Tag Archives | state government

Another good move in Kashmir

Amending the Public Safety Act

While the attention of the media has been focused on the selective revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from certain areas of Jammu and Kashmir (this can be done by the state government by denotifying certain areas under the Disturbed Areas Act), the state government has gone ahead and announced amendment to another much-reviled law — the Public Safety Act (PSA).

The state Cabinet which met under the chairmanship of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah here okayed promulgation of the ordinance titled “The Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act (Amendment) Ordinance 2011” thus approving among other recommendations that a minor (under 18 years of age) would no longer be detained under PSA. Besides, the detention period under PSA shall be reduced from the existing one year to three months in case of public disorder and from otherwise three years to six months in a case involving security of the State. However, in both situations there is provision for revision and the detention period can be extended to 1 year and 2 years respectively.

The ordinance was necessitated since state legislature is not in session, it would be now send to Governor for his consent and promulgation. The ordinance provides that a detainee under PSA would be communicated in his/her own language about grounds of detention and all the formalities for slapping PSA on an accused shall be completed within six weeks instead of eight weeks as was given under the existing provisions of the Act. Besides, Chairman of Public Safety Advisory Board can be appointed for two terms only.[GK]

There will always be question marks about the impact of reducing the detention period under the PSA because the state government has been known to invoke the PSA against suspects immediately after they are released, whether on completion of the detention period or by the orders of the court. For instance, state police recently slapped PSA on Dukhtaran-e-Millat’s notorious chief, Asiya Andrabi for the seventh time since 2008. The court quashed her detention orders under PSA thrice and issued release orders in her favour but she has always been rearrested immediately.

But the real plus here is the increase in the age limit of detainees to 18 years.  The state authorities have long been pilloried for treating boys above the age of 16 as adults and detaining them without trial under the PSA (and ordinary criminal law), holding them in regular prisons along with the adult prisoners. This step must be welcomed by all parties, irrespective of their political positions.

The amendment to the PSA  is a good political move by the state government. It is both a reward to the Kashmiris for the peaceful summer for 2011 and an incentive to replicate this normalcy in the following years.

But the question remains. How do we assess this normalcy? What are the indicators of this return to normalcy? The first and foremost is the lack of violence, both due to terror strikes and by street protests in the Valley this year. Second, end of Hizbul Mujahideen as a terror group. Third, elimination of the top Lashkar-e-Taiba leadership in Kashmir. Fourth, the estimated number of active militants in the Valley, which are barely a fraction of the thousands a few years ago. Sixth, nearly 11 lakh tourists visited Kashmir this year. Seventh, Germany revised its travel advisory for Kashmir and other countries may follow suit. Eighth, overwhelming participation by the locals in Panchayat elections.

We can add another indicator to this list now. It is the must-read story in Outlook magazine of ex-militants, who had exfiltrated to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, are hoodwinking the ISI to return to their homes in Jammu and Kashmir. This year has seen at least 16 ex-militants arrive on the Indian side. According to Jammu and Kashmir police, there are some 3,000 Indian Kashmiris eager to return from PoK. This proves that not only is indigenous separatist militancy virtually dead in Kashmir, the hardcore ex-militants are now seeking their future in a peaceful and normal Jammu and Kashmir.

Finally, all these indicators are a testimony to the tremendous effort put in by the security forces to bring the situation to this stage. Only an ungrateful nation would choose to forget their sacrifices and even worse, demonise them, as the counterinsurgency in Kashmir moves towards a political endgame. As we keep moving forward, let us not leave anyone behind.

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The Kashmir summer calm

The whole story. And how can we build on it?

Lydia Polgreen has a story in the New York Times from Srinagar highlighting the fact that Kashmir has had a peaceful summer this year. While the broader narrative of the story is right, it glosses over a few essential facts which brought about this change.

The most important factor in the change is the fatigue among the average Kashmiri with the shutdown-protest-stonepelting tactics of the separatist leadership. Like anywhere else, people in Kashmir too long for a normal social and economic life while finding effective ways to express their political grievances — ways which do not take away their opportunity to earn a livelihood. Syed Geelani’s calls for shutdowns in the Valley had stopped evoking any meaningful response by end-September last year when he surreptitiously stopped issuing those calls. His unequivocal call for the boycott of local body elections in Kashmir earlier this summer was met with a voter turnout of over 80% in the region, which included nearly 90% turn-out in some of the separatist strongholds. Those stunned by the Kashmiris’ response can debate whether the vote was in the favour of the Indian state or not but even they cannot deny that it exposed the claim of separatists being the true representatives of the Kashmiris.

Moreover, the state government has been able to get its act right this summer. It has been proactive by not only keeping the top mob-leaders like Massrat Alam and Asiya Andrabi behind bars but also monitoring, and in certain cases arresting, ring-leaders of stone-pelters in sensitive locations. Intelligence from the ground has been better and timely. The police have handled the situation proficiently, borne by the fact that the sporadic protests have not developed into any prolonged, major crises and no fatal casualty reported this summer. The central government has also lent a helping hand to the state by tracking the funding of the separatist leadership from Pakistan via Hawala channels. With the FBI filing a chargesheet against Mr Fai for being an ISI operative in the US, the international support for the Kashmiri separatists has also taken a beating.

