writings of ali ahmed, PhD (JNU), PhD (Cantab), with due acknowledgement and thanks to publications where these have appeared. Download books/papers from dropbox links provided. Twitter: @aliahd66
Also see blog-www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in. Former UN official, academic and infantryman. Author India's Doctrine Puzzle: Limiting War in South Asia (Routledge 2014). All views are personal.
Unpublished article - June Information war as India’s default strategy (abridged and updated)
current day India-China faceoff in Ladakh that has exacted a toll of 20 Indian
soldiers has put into spotlight the phenomenon of control of information by the
state for its ends. This article examines this in an India-Pakistan context,
highlighting that information operations directed by the state at the citizenry
is now almost a default state strategy. The article focuses on implications for
democratic control of the state, the agent, by the principal, the electorate,
in a democracy. If the state manipulates the information domain in a manner as
to impact enlightened understanding of citizens of their choices and options,
including those that impact electoral verdicts, such manipulation in terms of
its extant and extent needs examination.
Information war as default
Though China is the new
primary threat, power asymmetry compels placatory behaviour, such as settling
for talks with an unattainable aim of reversion to a status quo ante in Ladakh.
Compensating for and obscuring this appeasement, would entail greater vigour,
if not aggression, in pursuit of strategies elsewhere.
Counter intuitively, in democratic
India, information operations must be acknowledged. The famed troll army of the
ruling party is well known. The trolls succeeded handsomely once before when
the economic downturn that foreshadowed elections was papered over by recourse
to the Pakistani bogey in the Pulwama-Balakot-Naushera episode, allowing Modi
to sweep back into power. Therefore, for it to be a strategy in the repertoire
of the regime is sensible from regime stability and perpetuation point of view.
The diversionary drumbeat keeps attention away from significant national priorities,
such as the lockdown brought-on migrant crisis and the tanking-in of the
national security edifice in face of the Chinese challenge in Ladakh.
That it is a preferred
strategy can be seen from the manner it has approached the two crises this year,
COVID-19 and the one with China in Ladakh. Tactics in the COVID-19 diversionary
strategy were the beating utensils, lighting lamps, showering petals on
hospitals from helicopters, aerobatic displays with no spectators under
lockdown conditions and band concerts in hospital silent zones. From the Ladakh
crisis, an example is the alleged number of Chinese casualties, put at a tidy
43, by intelligence sources, to reassure Indians that India had the upper hand
in the Galwan skirmish.
The pre-COVID-19 and
pre-Galwan incident targets are ready on hand: Pakistan, Kashmir and India’s
Muslims. The regime’s self-congratulatory list of ‘achievements’ inevitably
comprises three points, indicating the collapsing of the three targets into
one: the triple talaq bill; rendering Article 370 vacant; and surgical strikes.
India’s favoured Kautilyan framework, has Pakistan as
the external abettor of an internal – Muslim-centric - threat, considered as
There is a pre-existing decades-long
narrative of the Indian Muslim minority as an internal security threat in
Hindutva canonical texts. The Indian Muslim as target of the narrative acquired
further impetus under conditions of the COVID-19 lockdown; the Tablighi Jamaat
episode is evidence. Take for instance, an example is of an article on
bio-warfare on the website of a military think tank under the headquarters
reporting to the Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, the Center for
Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS). Seemingly innocuously timed with the Tablighi
Jamaat episode, the article egregiously notes,
“the terrorist with fidyan (sic) mind set on getting infected will try
spreading it to the target groups by intermingling with them….He however, may
take care not to infect the group / community whose support or sympathy he
continues to seek in achieving his larger aim (Sharma 2020).”In
another instance, the Kashmir police’s director general implausibly averred
that Pakistan was sending in COVID-19 inflicted to spread the disease in
Kashmir. Though not as explicitly, the corps
commander in Srinagar also made a similar allegation.
