Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Vote Bank Politics: A Serious Threat to India’s Unity

RNP Singh, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Indian polity has been witnessing inter-religious hostility since before the country’s independence. This hostility has sometimes caused immense damage, including bloodshed, arson, rape and other brutalities to the Indian society. Time to time some saner elements had been coming forward to ensure religious harmony but they were challenged by those religious groups who were interested in maintaining their own identities. Such groups, instead of listening to those saner elements, organized militant movements to preserve their separate identity. Thus, the country was being driven in two directions - one towards secularism of politics and integration of communities and the other towards sectarianism and separatism. As far as the nature of modern Indian society is concerned, its multi-religious character is not confined to only man and God relations but is intimately connected with the exercise of powers. Multiplicity leads to inter-religious strife but combined with the issue of political power, inter-religious confrontation in India creates explosive social and political situations.

India is a pluralist country and hence all major religions of the world- Christianity, Islam and Judaism found a place here even though Hinduism remained the dominant belief system. All religions have a value system and separate religious texts, which serve as a guide to what is right and wrong.

While the basic tenet of Hinduism is peaceful co-existence, the belief system of Islam and Christianity is intricately linked to political power and hence history is witness to their indulgence in wars and the use of sword for the spread of their religion in different geographical areas. Thus, for Islam and Christianity, religion and political power have either worked as a great combination or a workable compromise.

In India, the two major religious communities - Hindus and Muslims have little in common in terms of religious beliefs. In the twentieth century, the problems in Hindu-Muslim relationship had to be resolved so as to put up a united fight against the foreign ruler. While Gandhi and Nehru, in their own ways were spearheading and attempting to bring Hindus and Muslims together in the mainstream of the struggle for independence, the Muslim elite was divided in its approach to the problems of inter-religious relationships. While one section of the Muslim elite jumped into the national movement under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru, the majority of the Muslim community in India came under the influence of separatist leaders who thought that the interests of Muslims could not be safeguarded in a united India which in reality would be a Hindu-majority India. Hence, during the freedom struggle this section of Muslim leadership pressurized the British to recognize the separate identity of the Indian Muslims and safeguard it by partitioning the country into two parts. The partition of India and emergence of Pakistan added a new dimension to the problem of secularism in the Indian sub-continent. In the pre-independence period, India saw three models of secularism provided by Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah.

Gandhi believed in the essential unity of religions and emphasised that the points which divided the major religions were peripheral while unity was the basic and important point. In a multi-religious society, with history of inter-religious competition and confrontation, perhaps this confederal character of religion seemed a proper approach to Gandhi. But this approach to religion-politics relationship was inadequate because by emphasizing the essential unity of religions, new consciousness among the mass of illiterate people, particularly whose religious faith was dependent on political power, could not be created. Also Gandhian approach could not make any abiding impact on the masses whose beliefs were based on the principle that their own religion was different and superior to others.

Secondly, the issue was not about religions and their beliefs but about the place of religion in politics and society. Gandhi tried to tackle the problem without relating them to the history of religion-state power alliance in India. Hence in spite of honest and sincere efforts, Gandhi could not improve inter-religious relationship in India. For Gandhi, secularism would be ensured if all religions are respected.

Nehru’s approach to the problem of religion and politics in India was fundamentally different from that of Gandhi. Unlike Gandhi, Nehru rejected religion in his personal life. Nehru was influenced by science and his rational and materialist outlook impelled him to reject all organized religions. Nehru wanted a society where religious beliefs had no place, and if people believed in some religions it should be their private affair. But the question at stake was not the question of religion but power politics in which religion played an important role. According to Nehru, the remedial measures for the situation were economic development and industrialization of the country. Nehru believed that the processes of change generated by economic development and science and technology would generate a new consciousness of citizenship and the existing religious loyalties may then be replaced by secular and modern outlook.

In pre-independent India, while Gandhi and Nehru were spearheading the nationalist movement in their own ways and were attempting to bring Hindus and Muslims together in the mainstream of struggle of freedom, the Muslim elite was divided in its approach to the problem of inter-religious relationship. Though a section of Muslim elite jumped into the national movement under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru, the Muslim community in general, in absence of any effective integrationist leader, felt that the interest of Muslims would not be secure in a united India, which would be Hindu dominant. The Muslims found a separatist leader in Mohammad Ali Jinnah who articulated the idea of a separate Muslim state under the banner of Muslim League. The ultimate result was the partition of India into two parts.

After independence, the views of Nehru prevailed and the Constitution of India separated religion from politics in the fundamental law of the land. But the separation of religion from politics in the Constitution itself could not ensure practice of secularism in the country because the public functionaries in the pyramid of power continued to be influenced by religious consideration in the performance of public responsibilities. Most importantly, practice of secularism added a new dimension when some of the political parties started to use the term secularism to form vote banks. Since by now it has become an effective tool to create and strengthen vote banks, the political parties are leaving no stone unturned to appease the minorities in the name of secularism, even at the cost of the majority’s interest which has resulted into the widening of gap between the majority and minority. Such political parties have brought the term secular and communal in common use and all those who believe in the welfare of all are branded as communal. The so called secular parties’ appeasement have moved a step further wherein they try to impress upon the minorities that they (secular parties) are their only saviour as they face danger from the majority community. Thus, secular-communal debate is taking the country back to pre-independence days. In fact, the vote bank politics has reached a stage where the pseudo-secularists are playing with fire forgetting the nation’s past history.

Being the oldest and biggest political party in India, it was the responsibility of the Congress party not to enter into the arena of vote bank politics and thereby set an example for other political parties. But it failed to do so with the result that other political groups also adopted the same means to compete with it. Congress from Nehru’s days till now had been trying to inculcate a sense of insecurity in the minds of minorities and appease them with a view to project itself as their only well-wisher. Even for the next Lok Sabha polls to be held in 2014, Congress leaders including its Vice President Rahul Gandhi have made it a point to repeat the slogan of secularism explicitly to instill a sense of insecurity in the minds of minorities particularly Muslims. The desperate attempt to create and strengthen vote bank in the name of secularism is a dangerous divisive trend. Thus, the concept of nationalism with which secularism is intrinsically connected is facing a serious challenge from vote bank politics and if this trend is not curbed, it is perhaps going to be a long battle for all those for whom the concept of ‘India First’ is the prime slogan.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Right to Reject: A Major Step Towards Cleansing Public Life

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Voters in the five states going to polls this November-December viz Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Delhi and Mizoram, will, for the first time have the right to press the NOTA (None Of The Above) button on their voting machines if they are disappointed with all the candidates in the fray in their constituencies.

The Election Commission has announced that it will provide voters the NOTA option following the recent Supreme Court verdict on the issue. This will constitute a major improvement on the situation that prevailed prior to the apex court verdict. Earlier, voters had the right not to vote after registering their presence in a polling booth. However, under the Conduct of Election Rules, their decision would be recorded in a register. Thus, the election law did not ensure secrecy for the voter who preferred not to vote. The apex court’s verdict will now ensure secrecy. Candidates and political parties will not know who all pressed the NOTA button in the voting machines. The court has hoped that this will have a salutary effect on the process of selection of candidates by political parties.

This judgement of the Supreme Court has been welcomed by electors and opinion makers across the country. Coming as it does in the wake of the court’s historic judgement last July to bar criminals from entering legislative chambers, this judgement is seen as yet another major step towards cleansing public life in the country.

In its judgement, the three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice Mr. P.Sathasivam said that giving the voter the right not to vote for any candidate while protecting his right of secrecy was “extremely important”. When voters got the right to reject, it would bring about “systemic change”, force political parties to field persons of integrity in elections and foster the purity of the electoral process. It said the absence of the right to cast the negative vote would defeat the freedom of expression and right to liberty. The judgement comes in the wake of a sustained campaign by citizens’ groups for the NOTA option in ballot papers and voting machines. The court has directed the Election Commission to make necessary changes in the Electronic Voting Machines and ballot papers to give voters the power to stamp NOTA.

