Tag Archives | issue

The only accountable interface with the state

Much-despised Members of Parliament for the vast multitude of India’s masses

Today is the third consecutive day when the winter session of the parliament has been stalled. Of course, this is appalling and reflects poorly on our parliament and parliamentarians. On a lighter note, it is still not as bad as South Korea where one member of a minority party actually set off a tear gas shell in the parliament before a vote, turning the hallway into a melee.

This, however, reminded me of an interview conducted a few days ago by my fellow blogger, Nitin Pai with Jayant Choudhry, the Rashtriya Lok Dal MP from Mathura in Uttar Pradesh. He was the only legislator who expressed in the Lok Sabha concerns raised by citizens against the draconian Information Technology Rules (IT Rules) that came into effect this year. In the interview (watch at 4:12 here), Mr. Choudhry explains that most of his constituents are not aware of the legislative duties of a member of parliament. They expect him to intervene in issues which do not fall in the domain of a Member of Parliament.

This points to two simple conclusions. One, the angst in our middle-class and english language media about the role of our parliamentarians and their obvious lack of interest in formulating legislation is disconnected from the realities of electoral politics. The member of parliament is in the ultimate free-market where he has to deliver what the consumer wants. Thus his lack of focus on his constitutional role — of formulating legislation for the complete country. He or she is first focused on his constituency, on his party and his state — the priority in the mix varying with the issue under consideration.

Second, and this is the real issue here. Most organs of the Indian State have become dysfunctional. Members of parliament and members of legislative assembly perhaps remain the only responsive and accountable interface of the Indian state for the common masses. Unless other organs of the Indian state become responsive, approachable and accountable to the majority of the public, the average Indian voter will continue to look towards his or her elected representatives to fill that vacuum. And the MP, who has go to the same voter every five years to renew his mandate, will focus on what his constituents want from him. This ends up creating an elaborate network of patronage, caste and religious affiliations and manipulation by power-brokers that weakens our electoral democracy.

This argument is also borne by an observation made by Raj Cherubal in his talk at the Takshashila Shala in Chennai (watch the video of his talk here). When he stood for the local body elections in Chennai earlier this year, he observed that invariably 100 percent of the poor slum-dwellers had their voting IDs while a fairly large number of middle class didn’t possess one. The middle class, in the first place, tries to avoid dealing with the state and where it is forced to deal with the state, it chooses to facilitate its dealing by using means at its disposal;  a paid agent, or a classmate or relative or acquaintance in bureaucracy can always help matters. The poor have no such choice and that voter ID is their premier tool of holding their elected representative accountable.

Yes, this is not the way democracy was designed to function in India.Yes, this means that “the voter’s expectation of rewards and benefits is associated not primarily with parties nor with the general outcome in the electoral and political system, but with those who manipulate his votes.” Yes, he will elect those MPs who can help him deal with the state, the state which supposedly exists to look after poor people like him. Like it or not, but this is a harsh reality of our system.

We can continue to hold our politicians and politics  in contempt. We can even treat our representative democracy with disdain. We can be smug in our belief that non-elected institutions which do not involve politicians are somehow the only ones that can be trusted. But these laments will not provide the answer. The answer will come from a state where an average citizen — and he or she is not the average reader of this blog — doesn’t have to bank on only his MP as an interface to deal with various instruments of the state.

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A harsh spotlight hath no soft focus

On the Barkha Dutt issue, it is for NDTV to decide now.

All men may err; but he that keepeth not his folly, but repenteth, doeth well; but stubbornness cometh to great trouble. ~ Sophocles, Antigone

Enough ether has been consumed by the social media since the disclosure of recordings between a lobbyist and some senior journalists, editors and television news-anchors. This has primarily happened because most of the mainstream media outlets have chosen to impose a blackout over this news-story. A lot of that attention on the web has been focused on Ms. Barkha Dutt, anchor-journalist at NDTV. My fellow blogger Retributions has done a great job of explaining why Ms Dutt happens to be the lightening rod of all the attention over what ostensibly should be a much larger issue.

