Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bangladesh - Politics of Confrontation: Political Deadlock

Dr. Madhumita Srivastava Balaji , 
Visiting Research Associate, VIF

Bangladesh’s tryst with democracy began a new chapter in the nation’s history when the newly independent nation adopted its first Constitution in 1972 with the tenets of nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism. The then political environment of the country was possibly not conducive to these principles of democracy as it had just witnessed the vicissitudes of political assassinations followed by an extended period of ‘junta rule’ that lasted for nearly two decades. Nevertheless, the aspiration for democracy encouraged Bangladesh to reinstate a Parliamentary form of democracy in 1991.

Bangladesh thereafter, witnessed an epidemic of political violence in form of hartals, boycotts and politics of intransigence. Conflicting issues were taken straight to the streets and elsewhere within the country instead of the Parliament. Vengeance and violence have, since then, very much remained the core characteristics of Bangladeshi politics.

The aim of the present study is to analyze the genesis of the ‘politics of conflict’ arising out of the deteriorating relationship between the two principal political parties namely the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The role of hartals, politics of repression, escalating political confrontation, frequent boycott of national Parliament and serious challenges of Law & Order, have left political observers wondering if there was any solution to the present state of crisis that the country is currently witnessing.

Historical Perspective of Ideological Differences between AL and BNP:

The genesis of the deep-rooted ideological conflict between Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party can well be traced back to the divisive policies pursued by the British when they were contemplating the division of the Indian sub-continent. Initially named Awami Muslim League, it was renamed as Awami League in 1955 after the routing of the Muslim League in the then East Pakistan general elections of 1954. This symbolized the rejection of non-secular and unitary ideology of the Muslim League by the people. The people of then East Pakistan had given early indication of their preference for secularism and freedom of religion.

To an extent this tussle between two warring ideologies significantly contributed to the eventual emergence of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party as the two principal political entities in the country. Pakistan too stirred up the clash between the regional identity and the religious identity. Bengali identity was deeply embedded in the cultural ethos of Bangladesh whereas the concept of religious identity was the game - plan of the Pakistani elite and the ‘Islam-pasand’ parties and their supporters. The Punjabis and Urdu speaking majority from UP and Bihar dominated the partition politics primarily after 1947. To accentuate their identity they purposely pursued policies which ended up in exploitation of the resources of East Pakistan. As a result, Bangladesh became effectively a prisoner of transition from ‘one colonial rule to another’.

Systemic economic discrimination contributed significantly to the early consciousness of a separate and secular identity in then East Pakistan. Further on, Jinnah’s Declaration in Dhaka of Urdu being the only state language of Pakistan made the matters worse for the regionally active Bengalis of East Pakistan.

It was in this background that Awami League under the towering leadership of Sheikh Mujibur-Rahman became the only probable platform for upholding the national aspirations of the Bengalis of the East Pakistan1. The 6-point programme that began in 1966, culminated into a mass people’s movement by 1969. This was not welcomed by the dictator Yahya Khan and his coterie.

Even though with the birth of Bangladesh, the ideology of secular nationalism triumphed over the fanatic ‘Islam pasand’ parties backed by Pakistan, Islamic resurgence as witnessed today in Bangladesh was never given up as a long term systemic planning of all the fanatic parties of West Pakistan and also the Pakistan army which could not come to terms with the creation of a separate nation founded on secularism and Bengali nationalism.

The developments in Bangladesh post its creation, presented an ideal ground where the Islamist parties could work craftily to spread the growth of ‘Islam pasand’ ideology. Moreover, the lackadaisical attitude of the natives that their nation was presumably immune to all Islamist militancy made the matter worse. They failed to check the growing menace of Islamic orthodoxy which aimed at destroying the fabric of their flourishing democracy.

Post 1973, the Marxist Leninist Communist movements also began posing threats to the Awami League government. To make matters worse, the alliance between non-Bengali residents of East Pakistan and members of Jama’at (Jama’at-i-Islami of Pakistan) took away the secular sheen, the country once proudly possessed.

Thereafter, within a short duration, two revolutions took place, wherein the parliamentary democracy was immediately replaced by a presidential one. With the result, the middle class and the urban elite now stood completely alienated. The military coup that overthrew the 1st elected government set the foundation for military and quasi-military rule and take-overs in the country where the principles of freedom of speech, secular thoughts and righteous democracy had once prevailed.

The very visible shift in the scheme of things became evident post Mujib’s assassination in 1975. The period 1975 to 1990 of military and quasi-military rule, first by Gen. Ziaur Rahman (1975-1981) and then by Gen. Hussain Mohd. Ershad (1982-1990), set the tradition of military rules in the country.
Gen. Ziaur Rahman consolidated his position within the army after wiping out the radical left elements, with whose support he reached where he was, and began his anti- India and anti-left campaign. Gen. Ziaur Rahman formed his own political party that saw the birth of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. Fundamental changes were immediately brought into the Constitution. Secularism was dropped and socialism was redefined. Islamic Preamble that acknowledged the primacy of Islam was added thereby automatically emphasizing the Muslim identity over the cultural identity. Now, the identity of nationals as ‘Bangladeshis’ rather than ‘Bengalis’ which was favoured earlier by the Awami League, was being encouraged in the country. A war footing effort was also launched by the newly formed BNP & other Islamist parties to negate the role of the Awami League during the war of Liberation. Jama’at and other Islamist parties gained a very significant role during Zia’s reign. It was now allowed to function officially in Bangladesh.

The period from 1982-1990 was marked with another military take over by Ershad and an increased role for Islam in the culture and politics of Bangladesh. In order to forcibly end corruption, reorganize the government and thereby achieve political and economic stability, General Ershad seized control of the government in a military coup in March 1982. There was hardly any resistance to Ershad’s take over as all the major political forces in the country failed to unite.

From 1982-1985, Ershad, like Zia, installed a civilian President in Abul Fazal Mohammod Ahsanauddin Chowdhary. But soon in December 1983, Ershad himself assumed Presidency. His Jatiyo Party was composed of various elements from leftist and rightist political parties in order to extend the support-base of his regime.

The Parliamentary election held in 1986 under Martial law gave the Jatiyo Party single largest majority in the third Parliament. Ershad permitted the rise of other splinter Islamic parties to counter the growth of the Jama’at. Islamic agenda was primary but very much under the control of Army. However, rising level of mass demonstrations in the country forced Ershad to dissolve the third Parliament and call for another Parliamentary election in 1987.

The highlight of the Gen. Ershad’s rule was the declaration of Islam as the state religion. Another prominent development was the increase in the number of seats reserved for women to 30, to be indirectly elected by the Parliament for another 10 years. The tenth Amendment to the constitution ensured this2.

The growing demand for restoration of democracy forced Ershad to resign in 1990, handing over power to Chief Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed. Perhaps the only notable difference from the previous regime was that, Gen. Ershad, permitted the return of the Awami League. With the passage of time, the Awami League again became an integral part of Bangladesh’s societal political structure just like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.

The BNP occupies centre-right position in the political spectrum of the country and remains deeply committed to conservatism, nationalism and anti-communism. In short, it seeks to represent the ‘Islamic conscience’ of Bangladesh3. The Awami League, on the hand, is the country’s centre-left party whose ideology stems from its commitment to secularism and its staunch belief in Bengali nationalism. Venom between the two is also rooted in the power struggle between the key leaders of the respective parties who are always striving for dominance in the country. Enmity between them has primarily revolved around the ideological fault lines, questions of secularism, Bengali nationalism and the role of Islam. The history of the War of Liberation also remains a fundamental source of disagreement between them. The conflict resolves around the commendation and criticism of the role played by the party leaders during the War of Liberation.

Crisis of Identity:

The recognition of secularism as a key tenet by the Constitution under the Awami League government is yet another major issue dividing the two parties and the intelligentsia. Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s perception of this recognition as anti-Islamic led to further bloodshed and violence. The political chaos, manifested regularly through violence between the two parties, opened the doors for the political ‘Islam pasand’ parties and their groups in Bangladesh to re-emerge as a force on the politico-social spectrum.

In any democracy, competing parties cannot be expected to subscribe to similar ideologies. Healthy differences strengthen a democracy. But ironically, in Bangladesh, it has had the opposite effect leading to violent confrontation, thereby diminishing the possibility of discussion and cooperation. Mud-slinging politics between the two major parties has created a lot of bad blood.

While this was happening over virtually the entire period of restoration of democratic process in Bangladesh with the AL and BNP in turn resorting to the politics of bundhs and hartals, since 2013, its intensity and frequency has assumed crippling proportions.