The timing of this judgement could not have been better. Despite mounting criticism of the quality of persons chosen by political parties to contest elections, parties seemed unwilling to clean up their act. The only criteria adopted by political parties for dispensing tickets is “winnability”, meaning that only those with money power and muscle power stood a chance of securing a ticket.

While every political party must take the blame for choosing less-desirable persons as candidates and for the growing frustration among people regarding the democratic system, the ruling United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre must take the blame for behaving in the most irresponsible manner in this regard. The Supreme Court decided last July to strike down Section 8 (4) of the Representation of People (RP) Act, 1951 which enabled criminals to continue their tenures in Parliament and state assemblies if they filed appeals against their conviction in a higher court. Though the court did not bar politicians who are charge-sheeted from contesting polls, it declared that a person convicted and sentenced in heinous cases, should be kept out of legislature, even if his appeal is pending in a higher court. The court also barred persons in jail from contesting elections because such persons lose the right to vote. We all know the desperate measures the Union Government took to try and protect criminal-politicians, including introduction of bills in Parliament and drafting an ordinance thereafter. When these decisions caused public revulsion, the government backtracked.

The court’s order also comes in the wake of valuable research data put out by the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR) and National Election Watch on the quality of persons who enter our legislative bodies. These organizations found that as many as 30 per cent of the sitting MPs and MLAs in the country (1460 out of 4807 MPs and MLAs) had criminal cases against them. Out of them, as many as 688 (14%) sitting MPs and MLAs have declared serious criminal cases against themselves. One realizes the value of Supreme Court’s judgements when one sees these figures, which would put politicial leaders in most countries, except India, to shame. Since one-third of the elected representatives have criminal records, it is only fair that voters have the right to reject and that is what the court has granted them in the latest order.

The Election Commission is already considering alterations to the EVMs to provide for a paper trail that gives proof of voting to every voter. This demand came about because of allegations that EVMs could be rigged. In any case the commission should be happy with the apex court’s judgement because the Commission had itself proposed NOTA way back in 2001 and reiterated it in the Chief Election Commissioner Mr.T.S.Krishna Murthy’s recommendation to the Prime Minister in 2004. In that letter, the CEC said “Although, Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961 provides that an elector may refuse to vote after he has been identified and necessary entries made in the Register of Electors and the marked copy of the electoral roll, the secrecy of voting is not protected here inasmuch as the polling officials and the polling agents in the polling station get to know about the decision of such a voter”. He therefore recommended that the Conduct of Election Rules be Amended. The government however did not act on this recommendation, prompting this direction from the Supreme Court.

The NOTA right is basically the right to cast a negative vote. However, this is not the complete solution, because even if a majority of the voters press this button, the election process will not be void. The Election Commission will count the remaining votes cast and declare the candidate who got the highest votes as the winner. Therefore, a bigger battle may lie ahead in order to find the ultimate solution to the problem posed by the quality of persons entering the electoral fray.

Long years ago, the former Vice-President Mr.Krishan Kant had demanded that such a provision be made in the ballot paper to enable electors to exercise their right to reject candidates in an election. The Law Commission too had supported this proposal. But the political system has become so corrupt and immoral that it refuses to consider anything other than “winnability”. It has been dismissive of all such proposals which aim to cleanse the political process as impractical or as proposals coming from individuals who are disconnected from the reality of electoral politics. The citizens have no option but to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court and the apex court, which is aware of the deteriorating environment, has stepped in to protect the right of citizens to better representation in democratic bodies.  

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Telengana Issue & Pros and Cons of Smaller States

K G Suresh, 
Senior Fellow & Editor, VIF

The Group of Ministers (GoM), set up to look into the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, is expected to submit its report to the Union Cabinet before the winter session of Parliament.

The high-powered ministerial panel had detailed discussions over sharing of river water, power, distribution of assets and demarcation of boundaries in its two meetings held early this month.

The GoM will also look into the legal and administrative measures required to ensure that both Telangana and the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh can function efficiently from Hyderabad as the common capital for 10 years.

Earlier, following the cabinet decision to bifurcate the state in pursuance of a Congress Working Committee resolution, Andhra Pradesh was up in flames paralyzing the entire Seemandhra region, bringing even basic services to a grinding halt and in the process causing immense hardship to the people and loss of billions to the exchequer. But for the distraction caused by Cyclone Phailin, the protests would have continued for a longer time.

The demand for Telangana, comprising the Telugu speaking areas of the erstwhile princely state of Hyderabad, has been there right since the time of India’s independence. Though the language of the two regions was the same, a pre-requisite for creation of states on linguistic lines, there was and is very little in common between the peoples of Telangana and other regions of the state namely Rayalaseema and Coastal Andhra.

To begin with, Telangana was never under direct British rule, unlike the Coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions of Andhra Pradesh, which were part of British India’s Madras Presidency.

It may be recalled that the States Reorganisation Commission (SRC), appointed in 1953, to study the creation of states on linguistic basis, was not in favour of an immediate merger of Telangana region with Andhra state, despite their common language.

The Commission found that the people of Telangana had several concerns including a less-developed economy than Andhra, but with a larger revenue base, which people of Telangana feared might be diverted for use in Andhra.

In fact, in paragraph 382 of its report, the Commission Report said “opinion in Andhra is overwhelmingly in favour of the larger unit; public opinion in Telangana has still to crystallise itself. Important leaders of public opinion in Andhra themselves seem to appreciate that the unification of Telangana with Andhra, though desirable, should be based on a voluntary and willing association of the people and that it is primarily for the people of Telangana to take a decision about their future”.

The then Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was initially skeptical of merging Telangana with Andhra State, fearing a “tint of expansionist imperialism” in it. He reportedly compared the merger to a matrimonial alliance having “provisions for divorce” if the partners in the alliance cannot get on well.

Finally, the new state of Andhra Pradesh came into being on November 1, 1956 with assurances to Telangana in terms of power-sharing as well as administrative domicile rules and distribution of expenses of various regions.
However, the honeymoon did not last long with the people of Telangana expressing dissatisfaction over the implementation of the agreements and guarantees, made at the time of the state’s merger.

Following the Jai Andhra agitation in the Seemandhra region in 1973, against the protections (mulki rules) given for Telangana region, the Government of India diluted the guarantees provided in the pre-merger Gentlemen’s agreement, thereby leading to massive agitations across the Telangana regions.

According to proponents of a separate state, Telangana is not only the largest of the three regions of Andhra Pradesh state, covering 41.47% of its total area and inhabited by 40.54% of the state's population but also contributes about 76% of the state's revenues, excluding the contribution of the central government.

They also cite perceived injustices in the distribution of water, budget allocations, and jobs. They allege that Budget allocations to Telangana are generally less than 1/3 of the total Andhra Pradesh budget. There are also allegations that in most years, funds allocated to Telangana were never spent. According to the proponents of separate statehood, only 20% of the total Government employees, less than 10% of employees in the secretariat, and less than 5% of department heads in the Andhra Pradesh government are from Telangana.

Following widespread protests, the UPA Government had announced a five-member committee on Telangana headed by retired Justice B N Srikrishna to look into the issue.

But instead of coming out with a strong recommendation, the Committee, in its report, offered six options ranging from maintaining the status quo to creation of a separate state with the contentious Hyderabad as a Union Territory as also acceptance of the demand for carving out a separate state with Hyderabad as its capital in toto.

Continuing with its dilly dallying tactics, the Centre sat on the recommendations till recently.