As most readers of this blog are aware, Ms Dutt agreed to be a part of a show on her channel where she was questioned by four other editors about her role in the controversy. It was riveting television — in the sense of a television reality show: lots of soft lighting, nice bassy sound and a very friendly set. But in the end, it did not leave the viewers any wiser. The show was pre-recorded but it was broadcast unedited. Open magazine claimed the credit for that by proclaiming that it was their editor’s condition to be a part of the show.

No one can deny, as Rupa Subramanya writes, that it was a brave move by Ms Dutt to be ready for an inquisition on television. She needs to be commended for her courageous attempt to come out of this mess. But after that, it all seemed to go downhill. Some people on my twitter timeline found her performance on the show feisty, others found it cantankerous and petulant. However, Tripti Lahiri at WSJ India Real Time captured the majority view: A Too-Argumentative Barkha Dutt Squanders Chance.

Perhaps the wisest thing for Ms Dutt to do, as suggested by Shobha Narayan, was to just say two words: Mea Culpa. That would have been a great way to make a fresh start. However it was a personal choice that Ms Dutt had to make and she seems to have made that choice on the show yesterday.

But this raises a couple of other issues here. A lot of people have suggested that to single out Ms Dutt and put her under the spotlight is unfair, when so many other journalists are also involved. Unfair it may be, but such is life. These are the trappings of celebrityhood and the price of being at the top of your profession. If Mr Amitabh Bachchan makes even a small error of judgement, to use the phrase in vogue, he is liable to be hauled over the coals far more aggressively than an Aditya Panscholi would be, for even bigger misdemeanours. The adulation, and the criticism, is directly a function of your popularity, status, credibility and reputation in the public domain, which is reflected in the influence that you wield over a larger number of people. A Ms Dutt can get easy access to heads of state, corporate honchos, film-stars, random celebrities and other newsmakers — partly because of her journalistic credentials and partly because she is a big name — which other lesser journalists can never ever dream of. No one grudges Ms Dutt that privilege but the current harsh spotlight on her is also the other side of the same coin — of being a celebrity. It comes with the territory.

More importantly, even in Ms Dutt’s case, is Ms Dutt really the one to take the call on the issue? She, at an individual level, has all the right to be angry, outraged, furious, emotional and agitated about what is happening to her now. She can probably feel that she is being victimised and being singled out by a lynch-mob. But being sympathetic to her situation is not the issue here. It is about the real decision which has to be taken by the media house that employs her, the NDTV network: Is an individual anchor bigger than the channel itself?

While NDTV must provide Ms Dutt all the opportunity to make her case — as they did with the special show last evening — they would be erring in making the channel identify too closely with her. Her reputation stands tarnished in the eyes of many, and that doesn’t only include some Right-wing Hindutva supporters as B Raman tends to suggest. Many others have been equally disappointed and disillusioned by the recordings of the conversations, but more so by the way NDTV has chosen to react to it — by blacking out the story completely. The story has been kept alive by the social media, which one can safely presume, is populated precisely by the same upper middle-class audience that NDTV targets for its viewership. A Mayawati or an A. Raja can afford to brazen it out while the social media goes on and on about their infractions because their voter-base doesn’t comprise those who frequent the social media.

Can NDTV actually afford to adopt the same “I don’t care” attitude? Yes they can. But it will be sad to see India’s oldest private TV newschannel, that so many of India’s post-90s generation grew up with, go down that slippery slope. NDTV ought to remember that an error is not a mistake until you refuse to correct it.

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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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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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Looking differently at Kashmir

There is not just one way to look at the current situation in Kashmir.

Almost all the Sunday newspapers today have special reports, columns and commentaries on the situation in Kashmir. The underlying assumption in most, if not all of them is that Indian security forces have inhumanly massacred a group of innocent young Kashmiri kids. Moreover, the Indian state is not contrite about it; it is not magnanimous enough and if the Union government were to suddenly do the right thing — and not one commentator will tell you precisely what these right things are — the violence will immediately come to an end.

