Monday, 25 June 2018 
To Fail Kashmir is to Fail India
(Unedited version)
Based on precedence, it was entirely predictable that the Ramzan suspension of operations would be yet another wasted opportunity in Kashmir. The earlier ebbs in operations and list of interlocutors are rather well recorded to bear recounting here. It was predictable also on account of the BJP’s showing in power as a party that places the interest of the Parivaar over the national interest. This is best signified by the BJP walking out of the coalition in J&K as it heads into national elections.
Even more so, it was predictable in light of the national security establishment being bereft of strategic sense over the term of its presiding deity, Ajit Doval. A Ramzan ‘ceasefire’ extended into a prospective Amarnath Yatra ‘ceasefire’, alongside an ongoing return to the ceasefire on the Line of Control (LC), could have capitalized on gains from Operation All Out. This could have been gainfully used by special interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma to position his peace cart.
That said, it must be admitted there is a strategy at play, albeit a perverse one.
As General Hasnain – a veteran of a previous suspension of operations - reminded all at the outset of this round of suspension of operations that the temporary halt is limited to offensive operations of the area domination variety, with defensive, protective, responsive and intelligence-based operations continuing.
Rationalising the ceasefire, experts let on that at the operational level it is a period of consolidation for integrating the intelligence picture; allowing troops a respite; and coordinating between security agencies that could then be used to reenergize operations when called off. Evidence is in the drawing up of a list of 21 most wanted and the dispatch of an Islamic State affiliated terrorist soon after the ending of the ‘ceasefire’.
The militants (and terrorists) - for their part - might be tempted to let down their guard, such as by visiting families, enabling an enhanced intelligence picture. A lower profile of military operations would also put a lid on stone throwing, useful at a time when passions could be expected to be higher in the holy month. So there was little to lose operationally.
At the strategic level, the moves to sedate Pakistan have been on since the end of winter. A ceasefire on the LC has the advantage of enabling greater rigour in counter infiltration. Firing, of the level of artillery duels, has the effect of keeping heads down, enabling disruption of the fence and the surveillance along it. Pakistan, having faced the brunt and believing that it gave back as good as it received, fell in line. The operational level fallout was in reduced infiltration keeping the lowered figures of insurgents resulting from Operation All Out steady; subject at best to injection by easily-neutralized, naïve and untrained locals joining the ranks in passion, hate and anger.  
Alongside, a suspension of operations would have kept Pakistan open-minded on the possibilities of a peace process; the sleight of hand – properly called deception - buying India time to tamp down on the renewal of insurgency since the – unnecessary in retrospect - elimination of insurgent icon Burhan Wani.
The main gains were at the political level. Narrowly, the ceasefire helps India – and the Modi government - project a benign image. No doubt, forewarned by the foreign ministry, it was bracing for release of the UN human rights report. In the event, the report released as the ceasefire wound up, came down heavily on security forces using excessive force, leading to an avoidable number – in three digits – of civilian deaths.
Internally, since the initiative was tagged to an all-party meeting in Kashmir which proposed a ceasefire for the duration of Ramzan and the Amarnath Yatra, it was useful to look responsive to a provincial government in which the ruling party was a coalition partner. It mellowed the anti-Muslim image of the ruling party.
On the other hand, the calling off of the ceasefire helps project the conjured threat to the Amarnath Yatra as real; with conjured used advisedly since an unmolested Yatra has been one of the symbols of the possibilities of peace in Kashmir. A Muslim threat to a Hindu pilgrimage can serve a purpose in election year. 
More importantly, the strategy is informed – as can be expected - by the grand vision of the regime. The regime is both unwilling and unable to countenance peace through peaceable means, in light of being a front for the right wing. The boarder Sanghi agenda is minority centric, to overawe the subcontinent’s Muslims. The reduction of India to lynchistan and the political clout of the largest minority anywhere in the world to a cipher is well known.
The Kashmiris – being Muslim and seen as backed by Muslim Pakistan – cannot in this schema but be bludgeoned into submission. Thus, even the seeming sense in its very own and domesticated army chief’s recent reminder that insurgency can only be politically terminated is ignored.
At the subcontinental level, Pakistan has been given a breather. In the election year, the regime would not like to its strategic finesse to be tested and found wanting. It sensibly diverted the defence budget this year into a new-fangled national health insurance scheme, since – despite the polarization ploy - the social sector could count.  Whereas the - unnecessarily aggravated - situation has been toned down with China too for the same reasons, unlike with China, it would be back to business with Pakistan once elections are wrested, since the Muslim fixation of the Sangh cannot go away.
What does this reading of the ceasefire episode spell?
It suggests the regime will not deliver on peace in Kashmir. Since Pakistan is both part of the problem and the solution in Kashmir, peace in the subcontinent will be pended till the regime is democratically replaced.
This is counter-intuitive. A government with a majority in parliament could have done much to stabilise Kashmir, and at one remove, relations with Pakistan. It had spent the previous ten years in opposition undercutting the most promising period of return to stability in the subcontinent, though knowing these to be a carry-over of the initiatives of its own earlier avatar in power. Its vaunted development agenda needed a quietist foreign and security policy. Its security head-honcho, Doval, chosen for a much-advertised security expertise and for being Pakistan savvy, allowed parochialism to overtake strategic acuity.
Today, to the ceasefire is being attributed the killings of leading journalist Shujaat Bukhari and off duty soldier Aurangzeb. Young Gurmehar Kaur was entirely right in attributing to conflict an inexorable logic. Conflict consumed them as its latest victims. A government is elected to ensure that citizens are protected from conflict. It is understandable that sometimes this necessitates going into an unavoidable conflict. By no yardstick does the continuing of conflict in Kashmir fit this bill.
Governments unable to bring it to a close need to be held accountable at the hustings, especially if doubly unmindful by alongside being unwilling, such as is the current regime. A regime responsible for India failing Kashmiris has failed India.  

