Monday, 31 December 2018

Kashmir: More of the hammer in the coming year

The ruling party nemesis, Yashwant Sinha, informs that there is a ‘doctrine of state’ that is determining the government’s Kashmir strategy. According to his source in the government, presumably a former ruling party colleague of his, the doctrine of state is the “use of force to solve problems, not consensus, not democracy, not insaniyat, but sheer use of brutal force.”

The credibility of Sinha’s information is reinforced by the stark warning given by the army chief in November, “If you look at the government policy, we have got a very clear cut policy — that we will not allow terrorists to create violence in our society and therefore anybody who creates violence will be neutralized.”

While the warning covers militants, he had a word for people (read stone pelters) too, saying, “anybody disrupting operations of the security forces need to be dealt with sternly,” and, “If people do not behave and continue violence, the only element left is to neutralise them.”
Statistics bear out the strategy at play. The year-end count of militant dead is some 255. Though there is a representative of the Union government for conducting a sustained dialogue with all stakeholders, there is no hint of a peace initiative imminent to take advantage of the operational ‘success’ these figures are trotted out to underline.

In fact, the army chief ruled out any such initiative stating, “Sharma is moving around talking to people. He is saying that I am open to everybody and anybody who wants to speak to me can come to me (sic).” Rawat lamented the lack of progress on the talks front thus: “If separatists don’t want to approach the interlocutor, then I don’t know what further can be hoped.” With a finality that put paid to any thought of a peace initiative, he said, “But to say that the head of the state will come and talk to these terrorists, I don’t think that is going to happen.”

In short, India’s Kashmir strategy comprises a hammer alone; no carrots there. Even its thinking on a peace track is rather rudimentary. Speaking earlier, prior to the mid-year ceasefire initiative, Rawat had said that, while “there isn’t a military solution to this issue,” he expects “politicians, political representatives to go into villages especially in South Kashmir to talk to people.” On the army restoring calm, he expects politicians to fan out and convince people that any thought of Azadi is futile. Somewhat naïve to say the least!

Even its ongoing Operation All Out reportedly has as its limited aim the containing of the insurgency to levels permissive of elections to be held in Kashmir sometime early summer for both the state legislature and the parliament. The expectation is that restoring a democratically elected government to power in Srinagar is all that a political solution takes. This flawed understanding of political solution or conflict resolution is despite the four iterations of elections since 1996 after an extended spell of president’s rule from early 1990.

Listening to the loquacious army chief is important to piece together India’s Kashmir strategy. A commentator has it that the chief, having been picked for his expertise in counter insurgency, is allowed considerable liberty in speaking his mind (shooting his mouth off to some) as part of the psychological operations that form part of hybrid war.

India apparently sees its stand-off with Pakistan over Kashmir as an ongoing hybrid war, a perspective it shares with the Pakistan army. This keeps India from using meaningful talks as a means to address the political problem it has in Kashmir. Viewing Kashmir as a proxy war, rules out talks with Pakistan-controlled separatists and militants.

This is justified by the so-called doctrine of state in which force is the solution. Force is legitimized by resort to Chanakya’s thinking. However, this uni-dimensional view of Chanakya does not do justice to Chanakya, who had strategy based on four expedients (upay): dand (force), bhed (dissension), sama (talks), daam (buy off). His thinking was considerably less monochromatic than his adherents today swear by. To resort to Kautilya for doctrinal legitimacy is to do the thinker an injustice and hide strategic vacuity in a veneer of strategic doctrine.

Besides, India’s strategic minders appear not to be updated on the latest interpretation of Kautilya. A recent doctoral dissertation at the University of Hyderabad boldly reinterprets Kautilya and rescues him from the ideological clutches of sundry hyper-realists and cultural nationalists. The defence ministry affiliated think tank, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis has done a yeoman’s service in this regard. Kautilyan thought anchored in welfare of people, with the chakravartin (benevolent ruler) provisioning the same through a combination of suitable strategies, including accommodationist ones.

In relation to Kashmir, dand and its twin, bhed (for intelligence driven operations), can only have a limited part to play. They are counter-productive in that force is addressing a symptom of the cause, which is the use of force itself.

Daam has been tried thrice-over, by the successive prime ministers, to little avail. While Vajpayee had some 60 projects involving Rs. 25000 crore, Manmohan Singh had a working group on economic regeneration. Modi talked of investing Rs. 80000 crore three years back.

The three expedients together have barely contained the problem. The current count of militants is some 300, with some 200 having joined this year. Even if the army kills 300 over the coming year, there would be those signing up through the year to be accounted for and those that Pakistan succeeds in infiltrating into Kashmir. The army acknowledges that even in multiple tiers there is no guarantee against infiltration.

With this year’s firing incidents on the Line of Control, despite an early year recommitment to a ceasefire, notching up the highest figure this decade, Pakistan can be expected to be proactive over the coming year. President Trump’s downsizing of forces in Afghanistan and US talks with the Taliban suggest Pakistan will have greater latitude to get back to its old game J&K. This year it was relatively restrained owing to US pressure on it and hoping to project the indigenous face of the insurgency.

India might be tempted to resort to up-gunned surgical strikes and its recently revised land warfare doctrine. How this could resolve matters either internally or externally is a well kept secret. The good part – which India’s strategic minders are otherwise wary of - is that it will help bring international attention to bear, putting paid to India’s mantra of bilateral problem solving.

What this analysis suggests for the coming year is that a strategy without the ingredient of saam in appropriate proportion cannot succeed. The so-called doctrine of state, at the fount of India’s Kashmir strategy, is evidently misplaced. In any case, doctrine is never to be inflexible or over-riding. It informs strategy, but does not dictate it. It is authoritative, but not domineering.

