Tuesday, 30 April 2019


The Coming Politicisation of the Military
With national security ushered to a front seat at election time by a prime minister seeking reelection, the threat of politicization of the military has loomed large. The (ab)use of military achievement as campaign props by the ruling party led military veterans to petition the President of India that he caution offenders.

Some signatories reportedly backtracked; a report - in turn - challenged by the petition initiators, claiming that it was put out by a media organization at the behest of the ruling party. One air marshal wrote of why he thought the inclusion of a reference to ‘secular’ in the missive amounted to a bias against a particular political party, which he said led to him not signing up.

Apparently, there is disquiet among military veterans in the manner the ruling party in particular has usurped national security and the military’s contribution to its electoral ends. They claim to have given voice to the military miffed by the manner votes are sought on the back of military action and lives.

Even if the government understandably takes credit for its stewardship of the defence sector, the refrain is that national security showing is nationally-owned and - therefore - not one to be appropriated for parochial political purposes.

The military has been party to this to an extent.

The Air Force has repeatedly intervened to present a well-worn case that the Rafale is a fine aircraft, knowing fully that the controversy is not about the air craft’s capability in first place. It has - yet again repeatedly – stoked the legitimate controversy surrounding the ‘result’ of the Balakot aerial attack by unnecessarily referring to it. On the Naushera points-scoring with Pakistan, it has trotted-out evidence of downing an F-16.

All tend to play into the hands of the ruling party, busy diverting voter attention from consequential issues of joblessness, arbitrary decision making etc.

The army in wake of Pulwama has on three occasions at least let it be known it is robustly pushing back terrorism, trotting out statistics on terrorists killed (militant Kashmiri youth for most part), with the general in Badami Bagh much in the press. This feeds in timely into the ruling party nation-wide rhetoric of being strong on defence and works to its favour in narrowly chasing votes south of the Pir Panjals.

The brass cannot be taken as a political ingénue. It is well aware of the day’s headlines. There is no cause to suspect a situational awareness deficit in the year long hiatus from soldiering the brass is provisioned at Raksha Bhawan immediately prior to stepping up to the rank. That it has nevertheless chosen to tread where it should not implies it has been put to it.

From where such pressure originates can easily be divined. The national security establishment is headed by Ajit Doval, who fired the first shot of the campaign by going beyond his brief as a government official in calling for a strong government for another ten years. The Pulwama aftermath provided an opportunity to showcase such a government (never mind that miscued choreography led to the proverbial slip by his political principal over the relationship of nuclear weapons and Diwali).

There are three possibilities.

The first is if the services want to paper over their showing that has come under some valid questioning. This is understandable, mitigating their media interventions somewhat.

The second is a deficit of moral courage in the brass.

Or third, there is a likemindedness with its national security supervisors. The former is but a step away from the latter. Neither is edifying and spell of politicization, incipient (in case of lack of moral fibre) or underway (in case of perspective sharing).

This is a significant apprehension worth voicing since polls are underway. If the situation is at such a pass at five year mark of this regime, what could happen if it is given another lease?

There are four referents for a military’s primary loyalty: the Constitution represented by the president; the government stewarded by a cabinet accountable to the parliament; a political leader vesting authority in his person; and the ‘nation’, comprising the people. Politicisation is when the military fails to arrive at the right choice of or balance between the four.

It is easy to spot politicization in the third case, of personalisation of authority. Even so it cannot be ruled out as a prospective downhill destination five years on. There are bhakts in the military, with a social media line to bhakts amongst veterans. There are authoritarian tendencies in the system, on display in decision making ranging from demonetization to the Balakot strike and and a personality cult centering on a potential Hindu-hriday samrat or Loh Purush II. With deep-selection of chiefs now normalised, it is unlikely that strong leadership can emerge to decelerate such an outcome.

Of the second – subservience to the government - there has been some reservation. The military’s conservative instincts make it liable to fall easily behind a conservative government rather than march to a discordant tune of a coalition. The military’s position on Siachen and the withdrawal of the armed forces special powers act were seen as bucking a government inclined to a review. The self-valuation of a professional position on such matters, almost amounting to pre-empting the government and exercising of veto, suggests confusion in the military between the two primary loyalty referents: the Constitution or the government.

On the ‘nation’ as referent, the notion is prevalent. It found expression sometime late last century when a book launch by a general of his diary on Kashmir was cancelled by a last minute fiat. The book had within it the claim that the nation preceded revolving-door governments in the loyalty stakes of the military. This is of a piece with the confusion universally in all militaries on this score. General MacArthur was famously dismissed at the height of his career for holding such a view.

Five years on the extreme right wing ideology would have contaminated institutions and society; enough to have the military uncritically believe that it belongs to a ‘nation’ defined in majoritarian terms. Like a frog in slow-boiling water, the military will likely miss the shift from civic nationalism to ethnic majoritarianism. Consequently, its inability to foreground the first – its Constitutional loyalty – would lend its institutional weight to a seemingly democratic Constitutional coup.

Clarity can be expected to attend the first – loyalty to the State as represented by the flag and Constitution. This explains the foot-dragging (‘shirking’ in Peter Feaver coined civil-military terminology) when its inclination is not aligned with that of a government.

A convergence in the other three referents – an autocratic, populist government – could paper over the tectonic shifts away from the Constitutional ideals – largely subterranean at present. Ironically, standing inert under the circumstance would amount to politicization, as much as standing tall to deter the same.

This regime at its five year mark asks for votes on its showing along the visible spectrum of national security. Instead, the unremarked on underside of national security - explicated here - is by far more consequential.

Monday, 29 April 2019

India Quarterly 65, 3 (2009): 329–343.
Praveen Swami, India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947–2004 (New York: Routledge, 2007) in India Quarterly 65, 3 (2009): 329–343.
Praveen Swami has established his journalistic credentials in reporting and analysing, among other things, the Kashmir situation, for the reputed periodical, Frontline, and for the well regarded paper, The Hindu. Recourse to his in depth reporting is virtually a necessity for gaining a handle on the complex situation. This owes to his range of sources, particularly in the intelligence and police, but also his self-imposed requirement of getting a feel of the ground through visits to the remote and relevant locales as necessary. The insights gained have been packaged with balance and sensitivity over the years. That said, the book falls short of his own standards in terms of being unidimensional in its focus on ‘Jihad’ at the expense of the several factors that have underpinned the India-Pakistan six decade long tangle and the two decade old insurgency in Kashmir. Jihad has of late acquired a notoriety that sells. Any linkage with Jihad these days instinctively leads to delegitimisation so strong is the dominant, largely western media led, discourse. Unfortunately, insertion of the term, Jihad, in the title serves to misrepresent the Kashmiri situation and in doing so does a disservice to the very people Swami has so sensitively written about for over a decade.

At the outset, it is conceded that the author has brought to fore a relatively lesser known dimension of the vexed Kashmir question – that of the covert war between the two states and by non-state actors. This is a signal and original contribution to the otherwise over-crowded Kashmir book shelf. Since other dimensions such as the foreign policy and military, have already been brought out by other perceptive authors earlier, there was little remaining to be told. Swami, in accessing the intelligence trove that is usually off limits, has been able to shed fresh light on the conflict. His work therefore is a necessary supplement to known aspects. It is with good reason that Swami writes: ‘No one book of course can tell the tale of all these and all the other struggles which together constitute the Jammu and Kashmir conflict…This book traces just one thread of a complex weave. It is however a thread that few have paid attention to…’ Nevertheless, the catchy manner it is titled, its narrow focus on Pakistani directed Jihadi terror and his reading a historical continuity into it distracts from the other, equally salient, dimensions absent from his book. This shortcoming can however be overcome with the discerning reader keeping in mind the context, parallel happenings and competing narratives in other facets of the conflict.

