Tuesday, 30 October 2018


Divide and kill

In the last quarter, 78 militants have been killed in Jammu and Kashmir, with 90 per cent of these being local recruits. This is the culmination of the summer campaign, a befitting cap to Operation All Out. The army is presumably battening down for keeping out the 300 odd militants awaiting induction into the Valley from across the Line of Control. The other 300 odd militants in the Valley, largely operating in south Kashmir, are in the army's sights over the winter. Hopefully, by the time the nation goes to polls, the victory bugle will sound in Kashmir, enhancing the poll prospects of the Modi-Shah combine. 
The script can be directly attributed to Mr. Doval, the national security advisor, since it is of a piece with the strategy unleashed in the mid-nineties. Back then, the turn-coat militants were deployed to turn the tables on the insurgency. Once their utility was exhausted in the fraternal bloodbath in Kashmir, they were dignified by a police job - some in its sword arm, the Special Operations Group (SOG). 
The move to rely on the Ikhwan to divide Kashmiris and best those with a Pakistani affiliation is variously attributed, with at least one bio-sketch crediting Ajit Doval. The strategy continues, with intelligence-led operations relying on information from the community. Credit for the intelligence inflow is generously given to the Kashmir police by the military and former military men, the latter on social media. 
This explains the unfortunate targeting of Special Police Officers (SPO), and the police, by militants, who no doubt wish to stanch such inflow. The fratricide for a period mid this year included tit-for-tat atrocities, including kidnaps and killings of off-duty uniformed members of the community and some innocent relatives of members of both sides. 
The strategy is a variant of the well-known one employed by outside powers: 'divide and rule'. It has intelligence provenance going back to the several groups India's intelligence agency spawned to counter the Tamil Tigers in north and east Sri Lanka. There, Prabhakaran gave these groups short shrift and they departed Sri Lankan shores along with the Indian army. In Kashmir, the army can only remain. The host community can only suffer the strategy. 
In its earlier avatar of the mid to late nineties, it was used to effect by a fledgling Rashtriya Rifles to compensate for its lack of cohesion as a fighting force. The hatchet job on the insurgency was Kashmiri led, with not a few military careers benefiting in the process. The relative peace of the early 2000s - brought on by factors other than military pressure - resulted in covering up of the tracks, with the Ikhwan jettisoned, but the strategy kept alive through the territorial army's 'home and hearth' battalions, SPOs and the SOG. The village defence committees (VDC) south of the Pirpanjal was the essential precursor to the communalization of the area today. It is as futile as the 'chicken or egg' conundrum to argue whether terrorism preceded the VDC or otherwise. 
The strategy of proxy groups was exported to Assam, where the surrendered Assamese militants were put to pressure the Assamese insurgents. The fratricide there included killings by these proxy groups of relatives of their former comrades. Some 30 deaths were at their hands. The governor in Assam in the period was a former general with a known predilection for the right-wing party then in power in the center. He was duly rewarded with yet another gubernatorial assignment, this time in Kashmir by the pretender Loh Purush, LK Advani. 
