Sunday, 14 April 2019

Saturday, 13 April 2019

Peoples Power in Sudan Throws Out Omar al-Bashir After 30 Years

There would be much rejoicing in liberal circles that Omar al-Bashir has departed into history, brought down by people’s power right at his doorstep.

Earlier he provided refuge to Osama bin Laden, who allegedly planned his terror attacks in Africa - conducted after he was boarded out of Sudan for Afghanistan – while in Sudan.

A fugitive from the clutches of the International Criminal Court, al–Bashir’s toppling would be seen as prelude to his receiving his just desserts for his handling of the rebellion in Darfur.

However, there are two counts on which he could well be remembered favourably alongside.

The first is his realistic shepherding of South Sudan to independence after three years of peace talks that ended Africa’s longest civil war and six years of implementation of the outcome.

The second is his maturity in enabling that fledgling state to find its feet after two bouts of civil war in its short history of a mere eight years.

al-Bashir earned his spurs fighting the southern Sudanese rebels in the oil rich provinces the Greater Bahr el Gazal. Here he squared off a young colonel against John Garang’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army in the second round of the Sudan’s civil war that began at Garang’s home station and place of posting, Bor, in 1983. In 1989, al-Bashir toppled a civilian head of government, Sadiq al Mahdi, a grandson of the legendary Nubian religious leader Mahdi.

Lacking legitimacy, al-Bashir, as military coup makers elsewhere, such as in our neighbourhood, Zia ul Haq, flirted with the religious right. This flirtation with Hassan al-Turabi, led to Omar al-Mahdi falling out with the West, especially as the civil war continued in southern Sudan with the imposition of sharia as one of the root causes.

The attempt at President Mubarak’s life while he was visiting Addis Ababa, led al-Bashir to distance himself from these forces, even prior to the launch of missile strikes by the United States (US) in 1998, including on a factory manufacturing pharmaceuticals, for complicity of extremists in the terror strikes at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Instability spread to western Sudan by African, though Muslim, tribes in Darfur taking on the state. The Sudanese military, lacking in strength and professionalism and spread thin, resorted to use of irregulars, called Janjaweed militia, against the Darfuris.

This culminated in what a US’ secretary of state, General Colin Powell, terming ‘genocide’. This characterization was not bought into by the UN, which by mid 2000s had deployed a peacekeeping mission in Sudan to oversee the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) arrived at between al-Bashir and John Garang in Kenya.

Hilda Johnson, who was later the secretary general’s representative in South Sudan when the state got independence in 2011, in her account of the period in her book Waging Peace has a cryptic paragraph that almost testifies to the suspicion in Sudan watchers of the period that the Darfuri rebellion was stoked by outside powers in order to soften Khartoum so as to make it amenable to talks with southern Sudanese.

The figure of 300000 dead Darfuris, bandied in order to legitimize another UN mission, for Darfur, is also disputed. This author learnt from a UN official handling the official figure of casualties that at the point when the figure was hyped, it was then at a low five figure mark.

Therefore, while this by no means exonerates the excesses for which al-Bashir is ultimately accountable having been atop the pyramid that committed the atrocities, whether these merited an ICC push against a sitting head of state is worth considering. It is no wonder that African heads of state decided collectively to ignore the ICC in its messianism that could well have had power politics at base.

Recall the Bush administration was then out on a spree to unsettle the Middle East and Arab regimes in order to export democracy. This culminated in regime changes across the region by early 2010s, including by military action in Libya and an attempted replay in Syria.

Despite these provocations and continuing under US’ unilateral sanctions, al-Bashir kept his word on the South Sudan timeline, letting go Sudan’s African half without a reactionary backlash. He naturally could not also fall in line on the Abyei issue – a territorial dispute between the two sister states – and on the Africanised Muslim tribes inhabiting the Two Areas, north of the 1956 dividing line along which Sudan severed.

As with all strongmen and in an assertion of sovereignty in face of interference amounting to proxy war not only from South Sudanese trans-border support for these proxy groups, he asserted himself militarily to retain these areas in Sudan.

This put him afoul of liberals in the west, who pointed to his dismal human rights record in his prosecution of the war in the insurgency prone areas to the west and south. Though the mantra is ‘African solutions for African problems’, western liberals are uneasy when violence figures in such solutions.

