Thursday, 17 October 2019

How will New Delhi react to the civil disobedience in Kashmir?

Two recently-released civil society activist reports indicate the onset of civil disobedience in Kashmir. Their early warning stands vindicated by the arrests of former Chief Minister and Union minister Farooq Abdullah’s sister and daughter as part of a protesting group of Kashmiri women in Srinagar on October 15, though released the following day after submission of a bond against pursuing their protest activity. Security forces need to think up a coping strategy in real time, lest they end up bracketed with their predecessors who once served a colonial master.
New Delhi appears to have won the first round. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s meticulous planning and intimate supervision yielded the desired results, with a negligible number of Kashmiri dead over the last two months. Yet, the state administration has begun the second round on the back-foot, best illustrated by its advertisement beseeching Kashmiris to resume their usual, even if not quite normal, routine.
Clearly, the Amit Shah-Ajit Doval strategy for the first round has had costs. Besides the humiliation from the voiding of Article 370 without consultation, Doval’s masterminding of the communication cut-off and lock down cannot but have long-term repercussions.
Compounding these have been allegations of high handedness in affecting detentions in nightly raids, detaining of juveniles, possible torture, lock down and the ubiquitous and privacy-sapping deployment of troopers have generated disaffection of untold magnitude.
For its part, the state administration is trying to get a modicum of normalcy going. Restoring communications, calling for a return of tourists and assisting with apple harvesting and marketing cannot cover for the lost ground. Deputing magistrates to oversee start of schools and announcing an exam schedule to lure students back are stratagems. It will also keep the leadership and foot soldiers incarcerated for longer, lest the wellspring of anger find focus, a plan and a leader.
Quite like the first intifada that broke out in Palestinian areas unbidden in 1987 end as an ad hoc peoples’ initiative, taking about two months thereafter into posing a significant challenge to the Israeli State, the incipient ‘satyagraha’ in Kashmir may take as long to gather steam. As to whether it gains traction would depend on the State gathering its wits and strategising suitably.
For now, the State is evidently witless. Reflecting on how the situation will shape up, Doval has it that it would depend on what Pakistan cooks and serves up. The army chief has indicated that with some 500 terrorist ready in launch pads for infiltration, this is mostly along well-known lines: more proxy war.
This has not been unleashed as yet since Pakistani pro-activism is checked by the ongoing scrutiny of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on its terror financing record. The orchestration of deterrence signalling by successive statements by Indian ministers and its brass has left Pakistan with only its Prime Minister Imran Khan’s war rhetoric and nuclear scaremongering as fig leaf for its inaction thus far.
Even so, in round two, Pakistan is a step ahead by appropriating the civil disobedience. Absent indigenous leadership, locked away in a lakeside hotel and as far away as Agra, its dictate will speedily fill the vacuum. Killings targeting the apple industry and of shop keepers wanting to resume sales suggest its proxies are already acting as enforcers of the citizens’ curfew.
While such operatives will no doubt be taken care of by the resumption of counter insurgency operations with the communication ban lifted and the intelligence flow restarted, the disabling of the messaging function of mobiles will help interdict a means for gatherings, central to ‘satyagraha’.
As in the first round, India’s ‘success’ in the second will be predicated on the number of Kashmiri dead. Negligible casualty figures owed to stone throwers being far removed. In the second round, paramilitary troopers have to adopt uncharacteristic non-violent means for coping with crowds preponderantly comprising women. As a first step, pellet guns need stowing away.
However, their borrowing from India’s freedom movement by the Kashmiris has opened up an unbridgeable gap. Not only are ‘strategic corporals’ — trooper action having strategic fallout — significant to India’s showing, but equally what the Supreme Court has to say in its hearing beginning mid-November on the Article 370 petitions. Round Two can be expected to last till the Supreme Court rules on the case.
That Round Three will probably follow can easily be speculated, not least because of its incomprehensible postponing of the hearings, but also its short shrift to the human rights issues, such as in habeas corpus cases brought to its attention, from the undeclared emergency in Kashmir.
New Delhi’s frantic preparations for Round Three suggest as much. The army has operationalised the cold start doctrine some 15 years after thinking it up and also tested it in mountains, though in the eastern sector. The air force has acquired its first Rafale, with the defence minister personally ensuring its auspicious entry into the inventory. India’s ‘success’ in this round will be how it manages to avoid war even as it prosecutes the promised proactive response to proxy war.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Nuclear winter before this winter?