Over the years, with an eye on the Telangana voters, almost all political parties have at one point or the other supported the creation of a separate state. Therefore, political parties such as Telugu Desam Party (TDP), whose leader Chandrababu Naidu want on a protest fast against the move, which had favoured the creation of Telangana earlier, are only protesting against the manner in which the ruling UPA had gone about the de-merger. Having kept the issue on the backburner during its decade long rule at the Centre and even reneging on its promise, prompting KCR of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) to walk out of UPA-1, the Centre had suddenly woken up to the demand ahead of the Lok Sabha elections and announced the creation of the state in a hurry, which clearly smacks of political motives.

United Andhra Pradesh led by the charismatic YSR had contributed much to the formation of UPA-2 and in his absence and following the emergence of Jaganmohan Reddy as a force to reckon with in Seemandhra, the Congress apparently felt it could gain lost grounds by ceding Telangana. With TRS likely to merge with Congress in the new state, party strategists are hoping for Jagan’s homecoming post-polls, thereby retaining its entire base in the region.
Apparently, the biggest loser would be TDP, having lost its base in Telangana and staring a wipe out before the Jagan juggernaut. Therefore, Naidu was forced to sit on a fast while Jagan is trying to encash hard on the anti-Telangana sentiment to consolidate his base.

Apart from the major bone of contention, i.e Hyderabad, there are also key issues such as the status of Government employees, water and power sharing, distribution of assets et al which need to be sorted out ahead of the proposed de-merger. The Centre would have done well to take into confidence all stake holders on both sides of the divide as also regional and national political parties, before taking such a major unilateral decision. In the absence of clarity, the utterances of TRS leaders on contentious issues such as the fate of Government employees is only adding to the anger and confusion among the people. At stake are not just political fortunes but also the fate of millions of citizens, which remains uncertain in the present scenario.

Three states were created during the NDA regime – Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh but the process was peaceful with no bitterness between the parent states and the new states. In fact, Bihar virtually lost all its natural resources and Uttar Pradesh its massive revenue from tourism. Yet, there were no complaints. In fact, following the recent Uttarakhand tragedy, it was Uttar Pradesh which announced Rs 25 crore aid, much more than any other state.

The announcement pertaining to Telangana has also once again sparked off a nation wide demand for smaller states and a debate on their viability, with both its advocates and opponents taking extreme stands.

While political parties such as the BJP and BSP are in favour of small states on the grounds that such states are administratively more convenient and give greater say to the local populace in matters of governance, states such as Jharkhand, where independent MLAs like Madhu Kora became Chief Ministers and amassed wealth vastly disproportionate to their income, showed the inherent fragility of polity in the newly carved out utopias often touted as the ultimate panacea for misgovernance and mal-administration in large states.

There are also fears that creation of small states can lead to increased regionalism or parochialism which can fuel separatist sub-national tendencies.
Some of the demands are based purely on irredentist claims. For example, the demand for Gorkhaland on ethno-linguistic grounds. A look into the history would reveal that in the late 18th century, Darjeeling was part of the Sikkim Chogyal’s territory, which was overrun by the Gorkhas of Nepal at the beginning of the 19th century. Following the Anglo-Gorkha war in 1814, Nepal had to cede all the territories annexed by the Gorkhas from the Chogyal, who subsequently gave it to the British East India Company. The question is how far do we go into history?

Going by that logic, perhaps some decades later, illegal Bangladeshi immigrants settled in Assam and elsewhere in the country can seek separate statehood.

As for language, dialect and cultural issues, there cannot ever be an end to such demands. From Bodoland to Karbi-Anglong, Assam is up for grabs. Kumaonis and Garhwalis in Uttarakhand too are different in terms of language and culture though there is no such demand till now. By conceding to such demands, will we be undoing the Herculean efforts made by Sardar Patel to integrate the country into a single entity?

Even as many political and militant groups in Nagaland have been demanding creation of a Greater Nagaland or Nagalim including Naga inhabited areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur, four districts of eastern Nagaland — Tuensang, Mon, Longleng and Kiphire — have placed a demand for a separate state citing neglect by the "stronger Naga tribes".

With 28 states alone, India has so many regional parties that fractured verdicts and consequent instability have become an integral part of polity, both at the Centre and the states. A dozen more states going by the demands, including those made by letterhead organizations with no ground support, would mean scores of regional parties and thereby more blackmail, more fractured mandates and a more fragmented polity. Will it ultimately lead to the balkanization of India?

Though some of the demands including for Gorkhaland are not new, many have emerged over the last few decades, which witnessed the Central Government increasingly becoming weaker and heavily dependent on the regional parties for their very survival. Does this augur well for the country is the million dollar question?

On the other hand, larger states also pose several challenges. Notwithstanding the fact that the UPA has been reduced to a minority, they are surviving just on the support of two mutually antagonistic parties from a single state. Thus, with their brute Parliamentary strength, large states can determine not only the fate of Governments at the Centre but also influence policies. Smaller states including those in the North East are victims of neglect to a great extent due to their poor presence in the Parliament.

Even the most bitter opponent of the Central Government in small states like Chhattisgarh or Goa would not think of daring the Centre to withdraw all its civil servants from their state, as has been done by the SP Government in Uttar Pradesh.

Smaller states created by the NDA Government including Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand have done comparatively well in contrast to their situation as part of Madhya Pradesh and UP respectively.

The smaller the states, the lesser would be their monopolistic or hegemonistic tendencies and political clout as is the case with larger states. Moreover, all states would be equal partners in progress.

As for Telangana, the proposed bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh is more of a ‘de-merger’ than the creation of a separate state.

If the creation of Bangladesh has busted the myth that people belonging to the same religion constitute a nation, the de-merger of Telangana has proved that language alone cannot be the basis for creation of a separate state, thereby questioning the very linguistic basis on which the states were reorganized in the first place. It is pertinent to ponder over whether it is time to review this basis in view of the demands for statehood coming from across the country.

Both small and large states have their advantages and disadvantages. Therefore, the demand for statehood has to be studied on a case to case basis. Certain parameters such as developmental yardstick, aspirations of the local population, economic and administrative viability and convenience are aspects that have to be factored into before taking a call. Political gains, as is apparent from the UPA decision on Telangana, should not be the guiding factor in such critical decisions. In any case, more states cannot replace decentralisation and devolution of powers to the grassroots as the ultimate guarantor of good governance.

Moreover, irrespective of the size of the states, the need of the hour is undoubtedly a stronger Centre in the wake of threats to national unity and security from internal insurgents and external enemies. It has to be ensured that demands for smaller states do not dilute the powers of the Centre, which would be detrimental to national interests.

Last but not the least, it has to be ensured that while land may be divided for administrative convenience, hearts should not be divided at any cost. Consensus and not confrontation should be the guiding mantra, for at stake is the very unity and integrity of the nation.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Urgent Defence Reforms including CDS Need of the Hour

Brig (Retd) Vinod Anand, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

Higher defence management has continued to remain the focus of the politico-military establishment for last several years without much progress having been made in the key areas of defence reforms that have been underway since the Kargil conflict. A 14-member Naresh Chandra Task Force (NCTF) had reviewed the gaps in defence reforms and submitted a report to the government in August 2012.

In early April 2013, the National Security Council chaired by the Prime Minister discussed the recommendations by the NCTF on National Security. However, some of the contentious proposals were referred to yet another body for further scrutiny. The government instructed the Strategic Policy Group (SPG), chaired by National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and Cabinet Secretary, to examine the contentious proposals, including those connected to the defence ministry and armed forces. They were expected to take a view on a host of proposals ranging from a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), cross- posting of Service officers to MOD, and the creation of Advanced Projects Agency (APA) to undertake futuristic military R&D and review of the practice of blacklisting armament companies.

The Ministry of Defence while reviewing the NCTF’s recommendations has stuck to its old narrative and has not been in favour of even creating a permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee which is a much diluted version of the Chief of Defence Staff recommended by the Group of Ministers’ Report of 2001 which was again based on inputs provided by Kargil Review Committee.

