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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our view, their view, the world-view
23 November 2009 -
In the context of Pakistan, India has acted as a status quo-ist power, whereas Pakistan is well known for being the revisionist keen on upsetting the territorial status quo. It has resorted to military means in 1965, proxy war in the nineties and a border war at Kargil. India on the other hand has been defensive in the post-1971 War period, relying on Bhutto to deliver on the secret pact at Simla. Through the eighties and nineties it has relied on deterrence.

And lately, its exasperation is evident in its movement to quasi-compellence of Pakistan, insisting that the state should roll back its anti-India terror infrastructure. All this popular reading of the strategic equation points to a uniform fact - India prefers to keep the status quo.But this view is not shared by the Pakistani Establishment - the informal clique of decision makers and influential personalities, historically centered on the Pakistan Army chief, and the formal conference of corps commanders that runs the Pakistan Army and underwrites the state.

To them, Kashmir is the most salient issue on the table between the two nations. And, as they see it, India committed to resolving the Kashmir issue at Simla, Lahore and Islamabad, but did not follow through with enough despatch with the progress made in the back channel during the Musharraf years. They accuse India of engaging in talks for the sake of talks, and has reneged on its commitment to resolving Kashmir. In other words, they see India as reivisionist, reneging from the mutually agreed position that Kashmir is an issue that needs resolving in favour of ensuring that only the Indian view prevails - i.e. that the Line of Control be turned into an international border, if necessary by exertion of compellence!

The fact is that the infiltration and terror activity in Kashmir has steadily gone down since 2002. The interpretations as to why this has happened differ. We in India believe that this is due to action by Indian security forces, and the creation of the fence separating the territories controlled by India and Pakistan. The Pakistani security establishment would argue, since they cannot own up to terrorism in the first place, that the lessened terrorist activity in Kashmir is due to movement promised by India, particularly so at the Islamabad joint statement.

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Whether Pakistan is exercising restraint can never be proven to Indian satisfaction. There are too many periodic reminders of the terrorist threat and its links to Pakistan, for India to believe that its neighbour is doing much to rein in its agents. 26/11 particularly reinforced this view, with India threatening immediate and strong action. Any quietening-down by Pakistan over the last year is attributed to this new Indian anger, and not to any self-restraint by the Pakistanis themselves.

Pakistan's support of terrorist actions, albeit patently illegitimate, can be interpreted as means to goad India to seek a resolution of the Kashmir issue through talks. India has indicated its willingness to engage in talks, but it has been reluctant to arrive at an understanding with Pakistan at the point of a gun. Internally, no government would be able to sell its case of accommodation if seen to have been forced into talks and their outcome by terrorist action. Therefore, India maintains that it would talk to Pakistan only when terror ceases to be its instrument.

By this yardstick, Pakistan would have to defang itself, at a time when India's power credentials are growing and have placed it further out of Pakistan's league. Pakistan is thus being required to make a leap of faith twice over - first to take at face value that India still believes in talks even while it strengthens itself militarily, and second to accept that India would engage in talks in case Pakistan complies with the demand to stop arming the terrorists first. But, says the Pakistani establishment, if Pakistans lowers the militaristic tone of its engagement, India would have no incentive to talk and there would be no 'issue' left to talk about. This, the Pakistani Army is unlikely to bite.

It can be expected that President Obama will try to prevail on the Indian Prime Minister during his visit to White House. The silver lining internally has been that in the run up to the visit India has opened up a long delayed line to Kashmiri separatists. Externally, the least that will come about could be a declaration to resume the 'paused' dialogue process.

But this may not be very significant. Pakistan has virtually dropped out of the Kashmir question, no doubt due to its own counter productive strategy. Moreover, India would not know who to engage with in Pakistan - the longevity of the civilian government is questionable, and the Army there is scrambling to outlast the current adverse turn in the Global War of Terror, before it returns to the traditional and familiar Indo-Pak game of 'balance of power'.