During the elections, activists of the BNP and the Islamist Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) resorted to massive violence, including the torching of dozens of polling stations and other anti-social activities. A very similar deadlock had also taken place in 2006, prior to Parliamentary elections, which ultimately led to a quasi-military lasting for over two years before the next elections took place.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia bitterly opposed the handling and conduct of the 2013 elections. The system of caretaker government overseeing the elections since 1991 was earlier abolished by the AL government in 2011, further aggravating the politics of conflict in the country.

The working of International Crime Tribunals:

`The decision of the AL government to constitute War Crime Tribunals in 2009 to put to trail all those involved in war crimes during the War of Liberation has been another major factor in escalating tension between the pro-liberation and the anti-liberation forces. In 2013, the Tribunal handed down guilty verdicts against nine individuals which included six death and three life sentences as punishments. The top ideologues from the main ‘Islam pasand’ party, the Jama’at-i-Islami (as well as two from the BNP) were held guilty. Thereafter, began a major tussle between the Human Rights Organization, which regarded the trials being full of legal flaws and the urban educated people who held the view that all those who were held guilty must be severely punished. The most evident example of such political divide was the conversion of QuaderMollah’s sentence from life imprisonment to death. The announcement of the initial sentence was met with severe protests from the pro-liberation forces which culminated in the formation of the Shahbagh Movement in 2013. The protestors included bloggers, young activists and other secular forces of the country. This forced the government to amend the act on which the war crime trials were based so as to allow the convicts and the prosecution the right to appeal4. Despite its serious legal flaws, 74% of the citizens of Bangladesh continued to support the war crime trials. By the end of 2013, the Shahbagh activists demanded that the Jama’at-i-Islami should be completely out-lawed since it was non-secular and militant in nature. QuaderMollah’s death verdict further accelerated the conflict and seething tension followed by further riots and blood-shed. Not surprisingly, ‘Hefazat-e-Islam’, a well-known Islamist movement countered the protest of Shahbagh square.

The conflict surrounding the war crime trials reflects intensely whether or not the parties which adhere to political Islam should be allowed a place in the political system of Bangladesh. Though the Election Commission had in 2013 cancelled the JI’s registration as a political party on the ground of it being non-secular in nature, the party still exists and is actively involved in politics. BNP’s belief in the role of Islam in unifying the nation is out rightly rejected by the Awami League.

Nevertheless, there are signs of compromise. PM Sheikh Hasina has signaled her readiness to re-engage in dialogues with the opposition but only under certain conditions. Sheikh Hasina has asked the BNP to sever its ties with the JI and other Islamist groups as a pre-condition to talks. BNP in response has reduced its call for ‘bandhs’ and blockades. However, the major contention between the two is yet to be resolved. This relates to the role of the Jama’at in the politics of Bangladesh. The political scenario in Bangladesh is such that it can neither be a totally fundamentalist Islamic State nor a highly secular state. The demonstrations at Shahbagh Square which could not be quashed either by fundamentalist or by liberals justify the above statement5. The protests manifested the lack of trust which the urban educated middle-class harbours towards the political parties and the democratic institutions. The Shahbagh protestors and their supporters were deeply concerned over the commuting of a death penalty of a convict to life imprisonment. There was zeal among the young to accelerate the proceedings of punishment of the war criminals of 1971.

Role of Hartal in Escalating Political Confrontation :

Peaceful protests, strikes and hartals are acknowledged as valid tools of dissent in democracy and legitimate means of opposing government policies. But the key word here is ‘peaceful’. Equally critical is the fact that having registered the protest, the contending political entities, be it the AL or the BNP, must ultimately engage politically in finding peaceful resolution. This has been missing in Bangladesh. The deep mistrust and the visible unwillingness of the political leaders of the countries main political parties to work together for peaceful resolution is the most distressing aspect of the politics of conflict in Bangladesh. The distance between being in power and not being in power has aggravated the culture of hartals, bandhs and blockades in the country.

Protests again intensified in recent months after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party decided to launch protests on the first anniversary of the 2014 Parliamentary elections as illegal. In the face of long periods of hartals, bundhs accompanied by violence disruptions and deaths, not only the people of Bangladesh have suffered immense inconvenience, suffered economic losses but the country as a whole has been inflicted huge national loss. Production in factories and business institutions has declined and workers are being retrenched; agriculture and transport sectors have been adversely impacted. Every hartal is followed by ghastly sights of property destruction and vandalism. Political parties have encouraged hartals to proclaim public support but the impact is quite the opposite. People have started losing faith in the political system and the political leaders themselves.

As a consequence, in the changing scenario, people are now favouring other methods of showing protests against the government than what the BNP has been following. Opposition’s resorting to peaceful processions and other methods have been welcomed and appreciated by the people. “There is no alternative way of democratic programmes to secure the political demands. Citizens expect the success of peaceful political programme”. (Daily Samkal. Edt., October 10, 2011). In recent times, to ensure order and smooth functioning of the government, political parties have to work out an alternative way of protest and demonstrations where the grievance are heard and the peace of society is unharmed. It is also debatable whether there is any relationship between a hartal and good politics? No there isn’t as the economy and the social fabric of a democratic society are being torn to pieces. Hartals are being rightly dubbed as ‘economic suicides’ for the nation.

Impact on the Economy:

What is surprising is that in spite of frequent and extended hartals the Bangladesh economy and its social indices have turned in fairly good results. According to the World Bank, Bangladesh has maintained an impressive track-record on growth and development. The World Bank maintains that poverty has dropped, life expectancy has improved, and literacy and per capita food intake too have registered growth. According to the World Bank for Bangladesh to become a middle-income economy, the country will require macro-economic stability, strengthening revenue mobilization, better economic governance and urban management. But these can only be possible through peace in the region and stable political environment6. The Asian Development Bank has also categorically stated that in the past decade, the Bangladeshi economy has grown at nearly 6 per cent. Brisk exports have also so far helped the nation to maintain growth and a current surplus in the fiscal year 2014, despite the severe political disturbances ahead of elections in January, 20147.

However, in the medium and long term, the continuing blockades in 2015 will certainly constrain growth and turn the current account into a small deficit. However, higher growth and a current account surplus are projected to make a comeback in financial year 2016. Gross Domestic Product growth in financial year is projected at 6.1%. Bangladesh might have yielded better results had it not been for the unending saga of hartals and blockades which manifests itself deeply in this politics of intransigence.

Street Violence:

In addition to the traditional inter-party conflict and the prevailing atmosphere of lawlessness Bangladesh has recently started witnessing a new kind of politico-religious motivated violence through recurring incidents of bomb-blasts. Islamic radicals have adopted this method to pursue their own agenda and aspirations of establishing shariah and to eradicate all that is anti-Islamic.
The kind of violence being perpetrated by the radical Islamist groups can be an issue of separate study since it is, in a way linked to what is happening generally in the Islamic world. Very briefly, the Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS or ISIS) have targeted the Asian sub-continent in a major way and Bangladesh is fast emerging as a fertile hunting ground by both. The two have set up their own modules largely active in the fields of indoctrination of youth and their recruitment for participation in the West Asian battlegrounds. Bangladesh needs to deal with this threat as a nation and as a society irrespective of internal political dynamics.

Coming back to the issue of politically motivated incidents of bomb blasts and street violence, these are being largely carried out against random targets by BNP and Jama’at cadres to spread terror in the society. ‘State repression’ as alleged by the opposition, is another means through which political violence is being institutionalized. The ruling party allegedly undertakes repressive measures to counter the opposition through legal or police repression. This practice of repression is deeply entrenched in the Bangladeshi political system. It is cyclical in nature where the party in power adopts repressive measures on the other in opposition. As a result, the opposition uncompromisingly voices their demands to release their leaders and activists as a pre-condition for any dialogues. Government seldom agrees to such demands, which often lead to further violence8. Extortion and murder creates further rifts between the political parties.

Confrontation has also been visible in the form of street violence and agitation, which has been used as a supportive political tool by nearly all the major parties of the country. Perhaps the only visible difference between the AL and the BNP regarding their use of agitation is that of degree and time. The former unleashes them selectively and is also less organized than its rival BNP and the Jama’at.
To end such a malpractice, all the political parties and the government will have to check and use restraints on their activities. It must be borne in mind that most of the victims to such agitations are usually ordinary citizens without having any involvement in politics. The parties have to realize that the political void which is created by the unwillingness of these two mainstream parties in exploited by the extremists, criminals and fanatics who ruin the very fabric of democracy which the country proudly possess. Both the parties would perhaps be served best by the changing order where they will have to mutually respect the democratic right to dissent.

Further on, the BNP’s marginalization from mainstream politics could also encourage anti-government activities and find subsequently radical avenues to be heard by the government. BNP should also rethink its alliance of convenience with the other Islam pasand parties.

The government, on the other hand should reverse measures that tend to curb the civil liberties of the people. Both the parties have to thus commit to non-repressive response to political dissent and have to realize that violence leads to political instability. Reconciliation has to find a room especially when the political fault lines are becoming more entrenched.

