Follow by Email

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Indo-AfPak: Chanakya To The Rescue?

In becoming a strategic partner of Afghanistan, the message to Pakistan was that India could up the ante in case Pakistan took to its old ways in Kashmir

Close on the heels of Afghan President Karzai’s questioning of the Durand Line as border between Pakistan and his country and the defence minister of Afghanistan calling for military assistance from India, President Karzai arrived in Delhi for soliciting defence aid. Chanakya adherents in South Block, where the defence and foreign ministries vie for space, and Sardar Patel Bhawan, where the National Security Council is located, are no doubt delighted. Finally, they can work Kautilya’s theory that states ‘an enemy’s enemy is a friend’ and its Mandala corollary that concentric circles ring a state: the first circle of enemies followed by that of friends.
India can now look forward to making Pakistan face both ways, to its North and East. This can repay Pakistan for its participation along with China in creating a similar dilemma for India, the ‘two front’ problem. Incidentally, the latest reference to this perception in India was in the recently released Blue Book by China that discusses India. The proportion of India’s military might that is Pakistan centric automatically then is reduced, enabling partial redressing of the strategic balance by Pakistan. To proponents of Chanakya-niti, India by responding positively to Afghanistan can tip the scales in India’s favour.
Incidentally, this option has been India’s quiver now for over a decade. The National Democratic Alliance regime had in its initial phase attempted to take the ‘Gujral doctrine’ further. The doctrine was about reaching out asymmetrically to neighbours, though Pakistan had not been initially included. Even so, it was Gujral’s foreign secretary, Salman Haidar, who had set the frame that the BJP government could take forward. In the event, the Pakistan army sprung an ambush on Vajpayee’s Lahore initiative by ‘doing a Kargil’ on India.
Thereafter, with the aftermath of 9/11 providing a backdrop, India has contemplated getting even. The parliament attack provided justification while the Baluch uprising provided an opportunity. India’s presence as peace -building partner in Afghanistan provided India an access. The result was in Musharraf sending in over seven Pakistani brigades to pacify the Baluch. Pakistan has raised the issue of nexus that India has consistently denied. However, it is no coincidence that two chiefs of India’s intelligence of the period today run prominent conservative think tanks in Delhi.
After reminding Pakistan that it lived in a glass house and therefore must not throw stones at others, Vajpayee set the frame for the policy over the remainder of the decade. The result has been in a dialogue process carried forward by the successor UPA I regime that was derailed by 26/11. The liberal paradigm of economic interdependence soothing security concerns underlay relations in the period. In the event, the crisis revived the idea of keeping Pakistan unbalanced in order to defuse the tendency for strategic activism in its security establishment. This could be through using Afghanistan as a springboard.
The idea owes to the US intent to draw down beginning with Obama’s first term. The ‘boots on ground’ thesis made an appearance. It harked to the earlier soliciting of India’s troops by US for its Iraq misadventure, a request India narrowly managed to avoid. In Afghanistan, the US was more circumspect, aware that Pakistan was indispensible and would be riled were India to be more visible or militarily proactive. India therefore has played a discreet role in training the Afghan National Army, alongside its peace-building activities.
In becoming a strategic partner of Afghanistan, the message to Pakistan was that India could up the ante in case Pakistan took to its old ways in Kashmir. Pakistan has played with a straight bat in Kashmir. The Hizbul Mujahedeen chief, resident in Muzaffarabad, has indicated that he has pulled out his fighters from Kashmir. The hiatus however owes more to both states holding their breath on the way the dice will turn in 2014.
The first shot has already been fired by a leading candidate for the prime minister’s post, Narendra Modi, expressing his dissatisfaction with both India’s Pakistan and China policies in a video interaction with his supporters in the diaspora. This suggests that the Chanakyan idea will find ballast during the run up and possible traction thereafter in case of a conservative party victory at the polls. It will have the ‘strong leader’ – Modi’s term paraphrased – necessary to push it. It therefore merits dissection.
It supposedly has its advantages. The US would not mind a regional minder in the form of India stepping up, a role it has through its extensive military and strategic interface with India over the past decade assiduously prepared India for. To the US, it will prevent a vacuum developing that may otherwise get filled by China. Obliging the US will take India beyond the de-hyphenation with Pakistan. With China proving difficult, through its demonstration at DBO (Daulat Beg Oldi in Ladakh) recently, proximity with the US may be useful, if not indispensible. The downside may help keep Pakistan circumspect. The move will signal India’s arrival as a self-regarding regional power.
