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The LoC Incident

Manmohan Singh must meet with Nawaz Sharif in New York.

Even as we begin to fully understand the circumstances that led to the killing of five Indian jawans by Pakistani troops last week, we are informed of yet another Indian soldier succumbing to injuries today from a Pakistani attack on August 5 in J&K’s Samba district.

In New Delhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh has maintained a steely silence (as is his wont) on both incidents.  His defense minister made a dog’s meal of the incident in Parliament for which he was so thoroughly pilloried by the opposition that he had to recant his statement the very next day.  Meanwhile, opposition parties are engaged in hyperbole and political theatrics with May 2014 in mind.  What should have been dealt with at more tactical military level has now morphed into something larger, and unnecessarily so.  There are now even ludicrous demands that India recall its high commissioner from Islamabad.

As mentioned in the previous blogpost, LoC attacks by Pakistan are nothing new.  Cross-border attacks have continued to increased year-on-year over the past five years, from 31 in 2008 to 108 in 2012.  These sorts of attacks are both routine and expected and should have been dealt with as such.  The Indian army has a demonstrable track record of being able to deal with these sorts of transgressions.  Had the prime minister condemned the attack and issued a timely statement to the effect that the army was on alert to respond to Pakistan’s provocations, he would have ensured that the incident would have been dealt with through appropriate channels.  And as long as the Indian army’s mandate to respond in kind to Pakistan’s aggressions along the LoC was not curtailed, an appropriate punitive response would have assuredly been delivered to Pakistan.

Instead, the UPA has bungled badly in its dealing of what should have been a tactical military issue and allowed it to get commingled with the larger, political issue of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.  The prime minister’s over-enthusiastic commitment to a so-called “peace process” with Pakistan (which possibly explains his silence on the killing of Indian troops and the defense minister’s statements) has left him with yet another political mess on his hands.  The Pakistanis, themselves, are always happy to oblige in any endeavor that publicizes and promotes visibility of India-Pakistan issues on the world stage, so a latent upping of the ante with Pakistan is of no real value to India.  It should be of no surprise to us, then, that Pakistan is behaving the way it is.

The BJP now wants the PM not to meet with Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UNGA in September, but it must realize that its position is untenable.  If India wants to see progress on the 26/11 trial in Pakistan and those responsible for it brought to book, is cutting off communication with a man who has, ostensibly, promised to work towards improving ties with India a wise course of action?  The question for India isn’t so much whether or not it must talk to Pakistan, but what it should be talking to Pakistan about.  On 26/11, some measure of justice was delivered to the victims and their families with the sentencing and hanging of Ajmal Kasab in India, and by the sentencing of David Headley and Tahawwur Rana in the U.S.

Yet, Lashkar-e-Taiba’s leaders and their state-supported backers who financed and supported the attacks in Mumbai continue to evade justice in Pakistan.  It is no secret that Nawaz Sharif’s ability to deliver on promises has always been questionable.  The last time he attempted to defy the Pakistani army, he was lucky to find himself with a one-way ticket to Jeddah. But India’s options with regard to the 26/11 trial in Pakistan are few and far between.

Therefore, it is appropriate that Dr. Manmohan Singh meet Nawaz Sharif in New York.  His message to his Pakistani counterpart should be clear: deliver on the 26/11 trial and we’ll have something to talk about.  No progress on the 26/11 trial means no composite dialog, no discussions on J&K and no visit to Pakistan.  How Nawaz Sharif elects to go about to the process to bring the 26/11 trial in Pakistan to a satisfactory conclusion is up to him.  Potentially, there are fissures between Zaki ur-Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT operational chief who is already in “custody,” and Hafiz Saeed that could be exploited to deliver a result that India will appreciate.

Nawaz Sharif says he wants to improve ties with India.  Let’s see if he can translate intent into action.

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Business as usual

The paralysis in decision making in New Delhi is adversely affecting India’s national security.

Pakistani troops ambushed and killed five Indian soldiers belonging to the 21 Bihar regiment and 14 Maratha Light Infantry on Tuesday.  The Pakistani troops crossed the Line of Control into Poonch to carry out the attack.

Several theories have been put forward to explain the attack on the Indian patrol.  Was this retaliation to news reports in Pakistan which claimed that Indian troops kidnapped four men from PoK?  Is this just another manifestation of Pakistan’s escalating hostilities towards India in Afghanistan?  Are hardline elements in Pakistan’s armed forces attempting to discredit and derail Nawaz Sharif’s alleged attempts to make peace with India?  Interesting questions, and maybe they will be answered in time and as more facts pertaining to the attack are revealed.  But reactions to Tuesday’s incident, like those during the January 2013 incident, point to a larger crisis in national security management in India.

