Saturday 23 February 2019

End seven decades of hopeless hope in Armystan (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

It is in the world’s interest that Pak controlled by the military weakens financially.

The danger in democracies begins when the fringe starts overpowering the mainstream in policy. Across democracies, the HNW (High Net Worth) fringe has a substantially disproportionate influence over policy than the rest of the population. These days, the Republican Party in the US has been moving towards an ethno-centred nationalism that is only partial because of the assumption that only some segments of society can be “nationalist”. There is fear in that party’s Senators and Representatives that they will get defeated in the primaries stage by more aggressively “rightwing” candidates. In Pakistan, an individual with a fringe mentality, General Zia ul-Haq, took over Pakistan in the 1970s and began a drive to comprehensively Wahhabise the country that has continued on its fateful way since. In 1977-78, Morarji Desai was separately offered assistance by the US as well as the USSR to bomb to splinters the nascent nuclear capabilities of the Pakistan military. He declined, opting instead to act as though the “armystan” next door was a regular democracy, a favour for which the then Prime Minister of India was given by Zia the highest civilian honour of Pakistan. In the 1980s, Rajiv Gandhi passed up a similar opportunity through a third country to take out GHQ Rawalpindi’s nuclear capability. Whether it be on 1 January 1949, when Lord Mountbatten made Jawaharlal Nehru declare a ceasefire in Kashmir when a third of the acceded princely state remained in Pakistani hands, or in 1972 when Indira Gandhi gave away to Z.A. Bhutto at the conference table what the Pakistan army had lost in combat, exactly as Lal Bahadur Shastri had done at Tashkent. Subsequent to the 1971 war, whether in the matter of pensions or protocol, the armed forces of the Republic of India were downgraded as their “reward” for having won a war, rather than lost as in 1962 or almost lost (but for Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh ignoring a panicky command to fall back by Chief of Army Staff J.N. Choudhury) in 1965. Ironically, since the 1971 defeat of Pakistan, bureaucrats, who cannot tell the difference between a toy gun and the real article, have been running the Ministry of Defence in connivance with compliant and complacent politicians, whose only interest is in the few files where gain can be had for themselves or for friends and family. A limited range of matters that the bureaucrats are happy to deal with to the satisfaction of their political masters, while they in effect take the final decisions on the other matters. In the litany of Delhi’s unilateral gestures of conciliation of, and abasement to, Pakistan, the 1960 Indus Water Treaty cannot be forgiven, for it is more generous to the other side than all other water treaties between the two countries put together. Prime Minister Nehru hoped that such a gifting away of water rights would melt GHQ Rawalpindi’s heart, the way Mahatma Gandhi advised Winston Churchill and his people in 1939 to “welcome Hitler into your homes” without resistance. To the Mahatma’s surprise, Churchill ignored the suggested course of action and instead fought against Hitler until the tyrant was forced to commit suicide in 1945. Unlike Churchill, in 1947, both Nehru as well as Patel obeyed the Mahatma when he demanded that they hand over what at the time was a huge sum of money to Pakistan, no doubt in the saintly expectation of the Mahatma that the gesture would ensure friendship, which it (to little surprise among the not-so-saintly) failed to do. Earlier, the Mahatma had accepted the decision of Nehru and Patel to accept the partition of India rather than urge both to fight for a united country, although he had in the past several times declared that he would never accept a division of India.
Prime Minister after Prime Minister of India has pursued the hopeless hope that a Pakistan controlled by the military would consent to peaceful relations with India. The Pakistan army needs the “India threat” to justify its grip over the governance structure of that country. Were the public to understand that such a “threat” is but a chimera, they would mobilise in sufficient strength to ensure that the military in Pakistan function under the elected civilian authority and be of a size that the economy of that country can afford. When the BJP came to power in 1998, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee began to fashion policy in accordance with the vision of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, who believed that “just one more concession” would finally tip the scales and make Pakistan the Canada to India’s US. Consider the government’s 1998-99 lowering of the guard in Kargil, thereby allowing the Pakistan military to seize posts in wintertime; or whitewashing Pervez Musharraf by inviting the coup master to India as Head of State (thereby initiating a stampede of similar moves by other countries); or declaring multiple ceasefires in Kashmir that allowed the terror groups there to leap back into action rejuvenated; or doing nothing beyond hyper-expensive posturing when Pakistan-controlled terrorists sought to kill MPs within the Parliament premises; or following the example of V.P. Singh in Kashmir and making indefensible concessions to terror groups to end the Indian Airlines Kathmandu flight hijack. All this took place under Vajpayee, whose team has been repeated in office by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The present government has been filled by those who played important roles under the avuncular Vajpayee.
The good news after the Pulwama killings is that baby steps have begun to be taken—for the first time since 1948—that indicate that the era of hopeless hope may be ending. And that even the Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi is backing such measures and indeed calling for more. Whether it be Indus waters (where unconscionably delayed canals and other works need to get built that give India at least the limited amounts of water that the Indus Water Treaty allowed), or the ending of MFN status, or the taking away of some of the privileges (among them being the looking away by the ED and the CBDT from financial shenanigans) of those who make no secret of their desire to exchange their Indian passports with Pakistani travel papers. If both the US as well as the UK can strip individuals of their citizenship, so should India with wannabe Pakistanis, who should be sent “home”. So long as Pakistan remains in the control of the military, it is in the world’s interest to ensure that it weakens financially and that its administrative structure melts down. The sooner India’s politicians accept that reality rather than continue in a hopeless hope of better behaviour from across the border, the better for those living in this country.

