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Talking about the Asia beyond Pakistan

What does India’s search for a new equilibrium state in its engagement with West Asia imply?

By Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

As the “talks about talks” with Pakistan continue to garner more-than-required attention in India, something perhaps more significant is in process with regards to India’s foreign policy — a search for a new metastable state for India’s balancing act in West Asia.

The Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Walid Al Moualem is on a four-day trip to India. Not to forget, Mr Moualem is a part of the Bashar Al-Assad government, which is fighting a war on multiple fronts with multiple adversaries in the region. This visit precedes the Indian External Affairs Minister’s visit to Israel and Palestine planned later in the week, which will further set the stage for a visit by Prime Minister Modi to the region in the near future.

These developments immediately lead us to the questions — how does India see itself in West Asia? Is there a change in the way this government is approaching its relationship with the countries in the region?

To answer these questions one needs to first look at the complex canvas that West Asia is. A mosaic chart titled “Grid of Grievances” in The Economist offers some insight into the complexities of the region.

Mosaic Chart of West Asia relationships. Source: The Economist

Mosaic Chart of West Asia relationships. Source: The Economist

As is evident from the graphic, there is no single nation-state in the mosaic that has friendly or for that matter, even neutral relations with all the other geopolitical actors in the region. Even the external actors in the region such as Russia, US and the European states find it difficult to maintain friendly relations with all the states in West Asia.

This challenge of the complex geopolitical environment is exactly the challenge that India will have to manoeuvre as it steps up engagement in the region. The silver lining in all the complexity is that if India were to be mapped on this graphic, it would perhaps be the only state that maintains a non-adversarial relationship with every West Asian state.

However, that does not make the situation comfortable, far away from it.  This outcome is partly a function of the fact that India has kept itself at an arm’s distance away from virtually every state in West Asia, in the fear that building relations with one will come at a direct cost of alienating several others. Thus by following a safe-distance approach, India now maintains decent collaborations in the region. The implication is that it has thus far allowed all the collaborations in West Asia to settle at a low level equilibrium, with none of them taking the form of a strategic partnership. As India tries to scale these local maxima, the geopolitical environment is bound to throw up new challenges and tough choices.

A glimpse of these challenges were on display earlier in the year, after it was announced that Narendra Modi will be visiting Israel, making such a visit the first ever by an Indian PM. This news immediately filtered through the mosaic of West Asia and the visit has since been put under suspended animation.

As India looks to increase its footprint in West Asia and across the world, India will not only have to balance against other countries, but also bandwagon with some others. And no where in the world, as the Grid of Grievances shows, such choices are tougher than in West Asia.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Well played!

Such meetings change the narrative of hostility between the two countries to one of engagement, only until the military—jihadi complex retaliates.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

While analysts like me were following up on what transpired during PM Modi’s Afghanistan visit, we found ourselves taken over by the pace of events. PM Modi sent the media in a tizzy through a tweet, announcing that he would be stopping over at Lahore on his way back to Delhi.

To temper expectations and to get a realistic check on this event, here are six points worth noting:

  1. The meeting was a well kept secret, and not a surprise visit as some would like to claim (and believe). Such meetings are well planned in advance. Probably this was decided during the NSA meeting in Bangkok. Credit to both Pakistan and India that they managed to keep the secrecy element intact.
  2. The fact that secrecy was maintained in Pakistan also means that the Pakistan Army would have been taken on board. Had this not been the case, a few media houses in Pakistan tightly regulated by the Army would have leaked the possibility of the meeting, causing both sides to reconsider.
  3. This meeting would certainly infuriate a few elements within the Pakistani army that handle the anti-India jihadi networks. They would be on the look out for a chance to drown this excitement surrounding the talks soon.
  4. One cannot expect anything tangible to result from this meeting. But it does change the narrative of hostility between the two countries to one of engagement, at least until the military—jihadi complex retaliates.
  5. US will consider this meeting as a big win for its foreign policy as it has been consistently asking both the States to resume talks at all levels. Pakistan will find its positions vis-a-vis the civil nuclear agreement and economic package from US bolstered. What will India get in return is not so clear.