Back triumphantly from New York, the prime minister’s adhoc speech making at the airport reception by his bhakts led to massive traffic snarls across western Delhi. The road show was justified by Narendra Modi getting the better of Imran Khan ‘Niazi’. Khan’s full name was eked out by a young Indian diplomat preparing her rejoinder to Khan’s ‘rant’ on Kashmir at his turn at the podium at the General Assembly.
While in the United States (US), Modi had instead expended his ammunition at the Rs. 1.4 lakh crore Howdy Modi show. (Disclosure: this author could not work out the number of zeros in that figure. Evidently, Rahul Gandhi, who dug up the dirt, knows better.) The highlight was his overtly interfering in the elections of the host country by endorsing the bid for reelection of its sitting president, currently under impeachment proceedings. That bit of personal diplomacy was taken as getting the US alongside, though Trump carefully pointed out that talks were the way forward for both sides.
The easy-to-manufacture consensus in India is that India has won. However, India’s national security minders know better. National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was over in Srinagar yet again last week keeping up the vigil. He best knows – hopefully – that only the first round is over. He informed on the second round when he spotted several hundred jihadis across the Line of Control (LC). The army chief, obediently on cue, got himself photographed peering through a telescope across the LC. The bell for the second round tolled with kinetic operations in the hinterland taking a toll of six militants.
Round One extracted a reputational price internationally - which the Indian media’s ostrich act has kept from the public. So it was not a walkover. As for Round Two, there are two dimensions. The first is the eruption in Kashmir. The continuing lock down is a dead give-away. If Amit Shah is to be believed there is no such lock down any more. But then to Amit Shah till only recently Farooque Abdullah was a free man. The second is the manner Pakistan lobs the Kashmir ball back into India’s court.
Pakistan’s army appears to have instructed its puppet and purported civilian political master, Imran Khan, to create the conditions for their actions in Round Two. Khan led the diplomatic offensive with as much vigour as he had brought to the cricketing oval when his team won the world cup. India did well not to shoot itself in the foot by shooting up Kashmiris, preferring instead to take the hit over a lock down. Even so, Imran Khan has given the Pakistan military an alibi. He has warned the international community adequately and if it has not taken vigourous preventive action, then it would have to be goaded into action with development of a threat to international peace and security in Round Two.
There are three possibilities. One is resumption of proxy war with gusto, and, second, to up the ante with a conventional show of force. The third is Pakistan going Gandhian.
The first possibility is apparently already in the works. The second may be necessary as overlay since the Indian military is ready and waiting. The Pakistan army would reckon that military force is to be used to protect and further its national interest. Since Kashmir is equated with the national interest – the military reputedly controls Pakistan’s Kashmir, India, Afghanistan and nuclear policies – it cannot be that it would go Gandhian at the crunch. On returning from New York, Imran Khan more or less conceded defeat, acknowledging that the jihad doctrine required standing by Kashmiris, giving the green light for possibilities one and two.
Instead, India appears to have betted on a third possibility: Pakistan, overawed by surgical strikes, going Gandhian. Strategic good sense would indeed be to survey the preparedness and power equations and step back, using proxies to face the music – as has largely been the case thus far. It could do this and get away earlier since it could justify proxy war as pressure to get India to talk. By India closing the option of talks decisively – saying talks will be over terror and Pakistan occupied Kashmir and making Kashmir inaccessible through (un)constitutional ‘integration’ – proxy war loses its earlier rationale. India has forced Pakistan to do more, foregrounding the second possibility.
As for the third, for India to expect a cake walk in Round Two is not unreasonable. Pakistan should know that its economy cannot sustain the ten day war India’s military preparedness can – even if India’s economic down turn precludes India sustaining a war of any duration. Pakistan is also on the cusp of black listing on its terror financing record. Pakistan could also lose the war and its army its position on the top of Pakistan’s power heap.
By winter, Round Two would have either finished or fizzled. It would be apparent what risk India has had to run over implementing a manifesto promise of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Such promises are to be checked by instruments of state by providing a reality check. Those institutions on the front rank of national security have to temper, deter and push back on policy missteps. If the government was warned of the risk of war is not known. That no one has resigned indicates group think.
Since there are no inducements to Pakistan on offer as part of a deterrence-reassurance strategy, it is not self-evident how the first two possibilities will be avoided. The army chief in his interview yesterday is out justifying a policy which - even if disaster is avoided in the short term - is not going to see a let up in the situation for another generation. He suggests that the shift to surgical strikes will ensure the third possibility, and if it does not, India will be at it till it does. It is anyone guess how long will that be, at what risk and with what efficacy. This is evidence that just as with other national institutions the Indian military is also hollowed out – unable to stand up to the media-built strategic reputation of their political master, the unelected Ajit Doval.
To highlight this here is not to reprise Im-the-dim Khan. India’s actions speak of an agreement with Imran Khan that it is running an undue risk. The lock down – self-inflicted clampdown according to General Rawat - in Kashmir is set to continue through winter as rumours of the paramilitary inducted in additional numbers is now seeking winter accommodation indicate. India has put out several deterrent gambits, such as, its defence minister reminding Pakistan of its past losses in wars and its standing to lose Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. His reference to a shaky nuclear first use pledge is proof of India’s concurrence with Khan that there is a more than just a nuclear backdrop to war today.
In a book, India’s Habituation with the Bomb, released at a Pakistani security think tank last week, I make the case in my book chapter contribution, ‘India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Dynamism or Stasis’, that India’s is now a warfighting nuclear doctrine – how so ever much its declaratory nuclear doctrine dissimulates to the contrary. This makes India more war prone than during its years of strategic restraint. It permits the shift to strategic proactivism of late. Ability and intent to match Pakistani nuclear use in war with its own at an early and low threshold mode makes India venturesome. Others have it that India may even preempt Pakistani nuclear use. This explains the military’s confidence in backing of the constitutional jugglery over Kashmir and belief that it can face down Pakistan. With a more usable Indian nuclear arsenal on call, Pakistan would be better deterred from going nuclear. Without the nuclear assurance behind it, the Pakistani army would be less liable to be adventurous over the Kashmir fait accompli. Any Pakistani poser over Kashmir can then be check mated by Indian conventional resort. Any Pakistan nuclear proclivity can be met with proportionate nuclear riposte. In short, a fightable nuclear war keeps Pakistan in better check.
In the present situation, the Indian assessment is that the worst case – of nuclear exchange(s) - can be ridden out. It’s a risk worth running for the national interest of a quiescent Kashmir. Since there can be no more fraught a situation than the current on over Kashmir, the hope is General Rawat is proven right. He has it that Pakistan cannot rely on its nuclear deterrent since doing so would be against the tenets of strategic weapons use. Hope General Rawat does not believe his deterrence propaganda. In case he is proven wrong, the only silver lining is that accountability shall catch up with the trio – Modi-Shah-Doval - that pushed South Asia into such a situation in first place.  

