Wednesday, 13 June 2018


Scholar Warrior, Journal of CLAWS, Spring 2018

The appointment of the new interlocutor for Kashmir, former Intelligence Bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, has potential to deprive the Pakistani army of a raison d'ĂȘtre. The potential for this needs to be examined in order that the peace initiative get the requisite heft. There are currently two schools of thought. One is that the Pakistan army requires to keep stoking the fires in Kashmir in order to stay atop the power grid in Pakistan. By this reasoning, India has limited options in Kashmir, faced as it is with a proxy war. Thus, the peace initiative can at best be a conflict management tool. The other is that there are genuine grievances in Kashmir, which if tackled with wisdom by India can result in a dissipation of any Pakistani locus standi in Kashmir. The peace initiative can bring a closure to the troubles in Kashmir, cutting off the oxygen of alienation that enablesproxy war. This is a conflict resolution approach. The relative salience of the two approaches will determine the direction of the initiative, whether it reaches its full potential as a conflict resolution measure or whether the appointment is merely a conflict management tool.
The current peace initiative
The current peace initiative in Kashmir was launched in late October this year.[1] Given the coincidence in timing of the first visit then to New Delhi of the US secretary of state, the appointment of the new interlocutor was taken as having something to do with the visit. The critique was that the appointment was to undercut any US push for getting India to talk to Pakistan, as part of the new US policy in Afghanistan, unveiled by President Donald Trump at a speech in late August.[2] Since the new policy was rather severe on Pakistan for its nursing of terrorism and provision of sanctuary to terrorists on its soil, the US had decided to give Pakistan one more chance to come aboard the international quest against terrorism. Pakistan for its part has no doubt tried to milk its last chance to its advantage, requiring US pressure alongside on India in relation to India’s strategy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Since Rex Tillerson, on his inaugural visit to India flew in from Pakistan, New Delhi wanted to preempt any messaging from Pakistan for talks through Tillerson. Thus, commentators observed a link between the visit and the appointment.[3] India could point to the appointment of a Union government’s representative for talks with Kashmiris in case the matter came up with the US. India could argue that as a responsible government it is fulfilling its obligation towards it people to return normalcy through all means, but it is not beholden to talk to neighbours under the threat of a gun.
Irrespective of any international impetus to the initiative, there is a case for the same in strategic lights. The army chief, appraising the initiative, has said that it is from a position of strength.[4] He was referring to the higher tempo of operations in Kashmir since the surgical strikes of the previous year. There is the ongoing Operation All Out under which over a 200 terrorists have been eliminated, mainly foreigners. This summer there was no resumption of the agitation of mid 2016. Along the Line of Control (LC), India has remained proactive, tamping down on dozens of infiltration attempts. There are cracks appearing in the terrorist ranks, with some, such as Zakir Musa, the former Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, being cast out of mainstream terrorist ranks for his advocacy of the Islamist strain.[5]The Center’s hardline in terms of talks with the umbrella separatist organization, the Hurriyet, has kept the separatists on leash. This has been further tightened by the National Investigation Agency’s raids on the terror financing money trail.[6] Internationally, India has been on the offensive, attempting to isolate Pakistan for its support for terrorism, both in bilateral settings and in multilateral fora. At the UN General Assembly session in September, in its right of reply to the speech by the Pakistani prime minister citing Kashmir, India characterized that state as ‘terroristan’.[7] Finally, there was the winter setting in when the operational dynamics usually subside, allowing greater space for political thrust lines. Thus, it would appear that New Delhi set the conditions for a peace initiative. It now bears taking to its logical conclusion.
This energy behind the initiative is crucially dependent on which of the two approaches predominate in the corridors of power. A new book on India’s engagement in Afghanistan since the departure of the Soviet Union suggests that there are lobbies at play in policy and decision making circles that seek to influence the direction and outcome of policy. The book describes the interplay between the relative power of the ‘conciliators’ and the ‘partisans’, with the former depicted in brief as soft-liners and the latter as hard-liners.[8] Drawing analogy, it can be said that a similar policy tussle may have preceded the peace initiative in Kashmir and is also is likely to attend its course. The two lobbies are loosely taken here as minimalist, conflict management oriented, and maximalist, conflict resolution aspirant.
The conflict management lobby can easily be taken as practical and aware of the uphill struggle. They are also cognizant of the Pakistani ability to keep stoking the fire, besides of the other ill winds from West Asia. They are possibly also political tuned in to the Indian political scenario in which major political concessions may neither be thought desirable nor possible. The conflict resolution lobby for its part is the more ambitious. They are more aware of the limitations of a security solution to a political problem. Equally aware of the arc of instability stretching westwards, they wish to put out the fires that can invite adverse attention towards India. They are more sensitive to the possibilities enabled by the liberal underpinnings of India’s constitution. A creative legal thrust line duly backed politically, in light of a strong center, can bring about an internal settlement. There are examples in the North East which can serve as precedent. Thus both approaches have some weight. It bears probing further which can deliver more and better. The criterion to judge this is against which approach will facilitate Pakistan’s falling out of the equation better.
The conflict management approach
The conflict management approach is realism inspired in that it posits conflict as a given condition, with states in an adversarial relationship engaged in a zero sum game. Since a proxy war is on in Kashmir, there is little that can be done than to manage the consequence. This requires a multipronged approach. However, despite the security aspect to fore, the economic, social and developmental angles are of consequence. This has been the Indian approach to Kashmir. As part of this, interlocutors have also periodically been dispatched across the PirPanjals, sometimes, such as most recently the Yashwant Sinha led Concerned Citizens’ Group,[9] in response to a spike in violence on the streets. The interlocutors’ engagement with the people and stakeholders not only a cathartic effect, but the reports are also useful in tweaking the governments’ response as necessary. The conflict management approach has space for peace initiatives, but stops short of going the full distance on the political track. It uses – to its critics instrumentally – the peace process for calming the situation and bringing it back under control. In a sense the peace prong of strategy is to supplement the security prong. This distinguishes it from the conflict resolution approach, wherein the ‘resolution’ is sought on the political track, with the other prongs of strategy being supportive of the effort.
