Friday, 12 January 2018
Books under my pen name
Also see my other  blog - 

South Asia in it Together
The book comprises of commentaries by Firdaus Ahmed over the last few years. These articles, which largely deal with South Asian security issues, have appeared throughout 2014-15 in various respected publications such as, Kashmir Times and the Milli Gazette. Collectively they make the case that South Asia is 'one' and should come to be seen as such. The security of its states and people is intertwined. South Asian states should move towards a South Asian union. The articles make this case obliquely in covering issues in Indian security, and point to how these overlap borders. Some themes dealt with in the book - India-Pakistan relations, Kashmir, India's Muslims and the rise of religious extremism - clearly show that most problems lend themselves only to a South Asian, rather than national, solution. The book continues engaging with the issues addressed in Firdaus Ahmed's two earlier books, Think South Asia and Subcontinental Musings (both CinnamonTeal 2014).
Subcontinental Musings: Making a Difference
The book interrogates India's strategic trajectory, decisions and events from the liberal perspective in security and peace studies. The aim is to inform the public debate on security issues. It is a record of the 'interesting times' in the security field since nuclear weaponisation in the subcontinent.
Think South Asia: A Stand for Peace
The book comprises commentaries authored by Firdaus Ahmed covering the 'interesting times' which India and the region have been through since South Asia acquired a nuclear backdrop. The author’s observations from his ring side seat in the region cover all dimensions of security - from internal security to nuclear war. The book offers an alternative - liberal - perspective on security. It would be of interest to students, researchers, policy wonks and attentive public. The book is a contribution to the peace discourse in the region.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Spiking possibilities: What is the army chief up to?

In quick succession the army chief has taken care to set out the army's position in relation to developments that portend peace. When the representative of the Union government was appointed in October last year for a sustained dialogue with stakeholders in Kashmir, the army chief was quick to point out that his appointment would not affect army operations in Kashmir. Apparently operations facilitate a position of strength for the government conducive to negotiations. Recently, in the context of the news from across the border that the Pakistan army was softening up and its chief had called on the civilian authorities to progress matters with India, Gen Rawat immediately drew attention to Pakistan's continuing interference in Kashmir. However, this was of a piece with the foreign ministry line. Thus, two peace possibilities were nipped at the outset. 

To be fair, it would be stretching credulity that peace is at hand and the two possibilities were evidence of a dawn of sorts. It is widely reckoned that India and Pakistan are in yet another hiatus phase, with the Pakistani elections crowding 2018 and India's run up to 2019 crowding out any other demands on attention and effort. Upcoming election times are taken as precluding policy initiatives, such as exploring peace possibilities. This was also the case early this decade when Manmohan Singh's Pakistan policy was stumped by election time, first in Pakistan and then in India. The policy at that point in time heralded possibilities, with the two sides having gotten across the Mumbai terror attacks episode in a tentative reaching out between the foreign policy establishments. Internal to Kashmir, the three interlocutor's report was with the government, but - as P Chidambaram, the then home minister confirmed later - there was no stomach for the Manmohan Singh-Sonia Gandhi combine to stick their neck out for the sake of peace. Therefore, there is precedence for a glacial pace to events stemming from the compulsions of election time and to expect a peace outbreak is wishful. 

Currently, prime time is exercised positively by the US president's tweet that to some presages a turn of heart in the US, finally distancing it from Pakistan. The US president appears to be taking his Afghanistan policy, unveiled in August, further in tamping down on the Pakistani sanctuary available to anti-US terrorists. In Indian commentary this has been credited to Modi's Washington visit of June last year. He is taken as influencing the US decision to turn the screws on Pakistan soon thereafter. Since the Indian diplomatic policy of isolating Pakistan appears to be coming to a head, there is little likelihood of India cashing in on the dividend just yet. Pakistan would require being in the corner for longer before it is mellowed sufficiently to rethink its policy of export of terror to its neighbours, India and Afghanistan. 

Therefore, for India to be overly effusive over the Pakistani army chief's message - delivered at a meeting of the senate committee - on repairing ties with India, would be premature. This explains the foreign ministry's response to the feelers from General Qamar Javed Bajwa. It reiterated India's long standing position that talks and terror cannot go together - echoed by General Bipin Rawat in the media. 

In the event, India has reportedly taken care to keep the communication links going, with media reports on the military operations heads interfacing now and then and keeping a covert channel between the two national security advisers open - who if the media is to be believed met secretly at a foreign location. This is deemed sufficient to keep the pressure on Pakistan, without allowing event to boil over. This policy context provides a rationale for the army chief's staking out of a hard-line position on the intertwined external and internal fronts - Pakistan and Kashmir. So to arraign the army chief for speaking out of turn or off-key - the dimension explored here - is to be hypercritical and motivated.

Leaving matters at that happy pass for the status quo would not do. At the risk of sounding hypercritical and motivated, issue needs being taken with the army's unnecessary weighing in on the side of war and hate mongering, for that is the political dividend for right wing formations within India from the standoff with Pakistan and in Kashmir. Since this criticism arises from the realm of internal politics, a defence of the army line can be anticipated at the outset: that the army - being apolitical - is oblivious to this and therefore cannot be faulted on this count. 