They ostensibly fail to comprehend that there is a time to contain a crisis and another time to address the issue. Even the greatest visionary can’t possibly be focused on reconstructing a house when the immediate goal is to dowse the fire engulfing the house. Let us quickly go over a few of the other misconceptions here.

The major issue that a lot of Indian commentators feel aggrieved over is the use of violence by the state to quell stone-pelters, which has even led to the “killing” — the choice of word is not death but killing — of a eight year old boy. Let us first look at the issue of the eight-year old’s death. While every single child’s death is lamentable, the question should instead be asked as to what such a young kid was doing at the frontline of violent protestors. What kind of a civil society uses its children as human shields and sacrificial lambs in public protests? The outrage should then be directed against protestors and their leadership, and not against the CRPF or JK Police. How are the security forces to distinguish within a mob comprising suspected terrorists (remember that the terrorists did open fire at the police during a protest in Sopore), violent young men who are torching police stations, teenage stone-pelters and young kids?

Another criticism that has been levelled against the security forces is that they should have used non-lethal means of crowd control. It is a fair criticism, but it ignores the fact that these very same security forces have been attuned to fighting terrorists for last two decades and a quick re-orientation is practically impossible in such a short period of time. This should not be bandied around as an excuse by any well-governed state — but J&K and India are anything but well-governed. However the state also can’t allow its writ to wither away and shrink away from its responsibility of maintaining law and order by giving violent mobs a free run, just because the security forces have no effective non-lethal options available with them. Even then, no one has disputed the fact that these lethal options have also been been used only in self-defence by the security forces so far.

The argument about these seemingly unpalatable state actions can also be framed in the context of the ancient Indian concept of Dharma. In the words of Gurcharan Das, the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma:

The good Vidura tells us in the Mahabharata that in judging a king’s action he looks at results. If it benefits people, it is an act of dharma. Hence, a ruler would agree to “sacrifice an individual for the sake of a village and a village for the sake of a nation”. Vidura is half-brother and royal counsellor to the king of Hastinapur and he speaks from the experience of managing a state. In agreeing to sacrifice a person in order to save many, he has drawn a distinction between public and private dharma, a pragmatism that is uniquely suited to public policy. The English thinker, Jeremy Bentham, went on to make this criterion famous in the 19th century via his utilitarian slogan: “the greatest good of the greatest number.”[Business Standard]

Now to the other big issue of political gestures that Centre should announce to reconcile with the protestors and the separatists. Kashmir indeed could do with some big political gestures but the question is of timing. One of the newspapers has listed its wish-list of six steps that Centre should immediately announce. All the bloggers at INI have continuously proposed since 2008 that most of these steps should have been announced after the successful assembly elections of 2008, or after the UPA government returned to power at Delhi in 2009. That was the time for the Indian government to be magnanimous as that would have meant that it has responded to the faith in Indian democracy demonstrated by the Kashmiris. When a violent mob tries to coerce the Indian state into submission, it is perhaps not the best time to make any concessions as it is tantamount to conceding to blackmail. It also sends the message across to everyone else in the country that the Indian government is only amenable to the language of violence and coercion.

So, how and when should the big political steps come then? Firstly, they should, and necessarily must, come after the violence has been suppressed and a certain degree of normalcy has been restored in the state. The process of political engagement by back-channel has been established by the state government and it must continue. More importantly, these political steps must seen to have been initiated at the behest of the state government. That is perhaps also the best way to bolster the credibility of the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the state government in the state.

The state government indeed needs to go beyond even these political gestures or plans of economic development. It must also dispel the impression that three or four districts of Kashmir valley are the equivalent of the complete state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the exodus of Kashmiri pundits from the Valley two decades ago, these districts have become ghettoised with only one particular sect of Muslims dominating the region. While the Kashmiri pundits may not be willing to come back in huge numbers — and understandably so — the state government must encourage and facilitate the movement of Shias (from Kargil region) and Gujjars and Bakarwals (from Rajauri-Poonch region) into the Valley so that these communities can also avail of the political and economic opportunities present there. It will also integrate the Valley socially and politically with other regions of the state, thereby lending itself less susceptible to being tricked into these periodic outbursts of mob violence.

