Monday, 15 July 2019
Kashmir: Strategic Sense and Nonsense

Kashmir Times Op-eds 2010s

By Ali Ahmed

Ali Ahmed is a former UN official and military officer. Currently, he is an academic affiliated with a central university in New Delhi. Views are personal and have no relevance to any organization the author has been associated with.

For the people of Kashmir

Preface and acknowledgement

The title needs explaining. I believe a nonsensical strategy has attended India’s Kashmir problem over the past decade. In the United Progressive Alliance government period, the government was afraid of its own shadow. It missed a splendid opportunity to address the Kashmir issue meaningfully. No doubt, it had the shadow of the right wing looming across it staying its hand. As for the right wing, when it came to power, it has willfully messed up the situation further. As the right wing has another lease of life in power, there can only more nonsense up ahead. The assumption is that Kashmiris will bear the brunt and, therefore, it is not of consequence for the rest of us in South Asia. This is untenable. The right wing is perfectly capable of worse and this shall surely come to pass too over the coming five years.

This volume of my opinion pieces in the Kashmir Times over the 2010s are proof of India hurtling down hill as a country, taking Kashmir down with it and looking to drag down the rest of South Asia with it too. This understanding is reverse of the popular notion that it is Pakistan as a failing state that is out to drag India down with it. I believe the democratic take over of India by the right wing is an existential danger to the subcontinent. Its conjoined Kashmir and Pakistan policies are not merely potentially explosive, but are an explosion in slow motion. The answer is not to be found in Kashmir. It is to be looked for in the rest of India, where the electorate needs to rethink its self-interest. The apprehension is that this will not happen till the calamity impending is not over and done with.

In the main, the commentaries here deal with Kashmir and India’s Pakistan policy as relevant to Kashmir. There are several largely critical pieces covering the counter insurgency campaign. Since a significant proportion of the army is deployed in Jammu and Kashmir, the op-eds covered the meaing of the 'strategy' in Kashmir - of which the army was a major instrument - for the army as an institution. The commentaries link India's Pakistan and Kashmir strategies to internal politics in India, in which the ascendance of the right wing meant preclusion of any peace headway. The constant call is for the passing opportunities to be seized. The needs of the strategy of Othering that brought the right wing to power in India account for the advocacy being ignored.

The nonsense in the Kashmir strategy owes to contamination of strategy by ideology. It is no secret that the strategic establishment owes right wing allegiance. The strategic community has had its share of right wingers, who were in the closet till early this decade. Since a major plank of such cultural nationalist thinking is anti-Muslim, any strategy geared to addressing South Asian Muslim issues cannot but be contaminated by ideological baggage. To expect a rational strategy – even one based on realism – is to be wishful. The Pakistan strategy needs no edification. Needless to add, that the strategies will fall flat in good time. The issue is how to survive the deneument.

Plainspeaking is the need of the hour. The compilation is to focus minds. Nothing can be done to avert the catastrophe, but seeing off the right wing back to the margins would require to be done once the dust – hopefully not radioactive - has settled. This would require the shoulder of all institutions. In alerting the nation, the collection of op-eds would have served a purpose. 

The compilation would be of interest to students, academics, practitioners in uniform, policy makers and the attentive public. The issues dealt with are at the interstices of strategic. security and peace studies. It has insights for the military engaged in countering insurgency, for their political masters and the bureaucratic intermediary layer both in Srinagar and the national security establishment in Delhi. The book is dedicated to the people of Kashmir, both within and outside of the Valley. 

I thank Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal for her unstinting support. Her liberality shines through. Her paper Kashmir Times has ploughed a lonely furrow and done a national service in keeping the liberal torch aloft in trying times. I thank the editorial staff for the support over the past decade of my writing for the paper, the writings put together between these covers: some 100 op-eds comprising 1.25 lakh words. Needless to add, all shortcomings in the language, style and facts are mine. I thank my family for its usual forebearance. Hope their optimism that the essays shall prove useful is proven true.