Has Pakistan changed its ways over Kashmir? No. Indian Home Ministry informed the parliament yesterday it “is aware that the Pakistani Intelligence Agency ISI has re-activated terrorist training camps in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). A number of training camps and launching pads are reportedly active in PoK/Pakistan. As per assessment, there are around 2500 terrorists in PoK/Pak.” In reply to another question, the home ministry stated that 52 persons have attempted infiltration from across the Line of Control (LoC) till June this year. With the summers drawing to an end, the number of attempts at infiltration from across the LoC have risen significantly in recent weeks. Furthermore, up to July this year, 19 ceasefire violations by Pakistan have been reported along the LoC.

The two measures on cross-LoC trade announced during Pakistan foreign minister’s visit to India last month have no bearing on the security situation in the Valley. Even during her visit, Ms Hina Khar reaffirmed the old Pakistani policy over Kashmir by publicly meeting the separatist Kashmiri leadership in Delhi. As an interesting aside, Mr Geelani is supposed to have told Ms Khar that Pakistan should focus on setting its own house right before it can help the Kashmiris. This is both an indicator of Pakistan’s reduced attractiveness in Kashmir and an attempt by Syed Geelani to boost his own credibility in Kashmir.

While discussing Kashmir in 2011, a couple of other issues are worthy of a mention. The number of tourists visiting Kashmir has been an all-time high this year. However, these are mainly domestic tourists. With the revision of the German travel advisory, it can be expected that foreign tourist arrivals will soon reach the pre-1990 levels in Kashmir. The security forces can take credit for the absence of any major terror strike in the Valley since 2009 which has prompted this change in travel advisory by Germany. Meanwhile, central government has announced an employment generation scheme for the state which could see 40,000 educated Kashmiri youth being employed over the next five years.

But everything is not hunky-dory in Kashmir this year. The mainstream politics in the state continues to be badly fragmented between the two main political parties, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party. The separatists continue to wait in the wings to incite public outrage at the flimsiest pretext of laxity by the state. Reports of custodial death in a police station, rape of a woman by soldiers (later proved false) and false encounter killing of an innocent civilian by the army provide the separatists with enough ammunition and place the state government on the defensive, in a damage-control mode. Infighting among the three interlocutors on J&K announced by the central government means that they are unlikely to produce any cohesive and acceptable roadmap for the future.

Are there ways in which this change in Kashmir can be made permanent? Yes. Simple, small and credible steps will help. The essential, but not a sufficient condition for any future initiative on Kashmir has to be maintenance of peace, order and security. Political power needs to be devolved to the local bodies elected in the recent Panchayat elections and additional money for development received from the centre spent under their supervision. The state government must keep its promise of holding the municipal polls in the state after Ramazan and back it up by devolving real financial and administrative powers to those urban bodies. The Union Cabinet must decide on the long-pending issue of the review of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act while upholding its plans to reduce the central forces in the Valley at the end of this summer. Time has also perhaps come for the Army and the Rashtriya Rifles to review their deployment and work out a plan to handover, in phases, the security of relatively peaceful areas to the local police.

These are sensible ideas which should not be difficult to implement. Alas, the discourse on Kashmir is littered like an old attic with the junk of many such sensible ideas.

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottage princes’ palaces. ~Shakespeare

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Good news is no news

The challenge is to overturn the old adage, especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Good news is no news. It is an overused cliché but that perhaps best explains why we don’t hear enough — or rather hear nothing — about positive stories from Kashmir. Two stories are put forth here as evidence of this argument.

One, ten phases of polling for panchayat elections in Kashmir have been completed today, without any violence. More than 80 percent of the electorate has turned out to vote so far despite an unequivocal call by the Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan-based jehadi groups to boycott these polls. In fact, the voting percentages have been a good 10-15 percent higher in Kashmir valley as compared to the Jammu region. It is a story — even if you were to ignore the clear message that these polls are a win-win situation for both the Kashmiris and the state government — which is important enough to deserve reasonable coverage from the media, and elicit informed opinion from commentators and analysts.

Two, earlier this week, Indian government approved the Skill, Empowerment and Employment Special Scheme (SEE J&K) as a 100% Central assisted scheme in the next five years to cover one lakh youth in Jammu & Kashmir. The Scheme is scheduled to commence from June-July 2011 and the first set of placements are likely to take place by October-November 2011. In the first year, 15000 youth will receive training for salaried and self employment opportunities. This is not a magic wand that will immediately solve the problem of unemployment in Kashmir. But it is a good start nevertheless that needs to be promoted, and actively monitored by the media.

It must be remembered that these are not one-off, feel-good soft stories but hard political and economic measures of significant importance in a state torn by strife for over two decades. A Kashmiri Pandit woman winning a panchayat election or a temple being reopened in Srinagar is a heart-warming tale but has limited political significance beyond that, however hard one might try to hype the Kashmiriyat tag attached to it.

