The Filter Coffee

Foreign policy, strategic affairs, defense and governance

Where do we go from here?

The people of India have spoken.  A clear mandate for the UPA government has been given.  While this blogger doesn’t consider the verdict to be optimal (considering UPA’s unforgivable lapses in security and foreign affairs), the decisiveness of the victory is pleasing because it allows a less fractious Central government to go about its business.  The mandate against the BJP is very clear — the people don’t want any part of their divisive politics.  A campaign that was overshadowed by the venom spewing bigotry of Varun Gandhi was only bound for failure.  Uttar Pradesh has told Mayawati what it thinks of her self glorifying statues in Lucknow.   And Prakash Karat stands amidst the shattered pieces of his non-ideology.

Where does India go from here?  The Filter Coffee has repeatedly drawn attention to the dilapidated state of our local law enforcement forces, and national and border defense mechanisms.  They need addressing immediately.  When Chidambaram took over as Home Minister, he instituted a few changes, come cosmetic, some concrete.

The Congress must stop pretending that it is tied at the hip to the Unlawful Activities Prevention (Amendment) Act and work with the Opposition to construct a meaningful anti-terror law for the nation.  Our local law enforcement agencies need money, equipment and training.  Our national forces face severe shortages in equipment, which can only be addressed by correcting India’s defense procurement mechanism.  The shackles need to be loosened from our intelligence agencies.

India faces two immediate threats with regard to terrorism, from the Maoists and Jihadi groups.  With regard to external Jihadi threats, there are some elements that India can control and some that it can’t.  However, the Maoist menace is well within India’s realm and decisive action is needed to eliminate this plague that has consumed a third of India.

On the foreign affairs side, the Subcontinent is on fire.  Sri Lanka has found itself an effective counterweight to India in China, and its dismissal of India’s pleas was the most telling aspect of this relationship as war against the LTTE drew to a close.  Similarly, India lost the plot in Nepal during the UPA administration and as tensions continue to rise between the army and the Chinese backed Maoist government, India has a great opportunity to play the honest broker and demonstrate to that nation that India wants peace and stability in Nepal.

The United States is blowing a sigh of relief that the month long elections in India are at an end.  Obama’s immediate concern is to get India to focus on the Af-Pak issue.  The repeated calls for India to reduce troop levels along the western border are as absurd as they are misplaced and the UPA would do well not to wilt under American pressure as they have so often done in the past.

With Pakistan, India must continue to use every tool at its disposal to pressure that country to dismantle not just “terror” infrastructure, but specifically the Punjabi-terror outfits that target India.  The Pakistanis must be pressed to ensure that those responsible for 26/11 are brought to justice.  Pakistan’s “investigation”, as farcical as it was, is now a casualty of all the attention to the existential threat that country faces today.  Above all, the UPA must impress upon Islamabad that for India to show any interest in rekindling the “peace process”, there needs to be very credible action from Pakistan on both dismantling terror infrastructure armed at India, and bringing to justice those that were responsible for 26/11.

The mandate for the Congress is conclusive.  Manmohan Singh can either show the country that he can act convincingly to address the challenges that face us, as he did in 1991, or he can falter and stumble from one embarrassing embroilment to another as he has done over the past five years.  The ball is in his court.  What’s it going to be, Mr. Prime Minister?

Filed under: 2009 Indian General Elections, Af-Pak, Barack Obama, Foreign Policy, India, Politics in India, Sri Lanka, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Damn the plebs…

LK Advani has been calling for live television debates since the schedule for the 15th Lok Sabha elections was announced.  The people of India have a right to know where the Congress, the BJP and other national parties stand on the complex issues that face the nation.  But the silence from the Congress has been deafening.  The maneuvering, amusing.  First, we were told that there would be no debate between Manmohan Singh and Advani because unlike the US, ours isn’t a two-party system.

