28 July, 2010

Oeuvre: 2008-10

I am writing actively since June 2009

Research Articles

1. From Pashtuns to Gonds: Protestors or Insurgents?, presented in a UGC sponsored National Conference on 04-05 October 2010 at Jhargram Raj College, West Bengal

2. Why India Must Focus on Africa, 23 October 2010, Uday India

3. Will Pakistan's queer diplomacy work?, Indian Defence Review, 21 October 2010, http://www.indiandefencereview.com/IDR-Updates/Will-Pakistans-queer-diplomacy-work.html

4. Focus on the Kyrgyz Elections, 02 October 2010, Diplomatic Courier, http://www.diplomaticourier.org/kmitan/articleback.php?newsid=571

5. The Political Flood, Article No. 1642, 09 September 2010, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, http://www.claws.in/index.php?action=master&task=643&u_id=136

6. India, Bangladesh Embark on Strategic Partnership; Silently, South Asia Analysis Group, 10 September 2010

7. The Kashmir Calculus, Vol XLVIII, No 42, pp 33-36, October 09 2010, Mainstream Weekly, http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article2362.html

8. What can the Maoists “Talk” about?, Cover Story, Uday India, 21 August 2010, http://udayindia.org/content_21august2010/cover_story.html

9. Pakistan Needs a Kemal Ataturk, Uday India, 04 September 2010, http://udayindia.org/content_04sept2010/perspective.html10. From Bishkek to Ganges, Geopolitics, August 2010

11. The Indo-Pak-China Triangle, Uday India, pp 21-23, July 24 2010,

12. When and How in Kandahar?, Diplomatic Courier, July 29 2010, http://www.diplomaticourier.org/kmitan/articleback.php?newsid=548

13. The Last Gamble, Geopolitics, pp 61-63, June 2010

14. Kyrgyzstan, After the April Upsurge, Diplomatic Courier, 22 May 2010, http://www.diplomaticourier.org/kmitan/articleback.php?newsid=527

15. Don’t Forget the Tajik Elections, Diplomatic Courier, 29 March 2010, http://www.diplomaticourier.org/kmitan/articleback.php?newsid=501

16. What Blocks Global Investment in India, Diplomatic Courier, 12 March
2010, http://www.diplomaticourier.org/kmitan/articleback.php?newsid=491

17. Jinnah’s Tottering Pakistan, Global Politician, 08 February 2010, http://globalpolitician.com/26224-pakistan

18. Caught in the Cross-fire, Newsline, 05 February 2010, http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2010/02/caught-in-the-crossfire/

19. Islamic Fundamentalism in Central Asia: Possibility or Paranoia?
Global Politician, 27 January 2010, http://www.globalpolitician.com/26194-central-asia

20. India on the Brink of a Major Showdown, News Blaze, 06 January 2010, http://newsblaze.com/story/20100106084151uddi.nb/topstory.html

21. To Take Stock of Operation Rah-i-Nijat, News Central Asia, 26 December 2009, http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/510.html

22. The Mother of All Battles : Battleground Waziristan, Vol. 8, No. 8, December 2009, pp 31-34, South Asia Politics

23. An Analytical Look at McChrystal’s Report, Mainstream Weekly, 28 November 2009, http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article1793.html

24. The IDPs of South Waziristan, News Central Asia, 21 November 2009, http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/480.html

25. Sri Lanka : Tigers in the Abyss, Uddipan Mukherjee, November 2009, Vol.8, No.7, pp 11-12, South Asia Politics

26. Will the Operation Rah-i-Nijat Deliver? News Central Asia, 29 October 2009, http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/470.html

27. The McChrystal Report and India, Article No. 2978, 06 October 2009, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2978

28. Presidential Visit to Tajikistan : India among the Pamirs ?
Article No. 2972, 22 September 2009, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2972

29. Is Salwa Judum in the offing at Lalgarh? Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 26-27, September 2009, Vol. 8, No. 5, South Asia Politics

30. Afghan Presidential Election and its Ramifications, Article No. 2953, 21 August 2009, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2953

31. Indian Agriculture, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 12-18, July 2009, Vol. 8, No. 3, South Asia Politics

32. Red faces the Redder : Operation Lalgarh, Article No. 2894, 24 June 2009, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies http://www.ipcs.org/article_details.php?articleNo=2894

33. Indo-Israeli Relations Revisited, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 34-37, June 2009, Vol. 8, No. 2, South Asia Politics

34. Rediscovering the Advent of Islam in India, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 14-15, January 2009, Vol. 7, No. 9, South Asia Politics

35. India, post-Taliban Afghanistan and Pakistan, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 14-16, November 2008, Vol. 7, No. 7, South Asia Politics

36. Maoism and its future in India, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 24-27, July 2008, Vol. 7, No. 3, South Asia Politics

Opinion Pieces

1. The Beginning of History?, Op-Ed submitted on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Korea, November 20101.

2. Would an “All Kashmir Federation” bring Stability ad Peace?, Newsline, 24 July 2010, http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2010/07/would-an-all-kashmir-federation-provide-stability-and-peace/

3. Inferno, Uday India, pp 12-14, 10 July 2010,

4. From Bishkek to Ganges, 22 May 2010, News Central Asia, http://www.newscentralasia.net/moreNews.php?nID=605

5. The Bad War, (Full version in Uday India 08 May 2010) (Smaller version in Newsline, 23 April 2010), http://www.udayindia.org/content_08may2010/view_point.html, http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2010/04/the-bad-war/

6. All Jungle No Mahal, Uday India, Vol 1, No 18, April 17 2010, http://udayindia.org/content_17april2010/special_report.html

7. Nuclear Energy from 823 Corpses, Global Politician, 01 April 2010, http://www.globalpolitician.com/26328-india

8. Brother In, Friend Out, Op-Ed, News Blaze, 15 March 2010, http://newsblaze.com/story/20100315112819uddi.nb/topstory.html

9. Twittering the Sheikhs “Shake”, Op-Ed, News Blaze, 03 March 2010, http://newsblaze.com/story/20100303171946uddi.nb/topstory.html

10. The Indo-Pak Hate Cycle, Newsline, 24 February 2010,

11. Will the Green turn Red in India? Op-Ed, News Blaze, 15 February 2010,

12. It pays to be a Taliban, UPI Asia, 08 February 2010, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2010/02/08/it_pays_to_be_a_taliban/3751/

13. Toward a Security Grid in South Asia, UPI Asia, 22 January 2010, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2010/01/22/toward_a_security_grid_in_south_asia/9801/

14. Jinnah and his Pakistan, UPI Asia, 14 January 2010, http://www.upiasia.com/Politics/2010/01/14/jinnah_and_his_pakistan/7364/

15. India’s quiet diplomacy turns quieter, UPI Asia, 31 December 2009, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/31/indias_quiet_diplomacy_turns_quieter/9217/

16. Pakistan Army too rigid to beat fluid Taliban, UPI Asia, 21 December 2009, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/21/pakistan_army_too_rigid_to_beat_fluid_taliban/7281/

17. A Fireball on the Indo-China Border, UPI Asia, 04 December 2009, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/12/04/a_fireball_on_the_indo-china_border/3880/

18. Karzai’s Loya Jirga and Obama’s Afghan Job, News Central Asia, 01 December 2009, http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/484.html

19. Dichotomy in India’s anti-insurgency policy, UPI Asia, 19 November 2009, http://www.upiasia.com/Security/2009/11/19/dichotomy_in_indias_anti-insurgency_policy/5781/

20. The Last Lifeline for Karzai, News Central Asia, 09 November 2009, http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/473.html

21. Rumbles in India’s Anti-Maoist War, Asia Times, 04 November 2009, http://www.atimes.net/speakingfreely/

22. A Note on Arundhati Roy’s Essay, 31 October 2009, http://www.boloji.com/opinion/0785.html

23. Pakistan on Verge of Defining War, Asia Times, 14 October 2009, http://www.atimes.net/speakingfreely/

24. South Asia Braces for Afghan Surge, Asia Times, 29 September 2009, http://www.atimes.net/speakingfreely/?limitstart=15

25. Justice for the Toiling Masses, Uddipan Mukherjee, pp 24-26, September 2008, Vol. 7, No. 5, South Asia Politics

In Books

1. Uneasy Calm at Nayagarh, Uddipan Mukherjee, “Naxalism: Issues and
Concerns”, pp 85-88, edited by Dasarathi Bhuyan and Amit Kumar Singh,
Discovery Publishing House (New Delhi), 2010

24 July, 2010

What can the Maoists "Talk" About?

Published in Uday India 21 August 2010 as Cover Story

Shall the Indian Maoists talk to the authorities? That too after the sudden demise of their erudite spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad in an alleged ‘fake encounter’? These are the questions which are doing the rounds in academic, media as well as political circles since the reports of Azad’s death surfaced in the first week of July.

In a letter to Swami Agnivesh, who is acting as a mediator for the envisaged ‘talks’ between the Maoists and the Home Ministry; Azad had stated his party’s intentions of holding talks with the government. In that letter, he pronounced : “Our Party is very serious about bringing about peace especially at the present juncture when lakhs of adivasis had fled, and are fleeing, their homes; when lakhs of adivasis are facing chronic conditions of hunger and famine….”

However, he was skeptical regarding the comportment of the Union Government. He felt that the Home Ministry was probably trying to create a veneer of ‘talks’ and was not at all serious about it. In fact, in that same letter he uttered: “the Home Monistry wants to somehow complete the formality of talks, if at all they materialise, in order to satisfy the civil society”.

Well, these are allegations and there are counter-allegations from New Delhi too regarding the non-serious approach of the Communist Party of India Maoist (CPI-M) toward settling the ongoing bloodshed through deliberations. Now the matter of concern is whether a set of talks is really possible between a banned outfit and the state? And if this is in the affirmative, then what can be the agenda of such talks?

Looking at the past, it would be natural for one to predict the futility of holding discussions with the CPI-M. The Andhra Pradesh government had gone ahead to have round table conferences with them but to no avail. Finally terror was met with terror and that in essence obliterated the militants from the province.

Actually the problem has a broader breadth and runs deep. The fundamental ideology of Maoism rests on a protracted people’s war in order to topple the so-called ‘reactionary bourgeoisie regime’. Similar movements, launched in Cuba under Castro-Guevara combo, in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas or in Peru under Guzman have all done exactly the same: followed the prototype model of the Chinese Revolution of Mao Zedong. Whether all these movements have been fully successful or not is not the point of debate, but the fact of the matter remains is that these insurgencies followed a set, well-planned model of “people’s war” under the ambit of ‘guerilla tactics’.

