Tag Archives | Express

Pakistan shells Afghanistan

What if Iran or India followed suit?

Here is one straight out of Pakistani school of Strategic Depth and Sovereignty of Nations:

Islamabad has made it clear to Washington and Kabul that shelling on the Afghanistan-based militants from Pakistan would continue in the future, as it was necessary to counter terrorists who have been consistently attacking Pakistan’s security forces over the past weeks, Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq told The Express Tribune.

Pakistan took this position at a Core Group Meeting with US special envoy Marc Grossman and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin in Kabul on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir explained during the meeting that the bombardment was not directed at Afghan civilians.

Shelling by Pakistan on Afghan militants during the week has so far claimed several civilian lives besides a large number of miscreants who crossed over to Pakistan to attack its security forces.

Ambassador Sadiq was summoned by the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs last week to receive a demarche over the shelling which, according to the Afghan media, led to the deaths of several civilians, forcing others to flee their houses in Kunar and adjoining areas.

The recent shelling on Afghan villages by Pakistan’s security forces was not an intentional act on the part of its forces, Sadiq told the Afghan foreign minister.[Express Tribune]

Cross-border artillery shelling on militants operating from the territory of a sovereign neighbouring country seems to be acceptable to Pakistan as a matter of principle. That this shelling on villages has lead to the death of numerous innocent civilians does not perturb Pakistan at all.

So how would Pakistan react if either Iran or India were to follow suit and start targeting militants — Jundullah in case of Iran and innumerable jehadi groups in India’s case — who are based on Pakistani soil? Would it suffice for the Indian or Iranian Ambassador to turn up at Pakistan’s foreign office and say that “the recent shelling on Pakistani villages by Iranian/ Indian security forces was not an intentional act on the part of its forces”?

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The (belated) right idea

The best time to reconsider the AFSPA in J&K was in 2009. But better late than never.

Here is Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA):

“I would like to request that a pragmatic view about the continuation of the AFSPA be taken with a view to removing its applicability from those districts where terrorist or insurgent activities are minimal or insignificant,” he said, without naming the Defence Ministry and the BJP, who favour the continuation of the law in Kashmir.

In a related move, the Centre is also toying with an idea of a proposal submitted by the state government for which phased withdrawal of AFSPA in the state following a strong case made out by Mr. Omar.

To begin with, Centre is likely to explore the possibility of phased withdrawal of the AFSPA in three districts of Kashmir – Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal – along with three in the Jammu region – Jammu, Kathua and Sambha – where incidents of violence have shown a marked decline, official sources said.[Hindu]

This is pretty close to the idea proposed by my fellow INI bloggers in early 2009. See this op-ed in the Indian Express from March last year arguing that New Delhi needs to seize the political space in Kashmir by seriously considering the contentious issue of the AFSPA:

While the army’s role in restoring normalcy to Kashmir cannot be overemphasised, and though its preference for the protective cover of AFSPA is understandable, the greater challenge in the final phase of the counterinsurgency operation is seizing the political space. Security inputs are important, but the decision on AFSPA has to be a political one; it cannot be guided solely by the army’s preferences. What is required is not a military-bureaucratic decision but a political one — with active involvement of the state government.

The solution lies in finding inventive ways to balance the security and political imperatives. Here is a model which can be considered: rather than looking at the valley as a whole, smaller administrative units — blocks or sub-districts — should be considered singly. The state government should fix benchmarks — of violent terrorist incidents and deaths — for revoking AFSPA in each of these areas. This would accordingly lead to withdrawal of Rashtriya Rifles units from the population centers in the areas from where the AFSPA is lifted. Quick Reaction Forces of the Rashtriya Rifles, however, must be placed at selected central locations to respond to any major terrorist incident. These actions should be contingent upon a continuous review process: if the security situation breaches the threshold in a certain area, AFSPA can be reinvoked. At the same time, troop deployment along the Line of Control and counter-infiltration operations should remain at status quo.