Modi acts against GHQ strategy to turn Kashmir into Afghanistan (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Actions show PM has reached the conclusion that as long as GHQ controls Pakistan, there is no hope for peace.

New Delhi: Since the Pulwama attack on the CRPF convoy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has distanced himself from longstanding security paradigms in dealing with GHQ Rawalpindi’s war on India in the J&K theatre of operations. Although steps for the transfer of the entire amount of river waters eligible to India under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, as well as measures such as the taking away of MFN status from Pakistan or the withdrawal of much of the exchequer funding provided to enemies of India residing in Kashmir, may be baby steps, yet this is the first time that such measures have been taken at all. By doing this, Modi is setting on a new path, something that his admirers had expected of him in 2014 itself. It is likely that still more (and stronger) realist (as opposed to idealist or saintly) steps will be taken on Jammu and Kashmir by the Central government, such as the revocation of Article 370, thereby giving non-Kashmiris in Kashmir the same rights that Kashmiris have across the rest of India. As such measures relate to national security, they would be outside the purview of the Election Commission. Given the fact that GHQ Rawalpindi has intensified its covert war on India since the surgical strike across the LoC and the 2016 shock demonetisation of 86% of India’s currency, the Modi-directed change in the policy paradigm in J&K has come not a moment too soon.

Throughout his career in public life, Narendra Damodardas Modi has always had immense respect for Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his policies. Hence, on taking office in 2014, Modi handed over responsibility (including for national security) to much the same individuals who had taken care of governance matters under Vajpayee, including in theatres such as Kashmir or Kandahar. The Congress victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls prevented Vajpayee from carrying on with policies that he expected would lead to a “peace breakthrough” in India-Pakistan relations, but with the coming to power of the BJP ten years later, the Team Vajpayee members in the Modi government had a second chance to resume what they calculated was the path to cross-border peace. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was given an honoured place at the Rashtrapati Bhavan swearing-in of the new Prime Minister of India, and during the same visit had personal meetings with Modi in the latter’s efforts at ensuring that the two countries set aside the bitterness of the past and embark on a new course: the “naya path” talked about within the newly elected government, which saw the continuance of prominent members of Team Vajpayee in its upper echelons. Of course, Vajpayee had tried the same personal diplomacy with Nawaz Sharif in Lahore and Pervez Musharraf in Agra, with little success. However, Modi was more confident. As PM, he took the decision to bring on board those having experience of high office during 1998-2004, rather than take the risk of handing over major responsibility to those who had been outside the charmed circle during that period, and indeed had been its critics over numerous issues. Aware of the weight of responsibility that he bore as Prime Minister of the world’s most populous democracy, Prime Minister Modi in several respects opted for a policy matrix on matters of security that was largely consistent with past practices.
It was not in the government, but in the BJP organisation that major changes were made, with the entry of the hard-driving and confident Amit Shah as the party president. Amit Shah introduced a new culture within the upper echelons of the BJP that placed a high priority on immediate tasks getting resolved in a satisfactory manner. The intention was to (a) assist the government in ensuring that the 2019 Lok Sabha BJP tally would be close to 400 seats (as was accomplished by Rajiv Gandhi in 1984), and (b) make the BJP the “natural party of governance” across the states of India. Given a free hand by Prime Minister Modi, BJP president Shah got to work with zest, keeping aside very little spare time for his family and for his friends. Meanwhile, Team Vajpayee notables, who had been inducted into important positions of responsibility by Prime Minister Modi, began adjusting to the “Hands On” leadership style of their new leader, which was a contrast to the manner in which Vajpayee dealt with his responsibilities while in office. During 1998-2004, Principal Secretary and NSA Brajesh Mishra functioned in effect as the Executive PM, taking decisions in the PM’s name with a confidence that came out of the complete trust that he enjoyed not only with Vajpayee but by the family members always with the unquestioned leader of the BJP. Contrarily, in the Modi government, the last word was always with the PM and not any associate.
The world had changed since 1998, but during that period, elements of Nehruvian idealism and Gandhian saintliness remained entrenched in policymaking during the Vajpayee years, leading to several initiatives for peace that were not in practice reciprocated by countries that had for long sought to weaken and contain India, especially Pakistan. It was not an accident that the revival of the Jaish e Mohammed in Kashmir took place in 2003, during the period when there had been for more than two years an open door in the Prime Minister’s Office to Mehbooba Mufti, who was an insistent (and persuasive) votary of a forgiving approach to the separatists and other anti-India groups in her state. The UPA years largely saw a continuation of Vajpayee’s policies under peace-obsessed Manmohan Singh, with the consequence that the overground machinery of anti-India groups in J&K got substantially strengthened and were primed for action once a command came from GHQ Rawalpindi. By the close of 2013, confidence grew within such groups that a practical if not juristic separation from India of the Valley as well as parts of Jammu and Ladakh was only a matter of time. This sentiment, and the logistical and financial support base underpinning it reached the danger level last seen in 1988, two years after Narendra Modi was sworn in on 26 May 2014 as Prime Minister of the Republic of India. His team, overwhelmingly composed of elements from the Vajpayee period, had decided on more of the same medicine that they had administered during 1998-2004, which was a remix of the “Vajpayee Formula” so beloved of Mehbooba Mufti. This reached a crescendo in the alliance between the PDP and the BJP, with the BJP ministers having scant authority in the face of a PDP whose leadership had the same easy access to the PMO as had been the case under Vajpayee. Even Home Minister Rajnath Singh had to step aside where Kashmir was concerned, the way his predecessor L.K. Advani was made to do during 1998-2004. Just as in 1947, Kashmir was seen as an issue that needed to be handled at the highest level of governance, if it was to be solved. It is another matter that it refused to get “solved” during that entire period.

