Indian Elections - The Seventh Phase

India’s seventh, and last, phase of their national elections, known as Lok Sabha, concluded this past Sunday. In this phase, voting was held in 59 constituencies from eight states; Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chandigarh. With this last round of voting, in which another 100 million people were eligible to vote, India’s massive, month-long election has come to an end.

While the results of the election will not be officially announced until May 23rd, that has not stopped private television channels from conducting various polls, interviewing thousands of Indians. Pre-election polling indicated that incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would not be able to form a majority in the parliament, meaning that a coalition would need to be formed. However, exit polls seemed to be indicating that the BJP did achieve a majority, meaning another five years of Modi as Prime Minister. In fact, some polls went as far as to claim that the BJP gained even more seats than its last contestation in 2014, where it achieved a dominant victory and majority. However, India’s television channels have a very mixed record in the past when it comes to predicting election results. The opposition party dismissed the polling, and rival candidate Ghandi tweeted his beliefs that the election schedule was manipulated to help the BJP.  

While India’s massive election process proceeded relatively free from violence, Sunday’s voting was marred by some significant violence in the eastern state of West Bengal. Instances of mob violence and attacks of arson were reported, with the BJP coming into clashes with the powerful regional party, the Trinamool Congress. Desperate to win the seats in West Bengal, Modi visited the state 17 times, where his nationalist rhetoric often sparked sporadic violence. Violence became such a problem in the area that the Election Commission cut campaigning off early on Thursday, a drastic and unprecedented action.

This election has been seen by many as a referendum of sorts on Modi’s leadership over the past five years. Now more than perhaps ever, Modi has become the face of his political party, and campaigns have often adopted a “vote for Modi” message over a “vote for party” rhetoric. While Modi’s government has overseen significant economic growth for India, there have also been significant challenges and obstacles. The victor of these elections will have some massive items to address on the agenda, such as high levels of unemployment, vast numbers of people who feel that they are being left behind or not enjoying the benefits of India’s economic growth, continued tensions with Pakistan, just to name a few. As the world’s largest democracy, and an increasing influential global power, many of the world’s eyes are on India and the results of the election.


Unfree Speech: Bangladesh's Digital Crackdown on Dissent

Recent arrests of political dissidents at the hands of police are reigniting international concern for the plight of free speech in Bangladesh. Ever since the young nation’s formation, Bangladesh has endured a long, troubled history of election violence, corruption, vote rigging, and suppression of political opposition. This latest iteration affirms its government’s commitment to employing brute force, justified by federal statutes stipulating harsh penalties for those convicted of digitally spreading disinformation or distasteful remarks, to achieve national conformity subservient to the regime’s legitimacy. Intolerance to internal opposition strikes at the core of Bangladesh’s espoused belief in democracy and undermines the value of its democratic institutions. Continued political repression stymies any genuine transition to becoming a fully-fledged democracy and, notwithstanding its tremendous economic growth rates, may embolden Bangladesh to further dissolve the freedoms enumerated to all its citizens.

Bangladesh’s crusade into digital regulation commenced in 2006, with the passage of the Information and Communication Technology Act (ICTA). Under the auspices of combating cybercrime, the ICTA served as the government’s primary authority for punishing unwanted behavior in the burgeoning digital industry. Later, it was amended by Prime Minister Hasina’s government in 2013 to raise maximum jail sentences for relevant crimes, from 10 to 14 years, while removing bail in many of those instances. Crimes remained broadly defined to maximize the government’s latitude in arresting and prosecuting perpetrators. Spreading corrupting, fake, or derogatory material through digital or news media, however interpreted as such by authorities, renders offenders punishable by the ICTA to this day.

As streets protests rocked Dhaka in August 2018 after a deadly traffic accident, Bangladesh unfurled drastic measures to quell the outbreak. Young protestors, placing sole blame upon the shoulders of the Bangladeshi government, organized human barricades throughout the capital to halt traffic. They took to social media to rally, advocate, and demand for safer traffic regulations, improved road conditions, and higher standards for vehicle maintenance. Additionally, they leveraged broadcast media to garner international attention at the government’s efforts to silence the protests. In response, the government throttled internet networks and arrested journalists, interrupting the movement’s ability to continue organizing and reporting.

Amidst the chaos, prominent Bengali photojournalist Shahidul Alam conducted an interview with Al Jazeera English. As a social rights activist, Alam has long advocated for the government to promote greater democratic inclusivity within its policies. In his interview, Alam linked the enormity of the street protests with ‘pent up’ discontent over pervasive governmental corruption, bribery, pillaging of the media, and beyond. He squarely condemned PM Hasina’s leadership and the government’s categorically undemocratic rule for instigating the demonstrations. Immediately following the interview, Alam was apprehended by unmarked agents of the federal government, who acted under authority of the ICTA. By his own account he was, “handcuffed, blindfolded … tortured, [and] interrogated” by his captors. This stunning episode, a blatant attempt to stifle Alam, caught traction amongst international media and stained Bangladesh’s reputation globally.

Human rights groups and influential individuals, among them Amnesty International, Binayak Sen, and Joseph Stiglitz, all petitioned for Alam’s immediate release. He would later be granted bail, but he still stands trial today, and his separate legal battle against the ICTA awaits final decision in court.

By October, mere months before the December 2018 Bangladeshi general election, PM Hasina ushered an incredibly restrictive bill curbing freedom of the press through the Jatiya Sangsad, Bangladesh’s national parliament. Entitled the Digital Security Act (DSA), the bill, now law, extended the preexisting legal ambiguity and breadth of regulations codified by the ICTA to new, characteristically unspecified, domains. Among these, DSA enabled police to loosely conduct warrantless arrests, simply upon the belief a crime is being, or will be, committed. Furthermore, DSA greenlighted arrest for individuals found covertly recording conversations, meetings, or briefings within government buildings. Corruption is standard practice in Bangladesh, and the imposition of DSA provided assurances, to PM Hasina, Cabinet Ministers, and all benefactors of graft, these impurities would never be brought to light.

By mid-October, members of the Bangladeshi press erupted in united opposition against DSA with protest signs and human-linked chains before the National Press Club. Demanding the government’s immediate reconsideration of the law, the journalists ripped DSA for being a conduit into a heightened security state in which freedom of the press, government criticism, and authentic democracy would all be suffocated. Their protesting ahead of the 2018 general election was perceived to strike at the delicacy of the ruling government. By highlighting PM Hasina’s infringements upon freedom, it was believed they could draw substantial domestic and international ire against Hasina, potentially ousting her from power by year’s end.

But Hasina held on – by a landslide.

Nearly a half-year removed from the elections, Bangladesh continues to obstruct the political freedoms and fundamental human rights it fought to earn through its independence. PM Hasina’s government has promulgated censorship upon anyone – be they lawyers, teachers, poets, students, or human rights activists – who expresses an unfavorable opinion of the government. Bangladesh best exemplifies a consolidating autocracy, which is especially troublesome for the nation’s 160+ million citizens, South Asia’s long-term stability, and Bangladesh’s entrance onto the world stage in the 21st century.

Bangladesh is made much poorer economically, socially, and politically for being, as Shahidul Amal aptly described the country, “an autocracy by any means.”

Indian Election - The Sixth Phase

The sixth phase of the Indian election took place on May 12th, and there were fifty-nine constituencies that voted in this election. There was a 63.8% voter turnout overall, and 483 of the 543 Lok Sabha seats have been filled. The voting was spread across 28 states and territories. West Bengal had a voter turnout of 80.5%, Haryana with 69.5%, Madhya Pradesh with 64.9%, Jharkhand with 64.5%, Delhi with 60.5%, Bihar with 59.3%, and Uttar Pradesh with 54.7%.


There were instances of violence in this phase as well, particularly in West Bengal. BJP candidate Ghatal Bharati Ghosh was targeted by mobs, and there were some polling stations that were boycotted in the state. In the previous few phases, there has been conflict with the Trinamool Congress party (TMC) and opposition parties. The fifth phase saw crude bombs thrown between BJP and TMC, and a BJP candidate was attacked in the fourth phase. In the third phase, three people and one Congress worker were injured in a squabble.


India’s capital voted in this phase as well, an extremely observed segment of the election. Only about 60% of the registered voters in New Delhi voted, which was a 5% decrease in voter turnout from the 2014 elections. There was criticism regarding the Delhi voting process as well; there were many voters who stated that their names were not present on the electoral lists, which had an impact on whether they were allowed to vote or not. There were also problems with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in Delhi, which caused significant delays for the people who came out to vote in the phase.


New Delhi’s election process was particularly watched because the city is one of the country’s most diverse and growing cities, and is becoming a hub for many industries such as IT and the banking. There are numerous issues that are affecting residents of New Delhi, such as pollution, crime, and lack of job opportunities. In 2014, BJP won all seven of the Lok Sabha seats in the city. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress Party are strong contenders for these seats however, and there is debate over which party will win majority this year. There is a lot of criticism over BJP in the city, especially regarding their economic policies over the past four years. CNN quoted a New Delhi resident, “They killed the public with demonetization and the rich people keep going up. The rich have become richer and the poor have become poorer."


The AAP has become increasingly popular in New Delhi, especially among the lower income families in the city. CNN reported, “In its 2018-2019 budget, the AAP government allocated $2 billion, 26% of its total budget, for the education sector, with a focus on building new classrooms in government schools and initiatives like the Happiness Curriculum.” These initiatives have helped create credibility in the city for the AAP, and its possible that BJP will have a harder time holding all seven seats in this election season.


The seventh phase of elections will take place on May 19th, and the voting states include: Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Bengal, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. The results will be released to the public on May 23rd, and will determine which party will hold majority in the Indian government.


ISIS Claiming Responsibility for Terror in Sri Lanka Points to the Danger of Its Expansion in the Subcontinent

God has often been unkind to the island nation of 21 million people. Such a beautiful land and such good people but Sri Lanka seems doomed to its unfortunate fate of violence of different forms. The latest carnage involving bombings by as many as seven suspected suicide bombers, leading to over 250 fatalities at eight locations, is apparently a manifestation of some large-scale clandestine external support to a set of proxies. Since investigation is underway, there is as yet informed conjecture about the National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), an Islamic entity. It is suspected to be a radical Islamist group, which came into the spotlight only in 2017 after the Buddhist radical group Bodu Bala Sena reportedly undertook a campaign against the Muslim minority in Sri Lanka. At this stage, it is sufficient to believe that religious and ethnic differences are behind the carnage. The Islamic State (IS) has lately taken responsibility. Yet, the international connection is a matter of piecing the complex jigsaw of international terror, Islamist networks, the situation post the 2009 war with LTTE and other events. How this deadly cocktail comes together to smother a quiet island nation perhaps needs deeper investigation. At this moment we can, at best, theorise.