Phenomena of Parliamentary Boycott:

Boycott of the national Parliament is yet another manifestation of intransigence by the opposition parties in Bangladesh. During the 5th, 7th, 8th and 9th Parliaments, the opposition which is an indispensable component in a democracy, missed 34%, 43%, 60% and 83.38% number of working days in a Parliamentary session by boycotting it9. Though very popular in the history of democracy, this practice of boycotting the parliament has emerged as a major challenge to the very essence of democracy, particularly in our part of the world in the present times. A parliament, in the absence of a healthy opposition can neither deliver the fruits of democracy to the people who elect their representatives with great enthusiasm and accompanying hope, nor do these in any manner strengthen the very system that they claim to belong to.

The Way Forward:

In the absence of an opposition, Parliament cannot consolidate the system of governance. Role of opposition in democracy is extremely crucial in ensuring critical parliamentary oversight and in offering a credible alternative to the programmes and policies of the majority in power. The time is ripe to explore the different paradigms to usher in the much needed political and economic stability in Bangladesh. Some of these could be:-
  1. The very innovative idea of a care-taker government (CTG) as a home-grown solution to political confrontation has been proved futile. Since the country has now moved away from a caretaker government system, the Election Commission is now required to hold free and fair parliamentary and local elections in future. This would require a competent Election Commission that enjoys the confidence of all political parties and is fully and truly independent in its functioning. The recently held Mayoral elections in Bangladesh, has highlighted the need to strengthen the democratic institutions such as the Election Commission. Both, the ruling party and the opposition should work together to seek the desired goal. The restoration of CTG should be refrained from, since it can be misused if the ruling party so desires.
  2. There should be a fixed term of Parliament in order to avoid friction and prevent growth of disruptive politics. The change to fixed tenure concept will make the system stable by obliterating the demand of mid-term elections.It may be pointed out here that in Sri Lanka the President can call for mid-term elections only after completion of four and a half years of its five year tenure.
  3. Another contentious issue is the role of speaker of the Parliament. The neutrality of speaker is required when he is holding the post in the Parliament.
  4. The party leader’s authority should not be so overwhelming that people within the party having diverse opinion find it difficult to express their views or else be thrown out of the party. There is need to usher in real internal democracy in the political system.
  5. All political parties should refrain from having their own or supporting armed political cadre in educational institutions.
  6. It has been observed that pro-active role due to confrontational nature of politics is being pursued by the major political parties. This has resulted in violence and abuse and is therefore becoming disconnected with people’s popular demands and aspirations. It is the duty of citizens to create vibrant and a politically active society and,
  7. Above all, good governance is the prime-requisite of a democratic system in the classical formulation of ‘govt. of the people, by the people and for the people’. But in Bangladesh these lofty ideals are dogged by the counter problems and conflicts and confrontations. This has led to monopolization of the state institutions by the party in power.

Democracy in Bangladesh is once again at the crossroads. The country has generated conditions for good economic development in the past but to achieve its goal of ‘emerging as a middle level economy’ what is required is faster economic growth which can be achieved only through consolidation of the democratic principles in an atmosphere of peace and stability and a polity free of conflict and confrontation. Continued boycott by the main opposition and reliance on mob-mobilization has created an atmosphere of uncertainty about the nation’s democratic future.
The nation requires a change in the thought process of governance and the active involvement of the educated urban minds in bringing about the required systemic changes. Mere periodic and cyclic transfer of power from one party to another will not bring in the aspired change. There has to be no betrayal of secular thought process. Mukto Mona (“free mind”) has to be encouraged10.

In order to break the political deadlock, the domestic and international actors will have to support a comprehensive political dialogue between the two parties identifying a common ground between the AL and BNP as far as the conduct of war crime trials and the question of granting political and legal space to the ‘Islam pasand parties’ is concerned. At no stage, military invention or the negative role of religion could be welcome. Two years of military rule severely damaged the Bangladeshi society and also heightened the conflict between the major political parties. Impartial state institutions at all levels have to be encouraged in order to improve the long term prospects for transparent and democratic governance in Bangladesh.

Socio-economic and political development of the nation should take the desired precedence before the warring minds of the ‘Two Begums’. Politics of conflict and confrontation must end and give way to one of amity and cooperation.

References :
  1. Amb. Tariq Karim : Quo Vadis, Bangladesh? Regional Cooperation & Globalization Bangladesh, South Asia and beyond.
  2. Rounaq Jahan Inge Amundsen –CPD-CMI WORKING PAPER SERIES.The Parliament of Bangladesh – Representation and Accountability.
  3. Riashad Azim : The Politics of Intransigence and the Erosion of Democracy.
  4. Jasmin Lorch : Elections in Bangladesh : Political Conflict and Problems of Credibility.
  5. Jasmin Lorch : Elections in Bangladesh : Political Conflict and Problems of Credibility.
  6. The World Bank/working for a World Free of Poverty – Bangladesh.
  7. Asian Development Bank : Bangladesh Economy.
  8. Riashad Azim : The Politics of Intransigence and the Erosion of Democracy.
  9. CPD-CMI Work Paper-2, TIB’s Parliament Evaluation Report.
  10. Mukto Mona : Blog founded by the slain blogger Avijit Roy.

Published Date: 14th October 2015, 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)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The current LoC narrative and India’s response

Lt General S A Hasnain, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM (Bar), VSM (Bar), 
Visiting Fellow, VIF

In conventional warfare command decisions are based on a range of options, the escalation matrix is well understood and risk is quite easily calculated on the basis of resources, surprise and leadership. However, in irregular warfare the challenge of decision making is sometimes of a higher order. Keeping the threshold low and escalation within control is difficult. The situation on the LoC in J&K is tricky and quite unlike situations which present themselves in conventional operations. However, a non-military mind may not fully grasp this as common perception prevails that there is nothing more to ceasefire violations than simply kinetic responses, the tit for tat concept. The ‘force on force’ approach has never found winners and is considered the unprofessional way of tackling an adversary. However, India’s military leadership which is quite capable of ‘indirect approach’ is yet to fully exploit the chinks in Pakistan’s armor. Has the time come for ratcheting our response by many notches?

The situation which presents itself needs a brief reiteration. The Valley and its LoC segment is comparatively quiet and even in the hinterland only small scale militant actions are taking place; mainly by our proactive search for contact. South of PirPanjal the LoC is active both in the Poonch-Rajouri segment and the Jammu IB sector. Large scale terrorist actions have not been attempted although the Udhampur ambush, Gurdaspur strike and the earlier actions at Samba and Kathua severely tested India’s will and tolerance despite being classified as small scale in nature, in the comparison of terror related events. Infiltration which can never be zero is down to very low levels although Naveed, the young Pakistani terrorist captured at Udhampur has confirmed his route of infiltration in Gulmarg sector. It may be incorrect to dismiss the ceasefire violations in passing; these are assuming dimensions larger than witnessed for many years. In pre-2003 daysthe exchanges were far heavier but they could still be accepted. In today’s world of televised news they form a breaking news story every day, hurting the sensitivities of the public. This in turn is putting pressure on the Government and much more on the Army which is required to respond and put an end to this. Armies are not very good at calibrated responses; they prefer a no holds barred engagement.

In trans LoC exchanges of fire there can only be temporary victories between armies; the effect on troops is marginal but the civil population in the vicinity suffers immensely. We are apparently still in the mode of counting the number of violations by Pakistan Army without realizing that the ceasefire in the South of Pir Panjal is as good as dead. It continues to hold in the Valley’s LoC segment. Can we declare boldly that the ceasefire has ceased to exist and India reserves the right to use its weaponry and manpower at place and time of choosing? There never was a formal ceasefire agreement, just a declaration by both sides with Pakistan no doubt taking the lead.

Pakistan is firm of the belief that India is too obsessed with her economic growth and development to risk a full scale conflict. It is calculating its risks very carefully so as not to breach the limit of tolerance or the proverbial ‘tipping point’. The nuclear capability is an artificial protection which Pakistan’s military leadership considers its trump card and which it assesses will keep India acting rationally. Its leaders give veiled threats of the use of the nuclear option if India responds conventionally. With this assessment Pakistan feels emboldened to play the J&K card even as it is embroiled in bitter and violent turbulence brought on by home grown terror. It is also seeking to enhance its strategic hold over Afghanistan. Having sensed J&K slipping from its control it has gone into an overdrive which it feels it can calibrate.

