Pakistan : Challenges & Stratergies


There is an interesting anecdote about the partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. It is said that when the first Chief Justice of Pakistan was appointed he decided he would rather function from New Delhi than any future capital of Pakistan. The assumption obviously was that there was nothing serious about the creation of Pakistan and the situation would probably retract in a few years, if not a few months.  The lesson – even those at the apex level, involved in Pakistan’s foundation, remained unconvinced about the new state. That unfortunately has remained the situation with Pakistan; never has it been able to come to terms or picked itself up to seriously set goals and achieve tenable aims to create peace for its people and give them an honorable national identity. Much less populous than India and far less diverse in terms of demographics it continues to remain beset with ethnic, sectarian and ideological issues which have threatened to tear it apart. True democracy eludes it, although regular elections have been held for the last two decades or so. Its Army has never detached itself from political power which it exercises on the back of its direction of the nation’s foreign and security policy. Lessons from the Indo Pak Conflict of 1971 and the loss of its former eastern half never seem to have dawned on it. Instead of launching into a campaign of nation building it has preferred to remain mired in a self-defeating game with intent of seeking retribution against India who it blames for its loss of face, dignity as a nation and half its territory and population.

Retribution drives Pakistan’s India policy; more correctly retribution drives the Pakistan Army’s approach towards India. While civil society in Pakistan does harbor traditional animosity it is willing to move on for the sake of the nation and future generations; the Pakistan Army is not. From the memory of 1971 is drawn the energy for retribution which helps keep the Army center stage in the complex social and political labyrinth of Pakistan. That contributes to power and at the end it’s only a power game which drives Pakistan’s relations with India. Joining the Army in its policy of using India as prop for its power are willing politicians and the judiciary besides retired generals, diplomats, bureaucrats and two of Pakistan’s most powerful entities – the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Inter -Services Public Relations (ISPR). This conglomeration often referred as the deep state also has a clutch of radicals and terrorists all designated as friendly to Pakistan’s interests. Some of the strangest perceptions of national security prevail in the Pakistani nation and the core center of the perceived threat remains India. It is around this threat that Pakistan has built its entire security policy.

The Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) issue helps drive the agenda of antipathy against India. If generational change and civil society’s natural progression and aspirations tend to dilute this antipathy, J&K helps exacerbate it. It needs to be remembered the Pakistan Army adopted the strategy way back in 1977 and thence onwards whereby it accepted its incapability to challenge India in the conventional battlefield. However, it aimed at reducing and virtually negating the asymmetry through adoption of a nuclear weapons program; this it achieved through the Eighties but used various ruses of alternating denial and acceptance, until transparency finally emerged in 1998 when it went overtly nuclear. The central aspect of its policy was and has been to place itself firmly as a core Islamic power and draw the international economic and emotive support from that linkage. To do that it needed to pursue the internal promotion of Islamization. It was supposed to be a calibrated approach to draw maximum strategic advantage that went completely awry.  Alongside this it has followed a policy of exploiting India’s various fault lines, the prime being the communal one. The belief remains that India’s minorities must not be allowed to be mainstreamed and their Islamic fervor enhanced such that they perceive isolation and persecution within. The J&K proxy conflict controlled from Islamabad provides the dual adrenaline of attempting to wrest that state and exacerbating divisiveness within India.

Significant Aspects of Pakistan’s Geo-strategic  Importance

Pakistan’s occupies a geographical location which gives it an automatic strategic importance. Five different civilizations surround it, each with a mutual set of interests resting within its territory or its people. With Iran in virtual international pariah status it is Pakistan which provides access to Heart of Asia and outlet from the latter to the oceans.  No sustained and major operations can be fought in Afghanistan without access from Karachi port to the Afghan heartland; the feasibility of such operations through an airhead in the Central Asian Republics (CARs) is militarily impossible. The long and troubled border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is in itself a battleground of no mean proportion and Pakistan considers Afghanistan its natural ‘strategic depth’, a term which has been differently interpreted by different analysts. The aspect of accessibility to the oceans plays out most significantly in the context of China’s One Belt One Road   (OBOR). The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is the flagship project of OBOR, with an investment of 62 bn USD, which Pakistan wishes to make the major binder for an even more profound strategic relationship with China.

Pakistan’s current cockiness in foreign policy may appear a brave front to minimize US coercion to pry maximum cooperation in Afghanistan. It is playing out its strong equation with China and the obvious advantages of its geostrategic location to set up its own significance and attempt to gain maximum from the international community, including possible concessions on J&K and its relationship with India.

Among major vulnerabilities is its lower riparian status in the regional drainage of waters from the catchment areas in the north; with the upper riparian being India the status of the Indus Waters Treaty assumes greater significance especially if India is continuously needled in other domains which impinge on its security.

Pakistan’s Strategic Security Priorities   

Perceiving an existential threat both on the borders and within, Pakistan’s current priorities for its strategic security are as follows (not in any order) :-

  • Besides its Islamic linkages the partnership with China forms the bedrock of its foreign policy. From it Pakistan draws tremendous support and a degree of freedom from coercion from larger and stronger countries such as the US and India. However, security policy framers in India need to be aware that the economic relationship between China and Pakistan is not based on aid but on loans which are reasonably expensive. The effect of repayment of loans is yet to be fully comprehended or analyzed with difference of opinion more rampant than any single view.
  • It is seeking fresh partnerships with countries such as Russia on basis of mutuality of interests in a world now examining different equations. However, a set of military cooperation exercises and sale of a few helicopters does not spell a new strategic equation.
  • It seeks to secure a major part of the strategic space vacated by the US and the INSAF in Afghanistan, through proxies such as Taliban and the Haqqanis and deny that space more specifically to Indian influence.
  • In the pursuance of the stabilization of the internal security scenario within Pakistan its security forces have suffered a major toll. In recent times it has executed two major operations – Zarb e Azb, to establish internal domination in the restive areas along the western front where the ‘bad terrorists’ (as against the friendly ones focused against India) have had a long run, and Radd – ul – Fassad, an operation to clean out areas in its hinterland by neutralizing the ‘bad terrorists’ and sectarian elements. 
  • It follows the continuation of proxy conflict in J&K using ‘friendlies’ and by default in other parts of India where it seeks to cause instability through disturbance of social cohesion. This gains major priority each time a trigger is either available by circumstances or successfully set up by the ‘friendlies’ primarily represented by the United Jihad Council (UJC). The possibility of such triggers in the near future becomes more relevant considering the wide open political space in Pakistan in its run up to the elections which are due in Jul 2018. With mainstream political parties largely weakened there are elements such as Hafiz Sayeed’s Jamat ul Dawa (JuD) (with a brand new political party – Milli Muslim League, to boot) and other friendly terrorist groups who could attempt to morph into political entities to garner credibility. Most of these groups follow a radical Islamist line and the political color they adopt is perceived to receive a fillip by a more strident anti India stance. The latter could result in attempts to execute high profile violent actions on Indian soil. 
  • Lastly, the pursuance of nuclear weapons is a very significant strength Pakistan possesses. Sanctions on the proliferation of its program were laid to rest as soon as it regained ‘frontline status’ for the US in its fight against radical jihadi elements in Afghanistan. The potential of the nuclear weapons falling into Jihadi hands as a result of a possible implosion of Pakistan remains an abiding concern among big powers. It offers scope for continuous impingement of this notion on the international community through effective Indian communication strategy.
  • Pakistan now boasts of having developed tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) as it claims, to counter India’s offensive thrusts which could be a part of the latter’s pro-active strategy on the western front. It does not yet have an answer to the feasibility of the employment of such TNWs crossing the rubicon of India’s declared No First Use policy in the employment of nuclear weapons as weapons of war fighting.

One of the subsets of Pakistan’s strategic security strategy which it has developed and refined is communication strategy, the art of effective propaganda and perception management. It appears to have partially borrowed this from China’s doctrine of ‘war under informationized conditions’. It is learnt that Pakistan is avidly studying India’s successful handling of the Doklam standoff with China. What can be expected in future is greater collusion between Pakistan and China in the approach to India and the disputes that exist with it.

Lastly, J&K still rules the roost as far as immediacy is concerned. Pakistan has been surprised by the speed with which Indian security forces (SF) have regained dominance in the Valley. However, as long as alienation among the populace in the Valley runs high the scope to overturn the situation in favor of Pakistan sponsored anti-national elements always remains. In a situation where Pakistan’s control over turbulence in the Valley is only marginal it is violent exchanges at the Line of Control (LoC) which becomes the symbol for projection of the J&K issue to the international community; keeping it in the focus, so to say.

India’s Counter Strategy

Considering the takeaways from the strategic security priorities of Pakistan India can ill afford not to have an updated view of the threats that are likely to be at play in 2018 and beyond. A counter strategy would already be under evolution as work in progress under the National Security Adviser (NSA). The possible areas on which such a strategy may focus are analyzed in succeeding paragraphs.

There are some assumptions and truisms we need to keep in mind while considering such a counter strategy:-

  • War is not an option to resolve issues but coercion of different kinds and different levels backed by credible deterrence remains one of the key elements in diluting threats.
  •  The world is undergoing change in terms of strategic relationships. Past foes can be friends and vice versa with no dogma of history of antipathy attached to future dispensations.
  • Partnerships between nations or membership of groups today are important and contribute to greater security as complexities and inter linkages within strategic situations have enhanced.
  • Communication strategy and narrative dominance are equally important tools in dealing with adversaries and grappling for advantage. Nations which lack this capability suffer from the perception they cannot evolve in favor of their own cause, in terms of justification of stands taken.
  • Diplomacy is usually of the structured kind, conducted upfront by a nation’s official diplomatic corps. However, narrative dominance is more likely to be achieved by under radar diplomacy conducted through employment of a corps of competent former diplomats, scholar warriors, bureaucrats and intelligence officers. Pakistan has itself mastered this art.

Indian Strategic Approach.  With the above truisms and assumptions in mind we may outline a broad strategy to tackle security issues thrown up by India’s overall standoff with Pakistan:-

  • India should no longer look upon Pakistan in isolation. That is the difference 2017 made. While threats from China and Pakistan have often in the past been viewed in tandem the tendency has more often been to view each in isolation. China and Pakistan are likely to assess avenues of cooperation which can place India at disadvantage. For example in the field of cyber capability China’s greater assistance to Pakistan will bring to bear a modern element of warfare along an enhanced front. India must therefore seek ways of countering this through counter cyber warfare techniques and systems.
  • India must continue to seek strategic partnerships with important countries on the basis of context of threats it faces. In the specific case of the collusive Sino-Pak threat the emerging Indo-US strategic partnership is the most significant. There may be occasions when India may have to re-examine its current interests and not be guided by the past. The apparent dilution of the Indo-Russian relationship must be kept in focus and ways to retract and recover it need to be considered. In the post ‘post-cold war’ world to expect that an Indo-Russian relationship will be based on the threat perceptions of the pre-cold war period is unrealistic. However, there is enough convergence of interest, probably well identified. The emergence of a Russian-Pak relationship must be viewed from an angle of new equations with no major compromise on the Indo-Russian relationship.
  • There appears to be a negative narrative created around India’s current military capability. Besides low budgetary allocations, and procedural inefficiency in procurement of weapons and equipment a very awkward civil-military relationship has eroded India’s deterrent capability vis-à-vis Pakistan. The solution lies within and how it needs to be done is the subject of another analysis.
  • The world is increasingly looking at the hybrid form of conflict which encompasses below threshold covert operations, economic warfare, resource threats such as those based on water, terror, separatism, sabotage and subversion. The range of hybrid threads can be many times more manifold and do not remain the purview of one nation. ‘Two can play the game’ – still remains a truism as everything thing can be paid back in kind and that includes 28 years of tolerance for Pakistan’s one sided hybrid aggression. There is every possibility that Kulbhushan Jadhav was kidnapped from Chahbahar to brand and project Indian espionage and subversive activities in Baluchistan.  It was also contrived to send a message to India’s intelligence leadership that Pakistan had a measure of control over the intelligence space. This must not dissuade India from setting up its own proxies in Pakistan, especially Baluchistan and cultivate its capability beyond the usual niceties between neighbors.
  • The J&K issue makes India vulnerable, takes away out of proportion focus of officials and the strategic community and needs out of the box handling to strengthen India’s stand. Military domination is important but equally important is the strategy evolved and executed to dilute alienation, take the population on board and involve it in nation building. While it may be easier said than done the efforts towards that end need to be seen as sincere and holistic. For this India needs to develop its overall communication strategy capability to counter Pakistan’s nefarious agencies and have its own versions of storytelling.
  • Storytelling is an essential part of communication strategy. There is much to learn from Pakistan in this regard and better it through willingness to adopt change. Our capability of outreach to important international institutions, think tanks and simply the right circles which matter, through unofficial diplomacy supported and briefed by the Government, is a must. The Indian narrative on all contentious issues must be heard and be absorbed.
  • Embassies and high commissions abroad have their hands full and are under staffed. India’s diplomatic corps is insufficiently large to undertake a full scale official diplomatic offensive. Hence the need for supplementing it with academics, army officers and others who show proficiency in understanding strategic affairs. On matters of core concern for India, such as J&K or Doklam (at the height of the crisis), the ability of our missions abroad to sell the Indian narrative needs to be progressively enhanced.
  • The oldest phrase and probably the most appropriate in all matters concerning Pakistan is –‘setting our own house in order’. If internal harmony between communities is in place no power can weaken India but the moment political interests override national interests we open ourselves up for exploitation.
  • Economic strength will override all other capabilities in the future. Pakistan is expecting to reach a figure of 7 percent GDP growth in the next three to four years on the back of the perceived CPEC benefits. Although economists are all skeptical about such expectations India’s GDP growth must outmatch Pakistan to allow the truth to sink in. Managers of India’s economy need to be mindful that apart from social parameters which are affected by economic growth so is projection of capability and power.
  • There is a certain position of respect acquired by India over years on the basis of its democratic and secular credentials and indices of human freedom and free media. This is soft power that India carries over and above its military and economic capability. It lends out of proportion credibility and enhances comprehensive national power which too is a deterrent for rogue nations undertaking adventurism against India.
  • Pakistan is unlikely to be coerced by US in the usual ways adopted thus far. If it has to be pulled back from the activities it is indulging in India and the US need to be in much more consultation. The US will have to be prepared to go the full mile and refrain from stopping mid-way and resorting to sops. In the short term it is unlikely to happen as historical US and particularly the US Military’s support to Pakistan will not wane overnight.
  • India’s risk propensity for undertaking one off punitive operations against Pakistan and its surrogates has to increase. There can be no perfect situations and solutions; much imperfection and a degree of crudity have to be accepted. It is only then retribution capability will increase. This should be left to the Army to handle with no encumbrances just as has been demonstrated at the LoC through 2017.
  • The experiment with countering terror, separatist and other financial networks has been a runaway success. Much more time and energy needs to be invested in this field as it has immediate effect. With reasonable success in the J&K theatre we now need to expand our counter finance operations to other states where the jihadi scope runs high.
  • In terms of the nuclear field India’s relative silence and maturity has somehow given Pakistan an erroneous perception of its (Pakistan’s) decided superiority in this field. Subtle correction of perception may be necessary to allow deterrence to take more effective shape.