By the close of 2016, GHQ Rawalpindi began to use the cover created by favourable political situations in the Kashmir valley to strengthen JeM units and a logistics and support network in four locations in South Kashmir under cover of the mayhem caused in the streets of Srinagar to divert the attention of the security forces. Terror attacks intensified, as did casualties on both sides. ISIS trainers arriving on visa were infiltrated from locations in Southeast and West Asia, who motivated youths from identified Wahhabi families to train for terror operations, including as suicide bombers. GHQ Rawalpindi kept its own personnel out of such operations, to ensure deniability. The steady build-up of JeM must have been taken note of by the intelligence agencies, which were also kept busy handling strains in the BJP-PDP alliance. While much has been made of the cooperation by the UAE and Saudi Arabia in assisting India do battle with terror networks, the reality is that so far, only a few small operators have been deported back to India, rather than the masterminds within the GCC who are behind networks operating in different parts of the country. Of course, in newspaper headlines, every such catch is billed as a major breakthrough.
As predicted by those outside the security circles who were not backers of the Vajpayee Formula, the BJP-PDP government was a disaster for the country, and the situation in J&K is worse now than it has been since the Kandahar release by India of global terrorists that was a fatal mistake in the war on terror. While Prime Minister Modi has spent considerable effort bringing the attention of the rulers of the GCC to terror networks flourishing through funds from within that group, because of the continuing presence of Wahhabi elements within the governments of Saudi Arabia and other states, as yet cooperation has not reached the levels needed to halt terror funding in India. However, with both the UAE as well as the Saudi royals, Prime Minister Modi has been persuasive in drawing their attention to the risks inherent in looking away from GCC based facilitators of ISI-ISIS terror networks.
The Wahhabi International has long made the separation of Kashmir from the rest of India a priority, and together with GHQ Rawalpindi, has worked to try and ensure that conditions in large parts of J&K resemble those found in Afghanistan since the Taliban took over power in the 1990s. Fortunately, the Kashmiri people are overall still not in the thrall of Wahhabism, although the fringe that is, has grown as a consequence not merely of backing from the Pakistan army but the indulgence of several Prime Ministers in India. While the US can be a force multiplier, as yet India has not entered into an alliance structure with that country, nor joined President Donald J. Trump in his war on ISIS (or indeed, simultaneously joined hands with Russia and Iran, two other countries that have done immense damage to ISIS bases). Hence, as yet, India has very little to offer to the US in our effort at enlisting greater support against GHQ Rawalpindi.

However, Prime Minister Modi has now moved away from past security paradigms. If the Pakistan economy weakens, so will the Pakistan army. It is not enough to levy 200% duty on goods directly coming from Pakistan. Rules of Origin need to be enforced on ports such as Dubai so that the same duty gets charged on items from Pakistan coming to India from such locations. Within the IMF, India must insist on conditionalities relating to the end of terror funding before any tranche gets disbursed to Islamabad. An international campaign of support for the people of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa needs to be launched. To take an example, the Pakistan army has seen to it that royalty for the oil and gas flowing from Baloch territory is much less than a fair value. Much of that money goes to non-Baloch interests that control the local economy, especially across the CPEC. Demands should be made to ensure a fair price to local people for Baloch resources. Private players in Thailand and in other locations producing high quality counterfeit Pakistani currency on an industrial basis and sending the same across the border, the way GHQ Rawalpindi does with India, would damage the military-supporting economy. Throughout Pakistan, support should be given to ethnic and other groups suffering discrimination at the hands of the Wahhabi Pakistan army that ensures the dominance of Wahhabi Punjabis across the country. Were computer hackers to enter Pakistan’s banking networks and take away reserves (as took place in Bangladesh), that should not be an object of concern to Indian security services. GHQ has declared undeclared war and so—silently—should the Union of India on GHQ. The economic and other conditions in Pakistan need to be brought to the attention of lending agencies so that the currency further crashes. States in India should fully cooperate in ensuring that river waters avoid wastage of the precious liquid to Pakistan as has been happening for several decades. Nitin Gadkati has done well in announcing that such is the intention of the Modi government. Now comes the difficult task of translating rhetoric into reality. The good news for Prime Minister Modi is that the Congress Party under Rahul Gandhi has given complete support to decisive action against Pakistan, and hence there is broad unanimity across the political spectrum that the time for conciliatory policies has passed (as indeed they have for decades) and the time for strong punitive action is overdue.
Experiments with the policy prescriptions of the past do not seem to have worked in Kashmir. After the Pulwama massacre, actions of the Central government indicate that Prime Minister Modi has reached the conclusion that as long as GHQ Rawalpindi controls Pakistan, there is no hope for peace until that institution be administered an unbearable cost. Measures for doing so are plentiful and need to be used in a manner that has not been seen before. Similar measures need to be taken against any other country that assists GHQ Rawalpindi in its terror operations against India. Sensitive equipment coming from any country that supports groups such as the JeM in international fora pose a security risk and need to be stopped. More than breaking a jawbone that can get mended, what is needed is to silently and steadily choke to ineffectuality the ISIS-ISI terror monster headquartered within Pakistan that seeks to convert Kashmir and its vibrant people into a second Afghanistan.