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Extract from Ejaz Haidar's book review quoting my book chapter contribution:

One of the most important chapters is penned by Ali Ahmed, a former Indian infantry officer and an international diplomat. The chapter titled, “India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Stasis or Dynamism,” details the growing difference between India’s declaratory policy of no-first-use (NFU) and its operational policy.
After the May 1998 nuclear tests, India’s National Security Advisory Board came up with a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999. Later, in January 2003, India put out an official nuclear doctrine, which was adopted by the Cabinet Committee of National Security. The official doctrine largely picked up the salient features of the draft doctrine but also made some changes to it. A key feature of it was NFU. However, as Ahmed shows, India has moved from apparent transparency to ambiguity and while the declaratory policy still iterates the idea of NFU, there’s enough evidence that the operational doctrine does not stick to the declaratory policy. In fact, India might well be thinking of pre-emptive strikes to degrade Pakistan’s capability and also command, control and communications nodes.
For its part, Pakistan never believed in India’s NFU declaration because such declarations have no real significance in operational terms. When the Berlin Wall came down and NATO had access to Warsaw Pact’s war plans, they were surprised to find that Warsaw Pact forces were operationally wedded to first use.
Evidence emerging from statements and writings by India’s former National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the current Indian defence minister, Rajnath Singh, prove Ahmed’s assertion.
Ahmed says: “India’s declaratory nuclear doctrine is implausible. Acknowledging the shift in owning up to an operational nuclear doctrine at variance with its declaratory doctrine is the need of the hour. Persisting with the declaratory doctrine does nothing to add to Indian security under peacetime conditions when deterrence is in play or in nuclear conflict when nuclear use is contemplated.”
But Ahmed also realises in the same chapter that: “The brakes are applied at the political level. India wishes to be in the big league.” India’s balancing partners, the US and Japan, do not wish to “see India proactive on the nuclear front, doctrinally….The stasis depicted by the declaratory doctrine is to serve as a fig leaf for closed-domain doctrinal innovation.”
Another problem relates to India’s declaration of “massive response,” which only caters to higher order nuclear attacks and does not take into account lower order attacks. However, as Ahmed mentions, Menon’s book notes that India contemplated resort to first strike levels of attack in case of Pakistan’s use of Tactical Nuclear Weapons and even when readying to do so in a preemptive mode.

Friday, 27 September 2019

National Defence Academy and Societal Representativeness

Aussie Trishakti, 2019, Vol 1, No 3, October

The figures are unavailable, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the intake at National Defence Academy (NDA) lacks societal representativeness. Not all of India’s multiple subnationalities, ethnic groups and communities have a foot in the door at the cradle of India’s military officer corps. This is neither good for NDA nor good for the nation.

