Sunday, February 12, 2017

'Men in the shadows': How the appointment of Lt Gen Rawat left a bad taste

The Government was well within its rights to appoint Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the Chief of Army Staff.Even in Pakistan, where the army actually runs the show, the prerogative of appointing the chief rests in the hands of the civilian government.

This is how it should be. But the appointment left a bad taste in the mouths of many after the remarks of Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi surfaced.Taken in conjunction with the controversies that rocked the nation when General VK Singh was Army chief, they are not a good sign for the health of one of the world's largest armies.

New Army Chief General Bipin Rawat after a guard of honour at South Block in New Delhi

This should not be seen as a critique of General Rawat; he does not lack anything in comparison to those who he superseded.
But the remarks of Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the Eastern Army commander who was superseded, are somewhat shocking.
According to media reports, in a New Year video broadcast to the 3,00,000 men in his command, Bakshi said 'there has been a malicious campaign to smear my name, a very deeply rooted conspiracy' carried out against him by 'men in the shadows.' 
According to reports, in recent months, anonymous complaints were filed to the defence minister against the General, alleging irregularities in procurements in his command.

These were investigated by the Controller General of Defence Accounts and found to be untrue.
The general said he was not resigning so that he could expose these shadow men who, as his remarks implied were from within his own command.
The country has had to face controversy over Army chiefs in the past decade and some have found themselves in deep controversy.
Outgoing chief Dalbir Singh had a discipline and vigilance ban slapped on him by General VK Singh, allegedly aimed at preventing from becoming the chief.
Likewise, Singh, now a minister in the current government, sought to extend his tenure so as to allegedly prevent Bikram Singh from becoming the chief.
A lot of this came out in the open last August, when Dalbir Singh, the then serving chief formally accused his predecessor General VK Singh of trying to stall his promotion 'with mala fide intent.'
In an affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court, he said that as chief, V K Singh tried to 'victimise him' with the aim of 'denying promotion.'

Behind these charges lay an even murkier story relating to the deaths of three informants allegedly by military intelligence officials, one of whom was reportedly close to another former chief JJ Singh who it has been alleged wanted to manipulate the line of succession to deny VK Singh his turn to be chief.
The controversies over the appointment of the chiefs are only the tip of the iceberg of grouses, complaints and grievances that afflict the military.
The government has created Armed Forces Tribunals to take away the pressure of promotion-related complaints from the courts and provide a channel to air grievances.
The appointment left a bad taste in the mouths of many after the remarks of Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi surfaced
The appointment left a bad taste in the mouths of many after the remarks of Lt Gen Pravin Bakshi surfaced

But this does not take away the fact that unfortunately, a culture of malice, deliberate manipulation of rules and regulations to promote favourites and undermine the chances of others exists.
You can create systems and rules and grievance redressal processes, but what is needed is a restoration of the ethical culture which the forces used to be so proud of.
The politicians have, by and large, stayed away from the issues relating to promotion after the disaster of the 1962 war.
But the same cannot be said of the MOD bureaucracy or the national security bureaucracy who believe that they are the true custodians of national interest and can and do get involved.

In every system, democratic or otherwise, politicians have the discretion of making high-level appointments.
This is necessary to underline the principle of civil control of the military. In the Indian system, there is a tendency to misuse discretion and deep selection, which is actually desirable.
It is for this reason that previous governments decided to appoint the senior-most officer as the COAS unless there was something clearly negative against him. 
In the case of Bakshi and Lt Gen P M Hariz, there was nothing in their career that required them to be superseded. 
The government of the day must have the ability to make a choice. However, it would be helpful if that choice was made transparently and the government does not take recourse to false claims, as they did by saying Gen Rawat was chosen because of his counter-insurgency experience.
CI is a subsidiary part of the Army's job. Its real job is to fight external enemies. 
Perceptions matter a great deal in managing men. For this reason, the government must not only be just, but appear to be so.
Mail Today January 15, 2017