Finally, it is true that Indian government has historically, starting from 1948, made a lot of mistakes in Kashmir. These errors have played a huge part in making the crisis that it is today. But the Indian government has made equally big mistakes in other parts of the country. Why haven’t we seen a similar crisis anywhere else? Is it because of what another commentator suggested: when we have continuously sent a message across to the Kashmiris that they are “special”, can we actually blame them for thinking that and behaving as if they are “special”?

Perhaps it is also time to visibly and publicly reinforce the Constitutional dictum that all Indians are equal. And equally special.

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True lies [Na-Pak version]

Can a suicide bomber claim to be as much a victim of explosive as the innocent people killed by that bomber?

In response to British PM David Cameron’s statement at Bangalore about Pakistan’s links with terror, here is the complete official statement from Pakistan’s foreign office:

Terrorists have no religion, no humanity, no specific ethnicity or geography. Terrorists’ networks, as the UK knows full well mutate and operate in different regions and cities. The genesis of terrorism as a global phenomenon warrants close attention. Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as are Afghanistan, India or other countries.

Pakistan has done much more than any other country in combating terrorism. Our people and security forces have rendered innumerable sacrifices. We hope that our friends will be able to persuade India to view this issue objectively and the value of “cooperation” in counter terrorism.[Link]

“Pakistan is as much a victim of terrorism as are Afghanistan, India or other countries.” Indeed. Truer lies were never spoken. For as that Jewish saying goes, “A half-truth is a full lie.”

The complete truth is this: Pakistan may be a victim of terrorism along with India but the terror that India suffers is owed completely to Pakistan. For decades now, Pakistan has used terror as an instrument of state policy against India — as a strategic tool of its diplomatic and national security policy. And it has not been merely limited to something that has been an outcome of an Islamist- jehadi ideology which has occupied the centre-stage in last two decades. In the 1980s, Pakistan’s abetment and promotion of terror in Punjab  had little to do with some non-state actors spreading their rabid version of jehad in India. Even today, while Pakistan acts against the terror groups threatening the Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies [this explains where Pakistani "people and security forces have rendered innumerable sacrifices"], it doesn’t merely turn a blind-eye but actively promotes India-centric terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba.

If Indians were to view this issue objectively — as the Pakistan foreign office suggests — they would only come to this conclusion:  can a suicide bomber claim to be as much a victim of explosive as the innocent men, women and children killed by that bomber?

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A win-win strategy

A follow-up to the previous blogpost on a politically attractive anti-Maoist strategy.

Today’s Hindu has a brilliant piece by Praveen Swami explaining in great detail, and in a very rational manner, that the only way to secure victory against the Maoists is to build the local police forces and establish intelligence collection mechanisms at grassroots level. In theory, no one can disagree with the solution prescribed by the venerable journalist. But as with most such security solutions, these steps will take substantial time to implement and an even greater time to show results on ground. This strategy might be a Win strategy for the security professionals  but it is not a Win strategy for the politicians; because security goals are mid- to long-term while political goals — read electoral gains — are short-term in nature.

As explained in this blogpost yesterday, any anti-Maoist strategy has to be a Win-Win strategy for both the politicians and the security professionals. Any such strategy thus has to meet the following inviolable benchmarks: it must visibly stall the momentum of the Maoist onslaught with irreversible gains; the political class must be able to demonstrate successful results from the security strategy in a very short span of time; and it must allow the security forces to seamlessly build upon and reinforce the initial success. In response to the suggested strategy of security operations moving outwards in concentric circles like an oil drop, a couple of issues about the strategy have been flagged by commenters such as ex-R&AW chief Vikram Sood,  and my fellow blogger Retributions.

