John Lancaster’s terrorist sympathies

Its the turn of Washington Post to advocate succumbing to terrorists

Headlined “In Kashmir, Abuses Bruise Hopes for Peace”, John Lancaster’s report in the Washington Post starts with a story of a doctor in a Kashmiri village who alleged that he was brutally tortured by Indian security forces. Using this story as a backdrop, Lancaster goes on to question the Indian government’s sincerity on moving the peace process forward.

The fault, according to Lancaster, is India’s insistence on holding General Musharraf to his (unkept) promises of putting a stop to jihadi terrorism in Kashmir. That a ‘peace process’ can go ahead even as jihadi terrorists continue their violent campaign is a contradiction in terms.

Another example of the article’s anti-India bias – India’s insistence on a passport for passengers on the bus between Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. He conveniently forgets to mention that this proposal was first put forward by India and it was Pakistan that brought in the issue of travel-documents.

The article goes on to describe a gruesome account of torture, but only scratches the surface on the suspects’ links.

After being arrested on Aug. 4, Mir said, he was taken to an interrogation center in Srinagar and accused of giving money to a militant group. Mir acknowledged that he might have done so inadvertently; a few weeks before the arrest, he said, a stranger in a suit and tie dropped by his clinic and asked him to hold a bag of cash for one of Mir’s patients. Mir said he thought little of the request at the time but later learned that the patient had been arrested for working with the militants.

“They said, ‘You must be a middleman,’ ” he recalled of his interrogators, whom he identified as members of the Jammu and Kashmir police. [Washington Post]

That itself suggests a potential involvement, sufficient enough for investigation. The methods used by investigators, of course, were quite unsuitable to be mentioned in polite conversation. But while Lancaster shows no lack of verbosity in describing the torture, he is not quite that enthusiastic to leave the question of guilt unaddressed.

As hard as he tries to portray the suffering of the tortured innocent, it is hard not to conclude that John Lancaster’s sympathies lie firmly with terrorists and their supporters.

19 thoughts on “John Lancaster’s terrorist sympathies”

  1. I have to say, I don’t see any terrorist sympathies here as such. Okay the article doesn’t take a pro-India stance but that is fine with me; we aren’t children that we need everyone to love us and everything that we do. What bothers me is the fact that you seem to think that the reasonable suspicion of guilt in some way lessens the opprobrium attached to the use of physical torture. Not only do I think this is morally reprehensible and legally wrong but it is also even from a realpolitik point of view unwise and counter-productive. Nobody is asking for a hugs-and-kisses interrogation or investigation but torturing Indian citizens, even if they are guilty of such associations is in my view an abhorrent practise.

  2. I agree.
    Physical torture is a line civility canoot cross and yet retain its dignity.
    I would never advocate physical torture of people – any coercion that l;eaves permanent marks on the body. US techniques like sleep deprivation, intensive emetics etc can be studies.
    Best thing would be a foolproof truth serum. That would [put an end to a lot of trouble and pain in the world (and I daresay also, lawyer’s revenues!)

  3. Actually, a smart strategy in any COIN scenario will tell you pretty quickly that the insurgents can’t win if they don’t have the support of the local populace. The history of the 20th century has indicated that social mobilisation on this scale, particularly when blended with any form of nationalist sentiment, has never been defeated by purely military means. This is what I meant by the fact that torture is not only morally repugnant, it is also politically counter-productive as it undermines the legitimacy of the state. Unless one wants to live in a military state (and some people clearly do) this is an ineffective policy.

    Also I did two tours in Kashmir as part of my army service, I saw and did many things. I don’t need any lectures on the nature of the enemy that we face or on what to stomach. These are things that I know only too well. All I will say is that this kind of behaviour has a severely negative effect both on the morale of the troops involved, the chain of command and on unit discipline, it effectively degrades the battle-capabilities of any military and corrodes its professionalism. You want an example, just look over the border to Pakistan, where the Army does behave this way. There is a reason why the Pakistani army tends to come off worse in its engagements with the Indian military; differences in military professionalism and institutionalised self-discipline play a large role in this gap of performance.

  4. Conrad,

    Let’s take that case. I’m afraid I dont have any more details than in the article, but even that suggests that there is sufficient ground to suspect some hanky-panky on behalf of the good doctor.

    More generally, not everyone burned on a stake was a saint. Although the act of burning itself could end up raising them to sainthood in the eyes of the people. Not everyone tortured is innocent.

    I fully agree with what you mentioned in your second paragraph. Putting the army on counter-insurgency duties within our own borders can blunt its fighting edge; but if the major threat to security is coming from insurgents, then it is plain that the armed forces must be re-focused towards this challenge. As I’ve posted on this blog, many of the problems we have are because we are trying to plug a square peg in a round hole.

