When, exactly, did India get a nuclear weapon? Part II

A few years ago, I summarised an International Security article by Gaurav Kampani that described India’s process of acquiring nuclear weapons. “The author’s interviews with several senior retired Indian air force officers at the highest levels”, concluded Kampani, “suggest that India achieved an air-deliverable capability sometime in 1995”.

In a new piece by Vipin Narang in the same journal, which looks at why different states pursue nuclear weapons in different ways, we find new details on this period of Indian history. The sentences in bold are attributed to interviews with Naresh Chandra, then the defense secretary (“secretary” refers to a senior civil servant, not a minister).

In March 1989, nine months after [Prime Minister] Rajiv [Gandhi]’s failed UN speech, Rajiv discreetly ordered Naresh Chandra, his newly appointed defense secretary, to take India’s nuclear program over the finish line; the result was “a dramatic change of pace in India’s nuclear weapons plans.”Cabinet Secretary Deshmukh indicated that the steps were now clearly laid out: “when the trigger would be ready, what type of platform would carry the bomb, how the bomb was to be mated to a delivery vehicle, the type of electronic checks and the command and control system needed. A carte blanche was given for expenses but every time a milestone was crossed, the prime minister was to clear the next step.” Chandra indicates that Rajiv’s directive was informal, but clear—“[G]et things ready in case we want to test” a nuclear weapon—and that the goal was to get India in a position to test within seventy-two hours of a decision to do so, down from “more than t-minus-100 days,” which is where India’s preparations were in 1989. This was a concerted effort, with Chandra, a permanent bureaucrat who would survive the churn of ministers and governments, directing the effort personally. He and Rajiv (and subsequent prime ministers, particularly Narasimha Rao) were perhaps the only ones with a complete picture of India’s weaponization activities.

[Footnote] Chandra says he initially preferred a goal of t-30 days, but accepted Rajiv’s directive of t-3 days, even though this target required visible signatures such as cables, digging, and instrumentation at the test site that could be detected by the international community. This indicates that hiding the nuclear weapons program from U.S. intelligence was not the paramount consideration.


The sprinting strategy involved reprocessing and machining weapons-grade plutonium for weapons cores and doing all the necessary work for the production, management, and delivery of nuclear weapons. Chandra indicates that India’s scientists had largely completed the weaponization of its nuclear capabilities sometime in 1993 or 1994, putting India in a position to test its fission weapons; higher yield boosted fission designs would be completed several years later … As Kampani shows, India certainly paid a price for its stovepiping, because the scientists who designed India’s initial gravity bombs were unfamiliar with the rotation problems their designs might cause during takeoff, leading to some “acceptable delays” in reliable delivery. India had compressed its time frame to retaliate with nuclear weapons from many days in 1989, which would have “been a highly improvised affair,” to less than twenty-four hours by this point. It therefore took India about five years to complete the process—not much longer than other nuclear weapons states … Although India did not formally test until May 1998, it was in a position to do so much earlier, and definitely at the point at which Prime Minister Narasimha Rao allegedly aborted a nuclear test in 1995.

And, finally, the conclusion:

My theory identified the reasons for India’s proliferation strategies and why they shifted over time. Although India had faced a nuclear and conventionally superior China for decades, which forced it to select a hard hedging strategy, it was the prospect of Pakistani weaponization coupled with the recognition that universal disarmament was a nonstarter that ultimately killed Rajiv’s, and thus domestic political, opposition to weaponizing India’s nuclear program. It was only at this point that India undertook a sprinting strategy. Although it was perturbations in India’s security environment that triggered its final sprint to nuclear weapons, India’s security pressures were strongly refracted through a domestic political prism. Given India’s power and size, its leaders did not have to fear their country becoming the target of counterproliferation efforts. The result was a relatively open weaponization of India’s nuclear capabilities over the next five years, including regular and public tests of explicitly nuclear-capable missiles beginning in May 1989.


The Line of (out of) Control


The Pakistan Army’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) has scorned Indian claims that is conducted a “surgical strike” across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Indian from Pakistani administered Kashmir on the night of 28-29 September. “No such incident took place nor will we allow any such incident to happen in future,” insisted Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa. Pakistan’s case appears to be built on two things.

  1. Neither widely quoted (WaPo, BBC) residents from local areas nor the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) observers saw anything.
  2. It simply isn’t possible for India to cross the LoC. Bajwa claims (video in Urdu) “there have never been physical violations, nor can it happen, nor would we allow it”.

The first point was flawed, given the Army’s influence over villages near the LOC (see Ayesha Siddiqa here), the acknowledged large-scale use of diversionary shellfire, and the geography of LoC;  nevertheless, it’s been taken on thoroughly by Praveen Swami (whose reporting also provides the bulk of material below) in the Indian Express of 5 October through eyewitness reports. But the point of this post is to demonstrate that Bajwa is flat-out wrong on the second. What follows is a cursory and no doubt very partial history of allegations of raids across the LoC; the point is that they are not unprecedented, and that the LoC is not sacrosanct at a reasonably low level of conflict.

I can find one reference to a pre-1998 raid. An almanac notes that on 1 September 1991″Indian troops attack a Pakistani post in Nezarpur on the Line of control, killing three Pakistani soldiers” (“Pakistan 1992“, Westview Press, December 1992, p180). I can locate Nazar Pur (presumably the same) in Bagh District of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, though it looks to me to be about 10km across the nearest point on the LoC and therefore an unlikely candidate. I can find no other reference to this incident, though perhaps a more thorough search of the Pakistani newspaper archives would throw something up.

But several years later, in 1998, the Pakistan Army itself acknowledged an Indian raid, in a complaint it issued to the United Nations in 1998 (“Yearbook of the United Nations 1998“, p321):

Pakistan reported on 4 May the massacre of 22 Kashmiri civilians in the village of Bandala in Azad Kashmir, approximately 600m from the line of control on the side of Azad [i.e. Pakistani] Jammu and Kashmir. An investigation had established beyond reasonable doubt, said Pakistan, that the massacre … was an act of terrorism by Indian armed forces who had crossed the line of control”.

The Bandala incident was widely reported at the time. This is Dexter Filkins in the Los Angeles Times in May 1998:

Last month, in a widely reported incident, 22 villagers were massacred in Bandala Seri by gunmen believed to be from India. The villagers say the gang of a dozen men, all dressed in black, struck in the middle of the night and dropped leaflets to mark the attack. “Vengeance Brigade,” one leaflet said. “Evil deeds bear evil fruit,” said another. “Ten eyes for one eye, one jaw for a single tooth,” said a third. Blood still stains the walls of several huts.  When the Pakistani government accused the Indian government of sponsoring the attack, New Delhi denied any responsibility. Some, including U.S. officials, believe the attack may have come in retaliation for the killing of 26 Indian civilians a week before in the villages of Parankot and Dhakikot.

Praveen Swami wrote about it in July of the same year, in a fascinating piece for Frontline magazine:

“Frankly,” says one Army official, “I’m amazed.” “We could, for example, take out the five major launching posts for terrorists in the Lipa-Jura arc just across the LoC, but it wouldn’t take Pakistan very long to set up a few tents and get going again. We could raid the Muzaffarabad training camps but there would be large-scale casualties, including civilian deaths, and that would be diplomatically unacceptable.” Other options, including reprisals against Pakistan, also appear ill thought-out. The April 27 massacre of 21 villagers in Binda Mohri Sehri, metres across the LoC inside Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, and the bombing in June of a Lahore-bound train, shortly after the explosion in Jammu, are both believed by Pakistan to have been carried out by Indian security agencies. “If your intelligence apparatus,” argues one official, “encourages anti-Pakistan forces in Gilgit and Hunza, which it is not doing, that has a strategic purpose. Mindless retaliatory killing simply fuels domestic legitimacy for what Pakistan is doing over here, and gives no returns.”

