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.

Hanging around the Y-junction

The United States can only delay making the real strategic decision

It was interesting to see, towards the end of Bob Woodward’s Obama’s Wars, members of the Obama administration realise that the United States is in the same place today as it was in early 2009. Recent events validate that assessment. Frustrated with the Pakistani army’s refusal to shut down taliban safe havens, the US-led forces attacked across the border killing Pakistani soldiers. The Pakistani military retaliated by shutting down the supply route, letting taliban militants destroy some trucks and show that it has the ability to inflict some pain. This was roughly the state of affairs when Barack Obama took over as president.

This is exactly what we had argued:

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. [Operation Markarap]

What now? It is unlikely that President Obama would choose “direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex” just yet. The race to find options short of that is almost certainly on, and a “throw them a bone” alternative will be sought. There are three possible bones. First, to accept a pro-Pakistani political dispensation in Afghanistan. Second, to accept the “legitimacy of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”. Third, to press India to compromise on Kashmir.

The first option doesn’t appeal to General Ashfaq Kayani at this stage because he believes he can get there without the United States. The second option is a status symbol they can do without, not least because China continues to support the expansion of the Pakistani arsenal. The third option might just do the trick, because which Pakistani general is immune to the potential glory of being the one who won Kashmir?

So expect Washington to exert pressure on India over Kashmir. Expect pressure to restart the composite dialogue and suchlike. It’ll take the Obama administration a year or so to realise that this is a dead-end. General Kayani will probably realise it a little before Washington does. And then what?

Well, we told you already. Barack Obama will need to choose between direct confrontation with the Pakistani military-jihadi complex and colossal strategic defeat.

Restoring order in Jammu & Kashmir

A new Takshashila discussion document charts out a thirteen point plan

You can download Takshashila fellow Sushant K Singh’s 13-point plan here (185 KB, PDF).

The immediate goal for New Delhi and Srinagar should be to restore peace and security in the violence-affected districts of Jammu & Kashmir so that normal activity can resume. This has to be done by suppressing violence, arresting ring-leaders of protesters and actively countering separatists’ plans to direct the pace and scope of social, economic, political and religious life by issuing protest calendars.

The political process in the Valley can only be reactivated fully once the security situation has been brought under control. However certain steps can be initiated to restart the political process immediately. These will have to be undertaken at many levels simultaneously within the state. [Takshashila publications]

Letter to the Jakarta Post

Regarding the situation in Jammu & Kashmir

An edited version of the following letter was published in Indonesia’s Jakarta Post today:

Sir,

I refer to the article by Laura Schuurmans in the Jakarta Post dated 12 August 2010.

Ms Schuurman’s makes a specious argument linking the situation in the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir to the spread of extremism across South Asia. The fact of the matter is that Jammu & Kashmir is a victim of Pakistan’s dangerous policy of using radical Islamist militants as a tool of state policy right from 1947. In other words Pakistan’s cynical manipulation of religion predates the Kashmir ‘dispute’. Secondly, as borne out by numerous statements by leaders of Pakistan-based militant organisations like Hafeez Saeed, leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba/Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the extremists’ goal is not limited to the liberation of Kashmir, but extends to the dismemberment of a India, multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation which is very similar to Indonesia.

In fact, while Ms Schuurman regurgitates the Goebbelsian language about troop numbers and ‘repression’ of the people in Jammu & Kashmir, she neglects to mention that despite bloodshed of the last two decades, including the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu minorities in 1989-90, the Indian government has respected the special status given to Jammu & Kashmir state. Your readers might be surprised to know that Indian citizens cannot migrate to the state, cannot purchase land and property there and face hurdles in marrying their Kashmiri counterparts. The state not only enjoys greater political and economic freedom than Pakistani administered Kashmir, and indeed Pakistan itself, but is also the second largest recipient of fiscal transfers (per capita) from the federal government.