An example is that of India’s largest minority, its Muslims. No monolith itself, given its pan-Indian geographical spread and diverse ethnic composition, the Muslim community sent merely two of its sons for the latest NDA course. This is much below its usual average of about six per course. This implies that less than two per cent of ex NDAs are Muslim, of a segment pegged at some 15 per cent of India’s population.

Not only are major ethnic groups from India’s south and north east underrepresented, but also underrepresented – as may be surmised in absence of data – are India’s lowest castes.

One could plausibly argue that the NDA takes the best of those who volunteer. So it would be unfair to blame the military if some, or indeed, several, ethnic groups do not sign up for a life in uniform. After all, there is no shortage of good officer material from amongst those groups wishing to contribute to India's military. There is thus no case for meddling against the current system and doing so may have adverse security-related consequences.

The argument against the status quo and in favour of broadening the representativeness at the point of entry is that this measure would enable the officer corps to reflect India’s diversity. This has democratic dividend in that inclusivity would prevent usurpation of the military by a narrow – geographically and socially – set of communities. Moves are reportedly afoot to set up in Bulandshahr a feeder school by right of centre ideologues.

A deliberate effort to widen the intake will ensure that all social streams debouch the cream of their youth into the Khadakvasla reservoir, diluting the potential impact of any niche social engineering that may be underway in any part of our democracy.

This case for social representativeness does not imply making the military a site of affirmative action activism. Instead, the case calls for introspection by the military and selfinitiation of steps towards making our armed forces truly representative. Simple steps could go a long way. For example, the UPSC entrance exam dates could be advertised extensively in the vernacular press popular among underrepresented communities. Not only will such steps enable the armed forces to retain control of the situation, but it will also preempt any political interference on this score.

The NDA does not figure on any of the annual 'best colleges' lists. One reason could be that it looms large as an opportunity in the imagination of fewer groups. One way to expand the NDA’s footprint is to make a genuine and all-out effort to attract the best talent from all sections and areas of our society. Status quo thinking needs casting aside in the here and now. 

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Explaining the military’s new found penchant for political partisanship

