Tag Archives | argument

Can we ban this one for 2012?

The most abused public policy argument of 2011

Here is the argument which was thrown around often in 2011. Particularly brandished to rationalise well-intentioned but poorly-designed policy initiatives — whether it be Lok Pal and corruption, or Food Security Bill and hunger, or Development before security in Maoist-affected areas, or Indian government pursuing peace with Pakistan — the essence of this line of reasoning is captured by this quote from Yes Prime Minister. In the episode Power to the People, Jim Hacker explains what he calls Politician’s Logic:

“Something must be done. This is something, therefore we must do it.”

No more of Politician’s Logic in 2012. Please.

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Food Security Bill and the Bhagwad Gita

There is a connection between the two

The debate over the Food Security Bill is of little consequence now. The Bill has already been placed in the parliament and will soon become a law. The sole winning argument in its favour is ‘good intentions’. How can any proposal that intends to help the hungry and the undernourished be opposed by anyone? This trait was identified by Pratap Bhanu Mehta in his 2003 book, The Burden of Democracy.

The Indian state almost never evaluated policy by consequences, almost always by its own intent; if the tribunal of its own intentions had been satisfied, nothing else mattered. If it thought rent control helped the poor get housing, or curbs on investment were producing more prosperity, this was so regardless of whether it, in fact, did; particular projects were a success simply because the state had made an allocation for them, not because they reached their intended targets and beneficiaries. The habit of state officials to respond to every query — say why child labour exists — is simply to say that a law exists to deal with the problem. This is not just a last-ditch defensive gesture, it is symptomatic of the way in which the state can become oblivious to the concrete efforts of its own action or inaction. The state has internalized the message of the Bhagwad Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter.[Pages 125-126]

The NAC’s Food Security Bill is in total consonance with the message of the Bhagwad Gita: only intentions and not consequences matter. How can anyone ever argue with that? The NAC wins. India loses.

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Explaining India’s economic troubles

The most lucid insight comes from Raghuram Rajan and TN Ninan

This is perhaps the best way to understand what went wrong with Indian economy in the recent years under the UPA. The insight comes from noted economist Raghuram Rajan:

Rajan said the problem in India was due to low growth in rural productivity, unlike China where rural entrepreneurship was the biggest growth driver for years. According to him, India has simply shifted resources to rural areas through transfer programmes like the guaranteed rural job scheme and minimum support price for crops, without the concomitant rise in farm productivity. That has fuelled demand for goods and services and led to high inflation.

“We don’t have the luxury of high growth (any longer) to indulge in populism,” said Rajan[BS]

TN Ninan builds on the argument in his column.

The professor of finance at Chicago, who is also an adviser to the Prime Minister, argued that productivity growth in Indian agriculture had been poor, so rural incomes were not growing fast enough. In its effort to deal with this, the government was pumping subsidies and income transfers into the countrywide, to put money in people’s pockets — which the recipients were spending. Since this expenditure was not matched by productivity growth, it was causing inflation.

…It is a line of thought that is worth staying with. If you look for the root cause of the power sector’s problems (high losses, disincentive for investors), it boils down to the virtually free electricity provided to farmers. That can’t be corrected because farmers don’t earn enough to be able to pay a higher electricity tariff. And there is a limit beyond which it becomes impossible for other users to cross-subsidise power to farmers; high electricity tariffs are already a burden for exporters who compete against rivals in countries that enjoy lower power tariffs. So you can’t fix the power sector’s problems without fixing agriculture. That argument can be taken a step further: Land revenue has virtually disappeared as a source of money for state governments — farmers can’t be taxed because they don’t earn enough. Irrigation charges cannot be levied at any reasonable level, for the same reason. Fertiliser prices cannot be raised, diesel prices have to be kept down because farmers use it for their pump-sets, and so on.

The bald truth is that half of India’s workforce toils in the fields to generate one-sixth of GDP. Since the other half produces the remaining five-sixths, non-agricultural incomes are typically five times agricultural incomes. The way to even out the imbalance is to get people off the land, and into non-agricultural occupations. But urbanisation and the growth of non-agricultural employment have been slow in India, an important reason being the stifling of industries that can provide entry-level, low-value work.

…The answer to the problems of high inflation and slowing growth, and low farm incomes, would lie in addressing the basic reforms that India is still to attempt – like labour laws. Instead, we have a food security Bill that will create irrational incentives which end up threatening agriculture itself. Talk of committing hara-kiri.[BS]

Who will explain this simple economic truth to the NAC and its chairperson, Mrs Sonia Gandhi?