Wednesday, 13 June 2018


Scholar Warrior, Journal of CLAWS, Spring 2018

The appointment of the new interlocutor for Kashmir, former Intelligence Bureau chief, Dineshwar Sharma, has potential to deprive the Pakistani army of a raison d'être. The potential for this needs to be examined in order that the peace initiative get the requisite heft. There are currently two schools of thought. One is that the Pakistan army requires to keep stoking the fires in Kashmir in order to stay atop the power grid in Pakistan. By this reasoning, India has limited options in Kashmir, faced as it is with a proxy war. Thus, the peace initiative can at best be a conflict management tool. The other is that there are genuine grievances in Kashmir, which if tackled with wisdom by India can result in a dissipation of any Pakistani locus standi in Kashmir. The peace initiative can bring a closure to the troubles in Kashmir, cutting off the oxygen of alienation that enablesproxy war. This is a conflict resolution approach. The relative salience of the two approaches will determine the direction of the initiative, whether it reaches its full potential as a conflict resolution measure or whether the appointment is merely a conflict management tool.
The current peace initiative
The current peace initiative in Kashmir was launched in late October this year.[1] Given the coincidence in timing of the first visit then to New Delhi of the US secretary of state, the appointment of the new interlocutor was taken as having something to do with the visit. The critique was that the appointment was to undercut any US push for getting India to talk to Pakistan, as part of the new US policy in Afghanistan, unveiled by President Donald Trump at a speech in late August.[2] Since the new policy was rather severe on Pakistan for its nursing of terrorism and provision of sanctuary to terrorists on its soil, the US had decided to give Pakistan one more chance to come aboard the international quest against terrorism. Pakistan for its part has no doubt tried to milk its last chance to its advantage, requiring US pressure alongside on India in relation to India’s strategy in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Since Rex Tillerson, on his inaugural visit to India flew in from Pakistan, New Delhi wanted to preempt any messaging from Pakistan for talks through Tillerson. Thus, commentators observed a link between the visit and the appointment.[3] India could point to the appointment of a Union government’s representative for talks with Kashmiris in case the matter came up with the US. India could argue that as a responsible government it is fulfilling its obligation towards it people to return normalcy through all means, but it is not beholden to talk to neighbours under the threat of a gun.
Irrespective of any international impetus to the initiative, there is a case for the same in strategic lights. The army chief, appraising the initiative, has said that it is from a position of strength.[4] He was referring to the higher tempo of operations in Kashmir since the surgical strikes of the previous year. There is the ongoing Operation All Out under which over a 200 terrorists have been eliminated, mainly foreigners. This summer there was no resumption of the agitation of mid 2016. Along the Line of Control (LC), India has remained proactive, tamping down on dozens of infiltration attempts. There are cracks appearing in the terrorist ranks, with some, such as Zakir Musa, the former Hizbul Mujahedeen commander, being cast out of mainstream terrorist ranks for his advocacy of the Islamist strain.[5]The Center’s hardline in terms of talks with the umbrella separatist organization, the Hurriyet, has kept the separatists on leash. This has been further tightened by the National Investigation Agency’s raids on the terror financing money trail.[6] Internationally, India has been on the offensive, attempting to isolate Pakistan for its support for terrorism, both in bilateral settings and in multilateral fora. At the UN General Assembly session in September, in its right of reply to the speech by the Pakistani prime minister citing Kashmir, India characterized that state as ‘terroristan’.[7] Finally, there was the winter setting in when the operational dynamics usually subside, allowing greater space for political thrust lines. Thus, it would appear that New Delhi set the conditions for a peace initiative. It now bears taking to its logical conclusion.
This energy behind the initiative is crucially dependent on which of the two approaches predominate in the corridors of power. A new book on India’s engagement in Afghanistan since the departure of the Soviet Union suggests that there are lobbies at play in policy and decision making circles that seek to influence the direction and outcome of policy. The book describes the interplay between the relative power of the ‘conciliators’ and the ‘partisans’, with the former depicted in brief as soft-liners and the latter as hard-liners.[8] Drawing analogy, it can be said that a similar policy tussle may have preceded the peace initiative in Kashmir and is also is likely to attend its course. The two lobbies are loosely taken here as minimalist, conflict management oriented, and maximalist, conflict resolution aspirant.
The conflict management lobby can easily be taken as practical and aware of the uphill struggle. They are also cognizant of the Pakistani ability to keep stoking the fire, besides of the other ill winds from West Asia. They are possibly also political tuned in to the Indian political scenario in which major political concessions may neither be thought desirable nor possible. The conflict resolution lobby for its part is the more ambitious. They are more aware of the limitations of a security solution to a political problem. Equally aware of the arc of instability stretching westwards, they wish to put out the fires that can invite adverse attention towards India. They are more sensitive to the possibilities enabled by the liberal underpinnings of India’s constitution. A creative legal thrust line duly backed politically, in light of a strong center, can bring about an internal settlement. There are examples in the North East which can serve as precedent. Thus both approaches have some weight. It bears probing further which can deliver more and better. The criterion to judge this is against which approach will facilitate Pakistan’s falling out of the equation better.
The conflict management approach
The conflict management approach is realism inspired in that it posits conflict as a given condition, with states in an adversarial relationship engaged in a zero sum game. Since a proxy war is on in Kashmir, there is little that can be done than to manage the consequence. This requires a multipronged approach. However, despite the security aspect to fore, the economic, social and developmental angles are of consequence. This has been the Indian approach to Kashmir. As part of this, interlocutors have also periodically been dispatched across the PirPanjals, sometimes, such as most recently the Yashwant Sinha led Concerned Citizens’ Group,[9] in response to a spike in violence on the streets. The interlocutors’ engagement with the people and stakeholders not only a cathartic effect, but the reports are also useful in tweaking the governments’ response as necessary. The conflict management approach has space for peace initiatives, but stops short of going the full distance on the political track. It uses – to its critics instrumentally – the peace process for calming the situation and bringing it back under control. In a sense the peace prong of strategy is to supplement the security prong. This distinguishes it from the conflict resolution approach, wherein the ‘resolution’ is sought on the political track, with the other prongs of strategy being supportive of the effort.
