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Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Paris attacks and India’s Muslims
1-15 December 2015
The clarity of condemnation of the Paris attacks by India’s Muslims shall serve to silence motivated right wing critics who usually have it that India’s Muslims are mostly silent in condemning terror. However, it bears reminding that while the allusion by a prominent UP politician, Azam Khan, to the context of the attack was certainly mistimed, it was not misplaced.
It is on this count that the India’s Muslims, while not endorsing terrorism in any manner, can yet maintain a critical stance on Obama’s statement that Muslims are not doing enough to keep their children from being ‘infected’ or the position of their own prime minister who has it that we must tackle terrorism ‘without any political considerations’.
Obama’s attempt at straddling Muslims with a guilt complex is to obfuscate the military actions of his country and his own failure to overturn the Bush legacy. He failed to coincide a peace surge with a military surge in Afghanistan early in his presidency, resulting in the takeover of Kunduz by the Taliban at the fag end of his presidency. Attempting to end any further body bags coming home and ending American support for the military template, his withdrawal from Iraq left it to a sectarian regime leading to the rise of IS. The CIA’s transfer of Libyan arms to Syria has provided the IS hardware. The financial support for the IS has come from disaffected citizens of the US’ feudal Arab allies. The reversal of the promise of Arab Spring has brought ideological extremism to fore. Obama’s inability to control Israel’s outrages in Gaza, West Bank and at Al Aqsa have enraged those who have joined the IS, including fighters from the West. Clearly, it is not Muslims, but Obama and the US that have not done enough to reverse terrorism. US actions, some in support of their anti-democratic Arab regimes, have instead fostered and sustained terror.
This is the political context that cannot be wished away. Mr. Modi’s wish that it be disregarded is to miss out on root causes. Peace theory has it that neglecting root causes cannot bring about a sustainable solution. Neglecting political consideration is a call to military action. Military action has not proven effective so far. The Taliban emerged from a military context in a civil war in Afghanistan. Their emergence set the stage for the abominable action of Al Qaeda on 9/11. The war against Al Qaeda that was willfully taken by the West into Iraq set the stage for the rise of IS. Appropriating the Arab Spring for their purposes, the West destabilized Libya first and later, Syria. It stood in way of a return to democracy in Egypt. This narrative suggests that a military template is counterproductive. The corollary is that conversely, political considerations are acutely relevant.
Critics of the position here would have it that such reminding of the context implies an endorsement of terrorism. To them, it legitimises terrorism. It is supportive of the narrative terrorists themselves seek to use. Is their counter argument valid?
To wish away political considerations is itself a political choice. As shown above, a military template void of political underpinnings is a recipe for disaster. Foregrounding the essentially political context ensures that the military template sticks to the Clausewitzian logic that military action must be preceded and,where necessary superseded, by political considerations. What this suggests is that opting for a ‘purely’ military template is a wrong-headed political choice. This is the lesson over the past quarter century of post Cold War wars. Therefore, to remind of the political context is not to endorse terrorism but to deflate endorsement of political choices that turn a blind eye to politics. Such reminding also has the benefit of bringing the military prong of strategy firmly under control of politics. It is no one’s case that the IS can be degraded without military means, but that such means if unaccompanied by political processes, including the promise of talks, can only be part of the problem. After all, for violence there can be no ‘purely political’ solution either.
Bringing a discussion of the context into the debate does not legitimize terror. Terrorism, quite like its counter in conventional military response, is void of political considerations. It is astrategic, in that it persists in wrong-headed choice of a military template, one that substitutes a suicide bomber for a predator drone. Consequently, quite like the military counter, it is unable to clinch the issue. Terrorism’s use of violence is to polarize target societies in order that it gains ideological empathy and, in case of overreaction, gather recruits. This is however not without cost. Its challenge to perceived injustice, for instance in terms of neocolonialism, on Palestine, on world order issues such as carving up of the Middle East into manipulable states, division of Arabs etc. is lost in the violence. It endangers those who its self-styled defenders are out to defend. It wishes to defend to death those who may not want to be so defended, who are appalled by actions in their name and that of their religion. Bringing politics back into the reckoning helps dispel the ‘terrorists as saviours’ myth terrorists foster.