Swami’s book is a product of his Senior Fellowship at the United States Institute of Peace in 2004-05. This is perhaps the cause for the over-emphasis on ‘Jihad’, since during the period the topic had reached a crescendo in the US. He covers his ground with great detail, even delving into hitherto fore classified intelligence files. He traces the Jihadist journey in Kashmir to the original schism between the fundamentalists and secularists in the anti-feudal politics in Kashmir prior to Accession. Thereafter the political project of the Muslim Conference was taken up by the Pakistani state for identity and other, more secular reasons grounded in realpolitik. The despatch of the tribal lashkars and later a like invasion under Operation Gibraltar in 1965 are examples. The untold story revealed by Swami is in how the Jihadist enterprise was kept alive through the quieter period of the seventies and eighties. He attributes the explosion over the turn of the last decade to the ability of the infrastructure already available in Pakistan to exploit and hijack the civil unrest in Kashmir. He thus sees continuity in Kashmir’s troubles in Jamaati politics and its linkage to the other side of the border.

In actuality, the religious motivation aspect, while not absent, does not impel the most grave challenge the Indian state has ever faced from any of its constituent minorities or ethnic groups. Among the prominent competing factors is the territorial dispute between India and Pakistan based on secular, historical and resource related claims. The covert war is a result also of this tussle between the two states. Then is the aspect of the uprising since 1990. This was occasioned by a constellation of factors to include the culpability of the Indian state. This was not a jihad to begin with, though Jihadi forces did play a role and have since acquired prominence. Lastly, on the aspect of power asymmetry between the two states, some analysts deem as most consequential to the relationship. Addressing this through realist logic meant that Pakistan tie down Indian military power in manpower intensive counter insurgency operations. This strategy explains ‘K2’ (Khalistan and Kashmir) referred to by Swami. This implies jihad has been more a strategic tool rather than having any autonomous reason to exist. It is for this reason that Pakistan continues to hedge in curbing terror originating from its soil, despite the ‘blowback’ it is currently experiencing.

Take for instance the numbers of Jihadis. The number of foreign terrorists has seldom touched 60 percent. The largest outfit is the Hizb ul Mujahedeen that is recognised to be of Kashmiris, all of whom are not necessarily Islamists. Kashmir’s story is as much about militant youth, as about hardened terrorists. Motivations among foreigners range from mercenary to youth escaping anonymity and ennui in the stratified Pakistani society. Witness the origins of Kasab. Even their handlers, though espousing Islam for self interested reasons, are not oblivious to money, power and proximity to power centres in Pakistan. Swami’s neglect in bringing out a more variegated picture indicates his scholarly instinct has been subordinated to his intelligence sources. The requirement of bringing new sources to light is important. Drawing sustainable conclusions is more so. To Swami’s credit, he acknowledges a limited purpose: ‘Social, economic, political and ideological forces far larger than the jihad itself indisputably contributed to that cataclysmic event (1989-90): my effort here is to highlight an ignored narrative thread in the history of those events. Given his breadth of engagement with the subject, he would have done better to stitch this thread into the wider Kashmir story, if only in the introduction or conclusion. Not doing so lends his work to manipulative use by interested political forces, not only in Kashmir but outside it in India.

The important point that emerges indirectly from Swami’s work is that the Indian state has been responding primarily to the element of jihad that is only one among the multiplicity of factors and not necessarily the most significant. This is evident from the importance intelligence experts have had over the years in formulating India’s policy with respect to Kashmir. Many are listed in Swami’s sources and some remain unnamed. Swami has elsewhere informed us of the interface the ISI has had with RAW over Kashmir that did not lead anywhere in the early nineties.  Such contacts are in the air as of the writing of this review, and in light of the competition between the two state agencies, are bound to lead nowhere.  This calls for a political approach and political control. That such a strategy will not be forthcoming owes to policy space conceded to the intelligence community, strengthened in wake of Kargil with addition of new structures. While the pathology is well understood in case of Pakistan as has been amply brought out by Swami; that intelligence input has queered India’s policy response awaits a book length treatment. It is perhaps one reason why India has not been able to bring the problem to a closure through political means. Having misinterpreted the Kashmir problem as Jihadi covert war alone, it has understandably not wanted to appease such forces. The political working group established as a result of the Prime Minister’s Round Tables exercise of mid this decade did not even submit a report. The governance initiatives that have been taken are arguably not enough.

An accurate interpretation of the Kashmir problem has been held hostage by many factors including intelligence analysis fed by institutional bias. Others include the zero-sum contestation with Pakistan. Since acceding to legitimate grievances in Kashmir would be taken as a Pakistani ‘victory’, India stays its hand in turning rhetoric of ‘sky is the limit’ and ‘hand of friendship’ to reality. The ascendance of the conservative end of the spectrum and cultural nationalism in India over the nineties has also influenced the government’s position. The hard line is therefore inescapable. Analysis such as this book from the otherwise credible author only serves to further undercut necessary initiatives. Thus Kashmir remains on the boil. This serves Pakistani interests. Indian interests are not served since Kashmiris are Indian citizens and secondly continuing instability gives Pakistan a handle. Lastly, it energises forces that Swami describes as Jihadi. Other factors that excite Kashmiri alienation such as ethnicity, historical grievance and a distaste of counter insurgent pressures, that are amenable to policy ministration, are marginalised.

The corresponding covert war from the Indian side not only in Kashmir but also in Pakistan, not being covered, Indian intransigence is only superficially understandable. In case these are to be factored in, what emerges is a duet between two contending intelligence agencies, virtually autonomous of political control. While in Pakistan the ISI can be expected to be granted a blank cheque by the military, in India there appears to be a deficit of political and parliamentary control. Swami’s narrative begins with a shadowy spymaster, Colonel Hassan Walia, making his entry into Kashmir on a ‘brutal winder evening’. Thereafter ‘the book is a history of a secret storm that swirled around the house on the hill: the long jihad fought in Jammu and Kashmir from 1947-48 to the present day’. The ‘House on the Hill’ has since been inhabited by the Assistant Director, Intelligence Bureau. Swami informs that on the same hillside are the office cum residences of the Research and Analysis Wing and Kashmir’s premier interrogation centre, Parimahal; notorious in the Valley among people and security practitioners as ‘Papa One’. The crucial question is who exercised control over what goes on at that Hill? Intelligence men from BN Mullick in the early period to former RAW chiefs, ‘Gary’ Saxena and Dulat, in the later period have been key players. This is a telling comment on India’s democratic good health in which accountability over actors is to be exercised by people’s representatives in legislatures and the parliament. Swami unintentionally opens up a ‘Pandora’s box’ that it would behove political decision makers to introspectively address in the North Block and 7, Race Course Road.

