The unofficial blog of Colonel (Dr.) Anil Athale (Retd.).

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This is the unofficial blog of Colonel Anil Athale (retd). Like many of Col Athale’s admirers, I have looked for a repository of his writings, and not finding one,  decided to create one. Col Athale is not in any way associated with this blog. Of course, all the wonderful thoughts in the posts here are his entirely, but any mistakes of omission or errors are mine.

I am a software developer, living and working in Mumbai.

If you find a post by Col Athale that has not been included here, please send me a link to the same so I could include it.

Thank you.

Sandeep Shetty

Written by anilathale

January 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm

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There is no major threat from ‘saffron terrorists’

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The LeT terror campaign is backed by the power and resources of a state. To compare this with the acts of a crowd of motley Hindu extremists is like equating chalk with cheese, says Colonel (retd) Anil Athale.

The recent controversy over a politician’s remark on ‘Hindu terror’ and another gem of invoking visions of an India and Hitler need to be dismissed with contempt they deserve. The former American Ambassador to India, David Mulford’s comment that Indian politicians can stoop to any level to garner votes is a ringing indictment of this tribe of politicians.

But such is the power of repetition of lies that there is a great danger of these becoming self-fulfilling prophesies and therefore need to be challenged. An even greater reason is that a politician in wilderness (and a former chief minister) has insinuated that (just like Pakistan) ‘saffron’ terror has infiltrated even the Indian armed forces. He approvingly quotes the example of a lone wolf rogue officer who is alleged to have got involved in terrorist acts. In the interest of national security, these wild assertions need to be challenged.

Terror threats that India faces:

As a multi-ethnic, religious and linguistic subcontinent, India faces many revolts backed by narrow ideologies. There is the separatist movement in Kashmir valley (not Jammu and Kashmir but only the valley), Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. In addition there is an on going unrest in heartland of India where the Communist insurgents want to overthrow the state and usher in ‘their’ version of ‘people’s republic’, popularly called Naxalites. All these movements indulge in use of terror tactics off and on.

In addition to the above, since last two years, a motley group of Hindu extremists have taken to ‘retaliate’ for the past acts of terror attributed to Islamist terror groups located in Pakistan and who receive some support from fringe element of Indian Muslims.

The groups like the Students Islamic Movement of India or its latest avatar, the Indian Mujahedeen, are essentially an extension of the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba.

A brief look at statistics shows that in the last five years the LeT-led combine has carried out ten major attacks in which over 625 Indians have been killed and over 3,000 have been wounded seriously. Equally startling is the fact that so far not a single terrorist involved in these activities has been punished. Most of the investigations have reached a dead end or the perpetrators have fled to Pakistan. The alleged saffron terror is linked to four incidents in which over 19 people have lost their lives and a few score have been wounded.

But even more telling is the fact that the LeT-led campaign against India is essentially a joint enterprise with Pakistan Army  (through the Inter Services Intelligence). While in all other insurgencies including the one in Kashmir valley, there is an element of external support (The Naga rebels do receive Chinese help), the LeT-led campaign is unique in that it is a virtual proxy war launched by one state against the other by using the tactic of deniability.

The Late Krishna Menon, India’s de facto foreign minister in the 1950s and early 1960s, was of the view that “Pakistan views partition as only a beginning. Her idea is to get a jumping off point to take the whole of India. Their minds work in this way — that it was from the Mughals that the British took over. Now that the British have gone back, the Muslims must come back.” (Breacher Michael, “India and World Politics: Krishna Menon’s View of the World”, Oxford, London , 1968. page 171)

Even the former Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharaf is on record to having admitting that even if Kashmir issue is resolved, relations with India would remain stormy.

The LeT terror campaign against India is thus backed by the power and resources of a state. To compare this with the acts of a crowd of motley Hindu extremists is like equating chalk with cheese.

Religious fundamentalism and terrorism: A tenuous link!

Even since Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden invoked religion to justify their terror attacks, the terrorism tag has been unfortunately put on the religion of Islam. A little introspection will show that the Al Qaeda’s newly found belief in the Islamic cause is fake. Osama never tires of invoking the cause of Palestine (and now even Kashmir) to justify his actions. But wasn’t the same Osama happily collaborating with the hated Americans through the decade of 1980’s in Afghanistan? Was America then not supporting Israel?

The truth is that Osama’s basic aim is to grab power in Saudi Arabia. He felt that he had an IoU from the Americans on this. But once the first Afghan war was over, the Americans apparently refused to oblige him. It is only then that he remembered the plight of Palestine/Kashmir.

A general study of 9/11 bombers or even the latest failed Time Square terrorist do not show much direct connection between religious fundamentalism and terrorism. None of these were typically religious people. An MIT study has also similarly shown that there no direct link between poverty and terrorism. Though undoubtedly, like the lone surviving terrorist of Mumbai attack did belong to a poor family, his motivations seem very clearly money!

The growth of religious fundamentalism can indeed provoke riots and disturb peace but by itself cannot lead to terrorism. It is true that riots or mob violence is bad, but it is a like a crime of passion, whereas terrorism is like a pre-meditated mass murder. It is necessary to clearly distinguish these two.

