Saturday, 21 February 2009

Who’s bluffing whom? India rattles its sabres..


(Photo: The Swat valley in northern Pakistan, where the Pakistan military has cut a ceasefire deal with Taliban-linked militants, allowing them to impose Shariah courts in Swat)



If you can’t walk the talk, don’t talk the talk. India’s toothless sabre-rattling after the Mumbai attacks damages its credibility internationally, and does a disservice to its own people.

by Ajai Shukla
Defence & Security of India
February 2009

The chilly rhetoric between India and Pakistan following the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, with New Delhi continuing to indicate that military force remains an option, goes hand-in-hand with an incongruous confidence amongst officials on both sides that push will not come to shove. Indian policymakers admit, off the record, that tensions are not nearly as high as when Parliament was attacked in 2001. And Pakistan’s new German-speaking ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, in a carefully chosen interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, smoothly dismissed the possibility of armed conflict, remarking, “There will be no war… we are distancing ourselves from conflict with India, both now, and in general.”

Nor, evidently, is the international community as worried as it was after the Kaluchak terror strike in Jammu in May 2002, when a series of top American and British diplomats shuttled between Islamabad and New Delhi to stave off a conflagration between two fully-deployed armies. This time around, the desultory efforts of the US State Department --- both outgoing and incoming --- seem directed more at keeping the Pakistan Army’s nose to the “war on terror” grindstone. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Islamabad three weeks after the Mumbai attacks, but to partner Pakistan, not admonish it; Britain and Pakistan signed up for a “pact against terror”, funded from London to the tune of 6 million pounds. And British foreign secretary, David Milliband, in a gaffe that has sections of the British government staring at their shoes, declared that the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks should be tried in Pakistan. [Editor's note: Since the article was written, Mr Richard Holbrook, President Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has tried, with his customary enthusiasm, to turn the heat on Pakistan; there is little evidence so far of any real success]

But Delhi’s tough talk continues. It doesn’t take a Sun Tzu to identify this as a ham-handed attempt, in an election year, to deflect public attention from the appalling security failures that bestowed such spectacular success on the Mumbai attacks. If threats were a substitute for effective intelligence and policing, the NDA government would, with Operation Parakram in 2001/02, already have provided India with absolute security. The UPA government had criticised the failure of that lengthy, costly and eventually fruitless military mobilisation; now, driven by the electoral compulsion to appear decisive, but without the time, ideas, resources, or will to create an anti-terror shield, the Manmohan Singh government has in turn chosen the easy option of flexing muscles at Pakistan.

While pointing the finger at Islamabad may be good politics, it is a self-defeating strategy. No agency in Pakistan can risk being seen to deliver under Indian threat; even the few moderate elements in that country will be left with no choice but to close ranks with rabidly anti-Indian forces. Suspicion of India runs deep in Pakistan, even at the best of times. Overt Indian military threats fan that country’s deepest existential fear: that India has never reconciled to its existence. In such a situation the issue at hand, in this case Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to prevent attacks on India, is lost in a fog of insecurity and hostility.

In addition to crystallising anti-Indian feelings in Pakistan, war drums from New Delhi are also damaging Indian credibility. Western intelligence knows well—and Pakistani intelligence knows even better—that Indian forces are thoroughly unprepared for selective strikes, which are today the only viable kind of military operation. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal precludes the option of a conventional Indian military mobilisation followed by full-scale combat operations. That was amply illustrated during the Operation Parakram crisis when India mobilised its military after the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. From December 18 2001 when India mobilised, to October 16, 2002 when the troops were ordered back, there was only a ten-day window at the end of December 2001 when India could have prosecuted a war with clear advantage, because the Pakistani Army defences were still not prepared. Once the Pakistani mobilisation gathered momentum, a war could have had only two outcomes. If the fully deployed Pakistan Army managed to hold up against Indian thrusts, grinding battles of attrition would have produced no clear winners. On the other hand, if the Indian thrusts had made rapid headway, the war would have quickly moved into the nuclear realm.

Today, India doesn’t even have that weeklong window; Pakistan has mobilised pre-emptively, even pulling back forces from its Afghanistan border. The “marginal conventional conflict” that India’s army chief General Deepak Kapoor mentioned as an option is no longer a possibility. Pakistan’s early deployment of troops at battle stations means that combat operations will quickly escalate all across the border.

