Friday, October 31, 2014
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE http://indiatogether.org/narendra-modi-government-security-defence-strategy-and-risks-government
The new government is only following on the footsteps of its predecessor, but with a difference. While Manmohan’s Singh’s government built national defence sinews, it apparently went about it with a longer time-span in its mind. In the interim, it reckoned it needed to keep the neighbours on both fronts placated through talks or the promise of talks. However, the new government, in speeding up the activities around national security, may be putting too much on its plate all at once. Will it be able to pull it off?
More consequential is the broadcasting of intent to its potential adversaries, Pakistan and China. By cancelling talks, the government has put Pakistan on a clear notice. By wielding a sword in addition to a shield, as the defence minister put it, Pakistan has been conveyed a message of deterrence.
On the China front, the national security adviser at the Munich Security Conference in New Delhi ruled out a compromise solution on the border involving territorial concessions. India’s position in China’s ‘containment’ has come to acquire considerable heft in India’s exchanges with the US, Japan and Vietnam. This, alongside having a mountain strike corps out of its infancy, gives India the confidence to ‘stand up’ to China, if not tell it off.
The upshot of these moves has been evident in the response. From Pakistan it is as expected. Not only has its national security adviser rejected any Indian attempt at ‘hegemony’, but its maverick former dictator, Musharraf, has gone on to say that Pakistan would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if push comes to shove. China has also been equally clear, telling India not to build border roads, but also keeping its forces in eyeball to eyeball confrontation at Chumar even while its president was in Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The messaging between the states can be taken as one of deterrence. A new government in power is drawing the line and adversaries are reciprocating in kind. Thereafter, if it is back to business, then it would indeed be Doval, and at one remove, Modi, ‘pulling it off’. The metrics for this would be resumption of the interrupted dialogue with Pakistan and tying down China with investment in India’s infrastructure.
Commentators, fearful of India overheating, have rightly advised caution. Strategic rationality may indeed dictate thinking in Sardar Patel Bhawan, site of the National Security Council Secretariat. However, what miss the strategic eye are internal political compulsions. The earlier government had right wing BJP looking over its shoulder. This time round, minus an effective opposition, the government has a more far-right flank to worry about. How does this impact strategic calculations and how can it render them awry?
Firstly, the government has dug itself into a commitment trap by creating a certain image of itself, based on electoral calculations. It would, by default, require being violently responsive in case it is tested by a mega-terror attack. This has the potential to throw a spanner into its grand strategy of economic development, quite as desired by those who may manipulate such a terror strike.
The Israel model of ‘mowing grass’ in Gaza or in Hezbollah dominated areas in Lebanon would not hold good in India’s attempted taming of Pakistan. On a wider regional level, the competition can expand territorially, moving from playing out in Afghanistan currently to engulf the expanding arc of instability till the Mediterranean; in fact, there was a suggestion during Modi’s US trip that India was somehow needed in that area.
Secondly, since the government has nothing to offer Pakistan through talks and has lost in Sharif an interlocutor to proceed with these in any case, it cannot but continue having a tough line on Pakistan. This situation has the potential to yield internal political dividends in keeping India’s largest minority on the defensive through working of the contrived linkage between India’s internal ‘Other’ and its external ‘Other’.
This will enable space for the regime, with its supportive quasi-cultural organisations, to go for more than merely an economic reset of India over the next ten years. Modi has declared an intention to stay in power. In case of another outbreak of the ‘troubles’ in Kashmir, India may well revert to the period depicted in the film, Haider.
Thirdly, in the self-confessed nationalist government’s prioritisation of national security lies incipient militarism. Militarism and nationalism are a heady mix. While the ‘Modi wave’ has put him in the saddle, those who contributed to his victory have their own impressions of the victory and their role in it and their own agendas. He has either to give them their share of flesh or else get diverted to taming them.
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE http://indiatogether.org/narendra-modi-government-security-defence-strategy-and-risks-government
Finally, the picture above of strategic rationality being upset by political extremism may overshadow another likely source that the threat could spring from. It could instead come from within the strategic fraternity. Ideology driven strategy tends to be insensitive to the limits of power. Having been kept dormant by a liberal-realist combine at the helm for so long, the strategic subculture comprising hawks who have been closet cultural nationalists all along may come to the fore. They are liable to take jargon such as ‘massive’ nuclear retaliation and ‘decisive’ conventional victory at face value.
