Tag Archives | use

Drones are the right choice

The least bad option for targeting jehadis in Pakistan

Drone strikes by the US inside Pakistani territory are controversial, to say the least. The opinions on these strikes are heavily polarised. Those opposing drone strikes make the following arguments. One, these drone strikes kill innocents. Two, these strikes violate the sovereignty of Pakistan. Three, they send a wrong message to Pakistanis and create more terrorists. All these arguments have merits till we examine them closely.

Pakistani society is at such a state that nothing that the US does or doesn’t do seems to send the right message to Pakistanis. Pakistani media (rated 151 out of 175 in world free press index) can be trusted to twist any story to direct the public anger towards the US. That these drone strikes create more terrorists is an attractive idea but remains unproven by any factual research or ground reportage. Even if there were no drone strikes, there are enough grudges against the US — from Iraq or Afghanistan — that can be exploited by the jehadis to lure more young men into jehad.

The sovereignty question is again a very attractive proposition in theory. But not in practice, if you look a little closer. Pakistan’s sovereignty was not violated by the US Navy Seals team at Abbottabad but by Osama bin Laden who stayed in that city for a decade. Similarly, US would not need to fire missiles from its drones if Pakistan had the will, willingness or the capacity to act against al Qaeda and other jehadis who have formed a base in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Till 2007, al Qaeda had actually grown stronger by basing itself in these areas before US drones started disrupting its leadership. If Pakistan would have been able to uphold the sovereignty of its land against al Qaeda and other terror groups, the question of US violating Pakistan’s sovereignty would never arise.

A major source of angst and anger is over the death of innocent civilians. Some innocents are surely dying in the missiles fired by these drones. But no one has made a cogent case so far that the US is deliberately targeting innocent civilians in tribal areas. They are, to use the unfortunate military term, “collateral damage”.

But all of this still misses the fundamental point of this debate. What is the alternative to these drone strikes? Bombing raids by fighter aircraft, strafing by helicopter gunships, use of missiles or pounding by artillery fire. These are the methods used by Pakistan in Balochistan and in tribal areas against the ‘bad’ jehadis. They have all the disadvantages of drone strikes, and worse. They are far more inaccurate, more visible and would be more violative of Pakistan’s sovereignty than any pilotless aircraft.

Of course, there is another option. To leave the tribal areas of Pakistan completely untouched so that al Qaeda and its affiliates can base themselves there and spread terror across the globe. While Pakistan may be comfortable with that, the rest of the world doesn’t share that view. Countries like India, who have particularly borne the brunt of terror over the years, may not be publicly welcoming the use of US drones but would be glad that the jehadis in Pakistan’s tribal areas are unsettled due to the fear of missiles raining from the sky.

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Home Ministry must tweet

Government of India must actively use the social media. But Home Ministry needs to do so immediately.

The Ministry of External Affairs is on Twitter [@IndianDiplomacy], India Post [@PostOfficeIndia] is there too, Delhi Traffic Police [@dtptraffic] is there but the Ministry of Home Affairs [MHA] is not there so far. Although the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Ajay Maken [@ajaymaken] is present on Twitter, he is active there in a personal capacity, not in an official one.

In the developed world, this is already an era of “Government 2.0″. It is inconceivable to imagine a federal, state or local department or agency in the US or in Europe which is not active on social media [also referred to as the new-age media or web-based interactive media]. This goes well beyond the attempts to move government information and services online, which is also being attempted in a haphazard manner in India. Most of these government websites in India are, unfortunately, from the Web 1.0 era where they employ the ‘broadcast’ model. Even for the few Indian government agencies or departments active on social media, the most common criticism  is that they still tend to employ the “broadcast” model when using social media. Understandably, when government departments embrace social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to connect with the public, they are constrained by government rules, procedures and existing bureaucratic culture.  They are thus unable to exploit the social media tools to their full potential. While not all social media use needs to be creative, there is a lot more that the government departments can do to further their aims.

In today’s times, there are no excuses for any of the government agencies, ministries or departments to be inactive on — or in India’s case, absent from — social media. Their use of social media can easily focus on supplementing and improving the day-to-day informational and transactional needs of the public. But while there are abstractive merits in a ministry of mines or a ministry of power being active on social media, it is absolutely inexcusable for the Ministry of Home Affairs to be missing from social media. Why this special case for the Ministry of Home Affairs?  A quick look at the charter of responsibilities of the ministry tells us why — it “discharges multifarious functions, important among them being the maintenance of Internal Security”. In addition, it is also responsible for disaster management in the country.

