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Delhi’s Rs 450-cr gift to Kabul

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India proposes to announce a $100-million (about Rs 450 crore) financial aid for Afghanistan aimed mostly at building of public institutions and capacity augmenting during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Kabul this week. “There could be fresh assistance of about Rs 450 crore”, a senior government.

While Osama Bin Laden’s killing in Pakistan and its outcome on the war against terror will dominate the two-day trip, Prime Minister Singh is set to send out the message that “peace, prosperity, stability” of Afghanistan and “its people” are “top- of-the-mind issues” for India.

India is also concerned about the end-game in Afghanistan. With Osama’s killing taking US-Pakistan ties to an all-time low, experts think Delhi will be better heard in Kabul now.

Modi’s method

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By Sadiq Naqvi

After the genocide in 2002 and a string of fake encounters targeting Muslims, the ‘Hindutva lab’ is again active. Now, secular social activists are being branded as Maoists and jailed
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi

“The Gujarat government likes to keep stories on terror alive,” says Mukul Sinha, leading human rights lawyer based in Gujarat. Thirteen people have been arrested recently under one omnibus FIR for alleged propagation of the banned Maoist ideology in ‘Vibrant Gujarat’.

The FIR (No. I-37/2010, dated February 25, 2010, under sections 120 (B), 121 (A), 124 (A) and 153 A (B) of the Indian Penal Code, and Sections 38, 39 and 40 of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 1967) was lodged by Ravindra B Nikam, a sub-inspector with the Special Operations Group of Gujarat Police. It alleges a conspiracy against the State and points to the Maoist movement in Gujarat and north Maharashtra. It does not name any of those who have been arrested. Ironically, not a single instance of Maoist violence has been reported from Gujarat.On June 17, 2010, Abdul Shakeel Basha, a well-known social activist, was picked up by the Special Cell of the Delhi Police while he was leaving for work. His wife, Anju Shakeel, had no clue where he was until Special Cell officers brought Basha to his house in south Delhi for collecting evidence.

Basha, the Gujarat Police alleges, was an active member of the CPI-ML (People’s War) (now CPI-Maoist) from 1996 to 2004 and was trying to spread the Maoist movement in urban areas even after that. Sources close to Basha reveal that he was being followed for 20 days before he was finally arrested. “They even knew what he ate on the platform in Bhopal where he had gone for a public meeting on the gas tragedy,” says one of them. The police even tried linking him with some Islamist organisation, but failed to find any evidence.”I know Basha since 2004 and he has been working with us till 2008. As far as I know, he has no connections with the Naxals,” says Harsh Mander, member of the National Advisory Council (NAC).

Basha worked with him in Aman Biradari, an NGO working with the victims of the 2002 Gujarat genocide and for the homeless in Delhi, before founding another organisation, Haq, in 2008.”Basha has been fighting for the rights of the homeless and poor in Delhi. I have known him since 2004 and he was working closely with us,” says Indu Prakash Singh of Indo-Global Social Service Society, a Delhi-based NGO. He adds that even if Basha had Naxalite links earlier, he has now completely disowned the ideology and was leading a normal life. “How can they arrest someone because he was a member of an organisation that was banned after he had quit it?” he asks.

Hardnews learnt that even the police admit Basha is a “good man” and has an absolutely clean record since 2004. A source revealed that the police is pressurising Basha to become a police approver.Basha had worked in Mumbai after the 1992 pogrom of Muslims, helping the people to start their lives afresh. Shifting to Gujarat later, he worked first with industrial workers and then with Nyayagraha, a campaign of Aman Biradari for providing legal aid to the victims of the 2002 genocide.Basha’s activism has repeatedly exposed illegalities committed by the BJP-led government in Gujarat. “Two years ago, a young boy had been picked up by Gujarat Police from Seelampur in east Delhi. Basha had been instrumental in getting him released. The police had to pay a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to the boy,” informs a close aide of Basha.

Basha is not the only activist behind bars in Gujarat. There are 12 others who were arrested without any evidence of involvement in Maoist activity. One of them, Sulat Pawar, was recently released on bail after the court found no prima facie evidence against him. Pawar, the police alleged, had gone to Kerala for arms training.The civil society in Gujarat is aghast over the spate of arrests. All the arrested activists were working within the framework of the Indian Constitution. Avinash Kulkarni (57) was working with tribals in Dangs district for the last two decades, with the latest thrust being on the implementation of the Forests Rights Act. He was also opposing attempts of the Hindutva forces to instigate tribals against other minorities.

Bharat Pawar (40) was a local resident who had housed Kulkarni in Dangs. Makabhai Chaudhuri (49) and Jayaram Goswami (52) fought for the rights of quarry workers and diamond labourers, while Satyamrao Ambade (47) and Niranjan Mahapatra (37), nabbed from Surat, worked with textile workers’ trade unions. KN Singh (47), arrested from Bhavnagar, worked for local and migrant industrial workers, representing their cases in labour courts.”