The interlocutor has set himself a limited, if realistic, ambit, restricting himself to tamping terrorism. He wishes to target the youth so as to keep terrorist ranks from swelling.[10]This indicates the initiative does not have an ambitious mandate. The results are already apparent, with the police working on encouraging surrenders of locals. The upshot is in a manageable subconventional operations situation, which troops on the counter insurgency grid can handle with routine aplomb. The political fallout is in the Kashmir issue receding from headlines, making for little pressure on New Delhi to ‘resolve’ it either internally or through interfacing with Pakistan. This is in keeping with the policy of marginalizing the separatists within and ‘no talks’ with Pakistan without. The byproducts are, for example, externally, in keeping the US at arms’ length, and internally, with political dividend for the ruling party depicted as strong on defence. Thus, the initiative is within the wider framework of a tougher national strategy and posture.
The conflict management approach has an advantage of keeping a lid on the situation till the government wishes to take it up on its terms. The home minister for instance has indicated that the government has some ideas on conflict resolution.[11] The management of the conflict therefore needs to continue till such time this is rolled out. The military template is thus an intrinsic part of the resolution menu. The stability necessary for moving to the next stage of conflict resolution is provided by conflict management. Indeed, even while resolution is unfolding – in the next phase – management of violence would in any case require to continue apace. This indicates an overlap between the two approaches, making them less antagonistic than supplementary. Conceptual clarity on this can help the switch or gear shift as necessary.
Conflict resolution approach
Conflict management is what is usually settled for when conflict resolution is not seemingly possible or thought desirable. Conflict resolution through victory in war for example, especially against a nuclear power, may not be desirable. Alternatively, it may not be possible in light of an impossible compromise required, such as in case of Kashmir, granting independence. However, short of independence – or, worse, it’s joining Pakistan – conflict resolution can be envisaged, such as oft said, within the parameters of a liberal constitution.
The conflict resolution approach by no means abjures use of force. It is predicated instead on intent backed by a sound plan. This entails negotiations, with a willingness to compromise – within bounds - on part of stakeholders. The design of these in relation to participants, location, pace, agenda, perception management, spoiler handling, contingency planning, timelines, parallel processes, creating and sustaining political capital and managing of the external are of significance. It requires a battery of experts with multidimensional expertise and experience and a lead negotiator synergizing the initiative. The lead negotiator has to have political savvy, integrity, stamina and moral courage. The other lines of operation such as the use of force, governance and development, are subordinated to the requirements stemming from the meander of the negotiation.
By this yardstick the current peace initiative in Kashmir would have to evolve considerably to measure up to the demands of conflict resolution. From Sharma’s initial press statements and the two visits (at the time of writing) to the Valley suggest that this is a preliminary stage, with Sharma at best testing waters intending to come up with a conflict analysis for the government. This can be the first step for the major initiative to follow, either with the lead horse changed midstream or with Sharma continuing in position. This can be rolled out once the winter’s operational respite is taken to shore-up political intent, put in place a negotiation team, chalk out a plan, whistle-up the infrastructure, broadcast the agenda and manage perceptions. The following year can see a dedicated round of talks on the key political questions, including the taboo word, azadi. If interpreted as autonomy, conflict resolution comes within reach. The release of political detainees, pardon for stone throwing youth, leashing the NIA, modulating operations, progressively rolling back disturbed area notifications are some of the arrows in the negotiator’s quiver. Whereas the army chief has indicated that currently military operations will not be effected,[12]further down the road narrowing these to directing them solely at foreign terrorists could be called for. Precedence of managing an operations drawdown exists in the ceasefire of year 2000 in Kashmir, suspension of operations against various groups in Assam and the ceasefire in Nagaland.There is also the Muzaffarabad based jihad council to think of. This would require opening a line to Pakistan.
The key question to answer is whether Pakistan would bite. The conflict management votaries believe otherwise. They see a vested interest of the Pakistani army in stirring the pot. This critique needs being taken on board in a shaping of the regional security environment. Pakistan has over the past few years complained of India creating a ‘two front’ problem for it. India has attempted to isolate it diplomatically. It has objected to the Chinese life-support of the economic corridor. It has articulated a claim to the northern areas. It has suspended the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The US is readying to weigh in against Pakistan finally. India and Pakistan have had their national security advisers talking all through this. These are leverages that India can now cash in on to hedge its Kashmir initiative. Pakistan for its part has the option to cry ‘victory’ and quit. It had attempted to disconnect from its Kashmir commitment even during the Musharraf years. If it can take credit – at least propagandistically – for a return of peace in Kashmir, it has a face saver. India could allow it a line to separatists,who having an increasing stake in the peace process can persuade Pakistan to back off. Alongside, Pakistan would require to initiate DDRRR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration, Resettlement) best practices for its ‘good terrorists’, with India seeing how to coopt the Pakistan based Kashmiri terrorists. By no means can all this be done in quick time, but strategy demands identifying the steps towards such an end.
The debate as carried here is likely informing decision making on the future direction of the peace initiative. Currently, it is within the conflict management parameters. It has potential to move towards conflict resolution. This is predicated on the assessment decision makers arrive at on whether upping the peace ante would make Pakistan fall out of the equation. There is an element of risk taking in this. Political decision makers are usually not impressed by the argument that a decision requires political courage. Political survival requires discretion, even if possible political dividends from bold decisions are given a go-by. They cannot chance elusive political dividend at the risk of national interest. However, the tough line in Kashmir and against Pakistan over the past three years makes strategic sense only if it is taken to a logical conclusion. Having sensitized Pakistan and conditioned it thereby, extracting the necessary mileage from it would require the strategy to move from conflict management to conflict resolution. Allowing Pakistan off the hook with a face-saver might just see it take the chance on offer – to sidle off its Kashmir engagement to set its own house in order.