Then there’s a fifteen year gap, but Swami – ever diligent – returns in The Hindu with even clearer sources, and a wealth of information on more Indian raids.

The most savage cross-LoC violence Indian forces are alleged to have participated in was the killing of 22 civilians at the village of Bandala, in the Chhamb sector, on the night of March 26-27, 1998. The bodies of two civilians, according to Pakistan’s complaint to UNMOGIP, were decapitated; the eyes of several others were allegedly gouged out by the attackers. The Pakistani military claimed to have recovered an Indian-made watch from the scene of the carnage, along with a hand-written note which asked, “How does your own blood feel”? First reported by The Hindu’s sister publication Frontline in its June 19, 1998 issue, the Bandala massacre is alleged to have been carried out by irregulars backed by Indian special forces in retaliation for the massacre of 29 Hindu villagers at Prankote, in Jammu and Kashmir, by the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The LeT attackers slit the throats of their victims, who included women and children. No Indian investigation of the Bandala killings has ever been carried out. However, an officer serving in the Northern Command at the time said the massacre was “intended to signal that communal massacres by jihadists, who were after all trained and equipped by Pakistan’s military, were a red line that could not be crossed with impunity.”

Then a couple of weeks ago, Rahul Singh and Rajesh Ahuja in the Hindustan Times add an intelligence source to Swami’s military one:

Kashmir watchers recall one such raid that took place after 26 Hindus were killed in Parankote and Dhakikote villages in Udhampur in April 1998. “Intelligence inputs suggested that the massacre was carried out by the Lashkar terrorists. We retaliated,” said a former IB official on condition of anonymity. He, however, did not specify the exact nature of retaliation. But a few weeks later, Pakistan claimed 22 people were killed when unknown gunmen attacked its Bandala Seri village.

It’s fair to say that when Indian military and intelligence personnel are owning up to gruesome atrocities, to reliable journalists in good newspapers, we can take this seriously.

Then there’s a host of other examples.

Ajai Shukla writing in 2013, on an example from the summer of 1999 during the Kargil conflict:

But the [Loc] fence must be physically monitored and so, small groups of Indian soldiers patrol the gaps between posts. These “area domination patrols” are particularly vulnerable whilst in the sliver of Indian territory ahead of the LoC fence. In Poonch, the patrol was ambushed ahead of the fence. For carrying out such ambushes and for attacking small enemy posts in tactically favourable terrain, both India and Pakistan have contingency plans worked out and rehearsed. When one side needs to send a signal, or to retaliate, one of those plans is implemented at short notice. During the Kargil conflict in the summer of 1999, an Indian Army platoon had crossed the LoC at the Munawar Tawi River near Jammu and wiped out an entire Pakistani post, triggering a vicious cycle of revenge killings and counter-killings. At that time, Pakistan refined the concept of “border action teams”, or BATs, specifically earmarked for sneak killings along the LoC. Some BATs feature commandoes from Pakistan’s elite Special Services Group (SSG), while others are constituted from local forces. The beheading of an Indian soldier in January has been ascribed to a BAT.

Returning to Swami’s 2013 Hindu piece:

Six months after the Kargil war, on the night of January 21-22, 2000, seven Pakistani soldiers were alleged to have been captured in a raid on a post in the Nadala enclave, across the Neelam River. The seven soldiers, wounded in fire, were allegedly tied up and dragged across a ravine running across the LoC. The bodies were returned, according to Pakistan’s complaint, bearing signs of brutal torture. “Pakistan chose to underplay the Nadala incident,” a senior Pakistani military officer involved with its Military Operations Directorate told The Hindu, “as General Pervez Musharraf had only recently staged his coup, and did not want a public outcry that would spark a crisis with India.” Indian military sources told The Hindu that the raid, conducted by a special forces unit, was intended to avenge the killing of Captain Saurabh Kalia, and five soldiers — sepoys Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Arjun Ram, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh — of the 4 Jat Regiment.

There is general agreement that such raids slowed after the 2003 ceasefire was agreed between India and Pakistan (“pre-2003 this was routine stuff”, says Indian Express journalist and Indian Army veteran Sushant Singh), but Swami finds further examples:

Less detail is available on the retaliatory cycles involved in incidents that have taken place since the ceasefire went into place along the LoC in 2003 — but Pakistan’s complaints to UNMOGIP suggest that there has been steady, but largely unreported, cross-border violence involving beheadings and mutilations. Indian troops, Pakistan alleged, killed a JCO, or junior commissioned officer, and three soldiers in a raid on a post in the Baroh sector, near Bhimber Gali in Poonch, on September 18, 2003. The raiders, it told UNMOGIP, decapitated one soldier and carried his head off as a trophy. Near-identical incidents have taken place on at least two occasions since 2008, when hostilities on the LoC began to escalate again. Indian troops, Pakistan’s complaints record, beheaded a soldier and carried his head across on June 19, 2008, in the Bhattal sector in Poonch. Four Pakistani soldiers, UNMOGIP was told, died in the raid. The killings came soon after a June 5, 2008 attack on the Kranti border observation post near Salhotri village in Poonch, which claimed the life of 2-8 Gurkha Regiment soldier Jawashwar Chhame. Finally, on August 30, 2011, Pakistan complained that three soldiers, including a JCO, were beheaded in an Indian raid on a post in the Sharda sector, across the Neelam river valley in Kel. The Hindu had first reported the incident based on testimony from Indian military sources, who said two Pakistani soldiers had been beheaded following the decapitation of two Indian soldiers near Karnah. The raid on the Indian forward position, a highly placed military source said, was carried out by Pakistani special forces, who used rafts to penetrate India’s defences along the LoC.

In a separate piece in The Hindu, Swami furnishes another example from January 2013:

Finally, on January 6 [2013], matters came to a head. Following a low-grade exchange of fire that night, 19 Infantry Division commander Gulab Singh Rawat sought and obtained permission for aggressive action against the Pakistani position from where his troops were being targeted. Pakistan insists its post, Sawan Patra, was raided by Indian troops. India has denied the allegation. “None of our troops crossed the Line of Control,” said Jagdish Dahiya, an Indian army spokesperson. Either way, though, a Pakistani soldier was dead before the shooting ended — and another critically injured. “Let’s just put it this way,” a senior government official in New Delhi said, “there was no formal permission to stage a cross-border raid to target Sawan Patra. However, in the heat of fighting, these things have been known to happen. Pakistan has done this, and our forces have done this, ever since fighting began in Jammu and Kashmir in 1990.”

And yet another example by Swami in First Post, this time from August 2013:

[E]arly this month, Zafran Ghulam Sarwar, Wajid Akbar, Mohammad Wajid Akbar and Mohammad Faisal left their homes on the Pakistani side of the control in the Neelam valley, and never came back … India says it has no idea what happened to the men. Not long after they disappeared, though, five still-unidentified men were shot dead by Indian troops in the same area, 500 metres on the Indian side of the Line of Control. Naresh Vij, an Indian army spokesperson, said troops had “not recovered any bodies as they are lying very far.” Privately, Indian intelligence officials posted in the sector speculate the men may have indeed been targetted by special forces — but insist they were guides for jihadist groups crossing the Line of Control, not innocent men executed by the army for no reason at all.

Saikat Datta, writing a tick-tock of the latest raid for Scroll, makes reference to the older raids to draw a contrast with the latest:

These surgical strikes are not the first of their kind that India has carried out across the LoC. While the Vajpayee government took a clear decision not to allow the Indian forces to cross the LoC during the Kargil war, Indian Special Forces carried out several raids between 2000 and 2003. However, after the November 2003 ceasefire, such raids had been called off. Some Special Forces raids were renewed after 2012 when Pakistani troops raided Indian army posts and beheaded Indian soldiers in some cross-LoC operations. Most of the earlier operations were local military actions, held either at the Corps or Divisional level, with local intelligence units being assigned with gathering information before strikes. This time, the R&AW was specifically tasked by the National Security Advisor to gather actionable intelligence, which could be used to carry out pinpoint strikes with minimum casualties. A conscious decision was also taken to target militants rather that the Pakistani army to ensure that the situation did not escalate …“We have had strikes earlier, but those were mostly local,” Lieutenant General Hardev Singh Lidder, a former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and a veteran Special Forces officer told Scroll.in. “This is the first time that strikes were carried out as a national policy, which is significant.”

