Tuesday, 25 September 2018


India-Pakistan: Ideology trumps strategy
An earlier contribution to The Citizen very rightly brings out the political rationale for the government calling off the meeting of the foreign minister with her Pakistani counterpart set to have taken place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting in New York this month. Here his point is reinforced by showing up the strategic rationale given – that terrorism continues – as a false one.

Indeed, the situation in Kashmir is such that the government could instead well have yelled ‘Victory!’ and turned the tide. That would have been sound strategy in the circumstances, and with political dividend including with its core Hindutva constituency.

Within Kashmir, the promising factors that could have been capitalised on included the appointment at long last of a political governor, who just made the sensible point that assembly elections, not horse trading, is how the next government in Srinagar would be formed. There continues to be a special representative in place, appointed about a year back, whose mandate of dialogue could be taken to its logical conclusion.

The ongoing military operation, Operation All Out, has accounted for some 360 terrorists killed in the last two years. The potential of the short-lived Ramzan ceasefire was undercut by its hasty termination. In short the military and political prongs of strategy of could have culminated with the military prong having done its bit being superseded by the political prong getting into high gear.

On the India-Pakistan front, the Pakistanis have sent out feelers for resuming talks over the past two years. Its army chief has weighed in in favour of talks and an economic opening. Taking the cue, so has the new government in Islamabad, promising two steps to India’s one. Since, as India’s minister of state for external affairs points out, it is a creature of the army it appears that the Pakistanis – speaking with one voice – could have proven a credible interlocutor. India could well have chosen to keep the talks about terrorism, as Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj intended, and continued with its line that this was a meeting and not talks or the resumption of dialogue.

At the regional level, US President Donald Trump’s policy has panned out over the past year. He set it rolling last August by promising a military conditioning of the Taliban, but with no dates of departure thrown in. Over the year, the Americans have opened a direct channel of talks with the Taliban, alongside the twice-proclaimed ceasefire initiative of the Afghan government. They have rapped Pakistan on the knuckles for not doing its part to bring the Taliban to the table by withholding USD 300 million in military subsidy and cutting off access to military education programs in the United States. The Russians and Iranians, who interface intimately in Syria, also have a line to the Taliban in the region. In short, there is little more that Americans could be doing to turn the screws on Pakistan.

In any case, the day-long working visit of the Afghan president to New Delhi preceded the acceptance of the meeting by India at Pakistan's request. Thus, the meeting was not called off owing to the wider situation. It therefore – as India admitted, citing the three policemen killed there – had to do with Kashmir.

The calling-off of the meeting is not the first about-turn in the Modi-Doval stewardship of India’s Pakistan policy. The first was the infamous one in which India overreacted to the Hurriyat's meeting with the Pakistani high commissioner, disregarding the precedence amounting to normality of such interaction. The second was after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a flying visit to the Raiwind farm house of Nawaz Sharif, when the Pathankot airfield terror attack aborted the process.

Whereas the Pathankot episode had the magnitude to affect talks, to use the killings of three policemen in Kashmir – when some 20 policemen have been killed over the year – calls into question the rationale given, particularly when the policemen were irregulars called special police officers, and not constabulary.

Perhaps the intention is to highlight at the UN General Assembly – where no doubt the tradition of an India-Pakistan war of words is set to continue this year – the Pakistani hand in support of terrorism. But the international community will be difficult to persuade.

A fourth of some 250 terrorists in Kashmir are estimated to be Pakistani. Of the list of 22 ‘most wanted’, only three are Pakistani. The leader most active is indigenous, Riyaz Naikoo of the Hizb and of the six A++ terrorists, four are Kashmiri. Even the casualty figures released by India talk of local militants mostly, with the disaggregated data for Pakistani terrorists not available even on the meticulously compiled satp.org datasheet.

As for infiltration, had Pakistan been at its mischievous best, a hardline government would hardly have gone in for a renewed ceasefire along the Line of Control.

Besides, the deterioration in Kashmir owes much to India’s hardline. The report of the UN human rights watchdog has drawn blood, finding mention yet again in the taking-over briefing of the new high commissioner for human rights. Terrorists have for the most part in the recent past restricted themselves to military targets, thereby undercutting India’s case that it is subject to terrorism and a proxy war, not insurgency.

