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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When Ideology corrupts Strategy
It is increasingly apparent that the ideology of the ruling party and its supporting pseudo-cultural formations is contaminating thinking on national security. The national broadcaster carried live its by-now-annual fixture on Vijaya Dashami, the address of the RSS Supreme Leader, Mohan Bhagwat. Since 'shastra puja' is observed, in his speech apt for the occasion, Bhagwat surveyed the national security scene. He was naturally complimentary of the government, since the government engages in yearly accountability confabulations with his organization. 

The latest government, party and political parent - RSS - tête-à-tête was in end August. At the previous year's meeting in September last year, the prime minister had his report card written. Given these visible linkages, and the multiple subterranean ones that cannot but exist, the Volunteer-in-Chief's words serve as advice, if not guidance itself, for the nation's Pradhan Sevak. Therefore, if the Sarsangchalak discourses on security, it can be inferred that either he is outlining the government's security agenda or dictating it. 

Both possibilities are questionable. In case of the latter, it is a clear case of extra-constitutional authority wielding the remote; something the BJP in opposition untiringly pointed towards in the last administration of the UPA, referring to the power of the occupant of 10 Janpath. In case of the former, the security agenda outlined is so contaminated with majoritarianism (read upper caste supremacism) that strategic rationality is the first casualty, ethical policy the second and democratic norms the third. 

This brings up a third possibility: a combination of both. Not only does the RSS determines the government's strategic orientation but also propagates it. For conservative realism to inform the strategic doctrine of the right wing government is unexceptional. However, what is likely in place instead is religious nationalism on steroids. The Dussehra address must therefore be seen for what it is: our very own 'state of union' address, a rival to the prime minister's grandstanding on Red Fort ramparts and perhaps a replacement for the president's republic day platitudes. 

Three cases over the recent past illustrate the three consequences of ideological eclipse of strategy. First, let's take strategic rationality. India's perennial foe, Pakistan, has been described by former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao - not known as a hawk (yet) - recently as 'enemy', defined as someone to 'destroy'. (Apparently, an 'adversary' - China - is one to merely 'defeat'!) Destroy is what India might have set out to do to that state. The visit of the prime minister to the US over mid-year was followed by Trump's Afghanistan policy, the major plank of which has been the threat of destabilisation held out to Pakistan. This threat was implicit in Trump's defence secretary Mattis' remarks at the House Armed Services Committee hearings. It followed in immediate wake of his trip to India. While India's new defence minister was clear on not dispatching troops to Afghanistan, that India would do more has equally clearly been communicated to the US. Since the Trump administration is not going to allow India to free ride as is its wont, what India has signed up for will be clearer as the US begins to impose on Pakistan for the 'sanctuary' 'terrorists' - defined here as those intent on blowing up GIs Joe and Jane for trespassing on their native land. 

To expect Trump - who shall come up a cropper trying to clean up the 'sanctuary cities' of migrants in his own backyard - to do with 3000 additional troops what Obama could not with some 30000 additional hands is self-delusional. While this could otherwise be put beyond normal strategic expectations, in case of an ideology driven strategic establishment, this cannot be ruled out. Perhaps they are not interested in turning Pakistan round, as the US might be hoping to achieve with its threats, as much as goading the US into making Pakistan keel over. The strategic fallout for India and the region is easy to foresee, with India ending up at with a 'frontline' status, knowing full well what that means having seen Pakistan play the role for some thirty years. 

That domestic politics drives this strategic fantasy is evident. The polarization that could result would ensure an indefinite tenure in Delhi for the provincial chief from Gujarat. India can hardly count as a regional power if it allows a superpower to defecate at its doorstep. But if the US downs Pakistan, it would leave India as the last man standing, a regional power finally, fulfilling Bhagwat's Dussehra wish: 'In response to the activities of Pakistan on the Western front…, Bharat's strong and determined stand has been visible …on the borders as well as in international diplomacy. This definitely makes us realise about our strength and at the same time provides new international standing to Bharat.'

The second casualty is ethical policy. There has been the coincidence of the ongoing crackdown by the Myanmarese regime on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in Myanmar and Modi's visit to that capital. The Myanmarese apparently read a tacit go-ahead for operations amounting to ethnic cleansing in the joint statement of the two countries at the meeting in which terrorism was condemned, with references to terror attacks by the Rohingya extremists in Rakhine and by terrorists in J&K finding mention in the same breath. The sense of impunity with which the Myanmarese regime has proceeded indicates its sanguineness with support from India, almost suggesting that more passed between the two during the visit than met the public eye. 

Whereas the UPA could be absolved to an extent of acceding to the Sri Lankan battle of annihilation with the Tamil Tigers due to India then being on the cusp of elections, in this case the crimes against humanity started off as the visiting head of the regional power, India, boarded the plane back to Delhi from his visit to the perpetrators. There can be two views on this: that India has no sway and the moniker 'regional power' is chimera; or that indeed it is a regional power that has winked and nudged the Myanmarese on. Neither of these options is acceptable; the former is unacceptable to strategists hoarse-voiced from proclaiming Indian arrival as a 'great power' and the latter is unacceptable from point of view of potential abuse in this case of any such power. 

