Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Army: Introspection is warranted

Basant Rath, a J&K cadre IPS officer, writing in The Wire (5 February, berates a senior in the IPS of the UP cadre for taking the oath to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. He calls for the commitment of uniformed officials the Constitution. He was reacting to a social media video of his IPS senior participating in a right wing organization’s ceremony at which attendees took the oath on building the Ram Mandir, that went viral recently. This invited Rath’s wrath. Quite at the same time, there was another video clip that went viral on social media. This one showed an army officer, presumably serving in J&K, motivating his listeners with cultural nationalist trope. This suggests Rath’s advice is valid for all uniformed services, including the army.
This is a counter intuitive claim since the army is known for its apolitical and secular character. That the army needs reminding of this commonplace is unfortunate. In the clip in question (, the officer claims prior service in J&K and attests to have had a trigger-happy time. Downing rum, he is seen dashing the glass to smithereens against his head, after the fashion of para-commandos who reputedly do so in their messes on occasion. The officer in question sports the para wings on his chest. He is perhaps participating in the annual Republic Day ritual in which the Junior Commissioned Officers (JCO) are invited to drinks at the Officers’ Mess. JCOs reciprocate by inviting the officers over to the JCOs’ mess on Independence Day.
The officer is entitled to his views. However, since he is sharing these and speaks in the video in Hindi, he is apparently speaking to persons below officer rank. Since he is in uniform and in an official capacity, he has to exercise caution in airing his views. Assuming that drink has loosened his tongue, it is worth taking him at his spoken word and reviewing his spoken reputation as a Rambo of sorts. The army can do without misguided elements within its ranks in an age of the ‘Strategic Corporal’ (an age in which media amplified tactical decisions potentially have strategic effects). He certainly must be prevented from misusing the cover of AFSPA and the human terrain in Kashmir for his pathologies. Even if the officer’s views are forged at the increasingly respectable fount of cultural nationalism, there is no official legitimacy conferred on such ideological views as yet – particularly since the poem he recites reportedly is of genocidal content.
There is no guarantee the army would take appropriate action. The army is liable to clamp down on social media footprint rather than address its warts. The ‘human shield’ episode of last year – endorsed by no less than the army chief with a commendation - indicates a certain permissiveness in the internal social environment within the army. That perhaps emboldened the mentioned officer to go the distance in his motivational talk. Another misstep by the army in course correction would lead to the discourse only expanding and nauseating the conversation and exchanges within the army. The army needs to be vigilant on this score and officers’ circumspect.
Little propels the military (universally) to action more than a threat to its corporate values and culture. It is best advised of the extant threat to these and from within. It is time for the army to back track from the limb it went on to in the ‘human shield’ episode. Then, under seeming assault from the liberal media and usual suspects in the commentariat (including this columnist), it closed ranks behind unacceptable behavior. The price has been in a fraying of its internal fabric. Internally, an advisory could serve as a deterrent to help the army track back to safety. It would reinforce traditional norms and messaging, while warning off closet purveyors of cultural nationalism lurking in the officer corps. 
Externally, a leak of the action taken in disciplining this particular officer is warranted. It would show those interested in the good health of the army that the contaminating possibilities from the spread of majoritarian nationalism in India are contained. The virulence is particularly rabid in the northern cow-dust belt: the catchment areas of majority of its officers and its soldiery. Besides it would reassure the Kashmiris – in whose area the officer boasts of multiple tenures – that the security is in the right hands.
Rambos are never absent from a ticking force. The challenge is to positively articulate their energy, innovation, spirit, strength and enterprise. Even so, not all who project a Rambo personality are strong internally. Some are hiding from or running away from inherent infirmities. They use the cover of outsized moustaches, swagger, braggadocio and bluster to impersonate fighting men. It is unclear which category the officer in question belongs. In either case, there is a requirement of supervision, lest the autonomy of subunit command is taken as license to impose on the populace – the center of gravity in subconventional operations - or subject them to gratuitous violence.  
This is the case with the terrorists too. Their recent violent grab from police custody of a terrorist at a hospital in Srinagar is a case to point. There are swashbucklers among them, with sterling fighting and leadership qualities. In the case of the hospital attack, while the participants apparently had the gumption to pull off a rescue, they had no compunction of sparing a hospital as the site. They too are self-indulgent in the liberal rope they are mistakenly bestowed with by society. Most are undeserving dregs, drop outs and ‘losers’ in Trumpian terms.
The community, in the false belief that the wider interest of liberation requires their forbearance, allows them untold liberties – including unspeakable ones with womenfolk. Often the community’s choice as to how long and to what extent to persist with the challenge to state authority is snatched away. Those profiting from the troubles take charge, relegating original aims and superseding traditional authority structures. This happened in the late nineties in Kashmir. The phenomenon appears to be making a reappearance. Kashmiris would require exerting to reacquire agency, lest they are ground down yet again.
Troubled times bring out not only the best in men – on both sides – but also the worst. A conflict environment – as it gets increasingly brutalized – allows for impunity for both sides to indulge their worst instincts. Supervisors and handlers respectively have little interest in monitoring and restraining fighters. While for terrorist there is little incentive to rein them in; for the army, a misunderstanding that morale suffers holds up action.
While Pakistan can be expected to shed crocodile tears, and use the troubles to further its agenda, that India is increasingly in the same boat is a new dimension. The Hindutva lobby, poised to use the Kashmir issue – among other Muslim centric issues – to hoist themselves into another stint in power have no love lost for Kashmir or Kashmiris. In so far as these are body count based and not dependent on picking up a wound medal alongside, you can be sure creative writing is in evidence in citations.
Acknowledging this does not detract any from the daredevils, such as the citation of the gallant deceased Air Force corporal that made our President tear up on Rajpath at Republic Day. In standing through the reading of the citation in front of the spouse and bowing deeply to her in respect as he handed over the highest national honour, the Ashoka Chakra, the President conveyed national sentiment. The army knows this sentiment does not and cannot carry over to fakes. While the army men have a choice of models to follow between the Air Force corporal and the army officer in the video in question, the army must ensure – through a regulated internal environment - the wrong model is no option.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Dissident Terror Narrative

