A conversion course for Middle Eastern journalists

On ‘entrenched military rule’

Western journalist moving from the Middle Eastern beat to the subcontinent must be put through a transition programme, mostly requiring them to read history and the daily news. Perhaps then, like a certain Graham Usher, they won’t write a sentence likemilitary rule in Indian-occupied Kashmir remained as entrenched as ever” in between 2004-2008. Sure, the writer is based in Islamabad, so it is understandable if he chooses to use the word like Indian-“occupied” Kashmir, but entrenched “military rule”? Mr Usher claims ‘entrenched military rule’ in Jammu & Kashmir is one reason why the bilateral back channel talks over Kashmir broke down. He must be ignorant of facts, terribly confused or engaged in wilful misrepresentation: for the only part of Kashmir where military rule is entrenched is the part that Pakistan occupies. Surely, Mr Usher can’t have missed the fact that Jammu & Kashmir had very successful elections in 2002 and again in 2008, where a large number of people turned up to vote. That’s even before the ‘peace process’ started in 2004.

The article itself is a regurgitation of the delusional thinking that prevails in the Pakistani military establishment and the kind of line that comes out of the Pakistani foreign office. Sure, the writer is based in Islamabad, but the level of credulousness is astonishing.

Update: K Shankar Bajpai’s masterful deconstruction of the vacuous argument:

If Kashmir underlies Pakistani policy, again it is not Indian but Pakistani designs that will shape events. It is not India that is trying to change the situation. Pakistan will say we are missing the point: all their provocations arise from India’s greater provocation, the “wrong” we continue in Kashmir. Public versions of back-channel achievements are wrong in major ways, but demonstrate one great reality: even this issue can be resolved bilaterally if Pakistan is willing.

We have been through all this endlessly, Pakistan will no more believe our version than we can theirs; but, knowing both, Washington still defers to Pakistani obsessions. Catering to delusions does not dispel them: progress depends on uprooting them. This Herculean work (which we will be pressed to facilitate) is surely the first priority. Washington cannot work miracles: even if imagined. There is the reality of Pakistan professing fears, but don’t call them “legitimate”. [IE]

14 thoughts on “A conversion course for Middle Eastern journalists”

  1. Usher was a respected journalist when he covered the Palestinian conflict, so I am surprised that he wrote this. I disagree with both you and Bajpai on the thrust of his article; Afghanistan and KAshmir are completely interlinked, especially from Pakistan’s point of view. Control of Afghnanistan by having a pro-PAk regime is an essential part of the PAk army’s doctrine of strategic depth vis-aivis Indian which has governed their thinking since the mid-70s as they realised that a conventional war would not be winnable. Effectively for India dominating Afghanistan is going to be a key way to undermine this policy and force Pakistan to reassess its strategy of CBT; along with establishing stability in Kashmir it is an essential part of making Pakistan adhere to 1948 borders and not seek a revision of them. This is why we are giving billions of dollars to Afghanistan and shoring up the regime there; it isn’t because we love Karzai or want to install some nirvana in Kabul (we can’t even do that internally, so will hardly be gallivanting abroad trying to impose this a la Amercaine).

    Usher gets some things wrong though and a lot of the details. I think his use of ‘military rule’ in Kashmir wrt India means the extensive use of the AFSPA and the fact that the elected state govt has no control over the military and only very limited control of the paramilitary forces. Numbering several hundred thousand this places an important constraint on the nature of civilians rule in the Valley. Either way, I think Usher is wrong to blame this as part of the reason the talks broke down; I don’t think Pak military officers would seriously have expected India to step this down, until they were sure that the flow of militants had decreased to virtually nil across the border for some length of time and the state administration proved effective in being able to maintain law and order by themselves. It will be some time, perhaps years before this is the case.

    Also regards hatred towards India etc. in the military, that he cites; I find this a weak arguement, Pak atttitudes towards India are not governed by realistic assessments of what Indian policy is but a desire to seek parity with India and keep India from becoming the regional hegemonic power. Generally speaking, much of the military elite have always resented the military imbalance they have wrt India and given the gradual ISlamicisation of the army, past military humilations hardly need any incentive to ‘hate India. This is not to mention the fact that without building up an Indian threat, the military will lose their considerable priveleged position within Pak society and polity.

    I also don’t think Usher provides a credible reason as to why the bilateral talks broke down. I see no/little signs that they are willing to reconsider their policy of strategic depth towards India and privelging their attempts to readdress the existing power balance through attacking India one way or another.The continued willingness to prioritise these external aims over their internal stability has led to escalating domestic violence as many such groups are out of direct control. Until this changes, I don’t think there will be much changes in underlying Pak policy.

