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Tag Archives | Kashmir

What India’s surgical strike achieved, and what it didn’t?

by Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas)

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments.

In the wake of the attacks on the Indian army base in Nagrota, familiar uncomfortable questions have come to the fore: is it the lack of intelligence support that’s making such attacks recur? Has the fragile situation in the Kashmir valley helped rejuvenate terrorist networks? Or, are obsolete security mechanisms making military installations vulnerable to repeated attacks? Despite the recent spate of attacks on military infrastructure, these sticky, fly-papery questions still haven’t found responses that will make them dissolve away.

Nevertheless, the Nagrota attack throws up a completely new question: what did the “surgical strikes” of 29th September achieve — is there a need to replicate such strikes after the Nagrota attacks or should that option be dispensed with?

To answer this question, let’s assess what the surgical strikes achieved, from the lens of the three affected parties — the domestic Indian audience, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex, and the Pakistani civilian leadership.

For many Indians, a consciously coordinated action involving various parts of the administrative machinery — military, diplomatic, and political — was a signal that India will now respond to terrorism at strategic or operational levels, and not merely at a tactical level. Given that the earlier response — a carefully calibrated “strategic restraint” policy had failed to attenuate the attacks from Pakistan, a more forceful quid-pro-quo alternative became a cause of hope for some, and of aggressive chest-thumping for others. After the Nagrota attacks, some groups in this domestic constituency will demand similar strikes, with an aim of institutionalising this strategy.

Second, the Pakistani military—jihadi complex (MJC) was taken by surprise — it was anticipating a tactical response, but not a coordinated operational response. Moreover, the publicly declared cross-LoC Indian raids largely received a thumbs-up from the international community, weakening the complex’s narrative.  Within the complex, the jihadi node was specifically targetted. However, the shallow raids didn’t dent the terrorists’ capacity in any significant manner — there are no terrorist camps at such small distances from the LoC, merely a few launch pads to help terrorist squads in their transit. The operation also did not cause any major loss to the Pakistani army and hence it chose to deny the incident rather than escalate immediately. Overall, the surgical strikes served a signalling purpose against the MJC, rather than a concrete blow to its capacities; it flustered the MJC but hasn’t deterred it. It proved to the MJC that India is capable of maintaining a dynamic conventional threshold and that India is not just limited to the option of tactical retaliation.

Third, the Pakistani civilian leadership was able to utilise the surgical strikes against the dominance of the MJC. Unsurprisingly, a news report claiming that the civilian government has directed the military leadership to act against militants came out immediately after India’s raids. Meanwhile, the civilian leadership kept championing the anti-India rhetoric — such posturing continues to remain popular in Pakistan, regardless of who is in the driving seat. The army’s carefully cultivated image as the ultimate protector of Pakistan’s ideological and geographical frontiers took a dent, and the civilian leadership cashed in on the opportunity.

What will be the impact of another cross-border raid on the three affected parties?
Projected as a strong rejoinder to Pakistan’s use of terrorism, the Indian government will be able to garner domestic support from many quarters to a repeat strike. However, the border states of Punjab and J&K will have to bear the brunt of any further escalation, threatening livelihoods and economic prospects in these states.

The MJC and the Pakistani civilian establishment will now be better prepared in anticipation of another Indian strike. So, it will be very difficult for India to inflict any damage using the same level of deployment. Other options of this nature include using artillery against bunkers from a vantage point while avoiding collateral damage, or the use of air to surface strikes or using short-range cruise missiles to strike terrorist hideouts. But each of these alternatives is likely to result in significant escalation on both sides.

Having introduced an uncertainty in its response, it is perhaps better for India to reduce the vulnerability of its military establishments. Recommendations of the Lt Gen Philip Campose Committee, constituted after the Pathankot attacks, need to be implemented. There is clear indication that the MJC has altered its strategy over the last two years, focusing on high-value Indian military establishments rather than cause large-scale civilian damages. The sub-conventional warfare level, where terrorists operate, has clearly narrowed across the world. A conventional response to a terrorist attack having mass civilian casualties will now be seen as a necessity to curb terror. The surgical strikes have helped reinforced this viewpoint. A variant of the strikes can be used to target high-value terrorist infrastructure if Pakistan returns to its policy of causing mass casualties.

