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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

nuclear dynamics

Will Modi relook at ‘massive’ retaliation in India’s nuclear doctrine?

The nuclear doctrine review, which will likely be initiated soon by the new government in accordance with its promises in its manifesto, is an opportunity. India’s nuclear doctrine promises ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation in case of enemy nuclear first use against India or its forces anywhere.  What exactly is ‘massive’ is not spelt out.
There are three versions of ‘massive’. One is the Cold War version which meant ‘assured destruction’ of the enemy, defined in terms of damage and casualties. The second is counter-value targeting, counter value being an euphemism for city busting. In this case, even a single bomb on an urban centre can be considered a disaster of ‘massive’ proportions. The third is brought on by the need to preserve oneself from counter retaliation in kind. This would entail reducing the enemy’s capability for nuclear retaliation.
The difficulty with this is that the alternatives offered make it appear as though nuclear war is fightable. Therefore, such alternatives do not find discussion in peace literature, which in turn restricts itself unduly to discussion of the abolition of nuclear weapons. While that is undoubtedly a useful thrust, abolition may be distant yet and there could well be radioactive mushrooms sprouting prior to that happening.
It is another matter that once the mushroom clouds blot out the sun, the dream of nuclear weapons abolition will be brought considerably closer. However, it may be too late then. Therefore, there is a need for the peace movement to also engage with nuclear doctrines that states think up.
Since India is now poised to think its doctrine afresh, peaceniks must vet the doctrine even if their instincts tell them that getting rid of the weapons is the best direction to go. It is in this spirit that this article discusses nuclear doctrine. There are rational alternatives.
Let’s begin with the Cold War interpretation of ‘massive’. Thinking on these lines, best voiced by George Fernandes when he was defence minister, has it that Pakistan would be ‘finished’ in case it used nuclear weapons. His army chief said that it would no longer be in a position to continue in the fight. Hardliners talk of obliterating Pakistani recovery capability as a state and society. A calculation has it that reducing six to ten cities to dust will be enough.
The second interpretation is city busting. In this a city or two less will surely put rationality back into the minds of Pakistani nuclear decision makers. Knowing that there are more cities that India could take out and that it has the means to do so, Pakistanis may throw in the nuclear towel. This risks Pakistani counter retaliation in like mode, a city for a city in light with the literalist Quranic interpretation that surely is not lost on Pakistan’s army controlling the nuclear trigger: a tooth for a tooth.   
In most scenarios of nuclear use, Pakistan is depicted as relying on its tactical nuclear weapon, the Nasr, for achieving a strategic purpose. It could use this against advancing Indian military columns on its own territory with an aim of ‘asymmetric escalation’ (Vipin Narang) of the conflict, in part to catalyse conflict termination by intervention of the alarmed international community. In this case, if India was to take out a Pakistani city or two, with the aim of in-conflict deterrence and to avenge itself, it would constitute escalation in itself, a move from military to civilian targets.
It cannot be guaranteed that even as Pakistan proves responsive to the international community’s intervention, it does not alongside lob a bomb or two on India’s urban centres to get even for what it would consider disproportionate Indian reaction.
The third interpretation of ‘massive’ is to remain unscathed while delivering a massive nuclear blow to the enemy. This will involve reducing his nuclear retaliatory capability by hitting his command and control systems, delivery capability and arsenal. Since Pakistan has over 100 weapons which it will likely stash away over ten secret locations, a counter-force attack would require over 30 detonations across Pakistan at a minimum.
To be sure, a few more sites may require being hit taking this number to 50 or so. A few Pakistani bombs can be expected to survive and be lobbed back, broken-backed, at India. Adding these, perhaps 10-15 in number, on India’s heartland cities, takes the detonations to over three score. This dust and smoke will surely blot out the sun.
As is evident none of the three interpretations of ‘massive’ leaves India unscathed. Therefore, to go ‘massive’ is foolish. There are alternatives.
A third model has been aired, too: that of ending an exchange at the lowest level of nuclear use. In case of the popular scenario of Pakistani tactical nuclear first use, India could likewise hit back at a lower order level and alongside, proceed with efforts at ending the exchange(s). This may require cooperation with Pakistan in the midst of conflict. Since both states have an interest to prevent escalation, such cooperation is not unthinkable and will doubtless be facilitated by the concerned international community.
Even so, this model is somewhat overly reliant on conflict diplomacy that may actually be overtaken by events. Suggesting a nuclear risk reduction centre would set alarm bells ringing, be seen as a vote against the efficacy of the deterrent in place, and as wishful at this stage of confidence-building engagement between the two states.    
The case for nuclear non-retaliation
Seen in the light of the above, there is a case for non-retaliation. When India is confronted with the favourite scenario of strategists,  that is of lower order first use by Pakistan, it could choose not to retaliate with nuclear means. It could instead fight back with conventional means, including conventional degradation of Pakistani nuclear assets.
Since Pakistan will be in the nuclear dog house and India on the moral high ground, there would unlikely be a repeat of Pakistani nuclear temerity. In any case in-conflict deterrence will continue in place with India likely to hit back harder in case Pakistan makes the same mistake twice over.
A ‘no’ to nuclear retaliation at the crux has the advantage of keeping  the politics of the conflict at the centre. Otherwise, as Clausewitz reminded all, conflict will have a tendency to spiral into what he called ‘Absolute War’. While in his time this was taken as the ‘ideal type’, in the nuclear age it is very much a possibility. Therefore, more needs to be done to avoid this, including formulation of sensible doctrines. That is a lesson of the Cold War that all nuclear states need to be held accountable to. This will also help preserve the ‘minimum’ against the onslaught of ‘credible’ in the doctrine of ‘credible minimum deterrence’.
India’s nuclear strategists that will likely get into a huddle soon must take care to think this option - nuclear non-retaliation - through. It could be facilitated by adoption of a ‘flexible’ nuclear doctrine that leaves the manner of retaliation to be decided depending on the circumstance of nuclear first use by ruling in conventional retribution. That India may not join Pakistan in breaking the nuclear taboo may lead Pakistan to check its nuclear finger.
The important point here is that it is not only nuclear deterrence as traditionally conceived that can produce nuclear reticence. How to prevent nuclear outbreak and limit it must guide the doctrine-  making process. Traditional blinkers that the ‘usual suspects’ have on may require  to be abandoned.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Modi-Sharif meeting

