Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Questioning afresh Indian military’s social representativeness

 The Milli Gazette Online
The latest evidence of the political marginalistion of Muslims in India is that a mere 25 Muslims figure in the lower house parliamentarians, up by 3 from the last one, from among some 172 million Indian Muslims.
An equally concerning figure, but less remarked upon, is that of the 291 cadets of the passing out course from the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla, in the Spring Term 2019, only five were Indian Muslims; all of 1.7 per cent. The figure is from the NDA’s magazine, Trishakti, covering the events of the just-elapsed Spring Term. In contrast, seven cadets are from foreign countries, including friendly Muslim, mainly central Asian states. 
This is not a statistic easily found in the open domain, since the military – the army in this case – once famously said that it does not record the religious affiliation of its members. Its reticence is easy to understand since such a figure would be embarrassing.
The figure has been worked out by counting the Muslim names amongst those of the passing out course, leaving out those from friendly foreign countries. Among the 132 names below photos of the faculty, only one was Muslim. Two junior commissioned officer-instructors were Muslim, both unsurprisingly in the equitation section since the only horsed cavalry regiment, 61 Cavalry, from which the instructors are deputed, traditionally has had some Rajasthani Muslims.
Browsing similarly earlier through some three mid-decade years of commemorative magazines put out by the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehra Dun, the figure worked out to two per cent of those commissioned from that academy being Muslim.
Since the IMA commissioned some 70 odd foreign officers, including 50 per term from Afghanistan under a training assistance programme, foreign officer commissions are over six times the number for Indian Muslims, though the Indian Muslim population is six times that of Afghanistan and its neighbouring states.
The figure for Other Ranks is different, but inflated. A figure dating to the controversy over the number of Muslims in the army that attended the Sachar Committee seeking out the same was 29000 Muslims, about 3 per cent. The numbers are higher as Kashmiris are enrolled into the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry regiment. These days some are in the territorial army’s home and hearth units, who unfortunately periodically figure among Kashmiri dead owing to being targeted by militants since theirs is an intelligence function. For their pains, this year one of their number got the nation’s highest honour, the Ashok Chakra. This should not detract from the wide absence of Muslims in the organization. 
Should the missing Muslims be concerning? This is a question Defence Minister Rajnath Singh needs answering as he beings his new innings.
To be sure, the meager number of Muslims in the security forces is not limited to the period of ascent of cultural nationalism. Little was done to remedy matters in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) period.
While the UPA took steps to increase numbers of Muslims in the central police forces and the police, the figures declined over the succeeding years. Of late the government has discontinued publishing the figures having disbanded the records bureau that put out such statistics. This is of a piece with the government’s allergy to unflattering - if revealing – statistics. While numbers of toilets constructed and gas cylinders distributed are kosher, numbers such as that of unemployed and the gross domestic product are a state secret (at least up until elections are over and done with).
Given the bleak numbers for Muslims, it can be confidently asserted that the numbers for members of the scheduled tribes and scheduled castes in India’s officer corps is equally if not more abysmal. Under-representation in the professionally consequential officer corps cannot be compensated by higher numbers in the soldiery. In their case, the scheduled castes are represented in the Mahar regiment, with Ambedkar’s father being a prominent member; while the scheduled tribes are in the Bihar regiment. Even the numbers in the soldiery cannot push their representation to a decent contrast with their proportion of the population.
In effect, by extrapolation it can be seen that some 40 per cent of India’s population – roughly 14 per cent Muslims, 16 per cent scheduled caste and 9 per cent scheduled tribe – have a presence of about 4 per cent in the officer corps – short by 10 times in proportion to their numbers. With New India appraising the 75 years mark in independent existence, the competitive capability of disadvantaged communities is stark.
It can be argued that in an all-volunteer military only merit prevails. However, that the regimental system is an unacknowledged bit of affirmative action for the ‘martial races’ needs airing to, first, bust this myth, and, more importantly, to act as precedence for increasing numbers of unrepresented communities in the military.
During election run-up, commentary surfaced on certain political parties wishing for new regiments to increase the numbers of their constituents in the military. Given the military largesse in terms of a bloated revenue budget, cornering a piece of the pie for respective communities is unexceptionable. Conversely, this also accounts for the defence of the status quo by votaries of the regimental system.
The defenders have it that India should ‘not fix what ain’t broke’. Cohesion is taken as a force multiplier and not to be compromised by politically motivated meddling in the recruiting system. This is an operational level argument that could do with superseding by a political level consideration.
Firstly, the cohesion argument is dated. The seventy-plus years of a shared national life has leveled out differences considerably. There is sufficient mutual comprehension and empathy between Indians from different ethnic groups to generate the cohesion necessary for operational effectiveness. Incidentally, cohesion is liable to being cemented by the rigour of military training and the dangers of combat, as routinely obtains in the all class units across the armed forces and paramilitary. Is it the military’s case that there is a deficit in such units? 
Significantly, a military that does not reflect India’s diversity belies the principle of unity-in-diversity underwriting India’s democracy. The defence minister is of a party that takes pride in flattening out differences. The prime minister believes that the minorities have been taken for a ride by the Congress over the past seventy years. The employment and developmental indices, such as lack of representation in the meritocratic officer corps even seventy years after independence, show this up starkly. While the ‘sabka vikas’ slogan if fine, it would yet take two generations before these communities measure up to the competition.
More needs doing, not in terms of affirmative action, but in terms of targeting their best to sign up for a life in uniform. This could include targeted advertising, more National Cadet Corps (NCC) units in their areas and funding coaching academies through universities in areas inhabited by them. Only then will ‘sabka vishwas’ come on the horizon. Since such a measure would be targeting the 40 per cent disadvantaged population and not 14 per cent Muslims alone, it would amount to yet one more measure to pull up by the boot straps the lower of the two castes – the poor – mentioned by the prime minister in his reworking of the caste system into two castes – one of the poor and the second who help them out of poverty. It would thus not suffer the ‘appeasement’ tag.
The ball is now in Rajnath Singh’s court. Armed here with the arguments necessary he can reclaim his ministerial space, denied earlier in the first round of distribution of cabinet committees. He can undo at long last what Ambedkar described in his inimitable exposition on caste: ‘Some closed the door: Others found it closed against them.’


