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Tag Archives | Army

Protests in Bangalore and Kashmir — Manifestation of Radically Networked Societies?

What most of the commentators have missed out during the recent protests in Kashmir and Bangalore is that the traditionally organised power structures are being challenged by radically networked societies and governments need to restructure better to respond

Two recent protests in the country demonstrated how radically networked societies (RNS) challenge the conventional, bureaucratic and hierarchical power structures. Last week, after a girl was allegedly molested by a soldier in Handwara, Kashmir saw a deluge of protests by the locals. The army later released a video in which the girl gave a statement exonerating the army. But the incident was enough to snowball into a major law and order problem in which police had to resort to firing on protesting mobs resulting in five dead and scores injured. It culminated in the dismantling of army bunkers after more than two decades.  In the second incident, violence erupted across Bangalore on April 18 and 19 by garment factory workers that left more than a hundred injured, two of them seriously.  A police station was attacked and vehicles were set on fire. Reportedly, this was a reaction to amendment to Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) by the central government as part of its budget announcement for 2016. The new norms barred employees from withdrawing their entire provident fund corpus before retirement. On April 19, the government announced a complete and unconditional rollback.

The striking feature of both the incidents is that they were leaderless. In Kashmir, mobs of protesters were assembled based on “news” circulated in WhatsApp groups.   The dismantling of bunkers has been seen as a victory for locals. But the government’s response was typical of bureaucratic knee-jerk reaction. In an order dated April 18, the Kashmir government has instructed all WhatsApp groups to register within ten days.  There were even government employees who were part of the groups. WhatsApp has emerged as a potent tool for gathering of protesters. The statement by Divisional Commissioner, Asgar Samoon reported in newspapers is produced as below:

There are many unauthorised news groups on WhatsApp that disseminate news. It’s not restricted to just chatting, they have thousands of followers who post news without verification and many times lead to law and order problems. Government employees are for implementation of policies, if they have grievances or suggestion they can be put forward through proper channel not in public forms. In many cases government employees were seen instigating violence.”

Even in Bangalore, the protests were first planned and circulated in WhatsApp groups among the garment industry workers.  Most of the protesters were women. About three and a half years ago, Bangalore had a similar incident concerning the migrant working population from northeastern part of India. In August 2012, more than 30,000 people left the city over rumours of impending attack on them.

According to my colleague Nitin Pai, corruption, economic distress, political oppression, and elite control of political power, among others have always been there. He goes on to add that the proliferation of public protests might be the first signs of clash between radically networked societies and hierarchically ordered states. This is true whether the polity is democratic or authoritarian.

In 2011 Arab Spring, protests spread like wildfire in Tahrir Square in Egypt and Tunisia that resulted in ousting of authoritarian political leaders. The onset of social media like facebook, twitter, whatsapp, Snapchat etc. have radically transformed the speed with which information is transmitted and processed. In many ways, this is the epitome of Marshall McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’  theory.

Bangalore and Kashmir present a contrast and similarity. Contrast, because Bangalore city police is one of the most tech savvy forces in the country with an active twitter handle and social media presence. Kashmir police has not demonstrated such a capability. In addition, Kashmir has a heavy presence of other security forces like Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and army which have their own typically rigid hierarchical organisations. Similarity, because both got checkmated by very similar radical networks.

Responding to the RNS also entails a trade-off between liberty and national security. To what extent can personal freedoms and liberty can be contained is a matter to be seriously debated. Left purely to governments, they will only enact policies to strengthen the hand of the state, however draconian it may be. This will be an incremental tail chase in perpetuity. The latest order in Kashmir is evidence of this.

One reason the United States emerged on top of the world order is because it had the best political system for post-Enlightenment industrial age societies. It can be argued that the nation that best restructures itself for the information age will have a shot at being the next great superpower. Across the world, governments are grappling with this phenomenon. We certainly have a long way to go.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Network, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

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Why Pakistan might not head for a coup in the near future?

In spite of all the indications of severe cracks in the civil-military relations, Pakistan may not have a coup simply because the army does not want it in the near future

Grave scenarios are being visualised in the present tumultuous conditions in Pakistan. The catalysing event was the suicide bomb attack on March 26 at a crowded park in Lahore. Reportedly, Jamaat-e-Ahrar, a splinter group of Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast. The blast left 69 people dead and 300 people injured. The Pakistani military and security agencies quickly swung into action by taking over the counter-terror operations even before PM Nawaz Sharif could finish an emergency meeting with his ministers. He had to even cancel a visit to Washington.

