The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

All I want for Christmas is Kashmir

Solving a 63 year old problem to solve an 8 year old problem is no solution

‘Tis the season of giving and Jeffrey Stern wants India and Pakistan to “give peace a chance” in Kashmir.  Jeffrey is the international engagement manager at the National Constitution Center and has apparently spent much of the last two years traveling around South Asia.

But his sojourn to South Asia has left him none the wiser on matters relating to the Kashmir issue.  Jeffrey presents the same tired, blitheringly idiotic arguments on Kashmir that many before him have presented.  There are two main themes in his article — first, he highlights what he calls “Wahhabism…sweeping through the valley..” and second, draws attention to the need to “resolve” Kashmir so that Pakistan can begin to be the “partner the US needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies..”

During his field trip to Kashmir, Jeffrey based his understanding of the conflict and of the people’s aspirations by speaking with “former militants” and separatists, most prominently Maulala Shaukat Shah of the Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees. Most in India will remember Shah as central to the uproar on the Amarnath Shrine Board last year.  By any measure, the Jamiat plays a prominent role in Kashmir, which has a support base of 1.5 million followers and is patron to 600 mosques and 150 schools.

But by focusing almost entirely on the Jamiat, Jeffrey has either intentionally excluded other actors in what is a complex and sensitive issue, or has been entirely blindsided by them. Although the situation in J&K remains fluid, developments are afoot outside the realm of the Jamiat that could fundamentally alter the dynamics of the issue.

Quietly, Manmohan Singh’s government has proceeded with back-channel talks with moderate members of the Hurriyat, with Mirwaiz Umar Farooq clearly emerging as the international face of the Hurriyat contingent for talks.

These talks come at an advantageous time  for India.  Despite an increase in ceasefire violations by Pakistan, terrorism in J&K is at a five year low.  The insurgency is not what it once was. The people of Kashmir defied separatists’ calls and militants’ threats to vote in the state elections in December 2008 (Voter turnout was 62%, with 55% in Kashmir Valley. Contrast this against the 42% voter turnout in Mumbai, in the country’s first general elections post-26/11).  India today, is able to dedicate political and economic bandwidth on the Kashmir issue.

Manmohan Singh’s government is in the process of implementing a series of confidence building measures to signal its intent at quiet diplomacy. Chief among these include amendments to the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSP) and withdrawal of some para-military forces from the state, with gradual transfer of responsibilities to state police.

But importantly, significant progress on talks with separatists and consequent reorganization of Centre-J&K relations are happening at a time when Pakistan is mired in conflict and is unable to dedicate sufficient bandwidth to stall or retard such progress.  If and when the time does come for an Indo-Pak “settlement” on the Kashmir issue, Pakistan may not find itself in a very advantageous bargaining position.

There is clearly more at work in Kashmir than Jeffrey knows about or wants you to believe.  His second issue dealt with resolving Kashmir to allow Pakistan to focus on al Qaeda. Readers of The Filter Coffee will know how poorly conceived this idea is. Kashmir is only a symptom of the myriad complexes the Pakistani state suffers from vis-a-vis India, which kinder folks attribute to the postpartum trauma of Partition.

Jeffrey writes:

Broadening [the definition of mutual US-Pak trust] will mean a holistic approach to Pakistan, acknowledging that Taliban militancy on the border with Afghanistan is not Pakistan’s most pressing concern even if it is the United States’. It will mean acknowledging Pakistan’s grievances with India.

Redefining the relationship will mean moving towards a workable resolution to Kashmir. Only then can Pakistan begin to be the partner the U.S. needs to confront al Qaeda and its allies, buttress Western efforts in Afghanistan, and to keep Kashmir itself from exploding.

In other words, Jeffrey wants Obama to solve a 63 year old problem as quickly as possible so that he can spend  the next two years trying to solve an 8 year old problem. Jeffrey’s ideas on resolving Kashmir confront the same cul-de-sac as other such prescriptions — there is no mention of just how Obama or anyone else can go about “resolving” Kashmir.