Given the analysis above it is clear that the nexus of the Deep State is completely outside the ambit of political control in Pakistan and it can act irrationally to the extreme without considering the impact or outcome of its actions. Pakistan’s recent foreign policy successes with different international players, has added to this confidence. The bottom line seems to be that India will not risk conflict, it will respond in kind on the LoC and this will help in sensitizing the international community on the potential of war in a nuclear environment. From the utterances on media there seems to be a tutored line to demand investigation by a neutral agency recommended to be UNMOGIP, in order to revive the UN resolutions. As a result of its actions Pakistan is attempting to brow beat India militarily, diplomatically and most important psychologically. In the season of the run up to the Golden Jubilee of the 1965 Indo Pak Conflict, Pakistan realizes that there is considerable research going on in India and the celebratory events will project the defeat of the Pakistan Armed Forces. By upping the ante through LoC exchanges it hopes to retain the self-image of being the victor of the 1965 conflict.

What are India’s options? This question a week before the slated NSA level talks does appear strange and puts the Government under pressure. Through history nations have often remained engaged in discussions even as armies fought on the battlefield. It is a part of the comprehensive narrative of war that whatever be the level of engagement the last edge of the war spectrum is never reached; a miniscule window is always open for reason or conveyance of messages. The Indian Government need never be under pressure on the issue of talks and engagement and can adopt other proactive measures which continue to counter the adversary’s intent. We too have a perception of an escalation matrix and can work within its parameters. What would this involve?

Firstly, public perception cannot be wished away. It cannot lose its confidence in the capability of its armed forces. Therefore a response in kind along the LoC is an absolute necessity. It needs to be to a plan and not just a shell for shell and bomb for bomb response. There are many areas in which we hold a major terrain advantage. In 2011 the J&K media would recall reports from PoK of a segment of people there who held a demonstration before the office of the local DC demanding that Jihadi terrorists be evicted from their area as the people did not wish to see the triggering of exchanges of shelling along the LoC. There are many such locations along the LoC where we hold a major advantage towards hurting the logistics of the Pakistan Army and imposing a time and financial penalty. These are well known within the Army. The transLoC small pin prick actions can be responded in kind quite easily as was done prior to 2003. These are just the first baby steps in response and we need not even be in denial mode on these as Pakistan is. Pakistan can escalate in response, by expanding the ambit to Ladakh; it is not as if we have not lived with this in the past. It is just the quest for rationalism and better sense which has dictated our response discourse. In the bargain a perception has been built within the Deep State that we will not defend our honor because we are obsessed with our growth process. This perception has to be firmly put down through an escalatory ladder of response.

Secondly, the openness of media and the free discussion on India’s military capabilities in the true democratic spirit may have hurt us in terms of a negative perception. This perception appears to have seeped into Pakistan’s thinking. The lack of modernization of artillery and air defence, the inability to induct helicopters and the MMRCA as also aspects such as insufficient ammunition holdings are no doubt issues of concern. However, many of these problems have existed and it is not as if the Pakistan Armed Forces are equipped optimally. India’s Armed Forces need to shed their reticence, speak up and demonstrate. They cannot be perceived to be defensive when offensive nature of conflict forms the cornerstone of their doctrine. The message should be clear; we are prepared always, the gaps are work in progress.

In recent years the Indian Armed Forces have taken a psychological beating due to being embroiled in nonprofessional issues. They are tied in thousands of legal cases involving personnel, pensions, land etc which dilutes the perception of their professionalism. This appears to be sending home incorrect messages to our adversaries. It is a world of perception and psychological warfare has never been our strongest point. The recent OROP controversy needs to be placed at rest the earliest as it is harming our national image. Pakistan must be under no delusion that this has affected our war fighting capability.

Only a few aspects of escalation have been explained above due to space constraints. Our professional warriors know the game well and need to demand their space from the Government. At the Government level my only recommendation is the early conception of psychological warfare machinery. It can start with the MoD loosening the ropes on the public information system of the three Services,in which strides are being made but only gingerly. Half the problem on the LoC is because of incorrect perception that the Deep State holds. Time we gave the perception that we can be even more irrational than what Pakistan is. Who better than the NSA to convey that message and leave the spectrum of response open as per our choice.

(The writer is an ex GOC of the Srinagar based 15 Corps, now associated with the Vivekananda International Foundation and the Delhi Policy Group)

Published in DailyExcelsior.Com 19 August 2015. 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)

Develop other options against Pakistan before talking

A proper atmosphere has to be created for talks between any two countries to progress. In the case of India and Pakistan, with decades of conflict and mistrust poisoning their relationship, it should be all the more necessary to abjure any aggravating action or rhetoric that would foul up the atmosphere even before the talks have begun. If there is sincerity in wanting to turn the page in the relationship, then past tactics have to be discarded. Looking back, however, almost every time that talks are to be held, the Pakistani side has engineered a violent incident on our soil as a pressure point, reminding us of our vulnerability to terrorism and highlighting through such tactics the Kashmir issue as a flash-point between two nuclear armed states that needs international attention. Pakistan has done this again in advance of the proposed meeting of the National Security Advisers of the two countries on August 23 by staging the terrorist incidents at Gurdaspur and Udhampur.

In this there is an uncanny similarity between Pakistani tactics and those of China, whether it was the statement of the Chinese ambassador’s sweeping statement on Arunachal Pradesh just before president Hu Jintao’s 2006 visit to India, the Depsang incident before the Chinese premier’s visit to India in 2013 and the Chumar incident coinciding with the visit of president Xi to India in 2014. Which suggests that in the case of both countries these are well considered political tactics, in which the political and military authorities are complicit. The distinction we make about the “civilian” government and the military in Pakistan is a political and psychological trap that we must not fall into. It is worth remembering that it is not the Pakistan military that originated the two nation theory or was responsible for the partition of India. It was until president Zia began the process of Islamisation of the armed forces, they were supposed to be relatively more “secular” than the rest of the population. It is Pakistan’s civilian population that is the breeding ground of religious hatred of India which, in turn, complements the inimical feelings toward India of the armed forces.

Prime Minister Modi’s decision at Ufa to renew the dialogue with Pakistan despite its ceasefire violations, Nawaz Sharif’s persistence in agitating the Kashmir issue and his adviser Sartaz Aziz’s periodic fulminations against india, to the point of accusing us even of involvement in the Peshawar school terrorist attack, was unexpected. It might be that we felt that reaching out to Pakistan at Ufa, where both became SCO members, would be a reassuring political signal to other members that India, at least, was ready to insulate the SCO agenda from India-Pakistan differences. It may well be, as one understands, that the initiative had come from Nawaz Sharif. The Indian media censure of Modi for cold-shouldering Nawaz Sharif at the Kathmandu SAARC summit might also have been in the mind of our decision-makers.

If Modi’s decision to engage Nawaz Sharif at Ufa caused some unease in sections of our strategic community, the Pakistani PM was pilloried in Pakistan for the agreed joint press release, including from those who participate regularly in Track 2 dialogues with India and are considered “moderates”. That these “moderates” too are unable to overcome the 68 year old Kashmir obsession of Pakistan speaks volumes about the intrinsically negative attitude of the Pakistani establishment towards India. These very “moderates” would you have you believe that there is more negativism about Pakistan in India than there is in Pakistan about India. They make the point that Kashmir was not an issue in the last elections and that Nawaz Sharif genuinely wants good ties with India. If so, why this denunciation of Nawaz Sharif and the Ufa release because Kashmir was not specially mentioned ? Assuming that Nawaz Sharif wanted to de-block the relationship by agreeing to focus on terrorism and restoration of cease-fire on the LOC as priority issues, why attack him for not insisting on a specific mention of Kashmir and having it subsumed instead under the reference to “all outstanding issues”.

Actually, the release was evenly balanced diplomatically, no matter what Pakistani critics say about Nawaz Sharif conceding major ground on Kashmir and our claim that we had set the terms of engagement. Critics on our side would say that we conceded major political ground by resuming high level engagement with Pakistan despite provocations on the LOC and the continuation of terrorist activity against us. The government has created the impression that like the previous government it has also delinked dialogue from terrorism, contradicting the position it had taken when in opposition and even after assuming power. The Pakistanis could view this with satisfaction as a recognition of reality even by the tough new Indian PM that India does not possess the military and diplomatic means to deal with the Pakistani strategy of using terrorism as a political weapon against us. For Pakistan this is a major gain as they will not feel any pressure to change this strategy vis a vis India. It will be business as usual for them, with predictable Indian responses. Pakistan also believes that despite a more robust government being in power, India has, as in the past, yielded to international pressure and realised that the “no-dialogue” position is unsustainable because of international expectations, especially those of the US that remains heavily involved in shaping the end game in Afghanistan with Pakistan’s assistance.

