Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy: A review of B.Raman's new book

For nearly 20 years, it was Jammu and Kashmir which was the principal theatre of violence and asymmetric warfare that was injected from Pakistan. Acts of terrorism in the state, after a decade or so, no longer made headlines or attracted public attention. In a perverse way, violence was seen as part of the diabolical game between India and Pakistan over the region. November 26, 2008 was the game changer. Outside Jammu and Kashmir, it was the first attack of a fidayeen suicide squad on Indian territory. It was also the first attack on foreigners, including the first on Israeli citizens. It was the second attack in which all the perpetuators were Pakistani nationals (the first being the attack on the Indian Parliament) and the second one on India's economic infrastructure. It was an attack in which the victims were both the super elite and the ordinary men and women on the street. Not surprisingly, 26/11 will not be easily erased from the nation's memory.
Long before 26/11 and even 9/11, for nearly 15 years now, one man has been fighting a lonely war against terrorism from his small bachelor apartment in Chennai. Since 1994, B. Raman has been tracking terrorism and terrorists, and warning of "what is to come" and the need for pre-emptive action. Not surprisingly, Raman has himself become an institution. A former spook who headed the counter-terrorism division in India's external intelligence agency, R&AW, Raman's reputation as the foremost Indian analyst on terrorism is, in reality, a function of his retired life. Almost every day, he churns out words of wisdom, in article after article (on the Net and elsewhere) which become the gospel truth for terrorism watchers across the world. The details that he provides seem to suggest that he gets a daily briefing from R&AW, Mossad and the CIA. I once asked a senior R&AW officer if the agency briefed Raman. His answer was revealing: "We don't brief Raman. He briefs us." The truth is that Raman has demonstrated that there is a mine of information available in the public domain that few have the patience to access.
Mumbai 26/11: A Day of Infamy is a book written in Raman's staccato style: short pungent sentences delivering heavy punches. On December 8, 1941, the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt described the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a day of infamy. The surprise and "treacherous" attacks were planned and executed even while the Japanese were holding peace talks with the United States. For Raman, 26/11 was, more than 60 years later, another day of infamy: December 1941 changed the history of the world. But for Raman, India's day of infamy has changed very little. Neither has it changed the history of the subcontinent, nor has it "created the fear of god in the minds of Pakistan and its terrorist surrogates", and nor has India's reactions made it certain that there will not be another 26/11.
Raman, of course, offers a 22-point charter of corrective action. These include the need to revive and strengthen the covert action capability of R&AW, the importance of creating a common database on terrorism for all the agencies, and to make the Multi-Agency Centre of the Intelligence Bureau effective. He also highlights the importance of strengthening the National Security Advisory Board and to stop using the National Security Council Secretariat as a dumping ground for retired officers. And, finally, Raman would want to strictly enforce the privileged direct access to the prime minister of the intelligence chiefs.

Published in India Today

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Perfect combination for school education

It was exciting to be present last month at EducationWorld’s celebration of India’s Most Respected Schools 2009 in Delhi. As a former vice chancellor, I know how important higher education and research are to nation building, and for the emergence of India as a major global player in the 21st century. Yet it is school education that is fundamental to building a nation, and shaping the India of tomorrow. And here, unfortunately, we are still in a mess! That is why it’s important not just to celebrate school education, but to laud all those who make a difference.
Attaining the goal of total literacy is, of course, crucial to ensure that the demographic dividend of our youthful population does not turn into a demographic nightmare. Fortunately, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008, passed by both houses of Parliament and enabled by the newly-inserted Article 21-A of the Constitution of India, guarantees free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of six-14 years.But, let us face it, one cannot legislate illiteracy away, because law enforcement rather than the existence of laws is the major problem in India.
Consider this: despite huge investment in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (‘Education for All’) programme and other literacy campaigns, one-third of India’s population is illiterate. This means that at least a quarter of our children are still not capable of reading and writing. We need to devise real incentives for parents to send their children to school wherever they exist, create new ones wherever needed, and ensure that there is real learning happening within them. Only then will the constitutional amendment which created Article 21-A have real meaning.

