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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 new Sharif in town

What does Nawaz Sharif’s victory mean for India?

The Pakistan Muslim League (N) has emerged as a decisive winner in Pakistan’s general elections held on May 11.  The embattled incumbent, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was routed in Punjab, and save for Sindh (which accounted for 29 of 32 seats won by the PPP) failed to make an impact in any other province.  Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) succeeded in bringing out first-time voters, but managed to win a majority only in Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The religious jamaats Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazal-ur-Rehman (JUI(F)) failed to make an impact.  And while the elections themselves were largely successful, voter turnout in Balochistan was between 15-20 less than 3 per cent, further accentuating the troubled province’s security situation and disenchantment with the Pakistani state.

But what does all this mean to India?

Nawaz Sharif, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal days before the election, indicated that he wanted to improve ties with India and the U.S.  In this regard, it is quite possible that the long-delayed granting of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to India will be approved within Mr. Sharif’s first few months in office.  However, it is important that policy makers in India not read too much into what is essentially a symbolic gesture of little real consequence to India.

For India, it is important to remember that the height of the Kashmir insurgency flourished during Pakistan’s most “democratic” decade — the 1990s.  Pakistan test-fired its “Islamic” nuclear bomb and waged an undeclared war on India in Kargil during democratic regimes.  Indeed, it proliferated nuclear weapons technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya during periods of democracy. So much for those who say a democratic Pakistan is in India’s interests.

In the larger context of India-Pakistan relations, Mr. Sharif’s ascent to the position of prime minister is of minimal consequence.  Indeed, more important transitions in power lie ahead in the next couple of years that will impact the India-Pakistan relationship.

The most important of these transitions on the Pakistani side is the end of Gen. Kayani’s tenure as COAS on October 31, 2013.  The Pakistani army has had monopoly over relations with India since the 1958 coup d’état.  This has been true regardless of whether the army or a civilian government was in charge of Pakistan.

The frontrunners for the position of COAS have among them Kayani-loyalists, American favorites, and Kargil veterans alike.  The eventual winner will have a greater say in Pakistan’s relations with India than Mr. Sharif, regardless of the decisiveness of the PML(N)’s democratic mandate.

On this side of the barbed-wire fence, India goes to poll in mid-2014.  This leaves the UPA with very little capital for grand, unilateral gestures that might ultimately impair India’s national interests.  There are too many imponderables at play for conclusive assessments on how the 2014 Lok Sabha elections will play out.  Can the UPA and the Congress retain power, mired as they are in scandals?  If they do, what role will prime minister Manmohan Singh play in a future government?  If strong anti-incumbency trends emerge, what position vis-a-vis Pakistan will a BJP-led coalition take?

Both prime ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have dealt with Pakistan-perpetrated attacks (the Kandahar hijacking, 13/12, 26/11, among others).  Both inevitably came around to rapprochement with Pakistan.  But if provocations remain abetted, shouldn’t the quality of our response change?

A third, and equally important transition, involves Afghanistan. U.S.-led coalition forces are scheduled to withdraw from a decade-long war in Afghanistan at the end of 2014.  While unresolved quarrels with Afghanistan persist, Pakistan sees the withdrawal of U.S. forces as largely benefiting its cause.  But a U.S. retreat could see the return of thousands of unemployed jihadis whose “talents” are better engaged elsewhere than in Pakistan.  That elsewhere might be Jammu & Kashmir.

An increase in terror-related violence in India, leading up to, and accelerating after U.S. withdrawal in 2014 will indicate that the Pakistani establishment’s animosity towards India remains intact and is about to enter a new phase.  What someone like Nawaz Sharif can do in such a scenario, regardless of honorable intentions, will remain a question mark.  Those in charge of India’s foreign policy, ought to be considering policy options on Pakistan, expecting worst-case scenarios, given lessons learned from history. Democracy or no democracy.

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Damned lies and statistics

On Aakar Patel’s attempts to convince us that terror has decreased under the UPA.

When I read Aakar Patel’s op-ed in Pakistan’s Express Tribune on the “successes” of the Manmohan Singh government in combating terrorism, I was reminded of a Sherlock Holmes quote about yielding to the “temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient data.”  Except that in this case, the data wasn’t insufficient as much as it was either ignored or used out of context.

Mr. Patel writes:

Under Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, terrorism has decreased in India and Indians have become safer.

….It is correct to say that Indian citizens are as safe as the citizens of Europe and America against Islamist terrorism. You would think that a performance so demonstrably successful would earn Manmohan and his team applause. Instead, we have the inane commentaries that issue from a media that is convinced the Congress is doing something wrong here. [Express Tribune]

To support this very grand conclusion, Mr. Patel cites the South Asian Terrorism Portal’s (SATP’s) figures on the declining number of deaths from terrorism from 2005 (3,259) to 2012 (804).

