Saturday, 27 August 2016

War and what to do about it

War is not round the corner, but that is not reason enough not to engage with it as a phenomenon and as an existential threat in South Asia. The rhetoric of ‘responsible nuclear power’, much in evidence in India’s recent and ongoing Nuclear Suppliers Group bid, should not obscure clear and present nuclear dangers. Realists wish to husband power in order to deter war and in case one is imposed on India to preserve the national interest. The problem is that sustaining such power creates the conditions for conflict, which in crisis does not necessarily help avert conflict and in conflict might prove counter-productive to the national interest.
A popular scenario in strategic circles can help explain this paradox of more power not necessarily begetting greater security. Realists in control of the national security establishment and of primetime believe India’s unassailable power deters Pakistan. This is true in so far as conventional attack is concerned and also in incentivizing Pakistani control over ‘good’ terrorists. However, it is debatable to the extent Pakistan can control the entire spectrum of terrorists it is host to. Thus, India can figure in terrorist crosshairs. Assorted jihadists might like to express solidarity with the Kashmiri angst, if only to put one over the Pakistani state they consider as letting their side down by providing only rhetorical support. The military power India has would not deter them and, on the contrary, could even act as a pull factor in case they wish to destabilise Pakistan to expand their reach. In case the going gets too hot in Pakistan, they have the potential to provoke a regional war, which can then help them survive any immediate threat, and, in its duration and aftermath, to expand their constituency using religious nationalism as heft. The exercise of Indian military power in the conflict can only bring about Pakistani military discomfiture, enabling extremists thereby, and at not a little cost to India. Therefore, if war is insensible, the preparations for it are equally so. With India hardening its foreign policy, deploying information war strategies and possibly also indulging in covert operations against Pakistan, a reflexive regional war needs only a bunch of terrorists getting lucky. With UP elections coming up as trailer to national elections, the scene can only get more combustible.
In respect of China, conflict is certainly more remote. Yet, India appears well on its way to being a lynchpin in US’ ‘pivot’ to Asia. Taking cue, China could well up-the-ante at the next border incident. Though confidence building measures are in hand, to guard against incursions escalating, India has taken care to reportedly position armoured elements of the Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) on the Tibetan plateau’s extension into India in both Ladakh and Sikkim. It has simultaneously let onthat the MSC, 17 Corps, has been put on a back burner for economic reasons; a move necessitatedmore likely to allow time for border infrastructure to catch up. Consequently, India has the force in being to respond to a local border incident, but not enough to react in a border war. This summer China created joint theater commands,creating thereby not only a possible military edge but also psychological asymmetry with India that has its services fighting separate, if parallel, wars. In effect, India is liable to overreact to a border incursion by, for instance, positioning armoured elements dissuasively; thereby risking escalation, to which in turn it has little answer. This will build up military pressure on the political level, which in the context of elections in the Hindi heartland close by can lead to scare mongering such as indulged in by the Uttarkhand chief minister over a recent Chinese incursion. Political agendas can yet contaminate strategic decisions. But then strategic decisions might themselves be more assertive than necessary, stemming from India’s belief that China is looking to push India back into the South Asian box. China, sensing this, might just time and tailor its next border incursion, in a manner as to have India either take the bait and foul up or veer off and lose face. 
The good news is that such scenarios are not quite ‘worst case’, of the order of a ‘two- front’ war or a war gone nuclear. Scenarios being staple fare for strategists, these are also susceptible to being overlooked outside of their strategic circles. However, ignoring such scenarios can only leavethe peace lobby scrambling. The pattern of recurrent crises and border incidents has lulledboth the public and the peace lobby. Further, cautioning by peace activists is discountedbecause it originates in the public perception from the ‘usual suspects’, not associated with strategic expertise. It is not without reason, the government is setting up defence studies departments in universities and has placed the National Defence University bill in the open domain for public comment. The peace lobby is doubly disadvantaged; but just as militaries sweat in peace, it must in peacetime forge a broader front for this uphill and asymmetric battle.