Saturday 16 February 2019

Chidambaram gives a clean chit to Rafale (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

He emphasised that not only would the Rafale deal not be cancelled, it would be expanded in scope once payment schedules got discussed and worked out.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has been diligent in adapting the BJP’s 2014 electoral strategy for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Using the 36 aircraft Rafale deal as his focus, he has daily been repeating a few catchy slogans that claim the agreement was tainted with graft. In each of these, he has concentrated his fire on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, aware that the latter’s image of honesty is a primary talking point of the BJP. Rahul Gandhi has also made use of news items appearing in the media, notably in the Hindu, that use internal government and other communications to highlight concerns relating to the deal. Fortunately for Prime Minister Modi, another champion of the Rafale deal has come out in public, asserting that the aircraft is a good buy, and that only a few details concerning the price needed to be re-negotiated before further squadrons of the aircraft get bought by the Government of India. This lenient view of the entire transaction has been expressed by former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, who, associates say, has emerged as the closest advisor to the new Congress president, just as he was to Sonia Gandhi during her years in the same office. Neither has Chidambaram himself questioned the Indian Express14 February front page story, nor has the Congress Party sought to correct one of its most influential MPs, who is even being reported as being considered as a non-Nehru family alternative for the Prime Ministership in a future government, should the arithmetic open the door to a non-BJP alternative to the present government. Apart, of course, from the Enforcement Directorate and other agencies continuing to fail during coming weeks in convincing the courts to allow them to get custody of the former Finance Minister. Returning to Rafale, apart from the explicit assertion that purchases made under the deal would be significantly expanded were the Congress Party to be in the driver’s seat on policy, Chidambaram has distanced himself from the Congress president by making it clear through implication that he has little worry about the Indian offset partner chosen by Dassault. While Chidambaram gave lip service to a future parliamentary investigation of the transaction, he simultaneously foreclosed its conclusions by emphasising that not only would the Rafale deal entered into by the BJP-led government not be cancelled, it would be expanded in scope once payment schedules relating to price got discussed and worked out. Those with suspicious minds may see this as code for Rafale needing to be more persuasive to a new government in order to save the order, but admirers of Chidambaram say that the obvious wealth of his family is grounded in his and other close family members having a mastery of business principles, rather than any use of official discretion. It remains to be seen whether Chidambaram’s interview was an early sign that the Congress Party would begin dialling back its rhetoric on Rafale, or whether the party would allow two competing narratives to enter the public domain, not for the first time where a political party is concerned. Rewind to Mulayam Singh’s endorsement of Narendra Modi’s repeat of his 2014 victory in the coming polls, a view not (publicly at least) shared by Samajwadi Party captain Akhilesh Yadav.
The deal for purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft may be as critical as its supporters claim it to be. But two squadrons will not suffice to fill the gaps in the combat aircraft capability of the Indian Air Force, which needs around 200 additional frontline aircraft if the IAF is to be a sufficient deterrent to adventurism against India and its interests. HAL needs to be split into multiple parts, with each having a majority private domestic or foreign partner, if the overall agency is to revive. More importantly, India needs to settle on its preferred security partner. Before the USSR imploded, that role belonged to Moscow. However, Russia is today the closest ally of China, followed by Pakistan. That leaves few other options in a context where a strong security partnership is essential for ensuring primacy (together with allies) in the Indo-Pacific.
When the MMRCA saga first unfolded nearly two decades ago, the first preference of this columnist was for the Saab Gripen, for the reason that the entire company was for sale. Had it been bought the way the Tatas took over Jaguar-Land Rover, this country would have secured immediate access to cutting edge technology. However, Saab dropped out of the MMRCA race and was later sold to a Hong Kong company. Subsequently, the revised offer made for the Typhoon by EADS, once Prime Minister Modi got sworn in, included offers of collaboration in space, civilian and military aircraft, besides a new and much more competitive price. Such an expanded offer had its advantages at the time. However, events have overtaken the 2014 situation, and with the formation of the Pakistan-China-Russia alliance within the subcontinent, it could be advantageous to accept Lockheed Martin’s offer to entirely shift its latest F-16 production lines to India. Such a move would enable the creation of an alternative platform for the production of high performance military aircraft, besides forge a security alliance with the US that would very soon expand to the naval and land spheres as well. India and the US would together be able to secure primacy in the Indo-Pacific in a manner that neither power would be able to, were they to be separated. Rather than looking only at the immediate needs of a particular sector of the front or service, an overall view needs to be taken in deciding on the purchase of additional aircraft that would factor in the need to form a security alliance in the 21st century with a power that is not only strong but has similar values and security compulsions. Of course, such a US-India alliance would have as its twin objectives (a) primacy in the Indo-Pacific, and (b) joint warfare against Wahhabi terror. It would not include the numerous hobby horses and faux crusades of those in Washington who seek to change maps and regimes as though it were still the 18th century.

ISIS opens new front in India, courtesy ISI (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Retired and ‘on leave’ Pakistan army officers are known to have given technical training since 2015 to elements of ISIS in the production and arming of explosives, as well as communications security.