    No, a civilised nation cannot subject suspects or guilty to inhuman torture. Every single act of torture is illegal and is clearly wrong. Indians in general condemn them. Led by similar sentiments, the new government is on its way to repeal the anti-terror legislation even at the cost of losing a powerful weapon against terrorism. But John Lancaster is silent about all this. Just writing about the torture and nothing about the way it is seen by Indian civil society is plainly biased.

    There is no moral equivalence between terrorists and victims of terror. My favourite phrase for this is chemotherapy hurts, but cancer kills. Without malignant cancer, no one would go in for damaging chemotherapy. But once cancer is detected, it would be rather silly to avoid chemotherapy just because it hurts too. John Lancaster is guilty of sympathising with terrorists because he makes it appear that the chemotherapy is going on for its own sake. It is not.

  5. I don’t care who did what and where,

    Explicit statements of ignorance, aren’t exactly reassuring. Also less free with the ‘we’ please; whoever will be cleaning up the mess in Kashmir, it won’t be you.

  6. Nitin,

    I am sorry I didn’t see your reply initially and so overlooked its response.

    My points are slightly different – I am actually not interested in whether people tortured are guilty or not or have associations with underground organisations or not. This to me is a peripheral issue and I am suspicious of people who bring this up; simply because torture is simply an incorrect method – who it is being practised on, makes little difference to me. You might remember that the Brits tried this trick on various revolutionary organisations during our own national-liberation struggle – it didn’t have the desired effect then and it won’t change if we start going around indulging in this now.

    Re: the army COIN, well this kind of warfare is a war of attrition not a war of manoeuvre so we understand that we have to settle in for the long haul. The problem is twofold, however, some people seem to think that fighting a COIN war means changing the rules of warfare completely or worse throwing them out the window – this is deeply mistaken. They may need to be adapted but anybody who tries the former approach will be on a road to disaster. I want us to win out COIN wars as well; but some of the idiotic approaches suggested by others will lead us to being defeated. Secondly, we need to realise that only a political solution can be the final arbitrator of a settlement, a military option plays a role but can only go so far. As I said earlier wanton and indiscriminate use of force will be self-defeating, as no army or state in the world can stand against a mass-based political movement for long. I want to avoid any repeat of what Pakistan had to go through in 1971 with Bangladesh – quite clearly some people want the reverse – and I mean those who are suggesting inane strategies here on how to deal with counter-insurgency.

    No, a civilised nation cannot subject suspects or guilty to inhuman torture. Every single act of torture is illegal and is clearly wrong. Indians in general condemn them. Led by similar sentiments, the new government is on its way to repeal the anti-terror legislation even at the cost of losing a powerful weapon against terrorism.

    I think I would differ from you here. The problem is that all civilised nations do subject suspects to this kind of torture and treatment and states have a natural tendency to behave this way unless they are restrained by their citizens and civil society. I would also like to believe you about Indian civil society and its attitudes but I am afraid that I don’t. There are and always will be a vocal and courageous minority who speak out and condemn these practises – but they are just that a minority. Unfortunately the majority of Indians are either in the dark or unconcerned and worse some, seem to approve of and condone these actions. If Indians in general did condemn these actions in the way you describe – we would be living in a very different country. As it is the few who do, are invariably dubbed as ‘anti-national’ or ‘terrorist sympathisers’ or some sort of leftist liberals. As for POTA if it actually did any good in catching or preventing terrorists, giving it up would be a real loss; but like its precursor it was widely abused and unnecessary as what we need is not more draconian legislation but better enforcement and intelligence capabilities; not tools for the political regime of the day to lock up its opponents or scapegoats.

    But John Lancaster is silent about all this. Just writing about the torture and nothing about the way it is seen by Indian civil society is plainly biased.

    I don’t know anything about Lancaster, but the view that Indian civil society has by en large failed in Kashmir is not a new one and is held by several HR organisations and perceptive observers ranging from academics to civil rights lawyers. I remain largely agnostic on this issue simply because, I don’t think Indian Civil society is a success anywhere much; one only needs to see the behaviour of our police whether it is in backward districts of UP or Delhi to see this. It is not surprising that policing methods are what they are in places like Kashmir or the NE; I get irritated when some activists try and castigate me about this, such as the latest outrage in Kashmir and then expect me to get excited about it. My reaction is of course it is wrong, but it is hardly some special animus towards any specific region, brutality here is rife whether we are talking about the police in Bihar or AP; it is a little bit odd to expect things to change in a conflict-ridden environment such as Kashmir. We need improvement across the board and there is no reason for it not to happen. Unfortunately, the response from civil society as a whole has been disappointing – when it ceases to be so, the state will change its behaviour.

