Wednesday, 30 January 2019

George Fernandes keeps his date with Gujarat carnage martyrs

At a time when plaudits are pouring in on the departure of George Fernandes to meet his maker, it appears churlish to join the chorus. Here a departure is made from the cultural practice of speaking good of the departed. Here Fernandes is not extolled; instead he is damned.

Readers of this publication would already be acquainted with the recent book by General ‘Zoom’ Shah. Shah in his book – The Sarkari Mussalman - recounts his challenges as commanding general of the formation earmarked by the army chief to respond to the outbreak of the Gujarat carnage. In his book, Shah recalls receiving a telephone call from the army chief on 28 February 2002 ordering him to proceed to Gujarat with his troops and quell the violence there. Taking the aircrafts positioned by the airforce at Jodhpur, where Shah’s division was deployed during Operation Parakram – the army mobilisation in wake of the terror attack on parliament – Shah landed by night on 28 February – 1 March at Ahmedabad. Even as his plane landed, he saw fires burning across the city.

Even as the rest of his troops were ferried in by night aboard the aircrafts from Jodhpur, Shah proceeded in a jeep he had got along with him on his plane to the chief minister’s residence. Along the route he observed the mobs at work, with the complicity police standing by if not actively participating in the ongoing pogrom. Arriving sometime at 2AM on 1 March at the chief minister’s residence, Shah was ushered into the presence of Narendra Modi, the then chief minister. Alongside Modi in the room was George Fernandes, the then defence minister.

It is clear that Fernandes had asked the army chief to have the army deploy to Ahmedabad and proceeded to Ahmedabad himself, whereupon he was in a position to receive Shah. Invited to dinner with the two – who were about to sit down to dinner – Shah used the opportunity to apprise the two on his arrival and request the usual support from the civil administration when the army deploys for aid to civil authority. He brought out that though his troops were fetching up, there was no one from the police or state administration on hand to liaise with and provide the briefing and vehicles necessary for the troops to get on with the task at hand. Assured of all help and reassured that his defence minister was at hand to ensure the same, Shah returned to the airfield to muster his troops.

Needless to add, the promised support from the civil administration under Modi did not turn up. Instead, on the following day – 1 March - a curious scene played out on the tarmac at the airport. George Fernandes turned up at the airport to address the troops in what is termed in army parlance as a Sainik Sammelan. This was followed by a ‘bara-khana’ or repast with troops in which reportedly old ‘George’ – as it now turns out he was known affectionately – squatted with the troops at lunch instead of sitting on a stately table with officers. All this within some 7 kilometers from the Gulbarg society, where in a massacre some 69 Muslims had been done to death; their leader, former parliamentarian Ehsan Jafri, killed in a particularly gruesome manner.

George has been ill for some years so his record of his days in Ahmedabad is not known. Perhaps he has shared it with Jaya Jaitley, who may have put it down in her aptly titled autobiographical book, Life Among Scorpions. It is not impossible that George was in the know of the indulgeneces by the supporters of his host in Ahmedabad, Narendra Modi. It is plausible that he had been put wise by Modi himself or else by the intelligence bureau and ministry channels. Modi may even perhaps have offered an alibi for not responding with due alacrity to the numerous calls Jafri placed even as he faced off against the mob, including to Modi himself. This is not an unreasonable conjecture. It is impossible to imagine that India’s defence minister, out to supervise the Union government’s response to an unfolding national shame, was unaware of the dimension of it. And yet, George went about the ‘tamasha’ at the airport the following day.

Asking ‘Why?’ is a fair question; even if the best person to answer it is now no more.

To be fair to those writing up his obituaries, he is described as a different George during his time in the Vajpayee administration from the George he was as a younger man. This is with good reason. Apparently, George was dispatched by Vajpayee to oversee the Center’s support to the Modi-led state government in its response to the Gujarat violence. Modi had precipitated matters in allowing the right wing extremist organizations take the bodies of the victims of the Sabarmati express fire in a procession all the way to Ahmedabad. Predictably, it inflamed passions, as no doubt it was designed to. Allegedly, the decision on this and a corollary decision calling on the police to lay off the ensuing violence was taken at a meeting at the chief minister’s residence at night on 27 February. The next day – 28 February – mobs took over the streets across Gujarat, some say as per a premeditated design.

George arrived in the midst of this, in time to prevail on Modi to do his constitutional duty – which no doubt was the message Vajpayee may have sent his defence minister to convey in no uncertain terms. Perhaps Vajpayee had an inkling of what was to unfold. After all, the intelligence bureau reports to the prime minister and he knew the chief minister rather well, having appointed Modi chief minister only in October the previous year. While George failed spectacularly on his errand, at the cost of some 1000 lives by the official count, this was not his failure alone. In India’s cabinet system of collective accountability, it was the failure of his prime minister and cabinet colleagues.

