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Free lunch as COIN strategy

Hot rural meals on paramilitary wheels in Jharkhand

“I have taken this Saranda project as a challenge and as a way of demonstrating how development and security can and should go hand-in-hand.”

That was Union Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh talking about his Saranda Development Plan. Saranda forest, for those who came in late, is Asia’s biggest Sal forest comprising 56 villages in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district. After being a liberated area of the Maoists for nearly a decade, it was ‘cleared’ of the Maoists by security forces in Operation Anaconda earlier this year. Two additional battalions of CRPF were then moved in there to ‘hold’ the area. After the ‘clear’ and ‘hold’ phase, as per the prevalent COIN dictum, now is the time to bring in the ‘build’ phase.

While all the other initiatives being launched by the government as part of the Saranda Development Plan make immense sense, the one which struck out as a sore thumb was this — “Hot rural meals on paramilitary wheels”.

The CRPF’s 197th Battalion, engaged in weeding out Maoists, today launched its operation food, thanks to what they claimed was the first paramilitary mobile kitchen unit in India. The initiative is aimed at distributing food among villagers everyday as a part of a civic action programme to earn the trust of people in rebel areas.

“This mobile kitchen unit costs around Rs 30 lakh and has been launched specially as part of the Saranda development plan,” commandant of 197th Battalion Lal Chand Yadav told The Telegraph. He added that every day, the van would reach one village and offer its people a hot meal. “There are 56 villages in the six panchayats — Loilar, Makranda, Chiria, Gangda, Chotanagra and Digha — with an extremely poor population of around 36,000,” the commandant said.

The staple diet of villagers in the rebel-hit forest is pokal bhaat, which comprises rice mixed with water to which a pinch of salt has been added. Onion and green chillies are a rare luxury for most. Compared to that, today’s lunch comprising vegetables and eggs was akin to cordon bleu fare. And yes, it met the approval of the Union minister and the chief minister, who inspected the kitchen and tasted the spread.[TT]

If everything goes as per plan, each village will receive one hot meal once in nearly two months. That is, another if, if the quality of food can be maintained over the period of time and the mobile kitchen runs as per schedule. If the idea is to provide food to the hungry, then sending cooked meals once in two months is the most inefficient way of doing that. If the idea is to win trust of people in these areas, then this is the worst possible way of doing that. Furthermore, how long can you continue with this project? Because you will have to stop it at some point, and when you stop it, there will be people who will feel cheated and disappointed that the free lunch has stopped.

What’s worse — the unintended message of this initiative seems to be very feudal: You poor, hungry, tribal people, this is from the mai-baap sarkaar. We will bring you tasty food to eat, once in a while. You should be grateful to the government for this lunch. Now that you are indebted to us, you jolly well support us against the Maoists.

The roads, the schools, the hospitals, the jobs in Saranda… they are all fine. But the pointlessness of this “Hot rural meals on paramilitary wheels” is mind-boggling. Free lunch as counterinsurgency, even if it is cordon bleu fare, is more amusive than effective.

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Decisions without data

The lack of quantitative analysis of Maoist violence

If you are looking for answers to the extent of Maoist violence in the country this year, here is one input:

This year, naxal violence has been reported in areas under 270 police stations in 64 districts in eight states. There have been around 850 incidents (1,025 last year), resulting in around 300 deaths (473 last year).[HT]

This is a good data set, right? No, wrong. This data is rather sketchy to give you a realistic idea about the width and depth of the spread of Maoist extremism in India. There could be an odd incident in some of these 64 districts — which means Maoist extremism is not too deep there — whereas some other districts could have many more incidents of violence. Those are the areas where Maoist violence is deeply rooted.

But incidents of Maoist violence are also not a fair indicator of the problem at hand. For two reasons. One, violence occurs where there are two sides contesting each other’s dominance. If the two contesting sides agree to live amicably together — popularly known as ‘live and let live’ philosophy — then there would be no violence. High rate of violence may indicate that Maoists have not been able to subdue the population and the security forces are contesting the Maoists. Lack of violence in such cases will be a false indicator of peace and normalcy.