Intent on turning back time by a millennium, this section shall push to take India across the Hindu Kush, if not to Mount Kailash. These shall be the Trojan horses of Hindutva who can upset Doval’s applecart, assuming he is different.
If the Prime Minister is indeed to pull off the foreign and security policy he has put in place as first step, he needs to get firm with the far right as his next. It would be a case of the leopard changing its spots. With the majority he has, he can. But the question is, will he?
Saturday, October 25, 2014
Mr. Modi's next stunt
Milligazette, 1-15 November 2014
The government has declared the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel as National Unity Day. Feverish planning is on for the day as had preceded the Teachers’ Day. Mr. Modi is to address the nation and students are to take a pledge. The day displaces Indira Gandhi’s birth anniversary celebrated so far as National Integration Day. It also displaces observance of her death anniversary that coincidentally falls on the same day. However, eclipse of the dynasty in more ways than its electoral drubbing is but a side issue.
Mr. Modi, fresh from his appropriating Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy with his Swach Bharat campaign platform, is going to use the opportunity this week as yet another one to inveigle his way into popular imagination. This time he is to participate in a run. Taken together with his rushing off on Diwali to Siachen for a photo opportunity with soldiers there, there is incipient a cult phenomenon surrounding the personality of Mr. Modi.
The political dividends of this are self-evident in his notching up Maharashtra and Haryana and looking forward improbably to a victory even in J&K, one that will no doubt enabled by a more thorough boycott in the Valley. Indeed, there is precedence in post World War I Germany that in scholarly literature is taken as indicative of fascism-on-the-make. National Unity Day is to invoke similar hyper-nationalism as prevalent in states that fell to nationalism, enumerated most recently in a New York Times article by Pankaj Mishra (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/25/opinion/pankaj-mishra-nirandra-modis-idea-of-india.html?_r=1). Of course, it is a page out of the Congress book in their glorification of the dynasts. Only Mr. Modi does it better.
However, for readers of this publication, it is significant in more ways than can superficially be perceived. At face value, there can be little objection to an expression of fealty for the safety and security of one’s own state, nation and country. However, the expectation is that in the normal course, this should really be taken for granted. As citizens, we owe this obligation to the collective and take care to discharge it. That the country is being asked to reiterate the obvious therefore bears scrutiny.
To originators of the idea, perhaps in the labyrinths of Nagpur and innards of the right wing political organisation that passes for a cultural one, the act of getting all to conform and reaffirm their loyalty is to catch those opposed to them on the wrong foot. Any reticence can then be construed as disloyalty to the nation and manipulated by them for the political purposes. To them, while their co-religionists will have not problem with swearing the oath to Mother India, others of differing religious persuasion may. This will in their thinking reveal these ‘others’ as less than patriotic and, having their spiritual well springs elsewhere, also having their political compass set outside the land, and consequently, less than deserving of equal citizenship.
Even so, there can be no problem for any citizen to take an oath. After all the Constitution, while not scripture, is indeed sacred. However, the problem is in the change that is afoot in India. National ethos and culture will be first worked on and with the majority that Mr. Modi has so can the Constitution be reworked over time to fit the image of an India of right wing imagining. It is not necessary for all citizens to find this agreeable. Swearing loyalty to India as we know it is fine. But to swear loyalty to an India that appears to be emerging must give pause to all citizens. Therefore, for the government to insidiously ask all to take such a step is itself a dead give-away of a larger game-plan ahead; one that citizens need being wary of and forewarned against.
For India’s Muslims watching Mr. Modi and his government continues to be important despite his clean chit to Muslims acknowledging that they are ready to live and die for their country. It would be to succumb to a Stockholm syndrome if Mr. Modi is let off scrutiny merely on account of this. His politics has been to use Muslims as the ‘Other’ and build his ‘vote bank’ on the majority community. Having made the necessary gains in the national elections from an internal Other, for the state elections that soon followed, the government, staying aloof from the ‘love jihad’ campaign of its supporters, latched on to an external Other.