Then there is this edit in The Tribune newspaper which says that tourists are flocking to the Kashmir valley this summer. For all one knows, this could be based on anecdotal evidence of the editor or her friends because there is no factual evidence to back up the statement. Although one would like to believe the assertion that no hotel reservations are available for tourists in Kashmir, hard data would have helped this view from being dismissed by the naysayers as government propaganda.

Perhaps a portion of the blame for this media apathy also goes to the J&K state government. Its official website is “under construction” and the state Press Information Bureau, if such an entity exists, has no presence on the internet, leave alone social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. The onus of communicating the state government’s message directly to the people is thus left solely to the personal twitter account of the Chief Minister, Mr Omar Abdullah. By all accounts, he has been fairly successful so far by leveraging the fundament of today’s media environment — engagement. But this is not going to be easy, as a section of the media has already used Mr Abdullah’s twitter presence to make petty personal attacks against him.

When James Callaghan said that “A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on”, it was an age with no internet (and no breaking-news television). In today’s times, every government needs to have mechanisms to proactively put the truth out before the lie has even started putting its pants on.  This needs a robust, agile and adaptive strategic communication framework in place, which is both reliable and credible, and engages with the target audience. Engagement through dialogic communication is now at least as important, if not more, as information-sending activities in the traditional media environment using monologist communication practices.

Communications transcend borders. In case of a conflict-torn state like Jammu and Kashmir which attracts a lot of international attention, the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more one can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by news informers that will not paint an accurate picture of what is actually taking place. Putting a strategic communication framework in place will allow the government to leverage the media’s power to tell people what to think about, if not what to think.

It is about winning the battle of the narrative. The state must recognise that perception is as important to its successes as the actual events. The challenge is upon the government, particularly the J&K government, to defy and overturn the old adage that good news is no news. Especially when it comes to Kashmir.

Toon from here.

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Budgeting Jammu and Kashmir

The state budget doesn’t make for a happy reading.

A quick look at the state budget of Jammu and Kashmir presented in the state assembly yesterday provided the following highlights:

  • J&K SGDP has a growth rate of 6.61%, compared to the all-India GDP growth rate of 8.6%
  • The per capita income in the state is estimated at Rs 32,496, compared to the all India figure of Rs 54,527
  • The state government borrowed Rs 1,300 crore as additional open market borrowing outside the FRBM arrangement, to reduce the accumulated overdraft of the government with the J&K Bank
  • Expenditure on payment of interest is estimated at Rs 2,363 crore during the next year as against Rs 2,251 crore for this year
  • Expenditure on account of cost of purchase of electrical energy is projected at Rs 2,400 crore for next year, as against the current year’s Rs 2,324 crore
  • Rs 1,174 crore is estimated to go out on account of repayment of loans next year, as against Rs 959 crore this year
  • State’s Annual Plan is yet to be finalised by the Planning Commission, receipt figures in the budget have been worked out on a projected State plan outlay of Rs 6,600 crore
  • In addition, the PMRP outlay is of Rs 1,200 crore
  • 57% of budgeted income is funded by central grants
  • 44% of budgeted expenditure is towards salaries and pensions of government employees
  • The budget has a fiscal deficit of Rs 2,979 crore over a total outlay of Rs 31,212 crore next year, i.e., 9.54%

The bottom-line is simple. At the next instance of the minutest trouble in Kashmir Valley, many commentators will come forth and place the blame on the economic condition of the state. The state government, it will be suggested, is not doing enough economically. But a closer look of the state budget actually shows that there is very little that the state government can do to revive the state’s economy.

Of course, it is another matter that the Central government has also not been able to do enough for the state’s economy. The Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme has been extended for another year now (when it was supposed to culminate in 2008) and Dr C Rangarajan has now submitted his third report on economic revival of the state (the earlier two reports lie deeply buried in the cupboards somewhere).

It is easy for many Kashmiris to look at some other parts of India and feel that they have been left behind. But the best years of India’s economic growth, since 1992, have coincided with the worst years of terrorist violence in J&K. In 1989, no one had ever imagined that the sleepy pensioners’ paradise of Bangalore would be an IT hub or Tamil Nadu a major location for auto-manufacturing. Things took their own course and hitherto unthought-of opportunities emerged in many regions of the country. We don’t know what Kashmir could have become had it not been engulfed by violence since 1989.

There is only one lesson to be learnt here. If there is a climate of fear, terror, violence and insecurity in the state, no amount of planning, funding, schemes and programmes will make a difference. While the government must do what it can to revive and kick-start the economy of the state, the most important thing it can do is to ensure peace, security and rule of law to allow economic activity to flourish. If peaceful conditions prevail uninterruptedly for a substantial period of time, one never knows what success stories can emerge from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They may not be the sufficient condition, but peace and security remains the essential prerequisite for economic revival of the state.

Of course, this blogger does remember his old aphorism: “The secret of success is this: There is no secret of success.”

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Discoursing Kashmir

A look at the Union Home Secretary’s views about Kashmir

As a rule, Pragmatic Euphony is wary of reading too much into extracts of an interview by a government official. However, the PTI is holding back the full transcript while releasing a few extracts from its interview with the Union Home Secretary, Mr GK Pillai. One such PTI report contains certain statements made by Mr Pillai on Kashmir.

There were a couple of noteworthy points made by the Union Home Secretary.