Interesting times. A bold move. And well played by both sides.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas




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The political strategy Pakistan’s battlefield nukes

India and the world should demolish Pakistan’s political strategy around short-range low-yield nuclear weapons

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Quartz India carried a piece today titled “Pakistan’s army is building an arsenal of tiny nuclear weapons—and it’s going to backfire”. As the title suggests, the piece is aimed at convincing the people of Pakistan that:

they should be more sanguine, or even alarmed by Pakistan’s development of tactical nuclear weapons.

The piece gives five reasons explaining the problems with Pakistan’s nuclear strategy. However, there is one essential issue that the article sidesteps, which is that Pakistani “tactical” nuke has already been deployed as a political weapon.

Given below is an assessment of the political aims and the strategy behind Pakistan’s development of short-range nuclear weapons.

The narrative of battlefield nukes serves two political aims. First, Pakistan assumes that given its possession of such weapons, India is more likely to tolerate terrorist attacks or territorial intrusions, rather than risk a nuclear retaliation. Second, it seeks international intervention on its side after escalating a border conflict by reminding the world how every single skirmish is a hair’s breadth away from a nuclear war.

If the recent academic debates are any indication, Pakistan is steadily gaining success in its political aims by creating an artificial distinction between tactical and strategic nuclear weapons, and that is a cause of concern for India and the world. The legend of tactical nukes is having the political effects desired by Pakistan in three ways.

First, Pakistan has been partly successful in creating a narrative that tactical nuclear weapons are merely an extension of a conventional war, and that their usage does not necessarily imply a full scale nuclear exchange. This artificial distinction has found support in some Indian quarters as well. Arguments such as “India’s nuclear doctrine is not credible enough to deter Pakistan’s tactical nuclear weapons” and “India is unlikely to press the nuclear button in response to a tactical nuclear weapons killing 30 odd Indian soldiers on Pakistan’s territory” are already being made in India.

Such arguments fundamentally misread the situation. The Indian nuclear doctrine is clear — it commits to massive retaliation in the event that a nuclear weapon is used against it, regardless of Pakistan’s marketing strategy around the weapon in question. This is sufficient to deter any move by Pakistan to use a nuke.

Second, a view that has taken shape recently is that somehow, the onus of preventing Pakistan from using tactical nuclear weapons lies with India. The argument goes that India should unilaterally declare that its conventional forces will never enter into Pakistan. Since Pakistan’s battlefield nuclear arsenal is primarily meant to counter India’s conventional advantage, Pakistan can then be convinced about scaling down the development of such nukes.

This argument is fallacious because it runs against the basic strategy of conventional war on which all modern armies have been based — to conquer territory and achieve stated objectives as determined before or during the war. Hence, it is not prudent to expect that the Indian armed forces, or for that matter any modern armed force, will acquiesce to any such declaration.  

Third, Pakistan has introduced an element of plausible deniability into the deterrence equation. Analysts often cite that command and control operations of tactical nukes mean that a single soldier may push the world into a nuclear exchange. Worse still, Pakistan has conveyed that nukes may unintentionally fall into the hands of the terrorists. Again, the fear of command and control problems been hugely exaggerated by Pakistan. The unintended usage of a nuclear weapon on Pakistani soil is of a much greater concern to the Pakistani army rather than to India.

The deterrence in India—Pakistan scenario rests on the principle of Mutually Unacceptable Damage (MUD) — that both countries will find the nuclear destruction of even one of their cities unacceptable. At the low levels of availability and operability of nuclear warheads in both countries, not even a total nuclear exchange will completely destroy India or Pakistan. The Indian side particularly wants the nuclear threshold to be as high as possible so that it does not have to use nuclear weapons ever, knowing that it will halt its primary quest for securing prosperity to its citizens. The question is whether the Pakistani military—jihadi complex considers a nuclear exchange unacceptable to the same extent, or not. As long as it does, we need not worry about Pakistan’s fiction of tactical nuclear weapons. India is in a position to manage the nuclear threat from Pakistan by systematically discrediting the political strategy behind Pakistan’s “tactical” nuclear weaponry.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Climate Change is like God

The Geostrategy Fun Department offers four reasons how the two constructs — climate change and God are eerily similar.