In a separate piece also for Scroll, Datta goes as far as to give us a specific example authorised by then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2000, conducted  by India’s 9 Para (Special Forces):

Between 1998 and 2014, there have been several strikes by Indian forces across the LoC. Just after the Kargil war, Captain Gurjinder Singh Suri, posted on the LoC with 12 Bihar battalion took a team of ghataks (infantry battalion commandos) across the LoC to take out Pakistani posts in retaliation of an earlier attack. While Captain Suri was killed in the assault, he was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, India’s second-highest military gallantry award. On March 2, 2000, Lashkar-e-Taiba militants massacred 35 Sikhs leading to a major covert operation. A team from 9 Para (Special Forces) was sanctioned by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s government to carry out a raid inside Pakistan. Led by a Major, the Special Forces team went into Pakistan and came back after killing over 28 Pakistani soldiers and militants. The proof of their action was never disputed. Similar raids took place in 2007 and 2013, in retaliation for attacks against Indian military targets.

And then, predictably, on 4 October 2016 the Congress Party decided that it did not want to miss out on the “surgical strikes” party. It released three dates on which it claimed its own cross-LoC assaults, which the Indian Express’ Shubhajit Roy cross-references with public reports of the time:

The Congress on Monday claimed the UPA II, like the NDA government, had also conducted “surgical strikes” — but without making them public. The party listed three dates — September 1, 2011; July 28, 2013; and, January 14, 201 — when the strikes took place. The Manmohan Singh government, known for its publicly stated policy of “strategic restraint”, was in power at the time.

So we have cross-LoC raids alleged in:

  • May 1998
  • Summer 1999
  • January 2000
  • March 2000
  • September 2003
  • June 2008
  • August 2011
  • January 2013
  • August 2013

Only the first of these – May 1998 – is acknowledged by Pakistan officially, but others are acknowledged by Indian officials, albeit anonymously, despite the fact they they represent clear instances of torture (January 2000) or desecration of bodies (June 2008 and August 2011). Unlike last week’s strikes, which were deliberately and carefully framed in terms of pre-emption, these are not admissions that can be written off as Indian attempts to look good. We can safely assume there have been many others, played down by both sides in order to control escalation (not least because the level of political or higher authorisation for some of these appears to have varied).

The LoC has changed in important ways since the late 1990s. On India’s side at least, it has three tiers, remote-controlled machine guns, ground and motion sensors, monitoring by drones, and sophisticated new construction is underway. But these reported strikes appear to have continued well into the last few years, suggesting that improvements on the Pakistani side have not made the LoC impermeable, as Bajwa implausibly claims. Given the geography and terrain, it is unlikely it could ever be made so.

Many of the reported details of India’s 28-29 September 2016 strike are likely to prove inaccurate or exaggerated. But shallow incursions across the LoC by both sides have happened before, and they will happen again; those dismissing out of hand the September raid on this basis need to pay careful attention to the history.


Reviews of ‘Indian Power Projection’

My book Indian Power Projection: Arms, Influence and Ambition, recently published in RUSI’s Whitehall Paper series of short monographs, was reviewed this week in two places.

Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times:

The rise of China has provoked lots of commentary on how Beijing sees the world. But there tends to be much less discussion of how India sees its place in the international order. Two recent publications shed some interesting light on that topic. One is a recent speech by Shivshankar Menon, who served for many years as India’s National Security Adviser. The other is a pamphlet on “Indian Power Projection”, by the scholar, Shashank Joshi … The motives and details of India’s strategic posture are discussed in Joshi’s admirably lucid pamphlet. The author, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, notes that the Indian elite is “embracing new and more ambitious tasks for the country’s military”. Joshi argues that India’s “threat perception” remains dominated “by the allied nuclear powers of Pakistan to the northwest and China to the north”. But, over the coming years, Joshi sees India joining the small group of nations – including the US, Britain, France, Russia and, increasingly, China – that are willing and able to “project power”, outside their own regions.

And Ankit Panda in the Diplomat:

Indian Power Projection: Ambition, Arms and Influence presents, as of 2016, what is perhaps the most up-to-date compendium of information on India’s hard power toolkit and Indian policymaker attitudes toward that toolkit … so much of what is written of Indian defense policy is pieced together from frenzied reporting and statements by officials. Without a white paper on defense, well-researched compendiums like Joshi’s become all the more valuable for analysts, scholars, and policy-makers working on India.




Political Autopsies on Mullah Omar and Murree

Another round-up of interesting analysis on the aftermath of Mullah Omar’s death, the politics of the Taliban, and the relationship with Afghanistan-Pakistan-Taliban talks.

Borhan Osman for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Why Akhtar Mansur agreed to this meeting in the first place, despite opposition from the Qatar office, was explained by the sources as follows: primarily, he intended to relieve the Taleban of the increasing pressure by Pakistan. But rather than agreeing to serious, formal and public talks with the Afghan government, he wanted the Murree event to remain private. He had tried not to damage the Taleban’s narrative of distance to Pakistan. He also did not want to look to be bypassing the movement’s formal channel for talks, ie the Qatar office. At the same time, he was convinced he could use the meeting, which he thought was inevitable, for something: to signal that the Taleban were willing to hold formal talks, which would come soon … endorsing the Qatar office as an autonomous entity in the wake of the Murree meeting could imply two possible aims. It would be a clear attempt to deny Pakistan leverage over Taleban leaders who, before, had lived on its soil, so it cannot drag them into further peace talks as the ‘official representatives’ of the movement. It would also allow the Qatar office to accelerate peace efforts, removing the need for the Leadership Council to supervise its activities … An external force intimidating one party into coming to the table can be no substitute for genuine interest in seeking a negotiated end to the conflict. Proceeding from a view that the Taleban insurgency is wholly a Pakistan-created phenomenon and therefore Islamabad can just deliver the Taleban to Kabul may not be very helpful. Pursuing such an approach always risked the trust-building needed for launching a more independent channel of talks with the Taleban.

Antonio Giustozzi in Foreign Affairs:

From the beginning, though, Yakub also entertained close relations with Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is leader of the Miran Shah Shura and is hostile to political reconciliation. Perhaps the many years of education Yakub spent in a Pakistani madrasah predisposed him to object to Mansour’s seemingly “unprincipled” approach to the peace process, which is increasingly focused more on power sharing and the distribution of the spoils than on principles (establishing a “more Islamic” system of government, whatever that might mean) … According to sources within the Quetta Shura, friction first arose between Yakub and Mansour in April, when Mansour initially raised the possibility of announcing to the world that Omar was dead. Mansour claimed that Kabul’s demand to meet Omar in order to obtain a clear endorsement of the peace process left the group with no other choice. Yakub, however, also understood that Mansour was laying the groundwork for his own succession to Omar. Yakub is also likely not to have appreciated Mansour’s decision to issue an Eid al-Fitr message at the end of Ramadan that was signed “Mullah Omar” and that endorsed the peace process. His [Mansour’s] message broke the unwritten agreement that the Quetta Shura would not use Omar’s name to promote policies that were still controversial among the Taliban … For now, an open split does not appear imminent. Yakub seems intent on organizing a campaign against Mansour within the Taliban, a brand name that has significant value. But if Mansour keeps breaking old rules and, most important, if he resumes the reconciliation process before gathering widespread support within the top layers of the Taliban, anything could happen. The Taliban also risks that major donors to the movement might end up so dismayed by ever worsening internal struggles that they could dump the Taliban altogether. Funding to the Taliban is already in decline this year, and a further acceleration of the cuts could have devastating effects