This is not to deny that proxy war and insurgency has not created an affective divide between Kashmiris and the Indian state. But the idea of India is big enough to bridge this gap, as indeed has been happening since 2002. Chemotherapy is painful and hurts the body, but it is necessary to treat the underlying cancer which is fatal. Despite the Ms Schuurmans’ flawed arguments, I am sure that of all the people in the region, Indonesians will appreciate the challenges of governing a diverse, deeply religious yet plural society.

Zabiullah talk, Taliban walk

The Taliban’s actions signal a different message from their words

Zabiullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s spokesman, has been dressed up to sound like a realist. “It’s possible for the Taliban and India to reconcile with each other” he told his interviewer, “(our) complaint is that India backed the (Northern Alliance) and is now supporting the Karzai government.” He’d like you to believe that it’s all a misunderstanding because “unlike the Lashkar which is focused on Jammu and Kashmir, the Afghan Taliban concentrate on Afghanistan. (Taliban) have never taken part in any attack in India, nor do we attack anyone at Pakistan’s behest.”

Given that everyone thinks it is that stage of the game where they should be seen talking to their adversaries, Mr Mujahid can be forgiven for self-serving lapses of memory. But Mullah Omar’s Taliban are joined at the hip with the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM). The HuM and its derivative organisations have been engaged in fighting Pakistan’s proxy war against India since the early 1990s. (Speaking of which, whatever happened to Fazlur Rehman Khalil?) When President Clinton ordered missile strikes on training camps in Afghanistan on August 20, 1998, among those killed were members of not only the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen but also the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. [See B Raman’s 1998 assessment] So Mr Mujahid is not technically not lying. He’s just taking enormous liberties with the truth.

And we are not even talking about the Taliban’s role in the IC-814 episode. As if giving free passage to terrorist hijackers somehow absolves the Mullah Omar of complicity in the affair.

India must reach out to various groups and factions in Afghanistan. But a lot of options will have to be exhausted, and then some, before trying to sup with Mullah Omar’s outfit. If the Taliban were so keen to engage India, attacking Indian officials in Kabul would be exactly the opposite of what they would do. There’s not only a big gulf between history and Mr Mujahid’s telling of it. There is a huge one between his words and the Taliban’s deeds. Believing in the Taliban’s bonafides is not the stuff of imaginative diplomacy. It is a recipe for delusional diplomacy.

Terrorism for the cameras

On this week’s terrorist attack on Srinagar

“Barring that it took place around the corner from the offices of Srinagar-based television stations,” writes The Hindu in today’s editorial, “there was little to distinguish the incident from dozens of similar fire engagements that regularly take place in the State.”

During the course of the attack, the Pakistani handler instructed the terrorists to prolong the attack for as long as they could, to conserve ammunition by carefully firing single or two-round bursts. “You must make every effort,” said the handler “to stretch this through the night and the whole day tomorrow.”

As good an example as you can get, to demonstrate that terrorism is theatre. As Bruce Schneier wrote:

The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act. [Bruce Schneier]

This was not a brainless 3act of terrorism involving indiscriminate attacks aimed at creating mass casualty. This was a clever attempt to achieve the same effect but with the limited resources at their disposal. The terrorists counted on the television media to act as the force multiplier. They didn’t entirely fail, as Pragmatic Euphony points out.

But when Indian intelligence authorities released intercepts of conversations between the terrorists and their handlers, the tables were turned. It is unclear if jihadi organisations fire (pun unintended) their handlers, but Junaid presents a fit case for dismissal. If your strategic intent is to prove that the violent ‘freedom struggle’ in Kashmir is not dead, it is not too clever to give the game away by using a phrase like “breathe life into a dead horse.”

(Of course, it is possible, though unlikely, that the intercepts that were released were false or doctored. That still doesn’t change the final score.)

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.