The MOD, true to its bureaucratic traditions has not approved of many of the other recommendations like cross-posting of officers and some other suggestions of the Task Force on defence reforms. Jaswant Singh, a former Defence Minister in his book ‘Defending India’(Bangalore: Macmillan India, 1999,p.109) had remarked that "-the Defence Ministry, in effect becomes the principal destroyer of the cutting edge of the military's morale; ironic considering that very reverse of it is their responsibility. The sword arm of the State gets blunted by the state itself." In July 2013, the MOD in its recommendations to the National Security Council Secretariat cited several reasons for its negative views on NCTF proposals.

MOD Rejects ‘Permanent Chairman of COSC’ Proposal

The 2001 GOM Report’s main recommendations regarding management of defence included creation of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) with a designated defence staff with a view to establish synergy and promote jointness among the armed forces. It is also true that the concept of CDS however does not evoke an unequivocal and positive response from the three Services. The apprehension from smaller Services being that their interests may be disregarded and perhaps the status of single Services Chiefs lowered. Though, these apprehensions need to be allayed by a providing careful balance on vesting centralised responsibility and power to CDS, the absence of CDS on the other hand leaves the field open to the civil servant to become the 'decider' instead of a uniformed person for inter-Service issues. Recommendation for CDS based on GOM Report 2001 could not be realized because the government threw in a googly in the shape of obtaining political consensus from respective political parties; little or no efforts were made to obtain consensus. A letter to the political parties was written and that was the end of it.

While negating the NCTF proposal for a permanent Chairman of COSC, the MOD in its recommendations to the NSCS has given the reasons in June this year as lack of consensus amongst the three services on the issue. According to the MOD submissions to the NSCS, only the Navy supports the proposal for permanent Chairman COSC, the Army is against the proposal and the Air Force’s concurrence is conditional. Further, the MOD says that the present system of the three Service chiefs and the collegiate COSC briefing the Defence Minister has been functioning well.

And to ward off further criticism of MOD’s attitude, the stock reply given is that in any case the Government has as yet not decided on the issue since the NCTF proposals would be considered by the Cabinet Committee on Security. It appears that the government would continue to stall the issue in keeping with its erstwhile policy on the matter. Apparently, there was also some pressure on the members of the NCTF to not to give such a recommendation. However, wisdom prevailed and the proposal was included in the report.

However, turf battles between services have been part and parcel of even the militaries of advanced nations like the U.S. before their services were forced to move towards integration and jointness through legislative measures. The U.S. forces were brought together under one umbrella through Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986. When the need for creating the institution of CDS/Permanent Chairman COSC has been felt and approved by expert groups consisting of strategists, politicians and bureaucrats and endorsed many times by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, it is only political will that would be instrumental in fructification of this vital reform.

Not only this, a simple measure like cross-posting of officers between the MOD and Service HQs to bridge the civil-military disconnect has also been rejected for some flimsy reasons. Cross-posting of officers would have generated synergies in functioning of the MOD and without this the integration would remain ‘cosmetic’ even while the MOD claims that the present system has been functioning well. Many reports of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence have been urging the MOD to implement this recommendation of the GOM Report and the same has been endorsed by the NCTF but the bureaucrats have been adamant on not executing an already approved recommendation.

Unless there is a CDS with some degree of authority vested in him to promote interoperability, jointness and integration, the armed forces would not be able to efficiently pursue their missions in the wars of knowledge age. CDS is also necessary for commanding eventually the Integrated Theatre Commands which are inescapable for adopting a unified approach in envisaged theatre of military operations. Differences in the respective services on their approaches to a single point military advisor for the government have also enabled the bureaucrats to stymie the unification and integration of the defence services. Further, in our despondency on the government’s approach to the institution of CDS, we should not accept the half-baked idea of the permanent Chairman, COSC.

Defence Planning

HQ IDS has prepared Technology Perspective Capability Roadmap 2013 which is somewhat of a modified version of TPCR-2010. This document identifies the military technologies needed by the armed forces in consonance with its 15 Years Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP). This is an unclassified document that provides information to the defence industry (both private and public sector undertakings) as to what kind of capabilities armed forces would be looking for in the next 15 years period. According to the Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony, the objective is “to establish a level playing field for the Indian defence industry, both public sector and private sector.” Regular interaction between the defence industry and the MOD would help in developing ‘contemporary and future technologies as well productionising equipment required by the armed forces’.

As is well known, a major modernisation programme of the armed forces is under way and it is expected that a capital budget of 150 billion US dollars is expected to be spent over the next decade or so. The question remains whether our Defence Procurement Procedures are up to the mark despite many upgrades. And what can our indigenous defence industry offer us?

Firstly, the problem of perspective plans remaining an amalgam of the individual service plans has not been overcome as yet. This is mainly because there is no CDS or permanent Chairman, COS with the necessary mandate (i.e. budgetary control) to ensure that Five Year Defence Plans (FYPD) and consequently 15 years LTIPP are in fact not integrated.

Secondly, it is rare that FYPD and LTIPP are approved by the government in time. While the Defence Acquisition Council headed by the Defence Minister approved the 12th FYDP (2012-2017) in April 2012, the same continues to await approval by the Ministry of Finance and CCS. The LTIPP (2012-2027) was also approved in principle by the MOD but continues to await the government’s nod. The approval of the two vital documents by the MOD is of no consequence unless the same are approved by the government. Thus, even after introduction of the defence reforms in 2001, the defence planning process continues to suffer from inadequacies which can be surmounted if there is a political will.

Problems of defence preparedness are further compounded by the defence acquisition woes. While the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) has undergone a series of modifications and iterations, the evidence on the ground does not indicate that the acquisition process has acquired any momentum. The latest version is of 2013 vintage which is said to be based on experience gained on DPP of 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2011. The saga of acquisition of 126 Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft still continues without any aircraft being inducted so far; the defence budget is also facing cuts again in the financial year 2013-2014 due to the economic downtrend. Similarly, though a deal for import of 145 Ultra-Light 155mm was concluded with the U.S. through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route some years ago, it has not fructified. Meanwhile, not only the U.S. has revised its prices for the guns, the Rupee has also depreciated against the dollar thus further compounding our budgetary problems. But then these are recurring problems which our politico-bureaucratic decision-makers have been unable to address.

Another factor which needs to be paid attention is the fast rate of obsolescence of technology which has made the operational life cycle of equipment shorter. The technology upgradations would be required in 10 years or so compared with much longer period in the earlier years. It is also being said that India has already missed two technology cycles and in the bargain two acquisition cycles. And therefore, the critical gaps in our armed forces’ capabilities are widening which needs urgent attention.

Thus, the much required institution of CDS that was diluted by the NCTF to the concept of permanent Chairman COSC has also not found acceptability with our MOD mandarins. But then as mentioned earlier, there is no point in accepting any watered down version of the CDS. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence which had been a strong votary of the concept of CDS has omitted to take any views on the subject in the last few reports submitted to the government. Given the trend and views of politico-bureaucratic class it would be no surprise if the Naresh Chandra Task Force proposal is finally rejected by the CCS. The adhocism in our defence planning process and its concomitant adverse impact on the modernization programme of the Armed Forces continues. This has been so despite the cautions given by the previous and current Army chiefs as also by the Air Force and Naval Chiefs. The critical hollowness and gaps in our capabilities are widening tempting our known adversaries to take advantage of our vulnerabilities. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has been pointing out to the various ills connected with our defence planning and procurement processes and mechanisms without the same being addressed meaningfully by the government.

There are many useful recommendations made by the NCTF but they are likely to meet the same fate as earlier reports. Further, optimal utilization of resources cannot be achieved unless greater emphasis and attention is given to the process of budget formulation and implementation including forecasting, monitoring and control of defence planning processes. While Technology Capability Perspective Roadmap 2013 has been made yet there are many imponderables attached with it. Our politico-bureaucratic and military leadership needs to move fast in ushering in the recommended defence reforms to meet the security challenges from our assertive adversaries.