Terrorism  that the world faces today is essentially a power struggle and proxy war to achieve this worldly aim. Religion is used only as a cloak to hide the true intentions, be it Osama or the LeT. Even the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan) is similarly out to grab power in that country.

It is unfortunate that the current political power struggle got the ‘Islamist’ tag because the terrorist’s themselves invoked religious sanction for their acts by selectively quoting from the holy book.

Luckily for the Indian subcontinent, the fact that in Pakistan in last five years there have been over 42 attacks on mosques and over 530 worshippers have been killed while performing namaaz. In the entire period of 63 years these many attacks have not taken place in India. The Indians who fall into the LeT trap must look at this reality and honestly answer the question whether they are safe in India or Pakistan?

One is aware that the incidents of the Gujarat riots in 2002 will be evoked. But the fact is that in these riots (according to the Union home ministry) 800 people lost their lives. Besides this, 232 (mostly from the majority community) were killed in police firing! When one alludes to the ghost of Hitler and German genocide of Jews, one must ask a question, were any Germans killed by their police for attacking Jews? Our modern politicians seem to have not read much history but have surely studied Gobbles’ quite thoroughly, and have succeeded in repeating a lie again and again to make it an established fact. This does not in any way condone partisan behaviour of the police or even inability of the government to control the violence quickly enough.

But the worst is the snide attempt to drag the armed forces into the controversy. One would like to remind these unworthies that the armed forces of India have always acted with utmost impartiality in these situations. If any one has doubt go and ask Kutubuddin Ansari, a tailor from Ahmedabad, who told this author with tears in his eyes that it was the timely arrival of the army that saved him and his family.

By sowing doubts about the integrity of armed forces whose interest is this person serving?

Colonel Anil Athale (retd)

Written by anilathale

January 6, 2011 at 3:16 pm

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The death of over 73 Policemen in a single incident in near Dantewada in Chhatisgarh state has brought out in stark nakedness all that is wrong with our concept of national security management. It is quite obvious that the CRPF policemen failed to take the minimum precautions that are necessary while moving in a hostile environment. It speaks very poorly of the quality of leadership,  training and motivation of the force. But with the kind of commitments that the CRPF is regularly subjected to, it is obviously a very tired force. Also, the distinction between crowd and riot control and fighting a guerrilla war (as Naxalites are doing) is not well understood or ignored in turf battles between the various forces like the BSF, ITBP,CRPF, ASSAM RIFILES, RASHTRIYA RIFLES, VARIOUS STATE RESERVE POLICE and the Indian Army. All these forces have been battling the kind of insurgency that the Naxals have launched. Unfortunately, there is not  much co-ordination in learning process. Though the CIJW (Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare College) located at Wairangte in Mizoram, does carry out courses for all the forces, its impact is minimal on all except the army. I do not know if the CRPF had any policy of carrying out pre-induction training.

But the biggest weakness if at the top in the Home Ministry. The guerrilla war launched is treated as a law and order or socio-political problem. The mention of the military dimension is regarded as not Politically Correct. Babus handling these operations have no experience or first hand knowledge of either the terrain or the nuances of guerrilla war. It is interesting that this lack of professionalism is in contrast with what one finds even in Bolywood——for instances when a very professional actor like Mr Nana Patekar decided to do a movie on Commandos, he actually underwent the gruelling 28 days course! As an outlandish idea, if inducted in the home ministry, he would actually do a better job than the lack lustre babus and even add a touch of glamour! But on a more serious note, the flaws in handling Naxalism originate in the lack of understanding of  guerrilla war at the Home Ministry level. An army officer who is veteran of Kashmir or North East could well be deputed to the ministry to rectify this! But that would go against the firm conviction in the Babudom that they know everything.

The centre of Naxal induced violence lies in the richest mineral belt of India that is also the very heartland of the country. The denial of mineral resources could derail the plans of industrialisation. In addition the violence here can cut off the North South and East West communications. This adds to seriousness with which the problem needs to be tackled.

The root of the problem lies in alienation of the Tribals on two counts-one due to the unfair Forest/Environmental/Wild life preservation legislation with respect to the forests, their natural habitat. These acts have created various classes of offences which directly interfere with Tribal’s way of life and livelihood. Secondly, due to the glaring gap between the life style and living standards of the Tribals and plains men. Extreme sensitivity is required to tackle the issues involved. Rough and ready methods of using force may prove counterproductive in the long run.

The truth is the Naxal revolutionaries, either of the Peoples War variety form Andhra in South or the Maoists in the North are NOT there to solve the problems of Adivasis. They are there as the forests offer sanctuaries for training and rest. The general neglect of the area, callous forest guards/police and power vacuum, made the task of the Naxals easy. Once having helped Adivasis through their ‘Robin Hood’ methods, they now intend to milk the Adivasi support for the ‘higher purpose’ of ushering the Marxist Revolution through out India (?).