How can a war shape up? Though press releases of the defence ministry hide as much as they let on, these are enough to go by. A recent press release had it that the Mathura based strike corps – Strike 1 - held a demonstration of opposed river crossing (Press Information Bureau (PIB) 2016 (a)). Earlier, its summer’s military exercise climaxedin a brigade of paratroopsenabling deep thrust(PIB 2016 (b)). This indicates that though South Asia is about three decades into its nuclear era, the military is just about perfecting war plans dating to the mid-eighties. Notably, press releases of military exercises since 2012 take care not to mention the ‘nuclear backdrop’ (Ahmed 2015). This appears prompted by Pakistan’s unfurling of its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) in 2011, an entirely anticipated development in light of the doctrinal movement in India over the previous decade. The seemingly slovenly military response to the mega terror attack on Parliament in December 2001 prompted the quick-off-the-blocks ‘Cold Start’, worrying Pakistan down the TNW route.Even if India appears nonchalant in order to bolster deterrence, the silence surrounding India’s response to TNW is also directed inwards. By minimizing nuclear dangers,India makes war appear fightable, thereby short circuiting opposition and keeping the public unwary.
A conventional attack on Pakistan can find India sandwiched between the other two levels– nuclear and conventional. The more successful it is at the conventional level, the more dangers at the other two levels will kick in. The nuclear level is fairly straightforward. Pakistani TNW usewould breach the nuclear taboo. This would leave India a choice to escalate or to respond at the same level of the nuclear ladder. The first choice is what it currently promises in its declaratory nuclear doctrine. However, the subcontinent being at the stage of Mutual Assured Destruction, India might settle for the second option, in favour of an unacknowledged operational nuclear doctrine of proportional response.At the subconventional level, Pakistan’s army could rely on irregular war. In a clarification on Musharraf’s threat of ‘unconventional war’, Pakistani military spokesperson made a reference to ‘unconventional forces’ presumably indulging in an irregular war (Bidwai 2003). To be sure, Pakistan’s response at these two levels would leave it worse off, but that is no reason for India to discount the possibility.The lesson from the Chilcot inquiry report in Britain is that thinking through the consequencesis important when picking a fight.
In the famous Clausewitzian Trinitarian frame, consequences owe to interplay of chance, passion and rationality. Ideally, if India embarks on war, it would prefer, in the words of the army Chief, a ‘short, swift’ conventional tryst (Dawn 2015).Any political space opened up by the retreat of the Pakistan army under Indian blows would be filled by extremists. If Kashmir continues to be heavy-going even today when Indian security forces confront only stone throwers, stabilisation operations in Pakistan would be exponentially worse. Unfortunately for India’s power enthusiasts, India does not have US’ power and distance or powerless Gaza as neighbor as does its emerging role model, Israel.
Michael Howard (1979) held that strategyplays out in the operational, logistical, social and technological spheres too. These are not all external oriented. Internal politics cannot be ignored as a conflict driver. Majoritarian nationalism in India will mirror religious nationalism in Pakistan. In India, the social outcome could be in further marginalization of the liberal spectrum and of India’s largest minority, its Muslims. Likewise, the economics of warmaking and recovery will likely see greater militarization of ‘Make in India’, with the military technology conduit deepening India’s American and Israeli connection.Thus, to some there can be a ‘good war’, with the war used to deepen the right wing grip over India.
If the conspiracy theorists are even half right, intelligence capabilities exist to engineer a trigger that can then be capitalized on militarily to wage a premeditated war. Intelligence agencies taking cue from the prime minister’s Independence Day speech, couldargue that Sindhis andBaluchis are ripe for disaffection. India could sieze the moment to push Pakistan down the Iraq-Syria route. The internal fallout of the intelligence dimension is far more problematic. Ideologically inspired policemen in the Vanzaramould would pursue ‘sleeper cells’ in Muslim mohallas across India. The information war will paint dissent as treachery.
