Modi and his “Politics of Muscle”

With his finger” on India’s “nuclear button” PM Modi has assumed the charge of the political council of India’s Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).  The NCA serves as “the nodal agency” for all decisions concerning India’s nuclear weapons. It also has the power to authorise a nuclear attack in retaliation

In the absence of an “elaborate nuclear command, control and communications system,” India uses a “collegiate process” to authorise the use of nuclear weapons. The NCA’s political council plays an integral role in this mechanism. Its members include the Prime Minister and also the country’s defence, finance, home and external affairs ministers. Its “executive council” is second only to the political council and is headed by the national security advisor. It also includes the three Service chiefs, top DRDO officials and several other important officials.

Ajit Doval, the former director of India’s Intelligence Bureau has been named India’s new National Security Advisor. Ironically Doval’s “claims to fame” include covert operations in Pakistan. According to critics, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to appoint Doval hints at a “more muscular” policy towards Pakistan. That he remains wary of Pakistan’s motives is a foregone conclusion. After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif assumed power, Doval, then associated with a right wing think tank in Delhi had noted, “the government should not assume that the new Pak PM, Nawaz Sharif, is committed to improving ties with India. Our consulate in Jalalabad has been subject to a terrorist attack for the first time, raising serious questions about the timing.” Referring to the 2008 Mumbai attacks he urged the new Indian government to enforce ‘zero tolerance’ for acts of violence.

Doval will be India’s second National Security Adviser from the intelligence community. India’s National Security Adviser MK Narayanan was also from the Intelligence service. His opinion concerning India-Pakistan views are best summed up in his interview following the 2008 Indian Embassy attack in Kabul, “Talk-talk is better than fight-fight,” he said, “but it hasn’t worked. I think we need to pay back in the same coin.” Fortunately he never got the political consent to target Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed on Pakistani territory. The issue didn’t end in 2008.

During his election campaign PM Narendra Modi suggested that he might authorise offensive covert operations against terrorists. Criticising Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s revelation of joint efforts by India and the US to arrest Dawood Ibrahim in Karachi, he had asked, “Do these things happen through the medium of newspapers? Did the United States issue a press note before they killed Osama bin Laden?”

Commentators have suggested that the Indian intelligence community is becoming increasingly convinced that India needs to learn a “new language of killing.” Can the use of covert action inside Pakistan become an option once again? A wrong decision made by India’s new security establishment whether in terms of a nuclear attack or a covert one can spell disaster for South Asia.


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr

Posted in , Defence, India, India-Pakistan Relations, leadership, Military, Pakistan, Politics, Security, Terrorism

Amina Afzal

Amina Afzal

Amina Afzal is an Islamabad-based researcher with an MSc in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University. She recently graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies with a certificate in Non-Proliferation Studies. She worked as a GRA for the CNS James Martin Center for Non Proliferation Studies.

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7 thoughts on “Modi and his “Politics of Muscle”

  1. Modi, who had just taken over power when the riots occurred, recently described his “pain” during the episode. Yet he has never apologised for his failure to protect the minority community. Repeatedly accused of allowing, even encouraging, Hindus whipped up by hardline activists to vent their fury, Modi has consistently denied all wrongdoing and has been cleared by a succession of high-powered legal inquiries. It was after a key court decision that the UK decided in 2012 to end a boycott of Modi by senior officials. Only weeks ago, the US followed. Nonetheless, Modi has yet to shake off the controversy. . There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India’s Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India and who believe Modi would divide and damage their country.

  2. @Amina

    I think you’ll find unless India gets some serious “new language of killing” options on the table, talks might as well be impossible. It was precisely because MMS was unable to come up with any response – even futile impotent ones like parakram – that give the impression of muscularity, that he was unable to proceed with talks.

    But i do have a question for you. It seems the ISI is simply unwilling to see logic or common sense. Clearly economics cannot sway them from supporting non-state actors. the fact that these terrorists have become a bigger threat to Pakistan than to India doesn’t seem to sway them. And the fact that Pakistan might end up irreversibly alienating the US (perfidious or not) does not seem to sway them.

    What according to you will actually persuade the ISI to give up sub-state actors as a tool of foreign policy?

