Tag Archives | military

Ilyas Kashmiri, Stanley McChrystal and the Obama wobble

India should ensure that the main location of Pakistan’s proxy war remains far away from home

Those who believe that the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ that began in 2004 is responsible for the decline in terrorist violence in Jammu & Kashmir are making the oldest policy mistake—confusing correlation for causation. To understand, take a look at the curriculum vitae of Ilyas Kashmiri, an exemplary product of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, and who was reportedly killed in a US drone strike recently.

Ilyas Kashmiri onced belonged to the Pakistan army’s Special Services Group (SSG), just like General Pervez Musharraf. He fought the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and when that war came to an end, devoted his attention to the jihad in Kashmir, changing uniforms, organisation-names and affiliations in the process. He was active on that front until he fell out with the ISI management over a corporate restructuring exercise, but by 2003, moved to Waziristan to join battle against American troops across the border. There he fought until the US drone got him. Ilyas Kashmiri didn’t move from Afghanistan to Kashmir, and from Kashmir back to Waziristan alone. His group moved with him. Nor was Ilyas Kashmiri’s outfit the only one that moved back-and-forth in this manner.

So the reason why the jihadi guns fell silent in Jammu & Kashmir was, in all likelihood, because the Pakistani military-jihadi complex didn’t have the capacity to fight a two-front war. To the extent the ‘irregular’ jihadi army was employed along the Western front it was unavailable for the proxy war against India. Now, if President Barack Obama myopically decides to retreat from Afghanistan it follows that the jihadis will make their way back to the east. Whatever this does to the geopolitical stature of the United States, it is possible that the Obama administration will attempt to appease Pakistan in order to purchase political cover for its exit from Afghanistan. As Marc Ambinder writes on his blog (LT @dubash) over at The Atlantic, Kashmir’s fate will be seen as “crucial” to the “dynamic” of Pakistan’s quest for “for living space to the north.” [Also see Manish Vij's post on Ultrabrown]

Let us be clear: it is in India’s interests for the United States to stay in Afghanistan and fight Pakistan’s proxies and allies there. India is engaged in a proxy-war with elements, surrogates and offshoots of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. This is a war that is imposed on India, and New Delhi should persevere to keep the battlefields of that proxy-war west of the Hindu-Kush, not east of the Pir Panjal range.

Given the stakes, it is unfortunate—and unforgivable—that India has not been more than a mere spectator with respect to US policy. Indeed, even after the Obama administration began its series of policy reviews, the Indian input to the equation has been invisible. Invisible might not necessarily mean non-existent, but if there was something, then it seems to have been ineffective. Keeping Kashmir out of Richard Holbrooke’s mandate was a minimalistic achievement—ensuring that Pakistani jihadis stay out of India is the real prize.

That General Stanley McChrystal’s report was leaked to the media is understandable, not least after Mr Obama’s national security advisor had made it clear that the White House was prejudiced against strengthening US military forces in Afghanistan. Yet, even as President Obama began the initial movements of U-turn on his own commitment to defeating al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, there is nothing from the UPA government to try to make him stick to his old promises.

To be sure, India’s first option should be to encourage the United States to repeat the MacArthur programme in Pakistan. If the chain of Af-Pak strategy reviews are throwing up unsatisfactory policy recommendations it is because they are too fearful to accept the reality: that the solution to the problem of international jihadi terrorism lies in dismantling the military-jihadi complex in Pakistan. But if this is asking for too much, the second-best option is to ensure that the US stays on in Afghanistan.

New Delhi needs an entirely different orientation towards Washington’s Af-Pak policies: it must cast aside its quietly, quietly defensive approach to a more assertive, muscular stance.

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Cross-border vandalism

Dropping canned food past the expiry date, painting graffiti on boulders—and that we should know now

First, relax. It would be a huge strategic blunder for China to get into a military conflict with India—less initiate one—for two big reasons.

One, nuclear deterrence imposes limits to how much a conventional military conflict can escalate. Even a 1962-like invasion is highly unlike in 2009, because even if the PLA were to somehow pooh-pooh India’s vastly improved conventional defences, China is highly unlikely to want to test whether India’s commitment to nuclear no-first-use is rhetorical or real.