  2. @conrad

    Being blissfully unaware of the Usher dude’s previous work I think an objective reading of his article leads me to conclude that he’s on Pakistani payroll. Or they have kidnapped his girlfriend and forced him to write this.

    No one with any experience of the world will describe J&K as under military rule. The phrase has a very specific connotation and Usher is wrong by a mile.

    I disagree with Nitin and you. His previous record covering Israel doesn’t matter. If he is biased and wrong in this article, he is biased and wrong.

  3. No one with any experience of the world will describe J&K as under military rule.

    I stongly disagree with you on this actually and this is a simplistic statement imo. Any area under the AFSPA can be described under military rule without imo – doesn’t make it so but certainly makes it a possibility. This act gives huge powers to the military/security forces which cannot be restrained by any civilian authority. I have spent a year in Kashmir mostly with the military so I don’t agree with your assessment. Maybe if you are a tourist or an Indian who isn’t Kahsmiri and flies in for a pilgramage or short visit this might seem the case but for the populations who actually live under these conditions whether in the Northeast or Kashmir, I can assure you it feels very much like ‘military rule’.

    Not that it matters, because I don’t think that is what affects Pak policy towards India/Kashmir anyway.

    Usher could be wrong and/or biased but he is a good journalist; so I would regard this as an aberration. He certainly will not be pro-Pakistani.

  4. Dude Conrad,

    It is not military rule because the army is sent there constitutionally by the legitimate government of a democratic state. Do you really mean to say Omar Abdullah and Mufti before him are powerless?

    Such comparisons are despicable and an insult to people who really live under military rule. So you spent a year in Kashmir. You won’t last a week in POK, a day in Balochistan or an hour in the Northern Areas.

    Please don’t make assumptions about how long I’ve stayed in Kashmir. People who don’t advertise how long they’ve stayed in Kashmir might actually be Kashmiris, no?

  5. Udayan,

    Your arguements are quite weak really. Whether the army was sent there constitutionally or not isn’t the point; military rule is a description of of a state of administration not the legal nicieties of how such rules are deployed.

    Do you really mean to say Omar Abdullah and Mufti before him are powerless?

    Are you for real? It has been a recurrent complaint of Mufti especially but Omar as well that they don’t control the security forces from the centre and that their complaints about various incidents are not listened to properly by army commanders. This is a weird statement.

    Such comparisons are despicable and an insult to people who really live under military rule.

    This is also a very stupid statement. Living under military rule means very different things depending on who you are. I have lived for a long time in African countries that were pretty bad dictatorships ; but being in the city and non-political it didn’t really affect me or people like me at all.

    So you spent a year in Kashmir. You won’t last a week in POK, a day in Balochistan or an hour in the Northern Areas.

    You a mental retard or sthg. Let me spell it out with you I spent a YEAR WITH THE INDIAN ARMY IN KASHMIR; so yeah I think I know a little better than someone like you whose sole encounter with the military or security forces is probably watching them on republic day parades. and what does POK, Baluchistan etc. have to do with it? Plenty of people live under militar rule there as well and many, ie in Baluchistan are not happy with it, which is why they fight and die in considerable numbers. the northern areas are only nominally under military control anyway.

    Please don’t make assumptions about how long I’ve stayed in Kashmir. People who don’t advertise how long they’ve stayed in Kashmir might actually be Kashmiris, no?

    You might be Kashmiri, I dunno, but you certainly don’t live in the Valley, which is the part I am talking about; since no one from the Valley, would say the dumbass things you have whether they are pro-India/anti-India, Hindu/Muslim etc. Everyone knows what the reality is there too well to come out with the bullshit you have. People might have different views on whether it is necessary or not and which side they support but that is politics nothing else.

  6. Conrad & Udayan,


    Conrad: military rule implies that the military rules. That the chief minister doesn’t control the military commander in the state doesn’t mean (a) that the chief minister is powerless in the state and (b) the military commander can rule at will. The rule of law of a constitutional democracy operates, albeit imperfectly. This is a big distinction. Also, Mr Usher’s statement lack nuance: he applies the term ‘military rule’ as if the whole of “Indian-occupied” Kashmir were under what he and you term as ‘military rule’.

    Cantonments in several Indian cities are also under army administration. But they are not under ‘military rule’. Let’s not forget words like ‘military rule’ and ‘occupation’ are loaded phrases. You do not use loaded phrases unless you have an ulterior motive or are extremely poorly informed/context insensitive.


