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Monday, September 14, 2015

Getting practical over an important report
Kashmir Times Op-Ed
15 September 2015

Five hundred and thirty nine pages of Structures of Violence: The Indian State in Jammu and Kashmir will unlikely be read in their entirety. At a price of less than a rupee a page, they will hopefully find a readership, not merely within J&K, but in the rest of India. However, that is unlikely to be anytime soon.
That they are read fully or in one sitting was in any case not the aim of The International Peoples' Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-Administered Kashmir and The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, constituents of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society that have put out the report. Their aim was a recording of what amount to war crimes in J&K and exposure of the state culpability in the individual offences and acts of commission and omission covered by command responsibility (or lack of exercise thereof).
At the outset it can be said that the stated aims of the team of volunteers that have put it together are unlikely to be met. They place the record for action by the ‘international community’. The state system is far from being a ‘community’. If it is the West the authors want to attract, the appetite for intervention there, thankfully, has dried up. If they mean states in general, they will be disappointed. Leftist and liberal circles can be expected to be enthused by the report. Their heft however is limited to the converted. The UN and its agencies figure on their list to lean on the Indian government. The government would point to its improved record over the past decade to say that it is doing what it can under the circumstance of proxy war. It will point to the court martial sentence being promulgated in the Machhil killings case as example. India being the geo-economic cynosure is unlikely to be put upon for its record of a decade and half back. There is far too much of ‘immediate and urgent’ nature on the plate of the ‘international community’ for that.  
The naming and shaming of perpetrators is to put on notice foreign governments and the UN not to give visas and migrant status and employment respectively to alleged perpetrators. This may work in individual cases such as in the case of the BSF officer who was denied a visa by the Canadian embassy. A Nepali military officer with the UN on holiday in UK was in 2013 picked up by authorities there on human rights related charges. Thus, at best, the individuals named will be inconvenienced slightly. The report has  no illusions that legal action will be taken against them in any case, since it lays bare in graphic detail the impunity they have had under the ‘structures of violence’ that unfortunately includes the judicial system. 
Clearly, the report must not be lost as its predecessor of 2012, Alleged Perpetrators, that had examined over two hundred cases of human rights violations and, ‘for the first time’, the role of 500 alleged perpetrators. Its content is far too important to be lost in cyber space or exchanged within the same and restricted solidarist circles. This time it must be made to serve a purpose. Looking beyond borders for that is delusive. It must not also end up proving counter-productive within the borders. So the question is: if it is to be useful, how should it be played?
In this the report itself is not particularly helpful. It covers, in its words, ‘How did/does the Indian State perpetrate this violence? What precisely is the structure, physical and institutional, through which weapons, ammunition, soldiers, officers, camps and battalions inflict violence on the people of Jammu and Kashmir?’ The answer to this is well known. Explicit lay out of the structures is useful at best for peace studies students and shall be for future historians.
The practice of a counter insurgency grid is not going to change in India. It plays to India’s strength of manpower. Insertion of the security forces in an omnipresent grid – while coercive, invasive and intrusive – is doctrinally necessary to cripple the freedom of movement of the opponent and increase chances of engagement in which attrition can bring down their number. Assuming that this advantage of numbers was not there with India, counter insurgency would be more kinetic means reliant, with increased pain to the subject people and society, witness counter insurgency anywhere else in the world. How the operations proceed is essentially dependent on the nature and strength of the opposition. There are periods and areas in which this is significant. Expectedly, this will be met with force with resultant pressures on the population that then should be ascribed to the foreign minders of militants/terrorists.
In Kashmir, there is no denying that the levels of opposition were orchestrated by Pakistan. Therefore, the onus is not so much in India, as elsewhere. There is no denying that whereas the structures of violence were Indian and the perpetrators Indian, the context was of proxy war. When Pakistan drew down proxy war in the late Musharraf period, India too appreciably stood down the militarized template. The report needs balancing by the context of the violence. It cannot be argued that Indian violence led to the opposition – setting up a cycle. Indeed, if India had not applied force or applied it ineffectually, it can equally plausibly be argued that Pakistan would have upped the ante of violence through proxies. The report then would be writing up Pakistani directed violations instead.
