Monday, November 19, 2012


As Israel continues to pound Palestine under its “Pillar of Defence” program questions are being asked as to why this conflict has become one of the most enduring and painful issues in world politics. The genesis of this conflict lies in the aftermath of the World War 2 when the Jews were given a separate homeland by displacing the Palestinians from their traditional homes. Since then the Middle East has become an arena for unending wars with the Arab states locked with Israel in a series of bloody conflicts. Israel with its superior arms and Western World support has always usurped the Arab states but the human costs have been too high.

It is the human costs in the Israel Palestinian war which has caused trouble among citizens around the globe. Yet very often they are not heard .Why –the reason being often the core issues remain unaddressed while people debate on the polemics of the peripheries.

The present round of attacks and counter attacks can be traced back to the 1994 Oslo agreements. Following the Oslo accords the Palestinian Authority was established to govern areas of West Bank on the East and Gaza Strip.It was the charistimatic Yasser Arafat who was at helm of this peace deal and it went a long way in ensuring peace in the Middle East or so the world leaders thought.

After the Accord some areas passed onto the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) hands over series of negotiations and deals; however it lost major areas during the Second Infatida where Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retook strategic positions. After the Second Infatida the IDF unilaterally moved away from the Gaza Strip leaving it under the complete control of the PA leadership.

Trouble began to brew in 2006 when Hamas won the elections. As soon as Hamas won the elections Israel, the United States, Canada, and the European Union froze all funds to the Palestinian Authority, after Hamas refused to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and to accept the past agreements. These countries viewed Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The core point of Hamas was liberation of Jerusalem an issue on which Israel had a non negotiable position. The world leaders couldn’t effectively deescalate the conflict and bring the Palestinian leadership to the table, instead the world leaders rallied behind a new government under the Fateh leadership. The new Fateh leadership claimed to govern all areas of Palestine in essence its control was limited to the West Bank since the Gaza Strip was effectively under Hamas. Such a situation quickly escalated into a fratricidal war between Hamas and Fatah which further detoriated the condition of Palestine. In 2011 under the aegis of Cairo Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a joint unity government. However within one year situation degraded so much so that for the first time in 2012 Hamas declared that it was considering unilateral independence of the Gaza Strip. So in essence the net result of the fratricidal struggle between Hamas and Fatah is a further division of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.

Yet it isn’t enough to blame the present crisis solely on the Palestinian leadership. The role of the international community is equally condemnable. In 2007 when Hamas adopted a hardliner stance with regard to Israel the world leaders didn’t get together to work out a peace deal .Instead they began to support the Palestinian Authority of Fatah in a bid to divide the Palestinian movement. What the world leaders have effectively forgotten is such divisive politics always bring more trouble than peace. In being unable to conclusively engage with Hamas and refusing to side Mahmoud Abbas in the UN bid the world leaders have effectively given an image of a party which stands against the expression of the legitimate interests of the Palestinian people.

This brings us to the third party in conflict Israel. Israel has always held the upper hand in the conflicts with the Arab states by virtue of its superior arms and superior technology. The Iron Dome now gives Israel an effective shield against rocket and missile attacks .But under the Benjamin Nethanyahu government Israel seems to have become more hard-line in its approach .Such an approach has not helped the Israel-Palestine conflict .What is needed and expected from the Israeli leadership is an acceptance of the fact that the aspirations of the Palestinian people are legitimate and they are here to stay. Hence they must make efforts to end this conflict conclusively and within a specified time frame. The 2009 Operation Caste lead cast a major shadow on Israel’s image in the Western World. The attack on the civilian Palestinian population during the attacks on Hamas has ended as a bad PR campaign for Israel’s rights. Most of the people in the world don’t accept the fact anymore that Israel is a small state which is fragile and surrounded by hostile states. The world today understands that Israel is strong enough to take care for itself and must engage with the Hamas leadership in a conclusive manner to end the never-ending crisis for one last time.

This brings us to the present crisis which has resulted in the renewed conflict between Israel and Palestine. The key to understanding the increase in rocket attacks this year is the internal rivalry within Hamas. A major distinction has to be made between the Hamas leaders in Gaza and the “politbureau” members who reside in the foreign nations- responsible for Hamas relationship with other countries. The traditional rulers in exile of the Hamas leadership had relations with the Shia leadership of Iran and Syria .This is seeing a rapid new realignment with the home government in Gaza warming up to the Sunni realignment of Turkey and Qatar. Thus we are seeing a strategic shift in the ideological composition and backing of the Hamas leadership.

Also since the PA government is effectively weakening and the PA soldiers are in effect working with the IDF to stop military attacks emancipating from the Gaza Strip ,by renewing the crisis the domestic Hamas leadership will try to gain the ground the PA government in West bank has lost. In trying to stand up to the “tyrannical Zionist state” Hamas hopes to emerge as the true leader of the Palestinian people and torchbearer of the Palestine aspirations for statehood.

Another major thorn in the present crisis is the issue concerning the Fajh-5 rockets. The Hamas leadership at this point seems to be in mood for negotiations but the Israeli government cannot afford to with Hamas possessing arms which can effectively target the heart of Israel. And at this point finding middle ground will be difficult since Hamas would not like to let go of weapons which can strengthen their position vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Israel simply cannot live with Hamas having these weapons in its arsenal.

Yet in the end for this conflict has to come to an end negotiations are the only way out. This is in interest of the people in the Middle East and long lasting peace in the region. Hamas must accept Israel’s right to exist while Israel must accept the Hamas leadership one that might eventually spread its control to the West Bank. The issue has to move beyond the Fajh-5 rockets and address the larger dimensions of the Israeli-Hamas leadership. A three way division would be unfortunate as it would effectively divide the aspirations of the Palestinians many of whom laid down their lives for this cause. So in the end a two nation theory would be the only way forward  -a Palestinian state accepting the Israeli state ‘s right to exist and vice versa.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


While Nehru was making the Tryst of Destiny speech in the hallowed portals of Parliament House the world many believed that this new India would undoubtedly fail. Malthusian theorists had for long argued that India as a concept is too incoherent and it would be a spectacular failure. Cambridge historians during their long discourses in the halls of Oxford and Cambridge further supported these arguments. Yet 65 years later India stands very much as a successful idea.

However to every successful idea there are always challenges. Perhaps this is no different in the case of India and its concept of federalism. In case of Indian federalism the two biggest challengers have been the Kashmiri and the Naga struggle. Yet after 65 years of Independence while the Nagaland crisis has headed for a definitive conclusion the Kashmiri struggle remains in eternal limbo with no way forward. In popular discourse this comparison is often dismissed by constructing the argument that while Kashmir is vital to the interests of India, Nagaland in the faraway east is neither in the politics nor in the popular minds of the people of India. However this is far from the truth if indeed Nagaland or the whole of North East was an aberration in the concept of India why weren’t the Nagas given Independence at the onset? Why Mizos were massacred by fighter planes and why were 5 divisions of army stationed in Assam? Why is AFSPA still in force in Manipur?

These examples point out that contrary to popular expectations like every other part in the country the North East too is vital to the stability of this nation. Abundant mineral resources (uranium in Meghalaya, Shale oil in Arunachal, oil in Assam), proximity to the East Asia and ethnic ties with East Asia alongwith sharing vital border alongside Bangladesh, China and Myanmar makes this region an epicenter of  geostrategic importance. The US interest in Asia Pacific region, the dispute in South China Sea and the “String of Pearls” concept used by China further emphasizes the vital importance of this region. Thus to dismiss the comparison between the Kashmir and the Naga struggle by stating it as imbalanced in terms of importance is naive.

Historical Origins:

The Kashmiri struggle for “Azadi” has centered on a call which perhaps peaked in the 1980’s and 1990’s and has since then lived in the popular discourse of the Indian imagination. If one tracks the historical genesis of this call then one is carried back right to the time of Independence. The indecision of Maharaja Hari Singh the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir in signing the Instrument of Accession, followed by the attack of the tribesmen from Pakistan which eventually resulted in large scare massacre of Kashmiris both Hindus and Muslims is the starting point of the tumultuous period of Kashmir history. Yet modern history perhaps fails to properly shed light between the happenings of post 1950’s and the late 1980’s when terrorism took a ugly shape in Kashmir. History has conveniently forgotten the efforts of Sheikh Abdullah post his release and the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru at a crucial juncture when Shiekh Abdullah was in Pakistan to make a possible settlement. Perhaps history also has conveniently forgotten Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah two men who could have given shape to the solution of the Kashmir problem.

In comparison the Naga call of separatism started even when the country was being ruled by the Britishers. Although geographically almost inaccessible, small in size and thinner in population the Nagas have always believed in their struggle for existence. After India was independent Government of India tried various measures to solve the Naga issue. Jayprakash Narayan had once famously declared “The Nagas can never be Indians.”The Indian government carried through negotiations right upto the famous meet in Amsterdam which was perhaps nothing short of a spectacle. A sovereign government had to meet rebel leaders and accord them almost equal diplomatic status. In global parlance this was seen as bending over backwards and almost granting secession to the people of Nagaland. And instead a settlement was reached Nagaland today is peaceful and a part of the Indian nation. Yet when closely seen this is only partly the truth. The NSCN-IM for long the torchbearer of the Naga struggle runs almost a parallel government. Replete with its own flag, its own “Foreign Minister”, its own national song and its own icon Phizo Naga...Nagaland is perhaps as close as a sovereign country as it can be.

Comparative Analysis:

So the question is what went right with the Naga struggle and perhaps wrong with the Kashmir struggle that today neither there is peace in Jammu and Kashmir nor even a sense of greater autonomy even after having a separate article and a separate Constitution. This failure stems from shortcomings both at the level of leaders and the subaltern level.

Let us compare the leaders of the two movements. The Kashmiri struggle can perhaps be traced back to the charisma of Shiekh Abdullah while the Naga movement can be traced back to Angami Zapu Phizo. Although both these leaders were charismatic yet fundamentally they were different. While Shiekh Abdullah at the onset desired a diplomatic solution Angami Zapu Phizo was more resolute. While Sheikh Abdullah believed in Nehru and stayed within the borders of the country, Angami choose to direct it from foreign shores. If Syed Geelani is believed to be a present leader of the Kashmiri struggle even if followed by only a section of Kashmiris, then these differences between leaders is even starker. While Geelani responds to Indian government calls for treatment when sick in Mumbai, Thuingaleng Muivah the leader of the NSCN-IM chooses to stay in Thailand and direct the Naga people from foreign shores. This gives certain legitimacy to the Naga leaders while in some circles the Kashmiri leaders are merely perceived as opportunists who live off the same system and merely want concessions in the name of Azaadi. Even among policymakers this creates a certain complacency which is perhaps why never will Syed Geelani be accorded the same status as Thuingaleng Muivah.

A second problem is the basic definition of the word “freedom” for these two sets of people. While the Naga people had a very clear definition of the word freedom in every way this definition is missing in the Kashmiri discourse. There is a clamour for “Azaadi” but the definition of this “Azaadi” is missing. What does this “Azaadi” mean for the poor for the women for the children? Does this “Azaadi” have a clear economic picture? Does this “Azaadi” guarantee freedom against incursion by China or Pakistan? Does these “Azaadi” guarantee that Kashmir will not turn into a second Tibet? Often the Kashmir freedom struggle is compared to the Indian struggle for Independence in searching for legitimacy, but the moot question is that the Indian freedom struggle was not only a victory against oppressors; it was a complete process which involved economic independence among others where political freedom was a culmination of a long drawn process. In the Kashmiri struggle the moot point is to make political struggle the moot point for a complete overhaul and this is perhaps its inherent fault.

In comparison the Naga movement has never identified itself with anything that is remotely Indian even to justify its causes. It has always relied in its Naga identity its historical necessity. It always had a vision and a long term plan down to the payment of taxes in a parallel Naga government. For them political freedom was the culmination of a long drawn process of struggle the roots of which lie in the ethnicity dimensions of the Naga people. It is seen as a war among races the war between the people of the Aryan stock and the Mongoloid stock which is why Thuingaleng Muivah makes a statement by making Thailand his home instead of countries like Pakistan.

A third problem is the composition of the movement. Contrary to popular belief the “Nagas” are not one holistic group of people. The differences between the Angamis and the Ao’s are as stark as perhaps the Hindus and the Muslims in the rest of India. Yet the “Naga” people always emerged as one when the occasion rose. The Kashmiri struggle too initially was founded on the secular concept of Kashmiriyat, the land of the Sufis and the Rishis. Yet with the passage of time this movement turned into a communal movement driven by religion and perhaps hatred. In this process historical injustices committed were barbarically pushed and hidden. While the displacement of Kashmiris Pandits became the focal point of discussion the people choose to ignore the massacre of 1 million Kashmiri Muslims in Jammu as a precursor. Issues like the reservation for displaced Kashmiri Pandits but never reservation for the Kashmiri Muslims who lost almost everything in the tumultuous 1990’s were never discussed.

Kashmiri nationalists often blame the Centre for these injustices but the truth is that the very Kashmiri leaders played into the hands of the divisive powers at work. Instead of holding on to their steadfast ground of Kashmiriyat bred by leaders like Shiekh Abdullah they choose to play along communal lines. In this process they alienated their movement from the rest of Kashmir and in trying to gain sympathy of a growing surge of Islamic solidarity lost their very grounds for “Azaadi’ the Kashmiriyat or their virtues of secularism. They choose to ignore the fact that for leaders like Shiekh Abdullah and people of Kashmir “Kashmiriyat” was the chorus to freedom and not perhaps Shariat. To say that divisive forces didn’t try to divide the Naga forces would be a gross understatement. The differences between the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K the Angami and the Ao Nagas were substantially used by the divisive forces to dismantle the Naga movement. Yet such differences never worked; when the situation demanded the Naga people stood as one. If the Hindus and Muslims are seen as two ethnic or merely two communities this breakage of solidarity among the two chief communities perhaps was another major breaking point of the Kashmiri struggle.

And argument is often put forward that because Pakistan is ready to stroke the fire at the Kashmiris hearts the issue never reaches a settlement. Interestingly however the Kashmiri leadership has always been more accommodating than perhaps the Naga leadership. Yet the Naga leadership has never called for mass strikes or curfews or stone throwing sessions. It is notable that the same AFSPA that is applicable for Jammu and Kashmir is applicable for Nagaland. Army brutalities have taken place in every region where the AFSPA has been applicable. Yet the Nagas have never called for mass strikes. So what is the long term benefit of these measures not being taken by the Naga leadership? In this way they are securing the future of their own citizens. The Naga students are never faced with the closure of 6 months of academic sessions, their future are secure. The Naga fight for rights has never harmed its own citizens but the Kashmiri struggle has.

So in the end what is the meaning of this comparative study? Is it to discuss ways to end India as a concept? The answer is an emphatic NO. A nation lies not within in lands but within its people. As observers it should be our concern to discuss ways to achieve peace and this paper is perhaps a reflection of that road to peace while still perhaps clamoring for the call of greater autonomy a change in the federal structure of India. Nagaland is a prime example of how peace can be achieved even while existing within the shadow of the Indian identity. Perhaps it is time the Kashmiri leadership and people did the same. Enough blood has been spilled in the name of Azaadi in the streets of Lal Chowk. Peace has to be given a chance in this valley of Dreams. The golden dream of “Kashmiriyat” needs to be relieved again. It is perhaps time to achieve independence and peace for each Kashmiri individually and the road to that is for them to walk!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear people of Assam,

I grew up in the 1990’s one of the most difficult era of our times. My cousins today don’t realize what a time it was during the 90’s.I grew up hearing stories of how people we knew had been killed by the army. I hear counter stories of how “our boys” combated the Indian army. Sometimes I felt proud and at other times I didn’t know how to respond. I never witnessed an Independence Day a Republic Day function in my life .Those were the days of Doordarshan and it had its staple diet of nationalism, one in which I ended up bathing. And it was in this euphoria that once during the Independence Day I drew an Indian flag on paper and put it atop our house. Immediately I was slapped and brought to senses. Not because my parents were anti-nationals but because they didn’t want to incur the wrath of “the boys” who had eyes and ears everywhere.

As I grew up I was pulled between my national sentiments and my strong sub regional aspirations that began to find expression in my thoughts and my actions. It was perhaps during my 15th or 16th year that I realized that the grandiose dream of India that I had seen in Doordarshan all my life was not true entirely. My history also spoke of the brave Lachit Phukan who trounced the Mughal 16 times. Barring the Palas in Bengal once we were never conquered by the powers in Delhi not even once. I came to know about the brave Ahoms who ruled for 600 years defying historian’s perceptions of “rise and fall of empires.”And yet when I wanted to read more I couldn’t find anything. For all its glossy paper covers the Macmillan history books which spoke so eloquently about Delhi, South failed to mention Assam ,the NE albeit as a distant region of wild animals and wilder people! Those days internet was not in vogue and this predicament of mine tormented me haunted me. I became a staunch subnationalist and I stopped my attachment towards Independence and Republic Day.

And then as I started leaving my teenage years behind and took the first steps towards adulthood I realized that I had to rethink my own subnationalist aspirations once more. I began to understand that how much I wished to live in the past it was not possible for me anymore. In this global era when boundaries are fast disappearing to talk about territorial sovereignty is almost an oxymoron. Between the choices of staying with India, being independent and staying with China (as many in “mainland India” perceive NE to be!!)I preferred staying with India. Not because I had special attachment to Delhi but because the concept of freedom in my mind had changed its definition.

How could I call myself free when there were the poor languishing in my state? What good would freedom do if we were to be hit by floods ever year .What good would freedom do if we saw our young men and women leave their home at the first chance they get lamenting “lack of opportunities” in their home only to never return? I realized all of this meant nothing. It didn’t matter what national colors I wore what mattered was that poor man in the street was he truly free. My guess is no. Freedom as a concept is perhaps a tool of the middle class and the upper class to fuel their own ambitions firing the gun from the shoulders of the masses.In truth perhaps freedom in today’s world is a lie to fuel one’s own gains. Yes some struggles may be legitimate some may have historical connotations but this is not the 1930-40’s anymore where there is a global surge against imperialism.

And thus I was happy to witness the progress Assam had seen in the past 10 years. The Assamese inside me was content. Finally we were reaching out leaving the idiom of freedom a vague struggle behind and concentrating on development one which is a true lofty goal to be achieved. I felt proud when my friends who arrived from every corner of the country and were pleasantly surprised to find KFC in Guwahati. I felt happy when my friends called up to tell me that Assam had scored off the charts in health, education and other parameters. I finally believed our time had come. We had made peace the Bodos, the Karbis, the Misings; the Dimasas had finally come together albeit in some crude form to some understanding. I believed it was time we would work for a common good.

And once again I was proved wrong. Today as Assam burns I ask myself are we going back to the 80’s once more.18000 people lost their lives in that era a whole generation of people were ruined and today we stand at those crossroads again. It’s time we look at the history once more all of us with a pinch of salt. Immigration -illegal or not- is a universal phenomenon and it’s here to stay .We have to find ways to control it we have to find ways of harmonizing but we cannot let ourselves fall headlong into the tumultuous 80’s-90’s once more. It will take back our state 20 years back.

Some would argue that the way forward should be political freedom for us .Delhi doesn’t understand our feelings Delhi is tyrant. But then the question is who has stopped us from making inroads in Delhi. Delhi didn’t debar politicians from joining North Block, from joining national media, from joining administrative services, army services. When was the last time we heard a strong voice from Assam in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha? Our MP’s mostly sit in the last benches and in my view talk as less as possible so as to attract minimum attention It’s us we who have decided not be the stakeholders for our own future. And now when hell broke loose we all went back to what we know best -Anarchy. It’s time we leave this quality for striving for anarchy behind. It’s time we bring peace, its time we the people of Assam reassess what we want and how we want it. A friend of mine called me and asked “Are you safe. Oh man Assam has gone back to those dark days once more!”

And I stood there shocked, humiliated and most of all hurt.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pax Indica-an assesment of Shashi Tharoors latest offing

The past year has been one of the best years for commentators and
who have acutely followed Indian Diplomacy.David Malone's Can the 
Elephant Dance?,NAM 2.0 and now Shashi Tharoors latest Pax Indica have delighted commentators and students alike.

Yet there is a fundamental difference in the way "Pax Indica" has been written.Moving away from the usual moorings of discussion of Foreign Policy ,Tharoor has infused a certain reflective style in the workings of this book.And it is this fact that makes this book an interesting and scholarly read.Tharoor immensely benefited from his stint in UN and MEA has quoted numerous incident from his own experiences that have added to its ingenuity.

The book opens with a reflection about where India stands today and its rich historical legacy.Its quite compelling and sets the mood for the rest of the book.Indeed immediately after that the chapter on Pakistan makes for an interesting read.Tharoor takes a line that is distinctly clear and conclusive. Moving away from chest thumping nationalism and unrealistic Aman Ki Ashaism Tharoor has tried to view Pakistan the way is it as a Foreign Policy predicament.He argues in the end that we have no choice but to engage with Pakistan.In between his own anecdotes about how his interaction with a particular Pakistani TV boss revealed why they have upped their anti India diatribe ,makes for some deep thinking for our hysterical media as well.

With regard to China Tharoor has been even more clear.Usually commentators in India are keen to compare themselves with China in every field .Such a form of removed sense of delusional nationalism has been the joke of foreign commentators.Tharoor brings a new discourse in this field.He clearly argues that in dollar terms or in many other metrics we cannot compete with China.Instead of indulging in a hopeless case of India versus China Tharoor views a world where India and China works more on cooperation. In-fact he echoes David Malone in saying that India's relationship with China will be a mix of economic interests and security disturbances.In recent times this has been one of the most informed comments on Indo-China relations coming from an Indian commentator.

The rest of the chapters on Indo China relations,South East Asia,Latin America ,Africa Europe and Russia are pretty well balanced.While most of these chapters present a picture of what is already known and perceived in academic circles ,his injection of personal anecdotes to highlight failures of Indian Diplomacy in some places are enlightening.Timor Leste a newly independent country with tremendous natural resources and willingness to partner India is one such starking example.Tharoor laments that while even neighboring Pakistan has started working on an embassy in Dili the capital of Timor Leste ,Indian authorities have not woken up from their slumber yet.Such incidents show the typical lack of foresightedness of the MEA which Tharoor however rightly attributes majorly to lack of manpower .Other examples of an Indian expatriate facilitating the opening of Chinese embassy in Monrovia makes for fascinating reading.

When however he moves away from country centric relations to what constitutes foreign policy is when Tharoor is at his explosive best.His penchant for engaging the public to foreign policy and various means to do it not only makes for fabulous reading but also should be noted by the mandarins of the South Block.He also leaves no stone unturned to target the failings of the South Block itself including recruitment procedure for IFS officers and suggests measures to improve it.The expert-bureaucratic dichotomy and the need to engage "experts" couldn't have been explained any better.Further the discourses on "public diplomacy","global governance" etc are particularly engaging.

In the end Tharoor truly romps off home in style by explaining his vision of "Pax Indica".His ending truly reflects why Tharoor is one of the best minds available in matters of foreign policy discourses in the country today.He should be engaged effectively much more by the Indian government for he truly reflects a vision .A vision whose key is rise of India to global prominence.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Assam riots corrigendum

The past month has witnessed Assam riots occupying the central position in the discourse of political circles, media and intellectuals not to mention the average Indian. Media carried reports and pictures of the horrible carnage that was being played out. The fact that Kokrajhar was a vital linking point between North East and the rest of India further intensified the scenario. Thus we need to understand what the underlying principle behind this debate is. Such debates often seem to end in the “illegal immigrants” rhetoric or at times Hindu versus Muslim (which is very much a misnomer).

Let us start with the Hindu-Muslim discourse. We must understand that Bodos are a tribal society where people have converted to Hinduism and further To Christianity over a period of time. Bodos are a holistic pluralistic society and not one colorful banner of Hindu unity as many perceive it to be.Infact the intra war between BLT and NDFB in the early 1990’s had a stronger religious contention to it.Thus there was no Bodo waging a war to save Hinduism.

The Assamese Muslim society like everywhere else is not holistic monolithic structure either. It has its own divisions between miyas,goalporais,khilonjias etc.In India whenever riots have traditionally targeted Muslims the situation in the whole state has remained tensed. For eg whenever riots occur in UP, the Muslim society of the whole state is cautious. No such situation was played out. The Khilonjias in the state elsewhere were neither harassed nor were they tensed either.This very fact speaks out that they themselves knew this was not a Hindu Muslim conflict as media and a section of communalists on both sides of the social media have played it out to be.It is essentially a conflict between two groups which has been further intensified by governance defaults.

This brings us to the question of governance mismanagement and the larger question of illegal immigration. As much as secularists and government would like to debunk the theory illegal immigration did occur in Assam for a long time. It started with Sir Sadullah brining people from the Mymensigh districts to work in the rice fields of Nagaon. And this trend has continued since then. Anyone who debunks this perhaps fails to understand that migration is a human phenomenon. With poverty rung large on the face of Bangladesh it is only natural that its citizens would be forced to look elsewhere. It has happened in Mexico, it has happened in Somalia so why not Assam. It is a simple question of human existence. And anyone who visits the Indo-Bangladesh border will understand how easy it is to cross the border. Thus those who believe that no illegal immigration can occur, are indeed wrong. Historical evidences sociological perspectives are enough to substantiate that migration has occurred and will indeed continue to occur even without bringing the demographics to question.

Coming to the question of demographics and the so called rise of Muslims in the 11 districts which has rung the caution bells for many.A fundamental question is that is Muslim population rising wrong?The answer is no.But then this population rise has to be read in concurrence with fertility rates, IMR and MMR rates. And when these data are compared then indeed a mismatch is found. The answer is migration. People have migrated to these districts. Now the question we have to ask next is that are there so many people in Assam that migration have occurred at such rapid rates .The answer to this lies in the char areas. These small islands on the river Brahmaputra are an enigma of their own. Some lie with India some with Bangladesh and some are not very sure where their nationalities lie. In many cases their plight is comparable with the plight of the people in the enclaves of the Cooch Behar region.

A section of intelligentsia has argued that the migration and flow of people that occur into Assam have flown into these areas. In many ways this is a correct assessment. Since the char areas are regularly hit by the fury of the Brahmaputra Rivers. That they will migrate to the plains of Assam is only understandable. However Sanjoy Hazarika has successfully shown in his classic work “Rites of Passage” that while there has been a steady inflow of people from the Chars to the mainland yet the Chars are not devoid of people either .Thus without doubt migrations has indeed occurred or continue to occur. What has perhaps changed since the 1990’s is the degree in which this migration has occurred.

Yet the root cause of these riots is not migration it is the balant failure of governance. Once BTAD was declared government failed to address the concerns of the non Bodo people living in these areas. The highhandness of the officials in the BTAD councils only complicated matters. For years now intellectuals in Assam with deep sociological understanding had been warning of a impending crisis in Assam in the subaltern level. These riots are a manifestation of that warning in totality.

Smaller states and autonomous councils have not proved to be a solution anywhere in this country. In NE this has held true all the more. Inspite of being smaller states with high human development index on a few parameters the states have not been able to develop on other scales. The aspirations of the people have remained unfulfilled. As many have argued what is needed in NE today is not territorial sovereignty as many tribes seek out but non territorial sovereignty and regions. While this would seek to fulfill the aspirations of the tribes which have hitherto lived in the fringes it would also cease to become a question which is locked in the debate of further state reorganization. Today declaring one more state would create a volatile scenario for the country. Thus the aspirations of the people have to be addressed in a new manner.

Coming to the question of migrants we must understand the economic resources like land water etc are the moot cause of conflict between communities. They often take the cry of religion caste or language but that is merely a rallying war cry. In reality it is fight between two groups to control resources. One of the prime vital resources in land. Encroachment of land especially those like the ones that have happened in and around Kaziranga National Park must be banned. The government must admit that refugees are a problem and plans must be made to settle them in a cohesive manner. Politics, in the name of these citizens -whether doubtful or established -must be stopped. There is no doubt that the rise of Badruddin Ajmal and his AIUDF in the history of Assam politics is a reflection of this trend. This party cannot call itself a “Muslim” party since it has no support whatsoever among the Muslims of Upper Assam. At best it can be called to cater to the aspirations of a certain section of people. At one point of time an MLA of this party had infact demanded a separate state in Assam based on religious lines. What was unfortunate that it even found acceptance among a section of the youth of this region. Such events bring back the pain of partition to our mind. Hence politics in the name of these certain section of people must be stopped.

Towards this the first step the government must take is updating the NRC roll. Inspite of opposition from all sides the government must go ahead and take this step. Secondly the concepts of D voters must be wiped out. The foreigner detection tribunal in Assam is nothing but a joke and the ground realties of today are such that it’s of no use today. Hence it must be immediately scrapped. Further there must be a discussion on whether we can keep 1971 as the cutoff mark. Is it really possible to identify and deport back people? Historically it has never been possible anywhere else in the world; at best it can give us flashes of the horrors of Neyllie massacre.

The thinking in this matter has to be forward looking as well. The UN has predicted that by 2020 a large number of people in the world will be environmental refugees. There is no doubt that a large number of people in low lying Bangladesh will be rendered homeless in the coming years due to rising sea level. And there is little doubt that they will move towards India. Thus it is in India’s own strategic interest that it helps Bangladesh mitigate the effects of climate change and help it in tackling it.

Politicians’ ,student organizations cutting across party lines must sit down and admit illegal immigration has still persisted as a problem. New approach is required to tackle it. This approach has to be holistic and must encompass development as the fundamental principle. The NE requires a new vision and a new approach to stop it from burning once more.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Guwahati Molestation -A national shame?

On July 9th a nation watched as a girl was molested by young men in full public view .This nation watched it becoming a phenomenon on Twitter.People who didnt know about NE leave alone about Guwahati was now on everyone's minds.Bollywood was tweeting about it.Guwahati was the new "Jhumri Telaiya" a place "discovered" by India all of a sudden.One fine morning India woke up to a sleepy town called Guwahati.They were outraged at how a girl's modesty had been torn apart.Like the clothes that were ripped apart from her body to the eyes of the voyeuristic male ,it felt like the heart was being ripped out of every true blooded Assamese including me.And now the questions rise:

1. Did it deserve to be  the Twitter - social media revolution as it had become ?

My answer is every bit yes.This isn't about one Guwahati .It is about how men have viewed women all over the world.As objects as objects to be acquired.When a girl drinks she is called a prostitute by that logic shouldn't every man who drinks be called a gigolo?Should out fathers our brothers be called gigolos as well.We talk about equality about generosity to women .Do we still mean it? If yes then why are we still stressing on the fact that the girl was drunk.How does it matter? Drinking in this country is not a crime molesting is .And its the larger dimension about how we treat our women.3000 years ago the Mauryans the Guptas gave institutional support to the old women who couldn't earn their livelihood through prostitution anymore.Institutional support for ageing prostitutes .This is the culture of this country.This was the value we once gave our women.And today women for us is an object to be conquered.Shes a girl a wife a mother a nobody ..I wonder.

So yes this is not about the modesty of one women being outraged this is about the society that we live in .And so every crime like this must be made a national issue.Many claims every Sunday this nation watches Aaamir Khan shed crocodile tears.Maybe yes maybe not but we cant deny the ordeal of a wife who was bitten on her face because she couldnt produce a male heir, we cant deny the ordeal of a wife who saw her mother in law kick her baby daughter from the stairs to the bottom.

This is the country we have given to ourselves.For every Sonia Gandhi and every Pratibha Patil there are a million "Guwahati girls" today who are termed "prostitutes" in the end.They deserve every bit of the fight..And they must not only be protected but they must come out and fight for themselves as well.

Reserving one coach for women in metro wouldnt bring any revolution in this country.Changing the mindset will.

2. Assamese society is an egalitarian society ,which respects its women.

Every bit of yes.Yes even after the incident which has shamed me no doubt I still raise my hand and say I am a proud Assamese.If it were for the rest of India the girl's family in all case would have stabbed her and killed her in the name of "honour killing" 

But not in Assam.The next day people on their own incentive took out posters of the culprits and pasted them all over the city .The question on people's minds was How could our boys do this? Rather than Oh look the girl is drunk.

Of course a section of the people would blame the girl as well saying ahh she drank .But then bad eggs lie in every basket.Yes this is a setback for us .Yes its a setback for the Assamese society but we will rise again.
This nation of Sati Joymoti,Mulagabhoru,kanaklata,Phuleshwari is known to respect its women and put them in the highest pedestal.Our women have gone in the fields and worked with the men,our women have tied their children to their backs and gone and fished with the men.

I have no doubt that Assamese society will rise once more.And take its place which it truly deserves.Yes there have been problems.The recent crime data which places Assam at 3rd position is used by detractors to illustrate Assam is failing.But there is an alternate view that people in Assam are not scared to report.

As a true blue blooded Assamese one thing I do not want to be perhaps imported to out culture is "demeanifying women" which is a rampant subcontinentaial phenomenon.We hope we emerge from this setback stronger and bigger hearted.

3.The girl drank .She was a sult.

The biggest myth till date.Someone quoted that does freedom for women mean she can roam in streets at night dressed in shorts.No sir, it dosent it means that if she does so she dosent have to be scared.A girl can pretty well roam naked in the street.If someone is outraged he/she can file a complaint in the courts.Get the girl arrested.But noone noone has the rights to outrage the modesty of the girl.

James Farmer Junior quoted in the Great Debators :

"In Texas they lynch Negroes. My teammates and I saw a man strung up by his neck and set on fire. We drove through a lynch mob, pressed our faces against the floorboard. I looked at my teammates. I saw the fear in their eyes and, worse, the shame. What was this Negro's crime that he should be hung without trial in a dark forest filled with fog. Was he a thief? Was he a killer? Or just a Negro? Was he a sharecropper? A preacher? Were his children waiting up for him? And who are we to just lie there and do nothing. No matter what he did, the mob was the criminal. "

Mob acton can never be justified.So no matter what the girl did .The mob was the criminal.

4. The mediapersons on spot were they correct?

In my view as long as they had collected the footage it was fine.To catch the criminals they say.Agreed .But media shouldnt have aired the footages.They could have merely shown the face of the criminals and ended the issue.

And yet in this nation where dog bites man is breaking news a girls's top being ripped off in public view was much more than just sadistic pleasure.It was villification of this country's need for excitement.A country bored with preeety much everything including IPL would undoubtedly step up and applaud the excitement.And it was with this mentality the channels uploaded the video.It was undoubtedly with this thing in mind that the journalist in question gleefully shot the video .He wanted to create "news" fodder for the people of this country who loved to invade the privacy of others.

As someone said "this is India if you cant have sex you just imagine others having sex".Our craze for sensationalism has produced this disastrous consequence.

So perhaps its time for all of us to go back and think hard and long ,for a really long time.The Guwahati episode provides this nation with new equations and new questions?

What matters is how we answer them.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Are we a soft state?

Perhaps a few definitions of the modern era have seen such diverse opinions as the definition of the word “state” has. Thinkers around the world from the onset of the 18th century have tried to define state in one form or the other. Yet it is now accepted that Max Weber’s definition of state perhaps holds the best possible explanation in the present circumstances that we live in today. Max Weber had defined state as a political organisation that maintained a monopoly of the legitimate use of force within specified territory. And like everything else that has been true for the human society, with the progress of time this definition of state too has undergone a metamorphis.

As time progressed the threats to a nation changed its fundamental nature .From massive wars the world began to see a rise in small armed conflicts .And with this came a fundamental shift in the way strategic power of a nation was calculated. The question was, was a particular nation able to negotiate the threats it faced internal and external? Nations which did so were states which were able to successfully tackle challenges to its securities while those who faltered were termed “soft state”. Soft state essentially meant those nations which had failed to send a strong message to the perpetrators of terror that it would be tough to wage a war against that state.          
And it is in the backdrop of this premises that we must evaluate whether India is a soft state or not.
In order to deal with the question of India we must go back to its history to understand its roots. A famous Persian poet had once remarked
“Carvan aatey gayeHindustan basta gaaya”

In short it meant that historically people poured into India from all over the world and made it its home. This in turn meant that India was a country which was truly build on the ethos of multiculturalism. And yet this multiculturalism also presented India with one of its first challenges –equitable development.

Historically in India development has failed to reach the downtrodden masses. Very often the society is divided in so many levels in horizontal as well as vertical direction that those in the periphery are left out from the benefits of development. And very often these people resented sometimes it took the form of Naxalism ,sometimes Maoism and on other occasions misguided youths indoctrinated in the language of hate with their misery as a justification to wage a war on the state. These expressions of grievances are often played by external states in order to gain a strategic influence or hold over India. Thus the internal threat that exists to this nation is compounded by external players threatening the sovereignty the existence of this nation. And v very often at the root of internal threats lie grievances, unhappiness and dissatisfaction.

Yet such threats to nations have existed around the world. The Baluchistan problem in Pakistan, the Urughyuir problem in China, the North Dagestan problem in Russia and the recent division of North and South Sudan illustrates that historically inequitable development has always resulted in internal threats for a country.

A second facet that has emerged as a threat to a state today is external .Yet these external factors are often non-state actors. This essentially means they are not affiliated to any particular nation but rather belong to a group whose basic agenda is to create terror. While they may resort to rhetoric as a means of justifying their ends they usually lack a coherent ideologue apart from belonging to a group which only resorts to violence.
 A very poignant example would be the Boko Haram group of Nigeria. Although it claims to adhere to a certain ideology yet it is a widely known fact that this group is merely a front organisation for Al Qaeda the global terrorist network. Another example is the Haqqani network. These organisations operate on a global scale through various fronts. They don’t identify themselves with any particular goals. Their agenda is only to spread terror. This form of threat of violence is formless and hence more dangerous.

India when rated on combating these two parameters presents a mixed picture. In 2010 the Prime Minister of India had famously declared that Maoism today was the number 1 threat to this nation. Coming at the backdrop of Dantewada massacre (where a large number of CRPF jawans lost their lives) this was perhaps an apt definition of the situation. India has failed a number of times in combating internal security issues .Maoism has refused to bow down from the country and every time the government has tried to stem its roots in one state it has spread itself to another. Kashmir as a security issue continues to bog down administrators of this nation.

Yet overall the situation itself is far from dismal. The situation in the North Eastern region has improved tremendously. The Indian government has been able to negotiate peace deals with NSCN (IM), a faction of the ULFA, the NDFB, the PRPK the BLT and so on. In the fast few years violence in the NE has come down on a large scale. The Kashmir valley has witnessed an era of relative calm and peace since the ugly protests of 2010.The Maoists have been forced to wind up their operations in the South .Operation Greenhunt has been a major success in Andhra Pradesh which has- flushed this once hotbed of Maoism-free of them.

In matters pertaining to threats emancipating from external factors India has faced greater questions. Indian prestige hit the lowest point when it had to negotiate with terrorists in 1999 and had to agree to a exchange deal with the terrorists. Since then India has been repeatedly hurt by forces whose roots lie elsewhere, the Mumbai blasts, the Best Bakery blast of Pune and a number of others blasts and terrorist attacks have their roots in foreign shores. Such threats neutralisation often requires support of foreign states which invariably complicates matters. Thus the success and failure of India dealing with external factors must be weighed against this critical parameter as well. And in this backdrop often without support from other nations India has performed reasonably well.

When these factors are analysed there is a clear picture that India has been able to present itself as a confident state which can take on enemies which threaten its unity and integrity.Yet a lot more needs to be done to further improve the position. A few steps in this regard can be :

Development can always act as a potent tool to quell internal dissatisfactions arising in country. However we must make sure that this development is not “top-down” but rather implemented through the “bottoms-up” approach. The IAP (Integrated Action Plan) in the 9 naxal affected states is a welcome step in this regard. The various Horticulture projects being implemented in the NE states are other indications of robust programme which have been able to fulfil local aspirations thus quelling the clamour of apathy and ensuring all round development and equitable growth.

Security of a nation doesn’t merely lie in the arms of the soldiers or the policeman. The onus is on the judicial system as well. Hence steps must be taken to create a further robust and stronger judicial structure. In this regard a few steps that can be taken are : establishing fast track courts to adjudicate on matters which threaten the unity and integrity of the country, making stringent rules of punishment for those involved in perpetrating crimes against the state. Existing laws in the country should be strengthen and new ones should be framed, the face of threat today in the global context is changing and hence the laws of the country too must be equipped to handle the changed context.

Today strategic dimensions of a nation are very important in order to be able to handle a threat perception. The foreign policy of a nation must be equipped to handle the changing behaviour of global threats for e.g. global terrorism. For this India must strive to further strengthen global security initiatives like the Interpol and put its own agenda forward in order to obtain global help in dealing with its own security issues. India must also strengthen extradition treaties with nations across the world so that perpetrators of violence caught in other nations couldn’t escape due to legal loopholes. A famous example in this regard is the case of ULFA leader Arup Chetia. He was nabbed in Bangladesh in 1990’s but is yet to be tried by an Indian court since India is yet to sign an extradition treaty with Bangladesh. Hence international cooperation must be strengthen and India must play a proactive role in the global scenario.

Seen in the light of the above arguments it is clear that India neither lacks the will to fight threats and nor has it been a failure. Thus India cannot be called a “soft state” under any circumstance. However there is still a  long way to go in creating a strong robust workable security regime so that citizens of the country feel safe and secured.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In the Indian context, Both human intelligence and technical intelligence are crucial in combating terrorism

 India has emerged as a success story in the 21st century. A part of the rapidly developing EME (Emerging Market Economy) India has embarked on a growth path which has been at best exemplary. Coming in the wake of the 1991 economic crisis in the backdrop of the Gulf War India has emerged as a stronger and a resilient nation. The economy remained unfaltered as the financial world crumbled around it in 2008.This serves as a reminder to the resilience that India exhibits today.

Yet India today faces far more challenges than it did 20 years ago. 20 years ago India was a 3rd world country large, hungry and poor. The challenges of India were different in that era. Today while these problems persist yet India has emerged stronger and has more impact on the global world. And these factors have brought in new challenges. And one prime example of the various challenges that constitute threat to India today is terrorism. The Mumbai carnage of 26/11 demonstrates the vulnerability of the Indian state and also points to the fact that today India is one of the prime terrorist targets.

Terrorism has been defined by experts around the world in different degrees. One common parameter that however can be agreed upon is that it is a challenge to the state and poses a security hazard. There is a fundamental difference in other forms of violence like secessionism, insurgency and Maoism. While secessionism talks about secession they generally do not target the public and wage a war with the security personals. Insurgency is a war far on similar lines while Maoism perhaps is an expression of the misgivings of the deprived. In each of these forms there is a certain adherence to an ideologue which makes it easier to be combated with since the state can address these ideologues in order to dissipate these movements. Terrorism however is a different ballgame altogether. Terrorism believes in only one ideologue and that is spreading violence. There is not particular motive to either capture power or establish their own rule; terrorism only seeks to create a atmosphere of fear where the lives of the innocent people are in danger. And this formlessness with no inherent ideologue makes terrorism hard to combat with. While terrorism seeks to clamour around a war cry like religion or language yet these are merely pretentious jingoism to attract the average youth who believes violence can effect a change.

In the past 10 years the country has witnessed incessant terrorist attacks across the length and breadth of the country. While endangering the lives of innocent it has also posed a question as to whether our security is equipped to handle such threats .There must also be concrete efforts towards formulating a policy that addresses the structural faults that has existed in the security policy till now. It is in this respect that we must address two fundamental issues while formulating a policy to combat terrorism.

Human intelligence today has emerged as a prime tool in effectively curbing the menace of terrorism. The power of human information was on acute display during the Cold War when the very tool of human intelligence acted as a deterrent. A similar analogy can be drawn in the present times when human intelligence can be effectively used to monitor terrorism activities. A marked feature of terrorist groups is the existence of “sleeper cells”. These sleeper cells remain dormant with its members going on about their daily lives until they are activated. Once they are activated they carry out the orders given by their bosses and execute terrorist activities. This is the reason why we see normal people with simple lives executing gruesome attacks. Indoctrinated in the school of violence they wait to execute their plans. And no amount of technology can detect these sleeper cells and their movement. And it is at this juncture where human intelligence becomes important.

A successful example of the power of human intelligence in India has been the ‘mukhbir” scheme in Mumbai. After 1993 attacks in and around the city where vested interests sitting in the foreign decks remote controlled attacks in the city, the Mumbai police department was at a loss. They decided to give impetus to the “mukhbir” scheme where informants were placed in every area and their movements and information was regulated on the local police station level. A decentralised strong informant system worked wonders for the police .Between 1993 and 2005 Mumbai didn’t see any major terrorism attacks and the success was largely attributed to the human intelligence network. Effective schemes like protection of the mukhbirs and security to their families ensured that the system worked on a robust strong and effective framework. The informants had complete knowledge and control on the information that flowed in the ground level. For example if arms were transported in the Mumbai docks, if RDX was being moved or if any sleeper cell was being activated, these informants would immediately inform the police and the  impending terrorist strikes would be averted. However after 2005 this robust network began to crack and by 2007 it almost ceased to exist. And tragically after that Mumbai has become a victim of one terrorist strike after another. While a direct analogy between human intelligence and terrorist strikes cannot be drawn yet it can be said with a certain absolute certainty that such robust human intelligence network indeed acts as a deterrent to the impending terrorist strikes. A average citizen, working as an information vigilante would be a powerful deterrent to the terrorist who would not be able to decide whom to belief.

Thus human intelligence indeed is a powerful medium to combat terrorism but yet it cannot refute the effectiveness of technical intelligence in today’s world. As the war of terrorism moves from the street to the information highway the internet, policymakers have to start addressing the concerns of structural restructuring the technical intelligence. At the onset it must be understood that technical intelligence does not mean intelligence that has been gathered by using scientific and technical mediums. For example information collected by a drone or a satellite is not technical intelligence it is a source of information that forms a fundamental of the technical intelligence but it is not technical intelligence in itself. Technical intelligence is defined by the CLAWS (Centre for Land warfare and Strategic studies) as intelligence about the arms and weapons used by the enemies of the state. Technical intelligence offers an advantage to the security personals so that they are not taken by surprise when involved in a conflict with enemies. This becomes all the more important in LIC (Limited Impact Conflict) where conventional weapons are discarded and variations are used. For example in a war between two nations there is always a fair idea about the type of arms the nations will use from artillery to bombs. Such a liberty is not involved in a limited impact conflict like a terrorist attack wherein there is always an element of surprise in the weapons used. And it is to mitigate this element of surprise that the security establishment needs a robust technical intelligence background.

Technical intelligence does not stop at the weapons or the technical finesse of the enemies. It must also seek out the source of those weapons and also they production capabilities of that source and how the money has been routed. Thus technical intelligence effectively encompasses the “white collar” division as well. It has been often found that “Hawala money”, participatory notes etc has been used to promote terrorist activities in India. The security establishment must make concerted efforts to address these sources of money and how it has been utilized in terms of procuring weapons. Such economic intelligence converged with the technical finesse can strength the security establishment to a large extent. Today modern warfare is not limited merely to guns and bombs it has transgressed into domains like biological weapons and chemical weapons for e.g. ` anthrax. In such a scenario it becomes all the more important to have an idea about the strength of the enemies. For example in the event of an anthrax attack mere guns and bombs would not be able to mitigate the effects. Scientific research coupled with remedial measures is the key in the event of such a attack. And to have such a mechanism we must have a fair idea of the weapons the enemies possess beforehand. Thus technical intelligence not only acts as a deterrent but also as a effective tool of mitigating the threats posed by terrorism.

Thus seen in totality human intelligence and technical intelligence are important building blocks towards building an effective tool to combat terrorism. And this can be achieved when there is a perfect synthesis between the two. In a large country like India of multilateral hues and strong democratic fundamentals racial profiling or draconian laws like Patriot Act or Homeland Security Act of USA would be hard to implement. The Indian people cherish their freedom since it has been hard-fought and won after 200 years of serving as a colony. Thus any act that seeks to endanger this hard fought liberty would not go down well with the masses. The answer lies in creating a strong framework where human intelligence an technical intelligence works effectively to create a secure and safe environment. Thus in the Indian context a synthesis of the two is perhaps the best –possible strategy.