Thursday, 24 March 2016

Another India-Pakistan Upswing In The Offing?

Saturday, March 19,2016
The meeting on 17 March in Pokhara between Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj and foreign policy advisor 
to Pakistan’s prime minister, Sartaj Aziz, filling in as Pakistan’s foreign minister, heralds yet another prospective 
upswing in the relations between the two states. Swaraj accepted the Aziz conveyed invite for Mr. Modi to visit
 Islamabad for the SAARC summit in the later part of this year. The two prime ministers could meet even earlier,
 at the Nuclear Security summit in Washington D.C. The joint investigation team into the Pathankot airfield terror
 attack is set to begin work by month end.
Relations appear to be back on track after being derailed by the terror attack in Pathankot. However, in light of 
the earlier flip-flops in India’s Pakistan policy - characterized by one perceptive observer as ‘manic pirouetting’ -
 Mr. Modi’s trip to Islamabad is not a done deal yet.
As at previous junctures, this one too shall attract speculation as to whether this is a sustainable upswing or 
yet another mirage. Influence of internal politics with elections looming in Assam and Bengal is a candidate
 line of inquiry.  Deeper still is whether Hindutva philosophy contaminating strategy today can at all countenance
 equable ties with Pakistan. However, a robust answer will likely prove elusive.
For a better understanding of India’s Pakistan policy, there is one almost forgotten vantage point: the
 9 August ‘Press Statement on India-Pakistan Relations by Members of India’s Strategic Community’. 
Forty one denizens of Delhi’s seminar rooms signed up to a statement brokered by the Vivekananda 
International Foundation, headed then by current day National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval.
The statement had put paid to Manmohan Singh’s dream nurtured since his UPA I stint of making a 
path-breaking trip to Pakistan. UPA II, already in doldrums by then, preferred not to chance the forthcoming
 elections on the altar of India-Pakistan relations.
The statement if not quite Mr. Doval’s brain child, had him signing off on it. As India’s national security minder 
and old Pakistan hand, India’s current Pakistan policy therefore can be credited to him. What he endorsed then
 therefore affords being dusted up for review to see if it might have clues as to his mind. His policy advice 
then was:

India should show no anxiety to hold a dialogue with Pakistan, keep a steady focus on the issue of 
Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in any conversation that takes place, abjure language that equates our
 problems with terrorism with those of Pakistan, and take Siachen out of the basket of issues …
The logic given was that Pakistan’s military held the reins, even if there was a new placatory civilian government
 in place headed by Nawaz Sharif. India consequently was better advised to – in the words of the signatories 
– ‘impose a cost on Pakistan for its export of terror to India, and thus change the cost-benefit calculus of these 
policies and actions.’ Towards this end, a ‘proactive approach’ was thought as able to ‘yield us much better 
results than those garnered by policies of appeasement which have regrettably been pursued by us for years.’
This amounts to a blue print for the still-young Modi era. India has indeed been ‘proactive’. Diplomatically, it has 
reached out to Nawaz Sharif, best exemplified by the invite to Mr. Modi’s swearing in and Mr. Modi’s dropping in
 at Sharif’s Lahore farm house last December. The National Security Advisers have met twice over. Pakistan has
 been kept off balance with foreign secretaries meetings also having been either cancelled or postponed twice
over too. The sole agenda in the stillborn dialogue is terrorism, as anticipated in the statement.   
Militarily, India upped the temperature on the Line of Control since October year before last. With the message
 hitting home, it has wound down the pressure lately, though the heads of military operations have yet to meet as 
thought up in the Ufa meeting between the two prime ministers. On the intelligence front, the ‘game’ is clearly on, 
with India – if Pakistanis are to be believed - giving as good as it receives both in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.  
The idea appears to be to soften up Pakistan’s military, expose it to its own underside and the age old dictum:
 those who live in glass houses must not throw stones at others. Alongside, the line of strategy directed towards 
Nawaz Sharif is at best to incentivize Pakistan and at worst to divide its national security elite.
Since this dual pronged strategy is in play with the hard and soft lines alternating, it is confounding to Indian
 observers, predicating their analysis on the values of predictability and consistency. For its part, Pakistan’s 
decision making elite at the receiving end appears unfazed. It is making gains in its counter terror operations.
 Its proxies the Taliban have reemerged in Afghanistan. It is able to launch pin prick terror attacks against India 
at will. Its nuclear trump card is well into three digits in terms of warheads. It is heartened by India’s foreign
 minister - sensibly - ruling out war as an option. The military is not averse to using Sharif as foil.
It is unlikely that India’s hyper-nationalism inspired strategic community would find these comfort levels of 
Pakistan at all enthusing. It spells that Pakistan’s military has not been sufficiently battened down nor a 
division created within Pakistan into pro- and anti-India camps. Consequently, Mr. Modi’s pirouetting can 
be expected to continue under direction of Chanakya II, Mr. Doval himself.
The problem – nay, danger – with the strategy is that it has not thought through what it considers sufficient
 punishment of Pakistan. Hindutva infected, it would unlikely settle only for appeasement by Pakistan, when 
only Pakistan’s capitulation or going under will do. Clearly, the strategic ‘community’ needs to once again get
 together to draft a fresh statement to help bail Mr. Doval out. 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Yoga as prelude to politicization of the military