No act of violence has been reported till date in which Kulkarni was involved. The police allege that he had sent two people to Kerala for arms training some 10 years ago. So how come they did nothing violent all these years even after being trained?” asks Ambrish Mehta, a civil rights activist who has worked with Kulkarni.Ten of the 13 accused have been arrested on charges of being members of CPI-ML (Janashakti). “Janashakti has been an overground organisation since 1992. Is it a crime to be a member of an overground organisation?” asks Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

Charge-sheets have been filed against 10 of the accused, in which the police claim that they are “professional revolutionaries” and “members of either CPI (Maoist) or CPI-ML (Janashakti)”, and that intending to usurp political power through violence, they had formed a ‘Surat Area Committee’ of the Maoist party. Mukul Sinha rubbishes these allegations, saying there is no Naxal presence in the area. Activists believe it is a ploy to get more funds from the Centre.”

Nothing has been recovered from Basha. The police have not been able to provide any evidence of the conspiracy, neither have they recovered any arms. One of the accused had named Basha in his confession to the police. That confession obviously does not hold ground in the court of law,” Basha’s lawyer Bilal Kagzi told Hardnews from Surat. Indeed, the bail of Sulat Pawar has created hope for activists. “There is no evidence against any of them, except the so-called ‘naxal literature’ the police claims to have seized from the accused. All of them will be ultimately released by the court of law,” says Mehta.

Activists point out that this repression is part of Narendra Modi’s agenda of ‘development’, pitched to assure the corporates that no one will be allowed to stand in their way. “The people who have been arrested are all secular and progressive, and were opposed to this Hindutva regime,” says Hiren Gandhi of Darshan, an NGO where Shrinivas Kurapati (34), another activist arrested for alleged Maoist links, used to work. “Now that the Modi government has been exposed and discredited on the Islamist terror front, this seems to be the new tactic,” says Srivastava.”

It’s a ploy to create a fear psychosis in the state,” says Sinha. This view is also echoed by Harsh Mander. “POTA was indiscriminately used against Muslim youth in the early part of the decade. Now, social activists seem to be their new target,” he told Hardnews.

Police action apart, there are other sinister ways to silence activists. Amit Jethwa, a prominent Right to Information activist, was shot dead near the Gujarat High Court on July 20, 2010, where he had filed a Public Interest Litigation charging Dinubhai Boghabhai Solanki, BJP MP from Junagadh, with running illegal mines and stone crushers in the Gir forest and on the Saurashtra coast. Jethwa’s father has alleged that the MP is behind this brutal murder. The MP is since absconding.”Anybody taking up issues that concern the bread and butter of the poor can be branded a Maoist. This witch-hunt is going on across the country,” says Gautam Navlakha, PUDR.Many others share this view. “The State does not want people to organise themselves. All those arrested are either trade unionists or were organising the tribals.

Anybody engaged in organising tribals can be termed a Maoist and put behind bars,” says Colin Gonsalves, senior Supreme Court lawyer.

Delhi police make arrests after ‘honour killing’

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Police in the Indian capital, Delhi, say a teenage girl and her boyfriend have been murdered in what they suspect is a gruesome case of “honour killing”.

Caste leaders frown upon marriages within the same sub-caste

Aisha Saini and Yogesh Kumar, both 19, were beaten with metal rods and then electrocuted, police say. The girl’s father and uncle have been arrested.

According to police, the girl’s family disapproved of the relationship because her boyfriend was from another caste.

Cases of suspected “honour killing” are rare in the Indian capital.

Correspondents say the killings – long a taboo subject in India – are now being reported more often. There have been a number of recent cases in regions near Delhi.


The couple’s mutilated bodies were recovered early on Monday after neighbours complained of a foul smell emanating from the uncle’s house in Swaroop Nagar area in north-west Delhi.

“When we found the bodies – the couple’s legs and hands were tied and they were bleeding,” Delhi’s deputy police commissioner NS Bundela told a news conference.

“The couple had been electrocuted as well, but we will wait for the full post-mortem report.”

He said the girl’s father and uncle had been arrested “but three suspects still remain at bay”.

Police say Ms Saini’s family feared she would elope with Yogesh and he was called to her uncle’s home on Sunday on the pretext of discussing the relationship.

According to the Hindustan Times, neighbours went to the house on Sunday but were told that a family matter was being discussed.

A police official quoted in the newspaper said the assault went on for hours.

The couple were beaten with “iron rods and other blunt weapons” before being forced to sit on iron trunks to which live wires were attached and they were electrocuted, he said.

“This is a barbaric act of violence and should be condemned. It is my duty to get the perpetrators punished,” Delhi’s Women and Child Development Minister Kiran Walia said.