  1. Both are used as alibis for even avoidable and entirely human follies.
  2. Acts of God and acts of climate change are not covered by insurance (yet).
  3. Both are apparently locked in a competition to end this terrible terrible world.
  4. The legions of their followers are quick to dismiss and disparage those who don’t believe in these constructs.


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The ISIS threat to India: an assessment

In what ways is ISIS a threat to India?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

The Paris terror attacks by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have quite naturally fueled concerns about the threat posed by this group to India. The concerns deepen given the backdrop that India has been the target of various terror outfits in different geographies for nearly thirty years. A recent report by the Global Terrorism Index 2015 (GTI) ranked India 6th out of 162 nations most affected by terrorism in 2014.

So far, the concerns over the threats posed by ISIS to India have been based on a few disparate events. First, in mid 2014, DaeeshISIS showed its interest in the Indian sub-continent when it issued a map depicting the western part of the India to be a part of the Islamic State of Khorasan. Second, Mehdi Biswas, a resident of Bengaluru was arrested in December 2014 on account of evangelising for the Islamic State through his twitter account @Shamiwitness. Third and most recently, an assessment by security agencies revealed that there are close to 23 Indians fighting with the terror group in Syria and Iraq. At the same time, we have also witnessed widespread opposition to the ISIS ideology and barbarity. For instance, the Maulana of Jama Masjid in Bengaluru and several other clerics have repeatedly issued alerts to the Muslim community to be wary of the ISIS.

So how does one filter these different and often conflicting reports and make sense of the threat posed by ISIS to India? Essentially, the ISIS threat to India can be seen at three levels. This article describes the levels and assesses the threat perception for each level.

The first level of threat is that ISIS might launch a frontal attack against the Indian state like it has done in Syria and Iraq. However, the probability of this occurrence is minimum. The primary reason being that India is only at the periphery of an Arab-Sunni centric project. In fact, India was not a primary focus even for groups such as the Al-qaeda and its founder Osama Bin Laden. These Arab groups view the syncretic tenets of Indian Islam as heretic and a corruption from the original teachings of the Quran. Based on the current evidence, it is highly unlikely that ISIS will want to wage a full scale war in a country where it has little interest, or support.

From India’s perspective it would be appropriate to keep a close watch and monitor developments. We should, in a way be grateful for the buffer that Pakistan affords us. The Pakistan Army and the ISI would not allow the ISIS to grow big because that would weaken their own homemade military-jihadi complex.

The second level of threat is India becoming a recruiting ground for ISIS to conduct its operations in India and elsewhere in the world. The threat perception for this level is medium to high. The reason being that India has more than 350 million people who are connected to the internet and it is likely that some of them will fall prey to ISIS’ ingenious ways of luring Muslim youths through their online propaganda.

People are now part of radically networked communities — webs of hyper-connected individuals possessing a common imagined identity and motivated by a political cause. Given that information flows at a much faster pace in such networks, the state will increasingly find it difficult to respond in time and clamp down on those who spread hatred. The government will have to track repeat offenders online, just like it is done in the offline world. Improving intelligence in the online domain will be needed to manage  this threat level.

The biggest threat that ISIS poses to India is that it will act as a totem for local Indian terror outfits. Such groups would want to claim association with ISIS regardless of whether they agree or know about the ISIS ideology. With the dismantling of the Indian Mujahideen, several radical extremists groups are looking for an alternate identity and ISIS may well provide the much desired character. The appearance of black flags in Jammu and Kashmir preceding the Indian PM’s visit was one such instance where local insurgent outfits were using the name of ISIS in order to garner attention. It is this threat that is most likely to hurt India in the short to medium term.