But the billion dollar (yes billion dollar in light of the sums that Mdhu Koda of Jharkhand is alleged to have made) question is what is the source of funding for the Naxals? One wishes the breathless Breaking News Babes of Indian television ask this! Or the Police could crack this riddle since one of the big leader Mr Kabad Gandhi (no relation of the Mahatma or the other Gandhi’s) is in their custody. One  clue or speculation is that the countries like Japan and China who import huge quantities of iron ore from Bailadila mines could be the paymasters. It is significant that in the unrest and violence of last several years, the mining operations in Bailadila have never been affected. The Baliladila mine has one of the finest Iron ore in the world, at 66% Iron content. Of late the state government has approached the centre to stop the export of Iron ore to other countries and wants to establish steel mills. Is the sudden spurt in Naxal violence related to this? The armchair leftists in cities have been crying foul over the Capitalist exploitation when these plans were made. Why were they silent when the same Iron ore was being exported? One hopes that the people of India will get the answer to these questions and that would uncover the Naxalites hidden motives as well as their source of funds.

Although the Naxlaites claim to be Maoists, it must be remembered that Mao himself had disowned them in 1970s and their senseless violence. More appropriately, the Naxals are Che Guevarist’s. While Mao insisted on constructive programmes and winning over the people before starting an insurrection, Che Guevara believed that revolutionary situation can be created. His tactics were to attack the security forces in order to provoke reaction. Once the security forces over react and cause suffering to innocents by high handed actions, people will be alienated and support the revolution. This appears to be the strategy of the Naxals and their recent brutal killings of Policemen.

Thus there is a dilemma of sorts, while urgency demands action while the sensitivity to Tribal identity and lives merits caution and preparation. Normal and standard administrative structures that can support extension of govt rule have to be identified carefully. If needed a completely new model of administration could be evolved based on sensitivity, realism and continuity. A re-look at erstwhile Indian Frontier Administrative Service like organisation may be worth while in light of our experience of repeated administrative failure in these areas. Rule of law must be in harmony with the Tribal practices and NOT thought out in the air conditioned offices in Delhi. Here the quality of administrator and law enforcer would matter a great deal. Tribal’s are war like people and proud of being so. The history of Gonds and Santhals in resisting all manner of invaders should never be forgotten, nor their stand in support of late Pravinchandra Bhanjadeo. In bringing the Tribal’s to modernity care must be taken to be gradual and transition should not be from no clothes to three piece suit.

Do the Naxals seriously believe that ‘revolutionary conditions’ as described by their Guru, Guevara, really exist in India for their revolution to succeed?  All this leads one to conclusion that essentially the Naxals are a gang of Thugs and robbers much on the lines of Sandalwood smuggler  Veerppan, who also put up a charade of ‘Tamil Pride’ to hide his criminal activities.

One hopes for the sake of  our country that we are serious about tackling this menace. Else we will continue to sing ‘Aae Mere Watan Ke logo…..’ at public functions and shed crocodile tears at the death of our brave Jawans!

(Athale has studied the insurgencies in Kashmir, North East, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Chhatisgarh. As a former infantry officer he has also participated in counter insurgency operations. He is a former Chhatrapati Shivaji Fellow of the USI and doing a comparative study of insurgencies and peace processes.)

Written by anilathale

April 10, 2010 at 12:55 pm

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The Naxals must be defeated, here’s how.

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Operation Green Hunt has gone horribly wrong and the authorities need to recalibrate their strategy argues Colonel Anil Athale (retd).

The killing of 75 CRPF personnel and a local policeman in a Naxalite ambush in Dantewada on Tuesday is a wake up call for all. Operation Green Hunt launched by the Union home ministry to flush out the Naxals has gone horribly wrong.

Right from the word go a discordant note was struck when the government unilaterally declared that it would use ‘minimum force’ and not permit the use of Indian Air Force helicopters or the army or other special forces in the battle.

I had led a team to study the Naxal problem in Chhattisgarh in July 2006. A major finding of that study was that faced with ill-equipped police forces, the Naxalites had an upper hand and have acquired an image of being ‘ten feet tall’. A large number of ‘fence sitters,’ mainly innocent tribals joined the Naxal ranks as they are seen to be the winning side.

It is a seldom appreciated truism that battles are won or lost in the minds. The fight to last man last round is a myth. In India ‘flag marches’ are a regular feature. The idea to let the potential adversary know the overwhelming force that is available. ‘Flag marches’ would be meaningless if there is a prior declaration that the force being demonstrated is never going to be used.

In case of the ongoing armed action against the Naxalites, it appears that the ‘deterrent’ effect has been diluted due to such declarations that some of the instruments or coercion available with the government will not be used. During the Kargil conflict a decade ago, a similar declaration about not crossing the LoC operationally helped the enemy.

It is recommended that to redress the balance of perception, the following be considered:

  • To undo the damage due to statements about the limitations on use of armed force the authorities could make it clear that while at the moment they do not intend to use the armed forces or air power, the option to do so if necessary is open.
  • To demonstrate the national resolve, fighter aircraft recces and photo missions must be considered over the affected area. These missions should be widely publicised. A movement of large body of troops, around a division, could be considered through the road network of the affected area.
  • The army should carry out regular training exercises in the Naxal affected areas so as to show its presence.
  • Selected operations by elite National Security Guard to eliminate the top leadership of the Naxals should be considered.