When asked how many personnel are being pulled out from the state, he said in 2009, the centre pulled out 10 battalions (10,000 men) from the state. Last year, it did not take out any because of the agitation from June to September.

“I think this year, we can easily take out 10 battalions if not more. Irrespective of the situation, I can take out 10 battalions and it would not have any impact.

“We have about 70 battalions in Kashmir and we have 62 battalions in seven Left-wing affected states which are big states…. I think if I can take out, I will try to pull out as many as I can,” he said.[Indian Express]

It is inexplicable that the Union government and the state government did not adequately publicise the withdrawal of 10 paramilitary battalions from Kashmir in 2009. This deinduction was perfectly understandable in light of the sharp decline in violence witnessed in the Valley in the last few years. Greater publicity for this action of the government would have perhaps led to a more balanced narrative of the situation in Kashmir in the national and international media.

One hopes that the decision of the home secretary to withdraw at least 10 paramilitary battalions from Kashmir this year — irrespective of the situation — is based on professional inputs from the security forces, and not dictated by other extraneous factors. The home secretary’s statement hints at this decision being driven by a pressing requirement to provide more paramilitary battalions to the Maoist-affected states. While the home ministry remains the final arbiter of such competing requirements, it would perhaps be prudent to err on the side of caution when it comes to Kashmir. However it is also possible that such a clear declaration of intent will goad the state police to step up and fill the void, if any, created by the deinduction of central forces from the Valley.

On the amendments on AFSPA, whose withdrawal has been demanded by the state, he said this is an issue which has to be decided politically.

“But OK, even if it is not done I think you can move forward and say some parts of Kashmir need not be declared disturbed,” he said.

Pillai said that if there was no change being made in the AFSPA than the area can be denotified (as disturbed) and the law will not be applicable there.

“You keep the act as it is which is what the Army says don’t meddle with the Act but if you want me (Army) to act, I need that Act… You see law and order situation in Srinagar has improved. Anyway, Army is not in Srinagar. They are not operating in Budgam.

“You say remove it from there…. That area is no longer disturbed. This is a notification of the state government not a state notification by Central Government,” the Home Secretary said.

He said the proposals for amendments in the AFSPA were before the Cabinet Committee on Security.[Indian Express]

The debate over amending the AFSPA has become extremely polarised in the recent years. This has led to hardening of positions in both the defence ministry and the home ministry. While this stalemate awaits a political resolution by the Cabinet Committee on Security, the disposition of the home secretary to shift the onus of decision-making on to the state government is not estimable.

Essentially, there are two distinct issues on the table concerning the AFSPA. The state government can very much withdraw the notification of disturbed areas act from the districts where no army is deployed — Srinagar and Badgam in the Kashmir valley. But that is not the major concern here. The major concern, not only in Kashmir but in the North-East as well, still remains the amendment of the AFSPA which can only be undertaken by the Union government. [See these posts on the Background of the AFSPA and Why AFSPA is not worth it]

“I have seen many of these conferences… same old fifteen fellows in the last ten years in backstage, stage two.. same people, same thing coming out. You have to start talking to other people and get fresh ideas so I think we have to reach out to the people of Kashmir,” Pillai said.

He said the Centre is planning to hold seminars in remote areas of the state with a team of 100 officers of the Centre along with state government officers listening to the problems of local Kashmiris.

When asked whether this move will not impinge on the authority of the state government, he said the state government will be on board and the location will be selected by them.[Indian Express]

With the Panchayat elections scheduled to be held in the state in the next few months, it would be far more advisable for the Centre to empower these local self-governance bodies than push central teams to resolve local issues. The endeavour of the Union government should be build governance capacity at the state level, whereas these central teams are likely to further undermine the authority of the state government.

Even as a short-term strategy to paper over the lack of administrative capacity at the state level, this is unlikely to pay huge dividends. It will strengthen the hands of the separatists who always arouse Kashmiri emotions by highlighting the control exercised by Delhi over the state government in Srinagar. The Union Home Secretary would be best advised to either drop this idea altogether or implement it in as discreet a manner as possible, where the state government completely leads, owns, defines and executes the process.

It must be conceded, in all fairness, that the Union Home Secretary’s candidness in sharing his thoughts with the public, via the media, comes as a whiff of fresh air in the moribund bureaucratic stonewalling usually witnessed in the government of India. As long as it leads to a healthy debate and provides constructive feedback to the home ministry, Mr Pillai is on the right track.

And for those who perpetually criticise the unlearning nature of the Indian government, whether in Kashmir or elsewhere, they need not go further than this John Adams’  letter to Thomas Jefferson, circa July 9, 1813:

While all other Sciences have advanced, that of Government is at a stand; little better understood; little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.

198 years on, and the view still holds good.

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A stalemate against the Maoists

Don’t disregard the Maoist problem.

Amidst the hype over Obama’s impending visit to India, the antics of the separatists and interlocutors in Kashmir, and other political issues dominating the headlines in the Indian media, the Maoist problem seems to have taken the back-seat. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram’s interview in the Asian Age thus serves a timely reminder that the Maoist problem may have gone away from the front pages of dailies and magazines, it presents a grave threat to the Indian state.

