Monday, 26 November 2018

Governor, 'root causes' matter
In his reasoning on his November 21 decision to dissolve the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) legislative assembly, Governor Satya Pal Malik states, "The fragile security scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where there is a need to have a stable and supportive environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti-militancy operations and are gradually gaining control over the security situation."
Presumably in the quick time lag between his receipt, on social media (since the fax was reportedly left unattended on a holiday), of contending claims to form the government, he was able to consult his very able Advisor Home, K Vijay Kumar, and also receive the input of the unified headquarters. This would have been remarkably efficient of his administration, particularly since in his clarification on the fax machine he informed that all staff were away observing the holiday. 
It is apparent that the security rationale of the governor is an after-the-fact rationalisation. There is no call for tapping security counsel on a political matter. He is essentially playing into security minders' hands in saying democratic oversight of operations dilutes security. 
When the Governor was appointed, the perception management exercise had it that a political governor was being appointed for the first time in over three decades. The subtext was that he would be better able to concentrate on the political context of the problem in Kashmir, though he indicated that conflict resolution was outside his domain (being handled by a Union minister-of-state-level special representative). 
The security aspect is overseen by Delhi, since the army was once again a lead player and can only be expected to begrudgingly concede to a khaki-clad adviser home a coordination authority. In Delhi, it cannot be Rajnath Singh overseeing the state, since the army - outside his remit - is upfront and engaged. Kashmir, being an internal security matter, the ministry of defence is not in the lead either. Therefore, the buck presumably stops at the prime minister's office, with Mr. Ajit Doval, in overall charge. His sharing of an alma mater, Meerut University, with the governor perhaps helps the old-school ties bypass institutional arrangements. In any case institutional integrity has not detained the Modi government any.
Since the governor in the centralized Modi system is unlikely permitted unilateral decisions, narrowing down whence his decision emerged is an entry point into assessing its worth. 
When the state government was in position, the bean count had the following figures: 110 in 2014, 113 in 2015, 165 in 2016, 218 in 2017, and 81 in 2018 (as of May 27). The up-to-date figure is 206 killed this year, making for some 115 militants killed under governor's rule since June. There is a marginal difference (average of about 5 per month) between the killings under a democratic dispensation and under an unelected Delhi-appointed governor. 
This implies that the security forces were a law unto themselves, answerable to Delhi, even when an elected administration was in place. What the governor is suggesting then that the 'stable and supportive environment' is one in which democratic oversight - amounting to pinpricks by the state administration over piffles as human rights - is dispensed with altogether. 
The situation has evidently deteriorated: the formulation 'gradually gaining control over' suggests as much. The killings of innocents such as relatives of police men, though the handiwork of the terrorists, is example. Informers are also being killed and the terror multiplied by the manner of their death being broadcast on social media. This is of course evidence of desperation of the terrorists, cornered by anti-militancy operations. Since some 157 youth reportedly signed up for the militancy this year, and there are some 290-320 militants (including Pakistanis) around, the bean count registers will continue their tinkle. More of the same can be expected indefinitely, even as the governor's rule transits to president's rule followed by state elections sometime summer. 
Counter-intuitively, this is just what is needed by the ruling dispensation in Delhi. Polarisation of the national electorates - the need of the ruling party - calls for this. The demands on polarization have gone up owing to economic non-performance. The fallout on the national security scene is that it be kept simmering but prevented from boiling over. War drums with Pakistan - sounded from time to time by the army chief and the northern army commander - need to be usable, if inactive. Muslim bashing is proving counter productive ever since India acquired the tag, lynchistan. Muslim Kashmir and the reliable Pakistani bogey help with polarization. 
Strong man Modi cannot be seen indulging in conflict resolution. There needs instead to be a conflict ongoing for him to measure up to his image. To recall, the image was built on his handling of the Gujarat 'riots', which witnessed, in the official count, a 1000 dead. The Wuhan trip of the prime minister suggests a timely acknowledgement that playing kabaddi with China is fine across the line of actual control, but Doklam-like incidents could cost him his image. The image was most recently dusted up at the photo opportunity at the feet of the world's tallest statues, that of the original strong man, Sardar Patel. An internal conflict but well under control, as in Kashmir, fits the bill. 
As can be seen, the horizon of the ruling party does not go beyond the next elections. This is advisedly so since the aim is to get to the two thirds mark to reconfigure the Constitution. This means having Article 370 in its sights, with Article 35A currently in the cross hairs. The wider goal means marginalisation of indigenous parties. This explains seemingly innocuous tactics such as references of Pakistan links retracted good humouredly once the intended damage is done. A state assembly controlled by would-be quislings, supported by the ruling party, is preferred.
The ideological imperative therefore explains the governor's decision and its security rationale. The security establishment needs to stand up against parochial party interest trumping national interest. A non-ideological security input could have highlighted the strategic imbecility of meddling in Srinagar. India's continuing to do so despite knowledge of outcomes of earlier forays meets Einstein's definition of insanity: doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result. 
The immediate operational level security situation that seized his attention is at the cost of the strategic and the long term. Instead at his - strategic- level, a politico-strategic perspective must inform decisions. The Governor's decision provides tinder for insurgency. Just as dissidents cite the first Jagmohan foray among root causes, the dissolution decision will figure high in the insurgent advertisements here on. It is a blow to the widely held Azadi concept. The Azadi that people ask for is the freedom of democracy, even if imperfect, but as obtains elsewhere in India. The dissolution is an undemocratic imposition, which even if incident elsewhere in India periodically, is particularly insensitive to India's record in Kashmir. 