One of the greatest worries in anti-Naxal operations is the loss of life of innocent tribals who are in it due to real or imagined petty grievances or propaganda by the Naxals.

A demonstration of the force by the State will wean away a large portion of sympathisers and fence sitters. The hardcore ideologically motivated cadres are not likely to be affected by this, but it will ease the path of the impending operations by lowering the morale of the Naxal rank and file and raising that of the police forces as well as common people.

Thus in order to achieve the psychological goal of convincing the insurgents/counter insurgents that they are in no win situation, the force used has to be neither minimum (as in a situation of civic unrest) nor maximum as in case of an all out war between two states, but adequate. The adequate force has to be so in terms of both quality and duration and has to be legitimate.

Strategy to deal with the Naxal problem

Essentially the strategy would be based on the principles of ‘isolate, contain and disarm/destroy’. Prima facie this seems simple, but as the famous war historian von Clauswitz has famously said that strategic issues seem simple, that does not mean they are easy.

The first element of this strategy, isolation, will have physical, economic, social, psychological dimension with variety of means available including use of media and propaganda. It is the first essential step in a war against the Naxals. The isolation of the Naxalites would mean cutting off sources of money, supplies, arms and ammunition and even provisions.

The much criticised shifting of villagers out of the combat zone is necessary. A measure of population and resource control can isolate the Naxals. Once separated from the support base of the tribals, the full force of the state ought to be brought to bear upon the rebels.

It is necessary to remember that in the early stages of the insurgency in Nagaland and Mizoram, air power was used against the rebels. It also needs to be reiterated that the much smaller Naxalite revolt of the 1970s was brought under control not by the paramilitary forces but a division strength force of the Indian Army.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often stated that Naxalism is the greatest internal threat facing the country. With elements in Nepal and Chinese hobnobbing with the Maoists, the issue of dealing with Naxalism has acquired great urgency.

In addition the Maoists in Nepal are likely to play the traditional Nepalese game of playing the China card against India. The problems of Nepal are unemployment and growing population, none of which lend itself to easy solutions. To stem the likely public disenchantment, the Nepalese Maoists are likely to use India bogey as well as export of revolution to distract the popular mind from the regime’s failures, failures that are inherent in the socio-economic situation in the neighbouring country.

As India’s economic and military power grows, competition with China in South East Asia as well as global issues may well tempt the Chinese to use the Nepalese proxy to checkmate India. Not unlike it is doing at present with Pakistan.

Given this grim scenario it is necessary to deal with the problem before it assumes this international dimension. The measures recommended above are a minimalist option and even if not fully successful, can do no harm.

The only adverse impact could be a bad press in terms of ‘excessive’ threats by the State. The Indian State could well do with some such an image makeover. Unless we want to wallow in our weakness, which regards strength as immoral.

Colonel Anil Athale (retd) has studied the insurgencies in Kashmir, the North East, Sri Lanka, Northern Ireland, South Africa and Chhattisgarh. As a former infantry officer he has also participated in counter insurgency operations. He is a former fellow of the United Services Institution, New Delhi.

Source :

Written by anilathale

April 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

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Defence Budget: Alarm bells ringing

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Stagnant defence expenditure in India and set back to modernisation would be music to the ears of India’s neighbours, writes Colonel (Dr.) Anil Athale (Retd.).

An economist daughter of mine (Gold medallist to boot) often used to tell me that Economics is mumbo-jumbo and basically common sense made difficult. Since I do claim to have common sense and an abiding interest in our safety and security, I am venturing in an area outside my core competence. Yes, the allocations for defence are static and in fact below last year’s if we take inflation into account. But why the alarm bells ought to ring?

Let us first look at the crude numbers. Last year, when there was a huge payout due to the Sixth Pay Commission arrears, the total defence allocations was Rs 147, 344 crore (Rs 1473.44 billion). Out of which the capital expenditure was Rs 54,824 crore (Rs 548.24 billion).

As is the (dismal) practice, Rs 7000 crore (Rs 70 billion) were returned unspent. The rest of the Budget was spent on pay and allowances, which remain more or less constant. This year the allocation is Rs 147,344 crore (Rs 1,473.44 billion) and out of this Rs 60,000 crore (Rs 600 billion) is capital expenditure.

If we count the unspent amount of last years Budget then in real terms the capital budget is Rs 53,000 crore (Rs 530 billion). Much less than last year’s allocation. If we assume inflation of around 10 per cent then the ‘real’ amount for capital expenditure is around Rs 45,000 crore (Rs 450 billion). In simple terms the money provided for modernisation and re-equipment has reduced. This would have been alright in normal times. But are we living in ‘normal’ times?

Threat scenario

This reduction in spending has come at time when the situation in our neighbourhood is explosive. The American surge in Afghanistan and subsequent planned pull out by 2012 (in time for re-election of President Barack Obama) can have unforeseen consequences for us.