Q. How are we placed today as far the Naxal problem is concerned because the Red Corridor seems to be expanding.
A. I don’t know where you got that impression. It is a bit of a stand-off. I can’t say that we are “winning” in this conflict with the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) but I can say we are not “losing”. It is a bit of a stand-off. In some areas the state government with the aid of security forces has been able to restore the civil administration. But in some other areas the CPI(Maoist) continue to have the upper hand. But this is a long drawn out struggle. So, one has to be patient.[Asian Age]

The Home Minister’s statement indicates a stalemate but that situation can be of little solace to the Indian state. In case of the Maoists, as has been observed earlier, this may actually indicate a tactical pause in their military campaign. Along with the monsoons in Central & East India over the last few months wherein the Maoist activity has historically abated, the Maoists could well be using this period to recruit, rest, recoup, regroup, re-equip and reorganise their cadres for the battles ahead.

It is not only the Maoists though; even the Centre and the states will be better prepared in the months ahead. The situation in Kashmir has ostensibly improved and will improve further as winters set in the Kashmir valley. The central forces deployed for the security of Amarnath Yatra and during the Commonwealth games are also available for deployment against the Maoists. With the conclusion of Bihar assembly elections, the centre will have additional forces up its sleeve.  In addition to the larger quantum of central paramilitary forces available for deployment against the Maoists, the Indian Air Force has also withdrawn its helicopters from the UN peacekeeping assignments. These can also be now pressed into service for operations against the Maoists, if the need arises.

But the real challenge is still of the political will in the states.  Jharkhand has a coalition government which includes the JMM, and media reports indicate that Bihar is likely to see a return of Nitish Kumar as Chief Minister. When it comes to tackling the Maoists, both these governments are not on the same page as the centre. Mamata Banerjee, who is being touted by many as the next Chief Minister of West Bengal, has been vocally opposed to centre’s anti-Maoist strategy despite being a Union cabinet minister. The state government in Andhra Pradesh is riddled with factionalism and simultaneously facing the challenge of the Telangana movement. That leaves only Orissa and Chattisgarh among the Maoist-affected states in the country.

Under the Indian Constitution, law and order, including the anti-Maoist operations, remains a responsibility of the state government. Even if the centre has, and is able to provide the addition paramilitary forces to the states, most of the states seem singularly unwilling and incapable of generating the political will to aggressively take on the Maoists. They refuse to acknowledge that “while security without development is meaningless, development, without security, is unachievable.” Therein lies the tragedy for the nation, and the reason why Mr Chidambaram is right when he says that “this is a long drawn out struggle.”

When it comes to countering the Maoists, there is no alternative to political will. To paraphrase the apocryphal Churchill quote: You can always count on our political leaders to do the right thing— only after they’ve tried everything else. Can the nation, however, continue to plod on in that elusive hope?

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A politically attractive anti-Maoist strategy

A security strategy for the Maoists that the political leadership can embrace. It stalls the momentum of the Maoist onslaught, shows immediate successful results, and reinforces the success in the long-term.

More than 148 Indians have been killed in a Railway accident — or incident in official parlance, whereas a Maoist attack would be a far more apt description — but the reaction from the government has left a lot to be desired.  A lot of media commentary has followed the tragedy, the fourth big one at the hands of the Maoists in last 40 days, ranging from senseless emotional rants to serious action plans to deal with the Maoists. Most of the commentary in the mainstream media wants the government to announce a security offensive against the Maoists while the government seems to be fighting shy of announcing any such plans.

So what lies at the heart of the issue? Why are the politicians so hesitant to accept the solutions being proposed by the security experts, even though these solutions appear rational and sensible? Is it good enough to merely blame the politicians for paying heed to their electoral fortunes? Finally, is there a way to craft a security offensive intertwined with a political narrative which would appear politically attractive to the country’s leadership?

Political goals in a democracy, primarily by nature of the electoral stakes involved, are short-term in nature whereas most of the security solutions will have an impact only in the mid- to long-term. There is thus little in the armoury of any politician, even if he or she strongly believes that security operations are the only way ahead against the Maoists, to convince her colleagues in the party or the government about her belief and strategy. A large section of the political class finds little incentive in supporting a course of action where they cannot visibly display the outcome as an immediate success. This gains greater importance in today’s world driven by the mainstream media’s transient attention span, which plays an increasingly important part in the decision-making calculus of the politicians.

When security experts indulge in an intellectual exercise in a political vacuum that doesn’t further the political leadership’s goal, the political leadership has no reason to unstintingly support these plans. It is a challenge for the security professionals to bridge the gap between short-term political and mid- to long-term security goals. But this challenge is not insurmountable and the operational constraints can actually lead to the best solution.

Indubitably, there is a pressing need for the government to arrest the momentum building in the favour of the Maoists wherein the state seems to have ceded the political and security space to them. At present it seems as if the Maoists can attack at will anywhere in the Red Corridor without any fear of retaliation from the state. The state has no choice but to reverse this trend. Its actions have to build morale of own forces and clearly demonstrate the paramount authority of the state to the nation at large.

