Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
The first week of May each year brings the J&K government back to Srinagar after its six month occupation of the seat in Jammu. It’s the time when many activities occupy the minds of the political and military leadership on the security front. Among them is the need to take stock of the strength of terrorists and the available indicators of the infiltration attempts in the calendar year.
Equally important is to remain fully updated on the attempts of inimical elements to bait the government and the security forces in the hinterland. The baiting process is work in progress through winter to which the separatist leadership in Kashmir, the terrorist leadership in Muzaffarabad and the sponsoring elements in Islamabad, subscribe their interest and their ideas; the veritable Nexus, so to say.
The J&K government has a lot more on its hands than what governments of other states ever have. The Sri Amarnath Yatra will commence in late June, subject to snow conditions at higher reaches. It needs not only security but also tremendous planning for logistics with time usually at premium. The threats are both from climatic conditions and terrorists. It may be recalled that in 1996, snow blizzard conditions led to loss of 250 innocent lives. In the year 2000, terrorists struck at yatri and CRPF camps at Pahalgam leading to casualties. The National mood today can hardly accept a repeat of this in relation to a very sensitive and emotionally important annual event. The separatists will make weak attempts to once again demand a cap on the number of pilgrims and on the duration. These can be dismissed with the contempt they deserve. In the year 2011, just after the end of the tumultuous three year period of street turbulence, we oversaw the highest ever footprint of ‘darshan’ at the Holy Cave, with 640,000 pilgrims.
Besides this the Ladakh region (Lima sector for the Army) opens up after winter, with the clearance of snow from the Zojila Pass. The logistics stocking of the region both for the civil and the military population becomes an imperative. The window for stocking is short (four to five months) and disruptions on the road networks brought on by street violence can play hell into the sustainability of Ladakh in winter. This is another area where baiting is a live possibility.
The other event which syncs with the arrival of the government in Srinagar is the beginning of the tourist season. The most lucrative time is mid-May to early July when the schools in Northern India shut. The tourist influx in J&K is a major contributor to the economy of the state and the overall level of happiness of its people. Turbulence in the streets and one or two terrorist related events can set back the entire economy for the season as the tourists vanish overnight. There is a common perception that the Nexus prefers not to be in the bad books of the local ‘awam’ by disrupting the tourist season. However, no such Separatists their ilk have no such sympathy.
Then there is political activity which must take place at grassroots as the absence of the government and the harsh winter conditions do tend to relegate this. It is one of the major reasons why there is seething discontent in smaller towns and many of the villages; no politician or bureaucrat has much time to reach out to the populated but remote rural areas.
Given these challenges it is with a measure of satisfaction that one observes that immediately on move to Srinagar the Chief Minister has conveyed an appropriate message by convening the Unified Command meeting to take stock of the security challenges. Actually, the Unified Command meeting can be the best braining storming institution which can advise on issues beyond security. It is learnt that this was the Chief Minister’s first such meeting after coming to office. Open source media reports state that she was apprised in great detail about the new trend of protests and stone pelting on the security forces engaged in encounters. She directed them to exercise utmost restraint while dealing with the civilian population at the time of encounters.
Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was entirely right in her reaction and advice but it is hoped she was sensitized more extensively on the dynamics of the current situation. There is nothing new about the situation. In some form or the other it is a repetition of the past and the answers do not have to be sought anywhere else except in the memories of the various officials who handle J&K.
The news, about ‘sainik colonies’, which played out as a rumor, is an attempt similar to 2008. That is when rumors went viral on the ‘permanent’ handing over of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board for construction of ‘permanent’ facilities for pilgrims. That became the sticking point for the street turbulence of that year. In 2009, the unfortunate death of two women in Shopian after being allegedly raped was bandied into a believable rumor which kept the agitation on the streets. In 2010, it was different. The Machil fake encounter offered the trigger and the regretful death of the young Tufail Matoo only helped lighting more fires. What the CM would have been told is that the ‘sainik colonies’ issue is likely to be a shot in the dark to follow the Handwara incident; which too was set up and followed a familiar pattern. The J&K Government has done well to refute all issues concerning the rumors. However, it must not be defensive either. If indeed there is a legitimate move to allocate land for settlement of ex-servicemen who are state subjects, there should be no hesitation in backing the scheme which is rumored to have been initiated during Governor’s rule. The efforts to paint this as a clandestine step to change the demographics of the Valley is a part of the larger and more sinister perception management which the Nexus is attempting, in a vain hope to repeat 2008.
The state government has to be made aware that attempts are being deliberately made to bait the Security Forces at sites where terrorists are holed up and encounters are in the offing or have commenced. The rabble rouser leaders generate passions and collect large mobs at the sites. Thus far the joint efforts of the Army, CRPF and JK Police have been smart and they have managed to evade mobs or finish encounters early enough with minimal deployment. This cannot become a system of functioning because it is far too risk prone. Sooner than later there will be big mistakes while under pressure; soldiers will die and so will civilian demonstrators, more commonly people who are just bystanders or observers. This is what the Nexus needs, to sustain the adrenaline this summer. If the Chief Minister has not been extensively briefed on this through scenario building as described above, the Unified Command would have failed to place the issues squarely and the SF will be blamed for everything when the cookies start crumbling. In fact, almost everyone from the J&K Police hierarchy can explain just how Sheikh Abdul Aziz’s death was set up on 11 Aug 2008. It all started from a small challenge to prevent a forced demonstration to symbolically march to the LoC near Uri to demand the opening of the trans-LoC trade route. That was very adroitly manipulated to become a big event and with the Hurriyat leader’s death it became a mega one; how Sheikh Aziz died is still a matter of speculation. Similarly today, passions of Handwara, which too was a bait, have not yet subsided and the intent of the Nexus will be to build up on that through rumors such as those about sainik colonies.
What should the State Government being doing? For one, it should be working very closely with the Security Forces and intelligence agencies. The Chief Minister knows South Kashmir better than almost everyone. This is the time she should be demanding that her party leaders be seen more at tehsil and block level resolving problems with the administration. She should also be demanding from the Army to continuously brief her on its vision of things. The Army should be requesting that the State Government and all other agencies join hands with it to evolve a perception management program. This should result in an outreach to the public with an intent to isolate the Separatists. It will be a transformation of sorts because no form of strategic communication with a clear intent has ever evolved in the Valley to beat the Separatists’ psychological outreach. Sadbhavna, the Army’s hearts and minds exercise is a useful tactical measure which is only a subset of the larger game of strategic communication which needs to involve all agencies with the State Government as the prime stakeholder, overseen by the Central Government.
The most positive development on the J&K front has been the Civil Services result in which a 23 year old Anantnag youth has stood second in the all India list. With it comes the news of the first commercial lady pilot from Kashmir. To cap it came the results of the Super 30, the Sadbhavna aided scheme for talented youth. 15 out of 26 candidates have been successful in All India Joint Engineering Examination. These are developments which are being allowed to become flash in the pan events whilst they should be actually sustaining memories of great pride. This is where perception management plays its role and helps defeat the hyperbole of the Nexus. I hope somebody somewhere is listening. For far too long have we been reactive to events manipulated by the Nexus and set up as baits; for a change let us force them to be the responders.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
My first ever film was ‘Parivar’ (1956); I am not sure what the cast was, nor the story; I only remember the wonderful taste of ice cold Vimto which my mother handed to me to keep me quiet. I learn Vimto is attempting to make a comeback to India, 60 years later and look forward to it to determine whether the taste will be the same. I saw this movie in an open air Army cinema at Damana, near Jammu and since then have had a particular liking for all open air cinemas. The best of them were/are at Mhow, even today; The Infantry School and Military College of Telecommunication Engineering (MCTE) excel at the total entertainment value of their facilities. The sheer pleasure of a beer, hot dog and chips and walk in walk out mode are unique facilities.
