Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mending fences with our neighbour

For a moment in 2014, it appeared that India had reset its relationship with Nepal. During his visit, the first by an Indian PM in 17 years, Narendra Modi put himself across as an Indian leader who had no desire to interfere in the country’s complicated political affairs. He said as much in his speech to the Constituent Assembly. This was music to the ears of the Nepalese, who are ever sensitive to signs of overweening conduct of the Indians.

Two years later, the relationship seems to be in a meltdown phase. Nepal recently called off a visit of its President Bidya Devi Bhandari and sacked its ambassador to New Delhi. Modi has cancelled his planned visit to attend the Buddha Purnia celebrations at Lumbini on May 21. These actions are in response to a revolt against Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, who heads a coalition comprising his Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninst) and that of the United Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) headed by Pushp Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda.’
The hallmark of a regional power is the ability to shape the policies of countries in your neighbourhood in your own favour. By this measure, we are not doing too well. We have already had difficult relations with China, Pakistan and the Maldives, and now we have Nepal. Sri Lanka remains on the brink and, as for Bangladesh, our ties there depend on who runs the government.
Because it takes two hands to clap, New Delhi cannot be blamed for all the problems. The issue is not culpability, but the consequences that India must face. In each country of our neighbourhood, barring Bhutan, we are challenged by the rising power of China, which has the drive and the money, and is determined to shape the policies of the countries in its neighbourhood to our detriment.
Geography has locked Nepal into India and, given the asymmetry of size, the former is always apprehensive of the latter’s power. Given this situation, it is New Delhi’s responsibility to manage the relationship with its prickly neighbour. Anti-Indianism is a staple of Nepali politics, but effective handling can make it go away, just as it did in the period 2006-2014.
The current problem has its origins in the political chicanery by Nepal’s mainstream political parties who got together to introduce a Constitution in 2015 that was weighted against the Madhesi people of the Terai region, many of whom have ties of consanguinity with India. The Madhesis thereafter launched an agitation, supported by India, to blockade Nepal.
Uncharacteristically, India woke up to this constitutional sleight of hand too late and rushed foreign secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar to Kathmandu to urge the Nepalese parties to rethink but it was just too late.
CPN (UML) leader KP Sharma Oli, who became the prime minister of the country, took a hardline against the agitation and accused India of fomenting it. Only after efforts to rope in China to aid Nepal failed, did Oli and his associates agree to make a deal with the Madhesis on the issue of provincial boundaries and proportional participation of the plains people in the life of the country.
Oli’s six-day visit to New Delhi in the end of February to remove the “misunderstandings” did not go too well. Though various agreements were arrived at, especially for reconstruction assistance relating to the 2015 earthquake, both sides remained suspicious of each other. Their assessment was based on the plank of ultra-nationalism that Oli was adopting, depicting the Madhesis as agents of India.
Circumstantially, a case can be made out to see New Delhi’s hand in the effort to replace the troublesome Oli with a friendlier face, even if it was that of Prachanda (fierce), the Maoist leader. After a week-long visit to New Delhi in mid-April, the leader of the pro-India Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba went back and offered to support a coalition led by Prachanda, if he agreed to walk out of the coalition with Oli.
Initially, Prachanda ageed and threatened to withdraw support from Oli, but later he backed off when he realised he didn’t have support within his own party. In exchange, Oli agreed to give amnesty for Maoists for crimes committed during the insurgency.
India-Nepal relations now seem to be in a freefall. Being joined at the hip, they cannot afford this situation. As the bigger party, New Delhi needs to act to retrieve the situation without necessarily pandering to Oli. In supporting the rights of Madhesis, New Delhi occupies the moral high ground, as well as serves its own interests of cementing its support among people who look to New Delhi for succor. But what is needed is effective political leadership in management of what has always been a difficult relationship.
Mid Day May 10, 2016

India needs to get real about its borders

The proposed government law on maps is yet another example of how Indians tend to accept symbolism as a substitute for reality. In this, the Modi government has proved to be no different from its predecessors. When confronted with a terrorist attack in Pathankot, it fought a mighty diplomatic battle in a UN committee and with China - instead of frontally dealing with the problem. 