Barnett Rubin in the New Yorker:

It may be tempting to portray Mansur as in favor of talks, and Zakir and Mullah Omar’s family as “hard-liners” opposed to talks, but the lines are not so clear. Especially with the appointment of Mawlawi Haibatullah, Mansur seems to be strengthening his Ishaqzai tribe’s hold over the leadership rather than maintaining a careful tribal balance. Afghanistan’s history with the I.S.I. inevitably leads some to attribute differences between Zakir and Mansur to an effort by Pakistan to pressure Mansur, but a senior Pakistani official e-mailed to say, “Our main effort now is to prevent fragmentation That is lose-lose for everyone.” The Taliban Web site claimed that Mansur received visiting delegations, whose members pledged bay’at (religiously mandated allegiance) to him … The Pakistani pressure on the Taliban to negotiate with the Afghan government through a process in which Pakistan has a say will continue, as will differences among the Taliban on how to respond. Mansur authorized Taliban leaders with strong ties to the I.S.I. to participate in the July 7th meeting, while simultaneously permitting his official spokesman and Web site to issue statements undermining the meeting’s legitimacy. Now Mansur’s decisions, unlike those in Omar’s name, are unlikely to be met with unanimous consent, especially if they are seen as being made under pressure from Pakistan. The political office, which derived much of its authority from its close ties to Mullah Omar (its head, Tayyib Agha, is rumored to be the late leader’s son-in-law) might be orphaned. It has been under Mansur’s leadership, however, that Taliban spokesmen have stated that the political office is the only address for talks. If the office seizes its new autonomy to engage directly with the Afghan government, and the government accepts the offer rather then relying entirely on Pakistan, the office could be the government’s interlocutor in an Afghan-led effort. Any settlement will still need to safeguard Pakistan’s interests, but China’s involvement, as in the Urumqi meeting, may accomplish that more deftly than meeting under the gaze of I.S.I. generals.

Thomas Ruttig for the Afghan Analysts Network:

Mansur also gave the green light for early channels of contact, from opening the Qatar office to the Pugwash-organised talks earlier this year, also in Qatar. He also seems to have been the driving force behind the recent move to make the Political Committee independent of his own Quetta Shura. (In contrast, there was controversy about whether he had really blessed the Murree talks, too, or not. More about this in our following dispatch.) This policy of trying to make the Taleban more independent of Pakistan’s direct control, by moving its main political instrument to Qatar, has put him on the hit list of the anti-talks (but not necessarily pro-Pakistan [added on 1 Aug.]) forces among the Taleban, widely believed to be led by Mullah Qayum Zaker, and of Islamabad itself. (6) This, by the way, was a significant moment, creating for the first time something like an independent ‘political wing’ of the Taleban, if, of course, it remains credible with those fighting on the ground … Pakistan’s induction of its own favourite Taleban leaders, opponents of Mansur’s course, into the Murree talks amounted to a coup to take over the whole Taleban movement. To push forces more amenable to its own interests, it gambled on either a complete take over (in case the Mansur group would give in) or a final split of the Taleban. (Some Afghan observers AAN talked to see similarity in this move to Pakistan dropping Hekmatyar in favour of Mullah Omar’s Taleban in the mid-1990s.) This had, and still has, some chance of success, particularly as the Afghan government bought into the Pakistan-organised talks with that faction and when this faction gains more support within the Taleban. But then, the appointment of Mansur by his own group, to the disgruntlement of the opponents, was a counter-coup … For the time being, it will be insufficient to talk of ‘anti-‘ and ‘pro-talks’ Taleban, as there are now more currents with clear, distinctive agendas. We have ‘anti-talks’ Taleban who oppose a Pakistan-led approach (Mansur) but who are pro-talks when they can carry them out independently. We have ‘pro-talks’ Taleban who support the Pakistan-led approach (including those attending the talks in Urumchi and the first round in Murree). And we have Taleban apparently opposed to any talks (Zaker).

Andrew Small for Foreign Policy:

Beijing faces a jihadist world that is becoming increasingly hostile to its interests — and increasingly difficult to negotiate with. From the 1980s on, when the preeminent militant figures were headquartered in Afghanistan and Pakistan and receiving active sponsorship or tacit acquiescence from the Pakistani security services, Beijing enjoyed a number of benefits. Given that there were far more important targets, and the cause for an independent Uighur homeland was a peripheral one at best, attacking China over its Xinjiang policies seemed inadvisable. Moreover, with Pakistani facilitation, Beijing preferred buying off its potential opponents: The Taliban benefited from Chinese arms, money, and modest political support. Whether for reasons of tactical necessity or pragmatic advantage, the suffering of their Uighur brothers was a strikingly low priority for the Taliban or for Kashmiri militant groups. In 1997, even Osama bin Laden publicly dismissed bomb attacks in Xinjiang as a CIA plot to divide China and the Muslim world … That model has become far less viable.

Bette Dam interviewed in Der Spiegel:

I saw this misconception of who the real enemy in Afghanistan was. I realized that, more than we think, the corrupt Afghan government, with its warlords fighting each other, was also the enemy. Often bombs were attributed to the Taliban, but were they always behind it? Hardly any journalist was talking to the Taliban. So, I found it necessary to portray the Taliban movement and its leader, to explain who they are. As a result of that research, the book will explain why the West is losing the war in Afghanistan …  From the perspective of living in Kabul, the Taliban were scary. But after traveling extensively in the south, where many Taliban come from, I saw it differently. The Taliban were happy to talk, they felt misunderstood. For example, they considered it an important gesture that most of Taliban members surrendered to President Hamid Karzai after 9/11 and handed over their weapons. But the US and some of its allies didn’t accept a Taliban surrender and sent armies in to chase them … One of the interesting points is that Mullah Omar was a person who was very interested in the West. He really trusted the United States in the beginning, because they had helped him during the jihad in the 1980s to expel the Soviets. In 1996, when he became the leader of the Taliban, the first thing he expected to happen was the reopening of the US Embassy in Kabul. Instead, a big cultural misunderstanding ensued because what we saw, of course, was the Taliban’s treatment of women, the stonings. Although it is true these things are horrible, there was also a context in Afghanistan: the civil war. Women were being dragged off the streets, gang raped and murdered. They put women in bags and threw them in the water. A lot of tribes were killing each other.

After Mullah Omar

Some of the most useful pieces of commentary and reporting published on Mullah Omar’s alleged death:

Michael Semple for Politico:

The development will have far-reaching consequences for Afghan politics. In the first place, the shattering of the Mullah Omar myth will embolden a dissident faction within the Taliban leadership. The dissidents have been at loggerheads with the movement’s acting leader over how to respond to Pakistani demands that the Taliban talk to the Kabul government. Safe from allegations of rebellion against the Ameer, the dissidents are now free to push ahead with negotiations and maybe even to put up their own candidate for the leadership … ISIL followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan already accused the Taliban of waging an unlawful struggle because they lacked an Ameer. ISIL will now feel vindicated and try to recruit from the Taliban fighting forces. It remains to be seen just how much of a boost it receives as, even with Omar off the scene, there are significant barriers to its progress in Afghanistan. And in any case, ISIL’s gain is Al-Qaeda’s loss. In the tussle with ISIL over the past year, Ayman al-Zawahiri has continued to insist that he and Al-Qaeda are loyal to Mullah Omar. Zawahiri, too, will have to update his narrative. Moreover, none of the potential replacements for Omar has the kind of stature likely to persuade Al-Qaeda veterans to swear loyalty … Acknowledgement of Omar’s death is likely to hasten the shift to a multi-actor insurgency in Afghanistan. That would be a bitter reality for Afghans who hope for peace. But ultimately the Afghan government, with continuing international support, should be far more confident of ultimately prevailing over a fragmented insurgency than in a fight against a unified Taliban movement.