Finally, is this the terrorist’s narrative? Terrorists make an instrumental use of the ideological critique of the West’s actions. Their violence is to bring about Bush-like a ‘with us or against us’polarization. However, in the melee they end up degrading the critique as well as providing the West a way out to avoid making course correction using terrorist violence as justification. Both need each other. Both feed off each other. Both are interested in continuation of the violence as it suits both. Both are in this respect a mirror image of each other.
The term ‘West’ here subsumes the governments. It does not include civil society, a major proportion of which is not only attentive but capable of action, even if the power of the governments is such as to make such action ineffectual: witness the several thousand who marched in European and US cities against Bush beginning his wars. Their narrative too is critical of their governments. They have simply not been allowed by the government’s information departments and the media to build up the momentum they managed in the Vietnam War. Such a momentum cannot come about by terrorizing them either, the effort in the Paris terror attacks by terrorists. Clearly, a critique of the governmental narrative that suggests a return to politics, to seeking political solution as against military, is not a replication of the terror narrative.
What does this mean for India’s Muslims? While the condemnation of terrorism must be unequivocal, there is no question of abandoning a critical view of militarized templates. India’s Muslims have no horse in the race. The Arab nationalists and religious extremists are fighting a regional war against international powers in their region. India’s proximity to the US and Israel - now no longer a state secret - explains only partially why India wants politics ignored.
The balance of the reason is in the ideological strategy favoured by the ruling formation tends to unnecessarily bring Indian Muslims under a cloud; an instance being its inquiry of foreign intelligence agencies on the numbers of Indians in the ranks of the IS. India’s Muslims need to be wary of the internal political utility to the ruling party, and its political pseudo-cultural support base, of the external, unconnected war. With five elections lined up particularly in West Bengal and Assam, will no doubt, post Bihar elections debacle, bring the internal ‘other’ – illegal immigrant - prominently to fore, among other such wily themes.

The argument that ‘root causes’ approach amounts to purveying the terrorist message must be fought off. The guilty by association argument must be demolished. India’s Muslims must join their voice to the liberal viewpoint in the West that is critical of their government’s approach over the past decade and half. It must not allow the right wing here to forward its internal political interests using yet another stick to beat India’s Muslims with.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Is Mani Shankar Aiyar right?

On a Pakistani TV channel debate, irrepressible Congress politician, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is reported as having said, “The first and the foremost thing is to remove Modi. Only then can the talks move forward. We have to wait for four more years. They (panelists) are all optimist and that we can move forward when Modi sahab is there, but I don’t think so.”
To confess, this author was one among whom Aiyar characterizes as ‘optimist’. In an article appraising Mr. Modi’s visit to Kashmir while he was electioneering early last year, the argument expressed was that Mr. Modi would be concentrating on his neo-liberal agenda in case he were to come to power. This would entail a period of stability, with its implications of relative peace with Pakistan. It would also help him further his ideological agenda, by over throwing his anti-minority image and thereby concentrating on a subtle makeover of the rest of India.
The optimist assumption that India could be more responsive to Pakistan since Mr. Modi as a ‘hindu nationalist’ did not have to watch his flanks and back has proven false. Apparently, Mr. Modi’s reference to his 56 inch chest is not enough for him to reach out to Pakistan, despite a promising beginning in bringing over Mr. Sharif to his swearing in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan. This was seen as a coup for Mr. Doval, his new national security manager. Even so, both felt the need to first flex muscles, so as to suitably impress the Pakistani brass. From a position of strength thereafter, they could presumably then pursue a more placatory Pakistan policy.
The search for this position of strength has proven elusive. The grounds for this had been laid by his predecessor government. By about 2013, recognizing the diminishing marginal utility of stalling talks since Mumbai 26/11, it had been contemplating mending fences but wanted to wait it out till elections. In his very next move - the cancellation of foreign secretary talks last August - Mr. Doval put paid to a promising beginning. Thereafter, the army was given the tacit go ahead to activate the Line of Control. The deterrence message was broadcast loud and clear with two back to back military exercises in early summer, of a pivot corps and a strike corps. The year is to culminate in yet another Command exercise that though unnamed yet, is expected to be the largest this decade.