Two, a direct military conflict—whether or not initiated by China—would have the inevitable consequence of pushing India unequivocally into an alliance with the United States. Now, if you are a strategist—of whatever stripe—in Beijing, why would you want to do that? A military conflict with India would not only consolidate two of China’s biggest strategic adversaries but also completely blow the myth of a “peaceful rise” that is behind the success of Chinese diplomacy in East and Central Asia.

With that behind us for now, let’s ask why China is dumping expired canned food off helicopters, and why someone used red paint to deface rocks on the Indian side of the border in Ladakh? After the initial media outrage in India, both the Indian foreign ministry and the armed forces are downplaying reports of these incursions. China, unhelpfully as always, has totally denied that the incursions even happened. It is important to note that these incursions are not recent but have been occurring for several months. Even the notorious helicopter flight took place in early July. Why did the metaphorical solid waste hit the rotor now, when an Indian military delegation is on a goodwill tour of China?

Why?

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Think tanks, spy fronts and websites

China’s ‘institutes for strategic studies’

The website that first published the provocative article had the domain name www.iiss.cn—when that site was up it redirected to chinaiiss.org. In addition there is chinaiiss.com and at least one other site with IISS in it. They do not have anything remotely to do with the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (the IISS), nor do they have anything to do with the Chinese foreign ministry-linked China Institute for International Studies (CIIS, on the web at ciis.org.cn).

So what are iiss.com/chinaiiss.org/chinaiiss.com and CIISS?

According to TNN’s Saibal Dasgupta, the websites are run by one Kang Lingyi, and are a private initiative unconnected with any official body. Mr Kang says that it was a mere coincidence that his website had a name similar to the official think-tank, and that he has since changed it to China Center for International and Strategic Studies “to avoid confusion”.

FT reports that Mr Kang’s website is called China International Strategy Net and that he “took part in hacking into US government websites in 1999 following US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Sites such as his are part of the Communist party’s strategy to allow nationalism to grow to strengthen its political legitimacy.” (An issue of TIME magazine dated June 20th 2005 has more about Mr Kang and his patriotic initiatives online.)

What is truly remarkable—and this is China—is that Mr Kang was allowed to operate websites for several years with domain names similar to CIISS, the “official think-tank”. Because that is no ordinary think-tank—as Brahma Chellaney pointed out today, CIISS is a unit directly under the Second Department of the General Staff Department of the People’s Liberation Army.

The Second Department is the PLA’s apex military intelligence department and, according to David Lampton “superior to all other civilian and military organs as a source of national and defence intelligence and military-related strategic analysis for the senior leadership”. Mr Lampton writes that “most Second Department researchers use a “front” affiliation when interacting with foreigners, notably China Institute of International Strategic Studies”. Its chairman is Lieutenant-General Xiong Guangkai, who is quoted as having threated a nuclear attack on Los Angeles in 1995.

There is nothing to connect Mr Kang’s CIISS with General Xiong’s CIISS. But the latter’s signals need to be taken a lot more seriously. Given the scope for confusion, the general would do well to ask Mr Kang to get a different domain name. Unless, of course, the reason not to is stronger.

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A Beijing editor takes his gloves off

China must be given a taste of India’s swing power

“Indian politicians these days,” says today’s editorial in the Chinese Communist Party-linked Global Times, “seem to think their country would be doing China a huge favor simply by not joining the “ring around China” established by the US and Japan. India’s growing power would have a significant impact on the balance of this equation, which has led India to think that fear and gratitude for its restraint will cause China to defer to it on territorial disputes. But this is wishful thinking, as China won’t make any compromises in its border disputes with India.”

This is in response to a recent announcement that India will beef up its military presence in Arunachal Pradesh, adding new troops and air assets along the border with China. The Global Times goes on to warn that “India’s current course can only lead to a rivalry between the two countries. India needs to consider whether or not it can afford the consequences of a potential confrontation with China.”

And as if stating a self-evident fact, it declares that India “can’t actually compete with China in a number of areas, like international influence, overall national power and economic scale. India apparently has not yet realized this.”

(This, in a newspaper that supposedly is less strident than its Chinese language counterpart. Why, Richard Burger, of the wonderful Peking Duck blog, is even its foreign editor.)

Here on INI, Pragmatic Euphony has criticised the India’s military moves for being unsophisticated. However, to the extent the announcement has acted as a truth serum, their mere announcement has already proven useful. It is hard to find a more cogent summary of what is in China’s mind—not inferred by Indian or western analysts, but stated by an organ, albeit a distant and distanceable one, of the Chinese Communist Party.