    There is no moral equivalence between terrorists and victims of terror. My favourite phrase for this is chemotherapy hurts, but cancer kills. Without malignant cancer, no one would go in for damaging chemotherapy. But once cancer is detected, it would be rather silly to avoid chemotherapy just because it hurts too.

    Of course there is no moral equivalence between terrorists and victims of terror – I can’t seriously think of anybody who would dispute this. Where the problem arises is over the problem of state terrorism and those who practise it and here there is a question of equivalence to be addressed – especially when such violence is condoned by both sides. Also I think the analogy while fair is incomplete – some people do refuse chemotherapy because they do see it in terms of slow death and killing where the cure is worse than the disease. Personally, I would disagree with this but then I have never been through cancer nor do I know anybody who has close to me so I can’t say.

    John Lancaster is guilty of sympathising with terrorists because he makes it appear that the chemotherapy is going on for its own sake. It is not.

    I really disagree with this statement and what it implies; after just having said that torture is wrong and can’t be justified et al. you are now basically saying that it is necessary and that someone who objects to it is sympathising with terrorism. Look it is quite simple; either you believe torture is justified or you don’t; everything that I have seen and thought about has led me to believe that it isn’t. If one disagrees with this then that is fine, but one should say so and be clear about instead of claiming that all civilised nations condemn it and that civil society wouldn’t stand for it and then a few lines later compare it with life-saving chemotherapy. This is a bad faith argument, I am afraid and shouldn’t be used. As for Lancaster, I don’t see where he says torture is going on for its own sake, it is quite clear that there are terrorists and there is a COIN war going on, this is not denied anywhere. Just because he doesn’t preface it with a long history of jihadi terrorism to extract sympathy for the Indian side, doesn’t make him bias or invalidate what he does say. Indian citizens can expect the due process of law and the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution; this is very simple and it is the standard we have set ourselves. I am not going to complain when other people come in and start judging us and our actions by these very same standards. I don’t know how much you know about Kashmir and what is happening there but such cases and HR violations are not by any means abnormal or the exception. I certainly reject Pakistani propaganda that we are running around wantonly killing civilians; this is simply fantasy. But problems do exist and need to be addressed – which they are not at the moment; either by the state or by civil society and recognising that this is the case is the first step towards doing so.

  7. For those who value money over peoples’ lives, that seems a fair way of accounting; since I don’t I am not going to accept it. The war in Kashmir and other insurgency scenarios will be won not by infusions of cash, as if it were this easy, the crores of rupees spent would have delivered us victory long ago; but by smart political strategies, effective military tactics and economic development. None of which have been very much forthcoming unfortunately for us.

    I am also less than impressed with middle-class pieties about taxation contributions to the nations’ defence; given the way budgets are financed in India, these are a small proportion of revenue; the main sources are indirect taxes, market borrowing and an inflation-tax. All of which are highly regressive forms of taxation, hitting the lowest income earners the hardest. With the disparities in sectoral growth over the last decade the sections that have benefited the most seem to spend an inordinate time in tax evasion, if the size of our Black economy is anything to go by.

    Frankly, I would be more impressed if you kept your money and volunteered physcially instead. It would probably make more of a real contribution as well.

  8. Mr. Barwa:

    I disagree with your take on the WaPo article by John Lancaster. However, I wish to preface with thanks for your service in the Indian Army in J&K.

    Briefly, sir, I think you read Mr. Lancaster’s article too literally. It’s important to take both text and subtext into account when judging this (or any other) newspaper article. This much, I am sure, you find reasonable (of course, if I’m wrong, you’ll let me know ).

    Mr. Lancaster’s story does, indeed, mention the context of the J&K CI-OPS. However, it’s done only in passing. The story’s focus is on the alleged torture of this physician. It’s not that incovenient facts (to those enamored of the ‘freedom’ movement in J&K) are omitted by Mr. Lancaster. He is far too good a reporter to indulge in that sort of chicanery. No, Mr. Lancaster glosses over such facts.

    Witness his risible acceptance of the good doctor’s ‘explanation’ of the reasons for his arrest/interrogation. Anyone with a modicum of sense ought to see how much that story ‘smells’ of (poor) rationalization by the doctor.

    More generally, I find that reporters (at least those from the ‘quality’ papers) rarely indulge in fabrication. Rather, the bias comes in the stories chosen to be reported and the manner in which such reporting is done. For example, very few Western reporters detail the plight of vicitims of terrorism in J&K.

