Friday, 26 May 2017

Reviewing the Military’s Joint Doctrine

Thursday, 25 May 2017

 The Gogoi award puts General Rawat on test

That Major N.L. Gogoi has earned the Army Chief’s commendation is not in doubt. He has received it for consistent display of grit in line of duty. As a Rashtriya Rifles company commander he can be expected to have led patrols, sat in night long ambushes, kept roads open through rain and fog, reacted to spot intelligence on terrorist movement and participated in events organized by his unit to bring the army close to the people. 

He has evidently done all this at a time when the going has been getting tougher in the Kashmir Valley and the people are more hostile. There can be no envying him his recognition. But for the likes of junior leaders like him the Valley would have been lost to India a long time back. If the award was for his work preceding the incident that brought him fame – infamy to some – he can enjoy full credit for it. 

Placing him in front of an array of microphones to tell his side of the story bespeaks of the army’s confidence that his act of tying the Kashmiri young man to the jeep in early April was an act in good faith. Gogoi for his part thought that was the best way to save lives which would have been the case had he shot his way out of trouble. It is possible that the court of inquiry that investigated the incident has found him credible. 

Let us leave Major Gogoi at that without begrudging him his award. One can imagine him over at his company operating base or out on some patrol on election day. With the SOS coming in from the ITBP, the adjutant of his unit might have scrambled him to the location, not necessarily because he was closest but because of his hard earned reputation as a man of action. He proved as much in thinking on his feet, in his own widely telecast description of the event. The rest is beyond that of the fighting man. 

The significant aspect of this story instead is the timing of the award. While usually awards await the Army Day, Republic Day and Independence Day, in this case, Gogoi got his out of turn. This is not unknown as commendations are a great way for the brass to exercise their morale building function. A good deed timely recognized by an award has a wider effect than merely pepping up an individual but of energizing a whole outfit. The Military Cross was pinned to Sam Manekshaw’s chest while many thought he might die of wounds without knowing of the acclaim of his peers. 

By likewise handing the award bearing his stamp to Major Gogoi out-of-turn, the Army Chief has been bold to open himself to scrutiny. It has not been long in coming. The usual suspects have gone to town over the implications for human rights and humanitarian law and possible disrespect for Kashmiris. The liberal brigade has alighted on the side of the Farooq Dar’s story, the ‘human shield’ in this incident. 

Allowing that the crowd of 1200 – in Gogoi’s numbers – was one kilometer deep, along his exit route, they wonder why Dar needed to be strapped down for the rest of his 25 kilometer long journey through three-four other villages. Also, what accounts for his beating that even now reportedly gives him the shivers at night? 

If the inquiry did not address these questions, it does not hold water. To them, it is one of a piece of inquiries that litter the Kashmir record of security forces: beginning from the controversial Kunan Poshpora incident; not forgetting infamous Pathribal; and, to clinch these, the finding of yet another as ‘death by drowning’ of two able bodied women in Shopian, all in two feet of flowing water. They would surely have died from drowning if their heads had been held under water long enough. The inquiry did not pursue who might have wanted to do that and why. 

All this brouhaha could easily have been anticipated. This Army has remained unfazed and it’s chief, rather brazen. It well knows that the ‘national’ media – as against the Lutyens’ media – would have lapped up the Gogoi press appearance. With fire assaults simultaneously on Pakistani pickets along the Line of Control broadcast in virtual real time, it is playing to the gallery in India’s heartland and hinterland. 

Perhaps it thinks that this display helps prove its responsiveness to civil authority, doing what its acting minister set it to do in wake of the beheadings of its soldiers early this month. There is little else the Army could do on the Line of Control, in light of precedence dating to the late nineties. But surely it has gone beyond the necessary in the Gogoi case. It must know this is unnecessary additional wind in the political sails of its civilian masters that the Army did not really need to provide. 