So-called “honour killings” are fairly common in parts of northern India, but rarely heard of in the Indian capital.

In April, five men were sentenced to death and one jailed for life over the 2007 murder of a young couple who married against the wishes of village elders in Haryana state, not far from Delhi.

Elders said they had violated local customs by marrying within the same sub-caste.

Social activists say many young men and women die every year in northern states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

Some commit suicide, others are killed – often with the approval, tacit or otherwise, of village councils that still wield considerable power.

Radiation dangers: Indian lessons

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By Praful Bidwai

Three weeks after a Delhi scrap dealer was exposed to cobalt-60 and developed acute radiation sickness, the radioisotope was finally traced to a chemistry laboratory of Delhi University. Meanwhile, one of the 11 exposed scrap-workers has died. The condition of another two is reportedly grave, and that of the rest, serious.

The episode highlights the utterly irresponsible conduct of the authorities, including Delhi University and the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. The tragedy also underscores the infuriatingly poor capacity of Indian agencies to cope with mishaps, in particular damage caused by ionising radiation, an especially insidious poison that’s invisible, intangible and poorly understood.

In February, the University prematurely auctioned to a scrap dealer a gamma irradiator, the apparatus containing cobalt-60, which had been imported in 1968. A University committee certified that disposing of the entire 300 kg assembly, including cobalt pencils and lead containers, would be safe. The poisoning was revealed six weeks afterwards.

It’s extraordinary that a committee of science professors assumed that the cobalt-60, a powerful source with 3,000 Curies (a unit of radiation), had ceased to be hazardous. The half-life of this radioisotope-the time during which it naturally decays to reach half its original mass-is 5.27 years.

This means that about 10-20 Curies would still remain even after 42 years. And even one-billionth of a Curie is harmful to humans. For instance, the US Environmental Protection Agency sets a limit of 8- to 20-trillionths of a Curie for water. All this information is available in the public domain.

The University committee’s decision to auction the irradiator was indefensibly unscientific and cavalier. Its members must be severely punished for endangering the lives of innocent and poor scrap-industry workers.

But the other authorities haven’t conducted themselves exemplarily either. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board took its own time to track the irradiator’s total of 16 cobalt needles. It’s not the AERB’s “scientists”-in reality technicians, trained to handle simple instruments, much like electricity meter-readers-but the police, who tracked the cobalt-60 source.

In order that no case of radiation injury goes undetected, the whole chain of transactions involving the irradiator must be established. Three other scrap traders were involved. Groups of workers were exposed to the cobalt-60 at different intensities for different durations. Good, responsible science requires identifying the number exposed and extent of their exposure, so they can be treated over a long period.

There is another crucial issue. The irradiator assembly was reportedly sent from Delhi to Rewari in Haryana, where it was melted in a furnace. It’s imperative to establish the precise timing of the melting to estimate exposure duration and intensity.

It’s after the lead cladding was removed that the full intensity of radiation from the cobalt would come into play. Everyone who handled, cut, transported or stored the needles would have been exposed. They must all be tracked down.

However, the AERB hasn’t used a scientific model to map the transactions and processes through which the irradiator went and to estimate the overall exposure or the radiation doses received by the seriously injured, long-hospitalised seven survivors-despite the help it got from the Canadian exporter of the irradiator.

This is of a piece with the functioning of the AERB and its parent, the Department of Atomic Energy.

The extremely sloppy, inefficient, and unsafe DAE has never met a target or completed a major project without a typical cost overrun of 200 percent-plus. By its own projections-and generous subsidies-it should have installed 43,500 MW of nuclear power by 2000 and over 50,000 MW by now. The current installed nuclear capacity of 4,100 MW-3 percent of India’s total electricity capacity-was achieved at the cost of the health and safety of thousands of people.

Shielded by the Atomic Energy Act 1962, the DAE isn’t accountable to the public. It has a poor safety culture. The AERB, set up to regulate the DAE’s installations for safety, has inherited and imbibed its callousness and become its lapdog. The AERB has no independent personnel, equipment or budget, nor even the will, to gain functional autonomy within the DAE.

The AERB’s performance as the regulator of all non-DAE radiation-related equipment and activities has also been shoddy, irresponsible and corrupt. The AERB-created in 1983-has no full record of radiation-emitting equipment or activities going back to the 1950s. Its current records are also sloppy and its reports incomplete.

There are 50,000 X-ray machines, 735 radiotherapy units, 1,754 industrial radiography units, and thousands of apparatuses and radiochemicals used in physical, biological, chemical and agricultural experiments in India’s public and private laboratories and other facilities.