New Delhi: While issuing sharp statements on a regular basis, India’s policymakers have thus far refrained from intervening militarily in the global war on ISIS. While the United States, Russia and Iran have deployed military assets against the terror group with visible success, thus far, not a single Indian air sortie or commando operation has taken place in any of the locations where large pools of ISIS fighters are known to have formed. The calculation within the Lutyens Zone establishment appears to have been that such self-imposed restraint would be sufficient to ensure that ISIS does not open a front against India. Fear of a new terror front has a surface logic, given that Wahhabi terror fuelled from Pakistan has been consuming a substantial amount of time, personnel and resources since emerging in Kashmir in 1989 after the USSR was defeated in Afghanistan. Terror operations in Jammu & Kashmir became full-blown throughout the 1990s. This terror strand was in addition to other ISI-backed operations such as the (ongoing) Khalistan project and externally supported armed separatist bands in the Northeast. A new front was, therefore, desirable to avoid, but was this possible?
A few non-Lutyens experts on ISIS have repeatedly warned that the organisation was simply awaiting the onset of favourable conditions before entering the fray in India, and that the relative immunity of the US, Russia and China to ISIS attacks indicated the fear of the “Caliphate of Terror” that these countries would exact a brutal punishment for any attacks directed against their home territories. In other words, strong action against ISIS would deter, rather than provoke misadventures. By such a reckoning, India’s very restraint would act as an incentive to ISIS to launch operations inside the country as soon as sufficient logistical and ideological preparations were completed, as has clearly taken place in some parts of Kashmir. Under the Lutyens Zone establishment, India is seen by most of the globe as a soft target that can be relied upon to give only a mild riposte to hostile actions, even an attempt at the very start of the 21st century to kill its Members of Parliament within the precincts of that very institution. The resulting “Operation Parakram” fooled few, as it was clear that the expensive exercise was designed to impress domestic opinion, rather than begin a retaliatory war with Pakistan. Of course, there have been several bursts of bombastic language, that get used by Lutyens Zone policymakers in such situations. The 2003 dilution of security protocols ordered by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was continued under the UPA, and further enhanced after the 2016 installation of the PDP-BJP government in J&K of what may be termed the “Mehbooba Mufti Rule” in the conduct of counter-terror operations in Kashmir, needs to be factored in. This is a construct based on Ms Mufti’s oft-repeated belief that Kashmiri youth would not sign up to participating in the actions of brutal terror groups. Instead, they would confine themselves to demonstrations and at most bouts of stone pelting. “Search and sanitise” security operations were scaled back during this “healing touch” policy of the PDP-Congress and later expanded by the PDP-BJP. Sterner protocols that had ensured a steady drop in the terror levels in the state got replaced with routine police procedures that relied on the belief that every Kashmiri had a distaste for actually participating in (rather than simply cheering on) the extreme violence favoured by terror groups. That the expulsion through fear tactics and selective killings of the Pandit community in the Valley was caused almost entirely by a fringe within, that was very much part of Kashmiri society, was forgotten, the way lessons from the past serially are in the Lutyens Zone.
Experts on “de-radicalisation” started conducting experiments in reform on those with a history of participation in terror activities, rather than neutralising future capabilities. Emphasis was given to the “healing touch”. Such Vajpayee-Manmohan era procedures and protocols were not only continued after the 2016 alliance between the PDP and the BJP, they were added on to. It was such rules of engagement (or lack of it) that led to a 78-vehicle convoy being cleared for movement along a non-sanitised highway filled with unknown vehicles that themselves had not undergone any inspection. Such relaxed procedures were, of course, based on the “Mehbooba Mufti Rule” that security forces had little to fear from any element in the Kashmiri population. The reality is that from the 1980s, a Wahhabi crust has formed within that society, and which is the cause of its misery. The “Mehbooba Mufti Rule” seems to have been substantially if not wholly retained even after Governor’s Rule was promulgated in the state in 2018, a fact which explains the casual way in which the daytime movement of 2,500 uniformed personnel on land in a terror-ridden state was treated, clearly not for the first time. Of course, to hold one’s breath waiting for action to be taken against those responsible for such a lapse would be folly, as admitting a mistake is taboo in the Lutyens Zone. In any other major power battling terror on a daily basis, the explosive-laden SUV that came abreast of the massively long and exposed convoy of braves would have been blocked from such proximity. It is only after the perpetration of the worst mass terror incident involving uniformed personnel in the Kashmir saga that the “Mehbooba Mufti Rule” seems to be getting a relook after it got introduced during Vajpayee’s time, incidentally the same government that released Masood Azhar and had him escorted back to safety in Afghanistan. Not that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who wrung his hands and made largely cosmetic gestures after the 2008 Mumbai attack, was an improvement in the matter of making the ISI accountable for its open war on India.
Although the policy establishment in the Lutyens Zone remains suffused with fear of deadly retaliation by the Pakistan army in the event of a military conflict with India, the reality is that the Pakistan armed forces are in a much more vulnerable position than fear-mongering officials, politicians, select NGOs and think-tanks indicate. Prime Minister Imran Khan has only a little over $6 billion in forex reserves, as against $400 billion in the case of India. The Pakistan economy would tank even in a limited conventional war with India. Thanks to the adventurist policy of its army, Pakistan is facing three live borders: with India, Afghanistan and also with Iran, especially after Shia-phobic elements in the Pakistan army just days ago assisted an armed group to kill more than a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards near the border of the two countries. As for India, only the Pakistan border is “live”. While the Pakistan military believes that China will enter the lists on its side should there be any conflict with India, those in authority in Beijing are aware that Chinese exports to India would be reduced to as close to zero as possible in the event of that happening, or even should there be a substantial flow during the duration of the war of Chinese weapon stocks to Pakistan to replenish materiel lost in battle. Production and research facilities in India of Chinese entities such as cell phone manufacturers would be shut down, and what is one of China’s biggest present and future markets would shrivel, with serious economic consequences for the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Given the importance that President Xi Jinping places on good commercial relations with India, it is almost certain that China will repeat what it did in the 1965 and 1999 India-Pakistan conflicts, which was to make protest noises, but refrain from any military action. Although the closest PRC ally (and therefore now linked to Pakistan), the Russian Federation would follow suit, and for the same reason: so as not to risk losing entirely and for a long time to come the Indian market. As for the United States, the Trump administration is unlikely to look with disfavour on kinetic action against a country that its own intelligence services regard as a state that has a substantial role in global terror