Sunday, April 28, 2013

Procrastination as grand strategy



There is something about us as a nation that makes our officials, politicians, and strategic thinkers unwilling to take decisions on major issues of national importance. Be it resolving conflicts, reforming the judiciary or the police force, restructuring the country’s civil services or making well thought out long-term strategies for defending and securing the country. When Pakistan watchers tell me that Pakistan’s grand strategy vis-à-vis India in Kashmir has gone completely wrong, I tell them, in jest, that India’s grand strategy can never go wrong because it simply does not have one. I increasingly realize that there is more than humour in such an argument – we as a country are simply unwilling to take major decisions. Procrastination seems to be the organizing logic of our national grand strategy. But why? 

Before I attempt to understand why, let me look at a few cases. My colleague at JNU, Rajesh Rajagopalan has argued, in his research work on insurgencies in India, that “The Indian state has always seen counter-insurgency as a political rather than a military problem, and it has insisted that the Indian Army accept it as such”. However, even as Rajagopalan focuses on India’s emphasis on the political nature of the solution, he highlights the importance of the time factor: “it is clear from the Indian experience that patience and a long-term perspective are essential attitudinal requirements in fighting counter-insurgency campaigns. What is not so clear is whether New Delhi chose patience from foresight, or whether it simply preferred to ignore difficult situations until, with the fullness of time, they resolved themselves.” I tend to broadly agree with the argument that Rajagopalan makes.

What is interesting to note here is that while the Indian state clearly understands that the solution for resolving insurgencies has to be political and not military, they are still unwilling to make those political concessions to end insurgencies. They, as Rajagopalan puts it, wait for it to resolve themselves in the fullness of time. To my mind, this is a classic case of procrastination, unwilling to take steps to resolve issues even when opportunities present themselves to do so. 

Kashmir, for instance, was ripe for resolution during the 2004-2008 peace process between India and Pakistan: New Delhi developed cold feet by early 2007 for no substantive reason and postponed the decision to finalise the deal on Kashmir with Pakistan, after having drawn up a historic deal, according to insiders’ accounts. In 2010, during the height of the uprising in Kashmir, New Delhi appointed a team of interlocutors who produced an exhaustive report which produced an array of recommendations for resolving the Kashmir issue: the government has since been silent about the report. The Government of India, at the initiative or the Prime Minister, organised a series of Round Table conferences on Kashmir during 2006-2007 and five working groups were formed to look into the various aspects of a resolution of the Kashmir issue: reports have been submitted to the government, but no action taken. 
These were indeed many excellent opportunities for resolving the Kashmir issue and yet no action was taken beyond merely initiating half-baked ‘political steps’ towards the resolution of the country’s most intractable insurgency. Today, faced with impending political uncertainty due to elections in India, Pakistan and Kashmir, and increasing instability in the region thanks to the US-NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning 2014 Indian policy makers are reduced to crystal gazing to understand what might happen to Kashmir in the days to come. 

I do agree that dialogue and political reconciliation lay at the heart of the Indian state’s approach to conflict resolution and problem solving. India’s political culture and its national security policies, despite a large number of aberrations and shortcomings, still exhibit a certain tolerance of diversity and difference, non-violent approaches to dealing with social unrest and a celebration of political debates and disputations on deeply contested issues. That is certainly welcome and should be preserved. In other words, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Indian state is likely to deal with most problems politically and non-violently. 

Why then do we see such appallingly numerous instances of human rights violations and political unwillingness to resolve political issues around the country especially in Kashmir? Even if the argument is true that at the end of the day the Indian state will resolve political problems politically, why does it take a violent, intolerant and muddled road to that destination? One explanation could be that the government is too busy managing too many day to day problems, and in a huge country like India there are far too many problems and hence it has no time to resolve deeply contested political issues. But that is an excuse, not an explanation. 

I am persuaded to accept a slightly more long-winding explanation. Clearly, as pointed out above, when dealing with problems such as insurgencies, Indian government’s efforts are marked by extreme levels of procrastination in deciding to negotiate a political resolution to resolve the conflict. During this period there is hardly any willingness on the part of the political or bureaucratic elite to take steps to resolve the conflict as creative, out of the box solutions to political problems are systemically disincentivised in our country. If that is the case, how can one make the argument that the insurgencies usually end with the implementation of a political solution? I would argue (and Rajagopalan indirectly refers to it in his writings) that the belief in the need to resolve conflicts using political strategies do not seem to operate at the conscious level of the political and bureaucratic leadership. The willingness to opt for political resolution of insurgencies comes from the country’s political and strategic cultures. Since this operates at the subconscious level, making it the default culturally acceptable solution, this can’t be termed as a strategy: it can at best be referred to as a product of deeply held political and strategic beliefs.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, 28 APril, 2013. URL: )

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