The Bill 
Now, unable to resolve border disputes through negotiation and compromise, it has decided to solve the problem by passing a law which will prevent Indians from knowing that their borders are not recognised, as we would like to have them, by most countries in the world. 
 No matter what the Home Ministry (MHA) says about regulating geospatial information, it is actually the government’s long-standing neuroses over how India’s borders must be depicted that motivates the new law. 
Indian geospatial policy is a mess, with competing platform and services, and over-ridden by 19th century security concerns. 
In an era when the latitude and longitude of every point can be measured by the satellite-based GPS, India hesitates in giving digital map access to public. The MHA will argue that the main aim of the Bill is to set things right and create a regulated use of India’s geospatial information. 
But the ambition of the Bill is stupefying - all maps and changes to them will have to be vetted by the government. Companies that rely on geospatial services, whether or not they operate in India, will have to get a licence “to disseminate, publish or distribute any geospatial information of India outside India”, from the to-be-established Security Vetting Authority. 
The real motive of the Bill emerges from its drastic penalties for the display of information that is likely to affect the “security, sovereignty or integrity” of the country. 

But since when does a line on a map affect anything? Recall, the Mumbai attackers found their way to their targets in 2008 using commercially-available GPS devices purchased abroad. 
As of now, the rules are an irritant; magazines like The Economist are forced to black-out maps showing the Indian borders as they really are. But with the new law, instead of digitally connecting with the world, India may isolate itself from it. It is not the data which is a threat, but the people who misuse it. Surely, the MHA needs to focus on those people, organisations and entities and not create a regime in which a food delivery service is penalised because the maps they use have India’s boundaries in a particular way. 

Forcing people to accept the official boundary has an old history in India. In 1948, a year after independence and in 1950, the government of the day issued a White Paper to define what “India” was all about from its component states upward and beginning with the advent of the British into India and detailing every aspect of the new successor entities including the privy purses given to the erstwhile rulers of princely states. 
Attached to it was a map, presumably authoritative, which showed India’s boundaries with China. In the north, from the Afghan to Nepal, the map was marked “border undefined” along the area that India believed was its border. In the east, the boundary including Arunachal Pradesh to India was clearly laid out, though the notation said “border undemarcated”. And of course, Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal were shown as entities outside India. 

In 1954, Pandit Nehru’s border policy began to come apart so he decided that India would unilaterally stake out its border. All old maps, including the ones attached to the White Papers, were seized, and new maps were issued showing the borders as we see them now. 

But, of course, this did not convince the Chinese or anyone else that the borders India had unilaterally drawn up were sacrosanct. They maintained their pressure and seized even more territory in Aksai Chin - though fortunately for us, they captured and returned Arunachal Pradesh. 
The border now is defined by a notional Line of Actual Control. No country in the world accepts the version of the border that India depicts on its maps, especially in Jammu & Kashmir. They believe that the final Sino-Indian and India-Pakistan border in Kashmir must be worked out through negotiation. 
In these circumstances, the new geospatial law could create endless problems for India and Indians. It could lead popular services like Google and Facebook to exit India, and deter others who want to offer geospatial services in the country. 
Though, ironically, geolocation technologies can ensure that when you open Google Maps in India, it shows the boundaries the way Indians want it; when you open the site elsewhere, it shows the real picture. 
Hopefully, the Ministry of Home Affairs has made a realistic assessment of India’s clout before going on to tilt the global geospatial windmills. But first, it should ask itself whether symbolic sleight-of-hand will give us the borders we want. 
Mail Today May 8, 2016

Swamy’s Attack on Brajesh Mishra Was Reprise of Old Feud

Brajesh Mishra and Donald Rumsfeld, 2001. Credit: Helene C. Stikkel
Brajesh Mishra and the US secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, 2001. Credit: Helene C. Stikkel