The soon-to-retire air chief has yet again chimed-in in a partisan manner. This time round he claims that the Pakistani military leadership has consistently under-estimated India’s national leadership. He was clubbing Narendra Modi’s decision on the Balakot aerial strike with the strategic decision making of the then national leaders in the Kargil, 1971 and 1965 Wars, equating an aerial strike with wars and Modi’s decision with that of Vajpayee, Indira Gandhi and Shastri in those wars. Since there is a self-evident lack of equivalence and proportion, it is apparent what the air chief is up to.
‘Yet again’ has been advisedly used. Earlier, he claimed that but for lack of the Rafale in India’s inventory, India would have walloped Pakistan in its retaliatory aerial strike to Balakot launched the following day by daylight at Naushera-Rajauri along the Line of Control (LC). The subtext was that the previous government dilly-dallied in procuring the Rafale while Modi fast-forwarded the deal at his Paris visit in 2015. Coming as these did in the midst of the controversy over the procedural shenanigans in the new Rafale deal, the remarks were partisan, favouring the ruling party. Elsewhere, he tried falsifying history, asserting that the Pakistani counter strike did not venture across the LC, contradicting the ministry statement on air intrusions that day.
Alongside, it needs recall that the air chief indulgences have been comparatively much less. The army chief has been rather brazen through his tenure, perhaps emboldened by the new process of deep-selection that fetched him the rank and by his ethnic affinity – noted by a scribe – with the reigning security deity, National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval. The two have together set a new benchmark in India’s civil-military relations (CMR) of atypical military subservience.
There are three possibilities that cover the direction of India’s CMR.
The first is banal. There is the chief of defence staff (CDS) appointment up for grabs since the prime minister from his Red Fort podium, merely announced the creation of the position but not the name of the incumbent. That the announcement is no surprise is clear from the positioning undertaken by the two over the year and more. The army chief was on a better wicket for he has been the more vocal of the two in broadcasting this political pliability, be it on Kashmir, Pakistan, internal security and, in one memorable instance, on domestic politics in Assam. The air chief perhaps fancied his own chances, believing that to get the air force that has been the hold out for long on the CDS idea, the first incumbent being from the air force would help make it fall-in in line.
This partially explains the politically partisan interventions of the two service heads over the year. It is well known the regime uses its discretion as the appointing authority to place institution heads into position, enabling manipulation of these agencies and institutions. It is one way it has managed to damage the institutional health across the board over the past five years. The loaves of office have always been enticing for those accustomed to power and perks. In the case of retiring brass, governorships are also much valued sinecures. In this case, the air chief has a week to go and can yet be recalled from retirement for taking up the CDS job – as was Maxwell Taylor in the United States.  
A second explanation could be information war. According to the new army doctrine, hybrid war substitutes for peace time these days. Since Pakistan keeps up its proxy war, hybrid war is ever ongoing. Information war is leading characteristic of hybrid war. This requires the military to keep up the din of a war impending. The army chief let on as much recently, saying that fear keeps Pakistan deterred. Today this is very much necessary as Modi is appearing at the United Nations General Assembly session. A crisis back home would be embarrassing, one sparked by Pakistani setting off of domestic unrest in Kashmir. There is widespread expectation that the dam of disaffection is yet to burst in Kashmir. India would like to stay Pakistan’s hand in setting it off. Deterrence messaging time to time is useful on this score.
The air chief’s statement is thus part of the orchestration by the national security establishment, which has lately tapped the defence  minister, the minister in the prime minister’s office, the army chief etc for statements on Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to the army’s readiness to grab it. In this case, the air chief is underlining the new doctrine of strategic proactivism, so that Pakistan is not kept guessing.
Even so, it is a bit of stretch. He appears instead to be publicly taking on the criticism one of India’s leading strategic minds, Manoj Joshi. Joshi, from his think tank perch had punctured the hype around the Balakot decision. He had it that decision making around the strike was not of strategic levels as undertaken by previous prime ministers.
A similar public punch up was indulged in by the northern army commander with his predecessor in the chair, DS Hooda, over whether the surgical strikes ever took place under anyone before Modi. Ranbir Singh – in line for army chief – had it twice over that this was not so, directly contradicting his retired predecessor. The first time round the controversy played out well prior to elections and Pulwama-Balakot. However, it was egregiously raised yet again at election time by the operations branch – backed by the northern army commander. Given this election time backdrop and Hooda’s writing up of a security doctrine for the Congress, it was clearly political partisanship on part of the military, either at its own or at the behest of powers that be.
The air chief, perhaps mistakenly feeling his service’s Balakot dare devilry was being put down, has now waded in to take up cudgels with Joshi. To him, the Pakistanis went ahead with Pulwama terror attack believing that India would be cowed down as usual. Instead, from the near real time counter strike by the Pakistanis they were pretty much awaiting such knee-jerk response by India.
This puts a question mark over India’s new policy of mow-the-grass. The next time, the onus would be on India to escalate. After the dogfight at Naushera-Rajauri we took recourse to information war – claiming to have shot down an F-16 for the loss of our fighter. It did not work too well then either; it cannot be expected to work another time. India would have to follow through with missile strikes - which it refrained from this time. The need to avoid this escalatory ladder charitably explains the periodic information war salvos, including that of the air chief. Uncharitably put, it is well nigh likely that the chiefs are being used by their political minder – who is no longer the defence minister but the NSA – for stating the party line. 
Finally, and more importantly, there appears to be a shift in India’s civil-military relations. The shift can be visualized as two sets of three circles: of political culture, strategic culture and the military’s organizational culture. The first visualization is in concentric circles, wherein the organizational culture is nested in strategic culture, itself layered by political culture. The second visualization is of the three as overlapping circles.
The first is theory compliant in which organizational culture of the military is detached from the political culture and changes in political culture are mediated by the intervening circle of strategic culture. There is a change in political culture brought about by ascent to power of cultural nationalism. This has resulted in a muscular strategic policy, shifting strategic culture from defensive to offensive. In turn, the military’s organizational culture has proven responsive, taking like a duck to water, throwing aside strategic restraint in favour of strategic proactivism.
The second visualization - of overlapping circles – is more troubling, but likely closer to reality. This has political culture impacting the military’s organizational culture directly. This is through penetration of cultural nationalist verities into the organizational cultural spaces. This is through appointment of pliable generals, such as the army chief, and, through an ideational conveyer belt with the veterans’ community setting up an assembly line into the military.
Many retired military men signed up for the BJP. Modi first addressed an ex-servicemen rally before he inaugurated the national war memorial, muscling out the president from his privilege. Thus, the cultural nationalist verities have been internalized by the service members and the military is no longer the pristine apolitical and secular organization as hitherto. This explains the service chiefs’ partisan behavior and with none finding it amiss and calling it out on that count.
The military’s partisanship – of which the air chief’s recent intervention is illustration - is on account of all three explanations. There is the mundane one at the individual level; the second is functional, which allows the military some slack; and the third is the more sophisticated one, requiring surveillance of the military’s future behavior to verify if indeed the ground has shifted in India’s CMR.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Decoding India’s recent rhetoric on PoK