operations. In fact, such a conflict would give Washington an opening to overcome the weapons lobby-fuelled hesitation within the Lutyens Zone towards a full-scope military alliance between the US and India, a partnership that both need. And given that (1) the use of nuclear weapons by Pakistan would entail a more than proportionate response from India, and that (2) India has no interest in any territorial claims on Pakistan besides retaking that part of J&K under the occupation of Islamabad, any conflict between India and Pakistan will remain conventional. A major factor in the behaviour of GHQ Rawalpindi towards India has been the belief that the larger country would not retaliate in force because of its phobia about the conflict going nuclear. A conventional military attack directed against carefully selected targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir would destroy that certainty and the reckless behaviour it engenders in GHQ Rawalpindi. A limited war involving the Line of Control (which would only get expanded to the International Border should Pakistan make a foray into this zone) would therefore end in the administration of a painful lesson to GHQ Rawalpindi not to test the patience of India any more, or to take for granted any more the Lutyens Zone establishment’s self-defeating history of military restraint, a policy of turning the other cheek that has only led to slap after hard slap being inflicted. Judging by their stance in the all-party meeting convened by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is clear that all major political parties would back the Government of India in a limited conventional strike across the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Whether it be in the 1980s, when the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was leveraged by GHQ Rawalpindi to ensure that the US trotted obediently behind the Pakistan army, or during the Clinton administration, when Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel made no secret of Washington’s tilt towards Islamabad, the Pakistan army gets hyper adventurous against India whenever it regards itself as having placed a leash on Uncle Sam. The Trump administration’s recent frantic overtures to the Pakistan army to enable the Pentagon to make a casualty-free retreat from Afghanistan has had the unintended effect of boosting confidence in the ISI in ramping up its non-conventional war on India. Retired and serving officers “on leave” of the Pakistan army have been known to have given technical training since 2015 to elements of ISIS in the production and arming of explosives as well as communications security. The Pulwama suicide bombing could not have taken place in the absence of a support network within the state, that included those having information on the movement of convoys. The ISI has now moved to the stage of conducting operations together with undeclared elements of the ISIS, as evidenced by the 14 February massacre of over three dozen CRPF jawans near Awantipora. ISIS elements have become expert in concealing their affiliation, infiltrating into “permitted” groups in order to gain access to weapons, training and time, before going back to their ultra-extremist units. Although the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) has acted on cue and claimed responsibility for the murder of 50-plus CRPF personnel, telltale signs involving the incident reveal the ISIS link. The JeM does not broadcast videos of its personnel for upload once the deed gets carried out. This is, however, an ISIS speciality. The video made by the Awantipora suicide bomber is identical to that made by other ISIS operatives before carrying out an “action”. The technique of suicide bombing, together with the improvised nature of the explosive substances used, is another telltale mark of ISIS involvement, as is the indoctrination of a youth to the level needed for such acts to be carried out. Unless there had been substantial long-term radicalisation and logistical and technical assistance, the suicide bomber would not have succeeded in the manner he did on his final run.
Since the PDP-BJP government took office three years ago, four areas within the state have become safe zones for terror groups, with police personnel keeping away from active interdiction in the name of “better community relations” and the use of the “healing touch”. In order not to cause a shrill reaction among those political elements that in the past were allies of the BJP, robust cordon and search operations have not been carried out in such locations, especially since 2016, with the result that they have become a sanctuary for trainers to indoctrinate Kashmiri youths in suicide and combat tactics. There have been reports that ISIS trainers who are citizens of some other countries have entered India on visa and moved temporarily to “safe zones” in Kashmir to indoctrinate and train local youths. Despite the historically syncretic nature of Kashmiri society, it is clear from the Pulwama ISIS-ISI suicide bomber that such trainers have had success. It is unknown how many more ISIS-trained suicide bombers are present in Kashmir, hiding in “safe zones” or elsewhere, nor where and when they will get deployed by their handlers. Interestingly, several of those active in terror groups are related to police and other government personnel in the state, with no effect on the careers of such individuals, nor it would appear, any extra investigation into their cyber, mobile and social history. Trust appears to remain the operative word for those recruits to the administration who have family links with separatists and even declared members of terror groups.
Attacks together with the Afghan government need to get carried out later in Taliban-held areas as well, as strikes across the LoC are likely to have limited effect in taking out personnel involved in terror operations. Of course, such a move ought to serve as a dampener on the willingness of GHQ Rawalpindi to aggressively continue its non-conventional war on India. Out of worry that Prime Minister Modi may break the “restraint mould” that has been the case (with the solitary exception of the Bangladesh conflict in 1971) and use military power against PoK-based camps, the ISI has shifted much of its Kashmir-related training camps to areas in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, leaving behind fewer Kashmir-related terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Such a transfer of assets got accelerated after the PDP-BJP alliance took office in Srinagar, in preparation for a fresh period of violence in the state on the lines of 1989-1994 after the expected US withdrawal from Afghanistan clears the way for the return of the Taliban to Kabul. It was not accidental that the suicide bomber spoke of the “US defeat in Afghanistan” as part of his motivational kit. The Pulwama attack has shown what ought to have been obvious: that there is need for a strategy that takes account of the global (rather than merely the subcontinental) war on terror. That apart from strikes across the LoC and in Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan where ISI camps are located, India needs to join hands with other major players in assisting in the degradation of the capabilities of the ISIS. Restraint only breeds contempt on the terrorist side and not immunity from them on our side.
Kashmiris in general should not be the targets of suspicion, as overall the culture of the state is syncretic and tolerant, with only a fanatic fringe being the outliers. However, rather than pampered the way they have been, this fringe needs to be proceeded against with sufficient force of law and the instruments of security, even while all state-sponsored privileges enjoyed by them get withdrawn.
Lastly, the Pakistani people need freedom from the tentacles of an extremist military, and in such a context, diplomatic and moral backing needs to be given to those in Pakistan who are at great risk confronting the Pakistan army’s excesses. Until Pakistan escapes from the clutches of this terror auxiliary force that calls itself the military, unless the Pakistan army be transformed into a professional cadre under civilian control, India will continue to bleed from multiple trysts with terror.