Tackling this challenge of local Indian terror outfits seeking an ISIS badge would essentially require India to eradicate the discontent amongst Muslims in India. In the past, the issues that have driven Indian Muslims to take up arms against the state or other communities are not those which concern the global ummah but are issues of discrimination and coercive majoritarianism within India. Hence, if we can uphold the values of pluralism and tolerance which characterise Indian nationalism, this threat can be managed.

Last but not the least, the biggest threat to India’s national security still comes from the jihadi elements of the Pakistani military-jihadi complex. Dismantling this complex in Pakistan and putting an end to majoritarianism back home will ensure that foreign terror outfits, whether Pakistani or Arabs, will find it difficult to challenge the idea of India.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Afghanistan’s India outreach

The likely transfer of four attack helicopters from India to Afghanistan marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US.

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Suhasini Haidar reported in The Hindu on November 4, 2015:

India is discussing the transfer of attack helicopters to Afghanistan when Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar visits New Delhi this weekend (November 7-8) for meetings with NSA Ajit Doval.

As Haidar details further, these four Russian-made Mi-25 helicopters will be India’s first offensive weaponry transferred to the National Unity Government in Afghanistan.

This transfer marks a significant change in the positions of not only India and Afghanistan, but also that of the US, as explained below.

Up to this point, the Indian government had rolled back its engagement with Ashraf Ghani’s administration following his efforts (backed by the US) to reach out to all sections of Pakistan in the hope of getting the Taliban to the negotiating table. Back then, it made sense for India to let its displeasure be made clear to the Afghan government, which chose to throw its weight behind Pakistan-led talks while keeping the Indian connection on the back burner.

However, we had argued in our writings that India should look to refresh its Afghanistan relationship in light of three new developments: failure of the Murree round of talks, splintering of the Taliban movement and its relative weakness in the South, and the changing geopolitics of Afghanistan, Central and West Asia over the last six months.

It finally appears that the Indian leadership has decided to re-energise its Afghanistan desk. Reports suggest that it was the Indian government that reached out to Afghanistan—the invitation to Mr. Atmar was extended by Mr. Doval during a telephone conversation a few days back. This is a welcome change—India looks to have overcome its fear of aggravating Pakistan in order to boost Afghanistan’s quest for strategic autonomy.

Second, this move also reflects a change in the Afghan government’s position. Already frustrated by the failure of the Murree round of talks, the Kunduz attack turned out to be the last straw. Following the Taliban takeover of the important northern city, the Afghan government was forced to re-evaluate its relationship with all its neighbours. The Chief Executive of the government, Abdullah Abdullah welcomed Russia’s potential assistance by saying:

If any country wants to assist Afghanistan in war on terror, Afghanistan welcomes the offer.

This outreach to India is a reflection of this realignment of Afghan government’s priorities.

Third, the National Unity Government’s change of heart is impossible without a change in the US position. We had indicated that the U.S., in search of an honourable exit from Afghanistan, had been shaken by the Kunduz incident and was looking for more options:

The Kunduz attaack makes it clear that the optimism generated by Pakistan-led round of talks was misplaced. The halt in troop withdrawal until 2017 is meant to buy time until the U.S. finds a better roadmap to peace in Afghanistan. While the U.S. and China still continue to place their bets on Pakistan-backed efforts, there is a growing realisation that the price Pakistan demands will never be acceptable to large sections of Afghans. Nevertheless, the U.S. is said to be examining various other possibilities for securing peace.

It is most likely that in search of new options, the US would have encouraged the national unity government to re-engage with India.

A few important questions emerge in the light of the new development: given the new start, will India further deepen its military relationship with the Afghan government? And more importantly, will India help the Afghan government and the US in starting a new peace process with sections of the Taliban? These questions will be answered in the days to come. In any case, well re-begun is almost half done.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Reflections on India’s Nepal policy

What should India do in response to the protests on the Indo—Nepal border?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Creating a new Republic is, at any rate, a gargantuan task. Seldom do states come out unscathed from the process. The task is compounded further in a networked society where failure to reconcile conflicting political demands can quickly escalate into a political crisis.