And forget about manifesto; ‘holding talks’ was never even in their agenda.

Only the Nepalese Maoists deviated to an extent by joining mainstream politics. However, that is held to be the ‘Prachanda Path’ and their Indian counterparts are still to accept it unequivocally. Moreover, Prachanda had a solid reason to abjure arms temporarily and join national politics. That was necessarily a “tactical alliance” by the Nepalese Maoists with the parliamentary parties in order to effect a strategic victory of capturing power at Kathmandu. The common enemy of all the parties at that juncture was the monarch and hence that ‘tactical alliance’ was meaningful.

Whereas in the Indian context, at present the Maoists have no ‘tactical partners’ in the mainstream political fray. Hence they cannot even contemplate to forge such an alliance. Oil price hike, inflation and Indian camaraderie with the Western Hemisphere can still be relevant issues of commonality among the different communist parties (say the Communist Party of India-Marxists) and the Maoists, but that cannot be the mainstay of their friendship; more so when each is killing other’s comrades.

Hence, what at best the Maoists can do by accepting the ‘offer for talks’ is to utilise the interregnum to bolster their party infrastrcture and acquire some breathing space as well as time. Furthermore, a ceasefire would give the rank and file of the ultras to regroup. But this argument holds good for the government too as had been pointed out by this author in this same forum (The Bad War, see April section of this blog). Moreover, a mutual ceasefire would not only be beneficial to both the parties, but also bring succour to the Adivasis who are caught in the crossfire.

Nevertheless, peace albeit for a brief period of time seems hard to come by. And that is due not only to the intransigence of the ultras but also due to fluctuating policies of the authorities. The Home Ministry ought to have clarified its stance in a much more categorical manner. What exactly did it mean by “the Maoists to lay down arms”? Did they mean a mutual ceasefire? And since that exactly was the point of disagreement, the government could have taken a bolder step by declaring a unilateral ceasefire and given the insurgents a time of the so-called 72 hrs to accede to that ceasefire. It would have been interpreted as largesse on the part of the Ministry and surely could have elevated its public image.

Yet, it can be well agreed that the ultras have their own set of demands. They want the release of their top leadership who have been incarcerated by the administration. Many senior politburo members like Kobad Ghandy are languishing in prisons. On this count, it is worhwhile to mention that the Maoists are aslo not very clear about their ‘pre-conditions’. In his interview given to Jan Myrdal and Gautam Navlakha, the CPI-M General Secretary Ganapathy had put in place three demands as pre-requisite for talks with the government. One among those was lifting the ban on the party and its mass organisation wings. The other one was the release of ‘their comrades’.

(left, Maoist Politburo leader Kobad Ghandy)

Later on, in his exclusive interview to The Hindu, spokesperson Azad had clarified the ‘prisoner release’ agenda. He in fact had diluted Ganapathy’s original staunch line and interpreted that demand to be a part of the talks; that is, leaders and other prisoners may be released as the talks proceeded toward a fruitful direction.

Hence it is clear that there are conditions and pre-conditions of going ahead with the talks from both the sides and none of the incumbents till date have really expressed their proclivity toward any amicable settlement of the dispute.

Furthermore, the death of Azad and now the death of Raghu Singh, a key Salwa Judum leader in Chattisgarh means that violence would go on unabated. Mediation by the civil society may not go in vain but is yet to extract anything meaningful in terms of ‘peace’ in the Red Corridor.

In this light, a hypothetical situation may be framed. Suppose if at all the ultras sit with the authorities, what can be their topic of discusison? The Ministry’s interlocutors would surely try to persuade them to ‘give up arms’ and buy as much time as possible. In the meantime,the police and the paramilitary shall try to enhance their intelligence network. Thus, the Andhra Model of Talks would be followed by the authorities. On the other hand, the Maoists would press the government to release some of their politburo members on the pretext of carrying out the talks as their other leaders are underground due to the ban imposed on the party. Hence both would create a façade of ‘gentlemanship’ and try to ensure tactical victories.

It must be borne in mind that nobody, be it Karl Marx, or Vladimir Ulanov Lenin or Mao Zedong, on whose theoretical principles the CPI-M bases itself, talk of ‘talks’. They stricty abhor partnering with the ‘bourgeoisie regime’. They speak of overthrowing the existing parliamentary democracy. They hate ‘revisionism’.

And the present Maoist leadership idolises the Great Cultural Proletarian Revolution of 1966 by Mao Zadong. They despise the deviationist line adopted by Deng Xiao Ping, the maker of modern China which espouses State controlled Capitalism.

Hence, there are fundamental differences between the Indian Maoist leadership and the political throught process prevalent in India. A synthesis does not seem to be on the cards, at least in the present future.

Uptill now, militarily speaking, the civil war going on in the Red Corridor is a low intensity conflict. Hence the policy makers are not really prone to any compromise at this juncture. Unless this conflict takes further ominous shapes, for instance, flows out of that geographical zone and engulfs the cities, the administration may not be really keen to effect a workable compromise with the rebels or even initiate such a process.

The author presumes that the Indian state is presently pursuing the policy of ‘annihilation’ of the top brass of the Maoist leadership, either by imprisoning them and hence alienating them from their rank and file or by simply eliminating them physically. It has been a well tested policy of the 1970s when it worked quite well against then Naxalites. Azad at Adilabad and now Sidhu Soren at Jangalmahal were netted in that venture.

The present party structure of the CPI-M after the merger of People’s War Group and Maoist Communist Centre in 2004, is a far more organised and bolstered command hierarchy compared to their rudimentary formation of 1970s. Nonetheless, a jolt to the ‘central command’ is something which shall test not only the enthusiasm of the foot soldiers but the ‘power of replenishment’ of the organisation.

The Indian government may as well follow another policy in hand with this ‘annihilation’ regime. It is a well known fact that ‘piecemeal legislative concessions’ bestowed upon a disgruntled populace can deviate a sizable quantum of the ‘peripheral’ followers of a ‘puritan’ armed movement. And that is exactly what the state should attempt to do: eat and wean away a sizable portion of the workers of the ultras; in this case the Adivasis.

Guerilla warriors feed on the people, and in turn are camouflaged by the people. And it is these ‘people’ whom the state should target; in a benevolent manner however.

Though the ultras, on the other hand acknowledge the fact that they are militarily weak compared to the state forces; but that very fact impels them to carry forward with the guerilla warfare and slowly progress toward building a People’s force which would engage the state forces in a conventional war. That may take decades, however.

Nevertheless, the Adivasis, the main pillar of strength of the CPI-M are no ideologues. They hardly can appreciate the literature of Marx, Lenin or Mao. Their ‘consciousness’ of revolting against the state is fuelled by not merely by inflammatory speeches of Ganapathy et al. but basically because of the ‘callousness’ of the authorities. Lack of education, lack of penetration of the outside world, lack of empowerment and consequent ‘alienation’ of these people are the nodal problems behind the present insurrection. This has happened since the colonial era and just went on undiminished.

Apparently it seems that holding talks with the present Maoist leadership and pursuing peace is like chasing a mirage. So what shall the state do? Shall it annihilate the top brass of the Maoists as was done in the case of Azad or Soren? Will that eat away the ideological aspect of the revolution and hence render it rudderless?

On a positive note, an implication of the policy of ‘annihilation’ by the state can be that the rank and file of the Maoists may get subjugated and give up arms as had happened with the Tamil movement in Sri Lanka. The other possibility can be that shun of ideological moorings, the cadres can go berserk and indulge in isolated acts of terrorism. Lumpen elements may spread wanton acts of terror. Moreover, what is the guarantee that elimination of the present leadership would not produce fresh minds? In fact, that has what has happened since the death of a Charu Mazumdar or a Kanhai Chatterjee.

Thus it may be suggested that ‘talks’ are the most viable option for both the parties, even at this juncture. A temporary peace in the Red Corridor shall usher in happiness for the Adivasis. After all, they are our own ‘people’ and not the ‘other’. However, with the deaths of Azad, Singh and Soren, and with the ongoing para-military operations in the Red Corridor; the atmosphere is too vitiated. To expect anything moral or proper at this stage is simply preposterous.

20 July, 2010


doing background reading on the Maoist strategy & tactics. in search of the Unity Congress 2007 document!hey,,,got it just now,,,,

17 July, 2010

The Kashmir Calculus

Submitted to Mainstream

Federation for Peace in Kashmir, Asia Times Speaking Freely Section, http://www.atimes.net/speakingfreely/


Abstract: After a period of relative calm, Kashmir is on the boil again. Over the years, analysts have come up with a plethora of way-outs of this tangle. While accepting the Line of Control as the international border is one among many theories, none seems to take the bold path. This essay attempts a workable and pragmatic solution to this ‘singular’ security calculus from the Indian nationalistic perspective by proposing an “All Kashmir Federation”.

To an average high school science candidate in India, the mathematical intricacies of Calculus can appear to be intractable, at least in the preliminary approach. He or she would waste no time indeed to curse both Newton and Leibnitz to eternal perdition for innovation of the subject. Furthermore, it becomes a tormenting exercise to solve problems involving applications of the same.

And Calculus can turn out to be bizarre as one goes up the ladder in his or her educational enterprise.

Even then, any graduate or post-graduate or even a doctoral candidate in analytical or numerical studies would ‘feel’ better off in the domain of the ‘Calculus’; rather than indulge in the dangerous game of predicting, leave apart ‘attempting’ the solutions to the sub-continent’s most high-profile and refractory security calculus : The Kashmir Imbroglio.

Today’s Kashmir traces its roots to Kalhana’s Rajtarangini as its earliest known History. The book stands in a different league altogether based on the credentials of representing a proper History writing tradition in Ancien “Hindu” India which was dominated by Puranic story-telling.

Islamicizaton of Kashmir took place in the most flagrant manner through the Mongol invasions in the early fourteenth century. Though there had been zealots and bigots in the land to have attempted purges against the Hindus of the area, still the socio-cultural ethos of ‘Kashmiriyat’ was not outrightly undermined for centuries.