The problem is that it is not the Army’s mandate to be providing political ballast. The apex level must not only know that it has to keep the Army out of politics but also know how to keep it so. Even if the Army is not interested in politics, in India today, politics – right wing politics – is interested in the Army. Recall, in its earlier avatar, the BJP led NDA government had the Army organize Sindhu darshan for its homesick ideologue, LK Advani. This time round the right wing’s embrace of the Army has been more than just on election posters. 

The Army brass has a representational function that entails ensuring the Army stays apolitical. The more it lends itself to providing egregious political comfort to its civilian masters, the more it opens itself to manipulation. The more it is manipulated, the less it is apolitical. A Chief who cannot understand this - leave alone one who is complicit in this - is not worth his salt. 

Where does this leave the Army chief? He has two years to go, long enough to help line up his political masters for an extended tenure at the political helm. Or conversely, it gives him enough time to retest his ability to say ‘thus far and no further’, if not ‘no’ itself.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Ummer Fayaz: Another Kashmiri icon

I can imagine the conversation young Ummer Fayaz might have had with his abductors in his last moments. He would likely have told them to take a hop - only more colourfully - though knowing fully well he might not make it out of captivity alive. This I can tell from reading the write up on him in the Indian Military Academy commemorative volume on his passing out course, that took the ‘Antim Pag’ (‘Final Step’ (as a Gentleman Cadet)) at the hallowed Chetwode Hall in December last year. He is described as one who could ‘debate on any topic’. Being ex-NDA (National Defence Academy) to boot, he could not have been short of sting even with a gun to his head. Shamed when confronted with a mirror to their face, his captors hurriedly dispatched him to what shall surely turn out to be eternal glory.
No doubt they justify to themselves that this is their payment for their tickets to paradise. They perhaps think that he having joined the Indian army - which to them an oppressive outfit - had signed his death warrant at their hands. Having notched him up as their victim, they fancy themselves closer to the houris reportedly awaiting them there. It beguiles as to how they still expect to at all get to heaven. They appear unable to see that Fayaz and the likes of them cannot both be eligible.
Fayaz is surely already up there. By all accounts, Fayaz has no place else to go. In his short life, he just did not have the time to notch up the deeds that could veer him off course. He was only just about to proceed on his Young Officer course. The acting defence minister – no doubt well briefed – refers to him as a ‘model’. To have been on an academy sports team – hockey in his case – is evidence of his grit. Having a gift for speaking; a sportsman and with good looks to boot, here was the epitome of Kashmir’s youth.
The army is entirely right in swearing to bring his killers to justice. However, in case the killers resist, the army should not lose any more good men in keeping the murderers from their maker. Fayaz’s killing might be their last, but not necessarily their most dastardly. A trial here would best reveal them - finally - for all they are worth and for Kashmiris to disabuse them of any notion of their utility for the Kashmir cause. Justice if at the cost of more lives can safely be left to judgment day.
It can be argued that these men – either Pakistani or Kashmiri - are also presumably young. How did they get to murder? How are they so blinded by hatred as to be unable to see that murderers can neither bring freedom to a land and a people nor please the gods? An argument could go that they are as much victims as Fayaz – their humanity snuffed out by intelligence handlers and religious indoctrinators. If Kashmiri, they – like Fayaz – might have seen no other reality than violence. If Pakistani, they were bundled onto terror assembly lines too early to be able to exercise a choice. So, Fayaz was killed as much by the circumstances of the violence surrounding Kashmir as by the killers themselves.
Consequently, the question needs rephrasing from ‘who killed Ummer Fayaz?’ to ‘what killed Ummer Fayaz?’ There can be several answers to this. The one hazarded here is political timidity earlier followed lately by political hubris.