For now, it is better that India focuses on its defences. Ultimately, India is better off putting both — a grand rapprochement or a full-scale war — on the back burner, while expending available capacity to launch economic reforms, rendering Pakistan irrelevant.

Pranay Kotasthane (@pranaykotas) is a Research Fellow at the Takshashila Institution.

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Repealing the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir will need extremely deft political approach

The repeal of AFSPA from the civilian areas of Kashmir is imperative to resolve the present impasse

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The killing of Kashmiri militant Burhan Wani on July 8 by the security forces has once again set the cauldron of Kashmir on fire. All the gains made in Kashmir after the assembly elections last year and subsequent government formation have been completely frittered away. What more, Prime Minister Modi and Nawaz Sharif’s meet in Delhi on May 27 to improve bilateral relations is a dead letter now, especially after recent sabre rattling against Pakistan. What can surely improve the situation in Kashmir is partial revoking of the AFSPA from urban centres and keeping it alive on the areas close to the Line of Control (LoC) and northern areas bordering China.

The Act was imposed in Kashmir in July 1990 after full blown eruption of militancy in the valley. Twenty six years of the Act in force has come at a very high cost, both to the Indian forces as well as people of Kashmir. An Amnesty International report last year  detailed that AFSPA has claimed more than 43,000 lives, about half of them being militants. Slightly less than one third of total killed were civilians and the rest being security personnel. The record of prosecutions of security personnel is abysmally low against allegations of abuse and torture. No one denies that the security forces are doing a yeoman’s sacrifice. But, there is no suppressing the fact that they have been operating under near impunity  which is one of the factors for festering insurgency.

Repealing the Act is an extremely challenging task—one that needs political courage, confidence and a statesmanlike approach to problem solving. Next comes the incentive—gains that are to accrue should the act be repealed. Like any complex jigsaw, the aim should be to break it into minor solvable puzzles. There are two aspects to repealing the act—“why” should it be done, and “how” it can be done? It is easy to answer the first question. The first time time any government came closest to was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) I when it appointed a commission under a retired Supreme Court judge Justice BP Jeevan Reddy Commission. The commission, which had a retired General from the army, unanimously recommended that the act be repealed. It termed the act “too sketchy, too bald and quite inadequate in several particulars.” 

There is no need to reinvent the wheel while debating about repeal of the act. The question “how to do it” can be answered by first repealing the act from major urban centres and hinterland of Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir had precisely suggested this in 2013. To assuage the concerns of the security forces, they can be made to operate under  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) 2008 with adequate safeguards. 

The situation now has got caught in a vortex of political conundrums. The politicians claim that it is the army who is objecting to the repeal of AFSPA. The army, on its part claims that the situation is not ripe to repeal the Act. But when the situation was ripe in 2010, what was it that prevented the army from acceding? Simply raising the fear of Pakistan in the minds of politicians naturally propels them to persist with the status quo.

Wajahat Habibullah, a retired bureaucrat articulated this very clearly  when he stated that there no need for the army in civilian areas of Kashmir. The AFSPA can continue in areas on the LoC with Pakistan and to counteract the menacing presence of the Chinese army on the northern areas of Kashmir. There is no need for the army to be in the civilian areas in Kashmir. It is time that political will gets asserted unequivocally. Even if the army and defence ministry is overruled, this will be a game of brinksmanship to get a political consensus by the ruling party—not only from within, but even across the spectrum. Prime Minister Modi’s acid test will be to retrieve the present situation which is on the verge of disaster. It is an extraordinarily tough call. But extraordinary situations demand completely ‘out of the box’ solutions. In all probability, the prime minister would like to be remembered as the statesman who solved Kashmir.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution, an independent think tank on strategic affairs and geopolitics and tweets @guruaiyar

Featured Image – Indian Soldiers in Kashmir by Barry Pousman licensed from creative commons.