It is largely over the course of this year that a certain brutalisation appears to have crept in. Families have been targeted by both sides, making it irrelevant to point out who started both sides down the slippery slope. The targeting of special police officers may indicate a spike in the intelligence game in which the terrorists are out to stanch intelligence sources, even as intelligence is used to get to more of them. The resumption of large-scale operations, the high-handed nature of searches leaving behind a trail of complaints by house owners, the continuing killings of up to a score a month of local lads who have taken to insurgency out of desperation and anger and lack of hope absent political initiative have contributed.

The upshot is that India cannot blame Pakistan credibly for the mess in Kashmir. It cannot rehearse its earlier line on terrorism with any plausibility. The army chief has gone on record saying that a three-tier counter infiltration grid has been reinforced this year, and some 100 terrorists killed astride it over last year. It is thus not terrorism India faces, it is insurgency. India cannot believably play the Pakistan card any more to bail itself out of the need to switch to the political track.

India must recognise that it is at what its army chief called its Neeraj Chopra moment, referring to the sportsmanship of the Asiad gold medalist, who reached out to his Pakistani bronze medalist compatriot on the podium. India could well have likewise climbed the podium and extended a hand both externally to Pakistan and internally to Kashmiris.

That such a circumstance has not been seized after four years in the saddle by the present government indicates that the circumstance is fortuitous. It is not of India’s making as much it is of Pakistan largely divesting itself of the terrorism tag. Continuing force application indefinitely is not strategy; it marks the absence of one.

Further, India’s strategy minders are ideologically blinded to see the juncture to be seized. This suggests that politics has trumped strategy, and in the process national interest.

Monday, 24 September 2018

India on the brink

One explanation for the enduring India-Pakistan rivalry has been that it is an identity conflict: India as a multitudinous democracy and Pakistan as a military-run state. A cynical view of Pakistan has it that its envy of India results in its constant provocations, including terror attacks and periodic dusting of the threadbare territorial issue, Kashmir. 

It has deployed its intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to this end. From the headlines these days it can be inferred that the ISI has succeeded beyond its wildest imagination. 

The more significant affect has been at the political level. Using the terrorism the ISI indulged in as leverage, black operations by India's majoritarian extremists have in some measure led up to the capture of power in India by cultural nationalists. 

One prop that enabled Hindutva champion, Narendra Modi, gaining a national profile was that ISI instigated home-grown terrorists were out to get him when he was at his provincial perch. Four years into the Modi era, the Indian Muslim - having been driven into a corner - would makes for an implausible foe. Thus, the ploy is reportedly yet again in play but with a new bogeyman, the urban naxal. 

The Othering of the India Muslim and electoral dividend of polarization originated partially in the ISI scare of the eighties and nineties. While this is the ISI's handywork at the political level, collateral damage from terrorism has had an operational level impact too. 

Out in Kashmir, brutalization is underway with potential to impact the professionalism of the army. The army - as its veterans constantly remind - is India's last defence line. If the army loses its sheen, India loses. That ISI appears to be scrubbing off the army's sheen is reason enough for the army to step back from the brink.

The defence minister - perhaps suffering from an appreciation deficit - let on at a TV talk show that Indian army has been head-hunting on the Line of Control. Thus far, it has been a rather well-kept secret. 

This could well be the usual braggadocio on part of the defence minister. Or else it could have been equally brought on by a - unnecessarily - perceived need to compensate for being a woman in what is - again unnecessarily - perceived to be a man's domain. 

Be that as it may, it is clear the Indian army has been giving as good as it gets, even in emulating terrorists. Unlike with the 'surgical strikes', the defence minister admits we have not been owning up to these. 

Evidence in the open domain suggests that this conduct predates the current government with documents relating to a certain Operation Ginger, dating to 2011, accessed by the media. Reportedly three Pakistani heads were carted to India as booty in that operation. Perhaps, the momentum of tit-for-tat actions on the LC over the past three decades has been such as to by now make the 'chicken and egg' question - as to who cast the first stone - moot.

It is understandable for terrorists to undertake such inhuman action. Terrorism, by definition, requires an audience. The more flagrant the violation and criminality, the more the fear induced and its reach widest. Mumbai 26/11 is example. Mutilation of victims fits well with the definition. Its what terrorists do. 

The ISI's backing however suggests there is more. There is a strategy to it. The resulting brutalization is to reduce the India army to their level. The hope is that an angered army will lash out, within: in Kashmir. 

