A little less conversation, a little more action

Nawaz Sharif must provide credible proof of his intent before New Delhi resumes dialogue with his government

While India’s response to the killing of Indian soldiers in the Poonch region along the Line of Control must be calculated and cold-blooded (see an earlier post), it is untenable to contend, as some commentators have done, that dialogue with the Pakistani government must continue regardless of the provocation.

There is no case for New Delhi to engage the Nawaz Sharif government in serious dialogue at this time. While Prime Minister Sharif has made verbal overtures to the need for better relations with India, he has demonstrated little by way of putting this sentiment into action. Talk is cheap. It is action that matters.

We have seen nothing by way of tightening the pressure on outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the prosecution of the 26/11 accused has run aground and the Pakistani military establishment has raised the temperature by attacking Indian diplomats in Afghanistan. On Mr Sharif’s side of the equation, “it’s only words…”. His predecessor, Asif Ali Zardari, did try to match words with actions. Although he didn’t go far enough, although his party colleagues undermined the effort, and some of his associates paid a heavy price for those actions, it made some sense in pursuing dialogue with his government. Mr Sharif’s party, on the other hand, relies on political support from Islamist militants in his home province and has shown no sign of taking on either the military or the jihadis so far.

Maybe it’s too early for Mr Sharif to act in ways that make his words credible. Maybe he needs more time. That’s both reasonable and fair to him. In the meantime, what’s the hurry for New Delhi to pursue dialogue with his government, even if there had been no attacks in Jalalabad and gunfights along the Line of Control? Why not wait to see credible signals that Mr Sharif has the intentions and the wherewithal to deliver on the pre-requisites for a serious dialogue?

There is no case for resuming dialogue—leave alone for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan—until that time. As even simple people know, it is foolish to make an advance payment to a person who might not actually have the goods he’s promising to sell.

Related Link: Why Pakistan is really two distinct entities—the military-jihadi complex and the putative Pakistani state. The former holds all the cards as far as peace is concerned. The latter is feeble.

It didn’t start in 1988

A brief review of Praveen Swami’s “India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947-2004“, first published in the November 2008 issue of Pragati

A retired senior police officer complained to Bahukutumbi Raman, a former intelligence officer and prolific commentator, that intelligence agencies and police show a greater readiness to share their information with Praveen Swami, than with each other. And that “we all wait for his columns in The Hindu to know what information other agencies and the police of other States have.” That is as much an indictment of the internal security set-up as it is a compliment to Mr Swami. Those familiar with Mr Swami’s reportage will know that some of India’s best writings on terrorism and internal security come from his MacBook.

So it is a mystery why the publishers of India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The covert war in Kashmir, 1947-2004, a book Mr Swami wrote in 2006 did not adequately market it in India at a price that ordinary readers could afford. The paperback edition is now available in bookstores, but you won’t know it until you ask for it. (Update: It’s a little more widely available now). That’s a real shame because Secret Jihad is the one book on the issue in Jammu & Kashmir that everyone should read.

If it reads like a spy thriller, it is because it is one. In just over 200 pages of engaging prose, Mr Swami demonstrates that contrary to what most people think (and India’s median age is around twenty-five) the troubles in Jammu & Kashmir didn’t start in the late 1980s, after an infamously rigged election. Rather, as the introduction to the book says “a welter of jihadist groups waged a sustained campaign against Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir from the outset, after the Partition of India.” Mr Swami’s narrative takes the reader back to the days of the Master Cell and Al- Fatah—entities that appear quaint by today’s standards—and their subsequent evolution into and inspiration of terrorist organisations that exist in contemporary times.

Similarly, Mr Swami reveals the now-in, now-out relationship of the state’s major political parties with Islamist and Kashmiri-nationalist ideologies, and the reader arrives at the inevitable conclusion that for all the paeans celebrating Kashmiriyat, secularism has always been less than skin-deep in Kashmiri separatist politics.
To the extent Secret Jihad relies on sources from within India’s internal security establishment, it largely illuminates only one side of the war. Mr Swami admits this himself, conceding that Pakistan’s secret archives, if they exist at all, are necessary to improve the completeness of the account. But even so, Mr Swami’s book joins Chandrashekar Dasgupta’s War and Diplomacy in Kashmir, 1947-48 as an indispensable book for anyone seeking a well-researched and readable account of the Kashmir issue. Secret Jihad ends in 2004 but the secret jihad continues. An updated edition, or better still, a sequel, is in order.