The interlocutor has set himself a limited, if realistic, ambit, restricting himself to tamping terrorism. He wishes to target the youth so as to keep terrorist ranks from swelling.[10]This indicates the initiative does not have an ambitious mandate. The results are already apparent, with the police working on encouraging surrenders of locals. The upshot is in a manageable subconventional operations situation, which troops on the counter insurgency grid can handle with routine aplomb. The political fallout is in the Kashmir issue receding from headlines, making for little pressure on New Delhi to ‘resolve’ it either internally or through interfacing with Pakistan. This is in keeping with the policy of marginalizing the separatists within and ‘no talks’ with Pakistan without. The byproducts are, for example, externally, in keeping the US at arms’ length, and internally, with political dividend for the ruling party depicted as strong on defence. Thus, the initiative is within the wider framework of a tougher national strategy and posture.
The conflict management approach has an advantage of keeping a lid on the situation till the government wishes to take it up on its terms. The home minister for instance has indicated that the government has some ideas on conflict resolution.[11] The management of the conflict therefore needs to continue till such time this is rolled out. The military template is thus an intrinsic part of the resolution menu. The stability necessary for moving to the next stage of conflict resolution is provided by conflict management. Indeed, even while resolution is unfolding – in the next phase – management of violence would in any case require to continue apace. This indicates an overlap between the two approaches, making them less antagonistic than supplementary. Conceptual clarity on this can help the switch or gear shift as necessary.
Conflict resolution approach
Conflict management is what is usually settled for when conflict resolution is not seemingly possible or thought desirable. Conflict resolution through victory in war for example, especially against a nuclear power, may not be desirable. Alternatively, it may not be possible in light of an impossible compromise required, such as in case of Kashmir, granting independence. However, short of independence – or, worse, it’s joining Pakistan – conflict resolution can be envisaged, such as oft said, within the parameters of a liberal constitution.
The conflict resolution approach by no means abjures use of force. It is predicated instead on intent backed by a sound plan. This entails negotiations, with a willingness to compromise – within bounds - on part of stakeholders. The design of these in relation to participants, location, pace, agenda, perception management, spoiler handling, contingency planning, timelines, parallel processes, creating and sustaining political capital and managing of the external are of significance. It requires a battery of experts with multidimensional expertise and experience and a lead negotiator synergizing the initiative. The lead negotiator has to have political savvy, integrity, stamina and moral courage. The other lines of operation such as the use of force, governance and development, are subordinated to the requirements stemming from the meander of the negotiation.
By this yardstick the current peace initiative in Kashmir would have to evolve considerably to measure up to the demands of conflict resolution. From Sharma’s initial press statements and the two visits (at the time of writing) to the Valley suggest that this is a preliminary stage, with Sharma at best testing waters intending to come up with a conflict analysis for the government. This can be the first step for the major initiative to follow, either with the lead horse changed midstream or with Sharma continuing in position. This can be rolled out once the winter’s operational respite is taken to shore-up political intent, put in place a negotiation team, chalk out a plan, whistle-up the infrastructure, broadcast the agenda and manage perceptions. The following year can see a dedicated round of talks on the key political questions, including the taboo word, azadi. If interpreted as autonomy, conflict resolution comes within reach. The release of political detainees, pardon for stone throwing youth, leashing the NIA, modulating operations, progressively rolling back disturbed area notifications are some of the arrows in the negotiator’s quiver. Whereas the army chief has indicated that currently military operations will not be effected,[12]further down the road narrowing these to directing them solely at foreign terrorists could be called for. Precedence of managing an operations drawdown exists in the ceasefire of year 2000 in Kashmir, suspension of operations against various groups in Assam and the ceasefire in Nagaland.There is also the Muzaffarabad based jihad council to think of. This would require opening a line to Pakistan.
The key question to answer is whether Pakistan would bite. The conflict management votaries believe otherwise. They see a vested interest of the Pakistani army in stirring the pot. This critique needs being taken on board in a shaping of the regional security environment. Pakistan has over the past few years complained of India creating a ‘two front’ problem for it. India has attempted to isolate it diplomatically. It has objected to the Chinese life-support of the economic corridor. It has articulated a claim to the northern areas. It has suspended the comprehensive bilateral dialogue. The US is readying to weigh in against Pakistan finally. India and Pakistan have had their national security advisers talking all through this. These are leverages that India can now cash in on to hedge its Kashmir initiative. Pakistan for its part has the option to cry ‘victory’ and quit. It had attempted to disconnect from its Kashmir commitment even during the Musharraf years. If it can take credit – at least propagandistically – for a return of peace in Kashmir, it has a face saver. India could allow it a line to separatists,who having an increasing stake in the peace process can persuade Pakistan to back off. Alongside, Pakistan would require to initiate DDRRR (Disarmament, Demobilisation, Repatriation, Reintegration, Resettlement) best practices for its ‘good terrorists’, with India seeing how to coopt the Pakistan based Kashmiri terrorists. By no means can all this be done in quick time, but strategy demands identifying the steps towards such an end.
The debate as carried here is likely informing decision making on the future direction of the peace initiative. Currently, it is within the conflict management parameters. It has potential to move towards conflict resolution. This is predicated on the assessment decision makers arrive at on whether upping the peace ante would make Pakistan fall out of the equation. There is an element of risk taking in this. Political decision makers are usually not impressed by the argument that a decision requires political courage. Political survival requires discretion, even if possible political dividends from bold decisions are given a go-by. They cannot chance elusive political dividend at the risk of national interest. However, the tough line in Kashmir and against Pakistan over the past three years makes strategic sense only if it is taken to a logical conclusion. Having sensitized Pakistan and conditioned it thereby, extracting the necessary mileage from it would require the strategy to move from conflict management to conflict resolution. Allowing Pakistan off the hook with a face-saver might just see it take the chance on offer – to sidle off its Kashmir engagement to set its own house in order.