The preceding vilification of the Rohingya refugees in India set the tone for the visit. In the Supreme Leader's speech, he claimed that Rohingyas were being 'chased out' of their land owing to their association with 'criminal separatist activity', calling for decisions based on 'national security and integrity'. As pointed out in this publication earlier - a reference to their terror links by no less than the Director General Assam Rifles, a leading counter insurgency outfit in the North East, in a strategic journal, the USI Journal: 'The Rohingyas are a likely security threat as they are turning out to be easy targets for Muslim Fundamental Organisations (MFOs). ISIS is also known to be reaching out to Rohingyas for recruitment. With countries unwilling to house the Rohingyas, joining ISIS may be an attractive option.' Lately, the intelligence agencies' conjured-up case for expulsion of the Rohingya refugees from India has now reached the Supreme Court. Their presence is seen through the lens of internal security, especially since the Rohingya plight, visibly aggravated over the past month, has understandably seen Muslims organisations scramble to their relief, including those with fundamentalist persuasion. 

The third casualty are democratic norms. This is evident from the RSS supremo's take on internal security, specifically J&K. He warns that the 'necessary Constitutional amendments will have to be made and old provisions will have to be changed. Then and then only, the residents of Jammu Kashmir can be completely assimilated with rest of Bharat and their equal cooperation and share will be possible in the national progress.' He has in one breath clubbed Articles 35A and 370 as up for revision. This would be the prize the BJP seeks once it has the upper house in its kitty and the 2019 hustings taped-up. The constitutional rewriting would be through the democratic route alright, though not quite democratic since democracy is not rule of the majority even if it is rule by the majority. The government is already preparing for the backlash. Bhagwat appreciates, 'the determination with which terrorist infiltration and firing from across the border is being dealt with;' and informs that, '(A)ll security forces, including the Army, have been given the freedom to do their respective duties.' The good part is that Bhagwat has snitched on what's coming up next. 

In effect, this dispensation is going to leave a mess behind. Not only will detoxification on their departure be a challenge, but reversing the damage done to Indian security will take a while. Ideology does not just make a mark, it leaves an enduring stain. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The myth of a nuclear peace

The two-front war remarks made by the Indian Army Chief recently makes Firdaus Ahmed question the usage of nuclear weapons in case of such a war.

The Army Chief has let India know that war cannot be ruled out, that too with our two adversaries. What he has kept under wraps is what nuclear weapons mean for such a war. This was not how it was meant to be. Nuclear votaries when India went nuclear went to great lengths arguing that with nuclear weapons in the kitty, on both sides, there would be no call to war and all sides would be forced to settle their disputes without recourse to war. Alas, the Army Chief has put paid to the myth of a nuclear peace.
The long-time doyen of Indian strategic community, K. Subrahmanyam, was leading lobbyist for India going nuclear. 
He estimated that ‘If both India and Pakistan were to have nuclear weapons, a situation of stable deterrence is likely to result in all probability … This is a perfect though an extremely unpleasant setting for mutual deterrence. Once that sets in the Kashmir line of control will become an international border.’
In the mid-nineties, arguing in relation to China, he said that nuclear weapons possession by India would give it the confidence to settle its boundary dispute with China as then both will be on equal footing.
What does the record say? Has it proven Subrahmanyam right? It is easy to see in today’s standoff with both Pakistan and China, peace is not at hand. 
Speaking at the end of the stand-off at Doklam, the Army Chief talked about a ‘two-front war’. 

The ‘two-front war’ formulation is not new. Writing in wake of the 1971 victory, K. Subrahmanyam wrote, ‘India will have to develop and keep at readiness adequate forces to deter China and Pakistan from launching an attack either jointly or individually and in case deterrence fails to repel aggression effectively … faced with the possibility of two adversaries, our aim must be to hold one and reach a quick military decision with the other. It is obvious that the latter can only be Pakistan.’
The implications of this shift for India’s military doctrine meant the army moving beyond the cold start doctrine of quick response on the Pakistan front through proactive conventional operations. The new conventional operations doctrine for limited war on the western front  was designed to facilitate a ‘quick military decision’, as envisaged by Subrahmanyam. Having shifted to cold start by mid 2000s, the army was ready to shift its focus eastward and measure up to a stronger foe, China. In this period, the capability for  holding an operation on the eastern front was strengthened by addition of two mountain divisions in Arunachal Pradesh.
Forty years on, the phrase ‘two-front war’ surfaced again and was deployed to sell the need for a mountain strike corps. In a major doctrinal conference in a closed-door setting in late 2009, the then Army Chief reportedly mentioned,”.....even as the armed forces prepare for their primary task of conventional wars they must also factor in the eventuality of a ‘ two-front war ‘ breaking out.”
The UPA government caved in, as it was wont to do over anything and nothing at its fag end. Its preference was for the border to remain calm, with border incidents that started occurring on a regular basis during that period being passed off as routine patrol movements by both India and China.
The NDA II considers itself as having a more robust outlook to security. It however began cautiously, daunted by the economics of raising the mountain strike corps since Jaitley handled both the finance and defence portfolios early in its tenure. It initially decided to settle for a truncated version of the offensive corps. This accounts for the hiatus in the phrase ‘ two-front war’ being bandied about.
The phrase has returned to the headlines again, to cover the ‘go ahead’ for completion of raising of the mountain strike corps. The standoffs with the Chinese such as at Chumar on the eve of the Chinese premiers first visit to India to meet Modi at Ahmedabad in October 2014, have increasingly got greater visibility. The longest such a standoff, of over 70 days, at Doklam, provided the backdrop to the Chief’s warning.
The Army Chief has said that nuclear weapons do not deter war. War can break out on either front and can acquire ‘two-front war’ proportions. Though war creates the conditions for use of nuclear weapons, the Chief in not mentioning the usage of nuclear weapons can be said to have been economical with the truth. However, he has only been true to doctrine. The joint doctrine put out by the Armed Forces in April fought shy of making any reference to nuclear weapons. It depicted war as if South Asia was in pre-nuclear age.
The Indian belief is that even if nuclear weapons do not deter war, they deter nuclear weapons. To begin with, this is a belief it first needs to sell to its western neighbor. Both cannot be right: Pakistan believing that India would not go to war and India believing that Pakistan would not go nuclear.
If conflict can ‘gradually emerge’ to quote the Army Chief, the Chief had also better come clean on what the military believes might happen with nuclear weapons. Silence amounts to the same prevarication India resorted to over acquisition of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have not resolved our problems. Nuclear weapons cannot stop war. It might just turn out in the event of war that having nuclear weapons cannot stop nuclear weapons from being used either.
  • Subrahmanyam, K. (1986), “Nuclear Deterrence” in his (ed.), India and the Nuclear Challenge, New Delhi: Lancers, p. 287.
  • Subrahmanyam, K. (1972), Our National Security, New Delhi: Economic and Scientific Research Foundation, p. 53.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Kashmir: From conflict management to a conflict resolution? 