A trial balloon at the very outset of the new innings of the Modi sarkar had it that his newly ensconced home minister and right-hand man, Amit Shah, was contemplating delimiting constituencies afresh in Jammu and Kashmir. It drew the expected reactions on either side of the Pir Panjal. The good part is that the statist cat is now out of the bag, helping civil society strategise for what follows over the next five years.
A prospective scenario that could unfold begins with the delimitation exercise. It would provide a more plausible cover to postpone elections than the currently-pending postponement, attributable to the Amarnath Yatra taking precedence over returning the state to democratic governance. The exercise can be expected to turn in constituency boundaries and identify constituencies for scheduled caste/tribe candidates that will foist the Hindutva vanguard, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), to its Mission 44. A little help from those waiting in the Valley for a dividend dating to their participation in spiking, last November, a promising move to return to an elected government. 
This would enable Amit Shah to fulfill his campaign promise of being rid of Article 370, Article 35A having been wrapped as an outstanding issue by then by either judicial verdict or ordinance. This is a well trodden route having been adopted to dilute Article 370 ever since compliant legislatures were deployed after incarcerating Sheikh Abdullah in the early fifties. 
This will have predictable security fallout, warned of by the mainstream parties in the Valley. The last time the right wing had bestirred itself in Jammu, led by their icon Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, even the Lion of Kashmir, Sheikh Abdullah, had feared for the future of Kashmir. Fearful of the steps he was taking such as an outreach to the Americans - as per intelligence input - the government put him away and out of the way. Now the right wing is at the door-step. With mainstream parties outflanked, the field is left to the separatists and the insurgency. 
Anticipating as much, Rajnath Singh - who functioned as the soft face of the government in its last innings - has been displaced from North Block. Amit Shah, who reputedly has a photo of Chanakya behind his desk, has advisedly been made de-facto deputy prime minister. In one description, the musical chairs has turned up a 'fearsome four' - strongman Modi, hatchet-man Ajit Doval, good-cop Rajnath and a political novice Jaishankar. The 'fearsome four' thesis has it that they are to collectively put the fear into Kashmiri backers, Pakistan, with Kashmir then falling dutifully into the bag. The pieces are in place to face the outcome. 
What does such a scenario signify for the army? The answer is predicated on the validity or otherwise of the three assumptions behind the yet-to-unfold Kashmir strategy. The first is that security forces having obediently put away some 600 militants, including a proportion of Pakistani terrorists, over the past three years, they would continue with same gusto into the future. This year's figure is already into the lower three digits. The second is that having administered a telling blow to Pakistan at Balakot, it is almost pleading to be let off the hook, so much so that its military has already started disbanding itself, with a budgetary cut this year as a good beginning. The third is that the current tenure will see Amit Shah positioning to take over from his mentor and earning his spurs to do so by coming up with the 'permanent Kashmir solution' that his predecessor promised but was too empathetic to deliver on. 
Taking the second assumption first, that Pakistan is on the ropes is read from its second missive to India begging for talks. Taking no chances, India is buying another 100 spice bombs to hurl across safely from own side of the border. It has speeded up mating the Brahmos to the Su-30. Since the last crisis ended on the note of missile exchanges, that in the event were aborted by American intervention, India is shopping for an American air defence cover to complement its Russian one, over and above the missile shield its own defence scientists have 'conferred' on it. Seeing all this, Pakistan is liable to extend the Bajwa doctrine, placate the financial action task force, be bailed out by the international monetary fund and have the conditionalities of the loan rein in the military. Besides, the Pakistanis have been served notice by the Americans that the onus to repair relations with India is on them. Not to forget, the Americans have already given India the green signal on the right of reply by military means to terror threats. 