By all yardsticks, Kashmir is moving towards normalcy. The window of opportunity may not be open for too long. Seize the opportunity while it exists.[Indian Express]

And then there is this another one in the Indian Express asking for selective troop withdrawal from Kashmir.  Watch out for Dhruva’s prescient warning circa February 2009:

Such a proposal is likely to be opposed on bureaucratic grounds by the military itself, and political constipation at the centre, and there is a real danger that this opportunity will be lost due to inaction.[link]

The opportunity was indeed lost due to inaction. But it gives us no pleasure to say that we told you so. Let us hope things work out even now. And we can make a start towards peace, stability and normalcy in the much-troubled state of Jammu & Kashmir.

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Happy Independence Day

We owe it to many Indians like these.

Painting  by Krishen Khanna (Courtesy: The Indian Express)

In the words of the 84-year artist himself:

The series begins with an oil drawing of Gurbaksh Rai, an old homeopathic doctor saying goodbye to his family after being arrested by police. He was an ardent Congressman. I have used monochrome because if there is something I want to say, it is best to avoid the dynamics of colour. Then you are not dealing with the man – the subject matter – any more.[Link]

And the aptest Independence Day wishes captured by this tweet:

Happy Independence Day India! Proud of my status in the world and humbled at the enormity of tasks still to complete.

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March under the civil flag

A question about army’s refusal to J&K government’s request for a flag march in Sopore.

Kashmir is again in the news now, and for all the wrong reasons. But amidst all this, one story about the perilous state of civil-military relations in India will pass unnoticed. Indian Express reports:

The Army turned down a J&K government request for a flag march through Sopore town after a 20-year-old was killed in firing by CRPF on June 28.

The Omar Abdullah government, through the Deputy Commissioner, put in the request for the flag march with General Officer Commanding, Kilo Force, Major General N George.

…The Army Headquarters debated on the request and decided to reply in the negative — the brass made it clear that the Army was not a riot-control force and the primary duty of the Kilo Force was to neutralise militants, not fire against its own people.[Indian Express]

Was it constitutionally legal for the army to turn down such a request? Here is Section 132 of the Code of Criminal Procedure:

130. Use of armed forces to disperse assembly

(1) If any such assembly cannot be otherwise dispersed, and if it is necessary for the public security that it should be dispersed, the Executive Magistrate of the highest rank who is present may cause it to be dispersed by the armed forces

(2) Such Magistrate may require any officer in command of any group of persons belonging to the armed forces to disperse the assembly with the help of the armed forces under his command, and to arrest and confine such persons forming part of it as the Magistrate may direct, or as it may be necessary to arrest and confine in order to disperse the assembly or to have them punished according to law

(3) Every such officer of the armed forces shall obey such requisition in such manner as he thinks fit, but in so doing he shall use as little force, and do as little injury to person and property, as may be consistent with dispersing the assembly and arresting and detaining such persons (emphasis added)

The answer is rather obvious. And it doesn’t bode well for the state of civil-military relations in this country, where certain lines have never been crossed. While a public hue and cry or shaming of the concerned generals may not be warranted, a quiet reading of the riot act to the top army brass by the political executive of this country would well be in order.

And for those who would like to know about the ideal state of civil-military relations, here is an old blogpost on the subject.

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Choosing the least worst option

Using the development pacakge to cover up for vacillation and prevarication by the political leadership in undertaking security operations against the Maoists is a recipe for disaster.

For the UPA government, development — without security — is the abiding mantra when it comes to solving the Maoist problem. Indian Express reports that “the Planning Commission is all set to approach the Union Cabinet for a proposed outlay of Rs 13,742 crore to wean away the tribals from sympathising with the Maoists through comprehensive infrastructure and economic development”. This is part of an integrated action plan by the Planning Commission for development projects in 35 Maoist-affected districts.

It is exactly these kind of development initiatives by the government in Maoist-infested areas that Bibek Debroy has questioned in his column in the Indian Express last week. He makes three succinct arguments against such proposals.