The first movie that I really enjoyed, without understanding the story, was ‘Moby Dick’ (1959). My father explained me the story later but I chanced upon it again only on a Thai Airways flight three months ago (2016) and then thoroughly enjoyed it watching it again. Among the classics that my father took my brother and I to watch were ‘The Time Machine’ based on the book by HG Wells and ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’. The parents refused to take us for K Asif’s ‘Mughal e Azam’ because all unit officers and their wives wished to see it together without the children. An opportunity once missed comes several years later. Later I saw the full color version only in the 90’s. This was vintage 1960.
By 1961 I was a movie goer par excellence because the Staff College movie hall, incidentally the good old Sardar Patel Lecture Hall, provided film shows for children and the movies were the regular ones, not the ‘kiddy’ ones. I was decidedly bored with some romantic ones featuring Audrey Hepburn or Cary Grant. It was the time of the macho star Steve Reeves in ‘Goliath and the Barbarians’ and ‘Spartacus in Chains’. The first real Western was watched at this time and it was a movie called ‘, Run on the Arrow’, followed up by the multi starrer – ‘The Big Country’.
The early to late Sixties saw me enter Sherwood Nainital where the movies were screened twice month with help of a single 16 mm projector; there were intervals whenever there was a break in the reel or a change of reels was needed. The 16-17 reels were usually rolled into three spools thus forcing only two programmed breaks. But the movies were out of the world. Sherwood was very nationalistic in outlook and always screened a Hindi film on Independence Day. ‘Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani’ was the first of these that I saw. During the 90 days long winter holidays it was one big movie watching relay that I was usually involved in. In 1963 I saw Kohinoor, the Dalip Kumar starrer, in 1964 it was Raj Kapoor’s ‘Sangam’. The latter was such a hit with its music that 14 of our senior boys had earlier ventured to see it at night by bunking from the school promises after placing well-formed dummies in their beds. They were caught and underwent a unique punishment of having to memorize 900 lines of poetry; why our revered Principal chose the figure of 900 has never ever been revealed.
Sherwood had a fine movie tradition. It arranged special shows at the local movie halls whenever a classic happened to be screened. The entire school trooped down and saw the movie together. There were other times when the movie was considered not so classic but good enough to be watched individually if we wished. The first few of the ‘greats’ I saw in this mode were ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘Sound of Music’. More macho stuff was in the form of ‘633 Squadron’, ‘Guns of Navarone’, ‘Lost Command’. I am not sure why but Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Cleopatra’ did not meet our Principal’s approval and I remained without seeing the classic till date. However, I am thankful that we were sent to town to watch Peter O Toole and Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. The memory stayed and I could appreciate much better my own visit to Wadi Rum in the Jordanian desert many years later. Of course no movie recall is complete without Clint Eastwood’s great Dollar series ending with ‘Hang en High’
I shouldn’t create an impression that I was only a Hollywood admirer. At heart I was always desi. I loved Dev Anand’s ‘Guide’ (1966), Shammi Kapoor’s ‘Teesri Manzil’ and Dalip Kumar’s ‘Ram aur Shyam’. But the one which had all our hearts thumping was ‘An Evening in Paris’ starring Shammi and Sharmila Tagore. The producer did a publicity blitzkrieg by putting a bikini clad Sharmila on the cover of Filmfare and Young India went bonkers. The magazine was sold in black market for a major premium.
Entering college at the cusp of the 70’s it was a little more high-brow at St Stephen’s. It was the time when Chanakya theatre was inaugurated and Cinerama with the deep curved screen wowed Delhi. I watched the amazing Alec Guiness in ‘Cromwell’ and George C Scott as George S Patton in the epic ‘Patton’, all at Chanakya. Also some new world musicals like ‘Woodstock’ and family classics such as Sidney Poitier’s ‘Guess Who is Coming for Dinner’, which had the gracious presence of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. ‘The Night of the Generals’, with Peter O Toole and Omar Sharif.
Once into the Army, movie going was a great thing during courses in Mhow or Belgaum. In the mid-70s I was with my unit at Udaipur and in those days we had 21 officers to a unit compared to 10-11 today. Amitabh Bachchan was breaking ground with ‘Anand’, ‘Zanjeer’, ‘Deewar’, ‘Majboor’ and ‘Kabhi Kabhi’. His films remained favorites and once I was married in 1980 the passion for watching any Amitabh starrer became an obsession as my spouse was a fan and a true one at that. A few years later, she shook hands with him in Allahabad our home town, which Amitabh represented in the Lok Sabha in 1985. She threatened that she would not wash her hands thereafter. But while at Udaipur it was Sholay, seen many times over. Never left memory; the dialogues ever green as they were.
At the IMA in 1981-83, as a young Platoon Commander and newly married, movie going was again a pleasure. The IMA movie hall was still at the Shivalik Block S-16. Colour TV had just come into India and so we had options of TV, IMA films and the market. The films stuck to memory are ‘Insaf ka Tarazoo’, ‘Silsila’ and ‘Nikaah’. I cannot recall a Hollywood film of that time although we saw many. While at the Staff College Wellington, I was not a serious movie goer at all; the late 80’s were spent in Sri Lanka and then in turbulent Punjab. Yet, one can’t forget the un-forgettables that we saw on VHS tapes in the acquired craze of those days – the VCR. Madhuri in ‘Tezaab’, Anil Kapoor in ‘Ram Lakhan’. By this time Bollywood was obsessed with Sylvester Stallone and the movies based on Afghanistan – Rambo and the likes. As a late memory a recall is of The Towering Inferno and a string of disaster related films. There was less computer generation of visuals then and that is why one could marvel at the sets and the screenplay.
The 90’s saw me in and out of Delhi. PVRs had yet to emerge. Shiela, Odeon and Plaza were on their last legs. Chanakya was a shadow of its glorious past. The Hollywood bonanzas which come to mind are ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Titanic’. Among the Bollywood ones one enjoyed the early Shah Rukh efforts with Kajol and of course all the Madhuri movies.
By the turn of the Millennium I was clearly losing it. My interests were more into knowledge acquisition and less into entertainment. I stopped reading film magazines even for recreation and preferred only those films which had an Oscar connection; a sure sign of growing older and too mature for fun. Besides this I was far too involved in Kashmir which left me no time for films. A movie I really enjoyed was ‘Forest Gump’ with Tom Hanks becoming a favorite. That led me to see ‘Castaway’. ‘Black Hawk Down’ was seen because of my association with the UN Peacekeeping operations and then the viewing of ‘Hotel Rwanda’, a film I can see many times over because of the association I have with the fascinating country, Rwanda.
Among the finest films of the 90s which I only saw in the first decade of the new Millennium was ‘Bridges of Madison County’, starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in a mature and touching love story. I would always recommend it to friends but also advise them to read the book before they see the film.
I am not a film junkie today but I do enjoy an odd movie and let me admit it I do prefer Hollywood for the technical excellence and acting and Bollywood for the music. The recent film ‘Bajrangi Bhaijaan’ was enjoyable but the scene which took the cake was that of the Sufi qawwali at the end. I suddenly find I am veering towards Sufi music. Coke Studio’s Aik Alif left me enthralled.
So from a writer on strategic affairs and military issues it is always good to take a professional break and write on issues which have fascinated you. If you can do it only from memory, like I have done, then the pleasure is even more.
Happy movie going to all readers.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
The US Congress about turn on the supply of F-16 advance fighter aircraft for Pakistan appears less to do with policy and more an action borne out of frustration; a temporary inconvenience for Pakistan.
According to the deal, Pakistan would have paid $270 million and the remaining $430 million was to come from the US; the Congress has refused the US liability which could force Pakistan to pay the entire $700 million. Technically the aircraft sale hasn’t been blocked; it’s the free lunch’s that has gone, at least so far.