Informed theorising can help put together motives, assess potential and piece ideas together to create a narrative. It commences with the immense potential for sectarian violence in Sri Lanka. There is the defeated LTTE, which would desire to rise again since the Tamil population remains as un-integrated and, perhaps as subjugated as it was during the 30 years of the civil war. The government has done little to prevent its resurgence and diaspora networks remain fully alive. The LTTE is expected to return one day with vengeance, but not yet. Besides, the LTTE is hardly likely to target Christians and their places of worship because many are Christians themselves. For them to act as subsidiary of another international group is least likely. International intelligence agencies including those from India had warned Sri Lanka on April 11 about the possibility of NJT undertaking some form of terrorist action around Easter.

Sri Lanka has a 7.4 per cent Muslim minority; an undetermined number are from the Wahabi sect and others are Sufis. However, in that country’s majority and hard-boiled nationalism, everyone other than Sinhala Buddhists are suspected of being anti-national. A severe trust deficit exists based upon years of internal civil war and internecine violence between various faiths and groups. As an island nation under the larger shadow of India, where 190 million Muslims reside, its sectarian tend to be ignored. It is just the kind of situation tailor made for two things; first, a demonstration of international radical extremist capability; second to send home a message that these terror networks exist across the world and mother organisations still control them. That is why the finger of suspicion points to confirmation of the IS, which has staked claim for the carnage.

After its defeat in the Middle East, the IS has made efforts towards sustaining itself in third countries or locations. Efforts are on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Southeast Asia it was the Philippines where it attempted to ride on a surrogate group such as Abu Sayyaf. In the competitive world of international terror, the IS perceives a need to continue retaining its current primacy; any leeway given to other major groups such as al Qaeda will see many years of effort in the Middle East wasted. With an intelligence appreciation, placing oneself in the shoes of IS leadership, it is not difficult to determine that with the loss at Marawi in the Philippines, little progress in Af-Pak and the recent losses at Idlib in Syria, the IS was desperate to show case itself. Targeting the Sinhala majority would be counterproductive as the retaliation from radical Sinhala groups such as Bodu Bala Sena would be intense. Targeting the Tamil community would similarly be counterproductive since the LTTE’s networks may eventually be needed. The Christian community is 9.7 per cent of the population and historically no Christian-Muslim feud exists in the island. That is all the more reason that the chances of retaliation against Muslims would be low.

A second chain of events involving bombings remains alive as per the US intelligence agencies. The IS, with its caliphate-like aspirations, would have viewed the killings at Christchurch, New Zealand as just the event to avenge with an act against Christians anywhere on the globe. Easter was the most appropriate time as was the selection of churches and five-star hotels where western tourists (again largely Christian) would be present in large numbers. The questionable part of this rationale is the short interval since the Christchurch killings — March 15 to April 22. The type of suicide bombings witnessed in Sri Lanka would have called for resource collection, planning, motivation of seven suicide bombers and very careful coordination without even an iota of a leak. Five weeks to plan is far too little time. Christchurch probably only became a justification. The IS’s organisational skills are well known. It could be deduced that the operation was in the planning stages already and given greater justification by Christchurch. It is reported that just a year ago, a cache of explosives and ammunition linked to NTJ was found just north of Colombo.

For us in India, it’s a narrow escape. It could well have happened in southern India but the Indian intelligence system is a reasonable dampener for the IS. Little do we realise the worth of our intelligence agencies, which have kept India safe ever since 26/11 with no major targeting outside J&K (excluding Pathankot which too is a military station). If the narrative built above is true, then the IS has obviously sneaked in through surrogate returnees who fought its cause in the Middle East. Maldives nearby too has many, Sri Lanka some. India has over a hundred, mostly logistic support personnel — many could be motivated as potential suicide bombers. With the same threat developing in J&K, these are dangerous portents. India and Sri Lanka need intense intelligence cooperation and even more an understanding of social dynamics which contribute to the hard ideologies behind such acts.

Is Pakistan Really an Election Issue for the Indian Electorate in the 2019 Parliamentary elections?

Is Pakistan an election issue in the minds of Indian electorate for the upcoming lower house, Lok Sabha parliamentary elections which will select the new Prime Minister? This issue becomes especially important after the Indian government claimed that it targeted the terrorist camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), a Pakistan based terrorist organization, through military airstrikes in response to JeM’s suicide attack which killed forty Indian paramilitary troops in the Indian administered Kashmir. On the contrary, Pakistan denies the existence of such camp and claims that Indian fighter jets retreated in haste due to scrambling and dropped their payloads in the forest. Mr. Modi and his ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ministers and leaders have boasted this issue in their election rallies.

In the past elections, foreign policy and national security have generally not been major issues and are thought not to influence the elections. Although India’s middle class is 267 million with average GDP growth of 7% since 1991 economic liberalization, it is still a lower middle-income country with 21% of its population living below the poverty line and 66% of its population living in rural areas. In such a scenario, rural and development issues such as poverty, agrarian distress, access to drinking water, roads, and jobs are important for the majority of the electorate. In addition, caste and religion trump national identity and are important factors in Indian elections. Domestic issues and socioreligious identities will continue to influence voters’ preferences in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Domestic issues dominate

Domestic issues are more important than ‘Pakistan threat’ in influencing voters’ behavior. Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a reputed Indian research institute conducted a pre-poll survey which found that development, price rise, and unemployment were the three most important issues for the voters at 33%, 25%, and 20%. Indian air strikes in Pakistan was an important issue for only 4% of the electorate. After the announcement of 10% federal jobs quota for the low-income people from the general category (upper castes), cash transfer for poor farmers and air strikes in Pakistan, the popularity of Mr. Modi increased from 34% (May 2018) to 43% (pre-poll survey 2019). It would be unfair to assume that only air strikes increased his popularity. Air strikes combined with other announcements helped increase Mr. Modi’s popularity. Affirmative action policy is already in place for lower castes in parliament, government jobs, and educational institutes. In order to attract low-income voters from upper castes, the ruling government announced the 10% federal jobs quota. Cash transfers to poor farmers are important as BJP lost the 2018 state assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh because the party failed to ameliorate agrarian distress which not only resulted in low prices for farmers’ produce but also growing suicides.

Majority of poor reside in rural areas and therefore, form a very important vote base for any party to win elections. For poor rural families hit by the recent agrarian distress, welfare programs are more valuable than an external Pakistan threat which does not directly affect their lives. Majority of rural poor’s livelihood and location are far removed from the India-Pakistan border tensions. Seshadri Chari, a prominent journalist and member of the BJP’s National Executive Committee, recently stated in his article that the backroom boys of the BJP have realized that the airstrikes in Pakistan have limited appeal among Indian voters and as a result, party leaders are making people aware of social programs especially those targeted towards farmers and poor families. In the predominantly rural state of Uttar Pradesh which has 80 Lok Sabha seats, the highest in the country, it was found that while the airstrikes in Pakistan will help in mobilizing the core committed BJP voters, it will have no impact on undecided and non-committed BJP voters.

Elections held after the Kargil war (1999) and surgical strikes (2016) show us whether ‘Pakistan threat’ helped the ruling BJP in winning the elections. After the exit of a coalition political party, elections for the Lok Sabha were held less than two months after the end of Kargil war. Studies have shown that the constituency level vote share (in the seats BJP contested) of the BJP remained stable between 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections and it was due to political alliances and constituency level factors by which the party was able to form the government. Therefore, the Kargil war was not a game-changer as BJP’s vote share didn’t increase dramatically after the war. Surgical strikes conducted by the Indian army on terrorist launching pads in Pakistan did not affect the outcome of state assembly elections a few months later. For example, BJP won Uttar Pradesh assembly election because of social welfare programs and caste coalition.

Caste and religion

Caste and religion trump national identity in Indian elections. Mr. Chari also states in his article that the overall voting pattern in most states remains rooted in caste considerations. In his book, Changing Electoral Politics in Delhi: From Caste to Class, Sanjay Kumar shows that the semi-state of Delhi moved from caste to class politics because of high urbanization and rapid migration. In contrast to Delhi, caste identities remain important in elections as the majority of Indians live in rural areas and engage in agricultural activities. Political parties address the issues of development keeping caste considerations in mind. In the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, two caste-based parties, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party, who wield enormous political power formed an alliance so that their lower caste votes do not get divided by the ruling BJP. Caste-based parties provide support to their specific caste through patron-client relationship as rural societies are mired by caste discrimination, violence, and poverty. Pakistan does not hold prominence as people have other issues which seriously affects their livelihood.

As a developing and a predominantly rural country, caste and religion identities rather than national identity define the identity of the majority of Indians. In 2013, communal riots between Jat Hindus and Muslims in the constituency of Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh polarized the elections along religious lines and benefited the political candidates in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Political parties benefit from communal riots as it ends up polarizing the elections along religious lines and helps in diverting the focus from urgent issues. It has been suggested that BJP is raising the issue of ‘Pakistani threat’ in election rallies for another subtext, i.e., to equate it with Muslims in order to polarize the elections in their favor. The reasoning behind this is that Hindu votes which are usually divided along caste lines could be united against Muslim votes to win elections. In addition, although cell phones and social media coverage have increased in India, they are primarily used to spread fake news and provoke prejudice along caste and religion lines during elections.

Majority of the Indian population is still low income and employed in agricultural activities and informal sector. For them, domestic issues such as poverty, access to welfare programs, agrarian distress and jobs will always hold more importance than an external Pakistan threat. In addition, caste and religion cleavages take precedence over national identity.