Barnett Rubin for the New Yorker:

For the first time the Taliban, founded to end factionalism, were speaking with multiple voices, some manipulated by Pakistan more obviously than ever. Since only the hidden Mullah Omar could settle which was the true voice of the Taliban, the question of his authority became pressing … The death of Mullah Omar may allow Pakistan to put leaders it controls more fully in charge of the Taliban. It may also cause the Taliban to splinter. Some may stop fighting and enter the system, while others may join even more extremist groups, such as the Islamic State, and fight the governments of both Afghanistan and Pakistan. If the two governments cannot gain the willing participation of most of the Taliban in the peace process, Kabul may demand that Islamabad use force to shut down whatever part of the Taliban’s military machine it does not control directly. But the Pakistani Army, which is already overstretched by its posture toward India, and by battles against the Pakistani Taliban, Baloch nationalists, and armed gangs in Karachi, will be reluctant to take on a battle-hardened Afghan group, some of whose members it hopes to use as future agents of influence. These issues may at least temporarily draw the attention of high-level U.S. decision-makers back to Afghanistan, where they will find that they now need to coöperate closely with China.

The Guardian:

“I have asked around a lot and there was no military strategy coming from Mullah Omar, not in 2001, not in 2005, not in 2010,” said Bette Dam, a journalist and author who has been researching a biography of Omar for several years …  “In the current situation there is so much at stake, the possibility of peace, and many of the Taliban want a leader who can make daily decisions for them,” said Dam … “The timing of the release of this information needs to be taken very seriously,” said Dam. “There are several groups within the Taliban and outside who want to make sure they have a share in any peace or any power sharing, lots of groups are afraid to be left out.” … “If it is true [that he is dead], it would be a major issue for the peace talks, and it would be a major issue for the Taliban, because he can’t really be replaced,” said Felix Kuehn, an author who has researched the group for more than 10 years. “He is more than a man, he is an institution,” said Kuehn. “Even the younger generation of Talibs who have never seen him, and who are not very aligned with the policies put out by the Taliban leadership – those who are more radical and less inclined to peace talks – always speak highly of Mullah Omar, and want to hear what he thinks.”

Another Guardian story:

A Pakistani intelligence official told the Guardian on Wednesday he had been aware of the reports of Omar’s death since January 2014, based on information from “close aides” of the militant chief and family members … There are also several outstanding questions about Omar’s death, with no detail on exactly how or where he died, or where he was buried – something that may not be revealed for years, his biographer, Bette Dam, said, quoting a senior Taliban official: “You can’t find the grave, the grave is secret,” he told her, after confirming the death.

The NYT:

A different American official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said American officials had heard “chatter” in recent days among senior Taliban members about their leaders’ possible demise. Still, the official cautioned that the communication, which was picked up through electronic surveillance and other sources of intelligence, was not definitive … A different official at Afghanistan’s spy agency, who like other Afghan officials spoke about the matter only on the condition of anonymity, said that the agency had learned of Mullah Omar’s death a year and a half ago and that since then, “a lot of our international allies have confirmed the death.” The [Afghan] official said that Mullah Omar had been relatively itinerant and was believed to have spent some time in Rawalpindi, home to the headquarters of the Pakistani military, among a host of other places. “Because of the American drones, they were changing his place very often,” the official said. … [A European] diplomat referred to intelligence indicating that Taliban commanders were discussing among themselves, with a variety of opinions, whether Mullah Omar was alive or dead. “Almost everyone believes the chatter wouldn’t be where it is if there wasn’t something significant here,” the diplomat said, adding, “It has never been at this volume or intensity before.” That is a change from a few years ago, when Western intelligence officials said they believed Mullah Omar was active and living under official protection in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.

Sami Yousafzai ultra-revisionist account for Newsweek:

Just before the end of Ramadan this year I received an unexpected call from one of Mullah Mohammed Omar’s longtime family friends. He had ust learned a secret held by only a tiny circle of Omar’s most trusted associates: the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban was dead … this caller was different—extraordinarily well placed to know about the Mullah’s whereabouts. His claims were also very detailed. He asked not to be quoted by name on such a sensitive topic, but he and his family are highly respected for their longtime humanitarian work in Pakistan’s Afghan exile community. Omar died in Afghanistan, my contact said. People have often assumed that the Taliban leader fled across the border into Pakistan, like most of his surviving followers, but in fact he refused to leave the country of his birth … when the end finally came, Omar was holed up for the winter among the desolate mountains of Now Zad district in Helmand province, in an area of tiny villages known collectively as Taizeini.  Few maps show the place, but it’s roughly 100 miles northwest of Kandahar. A good friend was with him, according to my source. Mullah Abdul Jabar, a native of Zabul province, had served during the years of Taliban rule as governor of central Baghlan province … Omar told Jabar what to do in the event of his death or capture—get word to Mullah Sheikh Abdul Hakim. The religious scholar, a longtime friend and advisor of Omar’s, makes his home in Quetta, the southwestern Pakistani city where the Taliban leadership resides. Hakim and Jabar quickly relayed the news to three other senior Taliban figures. One was Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, the head of the Quetta Shura. Another was Mullah Qayyum Zakir, director of the Taliban’s military council at the time. And the third was another religious scholar and longtime Omar friend, Mullah Abdul Salam, who lives and preaches in the city of Kuchlak, a few miles outside Quetta. (None of the five could be reached for comment.) A week after Jabar brought his news to Quetta, the council chiefs Mansoor and Zakir held a private meeting with the two religious scholars. The family friend says Mullahs Salam and Hakim formally gave Omar’s turban to Mansoor, appointing him to be Omar’s successor as Amir-ul-Momineen—the “Commander of the Faithful.” … Zakir wanted to announce Omar’s death immediately, but the others convinced him not to talk. In order to keep it secret, the Quetta Shura went so far as to issue a decree prohibiting any questions about Omar’s fate. Violators would be referred to a Taliban court.

Casey Garret Johnson for Foreign Policy on Omar’s alleged successor:

While other Taliban leaders have been imprisoned or put under house arrest by Pakistani authorities, Mansour remains a favored son in large part because he has remained in step with ISI policy and has often served as a link between the Haqqani network of Waziristan and the Afghan Taliban of Balochistan. He is also one of the individuals to have benefited from the U.S. surge in 2010-2011. As one analyst from Kandahar notes in an interview: “More than anyone else, Mansour has benefited from the leadership vacuum that opened up after the U.S. started to take a lot of the Taliban commanders out — particularly in the south. Mansour remained safe in Pakistan and he was able to expand his network and powerbase, even though he had never really been a military commander per se.” As late as 2012, Mansour was seen as a hardliner among Taliban leaders, opposing any talks with Hamid Karzai’s government. From about 2013 onward, his position appears to have changed, putting him directly at odds with Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a Taliban military leader from northern Helmand who has for years commanded arguably the largest organized insurgent front inside Afghanistan. Throughout 2014, Mansour and Zakir bickered over the direction of the movement, with Zakir adopting a hard line and eventually being sacked, only to be re-instated after a reconciliation involving a few slaughtered goats and hearty man hugs. By early 2015, however, the two “frenemies” were reportedly at odds again. The most recent news reports of Omar’s death also speculate that Mansour and Omar’s son are involved in a fight for control. Given his historically close ties with Pakistan, Mansour’s moderation could be read as a clear indicator that Pakistan’s calculus has indeed changed.

The Express Tribune (Pakistan):

A day after the news of Afghan Taliban supremo Mullah Omar’s death broke, the powerful Taliban leadership council elected on Thursday Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as the new Afghan Taliban supreme leader, a senior Taliban leader told The Express Tribune. “The council also elected Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is known as Khalifa, the chief of Haqqani as deputy of the Taliban’s leader,” the Taliban leader told on the condition of anonymity. The Taliban have not yet officially announced the new leader. However, the Taliban leader said the formal announcement is likely to be made shortly.

See also Colin Cookman’s excellent round-up.


