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Tag Archives | Pragati

Responding to Michael Scheuer

Let us not rationalize irrationality.

The Diplomat carried an article by Michael Scheuer entitled “Coming Nuclear Flashpoint” on the India-Pakistan equation as it relates to Afghanistan.  Mr. Scheuer is a foreign policy critic and former CIA Station Chief of Bin Laden Issue Station (aka Alec Station).  He is noted to have strong views on U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and on the “Israeli lobby” in D.C.

The gist of Mr. Scheuer’s article is essentially this — that India has unwisely chosen to involve itself in Afghanistan.  This has caused uneasiness in Pakistan, which may in turn result in a nuclear confrontation between the two neighbors.  Mr. Scheuer attempts to substantiate his “bells of doom” theory for India by making several arguments that have no sound basis.

The first has to do with the concept of Pakistan’s quest for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan.  This term is a particular favorite of folks in Rawalpindi and employed to sell gullible visiting U.S. and NATO generals on why Pakistan’s influence must be unchallenged in Afghanistan.  Let’s be clear about what this “strategic depth” really is.  It isn’t meant to be, as some might imagine, a last refuge for a retreating Pakistani army in the face of an invading Indian army.

The term “strategic depth” is a euphemism for territory that Pakistan wants to use to attack India and Indian interests. This has precedence:  while many in the West might have forgotten, the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight to Kandahar in December 1999, executed by Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex, is still fresh in the minds of many in India.  The idea therefore, that India ought to somehow be sympathetic towards such nefarious designs is ridiculous.

Second, Mr. Scheuer attacks India’s investments in infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, suggesting that there is more than meets the eye as far as India’s intentions go.  Specifically, he draws attention to India’s work on the Zaranj-Delaram project, which he feels can be used by Afghanistan to trade with Central Asia by bypassing Pakistan; Mr. Scheuer feels that this was deliberately designed to hurt the Pakistani economy.  Here, it would not be imprudent to ask, “what Pakistani economy?”

At the very least, this argument presupposes that India gains from an economically battered Pakistan — if this were the case, India’s contribution to such a situation would matter little;  successive Pakistani governments have themselves been single-minded in their pursuit to loot their country and destroy its economy.

Third, on Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer suggests that the mujahideen have not forgotten India’s support for Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the repercussions for this support will be apparent once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  Certainly, the mujahideen have been anti-India (supported as they are by Pakistan’s ISI) but it is wrong to think that they are representative of the people of Afghanistan.

A 2009 poll ( PDF) conducted by BBC/ABC/ARD indicates that 71 percent of the Afghans polled had a favorable opinion of  India — the highest for any foreign nation — as against unfavorable opinions of Pakistan (81 percent), the Taliban (89 percent) and Osama bin Laden (91 percent).  The same poll also showed that 56 percent of Afghans in 2009 indicated that they had access to improved road infrastructure, while 50 percent believed they had access to better medical care — two areas of significant Indian contribution.

Next, an area where I agree (if only in part) with Mr. Scheuer is on India’s exclusive reliance on soft power in Afghanistan.  Many of us at INI and other platforms have argued that over reliance on  soft power will be detrimental to India’s interests in Afghanistan.  Over at Pragati, many have made the case for India to match its soft power in Afghanistan with hard power, viz. deploying troops. Some of us have even argued that the very least India ought to do is commit to train the Afghan National Army at a time when Western forces are seeking to wind down their own commitments.

The difference between our arguments and Mr. Scheuer’s is that while we argue that soft power alone cannot be the basis of India’s engagement in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer argues that no Indian influence — whether soft or hard — is acceptable in Afghanistan.  Given the obvious implications of a security vacuum in Afghanistan to India’s internal security, such a position is not only untenable but unacceptable.

Mr. Scheuer is right that Indian interests in Afghanistan will be increasingly targeted once U.S. and NATO forces leave.  However, the  solution to this is not for India to flee from the scene, with tail firmly between its legs.  India must counter Pakistani influence by working with like-minded countries, such as Russia and Iran and yes, even the U.S. to deny ground to the Wahhabi brigade that turned Afghanistan into a festering swamp of extremism in the ’90s.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mistake Mr. Scheuer commits in his article is trying to rationalize the Pakistani establishment’s deliberate irrationality.  While on the one hand articulating Pakistan’s hysteria with great clarity, he almost inexplicably accepts this institutional irrationality as valid, and appears irritated that India does not.

Let us be clear — India’s actions in Afghanistan have as much to do with its desire to help rebuild a war-ravaged nation as they do with mitigating national security risks.  India need not apologize — to anyone — nor back down from doing everything it can to protect its people and its interests.  Now Pakistan’s interests may be incompatible with this, but that’s unsurprising, given that the Pakistan military-jihadi complex’s position is antithetical to the existence of India.  Giving credence to such irrational positions is an exercise in appeasement that will come back to haunt the rest of the world and India.