During emergencies — and nearly all of them would either be in the domain of internal security or disaster management, or both — social media communication is incredibly valuable and useful. It sends and gathers information instantaneously. If engaged through hashtags, community building initiatives and geo-location analysis,  these efforts will better inform the public and alert them to public safety emergencies in real-time. Beyond that, social media fosters relationships and trust, while encouraging users to share important information for early-warning signs of suspicious activities. Furthermore, MHA’s engagement with social media platforms can help show the people that perhaps the most publicly visible ministry of the government is openly communicating and engaging with them.

The MHA, under the current Home Minister, Mr P Chidambaram has taken many steps to transform the role and capacity of the ministry. In the public communications domain, it comes out with a monthly report card which is usually presented by the minister himself to the media. No other ministry of the government has emulated this step so far and this initiative has also not been given its due share of credit by the traditional media. It is not unreasonable to hope that the ministry, under Mr Chidambaram’s stewardship, can further step-up its public communications initiative by actively using the social media.

So why is it not happening in India? Lethargy and bureaucratic slothfulness apart, the major arguments against use of social media by the government are two-fold: one, lack of reach of internet, and therefore of social media in a developing country like India; and two, frittering away of the valuable resources of the government on unimportant tasks.

While only 6.9% of Indians (by population) use internet, they still form a substantial number — perhaps far greater than the combined viewership of all the English news-channels on Indian TV that are frequented so often by ministers and bureaucrats.  For these internet users, government Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, blogs and podcasts can become critical supplements — if not immediate replacements — for more traditional forms of communication like newspapers, TV and Radio. As witnessed the world over, especially during emergencies, these social media users have acted as amplifiers and broadcasters for the communications of the government. While the issue of a digital divide when it comes to government-public communication cannot be brushed away in the Indian milieu, the whole exercise can not be limited to just identifying non-digital means to reach out those without internet access; it is about providing a variety of means, both online and offline, for the larger public.

The argument of saving government resources by not ‘frittering’ them away on social media is specious.  Government use of social media can, and must be integrated with the communications and public affairs departments already existing in various ministries and departments.

Social media can only help supplement and improve everything else the government is doing to communicate — it is not a governance, or even communications panacea. Just like any technology, it is a value-transformative tool which must be acknowledged, explored and exploited for greater effect. It is not something about the future. The future is happening here and now.

And yes, you can follow this blogger on Twitter too. Here: [@pragmatic_d].

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An unfriendly Kabul

Can India willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul?

In accordance with the prevailing wisdom about an impending end-game in Afghanistan, Eurasia Review has a provocatively titled piece — Should India Also Talk To The Taliban? While it is easy to dismiss this as a rhetorical and impractical question because India has nothing concrete to talk to Taliban about, there is a related question that ought to be considered — Can India willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul?

Fortunately, there is a quasi-official answer available to that question. And it comes from the report on Is a Regional Strategy viable in Afghanistan? by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace which has a chapter on India. This chapter has been authored by Gautam Mukhopadhaya, who is incidentally the Indian Ambassador-designate to Afghanistan. Here is Gautam’s answer to the question:

…for India to willingly countenance a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government in Kabul, it would minimally require that such a regime (1) maintain normal diplomatic relations with India and ensure the safety of its embassy, consulates, and development projects; (2) guarantee against its use for Pakistani or jihadi ends; and (3) that Pakistan abandon its own use of jihadi militancy and terrorism as instruments of state policy against India.

A couple of quick points here. One, it suggests that India has no problem with any non-jihadi government in Afghanistan, even if it is a militant fundamentalist or Pakistan-backed government out there at Kabul, provided certain conditionalities are met.  However, it is clearly evident that India today has little leverage over Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban to enforce these conditionalities. Because India has focused exclusively on an economic and developmental aid programme for Afghanistan, it will thus be forced to live with the government — and not a very friendly one at that —  that eventually comes up at Kabul.

Will we then again be back to the pre-2001 era where the Taliban’s symbiotic relationship with a revanchist military-jihadi nexus in Pakistan threatened India and Indian interests with a series of security challenges, political reversals and terrorist incidents?

