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Tag Archives | Kashmir

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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Phyrrhic peace

My response to Najam Sethi’s article on India and Pakistan.

In this weekend’s The Friday Times, Najam Sethi urges the governments of India and Pakistan not to derail relations in response to the recent skirmishes along the LoC.  In so doing, he alleges that the Indian army built bunkers in Haji Pir sector, which violated a 2005 India-Pakistan agreement, ultimately provoking the Pakistani army to shell Indian positions in a bid to stop the construction.  Incidentally, the position that India triggered the recent skirmish was also put forward by columnist and former Pakistani ambassador to the U.S., Maleeha Lodhi.

To Mr. Sethi, the alleged construction of bunkers by India was the “original sin” that triggered the skirmishes.  But Mr. Sethi is economizing on the truth here.  He may be right when he says that the 2005 agreement between India and Pakistan prohibits new military construction along the LoC.  But he conveniently forgets the very first CBM of that 2005 agreement, where both India and Pakistan committed to “uphold the ongoing ceasefire.”

This is important because Pakistan has violated the ceasefire almost every year since 2003; there were 28 ceasefire violations by Pakistan in 2009, 44 in 2010, 60 in 2011 and 117 in 2011.  If India has violated the 2005 agreement, Pakistan has done likewise, and with greater frequency.  But here’s another inconvenient truth: Pakistan itself has been busy building several bunkers and posts (1, 2, 3) along the LoC since the 2003 ceasefire.  Does that not violate the 2005 agreement?  If it does, why is India alone guilty of committing the “original sin,” and how does this justify Pakistan’s shelling of  Indian positions?  Is it that what constitutes a material breach of the 2005 agreement gets decided at the sole discretion of Pakistan?

To be sure, ceasefire violations happen routinely, by both India and Pakistan.  That these violations happen less frequently than prior to the 2003 ceasefire is a positive trend and of importance to the stability of the LoC.  However, pinning the responsibility of military altercations between the two countries on any one such ceasefire violation is a losing proposition.

But there are bigger issues with Mr. Sethi’s article.  Although he begins by accusing the Indian army of triggering the recent skirmishes, he proceeds to commingle India’s responses to the skirmishes with the broader bilateral discussions between India and Pakistan on border disputes.  On the latter, he accuses India’s news media of “sabotaging” the peace process.  Now, the Indian media’s response to the killing of two Indian troops was undoubtedly over the top.  And if Indian news media reaction was over the top, comments from some of India’s politicians were abominable.

But let us not conflate reaction to the skirmishes with internal dialog in India on the implications of the “peace process” on India.  Mr. Sethi alleges that India’s media scuttled alleged attempts by New Delhi to withdraw from Siachen Glacier and the possibility of prime minister Manmohan Singh visiting Pakistan.  However, what Mr. Sethi saw were not machinations of India’s media to sabotage the peace process, but India’s citizens questioning the actions of their democratically-elected government.  That some of these questions are conveyed through the medium of acutely hyperventilating TV news channels does not invalidate the questions themselves.

India’s citizens have a right to question the government they’ve put into office, when reports emerge of unilateral withdrawals from Siachen that many feel are not in India’s interests.  India’s citizens also have a right to know what Pakistan has done by way of bringing to book those responsible for the 26/11 carnage to warrant an official visit from the prime minister of the India.  These questions aren’t only posed by the Indian news media, but by Indian commentators of all walks of life (1, 2, 3, 4).  It would be wrong on the part of anyone to dismiss these legitimate questions as media propaganda.  It would be equally wrong to believe that Indian citizens registering their dissent frustrates and impedes attempts to promote someone’s version of what constitutes “peace” from across the border.

The fact is, Pakistan has done absolutely nothing to convince a large constituent of India’s electorate of the noble intentions it says it has (no, MFN does not count).   Hafiz Saeed lives large in Pakistan, delivering keynote addresses at Lahore High Court, while infiltrations from Pakistan into J&K continue.  Mr. Sethi’s version of “peace” requires India to unilaterally withdraw from a strategic position it has held unchallenged since 1984, and requires the Indian prime minister to visit Pakistan, while not making any demands of Pakistan on issues of interest to India.  Peace is great, but cannot be implemented at the cost of India’s national interests.  If this is Mr. Sethi’s vision of “peace,” then thank you, India is better off without it.

