By Dilip Hiro
It’s still the most dangerous border on Earth. Yet compared to the recent tweets of President Donald Trump, it remains a marginal news story. That doesn’t for a moment diminish the chance that the globe’s first (and possibly ultimate) nuclear conflagration could break out along that 480-mile border known as the Line of Control (and, given the history that surrounds it, that phrase should indeed be capitalized). The casus belli would undoubtedly be the more than seven-decades-old clash between India and Pakistan over the contested territory of Kashmir. Like a volcano, this unresolved dispute rumbles periodically — as it did only weeks ago — threatening to spew its white-hot lava to devastating effect not just in the region but potentially globally as well.
The trigger for renewed rumbling is always a sensational terrorist attack by a Pakistani militant group on an Indian target. That propels the India’s leadership to a moral high ground. From there, bitter condemnations of Pakistan are coupled with the promise of airstrikes on the training camps of the culprit terrorist organizations operating from the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. As a result, the already simmering relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors are quickly raised to a boiling point. This, in turn, prompts the United States to intervene and pressure Pakistan to shut down those violent jihadist groups. To placate Washington, the Pakistani government goes through the ritual of issuing banning orders on those groups, but in practice, any change is minimal.
And in the background always lurks the possibility that a war between the two neighbors could lead to a devastating nuclear exchange. Which means that it’s time to examine how and why, by arraying hundreds of thousands of troops along that Line of Control, India and Pakistan have created the most perilous place on Earth.
How It All Began
The Kashmir dispute began with the birth of the kicking twins — Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan — as independent countries. They emerged from the belly of the dying British Raj in August 1947. The princely states in British India were given the option of joining either of the new nations. The dithering Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir (its full title) finally signed a legally binding instrument of accession with New Delhi after his realm was invaded by armed tribal raiders from Pakistan. This document offered that state’s citizens the chance to choose between the two countries once peace had been restored. This has not happened so far and there is no credible prospect that it will.
After the 1947-1948 Indo-Pakistani War that followed independence, India was left in control of almost two-thirds of the princely state (18% of which it lost to China in the Sino-Indian War of 1962). Crucially, the 45% of the former princely state that remained in its hands included the Vale of Kashmir. Guarded by snow-capped mountain peaks, covered with verdant forests of fir and pine, carpeted by wild flowers in the spring, and irrigated by the Jhelum River, it has been described by poets and others as “paradise on Earth.” Its population of seven million is 96% Muslim. And it is this territory that is coveted by Pakistan.
In 1989, having secured the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan after a 10-year struggle, some of the Afghan Mujahedin (“Holy Warriors”), including Pakistani militants, turned their attention to liberating Indian-controlled Kashmir. In this, they had the active backing of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, of Pakistan’s army. Earlier, the ISI had acted as the conduit for channelling U.S. and Saudi-supplied weapons and cash to the Mujahedin coalition.
At that time, the two Pakistani groups in the Mujahedin coalition, which always harboured an anti-Indian agenda, emerged front and center. They were the Jaish-e Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous), led respectively by MasoudAzhar and Hafiz Saeed. Working with those Kashmiris who wanted their state to secede from India, they soon began to resort to terrorist acts.
The Indian government responded with draconian measures. In July 1990, it passed the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, or AFJKSP, a law that authorized the state government to declare any part of Jammu and Kashmir a “disturbed area,” where the Indian army would be free to shoot anyone acting in contravention of “any law” or in possession of a deadly weapon. Indian forces could now arrest people suspected of committing any offense without a warrant or enter and search any premises to make such arrests. In other words, from then on, the armed forces had carte blanche legal immunity to do whatever they wished without the slightest accountability.
Yet resistance to Indian rule did not subside. In fact, the slogan “Azadi” (Freedom) caught on, emboldening both terror groups to jointly launch an audacious attack on the Indian Parliament building on December 20, 2001, with the aim of taking lawmakers hostage. (They were bravely blocked by armed guards.) In the crisis that followed, the mobilized armies of the two neighbors, each already a declared nuclear power, faced off across their international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. Pressured by Washington, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned the two terror organizations in January 2002. Yet both of them soon resurfaced under different names.