The editors at Global Times are unambiguously telling the doubting Rams in India that neither fear, nor gratitude will make China compromise in its territorial disputes with India. In fact, it won’t compromise at all. And yet it is India’s current course that will lead to rivalry between the two countries, and it is India that “will need to adjust if it hopes to cooperate with China and achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.” Such straight talk is welcome.

Although the editorial denies it, it does betray China’s big fear: that India can swing the geopolitical balance to China’s detriment should it side the United States and Japan. The foreign policy of the first UPA government failed to make China appreciate the value of Indian restraint. That’s why the second UPA government must not repeat that mistake. The consequences of a potential confrontation, after all, go both ways.

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To not have the bluff called

The attachment of impossible conditions is revealing

Across the border, Ejaz Haider opines that “if Pakistan is asked by the US and other western capitals to pull out troops from the eastern border and deploy them to the west, then perhaps India should also be asked to thin its much-heavier Pakistan-specific deployment.” He goes on to demand Pakistan be financially compensated for committing more troops to fight the Taliban. (Hey, but we thought they were Pakistan’s enemy too.)

As we’ve argued, India must call this bluff by pulling back troops from the international border. In response to our op-ed, a prominent strategic analyst privately noted that such a move is politically impossible unless Pakistan first delivers something tangible on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. A job, it seems, for Richard Holbrooke.

Mr Haider, though, asks for too much. It is unnecessary to address all of Pakistan’s threat perceptions vis-a-vis India in order to get it to commit more troops to its western front. It is plainly obvious that Pakistan’s structural insecurity with respect to India cannot be addressed merely using policy, money or military movements. The power differential between India and Pakistan is large and growing and the only way for Pakistan to avoid feeling more insecure is to drop its points of conflict with India. This is cold realism (and yes, it applies to India too, via-a-vis China). This is a larger problem but it need not get in the way of solving the issue at hand, which concerns releasing more troops for the war against the Taliban.

We have argued that Pakistan can move as many as 150 infantry battalions (150,000 soldiers) from the border with India, without changing the military balance along the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir, and on the battlefront in the Siachen region. Mr Haider asks for the impossible when he asks for India to lower its troop levels in Kashmir: not least when Pakistan has escalated its infiltration attempts, the demands of counter-insurgency remain and when part of the Indian military deployment in the state addresses China, not Pakistan.

Often, asking for the impossible is a way to kill the whole idea. We are sure that the Pakistani military-jihadi complex would like the idea killed. But we’d like to believe Mr Haider doesn’t.

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My op-ed in Mint: Why India must pull its troops back from the border

Let’s call Pakistan’s bluff with Operation Markarap

In today’s Mint, Sushant and I argue that moving our troops back will compel the Pakistan army to act against the Taliban; and because it is incapable of doing so, will cause the United States to realise that there is no alternative to dismantling the military-jihadi complex.

Sooner or later, the Obama administration will come to realise that it has no way to make the Pakistani military establishment seriously fight and defeat the jihadi groups, which includes the Taliban, al-Qaeda and outfits like the Lashkar-e-Taiba. When that moment comes, Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat—in the form of acceptance of a radical Islamist state with a well-developed nuclear weapons capability. It is in India’s interests that this point comes sooner rather than later. Needless to say, it is in India’s interests that the United States dismantle the military-jihadi complex. Clearly, this is far more important than merely putting some Lashkar-e-Taiba leader behind bars for carrying out the 26/11 attack on Mumbai.

Already, the Pakistani military establishment is under severe pressure from the United States to stop sponsoring jihadi militant groups on the one hand, and to actually join the fight against them on the other. Now, even in the unlikely event that the ISI decides to dismantle its jihadi connections, the army will still find it impossible to purposefully prosecute a counter-insurgency war against the Taliban. Why? Because the dominant belief among Pakistani military personnel—across the ranks—is that it is the United States that is the real enemy and the Taliban are righteous fighters for the Islamic cause. One only has to imagine what a brigade commander would say to his troops to motivate them to fight their compatriots to realise that the Pakistani army is incapable of fighting the Taliban. In a way, those who argue that the Pakistan army lacks the capacity to fight this war are right: but this is a lack of capacity that no amount of night-vision goggles and helicopter gunships can ameliorate. This unpalatable reality is obfuscated behind the India bogey—the pretence that the Pakistani army could do much better against the Taliban if only it didn’t have to defend itself from its much stronger adversary to its east.