The annual learning outcomes surveys, for instance, of the Mumbai-based NGO Pratham provide evidence of big learning gaps in primary education. Much more needs to be done by government and by all of us in the non-government sector who believe that India can only be great if education is truly inclusive. And one of the most important indicators of inclusiveness is that all citizens are at least literate. Yet schooling means much more than mere familiarity with the 3Rs.
In my opinion, too much emphasis is given to infrastructure development even in the Right to Education Bill. I know of schools in Jammu and Kashmir which have better infrastructure than most Delhi schools and yet produce the most aggressive, intolerant young adults. For instance one particular school promoted by the biggest criminal ‘don’ in Jammu has the best infrastructure I have ever seen — air-conditioned classrooms, swimming pools, tennis courts, advanced computer labs, wi-fi, and science laboratories. But a few days ago the Don’s son was arrested for murdering a young rival in broad daylight, and arrest warrants are out for both father and son. The reputation of the father, however, is so bad that the school gets boarders only from militancy hit regions of the state, who perhaps have no other choice. What kind of education awaits those trying to flee from violence in this ‘world’ school remains to be seen.
In 21st century India, we need not just capable and skilled young men and women but people who are upright, honest, tolerant and at ease with the country’s diversity. Therefore, in addition to the 3Rs, we need to introduce what I term the ‘3Ss’.
The first ‘S’ is for sensitivity. This is more important than is usually acknowledged. Sensitivity implies an aesthetic capacity to appreciate beauty in all its forms and to be considerate of differing points of view. Sensitive education also injects compassion and humanism in students.
The second ‘S’ is security, and freedom from fear. Only when children are free from the fear of punishment and competition will they be able to excel. Geniuses are born not in the rat race but out of self-motivated races for perfection. Security is also freedom from stress, where children are neither burdened by too much academic work nor peer pressure.
And finally we need our children to develop their spiritual and scientific temper — the third ‘S’. On this, I would prefer to extensively quote my favourite teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurthi (1895-1986). In one of his lectures he said: “The spirit of science has nothing to do with individual conditions, with nationalism, with race, with prejudice. Scientists are there to explore matter, to investigate the structure of the earth and of the stars and the planets, to find out how to cure man’s diseases, how to prolong man’s life, to explain time, both the past and the future.”
In another of his many insightful lectures, he stated: “The religious mind does not belong to any group which calls itself religious. The religious mind is not the mind that goes to churches, temples, mosques. Nor is it a religious mind that holds to certain forms of beliefs, dogmas. The religious mind is completely alone… not being nationalistic, not being conditioned by its environment, such a mind has no horizons, no limits. It is explosive, new, young, fresh, and innocent.”
The challenge, therefore — in government and private schools — is to ensure that the 3Rs are taught in tandem with the 3Ss. In that freedom let the country awake!

(Source: Education World, 10th Anniversary Special Essays)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Liberating India from Pakistan

