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Ten books an Indian MP should read

Recommended readings on National Security and International Relations.

Dan Drezner has to be lauded for coming up with this idea of book suggestions for an aspiring political leader. It is worthwhile to borrow his idea in the Indian context: What are the books an aspiring Indian politician should read? I posed this question to a few friends (Dhruva, Rohan, JK and Shubh), while expanding the subject to include National Security.

A few caveats. These books are suggestions for an Indian parliamentarian, and not for a policy wonk or a scholar. They have to be of reasonable length and not too detailed or technical for the target audience. They should also have a readable prose and cohesive narrative, while maintaining contemporary relevance. Of course, it is not possible to have all the books meet all the above criteria.

Here is my pick of ten books, in no particular order, from the combined list of suggestions I received from my friends.

  1. Indian Security Perspectives by K Subrahmanyam
  2. India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad: The Covert War in Kashmir, 1947–2004 by Praveen Swami
  3. Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and The Bomb by Strobe Talbott
  4. Across Borders: Fifty Years of India’s Foreign Policy by JN Dixit
  5. Crossing the Rubicon by C Raja Mohan
  6. India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation by George Perkovich
  7. Kargil Review Committee Report (Government of India)
  8. India’s China War by Neville Maxwell
  9. Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime by Eliot A. Cohen
  10. Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

This list is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to leave your suggestions of recommended readings for an Indian parliamentarian in the comments section.

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UN-easy idea

India should lead the anti-piracy mission in its own seas, and not seek a UN-led mission.

India has suggested a five-step anti-piracy action plan to the United Nations Security Council to combat the menace of piracy in the of Indian Ocean.

The five steps Puri recommended are: tracking the trail of ransom money to different parts of the world, prosecution of the beneficiaries of ransom money for abetting piracy, conduct of naval operations under the UN, sanitation of the Somali coastline through identified corridors and enactment of national laws to criminalise piracy.[PTI]

At the face of it, the step #3: conduct of naval operations under the UN, sounds like a sound idea. But it is not. The reason is simple. Piracy is no longer restricted to the waters in the vicinity of the Somalian shores. It has moved closer to the Indian shores, which has resulted in the insurers increasing premiums for ships passing through here. See this Somalian piracy threat map: 2005-2010 to get the extent of the threat. Even if one were to desist extrapolating from that map, the incidents of piracy in this year itself have been scarily close to the Indian shores (see this, this and this). Going by the historical evidence of last five years, this trend is unlikely to be reversed soon.

Notwithstanding India’s continued military contribution to UN peacekeeping assignments over the years, most of them have turned out to be abysmal failures. There is little chance that an anti-piracy mission under the UN flag will be any different. But more importantly, there is no reason for India to seek a UN assignment so close to its maritime borders. These waters, in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, are India’s own areas of influence and it would be imprudent for India to itself seek a Blue-flag naval operation — outside its direct or indirect control — there.

What is the alternative then? Consequent to years of lag in modernisation, India does not have the naval assets and the resources to take on this task on its own. But India can learn from the example of the multi-national Combined Task Force-150, which has been deployed by the United States in the Indian Ocean to fight piracy. India can similarly take a lead and coordinate with other countries — say Australia, Japan, Bangladesh and Indonesia — in the region to create a CTF for this region. The naval assets of countries of South and South East Asia can be pooled in to conduct anti-piracy operations in the regions close to Indian shores. India could place this mission’s headquarters along with India’s Southern Naval Command, provide substantial logistical and financial support to the mission and seek a UNSC mandate supporting the CTF. The diplomatic initiative from India’s side can be headed by a special envoy for anti-piracy mission, by someone like Mr Shyam Saran, who can provide the necessary diplomatic impetus for such a mission.

There are three distinct advantages of this plan. One, it will announce to the world India’s willingness to shoulder its responsibility in global affairs as an emergent power. This will also address the questions raised against India’s status as the pre-eminent naval power in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, by preventing China’s attempts to establish a maritime role in India’s backwaters.  Furthermore, India’s neighbouring countries are likely to read the signal to desist from repeating the incident witnessed recently, where Sri Lanka Navy ended up killing some Indian fishermen.

Two, being a multilateral mission, it will also establish India’s credentials as a country which wants to cooperate and work alongside other countries in the region. Moreover, a multi-lateral mission provided Indian Navy operational interoperability with other navies of the region. It paves the way for their closer cooperation in the future, while providing the basis for developing a strategic relationship with Japan, Australia and with member-countries of  ASEAN.