With the wind stolen from Pakistan's sails, the Kashmiris would be left high and dry. Their replenishment rate for lost youth is stalling. The Zakir Musa funeral witnessed a lower turnout than it should have, even if Musa had a falling out with his compatriots over which ideology to die for. Admittedly, the state was better prepared this time to preempt a turnout. The rate at which youth participating in the militancy are being dispatched bespeaks of considerable information flow networks, for which the army takes care to credit the intelligence agencies and the police. It is no wonder then that - 'in frustration' is what we are told - militants are going after 'informers', including the territorial army's home and hearth Kashmiri soldiers visiting families and possible love interests of militants. 
As for the radicalization afoot, it is not all bad since it provides India with alibi to continue the killings, human rights coming a distant second to the Islamist threat in the era of populism. Nothing else can be inferred from the release of the 560 page long human rights report listing some 432 cases by the two do-gooder organizations in the Valley and India's turning a blind eye to 58 communications and 20 requests for visits from UN special rapporteurs in relation to their mandates there.
The third assumption is that voters have retained Modi to have him implement Hindutva. Since HIndutva is intelligible only in relation to its position on the Other - internal and external - Muslim. Besides, putting the national minority in its place - a task already done over the past five years and demonstrated tellingly in election results having no trace of a Muslim vote - this entails a hardline in Kashmir and against Pakistan. With liberal voices left dumbfounded in wake of the election victory, the home-front stands taken care of.
The army can therefore be unleashed. It need no longer be bothered as traditionally with a hand being tied behind its back. A BJP government in Srinagar run by a Hindu from Jammu will keep soft separatists off its back. One of the reasons the previous government was shown the door - in one reading of events recounted in the book Majoritarian State - was because it was somewhat unsettled by the unending killings. Apparently, the decision to withdraw support was foisted on the Jammu based ruling party honcho after meetings in Delhi which included one with Doval. (That the high official was moonlighting in a political capacity is no surprise. He was at it yet again late last year, reportedly briefing the ruling party at its headquarters immediately prior to the national elections being called.)
What is the army to make of this strategy and its role in it? Traditionally conceived civil-military relations would have it that it must take its orders and populate the martyrs' graveyards. The politics surrounding its orders are not within its ken. The unspoken advantage of sticking to the traditional is that it keeps the army at the forefront, enabling turf protection and protecting privileges that are otherwise threatened such as the put/let downs just received over limits to cars purchased under the canteen arrangements and the denial of non-functional upgradation. 
Can the army's role over the coming five years be appreciated differently? As the primary security agency, it has a duty to input decision making. Its professional advice must be tendered forthrightly. In a circumstance in which the political level is creating the conditions for instability - and looking to the army to clear up the mess - the army needs pushing back on the inadvisability of the situation being unhinged in first place. It has only recently returned the situation to a modicum of stability since its deterioration after the Burhan Wani killing. It would be back to square one - for perhaps the fifth time since troubles began - in case the politics in the scenario plays out. 
As for whether the second assumption holds, it must remind its civilian bosses that nuclear weapons are not meant for Diwali. Crisis can go to conflict in short order. Militaries in the nuclear age are better used for deterrence and not the real thing. Power drunk security minders believing their own propaganda pose a greater threat to national security if the army plays truant.
Finally, the third assumption is entirely false. The ruling party has not been returned to power to wage war against Indians. In any case, the army is patently not an instrument of Nagpur. It must insist on procedural rigour in policy and decision making. It should not be cowed by the 'fearsome four', but play the bureaucratic politics game deftly, perhaps relying on Jaishankar's wise counsel from within to moderate decisions. It can so prove that the army remains the only institution still standing. 