The contention here is to the contrary. The repeated chiming in of the army in favour of a policy line that has internal political dividend for its political masters lays it open to such criticism. The repetition - and likelihood of being the domesticated 'his master's voice' into the future that this suggests - compels pointing this out timely. It is to prevent the army from becoming yet another legitimising source for policy lines that are only chimerically anchored in public policy, but actually have origin in domestic political calculus. Should the army get so entangled it ceases to be apolitical and ends up a political player, unwitting at first but a committed one as its role deepens.

Firstly, neither of the two policy domains - the home ministry's Kashmir peace initiative and the foreign ministry's domain of response to Pakistani overtures - is the army's turf. For the army to stake out a position can only be as part of an orchestrated policy rollout. This is unlikely since the Indian policy making and implementation framework is not known for such finesse. The army chief was likely as not speaking out of turn. That this is in sync with the party line has kept eyebrows from being raised, besides the supposed proximity of the army chief with the national security adviser on account of likemindedness. How much shared ethnicity has to do with this, history shall no doubt uncover.

Secondly, militaries are universally known to be conservative and realistic. They are slow to anger; prefer to stay out of a fight; and if forced into one, like operational freedom. In short, they are less likely to be spoiling for a fight than their civilian masters. This is in regard to external antagonists. 

The implications for internal security commitments of this bit of civil-military theory is that the armies prefer not being involved militarily in what are seen as political problems and if so engaged prefer early disengagement brought about by developmental and political ministrations by the civilian authorities. 

Contrary to the received civil-military relations theory, the Indian army appears to be belligerent, aggressive and straining at the leash. It seemingly prefers an unsettled Kashmir and appears happy that there is a reliable enemy at the gates, Pakistan. The army chief's operational persona as a spirited commander overshadows the strategic level expectations of him, of sobriety and restraint. This is an unfortunate deduction that the army - and its chief - need to hereon work overtime to dispel. 

It warns of an internal change in the army, warranting a closer study by military sociologists. Here is parsed that this is handiwork of the industrious band of cultural nationalists in the veteran and strategic communities, apparently reaching into the military. 

Finally, and importantly, time and again the ruling party has demonstrated its penchant for furthering polarization for political gains. The substrata of right wing pseudo cultural political formations have been busy deepening this. For the ruling party and its supportive majoritarian base, Pakistan is a handy foe and Kashmiri militancy a useful target. In the trope in the bylanes - that the otherwise verbose prime minister does little to stem - there is an identification of India's Muslims with Pakistan; accentuating thereby a Hindu ownership of India. It helps project India in a defensive war with Islamism, if not historically with Islam, itself. This transforms an essentially territorial dispute with Pakistan and an internal security problem in Kashmir into a civilisational war. This enables and justifies a single policy stroke - the hard-line. 

Within this political context, the army's role can at best be restricted to the operational. It cannot buy into the party line. It must step back from the information war frontline. In this, the army chief needs to lead by example.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Unedited version
The Chief has spoken; but is the Chief listening?