Keeping the representative of the Union government, Dineshwar Sharma, comatose into his second year in the appointment makes little strategic sense, especially as seen the army will be hard put to contain the likely escalation over the coming year. Bipin Rawat, who retires end-next year, needs to bring the sage counsel in the army’s subconventional operations doctrine to Ajit Doval’s attention.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Kashmir: Need for a peace process

A former northern army commander has twice over recently observed that the military’s operational success in counter insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has not been taken advantage of politically. He was voicing the army’s longstanding position that talks need to proceed abreast with operations to culminate in a return of peace.

In the army’s doctrinal view, counter insurgency operations by themselves are never enough. The military by tamping down on violence can at best create the conditions for talks. The intention is to enable the state an advantage in negotiations from a position of strength.

The recently released year end statistics peg the militants killed in the ongoing Operation All Out at 237. Another statistic places this at a record high at 255. The end of campaigning season with the onset of winter is a juncture for the civilian masters of security forces to take advantage of operational success. As things stand, it appears that India is set to squander another opportunity.

The army chief had once admitted to a problem of a ‘cycle’ being set up, with deaths not deterring those signing up. The glamour of militancy and a martyr’s death has kept up numbers in militant ranks. Currently, it is pegged at over 300, operating largely in south Kashmir, with 200 signing up this year.

While the monthly attrition rate was highest in November, with 39 militants killed, there were only 4 fresh recruits into militant ranks, compared to 33 in October. Coupled with reports on a drawdown in the number of operations in which civilian bystanders have interfered and decline in stone throwing episodes, Operation All Out cannot have delivered any better.

Even so, Operation All Out is set to continue into the coming year with an aim to deliver violence free polls for the national and state legislatures sometime in summer. However, a return of an elected government to power in Srinagar does cannot substitute for a peace process.

The army chief had at the time of the ceasefire in June, said, “Talks must happen. The issue is that a lot of locals are joining militancy. We kill them and more would join. Infiltration can be controlled, but this cycle of recruitment of local youth can go on and on. So…let’s give peace a chance and see.” The words continue to be relevant.

The military advantage is that a winter-time initiation of talks enables enough duration for talks to pan out. It would prevent such incidents as occurred mid-month in Pulwama in which seven alleged stone throwers were killed.

The political advantage to the government is in its going into elections early summer claiming that its Kashmir policy is in line with the prime minister’s policy stated from the ramparts of Red Fort that Kashmir would be addressed with an embrace, not bullets.

A political initiative takes forward the possibilities opened in the political appointments made by the government, the representative of the Union government appointed in October last year and a political personage as governor. The governor had indicated an interest in peace politically arrived at, stating once that his aim is to end militancy, not merely eliminate militants.

The recent visit to the Valley of a former prime minister of Norway, Kjell Mangne Bondevik, on the invite of the founder of the Art of Living Foundation, Ravi Shankar, suggests that there is a peace lobby within the government.

Any potential espied by the Norwegian can be translated into action by the special interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma. Besides his yearlong conflict analysis, he also has available to him the five reports of the Concerned Citizens Group.

There being no elected state government in place currently permits greater flexibility. The central government has the parliamentary political strength. An initiative can be expected to command a consensus and have the backing of the local parties. While politicking can be expected, the idea will not have a political cost.

These advantages may not be there for the next government. If an initiative is postponed to after elections, it would unlikely begin in summer since the two governments – at the central and province - would be settling in. The inevitable summer escalation in violence may upset a peace applecart.

The opening of passes come summer may tempt Pakistan to return to its old ways. It would be hard put to carry forward its largely hands-off posture seen this year into another year.

At the moment, Pakistan is giving out the right signals with its army repeatedly backing the peace feelers of a prime minister it helped place in power, albeit owing to pressure from the United States (US). US President Trump intends winding down, having appointed a heavyweight as special envoy for talks with the Taliban and asking his military to halve its numbers. These developments strengthen Pakistan’s hands.

Within the national security establishment thinking along lines of a peace initiative is not entirely absent. The army chief in an interaction with the media late last month had let on that indirect talks are on with stakeholders (read separatists) to get them to talk to Dineshwar Sharma.

However, his lament, “If separatists don’t want to approach the interlocutor, then I don’t know what further can be hoped,” reveals the flawed strategy behind Operation All Out. It is apparent that the killings of youth signing up to militancy are to force the separatists to the table.
For his part, Dineshwar Sharma appears to be awaiting the separatists and militants to throw in the towel, as revealed by the Army Chief in his inimitable blunt-talk style, “But to say that the head of the state will come and talk to these terrorists, I don’t think that is going to happen.”

The carrot-and-stick strategy has ended up ‘all stick and no carrot’, which begs the question on the government’s intent. As a Modi critic points out the intent is to bludgeon an Indian community. Not taking up a peace process at this juncture - despite its desirability and feasibility as explored here - only reinforces this suspicion.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Finally, the IS bogey laid to rest

Milligazette, 26 December 2018

The former Indian interlocutor with West Asia in his capacity as envoy on counter terrorism and extremism, Syed Ibrahim, has with finality read the obituary on the Islamic State (IS) in its alleged foray into India. Ibrahim should know since he is a former Intelligence Bureau head who in his run to being India’s top cop was reputed as an expert on Islamism and terrorism. After a suitable gap on demitting office, he pronounced at a meeting in Dubai that the IS managed to attract barely 108 Indians to its fold, of whom most were expatriates living in the Gulf. Adherents from within India were at a mid-double digit figure.