Monday, 10 June 2019

Book review 

Recontextualizing The Escalation Debate

Author name: Happymon Jacob
Book Year: 2019
Publisher Name: Oxford University Press, New Delhi
Book Price: 995
Book Pages: 432

Happymon Jacob is a rising-star, academic and journalist, a columnist with The Hindu and anchor of a web series on strategic affairs at The Wire, besides teaching at a leading international relations faculty at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. His book justifies the preceding sentence. He has taken pains in using escalation theory to interpret the data gathered on ceasefire violations since 2003 to reveal that India and the surrounding regions are sitting on a seemingly dormant, if not active, volcano. The data collation and analysis work was undertaken as part of a project he spearheads, India-Pakistan Conflict Monitor that has his doctoral student, Tanvi Kulkarni, assisting with the research.
Happymon makes the case that the ceasefire violations (CFV)––ever so routine as to be easily dismissed as inconsequential––not only have an inherent escalatory potential, but also serve to exacerbate crisis. Escalation is along three dimensions––political, diplomatic and military. In a key contribution, he reveals that CFVs are largely generated by ‘autonomous military factors’ (AMF) internal to the two militaries engaged in eye-ball-to-eye-ball confrontation on the Line of Control (LoC). He makes the case not only by looking at the data he has culled but also from eight case studies demonstrating the impetus to escalation stemming from CFVs.
Jacob’s finding is that the escalatory potential of CFVs can no longer be neglected since media-fanned nationalism may tie down a crisis decision maker’s hands, forcing a choice that may not be the rational and preferred option. His recommendation as a corollary is that an institutionalized regime along the LoC and the international boundary (IB) needs to be put in place.
The book had a timely release, hitting the shelves just prior to the recent India-Pakistan crisis. The crisis witnessed India’s trans-LoC aerial strike at Balakot, followed immediately by Pakistan’s vertical escalation along the LoC in the Rajouri-Naushera sector in military targeting by its air force, both for the first time. While a terror attack three years back at Uri that is close to the LoC resulted in surgical strikes, this time the crisis was sparked by a terror incident away from the LoC. It only partially played out on the LoC in heightened CFVs and the use of Pakistani aerial firepower astride it. (The precedent for an aerial attack on the LoC was in the Indian use of air power on the LoC in 2002 during the long-duration crisis, Operation Parakram.)
Reportedly, as the crisis ratcheted up, India readied missiles for retaliatory strikes to any Pakistani counter attack to its Balakot aerial strike, with Pakistan promising to respond in kind. Belated intervention by the Americans stayed yet another round of missile exchanges. What the crisis suggests is that a future crisis may be set-off at a higher threshold of blows, making it more difficult for either side to step off or step back. Happymon’s book is a timely reminder that the next crisis may not be triggered by a terror incident, but is as likely as not to spring from situational dynamics along the LoC itself.
Jacob implacably reveals the policy shortcomings of the two neighbours, into their eighth decade of sharing a common border. While for the militaries on the LoC to be in an operational active state may be understandable, it cannot be condoned on the basis of there being no common ground rules along the length of the international border. Apparently the last meeting to work out mutual border guarding standard operating procedures was in the early sixties. He is entirely right in characterizing this state of affairs as an unacceptable abdication of political responsibility and bureaucratic inattention that requires urgent fixing.
While known within strategic circles, Happymon spills the beans for the lay reader that the ceasefire along the LoC is not based on a written document but is ‘an understanding’. This was supposedly arrived at in a telephone conversation between the two military operations chiefs, with some parleys preceding it. Happymon ascertained in his interviews (he did 80 interviews of practitioners and members of the strategic community) that diplomats continue to be hesitant to put down the agreement in writing. This lack of institutionalization of the ceasefire two decades into its informal existence makes the LoC a fertile site for a spark to light up the tinder that the two sides have gathered on either side in their neglect of conflict resolution in Jammu and Kashmir.
Both sides seemingly prefer an active LoC. To the Pakistanis it enables infiltration by terrorists, while to the Indians it enables retribution across it. This setting is conducive for what Happymon identifies as Autonomous Military Factor (AMF) and their independent contribution to escalatory dynamics. These range from relatively mundane factors as personality traits and regimental reputation to an impulse for revenge and gaining moral ascendancy over the other side. AMFs are anchored in the institutional culture of the military, as also in military subcultures. Happymon unpacks this factor over a chapter, with a cautionary finding that AMFs need the attention of security minders, and especially since these days what happens at the LoC seldom remains there. The effect of body bags returning to district towns across India illustrates the political fallout.
Another useful chapter comprises eight case studies of three types of cases: one, where CFVs drive escalation; two, where they contribute to exacerbate crisis; and, lastly, in which CFVs are the vehicle for conventional military escalation. In the first case study of Operation Parakram at its mid-point when terrorists struck at army families staying in the rear, he shows how the resulting crisis played out in heightened CFVs along the LoC rather than eventuating in war. The LoC provided a venting ground. A case study of the CFVs in summer 2013 provides evidence of the second type of escalation, in which an incident in which five army men died on the LoC resulted in aggravating the political and diplomatic situation between the two countries. The third type of escalation––of which the recent aerial strike by Pakistan is an example––is possible to envisage in light of Operation Kabaddi that Happymon covers at the beginning of his book. Operation Kabaddi was a reverse Kargil operation that was to be undertaken by India in late 2001, but was aborted by the intervention of the Americans in the region in pursuit of bin Laden, the perpetrator of 9/11, then hiding in Afghanistan.
If expansive aims are not attributed to the Kargil War––it being intended to cut off Ladakh and Siachen––the war can be seen as resulting from an escalation of the confrontation in the mid-nineties. India was having the upper hand along the Neelum Valley, interdicting Pakistani supplies along that route. Pakistan wanting to reverse the score, decided to intrude into the  Kargil sector in order to similarly interfere with Indian supplies along the route to Ladakh. The rest as they say is history, with Pakistani mission creep and India’s stern reaction making for a minor war. Though the two sides are at the second decadal anniversary of the war, the situation on the LoC remains equally fraught.
Happymon calls for focus on the dynamics of the front lines. He recommends a clear and detailed agreement on the ceasefire along the LoC and on ground rules for the IB. The AMFs and the role of military cultures in CFVs require being contained by escalation control measures such as flag meetings, as also military glasnost such as exchanges of delegations, institutional level visits, attendance at seminars and so on. Happymon ends on a realistic note, writing: ‘The exercise of ensuring stability in the subcontinent lies in routine and mundane measures, not in the sublime and grandest of moves.’ However, to this reviewer, the book serves to underline that the best conflict prevention is in addressing root causes, problems of which CFVs, aggravated CFVs and border wars are merely symptoms.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Reframe the Kashmir conflict from terrorism to insurgency