Retributions raised the very pertinent issue that as the state concentrates its forces in the designated target districts, it will provide an attractive target for the Maoists to launch their attacks in other districts. This danger exists but it needs to be borne in mind that other districts aren’t being completely denuded of security forces. These districts already suffer from insufficient forces but these security forces will now have to conduct counter-terror operations only to disrupt the Maoists. This will not be easy but it is far easier to disrupt the Maoists than to destroy them with limited forces, provided they have access to better intelligence. If there are setbacks, which will inevitably occur as Maoists retaliate to increasing pressure from the security forces, the government will have to manage the environment with a smart Strategic Communication strategy which focuses on the success of the state in the target district and highlights the desperation of the Maoists in launching their attacks.

There are a couple of issues raised by Mr Sood that deserve to be highlighted. His first point is the availability of the administrative resources to govern the target districts once the state has secured them, after clearing them of the Maoists. This should not be a problem for the first few districts where the state government can easily muster up the number of administrative and governance professionals from its cadre. Once the strategy progresses, the states will have no option but to regenerate the capacity for governance in its administrative cadre. A short-term solution to overcome this deficit has been proposed earlier at Pragati — to raise a new agency called CIMPCOR (Civilian Military Partnership for Conflict Resolution) for undertaking development in conflict-ridden environments. While the state governments would have to address the issue in the initial districts, the central government could raise and employ CIMPCOR for developmental work in the later districts as security operations move outwards.

The second issue raised by Mr Sood is of cultivating local intelligence. It is a challenge in any counterinsurgency but previous experience shows that once momentum seems to perceptibly shift towards the security forces, better intelligence is available to the government forces. This would need a strong push from the states and the centre which will have to progress concurrent to another step essential to the success of this strategy — police reforms.

The most substantive question though comes from Smita Prakash, Editor (News), Asian News International. Ms Prakash avers that it is not incumbent upon the security professionals and the media to make it worthwhile for politicians to accept a course of action. The political leadership has been elected to render national service and it is their bounden duty to do the right thing. While this is a noble and attractive thought, it ignores the Clausewitzean dictum that war is also politics by other means. Thus it is equally incumbent upon the security professionals to take note of the political considerations, while advising the political leadership or proposing a security strategy to the government.

An intellectual exercise in a political vacuum to devise a security strategy may be fit for seminars, conferences and professional journals but it will achieve little progress in the real-world of political decision-making. Moreover, as the situation stands today, the greatest challenge for this nation is to generate the political will to kick-start security operations against the Maoists immediately. If the political leadership is unwilling or unable to back the security professionals without any reservations, other stakeholders in the process have to find ways to force the political leadership to take the right decision. It may not be the ideal way of going about such things but it is certainly the most practical and pragmatic response to the current crisis. And it is surely in the national interest.

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No to International Humanitarian Laws

Let us not digress from the Maoist challenge with red herrings of Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.

The latest incident of bombing the bus in Dantewada district saw some respected media commentators raise the spectre of invoking International Humanitarian Law [IHL] against the Maoists. Legally speaking, India is a signatory to the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949 which deal mainly with international conflict. These four conventions have also been ratified by the Indian Parliament and are thus India is obliged to follow them.

When it comes to situations pertaining to non-international conflicts, the Second of the three additional protocols to the Geneva Conventions deals with it. India, however, is not a signatory to these additional protocols and quoting them in the Indian context has little meaning. But then there is this Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions — India automatically becomes a signatory to it — which establishes certain fundamental and generic rules for a non-international conflict.

This hullabaloo about applying the IHL to the Maoists makes little sense in today’s context. India has enough sovereign laws of its own under which the Maoists can be charged and prosecuted by the state. The Indian state currently lacks the capacity to enforce these laws against the Maoists and ought to be focused on creating that judicial, police and administrative capacity rather than waste its energies over the IHL. If it is about the laws, let the Indian state first enforce its own sovereign laws with all the might of the state before venturing into invoking the IHL.

Notwithstanding the assertion of Common Article 3 that it “does not affect the legal status of the parties to the conflict”, any Indian move to raise objections about Maoists over violating the IHL will automatically offer de facto recognition and moral equivalence to an outlawed terrorist organisation like the Maoists. In any case, no good would really come out by raising these legal objections against such horrendous and ruthless killers. Does anyone believe that Maoists would be so moved by Indian objections that they would lay down their arms just because India will threaten to drag them to the International Committee of the Red Cross or to the International Criminal Court as war criminals? Let us get real. Not to forget that India, like the US, is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, thereby rendering the whole argument irrelevant.