On the one hand, under the guise of fighting the Taliban, Pakistani forces are yet again being lavishly equipped by the Americans. On the other hand Pakistan remains focussed on India and Kashmir. There is every likelihood that the year 2012 may see a pro-Pak Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

Assured of its strategic depth, awash with latest weapons and overconfident of its ability, a rejuvenated Pakistan will certainly mount a major effort to ‘solve’ Kashmir issue to its satisfaction (meaning annexation of Kashmir with Pakistan). The contours of this aggressive Pakistan are already visible in open Anti India rallies being held in Pakistan.

On the Eastern side, the Chinese have been unusually aggressive on Arunachal Pradesh. To compound our woes, the Maoists have upped their ante and (General) P Chidambaram [ Images ] seems all at sea. Let us not forget that in the 1970s the Naxalite menace was NOT tackled by the Para Military forces but by two divisions of regular army. Today the threat is much more extensive and dangerous. Whatever the reluctance of the army at present, it is very much conceivable that it will be involved in anti-Maoist operations.

State of the armed forces

Some time ago the outgoing Naval Chief made a statement that India is in no position to take on China. He was hauled over coals by the ignorant media when he made a frank statement. Behind the Naval Chiefs assertion was the stark fact that our submarine fleet is now over 40 years old and many boats have to be soon scrapped.

The Air Force vice chief went on record to draw attention to the depleted strength of the fighters. In place of sanctioned 45 squadrons, we are left with only 39 now. The other day Army Chief admitted that our tanks do not have night fighting capability.

In the backdrop of developing threats the armed forces are woefully equipped. Modernisation and induction of new equipment takes time. The time to give it a major push in view of the impending dangers lurking in future was NOW. But the budget allocation does not reflect this sentiment. In 1962 we had seen the spectacle of brand new SLR rifles being airdropped to the troops, who had never handled them. The Chinese gleefully took them over.

Obviously the failure is that of the Ministry of Defence in not projecting its demands. Has the disarray at the top echelons been responsible for it? Are we seeing the shades of Krishna Memon? For the sake of the country one hopes not.

Stagnant defence expenditure in India and set back to modernisation would be music to the ears of Gen Kayani and Hu Jin Tao. One saw the newly found cockiness of the Pakistanis in just concluded talks in Delhi.

What surprises one is that such a veteran ex defence and foreign minister like the able Pranabda has done this?

Written by anilathale

February 26, 2010 at 10:12 am

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Peace with Pakistan: Chasing a mirage

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Peace with Pakistan is not possible in the foreseeable future. Those charged with the responsibility to safeguard our country and its citizens will do well to get a reality check and devise our defence posture accordingly, writes Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd).

The frozen peace process between India and Pakistan is in the news, again. A joint peace campaign has been started by an Indian and a Pakistani news organisation and a Bollywood star has jumped into the fray by regretting that Pakistani cricketers were not picked for the Indian Premier League.

This ought to provide the Indian government and people an opportunity to take stock. After all the peace process, started in 1999 with Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s [ Images ] famous bus ride to Lahore [ Images ], is over 10 years old. This is a good occasion to take a dispassionate look at the past 10 years.

But before we go into the subject proper, it is necessary to kill the nonsensical notion of ‘keeping sports above politics’. The Bollywood star seems to have taken time out from his busy schedule of peddling men’s fairness cream and junk food to take up the case of Pakistani cricketers. The usual suspect, the politically-correct media, has jumped on the bandwagon and there is an outcry. This seems to be a case of collective amnesia. For over two decades South Africa [ Images ] faced a sports boycott by most of the world. India was an enthusiastic cheerleader in this. Yes, apartheid was wrong, and so is jihadi terrorism!

Even as some cry foul over the boycott of Pakistani players, most of the Arab and Muslim world merrily continue their boycott of Israeli sportspersons. Pakistan was at the forefront of boycotting the Moscow [ Images ] Olympics [Images ] of 1980.

My research trip to South Africa recently brought home the fact that sports boycotts hurt, and hurt badly. Why does Pakistani society not introspect and root out the extremists in their midst?

The funny part is that our Bollywood star goes on to claim that as per Indian tradition ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (the guest is like God), he is pained that we are not honouring ‘guests’ from across our western border. He seems to have forgotten that just about a year and two months ago, 10 ‘guests’ from the same country came to Mumbai [ Images ] and massacred nearly 180 people.

While the media asks all and sundry, why not ask the thousands of relatives of victims of the 26/11 terror attacks as to what they feel about inviting Pakistani players when even now the mastermind Hafeez Saeed is free to continue to spread his hate ideology? I am quite conscious that I am in the company of a certain political party, but well, even they can be right sometimes.

The root cause

In June-July 2006, I participated in the goodwill mission between Mumbai and Karachi. Within a few days of our return from a goodwill trip to Karachi, the terrorists struck at Mumbai’s local trains on July 11, killing more than 200 innocent people. But such is public memory in India that it has been forgotten totally. The pseudo-peaceniks and sundry busybodies now want Indians to forget the 26/11 Mumbai attacks and continue the peace process with Pakistan.

Let me hasten to add that we met a lot of people of goodwill and peace in Pakistan. But most of them were part of the elite. There is no doubt about their sincerity as well. But there is a total disconnect between the elite and the masses. The biggest problem in the case of Pakistan is that civil society has very little influence over either the masses or the government.