[1]PIB (2017): “Centre appoints Shri Dineshwar Sharma as its Representative in J&K,”Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, 23 October, viewed on 1 November,
[2]Ali Ahmed, “The Kashmir charade this winter”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue No. 47, 25 Nov, 2017, pp. 10-12.
[3]Das, Sashwati (2017): “Who is Dineshwar Sharma?,” Livemint, 24 October, viewed on 7 November,
[4]Peri, Dinakar (2017): “Govt. talking from point of strength in Kashmir, says Gen. Rawat,” The Hindu, 25 October, viewed on 9 November,
[5]Rashid, Toufiq (2017): “Zakir Musa as al-Qaeda’s local chief is bad news for Kashmir,” Hindustan Times, 28 July, viewed on 2 November,
[6]Ahuja, R. and Abhishek Saha (2017): “After Kashmir raids, NIA set to grill separatist leaders on illegal funding,” The Hindustan Times, 4 June, viewed on 1 December,
[7]TOI (2017): “India slams Pakistan at UN, calls it 'Terroristan',” The Times of India, 22 September 2017, viewed on 2 December,
[8]Paliwal, Avinash (2017): My enemy’s enemy, New Delhi: Harper Collins, pp. 10-13.
[9]CCG (2017): “Full text: Report of third visit by Yashwant Sinha-led Concerned Citizens Group to Kashmir,” Indian Express, 4 September 2017, viewed on 3 November,
[10]Yadav, Yatish (2017): “I want to target terror recruitment: Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma,” Indian Express, 29 October, viewed on 8 November,
[11]PTI (2017): “Permanent solution to Kashmir issue is based on five 'C's: Rajnath Singh,” Economic Times, 11 September, viewed on 20 November,
[12]Express Web Desk (2017): “Kashmir: Appointment of interlocutor won’t affect our operations, says Army Chief Gen BipinRawat,” Indian Express, 25 October, viewed on 29 November,

Monday, 4 June 2018

An officer and gentleman: Worthy of a Muslim's ambition 

The President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind took the salute at the 134th passing out parade at the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla. The passing out parade, a somber occasion at every occasion, was especially more poignant this time. The man who put it together for the Supreme Commander's inspection, the Subedar Major Drill of the NDA, Subedar Major Rajeev Kumar Rai, had only a few days prior been felled by a heart attack, testifying to the pressures of performance in front of the highest constitutional authority in the land. A veteran of service in the Siachen, Kashmir and the North East, Rai was the head drill 'ustad' of the Academy, an awe-inspiring appointment credited with instilling discipline into cadets. In tribute to him, cadets were resolved to put up such a show as had never been witnessed on the Khetarpal parade ground, named after its most illustrious alumni, posthumous Param Vir Chakra awardee, young Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal. 

With the Subedar Major departed, the onus to deliver the message of reassurance for his Supreme Commander - and through him to the nation - that the future of the armed forces, and - at one remove - the defence of the country, was in safe hands, fell to the Academy Cadet Captain (ACC). It is no secret that the Academy Adjutant, supervising the parade while riding a horse, usually has more of his attention on the horse rather than the parade. It would not do for the Adjutant to be unseated by an excited or reluctant horse. The onus therefore fell this time on the young - though broad - shoulders of a strapping Muslim youth from Assam, ACC Mohammad Sohail Islam.

Academy Cadet Captain Sohail Islam was selected for the honour from among 344 cadets of the passing out course. It is a privilege he earned by his showing over six terms spread over three years, competing against the best young men this country of a billion and more souls has to offer. To be considered the top-notch leader of a batch training at an Academy that styles itself as the 'cradle of leadership' is a singular achievement. As can be imagined, a military academy does not judge leaders on academic distinction alone. The young men toiling to number among leaders of India's brave-hearts in battle have to build within themselves all-round merit. They are to be morally strong, mentally robust, physically tough and spiritually upright. From among his cohort, Mohammad Sohail Islam was reckoned as the best among India's best. Recall lakhs take the Union Public Service Commission's (UPSC) NDA entrance exam. Some 6000 clear the exam to try their luck at the Services Selection Boards. Only about 300 make the final cut. 