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IAF against Maoists

Two questions.

After the recent bus-bombing incident at Dantewada, there have been renewed emotional calls from some quarters for the use of offensive air power against the Maoists. It is a very sensitive issue in India which is still being debated at the highest levels. Two such questions raised then are here in an email from an Indian Air Force [IAF] officer that had landed in my inbox last month after the first Dantewada massacre.

How are anti-naxalite operations so different from other earlier counter  insurgency operations in the North-East, J & K and Punjab, that we need to use air power? Why was this need not felt in earlier Counterinsurgency operations, more so when air power capabilities haven’t evolved or improved substantially over the last two decades with regard to Counterinsurgency operations/ LICO?

Emotional question: Since air power is highly symbolic of the might of the Indian state and a very potent tool, does it mean that people in naxal-infested areas against whom air power would be deployed are perceived to be a greater danger and lesser Indians than people in J & K and in the North East. Why this difference in perception?

The first question is about the capacity of the IAF to undertake effective offensive air operations against the Maoists. If that capacity exists and the Rules of Engagement are framed properly and implemented strictly, the second question is rendered irrelevant; because the IAF is not being employed “against” the people of the state, but will be ideally affecting only the insurgents.

Many other related questions about the use of offensive airpower against the Maoists have been covered at length earlier at this blogpost [Air Power against the Maoists].

estion-Since air power is highly symbolic of the might of the Indian state and a very potent tool, does it mean that people in naxal infested areas against whom air power would be deployed are perceived to be a greater danger and lesser Indians than people in J& K and N.east. Why this difference in perception?

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Confusing considerations

Employment of armed forces against the Maoists is based on security and political considerations, not ethical ones.

There has been some debate over the use of the armed forces against the Maoists. While the Home Minister of Chhattisgarh has explicitly demanded that army be called in to counter the Maoists, the service chiefs have publicly voiced their opinions against the proposal. Now the Union Home Minister has gone ahead and confirmed that the armed forces would not be employed against the Maoists; at least, not yet.

For someone who is known to choose his words carefully, the reason proffered by Mr Chidambaram for ruling out the use of armed forces against the Maoists is rather intriguing: “Ethical considerations influence choices.” India has used and continues to use the armed forces in many other internal security operations, most notably in Punjab earlier, and now in Jammu & Kashmir and the states of the North-East. These ethical considerations — whatever they are today — would have been no different for Indians residing in the aforementioned states and thus cannot justify the usage of the armed forces in internal security duties anywhere in India.

Just to set the record straight, there are only two considerations which determine the employment of armed forces in internal security duties: political and security. While security considerations are determined by security professionals, political considerations cover aspects pertaining mainly to the legality of action, social impact and economic costs of involving the armed forces in internal security duties. Based on the two inputs, it is a political call of the government to decide on the employment of armed forces for any internal security duty.

Mr Chidambaram has been criticised in many quarters, even by the members of his own party and the ruling coalition, for his heavy-handed, security-centric approach to solving the Maoist problem. It is in this attempt to appear more conciliatory and progressive that Mr Chidamabram has started using phrases like the dual-pronged approach — development and security based — for solving the Maoist problem. The statement about “ethical considerations” can perhaps also be owed to his new-found predilection for worn-on-the-sleeve political correctness about tackling the Maoists.

Ethical considerations, although a very convenient narrative for dominating the public discourse when denying the employment of armed forces, can become a huge millstone around the Minister’s neck when he has to advocate employment of armed forces against the Maoists at a later stage.  Although one hopes for India’s sake that such a stage never comes, it would be far more prudent for Mr Chidambaram to be candid and forthright now in articulating the considerations for employing the armed forces against the Maoists. The minister and his government could face some uncomfortable moments if other Indian states like Jammu & Kashmir were to question the employment of armed forces on their soil on similar “ethical considerations”; moreover, it could save Mr Chidambaram some embarrassment later if things do not really go his way against the Maoists now.


At another forum, the Home Minister spoke about the division in the civil society over the right way to counter the Maoists.

It seems civil society is divided into two camps, Mr. Chidambaram said. He said one camp clearly holds the view that government is bad and fought against at every turn and every stage.

“as a result if there is that an armed liberation struggle takes place so be it…I don’t want to take names but many of them are highly educated, hold very important places in universities and other institutions. They write very well, I hope I could write like them,” he said.