After the end of the United Nations Security Council’s closed door meeting on Kashmir — its first in over half century — India’s permanent representative underscored India’s constitutional initiative on Kashmir was an ‘internal matter’ while maintaining that India would speak to Pakistan once that country ceases support for terrorism.
The externally-directed official Indian stand has worked to stave-off legitimate concerns, stoked liberally by Pakistan, on yet another India-Pakistan crisis. It has managed to get United States President Donald Trump walk back his offer of mediation.
However, internally, the official stand appears to have created dissonance among constituents of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The initial euphoria was such that many believed India had ipso facto in one fell swoop veritably solved the Kashmir problem.
That little had changed — other than the administrative map of J&K and its relationship with Delhi — even though the indomitable duo, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, resorted to the by-now-patented ‘shock and awe’ tactics turned out to be less than the bluster warranted.
Consider the timing of the recent references to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), suggestive of a diversionary tactic.
The first salvo was from Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the day following the impromptu interaction by Akbaruddin in New York. Singh, following his controversial intervention in the latest crisis that India’s No First Use commitment continuing was contingent on future circumstances, had it at a party event that any discussions with Pakistan would only be on PoK.
The same day, the minister for the north east in the prime minister’s office (PMO) and parliamentarian from J&K, Jitendra Singh, exhorted a party audience, saying, ‘let us move forward with a positive thinking of freeing PoK from the illegal occupation.’
The next round of PoK references appear timed with the second India-Pakistan bout, at the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Immediately prior, in a briefing on the first 100 days achievements of the Modi government’s second tenure, Jitendra Singh showcased the government’s constitutional action in Kashmir as its ‘biggest and greatest achievement’ that required, in his words, ‘tremendous amount of will power, conviction and determination’.
This time around he claimed that retrieving parts of PoK was the ‘next agenda’, mandated by the non-binding Narasimha Rao era, unanimously-adopted, parliamentary resolution on Kashmir. The February 1994 resolution demanded that, ‘Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.’
The ruling party, perceiving a certain reservation in its cadre, is pepping them up in a way it knows — projection of a problem onto Pakistan. The removal of Article 35A, collateral damage of the de-operationalisation of Article 370, has affected Jitendra Singh’s voter base. The Dogras look for like protections on offer in Article 371 as a substitute. The sweetener of a future Jammuite domination of the new J&K union territory has not quite worked in face of the underside of integration.
Besides, India’s upping-the-ante along the Line of Control (LoC) has led to a partial hit-wicket in terms of displacement, requiring Jitendra Singh to up the rhetoric on PoK.
The government has kept up an accusatory line on Pakistan, alleging Pakistan’s retaliation is unfolding. Apparently, jihadist infiltrators are in launch pads, with some 50-plus having made it past India’s three anti-infiltration lines at maximum alert.
The rhetoric is likely twin-pronged: One to deter Pakistan, and, two, to lay the ground for a military riposte against Pakistan in PoK if Kashmiris were to attempt unshackle the lockdown in an explosion of disaffection.
This accounts for the army chief stepping into the headlines on the PoK. On the day of the India-Pakistan exchange of words over Kashmir at Geneva, he said that the Indian Army was always ready for action in PoK. He took care to caveat his answer that the decision was a governmental prerogative.
In so far as the choreographed information war two-step between the PMO and the army chief over PoK deters it is unexceptionable. However, hopefully when the government considers such a step, it would consult him prior. He best knows that with our hold over Kashmir after 30 years being as it is, what venturing into PoK entails.
War planners sensibly restrict their threats to ‘parts of PoK’, knowing the China factor intrinsic in Gilgit-Baltistan and Aksai Chin — though referred to by Shah in his grandstanding in Parliament. Also, a cursory glance at the map would show up how Pakistan’s national capital territory abuts PoK. Even so, they need reminding — if Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s drum-beat of early warnings are heeded — that will not be the only area affected.
Therefore, the J&K governor’s alternative manner of taking over PoK makes sense: by developing J&K in such a manner that PoK, enticed, opts in. Unfortunately, this is not what former army chief and minister VK Singh meant when he said that India has a ‘ran-niti’ (special strategy) for PoK. If it were then why be secretive?

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 54, Issue No. 37, 14 Sep, 2019 