India’s so-called new policy on Tibet is neither new nor effective

When the Sikyong (Prime Minister) of the Central Tibet Administration, Lobsang Sangay, was invited to attend the inaugural ceremony of incoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, many thought that New Delhi planned to re-charge its Tibet card.
Two years later, that initial signal has not quite yielded any new policy. There has been no dramatic meeting between the Dalai Lama and Modi, who has otherwise sought to promote India’s role as the home of Buddhism and who had met the Tibetan religious leader as chief minister of Gujarat.
A meeting between the Dalai Lama and BJP president Amit Shah was cancelled at the last minute last May for fears that it would upset Beijing on the eve of Modi’s visit to China.
Last year also saw another strange episode when the government of India took a last moment decision in April to deny permission to some participants to attend a conference of anti-Chinese activists in Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibet Administration. Among the intended participants was Germany-based Dolkun Isa, an Uighur leader originally from China’s Xinjiang autonomous region, whose visa was cancelled. Though some participants of the conference were permitted to enter India and did hold a meeting, the government claimed that no conference had taken place.
More recently, last October, the government of India approved a proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to the monastery town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to attend a religious festival in early 2017. The announcement came around the same time that US Ambassador Richard Verma visited the northeastern state and the town, the first visit by a US envoy. Both these events had drawn the usual protests from Beijing, which considers the state to be disputed territory.
In December, the Dalai Lama met President Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on the sidelines of a summit titled ‘Laureates and leaders for Children Summit’ organised by the Kailash Satyarthi Foundation. While the summit was clearly non-political, it was the first meeting between a serving Indian president and the Dalai Lama in decades.
Almost a week after the event, China expressed its “strong dissatisfaction” at the meeting, but India insisted that the event was non-political and that the Dalai Lama was “a respected and revered spiritual leader”.
If the Modi government is playing its Tibet card it does not appear to be doing so particularly strongly. After all, it was the Manmohan Singh government that first permitted the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang in 2009, exactly 50 years after he had passed through the town on his way from Lhasa in Tibet to exile in India. It was again the Manmohan Singh government that had, since 2010, taken the decision that India would no longer reiterate in joint statements, as it had done till 2005, that Tibet Autonomous Region was a part of China.

A brief history

When it comes to the Dalai Lama, Tibet and Tawang, things are not that simple. Tibet neighbours India and has had historic links with it. It was through Tawang that the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet following the Chinese crackdown in 1959. He was followed by tens of thousands of refugees. India says that it has given refuge to a spiritual leader who is revered in India as well, and that the Tibetans are not permitted to conduct political activity in the country. The Chinese, however, maintain that the Dalai Lama “is a political refugee” who is engaged in activities to split China in the name of religion. Needless to say, this goes against the Dalai Lama’s oft stated position that what he seeks is autonomy for his country, within Chinese sovereignty.
India’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh rests on a tripartite agreement that the British anchored in 1914 between themselves, Tibet and China. While the Tibetans agreed to the McMahon Line, which India says is the border, the Chinese initialled the document but did not sign it.
India’s handling of Tibet has been somewhat contrary. In 1949, Jawaharlal Nehru contemplated aiding the Tibetan rebellion, but the Indian Army quite categorically told him that it was in no position to take on the People’s Liberation Army were there to be a direct clash between India and China. Subsequently, India took up the British fiction that Tibet was a suzerain or an autonomous unit within China.
In the Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai period of the 1950s, the issue was brushed under the carpet. Indeed, Tibetan refugees and residents were told that they should not undertake political activity.
In the mid-1950s, revolts broke out in the eastern parts of Tibet proximate to China. In 1956, Dalai Lama came on a visit to India and expressed a desire to stay on, but was pressured by Nehru and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai to return. This was the period in which India surrendered its extra-territorial rights in Tibet and recognised that it was a part of China, albeit autonomous. Nehru kept reassuring the Tibetans that he would use his good offices to persuade the Chinese to reduce their forces in Tibet and to deal with them in a better way.
Nothing happened. Indeed, the Chinese stepped up their repression and sought to arrest the Dalai Lama, but a rebellion broke out and he escaped to India, which welcomed him and gave him asylum. This was the time that the Sino-Indian border dispute came into the open and the tensions began to develop between the two countries leading to war in 1962.
It was some time in the mid-1950s that the Central Intelligence Agency of the US established links with the Dalai Lama’s elder brother Gyalo Thondup and began to train small groups of Tibetans. After the Sino-Indian war, India also got into the act and created a force of Tibetans that could be used in a possible future war with China.
As records show, the Central Intelligence Agency assistance was minor, and its primary gain was intelligence gathered by Americans. But the Chinese response was very heavy, with tens of thousands of Tibetans being killed in the futile resistance. The US assistance ceased on the eve of US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1971. As for India, its actions, even the raising of Establishment 22, the special frontier force, was largely defensive.
Looking back at the events, Thondup wrote in his poignant memoir, The Noodlemaker of Kalimpong, published last year,
“The CIA goal was never independence for Tibet. In fact, I do not think that the Americans ever really even wanted to help. They just wanted to stir up trouble, using Tibetans to create misunderstandings and discord between China and India. Eventually they were successful in that.”