Then we were told by Manmohan Singh that he isn’t much of a speaker, and lets his actions speak for him.  In other words, he’s a decider: like his good buddy, George W Bush. But Bush’s record in the White House makes him look like FDR after the Great Depression, when compared to Mahmohan’s record over the past five years.  And now this vitriolic harangue from Sanjaya Baru, the PM’s former “media manager”.  A cushy job, I’m sure, as it entailed doing nothing, just like the post of Home Minister.

Never before was a prime minister denied the right of reply in a debate on a motion of thanks to the President. Never before has a prime minister been prevented from defending his record in office in a debate on a motion of confidence. Manmohan Singh was at the receiving end of such grossly unfair treatment from an Opposition that turned every parliamentary debate into a duel. And now they want a television debate? Hah!

Wonderful.  In other words, you tried to knock me off the pedestal when I was vulnerable. Now, it’s payback.  To hell with the voters.  Damn the plebs. Where is this disillusioned rhetoric going to take India?  The kind of debate favored in our country is one where accusations are countered with counter-accusations. In the end, it’s the man on the street that loses.  This will continue only as long as you and I give currency to such garbage talk.

Voting begins in India tomorrow.  So please go out and participate in the largest democratic exercise in the world.  But pledge to yourself that the act of casting your vote won’t be the end of your engagement with governance in the nation; that it will be the first of many such engagements between a complex, if chaotic, democratic system and you, the middle class, English speaking, Internet surfing, pub hopping, reality TV watching Indian voter.

Filed under: 2009 Indian General Elections, India, Politics in India, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12 Easy Steps to Destroy India: A Handguide

Well really, there’s just 1 easy step to destroy India: have the UPA government hire R Vaidyanathan as chief strategist in the fight against terrorism. He will swiftly ensure that the anarchy in Afghanistan and NW Pakistan will spread like cancer to eastern Pakistan, and then eventually to all of India as well. Vaidyanathan wrote 8 things India Inc, govt must do against Pakistan“, a masterfully crafted economic and strategic treatise, and followed that up with “12 steps to shock-and-awe Pakistan’s economy” the very next day, apparently in response to overwhelming feedback to the first article. Nothing will ensure India’s discombobulation faster than the implementation of some of his plans.
Vaidyanathan’s proposed assaults on Pakistan’s economy include the following gems:

Identify the major export items of Pakistan (like Basmati rice, carpets, etc) and provide zero export tax or even subsidise them for export from India. Hurt Pakistan on the export front.

Create assets to print/distribute their currency widely inside their country. To some extent, Telgi types can be used to outsource this activity. Or just drop their notes in remote areas.

I fail to see how this is going to make matters better. In fact, there is a very distinct possibility that things could get much worse. It is a fact that terrorist organizations like LeT and Al Qaeda prey on frustrated, impoverished, disenfranchised youth for recruitment. By his own admission, Ajmal Amir, the lone surviving terrorist from the Mumbai attacks, was a laborer and a petty thief before being recruited by the Lashkar. There is a history of young men living under conditions of unemployment, poverty and helplessness turning to terrorism. It’s no surprise that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia (one of the world’s fastest growing unemployment rates, at 12%) and Yemen (unemployment rate of 35%). I bring this up because India’s economic muscle is very real, and can inflict substantial damage on Pakistan’s economy. Nothing will please the Lashkar more, since hordes of Ajmal Amirs will be lining up outside their recruitment offices in Muridke, in much the same way that Indians line up to work for Infosys or Wipro.

But wait, it gets better. Vaidyanathan continues…

We should realise that a united Pakistan is a grave threat to the existence of India. Hence, we should do everything possible to break up Pakistan into several units. This is required to be done not only for our interest, but for world peace.

Not only for our interest, but for world peace? How very benignant of him. Pakistan as a federation is already teetering on the brink of collapse. There is already a struggle going on in Baluchistan. In Swat, Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban against the imposition of a parallel Sharia law. South Waziristan has unilaterally declared independence, which the government in Islamabad has tacitly accepted. The “real” Pakistan now exists only in Sindh and Punjab, and even in Sindh there are several secessionist movements.