However, ever since it’s involvement in the US tangle in Afghanistan in late 2001 it has been treated as a strategic ally with arms and humanitarian aid. Approximations put the total bill at $35 billion.
Given the inability of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to secure a military victory against the Taliban and the decision to progressively draw down and eventually withdraw, the US has been largely dependent on Pakistan to ensure the stabilization of Afghanistan and its West backed government in Kabul.
However, Pakistan has its own security concerns with a raging insurgency/terror campaign in the restive NWFP and other border areas with Afghanistan. It also perceives that this terror campaign is supported by India and Afghanistan due to which it needs its own strategic space inside Afghanistan to push out India’s hold. The third of it security concerns is the border with India especially in J&K.
Munir Akram, former Pakistan Permanent Representative at the UN, in a commentary in the Dawn ascribes three reasons for the US Congress decision.
These are firstly, to put pressure for the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who allegedly took the DNA samples from Bin Laden’s hideout under the garb of an inoculation program.
Secondly, to force Pakistan to take military action against the Haqqani Group.
And, lastly to prevent deployment of theatre nuclear weapons against India on Pakistan’s eastern front.
Akram strongly justifies Pakistan’s apparent decision to refuse acquiescence on any of the demands, which actually are assumptions and nothing more. The Pakistani attitude actually stems from an incremental confidence in its handling of foreign affairs over the last two years; much of it comes from the backing it receives from China.
The Obama Administration clearly needs Pakistan for the final US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But Pakistan continues to believe that it is the victim of conspiracies and the space in Afghanistan is being used to marginalize it. Hence its intent is to keep intact those networks which will aid it in the control over Afghan space and denial of the same to India. That is the crux of its differences with the US which it feels is now veering towards India as a big strategic partner.
There are compulsions which force the US Administration to have perceptions about keeping Pakistan stable and having its stakes firmly grounded there. Not the least of these is the geo strategic location that Pakistan commands. Hardly is it realized that Pakistan sits on real estate which is the virtual meeting ground of four civilizations. The Persian, Central Asia, Indian and Chinese civilizations have their shades of influence and bring their own dynamics to the meeting ground.
So close to the Middle East, connected to China by what will become a major link artery of the world the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, occupying a very important segment of the coastline of the Indian Ocean and possessing inland routes from the Indian Ocean to Central Asia; this is what makes Pakistan such an important nation, bestowed the favors of geography.
Pakistan seldom realizes that India’s agenda remains focused on emerging as a strong economic power, be a workhorse of economic progress and deliver to its people a high quality of life..
The US fails to recognize the limitations of its influence, chooses to ignore Pakistan’s shenanigans and continues the policy of weapon supply by certification or otherwise by the Chief Executive. What it also fails to appreciate is the cumulative effect this has on Pakistan’s confidence and its ability to continue its policy of proxy war against India ignoring the world at large.
The idea of dual usage of this military hardware, which is supposed to enhance Pakistan’s internal security, is well known to the US but it fails to factor this in for all the reasons explained. As the core center of Islamic radicalism the failure of the US to place strong curbs on Pakistan helps the latter’s military to play the cards at will.
The US and others also fail to perceive the true picture of the mild response from India to provocation. It is India’s continued commitment to its people that it has not been provoked to adopt a military response because its focus remains on its own comprehensive growth.
However, increasing Pakistani confidence in the light of its strong relationship with China, military support from the US and broad understanding that Pakistan bears the key to finding peace and stability in Afghanistan, is likely to lead to an unrealized crossing of the threshold of India’s tolerance.
Theatre nuclear weapons cannot be deterrence once India has clearly decided to use a military option. It has the strength of its own nuclear arsenal and doctrine which unambiguously recognizes that second use is not contingent on the size or type of nuclear weapon launched against its territory or military forces as the nuclear trigger.
Is the current action by the US Congress a result of India’s lobbying? This is what Pakistan is making it out to be. If at all, this lobbying has clearly not achieved anything strategic because the US system has enough loopholes to maneuver a decision in favor of Pakistan; the F-16s will be delivered to it by hook or by crook. Clearly, India’s emerging strategic relationship with the US is not yet sufficiently robust to offset Pakistan’s importance as a US ally and partner.
The Rebalancing or Pivot to Asia appears to be factoring in the role of Pakistan in stabilizing Afghanistan far more than India’s role in the Indo Pacific. This is unlikely to change and India needs to cater for that with its own policy of enhancing its combat ratios with Pakistan.
The recent killing of Mullah Akhtar Mansour by an American drone, in Baluchistan near the Iranian border is leading to speculation that it was done on the basis of information provided by Pakistan itself.
If true it was obviously an attempt to make up to the Americans, send positive signals to the US Congress and remove a dangerous obstacle from the way; Mansoor was known to be less than cooperative with Pakistan’s ISI and had been instrumental in calling off the peace process in August 2015. If indeed Mullah Akhtar Mansour’s death is linked to the Pakistanis it would prove how fickle are partnerships in the game of international subterfuge and posturing.
If nothing else, the temporary halt of the sale/supply of F 16 aircraft to Pakistan, would have achieved one major change in US policy in Af-Pak; the now acknowledged US of extension of the drone attacks to Baluchistan from the NWFP and FATA border region. The F 16s will still find their way to Pakistan’s arsenal but would have succeeded in changing much of the strategic landscape of the environment which they hope to secure.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
When Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani chose to alter former president Karzai’s favored approach towards India in 2014, India had the option of being vociferous and aggressive in its approach towards the new government to retain its influence.
However, it chose to follow a more conciliatory approach and wait it out.
True to its expectation the situation turned around in less than a year. It is then that the Prime Minister visited Afghanistan, promising to continue the old relationship and extended full soft power support with value assistance in the field of training of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
In the post Mullah Mansour period when Afghanistan is once again in a tenuous state of security, the Afghan government of Ghani would be motivated to receive a high profile international personality. The event, is the inauguration of the Salma Dam, a project undertaken by the Government of India on Chist-e-Sharif river in Herat province of West Afghanistan at a cost of $300 million.
Interestingly, the equipment for this project was transported from India to the site through Bander Abbas port in Iran and then via 1200 KM of rail and road transportation network. In a way that signifies the worth of the PM’s other successful mission, Chahbahar port.
His visit to Afghanistan so early after the path breaking trilateral agreement on Chahbahar between India, Iran and Afghanistan is demonstrative of the consolidation underway. The inauguration of a major Indian assisted project provides the right optics in the emerging dynamics of the New Great Game which is so much to do with infrastructure.
The Prime Minister then goes on to Doha in Qatar, a country which in recent years has punched far above its weight in Middle East and in fact international politics. Energy rich, expanding infrastructure and urban construction Qatar has 7,20,000 Indians ranging from construction workers to banking professionals.
In 2012, they remitted $2.29 billion to India and the amount has gone up since. The 2022 FIFA world cup promises continued hectic construction activity and therefore jobs.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar is currently playing a pivotal role in international affairs — presiding over reconciliation talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan-supported Taliban; an active member of the US-led coalition against ISIS but also accused of financing the terror group.
The Sheikh visited India in March, 2015 and it is important that the Prime Minister is returning the call. Coming after visits to UAE and Saudi Arabia this visit should be observed as a continuum of engagement with the Gulf countries where 7.2 million Indians reside and work.
The Prime Minister’s programme interestingly has a visit to a workers camp; the symbolism must not be missed as the high rate of deaths of expatriate labour working on the world cup stadia has raised eyebrows.
It is learnt that almost a thousand Indians have died so far. Modi’s hip hop in the Middle East, straddling the Persian Gulf is a consolidating format which helps maintain equilibrium in India’s relationship with the Islamic world. It is always good to be in touch with an important Middle East player whose strategic weight is only increasing.
Switzerland is in many ways all about touching base with Europe’s intellectual capital. A longer visit would perhaps have delved into the larger aspects of international money laundering.