Two, in areas classified as suffering from Maoist extremism, it is often canny for the police to blame all criminal cases on the Maoists. While some criminals do operate under the guise of Maoists, the police wants to create an impression that if it were not for the Maoists, there would be no violence at all in the areas under its jurisdiction. This is a direct outcome of the way crime data is used in India to judge the efficiency and effectiveness of a police force.

The bottom-line: there is insufficient data available (at least publicly) about the Maoist violence in this country to arrive at any definitive conclusions about the threat Maoists pose to the state. In the absence of such data — and its rigorous analysis — we have to depend on anecdotal evidence, media reports and impressions gathered from personal interactions. This is also reflected in the absence of any serious data-based academic study of the Maoist insurgency by in India.

Going by the way governments in India are formulating policies to confront the Maoist challenge, it is highly unlikely that they are making informed decisions. We may not be able to predict the future but we can certainly learn from the past. Can we at least make a start by studying the Maoist problem methodically? Can we have some quantitative analysis of Maoist violence from previous years to judge the outcome of government policy? Or are we destined to continue with more of the same — shooting blindfolded and hoping to strike lucky? The darkness that envelops us is of our own making. Let us remove the blindfold — by seeking, collecting, collating and rigorously analysing the data on Maoist violence.

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The Maoist millstone around our kids’ necks

We will continue to slip into state failure and co-exist with the Maoist insurgency

Over at the ZenPundit, good man Mark Safranski tells us some harsh truths about the nature of the modern state, non-state actors and insurgencies.

The state as an organization of coercion and defense is unrivaled in human history by any other political form except the tribe. The state is fine-tuned to be a beast of prey and open challenges to the state, in all it’s panoply of might, without a long preparatory period of eroding it’s legitimacy and attriting it’s will to power, seldom turn out well unless the challenger is another state. Non-state actors who challenge state authority tend to survive and thrive initially only by being elusive, deceptive, adaptive, faster and by inflicting moral defeats until they accumulate enough armed power to co-opt, thwart, deter or topple the state by force. This requires the challenger engaging the state in such a way that it habitually reacts with excessive restraint punctuated by poorly directed outbursts of morally discrediting excessive violence (see Boyd’s OODA Loop).

When non-state actor challengers gain sufficient political momentum and break into a full-fledged armed insurgency, a dangerous tipping point has been reached because insurgencies are generally very difficult, expensive and bloody to put down, often representing a much larger pool of passive political discontent. The advantage begins to turn to the challenger because the mere existence of the insurgency is itself an indictment of the state’s competence, authority and legitimacy. Some states never manage to regain the initiative, slipping into state failure and co-existing with the insurgency for decades or being ignominiously defeated.[Link]

Two points are worth noting here, particularly in the context of the challenge of Maoist insurgency India faces today. One, India is a state which habitually reacts with excessive restraint punctuated by poorly directed outbursts of morally discrediting excessive violence. And two, the mere existence of the Maoist insurgency is itself an indictment of the state’s competence, authority and legitimacy.

Another point, perhaps more pertinent to India, is the nature of its instruments of governance (including the instruments of internal security). They are blunt instruments. When these blunt instruments are hastily applied to the problems — whether under directions of the judiciary, or under pressure from the civil society and the media — they end up causing more grief instead of solving the problems. Applying more force to these blunt instruments only tends to worsen the situation, after the initial applause for boldly using the instrument has subsided.

Finally, the way India (the union and the affected state governments) is handling, or mishandling, the Maoist insurgency, it seems unlikely to regain the initiative any time soon. We are destined to continue to slip into state failure and co-exist with the Maoist insurgency for decades. Alas.

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It is the Anna-rchy stupid!

Ends do not justify the means

Imagine this scenario. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the patriarchal Kashmiri separatist leader who offered prayers for the slain al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, decides to protest against Indian “occupation” of Kashmir by hoisting the Pakistani flag at the Red Fort on 15th of August at 7.30 AM. OK, let us leave the Pakistani flag bit out of this for a moment. It is too provocative.