The Citizen

A Second Modi-Sharif Meet  Required to Kickstart Bilateral Talks

Sun June 08, 2014
The initiative to get Pakistan’s prime minister over to Delhi, with the cover that the invitation was for all SAARC heads along with Mauritius, was Modi’s innovative rolling out of the peace agenda. Modi had in his campaign projected that his foreign policy will be in the tradition of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
Vajpayee had a mixed record in handling Pakistan because he was not able to rein in the hardliners in his own administration, leave alone placate the Pakistan army. As a result India was not able to capitulate on his diplomatic initiatives at Lahore, Agra and later at Islamabad. Modi, while in a better position to be accommodationist, may be less inclined to be so and herein lies what can emerge as the internal contradiction in his Pakistan policy.
Modi’s gesture at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan takes India back to the fag-end of the Vajpayee tenure when the aborted expectations from his bus trip to Lahore of five years earlier were revived. In January 2004, Vajpayee had once again gone across to Pakistan, this time for the SAARC summit in Islamabad, to sign an agreement with Musharraf.
he agreement stipulated that Musharraf would rein in terrorism even as India took its concerns on board. This resulted in the composite dialogue, originally mooted while Gujral was in charge, finally taking off that year.
It is well known that the Pakistan army had tripped up both Sharif and Vajpayee by doing a Kargil on India. The lesson learnt in India was that undercutting the Pakistan army was required. This could only be done by bringing home to that army the power imbalance with India and the potential consequences of that for it and Pakistan. Having fought the Kargil war with a caretaker government in place, India set about conveying to Pakistan its advantages that Pakistan’s army had taken as negated in catching up with India through its Chagai nuclear tests. As a result, an intelligence-military driven policy towards Pakistan was put in place.
India tried to set its own house in order in Kashmir all through 2000 with a period of ‘non-initiation of combat operations’. It continued the escalation of the war on the Line of Control that had been extended by the Pakistan army through its unsuccessful gambit at Kargil, by including non-military targets and targeting of non-combatants. The next year it flexed its conventional muscle by a military exercise, Exercise Purna Vijay (Total Victory) that took into account the changed nuclear environment in the subcontinent.
While evidence is understandably thin, the loose ends in the official narratives of the spectacular terror attacks in quick succession in 2001 on the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and on Parliament have given rise various conspiracy theories. However, the opportunity of mobilisation was used to sweep the Valley floor multiple times of terrorists and to use the crisis peaks in December and May to impress Pakistan that it was playing with fire.
Using heightened American pressure owing to their presence in the region to make this message ring home, India was able to draw down the pressure over the next year 2003 to culminate in the ceasefire on the Line of Comtrol November that year. The Islamabad agreement signified the culmination of the Indian strategy of mellowing down then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf who was also then a realistic interlocutor with power enough to deliver on promises of ceasing terror. Musharraf for his part had US support and a self-image of having stared down India in Operation Parakram. This put both Musharraf and Vajpayee in a favourable position to start a meaningful composite dialogue.
In the event, Manmohan Singh inheriting the process took it forward to a limited extent. Busy with investing politically in the relationship with the US, he did not have the political capital left to also take the Pakistan process any further than it went. With Musharraf departing the scene, he had a ready excuse of lack of a credible interlocutor in Pakistan to trot out for lack of progress. This set the stage for 26/11 that decisively set the clock back.
With uncertainty gripping Pakistan due to the onset of ‘Obama’s war’ – the surge in Afghanistan – and the UPA government going comatose in its second innings, there are two start points for the talks. One is in resumption where the talks not amounting to a composite dialogue let off in 2012 or resuming the composite dialogue. Since the Modi government has followed the preceding government’s line of no talks without legal redress for 26/11 terror handlers in Pakistan, a composite dialogue may not be on the cards.
In the Vajpayee years, India tried to impress Pakistan that its line of pressuring India through proxy war could not work and if persisted with would have negative consequences for Pakistan. Had Vajpayee stayed another term, it may have been possible for India to make the concessions that would have assuaged Pakistan. These would likely have been along the lines such as ‘making borders insignificant’ that Manmohan Singh voiced but could not follow through on.
Modi, modelling himself on Vajpayee, is in a position to take up where Vajpayee left off. Modi has the parliamentary majority, the nationalist credentials, a strong-man image, the need for regional peace to work his economic package and likely US support for such initiative in wake of its departure from Afghanistan. The strategic balance is also somewhat even between the two countries, with Pakistan army believing it has the ‘full spectrum’ deterrence to be able to take India’s hand from a position of relative parity. 
However, India would require being wary of the inherent contradictions in its Pakistan strategy. Among the first measures the government has taken is appointment of an intelligence czar, Ajit Doval, as national security adviser and an upping of foreign direct investment in the defence sector. These should not end up heralding a return to the strategy of Vajpayee years in which India had first to flex its muscles and only then, from a position of strength, proceeding for talks.
Since Doval now heads security policy, it may also seek, through intelligence activism, to create a divide in Pakistan, between the military and civilians, between the hardliners and liberals and between the religious extremists and the liberals. This may be good strategy to see off Pakistan finally on its way downhill, but India has been deterred from following through with it thus far owing to believing that it could not itself escape repercussions. If election rhetoric and the BJP’s longstanding position on the Congress weakness on defence is any guide, India may well end up in a replay of the Vajpayee years. Pakistan’s reaction, that can predictably be expected to be military-led, would have uncertain consequences for Modi’s grand strategy of regional peace in order to work his economic agenda.
Modi would require to clarify in his own mind what he seeks. Thereafter, taking the bull by the horns may be required. Pakistan’s emphasis on ‘meaningful’ engagement and not talks for the sake of talks will alone get India’s strategy out of its cul-de-sac. Any warming-up calisthenics between the two security establishments can create facts on the ground with potential to upturn any will for conflict resolution. A good beginning would be for the two foreign secretaries to agree to resume the composite dialogues, instead of merely restarting the rounds of talks. This could be formally announced in the meeting of the two prime ministers when they meet in New York at the United Nations General Assembly.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Mr. Doval as NSA