One, UPA-I had a special development package of Rs 20,000 crore, spread over three years and concentrated on these 33 districts and another 22 contiguous ones. If that public expenditure splurge did not work, what makes us think the present one will be any different?

Two, Bibek Debroy asks why are the government departments, ministries, state governments and even district administrations operating in their own silos. He doesn’t provide the answer but it is clearly a lack of national policy and decrepit governance mechanisms that are behind this dysfunctional governance.

Three, he raises the most important question about the top-driven model of development and the Maoist menace. What exactly does development mean?

…in looking at simple correlations with economic backwardness or shares of tribal population, we may be over-simplifying. For instance, beyond economic backwardness, there may be a sense of social and political marginalisation, non-existence of redress mechanisms, bypassing by the law and order machinery. Should one therefore have a centralised template, imposed top-down from Delhi, and assume it will solve the problem? Or should the integrated action plan evolve from below, from the level of districts? There is no doubt Balaghat needs roads. But that does not seem to be the primary issue for Aurangabad. Rural electrification is important in Rayagada, but less so in Rohtas.[Indian Express]

He then goes on to make another interesting argument about the NREGS being more acceptable to the Maoists because it has reduced out-migration, chiefly of the male variety. “Has it then also reinforced — instead of reducing — Maoist violence?”

There is another additional issue to be considered here. In an article in the CRPF’s in-house magazine ‘CRPF Samachar’ Inspector General (Special Action Force) Ashutosh Shukla had identified development funds being grabbed by the Maoists as a challenge for the government. If one were to conservatively estimate a 10% levy or cuts from these developmental projects for the Maoists in these districts, it would mean an accretion of Rs 1374 crore to the Maoist kitty. It goes without saying that such developmental aid packages — which are counterproductive to national interest — will be warmly welcomed by the Maoists and their overt sympathisers.

In a lawless environment with a weak government & high instability, developmental money generates & fuels conflict, it doesn’t alleviate it. It creates and sustains a conflict economy in the region which develops deeply entrenched interests for all the actors — Maoists, politicians, bureaucrats and security forces — and drives back any attempts to return to normalcy.

But if columnists, bloggers and twitter users can see this, then surely the government must also have realised by now that while security without development is meaningless, development, without security, is unachievable. Then why is the governement still continuing with such fallacious developmental plans, without establishing security first? The obvious answer is a lack of political will in the government. In simpler terms, or put cynically, this means that there is little electoral incentive for the ruling dispensation to pursue a rational and prudent course of action. With the next Lok Sabha polls still four years away, there is no price to pay for government inaction today.

Moreover, there is little analysis of the larger picture or questioning of the long-term impact of such decisions. This has created a false populist narrative which allows the government to get away with this course of action. Consider this debate about undertaking security operations against the Maoists. Most people realise and understand that any security operations undertaken against the Maoists now will be an ugly affair. This will entail suffering for the innocent, wanton loss of property and lives, allegations of human right violations against the state, adverse media publicity and some loss of lives of security forces personnel. Thus the government eschews security operations now in the hope that the feel-good development package will miraculously work somehow. But little do these people realise that this vacillation and procrastination by the government is only delaying the inevitable — a security operation will have to eventually take place against the Maoists. That security operation, at a later date, will be far uglier compared to what it will be today. There will be greater suffering and pain for the innocent, more wanton loss of property and lives, more brutality from both sides, worse media publicity and far greater loss of lives of security forces personnel.

To put it bluntly, there are simply no good options left for the government to embrace now. It has to choose the least worst option against the Maoists here. This is not an easy decision to take for the top political leadership of the country. But if it was such an easy choice, as Robert Gates so presciently put it, some one lower in the hierarchy would have already taken the call much earlier.

The price of failure to meet the challenges of good leadership today will be paid by the future generations. Can the top political leadership of the country rise to this challenge now and make the choice?