China policy floundering

So what does the Modi government hope to achieve through what it calls its “new” policy on Tibet? As it is, its current China policy is floundering – the border talks are going nowhere and the only goal New Delhi seems to have is to persuade Beijing to accept India’s membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group or allow the proposed ban on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar in the United Nations to go through.
The danger in the policy of needling China is that India has its own vulnerabilities. In the last couple of years, China has waffled on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir as was indicated by the stapled visa issue, in which Beijing issued stapled, not stamped, visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh to ostensibly indicate that it questions India’s claims over the two states.
However, as of now Beijing’s official stance remains that it views the status of Jammu and Kashmir as being disputed, subject to a settlement through dialogue between India and Pakistan. This is an unexceptional position adopted by other countries as well. However, if Indian meddling in Tibet did begin to trouble China, it has the option of shifting its stance and coming out openly in support of Pakistan or, worse, recognising a government in exile to pay India back in its own coin.
Clearly, the Tibet card, if one can call it that, has not been a particularly useful one in the past with the Tibetans ending up paying a disproportionate price. Today India’s options are limited since covert operations in Tibet are well past their use by date. Having recognised that Tibet is part of China and having repeatedly stated so in official statements, there is little value in using Tibetan refugees to protest against Chinese rule.
In 2008, hit by economic crisis, perfidious Albion [a pejorative term used to refer to acts of diplomatic duplicity by Britain] decided that Tibet was not a suzerain but sovereign part of China.

Growing Chinese influence

Though China’s harsh response to greater rights for the people in Tibet and Xinjiang appear neurotic and overdone, it remains firmly in control of both regions. Politically, it is China which is pouring money into South Asia – in Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Since 2014, the frequency of Chinese submarine sightings in our neighbourhood ports has increased. Indian efforts for a counterpoise through enhancing ties with countries like Vietnam are as anaemic as its allegedly new Tibet policy.
The only hope for change is through developments in China itself where the Communist Party-led authoritarian system is facing challenges of legitimacy. More than agents and armies, what China fears are ideas, and it is more than likely that its present system will be undone by them, just as the Soviet Union was.
As for the Dalai Lama, he is 81 and in good health. But he is not immortal. As long as he is around, the Tibetan cause has a powerful unifying figure and moral authority. But what happens once he is gone?
Those who revere him will lose a beloved leader and the world a moral statesman. India will also lose what it considers an important piece on its diplomatic chessboard. A reincarnation could be found in India, but another one is bound to pop up in China. There is also an alternative endgame where his Holiness could pre-decide his reincarnation, or decide that he will not reincarnate at all. For their part the Chinese, somewhat bizarrely insist that he cannot reincarnate without their permission. January 10, 2017

BSF Jawan’s Video Has a Simple Message: India Should be Ready to Pay for Security

The Border Security Force constable Tej Bahadur Yadav who uploaded a video complaint about the quality of food that the forces get on the India-Pakistan border is, by the standards of his force, a trouble maker. The BSF may not be misleading us when it says that he has been a difficult jawan all through his 20 years of service because his action in uploading a video is not in keeping with the rules and regulations of either the BSF or any other police force.
But then, he is only the product of a new political culture which has sought to use the military to push their own political agenda.  A popular meme to people who complained about demonetisation or, for that matter, anything else, is to remind them of the difficulties faced by the jawans who guarded the LoC. So instead of pulling up the constable for rank indiscipline, union home minister Rajnath Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju are scrambling to defend themselves and declaring their commitment to the welfare of the jawans.