At an unspecified event at the United Services Institution of India (USI) - the haunt in New Delhi of retired generals fading away - the army chief, reportedly intoned, "The military should be somehow kept out of politics. Of late, we have been seeing that politicisation of the military has been taking place.” Though not elaborated in the media report, the observation was likely triggered by a query on the building of three foot over-bridges by the army in Mumbai at the location of the recent stampede at Elphinstone station that left 22 dead and 35 injured. Inspired by its earlier showing in New Delhi in the run up to the Commonwealth Games, when an under construction footbridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium collapsed, the army had taken up the gauntlet to assist Mumbai commuters when put to it by the defence minister in a visit to the site along with the Maharashtra chief minister and the railway minister.
At the time, it was unclear whether the army has been consulted prior for this assistance by the defence minister. In the event, it elicited considerable social media outpourings by veterans miffed at the call by the civil authorities on the army when there are sufficient resources with the civil administration – in this case the railways – to fight their own fires. Analogy was drawn to the period early in the Modi era when the army was tasked by the previous defence minister to put a pontoon bridge across the Yamuna in order that the Sri Sri Ravishankar’s yoga jamboree on the Yamuna riverbed could proceed.
Following Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement at Elphinstone bridge, in the company of party stalwarts, the army chief dutifully took on the task, justifying it later as a public relations exercise useful for image building of the army. This is the second instance of Sitharaman’s proactivism in tapping the army in her short stay so far at the helm of the defence ministry. Early in her tenure, she had required the army to clean up the mess tourists leave behind in the mountains and high altitudes where they are deployed. In particular, this is in the pilgrimage belt along the upper reaches where the Ganges originates. The army clicked its heels and fell in line, with social media awash with photos of colonels taking to the broom – along with army wives. One such much-forwarded image was from Gulmarg, where presumably the army is deployed in tackling terrorists infiltrating into the Valley besides protecting the Line of the Control (LC).
This background suggests two possibilities behind the army chief’s cryptic remarks at the USI event (he reportedly did not elaborate). The first is that he was telling off his critics to lay off the army in their criticism of the army’s seemingly currying favour with its right wing overseers, the BJP government, by being more available than necessary to step up and fill the breach. The criticism has it that the BJP as part of its subversion either brazenly or by stealth of most national institutions, would unlikely leave the army alone. In light of the advance of cultural nationalism and constriction of liberal-secular space across the land, the army could not possibly escape the attention of the emerging ‘deep state’ in India. Critics have therefore been calling for greater self-regulation by the army in the civil-military domain, lest cultural nationalism contaminate its secularity and compromise it.
That this is the more likely possibility is visible from the chief going on to say, “I think we operate in a very secular environment. We have a very vibrant democracy where the military should stay far away from the polity." To him, there is little cause to be wary of the right wing dispensation. He is sanguine that the society remains unchanged. Nevertheless, as traditionally, the army needs to stay at a distance from the hurly burly world of democratic politics. At the event, he explained the army’s stepping up at Elphinstone as part of its aid-to-civil-authorities mandate, though leaving unclear as to how normal rush hour pedestrian commuting can be equated with natural disasters, for which the army can be tapped to lend a shoulder. Clearly, the army chief takes his words seriously of ‘stay(ing) far away from the polity,’ leaving him blind to the political lurch towards the right that India has taken over the past half-decade. Since more situational awareness is expected of an institutional head, he needs alerting to the reality of India today.
 This ab-initio rules out the second possibility, that of the general tacitly cautioning his civilian political masters to keep a distance from the army. This is unlikely in light of the general being beholden to the dispensation for his surprising elevation to the appointment. The general’s public utterances since his controversial elevation to his position as chief have unfortunately impacted his credibility. His recent dilation on surgical strikes in Myanmar under his tutelage as corps commander in the North East – that  were precursor to the ones in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir – were ill timed from point of view of the Gujarat polls. The ruling party can do without any ballast for its political fortunes.
The government has been at pains to distance itself from its supposedly weak-kneed predecessor. In this it has used every opportunity to demonstrate a muscular, martial, risk-taking and war ready India, be it against the Pakistanis in the surgical strikes of last year or the Chinese with the Doklam standoff. It has thereafter duly milked the opportunities for their political worth, such as using the halo from the surgical strikes to good effect in the consequential Uttar Pradesh polls.
Modi has most recently used the strained relations with Pakistan over the past two years to depict the Congress as in league with Muslims and Pakistanis to meddle in the Gujarat elections. Over the period, the army has kept Pakistan to the till along the LC, having reactivated it early in the BJP’s New Delhi tenure, and has through the year undertaken Operation All Out for cleaning up the Valley floor in a hark back by some two decades. The general was quick off the blocks early in his tenure to pull out the Cold Start file from the operations closet and wave it at Pakistan. The Cold Start doctrine reputedly is the conventional punishment up India’s sleeve in case of Pakistani trespass of India’s threshold of tolerance. Since this is the utilization of the army for its professional worth in line with national policy – albeit one propelled by domestic political purposes – the army cannot be averse to the professional opportunity it espies and the institutional spaces (such as budgets, seat at the policy table etc.) it opens up.

However, institutional leadership needs being wary of use of the national security card for political interests, in this case continuing friction with Pakistan enabling the political polarization within India for political gains by the ruling party. The ruling party has chosen its chief well, one who would plough a narrow professional furrow. The problem is that at the apex level of the military sensitivity to the political context of professional activity, including its internal political dimension, cannot be elided by clich├ęs such as apolitical military. The military apex needs to be sufficiently clued up politically to detect that in the context of the times it needs to be porcupine-like to ward of unwanted political attention. The Chief needs to heed his own words. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017 