Later on, after the degeneration of the Mughal Empire, Kashmir passed under the political subjugation of the Sikhs who had to ‘offer’ Kashmir to the Imperial Raj as a war indemnity at the Treaty of Lahore in 1846. The geopolitical significance of the territory was either not appreciated by the Britishers (which seems very unlikely) or they considered it to be in their best economic interests to sell Kashmir to Gulab Singh thereafter.

While ‘running’ away from the sub-continent, Great Britain completely sidelined the Butler Committee recommendations (1927) regarding the Princely States. Hence, the princes were left in the lurch and Kashmir was no exception. Though Jinnah’s two-nation theory had emerged victorious by then but the princely states of Kashmir and Hyderabad remained as contentious issues between the two nascent states of India and Pakistan.

The Instrument of Accession signed by Hari Singh, the minority Hindu king ruling over a Muslim majority princely state became a major issue of ‘tug of war’ between India and Pakistan. The latter rued the fact that Hyderabad having a sizable Muslim population could not be co-opted. Thus, Kashmir had to be bagged somehow.

Contingent of Afghan fighters aided and abetted by the Pakistan military discovered their ‘rallying cry’ to be ‘Chalo Srinagar’. However, it never fructified due to the timely intervention of the Indians.

Nevertheless, the K-Calculus was authored just about then. There were two solutions at that juncture which could have been adopted by Delhi. First, it could have ‘completely’ driven away the ‘hooligans’ sent from the western side of the Indus and established its authoritative structures. Or it could have allowed the Kashmiris the ‘right to self determination’, that too only after clearing the whole area of the foreign elements. However, Delhi did neither of these. Rather it moved the United Nations (UN) and permanently helped draw the Line of Control (LOC).

And thus was born the ‘Kashmir Ulcer’.

Federal autonomy in the form of Article 370 was something the Indians offered to the Valley as a definite measure of amelioration. But the Kashmiris have been nonplussed in discovering the waning away of the article with time; for forty long years, from 1948 to 1988. Kashmir’s Prime Minister being relegated to a ‘Chief Minister’ and ‘Sadr-i-Riyasat’ engineered to act as a ‘Governor’; equivalent to any other province in India. A progressive merger with mainland India diluted the provisions of the said article and gradually raised the temperatures of the serene Valley, so symptomatic of the relative calmness of the demographic profile.

Delhi was basically toying with the idea of ‘propping up’ ‘puppet regimes’ in Kashmir so as to facilitate its own entrenchment. The power hungry Abdullahs, the efficient Indian bureaucracy and the poise of Indira Gandhi even helped it to succeed to a remarkable extent in that venture. Nevertheless, the threat came from the expected direction, and that was Pakistan.

The loss of Bangladesh and the bludgeoning of the Punjab insurgency were the factoids which Pakistan could never reconcile to. It needed a different outlet for outpouring its grievances against its ‘childhood enemy’ and Kashmir was it. And since 1989, the valley has seen a ‘real’ insurgency and has surely inflated to be one of India’s Internal Security Threats (IST). Pakistan’s proxy war with India through the jihadis has been a persistent programme, irrespective of the regimes in Islamabad.

There are three major perspectives and hence approaches toward the Kashmir Calculus: the Indian, the Pakistani and the Kashmiri. The last perspective does not have a homogeneous outlook. It again has three components; the political elite of the province, the separatists, and the jihadi elements.

The political elite (the Muftis or the Abdullahs) of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir would like to perpetuate the Indian stand point of ‘status quo’ so as to bolster its power bastion. On the other hand, the separatist elements led by the All party Hurriyat Conference (APHC) has gradually softened its stance and now are more prone to demanding greater autonomy under the Indian Constitution. On the other hand, the jihadis like the Lashkar and Jaish et al. represent the extreme end of the insurgent spectrum and to a large extent harbour the Pakistani agenda of destabilizing India.

The Indian approach to the Calculus has been unmethodical, at times undiplomatic and for most of the times since 1989, tactless and bare. Thus the paramilitary forces are called upon at will whenever the state police founders and the army takes over whenever the paramilitary falters to control mobocracy of the genre of the Palestinian Intifada. And Article 356 of the Indian Constitution is clamped with intermittent frequency.

Very recently, in the backdrop of the civilian casualties in Srinagar; the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti was not pert while lampooning the Centre of having deployed the Army in the city when the very force was overtly reluctant to fight the ‘Maoists’ in the Red Corridor. However, these political harangues occulted by emotional moorings visibly tend to undermine the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has a distinctly different geostrategic significance vis-à-vis the rural hinterland.

And the fact of the matter is that open impudence on the part of the Indian authorities clearly exhibits the ‘Pakistan factor’ behind the problem. Nonetheless, flouting of democratic ethos by both the Centre as well as the Kashmiris keeps on aggravating the malignancy.

Few months back, Indian Home Ministry was stoutly following the ‘Quiet Diplomacy’ in dealing with the Kashmir Calculus. That in fact lent some credence to New Delhi. Furthermore, the Indo-Pak ceasefire along the Line of Control (LoC) was also not showing signs of fatigue and the jihadi hooliganism had subsided to a considerable degree. Diplomatic pressure on Pakistan by USA must have been a rational reason behind this downturn. Moreover, for all practical purposes, the jihadi elements had their job cut out in the Af-Pak region. In sum, the ‘Ulcer’ was not causing unbearable pangs to neither the masses nor to the political masters.

The ‘Shopian case’ provided the turn of events and the fireball has again engulfed the Valley. The Army has been inducted almost robotically without paying heed to the consideration of reverting back to the Riot Police. If the state police are inadequately built up for these operations even after two decades of continuous insurgency, then it is New Delhi which has to share a large part of the blame.

Analysts have almost exhausted themselves in criticizing the role of the paramilitary or the army and the consequent human rights violations. The Pakistani civil-military elite have been factored in the analyses and the question of ‘greater autonomy’ for the valley has been deliberated at length. Sometimes prolixity has outweighed solutions, making the calculus of either differentiation or integration of the province encumbered with verbose.

Territorial Kashmir has five sub-regions: the ‘core’ Kashmir valley (populated by Sunni Muslims), the Buddhist-majority district of Ladakh, and the Hindu-majority Jammu; all under the Indian jurisdiction. The Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) has Muzaffarabad and Mirpur. The Gilgit-Baltistan agency is also under Pakistan’s domination and it has recently obtained some constitutional concessions from Islamabad.

Yes, China comes into the picture as another major contender as some parts of Ladakh is under its sway since the 1962 war with India. Moreover, Pakistan has ceded parts of its Northern ‘pie’ to Beijing.

Hence, if one treads toward a solution of this quagmire then one is led to a myriad of possibilities. From the Indian perspective, the author feels the path as charted out below shall serve a definite purpose in mitigating the present state of affairs. Nationalism should be the guiding principle when solutions to Kashmir are chalked out, but in no way jingoism should intervene.

Shall it be a genuflection for India to accept LoC as the international border? That seems, however, to be the most feasible option at this point in time since it is veritably out of consideration that the Indian foreign establishment carrying a historical pedigree of pacification can risk a full-fledged conventional war with a nuclear-enabled Pakistan, verily infested with militant-theocratic elements. Well, even if India does that, shall it douse the fireball of hatred against India and bring peace to the region? Will Pakistan whole-heartedly accept this solution? What will happen to the freedom movement of the Sunni Muslims? Shall it evaporate with time? The author does not subscribe to the view that India’s acceptance of the LoC as the international border would put an end to the persistent insurgency in the valley because the freedom movement of the Kashmiris has already taken an awkward turn, if not a point of no return.

Another solution to this calculus that was doing the rounds during General Musharraf’s regime was to treat Kashmir as South Asia’s Andorra and go for a joint administration of the region under the aegis of both India and Pakistan. In fact, in both these solutions, we are outrightly relegating to the background the feeling and ‘consciousness’ of the masses of Jammu and Kashmir. Decisions are being formulated from above and mass participation is being completely ignored. Anthropological and ethnographic dimensions of the imbroglio are being submerged under the debris of ‘statist’ policies and demagogy of the Maulvis; occlusion of the subaltern is necessary fallout of this approach.

Is India ready to seek a solution of this calculus or eager to obtain a Pyrrhic victory against the Kashmiri masses and embroil itself in an asymmetric low-intensity conflict for at least decades to come? The answer by all guesstimate ought to be an unequivocal yes for the solvable. And if that is the case, is India ready to forego its claims to the Valley? The answer may be fraught with vehement debates. But a majority of the Indians are by all probability ardent votaries of freedom and democracy. At least, that is what they have stood for the last six decades and that is what they have fought for about two centuries. It was based on a similar premise that the Indian Army strolled into Hyderabad against the obdurate Nizam and his band of Razakars and it was based on a similar belief that our then Deputy Prime Minister had steamrolled the Nawab of Junagadh.

Hence presently India should not shy away from granting the Kashmiris their ‘right to self determination’. But hang on. India had agreed to the same in the early 1950s after the mediation of the UN. The Pakistan Army never withdrew its forces from its area of domination and hence no ‘plebiscite’ was actually carried out. Demography of the valley has changed since then; more so since the armed insurgency commenced in 1989. So, what kind of a referendum now?

Still, there can be a referendum. First, the ‘Kashmiri Pundits’ have to be moved from their dilapidated camps in Delhi and rehabilitated in Jammu. For all practical purposes, settlement in the valley of Kashmir should be a foregone conclusion for this group by now. And this rearrangement is an onus not only on the Indian government but also on other groups in contention if they seek a solution to this ‘Kintifada’.

Thereafter, region by region plebiscite has to be arranged under the auspices of the UN. That should be done only after the Indian, the Pakistani and the Chinese Army and paramilitary move out from their respective positions, which can happen in a phased manner but within a reasonable time frame of six months. From the withdrawal of the respective armies and the paramilitary till the adoption of a new ‘constitution’ for the “All Kashmir Federation” comprising the five sub-regions as provinces, the territory needs to be administered by the UN having no Indian or Pakistani or Chinese observers.

The five sub-regions shall have the freedom to choose amalgamation with either India or Pakistan or China or join the Federation. By all means, contiguity of borders shall not be violated. It shall be a close to an impossible scenario that Jammu would like to cling to China or Gilgit-Baltistan to India.

The envisaged ‘Kashmir Federation’ may follow the US federal system as the archetypal. Prima facie, it should be a win-win situation to all the parties.

