Follow by Email

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

AFSPA: Between battlelines

The new Army Chief has given out his mind on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). He has said that, "Any dilution of the Act will impinge adversely on the manner in which the armed forces operate.'' To him ‘in constrained and trying circumstances, the armed forces need requisite legal protection' and on that account the Act ‘cannot be disputed’. Having come in from Kolkata after command of the Field Army deployed in countering insurgency in the North East and being an infantry officer with counter insurgency experience at the grassroots and at the operational level, his is a considered opinion.

This explains the Army’s reservations on the draft of an amended version of the AFSPA that the Ministry of Home Affairs had sent for concurrence.

See for full article.

Specifically, an amended AFSPA was to have had the Do’s and Don’ts incorporated. The Supreme Court judgment had stated that the Army, ‘shall strictly follow the instructions contained in the list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts” issued by the army authorities which are binding and any disregard to the said instructions would entail suitable action under the Army Act, 1950.’ It had required that ‘the instructions contained in the list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts” shall be suitably amended so as to bring them in conformity with the guidelines contained in the decisions of this Court and to incorporate the safeguards…’

Second, but more importantly, was in respect of Section 4 (a): ‘if he is of opinion that it is necessary so to do for the maintenance of public order, after giving such due warning as he may consider necessary, fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law or order for the time being in force in the disturbed area…’ This clause has been considered ‘draconian’. The draft under preparation for tabling an amended law in parliament this session had perhaps watered this down. But the Army has not proved agreeable to results of half a decade long exertions in the MHA and Law ministry.

Why this is so is because the Army prefers to see itself as the force of last resort in internal security situation. The role is itself seen as a secondary one to its primary role of fighting and winning the nation’s wars. Therefore, if the situation is bad enough, it feels it requires the powers necessary to cope with it including legal cover for its soldiery. This is especially so given the information war that surrounds insurgency, in which allegations of human rights violations are a weapon.

This perspective is not problematic. Extraordinary situations require extraordinary powers to cope, lest the republic unravel. What is problematic instead is the Army’s insistence that it would deploy only under the legal cover of the Act in areas declared ‘disturbed’ under Section 3 of the Act. Thus even where the situation is not bad enough to warrant Army deployment with such powers, the Act is invoked to enable the Army’s deployment. This position of the Army is not without logic in that by insisting that the law be invoked protects it from being used as a default option in internal security, as yet another paramilitary.

The issue is therefore on how to identify situations that warrant Army deployment under the Act and how to cope with those that are less critical. Understanding, if not agreeing with the Army’s position has led to the government’s position on a consensus, with the Army on board, before any further move is made. In the interim however much can be done.

Firstly, in areas where the Army’s efforts, among other reasons, have brought down the insurgency to manageable levels, a review of whether Army deployment is necessary needs be done. The J&K government has been asking for this for better part of last decade. The political dividend of this would be more useful in making balance of the insurgency recede than anything the Army is currently doing by remaining deployed. Even if this may not be readily possible in the Valley, an experiment can be done with withdrawing both the AFSPA and Army deployment in districts south of Pirpanjal. Such areas primed for vacation include Assam also, in particular lower Assam and the autonomous councils. The state has been amiss in extending Army deployment even where not required. Therefore a proportion of the blame must go to elected representatives in state legislatures, rather than the Army.

Secondly, the Center need not be as protective as it has been over granting permissions for the Army to be investigated where it is remiss. The Army in any case follows up on allegations and takes pride in delivering justice where warranted. However, as the Manorama case indicates institutional interest may at times over ride higher considerations. The Supreme Court has required the government to be strict, stating, ‘A complaint containing an allegation about misuse or abuse of the powers conferred under the Central Act shall be thoroughly inquired into and, if on enquiry it is found that the allegations are correct, the victim should be suitably compensated and the necessary sanction for institution of prosecution and/or suit or other proceeding should be granted under Section 6 of the Central Act.’ For instance, the J&K state government made 38 requests to prosecute soldiers but no permission was granted by the Centre. Defence Minister A K Antony told Rajya Sabha that 133 complaints were made against army between 2004 and 2009. In case the Ministry is less reticent, the Army can be expected to be doubly conscious of observing its obligations.

The AFSPA is perhaps necessary to deal with extreme situations. Such situations are a rarity. Therefore, the Act needs to be withdrawn where not necessary. However, in case the Army is still needed in such cases, then it can be deployed under cover of the relevant Code of Criminal Procedure sections. This may deprive of its extensive powers, but since these would not be necessary in less critical situations, it can afford to forego them. Army deployment in any case must be made judiciously. For instance the Chintalnar incident indicates that it may be required in select areas of Dantewada for a specific purpose of dislodging the PLGA and for that limited duration only, rather than across the board in Central India indefinitely.

