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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Vignettes Of India's Security Culture

By Firdaus Ahmed

03 August, 2009

The rape and murder of two young women in Shopian, the acceptance by the NHRC probe of the Delhi Police version of the Batla House encounter, the killing of a PLA member in custody in Manipur as evidenced by the photos published in Tehelka, and the furore over the mention of Baluchistan in the India-Pakistan Joint Statement tells us something of India’s strategic culture. This article seeks insight into India’s security culture through a snap shot of these four occurrences over the recent past.

That there was an attempted cover up in the Shopian incident implies that there was a ‘felt need’ for the same. Clearly then this was to protect the culprits, implying that the culprits are possibly known. There is no reason to resort to a cover up if there is nothing to be hidden. The unilateral additions made by the police to the report of Justice Jan that enquired into the case are reportedly slanderous about the deceased and their family. The portions disowned by the enquiring judge mention the ‘possibility’ of one of the deceased ‘developing some relation with others.’ The point of the investigation is to bring out who these alleged persons were, for they would have motive in murdering the victims to hide their association. That the police have signally failed to follow up only serves to prove there is a connection to the security apparatus that needs hiding. That the state machinery to include the Chief Minister has thereafter concentrated on the peripheral aspects, such as how much was conveyed up the reporting channel etc, has led to the need to apprehend the culprits being lost sight of. This only reinforces suspicions that the culprits were from the security forces or those having links with the security apparatus in the state, which since its partial outsourcing to the likes of the Ikhwan includes those in plain clothes. That the increasingly politicised debate has now gone back three years to the 2006 sex scandal bespeaks of the security culture in Srinagar.

As a final word on the Batla House encounter, the NHRC report states: ‘We are clearly of the opinion that having regard to the material placed before us, it cannot be said that there has been any violation of human rights by the action of the police party.’ It is quite obvious that any ‘material’ that was to be ‘placed’ before an enquiry could have been worked upon to give it the desired spin over the interim. Therefore, the enquiry was logically expected to go beyond the ‘material placed before us’. In failing to do this, it has set a precedent and devalued the credibility of the NHRC.

Other shortcomings have been pointed out by those following the case closely such as the Jamia Teachers Solidarity Group. However, even as the ‘material placed’ before the enquiry is reported as bringing out the group as carrying out a series of terrorist crimes, that the police party leader did not wear a bullet proof jacket while attempting to arrest them is explained away that the reason cannot be second guessed by the commission. The commission records that, ‘there is ample and sufficient material before us which leads to the irresistible conclusion that there was imminent danger to the life of members of the police party.’ All the more reason one would think warranting a bullet proof jacket.

The Indian Mujahedeen is described in the ‘material placed’ as a group ‘found to be involved in terrorist activities in different parts of the country for the last several years.’ It is fairly well known that the IM came into the limelight for the first time only last year with the blasts targeting the larger cities. This shortcoming in the ‘material placed’ has apparently not detracted from its credibility in the eyes of the commission. The commission refrains from dwelling on the issue of whether those killed were terrorists; yet explains police party actions as self defence. In case the commission was to play a mental game and take them as innocent for the sake of an intellectual exercise developing the scenario, then action as going in without a bullet proof jacket makes sense. Therefore, there was reason enough even from the ‘material placed’ for the commission to take a proactive route and go beyond the ‘material placed’ in its enquiry. That it failed to do so constitutes the evidence being marshalled in this article on the India’s security culture.

The Tehelka photo feature of the killing of alleged insurgent Chonghkhum Sanjit in Imphal by Manipuri police commandos is chilling in the extreme. That this was done in broad daylight speaks of a culture of impunity. In the logic of the security forces this display is perhaps explicable. The message to the insurgent underground watching is that there are no holds barred in the contest; a message that would no doubt be lapped up by the insurgents. The Punjab model is being played out in the North East. Those doing the killing appear Manipuri. One set of natives is set on another in a version of divide and rule. The nadir of this strategy has already been reached in the silent killings of relatives of ULFA insurgents in Assam. There is a subtext to the picture that has perhaps escaped the planners. In this the message to people is that the judge and executioner have been conflated. The implications are stark for the culture of protest that has been perfected in Manipur by the sacrifice of icons as Irom Sharmila and actions as the women who stripped to shame the Assam Rifles out of the Imphal Fort. Two inferences can be drawn from the pictures. One is that the state has lost control over its security apparatus. Worse is that this is a demonstration of the level of its control. The latter is most likely truer. It can be wagered that the enquiry that will no doubt follow, forced by the unrest presently on in Manipur, will not be able to trace those who ordered this. What happens in a provincial capital can only draw on what transpires in the national capital.

Lastly, is the contrived breast beating partially over the mention of Baluchistan in the Joint Statement emanating in Sharm es Sheikh. This also involved a march by opposition MPs led by the leader of the opposition to the Rashtrapati Bhawan. The Prime Minister has clarified on the floor of the Lok Sabha that he agreed to the mention knowing that ‘India’s hands are clean’. This is difficult to accept at face value; since, he – though honest - had earlier opined that Mr. Bush was a much ‘loved’ US President in India! The criticism was however not on this account but that Pakistan had managed to highlight its version on India’s intelligence managed covert role in the Baluchistan insurgency. In the security logic, it is entirely understandable for India to fuel Pakistan’s fires to sensitise it that it too lives in a glass house. Talking about the issue gives India a handle to bring this home to Pakistan and force a mutual winding down of this propensity of both states to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. But to insist that India ‘has nothing to hide’ either implies naivety or a loss of political control over India’s external intelligence agency. With the furore greeting the mention, it is unlikely that India would countenance talks on this issue, implying that the covert operations designed to hurt Pakistan in retribution for its well recorded proxy war in Kashmir will continue. This war by intelligence agencies would not be in the interest of either Baluchis or Kashmiris or indeed the other subcontinental nationalities, but is of a piece with the adults-only games played by states.

Clearly, India’s security is gravely threatened by insurgency and terrorism. India’s response as witnessed in the four cases does not recommend itself. It is no wonder then that India continues to be beset with problems of state consolidation. It is as yet a developing state still transiting through the state making and nation building stage. It would do well to recognise that it cannot skip the stage of national consolidation in its haste to becoming a great power.

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