That leaves India with just one other option: air and missile strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, combined with ground raids by Special Forces. But Indian defence planners have failed to build the specific capabilities needed for such cross-border strikes. India neither has pinpoint intelligence about the targets that need to be struck, nor has it developed the wherewithal—surveillance equipment, electronic jammers, Special Forces and precision munitions—needed for cross-border air and ground raids.

The Indian right wing admires Israeli strikes in Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory and asks why India cannot do the same in Pakistan. India is held back for two reasons. Firstly, it does not have the human intelligence resources that Tel Aviv has deployed against anti-Israeli organisations. Israeli-nurtured moles, infiltrated over decades into groups like Hamas and Fatah, provide Tel Aviv with information about the movement of top militant leaders, including details about timings, routes, car colours, models, and even car numbers. This provides Israel with identifiable targets to strike. Indian intelligence on the other hand, after 25 years of fighting Pakistani-based terrorists, has failed to infiltrate groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed to an operationally significant degree.

Secondly, an Indian cross-border operation would be both risky and costly. Pakistan’s relatively small defence budget (at $4.39 billion for this year, barely one-fifth the size of India’s) is biased towards inexpensive, defensive systems like anti-air defences, which most experts believe are considerably more watertight than India’s. In contrast, the bulk of India’s defence budget is frittered away on heavy warfighting equipment, usable mainly in the full-scale wars that are becoming increasingly more improbable. The hardware and electronics needed to get past Pakistani air defences comes lower down in India’s shopping list.

This is why, even as the Indian public is misled into believing that the government means business, New Delhi’s sabre-rattling evokes international scepticism. Threatening military action without the means to back the threat does incalculable harm to India’s credibility; and the damage is greater each time the threat is made. Even as India seeks the status of major power, such crises tend to hyphenate India with Pakistan, bracketing the two in strategic calculations across the world.

And so, even though the world knows that the Mumbai attacks were masterminded from Pakistan, New Delhi’s response must be logical rather than emotional, anticipating the outcome of what it says. So far, India’s threats have produced only one clear winner: Pakistan. At the time of the Mumbai attacks, that country was at war with itself. The clergy was ranged against the establishment; the huge majority of Pakistanis were seething over a perceived sell-out to America. The Pakistan Army was taking heavy casualties in anti-Taliban operations in the tribal areas of the NWFP; the generals were wracking their brains to explain why devout Muslim soldiers were taking on the mujahideen of Islam. The chickens had come home to roost and, for once, India couldn’t be blamed for Pakistan’s troubles.

Now, with a belligerent New Delhi popping up conveniently, it’s back to business as usual. The traditional enemy sits nicely in everyone’s comfort zones. The jehadis are heaving sighs of relief; the Taliban has actually offered to fight India shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani military. The Pakistan Army is negotiating ceasefires with brutal Taliban commanders like Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah, who are now being billed as “patriotic Pakistanis”. The generals are happily contemplating winding down, or at least slowing down, bloody counter-militancy operations, and returning to the army’s old pastime of sitting on the Line of Control and pushing militants in to do the dirty work.

In bringing the Pakistani Army back to centre-stage, India’s tough talk has undermined Pakistan’s civilian government. In the months since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Pakistan was slowly beginning to deploy the instruments needed to confront the jehadi factory that had taken root in that country. President Asif Zardari was in the process of creating what India’s government has so far only talked of: a top-class federal anti-terrorism agency. Pakistan’s Special Investigation Group, or the SIG, was originally set up by President Musharraf in July 2003 as a crack squad to foil terrorist attempts to assassinate him and his generals. Zardari was moving to reinvent the SIG on the lines of Britain’s highly regarded Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, no apologists for Pakistan or strangers to its underhand dealings (their book, Deception, is the authoritative account of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation) have reported in detail how Zardari was transforming the SIG. He had managed to obtain British expertise and funding by promising to set up a special SIG cell to track British Pakistanis travelling home, providing Britain with access to raw intelligence and to terrorists who were tracked down.