This is exactly the situation that Nepal’s seventh constitution has led the state to. Failure to accommodate the interests of the people from southern Nepal has led to widespread protests in the Terai region. Because of these protests, the flow of essential supplies into the landlocked country from India has ebbed, leading the pahadis of Kathmandu to label these protests as India sponsored interference. The Indian government has denied any blockade of trade, but has publicly expressed that some sections of the new constitution do not have broad-based ownership and acceptance.

The political protests have shifted the focus back to India—Nepal relations. While many commentators have opined on the hits and misses of the new constitution itself, there’s no assessment of how the latest political upheaval in Kathmandu is going to impact India’s national interests.

Before addressing India’s concerns, a brief review of the geopolitical realities of India—Nepal relations will help understand the situation better. First, Nepal being a landlocked country is heavily dependent on India. Dependence on another nation-state for its own survival is suicidal in international relations. So, it is perfectly understandable that any dispensation in Nepal will seek to reduce this dependence on India by breaking the Himalayan barrier and securing alternate trade and travel routes through Tibet.

Second, some anti-India sentiments in the hill regions are likely to continue for the foreseeable future. This is because any move by India on behalf of the ethnically similar Madhesis is likely to be seen in Kathmandu as a proof of India’s hegemonic stance. Issues of identity are sensitive and can quickly cloud even good karma from the past such as India’s effort in Nepal’s reconstruction following the disastrous earthquake or the fact that as much as 6 million Nepalese prefer to stay and work in India.

With these two conditions as the starting point, what does India seek from Nepal going ahead? One, Nepal has long been used as a conduit by terrorists from Pakistan. Thus, India wants sufficient leverage in Kathmandu such that terrorists attempting to use Nepal can be eliminated.

Second, Nepal is also the route for many organised rackets including human trafficking, circulation of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) and drug peddling. Again, India would want cooperation from Nepal to address these mutual concerns.

Third, India fears that China sponsored Maoists can cause disturbances in the eastern part of India, though this fear has subsided following the waning of the Maoist movements in both India and Nepal. And fourth, India wants to limit the impact of the unrest in Nepal on its own people in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Given these policy objectives and the geopolitical backdrop, India should not be eager to throw its weight behind any side in the ongoing confrontation in Nepal. India’s call of advocating for a representative constitution, without any attempt to project its power in Nepal is a reasonable policy option. Such an approach will calm the Indian borders while also ensuring that India retains enough power in Nepal to prevent it from becoming an anti-India laboratory.

The key for India is to have friends from across party lines in Nepal so that when the dust from the protest settles, India would be in a position to resume its collaboration with the new Republic seamlessly.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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पारम्परिक सुरक्षा नीति को नेटवर्क—समाजों की पुरज़ोर चुनौती

कहानी पारम्परिक श्रेणीबद्ध सरकार और एक नेटवर्क-समाज के बीच के संघर्ष की

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

गत १ अगस्त को ट्विटर पर कोलकाता में दंगे की तेज़—तर्रार अफवाहों ने पुलिस और राजकीय प्रशासन को क्लीन बोल्ड कर दिया। इस कहानी को विस्तार से जानने के लिए शोएब दान्याल का यह लेख पढ़ें। संक्षिप्त में हुआ यह कि रेलवे पुलिस ने १ अगस्त को मदरसों के कुछ छात्रों को सियालदाह स्टेशन से पकड़कर बारासात के एक युवा कल्याण होम भेज दिया। अगले दिन सियालदाह के स्थानीय नागरिकों ने पुलिस के खिलाफ प्रदर्शन किया और कोलकाता का एक मुख्य मार्ग रोक दिया। जवाब में पुलिस ने बड़ी संख्या में तैनाती की। कुछ तनावपूर्ण घंटों के उपरांत रात तक भीड़ गायब हो गयी।