Military Professionalism and Effectiveness

The Indian military takes pride in its reputation as a professional force, defined in civil–military theory as valuing expertise, corporate autonomy, and social responsibility (Huntington 1967: 8–18). The military is also known for being secular and apolitical. While “secularism” reflects the anchoring of the military in the Indian culture and social environment, “apoliticism” owes to its staying out of politics unlike many peer militaries such as in Pakistan (Wilkinson 2015: 3). The three pillars—professionalism, secularism, and apoliticism—contribute to its effectiveness or ability to provision military security for its client, variously defined as the state and the nation.
Of late, there are concerns over the possible erosion in its two characteristics: secular and apolitical. As regards secularism, the apprehensions spring more generally from secularism being under assault in Indian politics by votaries of Hindutva or cultural nationalism. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continuing in power with a renewed mandate—earned by a larger voting percentage than in 2014—could embed cultural nationalist verities into the Indian political culture. There is threat of a decisive turn away from civic nationalism that has defined the proverbial “idea of India” so far towards ethnic nationalism (Ansari 2019).
As for the apolitical characteristic, it is possible to discern a shift in the manner of political control by the government. In theory, there are two options of civilian control. Objective civilian control is the “maximisation of military professionalism” in order to keep it politically “sterile and neutral.” On the other hand, subjective civilian control is maximisation of the power of some particular civilian group in relation to the military (Huntington 1967: 80–85).
Thus far, Indian civil–military relations have largely been characterised by objective civilian control, wherein the military is kept distant from politics by an emphasis on its professionalism. The onset of majoritarian democracy—entailed by the Hindutva project—requires that the military remain politically inert or act as a handmaiden. The former can be maintained by continuing with objective civilian control. However, it increasingly appears that the government wishes a closer embrace of the military, implying the onset of ­subjective civilian control. This could culminate in inculcation in the military of a cultural nationalist world view, implicating its apolitical and secular character.
Politicisation is a move away from a theoretical ideal of a mutually respected political–military distance and towards a degree of like-mindedness between the two spheres. The problem of a military subscribing to a political ideology is that it would lose its apolitical status, placing it afoul of any successive government led by a different ruling party with a diverse political orientation. Its secularism stands to be compromised by its borrowing from the understanding of the term in the Hindutva lexicon, wherein there is little regard for religious and cultural diversity (Jaffrelot 2019). Such implications for the military of the ongoing turn to majoritarianism need acknowledging and should be studied for the impact on its professionalism.
Military’s Partisanship
In the run-up to the national elections this year, a letter from over 150 veterans of the armed forces to the President of India was put out in the open domain (Wire 2019a). Noting the reference to military operations in electioneering, in particular by the ruling party, the letter expressed apprehensions over the politicisation of the military. The concerns of the veterans were dismissed as fake news by the defence minister. The controversy attending the letter served a purpose of bringing the threat of the politicisation of the military into the open.
The national elections witnessed the surfacing of national security as a major election issue. Though, over the turn of the year, national security was not on the horizon since persuasive narratives had been built up around unemployment, the effects of demonetisation, the implementation of the goods and services tax, farmers’ suicides, rural distress, etc. However, the game changer as the elections approached was the Balakot aerial strike on 26 February 2019. The aerial strike was in retaliation for the car-bombing in Pulwama of a security forces convoy on 16 February 2019.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was quick off the blocks taking credit for the strikes and calling for votes on the basis of a leadership that is strong on defence. The government had similarly played up the surgical strikes on 29 September 2016, when the army had launched multiple trans-Line of Control raids across a wide front on terror camps in retaliation to the terror attack earlier on the army garrison at Uri on 18 September 2016. The military success—though denied by Pakistan—was put to political use then by the ruling party in the state elections in Uttar Pradesh early the following year, resulting in its sweeping victory in the crucial state. Taking cue, the ruling party used the opportunity of the Pulwama terror attack and its aftermath to reframe the national elections away from other electorally significant issues and towards national security. Sensing the reframing of the electoral agenda post Balakot, the Congress party claimed that while in power it had similarly launched trans-Line of Control raids (Scroll 2019).
In so far as the claims and counterclaims played out between the two political parties, it could be taken as par for electioneering course. However, as voting came to an end, the army operations branch claimed that it had no record of any previous surgical strikes (Bhat 2019), contradicting the opposition party. Immediately as voting ended, the northern army commander seconded the operations branch (Business Standard 2019). The army implicating itself into the political controversy, worked in favour of the ruling party’s design of electoral victory mediated by its approach to national security.
Arguably, if a government is bent on taking credit for strategic decision-making, it is not illegitimate of itself. For the Prime Minister to take credit for decisiveness to contrast his government from its predecessor government is explicable. The prospects of escalation being higher in both cases of surgical strikes—by land and by air—required the government to take ownership of the decision. Shouldering responsibility permits taking of the credit too, which the BJP proceeded to do to the chagrin of the opposition. However, involving the military for partisan reasons, amounts to the politicisation of the military.
