise to, says Firdaus Ahmed.
Book reviews | Security
August 2005
Political courage, and the next step
Permitting Musharraf to sell the notion that what could not be wrested from India in a decade and half long jihad has been obtained through diplomacy can help with this. Doing so would deflate the legitimacy that jihadi forces seek from their presence in Kashmir.
Peace and Security
May 2005

An illusory battleground
Among military planners, it is common to devise war games to counter any nuclear attack by enemy states. The theories put forward in such games, however, are not always grounded in reality. The peace community should alertly challenge such thinking.
Peace and Security
March 2005

- Hail to the new chief
- Preparing for the wrong war
- Special powers, mixed results
- A new security agenda
- The calculus of 'Cold start'
- Chief of Defense : Implications
- Not yet history
- A national confidence syndrome
- Missing the security target
- Lies in the name of 'security'
- Must remain 'unfinished'
- Questions in search of answers
- PM peace initiative: Much ado?
- Lessons from Baghdad
- Kashmir after Nadimarg
- Limited nuclear war, limitless anxiety
- A debt we can do without
- Arms control and disarmament
- Time for policy re-orientation
- Kashmir - the way forward
- The Indian bid for Great Powerdom
- Muslim India - A liberal perspective
• Jammu and Kashmir: Need for a Political Solution
• Countering the Naxal Threat-IV: Military as an Option?
• Revisiting ‘1971’
• The Bright Side of ‘Asymmetric Escalation’
• Questioning Defence Spending
• India at 60: Acquiring Escape Velocity?
• Making Obama's War Also India's
• An Issue in Civil-Military Relations
• Disarmament in South Asia
• Emulating the US
• The 'Vision Thing'
• Kargil: Ten Years On
• From ‘No First Use’ to ‘No Nuclear Use’
• Agenda for the Next Government
• Rethinking Civilian Control
• A Strategy for ‘Af-Pak’
• Not Quite an Empty Threat
• The Counter Narrative on Terror
• National Security Adviser: Reviewing the Institution
• A Roadmap for Kashmir
• Afghanistan: Appraising the Future
• The Lesson from Sam Bahadur's Triumph
• The Myth of 'Weapons of Peace'
• Getting it Right: Rereading India's Nuclear Doctrine
• Reconceptualizing Internal Security
• Musharraf and the 'TINA' Factor
• Understanding Minority-Perpetrated Terrorism
• For a Return to Lahore
• The Day After 'Cold Start'
• Haldighati II: Implications for Internal Security
• Tackling Intervention in South Asia
• Querying India's Grand Strategy
• Kargil: Back in the News
• In the Line of Fire: Pakistan Army
• Pakistan's Possible Nuclear Game Plan
• Menu for the New Chief
• For a Paradigm Shift
• Addressing the 'Central' Issue
• 'No' To 'Cold Start'
• The Price of Malgovernance
• The Price of Misgovernance
• The Police and the Example of the Armed Forces
• Missiles and Crisis Stability
• Widening the Discourse on Terror
• The Post-Parakram Peace Agenda
• Indian Peacekeeping in Iraq?
• The ‘Peace Initiative’: A Tactical Gambit
• The Sole ‘Lesson’ of the Iraq War
• Muslim India as ‘Threat’
• For a Return to Clausewitz
• Preparing for ‘Limited Nuclear War’
• The General Did Not Bite!
• Lessons from India’s Kashmir Engagement
• The Logic of Nuclear Redlines
• A Smoke Screen Called Limited War
• ‘Terrorism’ and Intellectual Responsibility
• The Need to Revisit Conventional Doctrine
• Moving Beyond Realism
• Lessons from the Present Crisis
• The Impetus behind Limited War

It is no secret that India does not have a written national strategy document. While well known in respect of its external security situation, this is true for the internal security context as well. For instance, it is nearing ten years now since the CRPF was designated as the lead internal security agency by the GOM report. Yet there is no counter insurgency pamphlet with MHA imprimatur. The effects are visible in the CRPF’s showing in both Kashmir and in Central India.

Absence of an official document makes divining of India’s COIN (Counter-Insurgency) policy difficult. The policy needs to be traced instead from statements and actions, making the exercise resemble the ‘Blind men of Hindustan’. Nevertheless, it can be taken, contrary to expectations, that India’s attitude to return of normalcy in disturbed areas is not dependent on talks. For instance, the action of killing of a Maoist, Azad, apparently interrupted a ‘talks initiative’ of Swami Agnivesh. From statements, such as the PM’s recent two speeches on Kashmir, it is quite clear that India’s policy is one of ‘peace preceding talks’. This article questions this policy.