The general in charge of the operational group of Assam's unified command in the period at end last century had earned his spurs in the Valley, who in one bio at the end of one of his pieces of writing takes credit for the policy of surrenders in Kashmir. The period he commanded a tactical formation in Kashmir was when the Ikhwan was forged. That's perhaps where he arrived at his Islam-terrorism linkage: 'Unfortunately, terrorism has been linked to religion and this is very dangerous. Unfortunately, Islam has come under shadow of doubt and it is creating all the problems.' (His latest foray into the headlines has been in his Pune based think tank first making the link between 'urban naxals' and Bhima Koregaon, one lapped up by the police of the saffron party run state.) 
The SPO template was then transferred to central India in the form of the Salwa Judum, where it - yet again - successfully divided the tribal community. Operation Green Hunt ongoing in the jungles out of sight of the media is on the backs of tribal fighters, with the central armed police forces and paramilitary deployed on hand to reap up any credit for outcome of operations. Notably, the strategy's transfer was in the mid 2000s when our very own James Bond, Ajit Doval, was heading the lead internal intelligence agency and the national security adviser was his former boss.
In central India, the strategy was frowned upon by the Supreme Court in a case brought to it and pursued by scholar activists. The militia was responsible for ethnic cleansing, which is what the corralling of tribal communities into detention camps essentially was. The spirit of the court judgment against use of the militia appears lost on the police, with the fighters morphing into irregulars, for instance, those depicted accompanying the armed police guarding the character, Newton, determined to bring electoral democracy to the interiors of Bastar in the eponymous hit film.
The tragic SPOs are as much the victim of the strategy as the targets. SPOs salary was doubled this year, after six years of bureaucratic deliberations, to Rs. 6000 per month, and after the counter insurgency of the last two years virtually riding on their backs. The recent abduction and killings of SPOs led to another hike by a third of the amount, to keep them to the till. This is a case of the state taking advantage less of commitment than of desperation. With no employment opportunities, the apologists for the hardline are plausible when they claim that stone pelters - who brave pellet guns - are on the payroll of the Hurriyet. To strategists who double as devotees, the ingenious scheme thought up by Messiah Modi - demonetization - ended stone throwing since it dried up these funds. Wonder what to them accounts for the stone that felled the unfortunate 22 year old trooper, Rajendra Singh, this week. 
The fissures from desperation - rendered crevasses by conflict - are easy to manipulate by an imperial successor state, India. It is natural for the intelligence community denizens to think up such strategies, for they are predisposed to chicanery and deception as part of their trade. They are also not the ones implementing it intimately. That is the domain of the army in Kashmir (and the paramilitary in central India). The security forces should know better. Whereas this cannot be said of the khakis - not ever after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) saga dubbed CBI vs. CBI - this should be the case with the army. 
It has an intellectual counter insurgency trove and a doctrine. It has a reputation to protect. It is aware of the political preceding the operational; of the national superseding its parochial interest. And yet, for it to profit from a strategy that is messing up society in the long run - an Indian community at that - is abdication of its agency. It is no longer a strategic actor, one that includes long term ends to offset short term ways and means. This lessens the distance between it and doormen sporting camouflage these days. Doormats are not strategic beings.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Ajit Doval's platter: Centralisation with a purpose

