IPCS Series on Evolving Discourses of Security in International Politics

Investigating Crises in South Asia

04 Dec, 2017    ·   5403

Report of the discussion on Investigating Crises in South Asia held on 24 November 2017

Event report of Investigating Crises in South Asia, held under the IPCS series on Evolving Discourses of Security in International Politics on 2 November 2017.

The discussion was chaired by Rana Banerji, Member, IPCS Governing Council, and former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. The presentations were based on the panellists' chapters towards a forthcoming Stimson Center book to be released shortly.

Hannah Haegeland
Research Associate, South Asia Programme, Stimson Center

There is a lot of work done on crises in and beyond South Asia in both nuclearised and non-nuclear contexts focusing on the crises and how they play out, but not a lot of attention has been paid to the onset of crises and what might trigger an escalation. The hypothesis of the study is that states choose how to respond to the crises and are not mere affected powerless entities. There were remarkable similarities between the 26/11 attacks in 2008 and the 7/11 attacks in 2006. Both were attributed to entities within the Pakistani government, the Lashkar-e-Toiba, had high levels of casualties, and a spread-out duration, but while one event triggered a crisis, the other did not. A database was set up for 51 different provocations ranging from 1998 to 2016, and factors were isolated based on the events that escalated into crises. Some of the hypothesis tested were location, casualty counts (binary coded on 10 casualties), target type, duration and complexity. Preliminary results show that independent variables included political leadership, media coverage, ongoing dialogues. Other salient factors - which are not independent - were complexity, duration, and the governing parties.

Saikat Datta
South Asia Editor, Asia Times

The definition of a 'crisis' has become more confusing today - even the collapse of a foot-over bridge is considered a crisis and requires the army to step in. Due to the lack of available literature, the primary method of data collection was conducting interviews of the involved officials. The events studied were the IC-814 hijack, the Kargil conflict, Operation Parakram, the 2006 bombings and the 26/11 attacks. The huge gap between intelligence gathering and assessment, combined with a lack of coordination between the security agencies, limits intelligence capabilities. In addition is the authorities' lack of willingness to take decisions at critical junctures. These issues can be observed in almost all the episodes mentioned above. In both the Kargil conflict and the 26/11 attacks, the available intelligence was not passed on to the army or the National Security Guard (NSG), which brings into question institutional linkages between the forces and the intelligence agencies. The biggest intelligence leak during the 26/11 attacks came from the then Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who on air gave out exact operational details of the NSG, including the number of commandos. Although India does have different departmental experts, they are never brought in together to work as a joint assessment team, which makes security vulnerable. Also, the roles to be played by different actors during a crises are not defined, meaning that it depends greatly on the personalities involved. The focus should not only be on modernising the military but also intelligence agencies in terms of their structure, recruitment, personnel, and cooperation with other agencies. The siloisation of information has not helped in any way, and it is a tool to hide inadequacies rather than prevent possible leakage.

Ruhee Neog
Director, IPCS

This study considers how the media interacts with public opinion in India during bilateral India-Pakistan crises, and the role it plays in policy-making. The chapter addresses two questions: the role of the media in informing the public and the government in times of crises (informational role), and its influence on policy-making. The research methodology included analyses of newspaper coverage before, during and in the immediate aftermath of crises, a review of existing literature on the subject, and interviews with senior journalists and retired and serving bureaucrats, who were all unified in their view that the media does not impact crisis decision-making. In times of crises, the media ultimately takes its cues from the government, which in turn controls and manipulates the media. A self-referential cycle can also be observed, in which the government, media, and public opinion feed into and reaffirm each other. It is in the government's interest to control and selectively transmit information in these highly volatile circumstances, which limits the media's role in playing any significant role in actually shaping policy. In the absence of a clear policy decision or in the case of obvious differences of perspective within the ruling elite, the media is granted more agency to shape at least public opinion on a crisis. Although, depending on the circumstances, it can shape the environment in which policy decisions are made that can have important second-order effects on crisis management, overall, the media takes its cues from the government during crises.

Rapporteured by Rajat Ahlawat, Research Intern, IPCS