This visit is more about the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), something on which India has pinned its hopes for the future after the Indo-US Nuclear Deal lost momentum.
China, which earlier supported India’s membership, on May 19 announced its intent to oppose it at the Vienna meeting on June 9, 2016. China’s stance is based upon Pakistan’s instigation and follows the earlier pursued policy of membership of NSG only after signing of NPT. The visit is therefore more focused and tactical this time but will establish base for subsequent consolidation.
Modi’s fourth visit to the US in two years may be considered by some as overkill. However, this is where true consolidation actually sets in. The complexity of Indo-US relations demands that constant engagement at the highest levels must continue for clarification of minds and taking the work in progress to a higher level of understanding and consolidation.
Addressing the US Congress is an honour no doubt and it will give key players in US power circles an opportunity to hear directly from Modi’s vision Of India for the world in which both the countries consider themselves natural strategic partners.
It will help build trust with a legislature which is all important. The F-16 deal for Pakistan is on hold at the instance of the very same legislature.
Many times the pursuance of US foreign policy interests is contingent upon how the legislature perceives it. A chance to interact with members of the Senate and the House of Representatives will further clarify minds and re-generate interest in India as a valuable all weather friend.
It’s good that the Prime Minister will interact with some think tanks. He did not get a chance to do that the last few times.
American strategic thought offers variety of ideas and Modi is himself an ideas man who has learnt international strategic affairs rather quickly. It will contribute much towards mutual benefits to the think tanks to better understand India’s aspirations and how it intends to achieve the same.
Fresh from Afghanistan and the Middle East it is US interests there too which are at stake and updates are always welcome. Of course, the NSG entry issue will dominate discussions and the strategy to manoeuver around the China lobby.
The last port of call is Mexico where the Prime Minister touches base on June 8-9. He will have extensive talks with Mexican President Enrique Peieto on key bilateral issues including India’s membership in the NSG.
Mexico has a similar perception as China which revolves around the necessity to sign NPT before a ticket to the NSG. Four of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council are supporting India but yet there are other important countries such as Switzerland and Mexico which oppose it.
Mexico is not an unimportant country and potential for higher trade (from current levels of $6.5 billion) is existent. However, the warmth of ties will be decided by how much Modi can convince the Mexicans for their valuable vote on June 9, 2016.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
On his fourth visit to the US and seventh meeting with President Barack Obama, all in two years his, transformative achievements have converted the Indo-US Strategic Partnership to what seems to be the take off stage.
Is it the full Monty this time, finally 25 years after the Kicklighter Proposals were put to the Narasimha Rao Government?
Even before attempting to justify the presumption of a full Monty it is tempting to take the US-India-Pakistan equation as first context.
It was hyphenation of the India-Pakistan linkage in all strategic affairs which held back the realization of the true potential of the US-India partnership.
The relationship was described by Prime Minister Vajpayee as one between ‘natural partners” on the basis of convergence of interests and democratic values.
Two things held this back and kept it pegged to only dialogue and just potential.
First was the inability of the US to transfer its focus from its Euro-centricity to the Asia Pacific where the next great game had already begun.
Much as it tried, the post-Cold War search for a new world order refused to move it away from the Middle East, from energy and from the emerging ideology of radicalism.
9/11 saw the further application of the pull towards Afghanistan and then Iraq.
In all these years of US efforts in Af-Pak and Iraq, China quietly developed its comprehensive power.
The second was the US dependence on Pakistan for the stabilization of Afghanistan; hence the hyphenation despite India’s clear breakout from the mold of sub-regionalism.
Afghanistan continues to be restless, Iraq and Syria are yet unstable, the ISIS is still a threat to reckon with; yet the US has decided that it has to move beyond and clearly the destiny lies in the Indo-Pacific, a term it has deliberately chosen to foist, for good reason. T
The Iran Nuclear Deal was driven by this strategy too and it took some convincing for the US to itself feel the necessity of bringing Iran out of isolation.
Back to the Modi US visit. Many feel that Barack Obama as a lame duck President would be unable to take transformative decisions.
One thing seems removed from consideration; the potential of the Democrats returning to the Presidency with a possible election of Hillary Clinton; something analysts, lawmakers and even the President would believe.
It would be the first instance of a third term for one of the two parties in the US, since the end of the Second World War.
That somewhat removes the clichéd label from the Obama Presidency enabling the President to take his decisions. Clearly, it was an advantage for India to reap benefits.
A natural corollary to Prime Minister Modi too, being looked upon as a transformative leader, and to the personal bond that has developed in six previous meetings.
Such visits and discussions must also be viewed in the context of the events that precede them.
The killing of Mulla Mansoor, Pakistan’s protests on violation of its sovereignty, the US Congress’ strictures on the F-16 deal, the India-Afghanistan-Iran Trilateral on Chahbahar and other cooperation, have all influenced the atmospherics of the Modi-Obama summit.
While speculation is still rife in the US about Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Iran and the Chahbahar deal (whether it fits in with the leeway given to Iran under the Iran Nuclear Deal of Jul 2015) there can be no doubt that India’s diplomatic establishment would have done its homework.
The Prime Minister’s visit no doubt would have been used to explain the dynamics and how Chabahar fits into the future of the stabilization of Afghanistan; one of US aims too.
Three things signify the full Monty. The first is the break out of the shackles of technology denial and discrimination exercised under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
In its inception MTCR was formulated as an India specific technology denial regime to thwart India from attaining cryo-technology from erstwhile USSR.
Over the years India developed its own such engines. George Bush broke all protocols to sign the India US Nuclear Deal which commenced the process of treating India as an equal and a responsible player.
Obama has put his stamp on facilitating the entry of India into MTCR thus opening up the potential for provision of spin off technologies and trade in missile and advance aviation technology.
The entry into MTCR comes full circle from the events of 1971 when Richard Nixon sent the Seventh Fleet into Bay of Bengal.
It set the path for a patchy relationship which saw the formation of the NSG and the MTCR, to deny India its technological ambitions after the Pokharan test of 1974.
Entry into the 48 member NSG now appears to have the support of almost all members and is fully backed by the US thus isolating China which opposes it.
There is speculation that India’s entry may as yet not materialize. Will the US go the full distance to accept and support China’s entry into MTCR for which it applied some years ago as a quid pro quo for China’s acceptance of India’s entry into NSG? That remains the moot point.
The second is LEMOA or Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement.
This is another agreement the text of which has been agreed upon and will be inked in due course. The transformational element of this perhaps surpasses MTCR.
It will open Indian maritime and aviation facilities for refueling and other logistics support to the US Armed Forces.
The ambit would functionally include the Indian Navy’s use of US ports such as Djibouti, Diego Garcia, Guam and Subic Bay as part of port calls, training and disaster management.
The implications go well beyond the functional aspects with India’s almost complete turnaround from a policy of isolationism in this field. If that is not transformational nothing else is.
There are other specifics which shore up the value of the visit. India’s support for the Paris Climate Agreement, clean energy, climate change and energy security through use of nuclear energy, are all valuable contributors towards the strategic partnership.
The third area which signifies the transformational nature of changes underway needs a little more explanation. This relates to the South China Sea (SCS) about which Joint Statements of the past have been bolder with direct reference.
This time the Joint Statement is conspicuous in the absence of mention of SCS although there is mention of the guidelines and road map on maritime security.
Much against what many may assess as compromise on strategic boldness I perceive this as strategic prudence. The US has displayed maturity in not insisting on the inclusion of SCS thus acknowledging India’s strategic sensitivities in its region.
It is in US interest to maintain the strategic balance in Asia and respect the interests of its strategic partners. This it has amply displayed by ensuring that in its projection it is willing to be reasonable and that its partnerships are not alliances aimed at third nations.
It is not necessary for partner nations which have their mutual interests well chalked out, to place in the public domain specific aims of the partnerships which will have ramifications on third parties or third party concerns.
