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Peace and Stability in 2011: Turbulence will Continue

From the point of view of international peace and stability, 2010 ended on a positive note with the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the new START treaty that will further reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 in seven years. However, in view of the ongoing conflicts and possible conflagrations, 2011 is likely to be a turbulent year.

The strategic stalemate in Afghanistan will continue with the Taliban and NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. While U.S. forces may be expected to step up drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the NWFP and FATA areas, the results are not likely to appear justifiable in view of the diplomatic fallout in Pakistan. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. Hence, it will be difficult for the U.S. to begin its planned drawdown of troops in July 2011.

The military stand-off along the 38th Parallel in Korea has further exacerbated the already unstable situation in East Asia caused by increasing Chinese assertiveness that appears out of character with its stated objective of a peaceful rise. Though the international community may be able to ensure that a major conflict does not erupt again between the two Koreas, the sub-region will remain volatile unless the Chinese use their influence with North Korea to persuade it to back off from the path of confrontation. As of now they do not appear inclined to do so.

Turmoil in West Asia will continue through 2011 as Israel stubbornly refuses to halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian militias are getting increasingly restive. Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the vaguely stated threats of several of its neighbours to follow suit will continue to add to instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, in particular, may fund Pakistan’s nuclear expansion programme as a hedging strategy against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Such a course of action would be a disastrous blow to international non-proliferation efforts.

It can be deduced form recent arrests in the U.K. and elsewhere that international fundamentalist terrorists may succeed in launching another spectacular strike in the West. A successful strike would resurrect the al Qaeda and enable it to rally its wavering cadres. All in all, 2011 will see a continuation of ongoing conflicts without major let up.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)

Continuing Instability in South Asia Hampering Development

Though this past year has been relatively peaceful in South Asia, the unstable regional security environment, India’s unresolved territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, and the continuing internal security challenges are a cause for concern. After West Asia, this region is perhaps the most trouble prone region in the world. With a history of four conflicts in 60 years and three nuclear-armed adversaries continuing to face off, South Asia has often been described as a nuclear flash-point.

The regional security environment in South Asia continues to be marred by Afghanistan’s endless civil war despite the induction of additional troops in 2010 by the U.S.-led NATO-ISAF coalition forces. Pakistan’s halfhearted struggle against the remnants of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban, fissiparous tendencies in Baluchistan and the Pushtun heartland, continuing radical extremism and creeping Talibanisation, the unstable civilian government, the floundering economy and, consequently, the nation’s gradual slide towards becoming a ‘failed state’, pose a major security threat to India. The collusive nuclear weapons-cum-missile development programme of China, North Korea and Pakistan as also Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons are serious issues of concern.

Sri Lanka’s inability to find a lasting solution to its ethnic problems despite the comprehensive defeat of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has serious repercussions for stability in the island nation. Bangladesh’s emergence as the new hub of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism, even as it struggles for economic upliftment to subsistence levels, could trigger a new wave of terrorism if left unchecked. The Maoist ascendancy in Nepal and its adverse impact on Nepal’s fledgling democracy, as also Nepal’s new found inclination to seek neutrality between India and China, are a blow to what has historically been a stable India-Nepal relationship. Simmering discontentment in Tibet and Xinjiang against China’s repressive regime is gathering momentum and could result in an open revolt. The peoples’ nascent movement for democracy in Myanmar and several long festering insurgencies may destabilize the military Junta despite its post-election confidence. The spillover of religious extremism and terrorism from Afghanistan and political instability in the CARs are undermining development and governance.

Other vitiating factors impacting regional stability in South Asia include the unchecked proliferation of small arms, nurtured and encouraged by large-scale narcotics trafficking. India’s standing as a regional power with global power ambitions, and one that aspires to a seat on the UN Security Council has been seriously compromised by its inability to successfully manage ongoing conflicts in its neighborhood, singly or in concert with its strategic partners.

These conflicts are undermining South Asia’s efforts towards socio-economic development and poverty alleviation by hampering governance and vitiating the investment climate. Here’s hoping that the new year will bring in better opportunities to reduce tensions in the region, and improve the socio-economic conditions.

(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.)

The Meera Shankar Incident – The Difference in Indian and U.S attitudes

It is widely acknowledged that American & Indian societies are similar in many ways. But there are a number of differences between these two societies, differences that lie at the core of their democratic practices. Such differences keep creating controversies between the U.S and India. The latest controversy is the security pat down of Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar at Jackson Airport in Mississippi.