Finally, India’s national security paradigm, since its independence, has been based around its land-forces. Whereas an emergent India’s role in the changed geo-political scenario of last two decades demands a bigger and stronger navy, India’s defence budget remains disproportionately skewed in the favour of its army (this is not an argument against the importance of the army but for providing navy the pre-eminent strategic role). By owning the responsibility for anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, India may finally be able to correct this strategic anomaly. This is what India needs to secure its trajectory as an emergent power.

Many would justifiably argue that it is too early to talk about an India-led CTF like naval mission now. However, it is equally important to debate this idea now, so that the misplaced Indian suggestion of having a UN-led naval operation is nipped in the bud. After all, be careful of what you wish for. It might come true.

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Shun the talk of talks

Another round of India-Pakistan peace talks is an idea not even worth considering now

The clamour for next round of India-Pakistan peace talks seems to be slowly building up in the Indian media. It is driven by people who indulge in mirror-imaging and search for equivalence in actions on both the sides — from Delhi and Islamabad — for the current state of India-Pakistan relations.

Of course, their reason for recommencing the bilateral talks remains the same — there is no alternative. In that sense, the talks are important just for the sake of talking. This, in turn, is led by a naive belief that talks with Pakistan equate peace in India. Read this old blogpost on why peace-talks do not actually mean peace. If the proof is in the pudding, then the drastic reduction in number of terror strikes in India since the stalling of talks with Pakistan in November 2008 — only the Pune bakery and Varanasi blasts have occurred since — should be a contrarian exemplar for these advocates of peace-talks.

Now, whom are we going to be talking to in Pakistan? The puppets in Islamabad’s foreign ministry can change but when it comes to India, the strings will always be pulled by the GHQ at Rawalpindi. The Washington Post recently reminded us that General Kayani “is one of the most anti-India chiefs Pakistan has ever had,” is what one US official said. This is also borne by the report in the Dawn by Cyril Almeida, where the unnamed senior official who spoke to him, as it emerged later, was none other than General Kayani himself.

“The people of Pakistan measure the strength of US-Pak relations on the scale of US-India partnership.” [Kayani] went on to argue that while Pakistan could not afford to be in a “state of perpetual conflict with India” and has to “strike a balance between defence and development”, “we cannot afford to ignore our basic defence needs.”

In sum, the comments on Afghanistan, India and the US suggest the Pakistan Army’s ‘India-centric’ approach to strategic issues is still very much in place, with only minor adjustments made to accommodate the changed regional security environment in the 21st century.[Link]

Most people failed to notice that in December 2010, Pakistan’s National Command Authority, chaired by its Prime Minister, declared a shift from its stated nuclear policy of ‘credible minimum deterrence’ to ‘credible deterrence’ — the word ‘minimum’ is now missing. A change to credible deterrence implies that Pakistan may develop an assured second-strike capability and build advanced, compact and boosted fission warheads and even develop thermonuclear weapons.

Isn’t it logical then that we should be talking to GHQ directly? No. As this blogpost explains, the idea is unworkable because India simply doesn’t have the capacity to make the GHQ listen.

Many Pakistani commentators have suggested in recent weeks that Pakistan should follow the China model in its relationship. Despite the unresolved boundary dispute, China and India have a flourishing trade and business relationship and Pakistan could follow suit with India. Many Indians believe that only stronger economic ties can lead to a permanent peace between India and Pakistan. This old blogpost explains why this idea of long-term peace is based on faulty premises. In any case, Shuja Nawaz has openly stated that the establishment (an euphemism for Pakistan army) has vetoed any such proposals of Indo-Pak trade.

After six years, even a committed peacenik like the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to have realised the futility of these bilateral talks. Let us at least grant that man the sagacity, the wisdom, the knowledge and the experience of knowing what he is doing, or not doing here. It also confirms this blogger’s belief that the current sentiment of a peace-process between India and Pakistan is but a proverbial dead horse.

When you are riding a dead horse, buying a stronger whip or greater riding ability won’t help it move forward. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed or asserting that “This is the way we always have ridden this horse” won’t help either. Tribal wisdom says that “when you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”[link]

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2011 Wish List

Three wishes for the new year.

Assuming that I was being granted the choice of having only three wishes fulfilled for the coming year, here is my modest wish-list for 2011.