Prime Minister’s Visit to Russia and China: New Equations in a Fast Changing Global Order

Kanwal Sibal, 
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s back to back visits to Russia and China from October 20 to 24 reflect the evolution of India’s external relations in a world with shifting power balances and the challenges faced in consolidating relations with tried and trusted friends with declining power and forging understanding with adversaries with rising influence who seek to advance their interests through tactical overtures of friendship.


Russia remains a vital strategic partner of India. The long term geopolitical interests of both are compatible. Russia is not interfering in sub-continental affairs where it recognises India’s primacy. On principles that should govern international relations such as respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries, combating international terrorism without double standards and opposition to regime change policies, India and Russia have shared views.

Russia is India’s principal defence partner, offering over the years platforms and technologies that have fortified our defence capabilites, whether it is the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya, the leased nuclear propelled submarine Chakra, technical assistance for Arihant, licensed manufacture of front-line combat equipment such as the Sukhoi 30 MKI aircraft and T90 tanks, the joint development of the potent supersonic missile Brahmos, besides participation in co-developing the fifth generation fighter aircraft as well as a multi-role transport aircraft.

Russia’s politically significant role in India’s civilan nuclear sector is epitomised by the construction of two 1000 MW nuclear power plants at Kudankulam, honouring a commitment made prior to its Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) membership. The techno-commercial negotiations for building two additional reactors at Kudankulam have been completed, but the contract’s finalisation awaits resolution of issues raised by India’s nuclear liability legislation.

With China our territorial disputes endure. China has strenghtened its military infrastructure on our frontiers, forcing India to belatedly raise additional forces and allocate enhanced infrastructure expenditure on its side. China seeks substantial territorial concessions by India, not simply an agreement on border adjustment, which makes settlement a distant prospect. The confidence building border measures that China backs are intended to prevent military incidents that would distract it from dealing with far bigger challenges in the east presented by US and Japan constraining China’s regional dominance and its naval power expansion.


China interferes actively in our region, feeding fears of Indian hegemony amongst our smaller neighbours and preventing India from raising its global profile by consolidating its regional base. Pakistan, which has been fully complicit in this, receives Chinese political and military backing for pursuing its confrontational policies towards India. China is Pakistan’s principal defence partner. By transferring nuclear weapon and missile technology to Pakistan, China has profoundly damaged India’s security.

In the civilian nuclear field, as a counter to India-Russia nuclear ties, before joining the NSG, China “grandfathered” its supposed commitment to supply two nuclear reactors to Pakistan. It then decided to supply two additional reactors on the same pretext, this time as a riposte to the India-US nuclear deal. China is aiding in the construction of plutonium reactors in Pakistan to enable it to build smaller warheads for tactical nuclear weapons.

Despite political closeness, India’s economic relationship with Russia remains modest, with two-way bilateral trade at only $11 billion plus last year. The target of $20 billion by 2015 seems unachievable. Several business promotion efforts have failed to boost economic exchanges. India is proposing Russian investments in the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, while the expanded energy partnership with Russia that India has long sought remains unrealised.
In contrast, despite serious political differences, India-China trade relations have flourished, expanding to nearly $ 70 billion in 2012, making China India’s largest trading partner in goods despite the damage done to our manufacturing sector in the process and security concerns emanating from China’s huge penetration of our power and telecom sectors. However, the $100 billion target set for 2015 is unlikely to be achieved because the trade deficit- likely to reach $40 billion this year- is becoming unsustainable.


Improved India-US ties impact our relations with both Russia and China. Russia’s primary concern would be the erosion of its dominant position as our defence partner as we increase our acquisitions of US defence equipment, as this affects political equations. India will need to continually re-assure Russia concretely that its expanded strategic ties with the US would not be at Russia’s expense.

China closely monitors US arms sales to India, viewing them as integral to the American strategy to create a security ring around China. With China under an arms embargo by the West, Russia has been China’s principal arms supplier, with the potential sale of Russia’s Su 35 combat aircraft to China under discussion. Russia’s concerns about Chinese reverse engineering are pitted against its need to export to sustain its domestic defence industry, besides solidifying strategic understandings with China as a consequence of western geopolitical and economic pressures on it. Russia has also supplied RD-93 engines to power the JF-17 fighter aircraft, a China-Pakistan joint venture. Our triple challenge is to avoid entanglement in Russia-US tensions, manage to our advantage US-China strategic competition and attenuate the negatives for us of increased Russia-China collaboration.

PM’s Moscow visit for the 14th summit meeting would be successful if it delivers the Kudankulam 3 and 4 contract. The deliverable from the China visit would be the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, valuable for avoiding incidents, not solving their cause.

Our challenge then is to build a larger edifice of relations with Russia on existing strong political and security foundations, whereas with China it is ensuring the safety of the impressive edifice that is rising on foundations that are not only weak but can shift.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Afghanistan Is Far from Being Lost: A Situation Report From The Ground

Lt General (Retd) R K Sawhney, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

First Impressions: Uncertainty, yes; but also Optimism about future

The creeping sense of despondency, even defeatism, over the future of Afghanistan post 2014 that seems to have set in among a section of the strategic community and top policy makers in New Delhi is not just ill informed but also quite unnecessary. Regardless of the line being plugged by some Western boy-scout journalists and analysts who tend to view the world from a Political Science 101 perspective in which everything is seen and evaluated from what is ideal rather than what is real, Afghanistan is not lost. While it is true that the US-led international forces haven’t really succeeded in pacifying the country and eliminating the Islamist insurgency, the tendency to heap the blame of their failures (which are really the result of closing their eyes to Pakistani shenanigans and double-game in the War on Terror) on the Hamid Karzai led dispensation is to say the least disingenuous.

Notwithstanding all the problems that the Afghan state faces – fragile security situation, weak economic base, governance deficit, fledgling institutions, pervasive corruption etc. – a Taliban takeover that many in India and rest of the world fear is by no means inevitable. If the international community continues to support the Afghan government with monetary and military assistance for at least another decade i.e. until 2025, then not only will the Taliban be defeated, but Afghanistan will be able to realise its potential of emerging as a fairly stable and relatively functional democratic state. Indeed, there is a far greater chance of Afghanistan pulling through than there is of its tormentor Pakistan getting out of the self created terrorist hole that it finds itself in. The caveat is, of course, that the international community doesn't abandon Afghanistan and undermine its tremendous achievements of the last decade. Compared to Afghanistan, pumping money into Pakistan to stabilise it is going to prove utterly counter-productive. Counter intuitive though it may sound, the fact is that pulling the plug on Pakistan rather than Afghanistan is what could lead to better results in terms of reining in and ultimately eliminating the jihadist terrorist networks in the AfPak region. This would force Pakistan to change its strategic policy framework. Continued support to Afghanistan is not throwing good money after bad; pumping money into Pakistan is.

To be sure, Afghanistan faces monumental challenges. Interestingly, even top Afghan officials don't try and gloss over the enormous problems that confront their country. But unlike the outsiders who appear to be all set to throw in the towel because they think these problems are insurmountable, the Afghans are showing remarkable resoluteness in improving their capacity and ability to grapple with the problems that their country faces. There is undoubtedly a growing sense of uncertainty that seems to gripping many Afghans. But this isn't so much because the Afghans have given up but more because it is being fuelled by the growing apprehension among the Afghans that the rest of the world is in the process of giving up on them. There is palpable concern among Afghans that the international community is getting ready to cut and run and even turn its back on Afghanistan and write it off as a bad nightmare. More than anything else, this faux conjecture that the Afghan state will not be able to hold its own against the Taliban onslaught after the withdrawal of the Western troops’ which is causing more damage than anything that the Taliban and their patrons across the Durand Line have thrown at the Afghan state. Senior Afghan officials and politicians are mindful that they need to demolish this conjecture and change the narrative in order to re-instil confidence among the public within Afghanistan and without. If they manage this, worsting the Taliban won’t be very difficult.