You can trust Subramanian Swamy to lower the quality of any discourse, stir up the basest instincts, and stoop to the lowest level possible on any issue. His attack on Brajesh Mishra, barely disguised as innuendo, was missed by most reporters of the Augusta-Westland debate in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. Surprisingly, no one from within the BJP or NDA has chosen to speak out in defence of one of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s closest aides.
Responding to the point by the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi that the height requirement of the Augusta helicopter was lowered in 2003 by Brajesh Mishra in 2003 who was the principal secretary to  Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Swamy noted, according to the uncorrected transcript of the Rajya Sabha proceedings,
“The question was raised as to who lowered it and they quoted Mr. Brajesh Mishra, who was a civil servant in the NDA Government. Of course, he was decorated by them. They gave him Padma Vibhushan, one less than Bharat Ratna. I was just wondering as to what was the service that required him to be given such a high honour. One day, I will discover it.”
The late Brajesh Mishra had his critics, but no one called him a Congress agent or even corrupt. He was doggedly loyal to the man he served as principal secretary and national security adviser, Atal Bihari Vajpayee who valued his judgment and advice enormously. And that is perhaps the reason for Swamy’s ire.
It is no secret that Swamy hates Vajpayee, a feud that apparently goes back to the days when the Janata government took office after the defeat of Indira Gandhi in 1977.
Swamy has never forgiven Vajpayee for ensuring that he was not a full-fledged cabinet minister in the 1977 Janata government. Search “Swamy and Atal Bihari Vajpayee” in Google and you will find many old items and statements allegedly authored by Swamy making the most vulgar attacks on the former prime minister. Indeed, as this India Today story reveals, in March 1999, he held a tea party in Delhi where Sonia Gandhi was his guest of honour. The main aim was to bring down the Vajpayee government.
As long as Vajpayee was at the helm of the BJP’s affairs, there was no room for Swamy in its ranks. Those days are over and we have still to see what the post- Vajpayee BJP will deliver. All we can say is that it has huge shoes to fill and Prime Minister Modi knows that. Whenever he is confronted with a major problem – Kashmir, Pakistan or the nuclear issue, he invokes the Vajpayee legacy.
The irony is that when Swamy attacks Mishra, he is targeting the person who deserves the greatest credit for the achievements for which the Vajpayee government is remembered even today.
The aim of this write up is neither to analyse the Augusta deal, or to paint Swamy blacker than he already is. It is to point to the remarkable role played by Mishra, a role which was so full of achievement and, yet, balanced and sober, that even the successor UPA government saw it fit to honour him with a Padma Vibhushan.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Brajesh Mishra (R). Credit: PTI

To set the record straight, Brajesh Mishra was no “civil servant in the NDA government.” Since 1991, he had been a member of the BJP and its foreign policy cell where he grew close to Vajpayee who soon learnt to rely on his judgment and advice. Mishra formally resigned from the party to take up the office of principal secretary that Vajpayee offered him as soon as he formed his second ministry in New Delhi.
Prime Minister Vajpayee was an instinctive politician who had a unique ability to grasp an issue issue quickly, but thereafter he let his subordinates deal with the details.  Foremost among these was Mishra.
Perhaps Mishra’s greatest professional accomplishment was to ensure that India successfully carried out the nuclear weapons tests of May 1998. It was Mishra’s primary responsibility to coordinate the entire exercise once the PM ordered the tests and he did so brilliantly – ensuring total secrecy and surprise. Subsequently, Mishra shaped India’s nuclear policy and doctrine, wearing the additional hat of NSA.  Most people would consider Mishra’s post-Pokhran diplomacy as his finest hour. He managed to mollify Beijing which was upset by Vajpayee’s letter (drafted by Mishra) to the US president blaming China for the nuclear tests. He was able to blunt and then turn around the US anger and outflank European and Japanese  who were not happy with the Indian tests.
Mishra played a key role in working the finer details of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bold Kashmir policy which nearly managed to get the militants to declare a ceasefire. Vajpayee’s repeated calls for resolving the Kashmir issue on the basis of “insaniyat” was accompanied by policy measures effected by Mishra which ensured that the 2002 state assembly election, fought under the shadow of guns, was considered the freest ever and went a long way in ensuring that the Pakistani effort to roil the state through the Kargil operation failed.
Indeed, the management of the Kargil crisis, itself, brought out Mishra’s capabilities, as did the post parliament house attack developments in 2001. But even more striking was his stewardship of Vajpayee’s Pakistan policy to which Mishra helped the prime minister to stick on to through thick and thin and finally deliver, first, the ceasefire on the Line of Control which still holds, and second, the dialogue process with Islamabad which was subsequently taken up by the Manmohan Singh administration.
People should not forget, either, the breakthrough in the policy towards China which was crafted by the Vajpayee-Mishra duo. Agreeing to resolve the border issue on a political plane was a key shift which, once again, brought us within close sight of a possible border settlement with China, manifested in the agreement on the political parameters and guiding principles of a border settlement in 2005.
Like all men, Mishra, no doubt made mistakes such as mis-handling the Kandahar hijack or the 2002-3 crisis with Pakistan, but it must be said of him, that he was painting the big canvas. The events that he handled and the things he did reverberate in our contemporary history and whose benign consequences will be there for a long time.  Not many people have had such an opportunity to serve their country. When weighed in the balance of real life achievements, Mishra’s, to paraphrase a Chinese saying, are heavier than Mount Tai. Swamy’s will always remain lighter than a feather.
The Wire 5/5/2016

What “Excessive Maritime Claims” is the US Challenging India Over?