Delhi’s past record on the political approach to insurgency is not heartening. In Kashmir, George Fernandes, KC Pant and NN Vohra failed as interlocutors. Talks with separatists, initiatives of Advani, the PM in UPA-I and the Home Minister in UPA-II have made no headway. The autonomy report and reports of the five working groups to the three round tables lie neglected. The dialogue with Pakistan got nowhere and is not getting anywhere soon.

Elsewhere too, Delhi has not been able to reach political solutions to insurgencies. Though the offer of talks has been made, the Naxals are required to first cease violence. The Nagaland ceasefire is in its second decade for want of a political solution. Other insurgencies have simply been outlasted. In the Mizoram case, it took two decades for the conversion of a District Council into a UT and thereafter into a state to end the insurgency.

This record along with the PM’s recent statements spells that no political moves are in the offing. The PM has indicated as much in his meeting with the All Party delegation. He said: “…But this (talks) process can gather momentum and yield results only if there is a prolonged peace.” He repeated this formulation, of ‘peace preceding talks’, in the same speech and it should be noted unmistakably: “Let us recognize that repeated agitations whether violent or otherwise only obstruct this process. The cycle of violence must now come to an end.”

Problems in advancing political solutions no doubt exist. For instance, in the Naga case, the demand for Nagalim holds up the solution. In Kashmir, the insistence of separatists for tripartite talks involving Pakistan can hardly be conceded by the government. But can these problems not be taken as a way to legitimize procrastination by the government, in the hope that the militancy would exhaust itself eventually?

The attitude of placing peace as a prerequisite to talks betrays a lack of understanding of peace dynamics. Peace elides any military template, as the military continually warns. Talks are the vehicle for peace. Solutions need to be advanced through talks. With respect to Kashmir, though the PM says that the intent exists, there are no talks ongoing, either on its internal or external planes.

The agitations in Kashmir, over the past three years failed. The earlier militarization of their movement also failed. They will be more innovative in future. What has not happened so far may yet occur, a radicalization of the movement. Praveen Swami, a Kashmir watcher, warns that younger Islamists have taken over the movement in Sopore, displacing separatists who were known quantities. While earlier Kashmir was sought to be linked with the wider Islamist project at the global level, this had amounted to no more than point scoring against Pakistan. Even while some terrorists were inspired by the jihadist ideology, the people were not. The danger lies is in this occurring, should the Indian democracy fail them.

Avoiding this eventuality requires the Center to be politically innovative. If today it is not in a position to deliver, tomorrow it may be less so and it might get too late. For instance, in case the situation in AfPak shapes up negatively, India would have lost time and opportunity. The PM’s words require to be seriously followed up: “I believe that India's democracy has the generosity and flexibility to be able to address the concerns of any area or group in the country...” The reality is that this has not been in evidence in India’s COIN engagements.

The wider point is that the expectation of ‘talks preceding peace’ is insensitive to the plight of the people in disturbed areas. The government, having greater power and sense of responsibility, needs to exhibit it by engaging insurgents through the medium of talks, rather than being reactive militarily. Its COIN policy should instead be ‘peace through talks’. A written document to that effect emanating from the MHA may be a useful first step.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

#3195, 20 July 2010
Jammu and Kashmir: Need for a Political Solution

Even as India was moving into a self-congratulatory mode in gaining the upper hand in Kashmir, the recent youth agitations reminded it that placing a military lid on the situation does not make it go away. This has been acknowledged by both the Kashmir Chief Minister and the Army Chief, calling for ‘political’ steps. The Army Chief has gone further seemingly to suggest that earlier opportunities having been frittered away; it is time for a political solution. Removing deep levels of disaffection can only be done by a political approach.

Promises have been aplenty and so have overtures. The last initiative of ‘secret diplomacy’ by the home minister has also been discontinued. Nevertheless, these actions indicate that intent exists. It begs the question as to why the state has held back. There are two sets of reasons: the first set comprising understandable reasons and the second those less so. Eliminating these reasons would help with the solution.

The first set gives the state the benefit of the doubt comprising fairly obvious reasons that the problem is complex, has a historical legacy and involves a territorial problem as well. But a significant reason is that India’s nation-building project is a work-in-progress. It is wary of the demands of its constituent sub-nationalities. It fears that setting a precedent may encourage the others through working of the ‘demonstration effect’. The domino theory in this case conjures up an unraveling of India.