If the ‘India threat’ were to recede, Pakistan—and for that matter the United States—will have no more excuses left to avoid having to do what is necessary. New Delhi should, therefore, call Pakistan’s bluff by mounting what we propose to call Operation Markarap.
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Being less of a threat to Pakistan

Shouldn’t India nail that canard?

Here’s a thought: almost everyone in Pakistan, and many thinking people in the United States still believe in that story about why having to face a stronger army on its eastern border makes the Pakistani army less able to throw more resources into the fight against the Taliban (see this post on Pragmatic Euphony).

At one level Pakistan’s insecurity with respect to India is structural. There’s nothing India can do about that (see Dhruva’s post). At another level, the perception of insecurity is purely military in nature. There is something—actually many things—that India could do about that.

Like moving some strike formations and heavy equipment some distance away from the border. Surely, it can’t be that the Pakistanis will take advantage of this and send armoured columns rolling into India across the Indian border? If not Washington’s frown, they surely will fear yet another military defeat at the hands of the Indian army.

Once India gets itself a new cabinet, perhaps the foreign minister or his boss can announce that as long as the Pakistan army is really fighting the Taliban (“the common threat to India, Pakistan and the United States”, as people like to say these days), it need not fear an Indian attack.

Remember, this has little bearing on checking the infiltration of terrorists along the Line of Control, or indeed the international border. Counter-infiltration must continue, and indeed, gear up.

So why not?

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Blame it on Lax Indica

Where India yields, China will step in.

Quite often, the alarm and indignation comes from a sense of entitlement. Surely, the argument goes, India’s size and geographical location entitles it to a pre-eminent maritime status in the Indian Ocean, so how dare China intrude and construct a “string of pearls” around India?

To be sure, the emergence of China as a regional maritime power is the big story of our times. Over the past two decades, China has methodically developed basing arrangements (the ‘string of pearls’), invested in a submarine fleet designed to counter the US Navy’s aircraft carrier groups and, is now working on a surface fleet (including six aircraft carriers) whose purpose is to project power. This worries Indian strategists, because some of China’s accretion of power will come at India’s expense. While China certainly seeks to contain the expansion of Indian power, the object of its grand strategy is to counter the United States. And it is getting there: not by matching renminbi-for-dollar and getting into an arms race, but largely by developing capabilities that exploit United States’ weak points.

So at a time when China seeks to play in the same league as the superpower of the day, it is to be expected that it will try to extract advantageous positions in the Indian Ocean region at India’s expense. The big scandal is not that China is securing bases in India’s neighbourhood by shoring up nasty regimes and abetting their outrageous policies; but rather, India does not even show any sign of doing what is necessary to protect its interests.

So Home Minister P Chidambaram criticised China for fishing in troubled waters by backing the Sri Lankan government to the hilt in its war against the LTTE. So what else does Mr Chidambaram expect it to do? If the UPA government couldn’t find the resolve to shape a bold Sri Lanka policy that would promote India’s interests, why should he hold it against China for doing so? Similarly, if the UPA government found itself immobilised over its Nepal policy, why should China be blamed for promoting what it sees as its own interests? (See Lax Indica). Surely, the likes of Pranab Mukherjee and A K Anthony didn’t think that China should be held to the statements they made about there being enough space in Asia for two powers to rise simultaneously? (Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Mr Chidambaram did gruesome damage to the pace at which India could rise in the first place).

Let’s face it: unless the next government—regardless of whether it is the UPA, NDA or a Ghastly Numbered Front that comes to power—firmly resolves to ensure that India’s strategic frontiers are not rolled inwards, strategic containment is assured. Those who take recourse to fatalism and declare that coalition politics doesn’t allow an assertive foreign policy, especially in India’s neighbourhood, better not express indignation when they spot a Chinese aircraft carrier group a few hundred nautical miles from Kochi or Mumbai. Actually, coalition politics has been offered as an excuse for gross mismanagement of neighbourhood policy—other than during the election season, coalition partners limit their foreign policy demands to largely to rhetoric. It stands to reason, therefore, that a central government that can’t stand up to pressure from its coalition partners can’t stand up to pressure from Beijing.

