Wednesday, August 27, 2014

India Can Turn Its Backs on Pakistan

The Pakistan High Commissioner (HC) should not have met the Hurriyat leaders when he was asked by the Indian Foreign Secretary not to do so. Diplomatic norms obliged him to take this request communicated at such high level seriously and failure to do so, he knew, would have repercussions. He chose to snub the government and left our political leadership no choice but to cancel the Foreign Secretary (FS) level talks fixed for August 25. After this effrontery on the HC’s part-obviously on his government’s instructions- we would have opened ourselves to ridicule if we had gone ahead with these talks. Modi’s image of a tough “India-First” leader would have taken a battering, besides seriously weakening the Indian hand in the talks ahead. If India had blinked in these circumstances, the Pakistanis would have been encouraged to raise the ante in other areas of negotiation.

As it is, the Pakistan government chose to defy the government further by instructing its HC to meet the Hurriyat leaders the next day for a second round. Not content with that, the HC decided to speak to the press to justify his decision and also mock us by suggesting that these talks with anti-national elements in Kashmir were intended to promote “peace”. He referred to the Hurriyat leaders as stakeholders in the peace process and therefore eligible for Pakistan’s special attention, whereas we rightly consider these separatists adamantly disruptive elements.

It is unfortunate that our mainstream English language press and individual commentators wedded to the idea of a dialogue with Pakistan unconditionally have been critical of the government’s decision to cancel the FS level talks, describing it as an over-reaction on a trivial issue and insufficiently thought through. They seem to think that we have painted ourselves in a corner on the assumption that India will, sooner or later, have to find a way to resume the dialogue with Pakistan and will now find it more difficult to do so. They have also made the truly bizarre argument that by seeking to stop the HC’s meeting with the Hurriyat, we were challenging Pakistan’s sovereignty.

In a democracy all kinds of opinions get expressed, but the freelancers of opinion in our society seem sometimes to be confused about which side of the border they reside. It is also unfortunate that their bile against Modi and the BJP corrodes their judgment on the issues at stake in the latest India-Pakistan row.

The argument of the Pakistanis and the anti-Modi bilious lot in India that as these meetings between the Pakistani leaders and the Hurriyat have continued for years, they should not have been opposed to the point of cancelling the FS level talks. Now, even if they have been tolerated in the past for reasons that are difficult to fathom, there is no accord between India and Pakistan on this arrangement that we have violated. The fact that these meeting have taken place in the past does not give Pakistan a lien on such practice. If this logic were to be accepted, then Pakistan can argue that as Pakistan has planned and abetted terrorist attacks against India for decades and India has not gone to war with Pakistan over this, any toughening of India’s policy away from its past tolerance of such hostile acts would not be justified and would amount to India rejecting dialogue, not thinking things through and painting itself in a corner.
Pakistan regularly raises the Kashmir issue in the UNGA and the country celebrates Kashmir Day every year when provocative speeches are made. Should India decide, for instance, to lambast Pakistan in the UNGA on its record of treating its minorities and the sectarian conflict in the country and slam it for its links with terror, Pakistan and its friends in India would say that our policy shift was an uncalled for vitiation of the atmosphere of India-Pakistan relations.

As for the sovereignty argument, is it the case that we do not have the sovereign right to control who our adversaries meet on our own soil? Does another sovereign country have the right to supersede our sovereignty over our own territory? It is surprising that the Pakistani spokesperson should have used the sovereignty argument in her reaction. Evidently she meant that Pakistan as a sovereign country cannot be told what to do. This would mean logically Pakistan has the sovereign right to launch terrorist attacks against us, send in infiltrators in J&K and refuse any accountability as a sovereign country for the Mumbai carnage. Naturally, sovereignty for Pakistan over-rides international law, norms of inter-state relations and civilised behaviour.

Actually, Nawaz Sharif has, from the day he took over, been negative in his positions on India, whatever is said about his desire to normalise ties with us. It is true that during his election campaign, he expressed such sentiments and he accepted Modi’s invitation to his swearing-in. But we need to assess his actions coldly, without relying on his words alone. While professing friendly sentiments, he has repeatedly expressed his intention to agitate the Kashmir issue; he has on several occasions called for its resolution on the basis of self-determination and UN resolutions, thus violating the Simla Agreement; he has tried to involve third parties such as the US and the UK in resolving the problem, again in violation of the Simla Agreement; he has not moved on the trial of those responsible for the Mumbai terrorist attack; he has given Hafiz Saeed more political visibility and allowed him to carry on his venomous campaign against India knowing Indian sensitivities; he has delayed the grant of MFN status to India even under the camouflaged appellation of “Non Discriminatory Market Access”. If on such substantive issues, Pakistan can change its position or prevaricate, then why cannot India alter its position on the direct contacts thus far tolerated between Pakistan and the separatists on Indian soil, in India’s capital city to boot? Why do the supporters in India of amity with Pakistan take no cognisance of latter’s provocations, unhelpful positions and insensitivity to Indian concerns, and are ready to berate the government if it decides to react.

If the Hurriyat does not count for much, then why is it so important for Pakistan to maintain direct contact with it? Pakistan should have ended its contacts with the separatists long ago if they were so fruitless. The reality is that such contacts carry the implication that J&K is not India’s internal affair, that Pakistan has a legitimate role in Kashmir, that those in Kashmir who challenge India’s sovereignty over J&K can be direct interlocutors of the country that also rejects our sovereignty over the state, that Pakistan, in fact, enjoys extra-territorial rights in our part of Kashmir. We can, of course, ignore these implications, and previous governments in India have inexplicably done so, but why criticise the Modi government if it does a necessary course correction? This is not a trivial issue as some Modi-baiters in India would have us believe.

It is not clear why it is felt by some that we have painted ourselves in a corner by cancelling FS level talks. This suggests that we need dialogue more than Pakistan does, that Pakistan can do without a dialogue and we cannot, and that dialogue is not a favour that India does to Pakistan. This implies that we have no cards to play except to talk to Pakistan and that Pakistan has all the cards and can wait for India to return to a dialogue mode with it. In other words, Pakistan has the upper hand over us.
Why there is such defeatist thinking is puzzling, especially as Pakistan is being ripped apart internally with terrorism and sectarian strife and is in dire economic straits. Whatever there is of Pakistani democracy is being hollowed out currently by the double agitation in Islamabad in which we can see the hand of the military. Pakistan’s stock has dwindled dramatically internationally because of its terrorist affiliations, though it continues to have benefactors in China, Saudi Arabia and even the US despite all the problems that Pakistan has caused it in Afghanistan. India, on the other hand, is on a different trajectory altogether, steadily moving towards the big power status economically and otherwise, despite the current slowdown. India is in a different league altogether and does not need the support of Pakistan to realise its ambitions or its destiny.

The critics of the Modi government’s action have close connections with the civil society in Pakistan. Many of their Pakistani interlocutors in the think tank circuit come across as well-meaning individuals, articulate and plausible. Many may be sincere, others have guile. That such elements exist in Pakistan is no reason for us to shape our policies towards that country based on their preferences or exhortations. The civil society in Pakistan is not in a position to change Pakistan’s policies towards us. Their objective is to persuade us to make the kind of concessions that would satisfy the “deep state” in Pakistan, in the expectation that Pakistan as a result will become more liberal and a more congenial place for these more open-minded people to live in. In other words, they seek an answer to Pakistan’s self-created problems partially with India’s help, all the while being in no position to alter Pakistan’s hostile policies towards us. To think that by strengthening these elements we will be able to secure our interests better is to cling to illusions. Even these more palatable Pakistanis share the entrenched ideas of the Pakistani establishment on Kashmir, accusations of terrorism by India and water issues.