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Not business as usual

Indian diplomats shouldn’t pretermit the Mumbai terror strike while explaining the need for talks with Pakistan.

New York Times story titled “Pakistani Military Still Cultivates Militant Groups, a Former Fighter Says” tells us that Pakistan has 12,000 to 14,000 fully trained Kashmiri fighters, scattered throughout various camps in Pakistan, and is holding them in reserve to use if needed in a war against India.

Another New York Times story titled “Pakistan’s Spies Tied to Slaying of a Journalist” reveals how new classified intelligence showed that senior officials of the spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, directed the attack on journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad in an effort to silence criticism.

In an academic paper titled ‘Pakistan’s Strategic Use of Lashkar-e-Taiba: It’s Not Just Kashmir’, Ms. Christine Fair contends that irrespective of any concessions that India makes to Pakistan, there is no likelihood of Pakistan turning against the Lashkar-e-Taiba.

India’s just-retired Home Secretary, Mr. GK Pillai in an interview to the Deccan Chronicle:

Q. How do you see Pakistan’s inaction on the 26/11 Mumbai attacks?

A. Pakistan is not sincere. The evidence is clear that even during 26/11, instructions were coming from the handlers across the border. Now the voice samples of those handlers from Pakistan are available with us, they are available with the FBI, and I am sure they are available with the Inter-Services Intelligence. We say the voices belong to (Zakiur Rehman) Lakhvi and so on. It is enough for the Pakistan authorities to check the voice samples. Don’t give me the samples. You have Lakhvi in jail. Take the voice samples and see whether they match, or take voice samples of any of the other four handlers who were instructing. Such a simple exercise is to be undertaken since he is in their custody. And if it matches, you say yes, he’s the man. And if it does not, please come to us and say, you’ve got the wrong guy.[DC]

And here is India’s foreign secretary, Ms Nirupama Rao in an interview:

Interviewer: In other words, you see a change in Pakistan’s attitude.

Foreign Secretary: I think the prism through which they see this issue has definitely been altered. …I think when they speak of the fact that non-state elements in this relationship need to be tackled, that we must look at safe havens and sanctuaries that we must look at fake currency, we must look at all the aspects that are concerned with the business of terror, I think that is a concrete development.[MEA]

Obviously, India’s top diplomat must be echoing the views of the Indian Prime Minister. But here is what Dr. Manmohan Singh told the five editors he met last week:

Q-31:What about the current situation with regard to Pakistan? Will you undertake a visit to Pakistan?

A- I have always said that there must be something solid before I can visit Pakistan. We should have solid evidence that they have stopped using terror as an instrument of state policy. Jaish e Mohammad, Lashkar e Toiba, Lashkar e Jahnvi, they are all offshoots of the ISI. We are not a big player in Pakistan. But whatever our role, engagement is a commitment to our shared geography. They have not done enough on terror. I still feel they need to do more. We need to keep engaging them.

Interjection – They have not done enough on terrorism?

A- Its goes without saying.[PMO]

This is a rather unique situation where India’s foreign secretary’s assertions completely contradict the views of other top bureaucrats, international media and even the Prime Minister about Pakistan and terror. It would be worrying in other circumstances but the drift prevalent in the current UPA administration means that the political leadership will not take cognizance of what India’s foreign secretary has boldly proclaimed. Fortunately, Ms Rao is retiring as the foreign secretary at the end of this month. But more worryingly, she has been rewarded with an important diplomatic assignment post retirement — India’s ambassador to the United States.

Leaving the foreign secretary’s pronouncements apart, this should lead us to a more substantive question. Why is India talking to Pakistan?

Of course we all know that Pakistan has not moved an inch in bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strikes to justice. Both the terror and the prism through which Pakistani state sees anti-India terror remains unaltered.

The Prime Minister says that engagement with Pakistan “is a commitment to our shared geography”. In effect, it means that irrespective of what Pakistan does to India, India has to engage with Pakistan because both happen to be neighbours. Rhetorically asking, if Pakistani military or the military-jehadi complex were to undertake a nuclear strike on Indian soil, would the PM still advocate engagement as “a commitment to our shared geography”? Surely, he wouldn’t.

Where are the Red Lines at which India foregoes this commitment to that dreaded school subject, geography? Evidently, Pakistan’s refusal to act against the terrorists and their handlers in ISI who massacred 166 Indians in Mumbai comes under the threshold of that Red Line, wherever that fuzzy line is.