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Energy Security = Energy + Security

Why are the Defence Minister and Navy Chief not a part of the GoM on energy security?

This blogger is no fan of governance by Group of Ministers (GoM), a technique patented by the UPA2.0 in this tenure. But on certain issues, one has to agree that this device of a GoM does serve a purpose. Here is one such example. Indian Express reports that the government has decided to establish a GoM “to provide policy guidance on energy security issues, particularly where it pertains to securing support from other countries.”

Although belated, it is still a hugely welcome move for a nation that is already the world’s sixth-largest consumer of energy. Indubitably, India’s energy consumption is bound to rise as the economy grows further. Indians are currently estimated to be the lowest per capita users of energy in the world. An average Indian uses 510 kg of oil equivalent of energy compared to the US, which consumes 7,778 kg of energy per capita while the world average of energy consumption is close to 1,818 kg.

Here is a closer look at the composition of the GoM:

Apart from [Finance Minister Pranab] Mukherjee, the GoM would consist of Foreign Minister S M Krishna, Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon would be special invitees.[Indian Express]

Now…now, why is the Defence Minister missing from the GoM? Especially if the GoM will formulate policy on energy security. In fact, it would have been apt to consider the Navy Chief to be a special invitee to the GoM, considering the critical role that the Indian Navy currently plays — and will increasingly play in the future — in the domain of energy security.

For those interested in the subject, it is mandatory to read the very cogently written India’s Maritime Military Strategy — Freedom to Use the Seas [pdf here] which was released by the Indian Navy in May 2007. Chapter 4 of the document deals exclusively with the subject of Maritime Trade and Security of Energy. Here is an extract from that Chapter which should have been noted by the authorities who announced this GoM:

Today, Energy Security to a nation implies safeguarding the availability of requisite quantities and types of energy from any kind of disruption – physical or economic. The degree of Energy Security possessed by a nation is the excess of actual, or assured, availability of energy supplies over demand, at  an acceptable price. There is, thus, a distinction to be made between the terms Energy Security and Security of Energy, with the latter being used as a subset of the former.

Energy Security is a function of various interactive factors, which include (but are not limited to): the sources of supply of energy resources, both domestic and imported; the present and future availability of these resources at competitive prices; the projection of energy requirements based on present consumption levels and expected economic growth; the ratio between traditional and commercial energy, etc.

Security of Energy encompasses the military and quasi-military means adopted to address the vulnerabilities of energy supply. This concentrates more on the safety and security of the energy assets in the littoral, lines of communication of imported and indigenous sources as also its storage and distribution networks. [Pages 46-47, Chapter 4, India's Maritime Military Strategy]

Even if one were to discount the military aspects of Indian diplomatic initiatives which enhance energy security, as in the case of Qatar, ensuring the security of energy would mean that the defence minister should have been a part of the GoM on Energy Security, and the Navy Chief a special invitee to the GoM. Even now, it is not too late for the government to make amends and include these officials in the GoM.

Or they can institute another GoM to decide upon the composition of this GoM!

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Expressing grief not good enough

The nation needs to know from the Union government what its anti-Maoist strategy is.

So this was the reaction of Union Railway Minister, Ms Mamata Banerjee to the horrific mishap that took place in West Bengal’s West Midnapore district on the Gyaneshwari Express.

“Trains have been made soft targets. We have appealed repeatedly that rail services should not be disrupted. Railway is going for a high-power investigation but at the same time I will request the home minister to investigate the matter and whoever is responsible, take necessary reaction.”[India Today]

Well the Railway Minister’s reaction of appealing repeatedly to some one — who, unnamed miscreants perhaps — that rail services should not be disrupted is entirely on expected lines. Along with Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Shibu Soren and myriad Congress leaders like Mr Digvijay Singh and Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar, Ms Banerjee has been overtly sympathetic to the Maoist cause — not for any deep ideological reasons but for purely electoral ones. And here is her official statement as the Railway Minister:

The Minister of Railways, Mamata Banerjee, who reached the accident site at 6.30 A.M., has termed the train accident as most unfortunate. The Railway Minister, who has been closely monitoring and supervising the situation since the time of its occurrence, strongly condemned this kind of violence. She expressed her profound grief over the loss of innocent lives.[PIB]

And here is the official press release of the Prime Minister:

The Prime Minister has expressed grief over the loss of lives in the derailment of the Gyaneshwari Express near Sardiya in West Bengal. The Prime Minister has asked the Railways and other authorities to ensure that all assistance is provided to the bereaved families, those injured and other passengers.[PIB]

But the most surprising official response has come from the Union Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram.

I am deeply saddened by the tragedy that struck the Howrah-Kurla-Jnaneswari Express train in West Midnapore district in West Bengal this morning. It appears to be a case of sabotage where a portion of the railway track was removed. Whether explosives were used is not yet clear.

I convey my sincere and heartfelt condolences to the families of the deceased. I offer my sympathies to the injured; every effort is being made to rush them to hospitals for medical treatment.[PIB]

Evidently, every concerned minister in the union government is ‘saddened’, has ‘expressed grief’, has ‘offered sympathies’ and one of them has ‘condemned this kind of violence’ and that is the end of it. There is not a single word about the Maoists, their brutality, and what the government intends to do to counter their nefarious designs.

The rhetoric of “Left Wing Extremism is the gravest internal security challenge facing the country” by the Prime Minister is no longer enough. A government speaking in different voices is not good enough; the Home Minister doesn’t have the full mandate to take on the Maoists, the home ministry moves from a Security First to a dual-pronged strategy of ‘development and security’ without any justification as to what brought about this change. It is no secret that the state governments are equally to blame for the perilous state of anti-Maoist operations in this country. But when the Centre itself is so confused and dithering in its approach and has not defined and articulated a strategy, how can it afford to bring the states on board.

The UPA government can refer the caste enumeration issue to a Group of Ministers. It can use the same device to delay a decision on oil pricing, FDI in insurance, spectrum sharing and many other subjects without getting noticed. It can delay the process of defence modernisation without getting noticed for its act of omission. It can use Track-2 interlocutors to push for a deal with Pakistan without taking the nation into confidence. But none of these tactics and devices will work for the UPA government when it comes to finding a way to deal with the Maoists. It has to decide its anti-Maoist strategy, resource it fully, back it with a hitherto unseen political will, seek the popular backing of the nation and take the proverbial battle to the Maoists.

The nation is well within its rights to know from the government what it intends to do to counter the Maoist threat. In fact, the union government is duty bound to explain to the nation its policy regarding Maoist violence and its anti-Maoist strategy. The onus is now upon the Prime Minister to step forward and take the nation into confidence with a well-articulated strategy. That shall form the basis for his government, along with the state governments, to act uninhibitedly against the Maoists. And finish their scourge.

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Understanding the peace talks offer

Some gaps in the understanding are filled, but more questions emerge.

Too many trees have been felled and much ether used to debate the Indian offer to recommence peace talks with Pakistan. Most of the sensible debate — not the jingoistic bit of how we have been shamed by Pakistan cocking a snook at us — is predicated on the Obama plan of starting the withdrawal of US-NATO forces from Afghanistan by the middle of next year. Combine this with the proposals at the London conference of buying out the Taliban and detractors of the Indian offer for talks are convinced that India has already ended up on the losing side.

While all this seems overtly true, it just might not be the complete truth — and certainly not the final truth. It is here that this piece in Indian Express by K Subrahmanyam assists us by filling in some of the blanks. He flags two important issues. First is the course of action followed by the US forces between the completion of the surge and start of the drawdown operation.

That depends on the course of the campaign the US will launch on completing the surge operation. The purpose of buying up the pseudo-Taliban is to pacify the Afghan territory as the US forces will move closer to the Durand line and intensify their attacks on the jihadis on the Pakistani side with their drones.[Indian Express]

The Time magazine story on Operation Moshatrak to capture Marja in Afghanistan further strengthens Subrahmanyam’s thesis.