On the LC, the Pakistan army has also likely acquired a few comforting trophies - that cannot be exhibited in an officer's mess - by having its members mentor and participate in border action team activity. No doubt it has paid in lost heads for this. 

As an army it has read its Clausewitz. It is aware of the nature of war and that it cannot go against the grammar of war. This perhaps explains its hiding behind the 'ceasefire' on the LC when the going gets tough, even as it outsources violence to terrorists. 

It is the Indian army that has given currency to the term 'moral ascendancy'. This implies that the army thinks it needs to land the last blow and the heavier blow to get the better of the other side. This has the interconnected psychological connotations of putting down the other side, while boosting oneself up. 

While calling what's on at the LC as war may be overblown, but a low intensity conflict has been underway for three decades. Exchanging blows on the LC is what makes it so, even if - for the squeamish - some blows appear to be below the belt.

However, there is a strategic underside and it is this that attracts Pakistan's ISI. The dividend Pakistan seeks is not on the LC. 

The disaffection in Kashmir offers a setting for over-the-top response by the counter insurgent, such as the human shield episode and the rewarding of its perpetrator by no less the army chief, albeit for a different set of actions. 

An officer whose name found its way into a first information report for killing of stone-pelters was soon thereafter awarded a gallantry medal, with perks such as a lifelong railway travel permit thrown in, albeit - yet again - for an action that preceded the stone-pelter killing incident by his patrol. 

The latest twitter-storm has a terrorist's body being dragged in full media view after an encounter in which he was killed. Perhaps the army was wanting to send the message across that such a fate awaits terrorists. The terrorists involved in the latest encounter were from Pakistan, attempting to get into Kashmir no doubt to bolster the local militants who have comparatively shorter lifespans. It is moot whether such a message serves to deter or energise them. 

This time round, the army has initiated inquiry, even though its apologists have gone to town explaining the action as a prudent one intended to set off booby traps. The inquiry indicates that it is live to the prospect of brutalization that stares it in the face. 

That brutalization has raised its ugly head is unmistakable. The retaliatory killings between the local militants and the Kashmiri police are indicative. Police, paramilitary and army men on leave have been abducted and killed. Likewise, there was a case of an alleged over ground worker being found by the wayside with his throat cut. In the event, he survived to tell a tale of torture. 

Notable is that the threat of brutalization is in a period when counter insurgency experts remind us that there is no existential threat in Kashmir. Operation All Out has put paid to indigenous terrorists at the pace of some 15 a month in its run over the past two years. It is a period tailor made for employing the doctrine of 'iron fist in a velvet glove'. 

Take, for instance, reports in the aftermath of searches, of houses left upturned and possessions damaged. The longstanding aping of Israel in taking down houses where terrorists are apprehended or killed - supposedly as collateral damage in the firefight - continues. The report of the global human rights watch dog on Kashmir, even if trashed by the government, has drawn blood. 

The lesson is that brutalization of the counter insurgent leads to loss of moral ascendancy and drives insurgency.

At the political level, the ISI has already won. It has had a hand in India losing its democratic sheen. But at the operational level, it can yet be bested, and the army's sheen can yet be preserved. 

The army needs to view its Kashmir predicament afresh in this light. That its operations will not be called off by this government is a given. The madam defence minister appears set even to declare the JNU campus as a disturbed area as precursor to AFSPA over it! 

However, how the army conducts operations are within its own remit. It should not be that the army dances to an ideological and opportunistic hardline tune of its political masters. A strategic view would suggest revising the laxman rekhas and renewing respect for these.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Book review

