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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'
By Firdaus Ahmed
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 exposĂ© 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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The latest kerfuffle on the nuclear front has been stirred up by comments made last month by a Harvard faculty member of Indian origin at a conference at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. He opined that India has shifted or is shifting its nuclear doctrine from a retaliatory one to a one based on first-strike, which could well be in a preemptive mode. This means that India might well abandon no first-use, either soon as part of this shift or in face of provocation.
Anticipating the shift, a back of the envelop calculation done in this column two years back had it that at least 50 weapons would require to be dropped for setting back Pakistan’s retaliatory capability.
Presuming Pakistan manages to sneak in some of its own nuclear attacks timely and, later, its scattered nuclear forces fire off any remaining warheads in India’s direction, we could add some 20 nuclear strikes, not all of which will be impacting India since the early nuclear use by Pakistan might be in form of tactical nuclear weapons on its own territory against advancing Indian military columns. There would also be some knock-on detonations of Pakistani nuclear weapons subject to Indian strikes. Thus, we have a figure of about a 120 detonations, of which about a tenth could well be in India.
Though India would in this case receive strikes in the lower double digits, these might be tellingly directed at India’s nerve centers. 
A rough estimate is that India can expect up to 10 nuclear incoming strikes from the Arabian Sea. Assuming DRDO manages to down 5 of these, an overall 15 impacts would be the price to pay for ‘wiping Pakistan off the map’ in George Fernandes’ unforgettable phrase.
... assuming that two thirds of India’s strikes are airburst, about 25-30 Indian strikes will raise a dust, as would the 15 Pakistani bombs that manage to get through. Thus, we have a figure of about 45 mushroom clouds in the subcontinent, at least some of which would be in urban settings.
It is possible that given the dispensation currently in power in Delhi, there would be no compunction in eliminating Pakistan. Since the nuclear aftermath would provide an opportunity for gaining a firm grip over India, ostensibly to prevent chaos, there are incentives for a regime pre-disposed towards an authoritarian system.
Given this propensity, strategists would be well advised to think one-up. By selling first-strike as a doable proposition, they may end up with a political decision maker - with a self-belief in being a strong man and decisive - grasping the nettle.
How will this turn out?
India could well manufacture a nuclear trigger in the form of a chemical attack on its forces – a’la Tongking Bay incident that brought the US directly into the Vietnam war. Recently in Syria, purported chemical weapons used by the regime led to the US missile strikes. Similarly, attribution of chemical attacks to Pakistan could open it up for pre-emptive nuclear retribution, with information warfare later cluttering the truth.
Clearly, South Asia is closer to a nuclear conflict than strategists care to let on. They need to take nuclear scaremongering more seriously, and so must the prospective nuclear decision makers.
Given all this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should be apprised of the possible dangers.
Firstly, Modi would be wise to query the numbers. He should double the numbers of Pakistani warheads credited here as striking India’s solar plexus. It would take considerably more chutzpah than he needed to face the critics of demonetization.
Secondly, he could be arraigned for genocide, if not in front of the International Criminal Court – which India has in anticipation taken care not to sign up to – but in innovative global criminal tribunals set up for accountability.
Thirdly, even if Pakistan is history, the saffronites’ ‘Muslim problem’ would not have gone away. Not only would Pakistani refugees inundate the border-states but they would be a conduit for a jihadi, hybrid war.
In this nuclear era, what should matter to the decision maker is not what we can do to the  enemy but what the enemy could do to us.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Terror: More serious than most know

India is pursuing an initiative to forge consensus on a comprehensive convention on international terrorism. Though terrorism has been in the sights of the international community now for some two decades, the initiative has not got a tail wind yet. Some of this lack of ballast owes to Indian credibility undermined by its own doing.

Take for instance recent headlines in India. Surely foreign embassies would be transmitting back to their capitals that the courts have let off Aseemanand - a self-confessed terrorist - for lack of evidence. Worse, they would also be reporting back that over a dozen Muslim men have been released from prisons since the high profile cases against them for terrorism did not fly.

If India does not itself - back home - take terrorism quite so seriously as to investigate and prosecute sensibly, why would India's diplomats talking of international terrorism in global forums be taken any more seriously?

This begs the question as to how seriously to take India? Taking up a more worrisome and a more important matter may help answer the question: the political use of terrorism and its discourse in internal politics in India.

This is self-evident from the turn the UP elections appear to have taken mid course. Unable to shake off the ghost
 of demonetization, the BJP appears to have got cold feet. The Muslim card has been hurled back
into the reckoning. As if on call, the Khorasan chapter of the ISIS made its appearance. A bomb blast led to
 investigations in a neighbouring BJP-ruled state that in turn prompted a day-long gun battle in a city in the
 state going to the polls against a holed up Muslim 'terrorist'.