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Pakistan’s resurgent hardline narrative

India needs options to counter looming threats beyond current LoC skirmishes.

On January 8, Pakistani soldiers affiliated with 29 Baloch regiment infiltrated across the Line of Control (LoC) at Mendhar sector in Poonch, ambushed 4 Indian soldiers, and according to news sources, “mutilated” the bodies of two jawans.  Defense Minister AK Antony termed the act “highly objectionable,” while MEA’s official spokesman, Syed Akbaruddin, called it “ghastly and unacceptable.”

Some reports indicate that at least one of the soldiers was beheaded.  If true, this would not be the first of such an occurrence.  Historically, beheadings of Indian troops were carried out by terror groups affiliated with the Pakistani army and by members of Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (SSG).  In one such incident in 1999 2000, Ilyas Kashmiri, a member of the SSG (as well as future leader of HuJI’s 313 Brigade, and the “operational commander” behind 26/11) killed an Indian soldier, beheaded him, and allegedly presented the head as “trophy” to his then-COAS, Parvez Musharraf, for which he was highly commended.

In the face of such provocation, India’s response has been measured.  External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid promised a “proportionate” response.  Foreign Secretary Mathai summoned Pakistani High Commissioner Salman Bashir  to protest the incident, who in turn, flatly denied that it ever occurred (as is Pakistan’s m.o.).  To be sure, it is in India’s interests not to escalate the situation along the LoC and to ensure that the ceasefire remains in place.  Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex has never been a big fan of the 2003 ceasefire, as it poses certain challenges to its well-known bad habits.

It is therefore in India’s national security interests to ensure that these bad habits remain curtailed.  Military escalation, over an incident — heinous though the killings were — having little tactical or strategic significance (purely from a military standpoint) to India would not be wise.  Of course, non-military options are available at the government’s disposal, which can be used at a time and place of its choosing.

The Big Picture

But more broadly, what should concern India is the increasing assertiveness in Pakistan’s discourse of a more hardline narrative towards India.  Over the past several days and weeks, there has been disproportionate anti-India coverage in Pakistan’s Urdu press. (1, 2, 3).  This increasing assertiveness could have implications beyond the current skirmishes across the LoC.  The reasons for a more hardline stance towards India could be many.

First, there could be a realization in Rawalpindi that territorial negotiations with the UPA have reached a point of no success for Pakistan. Whatever faith the generals in Rawalpindi initially placed in prime minister Manmohan Singh to deliver magnanimous, Pakistan-friendly solutions to territorial disputes appears to have dissipated with the realization that negotiations have reached a cul-de-sac.  Trade talks, discussions on negative- and positive-lists may continue, but we are effectively back to square-one on issues of any real significance to Pakistan.

Second, while sections of our media misread recent updates to Pakistan’s “Green Book,” the inclusion of a section on “sub-conventional warfare” is interesting.  Pakistan is faced with a serious challenge to its internal security from well-armed militants.  It can seek to counter this challenge by [a] appealing to the militants to lay down their arms (ineffective), [b] military confrontation (costly), [c] absorbing those willing into Pakistan’s security forces, or [d] re-orienting them towards another target (i.e., India).

Indeed, recent statements from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has no direct quarrel with India, nor any capacity today to attack it, must be seen in this light.  This could pose a bigger challenge to India when hundreds of thousands of well-armed, but unemployed “mujahideen” return from Afghanistan to Pakistan in 2014.

The third is the Kayani angle.  Gen. Kayani, no doubt, did not endear himself to his Corps Commanders when he sought, and was given, an unprecedented extension as COAS in July 2010.  Now, while we can never be sure if he favored PPP’s on-going dialog with India, we know that he didn’t try to actively undermine it.  The big question mark is who will replace Gen. Kayani in November 2013, and what will his successor’s views be on India and the U.S.