If he and his forces prevail, it will serve as the template for the far more challenging battle this summer for the Taliban capital of Kandahar, about 100 miles to the east. Success in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, would mean that McChrystal is on track to achieving Obama’s ultimate goal: to start sending U.S. troops back home in July 2011.[Time]

The second point that K Subrahmanyam notes was also pointed by this blogger earlier[here]. Let us hear it again in the words of K Subrahmanyam.

Faced with these alternatives, there is a distinct possibility of the Pakistani army getting yet another terrorist act perpetrated in India to provoke an Indian military response which can be used as an excuse to dodge responding to the US demand for action against the jihadis. …The most important issue for India today is not the purchasing campaign for the pseudo-Taliban, but how to deal with the likely Pakistani provocation to trigger an Indo-Pakistan war in order to dodge action against the jihadis.[Indian Express]

In no way can one argue that this makes an open-and-shut case for Indian offer of talks with Pakistan. This blogger is still not fully convinced of the case for talks but Mr Subrahmanyam’s piece does help us gain a better understanding of the reasons for this engagement. While concentrating on getting a better understanding of the situation is important, it is equally, if not more, important to explore and suggest ways in which India can make the best out of this engagement. That is the real challenge moving forward now.

While all this sounds fine and nice, it does leave us with a big question. Is it merely the US using India to further its goals in the region? Or is India also doing something to use the US to secure its own interests in the region? This is not a rhetorical question. Ponder.

P.S. — A couple of other related issues that must be highlighted here. They have been flagged courtesy a very vigorous email discussion with my fellow INI blogger Ananth.

One, it is now clear that the sudden surge in opinion pieces in the Indian mainstream media — albeit poorly-argued and hastily put together — asking for Indo-Pak talks was rather well-synchronised with the telephonic call made by the Indian foreign secretary to her Pakistani counterpart. It would be hard to digest that this was purely coincidental.

Two, Indian government has to handle its public diplomacy and strategic communication in a more professional manner. Although everything dealing with the nation’s diplomacy and national security can not be in the public domain — RTI or no RTI — the government owes the nation an explanation as to what prompted it to commence the talks now. A stony silence from the state is not an option in today’s time and age.

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A fantastic fantasy

Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes a valid case for engaging Pakistan, but there have to be other prongs in the strategy.

In today’s Indian Express, India’s foremost columnist Pratap Bhanu Mehta makes a case against Indian military involvement in Afghanistan. He instead asks India to make bold attempts to engage larger Pakistani public opinion to meet Indian strategic goals in the region.

With Pakistan we have no option but to keep trying. Our major security concerns are linked to it. Admittedly given the stakes that parts of the Pakistani establishment have in keeping the conflict going this may not be easy. But we have also been blindsided by the allure of a strategic partnership with the United States, risking more political and military entanglement than is wise. Instead of risking so much on an uncertain American venture in Afghanistan, we would be better risking more on Pakistan, if we knew how to engage with its public opinion without sounding patronising. It is a fantasy, but not one entirely out of bounds. What would be the effect on Pakistan public opinion, if instead of being forced to accept a billion and a half of development assistance with humiliating conditions from the United States, they had recourse to five billion or so of India’s forex reserves, with only one string attached?[Indian Express]

The argument by itself is fine for Mr. Mehta himself acknowledges that the idea isn’t rooted in reality. Columnists like Nadeem Paracha and Ardeshir Cowasjee among others, have explained that the Pakistani society is deeply flawed in its structure and beliefs. The damage done to the education system during the Zia years has only exacerbated the problems in Pakistani society. To expect India to be able to engage such a society in its favour is indeed a fantasy as Mr. Mehta rightly acknowledges. But there is another non-military engagement with Pakistan that India can still seek to meet its goals.