The casualty in all this has been Nawaz Sharif. He has been the voice of the pro India constituency in Pakistan. However, India having been once bitten is twice shy. Sharif’s credibility has been limited by his showing in the Kargil episode. Therefore, India is attuned to the thinking in Rawalpindi. It may be right on this, since Sharif’s national security adviser is now a former military man. The message is that if there is to be a meeting of national security advisers of the two states, as Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif agreed to at their meeting on the sidelines of the SCO meeting in Ufa, Russia, then the military there prefers a uniformed interlocutor.
It is clear that the Pakistani brass has been unimpressed by Mr. Modi and Mr. Doval’s show of strength. It has made gains in Afghanistan, so much so that there are reports of Pakistani agents directing the fighting for Kunduz by the Taliban. It has reached out to the new Afghan regime, ending Karzai’s pro India tilt. It has presented itself as useful for a renewed peace process with the Taliban, by offering its assistance. This has made it relevant once again for the US, seeking a way out of Afghanistan, now that the Iraq front has been set alight by the IS. It has taken on the extremists within Pakistan, best evidenced by the reduction in terror attacks in KP. The talk has been for normalizing Pakistan as a nuclear state, with some caveats though. This provides a positive backdrop to the trip to Washington by its Chief Raheel Sharif.
Further, it has faced off with the Indian military on the Line of Control. Its control of the Rangers in Pakistan has enabled it to stand up to the BSF in the abutting border belt. More importantly, Pakistan’s foreign secretary has unmistakably let on that its tactical nuclear weapons are intended to deter India’s launch of ‘cold start’ operations. Drawing on its nuclear cover, it has continued its subconventional operations, expanding the scope mid-year to Udhampur and the adjacent plains in Gurdaspur. That it continues to have a finger the pie in the Valley is apparent from the martyrdom of a colonel.
It is quite obvious that Pakistan is playing with fire. But then little else can be expected from a military dominated polity. It has little to lose, being perpetually poised on the failed state status. With the new kid on the block - the IS – there are portents of worse to come. An analyst who was in the team that had at the turn of the nineties, rightly as it turned out, predicted Pakistani meddling in Kashmir under the semi-fictional scenario, Operation Topac, has painted a grim picture of an IS inclined Pakistani state expanding the scope of meddling to the rest of India.
Manmohan’s cliché that India cannot change its neighbours means that India cannot change its geographical location. It should not be read to mean that India cannot change Pakistan’s military-set self-destructive course. As a regional power with global power aspirations, it needs to first exercise its power in influencing its region. Talking about a united front against terrorism at global for a, such as most recently Mr. Modi’s address at the G20 in Turkey, can only be taken plausibly if India sets its regional house in order first. It can only then think of rushing off to tame the IS.
From the foregoing discussion of Mr. Modi’s year and more in office, it is clear that such an exercise of power cannot be military. Firstly, it has not succeeded for at least thirty years and currently is not succeeding either. Secondly, it is risky. A bunch of terrorists can potentially set of a nuclear conflagration. It would be too late to talk nostalgically of gentlemanly South Asian wars and subcontinental maturity and strategic good sense. Thirdly, the Bihar elections suggest that Mr. Modi is on notice that neither his economic nor his ideological plank is appealing for voters. If he is to have a second innings - and being young enough he can aspire so - he has to change tack.
Giving Mr. Modi the benefit of doubt even if he wanted the situation to turn out better, his support base has had other things on its mind. As seen over the last year and half, he has squandered an opportunity for taking Manmohanomics a step further – assuming that is the right direction for the economy - by allowing his supporting pseudo-cultural formation having the run of the place. Its affect in Kashmir has been in communal tension in Rajouri and more visibly the arson that led to the death of a Kashmiri truck driver over the ‘beef’ issue. Politically, the BJP half of the coalition in Kashmir has yet to unveil its agenda fully.
Clearly, the direction Mr. Modi’s must head is stark. Rein in Hindutva and concentrate on economics. The latter necessarily involves keeping Pakistan alongside. This by corollary means his next visit to the Valley must be for more than doling out money. He has four years on his side to reset course. But then, as someone has said that would be ask for a change in his stripes. Maybe on that count, Mani Shankar Aiyar unfortunately may just be right. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Pakistani “idiocy”: A general gets it half right

General KJ Singh, commanding general of Western Command, brought the curtain down on the half year long celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 War in just the way he began the commemoration, by attending a seminar at a university. In February he spoke at Punjabi University in Patiala and this month again at the Punjab University, Chandigarh.