For a political problem to be alive seventy years since its inception, it obviously escaped the necessary political attention. Some might interpret the persistence of both states in enmity as a sign of strength and a sign of their determination to remain unbowed. The alternative is truer. Both simply lack the political will to get on with shoveling the problem left over by history.
Whereas earlier the giant Jawarharlal Nehru was unable to manage the right wing critique to his Kashmir policy mounted by Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and the Praja Parishad, later towering leaders as Indira Gandhi and Zulfiquar Bhutto, at their zenith in power, could not resolve the problem in their meeting at Simla. They were not able to pull off the supposed unwritten agreement they had arrived at there, as their power steadily whittled with time.
It is easy to surmise that less powerful leaders would fare worse. This has been the case of the earlier NDA and its successor UPA regime. Whereas Vajpayee’s Lahore initiative was ambushed by the Pakistani army at Kargil, at Agra his subsequent initiative was sabotaged by LK Advani. The political sphere in Pakistan has been so weak and corrupt that it has been unable to whittle the Pakistani army’s image as defenders of Pakistan’s ideological frontiers. The latest spat between Nawaz Sharif and the army – over his responsiveness to Indian overtures through the back channel - is evidence of Pakistani political weakness.  
The story in democratic India is little different. Vajpayee set the table for Manmohan Singh. Mr. Singh could not clinch the issue either internally, with appropriate follow through on his three round tables, the five working groups and with the three interlocutors, or externally, through the back channel discussions. To be fair to Manmohan Singh, the remote on his government was reportedly held with 10 Janpath and the Congress high command there ensconsed was transfixed with the danger of any concessions being taken as appeasement. By the time of UPA II, both were afraid of their own shadow.
This however cannot be said of the current government. It has the political numbers to carry the day. While preceding governments feared the BJP would go to town crying sell out in case of conflict resolution steps that involved compromise of any sort, the BJP itself has no such fears. It has nothing to prove in terms of ‘nationalist’ credentials. It can go the distance, should it so wish. Mehbooba Mufti is right in believing that Mr. Modi holds the key.
So, what has tripped up this government? Not political pusillanimity as much as political hubris. For it to cast away the investment it has made in polarization, by seeming to cotton up to the Kashmiris and making peace with Pakistan, would be premature. It needs Pakistan as a bogey for longer. Winning a majority in parliament, followed by capture of the assembly of India’s largest state is not enough. It now reportedly has a ‘mission 2019’ lined up with a 400 plus target of parliamentary seats. That would assure Mr. Modi his second term and the Hindutva forces a long enough tenure to make India great again after a 1000 year eclipse.
The government cannot chance peace with Pakistan now. It has to keep Pakistan enmeshed in the proxy war, supposedly being waged in Kashmir, so that it can do without addressing the Kashmir problem. As for Kashmiris, most happen to be Muslim. And Muslim baiting - with the latest variant being ‘triple talaq’ (divorce in three chants) – is set to continue till the next elections. Therefore, addressing Kashmir will have to wait.
Though the BJP got to power touting development, it’s handing over of India’s most populous province to a religious figure suggests that it knows that its  strength is rooted, not in the development-minded middle class, but in the right wing formations, the foot soldiers of elections. The right wing continues to exercise a veto on the main fixtures of India’s foreign and domestic policies – Pakistan and Kashmir respectively. Thus, though Mr. Modi has the numbers - even if he wants to - he dare not strike off trying to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Political timidity of preceding governments has led up to this pass. Here on it is greed for power, for its own sake and – or so the sales pitch goes - for the greater good and glory of Hindutva.
There cannot but be a few more deaths of the likes of Ummer Fayaz and Burhan Wani. The two represent their generation. They are their generation’s offering at the altar of peace. Kashmiris must realise that far too much blood has been extracted from them by the two states claiming their allegiance. They need to collectively find a non-violent way out before their next is another ‘lost generation’.  