A storm has greeted the joint statement issued pursuant to the meeting of the two prime ministers in Sharm el Sheikh. This is over the allusion to the disturbances in Baluchistan. That Baluchistan figures in the news is evidence of an ongoing covert war, brought to notice in its avatar in Kashmir by Swami. That it extends to Baluchistan indicates that Jihad is not at the root. Instead this is a manifestation of state contestation explicable in the realist paradigm over eminently secular definitions of national interest – territory and balance power. Power play requires to be called by the right name and political control exercised accordingly. This requires a holistic view to preserve policy from appropriation by the lead agency and contamination by its institutional interest. A broad front political reengagement with the Kashmir issue is called for to realign Indian policy.

Indian Foreign Affairs Journal, July-Sep 09
Manpreet Sethi, Nuclear Strategy: India’s March Towards Credible Deterrence, New Dehi: Knowledge World, 2009, pp. 395, Rs. 880/-, ISBN 978-81-87966-70-8

The author is the quintessential strategic analyst with a dozen years in defence think tanks. This is her third book and bears the mark of her earlier academic training at JNU. These credentials from complementary fields lend credibility to her ambitious attempt at dissecting India’s nuclear strategy. The otherwise daunting subject is packaged simply for ease of access even by the concerned citizen. Therefore the book is recommended reading as an introductory primer, particularly as it covers the entire gamut of nuclear doctrine, not excluding the topical nuclear deal. 

Her book is enhanced by her conversations on various aspects of the strategy with eminent thinkers and practitioners in the field including the ‘Bhishma Pitamah’, K Subrahmanyam and his protégé, Jasjit Singh. Thus, it conveys the Indian position, and the intricate thinking behind it on many connected and subsumed issues. It also brings out mainstream Indian reflection on the Chinese and Pakistani nuclear postures. It takes the middle-of-the-road position, with hyper-nationalists being on one side and the radical critique on the other. Befitting a book on the strategy of nuclear deterrence, it is rightly dedicated to the next generation with the intent that they ‘may live without the fear of a nuclear holocaust’.

The book carries a chapter each on the current state of nuclear strategy of great powers; nuclear doctrines of Pakistan, China and India; specific strands of the Indian case with respect to command and control and survivability; controversial issues as ballistic missile defence, the nuclear deal and the coming arms control and disarmament negotiations; and lastly, the connection between nuclear and conventional planes. It largely restricts itself to conceptual issues. This approach acquaints the reader to the major, if not dominant, perspective in the strategic community. The wider ranging book therefore has areas where argument could have been more rigorous; a critique that carries the underside that then the length would have made it dissuasive.  

The author brings out that nuclear weapons are political weapons meant for deterrence rather than war-fighting. India’s strategy is of ‘assured retaliation’ of ‘massive’ proportion to inflict ‘unacceptable damage’. The author rightly brings out that a ‘massive’ punitive counter may not be necessary. While such a posture may be useful from deterrence point of view, it would require to be reconsidered on breakdown of deterrence. In case the levels of provocation of ‘first use’ by the enemy are not of a level warranting counter value targeting, then India would do well to move towards a ‘flexible’ punitive retaliation posture. This would preserve India from like targeting by an enemy enraged by what it perceives as India’s intemperate and incommensurate response. In such cases misplaced political resolve would lead to an undesirable increase in nuclear threat to Indian value assets. The likelihood of higher order nuclear first use is limited by the operation of deterrence and ongoing developments, including acquisition of a nuclear submarine, in India’s second strike capability. Therefore, lower order use is possible, requiring India to think through options other than reflexive infliction of ‘unacceptable damage’ as defined by the author.

Curiously, despite recounting the four famous Kidwai thresholds – territorial, military, economic and political stability - in which the word ‘large’ is used thrice, she deems this as the exposition of a low threshold. The author rightly considers that Limited War is a feasible proposition. However, her expectation that a deeper penetration is possible in the desert sector as against the developed sector may be contested, given that Pakistan would more likely use the weapon in the desert sector to avoid collateral damage. Likewise, her discussion of air in a limited conflict leaves out that Pakistan would likely react in the dimension they are stronger, indicating the inherent escalatory dynamic in the use of air power. Admittedly, she merely provides a provocative start point in the discussion on the conventional-nuclear interface and her book is a timely call for consideration along these neglected dimensions.

More importantly, her suggestion of inclusion of the three service chiefs in the Political Council of the Nuclear Command Authority needs to be taken up separately. (Mistakenly the term National Command Authority is used in referring to the NCA, a term used by Pakistan.) The Political Council is mandated to take nuclear related decisions. It is obvious that it would do so after the requisite all-round consultations, including with the military brass. Inclusion of the apex military leadership into the decision making body would be to queer deliberations with institutional baggage; an expectation that organisational theory bears out. The criticism that the military has been kept out of the decision loop is no longer tenable, therefore a recommendation based on such an understanding would amount to an over-correction. Though not explicit, given the author’s seeming scepticism of the presence of political resolve, her inclusion of the military men, in an imitation of the Pakistani case, may be to strengthen political resolve against the possibility of self-deterrence. This may be required in case perhaps of a future minority government with squabbling ministers of different parties. Even against such a possibility, at best, the Political Council could have the Chiefs, or more preferably the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and better still the Chief of Defence Staff, when created, in an advisory capacity, along with the  National Security Advisor, and not as members empowered to take decisions. The deliberations and decision should remain a political prerogative and be taken on a political, as against a military dominant, yardstick. Her recommendation inexplicably leaves out the NSA, much required to integrate the civil component of security.  

Though altogether a compliment-worthy effort, a few points are highlighted here. The author, while covering the Draft Nuclear Doctrine could also mention that one time Defence Minister, Jaswant Singh, had stated in an interview to The Hindu that the draft doctrine was merely recommendatory. Secondly, some sources have it that the Chinese nuclear doctrine is without caveat. While the author credits a noted China expert on the caveats she mentions, this could be re-examined. Her discussion of the CDS could be fleshed out further, since the appointment is consequential in integrating the conventional and nuclear planes of a conflict. It is not a job that can be done by a double-hatted Chief; one who, in our system, is also an operational head of his service.  

The hard cover book is well turned out in a presentable jacket and only a few printer’s devils. Its font lends itself to an easy read as does the unforced and unpretentious writing style. Perhaps for its next edition, the author could add a recommended reading list, in particular because resort to foot notes has not been very liberal. This would, along with appendices and list of acronyms, enable readers find most issues within one set of covers. It is recommended here as a ‘must read’, particularly for those embarking on the journey in security studies either in uniform or out of it, and a ‘must buy’ for libraries servicing this clientele.

Third Frame, 1:3, Jul-Sep 2008
Rajagopalan, Rajesh, Fighting Like a Guerilla: The Indian Army and Counterinsurgency, 2008, Routledge, New Delhi

The book is the first of an intended series of Studies on War and International Politics edited by Srinath Raghavan, a lecturer in the reputed War Studies Department of King’s College London. To bring to bear an interdisciplinary focus on security in its international and domestic dimension, the series has begun well in choosing this book authored by Dr. Rajesh Rajagopalan, an Associate Professor in the dynamic School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The book is based on the author’s PhD thesis at City University of New York and is unsurprisingly, therefore, theoretical rigorous and avidly referenced. Its distinctive characteristic is the able use the author has made of the perspective of defence professionals, listed in his Acknowledgements, who command respect in the uniformed fraternity. He has also been intrepid enough to gain access to libraries stocked with service journals to access the authentic voice of practitioners and convey to us a feel of the debate within the services on his very ‘live’ subject.