[1]PIB (2017): “Centre appoints Shri Dineshwar Sharma as its Representative in J&K,”Press Information Bureau, Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, 23 October, viewed on 1 November,
[2]Ali Ahmed, “The Kashmir charade this winter”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, Issue No. 47, 25 Nov, 2017, pp. 10-12.
[3]Das, Sashwati (2017): “Who is Dineshwar Sharma?,” Livemint, 24 October, viewed on 7 November,
[4]Peri, Dinakar (2017): “Govt. talking from point of strength in Kashmir, says Gen. Rawat,” The Hindu, 25 October, viewed on 9 November,
[5]Rashid, Toufiq (2017): “Zakir Musa as al-Qaeda’s local chief is bad news for Kashmir,” Hindustan Times, 28 July, viewed on 2 November,
[6]Ahuja, R. and Abhishek Saha (2017): “After Kashmir raids, NIA set to grill separatist leaders on illegal funding,” The Hindustan Times, 4 June, viewed on 1 December,
[7]TOI (2017): “India slams Pakistan at UN, calls it 'Terroristan',” The Times of India, 22 September 2017, viewed on 2 December,
[8]Paliwal, Avinash (2017): My enemy’s enemy, New Delhi: Harper Collins, pp. 10-13.
[9]CCG (2017): “Full text: Report of third visit by Yashwant Sinha-led Concerned Citizens Group to Kashmir,” Indian Express, 4 September 2017, viewed on 3 November,
[10]Yadav, Yatish (2017): “I want to target terror recruitment: Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma,” Indian Express, 29 October, viewed on 8 November,
[11]PTI (2017): “Permanent solution to Kashmir issue is based on five 'C's: Rajnath Singh,” Economic Times, 11 September, viewed on 20 November,
[12]Express Web Desk (2017): “Kashmir: Appointment of interlocutor won’t affect our operations, says Army Chief Gen BipinRawat,” Indian Express, 25 October, viewed on 29 November,