The recent NSA parleys at Bangkok have been met with confused signals even from well informed circles. The truth remains that even at the height of standoff in relationships a window remains open. It may not be a process in place but one off meets to take stock and examine feasibility of changing course. Given the political events in the offing in both India and Pakistan in 2018-19 major initiatives for peace may not be forthcoming even in the absence of any major tensions. However, in the context of the times things can change overnight if bold initiatives are taken by political leaders. Inevitably such initiatives will need to come from India in view of the light political leadership in Pakistan and its guidance under Army control. The spoilers will remain the ‘good guys’ who deliver Pakistan’s perceived interests with regard to India. Pakistan needs to get this clear that its stance on talks and more talks has to be matched by sufficient initiative to ensure future talks if at all, are not sabotaged at the hands of maverick ‘good boys’.

Lastly, the feasibility of Doklam 2 looms large and in that are opportunities for Pakistan which it will not forego. India has to be more than ever mindful that lower intensity two front situations without the full spectrum being unleashed could well be on the cards; a kind of test of collusion for the future. Its strategic partnerships must ensure that India is not isolated in the event of such testing. It will need much support and that support will equally set the stage for future   standoffs.

(This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of ' Synergy, a Cenjows Journal' and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)

India Must Evolve Its Own Model of Integrated Military Theatre


India may need to adopt a model that keeps the individual components in a theatre under some form of dual control.

There is now a proposal to amend the single service acts to legally facilitate more operational integration between the three military services. The goal is that command and control issues, which are single-service based, do not come in the way of joint operations and the future joint theatre concept.

Some military legal experts have expressed their view that this has nothing to do with the desired operational integration. But any trigger to bring to light issues regarding integration, better command and control, jointness and resource sharing, is always welcome.

There needs to be greater debate in the public realm about these things because transparency in defence matters can be healthy.

There is a basic logic to the argument for ‘jointness’ and integration. The common aim of the three armed forces is to secure India against aggression and conduct such operations in the achievement of the national aim. To do this, they have different means, resources and work cultures. Without optimising joint capability, there is much wastage of resources. Also, the lack of a common work culture and procedures often places the achievement of the national aim at risk. It is the practice of integrating common technologies and available best practices with smart resource sharing that makes winners.

The Kargil Review Committee (KRC) in 2001 strongly recommended the adoption of greater integration, and the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to be the single authority for the government to consult, rather than individual service chiefs.

There are many examples of integrated services around the world. However, the model to be finally adopted has to be an Indian one, based on the threat pattern, geographic factors, and distinct work culture. It is best never to copy-paste existent models, but examine each for its worth.

The most common model quoted for integration is that of the US, which actually forced its armed forces into integration through a legislation in 1986; the Goldwater Nichols Act. It was the result of the perceived collective failure of the disastrous rescue attempt to evacuate hostages from the US embassy in Tehran in 1980 and the botched Grenada operation of 1983. All resources of the four armed forces (the Marines being the fourth element) were placed under different regional and task-based theatre headquarters.The theatre commander reports directly to the President of the US through the defence secretary (equivalent to defence minister in our case). The Joint Chiefs of Staff acts as an advisory body, with a chairman as its head. The individual service chiefs of the components do not assume operational responsibility, but are responsible for personnel, logistics and equipment aspects.

Is such a model applicable to the Indian scenario?

The answer is both yes and no. India has 17 individual service command HQs. The issue is whether these can regionally be integrated into theatres to ensure that no single service can claim primacy for its operations.

Whatever model of integration is adopted, there has to be doctrinal guidance and placement of all resources in a single basket. The key question is the ability to accept one service as the lead for a theatre. The best example of this is witnessed in the Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC) where naval primacy may be obvious and J&K where the Army may have to be in greater control. The issue of primacy, however, can pose obstacles in the path of integration.

The Shekatkar Committee has included in its recommendations the appointment of a CDS and an integrated ministry of defence, but that’s exactly what the KRC also did.

Here, the US model will make the service chiefs somewhat irrelevant. This is not a model which will be easily welcome in India. Our model may need to yet keep the individual components in a theatre under some form of dual control. Will this work optimally is something which needs intense debate. The responsibility for details of structures and resource sharing is surely that of the current military leadership, which can suitably seek greater advice from the strategic community.

The critical question is whether the incremental approach towards theaterisation and integration is the right way or a sudden, transformational approach as adopted by the US in 1986.

Baby steps such as amending service laws may not really lead to anything substantial. The government is on record to have taken a decision on the Defence Cyber and Space Agencies and a Special Operations Division, which the defence secretary has said will soon become a reality. However, a MoD shorn of expertise in the handling of these may surely not be the optimum way towards the future.

One can perhaps visualise a potential compromise formula as a first move: creating a CDS holding all task-based commands and agencies (including Strategic Forces Command and ANC). We can also reform the MoD, infusing it with some uniformed presence. These can be the baby steps that eventually move towards a full-blown theatre command concept.

(This article was originally published in 'The Print' on March 21, 2018 and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)

Concerns of the Indian Army

In 2005 the Indian Armed Forces very zealously adopted the concept of ‘transformation’, a term borrowed from the lexicon of the US Armed Forces. Essentially it meant ‘a very big change’; that change was essential in the sphere of war fighting due to the way various technologies, with information technology (IT) at the core, were rapidly demanding a move well beyond the military capabilities of the Cold War period.

Fresh from its then recent experience of ‘Operation Parakram’, which involved massive mobilisation against Pakistan, the Indian military attempted to explain to the political and bureaucratic authorities how it was looking at the future even as ‘transformation’ was underway in various countries. Its enthusiasm found few takers and support for its ambitious projects was halfhearted. Although the 11th and 12th Plans did cater for incremental manpower needs the wherewithal just could not materialise. ‘Transformation’ died a natural death around 2011, buried under the mountain of neglect, lack of perception and inability to financially support the change which was being sought.

It’s due to the history of this neglect that finally the Army’s Vice Chief, Lt Gen Sarath Chand was recently forced to inform the Parliamentary Committee on Defence Affairs on the lack of preparedness and severe glitches in the Army’s modernisation program, a position equally applicable to the Navy and the Air Force. Most reports on this important issue affecting India’s national security have focused on the details of the failure of financial backing and the inability to remove bureaucratic hurdles. However, a simple summary projected by most of these reports conveys the message without the attached details. In an adequately prepared war machine 30% of weapons and equipment should fall in the state of the art (SOA) category, 40% in current and 30% in vintage category. The existing state of the Indian Army brought to the notice of the Committee is 8% SOA, 24% current and 68% vintage category.

With existing and emerging threats arising out of China’s consistent efforts at domination of the continental and maritime domains, exchanges on the LoC, the possibility of collusion between China and Pakistan and sponsored terrorist actions which could cross the threshold of India’s tolerance, the possibility of armed standoff against both adversaries remains live. While most analysts agree that all out conventional war is still a remote contingency this cannot be used as a dictum for the state of the nation’s military preparedness which should never be sub optimum.

Unfortunately, the idea does not seem to find favour with those who control the purse strings, that being optimally armed, equipped, trained and motivated is half the battle and sends appropriate messages of deterrence or dissuasion, as the case may be. No doubt there are competing domains for the share of national resources but the element of risk that is involved in remaining underprepared in the military domain must overshadow all other considerations. The perceptions that emerge from the military leadership cannot be dismissed lightly and trust in its professional judgment is only prudent.

It needs to be recalled that in 1965 Pakistan’s adventurous plans were based on its perception that any delay in attempting to capture its claimed areas would be risky as the Indian military was reforming and equipping itself but was then not fully prepared for war. Assumptions of military weakness tempt adversaries.

The Army’s current leadership has unnecessarily been under fire for making public utterances from time to time. The Army Chief, Vice Chief and a few Army Commanders have expressed their frank opinion about perceptions of threats and preparedness. In earlier years, the Army leadership was content with transparently placing its observations and concerns to the government through its annual reports and theme papers; these were never made public and rarely acted upon. Providing answers to parliamentary questions still adhered to what the government wished to reveal. It is the annual presentation to the Parliamentary Committee which was always considered an appropriate forum to be realistically transparent. Much depended upon the members of the committees of the past, their level of understanding and perceptions about security affairs.

The present committee’s better grasp has obviously been the trigger for the current expression of concern. It too has realized that 1.49% of the GDP at Rs 2.79 lakh crore which forms the defence budget cannot hope to meet both the revenue and capital needs of the defence services. In strong words the Army Vice Chief stated, “The 2018-19 budget has dashed our hopes; the marginal increase hardly caters for inflation…allocation of Rs 21,338 crore for modernisation is insufficient even to cater for committed payment for 125 on-going schemes, emergency procurements, and 10 days worth of ammunition at intense rates”.

What is also revealing is that gaping holes in perimeter security of major army camps remain unaddressed as the much touted allotments for this are within the existing budget. Coupled with the huge expenditure on meeting the needs for response at Doklam, it is reliably learnt that the Army’s current transportation and some other budgets ran out of funds a couple of weeks ago, well before the end of the financial year.

What is going to be the result of this transparency? Will it help in better appreciation of the grave deficiency in defence capability and capacity which is becoming more and more apparent? What the Army needs to do is to continue speaking about this and let the public perception on the deficiency become more realistic. There are ways of being transparent without upsetting any rules. In functional democracies like ours its ultimately public perception which pushes governments to adhere to norms of as basic a requirement as national security.

(This article was originally published in 'DNA India' on March 19, 2018 and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)

Is Enforced Army Service for Civil Service Aspirants Necessary?


The Parliamentary Committee on Defence is reported to have recommended five years of compulsory military service for anyone who wants subsequent employment with the state or the central government. The committee apparently wants the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) to prepare such a proposal and take this to the Centre.

On the face of it, the perception and recommendation of the Committee reflects the core feelings of most Indians that a dose of compulsory military training for ‘all citizens’ will only do good for the people and the nation. It is reflective of the deep reverence the nation has for its armed forces, their basic value system, discipline, training, sense of duty, and patriotism.
Also Read: Short of 60,000 Hands, Are the Indian Armed Forces Battle Ready?

However, on the outset it is necessary to explain that executing such a desire is impractical given the sheer size of our recruitable male and female population (gender equation being a compulsion too). Examples of nations such as Israel, Singapore, Switzerland or the Nordic states, which follow such a system, cannot be taken as a model. Their population bases and nature of threats are altogether different. However, giving the Parliamentary Committee its due, there is nothing such as conscription in the recommendations set out.

All that the committee has done is that it has sent a broad proposal concerning only aspirants for government service and that too for only gazetted ranks. Five years compulsory service in the armed forces will, as per its perception, achieve two things:

First, it will instil in the civil services (aspirants) an inherent discipline that the men in uniform follow, along with their regimentation, ethics, morals and values.
Second, it will help overcome the acute shortages that continue to persist, especially in officer ranks, the army in particular.

Advantages of the Proposal - 

Some more advantages can be perceived with a closer examination of the proposal. Among them is the likely progressive improvement in civil-military relations as more civil services officers having undergone military service reach higher ranks of bureaucracy or police services.

This is an aspect of functioning in India which has drawn much negativity. In future years, the bond of the uniform, the respect for camaraderie built in the ranks, essentials of regimental bonding and much more will come forward to overcome traditional rivalry.

No one is denying that rivalry may still exist but denting it will help the system.

There can be no doubt about the fact that the proposal will need many summers before it can be approved, and refinement will include experimentation and lessons, besides a full look at terms of service for each type of personnel.