Currently the government has provided a smattering of central forces scattered all over the Maoist-affected states. Even if these forces were not as ill-equipped, poorly-trained and poorly-led as they are today, their numbers would not be sufficient to cover all the affected areas simultaneously. Let us remember that there were nearly 600,000 soldiers, paramilitary personnel and cops dealing with barely 1000 active militants in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. If one counts the total area under the Maoist influence and the civilian population affected by the Maoist threat, the number of security forces required will then go up even further. There is no way the state can immediately conjure up that quantum of force, whether military, paramilitary or police. This resource constraint actually provides the clue about devising the short-term strategy for dealing with the Maoists.

For generating an overwhelming superiority of forces against the Maoists at any given time, the state must per force bring a concentration of its forces to a smaller area, at a place of its own choosing. This could mean identifying a district or two in each of the affected states and reinstating the writ of the state there. The central government can assemble the desired strength of forces by bringing in adequate number of central paramilitary forces, along with the newly-raised 10 battalions of Special Action Force (erstwhile COBRA units), some special forces teams from the army/ NSG and adequate Indian Air Force resources for air support operations. The state government must support these operations by posting its best police officers and developmental officials in the target district. It is likely that the Maoists will not indulge in a direct fight with the security forces but will choose to walk away from of the district. However that would still serve the purpose of the government as after clearing the target district with few casualties, it will need lesser forces — mainly from the state government — to hold the area, and the development agencies could then build upon the security situation.

Imagine a district like Dantewada being selected by the government as the target district in Chattisgarh to start with, and the strategic communication victory it would provide to the government within a few weeks of commencing its operations. This is something tangible that the politicians supporting the security operations can showcase as a success in the short-term to their political supporters and to the nation. And an initial success story will convince many of the fence-sitters in the political class, media and the intelligentsia to come out openly in the support of security operations. It will also firm up the political will of the government to act against the Maoists.

Thereon, this target district could act like the centre of an oil drop from where the control of the government would then extend outwards in concentric circles. As the security operations progress outwards from this target district, state would need to commit far greater resources for the effort. Not only will the Maoists start striking back for the fear of being pushed in a corner, the increase in area of operations will automatically necessitate more security forces, more police to maintain law and order, and more government machinery to undertake the development effort. Thankfully this oil drop strategy of starting with a target district and expanding outwards provides us with a time-window to overcome this drawback.

If all the mid- to long-term suggestions being made by the security experts can be acted upon now, they’d be ready to deliver when normalcy has been restored in the first few target districts. The centre and the state governments will have to immediately raise more Special Action Force battalions, carve out a new ministry of internal security at the centre, create operation & intelligence war-rooms at the state and district levels, initiate police reforms in all states, craft a clear political mandate and implement a media-management policy as part of this mid- to long-term action-plan. These mid- to long-term plans are important to execute concurrently with the initial security operations, if the momentum of the short-term success against the Maoists has to be made irreversible.

If the political leadership is serious about eradicating the Maoist menace, the most prudent course of action will be to plan a joint strategy with the state governments, identify the districts in each state to launch the initial  security operations, institute the mid- to long-term reformist steps and articulate the strategy to the nation. Letting the  security operations expand in concentric circles while the state builds its capacity to undertake the larger gamut of security operation and developmental activities is the only way to craft a political success story that also takes care of the national security imperatives; the state can then stall the momentum of the Maoist onslaught, show immediate successful results, and reinforce the success in the long-term. If that sounds like a plan, can we hear it from the government now?

[NB -- Thanks to @thecomicproject for raising these important questions in an offline brainstorming session that led to this blogpost.]

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The new business of terror in J&K

First, organised stone pelting and now, outsourced terror strikes.

Stone pelting by protesters during demonstrations is not a new thing. Over the past decades, our drawing rooms have been satiated with images beamed from all over the world — places in Europe, South East Asia, West Asia and South America easily come to the mind — where protesters have pelted stones against the security forces.  In Jammu & Kashmir,  stone pelting [kani jung in local lingo] gained popularity in the 1960s — when supporters of National Conference called sher (lions) and of the Awami Action Committee called bakra (goats) — would indulge in clashes that known as sher-bakra battles. But the recent news-reports of stone pelting in Kashmir valley have put these incidents under a sharper focus. So what is so different about stone-pelting in Kashmir valley this time around?

For one simple reason. Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists. Having failed to reignite the fire of militancy in Kashmir valley in recent years — despite increased attempts at infiltration during the winter months from south of Pir Panjal ranges — this is indicative of a changed tactic against the security forces and the elected government of the state. Political parties like the PDP have jumped in to the fray with their voices of tacit support to stone-pelters further adding to the discomfiture of the state government. It must not, though, be forgotten that these incidents are restricted to only 8-10 police stations in the state but the extensive media coverage enhances their impact and visibility manifold.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to devise a counter-tactics to disrupt and degrade this menace of stone pelting. Simple actions like prompt use of non-lethal weapons, arrest of ring-leaders, jamming of mobile communication signals, close circuit cameras in affected areas, timely intelligence gathering, and community meetings with local elders on Friday mornings would go a long way in curtailing the menace. The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.