There has been ample attention in strategic literature to the use of force in Kashmir, but not quite as much to the peace strategies also deployed alongside in Kashmir. These peace initiatives have not only been within Kashmir, but have also been in relation to Pakistan, seen as part of the problem and solution to Kashmir. However, that the two strands of peace strategies have not been taken to their logical conclusion so far and currently stand suspended. 

The past failure to clinch the peace and the present status quo in a 'no talks' limbo put a question mark over the sincerity in intent behind the peace prong of India's Kashmir strategy. 

But, first, a survey of India's political engagement along the two strands of peace talks: one with Pakistan and the other within Kashmir. The onset of troubles in J&K found India in the midst of a shift to weak coalition governments and soon embarked on liberalization. Conflict management was all it could think of, conflict resolution being out of reach. 

Over the years, well-meaning politicians and officials embarked on political engagement, such as George Fernandes and Rajesh Pilot early in the conflict, and later government-appointed interlocutors, KC Pant and NN Vohra. Some freelancing was also witnessed by those close to the ruling party in the NDA period such as Ram Jethmalani and nearer our times, Yashwant Sinha. 

The Human Rights Commission was set up in 1993 to act as watch dog and mellow the use of force. By mid-nineties, India gave the Red Cross greater scope of activity in relation to Kashmir. Its intelligence agencies helped cobble together a coalition of separatist groups, the Hurriyat Conference, to provide a political platform to the militancy and create the possibility of talks, though the Intelligence Bureau's Kashmir operational group in the duration, AS Dulat, credits this in his memoirs to the Inter-Services Intelligence. 

In the first half of the nineties, in relation to Pakistan, there were some seven rounds of foreign secretary level talks in the early nineties that culminated in four non-papers being shared with Pakistan, including one on confidence building measures. In the second half, the Inder Gujral government took this forward, setting the stage for the composite dialogue entailing talks on eight subjects that included J&K. Inder Gujral's initiation of this format of engagement with Pakistan has been taken forward by all governments since. Within Kashmir, the center-piece of India's initiatives was a return to electoral democracy with the elections of 1996 that turned in the Farooq Abdullah government. 

The Lahore peace process in February 1999 launched by Vajpayee after the nuclear tests by both India and Pakistan the previous year, had at its heart a memorandum of understanding on confidence building between the two states. Even though the Kargil War intervened soon thereafter, Vajpayee's statesmanship ensured that the talks' process was not upturned altogether. He invited Musharraf over to Agra in mid 2001. 

Though the Agra summit was aborted and followed by a fierce year-long India-Pakistan confrontation in wake of the parliament attack later in the year- Operation Parakram - the meeting of minds between Vajpayee and Musharraf enabled a return to talks after the end of Operation Parakram. The ceasefire along the Line of Control and the Islamabad declaration soon followed. Vajpayee handed over a full Pakistan file to Manmohan Singh, who to his credit stuck to the script in the UPA I period, undertaking four rounds of the composite dialogue. 

Meanwhile, within Kashmir, there was a six month long period of non-initiation of combat operations by the army beginning with the Ramzan in late 2000. It was reciprocated by a three week ceasefire on part of Hizb ul Mujahedeen (HM) the following year. For his pains, the HM leader Majid Dar was shot dead on ISI orders subsequently. 

Following the elections during Operation Parakram in late 2002, Mufti Sayeed as chief minister followed a 'healing touch' policy, taming the Special Operations Group and the Ikhwan. The army took out its first sub-conventional operations doctrine, 'iron fist in a velvet glove'. The national government under Manmohan Singh organized three round table dialogues in Kashmir and had five working groups work on aspects of the internal problem in Kashmir. 

The fifth round of the composite dialogue was put on hold after the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and the Mumbai 26/11 attacks. Despite this, Manmohan Singh attempted to revive the process at Sharm el Shaikh, even braving the mention of Baluchistan in the outcome document at the behest of Pakistan and delinking the talks' process from terrorist attacks. The 'resumed talks' in 2010 could not go beyond the foreign secretary level, interrupted by the beheadings of Indian soldiers at the Line of Control in early 2013. 

Within Kashmir, the outbreak over successive years of public agitations over emotive issues from 2008 to 2010 signaled the impatience of the people. A potentially game-changing report of the group of three interlocutors dispatched by Singh was put in to cold storage. India kept the lid on over the troubles over following half decade. 