All this suggests that we can actually turn our backs on Pakistan, neither be friendly or hostile towards it, engage it to the extent it wants and leave to it the initiative to reach out to us in a constructive way. So long as the Pakistani agenda of confronting India remains unchanged, its Kashmir obsession perdures, the revanchist sentiments of its armed forces endure, its policy of preventing India’s westward connectivity persists, India has every reason to look increasingly eastwards and strengthen links with BIMSTEC, ASEAN, Japan and Korea, which are areas of barrier free expansion for India, with no problem of territorial disputes, terrorism, religious antipathy and underdeveloped economic opportunities acting as obstacles.

Published Date: 26th August 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

State of Military Might in Resurgent India

Col (Retd) Karan Kharb

Powerful nations radiate powerful influence far across their geographical borders over countries and continents. And this influence is mostly coercive – often disregarding opinions of a majority of sovereign nations. President Bush was brazenly explicit in conveying his threat even to friendly countries when he said, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” The world has watched in the recent decades how a couple of powerful nations have not felt deterred from launching punitive operations against unfriendly regimes. Ongoing conflicts in West Asia and Central Asia are glaring examples of this reality.

Much as the weaker nations might despise such arrogance of mighty nations, the latter have been succeeding in enforcing their plans, even if partially, in different parts of the world. In the realm of geopolitics, it is clear that the powerful nations use a combination of soft power and coercive power to achieve compliance, cooperation and, wherever possible, even submission of targeted regimes. Effect of soft power is enhanced manifold if it is backed by credible hard power, that is, military power that gives meaning to diplomacy, strategy, trade and economy. If wealth alone were power, West Asia would be ruling the world. If geographical size were power, Russia would be Power Number One and the Soviet Union would not have disintegrated. Irrefutably, it is the Military Might that adds awe and aura to a nation’s standing in the regional and international equations. Israel would simply not exist today if it were not so. Today its utterance and posturing shakes up the neighbourhood and makes the world sit up and listen to it – their consent or dissent just don’t seem to matter.

Even so, in the reckoning of military might, an array of high technology, sophisticated fighting machines and equipment – an area where critical deficiencies have seriously hampered the Indian Army’s modernisation programme – is but one factor, significantly weighty though. The man behind the gun, however, shall always be the decisive factor in projecting and executing this military might. No amount of modern technology and wherewithal can substitute human – the soldier whose wellness makes the ultimate difference between victory and defeat in war. Modern world’s high-tech protective gear, high precision weaponry, satellite communication systems, computerisation and nano-tech breakthroughs will deliver little until the user is motivated to dare adversity and danger. Napoleon accorded three times more value to the soldier’s morale vis-à-vis material. In 1993, when the Government expressed inability to finance raising of the Rashtriya Rifles, Gen B P Joshi relied on military morale and raised the Force equipping and manning it from the existing manpower and equipment of the Indian Army. Again, at the outset of Kargil War, it was this intangible but enormous asset of military morale that prompted the Army Chief, Gen VP Malik to say, “…..we will fight with whatever is available….,” despite critical deficiencies of arms and equipment.

Traditionally, military personnel are not expected to demand favours nor admit weakness. Enquire about his ‘morale’ and even a dying soldier would spring up and scramble to fight. The same is true of his commanders too. No unit or formation commander would ever confess a decline in morale or erosion of spirit de corps in the Forces no matter how pathetic their state might be. On an expedition – war or adventure – Indian soldiers have never sought rest, comfort or even food until it is all over! Little wonder, Kautilya whom the world knows more popularly as Chanakya, had cautioned King Chandragupta, “The day the soldier has to demand his dues will be a sad day for Magadha for then, on that day, you will have lost all moral sanction to be King!” Edicts in Atharvaveda (Kaand 4/Anuvakah 7/Sukta 31 & 32) and Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Sangram/10th Adhikaran/Ch 3) also underscore a powerful advice to Governments, “To win wars, influence neighbouring states and to promote his national interests, the King must build up an Army of soldiers so honoured, privileged and motivated that their wrath unnerves the enemy; their sacrifices beget love and respect of their own people; and their valour is rewarded with the highest esteem and admiration by the King and his ministers.”

In the post Kargil period, however, the military morale has been sadly on a downhill slide as is manifestly evident from the increasing cases of soldiers committing suicides, fratricides, insubordination and defiance. Sporadic cases of mutiny in the last decade or so have raised many serious questions on the military management. What is even more shocking is that such incidents are not confined to units deployed in operational areas alone. Angst against exploitation and injustice to their families back home has been driving soldiers to suicide and fragging even in peace locations. Answering a question in the Rajya Sabha on 22 Jul 2014, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that suicides among security personnel of the armed forces were a serious issue. He informed the House that the Armed Forces had lost 597 personnel to suicide in the last five years (that is, at a rate of 10 soldiers every month or 120 every year). He also revealed that 1,349 officers quit the Army during the same period. And while the Army bears the brunt, this dangerous trend is shared by all three wings of the Armed Forces.

Causes for this onset of decay are many. For decades, a perception of ‘raw deal’ by the successive pay commissions has been allowed to grow in the Armed Forces by governmental neglect. Denial of growth opportunities, unfair salary and pension fixation, erosion of status, dilution of military privileges and isolation of military from decision-making process even in matters of national defence, security and welfare of military personnel are some of the sores that have festered over the years. Provisions such as preferential hearing of soldiers’ cases by civil administration and courts exist only on papers now and many district magistrates, police officers and judges are either not aware or remain deliberately callous in attending to genuine problems of soldiers and their families. Subsidised canteen facilities, medical facilities, military quota, field allowances and numerous other privileges that were once unique to military have been systematically usurped and multiplied by the civil services and politicians. Compare stocks and prices in Parliament House canteen or any other departmental canteen in Government offices and military canteens to know the difference. Today, AC suites in the state guest houses and Bhavans in New Delhi’s Chanakyapuri are available to politicians at Rs 45 per day with sumptuous non-veg dinner for Rs 130 per diner whereas Army officers passing through Delhi are gratified after paying Rs 500 or more for a room in a Delhi Cantt officers mess – if they get one at all!
Persistent representation on pay commission anomalies by the Services Headquarters to the MoD and Prime Minister yielded no positive result from the UPA Government even as hordes of anguished Ex-servicemen staged protests returning their service medals over non-grant of one-rank-one-pension (OROP). What is even more frustrating is that while both the Governments – UPA and NDA – had declared their approval and decision to implement OROP, no tangible gain has fructified yet.
The need to maintain a youthful profile of the Armed Forces implies that a large number of JCOs and other ranks retire from the service at an early age of 35-48 years. Likewise, a majority of commissioned officers also retire between 52-54 years of age. This period is the most crucial phase in the life of the retiring personnel since the burden of family and social responsibilities is heaviest on a man at such a juncture. Increasing expenses on ailing parents, education and marriage of children, separation from family and a host of other responsibilities suddenly surround the retiring soldier. There are no second-career opportunities, no assured lateral absorption in government services nor is there any satisfactory rehabilitation scheme for hordes of youthful retiring service personnel.