India has generously agreed in the Ufa release that ensuring peace is the “collective responsibility” of India and Pakistan when it is Pakistan alone that has constantly disturbed the peace by recourse to military aggression as well as terrorism over years. It has nurtured jihadi groups and still permits them to carry on their activities against India, calibrated to suit its purpose. At Ufa we agreed that to ensure peace and development all “outstanding issues” need to be discussed, which apart from implying India’s readiness to discuss Kashmir, as it is well understood by both sides that the phrase “all outstanding issues” principally refers to Kashmir, we have played along with Pakistan’s interpretation of this formulation to mean that as long as Kashmir remains unresolved there cannot be peace. In other words, Pakistan will continue to disturb peace till India makes some concession to it on Kashmir.

The formulation on terrorism is also generous towards Pakistan, as we, as victims of Pakistan’s terror, have not sought to distinguish ourselves from our neighbour as the perpetrator of terrorism. The Ufa statement goes on to say that “both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms”. We obtain no gain in joining hands with Pakistan in condemning terrorism as it only allows the latter to drum up its anti-terrorism credentials. True, Pakistan would genuinely condemn domestic terrorism, but it would be wrong for us to construe this formulation to mean that we have got them to indirectly condemn terrorism directed at us. The phrase “all its forms” is no gain for us either, as for Pakistan this means India’s “state terrorism” in Kashmir, just as the Arabs use this formulation to cover Israel’s suppression of the rights of Palestinians through the use of state force. That both sides agreed to “cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia” is window-dressing that gives presents Pakistan as a sincere combatant against terrorism in our region, when the opposite is the case. We should keep in mind that Pakistan, despite sheltering Osama bin Laden, inflicting casualties on US/NATO soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan through its support for the Taliban extremists, including the Haqqani group, continues to obtain military and economic aid from the US. It has succeeded in managing the US to its advantage even when it has duped it. Pakistan no doubt believes handling India by its double-speak, janus-faced policies is much easier by comparison.

The reference in the Ufa release to both sides discussing ways and means to expedite the Mumbai trial, including additional information like providing voice samples, is a bit on eye-wash. The Mumbai terrorist attacks occurred 7 years ago and Pakistan has not moved forward on the trial seriously despite persistent demands from India and pro forma urging from the US, both of which it has learned to materially ignore at no cost. India resumed talks with Pakistan a few months after the Mumbai attacks, was a form of political forgiveness. It signalled to Pakistan that some atonement for this terrible terrorist act was not a pre-condition for re-engaging that country. One more joint statement with India about expediting the trial merely gives it a talking point that it is co-operating with India on the matter. The clause “additional information including voice samples” is a compromise with Pakistan that claims we have not shared enough evidence and our demand for voice samples, which Pakistan will not give by resorting to legal technicalities.

It is too late to ask the question whether, in view of recent terrorist attacks in Punjab and Jammu and the defiant rhetoric of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, we should proceed with the NSA level dialogue. The date has already been settled. Aziz had made it known that he had proposed an agenda to our side for agreement before he would give Pakistan’s consent to the dates proposed by us. One can assume that he has received satisfaction on this score. With the fuss in Pakistan that Kashmir was not mentioned in the Ufa statement, Aziz has to say on return that Kashmir was discussed in his meeting with the NSA. He has also claimed that India had agreed at Ufa to activating a back channel dialogue with Pakistan, something that India denies.

We have had numerous unproductive dialogues with Pakistan already. The forthcoming dialogue will fare no better, especially when Pakistan feels it has improved its diplomatic position in Afghanistan, with the new Afghan president keen to mend fences with it and, as a corollary, has put some distance between himself and India. US and China are banking on Pakistan to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan and are willing to reward it by giving its proxies a share of the political power there. China, in addition, in disregard of Indian sensitivities, is ready to enormously step up its economic, military and political investment in Pakistan, with Russia too seeking openings in the country. It would not be surprising if our dialogue overtures to Pakistan are seen by it as a sign of our weakness and a recognition that we lack other options. We should develop other options first, demonstrate that we have them and then be open to a dialogue with Pakistan.

Published Date: 18th August 2015, 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)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Naga Accord: Challenges Remain

Prakash Singh 
(Member, VIF Advisory Board)

“Today, we mark not merely the end of a problem, but the beginning of a new future.” Thus spake the Prime Minister on August 3, after the Naga Peace Accord was signed in New Delhi. The terms of agreement were not released – only the framework was outlined. According to Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home, it may take about three months to finalize the exact terms of the agreement. Nevertheless, according to sources, the accord seeks a “lasting solution” to the Naga problem.

It is worth recalling that a suspension of operations agreement was signed with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issac-Muivah group) as far back as 1997. About eighty rounds of talks were held during the intervening period at different places which included Bangkok, Paris, Zurich and Geneva. There were prolonged negotiations because the Naga rebel leaders insisted on recognition of their sovereignty and demanded integration of the contiguous Naga-inhabited areas of the adjoining states into what they called Nagalim (Greater Nagaland). The Government of India could not agree to the concept of Naga sovereignty as different from sovereignty of Indian people, and it was not prepared to redraw the geographical boundaries because of the intense opposition by the neighbouring states, particularly Manipur. And so, the talks went on and on. Some of our interlocutors, like Padmanabhaiah, also never showed any sense of urgency with the result that the talks meandered. R.N Ravi, a thorough professional, insisted on and managed to clinch the issue. The agreement is no doubt historic, but we have to keep our fingers crossed until such time as the details are worked out and those are also endorsed by both the sides.

We have to remember that there have already been three agreements with the Nagas during the last about sixty years that the insurgency has been going on. The first Naga People’s Convention held in 1957 demanded that the Naga Hills district of Assam and the Tuensang Frontier division of North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) be merged into a single unit. The demanded was conceded and Naga Hills Tuensang Area (NHTA) was formed the same year. The third Nagas People’s convention held in 1959, demanded the creation of a new state of Nagaland. This was also conceded, and the state of Nagaland was carved out on December 1, 1963. Peace, however, continued to elude the Hills.

There was yet another agreement in 1975 – the Shilong Accord. The representatives of Naga underground organizations conveyed their decision “of their own volition, to accept, without condition, the Constitution of India.” The underground leaders also agreed to deposit their weapons at “appointed places”. Another group of Naga leaders, which included Issac, Muivah and Khaplang, however refused to abide by the agreement and they formed the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) in 1980, which has since been spearheading insurgency in the state.

The Accord signed on August 3, 2015 would be the fourth agreement in the series. Will it work? It should, by all the available indications. Government has shown extraordinary sensitivity to Naga sentiments. “The Government of India recognized the unique history, culture and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations.” The NSCN leaders have also shown great sagacity by not making an issue of adjoining Naga-inhabited areas being integrated with Nagaland. “The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.”

There are nevertheless grey areas which would have to be taken care of. Firstly, Khaplang group of the NSCN is not part of the agreement and it is quite formidable. Its attitude would need to be watched. Secondly, there are other groups also who may have reservations. Muivah is a Tangkhul Naga of Manipur, and not all Nagas of Nagaland like him for that reason. Discordant voices are already being heard. Naga National Council has come out with a statement saying, “Nagas are not Indians and Nagaland is not part of India”. The NSCN (Khole-Kitovi) has also said that it has “nothing to do with the Naga peace accord”. Government would have to address their concerns.

The permanence of the agreement would depend to a very large extent on the Naga rebels surrendering their weapons. The two sides have agreed to set up a mechanism for decommissioning of arms. However, if that does not happen or if that happens very partially, the future would remain uncertain. Presently, the NSCN (IM) is running virtually a parallel government, collecting taxes, recruiting people, and issuing ahzas (orders) on various matters. They will have to stop all these illegal activities and join the democratic mainstream.

Muivah struck a note of cautious optimism. He promised that the Nagas would honour the accord, but went on to add that “challenges still remain”. These challenges or the hard realities would have to be faced. The Nagas will have to understand that their sovereignty is part of the broader Indian sovereignty and that in the kind of plural society that we have, people of diverse ethnic groups live not only in certain compact areas but also in areas having majority with a different background. As Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, then President of India, said while inaugurating the state of Nagaland, “Indian society has always been a multi-lingual, multi-racial and multi-religious one having a variety of racial ethnic groups” and that these groups, though diverse in origin, were united by a common purpose.

(The writer, a retired Police Chief, served in Nagaland for four years and has authored a book, Kohima to Kashmir)

Published Date: 13th August 2015, 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)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Understanding the Chinese One-Belt-One-Road

A glance at the history of the last few centuries, since at least the seventeenth, indicates that the opening decades of all centuries are times of upheaval. New forces frequently emerge, new ideologies, or technologies. These take time to play themselves out. Without being deterministic about such historical cycles, it seems hard to escape the conclusion that we are witnessing one more turn, and that it will be a while before stability will return.​

Click here to read full Paper

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mullah Omar’s Death Casts Dark Clouds over Afghanistan’s Pakistan-Led, Pakistan-Owned Peace Process

Sushant Sareen, 
Senior Fellow, VIF

The resistance by powerful Afghan Taliban leaders and field commanders to the nomination of Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as successor of Mullah Mohammad Omar and his elevation as the new Emir of the Taliban movement has, for now at least, spoiled the elaborate end-game that the Pakistanis had planned in Afghanistan. The talks between the Afghan Taliban and the Afghan government have been put on hold and there is no clarity if they will re-start anytime soon, if at all. And even if they do re-start, there are doubts whether these talks will be able to deliver anything close to peace.