However, to implement the above, one needs to start a multi-party dialogue encompassing all the incumbents, even with representatives of the pyromaniac jihadi elements; provided they abjure arms for the time being. But who would bell the cat? As the major power in South Asia, it would do no harm to India’s prestige if it takes the lead. China can also catapult itself into the South Asian region as a major actor if it initiates this direct negotiation. The players have basically to come out of their yoke of intransigence.

For all this to fructify, the masses of South Asia needs a set of well-intentioned leaders who can not only think ‘out of the box’ but have the will to factor in democracy in the region. Otherwise, any attempt at bringing peace in Kashmir would be temporary and hence nugatory in the long run. The fundamental point would be critically missed.

06 July, 2010

On the Precipice

pp 70-72, Geopolitics, Vol I, Issue IV, Aug 2010

Abstract: Will Kyrgyzstan see the light of the day after continuous turmoil since April this year? What would be India’s stand point in this regard? And is the Russian resurgence somewhere embedded in this string of events?

Finally, amidst the uncertainty of political and ethnic clashes, Kyrgyzstan appears to have survived. The referendum to decide on a new constitution was held on June 27. The results indicate an overwhelming success; both in terms of voter turn out as well as from the prospect of the first parliamentary democracy being erected in the arena of the ‘Great Game’.

The plebiscite, in which around 2.7 million citizens took part, was marred to a considerable degree because of the large quantum of Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) as fallout of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek riots in the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad.

Nonetheless, about 90 per cent of the voters vouched for a parliamentary democracy. They had had enough of Presidential autocracy. Rosa Otunbayeva was equanimity exemplified. She stays on till December this year as the Interim Head of State by when universal adult suffrage would have been held.

So far, so good. This small land-locked state in Central Asia has witnessed reasonable mayhem, terror and pogrom for the last three months. It was in a pendulous anarchical condition. Nevertheless, hopefully the opportune moment has come when the peoples of Kyrgyzstan are on the verge of being anointed for an enlightened democracy. Perhaps this ‘cataclysm’ was essential for their rejuvenation.

Neither was it the first time that the country has gone through such a state of ‘entropy’ nor is it the only state of Central Asia to have proclaimed any sort of ‘revolution’ post-1991. In fact, apart from the obvious geographical proximity, the Central Asian region may boast of a close connection with some momentous phases of History in erstwhile Soviet Russia.

It was 08 March 1917 when riots broke out in Petrograd. The ‘proles’ and the ‘have-nots’ clashed with Tsar’s infantrymen. In the process, 40 people were killed. But any ‘revolution’ can claim a resounding success and more so be embedded in the annals of History, if and only if the civilians and the army act in unison. And that’s what happened on that day in St Petersburg.

The rest was simply obvious. The Tsar had to abdicate the monarchy and the Russian Duma took over, bowing down before popular diktat.

Ninety three years later: a lower latitudinal plane, a different racial denomination but a part of former Soviet Union; the streets of Bishkek witnessed a grossly similar upheaval ---- a spontaneous peoples’ movement, not marred by any ‘political’ colour or ‘external’ flavour.

It might not be a very futile exercise to chart the reasons behind the upsurge which swept Bishkek and rest of the country in April this year but a meticulous student of International Relations prima facie may not diametrically differ with the apparently simplistic rationale that it was the primary demands of livelihood which were unmet by Bakiyev and his coterie, thus leading to the outburst.

The man on the street, the worker below the bridge, the peasant with the plough, the student lurking in the library and the intellectual pressing the keys of his laptop hugely differ in their demands for satiation and merrily find succour in completely contrasting items. However, when one finds people from the full spectrum of the populace sum up their demands and zero in on the Presidential palace to engineer emancipation; then one needs to be absolutely sure that the State, instead of adhering to the conditions of the Social Contract has bungled to the extreme. When Hobbes’ State of Nature becomes a viable formula of redemption for the commoner, then the scrupulousness of the State is genuinely under the scanner.

But then when was there a ‘State’ in Kyrgyzstan since 1991? Or for that matter, is there a ‘State’ in the Central Asian ‘stans’? A framework might have existed or still exist, but democracy even up to the standards of the ‘mafia-politician-bureaucrat nexus ridden India’ is lacking in the former Soviet colonies since their political freedom from USSR.

Arguments can be posited forthright: the Central Asian ‘stans’ are novice compared to India, at least in terms of age. After all how can one compare a six-decade old ‘democratic haggard’ with a two decade old ‘parliamentary youth’? Moreover, did the Kyrgyz people derive their notion on democracy from the ‘White men’ who were glorified by the Glorious Revolution? Rather, they had in fact translated the dictates of Constitutionalism from the ‘Slavs’ that were baptized by the Marxian dogmas of financial distribution and were bathed in the culture of popular revolts.

Stalinism: the skewed and warped form of Marxism-Leninism was a unique feature of Bolshevik Russia. Furthermore, post-1917 Russia (read Soviet Union) put in humungous efforts to diffuse the ideological dictum of Stalin’s perception of ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ into the neighbouring satellite states of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia.

Hence, when USSR collapsed under financial and political turmoil, the aforementioned ‘culture’ was to an extent rooted in the psychology of the political masters of the ‘stans’. Thus a series of ‘dictators’, in the garb of democratically elected leaders usurped office in the Central Asian Republics (CAR). Constitutions were also fabricated, may be at the behest of the West. Nevertheless, the Strategos continued ‘ruling’ with an iron hand, masked themselves behind a constitutional façade and squeezed the masses with the aid of an ‘apparatchiki’.

Nepotism, corruption, inflation and unemployment surged. And the boiling point was reached in two republics: Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The former was a witness to a civil war from 1992 – 1997 with a somewhat useless result by planting into office the ‘never-ending regime’ of Emomali Rakhmon.

On the other hand, Kyrgyzstan has shown a better ‘political maturity’ vis-à-vis the other ‘stans’. In 2005, it evinced a clamour with the Colour Revolution by virtue of which Bakiyev claimed office. And once again in 2010, after the malfeasance exhibited in the 2009 elections, the Kyrgyz masses hemmed in Bakiyev from all sides, forced him to flee to Belarus; thus avoiding further bloodbath by inciting a civil war, which nonetheless was not completely averted with reports of bloodbath and fisticuffs from the southern part: Bakiyev’s stronghold.

If democracy means that fifty per cent of the adult franchise (some reluctantly in case of India), go to the polling booths to cast their ballot, then both India and Kyrgyzstan are perfect democracies. In fact, Kyrgyzstan would stand notches ahead, at least at the present juncture.

But if democracy means ‘rule of law’, then Kyrgyzstan had strongly deviated from the definition of ideal democracy. If democracy connotes the servile acceptance of the ‘rule from above’ of those people who might not have mustered ‘authority’ by legitimate means, then India can be cited as an obedient case whereas Kyrgyzstan would flounder to be bracketed in that league.

Abjuring tautology, the germane question is that what holds in the future for Kyrgyzstan? And how does this peoples’ movement affect the other ‘stans’, if at all it does.

Though the nation-state of Kyrgyzstan is at the cross-roads but to project its future might not have been an overt challenge to the French apothecary Nostradamus. The interim government led by Rosa Otunbayeva is slowly tightening its grips over the southern territory. However, a couple of issues would bother them in the recent future.

First, the loyalty of the armed forces needs to be sorted out. Though Bakiyev has found refuge at Minsk, but his loyal followers are still trying to wreak havoc both in the civilian as well as non-civilian sectors. Secondly, the country warrants a ‘proper democratic election’ scheduled to take place at October this year and an amended constitution which would proffer equity and justice through better distribution of powers.

The June 27 referendum has thus been a shot in the arm for the Interim government.

One thing might be guaranteed without hedging. Total anarchy in Kyrgyzstan would be avoided, if not by the interim government; then at least by either of the external stake-holders: USA or Russia. After all, the geographical location of the nation-state and presence of the military bases of both the cold war protagonists shall not allow them to de-focus from this ‘stan’.

Bypassing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) or the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), Otunbayeva’s government went overboard to invite Russia to send in its forces during the ethnic clashes. However, Putin had enough political acumen to not accept the offer publicly. One just could not help guessing that Otunbayeva’s request had a ‘in the black box’ Russian command. It served a two-fold purpose for Russia. One, to Washington, it was an insignia of the Russian resurgence. And another was a clear signal for the other ‘stans’ as regard to the Russian muscle.

The ongoing Global War on Terror in the Af-Pak region and the consequent suppression of the Al Qaeda-Taliban might as well provide fresh breeding grounds for the terrorist groups in Kyrgyzstan. The old adage goes: “Dissatisfaction foments disruption”. And it is dissatisfaction that is merrily needed by Osama’s men. Then only the secular social-fabric strewn across the Soviet-era ‘stans’ can be outrightly lambasted. This time round the Islamist groups like the Hizb-ut-Tehrir or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan may not spurn the opportunity.

One more thing can be assured. The ‘wise heads’ of South Block in New Delhi would wait for the total pacification of the state of affairs in the land. In fact, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) remained totally tight lipped regarding the present run of events in that country. Indian foreign policy had always been wary to take a pro-active stance and that culture is still persisting. At least it could have offered a solution to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek riots in the form of sending a ‘peace-keeping’ force under the auspices of the United Nations.

New Delhi needs to realize that the CAR holds significance on many counts. It is not only geo-economics or the Pakistan factor that should fuel India’s strategic interest in the region but China’s rapid incursions into CAR has to be a worrisome factor.

Presently, by all estimates, India may opt for any or all of the following:

1. Offer a team of ‘expert constitutionalists’ who would visit Bishkek to ‘aid and advise’ the Kyrgyz people to draft a ‘better’ constitution, in the lines of the Government of India Act 1935.
2. Offer to send a team of ‘expert supervisors’ to oversee the process of electioneering.
3. Would appeal to the ‘conscience’ of all ‘peace-loving’ people of Kyrgyzstan to abjure violence and look for an ‘all-encompassing’ solution which suits the best interests of all the sections of the populace, cutting across ethnic domains, religious denominations and gender groups.

Nonetheless, the Indian government has at least performed a decent job of evacuating the 105 students from the southern parts of the perturbed land. The MEA seems to be really busy with students, be it Malaysia or Australia or now Kyrgyzstan.

