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

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

  • One of the most high-profile and devastating attacks by Indian Maoists occurred on the 25th of May, killing and injuring many Congress leaders, including the founder of Salwa Judum, a pro-government paramilitary force that fast gained notoriety for its abuses against civilians. Tusha Mittal at Tehelka highlights the ruthlessness of this militia after her trek into Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh, the states which contain the heartland of the insurgency.
  • A Pakistani version of TV series Glee will hit local TV channels in the fall. “Like its smash hit forerunner, ‘Taan’ follows the lives and loves of a group of young people who regularly burst into song. But this time they attend a music academy in Lahore, instead of an American high school.” Plotlines include “love affairs between two men and between a Taliban extremist and a beautiful Christian girl.”
  • There’s a lot of work on unit cohesion and combat effectiveness. Probably less work on wife-swapping and combat effectiveness. Some in the Indian Navy may be exploring the topic.
  • Poverty ex machina? “A typical poor person is poor not because he is irresponsible, but because he was born in Africa.”
  • And, on the same topic, Matt Yglesias details the results of an experiment run by Chris Blattman, Nathan Fiala and Sebastian Martinez in Uganda. “Money with no strings attached not only directly raises the living standards of those who receive it, but it also increases hours worked and labor productivity, seemingly laying the groundwork for growth to come.”
  • Cass Sunstein describes the biggest Supreme Court decision you haven’t heard of, which increases executive power and the power and strength of Obamacare.
  • Is the Syrian Civil War the Spanish Civil War of our time? Harvey Morris examines the historical dangers of intervention and non-intervention in civil wars. The critical part of the analogy is whether the non-influence of Western democracies opens up room for the influence of other parties. It remains to be seen whether anyone is as interested in Syria as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were in Spain but some elements, namely Iran’s continued support of the Assad regime and Turkish and Saudi support of more extreme parts of the opposition, demand at least some consideration for the analogy. In any case, I doubt J.K. Rowling will be going to fight against tyranny in Syria.

Why Do We Hate Drones?

Whether it was democratization or WMDs, Iraq was the “pick a reason, love the policy” war. Conversely, drone strikes have become the “pick a reason, hate the policy” war. A consensus appears to be emerging against drone strikes. Even the Obama administration seems to share this assessment to some degree. But why? Drones are considered effective at weakening al-Qaeda networks not only within policy circles but also academia as well.  In a recent working paper, Patrick Johnston and Anoop Sarbahi suggest that “by enabling both intelligence collection through overhead surveillance and direct targeting of suspected terrorists, drones reduce militant violence by increasing  the costs of militant activities and creating an incentive for militants to lie low to avoid being targeted.” Christine Fair argues that not only are drones the best possible option to deal with militants in the tribal areas of Pakistan but that the degree to which they foster anti-Americanism may be exaggerated.  President Barack Obama drove this point home in his speech at the National Defense University yesterday afternoon:

Our actions are effective.  Don’t take my word for it.  In the intelligence gathered at bin Laden’s compound, we found that he wrote, “We could lose the reserves to enemy’s air strikes.  We cannot fight air strikes with explosives.”  Other communications from al Qaeda operatives confirm this as well.  Dozens of highly skilled al Qaeda commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives have been taken off the battlefield.  Plots have been disrupted that would have targeted international aviation, U.S. transit systems, European cities and our troops in Afghanistan.  Simply put, these strikes have saved lives.

However, Americans have still grown increasingly disenchanted with drones. I believe that this is due to five main reasons. As with support for the war in Iraq, not all Americans “hate” drones for the same reason or reasons. Ultimately, however, it appears that public opinion has begun to crystallize against drones due to some combination of the following reasons.

It’s a video game technology. The argument here is that drones are taking the humanity out of warfighting, which, in turn, makes policymakers more likely to use them. In conjunction, if you believe that drones make conflict and death more likely in the long run, it is easy to see why you would also worry about the implications of these new technological innovations. This is likely not a large driver of public opposition to drones for three reasons.

First, there is always a bit of shock and confusion when a new technology of war emerges but, ultimately, public opinion returns to equilibrium. I would hate to be a part of the generation that had to face the sudden emergence of air power, nuclear weapons, or tanks. Drones pale in comparison. Second, drones are actually not that new. The United States has been using drones since the First Gulf War and continued to do so throughout the 90s. Increased use notwithstanding, never before has there been such public outcry against drones. Third, it seems strange that the American public, which is notoriously casualty-averse, would be opposed to the use of weapons that minimizes American casualties. Indeed, military officials attribute the execution of Operation Allied Force in Kosovo without any combat deaths in part to the use of drones. President Obama emphasized this final point in his speech yesterday:

So it is false to assert that putting boots on the ground is less likely to result in civilian deaths or less likely to create enemies in the Muslim world.  The results would be more U.S. deaths, more Black Hawks down, more confrontations with local populations, and an inevitable mission creep in support of such raids that could easily escalate into new wars.

It goes against international law. It is not clear to me that U.S. public cares all that much about international law, especially if ignoring it helps protect the homeland from terrorist attacks. Assuming that they do care, however, are drone strikes in accordance with international law? I am not a lawyer and do not wish to pretend that I am. Fortunately, our President is! He spoke directly about this concern yesterday:

America’s actions are legal.  We were attacked on 9/11.  Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized the use of force.  Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces.  We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first.  So this is a just war — a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.