Mere reference to Nepal based Pakistan aided Muslim 'terrorists' responsible for an earlier train derailment as
part of campaigning was not thought enough. More hands-on, visible, in-your-face-terrorism, needed conjuring.

Even the ISIS Khorasan chapter could not have thought up such an India debut. It did not have to. Those that keep
 watch on it in India appear to have stepped in on its behalf, providing it the free oxygen of publicity. The timeliness
of the framing of the news brooks no other explanation.

This is of a piece with the over-a-decade long pattern of bomb blasts. Muslims get picked up as suspects; are
prosecuted while being denied bail; are incarcerated; and if lucky, left off a decade on; and if unlucky, killed while
 escaping, such as most recently the unfortunate eight under trials in BJP-ruled Bhopal.

The script won the BJP the national elections. It collapses the 'internal Other', India's Muslims, with the 'external
 Other', Pakistan. Creating the connection was doubly useful. It showed up an India under threat that the
minority-appeasing Congress-led UPA could not possibly counter. Security needed a strong-on-security, BJP, and a
strong leader, Modi.

Though upfront, the BJP had development as its plank, it was one handed to it in the period of paralysis of the UPA II. 
The security plank was the one that was in-the-works over the decade prior. The spate of terror attacks since the
 mid-2000s were attributed to Muslim perpetrators, inspired by revenge for the Gujarat pogrom. Modi was depicted
as a key target, saved by the daring exploits of the likes of IGP Vanzara. Targeting of Akshardham temple placed
Gujarat at the frontline. Muslim perpetrators of terror were allegedly assisted by Pakistan that had taken to keeping
Kashmir quiescent but had expanded its shadow over the Indian hinterland.

This helped Mr. Modi acquire a larger-than-life image carrying him victory in the hustings. Since the strategy is now
tried and tested, the BJP has naturally fallen back on it to ensure like result at what are seen as a forerunner
 to the next national elections. While it is a commonplace that it is not possible to fool all the people all the time, this
has not stopped the BJP from trying. Perhaps the IB has alerted its political master that these are desperate times.

The curious fact is this. Since many Muslims have been let off for terror they did not commit, who has committed
those crimes? Hindutva inspired terrorists - such as Aseemanand, Pragya Thakur and their ilk - come in the
cross hairs. This means that many of the terrorist acts attributed in the popular imagination to Muslims have the
 finger prints of Hindutva votaries behind them.

However, the NIA is known to have asked prosecutors, such as Rohini Salian, to 'go soft' on such terrorists and
the courts are proceeding to give the benefit of the doubt to the likes of Aseemanand, with Pragya Thakur and
Maj. Purohit also reportedly lined up for similar kid-glove treatment.

This indicates either of two things: that saffron-inspired terrorists being of the same persuasion as the ruling
dispensation are let off owing to ideological affinity, or, more troublingly, they were put to it and having done their
bit are being let off.

Though the former possibility is comparatively mild, it puts paid to India's international position that there are no
 'good terrorists' and 'bad terrorists'. It makes clear that India - just as other countries including its bĂȘte noire Pakistan -
has its own set of 'good terrorists'.

The latter - that Hindutva perpetrated terror has political antecedents - deserves pause on two counts. The first
is the effect this had on the national discourse. It made out that the nation was under threat, enabling consolidation
 behind the Hindutva political formations and their champion, Modi.

The second is who were behind the manipulation of the Hindutva working hands. Were they acting independently to
 substitute the intolerable UPA? To what extent was their handiwork known to those so benefiting? And, finally,
 who were they? How did the intelligence establishment under UPA miss out on them altogether?

The last question points to a degree of culpability of the intelligence and policing apparatus. They were complicit in
painting a false image of India being subject to Muslim perpetrated terror to the benefit of the right wing of the political
establishment. Not only did they not collect the necessary evidence to nail actual perpetrators but falsified the narrative
to implicate Muslims. This is subversion of more than mere justice.

The current day episode only deepens this understanding of the terror narrative in India. The sudden advent of the
Khorasan chapter - almost at a centralized will and to the very timely benefit of the Hindutva political formations - suggests
nothing else. If in the UPA period the rule of law apparatus was - as seen - out of governmental control, under the
current regime it is on the contrary completely under control. Not only can it, in full view, kill under trials, but
orchestrate terror acts, manipulate the media and, thereby, influence polls. This is potential subversion of democracy.

'Potential' is used advisedly. The UP results are awaited. It cannot be that the Indian voter cannot see through this
patently false narrative. Even polarization cannot blind so completely. While she may not vote for those who stand to
 benefit by manipulation of the terror narrative on this count - for such manipulation - but by rejecting them, she makes
 such attempts futile. Democracy can triumph yet. It cannot afford not to.