One big reason for that is that a large section of Afghan Taliban don’t trust the Pakistanis who have been trying to broker or, if you will, ‘facilitate’, the talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. They fear that the Pakistanis will leave them out in the cold. This, despite the fact that Pakistan has given support and sanctuary to the Taliban in their fight against the American-led foreign forces which were backing the Afghan government since November 2001. What the Taliban really think of the Pakistanis was summed up by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the last Taliban ambassador in Islamabad who was unceremoniously and against all diplomatic norms arrested and handed over to the Americans after 9/11. In his autobiography, Mullah Zaeef writes: “Pakistan…is so famous for treachery that it is said they can get milk from a bull. They have two tongues in one mouth, and two faces on one head so they can speak everyone’s language; they use everybody, deceive everybody. They deceive the Arabs under the guise of Islamic nuclear power, saying they are defending Islam and Islamic countries. They milk America and Europe in the alliance against terrorism, and they have been deceiving Pakistani and other Muslims around the world in the name of the Kashmir Jihad. But behind the curtains they have been betraying everyone.”

Until the ‘premature’ announcement that Mullah Omar had died over two years ago in 2013 – it is not even clear if he was alive till then because for many years now there was no real proof of life about him – it seemed that the Pakistani-owned, Pakistani-led peace process which donned an Afghan mask was going according to plan. Come to think of it, Mullah Omar had to die and be replaced by a pliable Pakistani lackey for the Pakistani end-game plan to succeed, and Mullah Akhtar Mansoor is just that person. If the revelation of Mullah Omar’s death – a closely guarded secret for at least two years now – had not been made at this rather inopportune (not just for the successor but also his masters in ISI HQs) time, it would have been made after a couple of months when the deal that the Pakistanis were brokering had been stitched together.

The bottom-line is Mullah Omar had lost his relevance for Pakistan. Given Mullah Omar’s stature and position, not just among the Afghan Taliban but also in the larger Jihadist pantheon, there was practically no possibility of any compromise formula, much less any peace deal, as long as he was alive. After all, how could an Emir-ul-Momineen agree to an elected (and one uses the word advisedly given the manner in which Ashraf Ghani was ‘elected’) President and head of state. What is more, even if Mullah Omar had been alive and had rooted in favour of a negotiated settlement – the grapevine is that he remained implacably opposed to talks with the Afghan government – chances are that his more radical and hard line followers would have repudiated him and rebelled against him. Ironically enough, if, as is being suspected and even alleged, that Mullah Omar was bumped off by Mansoor and rest of his Pakistani-inspired and Pakistani controlled coterie, then it seems that the Emir-ul-Momineen had outlived his usefulness for both the hardliners as well as those who were ready to a negotiated deal.

The premature release of the news of Mullah Omar’s death is clearly part of the power struggle in the Taliban and the growing disquiet among the fighters over the so-called peace process. Assuming that Omar died in 2013, the fact that those opposed to peace talks did not insist on proof of life for all this time was because there was really no change on the ground in terms of strategy. The Pakistani policy during this period was two-pronged: keep speaking in favour of an “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned” peace process and at the same time keep encouraging the Taliban fighters to continue, and even intensify, their attacks inside Afghanistan. This suited the hardliners, more so because the various track-II dialogues around the world – in some of them the so-called Taliban representatives with Pakistani Afghan agents – didn’t seem to be going anywhere anyway. In other words, keeping Mullah Omar ‘alive’, as it were, suited the hardliners and also those who were ready to toe the Pakistani line and explore the possibility of a negotiated settlement.

But the Murree talks, followed by the so-called Eid message which, as it now turns out, was issued by Mullah Omar from his grave, set alarm bells ringing. The first indication of something not being right came some months back when a Pakistani Taliban group denounced the Afghan Taliban as Pakistani agents and broke their ties with them. The bee-line that some Taliban groups made for joining the Islamic State also suggested that all was not well. The impression got strengthened when the Taliban, out of the blue, issued a bio-data of Mullah Omar in April. After the Murree talks, a breakaway Taliban group, Fidayee Mahaz, first revealed that Mullah Omar had been killed by Masoor and his sidekicks. Intimations of Mullah Omar’s death had been doing the rounds for some time. Questions had been raised even last year over whether he was even alive. But these were invariably brushed under the proverbial carpet. This time, however, many Taliban leaders demanded proof of life especially since they smelled a rat after Mullah Omar supposedly endorsed the Murree peace talks.

In a sense, the Pakistani hand was forced by its own double-game of reaching out to the new Afghan government even as it gave a free hand to the Taliban to ratchet up the pressure through attacks inside Afghanistan. The growing resentment inside Afghanistan over the attacks put pressure on Ashraf Ghani to demand that Pakistan keep its side of the bargain, which was to ‘facilitate’ direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. The Pakistanis organised the Murree talks but soon doubts were raised whether these had the nod of the Taliban leadership. Even earlier, questions were raised about the so-called Taliban representatives who went for track-II meetings and who were seen more as ISI representatives rather than Taliban representatives. Pakistan was therefore forced to issue a statement in Mullah Omar’s name. Since the dead Emir-ul-Momineen often used to issue messages on the occasion of Eid, it seemed appropriate to have him issue another message, even if this one was from his grave.

Unfortunately for Pakistan, the message seemed as though it was drafted in Aabpara (ISI HQ) – its basic message had striking resemblance to the speech made by Musharraf justifying his U-turn after 9/11. The hardliners were spooked by the message and their distrust of Pakistan and their fear that Pakistan will once again double-deal and leave them in the cold appeared to come true. The Pakistanis themselves had declared in official statements that the peace talks would isolate the hotheads among the Taliban, who could then be dealt with separately. Reports that Pakistan was ready to act as a guarantor for the Afghan government giving the Taliban a share in the power in Kabul only confirmed the apprehensions that Pakistan was all set to leave the recalcitrant fighters out in the cold.

While on paper isolating the militants sounded like a good strategy, the problem was that unless the people fighting on the ground were brought in, peace in Afghanistan would remain illusory. The Pakistanis figured that they would be able to rein in the Taliban holdouts using the firepower of the ‘veritable arm of the ISI’ i.e. Haqqani Network which had been kept in reserve to tilt the battlefield Pakistan's way. No surprise then that as soon as Mansoor was declared Emir, he appointed the Haqqani Network’s de facto chief, Sirajuddin Haqqani, as his deputy and head of the military council. In a sense then the Mansoor Taliban is really an extension of the Haqqani Network (which is going to be the power behind the throne) which in turn is an instrument of the ISI. And if all goes well, with Ashraf Ghani ready to dance to Pakistani tunes and with Haqqani Network becoming part of the Afghan government, Pakistan is all set to see the fruition of its strategic policy.

The leaking out of Mullah Omar’s death has however put a spanner in the works of the “Pakistan-owned, Pakistan-led” peace process. The whole situation is now in a flux. There are broadly four possible outcomes:
  1. The Pakistanis manage to ensure Mansoor’s survival. The hardliners either fall in line or are eliminated through joint action of the Afghan National Army and the Mansoor Taliban. Already there are reports of some of the big commanders who were earlier opposing Mansoor, falling in line. Others are reported to have been arrested and put away. There are also rumours that the man who could become the lightening rod for the anti-Mansoor Taliban, Mullah Omar’s son Yakub, has been killed and Omar’s family taken away to some unknown place – remarkable resemblance to the treatment meted out to the family of Prophet Mohammad! Once opposition is eliminated, the Pakistani strategy of cobbling together a peace deal which gives the Taliban a big share in the power structure in Kabul will be put in place. The anti-Taliban Afghans will make some noise and show some resistance, but they will either be bought over or bludgeoned into accepting the new reality.
  2. All the shenanigans to project Mansoor as the leader come a cropper and the resistance to Mansoor mounts. If things start going out of control, Pakistan could sacrifice Mansoor and let the Haqqani’s throw their weight behind the hard line faction and then try to regain its influence over the new leadership. This would mean that the current peace process will become history and Afghanistan will undergo a fresh paroxysm of violence.
  3. The division between the pro and anti-Pakistan Taliban is not bridged and there is a new realignment of forces. The anti-Pakistan, anti-Ashraf-Ghani forces in Afghanistan make common cause with the anti-Pakistan, anti-Afghan government and anti-Mansoor Taliban and fight the Pakistani proxies. This is a bit of a long shot but stranger things are known to have happened in Afghanistan where loyalties are fungible and all alliances and enmities temporary and transient. But this scenario again means a civil war in Afghanistan, fuelled by countries which back one or the other group.
  4. The last scenario is a sort of multi-pronged civil war in which the protagonists are the Afghan government and perhaps the Mansoor Taliban backed by Pakistan on one side, the anti-Ashraf Ghani and anti-Taliban Afghans holding a second front, and the anti-Afghan government, anti-Pakistan, and anti-Mansoor Taliban forming a third front. In this there is also the possibility of a new actor coming into play – the Islamic State. Needless to say, this is the worst nightmare for all players in Afghanistan.
By all accounts then, a dead Mullah Omar is just as bad news as a living Mullah Omar and the future of Afghanistan is very delicately poised. The biggest problem, and the biggest mistake, is that there is never an end-game in Afghanistan. Whenever countries and players prepare for an endgame, they only end up planting the seeds of a new Great Game. Post Mullah Omar, the old end-game is all but over and the new Great Game is starting to unfold.