The SIG’s focus, report Levy and Scott-Clark, was on Baitullah Mehsud, the NWFP-based commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an organisation variously described as a “one-stop terror shop”, the “Next-Gen Taliban” and “the new epicentre of global jehad”. It is the TTP that has given extra teeth to India-focused groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, by creating an umbrella organisation that draws simultaneously on Punjabi organisational skills, Al Qaeda financing, Arab bomb-making expertise, and young Pathan and Punjabi fundamentalists for suicide missions like the Mumbai attacks. With the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies turning their backs—however unwillingly—on the disparate terrorists that they had nurtured for a quarter of a century, there was little choice for the various tanzeems but to come together in their murderous cause.

Indians are understandably sceptical of Pakistan’s assertions that it is cracking down on terrorists. Call it the “wolf, wolf syndrome”; Islamabad has made such claims before. But something has clearly changed in the last year and a half. It is hard to ignore the ferocity with which terrorists have turned their guns on the Pakistani establishment. The death toll in the Pakistani Army has been estimated to be as high as 1,500 soldiers, a casualty rate higher than the Indian Army’s at the height of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even more revealing of the Pakistani state’s new confrontation with the jehadis is the targeting of the ISI and the SIG. On November 24, 2007 a suicide bomber drove his RDX-rigged truck into a bus in Rawalpindi carrying thirty ISI operatives for their morning shift. All thirty were killed. On March 11, 2008 a suicide attack on the SIG’s headquarters in Lahore killed 25 people, including 13 SIG officers.

All that could now become history if India insists on thrusting itself centre-stage in Pakistan. The ISI chief has just declared that, “terrorism, not India, is Pakistan’s main enemy”. It is surely counter-productive for New Delhi to try so hard to prove him wrong.

The Indian government has enough to do by way of creating anti-terrorism machinery in this country. It need not add to its burden by taking on the task of cleaning up Pakistan. There are enough people on the job, including Pakistanis, Britons and Americans, and none of them are reaping much success; it is a pipe-dream to imagine that India would improve things by leaping into the fray. Instead, New Delhi would do better to focus on putting in place the intelligence machinery, the border and coastal defences, the monitoring and surveillance mechanisms, the police and paramilitary forces, and the quick reaction teams needed to ensure that terrorists do not find the going as easy as they apparently did in Mumbai. And it is equally important for India to build public awareness of the new terror threat that it must live with. Bluffing its own people is a poor way to start.

20 comments:

Jumbo said...

Well written article. I think we should neither talk the talk and nor walk the walk for now. Let us buy our time and may be the Americans will invade, we should keep our neutrality till attacked up on in that instance.

sarang said...

There is something about the article which does not seem right to me.
Firstly whether we were capable or incapable of launching a counter offensive against god knows how many camps and caves which exist in Pakistan harboring terrorists, the point is what would have the attacked achieved, possibly international reputation. However we would have achieved nothing apart from perhaps uniting a generation of Pakistan and Jihadists further against India. Its an ideology we are against, not people who are in lure of money but brainwashed in way we can only imagine
Secondly the response of the government had to be a military threat irrespective of what they were capable of. You cant imagine them not giving the same threat. They seemed to have played whatever international cards pretty well, getting pakistan to admit was a big step forward. Pakistan is facing the brunt of attacks which are becoming very serious and a stable pakistan is better than a talibanized one
thirdly the argument about how we need to re vamp our internal security is quite valid and thats the real challenge facing us. But I dont see why any government would have no interest in enhancing it. There cannot be any possible reason

I dont think there is any bluff here, the statements had to be made, war or strikes would yield hardly any result

Anonymous said...

Every shouting match between India and Pakistan should be linked to a achievable goal. The goal could either be a military or political victory. I'm not sure what India achieved in the latest round.

You make a good point on India's failed intelligence. India has yet to see a full fledged separatist movement in Pakistan.

On defence technology acquisition, our world may go through a chaotic phase in the next decade. It is essential that countries be able to self sustain their defence and critical resources.

sarang,
International preasure is on life support. Take arm sales out of the picture, and watch the Intl preasure die a horrible death.

Kannan said...

Now Indian Govt have started to behave like Pakistani govt or US Govt..
Lying to people..
we were not privy to China-India talks..
or India Pakistan track whatever diplomacy.We will only know the gravity of situation when Chinese tear through our defences or rain missiles on our hard targets..1962 deja vu.This NSA Narayanan guy has to fired to begin with. How come he let inefficiency in RAW..persists..he let that moron RAW (mischief)chief retire peacefully instead of firing him or kill him off in an accident or something.