The pitfalls are apparent. Clearly, what the US could not do for Afghanistan despite of its ‘surge’, India cannot hope to: tame the Taliban. As for Pakistan being impressed, it would likely resort to reopening the Kashmir front. The Taliban will be only too willing to lend a hand. It will get India into a regional geopolitical contest with China. Surely, unsettled borders are an adequate headache between nuclear armed neighbours.
More importantly, it would pitch India and the erstwhile Northern Alliance versus Pakistan and Taliban. This renewed regional brawl will have internal political implications for India in terms of the political utility for the right of cornering India’s minority. With elections round the corner and prospects of a right wing government reasonably high, setting such a stage would be suicidal for the Congress government.
Therefore, India would do well to keep the disciples of Chanakya confined to the television studios rather than allowing them entry into policy chambers.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Daulat Beg Oldi: More than a storm in a tea cup
By Firdaus Ahmed

Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO)has now entered the lexicon. It will, if strategic commentary critical of the government is anything to go by, in future define the pusillanimity of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government over its two terms. UPA I had its inaction in face of 26/11, while UPA II would be remembered for its dissembling over DBO. Its attempts to forestall such criticism by taking the defence budget to over two lakh crore rupees, positioning India as the leading importer of arms over a five year period, expanding its army by adding a mountain corps comprising two divisions, surreptitiously lining up with the US in global geopolitics, and opening up high altitude airfields, incidentally even at DBO itself, will find mention only in the footnotes. That it has successfully managed to have the Chinese revert to their side of the Line of Actual Control without much ado will be forgotten. 
The UPA has created these conditions for itself and also the current face off. The 'grand old party' has been unable to depart from the Nehruvian paradigm of viewing borders: Indian territory is what it claims as its own. The maximalist interpretation of where India's borders lie is deemed to have penetrated Indian psyche, constraining India's diplomatic position. Consequently, its negotiations with China have not gone beyond aiming to manage the interim till a final settlement. It has been unable and unwilling to condition the Indian mindset away from seeing borders as lines that can be negotiated. 
India feels it can step back from the Nehruvian border paradigm only at this final stage. By a timeline up to end decade, it hopes to have geared up militarily. Its nuclear triad in place, offensive capability on the border and sea control through the air craft carriers in the pipeline will give it the confidence not only to impress China but more importantly to sell the inevitable tradeoffs to its people. This is seen as necessary to enable the government to convey to Indians that concessions, such as on Aksai Chin, are not through fear or coercion but arrived at between equals. 
Also the centre-right ruling party is wary of its flank occupied as it is by its conservative challenger, the BJP, not-so-covertly assisted by far right formations. The right, claiming monopoly of nationalism, would not have allowed the Congress any leeway in terms of 'concessions'. The Congress, tied down by dynastic compulsions, cannot fault the Nehruvian legacy. Thus, this binds the UPA and at one move India finds itself in. 
The run up to end decade has imponderables: China's actions being one. While China could otherwise have waited till end-decade, it is uneasy with India's US tilt. India, impressed by rising Chinese power, has sought to balance against this through forging relations with the US, as also a defence relationship in terms of military exercises and arms deals. Watching India cosying up with the US, China is sending India a signal to stay out of US designs for containment of China by a ring of democracies. The intrusion could alternatively have a lesser aim of diverting India while its ally, Pakistan, goes to the polls. 
China knows it has the upper hand at the moment, one set to dissipate as India gets its act together. This explains its choice of timing. Its point conveyed or, in the alternative explanation, with Pakistan going into elections without a crisis on its India border, the DBO intrusion, sensibly played down by it, has been retracted. The visit of the Chinese premier due soon will ensure that it is confined to history. However, such instances will likely recur in case the LAC is not converted into an IB soon. 
It is noteworthy that China's borders with all states other than India and its ally, Bhutan, have been settled. Assuming that Indians cannot countenance the concessions negotiations necessarily imply, India has held back. Believing that China has a head start in its military and infrastructure development in Tibet, India is attempting to catch up with border roads, military deployments and airfield construction coming up simultaneously in a truncated timeframe. The strategic discourse has provided the cover in painting China as a threat and a future India-China clash over space in Asia. The UPA has so far been mindful of not being stampeded by strategist-manipulated and media-fanned public opinion, thanks to a China hand at the rudder, that of National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. Over reacting to DBO, compelled by elections just over the horizon, can find India replicating the 'forward policy', adopted in the run up to 1962. 
India has the option of reappraising the assumption. Studies ranging from the early one by Neville Maxwell to the more recent scholarly works by AG Noorani and Srinath Raghavan suggest that there is more to India's position on the border than the popular narrative of China stabbing India in the back in 1962. Political investment is needed in educating the Indian public that borders are never self-ordained but mutually arrived at. 