He attempts to answer the question ‘Why do strong states lose guerilla wars?’ by discussing the Indian experience of peacekeeping in Sri Lanka as a case study. His thesis is that armies have a conventional war bias to their counterinsurgency doctrine. This owes in part to existence of conventional threats, explained in the neorealist paradigm of self-help in an anarchical system necessitating military readiness, as much as to organizational culture. He uses the prism of these two approaches to discuss how conventional armies adopt inappropriate counterinsurgency doctrines. The theoretical contribution of his ‘contending theories’ methodology is that these two are not mutually exclusive as is generally assumed. His conclusion is that ‘structure’ conditions state response through acculturation, with the resulting ‘culture’ being but the institutionalization of the socialization process.

A theoretical bias is by now a characteristic of his writings. This was visible in his earlier book on nuclear strategy, Second Strike: Arguments about Nuclear War in South Asia (2005, Penguin Viking, New Delhi). This constitutes a fresh trend in the nascent and burgeoning strategic scholarship in India. Military professionals dissect their experience linearly, such as the recent publication on the Sri Lankan experience by the commanding general of the first phase, Major General Harkirat Singh’s Intervention in Sri Lanka: The IPKF Experience Retold (2007, Manohar Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi); while academics illumine the same subject with their learning, as has been done by Rajagopalan in respect of the battle for Jaffna. Thus mere events and their telling acquire a context and substance - a healthy convergence for an emerging power that is India.

The book would be of interest to soldiers and scholars, to policy makers and the lay public. It has educative discussions on military jargon such as the distinction between doctrine and strategy; conventional and counterinsurgency doctrine; and the contrast between the Indian approach with that of other armies equally beset with insurgency. He attempts to define the early counterinsurgency doctrine thus: Army operations were limited in the use of force and supplemented with a ‘hearts and minds’ approach; isolating the insurgent, the ‘fish’, from the populace, the ‘sea’, was through control measures and ‘cordon and search’; wresting control of areas from insurgents and thereafter dominating it through the establishing of a grid; and finally maintaining a superiority of forces both in deployment and in operations. Only lately has the army evolved its operational practice further in favour of intelligence led small team operations, employment of special forces and of friendly ‘proxy groups’ of turned militants. These latter aspects do not find explicit mention in the book.

Nevertheless, the author needs to be complimented for tracing, perhaps for the first time, the development of India’s counterinsurgency doctrine since the early days in Nagaland in the Fifties. That this has not been done elsewhere, even in well resourced books such as Lieutenant Colonel Vivek Chadha’s Low Intensity Conflict in India: An Analysis (2005, Sage Publications, New Delhi), is surprising. This further indicates the necessity of a scholarly focus on affairs military that has, as the popular critique suggests, been neglected on account of India lacking a strategic culture.  

India’s sobering experience in Sri Lanka has generated heat. Rajagopalan notes, that despite other factors explaining its failure, such as the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) as  wanting in intelligence, language skills, training and equipment; it was the army’s inability to adapt to the changed circumstance of guerilla war that led to its eventually inglorious departure. While its conventional war expertise won it the Jaffna battle, persisting with the conventional war bias into the subsequent guerilla war phase lost it the war. This inability to change is explained by the author as a product of organization culture predicated on the continuing threat it faced across its western border.

Value addition to the book has been possible by the author in light of his later experience in think tanks and as an official with the National Security Council secretariat. He reflects in summarizing the IPKF experience that the army is still on the learning curve in that while in Kashmir it has made organization innovations in the form of the Rashtriya Rifles, its has not been able to dispel the conventional war bias in the force as, in the authors own words, ‘doctrinal changes were too hard’.

This has obvious policy implications, which under the current circumstance of draw down of militancy in Kashmir are under threat of being overlooked. This would be unfortunate as the army’s engagement with counterinsurgency is unlikely to end any time soon, given that the conditions in Central India appear right for it. It would be too easy to concede that India’s army differs from other armies in that, in believing it is fighting its own citizens, it is less violent. The difference instead is that its advantage in numbers enables it to dispense with compensating their lack with firepower that accounts for the disproportionate violence of other armies. It is only recently that India has finally given itself a sub-conventional war doctrine that posits ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’ approach. As to the extent this would withstand a robust challenge in any future internal conflict is to be watched. The author can be faulted for failing to contemporize his book through a look at this publicly released doctrine on sub conventional operations dating to December 2006 (http://indianarmy.nic.in/part_1.doc).

In summation, the book is recommended reading to gain an insight into the army’s experience of countering insurgency in general and its difficulties in doing so specifically in north east Sri Lanka. The author is right in discerning the conventional war bias in its counterinsurgency doctrine and assessing that this remains the case even today. The book would have made a telling difference were it to energize the army into appropriate self-correction for early termination of current and preemption of future internal conflicts. 

The Third Frame
Journal of Defence Management, March 2009

Bharat Karnad, India’s Nuclear Policy, Pentagon Press, Westport (CT), 2008, pp. 221, ISBN: 978-0-275-99945-2, Rs. 795/-

In his Foreword, noted India watcher, Stephen Cohen, notes the ‘special role’ India will play in a globalised world. He recommends the book under review as ‘critical for understanding India’s evolution as a great power.’ This owes to the book seeking, in the author’s words, ‘to reveal the workings of India’s nuclear strategy and posture.’ The author has achieved his aim in ample measure in not only disseminating knowledge of the inner workings of the growing nuclear complex, but also analysing the same through his, by now patented, lens of nuclear maximalism.

Karnad keeps China in the cross-hairs contending that India needs a ‘consequential thermonuclear weapons inventory’ in order to play ‘nuclear hardball’ in case the strategic situation was ever to deteriorate. With respect to Pakistan, he is of the view that India is in a position to ‘overawe the Islamic extremists potentially presiding over a Taliban ruled nuclear Pakistan’ on account of Pakistan not being a ‘credible conventional or nuclear threat to India.’ He reveals how the concept of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ is evolving and being implemented with the views of the military brass increasingly shaping nuclear policy. He apprehends, through his interaction with the many retired military men he has interviewed for the book, that the ‘weak link in the deterrence chain’ is the ‘indecisiveness and lack of will of the Indian political leadership to take hard national security decisions’.

Having set out his world view, he dilates on the maturing of India’s nuclear and missile capabilities, perhaps for the first time anywhere in such detail. After covering the better known foundations of the capability in his second chapter, he deals with the little known ongoing developments in the third. His last chapter is on the implications of nuclearisation for Southern Asia with respect to Limited War and nuclear crises. His scathing approach to the Indo-US nuclear deal owes, to the ‘curb’ it places on Indian nuclear capability, contrary to what he sees as the US’ own strategic intent of wanting ‘India emerge as a credible countervailing presence to China in Asia’. 

That India is giving itself a variegated nuclear capability comes out distinctly in his description, bringing coherence to ongoing disparate developments with respect to missiles, acquisition of delivery systems and platforms and nuclear weapons. After initially being driven in their autonomous efforts by a need to best the challenge of a technology denial regime, the scientists are now, in Karnad’s description, working towards integrated goals informed by multiple organisations involved such as the Strategic Projects Group in the Prime Minister’s Office and the Strategic Forces Command. It is the eventual complexion of the outcome, brought about by emphasising ‘credible’ in ‘credible minimum deterrence’, that requires interrogation.