The Kashmir charade this winter, EPW,  Vol. 52, Issue No. 47, 25 Nov, 2017 

The day prior to the arrival of United States (US) Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in India, on his maiden visit, Dineshwar Sharma was appointed “as the Representative of the Government of India to initiate and carry forward a dialogue with the elec­ted representatives, various organisations and concerned individuals in the State of Jammu and Kashmir” (PIB 2017). The coincidence in timing was not lost on the Hurriyat, a key participant, among the “various organisations” with which Sharma might have been expected to engage. In its joint statement, the Joint Resistance Leadership—comprising separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik—claimed that the appointment was “a tactic to buy time adopted under international pressures and regional compulsions” (PTI 2017a). Consequently, the separatists have rebuf­fed the offer of a sustained dialogue.
No Inkling of a Strategy
That the appointment is another, and by now typical, pirouette of the Narendra Modi government on national security issues is apparent from the manner of the appointment. The media informs of a “hurriedly-convened” press conference at which the home minister makes the announcement (India Express 2017). That Sharma has been given no agenda as part of his marching orders does not suggest delegation and flexibility as much as it suggests lack of strategic application on the part of India’s national security minders.
A former Intelligence Bureau (IB) head, Sharma, since June this year, has been tying down a post-retirement position as convener of talks with Assam-based insurgent groups. That job had been lying vacant for over a year since its last incumbent, appointed by the earlier union gov­ern­ment, and was not granted an extension. It is not clear if Sharma has demitted his responsibility in the North East or if it remains his responsibility alongside his Kashmir engagement. Both possibilities highlight the deficit in strategic application. Neither can the North East suffer stepmother-like treatment that changing interlocutors midstream testifies to, nor can Kashmir do with a double-hatted interlocutor. Further, Sharma, at the end of his first visit to the Valley, mused that though he looked to a time horizon of two years, he could be dispensed within six months (Wani 2017). Politically, keeping him on longer can help keep Kashmir be quiescent till the 2019 national elections.
This is unsurprising since the appointment bears the fingerprints of National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval. While over the past two years, India has been maintaining a disdain for talks in Kashmir and with Pakistan, the media report on the sudden announcement informs of a huddle a week prior to the appointment, between the NSA and the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) in which they discussed a “new political process” in the state (Singh 2017). Doval had then just returned from a trip to Kabul. On the day of the announcement itself, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in New Delhi on Narendra Modi’s invitation, conveyed by Doval during his Kabul visit. This makes clear the background to the appointment as not rooted so much in a conflict resolution initiative regarding India’s leading internal security challenge, as much as in the regional security situation, energised by US President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan policy speech of 21 August 2017.
No doubt, among the NSA’s talking points with Tillerson figured India’s intent to take forward the dialogue with Kashmiris in order to pre-empt any messaging from Tillerson, who flew in from Pakistan as part of the South Asia leg of his Asian tour that covered West Asia as well. A perceptive observer of South Asia, Harsh V Pant was quick to point out, “With this move, the Modi government can tell its foreign interlocutors that India has started the process of ­dialogue with the Kashmiris” (Das 2017). Keeping its interests at heart in Afghanistan, the US has expressed its keenness on occasion to intervene in the India–Pakistan stand-off that Pakistan, leveraging its strategic location, regularly urged. While India had in 2009 decisively rebuffed Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af–Pak), the new US administration in its settling-down stage had revisited the notion. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump, valuing his dealmaking skills, had said he would be “honoured” to mediate. In April, Nikki Haley, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, had expressed as much (IANS 2017a).
Trump, laying out the US’s “path forward in Afghanistan and South Asia” in his policy speech, was severe on Pakistan, calling for a rollback of terror sanctuaries there. The US defence secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing said, “We need to try one more time to make this strategy work with them (Pakistan), by, with and through the Pakistanis, and if our best efforts fail, the president is prepared to take whatever steps are necessary” (Ali and Stewart 2017). The Pakistanis, being past masters at manipulating the US, will, to their advantage, allow transit of US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) logistic lines through Pakistan, demanding that the US lean on India over the Kashmir issue in return. Apprehending this, India appears to have scrambled to put together a dialogue process of sorts in Kashmir.
Given these external wellsprings of the initiative, its sincerity cannot but be doubted. The union government is already conversant with the levels of alienation in Kashmir. Sharma has an IB stint in Kashmir behind him and reportedly also has handled the Kashmir desk within the IB, and more recently, has had familiarity with the issue at the strategic level as director of the IB.
This is not the initial stage of conflict resolution necessitating a fresh analysis. A conflict resolution strategy needs to have already been in place and Sharma charged with rolling it out, empowered as he is with a cabinet secretary–level appointment. He should have set the national agenda in terms of discussions on design of the negotiations, its content, and possible outcomes. At this juncture, he ought to have had a battery of conflict resolution experts, constitutional lawyers, and trained negotiators on his rolls, all armed with an agenda. He should have used the winter to coax the Hurriyat. Instead, no preparatory work is apparent, with Sharma still busy putting his secretarial staff together (Yadav 2017).
What Are the Priorities?
Sharma, daunted by the scope of possibilities, remains in his comfort zone. He ascribes being motivated with the need to prevent Kashmir from turning into another “Yemen, Syria and Libya” (IANS 2017b). He is fearful of radicalisation of the youth and of the militancy underway. He wishes “to convince the youth of Kashmir that they are only ruining their future and the future of all Kashmiris in the name of whether they call it azadi (independence), Islamic caliphate or Islam” (IANS 2017b).