Unedited version

This January, 250 army men of Western Command attended the Yoga Teacher's Training Course organised by Ramdev's Patanjali Yogpeeth in Haridwar. They are the first lot of 1000 yoga trainers who are then to return to barracks and conduct yoga for troops. That the media finds this association between the army and Baba Ramdev’s outfit as news worthy suggests the link needs further query.
The aim ostensibly is to de-stress the army in cantonments in Western Command’s peace stations before they return for yet another tour of duty in some or other counter insurgency area or high altitude picket.
Superficially, this is for the good in so far as physical and mental fitness goes. The army has figured in the news earlier for the wrong reasons: soldier suicides, fratricide and affrays between officers and men. Among the enabling conditions for such avoidable incidents is stress. Yoga is meant to mitigate such stress.
Yoga caught on in the military long before the three chiefs along with a brigade of Delhi based troops lined up behind the prime minister on the Raj Path for yoga last June. It has been in practice for about a decade, with the army turning its attention to the psychological scars of countering insurgency once the situation in Kashmir started stabilizing mid last decade. Art of Living had also made an advent at about the same time for similar reasons.
The problem is not so much yoga as much as the army’s institutional association with Baba Ramdev’s organization. The Baba is controversial with his business deals having come in for investigative scrutiny. The premises in Haridwar where army men spent couple of weeks hosted a convention for the RSS year before last. The Baba is a known cheerleader for Prime Minister Mr. Modi.
Such proximity is not without its underside. Yoga is enwrapped in a cultural context. Cultural transmission can be expected, such as of ritual, intonations and interpretation of Sanskritic texts. Since the program requires residence on campus, dietary mores and ashram routine would also be conduits.
A right wing associated organization is not about to pass up an opportunity for influencing the army with its world view. Even if tacit, the exposure of 1000 troops this training year, and perhaps more to follow in subsequent years, will enable a window of penetration of the right wing perspective into the army.
This raises the question as to why this apprehension escaped the army’s exercise of due diligence in going about its yoga training program.  
I suggest that the impetus is from both directions. While it can be expected that right wing organizations are interested in the military, counter intuitively, it appears that the military is not averse to such attention.
The growing grip of Hindutva forces across polity and into society, such as over the education sector, the army should be alert to the possibility that it cannot escape like attention. This should have made it defensive, if not prickly, so as to reduce the politicization and corresponding effect on professionalism that penetration of cultural nationalism entails.
Its yoga program does not suggest that it is mindful of the otherwise obvious dangers. Since these are easy to apprehend, a plausible inference is that the army is courting Hindutva. Since it takes two to tango, are there are elements within the military opening the door wider?
An illustration is the appearance of articles on Vedic leadership in military publications, specifically in the Infantry Journal and on the website of the army think tank. This is of a piece with a leadership in the nineties by the Army’s Training Command on the leadership philosophy of the controversial godman, Sai Baba.
Is politicization underway? This is not in the usual sense of the term in a convergence of institutional and political interest of the military leading to its displacing of the government, as in Pakistan. This is better described as incidence of subjective civilian control in which the civilian ruling dispensation connects with the military by ensuring that the military shares its world view, in this case, of Hindutva, such as is the case in communist states.
This is as against objective civilian control in which the military is rendered politically inert by being left to its professional devices. The difference between the two is that where objective civilian control is exercised, the military not a political player. Where the military is under subjective civilian control, the military is kept out of politics because, in subscribing to the dominant perspective, it does not feel the need to intervene.  
Such a move by Hindutva forces can be expected. Once they go about their reset of India in right earnest, they would prefer to keep the military to its professional till. Whereas the mechanism of objective civilian control is available to this end, the ambitious Hindutva agenda for India forces a preference for a tighter embrace of the military. This will ensure, firstly, that it can be kept out by decree and does not feel the need to intervene, and, secondly, that it can be made to weigh in on the side of Hindutva, in case Hindutva forces find the going tough over the longer term.
In light of Indian military’s apolitical record, it can be argued that such apprehensions of convergence of interest are outlandish. This is true in so far as the military’s interest, unlike that of its peer militaries in developing states, was never in a takeover of the state. This would continue to be so, the difference this time round is that the military will increasingly subscribes to the world view of the regime in power.
This is not troubling in so far as the paradigm is a conservative-realist one that militaries, universally, subscribe to. However, the makeover of India in the image of majoritarian nationalism is unlikely to remain a political and democratic exercise. Aware of this, Hindutva forces would like a placid military when they contrive to remain in power and their agenda goes beyond governance.
On this count, the army’s association with Baba Ramdev is only superficially innocent, to do only with yoga. The army is not so politically innocent as to be unaware of the upfront social and political changes ongoing in India. Its choice of Baba Ramdev suggests that it needs watching as much as the moves of the Hindutva combine to influence it.