The latest set of the periodically released statistics from Kashmir indicate that some 75 per cent of those killed in military operations there are locals. Last year, the figure for Kashmiris killed of those killed in operations was 62 per cent. This figure compels a rethink on how India approaches the problem in Kashmir.
Currently, the understanding that India is contending with terrorism in Kashmir is based on the presence of Pakistani proxy fighters and the understanding that the local fighters are doing Pakistan’s behest.
However, the numbers of locals among those killed in military operations indicates that there is a considerable indigenisation of the conflict. Is it time, therefore, to rethink the tag of ‘terrorism’ that continues to be applied?
There is no doubt that terrorism has been incident in Kashmir, seen in the killings of unarmed soldiers while on leave and relatives of policemenpolitical workers and civilians who are ‘informers’.
Even so, most encounters are a result of proactive operations by security forces, with militants cornered fighting in self-defence. A disaggregation of the military engagements in Kashmir would indicate that incidents that can be subsumed under the definition of terrorism are considerably less than those more appropriately covered by the term insurgency.
This indicates that the broad-brush appraisal of the conflict as terrorism does not best capture its reality. Insurgency may instead be the appropriate frame to view the conflict.
This trend in the military sphere of the conflict is reinforced by the developments on its political strand. The separatists have taken pains to point to indigenous roots and interests of their political struggle.
Zakir Musa, the recently killed head of an Al-Qaeda affiliated group, was upbraided by the separatist leadership for his advocacy of Islamism. Likewise, late last year, the separatists were quick to condemn a mob’s agitation in favour of the Islamic State in the premises of Jamia Masjid in Srinagar.
Their most recent statement lends support to any political talks contemplated by the newly re-elected central government in relation to Pakistan’s reaching out for talks going back to its elections last year.
The political context to the conflict finds resonance in the positions of the mainstream political parties in the Valley on issues such as sanctity of Articles 35A and 370, application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and the relevance of Pakistan as a stakeholder in the conflict.
The military and political dimensions of the conflict in Kashmir taken together dilute the reading of the conflict solely as terrorism in favour of militancy or, more accurately, an insurgency. Where it is not a defining feature of a conflict, terrorism can be subsumed as part of an insurgency.
It is arguable that proxy war has been a dwindling feature of the conflict in Kashmir in its phase after the killing of Burhan Wani. In its definition of insurgency, the army’s subconventional operations doctrine notesthat insurgencies often rely on external support (p. 64). It also notes that terrorism is in evidence within subconventional conflicts.
Such a reframing of the conflict in Kashmir is useful. It provides scope for a peace process kicking off. While there is little appetite in governments to engage with ending terrorism politically, it is widely regarded that ending insurgency is only possible through political means.
Thus far, treating the conflict in Kashmir as a proxy war by Pakistan and a war of terror against India, New Delhi has refrained from a peace process both internal and external. However, if a reframing of the conflict is done as to have it re-interpreted as an insurgency rather than terrorism, then a peace track to India’s strategy both towards Pakistan and within Kashmir is possible to envisage.
The timeliness of such reframing also owes to the government beginning its second innings. As its new Union home minister, Amit Shah, takes stance and surveys the field, he could consider if the statistics from Kashmir bespeak of changes on ground permitting a policy gearshift.
If this is deemed premature for now — reports from the Line of Control have it that infiltrators are in 16 camps across it — Shah could well hold course till a trend manifests over time.
Shah should not hold on to election-time rhetoric. He could instead use the summer to test the thesis that the conflict in Kashmir qualifies as insurgency. The security situation over the Amarnath Yatra and the upcoming elections in autumn will provide ample evidence either way.
In the interim, his newly-sworn in counterpart, external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, while reiterating the traditional India position, could signal that India could shift gears since it now has activated surgical strikes as an option to tackle terrorism. Pakistan had earlier indicated its preference among the political parties during elections, believing a Right-wing victory can help deliver on talks better.
A reframing of the conflict provides the government an opportunity to open a line internally, to begin with. This would be a doctrinally compliant political track to complement the military prong of strategy in countering insurgency.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Monday, 3 June 2019

