Thursday, January 28, 2010


Rarely before in recent history has India had the unique opportunity to help shape the future of the world. Simultaneously, at few times since Independence have the security and strategic challenges been greater than they are today. The new national security adviser, Shiv Shankar Menon, is faced with a world that is taking India more and more seriously, and yet the Indian State still lacks both the will and the capacity to make use of this extraordinary opening. In addition, the open Indian secular, pluralistic democracy is increasingly vulnerable to a range of threats that could potentially undermine the very idea of India. The NSA, in addition to being the principal security adviser to the prime minister, needs to help India face up to an extraordinarily turbulent world while charting out clear policy goals based on a long-term strategic vision, a grand strategy. This will not and cannot happen until virtually a new security architecture is put in place; radical reform, not piecemeal incrementalism, is indeed the need of the day.

With an unsettled neighbourhood, an increasingly aggressive China and an ambivalent Obama-led United States of America, India’s external strategic environment is defined by uncertainty. Nowhere is this clearer than in India’s neighbourhood. Consider this conundrum. India’s military and economic prowess is greater than ever before, and yet India’s ability to shape and influence the principal countries in South Asia is less than what it was, say, 25 years ago. One successful Sheikh Hasina visit, unfortunately, does not make for a harmonious South Asia. An unstable Nepal with widespread anti-India sentiment, a triumphalist Sri Lanka where Sinhalese chauvinism is showing no signs of accommodating the legitimate aspirations of the Jaffna Tamils, a chaotic Pakistan, which is unwilling to even reassure New Delhi on future terrorist strikes, are only symptomatic of a region that is being pulled in different directions.

Do we not need to have a long-term strategic vision of South Asia? Will India really be taken seriously as a global player if it is unable to settle its own neighbourhood? How do we ensure that our South Asia policy based on five principles — bilateralism, non-reciprocity, non-interference, economic integration and irrelevance of borders — will work without effective instruments and expertise? How do we further the prime minister’s vision of a grand reconciliation with Pakistan, so essential also to heal communal relations within the subcontinent? What are the incentives and sanctions that can make Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence directorate review its blinkered policy of bleeding India by affecting a thousand cuts? How does one confront radical jihadi Islam and prevent it from spreading its contagion in India? These are critical questions that the NSA cannot afford to ignore.

China’s recent assertiveness, acknowledged even by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is symbolic of not just China’s rise, but it also signals that Beijing will be in the future, at best, our greatest challenge and, at worst, a security nightmare. A rising China is, of course, now a challenge for the entire international system. It is being increasingly recognized that there is a new generation of leaders in China who no longer believe in Deng Xiaoping’s 24-character strategy of hiding their light and keeping their heads low. China, as we know from its history, is prone to take risks, especially when it believes that the balance of power is in its favour. At Copenhagen, as Fareed Zakaria reminded us recently, China even “displayed an unprecedented level of disregard for the United States and other western countries.” A member of the delegation of the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, wagged a finger at President Barack Obama and shouted at him, which was so offensive that the Chinese premier had to ask the interpreter not to translate the words into English. Do we have a strategy for coping with a hegemonic and potentially belligerent China? Do we have a clear alternative vision of Asian stability and the security architecture needed to support it? And do we have the instruments, together with like-minded Asian States and perhaps the US, to ensure a balance in Asia and to prevent it from being submerged by Chinese interests and values?

Unfortunately, precisely at this moment of turbulence, India has to deal with a woolly-headed US, with no clear sense of geo-politics. Not surprisingly, a Heritage Foundation scholar recently described Obama’s first year as the ‘Audacity of Hype’, playing on the title of the president’s autobiography, Audacity of Hope. Notwithstanding the extraordinary reception that the Indian prime minister was given by President Obama in Washington, it is clear that the best outcome over the next few years would be to ensure a consolidation of the gains made during the Bush years. But, increasingly, there will be sparring between Indian and American negotiators over issues ranging from trade to climate change to non-proliferation and disarmament. We need a clear strategy to ensure this consolidation and to prevent, for instance, American back-peddling on the nuclear deal from having a wider ripple effect amongst other members of the nuclear suppliers group.