Siachen Glacier: 35 Years On, Vacating Region Will Cost Over 5,000 Lives to Regain Partial Control and Provide Pakistan Edge

Thirty-five years ago in April 1984 India flew a helicopter-borne task force to the Siachen Glacier and set foot the first soldiers who would shortly thereafter spread out into the inhospitable glaciated terrain and occupy heights up to 21,000 feet to firmly plant the Indian Tricolour on the adjacent Saltoro Ridge. Before that Pakistan had already commenced its attempts to assimilate the territory as its own by sending mountaineering expeditions and patrols into the icy wasteland; India discovered that only in 1978. The arduous wait of six years was prompted by uncertainty about the ability of the Indian Army to hold its own operationally and logistically at a scale of heights which would soon classify Siachen as the highest battlefield in the world. It was a question of taking the first step with huge risk to occupy a glaciated wasteland which many continue to the day to call a monumental waste of resources and precious human lives.

Over the last five years, I have managed to sneak in a PowerPoint slide or two about Siachen Glacier wherever I have been asked to speak about the Indian Army. In fact when a particular corporate house wanted me to speak on a most fascinating yet challenging subject — How does the Indian Army convert Mission Impossible to Mission Possible — I chose the theme of Siachen to highlight the subject for it. It left the audience enthralled, so little being known about the highest battlefield in the world.

Before getting to understand a few issues of the basic background — the why and the how — it may be motivating for the Indian public to know a few things about Siachen. First, every Pakistani general claims that the Pakistan Army is also at Siachen; they have even made a few documentaries about their presence there and spread the word around among the international community and the Pakistan media and public too.

However, such Pakistani generals scurry away when they are confronted by people like me who have lived and commanded in Siachen. The stark truth is that the biggest hoax of our times is the manner in which the Pakistan Army has spread disinformation that it too is in the occupation of Siachen Glacier and that they would agree to a mutual withdrawal if India agrees to it too. Pakistan’s public and media do not realise that when the Indian Army beat their army to the occupation of the risk-laden and challenging terrain, the entire Saltoro Ridge which runs on the western and southern flank was also occupied.

The Pakistan Army made repeated attempts from 1984 till 2003 (declaration of the ceasefire) to dislodge the Indian Army from the Saltoro to obtain a small toehold but it never succeeded. What took time for the Indian Government also to realise is the fact that any so-called ‘mutual withdrawal’ from the Siachen Glacier would, in reality, mean the withdrawal of only one army, the Indian Army. If then the Pakistan Army repeated what it did in Kargil in May 1999 i.e. the occupation of vacant heights in winter it could cost the Indian Army more than 5,000 lives to regain just partial control again.

So how did it all begin and what was the strategic importance of the frigid zone then and what is it now that we have the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) flowing not too far from where the Siachen Glacier exists. Very briefly the storyline commences from 1972 when the erstwhile ceasefire line (CFL) of 1949 was being converted to the Line of Control (LoC), with delineation and demarcation under the Shimla Agreement. On the map, the delineation was done till NJ 9842, a map coordinate north of which existed the glaciated zone perceived as uninhabitable. The signed agreement stated that the LoC would thereafter run ‘north to the glaciers’; four words which came back to haunt India Pakistan relations.

Only in 1978 did India realise that Pakistan was laying claim to the area west of the line joining NJ 9842 to the Karakoram (KK) Pass (see map); patrolling activity and expeditions indicated this. India’s own claim thereafter follows international norms of aligning along a watershed which is what the Saltoro Range is. The triangle formed by NJ 9842, Indira Col and KK Pass is the ground in contention and it is currently entirely under Indian occupation.

The Siachen Glacier, 75 km in length, is a river of snow/ice, many hundreds of feet deep. Its ‘snout’ is where the original base camp of the Indian Army was (now shifted slightly due to shooting stones). It is not really flat but compared to the high mountains on its flanks it is almost like a table top.

The Indian Army occupies the glacier with its bases, smaller camps, headquarters and artillery gun positions.

We are at a major advantage over the Pakistan Army since we also occupy the western ridge of high mountains along the Saltoro Ridge and therefore deny Pakistan Army any peep on to the Siachen Glacier. However, that makes the task of deployment far more difficult as much as it affects the logistics of maintenance. For Pakistan Army, by comparison, it’s a cake walk because of much lower deployment the other side of Saltoro Ridge; it even has motorable roads coming up to some of its deployment areas, unlike our side where the logistics and the approach are entirely on foot or by helicopter. Much can be written about the challenges of deployment, operations, survival and logistics in Siachen.

Coming down from the Saltoro Ridge towards the main glacier are a number of sub glaciers; these facilitate the routes and camps which support the deployment of the Indian Army at Saltoro. The latter deployment is on razor-sharp peaks and ridges where construction of any shelters becomes near impossible. The final ascent to the deployment areas is sometimes by use of ropes over vertical ice walls. As few as two to six men could be deployed at a post; there isn’t space for more. Snow caves are used in some cases. There are small snow-beaten helipads in the main glacier and at logistics hubs at the sub glaciers (example Bila Fond La) but the helipads which need to be seen to be believed are tucked away at the Saltoro Ridge in nooks and corners. Helicopters are the lifeline because they transport radio batteries, kerosene oil, tinned food and special rations besides letters from home.

The takeaway for the reader should be a lesson on the strategic significance of the occupation of Siachen; how a Rs 4 crore per day expenditure remains justified.

It needs to be noted that the strategic significance has only enhanced over time. It commenced with the possibility of full Pakistani occupation of the triangle which would bring the Pakistan Army to the edge of the Saltoro Ridge, affording it domination over the crucial Nubra Valley drained by the River Nubra which emanates from the snout of Siachen. That would do three things for Pakistan. First, it would broaden the China Pakistan link into a larger contact zone to afford operations against Indian deployment in Nubra Valley. Second, it would make Indian deployment at the Karakoram (KK) Range relatively untenable if the Nubra Valley were to fall to China Pakistan combine. The extreme high altitude area of the KK Range around Daulat Beg Oldi (DBO) and stretching into Eastern Ladakh would be threatened. Third, the potential threat to Nubra would entail the defence of Leh (capital of Ladakh) being based upon a single range – the Ladakh Range, not the most prudent operational way of defending the core centre of the Ladakh region.

With the construction of the CPEC India’s northernmost deployment which can threaten it remains the Siachen area. What has rarely been spoken about is the fact that for China the ultimate salvation lies in making the CPEC a maze of old world Silk Route alignments through the Ladakh region into Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, making Ladakh that much more strategic for India. The defence of Ladakh without holding Siachen would make the task of the Indian Army far more challenging than it already is.

Photo Credit: File Image/AFP

Low ISIS Footprint in India May Be Misleading

The suicide terror bombings in Sri Lanka took that country and the entire world by utter surprise. The Islamic State (ISIS) took its time claiming responsibility, but once it did the puzzle started to fall into place. These attacks came at a time when ISIS was considered defeated in the field and vanquished as an entity; from Fallujah to Mosul and then Idlib in Syria, it lost ground but retained its networked state and ability to direct a rump campaign outside the physical precincts of its presumed “caliphate”. The expected surge in Somalia and Nigeria, where the surrogate Al Shabab and Boko Haram exist, did not emerge. Neither did the efforts to find space in the Philippines in conjunction with the Abu Sayaf group.

The Taliban’s hold over Afghanistan’s ungoverned parts is too strong for the ISIS to make successful incursions, as is the hold of disparate radical groups in Pakistan who don’t wish to act as surrogates. Mindful of all this, it is likely that ISIS is looking to break fresh ground in order to remain relevant. Its network-based presence remains sufficiently threatening to the world, where the vulnerability of minds continues to exist. ISIS therefore is in search of areas where unexpected emergence may help through a sufficiently clandestine setup and where the intelligence networks may yet be weak. Many believe that India has little potential for an ISIS emergence because even in its heyday four years ago, a very small ratio of India’s 180 million Muslims got radicalised enough to take the plunge to travel to the “caliphate” territory. The presence of experienced Indian intelligence agencies whose track record, especially after 26/11, has largely been without blemish may also be an input into such an assumption.

However, the ISIS wishlist may include a region or nation with democratic and secular principles of existence with a base of Muslim presence. That immediately enhances India’s vulnerability. The starting point from Sri Lanka, where a small minority of Muslims exists, could be commencement from the fringe. The level of penetration into India has somehow always been questioned. That may no longer be entirely valid.

While the Tamil Nadu-based Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamath (TNTJ) may be in strict denial of any linkage to the National Thowheed Jamath, that was allegedly responsible for the Sri Lanka carnage, there can be no denial about the fact that extremist radical ideology of the ISIS type has been spreading around the world through the Internet and by word of mouth influence of unmonitored returnees, not necessarily only from the ISIS badlands. Investigations in Sri Lanka are throwing up undiscovered networks involved with word of mouth influence, although admittedly the ISIS linkage has not fully been established despite the claims made. If ISIS has been scouting for other potential locations to showcase its relevance, there can be enough locations all over India as the spread of Muslims is not restricted to any one state. Merely the presence of Muslims is not an invitation for terrorism to establish root; such belief is just as bad as labelling all Muslims as potential terrorists. Vilifying any one segment of Muslims too is counter-productive. Radicals are those who believe in the right of existence of only their ideology and sanction the use of violence to convert all others to their belief.

This is best illustrated by a captured Pakistani suicide bomber, interviewed on Geo TV, who was questioned on why he believed he was doing something for Islam when all the people killed by his potential act were also fellow Muslims. His answer sums it in the best way. He stated that none of the people who would be killed were actually Muslims because true Muslims were only those who thought and followed the faith the way he and his colleagues did. That is an actual hardcore radical of the ISIS variety which the world is battling. There are enough Muslims who are battling them too, but there are also enough confused Muslims around the world who incorrectly think that the ISIS “caliphate” is a true caliphate, and that they are duty-bound to support it and fight for it.

Many think that India has escaped the wrath of ISIS due to the inherent strength of our plurality. While the safeguards due to plurality are in place and Indian intelligence agencies have largely marginalised radical groups set up by transnational crime syndicates and many by Pakistan, India is not out of the woods. Nothing signifies that more than the events in Sri Lanka. Indian Muslims are actually different. They are among the few who have had an opportunity to rub shoulders and share lunches with people of every faith. They participate in different religious festivals. There are cities where Hindus and Muslims sit together to decide the routes and timings of processions on days when their festivals clash; such inter-faith bonhomie can rarely be seen anywhere in the world.