A similar case can be made out on the controversy surrounding the Balakot aerial strike and its aftermath that witnessed a counter aerial strike by Pakistan in the Rajauri–Nowshera sector on 27 February 2019. As the controversy unfolded at the political level, the air force went further than it need have. The air chief publicly rued the non-availability of the Rafale aircraft (Peri 2019), with the sub-text implying that non-materialisation of the deal in a timely manner deprived India of a technological edge. This was suggestive of a slovenly approach to defence procurements by the Congress-led predecessor government, a deficiency made up by the Prime Minister’s controversial intervention in fast-forwarding the Rafale purchase. Given the political backdrop of the Rafale deal, the air chief’s reference to it was questionable.
After the election, the air chief went on to claim that there was no intervention by the Pakistan air force into Indian airspace in their counterstrike (Times of India 2019). This contradicted the government’s statement complaining of an air intrusion (Ministry of External Affairs 2019). No clarification ensued.
Another example is of the army’s participation in misleading the country on the reason for the emergency-like lockdown in Kashmir. The Srinagar corps commander went on national television informing of a heightening of a Pakistani proxy war, pointing to the recovery of warlike material along the Amarnath yatra route and to a thwarted border action team assault on the Line of Control. This led to the cancellation of the pilgrimage and advisory for all tourists and migrant workers to leave the Valley. As events turned out, it became clear that the clampdown was occasioned by a decision to reduce Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from a state with a special status to bifurcated union territories (Das and Bhaskar 2019). The government, aware that the decision would evoke a backlash and possible violence, pre-empted this by a security blanket. In effect, the country ended up as target of information war, with the army as the instrument.
But, more importantly, its contribution to the threat perception assessment informing the decision is questionable. Anticipating that the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A would have led to civil unrest and a possible heightening of insurgency and proxy war thereafter, it is worth speculating whether the army’s input on managing the security enabled the government to go ahead with its initiative. The question arises if the army trimmed its input to what the government wished to hear. If so, it paved the way for a politically problematic decision.
Politicisation Pathways Ahead
A re-imagination of the idea of India in the Hindutva image is underway by the right wing in power for another five years. In its relationship with the military, the right wing would like to preserve military professionalism, even as it wishes to realign the other two characteristics, secularism and apoliticism. The government has two choices: first, to maintain the status quo in that it continues with civil–military relations as hitherto, or, second, to make the military imbibe cultural nationalism.
In Prime Minister’s first term, a significant change was the institutionalising of a new selection system for a service chief, moving away from the traditional system of seniority to that of deep selection. Currently, the government is considering successors to the air and army chiefs, who are retiring, and has created the post of chief of defence staff (CDS), though it has yet to name an incumbent. That the appointment of the CDS was in the offing may have prompted the political stances taken by the two services in the illustration above. The army chief has better chance of elevation as CDS, positioned better for the job through his political pliability during his tenure (Wire 2019b). The northern army commander, referred to in the example above, is in line for army chief, the candidate consideration for which has reportedly begun (Pubby 2019). The illustrations of the military’s partisanship recounted here indicate the vulnerability of the military—in anticipation of being rewarded—to political manipulation.
The military is a conservative institution with its members being of a largely realist and nationalist persuasion (IDS 2017: 59). Therefore, the ruling party ideology holds partial appeal for the military. If Indian secularism is interpreted as a cultural trait attributable to the prevalence of Hinduism, there is little change necessitated in the military’s secularism. On the aspect of its remaining apolitical, if the BJP sticks broadly to the constitutional route, even if not strictly bound by the constitutional spirit, the tradition-bound military can be expected to remain politically inert. This enables the exercise of objective civilian control, keeping the traditional political–military distance. Even though objective civilian control can serve the ruling party’s interest well enough, the instances of politicisation noted in this article indicate that, over the coming five years, the apolitical attribute stands to be diluted.
A change in secularism and apolitical facets can be expected to have a corresponding knock-on effect on the military’s professionalism, and, at one remove, its effectiveness. Since the government’s hardline policy towards Pakistan is predicated on continuing military effectiveness, enabling the relative stability of the three facets would be wise. In the case of the ideological penetration of the military, the strategic and operational thinking can potentially suffer. Its input to national security may be swayed by ideological winds if it loses its apolitical moorings. Maintaining the status quo on civil–military relations is, therefore, desirable.
Even so, it is unlikely that the right wing would leave the military alone in its India reset. It would prefer the majoritarian turn in political culture be reflected in the military’s organisational culture. The government needs warning off that this could prove to be at the cost of military professionalism and effectiveness. The military too needs cautioning that, for the sake of national security, it needs to stand up to any such attempt. A clue as to the direction the winds blow will soon be known from the apex military appointments that the government makes.
The author would like to thank attendees for comments on the content of my presentations at Carnegie India, New Delhi, on 28 June 2019, the Centre for Gandhian Thought and Peace Studies, Central University of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, on 2 August 2019, and at the Human Resources Development Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, on 3 August 2019.
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 (2019b): “Why India May Need a CDS—But It’s Not Bipin Rawat,” 21 August, viewed on 22 August,
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