That Abdul Subhan Qureshi – infamous as ‘India’s bin Laden - has been nabbed at long last is a relief. The arrest wraps up longstanding investigations into terror attacks, ranging from Hyderabad, Surat and Ahmedabad.

Dubbed ‘Techie’, he specialized in bomb making reportedly difficult to defuse. He is also an associate of notorious Indian Mujahideen founder, Nagori, who has been in jail for long now. It was a timely catch in the run up to Republic Day, with some or other nefarious act no doubt nipped in the bud. There only the Bhatkal brothers holding out, who like the D Company are out of the country.

There is little else left to settle on the terror front. This casting of the terror case dating to the last decade into the ash heap of history adds to the earlier letting off of Vanzara and Co. in the Gujarat encounter cases and of Sadhvi Pragya Thakur et al in the Malegaon case. The army man involved in the latter, Lt Col Purohit, has donned olive greens again. The current day juncture, to explicate, is that, like most of India now open defecation free, India is terrorism free.

The narrative has it that over the preceding decade some Indian Muslims precipitated a terror assault on India, supported by Pakistan’s notorious ISI expanding its footprint across India from a quiescent Kashmir. The ostensible trigger was in alienation resulting from the Gujarat pogrom. They also had jihadist connections, stemming from rise of Islamism in wake of 9/11. These links included the Taliban, the Al Qaeda and, over time, the Islamic State.

India’s redoubtable anti-terror agencies and mechanisms put together to cope with the threat have finally delivered. India, under Modi, has not witnessed terror attacks, with many aspirants for the IS being tackled through counseling and parental pressure. The narrative now is that under the able stewardship of intelligence honcho, Doval, as expected, our intelligence and policing organizations merit an appreciative mention at Republic Day.

There is of course a ‘dissident’ narrative, India being a land of vexatious argumentation. It is perhaps muted since saying it out loud in today’s day and age amounts to ‘sedition’. But it needs being aired.

The Narrative would likely figure as a box ticked in Modi’s last lap into elections, with the date either pulled into this year to avoid the incumbency backlash or next year on due course. It needs querying timely, if not busting outright so as to broaden the citizen’s political choice at election time. So, here’s the ‘dissident’ narrative.

The four judges puisne at the Supreme Court have done the nation a favour by putting the cat among the ruling party’s pigeons. Their going to the citizen’s court has forced a focus on the troubling case of the death of CBI judge, Loya. Justice Loya supposedly died of heart attack brought on by his overseeing a significant case involving the ruling party’s president, who allegedly was linked to the killing in an ‘encounter’ of Sohrabuddin and his wife, Kausarbi, and later, their accomplice, Prajapati, by the now scot-free top cop Vanzara and his crack anti-terrorist team. Sohrabuddin was reportedly enroute to take out Gujarat’s chief minister to avenge the Gujarat massacre.