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

What normalising the Sangh means for national security
Taking cue from old soldiers once under his ceremonial authority, a former supreme commander would have done well to fade away. But just as some retired generals these days attempting to prolong their fifteen minutes of fame, the former supreme commander in question, Pranab Mukherjee, early this month chose to reenter the limelight by gracing a passing out function of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) at Nagpur.

A skeptical interpretation has it that he was positioning himself for 2019, when, with the Modi wave expended, he might emerge as a consensus candidate in the prime ministerial musical chairs for the divided opposition. Unflattering biographies have it that he has nursed a repeatedly-thwarted prime ministerial ambition. The commentary detected an octogenarian lining up for his last chance. Be that as it may, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee’s foray has implications beyond his political future.

His is but the latest attempt at mainstreaming the RSS. So far, the Sangh has inveigled its way into India’s imagination, almost Chinese-like in biding its time. While Pranabda’s favour has been rather up-front and visible, quite like the evening ritual of talking heads at the idiot box constantly pitching its line, less intrusive, innocuous methods are constantly at play. Such as for instance the confabulations of the male lead with his shakha mates on over the innocent topic of a hefty wife-to-be in the national award-winning film, Dam Lage Ke Haisha.

Increasing comfort levels with the RSS and its ideology among people and its insinuation into our lives and consciousness as an unremarkable – if not positively enticing - entity is underway. The strategy is three-pronged: usher the RSS to respectability while out-shouting those calling this out, even as a smoke-screen is built in the form of Maoists and jihadists as primary threats to national security.

Alongside cooptation (as with Mr. Mukherjee), every effort is made to deter and threaten those who reveal the effort and the not-so-hidden agenda. Trolling and motivated law suits are perhaps the least dangerous manner of going about this. The killings of rationalists down south and the threats to life and intimidation of journalists, intellectuals and activists - the ever-growing list which includes Barkha Dutt, Rana Ayyub, Umar Khalid, Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy – is a more direct method.