1.         Kashmir: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, 6 July 2019                            1
2.         At The Doorstep Of Indian Military Politicization, 6 June 2019                               2
3.         Kashmir: As The Army Surveys The Next Five Years, 12 June 2019                      4 
4.         Event management is no substitute for strategy, 3 June 2019                                   6
5.         Gratis advice for the next National Security Adviser, 21 May 2019                         8
6.         Kashmir: Radicalisation and what to do about it, 10 May 2019                             10
7.         The Doval And Hooda Prescriptions Examined, 5 April 2019                               12
8.         Balakot: Divining India’s strategy from its messaging, 9 March 2019                    14
9.         Reminding The Political Class Of Clausewitz's First Injunction, 18 Feb 2019        16
10.       The Army's land warfare doctrine, 9 Feb 2019                                                      18
11.       Operation Kabaddi Revealed But Only Partially, 26 January 2019                        20
12.       Kashmir: Towards peace with dignity, 17 Dec 2018                                              23
13.       Contextualising the army chief’s news making, 6 Dec 2018                                  25
14.       Governor, 'root causes' matter, 6 Nov 2018                                                           27
15.       Divide and kill, 30 Oct 2018                                                                                  28
16.       Ajit Doval's platter: Centralisation with a purpose, 16 Oct 2018                            30
17.       India on the brink, 24 Sep 2018                                                                             32
18.       India's spooks: Getting too big for their boots?, 4 Sep 2018                                   34
19.       Noting the spokesperson-minister’s remarks, 19 Jul 2018                                      36
20.       Human Rights: All so unfortunately ho-hum, 3 Jul 2018                                       37
21.       The army chief as regime spokeman?, 16 May 2018                                             39
22.       The 'incident': Nothing but political, 2 April 2018                                                  41
23.       Is there an Indian 'deep state'?, 23 March 2018                                                      42
24.       A political army or an apolitical one?, 6 March 2018                                             44
25.       The Army: Introspection is warranted, 10 Feb 2018                                              46
26.       War in 2018?,  25 Jan 2018                                                                                   48
27.       Spiking possibilities: What is the army chief up to?, 4 Jan 2018                            50
28.       When Ideology corrupts Strategy, 10 Oct 2017                                                      52
29.       Pakistan: Not down for the count, yet, 23 Sep 2017                                              54
30.       Kashmir: From conflict management to a conflict resolution?, 14 Sep 2017          56
31.       In defence of Hamid Ansari, 16 Aug 2017                                                            58
32.       Debating the 'harder military approach', 4 Aug 2017                                             61
33.       An Army to fear: The Army's future?, 12 Jun 2017                                               63
34.       Reading the Army Chief's words,  8 June 2017                                                     64
35.       Ummer Fayaz: Another Kashmiri icon, 16 May 2017                                            66
36.       Kashmir's scenery makes its way to the 'hinterland',  9 May 2017                         68
37.       The hovering nuclear clouds, 25 Apr 2017                                                            70
38.       To the army: Any gentlemen left please?, 22 Apr 2017                                         72
39.       Terror: More serious than most know, 11 March 2017                                           74 
40.       Stolen gold: A ghost from the past that scares none, 24 Feb 2017                          76
41.       COAS selection and the doctrine of ‘relative ease of working’ with, 25 Dec 2016 77
42.       Saluting Bipin Rawat but with a caveat, 20 Dec 2016                                            80
43.       The nuclear doctrinal implications of 'surgical strikes', 15 Nov 2016                     82
44.       The myth of ‘strategic restraint’, 16 Oct 2016                                                        84
45.       How much of a departure since Uri?, 4 Oct 2016                                                  86
46.       India-Pakistan: In a dialogue of sorts,  23 Sep 2016                                               88
47.       A problem wider than Kashmir, 24 Aug 2016                                                        90
48.       A War at Hand, 15 May 2016                                                                                92