What Mr. Doval as NSA means for Indian national security
Jun 01, 2014
With Mr. Ajit Doval poised to take charge as national security adviser, India has placed its cards on the table. After a lifetime in the “trade”, as intelligence practitioners affectionately call their craft universally, Mr. Doval cannot be expected to change his spots. He can therefore be expected to concentrate on what he is best at: covert operations.
Breathless biographies in the media suggest he has had a hand in outmanoeuvring Mizo and Sikh extremists. He is also credited with Kuka Parray turning coat in Kashmir. He had a role in the Kandahar exchange. In retirement, he has run a well-funded think tank that came up in the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic enclave.
What these hagiographies don’t tell is also equally significant. The think tank organised “vimarshas” that began with vedic recitations in Sanskrit. It has been linked with helping organise the BJP campaign that has swept it to power. There is little to take amiss in this. Conservative think tanks can be expected to help steer conservative parties to power. That Mr. Doval did this successfully is to his credit. However, as any cyber denizen knows, the BJP campaign gained speed with a cyber disinformation campaign, especially thinly disguised “black propaganda” directed at discrediting in particular the Gandhis. This suggests a masterly intelligence hand well-versed with “dirty tricks” behind it. By no means does the needle point to Mr. Doval. But then the jury needs to stay out longer on this. And, in all fairness, in contrast to Mr. Amit Shah’s doings in UP, that  in one commentator’s well argued case, have resulted in the communal polarisation in UP and Bihar that buoyed  the BJP to power, this is almost benign.
But the main reservation here is on the role of the top leadership of the intelligence fraternity in the early and mid-2000s. Since Mr. Doval was part of this august grouping, he cannot escape accountability and in that a share of the blame.
The fact is that the nefarious strategy of painting India’s minority as a fifth column lending itself to the expansion of the Pakistani proxy war from Kashmir to the Indian hinterland was thought up and implemented at a time when Mr. Doval was in the chair first as Special Director IB, under the first NDA regime, and later as Director IB under the first Manmohan Singh tenure.
Since Intelligence Bureau cannot but know the truth, even if Mr. Doval did not think up this strategy, to what extent did he exert to end it in first place and second to reverse it by putting behind bars the Hindutva activists, such as Aseemanand, who participated in it is a moot question.
It bears recall that the strategy was in full play in the run up to the “Shining India” campaign of the BJP. The idea was to suggest an India under siege from an expansion in Pakistan’s proxy war and BJP as the only party capable of pulling it out. Since the unwritten ceasefire of November 2003, cemented in an agreement at Islamabad in January 2004, signified a positive start in J&K, the ISI bogey was then redirected to place India’s minority on the defensive.  In Gujarat, it is by now well-established that the campaign, under the tutelage of Mr. Amit Shah, was aimed at embellishing the “56 inch” chest of the provincial strongman there: Mr. Modi. Since the strategy was carried out by Hindutva footsoldiers, including those in khaki such as Mr. Vanzara, as a masterly “black” operation, it also bears an intelligence stamp. The Gujarat IB head then who went on to hold Doval’s chair later as special director in IB, has been linked with the operation. Mr. Doval at the apex of the intelligence community then cannot but have known of the authorship. That the IB did not distinguish itself in the period, suggests not so much incompetence, but, at the least, indifference, and, more dangerously, complicity.