The United States appears to be on tenuous legal ground here. The entire claim rests on whether the U.S. can be at “war” with non-state actors. The entire premise of international law relies on mutual contracts between leaders of state actors. As such, the United States cannot technically be at war with a non-state actor and, as such, violates international law when it enters Pakistani territory without the permission of its leaders. A more plausible claim for legality, it seems, would be that the U.S. is actually acting with the permission, whether implicit or explicit, of Pakistani authorities. One would hope that increased transparency in the process would allow American officials to restate their claim for legality in these terms.

It is unconstitutional to target an American citizen without due process. As much as they do not care about international law, Americans certainly care about domestic law. Since I still remain not a lawyer, I will again lean on our President for a response:

I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or with a shotgun — without due process, nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil.

But when a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens, and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot, his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team.

At first blush, this is a persuasive argument. Ultimately, however, the President is relying on the same preventive action/imminent threat logic that President Bush used in favor of invading Iraq. Problematically, unlike the sniper, the hypothetical target of the drone strike has not committed a lethal crime yet. Moreover, even if he has, he would be entitled to due process rather than a public execution. In his response to the speech, Senator Rand Paul immediately picked up on this thread:

I’m glad the President finally acknowledged that American citizens deserve some form of due process. But I still have concerns over whether flash cards and PowerPoint presentations represent due process; my preference would be to try accused U.S. citizens for treason in a court of law.

I don’t agree with many (any?) of Paul’s other positions but he’s right on here and I doubt this objection goes away. if the administration is serious about curbing public opposition to drone strikes and due process, it must do better.

Too many civilian casualties. When it is said that the American public is casualty-averse, it is in reference to American casualties abroad. Deaths in Syria have reached nearly 100,000 but intervention in Syria, risking American lives, remains even less popular than drones. Civilian deaths in Iraq over the past decade have topped that. When publics are asked to weigh the costs and benefits of a national security abroad, they will tolerate a large number of non-American deaths in exchange for protection from a large number of American deaths. President Obama spoke about this tough choice at length yesterday:

[As] Commander-in-Chief, I must weigh these heartbreaking tragedies against the alternatives.  To do nothing in the face of terrorist networks would invite far more civilian casualties – not just in our cities at home and our facilities abroad, but also in the very places like Sana’a and Kabul and Mogadishu where terrorists seek a foothold.  Remember that the terrorists we are after target civilians, and the death toll from their acts of terrorism against Muslims dwarfs any estimate of civilian casualties from drone strikes.  So doing nothing is not an option.

More conventional military options, while possibly as effective, are less precise and more destructive; they would only generate more collateral damage and American losses (remember this mess?). As long as the American public believes that military action abroad is needed to protect the homeland, drones will be the weapon of choice.

Drone strikes create more terrorists in the long run.  As I suggested above, the evidence seems to indicate that drone strikes have been fairly effective at attacking militants hostile to U.S. interests in the short-term. What about in the long run? As the logic goes, drone strikes reduce militant numbers today but create more anti-American militants tomorrow. Given the rise in anti-Americanism since 9/11, the public is likely to be  fairly receptive to this logic (even if they do not care what other countries think of the United States).

Whether this argument holds is unclear. A majority of Pakistani society opposes the drone strikes. However, as Fair and her co-authors suggest, we simply do not know what Pakistanis in the tribal areas, that cradle of terrorism, believe. Some evidence suggests that Pakistanis might support drones since there is little to no actual law enforcement in the area. It might also be the case that Pakistanis in these areas might simply not be aware of the origins or nature of the strikes on the militants. I am not expert on Pakistani (or Yemeni) society and, as such, do not want to make assumptions about something of which I know little. However, it does seems like using drones so heavily in Pakistan (and Yemen) commits exactly this type of error. Why continue a policy–and to such a large degree–the consequences of which are so poorly understood?

Concerns about the long-term implications of drones will remain as long as this uncertainty lingers. Policymakers have political and electoral incentives to make short-term policy decisions, with less consideration for the long-term implications of their policies. If public opposition rises in spite of the apparent short-term effectiveness due to the perceived dangers of continuing the policy in the long run, then it is likely that the majority of policymakers, including the President, will reverse course. Unless the happens, however, it seems unlikely that we will see an end to drones any time soon. If President Obama’s speech is any indication, it is far more likely that drones will be coupled with more active, non-military engagement abroad:

I believe, however, that the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion we need to have about a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy — because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.  We cannot use force everywhere that a radical ideology takes root; and in the absence of a strategy that reduces the wellspring of extremism, a perpetual war — through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments — will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways.

So the next element of our strategy involves addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism — from North Africa to South Asia.  As we’ve learned this past decade, this is a vast and complex undertaking.  We must be humble in our expectation that we can quickly resolve deep-rooted problems like poverty and sectarian hatred.  Moreover, no two countries are alike, and some will undergo chaotic change before things get better.  But our security and our values demand that we make the effort.

This means patiently supporting transitions to democracy in places like Egypt and Tunisia and Libya — because the peaceful realization of individual aspirations will serve as a rebuke to violent extremists.  We must strengthen the opposition in Syria, while isolating extremist elements — because the end of a tyrant must not give way to the tyranny of terrorism.  We are actively working to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians — because it is right and because such a peace could help reshape attitudes in the region.  And we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship — because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with people’s hopes, and not simply their fears.

For more of his thoughts on drones, follow William on Twitter