Unlike Civil Services, career progression in military narrows sharply as one advances in the service. With each successive promotion, the pyramid becomes narrower because in a unit of 800 personnel there can be only one Subedar Major who will occupy this position for 3-4 years. Likewise, there can be only one Chief and seven Army Commanders at the top who shall serve 2-3 years, implying thereby that only eight out of every set of 3000 officers can aspire to reach these levels no matter how competent the remaining are. Whereas nearly 90 per cent IAS officers make it to secretary/additional secretary level, only 0.003 per cent officers in the armed forces reach that level. The reason for mass screening out, unfortunately, is not incompetence or disqualification on grounds of merit but the scarce vacancies at the top. On the contrary, no civil servant retires without reaching the top pay scale in his stream, no matter how incompetent one might be. In such a situation, no cadre deserved a service compensation like ‘non-functional upgrade’ (NFU) more than the Armed Forces. Here ironically again, only civil service officers are granted NFU. There is no reason why such compensatory dispensation should be selectively granted to the civil services and denied to the soldiery.

The long awaited and direly needed modernisation programme of the Armed Forces has remained mired in the complex procurement processes and bureaucratic red tape at the MoD and departments. Instances of corruption in some cases have vitiated the processes even further. As per a report tabled by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, Army’s modernisation programme has been declining steadily and ominously. A mere 27 paisa out of every rupee was being spent on capital expenditure (CAPEX) during 2008-09. It slid to 18 paisa per rupee by 2013-14. Narendra Modi’s arrival as India’s Prime Minister did boost aspirations of strategists and thinkers within and outside the Armed Forces. For once, it appeared that in its quest for a global role India could now embark upon a ‘transformation programme’ repositioning the military from its defensive and counter-offensive posturing to the level of a potent fearsome war waging force capable of enforcing peace and deterring hegemonic adventures in South Asia and neighbourhood. Even as Arun Jaitley might seem overburdened as a Minister with two major portfolios – Defence and Finance, he is also the most suited man with acumen and understanding of both vis-à-vis the India’s strategic interests and military requirements. He will need to start streamlining the systems within the MoD itself.

Today the situation is dismal. The armour and the mechanised infantry remain equipped with obsolete or no night fighting capabilities. Only a small number of units have adequate night fighting capability. Deficiencies in armour ammunition including war wastage reserve have already reached critical levels. With no gun inducted ever since Bofors, artillery is ageing fast too. With no spares available, requirements are being met by ‘cannibalising’ – an emergency recourse that has reduced effectiveness by half. The state of army air defence is even worse. A major part of the main AD equipment is obsolete and inferior to what is being acquired by our adversaries. L-70, Zu23-2B and ZSU23-4B (Schilka) guns are from 1960s vintage. AD missile units are equipped with Igla 1M, Strela 10M, OSA AK and Kvadrat missiles – all obsolescent in the wake of more advanced and effective systems like Spider (Israel), S-400 (Russia) and Patriot (US) available in the international market. Army Aviation is similarly carrying on with obsolete Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. New acquisition of 197 helicopters is stuck even four years after trials and re-valuation of Russian Kamov 226 and Eurocopter AS 550 models.

For the infantry soldier, the indigenously designed INSAS rifle has proved to be inferior to the modern assault rifles being acquired by our adversaries. Critical deficiencies hampering infantry soldier’s combat potential include carbines, GPMG, anti-material rifles, anti-mine boots, lightweight bulletproof jackets, bulletproof helmets, third gen NVDs, anti-mine vehicles, snow scooters and new generation grenades.

One major reason why the situation is so dismal is the procurement procedure itself. In the high-tech high-speed digital age today, it takes as much as 3-4 years to have a procurement proposal approved because such proposals have to pass through a maze of tortuous processes involving more than 15 departments and agencies. “Expeditious processing also will take at least 48 months for a project to be approved,” says a senior IAS officer who retired early this year from MoD. How this bureaucratic lethargy is taking toll of life and equipment is evident from the increasing loss of combat aircraft, war ships and submarines. Official callousness has become so frustrating that a meritorious Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral DK Joshi resigned in anger owning responsibility that lay at someone else’s desk for the repeated mishaps in submarines and ships. Ill-equipped men pushed into operations are either committing suicide, killing their colleagues or seniors in sheer frustration.

Perhaps for the first time in post-independence India, political parties realised the value of military personnel and ex-servicemen but only during the few months preceding general elections. All parties attempted to placate soldiers and ex-servicemen with a view to winning their support and vote during the recent Lok Sabha elections. Utterances from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi himself, however, seemed more reassuring. They indicated evidence of strategic vision and understanding of military requirements and the plight of serving soldiers and ex-servicemen. In his maiden budget speech, Defence and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley eloquently declared in Lok Sabha, “There can be no compromise with the defence of our country. I therefore propose to allocate an amount of 2,29,000 crore for the current financial year for Defence.... Modernization of the Armed Forces is critical to enable them to play their role effectively in the Defence of India’s strategic interests.” Thus, it would be fair to assume that the present Government is sincerely sensitive and alive to military requirements and the country’s strategic needs. In the initiation of defence reforms, it would be prudent to start from revamping the MoD so as to weave military expertise in the policy-decision mechanism at all levels of defence, security and strategic planning and coordination.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown his thrust lines fairly clearly. India enjoys a loathsome distinction as the world’s biggest importer of military hardware with a trail of defence procurement scams. Castigating this state of affairs, Modi indicated his vision when he said, “If we indigenised defence production and opened it up for FDI, we could save enormously on our foreign exchange outflows. This would enable us to utilise such savings for the welfare of jawans besides putting an end to the endemic corruption in defence procurements.” Besides a forward-looking political leadership, India now has some seasoned bureaucrats and Services Chiefs imbued with professional competence and understanding of vital necessities of national defence objectives. Prime Minister Modi has everything that a PM could ask for: a thumping mandate of the people, a loyal cabinet that has no visible fissures, a team of competent professionals with proven credentials to aid and advise him, and a Military eager to achieve his national and global objectives. Only, it needs immediate resuscitation and intensive re-invigorative programme to be able to give effect to the Prime Minister’s overtures at BRICS summit, relations with SAARC countries and India’s role in the region. India was perhaps never poised better to refurbish and lubricate its military might for bigger global roles.
The setting is perfect for the much needed transformation of the Armed Forces by revamping MoD and by making soldiery an attractive, prestigious career for the youth of the country.

(The writer is a military veteran, author and social activist)

Published Date: 25th August 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

Time for India to use its Soft Power in China

Prof. R Vaidyanathan 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

July 2014 is an important month for global economics and China. It is the first time in recent history that China has overtaken USA in GDP [adjusted for purchasing power parity or PPP] and has become number one country in the world according to Euromonitor1. Now the order is China/USA/India/Japan in terms of GDP at PPP. Of course in per capita terms, USA has ten times more gross income than China given the population size of the latter.

Still China’s growth has been phenomenal and in the next two decades, it is poised to become numero uno even in nominal terms out running USA. This has implications for India from an Asian perspective and also we need to formulate our strategy about China. Traditionally in the last few decades, we have been looking at China using US or UK lens. This is due to the fact that we have not developed many China centers all over India. Hence we have few experts who understand their language and try to look at China with Indian glasses rather than Anglo-Saxon lens.

The major change that is taking place in China is not related to their growth rates and Three Gorges Dam and the shopping malls and Olympics stadia. That is a typical Western way of viewing China. The main change is in religious affiliation and assertion of Islamic followers and development of large scale underground Church. The middle classes have given up rice [perceived to be for the illiterate poor] and are embracing Christianity since it also helps in job mobility particularly in global companies where the heads could belong to the same Church. The Muslim population is less dispersed and more concentrated in specific locations like western part But there is also a growing interest in China about its past. The Ming dynasty tombs in Beijing which are made in marble were painted in red color during the great cultural revolution of the sixties and even today laborers are washing it to make it back in to white color without success. The guides are not reluctant to talk about it. The ten handed Buddha in the Summer Palace of Ching dynasty near Beijing has significant relationship with our idea of Lord Vishnu who destroys evil and even this is mentioned clearly. More importantly, China is opening what are called Confucius Institutes in more than fifty countries which is similar to British Council efforts but more focused on China’s ancient wisdom. . The first thing we should learn is to stop looking at China with Western glasses.