    I also think you undersestimate the vibrancy of Indian civil society. The proposed withdrawal of POTA, for example, ought not to be brushed away as inconsequential. It is, after all, a response to one section of the Indian electorate.

    Kumar

  9. Conrad,

    Are we two blind men of Hindustan, each touching a different part of the elephant and thinking that the whole elephant looks like the small part we are holding? For I seem to think that Indian civil society is too soft. Mainstream media, movies and press usually highlights the many failing and excesses of the government. The cops, usually, are the bad guys.

    I digress, but witness the outrage over the death penalty, Indian civil society forgot that Dhananjoy Chakraborty actually raped and brutally killed a small, defenseless girl, who he was actually supposed to protect (he was a security guard). He was given his chances to appeal and the due legal process was carried out. But that was too wrong for the conscience keepers of the nation. Thangjam Manorama Devi was killed in custody, and Indian civil society is almost lynching the soldiers before they are even fully tried.

    That Indian civil society may not always succeed in its objectives is another matter. For better or for worse, it is not always successful in its campaigns, but that does not mean it does not exist. Nor does it mean India’s civil society campaigners are a vocal minority.

    No, I think Indian civil society is alive and well. Unfortunately, its response is always too sentimental and lofty-softy. There are many in this world who are too ready to see and exploit this as a weakness.

  10. Nitin:

    I agree with your analysis of the scale of Indian civil society. I would further speculate that its ‘sentimentality’ is perhaps the reason for its relative lack of influence. I mean to say that there is no systematic attempt to work out the sometimes conflicting imperatives of national security and civil liberties.

    Kumar

  11. Hi Conrad,
    I agree with what you said here. Torture and similar methods may seem like short cuts that promise quick results, but although, like a drug, they may give you some short term victories, their main effect is to embitter the populace and turn them against you.
    Look at the French Army in Algeria in the 1950s. Torture did help the French “win” the Battle of Algiers in 1957, but, the “victory” was only tactical. It did not change the Arab majority’s wishes to be independent and when the news drifted back to France over the next year or so about how the French Army was using methods in Algeria that were hard to distinguish from what the Germans had used in their recent occupation of France, would result in the beginning of the French population turning against the Algerian War.
    As you said, to adapot and execute an effective counter insurgency plan requires much thought, change, and above all patience. It is an operation that will take years to produce results and yes, even then there will have to be some sort of political solution.
    Questions 1) You mention the Pakistani Army being less able militarly then the Indian Army due to their degradation caused by the Pakistani’s brutal practices. Is another cause also that the Pakistani military spends much of its time running the country, which means being political, instead of military?
    2) You mention the Indian police in general, tend to be brutal. How brutal are they. Is it like the police in American cities were 40, 50 years ago when interogation practices like bright lights, sleep deprivation, (the second degree), beatings,(as long as they did not leave any visible injury, the third degree) were winked at by the legal system and society in general. Is that what Indian police are allowed to do today? More so? less?

  12. I apologise for the delay in responding here but time constraints prevented from coming back sooner:

    Shikar,

    You are correct in locating the differences in our thinking but there also another additional angle – I don’t think the use of torture will save any lives at all – civilian or military. We are there to protect the citizenry above all, not to privilege the existence of the security forces; this isn’t a foreign country we are occupying so we can’t treat the people as some sort of alien body with no rights. We would just be the same as the Americans in Iraq otherwise. Secondly, almost all studies and researches on torture have shown that the ‘ticking bomb’ excuse and justification for torture is a false one and there are hardly any cases of torture actually being used for this ends. It is primarily a means of demoralisation, alternative warfare and intelligence extraction on tactical and logistical information that should be acquired through other means. The concrete examples of torture actually saving lives is so low, I don’t think anybody can make a reasonable case for it being instituted as a regular practise. In anycase, this is not how it has been used in most COIN scenarios. Lastly, the war in Kashmir and other such theatres is as much a war of ideas as it is of weapons, and we are in danger of losing the former unlike the latter. There is no serious threat that any terrorist organisation can credibly hope to defeat the Indian state through sheer force of arms – no such group has this power; what they aim to do instead is to undermine the legitimacy of Indian rule in the eyes of the local population, eliminate the extension of Indian nationalism to the local citizen body and subvert the rule of Law and Order upon which political stability rests. In these conditions, terrorist and other organisations that challenge the monopoly of the state on the means of violence thrive; once the state decides to explicitly abandon these safeguards and imitate the methods of the terrorists, then it effectively reduces itself to their level.