The AERB is meant to track all these. Under the Atomic Energy Act, it alone is authorised to finally dispose of all radioactive material, which it’s legally empowered and mandated to collect. It only rarely monitors regulation enforcement. It doesn’t order labs to hand over to it material for final disposal. It doesn’t have the personnel, will or culture to track “use-by” dates of X-ray units.

Under the Atomic Energy (Safe Disposal of Radioactive Waste) Rules 1987, any venture using radioactive material must appoint a radiological safety officer. This happens rarely, but the AERB doesn’t enforce the rules.

The AERB is supposed to regularly inspect 62,110 installations in 3,210 institutions. It conducted only 110 inspections last year. Of the 16 cases of theft or loss of radiation-related devices reported since 2000, it solved only three.

Scientists in three Delhi-based institutes complain that the AERB never provides technological support or guidance and ignores requests for help with radioactivity disposal. Sometimes, AERB personnel “informally” encourage persistent inquirers to dump the waste. On their rare visits to an institution/lab, they expect to be wined and dined or bribed outright.

The AERB hasn’t installed radiation monitors at all major ports and airports. It refuses to monitor radioactive waste-dumping at Alang, the world’s ship-breaking capital, itself a big disaster. Now it wants to transfer its responsibility for handling radioactive waste to scrap dealers, whom it proposes to train.

So when Minister of State Prithviraj Chauhan claims the AERB is highly efficient and can account for “every gramme” of radioactive material in India, and hence that the Delhi cobalt-60 was illegally imported, he talks through his hat.

The AERB’s failure has allowed metallic products recycled in India to be extensively contaminated with radioactivity. Many countries have recently refused shipments of Indian-made steel after they were found contaminated, including 67 shipments to the US since 2003.

Shockingly, the controversial nuclear liability Bill solely empowers this very AERB to declare whether or not a nuclear mishap has happened, for which the public may be compensated.

The AERB must be made answerable or, better, replaced with a competent and independent agency accountable to Parliament, the public and the Right to Information Act. It should strictly license all nuclear- and radiation-related activities and establishments for safety; monitor their radioactive material stocks, safety practices and precautionary approaches; and must secure the safe disposal of radioisotopes.

The only way to ensure that the agency does its job is to make it accountable to Parliamentary and public oversight-beginning now. Or else, we’ll have more radiation disasters on a horrendous scale.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email:

China, India leaders to set up hotline

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China and India agreed to set up a top level hotline on Wednesday, sealing a “cordial” Beijing visit by India’s foreign minister that consolidated an improvement in ties between the sometimes fractious neighbors.

China’s Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (R) shakes hands with his Indian counterpart S.M. Krishna at Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing April 7, 2010.

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna began his four-day visit on Monday — scant months after tempers flared over reports of border incursions and a row over the Dalai Lama’s visit to the disputed frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh.

But Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao told reporters the trip had gone well, and both sides were pleased with the new mechanism connecting the Chinese and Indian Prime Ministers, which could help prevent dangerous flare-ups in future.

“These have been cordial, useful, constructive and wide-ranging discussions,” she told a news conference in Beijing.

“The agreement to establish a hotline is an important confidence building measure and it opens up a direct channel of communication between the two leaders.”

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said the relationship had reached a “new phase of mature and stable development” in a meeting with Krishna in the Chinese leadership’s Zhongnanhai compound.

“History shows that friendship between neighbors and common development are in the interests of both countries, of Asia and of the world,” Wen added.

Plans for a hotline were made by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a summit last year of the BRIC nations — Brazil, Russia, India and China, Rao said.

That group will meet again next week in Brasilia, for the second leaders summit, and both China and India highlighted the importance and benefit of cooperation on international issues.

“What came across during these discussions was that this relationship between the two countries has more than just a bilateral dimension, it has a global impact, and that a long-term strategic view is required of this relationship,” Rao said.

Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the two countries worked together well on major global issues including combating the financial crisis and tackling climate change, according to the foreign ministry’s account of the meeting with Krishna, posted on its website (

“China attaches great importance to bilateral ties and is willing to work hard with India for new developments, taking the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations as a turning point,” Yang said.


Regional security, particularly in volatile Afghanistan, and the threat of terrorism were among other key issues discussed in the meeting, said Rao, herself a former ambassador to Beijing.

“Foreign Minister Yang said that both China and India should stay in touch on these issues and remain in regular contact… particularly on Afghanistan,” said Rao.

Krishna was visiting just a couple of weeks after Afghan President Hamid Karzai came to Beijing to ask China to use its diplomatic clout with neighboring Pakistan to help rein in a growing insurgency. His government has good ties with Delhi.

The foreign ministers did not discuss a recently released report that a cyber-espionage group apparently based in southwest China stole documents from the Indian Defense Ministry and emails from the Dalai Lama’s office, Rao said.

The report by Canadian researchers said the spy network was likely run by individuals with connections to the Chinese criminal underworld. Information might have been passed to branches of the Chinese government, it added.