Mercifully, for every Jeffrey Stern there are the Lisa Curtises and Stephen Cohens who try to keep insanity at bay. The United States would do well not to muck around in Kashmir. Despite being impoverished and politically and economically stunted for decades after independence, India managed to stave off international pressure on entering into disadvantageous compromises on Kashmir or readjusting its borders along the LoC with Pakistan.

Today, given its economic and political leverage in the world, India acquiescing to such a compromise is even more unlikely. The United States will need to very carefully consider the negative repercussions of  any overt involvement in the dispute on the future of the Indo-US strategic partnership.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Al Qaeda, America, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, India, Kashmir, Line of Control, Pakistan, World, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Lashkar threat and soft targets

A society with low levels of security consciousness contributes to threat potentiality

The arrests of David Coleman Headley aka Daood Gilani and Tahawwur Hussain Rana by the FBI in Chicago last week have led to revelations of threats against India.  David Headley is a US citizen of Pakistani origin, while Rana is a Canadian citizen, again of Pakistani extraction.

Both LeT operatives were arrested after an email exchange between Headley and an unnamed senior operative in which Headley suggested traveling to India, possibly either for recon or actual action. There is speculation that this unnamed operative is Pakistani SSG turned senior al-Qaeda operative Illyas Kashmiri.

The interrogations, in which both the IB and RAW participated, have brought to light specific threats against the National Defence College, New Delhi, two boarding schools in North India and a few five-star hotels.  According to Rediff‘s report:

Two leading boarding schools located in prominent hill stations in a north Indian state and a few five star hotels in popular tourist spots are targets of Pakistan-based terror outfit Lashkar-e-Tayiba, a senior Home Ministry official said on Wednesday. According to intelligence inputs, the terrorist group was planning to attack the two schools and the hotels, which are regularly frequented by foreign tourists, he said.

The information came in the wake of reports that David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana, arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US for plotting a major terror attack in India at the behest of LeT, have revealed that they were also planning to attack the National Defence College in New Delhi.

The official said the intelligence agencies gathered information about the possibility of LeT attacks a few weeks ago and forwarded it to the concerned state governments for providing adequate security at the schools and the hotels.

It is encouraging to note the level of information sharing between the FBI and intelligence counterparts in India, and the participation of contingents from RAW and IB in the Headley-Rana interrogations in the US.  The level of cooperation will likely increase with greater convergence of Indian and American threat perceptions.  Such information sharing and indeed participation would not have occurred seven years ago.

The other side of the equation for India is security consciousness.  Indian attempts to beef up its internal security must factor in security consciousness at Central, State and personal levels.  Our schools, universities, hospitals, marketplaces and centers of faith are all soft targets which unsurprisingly find their way into terror plots.  Ours is not a security conscious culture; indeed those who flaunt rules and bypass security protocol are greatly admired.

There is a systemic problem in India where appreciation for security has historically been lacking at personal, state and central levels.  While it took humiliation at the hands of a larger adversary in 1962 to shakeup the armed forces and a pacifist government forged from the idealism of the ahimsa movement, no such shake up has occurred in the case of local law enforcement.

Most state governments are happy to let their dilapidated law and enforcement apparatus rot away.  Low budget allocation, no training, no equipment and resources and poor pay.

I’ve never heard of an unmotivated terrorist.  But unmotivated police personnel, there are plenty. Nowhere is the urgency for police reform more apparent than when the physically unfit, unmotivated police constable armed only with a laathi (or a World War II era .303 rifle, if he’s lucky) comes face to face with a terrorist armed with an AK-47, several rounds of ammo and schooled in commando action in the finest jihadi tradition from across the border.

India has battled insurgencies galore, from Kashmir to Khalistan, is in the middle of a Maoist perversion in seven states, and experienced its annus horribilis last year when terrorism against soft targets claimed the lives of 400 Indians. One would have hoped that the impetus for a shakeup in mindset had been provided.  Almost a year after 26/11, nothing seems to have changed.