The facts are clear. Ambassador Shankar was singled out for a security check because she was wearing a sari. When she presented her diplomatic status, she was taken to a VIP room for the security pat down. The Indian Government was angered by what they termed as “unacceptable” treatment of an Indian Diplomat. The U.S. expressed regret and promised to ensure that such incidents are not repeated. But the U.S. has not apologized. This has created an uproar in India and perhaps rightly so.

But this issue might illustrate a significant difference between the ways these two countries treat their own citizens. Look at the complaints lodged by the Indian Government against what it considers mal-treatment of its citizens. Every single complaint is about what the Indian Government calls a VIP – a Very Important Person. Forgive me, I mean to say VVIP or Very Very Important Person.

This is no joke. These words are commonly accepted in India and used by the Indian Government. Check out any Indian Government event or any event organized by Indians. You will see a special section for VVIPs and VIPs; you will notice special handling of people of these categories. The ordinary Indian is always treated as a lower class person with a lower level of care.

Who are these VIPs? Apparently any one with “connections.” So many VIPs were created in this process that the Indian Government had to create a special category called VVIP.

How many times has the Indian Government publicly complained about how ordinary Indian citizens are treated in other countries?  Forget about treatment by other countries. Ask Indian-Americans how the Indian Consulates treat them. Stand in line at any Indian Consulate and you will hear horror stories. Try calling the Indian Consulate, say in New York. Unless you are a VIP or a European-American, you will be ignored at best. This is also the attitude you see at any security checkpoint in India. There may be a long line but VIPs routinely bypass the line and go through.

This VIP type handling also extends to foreigners in India. The Police, the Security Staff and most local government officials are careful not to subject foreigners to any trouble. Recently, the Australian Cricket team, after losing its series against India, went on a rampage. According to media reports, they broke furniture and threw it out of the windows. The police saw this but did nothing. When asked, a police official replied they did not want to embarrass the Australians.

The U.S. is very different. The Australian Cricket Team would not have had the gumption to do in the U.S. what it did in India. Had they done so, the police would have acted immediately. The Australian Government would have apologized and the Cricket Team would have been subject to fines or punishment.

This is because there is no VIP culture in America. Almost everyone has to go through the security checkups and while that might be offensive, it applies to virtually everybody. Senior ex-diplomats go through the same security check that the regular folks go through.

Indian Media often use the word “commoners” to distinguish them from VIPs. This word says it all. The U.S treats all Americans as VIPs and others as commoners. India treats Indians as commoners and foreigners as VIPs.

America is relentless about its focus on security. Its overriding mission is to prevent a terrorist attack on America. This is why security guards at airports are given the license to search anyone they feel should be searched. This is due to the realization that the local security guard is the critical part of the security chain. If their behavior hurts feelings of some people, so be it.

India is relentless about how its VVIPs are handled. Foreign officials are included in the VVIP status. Protecting the feelings of VVIPs is far more important to India than preventing terrorist attacks on Indian citizens. This is why airport security procedures are centralized and airport security staff is not given the license to stop and search any one they feel should be searched.

Rather than complaining loudly about who gets frisked in America, the Indian Government should establish a policy of randomly and regularly frisking Foreign Diplomats and VVIPs at Indian Airports. If a senior American Diplomat is subjected to a physical frisk, I suspect that diplomat would at least publicly welcome the high level of security at Indian airports.

But would Indian VVIPs publicly welcome such random frisking? I doubt it. Because that would put Indian VVIPs at the same level of the common Indian. That is a consummation to be devoutly avoided in democratic India.

I await the day when the Indian Government begins treating the ordinary Indian as a VVIP. Perhaps, Ambassador Meera Shankar can begin this process with ordinary Indian-Americans at the Indian Embassy in Washington DC.

Is It Terrorism Or A Long Term Covert War Strategy?

This week a small bomb exploded in the Holy City of Varanasi at the Dashashwamedha Ghat where prayers are held. Hundreds of people watch this event either at the Ghat or from boats in the River Ganga. This bomb attack was terrorism, a dastardly act intended to injure and kill innocent people.

VaranasiBut this attack is very different from the horrific attack on Mumbai by commandos from Pakistan in November 2008. The attack on Mumbai was NOT terrorism, but a totally different operation. It was an exquisitely planned and flawlessly executed attack by professionally trained commandos armed with an arsenal of lethal weapons. Prior to the attack, the supporting cadres had scouted the targets, established base camps in nondescript buildings, and stockpiled on weapons and support material. The attackers traveled from Karachi to Mumbai in trawlers; they came ashore in inflatables in isolated portions off the Mumbai coastline at night, and went quietly to their planned rendezvous points. Then, like clockwork, they carried out their mission.

