The blog takes a stand for peace. It comprises my epublications on strategic affairs and peace studies issues in South Asia. Views expressed are personal. My three books Think South Asia; Subcontinental Musings and South Asia: In it Togehter, with my published commentaries can be downloaded free from the links provided and hard copies from http://cinnamonteal.in/authors/firdaus-ahmed/. @firdyahmed. Firdaus Ahmed is the pen name of Ali Ahmed.
Kashmir Times Op-Ed
15 September 2015
Five hundred and
thirty nine pages of Structures of Violence: The Indian State in Jammu
will unlikely be read in their entirety. At a price of less than a rupee a page, they will hopefully find a
readership, not merely within J&K, but in the rest of India. However, that
is unlikely to be anytime soon.
That they are
read fully or in one sitting was in any case not the aim of The International Peoples' Tribunal on Human
Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir and The Association of
Parents of Disappeared Persons, constituents of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of
Civil Society that have put out the report. Their aim was a recording of what
amount to war crimes in J&K and exposure of the state culpability in the
individual offences and acts of commission and omission covered by command
responsibility (or lack of exercise thereof).
At the outset it can be said that the stated aims of the team of
volunteers that have put it together are unlikely to be met. They place the
record for action by the ‘international community’. The state system is far
from being a ‘community’. If it is the West the authors want to attract, the
appetite for intervention there, thankfully, has dried up. If they mean states
in general, they will be disappointed. Leftist and liberal circles can be expected
to be enthused by the report. Their heft however is limited to the converted.
The UN and its agencies figure on their list to lean on the Indian government. The
government would point to its improved record over the past decade to say that
it is doing what it can under the circumstance of proxy war. It will point to
the court martial sentence being promulgated in the Machhil killings case as
example. India being the geo-economic cynosure is unlikely to be put upon for
its record of a decade and half back. There is far too much of ‘immediate and
urgent’ nature on the plate of the ‘international community’ for that.
The naming and shaming of perpetrators is to put on notice foreign
governments and the UN not to give visas and migrant status and employment respectively
to alleged perpetrators. This may work in individual cases such as in the case
of the BSF officer who was denied a visa by the Canadian embassy. A Nepali
military officer with the UN on holiday in UK was in 2013 picked up by
authorities there on human rights related charges. Thus, at best, the
individuals named will be inconvenienced slightly. The report has no illusions that legal action will be taken
against them in any case, since it lays bare in graphic detail the impunity
they have had under the ‘structures of violence’ that unfortunately includes
the judicial system.
Clearly, the report must not be lost as its predecessor of 2012, Alleged Perpetrators, that had
examined over two hundred cases of human rights violations and, ‘for the first
time’, the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Its content is far too important
to be lost in cyber space or exchanged within the same and restricted
solidarist circles. This time it must be made to serve a purpose. Looking
beyond borders for that is delusive. It must not also end up proving
counter-productive within the borders. So the question is: if it is to be
useful, how should it be played?
In this the report itself is not particularly helpful. It covers, in its
words, ‘How did/does the Indian State perpetrate this
violence? What precisely is the structure, physical and institutional, through
which weapons, ammunition, soldiers, officers, camps and battalions inflict
violence on the people of Jammu and Kashmir?’ The answer to this is well known.
Explicit lay out of the structures is useful at best for peace studies students
and shall be for future historians.
The practice of a counter insurgency grid is not going to change in
India. It plays to India’s strength of manpower. Insertion of the security
forces in an omnipresent grid – while coercive, invasive and intrusive – is doctrinally
necessary to cripple the freedom of movement of the opponent and increase
chances of engagement in which attrition can bring down their number. Assuming
that this advantage of numbers was not there with India, counter insurgency
would be more kinetic means reliant, with increased pain to the subject people
and society, witness counter insurgency anywhere else in the world. How the
operations proceed is essentially dependent on the nature and strength of the
opposition. There are periods and areas in which this is significant.