In June 2002, at a regional conference in the Kazakh city of Almaty, Musharraf assailed then-Indian Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee for ignoring the wishes of the Kashmiri people. “The possession of nuclear weapons by any state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances,” he stated grimly, refusing to commit his country (as India had) to a “no first use” policy on nuclear arms. Vajpayee accused him of “nuclear blackmail.” At home, however, Musharraf’s hardline stance was applauded by the militant groups.
Over the years, the crisis only deepened. In November 2008, for instance, working with the ISI, the operatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked Mumbai’s landmark TajMahal Palace Hotel and two other inns. After a 60-hour siege, 166 people, including 28 foreigners, were dead. Despite initial denials, Pakistan would finally acknowledge that the Mumbai conspiracy was, in part, hatched on its soil, and place Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Saeed under house arrest. But no charges would be leveled against him and he would, in the end, be released.
After the Mumbai carnage, Jaish-e Mohammad’s chief, Azhar, kept a low profile for several years, only to reappear publicly in 2014, issuing fiery calls for more attacks on India (and the United States as well). In September 2016, his fighters stormed an army camp in Uri, an Indian garrison town near the Line of Control, killing 19 soldiers.
With the Hindu nationalist BharatiyaJanata Party, or BJP, under NarendraModi gaining power in New Delhi in 2014, repression of the Muslim separatist movement in Kashmir only intensified. Within three years, the number of security personnel — army troops, paramilitaries, border guards, federal armed policemen, state policemen, and intelligence agents — had reached 470,000 in Jammu and Kashmir, which had a population of only 14.1 million. As a result, the proportion of local Kashmiris among anti-Indian fighters only rose.
This February 14th, a 19-year-old suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, drove a car bomb into an Indian convoy heading for Kashmir’s capital city, Srinagar. At least 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed — the worst such attack in the troubled history of the state. Jaish-e Mohammad proudly claimedresponsibility.
After dropping out of his village school, Dar had gone to work in a neighbour’s sawmill. During a four-month-long protest sparked by the killing of a popular 22-year-old local militant leader, BurhanWani, in July 2016, Indian troops gunned down nearly 100 protestors, while injuring 15,000, including Dar. In response, he crossed the Line of Control and joined Jaish-e Mohammad. In the wake of his suicide attack, Indian soldiers raided the home of his parents, locked them inside, and set it on fire. And so it continues in the officially “disturbed” Kashmir.
In response to the deaths of the soldiers (and keenly aware of an upcoming nationwide election), Prime Minister Modi exploited the situation for political ends. He turned popular grief into an emotive and prolonged commemoration of those military deaths. TV networks focused on the flag-draped coffins of the slain troops, while local BJP candidates followed their hearses. The cremations were telecast live, while Modi proclaimed that “the security forces have been given complete freedom. The blood of the people is boiling.”
On February 26th, temporarily released from civilian control, the Indian military launched a “pre-emptive” air strike on an alleged Jaish-e Mohammad training camp near Balakot, six miles inside Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The last time the air forces of either country had crossed the international border was during their 1971 war.
India claimed to have killed more than 300 militants, but Islamabad reportedthat the Indian bombs had actually hit a totally deserted site. (This would be confirmed later by satellite analysis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which concluded that no damage had been done to the hilltop facility India claimed to have struck.) The next day Pakistan announced that, in a dogfight between warplanes of the two countries, an Indian fighter jet had been shot down and its pilot, AbhinandanVarthaman, captured.
India angrily demanded that he be set free immediately. On February 28th, while announcing the pilot’s release during a televised address, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan warned against miscalculation and the explosive potential for such aerial skirmishes to escalate into a wider conflict in the most dangerous environment on the planet. He said, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn’t we think that, if this escalates, what will it lead to?”
This was a barely disguised reference to the devastating nuclear arsenals that the two South Asian neighbours now possess, with 135 nukes in New Delhi’s possession and 145 in Islamabad’s. Those arsenals are more than capable of causing havoc far beyond South Asia. It’s estimated that even a “moderate” Indo-Pakistani nuclear conflict could create a global “nuclear winter,” killing directly or indirectly up to a billion people as crops failed and starvation stalked the Earth.