But security is more than just external challenges. In its essence, the objective of national security is to ensure for the country and its citizens freedom from fear. And the challenges on this road to comprehensive security are manifold: internal insurgencies including Naxalism, energy deficit, environmental decay, pandemics, migration and internal displacement, terrorism and particularly the threat of “nuclear” terrorism. These issues are far too important to be left to individual ministries. Indeed, even counter-terrorism cannot be just the domain of only the home ministry or the proposed National Counter-Terrorism Centre. The NSA must, by definition, be the principal assessor of major national security threats and provide the main security briefing to the prime minister and his cabinet team. It is vital, therefore, that the chiefs of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau have direct access to the prime minister through the NSA.

Fortunately, in Shiv Shankar Menon we have an outstanding officer with tremendous experience and a wealth of expertise. Most important, he enjoys the confidence of Manmohan Singh and shares his vision of India and its role in the neighbourhood and in world affairs. But to be an effective NSA, he will not just need to assert himself in unprecedented ways, but will also need to ensure that the moribund national security structure is revitalized. How often has the national security council met as the NSC and not as the cabinet committee on security? How often does the strategic policy group meet, and what has the follow-up been on its deliberations? Has the NSC secretariat not often been used to accommodate superannuating senior officers or to position those who may have missed out on plum postings? Should the NSCS not be restructured in a way that truly reflects India’s aspirations of playing a global role, by including far more area experts? Is there not a danger that the national security advisory board may descend into becoming an ‘old boys club’ of former diplomats, civil servants and superannuated officers of the armed forces? Should the NSAB not, instead, become a vibrant platform for providing the best advice to the NSA by those outside government on critical issues facing the nation? Finally, and most critically, there should be a dedicated cell within the NSCS which provides long-term assessment of the threats facing the nation, which may build on some of the work already done by the directorate of net assessment in the headquarters of the integrated defence staff and the former task force on long-term threats.

(Source: The Telegraph)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blood and Tears


A new generation of Kashmiris who underwent their rites of passage during the last two decades of violent conflict are now speaking out. From the columns of Greater Kashmir, the Valley's largest English daily, to Basharat Peer's powerful memoir Curfewed Night, we were witnessing an extraordinary intellectual churning that demands attention. Inevitably soaked in blood and tears, the narratives of these young men and women are challenging the dominant discourse and orthodoxies that have caged Kashmir. Nyla Ali Khan, who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, USA, is the granddaughter of Sheikh Abdullah, unarguably one of the most popular Kashmiri leaders of the 20th century. A cousin of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, Khan was schooled in Kashmir and is the daughter of the genteel Suraiya Ali. The only academic amongst Sheikh's children, it is Ali's intellectual genes that have been passed on to Khan rather than the more dominant political DNA of the rest of the Abdullahs.

In this book, Khan analyses the cultural and religious roots of Kashmir's history with particular attention to events during the post-1947 decades and how they have impacted the lives of women. What sets it apart from the innumerable books written on Kashmir during the period of insurgency is the woman's perspective she brings to her study. Khan uses the analytical tools of postmodern, feminist criticism to understand and highlight the role--passive and active--that women have played in Kashmir's history, ranging from the 14th century Lal Ded, a mystic poet who laid the foundations of Kashmir's syncretic culture, to the present day Parveena Ahangar who represents the Association of the Parents of the Disappeared People. In between are oral histories of women who were part of the Women's Defence Corps set up in 1947 after the Pakistan-backed tribal invasion of Kashmir. The bravery of these women who were ready to fight for Kashmir's integrity as a secular space has been largely ignored in all discourses on Kashmir so far and it is for the first time that their stories have been given the credit they deserve.

(Source: India Today)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inching closer to a great reconciliation

It is time for people of the Indian sub-continent to face up to an extraordinary reality — the conflict between India and Pakistan is easy to describe, but painfully difficult to understand.
“Enduring rivalry”, “sustained conflict”, “ugly stability”: these terms, often used by scholars of international relations to capsule the relationship, are sadly “occidental” attempts at forcing an Eastern intellectual puzzle into a preconceived Western mould. Unfortunately, the India-Pakistan relationship is and has been about almost everything that matters: history, memory, prejudice, territory, identity, religion, sovereignty, ideology, insecurity, trust, betrayal and much much more, in a very desi way.