लेकिन ट्विटर पर रात को कुछ और ही ड्रामा चल रहा था। लोगों ने अफवाह फैलाना शुरू कर दिया कि कोलकाता के मुस्लिमबहुल इलाकों में आतंक फ़ैल चुका है। कई सौं ट्वीट और हज़ारों रीट्वीट के बाद इस अफवाह ने साम्प्रदायिक रंग ले लिया। लेकिन किसी वजह से यह कारस्तानी सफल नहीं हुई और मंगलवार तक जन स्थिति सामान्य हो गयी।

अब एक दूसरा उदाहरण देखें — बेंगलुरु में २९ दिसंबर को चर्च स्ट्रीट नामक एक लोकप्रिय स्पॉट पर एक विस्फोट हुआ जिसमे एक महिला की जान चली गयी। ट्विटर पर यह ख़बर कुछ ऐसे फैली —

पहला ट्वीट: चर्च स्ट्रीट पर ब्लास्ट।

दूसरा ट्वीट: चर्च के नज़दीक ब्लास्ट।

तीसरा ट्वीट: बैंगलोर के एक चर्च में ब्लास्ट!

उपर्लिखित दोनों घटनाओं के आधार पर कोई भी समझदार व्यक्ति इस तरह के विषैले प्रचार के नतीजे का अनुमान लगा सकता है। इस तरह की अफवाहें न सिर्फ कहा—सुनी के आधार पर होती है, बल्कि एक सिस्टमैटिक अंदाज़ से दोहराई जा सकती है। हो सकता है कि भारत के कट्टर विरोधी राष्ट्रों की इंटेलिजेंस एजेन्सियों का एक विभाग इस तरह के ऑनलाइन प्रचार के लिए तैयार किया जा रहा हो। अतः यह अनिवार्य है कि हम इंटरनेट में इंफॉर्मेशन के संचालन को बेहतर रूप से समझे। इस प्रकार के विश्लेषण के आधार पर सरकारें इंटरनेट से आने वाले खतरों का सटीक जवाब दे पाएँगी।

मूलतः उपर्लिखित दोनों प्रसंग, पारम्परिक सरकार की संरचना और एक नेटवर्क-समाज के बीच के संघर्ष का परिचायक है। आज का समाज एक नेटवर्क-समाज हैं। ऐसे समाज में इंसान एक दुसरे से नेटवर्क के ज़रिये बड़ी तेज़ी से दूरियों को लांघ सकते हैं । साथ ही, नेटवर्क—समाज का हर सदस्य न सिर्फ खबरों का उपभोग करता है, बल्कि वह खबरों का रचयिता भी है। इंटरनेट का यह श्रेणीविहीन व्यक्तित्व ही उसकी सबसे बड़ी ताक़त है जिसकी वजह से हमारा जीवन मूलभूत रूप से तब्दील हो चुका है।

दूसरी और सरकारें आज भी श्रेणीबद्ध है । इस संरचना के चलते इंफॉर्मेशन का प्रवाह सरकारों में नीचे तबके से ऊपर की ऒर होता है | जबकि नतीजे ऊपर से नीचे की ऒर प्रवाह करते हैं । यह क्रमबद्ध प्रवाह का स्वभाव धीमा होता है । अतः नेटवर्क—समाज की जुटाव (mobilisation) की गति सरकारों की प्रतिक्रिया की गति से कई गुना अधिक है। तो सवाल यह है कि  सरकारों के पास क्या विकल्प हैं?