Four years into the Modi regime, it is disingenuous for strategic analysts to continue analysing its moves through the prism of strategic analysis. The commentary attending the appointment of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval as head of the strategic policy group, one of the pillars of the national security system, examines the move against the parameters of effectiveness and efficiency. This is a misleading start point, even if the commentary mostly arrives at the conclusion that there is little that has changed in a largely elephantine, if not dysfunctional, national security system. 
The problem with such analyses is that it credits the Modi government with intent to inject a sense of urgency and purpose in the system. The superimposition of Doval - the supposed supercop and intelligence wizard - on the strategic policy group, comprising the heads of all national security related silos, is taken as just the potion required by the system. It follows the move some months back of the creation of the defence planning committee, headed - you've guessed it - by our very own Agent Rana and Agent Vinod, Ajit Doval. 
This both misrepresents and misleads. If it is institutional vigour that Doval is supposed to bring about, setting him to it four years into the tenure is too little too late. Besides, centralization is no answer to multiplying institutional strength. In any case, if Amit Shah informs that Mr. Modi's leadership mantra is institutionalization, it is surely a bit of information that must be treated to the 'barrel of salt' test. In his recent op-ed, 'The Modi I know: The PM thinks big and is an institution builder par excellence', Amit Shah credits Narendra Modi with being an 'institution builder'. Neither does credibility of Mr. Shah, nor that of his subject, allow the attentive reader to place disbelief in suspension in the manner of their believers, the bhakts. If institutions were being sought, then centralization of the order as witnessed under Modi and his Gujarat cadre devotees would not have occurred. At the fag-end of his tenure, he would not have to foist Doval over heads of institutions. 
The moves come rather late in the tenure of the government. These are tacit acknowledgment that Modi's boast of being national security sensitive has proven just that. It does not take a Nitin Gadkari to inform of the nature of Modi's election time boasts, being vacuous, if not lies altogether. Gadkari's candour was picked up in the Marathi vernacular, when he was perhaps explaining why as they survey the coming elections the government must not be held to its election time promises. 
It also is an admission that the Modi sarkar in its lame duck year is fearful of its own shadows. The Modi-Shah duo that orchestrated the 'wave' last election time is best aware of how it engineered the paralysis of the Manmohan government. Even if Manmohan's second stint was mired in corruption, its ineffectual showing was also due to the defection of the bureaucracy - a subset of the middle classes. Enamoured of the anti-corruption juggernaut, with activists and the putative Aam Aadmi Party at its spearhead, the bureaucracy wrote the epitaph on Manmohan, well prior to his sell-by date. 
The Modi-Shah duo is aware of how the anti-corruption movement was hijacked by the Hindutva platform, through its Trojan horses as Baba Ramdev. The trajectory of cop Kiran Bedi and member-of-the-brass VK Singh is illustrative. It is no wonder then that the common man's party continues in the government's cross hairs five years on, lest its counter reel back the Bhartiya Janata Party's developmental constituency. Keeping the bureaucracy to the heel - should it make an anticipatory shift in its political master - requires a watch dog. The bureaucracy may yet discover its spine, but not due to the right reasons. It is surely put off by the manner the Gujarat cadre Modi aficionados have been let out and the police lobby, under Doval's tutelage, taken over the roost. Doval's professor emeritus status in the intelligence community presumably enables the omniscience to keep the governmental wheels humming, otherwise at risk from a logjam. 
But Doval's elevation - in terms of power, authority, reach and image - has more to it. 
Amit Shah has predicted a fifty-year Hindutva Reich. This requires keeping a date with the voter in 2019. Between now and then, Modi's 56 inch claim cannot be shown up as hollow. Already, his dash to Wuhan to buy time from the Chinese is being taken as a measure to preempt another Doklam or a reverse Doklam. He cannot afford a crisis in election year. The periodic diatribes of the army chief are to deter Pakistani adventurism. If the hardline was to be taken to its logical conclusion, there would not have been a return to a ceasefire at the Line of Control since early this year. Its continuation contradicts the 'pain' the army chief wishes to inflict on the Pakistani army. The army instead appears content to bring scholars and academics moonlighting as 'terrorists' to meet their maker within Kashmir. 
Ensuring that the benign security climate does not end up as a crisis, a crisis a confrontation and a confrontation a conflict requires a firm hand at the national security helm. This explains in part Doval's reeling in of all the reins into his person. His task over the coming year is to ensure Modi's longevity in power. The national interest in Hindutva terms is that the proverbial nation needs an extension in Modi's mandate. Another five year term is essential for the following forty-five. Ajay Mohan Bisht is under preparation to take over the mandate thereafter. In some 1500 'encounters' in his tenure in Lucknow, deaths have been in upper double digits. He is following the Modi-Shah script from their Gujarat days, even if one case led to Shah seeing the inside of jail and exile from his province. The national interest as seen through the strategic lens has to be kept in cold storage for the next six to eight months. Mr. Doval, with his lifetime of experience in the system, his ideological commitment, well-advertised belief in a strongman leader and valuing his proximity to the pretender Leviathan, can be trusted to deliver an environment that returns Modi to power. 
Unfortunately, that may not be all. Unfortunately for Modi, dark clouds are accumulating on the horizon. The Rafale scam joins demonetization and the goods and services tax with the magnitude and potential to bring down Hindutva's castles in the air. Worse bhakts and their icon are increasingly at the butt of social media jokes. Given this developing siege of Iron Man II (LK Advani not counted) may require trotting out of the usual election gimmicks up the ruling formation's sleeve, polarization being one. The Mandir card is available to play. While its internal dimension is self-evident, a crisis with Pakistan can be manufacture in case an external Other is required. The manipulation of voter perceptions in the run up to elections may require orchestration of the national security apparatus. 
An able hand on the till is therefore necessary. Mr. Doval may have more on his hands than meets the eye.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018


