Dated 2019-04-23

‘Situation in Kashmir is extremely worrying’

India’s nosedive into the politics of Hindutva is changing it fast and the emerging scenarios are, by no means, minority-friendly. BJP’s lofty claims that Pakistan has been isolated are a mere ruse. On the contrary, it is forging new, powerful alliances. On this and other issues like Kashmir, CPEC, Army Chief’s controversial statements and Doval’s active role in shaping new realities, Ajai Shukla, Consulting Editor (Strategic Affairs) at Business Standard, talks to Editor Kashmir Newsline. 

You’re one of the handful of sober voices in the middle of this cacophony that is passed off as news debate. How do you see it all? Is the whole mayhem just about TRP or is it a concoction of many things?


While television news channels’ race for TRPs is an important factor in shaping the public debate on Kashmir, another factor is the National Democratic Alliance government’s tacit approval of and support for aggressive majoritarian posturing. On questions like the “beef ban” and “love jihad” the government has adopted an anti-minority stance that encourages an increasingly right-wing Indian public to brazenly follow suit.


India is fast heading towards fascism, if it isn’t already there. What is going on? His all-pervading supporters believe Modi is the best thing ever to have happened to India. Is he the worst thing ever to have happened to India? How do you see him, his politics? Are we seeing dictatorship in the garb of democracy? Hasn’t RSS – and its subsidiaries – taken absolute control of India politically and socially? You think something really meaningful is happening to counter it?


While Indian public attitudes are trending unmistakeably toward conservative, right wing majoritarianism, I think you are being overly pessimistic in your contention that fascism is inevitable. What Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his right wing social and cultural agenda have achieved is only to deeply polarise the Indian people along communal lines. The bright side is that centrist, secular, liberal Indians have clearly realised they have to stand up and fight for traditional, secular Indian values. And so, Modi and the RSS have an ideological fight on their hands.


 Prannoy Roy’s residence was raided by CBI recently. It’s seen by many as a case of vendetta and an attempt to silence any voices that have the potential for asking questions. How is it shaping India? Also, media –  news channels is particular – seems to have no interest in questioning the government. It’s all about whipping up the sentiments and generating frenzy against anyone who questions the Prime minister and his policies. Your take!  


While the raid on the premises of NDTV’s part-owners, Prannoy and Radhika Roy, constituted a blatant attack on the free media, it must also be noted that growing sections of the Indian media are resorting to self-censorship, and questioning the rise of authoritarian tendencies too timidly, or not at all. In other words, large sections of the media have fallen in line very quickly. The same thing had happened in 1975-77, during Indira Gandhi’s declared Emergency. However, just as there were sections of the media that did not bow down to authority then, this is also happening today. So all is not yet lost.



How do you rate the omnipotent Ajit Doval? Was it just natural that he became the NSA once Modi captured New Delhi? Doval doesn’t believe in any rules or ethics and he makes no bones about it. What are the far-reaching implications of his black and white, extreme views on nationalism, minorities (Muslims in particular) and other issues? And what’s your take on the much-touted Doval Doctrine?


Ajit Doval was an excellent intelligence operative and case officer but, as National Security Advisor, he is far out of his depth. He thinks only tactically, which is useful in intelligence operations but can be disastrous in dealing with sensitive political and strategic questions. Even during the previous UPA government, New Delhi tended to think about Kashmir issues in a tactical framework, as a security rather than political problem. The current government, partly due to Doval’s influence, is continuing this misjudgment. Kashmir needs a nuanced and sophisticated hand at the tiller, which can minimise the use of force, while increasing the use of political and economic instruments in the Valley. Sadly, Doval – a lifetime intelligence officer – does not have the capability to think in political and humanitarian frameworks.

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What message is COAS Gen. Bipin Rawat sending out by doing what he is doing? The human shield controversy and some of his statements have evoked a strong reaction and shamed India globally. You’ve been a colonel in the Indian army. Do you think what he is doing behoves the chief of one of the largest armies in the world, notwithstanding its human rights record in Kashmir and other conflict zones in India? Do you think he is doing Doval’s job more than anything else because the latter got him handpicked, superseding a couple of other generals? Can army be reduced to a mere police force? After all, Doval was a policeman and he would think just like a policeman. Do you think he should have the final say in deciding how army should act and posture?