The economic boom in China has given rise to issues related to their faith/religion and associated things. First and foremost, China is facing a severe separatist [called splitters by Chinese] in their western region namely Xinjiang by Uighurs. The region is populated by followers of Islam religion and seeing unrest for the past two decades. But recently it has reached violent proportions. For instance, early last week Chinese claimed that at least 100 have been killed in disturbances in that region2. Not only that, some portion of the Uighurs has carried the battle to Beijing itself. In other words, one form of regional separation combined with Islamic terrorism has become a major problem in China. There are also reports that the Islamists are taking shelter in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).

On the other hand, China is also waging a battle with “unrecognized” Church in its territory. Once a hub of Christianity, worshippers in Wenzhou fear their faith is facing its biggest threat since the Cultural Revolution3. The recent visit of the Pope to South Korea as part of his engaging Asia has fuelled concerns in China since China has its own church and does not recognize Papal authority.

“By my calculations China is destined to become the largest Christian country in the world very soon," said Fenggang Yang, a professor of sociology at Purdue University and author of Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule.4 But for China, both the Abrahamic religions are alien to its culture going back several thousand years. So they are trying to revive “Confucianism” by encouraging the study of it as we’ll as opening several centers to propagate it. Buddhism is their ancient religion and Hindu influences are significant.

The keynote speech by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China- Hu Jintao to the 17th Party Congress in October 2007 – devoted a paragraph to religion. He stressed that religious people including priests, monks and lay –believers played a positive role in the social and economic development of China. Hence religion is not any more the opiate of the masses. The state controlled Xinhua stresses that there must be freedom of belief. It says that religion can play an important role in realizing a ‘harmonious society” which is the new political role of the party5. That is the main issue we at India should be interested in. A 2007 study conducted by two professors of China Normal University based on more than 4500 people concluded that more than 300 million people namely 31 percent are religious and more than 60 % of those are in the 16-40 age group. The number of followers of Christianity has increased to 12 % from a low of less than 8% in the nineties.

This last fact is interesting since a huge underground Church has developed in China and Zhao Xiao, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, thinks there are up to 130 million Christians in China.6. This figure is much more than the official figures of 21 million –16 million Protestants and five million Catholics. If the latter figure is true—which is corroborated by other like Pew Forum –then there are more Christians in China than the Communist Party membership which is pegged at 74 million in the last count.

Thus, a significant change that is taking place in China pertains to religion. The economic growth bereft of spiritual underpinnings in the context of death of Marxism is going to be a great challenge for China and India as an elder brother should facilitate orderly transformation based on our common shared ancient wisdom. Let us remember that China is also a multi-cultural and multi religious society but interested in our shared past. In the words of Hu Shih, former Ambassador of China to USA [1938-1942] “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without having to send a single soldier across her borders.”Ship loads of Sanskrit and Pali original works taken away by Chiang-Kai-Shek from mainland to Taiwan bear testimony to it. These are exhibited in the Taipei museum even today.

Hence, India should be sending Sri Sri Ravishankar/Mata Amirtanandamayi / Swami Ramdev/ Pramukh Swami/Sankaracharyas/Vaishnavite Seers and other spiritual leaders, Bharatha Natyam experts, musicians, other artists in hundreds to China to “ Conquer and Dominate” by our soft power. We need to print millions of copies of Ramayana and Mahabharata and our Puranas and Gita and Jataka stories in all modern Chinese languages and widely make them available. The CDs of Mahabharata and Ramayana etc. can also be given free. We should start some fifty Bharatiya Vidya Bhavans in China. Actually China needs this more than USA even though all our soft power is currently on show in the USA. We should create a fund of at least Rs.1000 crore for this effort. There is a statue of Kalidasa in the Shanghai theatre unveiled by the theater academy. I do not think of any metro in India including the so called “cultural capital” Kolkata, having a statue of Kalidasa. At Kolkata, the Theatre street became Shakespeare Sarani and not Kalidasa Marg!

We should strategically recognize the weak point of China and also the need of its masses in the absence of Communism. Many a Chinese even today believe that their next birth should be in India to reach salvation. Culture and religion are not taboos any more.

There are other issues. Officially China recognizes or permits only five religions namely Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Protestantism and Catholicism7. Hence we should take steps to include Hinduism as one of the permitted religions. The Indian Government should take appropriate steps in this regard. The point is that our soft power in culture is interwoven in a tapestry form with the religion. You cannot separate it howsoever one tries it. Carnatic Music without Bhakti is neither music nor art. But our Government of all hues has never raised this issue with the Chinese.

The strategy should be to envelop China with music, dance, art, Yoga. Ayurveda, spiritual texts like Ithihasas, Gita, Puranas etc and capture the hearts of the middle classes as we have done for centuries.

The second issue is related to our own mind-set. We tend to look at China either through the Western spectacles or through local Marxist spectacles—which have more thick glasses. We need to come out of it. Even when invitations come to Indian spiritual leaders, the Government of India remains unenthusiastic and indicates its dis-interest in the false assumptions regarding China’s political orientation. The policy formulators are still living in the sixties and seventies while as China is undergoing a gigantic social crisis due to material prosperity and spiritual vacuum. Unfortunately, as a Chinese colleagueof mine at Shanghai University commented last year, “both our countries are ruled by rootless deracinated foreign educated wonders that do not have any idea of the civilizational roots or the cultural richness of our lands.” Hopefully now it should have changed!!

China is enthusiastically waiting. To quote late B K S Iyengar, the doyen of yoga, “Mr. Iyengar told The Hindu during a visit to Beijing that he saw China as a future home for yoga. When he travelled to Guangzhou to give a lecture, he was stunned to find that organisers had rented out a stadium – more than 1,300 students had come to listen to him”.8

But this is the opportunity to us since it is better to have a competitor and neighbour sharing the past cultural commonness. This will be very useful when the world is going to have two super powers from Asia unlike the conflict of last century between two super powers—USA and USSR- who did not have any shared cultural roots.

China is at the threshold of change. It is yearning for spiritual solace. Many groups and sects from Western countries [with or without permission] are trying to spread their influence and message—since this is an opportunity for them.
Are we ready to undertake such a mission?

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  5. [Asia Times Online July -3 -2008].
  6. [The Economist 2nd October 2008]
  7. [Government White Paper on Religions, 1997]
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Published Date: 22nd August 2014, Image source:
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

The Neighbour from Hell - India-Pakistan: Iron in the Soul

Prabhat P Shukla, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The decision to call off the scheduled Foreign Secretary level talks with Pakistan appears to have taken many by surprise, and left many in India quite unhappy. They seem to be unable to understand that a meeting between the Pakistan High Commissioner and various Hurriyat leaders could call forth such a response from the Indian Government. These persons have accepted the Pakistani argument that it was routine for Pakistani leaders to meet the Hurriyat, and so there was no call for the talks to be cancelled.

The Pakistanis have spoken with one voice, as they usually do on India-related matters; there are no doves on their side. Not one person from Pakistan who appeared on our TV shouting matches has accepted that their High Commissioner was wrong to disregard the clear message given by the Indian side of the consequences of going ahead with the meeting with the Hurriyat.