Saturday 9 February 2019

Going the last centimetre crucial for BJP in LS polls (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

While charges have been many, VVIP arrests have been absent. The government needs to traverse between framing criminal charges and securing an actual arrest.

Winners and losers are sometimes separated on the running track by a centimetre or less between them. As we saw in the case of Olympian Milkha Singh, a good start is not enough unless such a fighting spirit gets carried through to the end. It is another matter that India is a country large-hearted enough to celebrate an athlete not for winning a medal, but for almost winning a medal. So far as the Narendra Modi government is concerned, it has now entered the final stretch before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. A key plank even of the 2019 campaign is corruption, and Prime Minister Modi needs to convince voters that the Chowkidar-in-Chief does not only have a big stick, but actually uses it to apprehend depredators. In other words, the government has to traverse the “last centimetre” between framing criminal charges and securing an actual arrest. Thus far, while charges have been many, VVIP arrests have been absent. The central government seems confident that Rahul Gandhi’s Rafale barbs notwithstanding, its image of incorruptibility is intact. However, it may be recalled that the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was so confident of returning to power that even those computers where personal data was stored remained behind in offices and in official homes. This was convenient for the Vajpayee’s UPA successors, who were thereby able to peruse reams of the personal, political and financial “horoscopes” of key members of the Union Council of Ministers headed by Vajpayee. As Team Vajpayee believed that his government was anyway going to return to power once the formality of an election was completed, little effort seems to have been made before handing over power to retrieve and sanitise files and other records relating to subjects such as those related to fund collection. It is unlikely that key ministers in the UPA period made a similar mistake in 2014, for unlike the BJP ten years earlier, it was evident by early 2014 that the Sonia Gandhi-led formation would lose to a BJP captained by Narendra Modi, the only question being the margin of defeat. In a generous gesture, after results were declared, the incoming Prime Minister gave ten days to his predecessor before taking charge on 26 May 2014. Time enough to ensure that hyper sensitive files were retrieved and either sanitised or “lost”. Was it because of the 10-day hiatus (or the persuasion of Lutyenites) that the record of the present government has been slow in enforcing VVIP accountability? While there has been much television talk-time sound and fury involving enquiries into the activities of a few former UPA ministers, as yet agencies supervised by the present government have been unable to convince courts to send any of such grandees for custodial interrogation. Nearly five years after he was made the poster boy of VVIP excess by the BJP in its Lok Sabha election campaign, Robert Vadra remains a free man, with the Vasundhara Raje government in Rajasthan in particular having shown itself unable to establish the truth or otherwise of the many land grab charges that have been flung the businessman’s way. Was it that the calculation was made that just the threat of prosecution hanging over Robert Vadra would suffice to keep Priyanka from entering the political arena? If so, that strategy has failed. Not only has Priyanka joined all-India politics as the second-in-command of the Congress Party, but aware that the efflux of nearly five years has blunted the toxicity of the corruption allegations against her husband, has stood publicly and pluckily by his side as the Enforcement Directorate (always much better at barking at VVIPs rather than biting them through jail terms) began questioning the inventor of the phrase “Mango People”. Should the investigative agencies follow the Chidambaram precedent and prove unable to convince the judiciary to grant custodial interrogation, voters will regard the sudden flurry of Vadra-related ED activity as nothing more than electoral theatrics, as recently is taking place in Kolkata. In the next Lok Sabha, Bengal and Tamil Nadu may decide who will form the next government, as they did in 2004, and unless the Modi government can convince voters well before the polls that both the TMC as well as the DMK are hopelessly mired in graft, both seem on course to ensure a repeat of what happened to the Vajpayee government at the close of its term, of course at that time with the Left parties (and not as now the TMC) providing the Lok Sabha MPs needed for Sonia Gandhi to fashion a government.
Unless accountability gets enforced through more kinetic action, images of the CBI and the ED appearing on national television “swooping” on VVIP targets will end at the hustings in another race where no medal gets won. In the legal history of India, among the worst failures of the investigating agencies was their inability to persuade a Special CBI Court to accept as valid their claims of illegality against the 2G accused. The day a verdict of “Not Guilty” was pronounced by the 2G CBI court, confidence in the BJP-led government as having the capacity to hold VVIP wrongdoers to account fell to levels below the safe zone. Should the next three weeks not see at least a handful of VVIPs getting subjected to the “bite” of incarceration, such confidence will remain low, to the glee of the numerous parties that are busy planning the logistics of their own swearing in as the next government. Given the volume of information just in the public domain about the manner in which more than a few political and official VVIPs boosted the totals of their (largely overseas) wealth in the past two decades, it has come as a surprise that while television debates have been frequent and lively, actual accountability has been far more modest. An ounce of performance has more value than a ton of promises, and in 2019, what will count at voting booths will be what has been done by the Modi government, rather than what has been said. Should the last centimetre between charges made and custody not get bridged, the BJP could find itself where Milkha Singh was in the 1960s Olympics Games. Without a medal.