Related Link: Saurabh Chandra has a brief history of events, in today’s DNA. 

Leave it at the tactical

Media-fuelled public outrage must not determine New Delhi’s strategy on the tensions along the Line of Control

Success or failure in a contest between two states is not measured by merely by the relative numbers of soldiers killed or bits of territory gained or lost. It is measured by the relative well-being of the people in the states concerned. What is the national interest if not “the well-being, prosperity and happiness of the nation”? The Arthashastra puts this in pithy terms: “The possession of power and happiness in a greater degree makes a king superior to another; in a less degree, inferior”.

Since the nuclear tests of 1998 and the Pakistan’s invasion of Kargil, leading to a brief border war in 1999, there has been a fairly commonplace lament in the popular discourse that India is unable to “do anything” to respond to Pakistani provocations. Let there be no doubt—Pakistani provocations have been many, they have been systematic and they have caused the nation physical, social and psychological harm. Let there be no doubt that India’s responses have been more restrained than they need to be—not least to a predilection among India’s prime ministers to see the need for “a peace process with Pakistan”. Let there also be no doubt: a flawed logic—the presumption that the Pakistan they do the peace process with is the Pakistan that attacks us—informs this policy.

Even so, by most measures, Indians in 2013 are better off than their Pakistani counterparts (see this Gapminder chart). This is despite the UPA squandering a good part of a benign decade and bringing the economy on the verge of a fiscal crisis. This is despite the neglect of governance reforms and bringing the polity into a wrenching political churn. Pakistan, for all its provocations and too-clever-by-half exploitation of its ‘geopolitical positions’ is back into the international doghouse it was in. It is being devoured by its own domestic monsters, without the need for any help from India.

So folks, we are winning this one.

Back in 2003, in a conversation with Sameer Wagle, a friend and intellectual sparring partner, this blogger had argued that the solution to our problems from Pakistan is economic reform. In fact, as argued in this Pragati cover story, Reforms 2.0 is our China policy, our America policy, our Europe policy and every-other-country policy. From this perspective, the UPA government’s abandonment of the reform agenda is its biggest foreign policy failure.

The purpose of national defence is to ensure that India’s growth and development can take place undisturbed. Defence policy is not an end in itself (a point that Pakistan has missed).

The recent escalation of tactical conflict between India and Pakistan at the Line of Control comes at a time when India is in the grip of a grand moral panic and political flux. The media and public discourse tends to rapidly end up in outrage and anger. For this reason, it is all the more important to be more careful and dispassionate and not precipitate actions that might end up being self-defeating.

First, it is important that the Indian side does not give Pakistan an opening to end the ceasefire along the Line of Control. For if the ceasefire goes, the Pakistani military-jihadi complex will rub its hands in glee and attempt its strategy of the 1990s—essentially infiltrate men and war material into Indian territory under the cover of armed conflict. The broader situation is a lot like the 1990s, as ranks of the jihadi alumni from Afghanistan begin to swell in 2014, and though the Indian armed forces are better prepared than two decades ago, who needs the resumption of a proxy war?

Second, it makes sense not to disturb the adversary when he is making a mistake. Pakistan is in deep turmoil. A number of internecine rivalries are tearing the country apart. It will get worse in 2014 when international troops leave neighbouring Afghanistan and the militants no longer have a foreign enemy to fight. It is hard to predict which way Pakistan might go, but it is smart not to give the warring factions a reason to join forces and focus on a common enemy in the shape of us.

Third, let the armed forces sort out the tactical game along the Line of Control away from the media glare. The Indian Army has been engaged in this conflict for decades and is well-aware, well-trained and well-equipped to handle the matters. General Bikram Singh’s statements make this amply clear. The army “reserves the right to retaliate at a time and place of its choosing”. This is as it should be. It is imprudent, risky and counter-productive for media-fuelled public outrage to force the army’s professional assessment.

None of this is an argument for the manufactured and contrived ‘peace process’ activities. Rather, that New Delhi must use the detente to its strategic advantage. What the public debate ought to be about is not how New Delhi plans to react to a tactical attack but to chart out how it will exploit the detente to strengthen India’s strategic advantage.