But the issue it will impact in full is the shortage of officers; there is no need to address shortage of soldiers as that is self-corrective, being an issue of exit and entry statistics at a given time.
The armed forces are always accused of having a pyramidal system for the officer cadre where wastage is extremely high. This is because the majority joins the ‘main cadre,’ thus becoming aspirants for long service and higher rank. This makes competition intense. Existing alongside is a ‘support cadre’ – those in service for a shorter duration and not aspiring for long service and higher selection rank.

Bolstering Support Cadres, Overcoming Deficiency - 

Ideally every service of the armed forces should have a large officer based ‘support cadre’ and a lean ‘main cadre’ so that the force remains young in profile with quicker promotions and less competition. In India, however, it’s the other way around. Any reversal of this cannot happen in isolation.

Those exiting also have to be taken care of, by side stepping them into other services that don’t require stringent standards of physical fitness. In India, no other service accepts them despite a Cabinet-approved proposal of 2004, on what is called the ‘peel factor’ (employing those peeling off from the cadre at different stages).

The induction of civil service aspirants will obviously be to the ‘support cadre’ to strengthen that and overcome the problem of deficiency of officers. Both men and women aspirants can join the support cadre through a short service commission for five years or so. 
Stringent medical and physical fitness standards will need to be adopted and can be anticipated as one of the obstacles to the final clearance of this proposal.

In addition, there can be consideration for ante date seniority for those who do military service and then join the civil services; that is if the civil services cadre could have acceptance with a dual intake pattern, combination of those who serve the armed forces and those who come in directly. All these details will obviously be examined with a fine tooth comb, and the DoPT is adept at evolving cadres with varying terms and conditions.

What the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee do not deserve is outright rejection as some kind of a hare-brained idea. It needs to run the gamut of serious examination followed by short-term experimentation. If successful, it will have achieved much, but a conclusive decision appears to be a good distance away.

(This article was originally published in 'The Quint' on March 16, 2018 and has been republished here with the permission of the author. Read it here.)

The Iran-Pakistan border is a geopolitical powder keg


The Iran-Pakistan border contains all the ingredients for a geopolitical explosion – regional rivalries, Sunni-Shia conflicts, ethnic insurgents, espionage, drug smuggling and human trafficking.

China considers the stability of the region so important that it brokered a series of border security meetings between Iran and Pakistan over the past year.

Much of China’s multi-billion-dollar investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) hinges on the commercial viability of the Pakistani port of Gwadar, near the Iranian border, for which it has a 40-year operational lease. Moreover,  CPEC is the regional linchpin of the Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious plan to connect Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa to China through a series of land-based and maritime economic zones.

Additionally, the planned Chinese naval base on Pakistan’s Jiwani peninsula, even closer to the Iranian border and located at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, is a critical military node in China’s “String of Pearls” facilities designed to dominate the strategic sea lanes in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.

Such ambitions present a direct economic and military threat to India. Commercially, Gwadar competes with joint Iranian-Indian development of the port of Chabahar, just 150 miles to its west. 

According to numerous reports, Saudi Arabia contributes to the instability of the border region by sponsoring virulently anti-Shia Sunni militant groups, such as Jaish al-Adl, who launch attacks on Iran from safe havens in Pakistan. 

Iran retaliates by supporting the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF), an ethnic separatist group, whose sanctuaries and leader, Dr. Allah Nazar Baloch, are claimed to be inside Iranian territory and routinely conduct cross-border operations against Pakistani government targets. Members of the BLF are suspected to be in contact with Iranian intelligence, often through drug lords acting as intermediaries. BLF members are occasionally confused with their anti-Shia counterparts. Some months ago, a BLF team was mistakenly attacked by Iranian border guards. One member, shot in the encounter, was taken to Imam Ali Hospital in Chabahar for treatment, but later died of his wounds. The other team members were subsequently released by Iranian forces.

There are also narco-terrorists groups on the Pakistani side of the border with indirect links to the government in Islamabad. Lashkar-e-Khorasan, a alleged Islamic State affiliate, has been reportedly involved in “cleansing” western Balochistan of Sufi Zikris, Shia Hazaras, Hindus, Christians, Ahahmadis, Sikhs or anyone else who refuses to convert to the extreme form of Sunni Islam. The purported leader of Lashkar-e-Khorasan is Mullah Shahmir Bizenjo, a resident of Turbat, whose cousin is Senator Hasil Bizenjo, a member of the National Party and currently Pakistan's Minister of Maritime Affairs. According to the Daily Beast, one of the drug world's most notorious opium traffickers, also from Turbat, is Imam Bizenjo aka Imam Bheel, a National Party financier, whose son, Yaqoob Bizenjo, served as a member of the Pakistan National Assembly until 2013.

A more ominous portent of Iran-Pakistan border instability, is the return of the “Zainebiyoun” brigade. As a result of its involvement in the Syrian conflict, Iran created a unit composed of

Pakistani Shia volunteers trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), who have gained extensive combat experience fighting for the Assad regime against Sunni militants. It is rumored that “Zainebiyoun” members are now infiltrating back into Pakistan to provide the cadre for a Hazara self-defense force, a community long under attack by virulently anti-Shia extremist groups in Pakistan.

Chinese efforts towards Iran-Pakistan reconciliation has borne some fruit. In recent months, there has been a flurry of agreements in trade, defense, weapons development, counter-terrorism, banking, train service, parliamentary cooperation and, most recently, art and literature

Iran seeks to separate Pakistan from Saudi Arabia, while Pakistan tries to balance relations with both states. China benefits by reducing tensions among all the regional players in order to advance its wider economic and military aims.

The lesson for the United States is that Afghanistan is swimming in a sea of instability and not, as we seem to presume, the focal point of that instability. American policy should be focused on burden shifting, managing and, when appropriate, exploiting instability to thwart Chinese hegemony.

The changing nature of Russia’s engagement in South Asia

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“I cannot forecast to you the actions of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But there may be a key and that key is Russian national interest." - Winston Churchill

South Asia prominently features in Russian foreign policy from time to time. Countries of the region have always found a spot in several Russian doctrines and strategies. Russia has outlined the South Asia strategy in its ‘Naval Doctrine up to 2020’ as well as in its ‘National Security Strategy up to 2020.’ In the 2012 keynote article “Russia and the changing world,” Putin talks about the growing role of Asia-Pacific while emphasizing the exceptional economic growth displayed by China and India, referring to new horizons of a fruitful cooperation. The latest Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation (2016) continues to espouse Russia’s strategic interests and priorities in South Asia, dwelling majorly on its relations with India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and other countries in the region, as well as incorporating the US-China dimension. Its policy in South Asia has been largely motivated by a desire for resurgence and establishing a renewed role for itself in the region, while still remaining India-centric in nature. Over the years, Russia’s policy in the region has been gradually shifting – from rethinking its ties with India and Pakistan to taking a more decisive stand on Afghanistan. More recently, Russia is warming up to Pakistan and its interests are finding convergence with those of China’s. Many in India watch this development with suspicion and wonder if the days of exclusive bonhomie between India and Russia are over. However, the year 2017 saw India-Russia relations regaining momentum, with both heads of states choosing to start this year by exchanging New Year greetings and committing to sustain the privileged strategic partnership.

Soviet Union first came in contact with India at the Paris Peace Conference and the UN Conference at San Francisco in 1946. Subsequently, it took steps to initiate relations with India and Pakistan in 1947. That same year, the Soviet delegation attended the Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi. However, it was not until the mid-1950s that Kremlin started to give shape to its South Asia Policy, focusing largely on its friendship with India while Pakistan was already a military ally of the United States. In 1955, Khrushchev and Bulganin offered economic and political support to India as well as made visits to Burma and Afghanistan, marking the beginning of Soviet foreign aid programme and its special relationship with India.

Soviet interest in South Asia amplified especially after the emergence of People’s Republic of China, creation of SEATO and establishment of American bases in South Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan and Philippines. It was primarily under Khrushchev that the region gained prominence in Soviet foreign policy, largely with the objective to neutralize the growing American and Chinese footprint. It was in the 1970s that the Soviet Union started to gain a more dominant role in the affairs of South Asia than China or the US.  Moscow played a key role in defeating Pakistan in 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, by signing the Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation with India and thereafter supplying missiles to destroy Pakistani battleships and vessels. Thus, traditionally Russian interests in South Asia have revolved around countering US and Chinese interests in the region, strengthening its grip and fostering ties with India, with lesser focus on Pakistan and smaller countries unlike during the Soviet period.

The post-Cold War period saw Russia struggling to redefine its interests in the region and coming to terms with its own internal economic and political challenges. During this time, Russia preferred to look westward in order to address its growth and developmental needs. Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept 1993 highlighted the shift in Russia’s approach in South Asia and placed the region at seventh position in Russia’s priority order. With the onset of 21st century and Putin assuming charge, shifts were again observed within Russian policy. Russia and India forged a strategic partnership in 2000 which was later developed into a ‘special and privileged partnership’ in 2010. Conversely, Russian leaders were slow to foster closer ties with Pakistan. The only visit by a Russian leader to Pakistan in the post-Cold War era took place in 2007. As far as other countries in the region are concerned, Russia traditionally has continued to have amicable relations.

In the last few years, Russia’s policy under Putin has experienced a major transformation particularly in its arms deals in South Asia. This is especially true after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. This period witnessed greater engagement between India and the United States – the Nuclear Deal, a closer defense partnership and the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement – all causes for concern for Russia. The data from SIPRI also suggests a surge in the US share in Indian arms imports from 0.18 % in 1995-2000 to 13.78% in 2011-15. This coincided with reduced U.S. military aid to Pakistan, leading Pakistan to diversify its suppliers by bringing Russia into the picture. Russia, facing sanctions in the wake of Crimean annexation (resulting in pressure on its economy), decided to sign a defense cooperation agreement and supply military hardware such as the Mi-35Attack Helicopters to Pakistan. The two countries also kicked off their first joint military exercise Druzhba in 2016.A Russian-built LNG pipeline linking Karachi to Lahore is also on cards.

With regard to other countries in the region, Russia and Bangladesh for the first time collaborated for the construction of a nuclear power plant – Rooppur – which also involves India. Maldives has become one of the top tourist destinations for Russia; the year 2016 saw 46,522 tourists from Russia, a raise of 5% from 2015. Bilateral trade between Sri Lanka and Russia has grown over the years, particularly the tea exports from Sri Lanka and grain exports from the other side. Sri Lankan tea makes up 30 per cent of Russia’s market. Tourism industry is another area of cooperation. In 2016, Sri Lanka witnessed 58,176 Russian tourist arrivals.

The most important aspect of Russia’s realigned policy in South Asia has been Russia’s role in Afghanistan. Its decision to engage with the Taliban is in sharp contrast with India’s idea of peace in Afghanistan. Russia sees Taliban as significant in preventing the growth of Islamic State in Afghanistan and consequently reaching Central Asia. Russia has been hosting several summits on Afghanistan mostly with exclusion of the U.S. to ensure its indispensable place in any future breakthrough. It is believed that Russia’s strategy in Afghanistan speaks of a ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ (linking South, Central and East Asia). In this scheme, Russia’s relations with China are also crucial especially from the point of view of countering U.S. influence in the region. Institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Russia-India-China trilateral initiative have facilitated harmonization of Russia’s interests and objectives with China’s, prominent examples being issues related to Syria and North Korea. Russia has also expressed its willingness to cooperate with China’s Belt & Road Initiative.

Despite the changing dynamics of Russian policy in South Asia and a speculative Russia-Pakistan-China axis gaining eminence, its relations with India continues to remain stable. Both countries continue to support each other–both voted against the U.S.resolution on Jerusalem at the UN, India voted against a UN General Assembly resolution condemning human rights situation in Crimea and Sevastopol among others. However, it is suggested that the two countries need to broaden their relations beyond defense cooperation and arms trade. India-Russia bilateral trade was a mere $7.83 billion in 2015, whereas India-US bilateral stood at $132 billion. For a more effective relationship, the two countries will have to work towards a greater economic cooperation.

Russia’s realignment in South Asia requires a more balanced outlook. Forging new relations at the cost of traditional, time-tested friendships may not be a good idea. At the same time, focus on smaller countries of the region is vital. The customary objective of using China to counter U.S. influence in the region must be revisited in the wake of Trump’s renewed South Asia policy.

Slow, but steady: Indian response to maritime concerns


If India was wary of Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea, it was outright harried by the continued advancements of large-scale Chinese infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean. Djibouti, Gwadar, Colombo, Hambantota, Maldives…one by one, China has been persistent in its strategic positioning through the Indian Ocean. This assortment of military bases and ports, dubbed “the string of pearls,” has been seen as an attempt by Beijing to keep New Delhi on its toes.  

India, for its part, has not been a silent spectator amid the maritime chaos. Subtly so, India has been active in addressing its domestic shipping policies and foreign relations to ameliorate the geopolitical risk posed by China. In late 2015, India implemented a change in its cabotage laws which not only denoted a milestone for its own shipping industry, but significantly reduced reliance on foreign ports that operate on Chinese investment. Till 2015, cargo ships had to dock at nearby deep-water ports such as Colombo, Dubai and Singapore before unloading and having their goods delivered in smaller vessels to shallow-water ports on the subcontinent in a process known as transshipment. This was done in an effort to promote the Indian cargo fleet and keep them active for use in domestic waters. However, this resulted in Indian manufacturers paying nearly USD$350 more per container due to the transshipment detour which hurt their competitiveness globally.