Say, Mr Geelani wants to offer Namaaz and read verses from the Quran to 5000 people from the ramparts of the Red Fort as a means of protest against the Indian government. He says that Indian government must accept his position on Kashmir completely as he is the sole repository of knowledge and wisdom about Kashmir. Because he claims to speak for the people of Kashmir, the democractically elected government of India must either accept his demands or allow him to go ahead with his plans for protests at the Red Fort.

Meanwhile, some of Mr Geelani’s supporters gather in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York and stage a protest against the Indian government. The US State department spokesperson asks government of India “to exercise appropriate democratic restraint in the way it deals with peaceful protest”.

As we all know, the right to protest peacefully is enshrined in the democratic ideals of the Indian Constitution. While you may not agree with the demands or cause of Mr Geelani, you would of course never deny him the right to protest in the Indian Republic. Right. Yes. Agree.

Most of the readers of this blog will be aghast at this proposition. Of course not. How can Mr Geelani lay claim to any public space in Delhi for his protest? Are there no rules and laws in this country that must be followed by the likes of Mr Geelani, and enforced by the government of India?

By now you have got the drift. This is not a rhetorical argument but has direct parallels with what Mr Anna Hazare and his team of supporters are trying to say about their plans to publicly protest against corruption on 16th of August, a day after the Independence Day celebrations in Delhi.

Considering the size of his protest and the date, Delhi Police refused to grant him permission to use Jantar Mantar and have offered the Jai Prakash Narayan Park in Central Delhi instead for a duration of three days. Delhi Police requested them to go to Burari (on Delhi’s outskirts) or some other location if they wanted it for a longer period. Mr Hazare’s supporters refuse to accept this legal order. Rather than challenge it in court, Mr Hazare instead chooses to write directly to the Prime Minister of India. So much for following the constitutionally available means of challenging government orders in this country.

A couple of public-safety and public-order related issues need to be highlighted here. Mr Hazare’s planned protest is a public event and is no different from a show by Rakhi Sawant as far as public order and safety is concerned. Who is responsible for maintaining public order at the venue? If there is a violation of public safety, who is answerable for that lapse? It is duty of the statutory bodies like the Delhi Police to take that call, however disagreeable we may find those decisions.

Notwithstanding the inconvenience and the intrusion of privacy, the average bloke  gets himself frisked at checkposts of Delhi Police and takes alternative routes when some of the roads are closed for security reasons. That is the law of the land which we have chosen to follow for the sake of public order and safety. Mr Hazare and his team are not special to be treated differently.

Independence Day and the days preceding it are days of high security alert in Delhi. It has been so from the days of Punjab insurgency in the 1980s. All leaves of policemen and policewomen are cancelled, reserve police and trainee recruits are drawn in for duty to prevent a terror strike in the Indian capital. When that overextended police force would get a well-deserved break after the Independence Day, Mr Hazare and his team have burdened the same cops with more onerous duty at the end of it all.

Lest it be mistaken, Mr Hazare is fully entitled to protest. Delhi Police is fully entitled to regulate his protest in terms of venue and time. Mr Hazare is fully entitled to seek legal recourse to get the orders of the Delhi Police rescinded. What Mr Hazare is not entitled to, is to threaten to take to streets or to take his own life, if he doesn’t agree with government orders.

Oh, by the way, some of you will turn around and say: How can you compare Mr Hazare and Mr Geelani? One is fighting for a righteous cause while other is a secessionist. If Mr Hazare and his supporters think that their cause is righteous to justify the use of any means, so do Mr Geelani and his gang of supporters. Even bin Laden believed that his cause was righteous and moral and his supporters contend that it justified the use of all means.

This reminds me of the famous anecdote of GB Shaw.

Shaw was at a dinner party with some very lah-di-dah people. Somehow, the conversation turned to slack sexual morals (in the George Bernard Shaw version, this was in the 1930s).

He asked one of the ladies present:  “Madam, would you sleep with me for one million pounds?”

“Well, for a million pounds, Mr Shaw,” the lady replied, “perhaps I would.” She and the other guests laughed.

The conversation turned to other topics and, later, George Bernard Shaw whispered to the lady: “Madam, would you sleep with me tonight if I gave you £10?”