The tensions between the army chief General Raheel Sharif and the PM have been see-sawing since Nawaz Sharif got elected in 2013. There were allegations of rigging by Nawaz Sharif’s party, Pakistan Muslim League, PML (N). Coupled with charges of corruption against his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, public sentiments culminated in an Azadi (freedom) march, a series of marches from August to December 2014.  A Muslim cleric, Tahirul Qadri also gave active support to Imran Khan, whose party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) organised these protests. Though Imran Khan asked the Pakistan army to stay neutral, the protests could not have taken place without the tacit support of the military-jihadi complex (MJC), which has a finger in every pie. Tahirul Qadri can be considered to be one of the cogs in MJC. Though, Raheel Sharif supported Nawaz Sharif publicly, there were certain undercurrents in their relationship.

The Pakistan Army launched operation Zarb-e-Azb after in June 2014 after an attack on Karachi airport by the jihadist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). This operation was aimed at all jihadist elements in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), whether foreign or native. A retaliation to this was the attack on army public school in Peshawar by TTP on December 16, 2014. The importance of this attack on the institutions is gauged from the fact that the army took on itself the task of running the courts dealing with terror operations. In a way, this showed a lack of confidence in the judicial process in Pakistan.

Zarb-e-Azb has been claimed as a great success with over 2500 militants killed in 2014 and had support of political parties and people. As a result, Raheel Sharif is hugely popular army chief. With success of counter terror operations along with control over the judicial process against militants, he is in a very comfortable position. Nawaz Sharif is having the tough task of taking the brickbats for whatever wrong is happening. Based on the current events and lessons from past history, three possible scenarios can be forecast for the next six months or so.

First, sensing the rising discontent against Nawaz Sharif and massive corruption in public life, the army stages a coup. Sharif is jailed/exiled to Saudi Arabia and martial law is established. Raheel Sharif appoints himself as President. Second, the army stages a soft coup by installing Imran Khan as a caretaker PM and continues to hold the levers of power. Third, the army does nothing to upset the present political set up and plays wait-and-watch game. Of all the three, the third scenario seems most plausible due to a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that Raheel Sharif would want to ‘hang his boots’ on a high. He wouldn’t do anything to dilute the goodwill that the army has gained over the last two years. He hinted the same in a recent interview where he categorically stated that he won’t seek another extension on his tenure. Second, the army is in the best position by consolidating its hold over the security and foreign policies of the country. An indication of this was the appointment of General Nasir Khan Janjua as the National Security Advisor (NSA) in October 2015. Therefore, with its stranglehold over crucial levers of security, foreign policy and judicial process for jihadists, the military is firmly ensconced. Raheel Sharif will retire with his reputation intact and pursue golf. Pakistan will meander through remaining 2016. Nawaz Sharif is probably aware of this and he will do everything to reinforce his power before the new army chief is anointed in November this year.

 

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

Featured Image: Lahore Fort Badshahi mosque by Wasif Malik, licensed by creativecommons.org

 

 

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An analysis of creeping role of the military in the state functions

The involvement of  the army for routine civilian tasks is indicative of failure of state institutions and polity’s lack of understanding of civil-military relations

If the understanding of civil-military relations of the present government is an indicator of the maturity of the political establishment, there seems to be a complete lack of understanding. Three instances immediately come to light. First, the tasking of Indian army units to lay yoga mats for the World Yoga Day on June 21st last year when a gust of wind blew away the yoga mats. Second, 250 soldiers of the army were sent for Yoga training under Baba Ramdev in January. It is understood that a total of 1000 soldiers will be trained in yoga by the guru, who in turn will teach yoga in their units to combat stress. Third, the episode involving 120 soldiers of corps of army engineers to build pontoon bridges for the world culture festival held in Delhi from March 11-13 by Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living Foundation.

The first was covered up by the government under the excuse that it was an emergency situation and who better trained and equipped to lay the mats than the disciplined army soldiers. The second and third instances seems even more bizarre. For an event, which had been stridently objected to by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) as it was being conducted on the flood plains of Yamuna, the decision to deploy the army for a private enterprise is nothing short of morally and ethically reprehensible. Reportedly, the NGT gave its nod to the event after slapping a fine of Rs. 5 Crore on the organisers.

In a democratic set-up, civilian control of military is accepted as a matter of fact. Samuel P. Huntington’s thesis elaborates that a military must remain apolitical to maximise its professionalism. By definition, professionalism enhances military political abstinence because it gives soldiers the autonomy to focus on state’s external enemies that fosters apolitical attitudes and behaviour in the officer corps. Huntington terms this as the “objective civilian control.”  Civilian control is the independent variable to the dependent variable of military effectiveness. In contrast, “subjective civilian control”, in which the state control politicises the military, thereby weakening its military effectiveness is highly undesirable. Samuel Finer, another scholar takes this argument to another level.

Finer enumerates that professionalisation provides militaries with internal cohesion, distinct ideologies, and a corporate identity as the servants of the permanent state rather than the government of the day. The professional military’s belief in this manifest destiny motivates it to intervene and save the nation whenever it deems that corrupt or incompetent civilian authorities are undermining the national interest—a set of beliefs that clearly attenuates the scope of control by temporary civilian politicians.