Karnad discerns a force of about 200 weapons, and a hundred in reserve, being delivered eventually by a strategic triad. This figure is subject to expansion as India emulates Chinese ‘Limited Deterrence’ conception for political and strategic reasons. This highlights the policy weight that the strategic enclave and the military combine have acquired. It has resulted in a shift from the original conception of ‘minimum deterrence’ in which the very possibility of inflicting ‘unacceptable damage’, reasonably defined, in return for nuclear ‘first use’ or ‘first strike’ serves as adequate deterrence. For this all that needs to be assured is that a finite number of weapon systems survive even a salvo of the order of a ‘first strike’. The military focus on assurance on the damage that can be inflicted in return is what drives up numbers and sophistication of the deterrent. The strategic enclave for institutional interests can be expected to prefer an expansive conception of the deterrent.

Karnad is right that political inattention has likely led up to such a pass. In his view, political pusillanimity is responsible for the creeping pace of the operationalisation of the deterrent. He brings out the military’s suspicion of political resolve on the manner of nuclear retaliation. The military’s position on early and reflexive retaliation is under grid, in Karnad’s assessment, by its felt need to forestall self-deterrence. Such a constraining of political options can also be seen in the Army’s adoption of the Cold Start doctrine in which mobilisation schedules likewise restrict space for political crisis management. This brings into question the extent political control over the nuclear complex, but not in the direction Karnad prefers.

A rethink of aspects bringing about self-deterrence is necessary. The more important one is to preserve the national space from further atomic impacts in case of a nuclear exchange. A government’s responsibility towards its citizens is to ensure damage limitation. This can best be brought about by terminating the exchange at its lowest levels possible. Even if, for instance, Pakistan were not to ‘survive the first retaliatory salvo’, ‘cease to exist’ and is ‘finished’, it would not rule out the risk of attacks by remnants of its strategic forces. It is not the absolute amount of damage, but the mere possibility of it that deters. This conception of existential deterrence that had one time informed India’s doctrine of minimal deterrence has been reflected on in Rajesh Rajagopalan’s Second Strike: Arguments of Nuclear War in South Asia (New Delhi: Penguin, 2005) and Rajesh M Basrur’s Minimum Deterrence and India’s Nuclear Security, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006). Karnad’s book helps revives the debate and if India is moving along the expansive lines approvingly described by Karnad, then liberal rationalists  should join the debate yet again.

Described by Cohen as ‘one of India’s leading strategic thinkers’, the book is a recommended read to reapprise developments in the nuclear field; best described in borrowing Karnad’s description of the earlier run up to nuclearisation, as nuclear operationalisation by ‘autopilot’. 

Combat Journal

Karnad, B., ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy: New Delhi, MacMillan, 2002; pp. 724, Rs. 795/-

Nuclear enthusiasts owe a debt to Karnad’s daughter for goading her father into finishing his first book. This book is certain to join the other two equally penetrative tomes by Perkovich and Tellis on India’s nuclear journey on the bookshelf of any discerning military professional. It is a book that must be read in conjunction with Vanaik and Bidwai’s South Asia on a Short Fuse. While Vanaik and Bidwai have delved into Gandhian and Nehruvian thought and India’s position on nuclear weapons since then to arrive at the conclusion that Pokhran II was a radical departure, Karnad seeks to establish that weaponisation was a logical corollary to Nehru’s policy of acquiring the nuclear deterrent. Contesting this widely held perception of Indian aversion to the Bomb helps Karnad forward his wider thesis that India requires to move beyond its current nuclear posture of gaining a ‘force in being’ (as termed by Tellis) to a tous azimuts capability to include a strategic triad, thermonuclear weapons and ICBMs. In this manner, Karnad believes India will be able to acquire the strategic space, international stature and military muscle considered necessary for a major player in realism inspired world politics.

The book begins with a survey of the Vedas to establish that violence to further state goals is envisaged as a permissible practice in these revered verses that serve as the roots of India’s civilisational ethos. His aim appears to be to bust the myth that India stands for abnegation and non-violence alone. In arguing the contrary, he avers to Arthashastra as evidence of past political practice, proving thereby that pursuit of national interest through the use of force has been a characteristic feature. He thereafter attempts to interpret Gandhi and Nehru in a light that Gandhians and Nehruvians may find debatable, if not subversive. Since his work is an advocacy of the maximalist nuclear posture for India, he requires tackling these aspects to undercut the arguments raised by votaries of renunciation or moderation who rely on these sources for sustenance of their position.

Thereafter the book relies on access to freshly declassified material in archives in the USA and the UK. The argument that the author propounds is that India’s policy of nonalignment in the initial years was a cover for pursuing its national interests deemed as being furthered by a nuclear program and tilting towards the West to the extent of seeking security guarantees and military hardware from these sources. The book traverses the Perkovich revealed terrain of how the Nehru-Bhabha combine covertly maneuvered India down the nuclear lane. His interviews with the key personnel of the nuclear program as Iyengar and Ramanna and strategists as K Subrahmanyam take the book through the Indira period. He is particularly interesting in his coverage of the last decade, primarily because his sources have been senior bureaucrats, military men and scientists who have been generally kept anonymous in the footnotes. He has himself been an ‘insider’ over these years, having been a member of the First NSAB that drafted the paper that today probably serves as the basis of India’s as yet unstated nuclear doctrine.

He dissects several areas that comprise the nuclear discourse revealing new nuances in each instance. These include the bureaucratic politics that has been in attendance in India’s nuclear journey, the interpersonal interactions and the personality profiles of the politicians, scientists and bureaucrats who have been in on the nuclear loop, the shortcomings of ‘minimum deterrence’ popularized by the IDSA school, the manner in which military input into decision making has been neglected over the years, the use of Special Forces to plug the subconventional space that can be exploited in a dyadic conflict and a critique of the ‘force in being’ posture. Karnad, in keeping with his reputation, writes authoritatively, articulately and with passion. The production values of the book indicate that Indian publishing industry has come of age, for there was no incidence of the printer’s devil in the 700 pages that comprise the densely argued book. The drawback of the author sometimes repeating himself in both detail and ideas can be forgiven in light of the fact that his effort was to win converts to his grand Grand Strategic vision for India.

It is this vision that is unfortunately the least compelling aspect of the book. It does appear far-fetched that India requires to acquire a nuclear strike capability against not only China, which is understandable, but also against USA. Doing so will enable India to gain a place at the high table in the author’s view. He does not adequately contest the perspective that India’s nuclear capability can only do so much for India in gaining it credibility as a global player. There are several other indices, not least of which are economic power, social cohesion, ideational and moral strength, that make for a Great Power. Over emphasizing the nuclear aspect of national power may not be appropriate given the demise of nuclear-armed Soviet Union. It is also not self-evident that doing more in the nuclear field would contribute to the national interest by further strengthening the Indian deterrent. Ability to convert the Californian coast into rubble is not necessarily the most compelling index of power. The second feature of the vision is that it takes an ahistorical view of interstate relations in concentrating only on the power dynamic. International relations theory has moved beyond realism to furnish paradigms that ought to attract attention of policy makers. In avoiding serious theoretic confrontation with the contending philosophies in the discipline of international relations, Karnad appears to have taken the easier way out. Perhaps in attracting a rigorous counter from the opposite side of the diverse membership of the ‘strategic community’ this may have dividend for those interested in strategy. As a last word, it may be said that though Karnad attributes his interest in matters military of which we are the beneficiaries to the influence of Shri Jaswant Singh and Shri KC Pant, partial credit for the same should perhaps also be given to his school, Belgaum Military School!