That the non-state groups held out with the support of forces outside of Sudan also needs recording. At least one Darfuri warlord canvasses western support from a base in Paris. It is no wonder then that the Sudan Revolutionary Front, along with the civilian side, the National Consensus Forces, of the Sudan Call movement, missed the bus on the African Union blessed roadmap on national reconciliation dialogue and constitution making that al-Bashir initiated in 2014.

Even so, al-Bashir submitted to an African Union led peace process, considering the SPLA North (SPLA-N) issue as a legacy of the CPA period. The African Union appointed high level panel attempted to prevail on the rebels in both Darfur (those out of the wider Qatari led Doha peace process) and the SPLA-N. Several rounds of talks later, the status quo revolves around the questions of sequencing of humanitarian access (with SPLA-N) and the ceasefire and its modalities (with the two Darfuri groups).

The peace process was on the radar of the Obama administration, an assistance in the settlement of Sudanese internal conflicts as quid pro quo for Sudan’s letting southern Sudan go. In the event, the rebels decided on waiting out the Obama administration, anticipating that American energy would falter when the successor comes to power. They turned out right in their assessment of Trump.

Therefore, if the troubles continue in both areas – Darfur and the Two Areas – these need to be attributed as much to hold out rebel elites as to the regimes hardline and not laid at al-Bashir’s door entirely.

Surprisingly, Omar al-Bashir is not unpopular in South Sudan, having redeemed himself in his role as its mid-wife. Even though he fought off South Sudan in a border war in April 2012, he settled with the new state equally quickly in arriving at a raft of peace agreements in September that were to be implemented over the long term.

On his part, though there was some proxy war indulged in by the two states, he did restrain South Sudan rebel proxy groups, returning the Nuer and Shilluk groups in 2013 and refraining from aiding the third, the Murle. The three groups sided with President Kiir in his face off with his one time deputy Riek Machar. In case Sudanese support had continued, the combined forces of Nuer under Machar and the rebels could have prevailed over Juba.

In the event, even the Ugandan forces joining on the side of Kiir’s Dinka forces did not force al-Bashir’s hands, though Uganda and Sudan have been at odds for long, particularly over the supposed Sudanese support once for the depredations of the Lords’ Liberation Army. Not only did al-Bashir refrain from proxy war, but he prevailed on Machar to arrive at an agreement under aegis of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development.

When that agreement broke down because of the SPLA machinations against Machar on his arrival in Juba in July 2016, al-Bashir is one who can be credited with its revitalization. Taking in Machar for recuperation and then handing him over to South Africa in the interim, al-Bashir settled the contextual face-off with Museveni’s Uganda. This enabled the revitalization of the agreement and the subsequent peaceful return of Machar along with a presidential delegation of al-Bashir to Juba.

To be sure, the renewal of flow of oil from oil fields in South Sudan was on al-Bashir’s mind. The last food riots were in late 2013, leading to some 200 killed in street demonstrations. The oil was essential to Sudan’s survival, particularly since it not only gave up ownership to South Sudan, but was dependent on rent from the flow of the oil through its territory.

The border war and dispute over pricing arrangements led to earlier disruptions and the civil war outbreak in South Sudan knocked off the infrastructure. Knowing his political future depended on the economy recovering with oil flows resuming, al-Bashir oversaw repairs with Sudanese help of the oil infrastructure. In the interim, he was faced with peaceful demonstrations, beginning 19 December last.

His predicament could have been eased had the US persisted with Obama’s plan for Sudan, lifting sanctions progressively and mainstreaming the state. In the event, while sanctions were lifted, Sudan stayed on the terror list and quite unnecessarily at that. Thus, US foreign policy lethargy under Trump and its foot dragging in Africa has exacted a price. It is completely out of step, as in most things these days, with his European allies, who found al-Bashir’s most cooperative in helping stem immigration to Europe from Africa, their principal plank in the common security and foreign policy agenda. These culminated in the happenings in Khartoum over this month, leading to the army stepping up and dispatching al-Bashir into history.

While a despot has been evicted, history has not come to an end. Neighbouring Libya is under turmoil, even as UN intends to dispatch an assistance mission to that state this year. Algeria has been convulsed in people demanding an end to a geriatric military regime there. Yemen, over to Sudan’s east, continues in distress.

