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Friday, July 31, 2015

Kashmir: Not the moment for a tryst 1 August 2015

In an article ‘Resentful Kashmiris’, Kuldip Nayar writes of Kashmiris becoming more anti-Indian, both in form and substance. This may be useful in many ways than one. However, one way Kashmiris are better warned not to go down is to challenge the Indian state yet again, not at this juncture at any rate.
Kuldip Nayar forthrightly writes of an exchange in which he warns that Kashmiri cessation could have repercussions on India’s Muslim minority elsewhere in India, to which his Kashmiri interlocutor counter argues, ‘Your  Muslims are your problem.’
This reveals the extent of interface with their Kashmiri brethren of India’s Muslims south of the Pir Panjal. Since the mainstream Indian Muslim opinion was largely coincident with that of liberal Indian opinion on Kashmir, it was generally disapproving of the military template operational in the Valley for the past quarter century and supportive of a solution through dialogue with both Pakistan and with Kashmiris themselves.
Working through, with and within the liberal perspective was useful in that the Kashmir issue remained largely a territorial one in relation to Pakistan and not a religious one entangled in the vexed minority management issues in the rest of India. To recall, majority-minority strains came to fore coincident in time with the outbreak of the troubles in Kashmir in the late eighties, peaking together in the early nineties. That the two issues remained separate was altogether a good thing, since both had the potential to, if taken together, mutually complicate each other.
In the main liberal opinion was not quite an underdog in the years that followed. The element of restraint, such as there was, in the military template in Kashmir was on its account; so much so, that a modicum of normalcy could be said to have returned to the Valley, beginning with the NDA years under the stewardship of Vajpayee.
In effect, Kashmiris owe the rest of India much, including its Muslim minority. To be sure India could have and should have done much more to meet them more than halfway. Indeed, much of the resentment Nayar detects can be laid at India’s door, in the inability of the UPA to convert a position of advantage to sustainable peace.
Nayar hints at a possible reason for this inability and unwillingness. Liberal opinion has been cognizant of its relative strength in respect of the right wing that watched over its shoulder. It therefore confined itself to conflict management rather than resolution. That this apprehension of the right wing stealing a march in case it did otherwise was valid is borne out by the manner the right wing wrested the electoral upper hand last year.
A consideration has always been the possible repercussions of ‘concessions’ towards Kashmiris on the larger national minority. Howsoever unfair, it would have given the right wing another stick to beat not only the minorities, but the liberals as well. Therefore, that the UPA did not chance it was politically sensible. In the event, they were eclipsed anyway.
However, under the current circumstance ‘concessions’ are certainly possible. The right wing is comfortably ensconced in Delhi. It never has had to look over its shoulder. It has over the past year engaged in boundary setting and creating the conditions that enable potential concessions. In Kashmir these include getting itself into the coalition in Srinagar, telling Pakistan where to get off, staring it down at the LC, reducing infiltration to zero, and propping up its Jammu constituency to balance, and potentially cancel out, Srinagar. Outside of Kashmir, Mr. Modi is readying to have the military constituency eat out of its hand by holding on to the OROP declaration till the final moment when perhaps as early as at the 1965 fiftieth anniversary commemoration he grandly hands out the goodies.
If Kashmiris prove patient, they can prove themselves deserving of political ‘concessions’, such as progressing pushing back of the AFSPA to begin with. Mr. Modi can then grandly – as is his wont – bestow them when he builds up the tempo and is sure of pocketing the political dividend. Kashmiris would have got what they need. India’s minority would not bear any fallout. Mr. Modi would have the peace he needs to work his Gujarat model on the rest of India. This is a ‘Win-win’ situation for all, other than Pakistan’s right wingers.   
They may instigate Kashmiris to an untimely and possibly futile Round II. The army commander has in his Kargil Day interaction with the press let on that there is concern with educated youth signing up with militancy. Whereas this figure is still in the two digits, it reinforces Nayar’s observation of continuing disaffection.
In case this disaffection translates into confrontation then Mr. Modi’s hands will be as tied as any preceding Indian government’s. Just as with any other government, the suppressive template would be operational once again.
The legitimacy for this will be easy to create. Already there is disinformation abroad on the proximity of the Daeash to South Asia. A report has an opportune discovery of a Daesh plan to attack India and trigger an India-Pak Armageddon.  This will expectedly prove handy, even if time were to prove that it is a transparently motivated report put out by organizations and media outlets with right wing sympathies in the US. Mr. Modi’s foreign travels will ensure that his interlocutors there will give him the benefit of doubt. India will project itself as containing the Islamist threat, a cause that attracts the big three: US, Russia and China.
Thus, there is little that Kashmiris going militant at this stage can hope to wrest. Besides, Kashmiris can only expect to hurt to the extent they are ‘successful’ in inconveniencing India. As Nayar warns, the repercussions for India’s Muslims will be immediate and direct. They are now also hostage to Kashmiri good behavior.
The past year of Hindutvavadis running riot with state culpability hints as much. Alongside, the home ministry’s intent to busy itself with a counter radicalization program suggests they are already identified as Pakistan’s potential fifth column and an attractive constituency for the latest bogeyman, Daesh.
It appears that the earlier distance between Kashmir and India’s other minority question has eroded. Further convergence between the two can come about were Kashmir to improbably ignite yet again. That would create conditions for the perfect storm, benefiting the right wing on both sides of the erstwhile Radcliffe line and with no benefit sighted for Kashmiris. This analysis suggests that while flirting with black flags and green flags is romantic, expressive and cathartic, that is where the matter should end.
‘Concessions’ appear to be Mr. Modi’s Plan A. The somewhat limp Dinanagar attack and zero-infiltration this year indicates that Pakistan’s cards are down. It is yet to receive India’s retribution by proxy. That will likely be timed with the forthcoming NSAs meet, intended as a reading out by India of the Riot Act to Pakistan. If it fails, Plan B has been in place in Kashmir incongruous with its improved security indices for a decade in any case.
It’s therefore better to let Mr. Modi have his cake and await the outcome.  