    Kumar,

    I did not read the first page of the WaPo article as it required a registration and I wanted to avoid doing so since I don’t like the US print dailies, finding them too one-sided. However, after your comment, I went and registered and read the full article and I have to say I stand by my initial points; unlike Nitin I cannot see any terrorist sympathies with the correspondent. I agree about your points about the context et al. but the Lancaster article is not un-balanced in most of the points covered: he accepts pretty much the Indian narrative of J&K’s accession and integration into India, he states clearly that Cross-border-terrorism is occurring from Pakistan – a claim which you will note, it was with only some difficulty that we got the US to even acknowledge as fact, before they decided to allocate the status or ‘major non-NATO ally’ to their client in Islamabad and he even goes on to state that things are improving since the last state elections in Kashmir. It is reasonable that in an article about the rise of abuses by Indian security forces, he is not going to spend a lot of time praising them or the Indian state, as such he quote C. Raja Mohan, a hawkish security analyst on the recent peace process to my surprise and notes the progress of negotiations and moves towards them by both states. I do agree there are some problems with his article in that he seems to think that the failure to release militants already imprisoned or the non-cessation of major combat operations by the Indian state is a sign of bad faith – I disagree here, as until there is a durable and sustainable cease-fire the issue of releasing any convicted as opposed to suspected militants from prison shouldn’t even arise and the last couple of unilateral cease-fires by the Indian side all ended in disaster, the NDA’s Ramadan one being a spectacular bungle in terms of the absolute non-compliance by the jihadists. These were reasonable criticisms to make of Lancaster’s article, but even they don’t mean that he somehow has terrorist sympathies; merely that his analysis and judgement is flawed – not exactly an unusual occurrence for American journalists covering foreign affairs as recent events have shown.

    Witness his risible acceptance of the good doctor’s ‘explanation’ of the reasons for his arrest/interrogation. Anyone with a modicum of sense ought to see how much that story ’smells’ of (poor) rationalization by the doctor.

    My point is not the guilt or the innocence of the Doctor, my point was that the treatment given to him was illegal and counter-productive as well as wrong and that it served no useful purpose – unless some great terrorist plot was foiled by way of anything extracted from the doctor during the interrogations. The wider point I am making is that this is a slippery slope and once we start to overlook how the state can treat different categories of people in an arbitrary fashion; not only will this treatment and attitude spread but that it will not go against achieving the very aims they are meant to reach.

    I also think you undersestimate the vibrancy of Indian civil society. The proposed withdrawal of POTA, for example, ought not to be brushed away as inconsequential. It is, after all, a response to one section of the Indian electorate.

    I don’t think it is inconsequential but I do think it is mostly symbolic. The problem in India has never been one of inadequate legislation to deal with various issues, whether developmental, anti-terrorist or relating to the public sphere; it has been the deficit in willpower and the capability to implement and enforce these laws and regulations that has been lacking. This is what Gunnar Myrdal meant when he called India a ‘soft state’, the state is soft – but only towards those who are able to insulate themselves against its strictures and who occupy a dominant position in the society as a whole. An analogy can be the recent tragedy of the schoolchildren killed in TamilNad in the fire that erupted in their informal school; clearly fire regulations and building standards were completely violated and ignored in flagrant disregard for safety and life-preservation in allowing such a structure to be erected and maintained the way it was. Following the predictable outrage some steps were taken to show people that something was being done, but soon the uproar will die down and it will be business as usual. We have seen this story before in periodic such instances like the Uphaar Cinema blaze and the in the wake of the Gujarat earthquake and little seems to change beyond the short-term. POTA itself, I think is an ineffective tool and is mainly a political PR exercise carried out in this bidding war to show that indeed, the State is a ‘hard’ and not ‘soft’ one; but the problem is that the difference between these two qualities lies not the amount or severity of the legislation enacted but in how well it is implemented and the capabilities of the State agencies to do so. This is a mammoth task and would require a substantial overhaul of both personnel and resources by any administration – which is why it is much easier to derive short-term political capital from promulgating draconian legislation, rather than substantive structural reform. It also has the added attraction of providing a useful tool against potential opponents or other inconvenient figures for the ruling administrations of the day.

    Nitin,

    Are we two blind men of Hindustan, each touching a different part of the elephant and thinking that the whole elephant looks like the small part we are holding? For I seem to think that Indian civil society is too soft. Mainstream media, movies and press usually highlights the many failing and excesses of the government. The cops, usually, are the bad guys.