To begin with, Sharma’s concern over azadi is misplaced. A spat over the term between Prime Minister Modi and Congress stalwart P Chidambaram, on the campaign trail in Gujarat, which is going to the polls this December, had Modi interpreting azadi as independence, while Chidambaram plugged for autonomy (PTI 2017b). Chidambaram should know, since he had disclosed in Parliament in 2009 that he had engaged in closet discussions with Kashmiris. That interaction informs his belief that “when Kashmiris ask for azadi, mostly, I am not saying all ... the overwhelming majority ... want autonomy” (PTI 2017b). In 2016, he had said that restoring the “grand bargain” when Kashmir acceded to India in return for autonomy was the need, lest India pay a “heavy price” (PTI 2017b). For his pains in highlighting the nuanced understanding of the term, Chidambaram was typically cast alongside Pakistanis and separatists by Modi.
Second, Sharma’s allusion to Islam—negatively clubbing it with the Islamic caliphate—is to misunderstand Islam. Islam does offer the motivation to adherents to fight injustice and oppression. There is no denying that Kashmiris require considerable moral support to cope with the violence that has beset their society over the past quarter century. Insofar that some Kashmiris see the military presence in their midst and the actions of the Indian state as oppression, they are liable to turn to Islam for psychological sustenance and political and physical response. Recognising the place of Islam in such terms in the milieu in Kashmir, the conclusion can only be that the Indian state steps back from a militarised template in Kashmir.
It missed an opportunity for this when in the 2000s violence indices were considerably muted owing to talks proceeding apace internally and externally. While Narinder Nath Vohra, the current J&K governor, was the interlocutor with Kashmiris, Satinder Lambah, a diplomat, undertook backchannel talks with Pakistan. Alongside were the first (and only) talks between the government and the Hurriyat, with L K Advani engaging with the Hurriyat leaders, and, externally, in the following United Progressive Alliance’s first term, five rounds of the composite dialogue. This time around, the comprehensive bilateral dialogue with Pakistan, heralded by Sushma Swaraj, stands suspended, and the ham-handed overture to Nawaz Sharif, through the visit of steel tycoon Sajjan Jindal, was sabotaged by the Pakistan army.
Further, the Indian army chief spiked any conflict mitigation potential in Sharma’s appointment by saying that the military operations would not be effec­ted (Peri 2017). Insofar that this is part of the strategy, it suggests Sharma would be ineffectual, deprived as he is at the very outset by the one arrow in an interlocutor’s quiver that could have worked: the modulating of military action. This assumes conflict resolution as an Indian aim. If the army chief has spoken out of turn, it bespeaks either of an absent Kashmir strategy or a strategy in disarray. Under the circumstances of ongoing military operations appropriately termed “Operation All Out,” Kashmiris cannot be begrudged a turn to Islam’s wellsprings of moral strength.
Finally, even Sharma’s reference to the Islamic caliphate is not sufficient cause to worry. As shown, the initiative is directed less at the Kashmiris, but more at India’s strategic partner, the US. By painting itself into the same corner as the US, as a victim of international terrorism, India hopes to score brownie points over Pakistan, depicted as the fount of such terror. As for the relevance of the Islamic State (IS) in Kashmir, the Hurriyat has expressed its disdain, alleging that this is a propaganda plank designed to misrepresent the political movement in the Valley. In May this year, they contested the interpretation of the struggle in Kashmir by a Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Zakir Musa, casting it in Islamist terms. Even Musa’s overlords across the Line of Control, the United Jihad Council, chose to disown Musa (Rashid 2017). Pakistan is unlikely to cede control of the Kashmiri insurgency to “bad terrorists”—pan-Islamists—who they fight in their own backyard.
Late and Insincere
Perhaps, Sharma’s stint at the IB explains his proclivity. His tenure in the mid-2000s reportedly endeared him to the then IB chief, Doval. It bears recollecting that it was in the mid-2000s—when Doval was at the helm in the IB—that the identification of Muslims with terrorism began with gusto. Recall the role of the two infamous cases of “encounter” killings in Gujarat—Ishrat Jahan in 2004 and Sohrabuddin and his wife Kausarbi in 2005—in setting up this canard that by now passes for common sense. Reportedly, the IB hand in Gujarat generated the intelligence that led up to the killings (Marvel 2016). Ever since, the sway of Islamism—and lately the IS bogey—in India has been exaggerated for political purposes. Likewise, its extent in Kashmir is blown out of proportion. This suggests an intelligence operation at work with multiple aims. In Kashmir, besides dividing the militancy, it legitimises the hard line within Kashmir. In the rest of India, it helps with polarisation, with electoral benefits for cultural nationalists. Its external benefit is in enabling India to sidle up to the US, displacing Pakistan. Sharma is thus either a victim of the IB’s own propaganda or is playing his part in it; with his credibility affected in either case.
National security minders need remin­ding that an intelligence-led na­tional security strategy must not fall for its own narrative. By being overly Chanakyan, India cannot fool the intended targets of its guile. The US may evince being persuaded, if only to fob off Pakistan. However, it cannot fool Kashmiris serenaded in turn by a relay of interlocutors, more credible than Sharma, who have headed over the Pir Panjals.
Ali, Idriss and Phil Stewart (2017): “Mattis Says Will Try to Work with Pakistan ‘One More Time,’ ” Reuters, 3 October, viewed on 25 October 2017,
Das, Sashwati (2017): “Who Is Dineshwar Sharma?” Livemint, 24 October, viewed on 7 November 2017,
IANS (2017a): “Trump May Become a Mediator between Indo-Pak Process: Nikki Haley,” India Today, 4 April, viewed on 1 November 2017,
— (2017b): “Priority Is to Prevent Kashmir from Turning into Syria: Govt Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma,” Hindustan Times, 27 October, viewed on 7 November 2017,
Indian Express (2017): “Who Is Dineshwar Sharma?” Indian Express, 24 October, viewed on 1 November 2017,
Marvel, Ishan (2016): “The Death Of Ishrat Jahan and The Cover-up That Followed,” Caravan, 18 February, viewed on 10 October 2017,
Peri, Dinakar (2017): “Govt Talking from Point of Strength in Kashmir, Says Gen Rawat,” Hindu, 25 October, viewed on 9 November 2017,
PIB (2017): “Centre Appoints Shri Dineshwar Sharma as Its Representative in J&K,” Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 23 October, viewed on 1 November 2017,
PTI (2017a): “Appointment of Representative on J&K Is Time-buying Tactic: Separatists,” Press Trust of India, 31 October, viewed on 2 November 2017,
— (2017b): “Chidambaram Seeks Greater Autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir, Slammed by BJP,” NDTV, 29 October, viewed on 4 November 2017,
Rashid, Toufiq (2017): “Zakir Musa as al-Qaeda’s Local Chief Is Bad News for Kashmir,” Hindustan Times, 28 July, viewed on 2 November 2017,
Singh, Vijaita (2017): “New Jammu & Kashmir Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma Is Known as a Dove,” Hindu, 23 October, viewed on 11 November 2017,
Wani, Fayaz (2017): “Interlocution Process in Jammu and Kashmir to Continue for at Least Two Years, Says Dineshwar Sharma,” Indian Express, 11 November, viewed on 12 November 2017,