In fact, there needs to be a similar report done on the levels of terror that terrorists of foreign origin and Kashmiri militants perpetrated. The support that insurgents enjoy is seldom on ideological basis alone. It is instead as much coerced as voluntary. In effect, what happened in Kashmir can be seen against a narrative framework in which the two belligerents – India and Pakistan – were wrestling over who would dominate the society. It can be hazarded from the manner Islamists conduct themselves elsewhere that had the proxy fighters gained the upper hand, Kashmiris would be much more imposed upon than. In effect, Indian security forces – though they have much to answer for as the report brings out – also have provided a service of keeping Islamism out from Kashmir. It is na├»ve to believe that Kashmiri nationalism or Kashmiriyat would have survived their arrival.
Since we are on a counter factual trip, it can also be recorded that in such a case the 170 million Muslim Indians in rest of India would have faced the brunt of an implacable Hindutva, feeding on ‘yet another’ Muslim ‘secession’. Vajpayee having Dilip Kumar make this point to Nawaz Sharif in a telephone conversation in Kargil War is an example of the manner Kashmir and India’s minority are intertwined. The second dimension of successful secession or short of it is in the demonstration effect on other ethnicities in India making similar demands. This is a non-trivial prospect. India has potential to be reduced to an African or Balkans scenario in short order. Therefore, there is a case for it to use force. As to whether that force can be measured and respectful of the laws of war is to be seen. The report merely brings out that it was not. It can be argued that India could have done better, but not by much.
This is important to bring out to address the second, perhaps more important, issue the report addresses: ‘Where is the control? The driving motivation of this exercise is, as has always been: Responsibility. Who do we hold responsible for the individual and collected acts of violence?’ The report, though it concentrates on the actors on the ground, addresses this by making clear that the impunity of perpetrators and responsibility for the structures was that of the government. For instance, Advani’s visit to Kashmir in wake of the Panchaltan killings was intended to push under the carpet the massacre at Chhittisingpora, itself designed as a ‘black operation’ to implicate Pakistan in influencing Clinton’s mind during his South Asia visit.  
The report’s ground level focus leaves out the higher echelons that alternatively blessed, connived, allowed and ‘looked the other way’. This cannot be restricted to the military or paramilitary hierarchy, but must include the bureaucrats and the political levels. No bureaucrat resigned, though at least one former bureaucrat presents himself in seminar rooms as the lead whistle blower in the Kunan Poshpora case, thereby unwittingly increasing its long standing propaganda value for one side of the narrative. The governors in the period, with military and intelligence backgrounds, cannot be expected to have done anything differently.  Politicians through the nineties were inattentive, collusive and in the case of Advani’s stewardship in the NDA period active participants. Society in India was in the throes of an LPG induced economic frenzy and a political lurch to the right. Under this circumstance, imagining that alternative measures in Kashmir were at all possible is illusory.
A critique of the legalistic and human rights up front approach that informs the report cannot but bring in politics and the context. Doing so is not to denigrate the report or effort. It is to ensure that the report goes further than it would otherwise go. How to make it palatable to those who need to see it? Relying on New Delhi would be to be innocent of politics. The ruling party was there at the helm earlier. Since nothing in its agenda suggests that it is out to ‘resolve’ Kashmir any time soon, it would not disown an instrument that it might have to resort to itself. The judicial system, that moves glacially, at the best of times, is not about to change: witness the cases related to Gujarat pogrom. The liberals are already in the midst of a fight for their lives: against rampant Hindutva.
The report has already made an important contribution in allowing space to the victims, their families and witnesses to voice their story. It ensures that the ‘lived’ experience of Kashmiris is captured, and history, currently being rewritten in the rest of India, cannot erase the Kashmiri narrative of pain endured inflicted by a state that was supposed to be protecting it. The report will serve as the take off point for initiatives, possibly a decade away, by when India would have seen the back of Hindutva. That’s when perhaps it will make the desired difference. For the moment the middle classes looked the other way when all this was happening in Kashmir. They are currently politically more consequential and looking at an economic promise.