Thus, an arc of instability has opened up across the Arab lands yet again. As to how this fits in with the Trump plan for the Middle East, to be unveiled by his son in law, Jared Kushner, is yet to be known. The plan perhaps awaited the return of ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu to power, as a lynchpin of stability in a sea of turmoil.

What a brilliant strategy for the national security of Israel, the regional nuclear equipped superpower. al-Bashir who had fended off instability spreading from the Horn of Africa is now no more in saddle. Fearing being engulfed by the instability, the military that has taken over – al-Bashir’s child in a way – has hit itself in the foot by talking of constitution making spread over two years. They may end up emulating General Sisi to the north.

The period could have been shorter (say six months) since al-Bashir was already into constitution making, with a standing invite to the Mahdi led holdouts – underwritten by the African Union high level panel headed by Thabo Mbeki - to join up at will in the process. The story is yet unfolding, but it is without its main character, the ultimate realist, al-Bashir.

Sudan, symbolized best by its name emblazoned across the iconic red-sandstone building at the National Defence Academy, figures in Indian interests significantly for the $2.5 billion investment in oil in the region.

Though India has lost a friend in al-Bashir’s departure, in his successor General Auf, it has another well-wisher at the helm in Khartoum.

India would do well to use its leverage to gently help its Sudanese friends down the road to democracy which they were already embarked on till al-Bashir finally ran out of time getting to. It appears the rug was pulled from under his feet by an array of forces not excluding those of liberal messianism.

The possibility of anarchy at the end of such an enterprise did not deter such forces. Even so, the prayer is for a different outcome in Sudan than witnessed in its neighbours.

Friday, 5 April 2019


The Congress has bitten the bullet by attempting a head start on its rival, the ruling party, in the release of its manifesto. It hopes to seize the agenda-setting initiative from the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which it had lost seemingly decisively in the wake of the Balakot aerial strikes. Initial optics indicates that it has made a dent with its championing of dole to the destitute under the 'Nyay' scheme.

Of greater consequence to readers of this paper is the vision for Kashmir that it lays out. Since this has apparently been done with the input of a former commanding general in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), DS Hooda, it makes for enhanced credibility. Hooda had earlier taken on the request of the Congress to turn in a security doctrine for use by the party as it headed into elections. The grand old party, often criticized for its showing on the security front particularly in comparison with the BJP that projects a strong-on-defence image, has apparently benefited from his insight, using it to pepper its manifesto.

Hooda is regarded as a hero after the surgical strikes. Besides a wealth of military experience in counter insurgency, he has shown himself to be empathetic to the people of the state. His major legacy is in arraigning of the perpetrators of the Machhil incident and in making the trigger-happy security detail at a road check-point to face consequences for killing two Kashmiri youth out on a joy ride.

In the event, the armed forces tribunal let off the Machhil perpetrators on trivial grounds, even as his taking the responsibility for the check point killings was criticized as a political stunt by no less than the former director of the army's think tank on land warfare studies. (The former director went on to join a right wing think tank that has connections with Ajit Doval's family, Doval being the current day national security adviser.)

The Doval imprint on Kashmir has been apparent over the past three years, ever more so over the past three months. His latest intervention has been in the bans on the Jamaat and the J&K Liberation Front. Since Doval is an old warrior in the intelligence game with Pakistan over the past four decades, the bans are akin to vendetta with the animus dating to the early nineties when the two entities were reckonable antagonists for Indian intelligence agencies in Kashmir. The charge-sheet against the JKLF includes 'genocide', a clear give away of the accumulated bile in decision makers that can only cloud strategic thinking.

In effect, the advantage is to the voter. She has two Kashmir policy prescriptions to choose from, respectively the Hooda and Doval prescriptions. Since the voter's would be a forward-looking exercise, the prospects of the two are examined here.

To begin with: the Doval prescription. The pillars of this into the fifth year of implementation are by now amply clear. 'No talks' with either Pakistan or with Kashmiris is its hallmark. Since talks figure universally as a check box to be ticked in policy repertoire in counter insurgency and inter-state relations, internally, there is a perfunctory representative of the Union who makes the rounds, while externally, every now and again India takes one step forward for talks with Pakistan followed soon thereafter with two steps back.