“Mr Shaw!” replied the woman, deeply offended: “What sort of woman do you think I am?”

“Madam,” Shaw said, “we have established what sort of woman you are. We are merely haggling over the price.”

In a similar vein, by supporting Mr Hazare’s tactics, we have established what the principle is. We are merely haggling over the cause and the protagonists.

Remember, it is for good reason that one of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite maxims was “Ends do not justify the means.”

Additional Reading: For more substantive takes on the debate, please read Nitin Pai’s FAQ on the Anna Hazare and Jan Lok Pal issue and Mr B Raman’s views on the subject.

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How to kill a report (the government version)

From Yes Minister.

With the number of scams that have been unearthed in the recent months, and the number of committees that have been instituted to enquire into them, we can expect a plethora of reports to start coming our way very soon. These are going to be over and above the regular reports of bodies like the CAG and the PAC. If you are getting lulled into the belief that the government will be under the hammer after these reports, it is time to be cynical warned.

Perhaps, the perfect time to catch this little gem from Yes Minister.

How to discredit an unwelcome report:

Stage One: Refuse to publish in the public interest saying
1. There are security considerations.
2. The findings could be misinterpreted.
3. You are waiting for the results of a wider and more detailed report which is still in preparation. (If there isn’t one, commission it; this gives you even more time).

Stage Two: Discredit the evidence you are not publishing, saying

1. It leaves important questions unanswered.
2. Much of the evidence is inconclusive.
3. The figures are open to other interpretations.
4. Certain findings are contradictory.
5. Some of the main conclusions have been questioned. (If they haven’t, question them yourself; then they have).

Stage Three: Undermine the recommendations. Suggested phrases:

1. ‘Not really a basis for long term decisions’.
2. ‘Not sufficient information on which to base a valid assessment’.
3. ‘No reason for any fundamental rethink of existing policy’.
4. ‘Broadly speaking, it endorses current practice’.

Stage Four: Discredit the person who produced the report. Explain (off the record) that
1. He is harbouring a grudge against the Department.
2. He is a publicity seeker.
3. He is trying to get a Knighthood/Chair/Vice Chancellorship.
4. He used to be a consultant to a multinational.
5. He wants to be a consultant to a multinational.

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Sopore girls: Children of a lesser God?

Guest post by Raheel Khursheed

Sometimes home is best experienced by way of detachment…through picture perfect postcards that don’t capture people’s hypocrisy and your subsequent disappointment by it. Particularly so when your home is Kashmir!  The abduction and murder of two teenaged sisters in Sopore, Akhtara & Arifa, for ‘Moral Turpitude’ as reported by Mail Today News paper by alleged Lashkar terrorists is medieval in its exhibition and impact.

What’s more heart-wrenching is that there have been no protests over the two murders, as say happened over the Shopian alleged rapes & murderers. Not like people are scared of protests! If 15 year old boys can face off a police van and tear it to bits with bricks and stones, they surely can let out a few slogans against what is obviously a grave crime against the very fabric of Kashmiri society by brutal gun-totting terrorists.

If two young Kashmiri women being dragged out of their home and shot dead in cold blood doesn’t shake the conscience of people and evoke condemnation with a wide spread anger, what will?  And yet it’s this collective inability of the Kashmiri people to see, recognise and raise their voice against cutting-across-lines-brutality that this incident has highlighted & underlined. If the cry for justice for the victims of the Shopian alleged double rape & murder rang across Kashmir, why not a similar cry for justice for these two sisters? Or has Kashmir decided that it’s okay for terrorists to abduct and murder its daughters & sisters as long as there’s a convenient label to attach to the heinous crime?

On the contrary, there’s an argument that the murder of these girls is justifiable in the larger ‘Azadi’ narrative. As if ‘Azadi’ is blood thirsty demon that needs the two young sisters sacrificed at it’s altar to quench its sacrificial thirst.