At what level does one, therefore, analyse the relationship — at the level of the international system or in inter-state terms, or the inter-society dimension or at the human level? And where does one look for remedies? Let us face it: the only way that this relationship can move forward is by systematically beginning a process of reconciliation at every level. Only though such a “grand” reconciliation will it be possible for India and Pakistan to live comfortably next to each other and for communal relations in the sub-continent to heal. Given the nature of contemporary South Asian polities, reconciliation need not be state-driven any more. Civil societies in India and Pakistan are robust enough to set this process in motion.

The reconciliation, were it to happen, would be grand in its design and vision, and incremental in its process and execution. But will important stakeholders — the civil society, media, big businesses and academia — make full use of this opportunity? And will they — driven by past orthodoxies and present “vested” interests — benignly let this peace process bloom? As an Indian diplomat put it: “The people need peace, the leaders want to make peace, but the establishments are still unwilling to adjust.”

Pakistan evokes passion like few other countries, especially in northern India. Anger and nostalgia, hatred and sympathy, contempt and fear combine to produce an intensity of emotions that can’t be reduced to a well-defined analytical category. Traditionally, the policy community in India has been overwhelmingly in support of aggressively countering Pakistan. We term them the subedars. Only a minority has wanted to ignore and benignly neglect Islamabad: the saudagars. And a microscopic few have wanted New Delhi to be pro-active in promoting peace — even to the extent of making unilateral concessions. These are the sufis. These opinions need to be fleshed out.

The subedars argue that New Delhi has been unable to inject a modicum of civility and stability in bilateral relations. They believe that neither military defeat nor constructive engagement or unilateral gestures, and not even international pressure seem to be able to reduce the pathological hostility that the state bears towards India, which goes much beyond Kashmir. They view the Pakistani army as having an anti-India posture, and consequently argue that only a dramatic reconstruction of the Pakistani state would create the possibility of peace in South Asia.

The saudagars, however, believe that any cost-benefit analysis would suggest that the only way to move forward is through the economic route — building common institutions, opening up trade and strengthening constituencies, particularly in business.

But there has always been a small section in India which believes that New Delhi — more than ever before — has a stake in Pakistan’s future. A few years ago, the-then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee unambiguously stated that Pakistan’s stability was also in India’s national interest and this is echoed by the sufis. They argue that Vajpayee’s statement is not a political slogan, but a harsh reality. True, Pakistan’s failure may finally bury whatever is left of the two-nation theory, but that would be too heavy a price merely to prove that a mistake was made 57 years ago.

But the health of Pakistan is of concern to sufis for other reasons as well. Ethnic turmoil in Pakistan could easily spill over to India and its balkanization could even lead to a refugee problem in India. Similarly, self-styled warlords could expand their narcotics and gunrunning businesses into India. In larger terms, the crumbling of its economy could have a ripple effect on India. South Asia will begin to be viewed as a turmoil zone and lead to erosion in investor confidence.

Most crucially, the collapse of Pakistan will lead to a larger cultural demoralization. South Asia will become an international object of ridicule. The sufis also argue that a policy of confrontation is unlikely to work at any time. Two nuclear states can’t afford repeated acts of brinkmanship. They suggest that even the idea of limited war is rife with dangers: military, diplomatic and political.

It is also clear that Pakistan is changing, and changing fast. Parts of the polity are in deep crisis. This should invite deep introspection in India. Fortunately, there are tendencies within Pakistan that recognize the deep flaws within the polity and the need to make a strategic shift in terms of its relations with India. These currents need to be strengthened by New Delhi, by unilateral gestures if necessary. The subedars, the saudagars and the sufis need to come together and shape a Pakistan policy that has three elements: maintain a security vigil and sustain a deterrent capability; engage Pakistan at all levels to further cooperation in areas where business is possible; and prepare for a change in the policy in core areas, including Kashmir.

A grand reconciliation may seem utopian, but it is only by sticking such a mega-blueprint can one begin — through cooperation — to visualize the vast promise that a new phase in India-Pakistan relations holds for the region.

(Source: The Times of India)