Yet with all that, there are maverick elements on both sides who cannot rest in peace or promote the obvious strength of their nation. An organisation such as ISIS thrives on the divisiveness created by both these segments by promoting mutual fears. The politics of divisiveness will always exist in the strongest of societies, especially in open democracies. Morals can never be dictated, they have to be perceived and to expect a hundred per cent of that is utopian. There will always be a threshold dictated by international trends. Strong societies overcome that with hiccups, just as India is currently experiencing. On one hand Pakistan’s strategy works towards promoting that divisiveness in India and then there is the phenomenon of an organisation such as ISIS. Their interests are quite different, but the methodology may actually be the same.

We cannot claim India has firewalled itself against these efforts. There will be elements within who will be influenced by extraneous propaganda, made so much easier today by the existence of the social media. Fake messages and hate messages will continue to rule the ether waves and somewhere they will impact, just as it has happened in Sri Lanka. We have many more returnees from the Gulf than Sri Lanka has. Each one of them cannot be monitored effectively. Thus, sleeper cells do exist to rear their ugly head at opportune moments. We have seen it happen in Bangladesh, and we have now experienced it in Sri Lanka.

What is required is not clichéd advice but effective monitoring. The intelligence agencies have their job cut out for them. The poll rhetoric has created divisiveness and votebanks are obvious, but this cannot be allowed to convert into threats against India’s internal security. The clergy bears a greater responsibility towards the correct interpretation of the faith and there are enough sane members of it and institutions in India who can play a positive role to offset the mischief that both Pakistan and organisations such as ISIS have in mind.

Most important, India’s Muslims need leaders of substance who can guide, lead and advise. The levels of ignorance within the community are extremely high, making it vulnerable to propaganda. Considering the fact that educationally well-qualified people too are seen to be vulnerable, it will need correction from within the community. That can happen only if the absolutely uncalled-for vilification of the community on the basis of unnecessary labelling is also effectively curtailed.

Preparedness Pays Off Against Cyclone Fani

Over the weekend, Cyclone Fani hit coasts of the Indian Ocean, particularly the eastern coast of India and the country of Bangladesh. As the storm was tracked forming over the Bay of Bengal, meteorologists warned that this storm was potentially the worst one seen for the past twenty years.

Twenty years ago, one of the strongest cyclones in India’s history hit its eastern coast and devastated the countryside and cities. 160 mile-an-hour winds and tidal surges of up to five feet high caused over ten thousand deaths, with many bodies never being found. Bangladesh also has suffered mightily from tropical storms. In 1970, the Great Bhola Cyclone drove a tidal wave that resulted in killing an estimated 300,000 people. Even recently, in 2009 Cyclone Sidr killed 3,000 people. Authorities were very concerned that Cyclone Fani reaching the shores could cause similar levels of destruction.

However, authorities in both India and Bangladesh, the two countries most affected by the cyclones coming out of the Bay of Bengal, have spent the past few decades dramatically improving their disaster preparedness programs and assistance/relief efforts. With better-detection technology, disaster relief agencies and departments in India began evacuating more than a million people from the eastern coast. The widespread adoption of technology across India’s population also helped evacuation efforts. Televisions, radios, and cell phones were bombarded with warnings about the storm and urgent calls to evacuate. And even for those disconnected from technology, loudspeakers and people with megaphones went from village to village urging people to leave and warning them of potential dangers.

In addition, a massive number of storm shelters have been constructed and opened along Odisha’s coast, as the state is determined to never repeat the horrors of twenty years ago. The more than 850 storm shelters can each hold 1,000 people, along with livestock. A similar scale of efforts have been seen in Bangladesh, with disaster management secretary Shah Kamal announcing that 1.2 million people had been safely evacuated before the storm made landfall. Both governments took the responsible actions of suspending fishing operations and canceling nearby travel. In some cases, police officers went through coastal towns, practically demanding people evacuate to a shelter.

As a result, the much feared Cyclone Fani killed only a few dozen people. While still tragic, it is heartening to see just how much India and Bangladesh have improved when it comes to protecting these vulnerable populations from tropical storms. The region is one of the most densely populated in the world, and with Cyclone Fani affecting areas as far away as Mount Everest, it really demonstrates just how important disaster planning can be. While many thousands of people have had their livelihoods destroyed or damaged, most importantly they survived and will be able to rebuild.

Buying Russian Armaments Could Hurt India-US Military Ties

India and the United States have come a long way in building a comprehensive partnership with the potential to define the 21st century for the better. Nonetheless, convergence between the two countries seems to be taking place in fits and starts, rather than as a consistent and coordinated plan of action with the purpose of shaping geopolitical realities as opposed to simply reacting to them.

Washington and Delhi must take care to institutionalise the progress that’s been made and to foster informed public support for it, not least because other powers are dedicating resources with the intent of scuttling Indo-American partnership. If grander interests are not kept foremost, the policy differences and minor tiffs which inevitably arise between the two democracies may have bigger consequences, which both nations will regret.

India may be able to work around the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to withhold waivers for the purchase of oil from Iran by buying its energy elsewhere. The US, which wants to empower India as an ally to confront shared security challenges, must do all it can to facilitate this. However, the US’ penalisation of countries which choose to procure military armaments from Russia is likely to remain a far thornier issue for Indian and American diplomacy to work out.

New Delhi’s decision to buy the S-400 missile system from long-time defence supplier Russia could inflict serious harm on future Indo-American military ties, if only because Washington is not in the business of selling advanced US-made defence technologies to countries where the agents of Russian military power are also welcome.

In good faith, both Washington and New Delhi have patiently strived to deconflict the issue. A special US waiver for India is always possible, but the Russian deal could also hamper the blossoming of defence cooperation in other, far more consequential, domains. Regrettably, New Delhi’s S-400 decision has also lent credence to those in Washington who question the merits of India as a long-range strategic partner. At the same time, however, the Indo-American partnership has yet to come up with an alternative to India’s military dependence on Russia.

From almost no defence relationship a few decades ago, the US is today one of the top three suppliers of defence equipment to India. However, what Washington has sold Delhi comprises primarily one-off items, instead of multi-year, big ticket platforms. The US would probably like to become India’s exclusive supplier of defence equipment on the basis of a formal alliance treaty, but this is not yet feasible for security and political reasons on both sides.

Americans sympathetic to India’s many security needs know the peace and good order of the Indo-Pacific will be determined not just at sea, but in the Himalayas and along India’s continental borders. They also know the US does not manufacture a standalone equivalent to the S-400, only air defence capabilities engineered to work in conjunction with other American-made systems.

On its face, then, the S-400 may help India contend with immediate threats, but continued dependence on Russia poses long-term risks to Indian security. Besides harming US-India strategic cooperation, the S-400 is part and parcel of an inferior suite of defence technologies made by a fading Russian power whose own future, and fidelity as a military supplier to India, is in doubt.

Moscow may say it wants India to help balance against the People’s Republic of China—and preventing the PRC’s domination of Middle Eurasia, from Kazakhstan to the Caucasus, should be a US goal, too. But Putin’s nostalgia for empire and aggressions in Europe have succeeded in quarantining Russia from the West and making it ever more subordinate, economically and strategically, to the PRC and its geopolitical ambitions. Beijing will not be as eager as the Kremlin is now to sell Russian military wares to a rising India.

India and America must get ahead of this and ensure their partnership is well-launched. The challenge for our statecraft will be to shed the strategic pieties that kept us apart and to realise new cooperative modes and constructs in pursuit of shared geopolitical goals.

One possible way forward which must be explored would entail the joint development of an India-based defence industry, which would combine Indian expertise and manpower with technological know-how from the US and other friendly countries. By harmonising Indian industrial security and business governance practices with American ones, India could meet its immediate defence needs with Indian-made technology, and reduce its reliance on Russia, with transformative knock-on benefits for the Indian private sector, jobs creation, and innovation. More importantly, India could take its rightful place as a vital member of an emerging coalition of Asia’s advanced democracies whose aim is the maintenance of democratic leadership over the defensive and civilian technologies of the future, and the conservation of the rules-based order and peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Indian Election Update - The Fifth Phase

The fifth phase of India’s general elections took place on Monday, May 6th. There were about 90 million people that voted in this phase, in seven states and fifty-one constituencies. The states that voted in this phase include Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal. This phase was particularly important, as amongst the candidates voted on include Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi. This phase is under scrutiny especially because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 40 seats in these states in the 2014 election, which left only a few for opposition parties. It is unclear whether the BJP will have such a strong victory in these states during this election season, with the results announced on May 23rd.


Voting in this phase was held for fourteen seats in Uttar Pradesh, twelve seats in Rajasthan, seven seats for West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh individually, five in Bihar, and four in Jharkhand. There were about 94,000 polling stations that were used. This phase is the smallest one, but will end the polling for 424 seats. There are 118 seats left to vote on, which will be completed in the sixth and seventh phases. The voter turnout was averaged around 62.5% in the different constituencies, and specifically 57.1% in Uttar Pradesh. 


There was violence spread out throughout the country during this voting phase, specifically in Kashmir and West Bengal. Two polling stations in the Pulwama region of Kashmir were met with bombs, but there were no casualties. While one went off, the other was defused before it could cause any harm. This region has been in the news for the past few months, due to the terrorist attack in February at the hands of Jaish-e-Muhammad. The conflict between the Trinamool Congress Party and opposition parties in West Bengal is still ongoing, and crude bombs were thrown between the regional party and BJP in this phase. During the third phase of the elections, one Congress worker and three people were injured, and in the fourth phase, a BJP candidate was attacked.


In a May 1st election rally in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Modi brought up the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka in comparison to the attacks in Ayodhya decades earlier. He mentioned that the Congress Party had held a soft stance towards the terrorists, and his party has done the opposite. Modi stated, “When you vote for BJP, your vote will come directly to Modi. This is the land of Lord Ram, this is the land of the country’s dignity." This Hindu nationalist dialogue has been used by the BJP throughout this election season, and Modi’s referral to the previous religious strife within Ayodhya seemed to be an attempt to push this ideology.


