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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Afzal Guru: The Man Who Knew Too Much

Milligazette 1-15 March 13

A wit’s answer to the question that is set to become an eternal one: ‘Why did they hang Afzal Guru?’, reads: ‘Afzal Guru was hanged because the Indian law doesn't allow electric chair, lethal injection, stoning to death, guillotine or any other form of execution.’ However, there is another straight answer: He knew too much. He had already exposed the Indian state’s behavior in Kashmir in his pleadings for justice over the years. But the true face of the state is unremarkable. He knew more. He was the exposed link into a chain of subterfuge leading into the STF (Special Task Force), a unit of Kashmiri rebels who turned coat.
He had pointed this out while alive referring to a certain ‘Tariq’ in the shadowy world of the renegade rebels who set the stage for India to prevail in Kashmir by systematically killing their former comrades and their supporters using fair means and foul. The outfit called Ikhwan was inducted into the police to regularize them. Their notoriety was such that one campaign promise of a political party that won in the polls in 2002 was that they would be disbanded. They were rechristened instead, regularized and hopefully more disciplined since. That Pakistani trained jihadis were degenerate and their terror acts reprehensible, the cliché ‘fight fire with fire’ provided legitimacy to such paramilitary outfits. In that troubled era in their heyday they served to undertake the ‘dirty war’ on behalf of the state.
The ‘conspiracy theory’ needs airing at this juncture. Was the STF used, and did it, in turn, use Afzal Guru for nefarious purpose? Spelling out the conspiracy theory is necessary. This has been done competently elsewhere by the likes of Arundhati Roy and Nirmalangshu Mukherjee. It is with reason they have titled the volume in which their case appears: 13 December, a Reader: The Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament(Penguin India, pp. 233, Rs. 200, 2006). The very term ‘conspiracy’ is a way to marginalize what could well be the truth. The fact that no inquiry has gone into the parliamentary attack, the truth has not been plumbed. With Afzal gone, it is now also probably beyond reach.
As with any ‘strange case’, it is best to begin with the motives. Parliament attack led up to the Indian military mobilization. That the mobilization stopped at the border and did not cross it suggests more than just statesmanship on Prime Minister Vajpayee’s part. It indicates a strategy, one premeditated and not one thought up at the spur of the moment in the crisis brought on by the dastardly attack. Crisis environments do not lend themselves to cool heads. Stopping at the border was  cool headed decision. That can only have been induced by a predetermined plan of action. In effect, the conspiracy theory has it that the parliament attack was a doing of the intelligence agency put to it by the national security apparatus at the apex level. The one who could have more information on this, the then national security adviser and principal secretary, Mr. Brajeah Mishra, is now no more to confirm this. That in his absence his denial can be anticipated makes the theory a ‘conspiracy theory’.
The diplomatic coercion - coercive diplomacy in strategic terms –mounted thereafter also needed a trigger. Pakistan had crept back into American good books with 9/11. India that had begun courting the US ever since it burst its way into the nuclear club, felt left out in the cold. It needed to embarrass Pakistan, snap America out of its Musharraf infatuation. India needed a trigger. A trigger could not have waited for a bunch of obliging terrorists to come round and timelystorm the parliament. India required instead manufacturing a trigger. This is where the STF comes in.
Given the nature of the violent conflict on in Kashmir at the time, the existence of detention centers is well known. That these would have had inmates with very little chance of seeing freedom once again can also be conceded. Consider that in case a few of these inmates – who were incarcerated since they wanted to harm India – were given a choice of dying a death they had always imagined for themselves, one of a jihadi, how many would have agreed to the proposal. It is obvious that there would be at least some wanting a crack at India, dying in a blaze of imagined glory rather than blindfolded in front of a death squad.  It can be surmised that there would have been no shortage of recruits from those dark chambers. All it needed now was to put together the supporting cast and the equipment, and have a cover story. It is here that unfortunate Afzal figures in the story. The rest as they say is history; but most of it unwritten, deliberately kept unknown, and now, unknowable.
Afzal therefore had to go. The shortcomings in his trial are now well known. The unacceptable reason for his hanging – the demand of the ‘collective conscience’ – is reversion to the bygone days of human sacrifice. He would have gone earlier had the ruling formation and its lead party of the period of the parliament attack returned to power in 2004. They had much to hide. The Congress that has been around since needed him alive to keep the pressure on that party, now in opposition. However, the tide having turned against the Congress to the extent the writing is on the wall, a human sacrifice was decreed for its revival. This explains the timing of Afzal’s departure. As for the Congress, it will prove an insincere act equivalent to the opening of the locks of Babri Masjid the last time it was under siege.
Perhaps dark clouds overhead in that era – nuclear tests, Kandahar hijack, fidayeen attacks, Kargil War, Chittisingpora massacre, Srinagar assembly bombing, right wing rule, 9/11, military rule in the neighbor etc – made the intelligence games necessary. These are games nations play since Chanakyan times. Machivelli testifies that these are indulgences of princes. When elephants fight, grass suffers. Afzal Guru was but another blade of grass.

