Tag Archives | need

Home Minister answers the questions

A need for more transparency in providing information.

After the Mumbai blasts in July earlier this year, this blogger had posted four questions for the Union Home Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram. You can read them here or here. The questions were about the lack of progress in four critical institutions pertaining to internal security: CCTNS, NATGRID, NCTC and a Ministry for Internal Security.

In his speech while inaugurating the DGPs/IGPs Conference at Delhi today, the Home Minister answered three of the four questions.

Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS). From time to time there have been slippages but we have taken corrective steps and I am hopeful that the nationwide network will be in place by March, 2013. Some States have not yet selected the system integrator; some have not yet set up State Data Centre. These are matters that require the personal attention of the DGP of the State.

The other ambitious project is NATGRID. Government approved the project on June 6, 2011 and I believe that it is proceeding according to schedule and the phases that have been approved will be completed in 18 months.

The most important unfinished agenda is the National Counter Terrorism Centre. It was an idea that I had unveiled in my Intelligence Bureau Centenary Endowment Lecture delivered in December, 2009. The underlying premise is that there is a subtle difference between anti-terrorism and counter terrorism. To borrow a phrase from the National Strategy for Counter Terrorism published by the US Government in June, 2011, the goal must be “to disrupt, dismantle and eventually defeat” the terrorist groups. Today, we do not have an organisation devoting its whole time and energy to that task. I hope to secure a Government decision on setting up the NCTC. Once there is a decision, I am confident that the core team of NCTC can be installed within 60 days and the full structure can be put together within 12-18 months.[PIB]

While work on CCTNS and NATGRID has finally started, albeit belatedly, the proposal for an NCTC is being spoken about now. But what is completely missing from the agenda is a dedicated Ministry for Internal Security. If one were to be cynical, would it need another big terror attack to get the idea of a ministry for internal security up for discussion?

Another noteworthy highlight of the speech was the Home Minister’s willingness to share more information about actions taken to prevent terror attacks.

Since 26/11, security forces and intelligence agencies have neutralised 51 terror modules. To illustrate, Abdul Latif and Riyaz who were planning to attack ONGC installations were arrested in Mumbai in March, 2010. Zia ul Haque was arrested in Hyderabad in May, 2010 and a major terrorist action against a multinational company was disrupted. A 10 member SIMI module was busted in Madhya Pradesh in June, 2011 and their plan to assassinate three Judges was foiled.[PIB]

This should hold a lesson for the home ministry too. They should stop classifying every information as ‘sensitive’ or ‘confidential’. They could make the interrogation details of suspects — up to a certain level — more accessible to the public. Unless the ministry communicates to the public what it has done successfully, the attention will always be directed at its failures. The role of counter-terror machinery is akin to those of a goal-keeper in football or a wicket-keeper in cricket. You only get noticed for your mistakes; the successes are a part of your routine.

Finally, the Home Ministry must advice all the state police departments to update their websites with more relevant information — the dossiers of the Most Wanted, and the confessions and charge-sheets of those arrested and convicted in terror cases.

In these cynical times, an emphasis on increased transparency in their dealings will not only regenerate the common man’s trust on the government agencies but also make the agencies more accountable and responsible. It means that there should be no need for anyone to ask questions of the government agencies. The answers should always be publicly available.

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Yes, even this is about police reforms

The recent incidents from J&K again bring home the pressing need for police reforms in India.

Shouldn’t the Jammu & Kashmir police and the CRPF handle the protests by stone-pelters far more professionally than they are actually doing today? Of course, yes. They should. No one will deny that they can employ more non-lethal means (although there are no truly non-lethal means as this fatal incident with rubber bullet amply demonstrated) to prevent mobs from gathering in the first place, could have used better intelligence to nab the ring leaders and kept the casualty figures down.

So why did this not happen? Because the threat of jehadi terror still visibly exists in Kashmir (remember the incident in Sopore where three policemen were shot dead by terrorists); the mobs have been violent and murderous in their intent setting alight police stations, CRPF posts and armouries; the police and the CRPF have been attuned to dealing with violent jehadi terrorists for two decades and could not adapt to the new tactics by the separatists; and the non-lethal means of mob control do not exist in sufficient numbers with the police in the state (although some equipment has been introduced in recent weeks).