The Election Commission of India has become much stricter regarding the election process and the guidelines set for the political parties in contention. The Commission has set a limit of seven million rupees for parties to spend on their entire campaign, a rule that the BJP allegedly broke during a road show in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. While this guideline was set to try and establish an equal playing field for all candidates, many believe that it is an unfair price limit to set on campaign efforts. The Commission could disqualify a candidate for spending above their seven million rupee limit, at any point in their term. The Election Commission has also become more stringent regarding corruption within political parties, as some candidates take part in the illegal distribution of cash and alcohol for votes. Since the end of March, the Commission has confiscated over $470 million in cash, alcohol, and drugs in relation with the election.


The next phase of the election will take place on May 12th, and the seventh and final phase will take place on May 19th. The results will be announced to the public on May 23rd, which will determine whether BJP will remain the party in power.

Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka: Crisis, Correction and Hope

"What happened on September 11th is at least, theoretically, small stuff compared to what can happen.” Robert D. Kaplan


 I was 16 when I witnessed the horror terrorism first hand. It was the blast I lost my father in.

When the long battle ended with the Tamil Tigers in 2009, I was relieved that what I witnessed would not be seen by my children.

 I was wrong.

 April 21st 2019 was when I had to cover my seven-year-old child’s eyes while my family was evacuating from the emergency exit of the Shangri La Hotel soon after the two suicide attacks which shook the entire building. The steps were soaked in blood. Lifeless bodies were carried out and many body parts blown off. Not many families made it out of the fire exit like us. My family is shocked and living in fear like many others today. I sympathize with the victims and their families who have lost loving family and friends. 

 Had I been 3 minutes earlier to the lift, I would not be writing this piece. 

 Since this day, questions raised by my six-year-old and seven-year-old are hard for me to answer. Why do people kill each other? How many bad people are there in the world? Why do people make bombs? It goes on. For my young son’s peace of mind and happiness, I painted a heroic story that life will all be better soon after a superhero saves us.  

 In my capacity as the Director General of the National Security think tank, I see this event as gross national security negligence.

 The Easter Sunday attack stands apart from previous faces of terror. Nine extremists turned the entire nation to a state of fear by killing the innocent. The targets were Christians and foreign nationalities to get the maximum global attention.

 Sri Lanka is a geo strategically blessed paradise island that lives with an 'existential threat’ (as my book further outlines). This is due to its internal disarray of politics and external geopolitics. Countries facing an existential threat for a long period of time tend to become a ‘national security state’ according to John J.Mearsheimer. Out of its 71 years of independence, Sri Lanka has fought a brutal terrorist war for almost 30 years. Today there is another phase of terrorism: violent extremism.

 Certain liberal values introduced by the present government made our nation vulnerable and a soft target for terrorist to breed and function. What was seen by the West as an autocratic state under Rajapaksa was reset overnight, tagging Sri Lanka to a global liberal order. This was done at the expense of an ensured demilitarization and the complete dismantling and weakening of the country’s military apparatus.

 It brought prosperity to individuals without understanding the setbacks of liberalism. The principal of liberalism was confused with nationalism. Some policy makers saw one against the other to push agendas forward.

 Many extra regional nations came forward with certain agreements which had direct and indirect influences on our national security. Noncooperation with some powerful nations may lead to the assumption that certain powerful nations may have used a backdoor to enter the island using terror.

 Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith explained at a press conference warning that “powerful nations could be behind these attacks”. It is an urgent area for Sri Lankan national security to invest in serious research and investigation. This lacuna is due to the lack of support by certain policy makers. A glance at the support extended to Sri Lanka’s national security think tank will reveal its rank on the State’s list of priorities.  The ‘National Defence Policy’ is the leading document capturing all threats. It remains a classified document inside a cupboard for three years. None of the policy makers bothered to take this forward.

 The National Security think tank (INSSSL) at its internal Ministry of Defence discussion held in 2017 March identified the threat of extremism that could trigger in Sri Lanka and documented in its monthly threat forecast written in March and October of 2017 and subsequently in January of 2019 after the discovery of 100 detonators and explosives in the West coast of the Island. How did such warnings go unheard?

 This gross negligence was clearly due to the malfunction of processes within the government, perhaps due to political meddling within intelligence agencies and political division. The consequence is devastating and has dragged the entire nation to a “state of fear”, taking more than 350 innocent lives.

 When the state cannot manage the consequence of an extremist act, extremism presents a clear threat to national security. Extremist groups can operate in emerging democracies, while also finding operational space in failed or failing states. Post war Sri Lanka was a soft target for extremist to creep in due to the political instability with two sets of instructions flowing in from the bipartisan government. I have indicated multiple times the grave danger to national security from the existing political instability of the country.

 It was not even a month ago when President Trump announced, “we just took over 100% of the IS caliphate,” in a victorious speech seeing the end as the last bullet was fired in the IS held Syrian town of Baghouz, on the banks of the Euphrates River. Lina Khatib, an expert from   Chatham House, UK who analyzed the victory of the U.S., British, and French-backed Kurdish and Arab coalition, said, "The group itself has not been eradicated,…The ideology of IS is still very much at large.” She states that IS will revert to its insurgent roots as it moves underground, using the territorial loss as a call to arms among its network of supporters.

 Joseph Votel, the top American general in the Middle East, warned: "(The caliphate) still has leaders, still has fighters, it still has facilitators, it still has resources, so our continued military pressure is necessary to continue to go after that network.”

 In the same manner Prof. Rohan Gunaratna, the international terrorist expert, analyzed how this spilled over to Sri Lankan attack. He stated, “With a vengeance, the returnees from Iraq and Syria and diehard supporters and sympathizers in their homelands responded to the call by the IS leadership to avenge Baghouz, the last IS stronghold. The indoctrinated personalities and cells attacked Buddhist shrines and broke Buddha images.” 

 At least 41,490 international citizens traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, according to ICSR; this is at least 50 each month. A total of 41 Sri Lankan Muslims from two extended families travelled to Iraq and Syria. There were many individuals who migrated as refugees to Sri Lanka from Muslim nations in the last several years.

 The members of the IS branch that staged the attacks in Sri Lanka believed in martyrdom. They were educated and mostly from upper middle-class families. This is a different scale and complexity of threat when compared to the LTTE threat. The extremist bombers were calm. One bomber even gently holds a child just before his suicide. This shows they were well trained for months and perhaps years.

 Some see this as a retaliation to the Christchurch attack, which took place last month. The Christchurch footage was used for election campaigns in Turkey weeks after the attack. It was used by a political leader to win popular support, which will further divide the Christian and Muslim communities in the same way as President Trump’s Muslim ban did soon after his victory. The danger in such populist acts by politicians will further polarize and lead towards a clash among two great civilizations.

 ISIS tentacles reached NTJ in Sri Lanka in 2017, among another group globally. The spillover from the Baghouz defeat affected Sri Lanka, the Island nation who was at the top of tourism, ready to participate for Belt and Road 2nd Forum and celebrate its 10 years of success in eradicating terrorism this May.

 The Sri Lankan attack was the single largest killing in a day by a terrorist outfit in the Island’s history. Despite sophisticated security services the nation possessed during the three-decade battle, there were intelligence and security limitations. It was ‘a gross national security negligence’ that the entire nation fell victim to. The answer for this could be seen as intelligence information was withheld and not flowing into political decision makers. Such endemic security failures were in plain sight, even in the United States over the 9/11 attacks. The CIA found that available intelligence did not flow to political decision makers.

 Despite multiple warnings from Indian intelligence before the attacks took place, the extremist cell NTJ was identified months and years before by the Islamic community leaders as a threat.

 Steps to Strengthening Military Intelligence:

 The Sri Lankan government will have to develop several immediate steps first to strengthen military intelligence and the handling of cross border intelligence sharing among other nations as this sort of terrorism require a multi-pronged, multi-jurisdictional approach. Secondly, it is necessary to protect our vulnerable communities who could be targeted through the spreading misinformation and disinformation in the social media, which could lead to communal riots. Religious leaders have a great role in promoting religious harmony in this environment.

 Third, while operational intelligence on arresting the perpetrators will go on, the analysis of intelligence data will be an important step to understand the real root cause behind the attack. Fourth, a complete post audit of the security negligence should be done by the government to understand where the limitations had come from, and should be addressed immediately. The accountability of negligence has to be pointed out and those responsible should be charged or fired. Finally, external support from other nations should be taken only for intelligence sharing and building capacity to combat extremism, and not to sign any other security agreements that could have security implications in the long run.

 In the coming months, the deradicalization of the radicalized youth will be another essential part we would need to invest in. The government and civil society will have a massive duty on managing the spreading of hatred and division among different ethnic and religious groups.

A collective effort from society will be necessary to defeat extremism.

 Just as the manner in which the Sri Lankan Muslim society assisted to defeat the LTTE, they will assist to defeat extremism within the island. The simplest act of kindness and service from each one of us to reclaim unity will be an honor to respect the lives we lost in 4/21.

 Sri Lanka will respond to terror with strength and hope- more unified than ever before.

 (Asanga Abeyagoonasekera is Director General of the National Security Think Tank of Sri Lanka (INSSSL) under the Sri Lanka Defence Ministry, views expressed are authors own)

Does or Doesn't It Work? Sustainability of Chinese Re-Education May Be Tested

The effectiveness of China’s effort to brainwash Uyghurs and Central Asian Muslims in the troubled north-western province of Xinjiang may be tested.

With the recent release of 40 Uyghur wives of Pakistani traders, businessmen and professionals, some of the former re-education camp detainees hope that after three months of observation by Xinjiang authorities, they will be able to return to their husbands who are resident in Pakistan’s conservative northernmost Gilgit-Baltistan province.

That is if the Xinjiang authorities allow them to travel.

If the case of Mirza Imran Baig’s wife, Mailikemu Maimati, is anything to go by, the women may be disappointed. Ms. Maimati was detained in 2017 but unlike most of the wives released after two months. Chinese authorities have since refused to return her passport and that of her four-year old son.

Most of the detained women disappeared in 2017.Some were resident in Xinjiang, others were detained while on family visits. In some cases, themen’s children, who often are Chinese nationals, were sent to orphanages while their mothers were being re-educated.

In line with Chinese efforts to prevent contacts between Xinjiang’s Uyghurs and the outside world, the wives are believed to have been detained because they were married to foreigners. Pakistan is one of 26 countries that China is particularly concerned about.