The second is more critical to the state, dealing with the vexed question of militarization. The ‘insurgency economy’ in terms of vested interests of all players including security forces having grown roots, now requires considerable convincing that it is time to draw down. A political approach necessitates reconsidering the AFSPA. The Army Chief has already indicated his aversion to removal of AFSPA; implying that in case it is removed, so should the Army. Counter intuitively, removal of a division would do more for peace than a division deployed.

The political risk in proving this paradox could have been mitigated by getting Pakistan on board. With talks having collapsed last week at Islamabad, little progress can be expected on the Kashmir front. Absent any effort at selling the necessity of a political agenda to shape public opinion, a political approach is apparently not on the cards.

Who gains from another wasted summer in Kashmir, for both Kashmiris and India, provides the answer. Pakistan has kept the issue alive over the last three summers, deflating Indian complacency resulting from military dominance of the internal security situation. The low ebb militarily in Kashmir can be explained by the fact that Pakistan is keeping its powder dry for a post-AfPak situation.

Waiting for the situation to get worse in Pakistan, so that it falls out of the radar screen on the Kashmir question, has not worked for India. Indeed, it is questionable if India should have such a preference in first place. Getting Pakistan on board is the key. This means not missing opportunities at the mid-month meeting in Islamabad. The only gain of the meeting of setting the date for the next one needs to be capitalized on. India has six months to implement a fresh strategy.

The proposal here is to mesh the external and internal dimension of the Kashmir issue. Progressive demilitarization of J&K is necessary. Doing so would have a salutary effect in entrusting citizens and incentivizing them to preserve gains made. A sense of ownership, of return of peace can be brought about. Perhaps later, a Nagaland model ceasefire can be worked out, even as constitutional modalities of devolution of powers are worked through for a political approach.

Clearly, this internal dimension would require Pakistan ceasing support to terrorists. Negotiations involve a ‘give and take’. Pakistan would get a return to normalcy in Kashmir through autonomy of sorts. It would be willing to settle for this, given that it has not been able over the last twenty years to make India budge. Stable Kashmir may not be enough for Pakistan in case it wants to keep India off balance for reasons of perceived insecurity. A ‘grand bargain’ may perhaps help. India could permit political space for a return of a Taliban willing to reform itself. A stable backyard would end Pakistani insecurities that among other reasons, prompted interference in Kashmir in the first place.

Selling this agenda internally against skepticism of the strategic community, intelligence fraternity and the military is what politics is about. The domino theory is correct, but only in reverse. The more accommodative India is internally, the less it will be challenged. Even if the AFSPA is deemed necessary, meaningful self-regulation can be imposed under threat of liberal grant of central permission for prosecutions under its Article 7. As for vested interests, budgets can compensate.

This is a tough political call. Nothing can kill an idea better than the levels of political will and risk necessary for its implementation. But, in case of India’s twin Kashmir and Pakistan problems, there is no escaping the status quo without a political approach.
Talk another day

India and Pakistan - in the failed meeting of their two foreign ministers in Islamabad in mid-July - have agreed to meet once again in December. This can be seen as a 'gain' only if no terrorist intervention rocks the interim. In case of a terrorist strike originating in Pakistan, the just-concluded meeting would be viewed as a lost opportunity. Instead of bridging the 'trust deficit', as intended by the prime ministers as suggested by the Prime Ministers of both countries during their meeting at the sidelines of the SAARC summit at Thimpu, it only reflected the distrust.

The failure indicates that the two sides are not prepared to take the minimum steps necessary to get the other side to move likewise. They now have six months to prepare the ground to do so. Is it possible?

Pakistan's foreign minister is seen in the Indian media as the one to have wrecked the talks. This is being taken as part of a script written in the GHQ, Rawalpindi. The Pakistani military perhaps feels that country is not in a strong position, constrained as it is by the pressures on its internal polity and on the Af-Pak front. Therefore, it is playing for time. It expects it can ride out the risks, given that the US military effort moves towards a climax over the coming autumn. When the position gets clearer and hopefully better by end of the year, it would be better placed to weigh its cards.

In any case its grand strategy is to ride out the US intervention in the region without having to sacrifice its crown jewels in terms of the India, Kashmir, Afghan and nuclear policies. It also would not like the civil government to take credit for any useful movement on the India front, lest it upset the internal balance in its favour.