The state government — to be fair to it — has responded but not as nimbly as it should have. It has even declared stone-pelting as a crime amounting to waging war against the state and has started booking individuals under this charge. More interestingly, in a very astute move last year, Srinagar police chief Afadul Mujtaba had tried to thwart stone-pelting by claiming that there is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that prohibits stone pelting. It generated a lot of debate in the Kashmiri media where some religious scholars supported him while others including the separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani obviously expressed their disagreement. In light of the spurt in stone-pelting incidents in recent months, that debate seems to have been sealed in the favour of the separatists and the stone-pelters.

From North East to Punjab, history tells us that the Indian state eventually does find its own ways to successfully counter the separatists and their tactics. There is no reason that it is going to be any different this time around. However, that is little cause for satisfaction. The Pakistani military-jehadi complex has already moved on to a new tactics in Jammu & Kashmir: outsourcing terror strikes to freelancing terrorists still operating in the state, while various jehadi groups stake their claim for these terror incidents.

Having failed to keep the militancy in the state alive both politically and militarily, these new tactics are evidently signs of desperation from the separatists and their Pakistani backers. It can be safely assumed that they will continue to devise newer methods and tactics to confound the security forces and embarrass the state government. The  security forces and the state government will have to respond to the changed tactics adequately and in a calibrated manner; but it is the alacrity and nimbleness of the response that will remain the biggest challenge.

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To tackle Maoists, begin with police reforms

Draft Model Police Act of 2006, a part of police reforms, provided for Special Security Zones to overcome the differences between states on conducting security operations against Maoists.

Maoists are back in news again. Two dastardly attacks, one kidnapping, one Chief Minister publicly capitulating before the Maoists, another Chief Minister who publicly opposes any use of force against the Maoists and a union minister who doesn’t share the union cabinet’s convictions about Maoist menace in her state.

But the debate on the Maoist menace in this country — as has always happened earlier — will be taken over by extraneous issues: why are intellectuals supporting the Maoists; are Maoists terrorists or misguided youth; shouldn’t we have development and real democracy before security operations; let’s call the Maoists for talks first; it is Chidamabram versus Kishenji; lamentations about the poor state of our security forces; and so on. These issues are passé and need to be kept out of any debate hence forth. The government of India has already decided to conduct and facilitate security operations against the Maoists and re-establish the writ of the Indian state in the areas controlled by the Maoists. The issue to be considered now is to identify the most effective — and efficient — ways to successfully conduct these security operations. All the actions of the state — and the nation, by extension — should be aligned to break the will of the Maoists to fight. Nothing more, nothing less.

The biggest road block in such synergistic action by the country happens to be the constitutional stipulation of law and order being a state subject. As the Maoists affect the electoral outcome in these states, the elected state governments  [Congress in Andhra Pradesh earlier, JMM-BJP in Jharkhand, the NDA government in Bihar now and a prospective Trinamool-Congress government in West Bengal] are keen to emphasise their primacy in the domain of law and order to avoid any substantive security operations against the Maoists.

So what is the solution then? Ensuring that all the state governments are on the same page as the centre is one. But generating a political consensus and robust political will to act is an impossible dream in today’s India. Simply because there is little likelihood that an anti-Maoist state government would win elections in a state controlled by the Maoists (e.g. Jharkhand assembly polls in 2009).

Before we look at other solutions, let us take a short detour here. When it comes to fighting jehadi terror, it is very easy in this country to start a debate about the role of Pakistan and how India should either talk or bomb Pakistan out. Little attention though is paid in the aftermath of the terror strike to strengthening our internal security mechanisms, a process which has to start with the civil police. If this nation were to direct one-tenth of the attention and energy it devotes towards Bollywood and Cricket on to Police Reforms, India would be a far safer country today. And it would have certainly saved the lives of many more Indians than Bollywood and cricket put together have saved so far. [Note -- This blogger is not against Bollywood or Cricket, but against the disproportionately high bandwidth relative to their importance being captured by them in the national narrative.]

These police reforms are extremely important while fighting the Maoists as well. Had these reforms taken place, say in 2000, they would have obviously led to a more robust police force handling the law and order situation, including the Maoist menace, far more professionally than it does today. It doesn’t end there though. Even if the police reforms in this country were implemented sincerely after the Supreme Court decision of 2006, we would by now have a clear way to overcome the problem of different states pursuing different policies against the Maoists.

It is worth remembering that one of the important components of police reforms was the introduction of a new Model Police Act. The draft act was submitted to the government in October 2006 but is yet to see the light of the day across the country. The annual report card of the Home ministry for 2009 perfunctorily notes:

A copy of the draft Model Police Act was sent to the States for consideration and appropriate action. The Model Police Act provides for well-defined duties of the Police towards the public and accountability to the rule of law. A number of States have either framed New Police Acts or amended the existing Acts.[PIB]

That statement is typical bureaucratic obfuscation as very few states — barring those in the North East who need centre’s largesse tied to these reforms — have actually implemented it in letter and spirit. Kiran Bedi explains why passing of that model act by the states would have helped the nation unleash effective anti-Maoist operations.

