Book Discussion - Armed Conflicts in South Asia 2009
Chair: Mr. Dhirendra Singh, President, IPCS Executive Committee and Fformer Home Secretary
Maj. General Ashok Mehta, Independent Security Analyst
Lt. General Patankar, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation
Prof Ashwini Ray, Retired Professor, International Relations, JNU
Armed Conflicts in South Asia is a series of which IPCS should be very proud. The book has been released since 2006. It presents the issues in South Asia in a timeline series with great clarity in the objectives, thoughts, data, and analyses. There is continuity in not only the authors, panelists but the discussants and audiences as well at the Armed Conflict in South Asia series. The intention of these books has always been to highlight trends and problems of each conflict as also the peace processes in operation.
Prof Ashwini Ray
Although the book addresses the various conflicts in a comprehensive manner, less emphasis has been given to the peace processes in the region. This, however, only mirrors the reality in South Asia. The argument that the likelihood of interstate conflict shall decline is plausible. India’s reluctance to use full blown force after 26/11 was due to deficiencies and limitations that the 1999 Kargil war revealed to the political leadership. The view that terrorist violence has assumed high importance in the South Asian region is supported by empirical data in the book. The book also makes a particularly useful differentiation between ‘suicide attacks’ which are limited in options and ‘suicidal attacks’ such as the Mumbai terror attacks that warrants greater preparation on part of India to deal with the threat. The section on failed and failing states addresses legitimate concerns. The book arrives at a conclusion that by most definitions of failed states, South Asia is constituted of failed or failing states. India too is headed in that direction as statistics of high rank corruption and the Human Development Index indicate.
Maj. General Ashok Mehta
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal are countries that are extremely strategically located and in fact can be called the geo-strategic gut of India. Any development of internal strife in these countries is likely to have a spill-over effect in India. This applies to all of India’s immediate neighbors. India has to be proactive. It has to shape events in these countries in order to ensure the security of its own territories. In 1971, Bangladesh was created with the help of India when 10 million refugees had crossed over. In fact, India has been instrumental in the creation of all three countries. Today there are 20 million refugees. Nepal which shares an open border with India has nearly half its population in Indian territories and another two million of floating population that keeps coming and going. All three countries are economically linked. In fact the Nepalese rupee is pegged against the Indian rupee as opposed to the dollar and this has provided it with stability.
Sri Lanka used force to end a 33 year long civil war. The book, however, makes an important point that “the effort towards a political solution should have been in tandem with the military and that did not take place”. In an interview to a leading newspaper in India, Rajapaksa stated that he went out of his way to get the LTTE back to the negotiating table but it did not bear fruit. The book disputes the accuracy of this argument. However, a reference should have also been made to developments in the East in 2007 where there was a military victory but no devolution of power. The chapter further asks an important question of whether holding elections validates democracy and stability. Not enough credit has been given to Sri Lanka for holding on to basic democratic institutions despite having to deal with a civil war for over three decades.
On Bangladesh, the book rightly praises the Care-Taker Government (CTG) for making headway in the transition to democracy (although the word restoration is more appropriate) and substituting for the peace process. There has also been in Bangladesh a cleanup of corruption and a concerted effort to break the backbone of Islamic fundamentalism, although the book holds reservations against the reliance on military means by the CTG government. On the BDR mutiny there are three enquiries in place – Scotland Yard, Bangladesh military and Bangladesh’s civilian government. Bangladesh is returning to its original leanings. If the 1972 constitution can be reinstituted then Sheikh Hasina would have accomplished much. It would prevent Bangladesh from returning to a bigoted, fundamentalist state.
The section on the Nepali peace process is also very useful. The Young Communist League (YCL) was formed soon after the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was put in barracks. The book analyses this ambiguity in the identity of the PLA and YCL. Once again India has not been given due importance. The elections would not have happened without India’s mediations. There is a stalemate due to lack of integration. The problem is that there is no referee for monitoring of the elections and the peace process. The Indian foreign minister is headed to Nepal in the coming week and hopefully India can break the ice and has an alternative plan because the Maoists certainly have one.
Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Patankar
The book is an excellent effort to compile the year-wise facts and events for both policy makers and researchers in a continuing format in context of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The initial discussions reveal how the period of conventional weapons and small arms during the Soviet era would have been also considered for analyzing the rise of the tribal militia. The issues regarding negotiations with the Taliban comes with attached pros and cons. The power balance within Afghan is examined well in circumstances wherein there is failure of the Karzai government or an absence of a western coalition force. The point about the civilian surge which talks about building up a democratic institution holds much more significance than military fortification. There is also a need to have another BONN Summit (2001) initiative or something similar which could possibly bring forward a suggestion for a combination of regional and external players. As the war in Afghanistan has reached a pivotal point, it is more crucial to explain the tipping point rather than just making a statement or a conclusion. Also, it becomes imperative to prognosticate possible implications for India to some extent. Further, the numerous factors sustaining the conflict at a certain level of violence are very significant in the case of Pakistan. Although the existence f a vibrant arms trafficking network is well known, data presented in the chapter revealing only 10 percent of the available weapons to be legal is nonetheless startling.
There has been a profound observation involved in rightly stating Pakistan as a state in denial and that there is also some scope to mention about the narcotics at some point of the analysis. Interestingly, the government of Pakistan has been the principle catalyst in instigating the current situation. The strategies in both FATA and NWFP have been different and it explains a lot about what they do and not do in reality. A factional nature prevails among the militant groups and they are not monolithic or synchronized but yet are a part of the umbrella as in a marriage of convenience. In regards to the Madarasa membership and education system, there are few factors such as economic (purely money), social and religious which play a pivotal role in determining participation. It becomes important to predict the future of these suicide attacks in terms of increase or decrease and further justify continuity in the editions.
Mr. Dhirendra Singh
The chapters on Jammu and Kashmir, Northeast India and Left Wing Extremism are well documented. As pointed out by earlier discussants, greater emphasis needs to be laid on examining peace initiatives in these conflicts. In this regard, the demand for restarting and enlarging the round table conferences and a debate on demilitarization in Jammu and Kashmir are certainly very significant. Public order is a state concern and government should take proper account of its successful maintenance. Factions of Hurriyat and other peace making organizations should be highlighted and encouraged. In case of the Northeast, a great sense of despondency prevails and not much has changed in the last ten years. The trends are predictable in different areas of the Indian Northeast including Nagaland, Mizoram and Manipur. There is also a rising need to bring into discourse the question about more sensitive states like Arunachal Pradesh and also crucial issues of the subtle connect between the insurgents groups in Bangladesh and Myanmar in regards with implications for India. The year 2008 has been well documented as one of the worst years in the history of Naxal violence and extremism due to increase in the incidents of violence resulting in strong reactions from the government. Development is the key but the actual strategy that needs to be followed has not been clearly etched out.
Tuli Sinha and Harnit Kaur Kang
Research Officers, SEARP, IPCS
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