On April 19, the US Department of Defence put out a two-page document detailing what it said were the “excessive maritime claims” of certain countries. The purpose of this annual exercise, which has been around for the past decade and more, is to list the countries as well as mark the fact that the US Navy has challenged the claims, in some instances multiple times, in a particular calendar year.
In 2015, India again fell into the category of countries whose claims had been challenged “multiple times” for the “excessive claim” of requiring countries to seek prior consent for military exercises and manoeuvres in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The US began formally protesting India’s position in 1976 and fitfully thereafter, but the “operational challenges” have been a feature since 2008. What the Indian Navy did in response to this is unclear. In ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), New Delhi had declared that in its understanding the treaty did not authorise other states to carry out military exercises on its EEZ without India’s permission.
One of the interesting ironies is that the US has yet to ratify the 1982 UNCLOS, yet it is most zealous in insisting on its application by the other nations of the world. Because it is not a party to the treaty, the US cannot challenge States through the UNCLOS dispute redressal mechanism and so, its challenge comes through the instrumentality of its mighty navy, by definition, a destabilising proposition.
The US says that it “observes” the UNCLOS as customary international law. However, there is a difference between the uncoded customary observance that is open to interpretation and the very specific international agreements that have gone into every aspect of maritime life, from borders, to disputes, military movement and exploitation of resources.
What we can infer from the Pentagon document, since the government of India has said little or nothing about this, is that it challenges India’s stance that the US Navy cannot conduct exercises within the Indian EEZ without India’s permission, since the whole idea is to cock a snook at New Delhi’s “excessive claims”.
This is somewhat puzzling since India and the US are also the best of the friends, and conduct a lot of military exercises together, such as the well-known Malabar exercise. In recent months, we have also come to know that the two sides were readying to conduct joint patrols, although the Indian defence minister subsequently clarified that it would not happen ‘for now’. The obvious question would be whether we could be a party to military exercises without the permission in an EEZ of a coastal State elsewhere, when we object to other states doing so in our EEZ.

The Chinese conundrum
Of course, India is not the only country in this boat. Thirteen countries have been listed as having drawn the attention of the US Department of Defence. India is a minor culprit among them. Among the bigger ones are countries like China who are in the dock for having too many “straight baselines”, claiming jurisdiction over the airspace over the EEZ, passing a domestic law that criminalises survey activity by foreign entities in the EEZ and demanding foreign military ships seek prior permission before passing through the territorial seas.

Delineation of zones under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea
Delineation of zones under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Credit: Wikimedia

A lot of this is the arcana of maritime boundaries. A baseline is where the land boundary ends at low tide and the maritime boundary begins and 12 nautical miles out, it constitutes our territorial sea. Another 12 nautical miles constitutes the “contiguous zone” and 200 nautical miles out is the EEZ.
The baseline naturally follows the curve of the coast. But where there are many indentations, states draw straight baselines for the sake of convenience, something which the US is not particularly happy about with regard to China and some other countries.
International law permits the right of “innocent passage” for military vessels in the territorial sea, which means no manoeuvres and no gathering intelligence, but a straight passage through the 12 nm zone. But China requires a prior permission, like it requires permission for military activity and surveys in the entire EEZ. In 2012 and 2013, US Navy ships sailed through Chinese territorial waters without notifying Beijing first.
The US insists on an unconditional right of innocent passage through the territorial seas and maintains that no prior permission is needed for military activities in the EEZ. To its credit, last August, the US did not blink when five Chinese naval ships carried out a patrol off Alaska. Not only were they in that region for the first time, but they also passed through the territorial waters of the US within 12 nm of the coast. The US spokesman accepted that this was “legal transit” and done “in accordance with the Law of the Sea convention.”
At one level, there is nothing remarkable about the US disagreement with India. The US, which prepositions a great deal of military equipment and operates out of Oman for example, still questions its ally’s “excessive maritime claims” which, in this case, is the state’s requirement for prior permission for even innocent passage through its territorial seas.
When China was a weak country it had little choice but to accept US ships coming into its territorial eaters on “innocent passage” or US ships in the contiguous zone or EEZ gathering intelligence or surveying the seas.  Now that it is becoming stronger, it is working systematically to strengthen its maritime position and the first thing on its agenda is to get the US Navy surveillance and survey ships away from its coast. China has repeatedly demanded that US avoid surveillance operations within its EEZ.
The issue of the South China Sea is a red herring of sorts because the US has not recognised anyone’s claims nor does it challenge China’s control of some of the islands. The only area that is in question is China’s weakest link — the fact that under UNCLOS, no artificial island can claim territoriality of the seas around it. So it is not as though the US is challenging the Chinese claim on the Spratlys, but only on some features on which China is building islands, which under the UNCLOS cannot claim the usual territorial sea, contiguous zone and EEZ.