In its fifth year, it is easy to examine the outcome. It can plausibly be argued that the conditions created by the Doval prescription led to the Pulwama car-bomb attack. Recall, prior to the mid February car-bomb strike with which Pulwama has now eternally come to be associated with, it was known for the frequent stand-off between stone-pelters and security forces. In one incident in December last year, seven civilians were killed on the sidelines of a military operation. Also, along with the 250 militants killed last year, 28 militants were killed before the car-bomb attack. With no lee-way on offer in terms of outreach by the representative of the Union government, escalation was only waiting to happen. In short, the government's policy needs being blamed for the escalation, besides its intelligence lapse and tactical imprudence, such as basic convoy drills, that led to the success of the car-bomb attack directly.

As for the deterrence value of the surgical strikes post Uri, the car-bomb attack has shown it up as vacuous. Pakistani restraint in its proxy war is apparent in its overlooking some 400 killed in the past three years in Kashmir without infusing fresh blood and material in to the proxy war. The Balakot aerial strike and the continuing of a 'no talks' policy can only incentivize it to reverse gear over the coming summer. In case the government is right on numbers killed ('a very large number' according to its foreign secretary) and the ruling party chair is right on his figure of 300 killed, then it can easily predicted to be a pretty hot summer indeed. As to effects on the assembly elections, these will surely be postponed - in case Doval remains in the chair after elections - allowing for Operation All Out to go all out.

If the BJP is re-elected on its pitch of doing away with Article 35A to begin with and it proceeds to queer the pitch on Article 370, it has been forewarned by the two mainstream parties in the Valley that there would be consequences. While the Modi-Doval combine might rightly believe that the 'Modiji ki sena' (in the inimitable words of a candidate successor to Modi, Ajay Singh Bisht, aka. Yogi Adityanath) would deliver, it would be hard pressed. However, there is no call for its professionalism to remain on test by aggravation of the conditions it operates in. Not politically addressing the problem amounts to political abdication of its role by the central government. But to further muddy waters politically would amount to a criminally liable dereliction of responsibility, once the nuclear balloon goes up.

The Balakot-Naushera aerial exchange indicates that the Modi-Doval prescription sets up the region for a perfect storm. While Doval apologists in the strategic community have it that India has called Pakistan's nuclear bluff, the view from the other side could well be that Pakistan has called India's conventional bluff. The starving of the defence budget, even as preening was at a peak by the government, made for a conventional bluff easy to puncture. At the nuclear level, a one-time military adviser in the national security system, Prakash Menon, observed a touching belief in both sides in respective nuclear bluffs. Both sides are liable to go into their next crisis determined to call the nuclear bluff of the other side: India wanting to call Pakistan's first use nuclear bluff and Pakistan out to show up India's massive nuclear retaliation as bluff.

It is easy to see that the Hooda prescription has the antidote to the regional predicament on account of Kashmir. The military's role is considerably eased by the political content in the Congress manifesto. The Congress manifesto calls for civil society interlocutors to dialogue with the Kashmiris, even as it dilutes the militarization in Kashmir and reviews the working of the armed forces special powers legislation. Clearly, Modi's reaction that it is a Pakistani conspiracy is perhaps the best indicator that it is a contrary prescription with potential to mitigate, if not reverse, the strategic impasse in Kashmir. The criticism that it could lead to 'balkanization', voiced by Modi's chief spin doctor, Arun Jaitley, is easily refuted since it has captured the grievances of Kashmiris, thereby addressing separatism. Enticing Kashmiris by presenting an inclusive and liberal version of democracy and respecting the foundational constitutional articles as regards the merger, it creates the political framework for Kashmiris to step into the mainstream.

Admittedly, if the Congress does come to power and even if it intends to follow through with its 'Congress will deliver' slogan, it would likely be in a weak coalition and one buffeted by a strong opposition coalition led by the BJP. Therefore, the Congress would require staying the course, unlike in its previous tenure at the helm, United Progressive Alliance II years, when it was fearful of being outflanked by the BJP. The BJP having been exposed in the Modi years and the Doval prescription having been found wanting, the Congress would need to step up. It would be well advised to allow Hooda himself, as the new national security adviser, to implement the policy he wrote up.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Has Mission Shakti made India safer?

