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 Kaiga Incident

What happened in Kaiga shouldn’t stay in Kaiga

More than 90 workers of the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Uttara Kannada district, Karnataka were poisoned as a result of their water cooler being contaminated with radioactive tritium.  Nuclear Power Corporation’s investigators suspect foul play, which was also corroborated by AEC chairman, Anil Kakodkar.

As with all forms of exposure to radiation, the effects of tritium exposure include mutation of cells, loss of brain weight and genetic abnormalities in future generations.  It is unclear how often the workers are checked for traces of radiation, but the presence of tritium in the 90 Kaiga APS employees was identified on November 24.

Since 99% of tritium is eliminated from the body within 10 days of ingestion, the actual incident could have occurred any time between mid-November and Nov 24.

As word of the incident got out, Manmohan Singh attempted to allay fears by saying, “I’ve been briefed about it, it is a small matter of contamination and is not linked to any leak”. Yes, a small matter of radioactive heavy water contaminating our drinking water.  That Manmohan Singh acted to appeal for calm is one thing, but to do so in such a  bizarre, over enthusiastically dismissive manner sends a poor message to citizens and to domestic and international observers.

As if on key, the media bailed on covering the incident, leaving us at the mercy of the inane, often contradictory explanations being given by the DAE and the AEC, if and when the AEC felt disposed to provide any information at all.

There is little that we know about the incident — the identities of those exposed, the date of exposure, the amount of radiation recorded, or indeed, if all those exposed to tritium as a result of drinking water from the cooler have been accounted for.

The Deccan Herald ran an article which indicated that APS employed over a 1,000 workers and  5,000 contractors, all of whom had access to both the area that stored the tritium as well as the dispenser.  Sadly, this is the kind of flippancy that has typified our approach to nuclear safety.

This isn’t the first radioactive leek or safety breech at an APS in India, nor will it be the last if this sort of trivialization of the safety of workers and those in the immediate neighborhood persists.  In the Kalpakkam APS alone, there were three major instances of heavy water leeks in 2003, 1999, 1988.

If the Prime Minister is really serious about delivering on his promise of “good governance” after the victory in the general election this past May, he should constitute a review not only of the Kaiga incident but also all aspects of APS operation and management, including safety and handling procedures, physical security, isolation and access control, recruitment and background checks.

The usual dismissive, dubious attestations of the DAE simply won’t do anymore.

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Filed under: Congress I, Energy, India, Nuclear Energy, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

26/11 and India’s response

It’s politics as usual in New Delhi, and no one seems to care

A year has gone by after the carnage in Mumbai that left over 190 people dead and hundreds injured.  In the immediate aftermath of 26/11, articles were written about the gaping holes in India’s internal security preparedness.

Recommendations put forth to the Indian government are all in public domain –  a tougher anti-terrorism law, a separate ministry for internal security, police reform, increasing NSG headcount and footprint, and enhancing India’s covert ops capabilityThe Filter Coffee also presented recommendations in the wake of the 26/11 attacks.

Of the recommendations made, Manmohan Singh’s government chose to make the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) central to its response to the holes in India’s internal security preparedness.  To be sure, the establishment of the NIA was an important move, because it addressed Centre-State jurisdiction issues that hitherto plagued the CBI.

However, the NIA’s mandate notwithstanding, nothing in public domain indicates any significant activity in the NIA, until 11 months and two weeks after November 26, 2008, when the NIA belatedly sprung into action, based on inputs from the FBI on David Headley and Tahawwur Rana.

In addition, by virtue of design, the NIA mostly addresses post-incident investigation and forensics.  Manmohan Singh’s government articulated little by way of detective and preventive enhancements to India’s internal security preparedness.

The bigger picture that needs to be examined on the first anniversary of 26/11 isn’t necessarily about specific structural and organizational changes, but about the government’s willingness (confidence?) to make public aberrations in its response to the terror attacks and how these can be addressed.

In the year following the World Trade Center attacks in the US, the Bush Administration constituted the 9/11 Commission to examine aspects of US’s response to the attacks as they unfolded, and make recommendations on how the US should proceed, going forward.  The US Department of Homeland Security was born out of these recommendations.

India deserved its 26/11 commission with a limitless mandate to examine our response to the attacks in Mumbai. Key aspects of the events of 26/11 require independent review.

These include incident-specific issues relating to governance and leadership such as  (a) How long it took to notify key stakeholders, such as the Prime Minister, NSA, intelligence services and ministers of Home Affairs and Defense, (b) The time it took for the relevant stakeholders to coordinate and assess the situation, (c) How long it took to authorize deployment of anti-terror units to the scene, and (d) Crisis management — who was coordinating what aspect of India’s responses.

The second aspect of the commission’s review should have entailed structural and organizational changes and enhancements, including those previously discussed.  Sadly, this government does not have the gumption to constitute such a comprehensive review of its responses to the 26/11 attacks.  This isn’t an assailment of the the UPA administration, it is an indictment of India’s petty political environment.

There are critical aspects of the attack that require further analysis — aspects that India is still uncovering, including the roles of Headley and Rana — and questions that no one seems to be able to answer, such as how a bunch of semi-literate people alien to Mumbai, were able to negotiate their way through the city’s conspicuous and inconspicuous landmarks, without local assistance.

This cannot be accomplished by adhocism or through token responses, such as establishing the NIA and deploying the NSG in some cities. One would have thought that the time was ripe for such a bold response, faced as the UPA is, with an ineffectual, embattled Opposition. Sadly, barring a few cosmetic rearrangements, not much has changed in India, and no one, least of all Mumbaikars seem to care.

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Filed under: 26/11, commandos, India, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, National Security Advisor, National Security Guard, NIA, Politics, POTA, south mumbai, Terrorism, World, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)

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