Root causes instead call for political solution. A first step is in eschewing wilfull misrepresentation of Azadi. India refuses to acknowledge this, self-interestedly viewing Kashmir as a developmental problem amenable to economic solutions or a security problem with a military-friendly solution. Minimally, refraining from egregious political hurt to Kashmiris is necessary. 
Good sense can be incentivized by highlighting that strategic costs are in a continuing and heightened insurgency. The political price is in aggravating the lurch of Indian polity towards the right. The catch is that this is precisely what ideological national security minders are seeking. The answer is in democratically showing them the door at the earliest available opportunity coming up mid next year.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Army’s Robustness in Aid of Civil Authority Lessons from the Gujarat Carnage

The release of the memoir, The Sarkari Mussalman: The Life and Travails of a Soldier Educationist(2018)written by Lieutenant General Zameer Uddin Shah (retired) was with a degree of publicity not usually associated with autobiographies of military men. Shah’s life story was slightly different from most military men, since it culminated with him heading a leading academic institution, Aligarh Muslim University. But, his significant contribution is drawing national attention to his revelations in The Sarkari Mussalman in the chapter, “Operation Parakram and Operation Aman” (Shah 2018: 114–33), on the Gujarat carnage in 2002.
Shah was commanding the Bison division that was earmarked to respond to the call for aid to civil authority made by the Gujarat administration. The Godhra incident on 27 February 2002, in which a railway coach carrying Hindu kar sevaks (volunteers)—returning from the purnahuti yajna organised by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) at Ayodhya (Hindu 2001)—was burnt and the bodies of the victims were taken to Ahmedabad and handed over to the VHP and the Bajrang Dal, led to an explosive situation. The orders for the handing over of these bodies repor­tedly originated in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government under Narendra Modi (Hindu 2012).
Under normal circumstances, Shah would not have figured in the story. Shah’s division, which was otherwise based in Hyderabad, was practising its paces in the deserts near Jodhpur as part of the then ongoing Operation Parakram, India’s military mobilisation in the wake of the attack on the Indian Parliament in December 2001. An aid to civil authority call in Gujarat would in the normal course of events, have had the Ahmedabad-based infantry division scrambling, but the division was deployed in a defensive role along the border and could not be spared. Shah’s division, awaiting its marching orders for attack as part of a strike corps, was at hand.
At that juncture, the Indian Army had transited to intensive training to keep up the pressure on General Pervez Musharraf to deliver on his United States’ brokered de-escalatory promise made on 12 January (Krepon and Nayak 2006: 13, 18). Shah, therefore, was keyed up but with nowhere to go. He informs in his book of receiving a call on 28 February from the then army chief, General Sundararajan Padmanabhan. The army chief ordered Shah to take his formation and quell the disturbances in Gujarat (Shah 2018: 115), launching him on Operation Aman, the aid to civil authorities in Gujarat after the carnage had broken out.
An Inexcusable Delay
Shah’s division was airlifted from Jodhpur to Ahmedabad overnight. On arriving on the night of 28 February–1 March, he found that the wherewithal for an aid to civil authority task—magistrates, vehicles, police liaison, guides, etc—that was to be furnished by the state administration was missing. As the book suggests, he rushed to see the chief minister, whereupon, finding the then defence minister, George Fernandes, with Modi, he made his pitch for the assistance required. The revelation in Shah’s book is that the support of the civil administration, though promised by Modi with the defence minister in tow, was not forthcoming through the following day, 1 March. Instead, Fernandes took the opportunity to address troops at the airfield. Finally, on 2 March, 34 hours since the troops had arrived, the vehicles arrived and the troops fanning out in them put an end within 48 hours to the carnage (Shah 2018: 116–17).
Shah’s after action report on Operation Aman is a document calling out for the attention of right to information activists. Shah makes it clear that the absence of civilian administrative support for his division was not merely administrative failure (Shah 2018: 212). He takes care to leave readers with the unmistakable impression that his testimony is yet another piece of evidence that the carnage was one-sided violence at the behest and under the facilitative cover of the state administration (Shah 2018: xvii, 121). It is a sign of authoritarian times that even a general who has “fished in troubled waters” (Shah 2018: xvii) has to remain circumspect.
Coming as Shah’s testimony does, clos­ely preceding the developments in the case related to the custodial killing of Sohra­buddin Sheikh—in which links have surfaced (in a witness testimony) between the killing of a former Gujarat home minister, Haren Pandya, and the cover-up of the Gujarat carnage—it is pertinent in kneading truth into the narrative. According to a witness deposing in the Sohrabuddin case, Gujarat police officer D G Vanzara, known for having links with Modi and Amit Shah (once home minister under Modi in Gujarat), allegedly conspired to have Pandya killed (Times of India 2018a). Pandya, a Modi rival in the BJP, who supposedly had the goods on the role of the state administration in the Gujarat carnage, was proceeding to spill the beans (Anand 2002) and, therefore, had to go (Wire 2018).