The answer to the question posed in the title has potential to absolve the Modi government on the counts it is being arraigned by strategists criticizing its conduct of the anti-satellite (A-Sat) test on 27 March. If found wanting in making India safer, it can easily then be seen to be yet another election jumla,indicating a certain panic over the possible outcome of elections.

To the decision maker, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the test proved his courage in decision making and claims for being strong on national security, complementing as it did the earlier ‘surgical strikes’ on land and through the air.

On the face of it, clubbing the three takes the shine off the A-Sat test.

If the surgical strikes along the Line of Control conducted in wake of the terror attack on the Uri military facility had been of any consequence, a subsequent terror attack of the magnitude as occurred at Pulwama two years later should not have happened.

As for the aerial strike in end February at Balakot to avenge the mid-February Pulwama terror attack the jury is still out on its deterrence value and the outcome would only be known over the coming summer.

In short, the result of the surgical strikes on land did not work out as intended. The Balakot aerial strike is unlikely to prove any different. What of the third surgical strike, in space?

Former Pakistan president, General Musharraf, from his current-day perch in self-exile in Dubai, made an interesting observation during the recent India-Pakistan crisis, on the nuclear dimension to an India-Pakistan confrontation.

He said that Pakistan is liable to be finished by an Indian counter of merely a score of nuclear weapons to Pakistani nuclear first use, even if of only one weapon. To him, Pakistan would need to preempt any such Indian counter by going first with a large nuclear salvo comprising some fifty weapons.

Worried by the possibility of such Pakistani nuclear temerity, India is apparently readying to go first with a preemptive damage limitation strike of its own.

Former national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, in his book, Choices, indicated that a ‘gray area’ attends India’s No First Use (NFU) policy. He wrote that, ‘[C]ircumstances are conceivable in which India might find it useful to strike first, for instance, against an NWS that had declared it would certainly use its weapons, and if India were certain that adversary’s launch was imminent.’

The official nuclear doctrine dating to January 2003 has it that India’s would be ‘a posture of "No First Use”: nuclear weapons will only be used in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere.’

Since the official nuclear doctrine is widely taken as largely based on the preceding draft nuclear doctrine of August 1999, the interpretation of NFU in the draft is of significance. The draft has it that ‘India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike….’

Taking the two together, it cannot be said with any certainty any more that India would await a nuclear strike prior to launching its own ‘retaliation only’ counter.

India’s tentative movement away from NFU has been spotted by two avid watchers of nuclear India, Vipin Narang on the faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Christopher Clary, who teaches at the University of Albany.

In a recent edition of the prestigious journal, International Security, they write: ‘India may be developing options toward Pakistan that would permit it to engage in hard nuclear counterforce targeting, providing India a limited ability to disarm Pakistan of strategic nuclear weapons.’

The idea appears to be that a first strike equivalent retaliation, in anticipation of imminent nuclear first use by Pakistan (even if not of first strike proportions), would not be violation of the NFU since Pakistan would be the one initiating the strike; thus absolving India of violating its NFU pledge.

Catching Pakistani signatures that betray such initiation requires intimate satellite coverage of the prospective locations and hides of its strategic assets. For this, India’s military reconnaissance and surveillance satellites are critical. Ensuring that these are not taken out by the enemy is therefore necessary.

This logic provides a plausible deterrence rationale for the A-Sat test. Since a kinetic-kill test is more visible, it has a higher deterrent value, even if kinetic-kill by use of missiles is no longer the likely way to take out such satellites. The cyber route is the more likely route in the future.

However, this does not answer the question if India is made any safer by a movement towards a capability for damage limitation strikes that stands enhanced by the A-Sat tests.

The logic appears to be that taking out most Pakistani strategic weapons prior to launch would leave Pakistan with only a few it could yet lob across. These could be shot down with the ballistic missile defence (BMD) cover being put in place. The A-Sat test was itself an indirect demonstration of BMD efficacy, which also stands being enhanced by the purchase of the Russian S-400 weapon system.

India is thus supposedly safer. But this neglects the numbers that Musharraf alluded to.

If, to Musharraf, Pakistan requires roughly 50 warheads for a first strike to preserve itself from the twenty Indian warheads that would otherwise finish it off, India would require rather more than 50 to set back any Pakistani first strike.