Making security a voter consideration

Here on, end-September will likely figure as the annual culmination of the India-Pakistan summer campaign over Kashmir. Thus far the arena has been the General Assembly’s chamber in New York with the right of reply being deployed by both sides. In the latest episode, India called-off a meeting - though one not amounting to talks or a resumption of the peace process - between the two foreign ministers that was to be held in New York.

As India heads into its fifty-year Reich predicted by Amit Shah, the context back home to the annual joust in New York will be provided by the observance of the Parv Parakram, celebration of the anniversary of the ‘surgical strikes’.

There being no meetings left to call off in case needed, the stage is set for the next crisis. An expert relying on notes taken on a field trip to the region rules in limited war.

Apprehending as much, the Indian Army Chief is set on a military reforms agenda. He believes the Indian army is configured for fighting ‘previous wars’. Army commanders at this autumn’s conference are to sign off on a restructuring agenda to make the army’s cold start doctrine implementable.

The Army Chief let on that India has options up its sleeve other than surgical strikes. He wishes to reprise surgical strikes and inflict like pain on Pakistan, but without the brutality that attends Pakistani provocations.

This implies a perforation of the subconventional-conventional divide in an up-gunned variant of surgical strikes by conventional means. The aim is to rekindle escalation dominance.

Escalation dominance is a perception in a side that it can prevail at a certain level. This has deterrence value in that the ability to prevail at a certain level of conflict, prevents the other side from escalating to that level fearing ending up the worse off.

The conventional advantage being with India, Pakistan for its part, has sought to undercut this by introducing tactical nuclear weapons at the conventional level. It has obscured the divide between the two levels, conventional and nuclear.

Taking cue from Pakistan - that obscured the nuclear-conventional divide - India appears set to obfuscate the subconventional-conventional one. This will enable leveraging India’s conventional advantage at a lower level, at the subconventional-conventional divide. This will keep well off any nuclear thresholds conferring renewed utility of conventional power into the nuclear age.

Though having deterrence benefits, the underside of such exertion is an impetus to brinkmanship. Assuming escalation dominance, a side may be more willing to go to the brink and court conflict in crisis.

Improved conventional capabilities tend to prompt India’s conventional muscle flexing, while Pakistani belief that its ‘full spectrum deterrence’ covers the conventional level. Unintended outcomes can result.

The two sides not talking to each other, there is currently no buffer. This means there is one step less between trigger events and crisis.

Earlier, the two sides had put their eggs into one basket, that of contacts between the two national security advisers. The Indian side having a security czar in Ajit Doval, the Pakistani side had reciprocated with appointing a military man as his counterpart. The two reportedly met discreetly some six times over the past four years.

The Pakistani national security adviser having resigned on Nawaz Sharif being forced out of office, even this link no longer exists. The Imran Khan administration is disinclined to recreate the appointment, merging the office with is foreign ministry.

It is apparent then that political distancing and military preparedness are dangerously coextensive.

As India heads into elections, there is a political necessity to keep the India-Pakistan pot simmering. This can enable the ruling party to use the ongoing face-off for political dividend when needed. With the Rafale episode joining demonetization, the general services tax and jobless growth kicking in together, political compulsions may require trotting out the Pakistani bogeyman.

The usual autumnal reports of some 300 militants in terror launch pads waiting to infiltrate prior to snows setting in are already being put out. The local elections within the Valley can provide the tinder. The upcoming tenth anniversary of Mumbai 26/11 serves as a difficult juncture. If the death of three special police officers and mutilation of a border guard’s body caused a pause in meetings between the two countries, no recourse is left but retaliatory violence at the next provocation.

Pakistan for its part would not be averse. It would like to get back at India, viewing India’s hard-to-get stance as a spurning of its hand outstretched over the past year. Counter-intuitively, it may like to smoothen the path to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s continuing in power, knowing that a crisis would be useful politically for him. PM Modi in power is only superficially bad news, since his hardline is useful for the Pakistan army’s lease on power in Pakistan.

Political portents indicate a troubled relationship in the run up to Indian elections. Putting in place shock absorbers is the only practical bet for the interim. Sushma Swaraj’s formula that meetings are only to discuss terror can prove a handy band aid.

Equally notable are the levels of insecurity at the fag-end of the government’s tenure. Its posturing on national security ever since Mr. Modi’s trip to Rewari inaugurating his election campaign in 2013, that was backed by cheerleaders on Delhi’s strategic circuit, stands exposed.

The offensive-defensive dialectic is the sine-qua-non of strategy. So far, India’s military developments have only driven Pakistan further down the nuclear route. The last round of conventional change India instituted - its cold start doctrine – resulted in tactical nuclear weapons appearing on the subcontinent. The current day thrust for restructuring cannot but have like innovative response, and therefore is not quite the route to security.