Some would argue that the left-liberal intellectual class which insidiously supports the Maoists — by conflating them with tribals and positing the security operations of the Indian state as the cause for Maoists’ violent reprisals — could be countered by taking this ethical-legal position under the IHL. If the beheading of Francis Induwar in Jharkhand or mass murder of innocent civilians travelling in a bus by the Maoists has not swayed these overground supporters from their unstinted support for the Maoist cause, their is little likelihood that they are going to be swayed by this IHL argument. In fact, there is enough evidence to suggest that these Fourth Columnists, under the guise of various Human Rights groups and NGOs, have demanded invoking the IHL against the security forces and the tribals who have helped the security forces against the Maoists. Indian state should thus eschew any temptation to influence the overground Maoist supporters in its favour unless it wishes to fritter its meagre resources and time by getting into this pointless, messy and never-ending debate.

Those who raise the issue of violation of IHL by the Maoists in the IED attack on the bus actually end up deflecting the attention from the main issue — the issue of creating adequate state capacity and the political will to launch a sustained security offensive to exterminate the Maoists. Even if inadvertently, the IHL drum-beaters do a huge disservice to the cause of the state and to the memories of the innocent victims of the Maoist terror by raising these red herrings of Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocols.

The Indian state is fully justified in ignoring and dismissing these red herrings; what it needs to do now is to go beyond and summon all the power at its command to finish the scourge of the Maoists. And that is the direction the civil society also needs to be push the Indian state into. Let us see that public pressure build now. IHL, Geneva Conventions, Additional Protocols and Common Article can wait till then. Or for ever.

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AFSPA is not worth it

As the recent J&K beggar killing incident shows, there is a compelling case for a comprehensive amendment of, if not scrapping the AFSPA altogether.

The killing of a 70-year old beggar in J&K last week — in a fake encounter by the army or while caught in the crossfire between the troopers and the terrorists, depending on the version one believes — could not have come at a worse time for the establishment. The continuously changing versions of the army and numerous media reports on the incident have further given credence to the suspicion that the conduct of the army was not aboveboard. Evidently, it now seems to be a case of fake encounter and a botched cover-up by the army authorities. Using the idiom made famous by the COINdistas of the US military, this is a tactical mistake liable to mushroom into a strategic blunder. The army may dismiss it as an isolated case of wrongdoing and even take departmental action against the guilty but that would be to proverbially miss the woods for the trees. Simply because such an incident directly feeds into and sustains the anti-India political narrative being fashioned by the separatists in the state.

The political pressure on the state government — already struggling due to disunity among the allies and political ineptness of the Chief Minister — is again mounting [after a similar incident in Sopore last year] to show some visible action against the erring armymen rather quickly. Farooq Abdullah’s almost helpless statement on this incident reflects the kind of pressure the ruling coalition in the state is under:

The Army Chief is coming here and Chief Minister will take up issue with him. He will try to make sure that culprits are brought to book… Such type of human rights violations should not take place. Everyone knows it that it is difficult to take action against army here as troopers enjoy impunity due to Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).[Greater Kashmir]

It is a fact, whether one likes it or not, that the AFSPA is a potent weapon in the hands of the separatists to fuel the emotions of the local Kashmiris against the establishment. This blog had earlier called for a review of the AFSPA in the state as a bold political gambit to discredit and defeat the separatists. After understanding the background and the implications of the AFSPA [see this blogpost], one can hardly disagree with the Union Home Minister’s arguments for amending the AFSPA. While the case for amending the AFSPA is mainly a political one, the arguments against it have been made from a rather narrow security-centric angle by the army.

In a comprehensive piece in the Asian Age, Srinath Raghavan has now gone a step further and made a compelling case  — on political, strategic, security and ethical grounds — for scrapping the AFSPA altogether.