All of this is made complicated by the fact that each side - India as well as Pakistan - would not like to be seen as acting under compulsion. Thus any new moves proposed during the PM's visit would have to be seen as emanating from the self-interest of all the parties, rather than merely responding to the expectations of others. Just to prove internally that action is not being taken at others' behest, no meaningful moves will be taken. Unless more is done to change the perceptions of each other as 'revisionist', fingers will continue to remain crossed. ⊕

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


The Army Chief has said, "US has not allowed a second 9/11 to happen. Indonesia has not allowed a second Bali bombing to happen. India has allowed people to get away after the Parliament attack, the Delhi blasts and finally the 26/11. It's time for all of us to say no more." In light of weightier civil-military relations issues in question, that both analogies are inappropriate is not worth a pause. But first a consideration of whether this is indeed a defining juncture in India’s civil-military relations.

The context is the forthcoming anniversary of 26/11, which India would like to traverse without incident. The urgency owes to the situation in Pakistan worsening. It is possible that the government is putting the pressure on Pakistan to rein in the jihadis to the extent it can. This explains the Home Minister’s earlier warning, “I'm warning Pakistan for the last time. If Pakistan attempts to send terrorists into India again, India will not only foil those attempts but also give them a crushing response.” Such a ‘good cop-bad cop’ routine helps balance the prime minister’s extending a ‘hand of friendship’ to Pakistan on his trip to the Valley late last month. The Chief said this in the presence of the Minister of State for Defence. News that the latest terror plan, bust by the FBI in the US, was to target the prestigious National Defence College, was perhaps the provocation. The statement of the present Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee is in keeping with precedent of policy influencing pronouncements set by the previous COSC Chairman, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, in his address at a National Maritime Foundation lecture recently – the statement in question then being on India’s China policy.

But is India capable of such finesse in signalling? Answering this question in the ‘affirmative’ would mean that treating the Chief’s statement as a departure in civil-military norms as an attempt at generating a conflict where there is none. Since whether there is a plan to the government’s moves cannot be known with any certainty, giving the benefit of doubt is warranted. The government is using the Chief’s broad shoulders to unmistakably convey to Pakistan that India is poised precariously on its proverbial ‘tolerance threshold’.

Nevertheless, even as an academic exercise, its worth probing what the juncture implies. Keeping civil-military relations under scrutiny periodically helps keep militarization in check and democracy in good health.

Firstly, the statement was at a CII-Army seminar. This indicates the vested interest corporate India, and external arms dealers, have in arming India. The Minister of Defence having indicated that India is likely to spend $ 50 billion over the middle term, this is not surprising. Of consequence is what this implies for policy choices. This can only be to facilitate military expenditure in pursuit of capabilities allowing India to prevail in case of exercise of the military option, an inevitability since the Chief has spoken.

Secondly, with the Home Minister and the Chief having in their utterances sealed India’s policy choice, whether it is the right one needs questioning. Higher end options, such as war, can be ruled out for the very reasons that have stayed India’s hand earlier. These are economy, US presence and the nuclear overhang. However, surgical strikes on any of the list of 5000 targets that the Air Force Western Command boss has said they have drawn up, is possible. This could perhaps be supplemented with Army action across the Line of Control, so that all services have a piece of the action. Would this make sense in a situation in which Pakistan finds itself in currently? The expectation that India can pull off a mini Israel style punishing strike is to mistake a nuclear armed state with Palestinian non state actors. Since madrasas can reasonably be expected to be part of jihadi training complexes, bloodied madrasa children on CNN would make for a avoidable political debacle.

Thirdly, in case India has not foreclosed its options, then credibility of the minister and the Chief, and in turn that of India, would suffer. With credibility at stake the pressures for the military option would increase. This would be in addition to right wing pressures that would be strident, in the hope of regaining the ground lost in recent electoral battles. Therefore, even if the option is open, it has been virtually foreclosed.

This brings to fore the most important implication. Can the military pronounce on policy choices? It can discuss and advise on options. Making choices in democratic systems are patently a political prerogative. Military positions on issues command credibility that a government would find hard to challenge. The leaking of the MacChrystal report is an example from civil-military relations in the US. In the current circumstance, were the government to choose the saner option once again, it would fall foul of the opinion, albeit inadvertently generated by the Chief’s remarks, in favour of an overtly militarised response.

While not over dramatising the juncture, any lessons it has can only serve deepen India’s democracy and military professionalism.