The application of domestic law to the EEZ
Another potential problem with the US arises from India’s application of its criminal law to the EEZ. This was evident in the Enrica Lexie case in which India is trying two Italian marines in the deaths of two Indian fishermen 20.5 nautical miles out to sea, which is within India’s contiguous zone and the EEZ. Article 33 of the UNCLOS is quite clear — the coastal state can act against and punish “infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations” in the contiguous zone. But whether the accidental shooting of two fishermen by the Italians comes under this is not clear.
However, the Indian view is that Section 188A of the Code of Criminal Procedure and section 7(7) of the Maritime Zones Act of 1976 provides that India can proceed against any person who commits a crime in its EEZ, which means 200nm out to sea. These notifications were made before India ratified UNCLOS in 1982 and so India believes that its laws are not inconsistent with UNCLOS, but it argues that even if they were deemed to be so, Indian domestic law will prevail.
So far, there has been no reason for India to invoke this with the US, but had it been US marines, instead of the hapless Italians, you can be sure that the outcome would have been different because the US would not accept the extra-territorial application of Indian law, never mind it own belief that its own laws have universal application. Such are the virtues of global primacy.

Resolving the issue
Going into these issues and trying to work out a common approach is important as US and India move into a mode of enhanced cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific, as per the Joint Strategic Vision adopted during US President Barack Obama’s visit to New Delhi last year.  There is a need for the two countries to ensure that they do not tangle with the international law, their own interpretation of that law as well as that of other countries.
The easiest solution is that the US ratify the UNCLOS and India reconcile its commitments to it by modifying its domestic laws. As of now, the US, in particular is in a peculiar position where the only challenge it can offer to what it terms “excessive maritime claims” is full-fledged military action, rather than using the dispute resolution mechanisms that already exist in UNCLOS.
The Chinese position here is even more complex. China is a signatory to the UNCLOS, though at the time of ratification it made a declaration that it would require foreign states to obtain advance approval or prior notification for the passage of warships through its territorial sea. In 2006, it made another declaration that it would not accept any of the procedures of compulsory dispute settlement in relation to maritime boundaries with neighbours and those involving historic bays and titles, disputes covering military activities and certain kinds of law enforcement activities or disputes where the UN Security Council is exercising its functions. There is nothing unique about this, since France, too, has made a similar declaration. India has reserved the right to make such a declaration in the near future.
The problem is even more difficult when it comes to the South China Sea where the Chinese have established, at least on maps, a nine-dashed line without clarifying whether this is their national boundary, or they are claiming islands within the nine-dashed line. Under UNCLOS, the nine-dashed line as a maritime boundary is simply not tenable, especially since such boundaries can only be established through agreement with the neighbour. China vaguely talks of historical and legal evidence for its claims, but while it can claim the islands, it is not clear how it claims the seas that are often beyond the 200 nm limit of the nearest island.
What becomes clear is that like the US, China wants to cherry-pick the UNCLOS for those parts that are to its advantage and leave out those which are not. But unlike the US, China is a signatory to the treaty. As Chinese capacities grow, it will be in a piquant position where it will try to keep foreign navies away from its EEZ, while it would want to operate off the coasts of other countries.
The Wire 2-5-2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