Yadav, Yatish (2017): “I Want to Target Terror Recruitment: Interlocutor Dineshwar Sharma,” Indian Express, 29 October, viewed on 8 November 2017,

Friday, 6 October 2017

Can Pakistan Turn the US Twist of Its Tail Into an Opportunity?

While US President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan speech in August laying out his Afghanistan policy was rather vague on details, his defence secretary, ‘Mad dog’ Mattis has busied himself lately with fleshing it out.

The major part of it is in threats described by James Mattis to the House Armed Services Committee as ‘enormously powerful number of options’ to Pakistan. Helpfully, he pointed to a couple of these being ‘diplomatic isolation’ and loss of major non-NATO ally status. As incentive, he offered a opening up of the regional economic links, to include those with India.

But his report that Trump is ‘prepared to take whatever steps necessary’ calls for being wary, especially since he ominously indicates the Americans were holding out to give Pakistan ‘one more time’.

President Trump’s Afghanistan policy speech, delivered at a military base near the Arlington National Cemetery, had it that ‘attack we will’ in a ‘fight to win’ over the ‘losers’. If the American foot-work over North Korea has any pointers, Trump’s speech can be taken as much noise, while his ministers go about setting up a diplomatic bypass.

(In the North Korea case, while Trump in his General Assembly address threatened to ‘totally destroy’ the country, his foreign secretary let on that the Americans were talking directly with representatives of Trump’s ‘rocket man’.) Apparently, both Mattis and Tillerson are to visit Pakistan in quick succession soon, perhaps conveying the possibilities ahead, with Tillerson holding out the carrot and Mattis the stick.

The last time the Americans went the whole hog with the stick was at the outset of Operation Enduring Freedom, threatening to bomb Pakistan back into the stone-age. Wisely Musharraf, demonstrated a bit of military decision making panache in his smart about-turn, promptly pulling the carpet from under the Taliban. Even as the Taliban regime collapsed, Musharraf was quick to play the double game, offering the Taliban sanctuary as they escaped – along with Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora - into Pakistan.

This time round, the Pakistanis have been blowing hot and cold. Its national assembly called Trump’s speech ‘hostile and threatening’. It was a useful reminder to the US that its supply lines are through Pakistan. But even as Mattis spoke, the Pakistani foreign minister Khawaja Asif was in Washington DC, staving off any hard options in the Pentagon’s cupboard.

It is easy to reckon that – Trump notwithstanding - the US does not have very many hard options.

While Trump was clear that he would not repeat Obama’s ‘mistake’ in Iraq by leaving Afghanistan, boots on ground in Pakistan are not an option for the US. Its numbers in Afghanistan are set to increase by only about 4000. Its NATO allies are unlikely to cough up any more than they already have, including the American ‘poodle’, the UK, currently seized with Brexit. With these numbers, the US cannot take the war across the Durand Line. They already have the capability for another Operation Neptune Spear, a target-specific raid across the border. The Warrior Monk - Mattis’ other moniker - was then the commander of the US Central Command, overseeing its Afghan war. He therefore should know that this cannot help them much with clearing up the sanctuary Americans believe terrorists enjoy in Pakistan.