Return of the Taliban’s cheerleader

The Obama administration is demonstrating poor judgement in appointing Robin Raphel to a sensitive position

“Despite nearly universal misgivings about the Taliban movement,” said the senior US state department official, “it must be acknowledged as a significant factor in the Afghan equation and one that will not simply disappear anytime soon.

The Taliban control more than two-thirds of the country; they are Afghan, they are indigenous and, they have demonstrated staying power. The reasons they have succeeded so far have little to do with military prowess or outside military assistance. Indeed, when they have engaged in truly serious fighting, the Taliban have not fared so well.

The real source of their success has been the willingness of many Afghans, particularly Pashtuns, to tacitly trade the unending fighting and chaos for a measure of peace and security, even with severe social restrictions.” [US Embassy in Israel]

And towards the end of her speech, came the memorable line: “If we wish them to moderate their policies, we should engage with them.”

That was Robin Raphel speaking at the United Nations in November 1996. In a chapter in Fundamentalism Reborn, journalist Richard MacKenzie writes:

In a recent Newsweek report, Steve LeVine writes that until Kabul fell, the US administration seemed ‘unconcerned about the Taliban’s growth’. He added, ‘Some midlevel State Department officials applauded the movement’s campaign for law and order, despite the mullahs’ knuckle-dragging views on women’s rights’. Certainly what one staunch critic (in an interview with the author) called a ‘cabal’ at the State Department was not as enlightened as their brothers and sisters at the CIA. Assistant Secretary Robin Raphel and two of her staff gave good impressions of being at least occasional cheer leaders for the Taliban.”

Mr MacKenzie concludes that paragraph on Ms Raphel’s department with this: “In one encounter a few months before the Taliban entered Kabul, a mid-level bureaucrat at the State Department claimed to this writer that ‘You get to know them and you find they really have a great sense of humour’, apparently believing the words he was uttering.” [Fundamentalism Reborn]

“The entire chain of command in Afghanistan”, from Ms Raphel down to the Afghan desk officer, “all retired or were reassigned in the summer of 1997” after Madeleine Albright replaced Warren Christopher as Secretary of State in the second Clinton administration. By 1999, the US acknowledged that the “Taliban are the wrong horse to ride for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan.”

You would have thought that the United States would have learnt its lessons—not least after the Taliban’s guests conducted some unannounced modifications to the urban landscape in Manhattan and Washington, DC in the autumn of 2001. Almost eight years after 9/11, it turns out that the Obama administration intends to ride the wrong horse again. The idea of engaging with the ‘moderate Taliban’ is back in vogue again.

The potential appointment of Ms Raphel as the special envoy’s special envoy to Af-Pak is ostensibly to monitor US financial assistance to Pakistan under the Kerry-Lugar plan. While it is sensible to assign the job to a Pakistanphile, the prudence of appointing a former lobbyist on Islamabad’s payroll, with a dubious attitude towards the Taliban, to a position that involves fiduciary responsibilities is, to put it mildly, questionable. American taxpayers and their elected representatives in the Senate must scrutinise this appointment. More so because her unstated portfolio might well be to, yet again, engage with the ‘moderate’ Taliban.

Ms Raphel’s anti-India positions (via Raman’s Strategic Analysis)on Jammu & Kashmir in the early 1990s has not endeared her to India. As long as Richard Holbrooke keeps her as far away from India as possible, her appointment need not directly concern New Delhi. If, on the other hand, the Obama administration decides to place her in any role involving relations with India, then it must be treated as an unfriendly move.

What about the Balochistan on the table?

India need not be defensive, apologetic or overly concerned about correcting Pakistan’s allegations of meddling

Yesterday’s post pointed out why the mention of Balochistan in the India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh hurts India’s interests.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s giveaway enables Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex to distract attention from the Talibanisation of the Pakistani state, and unite the people against the old external enemy, India. It allows the military establishment to not only cite the India threat to avoid committing troops for fighting the Taliban. But also—now that the separatism in Jammu & Kashmir is petering out—use Balochistan as a pretext to provide fresh justification for long standing strategy of using terrorism to contain India.