The BSF and the CRPF do not function under the same quality of leadership that the Indian Army does. Representational image. Credit: Reuters/Files

That said, there is need to point out that the lot of the police and paramilitary personnel in this country is indeed a tough one. By the standards of this poor country, the jobs they get are coveted, paying them reasonably well and providing a pension at the end of it.
However, their working conditions, especially when compared to the Indian Army are rough. The CRPF is overused in all manner of contingencies from superintending elections, to fighting Maoists in Chattisgarh and countering militants in Jammu & Kashmir. There is little time for rest and training and often the jawans have to do without their annual leave. All this is despite the fact that the size of the BSF and CRPF continues to grow over the years. In 2004, the BSF was roughly 210,000 strong, today it is 260,000 and the CRPF which was 230,000 in 2004 is now nearly 310,000.
The responsibility for this state of affairs rests squarely with the home ministry and the leadership of the respective forces. It is up to the leadership to tell the ministry that if they want a well-trained, well rested force to be used for internal security duty, they need to tell their ministers the size of the manpower they need to ensure that. Recruiting people and then keeping them on short-leash affects both the morale and effectiveness of the personnel.
The army takes care of its jawans. All soldiers, for example, get two-and-a-half months of leave per annum and their officers make sure that they avail it. Further, the army follows a system of rotation of its units to ensure that between every operational deployment, a battalion is given a “peace” posting where the jawans can enjoy some kind of a family life.
Second, the Indian army rations are not purchased locally, as is probably the case with the Central Para Military Forces (CPMF), but procured and distributed at a more centralised level and the disbursement is, again, generous – a specified amount of meat, atta, rice, dal, eggs and vegetables. There have been scams at the central procurement level, but on the field, the jawan gets his due and his officer has to make sure he gets it. In the army, the failure to ensure that your man is getting his rations and is taking his leave is docked against your record.
The real difference between the CPMF jawan and the Indian Army soldier is the quality of leadership they receive – and that is the root of many of the problems. The young lieutenant who leads his 30-man platoon at the beginning of his career roughs it out with them on the picket on the Line of Control and in patrols along the Line of Actual Control with China. He rises to a company commander, battalion commander and then may go on to command a brigade, a division or an army. And so, even the top-most officers are familiar with the issues and problems of the lowly jawan. He also knows the tricks of the trade that malingerers and trouble-makers may employ, and he is also aided by the tough military justice system to enforce discipline. But he knows that in the end that he may have to lead these men into battle, so it is not discipline alone, but the quality of his leadership that must carry the day.
This is very different from the CPMF, where the senior positions above a DIG are occupied by Indian Police Service officers  who arrive laterally at their command positions with  little knowledge or experience of the field. As it is, the CPMF are often deployed in penny-packets making their command and control difficult.
Rajnath Singh and others may claim they worry about the welfare of the jawans, but in all fairness, the BSF and, especially the CRPF, often get the short end of the stick. The locales of BSF deployment are sometimes extremely trying, but they do not get the standards of ration or leave and rest that army personnel get. As for the CRPF, its jawans have termed the force – with a touch of black humour – the “Chalte Raho Pyare Force,” (Keep Moving, Beloved Force) for their continuously shifting deployments.
All this, of course, pales into comparison to the quality of life of the ordinary civil policeman and policewoman. We are not talking about the caricature corrupt cop, but the ordinary constable who gets little or no facilities of any kind. Housing is often in slums and even police stations lack basic structure or furniture in many cases.
The simple message that comes out from Tej Bahadur Yadav’s complaint, howsoever wrong-headed it was, is that if you want security, you must be ready to pay for it.
The Wire January 10, 2017

