Pax Indica: Why they killed bin Laden now

The military-jihadi complex is likely to grow stronger

In today’s Pax Indica column on Yahoo, I warn that India has at best two summers before cross-border militancy and terrorism rise again.

You might remember a Shekhar Suman gag on Zee TV’s Movers and Shakers several years ago: An angry George W Bush announces that the United States will bomb the place where Osama bin Laden is found to be hiding.

Hearing this, Vajpayee looks under his bed, pauses, and with a characteristic flick of his wrist says: “Thank God! He isn’t here!”

Over in Rawalpindi, General Musharraf looks under his bed, sighs in relief, and says: “Thank God! He is still here!”

Shekhar Suman, more than most Western analysts, got the plot right. Keeping Osama bin Laden out of Washington’s hands was vital in order to prevent having to publicly deal with revelations of how the Pakistani military-jihadi complex not only was connected with al-Qaeda, but might also have been involved in the conspiracy behind the 9/11 attacks. [Read the rest at Yahoo!]

Pragati October 2009: Targeting Naxalism

Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s characterisation of the Naxalite movement as the biggest threat to India’s internal security, for years, the Indian government showed little imagination and resolve in earnestly confronting it. While the Naxalite movement consolidated across the country, moving cadre, arms and funds across state and international borders, the Indian government’s response was inefficient and lacked coordination. Not only did this result in Naxalites gaining strength unchecked, it also resulted in dubious and poorly-conceived responses like raising tribal militias and ham-fisted police action against rural and tribal populations in the worst-affected areas.

In its second term, the UPA government has demonstrated more seriousness in tackling what it calls Left Wing Extremism. Most of this month’s issue of Pragati deals with the nature of the Naxalite threat and the ways to address it. We argue that Naxalism is a manifestation of poor or absent governance but establishing good governance in Naxalite-affected areas, after successful security operations, requires the Indian government to invest in hybrid civil-military capacity that it does not yet have at the present time.

In addition: we have essays on the flux in Afghanistan, the UPA government’s much-publicised austerity drive; a parliamentary brief that examines MPs’ voting record; and other regular features.

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Prabhakaran’s dilemma

Fly or die?

The anonymous Western diplomat got it right:

One Western diplomat said if Prabhakaran were to flee, it would be viewed as cowardice by his followers, ending Tamil militancy for a generation.

But the diplomat, who did not want to be named because he is not authorized by his government to speak on record, said the rebel leader’s death in battle or by suicide would make him a martyr to inspire future generations.


Fierce vs Ray

Nepal’s Maoists splinter along predictable lines

Over at mesocosm Aditya Adhikari has cogent analysis of the factional disputes among Nepal’s Maoists.

(Prachanda), the Maoist chairman is facing the greatest threat to his leadership at a time when his party has gained the strongest position ever. According to conventional narrative, the Prachanda faction wishes to institutionalize the federal democratic republic line (by continuing the peace process, drafting the new constitution, and engaging in multi-party democracy) whereas the Kiran faction wishes to take immediate steps towards one-party dictatorship of the proletariat.

While Prachanda seeks to increase his party’s influence by gradual penetration into all aspects of society, Kiran desires a more extreme revolt that will immediately subjugate the enemy and bring the Maoists uncontested power. His faction is ambivalent towards the Maoists’ entry into government. They recognize that this potentially enables them to use the state for the purposes of the revolution. But they also realise that prolonged exposure to the daily workings of government will make it increasingly difficult to stage the crucial armed revolt necessary for the dictatorship of the proletariat.[mesocosm]

You should read the whole thing.

The stuff for military novels (2)

The flying assassin

In line with what some readers suggested, and also in line with Sharon Weiberger’s post over at Danger Room, the new secret technique that the Americans have brought to bear in counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan (possibly) involves unmanned aerial vehicles fitted with a networked “tagging, tracking and locating” system.

The new system now being deployed was first used on aircraft in Afghanistan, then was installed on Predators in Iraq starting about a year ago. Officials said introduction of the devices coincided with the 2007 U.S. troop buildup in Iraq, and was an important, but hitherto unknown, factor in the subsequent drop in violence in that country.

The technology allows suspects to be identified quickly. “All I have to do is point the sensor at him,” said a military officer familiar with the system, “and a missile can be off the rail in seconds.”

The devices are roughly the size of an automobile battery, but are heavy enough that outfitted Predators in some cases carry only one Hellfire missile instead of two. At times, the systems also have been in short supply, requiring that crews move the devices from one Predator to another as they land and take off.

The unique capabilities have prompted competition among U.S. forces for access to specially equipped Predators, military officials said. The fleet being assembled for use in Pakistan has been assigned to the CIA and U.S. Special Operations Command, meaning fewer of the aircraft are available for conventional forces. [LAT, linkthanks Vivek Hirpara]

The stuff for military novels

A revolution in counter-insurgency affairs?

Bob Woodward claims that the United States used a new “secret technique” in its counter-insurgency operations in Iraq.

But beyond all of that, Woodward reports, for the first time, that there is a secret behind the success of the surge: a sophisticated and lethal special operations program.

“This is very sensitive and very top secret, but there are secret operational capabilities that have been developed by the military to locate, target, and kill leaders of al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgent leaders, renegade militia leaders. That is one of the true breakthroughs,” Woodward told Pelley.

“But what are we talking about here? It’s some kind of surveillance? Some kind of targeted way of taking out just the people that you’re looking for? The leadership of the enemy?” Pelley asked.

“I’d love to go through the details, but I’m not going to,” Woodward replied.

“Do you mean to say that this special capability is such an advance in military technique and technology that it reminds you of the advent of the tank and the airplane?” Pelley asked.