Instead, they have utilised the occasion to come across as the injured innocents, and have added that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was keen on improving ties with India; that he deserved credit for coming to India for Modi’s swearing-in and staying overnight for a meeting; that he was under pressure, and needed support, not this snub; and that the Indian action had strengthened the hard-liners in Pakistan. In short, they have spelt out the usual paradigm, in which the onus is on India to show restraint because otherwise bilateral relations will suffer.

To dispose of the most frequently-employed argument in this case: it was routine for Pakistani leaders and diplomats to meet Hurriyat representatives. All too true, but it was rarely the case that we did not make our unhappiness known to the Pakistani side. They knew well that we did not like it, but in our typical craven approach to Pakistan, we never did anything about it. In these circumstances, it is only appropriate that the Government should have reacted by cancelling the FS level talks. The fact that we did not react in this manner in the past is no reason why we should not do so now. Indeed, it is important that the Government draw up a series of red lines vis a vis Pakistan, like the use of terrorism directed against India, which if crossed would involve appropriate punitive measures.

Think about it: the Pakistanis have also made it a routine to use terror against for the past thirty years, starting in Punjab, going on to Kashmir, and then all over the country. And after each such act, once the initial outrage passed, the Indian side would crawl back into some sort of dialogue. Does that mean that this is the right pattern of behaviour? Or, take the fact that Pakistan, in egregious violation of its international legal obligations, refuses to allow Indian exports into Pakistan on MFN basis - on the most puerile of excuses. If we were to take action on this, is it any defence to say that they have been doing this for twenty years?

If the Indian Government decides to address these brazen violations of international law and takes counter measures, it would be no defence to say that these are all ongoing issues of long standing. No, Pakistan had it coming, and cannot play injured innocent now. The fact that earlier Indian Government’s did not take the required counter measures on a host of transgressions by Pakistan does not mean that that the present Government should desist from so doing.

Then there is the argument about Nawaz Sharif. There are two angles to this one: one, is he really the friend he is projected to be? And, two, even if he is, does that mean he can be allowed to hurt our interests? On the first, it would be worthwhile remembering his record since the early 1990’s. It was during his tenure as Prime Minister 1990 – 93, that the horrific Mumbai blasts occurred and Pakistan was place on the watch-list of state-sponsors of terrorism by the US. And it was during his second term that he gave us Kargil, and then allowed that he was not in the know. In fact, he was very much in the know.

And in this term, he has raised the Kashmir issue at the UN, and with the US President. He has also talked of moving forward on trade, but has refused to accept his WTO obligation of giving Indian exports MFN treatment. Cease-fire violations continue apace, are in fact, growing in number and intensity, including across the international boundary.

The second angle is equally important. From the days of Ayub and the Tashkent Agreement, we have made ourselves mental prisoners of the logic that we have to “do something” to help one or other leader. With Ayub as “best bet”, it was the hard-line ZA Bhutto, who had to be held off, with his promise of a thousand-year war. Irony of ironies, this very same man had to be helped at Simla in 1972, because he was now the man of peace! These “best bets” have been dangled before us subsequently too, right up to the present, through Benazir Bhutto, Zardari, and of course the perennial Mian Sahib; they should by now be a warning to Indian policy-makers inclined to gamble with the fate of India.

It would also be legitimate to ask, doesn’t Modi need to be given a leg-up by the Pakistanis? This same Nawaz Sharif let down Vajpayee with the Kargil War, and no one accused him of letting down a sincere interlocutor. In the same way, he has let down Modi, who clearly wanted to seek a fresh start. Even at his Independence Day speech, he did not respond to Mian Sahib’s remarks on Kashmir the previous day. And yet, our mind-sets remain the same: India must put up with Pakistani rogue behaviour, the other side has no stakes in showing concern for our interests.

The other charge is that Modi has strengthened the Pakistani hard-liners with this decision. History tells us that, in fact, the hard-liners – and they are all over, not just in the Army – were softened up after 1971, when they tasted humiliation after their over-reach. The appeasement of the last two decades has, in fact, strengthened the hard-liners. They have come to accept that India will turn the other cheek, and come back to the negotiating table sooner or later, if only Pakistan stood its ground. And this has become the set pattern of behaviour.

In fact, this is a good opportunity for Mian Sahib, if indeed he wants good relations with India but is being held back by some other hard-liners, to turn to those who drove the pro-Hurriyat stance and ask what they now propose to do. It is they who are boxed in, not Modi. The harsh truth is that we do not need Pakistan for any of our strategic purposes. There was a time when it could play spoiler, but that time is now gone. On the contrary, it is Pakistan that needs India. Pakistan needs electricity, which it is horribly short of, and there are shutdowns of up to 18 hours a day in urban centres too. Things have got to the point where it is becoming a social and political problem. We were prepared to sell electricity to them, but should now reconsider. Similarly, we were preparing to sell imported natural gas to them, and this again is something Pakistan desperately needs, since all its own import schemes have come a cropper – the country is effectively bankrupt.

All this, however, now needs to be fitted into a new pattern of relations. . Of course, this means consistency, and a steady hand: good behaviour will call forth a generous response; aggressiveness will be met with a firm response involving penal measures. It will take time, but the hard-liners will get the message. There are some externalities in the equation, and they cannot be ignored. But they can, and ought to be, be tackled with some pro-active diplomacy. It would also be imperative to look to our defences.

Essentially, what Pakistan was doing was probing Modi, testing his resolve – was he the same as all those who went before him, or was he different? They have got an answer, but the testing of his firmness, and capability, will continue. The Pakistani deep state is committed to this provocative policy stance, and has been indulged by us for three decades. It will not give up easily, and we should also recognise that they are resolute and tactically smart. But they are financially and strategically bankrupt, and those are the weaknesses we have to play on.

There is, certainly, every chance that the country will implode before all that happens. As this is being written, Islamabad is under siege from the shock-troops of Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri. Where all this will lead is anybody’s guess, but the Pakistani commentators, even the sober ones, seem to be growing ever more pessimistic about the country’s future. It may thus come to pass that the country itself might disintegrate. That poses a different set of issues, and we need to prepare for every contingency arising in our North-West.

Published Date: 21st August 2014, Image source:

Article 331 Needs A Re-look: Open Lok Sabha Nominations to Parsis Also

Dr. A Surya Prakash, 
Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The House of the People (the Lok Sabha) has 543 elected members and two nominated seats. Article 331 of the Constitution stipulates that the nominated seats are exclusively for members of the Anglo-Indian community. This provision was made in 1950 in order to reassure the Anglo-Indians that their voice would continue to be heard in Parliament even after the departure of the British. Similarly, Article 333 of the Constitution provides for nomination of one member of this community to the assembly of a state, where such nomination is deemed necessary. Currently, Anglo-Indians enjoy this privilege in eight state assemblies.

There were around 800,000 Anglo-Indians in India in the 1940s. However, over the past six decades, a major section of the Anglo-Indians has migrated to many countries in the Commonwealth including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. The community has experienced demographic decline for other reasons as well. Current guesstimates put the number of Anglo-Indians in India at around 1,00,000. Because of the steady decline in population, successive governments at the Centre have found it difficult to find worthy candidates for nomination to the House of the People.

Meanwhile, another community – the Parsis – which has made an extraordinary contribution in various walks of life in the country faces the threat of extinction. The Parsis, who numbered just around 100,000 in 1971 dwindled to 69601 in 2001.1

Demographers estimate that their numbers would touch an abysmal 23,000 in a couple of decades.

It is therefore proposed that Article 331 and 333 of the Constitution be amended to throw open the nominated seats in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies to both the Anglo-Indians and the Parsis. This will give much needed political strength to India’s smallest ethnic cum religious minority and re-inforce the country’s commitment to its secular ideals. Side by side, this move will preserve the country’s commitment to the Anglo-Indian community despite its depleting numbers.