In the Modi term, the current impasse in talks both within Kashmir and with Pakistan belies the early promise from Nawaz Sharif's presence in the Rashtrapati Bhawan's forecourt during Modi's swearing in. The foreign secretary talks that were to follow were called off by India, citing an invite to Hurriyat leaders to the Pakistan High Commission. Within Kashmir, the hopes for a reversion to the Vajpayee era promises were soon dashed. 

In late 2015, India tried to revive the talks process renamed as 'comprehensive bilateral dialogue'. By attending the birthday party of Nawaz Sharif's granddaughter at Sharif's farm house in Raiwind, during his Christmas stopover at Lahore, Modi seemed to underwrite these. Predictably, the Pakistani 'deep state' put paid to that initiative by dispatching terrorists to raid the Pathankot airfield. Later in the year, a severe agitation in wake of the killing of Burhan Wani, terrorism's poster boy, bespoke of the Kashmiri irritation at the all-round hold up on talks. 

The hold-up is likely to be for indefinite duration. The home secretary on the eve of his retirement late last month emphasized that terrorism and talks with Pakistan could not go together. He has been duly rewarded with a post-retirement position. Last year, the Supreme Court during the hearings on the case against use of pellet guns in Kashmir seemingly approved the government line that it would not talk to separatists till stone throwing agitations, underwritten by separatists, subside. On the ground, the tough talk by the new army chief - including his endorsement of the seemingly indefensible use of the tactic of 'human shields' by his award of a commendation to its perpetrator, Major Leetul Gogoi - has sent out the message that the government is embarked on a hardline. Within Kashmir, the National Investigation Agency has gone after the separatists over money trails. Externally, the government has reframed the problem of Kashmir as not one 'in' Kashmir, but one of return of Pakistan Administered Kashmir to India. 

From this survey of India's peace strategies it emerges that there is a certain degree of continuity to peace strategies as part of India's conflict management tool kit. Lack of political will to go any further onto conflict resolution was palpable in Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh term. Both were afraid to contend with right wing criticism, one from within his party and the other from the BJP. This challenge does not appear as applicable to Modi's tenure, given his parliamentary majority and iconic status (for the moment). Therefore, the discontinuity with the past is in the unwillingness of Modi to go down the peace route to conflict resolution, though he could. 

The current juncture has been stirred up by the US President Trump embarking on a new Afghanistan policy. By coining the term AfPak, the Obama administration had clubbed Afghanistan with Pakistan rhetorically. Trump wishes to go further and after the terrorists operating in Afghanistan in their sanctuaries in Pakistan. 

This latest round of American belligerence has been met with much satisfaction in India. Talks will stay on hold till the contours of the outcome of the US defence secretary, 'Mad dog' Mattis's initiative comes a cropper as it must over time. The past two surges by the US have not yielded result. 

The departure of Nawaz Sharif from government will provide an alibi to India that it has no credible interlocutor on the Pakistani side; just the excuse Manmohan Singh trotted out when Musharraf shot himself on the foot by entangling with lawyers. It would justify hardline strategies till elections in 2019 and accomplishing by the BJP of its Mission 350. 

It appears that earlier governments had a conflict management strategy in place, with peace talks as part. The talks were not for solving the problem, as much to keep the pot from boiling over. The current government's Kashmir policy is a departure from this. It is one of conflict resolution. 

Conflict resolution in its lexicon is not in through the peaceable talks' route as is generally understood. Absent talks, there is only annihilation - ending the problem through use of force, conflict resolution of sorts. This is what the home minister perhaps means when he says the government has a permanent solution in mind. In regard to Pakistan, the army chief has just indicated that nuclear weapons have not ruled out war. Clearly, while Kashmiris will pay a price, the region will bear the risk of the BJP's reframing of conflict resolution. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

In defence of Hamid Ansari

The erudite Hamid Ansari, who has served as vice chancellor of a national university, can be expected to defend himself. His delectable drubbing of the Hindutvavadis over their term at the helm of India indicates as much. The crescendo in their attacks on him today shows that they have not really been listening all through. They seem to have woken only last week when while demitting office, the former vice president Hamid Ansari referred to the (in)security of India's Muslims. 

Way back in February in his K. Subrahmanyam memorial lecture he had warned against 'religious majoritariansm'. Perhaps that was a bit cerebral for our Hindutva brethren to catch on to. They sugarcoat their ideology under the term 'cultural nationalism'. He should perhaps have said out loud that it is Hindu supremacism, but that would be reduce himself to their level. After all, not all Hindus are majoritarian and most - though currently in embarrassed silence - are possibly as aghast with the antics of their Hindutvavadi brethren as anyone else. The scholar and diplomat in Hamid Ansari was not quite heard out earlier. 

But he has done a signal service on departure from high office by setting the cat among the pigeons. This was necessary to do since for the foreseeable future the ones in high office are unlikely to squeal, leave alone say a critical word. It is no secret that the president is from the Hindutva brigade and to state this out loud is no longer disrespectful. 

For his part, the vice president has already done a hit-wicket even as he takes stance by being the first to discourteously shout down his predecessor, Hamid Ansari, opining that Ansari's take smacks of a 'political agenda'. It no doubt missed the vice president that keeping silent is no less striking as 'political agenda', and partaking of the majoritarian project - that accounts for his elevation to august office - is exponentially more so - and more dangerous. 