49.       Handwara: Going Beyond SOPs, 19 Apr 2016                                                       94
50.       Book Review – Op ed, 21 Feb 2016                                                                      95
51.       Gen Rao’s place in the history of Kashmir, 5 Feb 2016                                         98
52.       The conspiracy angle to the Pathankot episode, 7 Jan 2016                                 100
53.       India-Pak bonhomie: Can it last?, 15 Dec 2015                                                   102
54.       Is Mani Shankar Aiyar right?, 19 Nov 2015                                                         104
55.       What the next war spells for Kashmir, 4 Nov 2015                                              106
56.       Getting practical over an important report, 15 Sep 2015                                      107
57.       A cautionary word for the NSA, 11 Sep 2015                                                      110
58.       India-Pakistan: Silver linings and band aids are not enough, 7 Sep 2015             112
59.       Kashmir: Not the moment for a tryst, 1 August 2015                                           113
60.       Kashmir and India’s Muslims, 10 Jun 2015                                                         115
61.       Kashmiri Pandits: Undoing injustice, 25 April 2015                                             117
62.       Kashmir: Fifty years since 1965 War, 28 Feb 2015                                             119
63.       Looking Back a Quarter Century On, 20 Jan 2015                                               121
64.       India-Pakistan with Kashmir in between, 11 Dec 2014                                        123
65.       Hooda Walks The Talk, 10 Nov 14                                                                      126
66.       Politicisation of security and its consequences, 15 Oct 2014                               127
67.       What is Mr. Modi's Kashmir strategy?, 8 Sep 2014                                              129
68.       Modi forges a commitment trap, 19 Aug 2014                                                     131
69.       The echo of Gaza closer home, 1 Aug 2014                                                        133
70.       What the PM did not say out loud at Badami Bagh, 16 Jul 2014                          135
71.       The coming threat of politicization, 26 May 2014                                                137
72.       India's brass: What the controversy misses, 9 May 2014                                      139
73.       Second Guessing Modi's Kashmir Policy, 11 Apr 2014                                       141
74.       Kashmir and the bomb, 29 Apr 2014                                                                   142
75.       Pathribal: Back in the news, 29 Jan 2014                                                             145
76.       The debate between the generals, 13 Dec 2013                                                    147
77.       Ideologues as 'strategists', 28 Nov 2013                                                               149
78.       The expansionist agenda , 31 Oct 2013                                                                151 
79.       Vanzara gets it right: The meaning for J&K, 16 Sep 2013                                    152
80.       The LoC incident calls for self-regulation by the army, 13 Aug 2013                  154
81.       Distancing from Cloak and Dagger, 18 Jul 2013                                                  156 
82.       Implications of a NaMo foreign policy, 11 June 2013                                         157
83.       Daulat Beg Oldi: More than a storm in a tea cup, 13 May 2013                           159 
84.       Countering insurgency and sexual violence, 8 May 2013                                    161 
85.       India’s security under Modi, 11 Apr 2013                                                          163
86.       Lessons from Bandipore, 8 Sep 12                                                                      165
87.       Kashmir: More of the same, 3 Jul 12                                                                   166
88.       The agenda this winter, 6 Nov 2011                                                                     168
89.       Fixing responsibility CI decisions and consequences, 29 Aug 2011                     170
90.       Solving Kashmir: Feasible?, 9 Oct 2011                                                               171
91.       Acknowledging the blind spot on Kashmir, 27 Jan 2012                                     173
92.       Kashmir: Declaring premature victory, 2 April 2012                                            175
93.       AFSPA: A Question of Justice, 13 Feb 2012                                                        176
94.       An agenda point for the foreign secretaries, 16 June 2011                                   178
95.       Kashmir: Its now or never, 9 Dec 11                                                                    180