Finally, one of India’s strategic projects has to be the systematic containment and eventual dismantling of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. So much of New Delhi’s policy is short-term, the here and the now. Worse, India’s public discourse is even shorter—momentary surges of awareness and emotion on one issue that quickly lapse and move on to the next one. All the more important then, for thinking Indians, to never forget that the military-jihadi complex must be destroyed.

Counter-posterism tactics

The mindgame of fighting terror

Earlier this week posters appeared in Pattan in Jammu & Kashmir’s Baramulla district, threatening to kill 13 persons for assisting security forces. Here is the poster by a group with a grand sounding title of “Al Mashterqa Lashkar-e-Taiba Hizbul Mujahideen”.

Al Mashterqa Lashkar-e-Taiba Hizbul Mujahideen's Poster

Here’s the Indian Army’s counter-poster.

In the first panel it says “Hey terrorists, why are you fighting these innocent people. Fight with the Army, your fight is with the Army.” In the second it tells the people “Don’t fear these terrorists because the army is with you. Call us for help.”

Now let’s see if the message gets through.

Lifting the AFSPA, by the numbers

The case for a step-by-step lifting of AFSPA from Jammu & Kashmir

(My op-ed in the Indian Express)

If war is politics by other means, counter-insurgency is even more so. Since the early 1990s, the national endeavour in Jammu & Kashmir has involved three battles: a military contest to crush jihadi militants by force, a political battle to defeat secessionism and a psychological one to ensure that it is India’s narrative that dominates the discourse.
Ending the insurgency requires us to win all three. One reason why the conflict has continued for so long is that we have not been able to simultaneously attain positions of military, political and psychological dominance. Now, after over two decades we have a chance to try and bring a painful, unfortunate chapter in our history to a close.

Consider. Militancy has dwindled. The Pakistani military-jihadi establishment is entangled in a face-off with the United States over Afghanistan and might not wish to scale up violence on its eastern borders. A few months ago, Jammu & Kashmir successfully conducted panchayat elections which saw record turnouts, putting curmudgeonly separatists to shame. In a year where even New York was not spared of public protests, Kashmir’s cities distinguished themselves by staying out of the news, not least due to Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain’s enlightened approach to security management. Tourists got wind of all this, and more of them turned up in the first three quarters of 2011 than in any year in the last twenty-five.

What has not reduced, however, is the affective divide between those Kashmiris hurt by the consequences of insurgency and the rest of the nation. It is important to start bridging that now. Continuing to neglect this psychological aspect of strategy risks undermining hard-won successes in the military and the political battles.

A careful, judicious and step-by-step revocation of the Armed Powers Special Powers Act (AFSPA) can set off a virtuous cycle that will send a positive signal to the people of the state, strengthen the desirable political forces, put separatists on the backfoot, and take New Delhi a few moral notches higher. Such a move is seen as necessary by Omar Abdullah’s government. It is viewed favourably by many in the UPA.

The defence ministry has opposed it on the grounds that we cannot expect our army to fight with its hands tied behind its back. Other thoughtful analysts have argued that it is better to err on the side of caution and wait a few more years before considering lifting AFSPA. What should we make of these serious objections?

First, it is important to recognise that while the defence ministry’s opinion must be considered with the greatest seriousness, the final decision vests with the Union cabinet. No ministry or arm of government ought to be entitled to a veto. We might already have arrived at the point where further application of military force in populated areas of Kashmir will yield negative returns. Sure, the army must remain deployed along the Line of Control to prevent infiltration and keep a watchful eye on Pakistan, but its visibility in towns and villages where there is no militancy will only deepen resentment.

Second, revoking AFSPA does not mean the army’s hands are tied in the whole state. Rather, the provision can be lifted prudently in surgically chosen geographical areas — which can be smaller than districts — with an explicit caveat that it will be reimposed if violence rises. If the situation holds, the revocation can be extended to the next set of locations. If it gets worse, the Central and state governments can declare the areas disturbed and employ security forces as they do now.

Third, a number of steps have to be taken in tandem to manage the risks of an escalation in violence. The army and the security forces must be employed in a manner such that militants and malefactors cannot treat areas where AFSPA has been lifted as safe havens. State police and intelligence agencies must gear up to contain militant mobilisation and activity in such areas. Politically, the UPA and the Omar Abdullah governments must engage their respective opposition parties meaningfully to achieve a measure of bipartisanship.