Though the home minister – to his credit – has on occasion mentioned that the IS does not have a foothold in India, he mostly followed up by taking credit for the ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), for having kept the IS off India. From time to time, he boasted of a terrorism-free record of the Modi sarkar, with the subtext that they had kept Muslims away from terrorism. Often a comparison was struck with the United Progressive Alliance years, in which Muslim-perpetrated terrorism was supposedly prevalent. For icing, he usually added as a back handed compliment that Indian Muslims are peaceable and accepting of a secular and democratic India.

Since the government is in the run up for a second inning, it is important to bust this plank of the BJP as it goes to the electorate with its laundry list of ‘achievements’.

Firstly, the IS’ global threat was exaggerated, not least to enable the West continuing alibi for sway over West Asia. It was built up as a threat since it was at a temporary ascendant taking advantage of the troubled conditions in Iraq and Syria. Some of the angst that the continuing troubles in West Asia and the Muslim Maghreb elicited in some Muslims of the region was directed at those they held directly responsible for the turmoil. This was manifest in the form of terrorism in European states, leading to a understandably West-centric global media inflating the threat, while editing out root causes that include instability causing Western interference. Thus, the IS had localized roots and a regional outreach limited to its perceived foes in the West. In so far as it was interested in recruits for its khalifat project from elsewhere, it was for purposes of self-preservation in its territorial stronghold that progressively came under concerted attack by Russia in aid of Syria and the United States (US) in support of Iraqi and Kurdish forces. This bit of propaganda ensnared some Indians in the Gulf, who identified more with their Arab compatriots rather than as South Asians.

In the event, the two military powers, supporting respective proxies, have made short shrift of the IS’s territorial hold. The jury is still out on whether the IS as an idea – in conjunction with the ghost of the Al Qaeda – will continue to hold out in the minds of assorted jihadists. So long as Israel continues its aggressive posture against Palestinians and Arab regimes appear to be overly dependent on the West, it is difficult to envision a subsiding of the attraction of the jihadist enterprise in reshaping their lands. Even so, Trump has announced ‘mission accomplished’ on the IS front and is pulling out troops, at the cost of losing his reluctant defence secretary.

As such there was no South Asian connection of the IS, claims of isolated websites and shadowy figures notwithstanding. The IS, whittled in its strongholds in the Levant, has surfaced in Afghanistan, not so much physically, but as an idea adhered to by those contesting a regime seen as imposed by the self-same West, supported as it is by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Yet again, the notable point is that unsettled conditions and Western presence are the two factors that appear to enable and sustain IS presence, besides keeping it afloat as an attractive-to-some idea. Trump, seeing the writing on the wall that it is Pushtun nationalism that drives the insurgency more than religious extremism, is recalling his troops from Afghanistan, with half their number – some 7000 - to depart by early next year.

The supposed advent of the IS in Kashmir as part of a project for the domination of Khorasan was bandied in the media. The Khorasan project – the domination of central and north west South Asia - was associated with the Al Qaeda, which has since been whittled by the Taliban. Strategic analysts made much of the appearance of black flags on the streets of Srinagar. Their hope was to depict India as in the same corner as the US in Afghanistan, so as to corner Pakistan. This did not materialize as Trump could not ignore the importance of Pakistan to the US presence in Afghanistan, even though he blew hot and cold periodically and cut off military aid considerably. With his winding up the Afghan misadventure, Pakistan is back in the game since its military and intelligence has a lifeline to the Taliban.

The India-centric argument was that the IS enemy was at the gates. This served the BJP government well since it was not too keen on taking up its periodic outreach to Pakistan to any conclusion. It also helped with the Othering of the Indian Muslim as ‘anti-national’ and pushing the community into its ghetto – metaphorically and physically - arguing that with the IS a step away in Kashmir, it would in but a little while be in qasbas and mohallas. Their actual reason for alighting on the IS threat was also to extend the operation of the armed forces special powers exercised in Kashmir. These were critiqued when the troubles subsided in the mid 2000s and in the early 2010s. In the former period, the Al Qaeda bogey man was trotted out as justification for continued military presence under special powers and in the latter, the IS proved handy. Commentators have rightly pointed out that the black flags were waved by youth as red rags out to provoke security forces and cock-a-snook at India. This was the threadbare media touted and strategic analyst purveyed case of the IS foothold.

What this implies for the BJP’s supposed record on terror then is that there was no IS threat and therefore there is no question of a BJP achievement keeping India IS free. As for the absence of terror, this writer has on these pages earlier made the case that Muslim perpetrated terror was instead a series of black operations by right wing extremists. They wanted to deliver India for application of the Hindutva project under a right wing dispensation. The black operations were to enhance the political profile of a certain provincial leader and manufacture a ‘wave’ based, inter-alia, on an ‘India under threat’ thesis to bring a right wing government to power. This they managed to achieve by suborning the media and having closet Hindutvavadis in the strategic community lend a hand in the information operations. The contribution of the right leaning intelligence community and supine police to this enterprise is easy to infer. There is no other explanation to the dozens of Muslim youth let off in terror related court cases over the recent years. Who else then committed those crimes for which Muslim youth paid a price and exacted from the community a reputational cost? Lets also not forget the pending the case involving 22 Muslim deaths in Gujarat in the Modi chief-ministership, lodged way back by the very credible BG Verghese and Javed Akhtar, in which the dead were supposedly terrorists.