02 July, 2010


Published, Uday India, Vol.1, No.30, pp 12-14, July 10, 2010


Abstract: Can the present upsurge in West Bengal in any way be equated with the momentous French Revolution of 1789? This piece delves into such an analysis

This is no fiction.

In the first week of June 2010, under the administrative jurisdiction of the district of North 24-Parganas, in broad daylight at around 9 am, a lady was coming out of her house to commute toward her office. To her utter dismay, she discovered two hooligans speeding away on a motorbike and dropping low-intensity bombs around.

The area is not far off from the International Airport of Kolkata, named ironically, in the Left bastion, after Subhas Chandra Bose.

Later on in the day though, the lady academician learnt that it was a tussle between the two ‘major’ political parties of Bengal. Nonetheless, the next day, newspapers reported the death of a real-estate developer in the area having no political association.

There is hardly any gainsaying the fact that Bengal (read West Bengal) is traversing through a period of upheaval. Murder, arson, pillage are not abnormal in some pockets of the province. This upheaval might as well be interpreted as a phase transition from the state of ‘stagnation’ to a state of …………well, needs analysis in depth and breadth before one can theorise or even best can surmise about that next ‘state’.

The Panchayat elections were over in 2008. It carried a bad omen for the ‘Red’ in Bengal. After two years, in May 2010: a repeat telecast of events in the Municipal elections.This time the impact on the psyche of the people regarding the ‘infallibility’ of the Red has been much more profound.

Presently, Mamata-di and her party are busy rejoicing. They are also taking over the mantle of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. The new mayor has replaced the old aristocratic ‘advocate’ mayor of the ‘Red’ days. The ‘Red’ are surely lamenting their decision of implementation of the 73rd and 74th Amendment Acts, 1992; aka local self government.

2011 is expected to usher in the so-called ‘change’ in Bengal after a long, excruciatingly painful and cancerous era of the Left: a period of structural deformations and ‘mal-reformations’.

In this backdrop, it might not be a frivolous supposition to compare the present democratic upsurge in West Bengal with the revolutionary events of France in 1789. It might not be a ludicrous proposition to draw a parallel between the mood of insurrection and political chaos in then Paris with the present inferno in Kolkata.

A caveat though: an emotional and hence a direct ‘headless’ comparison with the past is bound to produce a distorted theoretical thesis.

There were three key reasons which could be accorded significance in order to substantiate the precipitation of the French Revolution in May 1789. First was the ineptitude of then monarch Louis XVI. Second, the antagonisms within as well as without the social strata and third, and in fact the most important was the dismal state of finances of France.

Monarchical France in 1789 was socially divided into three major groups: the Church (First Estate), the Nobility (Second Estate) and the Third Estate had the Bourgeoisie and the poor peasantry. Interestingly, like Bengal of today, about 70 per cent of French population belonged to the peasant class. The bourgeoisie were rising in terms of financial status. And the church and the nobility were representatives of the old feudal order, manifesting ‘stagnation’.

No doubt, neither the nobility nor the church was monolithic, homogeneous structures. They too had their stratification.

Does Bengal of today have the ingredients of the pre-revolutionary days of France to foment a rebellion? Yes and No both.

An autopsy of the social structure of Bengal would show up three distinct classes: the ‘favoured capitalists’ resembling a First Estate and the Party Apparatchiki mirroring a Second Estate similar to then French society. The Third estate is composed of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat and the peasantry. Furthermore, the bourgeoisie comprises the IT-professionals, academic, intellectuals, merchants, real-estate developers, small businessmen et al. The industrial labourers, autorickshaw drivers, petty workers, urban poor et al. composes the proletariat.

The ecclesiastical clergy in France in the eighteenth century enjoyed privileges in the form of lands granted to them by the State. By all means, hardly can their be any denial that a similar state of affairs exists in Bengal today as ‘land grants’ at exorbitantly low rates have been proffered to select business houses to carry on with the juggernaut of laissez-faire capitalism and freebooting in the name of utilitarianism.

Most significant is the Party Apparatchiki, a remnant of the Stalinist regime of erstwhile Soviet Russia. It covers a wide spectrum: from a rickshaw-puller to an industrialist or a sportsperson and not surprisingly an intellectual or a professional. It is joie-de-vivre for the Party-man or woman. She enjoys privilege, prestige and power.

Privilege; in terms of acquiring a job or starting a business. A mere standard eight pass out may get a job of a sports instructor in a school. A graduation degree is phenomenal to land him into the domain of a teacher. A school drop-out? Nothing to worry. If you venerate the non-charismatic Red Party leaders, you are ought to be elevated to a real-estate developer

Prestige; in terms of mounting the social ladder. A Red banner of the CPI-Marxist assures him the extra androgen to pump his chest to inflationary levels.

Power; in terms of daily business. If an autorickshaw driver commands that you have to vacate the seat without obvious reasons, you have to. Nobody can save you, the police being the farthest and remotest object. If a Party-man with a ‘lathi’ asks your vehicle to take right turn, you are bound to agree without even contemplating to ask for the reason; the traffic police being non-existent.

Unlike the French society of the 1780s though, upward social mobility is a bit more feasible. One may join the Red banner and be a part of the odious ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’. Hence, politically ‘unconscious’ or ‘non-conscious’ characters are disliked. Political rivals are intimidated and if possible, annihilated.

Now, can the Tennis Court Oath in May 1789 which marked the momentous French Revolution, has a contemporary in today’s Bengal in the form of the swearing in ceremony of the Councillors in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation by the Trinamool Congress? Shall a New Charter for Bengal be written in 2011 after the Assembly Elections? Can the fall of the Bastille be re-enacted in the July 2010 Martyr’s Day commemoration by the Trinamool Congress?

Be it Paris of 1789 or Petrograd of 1917 or Bishkek of 2010, people come out in the streets, massacre the authoritative power structures and loot the cache of ammunitions if and only if abject poverty becomes a homogeneous and isotropic phenomenon. Mobocracy becomes the order of the day if and only if the prices of staple food reach astronomical elevations.

Few months back, prices of potatoes in Bengal escalated. It even forced the non-charismatic Red leaders to proffer a ‘stabilised market’ in the styles of the medieval stalwart Alauddin Khalji so as to control the price of ‘the staple tuberous crop’ of the ‘Aloo-Bhaate Bengali’.

Yet, the scenes of the 1789 Paris were not re-enacted. Simmering tensions are fine, a cauldron is still fine, but an outburst can be very well avoided till two square meal is available at affordable prices. And to ensure that, the Red leaders don’t need to bother much. A fertile rural hinterland, diversion of calamitous winds toward Bangladesh and economic integration with mainland India would continue to secure them from mass upsurges of the worst variety.

The lack of political power experienced by the bourgeoisie (minus the Party Apparatchiki) is the greatest parameter which is influencing the present turn of the tide in favour of the Trinamool Congress. Mamata-di’s charisma notwithstanding.

The French Revolution did not occur in an intellectual vacuum. Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu and Rosseau spearheaded the intellectual revolution, years before the actual physical revolution took place. Rousseau’s concepts of ‘sovereignty’ and ‘general will’ played substantial part in radicalizing the movement. At present, there is a bunch of intellectuals who have received prominence through the media. The author considers them to be a motley group of professionals: painters, sculptures, singers, actors, litterateurs et al who have successfully tamed the supply-demand curve in their respective domains. Barring a handful, author Mahasweta Devi (of Hajar Churasir fame) being one of them, the others do not stand qualified to be termed as ‘intellectuals’. To render opinions is one thing, but to claim scholastic aptitude of the genre of Voltaire or Rousseau is completely different.

However, one thing is definitely clear. The Red has faltered to deliver on the basis of the Social Contract. And Bengal requires no philosopher to remind them this horrendous act of the Left. Universal adult suffrage was a novel and revolutionary concept in 1789. It is a rooted concept in India after six decades of independence.

So, although ‘bread riots’ are unfeasible in today’s Bengal but ‘ballot riots’ are perfectly plausible. And that is what is continually happening since 2008. 2011 is bound to see its logical culmination. Otherwise, historical materialism would suffer a collision with a cul-de-sac. Furthermore, peasant and tribal insurrections in rural Bengal have gradually dug graveyards for the Left.

Louis XVI had to run for his life when radicals hounded him out from the Royal palace. Could we witness a similar situation in 2011 near the Writers' Building? Interestingly, it was the radical Left ‘Jacobins’ in Paris who finally guillotined Louis XVI in 1792 whereas it is the reactionary ‘Left’ in Bengal more than two hundred years later which is facing the gallows.

Perform or perish could have still salvaged the Left in 2007. A Singur, a Nandigram, a Lalgarh and a host of other mass murders have given rise to a spiraling lack of confidence of the ‘Bengali Manoos’ in the Red.

At this juncture, for the Left: ‘political power is a perishable material’.

Sun, Clear Sky and Cold Weather : The Indo-Pak-China Triangle

Published in Uday India, pp 21-23, Vol.1 No. 32, July 24 2010.


Abstract: The Indian Military has evolved a new doctrine of Cold Start, having Pakistan at the focal point. Fresh research indicates that Pakistan’s ISI is not only colluding with but basically pumping the Afghan insurgents. Pakistan defends itself by citing the Indian Threat. In the midst of this Indo-Pak Hate cycle, will the People’s Republic of China steal the show?

At times, one may draw strange correlations. Rays of the Sun represent beaming energy. They are rejuvenating and invigorating. How can they give rise to a cold climate?

This June, Matt Waldman of the Harvard University (Kennedy School of Government) has come out with a discussion paper on the Taliban-ISI nexus. He is obviously not in any manner a pioneer in this regard to have weaved a connection between Pakistan’s intelligence agency and the theocrat-jihadists. Leaving apart scholars, more or less anybody minimally concerned about South Asian Politics appreciate the fact that the ISI is in some way or the other linked with the jihadi agenda in the region. However, Waldman stresses on two aspects which make his paper stand apart and force attention.

He quotes Taliban commanders as saying: “the role of the ISI is as clear as the sun in the sky”. Waldman continues to assert in his findings that the ISI is strongly backed by the Pakistani Civilian government in fomenting the Afghan insurgency. He opines that the ISI may not be ‘actually controlling’ the insurgency in Afghanistan but they have their ‘physical’ presence even in the decision-making Shuras. The civilian-military combination of Pakistan seems to be playing a ‘double-game’ with the Americans and hence is backstabbing their ‘global war on terror’.