Pure red herring

Purity versus pollution have been part of the Indian way of life for millennia, manifested most perniciously in our caste system, which divides people between the highest, who are ritually the purest, and the lowest who are the most polluted. Ritual purity is the feature of many religions, but nowhere has it had the malign impact that it has in India.
Confined to religious and social practice and scientific practice, the concept now seems to have leapt across social and religious practice into the contemporary political discourse. Speaking to the nation on New Year’s Eve, Prime Minister Narendra Modi weighed in, terming the whole demonetisation exercise as ‘a historic rite of purification’ aimed at ridding the society of the ‘badness’ and ‘evil’ that had crept in in the form of corruption, black money and counterfeit currency.
‘Purity’ is fine as a scientific concept, but applied to religious, political, social and economic categories it is troublesome. We often hear of temples being washed after Dalits have entered them, or Dalits being segregated from upper castes in schools, villages and eating places. The ‘ghar wapsi’ movement calling for the reconversion of those whose ancestors had allegedly converted from the Hindu faith is another manifestation of this, as are movements to dictate dietary choices. Most crippling remain the notions of purity applied to the female body, which are the foundation of the poor status of women in our society.
But what is ‘purity’ when it comes to economic development and growth? Modi’s words suggest that it means a society without corruption and an economy where everyone pays his/her taxes. This is perfectly fine as an ideal for a society, but to term them as a sine qua non (essential condition) for economic growth is both ahistorical and fraught with risk.
A glance back at the growth of capitalism will reveal that the industrial transformation of the West came along with crass exploitation, colonialism, robber barons and genocide. Subsequently these countries have cleaned up their act, though instances of corruption and bribe often pop up in countries like Sweden, Norway or the UK. The Chinese version of growth between 1990-2010, too, came with huge corruption, which Xi Jinping is now trying to fix. But wealth came before the cleanup.
Actually, the closest parallel to emphasising ‘purity’ in a society comes from the failed socialist experiments ranging from the utopians like the Saint-Simon or Robert Owen and the Marxist-Leninists. Indeed, in their zeal, the latter committed even greater crimes in pursuit of that ‘pure’ ideal called communism. There is, of course, our own version of a pure society in Ram Rajya, which is entirely mythical.
With the decline of communism, almost everyone agrees that some form of capitalism is the best means of economic progress. ‘Pragmatism’ in policy is the key word – once a goal is identified, appropriate ways and means are worked out to achieve it without being over-burdened by ideology. We are all agreed that India should become a developed economy, with a special thrust on inclusiveness, given our background of exclusion of large chunks of society. The issue of ‘pure’ versus ‘impure’ means, or ‘goodness’ and ‘badness’ of people or society are red herrings.
The essence of modern capitalism is the freedom of choice, constrained by rules and laws to make an otherwise brutal system, humane, efficient and inclusive. Certainly, India need not go through the terrible 19th century experience of capitalism. Fighting corruption and tax-evasion is important, but it cannot be a pre-condition to the growth process, but only part of a more complex process that irons them out over a period of time through appropriate policy.
India’s obsession with purity has cost us dear through history. The opportunity costs of denying social mobility to large segments of the population, especially the Dalits and women cannot even be computed. What we do know is that a society so divided was unable to offer resistance to repeated invasions of the country because purity rules demanded that only certain castes could wield weapons.
It almost seems that Modi is looking to create the New Indian, an uncomfortable echo of Stalin and Mao’s New Socialist. But there is also an echo of his fellow Gujarati, Mahatma Gandhi, who believed that impure means could never deliver pure ends. Our Independence had to be obtained through non-violence, the Mahatma believed, and our economy based on satisfying the minimal needs and a rejection of mass industrialisation. Eventually, Independence came because World War II bankrupted Britain. And, fortunately, Gandhi’s heirs rejected his ideas of a village-based economy which would have been a disaster of epic proportions.
Where will the current drive for a ‘pure’ means of attaining economic growth lead us? No one knows, probably not even Modi.
Times of India January 7, 2017

Sunday, January 29, 2017

India's continued growth is under threat but elsewhere 2017 could herald a new world order

Because time moves on, the world is always in a state of flux. But regions and countries move at a different pace.2016, however, was marked by several long term trends in key nations and regions coming to a head at the same time giving us that special sense of churn and dislocation.
The terror attacks in Belgium, France and Germany confirmed the beginning of a long and hard slog to contain Islamist radicalism in Europe. With Brexit, the unexpected British decision to leave the European Union, there are signals that the European Union itself was possibly under threat.

British PM May went to India at the head of a business delegation with the aim of bringing down barriers to commerce and paving the way for a free trade agreement following Brexit
British PM May went to India at the head of a business delegation with the aim of bringing down barriers to commerce and paving the way for a free trade agreement following Brexit

In the United States the election victory of Donald Trump defied pollsters and pundits, and now threatens to upend the political order in the world's sole superpower and had portentous consequences for the world order which the US has shaped since World War II and which its incoming President threatens to disrupt.
Our own contribution - demonetization  - may not have shaken the world, but it has certainly rattled India.
Just what will be its consequences is something we will watch out for in 2017.
Prime Minister Modi's New Year Eve speech was supposed to give us some clarity on the issue, but it turned out to be a damp squib.
There are other events in the year gone by which have yet to take a definitive shape -the failed Turkish coup, the US-Iran rapprochement, the UNCLOS arbitration court's award in the South China Sea, the failure of the Trans Pacific Partnership - and which can have wider geopolitical consequences in the year to come.
There is little doubt that 2017's most momentous development will be the unfolding of the Trump presidency.
His rise, statements and his Cabinet appointments suggest that the US is determined to change the international rules of the game.
This could have huge implications for the global trading system of course, but more complicated could be his efforts to re-write the tenets of America's global political doctrine based on liberal internationalism.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Trump doctrine would push allies to spend more on defence, but the big question is whether the alliance system can survive the strain imposed on it by a Trump presidency.
For Europe 2017 could be a make or break year. There are many elements in this mix- a potential US rapprochement with Russia, the possible election upsets in its two principal nations, France and Germany, and the rise if Islamist radicalism.