India for its part had nothing to offer at the talks. The talks process is ongoing through repeated meetings of leaders, even if consequential talks in the form of the composite dialogue are on hold. The latter, though an Indian idea, perhaps no longer serves India's purpose since it believes that the growing power asymmetry with Pakistan is making its position stronger. While it is pledged to talk, it is not pledged to take the talks process to an outcome acceptable to both. Since a composite dialogue implies timelines, concessions, and outcomes, India is quite happy to postpone this reckoning.

India therefore continued to insist on visible proof of Pakistani sincerity in acting against the handlers of the 26/11 terror attack. The UPA government, already on the defensive due to 26/11, inflation, Maoism etc. is in any case susceptible to right wing critique. Within itself too there appears to be a lack of consensus, given Home Secretary Pillai's statement on the eve of talks that held ISI directly responsible for the Mumbai terror attack. The Foreign Minister has since accepted that it could have been better timed.

Secondly, Pakistan did stir the pot in Kashmir by bringing disaffected youth out into the streets over the summer in an intifida-like confrontation with authorities. Therefore, there is no urgency to talk to either the internal dissidents or with their sponsors in Pakistan, lest the pressure be viewed as successful to get India to talk.

The talks have been seen as being influenced by the Americans - brought on by the US's need to ease its Af-Pak circumstance. Therefore, even if talks proceeded, meaningful outcomes from them were ruled out, lest Indian interests be sacrificed for US interests. Also, with 26/11, the Indian tolerance threshold has been stretched. Its procedures and organisations for response are considerably better placed. Therefore, seeing itself as capable of handling another crisis, India does not see any necessity for engaging Pakistan.

Lastly, in case Pakistan does succumb to Indian demands, then going after its home grown terrorists would result in an introspective Pakistan. A weaker Pakistan with an internally embroiled Army is one India can then manipulate with greater ease.

Both states have thus independently concluded that they would be able to extract better concessions from the other at a later date.


Both states are therefore acting in accordance with their respective strategic logic. Progress in December would be predicated on how the situation develops in Af-Pak. This impasse in South Asia has an underside. Firstly, are the two states underestimating prospects of another terror attack and possible escalation into an inter-state war thereafter? The linkage of terror directly with the ISI, seconded by the NSA Shiv Shankar Menon at a seminar in New Delhi, could yet come back to haunt the government in case of another provocative action by terrorists. It would then not be able to make a distinction between the Pakistani state and the non-state actors that could help buffer its response. The government, already proven weak in its ability to take talks ahead meaningfully, would not be able to resist calls for extreme steps.

Secondly, the newly framed Multidimensional Poverty Index has half the world's poor living in South Asia. The recent survey by the Oxford University and the UNDP indicates that just eight Indian states have more poor people than 26 poorest African countries combined. This yardstick calls for a revision of strategic priorities and gameplan. The Sonia Gandhi-led NAC needs to provide right-headed direction to a grand strategy for UPA II, as it had done in UPA I.

Lastly, while Pakistan's position can certainly get weaker, it does not imply that India is necessarily the gainer. The talk of Pukhtoonistan, emanating lately in hardline US circles and finding echo in the conservative sections of Indian strategic community, can only be a pressure point at best. As a self-regarding regional power, India needs to be in charge. Assisting a neighbour going downhill is an indicator of power alright, as was the case in 1971. But are there better indicators and is this in India's self interest? There is much more to do before December than merely avoiding war

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Kashmir: No end in sight

The alternative media has it that over the last year over 70 youth are reported to have died in stone pelting related violence in Kashmir. They were agitating against the alleged rape and killings of two women in Shupiyan. The year prior, Kashmir had taken to the streets over the Amarnath land transfer issue. This year the toll is close to a score. Complacency of the state is breathtaking in that the lessons in crowd control of the previous two years were completely ignored. Given the past pattern and the coming talks with Pakistan at foreign minister level, the eruption in the Valley was entirely predictable.

Speculation is that this owes to a governance deficit. With development and a corruption free delivery system, the problem would go away. Realists have it that the agitation is manipulated by separatists, themselves orchestrated from Pakistan. The government has released taped conversations to prove the linkages. Given the ‘foreign hand’, a law and order approach is necessary lest the word get out that the state can be held to ransom.

The fact escapes attention that even the tapes suggest that the agitation has gone out of hand of those manipulating them. Consequently, attuned and empathetic observers have discerned that brutalization over the past two decades has resulted in the intifida-like expression of angst by youth. There is little doubt that this is a generation lost to militancy. There is little India can do to eliminate their alienation. There is little India is not already doing. The writing on the wall is that alienation persists. With a whole life ahead, India has little choice but to get along in one unaddressed direction – the political approach.