As the Rashtrapatiji alighted from the horse drawn carriage, he was received by the Commandant. At the far end of the parade ground, 854 cadets wearing white patrols were lined up in their squadrons on either side of the Nishan Toli, bearers of the President's Colours, conferred on the Academy by President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. Standing tall, right in front was their sword-bearing leader, ACC Mohammad Sohail Islam. As he sprung to attention on arrival of President Kovind at the Quarter Deck, the commentary paused. The chatter of the parents and siblings of the cadets graduating that day and the Pune gentry, who make the way up to Khadakvasla twice yearly for the spectacle, fell away. A hush fell over the ten thousand odd spectators. 

After his reverberating word of command for a general salute, sword in hand, Sohail Islam marched up to the dais to report the Academy present on parade for inspection by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Thereafter, Islam mounted the ceremonial jeep alongside his Supreme Commander for the circuit of the parade ground as the Rashtrapati inspected the smartly turned out cadets. Islam then led the parade in its march past, doing an electric 'eyes right' while lowering his sword in salute as he strode past the Quarter Deck, as the podium is called, styled as it is after a ship's deck in deference to the jointness between the three services that the Academy lays the foundations of. The President was escorted by the Commandant for presenting the most coveted awards any youth can aspire towards, to the three who won these of the passing out course. Among the three was Sohail Islam, winner of the President's Silver Medal awarded for standing second in the overall order of merit. 

As President Kovind proceeded with his very pleasant duty of inspiring the young lads, the next cadet he had to pin a medal on was Ali Ahmed Chaudhury, a Squadron Cadet Captain, winner of the President's Bronze Medal. The President received Ali's salute, shook Ali by the hand and pinned a medal above the left pocket of his white patrol tunic, now drenched with sweat. As squadron cadet captain, Ali had led his squadron's march past, belting out the command of 'eyes right' at the Quarter Deck. A squadron cadet captain is among the top-drawer appointments, leader of over a hundred cadets of all six courses assigned to the squadron. He is responsible for steering the squadron's showing in the competitions for the overall championship banner for the best squadron, an annual life-and-death battle at the Academy. That the contest is so fierce is because the squadron is where the cadets learn that they must be ready to die for their outfit; squadron today, a platoon, flight or a ship tomorrow. He has to be a role model in preparation for the traditional, and historically validated, manner of leading Indian soldiers in battle; where leading means just that: from up front and ahead. Obviously, Ali measured up and how. Son of a retired army Subedar from Karimganj in Assam, his twin brother is due to receive the president's commission from the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, this term. Ali is a Georgian, as the graduates of Rashtriya Military Schools, earlier named after King George, are called. 

Quite like him, the other two medal recipients were also cadets since their school days; both, coincidentally being from the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehra Dun. The one who pipped both Sohail and Ali to the post was Battalion Cadet Captain Akshat Raj, a class mate of Sohail at RIMC. Like at NDA, Sohail had stolen at march over Akshat at RIMC by becoming the Cadet Captain, the school head-boy. But, Akshat topped the all-India UPSC merit list for entry into the NDA and at NDA took the gold. Sohail, like Ali, is son of an ex-serviceman, a Havaldar from West Bengal; while Akshat is a school teacher's son. All three are from humble backgrounds, society's bedrock that continues to offer up India's best stock for its most onerous duty. The three typify the quintessential warrior - Karmyogis of yore - trained as the nation's warriors from a tender age. 

Both Sohail and Ali exemplify the words of President Kovind in his speech while they stood rock solid and steady in the summer sun out on the tarred parade ground that has Shivaji Maharaj's fort, Sinhgarh - named after the Chhatrapati's formidable lieutenant Tanaji Malusare - as backdrop. President Kovind said, 'The parade comprises cadets from all parts of India and from a variety of communities. Its harmony speaks for our essential unity as much as our pluralism as a society.' He had just had lined up before him Akshat, Sohail and Ali. This is what the line up suggested to him. 

Sohail and Ali were right up there inspiring the Rashtrapati to reflect on India's essence. That's where Muslim youth need to be, all the time. Sohail and Ali tell that it is within reach, doable and, is indeed, a glass ceiling already breached. Quite like the remarkable performance of Muslim youth taking the civil services exam, and some exceptional Muslim toppers at that exam, the avenue of an armed forces' officership - 'a calling' for a 'rare breed' according to President Kovind - is open for Muslim youth to ensure the secular and plural colour of the armed forces - referred to by the Rashtrapatiji - remains bold. Thanks to Sohail and Ali, the President's Gold Medal - not having a Muslim inscribed on it since the mid-seventies - is now ours to grasp next. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Is the Indian military preparing for total war?


Three recently completed military exercises tell of the thinking within the Indian military. The first was the air exercise (Ex), Ex Gagan Shakti (Power of the sky), reportedly the largest ever air exercise; the second, Ex Vijay Prahaar (A blow for  victory), of Strike 1 Corps of the South West Command in the desert sector; and third, the South Western Command’s pivot corps, Chetak Corps’ exercise, Ex Gandiv Vijay (Victory to Arjuna’s bow).