His government’s self-acknowledged shift to being aggressive on the borders figured in his election speeches, that he has ‘shut up’ the Pakistani army and has them ‘screaming’. Pakistan is seen as having a propensity to interfere with India’s internal affairs in J&K and with fostering a fifth column supposedly based on minority ‘sleeper cells’. There is therefore a collapsing of the internal Other and the external Other in the mind’s eye of right wing strategists.
The oath of fealty on national unity day is yet another unnecessary ploy to push the largest minority on the back-foot by yet again getting it to disassociate itself from Pakistan. This is unnecessary since no such link exists but for a right wing inspired, media sponsored contrived linkage. The right wing has been known to foster this over the past decade through terror acts of uncertain origin. If investigations were to proceed to their logical end, the media that has purveyed the right wing conspiracy theory would indeed be considerably surprised. A false linkage does not need to be time and again denounced.
The day is not significant in more ways than one only for Muslims. For India’s populations on the social and geographic periphery, the latter in J&K and North East, it is yet another annual reminder that they being suspect can take as an opportunity to redeem themselves. It is ‘yet another’ imposition because the national days – Independence Day and Republic Day – are already there for all citizens to remind themselves of their obligations to the national collective.
Finally, the choice of Sardar Patel, always an icon of the right wing and soon to be honoured with the world’s tallest statue, owes not only to his contribution to making India whole as advertised, but on account of his arguably questionable role in Hyderabad and J&K. If the likes of AG Noorani are to be believed in their well-researched work on the period, national integration could have been proceeded with differently. The Hyderabad integration is being used politically for right wing penetration into South India as the gamesmanship surrounding the contretemps surrounding hoisting of the national flag in Gulbarga on the day of the merger this September shows. As for J&K, the Day will be yet another stick to beat it into submission, close on heels of Mr. Modi’s choice to spend Diwali in Srinagar (It is unlikely that a similar idea of Mr. Modi spending Holi in Nagaland would ever occur to his advisers.). Mythologising the past in face of well-founded and long-standing reservations on Mr. Patel’s attitude towards Muslims does not help unity any.
That said and acknowledged, the new regime can be given the fullest rope to first reveal itself in its fullest colours. Therefore, Muslim Indians can indulgently play along with the latest Modi stunt this National Unity Day, while keeping powder dry for when his larger cultural nationalist project reveals itself as an oncoming iceberg heading for India through the mists.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
In Pakistan, politicisation refers to political intervention by the military; most visible recently in the manner it has sponsored the hold-up of the Nawaz Sharif government. Whereas in Pakistan, politicisation of the military is furtherance of institutional interest of the military disguised as national interest; in India, politicisation of security is the use of security issues and its instruments for the political purposes of the ruling party. It shall be demonstrated ahead that this can culminate in development of symbiotic relations between the ruling party, one mediated by its leader, and the military.
Both profit from a certain direction in security, and therefore can forge a sustainable,
invisible bond. The ruling party's defining of national security through its ideological lens
can over time infiltrate the military, making for loss in professionalism i.e., the politicisation
of the military. This is reverse of the Pakistan case in which the military interferes with politics.
The army's upping-the-ante on the border cannot be taken amiss. It was in response to
increasing ceasefire violations and on provocative action in which it lost a soldier to an IED
attack in early October. The last army chief had already made it clear that he expects vigorous
tactical action on the Line of Control (LoC0. The current army chief on taking over made
a pledge not to have a repeat of the beheading incident of January last year. With the new
right wing government having given the go-ahead for a robust response, the army is only
following through on what has been long advertised.
Would the case have been different in case there had been any other government at Delhi?
The military's tactical level reaction to provocation has unlikely been in question. The previous
government broke off the talks owing to the LoC incident and did not resume them due to
policy paralysis thereafter suggests it would have been amenable to a vigourous response.
In the event, it was not tested.
Certainly, the state of talks with Pakistan would have impacted the firing on the LoC, in
that not only would Pakistan have likely not been provocative, but India may have been
more restrained. However, the last government had given the go-ahead for tactical trading
of ordnance as the army thought fit, but with the caveat that this should not impact the
strategic level moves. Therefore, there would have been no lack in a 'befitting reply' at
the tactical level, even if escalation would have been ruled out.