As far as Mr. Doval’s intervention in Kashmir is concerned, media hype has it that it helped turn round the insurgency. Kuka Parray was the epitome of a “divide and rule” initiative in which the “Ikhwan” was created to undercut the pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahedeen which by mid-nineties had successfully displaced the Kashmiri nationalist JKLF. It cleared the way for the dominance of Pakistani groups such as Lashkar thereafter. The advantage for India was to discredit the insurgency as externally inspired and therefore legitimised Indian political inaction. Further, once the proxy war dimension had been crucially established, it could be expanded by intelligence operations that expanded the “ISI footprint” into the rest of India. That the shadow of intelligence operations continues over certain episodes such as the Ansals Plaza killings and, more critically, the Parliament attack, is suggestive of an intelligence-led Indian strategy. This was to enable a shift to a hard line that included diplomatic coercion through a military mobilisation in case Pakistan proved unresponsive to India’s diplomatic initiatives such as the ill-thought out Lahore peace initiative. In the event, the intelligence-dominant strategy succeeded, not only externally but also internally, in boxing in Pakistan and India’s minority respectively.
Given that the only link between the two, the external and internal “Other” created by the strategy, is Muslimness, it is clear that at heart the strategy was anti-Muslim. It benefited from the Islamophobia that marked the times coinciding with the Bush years at the White House. Such a strategy cannot only have non-state actors at the core and at helm. It is not one that was thought up and implemented with such aplomb without state knowledge. That the state remained in stupor, in particular its IB, indicates state inaction at best and state complicity at worst. Since Mr. Doval is now termed as an intelligence czar, even if he had nothing to do with it, it is clear that he as a leader and “intelligence legend” did have a hand in setting the internal political and ethical compass of the institution and indeed can be taken as a protagonist in determining its institutional culture. In this Mr. Doval has failed spectacularly.
This background is necessary to understand which direction Indian security can now be expected to head. Mr. Doval was IB head in the first UPA government. His ambit was likely then to have been considerably restricted from what it might have been under a second NDA regime had the information operation, that the “Shining India” campaign essentially was, worked. Incidentally, it was the NDA that  had nominated Doval to IB directorship by easing out the incumbent then, ensuring that he went on premature leave pending retirement, so that Mr. Doval could take his place prior to the UPA getting into the driving seat and upsetting the applecart. In the event, Mr. Doval was ushered in by the UPA among its first actions when it came to power. As an aside, the BJP’s election time barbs over the nomination of the current chief designate by the previous government is therefore a bit rich, given its own actions on Mr. Doval’s behalf just recounted. Returning to the point, without the checks and balances that the UPA placed on him then, not least in the form of yet another intelligence man, MK Narayanan, in the NSA chair, Mr. Doval today will have the run of the place.
India by forthrightly nominating Mr. Doval has thrown down the gauntlet to Pakistan externally and has sent a message to its minority currently cowering under majoritarian triumphalism. The message for Pakistan is that it had better take India’s hand outstretched at the Rashtrapati Bhawan forecourt or else India will turn the tables on the ISI. Afghanistan offers a ready theatre for proxy war. If Pakistan hits back in Kashmir then onus for the fertility of the space can only be with Indian political inattention over the past decade. In case India’s intelligence stupor on the internal front continues, and indeed it will since even the Congress when in power could not turn the tide even by appointing and giving an extension to a Muslim as IB chief, then the Hindutva programme for India’s cultural reset can be expected to proceed without check. Clearly, Indian security is in for interesting times.
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