Expectedly, this will be met with force with resultant pressures on the
population that then should be ascribed to the foreign minders of
In Kashmir, there is no denying that the levels of opposition were
orchestrated by Pakistan. Therefore, the onus is not so much in India, as
elsewhere. There is no denying that whereas the structures of violence were
Indian and the perpetrators Indian, the context was of proxy war. When Pakistan
drew down proxy war in the late Musharraf period, India too appreciably stood
down the militarized template. The report needs balancing by the context of the
violence. It cannot be argued that Indian violence led to the opposition –
setting up a cycle. Indeed, if India had not applied force or applied it
ineffectually, it can equally plausibly be argued that Pakistan would have
upped the ante of violence through proxies. The report then would be writing up
Pakistani directed violations instead.
In fact, there needs to be a similar report done on the levels of
terror that terrorists of foreign origin and Kashmiri militants perpetrated.
The support that insurgents enjoy is seldom on ideological basis alone. It is
instead as much coerced as voluntary. In effect, what happened in Kashmir can
be seen against a narrative framework in which the two belligerents – India and
Pakistan – were wrestling over who would dominate the society. It can be
hazarded from the manner Islamists conduct themselves elsewhere that had the
proxy fighters gained the upper hand, Kashmiris would be much more imposed upon
than. In effect, Indian security forces – though they have much to answer for
as the report brings out – also have provided a service of keeping Islamism out
from Kashmir. It is naïve to believe that Kashmiri nationalism or Kashmiriyat
would have survived their arrival.
Since we are on a counter factual trip, it can also be recorded that
in such a case the 170 million Muslim Indians in rest of India would have faced
the brunt of an implacable Hindutva, feeding on ‘yet another’ Muslim
‘secession’. Vajpayee having Dilip Kumar make this point to Nawaz Sharif in a
telephone conversation in Kargil War is an example of the manner Kashmir and
India’s minority are intertwined. The second dimension of successful secession or
short of it is in the demonstration effect on other ethnicities in India making
similar demands. This is a non-trivial prospect. India has potential to be
reduced to an African or Balkans scenario in short order. Therefore, there is a
case for it to use force. As to whether that force can be measured and
respectful of the laws of war is to be seen. The report merely brings out that
it was not. It can be argued that India could have done better, but not by
This is important to bring out to address the second, perhaps more
important, issue the report addresses: ‘Where is the control? The driving
motivation of this exercise is, as has always been: Responsibility. Who do we
hold responsible for the individual and collected acts of violence?’ The
report, though it concentrates on the actors on the ground, addresses this by
making clear that the impunity of perpetrators and responsibility for the
structures was that of the government. For instance, Advani’s visit to Kashmir
in wake of the Panchaltan killings was intended to push under the carpet the
massacre at Chhittisingpora, itself designed as a ‘black operation’ to
implicate Pakistan in influencing Clinton’s mind during his South Asia visit.
The report’s ground level focus leaves out the higher echelons that
alternatively blessed, connived, allowed and ‘looked the other way’. This
cannot be restricted to the military or paramilitary hierarchy, but must
include the bureaucrats and the political levels. No bureaucrat resigned,
though at least one former bureaucrat presents himself in seminar rooms as the
lead whistle blower in the Kunan Poshpora case, thereby unwittingly increasing
its long standing propaganda value for one side of the narrative. The governors
in the period, with military and intelligence backgrounds, cannot be expected
to have done anything differently.
Politicians through the nineties were inattentive, collusive and in the
case of Advani’s stewardship in the NDA period active participants. Society in
India was in the throes of an LPG induced economic frenzy and a political lurch
to the right. Under this circumstance, imagining that alternative measures in
Kashmir were at all possible is illusory.
A critique of the legalistic and human rights up front approach that
informs the report cannot but bring in politics and the context. Doing so is
not to denigrate the report or effort. It is to ensure that the report goes
further than it would otherwise go. How to make it palatable to those who need
to see it? Relying on New Delhi would be to be innocent of politics. The ruling
party was there at the helm earlier. Since nothing in its agenda suggests that
it is out to ‘resolve’ Kashmir any time soon, it would not disown an instrument
that it might have to resort to itself. The judicial system, that moves
glacially, at the best of times, is not about to change: witness the cases
related to Gujarat pogrom. The liberals are already in the midst of a fight for
their lives: against rampant Hindutva.