The top judges apprehending a cover up and intervening dramatically to preserve the wheels of justice from political chicanery have put a spoke in the Narrative. Clearly, there is more to the terror India has witnessed.

Vanzara and Co. also figured in the fake encounter that felled teenage Ishrat Jahan and three others. They too were supposedly on the errand as Sohrabuddin. Alongside the targeting of the provincial supremo, Modi, Gujarat was also at the cross hairs of terror attacks such as at Akshardham and multiple terror bombings in Ahmedabad. Surat that was also targeted, but – conveniently - the bombs were discovered by sharp eyed right wing members and defused timely.

Much of the evidence pointing to Muslim provenance of the bombings was from the Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh police, both under control of right wing political masters. The evidence regards some bombings, such as in Varanasi, was from give-away emails, with Muslim fingerprints all over them such as from the Al Arabi group (mistakenly named after a Sufi saint – rather than a orthodox personage).

Implausibly, the targeting of Muslims and Muslim places of worship too has been laid at Muslims’ door, for instance, in Hyderabad and Malegaon. This over-enthusiastic implication of Muslims, combined with the whitewashing of ‘saffron terror’, gives rise to the suspicion that there were Muslim impersonators at work and whose footprints need now to be obscured. The pulling out of members of the Abhinav Bharat and Sanatan Sanstha from the list of suspects shows up that the cases of the mid and late 2000s are being put to rest.

The provenance of the terror then is in the veering of politics rightwards about then. Lal Krishna Advani, hoping to ride on the Shining India campaign into 7 Race Course Road, was tripped up by the over-zealous campaign itself. Hindutva needed a new champion. Mr. Modi’s aura had to be built up and the Hindu vote bank manufactured alongside with the Othering of Muslims.

Ostensibly minority perpetrated terror was instrumental in this, with 2008 being the high water mark, intended as setting the stage for the elections in 2009. In the event, the UPA went in for another term, even though their showing in the 26/11 crisis was pilloried.

The right wing discourse over the next five years was that India needed a ‘strongman’, with Mr. Modi’s name willy nilly emerging as the Iron Man II, displacing his mentor and original claimant to the title, Advani. Now that Mr. Modi has made it to Lutyens, there is a need to let off the right wing foot soldiers who paved the way and nab the Muslim terrorist hold outs, such as Qureshi, to pin the blame.

By all means Muslims participating in or inclined towards terror must have their just desserts served up. The nabbing of Abdul Subhan Qureshi is to be applauded. It is one stick less for beating the Muslim community with. But in keeping with the rule of law, terror suspects cannot be rounded up one-sidedly. Their Hindu counter-parts, with whom they kept up a terror jugalbandi of sorts through the 2000s (targeting of each other’s religious sites for instance), need to be arraigned.

In case this is not done, two possibilities arise. One is that the Hindu perpetrators of terror crimes had political provenance, and having proved useful to their political masters, need to be rewarded with freedom. Since Muslims accused in their place and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit are also being let off by the courts, there is an even handedness. The Muslims should not really complain, now that their sons are back in the mohallas.

The second is that there is no link between the two – the political masters and Hindu terror entrepreneurs – in which case, their nevertheless being left off is tacit acknowledgement that right wing forces gained politically in their electoral capture of parliament. This puts the democratic credentials of the electoral exercise in question, in that its marginalization of Muslims was brought about inter-alia by illegitimate means.

Finally, there is a foreign policy underside. The NIA appears to have gone the CBI way as a caged parrot. Rule of law is sine qua non of a robust democracy. Else, India would replicate Pakistan that uses tender gloves in handling Hafeez Saeed. If India is to credibly accused Pakistan as a fount of terror, it had better not live in a glass house of its own. It is no wonder India’s case for a comprehensive convention against international terrorism has not acquired traction yet.

There is an election coming up. In case the rule of law noose tightens round Amit Shah in the Loya case, reopening up the Sohrabuddin case – and other Gujarat cases under his watch and that of PM Modi – there would be a hark back to the tried and tested Terror Narrative. More is needed to be done to flesh out the – dissident - counter narrative, outlined here. All that is being asked is to take justice in terror cases to their logical end. Let the electorate decide. If law enforcement falls short, democracy will be the casualty.