In December 2015, India’s shipping minister Nitin Gadkari announced a plan to relax India’s sabotage law to allow foreign-owned ships to enter national waters and dock at mainland ports. As a demonstration of the policy in full swing, a shipment of 800 Hyundai cars was unloaded at APM Terminal Pipavav, a port in Gujarat controlled by shipping behemoth Maersk. In addition to throwing open Indian waters to major international shipping lines, India has also been proactive in developing its own deep-water ports near major trade routes to divert domestic traffic away from foreign ports such as those of Colombo and Hambantota, which have a significant Chinese presence. The new port, Vizhinjam, has a natural depth of 59 feet that will be further deepened to 72 feet via dredging which will allow mega-container ships to dock. Once connected to India’s inland rail and road network, the port will result in significant economies of scale for Indian importers and international shippers as they can now avoid a lengthy detour to Sri Lanka. At one point, the Colombo International Container Terminal, a joint venture between China Merchant Holdings International and Sri Lanka Ports Authority, used to be responsible for over 48% of India’s transshipment volume. Once Vizhinjam is completed and in action, Colombo may stop enjoying the perks of being the only major transshipment hub in South Asia

India has also been prudent in engaging in Southeast neighbors with an eye on containing China’s expansion plans in the area. During Vietnamese president Tran Dai Quang’s state visit to India last weekend, both countries shook hands on affirming the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Both heads of state reiterated their support for international maritime law as well as their commitment to open trade in the Indo-Pacific region, alluding to a mutual determination in keeping China in check. In perhaps what is the most obvious show of regional security cooperation against China, New Delhi is hosting naval training exercises in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands this week. This 8-day naval program (named MILAN 2018) will see the participation of more than 15 countries including Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Indonesia – many of whom have expressed concerns regarding China’s aggressive policy in the South China Sea themselves. The drills will involve countering unlawful activities in the sea lanes and discuss the Chinese problem in the context of maritime law. Geographically speaking, the exercise will be conducted out of Port Blair, an area that is positioned right at the entrance of the Malacca Straits, a reaffirmation of New Delhi’s intentions of engaging member countries which are beyond its immediate neighborhood, particularly in Southeast Asia.

India’s responses to concerns stemming from China’s abrasiveness have been relatively quiet, but effective. Instead of engaging directly with China, much like what has been observed in the Spratly Islands, India has instead looked towards changing its own shipping regulations to curb dependency on Chinese-backed foreign ports. In terms of India’s own infrastructure plans, the port of Vizhinjam (and other similar projects) are a solid response to what could have been a loss of control in India’s own backyard amid a growing number of China’s ‘pearls’ in the Indian Ocean. Finally, bringing together stakeholders in the Indo-Pacific region who stand united against China’s maritime ambitions is another diplomatic feat which both undermines Chinese maritime authority in contested territory and highlights India’s influence in regional security matters.









The Long Road To FATA Reforms


Since its creation, Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have been institutionally and socially disconnected from the mainstream. A territory governed by federally appointed Political Agents, and the role of “Maliks” only perpetuated the feudal order in place. The power accorded to the agents in “handling inter-tribal disputes over boundaries or use of natural resources for regulating trade in natural resources with other agencies” is evident of the skewed structure of governance. Continuation of the colonial era draconian law Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) added to the existing problems, especially with its provision of collective punishment and the role of Jirgas as the dispensers of justice in civil and criminal cases. Absence of formal legal jurisdiction also meant that anyone, after committing a crime in Pakistan could escape into the region, thereby seeking refuge in lieu of protection from the tribal leaders.

Efforts had been made, especially from the time of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to integrate FATA into Pakistan with the establishment of a Committee under Major General (Retd.) Naseerullah Babar, the then KPK governor, with the aim to make it a part of NWFP, but no progress could take place once General Zia’s coup derailed the progress.  Full adult franchise was extended to the region in 1996, enabling the people to elect representatives from FATA to the National Assembly during the 1997 general elections, but this did not give the representatives right to legislate for the region.

FATA came into the news once again when America’s “War on Terror” forced the Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan to take shelter in this region and enmesh with the Tribal societies. Several factors, including FATA’s porous borders with Afghanistan, its backward and remote status, Taliban’s anger with Pakistan’s acquiescence to America’s Afghan policy, combined with the feudal social structures (which made the downtrodden sections of society dependent on Arab funded extremist seminaries) made the region volatile, one of its after effects being the creation  of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. After several committee reports which went unimplemented, efforts gained pace after 2014 Peshawar school attack, following which National Action Plan (NAP) report released immediately in its aftermath, making FATA integral to the reform agenda. Besides improvements in region’s security structure, abolition of FCR and integration of FATA with KP were NAP’s key priorities.  

In November 2015, the Prime Minister set up a six member FATA Reforms Committee “to propose a concrete way forward for the political mainstreaming of FATA area”, with the aim of devising an overall complete reforms package for the region. After numerous debates, the Supreme Court and High Court (extension of jurisdiction to Fata) Act 2017 was unanimously passed by the passed by the lower house of the parliament, thereby extending the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and the Peshawar High Court to the FATA.  

The developments show there is a unanimous opinion among civil and military establishments over FATA’s reform process. While on paper, the proposed reforms promise benefits to FATA’s inhabitants and Pakistan’s overall security situation, politicization of the issue has put the reforms agenda at risk.

Even before these reforms have seen light, political squabbling has already begun with political parties fighting over the efficacy of the reforms, busy mobilizing opinions.

While a cautious approach is needed over a sensitive region like FATA, the prevailing state of affairs could defeat the larger purpose of stabilizing the region and putting it on the positive development trajectory.  The fact that FATA’s inclusion into KPK would add 23 seats to KP provincial assembly (as per the Constitution (30th Amendment) Bill, 2017 introduced in May) has added to growing anxiety among political parties, as it sets stage for new political equations and calculus.

Regional parties like JUI-F and Mahmood Khan Achakzai led Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (also an ally of PML-N), while supporting the abolition of FCR, lobbied against FATA’s merger with KPK, citing impediments to self-determination of Pashtuns.

Also, the issue of the monopoly of judicial power wielding Jirgahs is under question (which stands to be diluted once the court rule is extended once the Fata jurisdiction bill is cleared by Senate and gets presidential approval), also found strong support from Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who has been strongly mobilizing the tribals to oppose any policy change in this regard. Jirgah meetings in FATA’s various parts - taken over by both JUI-F and MAP, have called - staged protests, attempting to hijack the narrative and portraying as sole representatives, negotiating with the government on behalf of FATA.

The extension of KP Police to FATA has been opposed by some sections of tribals, who felt that a sudden introduction of a policing setup such a set up would alienate the people.  While Numerous meetings have been held between the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Home and Tribal Affairs Department as well as the KP Police mulling over proposals regarding FATA’s police structure, discussing issues like “regular policing, identify tribal sensitivities, utility of the existing Levies, ascertain training of levies and Khassadars”, it is yet to be ascertained whether FATA’s representatives have been taken into confidence of not.

Ruling PML-N also came under severe criticism for failing to introduce the FATA reform bill in December (an attempt which comes shortly after the Rewaj bill was flayed by opposition as PMLN’s delaying tactic), as it borrowed more time yet promised the implementation, a move seen as the party falling hostage to blackmail from its allies, especially with the elections around the corner. Hence, the government was forced to change the terminology from “merger” to “mainstreaming”.

An attitudinal shift is also needed on the part of the state and the military establishment on how FATA continues to be neglected irrespective of the structural impediments in its governance. One of the biggest threats the agency is the presence of thousands of active landmines, a legacy of the military operations and communal feuds in the region, and problems increased after the returning Internally Displaced Persons (some 1.5 million in numbers) began to be affected. According to Pakistan Red Cross Society, around “2,000 cases of landmine blasts were reported in FATA during the past few years.” The failure of state agencies to take cognition of these sufferings led to the creation of Pashtun Tahafuz Movement. Although formed with removal of landmines as one of its key demand, the movement metamorphosed into a long march, rallying for a different cause, yet closely related with the alienation of Pashtuns. The killing of a young Waziri man, Naqeeb Mehsud in a fake encounter in Karachi by a notorious police officer set the stage for Pashtun Long March, which besides mobilizing Pashtuns from KP and Balochistan also witnessed participation of FATA inhabitants protesting against the state’s apathy, led by Manzoor Pashteen, young activist from South Waziristan.

The ten day long agitation in Islamabad did end after government gave assurances, but the event also comes across as a wake-up call for both Islamabad and Rawalpindi that it is high time FATA reforms are carried out with sincerity and avoid being reduced to a conflict among political egos.  

Prateek Joshi works as a Research Associate with Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi based policy think tank. Previously, he has worked on a policy project with Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, an autonomous think tank funded by the Ministry of Defence.


How Pakistan Supports the Taliban and Why the United States Does Nothing


American military leaders  are still in denial about fighting the wrong war in Afghanistan.
After successfully toppling the Taliban regime in 2001, the  United States and our NATO allies implemented a policy of nation building to bolster the new Afghan government.  Moreover, the coalition employed counterinsurgency tactics against the growing number of Taliban fighters that were  returning to Afghanistan from safe havens in Pakistan  within eighteen months of their defeat.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom circulating in the offices of the Pentagon, the conflict in Afghanistan is not an insurgency, but a proxy war. One can arguably claim that the Taliban comprises a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. 

It is common knowledge   that there is a Taliban infrastructure and support network in Pakistan along its border with Afghanistan, which includes education, recruiting, training, financial and command and control centers. It is also no secret that the ISI employs local groups as “cut-outs” to facilitate the movement of Taliban fighters across the porous border because. Additionally, the facilitators’ names and locations are sometimes known, as well as the identities of the ISI handlers.

Although the motives underlying Pakistani behavior are clear, the rational behind the United States’ inaction is  not .

Pakistan has always  sought  to maintain Afghanistan as a client state, free of Indian influence. More recently, Pakistan has decided to tie its future to China and that country’s economic and military ambitions in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region.  A continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan is an impediment to Pakistan’s ambitions Therefore, the  United States. needs to be convinced that the Taliban will never be defeated, a claim that Pakistan has repeatedly made. Pakistan will always be able to do just enough to prevent the U.S. from achieving its aims in Afghanistan while simultaneously avoiding direct conflict with the United States

Pakistan’s strategy is not new. Forty years ago, President Zia ul Haq said that Afghanistan should be kept “boiling at the right temperature,” at that time to prevent Soviet intervention. For the last sixteen years in Afghanistan, the U.S. has been a slowly boiling frog.

The oft-cited and counter intuitive reason why the United States does not more vigorously challenge Pakistan’s support of the Taliban is that we need Pakistan’s help to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent it from becoming a launch pad for international terrorism. In other words, the U.S. wants Pakistan to defeat its proxy. Yet many still wonder why that has not happened.

The problem resides elsewhere. Pakistan’s military, the de facto government, has only two instruments of foreign policy: Islamic extremism and nuclear weapons. The former is primarily a regional threat, whereas the latter can be existential. Pakistan, thus far, has successfully applied a combination of both in Afghanistan, often in the form of blackmail.

The U.S. chooses not to attack Taliban targets in Pakistan because of the fear that doing so will further destabilize Pakistan and risk nuclear weapons getting into the hands of regional or international terrorist organizations .

The United States continues to pretend that war in Afghanistan is an insurgency, knowing that without Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal the conflict might have ended years ago. The United States  does not have the adequate policies for managing rogue nuclear-armed states, who export instability, whether it is terrorist, nationalistic or ideological – or for the major powers that sponsor them. 

Lawrence Sellin, Ph.D. is a retired US Army Reserve colonel, an IT command and control subject matter expert, trained in Arabic and Kurdish, and a veteran of Afghanistan, northern Iraq and a humanitarian mission to West Africa. He receives email at

Sanctions on Pakistan by the US: Why it is potentially a beneficial move


Pakistan is supposed will be placed on the Financial Actions Task Force’s (FATF) watch list for terrorist financing in the upcoming FATF meeting in June. While this is a welcome move by the global community, the United States should implement economic sanctions against Pakistan to undermine Pakistan’s support for terrorism throughout South Asia. Putting Pakistan on the watch list for terrorist financing will weaken Pakistan’s economy through increased transaction costs and regulatory scrutiny which will decrease both the growth investment. Pakistan was on the same watch list for nearly 20 years before it was removed in 2015, and has continued to tolerate terrorist financing. Therefore, more must be done to adequately punish Pakistan for its continued support of terrorism.

Pakistan has continually supported terrorists or tolerated their practices in both India and Afghanistan. In 1948, armed Pakistani Pashtun militants were responsible for marauding Kashmir while Islamabad continues to provide weapons and soldiers for Kashmiri infiltrations in addition to providing a haven for anti-Indian terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In Afghanistan, the Soviet incursion was driven back in 1989 by the US-Pakistani backed mujahedeen, but Pakistan has continued to support the Haqqani Network, an Afghan insurgent group that descended from the 1989 mujahedeen, in its ongoing fight against the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.

By sanctioning Pakistan, the United States can restrict its funding to foreign terrorist organisations, a move consistent with the United State’s goals of global counter-terrorism. Trade counts for 25 percent of Pakistan’s GDP of almost $300 billion and the United States account for 13.5 percent of Pakistani exports. Additionally, if the European Union, which accounts for 18 percent of Pakistan’s exports, and other international partners were to implement similar measures, then Pakistan’s revenue could be drastically reduced. Significant reductions in revenue could force Pakistan to change course as there would be less money available for the military, ISI, state-sponsored insurgents and the public sector. Therefore, these actions could potentially place great strain on the Pakistani economy.