While expansion of the program of targeting the Taliban and the Haqqani network with drone attacks has been bandied as an option, the Pakistani Prime Minister at an event at the Council of Foreign Relations during his recent trip to New York for the UN General Assembly session, implied that the use of drones was disrespectful of Pakistani sovereignty. It increases extremist tendencies in Pakistan, adding to numbers of those radicalized. Collateral damage from drones being one of the main grievances impelling people from the frontier areas to head off for the conflict, an increase in drone strikes could only contribute to increasing Taliban popularity and gains in Afghanistan.

There are also other – worse – players, such as ISIS affiliates. It is not unlikely that the ISIS, with nowhere to go from its drubbing - now being wrapped up - in Iraq and Syria, could head for Afghanistan as the next site to ambush the US. The US, in degrading the Taliban, would be whittling a force that can best take on the ISIS. ISIS presence in Afghanistan is not at the expense of the Taliban. Just as the Iraqi military, the Afghan security forces – though also trained in Indian military institutions - are unlikely to do any better against the ISIS, especially if reinforced by fighters from conflicts in the Middle East.

Nevertheless, the ISIS bogey needs exposing. Though Pakistan can be credibly accused of many slippages in the war against terror, it would hardly be coy in case the ISIS comes visiting. The potential threat is being used as alibi to extend the American stay in the region, for strategic reasons other than to do with Afghanistan or, indeed, terrorism. Even a cursory look at the map shows up three American-skeptic countries – Iran, Russia and China – in the neighbourhood.

The US strategy appears to rely for its success on strengthening the Afghan national security forces. However, this has been the principal line of US military effort at least since Obama took office. The idea of the ‘surge’ in Afghanistan, that took US numbers into six figures, was to strengthen the Afghan forces, even as the additional US forces broke the back of the Taliban insurgency. As is well known, the Taliban waited out the surge and today control 40 per cent of Afghan territory.

Thus, it is unclear as to what is different this time round in the US strategy. Is Mattis wanting to play as defence secretary a hand he was unable to play as the military commander in theater then? Perhaps it is posturing on part of the US, hoping to pressure Pakistan to deliver the Taliban to the table. Obama had faltered in this by killing Mullah Mansour, the Taliban chief, in a targeted drone attack. The Americans by now know that the ticket out of their longest war can only be issued by the Taliban.

The Americans hope that by twisting Pakistan’s tail, it would force the Pakistanis to ‘go after’ the Taliban, pushing the Taliban to the table. For that, all Mattis appears to have is a set of sanctions up his sleeve. In his words, "There are a number of lines of effort being put together now in Secretary of Treasury's office, Secretary of State's office, my own office, the intel agencies. We are also working with Secretary General Stoltenberg to ensure that NATO's equities are brought to bear." Since China will bail out Pakistan, a Pakistani revision of their list of ‘bad Taliban’ is hardly likely.

Mattis’ betrayed his weak hand in saying that being considerate with Pakistan had led to his declining to consider Indian boots on the ground in Afghanistan. In his trip to India last month, India’s new defence minister categorically ruled out the possibility. However, that Mattis has included a possible opening up of economic ties in his strategy suggests an Indian input during his visit. He has apparently been led to believe that India would do so, but India’s expectation is that Pakistan will perhaps be goaded into taking on the Taliban on its soil. This is disingenuous on India’s part.

The upshot is that the US does not have the options it claims. Pakistan does not then have to reflexively push back. The best way to prevent radicalism is to deprive it of a context filled with violence and contestation. Pakistan can use the opportunity of the ‘one more time’ on offer by the US for shepherding the Taliban to respectability, duly incentivized for good behavior. It can thereby gain a say in the indefinitely into the future of Afghanistan; set at rest the fears of all its neighbours; and inveigle its way back into US good books by enabling the Americans to depart in keeping with Trump’s original instinct.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Usual September Indo-Pak Slugfest

Not one to pass up an opportunity for grandstanding, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to skip the annual UN General Assembly session for two years in a row makes some sense in that it deprives Pakistan of an opportunity, when it is its turn at the podium, to take potshots at India’s take in the Assembly. Since India sent its foreign minister instead, its slot has come after the heads of government have had their say. This gives India an opportunity to take potshots at Pakistan.

The India-Pakistan slug fest that develops in the august chambers of the General Assembly, indubitably hyphenates India with Pakistan, even if India gets the better of Pakistan with its choice of phrases.

This time round the speech of foreign minister Sushma Swaraj was overshadowed by India’s rebuttal made by its very able first secretary, Eenam Gambhir, to the speech by Pakistan’s stop-gap prime minister, charactering Pakistan as ‘terroristan’. Gambhir had shot to fame last year with her phrase characterizing Pakistan as the ‘ivy leagues of terrorism’ in her exercising the right of reply to Nawaz Sharif’s speech at the Assembly chamber.

That speech was useful cover for India to launch its ‘surgical strikes’, multiple raids across a wide front on terror camps across the Line of Control (LC). Pakistan for its part had struck a military installation in Uri just prior to the General Assembly meeting, so as to draw attention of the gathering to the instability in Kashmir, setting the stage for Pakistan’s India bashing.

Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif was doubly required to indulge in this then, since only earlier in the month last year, a media report had exposed a rift in Pakistan ruling elite, between its civilian government and the army, on its India policy. That the media report was close to the truth was soon made clear by the hounding of a leading columnist for Dawn, Cyril Almeida, who did the expose. In the event, Sharif hued closely to the script, authored by the army, making most of the unrest in Kashmir last year that has followed the killing of Burhan Wani.

This time round, while mostly-ailing, Swaraj’s performance bears her usual work (wo)manlike stamp, the saving grace has been in Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN Maleeha Lodhi tripping up in her invective, flashing the wrong picture to embellish her case against use of pellet guns in the Valley. The cacophony in the usual circles in India over this gaffe does nothing to obscure the tragedy brought about by the use of such weaponry in the Valley. So, Lodhi’s is not quite the hitwicket it is made out to be amongst the converts.

However, the Pakistani side had something notable to show for its US visit, liable to be lost in the orchestrated chorus over Maleeha Lodhi’s going ballistic in the Assembly chambers.

Of significance was Pakistan’s prime minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, statement at an engagement at the think tank, Council on Foreign Relations. He said, “As far as tactical nuclear weapons (are concerned), we do not have any fielded tactical nuclear weapons. We have developed short-range nuclear weapons as a counter to the 'Cold Start' doctrine that India has developed. Again, those are in the same command-and-control authority that controls the other strategic weapons."

The importance of noting this is that it sets at rest the debate surrounding what Pakistan intends to do with its short range ballistic missile system, the Nasr, unveiled in 2011. Nasr’s warhead was taken to be a tactical nuclear weapon (TNW) and its utility for Pakistan, as admitted to by Abbasi, was to stymie India’s cold start offensives. The debate in India – carried further into the august pages of the leading international relations journal International Security – was that since the TNW numbers required to stop Indian mechanized offensives would be numerous, Pakistan would be self-deterred from using it in a low-threshold early-use mode. It also did not have the Nasr system in sufficient numbers to be able to stop such offensives.

As it turns out from Abbasi’s statement, this is a misreading of Pakistani intent. Even when Nasr made its debut, the Inter-Service Public Relations press note had it that it was part of the strategic deterrence capability of Pakistan, with the short range missile complementing the longer range missiles in its inventory. This was glossed over in Indian strategists rush to prove the offensive and aggressive intent of Pakistani nuclear first use. Also, self-servingly they had it that since Pakistan could not dare use it in the numbers required as it would lay waste to Pakistan itself over which Indian offensive columns would be advancing, India could afford to go down the cold start option of proactive operations.

Indian strategists needs revising this expectation. Reading the Indian debate and hoping no doubt to bolster its ‘full spectrum’ deterrence, that includes pulling the deterrence cover down over the conventional level also, the Pakistanis appear now to have clarified that the Nasr is a strategic weapon, even if of small yield. This is in keeping with theory in that the aim behind a weapon’s use would determine the type of weapon it is. For instance, in case a small yield nuclear bomb is dropped on an urban area, it is a strategic use of the weapon. Thus, all small yield weapons are not TNW.

Pakistan thus has clarified a strategic utility to the Nasr. It is not so much intended to stop India’s integrated battle groups or strike corps in their tracks, as much as to raise the ante to a level as to ensure culmination of international pressure in favour of escalation control and conflict termination. Its use would be akin to a ‘shot across the bow’.

This has two implications. One is that the recently advertised readiness of India for cold start offensives needs to be tamped down. The army chief acknowledged cold start doctrine in his first meeting with the press on the eve of the Army Day early this year. He has recently twice voiced the army’s readiness for a two front war, with this doctrine informing the strategy on the western front to quickly knock off Pakistan. In this context, Abbasi’s statement should be taken as a timely warning that the expectation of a high enough nuclear threshold to permit cold start offensives might be unwarranted.

Second, are implications for India’s nuclear doctrine. Abbasi’s statement suggests a lower order nuclear first use. India’s professed nuclear doctrine has it that it would take out Pakistan in case of any manner of nuclear first use on its part. This doctrine would be ‘unimplementable’, to borrow the phrase made famous by Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat in a different context.

India needs revising its nuclear doctrine accordingly to enable multiple options of retaliation, including quid pro quo, in such a case. Thoughts of first strike – entertained by former national security adviser Shivshankar Menon – need to be abandoned forthwith, since there is no call to invite a second strike – of which Pakistan is quite capable – just to get a Nasr or two readying for discharge. India must admit to the state of Mutual Assured Destruction prevailing in the subcontinent.

The India-Pakistan September exchange has acquired the status of a yearly fixture on the strategic calendar. The last year it was ‘surgical strikes’. This year it is about the nuclear prospects that such strikes can well set off, as would surely, their elder brother, cold start offensives. However, it is best that exchanges – howsoever charged up - are in fora such as the General Assembly rather than on the battlefield.