In China, the event to watch is the 19th Communist Party Congress likely to be held in November.This is likely to involve much jockeying for power for it could decide the succession to Xi Jinping in 2022.It offers Xi the ability to shape the direction the party and the country will move because he will seek to put in place a Central Committee and politburo which will reflect his priorities.
In these circumstances, the Chinese approach to the US will be a cautious one, waiting to see how things play out before making any new moves.
For us in India, the UP election outcome is easily the most important political event of 2017.
With demonetisation kicking in and the Parliament still locked, the chances of significant reform that could accelerate economic growth is doubtful.
Perhaps this is as Modi has calculated, putting all efforts in the development arena in a back-burner till he consolidates himself politically, which means winning the UP elections and consequently the general elections of 2019.

Modi may be in a position to control the narrative domestically, but he will not have an easy ride abroad.
For one thing, the expected rise in oil prices will remove the cushion the Indian economy has enjoyed since he became Prime Minister.
For another, the consolidation of the China-Pakistan partnership and their entente with Russia have put India in a bad spot in relation to South Asian politics.
New Delhi has made a mess of its China policy and it will require some deft and realist diplomacy to set things on an even keel.
But the bigger headache could well come from the failure of Modi's Pakistan policy. 
The chances of any rapprochement now look bleak, at least through the rest of Nawaz Sharif's term which will end in 2018.

The situation in Kashmir and the Line of Control clashes bode ill for the coming year because such a situation can spin out of control at any time.
Whatever may be Modi's calculations, any war with anyone would spell disaster for the country.
The Modi team has invested a great deal on the United States, but, given Trump's inclinations, the US may not have much need for India in its international calculations.
Indeed, a too-quick an exit of the US from our region poses a challenge for India since it is simply not ready, economically, politically or militarily to play a greater role in regional affairs.

Mail Today January 1, 2017

The Modi Government Has Dismantled India’s Foreign Policy

One of the government’s biggest failures has been its handling of Kashmir, singularly blaming Pakistan for everything that went wrong without understanding the nature of civil violence in the state.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrives at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Etienne Oliveau/Pool
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India arrives at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China, September 4, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Etienne Oliveau/Pool