Obviously, leaving it to the future is not enough. A report such as this must be made to go further and in the moment. One area is in an appeal to the military to take its content seriously. Since the paramilitary are doctrinally challenged, for no fault of their own, but that they come under the home ministry and are run by the IPS cadre not particularly known for intellectual integrity, this report would not find any takers there. That leaves the military. Even in this, the report cannot be ambitious.
A military that prides itself on professionalism should be hassled that it has not followed through on cases where its own army commander said it would, for instance the Lolab killings of 2004. It should be worried that a person named in the report for alleged sexual violations is currently in the NCC that has Girls battalions. It cannot overlook the fact that an officer named in connection with a massacre that  left a score dead gains an award  in the same year, and goes on to  win a second a few years on, the latter with privilege of free train travel lifelong. Such officers, even if not shown the door, should have been ‘fixed’ in military parlance. If a quick google search can bring forth such information, surely the military’s personnel branch and care for spoken reputation must be able to forewarn it better.
It is clear from the report that there was a command environment that accepted - nay encouraged – transgression with the excuse of aggressive junior leaders with initiative. What appears neglected was appropriate oversight of such ‘aggressive’ officers. It is also clear that the military has under the changed indices of violence changed its ways. What the military needs ask itself is should the situation recur or be witnessed elsewhere, say in Nagaland, would it resort to similar means, such as for instance the discredited strategy of using turned militants. Besides such doctrinal questions, it also needs to rethink its input to the political leadership. Instead of soto voce suggesting a ‘political solution’, as chiefs ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan onwards rightly have, when will it thump the table or recommend limited war instead of being parasitical for an indeterminate duration on an Indian ethno-social group? Can it be inferred from the report that it was nursing its institutional interest using Kashmir as opportunity, quite like the Pakistan army? Does this account for its mantra 'AFSPA'? A professional military should be engaging with such questions post conflict.
The report does need airing outside Kashmir and among the usual (liberal) suspects. It is unlikely it will get the forum in ‘mainland’ India, until the electorate is disenchanted with the LPG and its current champion Mr. Modi. It is then India will revert to rethinking what it wishes to be and how from its current vision of being the next superpower.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Why Ramchandra Guha speaks too soon

Ramchandra Guha makes a case for not being ‘nostalgic about undivided India’. He argues that, ‘Had there been an undivided India, the percentage of Muslims would have been closer to 33%, or one in three. The demographic balance would have been more delicate; and prone to being exploited by sectarians on either side.’
Assuming that religious wars have been avoided by the percentage of Indian Muslims being reduced to ‘13% of the population, or one in seven’, he concludes that, ‘the cold logic of history suggests that things would have been far worse for us if Partition had not occurred.’
Since his is a counter factual case, refuting his case is as futile as it is easy.
Nevertheless, it can be argued conversely that had the percentage of the largest religious minority – the subcontinent’s Muslims – remained at about one third, there would have been an element of deterrence in the demographic balance. Guha’s apprehension of a communal bloodbath would then not arise.
In any case, precedent setting Partition would not have occurred and eddies from it would not have persisted through time. The resulting peace could have been used, just as it has been in India as brought out by Guha, for democracy and development for all of South Asia.
Guha exaggerates the problem integrating the 500 princely states posed. Sardar Patel dispatched them into history within a couple of years of independence. That would have been so even in case of undivided India, with the Nizam – possibly the only one to hold out – similarly packed off. Since contiguity would have decided the case for the rest, Kashmir would not have emerged as a bone of contention since.
As a historian Guha should really have been wary of venturing into international relations. To him, India has been spared the frontline status that Pakistan has acquired. This owes to Pakistan lending its strategic location for the purposes of a superpower through the Cold War and in the war on terror. In case Pakistan was part of India, this would not have been so. An undivided India, not warring internally and with greater military, political and moral might, could have kept its periphery peaceful. 