How can the reaction of the police then be improved? This means that the police force must possess the ability to seamlessly operate across the complete spectrum of public safety and security to establish law and order. The only way to ensure that capability is by making the police more professional. And one thing that will bring in professionalism in the police force is what no one in this country wants to talk about: police reforms.

From Manipur to Maoist areas to Gujarat to Delhi, the pressing need for police reforms has been continuously driven home. While the politicians have avoided listening to the message — despite a Supreme Court ruling to this effect — public apathy towards this critical subject of national importance has allowed the governments, at centre and states — and of all political hues — to get away with studied inaction on initiating police reforms.

The poor cop on the ground, being forced to open fire on violent mobs, more out of a sense of self-preservation and self-defence than any murderous intent, is not to be blamed for what many perceive to be a high-handed reaction by the police. Should that policeman not train his lethal weapon on the mob because he or she has not been provided with a non-lethal option and thus allow the mob to run rampage? That expectation is unrealistic for the policeman is trying to make the best use of resources, training and leadership made available to him, while still enforcing the writ of a fumbling state.

Perhaps we can be satisfied by blaming the ubiquitous system and the executive for lacking the political will to undertake police reforms. But that might not hold completely true either. The civil society has equally failed in its duty by not generating enough public will to force the politicians to act.

In 2008, it was Mumbai on 26/11, then it was Dantewada earlier this year, now it is Srinagar and Sopore in Jammu & Kashmir; tomorrow it could be Commonwealth Games in Delhi or some other violent protest elsewhere in the country. The choice is ours. Either we can continue to lament at the inadequacy of our police force. Or create enough public pressure to force the governments and political parties to undertake police reforms. The choice is indeed ours.

Related posts:

A starting point — Police reforms

Unanimity among Indian politicians

The missing police

The quality of police capacity

To tackle Maoists, begin with police reforms

Kick-starting police reforms

Frankly, we don’t give a damn

Law, and order

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Listen to Mr Saran at least

The need for a fresh approach to Pakistan.

Of course, it is easy to dismiss the bloggers at INI as either naive or hawks — for they do not possess an understanding of the nuances of India’s diplomatic manoeuvers — especially when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. But surely, a former foreign secretary and former special envoy of the Prime Minister understands all those nuances better than us.

Here are the extracts from an interview with Mr Shyam Saran:

Q. In the light of the recent disclosures, is there a need for a fresh approach to Pakistan?

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

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

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

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

Q. What do you mean by Pakistan’s vulnerabilities?

A. Over time, build negative and positive leverages with Pakistan. Take Kashmir, for instance. We can take the people in PoK (Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir) and in Gilgit-Baltistan to be our citizens, as we believe that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is ours, and go in for a strong espousal of their case. Why do we not assert our claims in diplomatic terms? Do we have a strategy of engaging people in those territories?

Also, why should we be defensive about our independent Afghanistan policy? If we assert it, we will be building greater pressure on Pakistan. Our self-interest should be made explicit.

At the same time, while dealing with Pakistan, we should seek to expand the positive constituency in that country — say trade and business. This can be an instrument of positive leverage. Islamabad and the people of Pakistan should be made to understand that improving business and economic ties with India is in their own self-interest, and this can grow only if ties with India are positive.[Asian Age]

Forget the fact that this vindicates what the humble INI bloggers have been saying for years now, when almost everyone else in the mainstream media was chanting the “only talks with Pakistan equal peace” mantra. We must move away from this self-created paradigm of “either talks or war” with Pakistan to explore the range of options suggested by Mr Saran. India may have lost a few years in chasing a futile pipe-dream of peace with Pakistan but as the wise men say, it is better late than never.

Goddammit, Government of India! Please listen to Mr Saran at least. Now.

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NSA’s co-ordinates

National Security Advisor must institutionalise a weekly meeting at the level of the five secretaries concerned with national security.

In light of the Government of India pulling in different directions before, during and after the meeting between foreign ministers of India and Pakistan, K Subrahmanyam issues a timely reminder about fine-tuning the working mechanisms of the government when it comes to national security.

All this does not rule out the need for better coordination among the concerned ministries dealing with various aspects of national security. The realisation of the need for such coordination brought into existence the office of the national security adviser. Those who believed in the conventional philosophy of governance in which every cabinet minister practised a “live and let live” style of governance did not welcome the NSA. It has taken more than 12 years for that office to evolve into its appropriate role of a coordinator instead of being an independent executive in the national security set-up.

