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Monday, April 27, 2015


China policy: Will economics trump the military stance?

Surprisingly, the biannual jamboree of high brass was held as usual in New Delhi this spring. Surprising not because of any reason but that at its October edition last year, Narendra Modi, perhaps taking cue from venues of party conclaves, had suggested in his address that it be held elsewhere in the country. Sensibly, the brass did not bend over backwards to act on the suggestion since the intellectual repository to service the commanders’ conference is only at Headquarters.
As usual, the conference yielded interesting insights, the most significant one this time around being a dilution of the preparedness on the China front. Media reported that the defence minister had expressed scepticism over the steep requirements, both manpower and financial, stemming from the army’s creation of the mountain strike corps.


Strategic shifts
The two mountain divisions that were raised late last decade had enabled a shift from dissuasive defence to defensive deterrence. Defensive defence, implying an ability to fight back defensively, had been India’s posture on the China front since the sixties till the late eighties. India upped this posture to dissuasive defence, in which a robust defence was intended to dissuade an attacker, during the Sundarji period with Exercise Chequer Board.
This posture was yet again hiked around the end of the last decade to active defence with the two mountain divisions sucked into a defensive role in Arunachal Pradesh. Active defence is akin to defensive deterrence in which China is to be deterred with the knowledge of an active fight back by India.
The army in a doctrinal revision exercise over the turn of the decade, that was conveniently leaked to the press, alighted on the formulation of the ‘two front’ war. The ‘two front’ threat dates back to the early sixties when Pakistan and China began to see common strategic cause. However, economic factors did not permit India to do anything more than strengthen its fence with China. The steady economic growth of the century’s first decade enabled the army to think more ambitiously.
The army had already made a shift from defensive to offensive thinking on the Pakistan front. Prompted by the Kargil War and Operation Parakram, it had moved from basing its doctrine on a counter-offensive capability to a more proactive and offensive one, termed in the media as ‘cold start’. With increased defence outlays that have witnessed a near four-fold increase from $11 billion in 2001 to $40 billion today, it was possible for the army to transfer the offensive mindset to the eastern front.


UPA II was reluctant to concede this since it was presiding in a period during which India’s growth rate slowed down from its high of eight percent to about six percent. Over the period, the army fought a guerilla action through the media, hyping up the China threat to thirty divisions rolling down to the Ganga-Brahmaputra plains, along with a Pakistani hyena act along the upper reaches of the Indus.
Modi’s government, in keeping with its self-image as being strong on defence, has expectedly been more forthcoming. Arun Jaitley, when he wore the double hats as finance minister and defence minister, had taken an appraisal of the new corps in one of his first moves. The national security adviser too, in a speech late last year, borrowed the army terminology on two-front. And yet, the current minister Manohar Parrikar is shown in media dragging his feet on the advisability of the corps, blaming the UPA for approving the 90000-strong increase in troops and its budget demand of Rs 64000 crore. This raises the question: Why?

Can India sustain the grand strategy?
There could be three explanations. The first relates to the infirmity in the Indian national security establishment in which the doctrinal sphere is mistakenly assumed to be the military’s domain exclusively. It appears that South Block thought up the ‘two front’ doctrine and its requirements without recourse to a ‘whole-of-government approach’ in which North Block could have its say. While a lame duck Antony let it pass, Parrikar has been checkmated by Jaitley.
The second, following from the first, is that the new government is operating to a grand strategy. The national security adviser spelt it out in the same speech in which he mentioned the ‘two front’ threat. ‘Economic development is the best way to ensure security and a 9 percent growth will make us totally secure,’ he said.


Indeed, in terms of such a grand strategy, the UPA was also similarly engaged, but was not able to pull it off, since it had to constantly look over its shoulders at what the right wing opposition would say. Can results be any different this time around?
The fact that Modi has a new man in the foreign ministry in the form of China hand – S Jaishankar, who has inherited a fine strategic mind – gives this line credence. The problem is if this turns out to be only tactical, a pre-visit bit of signalling. When done, it would be back to the business of India, the new kid in the great power race, catching up with China. That would potentially upset Doval’s grand strategic apple cart, revealing it as product of an enlightened speech writer but out of sync with the hyper-nationalist national security policy of the right wing government.
While time will tell, the potential for tripping up is there. When Xi visited, there was an ongoing intrusion in Depsang.  Before Modi’s visit, Xi has scheduled his own trip to Pakistan, heightening India’s ‘two front’ paranoia with his promise of investing $45 billion in an economic corridor through Indian- claimed territory in Gilgit-Baltistan and the sale of nine submarines. The submarines, in particular, enable a diesel electric submarine-based nuclear second strike capability for Pakistan.
While its strong-on-defence image can enable the Modi government to contradict the commentary that it has blinked first with China, whether it can do so under the prevailing political circumstances – an opposition rejuvenated by its electoral control of Delhi and the escalating situation over the land bill – is the question. While ‘acche din’ theoretically follows the grand strategy, the absence of ‘acche din’ in the interim can lead the government to lean once again on defence. In other words, the prime minister can end up a victim of his own self-image.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Kashmiri Pandits: Undoing injustice