There exists a fundamental reason, however, as to why India is talking to Pakistan now, and behaving as if the Mumbai terror strike never occurred. It is the dreaded Politician’s Logic from Yes Minister: “We must do something. This is something. Therefore we must do it.” That something is talks with Pakistan.

Indian diplomats, analysts and journalists have created a paradigm where India’s engagement with Pakistan is looked only in binary terms — either talks or war. And then the argument is suitably distorted to suggest that talks equate peace, and if you are not for talks with Pakistan, you are seeking war with Pakistan. Now that both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon states, war would be such a catastrophe. The insinuation, often unstated, is that you are in favour of a nuclear war with Pakistan if you are not supporting unconditional talks with Pakistan.

This argument is flawed and former foreign secretary, Mr. Shyam Saran has demolished it rather comprehensively.

We have to recognise that the approach adopted so far, by the present government and the Vajpayee government, has not yielded results.

A pattern has come to be established. We show our willingness to engage in dialogue. This peace process can go forward in an atmosphere free from violence and cross-border terrorism. We get assurances but attacks keep increasing. The worst have been on our Parliament and on Mumbai. Our response is to interrupt the talks. Then we again justify its resumption on the basis of verbal assurances. This has been the established pattern since the time of General Zia-ul Haq. That is when the strategy of keeping India off-balance — short of going to war — crystallised.

Unless you can convince Pakistan that its strategy will no longer be low-risk, low-cost, Pakistan will carry on in the old way. This is our fundamental challenge, and is not especially related to WikiLeaks. For diplomacy, I’d say you should never present your political leadership with a binary choice — either war or appeasement. Therefore, we need to develop a range of options to convince the other side that there is a cost attached.

Just as Pakistan exploits what it sees as vulnerabilities on the Indian side, what are the vulnerabilities you can take into account there? Then convince the Pakistani leadership of the downside. Disrupting dialogue is not a diplomatic tool. Talks should be held to deploy our leverage.[link]

Another argument made in favour of talks is that in the minimum, it is likely to prevent Pakistan from undertaking another terror strike on Indian soil. History proves otherwise, and if Pakistan’s strategic calculations demand a terror strike on India, bilateral talks are never going to dissuade the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.

Finally, it has been suggested that if Indian government could successfully engage Pakistani government after the Kargil conflict, why can’t it do so now, almost three years after the Mumbai terror strike. To start with, India won the Kargil conflict and most Indians believe that Pakistan was humiliated, both militarily and diplomatically. The contrast with Mumbai terror strikes could not be starker. India was humiliated in Mumbai and the perpetrators of that terror stike continue to threaten India from Pakistani soil. When the US marines land in the middle of the night at Abbottabad to eliminate Osama bin Laden, comparisons with India’s inability to do anything to Hafiz Saeed — however improbable — are made in the Indian media and lapped by the Indian public.

Pakistan was not the focus of the world’s attention post-Kargil. Today, due to the US involvement in AfPak and the terror threat emanating to the West from Pakistan, the eyes of the world media are focused on that country.  While the US government has been involved in the Headley interrogation and the Rana trial in Chicago, most of the stories about Pakistan’s perfidy in GWoT and the machinations of its military-jehadi complex have been broken by the international media. Proliferation  of the internet and web technologies means that these stories are now easily available to most Indians. While the Indian government may hope for a quick burial of the Mumbai terror strike by complicit silence of the Indian mainstream media, changing times mean that Indians will continue to demand a satisfactory closure of that tragic event.

Perhaps now that the process of bilateral talks with Pakistan has started, India needs to continue with this engagement. Like the recent Confidence Building Measures on Kashmir, India must beget all initiatives that benefit even the tiniest section of its population. But it must not overstate their significance or assume that these limited measures will solve all the problems between India and Pakistan. The rationale for these talks needs to be clearly defined and explained to the nation, but not in the manner this government official tried to do in an off-the-record briefing to the media.

Most importantly however, talks or no talks, India need not give a certificate of good behaviour and change in conduct to Pakistan when it comes to terror. Bringing the perpetrators of Mumbai terror strike to book remains an avowed aim of the Indian state, and no Indian official, not even the foreign secretary with her deceiving statements, should try to dilute that intent. “It goes without saying”, to reiterate the Prime Minister’s words, that “Pakistan has not done enough on terrorism”.