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Book Review

 Edited by T.V.Paul 
Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, Year 2017, pp.236, $36.99

The Book Review, VOLUME XLI NUMBER 5 May 2017

The editor of the volume under review,   T.V. Paul, is James McGill Professor of International Relations in the Department of Political Science at McGill University. The book is rather dense and a difficult read, and consequently can only be recommended for the cognoscenti. Its 14 contributions are by well-chosen academics who attended a workshop with the theme ‘Globalisation and the Changing National Security State’ organized by the editor and his project team in late 2013. The book aims to preempt the usual manner of system change in the international arena: violent conflict. It visualizes new kids on the block threatening the current overlords. Often this sets up a confrontation. International relations is little different. However, war as a means to settle the differences between status quo and rising powers is no longer an option. In the nuclear age, it is far too destructive not only for the putative belligerents but also for the planet. Therefore, fresh ways of change need to be thought through to effect peaceful change through long term strategies on the part of both the emergent powers and the dominant powers. With China, Russia and India among others playing an increasingly significant role, change is underway. The key is to keep this peaceful. The book is a notable contribution to that end. In an incisive opening chapter, Paul charts the theoretical course for the volume. He inquires whether violent conflict between the aspiring and established great powers is inevitable in power transitions. He asks the question as to what extent power indices, including of military power, matter in today’s international order that is deemed to have changed considerably as to make armed conflict between great powers an unlikely manner of passing on the power baton. If war is not an option, what can substitute is the object of the inquiry in the book. Can institutions serve the purpose of accommodation? The alternative to accommodation is containment. This entails delicate balancing on the part of the dominant power. The book probes such questions by first looking at the mechanisms of accommodation. Among these number mechanisms stemming from balance of power theories; interdependence theory; institutionalism; and constructivism, dealing with ideas on accommodation and change. In its second part, it deals with historical case studies including the passing of Pax Brittanica in favour of Pax Americana and the US opening up to China in the Kissinger years. 