However, George fails on two further counts. Shah recounts that he at some point in the ordeal considered declaring martial law. Apparently, this is a little known provision in military law that enables the military to step in and clean up things the hard way in case the situation is getting out of hand. While Shah admits to being a bit confused on the provision, George – knowing the scale of what was unfolding – could have ordered him to proactively put down the perpetrators. George did no such thing. Instead, he whiled away the time on 1 March. Clearly, he too was waiting for the 72 hours that was allegedly given to the perpetrators of mass violence by powers that be to finish. Dot on time, the next day – 2 March – the state administration swung into action and let the army, that had twiddled its thumbs on the tarmac of the airport, have the requisite support – briefing, guides, transport, logistics etc – promised by George and Narendra Modi some 36 hours prior.

Second, since George was the cabinet representative on ground and an eyewitness to the national shame, did he go back and brief his boss accordingly? It is possible that he did, since - as may have been established in this telling by now – he was complicit along with the Government of India in looking the other way. Shah informs of tendering a detailed report of his formation’s work in restoring order through its launch of Operation Aman. It is unlikely that the Army Headquarters sat on the report. Good staff work would have entailed passing it on to babus under George’s supervision. George could not have but received it. Even if Vajpayee could not sack Modi for dereliction on rajdharma - since Modi got away with his mentor, Advani’s help - he could have proceeded to have Modi in the dock if George – leader of a coalition partner in government - had made an issue of the report. George did not, keeping silent instead.

Worse, the file was also not shared by the ministry with the Supreme Court-appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) that went into the accountability aspect of the Gujarat carnage. Consequently, its report over the turn of the decade gave Modi a respite and virtual impunity to perpetrators. Calling the SIT report an eye-wash, Shah wonders in his book which ministerial cupboard the report is compiling dust in. It required the general to spill the beans on this after finally retiring some 16 years since the tragic events. In the interim, Mr. Modi was deposited in New Delhi by an eponymous wave.

George Fernandes must not only be remembered for his showing in the pre-Emergency and Emergency days. He must bear the cross for the Gujarat carnage, when as defence minister he had 3000 troops on hand and not only failed to employ them, but played an active role in diverting them from their task. George Fernandes must now settle with those he is culpable - through acts of commission – of dispatching to their maker. Others involved will no doubt do so in their turn, Amen.

Saturday, 26 January 2019


Operation Kabaddi has been revealed recently as an army planned operation for taking a few Pakistani posts along the Line of Control (LC), thereby affording it an advantage in the battles along the LC that characterized the turn of the century. Apparently, the military operation was intended to be launched sometime early October 2001. However, it was aborted owing to the 9/11 incident which veritably changed the verities of the post cold war era.

In his book, Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics, previewed recently in a national daily, the author, a Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, reportedly divulges the outline of Operation Kabaddi. He bases his revelations on interviews with two high ranking army officers, one of whom was then the operational level chief commander in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the other a tactical level commander. The then army chief, on being contacted, pleaded to have no recall of the period; in short, he did not deny the same. The tactical level commander – who went on to in his turn succeed the army commander in question - has gone on to record in his fortnightly column with a prominent website on the part his brigade played in the episode.

It appears that the army in end 2001 planned to hike the levels of violence that was routinely traded across the LC in those days in a case of ‘reverse Kargil’, administering the Pakistanis a taste of their own medicine. To recall, the period after the Kargil War had witnessed a severe spike in the proxy war in J&K, brought about in part by fresh infiltration of Pakistani - largely Punjabi - mercenaries and would-be jihadis into J&K under the cover of the Kargil War.

During the short border war, the army had concentrated its energy in evicting the Pakistani paramilitary troops from the heights they had surreptitiously occupied early summer that year. This was done by drawing in a division from north Kashmir, allowing for a temporary opening in the counter infiltration grid and drawdown in intensity of hinterland operations. Making use of this instability on the counter insurgency grid, Pakistan infiltrated its proxy war foot soldiers and potentially extended the life of the proxy war. Over the following couple of years, their proxy war tactics also changed, witnessing a flurry of fidayeen attacks. Alongside the ordnance traded across the LC also registered a spike, the army retaliating with an intention of causing equal pain on the Pakistani army deployed there.

