Speculation on India-Pakistan Violence

Overnight 5 Indian soldiers were killed and another injured in an ambush along the Line of Control separating Indian- and Pakistani-administered Kashmir. Since 2003, the Line of Control has witnessed a mostly intact ceasefire. Indian officials publicly claim that some of the attackers were in Pakistan Army uniforms. People are angry, with some calling for the end of the ceasefire. What happened and why did it happen?

What happened? Without being overly pedantic, and in no particular order, it seems like three possibilities are most likely:

  • A group of mujahideen got lucky, and except for whatever “steady state” support provided by the Pakistan Army, the Pakistan military was not a major player in the episode. The reports of a Pakistan Army uniform are either incorrect or are reports of a uniform procured second-hand.
  • A local commander, in an action coordinated with militants, decided to take action with limited approval from senior commanders in Rawalpindi.
  • Rawalpindi, perhaps on its own initiative or perhaps responding to a request from a local commander, authorized the action.

I think we can dismiss as unlikely that the civilian Nawaz Sharif government authorized the action. More on that later.

Why did it happen? Again, a few possibilities.

  • No real reason. This really only makes sense under the “militants get lucky” scenario.
  • Something vaguely to do with Afghanistan, where India also suffered an attack against its consulate in Jalalabad on Saturday, August 3. As with past attacks against Indian interests in Afghanistan, there is widespread speculation that Pakistan was involved in the Saturday attack. For the longest exposition of a link between Afghanistan and last night’s LoC violence, see Praveen Swami’s post today. I think the connections are tenuous, though in the long run, if you assume a finite supply of Pakistani jihadists and if the war in Afghanistan is winding down, it certainly is possible that more will go east from Pakistan than north.
  • A tit-for-tat for an alleged Indian commando raid that snatched five men from Pakistan’s side of the Line of Control earlier this month. For the longest exposition of this hypothesis, see a different Praveen Swami post today. This might be consistent with other, recent rounds of cross-LoC violence, which also had this tit-for-tat feel.
  • Someone is trying to sabotage any peace process that might be brewing between Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh. Indian and Pakistani diplomats were supposed to resume talks early next month, with an eye toward a planned meeting between Sharif and Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at the end of September. Such “spoiling” behavior has also been characteristic of past peace processes.

What is clear is that starting with the Jalalabad attack on Saturday and the LoC attack last night, it’s been a bad few days for India-Pakistan rapprochement.

What We’re Reading

What We’re Reading

State Actors and Electricity Production

With a title like that, how can this post not be interesting? Three of your Smoke-Filled Roomers are in South Asia this month, so we are thinking more acutely than usual about (the insufficiency of) electricity production in India and Pakistan. I stumbled recently across this quote about the Pakistani electricity crisis (from this book, p. 342.):

“A key element of the [electricity] management crisis is ‘circular debt’–meaning the non-payment of electricity bills by the military and various government departments to other government departments. This means electricity producers are not paid on time and hence cannot import fuel oil. Their expensive imported [power] plants stand idle; capacity goes to waste.”

I have no clue if this is a problem in India, though I know Arun Shourie has a long section in his book, Governance, about all of the lawsuits and countersuits various Indian government ministries are litigating against one another on non-electricity matters, many pertaining to the non-payment of fees and bills.

Luckily, I am an international relations scholar, so all of my states are unitary actors, because this greatly simplifies my modeling assumptions. Sadly for South Asian consumers of electricity, they do not live in that world.

What We’re Reading

  • Joshua Foust delves into the Bradley Manning court-martial and reveals some fascinating insight into the proceedings, Wikileaks, and the man on trial. Foust’s final, depressing conclusion: “It says something about the world that such a tiny organization can create such disruption yet face so few consequences. In its wake, Wikileaks has left a trail of upended lives — including Bradley Manning’s. It will be sad to see such a troubled, fascinating young man be thrown into prison at the age of twenty-five, but that is the bed he made. It is approaching time for him to lie in it.”
  • Seyla Benhabib on Erdogan’s culture war against Turkish secularism and the growing illiberalism of Turkish democracy: “This moral micromanagement of people’s private lives comes amid an increasingly strident government assault on political and civil liberties. Turkey’s record on journalistic and artistic freedoms is abysmal; rights of assembly and protest are also increasingly restricted.”
  • Pakistan analyst Imtiaz Gul speaks of the difficulties ahead for Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, including normalizing relations with the U.S.
  • Women, family and academia: not an easy combination. “Our most important finding has been that family negatively affects women’s, but not men’s, early academic careers. Furthermore, academic women who advance through the faculty ranks have historically paid a considerable price for doing so, in the form of much lower rates of family formation, fertility, and higher rates of family dissolution. For men, however, the pattern has been either neutral or even net-positive.”
  • The season of inspiring commencement speeches is upon us. Ben Bernanke at Princeton.