  • A Blue Ribbon Commission on India’s national security. Read more about the idea here.
  • Police Reforms in all the states as mandated by the Supreme Court. Read a bit more here and here.
  • Fulfilment of the targets set for the Takshashila Institution for the year. Read Nitin’s views here.

It is easy to turn despondent and cynical at the turn of events in this country but here is why we should resist the feelings of gloom and despair.

To the last moment of his breath
On hope the wretch relies;
And e’en the pang preceding death
Bids expectation rise.

Hope, like the gleaming taper’s light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray. [Oliver Goldsmith, The Captivity]

Happy New Year!

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Geelani’s perfidious idea of Azadi

On his recent ambiguous statements about the meaning of Kashmir’s Azadi.

In an interview with The Hindu, Hurriyat Conference’s Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who many consider to be leading the Azadi (freedom) movement in Kashmir says this:

NS: Azadi is commonly taken to mean independence from both India and Pakistan. You have assumed the leadership of this movement, but your position has always been that of accession to Pakistan. Has this changed by any chance?

Geelani: Look, at this stage, our common point is freedom from India’s forcible occupation. We will decide after that what we have to do. Our demand is implementation of the [U.N.] resolutions. Our other demand is consensus — that India, Pakistan and the representatives of the people of Jammu & Kashmir, who are representing the sentiment of freedom, that these parties sit around the table. The solution that will come through consensus, that should prevail.

…NS: On these resolutions, a plebiscite would give people only two options: India or Pakistan. From what I have heard here, Pakistan holds no attraction at all for anyone any more. So aren’t you a bit behind the times on this?

Geelani: Have you heard anyone saying we are not for Pakistan but we are for India? If you rule out Pakistan, and India agrees to give azadi to J&K, I will be the first person to sign that agreement, to accept. Let India come forward. This is all [said] to create confusion, that Geelani is only for Pakistan.[The Hindu]

Mr Geelani is perhaps aware that there is now little support within Kashmiris themselves for his preferred idea that Jammu and Kashmir must merge with Pakistan. This was shown clearly by the Chatham House poll conducted in September and October 2009, wherein only 2 percent of Kashmiris on the Indian side favour merging Jammu and Kashmir with Pakistan.

Mr Geelani has also had some kind of fallout with Pakistan in recent months wherein he has blasted Pakistan for its ‘inconsistencies’ in its foreign policy over Jammu and Kashmir. His son, Naeem Geelani has recently moved back to India from Pakistan. Some commentators have noted that this points to a weakening relationship between Pakistan and Mr Geelani.

But this should not mislead any keen observer about Mr Geelani’s real intentions. This ambiguity in Mr Geelani’s views about the future status of Jammu & Kashmir is a carefully cultivated ploy to retain his popularity among the younger crop of Kashmiris who have no desire of joining Pakistan. His views, however, essentially remain unchanged. Just take note of this interview conducted with him last month:

Q: In some of your writings you have argued against Kashmir being an independent state, even claiming that this is an Indian ‘ploy’. Can you elaborate?

A: This is true. It is an Indian ploy, because India does not want to see Pakistan strengthened, which it would be if Jammu and Kashmir joins Pakistan. The slogan of Azadi is aimed at weakening Pakistan. Independence would result in a territory that would have been a natural part of Pakistan being taken away from it.[Link]

Mr Geelani calls for shutdowns have failed to elicit any worthwhile response in Kashmir in recent weeks. From shutdowns lasting days on end, his calls have now come down to hourly protests. This tepid response to his calls is partly due to the fatigue setting in among the Kashmiris after their social and economic life was disrupted by Mr Geelani’s protest calendar for months on end.

One expects the younger generation of Kashmiris to use this period of relative normalcy in Kashmir — compared to the unending cycle of protests and curfews from June to September — to reflect on the reality of the separatist leadership. Does Mr Geelani really speak for them, as he claims to, while playing his politics over the dead bodies of Kashmiris? They would then realise what Mr Geelani’s idea of Azadi for Kashmir really stands for — a merger with Pakistan.

Young Kashmiris must ponder. And decide. Is that where the future of the proud Kashmiris really lie — with Pakistan, a country which itself seems to have no future?

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Kashmir is a red herring

Growing realisation in the US that Kashmir is not the cause of Indo-Pak problem.