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Some thoughts on Independence Day

This month’s Pragati carries an excerpt from B.R. Ambedkar’s concluding speech on the floor of the Constituent Assembly on achieving social and economic justice through methods provided by the Constitution of the land.  For any healthy, functioning republic, adherence to these methods is not just important, but essential.

On this Independence Day, we can reflect with some satisfaction on how far India has come in 63 years.  In the congress of developing nations, India distinguishes itself for its sustained commitment to pluralistic, democratic traditions.  At the same time however, the use of unconstitutional methods for seeking social, economic and political justice not only continues to be accepted, but also encouraged.

The degree to which these methods are employed differentiates an unhealthy republic from a healthy one.  The responsibility to respect the Constitution and its methods must be borne by both Government and its citizens.  This is a “sacred duty,” as Alexander Hamilton described it in his letter in 1794 to the Daily Advertiser, and one that provides the greatest source of security to a republic:

If it were to be asked, What is the most sacred duty, and the greatest source of security in a Republic ? The answer would be, An inviolable respect for the Constitution and Laws—the first growing out of the last. It is by this, in a great degree, that the rich and the powerful are to be restrained from enterprises against the common liberty—operated upon by the influence of a general sentiment, by their interest in the principle, and by the obstacles which the habit it produces erects against innovation and encroachment.  It is by this, in a still greater degree, that caballers, intriguers, and demagogues, are prevented from climbing on the shoulders of faction to the tempting seats of usurpation and tyranny.

Were it not that it might require too long a discussion, it would not be difficult to demonstrate that a large and well-organized Republic can scarcely lose its liberty from any other cause than that of anarchy, to which a contempt of the laws is the high road.

But, without entering into so wide a field, it is sufficient to present to your view a more simple and a more obvious truth, which is this: that a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principle, the sustaining energy of a free government.

[Alexander Hamilton, Letter No. III in the American Daily Advertiser, August 28, 1794]

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Link Digest: July 10, 2010

Kashmir, Afghanistan, Indo-Pak dialog, Naxal insurgency and Bharat bandh.

Your weekly link digest:

  • The making of Srinagar’s teenage martyrs: Praveen Swami on the rioting in Kashmir and what the administration must do to address macro issues in the state.
  • It is time to be realistic about Kashmir: Vir Sanghvi opines on the ongoing violence in Kashmir in the larger context of India-Pakistan peace talks.  (h/t @pragmatic_d)
  • Pakistan-India uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue, impossible: Smita Prakash on the on-going India-Pakistan dialog and terrorism.  Are there irreconcilable differences that cannot be addressed by insulating dialog with an impotent civilian administration from terror perpetrated by the MJC?
  • Analysts: Postwar Afghan political landscape unclear: Dr. David Kilcullen asserts that India’s “increasingly assertive bids” to exert influence in Afghanistan has made Pakistan “very nervous.”  Also see my INI colleague Dhruva Jaishankar’s response to the interview.
  • Push into Naxal territory: IAF plans to build a new airbase in Chhattisgarh in the event that a larger role for the air force is envisaged to counter the Naxal insurgency.  But given the nature of the conflict, where is the need for an 8 sq. km. air base which would include 3,500 yards of runway?
  • Protest, softly: Pratap Bhanu Mehta asks what role social protests such as “Bharat bandh” serve in today’s India in addressing very legitimate grievances.
  • The return of the Ottoman: Some shameless self-promotion.  My piece on Turkey’s reorientation post l’incident flottile and how this impacts India and the subcontinent.
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In Pragati: Where is the national disaster management authority?

In the May 2010 edition of Pragati, I call to attention India’s disaster management system and outline the steps necessary to ensure efficiency in all aspects of disaster management — prevention, mitigation, capacity-building, preparedness, assessment and rehabilitation.

While a command-and-control structure is crucial to administer and manage disaster management programs, the efficacy of the program itself cannot be assured without tackling the rot in India’s “last mile” institutions — the police and emergency services.  Establishing an overall governance structure and issuing policy guidelines are no doubt critical, but the test of any policy ultimately lies in its execution, and this is where India faces its biggest challenge.

While the [National Disaster Management Authority — NDMA]  may have made headway in developing an over-arching framework and best practices for disaster management, the success or failure of the system depends heavily on “last-mile” institutions, which are often under-resourced, incapable and insufficient for the task. To this end,institutional capacity building must become a critical area of focus for the NDMA. The country’s fire and emergency services remain woefully inadequate and incapable of dealing with large-scale accidents. The state of local law enforcement services, which are first responders to most incidents, suffers from years of neglect in the absence of police reforms. Last mile institutions are in an unsatisfactory state in urban centres.

India’s civil defence force infrastructure is decrepit, with constraints in budget, training and resources. India’s civil defence organisations are illequipped to respond to NBC incidents; indeed, even the four National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) battalions specially designated to respond to NBC incidents face a paucity of equipment and expertise.

Read more about it on Pragati ( PDF; 2.4 MB).

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