एक विकल्प हैं नेटवर्क को बहुत बारीकी से नियंत्रित करना। जब भी अफवाह फैलने लगे तो इंफॉर्मेशन प्रवाहों को ब्लॉक कर देना। यह मॉडल चीन में कई परिवेशों में आज़माया जा चुका है । लेकिन नेटवर्क के फैलाव और लगातार बढ़ते स्त्रोतों को मद्देनज़र रखते हुए यह विकल्प असरहीन हो रहा है। साथ ही, भारत सरकार को अपने देशवासियों पर जासूसी करना, हमारे गणतांत्रिक संविधान का उल्लंघन होगा।

दूसरा विकल्प है कि सरकारें खुद अपनी संरचना को बदले, और नेटवर्क की मांग के अनुसार ढाल लें। इस विकल्प की  झलक बैंगलोर के चर्च स्ट्रीट हादसे के बाद दिखी जब अफवाहों को बंद करने के लिए कुछ ही मिनटों में बैंगलोर पुलिस के आला अफसरों ने ट्विटर और फेसबुकपर सही जानकारी को लोगों के साथ बाँटा। यह प्रत्युत्तर असरदायी रहा क्यूंकि कई समय से बैंगलोर पुलिस सभी डिजिटल मीडिया पर सक्रिय है। नागरिकों की समस्याओं और सुझावों का शालीनता से उत्तर भी देती है । अतः बैंगलोर पुलिस डिपार्टमेंट डिजिटल मीडिया में एक विश्वसनीय पात्र के रूप में स्थापित हुआ है। इस  उदहारण को सुरक्षा नीति का महत्त्वपूर्ण अंग बनाने की आवश्यकता है।

इसी तरह सरकारों को नेटवर्क के कईं और पहलू अपनाने भी होंगे और नेटवर्क शैली में पारंगत भी होना पड़ेगा । तभी हमारी सुरक्षा नीति नेटवर्क—समाज की चुनौती का सामना कर पाएगी।

(This post also appeared on NDTV India blogs)

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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I know what you did last August feat. Military—Jihadi complex

Senator Mushahidullah Khan’s interview gives a sneak peek into the rumblings inside the Pakistani Military—Jihadi complex

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This year’s August 14th was a day of mixed feelings for Pakistan. On one hand, it marked the 69th independence day of the nation-state. On the other, this day marked one year of the protest demonstrations by the PTI—PAT combine which threatened to push the country back into a state of anarchy and overt military control. The agitations formally ended on 17th December 2014, following a terrorist attack on Army School, Peshawar. The Nawaz Sharif government was back in (nominal) charge, after agreeing to a stringent set of “terms and conditions” determined by the military high command.

What has sparked a raging controversy in Pakistan, however, is a BBC Urdu interview of by PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan in which he directly blamed the then ISI chief Zaheerul Islam Abbasi of orchestrating these protests leading to an eventual coup.

As The Dawn reports:

He [Mushahidullah] alleged that former Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) chief Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam Abbasi wanted to overthrow Pakistan’s civil and military leadership during last year’s sit-ins by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Pakistan Awami Tehreek.

In his interview, Mushahidullah alleged that during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s meeting with army chief Gen Raheel Sharif on July 28, 2014, an audio tape was played in which Lt. Gen Zaheerul Islam could be heard giving orders to ransack the PM House and spread chaos.

On hearing the audio tape, Gen Raheel summoned the ISI chief to the meeting and played the tape in front of him, said Mushahidullah. When Zaheerul Islam confirmed that the voice was his own, the army chief asked him to leave.

As expected, these revelations did not go down well with either the military or the weakened civilian government. Nevertheless, these statements indicate the politics and the forces of repulsion within the Military—Jihadi complex(MJC). These indications can be summarised as below:

  1. Tensions within the complex have intensified. Some factions are not satisfied with the MJC’s covert control of the government. Such factions would rather prefer a direct control over decision-making. Doing so means that overthrowing a civilian government isn’t sufficient anymore. It should be accompanied with a coup in the MJC itself. Thus, we can expect further clashes within the military node of the MJC going ahead.
  2. The revelatory audio tape which finds mention in the interview was reported to have been obtained by officials of the civilian intelligence agency – Intelligence Bureau. This is the second point of fracture within the MJC. Afraid of the ISI’s proven record of causing internal disturbance, the civilian government and a few sections of the MJC are strengthening the IB as a bulwark. It will be interesting to see how the ISI gets back at the IB after this incident.
  3. This incident highlights how easy it is for the MJC to orchestrate a “civilian” protest. All political parties in Pakistan owe their existence to the military in one way or the other. Whenever the MJC or some factions within it desire to shakeup the civilian establishment, they have a long line-up of political parties who can front protests, dharnas and violence.
  4. Perhaps the most damning part of the interview was an acknowledgement that Zaheerul Islam Abbasi and his co-conspirators would not be tried for treason, as the civilian establishment has neither the credibility nor the capacity to anger elements of the MJC.