    Not really; it is just that we have differing standards of how civil society should behave and our observations are different. Having served in Kashmir and the NE (in Assam and Nagaland) I have seen things from a different point of view than someone in the metropolitan centres of India. Most ex-soldiers would agree with me, on the actual occurrences on the ground, though their conclusions would probably go down a different direction. As for the mainstream media, I completely disagree with you; I don’t know what movies you are talking about; as far as the portrayal of conflict goes the Army is idealised very heavily in films from Border to LoC and what I would call the orthodox nationalist narrative is very much reaffirmed. Sure there might be some questioning and dissonance but this is all located within a broader picture where the benevolence and general goodness of the state and its forces are well established. The only exception are the police – and here is the only case where negative portrayals abound, with good reason; since the average Indian experiences through his daily contact with the police what they are really like and no illusions can be put in place here. Even in this case though, so many of the movies have the hero battling the ‘evil/corrupt policeman’ and delivering justice only for the latter to be removed and the forces of law and order to realise their mistake and enact real justice. One only needs to go into a police station in Delhi or anywhere in UP to see the reality for yourself; some of the behaviour I have seen in these places is truly mind-boggling in its casual disregard for discipline, integrity or justice.

    Re: Dhananjoy Chakraborty, I wasn’t in India when this happened so I will take your word for it; on the other hand I spoke to several people including a couple of bureaucrats, politicians and even leaders from women’s organisations and they all insisted that the execution must go ahead; one women is a prominent political and minister in a state government even told that she would throw herself under the wheels of the police van carrying him, if the sentence wasn’t carried out! Strong stuff, indeed. My own position is that I oppose the death penalty; I realise that this is something over which there is disagreement but I feel strongly on this as I am sure that pro-capital punishment people do as well. This a political and moral debate which should be conducted separately but none of the organisations or voices raised on this issue disputed Dhananjoy’s guilt, it was simply the method of punishment that was debated – personally I think death is an easy option and life internment without the possibility or release is far more exacting but there you go.

    Thangjam Manorama Devi was killed in custody, and Indian civil society is almost lynching the soldiers before they are even fully tried.

    I can’t see how anybody is being lynched – the circumstances of her killing need to be investigated. It should also be fairly straightforward to determine whether she was raped or not, using modern forensics techniques. If this was indeed the case, then things do not look good. We can no longer say after incidents such as the collective rapes at Shopia and Konan Poshpura that these events do not occur and the laxness in the investigation by the authorities has severely undermined the confidence of citizens in the states’ ability to rein in those in the security forces who run amok. The Governor of Kashmir at the time General (retd.) Girish Saxena denied these incidents but later went onto admit that mass rapes has indeed occurred in the past. Certainly faith in the conditions of custodial detention has declined rapidly both amongst civil society and the judiciary – one of the reasons behind the infamous ruling of the Mumbai High Court forbidding police to arrest female suspects without the presence of a woman constable or to take them to station houses after nightfall. Though later struck down by the Supreme Court, this speaks volumes about the current problems faced today; the latter being the highest court in the country itself castigated both the govts and the police services over the inaction taken of investigations into mass rapes that have occurred such as that of 4 domestic workers on the train from Ranchi to Delhi, in the case of Delhi Domestic Working Women’s Forum vs. Union of India & Others [1994(4) SCALE 608] saying that women in such positions were helpless “at the mercy of both employers and police”. These are not reassuring signs. In these sensitive matters, and rape is a crime for which there can be no justification, a clear and thorough investigation is needed; so that justice is not only done but seen to be done as well. As it is when people lose confidence in the legal system and the normal avenues of redress that they have open to them; that corrodes the legitimacy and the ability of the state to act as the guarantor of authority and order more than anything else. No one is asking for a lynching; what people are asking for is justice.

    That Indian civil society may not always succeed in its objectives is another matter. For better or for worse, it is not always successful in its campaigns, but that does not mean it does not exist. Nor does it mean India’s civil society campaigners are a vocal minority.

    I didn’t say that Civil society doesn’t exist but that it is weak and has failed in a large number of areas. This is pretty much a fact from what I can see; and the campaigners are a vocal minority, simply because we are at the end of the day, a democratic society and one where the state has to take cognisance of its population. As I said earlier, the one sense in which the Indian state is ‘soft’ is that it cannot stand up to strong social forces; usually these have been various special interest groups or the dominant propertied elites; in a scenarios with a strong civil society, the state similarly would not be able to resist the pressure for change and hence the former would be successful in more of its aims.

    No, I think Indian civil society is alive and well. Unfortunately, its response is always too sentimental and lofty-softy. There are many in this world who are too ready to see and exploit this as a weakness.