A similar look at a hypothetical war with China yields up areas of equal concern. The loss half-century back continues to echo. The Air Force reportedly has plans for busting the permafrost holding up the train tracks that lend China a logistics advantage on the Tibetan plateau. This would be extension of the war on environment, currently underway in the name of strategic road building. Complementary intelligence games such as use by India of the Special Frontier Force and retaliatory arming by China of North East militants can only be to India’s at a disadvantage, besides setting up Tibetans for trouble. The good part is that both sides subscribing to No First Use and having matching conventional capability tamps down on the nuclear factor. However, horizontal escalation such as to the more sensitive Tawang tract or if India ups the ante in the Malacca Straits, can occur; raising the profile of the nuclear factor. In its outcome, a fair showing can prove cathartic, while a loss would hardly be as fateful as it proved for Nehru. A war would enablerationalizationto India’s defence outlays; deepen privatization of the defence sector; and ensure a foreign policy lurch towards US.India can only get uglier. Either outcome would embolden authoritarian tendencies, played out in scapegoating Maoists in Central India and assorted communities in the North East with‘subversive’ potential,and, closer homeof liberal voices critical of India’s unnecessarily assertiveChina policy.
War has benefits for political forces, diplomatic pulls and commercial interests. If the state takes it so seriously as to spend inordinately on its preparation, war must figure more prominently in critical discussion. It cannot be left to strategists of the realist school and a few liberals fighting an intellectual guerilla war. The 1965 War reprise last year made war appear enticing, with Amar Chitra Katha even bringingout a comic on ParamVir Chakra heroes.A defencecorrespondent, noted for proximity to the defence minister,rewrote the war’s history depicting India as victor. Recent and ongoingextended centenary observance of theFirst World War romanticises Indian participation, obscuring enduring of the wretchedness of the trenches in defence of a foreign power at Ypres, Gallipoli and Kut el Amara. With the public suitably conditioned, war drums can stir up public support of war. In face of this, how can a wider peace movement be created, especially when war appears a seemingly a distant possibility?
For sure, this cannot be done in face of crisis since lead times have specifically been truncated in the ‘Cold Start’ scenario. It cannot be done in war, when war drums will drown out sane voices. It has to be done now, when time and breathing space are available. War must be exposed for what it is; misrepresentations exposed; and the link between potential war-profiteers and war mongers, including haloed institutions, made visible. Deterrence ‘experts’ need to explain the paradox inherent in the reasoning that deterrence is only at an ever increasing cost in insecurity. The curious reasoning is that the more insecure both sides are from each other, the more secure they are since neither can chance instability.Considering this, at best, India can only replay the Chinese strategy of 1962 with a hard, quick knock to be followed by unilateral ceasefire declaration and rapid reversion to the start line. If that is all that can be reasonably done with the military power at India’s disposal, is there a case for demanding the nuclear peace dividend? In this the peace lobby has an unlikely ally, since arguments for going nuclear by nuclear advocates such as the doyen, K Subrahmanyam, talked of the peace dividend.Can the threat to peace, taken so seriously by defence minders as to commandeer the nation’s resources, also energise the peace lobby?
This requires broad front political action and educational investment. There are more important and urgent fights underway in the multi-pronged push back on conservatism’s self-interested alliance with Hindutva. There are several red-herrings – such as ‘love jihad’ - to trip up the fight back. Also, there is a legion of information warriors and trolls to be subdued, as the defence minister let on in his reference to an unnamed actor’s loss of contract. There is the output of well funded think tanks, operating in one case out of the heart of Delhi’s diplomatic enclave, that need refuting. Such a daunting enterprise needs a core group constantly at the key boards and an overlap with those already at the figurative barricades on minds. It is not an easy proposition to dig in one more trench-line. But an anti-war front is necessary,which under war clouds can ratchet up moderationand strategic sobriety into war rooms and the idiot box. Only then would it avoid forming a judicial posse in wake of cities turningradioactive cinder.
Michael Howard, ‘The forgotten dimensions of strategy’, Foreign Affairs, (Summer 1979), Vol. 57, No. 5, pp. 975-986
PIB (2016 (a)), ‘Ex MeghPrahar: Demonstration on Opposed River Crossing’, 16 July 2016,, Accessed on 17 July 2016
PIB (2016 (b)), ‘Chief of Army Staff Reviews Exercise Shatrujeet’, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, New Delhi, 22 April 2016,; Accessed on 17 July 2016
Ahmed, A. (2015), ‘Information Operations in Limited Nuclear War’, Government of India, Ministry of Defence, New Delhi, 14 December 2015,; Accessed on 15 July 2016
Bidwai, P. (2003), ‘Musharraf’s speech raises the nuclear danger’,; Accessed on 10 August 2016