“The other camp to put it charitably quiet, to put it uncharitably unconcerned,” he said.[Hindu]

As a friend quipped, “Mr Chidambaram is not being uncharitable enough.” I cannot but agree more.

This much-quoted poem from Friedrich Gustav Emil Martin Niemöller would be an apt reminder to those who underestimate the complicity of silence and neutrality on a grave national issue.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Using defence AND diplomacy

If India has to succeed against Pakistan even when not ‘at war’, it must use defence and diplomacy as complementary functions in the conduct of its foreign policy.

Here is an extract from Admiral Mullen’s speech on Military Strategy, delivered at the Kansas State University earlier this month:

The first is that military power should not – maybe cannot – be the last resort of the state.  Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers.  We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior.  Before a shot is even fired, we can bolster a diplomatic argument, support a friend or deter an enemy.  We can assist rapidly in disaster-relief efforts, as we did in the aftermath of Haiti’s earthquake.  We can help gather intelligence, support reconnaissance and provide security.

And we can do so on little or no notice.  That ease of use is critical for deterrence.  An expeditionary force that provides immediate, tangible effects.  It is also vital when innocent lives are at risk.  So yes, the military may be the best and sometimes the first tool; it should never be the only tool.  The tangible effects of military engagement may give policymakers a level of comfort not necessarily or wholly justified.  As we have seen, the international environment is more fluid and more complex than ever before.

Not every intended target of one’s deterrent will act rationally and not every good intention will be thus received.  Longer-lasting, more sustainable effects will most assuredly demand a whole-of-government, if not a whole-of-nation effort.  Defense and diplomacy are simply no longer discrete choices, one to be applied when the other one fails, but must, in fact, complement one another throughout the messy process of international relations.[CFR]

When we look at the history of Indo-Pak relations — especially in the last two decades — the continued use of defence and diplomacy as discrete choices by the Indian government stands out. This is especially true when the two countries are not ‘at war’ — although labelling the period as ‘at peace’ would certainly be a misnomer.  The Kargil conflict in 1999 — ‘at war’ mode — thus provides an example when Indian defence and diplomacy successfully worked in tandem to defeat the nefarious Pakistani designs.

The challenge for the Indian state is to use its defence and diplomacy in a complementary manner even when India is not ‘at war’ with Pakistan.  While it is convenient to blame the government for not incorporating the defence forces in formulating its strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan, it would be equally instructive to critically examine the range of military options provided — or not provided — by the defence forces to complement the diplomatic initiatives of the Indian government.

Indian diplomats, military brass and the politicians need to break out of their industrial-age mindset — co-terminus with the second generation warfare of the military — of using only either diplomacy or defence in the conduct of Indian foreign policy. Now when India has been confronting the challenge of fifth generation warfare for last one and a half decade, Indian state needs an institutional and policy change to use diplomacy and defence in an integrated manner in its foreign policy for the information age. If India has to succeed against Pakistan, there is simply no other alternative.

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A temporary reprieve

The defence services should use this opportunity to frame an equitable and modern exit policy.

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’. One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger – but recognize the opportunity. ~John F. Kennedy

In the economic climate engulfing the country today, the media reports about the enhanced attractiveness of armed forces as a career — both in better recruitment and higher retention rates — are increasingly common. While these reports ostensibly seem correct, they only highlight an ephemeral trend. In fact, this confirms the larger malaise that grips the society and the services in this country.

If people choose to don the uniform because there are no better financial options, they are fair-weather employees. At the first instance of an economic upturn, these same employees would form the core of a disgruntled and dissatisfied lot, looking to move out for better opportunities outside. The defence services have recently experienced this downside of an economic boom when the number of applicants for quitting the services was shooting upwards while those willing to don the uniform was plummeting.

This temporary reprieve for the services has far-reaching implications. Either the services can gloat about it and feel satisfied with the immediate ensuing benefits or they can work towards a long-term solution by streamlining the process of quitting the services. The services should put into practice a liberal, modern and transparent exit policy when there is little pressure of an impending mass exodus on introducing such a policy. The services have been provided this opportunity by fortuitous circumstances. The sheen of the pay commission largesse will wear off quickly, when the upcycle of an economic resurgence is visible again in a few years time. The defence service must draw the right lessons from their experiences during the economic boom time in India witnessed in the twenty-first century.