Chinese officials assert that Uyghurs with foreign contacts risk being influenced by "three evil forces" -- terrorism, extremism and separatism.

The officials further fear that Uyghurs living abroad could campaign for independence of Xinjiang, propagate Islam or associate themselves with militants, some of whom joined the Islamic State in Syria.

The husbands initially quietly lobbed Pakistani and Chinese officials but with no real response have since repeatedly spoken out publicly in the hope that international pressure would get their spouses released.

The women’s detention was part of a larger crackdown that has seen at least one million Turkic Muslims disappear into re-education campswhere they are forced to not only ignore but violate Islamic laws and accept Xi Jinping thought, the ideology of China’s president, as superior to Islam.

Husbands of the released women told Agence France Press that their spouses were forced to eat pork and drink alcohol while in detention and during their three-month probation. Some were obliged while in detention to dance wearing revealing clothes.

One husband said his wife since her release carries with her a book of guidelines with illustrations such as a mosque marked with a red cross and a Chinese flag with a green tick.

The women are less certain to continue to adhere to do so if they were allowed to leave Xinjiang and are no longer under Chinese control even if they may experience a difficult transition.

The women, who were released in the last two months would, if allowed, be returning to a religiously conservative part of Pakistan where social pressure alongside their cultural roots could persuade them to discard Chinese re-education.

Abandoning lifestyles and beliefs imposed in re-education camps would demonstrate that Chinese brainwashing only has a chance of succeeding if it is continuously brutally enforced for at least a generation, if not more.

Obviously, if the women were to continue to follow their newly adopted beliefs, China could claim that its harsh approach is producing results.

The stakes for China and Pakistan are high.

Funded to the tune of US$45 billion plus, the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a crown jewel of China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Behind a façade of mutually laudatory statements, the two countries have differed over calls by Prime Minister Imran Khan to shift the focus of CPEC from infrastructure to job creation and manufacturing.

Bloomberg reporter Peter Martin concluded after a recent carefully choreographed government-organized visit to Xinjiang, including re-education camps, that “Beijing is becoming more worried about an international backlash that has intensified of late, raising risks for investors already assessing the impact of a more antagonistic U.S.-China relationship.”

Mr. Martin noted that inmates he was allowed to speak to all used similar phrases when asked why they had been detained and repeated the same answer word for word when asked a question more than once.

Some husbands, who describe their wives as strangers since having been in the camps, believe re-education may have a lasting impact. They describe their wives as paranoid, fearful and suspicious of everybody, including their families.

The risk for China is that irrespective of how the women would respond to a non-Chinese environment, it could stir debate in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world that has so far largely turned a blind eye to the crackdown and in some cases gone as far as endorsing it.

So could escalating US criticism. The United States this week accused China of putting at least a million Muslims in “concentration camps,” in some of the strongest US. condemnation to dateof what it calls Beijing’s “mass imprisonment” program.

The Defense Department’s assistant secretary focused on Asia policy, Randall Schriver, told a Pentagon briefing that the number of detained Muslims could be “closer to 3 million citizens out of a population of about 10 million” rather than the one million that has been the figure used by United Nations officials, government representatives, human rights groups and activists.

Mr. Schriver’s estimate has raised eyebrows among some Xinjiang scholars. “Could there theoretically be 3 million in camps? Of course! The bigger problem is that the higher the presumed internment figures, the more speculative they become, unless specific evidence can be cited,” tweeted Adrian Zenz who has documented the network of camps.

The governor of Xinjiang, Shohrat Zakir, the region’s most senior Uyghur official, has dismissed comparisons to concentration camps, saying the re-education camps were “the same as boarding schools.”

Mr. Khan shares China’s risk. He, like Indonesian president Joko Widodo, evaded questions about Xinjiang in recent Financial Times interviews by claiming he knew nothing about circumstances in the Chinese province.

A return to Pakistan of some of the former detainees would make it more difficult for Mr. Khan to maintain his claim that was already called into question by earlier public protests and statements by some of Mr. Khan’s officials.

Said one husband: “My wife, a practising Muslim, has been turned into someone I could not even imagine. She has given up her prayers, drinks and eats pork. I am afraid our marriage will not last long because she is a completely different person, someone whom I don't know."

Photo Credit: Ng Han Gaun/AP

Pakistani Generals Want to Restore Their Golden Era & That's Why Musharraf's Team is Back

A major reshuffle in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s cabinet leaves key ministries in the hands of several technocrats and a former spymaster accused of protecting Osama bin Laden, all of whom previously served in General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime. Politicians loyal to Khan have also been sidelined.

The military, which assisted Imran Khan’s rise to power, used his celebrity status to tap into the yearning of change among Pakistani youth. But its objective all along was to restore what Pakistan’s generals see as their golden era. Under Musharraf, the military ran affairs of the state with the help of technocrats who managed a relatively booming economy.

In the minds of Pakistan’s generals, Musharraf’s team was competent because it secured large amounts of western assistance, pledging to fight terrorists while covertly assisting them at the same time. The civilian governments that succeeded Musharraf could not maintain the poker face and were, therefore, incompetent.

The soldiers believe in their own propaganda and do not realise that the double games of the Musharraf era have permanently eroded Pakistan’s international credibility.

The military set in motion a series of events – Khan’s sit-in outside parliamentdisqualification of then-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif without a trial, corruption proceedings against major politicians, denial of media space to anyone the military did not like while building Khan’s image as a saviour – to help him win the deeply flawed elections of July 2018. Their purpose in doing so was not to bring the change Khan promised his young supporters but to undo the changes that had occurred since Musharraf’s removal from power.

Khan is a narcissist celebrity, with little experience of government, who also believes in his own propaganda. He assumed that as long as he did the military’s bidding in foreign policy and pursue the army’s critics with a vengeance, the civilian government and the military would remain on the same page.

The military leadership has now decided to change the writing on the page they share with the civilian prime minister. They want the economy to be run as efficiently as they believe it was run under Musharraf and they want cabinet ministers who can cover the tracks of Pakistan’s disreputable intelligence services.

As the generals see it, Pakistan did not face Financial Action Task Force (FATF) sanctions during the Musharraf era although a number of Jihadi terrorist groups operated openly. There was also less global criticism of enforced disappearances and mistreatment of religious minorities. Even the discovery of A.Q. Khan’s nuclear Walmart did not attract scrutiny that would have jeopardised Pakistan’s economy or security.

Thus, in the generals’ thinking, it is all about who presents Pakistan’s case to the world and how, not about changing the situation on the ground. Khan’s outgoing ministers did a poorer job than Musharraf’s team, hence a return to Musharraf’s team for key portfolios.

At the top of the list of Musharraf’s men inducted into Imran Khan’s cabinet is the new interior minister, Brigadier (R) Ijaz Shah – a former intelligence officer who served as director of the Intelligence Bureau under Musharraf. Shah is reported to have run terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir when he served in Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and his role as Musharraf’s hatchet man did not earn him a particularly good reputation either.

When Musharraf tried to nominate Ijaz Shah as High Commissioner to Australia, the Australian government withheld consent to that ambassadorial appointment – a rare occurrence in contemporary diplomacy.

Shah was also accused of playing a key role in harbouring Osama bin Laden and was named by Benazir Bhutto before her assassination as someone plotting to kill her. His appointment as minister in-charge of law and order is unlikely to advance the claim that Pakistan has turned the corner on sponsoring Jihadi terrorism at a time when FATF is considering blacklisting Pakistan. But Shah probably qualifies as a competent spymaster inside Pakistan’s hyper-nationalist bubble.

Another controversial appointment is that of Nadeem Babar, a businessman with interests in private power companies and a supposed expert on energy, as special assistant to the PM for petroleum and natural resources with the rank of a minister. Babar cannot be designated minister because he is not a member of parliament, one of 16 such persons in Khan’s 47-member cabinet.

There is a clear conflict of interest in making a person with business interests in the energy sector as the head of the ministry dealing with the sector. But there are other reasons why Babar should not have been appointed to the job. Apparently, his company Orient Power failed to pay Pakistan Rupees 800 million to Pakistan’s Sui Northern Gas Pipelines, ignoring the decision of the London Court of International Arbitration.

Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, a technocrat who served as Musharraf’s privatisation minister and was brought back as finance minister under Asif Ali Zardari, will replace Asad Umar as adviser for finance. Shaikh did well in his previous stints in government, but his appointment hardly represents change.

Fawad Chaudhry, who was the information minister and like Shaikh had served in the Zardari and Musharraf governments, has been appointed minister for science and technology. His replacement in the information ministry, Firdous Ashiq Awan, is also a veteran of the Zardari regime as are several others in the cabinet.

Considering that Imran Khan and the military blame Pakistan’s decline on elected leaders like Zardari, the choice of many of Zardari’s ministers in the new government suggests that Zardari was better at selecting members for his team than the new Captain.

As is often the case, there is always something to laugh about in otherwise disturbing news from Pakistan. Ijaz Shah’s appointment as minister of interior might be frightening, the rise of unelected advisers and the reinstatement of Musharraf’s team might be disconcerting, but the designation of Shehryar Afridi as minister for states and frontier regions is downright funny.

Khan’s government had announced the abolition of the Ministry for States and Frontier Regions (known as SAFRON) in September 2018. Afridi, who was interior minister until the cabinet reshuffle, might be a good choice to be minister of an abolished ministry because he believes Imran Khan can talk to the dead.

He is also the man who was filmed holding out assurances that Hafiz Saeed, head of the terror organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), would never be harmed by his government because Saeed and others like him raise their voice for “Pakistan and righteousness”.

As Pakistan’s generals might say, the new interior minister may have harboured bin Laden as alleged, but at least he was competent enough not to be filmed with him.

Photo Credit: Commmons

Afghanistan Negotiation Update

The ongoing negotiations to end the conflict in Afghanistan has faced significant obstacles over the past few weeks. Despite being in active negotiations with the United States government, the Taliban still announced the start of their Spring Offensive on April 11th. This was a disappointing setback, as the United Nations had just lifted travel bans on 11 senior leaders of the Taliban to help facilitate peace talks with the United States. There were also plans for the Taliban to meet with an Afghan delegation. However, the Afghan government, upset due to their exclusion from talks, announced their spring offensive a month earlier (albeit potentially in error).