The right-wing propagated narrative is that the fire on Sabarmati Express was a planned Muslim-perpetrated one and was followed by riots, implying Muslim-provoked two-sided violence in which the Muslims, being short on numbers, ended up being on the losing side. In the counter-narrative, largely based on the testimony of dissenters in the state administration, Modi, in a meeting on the night of 27 February 2002 at his official residence, allegedly told the civil authorities and police not to interfere with the letting-off of steam by the incensed majority over the following 72 hours (Anand 2002). Feeding the BJP narrative, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) mandated by the Supreme Court has a sanitised version of the late-night meeting (SIT 2011: 57–58, 392), one under challenge in the Supreme Court in the Zakia Jafri case (Setalvad 2018).
Shah also disputes as a “blatant lie” the version of the army’s deployment in the SIT’s closure report on its investigation of Modi’s role in the Gujarat carnage (NDTV 2018). The SIT had credited Modi with alacrity in calling out the army, dating the decision to call the army to 1 pm on 28 February (SIT 2011: 429) and the provisioning of logistic support by 2.30 pm on 1 March (NDTV 2018). The SIT reports the deployment of the army beginning 11 am on 1 March (SIT 2011: 447–48), which is disputed by Shah in his book and can easily be verified by the war diaries—day-to-day records—of the units involved.
The dissenting narrative stands streng­thened by Shah’s testimony that his force, some 3,000 troops, remained inactive all through 1 March 2002 on the Ahmedabad airfield as they failed to be speedily vectored on to the areas of violence. It was only at the end of the 72-hour forced inaction between 27 February and 1 March that the state administration bestirred itself on 2 March.
The implications of Shah’s reopening of the widely suspect popular narrative on the Gujarat carnage are far-reaching. Politically, it puts a shadow over the rise of its then chief minister, Narendra Modi, to a national stature relying on a strongman image. A facet of this image that appeals to his ideological followers is his alleged boldness in the overseeing of the pogrom. Today, Modi is bidding for an extension to continue being in power. The concern in the BJP in the run-up to the elections is that the reality behind Modi’s development plank has been exposed. This may push the BJP to make an ideological appeal (Times of India 2018b). Political dividend from polarisation is sought to compensate for the damage from a succession of policy failures such as demonetisation, joblessgrowth, farmer suicides, the decline of the value of the rupee, the challenge by stone-pelting youth in Kashmir, and the numerous volte-faces in India’s Pakistan and China policies. Polarisation is seen as the trump card to carry forward Hindutvavadis (cultural nationalists) for another 50 years in Amit Shah’s estimate (Hindustan Times 2018), with the national security adviser, Ajit Doval, in his pitch on national security, calling for strong leadership—presumably under Modi—for another 10 years (Indian Express 2018). An extension for Modi in power shall prove an irreversible blow to India’s plural national ethos, democratic political culture, and inclusive social sphere.
The Army’s Response
It is also timely to revisit the army’s manner of responding to calls for aid to civil authority. Shah’s going public with the incongruous image of soldiers attending an impromptu sainik sammelan (a town hall with troops) called by George Fernandes (followed, according to an army officer and as told to this writer, by an ad hoc barakhana [collective breaking bread with troops] in which Fernandes reputedly joined the soldiers sitting cross-­legged on the airfield’s tarmac), begs the question as to the role that Fer­na­ndes played with respect to the army’s res­ponse. While Shah credits Fernandes with persuading the state government to be forthcoming with the support for the army, that Fernandes could only manage this after the 72-hour period of bloodletting by cultural nationalists suggests both powerlessness and complicity. The charade on the tarmac, as a diversion till the 72-hour period of impunity for mass-killing perpetrators ran out, makes for plausibility of the latter.
Shah’s chapter on the army’s foray into ending the Gujarat carnage has an interesting aspect. Chapter VII of the Manual of Military Law (MML), “Duties in aid of civil power,” vide its paragraphs 15 to 19 (Indian Army 1987: 109) empowers the army to impose martial law under conditions of extreme disorder when the civil authorities, even with the help of the armed forces, are unable to bring the situation under control. The provisions have it that, in circumstances that preclude obtaining of the prior approval of the central government, a military commander may, on their own, assume supreme authority for the maintenance of law and order (Indian Army 1987: 109). Shah claims that it did cross his mind to recommend martial law, but in the event he did not pursue the idea believing that it was outside his “mandate” and he was confused since there is no other mention of martial law, including in the Army Act, 1950 and the other two volumes of the army’s law manual (Shah 2018: 119). Even so, aid to civil authority provisions empower the army to fire on orders of an officer even in the absence of a magistrate when public order is threatened in a circumstance of breakdown of civil administration.
While Shah confesses to prudence informing his actions, it is not impossible to visualise a divisional commander of a different mould taking the bull by the horns. In military leadership literature, a popular contrast is drawn between commanders who are cautious and those who are bolder, bordering on the reckless. A commander in the mould of the mercurial German general, Erwin Rommel, or of the bold American general, George S Patton (Showalter 2005), would likely have pressed forward undaunted by the absence of the civil administration, and empowered by their chief’s order to stunch the violence.
Shah commanded an infantry formation comprising foot infantry, which is meant to be just that, with its motto being, “to close with and capture and destroy the enemy;” the “enemy” in this case being the perpetrators of mass violence. It is strange that Shah says, “We could hear gunshots but do nothing” (NDTV 2018). Vehicles are not essential for infantry to have fanned out into Ahmedabad. Proactive action could have served as a deterrent and resulted, by Shah’s own reckoning, in saving “at least 300” lives (NDTV 2018)— a third of those who perished, by cutting short the duration of the violence by a day.