More difficult than getting rid of the Taliban, however, will be the task of nation building, which is still pretty much a work in progress. The institutions of state and society in Afghanistan –army, political system, judiciary, civil service, civil society etc. – are still in their infancy and therefore vulnerable. They need time to grow and strike deep roots. Any premature or hasty and ill-thought out pulling out of support, whether for reasons of political correctness, a Faustian strategic bargain, simple exhaustion with involvement in Afghanistan or even financial problems back home, will pretty much mean pushing back Afghanistan into chaos. Apart from institutions, the Afghans need to start thinking of putting their economy on more solid footing. This means steadily lowering the dependence on foreign aid and assistance and becoming self sufficient. Afghanistan has enough going for it to be able to manage without external hand-outs. But again they need time and political stability in order to develop their capacity to be able to gain economically from their mineral wealth and their geographical location at the cross-roads of Middle-East, Central Asia, South Asia and China.

Herat Dialogue: a peek into what people, local and foreign, are thinking

The Second Herat Security Dialogue organised by the Afghan Institute of Strategic Studies offered an excellent insight into not only how the international community perceives the situation in Afghanistan but also how Afghans – politicians, officials, academics and students – see their country and its future. Even though the sense of uncertainty about the future was pervasive among the participants, both locals and outsiders, there was an underlying hope and even confidence that things would work out. The tantalising prospect of Afghanistan emerging as not just a bridge between different regions but also a regional trade and transit hub for pipelines, power lines and highways clearly suggested that Afghanistan need not be a basket case economy forever. Add to this the potential for exploiting minerals – copper, gold, oil and rare metals – and there was no reason why Afghanistan couldn’t emerge as a fairly prosperous country. One session of the Herat Dialogue dealt with the need to rediscover Afghanistan’s syncretic Sufi roots and traditions of tolerance which could be a potent antidote to the poison of radicalism being spread by Al Qaeda and Taliban. But quite understandably, these positive factors seemed to be dominated by the concerns over how the security and political situation would unfold in the coming months.

No one really subscribed to the possibility that the state would collapse like a house of cards after the drawdown. A return to the Taliban rule of the 1990s was also rejected, as was the probability of another civil war breaking out. At the same time, it was openly and readily acknowledged that while the situation was evenly balanced for now, it could deteriorate very fast and spiral out of control if the political setup started unravelling. In fact, how the politics plays out in the coming months will be just as critical in deciding the future of Afghanistan as the military and monetary support from the international community. If both these things work out, then Afghanistan will remain stable; but if even one of these two cornerstones collapses, then the whole edifice could come crashing down.

The Presidential elections due in April next are being seen as a make or break event. It is not just about who wins the election, but even more importantly the credibility of the elections that will determine the future course of events in Afghanistan. Ahmed Wali Masood, who is the brother of Afghan hero Ahmed Shah Masood, pulled no punches in declaring that if the elections fail because of widespread fraud, then everything will collapse. At the same time, he was emphatic that a credible election could prove transformational. This was the theme that echoed throughout the conference. Western delegates were very clear that the continued financial and other support would be contingent on legitimacy of the process. Any repeat of the kind of fraud that marred the last Presidential elections or any delay in the election – there are apprehensions that President Hamid Karzai may manipulate the process to protect his interests and remain relevant – will not be acceptable to anyone anymore. While there is enough realism that the polls process will not be ‘perfect’, what is important from both the Western as well as Afghan perspective is that the process should be ‘good enough’ for everyone to accept the outcome. As far as the international community is concerned, any result that is accepted by the Afghan people will be acceptable to it. The bar is being deliberately set pretty high so that even if the halfway mark is reached, the elections will be a resounding success.

Apart from the credibility of the election process, there are some apprehensions about how the politics will play out the day after the results are declared. In other words, the effect, impact and repercussion of who wins and who loses is also something that is being keenly discussed and debated. Will the non-Pashtuns (some of whom are feeling sidelined by the Karzai administration) accept another Pashtun President? Will the Pashtuns agree to embrace either a non-Pashtun or even a half-Pashtun President who is closely identified with the non-Pashtun ethnic groups and rides into power on the strength of a united non-Pashtun vote and a divided Pashtun vote? Will pre-election ethnic and political alliances become a fault line that tears the country apart post elections or will the reality of results lead to a readjustment and accommodation between the main political players and ethnic groups? These are questions that to which there is no clear answer as yet. For their part, the Afghans believe that if the poll process is clean, then people will learn to live with whatever result emerges from the election.

One of the factors that is seen to be a game-changer in Afghanistan is what an Australian academic called ‘the democratic urgings of the new generation’. Alongside, he pointed to the effect of globalisation on Afghanistan which would make turning back the clock to the Taliban medievalism extremely unlikely. While a former Taliban representative who is currently a member of the High Peace Council made a strong pitch for an accommodation with the Taliban – he claimed the Taliban were neither radical nor revolutionary but simple traditional people! – and warned against excluding or ignoring them, he was not only challenged by the young Afghans but practically hooted out. Some Western delegates spoke in favour of the ‘reconciliation’ process but not if it endangered the progress made during the last decade in Afghanistan. Those in favour of the ‘peace process’ wanted that the Taliban demonstrate on ground the claims they made in international conferences about how much the movement has changed over the years and how the mistakes they made in the past would not be repeated. What was however not clear was how the democratic system could co-exist with a movement that brooked no dissent and whose leader claimed to be the Amir-ul-Momineen (Leader of the Faithful).

Politics and the Presidential Elections

Sitting outside Afghanistan it is easy to dismiss the forthcoming Presidential elections as something of an irrelevant and unnecessary distraction from the looming security situation. But clearly this is a line of thinking that is utterly misplaced. The Afghans have placed a lot in the store of the elections. If well conducted, with minimum fraud and maximum participation, the elections could prove to be a major stabilising factor. On the other hand, if the polls are marred by irregularities like the 2009 elections, then they could just as well prove to be the nemesis of the Afghan state. That all shades of political opinion (except for the Taliban) have a stake in the elections is borne out by the sheer number of candidates – 27 – who have thrown their hat in the ring. Of course, not all these candidates – in the Afghan context, a more appropriate term is ‘ticket’ which includes not just the presidential candidate but also his running mates – are serious contenders.

It is generally agreed that the two front-runners are going to be the former foreign minister and the runner-up in 2009, Dr Abdullah Abdullah and President Karzai’s finance minister, Ashraf Ghani Ahmedzai. Dr Abdullah has roped in a faction leader of the Hizb-e-Islami, Mohammed Khan and the Hazara leader Ustad Mohammed Mohaqiq as his running mates. Ashraf Ghani has the Uzbek leader Abdul Rashid Dostum and a Hazara leader Sarwar Danish on his ticket. Interestingly, Ashraf Ghani has not taken any Tajik as one of his running mates, something that goes a little against conventional wisdom wherein every ticket must have both a Pashtun and a Tajik (the two largest ethnic groups) to stand a winning chance. The other serious contenders are the former foreign minister Dr Zalmai Rassoul (he has roped in one brother of Ahmed Shah Masood as his running mate and a firebrand Hazara lady lawmaker as his 2nd Vice President nominee), President Karzai’s brother Qayyum Karzai, the Pashtun strongman from Kandahar Gul Agha Sherzai, the former mujahideen commander Abdul Rab Rasool Sayyaf (with the Herat strongman and Tajik leader Ismail Khan as his running mate), former Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and finally Hashmat Ghani Ahmedzai, who is the brother of Ashraf Ghani.