Event management that fetched Narendra Modi a second term was fully on display at the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhawan during the swearing in of Team Modi 2.0, a perfectly unnecessary spectacle meant only to reinforce the Modi cult. Since it would not do to attribute Modi's second term to a manipulation of the voting machines or to an anti-minority animus among Modi voters, it can be charitably gauged that the voters were instead convinced by Indian crisis response, or better still, by the event management that attended the crisis response. As any information warrior knows, the internal public sphere too is target. Clearly, the information war effort was indubitably successful internally. 
It would not do to dignify the other Indian actions during the crisis with the label 'strategy'. The Pulwama episode has far too many questions tagging it to qualify as 'black swan' event. It set the stage for an air force riposte. Barely had the planes got back, Modi was off to Churu to attend a preplanned rally, comprising ex-servicemen to boot. That evening, he took a metro ride to another public engagement. Modi was clearly out to milk the opportunity, oblivious to Pakistani preparations for counter strike. His choreographers were apparently impressed by the sequence in the Oscar winning film Churchill in which Churchill character is depicted interacting with the people in the London underground after rendering in parliament the famous 'we shall fight them on the beaches' clarion call. It is another matter that Churchill escaped his security detail to mingle with the common man, whereas Modi's metro ride was patently for the cameras. Expectedly, Modi was nowhere on the screens the next day when Pakistan did strike back. 
A script cannot substitute for strategy. The air force had to go into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir airspace for a bit to get a better stand-off shot at their target in Balakot owing to cloud conditions. The stipulations on the air force were to not to cross over and to ensure against hitting a military or civilian target. A cloudy night forced the air force's hand, belying Modi's 'andar ghus ke maarna' boast. The cloud cover also prevented use of the missiles that could have recorded the destruction at the target end. There being no bomb-damage proof, 'success' of Balakot strike is better attributed to information warfare specialists. Since Modi by his own account based his decision expecting cloud cover to advantage the air force, the buck stops at his door. 
As for the other boasts (nuclear weapons not for 'diwali' and 'qatl ki raat'), these further put paid to any notion of strategy guiding actions. Modi - citing western sources rather than admitting to it - let on that missiles were readied to threaten Pakistan to force it to give back the Indian pilot captured in the Nowshera dogfight. This does not bespeak of strategy since the objective - getting back the pilot and preventing him coming to harm in custody - is not what missiles should be put to, especially against another nuclear armed state with like capability. Expecting Pakistan to abuse the pilot in its custody - after his captivity and conditions have been exposed in social media - is to be naïve of international relations and the place of the Geneva Conventions in it. Clearly, the rationale of readying missiles to pressure the release of the pilot is an after-the-fact one. 
So what was the original purpose of the missile readiness? Equally clearly, these may have been to deter the Pakistani counter strike, a measure that in the event failed. Pakistan was willing to chance its counter strike in real time, assuredly having readied its own missiles to prevent escalation by India in retaliation with missiles. This is a plausible strategic rationale for missile readiness. It is obvious that the follow through with the missile strike was not undertaken by India, using the excuse that Pakistan having chickened out and promised to return the pilot. 
Instead, the plausible reason for the lack of follow-up missile strike(s) is that India chickened out of countering Pakistan's gumption at Nowshera. In strategic terms, Pakistan's retaliation needed to be replied in a manner as to ensure India comes out on top, especially since India initiated the exchange with its Balakot aerial strike. This was necessary for moral and psychological ascendance, particularly since India claims that it has shifted the goal posts and more surgical and aerial strikes are to follow in the implementation of an Indian version of the 'mow the grass' strategy (a term attributable to India's strategic partner, Israel). Not following through with retaliation cannot be substituted with spin doctoring regards the controversial downing of the F-16 in the Nowshera dogfight. 