Given that – yet again – there was no Muslim perpetrated terror to speak of (admittedly it was not absent either in wake of the Mumbai carnage in 1993 and Gujarat pogrom in 2002), the supposed control over terror does not arise. Indeed, if there were such sleeper cells as one national security adviser famously warned, did they sleep through a chance to welcome the IS to South Asia? Also, if Indian Muslim terrorists were so omnipresent, have they been cowed down by mere lynchings of Muslims by the cow protection brigade? What has the D-Company been doing, if not for its people as it once reputedly did, then for its sponsors, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence? Is the Indian Mujahedeen as extinct as the IS or was it likewise a work of fiction from the same minds that conjured up the IS threat? Further, absence of terror only proves that black operations perpetrators having done their part do not need the strategy any more. They have been called off by their minders.

The narrative here sets right the motivated version of terror - and its purported control - received through the media, official channels and ‘experts’. It needs airing at every opportunity for the next six months so that as the electorate contemplates its choice for the next hustings, it must make amends for falling for the flawed line at the last elections. It needs to reclaim its good sense, even in face of a fresh dose of information war targeting it here on.

Needless to add that as part of the global village the community needs continuing its internal vigilance, particularly in areas with a diaspora in the Gulf (as cautioned by Asif Ibrahim). In the context of prospects of right wing extremism persisting into the next decade, the community can ill afford any alien ideological import from a West Asian geopolitical setting into Indian shores nor any religious doctrine that sits uneasily with the community’s minority status in a plural society and democratic polity.

Monday, 17 December 2018

India’s Nuclear Doctrine: Strategic Direction or Drift?

India’s official nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged since its adoption in 2003. Some may take this apparent continuity as evidence of India’s intentional strategic direction. However, a case can be made that this continuity in doctrine is actually an indication of India being unmindful of recent escalatory nuclear developments in the region, such as Pakistan’s introduction of tactical nuclear weapons. By sticking with the doctrine precept of deterrence by punishment, India exhibits an underappreciation of the situation of mutually assured destruction that South Asia finds itself in today.

History of India’s Nuclear Doctrine

Twenty years ago, India’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government authorized nuclear weapons tests, marking the overt nuclearization of the subcontinent. Even as the government soon fell from power after losing a no-confidence vote in Parliament, the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) that had been appointed as part of revitalizing the national security council system continued to churn out a nuclear doctrine. The resulting document, a draft nuclear doctrine released in August 1999, marked a shift in India’s approach to nuclear weapons from the recessed deterrence of the 1990s to credible minimum deterrence. This credibility was reflected in its articulation of assured retaliation based on a triad capability.

This draft nuclear doctrine gradually came to serve as India's official nuclear doctrine. Since the Indian government in the interim had weathered two crises—the Kargil War and the Twin Peaks crisis—it used the release of the official doctrine in 2003 to include a warning to Pakistan in the form of the phrase “massive” nuclear retaliation. The logic was that India would threaten to escalate by including counter value targets in its retaliation, thus deterring a Pakistani “nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere.”

The official doctrine did not include an explicit reference to a nuclear triad. This reticence may have been because the “credible” in “credible minimum deterrence” subsumed the capability, or for the sake of keeping India's pursuit of the Advanced Technology Vehicle program (the ballistic missile nuclear-powered submarine building program) secret, even as it went about establishing a full triad. That India has acquired the triad in the twenty years since the draft doctrine of 1999 speaks to a certain degree of purposefulness in India’s doctrine and its implementation.
The development of India’s nuclear deterrent over the past twenty years has been stewarded by the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, over its two iterations (1999 to 2004 and 2014 to the present), and the ten-year interregnum of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA, from 2004 to 2014). This can be taken as evidence of political direction of India’s deterrent. However, as the remainder of this article demonstrates, the lack of doctrinal evolution despite the onset of the age of mutual assured destruction in South Asia indicates a state of strategic stasis in India.

India’s Evolving Deterrent

During the written articulation of India’s nuclear doctrine, a salient pillar—minimum—was superseded by credibility. This put to rest the originally held concept of “existential deterrence” in favor of assured retaliation. The triad that found mention in the draft nuclear doctrine of 1999 was inserted to provide the assurance.

The no-first-use (NFU) pillar has had a better innings. It has been useful in projecting an image of India as a mature and responsible nuclear power, thereby obscuring India’s buffeting of the nuclear nonproliferation regime in 1998 and keeping nonproliferation lobbies off India’s quest for a credible deterrent. Even so, the term “rapid” in the draft doctrine, which calls for a shift from a peacetime mode to a deployed status in “the shortest possible time,” established tendencies that over time have resulted in a shadow over India’s NFU policy. The intent behind this language was perhaps to safeguard against multiple attrition nuclear attacks, debilitating India’s capability by quickly unleashing a retaliatory blow. Shivshankar Menon, a former national security adviser, has let on that questioning the NFU’s continued utility did cross his mind. Periodic eruptions in the nuclear debate inevitably witness assaults on this central tenet, with some former heads of India’s Strategic Forces Command, namely B.S. Nagal and Vijay Shankar, being critical of it.

The first generation of India’s nuclear strategists were largely minimalists, valuing deterrence by punishment. Though this deterrence approach made its way into the official doctrine intact, in an egregious intervention reportedly by generalist bureaucrats, the term “massive” was inserted into the official doctrine. While this is aligned with deterrence by punishment, it detracts from credibility in that it is not possible for India to follow through on it, for two reasons. One is that Pakistan’s vertical proliferation has over time ruled out success of first-strike levels of attack; the second is the regional environmental consequences, which militate against deterrence by punishment based on a counter value strike.