From an interview by DNA with Lisa Curtis, a South Asia expert at the Heritage Foundation:

To secure greater leverage over Pakistan, will the US offer it concessions on Kashmir?
I don’t think so. The Kashmir issue is more a symptom of the larger problem between India and Pakistan; it’s not as if dealing with Kashmir will make these terrorist groups melt away. The aims of India-focussed groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba are broader than Kashmir: they’re trying to wreak havoc throughout India and dent the country’s image as an emerging power. They use the situation in Kashmir to justify what they’re doing, but they’re not interested in Kashmir.

The idea that if the US intervenes in Kashmir, it would help focus Pakistan’s attention on dealing with militant groups is a misunderstanding. The focus should be on convincing Pakistan to crack down on these groups for the sake of its own stability. The non-state actors that Pakistan supported to destabilise India are now destabilising Pakistan. The sooner Pakistan accepts that reality, the better.

Does the Obama administration realise that Kashmir is a red herring?
There’s increased understanding on this point. Initially there was some naiveté: a connection was mistakenly made that if the US could resolve Kashmir, the problems of South Asia would go away. That’s typical of new administrations: they come in with an idealistic view that the US can wave its magic wand and resolve problems. Kashmir represents Pakistani paranoia about an emerging India. At the heart of the issue is convincing Pakistan that building up its economy is the best way for it to protect its regional interests, not trying to wreak havoc on its neighbours. I think there’s a growing understanding within the Obama administration on this point, so we won’t see the president trying to seek a high profile role on Kashmir.

He’s learnt the lesson from when as a presidential candidate he promoted the idea of a Kashmir envoy. He may raise the issue in private meetings and seek to get more information to enhance his own understanding of the region. The best way to pursue this may be encouraging New Delhi to deal with Kashmiri grievances, which we’ve seen over this summer. But the other part of it is convincing Pakistan not to take advantage of this situation like it did throughout the 1990s when it supported insurgent groups in the region.[DNA]

This series of tweets from Ms Smita Prakash, Editor News, ANI after attending two conferences on Kashmir in Washington DC — at USIP and The Heritage Foundation — suggests that Ms Curtis’ view has gained wide-spread currency amidst policy-makers in the United States. An extract:

The American experts did not mince words in blaming Pakistan for fishing in troubled waters and even encouraging Kashmiri separatists to violence. One speaker even talked about Harkat ul Ansar. I looked around the audience wondering does anybody here even remembers Harkat; in India, even the IB  has probably forgotten about them. And journalists mostly know about the LeT and that’s it. But here were Americans well aware about the complexities of Kashmir problem — the Jammu and Ladakh angles and how it is something that India knows best how to deal with. Obama is best advised not to meddle, mediate, facilitate between India and Pakistan is what ALL speakers said. On India-Pakistan, solve when and how it suits you.

The speakers were former diplomats, journalists, former intelligence officers who have served in India and Pakistan. They were clear that it is India’s democracy that allowed incidents in Kashmir to be reported. They were all very appreciative of the 8-point initiative by the government and said that if separatists did not cooperate and help in bringing development (IT industry, tourism) into state, then they will lose support of the youth who today are picking up stones but tomorrow they will tire of this: azadi is not a workable option if it meant independence. That wont happen — all of them agreed.[link]

Of course, this is precisely what this humble blogger had explicitly stated when Pakistan foreign minister was clucking about Kashmir in the United States last month. May be, just may be, President Obama will also see the irony of these noises over Kashmir by Pakistan in the immortal words of Samuel Johnson.

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”

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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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A la Marines: ARF against Maoists

Employing an Indian version of Aerial Reaction Force against the Maoists is an idea worthy of serious consideration.

It is gratifying to hear that the government has not closed its options over use of air power in security operations against the Maoists. Indian Air Force is also debating the subject at CAPS later this week in a closed-door seminar on Left Wing Extremism and Use of Air Power. As if on cue to provide some fresh inputs for this discussion, here is a quick extract from a report on tactically innovative use of air power by the US Marines in Afghanistan [via TCJ].

It can be dangerous for troops on the ground to chase fleeing insurgents because the enemy uses mines and improvised explosive devices to protect their routes of escape, explained Morriss.

Morriss and Kinkade created a concept called an aerial reaction force by adapting the concept of a quick reaction force. A QRF is a rapid response force commonly used to reinforce or investigate areas of interest. By combining the time-tested tactics of the QRF and the capabilities of the new Huey, the Marines created ARF — a force with strength in a couple of prime areas.