It appears the army decided at this juncture to up the ante, taking a page out of the Pakistani book. In launching the Kargil operation, Pakistan had rendered askew the sacrality of the LC arrived at Simla in 1972. This provided the army with a precedent, enabling it to plan taking over of Pakistani posts along the LC that were either particularly dominating or along infiltration corridors. Alongside, no doubt, the prospective objectives would also have included posts the capture of which would have afforded the army a window to advance into Pakistan Occupied Kashmir in case of escalation. Apparently, all the pieces were in place by September. Unfortunately, 19 Arabs under the spell of a certain Osama bin Laden pulled the curtains on Operation Kabaddi by crashing their planes into three of four intended targets in the United States (US).

The professor who revealed the story has done so believing that drawing attention to the delicacy of the stand-off along the LC would contribute to calming the situation along it. This is the second book dealing with the LC brought out by Professor Happymon Jacob, his earlier one, Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani Armies, being in the form of a travelogue on his travels on both sides of the LC as part of his stewardship of a two-year project, Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor, on the re-activation of the LC. The reactivation of the LC in the tenure of the current government has potential to set the region aflame, given its conduct and hyping thereafter of the surgical strikes of late 2016. Last year some 3000 LC incidents were recorded.

The recall of the then tactical level commander in his column appears to be to put the surgical strikes in proper perspective The general recounting his days as brigade commander on the LC, General HS Panag, appears to be miffed by the political hype surrounding the surgical strikes and wishes to record that at least one previous government had the gumption to go much further than the Modi-Doval combine did in late September 2016 in response to the terror attack in Uri in which some 19 soldiers died. It is clear that the political capital that is sought to be extracted from the military action as the nation heads into elections needs puncturing.

Brought out by one former commanding general in Srinagar in an ad-hoc film review, the depiction of the action in the recent release ‘Uri’ was rather wishful. The prime minister in his recent ‘interview’ with Asian News International instead let on that he had ordered that there be no casualties and the troops employed revert to own side of the LC prior to first light. This shows little stomach for a fight, since violence and bloodshed is intrinsic to military action. Having parameters that deprive military action of its staple implies both a lack of understanding of military action and an inability and unwillingness to withstand consequences.

To his credit, the prime minister was intent on the internal political dividend of the surgical strikes and - happily - was not insistent on sacrificing any troops at the altar of his party’s political benefit. More accurately, he perhaps did not wish to hold the can for a mission gone wrong. Either way, the revelations on Operation Kabaddi are timely and worth voter consideration as they each appraise the security relevant showing of this government.

Reverting to the period in question and the revelations, these are only the tip of the iceberg. Investigative journalists may spot an opportunity
in the coincidence in the timing of the terror strike on the J&K legislative assembly that accounted for 38 dead and the planned launch of Operation Kabaddi. It would appear that the timing was rather suitable, enabling India a casus belli for launch. Such a reading would amount to the legislative assembly attack being a Gulf of Tonkin like incident, the US intelligence-perpetrated attack on a US ship off the Vietnamese coast that provided the US cover to launch its Vietnam War.

India did not quite need the black operation, since it could have justified its attack by reference to the series of terror incidents within J&K that amounted to an ‘armed attack’, legitimizing use of force on its part in self defence. India could have pointed to its six month long cessation of offensive operations of the previous year – the so-called Ramzan ceasefire and its extension of year 2000. It could have shown that its efforts at dissuading proxy war had not yielded result; Pakistani President Musharraf departing the summit at Agra in a huff only in July that year.

However, Professor Happymon inadvertently lets the cat out of the bag. India was perhaps in the midst of paying Musharraf back in his own coin for nixing the Lahore summit, even as it invited Musharraf for a dialogue at Agra. Happymon dates the planning meeting for the operation in New Delhi to June 2001, whereas the Agra summit was in July 2001. It can be generously conceded that the plan was intended as a military riposte in case of diplomatic failure at Agra. In case Musharraf had played ball, it could have been shelved. In other words, it was to provide military muscle to the Agra diplomacy, in line with the adage that good diplomacy is backed by military might.

That neither the ceasefire nor the summit succeeded could well be attributed to Pakistani chicanery. They were out to milk the aggravated situation post-Kargil for its worth. However, there can also be a troubling reading to the sequence of events, and must not elide inclusion in possibilities on account of misplaced nationalism.

It bears considering that India for reasons of state may have intended to let the peace overtures flop in order to provide it a rationale and watertight case to go across the LC in Operation Kabaddi. Worse, even if the well-intentioned prime minister then, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had his heart and mind in the right place, were there other forces out to sabotage his intent and possible outcome of his goodwill? AG Noorani has a version of the Agra summit suggestive of subversion of the peace initiative from within. Were there forces – singed by Pakistani perfidy at Kargil – out to turn the tables on Musharraf, even if it amounted to war that could have turned nuclear?