With such an array of tickets, it is expected that the polls will go into the second round where Dr Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani will battle it out. Supporters of Dr Abdullah are quite confident that he will be able to win the elections in the second round. He has apparently been working double time since his engineered defeat in the last Presidential elections in 2009 to sew up his alliance. Equally importantly, he is making a strong pitch to reclaim his Pashtun heritage (from his father’s side) and thereby attract at least some Pashtun vote to his side. His supporters claim that he is likely to win a fair amount of votes from the South. They are also of the view that many Pashtuns have come to the conclusion that they got a raw deal from a Pashtun President and a non-Pashtun might be more compelled to cater to their needs than a Pashtun. By managing to unite all the important leaders (except for Dostum and Ahmed Zia Masood) of the erstwhile Northern Alliance behind him, Dr Abdullah is reasonably confident of winning the overwhelming majority of the non-Pashtun vote from the Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. What is more, the choice of Dostum as running mate by Ashraf Ghani is seen as a big positive for Dr Abdullah because many Pashtuns will not be inclined to vote for a ticket with Dostum on it. Many of the candidates in the first round, for instance Sayyaf-Ismail Khan, are likely to endorse the Abdullah ticket in the second round.

Ashraf is quite popular among the intellectual crowd in Kabul but whether he will be able to win mass support is somewhat uncertain. By not including a Tajik on his ticket, Ashraf might have made a smart play for the Pashtun vote which with the Uzbek and some Hazara votes, could well turn out to be a winning combination. But many of his detractors wonder if he will be even able to reach the second round, partly because the plethora of Pashtun candidates is expected to badly split the Pashtun vote bank which increase the possibility of another candidate like Zalmai Rassoul sneaking in for the run-off election. Ashraf’s own brother is also a candidate and could cut into his potential votes. The other big problem for Ashraf and any other candidate who depends on the Pashtun vote is that the climate of fear and insecurity that is hanging over the elections could result in a low voter turnout in the Pashtun belt, something that will work to the advantage of the non-Pashtun candidates by neutralising the numbers edge of the Pashtuns. Conversely, there is also a fear that the fragile security situation in the Pashtun areas could be exploited to repeat the vote fraud and stuff ballot boxes like last time. Some political observers claim that while the Centre, West and North of the country will be where the voting will take place, the South and East is where the fraud will be perpetrated. In any case, according to them, the geography of voting has changed and even in a free and fair election the South and East will account for only around 40% of the votes.

There are also questions being asked on who President Karzai will endorse. For quite some time he has been keeping his options open and hasn’t quite let it be known who he is backing among Ashraf, Rassoul and his brother Qayyum. Members of the opposition believe that Karzai’s endorsement is more a liability than an asset for the candidates, but there are apprehensions that he might once again misuse the state machinery to give a leg up to his favourite candidate. At the same time, by not coming out clearly in support of any candidate – he first appeared to back Sayyaf, then indicated that Ashraf was his candidate, later hinted at Rassoul and after his brother threw his hat in the ring some thought he was backing Qayyum (though sceptics argue that in Afghanistan, brothers are generally never favoured) – he has caused a lot of heartburn among those who were looking for his endorsement. As a result, he has lost the confidence of his friends. He has also riled his non-Pashtun opponents by trying to divide their ranks by offering bribes and blandishments. In the final analysis, Karzai will back the candidate who he thinks will receive the support of the Pashtuns because the only way he remains relevant in the future politics of Afghanistan is by positioning himself as the leader of Pashtuns. There is also some talk of Karzai wanting to replicate the ‘Putin option’ by manoeuvring a light weight favourite into the Presidency and then becoming a candidate in the next election.

While fraud is one of the uppermost concerns regarding the elections, money is expected to play a major role in these elections. Fears are also being expressed that the polls will sharpen the ethnic divide because voting will primarily take place on ethnic lines. But these fears are somewhat overstated because efforts are being made by almost all the candidates to woo voters of other ethnic groups. There is also a realisation among top candidates that winning the election is the easy part, retaining power and running the country a much more difficult task. No wonder then that some people close to Dr Abdullah are claim that if he wins the election, he could very well appoint Ashraf Ghani as his finance minister. Similar appointments could be made if Ashraf or Rassoul win the elections. In a sense then, even though politics in Afghanistan is crystallising along ethnic lines, it is also slowly maturing to a level where after the heat and dust of elections is over, the politicians make new alignments to run the government and the country.

While the Afghans appear to ready to live and adjust to whatever result is thrown up by a credible election, there is a lot of apprehension about Pakistan playing the role of spoiler. Afghan political analysts say that if Dr Abdullah wins, the Pakistanis will try and provoke the Pashtuns and Taliban to not accept the result and undermine the government. This is quite simply because the Pakistanis cannot countenance a strong Tajik presence in the government in Kabul. Even if Ashraf Ghani or Rassoul win, the Pakistanis will continue to create instability in Afghanistan using the Taliban and Gulbadin Hekmatyar. Interestingly, some top Afghan politicians believe that Pakistan neither wants the Taliban to hold complete sway in Afghanistan nor do they want any kind of negotiated settlement between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The suspicion about Pakistani intentions is so high that the Afghans are convinced that even if the Taliban were to enter into a dialogue, the ISI will create a counter force to keep Afghanistan destabilised. One possible reason for such a policy is that the Pakistanis want to push the war that is being waged inside their country into Afghanistan, even if this means reigniting the civil war in Afghanistan. If this is indeed the Pakistani policy, then it is clearly a very short-sighted and less than inelegant policy because instability in Afghanistan will inevitably spill over into Pakistan and destabilise an already tottering state.

The Security Matrix

Even though many analysts around the world have convinced themselves that the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) will crumble after the withdrawal of the ISAF in 2014, this doomsday scenario is somewhat exaggerated. There is little doubt that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have serious problems of personnel, training, equipment, logistics, and intelligence. But meeting the Defence Minister, some of the top leadership of the ANA and also a few of the young officers, is quite a revelation. There is absolutely no panic among the top brass. On the contrary, it exudes a level of self-assuredness and quiet confidence that immediately dispels all doubts about the ability of the ANSF to hold their own against the enemy.

Unlike the Pakistani generals who are so full of bluff and bluster but who fizzle out the moment a fire-fight breaks out and the army starts bleeding, the Afghan Army Chief is very matter of fact in its appreciation of the strengths and weaknesses of their army. There is a disarming honesty in the way the Afghan Defence Minister and top brass explain the security situation. No bombast, no spin and no brushing under the carpet of inconvenient and troubling realities. And yet, a level of confidence that can only come from faith in the fighting capability of the troops that immediately reassures the interlocutor that this army will not crumble if it continues to receive military, financial and political support.

Ever since the ISAF has transferred the security responsibilities to the Afghan Army, it has proved its mettle. Senior generals proudly claim that even though the Pakistanis opened the floodgates for the Taliban to launch fierce attacks since April this year, there is not a single engagement in which the Afghan troops have shown their back to the enemy or yielded territory to them. They have in fact opened up areas from which the ISAF had withdrawn. For instance, in Nuristan, the ANA has moved in and is in the process of opening the road for normal traffic. No doubt, the ANA has been taking serious casualties – in the last six months, around 800 dead and some 2000 injured. But morale remains fairly high. What is more, the dictum that armies that bleed emerge as solid fighting forces stands quite true for the ANA.

Senior officials say that they haven’t lost as many men in fighting as they have lost in IED explosions and suicide blasts. In other words, it is not so much the fighting prowess of the Taliban terrorists as it is their classic terrorism tactics that is causing casualties. At one level, this means that the ANA is more than a match for the Taliban; but at another level, unless the ANA can find a way to counter the IEDs and Suicide attacks, they will continue to suffer grievously. Unfortunately, there is as yet no solution that has been found to this problem. One of the reasons why the ANA officials are requesting the international community to supply them with Tanks, Armoured Personnel Carriers as well as reliable mine breeching equipment, is that it would minimise the casualties caused by IEDs. But so far, their requests have fallen on deaf ears.