    I am not sure I understand you here; if civil society isn’t really a success in many of its campaigns how can anyone see this as a weakness. I can’t think of any group that perceives the Indian state as weak because we have a strong civil society – in fact many of the terrorist organisations bank on a strong state with a weak civil society over-reacting and applying force indiscriminately so as to do their work for them. The goal of any terrorist group is at the end of the day, political, not military and those who insist on measuring progress and strength in the latter terms will always fail to see this. Only a society which has a robust civil society, is able to preserve its political structure and institutional safeguards and maintain its social cohesion can deal with the threat of modern terrorism effectively. For a democratic state such as ourselves, the lessons this implies are fairly clear

  13. Mr. Barwa,

    Thanks for your reply. Reasonable people may disagree about the best interpretation of this article. But I think that my skepticism about his sympathies better explains the mistakes in his ‘oeuvre’. Reporters, especially when parachuted into a conflict, will naturally make mistakes. But the pattern of mistakes characteristic of the likes of Mr. Lancaster are best explained by sympathy for the secessionist cause. A sympathy which, not surprisingly, leads to a glossing-over of the terrorist acts by the secessionists.

    Reporters do bring their own biases to the events they’re covering. Think, for example, of Ms. Celia Dugger (first the India and then South Asia correspondent of the NYT). In her recent memoir, she notes that in her Kashmir reportage she assumed (‘a priori’) that blame lay in all corners. Perhaps that’s true in Kashmir. Perhaps not. But adopting this sort of ‘methodological rule’ was quite likely to skew her stories. And, not surprisingly, that was indeed the case.

    I’m not quite sure if your objection to torture is based on consequentialism. It seems that way, given your remarks about its ineffectiveness as an interrogation tool. In any case, I hold no brief for torture. I merely wish people to speak plainly: It was wrong to torture the doctor. The doctor was likely an operative in a terrorist group’s ‘logistical tail’. That too is wrong. Moreover, even given the (well-publicized) incidence of civil rights violations by the armed forces, there is no moral equivalence between the soldiers and the terrorists.

    I quite agree with you about the abysmal nature of the Indian bureaucracy. But your skepticism about the possibility of reform is unwarranted. Again, the proposed repeal of POTA isn’t merely symbolism. Symbols are important in a democracy. They can be leveraged to bring about change.

    More fundamentally, I think that progress in India will come about from the retrenchment of the govt. as much as possible, in as many areas as possible. Not from its reform. I suspect that our views diverge on this point.

    Finally, a few questions for you Mr. Barwa. Given your army experience, what do you think of Praveen Swami’s critique of its ‘static’ CI-OPS in J&K ? Also, what’s your opinion of the fencing of the LoC ?

    Kumar

  14. Kumar,

    I don’t know enough of Lancaster’s work to be able to comment on his sympathies one way or another, so I will refrain from commenting. I still don’t see any ‘terrorist sympathies’ from what he wrote; it might perhaps be more amenable to say that he could be seen as being sympathetic to the cause of Kashmiri separatist-nationalism, I don’t know, but even this doesn’t make him sympathetic to ‘terrorism’ though this kind of political argument won’t go down well with many Indians and nationalists – understandably so. Personally, I don’t care, as long as there is no direct support or condoning of violence as a political tactic when other peaceful avenues are open.

    As for Duggal, again I don’t know her work so I can’t say much, as for her rationale; my response is – of course blame lies in all corners as no side is blameless. That is not the point, the point is where does the relative bulk of the responsibility rest and what is preventing an improvement of it.

    I’m not quite sure if your objection to torture is based on consequentialism. It seems that way, given your remarks about its ineffectiveness as an interrogation tool. In any case, I hold no brief for torture. I merely wish people to speak plainly: It was wrong to torture the doctor. The doctor was likely an operative in a terrorist group’s ‘logistical tail’. That too is wrong.

    It is based both on consequentionalism, morality and a theory of utility. But I think for most people, the former is the going to be strongest argument, which is why I put it forward. I agree with you and you will note that I did speak plainly in saying that the question was not of guilt but the actions of the security forces. Also this is not some abstract debate, under current Indian law and military regulations this treatment is explicitly recorded as being illegal. There is no argument about this at all; these are the laws of the land and need to be respected.

    Moreover, even given the (well-publicized) incidence of civil rights violations by the armed forces, there is no moral equivalence between the soldiers and the terrorists.