The sanctions must be implemented because past actions have been ineffective in curbing Pakistan’s support for terrorists. President Trump’s suspension of $900 million worth of economic and military aid did not affect Pakistan’s behaviour, for Islamabad has escalated their attacks and infiltrations along the Kashmir Line of Control (LoC). Moreover, Pakistan can seek military equipment and aid from China. Limited sanctions have been placed on Pakistan in the past. In May 1998, President Clinton imposed sanctions on Pakistan through the Glenn Amendment for its testing of multiple nuclear weapons, following India’s nuclear weapons tests. Additionally, in October of 1990, President Bush was unable to certify that Pakistan did not possess nuclear weapons and used the Pressler Amendment to withhold economic and military assistance to Pakistan. Therefore, the implementation of sanctions against Pakistan is not unprecedented. However, their success depends on sweeping long-term sanctions that remain in place until Islamabad undertakes serious foreign policy reform.

Sanctions would have negligible effects on the United States’ economy and operations in Afghanistan. While Pakistan may close NATO supply routes into Afghanistan, aerial and Central Asian routes through the former Soviet States could be opened. When Pakistan closed the NATO supply routes in 2011, NATO utilised the Central Asia—Russia routes. Additionally, a trade agreement between the United States and India could be established to offset the minor economic damages to the United States as a result of implementing economic sanctions on Pakistan. As the relationship grows between New Delhi and Washington, the sanctions on Pakistan could earn the United States a favourable trade agreement with India which is forecasted to be one of the fastest growing economies in 2018. India is a more strategic partner in countering violent extremism throughout the South Asia sub-continent and is committed to halting the extremism emanating from Pakistan which makes India a welcome ally and partner in the future.

Overall, the negative effects of economic sanctions on Pakistan are negligible in comparison to the potential benefits gained from the move. If this support were ended, Afghanistan might be more easily managed by the United States and NATO as Taliban would lose a major sponsor. Additionally, if Pakistan were to cease its support for terrorism, then the path to rapprochement with India would be cleared of major obstacles.

(This article was originally published in the Indian Economist on March 5th, 2018 and has been republished here with permission from the author. Read it here.)

India-Bhutan Relations: Past, Present and Future


The year 2018 celebrates the Golden Jubilee of the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan.  Marking the completion of 50 years, Bhutan opened a Consulate in India’s north-eastern city of Guwahati last month. The two countries also launched a special logo in New Delhi to celebrate their enduring partnership. A series of special commemorative initiatives, cultural activities, exhibitions and seminars will continue to take place throughout the year. 

A tiny landlocked state located in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan has historically shared deep religio-cultural links with India. Guru Padmasambhava, a Buddhist saint who came to Bhutan from India, played an influential role in spreading Buddhism and cementing traditional ties between people in both nations. 

Bhutan was a protectorate of British India and came under the British suzerainty in 1865. It signed the ‘Treaty of Punakha’ with the British in 1910, which set the stage for any future contact between the two countries after the British left the subcontinent. Throughout this time, India’s relations with Bhutan were handled by a Political Officer based in Sikkim. This continued until 1948, when a Bhutanese delegation visited India and wished to revise the treaties previously signed with the British. Though the Anglo-Bhutanese treaties continued to guide the bilateral relations, Independent India signed a fresh treaty with Thimpu in 1949 – the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. This treaty formed the basis for the beginning modern relations between the two neighbors. One of the most important provisions of the treaty, ‘Article 2’ declared that Bhutan’s internal affairs shall function without any interference from India while the foreign relations will continue to take place under its guidance. Formal diplomatic relations were established in 1968 after a special office of India was opened in Thimpu. 

In its relations with India, especially since the late 1950s, Bhutan has repeatedly made efforts to assert its independent identity and often expressed the desire to reduce its overdependence on the former. During the Sino-India war in 1962, Bhutanese king declined to offer base to Indian troops. After securing a UN membership in 1971, Bhutan elevated its diplomatic status in New Delhi to full ambassadorial level and established diplomatic ties with other nations independent of India’s opinion. In 1979, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, the then Bhutanese king stated that India’s advice on foreign relations was not binding on Bhutan. In 2007, ‘Article 2’ of the 1949 treaty was revised, forever changing the terms of the erstwhile India-Bhutan relations. Last year, Bhutan decided to withdraw from the BBIN Motor Vehicle Agreement for the reason that it would adversely affect its environment and sovereignty.

Clearly, the Himalayan kingdom interprets its bond with India differently. Having said that, Narendra Modi’s ‘Bharat to Bhutan (B2B)’ vision on how “Bharat should stand for Bhutan and Bhutan for India”, introduced during his first foreign trip to Bhutan as Prime Minister, is no exaggeration. The two countries have always shared a unique and organic relationship which is often termed as a ‘sacred bond’, largely sustained by regular high level visits and dialogues between the neighbors. Both countries have mutual interests in diverse areas of cooperation – security, border management, trade, hydro-power and many more. Hydropower generation is the single most important area of mutually beneficial cooperation in India-Bhutan ties. Under the 2006 Agreement on Cooperation in Hydropower and the Protocol to the 2006 agreement, India has pledged to assist Bhutan in developing at least 10,000 MWs of hydropower and import the surplus electricity to India by 2020.

For Bhutan’s 11th Five Year Plan, Government of India contributed an assistance of Rs 4500 crore with an additional Rs 500 crore for the Economic Stimulus Plan. Recently, a sum of Rs. 2,650 crore from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) budget has been kept aside for Bhutan (among other countries in the neighborhood) as an aid for technical and economic development projects such as the hydro-electric power projects. Governed by the India-Bhutan Trade and Transit Agreement of 1972, the total bilateral trade between the two countries stood at Rs. 8,723 crore in 2016, making India Bhutan’s largest trading partner. Under the agreement, Bhutan also enjoys duty free transit of its exports to third countries.

Bhutan has been central to India’s two major policies – the ‘Neighborhood First Policy’ and the ‘Act-East Policy’. After coming into power, Modi government has laid special emphasis on India’s neighborhood as well as its relations with Bhutan, which have mostly been tension free. Bhutan’s strategic location has helped India in flushing out militants in the North-East, playing a significant role in maintaining internal stability. Bhutan is India’s only neighbor that is yet to express its desire to join China’s B&RI. As P. Stobdan rightly points out that unlike Nepal, Bhutan has never played the China card against India. Since the 1990s, Bhutan has repeatedly turned down Chinese ‘package deal’ offers making bigger territorial concessions to Bhutan in return for the smaller Doklam area (remaining sensitive to India’s security concerns in the area).  During the recent Doklam standoff, Bhutan’s dogmatic stand and the ability to assert the status quo in face of Chinese intrusions, speaks volumes about its commitment to India’s security interests in a region that does not hold equal strategic importance for itself. 

Albeit Bhutan and India share an exemplary bond, there are several issues that exist and require timely intervention to build a successful bilateral relationship. One of the most commonly observed issues is India’s paternalistic attitude towards Bhutan and a tendency to take Bhutan’s loyalty for granted, so much so that Indian policy makers thought it was okay to punish Bhutan for diversifying its foreign relations. Back in 2013, when Bhutan was seen getting comfortable with Beijing, India decided to withdraw all subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene causing a drift in Indo-Bhutan bilateral relations. This was around the same time when elections were due in Bhutan and India’s actions were seen as meddling in Bhutan’s internal politics. 

Another issue is Bhutan’s geographically disadvantaged location that has made its economy hugely dependent on India, giving India an undue advantage over Bhutan’s trade and commerce. 60 percent of Bhutan’s expenditure is on imports from India; 90-95 percent of what Bhutan borrows from India finds its way back to India, tilting the relationship more in favor of the latter. Moreover, India’s assistance in the area of hydropower is also not free from suspicion. Over the years, critics have argued that the economic benefits from collaboration in hydropower have declined. Interest rates have increased and net profit per unit of electricity sold has also fallen since 2007 causing a sharp rise in Bhutan’s debts. India may also not deliver on its promise to harness 10,000 MWs of hydropower potential for Bhutan considering it is having a power surplus lately. At the same time, these projects have failed to create jobs in Bhutan and are seen as adversely impacting the environment. In addition, India’s subsidized imports to Bhutan comprising of almost all essential goods have hurt the growth of domestic sectors within Bhutan while helping India exercise its hold on Bhutanese market.

China is another important dimension in India-Bhutan relations. In recent years, China has tried to establish its influence on Bhutan. It continues to stake claims to important area such as Chumbi valley and Doklam. Of late, the Bhutanese government is also willing to have a deeper engagement with China in areas of tourism, education, culture, agriculture etc. Nevertheless, it might be too early to conclude that China can hurt India’s stake in Bhutan. However, it is a grim reminder that India may not continue to enjoy the leverage it always had with Bhutan.

India and Bhutan share a time-tested relationship that is a perfect example of friendship and cordiality in South Asia. For India to bolster this indispensable partnership may not be too difficult, provided India’s assistance to Bhutan is more about making it self sufficient militarily, politically as well as economically. With India’s help, Bhutan can become economically competitive, militarily advanced and self reliant in matters of national security. Furthermore, as world’s largest democracy, India can guide Bhutan in developing requisite democratic infrastructure and a political establishment  that can sustain the demands of a democratic society. A partnership based on this foundation will ensure future success of Bhutan and secure the long-standing relations shared between the two countries.

Bangladesh: Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind


As Bangladesh continues to absorb the fleeing Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, another refugee crisis potentially looms over Dhaka from Assam, India. As Assam conducts the first draft of the National Registry of Citizens (NRC), roughly 1.6 million people are being examined closely as their residency in India is subject to question. While the final registry will be submitted in June, the affair is causing concern in Bangladesh due to the potential influx of additional refugees while the Rohingya crisis seemingly has no end in sight. Not only will a sudden influx continue to strain Bangladesh’s economy, but they can be exploited by human traffickers or recruited by terrorist organizations such as Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (Neo-JMB), al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups that operate throughout the region. 

The Rohingya crisis has yet to find an agreed-upon date of repatriation for the refugees which means the refugees will remain in Bangladesh until such a time. While talks about returning the Rohingya to Bangladesh have been successful, there has been no agreement on the possible timeline for the gradual repatriation of the refugees to the Rakhine State. Additionally, the Myanmar military is accused of burning 90% of Rohingya villages—in  addition to rape, murder and ethnic cleansing—leaving many refugees no home to return to. This further delays the process of repatriation, as Myanmar must now set up additional refugee centers and homes. Therefore Bangladesh will continue to provide for the roughly one million Rohingya refugees that fled from earlier periods of indiscriminate violence in Myanmar, until the repatriation process begins. The large influx of people, with no documentation due to Myanmar stripping their citizenship in 1982, makes kidnapping women and children easier for human traffickers. Many women and children are accidentally sold into slavery, for traffickers often deceive refugees by offering to hire women and children from their families as workers or cooks which refugees accept in order to provide additional food for their families.

The presence of the refugees is weakening aspects of the Bangladeshi economy in different ways, and will continue to do so until the crisis ends. Prices are rising for everyday items such as food and household products. Additionally, jobs are often taken by refugees who are willing to work for lower wages which causes tension with Bangladeshi workers. Businesses might also be affected in the long term as the popular tourist destination, Cox’s Bazar, is overrun with refugees and aid workers. Additionally, the estimated costs of providing basic services to the Rohingya refugees are between $812 million and $1 billion a year, and costs will continue to increase as the refugees are forecasted to give birth to roughly 48,000 babies in 2018. Costs can also be exacerbated by the spread of disease from refugees, on top of the outbreak of diphtheria that began in December 2017. Meanwhile, conditions in the Rohingya camps are inhumane, and foreign aid is declining, leaving the government to manage the disbursement program alone. 

There are additional strategic considerations surrounding the influx of refugees, for Rohingya refugees might be recruited by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). ARSA is the militant group responsible for the attacks which initiated Myanmar’s campaign of violence against the Rohingya in August of 2017. Bangladesh fears recruitment of refugees by ARSA and the use of Bangladeshi territory or refugee camps as staging grounds for attacks against Myanmar. Additionally, there are fears of the cooperation between ARSA and foreign terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has called for jihad against Myanmar on behalf of the Rohingya and has allegedly provided funding to ARSA. Islamic Extremist groups in South Asia, such as al-Qaeda, have exploited sympathy among the Muslim Rohingyas due to their impoverished conditions and their violent ouster from Myanmar in order to gain recruits and will continue to do so. This gives al-Qaeda a chance to expand into Myanmar through Rohingya refugees, and presents Bangladesh another front in its counter-terrorism campaign. Bangladesh has effectively dismantled much of the IS network through counter-terrorism raids after a series of IS-linked attacks and assassinations culminating in the Holey Artisan Bakery attack which killed 22 in July of 2016. However, al-Qaeda remains influential in Bangladesh and maneuvers clandestinely to avoid counter-terrorism forces while earning respect among the Bangladeshi people by differentiating itself from the “more violent” Islamic State. 

The situation risks repeating similar circumstances in Bangladesh's northern border areas with India due to the upcoming NRC in Assam which would exacerbate problems within Bangladesh. As people are forced to leave Assam, many will flee to Bangladesh and become refugees as their settlement is resolved in Dhaka. Additional refugees would further stress the Government of Bangladesh as well as international partners who may not be able to provide adequate foreign aid to mitigate the strain of the upcoming Assamese influx. The new camps would entail additional costs in aid and personnel that Bangladesh can barely afford in addition to the current Rohingya crisis. Furthermore, large refugee camps along the Assam-Meghalaya border in Bangladesh could provide a source of recruits or a base of operations for anti-India insurgency groups such as the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULAF). While India and Bangladesh have worked closely on current counter-terrorism operations along their borders, the NRC in India might undo a lot of the progress made by the South Asian nations. 