By most accounts, Pakistan is ahead of India in numbers of warheads and in the missile race. India also has another foe, China, necessitating keeping some bombs up its sleeve. Thus, India would unlikely be able to forestall a broken-backed retaliation by Pakistan, which in the event can only be counter value city-busting.

What the exchange does to the regional environment over the long term needs imagining, besides implications of refugee flows on the social fabric and political complexion of the regional states.

As regards China, against whom the capability is advertised as more relevant, it has had a head start over India in its A-Sat capability by a dozen years. It is no wonder that the asymmetry has precluded any substantial discussion of deterrent effects of the A-Sat test in relation to China.

Given the complaints of debris, that the National Aeronautic and Space Agency head claims are endangering the international space station, it is inconceivable for a kinetic-kill A-Sat capability to figure in war with China. The collateral damage to other countries satellites would be prohibitive politically for either side. Since both sides have a NFU in place and have the conventional war-fighting resources, seeking a first strike advantage may not figure in war.

At best, a reference to China, and the other two who have demonstrated the capability, the United States and Russia, has instead been to legitimize the tests.

Clearly therefore to the extent that the A-Sat capability incentivizes the movement away from a strict NFU and towards a putative first strike capability and intent against Pakistan, the A-Sat test does not make India safer. On the contrary, it incentivizes the insensible move to rescinding the NFU under a motivated reinterpretation of it.

By this yardstick, for the ruling party to have gone to town taking credit for Mission Shakti – and the other two ‘surgical strikes’ – makes the capability even more worrying, since, contrary to its claims, the capability is not self-evidently in safe hands, in hands of minders who should know better.

The divergent prescriptions for Kashmir

Reacting to a campaign remark by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah that Article 35A would be abrogated by 2020, Omar Abdullah called for bringing back the state’s high officials of the pre-1965 period, namely, a governor and chief minister equivalent called sadar-e-riyasat and wazir-e-azam respectively. At this, Prime Minister Modi sharply questioned in a campaign speech if there could be two prime ministers in one country.

The good part of the exchange is that Kashmir has been placed on the national election agenda, where it rightly belongs considering that the issue almost led to a war with Pakistan just a month ago.

It is unsurprising that there are two divergent positions on Kashmir. The positions contribute to delineating the two sides – the ruling party and its challenger coalition – from each other, and call for the voter to make an informed choice.

The Congress manifesto adds to the distinction. It promises a change of tack in Kashmir, countenancing a soft-line predicated on dialogue and reviewing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The Congress has roped in general DS Hooda on whose watch the post Uri surgical strikes had taken place. So, its security pitch would be hard to dismiss outright.

While the BJP manifesto is yet to hit the stands, the party can be expected to be sensitive to its constituency south of the Pir Panjals. With assembly elections due at an indeterminate date after parliamentary polls, the BJP would likely have a placatory menu for supporters. It would also be mindful of the Kashmiri Pandits, who have been overlooked in the Congress manifesto.

The last time round, in late 2014, the BJP won assembly seats in southern J&K on the back of the Border Security Force heating up the international border (called working boundary by Pakistan) in fire assaults. An active Line of Control may work in the BJP’s favour in the elections.

The party pulled out of the coalition with the Valley-based People’s Democratic Alliance in the middle of last year, allegedly hoping to form a government with a new partner in Sajjad Lone’s two-member People’s Conference and break-away assembly members of the PDP.

The timeline was cognizant of national elections and the possibility of clubbing of the assembly poll after a spell of governor’s rule followed by president’s rule. The hiatus had the advantage of enabling the hard line to play out in Kashmir under central oversight.

Reportedly, Operation All Out accounted for over 250 militants last year, with some 42 killed this year. Arguably, the hard line created the conditions for the car bomb attack at Pulwama in February, resulting in uncertainty over whether the security situation over the coming summer would permit assembly elections.

The BJP would not be averse to this uncertainty since it hopes to gain political dividend nationally by appropriating the mantle of being “strong on defence”. It has already set the state agenda in outlawing the Jamaat-e-Islami and the J&K Liberation Front; separatists are also on the defensive because of National Investigation Agency lens on them.

While in 2014, the BJP manifesto was against the continuation of Article 370 – the bridge article linking J&K to the Union - it diluted this as the price for being part of the ruling coalition in Srinagar for the first time.