At the death anniversary of Mr. K. Subrahmanyam, once the long standing doyen of Indian strategists, Hamid Ansari had spelt out his fears, stating, 'The operative principle for this [national identity] is 'national-civic' rather than 'national-ethnic,' though a segment of opinion today would want to modulate or amend it and espouse instead an Indian version of 'cultural nationalism' premised on 'religious majoritarianism.'

Hamid Ansari spelt out his view of the dangers further. In his answer to Karan Thapar's question pertaining to the 'mood' among Indian Muslims, posed in a parting interview on Rajya Sabha TV on the eve of leaving office, he said that, 'there is a feeling of unease, a sense of insecurity is creeping in.' This phrase was lit upon by his Hindutva inspired detractors and trolls. 

He connected the thread between majoritarianism and Muslim perception of insecurity in his last speech as vice president, at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. There he quoted Israeli thinker, Yael Tamir: '…the version of nationalism that places cultural commitments at its core is usually perceived as the most conservative and illiberal form of nationalism. It promotes intolerance and arrogant patriotism.'' 

Essentially, what Hamid Ansari is saying is that 'illiberal nationalism' in the form of 'religious majoritarianism' has created an atmosphere of 'arrogant patriotism', which has led up to the 'insecurity' of various sections of society, including within India's largest minority, its Muslims.

For his pains Hamid Ansari has been characteristically advised by RSS ideologue, Indresh Kumar, to go where 'he feels secure'. After the fashion these days, presumably, Kumar has Pakistan in mind. Or perhaps like they did with MF Hussain, they wish to banish Ansari. It is here that Indresh and his ilk err.

The country Hamid Ansari should head for instead is an India in which such elements are once again marginalized as they were earlier. As a democracy there is no reason to deny them their space, but it needs to be at the periphery and under the constraints of the law. They can be represented by the conservative party of their choice, the BJP. 

However, what has happened over the past decade is that they have emerged behind the chariot of their points-man in politics, Mr. Modi, to take over not only the BJP, but the center-stage of politics. Their minions have spread through society and eaten away at its vitals, including its tolerance, pluralism and diversity. 

The 'Modi wave' does not appear to have exhausted itself, with Bihar only recently falling in his lap. Even the ill effects of demonetization and the indignity and inconvenience it forced on people appears to have been forgiven. Within society, lynch mobs are rampant enforcing their cow related dictates, even at the cost of human lives. 

The country that Hamid Ansari should head towards is an India that shall emerge after the Modi tide has been reversed. It would not be easy. The middle class is still looking for the promised economic dividend. The country is latched down by its two rivals on either side and, therefore, there is always the call for national unity against these bogeys to fall back on. The institutions are being hollowed out. Even the redoubtable Economic and Political Weekly has suffered a setback to its reputation from seemingly tanking in to mere legal notice from a corporate house with links to the government. 

Rolling back this tide of hate would not be possible any time soon. The tide will first have to culminate in some dangerous and self-destructive climax. Arundhati Roy has prognosticated as much in her latest book. Though a work of fiction, she rightly takes India's current and ongoing hardline approach in Kashmir as symptomatic of India in a self-destruct mode and as precursor to such a denouement.

For sure, the insecurity Hamid Ansari refers to can only deepen. This would involve Muslims in their mohallas or in areas where they predominate such as in tracts of Bengal, Assam and in Kashmir. The Muslim predicament posed by lynch mobs across north India is well known. In the Deccan, the selective killing of a body builder was no doubt to send a message. The 'beef ban' law has one unstated aspect to it: that of defanging Muslims, better represented in the meat industry, and, therefore, better able to defend themselves, having the knives, the know how to use these and the stomach that does not turn on the sight of blood. A Muslim student of a premier university continues to be missing a year on. 

The Kashmir story is too well known to the readers of this to dwell on here. In Bengal, the BJP is reportedly growing inroads, using the communal tensions from incidents such as in Basirhat as they best know how. Of Assam, the Director General Assam Rifles, is emboldened enough to write in a respected strategic journal, the USI, thus: 'Districts of Karimganj, Hailakandi and Cachar are likely to suffer mainly on communal lines with noticeable increase in Muslim population, seeping in of fundamental ideas and support for Islamic Fundamental Organisations.' He goes on to say that the Rohingya refugees are falling to ISIS inducement. This perhaps explains India readying to send 40000 of them back, and allowing the refugee agency to cater for only 15000 of them. So much for India as a regional power. 