Therefore, space has been created for options of nuclear use other than punitive retaliation to impose unacceptable damage. India's oft-denied capabilities make deterrence by denial a possibility. The capability inference is based on the fact that three of India’s five nuclear tests of 1998 were of low-yield devices that can lend themselves to fashioning into nuclear weapons for lower order nuclear use for tactical, operational, or counter force effect.

India would be foolhardy to retaliate at a higher order level as the doctrine posits because it cannot persevere against both counter strike(s) (its ballistic missile defense being limited) and the environmental consequences of such an exchange. India has not acknowledged the possibility of a doctrinal shift, but nuclear strategy in conflict will necessarily have proportional retaliation options on the table for decisionmaking at the political level.

Finally, to India, nuclear weapons are political weapons having no military utility. However, environmental effects rule out a war of annihilation, though many strategists persist—for the sake of deterrence, being apologists for the doctrine, or simply valuing their institutional positions —fantasizing that Pakistan would be finished at the end of such an exchange. The environmental interconnectedness of the subcontinent—illustrated by the annual uproar over the smog that besets Delhi every Diwali season by the burning of shoots in harvested fields across the northern Indus basin—will ensure that Pakistan’s annihilation will precede that of India by just a short duration. It is perhaps with reason that environmental effects are an understudied area, lest the effects be revealed to upset India’s doctrine.

Strategic Wisdom or Folly?

Strategic direction requires a shift away from India’s official nuclear doctrine to a strategically sustainable one. India’s nuclear doctrine cannot credibly continue to project that it would retaliate with higher order strikes to any form of nuclear first use against it. Yet India has chosen to stick with its declaratory doctrine in the face of technological developments that furnish it with other options. This gives rise to the possibility that even if the declaratory nuclear doctrine is unchanged, there could have been a covert movement, in an operational nuclear doctrine kept secret.And if indeed there has been a doctrinal shift, that it remains unacknowledged testifies to India’s strategic drift rather than strategic direction. India must shift back to doctrinal transparency to clarify whether it is strategically wise or strategically bereft.