This time escalation has been ruled in. In so far as this can be strategically rationalised,
it makes sense. Firstly, India having broken off talks abruptly needed a fig leaf. The border
incidents provided the alibi and its recent escalation enable India to blame Pakistan for
continuing to be difficult. Secondly, that the escalation was soon after return of the
PM and NSA from the US suggests an AfPak angle alongside. The messaging to Pakistan,
with tacit US imprimatur, is that India be a minder in the region in case Pakistan does not
play ball in the unfolding US strategy in Afghanistan. Lastly, Pakistan's military by unsettling
Sharif made it amply clear that it calls the shots on the India policy. With Mr. Modi's opening
gambit coming to naught, the escalation is India's reply.
However the timing of the escalation in relation to internal politics cannot be ignored. The
ruling party had received a warning of a waning Modi wave in the bye-elections across the
country. With significant states going to the polls, its internal political mobilisation strategy
of using the internal 'Other', India's minority, as bogeyman was not enough, the 'love jihad'
trope notwithstanding. Mr. Modi to facilitate his US trip had made placatory statements
including acknowledging Muslims are ready to die for their country. The external 'Other' lent
itself better for internal political use.
This explains the manner Mr. Modi has used the army's response on the LoC to project his
image as strongman. Questioning security policy is a duty for the opposition. By no means is
questioning security policy casting of aspersion on the military. It is an absurd notion to have
a consensus on security policy in a democratic society. There are multiple ways to achieve
security. The government's manner of doing so is not necessarily the only or right one. Therefore,
the charge made by the BJP that questioning by the opposition amounts to demoralising the
force is itself politicisation. This amounts to the politicisation of security and one done by the
ruling party for its short term political ends.
What are the consequences for knock-on politicisation of the military?
In so far that the military is currently carrying out faithfully the order of the government, its action
is unexceptionable. To call for the targeting to have taken into account collateral damage as
a factor is trite in light of the manner collateral damage is increasingly being interpreted in light
of operations in the Middle East, including the Israeli one in Gaza. However, of consequence
is in case the military develops the notion that here is a government that delivers, that does not
keep it on leash and one that allows the military strategic space otherwise constricted by diplomatic
This has to be read alongside the manner defence ministry is being left without a minister. The
nominal oversight by the finance minister has been subject to his good health. The military's
key grouse, that it is second guessed by the bureaucrats, is likely much eased. There is
considerable largesse coming its way in terms of armament infusion with major initiatives by the
government such as opening up the defence sector further to foreign investment and its proximity
to the US as an arms source. The political use of the military enhances its profile, both in relation
to the ruling party and in the voting public. All this can tend to inflate the military's self perception,
thereby increasing political propensity, latent in any military.
Weak indicators are already on offer on the way the wind blows. The military has unnecessarily
offered its services for cleaning the Ganga, visualising 40 officers under a retired general assisting
the minister, Uma Bharati. It was needlessly on the front pages in the Swach Bharat campaign in
cleaning up its cantonments.
Even if the contrast in the response of the army and the administration in J&K to the
floods has been stark, the army's placing of the spotlight on itself was at the expense of the
administration. With the BJP making a strong bid for J&K, if Mr. Amit Shah is to be believed,
this was unfortunate in terms of timing in that the army has albeit coincidentally improved the
chances of the BJP. It could have moderated such an outcome by keeping the focus on the state
government and projecting itself as in support to the state government, which is the correct legal
position and is normally the case.
The PM promised the situation will soon subside. The timing is also suggestive of internal
politics. With the harvest from the forthcoming elections behind him, the PM can be expected
to revert to his grandstanding on the regional stage, with the SAARC gathering in Kathmandu
providing an opportunity.
He will project that he and the army have 'shut up' the Pakistani military. The potential for identification
of the military with the PM, and at one remove his party, therefore exists. This is the knock-on
consequence of the politicisation of security that bears watching.
(Firdaus Ahmed's commentaries are available as a free ebook Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace, for download at www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in.)