The argument then was and today is — the jihadis want to derail the peace process, that is why they are doing it but we must continue with normal relations, sporting ties, cultural exchanges et al. All this while the Pakistanis deny any connection/responsibility towards these atrocities. I do not buy this argument. If the peace process is not capable of bringing about these minimum conditions, then it is useless. I publicly disassociated myself from this pointless exercise.

We have had cultural exchanges, people to people contacts, sports ties and government level talks for over 11 years now (beginning with Vajpayee’s Lahore bus trip), yet the terror attacks inspired from across the border have continued. Pakistani state and civil society remain as hostile as ever, barring a minor fringe of the candlelight brigade. Pakistanis are forever in a denial mode.

Due to the courage of Tukaram Omble of the Mumbai police, we managed to catch one terrorist alive during the Mumbai attacks. If this did not happen, the Pakistanis would have continued to deny any role in the attacks. What Pakistan needs is a major surgery, while we are trying to apply bandaid. I do not think the Indians who advocate peace and normalcy have any understanding of the root cause of all this, that is the systematic brainwashing of their young students with hate for the last 20 years.

The dark forces in Pakistan

At a chief ministers’ conference in Delhi [ Images ] (February 7), the home minister and prime minister mentioned that there are ‘dark forces’ working in Pakistan to commit crimes against India and destabilise Pakistan in order to take over that country. What are these forces and how strong and widespread is their influence is an issue that needs serious attention.

In 1986, while working for my PhD on regional security, I sought an answer to this very question. I had then got in touch with our military advisor at Islamabad [ Images ], Brigadier D K Khanna (who later retired as lieutenant general) to have a look at the kind of history that is being taught to Pakistani schoolchildren. To my eternal gratitude, he sent me the text books published by Hijari Publications Lahore. (Muajshrati Aloom, prescribed for VI & VII standards and Tehrik E Pakistan by Professor Mohammed Aslam for IX & X standards). These are in Urdu script, so while posted in Kashmir [ Images ] I got them translated and transcribed on tape. The contents were revealing. To cut a story short — the books had created an image of ‘Hindu India’ forever scheming the downfall of Islam and Pakistan.

This is the staple hate diet on which the post Zia-ul Haq generation has been brought up. Curiously, the fictional history takes the existence of Pakistan to the pre-Christ period and omits even Alexander’s raid and Porus’s heroic resistance. It dismisses a period of 2,000 years between the Mohenjodaro civilisation of 3500 BC and Mohammad bin Qasim’s invasion of Sindh as ‘myths and legends’. This was Zia’s gift to Pakistan. It must be remembered that we are not talking of madrasas — this is in regular government-run schools!

While in the ministry of defence, I wrote about this ‘root cause’ of Pakistani hostility in a strategic analysis for the ministry in 1988. This was possibly noted and taken up at the prime ministers’ level in December 1988 and in a declaration in Islamabad by Rajiv Gandhi [ Images ] and Benazir Bhutto [ Images ] it was accepted that both countries will revise their textbooks to remove biases. It was typical of the Indian weakness of trying to mollify the Pakistanis. For in India, there are no textbooks that denigrate Islam. But soon thereafter, both the prime ministers lost power and the whole issue was forgotten. It was only revived in 2004 under General Pervez Musharraf [ Images ].

On my part I took up this issue with Professor A H Nayyar (of Pakistan) at a world peace meet in Melbourne [ Images] in December 1998. To the credit of Professor Nayyar and Professor Parvez Hoodbhoy, they have been working at it. But such is the opposition that I do not know to what extent they have succeeded. In any case, even if the curriculum reform takes place now, the results will be visible only after 20 years. But what is the world to do now with Zia’s fanatic children?

I do feel vindicated that I raised this issue of effects of this indoctrination with the director (near east and South Asia) at the US National Security Council, Sandy Charles, on July 17, 1991. I had carried a copy of my 1988 article and pleaded with her that in another 20 years time as this generation comes of age, it will threaten not just India but the US as well.

The reason to elaborate on all this history is to drive home the point that fanaticism in Pakistan is widespread and deep-rooted. There is no organised effort to counter the ideology of hate.

Paraphrasing a Mao dictum, the jihadis survive since they swim in a pond of fanatics. Without the latter, like fish out of water, the jihadis would not survive.

What it also means is that even if an odd Hafeez Saeed is prosecuted, the jihadi mentality will survive. It is amusing to how frequently the Indian media talks of ‘mastermind’ of terror etc. Like the legendary Ahi Rawan Mahi Rawan, even if one demon is slayed more will be created from each drop of his blood.

This then comes to the surface in a Sohail Tanvir [ Images ] interview in which he blames Hindus for the IPL snub or sundry comments by Imran Khan [ Images ].

Many well-meaning Indians talk of peace based on a shared culture and history. Does the average Pakistani accept this? Pakistan has assiduously constructed a wholly Islamist view of history, culture and even ethnicity over the last 60 years. Do the people dreaming of ‘Aman Ki Asha’ even realise this?