I am surprised at some of General Bipin Rawat’s more hard line statements because I have known him to operate as a commander in Kashmir with great sophistication and understanding of the political dimensions of the Kashmir issue. Presumably, he is following the lead set out by the government, which is for tougher action. When it comes to national questions like Kashmir, it is impossible for an army chief to set an agenda that differs significantly from that of the government. Were he to try and do so, it would violate the principle of civilian control of the army. However, I would expect the COAS to advise the government wisely, which in this case would demand the creation of security conditions in which a credible political outreach could be initiated.

Ajit Doval was an excellent intelligence operative and case officer but, as National Security Advisor, he is far out of his depth. He thinks only tactically, which is useful in intelligence operations but can be disastrous in dealing with sensitive political and strategic questions.

Kashmir is totally out of India’s grip and the harder India comes down on the Kashmiris, the stronger their resilience grows. Don’t you think India should open up its mind on Kashmir and read the writing on the wall? After all, it tried everything from bribery to gross human rights violations, it bore no fruit. Kashmiris are more resilient than ever and totally unwilling to relent. Without the customary sermon to the Kashmiris, which most experts from Delhi do, what do you suggest to the government of India as of now?


The situation in Kashmir is extremely worrying, but I think you are overstating in declaring that Kashmir is totally out of India’s grip. It needs to be realised clearly that New Delhi will never let go of Kashmir and will unhesitatingly go to war with Pakistan or China if that appears necessary to retain the Valley. Even so, the full-blooded resistance that the Kashmiri people are serving up today is of great concern. However, provided this is approached politically and wisely, I believe New Delhi can still manage the situation, restore badly needed calm and initiate wide-ranging dialogue.


From the ramparts of the Red Fort, on India’s Independence Day last year, PM Modi fired the Balochistan salvo. Has it yielded anything? Do you think Modi has succeeded in isolating Pakistan? There were many operations India would do inside Pakistan, but they were kept covert. Now it’s becoming a fashion to own even things that haven’t been done. I remember when the “surgical strikes” debate raged, some of your fellow panelists got to your throat when you raised questions.

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Hard liners in New Delhi who have little ground experience in the Valley often make the mistake of blaming Pakistan for everything that happens in Kashmir. As wiser heads know, there is a major internal dimension to the insurgency in Kashmir. There is a need for realisation that New Delhi will have to reconcile the Kashmir question not with Pakistan (why should Pakistan oblige?) but with its own people in the Valley.


“Isolating” Pakistan is not the answer, despite all that Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) has done to bleed India. An isolated Pakistan, without incentives or instruments to keep it in line and shape its behaviour, would be even more unmanageable than it currently is (think North Korea). Nor would it be wise for India to foment insurgency in Baluchistan. We have seen the turmoil Pakistan is going through internally as a direct result of playing this game. India would be foolish to make the same mistake.


India, unlike US and Japan, isn’t a traditional donor. But it pumped copious amounts of money into Afghanistan and sponsored so many of its projects. Nothing really concrete has come of it. Now, even Russia is on Pakistan’s side, as far as Afghanistan is concerned. There are serious reports that Russia is supplying weapons to Taliban. This has been expressed by some US and Afghan officials as well.


India’s Afghanistan policy, and specifically its deployment of humanitarian aid, has yielded rich dividends in Afghanistan. Those of us who travel there cherish the warmth that most Afghans – including the Pashtuns – have for India and Indians. This contrasts starkly with the open dislike and antagonism that Afghans have for Pakistan. It is this acceptability across the Afghan public that makes India an influential partner there, even though we are geographically disconnected from them. Even Taliban officials that I have met express eagerness to talk to New Delhi. It is a common mistake to believe that the Taliban is in Pakistan’s pocket and will unhesitatingly follow its diktat. Just like most Afghans, the Taliban too dislikes the way Pakistan seeks to impose its will on their country.


CPEC is a reality now. Shouldn’t India stop whimpering, and accept it? How far do you think the megaproject has increased the inter-operationability of Sino-Pak armies? How big a concern should this be to India, if at all, and how can India respond to it?


CPEC is only a plan at present and, given Pakistan’s dire internal security situation, it is an open question whether, or when, the economic corridor would become a reality. Similar projects instituted by China in Africa, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have left the host countries with White Elephant projects and an unmanageable dent in their national finances. Pakistan is used to getting billions in soft-term aid from the United States. Islamabad will now have to deal with conditioned loans from China, many of which carry heavy interest burdens. Within Pakistan, there is a growing debate over whether CPEC is meant to also benefit Pakistan, or only benefit China. This debate will only grow as the project unfolds and its beneficiaries become clear.

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