  3. Sana has very rightly said that”There are also many ordinary Indians, and not just India’s Muslim minority, who are deeply committed to a tolerant, pluralist, progressive vision of India” Yes this is a fact and I think Pakistan Establishment has derived dividends out of this fact. Right from beginning the ISI and Army have fearlessly practiced the policy of sponsoring terror attacks against India, So much so that from a point of time it has become an official policy and specific terror groups are counted as strategic assets and launched under covering fire from Army into Indian territory.
    So, today some Indians are forced to come to a conclusion that Pakistan refuses to understand the language of peace and alternatives have to be sought. America and Britain also feeling the same and there are BBC videos where the double talk about protecting Al Quida are on you tube.

  4. The author says “A wrong decision made by India’s new security establishment whether in terms of a nuclear attack or a covert one can spell disaster for South Asia.”
    I agree that this game of achieving political objectives through terror will surely spell doom. BUT this must be first understood by a country who started this form of proxy war from day one. Within a month or so of their formation Pakistan launched the “Qabailis along with regular troops dressed as civilians to capture Kashmir then an independent state. Since then they have practiced importing terror as a state policy mostly run by their Army. Today all the boarder states around Pakistan that is Iran, Afghanistan, China and India are suffering due to policies of Pakistan like strategic depth, delivering thousand cuts to bleed the enemy, using regular troops in disguise of civilians. in fact as truly summed up by American Secretary of state Pakistan is an epicenter of terror. They have gone to the extent of hiding Osama Bin Laden for years and cheating their best ally America. So if this game and great threat to this region has to be treated seriously it should begin with turning of the tap from where it started.

  5. Pakistani people are suffering the most at the hands of the Taliban and yes there is definitely a need for the decision makers (beureaucracy, judiciary, military and political parties) to rethink their policy towards the Taliban. The recent attack on Karachi airport and numerous others before it clearly spell out that Pakistan needs to overhaul its Taliban policy. Granted also that Pakistan created the “Frankenstein” that is now attacking its own people but to say that the Taliban were created by the ISI exclusively for destablising India and Afghnaistan is inaccurate. The creation of the Taliban dates back to the Cold War and the US and Pakistan are equally responsible for creating the Taliban. A good reference in this context would be George Crile’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

    @ Vinod
    There are also numerous ordinary Pakistanis equally committed to a tolerant and progressive vision of their own country. Your reference to the BBC videos may not be entirely off-mark but there is another side to the argument as well.

    @ Abhijeet and Vinod:
    There is a tendency in both India and the West to dismiss the argument about India fomenting trouble in Baluchistan or elsewhere in Pakistan. However the argument can not be rejected completely. The ISI’s policies can be attributed in part to this perceived threat emanating from both India and Afghanistan.

    In 2011, now US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel said that India had been using Afghanistan as a second front against Pakistan. “India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border, and you can carry that into many dimensions.” The comments were made during a talk on Afghanistan at the Cameron University in Oklahoma. The video was available on the free beacon website but has since been removed. ( the link can still be found on the website). According to South Asian expert Cristin Fair, “ Pakistan had legitimate concerns about India’s involvement in Afghanistan” and also “ that Islamabad’s paranoia that New Delhi was fanning unrest in Balochistan was not unfounded.’I think it is unfair to dismiss the notion that Pakistan’s apprehensions about Afghanistan stem in part from its security competition with India,’ she had then said, and noted, “Having visited the Indian mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as the main activity. Moreover, India has run operations from its mission in Mazar and is likely doing so from the other consulates it has reopened in Jalalabad and Kandahar along the (Pak-Afghan) border.’According to Fair, Indian officials had told her privately that India was pumping money into Balochistan. “ Kabul has encouraged India to engage in provocative activities such as using the Border Roads Organisation to build sensitive parts of the Rind Road and use the Indo-Tibetan police force for security.”’India is also building schools on a sensitive part of the border in Kunar, across from Bajaur,’ she said, alleging, ‘Kabul’s motivations for encouraging these activities are as obvious as India’s interest in engaging in them.’ Fair contended that it would be ‘a mistake to completely disregard Pakistan’s regional perceptions due to doubts about Indian competence in executing covert operations.’