Beijing has repeatedly and strongly denied it condones hacking in any way, pointing out that its ministries and companies are also frequently targeted.

The general’s DC wishlist

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By: C. Raja Mohan

As General Ashfaq Kayani arrives in Washington this week to lead what has been billed as a comprehensive strategic dialogue with the United States, there is considerable anticipation in Rawalpindi about the goody bag that might await the Pakistan army chief.

With the Army GHQ in Pindi demanding strategic parity with India and primacy in Afghanistan in return for the recent services rendered to Washington, there is some concern in Delhi about where the US-Pakistan relationship is headed and what it might mean for the geopolitics of the region.

Pindi’s expectations from Washington as well as Delhi’s fears about the direction of the US-Pakistan relationship might, however, turn out to be somewhat exaggerated.

If there is always a big gulf between the Pakistan army’s reach and its grasp, the Indian foreign policy establishment has a habit of reading too much into Pakistan’s relations with the US.

While Delhi cannot stop Pindi from overplaying its hand, it must respond calmly to the likely results from the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week. Even more important, Delhi must prepare to shape the evolution of the US-Pakistan relationship rather than merely protest against it.

A self-confident India that builds on its own partnership with Washington and works its undervalued levers in Islamabad can explore the many contradictions in the current US-Pakistan partnership and influence its future direction.

For one, both the US and Pakistan say the purpose of their strategic dialogue is to construct an enduring relationship rather than an instrumental one. The Obama administration has indeed apologised for the past American habit of using and discarding the Pakistan army.

Only a bold man will bet that the US-Pakistan relationship will now evolve into something more than the marriage of convenience it has been for decades. After all, there are little commercial or societal ties that bind the US to Pakistan and it might be difficult to sustain the US-Pakistan partnership once the current expediency passes.

To be sure, the American interest in Pakistan will continue so long as it has troops in Afghanistan. This surely will not be a permanent condition.

In Washington, the rhetoric is all about looking beyond the military/ security relationship with Pakistan. The Obama administration wants to channel the expanded American assistance to Pakistan into such areas as agriculture and education. Any amount of money that America and the world might mobilise for Pakistan’s economic development will be a drop in the bucket.

Pakistan’s ruling party – the GHQ – is under no obligation to win political mandate from the people, let alone renew it periodically. It has little incentive, then, to promote economic and social transformation in Pakistan.

For all the American hopes to move the relationship beyond security cooperation, Kayani’s focus in Washington this week will be on geopolitics and not the social sector.

Given his recognition that the American connection might once again be a short-lived one, Kayani would naturally want to extract, quickly, whatever he can from the Obama administration on India and Afghanistan.

Although Pakistan’s leverage in Washington today is real, Kayani might be over-estimating its value. Kayani’s American wishlist is said to have four key demands. First, re-establish strategic parity with India in the atomic domain with a civil nuclear deal of the kind Delhi gained from President George W. Bush.

Second, Pindi wants substantive conventional weapons transfers to redress what it sees as India’s threatening military modernisation. Third, Kayani wants Washington to press India to make major concessions on its disputes with Pakistan, including the old one on Kashmir and the newly minted one on the Indus waters.

Finally, Pakistan wants the US recognition of its case for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan and to have a decisive say in the construction of new political arrangements across the Durand line.

There is no way the US can meet the entirety of Pakistan’s demands. Nor can the administration deliver on them unilaterally; some of them – like the nuclear deal – require congressional consensus as well as unanimity in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. There are others that are simply not possible – force Indian concessions on Kashmir.

On Afghanistan, where the US needs Kayani’s troops, there will be some give and take; but India will have to be super-paranoid to believe Washington will simply hand over Afghanistan to the Pakistan army.

The presumed endgame in Afghanistan will be a prolonged one and no final decisions are at hand in Washington this week. Having already written some big cheques to Pakistan since it came to power, the Obama administration too has demands on Pindi. These include more substantive army action against the Afghan Taliban and its associates and freedom of action for American use of force on Pakistan territory.

Since Kayani cannot return without a going-home present, India must expect that there will be some American rewards for him this week. Expanded supply of arms to Pakistan is certainly one possibility.

The temptation is strong in India to protest against any and all arms sales to Pakistan. Delhi must resist it, because such objections carry little credibility.

India’s main problem with Pakistan is not about a fragile conventional military balance that might be upset by American arms transfers. It is to change Pakistan’s belief that under the nuclear gun it can promote anti-India terror groups with impunity.

As it responds to the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue this week, Delhi’s message must be three-fold – global efforts aimed at a positive transformation of Pakistan are welcome; expanded economic and military assistance to Pakistan must be conditioned on Pindi’s commitment to dismantle its jehadi assets; India is ready to address all of Pakistan’s concerns – including Kashmir – if it gives up violent extremism as an instrument of state policy.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 24, 2010 at 7:37 am

A fatal attraction

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By: Momin Iftikhar Momin

The February 26 attack by a suicide team on a guest room and hotel complex, frequented by Indian officials and workers in the fashionable quarters of Kabul has brought into full glare the dilemmas confronted by the Indian strategic planners overseeing the Afghanistan operations. The issues at stake are the raising of the Indian military profile in Afghanistan and rationalising the political cost for civilian and military casualties that are inevitable to rise as the strategy is proceeded with in earnest. Opportunities beckon; the US is set on a deadline of rolling back its military deployment within five years starting from 2011 and its allies would be dashing for the exit door in an even shorter timeframe. Filling the military vacuum by sending in forces fulfils the ultimate Indian desire of landing a pincer on Pakistan’s western flank but the costs, such an investment could incur, could be staggering.

A measure of the pain that may be confronted was starkly laid out by the Indian military casualties sustained during the latest Kabul attack. Among the total 17 deaths Indian share stood at six; a toll that included two Indian officers of the major rank, an Indo-Tibetan Border Police constable and an embassy staffer from Kandahar Consulate, who, despite attempts to conceal his identity was in all probability a senior RAW operator. That is not all!

In addition to the four casualties inflicted upon the Indian military establishment in Afghanistan, there were six injured military men of unspecified rank that were carried home by the IAF’s Boeing 737-200 aircraft, expeditiously dispatched in the wake of attack. There are no details in the media regarding the identity of these injured army persons or the tasks they were performing in the risk-laden environs of Kabul, but it is manifest that the threat to Indian military-intelligence presence in Afghanistan is escalating. The latest attack was third in a series of bombings targeting the Indian presence in Kabul. In July 2008, a suicide bomber rammed a car full of explosive into the entrance to the Indian Embassy killing more than 50 people including the Defence Attaché. In October 2009, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Indian Embassy extracting a toll of 17.

The perception that the threat to the security of Indian presence in Afghanistan is mounting, is not lost on the planners in the South Block. The hard reality of a strategic failure in Afghanistan, after an investment of almost a decade following the 9/11, is beginning to stare India in the face.

The terrorism card, so successfully played by India in defining the terms of negotiations with Pakistan has failed to stick in Afghanistan. Credibility of the Indian vision of a politico-military balance in Afghanistan has come to be frequently questioned by the US military commanders. There is a growing awareness that dependence on India has been a major reason for landing the US in the quagmire of Afghanistan by clouding its judgment with faulty premises and engineered intelligence. The US commanding general in Afghanistan has obliquely pointed out to the folly of following the Indian urgings. In his assessment of the situation submitted to President Barack Obama in August 2009, General Stanley McChrystal warned that India’s growing influence in the country could “exacerbate regional tensions” and encourage “counter measures” by Pakistan.

Afghanistan has become a test case for India in its attempts at power projection in the region. To circumvent the geographical barriers imposed by the Pakistani landmass, India has invested heavily in building the 218km Zaranj-Delaram Highway to link Southern Afghanistan with the Iranian port city of Chah Bahar. This enables India to bypass Pakistan and transport goods and equipment from Iran to Kabul and across Afghanistan. By committing $1.2 billion towards building infrastructure, India has become a major donor in a war ravaged Afghanistan. There are around 5,000 Indian personnel who have arrived in Afghanistan to engage in the reconstruction effort. Following up the Indian significant presence and taking advantage of the excuse provided by their security concerns, India has inducted around a battalion of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in Afghanistan. Moreover, to test waters for enhancing the military profile, India has started sending military doctors and education instructors in Afghanistan. The two Indian Army majors killed in the latest Kabul blasts belonged to these two categories.

Despite setbacks, the ambition of placing boots on ground has not lost traction with the hawkish strategic quarters in India. Former Indian Army Chief, General Shankar Roy Chaudhry, has described the military involvement in Afghanistan as “a war of necessity.” General Deepak Kapoor, too, has argued that that the Indian military presence in Afghanistan could give it some strategic depth against Pakistan; saying the Indian military presence in Afghanistan could be used to squeeze Pakistan. C Raja Mohan, a prominent Indian analyst, has expressed similar thoughts. “Why is India’s contribution to Afghan security so low? If countries so far from Afghanistan – like Canada and Australia – have deployed troops there, what is holding back Delhi, such an important neighbour and economic partner of Kabul?” he argues. Sushant K Singh, editor of a strategic affairs journal Pragati, recently wrote: “An Indian military involvement in Afghanistan will shift the battle ground away from Kashmir and the Indian mainland” recommending that the Indian military should operate independently in Afghanistan.

But much lies betwixt the cup and the lip. The envisioned Indian strategy to curtail the Pakistani influence in Afghanistan, envelop it (Pakistan) from the west and find ingress into the energy rich Central Asian Republics lies in tatters. Indian perspective and the intelligence upon which the US has relied so much stands discredited and discarded. It has taken eight long years for the US to know the ropes and finally acknowledge that Indian presence and ambitions, particularly those dreaming of a military presence in Afghanistan are a recipe for grand chaos and disaster.

The Indian developmental work in Afghanistan stands out as a masquerade to screen her naked ambition for dominance in Afghanistan which is unacceptable to the Pashtun majority. Indian presence, seeking to alter the flow of history and tradition, is bound to result into a backlash. In case the Indian administration dares to land a military contingent into Afghanistan, its disastrous foray into Sri Lanka with Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 shall certainly appear to be much milder in comparison.

The Naxal Muddle – of Intellectual Haze, Governmental Clarity and Operational Realities

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Raj Shukla – IDSA

Union Home Secretary G.K. Pillai spelt out the government’s strategy with respect to naxal violence at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, in Delhi, on March 5, 2010. By some unpropitious coincidence, on the same day, at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Arundhati Roy led the intellectual charge against the symbol of governmental resolve to meet the violent dynamic head on – Operation Green Hunt. Not very often in such philosophical contests does the Government of India emerge with greater credibility. But on Friday it did. Pillai’s talk was more than distinguished – it carried the hallmark of a virtuoso performance. He delivered his message and answered questions with a clarity, self assurance and composure that is becoming rare in government. Roy’s intellectualism on the other hand, though persuasive in parts, appeared hazy on the central issue – the dynamic of violence, forcing her to take refuge in homilies, sarcasm and name calling; her body language revealed her acute discomfort. There are obvious lessons here – when the ministerial team (the minister and his secretary) is individually competent and the ministry has done some honest work and thought the knotty issues through, the clarity will show. You will not then need to duck television cameras or evade questions. The demonstrated logic flies in the face of the general governmental inclination to view the media as a flippant device which will always distort and sensationalise and hence is either best avoided or responded to with such clever by half evasiveness that it only invites greater media wrath. Not once did the Home Secretary decline comment on a question, not once did he pass the buck. More than anything, it was a sophisticated exercise in using the media to send a substantive message about the government’s approach to the naxal problem – one of reasonableness, realism, clarity and resolve. If you are substantive, you will trump any attempts at sensationalism; if you are wavy and dodgy, sensationalism will carry the day. In the instant case, there was no need for the media to twist and distort to make the TRPs zoom; the Secretary’s substantiveness itself made for good TRPs.

Home Secretary Pillai indicated the government’s intent to regain those areas where administrative voids have led to ceding of control to the Naxals. He emphasized that the core objective of the CPI ( Maoists) was the armed overthrow of the state; hence, while the government was prepared to talk to everybody and address all possible grievances in every conceivable manner, the violent dynamic had to be addressed head on. Talks were possible if the Maoists gave a commitment to abjure violence – this was the only precondition. Arundhati Roy’s argument of course is that the Maoists have been forced into violence in the first instance by the insensitive ways of the State; its subsequent heavy handedness has only made matters worse – the state should therefore abjure violence (abandon Operation Green Hunt) and talk without preconditions. She fights shy, however, of categorically condemning acts of violence by Naxals, most recently the murder of a rape victim. But the State’s battle for peace is not so much with Arundhati Roy and Kabir Suman but with Kishenji. The exchange of FAX and mobile numbers between the Home Minister and Kishenji in an ongoing, unconsummated courtship is symptomatic of the stalemate – posturing even as both sides sharpen their swords. If one were to attempt to steer clear of the polemical impasse, what is the way forward? One, of course, is to regain administrative control of lost areas by securing them and delivering development, and to keep persisting despite the inevitable setbacks. Two, is to nurse our police forces back to health, through a slew of measures which have been discussed ad nauseam. Three, is to address the grievances that threaten to explode in a socio-economic cataclysm – mining rights, forest rights, developmental neglect, rehabilitation of the displaced, uncompleted land reforms, agricultural indebtedness, urban slums and other sources of societal inequality. Four, we could even try and cash in on the latest offer by Kishenji and utilise the services of Arundhati Roy, Mahashweta Devi and Kabir Suman as ‘independent observers’ in an attempted mediation of the dispute.

All this will take a while. But what about the violence that ensues in the meantime – the 1000 odd Indians who die each year – which will not stop unless the battle is taken to the hard core Naxal cadres (hard core cadres are estimated in the range of 12,000 with about 40,000 overground workers/sympathizers). And here, the Ministry of Home Affairs has a lot of soul searching to do. Offensive operations of this kind cannot be carried out by State police forces which simply do not have the requisite capacities, despite their claims to the contrary. The measures outlined by the Home Secretary, if pursued with requisite zeal, will only help the state police forces transit from sub-policing to bare policing, with viable counterinsurgency capacities still a huge, huge way off. The Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh took decades to hone their skills. Chhattisgarh, the state which in recent times has been first off the block in fashioning a resolve to take Naxal violence head on, is still in no position to restore state authority in many of its southern districts leave alone the formidable Abhujmad (the operational nerve centre of Naxal operations). It is plainly ridiculous to expect a district superintendent of police to attend to law and order and policing duties as also undertake counterinsurgency operations at the same time. Offensive operations can only be undertaken by a dedicated counterinsurgency force which in our case is the CRPF.

But here a different set of problems come in the way. The first is command and control – the nature of counterinsurgency operations is such that they cannot be conducted by persuasion and consensus. The lines of authority have to be clearly delineated with accountability fixed. The amorphous arrangement that presently obtains does not augur well for meaningful operations. We are also told that the federal nature of our polity does not allow operations across state boundaries to be undertaken – till when will we continue to shield ourselves behind such bizarre technicalities? When you pursue Naxals across State boundaries you are surely not entering foreign territory? In any case, just because we cannot find the legal/administrative rationale to facilitate such movement, should 1000-odd people continue to die each year? The State police must be tasked to secure infrastructure while the counterinsurgency force should be firmly mandated to neutralize the hard core cadres across state boundaries. It is only when the latter’s numbers dwindle will the spectre of violence begin to recede and talks become meaningful – that is the harsh reality.

The Home Secretary also spoke of political interference as the principal obstacle to police reform. Well yes, but there is an equal malaise that afflicts the police force – that of stifling bureaucratic control which needs to be addressed in equal measure. Ask any police officer in the affected states and he will tell you as to how the building of credible capacities is hamstrung by the very State Home Secretaries in whom the Home Secretary reposes so much faith. Closer home, he would surely know that DGPs are reduced to craven pleaders before Joint Secretaries in the Ministry of Home Affairs. Unless the police forces are freed from the clutches of such meaningless bureaucratic control they will not be able to rise to the challenge. (The CAG Report of 2005, for example, documents how an empowered committee headed by the Chief Secretary of Jharkhand siphoned off Rs. 15.7 crore to buy SUVs for VIPs instead of vehicles for patrolling. Such examples abound.) The police needs to be resurrected as a professional and independent force accountable only to its own leadership while submitting to unambiguous political control. While still on the issue of police reforms, Home Secretary Pillai pointed an accusatory finger at the States for less than adequate movement on critical issues. Fair criticism, but then why does the Centre not lead by example – speedily implement reforms, to begin with in Delhi itself where it has a relatively free run. Pillai lamented as to how transfers of police officers in Uttar Pradesh were rubber stamped by a supine police establishment board. Here again the Centre cannot escape blame – when you overlook officers like Kiran Bedi, you send a strong message about the kind of police leadership you wish to nurture. 26/11 and Vinita Kamte’s stirring account in her book, To The Last Bullet, expose the grim consequences of encouraging a pliant leadership and destroying its combat ethos, but alas we continue to do so.

The conceptual clarity that the Home Minister and the Home Secretary bring to their work will not translate into meaningful change on the ground unless these warps are addressed. And it is precisely police weaknesses as a consequence of these warps that the Naxals capitalize on to engineer violence and invite reprisals for the likes of Arundhati Roy to step in with their intellectual salvos. A sophisticated police force with a strong leadership unencumbered by needless layers of control is what we need if the Chidambaram overhaul is to manifest into meaningful results. Or else, it will simply be business as usual. The Naxals of course will never be able to overthrow the Indian State by 2050 (their purported goal as stated by the Home Secretary) or before (as claimed by Kishenji). They don’t need to – they already have a separate state with the Dandakarnaya (a 92,000 kilometre expanse of jungle that spans the states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh) as its hub from where they will continue to bring their convoluted brand of governance to bear. There is of course the other school led by the indomitable M.J. Akbar, which asserts that India will survive the Maoist insurgency by ending poverty and in no other way. May be, but the bigger truth is that in a country of India’s size, diversity and conflicting aspirations, no matter what you do ( even if you were to conquer poverty once and for all), violent disaffections of some sort will afflict us. While attempting to address them, apart from other tools, you will need a sophisticated police force. The Naxal challenge is a wake up call to rejig our internal security instruments and restore their organizational ethos, autonomy and operational credibility. With regard to its violent hue, we need to act with dispatch. While there may be numerous constraints of democracy that come in the way, the 1000-odd Indians who continue to die annually is a political price that may soon become difficult to bear. Even by the measure of cold political logic, we need to act fast.

Written by rohitkumarsviews

March 11, 2010 at 5:25 am