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Fowl n’ Fair

Clucking about Kashmir at international fora won’t make a difference.

Pakistan Foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi has been doing the usual circuit in the US during the annual silly season of UN General Assembly meeting. In an address to the Council of Foreign Relations, Mr Qureshi again revived the old chant:

“We call upon the United States particularly, which is pressing so responsibly for peace in the Middle East, to also invest its political capital in trying to help seek an accommodation for Kashmir,” he added.

The foreign minister said, “It has always baffled me that the international community has long recognized that the Palestinian question is the core issue to peace in the Middle East, but does not seem to understand that, similarly, until the status of Jammu and Kashmir is resolved, real peace in South Asia will remain elusive.[SANA]

Of course, this argument — solve Kashmir to remove Pakistan’s neuralgic animosity towards India — is all about somehow drawing in Kashmir and India as a part of the US AfPak strategy, especially now that the next big AfPak review is slated for December. But Mr Qureshi is unlikely to have his way. Even if one were to ignore the recent developments in Asian geopolitics concerning China, which propel India as an indispensable ally of the US in the region, it has been recognised in most circles that Mr Qureshi’s argument is deeply flawed.

The argument, for example, has been demolished by none other than Ms Christine Fair, former Rand Corporation expert on South Asia and currently an assistant professor in security studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

“I don’t believe in the (Special US Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard) Holbrooke crap about you solve Kashmir and you make Pakistan sane. I believe it’s necessary albeit terribly insufficient condition to get Pakistanis to tell the Army to lay off (in its machinations against India) if you resolve the Indo-Pakistani issue. Whether that can ever happen is irrelevant,” she said.[Rediff]

Now Ms Fair, for those who care to remember, is not an India sympathiser. Her remarks at a Foreign Policy Round-table in 2009 have been often quoted — and misquoted — by Pakistani commentators to prove that Indian intelligence agencies are causing all the trouble in Balochistan from the Indian consulates in Afghanistan.

In her essay for the recently released The Bellagio Papers, Ms Fair further explains why Pakistan will not give up its use of militant proxies against India.

…until Pakistan is ready to give up its commitment to instrumentalizing Islam for domestic and external purposes, Pakistan will never be able to resolve its existential and neuralgic issues with India. As neither any durable resolution with India is on the horizon, nor is a preparedness to abandon Islam as an instrument of policy, Pakistan is likely to continue using militant and Islamist groups to manage an array of domestic and external challenges.[link]

This indeed is the real problem which besets any attempts of normalcy in India-Pakistan relations: the deeply-rooted military-jehadi complex in a nuclear Pakistan. Dismantling it is no easy job, and the world — including India — has neither gumption nor the capacity to undertake this challenge.

This theatre of the absurd from Pakistan is thus not going to end soon. Let us learn to live with the clucking of Mr Qureshi, who obviously hasn’t heard of this one from Ayn Rand yet:

You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

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Trading terror with Pakistan

The idea of fattening the Pakistani elite is detrimental to the Indian cause of securing long-term peace.

Over at The Acorn, my fellow blogger Nitin Pai makes a strong case for what he teasingly calls “fattening the Pakistani elite”. This is his way of asking India to unilaterally drop all trade restrictions against Pakistan which will create vested interests among Pakistan’s rich and powerful to ensure stable bilateral relations with India. This seems to be a logically sound and persuasive argument until we examine it a bit closely.

The argument singularly fails to notice the nature of the Pakistani elite. The business establishment in Pakistan is predominantly the feudal land-owning gentry; there is a growing class of entrepreneurs but it is still nascent in shape. The feudal economic elite thrives not on free movement of goods but on quotas, special favours and dispensations. Their ability to thrive in a competitive market is limited. Ergo, free entry of Pakistani goods in India does not necessarily imply their acceptance in the Indian market. Therefore, the argument that unilateral opening of Indian markets will benefit traditional Pakistan elite is rather weak.

Notwithstanding that dissonance, the argument is further predicated on the premise that the Pakistani elite, if it so wishes so, has the capacity to influence the behaviour of the Pakistani Military-Jehadi Complex [MJC], which is the primary Pakistani entity hurting India. It is a question of judgement for there is little historical data available to suggest that the Pakistani elite has had the gumption to take on the Pakistani military establishment ever earlier. However, there are two examples — though not directly India-related — which lead us to doubt this fundamental premise.