A quick word first about Nawaz Sharif.  Whatever his intentions are with regard to India, India must judge Pakistan by its actions and not by warm and fuzzy notions of a trans-Punjab lovefest.  The problem with Pakistan’s peace brigade is that there is a significant gap between purported intentions and their ability to deliver on them.

The net result to India is that its neighboring environment continues to remain hostile and threats to its internal security persist. In this regard, it would be silly for India to get entangled in a debate over whether Nawaz Sharif wants peace with India or not.  Instead, India must judge Pakistan by its actions and not by the supposed intentions of some of its leaders.  As my colleague Nitin Pai argues, there is no case for India to engage the Nawaz Sharif government in dialog until there is credible proof of intent.

But to return to the August 6 attack on Indian troops, such incidents along the LoC are hardly new, regrettable though the loss of life is.  The Pakistanis have always attempted to stir up tensions long the LoC to aid in the infiltration of terrorists across the LoC or to elevate the visibility of tensions with India on the global stage.  Tuesday’s attack wasn’t the first of its kind and will not be the last.  There will surely be a tactical Indian military response to the provocation, and the Pakistanis are well aware that the response will come sooner than later.  This isn’t war mongering but merely a reflection of the realities of the situation along the LoC.

However, what should be of concern to us is the manner in which Indian leadership has chosen to respond to the attack.  Browse through statements issued by representatives of India’s political parties and it becomes apparent very quickly that objective number one was to either blame or deflect blame (depending on who you were) for the attack.

BJP MP and former External Affairs minister Yashwant Sinha asked whether the Congress was with Pakistan or India (I mean, really?), while Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi affirmed that “the entire Congress party, as indeed the entire country” stood with the families of those killed. As ever, party first, country second.

In fact, further reading into statements issued in response to the attack tells us that there isn’t much consensus of opinion even within the UPA, much less between the UPA and other parties.  Defense Minister AK Antony, whose indifference to defending anything beyond his own reputation is now a thing of legend, alleged that the attackers were in fact terrorists masquerading as Pakistan army regulars, which contradicted the positions of almost every other UPA leader to have spoken on the subject.  It also happened to contradict the position of the army.  What is the Indian citizen supposed to make of the political theatrics that get played out with each bomb blast or border incident?

Confidence in India’s political leadership and national security institutions is eroding.  There has been systematic atrophy of existing institutions charged with managing India’s national security.  Worse, vested parties, both political and otherwise, have effectively stonewalled urgent reforms needed to our national security apparatus.  This includes the implementation of a recommendation first made  14 years ago in the Kargil Review Committee report that would allow the prime minister of the country to receive direct and timely military input.

The acute paralysis in consensus-building and decision making in New Delhi is now affecting India’s national security.  This cannot continue to be swept under the carpet.  If India’s leaders can’t even evolve political consensus on an expected and routine Pakistani provocation along the LoC, what sort of response do we imagine we can expect when we are faced with more serious challenges to our national security?

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A system of neglect

India doesn’t need more ideas in tackling its internal security challenges; it needs action.

Another terrorist attack in a major Indian city this week left 16 dead and over 50 injured. Yet, within hours of the attack, India’s elected leaders were busy passing the buck and hypothesizing on the intent and “color” of the terrorist attack before a formal investigation had even begun.

There is something sadly predictable about all of this; the incident in Hyderabad itself — going by the dilapidated state of India’s internal security apparatus — and the indulging in parochial rhetoric thereafter that our leaders find so irresistible. Shouting free-for-alls followed when Pune and Varanasi were hit in 2010, and when Mumbai and Delhi were hit in 2011. Yet, not one terror case since 2008 has been solved. While our internal security agencies battle for their own credibility and relevance in the absence of strong political leadership, the cycle of terror continues.

In response to the attacks on Mumbai in 2008, the government set up the NIA, whose mandate could, at best, be described as confused.  India’s “FBI-style” agency, meanwhile, hasn’t produced the results to even remotely warrant a comparison with the FBI. Centre-State issues have stalled essential progress on NATGRID and the NCTC.  And internal security at the Centre continues to be the part-time responsibility of the Home Minister, whose other responsibilities include areas as varied as dealing with Centre-State issues and the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act.

Can Indian citizens really harbor any expectations of reasonable safety and security when there is such abominable neglect on issues related to national security? India’s internal security apparatus is rotting. And this rot is merely a microcosm of a much larger problem that India faces, which is that there is systemic institutional atrophy in varied velocities across the country. The aspiring India of 2013 has government institutions built to govern an India of the 1940s. Where there are incidents that expose these very apparent gaps, we apply short-term Band-Aids when our institutional structures are falling apart at their very core.