This time round, while the BJP will retain its traditional plank on the constitutional articles 370 and 35A, dating to its avatar as the Jan Sangh, it may not be strong enough to overturn these in a coalition. Article 35A by way of which state subjects are allowed some special privileges is currently under judicial scrutiny.

Understandably, the regional parties and the Congress prefer continuance of both Articles 371 and 35A. Leaders of both regional parties, the NC and PDP, have respectively sounded the alarm on any tinkering with the two articles that they aver are foundational to Kashmir’s linkage with the Union. A robust defence enables them to remain relevant in Kashmiri public opinion.

They have expressed mutual support in defence of autonomy, signified by their last minute bid to form an unlikely coalition in November last year that instead prompted the governor to dissolve the assembly.

They also unsurprisingly call for the roll back of the largely military template and a dialogue with separatists to politically address issues. Alongside, they prefer a cooling along the Line of Control, with the new central government talking to Pakistan.

In conclusion, the BJP hard line and its threat over Articles 370 and 35A would likely see a continuation of troubles, especially since the isolation of Pakistan would continue. Prime Minister Modi has hinted that the Balakot aerial strikes were a demonstration of readiness to deal with the consequences. On the other hand, the opposition plank has de-escalatory possibilities and potential to reverse the trend since 2016.

The strength of the coalition at the center – to be known only in end May - would dictate the efficacy of its conflict management and conflict resolution strategies.

Will Pakistan be happy if Modi returns to power?

In a campaign speech, Prime Minister Narendra Modi thundered that Pakistan would be happy in case he is removed by an electoral verdict from power. As is his wont, he was implying that those who vote against his party are doing the handiwork of Pakistan, an enemy state. They are Pakistani agents, who naturally deserve to ‘go to Pakistan’ for their ‘anti-national’ act of voting against his return to power.

His logic is that since he is strong on defence, Pakistan would not like to see him re-elected, preferring instead traditional pusillanimity in the Indian leadership. A strong man at the helm would deal them the required blows from time to time as Mr. Modi has done with his claim of three surgical strikes – on land, through the air and in space in the form of a deterring anti-satellite (A-Sat) test.

Displacing Modi would be music to Pakistani ears and that of its ‘deep state’ constituting the army and the intelligence agency, supported by jihadist formations. To Modi, those who vote against him would please the Pakistani establishment. The subtext is that doing the Pakistani bidding, even if unwarily, would amount to treason – dissent and sedition being synonyms these days – now that Modi has revealed Pakistani expectations.

Is Modi right? Would Pakistani minders be pleased with an election outcome that sees him banished from 7, Lok Kalyan Marg?

Absent a ‘wave’ as in 2014 - observed by the political leader from the Deccan, Asaduddin Owaisi - there are jitters in the ruling party, best evidenced by the two ‘surgical strikes’ – Balakot and the A-Sat test. It also is reason for the polarising rhetoric orchestrated by no less than the occupant of the high prime ministerial office, Narendra Modi. Therefore, it is quite unnecessary to dissect his invective while on the campaign trail, even if the campaign has nothing to do with it since he is a genuine believer in himself, the first bhakt so to speak.

Nevertheless, to fact check Modi is useful, first, to ascertain if his claim to being strong on defence is valid, and, second, if that makes Pakistan quake in its boots.

Modi’s claim to three surgical strikes serves as a starting point. The first one – conducted across the Line of Control in the wake of Uri - was based on two preceding trans-border raids in the north east into Myanmar in 2015 and the following year. The 2015 raid was hyped up and the commanding general was later elevated as army chief. A similar operation the following year was downplayed by the then commander in the east, who was summarily overlooked for the post of chief for his temerity to deny the ruling party an opportunity for grandstanding on security.

Of the operation post-Uri terror strike, it was unnecessary to begin with, since the number of casualties were not a direct result of terrorist action but inflated by a dozen unfortunate soldiers perishing in a resulting fire in their tent. As for the outcome in terms of deterrence for further such terror attacks, the subsequent terror attacks south of the Pir Panjal on military installations and the car bombing at Pulwama in February this year, are testimony of failure of deterrence, the advertised aim of the ‘surgical strikes’.