    I wouldn’t impute motives, and am a firm believer in that adage about never ascribing to malice…

  7. From the linked article of Usher :

    And India thinks a fragmented Pakistan would reduce the threat level

    Wrong, there is no proof that India thinks like this. And any objective assessment would produce the contrary. A fragmented Pakistan “increases” the threat level of India, which will primarily come from terrorism and not an open war. Also, a fragmentation of Pakistan will provide wind for similar separatist movements in India. Why would India want that headache ?

    Any such incursion would unite the Pashtun tribes behind the Taliban, deepen anti-American sentiment in the army and stretch US-Afghan-Pakistani co-operation to breaking point.

    Is there any proof that Pakistan is actually cooperating with the USA in reining down Taliban. Considering that it has clear motivations to do the opposite (and destabilize Afghanistan) why should it be assumed that Pakistan cooperates with USA ?

    . The Pakistani army attempted to defuse tensions along the Line of Control, closing militant training camps and co-ordinating security with the Indian army.

    Wow, does it mean that the Pakistani army is a single cohesive unit with no rogue cells whatsoever ? Does it mean that there is no opposition within the Pakistani army to the closing of these militant training camps ? Mr. Graham Usher might have the luxury of drawing such conclusions. But Indians have to think more practically.

    BTW, who started the Kargil incursion ?

    And it would suggest that – far more than on strategic reviews – peace in Afghanistan rests on peace between India and Pakistan.

    What nonsense. Pakistan perpetually has a motivation to destabilize Afghanistan and weaken the Kabul government. It cannot tolerate anything more than absolute subservience from Kabul. Otherwise, the blatant fact that Pakistan holds half of the “Afghan” territory and “Afghan” population will be inevitably questioned by “Afghanistan”. Nothing to do with India.

  8. That the chief minister doesn’t control the military commander in the state doesn’t mean (a) that the chief minister is powerless in the state and (b) the military commander can rule at will.

    Nitin – In effect it sort of does; under the AFSPA the miltiary/security forces are not answerable to any state civilian authority; only their commanding officers who take their orders from Delhi and the MoD not the state govt. The military commander can’t rule at will; but when security considerations are at stake, he cannot be overided by any except his superior officer. The chain of command is such that the only civilians will either be in the Governor’s mansion or in Delhi who can intervene. This is the norm and this is why the military is loath to intervene except at the ‘call in aid of a civil authoirty’ because they are not subject to direct political control.

    Saying that Kashmiris live under military rule is debatable, it isn’t a phrase I would use because I don’t think it captures the political reality unless there is President’s rule imposed. However this is how many Kashmiris who are ACUTALLY SUBJECT TO AFSPA in the valley see things. you can argue whether this is right or wrong to think this way but imo this is their view as based on empiricial work and surveys.

    A population can live under military rule quite easily even when a democracy operates – this happened in Northern Ireland from the 1970s when the British Army effectively ran the province till the Good Friday agreement.

    It isn’t a dictatorship in that the military don’t intervene in every aspect of ldaily life everywhere but it does mean that they will control the physical security aspects of life without being subject to civilian control except at a removed central level. Normal rights and recourses are either suspended or made ineffective.

  9. Nitin

    —Banal statements such as -“The road out of Kabul goes through Kashmir.” – are on the rise & require greater attention before their resonance gains more momentum, (or else we’ll soon hear their repetition from our in-house Usher’s -Mr Sanghvi & Co. – a sample from this blog -“Afghanistan and KAshmir are completely interlinked,…”).
    “entrenched “military rule” is already well sold by the Pakistani’s, not only to the western intelligentsia but also to the general public.

  10. I agree completely with Conrad. After all that Kashmiris have given India, making them subject to humiliation and army occupation is a shame. A monumental shame for our country.

  11. @vakibs,

    Yes…you know, the Kashmiris have been subject to Army occupation for the heck of it. You know, because we get joy out of it.


    There’s a friggin’ reason why the army is there, and those of you who are going on and on about military rule and occupation need to ask yourself why.

    Why is Tamil Nadu not under military rule? Why is Orissa not under military rule?

  12. Why is Tamil Nadu not under military rule? Why is Orissa not under military rule?

    When Delhi imposes Presidents rule evertime a govt that it doesn’t like comes to power in Chennai and Bhubhaneswar and enforces the AFSPA with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and security forces, you can say that something close to military rule will be in force. Not quite direct military rule but a resemblance to it. Parts of the Northeast and Kashmir have been under these conditions for some time now.

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