These are not all idle speculations of the usual conspiracy theorists. Recall the questions (which even if raised by Arundhati Roy in The Hanging of Afzal Guru and the Strange Case of the Attack on the Indian Parliament do not on that account lack credibility) surrounding the parliament attack that followed two months later. 9/11 enabled the Pakistanis to get back into bed with the US. This left India high and dry. Unable to turn back, it (in the conspiracy theory) followed through with creating another chance to hit out at Pakistan. It did not reckon with the northern army commander then – one of the army’s most respected for integrity, moral courage and professionalism – turning down the opportunity to go across the LC. Currently, the grapevine has it that the army commander asked for more time for priming his troops. This begs the question why, considering that the revelations indicate that the troops were largely ready by September and on hand as part of aborted Operation Kabaddi. The answer might have to await the general’s memoirs, a whistle blower or a sting operation by an intrepid journalist.

From the gray zone in Kashmir, gray strategies are liable to emerge. It is not implausible that the conjectures above, arrived at on circumstantial evidence, may have a grain of truth. If so, it is time to roll back the grayness, if and since - among other reasons such as Prof. Jacob's apprehensions - it is misshaping our polity, making the intelligence function and community more prominent in national affairs than warranted in a democratic polity.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

What do the echoes of Operation Kabaddi really say

Two unconnected headlines at the start of the week are connected in this article. In one, the spokesperson of the UN Secretary General expressed the limitations of mediation as a conflict resolution mechanism for the conflict in Kashmir, arguing that both sides – India and Pakistan - needed to be onboard for the secretary general to exercise initiative under his good offices mandate enabled by UN Charter Articles 98 and 99.

While Pakistan repeatedly brings the Kashmir question to the attention of the UN – most recently during the visit of the president of the General Assembly to Pakistan last week – India takes the cover of the Simla Agreement that buried the UN role in Kashmir by calling for bilateral settlement of the dispute. With India reluctant, there is little possibility of mediation figuring as a conflict resolution tool or the UN taking center stage in bringing to a closure its longstanding interest in the Kashmir question (To recall the second longest serving observer mission is along the line of control (LC)).

However, there is one situation that can potentially propel UN center stage. This would be so if actions hinted at in the second headline come to pass. Amongst the contents of a book by a Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) academic, Line on Fire: Ceasefire Violations and India-Pakistan Escalation Dynamics, is reportedly a revelation of an Indian plan to capture a few posts along the LC in late 2001 in a operation codenamed Operation Kabaddi. Apparently the operation was aborted by the intervention of 9/11 and onset of the United States’ led Operation Enduring Freedom in the region.

The book has it that the plan envisaged capture of some 25-30 Pakistani posts along the LC in order to prevent infiltration of terrorists into Kashmir, after completion of preparations in end September. In the event, the plan could not be actioned even though there was a possible incident on 1 October that could have triggered the multiple attacks across the LC: the terrorist strike on the Kashmir legislative assembly in which some 38 people were killed.

The plan is precursor to latter day surgical strikes of end September 2016. The surgical strikes did not have the same scope and magnitude and with good reason. Any operation – even if not as ambitious as made out in the book – would focus the Security Council on the escalatory possibilities connected with the outstanding issue that remains on its agenda as the ‘India-Pakistan question’ since the passage of its resolution 39 (1948) on 20 January 1948. Mindful of the possibility of being forced to the table by a Security Council resolution, India sensibly restricted the scope of the surgical strikes, assuring Pakistan the following day that the operation had ceased.

Even so, the army’s ongoing reforms reportedly cater for leveraging its conventional advantage. After playing footsie with Cold Start - the freshly minted doctrine in wake of Operation Parakram in 2002-03 – by acknowledging its existence in fits and starts over its lifespan, the army owned up to it definitively early in the tenure of the current army chief. The army is currently engaged in a reform initiative in which the integrated battle groups (IBG) that found mention in the doctrine are firmed in. The idea is to dedicate formations – likely heavier than brigade sized combat commands - formed for territory centric or destruction tasks. Pre-designated and programmed and having the requisite – firepower and engineer - resources intrinsic, these would be in a position for an early launch from a ‘cold start’, as envisaged in evocative, if colloquial, name of the doctrine.