The shift to cold start doctrine and its implementation phase was in the context of improved India-Pakistan atmospherics. This round of restructuring requires similar buffering. Instead, the current trajectory of India’s Pakistan policy worsens Indian security.

Four years into the hardline policy, continuing insecurity must be laid at its door. Consequently, security considerations must figure in voter considerations ahead.

Monday, 8 October 2018


India-Pakistan and the tussle of escalation dominance

Unedited version

The cancellation of a meeting of the two foreign ministers that was to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session framed the Indian army chief’s statement that, ‘there is a need for one more action (surgical strike).’ He later added that surgical strikes are not the only option for decisive action for India confronted with Pakistan provocation.
On cue, the Pakistani military spokesperson claimed its military is ready for war, rationalizing that war happens when either side is unprepared for it. Pakistan’s information minister took care to remind India that Pakistan is a nuclear power.
The annual war of words between the two sides continued at the 73rd General Assembly session in New York with the two foreign ministers using respective addresses to trade barbs, followed by officials exercising the right of reply.
This period of rhetoric, brought on by the slide to brutalization in Kashmir in the killings of special police officers and mutilation of a Border Security Force trooper, framed the end-September Parakram Parv (celebration of valour) exhibition commemorating the second anniversary of the surgical strikes.
The singular aspect of the surgical strikes episode missing in the valourisation was its cognizance of escalatory possibilities.
Surgical strikes were deliberately kept limited, a feature emphasized early in a press briefing by India’s military operations chief. For its part, Pakistan, aware that the onus was on it, wisely pretended that the trans-Line of Control (LC) raids never took place.
If the ratcheting up of rhetoric now is any indicator, the subcontinent is closer, yet again, to another crisis, especially since the buffer of meetings and talks - that could serve as an intervening step in being called-off - is no longer there.
In case the lesson learnt from the surgical strikes is to apply to the next round, then India shall likely keep any substitute options to surgical strikes equally limited.  
The problem is that the Pakistani army cannot use its earlier alibi twice over. Once bitten, it has surely war gamed its reaction. It follows then that there are two possibilities.
The first is Pakistan - duly prepared - drawing blood. The second is - caught flatfooted yet again - it is forced to up-the-ante.
In the first case, the onus of upping-the-ante would be on India. Having milked the surgical strikes anniversary for political dividend, the government would not like egg on its face as it goes into elections. Irrespective of the military’s itch to get even and goading by the long-compromised media, it will have its own political compulsions to ‘do something’.
In the second case, to save face with its domestic constituency, Pakistan’s army may make a retaliatory move or two. India’s putting up its guard and warding the counter punches off, constitute steps towards a slippery slope.
Both would edge towards a slippery slope, with an eye to catalyzing intervention of the international community. A worried United States, that has political heft with both countries, and China, that can work better on Pakistan, will be on hand to help de-escalate.
This is a happy ending of a script going from crisis to confrontation.
Its likelihood depends on validity of each sides’ self-assessment of ‘escalation dominance’. Though usually associated with nuclear warfighting, the term can be used to imply the ability to prevail at a particular level along the spectrum of conflict: subconventional, conventional and nuclear.
To illustrate, India’s effort over the past decade and  half has been  at honing its conventional edge has been to signal that since it has the advantage at the next higher level, Pakistan would be better advised not to test its tolerance threshold in its proxy war at the subconventional level.
Pakistan’s turn to ‘full spectrum deterrence’ is an effort to deny India escalation dominance at conventional level. Noticing Pakistan obfuscation of the conventional-nuclear divide in its introduction of tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) into the picture, India has lately broadened its subconventional options. This explains surgical strikes and any variants up its sleeve.
India is alongside embarked on rekindling escalation dominance at the conventional level. It has an army restructuring program afoot, reportedly to be signed off at the army commanders’ annual autumn conference.
Emphasising its necessity, the Indian army chief confessed that the army is only prepared to fight previous wars. Apart from the other features of the reforms such as optimization of manpower and equivalence of army ranks with civilian peers, the restructuring shall enable the army to work its ‘cold start’ doctrine better.
To recap, the doctrine is informed by the limited war concept. The reported doing-away with divisional headquarters of pivot corps in the reform will make for sprightly and multiple limited thrusts, while remaining under even the TNW threshold.
This brings the conventional level back into play, while preserving India’s punch in the form of strike corps that are not subject to the restructuring. India’s military restructuring promises to expand the scope for moving from crisis to confrontation. Its deterrent value is in being able to take a step closer to the slippery slope.
The tussle is between India pulling up the window for military options below the nuclear level and Pakistan thrusting down the nuclear awning over it. In the doctrinal tennis match, the ball is now in Pakistan’s court.