Kashmir: Towards peace with dignity

The November end update of statistics from the bean count in Kashmir was intended, as usual, to embellish Operation All Out, ongoing in Kashmir in its second iteration beginning mid-year. The detail has it that some 233 militants have been killed this year, overtaking with a month to go the count of last year.
Since criticism has long had it that martyrdom creates its own attraction for social media savvy youth, the statistics take care to preempt it informing that this November for the first time there were no fresh recruits to militant ranks, contrasting this with the figure for October that had been pegged at 30.
The other positives we are given to understand are that stone throwing episodes are down; interference by bystanders in military operations has declined; and mass attendance at funerals of ‘martyr’s’ has dwindled. Some half of those figuring on the list of 14 ‘most wanted’ have been dispatched, including a few hardcore Pakistanis terrorists in high profile operations.
This is attributed to the synergy between the intelligence grid and operations, with terrorist high handedness – such as kidnaps and killings of policemen, their relatives and alleged informers - reportedly increasing skepticism and intelligence inflow from people. 
In short, the November update caps Operation All Out at the end of the traditional campaigning season in Kashmir. The year end is on an upbeat note in Kashmir. There are 300 odd militants still out there to keep the counter ticking through winter, with intelligence led operations through winter setting the stage for the wrap up of the militancy in summer.
The security establishment then can report ‘all clear’ to the lead national security minder, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, who put them to Operation All Out a couple of years back. He can in turn apprise his boss, Prime Minister Modi, as he takes to electioneering hoping to gain a second term tenancy of 7 Lok Kalyan Marg and its garden-track inspired by the five panchtatvas (elements of nature).
Experts have it that Operation All Out now has its aim violence free elections to both the assembly and the parliament in summer. Since people vote in the state government to keep the administration going even as the militancy continues, the elections turnout is unlikely to need any exceptional vigilance. Elections are an excuse to keep the operations going.
Since the summer will be around by then, the campaigning season will kick in. The bean count reflecting success in Operation All Out indicates that the militancy would need a Pakistani injection soon enough.
Pakistan, that has self-servingly held off, this year, may be tempted by the reopening of passes come summer for taking to its old tricks. This year it had been put on notice by Trump over its support to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
On delivering the Taliban for talks with the US it may be off the hook, allowing it to get back to business in Kashmir. With India ignoring Imran Khan’s outstretched hand, reportedly with his army’s backing, Pakistan will have an excuse.
The new governments in Delhi and Srinagar, even if either is reelected, would take time settling in. Worsened security indices, reflected in the statistics, will stay their hand at changing tack. If Modi is reelected, in part on account of his showing in keeping with his 56-inch chest, he may have Doval continue.
For his part, Doval has taken care to kick off electioneering in his Sardar Patel lecture calling on the electorate to keep his boss in saddle for another ten years. So, Doval, having assured himself continuity in office, persistence in the hardline can be expected.
Doval acolyte, General Bipin Rawat, would be happy to oblige in order to earn his tag as counter insurgency specialist, that got him his elevation to his appointment over heads of two of his seniors. He has till next year end, when he retires, for firming in his legacy.
Ideally, such a legacy would be if he is able to bring about an end state in keeping with the army’s counter insurgency doctrine. The doctrine has long had it that kinetic operations can at best create the conditions for political initiative.
This has usually been misinterpreted with elections turning in a provincial government. It is no wonder then operations continue, as does the facilitating cover of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, even as state administrations extend it indefinitely. What needs doing instead are peace talks initiation, as in Nagaland.
The general’s challenge is in bringing this about. He gave voice to his quandary, lamenting recently, “If separatists don’t want to approach the interlocutor, then I don’t know what further can be hoped.”
He was referring to the low-profile representative of the Union government, Dineshwar Sharma. Dineshwar Sharma missed the boat during the mid-year month long ceasefire. Flat-footed Sharma had not taken cue from the Chief’s words during the Ramzan period of suspension of offensive operations, “Talks must happen. The issue is that a lot of locals are joining militancy. We kill them and more would join. Infiltration can be controlled, but this cycle of recruitment of local youth can go on and on. So…let’s give peace a chance and see.”
Sharma continues to be missing in action, outflanked most recently by the initiative last month of the controversial godman Ravi Shankar, who organised the visit of a former Norwegian prime minister, who now heads a typically Scandinavian peace think tank, to the Valley for meetings with Hurriyet stalwarts.
Sharma is probably waiting for Ajit Doval’s cue. Therefore, besides his official pitch in the relevant forum, Bipin Rawat needs working his direct line to Doval arguing for a turn to doctrinal compliance, with initiation of peace talks on the backs of a successful operational showing. Rawat would only be urging the government to toe the doctrinal line.
He could sugar coat his pitch arguing that it would look equally good at election time in case Modi follows through on his promise from the ramparts of Red Fort this year that he would resolve the Kashmir issue by embracing people. With the state elections results hardly enthusing for the ruling party, it appears Modi would need all the innovative ideas he can get. He can claim to be taking advantage of the success of his hardline.
The appropriate juncture is at hand. The winter’s operational respite, that is in terms of operational intensity akin to a period of non-initiation of offensive operations since only intelligence led operations are usually launched, can be taken advantage of. Pakistan can be put on notice that its bona-fides in its peace overtures are under test in the peace initiative succeeding, even as it continues for now under US pressure.
Operation All Out, an operational success, can prove a strategic failure if India yet again foregoes a peace opportunity brokered by its security forces. It must reach out to the remaining Kashmiri militant leadership rather than strike them off one by one from that list. 
A two-track peace initiative can be visualized, one to the Hurriyet and one to Kashmiri militants. Sharma can set the conditions for a dialogue, with operations continuing against Pakistani terrorists and any Kashmiri camp-followers. The timeframe should be to have a process in place by end winter, so that a full-throated summer campaign resumption is precluded.
A third track involving Pakistan can kick in as the internal political track begins to show promise and the outreach to Kashmiri militants matures into a ceasefire of sorts.
With 86 member of security forces dead this year – the highest figure for the decade – both militants and their supporters in the Pakistani establishment can claim to have forced the talks on India through military action, thereby justifying to themselves a turn to the table.
The national and regional parties in their manifestos need to be incentivized to come out with how they respectively conceive of talks going forward. A competition in peace mongering can develop, ensuring the longevity of talks and momentum.
The party or coalition that comes to power in the Center, in consultation with the regional parties or coalition in power in Srinagar, can appoint a political level interlocutor of national eminence to take the process forward.
Radha Kumar’s recent book, Paradise at War, mentioned that an idea for a high-level political initiative was dashed early in the Manmohan Singh years when she had been a conduit with Singh’s predecessor Vajpayee carrying Singh’s offer for Vajpayee to be the lead negotiator. That history could have been different had he been allowed by his party to take up the offer reveals the potential in a purposeful peace process.
One name suggests itself for now, Gopal Gandhi, as patron, with the former adviser to chief minister Amitabh Mattoo for the heavy-lifting. This does not upset the current governor’s rule, that restricts itself to the administrative detail, as would any post-elections state government.  
Needless to add that all this would be wishful without contending with the naysayers, who will be potential spoilers. They are crawling all over in the strategic community, foreign policy establishment, veteran’s community, Hindutva brigades, media lobbies and national security corridors. The national security institutions are also actors with a stake in the troubles, on both sides of the border. A peace strategy will have to view how to neutralize them.
The Kashmiri Pandits must be central. Their return in security and dignity must be the ultimate benchmark. An lobby worth tackling initially will be the hardliners in them, some of whom - in perhaps justifiable vengeance - prefer the troubles.
A beginning is to engage in a theoretical debate on ripeness without a hurting stalemate and practical possibilities, such as opened here. Fleshing out alternative pathways such as this is necessary to energise thinking peace. Strategic thinking needs leavening by peace studies insights to get India and Kashmir out of a cul-de-sac. Peace with dignity is an attainable pathway.