That Shah was not put wise at the airport on landing can be attributed—but only by a stretch—to the local army authorities being themselves deployed in Operation Parakram. The system of static formations, the area and sub-area headquarters that the army has across the country for interfacing with local civilian authorities, was then involved in providing logistics support to formations deployed in Operation Parakram. The army can be faulted for not sparing the concerned commanders and operations staff officers to put Shah’s forces wise on the terrain, on his civilian and police interlocutors, and on developments. Shah functioned under a curious arrangement, answering to the Jodhpur pivot corps commander, who was understandably fixated on
the western front. The operational and area headquarters chain converges at the command level, in this case in Pune. Thus, the headquarters of the Southern Command cannot escape its share of responsibility.
Institutions have been under assault as never before. The recent court ruling on the Hashimpura case which witnessed the largest number of custodial killings in India shows up the susceptibility of the police in the face of illegal orders (Chisti 2018). Saffronisation of governance is striking, with India’s most electorally significant state, Uttar Pradesh, being ruled by a mahant (chief priest of a religious order) known for his anti-minority predilections (Bhowmick 2017). Potential fuses for bloodletting include the Ram Mandir issue, the National Register for Citizens, spillover of the Kashmir issue, and terror provocations from Pakistan. A preventive lesson learnt from the Shah revelations for the army is that it must revisit its powers under Chapter VII of the MML and clear the confusion that stayed Shah’s hand in Gujarat. The ideological impetus in politics today suggests that the sooner this is done the better.
Anand, S (2002): “A Plot from the Devil’s Lair,” Outlook, 3 June,
Bhowmick, Nilanjana (2017): “Meet the Militant Monk Spreading Islamophobia in India,” Washington Post, 24 March,
Chisti, Seema (2018): “In Light of Hashimpura, Recalling PAC, UP’s Controversial Armed Police Force,” Indian Express, 6 November,
Hindu (2001): “VHP Plans ‘Yajna’ at Ayodhya,” 2 July,
— (2012): “Decision to Bring Godhra Victims’ Bodies Taken at Top Level,” 10 February,
Hindustan Times (2018): “‘BJP Will Win 2019; Will Rule for Next 50 Years’: Amit Shah,” 9 September,
Indian Army (1987): “Manual of Military Law,” Government of India,
Indian Express (2018): “Need Strong Government for 10 Years, Enemies Are Within: Ajit Doval,” 26 October,
Krepon, Michael and Polly Nayak (2006): “US Crisis Management in South Asia’s Twin Peaks Crisis,” 57th report, Stimson Center, Washington, DC,
NDTV (2018): “‘300 Could Have Been Saved’: Ex-General’s Revelation on Gujarat Riots,” 10 October,
Setalvad, Teesta (2018): “Zakia Jafri’s Case Is a Reminder of How the Guilty of Gujarat Subverted the Law,” Wire, 18 November,
Shah, Zameer Uddin (2018): The Sarkari Mussalman: The Life and Travails of a Soldier Educationist, New Delhi: Konark Publishers.
Showalter, Dennis (2005): Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century, New York: Berkley Caliber.
SIT (2011): “Report in Compliance to the Order dtd 12.09.2011 of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the Complaint dtd 08.06.2006 of Smt Jakia Nasim Ahesan Jafri,” Special Investigation Team, .
Times of India (2018a): “Sohrabuddin Said Vanzara Ordered Hit on Haren Pandya, Gangster Tells Court,” 4 November,
 (2018b): “Riding a Tiger: Ratcheting Up Temple Politics Won’t Help BJP, Focus on Development,” 6 November,
Wire (2018): “Mystery over Haren Pandya Killing Deepens after Witness Says Top Gujarat Cop Gave Order,” 5 November,

Modi May Say Otherwise, But India Is Still Short of ‘Survivable Nuclear Deterrent’

The anonymous author of a 50-year-old monograph, A Strategy for India for a Credible Posture Against a Nuclear Adversary, published by the Ministry of Defence-affiliated think tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), has been done proud. India has finally notched up the goal set out in the monograph: the nuclear triad.
In keeping with the precedent of appropriating credit for military developments on its watch, the Modi government this Deepawali tom-tomed the return from its first deterrence patrol of India’s Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear (SSBN), INS Arihant.
A former admiral confirms INS Arihant carried nuclear-tipped missiles in its launch tubes on its patrol. While a triad – narrowly defined in terms of the ability of launching nuclear attacks from land, air and sea – can be conceded, it is a work-in-progress and not quite complete yet. However, it was advertised in one prime ministerial tweet as: “completing the establishment of the country’s survivable nuclear triad.”
Commentators have pointed out that a mere first patrol is not quite an operational and effective triad. Subsurface launch tests of the nuclear ballistic missiles from the nuclear submarine were only conducted this August, and only twice at that. The INS Arihant itself was in the news earlier for the wrong reasons – beached by water entering it from a hatch left open inadvertently.