Sunday 3 February 2019

Stop de-legitimising the Vedic Age in India (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

India’s history as dictated by the British has largely continued its sway over school and college curricula, and thereby into mindsets.

The most successful colonial empire in human history, the British Empire, ensured that the history of India as taught in schools and colleges would reduce the imprint of both the Vedic as well as the Mughal periods, passing off most of the first as fictional and the latter as a seamless and accelerating period of national decline. In contrast, the 230-odd years of British domination of the subcontinent was presented to our young minds as a period of enlightenment and empowerment, while in reality it was marked by a steady reduction in overall historical awareness and in economic growth. By the close of the British era, the subcontinent was much poorer than during earlier epochs. Given that the post-1947 leadership of the country adopted, often without adaptation, an overwhelming proportion of colonial constructs and practices, it was no surprise that India’s history as dictated by the British has largely continued its sway over school and college curricula, and thereby into mindsets. As a consequence, the sense of history that the British, the Chinese, the Japanese or other nationalities including the French have in abundance is much less visible in India. Caste, language, region and religion rank above nation in the loyalty calculus of many citizens. In substantial part, this is because of a lack of knowledge of the civilisational treasures found in any comprehensive and accurate recital of Indian history through the ages. Just as the period in the continental United States when Native Americans owned the land was almost entirely airbrushed out of existence in histories of the US, which usually began with the arrival of settlers from Europe in the 1770s, the Vedic period has practically disappeared from view in India, and what little gets presented is labelled as myth. Even the government of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on the cusp of dynamiting into dust the Ram Setu linking India with Sri Lanka, until stopped by a court decision acting on an application made by Subramanian Swamy. Any individual who considered the bridge of stones that was created thousands of years ago as anything other than a natural formation was considered a crank, a looking away from the past that has continued even after NASA (hardly a Hindutva bastion) authenticated the Ram Setu as having been created by human effort. Sporadic moves have been made to ensure a more balanced recital of the totality of Indian history, but efforts by some politicians to link this to religion has led to a greater adverse reaction than would have been the case had such changes been implemented in a secular manner. After all, every epoch in the history of India is the cultural property of every citizen of this country.
In his zeal to stamp out any Vedic impulses from the educational structure, a Veenayak Shah has asked the Supreme Court to ban shlokas in Sanskrit from Kendriya Vidyalayas. The implication is that Sanskrit is not just a language, but is a mark of Hinduism, and hence any resort to that language would be to attempt to proselytize and spread the Hindu faith. The hymn’s words themselves are unexceptionable, calling for a transition from falsehood to truth, from death to immortality. This is a phrase that is daily used more than a few times throughout India, including by many Christians in Kerala, who have in the practice of their faith retained much of the millennial traditions of the land. Not to mention that several Muslims in India are fluent in Sanskrit at a time when few Hindus know the language. Hence it came as a surprise that the PIL in question was not ignored by the SC, but was instead accepted. Indeed, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court will hear and decide on Mr Shah’s petition, clearly indicating that the recital of a Sanskrit verse in every Kendriya Vidyalaya is a matter of seminal importance in the life of the country. In the system of governance that has evolved in India since the 1990s, in practice the government of the day proposes while the courts dispose. In effect, a government at any level lacks certainty over the implementation of a decision, unless the same gets affirmed through the court process. Courts in India have accepted for judicial review a plethora of matters, even as the final decision in several issues takes a while to be concluded through the judicial process, unless of course (as in this case) the Supreme Court itself accepts a prayer and begins to hold hearings on the same, as is the case with the matter of a Sanskrit hymn in Kendriya Vidyalayas. It must be said that Attorney-General Tushar Mehta seems to have misnamed the Vedic period as the “Hindu” period, when as mentioned earlier, the culture of those times encompassed much more than any particular faith. Justice Nariman with Tushar Mehta correctly observed that the very motto of the Supreme Court was in Sanskrit, a fact that has had no effect on the secular impartiality of the judges. Given that, why a matter which to the uninitiated seems less than earth-shaking needs to be cogitated upon by as many as five SC judges is somewhat of a surprise.
The PIL demonstrates how many obstacles will need to be faced before a history of the land becomes commonplace that is separated from the one-sided recital promoted by the British Empire and continued by post-1947 governments. In Europe, Japan and China, governments make a determined effort to showcase the past and in the process, generate self-confidence within the present. Any other country but India would by now have rebuilt the path taken by Lord Ram from Ayodhya to Sri Lanka and back, beginning with a Lord Ram complex in Ayodhya that would of course be separate from the future Ram Temple. Such a complex would be civilisational, but unlike the temple, not religious. Should efforts be made to make such a complex a reality, it is certain that some will use every available path to block such moves at reclaiming the full history of India. Viewing culture and civilisation exclusively through the lens of religion created a situation in the 1930s that led in 1947 to the partition of India. There should not be a repetition of that error in these times. What India needs is Indutva: a confluence of the Vedic, the Mughal and of course the Western. A merger of civilisational streams that is present in the cultural DNA of every citizen of India.