As a kid in the 1950s, I remember my parents thrusting Meccano sets at me, with the fond belief that it would encourage their son to become an engineer. It turned out that I was good at taking things apart, but hopeless at putting them back together again. Something like that seems to be the case with the Narendra Modi government. It has proved to be a good at dismantling the old, but is finding it uncommonly difficult to construct something new. Maybe, as in my case as a budding engineer, Modi and company are simply incompetent.
The fiasco of demonetisation is just one of the things that comes to mind. Look at the once hallowed Planning Commission, which has given way to the Niti Ayog, whose CEO has decided that the way to push policy is to run lotteries. In the realm of foreign policy too, the Modi team has dismantled the older policies towards Pakistan and China, but nothing new seems to be on the horizon. All it has achieved is an increase in the truculence in our relations with our two big neighbours and potential adversaries. As for the management of various ministries, especially defence, the less said the better.
Where competence is the issue, the real big test has been the government’s Jammu and Kashmir policy. Sad to say, it is difficult to give it anything but a failing grade. Last week, militants ambushed an army convoy near Pampore, killing three jawans and injuring two. This was the fourth attack on an army convoy since August and is part of the uptick in violence in the Valley, which, according to the Indian Express, has led to 60 soldiers being killed in the state this year, double the annual toll in the last two years. The deaths of the soldiers can be attributed to two reasons – the Line of Control turning “active” (as much from Pakistani actions as our reactions) and the internal situation in the Valley deteriorating because of the inability of New Delhi to manage the fallout of Burhan Wani’s killing.
The government of India has taken a strange ideological position that the violent civil protests that hit the Valley in the wake of the killings are entirely directed by Pakistan. Indeed, in the wake of the demonetisation, there was a claim that the instances of stone pelting had declined because the Pakistani agents had run out of cash to distribute to the stone pelters. Needless to say that this crude narrative was entirely false. Anyone familiar with the cycle of violence that wracks Kashmir will know what is Pakistan-directed and what is spontaneous.
Last week, S.P. Vaid, special director general of the Jammu and Kashmir police, told Rising Kashmir in an interview that there was no proof that Pakistan was involved in the civil protests in the Valley or was directing the calendar of protest events. He noted that the number of militants active in the Valley had gone up to some 250-270, as against an earlier estimate (not by Vaid) of just 150 in 2015. (This item has since vanished from the newspaper website, but look hard enough and you will find its traces.)
Pakistan may not be involved in the violent civil protests in the Valley, but it is involved in other nefarious activity. One is the pushing of the so-called Border Action Teams to attack Indian army positions along the LoC. The other is the “special” violence, such as the burning of schools and attacks on police personnel. In any case, Pakistan doesn’t need to do much, all it has to do is to sit back and watch.
The big problem is the inability of the government, both in Srinagar and New Delhi, to understand the nature of the civil violence in the state. Blaming Pakistan is the simplest option. Actually one major reason for the violence is the disillusionment of the supporters of the PDP who were largely in South Kashmir with their party’s link up to the BJP. While electoral arithmetic indicated that there was little choice, the emotions of the people have been contrary. This is manifested also in the fact that while the Jammu and Kashmir police estimates that 80% of the militants in the north are not locals, while in the south, they comprise 80-90% of them.
Like it or not, the Jammu and Kashmir issue has two components – the domestic “dissidents” represented by elements ranging from the insurgents to the Hurriyat and the external factor, Pakistan, which continues to provide political, moral and material support to militancy in the Valley and conducts a proxy war against India through its jihadi armies. In the meantime, the National Conference which has stood as a steadfast as a rock with the Indian Union through the worst of the Kashmir disturbances, is making noises about azadi.
While military force is required to deal with armed rebels, there is need to simultaneously engage the political elements, whether they are the Hurriyat or the National Conference in a dialogue process aimed at restoring normality to the state. The government’s somewhat belated response has been to send a Track II delegation led by former finance minister and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha to the Valley. But just how much authority Sinha has with the heavily securitised  Modi setup in New Delhi is difficult to gauge.
The issue of Pakistan is more complex. After reaching out to Islamabad in 2014 and 2015, Modi found them a hard nut to crack. Following the Pathankot attack, he appears to have decided that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif lacks the heft to deliver anything and India’s policy has since been to roundly denounce Pakistan at every international forum and call for its isolation through sanctions for supporting terrorists.
This one-dimensional policy is not yielding any results. Pakistan continues to give as much as it takes in the brutal cross-LoC boxing match. The so-called “surgical strikes” do not seem to have deterred them in any way and as the figures cited above show, all that has been achieved through the missteps in handling the domestic issues and Pakistan may be to put Jammu and Kashmir back in the ICU it was till 2005.
Far from being isolated, Pakistan is now being seen as a solution, rather than a problem on the issue of resolving the Afghanistan tangle. If anything, New Delhi seems to be isolated. On December 27, China, Russia and Pakistan will have their third meeting of their “trilateral working group” in Moscow. On the other hand, India’s friend Iran has expressed a desire to join the China Pakistan Economic Corridor project.

Pakistan is handling its Indian end skilfully, which is what cannot be said about the Modi team. Rawalpindi is ensuring that its attacks on India focus on military or police targets and do not get the kind of mileage that the Mumbai massacre of 2008 got. In any case, in an environment where terrorism is hitting closer home in  Turkey, Belgium, France and Germany, no one is particularly concerned about what is happening in our part of the world. In essence, Modi’s anti-terror campaign is barking up the wrong tree.
China is another issue. New Delhi has worked under the illusion that it is competing with China. The Modi government  has adopted a posture aimed at disconcerting Beijing – inviting the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile for Modi’s swearing in, allowing the Karmapa and Dalai Lama to go to Tawang, sharply and publicly criticising China for not supporting India’s case in the NSG and demanding support for proscribing Masood Azhar. Baiting the dragon, especially on the issue of Tibet, is risky policy. It could lead to China encouraging Indian separatists in Kashmir, Punjab and elsewhere. December 23, 2016