Thursday, 27 April 2017

South Asia: Nuclear Self-Deterrence as a Virtue

Deterrence strategists value the fear and shock effect a state’s nuclear capability to inflict harm induces in the leadership of an adversary. The capability is so envisaged and built as to convey a certainty in case of conflict, with political will demonstrated in peacetime to assure the adversary that the nuclear decision maker would not shy away from genocide and ecocide when the push of conflict comes to nuclear shove.
Nuclear strategists have it only half right. The ability to inflict harm cannot be seen independently of the like ability of the adversary to similarly cause harm right back. This brings in self-deterrence, to—at a minimum—question the nuclear strategists’ input to decision making, and—at a maximum—to stay the nuclear hand. Just as avidly nuclear strategists articulate their wares, anti-nuclear practitioners must show-case nuclear dangers to induce self-deterrence in decision makers.
A small storm in South Asia’s nuclear teacup last month provides an entry point into using India’s case in an imagined nuclear aftermath as example.
Recently, noted nuclear watcher Vipin Narang set the cat among the nuclear pigeons. At a Carnegie international nuclear policy conference in Washington DC, he put together the writings of two former officials who dealt with India’s nuclear deterrent, namely the former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and the former head of the Strategic Forces Command Lt Gen Nagal, to posit that India is moving towards a first strike nuclear posture.
He argues that the writings of the two officials after leaving respective jobs suggest that India plans to take out Pakistan’s nuclear capability in case of tactical nuclear first use by Pakistan or in case India decides not to wait for Pakistan’s nuclear first use prior to its own launch of a disarming, counter force, strike. In the same breath he says that this might as yet be wishful since India does not quite have the capability yet.
Jawaharlal Nehru University don, Rajesh Rajagopalan, elaborates that such a strike would require 60 warheads for a first strike, with another 30 up India’s sleeve for follow-on strikes. Both sensibly argue against going down this route, but base their argument on strategic grounds.
An argument missed in the discussion—which nuclear strategists in general take care to avoid altogether—is the likely effect of Pakistan’s strike back, even after suffering a first strike equivalent nuclear attack.  that has taken out its ability for a coherent response along with its physical capability to strike back.
Self-deterrence is a taboo word in nuclear theology. Nuclear strategists are in the business of scaring the adversary. Self-deterrence on the other hand implies buying into nuclear scaremongering and staying one’s nuclear hand. In the case under discussion of India’s contemplation of a nuclear first strike, self-deterrence would imply taking stock of the consequences and prudently shelving the option of first strike.
If, as Rajagopalan argues, it would take 60 warheads to attempt a disarming strike, India needs examining the environmental impact over the long term of not only these 60 impacts—even if all are not ground bursts—but of knock-on detonations and scattering of nuclear debris of Pakistani nuclear warheads so struck. Since Pakistan has some 120 warheads, India might wish to take out perhaps two thirds of them to set back its retaliatory capability. At least half of these need being added to the environmental damage calculus, making for an effects estimate of about 100 warheads.
Also, when confronted with a disarming strike, Pakistan would make its remaining numbers count. Though under broken-backed conditions and even if decapitated, it might still like to get in a blow or two at India’s political and economic centers of gravity, Delhi and Mumbai respectively. It would try and get in at least a tenth of India’s salvo on these two targets counting on India dissolving into being a ‘geographical expression’, as India was once envisaged in Winston Churchill’s malicious phrase.
Environmental costs are easier to imagine. Seldom discussed are the socio-political consequences in the aftermath of first strike and retaliatory strikes.
In India’s case, bordering states would be directly affected including that of India’s principal nuclear decision maker, the prime minister, who belongs to Gujarat. Punjab, ruled by an opposition party and abutting Pakistan’s heartland, stands to be most affected with the political and economic power of Sikhs, one of India’s significant minorities, who live in Punjab, directly impacted.
Pakistan’s plight would focus the attention of global jihad, embroiling India in a far worse and by far wider imbroglio. Since there are only desert stretches on the other side, Pakistani refugees would likely stream eastward. Prime time view of the Syrian migration towards Europe indicates India’s border fence might wilt.
Having heard Narang, Pakistan would surely redouble its attempts at squirrelling away its nukes. Some would be stashed away unobtrusively in areas of what it considers its strategic depth, ungoverned spaces along the Af-Pak border. It would innovate on how to use its smuggling networks to get across a suitcase bomb or two through the border or the Arabian Sea. Nuclear terrorism could make a spectacular advent.
Further, how this influx of Pakistani refugees into India will impact India’s social harmony is easy to guess. The manner India’s largest minority—its Muslims—have been put upon by the right wing formations after the victory of the party subscribing to cultural nationalism, the Bharatiya Janata Party, suggests a worsening of inter-community relations.
This buffeting of internal security can only heighten centralization. Authoritarian tendencies marked in today’s polity in India will get a fillip, prompting a backlash across India’s periphery. Externally, India’s economic and diplomatic isolation would be near complete, making India ripe for an insular dictatorship at war with itself.
Though India might have ‘won’ the nuclear war itself, it would have lost the peace—the only sensible way to define victory in war. Self-deterrence might have more sense to it than all deterrence strategists purvey.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

To the army: Any gentlemen left please?