First, the conduct of nuclear tests by Pakistan against the advice of, and despite promises of a liberal economic package by the international community if Pakistan were not to do so. These tests may have hurt the business interests of the Pakistani elite in a big way but it had to still go along with the wishes of the Pakistani military for the sake of patriotic pride.

Second, Sharif brothers, with their land holdings, business interests and political clout, would perfectly fit the bill of the Pakistani elite that India would hope to engage by dropping trade restrictions. Despite being backed by the Saudis, when the Sharifs chose to take on the Pakistani military establishment led by General Musharraf, the Sharifs were promptly kicked out of their own country.

Evidently, whatever may be the interests of the Pakistani elite, their ability to influence the MJC is constrained and limited. When the question concerns India, Pakistan’s arch-enemy in the eyes of its MJC, the situation for the Pakistani elite would be rendered even more difficult due to the issue of patriotism.

Moreover, the creation of the vested interests in bilateral trade with India would only be a powerful enough tool if the Pakistani elite were solely dependent on India. This means that India would have already diplomatically manoeuvred to demolish the existing strong client-patron relationships that Pakistan has — with the US, China and Saudi Arabia — and which benefit the Pakistani elite immensely. But if India were able to achieve this diplomatic coup, it would then render the whole debate over trade relations with Pakistan meaningless.

But the argument goes that there is no harm in giving the suggestion a try as it only “involves modest risks and is reversible.” Modest or not, the biggest risk is that any unilateral action by India is liable to be considered by the Pakistani MJC as a reconfirmation of its tactics, such that its adversarial attitude towards India pays dividend in the form of unilateral concessions. This will embolden the Pakistani MJC even further and could lead to a misadventure as witnessed earlier in 1965 and 1999. Now that both the countries are declared nuclear weapon states, such a misadventure could be truly catastrophic.

Another obvious advantage of this suggestion is that rather than merely call off talks or threaten to wage a war, India would have another option — to re-enforce the trade restrictions. In case of another terror attack, India’s options may not be solely limited to calling off talks or threatening military action; cutting off trade ties would potentially punish the Pakistani elite. While this may not be possible so easily due to vested interests generated on the Indian side by this trade, and due to the international pressure brought upon India — as is the case with bilateral peace talks — there is a far bigger danger involved here.

Now, the additional space available to the Indian government should allow it to defuse any explosive situation from turning into a full-blown conflict. While this should theoretically secure peace, even the limited space available by way of calling-off and recommencing peace talks has paradoxically acted as a disincentive for successive Indian governments to modernise and upgrade its military capabilities. A credible military capacity is the only guarantor for long-lasting peace with Pakistan. Besides being an important component of any Indian plans to destroy the Pakistani MJC in the long-run, it is the only way to drive a behavioural change in Pakistani MJC and force it to shun the use of jehadi terror as an instrument of state policy against India and Indians in the mid-term. Unfortunately, the lack of political will in New Delhi means that the space available to the Indian government for any non-military action must necessarily shrink if durable peace between India and Pakistan is to be achieved. This has its own attendant dangers and pitfalls but that is a risk worth taking for the sake of securing long-term Indian interests.

Finally, even if the Pakistani elite were to somehow miraculously generate that leverage over the Pakistani military, the MJC itself is not an homogeneous entity as was the case in its previous avatars. There are divisions between the jehadis themselves which means that any such leverage is unlikely to protect India from all types of jehadi terror. In fact, the usual Pakistani argument of “we are all victims of terror” and “this is the doing of non-state actors” could easily lead to a situation where these unilateral trade concessions end up as the new bilateral peace-talks between India and Pakistan. Terror, talks and trade could then all go together.

This is not to say that the idea of unilateral trade concessions creating dependencies is devoid of any merit. It is perhaps the only long-term structural solution for lasting peace between India & Pakistan; but these links can only come into play once the Pakistani MJC has been dismantled. Neither can the establishment of these trade links precede the real big issue of dismantling the Pakistani MJC nor can it be allowed to distract India from working towards that goal.

Relations with Pakistan is a mess inherited by us from the past. It would be a tragedy if we were to use this as an excuse to pass this mess on to our future generations.

in case of another terror attack, India’s options amy not be solel;y limited to calling off talks or threatening military action; cutting off trade ties would potentially punish the pakistani elite 

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Talks do not mean peace

The calls for recommencing talks with Pakistan do not stand to logic and are not grounded in reality.