To avoid this crisis, India could delay the Assam deportations until after the Rohingya repatriation process begins. Here, India could mirror the Rohingya repatriation by deporting the people in Assam gradually in order to allow Bangladesh to manage the crisis more effectively. Additionally, India could provide more aid to Bangladesh in order to reduce the effects of the upcoming influx of people. India could also assist Bangladesh by building additional shelters for refugees or provide additional aid-workers for the distribution of supplies. Moreover, both countries can continue to cooperate on counter-terrorism campaigns, and utilize their shared relationship with the United States for additional counter-terrorism assistance and intelligence sharing. Moreover, if the refugee situations became too burdensome on the economy of Bangladesh, the United States Pacific Command (PACOM) could be called on to assist in the humanitarian mission by delivering supplies and coordinating with the Government of Bangladesh for the distribution of aid. 

The Indian Military Must Remind Politicians That It’s Loyal To The Constitution – Not The Party In Power


For several years now, a spate of events linked to India’s armed forces, including statements from the highest rungs of military leadership, have cast a shadow on their apolitical character. This is distressing even if it is a case of misplaced interpretation, factual ignorance or the shenanigans of individuals on social media. The military’s apolitical nature is a cornerstone of India’s democratic foundation; diluting it could be disastrous. But what are the beliefs that symbolise the nature and character of the “apoliticalism” of the Indian armed forces?

Its unending deployment for internal security in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East has resulted in the military becoming a permanent and key representative of the state’s coercive power in a politically charged atmosphere. Inevitably, most of the military’s actions are politically sensitive and it often finds itself in the midst of political controversies. This is bound to continue as long as the military is deployed in support of civilian authority. But the moot point is that such controversies must be dealt with by the military and civilian authorities acting in unison. What has regrettably become frequent is the military’s stance being in opposition to a state government’s with the central government supporting the military. The military thus becomes an object of Centre-state politics.

The “human shield” incident in Kashmir last April is illustrative. An unacceptable military act was justified in the name of operational expediency and institutionally portrayed as an act of heroism. The military’s stance was supported by the Centre but decried by the state government. The Army was mired in a political controversy and its act was both praised and supported by political parties. It seemed that the Army was taking sides in a domestic political battle and was, therefore, moving away from its apolitical character.

In recent times, the use of the armed forces for spreading yoga mats, spoiling the Yamuna riverbedconstructing railway footbridges and cleaning garbage from mountaintops is exceptionable. The government needs to handle the military with greater care, delicacy and respect. The military also needs to tell the government, behind closed doors, that it cannot be employed for the benefit of a political party or of a religious organisation it supports.

The military’s deliberate leveraging of its operations on the Line of Control for domestic electoral purposes suggests that the armed forces serve the political party in power, like in China. Such a portrayal has given rise to speculation that the military’s apolitical nature is being increasingly compromised.

The Army Chief’s recent comments about a political party, the All India United Democratic Front in Assam, suggested that the Army was taking sides in what is essentially a political battle between the ruling party and the opposition. Some commentators have argued that there is nothing wrong in the Army supporting the central government, which it serves, especially when it comes to matters of security. True, the Army is an executive arm of the government but it owes its loyalty to the Constitution of India and not to the party in power. Indeed, saying that the military is apolitical means that it does not take part in any political argument and even if it wishes to express its views about the impact of political manoeuvring on security, it should convey them behind closed doors. The basis of being apolitical rests on avoiding as far as possible the messy and murky world of domestic politics. Yet, recent incidents and statements put the military under the arc lights for all the wrong reasons.

Another important sphere of civil-military interaction is external security. Here again, statements of military leaders about foreign countries have significant impact on foreign relations. It is not unusual to convey signals to other countries through the statements of military chiefs. But such statements are crafted and approved at appropriate levels and reflect the government’s view. It would, therefore, not be incorrect to assume that recent statements of the Army Chief about Pakistan and China reflect the government’s viewpoint. If it were not so, the pronouncements would have been denied or contradicted. Since the statement that China and Pakistan are orchestrating immigration from Bangladesh has come from the Army Chief, we must assume it is true. But does such an accusation have to be levelled by the Army Chief, especially when no other arm of the government has brought it to the public’s notice? Clearly, there is a need to exercise greater discretion while commenting on foreign countries as it affects the sphere of political relations, driven primarily from outside the military arena.

Words are the primary weapon of politicians, not of the military. Although the military may also use words as a weapon, the power of the word in a democracy is better exercised by civilian authorities. The military need not seek the limelight. Instead, it should carry out its duties quietly, contain its views and disagreements on politically sensitive subjects to closed door sessions and let its actions speak for themselves. When it has to express its views, preferably through an official spokesman, the military should be guided by the tenet that one of the greatest values it brings to India’s democracy is not taking sides in the domestic political discourse. It is thus that the military will maintain the distinction of being an apolitical force.

(This article was originally published at on March 5th, 2018 and has been republished here with permission from the author. Read it here.)

India & Biased Citizenship


As India concludes its noble commitment to publishing a list of officially recognised Indian citizens in Assam, and deporting the rest, the 40% Muslim population in Assam fears its possible stateless future. As of now, the first draft of the list was published on December 31 2017, which recognised only 1.9 crore out of the 3.2 crore total applicants – naturally barring those who did not even apply. The list claimed that to be recognised or registered as a citizen of India, people were required to prove descent on the basis of the following citizenship laws:

1. Every person born in India on or after 26.01.1950 but before 01.07.1987 is an Indian citizen irrespective of the nationality of his/her parents.

2. Every person born in India between 01.07.1987 and 02.12.2004 is a citizen of India given either of his/her parents is a citizen of the country at the time of his/her birth.

3.  Every person born in India on or after 3.12.2004 is a citizen of the country given both his/her parents are Indians or at least one parent is a citizen and the other is not an illegal migrant at the time of birth.

On February 8, 899 inmates were declared ‘foreigners’ by the 100 Foreigners’ Tribunal and have been distributed across six detention camps in Assam, where they currently wait to be deported. Amidst the stringent verification of citizenship, several Muslims have committed suicide out of shock when their names did not appear on the list and out of fear of what their futures held. The official decision to accept Aadhar cards as a proof of citizenship was also overturned, requiring more specific documents. Many Muslims were denied citizenship based on small discrepancies in their paperwork, such as misspelled names, while registered parents were unable to legitimise citizenship for their children if they were could not provide a birth certificate, tearing families apart. Locals reported that the National Register of Citizens (NRC) officials skipped many houses in each village, specifically those with Muslim families.

Apprehensions that the exercise would unfairly treat even the legitimate Muslim population and try to revoke their citizenship through legitimate processes seem to have been verified by the NRC’s handling of the list. With the BJP government in power controlling validation of citizenship, despite claims that the list would include all genuine citizens, the Bengali-Muslim population is feeling greatly marginalised. In the February of 1983, more than 2000 Bengali-speaking Muslims, allegedly illegal immigrants, were massacred in central Assam. In recent years, thousands of Bengali-speaking Muslims have been thrown in detention camps in Assam as ‘doubtful voters’ and ‘immigrants’. The community has always struggled with their identity as ‘an infiltrator population’ and the list only exacerbates that problem and furthers the divide in society.

On the other hand, India seems to have no problem with non-Muslim immigrants, with the BJP in 2014 declaring India to be the “natural home for persecuted Indians” by extending long-term visas in various states and providing citizenship to Hindus from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while campaigning in 2014, had made a distinction between Hindu and Muslim refugees from Bangladesh and had argued that the former should be accommodated. “We have a responsibility towards Hindus who are harassed and suffer in other countries. India is the only place for them. We will have to accommodate them here,” Modi had said. With the idea that India should be this natural home for persecuted Hindus becoming a central feature of the 2014 BJP Manifesto, it becomes evident how these policies fall in line with the BJP’s Hindutva ideology. The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill of 2016 may have been presented as a move to protect the religious minorities in other countries from being persecuted but, the underlying goal was clear: the bill is meant to help make India the pure “Hindu Homeland” by giving refuge to religious minorities in Muslim-dominated countries such as Hindus, Sikhs and even Christians, but intentionally ignoring Muslims. This increases the BJP vote-bank by increasing the pro-Hindu population in the country and significantly reducing minority Muslim groups that may oppose the BJP ideology through a process of revoking citizenship and deportation. The government also seems to have no qualms about blatantly exercising this kind of bias towards or against certain specific communities, which continually threatens India’s secular status.

The identification and deportation of these illegal immigrants also hinders India’s weakening relationship with Bangladesh. After New Delhi and Dhaka were unable to conclude the Teesta water sharing agreement, the deportation of illegal immigrants from India to Bangladesh will not be looked upon favourably by the Bangladeshi Government. “Citizenship issue will be another disappointment after the setback on the sharing of water of the river Teesta. We believe India should think of its friendship with Bangladesh before going ahead with the full implementation of the citizens register in Assam,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stated. Bangladesh fears that the deportation of a large section of Bengali population could realistically trigger another refugee crisis like Rohingya. 

While India’s National Human Rights Commission speaks in favour of Rohingyas, Home Minister Rajnath Singh maintains the view that Rohingyas in India are a security threat and India is only helping Bangladesh tackle the current exodus on humanitarian grounds. He vehemently spoke against illegal immigrants that people often “make the mistake of calling Rohingya refugees,” arguing that India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, therefore cannot be accused of violating international laws.

All these recent developments in citizenship and immigration laws forecast an eerie future for secular India while simultaneously solidifying the BJP ideology of a Hindutva state.

India’s foreign policy establishment has reason to compliment itself


From January 24 onwards, it has been India’s foreign and security policy on display, starkly displaying success and failure. Let’s kill the negative first. With impunity Pakistan kept the LoC alive as we lost four bravehearts to a guided missile attack on a forward bunker exposing the fragility of our defence works and the necessity of infusion of more funds in the operational works. These have come to be neglected or wrongly prioritised in allocation of resources.

Pakistan chose to once again upset the apple cart and cause dilemma in minds of Indian security managers by taking the hybrid proxy conflict deeper into the hinterland. The dilemma for those who allocate and handle operational works-related infrastructure, is whether to concentrate on strengthening perimeters of vulnerable camps or focus on the hardening of defences at the LoC. There is greater dilemma of dealing with a Pakistan that appears strategically very confident with Chinese-backing and an apparently assumed disposition of having withstood American pressure on Afghanistan. Talks remain far from the horizon as India cannot afford to engage even as it fights Pakistan-sponsored terror and the raising of temperature at the LoC has limitations in achieving domination in the proxy conflict.

Now to the positives. The first is the grand spectacle of the 10 ASEAN leaders arriving at the Republic Day as guests of honour. The need for India to walk the talk on its Act East Policy has always been correctly perceived but a collective approach was never attempted. We have engaged with all the countries of ASEAN with shades of strategic sentiment, giving more importance to some and less to others. This was a good occasion to project a collective message that India was indeed serious about its relations.

It’s in the economic domain that the region matters much and better connectivity in the future will probably see a greater surge. However, it’s in the strategic domain that the relationship matters even more as China’s attempts to isolate India may go beyond the South Asian region. China does not wish India to be in control here because the region is also crucial as a gateway to the Indian Ocean through which flows much of China’s energy needs and container traffic. With talk of the Indo-Pacific and emergence of groups like the Quad (the US, Japan, Australia and India), the stakes have gone even higher. Thus giving ASEAN its deserved place under the sun made some excellent sense.

As it looks east, India just cannot neglect the west. It’s much like the US dilemma. Presidents George Bush, Jr and Barack Obama felt it right through their tenures. For India, the Middle East is just too crucial. Energy, diaspora, markets and ideological influences emanating from there are all relevant. The sectarian conflict that threatens the Middle East as well as conflicts related with radical ideologies, all have the potential for larger spread and the consequent turbulence none of which is in India’s interest. In 20 days we witnessed the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to New Delhi with display of much warmth including many promises of renewal of arms deals. India’s defence relationship is extremely important but it’s not quite possible to give its old and trusted relationship with the Arabs a go. That’s what saw Prime Minister Modi in Palestine receiving the hospitality of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and being warmly feted. Thereafter the visits of the Indian Prime Minister to the UAE and Oman did the perfect balancing act.

The last word is reserved for the most challenging of relationships. Iranian  President Rouhani’s return visit to New Delhi sustains a strategic equation India hopes will go far beyond. With a progressively functional relationship with the Middle East, including Iran, an emerging special relationship with Israel and a well orchestrated hosting of leaders of the ASEAN nations India’s foreign policy establishment can compliment itself.

(This article was originally published on February 24th 2018, in The New Indian Express. It has been re-published here with permission from the author. Read the original piece here)

Logic of FIR in Major Aditya’s case


This write-up is not about defending young Army officers who bear the burden of operations in all kinds of unpredictable situations in Kashmir; it is  about putting in perspective the functioning of the Army and its soldiers in counter-terrorist operations there. 

It's a veritable minefield that the Army has to operate in. Mercifully, it usually gets it right. But the Army's involuntary involvement in messy situations needs some explanation and advice; more for the curious public as also for former and serving soldiers who do not have the experience of handling such situations or their blowback many years after the soldier has retired.