This admittedly is easier said than done because DBO has wider connotations. What can be expected to figure in strategic discourse generated by a right tilting strategic community will be its showing up India as a 'soft state'. The corollary left unstated in sober commentary, but circulated uninhibitedly in middle class e-groups, will be that a different political order, if not a 'strong man', is needed lead endangered India to salvage national pride. The Congress, on the back-foot over at least half a decade, cannot hope to win the prime-time battle. 
The two agreements on peace and tranquility on the Line of Actual Control could not prevent DBO. Neither party can guarantee that a future stand-off will not come to blows. There is even the argument that the agreements were to buy India time to get out of tight spot the nineties brought on by the budget squeeze and Kashmir. Having broken out now it can take on China. However, it overlooks China's advantages. The Kargil War in which small scale mountain warfare was witnessed made clear that the investment to offset these advantages is prohibitive in light of competing priorities. Besides, the ugly nationalism that such border incidents ignite hardly helps for sobriety in politics or in reacting.
Therefore, the alternative option of public education must be worked towards, perhaps beginning with inclusion in a party's manifesto for the forthcoming elections. Since both leading parties have a sense of ownership of the policy as it is now two decades old, finding a promise for such a shift in theirs may be difficult, but not impossible. Both had bought into a policy that eventually envisages barter. Only, the timing of this needs being advanced by half a decade to the very next term of government, whichever party wins. They will be surprised to find that the public will unlikely begrudge either, enabling India to get out of the Nehruvian bind with bipartisan backing. 
(The author is a blogger at Think South Asia

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Countering insurgency and sexual violence
By Firdaus Ahmed

The Indian Army's powers under Armed Forces Special Powers Act have rightly figured in the debate surrounding sexual violence particularly since the barbaric rape in New Delhi early this year. To the pro-army side, the army is self-regulating and any incidents that do take place are 'aberrations'. To the activists, the army is high on testosterone all the while in counterinsurgency and therefore requires its powers clipped. The army's own position when faced with allegations of sexual transgressions in operational areas by its members is that it takes action where warranted but notes that most accusations are propaganda of anti-national forces. The truth is, as is usually the case, somewhere in between.
The debate understandably was taken on board by the Justice Verma Committee and the outcome has figured in its speedily arrived at recommendations. Justice JS Verma requires that the infamous provision of the AFSPA that calls for sanction by the central government for initiating prosecution against armed forces personnel be removed where a sexual offence is alleged. This has something for both supporters of the army and its critics. It does not degrade the powers the military thinks it needs in such areas. But it does remove the cover of impunity that critics of the military argue allows the military to get away.
However, the army's view that it would open the army up to false allegations needs to be taken on board. The counter insurgency environment is considerably complex. The insurgents have an active body of over ground workers who can be deployed as a dirty tricks department. Once in the dragnet of the Indian court system, particularly one subject to militant intimidation, well meaning soldiers acting in good faith could find themselves on the firing line. Truth will be the first casualty and morale the second. Vindication, after the better part of youth has been expended fighting off the allegation, is hardly the fate a nation would want for those who have signed up to defend it to the peril of their lives. If soldiers are sent into such environments by a government, all they ask is a fair cover.
Such cover from military excesses no doubt must be afforded citizens in the affected areas also. Justice Verma's second point on 'command responsibility', a senior's duty to prevent and take action in such cases, is pertinent here. If the senior leadership sets a command climate that encourages juniors to take an unfair advantage of additional powers, the central government must demand of the military hierarchy the reason why it has not proceeded with prosecution on its own under the Army Act. Tactical level commanders such as the infamous Major Avatar Singh are as much a product of the command climate set by their seniors as they are subject to their inner psychological pathologies. Where explanation offered by the army is found wanting, it must be entered into confidential records of culpable commanders under supervision of the ministry and where necessary administrative, and depending on the gravity, criminal proceedings be launched against erring commanders. Merely shifting them out to other assignments as was the case with the division commander in the Pathribal incident is not enough. That this was done in the case suggests that the state had much to hide and could not risk having its officials prosecuted, lest they spill the beans.
Command climate, the degree of permissiveness (or otherwise) of violations in conducting counter insurgency operations, is perhaps the most significant variable that either promotes or deters violations. A command climate is permissive when it allows greater leeway to tactical commanders in pursuit of quantifiable 'results' such as militants killed. The tacit bargain is in the commander overlooking cutting of corners in such pursuit so long as 'results' in terms of statistics of militants killed keep rolling in. Such commanders end up having to look the other way in cases of transgressions since they would be implicated for abetting short cuts in means and methods in case they quarrel with their tools.