Undoing injustice to Kashmiri Pandits

Kashmir Times, Op-ed, 25 April 2015

Kashmiris have long standing and arguably genuine grievances against the Indian state. They have resorted to several ways to voice these, including militancy, as is indeed their right. However, one way in which they appear to be furthering their agenda is in keeping the displaced Kashmiri Pandits from returning to their homes and hearths. Is keeping Pandits out, one more pressure point against the Indian state?
Kashmiris would reflexively protest such an interpretation. They would claim that not only has India suppressed their voicing of their grievances but it is not they who are keeping the Pandits from returning. They believe they have extended a sincere invite to Pandits to return, but one that has not been taken up. Instead, Pandits by not returning are enabling India to have yet another stick to beat Kashmir with. Also, the manner of insertion of Pandits back into Kashmir in self-contained residential enclaves is reminiscent of Israel’s colonising behavior in occupied territory.
To Kashmiri Pandits, the idea that their expulsion is self-exile is preposterous. They have been ousted from their historical homeland now for a quarter century. Their return has been aborted by instances of continuing threat, such as the Wandhama incident. And, one that is set to continue so long as Kashmiris flirt with extremism that lingers increasingly darkly and closer with the advent of the IS that has even put the Al Qaeda into shade. Security concerns necessitate innovative measures for sustainable returns; the idea of clusters being one such.
Where does the truth lie (no pun intended)?
Clearly, there are multiple versions of the truth. There are possibly multiple truths. No version of the truth can be rejected out of hand. There may be shortfalls in the truths held by each community. As part of debate, these can be highlighted and mitigated; but their right to their version of the truth cannot be disputed. These truths are the kernel of the identity of the community and cannot be trifled with. If this bottom-line is accepted then there is scope for next steps.
The past quarter century has made amply clear that both communities have gone through enough. Kashmiris have weathered security operations ad infinitum, while Pandits have become an internally displaced people. Both have recovered somewhat with considerable peace returning to Kashmir and many Panditsfinding a new life. Balance is returning normalcy to Kashmir.
This final touch can only be through a dignified return of Pandits back in Kashmir, preferably to their original homes.The vulnerable group here being the Pandits, the Kashmiris need to take the first step.If, and since, the cluster model does not find favour with Kashmiris, there is only one alternative: enable Pandit return direct to their homes. This would be in keeping with their rhetoric.
Historical experience does not enthuse. Seldom have communities once internally displaced managed to return with dignity. Reconciliation of such an order has little precedence. In India, people displaced in violence in Assam in the nineties continue in relief camps. People who fled villages and localities in Gujarat have settled in ghettos. Some villages continue to remain empty of their minority members after the riots in UP of last year. Within in the region, minority community members facing discrimination and security threats have largely voted to leave India’s neighbouring states, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Globally, the return of many vulnerable groups who fled conflict such as in Georgia, Kosovo and Africa’s numerous conflicts, is awaited. Can it be any different in Kashmir?
This is not a task the two communities can leave to the state. If they do, the process is liable to get politicized and consequently put off. Geopolitics is liable in the state’s eye to trump human security. To it, logistics of the exercise, such as building houses for Pandits may be easier than building the conditions to make these homes. Political actors, that control the state, get to play political football with the essentially humanitarian IDP issue. Reconciliation therefore cannot be left to the state alone; even if the state has a critical role to play eventually.
Instead, center stage must be the communities themselves. They need to stop firing at each other from the shoulder of the state, with the Pandits using the center and the Kashmiris the state government.Silencing negative motivated and opportunist political actors within each respectively will be the first challenge. Politicians can manage, contain and mark time. While itself preferable to losing ground and stepping back, they cannot deliver, transform, enlighten - necessary to bridging, reaching out, striking out.
There being no Mandela, either in Kashmir or New Delhi, and life not being a fairy tale, on the face of it, it does not appear possible. Politically, separatists, while mouthing the right phrases, cannot instill confidence. They have not given up on their Pakistani connections. Currently, these are political. However, that owes in part to the vice grip that India’s military has. Security wise, till the possibility of proxy war resumption using militants as their cat’s paw is not stashed away by Pakistan, to chance a return could prove foolhardy. Logistically, illegal usurpation of property and profiting from distress sales will first have to be undone.
But more importantly, spiritually, the chasms in trust that have only deepened with time’s passage will have to be crossed. Such levels of generosity in human spirit in face of conflict and absence of leadership, both political and spiritual, are seldom reached. Even deep Sufi wellsprings,Kashmiriyatand memories of the older generation may fail to buoy. The younger generation on both sides, more religious but less spiritual, may be less inclined to be forgiving; for sustainable return, it is they who have to be incentivised.
What we are liable to see therefore is a continuing of the dance around the IDP issue. Kashmir would not be able to transit from a conflict to a post conflict society. The liberal lode will dissipate when most needed to preserve Kashmir from ill winds from West Asia transiting the Hindu Kush to draw near. What Kashmiris fear – demographic change – may consequently appear a suitable strategy option to save Kashmir from its home-grown extremists. This may even be possible to engineer in the political circumstance as shall remain operational in Delhi for the remainder of the decade. Worse, in case of conflict revisiting Kashmir, there are aplenty today counter violence methods that were only yesterday unacceptable. The examples of Chechenya, East Timor and the wars in the Middle East bear recall.

To paint such scenarios is to be strategic. To point to Kashmiris that there are roads they must not take. However, painting such dire and plausible futures, such as this, cannot draw out compassion and grace necessary for Kashmir to rise up as a post conflict society with a difference. It is up to Kashmiris to conquer themselves, subdue their baser selves for their own sake.