In late February, India handed over to Pakistan a dossier with information on Jaish-e Mohammad, its top leadership, and their involvement in several terror attacks.
Islamabad initially said that the dossier was being “examined.” However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi added that his government could act against MasoudAzhar only if New Delhi provided “solid, inalienable evidence” strong enough to convince the country’s judiciary.
And yet on March 8th, the Pakistani government acted, launching a crackdown on leading terrorist groups. Among other things, it outlawed the Jamaat-udDawa (Society of the Islamic Call), or JuD, a welfare organization that raised funds for Lashkar-e-Taiba. It sealed the banned organization’s headquarters in Lahore as well as more than 200 schools, seminaries, and hospitals it ran. It also banned its chief, Hafiz Saeed, from leading Friday prayers on the sprawling JuD complex and kept him under surveillance.
One key factor that spurred such action was a warning the Pakistani government received on February 22nd from the Paris-based intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It threatened to add Pakistan to its blacklist of non-cooperating countries if, by May, it failed to take specific steps against the financing of terrorism. To be added to the FATF blacklist could mean being sanctioned by most Western nations, a development only likely to deepen Islamabad’s current financial crisis. (Recently, it has had barely enough foreign reserves to pay for two months of imports or service a huge loan it secured from the International Monetary Fund in 2013.)
In January 2018, President Donald Trump had already cancelled plans for Washington to give Pakistan $1.3 billion in military aid and had imposed sanctions on the country for its support of terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban. On Twitter, he accused Pakistan of “providing nothing but lies and deceit.” Soon after, the FATF placed Pakistan on its “gray list.”
Still, none of that proved sufficient to compel Pakistan’s powerful military high command to cede its traditional monopoly on national security and foreign policy decision-making, including its covert backing of anti-Indian extremist groups through the ISI. Only when pressure continued to build, bolstered by fresh urging from Washington, London, and Paris, was a critical mass reached that made those generals finally fall in line with recently elected Prime Minister Khan’s more conciliatory stance toward India.
Now, the international community can only hope that the carnage and chaos of February was the last in a tragic series of encounters between nuclear neighbours that could otherwise lead South Asia to devastation and the world to nuclear winter.
Being fair and transparent
By Navin B. Chawla
Two phases of the 2019 general election have been completed. Polling has finished in 186 out of 543 parliamentary constituencies. Polling in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, has been cancelled for corrupt practices. Five phases still remain till counting is comprehensively undertaken for all the seven phases of the election, on May 23. The reason to complete all the phases is that the result of any one phase should not influence the choices that electors may make.
Having served the Election Commission of India (EC) for five-and-a-half years during which I conducted the 2009 general election, I have an insider’s view, but of course am not privy to the inputs that the EC has and on which its decisions are made.
As I have argued in my recent book, Every Vote Counts, several negative features of our electoral scene have worsened. Since the Model Code of Conduct came into effect, in just the first two phases this time, money power has so reared its ugly head that seizures made of unaccounted cash, liquor, bullion and drugs amounting to ₹2,600 crore have already surpassed the entire seizures made in the nine phases of the general election in 2014. Most depressingly, this includes huge hauls of drugs, the vast majority smuggled into Gujarat. Uttar Pradesh is awash with liquor. Tamil Nadu has seen the largest seizures of illicit cash —over ₹514 crore.
These vast sums intended to bribe or influence voters prove several things. The first is that these sums almost certainly represent only a fraction of current illegal spending, a tip of the iceberg as it were. They have been detected by the EC’s machinery acting on the basis of tip-offs, or else by the vigilance of electoral officials in the States. Unfortunately, the bulk of illegal tranches of money, liquor or freebies would have reached their destination. Second, political players have refined their methods in being many steps ahead of the EC’s observers and their vigilance teams by moving their funds to their destinations even before the elections are announced.
Does this not make a mockery of the statutory limit of ₹70 lakh that each Lok Sabha candidate has as his poll expenditure limit?