Taken together, the three exercises - each foregrounding mention of jointmanship - spell an integration of the army’s cold start doctrine with the air force’s doctrine. While in Ex Gandiv Vijay, the pivot corps scrambled from a cold start to its battle locations, its RAPID division went on a limited offensive. At this time perhaps Ex Gagan Shakti’s phase one played out involving creating conditions for  speedy depletion of the enemy’s combat potential’ through ‘coercive strategies’. Thereafter, the Strike One Corps’ Ex Vijay Prahaar unfolded in which it made a penetration over obstacles into enemy innards to knock out armoured reserves reacting to it. Alongside, ‘swift offensive action’, Strike One likely fired off its Brahmos Block III cruise missiles it had practiced last autumn at a range in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in ‘synergistic employment of long range vectors along with the Infantry and Mechanised Forces and the Air Arm to achieve a decisive victory’ .    

While analysts inform that the armed forces are cognizant of ‘high-tempo and intense limited conflict’, the exercises do not lend confidence that limited war doctrines would hold. Limited War is sine qua non in the nuclear age. It is the only war that can plausibly be fought. In effect, military doctrines have to be predicated on the limited war concept and reflected realistically in exercise scenarios.
In the cases considered, the land forces appear to be bent on making deep penetrations across obstacles and degrading the enemy’s reserves, thus flirting with both the territorial and degradation thresholds of nuclear first use. The air force while taking on the Chinese appears to be upping-the-ante in taking on Chinese shipping in international waterway. This may be in reaction to some or other simulated setback in the mountains (loss of Tawang?), but, absent escalation control mechanisms in place and practiced alongside, the horizontal escalation in quick time can only lead up to the nuclear outbreak depicted.
While exercises at the operational level are worst-case scenario based and meant to demonstrate and validate capabilities – such as nuclear warfighting – the key strategic level take-away is that offensive content in doctrine militates against what the doctrine professes, the limited war concept. India would do well to revisit the moorings of its military doctrines.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Opening up the cantonments: Army in the cross hairs of the right

The latest buzz on social media circles of the military is the opening up of cantonments, the cloistered military administered spaces, to ‘poor bloody civilians’, supposedly at the behest of the novice defence minister. Interestingly, there is little mention of the this in the media though.

After the brazen and horrific attacks on cantonments (and an airbase) in J&K, the military has been understandably rather paranoid on security of its families residing in the cantonments. It turned these into fortresses along lines recommended by a committee headed by a former vice chief, using up Rs. 14,097 crores on perimeter security.

A longstanding grievance in surrounding communities has been that cantonments had over the years progressively been placed off limits, with the army citing security. This limited thoroughfares, forcing circuitous routes on harried civilian commuters. In one instance, in Pune, a village on the outskirts was cut off from the city by the College of Military Engineering walling itself off, making villagers reportedly take a 30 km wide detour. Naturally, the courts were marshalled by the affected people, such as in Secunderabad, home to one of the larger cantonments.

As cities surrounded cantonments on outskirts, the military’s breathing space was throttled little by little. Further, the military, fearing covetous eyes of defence ministers with a reputation for land deals, such as, for instance, Sharad Pawar, fenced off its land, imposing on communities historically living within cantonment limits and those cheek-by-jowl with the boundaries. Hurriedly, the military converted golf courses into night training areas or some such innovative cover. Golf course memberships were much in demand in the neighbouring civilian elite.

Also, apart largely from north India, it’s members were a relatively alien presence elsewhere, temporarily forced to reside alongside people of a different look, colour and language. Walling themselves in was a rough and ready answer. One good thing to come out of this self-incarceration has been that cantonments now account for the green lungs of unplanned metropolisis that have since grown up around them. Even this added to the enticing allure of cantonments, with neighbours wanting a breath of the fresh air.

Almost as if in response to the grievances of communities in vicinity of cantonments the defence ministry reportedly suddenly lifted the barricades, opening up garrisons to sundry morning walkers and those out for a tree-lined short cut. It would seem the ruling party is out for a set of additional votes, which by the yardstick that it is ruling in some 20 states does not really need.

This begs the question then as to what motivated the order.

Perhaps the regime best knows that the security measures were never needed in first place, other than in J&K. The jihadist threat was never what it was made out to be, inflated by cultural nationalists in the media and propagated by a communalized intelligence community. The spate of exonerations of Muslims incarcerated in terror cases for lack of evidence is proof. That saffron terrorists have also been left off suggests where terror – taken as Muslim perpetrated – originated. The purpose was polarization, to pave the way for a messiah to centerstage from his provincial perch. Therefore, for a government aware of this to call off the pretense of a Muslim threat to its security forces billets, now that it has been milked for all its worth – the levels of Muslim marginalization becoming rather embarrassing - is explicable.

For its part, the army - that otherwise surely knows as much - was quick to use the opportunity to preserve its islands in urban sprawls. In quick time it turned the greenery and training grounds into concrete under accelerated housing schemes, needed for recuperation of soldiery before being relaunched back into India’s largest and longest lasting security commitment, J&K.