If Pakistan as a federation falls, the whole area from Helmand province in Afghanistan to Wagah will be in a state of anarchy. This is a humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, and India will be ill equipped to handle the influx of refugees from this region. Worse, once in India and bereft of any viable employment opportunities, many of these refugees may turn to theft and militancy. One only has to look at the Afghan refugee crisis in Pakistan to get a sense of what to expect, if it were to occur in India. Secondly, and more importantly, Pakistan is a nuclear weapons state. The threat of rouge Army officers, and/or ISI agents in cahoots with their Al Qaeda, LeT and JeM buddies launching attacks on India with those weapons is very real. To ward off such a possibility, Indian troops, along with US and NATO forces will be forced to enter into mainland Pakistan in search of the weapons, where our troops will get summarily slaughtered in close combat situations à la the US in Iraq. It takes only five minutes for a nuke from Pakistan to hit India. How soon can India’s forces track down and decommission Pakistan’s warheads?

India has already shown, post-Kargil, that it does not have the appetite to go after Pakistan unilaterally.  Indeed, off-late, India’s strategy vis-a-vis Pakistan appears to be to make the United States do its bidding in Pakistan — a bungling miscalculation, since the US itself is tied down by its own compulsions in the Afghan-Pakistan border.  India has not articulated a credible strategy towards Pakistan.  Relying on the US somewhat to use its influence on Pakistan is fine, as long as it is only part of a coherent, multidimensional strategy that India, as a soverign, independent nation adapts, taking into consideration its own national interests.  Flexing India’s economic muscle is also fine, as a means to an end — the end being the ultimate termination of anti-India militant forces in Paksitan, and not the capitulation of the state of Pakistan itself, as proposed by Vaidyanathan.

India must make it clear to Pakistan that it has multiple non-military arsenal in its inventory that it can use to bleed Pakistan, in the same way that Pakistan, implicitly or explicitly, aims to hurt India.  For example, India should make it clear that it is willing to violate the Indus Water Treaty, and severely or completely choke the westward flow of the Chenab, dealing a blow to Pakistan’s agricultural output for domestic consumption and external trade.  Similarly, India should be able to affect a de facto deep water import blockade of the port of Karachi, ostensibly with an intent to ward off pirate activity from the Horn of Africa. A substantial volume of import trade with Pakistan, will then need to originate from or be routed to the Arabian Penninsula, from smaller ports in Muscat or Sharjah; smaller trade volumes means increased per-unit costs of imports.

If in the future, India is to be the global force that many are predicting it to be, then Pakistan’s stability will be vital to the fulfillment of that prophecy. An unstable Pakistan will mean an unstable India. Rather than seeking to destroy and disintegrate Pakistan, India must work to ensure that its voice is heard in Pakistan.  India’s sphere of infleuence must effectively include, not exclude Pakistan.  Any carrot-and-stick policy that India adopts with regards to Pakistan must show our neighbor that its interest lie in working with, rather than against India.  The benefits in working with India must be conspicious and very apparent, as must the consequences of attempts to destablize India.  To this end, where necessary, India should be willing and able to unilaterally use non-military tools at its disposal to punish Pakistan.  However, a constant, ineffectual, quasi-military, adversarial posturing with Pakistan, such as the one currently in favor in New Delhi, will leave India muddled in the internal quagmires of South Asia, and unable to break free from its shackles to project power and influence beyond this impoverished and chaotic region.

Filed under: 11/25/2008, 9/11, Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Congress I, economics, helmand, India, Indian Army, isi, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Laskhar-e-Toiba, let, Mumbai, Mumbai Terrorist Attack, november 25, nuclear weapons, nukes, Pakistan, pakistan army, Saudi Arabia, Terrorism, Wagah, Yemen, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By-two Kaapi (Twitter)