It must be noted that although the Anglo-Indians were given this special privilege via Article 331, it is not a blanket assurance. Article 331 says “Notwithstanding anything in article 81, the President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo-Indian community is not adequately represented in the House of the People, nominate not more than two members of that community to the House of the People”.2

When the Constitution came into being in 1950, there were around 8 lakh Anglo-Indians in India. Their number is now just around one lakh. Therefore, if our Constitution-makers felt that “not more than two members’ could be nominated to ensure “adequate representation” when their numbers were around eight lakhs, surely one nomination should be adequate now to meet the requirement of “adequate representation”?

Secondly, when every elected Member of the Lok Sabha today represents around 2.5 million people, how can the 100,000 strong Anglo-Indian community argue that they need two seats in that House to ensure their “adequate representation”?

Articles 331 and 333 should be amended to accommodate the Parsis, who are desperately in need of a political voice in India’s Parliament. For example, Article 331 could be amended to say: “Notwithstanding anything in article 81, the President may, if he is of opinion that the Anglo-Indian or the Parsi community is not adequately represented in the House of the People, nominate two members, drawn from either or both of these communities to the House of the People”. Article 331 too could be suitably amended.

Given their declining numbers and the vulnerability of yet another ethnic cum religious community, the Anglo-Indians need to accept the scaling down of this privilege. They cannot have this privilege for perpetuity because the Constitution, which is a dynamic document, has to respond to contemporary needs and reality. In any case, this is akin to the withdrawal of other privileges given to the Anglo-Indians in Articles 336 and 337. These articles provided guarantees to this community in regard to government jobs and educational grants. These privileges have since been withdrawn.3

Also, the Anglo-Indians, despite their dwindling numbers, are the only community in India to still enjoy the privilege of having a nominated seat in several state assemblies as well.

When the Constitution was adopted, the Governor of a state had the prerogative to nominate as many Anglo-Indians as he deemed necessary to ensure ‘adequate representation” of the community in the state assembly. However, this amendment changed the original Article 333 to limit the number of nominated Anglo-Indians to one per assembly.4

The state assemblies where the nominated seats are available to Anglo-Indians are: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttarakhand.

Given the demographic reality and the full and complete integration of the community with the rest of the country, this privilege appears to be wholly anachronistic. The Anglo-Indians must certainly share this with communities that are even more disadvantaged than them like the Parsis or support the move to have these articles scrapped. Should Article 333 be amended on these lines, the Parsis could get nominated to the Maharashtra and Gujarat assemblies.

Such is the worry over the declining population of the Parsi community that the government has launched a special scheme called Jiyo Parsi to check their population decline. Now, a bigger political step must be taken to bolster the community’s spirits : nomination in the House of the People.5

Even President Pranab Mukherjee has expressed concern over the worrying demographic situation of the Parsis in December, 2013. Speaking at the 10 th World Zoroastrian Congress, the President described the Parsis as “the intangible cultural heritage of humanity”. He recalled the extraordinary contribution of members of this community to India, including Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Asian to be elected to the British House of Commons, Jamshetji Tata, Madam Bhikaji Cama, Homi Bhabha, J.R.D.Tata, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Admiral Jal Cursetji, Air Chief Marshal Aspy Engineer and Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major and called for “sensible and pragmatic measures” to revive this community.6

Like the Parsis, the contribution of Anglo-Indians to our national life is far beyond their numbers. They have made pioneering contribution in the field of education and sports and laid the foundation for excellence in the railways, post and telegraph and many other government departments. Their contribution in the fields of art and literature is equally phenomenal. Some names that instantly come to mind are: George Orwell, Rudyard Kipling, Russel Peters, Engelbert Humperdinck, Cliff Richards and Frank Anthony and contemporary icons such as Ruskin Bond, Roger Binny etc.7

The Anglo-Indian community needs to realize that there were objections to these provisions when they were discussed in the Constituent Assembly. For example, Sardar Hukam Singh moved an amendment to ensure that these nominations were not the exclusive preserve of the Anglo-Indians. There were others who felt that the Anglo-Indians needed such nominations because they were few in number and scattered all over the country. Mr. M.Ananthasayanam Ayyangar said ‘You cannot point out any constituency where they (the Anglo-Indians) will be in a majority. Therefore, this exception has to be made, because they may not come in through the process of election”.8

Article 333 appeared to be based on this reasoning. If this be the basis for nominations to the Lok Sabha, the Parsis would eminently qualify.

Anglo-Indians are now fully integrated with the rest of the population and are also marrying out because of demographic compulsions. The time has come for them to face the reality and share the nominations with another community in distress. As stated earlier, the privileges accorded to the Anglo-Indians vis-à-vis jobs and educational grants in Articles 336 and 337 were completely withdrawn around half a century ago. Further, the number of nominated seats for Anglo-Indians in state assemblies was whittled down through the Constitution (Twenty-Third Amendment) in 1969. Therefore, given their receding numbers, the time is not far off when citizens will demand an end to this anachronism in India’s Constitution. One way in which they can avert this is to share this privilege with another community – the Parsis - which badly needs political empowerment. Will the Anglo-Indians see the writing on the wall?

  1. Pp xxiv, The First report on Religion Data, Census of India 2001,
  2. Article 333, The Constitution of India
  3. Ibid, Articles 336 and 337
  4. See the Constitution (Twenty-Third Amendment) Act, 1969
  8. Pages 660-662, Volume IX, Book 4, Constituent Assembly Debates

Published Date: 20th August 2014, Image source:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Creeping Coup Redux: Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

A few months before the 1999 military coup, a monthly newsmagazine in Pakistan carried a cover story titled ‘Creeping Coup’. In his second stint as Prime Minister from 1996-99, Nawaz Sharif had started involving the military in all sorts of things that ideally should have been handled by the civilian government. From checking electricity meters to unearthing ghost schools to cleaning canals, the army was being deployed in the role of a sort of National Guard. The then Army Chief, Gen Pervez Musharraf was always ready to oblige, quite willingly it appeared. Nawaz Sharif, at that point in time, was unassailable. He had a 2/3rd majority in the National Assembly, the opposition was in disarray, the nuclear tests had beefed up his position even move (even though in the aftermath of these tests, the economy had virtually collapsed), he had sacked a Navy chief and followed it up by forcing out an army chief, the ISI Chief was his man. In short, everything seemed to be going in Nawaz Sharif’s favor.
Then Kargil happened, and things started sliding very fast. So much so that even a statement from the US warning against any extra constitutional move against the elected government didn’t help. Nor for that matter did Nawaz Sharif’s efforts of going out of the way to placate Musharraf. When it came, all it took was what a former Prime Minister Ch. Shujaat Hussain calls ‘one jeep and two trucks’ to overthrow the civilian government. Therefore, the thumb rule number one about civil-military relations in Pakistan is to never imagine that the democratic process is irreversible.

A decade and a half after he was ousted in a military coup, Nawaz Sharif is once again occupying the Prime Minister’s chair. A lot of water has flowed down the Indus during this time and a lot of things appear to have changed. But as recent events have demonstrated, what hasn’t changed is the reality of the military establishment’s ability to destabilize a civilian government and box it into a corner. What also hasn’t changed is the tendency of the civil politicians, whether in government or out of it, to fall back on the military and seek its support to fix their opponents. What is more, with most state institutions steadily becoming dysfunctional, the military has become the default option when things need to be set right. If in 1999 the military was cleaning canals, unearthing ghost schools, reading electricity meters, in 2014 they have gone a step further and have been handed over the security of airports, railway stations, and other vital installations. Worse, not just is the army virtually in control of two major cities – Karachi and now Islamabad – it is practically calling the shots in two provinces – Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The democratic transition from one civilian government to another had led many to imagine that democracy had finally stuck firm roots in Pakistan. Much of the credit for that ‘historic’ transition is due to former President Asif Zardari’s remarkable skill at political gymnastics which ensured that his party’s government completed its term. But he was also aided by individuals and circumstances, without which he might have fallen well short of breasting the tape.