The army kept up the charade, investing in guard towers and sandbagged bunkers for those garrisons in sight of Muslim localities (such as the author’s locality down south). The southern army commander opined as recently as April this year that anti-nationals have appeared as the new challenge across India. He took care not to define who he meant, knowing which community the label would stick to.

He was referring to the expectation in the army of being interdicted enroute when off from a cold start in cantonments to launch pads near the border. It is no wonder then that the social media lauds the purported go-slow by Southern Command, under the guise of reviewing security concerns, on the order to throw open the doors of cantonments.

His action has been inadvertent. Here the answer is only superficially a conspiracy theory. The right-wing government wants more visibility into the cantonment, to be able to see what is brewing in those restricted spaces.

Advisedly, it does have a worry. The army is the last institution standing. Outside the sarkari remit, the Cobrapost revelations on youtube has shown up the state of institutions, in this case the fourth estate. This explains why the storm in the military’s social media teacup on this issue has not found its way into the media this time round.

The ruling party best knows what can originate in a cantonment. It has within its ministerial ranks a general who reputedly spooked South Block bureaucrats by ordering a movement of a military outfit, on the eve of a court case hearing he had foisted on the defence ministry. Quite sensibly, the ruling party does not want to be in a similar situation.

Increased visibility into the cantonment, the democratization of its reserved spaces, its invasion by all and sundry and the normalization of its landscape with noise and pollution, insures against the cantonment keeping any secrets.

This is part of a wider assault on the military. The salacious book on army wives and a movie with a rising star in lead role on corruption in the army are not unrelated. The right wing’s head honcho’s unfavourable comparison of the army with his storm troopers, in relation to mobilization timings, was to put the army in its place in the new schema.

The army needs to lose its sheen, so that it is vulnerable to subversion from within and control from without. Merely placing an amiable chief at the helm, under the doctrine of ‘relative ease of doing business with’ as voiced by a propagandist of the previous defence minister, is not enough.

That India has a subordinate military is not enough, especially when the complexion of India is to change after the coming elections. Unfortunately, with the opposition bouncing back after the Karnataka elections, the election outcome has acquired a question mark. Compulsions of polarisation, a Chanakyan turn at the elections or a majoritarian turn thereafter, all could lead to a Constitution-under-threat backlash. The military could turn bulwark of an India as it should be and must remain. It needs being neutralized well before that.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