Peace with Pakistan will remain a mirage for the foreseeable future. Those charged with the responsibility to safeguard our country and its citizens will do well to get a reality check and devise our defence posture accordingly. One can’t but quote an old George Washington saying, ‘If you want peace, be prepared for war!’

Colonel Dr Anil Athale (retd) is coordinator of the Pune-based Inpad and a Chhattrapati Shivaji Fellow working on insurgency.

Written by anilathale

February 11, 2010 at 10:08 am

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How India, China can mastermind the Asian century

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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) says that Sino-Indian cooperation at the Copenhagen climate summit is a sign of things to come.

The most important occurrence of the last year of the first decade of the 21st century was the Copenhagen climate summit. I am not referring to the non-agreement on climate change but to the unprecedented co-operation seen between China and India.

The coming together of the two of the world’s fastest growing economies was indeed an event of great significance. It showed the convergence of long-term interests of the two countries and also showed the kind of clout the two can wield together. Not surprisingly the ‘dominant’ Western media (and its slavish counterpart in India) totally missed the significance of this coming together of the Asian giants. Remarkably, this happened despite the heightened rhetoric between the two countries over Arunachal Pradesh and the Dalai Lama’s  visit to Tawang.

The first decade of the 21st century could well be called the wasted decade! Surely there have been even more miserable periods in world history, but in terms of human misery and lack of hope, the last decade comes quite close to the top.

The first decade started on a hopeful note with the dotcom boom and the end of the cold war era. But the attack on the US on 9/11 in 2001 eclipsed the optimism. The Afghan war and Iraq war hastened the economic decline of the US that plunged the world into a recession. But ironically, the world economic crisis (could also be described as the economic scams in the West) also showed the strength of the Chinese and Indian economies.

These two not only weathered the storm but have now emerged as the engines that would pull the world out of a recession. Indeed, the economic relations between the two countries are excellent.

The trust deficit

Unfortunately the economic relations are not reflected at the political level. Indians could possibly understand Chinese actions in the past when as part of the Cold War dynamics, it supplied Pakistan with nuclear weapons material and technology. But if the relations are to move forward China has to be restrained in using the Pakistani proxy to hurt India. It is instructive that while India accepts Tibet as an integral part of China, the Chinese do not reciprocate on Kashmir.

The Chinese are peeved at the Indian support and asylum to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees. But except for the 1960s and 1970s, when India actively colluded with the US to foster unrest and armed struggle in Tibet, this has ceased since the 1980s. Today the Chinese acknowledge this reality and have themselves been holding secret talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.

Equally significantly, the Chinese support to insurgents in India’s northeast is also now a thing of the past. My contacts with the Tibetans have convinced me that regional autonomy (not independence) will satisfy the majority of Tibetans and the Dalai Lama. The Chinese are wrong if they think that they can wait it out till the passing away of the present Dalai Lama, for the younger generation of Tibetans is even more radical. Chinese concessions on autonomy, on the lines of Kashmir, will remove this major irritant in relations between the two countries.

The border issue is another area that engenders lack of trust. The border war of 1962 itself has its genesis in Chinese suspicion that India was acting as the American cat’s paw. Else it found it surprising that India made an issue out of Aksai Chin, an area of no strategic significance to India but vital to the Chinese (as a link between the restive provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang). An overbearing Jawaharlal Nehru and an opportunity provided by the Cuban missile crisis (of October 1962) were contributory causes.

Here the Chinese failed to understand the dynamics of Indian democracy that forced Nehru’s hand. Although a minute reading of the Henderson Brooks Report does hint that a group within the Government of India was possibly responsible to provoke a war with China so that India should land in the American camp. (The sole surviving copy of the report was in my custody during the writing of that history).

In a sense both the countries were ‘insecure’ in their initial years. China suspected a Western design to undo it through Taiwan (then called the Republic of China and given a seat in the UN Security Council) and Tibet. In the words of Krishna Menon, Pakistan was an imperial outpost in South Asia to further Western interests. Nearly 60 years on, while China has dealt with Taiwan and Tibet, India remains insecure as ever.

For unlike China, the Kashmir issue and Pakistani intrigues continue to attempt to destabilise India. The trust deficit is therefore asymmetric, with India the greater loser.

India, China, US triangle

A triangular relationship, as in Euclidean geometry, is forever unstable. Any two sides if they come together will always be greater than the third. My research into the Kennedy archives in 2003 unearthed some interesting American research papers. Right from the early 1960s, the US has been concerned with a rising China.

The basic theme of the American policy papers was to follow a twin track policy vis a vis China — economic engagement and military containment. Except for the disastrous Ronald Reagan era when this was abandoned and China received generous American help in military technology (that also created the Frankenstein of Islamist terror and Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal) and this policy has continued.

China is deeply suspicious of the US, Japan, India and Australia axis that seems to be emerging. The Chinese response has been to have its own naval bases around the Indian Ocean (the strings of pearls — Gawadhar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka  and Coco Islands in Myanmar).