Saifuddin Soz hit the national limelight when his lone vote in the Lok Sabha brought down the Vajpayee II government. In 1999, the late Prime Minister Vajpayee was into the thirteen month of his second stint—the earlier one in 1996 being aborted in a mere thirteen days. Vajpayee’s coalition lost the No Confidence Motion in April 1999 by the narrowest margin possible of one vote—attributed to Soz voting against the whip of his party, the National Conference. He later joined the Congress Party and became a minister in the Manmohan Singh government. Alongside, he served to further the United Progressive Alliance government’s outreach to disaffected Kashmiris in a period when the peace initiatives were at their most credible mark. In the event, the Manmohan Singh government was unable to deliver and peace remains elusive in Kashmir a decade on.
The book under review is therefore timely. Disturbed by the continuing unrest since the killing of Burhan Wani, an icon of Kashmiri militancy, Soz returns to his long- standing position that the problem in Kashmir is not one of law and order, but is a political problem. As a political problem, it behoves a mutually negotiated political solution. This is useful to reiterate at a time when the ruling party at the Center has chosen to bring down the provincial coalition in which it was partner in Srinagar. Though there is a special representative in place and a governor with a political background has been appointed after over a half century of non-political governors in place in Raj Bhawan, it is equally clear that in an election year political initiatives are unlikely. As for the elephant in the room—Pakistan—the change in government there to one headed by Imran Khan and his proposal of a return to talks is unlikely to change the Indian position on ‘no talks without an end to terrorism’ before national elections next year.
Given that the status quo in terms of militancy and disaffection is set to continue in Kashmir for another year, the book provides ballast for peace voices. It is altogether for the good that the release of the book attracted controversy. The saffronite media had it that in his book Soz was advocating ‘azadi’—defined by them as freedom—for Kashmir. Soz gamely defended his view that azadi to Kashmiris is not self-determination as much as a release from the political stranglehold India has acquired over its affairs ever since it dismissed and imprisoned Sheikh Abdullah in 1953. To this has been added the militarized template over the past three decades. Soz defends Kashmiris wanting out of this bind. He courageously also calls on the Hurriyat—the hold-out political formation there—to moderate its position on talks.
Soz brings out that Chidambaram, Home Minister in Manmohan Singh’s second term, had the correct interpretation of ‘azadi’, but was unable to follow through. Federalism holds the political answers, but New Delhi then did not have the political heft, and currently is unwilling to countenance the possibilities that it opens up.
Soz is clear-headed on the way forward, elaborated in the last chapter. To him, India, Pakistan and the people of Kashmir are the relevant parties. He thinks recourse to the United Nations is passé. The problem is in India’s ‘impairing the constitutional relationship between Kashmir and the Union of India established on the basis of the Instrument of Accession, the institution of the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly and the Delhi Agreement of 1952’ (p. 205). He thinks the dispute is not a complex problem, but is a simple proposition in case political sagacity it forthcoming. He believes that the contours of resolution exist in the two speeches by the Lion of Kashmir in the J&K Constituent Assembly on 5 November 1951 and 11 August 1952.
As a first step, Soz advocates a gesture from the Union government to bail Kashmir out of its cycle of violence. He advocates a dialogue with the primary stakeholders, the people of Kashmir, through the political conglomerate, the Hurriyat. He believes a political consensus through dialogue is an ‘achievable goal’ (p. 206). His second point is in the Center undertaking introspection where it went wrong over the years. These include the junctures: arrest of Shaikh Abdullah in 1953; lack of follow up on the Indira-Abdullah accord of 1975; dismissal of the Farooq Abdullah government in 1984; foisting the hardliner Jagmohan on Kashmir yet again in 1990; and alleged rigging of the 1987 elections. His third point is on lifting of ‘repression’ (p. 207). The army must reach out to the people, rather than indulge in bean counts. The fourth is instituting a commission of enquiry to bridge the trust deficit resulting from over 70000 Kashmiri deaths and 5000 disappeared over the period of the unrest. The fifth is on a common understanding between the mainstream political class in mainland India and the Hurriyat on the terms of the settlement. The sixth is an internal dialogue between the three regions of Kashmir—Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh—organized by the central government. Seventh is demilitarization of Kashmir, which can be merged with his eighth point, the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. It is in his ninth point that Pakistan enters the equation. He wants the rigours of the people along the Line of Control to be lightened by ending the military stand-off along it. His tenth and final point is on ending the perpetual animosity between India and Pakistan that plays out in violence in Kashmir.
Some of these points are in hand. With Pakistan, much ground was tread in the Musharraf-Vajpayee-Manmohan formula. Internally, the recent appointment of a political governor—who does not owe affiliation to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh—and the earlier one of the former intelligence head as special interlocutor has potential. In US embassy correspondence carried on wikileaks Soz is credited with helping put the Hurriyat in direct touch with the central government. He therefore exhorts the government to take up meaningfully a ‘credible discussion and dialogue without any pre-conditions’ (p. 214). He warns against raking up the Article 35A issue, even while highlighting Mr. Modi’s Independence Day reference to Kashmir in his 2017 address as promising. Soz in his conclusion rightly makes the point that the present juncture provides yet another opportunity for a policy shift—the proverbial ‘ripeness’ moment for conflict resolution initiatives. Both sides appear at a ‘hurting stalemate’ with the indigenous militants having a short shelf life and the army acknowledging through periodic utterances of its chief that it promises to be a long haul in Kashmir.
Though not self-consciously so, the book appears divided into two parts. The first—longer part—covers the past, starting from its remote recesses seen through the eyes of historians and travellers through Kashmir. The author aims to highlight that the region is distinct, if not different, thereby making his case that it merits a different federal yardstick than mainstream India. He brings out the wellsprings of Kashmiriyat, setting the stage for possibilities of a liberal-secular conflict resolution approach. The second part is his laying out a case of how political neglect of this unique feature of Kashmir has resulted in yet another calamity for the people of Kashmir. The next government at the center of whichever hue has its task cut out in following up on the Soz road map for Kashmir. As he points out (p. 211), it is the ‘only option available to the Government of India….’