There are periods in history in which it isn’t enough to say you’ve done your best, when the only test is whether you have done what is necessary.~Churchill

It seems that the wonderfully efficient marketing machinery at an Indian newspaper has been able to achieve what even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh couldn’t achieve after Sharm-el-Sheikh — convince the Indian mainstream media commentators that India had no option but to resume peace talks with Pakistan. The usual candle-lighting suspects have persevered at this for years — in locations as diverse as Delhi, Singapore, Dubai and Kabul. Now it is the turn of  journalists like Suhasini Haider and Maya Mirchandani to advocate resumption of Indo-Pak talks. Supporting voices have come in from certain unexpected quarters, including a strident ex-General whose views about Pakistan have suddenly gone soft; now he wants India to extend the hand of friendship towards Pakistan.

Let us look at the broad arguments being proffered by these commentators. A caveat, though may be in order. While the nuances of the arguments may vary from one commentator to other, the essence of their arguments remains unaltered.

First and foremost, all the commentators display a clear sign of fatigue with the current state of affairs. Their premise: how long can we in India continue with this stalemate? They perhaps forget that old cliché: all movement is not progress. Furthermore, it seems that in the eyes of these commentators,  the onus is solely on India to initiate recommencement of talks. Pakistan wants India to start the talks status quo ante; India wants Pakistan to show some substantive progress on the trials of those accused of plotting the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 before starting talks. In fact, it is natural that both the sides should be willing to move  some way forward before such proposals can be considered seriously.

A related argument is that the Law of Diminishing Returns for this coercive Indian diplomacy of past one year has already set in. A continuation of the same wouldn’t achieve more from Pakistan and thus TINA — there is no alternative — but to talk to Pakistan. Firstly, process by itself is not a substitute for substance. Secondly, there could be alternatives, only if we were willing to look at them. Seriously debating the merits of other alternatives — a greater Indian military presence in Afghanistan for one — could be the way ahead. If coercive diplomacy [although it is hard to classify Indian stance as coercive in the first place] is not paying dividends now and status quo is not acceptable, the coercion need not necessarily be scaled down. It could even be scaled up to achieve Indian long-term strategic goals.

Then there is the laundry list of usual arguments about strengthening democracy and engaging the moderate civil society in Pakistan. It is a fanciful notion that has been proved wrong time and again over the last six decades. Needless to add, history has shown that actors and institutions deriving their strength from a radicalised society and a powerful military in Pakistan will always prevail over the so-called moderates when it comes to national security, an euphemism for India-centric policies. Such people-to-people contact, in fact, tends to camouflage the sinister designs of the Pakistani military-jehadi establishment by providing a soft sheen of normalcy. The lack of such “friendly people-to-people” activity, though unpleasant, helps the nation and the international community in sustaining its focus on the doings of the Pakistani military-jehadi complex.

As for the saintly argument that India — being a liberal and democratic society besides being the larger country — must display its commitment to humanity by talking to Pakistan, there is no answer. Because such blithe concern can lead India to transfer Jammu & Kashmir, Hyderabad and Junagadh to Pakistan even now.

There is a common thread running through all these exhortations for recommencing peace talks with Pakistan. It is a false premise that underpins the arguments: equating talks with peace. The road of Indo-Pak peace talks, traversed in the past, is littered with the debris of Kargil, Kandahar hijacking, Parliament attack, Kaluchak massacre, Hyderabad blasts, Mumbai train blasts, Jaipur blasts, Delhi blasts and finally the spectacular Mumbai terror attack of November 2008. India, with a combination of fortuity and enhanced internal security measures, has had no major jehadi terror attack — bar a few in Jammu & Kashmir — after November 2008, a peaceful span co-terminus with the No Talks period of Indo-Pak relations. If the proof is in the pudding, then talks do not mean peace. Peace for Indian citizens that is.

Meanwhile the status quo on ceasefire on the Line of Control or annual exchange of list of nuclear installations has been maintained between the two countries even in the absence of any peace talks.

Perhaps this kind of containment and tactical deterrence can ensure peace for Indian citizens from Pakistan only in the short-term and it may give away soon. As the Reaganites are fond of saying, “True peace is not the absence of war, it is the absence of evil.” For a permanent peace between India and Pakistan, which is in the interest of ‘humanity’ of South Asia and the world at large, there is thus no option but to destroy Pakistan’s military-jehadi complex.

There are certainly some people who hope that things might be different this time and thus we must talk to Pakistan now. But then hope cannot be a substitute for policy.