In a feudal society like Pakistan, which has been further ravaged by Islamic radicalism, the levers of power are controlled solely by the elite in that country and not by any larger public opinion. These elites exist in various forms inside Pakistan — big landlords, businessmen, military officers, bureaucrats, media barons, judges (and lawyers) and finally, politicians. All of them have huge commercial and business interests that they hope to further by their status in the Pakistani society and government. If India indeed seeks a favourable association with Pakistan, it has to engage these elites and tie their pecuniary interests to a stable relationship with India. It is a huge challenge that can only be overcome by forging strong economic ties with Pakistan to underpin its elites’ dependency on India. Such ties shall not emanate from negotiating the long-standing proposal of a South Asia Free Trade Agreement but only from a unilateral declaration by New Delhi to provide favourable business conditions for Pakistani goods and services to compete in Indian markets without seeking a similar reciprocal arrangement for Indian goods and services in Pakistan.

However Mr. Mehta does a huge disservice to Indian strategic interests by asking New Delhi to shun all other options solely in favour of an engagement with Pakistani society. While some may consider a proposal to send Indian troops to Afghanistan to be far-fetched, there is merit in seeking a multi-vectored strategy in the region. India has always militarily supported the anti-Taliban alliance in Afghanistan, the erstwhile Northern Alliance, and India has to ensure that support even now. While such military support should be ideally independent of US presence in Afghanistan, any deployment inside Afghanistan will have to perforce take the situation on ground into consideration. Short of a military deployment, training the indigenous Afghan security forces is an option that India can certainly explore in the short-term. The third vector of any Indian strategy has to seek a larger regional cooperation with Iran, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia to ensure that India is not isolated in its efforts to influence the events in that country.

It needs a bold columnist to suggest that India needs to engage with Pakistan when its supposedly India-friendly President is making strident anti-India noises in his ghost-written op-ed in the New York Times.

The recent upset in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which President Obama signed into law and which requires the secretary of state to report to Congress on military and civil progress in Pakistan, shows how sensitive many here are to what they see as unfair treatment by the United States. It would be helpful if the United States, at some point, would scrutinize India in a similar fashion and acknowledge that it has from time to time played a destabilizing role in the region.[NYT]

United States is an elephant in the room that simply can’t be wished away as Mr. Mehta seeks India to do. India has to find ways to work alongside the US military presence in the region while continuing to secure its own strategic interests in AfPak. Shunning all other options while engaging Pakistan is as faulty a premise as becoming a subservient ally of the US to the exclusion of all other options in the region. A multi-vectored approach, that responds to the changing geo-political landscape while aligning itself to existing ground situation is thus the only way ahead for India.

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Omar Abdullah isn’t superhuman

Rebuilding the National Conference, along side providing robust governance, is humanly impossible for any single individual.

Muzamil Jaleel’s piece in the Indian Express lays out what is wrong with Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir. He opines that Omar’s administration is in shambles and his politics is no better shape either. This is a diagnosis with which many would agree. But what stands out in the piece is the claim that Omar’s predecessors, Farooq Abdullah, Mufti Mohammed Saeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad had a better team of administrators and political supporters at their disposal than Omar.

Unlike his predecessors, including Farooq Abdullah, Omar lacks an efficient team of bureaucrats who will ensure that his promises to the public are actually followed up with consistent efforts, to prevent lapses at the lower level. On the political level, the story is similar. Omar Abdullah looks alone in every crisis situation. Unlike former Chief Ministers Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Nabi Azad, Omar’s top colleagues from his own party or the coalition Congress do not come up as a buffer when the opposition attacks. Mufti had his daughter Mehbooba and senior lieutenants like Muzaffar Beig. Azad too had a vocal colleague in Abdul Gani Vakil to respond to criticism.[Indian Express]

Let us look at these presumptions a bit more closely. Firstly, none of Omar’s predecessors came with such huge expectations built around their youth and with a squeaky clean slate. Add to this the pressure created by the high voting percentages during the assembly polls — a first since the 1980s. Greater voting percentages means more public involvement and more public aspirations to be met. Thus, Omar is being judged by a far tougher standard than any of his predecessors. This itself makes the comparison grossly unfair.