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Filed under: 26/11, Al Qaeda, homeland security, Illyas Kashmiri, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What McChrystal said about India

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US & ISAF forces in Afghanistan painted a grim picture of the situation in Afghanistan in his “leaked” assessment to Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates.  Among other things, he indicated that the overall situation is deteriorating and a “crisis of confidence” existed among the Afghans that undermines US and ISAF credibility.  McChrystal called for a short-term deployment of additional US troops in Afghanistan.

In addition, in a section entitled “External Influences”, McChrystal wrote about India’s role in Afghanistan — something that has had our media in coils the past couple of days:

Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant development efforts and financial investment. [I]ncreasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.

Ever ready to jump the gun, members of our media took umbrage with the assessment.  In an article titled “US sees rising Indian influence in Afghanistan as problem“, Siddharth Varadarajan opines:

In the clearest statement to date of Washington’s reservations about the rising Indian economic and political profile in Afghanistan, the top American general… said India’s increasing influence… “is likely to exacerbate regional tensions”. Though the McChrystal report falls short of prescribing that India scale back its presence in Afghanistan, the implication is clear:…India should realise its assistance to Afghanistan might provoke Islamabad into taking “countermeasures”.

Varadarajan’s arguments are lethargic and draw conclusions based on misinterpretations of McChrystal’s assessment. First, nothing in the report or in public domain indicates that Washington is unhappy with India’s role in Afghanistan.  India’s current involvement includes funding and construction of large infrastructural projects (such as the “Nimroz-Chabahar” highway and the “Salma Dam” power project), aid, rural development and training the Afghan police force.  If McChrystal means what he says, then he should have no problem with India’s role in bringing development and stability to Afghanistan.

Second, Pakistani “countermeasures” to India’s involvement in Afghanistan is a pretty strange threat.  Unconventional warfare against India is Pakistan’s modus operandi.  It began as early as 1947 when Kashmir was flooded with armed Afridi tribesmen, as a precursor to the 1947 war and has only grown in size, mandate and state involvement over the years.  So Pakistan threatening to use something that it uses against India anyway, just because it dislikes India’s growing influence in Afghanistan is meaningless.

Third, even as McChrystal submitted his assessment to Sec Gates, a major rethink is under way in the Obama administration on Af-Pak, with many in the civilian administration against the idea of deploying additional troops.  They instead favor a combination of “negotiating” with the Taliban and increasing Drone assaults in Pakistan to disrupt al-Qaeda and Taliban elements.  As The Filter Coffee previously pointed out, the apparatus for such a strategy has been slowing taking shape in Pakistan over the past few months.

The Obama administration wants to craft a way forward in Afghanistan based on an approach that will incorporate “soft power” along with cold, hard military strategy. Upon learning of the leak, the Pentagon clarified that McChrystal’s assessment was only one of the many inputs that make up this reassessment.  Therefore, McChrystal’s assessment, even in its misinterpreted state, is hardly Holy Writ.

Fourth, India cannot afford to be in Afghanistan due to, or despite American disposition towards its involvement.  As a regional power, India must continue to engage with Afghanistan on social, economic and political development.  India’s calculations on the extent of its involvement in Afghanistan must be based on its strategic and national interests and not on the whims of other nations or veiled threats from its adversaries.

When the US leaves the region in the not-too-distant future, the cross of Afghanistan must be borne by regional powers like India and Iran, both of which share largely convergent views on the nation.  Insofar as India’s involvement in Afghanistan is concerned, its efforts have contributed positively to the development of the nation.  If America wants to leave Afghanistan as a (relatively) stable and functioning nation, India’s assistance is imperative and further Indian engagement must be encouraged.  The US can fight the war in Afghanistan, but is going to find it impossible to withdraw from Afghanistan on its own terms without India.

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Filed under: Af-Pak, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, America, Foreign Policy, India, Obama, Pakistan, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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