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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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Interpreting Section 124 (a) in the context of JNU students’ protest

The history of prosecution success of sedition law in India has been rather mixed and its application in the case of JNU students too raises uncomfortable questions

The arrest of seven students of JNU and its president on February 10 for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans under section 124 (a) has sparked a debate whether this section is needed in a modern democratic society. The constitution of India does not define the word sedition.  Section 124 (a) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) defines the defines the offence of ‘Sedition’ as below:

Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

The sedition law is a colonial hangover (like many other archaic laws). Interestingly, it is linked to the Wahhabi movement in India. Although the IPC was brought into force in 1860 (after the bloody 1857 revolt or the first war of independence), this section was introduced only in 1870. Reason being that our colonial masters were drawing their lessons after fighting the Wahhabi rebels. The movement was ruthlessly put down by the then British government.

During the freedom struggle of India, the British Raj used this law against many freedom fighters, notable among them being Annie Besant, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and Mahatma Gandhi. This in no way condones the allegedly anti-national slogans raised by the JNU students, one of them being  desh ki barbadi (destruction of the country) and if proven, action needs to be taken.  At the time of writing, the case is still under investigation by the Delhi Police.

The successful prosecution under this section has been very patchy in independent India. Some of the personalities against whom this section was applied but could not be prosecuted are Maneka Gandhi, Arundhati Roy, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, and Binayak Sen. In a well known case, 67 Kashmiri students were booked under this act by the UP government in 2014 when they cheered for Pakistan in an Asia Cup match against India. Again, this could be applied subjectively. If in a match between India vs Australia, you cheer for Australia, it may not be termed sedition because the relations between the two countries are not by any stretch of imagination, inimical. The charges were dropped later on due to intervention by Omar Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Kashmir.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly cautioned that even words indicating disaffection against the state will not constitute the offence, unless there is a call for violence or a pernicious tendency to create public disorder. In this specific case, reportedly the JNU students union had even dissociated itself from the views of the group of students who had organised the ill conceived anniversary of Afzal Guru’s hanging.

Even other political parties have resorted to use this section selectively at various times. Taking a non-partisan approach, the time has come to genuinely debate whether we need this, almost 70 years after independence.

 

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

Featured Image: Really old law books by umjanedoan, licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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Siachen glacier — strategic options to demilitarise

The immense loss of precious lives and high material cost with a not so high strategic stakes is a good reason for the Indian government to consider withdrawing from Siachen

The recent death of 9 Indian soldiers due to an avalanche on the Siachen glacier made headlines. According to initial reports, the tally was 10 killed but on February 9, the miraculous survival of a soldier brought some solace. This tragedy has once again brought to fore, the high human cost and not so high utility of presence of the Indian army. This is not the first time that this issue is being debated. In 2012, when Pakistan army lost more than a 100 soldiers in a similar natural tragedy, the then Pak army chief General Kayani had made a similar suggestion. More than 2000 soldiers have died on both sides so far. This is not taking into account the permanent disability suffered due to frostbite, and several other high altitude related ailments.

The eyeball-to-eyeball position of troops of India-Pakistan is a legacy of partition. In 1949, when UN declared ceasefire, Pakistan had occupied about one-third of Kashmir and called it Azad Kashmir(India refers to it as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). The ceasefire line was demarcated up to a point called NJ 9842. Beyond NJ 9842, the documents signed by both the sides had the phrase ‘thence north’ to glaciers for the line of control (post Simla agreement in 1972, the ceasefire line was called the LoC). This phrase became the bone of contention. The Indian army occupied the Saltoro Ridge in a daring operation in April 1984 when there were intelligence reports of the Pak army’s moves to occupy the same. Pak army swiftly moved on the opposite side. The two sides have been static ever since with the weather taking a much heavier human toll than actual combat.

Demilitarisation of Siachen was first mooted in Rajiv Gandhi’s tenure as Prime Minister. Pavan Nair, an ex-army veteran, in a well researched article on the subject questions the strategic value of maintaing troops there. True, Pakistan ceded Shaksgam valley to China in 1963. The hawks will always contend that Pakistan will play mischief along with China. To get troops into Nubra, Pakistan army would have to climb to about 24,000 feet and drop down to travel along the glacier — a logistical nightmare by any stretch of imagination. To reach the same place, alternately it could use the flatter approach through Shyok valley. In fact, the Indian army did plan to use this approach during ‘Exercise Brasstacks’ in 1987.