This also explains the social-media assault on Rahul Gandhi. He was spot-on in his wiki-leaked conversation with a US diplomat citing the threat from the far right as the more significant one, picked over Manmohan Singh’s famous reference to the Maoists as such. This prompted the undercutting of Mr. Gandhi’s credibility by the troll brigade, using by the now all-too-familiar memes and themes, such as ‘pappu’ (in contrast to the seemingly masterful communicator, Mr. Narendra Modi).

The RSS’s effort to move centerstage from the fringe is understandable. It is also explicable that affiliated organisations, such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), that stand to profit electorally from the RSS ballast as footsoldiers at election time, would be party to the effort. Given that the RSS-BJP relationship is no secret, it is not unreasonable anymore to expect six central ministers going into a huddle with the RSS samooh (group of RSS wings) as happened last month. The message is that the RSS is not untouchable but is instead the fountainhead of wisdom on governance.

Normalising of the RSS thus is to be unmindful of its concept of nation and nationhood and the dissonance it brings into India’s sense of self. Importantly, it upends democracy, making it synonymous with majoritarianism. Inability of India to keep extremist ideologies from electorally taking over the state is evidence of a deficit in its national security.

The danger is not only from the close and present danger, but from the deliberate deletion of this threat from discussions in the strategic community. It is as though by design that there is no mention of the threat that saffron extremism poses in India’s mainstream strategic publications. Though the threat is registered in liberal and leftist circles, they are long marginalized. The strategic community not only does not sound the alert, but actively obfuscates.

The inability to distinguish between an unexceptionable conservative-realist perspective – as can be expected to dominate in strategic discourse in India as elsewhere - and ideology-contaminated strategic penetration compounds India’s national security predicament. This indicates, as with other institutions and discourse spaces, the right-wing reigns in seminar rooms and think tanks.

Evidence is in the more prominent best-funded think tanks are but platforms for propagation of cultural nationalism. The official - autonomous - think tanks, that are government money funded, have on their rolls ideological warriors who drive out and tamp down debate. Many of these ‘strategists’ – mostly veterans of the armed forces - hop between think tanks taking their vile wares with them. This writer has over the past three months had to write in to three such think tanks reminding them of their editorial duty as gate keepers of professional opinion and knowledge spaces, to keep the strategic discourse uncontaminated by extremist trope. A result is in a paradigm dominance of sorts and a monocular strategic discourse.

The threat is kept under wraps from citizens, fed on the inanities on the sometimes combined jihadist and Maoist threats. The mere 47-odd adherents from India of the Islamic State are projected as a national security calamity. The arrest last week of five Maoists of an urban cell is hyped, in this case, with the implausible finding of a letter on gun-running from one of them.

The resounding silence on the Hindutva threat in national security terms is music to the ears of the national security establishment. Currently, it is headed by a national security adviser with well-known affiliations and reputation of being the right-hand man of a prime minister who was once an RSS pracharak. The establishment can be trusted to be oblivious to the threat and can be expected to be unwilling to hear otherwise.

A simple illustration on the implication of selective listening by those charged with national security is the letting-off of saffron terrorists in terrorism cases, no doubt by a whisper from the investigation agency to willing listeners in the judiciary. These put paid to India’s long standing global advocacy against terrorism and its Pakistan-targeted distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorists.

Graver implications may arise in 2019, when power will be up for grabs. The national security threat from the far right at the juncture, possibility mediated by elements within the state, bears watch. The strategic community needs reappraising its complicity so far, while minders within the national security system need standing up to power. An intention to stare down intimidation – even if emanating from within the system - can deter, prevent, and, at a pinch, retrieve the situation. It is precisely for this reason the Sangh is playing footsie and personages who should know better playing along.

Monday, 4 June 2018

An officer and gentleman: Worthy of a Muslim's ambition 

The President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind took the salute at the 134th passing out parade at the National Defence Academy (NDA), Khadakvasla. The passing out parade, a somber occasion at every occasion, was especially more poignant this time. The man who put it together for the Supreme Commander's inspection, the Subedar Major Drill of the NDA, Subedar Major Rajeev Kumar Rai, had only a few days prior been felled by a heart attack, testifying to the pressures of performance in front of the highest constitutional authority in the land. A veteran of service in the Siachen, Kashmir and the North East, Rai was the head drill 'ustad' of the Academy, an awe-inspiring appointment credited with instilling discipline into cadets. In tribute to him, cadets were resolved to put up such a show as had never been witnessed on the Khetarpal parade ground, named after its most illustrious alumni, posthumous Param Vir Chakra awardee, young Second Lieutenant Arun Khetarpal. 