The infamous Manorama Devi case is apt example. Why did the army defend the indefensible? The popular narrative of the case holds water. Believing Manorama Devi to be an explosives expert, the army had ordered her elimination in custody, lest she be let off by the courts. Obviously, those the army ordered to carry out the killing took advantage of the situation. Fearing that the officer would spill the beans if tried for rape and custodial death, the hierarchy had to protect him and the troops involved. The logic in higher command echelons was perhaps that the image of the army was more important than justice. The government for its part, equally privy to the facts of the case, and unwilling to face down the army or face uproar in the North East, played for time by ordering a committee on AFSPA, the BP Jeevan Reddy Committee, and having outlasted the agitations, dispensed with the committee's recommendations.
Even where the command climate is strictly professional, as was the case in Kashmir in the early nineties, a Kunan Poshpora can yet occur. At the time the commanding general in the Valley was MA Zaki, described by Manoj Joshi in his book Lost Rebellion as: 'fortunately for India the man commanding the Indian Army's 15th Corps was a cool professional soldier, a Hyderabadi Muslim who had served the Army with distinction. The courageous and deeply religious officer was fated to play a major role in the affairs of the state.' MA Zaki later led Jamia Millia Islamia out of troubled times in the late nineties. That Kunan Poshpora dates to his tenure suggests that there is more to the case than the cult status the case has through its retelling become as one of a mass rape.
Reputed bureaucrat, Wajahat Habibullah, divisional commissioner in the Valley when the incident occurred, refers to it in his book on Kashmir, Kashmir: The Dying of the Light, informing that he had recommended an inquiry in his preliminary inquiry report. The government instead had the then chairperson of the Press Trust of India, BG Verghese, look into the incident as part of his remit that had wider terms of reference. That the press was exploited by the over ground militants to replicate their narrative of Kunan Poshpora was one reason why BG Verghese headed to Kashmir. In his autobiography, First Draft, Verghese recounts that he was provided with the fullest access by Zaki to all relevant actors including officers and soldiers of the offending infantry unit. He was unable to find evidence either of the act or of an attempted cover up.
In the event, the brigade commander had ordered search operations at night against explicit orders in the corps zone, thereby creating conditions in which sexual assault could occur. The opportunity was seized on by the militant sympathisers irrespective of the facts of the case and the long term implications for the lives of the women of the village. Blowing the case out of proportion in an information war campaign, truth was lost and so was justice. Had Wajahat Habibullah been more assertive then or not moved out of the Valley to a post in Delhi, a separate inquiry could have established the truth. The army was open to this.
Tavleen Singh in her book, Kashmir: A Tragedy of Errors, recounts how Zaki reacted to her critical questioning of an incident of army high handedness in early 1990 resulting in civilian deaths. Zaki had admitted to it being 'unfortunate'. There was no attempt to underplay or avoid it. This indicates that an incident of the proportions of Kunan Poshpora could not have escaped Zaki's professional eye, particularly due to his renown as a commander leading from the front. Incidentally, he suffered a graze to his head in a fire fight with militants in one such encounter as head of the army in the Valley. Given such a record of integrity and grit, insinuations as attend the Kunan Poshpora now need revisiting. Stridency does not alone make for truth. It instead has the effect of the army's case becoming more plausible in their pointing out the perils of ambush by litigation.
Siddharth Varadarajan has suggested an improvement to deter the government from sitting on decisions or denying clearances altogether, while preserving the provision of prior governmental permission. The government must be required, by an amendment to the Act, to furnish reasons for refusal for prosecution. Its reason must also be subject to judicial review. In case the court decides that the evidence outweighs the reason given, it can either override the government or, where reasons of national security and state are furnished, it could order the army to exercise military justice. This has precedence in the Pathribal killings case in which the army has been asked by the court to proceed with the court martial of those who killed innocent civilians to pass off the killings as those of militants involved in the Chittisingpora incident. That in its judgment the court has upheld the cover from prosecution in the Act implies that the provision is here to stay. Therefore, ensuring accountability of the ministry in its power to withhold or grant sanctions for prosecution must be built into the Act through amendment.
Justice Verma's third point on review of the AFSPA in areas where it is applicable adds to the weighty voices against AFSPA. Yet, despite the solid case against the law and the credentials of those, such as late Justice Verma, arrayed against is, it appears set to stay on. Clearly, India is not out of the woods yet in terms of armed challenges to the state that require an armed response. What Justice Verma's report succeeds in doing is to push the argument past the tipping point that the law must be amended. Even then the law by itself is not enough. The command climate in the theatre of operations must - and can be - such as to make the law's existence irrelevant.