As finance minister of India, Manmohan Singh led the process of economic reforms, which liberated India from the autarchy that had caged it to the Hindu rate of growth. In his first term as Prime Minister, Singh risked the survival of his government by agreeing to a nuclear deal with the US. By freeing the country from the regime of technology-related sanctions, India also mainstreamed itself as a nuclear power. It is now clear that the Prime Minister intends to use his current term in office to free India from the heavy burden of its 60-odd-year-old belligerent relationship with Pakistan. In this view, India-Pakistan reconciliation alone will ensure durable peace in Jammu and Kashmir, and will truly heal communal relations in the sub-continent.
All those who believed that the political backlash after the India-Pakistan joint communiqué at Sharm-el-Sheikh would deter the Prime Minister, clearly failed to recognise the grit and determination of Manmohan Singh. His visit to the valley has demonstrated convincingly that no matter how heavy the odds, New Delhi will move proactively to engage Pakistan, while ensuring that the aspirations of the people of J&K are fulfilled.
What is the logic behind this policy? Clearly, the Prime Minister believes that Pakistan hangs like a millstone around India. A disproportionate portion of its military and diplomatic resources have been absorbed in the enmity with Pakistan. Moreover, will India really be taken seriously as a great power if it is not even capable of settling its own backyard? Reconciliation with Pakistan, therefore, would enable India to play, with much greater robustness and strength, its rightful role in international relations. But for lasting peace with Pakistan, it is also vital to arrive at a settlement in J&K.
This view is not born out of naivety. It has been clear for some years now that India is unable to fully comprehend or address the complexities of a changing Pakistan. Not surprisingly, New Delhi’s policies have floundered, if not failed. Strident debates in the Indian media—frightening in their Manichaean simplicity—reflect a lack of appreciation of the intricacies of the Gordian knot of bilateral relations.
Unlike much of the establishment, however, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh—by pinning Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh and then by warning the chief ministers of Indian states of the dangers of a terrorist attack from Pakistan-based groups, and by reaching out to the people of Pakistan from the Kashmir valley—may have addressed part of the core problem: there are multiple Pakistans all of which demand Indian attention. Robust if differentiated, focused but flexible, multi-track responses need to define India’s policy towards Pakistan’s fragile and fragmented political and social structure.
At a time when it has become risky to invoke Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it is still important to recall his original design for the state: Muslim, moderate and modern. It is this Pakistan that an Indian strategy must work towards constructing. And this must combine at least three elements. First, India needs to build strong defensive and offensive capabilities to deter ‘asymmetric’ attacks by non-state actors, which may have the backing of elements of the Pakistani establishment. Nuclear weapons, at the end of the day, will only deter nuclear weapons and, at best, a full-scale conventional war.
Secondly, India must reach out and strengthen all those who have a stake in better India-Pakistan relations and an interest in regional stability through unilateral gestures that do not demand reciprocity. These would include specific initiatives for civil society actors, as well as many others within the business and political community. The Prime Minister made this vital distinction in Kashmir between the people of Pakistan and the state of Pakistan.
Thirdly, India must systematically seek to weaken, delegitimise and isolate those who are enemies of a moderate Pakistan and, by implication, of a stable subcontinent. This can be done unilaterally or in conjunction with allies. It is unfortunate that sub-continental Islam, built on an ethos of multiculturalism and tolerance, has not been projected with the robustness needed in these difficult times. This ‘soft power’ of South Asian Sufi Islam remains the best weapon against extremism.
While seeking to help stabilise Pakistan, the process of building peace in J&K must clearly continue with speed. This is only possible through a dialogue with all stakeholders in the state, including separatists, and by resuming the back channel on Kashmir.
The challenge through these dialogues is to arrive at a consensus on devolution and decentralisation of power. An important working group of the Prime Minister on J&K dealt with Centre-state relations, but it was unable to arrive at a breakthrough. This does not, however, mean that we have arrived at a cul de sac. There are many proposals on the table, including those on autonomy, self-rule, self- governance and achievable nationhood. A sincerity of purpose, together with an imaginative and creative play with many of these ideas, should make it possible to arrive at an agreement amongst the main stakeholders in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh on the quantum of political space needed, at every administrative level, for true empowerment of all the people of the state, as well as on the institutions and mechanisms needed to support this architecture.
These internal discussions must flow into the back-channel, which can then attempt to work out a non-territorial India-Pakistan settlement on J&K—based on providing a similar political architecture on both sides of the Line of Control, while working towards converting the LoC into a line of peace that allows for the free movement of people, goods, services and ideas. Cooperation in areas of mutual interest like water, transport, agriculture and education will require the gradual creation of trans-LoC mechanisms and institutions. The implementation of such an understanding should create the conditions for a win-win solution, without needing to address hard issues of political sovereignty. This seems to be the template of the Prime Minister’s policy. With determination, and a little luck, he may just succeed where others have failed.

(Source: The Financial Express, 02/11/09)