The JNU academic and author of the book mentioned, Professor Happymon Jacob, hopes to focus attention on the continuing escalatory possibilities resulting from the LC incidents numbering some 3000 last year and the need for formalizing the ceasefire dating to November 2003. The ‘ceasefire’ was not the result of an agreed document, but is an understanding. This only reinforces his fears of escalation, apprehensions that in light of the nuclear dimensions to war can only bring the security minders of the international community – the Security Council – down on South Asia in quick time. The international community has a genuine interest in preventing nuclear war outbreak, since consequences are potentially global.

While India would press for having Pakistan in the dock for provoking the conflict in first place by a terror incident or a series of incidents that it could interpret as an armed attack, there is no guarantee that the Security Council stops at that. This could release the Secretary General from his limitation encapsulated in the first news article referred to above, that incidentally was also voiced once earlier in April last year. India would require then to engage with Pakistan meaningfully over Kashmir, something it is loathe to.

India therefore needs to reappraise its hardline in regard to Pakistan and in Kashmir. The hardline creates the conditions for a bust up over Kashmir. The army chief among his numerous media interventions has indicated that India has options up its sleeve along the lines of surgical strikes, but of a different sort and order that he, keeping surprise in mind, did not dwell on in detail,. Any future such strikes cannot be as tame as the surgical strikes, fobbed off by the Pakistanis as a non-event.

Future strikes would require being of the order of the hype that has since attended them, quite like these have been depicted in the somewhat misnamed recent release, Uri, that dramatizes the surgical strikes. If the up-gunned IBGs are up and running by then - the exercises to prove their new design are due this summer – then their employment would have to reckon with the unintended outcome – international attention forcing India to the table to discuss Kashmir meaningfully.

For India, meaningful talks imply getting Pakistan to vacate its occupation of areas of the erstwhile kingdom of the maharaja. Keeping its claims alive, only last week India protested a Pakistani court order extending its sway over Gilgit-Balitistan as interference in India’s internal affairs. Its chief objection to the Chinese lifeline to Pakistan - the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor – is that it trespasses Indian territory. While India’s contention would no doubt figure in the talks forced on India, the casus belli, that would likely lie in the tinder accumulated in Kashmir, would have to be reckoned with. Though distasteful to India, it would be a consequence of any Indian military action.

Proceedings at a book release function over the week end in the national capital organized by the Center for Land War Studies do not lend confidence that there is enough appreciation of the unintended consequences of military response. A significant reservation voiced by the speakers comprising retired members of the military brass who contributed to the CLAWS publication – Military Strategy for India in the 21st Century - was there is little government-military interface on the nature of India’s military options.

That this is little different from the criticism governments have faced over the past indicates that this government’s security mindedness has been little different from its predecessors, notable in light of its assiduous distancing from the past and its tom-tomming of the same. The difference is its hardline that can land the region in a soup in quick time, absent mechanisms - other than routine diplomacy - for engaging Pakistan.

While to peaceniks the unintended outcome of military action, in line with Operation Kabaddi – meaningful talks perhaps mediated by the international community - is not unwelcome, this is perhaps not an outcome sought by Ajit Doval’s team. In which case, Doval is best advised to read up the CLAWS publication on military strategy and, mindful of the inadvisability of military options, preventively defuse the conditions that keep Operation Kabaddi plans well dusted.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

The minority security problematic

As India heads to elections, the security dynamic of the world’s largest minority looms as one of the principle electoral considerations. While it is understandably so for the minority in question – India’s multiple Muslim communities spread across its subcontinent sized expanse – it also necessarily impacts the larger questions in India’s national security relating to internal security and the internal-external linkages, in particular, India’s Pakistan policy.

The first salvo has already been fired by the central government, using the other ‘caged parrot’ the National Investigation Agency (NIA) (the original as per the august Supreme Court being the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)). The NIA trotted up yet another success in unveiling yet another Islamic State (IS) inspired cell in India’s Hindi heartland. The ever-reliable Praveen Swami – whose low profile lately had led one to believe he was on sabbatical – was brought out to inform that this is the 64th cell dismantled by the NIA in the Modi tenure.

Never mind that the supposed rocket launcher presented as evidence was found to be a hydraulic jack used to lift tractor trolleys. It did not prevent an intrepid researcher in a think tank in the national capital to show up on twitter the utility of the pipe in rocket making by drawing attention to the improvisations that occur in the conflict in Syria, the area of specialization of the young researcher. We are told the recovered sutli bomb and matchsticks were intended to take out the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in New Delhi (‘No comments’ was NIA comment on a query), among other targets such as easy-to-guess-who among VIPs. At least twice earlier, Narendra Modi has been in crosshairs, or so we have been told: once earlier by a terrorist squad that included a now-dead 19 year old girl and, lately, by urban naxals. Apparently, their plans were in the pipeline since 2009. It begs the question why they were waiting out the Modi tenure.