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


Kashmir: When politics contaminates strategy

Tenanted by former professionals from fields that are traditionally part of national security, it is clear that the national security advisor’s (NSA) position is not one for practicing politicians. However, it is understandable for the predisposition of incumbents along the liberal-conservative continuum to be in sync with the political position of the government.

The idea behind this is that in the advice the political master receives, the strategic supersedes the political; the political part being the purview of the political master.

Expectations from politicians are different. For a former defence minister to get away voicing his personal view on a pillar of India’s nuclear doctrine, No First Use is unremarkable. As is perhaps, to pass off the current defence minister’s rant against an opposition party as a party for ‘Musslims’ (said with a hisss) as a hangover from her party spokesperson days.

But what happens when national security advice is politically contaminated?

Expectations along the lines of the foregoing theory of the current NSA, Ajit Doval - who was earlier an intelligence official – have not been validated over the past four years. This owes to his decade-long post-retirement practice of his politics as head of the right wing think tank, Vivekananda International Foundation. His ideological predilections contaminate his output as NSA is evident from the state of India’s twinned policies on Pakistan and Kashmir.

The latest evidence is his take that the special constitutional status of Kashmir amounts to divided sovereignty; in his words, ‘diluted and ill-defined’. Extolling the strong man Sardar Patel at a book release function at a Mumbai event of the foundation he once headed, he had it that Jammu and Kashmir’s constitution was an ‘aberration’.

Doval presumably implied that had the Sardar been around longer, this would not have happened, attributing the ‘aberration’ thereby to Jawaharlal Nehru who allowed a negotiated accession to the Union in case of J&K, unlike other princely states who – in the Hindutva worldview – were frog marched by Loh Purush I, namely Patel, to sign the dotted line.

Doval’s articulation is perhaps a curtain raiser of the agenda of Modi II. Doval was playing the music for the ruling party’s base, a political act. Taken along with Amit Shah’s widely and often shared intent of going further in 2019 than the 2014 numbers in Lok Sabha, the message is for a constitutional overturn of Article 370 by the brute majority.

It is no wonder that the backlash in J&K reminds that the Article amounts to a basic feature of the Constitution and cannot be trifled with, even by an absolute majority.

As for the strategic consequences, the NSA knows better. His staff has surely apprised him that last month mere rumours of the Supreme Court hearing fresh petitions on Article 35A had set off violence in the Valley accounting for 12 injured. It is with good reason that the court has put off its consideration till early January.

That his statement provides fuel to the fires in Kashmir cannot have escaped the NSA. It may even have been intended as such, enabling India to point to the continuing unrest as the handiwork of Pakistan. With the annual late-September India-Pakistan joust in the General Assembly at hand with both foreign ministers scheduled to speak, this could prove timely.

This despite the NSA surely knowing that in the current troubles in Kashmir there is only a minimal Pakistani hand. It is not Indian army’s vigilance at the Line of Control (LC) that is keeping it so. The Pakistani strategy appears to be to show up the militancy as indigenous, by exercising self-restraint in terms of infiltration.

Else, it is not in their interest to have accepted the ‘ceasefire’ along the LC, since their firing provided the cover necessary for infiltration groups to get across in the din.