Significantly – like a single sparrow does not a summer make – a single SSBN is insufficient as an invulnerable deterrent, termed in the prime minister’s words as “survivable nuclear deterrent”. For such capability, a minimum of three boomers would be required. This explains India’s under-construction INSArighat that is to be followed by two more boats. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hasty claim of an invulnerable deterrent is thus yet another jumla, with elections on the horizon.
The celebration of a rudimentary triad must not elide the cold war logic of a triad. The monograph mentioned was likely the work of the bureaucrat K. Subrahmanyam, then recently appointed IDSA director on return from a sabbatical in the United Kingdom, at the height of the Cold War nuclear-theological evolution. Subrahmanyam later led the first National Security Advisory Board which, two decades back, topped its nuclear wish list – its DraftNuclear Doctrine – with the triad.
In a telling slip of tongue, the prime minister had it that “the success of INS Arihant enhances India’s security needs”. The triad has indeed exacerbated insecurity, not only by the inevitable response of the nuclear adversary (read Pakistan), but on account of making India more venturesome in its appraisal of nuclear weapons as weapons of coercion, enabling a bit of blackmail of our very own.
In his felicitation of the INS Arihant crew, Modi said, “The success of INS Arihant gives a fitting response to those who indulge in nuclear blackmail.” He was presumably referring to Pakistan’s continuing proxy terrorism in Kashmir, even as it warded off India’s conventional threat by projecting early use in a low-threshold mode of its tactical nuclear weapons (TNW).
To Modi, India’s triad defuses any credibility of the Pakistani nuclear first use threat.
The logic goes somewhat like this: Pakistani terror provocation elicits an Indian conventional attack of the ‘cold start’ kind, at a higher order than ‘surgical strikes’. Should Pakistan resort to nuclear first use, it would be met with ‘massive’ punitive nuclear retaliation from India as promised in India’s official nuclear doctrine dating back to 2003.
Such Indian nuclear retaliation has been called ‘incredible‘, since Pakistan has the wherewithal to strike back hard. Modi seems to suggest that the nuclear triad enables India to ride out Pakistan’s counter. With this logic, the ability to deliver the last salvo deters Pakistani counter retaliation, thereby enhancing the credibility of India’s doctrinal position of ‘massive’ punitive retaliation.
In turn, this emboldens India to use its conventional advantage, so far seemingly checkmated by Pakistani TNW. Since it makes India’s conventional edge more usable, Pakistan can be coerced by nuclear-backed conventional muscle flexing to end proxy adventurism in Kashmir.
Lest this logic carry the day, attendant dangers need highlighting.
In the middle term, till India has an invulnerable nuclear deterrent in place, it needs reminding that it remains short of ‘survivable nuclear deterrent’ as claimed. Pakistan had, while testing its ballistic missile Shaheen III, advisedly advertised its reach as 2,750 km, rationalising that the range was prompted by the necessity to take out India’s second strike capability – long range ballistic missiles and boomers – even if based in the far away Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
On the acquisition of the invulnerable deterrent down the road, and with a militaristic right-wing government continuing into the next decade, India can exercise conventional blackmail to bail itself out of the cul-de-sac in Kashmir brought on by the unnecessary hardline there.
With surgical strikes already under its belt and the ongoing up-gunning of its integrated battle groups to a two-star command, Indian confidence in deflating Pakistani reliance on its TNW may overshadow its hitherto strategic restraint and natural caution that nuclear weapons engender.
An escalatory impulse is extant, evident in writings of former commanders of India’s strategic forces. Writing in the August issue of Synergy, a joint military publication, a recently retired general says, “It must be clearly understood that if forced to launch conventional operations, plans will not be governed by Pakistanis nuclear weapons, be it tactical or strategic.”
A predecessor similarly wrote, “Any adversary who does not believe, or casts aspersions on, India’s resolve on massive retaliation by initiating a nuclear strike against India, does so at its own peril, and seeks self-destruction.”
Yet another three-star commander has it that, “Pakistan has developed adequate nuclear weapons to inflict a reasonable amount of damage on India, but the counter capability with India is sufficient to cause damage on an unprecedented scale… .”

A former boss of the Strategic Forces Command, Shivshankar Menon, agrees, “Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan.’
Deterrence reassurance does not necessarily translate into security. When a former army commander warns that India’s war planning almost completely ignoresthe nuclear overhang, overplaying the triad is prelude to a deterrence delusion. The assumption engendered by a triad – that India shall get in the last nuclear blow – generates overconfidence, making India liable to take nuclear risks.
Further, what nuclear theology misses is the effect of cultural nationalism on strategic thinking and of authoritarianism on nuclear decision-making.
While Shivshankar Menon – no hawk himself – once mused on a possible nuclear first use on India’s part, writing that “Pakistani tactical nuclear weapon use would effectively free India to undertake a comprehensive first strike against Pakistan,” Menon’s successor as national security adviser, Ajit Doval, a hardliner on Pakistan, can be expected to take cue.
Doval’s boss, Narendra Modi, who was most criticalof India’s restraint after Mumbai 26/11, may find himself walking into a commitment trap of his own making. Shivshankar Menon rightly warns that “if India is forced to make a similar choice in the future, I am sure it will respond differently.”
On the tenth anniversary of 26/11, India does not appear any safer. This makes for plausibility of wargame scenarios that have South Asia as locale. A triad does little to make such scenario-building less plausible.