Friday, 5 October 2018


India-Pakistan: How dangerous are the waters?

In the run up to the Parakram Parv, the pan-India observation of the second anniversary of the surgical strikes, Army chief General Bipin Rawat, expressed his belief that "there is a need for one more action (surgical strike)". He later added that surgical strikes are not the only manner of hitting Pakistan back. He wished to keep the option up India’s sleeve, a surprise.
In reminding Pakistan that it better keep its jihadis in check, particularly as the tenth anniversary of the Mumbai 26/11 attacks is coming up, his remarks were useful for refreshing deterrence.
At the receiving end of his signalling, the Pakistani military spokesperson claimed its military is ready for war, pointing out that being unprepared for war was to invite it. Alongside, he took care to helpfully point out — in case it has missed Indian notice — that Pakistan is a nuclear power.
The episode’s happy ending was not fortuitous. Taking cue, Pakistan, aware that the onus was on it to escalate or otherwise, wisely resorted to the fiction that the surgical strikes never took place.India does not need any reminding. One of the salient features of the September 29, 2016, surgical strikes was that these were cognizant of escalatory possibilities. They were deliberately kept limited, and by going public with the limited nature and intent early the following day, India’s director general of military operations nipped any potential for escalation.
However, there is no guarantee that the next round will be as tame as the past one, especially since by revealing the footage of the surgical strikes India has shown up Pakistan’s lie. Besides, home minister Rajnath Singh recently claimed that India has given Pakistan yet another retaliatory bloody nose.
The unedifying exchange late last month between the two perennial rivals in the august hall of the UN General Assembly in New York suggests that the threat of crisis ending up a confrontation shall persist for some time.
Even if India keeps its opening gambit calibrated, Pakistan may not be able to play ball. It follows then that if it is duly prepared as its military spokesperson claims, then it has an ace up its sleeve.
The onus of upping the ante would then be on India. Already in election mode, the government would not like egg on its face. It may be forced — egged on by a military wanting to even the score and a public sentiment whipped up by an unthinking media — to ‘do something’.
Pakistan’s alacrity and India’s reaction may push both to a precipice, from which neither would not like to back down.
Both would be propelled by a belief in what is called ‘escalation dominance’. The term implies a self-assessment that a side is able to prevail at the level the conflict is fought.
Pakistan believes it dominates the sub-conventional level through its use of terror. With a turn to surgical strikes and its variants, India believes it has acquired ‘escalation dominance’.
Checkmated at the sub-conventional level, Pakistan may up the ante, believing that it has trumped India’s conventional advantage by its introduction of tactical nuclear weapons into its armoury.
Both countries can believe in ‘escalation dominance’ simultaneously, but both cannot have it at the same time, when push comes to shove. A side will prevail, prompting the other to likewise step on the accelerator. This constitutes the potential for a crisis script to go awry.
With diplomacy at a low ebb, there are no buffers left. The interim between now and the 2019 elections is therefore one of heightened tensions on two counts.
First, Pakistan, listening-in to Indian strategic debates, may be heartened by the army chief’s confession that India is only prepared to fight previous wars.
Second, it also knows that India’s Army is moving towards reconfiguring its forces in line with the precepts of the ‘cold start’ doctrine it adopted over a decade back. For the Pakistan army, a tryst sooner may be better than later once the Bipin Rawat reforms start kicking in.
While the political undesirability of confrontation degenerating into conflict is well grasped, there are military factors that tend a different way.
The upshot then is that the interim till elections needs tiding over by the Narendra Modi government discreetly restoring the buffer. While preserving it from uncertainty, it can prove a start point for the next government in 2019.