Pakistan alongside extended a hand, first by placatory remarks of its army chief and, after the election, of their champion, Imran Khan. Besides, they are under pressure to behave by the United States, best exemplified by the cut-off of USD 300 million to the army.

Self-restraint helps defuse the terrorism tag that India has tried to foist on them and the indigeneity of disaffection and its expression lends credence to their line on self-determination as a holdover from Partition.

Despite knowing this, India continues to go after novice militants, having put away 260 over the past two years. A central armed police chief testified to their limited ‘shelf-life’. This only proves that these days hardened (Pakistani) terrorists are few and far between. This continuing punishment of the Kashmiris for defiance plays to the ruling party’s base in Jammu and elsewhere.

A counter insurgency expert dismissed comparison of the current unrest with the nineties, pointing to a high of some 4000 deaths towards the end of that period. Such bean-counts neglect another yardstick of comparison, that of societal memory. To some, India’s crushing response then has - inter-alia - brought the current crop of youth to the streets and into militancy.

The Concerned Citizen’s Group reports that the Kashmiri youth is not under anyone’s control and there is a glamourisation of violent death. Not only will the current generation be reckonable politically for another three decades, but those following in their footsteps will be available as cannon fodder in another decade.

The upshot is that a strategic view militates against adding unnecessary grist to the militancy.

If this bypasses Doval then it’s the NSA playing politics, not doing strategy.

A strategy would constitute using the cabinet rank special interlocutor doing the rounds in Kashmir for the past year appropriately. At the start of the year, the army chief seemingly laid out the strategy, saying, ‘The political initiative and all the other initiatives must go simultaneously hand-in-hand and only if all of us function in synergy, we can bring lasting peace in Kashmir. It has to be a politico-military approach that we have to adopt.’

Rather than synergy, politicking with and in Kashmir continues. Moves are afoot under a political governor – reportedly sharing his alma mater with the NSA - to foist another coalition on Kashmiris, possibly with a Jammu-origin chief minister or one reliant on a Jammu-based crutch. Rightly, such moves have been called out as impelled by the political calculus of the ruling party as it heads into elections. Doval stands to enter history as an apparatchik.

A Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan image of India also exacts collateral damage. It sends the message that the framework agreement in place for Nagaland – a centerpiece peace initiative of the Modi-Doval duo - cannot be turned into comprehensive peace, since the government cannot countenance innovative federal constitutional arrangements. Perhaps this is what holds up a promising peace initiative. Another instance of the promise of peace being held hostage to an ideology.

The NSA who is apparently playing to the Hindutva gallery needs reminding of his role as buffer, insulating grand strategy from ideological politics

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

India's spooks: Getting too big for their boots?

The pitfalls of an intelligence agency getting rather ahead of itself are fairly easy to spot. The doings of friendly neighbourhood bogeyman, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), is an easy example. Unfortunately, the times in India have got to such a pass, that the question in the title needs framing and needs an answer. 

The recent arrests of leading human rights activists across the country, supposedly in relation to a Naxal plot to assassinate the prime minister, provide the juncture for the question. Presumably, the police acted at the behest of their political masters, fed in turn by intelligence agencies. 

There are two possibilities. The political masters acted autonomously and have had the intelligence agencies cook up the rationale. Second, the intelligence agencies fed the political masters what they know their political masters would lap up. Both possibilities do not speak well of the good health of India's intelligence agencies. 

Intelligence agencies in both cases appear in cahoots with the Hindutva inspired political dispensation. They are certainly not in sync with their professional obligation of political neutrality and keeping to their intelligence related mandate. This bespeaks of subversion of the intelligence agencies from within by the Hindutva project. 

This is aggravated in light of the higher profile of intelligence community in the strategic scheme lately. The higher profile owes primarily to their doyen tenanting the chair of national security adviser. This places him in control of key appointments. His sharing of the ethnic profile and proximity with an army general reportedly led to the elevation of the general to head the army. His sharing of an alma mater - a college in Meerut - perhaps helped with the current incumbent in the Srinagar Raj Bhawan landing the job. 