I had a part in drafting the Model Police Act of 2006. it was submitted to the Government on October 30, 2006 and was chaired by Soli Sorabjee. First, it went nationwide and then to a small group. We deliberated on Chapter 11, Policing in the Context of Border and Internal Security, and I remember we deliberated on what to do? Can we go about it state-wise or can we look at it as a zone? And the suggestion was the creation of Special Security Zones (SSZ) something which Marwah also just mentioned. I am looking at the SSZ of the affected states which includes portions of West Bengal, Andhra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh etc., In Section 112, if the security of an area is threatened by insurgency, any terrorist or any militant activities of any organized crime groups, the Union Government may with the concurrence of the state government declare such area as a SSZ. Any such notification will be placed before appropriate legislature for ratification within six months from the date of issue or first sitting of the legislature provided further that the period of notification shall not exceed two years unless it is ratified by the Parliament with the concurrence of the state legislature. It also said that the state government shall create an appropriate police structure and a suitable command control and response system for each such special security zone.[India Today]

Police reforms, lest it be construed otherwise, are merely a start point in the whole gamut of things that need to be done to strengthen internal security. They are not a panacea to all the ills afflicting our internal security structures and processes. Lamentably, even this initial gambit of police reforms — despite the half-hearted attempts of the Supreme Court — hasn’t really moved forward in this country so far.  One of the possible ways to move forward is the GST model of bringing all the states on board.

The roll-over of police reforms remains a enormous challenge. It is a political challenge that has to be overcome forthwith if India has to be internally secure — from the threat of the jehadis or the violence of the Maoists or the hooliganism of political actors like the Shiv Sena.

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’tis not cricket

The refusal of the defence services team to play a cricket match in Srinagar has very little to do with cricket. It is about the politics associated with it and the message it conveys.

First the Union Home Ministry decides to ban the use of pre-paid mobile phones — which are 85 percent of the total mobile connections in the state — in Jammu & Kashmir. Then, the services cricket team — a joint team of the army, navy and the air force — decides not to turn up for their cricket match against Jammu & Kashmir in Srinagar. The reason, though not officially provided during the day, would have been the security concerns about their cricket team.

Then, the issue flared up with the state government taking serious offence to this decision of the services. Late in the evening, the services apologised to the cricket control board for “the administrative slip-up in despatch of its team” and requested for fresh dates to replay the match.

This is actually not merely about a cricket match between two lowly placed teams in the Plate division of the Ranji Trophy. It is much more than it, with all the political implications and messages that such an event in Srinagar conveys. The foremost among them is to shatter all the claims of the state government about a return of normalcy to the state. When the defence services themselves are unwilling to play a match in Srinagar, the Indian government’s continued insistence on a peaceful Kashmir has little credibility left in the international fora. This will also damage the peace process in the state recently initiated by the centre and weaken the hand of the government in these quiet talks with the Kashmiri separatists.

There are a few issues involved with this decision making that need to be probed further. The most important among them is finding the army official responsible for taking this decision. The security assessment would have obviously come from the local army formation, the Corps headquarters at Srinagar. And then the recommendations would have gone up the chain before the decision would have been taken at a higher, if not the highest level, in the army. If the political implications of such a decision were not grasped by people at that level, which necessitated referring such a decision to the political executive, then they simply do not deserve to occupy those high offices in the army headquarters.

In many quarters, this incident has been perceived as an attempt by the army to snub the state government, particularly the young Chief Minister of the state. His continued efforts to press the centre for diluting the provisions of the AFSPA, and for moving the army and Rashtriya Rifles out of the cities and towns have not gone down well with the army. In fact, there have been very few, if any, statements by the army proclaiming normalcy in the state. All statements by senior army officials about low violence figures in the state are laced with predictions of increasing attempts at infiltration and reactivated terror camps across the border. While these caveats may be true, this cultivated avoidance of acknowledging and promoting the return of normalcy to the state by the army brass lends credence to the charge that the army has developed vested institutional interests in maintaining the status quo in the state.

Finally, the damage control exercise by the army is an outstanding example in how not to conduct public diplomacy. The apology has come rather late; who has tendered the apology is not clearly spelled out. The apology has been tendered to the BCCI for an administrative slip-up, not to the state government and the people of Kashmir for a genuine mistake. Insincere and disingenuous, the apology and the offer of a rematch conveys the unmistakable impression of a decision forced on the army brass by their political masters. Where does it leave the army’s claims of building its image and winning the hearts and minds of the average Kashmiri now? In tatters, one presumes.

Since 1990, the army has done a great job and an yeoman service to the nation by fighting the might of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. It is also equally true that the nation and the government have, at times, failed to recognise the efforts of the army in bringing normalcy to Kashmir. However, its glorious record of yore can not be an excuse for the army to take a political decision that nearly undoes all its past good work in J&K.

The army brass thus deserves a rap on the knuckles, not only to retrieve the lost ground in Kashmir, but equally importantly, to ensure that the army does not repeat the same mistake in the future.

Tailpiece – While pillorying the army over this cricket match in Kashmir, how can one ignore the Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor’s recent statement. Echoing his Pakistani counterpart and other Pakistan government officials, he says that “the South Asian region is infested with terror groups. Be it India, Afghanistan or Pakistan, we have to collectively battle such [terror] threats.”

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