British elections round-up

Source: FT elections data hub (http://elections.ft.com/uk/2015/projections)

Source: FT elections data hub (http://elections.ft.com/uk/2015/projections)

Some piece I’ve enjoyed over the past week: Robert Tombs in the New Statesman, on Britain’s supposed political crisis in historical context

British politics nevertheless retains remarkable elements of stability and the coming election will show how resilient it still is. Most people are not floating voters. The broad UK pattern of voting – usually with the Tories leading in England and their opponents ahead in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – has been noted. The Tory share of the vote in England in 2010 was almost identical to its share in the decade Queen Victoria ascended the throne. In England, regional political patterns have been very consistent: areas of Anglican dominance shown in the 1851 census (the only one to record religious affiliation) are similar to the strongholds of the modern Conservatives. Liberal and later Labour support was similarly linked with Dissent. In 2010, Anglicans were twice as likely to vote Tory as Catholics, despite the latter group’s conservatism on many social and cultural issues; Muslims, even more small-C conservative, were the most Labour-voting religious group in Britain.

Philip Stephens in the FT, celebrating the end of majorities:

The unravelling of the old political order is anyway making this discussion irrelevant. Whatever the balance between the two main parties when the ballots are counted, the election will most probably be decisive only in demonstrating that the first-past-the-post electoral system no longer delivers single party rule. Even assuming a sharp fall in the number of Liberal Democrats, more than 80 and perhaps up to 100 members of a House of Commons of 650 will come from parties other than the Tories or Labour. Numbers like that make it hard to see how left and right can again expect to secure sufficient seats for a majority.

Rafael Behr in the Guardian, on nationalism in the campaign:

 Few things could be more effective in sustaining that dynamic than the current Tory campaign to strip Scottish MPs of legitimacy in the next parliament. The depiction of a Labour administration propped up by the SNP as a potential crisis for the country is, at heart, an assertion of the moral primacy of English representation in the Commons. The implication is that people who vote for a nationalist party in Scotland are voluntarily curtailing the reach of their citizenship. Their opinion on who should be prime minister no longer counts.

Danny Finkelstein in The Times, on the reasonableness of scaremongering about the SNP:

You simply cannot spend a quarter of a century arguing that Scotland has a claim of right to determine its own affairs, questioning the legitimacy of a majority that originates in England, crafting institutions to accompany this rhetoric and then say that the very same arguments are unreasonable when someone gently asks questions about English laws … [The SNP] would be relied upon to sustain and support policies in a country they don’t want to be attached to, and in whose outcomes they have no interest. English education law is foreign policy to the SNP. It will exercise this power in the service of an leftist ideology that England has often rejected and doubtless will reject again.

Alex Massie in the Spectator, on why this is a dangerous argument (see also his long essay in February on the SNP wave and risk to the union):

Instead of bringing the nation – or nations, if you prefer – together, Cameron and his party (south of the border) have pushed them ever further apart. At no point has Cameron set out his vision for the better, more equitable, governance of the United Kingdom. Perhaps he does not have one. Instead there was an immediate push for EVEL, tying this to any changes in Scotland’s status. This was, transparently, a manoeuvre launched for tactical reasons: let’s dish Labour! No thought was given to the broader, longer, picture.

Philip Stephens in the FT, on the foreign policy implications

The fifth lesson is deeply dispiriting: Tory- or Labour-led Britain will retreat from the world. Mr Cameron’s promised referendum could wrench the nation out of the EU, his immigration rules would shut out the hard working and the talented from abroad. As for Mr Miliband, he sees the world as largely irrelevant to his grand project to build a fairer society. Both parties will annoy Washington by cutting defence spending. But then, these days, Britain’s voters are as mistrustful of foreign adventures as they are of the political leaders standing for election on May 7.

Peter Kellner in Prospect, on the day after:

The Tories, having acknowledged defeat would themselves face either a leadership election (if Cameron resigns as party leader as well as PM) or a leadership crisis (if he tries to hang on). The party will be in no position to try and thwart Miliband at this early stage. If, in a fit of madness, they announced their intention to try and vote down Miliband’s Queen’s Speech, and so provoke constitutional gridlock, Tory support in the polls would crumble. Rather than travel the road to perdition, they are likely to abstain (as they did in broadly similar circumstances on March 1974). Miliband will secure a majority, and possibly a huge majority. In short, the immediate question on 8th May will not be whether a majority exists for Labour to govern. It will simply be whether Cameron can construct a majority for his Queen’s Speech. If he can, he will stay as Prime Minister. If he can’t, then Miliband has no need tol do a deal with the SNP, Lib Dems or anyone else. Labour will lead the government. Depending on circumstances, Miliband may offer a deal to the Lib Dems, in order to implement progressive policies over a full five-year term; but he has no need to do so in order to get over the immediate hurdle of establishing himself as Prime Minister.

Notes from ‘Fighting to the End: the Pakistan Army’s Way of War’

I recently finished Christine Fair’s new book, ‘Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War‘, which is based on an extensive survey of essays, books, and manuscripts written by Pakistani military personnel. I’ve written a review of the book for the RUSI Journal, but I wanted to pick out a few passages/nuggets from my notes that I couldn’t mention there:

  • “the army relaxes its educational and even physical standards in places where it hopes to expand recruitment. For example, in Balochistan, recruits with an eighth-grade education will be considered for all positions except as technicians, nurses, or military police. Recruits from Balochistan can be shorter as well, with a minimum height of  feet, 4 inches instead of  feet, 6 inches” (p31)
  • “PMA [Pakistan Military Academy]  recruit – like their enlisted counterparts – are taught how to use a flush toilet, sit on the commode, perform physical exercise, and even use the proper dining etiquette … South Asian Foreign Area Officers in the US Army as well as scholars of the Pakistan Army also note that in the Pakistan Army officers are “also judged on their personal behaviour to a degree that is uncommon” in western armies” (p33-34)
  • “The military cultivates civilians including scholars, journalists, and analysts, providing them selective access to the institution and punishing them – either with physical harm (or the threat of it) to the author or her family members or simply with  the denial of future access – should they produce knowledge that harms the interests of the army … self-censorship is still very common, as is deference to the army’s  preferred narratives. The intelligence agencies’ willingness to use lethal methods against intransigent journalists and other domestic critics …” (pp35-36); “in recent years ISI has established its own media cell tasked not only with monitoring international and domestic reporting about Pakistan but also with reaching out to and actively managing reporters … the army has long influenced Pakistan’s textbooks, in which the army appears as the institution best able to handle any crisis” (p198)
  • Pakistani military memoirs show “focus on battles in which Pakistan prevailed but within wars that Pakistan lost … there is a persistent emphasis on religious themes, such as the nature of the Islamic warrior, the role of Islam in training, the importance of Islamic ideology for the army, and the salience of jihad. Pakistan’s military journals frequently take as their subjects famous Quranic battles, such as the Battle of Badr. Ironically, the varied Quranic battles are discussed in more analytical detail in Pakistan’s journals than are Pakistan’s own wars with India. A comparable focus on religion in the Indian army … would be quite scandalous. It is difficult to fathom that any Indian military journal would present an appraisal of the Kurukshetra War” (p39)
  • Pakistani defence publications frequently cite the poetry of Iqbal on  a variety of themes ranging from the notions of faith and community to that of jihad” (p43)
  • “Oddly, many authors in Pakistan’s military journals do not consider the 1947-1948 war to be a war at all, even though the army was engaged and even though the operation had the backing of the senior most political leadership. While teaching undergraduates at the Lahore University for Management Sciences during summer 2010, I learned that those students, who came from throughout Pakistan, had never learned that a war took place in this period … these students believed that the conflict involved only mujahideen and were incredulous that the army and civilian leadership were involved” (p51)
  • “this tendency to conflate India with Hindu is a common trope in Pakistani military writings, and writers rarely bother explaining what precisely they mean by such expressions as Hindu mentality” (p57)
  • “the military attracts public support by describing the foe – inevitably Hindu India or its agents – as nonbelievers (kufar, pl. of kafir) and casting the conflict nearly exclusively in religious terms. Thus, conflict with India is portrayed as jihad against nonbelievers who threaten Pakistan” (p90)
  • “Another way of denigrating the enemy is to reduce the diverse Indian Army to a solely Hindu force … Perhaps one of the most important examples of such exposition was written by Brig. Javed Hassan (1990). Hassan, who would retire as a lieutenant general, published India: A Study in Profile while at … the Command and Staff College in Quetta. It is now required reading at the National Defense University as well … Among Hassan’s other derogatory remarks, he argues that India is not a nation, characterizes its past as having a “total absence of any popular resistance against foreign domination and rule”, describes the Indians as “less Warlike” than Pakistanis, and attributes India’s military failings to “racial” shortcomings” (p100) … “several prominent and intertwined rubrics or narrative tropes … the authors first establish that Hindus are dishonourable, meek, pusillanimous, treacherous, and inequitable and then argue that these traits define the country … Muslims are honourable, brave, dedicated to fighting for the umma, steadfastly committed to justice, and fight only when attacked” (p154) … “Hassan’s book frequently deploys such tropes as the “Hindu psyche” and other patently Orientalist, if not outright racist, concepts” (p162)
  • “the Afghan government actually supported Pakistan in the 1965 war with India and maintained strict neutrality  during the 1971 war between India and Pakistan” (p116); a “thaw in relations prompted Pakistan to stop its assistance to the Afghan Islamists in early 1977” (p123)
  • On Kargil: “one of [Sharif’s] advisors explained to me … that the briefing [by the army] was in English, and Sharif did not seem to understand the possibilities for escalation of the conflict” (p151); “the [ISI] chief had not been apprised of the mission in advance” (p152)
  • “prior to the 1971 war, no authors in Pakistan’s defence establishment blamed India for widespread unrest in Pakistan, with the exception of those who claimed that India encouraged Afghanistan to take provocative positions in the frontier” (p166)
  • “the Pakistan army clearly understands concepts like defeat and success in ways that differ from more mainstream understandings of these concepts. With the exception of the 1971 war, Pakistan does not see itself as ever having been defeated militarily” (p172)
  • “for several years, Pakistan voted against seating communist China [in the UN] … Pakistan jointly sponsored a UN General Assembly resolution criticising China’s suppression of the 1959 Tibetan uprising” (p185)
  • “In recent years, writers in Pakistan’s defence publications have begun to content that the United States is deliberately seeking to destroy Pakistan or is even aiding and abetting the Pakistani Taliban in its operations” (p195)
  • “Pakistani defense writing of the 1950s suggests that engagement with the US military led the Pakistan  Army to adopt important doctrinal shifts toward guerrilla warfare” (p227)
  • “Since 2001 … the Afghan Taliban have experienced regular turnover of midlevel commanders … The new commanders are less beholden to Pakistan, in part because of their age … Pakistan is struggling to cultivate influence among the emerging Afghan Taliban factions, even while it seeks to control elements of Mullah Omar’s Quetta Shura” (p21)
  • “One highly suggestive piece of evidence is the significant signals traffic between the ISIS and JeM recorded after JeM’s 2001 attack on the Indian parliament, indicating the ISI’s anger with JeM for that attack. In contrast, significantly less traffic was detected after the November 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai” (p252)
  • “Punjabis living outside of the Punjab are less likely than those in the Punjab to view jihad as a militarised struggle .. however [they] are also less supportive of complete civilian control of the army” (pp272-273)

An #irantalks reading list


Seven bits of background on the Iran nuclear issue:

  1. On understanding “breakout”Greg Thielmann (PDF) for Arms Control Association, Scott Kemp with some excellent visual tools for Arms Control Wonk, and Ariane Tabatabai in the National Interest on the tussle over centrifuge numbers.
  2. On the importance of sneak-out over break-outJames Acton and Paul Pillar for the National Interest, Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy and Greg Thielmann/Robert Wright for Slate.
  3. On understanding the web of sanctions: Ali Vaez for the ICG, Cornelius Adebahr (PDF) and Kenneth Katzman (PDF) on unwinding European and US sanctions respectively, and Kaveh Waddell in the Atlantic.
  4. On the Possible Military Dimensions (PMDs) to Iran’s programme: Jeffrey Lewis in Foreign Policy and again in ACW on interpreting the 2007 NIE and the “halt”, former inspector Robert Kelley with his “no slam dunk” piece of 2012 in Bloomberg, and Nima Geramni for WINEP on some background.
  5. On how to deal with PMDs as part of a deal: Mark Hibbs for ACW in 2012 (and post-JPOA, two more good pieces), Hugh Chalmers for RUSI this week, Barbara Slavin for Al-Monitor on recent comments by the IAEA chief on this subject, and Jon Wolfsthal advocating a modest approach in the National Interest.
  6. On the domestic politics of a deal: NYT on all-round obstacles, FT on Iranian hardliners’ quiescence, Hooman Majd in the Guardian, Arash Karami in Al-Monitor on the IRGC chief’s intervention on the issue. And, on the US side, NYT On Obama circumventing Congress, and CNNLA Times and The Hill on Congress.
  7. Finally, on the talks: Julian Borger’s Monday scene-setter and his Wednesday column on “too big to fail”, Reza Marashi for IranWire on the gaps, Ellie Geranmayeh for ECFR, WSJ on Kerry’s efforts to get a united US-European front, and my own brief thoughts for RUSI.

Robin Raphel: “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws”

It’s been reported that the veteran US diplomat Robin Raphel, who had been working for the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (SRAP), after spells as a lobbyist and a contractor in the US Embassy in Islamabad, is under federal investigation “as part of a counterintelligence probe”. She was also “placed on administrative leave last month, and her contract with the State Department was allowed to expire this week”.

As the Post noted, “espionage cases involving State Department officials are relatively rare”. But the case is also notable because Raphel was – to put it mildly, as the excerpts below demonstrate – India’s bête noire throughout the 1990s for her outspoken views. When Raphel returned to the State Department in 2009, the analyst and former intelligence officer B. Raman wrote, in an article titled ‘She’s Back’:

During her posting in the US Embassy in New Delhi [1991-1993], she was actively interacting with the various anti-India groups in Jammu & Kashmir and it was reportedly on her advice that the Hurriyat, as an umbrella organization of these groups, became very active.

It was during her tenure as the Assistant Secretary of State that the Clinton Administration declared Jammu & Kashmir as a “disputed territory” and started calling for the resolution of the dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir issue in accordance with the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This refrain has once again been taken up by the Obama Administration.

Towards the end of 1993, during a non-attributable discussion with some Indian journalists in Washington DC she reportedly defended this formulation and contended that the US considered the Kashmiri territory transferred by Pakistan to China in 1963 when Ayub Khan was the President also as disputed territory, whose future was yet to be decided.  The Times of India prominently carried this story on the front page without identifying the official of the State Department who had talked to the Indian journalists on the Kashmir issue. Enquiries made by the government of India identified the official as Robin Raphel.

It was during her stewardship of the South Asian Affairs portfolio in the State Department that the Taliban under Mulla Mohammad Omar came into existence in 1994 with the joint support of the Pakistan and US Governments. The Taliban was prepared to support the construction of an oil and gas pipeline by UNOCAL, an American oil company, from Turkmenistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and she had met Mulla Mohammad Omar in this connection. This period also saw Osama bin Laden shift from Khartoum to Jalalabad in 1996 without any objection from the US. The Taliban later shifted him to Kandahar.

Even after she left the State Department and joined the faculty of the National Defence University, she reportedly maintained active contacts with anti-India elements in J&K.

The News has correctly described her as “one known to be Pakistan’s friend”.  She is.