Needless to add, numerous precedents suggest that the high profile arrests will be followed a few years down the line by their quiet release, remarked only in liberal media and by avid Muslim lawyers keeping up the tradition of martyr Shahid Azmi, who lent his skills to defending Muslim convicts jailed at best for being Muslim and needed as sacrifice for the political ascendance of cultural nationalism and its champions. That the finest actor of his generation – Rajkumar Rao - portrayed his struggle in the award winning Shahid testifies to the epic dimensions of the struggle (jihad if you will).

It is no wonder the NIA director and prime minister name-sake, YC Modi, is front runner for the upcoming vacancy in the CBI, the incumbent, Alok Verma, having been put in cold storage a couple of months prior when he took on the original frontrunner, his deputy and prime minister acolyte, Rakesh Asthana, for corruption. While Asthana had inquired into the burnt coaches of the Sabarmati Express pronouncing their burning along with their human occupants, as a product of the conspiracy at Godhra, YC Modi, was part of the Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team that pronounced the then chief minister had having no negative role in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom.

This lengthy introduction is intended to kill two birds with one stone.

It points to the vulnerability of the Muslim minority to predation by the instruments of the state. As the above detail notes, the assault on institutions over the past four and half years has included placement of those subscribing to the political agenda of right wing formations and/or united in their devotion for Messiah Modi – such as that of retired super-cop and Gujarat’s very own Ab tak Chappan, DG Vanzara – at the helm of rule of law institutions. These institutions then lend themselves to the majoritarian, Hindutva project of Othering of the minority community, essential prerequisite in their world view to uniting Hindus, seen as a disparate majority.

Thus the minority security problematic is double fold. It is not quite what it is made out to be in mainstream strategic discourse and by the lap-dog media. This popular narrative has it that the minority is susceptible to inducement of religious extremists and liable to be manipulated by extra-regional forces and a friendly neighbourhood intelligence agency that has operatives ten feet tall. The security problematic is therefore not only to bust this widely and long fostered impression but to reveal its antecedents as part of the cultural nationalist reset of India. This amounts to mainstreaming a ‘conspiracy theory’, a double bind.

The sudden IS advent in the cow-dust belt was complemented by the invasion by IS flag waving masked unidentified men into Srinagar’s hoary Jama Masjid. Their antecedents are now known as yet, but the intrusion prompted permission for an unusual rally by separatist forces in Kashmir against the attempt to capture the political plank of the subnationalist struggle by global religious extremists. That Kashmir is perpetually in the grey zone of intelligence activity (Arundhati Roy is entirely believable on this in her last bestseller), the jury is out on whether the intrusion was prompted by the intelligence agency from across the border or within it. Since it makes little sense for Pakistan to be at cross purposes with separatists, the finger rather points inwards. It makes a great deal of sense for Indian intelligence agencies to put under cloud the subnationalist aspirations of Kashmiri Muslims. Associating their struggle with the almost-defunct extremism in the Levant helps perpetuate the jackboot over a territorial space having a localized majority of the minority community. It also contributes to the Othering process, with the association with India’s longstanding foe, Pakistan, reinforcing the fifth column myth. In any case, the conflict conditions that give rise to extremism witnessed elsewhere to the west continue in Kashmir, making for a pull factor for the IS.

The Hindutva project has been on for at least two decades, going back to the first tenure of the right wing led coalition. It continued under the intervening United Progressive Alliance. Those charged with political oversight had little intrinsic political weight, reliant as they were on the hangover of the ‘family’ name. So much so that Salman Khursheed, a minister in the UPA government, has gone on to admit that his party has ‘blood on its hands’. It did not follow through with the necessary rigour on leads that could have prevented the Modi wave, such as in the case of the murder of Haren Pandya, a political rival of Narendra Modi in his early days as chief minister.

The murder has interesting legacy in that Haren Pandya’s alleged killers, Sohrabuddin, was killed in an alleged encounter – while UPA presided at Delhi. Sohrabuddin’s alleged killer cops from Gujarat and Rajasthan were let off recently, even as their political masters - whose alleged bidding they were carrying out – had walked free earlier. This closes the chapter for want of evidence in which ruling party head, Amit Shah, figured prominently and which included twists such as the untimely death of CBI judge Brijgopal Loya.