Finally, the US appears to realize that it cannot expect a full cooling down of the Middle East, dilution of problems of Europe in relation to Ukraine or stabilization of Afghanistan before the efforts towards rebalancing can commence in earnest.
The Modi visit may well be the virtual culmination point of the decision making process which finally cements the US resolve to change tack and earnestly focus on the Indo Pacific as the priority of its concerns.
The Indian Prime Minister must be credited for having pulled out all the stops in finally converting a hesitating, nervous and tentative relationship into a truly strategic partnership – the full Monty so to say.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
Having spent many years in Kashmir in various capacities in the hinterland, from Awantipur and Srinagar to the LoC at Uri, I have never enjoyed the Valley the way I did as a child in 1956.
With my parents at Jammu’s Damana Cantt that year, we drove to Srinagar the only way then known, a public transport bus. Staying at the un-walled Badami Bagh, the delight was in the evening walks to Adoos whose cold coffee still lingers in my taste buds. The boulevard – that is what I presume it was – was awake till late and life was a breeze. The shikarawalas sang songs while paddling their oars; and there was cinema and salted peanuts just like at any other hill station. I never went back to that Kashmir again except very briefly.
Today, after 26 years of internal turbulence, the search for happiness in Kashmir ends very early. In fact it hardly begins. Unless you are booked at the high-end hotels like Lalit Grand or Taj Vivanta, cocooned in the hillsides of the Zabarwan and enjoying only the weather and the view and nothing much beyond. Within Srinagar, the unpredictable law and order situation is a fun-spoiler. Reaching the traditional tourist spots of Gulmarg and Pahalgam too is fraught with unpredictability because some anti-terror operation may be on or an ambush could have taken place on a BSF bus. If you manage to stay at an Army facility, the checking and the curfew timings for entry and exit will upset you no end.
Many who are stakeholders in Kashmir’s return to peace like to evaluate their own parameters on what peace means. Some prefer the term normalcy to the rather utopian sounding ‘peace’ because they do not think Kashmir was ever at war, or remains in any form of conflict. No need to debate the semantics because most of us would agree that much of J&K has not been normal for the last twenty six years or so. Many of us in the Army do feel that we have been in a war-like situation for all these years. The term is ‘proxy war’ and I too have been brought up on this belief which I still hold dear.
For a tourist, the understanding of normalcy would probably dwell on predictability; the ability to enjoy the Valley’s serene beauty in the company of loved ones, away from the din of Delhi and Gurgaon, without having to be confronted with shut-downs (bandhs) or cancellation of flights. Gulmarg and Pahalgam, Srinagar’s boulevard or the Nagin houseboats can’t be enjoyed if one has to keep Plan B, C and D ready to escape awkward situations.
Kashmir needs to modernize its tourist facilities and give the Kashmiri people more opportunities for entertainment
For a taxi driver, tourist operator or restaurant owner normalcy means tourists around the year and not restricted to the season. Tourists are carefree people. They like to do things they would normally not do while at their home stations. They like to take walks at awkward times, sit beside the lake and croon a few numbers, sip coffee at midnight in a brightly-lit coffee shop or eat aloo paranthas at 2 AM; some would love to even take in a cheap-thrill Bollywood movie, something they wouldn’t touch with a bargepole otherwise. Unfortunately, the proxy war has taken out the characteristic fun of a hill station. Forget tourists, it is usually difficult to find a smiling face in the local crowds. Happiness seems to be eluding its people and the new generation used to the gun-and-checkpoint culture is brooding in this unhappiness.
I do remember that on February 6, 2011 a young man in Maidan Tsogul near Handwara lost his life because he preferred to run when challenged by an Army ambush at 9.30 PM instead of stopping and identifying himself. It was a regretful case because all that the young man was doing was meeting his sweetheart in an orchard; a huge risk no doubt, given the environment. Where should young people meet and express love in a world today in which awareness is unbounded due to social media and the Net.
The awkwardness which prevails in the psyche of the young Kashmiri today is that he is technically modern, with access to information from all over the world. He is not necessarily radicalised as many would be wont to thinking. However, how does the modernity of outlook take shape? There are no outlets for entertainment, no burger joints which are open in the evenings and no coffee shops – the natural outlets for steam within the coffee and within the hearts. During the infamous Emergency of 1975-77, one of the first casualties was Delhi’s iconic Coffee House at the place where the run-down Palika Bazaar stands today. It was the place where intellectuals sat and let out all their steam against the system, the government and against probably God himself. It was Delhi’s happening place which gave much happiness to people until it was torn down. If Kashmir needs an outlet to vent frustration of the people, it is coffee, tea and kahwa which must find place in its landscape at ‘nukkads’ and at Residency Road. I now hear something like this is emerging, not in a transformative but in a slow way. The emboldening entertainment from stone-throwing can then perhaps be stopped.
Mercifully, one does hear of an odd seminar being organized at Srinagar but the feelings are yet tentative and hesitant. Many an expert is consulted about the safety of organizing these. The wonderful facility of the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre (SKICC) must unhesitatingly host events of a cosmopolitan nature, protests from the separatists notwithstanding. Some years ago Delhi’s outstanding choir, the Capital City Minstrels, were invited by the then-Chief Minister to perform at Gulmarg and the SKICC. The event was so poorly advertised that only a few rows could be filled, and Maxell Pereira and his excellent choir could hardly find appreciation. The German Ambassador to India organized the Zubin Mehta concert at the Nishat Garden a few years ago but the Separatists got the better of the event by organizing their parallel event based on the misplaced notion that local music and song were being endangered. Speak to former Governor SK Sinha and he will tell you of the show by the Pakistani rock group Junoon on the banks of the Dal Lake, and how it was appreciated by the young public of Srinagar and other towns.
The Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre must be used to organize world-class conferences at Srinagar to bring it on the international map of intellectual activities.
Kashmir’s youth needs to get out of the well in which has been been stuck. Frustration is rife, when information of the world is at your fingertips but the occasion and opportunity eludes you. Many believe and preach that cosmopolitanism is against the tenets of Islam. Yet, nowhere does Islam ban entertainment. A casual search of the Net reveals the existence of cinemas in Tehran, Dubai, Djakarta and Kuala Lumpur. Indeed they do in Pakistan too. Is there any reason why cinema should not return to Kashmir? All these cities, where people adhere to the Islamic faith, are rich in café culture contributing to the basic desire of their nationals to do what most human beings do; go out as families or with friends and sit around a table of food or steaming cups of some beverage or the other.
Good weather in Kashmir, especially around the spring season can see hundreds of families with their picnic baskets descending on picnic spots. The desire for fun and togetherness in outings is inherently there in every Kashmiri; and the ‘mehmendari’ they are used to, can even give some good Punjabis a run for their money. When a people have an unnatural environment which stymies their natural social psyche, the effect is even more frustrating.
So even as security agencies debate parameters of normalcy by comparing figures of grenade blasts and terror acts, they need to realise that security considerations go beyond physical limits. To secure a people you also need to create and promote an environment of happiness for them to thrive in. Nothing artificial; just see the desire of the people and combine what comes naturally to them from their roots. Don’t ever mar the happiness in families, for if you do so the memories would be difficult to detach.
Given the temper and anger in the streets, and the increasing tendency on the part of the public to come to the assistance of the terrorists once encounters begin, this advice will be criticised. But we seem to be hugely short on ideas on how to change the tempo in the Valley. We cannot await the end of street confrontation to commence initiatives towards changing the narrative, and we cannot be held hostage by Separatists who wish to play the religious card and keep a society from progressing. It’s a a difficult task for the government of the day: to change the concept of governance from the simple ‘roti, kapda, sadak, makan’ to something more transformational which will usher more happiness among the common people.