Moving forward, negotiators have focused on transitioning the talks towards the Taliban meeting with Afghans, including delegates from the government, to work on discussing the country’s future. Unfortunately, this was especially difficult as the Afghan side struggled to form a negotiating team that was satisfactory to all parties. As a result, the negotiating team had swelled to 250 delegates, including politicians and civic leaders from across Afghan society. This caused significant problems, as the Taliban were upset over the size and composition of the Afghan delegation, and eventually the scheduled talks were canceled. President Ghani’s government issued a statement which blamed Qatar for not accepting the list and instead proposing a list that disrespected the “national will of the Afghan people”. While the Taliban have not commented on the cancellation, President Ghani’s statements appear to indicate that the Taliban’s main issue with the delegation was the inclusion of members of President Ghani’s administration, which the Taliban have steadfastly refused to engage with, labeling Ghani an American puppet. With President Ghani fighting for reelection later this year, he is desperate to show the Afghanistan people that he is capable of securing peace for the country, and the lack of direct negotiations with the Taliban has hurt his campaign.

After the controversial parliamentary elections last, President Ghani called for an assembly, known as a loya Jirga, to discuss with his fellow Afghanis ways to bring an end to the conflict. He has invited thousands of politicians, religious scholars, and rights activists to participate in the discussion. However, several opposition leaders have accused President Ghani of merely using the forum to boost his campaign for a second term in the upcoming September elections. These opposition leaders have said they will boycott the assembly, seeing it as a thinly veiled attempt by Ghani to finally have some influence on the peace process and cement his position for a second term. Opposition politicians in fact have called for Ghani to step down when his mandate ends next month, and allow an interim government to engage the Taliban in peace talks. President Ghani has refused, stating that as President he represents the will of the Afghan people.

However, international pressure has increased, pushing the Taliban towards negotiations with the Afghan government. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has come out and said in a statement that Pakistan would no longer be a party to the Afghanistan conflict. While Pakistan has always denied provided support to the Afghanistan Taliban, this statement puts some public pressure on the side of the insurgents. Interestingly, American, Russian, and Chinese representatives met in Moscow last Thursday in an attempt to come together and put pressure on the Taliban to engage with the Ghani administration. U.S. officials had previously accused Russian efforts in the peace process as “meddling”, but now it seems both countries are united in their efforts to bring the Taliban to the table.




What Next After Recent Terrorist Attacks in Sri Lanka?

The Easter Sunday terrorist suicide bombings that hit Sri Lanka on April 21 caused profound shock to the South Asian nation.  With at least 250 people killed and 500 injured, it was the worst violence that Sri Lanka has seen since its civil war (1983-2009).  Although ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, it is likely that a domestic jihadist group, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath was responsible.  Both churches and hotels were targeted, thus threatening the country’s precarious religious harmony and its budding tourism industry.  Indeed, the bombings targeted Sri Lanka’s sizable Christian minority community and one of its fastest growing industries, with expected losses to be around $1.5 billion USD. 

In the aftermath of the attacks, Sri Lanka has been characterized by further violence and increasing social anxiety.  The country’s security forces launched an operation to crack down on suspected accomplices, and on Friday confronted suspicious individuals who ended up being family members of the alleged organizer of the attacks, Zahran Hashim.  Hashim’s father and two brothers blew themselves up along with others, including six children, three women, and some police officers.  According to Reuters, the three men were seen in a video calling for an all-out war on non-Muslims.  Along with a number of raids, which have arrested more than 100 suspects, the Sri Lankan government has decided to ban face coverings.  Like similar bans on face coverings for women in France and Denmark, the move is likely to further inflame tensions between the Islamic community and the rest of Sri Lankan society. 

How did Sri Lanka, a country which had largely avoided religious violence (as compared to other South Asian states), end up with one of the worst terrorist incidents in the region? 

It is useful to survey the evolving religious history of the Indian Ocean state to have a better sense of why on Easter Sunday this year, religiously-inspired violence took place.  The religious identity of Sri Lanka has been shaped by centuries of interactions between Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Christians.  However, most interactions of a confrontational nature have been between Muslims and Christians.

Islam is said to have arrived in Sri Lanka around the ninth century, during the early centuries of the religion.  Introduced by traders from the Persian Gulf, seeking spices and silk, it wove itself into the tapestry of Sri Lankan identity. 

Later in the 16th century, the dominant European naval powers of the day—Portugal and the Netherlands—arrived on the island, seeking trade and access to the region’s rich supply of commodities.  Almost instantly the European powers clashed with the local Muslim community.  The Portuguese pushed local monarchs to limit the Muslims’ share of Indian Ocean trade.  The Dutch, meanwhile, refused to allow Muslim merchants to reside in the Fort and Pettah merchant district of Colombo. 

Under British rule, the Muslim community became distinctly segregated from the rest of Sri Lankan society, such as with its adoption of the fez and all-enveloping veils for women, and occasionally clashed with other religious communities.  

Today, the influence of fundamentalist Islam, particularly among young Muslims, is quite strong.  Money from religious organizations based in the Arabian Peninsula has poured into the country, and young Muslims have foregone the traditions of Sri Lankan Islam in favor of radical ideologies emanating from Gulf States.  Such beliefs have led to a further isolation of the island’s Muslim community and have allowed such groups as ISIS and Al-Qaeda to gain influence. 

It was this radicalization of Muslims that helped inspire the Easter Sunday attacks.  As the country mourns the dead, tends to the wounded, and seeks to find peace from the carnage, one of the major issues that the Sri Lankan government and people will inevitably have to deal with is how to resolve the tense religious frictions that have become evident.  It is hoped that all of Sri Lanka’s religious communities will come together and denounce any sort of violence targeted at such communities and express unity, resolve, and solidarity.


Indian Election Update - Third and Fourth Phases

The third phase of India’s general elections took place on Tuesday, April 23rd. There were 117 different constituencies that voted in this phase, along with thirteen states and two territories. The states that took part in this phase include Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu. This was the largest-scale phase out of the seven total phases, with 188 million voters eligible to vote. There was a 66% voter turnout. This phase also concluded the voting process for numerous states. Some of these states include Gujarat, Kerala, and Karnataka.


The results for Gujarat are of interest for many, especially because current Prime Minister Modi is from the state of Gujarat. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party won all of the state seats in the 2014 national election, showing the state’s previously unwavering support of Modi and his political party. However, there is uncertainty regarding whether history will repeat itself during this election. This election has seen BJP push their Hindu nationalist ideals further than before, while they try to curtain the opposition’s complaints of farm distress and grudging overall economic growth. Congress had a much stronger outcome than expected in the 2017 state elections, which may carry through to this year’s general elections. In Karnataka, the Congress Party was able to surpass the BJP to establish a coalition government last year. The results for this state are also being watched, as its unclear who will win majority after last year’s Congress victory.


There was some violence was a result of the elections, particularly in West Bengal. According to a Congress spokesperson, there were three people injured and one Congress worker killed as a result of a conflict with a regional party called the Trinamool Congress. This party has denied the accusations, but the Election Commission has started investigating the situation. There was also some issues with the electronic voting machines in the state of Kerala, but an Election Commission official stated that the issues were contained and replacement machines were used.


The fourth phase of voting took place on Monday, April 29th. There are seventy-two seats that are being voted on between nine states, and the voting states in this phase include Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal. This will be the last leg of voting for Maharashtra and Odisha, while it will be the first cycle for Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Jharkhand. In 2014, the BJP had only won forty-five seats out of these seventy-two seats. Many are interested in seeing whether this will occur again, or whether they will be able to win majority seats.


There was a 64% voter turnout for the fourth phase, compared to a 66% voter turnout in the third phase. The specific state voter turnouts include: 58.92% in Bihar, 9.79% in Jammu and Kashmir, 63.77% in Jharkhand, 66.52% in Madhya Pradesh, 55.88% in Maharashtra, 64.05% in Odisha, 66.44% in Rajasthan, 55.57% in Uttar Pradesh, and 76.59% in West Bengal.


As in the third phase, there were also complaints of issues with the electronic voting method in Maharashtra. The Congress Party made about thirty complaints to the Election Commission, and NCP’s state chief Jayant Patil made comments on whether these glitches were carried out deliberately by opposition parties. There was also more violence in West Bengal during the fourth phase of the elections, between BJP workers and Trinamool Congress Party workers. A BJP candidate for the Asansol District of West Bengal was attacked, allegedly at the hands of the regional party.


The next phase of the election will take place on May 6th, and the voting states include Bihar, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal.

Voting for the sixth and seventh phases will take place on May 12 and May 19, respectively. The results will be released on May 23rd, determining which party will be at the forefront of Indian politics.





India's Perilous Obsession with Pakistan

Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.

As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.

Self-defeating goal

It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.

But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.

Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. Hussain Haqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.

In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.

More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).

Muscular policy

The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.

Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ₹6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.

Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?

Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.

Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)

Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as Amartya Sen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.

Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.

Skewed defence spends

Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.

The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.

Nissim Mannathukkaren is Chair, International Development Studies, Dalhousie University, Canada.

This article first published in The Hindu on April 24, 2019

US Needs India As an Ally Against China and Can't Afford to Bully It Over Iran Oil, Trade

The recent decision of the Donald Trump administration to end waivers to countries that purchase oil from Iran demonstrates its desire to up the ante on President Hassan Rouhani’s Islamic regime in the country.

This decision may make limited tactical sense – increasing economic pressure on Tehran – but it will have strategic implications beyond the Middle East and will hurt friendly countries, namely India.

India as South Asia’s security provider

The US wants India to be its partner in confronting China’s rise across Asia, but the Trump administration does not seem to understand that India’s size and history make it different from other, smaller American allies. Subjecting the India-US relationship to a one-size-fits-all policy demanding conformity from allies will only hurt it more.

India has consistently sought freedom from external pressures. While every country seeks this kind of autonomy, for India it has been a matter of policy. India is different from traditional American allies whether in Europe, Latin America or Asia for whom the United States was the key security provider.

India views itself as a net security provider for its immediate and greater neighbourhood. For that, New Delhi welcomes American economic investment, technological expertise and the sale and manufacture of state-of-the-art defence equipment. But Indians are unlikely to give up their right to maintain different relationships with different countries and fall in line with Washington’s directives.