There’s growing unease in Rawalpindi in the way Gen. Kayani handled the bin Laden raid, the Salala incident, the unrelenting U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, or peace talks with India.  What better way, then, for an aspiring COAS to present his credentials and ingratiate himself with the rank and file of the armed forces than by towing a harder line towards the neighbor on the east?

Lastly, Pakistan’s generals feel they are now in a position to affect a Pakistan-favorable solution to Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves in 2014, while continuing to be ensured of U.S. financial largesse in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism funds (this is a bad assumption for Pakistan to make, by the way.  Remember the Pressler Amendment)?

Securing an advantageous position in Afghanistan and continued economic assistance from the U.S. renders the need to play nice with India moot; or so the thinking of the military-jihadi complex goes.  The increasingly assertive hardline stance could mean increased attacks, both in J&K, and in “mainland” India in the months and years ahead.  New Delhi ought to be considering options to deal with threats emanating from the resurgent hardline narrative, beyond the current skirmishes at the LoC.

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Fraternal magnanimity

On Pakistan, India must not compromise from a position of strength.

Former Foreign Secretary, Kanwal Sibal, has a very timely and well-articulated piece in the Daily Mail on India’s position on Siachen, amid rumors that New Delhi was planning some sort of strategic climbdown in the larger interest of bettering India-Pakistan relations:

Peace with Pakistan is a desirable goal, but peace should be equally desired by both sides and both should contribute to it in equal measure. The burden of making peace should not fall on India while Pakistan retains the freedom to disrupt it at will. Normalisation of India-Pakistan relations should not be predicated on demands by Pakistan and concessions by India.

Those who advocate withdrawal from Siachen – or more appropriately Saltoro as Siachen lies to its east – need to clarify whether we are occupying Pakistani territory.If we are, withdrawal could be mooted. If we are not, then why should we withdraw from our own territory simply because Pakistan contests India’s sovereignty over this part of J&K and insists we accept its position?

Should such obduracy inspire trust in its intentions? The 1949 and the 1972 agreements delineate the LOC till NJ9842, with the line going ‘northwards towards the glaciers’ beyond that. ‘Northwards’ cannot in any linguistic or geographical interpretation mean ‘north-eastwards’, but Pakistan and the US unilaterally drew the line several decades ago from NJ9842 north-eastwards to the Karakoram pass controlled by the Chinese.

In reality, because the entire state of J&K acceded to India legally, the areas not in control of Pakistan are rightfully Indian whether we physically occupy every inch of our own territory or not. [Daily Mail]

The reality here is that those advocating an Indian compromise on Siachen have failed in explaining its correlation to “peace and stability” in our region.  Yes, India and Pakistan must talk, and yes, peace — whatever that means in the context of the subcontinent — is always desirable.  But the eagerness to pursue this ill-defined concept of “peace” in the subcontinent must not trump the security of the country, which India’s elected representatives are entrusted with.

In fact, I will take Mr. Sibal’s argument (that both India and Pakistan ought to desire and contribute to “peace” in equal measure) further.  The domain of international relations plays out in a state of anarchy, generally absent of binding or enforceable laws.  In this state of anarchy, the only real currency for transaction is power.  Power dictates both rationale and narrative.  We are not quite in the Peloponnesian world where “the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must,” but it is entirely in keeping with the reality of the world today that transactions between nations ultimately favor the more powerful.

In this regard, Pakistan, as the weaker power and one that already operates with considerable decided strategic disadvantage, should fully expect negotiations and final settlements on territory to largely favor India.  The idea that India show magnanimity towards Pakistan just because it is larger is silly and a relic of a bygone era. India is not Pakistan’s “big brother,” and Pakistan certainly felt nothing close to warm fraternal bonding when its military-jihadi apparatus unleashed mayhem on India and its citizens.

The benefits of improved India-Pakistan relations are skewed more towards Pakistan than India.  It is therefore in Pakistan’s interest, more than it is in India’s, to improve bilateral ties.  Improvement of ties on contentious issues would require compromise, and compromises are for Pakistan to make.  Pakistan must realize that it suffers from a significant trust deficit in India due to its actions over the last 65 years.  It can begin to address this gap by demonstrating that it has gotten over its India psychosis.  India should simply wait, watch and verify.

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