For the professional security provider, and for the political leadership perhaps, here is food for thought. The attempts to establish normalcy in Kashmir must have a concept that is commonly understood by both. Discussing this in only Unified Command Meetings is not going to evolve narratives that are well-understood. It has to be through brainstorming at the highest level and frequent meetings between the core agencies. As prime professionals in the game of counter-violence, perhaps the Army needs to take this more professionally, war-gaming it at all its premier institutions and giving the Nation the results of all its nurtured military intellect.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
War gaming is the finest method of picking brains. No amount of imposed solutions will ever carry the stamp of acceptance the way a home grown solution will. I am saying this in reference to the Pampore incident.
Social media is livid that the Army seems to be getting the blame for something which was a failure related to SOPs of a different force. One is happy to see media releases from Badami Bagh, my old Headquarters, which pointedly emphasize on the need for inter force cooperation and finding solutions within.
The problem relates to command and control and division of responsibility. It has existed rather long but circumstances thus far favored continuing the ambiguity as it seemed to work well.
Water tight tasking sometimes creates more problems and shared responsibilities become an issue. Obviously the functional ethos of ambiguity is not going to continue and imposed solutions will probably ensure that. My strongest recommendation is that it must be left to the players on the ground and solutions will emerge.
The Army’s tasking system and the ‘be prepared’ task list is a wonderful exit valve which I would advise all to follow.
My purpose of this essay is not to do critique; that’s the worst thing to do when problems confront you. Mine is an anecdotal piece to highlight how solutions are usually well beyond SOPs.
It’s the practical ground commander or a senior officer with passion and experience who ensures success and defeats nefarious designs by sheer strength of personality and following by his command. So read on.
In June 1999 I was the Colonel General Staff of HQ Victor Force at Avantipur. The Kargil crisis was at its peak.
The ammunition for the artillery guns, which were proving a nuisance to the Pakistani intruders at the heights, was moving along the same National Highway which has been the focus in the last few days.
It was crucial that the road be secure; we just could not afford to have ammunition blown up on the road. Those were the days when terrorists roamed the countryside leading to our simultaneously handling five to six engagements in the area of responsibility. So the threat to the Highway was real and intense.
The ITBP was responsible for the ROP and the Rashtriya Rifles (my HQ) provided corridor protection. I cannot even recall if it was a written arrangement. All I remember well is that I had high tea and lunch at the ITBP Force HQ almost every week, sometimes twice.
My General Officer Commanding (GOC) was a man of the ground and together we went checking the ROP every other day and ended up at the ITBP HQ for tea and exchange of ideas. There was never a problem of ego. The ITBP officers, all outstanding professionals, would always welcome us and exchange views and implement the ideas.
On a certain afternoon of that blistering June; it was the operational environment which was hot, not Kashmir’s salubrious climate; I picked up the phone and asked to be connected to the Commander of 1 Sector RR at Anantnag.
The Army’s location at Anantnag is right next to the National Highway in the virtual civil lines of the town. It is called Khanabal. The convoys going and coming from Udhampur all halt here for tea and turn into a convoy ground.
It is a vulnerable time for the HQ because gates are open and the vehicles all bunched up while entering. The HQ duty officer told me that the Commander and the entire staff were out on the road reinforcing the ROP.
I chided him saying HQ have better things to do than reinforce ROP. In the evening I spoke to the Commander and inquired about this awkward practice. He explained me the vulnerability factor regarding the convoy, the ammunition being carried by vehicles and the lives at stake in the buses.
He then went on to state that he would never be able to live with his professional ego if a single man lost his life or a single vehicle was blown up in the area of responsibility of his Sector.
Technically, he was not responsible for the ROP but the sector area of responsibility was his and he took ownership of it. Written tasking or none he would use every resource to do the needful.
Thus from 4 to 5 PM, everyday every available hand of his HQ who could use a weapon and had one would be on the road protecting the convoy. Sometimes such decisions and actions set passion afire. The actual effect may have been marginal but the fact that the HQ staff and all soft elements were involving themselves in a robust task sent a very strong message to the units of the Sector.
It may be worth recalling that a 18 Km stretch of un-metaled road with 110 Hume pipe crossings which fell within responsibility of 1 Sector RR and was most vulnerable to IEDs was kept safe for move of ammunition through sheer frontline leadership by example. I often quote this example in leadership talks because in my experience this was one of the finest examples of cocking a snook at written SOPs.
In 2007, I had just taken over the Dagger Division at Baramula. A change was in the air. Chinar Corps in Kashmir had scored major successes in eliminating terrorist leaders and reducing infiltration while exploiting the LoC Fence.
The terrorists struck back, as it usually happens. A large number of standoff ambushes on the main Highway between Srinagar and Kupwara caused unacceptable casualties.
The large convoy with protection vehicles and the small tactical moves of unit convoys were all equally vulnerable. Men inside buses did not carry weapons due to problems of accounting while they were proceeding on leave and wore no bullet proof jackets (BPJs); well no one thought you need BPJs in a convoy.
The Army Commander at Udhampur stepped in. He checked from his staff why men were reluctant to wearing BPJs while moving in convoys, even if proceeding on leave. Pat came the answer from one bright spark. The BPJs were just too heavy to wear on long journeys inside a bus. Pat also came the decision of the Army Commander.
In order to empathize with the travails of the officers and soldiers who were now under orders to wear protective gear and carry weapons, the Army Commander and his entire staff at HQ Northern Command wore BPJs for their daily duties twice a week.
It was expected at every HQ. I do remember receiving the Army Commander at Baramula wearing my BPJ; it wasn’t too comfortable but then orders are orders.
Another direction from the same Army Commander to obviate major casualties in the case of failure to prevent an attack was that no bus would carry more than 20 soldiers and no truck more than 10. It led to logistics problems because that was not the optimum carrying capacity of the vehicles and more vehicles had to be employed and buses hired.
I am sure if the audit authorities had objected the good General would have ensured verbal and written slaughter against them.
All service buses of Chinar Corps were hardened progressively; which meant that the sides of the buses were made bullet proof. The fuel consumption of the vehicle goes up drastically but lives are saved and soldiers travel mentally at comfort.
How did this idea come about? It was the same brigadier who used to turn out his staff to protect the convoy in Anantnag. In 2003, he was appointed GOC Dagger Division, in the rank of Major General. The convoy used to comprise large buses, which if fired upon from even standoff distances, were vulnerable as they were not hardened.
If an IED blasted in their vicinity the shatter effect of the glass windows would cause shards of glass to act as bullets thus causing casualties. The GOC wasn’t going to accept this and keep his men vulnerable. He visited the Central Vehicle Depot at Delhi Cantt, saw old and disused Vijayanta tanks lying there.
The skirt plates of the tanks, all hard armor plating, were cut from the hull, transported to Kashmir and welded to the sides of the buses. All glass windows were taped with broad transparent scotch tape to prevent shatter effect.
Disused industrial rubber lying at NHPC projects was picked up free of cost, melted and layered under the bus body giving it additional protection in the event of an IED attack.
In mid-2004, a stray Maruti 800 with a gas cylinder bomb and a suicide bomber (one of the rare cases in the Valley) dashed against a bus of the Dagger Division at Pattan on the same Highway. The terrorist blew the IED he carried.
It killed the driver of the bus but all occupants were safe; even the shards were limited. The Army took it from there and all buses were progressively hardened at the Base Workshop at Udhampur.
Frontline leadership of the Army can turn any negative situation on its head and practical solutions will always be found. We need to take inspiration from institutional memory, something the Army is terribly poor at. The Army Training Command at Shimla has a cell called the Center for Army Lessons Learnt (CALL).
It records all lessons from past operations. It should be the one tasked also to search its own data base for solutions when confronted with problems. Sending out bulletins is fine but in the rigmarole of everyday life these lessons do not get institutionalized.