What happens next in this story will help us understand how the military—jihadi complex can be dismantled.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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Foreign investments in India: the need for a new narrative

Make it easy for the others to help you

 by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

This week, I attended a lively talk at the Bangalore International Centre on “Geopolitics and Financial Markets” by Srini Pulavarti, Chief Investment Officer of UCLA Investment company. His talk summarised the broad geoeconomic trends over the last ten years. He also explained how US investors perceive the other important economies in the world.

An observation that was apparent from the talk was India’s relative superiority as an investment destination for the US investors at this point in time. Foreign investment in Chinese markets has been historically low — foreign investors own less than 4% of the capital in the Chinese stock market. This low base, coupled with the Chinese government’s meddling in the stock market over the last few weeks is sure to deter foreign investors further. Russia’s over-reliance on oil & natural gas, amongst many other factors, makes it an unattractive market. Similarly, Brazil is at the centre of multiple economic crises, and foreign investors are staying away from this economy.

This leaves India — a country which has a robust equity market and a growing economy but an extremely unfriendly investment environment at an interesting juncture. Given that the Indian economy is relatively well placed at this moment vis-a-vis other economies, many investors are banking on India for higher returns on their capital. But converting this investor sentiment into actual results requires India to fast-track investor friendliness, which requires a not so trivial political push.

The question is whether the government will invest its political capital given the golden opportunity the Indian economy has. And this is where the problem lies. In fact, the assessment that India is a relatively better economy is likely to make the government complacent in implementing the big reforms.

This possible complacency when coupled with the reality is that this window of opportunity is temporary, means that things are not so rosy for India after all. Though the Indian economy appears relatively stronger today, nothing prevents other economies from doing a few things right and getting ahead of India. Thus, foreign investment needs a new narrative that can press the government into action on these issues.

And that narrative is simple: make it easy for others to help you.

Indian businesses are in need of taking big risks so that they can create a truly awesome businesses, products or services. Taking a big risk needs big capital — a need that can neither be fulfilled by the government or the private enterprises in India. While the asset managers in India have not betted on anything beyond a few million dollars, the government will find it tough to raise money even for its flagship “Make in India” initiative.

What option does that leave India with? Only one, let the others share a significant part of your risk. Allow a corporate debt market to function. . Make it easy for foreign investors to contribute to India’s success. Of course, there is no element of altruism here; it is purely a symbiotic relationship. India needs capital while investors need higher returns.

There is no reason why India should not lay a red carpet for US or even Chinese from investing in Indian equities and bond markets. For example, HDFC — a hot favourite of the stock market over the last few years is has 80% ownership in FIIs. Some others like LIC Housing Finance or ICICI Bank have foreign share holding of around 40%.  If we can trust FIIs to finance our homes and banks, there is no reason we should block them from  investing in other businesses.

Will a liberal investment regime mean that India will be dependent on foreign investment? Yes, indeed. But that is not a problem because: one, risks can be distributed across various economies — US, China, Japan, EU. Two, we can build multiple leverage points with the investing countries by diversifying the trade relationship. And three, if multiple countries are invested in the future of one country, there is an incentive to sustain each other, pretty much how US and China have ended up being locked with each other. Moreover, well guided investment policies can easily protect India’s core interests while leaving the other areas open for foreign investments.

International relations are amoral. Instead of being hung up on ideologies on an amoral plane, better to let the others help you where you can, and accelerate the pace of gaining economic power.

Pranay Kotasthane is a Research Fellow at The Takshashila Institution. He is on twitter @pranaykotas

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