As a country we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. When every rule in the book is being broken, when there is no transparency on how political parties collect or spend their funds, when limits of candidate spending are exceeded in every single case, then the time has come to debate whether we need to re-examine our rule book. In order to supervise the matches in play, the EC has had to deploy over 2,000 Central observers for the entire duration, drawing them out from their ministries and departments at the cost of their normal work at the Centre and in the States. Thousands of vigilance squads are set up and must act on the information they receive, which is why the current level of seizures have already made this India’s most expensive general election yet. An intelligent guess may lead us to a final tally of spending in excess of ₹50,000 crore, the bulk of which is made up of illicit funding and spending.
It is by now clear as daylight that electoral bonds, far from enabling a legitimate and transparent means of political funding, have proved to be the reverse. The EC, in its own affidavit before the Supreme Court, has admitted as much. The Supreme Court’s order has made sure that full disclosure, albeit to the EC, has already effectively killed further funding along this route. Nothing is a better disinfectant for camouflaged funding than sunlight itself.
With my experience this compels me to say that any serious reform with regard to funding must come from the EC itself, for it is very unlikely that any government will take an initiative in this direction. The EC must take stock after this election is over. It should convene a conference of all stakeholders, including of course all recognised political parties, both Central and State. But this should not be exclusively confined to them, for they will tend to support the status quo or they will be unable to reach consensus. The list of stakeholders must also include the best constitutional and legal minds in our country.
In my book I have also raised the twin problem of candidates fielded with criminal antecedents. The 16th Lok Sabha that has now passed into history, saw almost 30% of its members declaring, in their compulsory self-sworn affidavits, the list of criminal cases registered against them. They are also legally obliged to declare their wealth and their educational qualifications. This is the result of two vital orders passed by the Supreme Court in 2002-2003, the result of a battle that the Association for Democratic Reforms fought tenaciously. Unfortunately, in the first phase of this election, 12% of the candidates perforce declared that they had heinous cases pending, while in the second phase the figure was 11%. It may be noted that these cases include murder, attempt to murder, dacoity, kidnapping and rape. Have we forgotten Nirbhaya and 2012 already?
The matter of the Model Code of Conduct and its administration by the EC has been the most frequently reported single issue in this election. For those of a certain generation, the 10th Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), T.N. Seshan — he once famously declared that “he ate politicians for breakfast” — was the man who made the country sit up and take note when he decided to level the playing field as never before. There is little doubt that he reminded the EC that it had powers inherently enshrined in Article 324 of the Constitution — powers so great that there is arguably no other electoral management body with similar powers.
I learned this during my years as Election Commissioner, and these are the powers I exercised during the course of the 15th general election in 2009; I was successfully able to confront three Congress-ruled State governments and one Congress ally too. One of them even convened a special press conference to declare that his government would move the Supreme Court against the EC’s “arbitrariness”, but I personally had no doubt about its outcome. As it happened, he chose not to in the end.
The point I seek to make, by virtue of my own experience, is that the powers of the EC are so enormous and so all-encompassing that they exceed the powers of the executive in all election-related issues during the course of the election period. Of course, these must be exercised judiciously, fairly and equitably, not least because every decision is analysed in every “adda”, every home, every street corner and every “dhaba” across the country, where the EC’s decisions must be seen to be fair and transparent. During the years precedent to becoming CEC, I was fortunate that Mr. Seshan advised me whenever I called on him. As a result I never felt any need to make reference to government or court, once the process was under way.
If there is anything for me to applaud thus far in this election, it is the decision made by two political parties which have selected over 33% women candidates — Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (41% for 42 Lok Sabha seats) and Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal (33% for 21 Lok Sabha seats). After years of patriarchy or at best lip service, these parties have taken a vital step towards empowering women politically.
Why Imran bats for Modi
By Ayesha Siddiqa |
It seems that people from very odd quarters — such as Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan — want Narendra Modi to win the upcoming elections. Khan’s recent comments, in which he desired victory for his counterpart as good for the future of a peace initiative, may be driven by pragmatic reasons, but it indicates the separation that exists between the two countries. Following comments by the Opposition and in segments of the social media, the federal information minister intervened and pretended that Khan, who can often open his mouth before engaging his brain, was misunderstood.