Dawn (2015), ‘Indian army chief says military ready for short, swift war’, Dawn,  2 September 2015,; Accessed on 17 July 2016

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A problem wider than Kashmir
India anticipates that it can get away with a heavy handed template in Kashmir. The summer of 2016 can join the other years now associated with the largely ineffectual public angst in Kashmir: 2008, 2009 and 2010. The problem is that just as events in 2010 brought about the turn in 2016 with Burhan Wani's exit from normal life dating to the events in 2010, the events in 2016 will no doubt add a lease of life to the troubles in Kashmir.

If 2010 gave a half decade lease of life to the insurgency, the consequence of 2016 will be around for longer. Children are part of the front line in protests. While right wing apologists on television explain away injuries to children as result of their being used as human shields, it is clear that children - quite like as other protestors - are angry with India.

It cannot be otherwise. On inquiry by the Srinagar High Court, the CRPF has let on that over a million pellets have been discharged at crowds, leading to over three score deaths and a few thousand injuries. Its Director General has indicated that pellet guns would only be replaced after an inquiry report is furnished. A timeframe of two months found mention.

That the government can choose to work faster than this has precedent. It fast tracked arms purchases in the Kargil War, importing Bofors ammunition from places such as South Africa even as the summer war progressed. That it has chosen not to bring the same efficiency to bear broadcasts that the crowds had better stay home. It can be read by watching Kashmiris that lives of Kashmiri citizens do not matter as much as of soldiers.

Can India afford such complacency? After the all-party meeting on Kashmir, the senior minister in the government, finance minister Jaitley, at a joint press conference with his colleague, home minister Rajnath Singh, intoned: "The change taking place in the world between 2010 and (20)16 ideologically has to play a role in the valley." The reference is obviously to the visibility of religious extremism since the Arab Spring went awry.

India's national security establishment has been in overdrive with its information war thrust line suggestive of an external link. The National Intelligence Agency chief highlighting the testimony of Bahadur Ali - a Pakistani terrorist caught sneaking into India - brought out that Ali had been coached to use the opportunity provided by the unrest to fire at soldiers from behind crowds. This marks the second and rather well known external influence - Pakistani interference - that can heighten the problem in Kashmir. At the all-party meeting, the prime minister appeared persuaded of the matter of Pakistani complicity, declaring that Pakistan will be paid back in the same coin. His Independence Day speech hinted at this, in its mention of Baluchistan, Gilgit and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in one breath.

From the 'political support' that the uprising has prompted in Pakistan it is clear that Pakistan is well aware of both interests in Kashmir. The first - religious extremism - is seen from the manner its adherents in Pakistan are organizing to drum up Kashmir as an issue in Pakistani consciousness, with last month's march by Jamaat ud Dawa from Lahore to Islamabad as example. The second is the rhetoric by Kashmiri militants based across such as Hizbul Mujahideen's chief Syed Salahuddin's call to nuclear war early this month.

In face of this combined threat, what is India's line? From inaction on 'root causes' in face of trouble continuing, it is stark that the internal well springs of the Kashmiri problem are not going to be taken as 'genuine grievances'. While the prime minister says he is willing to address these, placatory issues such as the sway of AFSPA, demilitarization, talks with separatists, progressing human rights inquiries etc. are not on the cards.

Consequently, India appears to have narrowed down to the hardline. That it need not have been so is clear from the fact that the ruling party, with a majority in the lower house for the first time since the insurgency outbreak in Kashmir, has the power to be responsive. Manmohan Singh, besides having a handicap in terms of numbers in the lower house, had the BJP breathing down his flanks.

While Mr. Modi has the numbers, he may not be ideologically inclined towards concessions himself. Notice how at his town hall preceding his Independence Day message, he took care to warn cow vigilantes off targeting Dalits alone; not Muslims who are greater victims. His record of hesitance in reaching out to Muslims - such as refraining from wearing Muslim headgear - suggests an ideological mental block, if not prejudice itself. The agitating Kashmiris just happen to be Muslim and cannot have their own talks process such as the extended one of Delhi with the Nagas. There are perhaps no American Christian evangelicals to catalyse these in case of Kashmir.