Friday, 2 February 2018


Avinash Paliwal, My Enemy's Enemy: India in Afghanistan from the Soviet invasion to the US withdrawal

The title says it all. India’s approach to Afghanistan has little to do with Afghanistan. It has everything to do with Pakistan. This tells us something about India, about how we see ourselves, which is essentially in relation to our Siamese twin, Pakistan. This is not quite how we project ourselves—as a regional power and emerging great power, measuring up against China and a strategic partner of the US. India comes across as just another country attempting to set itself off against its neighbours. Since in our case—and in this case—it is Pakistan, a country perpetually on the brink of failed state status, this is evidence that we are not quite the power we make ourselves out to be. It is no wonder that our Afghan policy—essentially out to sabotage what Pakistan is up to in Afghanistan—is mostly a step behind. Avinash Paliwal’s book tells it like it is: the fragility of thinking in our national security policy making establishment and the dangers that can only accrue.

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Missing Muslim Army Officers

The second highest grosser of 2017, the blockbuster Tiger Zinda Hai, has an actor playing a Muslim army officer working in the Research and Analysis wing(R&AW). He is selected by the team leader played by Salman Khan, for his expertise in sniping. In one of the scenes, another teammate questions the Muslim army officer’s patriotism, who is shown fishing out an Indian flag from his rucksack to prove his nationalist credentials. Presumably, the Muslim director of the film wanted to show that Muslims can be patriots too. The moot question is: Why the doubt?
The Muslim army officer is an endangered species. Official figures are unavailable as to the number of Muslims in officer ranks in the army. Innovative ways, therefore, are to be found to get an approximation. One such attempt has been made by going through the Indian Military Academy’s (IMA) biannual commemorative volumes for each passing out course (Ahmed 2012). The number of Muslims could be tallied from the name and one-line description of each Gentleman Cadet (GC) of the passing out course beneath the squadron-wise course photos.
It being relatively easier to pick out Muslim names, it is possible to be more confident of the numbers, than, say, if educated guesswork is done to compile the numbers for those belonging to the Scheduled Caste from lists of names, as was the methodological problem faced in one such exercise (Aggarwal et al 2015).
While there are multiple officer entry streams apart from the IMA, such as short service commissions from the academies at Chennai and Gaya, these would take the absolute tally up, but are unlikely to change significantly the relative presence of Muslims in officer ranks.
A perusal of six editions of the biannual IMAjournal over the period 2005–11, covering about half of the seven-year period, led to a tally of 50 Muslim officers having passed out of the IMA. This suggests that about 2% were Muslim, excluding those from friendly foreign countries. In the academy journal’s Spring term 2016 edition, on the 137th Regular and 120th Technical Graduates’ course, nine out of 469 or 1.9% of the officers having passed out were Muslims. The figure from the 2016 Autumn term is five GCswith Muslim names out of 403 GCs. The figure goes up thrice over, to 14 GCsfor the following course, Spring 2017, that had 423 GCsin all. In effect, Muslims constituted 2.1% of those taking the Antim Pag, the “final step” of training, also the first step as an officer, to the lilt of “Auld Lang Syne.”
If one contrasts these figures to the figures on GCsfrom Afghanistan—with which India has a strategic partnership agreement since 2011—who have passed out of the IMA, the journals indicate that India has trained some 50 Afghan GCsper term; thereby, training about five times more Afghans than Indian Muslim GCswhile its own Muslim population is five times larger than that of Afghanistan.
The consistency in dismal numbers of Muslims obtaining the President’s Commission suggests that there is little know­ledge, leave alone an understanding, that this is a problem calling out to be remedied. Recall, Muslims, at 172.2 million in India, account for 14.23% of India’s population. It is apparent that Muslims are under-represented. The unfortunate part is that this is unsurprising.
The Sachar committee—the Prime Minister’s High-Level Committee for Preparation of Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India—was set up to seek an answer, among other things, to: “What is the Muslims’ relative share in public and private sector employment?” (Sachar Committee Report 2006).
The answer it reportedly received from the army was that the army had 29,000 Muslim troops (Unnithan 2006), which adds up to 2.63%. These are embarrassingly low figures.
A Continuing Decline
The problem appears to be worsening. The latest National Defence Academy course at Pune commencing in January 2018 and consisting of 371 cadets (including those bound for the air force and navy), has only 4 Muslims. Only two Muslims joined the 153 cadets of the 10+2 Technical Entry Scheme course that commenced in January 2018 in Gaya. In the Direct Entry course that commen­ced at the IMAin January 2018, only one Muslim GCfeatured in the list of 103 names. Only one of the nine who joined the Army Education Corps course commencing in January was Muslim. One Muslim ­figured in the list of the 59 who joined the Technical Graduates course at the IMA. Of the 705 Indian youth signing up for an army officer career at the start of 2018, Indian Muslims could not even make it to ­double digits.1