Published Date: 5th August 2015, 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)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nagaland: Reasons to be Optimistic

Nitin A Gokhale, 
Editor & Senior Fellow, VIF

Late on Monday evening, the question uppermost in the mind of every observer who watches the north-east closely was: Will the Naga accord usher in permanent peace in the region, wracked by conflict for decades?

More than 12 hours after the pact was signed between the Government of India and the Issac-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM)—arguably the most influential underground outfit in the region in the past quarter century—the details are as yet to emerge. What is however apparent is that both sides have met each other half way to pave way for what is likely to be a major breakthrough in the chequered history of insurgency in India’s north east.

There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. For one, the most contentious issue of creating a ‘Greater Nagaland’ by integrating all Naga-inhabited areas in the region and by consequence redrawing the boundaries of existing states, is off the table. Sources privy to the details of negotiations indicate that the NSCN (IM) has dropped the demand for territorial integration of the Naga areas spread over Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh—all adjacent states of Nagaland—and has instead settled for ‘cultural’ integration of the Nagas. This will go a long way in allaying fears in neighbouring states about losing territory. Manipur, in particular, has reacted violently to such a suggestion. In the past.

Secondly, the Government of India has acknowledged the ‘unique’ status of the Nagas. It has been an article of faith for generations of Naga leaders to be treated as unique. As a government press note said, in the wake of the signing of the accord between NSCN(IM) leader T. Muivah and GoI interlocutor Ravindra Narayan Ravi: “This agreement will end the oldest insurgency in the country. It will restore peace and pave the way for prosperity in the North East. It will advance a life of dignity, opportunity and equity for the Naga people, based on their genius and consistent with the uniqueness of the Naga people and their culture and traditions.”

RN Ravi, a former Intelligence Bureau officer with decades of experience in the region, also managed to persuade the Naga leaders about climbing down from their demand for ‘sovereignty.’ So in return for accepting the Naga uniqueness, the Nagas have agreed to work within the ambit of the Indian Constitution. As the government press note said: “The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.”

While the Government of India has accepted the ‘uniqueness’ of the Nagas, the Naga leaders have also dropped their demand for sovereignty. A government release in the wake of the signing acknowledged as much when it said: “The sustained dialogue between the two sides, conducted in a spirit of equality, respect and trust, deepened their mutual understanding and confidence, and enabled the two sides to reach an equitable agreement. The Government of India recognized the unique history, culture and position of the Nagas and their sentiments and aspirations. The NSCN understood and appreciated the Indian political system and governance.”

"Today's agreement is a shining example of what we can achieve when we deal with each other in a spirit of equality and respect, trust and confidence; when we seek to understand concerns and try to address aspirations; when we leave the path of dispute and take the high road of dialogue," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said after the accord was signed.

VS Atem, a senior NSCN leader told the Nagaland Post that the NSCN (I-M) has made a “historic agreement” of reconciliation and unity on the basis of political and historical right of the Nagas. He maintained that both Shillong Accord of 1975 and the 16 point agreement of 1960 were not made on the basis of political and historical right of the Nagas.

Although much of the details of the agreement still remain hazy, one understands that both sides have agreed not to disturb the territorial boundaries of the existing states in the region. This should come as a major relief for Manipur which has always feared the dismemberment of the state since the Nagas dominate a major area in the hills of Manipur and had in the past demanded integration of those Naga-inhabited areas into “Greater Nagaland.” However cultural integration of the Nagas spread all over the north-east may be worked out by granting special constitutional protection to them.

The pact, coming as it does on the back of an 18-year long ceasefire between NSCN(IM) and the Government of India—and at least 80 rounds of talks—is likely to serve as a foundation for sustained peace in the north-east since the Naga insurgency was seen to be the ‘mother of all insurgencies’ in the region. Once the armed cadres of the NSCN(IM) are integrated with the rest of the society in coming months and the designated camps maintained by the outfit are disbanded, the sustenance it provide to other insurgencies will automatically dissipate.

Once the NSCN(IM) disarms its cadres and some of its leaders join hands with some cultural and political organisations to morph into a political party (a likelihood in medium term), other insurgent groups in the north-east who were dependent on the outfit for sustenance, are also likely to do a rethink on the violent path they currently pursue. Although NSCN(IM)’s rival faction, the Khaplang group, headed by a Burmese Naga, SS Khaplang, is likely to react violently, the government is confident of neutralising the group because of its lack of influence in large parts of Naga areas.

The agreement also marks a major triumph for Issac Chisi Swu and T. Muivah, two senior most leaders of the Naga underground movement apart from SS Khaplang, their former comrade-in-arms-turned-bitter-foe. Both have been insurgents since the mid-1960s and even trekked to China to obtain arms in that decade. But in 1997, both took a great risk in agreeing to a ceasefire with the government. For 18 long years, the negotiations traversed a torturous path—teetering on the brink of collapse a number of times—through at least five different regimes at the Centre.

Once the terms of the accord are clear and peace gets embedded in Nagaland, the ripple effects of the agreement is likely to spread to the other parts of the north-east enabling the Centre to implement its ‘Act East’ policy with greater purpose and vigour.

Monday’s agreement has the potential to end a five-decade long conflict that has kept the north-east perpetually on the boil. But for that both the government and the Naga leadership will have to show the same wisdom and sagacity they have displayed in clinching the accord. For, there will be many attempts to derail the hard-won peace in coming months. Therein lies the biggest challenge to the main protagonists of this breakthrough pact.

Published Date: 4th August 2015, 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)

Monday, August 3, 2015

Islamic State and Southeast Asia

The tentacles of the Islamic State (IS) have reached Southeast Asia and the region is increasingly becoming a recruiting hub for the outfit. This is an alarming development as a few of these countries, long considered to be moderate Muslim states, have started witnessing its citizens supporting or joining this outfit. The impact which the returning radicals would have on a particular country, prevention of radicalisation of citizens, containment of recruitment process, and implementation of effective counter-measures are some of the challenges which are being faced by different governments in the region.

Recent Developments

Since mid-2014, many young men have reportedly travelled from Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore, to join the jihad in West Asia. This has serious implications for the governments and security establishments. It is estimated that more than 500 Indonesians travelled to Iraq and Syria (although the exact number joining IS is not yet clear), and approximately 40 to 70 Malaysians and 200 Filipinos have joined the IS.

Many of the radicalised Muslims from the region adhered to the ideology of IS as they feel an affinity for the outfit on theological lines. These people view parallels between the mission of the IS and the “prophecies in Islamic holy texts” regarding the creation of the caliphate. Another important factor responsible for the penetration of IS into the region is the growing sectarianism amongst Shias and Sunnis. Malaysia is a good case where the spread of Shia ideology is forbidden, and the government is increasingly becoming anti-Shiite. The ongoing unrest in Syria is also attributed to the rising support for the terror group in Southeast Asia. In other words, the recruitment into IS cannot be isolated from the “context of humanitarian crisis in Syria”.

The involvement of Indonesians with the IS is mainly due to the outfit’s appeal for the creation of an Islamic state. The commonality in their objective has become an incentive for the home-grown terror organisations to pledge support for IS. Aceh, a Muslim-majority area, which is also a special region of Indonesia, is becoming a haven for Sunni extremists as thousands of them, including former militants from the Free Aceh Movement, pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last year. As this province abides by Sharia law, strict regulations are imposed even in educational establishments and public places. Thus it has become a fertile area for growth of extreme radicalisation.