Perry Anderson’s Revisionist History of India

Last year, Perry Anderson released three essays (here, here, and here) in the London Review of Books, that formed the bulk of a monograph he released later that same year. The essays (and book chapters) focus on the Indian independence movement, the partition of India and Pakistan, and post-independence India. I’ve just finished the LRB essays because, hey, they total 45,000 words (85 pages) and they sit on the outskirts of my research agenda. This is clearly a revisionist account, but revisionism is healthy, because it forces you to buttress the conventional account through rebuttal of the criticism. If you cannot fend off that criticism across all areas, it forces you toward synthesis.

A few of the more quotable quotes (and like Twitter, quotation does not mean endorsement!):

On the recent ideational construction of India, perhaps not a surprise given Perry’s brother:

“The subcontinent as we know it today never formed a single political or cultural unit in premodern times. For much the longest stretches of its history, its lands were divided between a varying assortment of middle-sized kingdoms of different stripes. Of the three larger empires it witnessed, none covered the territory of Nehru’s Discovery of India. Maurya and Mughal control extended to contemporary Afghanistan, ceased much below the Deccan, and never came near Manipur. The area of Gupta control was considerably less. Separated by intervals of five hundred and a thousand years, there was no remembered political or ideological connection between these realms, or even common religious affiliation: at its height the first of them Buddhist, the second Hindu, the third Muslim. Beneath a changing mosaic of mostly regional rulers, there was more continuity of cultural and social patterns, caste – the best claimant to a cultural demarcation – being attested very early, but no uniformity. The ‘idea of India’ was a European not a local invention, as the name itself makes clear. No such term, or equivalent, as ‘India’ existed in any indigenous language. A Greek coinage, taken from the Indus river, it was so foreign to the subcontinent that as late as the 16th century, Europeans could define Indians simply as ‘the natives of all unknown countries’ and use it to describe the inhabitants of the Americas.”

On the early years of Indian democracy:

“The consequences [of first past the post polling rules] were central to the nature of the Indian democracy that emerged once elections were held. For twenty years, across five polls between 1951 and 1971, Congress never once won a majority of votes. In this period, at the peak of its popularity as an organisation, its average share of the electorate was 45 per cent. This yielded it crushing majorities in the Lok Sabha, amounting to just under 70 per cent of the seats in Parliament.”

A great quote from Ambedkar on the problems of caste for Indian democracy:

“Winding up the debate in the Constituent Assembly that approved the constitution, of which he was a leading architect, Ambedkar remarked: ‘We are going to enter a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life, we will have inequality … We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this assembly has so laboriously constructed.’”

Poor Gandhi:

“‘I have searched far and wide for another individual, placed in comparable circumstances, who has used the first person singular with such unabashed abandon as M.K. Gandhi,’ wrote one Indian critic, warning of the dangers of ‘such cocksureness in an ill-stocked mind’.”

Poor Nehru:

“As those who knew and admired him at close range were well aware, his was – in the words of Savarpalli Gopal, the loyal assistant who became his principal biographer – a ‘commonplace mind’ that was ‘not capable of deep or original thought’. The shallowness of his intellectual equipment was connected to the side of his personality that so easily drifted away from realities resistant to his hopes or fancies. It is striking how similar was the way two such opposite contemporaries as Patel and Jinnah could see him – the former speaking on occasion of his ‘childlike innocence’, the latter comparing him to Peter Pan. Gopal’s image is more telling still: early on, Nehru ‘made a cradle of emotional nationalism and rocked himself in it’, as if a child cocooning himself to sleep away from the outside world.”