It would appear that the truth lies somewhere between the battle-lines of the Army and the NGOs against the AFSPA.

Monday, April 05, 2010

The Bright Side of ‘Asymmetric Escalation’

Vipin Narang in his article ‘Posturing for Peace?’ gets it wrong. This is uncharacteristic of the reputed journal, International Security; but he would not be wrong for long. What he thinks is Pakistan’s posture today is not quite true for now, but is likely the way Pakistan is headed in the future. He characterises the Pakistani nuclear deterrent as one of ‘asymmetric escalation’, since Pakistan relies on nuclear weapons for deterring conventional attack also. He maintains that Pakistan has already incorporated nuclear weapons into its war-fighting repertoire. This is not true for the moment. However, in light of India’s movement towards increasing the conventional asymmetry, this is the way Pakistan is likely headed.

He claims that Pakistan ‘believed it had little choice but to test its nuclear weapons and adopt an asymmetric escalation posture that fully integrated nuclear weapons into its military forces to credibly and directly deter Indian conventional attacks ‘(Posturing for Peace? Pakistan’s Nuclear Postures and South Asian Stability,’ International Security, 34 (3), p. 47).’ In this view, Pakistan has resorted to delegation, has the doctrine, organisation, capabilities and numbers to ‘escalate the conflict by threatening first use of nuclear weapons on advancing Indian forces once they cross the border onto Pakistani soil – through deterrence by denial (p. 57).’ He opines that this has deterred India since the Chagai tests to the extent of deterring even surgical strikes in the wake of 26/11.

That the possibility of escalation would have informed Indian considerations since can be conceded. That it was clinching, thereby deterring India, is more difficult to accept. Instead, India has been more restrained than deterred. The reason for restraint could well be more self-serving than Indians would let on; because that restraint helps build up political capital for the time India does resort to military force. Self-deterrence at the conventional level in not having the requisite wherewithal would have been a more compelling argument than deterrence due to Pakistani nuclear postures.

The nuclear posture of default reliance on nuclear weapons in an outbreak of conflict is in any case unlikely to exist. Moreover, Indian conventional attacks would unlikely be nudging any thresholds in any case. Finally, analysts like the US’ Peter Lavoy, and India’s Gurmeet Kanwal, maintain that Pakistan would largely rely on the conventional deterrent. Therefore, as the Indian military believes, there is a case for conventional operations, albeit limited, restricted to a short, sharp war.

By this yardstick, Narang’s is an inaccurate reading of the current status. At best, Pakistan could resort to warning shots across the bow as a war termination signal. This does not require the posture that Narang attributes it. While Pakistan does use nuclear weapons to deter conventional war also, this does not, as of now, involve a posture reminiscent of the NATO during the Cold War. Nevertheless, his view is prescient.

With India set to spend US$50-80 billion on acquisitions, Pakistan may feel compelled towards ‘asymmetric escalation’ as visualised by Narang. Pakistan has coaxed a few more F-16s out of the US and more military and counter-insurgency aid. It can be expected to also divert a proportion of the latter to the eastern front as was admitted to by Musharraf, despite Obama promising to be more eagle eyed than was Bush. These exertions indicate that it prefers a conventional counter. A nuclear counter would be one forced on it.

India’s defence minister, commenting on the ‘strategic dialogue’ between Pakistan and the US, criticised conventional arms flows to Pakistan. Retired General Deepak Kapoor in his capacity as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee had earlier questioned its nuclear build up. Apprehending the worst from a potential adversary’s growing capability is expected from those in charge of a country’s national security. Indian apprehension is that greater power with Pakistan only emboldens it in the pursuit of a proxy war. This compels India not only to consider escalatory options but also to up-the-ante, militarily.

Pakistani moves on both conventional and nuclear levels can liberally be interpreted as balancing. It helps dissuade India from chancing the war option. Nevertheless, India’s reservations need to be taken on board. As the stability/instability paradox indicates, Pakistan could be tempted to renew the proxy war to tie down surplus Indian military capacity. A nuclear posture that Narang discerns would be a cover for the same. Despite this, it would not be able to cause a movement on Kashmir. India’s defence expenditure would gain justification but as to whether upping-the-ante would make India more secure, would remain questionable. Both states would be chasing the chimera of security at a higher level of conventional and nuclear capability, at higher costs, risks, dangers and less likelihood of success.

The silver lining is perhaps that all this brings the need for a political resolution of outstanding issues to the foreground. India’s slow acquisitions processes indicate that it is only unwillingly upping-the-ante. The backlash of proxy war in Pakistan may yet unfold to the cost of its Army. Therefore, prior to testing military waters afresh, the two could attempt the political route once again.