Secondly, his constituency is the right wing and, with consequential elections looming in UP, he cannot deviate from a line laid down for his party by its support base in the Hindutva combine. A hardline appeals to these political formations, since they are the foot soldiers in elections. The BJP has historically relied on the polarizing effect of anti-minority action. A softline towards either Kashmir or Pakistan now would be untimely.

Thirdly, the national security establishment has been taken over by those who are presumably conservative-realists, but who are in reality closet Hindutvavadis. Their writings are all over strategic discourse on how the shift to a hardline on Pakistan is warranted and Kashmiris, who are depicted as being inspired by religious extremism, deserve no quarter.

The manner the Kashmiri Pandits have unwittingly been roped into dampening any public sympathy for their Muslim counterparts, through a slew of articles highlighting their plight as a displaced community, is indicative. A Kashmiri Pandit and former diplomat is likewise busy extolling virtues of the policy shift, continuation of a hardline that attracted attention of no less than General Musharraf in his memoirs. As a former ambassador to Afghanistan, he must surely have a bone to pick with Pakistan. One former general - belonging to the Jammu belt and who once held the information war portfolio in Srinagar - is drumming up support for the hardline, prompting a student in the audience at an academic institution he spoke at to complain against his speech as inspiring hatred. Antecedents cannot be isolated from policy advice.

A sympathetic interpretation India's seemingly open interference in Pakistan - if on rebound - is that it is tactical. Bereft of ideas on what to do in Kashmir and unwilling to take the steps staring India in the face for at least a decade, a bit of diversionary tactics are called for. Also, the tactical gambit can warn off Pakistan from heightening physical support for Kashmiris. In any case, with elections round the corner, nothing else can reasonably be expected. Since the Pakistan policy has seen several swings over the past two years, this is just another one and can be righted once the electoral need passes and when Kashmiris settle down after their usual summer madness.

India needs warning-off buying into such rationale. Assuming that religious extremism has seeped-in in some measure into Kashmir, it can be surmised that the external links in Kashmir can only deepen. While the prime minister merely let on that India intends to canvass the diaspora hailing from the Pakistan held half of J&K to its discomfiture on the human rights front. This can but serve as cue for India's intelligence agencies to foster the conditions that will make for a worsening human rights situation. If Pakistani allegations are even half right, India's intelligence agencies already have a foot-in-the-door in Baluchistan and in relation to Paksitan's 'bad terrorists' in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa.

Though relatively restrained for over a decade now, should India's proxy war spike, Pakistan would likely take advantage of receptive conditions in Kashmir. Currently, it is beset with fighting off assorted terrorists on its western flank. It would welcome an opportunity to divert their energies towards India. That it would find a willing partner is clear from its intelligence agencies alerting India of the move of about a dozen terrorists towards the border for disrupting Independence Day celebrations.

The government can no doubt anticipate this. Believing it can cope, keeps it off concessions in Kashmir. Worse, it might prefer a heating up of the India-Pakistan scene, forcing Pakistan to revert to its old tricks. This will make for a more convincing case for its hardline policy. Any jihadi turn has internal security connotation wider than Kashmir. By unnecessarily placing Indian Muslims on a potential front line, internal political dividends might accrue for the ruling party. For its wing pseudo-cultural allies, religious polarization is a perennial electoral strategy.

For pseudo-realists, who are cultural nationalists at heart, pushing Pakistan down-the-tube is an obsession. With the national security apparatus at their disposal, they are unlikely to pass up the opportunity. In effect, this is not a tactical shift. This is extant policy; only India has glimpsed it starkly through the information war smoke for the first time. Kashmiris suffer as collateral damage and the present India-Pakistan nosedive is only contingent. The real problem is ascent of majoritarian nationalism and its bid to stay aloft in perpetuity.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Kashmir Killing: When Soldiers Commit a Crime, Honesty is the Best Policy for the Army