Thursday, 6 December 2018

PM Modi's version of Rajdharma


A video on shows Vajpayee at a press conference in which in the context of the Gujarat carnage that led to the press conference he reminds the Gujarat government of its obligation to observe raj dharma. As Vajpayee makes the point, the Gujarat chief minister is seen interjecting with the claim that his government in its tackling of the episode had indeed respected the tenets of raj dharma.
Clearly, there was a divergence on what constituted raj dharma between the two members of the ruling party respectively heading the central and state governments. What Narendra Modi meant by raj dharma remains consequential and worth interrogation, if only because he is auditioning across the country for yet another five years in which to practice it.
In the Gujarat carnage, over a thousand died, with the unofficial figure being double. This was the formative event in the creation of the strong-man myth that has politically propelled Modi to power at the Center. Therefore, how Modi perceives his role in the event is key to understanding him as a person and leader.
It appears that understanding Modi has generated a cottage industry of writings, both complimentary and critical. Early in the course of the Modi era, a slew of books appeared making much of the so-called Modi doctrine. One strategic affairs stalwart has begun his latest tome by courageously admitting that Modi’s showing at the helm has proven him wrong in his earlier appreciation of Modi prior to the 2014 elections.
Given that many are disappointed with Modi’s performance, a flurry of perception management activity is likely impending. The first salvo has already been fired in publicity surrounding the soon to be released book by a right wing think tank and members of the NITI Aayog, reportedly objectively evaluating Modi. Since the idea behind the information war is to influence voters, voters need reminding alongside the manner Modi acquired and retained power.
The latest episode the ongoing saga going back to the Gujarat carnage has three judges recuse themselves from hearing a case in which an activist alleges that Judge Loya, the judge who died when hearing the Sohrabuddin case involving an alleged encounter killing of a gangster by a police official, DG Vanzara, an acolyte of Modi and his right-hand man, Amit Shah.
Developments in the case on the killing of Haren Pandya, a former party rival and minister of Modi in Gujarat, have it that he was allegedly killed on orders of the Gujarat supercop, Vanzara. The official narrative put out then was that he was killed by Muslim terrorists out to avenge the Gujarat carnage. The counter narrative has it that he was an early source of information in the open domain of the alleged meeting at Modi’s residence at which majoritarian extremists were given 72 hours of impunity to carry out the pogrom.
Modi in his interjection at his prime minister’s press conference during Vajpayee’s visit to the state made the defence that he had followed the precepts of good governance. Vajpayee was elaborating that the state cannot discriminate between citizens on any basis. Modi was making that claim that his police in stanching the violence was equally firm with both the communities.
It missed Modi that the Muslims, at the receiving end of mass violence, needed state protection and therefore were to be spared the equal treatment his police supposedly meted out. As Zamir Uddin Shah, the general commanding troops responding to an aid to civil authority appeal, points out, the police were selectively violent, reserving their brutality for Muslims. Modi was either ill-informed or being slippery.
This makes clear that Modi did not have in mind the raj dharma Vajpayee supporters attribute to Vajpayee. So, what exactly is the raj dharma Modi as chief minister was upholding and has likely practiced over the past four years at the national helm and is poised to replicate over the coming five?
Modi’s flock of devotees is not on account of his strongly putting down mass violence. Instead, it is their approval of his keeping the state off their backs while they were at it and in preserving them from the consequences. This provides a clue on Modi’s definition of raj dharma.
The raj dharma Modi was implementing was to turn India into a majoritarian democracy. This is the Hindutva project and Modi, a self-confessed Hindu nationalist, has been at its vanguard for the past three decades.
His early showing as a foot-soldier was in organizing his mentor, LK Advani’s yatra at the launch of the BJP’s Mandir campaign. Soon thereafter, his role in the bringing down of the Babri Masjid was in organizing the storm troopers from his state for the event. The seminal event was in his being placed at the helm in Gujarat, propitiously a few months prior to the Godhra incident. A lifetime opportunity was offered by the incident that Modi - well prepared – seized. It was his blow for rajdharma.
To him, propagation and self-perpetuation of Hindutva is rajdharma. If this was all, it would yet redound - if perversely - to Modi’s credit for ideological commitment. It also explains his lack of remorse for the deaths in the pogrom, likened inimitably by him when asked as to how he felt, to a passing mood resulting from a speeding car going over puppies.  
The question of seemingly inter-related killings beginning with Haren Pandya, going on through Sohrabuddin to end up in the alleged killing of Justice Loya, yet needs disposing off. To devotees, this would be justifiable as a small price to pay in pursuit of the larger project of rescuing Mother India from liberal, inclusive democracy. To the extent the allegations are plausible, this would prove Modi’s personal risk taking, called for by the higher ideal. It is to embrace without qualms the realism that under-grids politics.
By this yardstick, they were necessary to coverup the tracks leading back to the late night meeting the day the coaches of Sabarmati express caught fire. If the tracks were not swept over, the state apparatus could have gone down the rule of law route and upset the Hindutva applecart. Thus, in the imagination of believers, Modi has fearlessly rescued the Indian state, to deliver it for constitutional reengineering in the Hindutva image.
There is another possibility, that of Modi being an imposter, an opportunist who finding himself at the eye of a storm chose to get on the Hindutva tiger and is unable to get off. This is some what remote considering that he has had an infrastructure within the government to help along the route, that has included the likes of Vanzara, in the bureaucracy, the police and intelligence agencies.
A pretender could have attracted people with charisma, but not the close camp followers who have helped along the way to the ‘wave’, by participating, covering up tracks or looking the other way. The Supreme Court now readying itself to address a case alleging 22 fake encounters in Gujarat when Modi was making his image as Hindu Hridaysamrat by disposing off Muslim terrorists out to get him.
Neither possibility – ideology or the lack of it - is edifying. Modi is at a final hurdle, an election with make-it-or-break-it portents for the Hindutva project. It is no wonder his national security advisor, similarly motivated, has asked for a strong dispensation – presumably centered on his boss Modi - over the coming ten years.
Since the development promise will not figure high in electioneering, Modi’s version of raj dharma – a pathway to Hindu Pakistan – should substitute. Even if it appeals to many as an attractive end, the means should lend pause. 
Contextualising the army chief's news making