Why the events in J&K are not good for democracy in the state

Four years into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, it is clear that its actions need to be examined in relation to its election agenda. With general elections coming up in a few months’ time, all its actions are geared to ensuring that the BJP comes back to power at the Centre. The dissolving of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) assembly on November 21 must be viewed against this backdrop. It would be na├»ve to continue expecting the ruling party to place national interest above party interest.
The ruling party’s non-performance on development appears to have left it with little but polarisation to fall back on to woo the electorate and keep its voter base together.
Muslim-bashing by itself has had diminishing returns since the last elections — the elections that had succeeded in pushing the Muslims decisively on to the ropes. The Ram mandir issue is close at hand, to be trotted out some time early in the coming year, once the Supreme Court currently engaging with it has ruled on it.
In the interim, J&K serves to keep polarisation ticking. The challenge to the special status of the state, specifically Article 35A is at the Supreme Court. The BJP wishes to capitalise on the special status issue with an eye on its polarising possibilities.
Another indicator of polarisation informing the calculus is the manner Ram Madhav, national general secretary of the BJP overseeing its strategy for J&K, alleged that theincipient alliance between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference was instigated by Pakistan. He has since withdrawnthe comment.
However, the mention of Pakistan was to legitimise the miscarriage of democracy in the dissolution of the assembly just when the two major parties in the state joined hands to steer it back to democracy.
The governor had earlier indicated that the assembly would continue in a suspended state over the transition from governor’s rule to President’s rule. As it turned out, this was to buy time for the BJP-backed challenger Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC), with two members in the assembly, to stake claim, with support from the BJP and after poaching dissidents off the PDP.
In the event, the PDP-NC attempt at forming a coalition government supported by the Congress, under PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti, pre-empted Lone. Though Lone was pipped at the post by the PDP-NC, the governor chose to dissolve the assembly.
The dissolution provides the BJP an opportunity to return to power through the coalition route after fresh elections, to progress its wider game plan of diluting Article 35A and Article 370. Preventing this had been the impulse behind the getting together of arch foes, the NC and the PDP.
The events of November 21 have given the impression that the governor has acted on behalf of the ruling party at the Centre. History shows that such interventions have dire consequences. Three decades back, Governor Jagmohan was appointed by Indira Gandhi with a mandate to remove the NC’s Farooq Abdullah, who was then hobnobbing with the national opposition parties.
The fallout of Jagmohan’s interference in state politics is rather well known. It eventually led to the rigged elections of 1987 and, as they say, the rest is history with the official count of conflict dead nearing 50,000.
This precedence suggests the national security relevance of the governor’s decision. It required consultation with the national security apparatus headed by Ajit Doval. There is also a minister of state-ranking special representative, Dineshwar Sharma, for engaging with interlocutors of all shades and opinion in J&K. That both did not sound the alarm on the national security implications suggests either they were not consulted or were likeminded. This gives the impression that the national security apparatus, which played along with this decision, has been partisan.
The dissolution of the J&K assembly can only firm up a negative view held by many in Kashmir on India’s democratic bona fides when it comes to the Kashmir question and its militarised handling of the troubles in Kashmir. The perception can be expected to feed the ongoing alienation and exacerbate violence.
This puts paid to one of the governor's four reasons for the dissolution, of enabling anti-militancy operations in a stable and supportive environment, presumably better under President's rule than a democratic one.
The advantage here for the ruling party is that it allows an unmitigated militarised template to persist. The turmoil can be projected as Pakistan-fuelled Muslim angst, posing a threat to national security.
This gives the BJP an opportunity to project itself to the electorate as the only party that can deal with the situation, with a strong man prime minister at its helm.

Saturday, 17 November 2018
On the Strongman myth

The UNEDITED version

On the strong man myth
By Ali Ahmed
At the recent Sardar Patel memorial lecture, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, moving outside his mandate as an official, made a case for a strong government for another ten years. Given the manner the institutions have been hollowed out over time by cultural nationalists’ infiltration and brazen undermining by the right-wing government over the last four years, the strong government that Ajit Doval had in mind was certainly not one based on strong institutions. As a leading Modi believer, Ajit Doval, was no doubt indulging in a bit of electioneering on behalf of his boss, with an eye perhaps with assuring his own longevity at helm of national security.
Ajit Doval’s questionable proposition has been taken apart elsewhere with an argument having it that so-called weak governments, including weak coalitions, have taken tough decisions. However, what needs interrogating the Doval thesis that his boss Narendra Modi is the strong man lending strength to a government. 
Narendra Modi’s record over the past four years is not inspiring. Only mid this year he made a dash for Wuhan, buying peace with China lest another Doklam like crisis with its attendant uncertainties upset his shy at another lease at Lok Kalyan Marg. (The renaming of Race Course road is lesser known as it did not displace a name with Muslim provenance.) On the Pakistan front, it is by now exposed that the surgical strikes were politically overhyped, with India having conducted these periodically under ‘weak’ governments, including Manmohan Singh’s, earlier.
As for the demonetization decision, given its vacuity, strength would have been in Modi telling his unknown advisers off. It is not without reason that no one has claimed ownership of the idea yet. On India’s acquisition of a rudimentary triad, it is outcome of a natural progression over the past three decades, encompassing tenures of weak governments. Modi has not been able to restrain his followers from micro terrorism in pursuit of their cow protection duties. As for his home minister’s oft repeated claim for having suppressed riots and terrorism, it is only proof that these were the handiwork of the rightwing, which with the attaining of power can dispense as a strategy.  