Ansari's pointing all this out led to a veiled attack on him by the prime minister in parliament. Modi more or less had it that Ansari's roots and professional confines in Muslim related issues and causes had constricted his thinking. Mr. Modi is either India's Nero or its pied piper. Both avatars do not bode well for India's future. Clearly, even though Ansari will not fetch up at an India with religious majoritarianism bottled up once again in this lifetime, it is equally clear that it is in this direction he - and all the rest of us in India - must head. If Muslim insecurity is an index of India's security, we need to heed Ansari.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Mapping India’s doctrinal movement
In his very first extended interview, in the run up to Army Day in January of 2017, General Bipin Rawat got off the mark by publicly dusting the army’s conventional war doctrine, its ‘proactive strategy’ dubbed as Cold Start. Earlier chiefs were rather coy, unwilling to own up the doctrine dating to 2004 lest it shows India as a state with an offensive intent. One chief even denied that any such doctrine exists.
On the sub-conventional doctrine front, recently, the general has gone on to award Major Leetul Gogoi for quick thinking in use of a ‘human shield’ against stone throwers in the Kashmir Valley. This comes on the heels of his threatening those impeding ongoing operations in Kashmir that they would be treated as ‘over-ground workers’ (OGW). Many in the Valley recall that at least some occupants of the 2000 plus unmarked graves across the Valley were ‘OGW’, mostly Jamaatis taken as the front of the Hizbul and the Lashkar by the security forces back in the nervous nineties.
When Jawaharlal Nehru sent the army to quell the Naga rebellion in the mid-fifties, he was keen that the army should earn the respect of the people. While General Rawat has made it amply clear that he prefers that people should be ‘afraid’ of the army.
A movement in India’s nuclear doctrine - how and when it plans to use nuclear weapons - has also been detected by avid analysts in their close reading of the joint doctrine, Joint Doctrine: Indian Armed Forces, released earlier in April this year.
The joint doctrine in its reference to the nuclear doctrine described it as ‘credible deterrence’ instead of ‘credible minimum deterrence’. While to one analyst, the omission suggests ignorance on part of the drafters, this is too glaring to have been less than deliberate. The ‘minimum’ in the nuclear doctrine stood for deterrence-by-punishment based on holding a few counter-value targets of the nuclear adversary hostage to his good behaviour.
By eliminating ‘minimum’, analysts fear that India appears to be headed towards a warfighting nuclear doctrine. The two possible answers to Pakistani nuclear first use by employing tactical nuclear weapons, would be proportionate response and preemptive first strike. Both the responses require large numbers; thereby, impinging on ‘minimum’ and making the term expendable.  
The across-the-board doctrinal movement is not surprising.
Fearing criticism from the strategic community - the self-styled guardians of national security in New Delhi with the current-day National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval being one of its leaders - the UPA I government was not able to clinch the peace feelers it had sent out to Pakistan and Kashmir.
The strategic community, amongst whom were many closet cultural nationalist and current day Modi ‘bhakts’, closed ranks behind Ajit Doval in the later UPA II years. This further held up UPA II, as it didn't want to appear to be outflanked by the right wing for being ‘soft’ on Pakistan or in Kashmir. The final nail in the UPA coffin was the drafting of a press release in 2013 by Vivekananda International Foundation, a think tank then headed by Ajit Doval. In retrospect, the press release, with its hardline stance on Pakistan can be seen as precursor of a strategic manifesto.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on the campaign trail, Doval – perhaps by then sounded out that he would get the coveted post of NSA - projected himself as holding a mild, ‘defensive offence’, perspective on the use of force. However, as a national security czar, Doval has since pursued the Doval doctrine, encapsulated in the phrase ‘You do one more Mumbai, and you lose Baluchistan’.
While the actions on the nuclear level have been kept below the radar, muscle flexing on the conventional and sub-conventional level has been rather visible lately. ‘Surgical strikes’ have been witnessed on both the eastern and western fronts. It is back to fire assaults at the LoC and cordon and search sweeps in the Valley. The army chief reprised the ‘two and half front war’ trope, more than five years after it was last heard of. Some $200 billion are lined up for acquisitions over the coming decade. These are fallout of the Doval doctrine, which passes for the overarching strategic doctrine lending direction to India’s military doctrines.
The UPA II saw India move from offensive deterrence to offensive, under hyper nationalist and cultural nationalist pressure. Under the present dispensation, India’s strategic doctrine has moved towards what can be called “compellence”. Military doctrines, keeping pace, consequently have had to become more aggressive.
The dangers are in the inter-linkages between the levels of the conflict spectrum: nuclear-conventional-sub-conventional. With more ‘surgical strikes’ on the cards, the buffer between sub-conventional and the conventional level has been done away with. Pakistan had early on whittled the divide between the conventional and nuclear levels. In absence of any distinction between the levels, there is a short fuse to conflict and conflict is set to escalate in short order.
The problem with compellence – what Doval’s doctrine advocates - is that the onus of throwing in the towel is with the target, Pakistan. India appears to be relying on Pakistan’s strategic good sense in knowing when to play ball.  Though General Rawat has signaled as much to Pakistan (‘If you (Pakistan) accept peace, we will go along’), alongside he noted that there is a ‘dirty war’ on in Kashmir.
Clearly, Pakistan is unfazed. Compellence does not seem to be working. This might force India to tweak compellence further. When it does, it would likely find - at some cost to itself - that the doctrinal movement has not made India any safer.

Thursday, June 08, 2017
Reading the Army Chief's words

Luckily for the army chief, the government had earlier let on that he was chosen for his operational experience, the subtext being that strategic acumen was not to fore in its choice. The chief in his recent utterance in an interaction with PTI has proven the government right. He averred that the morale of the army's junior leaders in Kashmir needed lifting and he had awarded Major Leetul Gogoi to help with this. His inability to rise above the operational level prevented him from seeing the strategic hit-wicket he has done in that the award was at the cost of regard for Kashmiris, the good Major having been awarded despite of his being under inquiry in the 'human shield' case. 

The chief did not end with that, going to rue that Kashmiris had taken to stones instead of guns. Their taking to guns would have leveled the playfield for him. His troops would presumably have been able to fire back, instead of waiting - in his words - to die; even though there has been no death on the side of security forces from a stone hit. On the contrary there were close to a hundred deaths on the civilian side and many going blind due to retaliation by pellet guns. 

What the public rumination of the army chief tells us is that almost nine years since full-throated stone throwing made its advent in Kashmir, there has been no doctrinal, organizational and tactical effort on part of security forces to meet it. Granted, the army has not been at the receiving end for most part, coming in with two brigades only for a while to pacify south Kashmir late last stone throwing season. Those in khaki uniforms have borne the brunt instead. 