Poor Nehru’s trusted advisors:

“The most damaging feature of the regime was less this centrifugal aspect than the development of a court of sycophants at extra-ministerial level. Unlike Gandhi, Nehru was a poor judge of character, and his choice of confidants consistently disastrous. Promoting to chief of staff over the heads of senior officers his henchman in overthrowing Abdullah, B.N. Kaul, a poltroon from Kashmir with no battlefield experience who fled the field at the first opportunity, Nehru was directly responsible for the debacle of 1962. For his personal secretary, he installed a repellent familiar from Kerala, M.O. Mathai, who acquired inordinate power, taking Nehru’s daughter to bed and passing his paperwork to the CIA, until his reputation became so noxious that Nehru was reluctantly forced to part with him. For political operations in Kashmir, the North-East or closer to home, he relied on a dim police thug, Bhola Nath Mullik, formerly of British employ, head of the Intelligence Bureau. The only actual colleague he trusted was Krishna Menon, an incompetent windbag who ended in disgrace along with Kaul.”

A great phrase about Indian judicial activism:

“The court, now self-recruiting, is the most powerful judiciary on earth. It has acquired such an abnormal degree of authority because of the decay of the representative institutions around it. Even admirers are aware of the risks. In the graphic phrase of Upendra Baxi, India’s leading legal scholar and one of the first to bring a public interest suit before the court, it is ‘chemotherapy for a carcinogenic body politic’. So long as the malady persists, few Indians would think the country better off without it.”

On the challenges of Muslims in Indian public life, historically and today:

“By the mid-1930s, Congress as a party was close to monolithically Hindu – just 3 per cent of its membership were Muslim. Privately, its more clear-sighted leaders knew this. Publicly, the party claimed to represent the entire nation, regardless of religious affiliation.”

“All told, the ‘security agencies’ of the Indian Union, as the Sachar Report politely calls them, employ close to two million. How many Muslims do they contain? The answer is too sensitive to divulge: as the report notes, no data on their composition are available for three-quarters of these. Put simply, Muslims are not wanted in their ranks. In 1999, a former defence minister let slip that they numbered just 1 per cent of 1,100,000 regulars. In the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) – the CIA and FBI of the Indian state – it is an ‘unwritten code’ that there should be not a single Muslim; so too in the National Security Guards and Special Protection Group, its Secret Service corps.”

If you are looking for rebuttals to Anderson, the LRB’s own letters section has several informed criticisms. This book review is also compelling, and has the admirably clear title, “Why Perry Anderson is Wrong.” Interestingly, several of the critiques are that Anderson understates the degree to which his revisionism is already conventional wisdom in Marxist or sociologically informed Indian historical accounts.

What We’re Reading

  • Fair and balanced: “Over the past few months, the (state-run) People’s Daily in China has launched a lovely series called “Dishonest Americans.”  Supposedly this is meant to give Chinese readers a more balanced and “objective” picture of American life, when juxtaposed with their own overly rosy impressions. Or so the PD editor has claimed: ‘Most Chinese people think that Americans are honest, reliable, and righteous. However, once you live in that country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading.'”
  • Mitra and Ray test a model for economically motivated ethnic violence in India: “The fact that Muslim expenditures display a significant and positive connection with later conflict, while Hindu expenditures have a negative link, suggests that (statistically speaking) Hindu groups have largely been responsible for Hindu-Muslim violence in India, or at least for violence driven by instrumental, specifically economic considerations.”
  • Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: “These poor-against-poor riots were not spontaneous, grassroots protests against the city’s shortage of work. Riots seldom were, in modern Mumbai. Rather, the anti-migrant campaign had been orchestrated in the overcity by an aspiring politician–a nephew of the founder of Shiv Sena. The upstart nephew wanted to show voters that a new political party he had started disliked bhaiyas[migrants from North India] like Abdul even more than Shiv Sena.” (Though, to be clear, in Boo’s book at least it seems as if these particular riots targeted anyone from North India in the slums, and while the character Abdul’s family happens to be Muslim, it’s not clear if his Muslim-ness is especially relevant to this riot.)
  • Paul Staniland examines cooperation between rebels and democratically elected governments in India over at the Monkey Cage. Make sure to check out his related working paper on the long-term consequences of government use of “non-state armed groups” as well. These groups, and especially their interaction with state actors, remain poorly understood but Paul is doing some great work to advance our knowledge.
  • How to Play Well with China: Fascinating look at US-China relations in the 21st century by Ian Bremmer and Jon Huntsman. It’s not necessarily a pessimistic piece but this part does not exactly inspire confidence: “In some ways, the stakes are higher for Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi than they were for Ronald Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev. There is no American-Chinese nuclear threat to focus minds on stronger ties, nor is there a Berlin Wall to separate the two countries’ fortunes. For better and for worse, America and China are bound together in a form of mutually assured economic destruction.”