Contextualising the army chief’s news making

The army chief, General Bipin Rawat, has taken to an innovative means to get the army’s position across figuring in the media often to voice his views on national security. While a charitable explanation is that the deficit in the system that keeps him out of the policy loop compels him to use the media for conveying the army’s position, a skeptical position is that he is being used as a cat’s paw by the national security establishment. .
On the first, an instance is in his voicing reservations in the run up in May to the suspension of operations in Kashmir when he said, “But who will guarantee that there won’t be fire at our men, at our vehicles? Who will guarantee that policemen, political workers, our men returning home on leave aren’t attacked, aren’t killed?”
Not having a forum for conveying such a position is not an excuse to go public. Reportedly the ceasefire initiative was that of the home minister. For the army chief to question it was to play bureaucratic politics. With the constitutional scheme having the home ministry as lead on internal security, it is improper for the military to buck it publicly.
However, the current army chief is considerably advantaged in having his view heard since he was handpicked for the chair. Reports then had it that his elevation owed in part to an ‘ease of working with’ calculus, with the national security adviser being acquainted with him in their interaction over the surgical strikes on the Myanmar border, forerunner to the more famous ones on the line of control.
This brings up the second explanation. Is the chief being deployed to give voice to the position of the national security establishment?
The latest controversial remark of the chief has been on India-Pakistan relations in which while talking to the media on the sidelines of the passing out parade of the National Defence Academy, he said, "If they (Pakistan) have to stay together with India, then they have to develop as a secular state."
In his statement on Pakistan, the army chief has effectively shifted the goal posts on peace overtures to Pakistan. The time-tested Indian position voiced most recently by the foreign minister while rejecting the possibility of Indian attendance at the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad is that Pakistan must first end terrorism from its soil directed at India.
Willy-nilly the army chief has added another rather wishful one, a secular Pakistan as a precursor to closer India-Pakistan ties. While reminiscent of the democratic peace thesis, in which democratic neighbours are peaceable, the chief has made a new contribution to international relations theory that is patently outside of the known realm of his expertise. Since this is an area of foreign policy outside his remit, the chief’s venturing into uncharted territory can only be because he has been given a long rope.
In a government that has acquired a reputation for centralization and under a national security adviser known for hands-on approach, this leeway for the army chief cannot be on account of absent mindedness on part of national security minders. That leaves the possibility of deliberate delegation, for the reason the army chief can be relied on to voice the party line.
It is not the chief’s job to be publicist for the national security system. He needs reminding that in the current administration the national security apparatus appears answerable beyond the democratic veneer to right wing formations.
The media may bait him for sound bites and his doctorate in media studies may lend him confidence to court them. controversy. There is an underside to this.
Take the army chief’s off-the-cuff remarks at a speaking engagement. The army chief has let on that he is willing to deploy armed drones in prosecution of India’s counter to Pakistan’s (proxy) war in Kashmir but a possible backlash from public opinion and the international community has stayed his hand. It was only in answer to a clarification that he was being asked if drones had any utility externally, that the chief went on to say that the same problem of collateral damage restricted their employment on the other side of the Line of Control.
The army chief seemed to suggest that should the public be ready to find that collateral damage acceptable then it would be fine to use weaponized drones, quite like – in his view - the Israelis do against the Hamas. The chief referenced the public reaction to the hardline of security forces taking on stone throwers to suggest that public opinion may be averse to use of weaponized drones. He was alluding to the flak he received from the liberal commentariat when he had suggested that stone throwers were liable to be taken as ‘over-ground workers’ and tackled accordingly by his troops.
This is concerning. The army chief, who was selected for his counter insurgency expertise acquired from extensive service in Kashmir and the North East, appears unable to see that India needs to respond differently to militancy involving own people than Israel and the United States - the other state using drones extensively - which use drones offensively in an imperial context against non-citizens.
There is one good coming out from the chief shooting from the hip. The army chief, in his representational function as an institutional leader, not only voices but sets the institutional position. For him to find use of drone unproblematic shows up a dangerous tendency within the army.
The tendency led some 350 of its members to approach the Supreme Court to recognize the impunity from lodging of first information reports against army men when operating under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In the event, the Supreme Court recently dismissed their plea. It also accounts for the army’s reservations, publicly voiced, over the mid-year ceasefire in Kashmir.
The tendency is symptomatic of a significant, less visible, area of damage that India’s unending insurgency commitment is causing. The army’s institutional culture appears to be changing. The experience of countering insurgency over three decades has diluted the liberal orientation of an army answering to a democratic polity.
The worry is that if the mainstream opinion in the mainland is manipulated by perception management and a complicit media into conceding the military greater latitude, permissive operations may result. The ongoing cultural nationalist inflexion in politics, collapse of the external and internal ‘Other’ into one, prevalence of fake news, prevailing populism and polarization, and incipient authoritarianism make this a plausible future.
The tendency is outcome of the subterranean effort on part of the right wing to suborn institutions. The army is no exception. It is subject to their attention through the social media and the conveyer belt of ideas routed through veterans with a leg in both camps, the right wing’s intellectual ecosystem and the military.
This is yet another reason for India to consider wrapping up its multiple insurgencies politically. The lesson of sixty years from the north east and thirty from Kashmir is that there is no military solution. There is an unseen cost being paid by the country, the good health of its military. If the military’s democratic ethic is itself under threat, the medicine would become increasingly less effective, calling in turn for more of the same, including escalation, such as in the call for the use of armed drones.
The army chief is a political ingénue and the army politically naïve. He enjoys the limelight, while the hardline gets aired for free and acquires respectability. While the army chief serves as his master’s voice currently, the aberration of the current chief’s practice of courting the media can end up a norm. While today’s chief may be manipulable, tomorrow’s may be less so. Thus, the chief’s courting of the limelight has one good, revealing what this spells for the military’s democratic ethic and civil-military relations.