The Doval Scorecard

On his nomination as National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval had acquired a larger-than-life image. Hagiographical accounts of his derring-do as an intelligence officer in all of India’s national security predicaments since the 1971 war—including Mizoram, Punjab, Pakistan, Kashmir and Kandahar—have featured him in a stellar role (Gokhale 2014). He remained indefatigable in retirement as founding head of the Vivekananda International Foundation, where his think tank provided respectability to the penetration of cultural nationalism into the strategic discourse (Donthi 2017). While at it, he comprehensively stalled any national security initiatives of the United Progressive Alliance—such as its last gasp in reaching out to Pakistan in 2013—by leading Delhi’s strategic community in warning against any such initiative (Vivekananda International Foundation 2013). By early 2014, he had staked a claim, laid out in lectures across the country, on heading the national security apparatus; the more (in)famous claim being during a lecture in which he warned that Pakistan stood to lose Baluchistan if another attack like the 26/11 attack in Mumbai were to happen (The Fearless Indian 2014). It was not a surprise then that one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s very first decisions on reaching 7, Race Course Road, was to appoint Doval as the NSA.
As the NSA, Doval hit the ground running. Modi’s foreign policy coup of bringing together the heads of neighbouring countries, Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif among them, is attributed to him. It did not take long for criticism to catch up with him. Critics had it that he was—true to his reputation—tactically agile, but strategically untested. Unfortunately for him, the skill set that goes with a proactive intelligence profile, does not necessarily lend itself to a sound performance at the strategic level (Ahmed 2015). For instance, though Sharif’s presence at the Rashtrapati Bhavan forecourt presaged an opening up to Pakistan, by the end of the season, the follow-on foreign secretary-level talks were called off. Instances of smart about-turns continued. Barely had Modi landed back in India from visiting Sharif at his Raiwind farmhouse on Christmas eve in 2015, the possibilities of the peace process resuming after this outreach were spiked yet again a week later, with India referencing a terrorist attack on the Pathankot airfield.
Even so, the actions in the national security field were such and so fast in coming, that some had it that there was a new national security doctrine at play. While some dubbed this the “Doval doctrine” (Noorani 2015), others—mindful of the overlord—called it the “Modi doctrine” (Chaulia 2016). The high-water mark of the national security reset was the “surgical strikes” across the Line of Control (LoC) in late September 2016. The opposition was quick to point out that these had precedent, the difference being that earlier governments in place did not seek to profit politically from such strikes. In short, little had changed, but the attendant perception-management exercise had been taken to new levels. This owed less to national security factors than to the electoral calculus of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under Modi and Amit Shah.
This political need of the BJP, which has kept it in election mode all through its tenure, stems from its deep linkages with the right-wing organisations headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Their aim is to profit from Modi’s sway over voters for a cultural-nationalism inspired reset of India, one distanced from an inclusive, plural, democratic, and secular India. Democratic gains by the BJP covering all regions in India, the latest being inroads into the south by their electoral showing in Karnataka, place this within sight.
Alongside, a hollowing out of institutions is underway. The state of the ruling party is itself a case in point, as brought out by an old-timer in the party who has since left, Yashwant Sinha (2018). Taking the cue, the police, bureaucracy, and media have keeled over. Even the armed forces have not been spared, with the army’s proverbial line-of-succession that is predicated on seniority being rudely tweaked to elevate Bipin Rawat—who had developed a working relationship with Doval—over two of his seniors to head it (Dutta 2016). The judiciary is currently in the cross hairs, perhaps with a view to making it an inert institution, which would enable the Modi government to trifle with the basic structure of the Constitution sometime into its next tenure should it win the 2019 elections (Business Standard 2018).
What this enervation of institutions spells for national security is rather obvious. National security is a function of the good health of these institutions and their pulling together. Therefore, in evaluating the Doval tenure as head of the national security establishment, it would not do to restrict the assessment to how India has managed its external and internal security environment alone. Doval’s place in history needs examining against what his role has been in bringing about a denouement today, in which India stands vulnerable to a majoritarian assault on its fundamentals. To his clients in the right-wing conglomerate, Doval has by this yardstick succeeded admirably.
Not in National Interest
But, first, we take a look at Doval’s exertions in the field of mainstream national security in relation to Pakistan and China. Even while India professed to be matching up to China, it suddenly backed down. Take, for instance, the “informal summit” with China at Wuhan last month. It is a step back for India, intended to paper over the Doklam episode where Chinese activity has reportedly continued. With the informal summit, Modi has bought some time by negotiating a lull in the election year. The army has been asked to moderate its responses on the Line of Actual Control (Som 2018). A former military adviser in the national security system notes, “Only a calculation based on the dynamics of domestic politics can yield a suggestion to keep quiet [on Chinese aggression]” (Menon 2018a). One advantage of stability on the China front is an increase in the possibility of mounting pressure on Pakistan. A climbdown on the China front does away with a two-front problem, enabling pressure to be mounted on the Pakistan front. India espied an opportunity in the pressure on Pakistan promised by United States President Donald Trump. This, however, has not quite materialised and the Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani has gone on to offer an olive branch to the Taliban. India appears to have since fallen in line. Not only has there been a drawdown in firing across the LoC, but there has been a resumption of Track II confabulations. Under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, India and Pakistan are to undertake military exercises together for the first time. Doval has taken care to keep a line open with his Pakistani counterpart, Nasser Khan Janjua. In short, Doval is taking no chances of an India–Pakistan crisis emerging and escalating to an inherently uncertain conclusion in the election year.
Implicit in India’s allocation of the lowest amount for defence in relation to its gross domestic product since the 1962 war (Unnithan 2018) is the message to both adversaries that, at least for this year, India would be less assertive. This is in stark contrast to the tough-on-defence image that the government aspired to and attempted to foster over the past four years. The about-turn on both fronts suggests that the electoral interests of the ruling party are now the national security imperative, and not the national interest.
Internal security initiatives have also been taken with an eye for votes. In Kashmir, Operation All-Out over the past two years has led to the killing of some 275 alleged terrorists in operations reminiscent of the 1990s (Kashmir Times 2018). The dividend from the simultaneous admi­nistration of the carrot-and-stick approach—the union government-appointed special representative’s periodic forays into Jammu and Kashmir and the military template—has not been obvious.