It is not as readily apparent that South Asia is better off divided. Worse, we may yet mourn the passing of an undivided India.
Guha is right in caveating his point that ‘India is not — or at least not yet — a Hindu Pakistan.’ ‘Not yet’ alright, but unfortunately India appears well on its way to becoming one. Guha’s other writings suggests that this possibility has not escaped him. His summary dismissal of Akhand Bharat is on this score a tad too early.  
In an understatement, Guha’s writes, ‘Religious and ethnic violence have not entirely abated’. There has been no bout of religious violence this decade of the order of those that punctuated previous decades: Bhagalpur in the eighties, Babri Masjid demolition aftermath in the nineties and the Gujarat pogrom in the 2000s.
But structural violence based on religious majoritarianism has served as an equally effective substitute. Muslims are remarkable for their absence in office spaces, shared apartment blocks and the military, from the middle classes and from assemblies and the parliament.  
With the demographic balance disrupted by Partition, Hindutvavadis have had a field day on India’s vulnerable minority over the past quarter century. And in doing so have succeeded in manufacturing an electoral constituency, a ‘Hindu vote bank’. So much so that Mr. Modi in refusing to wear a cap that serves as a Muslim identity marker reveals that he does not feel the need to even genuflect towards Muslims.
With minorities better represented it would be difficult for ideological penetration of institutions and of India’s security agencies. India’s Muslims now do not have the comfort of physical security and psychological security in greater numbers of an undivided India.
From the point of view of liberal Hindus, their higher percentage could have served to preserve India from a possible, and certainly problematic, future as ‘Hindu India’. With the prime minister even overshadowing one worthy predecessor, Indira Gandhi, to the extent of provoking a grim warning from Hindutva lion heart Advani of a turn to authoritarianism, to some liberals, India is potentially on the road to ‘soft fascism’.  
Here democracy is increasingly liable to be mistaken for majoritarianism. Modi’s Chanakya, the National Security Adviser, Mr. Doval, speaking on ‘Security, Statecraft and Conflict of Values’, provides a clue.
On the surface what he gives out is unexceptionable: that the majority democratically arrived decides how to exercise power and does so in a constitutionally bound manner in accord with its perception of the national interest.
The problems are, one, in the gauging of the ‘national interest’ and, two, in the adherence to constitutional parameters. The perennial problem remains: who will guard the guardians.
On thinking on national interest, Tarun Vijay, a leading propagandist, has it that Independence was not merely from British colonialists but also from preceding, namely Muslim, rulers and a second independence is in overthrowing current day opponents of the ruling regime.
Internal authoritarianism can only prompt external expansionism. Only, India has a nuclear power with Islamism at its door step. Mr. Dowal lets on that there can be ‘no compromise’ in the use of force where ‘national interest’ is at stake. He has a millennial notion of this, encompassing both past generations and future.
Perhaps Akhand Bharat – democratically and peacefully arrived at - is the direction South Asia must now move. It can checkmate both extremisms that in mirroring each other are indeed one of a kind.
This is not a novel idea. For millennia, India’s enlightened rulers have exerted to unify the subcontinent, a geographic unit into a single strategic and civilisational space.
Regional groupings are the trend across the world; witness EU that brought together rivals UK, France and Germany. South Asia has the SAARC for starters. A negotiated beginning is the next step.
Such visualization is akin to but reverses the divisive vision in Cambridge at which the two nation theory got its impetus. Doing so would make India whole again.

Friday, September 04, 2015

What is really driving India’s Pakistan strategy?

Manoj Joshi is perplexed by India’s Pakistan strategy. 
Though Joshi is right about India’s inability to effect a ‘favourable transformation in the behaviour of its adversaries through a mix of strategies’, he misreads the government’s intent. This misreading leads to his otherwise sustainable critique of the government’s Pakistan strategy.
This is the problem with most of the commentary that has attended the recent calling-off of talks for a second time in two years between the two nuclear-armed adversaries.