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Some species are better extinct

How the LTTE damaged the Sri Lankan Tamil cause

More than a generation has grown up without knowing what the Indian intervention in Sri Lanka in 1987 was all about. Shekhar Gupta does well to remind us just why there is no need to shed any tears for the LTTE:

Bipin Joshi and I had many conversations on this subsequently, particularly after he took over as army chief (and where he died, tragically, of a heart attack while still in service). He still argued he was right in his description of the LTTE. If they were not macho and irrational, he said, why would they defend Jaffna against a full-fledged army in a conventional manner, a battle they were destined to lose — which they did. No clever, well-led guerrilla force would commit such a blunder, you can’t create a Stalingrad with sneak and ambush, he would say. The LTTE’s (ultimately) disastrous defence of Jaffna, he said, was the starkest example of this cruel, macho irrationality that cared little for human life, theirs or the enemy’s.

In this moment of the LTTE’s destruction and defeat you can’t but reflect on that. What kind of people take on an entire nation’s modern army, in the face of total worldwide opprobrium to their terrorist ways and unmindful of the plight of the Tamils whose cause they professed to be fighting for? Only people driven by violent madness, militaristic fascism, the suicide-bomber cult, for whom killing is not a means to the end, but the very purpose of living. Over two and a half decades, the LTTE has killed literally tens of thousands, a majority of them Tamil. They invented the human bomb and used one to kill the one man (Rajiv Gandhi) who staked his name and reputation and his country’s might and resources to find for their fellow Tamils a peaceful and just settlement. But obviously, that is not what the LTTE and its megalomaniac supremo had wanted. All they wanted was killing, killing and more killing. For Prabhakaran, peace talks were just a cynical tactic to recover, regroup and rearm whenever the going got tough. When the IPKF, under Lt Gen Amar Kalkat, had got the better of him decisively and controlled all inhabited areas, driving him into his Kilinochchi dugout (from which the Sri Lankans have just prised him out) he made common cause with President Premadasa, one of the cruellest and most pathologically anti-Tamil Sinhala leaders ever. Together they got rid of the IPKF — with help from a sudden turn in Tamil Nadu politics after Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat and the arrival in power, in Delhi and Chennai, respectively, of a hopelessly lily-livered V.P. Singh and a Karunanidhi almost as cynical as Vaiko is now. That done, Premadasa too was blown up by a teenaged LTTE human bomb, and how bomb and target got into such close proximity is a story too sordid to be told in a family newspaper even in these permissive times. [IE]

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Colombo is in no mood for lectures

India’s (and the world’s) priority should be to avert a humanitarian disaster

If the fate of the hapless Tamil civilians is the world’s principal consideration with regard to the war in Sri Lanka, then it stands to reason that that war itself must come to an end as soon as possible. It is unrealistic to expect Mahinda Rajapakse’s government to heed calls for pausing the military offensive—at a time when the Sri Lankan army believes it is close to a complete victory against the LTTE, and after the LTTE leadership rejected a call to surrender and decided to fight to the finish. Colombo, as James Traub writes in the New York Times, is in no mood for lectures.

Also, regardless of whether ethnic relations between the Sri Lankan Tamil minority and the Sinhala minority improve or worsen after the current phase of the war, the elimination of the uncompromising LTTE leadership cannot be a bad thing.

There are conflicting reports on how bad a situation the civilians find themselves in: absent independent reports, one has to choose between claims made by the two combatants. Even so, it is clear that Sri Lanka faces a massive humanitarian crisis in the coming days and months. Given the state of ethnic relations, it is reasonable to expect that the displaced Tamils will have misgivings about how they will be treated by the victorious Sri Lankan government in general, and by the Sri Lankan security forces in particular. These misgivings will be shared, perhaps amplified, among the Tamil population in India as indeed among the Tamil diaspora around the world.

The LTTE bears a moral responsibility for bringing the Sri Lankan Tamils into this humanitarian crisis. But only till the point that they come under the custody and protection of the Sri Lankan government. From that point on, the moral responsibility for their security, well-being and human rights rests with the Sri Lankan government. And it is incumbent on the Indian government to hold the Rajapakse government to account on this. One the one hand, India should demand greater transparency and access to the displaced civilian population and a fixed timetable for their return to their original homes. At the same time, India should offer financial, technical, logistical and military assistance to the Sri Lankan government to ensure that the humanitarian crisis does not turn into a humanitarian disaster. The immediate task for Indian foreign policy is to ensure that the Rajapakse government delivers on this.

Related Link: Colonel Hariharan’s answers to inconvenient questions.

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