Let’s be candid: India does not need any more ideas on how to tackle internal security challenges. Most of these ideas exist in public domain today. They have already been articulated in reports commissioned by the Central and State governments of India themselves. The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) report in 2001, for example, put forward recommendations in reforming our intelligence agencies. On the heels of the KRC report, a Group of Ministers report under the chairmanship of LK Advani proposed structural changes in intelligence and police reform.

The Ram Pradhan Committee Report — as yet not made public — commissioned by Maharashtra in response to the 26/11 attacks, highlighted critical gaps in coordination and execution of response to an ongoing terror incident. The National Police Commission issued eight reports between 1979 and 1981 on police reform and measures to prevent political interference. The Padmanabhaiah Committee report in 2000 recommended significant structural reforms to policing in India. Further, various states have set up their own commissions to study police reform since the 1960s.

So the ideas for reforming our internal security are already there. What India needs is meaningful action, which can only come about through structural reform (sustained by the continued application of political will) to bring our internal security apparatus into the 21st century. If ideas are needed anywhere, it is perhaps in trying to determine how to politically “sell” these essential changes.

K Subrahmanyam, perhaps India’s greatest post-Independence strategic thinker, once said that India’s leaders weren’t interested in national security, but in the politics of national security. While entirely divorcing “politics” from national security might not be practical, given the realities of India today, the political class’ response to terror cannot be restricted to trading accusations, applying Band-Aid solutions and commissioning reports.  India’s citizens cannot be held hostage to perfunctory political reactions to every terror attack on Indian soil.  The ideas are there, as is the mandate from the people of India.  But India’s politicians have been repeatedly found wanting in action.  They must step up or make way for those capable of action.

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“If India can’t even build a bridge…”

If the world can’t even feed its children, can it send people to the moon?

Sadanand Dhume’s article entitled “Debacle in New Delhi” was published in Foreign Policy recently.  In the context of the fracas of the Commonwealth Games about to held in the Capital, Mr. Dhume’s article asks, “[h]ow can India be a superpower if it can’t build a bridge?” (an apparent reference to the collapse of a bridge near the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium).

A couple of days ago, Ploughshares Fund president Joe Cirincione questioned the safety of India’s nuclear plants, again, against the backdrop of “India’s” apparent inability to build safe bridges (though, to be fair to Mr. Cirincione, he later apologized for making the comment, having been roundly pilloried by one and all).

The Games are a complete and utter mess.  This is true.  Anyone and their brother will hurl at you figures showing how much India has spent over and beyond its original budget.  Stray animals roam the streets.  Trees are being cut like they went out of fashion two years ago. Roofs collapse,  so do beds.  And Mani Shankar Aiyar is running out of people to attack.

But is this India’s fault?  Did the same entity that built the bridge that collapsed also make India a power?  Many writers on the subject are painting with very broad strokes.

India is a power today not because of its government, but because of its private enterprise.   In fact, one of the unfortunate repercussions of the meteoric rise of India’s private sector is the singular incapability of the government to keep pace with the fillip provided to India’s global profile by its private enterprise.  India, many say, grows not because of its government, but despite it.  True, were it not for economic reforms instituted by the Congress, beginning in 1991, India’s private enterprise would not have succeeded like it has. But the government of the day chose to liberalize the economy only when faced with the possibility of bankruptcy.

These are issues that India — and the rest of the world — have always been well aware of.  India’s government is severely challenged to govern an India of 2010.   The inefficiencies in government are well known — a bloated cabinet,  archaic civil services, decrepit police services, lack of adequate parliamentary oversight, the list is endless — add in corruption and large levels of public apathy, and you have a recipe for disaster. To a large extent, when “public” governance was unable to affect its citizens, “private” governance stepped in.  Had a consortium of India’s companies been entrusted with managing, building and delivering the Commonwealth Games project, perhaps the situation might have been different.  This is all water under the bridge now.

Dileep Premachandran’s article in The Guardian argues that the Commonwealth Games fiasco shows all that is wrong with sport in India.  Actually, it shows all that is wrong with government in India.  The question that needs to be asked is, what will happen after the games conclude (by some miracle, without incident).  Heads will roll, no doubt, but not of those that matter.  Temporary public outrage will subside, and return to its default position of apathy — we’ve seen this script before.

Even if public anger didn’t subside, by some miracle, and is reflected in subsequent elections, is there a national party in India that can replace the UPA?  And even if such a party existed and was voted into power, would it have the courage and political will to institute the kinds of sweeping reforms necessary to bring governance in India into the 21st century?  And if it didn’t, would India’s citizens even care?  There are no easy answers.

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