The report has already made an important contribution in allowing space
to the victims, their families and witnesses to voice their story. It ensures
that the ‘lived’ experience of Kashmiris is captured, and history, currently
being rewritten in the rest of India, cannot erase the Kashmiri narrative of
pain endured inflicted by a state that was supposed to be protecting it. The
report will serve as the take off point for initiatives, possibly a decade
away, by when India would have seen the back of Hindutva. That’s when perhaps
it will make the desired difference. For the moment the middle classes looked
the other way when all this was happening in Kashmir. They are currently
politically more consequential and looking at an economic promise.
Obviously, leaving it to the future is not enough. A report such as this
must be made to go further and in the moment. One area is in an appeal to the
military to take its content seriously. Since the paramilitary are doctrinally
challenged, for no fault of their own, but that they come under the home
ministry and are run by the IPS cadre not particularly known for intellectual
integrity, this report would not find any takers there. That leaves the
military. Even in this, the report cannot be ambitious.
A military that prides itself on professionalism should be hassled that
it has not followed through on cases where its own army commander said it
would, for instance the Lolab killings of 2004. It should be worried that a
person named in the report for alleged sexual violations is currently in the
NCC that has Girls battalions. It cannot overlook the fact that an officer
named in connection with a massacre that
left a score dead gains an award
in the same year, and goes on to
win a second a few years on, the latter with privilege of free train
travel lifelong. Such officers, even if not shown the door, should have been
‘fixed’ in military parlance. If a quick google search can bring forth such
information, surely the military’s personnel branch and care for spoken
reputation must be able to forewarn it better.
It is clear from the report that there was a command environment that
accepted - nay encouraged – transgression with the excuse of aggressive junior leaders with initiative. What appears neglected was appropriate oversight of such
‘aggressive’ officers. It is also clear that the military has under the changed
indices of violence changed its ways. What the military needs ask itself is
should the situation recur or be witnessed elsewhere, say in Nagaland, would it
resort to similar means, such as for instance the discredited strategy of using
turned militants. Besides such doctrinal questions, it also needs to rethink
its input to the political leadership. Instead of soto voce suggesting a
‘political solution’, as chiefs ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan onwards rightly have, when
will it thump the table or recommend limited war instead of being parasitical
for an indeterminate duration on an Indian ethno-social group? Can it be
inferred from the report that it was nursing its institutional interest using
Kashmir as opportunity, quite like the Pakistan army? Does this account for its
mantra 'AFSPA'? A professional military should be engaging with such questions
The report does need airing outside Kashmir and among the usual (liberal)
suspects. It is unlikely it will get the forum in ‘mainland’ India, until the
electorate is disenchanted with the LPG and its current champion Mr. Modi. It
is then India will revert to rethinking what it wishes to be and how from its
current vision of being the next superpower.
Ramchandra Guha makes a case for
not being ‘nostalgic about undivided India’. He argues that, ‘Had there been an
undivided India, the percentage of Muslims would have been closer to 33%, or
one in three. The demographic balance would have been more delicate; and prone
to being exploited by sectarians on either side.’
Assuming that religious wars have been avoided by the percentage of
Indian Muslims being reduced to ‘13% of the population, or one in seven’, he concludes
that, ‘the cold logic of history suggests that things would have been far worse
for us if Partition had not occurred.’
Since his is a counter factual case, refuting his case is as futile as
it is easy.
Nevertheless, it can be argued conversely that had the percentage of the
largest religious minority – the subcontinent’s Muslims – remained at about one
third, there would have been an element of deterrence in the demographic
balance. Guha’s apprehension of a communal bloodbath would then not arise.
In any case, precedent setting Partition would not have occurred and
eddies from it would not have persisted through time. The resulting peace could
have been used, just as it has been in India as brought out by Guha, for
democracy and development for all of South Asia.
Guha exaggerates the problem integrating the 500 princely states posed.
Sardar Patel dispatched them into history within a couple of years of
independence. That would have been so even in case of undivided India, with the
Nizam – possibly the only one to hold out – similarly packed off. Since
contiguity would have decided the case for the rest, Kashmir would not have
emerged as a bone of contention since.