This seeming diversion is to highlight that the situation is rather grim. If the UPA’s ten years could not reverse the onward march of the Hindutva project and rein in its foot soldiers, the Modi period has allowed them full play. Muslim lynchings are merely the visible spectrum. A subterranean rot can be anticipated. Detoxification would be challenging. But that is to get the horse ahead of the cart. First is to get into place an administration sensitive to the task, with the previous UPA tenure hardly lending confidence if this is at all possible.

Renewed Muslim bashing compounds this. It is not a coincidence that the news of another seaside terror attack on-the-make surfaced recently. The cow brigade tried at the eve of the provincial elections to spring another Muzaffarnagar 2013, this time to coincide with the gathering of the Tablighi Jamaat at Bulandshahr. Unfortunately for conspirators, overzealousness led to the killing of a cop and unwanted national attention. A riot attempt botched at inception, the BJP lost three Hindi heartland states. Such attempts can be expected to continue under the benign over-watch of the saffron-clad Ajay Mohan Bisht (aka. Yogi Adityanath) led provincial administration. The Kumbh congregation over the coming months provides a backdrop. It is not unthinkable for a warped intelligence mind to think up a terror threat to the gathering and put polarization back as an election gimmick. It is a curious oversight on part of NIA spin doctors that in the prospective targets of the IS module busted late last month, the Kumbh mela did not figure. For a strategic actor, that the terrorist ‘gang’ (as per the NIA press release) was primed to go prematurely on New Year’s eve suggests there can only be more to the story.

As anticipated by many commentators, the Modi-Shah duo is left with polarization alone as its final card. The Ram Mandir issue, minority-perpetrated terror and the National Register of Citizens – each with a handy minority angle - are available as issues. The pulling out of the Bhartiya Janata Party from the coalition with the People’s Democratic Party in Kashmir was timed to ensure that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are with the national elections, allowing for six months of governor’s rule followed up with president’s rule. This along with keeping Pakistan’s outstretched hand of late at bay enables the ruling party to orchestrate the inside-outside linkage at will as elections approach. The hyping of the surgical strikes, through the Parv Parakram, is not without purpose.

This is the near term manifestation of minority insecurity. Minority security is intrinsic to national security. National security requires turning the leaf, away from its appropriation by cultural nationalism. India’s minority must engage with questions of national import. A holistic minority security enterprise would require settling of India’s Pakistan problem and the Kashmir question. It would require being abreast of developments on questions of state identity, such as the Rohingya issue or that of the illegal immigration. It is easy to see that this is only possible by a liberal turn to politics and policy making.

Less easy to see is the need for the minority to see its security problematic as an interconnected whole. What is critical to the Assamese and Bengali Muslims in the northeast must exercise Muslim communities elsewhere. The incessant killings of Kashmiri youth – 255 last year - cannot be left unremarked anymore. There has to be minority viewpoint on and minority participation in the national debate of seemingly distant issues as Article 35A, Article 370, the Citizenship (Amendment) bill etc. The underlying logic of creation of a self-regarding minority is to strengthen its own security and national security, of which minority security is subset.

This is easier said. In the current national security problematic, the minority is seen as a security problem. This constitutes the minority security problematic that needs reversing.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Book review
Author name: By Srinath Raghavan
Book Year: 2019
Publisher Name: Penguin Random House, Gurgaon, India
The Book Review, January 2019

Lawrence Freedman, the leading British strategic thinker and Head of Department of War Studies at King’s College London, once mentioned to this reviewer that Srinath Raghavan was the best student he ever had. He was his doctoral student and later a colleague at the department. He has written some of the best books on military cum diplomatic history on South Asia; to name a couple: War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru years (Palgrave 2010) and India’s War: The Making of Modern South Asia, 1939-45 (Penguin 2017). Formerly a short service commissioned officer of the infantry, he went on to complete his higher studies under Freedman as an Inlaks scholar. In deference to his guru as ‘a mark of lasting gratitude, affection and esteem’, he dedicates the book under review to him.

In the words of Raghavan, the book is, ‘in many ways a culmination of my research over the past fifteen years on international history of modern South Asia. It is also a product of my close engagement with the international politics of the region during the same period’ (p. 378). He has over the period worked at the Center for Policy Research and has also been a member of the National Security Advisory Board. From the perch of a leading member of Delhi’s strategic and academic communities, Raghavan had a ring-side view of the period that witnessed the simultaneous drawing closer of India and the United States (US) and the US’s intimate involvement in Af-Pak in the aftermath of 9/11. The latter part of the book—laid out chronologically–deals with these years.