(Raphel was also prominent in Raman’s Times of India obituary last year).

Contemporary reporting and writing also highlight just how toxic her interventions were in India. The former governor of Jammu and Kashmir devoted a section in his book to Raphel’s comments:

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Following those comments, India Today wrote in 1993:

[T]he fact that the sudden renewal of international pressure on Kashmir is being led by the US, the sole remaining superpower, gives the Kashmir question unprecedented urgency, even legitimacy. Kashmir, as officials put it, has appeared on the “radar screen” and no amount of rhetoric about the Simla Agreement or aide memoires can wish that away.

US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel may be the villain of the piece in New Delhi – and the flavour of the month in Islamabad – but she is certainly no loose cannon on the State Department deck. Nor is she to be dismissed as a ‘bleeding-heart’ junior functionary who overstepped her official brief. Raphel spent three years at the US embassy in New Delhi – she was married to ambassador Arnold Raphel who died in General Zia-ul-Haq’s plane crash. Her brief in India was Kashmir, more specifically what the Americans call Track-2 diplomacy which involves bringing together experts from India, Pakistan and Kashmir in ‘neutral’ situations …

Raphel, who is an articulate and aggressive speaker, suggested that the time was ripe to turn the screws on both India and Pakistan over resolving Kashmir. Her argument advocating a ‘a glove off line was, as even top level MEA officials admit, forceful and credible. The US and its western allies were “prepared to do anything” to avoid regional instability in the subcontinent …

On the surface, Raphel’s remark smacks of indirect support for militancy in the Valley. The Indian aide memoire in reaction to Raphel’s briefing, stated that “it only encourages Pakistan to persist with its interference,” and added; “We percieve… a studied tilt on the part of US towards Pakistan.”

Even in the US, Raphel’s remarks were seen as being tendentious and undiplomatic. “Raphel made a very grave mistake, completely inappropriate for an Assistant Secretary of State,” says Selig Harrison, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has written extensively on the subcontinent … What the Raphel remark has exposed is Indian ineffectiveness in influencing US foreign policy.

India Today again, in 1994, on the “patch-up”:

It is silly, therefore, as some politicians are now doing, to sit on ceremony or to condemn the treatment and access accorded to Raphel as a manifestation of Indian obsequiousness in the face of a bully. For it was really nothing of the sort. Raphel, for all her unpalatable pronouncements, is the senior most Clinton Administration official dealing with this part of the world.

And having decided to play host to the representative of the unipolar world’s most powerful leader, it was only proper that the Government treat her with apt protocol while also using her as the lightning rod for criticism of Washington’s recent postures on Kashmir and related issues. The very fact that Raphel decided to descend on New Delhi right in the midst of a diplomatic hurricane of her own making was in itself proof that Washington wanted to make amends. And there were sound reasons for this. America’s commitment to its Manifest Destiny forces it into playing a high-profile world role at any given time. …

For starters, Raphel backtracked completely on her most controversial utterance on the validity of the Instrument of Accession. She recognised the provocation from Pakistan-trained terrorists and was at pains to stress that Washington was mounting ceaseless pressure on Pakistan. This was clearly damage control. And it apparently had the sanction of the highest authority in her land. For it was no coincidence that in the midst of Raphel’s visit, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao received an invitation from President Bill Clinton to visit the US.

The New York Times in 1994 on another flare-up:

India has reacted with anger to recent statements by the Clinton Administration over possible abuses of human rights in the Government’s efforts to put down a rebellion in Kashmir … Among the comments that have riled New Delhi was a statement last month by President Clinton while accepting the credentials of Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s new Ambassador to the United States, that the United States shared Pakistan’s “concerns on the abuse of human rights in Kashmir.” The Indian reaction had been primed by remarks in Washington by Ms. Raphel, who was named last fall to the newly created post of Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs.

The Washington Post (20 March 1994, p. C1; no link) had a particularly colourful account:

Particular scorn has been reserved for the assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Robin Raphel, who until a year ago was a senior political officer in the U.S. Embassy here. Raphel, who is expected to visit Delhi on Tuesday, has become a lightning rod for complaint for her outspokenness on Kashmir.

For instance, in the middle of a tense stand-off between the Indian army and terrorists barricaded in a mosque in Kashmir last October, Raphel said at a Washington press briefing that the United States did not believe Kashmir “is forever more an integral part of India,” adding that Kashmiris should be consulted about the future of their region. The State Department churned out clarifications, and officials here conceded that the timing of Raphel’s statement was unfortunate.

Indians have focused on Raphel’s remarks, and comments by Clinton expressing concern over human rights abuses in Kashmir, as a sign that America is ignoring Pakistan’s role in fueling the insurgency and secretly favors an independent Kashmir. Nonetheless, the increased public pressure by the United States and others is paying some dividends as India has begun opening Kashmir to more international observers.

U.S. officials have complained that the Indian embassy in Washington and Indian officials in Delhi have orchestrated a flood of negative and often uninformed commentary about the United States and its policies, which are eagerly picked up and sensationalized by India’s free but strongly nationalistic press.

A front page story two weeks ago in the Hindustan Times, a popular, mainstream daily, called Raphel the “goddess of Indian terrorists, secessionists and other outlaws” and urged the government to roll out a “black carpet” for her when she arrives later this month. “Considering the animosity she arouses in every patriotic heart, politicians are expected to treat her as an untouchable,” the story said. “It is likely that she will use this country’s soil to reaffirm the Clinton administration’s commitment to destabilize India.”

India and the Middle East

At Foreign Affairs, I have a short piece of analysis looking at whether India is likely to engage more intensively with the Middle East:

The fate of the Middle East, home to roughly seven million Indians, has long been tied to that of India. As Salman Khurshid, then India’s foreign minister, noted in 2013, the Persian Gulf, which supplies two-thirds of India’s oil and gas, is the country’s largest trading partner — more important than the 28 countries of the European Union combined. Despite its stake in the region, however, India has remained passive in the face of crises. It appears wary of taking on a more assertive diplomatic or military role — more likely to evacuate citizens than send more in to grapple with the Middle East’s problems.

This is based on a slightly longer piece written last year for India’s Seminar magazine:

[T]he challenge for Indian policy is to demonstrate the flexibility to protect and advance Indian interests even as fixed, fast-frozen assumptions melt away. One challenge lies in carefully assessing the fragility of the status quo, rather than simply the risk of changes away from it. To the extent that India seeks an inclusive Syrian peace, its alignment with Russian and Iranian policy has yielded few results. In Egypt, too, Indian analysts under-estimate the long-term problems that the post-Brotherhood junta is generating. Here, the Afghan analogy again misleads: Indian policymakers are prone to exaggerating the foreign origins of protest movements or rebellions, thereby underestimating the indigenous forces at work. Even as India expands defence agreements with the Arab monarchies, it should ensure that it engages with the beleaguered opposition under the surface.

A second challenge is institutional. As C. Raja Mohan has noted, India’s Ministry of External Affairs places Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan into one division, the Arab countries into a second, and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa into a third.16 But even if such things were reformed, it is harder to see what a coherent Look West policy would entail. India’s engagement with East Asia in the two decades between 1992 and 2012 proceeded along relatively fixed, predictable lines (first economic, then defence) and involved stable regimes. But in the Middle East, alignments and polities themselves are proving more fluid. In this environment, a diverse alliance portfolio, encompassing traditional power centres but also new, influential, and even unsavoury actors within states – for example, Islamist groups, protest movements, armed factions, and other extra-regional powers – is required.

And whereas to look East was to look, in the final instance, at China, Indian policymakers looking to the West will find no single focal point, positive or negative. What is important is that India be nimble in exploiting opportunities, as it has been in East Asia in the past few years, eclectic in its partners, and resilient in the face of regional turbulence of the greatest magnitude since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

On this subject, see also: Dhruva Jaishankar, Alyssa Ayres, Raja Mohan, and Martin Indyk.