Intriguingly, despite India being the most significant country in the neighbourhood, its election outcomes have marginal impact on the region. Khan’s statement, in fact, indicates that disconnectedness in which the head of the government of a neighbouring state refused to measure the implications beyond tactical effect. It seems a right-wing government in India does not matter to Pakistan. Or, perhaps, a Modi-led right-wing government is a wish come true for the ideological right-wing in Pakistan. For the first time since 1947, people do not have to convince each other of how right Muhammad Ali Jinnah was in creating Pakistan: Not that Pakistan was ever designed for all Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, but it now sees its formula for ideological nationalism justified in the face of rising religious-ideological nationalism next door in India. I have lived through the times when Pakistan’s intelligentsia was confused in the face of Indian secularism and democracy. Despite having their own country, there would be an internal conversation about the Indian experiment being better. The last four to five years has brought about a change in that thinking.
The BJP leadership of the last five years cannot be held entirely responsible for all the political and sociological change. If anything, the last four years have helped expose the true colours of the rising Indian middle-class that does not necessarily think very differently from the Hindutva supporter on certain issues. There is no sign that the Congress under Rahul Gandhi would have the gumption to change the course of society. Hearing the young Congress leader speak at a university in London, he did not seem to possess the temerity to deviate markedly from the ideological path that the BJP has chosen for India. However, there is an opinion in Pakistan that a Congress-led government, or any dispensation other than the present formulation, may be more cautious in how it approaches issues in the region.
Meanwhile, the general sense is that with Modi at the helm of affairs, war and conflict will mark the tone of relations between the two countries. However, this would be beneficial for Pakistan’s nationalist project that gets strengthened with every news of mob lynching of Muslims and other minorities, from India. This is not to argue that the state of minorities in Pakistan is any better: But New Delhi no longer represents a secular ideal. For Islamabad, a non-secular India is easier to contest.
The only limitation that Pakistan faces in fighting a BJP-led India is its own internal problems, like the dearth of financial resources, and not the intent. This also means that conflict cannot remain the only shrill refrain: A resolution would have to be negotiated for which the establishment in Rawalpindi prefers a BJP-governed India. Khan’s statement basically means that he, and others who share his thinking, believe that a strong right-wing government is the only credible element with which Pakistan could settle its matters. The question then is, what happened after the Lahore declaration? Wasn’t it a BJP-government that was willing to talk peace? Or, what happened to the peace initiative between the A B Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf governments?
Seen purely from the Pakistani establishment’s perspective, Kargil happened because the military wanted an equaliser at a time when the political government had not taken it into confidence. As far as the breakdown of talks at Agra are concerned, the right-wing in India was divided at the time and the segment represented by L K Advani did not want peace. For Rawalpindi, Modi represents a neat synthesis of India’s right-wing. Hence, the negotiations would be more comprehensive than ever before. The only problem, however, remains that how does one predict Pakistan’s deep state — whose contours, today, are even more difficult to define.
This understanding goes hand in hand with the thinking that the pragmatism of the Hindu right-wing would not stop Delhi from talking to Pakistan despite the latter’s habitual U-turn from peace initiatives. While the emphasis following most track-II dialogues, particularly after a bilateral crisis, is on the Indian members of the group to apprise their counterparts of the anger in India, the Pakistani side has always maintained that it is possible to pick up the conversation thread from where it was dropped. A decade into this behaviour, there is barely anyone on Pakistan’s side with the capacity to remind their own the highly problematic nature of this approach.
Not unlike today’s India, the cost of dissent in Pakistan is very high. There is little traction in the corridors of power towards an alternative approach to resolving the conflict. The deep state in Pakistan — which is not necessarily the entire military, but is symbolised by it — has gained excessive control of all discussions and dialogue. There is also the confidence that international and regional geopolitics allows Rawalpindi the opportunity to continue with its old approach. Money matters are critical, but it will not force a course correction unless Pakistan reaches a breaking point.
