When ideology corrupts strategy

By Firdaus Ahmed. Dated: 10/10/2017 11:54:31 PM

It is increasingly apparent that the ideology of the ruling party and its supporting pseudo-cultural formations is contaminating thinking on national security. The national broadcaster carried live its by-now-annual fixture on Vijaya Dashami, the address of the RSS Supreme Leader, Mohan Bhagwat. Since 'shastra puja' is observed, in his speech apt for the occasion, Bhagwat surveyed the national security scene. He was naturally complimentary of the government, since the government engages in yearly accountability confabulations with his organization.
The latest government, party and political parent - RSS - tête-à-tête was in end August. At the previous year's meeting in September last year, the prime minister had his report card written. Given these visible linkages, and the multiple subterranean ones that cannot but exist, the Volunteer-in-Chief's words serve as advice, if not guidance itself, for the nation's Pradhan Sevak. Therefore, if the Sarsangchalak discourses on security, it can be inferred that either he is outlining the government's security agenda or dictating it.
Both possibilities are questionable. In case of the latter, it is a clear case of extra-constitutional authority wielding the remote; something the BJP in opposition untiringly pointed towards in the last administration of the UPA, referring to the power of the occupant of 10 Janpath. In case of the former, the security agenda outlined is so contaminated with majoritarianism (read upper caste supremacism) that strategic rationality is the first casualty, ethical policy the second and democratic norms the third.
This brings up a third possibility: a combination of both. Not only does the RSS determines the government's strategic orientation but also propagates it. For conservative realism to inform the strategic doctrine of the right wing government is unexceptional. However, what is likely in place instead is religious nationalism on steroids. The Dussehra address must therefore be seen for what it is: our very own 'state of union' address, a rival to the prime minister's grandstanding on Red Fort ramparts and perhaps a replacement for the president's republic day platitudes.
Three cases over the recent past illustrate the three consequences of ideological eclipse of strategy. First, let's take strategic rationality. India's perennial foe, Pakistan, has been described by former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao - not known as a hawk (yet) - recently as 'enemy', defined as someone to 'destroy'. (Apparently, an 'adversary' - China - is one to merely 'defeat'!) Destroy is what India might have set out to do to that state. The visit of the prime minister to the US over mid-year was followed by Trump's Afghanistan policy, the major plank of which has been the threat of destabilisation held out to Pakistan. This threat was implicit in Trump's defence secretary Mattis' remarks at the House Armed Services Committee hearings. It followed in immediate wake of his trip to India. While India's new defence minister was clear on not dispatching troops to Afghanistan, that India would do more has equally clearly been communicated to the US. Since the Trump administration is not going to allow India to free ride as is its wont, what India has signed up for will be clearer as the US begins to impose on Pakistan for the 'sanctuary' 'terrorists' - defined here as those intent on blowing up GIs Joe and Jane for trespassing on their native land.
To expect Trump - who shall come up a cropper trying to clean up the 'sanctuary cities' of migrants in his own backyard - to do with 3000 additional troops what Obama could not with some 30000 additional hands is self-delusional. While this could otherwise be put beyond normal strategic expectations, in case of an ideology driven strategic establishment, this cannot be ruled out. Perhaps they are not interested in turning Pakistan round, as the US might be hoping to achieve with its threats, as much as goading the US into making Pakistan keel over. The strategic fallout for India and the region is easy to foresee, with India ending up at with a 'frontline' status, knowing full well what that means having seen Pakistan play the role for some thirty years.
That domestic politics drives this strategic fantasy is evident. The polarization that could result would ensure an indefinite tenure in Delhi for the provincial chief from Gujarat. India can hardly count as a regional power if it allows a superpower to defecate at its doorstep. But if the US downs Pakistan, it would leave India as the last man standing, a regional power finally, fulfilling Bhagwat's Dussehra wish: 'In response to the activities of Pakistan on the Western front…, Bharat's strong and determined stand has been visible …on the borders as well as in international diplomacy. This definitely makes us realise about our strength and at the same time provides new international standing to Bharat.'
The second casualty is ethical policy. There has been the coincidence of the ongoing crackdown by the Myanmarese regime on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state in Myanmar and Modi's visit to that capital. The Myanmarese apparently read a tacit go-ahead for operations amounting to ethnic cleansing in the joint statement of the two countries at the meeting in which terrorism was condemned, with references to terror attacks by the Rohingya extremists in Rakhine and by terrorists in J&K finding mention in the same breath. The sense of impunity with which the Myanmarese regime has proceeded indicates its sanguineness with support from India, almost suggesting that more passed between the two during the visit than met the public eye.
Whereas the UPA could be absolved to an extent of acceding to the Sri Lankan battle of annihilation with the Tamil Tigers due to India then being on the cusp of elections, in this case the crimes against humanity started off as the visiting head of the regional power, India, boarded the plane back to Delhi from his visit to the perpetrators. There can be two views on this: that India has no sway and the moniker 'regional power' is chimera; or that indeed it is a regional power that has winked and nudged the Myanmarese on. Neither of these options is acceptable; the former is unacceptable to strategists hoarse-voiced from proclaiming Indian arrival as a 'great power' and the latter is unacceptable from point of view of potential abuse in this case of any such power.
The preceding vilification of the Rohingya refugees in India set the tone for the visit. In the Supreme Leader's speech, he claimed that Rohingyas were being 'chased out' of their land owing to their association with 'criminal separatist activity', calling for decisions based on 'national security and integrity'. As pointed out in this publication earlier - a reference to their terror links by no less than the Director General Assam Rifles, a leading counter insurgency outfit in the North East, in a strategic journal, the USI Journal: 'The Rohingyas are a likely security threat as they are turning out to be easy targets for Muslim Fundamental Organisations (MFOs). ISIS is also known to be reaching out to Rohingyas for recruitment. With countries unwilling to house the Rohingyas, joining ISIS may be an attractive option.' Lately, the intelligence agencies' conjured-up case for expulsion of the Rohingya refugees from India has now reached the Supreme Court. Their presence is seen through the lens of internal security, especially since the Rohingya plight, visibly aggravated over the past month, has understandably seen Muslims organisations scramble to their relief, including those with fundamentalist persuasion.
The third casualty are democratic norms. This is evident from the RSS supremo's take on internal security, specifically J&K. He warns that the 'necessary Constitutional amendments will have to be made and old provisions will have to be changed. Then and then only, the residents of Jammu Kashmir can be completely assimilated with rest of Bharat and their equal cooperation and share will be possible in the national progress.' He has in one breath clubbed Articles 35A and 370 as up for revision. This would be the prize the BJP seeks once it has the upper house in its kitty and the 2019 hustings taped-up. The constitutional rewriting would be through the democratic route alright, though not quite democratic since democracy is not rule of the majority even if it is rule by the majority. The government is already preparing for the backlash. Bhagwat appreciates, 'the determination with which terrorist infiltration and firing from across the border is being dealt with;' and informs that, '(A)ll security forces, including the Army, have been given the freedom to do their respective duties.' The good part is that Bhagwat has snitched on what's coming up next.
In effect, this dispensation is going to leave a mess behind. Not only will detoxification on their departure be a challenge, but reversing the damage done to Indian security will take a while. Ideology does not just make a mark, it leaves an enduring stain.
(Firdaus Ahmed, author of Think South Asia, Subcontinental Musings and South Asia: In it Together, blogs at www.subcontinentalmusings.blogspot.in)



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