Further, Muslims’ lack of visibility at the academy is manifest in all dimensions. Not only do too few Muslims make it to the academy’s portals, but, while there, their performance is indifferent. The IMAjournals perused for data reveal only one Muslim as having figured in the top GCappointments (34 appointments per course) at the battalion and company levels.2
In the two recent courses examined (Autumn 2016 and Spring 2017), only two Muslims held a “tabbed” appointment as the lower-rung Junior Under Officers, responsible for a platoon (the subordinate grouping to a company). The appointments are indicative of the relative order of merit of the GCthat is fixed on passing out. Of the surfeit of academy awards, only one Muslim GCreceived a mention for meritorious performance in equestrian sports.
The effects of under-representation and underperformance persist into their careers. Since only professionally sound officers land instructional appoint­ments at the IMA, it is possible to see how Muslims are faring by examining whether they find representation in the IMA’sfaculty. Lt Gen (Retired) Ata Hasnain, the notable defence commentator, was once an instructor at the IMAas a major. The instructional staff names appear in lists below the group photos of the training faculty and academic staff in the IMAjournals. There were no Muslim officer instructors in two of the terms examined, one each in 2008 and 2011. In the latest two editions of the journal, there was a single Muslim major visible in the Autumn 2016 edition and two in the Spring 2017 edition.
Not tenanting such prestigious appoint­ments early on in careers, results in fewer making it to higher ranks since the steep pyramidal structure of the army weans off underperformers early. It is apparent that there is a cascading effect of the deficit in Muslim youth making it into the academy. It is no wonder that the only Muslim officer who reached the army commander level in this century
is recently retired Lt Gen P M Hariz, one of the two generals controversially passed over for promotion to army chief in late 2016.
The situation is equally appalling when the non-officer instructor lists are examined in the journals. In eight of the journals (six of the earlier set from 2005–11 and two of the latest (2016–17), of the non-officer instructor staff in the consequential training section comprising 100 ustads (non-officer instructors), none were Muslim. The only field having consistent Muslim presence is equestrian, owing to the instructors largely coming from the only horsed cavalry regiment that traditionally has had Muslims in its ranks, 61 Cavalry.
Not a ‘Minority Problem’
Is whistle-blowing on this score warranted? The army values its apolitical and secular image. It believes that it can only work on the youth the communities themselves forward, and that it is an ­all-volunteer army of a free country into which any eligible citizen can step up for recruitment. Given that it does not acknowledge that a problem exists, it is unlikely to take any steps to mitigate it.
However, under-representation is not only a “minority problem,” as Muslim issues are usually clubbed together. Any claim that the army is an equal-opportunity employer is questionable. The biannual media write-up on the passing out parades at the IMAinvariably provide a state-wise break-up of the officer commissions. At the last passing out parade in December 2017, of the 409 GCspassing out, 76 GCs were from Uttar Pradesh (UP), 58 from Haryana and 29 from Uttarakhand (ToI2017a). The June 2017 passing out parade had 423 GCspassing out, with 74 from UP, 49 from Haryana, 40 from Uttarakhand, 30 from Rajasthan, 28 from Bihar and 23 from Delhi (Pioneer 2017). Thus, a substantial proportion of the officer corps appears to be coming from a ­narrow, if populous, segment of India’s sub-nationalities inhabiting North India.
At the last passing out parade—one reviewed by the Bangladesh army chief—there were only six Bengalis. This implies that a majority of Indian communities, taken socially (as in case of Muslims) and geographically (East and South Indian communities), are under-represented. A research scholar writes, “Just as Muslims are under-represented in the army, so are the Bengalis, Biharis, Oriyas, South Indians or Gujaratis. And just as Sikhs are over-represented, so are the Jats, Dogras, Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Gurkhas, Marathas and others” (Saksena 2014). Arguably, the army does not reflect India’s diversity sufficiently.
The soldiery is not the focus here. As military sociologist Samuel Huntington (1957: 8) reminds us, the significance of officership to military professionalism is critical. Being apolitical and remaining so is a critical aspect of military professionalism. An officer corps that is non-representative socially or ethnically opens itself to the possibility of losing its apolitical and secular character.
It is liable to unwarily reflect the political inclinations of its catchment areas. Over this decade, right-wing ideological trope and memes have been liberally exchanged on the army’s social media networks (Ahmed 2017). The army chief recently has had to remark that keeping politics out of the army was necessary (ToI2017b). Since he did not clarify his remarks, there are two possibilities. Either he is apprehensive of the right wing’s penetration into the military, or he is against the emerging pushback within the army against such penetration. The latter reflects the discourse within the middle class, a step back from their falling uncritically for the so-called Modi wave initially.