But, to be effective, the coordination should be at two levels, as in the US. The first level is that of five cabinet ministers who form the National Security Council. The second level is of the five secretaries dealing with national security: the cabinet secretary and foreign, defence, home and finance secretaries. In the US NSC set-up, they have a weekly deputies’ meeting to effect coordination and thrash out the issues before they reach the NSC under the president. Most of the hard and complicated work gets done initially at this level. Such weekly meetings sensitise key officials to issues of national security in a holistic manner and make them a coherent team. The Indian NSA should give thought to institutionalising a weekly meeting at the level of the five concerned secretaries. That would improve the coordination among the five national security ministries.[Indian Express]

The benefits of such close cooperation among various ministries should have been evident to the government after the cooperation offered by Bangladesh in handing over leaders of North-Eastern terror groups to India. The recent agreements(pdf) signed by the government with the military government of Myanmar are also a step in the same direction — primarily aimed to strangulate the North Eastern terror groups who have found a safe haven in that country.

The need for closer cooperation among various ministries must have been further driven home by the recent FATF report on Anti Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism in India. The report is extremely critical about the capability of Indian laws to counter terrorist financing.

To put it in simpler terms, no single ministry can no longer claim to be the sole repository of any national security policy. While each such ministry will, and should, remain the face of  its domain, the overall policy goals will have to be formulated after considering the views of all the stake-holders. India cannot afford a repetition of the Islamabad fiasco which was borne more as much out of a lack of coordination, than as much from a lack of direction. The suggestion from Mr Subrahmanyam to the NSA to coordinate among the five secretaries thus could not have been more timely.

Let us institutionalise this weekly meeting of the NSA. Now.

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Dump the trust deficit

Pakistan isn’t trustworthy enough for India to attempt the process of bridging the trust deficit.

When it comes to India-Pakistan relations, the buzz-word that has appropriated the narrative of both the governments to explain the need for peace talks is “trust-deficit”. Does it actually connote something?

Trust is a bilateral relationship—one trusts, and the other is the trusted. While the two are related, they’re not the same thing. The second part, about who should be trusted — which is relevant in the India-Pakistan context — is about trustworthiness. Trustworthiness is “keeping one’s word and being worthy of another’s confidence. It connotes being sound in principles, full of integrity, reliable, capable, credible and dependable.”

This means that an attempt at bridging the trust deficit can only be made if one finds the other party trustworthy.  The real question that Delhi should then ask is: is Pakistan trustworthy — reliable, capable, credible and dependable — enough to even talk about trust?

The answer is crystal-clear if one goes by the weight of evidence put forth by the London School of Economics report [pdf] and The Times investigative newsreport on the relationship of Pakistani state agencies, including the civilian leadership, with the Afghan Taliban. If this is the situation when the interests of Pakistan’s biggest lender and strategic partner, the United States are involved, which includes the lives of US-NATO soldiers being lost in Afghanistan due to Pakistani machinations, imagine the situation when it comes to Pakistan’s arch-enemy, India.

Enough said. It is time India junked this ugly buzzword called “trust deficit” along with the process being defined by it.

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The need for a CDS

An important debate on national security.

In a guest post few days back, BeeCee had sought to reconsider the necessity of a Chief of Defence Staff[CDS] for Indian defence services. Now, Anil Kumar makes a case for the defence minister to push for appointment of the CDS [LT: The Acorn]. His arguments:

  • The demands of interoperability can only be met through jointmanship.
  • The nuclearised environment and the ongoing Revolution in Military Affairs can only be dealt with through an integrated approach.
  • The new generation battlegrounds will be dominated by electronic, cyber and information warfare; the age-old tripartite command structure will cave in under the onslaught of the new martial forces.
  • Besides land, sea and air, space and cyberspace have emerged as the fourth and fifth medium respectively to fight future wars. Not only do we have to contend with astropolitics and cyber invasions, not only do we have to prime ourselves up to protect our spatial assets and cyber networks, we also have to acquire offensive capabilities to deter attacks from space and cyberspace. Our triphibious warfare doctrines have become museum pieces, and we need to enshrine futuristic doctrines to manage 21st-century conflicts. Only collaborative efforts can achieve it.
  • Like infantrymen, submariners and pilots, we need specialists to fight wars in space, cyberspace and the nuclear realm. The CDS system will fulfil this.
  • In military terms, the tooth-to-tail ratio refers to the number of combatants to the number of non-combatants. The ideal tooth-to-tail ratio is argued to be 65 per cent, that is, 65 soldiers in the fighting arms bolstered by 100 soldiers from the supporting arms. Integration and restructuring will reduce the Indian tooth-to-tail ratio, thereby quickening our reaction time.[Rediff]