The paper appears to carry a veiled threat to the democratic government of Pakistan.

Nonetheless, about one thing the author is unanimous with even the by now ‘infamously leaked’ McChrystal Report that Pakistan is basically into this act of duplicity because of the ‘existential threat’ from its ‘childhood enemy’ India. The now sacked McChrystal had echoed this finding in his sixty-six page report under the section on ‘External Influences’.

Whether the Pakistani government and the ISI are really playing Judas or are sabotaging the ‘war on terror’ is definitely a matter of scholarly debate and discourse but is in no way a matter of profound concern to the common man in South Asia. Nevertheless, if Waldman’s thesis, minus his hyperbole is indeed the scenario, then it defies logic that a ‘nuclear capable’ Pakistan still has to rely on mercenaries and a neighbouring territory to thwart India’s designs.

Doesn’t it seem quite improbable to even a semi-literate subaltern in the streets of Lahore to conjure up the fact of an existential threat from across the eastern side of the Indus? Or may be his psyche has been thoroughly programmed over decades by the military regimes of his fatherland?

Or is it that the very existence of the civilian-military regimes of Pakistan depends on the Indo-Pak Hate cycle?

Though New Delhi has had a more or less stable democracy since its inception as a modern multicultural nation-state, it simply could not come out of the yoke of the ‘perceived’ Pakistani terror. With time, that ominous factor turned out to be a national obsession. One political dispensation after another kept on fuelling that psychoneurosis, even if price per barrel of oil kept on skyrocketing.

Regimes in both the countries can offer some explanation though. It can be either the Kargil War (1999) for the Indian side or the Bangladesh War (1971) for the Pakistanis. It can be the ‘core’ Kashmir issue for the Pakistani side or the ‘exportation of terrorism’ for the Indians. And if both dig history, they can surely come to defend themselves with a plethora of data mutually antagonistic to each other.

In Bharat, the military is accorded a peripheral status though used as a ‘scavenger’ in filthiest of quagmires; be it 26/11 or the North-East or external invasions. Hence it was natural that it was the military which had to construct a new war path to tackle the Pakistani paranoia. And India’s response has been technically termed as ‘Cold Start’.

According to this doctrine, the bulky armoured divisions and brigades are envisaged to be re-located to the forward positions of the Barmer-Jaisalmer-Bikaner-Suratgarh arc. The aim is to have a strike capability against Pakistan in ‘blitzkrieg’ fashion without awakening Pakistan’s nuclear capability. This appears to be an asymmetric post cold war version of the Schlieffen-Moltke plan of the First World War.

The scars of the Bangladesh War run deep in the minds of the Pakistani regime. Hence, even in the midst of the battle in Waziristan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the military could organise its biggest mobilization along the eastern border, contiguous with the Indian provinces of Rajasthan and Punjab. On the other side, the Indians ‘responded coldly’ with their new military doctrine.

What this author fails to assimilate is the ‘obsession’ on the part of both the countries regarding each other. Pakistan supposedly has many problems to be really anxious about. The insurgency and Talibanisation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; the Quetta Shura Taliban and the sectarian clashes involving Shia-Sunni and Ahmadis are enough to keep it busy; economic woes notwithstanding.

India’s concerns, rather ‘over concerns’ regarding a conventional war with Pakistan are baffling, if not ludicrous. If after six decades of nationhood, she is still unsure to score a decisive military victory on ground and in air over her ‘conjoined twin’, then the budgetary allocations with respect to defence procurements may be done away with.

China is ogling at the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It is pumping in resources and finances to build the ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka and also infiltrating in the Coco Islands of Myanmar. The aim is plain and simple: encircle India. Thus, the INS Karwar (Project Seabird) just below Goa has its job cut out. The Prithvis and Agnis must be ‘ready for impact’ and not just warming the Bay of Bengal region near Balasore.

The geopolitics of South Asia has already been heavily perturbed due to the Indo-Pak Hate cycle. But that ought to be a relic of the past now. Geographically speaking, China is progressively coming downwards. Nepal is no longer a stable ‘buffer state’ for India. Pakistan-China bonhomie (the nuclear reactor supply was the recent most addition) is definitely itching the largest democracy on earth. The External Affairs Ministry may keep on uttering that ‘there is enough space for both India and China to grow’ but the very fact remains that two swords cannot lie in a single scabbard. One has to grow at the expense of the other. It can be economic subjugation or military or technological or cultural or even ideological. In Europe, France and England could never co-exist peacefully for ages. Britain’s reluctance, even today after two devastating world wars, to be a part of the common currency regime bears testimony to the fact.

However, anti-theses abound. French-English animosity was of the days of Imperialism, when nation-states were concerned in expanding and preserving their colonies. In the post-colonial era, in the period of the WTO and laissez faire capitalism, in the age of the nuclear war, direct military confrontation is out of question.

But should we neglect Kwame Nkrumah’s proclamation of the age of ‘neo-imperialism’; colonization on the basis of economic subjugation? To add onto it, if we collate the policy of dumping and currency manipulation, the Chinese dragon appears as an inflated creature.

It turns out to be a struggle for the existence of two groups of one billion people each. It is a competition between Olympics and Commonwealth. It is a fight between hardware and software. It is a fisticuff between Mandarin and Hindi.

Hence, if there has to be a ‘Cold Start’, then it must be for China and not just for Pakistan. In fact, the implementation becomes much more challenging, considering the coverage of North-East and the Himalayan terrain. Indian army needs to be battle ready on three fronts simultaneously: north-east, central Himalayan range-Ladakh border and the traditional north-west. And if the Chinese presence is compounded in the IOR, then India’s job is further extended.

Cold Start stands justification if and only if Pakistan is used as a ‘pilot project’ and not the final destination. Similarly, on the other hand, ISI’s involvement in the Afghan insurgency, if true and proved, can sound the death-knell for US-Pakistan camaraderie. Thus Waldman’s paper ought to be a timely warning for the authoritative structures of Pakistan to veer away from the ‘decrepit model’ of “Indian Threat and Strategic Depth”.

The ISI’s sun is undimmed, the Chinese ‘constellations’ are clearly visible in the sky and the Indo-Pak political climate is still cold. Things need to change. Shall US be the fourth vertex of the quadrilateral?


When and How in Kandahar?

Submitted to Diplomatic Courier on 24th June

"War Juggernaut Stalks Kandahar" in Asia Times Speaking Freely Section, 20 July 2010


(Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 30, July 17, 2010)

Since McChrystal has now expectedly capitulated to his Rolling Stone misdemeanor, the American COIN (Counterinsurgency) is likely to face a stiffer challenge in Afghanistan.

A year long experience in the war ravaged topography, a dedicated ‘prefect’ of the Obama administration, a perfect torchbearer of Petraeus’ counterinsurgency programme in Iraq and an initiator of the ‘surge’ in ‘the graveyard of empires’; General Stanley McChrystal perhaps had it all in him to carry forward to fruition the American COIN in the ‘land of the Buzkashi’.

The Obama-Petraeus-McChrystal Doctrine (OPM) was literally put to test in the Marjah offensive (christened Operation Moshtarak) in February this year. The ambitious McChrystal was probably too optimistic when he fired salvo for a deadlier offensive in Kandahar, almost immediately after Marjah.

Whether it was a real warning before a battle or a mere muscle-flexing to psychologically dent the Taliban-Al Qaeda combo is something which is an exclusive preserve of the General and the Obama administration. However, it has definitely confirmed one thing. The Kandahar-salvo gave the Taliban-Qaeda duo ample time to regroup and revive. Moreover, Mullah Omar’s Taliban have everything to lose in Kandahar.

It is their core bastion. Their power; both political as well as economic, emanates from the region. Certainly they are not in a position to lose the battle in Kandahar, let alone forego it. Taliban had retreated in Marjah, allowing McChrystal and his company to believe that they had been successful or at least make the world believe that the American COIN had passed the first test after the ‘surge’, with honours.

The apparent defeat of the Taliban-Qaeda duo in Marjah allowed the resurrection of the anti-Taliban administration which was being carried by McChrystal, according to his own parlance, in a ‘box’.

Three and a half months have rolled past since the official completion of the ‘hold’ phase of Operation Moshtarak. The ‘build’ phase is going on amidst skirmishes with the Taliban snipers. The OPM juggernaut has definitely been thwarted, not only because of the sporadic Taliban counter-attacks, but also due to the fact that there might still be a lack of unanimity amongst the Obama administration regarding the implementation of the COIN.

Way back, Vice President Biden had come up with his ‘Drone Doctrine’ of annihilating the top leaders of Al Qaeda and not concentrating much on ‘building’ a war torn country. He too had his followers and logically so. Investing billions of dollars in a war which was getting protracted and turning out to be yet another Vietnam was not prudent. And since the American aim were the 3Ds of ‘disrupting’, ‘dismantling’ and ‘defeating’ Al Qaeda, wisdom dictated that focus should be on Osama’s entourage and not on the internal politics of Afghanistan. Furthermore, keeping in mind the history of the undulated territory and the fiercely independent Pashtuns, Biden probably appreciated the fact that even providence was not on America’s side.

Nevertheless, President Obama towed the counterinsurgency line of Petraeus. He saw it being fruitful in Iraq to an extent of receiving encomiums and naturally got attracted to use it in order to tame the vicissitudes of American fate in Afghanistan. The triumvirate of Obama, Petraeus and McChrystal finally confided in each other and went ahead with the onerous task. To them, it appeared logically impossible to de-link the Taliban from Al Qaeda.

They basically had three targets in the ‘land of Abdali’. One, they had to negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength; hence corner them if not ‘technically defeat’ them in their strongholds of the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar. Second, erect a pliable government in Kabul. If that was Karzai, fine. If the Taliban supplanted Karzai, then they needed to disconnect the Taliban-Qaeda alliance. Third, completely destroy the Al Qaeda hubs in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of neighbouring Pakistan.

Whatever be the case, the Obama administration in no way could have accepted to leave Kabul with their self esteem bludgeoned. Hence, McChrystal’s position on the ‘surge’ was literally accepted late last year. A new transit route to supply logistics to the war theatre in the form of the Northern Distribution Network through the Central Asian Republics (CAR) was constructed.

On a pragmatic plane, to ‘actually build’ Afghanistan, if at all that was in the minds of either Obama or McChrystal is surely to flounder and should not be the American agenda. Hopefully, Obama is no Gandhi to weave a utopia.