There is therefore little to show for Modi as a strong man prime minister. It now remains to reappraise the strong man image from his years in a provincial capital, whence he ascended to power on the back of the image.
Modi has attempted to reinforce the image at a photo opportunity by the side of the tallest statue in the world, one made at his behest with public money. Pushing through the statue project in time for elections has been mistaken for strength. It obscures the pushing out of the vulnerable tribal community with ownership of the land – hardly an example of strength. This exemplifies the contrast in the values to which strength is being deployed between Modi and Sardar Patel, whose Iron Man moniker Modi wishes to appropriate for himself. To drive home the connection, Modi alongside attempted to appropriate the Netaji mantle at the recent observation of  the 75th anniversary of the Azad Hind government formation in exile under Subhash Chandra Bose. 
As for the image, it is one held by Modi believers. It rests on his early showing in power as newly minted chief minister. He allegedly held a meeting at his official residence on 27 February in wake of the burning of coach S6 of Sabarmati Express in which close to three score kar sevaks died. At this meeting, he reportedly approved the procession from Godhra to Ahmedabad carrying the remains of the victims and the handing over to the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal at Ahmedabad. This was meant to incite mass violence by majoritarian extremists. The state administration and police were warned to allow the venting of feelings and time to put Muslims in their place.
While the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team found no evidence of alleged meeting and let off Modi from complicity, it is interesting that believers in Modi believe just this – his demonstration of strength in holding off the Indian state. Modi’s aura stands heightened in the manner he fended off the half-hearted admonishing by his party superior and prime minister, Vajpayee. He also overturned the attempt to remove him at the ruling party conclave and returned to power in early state elections. Not only did he escape accountability, but he provided impunity for hatchet-men and foot-soldiers of the rightwing such as DG Vanzara and Babu Bajrangi. He employed the now infamous police officer Asthana, of the CBI vs. CBI fame, to provide post facto justification for the pogrom, by having him furnish a report that the Godhra coach burning incident was a premeditated one.    
His strong man image was embellished with a few notches added by killings of Muslim terrorists with Pakistani links supposedly out to get him in revenge for the Gujarat pogrom. One such terrorist was a girl barely out of her teens. His then home minister – and now party president - has seen the inside of jail in the case. Modi was the Hindu hriday samrat on-the-make, taking a leaf out of the book of the likes of Bal Thackeray, the Mumbai supremo whose notoriety rested on like credentials of association with showing Muslims (and South Indians) their place through like means - largely one-sided mass violence. Since all this happened on the watch of the rival Congress-led coalition at the center, who could not expose the same even though it had the levers of investigation agencies in its hands, it further burnished the strong man image. 
But the chickens are coming home to roost and ironically when Modi is at the zenith, prospecting a second term. Modi’s strength is up for querying on three counts.
The Zakia Jafri case is due for a hearing at the Supreme Court. Zakia Jafri, widow of former parliamentarian done to death in the massacre at Gulberg society in Ahmedabad on the first day of the Gujarat carnage, has stayed the course maintaining that the SIT was wrong in exonerating Modi. The subtext is that Modi’s holding back was not due to powerlessness or incompetence, but complicity as a deliberate provision of cover for perpetrators – the very reason for Modi idolatry by bhakts.
The second case is that of the political murder of Modi’s home minister at the time of the Gujarat carnage, Haren Pandya. A witness in the case of the killings of Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser-bi and associate, Prajapati, has alleged a connection between the policeman acolyte of the Modi-Shah combine, DG Vanzara, as ordering the killing of Haren Pandya. Pandya was Modi’s party rival. He was reportedly spilling the beans on the conspiracy behind the Gujarat pogrom, necessitating that he be put away.  
The third owes to revelations in the recently released memoirs former general Zameer Uddin Shah. ‘Zoom’ Shah informs of the army, that had flown into Ahmedabad on the night of 28 February-1 March on an aid to civil authority task sitting out a whole day, 1 March, on the tarmac of the airport since the state authorities did not provision magistrates, vehicles, police liaison and logistic support for 34 hours. Only on 2 March was assistance from the state government forthcoming, though the Union defence minister was on hand since 28 February pleading for the same. This timeline lends credence to the dissenting narrative that the mobs were given 72 hours leeway between 27 February and 1 March. 
Strength under the prevailing circumstance in the Republic can be interpreted in two ways. One is in taking Modi as a strong man, albeit in a certain perverse way. The questionable nature of the strength, specifically, the ethics surrounding its acquisition and its deployment, is the Achilles heel. The second is in the strength being in the right-wing forces, that have overtaken society and taken over the state. Modi’s unwillingness and inability to contain and control these forces is thus the opposite of strength. Having got on the tiger he is unable to hop off.   
As with screen villains, the projection of strength is liable to be shown up in a climax. It is best that hollowness of the supposed strength be interrogated timely, lest over the coming five years the electorate is presented with yet more evidence of Modi’s unsuitability for high office. 

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Selectivity in military justice
A former army commander ruing the possibility of extraneous considerations informing the army’s decisions, writes: ‘it would be very unfortunate if the Army’s approach to human rights violations is influenced by extraneous – regional, political or demographic – factors.’