Walking the tightrope on terror

The discharge of nine Muslim men on Monday for the Malegaon blasts case of 2006 comes as a blow to the Centre's counter-terrorism policy. In recent years, the government's counter-terror policy has taken strange twists and turns where those accused of serious lapses, including extra-judicial killings, have been let off on bail, and cases relating to terrorist acts being wilfully undermined by those very people who are supposed to prosecute the perpetrators.
The Malegaon bombings were a series of blasts near a graveyard in September 2006 during the observance of Shab-e-barat, when Muslims visit the graves of their relatives. 37 people died and 125 were injured and subsequently — and somewhat improbably — nine Muslims were arrested. These men got bail in 2011 and in 2013, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) told the court that they had no evidence to link them to the blasts. Even then, it took two years for them to be finally discharged by the court on Monday, meanwhile one of the accused died some months ago in an accident.
There were a number of unexplained and unsolved bombings targeting Muslims in many small towns of Maharashtra between 2003-2008. Pharbani's Mohammidya Masjid was targeted in November 2003, Madrasa Meraj-Ul-Uloom in Purna and Qadiriya Mosque in Jalna in August 2004, Malegaon was targeted in 2006 and 2008, the second time around with Modasa in Gujarat. There were similar blasts elsewhere, too, where the targets were primarily Muslims — the Mecca Masjid blast of Hyderabad in May 2007, the twin blasts at the Jama Masjid in April 2006, the Ajmer Sharif blast in October 2007, and the Samjhauta Express bombing of February 2007.
After flawed investigations by the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad and the CBI, the NIA took up the cases and uncovered a deep conspiracy of some Hindutva elements who, in some instances, may have even been linked to the upper echelons of the RSS. Since the arrival of the BJP government in New Delhi, there has been a systematic effort to undermine the cases.
The senior public prosecutor in the Malegaon case, Rohini Salian was told to go soft in the case by senior NIA officers. Thereafter, she was removed as the prosecutor. The Ministry of Home Affairs officials being forced to ensure that Sharad Kumar, who had retired as DG of the NIA, would continue to supervise the case as a contract employee, is another pointer to the state of affairs. It is not too difficult to discern a parallel and systematic media campaign in favour of those accused in these cases in recent months.
Undermining investigation agencies is bad enough, but the bigger problem with the BJP government's policies is that it is undermining the fight against what Modi and his government themselves say is the biggest problem that India and the world confront — terrorism.
There can be no justification for terrorism — an act that deliberately targets innocent persons for political effect. But it would be foolish to ignore that certain actions can play into the hands of terrorists. Terrorist strikes are often motivated with the goal of deepening sectarian, religious and ethnic faultlines. But these divides can also be opened up by unaddressed grievances. Draconian sweeps picking up young Muslim men following terrorist strikes have been bad enough, but worse has been the conduct of some police forces who have sought to falsely implicate some of these people in terrorism cases. So far from tackling terrorism, such action actually create a pool of people who nurse a sense of grievance and are a standing target for terrorist recruiters.
The Muslims discharged in the Malegaon case spent five years in jail on what was clearly fabricated evidence. They are not the only innocents who have been caught up by crude police investigations which result in people being discharged after years in jail. In the Mecca Masjid case, more than 100 young Muslims were arrested and 21 of them suffered torture and prolonged incarceration before their unconditional release and four of them were acquitted for want of evidence in July 2014.
Mohammed Amir Khan, who was in jail for 14 years, was discharged without any conviction in the multiple cases he was charged with. He has related his story in his recent autobiography Framed as a terrorist. His story is typical — arrested, tortured, made to sign blank papers and having to defend himself against multiple cases foisted on him.
Terrorism cases are particularly difficult to prosecute. After all, those planning a terrorist act are hardened persons and take all the precautions to ensure they are not exposed. Because of widespread use of torture, courts do not accept confessions as evidence. Yet, there needs to be a balance between the powers of the police and the rights of someone accused of a crime as heinous as terrorism.
The balance is necessary if we are to convince the average Indian, which surely includes our Muslim fellow-citizens, that India is a country where the rule of law prevails, a just society which deserves the love and loyalty of its citizens.
Mid Day April 26, 2016

Xi’s in Camouflage but Everything is in the Open Now

The recent military reforms in China are in sharp contrast to what is happening in India. The idea of jointness is formally upheld, but the fact is that the three Indian services remain separate in their organisation and doctrine.