The arguments put forth by Anil are all valid but they only justify the pressing need for jointmanship among the three services. These arguments do not specifically make a case for a CDS; these requirements are equally met by having a Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff[CJCS]. Or even by evolving a new hybrid model suited specifically to the Indian context.

The issue is not whether Indian defence forces need jointmanship — that is a given in today’s scenario — but what model is best suited to achieve this jointmanship and synergy among the services. The difference between a CDS and CJCS is primarily a difference between Command and Staff: CDS is a Commander, whereas the CJCS is a Staff. In the Indian context, there is a need to separate the two at the highest levels. This can be best achieved by integrated theatre commands operating directly under the defence minister, with independent military inputs coming from CJSC and other strategic inputs coming from an equivalent civilian advisor (who would preferably belong to a revamped civil services, where lateral movement from private and other government streams to that cadre would be the norm).

The yardsticks for any model of jointmanship are rather simple. One, the individual character of the services should not be lost in this quest for jointness. Two, command function should be separated from staff function at the highest levels as all powers can not be vested in a single individual or institution. Three, integrated theatre commanders should not be distributed on a pro-rata basis among the three services, but given to the individual best suited for the job. Four, military advise should be provided purely by military commanders. Five, the tenuous balance of civil-military relations should be maintained — public oversight of legislative oversight of executive oversight of a willingly accountable, self-policing military. Meeting these yardsticks means a complete revamp of the higher defence setup in this country; something which can be best achieved by instituting a Blue Ribbon Commission for defence.

While the debate on the subject of having a CDS or a CJCS is most welcome, going by the pronouncements of Mr. Antony in Parliament, it is well evident that this important subject does not figure any where on the defence minister’s agenda. Sadly.

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The missing police

There is 43% deficiency in state police forces.

Facts, like jade, are not only costly to obtain but also difficult to authenticate. ~Steven N.S. Cheung

In the aftermath of the 26-11 Mumbai terror attacks, the media was agog with stories about the shortcomings of police force in India. The usual lament was about the number of policemen per 1000 population. While the figures for the US and the UK are 2.3 and 2.1 respectively, the comparable figure for India is 1.17 police per 1000 population.This gave an impression that the central and state governments in India had provisioned for much lesser police than the country actually needed.

Now the facts brought out in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha show that the situation is somewhat different. State police (civil police and armed police) — based on the data for all the states of the country — has an authorised strength of 16,32,651 police while their actual strength is 9,27,541. The sanctioned and actual strength of Central Police Force (including Railway Protection Force) is 7,98,530 and 7,27,509, respectively.

Successful Indian experience of fighting insurgencies — in Punjab earlier and now against the Naxals in Andhra Pradesh — has shown that the active involvement of state police forces (both civil and armed police), supported by the central forces, is the best way to win this war against the extremists. The central government seems to have accepted the magnitude of the challenge presented by the Naxals, now called the LWE — Left Wing Extremists. The LWE threat, along with the need to prevent any more spectacular terrorist incident like the 26-11 Mumbai attack, has led the Union Home ministry to concentrate further on the central forces.

The actual problem, however, lies with the state police forces. As law and order continues to be a state subject, not much attention is devoted to the fact at the national level that India is deficient of over 43% police against its authorisation. The question of capacity building can only follow after the requisite numbers are recruited by the state police forces. That, along with the much needed police reforms, is the need of the hour and the only way to move forward. Can we have the UPA 2.0 give a commitment to the nation to make up this deficiency of police by the end of their current term?

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Russian military reform

Lessons for India from dismissal of senior Russian military officials failing aptitude test.

Via Joshua Keating [HT: The Acorn] from RIA Novosti comes the story of reform of Russian military. It involves discharging a large number of senior military officials for failing an unplanned aptitude test.