The Violent Misuse of a Sacred Symbol
By Manash Firaq Bhattacharjee
A friend had pointed it out to me, in an Arya Samaj Mandir. It was more than a decade ago, when a roommate in JNU, who hailed from Haryana, was entering into an inter-caste marriage with his long-time, Bengali girlfriend. The wedding was taking place against the wishes of their respective parents. There were only friends from the university, who were present to take part in the couple’s happiness. Such is the price of love, in a society where the celebration of “family values” and “religious values” have for generations, meant the celebration of patriarchy, caste interest, and economic interests. It inevitably meant the refusal to accept, the free laws of love. We were in the middle of the short ceremony when my friend drew my attention to a poetic line written on the wall: “Om means a thousand things. One of them is, welcome to the abode of the gods.”
Growing up in a Hindu household, I was of course aware of the symbol. It used to be drawn in red, on small urns made of copper, and placed before a deity. On the urn, Dūrvā (or Darbha, or Kusha) grass would be dipped in water. The Dūrvā grass comprises of three blades, which symbolises the sacred trinity for Hindus. Om, I slowly learnt, was considered the primordial sound, the sacred syllable, that would precede all chanting. The word has been associated with cosmic significance in the Aitareya Brahmana of the Rig Veda, as something that connects the liberated human spirit with the universe, as “essence of breath, life, everything that exists”.
It shook me from inside, to see the photograph of the Om symbol, being violently engraved on the back of a man I learnt is Nabbir, an undertrial Muslim prisoner in Tihar jail. Nabbir was forcibly marked and denied food for two days on April 12, allegedly by the jail superintendent. This is not just a terrible incident, but marks of a sickness that can quickly, if unchecked and not punished by law, spread into a fascist method of torture and humiliation. This is a bizarre act of classifying a non-Hindu victim.
It is necessary to pay attention to what is taking place in this incident. A language of horror is being established through this act of power. By engraving the symbol, the Muslim prisoner’s body was robbed of its sovereignty. Sovereignty here is political in the religious sense. The invisible presence of the sacred exists in the prisoner’s body. The marking of the Hindu symbol on his back, is a violation of the prisoner’s sacred world, where the meaning of sacred becomes territorial. The body is no longer the body of a man who can exist within his ‘human rights’, despite his lack of political rights as a prisoner.
What is ‘human’ within the man’s belief system is intrinsically his ability to exist as a man who belongs to a god. It is a spiritual relationship that belongs to the realm of another law, where governmental power is marked off, and ideally has no control over. What has occurred in this case is precisely this ‘human’ breach between governmental power and sacred power. The superintendent did not limit himself to the task of holding juridical authority over his prisoner. That limit was overcome by a violent superimposition of another authority (or power) that the superintendent had no right to use over the prisoner.
The act of marking a Muslim prisoner’s back with a Hindu symbol is not a sacred but a territorial act, where the mis/use of power involves marking someone with sacred symbols as proof of dominance. The act of marking the prisoner’s shoulder with the sacred symbol that does not belong to the world he inhabits within, is to humiliate his inner sense of sacredness by deliberating implanting an alien symbol on his body. That symbol is also torn from its own sacred universe, and made to symbolise something territorial.
In the Tihar jail incident, everything is reduced to the trembling of a body, where the sacred is turned into a mark of horror. It is a space where everything corresponds to nothing, where symbols are reduced to bones, where the holy is reduced to what in the Book of Revelation (13: 16-17) is called “the mark… of the beast”. The “essence of breath, life and everything that exists”, what is symbolic of Om, is violently taken away from the prisoner. He is left to breathe, and live, only his humiliation.
Whether you believe or not in the human soul, we can name the soul as an invisible entity that remains in correspondence with something unnamable. It is this soul that all forms of barbaric power want to control and humiliate, in order to reduce the human to a nonhuman status. Even in the Germany of 1938, Jewish prisoners were marked by a yellow star, which was a perverted form of the Jewish Star of David. When history repeats itself, it is not just as tragic or farce, but sometimes pure horror.