So there are risks to making a carefully calibrated move towards the endgame now, but these can be managed. Our policy discourse is ill-served by framing the issue as “AFSPA vs no-AFSPA” and rehashing standard arguments. We would be much better off asking what the Central government, the army and the state government ought to do to ensure that lifting the AFSPA leads to the desired results.

Why not wait and see? Waiting has risks too. If the current window of opportunity closes, the UPA government might find itself with its back to the wall, compelled to revoke the AFSPA as a concession to separatists. Surely Kashmir has taught us that yielding from a position of weakness is a very bad idea.

Copyright © 2011. Indian Express. All Rights Reserved

Shutting down Geelani’s Grievance Factory

Jammu & Kashmir needs a guerilla development plan

Excerpts from my DNA column:

The business of manufacturing grievances, operated by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, involves both FDI and FII. Provocateurs and hardcore separatists act as the focus of violent unrest, mobilising young people using old methods and new. Motivated or excitable sections of the media add tickers, employing terms like “intifada” and “Jasmine” (or heaven-forbid, “Gandhian”), to describe the proceedings.

The separatist game plan is to prevent the state, especially its Kashmir region, from returning to what we all like to call “normalcy”.

To halt this cycle, it is necessary to both raise the costs of protesting and the benefits of not protesting. While the political and security machinery —wiser from handling last year’s stone-pelting experience — can well reduce the attractions of a summer job as a street-protester, the state has been less successful in creating alternative occupations.

The main reason New Delhi’s outlays fail to generate outcomes is because there is a lack of capacity in the state and local administrations. Even if it didn’t make its way to the wrong pockets, it is difficult to spend that much money simply because the Jammu & Kashmir doesn’t have sufficient numbers of competent officials who can implement programmes. It takes years to raise these numbers in the best of circumstances. The problem is, young people have to be kept off the streets right now.

Kashmir needs a guerilla development plan, using unconventional tactics to quickly create an economy that engages its youthful population. According to the Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011 report Jammu and Kashmir stood 9th (out of the 20 states studied) in terms of economic freedom, moving up from 15th position in 2005. It scores better than even Maharashtra, Punjab and Karnataka. So a plan that exploits and enlarges economic freedom might do the trick.

It should create zones in urban areas where entrepreneurs can move in and start business in a matter of days. Instead of waiting for training institutes to be built, it should facilitate skills training in small batches. It should avoid handouts, and inject resources into microfinance institutions for them to lend more and to younger people.

Such a plan stands a good chance of strengthening social capital and cultivating a sense of individual responsibility. This spring’s narrative can be different if Geelani’s “Grievance Factory” is made to suffer a labour shortage. [Read the rest on DNA]

Bruce Riedel’s underwhelming new book

It doesn’t tell us any more than we already know

It is hard to see what Bruce Riedel’s new book “Deadly Embrace: Pakistan, America and the Future of Global Jihad” seeks to do.

It covers the history of the United States’ relationship with Pakistan from Partition onwards, but is too brief and too shallow to provide a good picture. Dennis Kux and Howard Schaffer deal with this in much greater detail. As an analysis of Pakistani politics and civil-military relations, it is a subset of Stephen P Cohen’s excellent book. As a narrative of the creation and growth of the military-jihadi complex, it is supered by Ahmed Rashid and Hussain Haqqani, who go much deeper. Finally, as an account of the Obama administration’s handling of the war in Afghanistan-Pakistan, it has little to add to Bob Woodward’s book published last year.

Coming from one of the most astute analysts of Pakistan, and from someone who was “in the room” during important moments in contemporary history, the book is a disappointment. Mr Riedel could well have cited Kux, Schaffer, Cohen & Rashid as references in his introductory chapter and gone on to provide us with a deeper, broader analysis of Pakistan’s current situation and fleshed out the possible directions it may take in the future. Yet, we are left with just one single chapter on the implications of one single—what he calls “possible (but not probable)”—outcome: the implications of a jihadist state in Pakistan. That begs the question: what about the probable outcomes? Shouldn’t the book be discussing those in detail?

Perhaps because he is still too close to the policy-making in Washington, Mr Riedel uses statements like “the United States currently has better relations with both India and Pakistan than any other time in the past several decades”. This, after he lays out in great detail how deeply unpopular the United States is in Pakistan (not least because of Washington’s improved relations with India), how the Pakistani military is at loggerheads with its US counterpart, and after mentioning incidents like the suicide attack on the CIA base in Khost. Let’s hope Mr Riedel was merely being diplomatic and politically correct, because the alternative is unflattering.