This is great, except that it doesn’t prove that “terrorism in India has decreased.” If it proves anything, it is that fewer people have died from terrorism (but more on that and J&K later).  An examination of the actual number of instances of terror tell us another story altogether.  According to SATP data, the breakdown of the instances of terrorism outside of J&K and the Northeast is as follows:

2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
1 3 4 5 0 3 3 5 7 1 5 4 2 1

 

Thus, available data indicates that the number of instances of terror in India have not varied significantly during either the tenures of the NDA or UPA governments between 2000 and 2013 (barring a few anomalies).  Terrorism, therefore, has not decreased.

Mr. Patel would have been right if he suggested that fewer people have died in terror strikes in mainland India since 2005, but even this cannot be presented devoid of context.  Mr. Patel failed to indicate that the nature of the terror threat was evolving.  India and Pakistan have made two attempts at rekindling a “peace process” during the statistical period (in 2002 and 2009).  During these periods, there was a concerted attempt by Pakistan to appear to “play nice” with India, which meant that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM)’s involvement in terror in India needed to be obfuscated.

Local terror groups, proteges of the military-jihadi complex, were thus needed to maintain the pressure on India. Beginning in 2003, local terror groups began assuming operational control over some attacks in India.  But misguided individuals or groups in India neither had the financial nor technical resources needed to carry out the sort of attacks that the LeT or JeM were capable of.  While the LeT and JeM attacks were sophisticated, including the use of fidayeen (having been provided facilities and professional training financed by Pakistan) groups like SIMI and the Indian Mujahideen have been capable of far less.  Attacks against India by local terror groups have been confined to IEDs and low-yield remote-controlled bomb blasts.Thus, there was a qualitative shift in the nature of terror being inflicted upon India beginning in 2003.

This has been the dominant pattern since the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.  By their very nature, these attacks inflict fewer casualties than those orchestrated by Pakistan-based groups. Thus, fewer people dying from terrorist attacks isn’t a credit to the performance of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government;  it is merely a reflection of a qualitative change in the nature of terror India is currently battling.

A word on Jammu & Kashmir, since Mr. Patel apparently suggests  that there have been fewer instances of terror in J&K since the UPA took over.  This is true, but needs to be presented in the context of a larger theme.  The insurgency in J&K is dying a slow and inevitable death.  The Pakistanis recognize this as much as the Indians.  The number of casualties as a result of terror has been consistently decreasing since 2001. The 9/11 and 13/12 attacks, combined with U.S. pressure on terror financing channels have effectively ensured that the insurgency in J&K is on its last legs.  This trend would have held regardless of whether the UPA or the NDA was in power.

But Mr. Patel’s embarrassing lack of research is most evident when he suggests that “figures under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) excluded all Maoist violence because that wasn’t compiled under ‘terrorism’ till 2004, when Singh came to power.”

Since he doesn’t provide support for his statement, we can only assume that he arrived at such a conclusion based on a note in SATP’s website which says “Data Till 2004 does not include Fatalities in Left-wing Extremism.”  But this just means that SATP’s data on Maoist terror is incomplete, not the Government of India’s!  In fact, official data on left-wing terror casualties has existed since at least 2000, when the BJP-led coalition was in power.  A cursory review of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Annual Report 2003-2004 (pg. 41) would have indicated as much to Mr. Patel, but it should already be clear by now that Mr. Patel was not on a fact-finding mission.

Which brings us back to Mr. Patel’s point that terrorism has decreased and India is safer under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s terms in office.  Even if we are to accept that there were fewer instances of terrorism — which they weren’t, as shown in the table above — it is ludicrous to say that India is safer today (forget being as safe as the U.S. and Western Europe, as he suggests!)  The infrastructure for terror continues to exist in Pakistan.  We know from news reports that the intent to hurt India remains undiminished.  We also know that local infrastructure for terror — however nascent — is being developed to challenge the state.

India’s ability to address these threats is hindered by a crippled internal security apparatus.  State and Central internal security agencies are experiencing systemic institutional atrophy.  The NIA — the UPA’s solution to our woes after 26/11 — hasn’t solved a terror case since 2009. Communication and coordination between various Central and State intelligence and police forces is poor.  Even worse, Centre-State mistrust on issues of national security has increased during the tenure of the UPA, to the extent that critical progress on the NCTC and NATGRID has stalled.  None of these reflect too well on Mr. Patel’s theory of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s “demonstrably successful” performance in making India safer.

Ultimately, the question is this: given what we know about the state of India’s internal security infrastructure, can we afford to take comfort in the various data points being bandied around by Mr. Patel?  That he may prefer the UPA and Dr. Singh over the BJP and its allies is understandable insofar as it is one’s personal choice.  But cherry-picking data points and drawing broad and inaccurate conclusions on an issue as important as national security merely to better market his party of choice is both irresponsible and dangerous.

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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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