Perception of Muslims
Reverting to the scene in Tiger Zinda Hai, it can be inferred that the MuslimR&AWofficer’s teammate perhaps did not have sufficient professional and social interactions with Muslims owing to there being very few Muslims in theR&AWand Muslims over the past two decades having been increasingly pushed into urban ghettos, respectively. TheR&AWbeing in the intelligence agency keeping a keen eye on the shenanigans of Pakistan, he has perhaps acquired a prejudiced mindset in this organisation. A similar effect can be apprehended within the army too. There are too few Muslim fellow officers whose professional showing can help dispel the negative stereotypes that have come to be associated with Muslims in general. The army also has a cloistered social space, restricting social interaction outside its cantonments. Virtually every officer has rotated out of operations in Muslim-dominated Kashmir, where, in one popular perspective in the army, he is up against a jihad (Hasnain 2016: 157). Army Chief Bipin Rawat, interacting with the press on the eve of Army Day, hazarded that Kashmir’s education system is suspect and that its madrasas (religious seminaries) and masjids (mosques) bear watching (Business Standard 2018).
More Muslims in the officer corps could be preventive, leading to greater self-regulation in social media exchanges that forge the negative perception of Muslims and Islam. An increase in their numbers on the ground in operations could mitigate any adverse fallout, such as, for instance, egregious violence inspired by misinterpreting problems with Pakistan and in Kashmir as a religious or civilisational war.
Since the army can be expected to be less than forthcoming on change—especially since ethnicities that are well represented apprehend a loss of employment opportunity, power, and the welfare slice of the defence budget—for now, only a sensitisation to the problem at hand can be done. Change can await democratic ousting of the current day government, not known to be predisposed to the minority in any way. Take, for instance, the discontinuing of the publishing of the numbers of Muslims in the police force early in its tenure. The decline by one percentage point of Muslims in half a decade—from 7.55% in 2007 to 6.55% in 2012—was put out by the National Crime Records Bureau (Sheikh 2015). This was during the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) rule, which the then opposition and current day ruling dispensation had held to be guilty of the appeasement of Muslims.
Change should not be read as affirmative action, but focused on recruiting processes targeting India’s missing mino­rities, ethnic and social. An Equal Opportunities Commission and a National Data Bank, both recommended by the Sachar Committee, are needed. For now, the army’s outreach programs could be redirected towards absent communities. For their part, Muslim communities across the country need to identify service in the military as an area for diversifying their presence and contribution to national life. Quite like how Muslim communities are endeavouring to get their wards into the civil services by setting up coaching centres, such centres also need to be set up for cracking the army officer entry exams. A long-term effort should be to encourage Muslim boys to attend Sainik schools run by states. Alongside, Muslim girls must be encouraged to opt for the Officers Training Academy, Chennai.
Pluralism and a rejection of intolerance are the sine qua non for Indian demo­cracy. These stand gravely threatened. The pernicious challenge to democracy that majoritarian extremism represents has not left any institution unscathed, including the army. Internal diversity, both social and geographical, can help insulate security organisations from the ongoing attempt by cultural nationalists to collapse “Hindu” and “Hindustan” into one.
1 “Merit Lists, Joining Letter Status,” Join Indian Army, Government of India,
2 A company is equivalent to a “house” in schools. Three GC companies make one battalion.
Aggarwal, Ankita, Jean Dr├Ęze and Aashish Gupta (2015): “Caste and the Power Elite in Allahabad,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 50,
No 6, pp 45–51.
Ahmed, Ali (2012): “The Army: Missing Muslim India,” Mainstream, Vol 50, No 27,
— (2017): “Dark Side of Army’s Social Media Groups,” Tribune, 2 March,
Business Standard (2018): “Army Chief Bipin Rawat Calls for ‘Some’ Control over Mosques, Madrasas,” 13 January,
Hasnain, Ata (2016): “A Counter Proxy War Strategy for Jammu and Kashmir,” The New Arthashastra: A Security Strategy for India, Gurmeet Kanwal (ed), New Delhi: Harper Collins.
Huntington, Samuel (1957): The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil–Military Relations, London: The Belknap Press.
Pioneer (2017): “After UP, Haryana, U’khand Tops List with Contribution of 40 GCs in Indian Army,” 10 June,
Sachar Committee Report (2006): “Summary of Sachar Committee Report,” PRS Legislative Research,
Saksena, Amit (2014): “India’s Muslim Soldiers,” Diplomat, 20 May,
Sheikh, Zeeshan (2015): “Data on Muslims in Police Will No Longer Be Public,” Indian Express, 30 November,
ToI (2017a): “IMA POP Today, Maximum New Officers from UP, Haryana & U’khand,” Times of India, 8 December,
— (2017b): “Military Should Be Kept Out of Politics: Army Chief,” Times of India, 6 December,
Unnithan, Sandeep (2006): “Sachar Committee: Congress Minority Agenda Comes under Scrutiny,” India Today, 27 February,