“ARF proves the capabilities of the Huey,” said Morriss. “It improves abilities of the [ground combat element] giving the Marines more flexibility and maneuverability.”

The new Huey can keep up with the demands of the ARF concept because of the improved lifting power of the helicopter. It can carry 6-8 combat-loaded Marines, plus the helo’s crew, into and out of tactical zones at high altitudes and in hot weather. The previous helicopter the Marine Corps used was the UH-1N Huey that did not have the power to carry such a load. Morriss’ squadron is the first HMLA to use the new Huey in combat.

The new helicopter provides outstanding economy of force, giving close air support and reconnaissance support for the Marines that it inserts. Historically, Marines used a heavy or medium lift helicopter to bring in the reinforcements, and flew attack helicopters for close air support.[Link]

Union Home Minister had not ruled out the use of Special Forces teams from the army in his reply during the debate over Dantewada incident in the Rajya Sabha last week. While India may not have the latest Huey helicopters, it could still effectively combine the existing helicopters in its inventory with these special forces teams to form its own version of the Aerial Reaction Force [ARF].

Among many other similarly brilliant suggestions, employment of ARF against the Maoists is an idea that merits serious consideration by the authorities. Anyone listening?

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A politically incorrect idea

The government must stop all development in areas under Maoist control and redouble its development activities in areas contiguous to those under Maoist control.

In a sense, it was nice to see the Parliament get down to the business of discussing Maoists. By all accounts, the debate in the Rajya Sabha [pdf] was of a particularly high standard. While the debate was overwhelmingly in the favour of concerted security offensive against the Maoists, the question whether development should precede, be coterminous or follow the security operations continues to be raised. Here, the sequence enunciated by the Union Home Minister in the Rajya Sabha appears to be the right one: carry out counter-insurgency operations, regain control of areas dominated by the Naxalites, restore the civil administration, and re-start development work.

However, while this might be the theoretical conception of the strategy, the government is actually trying to make development coterminous to the security operations in Maoist-affected areas. On the face of it, this sounds like a well-meaning plan, which addresses the concerns about development raised by a section of the Congress party. Thus, earlier this week, the government reviewed its development plans for 33 worst Maoist-affected districts at the level of the Cabinet Secretary and chief secretaries of seven states.

Despite the best intentions of the government, only a small part of the money allocated for development activities in these districts has been expended [41.04% under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), 57.44% under NRHM and 37.60% for programmes under the Forest Rights Act from April 2009 to January 2010] . Even then, it is doubtful that the outcome on the ground matches the budgeted outlays of the government. For e.g., not a single road under the PMGSY has been completed in Bijapur district while just one of the 50 PMGSY roads is complete in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh. The situation is no different in other states because the Maoists are not willing to let any state agency undertake development activities in the areas controlled by them. Thus, one can safely conclude that firstly, the government is unable to spent the allocated money for development projects in these areas due to security reasons; and secondly, in case it does so, the expenditure doesn’t translate into concrete results on the ground.

Another connotation of this is that the money being expended on developmental projects is thus actually filling up Maoists coffers by various taxes and levies imposed on the agencies involved in these activities by the Maoists. This view is also buttressed by reports that Maoists are not opposed to the NREGA in these areas [72.76% of NREGA funds have been disbursed in these areas]. As the NREGA creates no permanent assets and has been proven to be prone to high levels of corruption, the NREGA perhaps provides a far easier way for the Maoists to generate funds. It means that the Maoists are fighting the government by actually using the funds provided by the government for development of these areas.

Thinking it through logically would suggest that the government should stop allocating developmental funds for the Maoist-affected regions till the security operations are completed in these areas. It should instead allocate these funds for development to the peaceful areas contiguous  to the regions worst-affected by the Maoist menace. This will provide the obvious advantage of drying a source of easy income for the Maoists. Moreover, it will incentivise the peaceful regions by providing greater development there. This will also negate the complaint of the leftist intelligentsia that the government is using security situation as an excuse to not undertake development and berate the Maoists, as it would have otherwise developed the other neighbouring peaceful areas in the region. It could also lead the tribals and other local population in Maoist affected regions to question the Maoist propaganda, and eventually wean them away from whatever sympathies they have for Maoist ideology. By showcasing development in peaceful areas, the state could craft a winning strategy against the Maoists in what is essentially a battle for the hearts and minds of the local population.