The social media has enabled the public to express all kinds of opinion, but most of it is bereft of a deep knowledge of the subject or experience. 

Before plunging into the subject of an FIR against Major Aditya, here is a look at what the Supreme Court said in 2016 about deaths resulting from the Army's operations in an area where AFSPA is applicable: a two-judge Bench had ruled that every allegation of the “use of excessive force” by the security forces resulting in a civilian death must be looked into. It made the registration of a first information report (FIR) mandatory in such cases. 

Obviously, the SC was being simply prudent in directing that no coercive action be taken against Major Aditya for two weeks with reference to the incident in which a column of troops of 10 Garhwal under his command, had fired on a mob allegedly attempting to lynch his troops near Shopian town; the firing led to some deaths of civilians. 

But the registration of an FIR is within reason and mandatory; it is just a narration of circumstances and in this particular incident, names Maj Aditya only as the column commander of the troops that opened fire. 

Then what is the entire objection that has led to the uproar? That is circumstantial and needs understanding. The state government's withdrawal of FIRs against a couple of hundred first-time stone-throwers in 2016 was reasoned as part of the outreach and hearts and minds programme. There weren't too many pinched brows. The issue also did not draw much attention when FIRs were withdrawn against second-time offenders. 

But a narrative emerged etching the stark difference and contrast between the FIR against the troops of 10 Garhwal and withdrawal of FIRs against stone throwers. Patriots were being censured for their actions of self defence while stone-throwers received the state's goodwill and largesse. 

That is a powerfully negative narrative and did raise emotions and rallied support for the young officer, irrespective of the SC's 2016 ruling. His father moved the SC, which perhaps sensed the awkwardness of the situation, whatever the reality of what the FIR actually involves.

While as commander in all operations involving a body count on the other side, I had always insisted on lodging an FIR, irrespective whether the local police had lodged one or not. The unit always retained the copy in a ‘Handing and Taking Over’file because in J&K or the North-East, it's always safe to retain the right documentation as there are comebacks, mostly many years later. This is especially so after many missing cases were filed years after the alleged events and there was a demand to produce in court officers and soldiers who had participated in those operations long back. In fact, if an FIR had been lodged, suitably followed up, investigated and a closure report filed, the legal actions are considered complete. It is then easier to defend alleged Army offenders against the spree of cases lodged against them; that is if FIRs are filed. 

This rationale may not justify the lodging of an FIR in as obvious a case as that of Maj Aditya. However, consider 10 years later. Someone files a case in 2028 when in the third rotation, 10 Garhwal is deployed in the same area. There is no legal document if no FIR exists and Maj Aditya, then Col Aditya, would be running from pillar to post to defend his case. If he had left the Army prematurely, it would be a shade worse. 

Unfortunately, those who have never experienced the true application of AFSPA think that there is total immunity for men in uniform. Unfortunately, AFSPA is not that strong an instrument. It partially shields the soldier from ultimate prosecution (Central government approval needed) and not from the process of investigation. 


Further, a loophole has targeted the Army after a soldier has left the force. In 2011, Havaldar Swain (retd)  of 7 Parachute Regiment  was arrested from Orissa by the J&K Police and hauled to Srinagar to stand investigation and possible trial without any reference to an authority of the Central government. But we overcame that awkward situation and the veteran soldier walked free. 

There is no doubt that the messaging to society is incorrect if an FIR is filed against a soldier performing his rightful duty, many times in self-defence. Either the Central government must review AFSPA, not for its dilution (as one may think) but for better soldier protection, or the society needs to be better educated to appreciate the environment and long-term effects of various actions which are taken in the course of responsibilities in a counter-terrorism environment. 

(This article was originally published on February 21st 2018, in The Tribune. It has been re-published here with permission from the author. Read the original piece here)

New shades of an old conflict


With the LoC ceasefire as good as collapsed, repeated attempts at fidayeen suicide attacks on military camps and continued efforts to stoke the fires in the streets of Kashmir, for Pakistan and India this is a situation of hybrid war which is never declared, is long-term and manifests as varied threats. It is not necessarily restricted to borders and the targets can be multiple in nature.

A few weeks before the Sunjwan camp attack in Jammu city, I had predicted through a series of analyses that it was a just a matter of time before the bad times returned to the Jammu-Samba-Kathua belt. Any keen observer of the sequence of events could have predicted that. First, the Jammu hinterland, from Poonch to Kathua, once an area of varying grades of militancy and terror, had sufficiently stabilised, enabling the Indian Army to shift its focus and additional resources of counter-terror operations almost entirely to the Valley sector. Second, targeting the Jammu sector creates more controversy and Pakistan always hopes that a communal situation will emerge while the deeper effect of religious schisms will also travel to the rest of India.

Third, tying down military resources in the securing of their camps, stations and garrisons would ensure the tiring out of the Indian Army. Fourth, Pakistan’s wide open political arena in a crucial election year is also stoking the political ambitions of elements that have thus far remained outside the political ambit; muscular threats to India as proxies of the Deep State are perceived as a ticket to greater future political relevance. Fifth, Pakistan’s increasing security collusion with China is giving it an out of proportion strategic confidence, enabling it to test the waters beyond the ordinary in order to prove its worth as a partner.

Even as India contemplates response options, with the taking of hybrid war into Pakistan’s territory as one of the prime ones, there will be a necessity to secure many more of our vulnerable areas (VAs) and vulnerable points (VPs) right from the Valley stretching south to entire Punjab. The reasons for the threat having been clarified above, it’s equally important to know the nature of the threat.

While threat to major cities in the Indian hinterland would require much more planning and resources by Pakistan, the border towns of J&K and Punjab and some of the military garrisons in Haryana and Punjab would remain vulnerable to small teams infiltrated through the LoC or international border (IB) and traveling to the hinterland with the help of surrogates. An aspect Indian intelligence agencies will have to factor in is the idea of “copycat terror”. This is nothing but a manifestation of the intense competition within Pakistan between the so-called friendly and unfriendly terrorist groups.

The Tehreek e Pakistan Taliban (TTP), an “unfriendly” group, achieved a signature profile through targeting of air bases, military academies, schools and training centres of the Pakistan Army/AF. The Lashkar e Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish e Mohammad (JeM), the latter in a suddenly rejuvenated avatar, aim to project their higher capability, outreach and nationalist fervour by targeting similar facilities in India and remaining one-up on the “unfriendlies”.

That makes even cities such as Dehradun, Meerut, Roorkee and Bareilly as vulnerable as Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Jalandhar and Ambala. While alarm bells need not be sounded yet, there is need for far greater earmarking of response elements, intelligence resources and a revisit of the security infrastructure, equipment and SOPs. The perceived difficulty of the Indian Army of securing itself from suicide attacks at installations and institutions arises due to the absence thus far of credible threats to these. This is no longer the case. For an army trained to deliver hard blows in conventional operations and conduct routine LoC and anti-terrorist operations, the sudden emergence of credible threats in the “rear of rear areas” is nothing short of a transformational change in the threat pattern.

This is designed to keep the Indian forces pegged to securing themselves rather than training, managing their equipment and simply carrying out rest and recuperation of units which have spent hard grinds at the border for up to three years and sometimes even more. The adversary’s intent is to ensure that army formations and units are as committed, if not more, than the units of the Pakistan Army. A senior Pakistani Army veteran in conversation with me lamented the state of cantonments and garrisons in Pakistan where facilities lie in a state of neglect as a majority of troops do service at the eastern and western borders, a problem much of Pakistan’s own making.

With the targeting of the family residential quarters at Sunjwan, it is quite obvious the most vulnerable segment of the garrison was selected. In the coming summer, many formations and units of the Indian Army would move out of their garrisons and proceed for collective training, leaving families behind with school buses and other such amenities of routine military life. These would be even more vulnerable. Civil military cooperation is usually perceived as the military coming to the aid of civil authority at the time of emergent contingencies. Rarely does the idea of securing the military garrisons with the assistance of civil authorities arise. That situation is now more likely.

Intelligence and security cooperation and coordination in towns and cities in depth will become as important an activity as the routine aid to civil authority.

What the army has to immediately realise is that its own security has to go beyond just the earmarking of quick reaction teams (QRTs). A hundred per cent arming of all troops with sufficient ammunition on each man in peace locations is not a very palatable notion. While frontline fighting units are fully capable of this, there are many softer segments within the army too. Hospitals and schools make up a majority of this. Training establishments will probably have to earmark a part of their demonstration troops and absorb additional troops made available by fighting formations, with command and control from within their establishments.

There cannot be an overnight improvement in the neglected security infrastructure but much can yet be overcome with more robust awareness, training and willingness to be less comfortable than usual. It has to be supplemented by the government’s directions to ensure no bureaucratic hurdles in the way of security, with some form of accountability in the event of grave errors. This must not be restricted to the army’s garrisons and camps alone but equally take all resources under the MHA in its ambit.

Lest all this should sound defensive and paint a grim picture of India at hybrid war, let it not be forgotten by the government that attack remains the best form of defense. It should hold nothing back in its quest to hurt the adversary, whether at the border or deep inside his territory. Two can surely play this game.

(This article was originally published on February 22nd 2018, in The Indian Express. It has been re-published here with permission from the author. Read the original piece here)

Pakistan’s Kashmir Strategy: Baiting India and Fanning Flames


India has recently counterattacked Pakistani positions along the LoC in response to the terrorist attack on the Sujuwan Army camp on February 13th. In 2018 alone the Line of Control (LoC) in Indian Administered Kashmir has experienced an increased number of attacks from Pakistan that will likely continue throughout the year. These attacks have been met with similar retaliation by Indian forces, who have undertaken cross-border raids and artillery strikes to inflict casualties upon the Pakistani military and infiltrators. These attacks, have caused frustration in India since the collapse of the 2003 ceasefire in 2015 which is spurring the engines of ingenuity to respond more forcefully to Pakistani aggression. However, escalation of attacks may be exactly what Pakistan’s goal is, for Islamabad is seeking not only victory over India but vulnerability within India.

With the recent rise of Hindu nationalism inflaming the ethno-religious tensions of the nation, India is on the path to vulnerability. Hindu nationalists have harassed, beaten and killed Muslims in addition to lower castes, and have violently protested movies that have depicted historical events – sometimes based on legends – and individuals like Padmavati, wife of Ratan Singh of Chittor. New Delhi has remained silent while protesters set ablaze hundreds of vehicles across many states and in key cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai. 

India was founded as a secular state, and was intended to be secular due to its plethora of ethno-religious groups by its founding fathers. Hindu nationalism not only undermines India’s democratic principles but also offers a chance for Pakistan to divide India along ethno-religious lines, and exploit this vulnerability for its own gains. Hindu nationalism in India does not empower Hindus, but rather endangers the entire country to the manipulations of Pakistan, China or extremist groups such as ISIS.

Worsening Hindu-Muslim relations, rising social tensions and a silent government will only create an opportunity for Pakistan exacerbate the tensions in India through the continued use of terrorism. 

Pakistan was founded on the flawed ideology of the two nation theory – the belief that Hindus and Muslims cannot co-exist. India’s 70 year history as a secular state which has more Muslims than either Pakistan or Bangladesh has disproved this theory. However, Pakistan may leverage the behavior of Hindu nationalists as evidence of the “incompatibility” of Muslims and Hindus. 

Moreover, as tensions flare, opportunities may arise wherein Pakistan arms separatist groups. India is certainly not short of separatists and insurgent groups based on ethnic, linguistic and religious reasons. Close to 40 different separatist groups exist in the country, and "Hindutva" will only continue to bolster the rise of separatists. As Muslims continue to face growing persecution in India, these tensions feed into Pakistan’s narrative and may drive Islamabad’s strategy going forward.

Pakistan is already willing to escalate attacks on the LoC, as the attacks in 2018 alone are set to outpace that of 2017. Each year the LoC incidents have been greater than that of the previous year, and this yearly escalation in attacks has been met with a corresponding amount of counter-attacks by India. These attacks not only expose weaknesses in India’s defenses in Kashmir, but could also be an attempt by Pakistan to bait India into escalating its responses by initiating deeper cross-border raids or airstrikes. As the number of attacks increase Pakistan seemingly turns up the heat on India each year, and still effectively strikes positions on the LoC despite the Indian army’s preeminence. Moreover despite the counter-attacks by India, Pakistan still gets infiltrators and arms in to Indian Kashmir to cause havoc. But what is Pakistan’s strategy? Islamabad has been engaged in this strategy of non-state insurgency in Kashmir since 1948, when the first Pashtun raiders marauded Kashmir and drove the state into the arms of New Delhi. Pakistan sees the effects of terrorism as an effective way to undermine India as a whole rather than just undermine Kashmir. 

By baiting India into more aggressive actions, Pakistan seeks to incite greater ethnic tensions in India. The increasing LoC attacks could be a way for Pakistan to draw India into a campaign that would not only cost blood and treasure, but also further stress the tense relations between Muslims and the Hindu nationalists as accusations of fifth column activity or Pakistani sympathy could easily be lodged against Indian Muslims. Pakistan may also be utilizing terrorism in order to pressure Modi and the Parliament to initiate a controversial action such as an Indian PATRIOT Act, a harsh counter-insurgency campaign in Kashmir or aggressive military actions over the LoC. Pakistan’s actions coupled with the Indian reactions could set off a series of events that initiate widespread sectarian conflict. Therefore, India, and by association Kashmir, would be extremely vulnerable to further Pakistani aggression once the country is experiencing domestic upheaval. Although this would hardly topple the Indian state, it could potentially cause domestic conflict which would distract and weaken New Delhi, giving Pakistan a significant advantage. 