The answer to argument ‘What if” Pakistan occupies is to invest in high technology drones and position the troops at such a location where advance warning can pre-empt any such action. A rapid reaction force in Shyok/Nubra valley can effectively deter such a misadventure. Withdrawal will need tremendous political will on both the sides. The most difficult stakeholder to please will be the security establishment. Inder Gill, a well respected General of the Indian army, had this to say in an Op-ed that appeared in The Hindu in 1997:”The amounts of money wasted by both sides is very large indeed. There is nowhere that either side can go in this terrain…We have no strategic-tactical advantage. Nor can Pakistan. We must withdraw immediately and unilaterally and save wastage of money.” The general did not mention human cost—which is of course priceless.

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

Featured Image: Nubra Valley by rv, licensed from creativecommons.org

 

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Why India must not Talk to Pakistan after the Pathankot attacks

The recent Pathankot attacks have put the spotlight on the impending Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan. India’s stand should be clearly not to engage in talks now.

Ever since the terrorist attacks on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot, the public discourse is getting  shriller.  If we watch the TV news shows, for the last couple of days, the anchors are hell bent on shaping the public opinion in the favour of cancelling the foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan. There is strident criticism of Modi having made a surprise visit to Pakistan during Christmas last year. Of course, Modi demonstrated statesmanlike behaviour by going the extra mile.  India must not engage with Pakistan now and talks should be postponed indefinitely till such time conditions demanded by India are satisfied by Pakistan.

First, there is a need to analyse the statement given by the Chief of the Army Staff General Dalbir Singh in the aftermath of the operations. As reported in the TOI, the army chief is quoted to have said that “every time Pakistan bleeds us by thousands of cuts…we just talk about it for a few days and after that we let it go as usual business.” This clearly indicates that he would certainly have had sanction of the government. However, India is still far off from acquiring operational capabilities like Mossad’s Entebbe raid where an Israeli commando action in another country successfully resulted in the rescue of hostages. But this alone should not give India reason to engage in talks. Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was responsible for 26/11 and all pointers of the Pathankot attack are towards Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) (NIA chief Sharad Kumar’s interview to TOI). By all estimates, these attacks have been planned well in advance and there is no connection with Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. Having clearly established the hand of JeM, which happens be one of the important elements of Pakistan’s Military-Jihadi complex (MJC), there is no room for doubt that the topmost echelons of the Pak army were in the know of this plan. There is a sense of deja vu (a la Kargil) when Nawaz Sharif pleads that his government is neither aware nor involved. There is certainly no need to buy this argument.

Second, let there be clarity on which stakeholders are to be involved from Pakistan. The MJC finally seems to have given its blessings to the Nawaz Sharif government to go ahead with the talks. The inclusion of Kashmir issue from the Indian side apparently has given them a reason to do so. In this, we again come to the crux of the matter — which is the Sharif that India needs to talk to? Nawaz or Raheel (Pak army chief)? Or both? It is anybody’s guess the entire agenda of Pakistani position will be guided by the Pak army. This gets us to the classic catch 22 dilemma — damned if we do, damned if we don’t. Can India talk from a position of strength? Let the policymakers remember one thing clearly-never fear to negotiate, but do not negotiate out of fear.

Third, for those who feel that let Pakistan become a failed state and implode towards doom, a sense of schadenfreude is not the best way to solve this puzzle. Our national interest must be focused at achieving 8% GDP growth. It is the fear of widening gap with India that might have finally compelled the MJC to give its green signal for talks. India has the international support. It has a convincing stand that ‘terror and talks’ cannot happen together. Pakistan’s argument of non-state actors just does not hold water. The US has clearly asked Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of this attack. France & Japan have condemned this attack without naming Pakistan publicly. If the talks have not taken off, it is singularly because of Pakistan. Realpolitik, not morality governs international relations. To conclude, it is certainly not in India’s national interest to give a push to talks at this juncture; it is Pakistan which is on the back foot. India must seize this opportunity to shame Pakistan internationally and isolate it. This is an opportunity to be seized.

 

Guru Aiyar is a research scholar with the Takshashila Institution. He tweets at @guruaiyar

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