In addition to this, it is quite likely that Pakistani officials and commentators will use Indian meddling to counter/mitigate charges of their country being a source of international terrorism. But the debating points and PR value apart, this won’t make a material difference: to the extent that Pakistani terrorists are a threat to the international community, and Baloch militants (whether supported by India or not) only threaten Pakistan, the rest of the world is unlikely to take too much notice.

It is also likely that Balochistan will figure on the bilateral diplomatic agenda—but it is unclear how Pakistan wishes to benefit from it (See M K Rasgotra’s piece). Because if Pakistan takes the position of “you stop hitting us in Balochistan and we’ll stop hitting you in Kashmir and elsewhere”, India could well say, “OK, that’s a deal.” Such a move is understandable only if the Pakistani authorities want to wind down the anti-India jihad and need a face-saving deal to sell to its own population. Since the chances of this happening are lower than that of snow in Chennai, it is unlikely that Pakistan will want to propose such a deal.

While the utility of bringing up Balochistan in the joint-statement is limited from this perspective, it is just what Pakistani government needs to tar Baloch nationalism in the eyes of the its public, and use it to carry on the ongoing, bloody repression of the Baloch population.

How should India deal with the outcome of Sharm-el-Sheikh insofar as it concerns Balochistan? First, there is no need for the Indian government to be defensive, apologetic or even too fastidious in trying to correct Pakistani allegations that it is carrying out covert operations in Balochistan. It should be fair game to respond to a proxy war by opening up another front and going on the offensive. If Pakistan protests too much, it can be told that its allegations are baseless, asked to submit evidence and made to do the very things it asks of India. If the ISI chief wants to engage with someone equivalent in India, he could be introduced to the national security advisor.

Second, since it was Mr Gilani who presented information on threats in Balochistan, it is only natural for the Indian government to begin to take official positions on the developments there. To the extent that the ferment in Balochistan is due to colonial exploitation, denial and violation of human rights, India should impress upon its dialogue partner the need to address the genuine grievances of the Baloch people. It is time for the Indian media to read up on Balochistan matters, for think-tanks to arrange workshops and seminars on the subject, and for civil society to take greater interest in what happens there. All this might sound sarcastic, but it is not. Surely, unless India does all this, how can it promote its own interests in “a stable, democratic Islamic Republic of Pakistan”?

For Washington’s attention

Unless the United States is sensitive to India’s interests, bilateral ties will suffer

Hillary Clinton’s op-ed in the Times of India doesn’t say much—but Mint’s editorials on the subject of her visit say a lot.

After the last eight years of warmth and friendship, Indo-US relations are heading towards the thermidor, unless, of course, corrective action is taken soon. Given the current posture of the Barack Obama administration this appears unlikely, though it cannot be ruled out. As US secretary of state Hillary Clinton begins her India visit, she should bear this in mind in her engagement with Indian leaders. [Mint]

It minces no words. “If the relationship has to move ahead,” it argues, “it has to be on realistic lines. Friendship has little meaning when one partner is actively trying to subvert the interests of the other.”

The accompanying op-ed by Siddharth Singh calls the United States to recalculate it position on the Kashmir issue in the context of the twenty-first century geopolitics

Why should India make concessions to a failing state when it is in a much better position economically and in strategic terms? American diplomats from George Kennan onwards have felt that Indian leaders couch their arguments in moralist terms and not in the currency of realism. This is the time for India to present a realist argument to the US: In a world where America’s unipolar moment passed away a long time ago and a multipolar order is a possibility, why back a lame horse? (Barack Obama knows that; witness recent American dealings with Russia, Iran and a certain delicacy in handling relations with China.) India has much more to offer than Pakistan ever will. A South Asia with a pre-eminent India is an option for peace and development. If the US sides with India willingly, it will gain a friend. If it does not, it matters little: India will attain what it needs to, the US notwithstanding. [Mint]