As a historian Guha should really have been wary of venturing into
international relations. To him, India has been spared the frontline status
that Pakistan has acquired. This owes to Pakistan lending its strategic
location for the purposes of a superpower through the Cold War and in the war
on terror. In case Pakistan was part of India, this would not have been so. An
undivided India, not warring internally and with greater military, political
and moral might, could have kept its periphery peaceful.
It is not as readily apparent that South Asia is better off divided. Worse,
we may yet mourn the passing of an undivided India.
right in caveating his point that ‘India is not — or at least not yet — a Hindu Pakistan.’ ‘Not yet’
alright, but unfortunately India appears well on its way to becoming one.
Guha’s other writings suggests that this possibility has not escaped him. His summary
dismissal of Akhand Bharat is on this score a tad too early.
In an understatement, Guha’s writes, ‘Religious and ethnic violence have
not entirely abated’. There has been no bout of religious violence this decade of
the order of those that punctuated previous decades: Bhagalpur in the eighties,
Babri Masjid demolition aftermath in the nineties and the Gujarat pogrom in the
But structural violence based on religious majoritarianism has served as
an equally effective substitute. Muslims are remarkable for their absence in
office spaces, shared apartment blocks and the military, from the middle classes
and from assemblies and the parliament.
With the demographic balance disrupted by Partition, Hindutvavadis have
had a field day on India’s vulnerable minority over the past quarter century. And
in doing so have succeeded in manufacturing an electoral constituency, a ‘Hindu
vote bank’. So much so that Mr. Modi in refusing to wear a cap that
serves as a Muslim identity marker reveals that he does not feel the need to
even genuflect towards Muslims.
With minorities better represented it would be difficult for ideological
penetration of institutions and of India’s security agencies. India’s Muslims
now do not have the comfort of physical security and psychological security in
greater numbers of an undivided India.
From the point of view of liberal Hindus, their higher percentage could have
served to preserve India from a possible, and certainly problematic, future as
‘Hindu India’. With the prime minister even overshadowing one worthy
predecessor, Indira Gandhi, to the extent of provoking a grim warning from Hindutva
lion heart Advani of a turn to authoritarianism, to some liberals, India is potentially on the road to ‘soft fascism’.
Here democracy is increasingly liable to be mistaken for
majoritarianism. Modi’s Chanakya, the National Security Adviser, Mr. Doval, speaking on ‘Security, Statecraft and Conflict of
Values’, provides a clue.
On the surface what he gives out is unexceptionable: that the majority
democratically arrived decides how to exercise power and does so in a
constitutionally bound manner in accord with its perception of the national
The problems are, one, in the gauging of the ‘national interest’ and,
two, in the adherence to constitutional parameters. The perennial problem
remains: who will guard the guardians.
On thinking on national interest, Tarun
Vijay, a leading propagandist,
has it that Independence was not merely from British colonialists but also from
preceding, namely Muslim, rulers and a second independence is in overthrowing
current day opponents of the ruling regime.
authoritarianism can only prompt external expansionism. Only, India has a nuclear
power with Islamism at its door step. Mr. Dowal lets on that there can be ‘no
compromise’ in the use of force where ‘national interest’ is at stake. He has a
millennial notion of this,
encompassing both past generations and future.
Bharat – democratically and peacefully arrived at - is the direction South Asia
must now move. It can checkmate both extremisms that in mirroring each other
are indeed one of a kind.
not a novel idea. For millennia, India’s enlightened rulers have exerted to
unify the subcontinent, a geographic unit into a single strategic and
groupings are the trend across the world; witness EU that brought together
rivals UK, France and Germany. South Asia has the SAARC for starters. A
negotiated beginning is the next step.
visualization is akin to but reverses the divisive vision in Cambridge at which
the two nation theory got its impetus. Doing so would make India whole again.
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE - http://indiatogether.org/india-s-pakistan-strategy-op-ed
Though Joshi is right about India’s inability to effect a ‘favourable transformation in the behaviour of its adversaries through a mix of strategies’, he misreads the government’s intent. This misreading leads to his otherwise sustainable critique of the government’s Pakistan strategy.