In Malaysia, the domestic politics of political party such as United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which is heading the coalition government, gives rise to serious resentment in the country. The issue of sectarianism is growing at an alarming pace, whereby, many of the religious and political hardliners are antagonistic towards minorities, particularly, the Shia brand of Islam. The ongoing conflict in Syria has further exacerbated the hatred for the Shias. The strengthening of anti-Shiite rhetoric is increasingly providing important “religious justifications” for several radicalised youths to travel to Syria and Iran and join the IS. The extreme politicisation of Islam inside Malaysia is fuelling radicalism in the country.

Recruitment and the Concerns

The IS deploys its online recruitment tactics by using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Many techno-savvy fighters, with the use of the modern technology, reach out to various sections in the society. In Philippines, recruitment is said to have taken place even in universities and schools. This indicates the involvement of local institutions in indoctrinating young people. As explained by one commentator:
“Communication technologies give IS recruiters a messaging platform across the region and low cost travel is making transport to the Middle East far easier than it was in the 1980s. This is increasing the number of fighters stemming from the region as well as broadening the range of countries they are coming from.”
Further, brutalities of IS right from its inception has attracted different terror groups. Its public executions through stoning, beheading, etc. have enhanced its image as a resolute outfit unlike many of its contemporaries. Its sustainability, despite various ongoing military campaigns to trample its might, has increased its credibility as an organisation that is committed to its cause of establishing a state to be governed by Shariah laws. Further, limited knowledge of English and Arabic languages in most of these countries has remained another crucial factor for building communication links both within the region as well as with those in the war-torn countries. Reportedly, in September 2014, militants from Malaysia and Indonesia speaking a common language, Malay, formed a 22-member group called Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah (Malay archipelago unit for the Islamic State) in Al-Shadadi, Syria. The primary motive of this combat unit is to help IS in furthering its goal, and it is this ideology that binds the fighters. Their combat tasks are made easy with the help of this common language. The group’s fighting capability was acknowledged in early April this year when it captured a few Kurd-held territories inside Syria. This unit is known to have provided assistance to those families whose members are fighting in Iraq and Syria, and it is playing an important role in recruiting and propagating terror ideology.

The supporters inside a particular country, in turn, translate the message of the IS into various vernaculars. This is where a wide range of social networking sites have come into play. For instance, a pilot named Ridwan Agustin from AirAsia (who is believed to be in Raqqa in Syria), and another pilot, Tommy Hendratno, who worked for a charter flight company, both from Indonesia, reportedly promoted the ideology of IS using social media, and were believed to be in contact with various other sympathisers of the outfit. Both of them used their Facebook accounts “posting regularly about the group’s claims of success and winning likes from other accounts that appeared to belong to pilots”. Many of the foreign recruits in the IS are well-educated, former military personnel, and with technological background. These traits are found in those who travelled from the region, particularly, the Malaysians. The flights of these people were made easy by the availability of low-cost travel arrangements, and they entered the battle zones through Turkey, while Indonesia, Brunei and Philippines are the popular points of departure.

It is not merely their departure that caused considerable alarm but their active participation in jihad raised huge concerns in the region. Malaysia has already witnessed its first suicide bomber in 26-year-old Ahmad Tarmini who blew up 25 Iraqi soldiers at Iraq’s SWAT headquarters in al- Anbar on 26 May 2014, followed by that of Ahmad Affendi Abdull Manaff (27), who killed about 50 soldiers of the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, by storming a bomb-laden truck into military installations in Homs, Syria, in late 2014. Most of the suicide bombers for IS, so far, have been foreign recruits. Between mid-2014 and in May 2015, 26 Malaysian-origin IS fighters were reportedly killed in Syria.
An equally worrying development is the allegiance pledged by home-grown terror outfits such Abu Sayyaf and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Philippines and, Mujahidin Indonesia Timur and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) in Indonesia. One of the earliest calls to support the IS was made by the jailed spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Abu Bakar Bashir in July 2014, and in August, he pledged allegiance to IS. The support offered by these organisations and other independent splinter groups, particularly, in Indonesia, comes in conjunction with their objectives to establish similar Islamic state inside the country. They also have been successful in recruiting local fighters to trigger sectarian conflicts in the region. There are about 22 to 30 terror organisations in Southeast Asia that have pledged to support the IS.

Currently, the possibility of returnees bringing terror back to their respective countries is a major concern. While it is debatable that not every returnee will conduct jihad, most of them have already gained combat experience, skills, indoctrinated themselves with extreme ideologies, and gained knowledge for weapons; as a result, even a few could pose a threat. This is particularly worrisome due to the presence of various terror organisations upon which these returnees can impart their first-hand experience or provide leadership for the extremist movements. Therefore, one should not rule out any nexus between them and, such amalgamation of returnees, local groups and “self-radicalised or lone-wolves” can be quite destructive.

Steps Taken

The Southeast Asian countries have been quick in realising the threats posed by their citizens who are absorbed by the IS. Several countermeasures have now been taken to keep a track of people’s movements towards West Asia. Many who aspired to join the outfit have been arrested. While a few of them (particularly, Indonesians) were arrested before they could flee to Syria, there were others who were detained for plotting terror attacks, mainly, inside Singapore and Malaysia. In what could be considered as effectiveness of the system, law enforcement authorities could nab those civilian recruiters who tried to send people, including children and women to Iraq and Syria. Preventing such involvement of local populace in funding and recruiting for the IS, however, is proving to be a major challenge. This is because security officials need to be extremely careful while handling these issues as any aggressive step carries high risk of further fuelling radical sentiments in a very volatile society, and could trigger severe backlash.

Indonesia has taken some firm steps to crack down on its citizens who have tried to join IS. Its state anti-terror squad, Detachment 88, is doing up a commendable job in this regard. There is a close coordination between this team and the police. Their combined effort in fact led to the arrest of a top leader of JAT, who intended to join IS, in August 2014. These establishments are entrusted with the task of preventing the development of IS ideology in their jurisdictions. In December 2014, one of the country’s military commanders expressed his desire to enhance cooperation with the U.S. to counter the rise of radical groups in Southeast Asia. President Joko Widodo, in January 2015, agreed to “issue a regulation allowing the authorities to revoke the passports” of those who support the IS. The condemnations by the mainstream Muslim organisations towards IS is, indeed, an important counter-narrative, and they are supportive of their government’s action. Organisations such as Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah vehemently oppose IS and considered the latter’s teachings and conducts as “antithetical” to tenets of Islam and to Pancasila, the ideology behind the foundation of Indonesia which “endorses no particular religion” but promote the principles of monotheism, humanism, unity, democracy and social justice.

Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore are taking a few steps to prevent young people from joining IS. Kuala Lumpur has initiated a holistic approach to combat extremism. Malaysia’s Islamic Development Department (Jakim) set up a committee called Jihad Concept Explanation Action Committee, just to check the spread of terror ideology by IS supporters or sympathisers in schools, universities and on the internet. The committee is constituted by representatives from the Home Ministry's Malaysian Civil Defence Department, the Prime Minister Department's National Security Council, Royal Malaysia Police, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim), Al-Hijrah Media Corp and Institute of Islamic Strategic Research Malaysia (Iksim). This came up after investigators discovered that recruitment of young people was often happening through misleading teachings on jihad or holy war, by lecturers. Various programmes on religious preaching in mosques and prayers halls are believed to be underway. These efforts will be more effective if the government’s domestic policies are inclusive, cutting across sectarian divisions. Likewise, Singapore is also cognisant of the threats posed by radicalised citizens. It went a step ahead by agreeing to provide military support, such as KC-135R Stratotanker for air-to-air refuelling and imagery analysis team, to the U.S.-led air coalition in Iraq. Without involving in combat operations, Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) is coordinating with the U.S. Central Command and the Combined Joint Task Force Headquarters. This tiny nation has exhibited seriousness about IS as it does not want to disrupt the harmony that exists between different communities, and for it being a major financial hub in the region. The East Asia Summit Symposium on Religious Rehabilitation and Social Integration- a counterterrorism meeting- kick-started by this country, with the primary motive to share its “best practices” with like-minded states, is a significant step. And, “tackling and understanding the religious and social aspects of the problem” related to terrorism has been given heightened importance.


The penetration of IS influence in this region, which is posing a serious security threat, must not be underestimated. A lackadaisical approach towards this problem will only fuel more extremism as there are a large number of radical Islamic groups that are getting inspired by the IS. In the wake of this, a regional cooperation on intelligence sharing should be promoted, and this can also be done by roping in countries such as India, Thailand and Australia which have equal concerns towards terrorism. De-radicalisation efforts that have begun in Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines should be promoted. Further, the need of the hour is to have a strong political will and an effective leadership in every country in order to promote a pluralistic society. This will require an establishment of a healthy relationship between political, security civil society groups and religious establishments. Tellingly, politicisation of Islam in the region should be put to an end. A failure to act upon this will only keep the flame of religious extremism burning, and this will give further leeway to IS to penetrate further into the region.

Published Date: 3rd August 2015, 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)