India could well have arrived at the possibility of peace without having gone down the route of confrontation over the last four years. The centre has reluctantly, and only partially, accepted the proposal for a ceasefire during Ramzan made by the chief minister after an all-party meet. For its part, though defiant on the LoC, Pakistan has signalled its readiness for dialogue (Baruah 2018). If India’s strategy was to display resolve through its use of force, then it is time to capitalise on the strategy. The hypothesis here that India’s security policy is driven by the BJP’s electoral calculus suggests that the potential for a peace process that the Ramzan ceasefire has will go unrealised. Instead, this juncture will be milked for showing India’s peaceful intent, useful both internationally and domestically to obscure that its ruling party needs to keep both problems alive for their internal political utility. Since national security has been allowed to be usurped for political and ideological ends, Doval is answerable.
Cultural Nationalism
The benefits of cultural nationalism—read religious majoritarianism­—for national security are not self-evident. The contrary is more likely the case, in terms of the threat of authoritarianism, impact on constitutional governance, and marginalisation of minorities. A snapshot of the impact on the three can be seen through the prism of the rule of law. The recent discharge of Maya Kodnani in the case related to the Gujarat carnage of 2002 and that of Swami Aseemanand in the Mecca Masjid blast case shows how perpetrators close to, and possibly acting at the behest of the Sangh Parivar, have been let off. Lieutenant Colonel Shrikant Purohit, a leader of the saffron terror outfit, Abhinav Bharat, has been granted bail and has rejoined the army. Clearly, the plea made in 2013 by police officer D G Vanzara, when incarcerated in jail, that he and fellow cops had been abandoned appears to have been heeded by the right quarter, by Modi, who has been likened to a “god” by Vanzara (Vanzara 2013).
The crowning case is that of BJP President Amit Shah in relation to the encounter killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and custodial killing of his wife. Even the possibilities stemming from the manner of death of Justice B H Loya, the Special Central Bureau of Investigation judge earlier handling the Sohrabuddin Sheikh case, could not make a dent, even though it led to open dissent in the upper judiciary. The National Investigation Agency (NIA) head, Sharad Kumar, under whom the agency dragged its feet in all such cases, is slated to join the National Human Rights Commission on retirement (Bhatnagar 2018). The subversion of institutions from within is the primary internal security threat taking place on Doval’s watch.
The implications need spelling out. The RSS supremo, Mohan Bhagwat, let on that he could mobilise a militia within three days (Tewary 2018). In effect, saffronite foot soldiers can graduate to becoming storm troopers in short order. The disruption at Aligarh Muslim University on the day of a function at which the former vice president was to speak is indicative of such power and its outcome. The invasion of the makeshift open-air Friday prayer of Muslims in Gurugram by majoritarian outfits over successive weeks, under the watch of a benign BJP government, is another example.
In short, there is a parallel structure of force in place. A shift in the monopoly over the use of force from the state to such structures is underway as the state apparatus kowtows to the parallel power centres. If this elides the head of India’s national security establishment, Doval, it is not because he is oblivious or merely complicit, but is more likely the chief steward. The profile of Doval carried in the Caravanprovides a clue (Donthi 2017). He is quoted arguing that there is a “higher rationale” in which the rights-based rule of law must yield to the welfare of the collective. For him, and in the cultural-nationalist perspective, the national interest is that of the majority community.
Finally, with the current government having barely a year left in its term, the jury is likely to remain out on the new-fangled Defence Planning Committee (DPC) with Doval as its head. The DPC has been charged with, among and as a precursor to other things, the task of ­formulating a national security strategy. This amounts to Doval inadvertently writing his own appraisal since it testifies to India’s dysfunctional national security system having remained in place over the last four years, though the BJP came to power claiming that it could best revitalise it. As remedy, it has resorted, rather late in its term, to collapsing policy, strategy, and planning into one package in the form of the DPC for the sake of political optics (Menon 2018b).
More importantly, Doval’s ultimate test is yet to come. In case his mentor, Modi, is increasingly beleaguered, it is widely expected that the mandir card will be played. It is not without purpose that the opposition had requested the apex court to postpone its judgment on the issue to after the elections. The god-man Sri Sri Ravishankar has predicted a Syria-like situation in case the verdict goes against the claim of one of the two communities, taking care not to name the community (Joshi 2018). Any pronouncement on Doval can only follow from how the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision turns out. Though it is unlikely that Doval will baulk at this potential culmination point of the Hindutva takeover of India, how he handles the Hindutva machinery may yet be an opportunity to vindicate, if not redeem, himself.
Ahmed, Ali (2015): “India: Dissecting the Doval Doctrine,” Eurasia Review, 7 August,
Baruah, Amit (2018): “Pakistan Army Ready to Join Dialogue Process with India,” Hindu, 17 May,
Bhatnagar, G V (2018): “National NGO Network Opposes Ex-NIA Chief’s Proposed Appointment as NHRC Member,” Wire, 16 May,
Business Standard (2018): “BJP Will Make Major Assault on Constitution if It Controls Both Houses, Says Shashi Tharoor,” 8 February,
Chaulia, Sreeram (2016): The Modi Doctrine: Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister, New Delhi: Bloomsbury India.
Donthi, Praveen (2017): “Undercover: Ajit Doval in Theory and Practice,” Caravan, 1 September,
Dutta, Saikat (2016): “Gen Rawat’s Appointment as Army Chief Is in Line with Modi’s Aggressive Foreign Policy,”, 19 December,
Gokhle, Nitin (2014): “Ajit Doval: The Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” NDTV, 30 May,
Joshi, Padmaja (2018): “If Not Resolved Amicably, Janmaboomi Dispute Can Turn India into Syria: Sri Sri,” India Today, 5 March,
Kashmir Times (2018): “Forces in J&K to Stop Ops during Ramzan,” 17 May,
Menon, Prakash (2018a): “Doklam—India’s Silence Is a Strategic Blunder,” Indian National Interest, 20 March,
— (2018b): “The Problems of Defence Planning,” Pragati, 16 May,
Noorani, Abdul Ghafoor (2015): “The Doval Doctrine,” Frontline, 13 November,
Sinha, Yashwant (2018): “Dear Friend, Speak Up,” Indian Express, 17 April,
Som, Vishnu (2018): “’No Aggressive Patrolling’ Along China Border, Army Told After Wuhan Meet,” NDTV, 2 May,
Tewary, Amarnath (2018): “RSS Can Prepare an Army within Three Days, Says Mohan Bhagwat,” Hindu, 12 February,
The Fearless Indian (2015): “Ajit Doval Warns Pakistan “You Do One More Mumbai, You Lose Balochistan,” 7 January, (10th Nani Palkhivala Memorial Lecture by Ajit Kumar Doval, Sastra University, 21 February), YouTube video,
Unnithan, Sandeep (2018): “Budget Squeeze Threatens Indian Army’s Preparedness for Possible Two-front War,” India Today, 3 May,
Vanzara, Dahyabhai Gobarji (2013): “Read DG Vanzara’s Letter,” Times of India, 3 September,
Vivekananda International Foundation (2013): “Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community,” press statement, 9 August,