Thursday, 25 January 2018 

By now it is de rigueur that there would be a war of words with Pakistan on a few landmark days each year. The usual tit-for-tat responses begin with army day since that is the first one on the calendar. It is followed by the acrimony on the commemorative day of the other two services and the by now annual India-Pakistan spat in the General Assembly. 

The last year saw the army chief owning up to the Cold Start doctrine at his first press conference in the run up to army day. This met with the predictable Pakistani response - described by an analyst - that even if the war's start is cold, the ending would be hot. On air force day, the air chief claimed that the air force could put out (in his words, 'locate, fix and strike') Pakistan's nuclear capability by conventional means using air power. Taking up the cudgels for Pakistan, its foreign minister warned all against any expectation of restraint on Pakistan's side. Navy day was rather subdued, presumably because navy has been in the dog house for damaging its nuclear submarine by keeping a hatch open; so much so that a Union minister feels emboldened enough to make disparaging remarks on its look-out for housing in South Mumbai. The annual UN General Assembly exchanges are now folklore (recall the juvenile phrases 'terroristan' (2017) and 'Ivy league of terror' (2016)).

The dangers of witnessing these unsavoury episodes is that it inures people at large into a false sense of complacency. They begin to take the implicit warnings in the threats exchange in their stride, unconsciously making these recurring, albeit identity-shaping episodes, a mundane part of daily, overburdened lives. However, the 'nationalists' among them welcome these and their applaud eggs key policy and decision makers to play to the gallery. 

Take for instance the instant case of the army chief on army day this time round burnishing his credentials as a bold and aggressive commander by threatening to call Pakistan's 'nuclear bluff'. The army chief said, 'We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.' 

While Pakistan's foreign minister belligerently invited India to test Pakistan's resolve, its Inter Services Public Relations bounded back with a relatively sober response, saying, 'The only thing stopping them [India] is our credible nuclear deterrence as there is no space of war between the two nuclear states.' Continuing in a self-congratulatory tone, the major general let on that, 'That's why they are targeting us through sub-conventional threat and state-sponsored terrorism.' 

The good part of this exchange is that bluffing is part of the deterrence game. Sides at play are to posture so as to convince the other side of respective implacability. Word play is better than sword play. The second good part is that India appears to have options and is liberally using these. Unfortunately, these are to mirror Pakistan's strategy of some three decades, of sotto voce aiding and abetting terrorism across the border. The third good part is that in periodic exchanges of invective and shadow boxing, the two states can let off steam. Fourth, there's some free political capital to be had with routine Pakistan bashing. It helps the government deepen internal polarization as it turns for the next ball at the top of its run up. Apparently, this year it is an eight-ball over, with eight states - including consequential ruling party dominant states - going to the hustings.

Happily, the two sides appear to have hedged their bets. The two national security advisers have reportedly met some four times over a period, though the foreign office admits to one such meeting. The confidence building measure of a weekly call between the two military operations heads is on. The border security meetings take place. The beginning of the year exchange of lists of nuclear establishments has been done punctually. There has even been a release of prisoners. India has not gloated overly over Pakistan losing out on American largesse as the United States turns a page. The figures from last year released at army day eve on the relative pain inflicted on the other side suggests the army has got the better of Pakistan's army (138 against 28!). Perhaps that - and US pressure - has driven Pakistan's army chief to plead with the civilian politicians to reach out to India in a meeting with senators dutifully leaked. All this gives India cushion for swagger. 