This is the problem with most of the commentary that has attended the recent calling-off of talks for a second time in two years between the two nuclear-armed adversaries.
To begin by being charitable to the government, it can be argued that if the strategy requiring ‘patience and stamina’ has been tried out since Rajiv Gandhi’s times, as pointed out by Joshi, and it has evidently not worked, it would not be sensible to persist with it.
This can plausibly explain India’s hard power approach to Pakistan involving largely its military and possibly its intelligence instruments. The strategy is to condition the military-intelligence dominated power structure in Pakistan with the explicit message that its ‘terror by proxy’ strategy will not work.
Simultaneously, India has networked with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif twice over – once in an invite to New Delhi last year and this time round in Ufa, indicating its willingness to attend the SAARC summit in Pakistan due next year. In doing so it is holding out an economic carrot to Pakistan’s business-commercial constituency.
Such a strategy is plausible in the conservative-realist framework of strategic thinking. Critiques that originate in the liberal-rationalist and the leftist-radical perspectives cannot but find fault with the strategy.
The differing strategic perspectives rely on different security referents – whether state centric or people centric - and consequently assign different weights to the instruments of state power: economic, political-diplomatic, military and intelligence and soft-cultural. These critiques can at best establish that India’s strategy is wrong-headed in its choice of referent, favoured instrument and strategy.
Whether it is also a wrong one can only be gauged using its very own coordinates, its rationale from within its perspective. Can it be argued that the strategy is wrong in the conservative-realist logic?
In a lecture delivered before he assumed his current position, the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had indicated his preference for a ‘defensive offence’ strategy. From the choice of three – defensive, defensive offence and offensive – he favours the second. Assuming that Doval, now that he has spent a year in the chair as NSA, has put his strategy into operation, India’s declared strategic doctrine can be said to be one of ‘defensive offence’.
FOR FULL ARTICLE SEE http://indiatogether.org/india-s-pakistan-strategy-op-ed
What should ‘defensive offence’ look like for India and does this match what India professes?
Firstly, ‘defensive offence’ was long abandoned by India in favour of deterrence at the next rung. India has since moved away from ‘deterrence by denial’, based on a strong defence and counter offensive capability. It has in this century switched to ‘deterrence by punishment’ with a shift to the ‘proactive’ and offensive conventional doctrine – the proactive strategy that is also called ‘Cold Start’ - and in its nuclear doctrine promises ‘massive’ nuclear punitive retaliation.
Since the new government fancies itself as distinct from its predecessor in its reliance and adeptness in the use of force, it cannot also be said that there is continuity in India’s strategic doctrine. The previous NSA Shivshankar Menon’s speeches suggested a liberal orientation, conveying its strategic doctrine of offensive deterrence. Since this government prides itself on being more aggressive, it is, therefore, not in the ‘defensive offence’ portion of the continuum as it imagines, but in the offensive part of it.
The offensive diplomatic action in cutting off talks twice over suggest as much. The government’s boast on its first anniversary was that it has cleared Rs 160 lakh crores worth of defence projects. Both the NSA and the defence minister have obliquely hinted at intelligence operations underway. At the level of ideation, military history is being rewritten – even to the extent of projecting what is widely regarded as a draw, the 1965 War, as a victory!
In other words, India is not on the ‘defensive offence’ as Doval puts it, but closer to compellence.
Two problems follow. One, India’s delusional self-image that is distinct from reality is likely leading it to launch actions that could prove counter-productive, since compelling a nuclear power is ambitious and risky. The second is in the impulse that is leading to such actions.
The impulse for such an ambitious undertaking cannot merely be ‘strategic’, defined in terms of an ‘ends-means balance’. It is instead grander, millennial. The well springs of this are not in rational strategy but in ideology, specifically that of cultural nationalism.
It is the marriage of cultural nationalism and hyper-nationalism that nests at the far edge of the conservative-realist perspective that best explains India’s Pakistan strategy. Therefore, strategic rationality cannot explain India’s actions such as cutting off of talks a second time round. Most commentators err in assuming this is so, making the prescriptions redundant.
Recognising that India’s new security paradigm is one of offensive-compellence is a precursor to bringing strategic rationality back into India’s security calculus.