With the Subedar Major departed, the onus to deliver the message of reassurance for his Supreme Commander - and through him to the nation - that the future of the armed forces, and - at one remove - the defence of the country, was in safe hands, fell to the Academy Cadet Captain (ACC). It is no secret that the Academy Adjutant, supervising the parade while riding a horse, usually has more of his attention on the horse rather than the parade. It would not do for the Adjutant to be unseated by an excited or reluctant horse. The onus therefore fell this time on the young - though broad - shoulders of a strapping Muslim youth from Assam, ACC Mohammad Sohail Islam.

Academy Cadet Captain Sohail Islam was selected for the honour from among 344 cadets of the passing out course. It is a privilege he earned by his showing over six terms spread over three years, competing against the best young men this country of a billion and more souls has to offer. To be considered the top-notch leader of a batch training at an Academy that styles itself as the 'cradle of leadership' is a singular achievement. As can be imagined, a military academy does not judge leaders on academic distinction alone. The young men toiling to number among leaders of India's brave-hearts in battle have to build within themselves all-round merit. They are to be morally strong, mentally robust, physically tough and spiritually upright. From among his cohort, Mohammad Sohail Islam was reckoned as the best among India's best. Recall lakhs take the Union Public Service Commission's (UPSC) NDA entrance exam. Some 6000 clear the exam to try their luck at the Services Selection Boards. Only about 300 make the final cut. 

As the Rashtrapatiji alighted from the horse drawn carriage, he was received by the Commandant. At the far end of the parade ground, 854 cadets wearing white patrols were lined up in their squadrons on either side of the Nishan Toli, bearers of the President's Colours, conferred on the Academy by President Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy. Standing tall, right in front was their sword-bearing leader, ACC Mohammad Sohail Islam. As he sprung to attention on arrival of President Kovind at the Quarter Deck, the commentary paused. The chatter of the parents and siblings of the cadets graduating that day and the Pune gentry, who make the way up to Khadakvasla twice yearly for the spectacle, fell away. A hush fell over the ten thousand odd spectators. 

After his reverberating word of command for a general salute, sword in hand, Sohail Islam marched up to the dais to report the Academy present on parade for inspection by the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Thereafter, Islam mounted the ceremonial jeep alongside his Supreme Commander for the circuit of the parade ground as the Rashtrapati inspected the smartly turned out cadets. Islam then led the parade in its march past, doing an electric 'eyes right' while lowering his sword in salute as he strode past the Quarter Deck, as the podium is called, styled as it is after a ship's deck in deference to the jointness between the three services that the Academy lays the foundations of. The President was escorted by the Commandant for presenting the most coveted awards any youth can aspire towards, to the three who won these of the passing out course. Among the three was Sohail Islam, winner of the President's Silver Medal awarded for standing second in the overall order of merit. 

As President Kovind proceeded with his very pleasant duty of inspiring the young lads, the next cadet he had to pin a medal on was Ali Ahmed Chaudhury, a Squadron Cadet Captain, winner of the President's Bronze Medal. The President received Ali's salute, shook Ali by the hand and pinned a medal above the left pocket of his white patrol tunic, now drenched with sweat. As squadron cadet captain, Ali had led his squadron's march past, belting out the command of 'eyes right' at the Quarter Deck. A squadron cadet captain is among the top-drawer appointments, leader of over a hundred cadets of all six courses assigned to the squadron. He is responsible for steering the squadron's showing in the competitions for the overall championship banner for the best squadron, an annual life-and-death battle at the Academy. That the contest is so fierce is because the squadron is where the cadets learn that they must be ready to die for their outfit; squadron today, a platoon, flight or a ship tomorrow. He has to be a role model in preparation for the traditional, and historically validated, manner of leading Indian soldiers in battle; where leading means just that: from up front and ahead. Obviously, Ali measured up and how. Son of a retired army Subedar from Karimganj in Assam, his twin brother is due to receive the president's commission from the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, this term. Ali is a Georgian, as the graduates of Rashtriya Military Schools, earlier named after King George, are called. 