Loss of Iranian oil

India, like China, is one of the top energy importers in the world today. Energy security is a key part of India’s foreign and strategic policy that is centred around ensuring that India has a basket of energy suppliers. New Delhi has traditionally sought to balance its relations between the Sunni Gulf countries and Iran.

American sanctions on Iranian oil have led India to diversify its oil purchases and import more from the Gulf countries. Over the last few years, India has reduced its oil purchases from Iran. According to Reuters data, there was a 60 per cent fall in India’s oil imports from Iran between February 2018 and February 2019.

In the short run, India, like other countries, is likely to take advantage of the American offer that Gulf countries – namely Saudi Arabia and the UAE – will increase oil production to compensate for the unavailability of Iranian oil on the global market.

This, however, only takes care of the targeted problem emanating from loss of Iranian oil in the market. It does not, however, look at the broader issue of how American allies and partners in the region will be hurt as a consequence of American actions.

Significance of Iran for India

Washington views Iran solely from the lens of Iraq and Israel. For India, however, Iran is strategically important. India has an old historical and civilisational relationship with Iran, but in the current day the relations centre around oil and Afghanistan. Limited purchase of oil from Iran is key to India’s continued access to Iran and hence to Afghanistan and onwards to Central Asia.

Without Iran, India cannot access Afghanistan, the country in whose stability India has invested over US $ 2 billion in assistance – making it the largest bilateral regional donor. Since Pakistan has consistently denied India transit access via land to Afghanistan, the only way that India can continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan is by using the Iranian port of Chabahar.

India’s concerns about its immediate neighbourhood remain paramount in the threat perception of India’s leaders and strategists. Thus, for India, what happens in Afghanistan is more important than what happens in the South China Sea. If Washington wants New Delhi to play a bigger role in the ‘Pacific’ part of ‘Indo Pacific,’ then it needs to understand India’s concerns about its immediate neighbourhood – the ‘Indo’ in the ‘Indo-Pacific.’

Countering the rise of China

Ever since the end of WWII, the American grand strategy rested on creating a diplomatic and security architecture that ensured stability and security. American preeminence ensured a rules-based liberal international order that rested on American economic and military might, combined with a network of partners and allies.

The Asia Pacific, and later Indo Pacific, strategy of successive American administrations has sought to counter the economic and military rise of China. This American strategy rests on renewed engagement with its partners and allies across the region – India, Japan and South East Asia – to construct a configuration that will be able to counter the Chinese march.

Among Asian countries, India has consistently viewed China’s expanding influence with suspicion. With a population of more than one billion, India is also the country with sufficient human resources to match China. India is, thus, central to any security architecture aimed at ensuring that China does not transform its considerable economic clout into threatening military muscle in the Indo Pacific.

If the long-term goal of American policymaking is to counter the rise of China, then Washington needs New Delhi on its side. On the strategic front, the American administration has come to view India as important and sought to convey that message – from the renaming of the American Pacific Command to Indo Pacific Command to the mention of India’s importance in the latest National Security Strategy (NSS).

However, US trade policies also need to be adjusted to enable the rise of India as a strategic competitor to China. Any short-term loss in dollars and cents or other, less significant nominal alliances, would be offset by the immense benefit to the United States of having a major, one-billion strong nation standing by its side to ensure that China and its closed system do not emerge dominant in the Indo-Pacific for years to come.

Dissonance in US foreign policy

Washington cannot penalise India on the economic front – ending India’s GSP privileges because of the trade deficit issue and not allowing any waivers on purchase of Iranian oil – and expect New Delhi to collaborate with the United States on the Indo-Pacific front. This policy also detracts from the belief at the core of the US Indo-Pacific strategy, which is that American national security benefits from a rising India being an American ally and future security provider in Asia.

There also appears to be a dissonance in US policymaking between an economic strategy that is purely inward-oriented and a foreign policy that is only partly strategic. Foreign policy-making, however, needs synchronisation between economic and strategic decisions.

The US may have to accommodate India’s economic concerns to secure its strategic partnerships. Bullying over trade and where India might buy its oil is hardly the way forward in what was once described as ‘the defining partnership of the 21st century’.

Indian Election Update - Second Phase

The second phase of India’s general elections was held last Thursday, April 18th. There were about 158 million people that were able to vote in this phase, and 78 million women specifically. Residents of eleven states and one union territory voted, and there were approximately 176,000 polling stations across 95 constituencies. The states and territories include Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Puducherry. Less than last week’s voter turnout of 69.4%, the turnout for this phase was 66%.


There are a few updates from this week’s voting phase and the candidates that will be representing the political parties in contention. Pragya Thakur was announced as a Parliamentary candidate by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), an individual who was accused of taking part in the bomb blast that affected Malegaon, Maharashtra in 2008. This incident led to six deaths and 101 injuries, and Thakur is currently out on bail due to her suspected involvement in this blast. Malegaon is a predominately Muslim city, and BJP’s support of Thakur despite her accused crime is reflective of the party’s growing Hindu nationalist ideals. BJP’s state unit in Maharashtra brought their support for this candidate on social media, tweeting, “These elections will now be a battle of religious ideologies. On one side is a man who has labelled Hindus as terrorists and on the other side is the true follower of Hindu religion, Sadhvi Pragya.”


The Congress Party has also announced three more candidates that they will be supporting for the elections from Uttar Pradesh: Yogesh Shukla from Allahabad, Chandresh Upadhyay from Domariyaganj, and Bhal Chand Yadav from Sant Kabir Nagar. Uttar Pradesh is one of the most influential states in the Lok Sabha elections, with a population of 200 million people. Due to its immense size, the voting process in the state is held through all seven stages of the general elections. The voter turnout in Uttar Pradesh during the second phase was approximately 38.9% at 1 p.m., and there were eight contested seats for this phase. Uttar Pradesh constitutes for eighty seats in the Lok Sabha in total, displaying the importance that this state has in the elections.


Tamil Nadu is another significant state in this election phase, and there were thirty-eight seats in contention. The most prominent national political parties, Congress and BJP, are not as influential in this state. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Amma Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are the two most dominant regional parties in Tamil Nadu. The two most prominent politicians of these parties, Jayaram Jayalalithaa and Muthuvel Karunanidhi, passed away in 2016 and 2018 respectively, which has created uncertainty regarding which party will lead the state.


The Election Commission has had a heavy presence in Tamil Nadu since the announcement of the election dates, as they seized almost $30 million in unaccounted cash alone. They also seized $1.6 million only a few days before the second phase of the elections, and consequently cancelled polls in a state district due to voter influence. This money was allegedly meant to be distributed to voters in exchange for biased voting. CNN reported, “The EC has seized millions of dollars in cash, gold and liquor in the last month during raids, inspections and vehicle checks at borders.” The fairness of the election process in Tamil Nadu has been questioned over the past several weeks, especially in light of these recent confiscations.


The next phase of the election will take place on April 23rd, and the states that will be voting include Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu. The last phase of the elections will take place on May 19th, and the results will be revealed on May 23rd.


Report on the Devastating Attacks in Sri Lanka

On Easter Sunday, tragedy struck the island nation of Sri Lanka, as a series of bombs exploded across the country. These explosions, suspected to be from suicide bombers, targeted Roman Catholic churches and luxury hotels where large amounts of people were converging to celebrate Easter Sunday. The powerful explosives killed hundreds and wounded many more, in one of the worst attacks in Sri Lankan history.

Reports have emerged that the Sri Lankan police had issued a letter to government security officials on April 11th, warning of possible suicide attacks directed towards Catholic Churches. The threat was identified as coming from a radical Islamist group, National Thowheeth Jama’ath. Initially, the police arrested 24 individuals for suspected roles in the attack and have publicly blamed the extremist group for the attacks. However, as events unfolded, the government has now announced that another group was also involved: Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim. Investigators believe the attackers have “overseas links”, and the Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for the attacks.  Sectarian violence has been a rising problem recently, with Buddhist mobs attacking Muslim-owned homes and businesses last year, prompting a state of emergency declaration in the central district of Kandy.

Disturbingly, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has publicly stated that neither he nor his ministers were informed of this possible threat. He announced that Sri Lankan officials will be looking into why “adequate precautions were not taken” in response to the intelligence gathered. Some have interpreted these comments as a subtle jab at President Maithripala Sirisena, who heads the security forces. These two men have had a turbulent relationship, exacerbated by the constitutional crisis this past October. President Sirisena has ordered a special police task force and the military to investigate the attacks and determine the attackers, along with their agenda.

In an effort to stop misinformation and curb potential retaliatory attacks or mob violence, the Sri Lankan government implemented a state-wide ban on social media networks, blocking sites such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Youtube. Presidential adviser Harindra Dassanayake said that “this was a unilateral decision”, reflecting the growing concern that these social media networks can create or fuel more violence. Sri Lanka has a troubled history with social media, especially Facebook. On the popular social media network, viral rumors and calls to violence appeared to have provoked a wave of anti-Muslim riots and lynchings last year, leaving government officials wary of the potential dangers social media presents to their society. Interestingly, in the wake of the Easter attacks, the Sri Lankan government shut down social media prior to any further instances of violence. This unusual move perhaps reveals that the government does not trust these companies’ ability or willingness to police their platforms and prevent further violence from occurring.

While this move may have provoked significant outrage only a few years ago, with critics accusing the government of censorship or limiting free speech, it has steadily grown more and more acceptable. Ivan Sigal, executive director of Global Voices, a digital advocacy and journalism organization, believes that such a move would have been “outrageous” a few years ago, but now these companies are no longer seen as “effective, benevolent or possibly positive”. Other countries nearby, such as India and Myanmar, have also experienced significant difficulties caused by these social media networks.   

The situation has changed rapidly, as the government has declared emergency law, giving them wide powers to arrest and question suspects without a warrant. As such, the number of suspects arrested has jumped from 24 to 40. Disturbingly, the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for this attack through their Amaq news agency. While some Western officials boasting that the Islamic State is defeated, many have feared that the terrorist organization would move towards South and South East Asia. 

As the police and military continue their investigation into the attacks, leaders around the world offered their sympathies and support to the grieving nation. Religious figures on all sides have issued calls for harmony and peace among the religious groups on the island. In the coming days hopefully the perpetrators can be brought to justice and further attacks prevented.