  6. It is unclear why Pakistan using the policy of terror as an instrument of state policy and bleeding India with a thousand cuts is not disastrous and why a potential review in India which might talk in the same language would prove to be disastrous. Again, disastrous for whom? India? If India Is able to signal to Pakistan that its adventures will not to unpunished and consequently reduce the incidents of terror within India it does not seem disastrous at all.

    As far as nuclear options go, India has a policy of No First Use. So it does not really matter whose hand is on the nuclear trigger, it will not be used unless Pakistan uses it first. Here again, unable to see the logic of the author that there is any intending disaster.

    @Amina Afzal
    First of all my sympathies and empathy for any Pakistani civilian who dies in a terror attack. That is indeed a terrible waste of life. As far as Karachi goes, neither Nawaz Sharif nor Apzardari nor Imran actually condemned the attack. The only leader to do so was Modi.
    Having said that i disagree that Pakistan is a victim of terror and therefor has no role in creating or using terror against India – it is a flawed argument. India does not really care about the Afghan Taliban and to what extent ISI was responsible for creating them. India cares about LeT and JeM – which are India specific terrorist organizations. Even Pakistan does not deny it used to have that policy and had tried to bleed India with a thousand cuts. It says it no longer practices such a policy but supposedly banned groups like LeT and JeM are able to openly hold jalsas in Lahore, collect funds then we have to wonder if that is really true.

    Finally Chuck Hagel never said India has a 2nd front against Pakistan.further even what he said was not when he was part of government and in fact he was part of the opposition party and did not have access to any data on the subject. These were his personal views. However around the same time Hillary Clinton who was indeed the Secretary of State and had access to all the secret files said clearly and in Pakistan that she has not been presented with ANY evidence that leads her o eleve that India is inolved in Balochistan. Why would you believe an individual member of Senate from opposition party and ignore the Secretary of State?

    Separately Please view the show Kyun on June 13. Pakistan’s information minister for PPP says very clearly that though he believes that India’s RAW is involved in Balochistan, his overnment cold never find proof to subsyptantiate it and has never handed over any proof to India. This was a Pakistani program on Pakistani channel with only Pakistani participants. In that program he also points out that the injections in the Karachi operation that were made in India were imported leally in Pakistan by Al-Mirza of Karachi and it wold embarass Pakistan if it tried to prvide such ‘evidence’ as proof of India’s involvement.

    Now that Pakistan has been clearly proved to have been involved in terror attacks within India, it is trying to establish a false equivalence by saying that India is doing the same.

  7. Thank you for your sympathy and empathy towards Pakistani civilians and most Pakistanis feel the same way about Indian citizens. The use of terror as an instrument of state policy whether by India or Pakistan should not be condoned. Such an Indian policy would be unacceptable for the same reason Pakistan’s alleged policies are unacceptable to India. Moreover if India decides to use covert action within Pakistan, it would be considered more than mere “signaling”. 
 I also mentioned at the very beginning of my comment that Pakistan needs to review its policies. However your comment about Pakistani leadership not condemning the attacks was inaccurate. Please check your facts before making such comments. Refer to the following:-

    The National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution condemning the incident. Kindly refer to:-,-Taftan-

    Similarly Pakistan People’s Party is in power in Sindh Province. Both the Chief Minister and the Information Minister of the PPP government were present at the airport on the directives of Asif Zardari.

    India does not have a policy of No First Use. Refer to my article on India’s NFU on this forum.

    You have dismissed the Hagel argument and also completely ignored Cristin Fair’s account as well. If both Hagel’s and Fair’s comments were so insignificant why was India concerned about them?

    The opinion of individuals not in a position of power and who don’t need to be mindful of their country’s foreign relations may not hold the same value as the opinion of a person in power but they cannot be dismissed entirely. There are always two sides to an argument and if Indian involvement in fomenting trouble in Pakistan has not been ascertained, Pakistan’s involvement in creating problems for India can also be questioned. An Indian government under secretary has accused the Indian government of orchestrating the Mumbai attacks too.

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