That perhaps explains the general playing to the gallery in his Chandigarh address: “It (Pakistan) does something silly in ’47 with Razakars and which it repeats in ’65 and wants to do it again in Kargil, despite the famous saying that doing the same thing again and again and expecting results is the hallmark of being idiotic. Yet it is a country which we have to face.”
As far as the military is concerned the water that has flown past the bridge includes considerable amount of exchange of ordnance across the Line of Control. The general’s own Command’s exercise, Brahmashira, apparently failed to impress General Raheel Sharifacross the border, who growled that whatever the type of war, ‘cold start or hot start’ the price exacted would be ‘unbearable damage’.
In Kashmir, though the army managed to kill the mastermind of the Udhampur terror attack, reportedly 30000 turned up for his funeral. Clearly, Mr. Modi’s Rs. 80000 crores cannot buy back Kashmiris.
Diplomatically, there has been a hold up in possible talks with Pakistan, with a pow-wow between NSAs being called off and consequent suspension of follow-up talks between the military operations heads. The situation is such that there is an active discussion now in strategic circles on limited war and limited nuclear war possibilities, with Americans in the lead as prospective peace brokers in case of the latter.
Reaction to action
In the 1947 War, Pakistan, taking cue from India’s actions in Junagadh that came to a head between mid-September and late October, jumped the gun for the bigger prize, Kashmir. Since there were no wholly Muslim units in the British Indian army after the 1857 rebellion, it did not have regular forces to force the Maharaja’s hand. It therefore employed demobilised soldiers from World War II to lead the tribal invasion.
Its hand in the 1965 War was forced by India’s moves to normalize its relationship with Kashmir. Assessing that keeping its stake alive required military action, it mistook Shastri’s sense of resolve. The least expensive option was adopted, irregular warfare with induction of infiltrators. Interesting, the Pakistan army web-pages make no mention of this episode in its history.
The first moves of the 1971 War were made by India when it clipped off Pakistan’s access to East Pakistan by banning over-flights after the eminently questionable hijacking episode of an Indian Airlines plane, Ganga, to Lahore. A vulnerable Pakistan overreacted through a crackdown in East Pakistan, which was capitalized on with unseemly alacrity by India.
Retrospect suggests that the Indian aim was to cut Pakistan and it’s military to size in order to force a decision on Kashmir on it. If the manner of observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1965 War is a guide, six years hence military history will undoubtedly edit out India’s culpability in arming the militants and its implications for the Pakistani genocide out of the frame.
The Kargil War was essentially an extension of the ongoing fight along the Line of Control. An energetic General Musharraf, who had signed his military record with his inability to take back Bana peak in Siachen, went about doing a ‘reverse Siachen’ to India. One advantage at some cost to Pakistan was to heighten and lengthen the fighting in Kashmir by the induction of ‘fidayeen’.
Between these military trysts, both states were equally proactive. After the 1971 War, India switched from its military doctrine of defensive defence to a counter offensive doctrine, predicated on a replay of East Pakistan on mainland Pakistan. In the eighties, its profligate military spending enabled this capability and by the nineties it had three strike corps, one more than Pakistan, giving it an ability to prevail. No wonder Pakistan attempted to actively tie down India’s army in Kashmir.
In the 2000s, India moved to an explicitly offensive doctrine, Cold Start, which in the 2010s is relatively well practiced. As a measure of its capability, it is set to hold the largest exercise of the decade – currently unnamed - this month. This despite the knowledge that Pakistan’s foreign secretary put across unmistakably in September, to the effect that Pakistan is pledged to ‘go nuclear’ in response.
This brief strategic history reveals that wars and militarisation have failed to impress Pakistan. Therefore, for India to persist down the military path, it would do better to avoid the term ‘idiotic’. This would also mean that the general is only half right in restricting the description to Pakistan.
If, as the general says, ‘it (Pakistan) is a country which is going to remain a problem for us’, we have had a hand in it. Our current hard nosed military stance, plausibly deniable intelligence operations and diplomatic chill are what ensure that Pakistan will remain a problem for us. Indeed, acknowledging that we have done no better may be the first step to recovering strategic sanity in the nuclear age.