Former intelligence honchos have had bestsellers out, shaping the national security narrative on various issues including Kashmir and Pakistan. The take away from these tracts is the inordinate levels of reliance on intelligence men with regard to both internal security - in relation for instance with Kashmir - and foreign policy - in relation with Pakistan. Their role expansion relegates the place of the home ministry bureaucracy, foreign service specialists and the military input in the national security schema. It can be inferred that the mess in both these key policy areas owes to the internal institutional balance in favour of the intelligence agencies 

A former intelligence agency head is on an unending conflict analysis spree as the special representative for engaging interlocutors in Kashmir. While he can be expected to have expertise in negotiations, it would be in the field of hostage release etc, and not one informed by peace negotiation or mediation. It is no wonder when asked as to what his Kashmir policy amounted to in a recent staged interview, the prime minister said that there was an interlocutor out in Kashmir talking to people. It's close to a year now of talk masquerading as policy. 

His predecessor at the intelligence agency demitted appointment as a special envoy on counter terrorism, with a remit intruding on foreign service turf of engaging governments in West Asia and Af-Pak on the issue. One former intelligence man, who also was once also in the army, is a talking-head specialising in disrupting and diverting discussions on prime time, and on that count is understandably favourite of Republic TV and Times Now. 

Each think tank in Delhi has it quota of former spooks, who dutifully weigh in with Pakistan-bashing and insinuations against Muslims on terrorism. One ensconced in the Vivekananda International Foundation has complemented his hatchet job on Jawaharlal Nehru of a couple of years back recently with a book extolling Sardar Patel. Another, former head of the military intelligence, is its strategic studies minder. The think tank's profile is evident from serving military officers now doing stints with the VIF and each of the three chiefs having lectured there successively. The affiliations of the VIF are no secret, with the book 'Defining Hindutva' having been released there by Mohan Bhagwat in the run up to last elections. 

Intelligence denizens are current day masters of the narrative. The heading of a recent article - 'The Enduring Threat' - by the earlier intelligence chief - who was also national security adviser - raised expectations of a possible reference to the ongoing arrests by Maharashtra's Anti-Terror Squad of saffronite terrorists. However, it turned out instead to be all about Islamic State (IS) and, how it, though roundly beaten, continues as a threat. Given that the IS is history and history on-the-make in the tradition of Hemant Karkare closer home is ignored thus, the question emerges as to the lengths the intelligence community will go in putting out diversionary narratives. It bears recall that though reportedly a Gandhi family favourite, the vilification of Muslims and the ascendance of then chief minister Modi as the savior of Hindus - after the killings of alleged terrorists out to get Mr. Modi - began in his tenure as national security adviser. 

There are two consequences of the discussion above. One is the higher profile of the intelligence lobby is at the cost of that of the ministries - home, foreign and defence - and the military. This makes the national security system go awry. In a change-over early this year, a RAW hand was appointed deputy national security adviser. His last appointment was in the secretariat as the resident Pakistan watcher, no doubt leading up to aggravating the hardline on Pakistan. As an afterthought a diplomat has recently been added as a second deputy. The imbalance is reflected at the ministerial level. The defence minister is a novice and double hatted as a party spokesperson. Her latest episode was on national television in a face off with a Karnataka minister. The foreign minister has been ill for most of her tenure, as has been the finance minister. The home minister appears to have his heart in the right place but has no muscle. Thus, there is little ballast in the other national security relevant institutions. 

The second more grievous underside is in the fact that the cultural nationalists - as seen above - have the run of intelligence services. The Pakistan obsession of the intelligence fraternity and the fixation with India's minority, its Muslims, of the Hindutvavadis, makes for a coming together in a shared, symbiotic relationship. It cannot be said with any surety that the Hindutva brigade is one that has taken over the intelligence lobby. It is well nigh possible that the intelligence community has opened itself to such a take-over. This ideological disposition of the intelligence community perhaps stems from their four-decade long cloak-and-dagger game with the ISI. The ISI has evidently been more successful than credited so far. It appears to have instigated a make-over of India in the Pakistani image, engineering a right-wing reset of democratic and plural India into a Hindu-Pakistan. 

A roll back will have to await next elections. In the interim, the intelligence card will recur in the runup to national elections. The corralling of urban naxals is but a beginning. With minorities already cornered by lynch mobs; civil society cowed by a compliant-police; institutions such as universities hollowed out; the common man bruised by demonetization and job scarcity; and dissent murdered by right wing goon squads, it would appear that this may not be necessary. But if all at hand is a hammer, every problem will appear a nail. The ultimate infliction on democracy is the alliance between the intelligence instrument and an ideology.