It’s just not pro-nationalist socialisation in the army that sets it apart from other organs of the state. An army is more professional than other organs of the state (at all corresponding levels).  Aqil Shah, a Pakistani scholar in his book on Army and Democracy concludes that professional development did not depoliticise the Pakistani military. Instead, it aroused the military’s interest in civilian affairs. As the civilian institutions were deemed weak, lazy, incompetent and corrupt, it was natural for the army to save the state. The result is there for all of usa country that is run by army rather than the other way around. At its extreme manifestation, military in politics can be highly repressive and toxic as numerous examples in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Latin America demonstrate.

Could the Indian army Chief have said no? Going strictly by the rule book, the civilian government has the legitimacy to pass such orders which utilises the expertise of the army. To that extent, the army chief is bound by rules to obey his civilian bosses. But he certainly has the legitimacy of his office to bring it to the notice of his superiors that the army cannot not be used for such mundane tasks. The world yoga day was a government event. The world culture festival, on surface, had the explicit support of the government to a private trust. Even if the private trust uses the resources of the government, it needs to be done for a fee. It has not yet been clarified whether the army was paid for its services. The festival website shows a picture of Sri Sri Ravishankar with the PM and Advani. The President too was an invitee to this event which he eventually declined.

If these were not enough, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) recently invited the veterans to an event in JNU where homage was paid to the martyrs. It was ostensibly to infuse a sense of nationalist pride among the anti-national students of JNU and frame the discourse in binary terms.

Hence we have a double whammy situation here—the civilian bosses in the government use the army as a tool to ‘softly’ propagate its brand of Hindutva whilst the storm troopers in guise of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) cadres openly court the veterans in explicating their brand of nationalism. This government has started to walk on a slippery rope of legitimising all its actions in the name of national interest. One thing may lead to another. It was Yoga day and world cultural festival. Tomorrow, could it be something called World Islamic Congress, or a large event of the Catholic Church? Should the government say no to availing the services of the army? Where do we draw the line. It is now high time for the BJP-RSS combine to decide where and when to put a full stop and prevent further erosion of the institution of ultimate violence—the army.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar at Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image: Indian army trucks near Jammu, licensed from creativecommons.org

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Budget 2016-What about naval acquisitions?

Navy’s role as an instrument of Indian foreign policy gets a lukewarm treatment with the latest budget

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

The budget presented by the Finance Minister Mr Arun Jaitley surprisingly sidestepped one of the most important components—national security. Not a word was mentioned about defence. The Budget estimate for 2016-17 is Rs 2,95,623 Crores excluding defence pensions. An amount of Rs. 82,332 Crores has been set aside for defence pensions. The total allocation is thus an increase of about 10 percent which compares to the previous year on year (YOY) increases. What is of interest is the allocation for capital acquisitions which is Rs. 90,660 crores.

Capital expenditure indicates the money that is spent on acquiring new assets to enhance combat capability. The defence ministry returned 13.5% allocated to capital expenditure in the last fiscal. This is attributable to the procurement procedures as well as delay by the arms suppliers. The ratio of individual service expenditure approximately is as below.

Service             Capital Expenditure (in %)          Revenue Expenditure (in %)

Army                           10                                                                          90

Navy                            40                                                                          60

Air Force                     35                                                                          65

The armed forces’ capital acquisition is based on a Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) which envisages acquisition over a period of fifteen years from 2012-2027 (from 12th to 14th five year plans). The individual services then have their own Service Capital Acquisition Plan (SCAP) that are based on the five year plans. The yearly plan that is reflected in the budget is the Roll-on Plan (ROP).

Of the three services, navy is the one which is the most visible as an instrument of foreign policy. It derives this ability from being the most mobile and deployable in any part of the globe when national interests require it to do so. To maintain combat capability, the desirable equipment profile of the armed forces as per defence secretary’s testimony to parliamentary standing committee is 30:40:30 (30 per cent state of the art, 40 per cent current, and 30 per cent nearing obsolescence), the present profile is 15:45:40. As a result, the combat edge is consistently getting weakened.The main reasons for emasculated acquisition budget is the ballooning salaries and pension bill.

The most significantly affected on the acquisition matrix of the navy are the Project 15B destroyers, Project 17A frigates and the two indigenous aircraft carriers which are the fulcrum of the navy’s capability. Another cause for worry is the delay in Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the Medium Range Reconnaissance Aircraft. According to the latest Defence Procurement Procedure 2016 unveiled by the defence minister, one of the main initiatives to overcome the foreign dependence is the Indigenous Design Development and Manufacturing (IDDM). This would ensure a viable military-industrial complex with spin offs for the civilian sector. At present, is better to be circumspect than sanguine about our acquisition policy.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Scholar with the Takshashila Institution.

Featured Image: Aircraft Carrier by Steven Weng, licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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