Raghavan covers the new century in a mere 35 pages, somewhat sparse when compared with some 65 pages of the preceding two decades beginning with the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan. The two periods are separated by the intervening one of the end of the Cold War and the US’s relative distancing from events in the region in the Clinton years. It is perhaps this distancing that led up to its return yet again and this time in full strength.

There are two conjoined themes which kept the US to the till in the region and that permeate the narrative of the years. The first is the events­—dating back to the early seventies–of incremental gravity and portents that prompted the US’s continuing engagement with South Asia, that by themselves would not have otherwise attracted the US. The second is its co-extensive nuclearization of the rivalry of the South Asian protagonists, India and Pakistan, again dating back to the early seventies and picking up pace through the eighties.

The eighties witnessed Pakistan as a ‘frontline’ state, even as the US looked the other way when its key partner forced the pace of nuclearization in the eighties. Rajiv Gandhi, left with little choice, with his disarmament initiative failing to gain traction, ordered the last screws to be turned on India’s nuclear capability. With the departure of the Soviets, the US, stepping back from the region, alongside brought its nonproliferation lobby to bear. While in Afghanistan, it looked to access Central Asia and its oil by seemingly backing the Pakistan-supported Taliban, alongside its squeezing of India’s nuclear hand forced the nuclear break out of South Asia by the end of the decade. Needing to change tack from a cap-and-roll-back policy to accommodation, a major shift was forced on the US as it embarked on its ‘global war on terror’. Developments in the period—that included the nuclear tests, two crises and the US intervention in Afghanistan—lent the region the ‘most dangerous place on earth’ tag and the book its name.

In the Cold War years, the US has been implicated—almost to the levels of a participant—in the strategic history of South Asia, the highwater mark being the 1971 War in which it threw in its lot with its Cold War partner, Pakistan. Raghavan is particularly lucid in bringing this out, highlighting the Nixon-Kissinger attitudes to India and its leadership in their references to ‘witch’ and ‘bitch’ caught on White House tapes. Even the famous ‘(Archer) Blood telegram’(a message from its Consul General giving the collective position of the consulate) from Dacca, calling the developments in East Pakistan ‘a selective genocide’ did not draw attention. The implicit dissent was instead ignored since the US was then using Pakistan as a springboard for an outreach to China. The US followed up the sending in of USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal with trying to box in India’s nuclear quest soon thereafter. The framework of two estranged democracies’ was set in the early Cold War as India embarked on nonalignment, while Pakistan used its proximity with the US as a Cold War partner for external balancing in relation to India and its revisionist garb for Kashmir.

The book uses more than a hundred pages to cover a less known ground, on the relations of the US with British India prior to Independence. Raghavan has elsewhere, in his monumental history of World War II as it engulfed the region, covered the US’s military presence and role in South Asia then. He assays an economic history in his coverage of the lend-lease relationship and the American war aim of displacing colonial empires, including that of their British ally, with an open capitalist international order. In this part of the book he enlightens by showing up how racism formed early opinions within the US of the region and shaped the US’s engagement. The influential role of missionaries in purveying to Americans that the subcontinent was a heathen land is well brought out. Swami Vivekananda in his famous address at Chicago dispelled the notion, besides imparting a sense of high Hindu philosophy to the American audience. To Raghavan, the missionaries appeared better disposed to the Muslims.

The book is well laid out, covering the notable junctures in a political, diplomatic and strategic history, even while not neglecting the economic and social interface between the superpower and the region. Its forty-nine pages of notes would prove useful for late entrants into the story. Though titled South Asia, it mainly concentrates on the US’s relations with India, Pakistan (that once included East Pakistan) and Afghanistan. He covers US interventions—its earlier proxy war and its current and ongoing longest war—as also the US’s role in defusing regional crises. Raghavan resists the temptation to dwell overly on the crises and distract from his overview of the relations, perhaps since these junctures have been mostly been dissected threadbare elsewhere. In doing so, he justifies his aim of not only dwelling on South Asia, but also showing US’s role as a global power from a South Asian prism. A vantage point in South Asia covers a gap in regarding the US as it has thus far been, mostly through the more strategically critical regions of the Cold War: Europe, West Asia and East Asia.

Lately, China has increasingly become a presence in South Asia and has come to define the US’s approach to South Asia. This has made India more relevant to the US, with the US giving voice early this century to its aim of making India a great power. Pakistan for its part has displaced the US with China as an evergreen benefactor. How the future pans out would no longer be a triadic story but will feature China more prominently. It appears that an additional layer of potential rivalry—that of a global hegemon and its challenger—shall make the region continue as the most dangerous place.