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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.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

IPCS article
#3152, 21 June 2010
Countering the Naxal Threat-IV: Military as an Option?

The Times of India headlines has it that the ‘Army is bracing to take on the Naxals’ (17 June 2010). The report informs that up to five divisions of the Army are being readied for deployment. A training center is planned to be opened that would put through other ranks of the supporting arms such as armour and artillery. In the traditional way the Army does counter insurgency, a grid is apparently to be deployed and the Maoists isolated from the populace. Brigadier level advisers have been earmarked. Earlier last month, the cabinet committee on security had debated Army deployment and at that time, the Army deployment had been ruled against, to prevent it from being over-stretched.

Preparations as reported may be contingency planning on part of the Army. The training center reported could even be one being opened by the Army for training the paramilitary troops. However, it’s possible that in light of the inadequacies of the police leadership and paramilitary sub-units revealed by the EN Rammohan enquiry in the Chintalnar episode, the government may have decided otherwise. The government has been persuaded of the need to use the right tool for the job of gaining control over the massive area comprising difficult terrain. The preparations would in any case be useful in buttressing any political reaching out that may be underway, behind the scenes to Maoists, to bring them to the table under threat of unleashing the Army.

On the issue of whether the Army ‘should’ be deployed at all, it is quite apparent from the recurring losses sustained by the paramilitary that there are shortfalls in its organization, leadership, ethos and training. The argument, usually heard on air waves, that the Army should not be used against its own people implies that where it has been so employed such as in J&K and the North East, the people are somehow ‘different’. Even in Kashmir, the operations were in a human terrain comprising Indians, if alienated Indians. If the Army is to be deployed, it is best to rehearse counter-insurgency lessons in a timely manner. By this yardstick, the mental and training preparedness as reported being undertaken by the Army is a commendable start.

The foremost concern, however, remains human rights. The killing of three ‘infiltrators’ who later turned out to be men lured by the TA (H&H) in Kashmir recently is not a one-off incident. Note that the crime occurred in the present environment of human rights watchfulness in Kashmir. There were also earlier reports of the fake action in Siachen and of the ‘ketchup’ Colonel in Assam. The lesson is that the state would require being wary from the outset. The understanding that operations are an independent military domain is in light of the past experience, unpersuasive.

It follows from this that political over-watch would be required. This cannot be expected at the provincial level. The very fact that the situation has been ‘handed over’ to the Army would lead the weak political class at this level to abdicate responsibility. Delhi is indeed too far and the indefatigable Minister for Home Affairs over-burdened; his latest additional responsibility being to head the GoM on the Bhopal tragedy! Given that the required levels of supervision would be absent; can the military be expected to exercise suitable self-regulation?

This is not impossible to conceive. The opposition expected is unlikely to be of the order the military has experienced elsewhere. The dimension of external interference is missing. The military has an ‘iron fist in velvet glove’ doctrine, dating to 2006, as a guide. The military values the difference in approach to insurgency with that of other armies in the close vicinity, such as the US and in particular the Pakistani Army. Beginning the new mission on a clean slate, it is in a position to build in best practices from the outset itself. Knowledgeable sources have it that the in-service reputation of the commanding general, head of its Central Command, inspires confidence on this score.

Nevertheless, pathologies need pointing out. One is that quantification of the officer promotion system - reportedly under re-examination on priority on order of the new Chief - could lead to a ‘numbers game’. Second, the need to show ‘results’, particularly to distinguish its deployment as an improvement over the paramilitary, needs being guarded against. Third, military recruitment practices favour officers and troops from a particular strata and region. The impact of this on their perception of the tribal people needs factoring in. Fourth, the ‘grid’ system contemplated indicates a lasting deployment. Instead, the grid could be furnished by the paramilitary. Staying on as the grid suggests, implies avoidable militarization in which the military would over time gain a vested interest. Lastly, theory on primary group cohesion, reinforced by the earlier experience of the Rashtriya Rifles, warns against using subunits of amalgamated troops.

Even if the Army is seemingly the best instrument, a far better approach would still be political first, negotiations based, development led and precluding violence.