Strategically, India can be faulted for readying missiles as the next step in the escalatory ladder since their use is escalatory to a higher degree. The likelihood of their introduction into the crisis forced involvement of the Americans, who were up until then stand-offish and focused on Trump's talks with the North Korean dictator. Since missile readiness can be expected to trigger American de-escalatory contingency action, claiming missiles were on the blocks is meaningless. It can cynically be suggested that India provoked American intervention, hoping to be bailed out thereby. 
Limited land operations of the order of surgical strikes could have proven costly since Pakistan's army was surely hair-trigger ready. Conventional air power found wanting and surgical strikes by land not an option, limiting next steps to missile strikes - that would surely have forced international crisis management intervention - suggests the limitation of the template of military response to crisis. Therefore, rushing off to Balakot was not the best option, nor was the military option the only one. 
Another problem is in the legacy of the crisis for the next one. That India would be starting off with a deficit would instigate its overcompensation. Therefore, a higher threshold of Indian retaliation can be expected even if the trigger does not warrant it. The first set of Rafales is in by September. India tested a stand-off glide bomb from a SU-30 last month. Its Navy postured in the Arabian Sea for a long while even after the crisis. This included the aircraft carrier and the nuclear submarine (not the boomer). The latter can carry cruise missiles, which - incidentally - can also be nuclear armed. It is only by next year India would be in a position to impose on Pakistan. It is not without reason Pakistan fired off the Shaheen II missile even as Imran Khan congratulated Modi for his win on election results day. A crisis turning into conflict is therefore not unlikely, putting paid to the notion of willfully going across now and again in a mow-the-grass operation, à la Israel's occasional forays into Gaza and Lebanon. 
Though India might posture a willingness to escalate in order to deter better and acquire the ability, its ability to strategise continues to be suspect as the national security adviser has been carried forward. The same set of decision makers is in the cabinet's security committee, except for the foreign minister. While S. Jaishankar, the new incumbent, can be expected to live up to his tough image, the others will be informed by a political logic. They have the implementation of the internally-directed Hindutva project to attend to and cannot afford any setback. 
The balloon of national security toughness can dissipate in quick time, exposing their election time claims as hollow. Uncertainties surrounding military action are self-evident from the probable nullity of result of the Balakot strike; from the fratricide over Budgam that accompanied the Nowshera episode; and the fire aboard the aircraft carrier as it returned to station after its extended crisis-related deployment. If the friction that attends military action is this costly, the real thing is certainly nothing like the movie 'Surgical Strike'. It may well leave the 'emperor without clothes'. Besides, the event management surrounding the crisis having yielded results in a pocketed electorate, there would be little need from internal politics point of view to chance a crisis. 
The upshot is that the election time rhetoric is just that, rhetoric. India may not up-the-ante. This presumes Pakistani intent to provoke. The Security Council's noting Pulwama was through a press release. Pulwama did not find mention in the resolution arraigning the key accused, Masood Azhar. Knowing that Pakistan may not be provocative in first place, it makes sense for India to posture aggressively since it knows it would not be challenged to put its money where its mouth is. India can then claim its new line has checked Pakistan, even if Pakistan is not up to mischief of such levels in first place. It remains to be seen if India can have its cake and eat it too.