As for Balakot, whatever the actual result on ground, an Indian general, Ata Hasnain, has admitted in a speech at a London think tank that the Pakistani information warfare got the better of the Indians. Pakistan in any case virtually evened the score immediately thereafter with its aerial strike at Rajouri-Naushera, downing of an Indian plane and capture of its pilot. It also gained an upper hand in the optics by releasing the pilot soon thereafter. The deterrent effect of the Balakot strike will be known in the coming summer and whether India is able to hold the assembly elections in Kashmir without embarrassment on its democratic credentials from the numbers turning out to vote.

As for the third surgical strike, the National Aeronautics and Space Agency has criticized the A-Sat test for the creation of space debris that could impact the international space station. This implies that the A-Sat capability is not usable, in that it has a collateral damage potential that cannot be risked politically. India would end up losing potential supporters in war in case it damages their satellites by taking the war to space. As for usability, China being ahead of India by a dozen years can easily be expected to deter Indian resort to A-Sat warfare. Against Pakistan, it would be useful but Pakistan has no known prowess in space that India needs to take out in war. In any case, today’s technology does not rely on kinetic-kill for such action but on cyber war.

The list could go on and include the down-turn in Kashmir, the hold-up in India-Pakistan relations, the subservience to the Chinese on display in Wuhan, the stench of scandal in defence procurements from the Rafale scam, the status quo on the Nagaland ceasefire, subversion of institutions, the inability to integrate defence acquisitions revealed in the friendly-fire incident in which an Isreali weapon system allegedly brought down a Russian-made helicopter due to incompatible identification friend or foe systems, doing a hit-wicket on India’s position on terror by releasing Hindutva terrorists in many terror cases, and the inability to institutionalise the national security system owing to an over-focus on the personality of its head, Ajit Doval. The list is ended here for want of space.

This survey of the defence side does not indicate any particular merit in the Modi-Doval stewardship of security. This prima facie means that there is no reason for Pakistan to fear a return of Modi to power.

That said, the reverse is more likely truer. Though the diplomat I accosted at the book release function was too professional to let on the Pakistani mind on the issue, it can be hazarded here that the Pakistani deep state would like to see Modi back in saddle. Firstly, as seen, they are not over-impressed by the Indian showing on defence, as to be losing any sleep. Secondly, they are aware of the mess in national security, which even Modi’s famed troll army has been unable to sweep under the carpet.

Finally, and more importantly, another term of Modi at the helm would result in a backlash to the Hindutva project that he seeks to entrench. His resort to all manner of jumlas, surgical strikes, outright lies (that there are no Hindu terrorists (if so, as Siddharth Varadarajan wondered, who, pray, was Nathuram Godse?)) is under-gird by the logic that ends justify the means, the ends being the greater glory of Hinduism as defined by its Hindutva proponents.

Any backlash would not necessarily be from Muslims, who are largely socially ghettoized, politically marginalized and cowed down by micro-terrorism. The Indian liberals are the first line of defence of the Constitution. Then there are leftists, currently down but could reemerge as the corporate-politics nexus under Modi runs aground in rural neglect and farmers’ strife. The entrenching of Hindutva would not result in an imagined homogenous nation in a Vedic-brahmanical frame, but a ‘million mutinies’, to borrow Naipaul’s phrase. The ongoing one is in Kashmir and in the pipeline could well be what might result from the populating of the register of citizens exercise in Assam and sought by the ruling party to be started also in West Bengal. There is, of course, the temple at Ayodhya to be built and ever higher statues that could at best divert attention. The military may be put out by the politicizing attentions of the far-right and their work being put to domestic political utility by the Modi-Shah combine. India’s closer strategic embrace of the United States and Israel would likely end in the same internal effects on polity as witnessed in other states that have been subject to such attention, significantly Pakistan as a US-frontline state. The fallout of this relationship would be in increased pressure from China. A cumulative backlash and a Modi-Doval authoritarian counter would push India back.

This survey of national security as it stands at the end of Modi’s five years and the possibilities ahead in a possible second term suggests that Pakistan would be quite happy to see Modi return to power. It would turn India into a Hindu-Pakistan and a poor imitation at that, a prospect not unwelcome to India’s antagonists. This would also be at a time when Pakistan for its part imagines it is slowly coming out of the tunnel of obscurantism that it had entered three decades back. For India to rush into the tunnel voluntarily would – counter intuitively – place Pakistan a step ahead, courtesy Modi.