Incidentally, there appeared a ‘halo’ surrounding McChrystal. His prodigious ‘morning runs’ and ‘one meal a day’ elevated him to a ‘super general’. To add to these, the recent leakage of his ‘impressions’ about the administration’s top brass was disconcerting to Obama on one hand and also reminded us of the of the late eighteenth century Napoleon-Directory spat on the other.

Though Napoleon lived in an era when France had decapitated the institution of monarchy, still military dictatorship was in vogue. Hence, a coup d’état was feasible for him to enact. Today, in the land of the second largest democracy on earth, it was inevitable that McChrystal had to prostrate and be admonished by Obama for his ‘immature’ handling of the media.

Presently, to intrude into Kandahar is imperative for the Americans. Hence, nobody is asking why Kandahar? The germane question is when and how?

Gravitating in the orbit of sanity, few suggestions may be posited.

First, the NATO-ISAF should try to hold onto Marjah and its nearby areas of Nad Ali for a reasonable period of time, viz. six months. That would essentially provide them a psychological edge.

Second, before Marjah is firmly held and a reliable Afghan government is proved to be a reality there, NATO-ISAF should refrain from attacking Kandahar; thus avoiding engagement on two-fronts simultaneously. Though the temptation of defeating the Taliban at one go before they re-group was irresistible, McChrystal and his men were forced to be cautious.

Meanwhile, security needs to be beefed up in Kabul. The Taliban would naturally hit Kabul and other urban centres to divert attention. The series of suicide bombings in Kabul on 26 February, targeting foreign citizens is a relevant case in point.

Fourth, the drone-strikes need to be continued, with celerity, in FATA, Swat and Quetta.

To sum up, Kandahar is definitely on the cards and COIN is the strategy but to surmise the august presence of NATO-ISAF before August this year seems to be beyond hypothesis. And Petraeus again is the man to take up the cudgels.

Operation Moshtarak : In search of the COIN

A truncated version of the following essay has been published in the journo-magazine "Geopolitics", pp 61-63, June 2010

It was 1535. Humayun was the sovereign of the fledgling Mughal Empire in India. It was natural for him to expand beyond the Ganga-Yamuna doab region. Thus, he undertook the Gujarat campaign. Quite successfully, he ousted the then ruler Bahadur Shah from the throne. However, he emplaced his brother Askari to look after the newly controlled territories rather than stay back and hold it.

Askari was inefficient and lacked managerial abilities. Moreover, the Mughals could not mingle with the masses of Gujarat and appeared as foreign elements, aka invaders. The Mughals had to face a couple of popular uprisings. The consequences were disastrous for Humayun and the Mughal party as they not only lost Gujarat but their pride was also dented.

Actually, Humayun had failed to understand the tactical situation and ground reality in Gujarat. This ineptitude further aggravated his problems and he had to flee India barely within five years after this incident.

Now, it is 2010. Centuries have rolled past. Technology has been elevated to soaring heights. Cannons which wreaked havoc in the First Battle of Panipat in 1526 have been overwhelmed by sophisticated tanks, matchlock guns have given way to the ‘Molotov Cocktail’ of the days of the Cuban revolution and thereafter to the Kalashnikovs, and the dreaded Mongol manjaniqs or catapults have been replaced by the ballistic missiles traversing a parabolic path. This is to speak merely about conventional warfare.

Overall strategies and on the ground military tactics too have evolved with time.

Changes notwithstanding, some basic tenets of warfare, especially ‘irregular warfare’ (viz. against ‘non-state actors’), have failed to undergo mutation. Taking into confidence the local populace in the warring terrain is one such, more so if one seeks to hold and build on it.

Terrorism and Insurgency

Apart from the ‘near-extinction’ level effect of the nuclear arsenal that the nation-states possess, another major factor which has come to perennially perturb the mundane lives is International terrorism led by brand names like the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. ‘Terrorism’ follows the modus-operandi of causing harm to the people so that the ‘rule of law’ in a particular territory trembles. The process aids the ‘terrorists’ to negotiate with the ‘state-actors’ in order to gain leverage.

On the other hand, ‘Insurgency’ can be described as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. Well, terrorism can surely be a part of the overall strategy of the insurgents.

Presently, the Taliban and Al Qaeda are the ‘non-state actors’ leading insurgencies in various nation-states to establish a ‘pure Islamic world’ based on the Shariat and the Hadis (sayings of the Prophet). And America and the Western world are their arch enemies; with any other country joining the rank and file of the US-led counter-terrorism drives falling prey to their blatant acts of terror.

Things are not as forthright though as described above because the insurgent groups like the Taliban (The students), the Al Qaeda (The Base) or the Al Shabaab (The Youth, active in southern Somalia) cannot be distinguished from the common populace. In fact, they thrive in the demography and are part of the socio-cultural fabric of the territories in question.

Hence, to decapitate these pejorative insurgencies, it is imperative for the US-led forces to follow a carefully threaded ‘Counter-Insurgency (COIN)’ programme and not merely a Counter-terrorism drive so that the citizenry of Afghanistan, Iraq or Somalia do not get alienated from them and treat them as ‘invaders’. At the same time, the insurgencies need to be quelled and the hardcore Taliban or the Al Qaeda elements cannot be proffered any compromise.

The US-led NATO-ISAF (ISAF: International Security Assistance Force) forces face a messy situation to handle after about eight years in the tribal dominated, culturally and politically independent minded land of the Afghans. NATO-ISAF desperately needs to implement the COIN and that too fast. Time is running out, and explicably for President Obama, who has to show tangible signs of deliverance in Afghanistan by July 2011, by when according to his own proclamation, he may commence American withdrawal.

His predicament is not very different from Humayun though. He plans to place his inefficient factotum Hamid Karzai on the trembling Afghan throne as Humayun placed his feeble brother Askari in Gujarat. Obama’s soldiers are viewed as predators in the land of Ahmad Shah Abdali as Humayun’s infantrymen were to the ordinary Gujaratis. Interestingly, although Karzai is a local Pashtun, he is perceived by the locals to be part of the foreign handiwork. Furthermore, his government is beset with rampant corruption.

And to add to these, Obama is facing a determined, battle-hardened, ideologically-motivated insurgency which Humayun did not have to bother with, except a couple of sporadic popular uprisings. Moreover, the rugged topography of Afghanistan is nowhere comparable to that of much more gentle Gujarati landmass.

Well, Humayun failed ignominiously. Would Obama succeed?

Obama-Petraeus-McChrystal Doctrine

The sole purpose of U.S.A. to invade Afghanistan was to seize Osama bin Laden and to destroy and dismantle the Al Qaeda. The associated reason was to target the Taliban government since they were reluctant to hand over Osama and were providing sanctuary to him.

The US forces bungled at the cave complex of Tora Bora in 2001 and since then Osama has remained out of reach, presumably in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of neighbouring Pakistan.

Soon after assuming Presidency in January 2009, the first thing which Obama did was to inflate the number of US troops in Afghanistan by another 17,000 in order to upholster the ground situation. And in the middle of the same year, he put in Gen. Stanley McChrystal as in-charge of the NATO-ISAF forces in Afghanistan. At about the same time, he re-affirmed his confidence on the Bush-era Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as CENTCOM (Central Command) Chief David Petraeus.

The aim was to embark on a Counter-Insurgency (COIN) drive so as to muster as much popular support as possible which in the future would create a friendly political and military setting to have an honourable retreat. And not let the contemporary historians and political commentators term Afghanistan to be “Obama’s Vietnam”.

Soon after being appointed as the top commander of NATO-ISAF in Afghanistan, Gen. McChrystal came out with a detailed report of sixty-six pages outlining a definite COIN strategy for the Afghan War. The report, in fact, lifted ‘several pages’ of the COIN Manual of the US Army bearing the signature of David Petraeus. And to put into effect ‘his COIN’, McChrystal requested for a troop ‘surge’ to the tune of forty thousand over and above the already existing sixty-eight thousand American men.

After some dilly-dallying, in December 2009, Obama agreed upon the ‘surge’, though reducing the amount to thirty thousand.

The primary objective behind the ‘surge’ was to employ the COIN strategy of “Clear, Hold and Build” (CHB); i.e. ‘Clear’ the chosen areas of the Taliban, thereafter ‘Hold’ those areas for a considerable time period and finally ‘Build’ infrastructure and institutions in those areas so that the incumbent Afghan government can permanently entrench itself. Secondly, according to McChrystal, NATO-ISAF needed to have a better mixing with the masses in order to gain their confidence; i.e. the civilian casualties from the NATO-ISAF side had to diminish.

Thus, the COIN strategy would give Obama an agreeable ‘exit option’ from Afghanistan. Also, U.S.A. does visualize repeating another Iraq in Afghanistan. And to implement the CHB COIN strategy, a sufficient ‘surge’ was necessary. That would destabilize the Taliban command structure for a reasonable time frame and impede the regrouping of Al Qaeda after the US withdrawal.

Another aim was to train, develop and increase the numbers of the Afghan Police and the Afghan National Army. The reason was simple. U.S.A. wanted to leave Afghanistan in secure hands. They did not want to repeat the Vietnam fiasco.

A place called Marjah

Out of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces, the southern territories of Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan are the main bastions of the Taliban. And amongst these, Helmand and Kandahar top the list. Marjah is a town in the southern half of the Nad Ali district in Helmand. The town has a population ranging between 50,000 to 80,000. Marjah is a nerve centre of the Taliban-led insurgency as it is a poppy growing centre which forms a substantial part of the funding for the terrorists. As a matter of fact, Helmand is the largest opium producing region of the world. The Taliban encourages and sometimes exhorts the farmers to grow poppy so that it sustains the finance of the anti-US insurgency. The farmers also find it profitable to continue growing opium as the Taliban provide safe transit facilities for it to the nearby Pakistani city of Quetta from where the opium reaches the world market.

The town of Marjah has vast expanses of open space, punctuated by mud-brick compounds and crisscrossed by narrow irrigation canals which helped the Afghan Mujahideen fighters to evade the Red Army during the Soviet occupation (1979-89).

Marjah is barely twenty-five miles southwest of Helmand’s capital Lashkar Gah. Reports suggest that the Taliban generate around a whopping $200,000 per month from the flourishing opium-heroin business from the town. To have a stranglehold on the economy of the region, Mullah Omar’s Taliban have alternative judicial and political institutions in place. The focal point of Taliban activity in Marjah is a market called the Loy Charahi bazaar.