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

UN likely to continue its focus on India’s Kashmir policy

Using almost the same languageas last time, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar in yet another opportunity refuted the allegations of excessive use of force by Indian security forces in Kashmir. This time he was responding to an update report covering the period since May 2018 put out on July 8 by the Geneva-based UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The earlier report released in June 2018 was of the period since about the time of the killing of Burhan Wani in July 2016. While last time India had personally arraigned the then high commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for being biased, his replacement Michelle Bachelet has been equally scathing in her report.
This was not unexpected. Last September India objected to Bechelet’s raising the issue of the situation in Kashmir in her opening statement to the UN’s Human Rights Council, when she had observed no improvement in the situation after the UN’s calling out of India’s record in its report.
In March, the special rapporteurs on extrajudicial executions, torture, and right to health — Agnes Callamard, Dainius Puras and Nils Melzer respectively —requested for an action-taken update. Replying on April 23, India said, “India... does not intend to engage further with these mandate-holders or any other mandate-holders on the issue.”
In its refutation of the allegations in the latest report, India makes two points.
The first is that the report is unmindful of the terrorism India is facing in Jammu and Kashmir, leading to the report willy-nilly legitimising externally-sponsored terrorism, while neglecting to record India’s multi-faceted counter-terrorism actions that include ‘comprehensive socio-economic developmental efforts’ etc. India has undertaken there.
Second, India questions the OHCHR’s ‘alignment with the larger approach of the United Nations’, set by the Security Council (UNSC) that took an adverse view of the terrorism besetting Kashmir in its condemnation of the Pulwama terror attack and subsequent proscribing of Masood Azhar, the terror mastermind.
On both scores, India is batting on a weak wicket. This owes to India’s questionable choice of operationalising the hardline in Kashmir over the past four years. From the recent visit of home minister Amit Shah to Kashmir, it appears that the policy line is likely to persist with till the assembly elections are held.
As regards the first, that India is facing terrorism, the body count from Kashmir has it that some two-thirds of militants killed are Kashmiri. This indicates localisation, rather than external sponsorship.
Also, though terror incidents occur — such as killings of civilians considered ‘informers’ by terrorists — these are subsumed within and are a smaller proportion of incidents that can, not unreasonably, be attributed to an ongoing insurgency.
Irrespective of the label put on the situation, there are international humanitarian law and human rights strictures that continue to be applicable, not least those reflected in national law. For instance, even though India has not ratified the international anti-torture convention, there is a blanket stipulation against torture — jus cogens rule — in international law. To the extent torture is incident in Kashmir and figures in the report undermines India’s case.
India turned a blind-eye to the report released in May on torture compiled by two non-governmental organisations. Their earlier salvo prior to the Burhan Wani’s killing was similarly ignored. That torture continues is evident from an indiscreet boast of a retired general speaking at a Panoon Kashmir event that stone-pelting youth are given a hiding that makes them scream for their mothers.
The second is India’s sense of UN’s priorities, implying human rights is superseded by the priority to the fight against terror. India cites the UNSC‘s engagement with the Pulwama terror attack. It bears recall that the UNSC’s observation on the Pulwama suicide bombing was in a press statement, not a resolution. Also, its listing of Masood Azhar in the gallery of sanctioned rogues carried no mention of the Pulwama incident.
More significantly, the ongoing UN reform initiative —Action for Peace (A4P) —has human rights as one of the three central pillars of the UN system; the others being peace and security, and development. Therefore, India can expect to see continuing UN engagement with the consequences of its hardline policy in Kashmir.
Since this policy is to continue, the OHCHR can be expected to accumulate another set of similar data to ambush India down the line.  In the spat last year, not only had Zeid defended his methodology but Secretary General Antonio Guterres had backed him.
Unable to duck the UN’s calls for accountability and apart for the ammunition such calls provide Pakistan with, New Delhi needs factoring the implications of the hardline for India’s image and aspirations, particularly now that the ambition of becoming a world leader has been added to its quest to be a UNSC permanent member.

Saturday, 6 July 2019
KASHMIR TIMES Op-ed 6 July 2019

Kashmir: Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory[1]