Third Frame, 2009, pp. 159-162
Ayesha Jalal, Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia; Ranikhet, Orient Longman Pvt Ltd; pp. 373, Rs. 695/-; ISBN 81-7824-231-1

Ayesha Jalal is no stranger to subcontinental readers. Her earlier works have established her as a historian capable of complementing incisive analysis with scholarly skills. This explains her international stature as one of the foremost Pakistani and South Asian academics in her field. Her PhD thesis on Jinnah at Cambridge University, published later as the book The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge, 1984), brought her into the limelight, if controversially, as a courageous academic who buttresses her perspective with daunting historical arguments. She later took on the Army in her country in the book Martial Rule: the Origins of Pakistan's Political Economy of Defence (Cambridge, 1990) revealing the manner the Army has usurped the state. Her credentials as an observer of contemporary South Asian were established with her co-authored work Modern South Asia: History, Culture and Political Economy (Routledge 1998). This explains why the hall was overflowing in India International Center when she, for the first time, launched her latest book Partisans of Allah. She does not disappoint in her narrative of the concept of Jihad as it meandered through South Asian history over the last millennium.

Her book is a natural corollary to her last work on Self and Sovereignty: the Muslim Individual and the Community of Islam in South Asia since c.1850 (Routledge, 2000). Since the book predates 9/11, it can be said that for once that landmark event has not been the primary impulse behind a book. These days there is a cottage industry churning out unsympathetic books with Islam and Jihad as theme; all without the industry and command over sources that expectedly characterize Jalal’s work. Therefore it is a recommended read so as to make better sense of the current debate otherwise dominated by a Western inspired media led offensive against Jihad in the contextual setting of the interminable Global War on Terror being waged in Islamic lands. 

It is a sympathetic and apolitical look at the concept of Jihad as it has been interpreted in different phases of South Asian history by Muslims struggling to reconcile their temporal circumstance with religiously ordained responsibilities. Of necessity therefore Jihad has had a popular meaning and a politically charged one. Its simple meaning is ‘exertion in a positive endeavour’. In its more influential understanding it is the practice of battling inner demons that tend to lead believers astray. However, the perspective that has current salience is that of Jihad as holy war.

The author has done well to clarify the distinction and the development of interpretations, particularly of the latter, through the ages. Thus she reveals the manner Jihad has been approached by theologians and intellectuals in the circumstance of the spread, dominance and later the decline of Muslim power in South Asia. By her treatment of Islam in a South Asian setting, she adds to the burgeoning literature on Jihad, Islam and Muslim history. This has been both necessary and overdue since South Asia has historically had the largest Muslim presence anywhere in the world, including the land of Islam’s origin, and has been the fount on religious thinking owing to its contact with other great religions, Hinduism and Buddhism.    

This is best seen in the manner Jihad has captured the headlines. The originator of the ascendant, threat invoking, doctrine was Maulana Maududi, an Indian who later founded the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. His early work ‘Jihad in Islam’ was written in the twenties and influenced insurrectionary activity in Arab lands. Its pre-partition translation into English is out of print and therefore its content is accessible only to those knowing Urdu due to it being kept in print by the party he founded. In following Maududi’s intellectual journey, Jalal brings out the manner Jihad has metamorphosed into its modern day variant of terrorism, which to her understanding is equivalent to no less than a subversion of Islam. 

This is an important argument and, yet again, a courageous one. Hers is an attempt at ‘Jihad through the pen’ which, as she recounts, was inspiration for both Ghalib and Sir Sayyid Ahmed, key figures of the nineteenth century that witnessed the eclipse of Muslim political power on the subcontinent. Therefore her argument requires reaching the largest audience not only among politically beset Muslims but also others trying to make sense of the new century.

Through a perusal of the historical record of the relevant thinkers who have dwelt on Jihad, she brings to fore the many-faceted concept. She discusses how in pre-colonial India the concept was about how Muslim power should relate to the majority non-Muslim populace. Should India be treated as Dar ul Harb (Abode of War) or Dar ul Islam (Abode of Peace)? In the colonial era, the debate between Wahabis and modernizers and the interpretation of the former by the Orientalists is well brought out. Maududi’s take on Jihad is integrated into anti-colonial nationalism. In a chapter named ‘The Martyr’s of Balakot’, she evocatively brings to life the episode of a holy war between 1831-36 launched by a disciple of Shah Waliullah, Sayyid Ahmed of Rae Bareilly along with the sages grandson, Shah Ismail, against Sikh power in the Punjab. According to her, this epic of war and betrayal is inspiration for the current lot of Jihadis who have their training camps in North West Frontier Province of Paksitan that has acquired notoriety as the epicenter of terrorism in the world.

Jalal’s book is thus a timely and befitting rejoinder to much of the disinformation that passes for scholarship today. Sensibly it has been written in a more readable manner than her other books. The inclusion of some choice illustrations enhances its appeal. The book is a ‘must read’ for multiple reasons, mainly its illumination of facets of Muslim history and South Asia’s contribution to the evolution of the concept of Jihad. It is also an inspiration to wrest the same from self-styled practitioners who have straddled it with a negative image.

Foreign Affairs Journal, Apr-Jun 2010
Priyanjali Malik, India’s Nuclear Debate: Exceptionalism and the Bomb, New Delhi: Routledge, 2010, ISBN 978-0-415-56312-3, pp. 344, Rs. 795/-

The book is a befitting addition in the series War and International Politics in South Asia, following earlier books by Rajesh Rajagopalan and Harsh V Pant. The book is based on the author’s DPhil thesis at Oxford University, for which she was awarded the British International Studies Association (BISA) Founder’s Day Prize for the best thesis in 2007-08.

The book examines the domestic debates in India over the nuclear option through the Nineties. However, it takes Its argument is that pressures on the non-proliferation front on account of CTBT negotiations and NPT extension were seen as infringement of New Delhi’s right to make its sovereign decisions on how best to manage its security. It explains how the original opinion in favour of promotion of nuclear disarmament and keeping the ‘option’ ‘open’, turned towards support of nuclearisation with the Shakti tests in May 1998.

The author introduces the concept of ‘attentive public’. To her in this group are those in India who have traditionally concerned themselves with foreign policy issues. This group of the urban middle and upper classes comprises ‘highly educated individuals, fluent in English and who use the language to cut across regional and cultural divisions within the country, form(ing) an urban elite whose political compass points to New Delhi’. While a tiny minority, it is nevertheless influential. The study charts the growing interest of this group in nuclear policy ‘to draw out the manner in which New Delhi’s independence of action was perceived to be linked to India’s sovereignty, its global and regional position and the ongoing nationalist project of defining India…’.