My sincere advice to all who matter; let the forces in J&K be. Just sensitize them, express regret when failure takes place but do not impose solutions. There are enough good men and women who have the practical sense, patriotism and concern. They will find their own solutions.
Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain
PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM (Bar) & Advisory council member of GCTC
I readily obliged because that’s a country you can’t fail to know if you have any pretensions like me of being a strategic commentator. Yet, one has to be acutely conscious that Turkey is one of the most complex conflict zones, albeit not classical conflict, and people find it difficult comprehending the events there.
The elite love visiting Istanbul, the city divided into the Asian and European segments by the sliver of the Bosphorus. Tourists love to dine by the Bosphorus, step into the Blue Mosque and shop endlessly at the Grand Bazar, one of the largest market places in the world.
Ankara, the capital city is sited inside a bowl with hills all around. The terrain is like Ooty, the picturesque hill station in the Nilgiris in India. All over the hill tops massive Turkish flags flutter in the wind symbolizing the nationalism and spirit infused into a defeated nation by none other Kemal Ata Turk, also known as Kemal Pasha (Mustafa Kemal) one of the iconic personalities of the 20th Century.
I visited Ankara, Istanbul and the beautiful city of Izmir on the Adriatic coast in 2006 on a study tour with access to the higher levels of government and other institutions. What I learnt in my preparations for the tour and during the visit is good enough for a layman understanding of the happenings in Turkey today.
In a nutshell it is once again all about Islamism and it did not start a few years ago but goes back in history almost a hundred years or more.
The Ottoman Empire, founded in 1299 lasted almost seven centuries. It was a trans-continental empire based upon the Anatolian region as the core center. With Constantinople (Istanbul) under its wings, the Ottoman Empire was also a multinational, multilingual empire controlling much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa.
That it was Islamic made for its ambitious assumption of the mantel of the longest lasting Caliphate of Islam. It also remained the center of trans-continental dialogue and movement for many centuries.
It was both Asia and European and aligned itself with Germany in the First World War with a mistaken intent and was finally militarily defeated by the Allies in 1918.
From 1918 to 1924 the Ottoman Empire underwent the classic suffering of a defeated power until through the Turkish War of Independence Kemal Pasha emerged. It is sufficient to note that Kemal Pasha was the one who brought order to disorder and created the modern state of Turkey.
The fact that Turkey straddles both continents Asia and Europe and was hugely influenced by Persian culture did not escape Kemal Pasha. His perception for the emergence of Turkey as a truly powerful nation was based upon the belief that it had to acquire a contextual approach to modernism and acquire a European attitude and character to make progress.
To remain steeped in mediaeval thinking as was the practice of the Middle East, the Arab and the Persian culture, would spell doom for Turkey; never permitting it to move away from the shackles of the Middle Ages. Kemal Pasha was probably a man beyond his times and the manner in which he is adulated in Turkey says it all.
The sprawling mausoleum housing the memorial and the nearby museum symbolizes the awe with which he is held in Turkish society; has that awe been diluted? A positive response to that question would reflect the tragedy of Turkey and its inability to convert to the modernism it so aspired for.
In 1923 Kemal Pasha took some hard decisions to break the symbolic linkages with Turkey’s past, convinced as he was that the future lay in Europe and western thinking. Perhaps the modernism initiated by the industrial revolution in Europe was considered the vehicle of change. He decided to ban those symbols of Turkish existence which saw it being perceived as a part of the Persian civilization.
Persian was banned overnight and the state language became Latin. Even for road signs and mainstream media only Latin was used. The head scarf, veil and fez (long Turkish cap) were banned to prove the liberal nature of the new Turkish society orientated towards European taste, values and way of life. The making of modern Turkey was based upon a divorce from Asia and a remarriage with Europe.
To safeguard the change he had instituted Kemal Pasha trusted only the Turkish Army; he was a warrior too and an accomplished scholar at that. The Army became the guarantor of the ideology of Kemal Pasha and secular democratic principles enshrined in the Turkish Constitution.
The long march of Turkey from Kemal Pasha’s enlightened principles to the Islamism associated with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the current President and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) is a history of coups.
Opting to stay out of politics but watching over political actions and their effect on the people the Army implemented the mandate of the Founding Father, stepped in with a military coup when needed – but quickly handed power back to the politicians. However, what is not appreciated is the relationship of Turkey with rest of Europe and how that has contributed towards Erdogan’s rise and dilution of the principles of Kemal Pasha.
With its large Army Turkey was a welcome inclusion into NATO and the virtual vanguard against a potential invasion of Europe, surrounded as it was by the powerful Warsaw Pact nations during the Cold War.
However when it came to the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union (EU), Europe dithered, its racist bent coming full circle. Europe just did not wish for Turkey to be a part of the Union and placed every obstacle in the way.
During my visit to Ankara I met the officials at the EU office set up for the purpose of negotiating Turkey’s entry. Just one of the clauses laid down for this was the need for Turkey to clean up its environment to come up to supposed Euro standards; the cost of it was an unaffordable 30 billion US$.
The rise of Islamism in the Arab world and elsewhere along with the dent to Turkish self-esteem at being denied entry to the EU was a heady mix of emotion which helped in the decline of the Kemal Pasha legacy and the rise of what is now popularly termed Erdoganism.
This article is not about the coup per se. It is about the background which eludes most common people. Given the rise of modern day Islamism Turkey as one of the populous nations comprising Muslims made every effort to prevent Islamism embedding itself.
Erdoganism was the counter revolution which has been emerging in Turkey over time. The coup itself, about which more will be eventually written, was just a symptom of the struggle. It is not possible that with strong ideological counter currents Turkey could remain afloat with its aspirations outlined by Kemal Pasha.
Interestingly, in the fight against ISIS (Daesh), Turkey did not display the kind of energy that may have been expected from a nation which is a member of NATO. It was more concerned about the potential empowerment of the separatist Kurdish PKK in its South and East should the Kurds emerge the victors with the assistance of the Allies.
It was also suspected of keeping supply lines open to Daesh and even purchasing some of the oil from the Mosul refinery. It is only after the surge of migration that it truly went in for sealing its border.
Lastly, the temptation to compare the situation in Turkey with that in Egypt is too strong. In Egypt, the Army has similarly been the virtual guarantor of secular values against the radical Islamist philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Gamal Abdel Nasser had, in fact, hung to death one of the most radical Islamist thinkers – Syed Qutb.
Mohommad Morsi’s rise to power on the back of the Arab Spring and his attempts to introduce an Islamist character in Egypt in 2012-13 was strongly resisted by Sisi and the Egyptian Army leading to the counter revolution which sees Egypt under Army rule today.
Awkwardly, it was the US which was against the rise of the Army in Egypt and it supported the Muslim Brotherhood. This was anathema to Saudi Arabia which has always opposed the Brotherhood.
It is natural that the struggle between radicalism and moderate Islam will see many more such events at revolution and counter revolution. This is the proverbial churning which has to take place before reformation of Islam becomes inevitable; that is a scholarly belief, not a belief of the clergy or many who implicitly follow the faith.
Months before the dates of President Trump’s visit to India were announced, Trump had already had a taste of Indian political gatherings, at the ‘Howdy, Modi!’ event in Houston, hosted by the Indian diaspora. The 40,000-strong audience was a revelation to Trump, who had never witnessed such a gathering during his political travels across the US. Modi and Trump share a contempt for adherence to ‘conventional wisdom’. Trump was determined to get rid of policies like ‘globalisation’, which he thought had produced unsustainable trade imbalances, detrimental to US interests. He treated European allies with disdain. Modi, on the other hand, reached out to Islamic countries, while seeking friends and allies, to balance growing Chinese power.
During the Houston event, the New York Times, which has been traditionally hostile to India’s nuclear and security policies, noted: ‘Trump and Modi are both forceful, media-savvy politicians. But they are not alike. Modi, a self-made man from a poor family, is measured, ascetic and not driven by impulse. Trump was born on third base. He’s erratic, guided by the devouring needs of his ego.’ Despite these differences in their economic backgrounds, they both rose to the highest political levels in their respective countries.