To begin by being charitable to the government, it can be argued that if the strategy requiring ‘patience and stamina’ has been tried  out since Rajiv Gandhi’s times, as pointed out by Joshi, and it has evidently not worked, it would not be sensible to persist with it.
This can plausibly explain India’s hard power approach to Pakistan involving largely its military and possibly its intelligence instruments. The strategy is to condition the military-intelligence dominated power structure in Pakistan with the explicit message that its ‘terror by proxy’ strategy will not work.
Simultaneously, India has networked with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif twice over – once in an invite to New Delhi last year and this time round in Ufa, indicating its willingness to attend the SAARC summit in Pakistan due next year. In doing so it is holding out an economic carrot to Pakistan’s business-commercial constituency.
Such a strategy is plausible in the conservative-realist framework of strategic thinking. Critiques that originate in the liberal-rationalist and the leftist-radical perspectives cannot but find fault with the strategy.
The differing strategic perspectives rely on different security referents – whether state centric or people centric - and consequently assign different weights to the instruments of state power: economic, political-diplomatic, military and intelligence and soft-cultural. These critiques can at best establish that India’s strategy is wrong-headed in its choice of referent, favoured instrument and strategy.
Whether it is also a wrong one can only be gauged using its very own coordinates, its rationale from within its perspective. Can it be argued that the strategy is wrong in the conservative-realist logic?
In a lecture delivered before he assumed his current position, the National Security Adviser Ajit Doval had indicated his preference for a ‘defensive offence’ strategy. From the choice of three – defensive, defensive offence and offensive – he favours the second. Assuming that Doval, now that he has spent a year in the chair as NSA, has put his strategy into operation, India’s declared strategic doctrine can be said to be one of ‘defensive  offence’.
What should ‘defensive offence’ look like for India and does this match what India professes?
Firstly, ‘defensive offence’ was long abandoned by India in favour of deterrence at the next rung. India has since moved away from ‘deterrence by denial’, based on a strong defence and counter offensive capability. It has in this century switched to ‘deterrence by punishment’ with a shift to the ‘proactive’ and offensive conventional doctrine – the proactive strategy that is also called ‘Cold Start’ - and in its nuclear doctrine promises ‘massive’ nuclear punitive retaliation.
Since the new government fancies itself as distinct from its predecessor in its reliance and adeptness in the use of force, it cannot also be said that there is continuity in India’s strategic doctrine. The previous NSA Shivshankar Menon’s speeches suggested a liberal orientation, conveying its strategic doctrine of offensive deterrence. Since this government prides itself on being more aggressive, it is, therefore, not in the ‘defensive offence’ portion of the continuum as it imagines, but in the offensive part of it.
The offensive diplomatic action in cutting off talks twice over suggest as much. The government’s boast on its first anniversary was that it has cleared Rs 160 lakh crores worth of defence projects. Both the NSA and the defence minister have obliquely hinted at intelligence operations underway. At the level of ideation, military history is being rewritten – even to the extent of projecting what is widely regarded as a draw, the 1965 War, as a victory!
In other words, India is not on the ‘defensive offence’ as Doval puts it, but closer to compellence.
Two problems follow. One, India’s delusional self-image that is distinct from reality is likely leading it to launch actions that could prove counter-productive, since compelling a nuclear power is ambitious and risky. The second is in the impulse that is leading to such actions.
The impulse for such an ambitious undertaking cannot merely be ‘strategic’, defined in terms of an ‘ends-means balance’. It is instead grander, millennial. The well springs of this are not in rational strategy but in ideology, specifically that of cultural nationalism.
It is the marriage of cultural nationalism and hyper-nationalism that nests at the far edge of the conservative-realist perspective that best explains India’s Pakistan strategy. Therefore, strategic rationality cannot explain India’s actions such as cutting off of talks a second time round. Most commentators err in assuming this is so, making the prescriptions redundant.
Recognising that India’s new security paradigm is one of offensive-compellence is a precursor to bringing strategic rationality back into India’s security calculus.