Most successful leaders emphasise consistent long-term performance over quick wins. A group of free people, acting together out of choice and shared beliefs, will always outperform bonded labour and economic slaves.  That should be the long-term thinking of the armed forces while introducing a modern exit policy. For inspiration, they need not go any further than Sam Manekshaw, who implemented such a policy when he was the army chief.

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India’s civilian and military leadership letting the nation down

…by failing to evolve a coherent policy towards the use of force in securing Indian economic and strategic interests, says Harsh Pant.

It is a recurring theme at the INI where we lament the lack of strategic vision and poor leadership hampering India’s rise as a nation. Harsh Pant of King’s College, London joins in with similar concerns.

After having finally decided to send its naval warships to the Gulf of Aden, it is to be hoped that Indian political and military leadership will evolve a coherent policy towards the use of force in securing Indian economic and strategic interests.

There is a broader issue at stake. India is being touted as a global military power whose military capabilities are expanding and which has always had highly professional armed forces well ensconced in a liberal, democratic polity. A rapidly growing economy has given India the ability to spend on its defence readiness like never before. India has emerged as one of the largest arms buyers in the last few years. In line with India’s broadening strategic horizons, its military acquisitions are seeing a marked shift from conventional land-based systems to means of power projection such as airborne refuelling systems and long-range missiles. But it remains unclear under what conditions India would be willing to use force in defending its interests.

This question needs immediate answers and the nation’s civilian and military leaderships have let the nation down by not articulating a vision for the use of Indian military assets. If some suggestions are being made, they verge on being facile. For example, ruling out sending troops to Afghanistan, the Indian Army Chief had suggested some time back that “India takes part only in UN approved/sanctioned military operations and the UN has not mandated this action in Afghanistan so there is no question of India participating in it”.

The Army Chief’s statement was not only factually inaccurate but also demonstrated a fundamental misreading of Indian security policy. Much like other nations, India has tended to accept or ignore the United Nations as per the demands of its national interests. India cannot cede authority to international organisations as ineffective as the UN on matters of national security, but if history is any guide India has done exactly that.

Indian leadership has in recent times given the impression that the role it sees for India in global security is not shaped by its own assessment of its interests and values but by the judgements of global institutions like the UN. The Indian armed forces remain obsessed with China and Pakistan while the civilian leadership lacks any substantive and sophisticated understanding of the role of force in foreign and security policy.

A large share of Indian media and strategic experts, especially among the co-opted think tanks, are obsessed with advocating big ticket acquisitions and pointing out undue delays in acquiring weapons systems, to the exclusion of everything else. The other major grudge is about the declining share of defence expenditure as a share of GDP. These experts conveniently ignore the meteoric rise in GDP over the last few yaers which makes the absolute value of defence expenditure very high. So much so that the unexpended money has been returned by the defence ministry and the three services for the last 10 years now.

These experts also do not look at the pathetic ratio of capital to revenue expenditure, which is further distorted by an ever-increasing salaries and pensions bill. There is even lesser critical analysis of the top military leadership, doctrine, strategy and tactics while the subject of reform and restructuring the services remains a taboo in these circles. This has led to a reinforcement of the status quo, which is a comfort zone for the military leadership in the country. Harsh Pant rightly points out –

A lot of attention is being paid to the fact that India will be spending around $40 billion on military modernisation in the next five years and is buying military hardware useful for projection of power far beyond its shores such as C-130 transport planes, airborne refuelling tankers, and aircraft carriers. But such purchases in and of themselves does not imply a clear sense of purpose. Indian armed forces are today operating in a strategic void under a weak leadership unable to fully comprehend the changing strategic and operational milieu. At a time when Indian interests are becoming global in nature, India cannot continue with its moribund approach of the yore. It is up to the civilian leadership to come up with a credible policy on the use of armed forces and it is up to the military leadership to provide them some sound guidance.

The changes that Harsh desires and this nation needs will not happen on their own. They will be driven by a root-and-branch reform of the Indian defence services and the national security setup in the country. It will either need a monumental military failure or a strong political will, that has never been displayed before in this country, to get this process going. Till then, the national security setup in this country — with a rudderless political leadership at the helm, supported by a dysfunctional bureaucratic system and a vacuous military leadership — will continue its downward slide.

Who cares? Let us not even touch upon the urgent need for a Blue Ribbon Commission for defence in this country.

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