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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

politicisation of security

Politicisation of security and its consequences
Politicisation of security has figured in the electoral rhetoric between the BJP and its opponents with both blaming the other side. In the run-up to state elections in important states and in J&K soon thereafter, that political use of security issues will be made is axiomatic. While the linkage between security and politics is easily comprehended in respect of Pakistan, it is less so in case of India. This article makes the case that India's central government has indeed politicised security. It is but one step away from politicising the military.

In Pakistan, politicisation refers to political intervention by the military; most visible recently in the manner it has sponsored the hold-up of the Nawaz Sharif government. Whereas in Pakistan, politicisation of the military is furtherance of institutional interest of the military disguised as national interest; in India, politicisation of security is the use of security issues and its instruments for the political purposes of the ruling party. It shall be demonstrated ahead that this can culminate in development of symbiotic relations between the ruling party, one mediated by its leader, and the military.

Both profit from a certain direction in security, and therefore can forge a sustainable,
invisible bond. The ruling party's defining of national security through its ideological lens
can over time infiltrate the military, making for loss in professionalism i.e., the politicisation
of the military. This is reverse of the Pakistan case in which the military interferes with politics.

The army's upping-the-ante on the border cannot be taken amiss. It was in response to
increasing ceasefire violations and on provocative action in which it lost a soldier to an IED
attack in early October. The last army chief had already made it clear that he expects vigorous
tactical action on the Line of Control (LoC0. The current army chief on taking over made
a pledge not to have a repeat of the beheading incident of January last year. With the new
right wing government having given the go-ahead for a robust response, the army is only
following through on what has been long advertised.

Would the case have been different in case there had been any other government at Delhi?
The military's tactical level reaction to provocation has unlikely been in question. The previous
 government broke off the talks owing to the LoC incident and did not resume them due to
policy paralysis thereafter suggests it would have been amenable to a vigourous response.
In the event, it was not tested.

Certainly, the state of talks with Pakistan would have impacted the firing on the LoC, in
that not only would Pakistan have likely not been provocative, but India may have been
more restrained. However, the last government had given the go-ahead for tactical trading
of ordnance as the army thought fit, but with the caveat that this should not impact the
strategic level moves. Therefore, there would have been no lack in a 'befitting reply' at
the tactical level, even if escalation would have been ruled out.

This time escalation has been ruled in. In so far as this can be strategically rationalised,
it makes sense. Firstly, India having broken off talks abruptly needed a fig leaf. The border
incidents provided the alibi and its recent escalation enable India to blame Pakistan for
continuing to be difficult. Secondly, that the escalation was soon after return of the
PM and NSA from the US suggests an AfPak angle alongside. The messaging to Pakistan,
with tacit US imprimatur, is that India be a minder in the region in case Pakistan does not
play ball in the unfolding US strategy in Afghanistan. Lastly, Pakistan's military by unsettling
Sharif made it amply clear that it calls the shots on the India policy. With Mr. Modi's opening
gambit coming to naught, the escalation is India's reply.

However the timing of the escalation in relation to internal politics cannot be ignored. The
ruling party had received a warning of a waning Modi wave in the bye-elections across the
country. With significant states going to the polls, its internal political mobilisation strategy
of using the internal 'Other', India's minority, as bogeyman was not enough, the 'love jihad'
trope notwithstanding. Mr. Modi to facilitate his US trip had made placatory statements
including acknowledging Muslims are ready to die for their country. The external 'Other' lent
itself better for internal political use.

This explains the manner Mr. Modi has used the army's response on the LoC to project his
image as strongman. Questioning security policy is a duty for the opposition. By no means is
questioning security policy casting of aspersion on the military. It is an absurd notion to have
a consensus on security policy in a democratic society. There are multiple ways to achieve
security. The government's manner of doing so is not necessarily the only or right one. Therefore,
the charge made by the BJP that questioning by the opposition amounts to demoralising the
force is itself politicisation. This amounts to the politicisation of security and one done by the
ruling party for its short term political ends.

What are the consequences for knock-on politicisation of the military?

In so far that the military is currently carrying out faithfully the order of the government, its action
is unexceptionable. To call for the targeting to have taken into account collateral damage as
a factor is trite in light of the manner collateral damage is increasingly being interpreted in light
of operations in the Middle East, including the Israeli one in Gaza. However, of consequence
is in case the military develops the notion that here is a government that delivers, that does not
keep it on leash and one that allows the military strategic space otherwise constricted by diplomatic

This has to be read alongside the manner defence ministry is being left without a minister. The
nominal oversight by the finance minister has been subject to his good health. The military's
key grouse, that it is second guessed by the bureaucrats, is likely much eased. There is
considerable largesse coming its way in terms of armament infusion with major initiatives by the 
government such as opening up the defence sector further to foreign investment and its proximity
 to the US as an arms source. The political use of the military enhances its profile, both in relation
 to the ruling party and in the voting public. All this can tend to inflate the military's self perception, 
thereby increasing political propensity, latent in any military. 

Weak indicators are already on offer on the way the wind blows. The military has unnecessarily
offered its services for cleaning the Ganga, visualising 40 officers under a retired general assisting
the minister, Uma Bharati. It was needlessly on the front pages in the Swach Bharat campaign in
cleaning up its cantonments.

Even if the contrast in the response of the army and the administration in J&K to the
floods has been stark, the army's placing of the spotlight on itself was at the expense of the
administration. With the BJP making a strong bid for J&K, if Mr. Amit Shah is to be believed,
this was unfortunate in terms of timing in that the army has albeit coincidentally improved the
chances of the BJP. It could have moderated such an outcome by keeping the focus on the state
government and projecting itself as in support to the state government, which is the correct legal
position and is normally the case.

The PM promised the situation will soon subside. The timing is also suggestive of internal
politics. With the harvest from the forthcoming elections behind him, the PM can be expected
to revert to his grandstanding on the regional stage, with the SAARC gathering in Kathmandu
providing an opportunity.

He will project that he and the army have 'shut up' the Pakistani military. The potential for identification
of the military with the PM, and at one remove his party, therefore exists. This is the knock-on
consequence of the politicisation of security that bears watching.

(Firdaus Ahmed's commentaries are available as a free ebook Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace, for download at

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