The disappointment deepens when you see the author accepting the trite argument that Pakistan’s insecurities vis-a-vis India will be assuaged if there is a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, even on Pakistan’s own terms. A person who correctly sees a hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a victory for al-Qaeda’s global jihad somehow fails to consider the geopolitical implications of India yielding to Pakistan’s military-jihadi blackmail. To be fair, Mr Riedel recommends nothing more than what was agreed in India-Pakistan back channel talks, but even so, the premise that Pakistan will pose less of a threat to international security if only India were to make some concessions takes the heat off the protagonists—Pakistan and its scaffold states. And no, privately nudging the Indian leadership to pursue dialogue with Pakistan is unlikely to be any more effective than doing so publicly.

What is the book’s big prescription for Pakistan? The combination of carrots (Kerry-Lugar long-term aid) and sticks (drone attacks and suchlike) that are currently employed by the Obama administration. There is very little by way of identification and evaluation of other options. This might, again, be due to the fact the Mr Riedel was recently a part of, and still very close to, the ongoing deadly embrace. By that token, this book might have come too early.

Pax Indica: Obama and the “K” word

Mubarack O!

Barack Obama has come a long way over Kashmir from his interview to TIME’s Joe Klein to his press conference with Manmohan Singh in New Delhi yesterday. This is the topic of today’s Pax Indica column:

Excerpt:

In his informative little book (“The South Asia Story: The first sixty years of US relations with India and Pakistan”, Sage Publications) Harold Gould writes that in addition to the underlying geopolitics, the personalities, levels of awareness and intellectual capacities of US presidents determined their policy positions over Kashmir. The hopes Mr Obama raised in Islamabad, in parts of the Kashmir Valley and indeed in Washington, were not unfounded. So it will be interesting to know what caused him to change his position: was it merely an acknowledgement of the limits of US influence or does he now have a better appreciation of the subject two years after coming to office?

Mr Obama’s thinking on the Kashmir issue matters, because if he sticks to his dogmatic insistence on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan by the middle of next year, he will face internal pressures to buy a face-saving exit from the war. Unless there is a dramatic change on the ground, the United States depends upon the Pakistani military-jihadi complex to prevent a bloodbath once US troops leave.

General Ashfaq Kayani will not oblige without extracting a price. It’s hard to say what Pakistan won’t ask for. But its top three demands are likely to include: the handing over of the keys to Kabul to its Taliban proxies; legitimacy for its nuclear weapons in the form of a nuclear deal; and, of course, a “settlement of the Kashmir issue”. [Yahoo!]

Related Post: Mubarack O?

Look who needs the Indian state!

So “mobile, independent republics” need the protection of a “corporate, Hindu, satellite state” Ha ha!

Others have written about Arundhati Roy’s latest, successful hijacking operation. Her cameo appearance in the service of the cause of Kashmiri Sunni Muslim separatism has transformed the debate from being about Jammu & Kashmir to being about freedom of speech (especially hers). So it is unclear whether the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani will invite her to speak at the next seminar they organise.

More seriously, while her remarks have backfired on the cause she ostensibly supports they have wildly succeeded in drawing attention to her—heck, even The Acorn is moved to write about her. But this post is not about her being more than just a rebellious self-promoting intellectual stuntperson. Nor is it about the wrongness of her angry opponents breaking her flower pots.

This post is about the vacuousness of her claims of personally seceding from India and declaring herself a “mobile, independent republic“. The problem with mobile, independent republics is that they don’t last more than as long as it takes to break a flower pot. For all her grandstanding against the Indian state, Ms Roy (well, her husband) “lodged a complaint at the Chanakyapuri police station, following which police personnel were deployed outside the residence.”

The mobile, independent republic couldn’t even protect itself. It (well, its husband) had no choice but to turn to the corrupt, human-rights-abusing, uniform-wearing personnel of “the corporate, Hindu, satellite state.”

But then, the mobile, independent republic has a case history of irony deficiency.

This incident tells you why Arundhati Roy is wrong at the most fundamental level. The Indian state might be imperfect, but presents the best way to protect the rights and freedoms of all its citizens. Its faults must be identified and publicised—not to build a case for its dissolution, but to organise efforts for its improvement.