Moreover, when the security operations in the Maoist-affected areas are concluded, additional money could be allocated to them by reducing the allocation of these contiguous peaceful areas which have benefited now. This would lead to more focused and wholesome development of both the peaceful, and the not-so-peaceful regions over a few years.

In essence, the strategy of the central and the state government should be a two-pronged one now: concerted security operations in Maoist affected areas with no developmental work attempted there, and redoubled developmental effort in areas contiguous to the Maoist affected ones.

Needless to say, in an electoral democracy, such an idea will remain a pipe-dream because of the need of the political parties to win parliamentary and assembly seats in the region. No democratically elected government can afford to announce stoppage of all developmental aid to certain areas — whether Maoist infested or not — because it is bad optics which will lead to adverse publicity, and mobilise public opinion in the favour of its political opponents.

A far more practical solution then could be to reduce the developmental aid to the Maoist affected regions to a bare minimum and maintain the pretence of undertaking developmental activities there. That, however, will not achieve anything on its own, if it is not simultaneously backed by substantive visible results produced by redoubling of developmental efforts in neighbouring peaceful areas.

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The terror of talks

Why India’s offer of bilateral talks with Pakistan is a really bad idea?

The Acorn is known to choose his words carefully. So when he sets out to welcome the impending Indo-Pak talks, albeit cautiously and with a big caveat in tow, one has to sit up and take notice. His only rationale for welcoming the talks is that it takes away the Pakistani excuse of an intransigent India threatening Pakistan, which Pakistan claims is not allowing it to devote all its energies towards combating the Taliban in that country.

The premise that Pakistan’s litany of excuses can be so destroyed is wrong on many counts.  For one, General Kayani made it amply clear the other day by stating that “We plan on adversaries’ capabilities, not intentions”. And Indian military capabilities are not going away in a hurry, especially when India has to deal with another far more powerful threat emanating from a rather strident China. Moreover during the recent visit by Robert Gates to Pakistan, Pakistan military spokesperson briefed US journalists in no uncertain terms about the US request for commencing military operations in North Waziristan.

Six months to a year would be needed before Pakistan could stabilise existing gains and expand any operations. We are not in a position to get overstretched.[Indian Express]

Talks or no talks, it is amply clear that Pakistan army, by its own admission, is not going to start any new operations against the jehadis. Thus, it will not be much harder for Pakistan to use the an excuse even if, hey, “open-ended talks on all outstanding issues” are in progress.

While Obama administration has not generated much confidence with its handling of AfPak, Iran or China, it would still be erroneous to assume that Obama administration doesn’t realise that all this talk about an existential threat from India is a charade by the Pakistan army. Pakistani army is keen to hedge its options in case of a US pull out from the region and is thus disinclined to take on the friendly jehadis, its strategic assets— to be used in Afghanistan and against India. Perhaps, the US has no other leverage left over Pakistan army — having granted Pakistan a handsome aid package in form of the Kerry-Lugar Act — and this is the proverbial last throw of the dice, almost in desperation hoping that Pakistan would budge.

Pakistan though, if past history is any indicator to go by, is unlikely to change its course. Then this offer of talks by India is not going to make any difference whatsoever to the situation in Pakistan [except provide more fodder to gristmills of the TRP-hungry, sensationalist Indian media]. In fact, it actually ends up explicitly conveying India’s helplessness when it comes to dealing with Pakistan.

Bringing out India’s  helplessness in the open leaves Indian citizens more susceptible to fresh terror attacks by the jehadis. And if, God forbid, these bilateral talks do start to make some substantial progress, it would be almost imperative for the Pakistani military-jehadi complex to launch a spectacular terror strike on Indian mainland to derail the process.

But even this dark cloud has a silver lining. When that terror attack happens, India will have a ready option available to publicly retaliate against Pakistan: call off the bilateral talks. Now how would India have retaliated if there were no bilateral talks happening and a terror attack took place. Ponder!

PS — If Indian government has made this offer of talks under US pressure, it is all the more important that the Indian commentators  and political opposition convey the prevailing public opinion against such talks in no uncertain terms. This would highlight the huge political risks being taken by the government in initiating such talks. It would allow the government to extricate far more in return from the US while simultaneously providing it the leverage to call off these talks or threaten to call them off at any time. And there exists a recent precedent of such ‘planned’ opposition. Prime Minister Vajpayee had masterly done this by using the Communists when under pressure from the US to contribute troops to Iraq. Only if the current political leadership of the UPA would display such realpolitik as PM Vajpayee did.

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