The ANA brass, while quite confident of holding their own against the Taliban, is seriously worried about being unprepared to handle any external aggression by the Pakistan army on side of the Taliban. They say that on their own the Taliban can only carry out acts of terrorism but cannot over-run the country like last time unless they have the support of the Pakistan army. This, more than anything else, is the real worry for the Afghan security establishment, and it is precisely this worry that no one – US, India, Europeans, or any other country – is willing to address. The Afghans want tanks and artillery so that they can take on a Taliban offensive supported by the Pakistan army. But even fairly obsolete equipment is being denied to them. They complain that the Americans promised them this equipment but have not only reneged on these promises, but worse, have destroyed whatever Soviet era tanks and artillery the Afghans possessed. As a result, the ANA has been reduced to a glorified paramilitary force which is in no position to handle any conventional threat from across the Durand Line.

Although Western writers have made a lot about the high attrition rates in the ANA, this isn’t something that worries the Afghans very much. They admit that there is a fair amount of attrition, but say that the new recruits more than fill the gap. The attrition is not much because of desertion as it is because of many soldiers not renewing their three-year contracts – this rate has gone up to almost 50% in recent years. But if service conditions improve, then the ANA will not only be able to attract new recruits but also retain the trained manpower. Training is yet another issue on which is occupying the attention of the brass. Even though Afghans are natural fighters, modern armies need an officer corps to lead the men into battle. While the ANA has refurbished its own academy, a number of young officers are being trained in India, and frankly they are turning out to be a real asset for the ANA – smart, crisp, brimming with confidence that the Indian Army instils in its officer corps. Although Pakistan has been offering training in its own academies, there are not many takers for this offer. One big reason is that young officers feel that if they train in Pakistan their loyalty will forever be suspect and they will always be treated as ISI agents, which will affect their careers, and worse, their reputation and self-esteem.

Apart from the equipment that ground forces need, the ANA is also feeling the pinch on managing its logistics. Until now, they have been largely dependent on the Americans. But after the withdrawal, they will be pretty much on their own. The US is in the process of supplying the Afghans a few C130 transport aircraft. Arrangements are also being made to provide choppers which can be used for medical evacuation and supplies, in addition to playing a combat role. Some mortars and light artillery is also in the pipeline. The Afghans are also toying with the idea of converting some old passenger aircraft into transport aircraft for the army. India too has promised to supply and refurbish some AN32 transport aircraft. Of course, like in everything else, the Indians have been lagging behind in delivery, a point that was put forward by Afghan officials in a very polite manner.

India’s Enigmatic Policy

In recent years, India’s approach and policy on Afghanistan is so afflicted by self-doubt, strategic confusion and perhaps even an element of towing the line that is set not in New Delhi but elsewhere that it has all but lost the plot in a country which in many ways is critical for India’s own security. So taken in is India with the inherent limitations it faces in Afghanistan – geographical, financial, diplomatic (the inability to use Iran as a conduit to Afghanistan) and military – that it has neglected the advantages it enjoys, which to an extent neutralise the limitations. No surprise then that even though there is tremendous goodwill for India, the Indian officials are virtually imprisoned in fortress-like compounds with their movement restricted because of the real threat of terrorists targeting them. There have been around three bomb attacks on the Indian mission in Kabul, Indian consulate in Jalalabad has recently been targeted, the consulates in other cities are also in the cross-hairs of terrorists (believed to be working under instructions of the ISI), Indian Army doctors have been killed and guest-houses where Indian officials stay have been attacked. On the other hand Pakistan is, to put it mildly, hated in Afghanistan and yet their officials strut about like they own the place. Surely, something is seriously wrong with the way India handles its affairs.

Threats aside, the Indian policy is also steadily making India marginal in Afghanistan. What is really infuriating for the Afghans is that India has not just adopted a defeatist approach and seemingly reconciled to the possibility that the Afghan state will not survive very long after the withdrawal of foreign troops, but worse, that India is increasingly following a policy under which it is showing more understanding for Pakistan’s concerns rather than for Afghanistan’s needs. The way the Afghans see it, if even a strong country like India is ready to kowtow to Pakistan’s aggressive, if also disastrous, policy in Afghanistan, then perhaps the Afghans would be better off striking their own Faustian pact with the proverbial devil. India’s pusillanimity has touched such ridiculous levels that recently the Indian Foreign Secretary was advised not to visit the Jalalabad consulate lest it send out a very aggressive signal about India’s Afghan policy! That she ignored this advise goes to her credit. Her visit boosted the morale of the Indian officials who are working under enormous stress and in a very difficult and dangerous environment in places like Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad, not to mention Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul.

Even more galling is the line that is being peddled in some quarters, advocating that India, along with other countries, should create a sort of funding agency and which then lets Pakistan implement the development projects in Afghanistan! This, according to their thinking, will go a long way in reassuring Pakistan that India’s only interest in Afghanistan is to stabilise that country. Pakistan, they say, will very graciously give credit to India for the funds it gives for a school, or hospital or any other project. Their argument, which is not just specious but also ridiculous, is that India’s strategic interest lies in a peaceful Afghanistan and if this sort of policy helps to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan then it achieves the purpose for which India is assisting Afghanistan’s reconstruction.

It is precisely this sort of defeatism and dissembling policy prescriptions that appear to be behind the refusal of India to supply some of the defence equipment that the Afghans have requested. Strangely, India has always insisted that unlike other countries which always gave Afghanistan what they thought the Afghans needed and never bothered to find out what they Afghans actually wanted, India always let the Afghans give their wish list. However, when it comes to defence cooperation, India seems to have adopted the approach of other countries and rather than fulfilling the Afghan wish-list, India has taken it upon itself to decide what the Afghans need. Much of the stuff that the Afghans have requested for – old tanks, artillery pieces and some old aircraft – is no longer used by the Indian Army and can be easily refurbished and given to the ANA. But the great strategists sitting in high offices are chary of fulfilling the Afghan request because they think that if the Afghan government collapses then all this equipment will fall in the hands of the Taliban.

Why this logic is faulty is because: one, this risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy because by not helping the Afghan state India would be creating conditions for the Taliban to capture power; second, even if this stuff was to fall into Taliban hands, who would they use it against? They aren’t going to lug it across Pakistan to target India across the Radcliffe line. If anything, they might actually use it against the patrons across the Durand Line. The real reason therefore seems to be that India doesn’t want to provide any support to the Afghan government that rubs Pakistan the wrong way and provokes it to intensify the sponsorship of terrorism not just in Afghanistan but also India. The flip side of this faulty reasoning is that even though India has desisted from providing the Afghans with the weapons they need for their protection, Pakistan has not stopped the export of terrorism. This begs the question as to why India should be bothered about Pakistan's concerns when the Pakistanis show no consideration whatsoever about Indian concerns.

What India seems to have forgotten is that the Afghans are fighting not just for saving their country but also the region from being destabilised by the radical Islamist terror groups. While the Pakistanis keep tom-toming how they are fighting for securing the world against terrorism, the fact is that it is not the Pakistanis but the Afghans who are fighting this fight. If countries like the US and India cannot fight shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans, then the least they can do is to give them the wherewithal to fight on their own. If truth be told, the enemy of the Afghans is also the enemy of India. The war that the Afghans are fighting is also India’s war. The choice before India is simple: it can either fight this war on its borders or help the Afghans fight this war inside Afghanistan. India would also do well to remember the immutable principle of international politics: to inspire faith in your friends and favour them; and instil fear in your adversaries. India needs to apply this principle while forging its Afghan policy. This means that it is no longer enough to rely upon just soft power and developmental assistance to secure Afghanistan against the onslaught of the barbaric and medieval Taliban. India must also use its hard power (without putting boots on the ground because that would be counter-productive) to assist Afghanistan.