Finally, if all the experts — or an overwhelming majority of them — are publicly suggesting that India should initiate peace talks with Pakistan, then the Indian leadership has to heed and follow their advice. Or maybe it will instead pay heed to Henry Kissinger’s word of advice:

It is, after all, the responsibility of the expert to operate the familiar and that of the leader to transcend it.

P.S. — It seems that Indian media and experts are perhaps tired of having nothing new to report on on the Indo-Pak impasse. Another big Indo-Pak peace talks drama means more photo-ops, more chatter, more drafting of joint statements, more backroom gossip passed as authentic information attributed to ‘sources’, dollops of controversy — all that the Indian mainstream media currently thrives on. Maybe the marketing managers of a particular Indian newspaper can then even claim bonuses from their own employers (and other media houses) for a successful marketing campaign to boost circulation (and TRPs)!

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Corruption and reactions

Varying reactions — balanced, confused and ridiculous — from ex-military officers to the army corruption debacle.

The action initiated by the army chief against the four generals, who were indicted by the Court of Inquiry in the Sukhna land scam, was unsurprising and on predictable lines. Incessant media spotlight on the troubling issue has elicited a reaction from some ex-army officers turned strategic commentators.

Ajai Shukla, writing in Business Standard, while arguing vehemently for protecting the honour of the institution of the Chief of Army Staff concedes that this should not take away from an unsparing investigation in all the incidents involving General Deepak Kapoor.

Close to the end of his tenure, General Kapoor is under a cloud after failing to act decisively in a succession of scandals: from dubious procurements during his command in Udhampur, to the recent land scam allegedly involving his close affiliate. While investigating those unsparingly, the MoD owes support to a respected institution — the Chief of Army Staff — when it is under gratuitous media attack.[Broadsword]

Next in queue is the former army chief General Shankar Roychowdhury in The Asian Age. Displaying a rather muddled and convoluted chain of thought, he pleads for a cautious approach — euphemism for bureaucratic due diligence — before initiating any strict action against the supposed wrongdoers.

But the understandable urge for damage control on a crash action basis must not be allowed to short-circuit the due process of military procedure and law. Even under these unpropitious circumstances, the Army and its commanders must stand their ground against political and bureaucratic heckling and avoid precipitate actions of kangaroo court justice.[The Asian Age]

But what takes the cake in this game of varying degrees of justification is the urge to protect one of their own contained in the argument proffered by Colonel (retd) Anil Bhat in The Asian Age.

Many do feel that dismissal of any of the officers is certainly not warranted. If the Army Chief orders dismissal, the officers in question will almost certainly go to a civil court, which is extremely likely to overturn it.[The Asian Age]

Well, the presence of an oxymoron like “almost certainly” and adjective laden predictions of a court judgement — extremely likely to overturn it — in a single sentence is a give away to the flimsiness of the argument. And this one is no different. For applying the same yardstick to other people in public life — the more-despised politicians and cops — Mr. N.D. Tiwari would still be an occupant of the Hyderabad Raj Bhawan and ex-DGP Rathore would be smirking after a favourable court decision. Should top military brass not be wished to be judged by the same yardstick now?

Finally, as far as the comment by ex-army officer goes, the best one so far has been from Major General (Retired) Afsir Karim. He summed it up rather well for what it is: a systemic failure.

These officers don’t become corrupt when they become senior officers. They must be corrupt throughout their services and that corruption must either have been undiscovered or been ignored. Either way it’s a failure of the system.[Tehelka]

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Why AFSPA can be reviewed in Kashmir

As a bold political gambit to finish the separatists.

In an edit yesterday, Mint joined issue with P Chidamabram and made a strong case for continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir. They based their argument on three premises. First, the crisis after the Shopian issue is unrelated to AFSPA. Second, the situation in Kashmir continues to be critical which needs the strong hand of the army. Three, the army can only operate against the terrorists under the protection of the AFSPA.

On the face of it, the argument seems plausible. But a slightly deeper study reveals a few major flaws in the prescription.

At the outset, it is amply clear that the Shopiyan incident is totally unrelated to AFSPA in any manner. In fact, the security forces camp — allegedly involved in the rape and murder of two Kashmiri girls — is a camp of the paramilitary forces which, unlike the army and the Rashtriya Rifles, does not operate under the protection of the AFSPA.

Should AFSPA go because of Shopiyan incident or because the hardliner separatists like Geelani demand it? No, obviously not. But should AFSPA be reviewed, at least for certain selected areas of Kashmir? Yes, it should.