The first thing that helped Zardari was that the PPP was replacing a quasi-military regime and for the military to directly intervene in political affairs soon after restoration of democracy was neither politically feasible nor possible. This is a second thumb rule of Pakistani politics – it is a two party system with the civilians being one party and the military the second party; each side gets a 10 year ‘term’, give or take a couple of years. Viewed from this perspective, the current problems facing the Nawaz Sharif government could be explained as ‘mid-term blues’ of the civilian dispensation. Be that as it may, Asif Zardari got the benefit of this thumb rule. What also worked in his favor was that the main opposition leader was Nawaz Sharif who never really allowed political differences and competition reach the point of no return. Nawaz Sharif’s attitude was partly colored by his experience of the sordid politics of the 1990s when political parties conspired with the military against the government, something that allowed the Army to become the dominant political player in Pakistan. Equally important was the fact that Nawaz Sharif was not left out in the cold after the transition from quasi-military to civilian rule.

By virtue of his party coming into power in the province of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif had a stake in the system which also meant that he could afford to be patient and let the government complete its term. Apart from the role played by Nawaz Sharif in ensuring the survival of the Zardari-led PPP government, there was also a judiciary running amok under the former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry and a media which fancied itself as a guardian of democracy. Add to all this the international situation that wasn’t conducive to any direct military takeover, and it’s not difficult to figure out how and why Zardari managed to drag his party’s government across the finish line in spite of a terrible record of governance.

Nawaz Sharif started his 3rd term with some advantages that Asif Zardari never enjoyed. Based on the strength that these advantages gave the Nawaz Sharif dispensation, many observers and analysts were convinced that democracy would only get strengthened. Nawaz Sharif had a comfortable majority in the centre and controlled two provinces –Punjab and Balochistan. The judiciary and media were not hostile to him. In fact, the judiciary was beholden to him because of the role he played in the restoration of judges. The PMLN’s legendary media management skills meant that he would not face the hostility that Asif Zardari had faced from a right-wing, illiberal and intellectually challenged media. Most of all, the army appeared to be a bit on the back foot. They were wary of Nawaz Sharif and weren’t quite sure whether he will adopt a vindictive and vengeful policy towards the military. There were fears in the army that Nawaz Sharif might actually take the rhetoric of civilian superiority seriously and try to implement it. This wasn’t a problem that the army faced with Asif Zardari or his nominated Prime Minister, Yusuf Raza Gilani, who were more than willing to even grovel before the military to keep it in good humor. So much so, at one point Gilani is reported to have said that he had told the then army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani that he was at the service of the military.

While the army didn’t expect this level of obsequiousness from Nawaz Sharif, it also didn’t think it would be very smooth sailing with the new Prime Minister because of his reputation for never forgiving and his legendary aversion to being pushed around or being dictated to. Therefore, some amount of civil-military tension was inherent, more so because Nawaz Sharif was expected to not just push the envelope but also push back in order assert himself and show who is the boss and who will call the shots.

In the case of the PPP government, the civil-military tussle and tension came fairly early. Within weeks of the ouster of Musharraf from the Presidency, an attempt was made to bring the ISI under the control of the interior ministry. The army let the government know in no uncertain terms where it got off. After this first chastening, the PPP consistently yielded to the wishes and whims of the military. In Nawaz Sharif’s case, it took around six months for the latent tensions to surface. Until October 2013 when Gen Kayani was in office, and given how well-set and well-established he was, Nawaz Sharif bided his time. Another restraining factor on Nawaz Sharif during his first six months in office was the presence of the former chief justice, who retired only in December. It was after the exit of both these people that the transition was complete and Nawaz Sharif was in a position to be pretty much his own boss, or so be thought because almost immediately the problems started.

There were broadly four issues that became the bone of contention. The first was Musharraf and the treason case against him. The second was the government policy on TTP or the Islamist insurgency terrorism. The third was India and the fourth was the media war which broke out after the botched assassination attempt on the Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir. All these issues prompted the political hyenas to jump into the fray, either because they thought they could exploit the growing gulf between the civilian government and military, or as many believe, they were put up to this in order to box the government into a corner.

The manner in which these issues became a wedge between the government and the military give rise to two or three more thumb rules of Pakistani politics. Thumb rule number three is what can be called the paradox of power. Briefly, this means that in Pakistan the more powerful and unassailable you appear to be, the weaker and more vulnerable you are because the anti- forces then have a compelling reason to bring you down regardless of the consequences. A corollary to this thumb rule is the ‘devil may cause attitude’ of Pakistan and Pakistanis wherein the culture of ‘bringing down the wall of the neighbor or enemy even if you come under it’ has been internalized. This corollary has implications for India because when Indians parrot the nonsense about ‘neighbors can’t be changed’ and ‘geography cannot be changed’, the perversity that guides Pakistani thinking is often ignored. In other words, the Pakistanis would go to any length to bring India’s wall down even if they perish in the process.

The fourth thumb rule is that civil-military relations are based on system of diarchy in which the civilians are allowed a free hand in taking charge of municipal functions, while all the serious strategic, defence and foreign policy matters are controlled by the military. The fifth thumb rule is that once you appoint an army chief you lose control over him. It is a unique country in which an elected Prime Minister appoints his own nemesis. At the very least, it is a unique system in which the appointing authority loses control of the appointee as soon as the appointment is made.

These thumb rules need to be kept in mind to understand why the predicament in which the Nawaz Sharif government finds itself in and despite enjoying a more than comfortable majority in the National Assembly, rumors of its pre-mature demise are starting to do the rounds.

The Musharraf case clearly caused lot of bad blood between the military and the civilian government. It is not that the army is in love with Musharraf but more that it’s an institutional response to a former chief being humiliated and being put on trial. An even bigger issue is that of senior military officials being held accountable by the ‘bloody civilians’. For Nawaz Sharif, Musharraf is both a personal and political issue. At a personal level, Nawaz Sharif and many members of his kitchen cabinet have suffered terrible indignities at the hands of Musharraf and would like to settle scores. Politically, while the hardliners realize that the Musharraf issue can backfire on them, they also don’t want to open themselves to the chance of having resiled from the tough talk they did on Musharraf both while in opposition and after coming into power. The pro-treason trial lobby in the ruling dispensation fears that they will have to pay a heavy political cost if they let Musharraf go scot free. Plus there is the entire argument that if Musharraf is left off the hook, then it will only serve as an encouragement to the next man on the horseback to usurp power. While these people are aware of the heartburn in the military, some of them argue that if they have to run the country they must have a free hand else what’s the point of being in government but without the power to do things they want to do.