“Yeah,” Woodward said. “If you were an al Qaeda leader or part of the insurgency in Iraq, or one of these renegade militias, and you knew about what they were able to do, you’d get your ass outta town.” [CBS News]

Mr Woodward doesn’t offer more details—not even in his new book—but adds to the suspense by saying that “it is the stuff of which military novels are written.”

Meanwhile, Dawn‘s correspondent thinks that the same technique is being used by US forces against Taliban militants in Pakistan’s FATA. Whatever the technique is, to the extent that it increases collateral damage, it is bound to have different effects in the Pashtun geography.

Ill-conceived dialogue

…played into the Hurriyat’s hands

Praveen Swami’s indictment is damning: “New Delhi’s well-meaning but ill-conceived dialogue process communalised Jammu and Kashmir and laid the ground for the ongoing crisis”

Experts have been telling New Delhi that the solution to this Islamist upsurge lies in negotiations which will give power—if not independence—to secessionists. Both the premise of this received-wisdom and the prescriptions it lends itself to are false. In fact, the crisis now unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir can also be read as the consequence of New Delhi’s peace process. In its effort to make peace with the Islamist-led secessionist movement in Kashmir, this counter-intuitive argument suggests, India ended up fuelling competitive communalism in each of the State’s three regions.

New Delhi deferred the (round table conference) dialogue process until after the Assembly elections scheduled for October. Islamists in Kashmir, though, feared that the elections would lead to their annihilation, and began sharpening their knives. To anyone other than Prime Minister Singh’s house-intellectuals, whose eyes seemed to have been paper-clipped shut, the brewing crisis was evident. [The Hindu emphasis added]

The dialogue process in Jammu & Kashmir was in piece with the UPA government’s policy DNA: entitlements based on communal socialism, accepting competitive intolerance and yielding to the resulting political violence.

The attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul

It’s not going to move India

It is said to be the worst terrorist attack in Kabul since 2001—terrorists killed over 41 people and left more than 139 injured in a suicide bombing outside the Indian embassy in Kabul today. Four of those killed were Indians. The rest, most likely, were all Afghans.

According to early reports, the bomber set off the bombs when two embassy vehicles were entering the compound. Brigadier R D Mehta, the defence attache, and V Venkateswara Rao, the political and information counsellor were in those cars. Ajai Pathania (Rathore?) and Roop Singh, security personnel guarding the embassy, were also killed in the blasts. It does not appear to be a random attack on the embassy—the timing suggests that the attackers deliberately targeted at the Indian diplomats.

It is reasonable to speculate that the attackers want to browbeat India into stepping out of Afghanistan. India has played a quiet but determined role in the Afghan reconstruction, and the attack could well suggest that this is threatening the Taliban and those opposed to the Hamid Karzai government.

Attacking construction crews in the Afghan countryside is one thing. Attacking top diplomats at the Indian embassy in Kabul is another. Why the Taliban sought to escalate their violence against India remains the question. Not least when they are engaged in a two-front war—against the US & NATO forces in Afghanistan, and, to some extent, against Pakistani forces in Pakistan’s tribal areas and NWFP. The embassy might have offered a target of opportunity and the attack might have been a tactical success, but its strategic utility is suspect.

That’s because India is quite unlikely to be deterred by this attack. It is unlikely to scale down its reconstruction initiatives. If the attacks were intended to provoke and suck India deeper into Afghanistan, then that too is unlikely to happen. In all likelihood, the Indian response would be to harden the targets and move on.

That opens up the other possibility: is this the handiwork of Pakistani interests? The political turmoil in Pakistan has certainly created a window of opportunity for the tradition “strategic depth” seekers to try and play their old games again. Knowing that the “noise” makes a retaliatory Indian tit-for-tat response unlikely, it is possible that one of the factions in Pakistan’s security establishment ordered the strike. Tactical success, but again, the strategic value remains uncertain.

One thing is clear though—as far as the United States is concerned, the war in Afghanistan needs its own General Petraeus.

Update: On what India should do now.

Strange stories on the LoC

Pakistani soldiers get killed…by jihadis

Last week Pakistani soldiers were killed in an air-strike by US forces in the Mohmand Agency, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

And yesterday, four Pakistani soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire along the Line of Control in Kashmir…by jihadis, who, it is suspected, failed to cross over to the Indian side.

Allies are killing Pakistani soldiers on both sides.

Defending Salwa Judum

Has anyone articulated how the citizen’s militia will be disbanded?

Prakash Singh, a distinguished police officer and a member of an expert group set up by the Planning Commission to study the Naxalite problem, dissents from the group’s conclusions and argues that the Salwa Judum was a “spontaneous movement expressing the resentment of the tribals against the Naxalites’ interference with their social customs, cultural practices and economic interests.”

Mr Singh, who is both the author of a book on the Naxalite movement and has tirelessly pushed police reforms since his retirement, is a credible commentator. His opinion must be taken seriously.

This blog, however, disagrees with his view. Individuals bearing arms for self-defence, or even isolated village defence committees in remote areas are one thing: organising these units into a larger corporate entity, or indeed a “movement”, is quite another. Organisations once formed develop a life and interests of their own, and are almost impossible to wind down and demobilise, especially if they are outside the formal control of the state. As Mr Singh himself admits (Salwa Judum’s) “camps should have been wound up within a year or two and the tribals encouraged to go back to their villages. That unfortunately did not happen.”

Mr Singh has a point when he argues that Salwa Judum is a useful instrument in the fight against the Naxalite insurgency. But in the medium- to long-term, it is likely to create additional problems, whether or not the Naxalites are defeated.