A large number of senior Russian military officials are to be discharged over a failure to pass an aptitude test, Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov said on Tuesday.

“We are not going to keep officers who are not fit for their positions,” Gen. Pankov told journalists, as reports indicated around one-fifth of officers had failed the military aptitude test. “The Defense Ministry took a decision to carry out unplanned tests among officers and NCOs. A considerable number of senior officers have proved inapt and will be dismissed from the Armed Forces,” he added.

Pankov said 85% of senior military officials had taken the test so far. He said 50 generals and other people occupying senior positions would be dismissed from the Armed Forces. He also said 133 officials would be reshuffled.

The Defense Ministry plans to cut 130,000 Armed Forces personnel, bringing numbers down to 1 million by 2016 as part of a military reform launched under former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The Soviet Armed Forces amounted to 4.5 million personnel in the late 1980s.[RIA Novosti]

Reform is a touchy issue in most organisations. In a close-knit organisation like the military, where the costs of failure are often irreversibly catastrophic, it is an even more touchier and trickier issue to tackle. Like individuals, organisations can also settle into a comfort zone and be lulled into a sense of complacency, based on their past records. It needs boldness of vision and some painful decisions to prepare a military for the wars of the future. Now, here is the former premier communist nation realising that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

The debate over military reform in India is visible only by its absence. And the little bits about the subject that are expounded upon, never get beyond castigating — and rightly so — the lethargic politico-bureaucratic decision making mechanisms in the defence ministry. The other aspect of reforms that also gets some attention is either the need for greater defence spending or lamentations over the unutilised defence expenditure. The need for an optimally manned armed forces, lean (not bulging at the middle and now also at the top — after the AVSC-2 — as is the case with the Indian defence services) and accountability is missing. In any case, it has become fashionable to dismiss the need for a leaner, meaner armed forces by invoking the Rumsfieldian example. However, these defenders of the status quo ignore the differences — in military technology, socio-cultural context, organisational ethos, role of the armed forces and future challenges — between the US and the Indian armed forces.

Are Indian armed forces even adept at 4GW, forget the 5GW, or are they still preparing to fight an industrial age war of the second world war vintage? What is the right balance between commitments for COIN and conventional operations for the Indian army? Should the Navy and IAF gear themselves — in equipping and doctrine — for OOA and expeditionary operations? Has there been a cost-benefit analysis for committing Indian troops and resources — alongside soldiers from other impoverished third-world countries — in UN peacekeeping operations? Where are the plans to counter and challenge the rising Chinese military might? Or is Indian armed forces’ obsession with Pakistan, while ignoring China, going to be as fatal as Pakistan army’s obsession with India, even when Taliban are at the gates of Islamabad? Why are the Indian armed forces still limiting their role to the immediate neighbourhood in their planning, whereas the changed geopolitical dynamics — since the end of the Cold War and post 9-11 — demands a more active role from the Indian defence services in the extended neighbourhood?

These are some off-the-cuff questions that the Indian defence establishment needs to honestly answer  — in broad terms at least, if not in specific terms — to trigger a rethink over the way the Indian defence services are structured, trained and employed to fight the wars of the future. The related questions about the organisational effectiveness of the services being impinged upon by an archaic working culture, feudal mindset and a colonial hangover will also need to be tackled. Eventually, it is about getting the bang for the buck, after it has been identified what is the bang that this nation wants from its armed forces.

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Cut off economic aid and declare Pak a terrorist state

K Subrahmanyam asks US to frame a new strategy in Pakistan. India should be prepared to deal with Pakistan as a failed state in the future.

The doyen of strategic affairs analyst community in India is undoubtedly K Subrahmanyam. In an interview with Business Standard, the venerated expert asks for creation of a new internal security ministry and explores Indian options for Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon and US Ambassador David Mulford have said the investigations will be taken to their logical conclusion. What does this entail?
For the US, this means cutting off economic aid to Pakistan and treating it as a terrorist state. Whether the Americans will take it that far is yet to be seen … this will mean the US will have to come up with some new strategy to deal with the Pakistan and Afghanistan problem. If the US is ready to put economic pressure on Pakistan, that may work considering Pakistan is near bankruptcy. In the case of Libya, it was economic pressure that finally worked.