The Northern Command of the Indian army is its largest formation, responsible as it is for the defence of Jammu and Kashmir on both the Pakistan and China fronts, as well as for internal security.With more than a third of the soldiers deployed under his command, the northern army commander’s job is a consequential one. The current incumbent, Lt General D.S. Hooda’s, latest intervention has been a public expression of regret over the death of a lecturerin army custody, picked up during a night operation by the troops. The general minced no words in accepting that it was an ‘unauthorised’ operation and that the death by beating was ‘intolerable’ and ‘unjustified’.
The operation in question was carried out by troops of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR), reportedly accompanied by special operations group personnel of the Jammu and Kashmir police. Apparently, there had been a bout of stone throwing earlier in the day against the army. Angry troops barged into homes by night and thrashed the residents, including women, resulting in 18 people being hospitalised. The lecturer was beaten and whisked away along with 30 others. Later, his body was handed back to the family.
Hooda went on to admit, “The instructions are there to exercise maximum restraint but these are difficult times. The security forces are facing tough times and sometimes things get out of hand.” Clearly, the situation is indeed getting ‘out of hand’ if normally stolid troops of the Kumaon regiment – who are seconded to the 50 RR – are affected in such a manner as to storm into a village for a night of mayhem.
Even so, there can be no excuse for this descent to barbarity. The army constantly reminds itself of its commitment, with one exhortation going, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ It is at junctures like these when discipline is tested that the army is expected to pass the test. Parade ground discipline is the easiest to display, for it is in peace time.
However, it would not do to blame those at the bottom of the food chain alone. Such actions by the Kumaoni soldiers on their RR tenure is difficult to comprehend in light of the reputation of the troops for discipline and solidity. Indeed, their sense of discipline is such that, in this case, it appears that they may well have obeyed illegal orders. The responsibility for this, then, must rest on the shoulders of their leaders.
The leadership of RR is largely drawn from the regiment, but there is also an assortment of other officers who are on their field tenure. The structural problem with the RR is that the officers and troops find themselves together for a field tenure. Not only do they have to get to know each other, but also have to do so under the challenge of counter militancy operations. As a result, the premium on leadership goes up. In this case, if the officers set the troops on a questionable operation, then they must bear the consequences. If instead, the operation went awry – with soldiers running amok – the officers are liable for not exercising leadership.
The buck cannot stop at the unit level. The command environment and command climate need probing too. The environment of command is set at a formational level by one or two star levels of brass. This level sets the bar in terms of ethical conduct – be it financial probity, social mores or operational rectitude. In terms of counter insurgency, this spells the difference between the prevailing doctrinal approach or a bean-counting approach, where officers at lower level take cue and either follow the leader, or their conscience.
In case of the Pulwama operation, the level to which the unit was pushed by a higher headquarters to dampen the stone throwing ardour in its area needs to be examined.
The command climate is set at the operational level. It is easy to spot the command climate in place by the spoken reputation of the generals at the apex. In the current case, the theatre commander has set very high standards. Even so, operational level commanders can only make a finite difference; especially in the face of a command culture that is wider than their swathe of influence. The culture of command extends across the army. This can be one of professional rectitude, moral courage or, of cut-throatism. This might explain the dissonance between Hooda’s desire for ethical conduct and the recurrence of avoidable incidents in the Valley.
Hooda’s public commitment to legal action needs to be swiftly followed up. There has been no closure for the case that occurred early this summer in which a girl was molested inside a ladies toilet, allegedly by an army man. Her forced testimony, exonerating the army, was over zealously coerced out of her and recorded by the police. It was unethically circulated by the army public information officer on social media. Promised results of the inquiry have not been made public. Even though the bunker has since been removed from the location near the public toilet, in case action is not taken against the errant soldier, the army would have a child molester in its ranks.
By taking appropriate action, the army must measure up to its public adulation and in so doing, it will set a model for the other uniformed forces. A case in point is the tardy action of the CRPF at the headquarters level in replacing pellet guns, while at the ground level, 500 injuries have resulted from pellet guns being fired vindictively rather than being aimed below the waist.
Hooda had set the bar high, having early in his tenure ensured judicial sanction in the 2010 Machil encounter case, taking strict action against trigger happy soldiers at a barricade in Budgam, where two teenagers lost their lives. His kind of military leadership makes India proud. The army must ensure a command culture that throws up such leaders. Doing so implies endorsing Hooda’s standards. Sweeping dirt under the carpet under the mistaken belief that morale would suffer or its image would go down, is quite the opposite.