The book charts the interaction between two dyads, defined by the author as ‘two competing sets of priorities faced by the national government’. The first is development and security. The second is of identity of ‘India’ based on the tension between the ‘India’ of Gandhi and Nehru and a more ‘normal’ state comfortable with power and military capabilities. The debate in the attentive public was about breaking out of the ‘managed group’ by throwing off self imposed shackles of nuclear restraint. This would involve a break with Indian ‘exceptionalism’ that had prompted its anti nuclear stance. Changes resulting from the end of the Cold War contributed to the salience of security arguments in favour of weaponisation. Though in the course of the debate India shed some Nehruvian ideas, ambivalence continues to attend its approach to nuclear weapons, best evident from the first paragraph in the draft nuclear doctrine talking, contrary to expectations of such a document, of disarmament.

The first chapter walks the reader through the Nehru years and how the Nehruvian legacy of preserving decision space was preserved by successive prime ministers till the penultimate decade of last century. In the Nehru years, the balance between security and development in the national project was forged. India sought security and international recognition through exceptionalism, by leading the critique of the Cold War world order even as it took advantage of it. Events in the period beginning with the nuclear tests by China in the Lop Nor drove the nuclear debate, in particular the advent of the NPT regime and India’s peaceful nuclear experiment. In the eighties India attempted to build up its nuclear and missile capability under a watchful technology restraint regime. In the period the attentive public was only episodically interested in defence since the nuclear issue did not acquire the overtones of a ‘political’ question, as it did in the nineties. The decision space was left to the government and its experts. With liberalisation, the media revolution and the increased visibility of the scientific establishment in the next decade things were to change.

The second chapter discusses the nuclear debate in the Nineties. The international context was framed by the end of the Cold War and internally by economic liberalisation, advent of the coalition era in politics and the social fissures that developed along the caste and religion faultlines. The country was driven onto the defensive by a draw down in defence spending and by allegations on its human rights record. Nuclear policy was forced to the fore amidst all this by a western led interest in rolling back India’s nuclear ‘option’. Discussions on nuclear issues continued desultorily between ‘doves’, ‘hawks’ and ‘owls’ till the mid Nineties. The indefinite extention of the NPT in 1995 and the impetus imparted to CTBT negotiations in the years led to a certain urgency in the debate. Yet it did not venture beyond whether to test to dwelling on the place of nuclear weapons in India’s development and security dyad. The tests of May 1998 closed the debate regarding testing. However, the issue that mattered to attentive India was less the security aspect of nuclearisation but that the tests demonstrated that India mattered in the international community.

Chapters three and four dwell in greater detail on the change and the manner it was worked between the first and second half of the decade respectively. Chapter five brings out how in the post CTBT period the criticism of the BJP’s tests focussed mostly on economic consequences and the political intentions of the party espousing Hindutva. Jettisoning of the country’s non-violent heritage was challenged indicating the new biases of attentive India. The debates revolved around the meaning of the tests for modernity and scientific achievement, of costs, implications for image and status but not on what actually constituted a credible deterrent in ‘classic, military terms’. In the author’s words, ‘India’s nuclear tests defended the idea of a sovereign, independent India.’ The idea had changed in the build up to the fiftieth anniversary of independence and would continue to resonate into the new century.

Chapter six discusses how the Kargil intrusion in the shadow of the tests faced India to face up to the military implications of the tests. The draft nuclear doctrine then being drawn up was speedily released a month after the ceasefire. It further forced the debate since in being expansive it meant many things to many people. Kargil made defence mainstream, even as the draft placed the nuclear question at its center. The return of the BJP to power in wake of the war, led to developments in the security field both organisational and conceptual that have since kept attentive India focussed on the hitherto fore ignored matters of defence. India’s defence posture evolved to more offensive and proactive one in the right wing nationalist party’s redefining of India. India has attempted to carve out a new global space for itself on the back of the demonstration of the capability.

The author concludes that, ‘For attentive India, India’s possession of nuclear weapons matters not because the country need them to protect its territorial integrity but because they defend a certain political idea of India that had been negotiated during discussions of its foreign, defence and economic policies in the 1990s.’ Consequently, India, in the imagining of attentive India, is not as a ‘nuclear weapons state’. The nuclear weapons status and arsenal are instead ‘co-opted into the political imaging of the country, as attentive India seeks to define a global, regional and domestic role for the country over the next 50 years of independent existence.’


Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta, Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernisation, New Delhi: PenguinViking, 2010

Stephen Cohen has been a long-time South Asia watcher. His books on the region’s two protagonist militaries (The Pakistan Army and The Indian Army: Its Contribution to the Development of the Nation) have established him as an influential military analyst. His other two books, India: Emerging Power and The Idea of Pakistan, have further enhanced his reputation as a leading interpreter of the region not only for the Americans but for the South Asians themselves. The present book has been co-authored by Sunil Dasgupta from the University of Maryland. The book makes the argument that although there has been a greater outlay on defence— increasing by a factor of three over the last decade—the resulting modernisation has been less than coherent, which explains the title of the book. The authors are critical of India’s policy of strategic restraint, which according to them accounts for the lack of political direction for India’s military modernisation. They attribute this to the political elite’s reasoning that the international environment is benign, that the balance between defence and development must tilt in favour of the latter, and that the militarisation of policy is not desirable. Instead, the authors support a result-oriented strategic transformation and a military makeover, because, “India’s new affluence and the nuclear tests of 1998 raise hopes that the country will break out of its strategic restraint—and assume its place as a great power.” According to them, “ [India’s] Modernisation has lacked political direction and has suffered from weak prospective planning, individual service-centred doctrines, and a disconnect between strategic objectives and the pursuit of technology.” They recommend a structural transformation involving the following: strategic modernisation of the nuclear arsenal; organisational reform to include the creation of a joint chiefs of staff with a chairman; acquisition and production reforms to include the private sector; and development of knowledge resources in the defence sector.
 These issues seem unexceptionable in view of their repeated reiteration in military analyses and strategic literature. However, they need to be seen in light of the last chapter of the book on recommendations for US engagement with India. The latter’s rearmament has attracted much attention. That it appears directionless is disconcerting to those, who want to engage with India, such as the US, not only for military modernisation but also strategically. India intends to spend $100 billion over the coming decade and is strategically placed in terms of the regional balance in Asia and the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it will be courted by many players, particularly the US. For American analysts, therefore, to interpret the Indian reality for the administration is understandable. However, that it also has the agenda of opening up India for US strategic purposes compels thought. The warming in India-US relations, recounted in the book, goes back to the famous Kickleighter visit at the end of the Cold War. The relationship has only deepened, despite the setback in the wake of the Shakti tests. The Kargil War brought the two sides together as much as the behind-the-scenes meeting of minds between Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh. The Indo-US nuclear deal has been the high watermark of the relationship. That said, the interest of the US urging India down the path of an easier familiarity with power and its instrumentality, needs to be taken with caution. India’s policy of strategic restraint has served India well despite its relatively dangerous neighbourhood. India has stuck to its aim of continuing on its economic trajectory. This entails avoiding distractions, even a provocative terrorist action of the order of 26/11 in Mumbai. This policy does not mean that India is neglecting defence. Not only have more allocations been made but measures are being taken to ensure effective spending, including a streamlined defence procurement policy, promulgation of a new defence procurement procedure in January 2012, and the implementation of the Rama Rao Committee recommendations for reforming the defence technology sector. Deficiencies still remain, such as the slow acquisition processes, inadequate indigenisation, lack of coordination between the ministry and the armed forces, and the jointness deficit in the absence of a CDS. An evolutionary approach, that has been the Indian way, suggests that these would be tackled at appropriate internal, political, and external strategic junctures. What the US and its analysts want are speedy processes and the early institution of a reformed structure. This is pure self-interest since the US is in need of a strategic partner, if not an ally, who could help shoulder the regional order responsibilities while they disengage, in some proportion, to the extent warranted by their attenuated economy. It is no wonder that the authors argue that a “sufficient overlap exists in American and Indian visions to justify the effort in both countries to alleviate, if not remove, the persistent bureaucratic and perceptual obstacles that are so evident.” There are two reservations on this score from the Indian perspective: the first is in respect of the desirability and the extent of the engagement with the US, and the second is the timing of India’s taking over responsibilities as a great power. The answer to these lie in India’s political discourse and in its holistic security circumstance. The Indian polity does not countenance the idea that the “strategic partnership” with the US, currently part of India’s preference for a multipolar world, becomes an “alliance” with India, weighing in on the side of the US. This stance may place India on the side of conservative status quo, in which “stability” is valued over democratisation. India needs to adapt its non-alignment policy to the current global order, maintaining mutually beneficial relations with all consequential powers. Moreover, its internal security circumstances, not only in terms of internal security but also developmental indices, do not indicate that the time is ripe for India to break out of the region to become a global player. India must, therefore, ensure that it prioritises development over defence for at least a decade longer. In the interim, it needs to sustain a deterrence posture, rather than modernise with power projection and extra-regional responsibilities in mind. That the authors have succeeded in igniting this debate makes this book a very useful contribution to the security discourse