Against this scaremongering can only be just that. Nothing can quite go wrong. And if it does, India has the redoubtable trio Modi-Doval-Rawat at the helm. 

Pointing to an implosion coming would be to do what liberals must. In the Gujarat elections are portents. Just as losses in Delhi and Bihar forced the ruling formation to dig into its majoritarian and communal arsenal and retake lost ground, the twilight campaigning in the Gujarat elections forced the 'great communicator' to resort to outright lies (such as his predecessor supping with the enemy at that gadfly Mani Shankar Aiyar's residence). As the elections roll out through the year, more of the same can be expected, with the saffron clad head of India's largest state dispatched hither and thither for vote catching, Karnataka being an example. And yet, as Gujarat has shown, the magic might not work all the time. More wattage, more innovation in hate might be needed soon. 

Further, the political storm stirred up by the four puisne justices has yet to run its course. Showing up the vile reach into the judiciary of right wing politics, it may help voters (Hindus) snap out of their mesmerized state. While demonetization pains could not bring this about, there is hope in the air. It would not do to give up on democracy just yet, with a year to go to national elections.

That's when the army chief could be tapped to make good on his promise. The army chief who chickened out from having a go at Pakistan in wake of the 26/11 attacks, General Deepak Kapoor, was part of Aiyar's jamboree with the Pakistanis. This time the Indian army has its answers ready. Merely in anticipation of his marching orders, the army chief has already clicked his heels and shouted out, 'Yes, Sire; three bags full, Sire.' Deep selection of a chief has its advantages, of respectful and timely delivery of answers sought. He would be available to carry the can too.

To be true to General Rawat, he has an army that has practiced its paces over the past decade. The army chief having admitted to Cold Start doctrine itself suggests that it has moved beyond the doctrine. The army has no doubt watched the Azm e Nau series of Pakistani military exercises and seen the outcome in Pakistan's 'new concept of warfighting'. It has half a decade on since the advent of Pakistan's tactical nuclear weapons perhaps - implausibly in conjunction with the air force - found an answer at the conventional level. Not having tweaked its nuclear doctrine in face of this development, the nuclear answer is also likely available - not owing up to which is itself a dead give-away. To take exception to Rawat expression of confidence in the capability of the force would be uncharitable. 

The danger is in his confidence translating into over-confidence within his political masters. Convinced by his bluster, they could turn to him for bailing them out of a political tight spot. Surely, the judicial wheels let loose by the four judicial horsemen of apocalypse would grind to their logical conclusion should the ruling party be dislodged from Raisina Hill. A war can yet rescue it. Whoever said there cannot be a good, timely, short and sweet war.

Friday, 12 January 2018
Books under my pen name
Also see my other  blog - 

South Asia in it Together
The book comprises of commentaries by Firdaus Ahmed over the last few years. These articles, which largely deal with South Asian security issues, have appeared throughout 2014-15 in various respected publications such as, Kashmir Times and the Milli Gazette. Collectively they make the case that South Asia is 'one' and should come to be seen as such. The security of its states and people is intertwined. South Asian states should move towards a South Asian union. The articles make this case obliquely in covering issues in Indian security, and point to how these overlap borders. Some themes dealt with in the book - India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir, India's Muslims and the rise of religious extremism - clearly show that most problems lend themselves only to a South Asian, rather than national, solution. The book continues engaging with the issues addressed in Firdaus Ahmed's two earlier books, Think South Asia and Subcontinental Musings (both CinnamonTeal 2014).
Subcontinental Musings: Making a Difference
The book interrogates India's strategic trajectory, decisions and events from the liberal perspective in security and peace studies. The aim is to inform the public debate on security issues. It is a record of the 'interesting times' in the security field since nuclear weaponisation in the subcontinent.
Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace
The book comprises commentaries authored by Firdaus Ahmed covering the 'interesting times' which India and the region have been through since South Asia acquired a nuclear backdrop. The author’s observations from his ring side seat in the region cover all dimensions of security - from internal security to nuclear war. The book offers an alternative - liberal - perspective on security. It would be of interest to students, researchers, policy wonks and attentive public. The book is a contribution to the peace discourse in the region.