A couple of years ago, out of the blue, I got a call from a foreign student doing her doctorate in a leading Chinese university. She wanted to discuss the impact of US technology transfer to India and it adverse effect on the ‘Asian balance of power’, as she put it. During my limited interaction with the Chinese, a few years ago, I also saw this issue being brought up again and again by the Chinese.

The main concern of the Chinese in the coming decade is likely to be the American attempt at military containment of China. For in the immediate future at least, the US is likely to remain a predominant military power.

Way forward for Chindia

The trust deficit between India and China is the main obstacle in the way of mutual co-operation. A prominent person involved in the border negotiations had once told me that the Chinese do not seem to be interested in resolving the border issue. I suspect that border issue is being kept alive by the Chinese as a convenient casus belli should it decide to intervene militarily in the subcontinent at some future date.

The border issue as an easy option has long gone past its expiry date. Any military expert would point to the Chinese that the days of easy ‘victory’ a la 1962 are long past. India is far too strong on the border as evidenced during the 1987 Somradong Chu incident near Tawang.

There are no strategic targets or natural resources for the Chinese to covet Arunachal Pradesh. The persistence of her claim is belied by the recent elections in Arunachal Pradesh where the people showed their preference to be with India. The periodic sabre-rattling by the Chinese over this issue seems to be a result of bureaucratic inertia that refuses to see the altered circumstances.

In the north, in Ladakh, the Chinese are already in occupation of the portion of Aksai Chin it wanted. India has never seriously challenged this status quo. But India may find it politically difficult to openly accept this. In the other sectors of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh-Tibet border there is no dispute.

If the Chinese want, the two countries can begin the process of resolution of the border problem by accepting and demarcating the border in the central sector. This will create the necessary climate to resolve the Ladakh and Arunachal borders with some give and take or some creative solutions like permanent lease etc. The Chinese claim on Tawang town, based on the fact that it was once part of Tibet, can be countered by the Indian claim that Chumbi valley and Gartok were once part of Sikkim! Solution on the lines proposed above can build trust between India and China.

Rumour has it that in 1960, in order to resolve the issue of Aksai Chin, Chinese Premier Chou En Lie had offered a swap between Chumbi valley and Aksai Chin! Nehru missed that chance and rest as they say is history! China and India can ill-afford to let pass another opportunity to bury the past.

But no genuine rapprochement between the two is possible unless the Chinese tone down their support to their proxy in the subcontinent — Pakistan. From the Chinese point of view there is sound logic in supporting Pakistan. Pakistan’s raison d’être for existence is anti-Indianism. Thus it is a useful insurance against India.

In the last decade or so, China has replaced the US as its principal military supplier. To some extent, aided by a timid and unimaginative Indian approach to Pakistan, China has been successful in keeping India bogged down in the subcontinent. But common sense would dictate that the cost of insurance should not be excessive so that it bankrupts. Somewhat that situation has arisen vis a vis Pakistan. As India’s power rises, the cost of keeping Indo-Pak parity would rise.

In addition the situation in Pakistan is such that its continued existence is itself in doubt. China has to seriously think if it wants to keep all its strategic eggs in the leaky Pakistan basket!

The takeover of Pakistan by extremists is a real possibility. In that situation it would become an international pariah. Would China then like to go against the world and support such a rogue state? China is also well aware of the virus of terrorism can infect its Muslim majority province of Xinjiang. Reagan created the monster of Al Qaeda to fight the Russians and the US paid the price on 9/11. Does China want to repeat this and pay a price at some future date? Chinese restraint in using Pakistan proxy against India will do much to create trust and move Sino-Indian relations forward.

Today China and India combined have emerged as the biggest users of cell phones and computers. The basic programmes used however are an American monopoly. It is time that India and China created an operating programme and their own wireless standards. The world has the option to switch to this if it wants to communicate to the two biggest markets and economies. India and China combined can break the American monopoly in software. This has obvious strategic implications and is a win-win situation for both the counties.

Does the leadership of the two countries have it in them to seize this historic opportunity?


It needs to be remembered that except for the last 300 years, during the previous 5,000 years of recorded human history, it was India and China that dominated world trade and technology. An excellent book by a Goan scholar Claude Alvares, Homo Faber is must-read for anyone to know the reality of Indian and Chinese excellence in technology before the advent of the industrial revolution.

In early 20th century, a few years before the first world war broke out, the US overtook the UK in shipping tonnage. That marked the decline of UK as the world power and rise of the US. The effect of this major shift however became visible only in the post second world war period in 1945. In 1971 under President Nixon, the US abandoned the ‘Gold Standard’ that had linked US dollar to gold ($ 34 to an ounce). Future historians will mark that as the beginning of the end of the American century. Like in case of the UK, the effects of this major shift in world economic power are becoming visible only now.

The coming together of India and China over the climate change issue is similarly an event of epic proportion and may well set the tone for the next decade of the 21st ‘Asian Century’, provided the nations do not sacrifice long-term interests due to the exigencies of the present.

Colonel (retired) Anil Athale is coordinator of the Pune-based think tank Inpad and co-author of the official history of the 1962 Sino Indian War.

Written by anilathale

January 5, 2010 at 10:09 am

Posted in Posts


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