    Well, the incidents weren’t all that well-publicised and there were many more that weren’t. This is why I think the tall claims made about Indian civil society need to be tempered. The problem isn’t that these abuses occur – I agree that they are inevitable and it doesn’t reduce the state to the same level as the terrorists – that is an absurd claim; the problem is that when they do occur, one expects the state to correct or to see that justice is done after a proper investigation. When the leadership denies that such events have occurred, and only admit them after the fact, when those guilty are let-off without any real punishment and investigations are white-washed; this corrodes the integrity and the legitimacy of the state. You have to remember that the nation is in many ways an act of collective will and thinking; if people cease to have faith in it as an idea or an ideology and opt out; then it will not be able to continue existing. In regions such as Kashmir, this can create great problems for state legitimacy, as for democracies, no government can survive for long if it is has lost the confidence of its people. Our own history is quite clear on this score.

    Re: moral equivalence; this is a complicated question. Not all soldiers are the same and neither are all the separatists; the latter are not a monolithic bloc and people travel from being one to another – you will recall the case of Shahbag Singh, noted officer in the 1971 war who later commanded the defences of the Khalistani separatists in Amritsar during Operation Blue Star. As a whole, I don’t think there can be any comparison between the Indian Army’s regular forces and the terrorists; I am much less impressed with the state police forces and the BSF which has real discipline problems when it comes to interacting with the local population. For a number of reasons, many of them justified the latter are hated by the Kashmiris, while the Army is seen in a more positive light. Certainly the regular Army and specialised units have conducted themselves as a whole creditably – but it is necessary to remember that they form only a part of the security forces in Kashmir. What the paramilitary and state police forces get up to, I don’t know; but the outcry over the actions of the SOG don’t fill me with confidence. The nature of terrorism has changed also over time; the Kashmiri separatists were basically political groups that had taken up armed struggle and could be negtiated with; the jihadists who are the predominant force now have no real interest in talks and are eliminationists.

    Again, the proposed repeal of POTA isn’t merely symbolism. Symbols are important in a democracy. They can be leveraged to bring about change.

    Well, let us see what happens exactly wrt POTA, I hope it will be revoked and an effective piece of legislation put in its place. Yes, symbols are important but for reform to be effective it must not stop at the symbolic level; our govts have been adept at promising all sorts of things while only making cosmetic alterations, to buy off dissent. This needs to change.

    More fundamentally, I think that progress in India will come about from the retrenchment of the govt. as much as possible, in as many areas as possible. Not from its reform. I suspect that our views diverge on this point.

    Certainly, the govt needs to withdraw from specific spheres of activity, which it should never have entered in the first place; but you are right in that I don’t think an across the board rollback is needed or desirable. This comes from the difference in our political ideology; obviously I am a Leftist so I don’t believe in a substitution of the state by the market is appropriate for Indian conditions.

    what do you think of Praveen Swami’s critique of its ‘static’ CI-OPS in J&K ? Also, what’s your opinion of the fencing of the LoC ?

    I liked Praveen’s work on Kargil, I think it asked some serious question which have not yet been answered and I think his work on Indo-Pak relations over Kashmir and the regional power dynamics has been very insightful. I haven’t read much about his work on COIN operations, apart from his ‘expose’ of Operation Sarp Vinash and I think while he is correct on some matters, this is his weakest analysis. Generally, I agree that more dynamic and mobile reactions are needed but most of these decisions have been driven by politics and by poor strategic decision-making at the senior command level; this is quite obvious since given the number of troops deployed in Kashmir, well in excess of the numbers required given the estimates of militants active in the valley, something is not going right in the escalation of terrorist incidents. However, Swami’s criticisms aren’t really that robust since the worst thing about such operations isn’t that they aren’t great successes – COIN warfare isn’t blitzkrieg and doesn’t involve instant dramatic victories or results but is a slow war of grinding attrition only occasionally interspersed with important advances; so the problem isn’t the conduct of such operations but the fact that it needs to be realised in advance that many of them are not going to yield impressive results immediately. The problem is a PR one where there is an artificial inflation of the mission goals achieved, no doubt because the senior brass want to increase their political capital with the admin. This isn’t that hard to take care of, though it indicates that the senior leadership need to spend less time worrying about press clippings of how great they are and ingratiating themselves with the ruling politicians of the day and more time actually combating terrorists.

    Re: the LoC fencing – I haven’t seen this, since it started after my tours of service but I think it is a positive step. However, we need to realise that it will be only an interim measure – it can reduce the flow of CBT not eliminate it completely; as the Israelis know, even the best fence/wall in the world is not fool-proof or impermeable. But any measure that lessens the flow and makes it harder for terrorists to infiltrate the LoC is good. Just how effective the fence will be, depends on how well the equipment can withstand tampering by infiltrators and the weather conditions. Fingers crossed on this one.

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