While complimenting the governor and the representative of the Union for sticking their necks out prior to the visit of the home minister to the Valley, it must be recorded how irrelevant their positioning on talks turned out to be. In the event, the home minister, having the next national elections in his sights when he gets elevated to prime ministership, has left behind a potentially worse mess. That neither the governor nor the interlocutor resigned thereafter brings them back to square one in esteem, especially since they are busy implementing anti-democratic orders as privileging the Yatra over state assembly elections and concomitant guidelines as traffic stoppages on arteries favouring yatris over citizens.
To be fair to the home minister, he has cannot be credited with any clue on next steps, if indeed he is the one calling the shots. In his earlier avatar in the home ministry in his province, he is infamous for his calls to gunmen in khakhi out killing hitman Sohrabuddin, even while they did despicable things to the brave wife of the hitman. It is quite clear that the khakis were not out on an autonomous errand. Instead, it is possible – whatever the cabinet system that India conferred on itself seventy some years back might have it - that the Kashmir policy is in the hands of Ajit Doval in his capacity as super defence- foreign-internal-security minister as his step up to cabinet rank implies.
Strategic sense has been kept a state secret all through Modi’s first term. It is no wonder then that by the end of it India was facing the threat of nuclear war as it contemplated retaliating to the Pakistani counter to Balakot launched in broad daylight at Naushera-Rajauri. Not all of the gallant air chief’s sweeping-under-the-carpet act in denying any such attacks took place on behalf of his political bosses can rewrite history on this score. In the event, the Modi-Doval duo chickened out of missile strikes – using the peacemaking intervention of the United States timely released from its obsession with Kim Jong Un - as cover.
Politicians – notable for being in election mode over the past five years - cannot be expected to look past the next upcoming election, set for autumn in Kashmir. This accounts for a Hindu pilgrimage taking front seat as against the priority to revert the state to democratic rule. The disingenuous reason is that the nomads out in high altitude pastures would be disadvantaged by elections any time sooner. It gives the ruling party more time to attain Mission 44, that it missed out on last time. The last time they put the international border sector on fire using Khakis (once again) of the border guarding force to extend the Line of Control’s active scenario on to that sector. This time round an outcome of the Shah visit was to appease the communities inconvenienced by the brunt of the Pakistani Rangers’ backlash with reservations through a parliamentary intervention on his return to Delhi.
The statistic put out of 733 killed over the past four years was to condition the home minister that India is in a position of strength from which it can launch a peace initiative. Sources had it that recruitment had come down, as had stone throwing. The governor, for his part, went out of his way to put the spot-light on peace possibilities, highlighting the softening of separatists. Notably, this followed a visit by Dineshwar Sharma to him, implying that the credit for creating the possibility is a shared one. The intent was to depict this as the ‘ripe moment’, which was certainly a ‘hurting’ strait for the insurgent side, even if not a ‘hurting stalemate’ for India since the problem is seen as confined to three and half districts out of India’s 700 plus districts.
The onus needs to be borne by Delhi. Doval has a military adviser, but his input can be anticipated in light of his view ( that the demonetization dealt a body blow to terrorism, with terrorists reduced to robbing teller machines to get by. Clearly, the establishment in Delhi and Srinagar is not on the same page. While Srinagar having followed the script over the past four years thought it was time for a politically predominant exit strategy, Delhi did not think so.
Delhi is perhaps cognizant that Shah, as an aspiring prime minister – now that the bench mark for toughness has been set by the current prime minister – cannot be expected to on his very first visit go namby-pamby. So even if there was strategic level sense for a shift of gears in Kashmir, the political level has different verities informing its consideration. Delhi’s national security establishment errs in putting on political blinkers, borrowed from Nagpur (incidentally, the military advisor is from close by Indore), to its supervisory and advisory role on Kashmir. 
This author in an opinion piece ‘War in 2018?’ (18 Jan 2018, in this publication had dwelt on the portents of war that year, keeping in mind the national elections slated for the following year. The lesson is that Kashmir has potential to take the two sides to war in short order. Considering that the Pakistani side got the better of India over the last crisis – the information war notwithstanding – there would be a push to get even at the next opportunity. So, if this side the India’s backed off from shooting off their missiles, the next time that may well be their start point. Both surgical strikes and the aerial strike were brushed off by the Pakistanis. Indian bravado requires more proof than what mere information war can furnish. All of the air force’s bluster cannot show up an F-16 carcass. Pakistanis, warned off by the air chief that Rafales would be in place by early next year, would also prefer the missile exchange option. It would draw in the international community fairly quickly.
Pakistanis could get uppity. Projecting an indigenous face to the insurgency over the proxy war Indians prefer (the proportion of Kashmiris dead went up from 40 per cent to two thirds), they have been quiescent over the past four years. India’s diplomatic offensive is set to peak in October with the financial action task force taking a review then. This explains Pakistan’s arraigning of Hafeez Sayeed for canvassing money for the jihad. There is enough of an overlap between the Islamic block – that took a dim view of Indian (in)action in Kashmir only early this year - and the task force to bail out Pakistan. No amount of deliberation by Indian diplomats in the shadow of the Sardar Patel’s statue may help out, particularly since India itself does not walk the talk on terrorism – having let off its ‘good terrorists’ in cases such as the Samjhauta express and ensconced the Malegaon accused into parliament.
Pakistanis are also well placed in Afghanistan, having weathered Trump’s worst. Though it put them in an economic bind, leading to the army settling for less in this budget, it has delivered Taliban to the all-Afghan jirga this month. Therefore, it can afford to reengage with mischief in Kashmir, perhaps as early as next year. The 300 or so militants are enough to see off the summer campaign. India’s rebuff of its outstretched hand over the past year could come at a price.
As the ruling party makes gains in Rajya Sabha, it would draw closer to Shah’s promise of rescinding Articles 370 and 35A as part of New India by 2022. This is when Pakistan would likely pitch in, if the 1965 War is any guide. Then, India had rid Kashmir of the titles its governor and chief minister, seemingly drawing Kashmir in closer embrace. A renewed push along such lines would unlikely see Pakistan stand idly by. Also, as in 1965 when India was recovering from its drubbing in 1962, it would be preempting Indian power getting too big to deflate later.
India has good reasons to believe it can withstand anything Pakistan throws at it. However, it must reckon with poor defence budgets over the past four years. It must factor in that its self-image as a power far outstrips reality, if the recent crisis outcome is any guide. It bears warning that a draw with Pakistan – a limited war can only end in a draw - would leave Modi as much out of hot air as was Nehru after 1962.
If the political level is unmindful, the strategic and operational level must push back. Shah has to be reminded that in his new capacity he does not have the likes of DG Vanzara at the other end, lest he carry over habits so formed into his upcoming prime ministership at the cost of India and national security.  

[1] The title adapts Radha Kumar’s phrase.