But the AFSPA is not simply an operational issue. Given the widespread revulsion against its provisions in all regions falling under the act, the question of repealing it has become a political one. Hence, the Army’s view cannot be the deciding factor. In any case, there is no reason why the political leadership should feel unduly constrained by the Army’s stance. The chain of accountability is clear: the military is responsible to the political leadership, who in turn are answerable to the people. The Army must also realise that the line between advising against a course of action and resisting civilian efforts to pursue it is rather a thin one.

The Army’s stance is also problematic in its own terms. The underlying issue is a conceptual and doctrinal confusion over dealing with insurgencies. At one level, the Army considerably emphasises the importance of winning “hearts and minds” of the local population. For instance, under Operation Sadbhavana in Jammu and Kashmir, the Army has spent crores of rupees on a variety of projects.

At another level, though, it tends to view this as a supporting activity to defeat the insurgents rather than the main aim itself. The Army has been unable to grasp that in an insurgency the overall objective is capturing the will of the populace. Hence, all activities, including military operations, must be undertaken in such a way that they support this objective.

The Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine rightly identifies the military’s role as “creating conditions that are conducive to the attainment of political objectives”. At one point, it goes as far as to state that population is the “strategic centre of gravity”. Yet a clear distinction is made between military operations aimed at “neutralising all hostile elements in the conflict zone” and the efforts towards “transforming the will and attitudes of the people”. Indeed, the doctrine explicitly states that former is the more important task: “Efforts employed on civic action projects should not be at the expense of primary task of neutralising terrorists and their supporters”.

This disjunction between military operations and “hearts and minds” efforts is incorrect and indeed counter-productive. This underlying dichotomy explains why the Army is institutionally unable to recognise the benefits that will accrue from getting rid of the AFSPA.

Furthermore, the Army should pay greater attention to legal and moral issues in handling insurgencies. In the battle for the people’s will a sense of right and wrong is critical. Counter-insurgency efforts will be credible only if the Army’s actions are consonant with the norms and values cherished by the people. But, as yet, legal and ethical questions do not significantly feature in the training of its officers, let alone that of soldiers. To be sure, the Army Headquarters has issued a list of “dos and don’ts” in this regard. But these do scant justice to the legal and moral complexities confronting troops on the ground.

Scrapping the AFSPA may, in the short-term, pose some operational constraints for the Army. But these should be weighed against the advantages of avoiding divisive domestic debates and being able to tap into wider bases of support. The case for removing the AFSPA stems from strategic as well as legal and moral considerations. For ultimately the challenge of counter-insurgency is in the cognitive domain.[Asian Age]

Let us hope that when the new army chief visits J&K tomorrow for the first time after assuming his appointment, he will display the boldness of vision and intellectual perspicacity to move away from his stated position and publicly announce his support for a comprehensive review of, if not scrapping the AFSPA. That would be a sure-shot way to convert an adversity into an opportunity in J&K and set the basis for long-term success in all other counterinsurgency operations in India.

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Facts speak

The issue of effectiveness should always trump the questions of efficiency and quantum, when it comes to defence spending.

As we look forward to the defence budget for the coming year, just consider these facts.

  • In the year 1999-2000, the total defence budget of this country was Rs 48,504 crore. In 2009-10, the allocation for pay & allowances in the defence budget are Rs 52,876 crore.
  • The total defence budget for 2008-09 was Rs 114,600 crore. Out of this, the money actually expended on new capital acquisitions was Rs 12,153.85 crore, a mere 10.6% of the total defence spending.
  • The total allocation for defence pensions — kept outside the defence budget — for the current year, 2009-10 is Rs 21,790 crore. The total allocation for new capital acquisitions for the same year is Rs 19,118.74 crore. The former always goes up in the final analysis, while the latter invariably goes down.

There can be various interpretations of these facts. But there is one inference that needs to be noted. The debate over defence budget should not merely be about more money. It should not be restricted only to how it is spent. It should also be about how the money is allocated, where it is supposed to be spent and what does it actually do to bolster national security.

To put it simply, when it comes to defence spending, the issue of effectiveness should always trump the questions of efficiency and quantum.

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