Unlike virtually all his predecessors, Trump did not share the adversarial hostility of the US political, intelligence and military establishment towards Russia. Moreover, both Trump and Modi made efforts to befriend Chinese President Xi Jinping. They, however, found China uncompromising in its moves against its Pacific neighbours, some of whom are close US allies. Beijing is also determined to set its own rules, violating international law, in redefining its maritime boundaries. Trump has become uncompromising on bringing China to its knees by resorting to harsh trade sanctions.
Modi’s personal interest in the hospitality extended to his American guest and his family paid rich dividends. The Trump family was bowled over by the rapturous reception they received from an over 1 lakh-strong crowd at the world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad. They were also dazzled by the majesty of the Taj Mahal.
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and his team negotiated a joint declaration that signalled a new momentum to the India-US relationship, while also addressing differences on trade, investment and other economic issues.
Taking umbrage at India’s relatively small trade surplus of $24.3 billion in 2016, Trump had included India in a list of countries on whom he applied enhanced tariffs. He also withdrew tariff concessions for goods, which India was entitled to as a developing country. India retaliated by enhancing tariffs on a range of US agricultural products. India has imaginatively dealt with Trump’s complaints about trade surplus. There are indications that Trump will act soon to end a number of tough measures taken against India’s exports. China, with a huge trade surplus of $345 billion with the US, was confronted by trade sanctions, which compelled it to agree to import a vast range of US products. But a number of sanctions on China’s exports still remain.
Negotiations have also reached an advanced stage for the construction of six nuclear reactors by Westinghouse (US), in Andhra Pradesh. Moreover, following talks that Trump held with Indian business tycoons in New Delhi, JSW Steel has agreed to invest an additional $500 million for upgrading a newly acquired steel plant in Ohio.
The document issued by Trump and Modi reaffirms India’s status as a ‘major strategic partner’. It pledges support to the transfer of advanced military technology and dwells on expanding cooperation in renewable energy projects. Geopolitically, it refers to a ‘close partnership’ for the development of a ‘free, open, peaceful and inclusive Indo-Pacific Region’. Consultations are to be enhanced through trilateral summit meetings of the US, India and Japan and meetings between the foreign and defence ministers of India and the US. These meetings are apart from ‘Quad’ consultations. The past policy of avoiding any reference to our growing strategic cooperation to avoid causing offence to China, now stands jettisoned, following China’s enhanced support to Pakistan. Their military cooperation is also taking new dimensions.
The Trump visit has yielded positive results on economic and strategic cooperation. But it would be incorrect to ignore serious differences which would continue as the US approaches its presidential elections on November 3. The recent communal riots in Delhi, which took place when Trump was in New Delhi, have met with scathing criticism in the international media and from members of both Houses of the US Congress in Washington, cutting across party lines. Internal developments in India, including those in J&K, involving the detention of Kashmiri political leaders, accompanied by the periodic cutting off, and partial restoration, of Internet facilities there, remain the focus of international attention and criticism. This will continue as the US heads for elections.
Leaders of friendly Islamic neighbours like Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia found it necessary to voice critical statements on communal violence in India. This is unprecedented. Global attention was diverted from well-merited praise for the grandeur and celebrations of a successful diplomatic effort during Trump’s visit to the ugly communal violence and rioting in the nation’s Capital.
Us special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founders of the Afghan Taliban, set the stage for US withdrawal from Afghanistan on February 29 by signing ‘Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan’ in Doha. The agreement was signed with much fanfare, in the presence of representatives of US allies. Others present included representatives of India, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours and Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
The agreement reflects yet another failure of US military intervention in foreign lands, similar to what transpired in Vietnam. The conflict in Afghanistan was triggered by terror attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was the honoured guest of Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan, was the mastermind of the attacks. The retaliatory US attack on Afghanistan has cost around $2 trillion, including $140 billion for training and equipping Afghan armed forces and on economic assistance. Over 1.11 lakh Afghan soldiers, civilians and Taliban fighters have been killed in the conflict. President Trump believes that his chances of re-election will be enhanced by withdrawal from a seemingly endless conflict.
The agreement proclaims that the US will reduce its forces to 8,600 in the first 135 days and complete withdrawal of its remaining forces within the next nine and a half months. US allies in Afghanistan, mostly from NATO countries, will follow suit. This, in effect, means that the US will withdraw all its forces by April 2021. Trump was earlier keen to get all forces out before the presidential elections. He has been compelled by internal pressures to postpone the date for full withdrawal. The agreement, which was literally thrust down the throat of the Afghan Government, has faced challenges. The Afghan Government refuses to abide by the schedule to hand over captured Taliban fighters. The primary emphasis of the US is to ensure a quick and safe withdrawal.
The government, headed by President Ashraf Ghani, faces serious internal challenges from his former ‘chief executive’ Abdullah Abdullah. The political situation is murky, as the presidential elections which pitted Ghani against Abdullah were marked by irregularities, leading to questions about the legitimacy of Ghani’s narrow victory. The first deputy chairman of Afghanistan’s Senate, Mohammad Alam Ezdyar, recently noted that the political and security crisis during and following the separate swearing-in ceremonies of Ghani and Abdullah had put Afghanistan on the edge of the precipice, ‘amidst foreign intervention, corruption and poverty, emanating from this political instability’. The Senate has urged Ghani and Abdullah to sort out their differences. In the meantime, the Taliban refuses to accord legitimacy to the Kabul government.
Pakistan is determined to enforce its writ in Afghanistan by assistance to its proteges in Taliban’s Haqqani network that operates from Pakistani soil. The network will seek to take control of large tracts of territory in southern Afghanistan. Moreover, JeM leader Maulana Masood Azhar, who masterminded the attack on India’s Parliament in 2001 and the Pulwama massacre, has now ‘disappeared’ from his home at Bahawalpur. Azhar has close links with the Taliban leadership. A recent edition of the JeM publication, Medina, Medina, averred that the US-Taliban agreement was ‘victory’ of the Taliban jihad against the US. As fellow ‘Deobandis’, the Jaish will remain closely allied to the Taliban for promoting radicalism and terrorism in India. The regional and international situation is also taking an interesting turn, amidst this political chaos. While Iran has historically been anti-Taliban, it has changed tune now and interacts regularly with the Taliban. There appears to be an understanding that the Taliban will no longer persecute Afghanistan’s Shia Hazaras.
US special envoys to Afghanistan and Russia — Khalilzad and Zamir Kabulov — met in Doha, when the agreement was signed. Reports suggest that there was a meeting of minds that Russia would cooperate with the US to deal with the emerging challenges in Afghanistan. Russia retains a crucial security role in its former republics bordering Afghanistan, like Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which have concerns over Taliban links with Islamic extremists in the region. Russia faced internal threats from armed Chechens, supported by the Taliban. China, however, will be largely influenced by Pakistan in its approach to developments in Afghanistan. China maintained economic ties with the Taliban leadership, even before the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
India has been prudent and restrained in commenting on the recent developments in Afghanistan. It would only be appropriate for India to continue its economic assistance, if it is assured of the safety and security of its citizens in Afghanistan. It should join others in ensuring that differences between Ghani and Abdullah are resolved and a united front presented to deal with the Taliban. Violence in Afghanistan will inevitably continue, as the Taliban will almost certainly seek to control more territory in Afghanistan. Should the need arise, India could, at a later date, consider boosting the strength of the Afghan armed forces — after close consultations with the Afghan, US and Russian governments. Developments in Afghanistan are inevitably going to require continuing high-level attention in New Delhi. India should remember the role of the Taliban in colluding with the hijackers of IC-814 in Kandahar and its continuing association with Pakistan’s ISI and the JeM.