Even as condemnation from separatists has been muted, even main stream political leaders – the notable exception being CM Omar Abdullah – have been apologetic in their reactions to the incident! PDP Chairperson Mehbooba Mufti who visited Shopian at the peak of the protests in the 2008, hasn’t deemed it fit to even issue a strongly worded statement condemning the murders unequivocally, let alone visit the family.

One can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of protests that would’ve hit Kashmir if there was even a slight hint or indication that the security forces were involved in the incident in any way and the political opportunism that would’ve been on display subsequently.

You can follow @raheelk on Twitter.

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A harsh spotlight hath no soft focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kashmir is a red herring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The truth of NATO supply lines via Pakistan

Only 50% of supplies and 30% of petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan come via Pakistan.

In the hullabaloo over the recent closure of one of the transit points at Torkham for NATO supply lines into Afghanistan, it is pretty common for lazy established international news-agencies to throw up some wrong statistics in their reports. Two such erroneous data-points particularly stand out.  One, that nearly 80 percent of NATO supplies for Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. Two, nearly 100 percent of petroleum supplies for NATO forces also traverse through Pakistan. Both are not only wrong, but way off the mark.

Here it is, to put it proverbially, from the horse’s mouth — the September-October 2010 issue of Army Sustainment. Major General Kenneth S Dowd, who was the Director of Logistics at CENTCOM from June 2007 to June 2010 explains:

As June 2010, the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has booked over 50 percent of all sustainment heading to Afghanistan on the NDN [Northern Distribution Network, via Central Asia]and has delivered over 11,000 20-foot containers of cargo to Afghanistan through these new northern routes. …We hope to expand the categories of cargo permitted on the NDN and to retain and expand logistics hubs in Central Asia. [Page 6]

This means that only 50 percent of the logistics supplies to Afghanistan pass through Pakistan. More importantly, this has happened when the number of US troops in Afghanistan have increased substantially since 2009. Dowd also clarifies that “Our business rules call for all sensitive or classified cargo to be flown into Afghanistan on military or commercially contracted aircraft.” This means that the Pakistan route, officially called the PAK GLOC, does not transport any sensitive or classified cargo into Afghanistan.

As far as the petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan are concerned, the facts come from another article in the same journal by Colonel Jeffrey B Carra, who was the chief of the Joint Petroleum Office at CENTCOM, and Chief Warrant Officer David Ray:

Since 2002, CENTCOM and its strategic petroleum support partners (DESC since 2002, NATO since 2007) have increased fuel storage capacity in Afghanistan from roughly 100,000 gallons to more than 30 million gallons (with up to 12 million of those gallons in contracted commercial steel-tank facilities) to meet a demand that has grown from 40,000 gallons per day in 2002 to more than 1.1 million gallons per day in 2009.

Starting in 2007, CENTCOM partnered with DESC to shift most petroleum sustainment in Afghanistan away from the Southern GLOC, which enters Afghanistan from Pakistan, to what is known as the Northern Distribution Network (NDN), which enters from the Central Asian States. This change increased the amount of petroleum entering by the NDN from 30 percent to 70 percent of all petroleum sustainment. Coupled with the shift to the NDN, DESC had the forethought to initiate a contract provision with its petroleum suppliers to hold up to 9 million gallons of contractor-owned fuel (as a “commercial reserve”) within Afghanistan to mitigate any ebb and flow in regional fuel distribution.

DESC also increased its Government-owned “strategic reserve” in and around Kabul from 2 to 5 million gallons. The strategic reserve and the commercial reserve together provide a shock absorber capable of withstanding major disruptions to petroleum sustainment. [Page 18]

This means that only 30 percent of petroleum supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan come through Pakistan. However, it must be remembered that the logistics route via NDN costs nearly thrice the cost of using the logistics route via Pakistan. Also, it should not be forgotten that the other route from Pakistan into Afghanistan via Chaman is still open for transit.

Notwithstanding the fact that there is no way Pakistan army and GHQ can allow this Al Faida business of logistics supplies via Pakistan to stop, a correct picture of actual NATO supplies transiting through Pakistan would help everyone develop a clearer perspective on the situation.

Of course, it is another matter altogether that this may be the first war the US has fought, where it pays not only its own men, but the enemy as well.

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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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