His observation was in wake of the army’s summary general court martial sentencing human rights violators in a custodial killings case in Assam, the Dangari court martial, going back some two decades. The general brought out a little-known facet of the case, in that it was one of two cases that the army volunteered to take on when offered a choice by the Supreme Court in May 2012.
The other case was the infamous Pathribal case in Jammu and Kashmir in which five innocent men were killed by the army and presented as the terrorists who had carried out the Chattisinghpora massacre of Sikhs in Kashmir on the eve of the visit of United States’ President Bill Clinton to India in March 2000. In the event, the army did not keep its commitment to the Supreme Court of conducting a trial by a court martial, instead letting off the accused for want of evidence.  
The Supreme Court in August 2017 admitted a petition by the aggrieved families against the army’s stonewalling. The petitioners had earlier faced a rebuff at high court level. Though respondents were given six weeks to furnish their positions, the Supreme Court has – over a year later - yet to hear the case.
The contrasting trajectories of the two cases does beg the poser framed by the former army commander, an additional possibility no less troubling is discussed here.
Apologists for the Pathribal killings suggest that immense pressure on the army in wake of the Chattisinghpora massacre led to the staged encounter killings. Since it was an unidentified armed group that carried out the massacre of the Sikhs, suspicions were of a possible ‘black operation’ intended to malign Pakistan and its proxy war agents in Kashmir. In order to influence perceptions, the army may have staged the encounter, presenting those killed as the perpetrators of the massacre.
Given the strategic level context of the killings, the Rashtriya Rifles unit that carried out the fake encounter could hardly have thought up the cover-up idea itself. It was clearly put to the task. That its commander went on to the next rank – despite botching a high-profile operation - implies he was acting on orders.
If so, it is fair to also look higher up in the food chain. Such orders can be expected through the chain of command, with some links bypassed for confidentiality or over fears of incumbents having a mind of their own. The informal ‘blue-eyed boy’ links also serve as the conduit.
In this case the origin of the orders was likely outside the army’s provenance. The outpourings now - at a time of ascendance of former spooks in the strategic community - indicate that the Kashmir file in New Delhi then had an intelligence minder. The strategic game at the time was to get Pakistan on to the US’ list of ‘terrorist states’.
The Kandahar hijack incident and the supposed Pakistani fingerprints all over it had not quite succeeded in this. Kandahar appeared to have been a fortuitous last halt of the hijacked plane, having been allowed inexplicably to take off from Amritsar in first place and denied a landing in Lahore.
In the conspiracy narrative, more was therefore needed. A black operation thus acquired the legitimizing rationale of raison d'etat, with covert ministerial imprimatur concerning itself at best with the scope for plausible deniability.
That the perpetrators were implementing orders explains their being let-off by the army, even without the court martial being convened even though mandated by the Supreme Court. Prosecution of the perpetrators would lead to spilling of the beans on Pathribal and, in turn, opening up the official narrative on Chattisinghpora to scrutiny.
The reasons-of state implicit in the Pathribal case did not attend the Dangari court martial case in Assam. That is a case of a unit acting largely autonomously, even if it kept its hierarchy in-the-loop on its actions. It is not a unit gone rogue, but one unfortunately attuned to the culture of the formation it was operating in.
The eventual elevation of the commanding officer to the rank major general suggests he earned a good command report, which means the brass were happy that he kept the bean count register ticking. It is not entirely a separate issue that his luck ran out in a case of moral turpitude, a case of cutting of one corner too many.
He fell prey to a command climate of careerism attenuated by the need in those serving in the north east to rival the showing of their comrades in Kashmir, who were in comparison bagging militant scalps by the dozen in the mid-nineties. Thus, his was an easy case for the army to duly follow through on in its commitment to the Supreme Court.
This is of a piece with the mantra ‘aberration’ the army trots out when confronted with its record on human rights. To it, the violators in the Assam case being held to account, the aberration stands addressed, notwithstanding that this was eased by the former major general’s sacking a decade back.
The verdict in the Dangari case compensates for and attempts to mellow the view of the Supreme Court on the Pathribal case when it comes around to vetting the petitioners’ case made over a year back. The delay at the court’s end – hopefully inadvertent - helped.
Unfortunately, it cannot be said with any conviction that shorn of the ‘national security’ connotation, a Pathribal like case would have gone the way of the Dangari case. The Machil case, in which three innocent men were killed in a fake encounter depicting an infiltration attempt on the Line of Control, was one pursued at the behest of enlightened leadership at the army command level. That its outcome was derailed in a questionable judgment of the armed forces tribunal suggests that a Pathribal could have met a like fate.
Even where there is no ‘national security’ cover, such as the in the killing of Manorama Devi in Manipur, the army has been known to close ranks and protect perpetrators, under the mistaken belief that it shores up morale and as a defence against opening-up the of its human rights record. Its leadership forgets that it is paid for just that, leadership.
By this yardstick, petitioning of the Supreme Court by hundreds of army men against any dilution in the reading of the impunity clause in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act must be called out as a failure in leadership. It has not ingrained a command climate in which the higher obedience is in disregarding illegal orders even at the peril of a career.  
While the competing explanation here to the Pathribal case being at variance with the Dangari one apparently holds water, the unfortunate part is that the Dangari case went the distance because a Bharatiya Janata Party government, in power both in the province and at the center, was perhaps the elephant in the court martial room.