It would be too much to expect of them - and their IPS leadership - to have come up with a suitable, people-sensitive strategy. True to form, the home ministry set up a committee to assess efficacy of pellet guns last year. Any other country would have turned out police forces suitably equipped with protective gear, trained in phalanx formation and with humanitarian law compliant weapons. The winter's respite has not led to any change of tack from their inheritance dating to handling the Quit India movement. The innovation if any is in the use of catapults to give a taste of their own medicine to stone throwers. They apparently miss Mr. KPS Gill and his tactics. 

All they needed doing was to look up on the manner, say the South Korean riot police handles mob violence or even the statelet Kosovar police handles the opposition's Molotov cocktail charged challenge. Given India's advantages of manpower, such forces could have been deployed in each district for easy access to stone throwers in real time, dispersing them with a routine finality but with fewer casualties. Suitably deterred and with no casualties to appreciably boost their angst, stone throwing - reminiscent of the intifada - might have dissipated. 

With girls straining their arm in like pursuit this season, the army appears to have been placed on call. It has already - under its new chief with a wealth of operational experience in the Valley - reverted to tactics abandoned over a decade and half back: cordon and search sweeps. On the Line of Control it has walked back over a decade to the pre-ceasefire days. Whereas it is on comfortable ground on the Line of Control, in the by-lanes on the Valley floor, from the words of its chief, it appears at sea. 

What the army chief therefore is really saying is that the army is in a position it would rather not be in. Explaining his innovative solution to the tactical cul-de-sac he found himself in, Major Leetul Gogoi was worried that he might have had to drop a dozen stone throwers to break his way out of their siege. By rewarding him, the army chief has seemingly agreed with him. Even if the army wants a fight on its terms, it expects instead to have a people-centric fight as Ramzan gets along. 

Clearly, it has been left with the can. This is what its minister has put them to - washing his hands off by saying that military problems needed military solutions. For a minister who is also handling the finance ministry, this would be an appropriate tack to take since he really would not have the time to supervise the defence ministry left vacant by a predecessor absconding at the first opportunity to his home state. With a heart operation behind him - dating to his last stint at managing both ministries at the beginning of this government's term - he can be excused. The ruling party is so thin on talent that it has no one to substitute. 

The problem is that whereas operational freedom for the military is understandable on the Line of Control - where the army in its element can be expected to do its bit - this is not so in respect of the 'war among people'. The minister is obviously oblivious to the 'strategic corporal' concept that attends such environments. Major Leetul Gogoi's action is an illustration of what may be lauded at the tactical level ending up as a strategic disaster. 

But there is an even more significant aspect of the twin reflections in the press respectively of the minister and his army chief last week. This is of a piece with the typically Indian civil-military relations dating to the Sino-Indian war. India's foremost military historian, Srinath Raghavan, informs that the civilians learnt the wrong lessons from the war, believing that the military space needs to be left entirely to the military. He explores how the conduct of the 1965 war reinforced this false belief, even though the result of the war itself did not suggest that the civil and military domains in war are distinct and without overlap. Be that as it may, the nuclear age is here. Any verities held over from prior naturally need rethink. 

Yet two decades into the nuclear age, for the defence ministry to believe that the military sphere continues to be distinct is an abdication of responsibility. Both the minister and his army chief opined that there is little possibility of war. To the minister, the army's dominance of the Line of Control ensures this, while the army chief ruled out 'limited war'. It bears reminding that for his part, the air force chief in emulating General Sundarji sent a demi-official letter to his officers exhorting war readiness. Getting hold of a copy of this missive, the Pakistani air force activated its forward airfields and buzzed Siachen. Throw in a surgical strike or two, and there could be yet another India-Pakistan crisis, a throwback by a decade. 

Since this is all too easy to observe, this analysis opens up an interesting possibility. If all this gets to a shooting stage, either the army can fetch the government kudos - a'la the short term benefits 1971 and Kargil did for the political heads at the time - or in case the army messes it up, the 'military solution for military problem' thesis provides an alibi for the civilian national security apparatus. A short, sharp war might be good for Mr. Modi's image, lacking as it does warlord credentials currently. Navigating such political waters, the army chief needs to keep his head up and not look down, as appears to be his wont.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Kashmir's scenery makes its way to the 'hinterland'
The head of India's land warfare think tank has this to say in his essay in the flagship product of the army funded center: 'The proxy war is one method of tying down the Indian Army, and it should be expected during any war, that this strategy will be escalated to choke the lines of communication and destabilise the hinterland ('

It is easy to see this in relation to Kashmir. The restive population would possibly hold-up Indian military convoys, enroute to battle by sporadic bouts of stone throwing. Even if not orchestrated by Pakistan, this can be inferred from the daily prime time display of their levels of alienation from India and from teenage girls joining the fray.

While this explanation caters for the reference to 'lines of communication' falling in J&K, where about one third of the army is deployed, one wonders what is the reference to 'destabilise the hinterland'? A little further in the article, a clue appears: 'The religious colour given to the Mujahideen war in Afghanistan is being replicated in India, in the hope that Indian Muslims will get radicalised, causing communal disharmony.'

Presumably, this explains the source of possible instability in the 'hinterland'. Clearly,
into the proxy war sink - in which the J&K problem has languished for the past two decades -
the security predicament of India's largest minority - its Muslims - is now being
 likewise sunk.