In relation to Kashmir, information
war is the much-in-evidence complement to security operations internally. Take
for instance Ram Madhav’s view
that, “the people of J&K decided to give the new status a chance. That is
the reason why the region has been largely quiet in the last nine months. The
detractors would attribute this calm to the excessive presence of security
forces and arrests of leaders.” The heavy deployment of troops and COVID-19 are
competing explanations why, “people are not on the streets pelting stones and
shouting azadi.” That these do not find mention is dead give-away of the information
war underpinnings of his observation, that papers over the intensified
operations there accounting for some 100 militants this year.
Ram Madhav also attempts to portray
“The most significant change that has been brought about by the Narendra
Modi government was to stop looking at Kashmir from a Pakistani or a
terrorist prism.” Evidence of information war obfuscation is in the next steps he
taking back Pakistan Occupied Kashmir for fulfilling the Akhand Bharat concept.
Information war is to distract from the reality within, targeting concerned
Indians as much as India’s external interlocutors distressed by human rights violations.
Information warfare targeting
citizen-voters will likely continue to divert attention from the uphill
economic battle ahead. Policy missteps, such as the return of migrant labour to
home states, will need obscuring, as will the differentiation in the
shouldering of the pain of recovery in favour of the corporates as against the masses.
The ongoing scapegoating of Muslims, including calls for an economic boycott,
can be expected to worsen. Marginalising the
minority, a prerequisite for normalising a
non-secular, ‘Hindu India’, requires intensification of information war. The
ramifications have heightened in light of the set back to the regime in Ladakh,
requiring greater diversionary operations, and therefore, the probability of an
intensified focus on scapegoating an existing target, India’s Muslims including
Implications for democracy
The reservation here is that
what is good for the right wing is not necessarily good for the country. Even
though in the constitutional scheme a democratically elected government can
exercise its mandate of setting the national agenda, it cannot be taken as
self-evident that it would do so in the national interest. Instead, political
interests prevail in national policy and decision-making, in this case, the
need for a majoritarian hold on polity and governance in perpetuity.
India’s Pakistan strategy has
do with the arguments of Realists: that strategy
determinants are balances of power and the constellation of forces and threats.
Instead, the under theorized perspective, that national security strategy emerges
from internal wellsprings in domestic politics, is pertinent in India’s case. Factors
in the external environment, such as an inimical neighour, Pakistan, at best
provide a rationale for strategies that are instead predominantly internally
motivated and directed, with the dividend also being sought in the internal
In strategic circles, there
is a marked absence of sensitivity to the primary internal security threat
faced by India - Hindutva extremism - that has hollowed out national institutions.
For instance, a security think tank lists
only Jammu and Kashmir, North East and Left Wing Extremism, as internal
security challenges. Since Hindutva extremists are not listed as a threat, and,
instead, what Hindutva extremism takes as threats constitute the internal threat
perception. The agenda of the security discourse is thus a doctored one.
Whereas for Pakistan,
information war is largely external-foe centric, in the Indian security
discourse, purveyed by a subverted media suitably embellished, the external and
internal foes are increasingly being collapsed into one: Pakistan and India’s
Muslims, including Kashmiris. This makes the Indian information war more
dangerous than the one conducted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. The
targeting of Indian citizens, through a pliant media, with information war is
not in the national interest but is in the interest of the right-wing political
Finally, examples abound of instruments
of state being appropriated as information war conduits. In instances akin to
propaganda by deed are the manner the investigations and prosecution proceeds
against Muslim activists in the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests and, in
relation to leftists, in the Bhima Koregaon case. In the latter, the
information war gambit, that some were in a conspiracy to kill the prime
minister, is stark.
The stakes of falling to
information operations of the state’s instruments are high for India. It can
imperil liberal democracy, constitutionalism,
secularism, federalism, unity in diversity and its freedom and equality. A
check on the ruling formation’s agenda from within the government is unlikely.
There is little incentive for a government with a parliamentary majority and an
agenda for national transformation into a majoritarian state, to change course
on ways and means that have yielded political dividend so far. Citizens as enlightened
voters must reckon for themselves whether they consent to continue as targets
of information war. If not, then they need to use their vote appropriately to