The company commander implicated in the human shield case has come up with an innovative defence. He claims to have used the human shield tactics to make his way out of a tight spot, along with a group of paramilitary men and voting officials. This has been taken as an instance of innovative quick thinking on his part that has saved lives, in that had he shot his way out of trouble instead, some stone pelters might have died. That would have put the army in a bigger spot than its current one of embarrassment at best. So instead of censure for violating the letter of the humanitarian law, he should be commended if not awarded for his bold, if unorthodox, action.
Media reported some in the brass as willing to overlook his crime, even as the army quickly went into crisis management mode by ordering a court of inquiry. That would tide over the interim till the noise subsides or till the primetime minders of India’s national body clock find another - inevitably Muslim related - diversion. While mid May has been bandied about as the time given for the inquiry to come up with its verdict, the case would likely be shrouded in legal confidentiality – ‘since its subjudice we cannot speak of it’ – till it is buried in the files and dust. The major in question would be a minor celebrity for his quick thinking and more importantly ability to get away from liberal hounds baying for his blood.
Would such an outcome be good for the army?
The army clearly needs officers and men who think on their feet. They must not only be able to think but bold enough to act on their instincts. Thinking out-of-the-box is not enough. Tactical results require boldness and effort. The army prefers to select and nurture such leaders. Therefore, if one such junior leader has gone beyond the pail momentarily and with demonstrated effect in saving lives not only of his men but also of the groups nailing them down, he cannot outrightly be pilloried.
As for the brass that has reportedly backed the major, they have a duty to protect junior leaders who have acted in good faith in line with their exhortation. The senior level leadership requires the juniors to exert in way of an aim set for the hierarchy. They require this be done with gusto, with the least spilling of own blood and in the acceptable mode of counter insurgency, with as little imposition on the people as possible. Given this leadership culture, it is not impossible to envisage that the leaders so inspired could condone – if at a stretch - what happened in Budgam.    
Now, if this was all there was to it, there would be little to worry over.  The junior leader would be publicly knocked on the knuckles but privately feted and the army and Kashmir would brace for the next bout of public anger.
The story has since been complicated by the narrative of the human shield in question. Apparently, he was a weaver set to vote; picked up and tied to the vehicle, after a dose of beating for good measure. He claims to have been paraded around the neighbouring villages for a few hours thereafter, as an exhibit to deter emulators. It is in this journey that the video was made that brought his plight to public knowledge. There after there have been photos from various angles of him and his chariot, the army jeep. These appear to have been done in a more staged manner by army men themselves, partaking of the event, perhaps in a bit of fun.  
The court of inquiry would require covering the murky side of the story too. Assume it does, it could come up with the conclusion that the idea was a good one but in enacting it, it went too far. Had the poor sod not been beaten; had threatening placards not been put on him; had been let off once the danger zone had been traversed; it would have been difficult to be too harsh on the major. Had the major let off the weaver and would-be-voter with a hot cup of tea, a handshake and an explanation if not an apology, it could yet have been argued that the major was perhaps over-zealous but not quite a villain. His nimble extrication from a tricky situation could have figured as a case study at the counter insurgency school in Khrew, even if it violated the sensibilities of the purist.
Why was the ending of this story different? Why did the major lack chivalry? Why did he blow his part? Why did he seize ignominy for himself and the army, where he could well have ended up an example of junior leadership?
This owes to the difference between the army and its image. The hypothetical ending just provided to the story stems from an image of the army, one that takes it at its word: as an army mindful of human rights; of the soldier’s dharma; of the kshatriya code; of the examples of the Gurus; inspired by Rana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj; in the footsteps of Shaitan Singh, Albert Ekka and Abdul Hamid; imbued with the spirit of the Bhagwad Gita; its officer code reverberant with the Chetwode dictum; and its officers, the last of India’s gentlemen. The more treacly this sounds, the more the gap. 
It is easy to see that the major did not just get carried away with his brainwave – excusable in the heat of things. The long drawn out agony of his victim suggests his act was vindictive and vicious. It was he and his outfit enacting what they wished to do to the wider public collectively but have not been able to in full.
This has both a positive and an underside. The positive is that there appears to be some restraint against which they seem to be pushing, one that does not allow them to go after the people in the manner they could after this individual. This left the hapless individual to bear the brunt. The negative is that they were able to push past the restraint, and have managed some accolades in doing so.
The army must see how it can retrieve the restraint, embellish it and put it back in its rightful, controlling place. Simultaneously, it needs to exorcise what corrodes this restraint. The restraint referred to is self-control, self-regulation, self-discipline and an inner light that enables orders to be correctly given, correctly interpreted and rightly obeyed. This is the meaning of thinking on ones feet, doing the right thing and doing it right. The higher expectation of the army man is that he is supposed to get it right, the odds be damned.
That the major messed up is a warning that the army is in difficult straits. One way to be sure of the way the wind blows is to see how the court of inquiry turns out. Getting it right is one way to begin to fix things. The major difficulty is in the context being framed by what is happening not only in Kashmir itself, but in the rest of India. The army can at best be unambitious: try to stay afloat and not allow its image to float away. 

Saturday, 8 April 2017