Book review
Vortex Of Conflict: US Policy Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan And Iraq, By D. Caldwell, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011 (First South Asian Edition 2012), in The Book Review, XXXVI (9), Sept 2012
Caldwell, D. (2011), Vortex of Conflict: US Policy Toward Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press India Ltd, First South Asian Edition 2012, pp. 389, Rs. 995/-, ISBN 978-81-7596-927-8.

Dan Caldwell is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Pepperdine University, California, characterised in its website as ‘a Christian university’. Why this seemingly innocuous detail finds mention here is that the Professor in dealing with the interminable war launched by the US with its coalition allies in tow in South Asia and South West Asia has been less than even handed. While acknowledging that he has dwelt on American policy, warts and all, his has been an American democrat’s critique. While critical of the war in term of its strategic aim and conduct, the Professor is unable to get himself to pronounce unambiguously on its illegality in first place and the illegitimacy of several actions taken in the name of freedom and democracy in second place. It is no wonder then that the book is dedicated to American servicemen and their families, a dedication explicated by the author in his preface as owing to his book being inspired by a chance meeting on a beach by two marines in prostheses. Therefore, to this reviewer, the book is yet another one to help Americans feel better about themselves and the war.

To begin with, the book is inappropriately titled. It deals largely with Iraq, with Afghanistan and Pakistan thrown in to form the backdrop since the Afghanistan war preceded the one in Iraq. In case the Afghanistan war was also on the author’s beat, then developments there over the Obama presidency needed to have figured in greater detail in the narrative once the scene had shifted away from Iraq with the departure of George ‘Dubya’ Bush from the White House. The author’s skipping over how the US lost sight of the ball in play in South Asia, by wandering off to Iraq is suggestive of a blind spot. Even though the author mentions ‘Oil’, it is one made in passing as one of at least four reasons why the US went to war. That US attention wandered on to Iraq, even before Al Qaeda was eliminated and Afghanistan stabilised, bespeaks of the real strategic intent behind the war. Therefore not to say it out loud is to obfuscate.

This needs spelling out at the very outset to undercut the author’s case that the war getting messed up can be attributed to an inattentive president and a few ambitious neocons and hypernationalists. To him the war was an understandable reaction to a terror attack on US soil; if only it could have been waged a little better!His take is that the unfounded assumptions of the neocons, based on ideological predispositions and the false input from Iraqi expatriates, led to a myopic policy that overlooked the post war reconstruction phase by focussing instead on the prior ‘kinetic’ phase alone. It is clear from the denouement in Afghanistan that there has been little consideration of this even now despite the war there becoming the longest war in American history.

Instead, responsibility for the war and the eminently avoidable hurt and grief sustained by its victims needs to be laid at the door of the navel-gazing American public. They allowed their democracy to be hijacked by an incompetent president. Their inability to bring their lawmakers to balance the executive, despite the million-strong march against the war - missed entirely by the author - speaks of a terrible drawback in their otherwise much applauded democratic system. Having witnessed the havoc this can cause on other societies, a case can easily be made that keeping Americans democratic, free and in plenty is proving much too costly for the world.

It needs reminding that the US had not stayed on for reconstruction of Afghanistan after its terrible proxy war against the Soviets. On the contrary, it had tried to prop up the Taliban so as to bring about stability in Afghanistan to enable pipelines for access to Central Asia then opening up. On the Iraq front it had continued the Iraq War I through sanctions that reportedly resulted in six hundred thousand dead children. The deaths were openly acknowledged by Madeline Albright as a price the US was willing to pay. For the author to dwell appreciatively on the overrunning of such an Iraq by the American military in Iraq War II is to miss out on the extensive ‘preparation of the battlefield’ that had been going on even during the preceding Democrat administration of two terms.

Given this immediate history of US engagement with the region and its support to authoritarian regimes, which the US was taken on in an asymmetric struggle was unsurprising. To castigate even nationalist impulses within the opposition as terrorism, the consistent refrain post 9/11, must be exposed as an attempt at discourse dominance. Though the author does mention Abu Gharaib, military contractors, bureaucratic infighting, Bush’s religious predilections etc., these merely help him try and explain how and why things went wrong. There is little deliberation over the nature of the American footprint in terms of the efficacy of drone attacks; the numbers of civilian dead in both wars; the sectarian and ethnic furrows that have irredeemably opened up; the opportunity costs;  effects on global strategic culture of militarisation; the economic price; the home front scene of security legitimised growth of the new American ‘garrison’ state etc. It neglects pertinent issues as the military-industrial complex and its influence on American politics, even though the author covers the role of the vice president, Dick Cheney, who straddled both worlds. It tells of the forging of the document purportedly from Niger that was used to make the case for war on Iraq on grounds of eliminating weapons of mass destruction. However, the author, a political science professor, should really have taken the point further to see as to why American public has allowed itself to be lied to.

The book, though published in 2011, seems caught in a time wrap with its conclusion carrying twenty six strategic level lessons for the US. Typically, these,by highlighting how not to have fought this war, show how to fight the next one. In other words, the book only serves to whet the continuing American appetite for war. The manner the ‘end game’ is playing out in Afghanistan suggests that Americans have learnt little from the war. With books such as this one to inform their thinking, it is unlikely they ever will either. This perhaps explains why Pakistan figures in the title of the book. With the author having listed as one among his twenty six ‘lessons and legacies’: ‘Pay attention to Pakistan’; it would not surprise this reviewer if the theatre of war next moves to Pakistan.

That said, the book is a useful one for beginners as introduction to the central international event of last decade and its main players. It carries a fairly comprehensive bibliography and notes. The book is therefore at best one best suited for undergraduate students at his university. However, being American centric, the book is clearly not the last word. In fact, until the Arab and Afghan side of the story gets told, history will not be complete. For this, the US will first have to be stopped from war: better done by its own people exercising their much wonted democratic credentials.