India’s security under Modi, Kashmir Times

That Mr. Modi is attempting to get to Delhi is by now no secret. It is also apparent that the Congress will find it hard to stay on at the Centre for another term. Finally, the third front alternative has yet to emerge. Given this configuration, it is well nigh possible that hopes of Mr. Modi’s not inconsiderable constituency of support, that includes big business, cultural nationalists, well-heeled Gujaratis, traditional conservatives, Chetan Bhagat inspired youth brigade etc, can yet come about.  
His supporters point to Modi’s record in Gujarat to make their case that this will be good for India’s continuing rise as a power. Their argument is anchored in Modi’s personality. To them he has the economic credentials to push through the pending reforms that the Congress has been at the cusp of for all of its second term but has been unable to deliver. He has also kept his state largely terrorism free through resolute leadership and can therefore be relied on to take on security challenges, unlike the pusillanimity of politicians in general and the Congress in particular in face of crises such as 26/11.
While Modi’s supporters rely on his leadership persona to suggest he is the right choice; his detractors point in the same direction to arrive at a conclusion to the contrary. To them, Modi, seen as a divisive and authoritarian figure, is the problem. To Modi baiters, his ‘record’ in Gujarat includes the carnage of 2002 and his culpability. To them it is not a case of inaction but active complicity that condemns Modi.
One question that has not figured so far is: What will be the security consequences of Modi’s elevation to PM? To most prosperity begets security. With prosperity, resources are made available for security. With a firm Modi hand on the security rudder, India’s redoubtable security agencies will keep India secure.  Unfortunately, the prosperity-security link is seldom so easy.
The internal security consequences of ‘Modi as PM’ seem self-evident. A consequence of Modi’s economic policies will likely spur the leftist challenge. In replicating the Gujarat model for rest of India, Modi will create ‘have nots’ that will with time form a constituency for Maoist penetration of the rest of India from their heartland currently confined to Central India.
Modi’s ascent could also see the resurfacing of minority perpetrated terror. In the short term, extremist elements will challenge the triumphalism of majoritarian extremists. In the broader social context, India’s minority has been wary of the rise of cultural nationalists in Indian polity. This suspicion of the majoritarian project will heighten its minority complex. The spread of Hindutva that was interrupted by the Congress interregnum will have a redoubled impetus since this time at the helm will be without the restraining hand of a Vajpayee. A defensive reaction from geographic and societal periphery may instigate violence.
Such internal security scenarios will provoke a ‘proactive’ steps, reminiscent of LK Advani, ‘iron man’ aspirant as home minister in the NDA regime. But if Modi’s association with his home ministers in his state is any guide Modi’s methods will not be merely suppressive, as is the wont of a state. It bears recall that one home minister was assassinated in unexplained circumstance and another was in jail temporarily for his role in custodial killings. What can be expected is that a permissive atmosphere for security forces to be less mindful for citizens’ rights will emerge. Intelligence agencies, that have little accountability at the best of times, will be much more innovative in cutting corners. The information war theme for legitimising such action will be painting of a threat from the coalescing of ‘red’ and ‘green’ terror. In short, a vicious circle can be predicted on the internal security front.  
On the external security front, the usual refrain has been that right wing governments are good for security. They are more mindful of security issues and have the tacit respect of security related institutions such as the military and intelligence services that traditionally lean conservative. Given their image and record, they have a wider berth for peace initiatives, a luxury that is not permitted to other parties such as for instance the Congress that have to be ever watchful of their flanks fearing criticism of ‘sell out’ for such initiatives.
Yet again the case for either side would be based on Modi’s leadership traits. His supporters would point to his decisiveness, claiming that India’s response to incidents like 26/11 would be firm and unmistakable. His detractors would say that decisiveness in the wrong direction can only be disastrous in crisis. The authoritarian streak in Modi will keep from diverse viewpoints necessary in strategic decision making being voiced. Silencing of dissent will make group think emerge with its associated consequences. In a nuclear neighbourhood, exhibiting political will – that nuclear deterrent theorists in India so breathlessly require of the political decision maker – is not necessarily the best or only recourse as strategists advocating political resolve portray.    
It is predicted that the India-Pakistan equations will return to square one with the departure of the west from Afghanistan in 2014. In Kashmir it is obvious that there is enough tinder awaiting the proverbial spark. In case Mr. Modi is tested with a crisis, he would be liable to fall victim to his image as worthy Gujarati descendant of the original ‘iron man’, Sardar Patel. To distance himself from the choices Congress has made in such crisis, he will be liable to privilege the military options over the diplomatic. In effect, decisions will be made not by strategic sense in the alternatives, but impulses rooted in character traits of the decision maker and in the nature of the group that such decision makers bring forth.
In respect of his prospective government’s approach to China, it would be reliant on the foundations being laid under the UPA: deterrence and external balancing by proximity to the west led democratic camp. The expectation that Modi will prove a liability for the relationship with the west in light of his human rights record is false since the west has never been known to privilege human rights considerations over its strategic objectives. In fact, UK’s actions of late suggest that Modi’s rehabilitation is well underway.
Modi for his part, not needing to wear his nationalism on his sleeve, will hardly be coy. In effect, India will overtly bid for frontline status in the anti-China front being forged by the US in its rebalancing towards Asia currently underway. The difference is that the Congress is getting to this position surreptitiously. The upshot will be that a ‘two front’ situation – a contingency assiduously being prepared for by the armed forces – will no longer be a ‘contingency’. It will be the strategic circumstance for India.
But security is not only physical. It is also about security of values and the kind of nation and state India wishes to be. The last time the BJP was in power it appointed a committee to recommend changes in the Constitution. Luckily for the country, the electorate denied it a second term. This time round there would be greater hurry in saffron ideologues to unfurl their ideological agenda. It is easier to push change in a climate vitiated by an adverse security condition as painted. Therefore, the security threat will not be from without as much from the government itself.   
While there are other good reasons for the voter to keep Mr. Modi out, security must hereon also figure among them.