During the earlier governments, the focus in the state was almost exclusively on containing terrorist violence. That is a job done by the security forces with a few inputs from the state government. Now, the declining violence and an impending return to normalcy puts development, rather than security, at the forefront of public aspirations. This is again asking much more of a state government which has atrophied — especially on the development front — over the last two decades.

As far as notable incidents are concerned, from Chitti Singh Pura to the Amarnath yatra controversy, each of Omar’s predecessors have had their Sopores — rather bigger Sopores. So much for their bureaucratic and political support staff that shielded them. It would not be incorrect to state that Farooq, Mufti and Azad did little better than the current incumbent, who at least seems well-intentioned and honest in his dealings.

Now these are not excuses to cover up the shortcomings of Omar Abdullah as a Chief Minister. This is just to put in perspective the inheritance of Omar Abdullah — a paralysed government machinery, dispirited bureaucracy, moribund police force and self-serving political leadership. All these factors notwithstanding, this does not permit Omar Abdullah to continue with the status quo either.

There are two distinct, yet overlapping areas that Omar Abdullah needs to tackle: governance and politics. The challenges to governance in the state are huge, which are compounded by poor infrastructure and stalled development during the last two decades of insurgency. It is not easy to reinvigorate this decapitated administrative machinery in less than a year that Omar has been in charge. More worryingly however, public perception suggests that not much positive movement has been made on this front by Omar government during this period.

While it is easy to focus on governance — or rather the lack of it — politics is what brings accountability to governance. No democratic government can afford to run an administrative system insulated from the ruling political party and bereft of the feedback provided by party’s grass-root workers. Like most other family-run parties in India, National Conference is also an oligarchical venture totally in control of the Abdullahs. While Abdullah senior is enjoying his tenure as a Union Cabinet Minister, Omar Abdullah has his hands full as the Chief Minister.

Paradoxically, the more Omar Abdullah focuses on governance and administration, the lesser he can direct his energies towards reviving the party. In the same vein, focusing more on the party would be at the cost of his constitutional job as the political executive of the state. Officially, Omar has only one appointment — that of the Chief Minister. Farooq, who happens to be the party president, neither has the patience nor the capacity to undertake the painstaking endeavour of rebuilding a political party.

The protests after the Sopore incident have indicated that a wide range of political forces — from the separatists to the local Congress leaders — are arrayed against the National Conference. It is here that a weak party structure caused tremendous damage to Omar Abdullah’s reputation as an administrator and a political leader. All parties have to fight these political battles in the political domain, supported by robust administrative action. A failure by the ruling party to counter its political rivals puts the government under additional stress. This more often than not results in an administrative failure which was what was witnessed after the Shopian incident.

However, central government seems to be doing its bit to shore up the Omar government. Additional central grants have been released for the state and the Union Home Minister has publicly supported the Chief Minister in his plan to get the central security forces back to the barracks. It is another matter that no decision to amend or rescind AFSPA in the state has been taken by the Centre, owing to the strong opposition of the army authorities to any such move.

No single human being, forget Omar Abdullah, can undertake two herculean tasks — providing governance to the ravaged state and rebuilding the National Conference — on his own. Political leaders can often get trapped in the fallacy of their mythical superhuman powers. Omar Abdullah has to quickly realise that his success as the Chief Minister is contingent on rebuilding his party. He certainly can not do justice to both these jobs at the same time. While he continues to occupy the CM’s chair, the task of rebuilding the party will have to be undertaken by someone else. It is here that he will have to look beyond an Abdullah surname and get the systems and processes of a democratic party in place soon. Anything short of reviving the National conference will be Omar Abdullah selling himself short when the next crisis erupts. And crises, as everyone knows, are just around the corner in Kashmir.

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