Quite like him, the other two medal recipients were also cadets since their school days; both, coincidentally being from the Rashtriya Indian Military College, Dehra Dun. The one who pipped both Sohail and Ali to the post was Battalion Cadet Captain Akshat Raj, a class mate of Sohail at RIMC. Like at NDA, Sohail had stolen at march over Akshat at RIMC by becoming the Cadet Captain, the school head-boy. But, Akshat topped the all-India UPSC merit list for entry into the NDA and at NDA took the gold. Sohail, like Ali, is son of an ex-serviceman, a Havaldar from West Bengal; while Akshat is a school teacher's son. All three are from humble backgrounds, society's bedrock that continues to offer up India's best stock for its most onerous duty. The three typify the quintessential warrior - Karmyogis of yore - trained as the nation's warriors from a tender age. 

Both Sohail and Ali exemplify the words of President Kovind in his speech while they stood rock solid and steady in the summer sun out on the tarred parade ground that has Shivaji Maharaj's fort, Sinhgarh - named after the Chhatrapati's formidable lieutenant Tanaji Malusare - as backdrop. President Kovind said, 'The parade comprises cadets from all parts of India and from a variety of communities. Its harmony speaks for our essential unity as much as our pluralism as a society.' He had just had lined up before him Akshat, Sohail and Ali. This is what the line up suggested to him. 

Sohail and Ali were right up there inspiring the Rashtrapati to reflect on India's essence. That's where Muslim youth need to be, all the time. Sohail and Ali tell that it is within reach, doable and, is indeed, a glass ceiling already breached. Quite like the remarkable performance of Muslim youth taking the civil services exam, and some exceptional Muslim toppers at that exam, the avenue of an armed forces' officership - 'a calling' for a 'rare breed' according to President Kovind - is open for Muslim youth to ensure the secular and plural colour of the armed forces - referred to by the Rashtrapatiji - remains bold. Thanks to Sohail and Ali, the President's Gold Medal - not having a Muslim inscribed on it since the mid-seventies - is now ours to grasp next. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Is the Indian military preparing for total war?


Three recently completed military exercises tell of the thinking within the Indian military. The first was the air exercise (Ex), Ex Gagan Shakti (Power of the sky), reportedly the largest ever air exercise; the second, Ex Vijay Prahaar (A blow for  victory), of Strike 1 Corps of the South West Command in the desert sector; and third, the South Western Command’s pivot corps, Chetak Corps’ exercise, Ex Gandiv Vijay (Victory to Arjuna’s bow).


Taken together, the three exercises - each foregrounding mention of jointmanship - spell an integration of the army’s cold start doctrine with the air force’s doctrine. While in Ex Gandiv Vijay, the pivot corps scrambled from a cold start to its battle locations, its RAPID division went on a limited offensive. At this time perhaps Ex Gagan Shakti’s phase one played out involving creating conditions for  speedy depletion of the enemy’s combat potential’ through ‘coercive strategies’. Thereafter, the Strike One Corps’ Ex Vijay Prahaar unfolded in which it made a penetration over obstacles into enemy innards to knock out armoured reserves reacting to it. Alongside, ‘swift offensive action’, Strike One likely fired off its Brahmos Block III cruise missiles it had practiced last autumn at a range in Andaman and Nicobar Islands in ‘synergistic employment of long range vectors along with the Infantry and Mechanised Forces and the Air Arm to achieve a decisive victory’ .    

While analysts inform that the armed forces are cognizant of ‘high-tempo and intense limited conflict’, the exercises do not lend confidence that limited war doctrines would hold. Limited War is sine qua non in the nuclear age. It is the only war that can plausibly be fought. In effect, military doctrines have to be predicated on the limited war concept and reflected realistically in exercise scenarios.
In the cases considered, the land forces appear to be bent on making deep penetrations across obstacles and degrading the enemy’s reserves, thus flirting with both the territorial and degradation thresholds of nuclear first use. The air force while taking on the Chinese appears to be upping-the-ante in taking on Chinese shipping in international waterway. This may be in reaction to some or other simulated setback in the mountains (loss of Tawang?), but, absent escalation control mechanisms in place and practiced alongside, the horizontal escalation in quick time can only lead up to the nuclear outbreak depicted.
While exercises at the operational level are worst-case scenario based and meant to demonstrate and validate capabilities – such as nuclear warfighting – the key strategic level take-away is that offensive content in doctrine militates against what the doctrine professes, the limited war concept. India would do well to revisit the moorings of its military doctrines.