India must carefully manage its Kashmir strategy, for improving defenses and resources available to forces along the LoC will ensure better survivability and security for the people and forces within Kashmir. Investments must be made in better equipment for the LoC operators, and better support services such as rapid response forces and emergency responders. Utilizing enhanced thermal imagery would allow Indian ground forces to detect infiltrators even during barrages, and if used in coordination with increased unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) patrols, India could significantly reduce the number of successful infiltrations. Building better defensive systems and giving security forces at the LoC more advanced capabilities would be a safer and more effective strategy than engaging in more aggressive offensive actions against Pakistan. Diplomacy too can be and should be leveraged in order to cut the Pakistan ISI’s global funding fronts. 

Muslims in India were essential actors in the freedom struggle, and Muslims are continually contributing to Indian society. India has had Muslim presidents, political leaders, business leaders, Bollywood stars, cricket champions and leading military and intelligence officials. India’s founding elite comprised people from all walks of life, all ethnicities and languages and all religions. The country was founded upon a pluralistic, tolerant ethos and the Constitution reflects this ideology. India is where it is today because in 1947 India and its leaders took a path different from that taken by Pakistan. India’s future and that of the region and the globe, lies in India moving ahead along this path, instead of allowing identity politics, religious nationalism or social unrest to undermine Indian society. Hindu nationalism should be condemned and dismissed as an ideology designed to bring India ruin and Pakistan opportunity to wreak havoc. Although the constant harassment of the LoC costs lives, escalation against Pakistan at the LoC might be exactly what Islamabad wants. India can better absorb Pakistan’s attacks than Pakistan can absorb India’s counter-attacks, and the escalation of attacks against India by Pakistan might be an attempt by Pakistan to bait India into an aggressive action with unknown consequences. 

Enhancing Indian Maritime Capabilities and Capacity in the Indian Ocean


The U.S. National Security Strategy (NSS) and the National Defense Strategy (NDS), were released in December 2017, and January 2018, respectively. Together, they provide a welcome and tough call to action, particularly with respect to the threats posed by China and Russia.  Officially recognizing the re-emergence of long-term strategic competition with China and Russia, while re-validating the criticality of mutually beneficial alliances and partnerships provides a strategic imperative for greater U.S.-Indian cooperation.  The NDS calls for the development of innovative operational concepts and more lethal, agile, and resilient force posture and employment which if combined with increasing US resources for defense may provide new opportunities for collaboration.  

The NSS acknowledges the geopolitical competition with China unfolding in the Indo-Pacific, calls for the U.S. to expand our defense and security cooperation with India, and identifies India as a Major Defense Partner of the U.S. The NDS talks about shoring up balance of power relationships in the region and working with key countries in a bilateral and multilateral fashion to "preserve the free and open international system".  Given the strategic importance of greater U.S.-Indian cooperation,  there are ways of enhancing Indian maritime capabilities and capacity in the Indian Ocean, while improving interoperability with U.S. Forces.

First, why so much emphasis on the Indian Ocean?  The Indian Ocean could well be the key stage upon which great power competition will play out in the 21st Century.  Indian Ocean sea lanes are the strategically vital conduit for the energy and trade flows that make up a significant portion of the world's commerce.  The Indian Ocean is also home to some of the tightest and most traversed strategic choke-points in the world, to include the Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca, and the Bab-el-Mandeb.  Through these choke-points, flows the oil, gas, and trade goods that are the engines of the global economy.  It is also the region where there is an accelerating competition in connecting Asia in terms of maritime infrastructure, road, rail, and pipeline development.  The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by China, which seeks to link, through infrastructure provision, economies across Eurasia and East Africa (much of this occurring in the Indian Ocean) could have huge strategic implications.  As China's investments in the Indian Ocean continue, it's economic and political influence in the region will increase unless balanced by the diplomatic, economic, and security initiatives of other nations, particularly India and the U.S.  And then there is China's military presence in the Indian Ocean.  China, now with a military base in the Horn of Africa at Djibouti and talk of construction of a new naval base in Jiwani, Pakistan point to an increasing Chinese military presence in the Indian Ocean ostensibly to protect their economic interests.  This illustrates the point that the author has made in a previous article that the security competition that is taking place in the Indo-Pacific is happening largely in a maritime context, and future regional crises could very well occur, and be decided in the maritime domain.  .

This brings us back to the balance of power dynamics mentioned in the NDS.  Balance of power is an old concept in strategy and international relations.  The Indians, who hail from an ancient  and great civilization, are very familiar with the concept.  Aparna Pande, in her excellent new book, "From Chanakya to Modi", writes of the ancient Indian writer, Kautilya whose "Arthashastra" talks of realism in foreign policy and the need for balancing against states that may pose a potential threat to the kingdom. The Indians have been balancing against China since their 1962 war with China. Prime Minister Modi speaks of India's long history as a maritime nation, and that the primary responsibility for Indian Ocean security remains with those who live in the region.  He also warns that "regional connectivity cannot undermine sovereignty of nations".  

So how do we enhance U.S.-India cooperation to include multi-lateral engagement and what actions are needed to expand Indian maritime capability, capacity, and influence?   In national security matters, when you are standing still, you are actually backing up. With a Chinese military base in Djibouti and a planned Chinese naval and air base in Jinwani close to the Chinese built port of Gwadar in Pakistan, combined with China's BRI infrastructure provision across the region, the U.S. and India find themselves in a situation of playing catch-up.  This is why accelerating tangible implementation of the strategic partnership with India is so important and also why deepening collaboration at the operational and tactical level is the next logical next step in the relationship.  It is time to get down to a nuts and bolts discussion of mutually beneficial options to advance shared Indian and US interests, with the expectation that enhancing Indian maritime capability and increased US engagement in the region will be key elements of our strategy.  This calls for a frank discussion of Indian needs and priorities, potential U.S. contributions, implementation timelines, etc.

The author has previously suggested assisting the Indian Navy with increased information sharing, maritime domain awareness, enhanced humanitarian assistance and disaster relief capabilities, anti-submarine warfare, and various capabilities to ensure sea control and power projection within the Indian Ocean in the face of the evolving capabilities of potential adversaries.  One of these capabilities should include helping the Indian Navy acquire the U.S. AEGIS combat system for India's next generation of destroyers.  This will give them the foundation they need to spiral this capability to sea-based ballistic missile defense in the future.

The author has also advocated U.S. assistance to India on developing maritime infrastructure to counterbalance China's BRI.   There are many ways that we could assist in this endeavor.  India will require significant investment in its maritime infrastructure to ensure India realizes its full economic potential in the coming decades.  Currently, much of India's container shipments are trans-shipped in Sri Lanka due to this lack of maritime infrastructure and inadequate deep water ports.   The BRI is not just about connecting Eurasia for increased trade and commerce.  It is a Chinese grand strategy that is marshaling all of China's levers of power for regional hegemony as a waypoint for something much bigger that they have in mind. India and the U.S.  working together, perhaps with other partners and allies, on maritime infrastructure in India and greater regional connectivity could provide an Indian and U.S. answer to the BRI.  This is not containment against China, but improved geostrategic balancing in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

.  In the broader Indo-Pacific, U.S Forces are overstretched and this is too vast an area to try and go it alone. China's activities in the South and East China Seas are case in point.  China, through land reclamation or island building, militarization of these reclaimed features, and other aggressive activities fundamentally violate international laws and conventions.  They are in essence, effectively establishing sea and air control over the South China Sea, East China Sea, and Yellow Sea.   There is also no reason not to believe that China may export some of the bad behavior seen in the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.  If we think of the Indo-Pacific as a single theater, with multiple centers of gravity, it may be time to review  how U.S Forces are organized in this vital region in terms of command, control and areas of responsibility. 

The NSS and NDS call for an Indo-Pacific strategy and increased engagement with India.   In U.S. security architecture, the world is divided up into regional combatant commands in a classified document known as the Unified Command Plan (UCP).  This plan establishes geographic areas of responsibility (AOR).  The current UCP essentially divides the Indian Ocean between two Combatant Commanders (PACOM AND CENTCOM) with a small area to AFRICOM.  Given the strategic significance of the Indo-Pacific, putting this entire region under a single Combatant Commander is desirable to ensure synchronization and unity of effort. However, the AOR is huge, and span of control and focused engagement are a challenge.  

Additionally, it is unclear that current PACOM/CENTCOM/AFRICOM AOR boundaries are aligned with the Indian view of their strategic area of influence.  It might be appropriate to adjust AOR boundaries to assign most of the maritime space to PACOM.  While one could imagine several possibilities in terms of realignment of these maritime boundaries, that is beyond the scope of this article.  Suffice it to say that this is a conversation worth having with the Indians and among our leadership in the Department of Defense.  As we expand cooperation and engagement (e.g. increasing the number and complexity of bilateral and multilateral exercises, joint operations) with India it will be increasingly important to have an appropriately sized planning and operations staff focused on the IOR.  Ideally, this organization would be located in the IOR as well.  The preferred location would likely be driven by Indian preferences, perhaps Diego Garcia to start, with the eventual goal of moving to India as the partnership deepens.   One could envision a squadron sized staff reporting to the U.S. Seventh Fleet to start and ultimately evolving to a fleet when appropriate.  The evolution of the U.S. Navy organization in the Mid-East from  pre-Gulf War to today might be a good example.  The U.S. started with COMIDEASTFOR (Commander, Middle East Force) with no permanent forces and grew to today's Fifth Fleet located in Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf.

In conclusion,  the new U.S. strategic guidance contained in the NSS and NDS provides and excellent opportunity to ramp-up our efforts to work with India on a true co-equal basis to improve security and the prospect of the future, in the Indian Ocean.  India's core interest has to be the Indian Ocean, and the U.S., in promoting a strong India in the center of the Indian Ocean, also serves U.S. objectives.  There is currently a maritime arms race underway in Asia.  The best way to avoid conflict is through increased balancing, promoting an open and transparent security framework, and to ensure the continuity of a rules-based international order that has respect for international norms. 

Modi And The Middle East: What Does The Saudi Arabia Flight Deal Signify?


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia has been fruitful, as news that Saudi has granted Air India approval to operate direct flights from Delhi to Tel Aviv over and through Saudi territory, has been confirmed. While Saudi Arabia has been the first Arab state to break the taboo by engaging with Israel and working towards ‘normalising’ the relationship between the two states with the help of US intervention, Saudi Arabia is far from an Israeli ally. Therefore, given the major contentions still shared between Israel and Saudi Arabia, it is evident that India is exerting, in its own capacity, the same form of soft power the US exerted to bring these Saudi and Israeli relations into existence.

In addition to PM Modi’s visit, Saudi Arabia also hosted India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba in order to further strengthen relations and consolidate cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries. This new-found alliance is mutually beneficial, as the Saudi King Salman will likely visit India in the future to inaugurate the new Saudi Arabia Embassy building in New Delhi. This is a true show of partnership, as the Saudi King does not undertake many foreign visits.

While it is natural to expect some deals to come to life when two countries take such massive steps to engage with one another, it is more important to put the Air India Flight Permission Deal in context with PM Modi’s relation building tours in the Middle East. News of this flight path confirmation, which is the first permission of its kind that Saudi has granted to any other nation, came at a time when PM Modi was visiting the UAE, a nation that does not recognise Israel as a legitimate state and internationally condemns the Israeli occupation of Palestine. UAE and Saudi relations have also been significantly strengthened in the recent past, first with their joint sanctions on Qatar and later with a recent political and military alliance between the two countries.  However, neither Saudi’s own inhibitions to befriend Israel, nor the opposition Israel faces from Saudi’s new ally, the UAE, have stopped it from signing the flight deal with India.

This apparent dichotomy on Saudi Arabia’s part is less voluntary and more a show of India’s growing importance in the region, as well as in the international sphere as a whole. Despite the prevalence of divisive political issues, India seemingly maintains the ability to engage with other countries in the Middle East while overcoming regional differences.

Another striking example of this is PM Modi’s plan to visit Palestine after visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel. PM Modi stated that this proves that bilateral talks between both nations are possible, and forming alliances with one of the states is mutually exclusive with India’s ability to form an alliance with the other. India was the first non-Arab nation to recognise Palestine as a legitimate independent state, although it also recognises Israel as a legitimate state. PM Modi is also the first Indian Prime Minister to have visited both nations. However, by recognising each of them to be allies without necessarily taking sides, despite the decades of intense conflict, India has acquired the ability to openly converse with both sides. New Delhi benefits from this ability by being able to purchase defence equipment from Israel on one hand, while also voting to drop the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital on the other.  This is yet another example of how India continues to forge its own path in foreign policy above the regional politics.

Similar to the role US plays in certain regions, India could also play a mitigating role in the dispute and might even be able to use its influence to prevent conflicts from escalating in the future by keeping an open dialogue with both Israel and Palestine. Having been able to build relationships with both sides, it has become clear that India is a nation of heightened importance and it will be interesting to see how India plays its cards or exerts similar force in the future.

By playing a more decisive role in the politics of the middle east, PM Modi and future leaders could potentially use their relationships to forge closer alliances within the region. Strengthening the bonds between India and their partners in the Middle East will present new opportunities to New Delhi, including additional military partners and access to naval bases in the region. Moreover, closer relationships between India and the Gulf States can allow for greater pressure to be exerted on Pakistan and further restrict the ISI’s financial support for terrorists.