The methods of expression of disaffection can only get more innovative. That militarization of the present movement has not occurred indicates the capacity for learning from the past mistake of early nineties. Then the militants had hijacked the agitation for ‘azadi’, thereby legitimising the military ‘crackdowns’. Borrowing a leaf out of the Indian legacy of the freedom struggle would be strategically portentous. Already the central government is considerably embarrassed in having to deploy the army in a ‘standby’ role for the first time since the mid nineties when the Army ceased operations inside Srinagar.

Even as India was moving into a self-congratulatory mode in gaining the upper hand in Kashmir, it has been reminded that placing a military lid on the situation does not make it go away. This has been acknowledged by both the Kashmir Chief Minister and the Army Chief calling for ‘political’ steps.

There have been promises aplenty going back to Narasimha Rao’s formulation that the ‘sky is the limit’. The parameters since have included ‘the four corners of the constitution’ and ‘insaniyat’ (the principles of humanity). The state autonomy report was laid by the National Conference government when in power last in 2000. The UPA government initiated the five working groups during the second round table conference on Kashmir in 2005. Four groups tendered their reports in the third conference in 2007 and action on them is underway. The last, that of Justice Sagheer Ahmed, on center-state relations did so only in December last year. The report did not command credibility. KC Pant earlier and NN Vohra later were to progress talks. Reports have it that the latest initiative, that of ‘secret diplomacy’ by the home minister, was also discontinued recently. All these political initiatives testify that the intent exists and that there are promises to be kept. These require to be made good.

Why the state has held back is a valid question. The first set of reasons give the state the benefit of the doubt. Firstly, India’s nation building project is a work in progress. It is wary of demands of its constituent subnationalities. While it can accommodate demands made by ethnic groups through creating autonomous councils etc, it is less constitutionally venturesome when it comes to the major cases, such as, among others, those of the Nagas and Kashmiris. It fears that setting a precedent may encourage the others through working of the ‘demonstration effect’. The domino theory in this case would conjure up an eventual unraveling of India. Secondly, the complexity of Kashmir’s case is daunting. There are two other regions to contend with. Thirdly, Kashmir cannot be seen in isolation of India’s problems with Pakistan. The proxy war Pakistan has waged cannot be allowed to be seen to succeed through Indian concessions, even if these are solely internal.

The second set comprises reasons more critical of the state. Firstly, the right wing in India’s polity is stronger than its electoral showing may indicate. Even during the Nehruvian period the presence of Sardar Patel and stalwarts such as GB Pant indicated the strength of conservatives in the Congress party. Nehru’s early Kashmir initiatives faced a strong riposte by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the Praja Parishad. This led to Sheikh Abdullah’s reservations on credibility of Indian secularism. The pattern of conservatism holding India’s Kashmir policy hostage persists till today. While the NDA government expectedly ignored its alliance partner in 2000 on the autonomy question, the Congress does not have the political strength or will to make any political overtures. The fear is that even if reasonable these would be criticized as ‘competitive communalism’. This fear of its own shadow explains India’s lack of follow through in reaching out to Pakistan; Sharm es Sheikh being the most visible example. Absence of any preparation of ground in terms of selling the necessity and contours of a political agenda to shape public opinion indicates that the political approach is ruled out as an option.

Secondly, the ‘insurgency economy’ in terms of vested interests of all players – be it separatists or security forces - has grown roots. For instance, a political approach would inevitably imply reconsidering the AFSPA and the militarization of the state. Anticipating this, the input of security forces in any such consideration would be that it is inadvisable since it would play into Pakistani hands that are behind the agitation. A government with deficit in political will would in such a circumstance take prudence as the better part of valour. Such a play can be discerned from the recent utterance of the Army Chief that demands for dilution of the AFSPA originate in hope for ‘narrow political gains’. That the Army Chief was allowed to get away by the Army making a subsequent clarification that the remarks were directed at ‘local’, ‘separatist’ politics indicates the underside of India’s civil-military relations.

A clear eyed assessment indicates that the problem thrown up for India is unlikely to nudge India down the political road, though this is its sole option. India’s reluctance would be especially attenuated at a juncture when it contemplates reengaging Pakistan. Therefore, this can only be yet another wasted summer of wasted lives. Regrettably, the inescapable conclusion is that a state fearful of its own shadow may prove an unbearable burden on a future with a nuclear backdrop.