What other leverage — apart from the diplomatic offensive — can New Delhi exercise over Islamabad?
Actions that have to be taken must not be discussed. But the most effective weapon against terrorism has been economic. Military force can be used, as the US did against Libya, but that didn’t deter the latter from indulging in terror activities. Now, Israel is on a military offensive against Hamas, but this won’t stop Hamas.

Can, and will, China exert pressure on Pakistan?
If it feels Pakistan is isolated and supporting Pakistan is not in its interest, China will abandon Pakistan. As of today, there is no indication China thinks in this fashion.

…What else?
There is a need to set up two commissions: one to investigate the reforms to ensure internal security and the other to look into defence. For instance, the Kargil Committee was followed by a Group of Ministers who looked at decision-making with regard to defence and national security matters.

In the case of internal security: what should be the strength of our internal security apparatus, IB, R&AW, technical intelligence department and various other agencies of intelligence gathering, their coordination, intelligence assessment, dissemination, strength of para military forces, their weaponry, training, autonomy of our police forces etc. To look into these issues, there’s a need to set up a commission as it was done in the US Congress, where a bipartisan 9/11 commission was put together.

…Will the US change its south Asia policy under Obama?
His policy will be based on his developing familiarity with political realities in South Asia. He supported Indo-US nuclear co-operation. Obama has rightly turned his attention to Afghanistan, now that the US is winding up its military operations in Iraq. I haven’t said this so far, but the final problem is going to be between the US and Pakistan.

Pakistan is proceeding on the basis that it can tire the US out of Afghanistan and inherit a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan. Pakistan’s efforts are to pretend to help the US in Afghanistan and at the same time keep the US mired in the region, and thus, tire it out. Pakistan thinks this worked with the former Soviet Union and as a result, the latter left Afghanistan.

With Obama’s administration, Pakistan’s efforts won’t be that easy since the incoming US dispensation has plans to stay in Afghanistan for 10 years and rebuild the Bagram airbase and other bases.

When the Soviet Union was pushed out of Afghanistan, Pakistan had US help. This time, for Pakistan’s plans to succeed, there will have to be a clash between Pakistan and the US. Whether the US confronts Pakistan is something that will become evident in the not too distant future.

Meanwhile, the Taliban is taking over NWFP. There’s also a question mark over whether Pakistan’s Army will be able to manage the unrest in the tribal region. Taking these factors into account, there’s a possibility of Pakistan becoming a failed state. India should not assume the US will continue to support Pakistan.[BS]

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US missile shield for India

It is too bold an action to envisage without similarly bold diplomatic initiatives to precede it.

All the strategic options that India chooses to exercise against Pakistan reach a dead end with the nuclear weapons status of Pakistan. Newsreports now indicate that India is seriously contemplating joining the strategic missile shield provided by the United States.

The US is in preliminary talks with India over the sale of missile shield systems to help New Delhi guard against nuclear threats.

India’s need for greater protection against threats emanating from Pakistan and other volatile countries in the region was highlighted by an escalation in tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours following the Mumbai terror attacks in November last year.

…Interest among Indian defence planners in missile shield systems has grown considerably since September 11, 2001, prompted partly by fears of so-called “loose nukes” in Pakistan, where pervasive instability has prompted concerns about nuclear materials falling in the hands of rogue actors.A senior Pakistani official with detailed knowledge of the country’s own nuclear programme said last night that Pakistan “will have to take counter- measures to respond” to any agreement between the US and India over a missile defence system.

“For the past many years, we have been considering the possibility of such an outcome one day,” the official said.[FT]

This report is likely to trigger extreme reactions from two of India’s neighbours: China and Pakistan. If a missile defence shield actually materialises, then it will be a step of magnitude much bigger than the India-US nuclear deal. It will cause an upheaval in South Asia and its fallouts will be felt in places as faraway as Tehran and Moscow.

India will have to weigh the costs and benefits of any such initiative. Some questions that need a clear answer are very obvious. Will it reduce any leeway that US still has over the Pakistani establishment? Will it push Pakistan closer to China? Will Russia enter into South Asia and offer Pakistan something to counter the shield?

It is a given that India needs a huge diplomatic initiative to precede any bold action — military strikes against Pakistan or a missile shield pact with the US.

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