Operation Moshtarak

Dari, along with Persian is the official language of Afghanistan. Incidentally, Moshtarak is a Dari word meaning “together”. The name carries significance in the sense that the present operation contemplated by Gen. McChrystal is a joint one, encompassing the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) along with NATO-ISAF.

The ground offensive, though launched on 13 February 2010, had been much publicized since the beginning of the month. In the early hours of Saturday 13 February, about 15,000 soldiers consisting of US Marines, supplemented by the British and Afghans stormed the town of Marjah. McChrystal followed the tactic of propaganda to serve a twofold purpose:

He apprehended that most of the middle and lower level Taliban cadres would flee the area by the time NATO-ISAF would launch the actual operation.

Collateral damage could be minimized as many civilians shall have the opportunity to move out.

In fact, McChrystal seems to have incorporated this ‘hype creating mechanism’ from the Pakistani side as the latter had used it to a reasonably successful degree in its much-awaited ground offensive in FATA.

McChrystal had sternly dictated his men not to use artillery indiscriminately so that human casualties could be managed to a base level and the COIN strategy could be followed fruitfully. Simultaneously, his men had to avoid the innumerable Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and mines planted by the Taliban.

The job was not an easy one at all. Though proclaimed to be the biggest offensive in Afghanistan after the invasion commenced in 2001, this was not the first time that an operation was carried out in Helmand. Major joint offensives took place in July 2009 to clear the Taliban from Lashkar Gah and Marjah. The operations were more or less successful in Helmand’s capital whereas Marjah remained elusive for the coalition forces.

Hence McChrystal had demanded a troop surge. He believed that with more than 100,000 troops the CHB strategy would be fructuous.

The Taliban had to be hunted in its own den since only then they would be defeated psychologically. Further, the underlying economy of the insurgency had to be derailed. And if the Taliban were defeated in Marjah, the civilians would slowly loose faith in their invincibility. These were the top priorities of the coalition forces under Gen. McChrystal while launching Operation Moshtarak.

Also, Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, the top US Marine in Afghanistan termed Marjah as the ‘cancer of Helmand’. Hence Marjah had to be besieged.

Will CHB work?

First, the ‘clear’ phase was likely to be successful and reports indicated in a positive direction since within two weeks of the operation, the Afghan flag was hoisted twice in Marjah: a signature of coalition victory. The troops were sufficient as they outnumbered the Taliban by about 10:1 ratio.

But then, it is natural that the insurgents have just melted away to other places by avoiding direct bloodshed. The Taliban are just playing a waiting game. Nevertheless, at least the coalition wanted a symbolic victory. McChrystal and company know that a protracted guerrilla war would continue and the NATO-ISAF have to contend with long-range snipers and IEDs.

Second, to ‘hold’ the area would certainly be much more cumbrous as sporadic attacks on the coalition forces would necessarily occur.

Finally the last phase of ‘build’ would take a considerable time. The coalition claimed to have a ‘government in a box’ ready to be put into Marjah after the ‘clear’ phase.

The aim of U.S.A. is to destroy the fundamental bases of the Taliban before partial withdrawal. Marjah would definitely serve to be a test case, and Kandahar would surely follow. The principal US aim is to ‘clear’ large parts of Helmand and Kandahar and ‘somehow hold’ onto those regions and at the same time ‘build’ as much infrastructure and institutions as possible. If this could be continued till July 2011, then ‘Nobel’ Obama could declare ‘success’ and hence if needed, an honourable retreat.

Pragmatically speaking, as the Taliban have established ‘shadow governments’ in almost all the provinces, the challenge of ‘clearing’ and ‘holding’ onto all the regions of Afghanistan is next to impossible for the coalition.

Already, public opinion is turning against the war in the NATO countries as well as in America. Moreover, in July 2011, the re-election cycle of US Presidency would begin. So, Obama needs to cushion himself against these exigencies.

Thus, prima facie, there are a number of caveats.

The Caveats

First and most important, how long are the Americans willing to reside in this arid landmass of Afghanistan? Since, the Taliban are playing a waiting game, the answer to this question is vital. Presently, it appears that there are no unequivocal answers to this query as Obama declared in his December 2009 speech that the troop withdrawal would depend on ‘circumstances’.

Second, if the actual US goal of attacking Afghanistan was to defeat Al Qaeda, then it has been partially successful in that regard. The sharp edges of the organization have been blunted to a large extent, its efficacy thwarted, its reach pruned, and its core leadership cocooned in FATA. Basically, Afghanistan has been more or less cleared of Al Qaeda.

But the catch is what would happen after a US withdrawal. If a proper government cannot be formed, it is highly likely that the Taliban would displace the incumbent Karzai regime in a coup. And that in all conceivable probability can bring in the Al Qaeda again.

Thus, an additional burden on NATO-ISAF is to build and train the ANSF in COIN strategy and rid the Karzai government of corruption and embezzlement. This is a Herculean job.

Third, Obama and his top commanders very well appreciate the fact that merely military solutions to this tangle do not exist. Political solutions need to be attempted and hence the talk of wooing the low and middle level Talibans by guaranteeing them job and security. But this programme has to be effectively undertaken as there are instances of past failures where re-integration had not been satisfactory.

Fourth, a much more problematic feature likely to hinder the long term success of the CHB-COIN strategy is the role Pakistan would play. Till date, it has allowed its territory to be used for drone-attacks on Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects. It has also embarked on a major ground offensive against the insurgents in Swat and FATA. Furthermore, Islamabad seems to have taken pro-active steps in incarcerating some top Taliban leaders like Mullah Baradar. But the civil-military elite of Pakistan would continue to have their reservations regarding an Indian friendly Afghan government after the US withdrawal. History cannot be defied that the Taliban were propelled by the then Benazir Bhutto regime. And till date, Pakistan seeks a ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan.

During Operation Moshtarak, the pertinent question was: “Did the Pakistanis seal the border so that the Taliban would be unable to squeeze into either Balochistan or FATA? Till this is effectively coordinated, it would be quite futile to have a firm hold on the ‘fluid Taliban in Afghanistan’.

Another serious impediment in implementing CHB-COIN is the interaction of the coalition troops with the locals. It has been reported that in spite of the best efforts of the NATO-ISAF troops to avoid civilian casualties, around 30 civilians lost their lives in this operation and around 20,000 were displaced. The task of rehabilitation and confidence building are in the offing. Moreover, the dreaded ‘night-raids’ of the coalition forces need to be minimized which are a total violation of socio-cultural ethics of the country.

Sixth, too much concentration on the Pashtun south makes the Northern provinces like Kunduz vulnerable to Taliban growth. If the insurgency spreads in the north, the Central Asian Republics may also come under its domain.

Seventh, the longer the COIN persists, the higher would be the cost factor. According to data provided by the Congressional Research Service, the cost of one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan for one year is $1 million and that of maintaining an Afghan soldier is an estimated $12,000. Hence 100,000 American troops in 2010 would tantamount to $100 billion. On top of this, the cost of the support staff and transport system is bound to escalate.

What can be the fate of the COIN?

U.S.A. has plunged into the doctrine of CHB-COIN as articulated by the triumvirate of Obama, Petraeus and McChrystal. Their NATO allies have to an extent been goaded into believing and accepting the doctrine. Candidly speaking, the Americans and especially Obama hardly had any alternatives. Though pressured by the unexpected conferment of the Nobel, he still had to live up to the expectations of the nationalistic sentiments of continuing the Global War on Terror: a responsibility which he was unable to shirk.

The COIN manual of the US Army, per se, hardly has loopholes. It is a meaty, scholarly treatise of years of experience of several military generals who had withstood different kinds of insurgencies across various territorial domains and in challenging conditions.

But the moot point is the applicability of the COIN in the ‘graveyard of empires.’ If the Obama administration is trying to ‘run’ away from the undulated territory by somehow erecting a ‘façade of COIN’, then the implementation seems to be perfectly plausible. But, if Obama is really serious about ‘building a nation’ for the ‘variegated bands of tribes in the land of Abdali,’ then the COIN may prove to be too costly and it could be, in turn, detrimental to Obama’s domestic preferences: a ‘not-so-soothing scenario’ for his re-election cycle.

Before Obama is forced to follow the footsteps of his predecessors Truman and Johnson, a sane observer may like to suggest him the following:

The NATO-ISAF should try to hold onto Marjah and its nearby areas of Nad Ali for a reasonable period of time, viz. six months. That would psychologically dent the Taliban-Al Qaeda combo.
Before Marjah is firmly held and a reliable Afghan government is proved to be a reality there, NATO-ISAF should refrain from attacking Kandahar; thus avoiding engagement on two-fronts simultaneously. Kandahar being the ultimate haven for the Taliban, would throw up fierce retaliation if attacked now. And quite expectedly, media reports have not been on the contrary. However, the temptation of denting the Taliban at one go before they re-group would be irresistible.

Meanwhile, security needs to be beefed up in Kabul. The Taliban would naturally hit Kabul and other urban centres to divert attention as done by its Pakistani counterpart during the Operation of the Pakistani military in South Waziristan. The series of suicide bombings in Kabul on 26 February, targeting foreign citizens, many of them Indians, is a relevant case in point.

If Marjah is held for a period of six months and collateral damage reduced to a minimum in other parts of Afghanistan, then that would provide the ideal platform for the Obama administration to have secured a vantage point to negotiate with the low and middle level Taliban.
The drone-strikes need to be continued, with celerity, in FATA, Swat and Quetta.

The Quetta Shura Taliban (QST) needs to be dismantled with Pakistani help for which the latter needs to be induced by diplomatic, political and financial means. The Kerry-Lugar Financial aid late last year and the US-Pak Strategic Dialogue in March-end of this year hint toward such a ‘favourable reconciliation’ between the two countries.
The final aim of US-led NATO-ISAF should be to leave Afghanistan completely by the end of 2011 in a phased manner. The first contingent may withdraw after Marjah seems secured.

To sum up succinctly, Obama needs to totally withdraw from both Iraq and Afghanistan in a phased manner by 2011, without falling prey to any sort of jingoism or egotism. But then, at the present juncture Obama gravitating in that orbit of sanity is probably a utopian proposition.