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Tag Archives | Manmohan Singh

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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Dancing in the dark

From darkness, can there be light?

Three arterial power lines in northern India failed and plunged approximately 700 million people from 21 states and UTs into total darkness.  Rail and air services were disrupted, miners from Jharkhand and Bengal were trapped in coal mines, and the common man was slow-roasted under an unforgiving July sun.  And as this catastrophe unfolded, Union Minister for Power, Sushilkumar Shinde, moved out of office and took over as India’s new Home Minister.  It was business unusual.

Congress spokesman Manish Tewari attempted to assuage public anxiety by claiming that there was no power crisis in India.  He’s right, of course.  There wasn’t a power crisis in India, there just wasn’t any power.  Here, it would be unfair to blame the state of affairs only on Mr. Shinde.  He has, after all, only done what his predecessors have been doing since Independence.  Which is nothing.

But the massive power outage not only accentuates (if any accentuation was necessary) the dilapidated state of infrastructure in India, but also highlights its impact on India’s national security.  How would we, for example, be able to deal with military conflict on our western border, or an unfolding terror attack in New Delhi in such a situation?

To be sure, grid failures are not an uncommon phenomenon.  Massive power outages have after all, affected the U.S.’s East Coast and Southern California in the recent past.  What is unique here is not so much the crisis, but the UPA’s mishandling of the response.

Simply, the crisis is reflective of the UPA and the state of governance (or lack thereof) in India. Yes, Mr. Shinde’s transition to the Home Ministry had already been made public a few days ago. But surely a calamity of this proportion demands the resolute commitment of the incumbent minister to see the country out of the catastrophe.  In almost any other country in the world, political transition would have been deferred in order to resolve the crisis.  But not in ours, apparently.  Exit stage right, Mr. Shinde. Enter stage left, Mr. Moily.

It is quite remarkable that the UPA leadership felt no compelling need to ask the incumbent Minister of Power to stay on and resolve what is now being referred to as the “world’s worst power outage.” National interests are, after all, subordinate to party interests in this day and age.  It is even more remarkable that the UPA appears to be disinterested in even projecting an illusion of leadership to the people of India.

As is the UPA’s wont, they have said nothing about the crisis, their plans to resolve it, or the political transition in its midst.  The Prime Minister himself has had nothing to say about this, or any other crisis affecting the nation under his watch.

The French philosopher Tocqueville famously remarked that in democracy, we get the government we deserve.  It would be worth remembering this when general elections come a-calling in 2014.

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On Independence Day

India’s wars.

In keeping with (what I think has become) custom at The Filter Coffee, here’s a short blogpost and some thoughts on this Independence Day.  Most readers will be familiar with Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst with Destiny speech on August 15, 1947, on India’s independence from British rule.  While it is amongst the great speeches, Mr. Nehru’s address to India on August 15, 1948 — on the occasion of the first anniversary of its independence — is an important speech in its own right.  Within the span of a year, India had gone through much — Hindu-Muslim riots, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, and a war with Pakistan.

In his speech, Mr. Nehru asks citizens to engage in new wars –for freedom and democracy, and against poverty, intolerance and economic impairment. Excerpts follow:

India will ultimately give us what we give her of love and service and productive and creative work. India will be what we are: Our thoughts and action will shape her. Born of her fruitful womb, we are children of hers, little bits of the India of today, and yet we are also the parents of the India of tomorrow. If we are big, so will India be, and if we grow little minded and narrow in outlook, so also will India be.

Freedom has no meaning unless it brings relief to these masses from their many burdens. Democracy means tolerance, tolerance not merely of those who agree with us, but of those who do not agree with us. With the coming of freedom our patterns of behavior must change also. . . .

The only war that we want to fight with all our might is the war against poverty and all its unhappy brood.  All the world suffers from the after-effects of the World War, and inflation and rising prices and unemployment oppress the people. In India we have all these and, in addition, the care of vast numbers of our brothers and sisters who have  been driven away from their homes to seek a new life elsewhere.

It is this war we have to fight, the war against economic crisis and to rehabilitate the disinherited. In this war there is no hatred or violence but only service of our country and our people. In this war every Indian can be a soldier. This is no time for individuals or groups to think of a narrow self-interest forgetting the larger good. This is no time for wrangling or the spirit of faction. [Link]

There are lessons in this speech for those concerned about the state of the nation, given the events of the last eight months.  The economy has performed below expectations; yet, inflation is on the rise.  The Commonwealth Games and 2G scandals have thrown open a Pandora’s Box of dirty little secrets. The political class is corrupt, and the citizens, apathetic. In this vacuum, sanctimonious crusaders have arisen, claiming to be the voice of the people and possessing answers to all of India’s ills.  And as a supine government attempts to, at once, placate and scoff at representatives of this new-age moral chauvinism, its engagement with the rest of the world (and a rapidly changing one at that, whose volatility presents both opportunities and threats to India’s interests) has been null and void.

A continued preoccupation with these issues — which have effectively put governance on auto-pilot — will not only hurt India domestically, but will also negatively impact its influence globally.  If India is to emerge stronger from what has been a challenging year, our elected representatives need to show leadership,  domestically and internationally.  They must get back to what should be their primary focus — bringing our millions out of poverty, allowing India to thrive and prosper, safeguarding India’s territorial integrity and securing its international interests.

Also see: Previous Independence Day commentary: 2010; 2009.

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