Friday, 31 May 2019

EPW articles

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The Modi Era

The influence of Hindutva in political culture on India’s strategic culture has been traced. It has resulted in a hardening of strategic culture with the bias towards the offensive also resulting from the military’s organisational culture that has been independently penetrated by Hindutva. But, a strategic doctrine of compellence is combustible, and the retraction of Hindutva from polity is a prerequisite for stability.

Army’s Robustness in Aid of Civil Authority

When the army is called in aid of civil authority, robust action taken by the army in a timely manner can prevent civil disturbance from exacting a strategic cost. The recent revelations on army inaction in the critical first 24 hours during the Gujarat carnage in 2002 are examined.

Modi at the Helm

Nuclear decision-making, when examined at the institutional and individual levels, suggests that India’s case is fraught with shortcomings. This adds to the complications for regional security, already present on account of Pakistan’s nuclear decision-making being military dominated. The aggravated institutional infirmities of India’s nuclear decision-making structures and the authoritarian tendencies in India’s primary nuclear decision-maker, the Prime Minister, heighten nuclear dangers in future crises and conflicts.

The Doval Scorecard

As the ruling party at the centre, the Bharatiya Janata Party, contemplates the forthcoming national elections, its record on national security warrants a review. The key player in crafting and implementing its national security strategy has been National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. An examination of Doval’s record over the past four years reveals that his principal contribution has been in facilitating national security interests to be held hostage to the electoral calculus of the Narendra Modi–Amit Shah combine.

The Missing Muslim Army Officers

The representation of Muslims in the army officer corps, at around 2%, is abysmal in contrast to their percentage in the population of India. Diversity is also compromised in the army, with over half of army officers hailing from a handful of north Indian states. This deficit of diversity along social and geographical lines has negative implications for the army’s apolitical and secular credentials.

The Kashmir Charade This Winter

The ill-planned and hurried appointment of an interlocutor for Kashmir by the government, supposedly for a sustained dialogue, does not suggest that the government is serious about resolving the Kashmir conflict. The initiative, however, appears to want to hold the United States at bay, which needs India and Pakistan talking to safeguard its Afghan engagement. The interlocutor’s mission will likely turn out to be yet another wasted opportunity in Kashmir.

Dilating on a ‘Half-front War’

The reference to a “two and a half front war” by Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is critically dissected. The “half front” apparently covers large tracts of India and a significant number of its marginalised people. The thought of a war on the half front, as conjured by this term, needs to be controverted outright. The army’s imagining of such a war and preparation for it is questioned.

A Disjointed Doctrine

The recently released joint doctrine of the armed forces outlines the manner in which they expect to fight the next war. Though the doctrine suggests “decisive victory” is possible, it bears reminding that the closer they get to this the closer would be the nuclear threshold. Since the doctrine does not dwell on the nuclear level, it cannot be said that the doctrine makes India any safer. However, the doctrine’s take on civil–military relations is far more interesting.

Corrosive Impact of Army’s Commitment in Kashmir

The army has had an extended deployment in Kashmir. While it has enabled operational experience for its members, there is a danger that the advantages of this can make the army acquire a stake in the disturbed conditions. This makes the army part of the problem in Kashmir. Its deployment is not without a price in regard to the internal good health of the army.

India's Strategic Shift

In abandoning strategic restraint in favour of strategic proactivism, India is transiting from a strategic doctrine of offensive deterrence to compellence. This is not without its dangers since the military doctrines of India and Pakistan are presently coupled in a volatile way. Moving towards proactivism makes them altogether combustible. This makes the strategic logic of the shift suspect, prompting speculations as to its inspiration.

War and What To Do About It

A case for the peace lobby to continue its engagement with anti-war issues, even in times of relative peace. The military doctrines are geared for a quick war, resulting in shorter crisis windows. Therefore, keeping the public informed and capitalising on such preparations for ensuring moderation in strategic decisions in crises and war can prove useful when push comes to shove. This would be an uphill task, but inescapable for war avoidance and limitation.

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Nuclear Retaliation Options

The debate on nuclear retaliation options has been hijacked by realists, with even the liberal security perspective marginalised. Engagement with the issue by nuclear abolitionists is called for, lest the impression of a consensus develops around the realist offering of "unacceptable damage" that promises nothing but genocide, a global environmental disaster and national suicide in its wake.

Yoga as a Prelude to Politicisation of the Military

Drawing on the news reporting of the army's association with Ramdev's organisation for yoga training, a discussion on the potential and possibility of politicisation of the military with Hindutva philosophy.

No First Use Nuclear Policy

That India's No First Use policy is under threat of the axe in any future review of the nuclear doctrine is apparent from the election time controversy over the mention of a nuclear doctrinal review in the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The reference - subsequently toned down - was possibly an attempt by the conservative party to live up to its image as a strategically assertive replacement of the Congress Party.