Sunday, July 26, 2015

India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather        

26 July, 2015

India-Israel: Increasingly Birds of a Feather        

26 July, 2015    
India's abstaining from a vote censuring Israel at the Human Rights Council on its conduct in last year's Gaza war recently raised eyebrows. The ostensible reason for abstaining according to India's spokesperson was mention of the International Criminal Court - to which India is not a party - in the resolution. The real reasons are perhaps Netanyahu's phone call to Modi prior to the vote and Modi's impending visit to Israel, the first for an Indian head of government.
The visit is the coming-out of the India-Israel relationship that goes a quarter century to the early nineties course correction by Narasimha Rao on just about everything beginning with the economy. That the Cold War had ended and India needed to rethink was reason enough to recalibrate polices.
Now, it is easy to see one link by way of which Israel assumes importance in India's world view: the defence front. Israel is the second largest exporter to India of defence products of which India is the world's largest importer.
That India needs such ballast is evident from its cancelling of the close to half-a-billion-dollars-worth tender for supply of small arms for its army. That India cannot design and mass produce even small arms tells much of its arms industry and explains India's Israel link to an extent.

If the story ended there, there would be little to quibble about as Modi heads for Tel Aviv. It is instead more troubling.
A PhD student at Cambridge University informs of his meeting in Lucknow for a discussion along with some others of Lucknow's elite, presumably of Shia persuasion, with a retired Brigadier General from the Israeli Defence Forces and a retired colonel from its intelligence agencies accompanying an Israeli think tank head. Accompanying the Israelis was a Saudi delegation headed by a retired major general.
The meeting organized by a New Delhi think tank was supposedly for the two delegations to get a measure of that region's ‘syncretic culture'. It turned out instead to be a fishing expedition on how India's Shia's react to the ongoing Israel-Saudi squeeze of Iran. (In the event, the nuclear deal with Iran has led to both states receiving the US Defence Secretary to placate them with compensatory and balancing arms transfers from the US.)
While it would be interesting to know what sort of visa these visitors were on, it is easy to reckon which think tank the doctoral student omits to name organized the visit. The Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on its website lets on that hosted the Israelis mentioned in the article at one of its events early this year.
Given the think tank's connection with the National Security Adviser, getting a visa or getting on without a visa for research purposes for the visitors is indeed a small matter. However, having the Israelis and Saudis combine take a measure of so sensitive a topic and so much a matter of internal affairs in India is not quite a small matter.
The VIF website seminar report has it that the discussion in New Delhi was ‘essentially aimed at finding ways to broaden the scope for strategic cooperation between India and Israel, two countries sharing common values and common threats, each surrounded by regions of instability.' Irrespective of shared values and threats, it begs the question as to why the two states are being facilitated to intrude into the sensitive social space of India's largest minority?
This is perhaps easy to answer. Both being India's friends were perhaps pressuring India to lean on their side in the equation with Iran. India aware that it has an aware and active Shia community may have allowed the two states an insight into the mind of the community by facilitating the interaction. This way it could easily explain its equidistance between the two sides.
On the surface, this appears excusable. However, what it reveals is the level of strategic proximity between India and Israel. The danger in such proximity is in India painting itself into the same corner with Israel.
India already apparently believes that it is in the same corner. A former head of its Strategic Forces Command on a ‘lecture tour' of the US has in his exposition on India's nuclear doctrine at a leading US think tank gives a clue. Enumerating the nuclear threats to India, he let his audience know that there are three countries on the list of foes of Islamists: US, Israel and India.
Placed in august company, India presumably has to naturally take counter measures and these of necessity would require being in league with those in the same boat, the US and Israel.
How real is this threat?
In his inaugural speech calling for recognition of himself as Caliph, Al Baghdadi, now reportedly paralysed if not dead, included a mention of India along with other areas where rights of Muslims were being given short shrift referring to Kashmir. It can be expected of one trying to overthrow the Al Qaeda for the mantle of global terror-in-chief, attract recruits and spread terror.
At last count, about a dozen Indians of its 172 million Muslims responded. A few black flags were spotted at protest rallies in Kashmir, rightly played down by the administration as an attention seeking exercise.
But this is apparently enough of a threat for the Home Ministry to busy itself with a counter radicalization strategy to preserve India's Muslims from the extremist threat. If the so-called threat is so negligible, why so much smoke without any fire?
Clearly, realism alone does not prompt India's Israel policy. Cultural nationalism also needs factoring. It's warped perspective of the minority serve as blinkers and can be expected to have strategic fallout.
One, the danger of strategic proximity is in India grafting on to its ‘neighbourhood first' policy, Israel's strategy of keepings its surroundings unstable in order to be the unrivalled regional power.
Two, in positioning itself as a ‘leading power', India can end up containing one end of Muslim badlands while courageous Israel keeps up the other.
VIF got it right. India and Israel today have ‘common values' as can be expected of majoritarians and Zionists. The danger is in the strategic fallout for India and the region.