Xi Jinping, president of China and now also commander-in-chief of the Peoples Liberation Army. Credit: Screengrab/CCTV
Xi Jinping, president of China and now also commander-in-chief of the Peoples Liberation Army. Credit: Screengrab/CCTV

On April 20, 2016, Chinese president Xi Jinping decided to put on yet another hat – that of commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army. Besides being the president of the People’s Republic of China, Xi is also the general secretary of the central committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) that runs the PLA.
Clad in military camouflage fatigues, Xi’s new role was revealed through his inspection of the joint battle command centre which will direct the newly reorganised PLA. According to Chinese TV reports, besides the joint staff of the PLA, the  commanders of the new north, south, east, west and central battle commands or ‘theatres’ gave their respective reports to Xi through video links. Though some parts of the video shown in the Chinese TV were deliberately blurred, the command centre itself did not appear to be particularly high-tech or sophisticated. Of course, the whole thing, complete with the C-in-C sitting in his chair, could have been a Potemkin affair.
Xi’s key message was, however, quite practical – the need to internalise the idea of reform, which requires breaking down parochial service barriers, as well as the imperative of encouraging innovative thinking over the tried and tested ways which are no longer relevant. Yet, this new PLA has to not only be “resourceful in fighting, efficient in commanding and courageous and capable of winning wars” but also loyal to the Communist Party of China.
In the recent round of reforms earlier this year, the seven military regions of China were reduced to five theatre commands, the four general departments that ran the PLA were folded into the CMC and reorganised into 15 different functional units, the Army was given a new command of its own, the second artillery force that ran China’s nuclear strike forces was upgraded into the PLA Rocket Force, and an entirely new PLA Strategic Support Force was created to fuse China’s space and cyber-space capabilities to support its combat forces.
The new, flatter, higher command system was termed the “CMC chairman responsibility system” in which authority ran from the CMC chairman directly to the theatre commands and to the combat forces in the field. So Xi’s authority had already been enhanced. What then was the point of assuming the C-in-C rank?
Chinese analysts say that the CMC responsibilities really relate to the management and construction of the PLA’s capacities, while as C-in-C, Xi would focus on the actual employment and conduct of China’s combat forces. Once again, this appears to emphasise the extent to which PLA reforms are influenced by the US system, even though the Chinese insist their aim is to build a “joint battle command system with Chinese characteristics.”
The US president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, but that role gains salience  in wartime, a situation which the US is frequently in, and to the extent that the president has to take key decisions in the employment and use of combat forces for a mission. However, in the US, and presumably in China, ordering a nuclear strike remains the prerogative of the civilian hat as president.
A comment in the authoritative People’s Daily noted that skilfully run joint commands were the key to the outcome of modern war. In line with Xi’s admonition, the article called on the PLA to develop its expertise in joint battle command through the mastery of the theory of war, training and command skills. The commentary emphasised that the joint battle command centres of the CMC and the theatre commands “were already up and running.”
It said that the possibility of conflict “on the nation’s doorstep was increasing” because of a host of factors, including traditional and non-traditional threats, as well as disputes of territorial and maritime rights and terrorism.
Beyond the issue of new organisation, command systems and technologies, is the Chinese effort to push the PLA to become as professional and modern as its US counterpart. One key part of this is better military education, evolution of new and innovative battle-fighting concepts, and the promotion of talented officers, which alone can guarantee victory in what the Chinese call the “informationised wars” of today. The big Chinese problem, however is that their forces have not been involved in war since 1979, while the US military has been fighting almost continuously right through – in Iraq, Serbia, again Iraq, Afghanistan and so on.
Media reports suggest that the next step in the reform process will be the official release of the fifth generation of operational regulations for the PLA. These are the equivalent of a doctrine or guidance applied at the operational and tactical level. The previous iteration was released in 1999. There were revisions and expectations of a new document in the past decade, but nothing  formal was actually issued. Now, with the dramatic changes in the organisation and leadership of the PLA, a doctrinal updating is only to be expected. The work on the new doctrine is being done by the Academy of Military Sciences, which is now headed by General Cai Yingting, who is said to be one of Xi Jinping’s favourite officers.
Developments in China are in sharp contrast to what is happening in India. The idea of jointness is formally upheld, but the fact is that the three Indian services remain separate in their organisation and doctrine. Efforts to create jointness have been foiled by the political leadership and the IAS-led bureaucracy which believes that a joint military system – which will have to be headed by a new four, and preferably five-star officer – will undermine their authority. So, the three services have three different doctrines, none of which have been vetted by the civilian authorities who, in any case, do not have the expertise to understand them. Jointness, and the ability to fight and win modern wars, remains a distant dream in India.
The Wire April 25, 2016