Now that is a rather difficult case to argue because the easiest prescription for the government is to send the army (or keep the army there in this case) and invoke the AFSPA (or continue with it in this case). It signals strong action by the Indian government and can not be opposed by any well-meaning Indian in the name of patriotism. But an extended army deployment under the AFSPA is no panacea for separatism as our experiences of North-East so clearly tell us.

Now consider the context of army and AFSPA in Kashmir. The army moved in to the Kashmir valley for counter-insurgency duties after terrorist violence shot up in 1990 and the local police was unable to control it. The deployment of the army was backed by invoking the AFSPA, and for valid reasons. If figures for violence were a reason for bringing the army and invoking the AFSPA, then the current figures of violence (for terrorists, security forces and civilians) — which are back to pre-1990 levels — certainly call for a review of army deployment and the AFSPA. This is obviously contingent on the movement of army and the RR to a pre-1990 situation in these areas, after handing over the law and order duties to the state police. Once the army and the RR move out from these selected areas, the AFSPA is automatically no longer an issue to be debated there.

In terms of a COIN theoretical framework, the current stage of counter-insurgency in population centres of Kashmir is beyond the counter-terrorism stage. While army (and AFSPA) are necessary for counter-terrorism actions, they may have to be dispensed with in later stages of COIN operations. By all accounts, the insurgency in Kashmir valley, which is in its terminal stages, calls for a review of the deployment of army and thus, will lead to a review of the employment of AFSPA.

If we look at this in terms of the Clear-Hold-Build stages of COIN operations, the dipping violence figures in the state clearly indicate that the Clear phase is over in certain areas, with the Indian and state governments focusing there on the subsequent two phases of COIN — Hold and Build. As it is no longer an indigenous insurgency, the Hold phase is to be mainly practised on the LoC to prevent infiltration and eliminate any infiltrators who might sneak through the border fence and the multi-tiered army deployment. This Hold phase is where the counter-terrorism operations are going to take place, which will necessitate the employment of army operating under the AFSPA there. In fact, the army has been there at the LoC for over six decades now, insurgency or no insurgency in the Kashmir valley. That deployment, in itself, is not a part of the debate.

After the successful conduct of elections, the most critical phase, primarily a political one — the Build phase — is currently in progress in the cities, towns and villages of J&K. For the first time, the pressure from the average Kashmiri for economic growth and development has forced separatist hardliners like Geelani to stay away from strikes and hartals, and advocate peaceful demonstrations. To negate this success of development based political agenda of the mainstream Kashmiri politicians, the separatists have moved their ideological argument from a politico-ethnic-territorial one — of Kashmiri independence — to a Jamaiti ideology fuelled politico-religious one — of an Islamist-Kashmiri identity in danger.

Whether one likes it or not, the AFSPA is a potent weapon in the hands of the separatists to fuel the emotions of the local Kashmiris. Reviewing the employment of AFSPA where the army and the RR is not needed today — strictly based on the figures of violence — will not only defang the major plank of the separatists but also strengthen the hands of the mainstream politicians in this dangerous ideological battle in Kashmir.

To protect the state against nefarious Pakistani designs, Indian army is needed at the LoC and in other border areas of J&K. Where the Indian army and the RR are so employed, they will have to operate under the protection of the AFSPA. At other places — mainly the population centres in Kashmir — an area-based review of army’s deployment, and thus the AFSPA, is not a sign of weakness of the Indian state. It, in fact, signals a bold political step, a final gambit by the Indian state to finish the scourge of Pakistan-based Islamist separatism in Jammu & Kashmir. Let us not close our options on AFSPA in Kashmir altogether without considering the subject in its entirety.

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Give ‘em more money

Better national security is not merely more defence spending.

Thomas Mathew has been paltering at the Hindustan Times about the inadequate Indian defence expenditure. While he bases his argument on linking defence expenditure to a higher percentage of GDP, he needs to understand that tying defence expenditure to GDP is no substitute for policy making.

In any case , it is rather difficult to take him seriously. For one, he liberally interchanges the terms GDP and GNP to confabulate the average reader, conveniently skips the capital to revenue expenditure ratio, ignores the burgeoning defence salaries and pensions bill and doesn’t even consider increasing efficiencies in the system but only harps on pushing more taxpayer’s money down the same, old drain. Herein lies the tragedy of blinkered coverage of defence issues in the Indian mainstream media.

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