Based on the testimony and interrogation of David Coleman Headley, media analysts have reported that the attack was assisted or masterminded by elements associated with Pakistan’s Intelligence Service, the ISI. Whether this is true or not, we leave to the relevant officials. The more relevant question is whether this was one isolated attack or part of a long-term strategy.

The Pakistan military, in my opinion, has been a relentless enemy of India since the partition. They attacked India in 1947, 1965, 1971 and then finally in 1999. After the disastrous defeat in the 1999 Kargil conflict, I believe, the Pakistani Army came to the conclusion that they could not afford to engage the Indian Army in combat. It was time for a different strategy.

A New Strategy for Covert War against Indian Society?

We do not know what the Pakistani Army designed. But let us indulge in speculative analysis.

Readers, if you had to design a strategy, what would you do? You would realize that a successful strategy should pit your strengths against the weaknesses of your enemy. So a smart strategy against India should bypass the professional, well-trained Indian Military and attack the soft underbelly of India, the local Indian administrations. It is no secret that the local administrations in India are rather pathetic – inefficient, incompetent and sometimes corrupt. If the Indian Army is made of “Lions”, the local administrations are made of “Sheep”; complacent people content to graze in their local fiefdoms and conditioned to follow the direction of their shepherds or of their bosses above.

Ajmal KasabIt is a characteristic of wolves to attack sheep. Where would you find wolves? You would look to the poor, destitute areas of Pakistan-Pashtunistan. No shortage there of young men who, for a relatively small amount of money, could be trained in military combat, bomb-making and other terrorist activities. These men could be infiltrated into India for specific missions, a simple task given Indian complacency and laxness. If these young men are successful, mission accomplished. If these young men fail, no harm done as long as the masterminds could claim plausible deniability.

Such a strategy of attacking local Indian administrations would be easy and effective. It would cost little and create havoc in India. The pathetic state of the Indian political machine would render it incompetent to taker any effective action. In this way, you would be able to create a strategy of a long-term relentless Covert War against the Indian society.

How would such a strategy succeed? Go back and recall the events of November 2008. You will see that such a strategy could succeed brilliantly without incurring any liability or damage to the masterminds of the strategy.

Long Term Implications for India

If such a strategy actually exists, then it could have long-term implications for India. It would require the entire Indian establishment to act upon it. It would need an innovative hard set of responses, each calibrated to trigger upon a specific type or level of scenarios.

Unfortunately, this is not an Indian strength. India has not demonstrated any long-term strategic vision since Independence. No Indian agency has demonstrated the ability to work in tandem with other agencies, and the Indian Government has not created an awareness of the long-term danger to India.

At the current rate of economic progress, the Indian society would be richer, more educated and generally content with its prosperity within the next ten years. Next to this wealthy soft Indian society, the Pakistan-Pashtunistan area would be home to almost 300 million people, most of them poor, destitute and without any real means of employment. This would be an army of hungry wolves ready to descend on a rich, soft India to loot and plunder just like their ancestors began doing about 1,200 years ago. These would not be military attacks from a government but attacks from ‘independent’ groups of professionally trained wolf packs on Indian society.

What is the solution against attacks by Wolves on the Sheep? The protectors of the Sheep have to enter the den of the Wolves to unleash punishment.

Will India ever have the mental and military strength to do so? Or will India, the seeker of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, keep running to America with its grievances?

Indian Mujahideen strikes in Varanasi

The Indian holy city of Varanasi was rocked by a blast on Tuesday evening at 6.30 pm near the Vishwanath Temple at the Dashashwamedh Ghat. An infant was killed and more than 30 people, including four foreigners were injured in the attacked reportedly carried out by the Indian Mujahideen. The improvised explosive device (IED) was said to have been placed in a milk container near the temple. The organization claimed responsibility for the attack in an email that said that the blast was being carried out against the recent court verdict in the Ayodhya Babari Masjid case. Hindu nationalists had razed the Babri Masjid 18 years ago on Dec 6.

The Indian Mujahideen was responsible for other attacks including the 2008 attack in Jaipur that killed 63 people, and a gun attack on a tourist bus outside Delhi’s Jama Mashjid in September 2010. A father-son duo from Mumbai was arrested by the police in connection with the email earlier today. Indian Home Secretary Gopal Pillai has said that it was too early to comment upon weather individuals operating from Pakistan were responsible for the attacks. Intelligence agencies had reportedly issued an alert about possible terrorist activities during the Babri Masjid demolition anniversary. Security measures such as metal detectors were not in place near the site of attack.

The US embassy has issued an alert and asked its citizen to practice good security and maintain heightened situational awareness. No U.S. nationals have been reported to have been injured in the attack.