The think tank honcho explicates further ahead in the article in question the role such a proverbial fifth
column could play in hostilities. He calls for engineering a Tibetan uprising in relation to the circumstance
 of hostilities with China: 'The Tibetan people must be integrated into the overall plan to impose delay and
attrition on forces inducted after the commencement of a war. The Tibetan resistance must also be used for
 deep targeting and intelligence… The covert and hybrid war now in vogue, remains well suited to the TAR
where Tibetan nationalism has been suppressed, and has been simmering for decades.'

He perhaps visualizes this is the role Pakistan's ISI is setting up India's Muslims to play and some of India's
Muslims might oblige. This is not an individual opinion. It appears to be collectively held in the military. Here
is some anecdotal evidence.

This author lives in a Muslim majority locality in a city with a large Muslim population. In the locality is situated
 a military garrison. As with other military garrisons, it has been in uncomfortable cheek by jowl with its
surroundings. This was unremarkable earlier, when cities were relatively laid back. With cities turning dynamic,
 if not turbulent, and willy-nilly strangling the green military oasis in their midst, the garrison over time acquired
a wall, topped up as is the fashion these days not only with barbed wire but concertina coil. Thereafter, as
military budgets expanded, it gave itself guard towers two-storey high, to peer over the walls at every bend.
Lately, it has set up at every hundred meters or so atop its boundary wall a set of sandbags, reminiscent of
bunkers in J&K.

Whereas I could explain away the wall as a natural response to the bustle around it, the guard towers
appeared to be rather a pointed comment on what the garrison thought of its unruly and boisterous neighbours.
However, I cannot but notice that there is more to it than mere military irritation. The guard towers acquired
sentries with rifles. Some now have light machine guns. There is a bonafide bunker at the garrison's gates
that can do credit to any Srinagar street.

But what is a Muslim watching this garrison's transformation to make of the trench and bunker like toppings
to the wall all along its length? Do the inmates of this garrison believe that they would be assaulted and that
they might need to repel an assault in the midst of a city outside of J&K and India's north east? Why is
the main gate so configured as to ward-off a fidayeen attack? Is the Muslim majority locality such an eyesore
to this garrison? Would it hide jihadists who might wish to do a repeat of Kalu Chak?
 Does it hide fifth columnists who might want to
 interdict our brave soldiers setting off to a war with a Cold Start?

One can imagine and excuse those holed up in the garrison to put in ear plugs and swear under their breath (or
out loud as people are wont to these days) as the loud speakers in the seven mosques in the locality go off one
 by one. But do they also really think that those attending those prayers can potentially scale the walls of the
garrison to interdict troops on their way off to some borderland battlefield in the next war?

What this suggests is that there is a considerable buy-in into the canard of susceptibility of Muslims to subversion
- either by religious extremism or by our friendly neighborhood bogeyman. This has been a case long in the making.

Every now and again there are news reports of some or other techie caught finding his way to Syria. The police
in a southern state was exposed to be running jihadists websites so as to trap potential Muslim terrorists who
stopped by too often or lingered at the webpage too long. In Bhopal, a BJP ruled state, eight under trials were
 shot in cold blood. The latest news report had some jihad inclined Indian Muslims done to death by the Mother
 of All Bombs in the caves of Nangarhar. (There is no talk on the environmental crime perpetrated in the use of a
bomb on one of natures' wonders, no less blatant a crime than that of the Taliban knocking down the Bamiyan
statues or ISIS doing away with Palmyra).

The people who have bought into this either don't know or don't want to know or, worse, don't care to know, that
there have been a spate of Muslims being let off by courts for want of evidence in cases of bombings attributed
 to jihadists. They evince no knowledge of the exposé of the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association of the police
stories on some celebrated terrorism related cases as fabrications and figment of imagination. They are unaware
of the many Muslims remain in prison with cases pending, even in cases so stark as the Malegaon case, where
 extremist Hindus have been implicated for the bombings. They are perhaps happy that some courts are also
letting off Hindu perpetrators for planting bombs in a 'bomb for bomb' duet with supposedly Muslim perpetrated
terrorism mid-last decade.

Whereas such a distorted worldview can be understood of ordinary people who are lied-to much of the time
by mass media and subverted authority figures, how can institutions subscribing to this - such as our esteemed,
secular and apolitical army - be explained away? Is it so apolitical as to be a political innocent or, worse, ignoramus?

Retrospect makes it easy to see what has been engineered in India over the past decade and half.
A careful hearing to a speech by the current day national security adviser at a nondescript locale back in 2010 -
 unbelievably on Universal Brotherhood Day - provides some clues (; The intelligence czar, though retired, lets on that there is a
war on, with jihadists out to subjugate and convert India. (Thus, 'universal brotherhood' is baloney!) The terrorism
 India was subject to all through the century's first decade made this believable. To him, (Muslim) invaders came
 to India because it was 'weak' (and not because geography did not make it sensible for them to wonder off into
the surrounding deserts on the three other sides). Now it needs to be 'strong' and under a 'leader' with a 'vision'.
It is to his credit - and that of an ally the RSS - India has finally got there.

While getting all the way to Delhi, it made political sense to lampoon Rahul Gandhi. Were he to say that the greater
 threat to India is from saffronites, it would not be believed. But Mr. Gandhi got it spot on in his conversation leaked
 at wikileaks. Now, if only the institutions of state provide the necessary checks and balances rather than buy-in
into a strategic discourse contrived to capture and perpetuate a hold over power, India can yet be rescued.