To be sure, there is a split within the ruling party on the Musharraf issue with one faction advocating the hard line and another faction led by Shahbaz Sharif and the Interior Minister Ch. Nisar Ali Khan advocating caution and accommodation. What really spoiled matters was when an alleged understanding that Musharraf would be allowed to leave the country after a court allowed him to do so, was scotched by the hard line faction at the last minute. Many formal and informal advisors are now advising the Prime Minister that he should live to fight another day and not fritter away his government on as irrelevant a figure as Musharraf, more so when even the army would like to see his back. For now there is a stalemate on this issue. But increasingly it seems the army will eventually get its way.
The second issue was on how to handle the TTP and other Islamist groups. The army’s strategic calculation demanded that action be taken against the ‘bad’ Taliban and control be established over the ‘no-go’ areas like North Waziristan. The civilian government had its reasons for not being very enthusiastic about giving the army a go ahead to launch a military operation in this area. One reason was of course personal security of the members of the ruling family and party. But another reason was that an operation would mean giving a free hand to the army which would increase its political space, something the government wanted to avoid. There was also the whole issue of blowback or retaliation which would not only affect the political popularity of the government and alienate its conservative right wing vote bank but also ruin the economic and investment climate. But as things have turned out, the military finally got its way when it launched the operation. In a clear signal that it was the military and not the government that called the shots on the operation in North Waziristan, the announcement of the operation was made first by the military spokesman and the Prime Minister’s statement followed.
The third issue bedeviling relations between the civilian government and the Army was India. Nawaz Sharif was very keen and eager to do business with India. A trade deal heavily loaded in favor of the Pakistan was agreed by India in February 2014. But at the last moment the military put pressure and scuttled it. The army clearly is not ready to let the civilians take charge of the India policy and it increasingly appears that the government has given in to the army on this issue. What this means for India is that it should take anything that the civilian government in Pakistan says with a healthy dose of skepticism. In any case, India’s policy on Pakistan should not be predicated on what the Pakistanis say but on what they do and by all accounts what they are doing on ground doesn’t really inspire any confidence that there is any major shift in policy towards India.

The fourth issue which spoiled relations between the government and the military was the media war that broke out after the assassination attempt on the Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir. After Mir’s TV channel accused the ISI chief of being behind the attempt on his life, a virtual storm was unleashed against the Jang/Geo group. Much of this was orchestrated by the ISI which mobilized other news channels against Geo and used all sorts of strong arm tactics to shut Geo down. This was a moment of truth for the Pakistan media and it exposed the lie of independence of media. The ISI-Geo tussle was in part a commercial fight. For some months now, there were reports that ISI was in the process of starting a news channel of its own. Seed money for this was allegedly being partly contributed by the international terrorist and criminal Dawood Ibrahim. Also allegedly involved was a dubious business group in Dubai which is infamous for gold smuggling and also runs a TV channel in Pakistan.

The big obstacle in the path of these plans was Geo, which not only dominated the news networks and print media but also poked the ISI in the eye by exposing its media plans. As long as Geo’s domination continued, the ISI’s news channel would remain a bit player. Shutting Geo down or blocking its transmission was therefore imperative if space had to be created for another channel in an already crowded media space. The other channels became wiling partners in this misadventure, behaving like typical hyenas to bring down an adversary against whom they couldn’t compete otherwise. A prominent role in this was played by ARY channel which for months had been conducting a campaign of slander and vilification against Geo and its owners. The civilian government was caught in the middle of this media war and tried to walk the tight rope, or if you will the knife’s edge. They couldn’t ignore the army but also could not allow it to ride rough shod over Geo because if today it was Geo, tomorrow it would be someone else, perhaps even the government itself.

The Geo episode exposed the armpit of Pakistan politics and media. It became clear who stood where and how independent or subservient the media was. It also exposed the helplessness of the judiciary vis-à-vis the army, and irrelevance of civil society. The limitations of the civilian government in reining in the military became apparent. But ironically, the episode also revealed the weakness of the Army which despite all its efforts could only go so far and no further in targeting Geo. The point is that while the Army remains the most powerful political force in Pakistan, it no longer enjoys the kind of domination that it did some years back. Over the years, it has been challenged politically and militarily and its monopoly over the national narrative has also been dented.

While the Army’s ability to destabilize the government remains quite intact as does its power to overthrow the government, it probably no longer enjoys the power to run the country as it did in the past, not that it ran the country well when it got the chance. In fact, most of the problems confronting Pakistan today can be traced back to the military regimes or the military’s control over national security and foreign policy. What, however, gives the military an advantage over the civilians is the bugling and inefficient and uninspiring performance of the civilian governments – not just in the political realm but also in the economic and administrative domain. The failure of civilians to give even a modicum of good governance and solve the problems of the people has created space for the military.

Today, the political situation is once again in a bit of flux. Just one year after winning a third term as Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif’s government is finding itself under siege. Partly the situation is of the government’s own making and its bumbling and bungling ways. Apart from the fact that the government has failed to give even a little relief from the crippling energy shortages despite doubling the electricity tariffs, it is the almost amateurish political management which has created the spectre of instability despite the government having an almost 2/3rd majority in the National Assembly. For now a challenge is being mounted in the street by Imran Khan and a somewhat clownish cleric from Canada, Tahirul Qadri who is promising an instant revolution like it is some kind of instant coffee. Imran Khan, whose intellectual capacity and political thinking, is limited to drawing silly cricketing analogies wants the system to stay but at the same time is threatening to overthrow it by using street power and set the date of Aug 14 for forcing the government out of office. On the other hand, Tahirul Qadri, who was given a huge issue after the Punjab government fired on his supporters in Lahore and killed around a dozen people and injured around a 100, is making no bones about wanting to scrap the whole system.

Normally, a demonstration or even a massive anti-government protest shouldn’t be much cause for worry for a legitimate government, even less so when the demands being made by the protestors are illogical, extra-legal and even extra-constitutional. But Nawaz Sharif’s style of politics has come back to haunt him. Apart from the fact that many in the ruling party think that the agitation on streets is being orchestrated by the army to bring the government under pressure, perhaps even oust it, it is the steady isolation of Nawaz Sharif and his immediate circle from rest of the political mainstream and even his own party that is creating the impression of a government that is flailing rather helplessly. Not only has Nawaz Sharif ignored the very institution from which he derives his strength and legitimacy i.e. Parliament, he has also alienated members of his party by appointing cronies and family members to all plum positions in government. Even the decisions being taken are by a tiny group comprising the kitchen cabinet. The neglect of elected legislators has meant that they really don’t have any stake in the system. Worse, Nawaz Sharif has also ignored the main opposition party, PPP, which has suddenly woken up to the uncomfortable fact that by maintaining a posture of friendly opposition it is getting marginalized in the larger political game. The space that PPP has ceded has been filled by Imran Khan’s party, especially in the Punjab. Not surprisingly, PPP leaders from Punjab are restive and itching to take on the government. In order to keep the flock together, the PPP has now started making noises which have only added to the discomfiture of the ruling dispensation.

The nightmare for the government now is that if there are large scale street disturbances which go out of control, it could lead to a military intervention even if the military doesn’t want to intervene. The Army finds itself caught on many fronts and taking over the government will only stretch it further. Apart from confronting all the economic, political and other problems facing the government, the army will also have to face up to the diplomatic implications of ousting an elected government. Conversely, given that the army has already been involved in so many things, it might even consider taking over if things go out of control of civilian government. For its part, the civilian government has demonstrated its weakness by asking the military to intercede and convince Imran Khan to back off. It has also made a rather clumsy attempt by pitting the army against Imran Khan’s supporters by handing over security of Islamabad to the Army.

Under these circumstances, even if the current round of political confrontation passes off without incident, the government has already subordinated itself to the military and the only logical conclusion of this is that henceforth it will be left with only municipal functions while the military will call the shots on all issues of foreign and security policy including the mother of all issues which is India. What this means is that any engagement that India enters into with the civilian government will remain hostage to the Pakistan Army’s unreconstructed and unreformed view of India.

Published Date: 20th August 2014, Image source: