Books

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The Threat from Within by V.K. Nayar. Lancer Publishers, Delhi, 1992.

 

Low Intensity Conflicts: The New Dimension to India’s Military Commitments by Maroof Raza. Kartikeya Publications, Meerut, 1995.

 

Uncivil wars: Pathology of Terrorism in India by Ved Marwah. Harper Collins, Delhi, 1996.

 

Tackling Insurgency and Terrorism: Blueprint for Action by Bhaskar Sarkar. Vision Books, Delhi, 1998.

 

THE literature on terrorism in the South Asian region, and India in particular, is vast. The existing genre of writing contains a spectrum of commentaries focusing on both theoretical and practical aspects of this socio-political phenomenon. Two of the works listed above are more narrative in nature – Marwah and Nayar. Raza and Sarkar veer towards the analytical and prescriptive – the difference being that Raza deals more with the Indian Army’s role commitment to low intensity conflict (LIC), while the latter seeks to advance a new approach to understanding terrorism. Sarkar has a score card approach, i.e., giving points to the state and to the adversary on the basis of their aims and goals and then totalling the scores. For a simple and practical way to understand terrorism, one has to refer to the score card, not of a match in the cricket world cup but to the book by Sarkar.

Terrorism is just one of many forms of political dissent and struggle generated by India’s socio political milieu. Managing, controlling and containing these is the task of the internal security apparatus. In essence, the state has to manage a range of problems – those relating to maintenance of law and order, communal violence, guerrilla warfare and sub-nationalism. Terrorism, particularly transnational terrorism sponsored from across the borders, is the main problem facing India. This is so because violent struggles by groups and individuals to achieve their ends gets support from outside making it difficult to cut the umbilical cord. In the case of the North East or in J&K, the external factor remains a major obstacle to effectively containing the problem.

Terrorism may be defined as a form of organized crime that prevails in society in specific socio-economic environments and which aims to highlight its cause or demand by a combination of fear and publicity. The aim is to utilize the psychological impact of attacks on people and places to underscore that the terrorist is capable of undertaking any act without hindrance. It is for this reason that terrorism has been defined as the use of violence when its most important result is the psychological effect on someone else. The act of terror also involves the emotion and motivation of the terrorist. Terrorism makes use of inordinate and indiscriminate violence against individuals or groups of individuals who are in no way connected with the movement.

The narration of terrorist acts alongside an analysis of how the state should not respond is what is dealt by Marwah, a former police officer with considerable experience. His view of the state’s response to acts of terrorism leaves one wondering if individuals in the system are bound by it or whether it is the other way around, for responses remain ad hoc and create more confusion than necessary.

Sarkar’s search is for an alternative, what may be called a holistic approach to terrorism. He focuses on theory, outlines different forms of struggle and then presents an overview of how each segment of society should respond to terrorism. In a way he provides a handbook for those wanting to know about the basics of terrorism and related activity. He covers a broad canvas including the basic rudiments of revolutionary warfare, a brief history of insurgency in India, non-military dimensions of insurgency, as also the mechanics for conducting operations against insurgents.

Unpackaging the terminology on terrorism and associated forms of violence is crucial to this discourse. The problem of using them, either by themselves or in an umbrella fashion, is that each term – such as insurgency, terrorism or guerrilla warfare – has a specific connotation when applied to a particular situation. Terrorism is an umbrella term currently in usage, best defined as the use of violence to create a psychological sense of fear. Insurgency on the other hand can be used to describe all movements that attempt to change existing systems of authority by use of force. Within this framework, terrorism can be read as a tactic used by insurgents to terrorize the populace into accepting its cause as legitimate. In South Asia, and India in particular, terrorism has emerged from nascent political dissent. This has transformed itself, more often than not, into secession and insurgent terrorism – the primary reasons being that internal administration is unable to deliver while external help is available for generating the money and weapons to fuel local grievances.

Those who take to terrorism almost always have the advantage that they can strike at any target, particularly the man on the street, at any time and place. Though the indiscriminate attacks on civilian populace are usually not important in the achievement of the final objective, they serve the purpose of generating fear and uncertainty in the minds of the target population. This leads the latter to believe that the state is unable to protect them – precisely how a small group can command the attention of a nation.

The problem that societies face is that the level of violence perpetrated by terrorism relates, more often than not, to the psychological impact rather than actual loss of lives. In India, an act of terrorism leading to loss of lives often has an ethnic or social import with long-term consequences. The killing of Hindus in Punjab or the selective killing of Pundits in Jammu and Kashmir provided the basis for social unrest, making a resolution of the problem socially difficult. Both Marwah and Nayar provide regional narrations of terrorist acts and their fall-outs. The latter details the Indian Army counter-insurgency operations in the North East, usually a neglected area. However, while information provided is useful, an update is needed.

To sustain acts of terrorism, it is necessary to create a cause potent enough to motivate people in large numbers to take up arms. The terrorist group requires both dynamism and organization capable of establishing a cause. What is important is to create conditions wherein people find that the government is incapable of protecting them. This calls for incidents of violence, followed by propaganda which attempts to establish that since the state is incapable of giving protection, prudence lies in supporting the terrorist. This is best illustrated in the account by Marwah of Rubaiyya Sayyed’s kidnapping in 1990 in Jammu and Kashmir. This one incident began the slide in Kashmir. An ineffective local administration and an indifferent Centre, combined to evolve a policy on Kashmir for which the nation is paying a price in Kargil today.

It needs recalling that terrorist attacks on civilians or on the police usually compel the state to respond in kind, leading to an alienation of the population. Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir are good examples of this process, though the state mechanisms to contain this alienation in the two cases were different and led to different results.

The ability of the state to undertake counter-measures without disturbing the socio-political environment depends on the efficiency of the personnel and organizations tasked for the mission. The Indian military has a long and varied experience of tackling insurgency and terrorism. Seen in the larger construct of low intensity conflict, both in its domestic and transnational context, the military’s experience suggests an increasing commitment in these missions, a role for which the army is normally not trained nor equipped.

It is in this perspective that one views Raza’s work dealing with the Indian Army’s commitment to LIC. He concludes that it is necessary for the army to learn how to deal with low intensity conflicts as a way of war. This is all the more essential today in the nuclearised environment of South Asia and demands a crucial change in the doctrinal mind-set of the army when dealing with LIC. Sarkar too has a useful section on the role of the army in combatting insurgency. He discusses higher decision-making, unified command, and conduct of military operations at a higher and battalion level so essential in today’s environment. He also stresses the role and importance of intelligence, and the use of sophisticated technology.

Past experience suggests that the army follows a positional war-fighting doctrine while tackling conflicts at the lower end of the spectrum. This shows up in the large deployment of manpower, usually 1:5 ratio though counter-insurgency in the North East, Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere should have given the army enough material to rethink its organizational and operational strategies. From an Indocentric point of view, terrorism has grown with its own specific regional characteristics. By and large it has emerged out of political-criminal activity, promoted by external forces and has transformed itself into political terrorism. In places like the North East, the insurgency that began in the ’50s and ’60s has now adapted itself to the ways of insurgent-terrorism, i.e. the insurgents are using the tactics of terror to gain their ends.

Terrorism in India has today reached a stage where international linkages allow for the synchro-bombing of public facilities to strike fear and cause social and communal unrest. The earliest manifestation of terrorism in India witnessed a spate of hijackings and crude bombings. Then came political killings and kidnappings. This was then transfused with political secession and insurgent-terrorism which challenged the very authority of the state.

Various groups in India have used terrorism to further their ends and undermine the authority of the state. They also attempt to alienate target groups from the national mainstream with a view to achieving their goal of political power. Terrorist groups in Jammu and Kashmir, and to some extent in the North East, go beyond just seeking political change; they aim at secession. Political terrorism usually provides the basis of any activity that might lead to a rebellion or insurgency movement against the prevailing political authority. With help from across the borders, the scale of terrorist operations obviously increases. Thus, the movements in Punjab and presently in J&K have enjoyed long gestation and active periods. We must not forget it takes an equally long time to control such activities.

The problem of transnational terrorism has gained importance today because many nations and terrorist organizations do not recognize international boundaries. This makes the task of national governments in curbing such activity all the more difficult viz., the civil war in Afghanistan spilt over into Pakistan and subsequently India. With Pakistan aiding and abetting the insurgency in j&k, the task of controlling violence has been made more difficult.

Past and present trends suggest that India faces two major on-going problems which require attention – narco-terrorism and the proliferation of small arms. Both are transnational in character and difficult to curb. India will find it difficult to stem the tide. The supply of arms and explosives to the insurgency in Punjab kept the pot boiling for a long time. Over 10,000 AK series rifles were captured during counter-terrorist operations between 1988-1994. A large percentage of these were intercepted at the border. Proper co-ordination in such interceptions, and a commitment of the state and its police in countering such activity, lay at the root of curbing terrorism in Punjab.

That the Indian state has the capability to control all such activity is demonstrated by the restoration of peace in Punjab. Similarly, the successful conduct of parliamentary and assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir demonstrates the usefulness of a mixed strategy towards terrorism. Though the carrot and stick policy has thus far shown results, it fails to provide answers to how democracy can tackle the problem of insurgent-terrorism without paying a price, as is evidenced in Punjab. Additionally, the state’s reliance on the army to tackle such problems has serious implications for its training and mind-sets. The real challenge before India is to produce a frame of action that can handle diverse problems with enough room for manoeuvre and without excessive dependence on military force. For this to become a reality, it is important to get to the underpinnings of terrorism.

That terrorism has political and socio-economic underpinnings is not unique in itself. But the diverse nature of the country and its people makes it difficult to isolate a single locus of threat. By and large, the development process itself creates space for dissent. But lack of development can often lead to terrorism. Additionally, external factors that aid and abet terrorism create a diplomatic and political problem. The various strands will only fall into place if and when both the people and the state accept the responsibility of taking on the terrorist.

This commitment could range from creative diplomacy to stem the external factor, all the way to the media not giving sensational or extra coverage to acts of terrorism and terrorists. At the same time the state has to be organizationally prepared to combat terrorism. Thus intelligence, force structures and technology have to be both available and geared up to meet any act of terror. All this has been dealt with in varying degrees in the books under review.

The present Indian or even South Asian paradigm of security does not cater for combatting terrorism in a cohesive manner. This is because transnational and national means of combatting terrorism remain instruments of governments and do not cater for people’s participation. It is no surprise, therefore, that human rights are violated in J&K. The counter-terrorist policy in Punjab did lead to the loss of several hundred innocent lives. Though the problems of combatting terrorism in a democratic framework are considerable, this does not imply that nations like India cannot evolve a viable strategy to fight terrorism. The violence when perpetrated, results in the loss of lives leading to counter-operations by the state which again result in the loss of lives. The problem here is one of inadequate intelligence due to poor policing and organizational inertia in acting on information when it is available.

While these works have a Indocentric view of things, it is essential to scan the larger South Asian context wherein ethnic balance and its political linkages often create conditions for terrorist violence. Terrorism has found its roots in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India due to both internal and external influences. Thus, it is not improbable that solutions to some of these issues have a South Asian context. It is here that the idea of a ‘community’ or regional co-operation becomes relevant.

To become effective in fighting terrorism, the SAARC nations must go beyond mere statements about wishing to present a united front against terrorism and acting in concert. It requires co-operation on the ground, which means having the political and military will to tackle transnational terrorism. The entire gamut of issues from drugs, weapons proliferation, to support for terrorism have to be faced.

Currently the direction of co-operation suggests both a lack of will and groundwork. While India and Pakistan are unlikely to get into a co-operative mode on terrorism, the other neighbours can. Though for now terrorism remains dormant in some parts and active elsewhere, South Asia will continue to face the problem for some time to come, mainly because of a lack of respect for boundaries and ethnic and sub-national forces that are gaining ground. For this, co-operation across borders is imperative.

Bhashyam Kasturi

 

Defending India by Jaswant Singh. Macmillan India, Bangalore, 1999.

 

The External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh’s book has been received well in part, one suspects, because of its novelty. Even political leaders of standing are not expected to have anything sensible to say on matters of public consequence, leave alone to publish a tome on a weighty subject such as national security. A balanced critique of the book has, therefore, to first overcome this element of surprise.

The trouble with Defending India is that it is like the proverbial broth stirred by far too many cooks. It is difficult to know just what the head chef/writer, in this case Jaswant Singh, had in mind to do ere he began on the enterprise or just what his own overarching beliefs are which he wanted fleshed out. Had these ideas been explored by him in his own way, as distinct from relying on contributors he has roped in for their specialist knowledge (dealing with the country’s naval policy, air power and defence budgeting) and on published extracts from well-known books, then the end product might have been less disjointed and something altogether more significant and of an enduring character.

To produce this last was not beyond him. Especially as Jaswant Singh shows in occasional flashes of insight, that he is an accomplished historian, writer and analyst. In his chapter on ‘strategic culture’, for instance, he makes the exceptional point that military craft, valour and heroism survived the baleful influences over the millennia of a uniquely pacifistic religion and ideology and an inherently complacent attitude to life which, debilitatingly for this country, have bludgeoned and shaped every other aspect of Indian thinking and India’s policies. A compendium of such nuggets along with the necessary analysis would have established the reputation of the author, even if such exercise realized a slimmer volume.

Instead what we get for our money is not so much Jaswant Singh as the experts he has relied on and exasperatingly – Philip Mason, Stephen Peter Rosen, the all-purpose Indian defence analyst of the day, K. Subrahmanyam, R. McFarquar, et al – all of whom he quotes so extensively as to force one to wonder if in trying to achieve a heftily proportioned book Singh has not produced a treatise attributable to a diffident undergraduate, who catalogues the views of well-known writers, adding very little of his own.

Take for example the section on the Indian peacekeeping operation in Sri Lanka: Most of the space is taken up by J.N. Dixit’s account, reproduced from his book in extenso. Jaswant Singh’s take on this military fiasco is restricted to less than half a page of conclusionary comments blaming ‘the lack of cohesion... and harmonious coordination between different agencies of the Indian state’ and ‘the incapacity of the political leadership of the time’ alone for it.

This is unsatisfactory. Jaswant Singh was a respected parliamentary leader at the time. An insider’s personal account of what was happening at the Delhi-end during Operation Pawan and how the opposition parties perceived the developments would have been far more enlightening. Indeed, it is precisely this kind of perspective adding to the history of the period that is missing.

This penchant for reproducing other people’s views at length is sustained right through to the Postscript on Indian nuclear policy post-Pokharan II. It is now Raja Ramanna and the ubiquitous Subrahmanyam doing main duty. By this stage the reader, who has had to plough through Subrahmanyam’s Introduction to the book as well as large bits of his writings liberally used by the author throughout the text, may feel a bit cheated. After all, this former civil servant and pamphleteer par excellence, can be read any day of the week in a newspaper. Jaswant Singh comes in at the end to justify India’s acquiring nuclear weapons in terms of opposing ‘nuclear apartheid’ and reiterates the BJP coalition government’s policy line of working towards nuclear disarmament.

So, what is the essence of Jaswant Singh’s own core beliefs? And, how does it mesh with the conduct of foreign policy on his watch at the MEA? His chief endeavours have been in the CTBT-nuclear field. It will be a true test of his convictions to see if there is in fact a fit. In the book Jaswant Singh rues the lack of ‘a sense of history’ in Indians, by which he presumably means the sense of national grandeur and a vision of the country of the kind, say, Charles de Gaulle had for France. Later in the book he talks of the entire stretch of the earth, ‘from Vancouver to Vladivostok’ – excepting South Asia and the Indian Ocean region – being covered by overlapping nuclear security regimes to advance the argument that India too needs the security afforded by nuclear weapons.

In this context, how is one to reconcile Jaswant Singh’s bending over backwards, according to press commentaries, to accommodate Strobe Talbott and the US position? Is it in the expectation that Washington will deign to devolve to Delhi the prerogatives of a nuclear satrap presiding over South Asia, an arrangement of the sort the Mughals had with ‘the Rajput feudatories’, which Jaswant Singh writes about? Is this the position that India should hanker for? It will be tragic but in keeping with the history of this godforsaken land that the Indian rulers may once again render the country vulnerable by accepting the peace of the oppressors by signing CTBT and FMCT and otherwise surrendering our options to develop nuclear wherewithal to deter even the most powerful.

Fifty years hence when historians survey this period more authoritatively, they are bound to ascribe India’s acquiescing in the American policy of containing nonproliferation to yet another failure sourced to the country’s ‘strategic culture’ – the inability to think and act decisively to garner the best security dividends in the long term. Ironically for him, they may count External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh among the chief villains, just as the author holds Jawaharlal Nehru responsible for all the security ills of India in the first five decades after Independence.

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