Manu said...

I think the article is unfair to the Indian government. Considering the gravity of the attack, I think the Indian response was quite measured. The Indian Foreign Minister has repeatedly said that we are not preparing for war, we don't want war. He obviously could not say that war is never an option, since that would be giving the Pakistanis a green signal to continue doing what they have been doing with impunity. India needs to let Pakistan and the world believe that the next such attack will bring retaliation.

The Indian military never got deployment orders, on the other hand, the Pakistan army did deploy, as your article states. Who's rattling its sabers again?

The Mumbai attackers were helped and trained by elements of ISI/PA. LeT is a creation of and an irregular arm of the ISI, as stated by no other than the current Pakistani Ambassador to the USA. Even after the Mumbai attacks, LeT as an organization continued to be active and their leaders were put under an ineffective 'house-arrest'. How is that a sign of the Pakistani government being serious about fighting terrorism?

Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to believe that it can continue to support anti-India terrorism, without it becoming a victim of terrorism too. All it's efforts are concentrated towards trying to find that magical formula.

I think the Indian government's diplomatic efforts have to be credited behind Pakistan's recent admission of attackers' origins, and their arrest of some LeT leaders. There is a long way to go though.

Totally agree with the author on the internal steps India needs to take. Better late than never. And let's be ready to retaliate when the next attack happens, because it is going to come.

Anonymous said...

Good article. Deftly points out the Indian government's culpability in the Mumbai terror attacks. What use is a government that cannot protect its citizens by deterring its adversaries?

Anonymous said...

I think the Indian government's diplomatic efforts have to be credited behind Pakistan's recent admission of attackers' origins

This means nothing much and just shows how impotent and incoherent the Indian government is. Since Nehru's days India has insisted that attacks from Pakistan have been state-sponsored. What exactly has changed since then that an admission of the attackers origins instead of an admission that they were state-sponsored becomes the new selling point for the Indian government?

Zorin said...

India's biggest mistake has been to let Pakistan protray to the world how it is being bullied by its giant neighbour.A country that exists with a grand vision of re-uniting the entire subcontinent under Muslim rule of course will never be an ally irrespective of what its leaders state.First it was Kashmir, now they are saying in Pakistan Muslims were in charge of the entire subcontinent and got deposed by the British and handed over to the Humdus.This is exactly the sort of vision Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts are using to keep the hatred and terror alive.Of the 4 wars India fought none were initiated by India and everyone knows that politically India is still a democracy in truth.India should have been pointing more at this aspect and let the world see how it has been victimised by China and Pakistan rather than mouth of aggressive words to fall into the trap that the Jehadis laid.Indians would have achieved a LOT had they used the Israeli tactics and the age old British dictum of divide and rule.

Zorin said...

Gee I am becoming like the Indian govt, full of emotions when typing!Not HUMDOS in the above post as you guessed it "Hindus". Apologies.

Pratik Das said...

Ajai, your analysis only tangentially refers to the nuclear realm. This is no abstract concept that can be ignored for the sake of brevity and clarity.

My direct question to you is which Indian cities are you willing to sacrifice for Pakistan's nuclear retaliation?

You cannot expect Pakistan to sit by and watch Indian air-strikes on Pakistani terrorist camps. PAF aircraft will quickly intercept the IAF. From then on it matters not which air force shoots first. Pakistan will want to rid itself of its nuclear itch and will press the button 'in defence' from a 'antagonistic bully'.

What gives you the confidence that Pakistan won't press the N-button? In the lack thereof, which Indian cities are you willing to sacrifice first?

Devendra said...

Very in depth analysis of the situation, and a nice blog, keep on posting regularly.

The recent moves could very well point towards influence of the PRC diplomacy.

The tribes of Pakistan have been fiercely independent and in contact with Afghani tribes for many hundreds of years.

These tribes were involved with Afghani Tribes, AQ from the Soviet Invasion and later became a part of Pakistan's strategy to dominate Afghanistan (Taliban), acess central Asia and provide the energy resources with a sea port.

This seems to be a very different policy in regards to the death by a 1000 cuts.

p mukherjee said...

Military coercion of Pak is beyond India's capabilities. The asymetry between the adversaries required for such coertion to work, does not exist here. Surgical strikes sounds great, but there are a few problems there. Firstly,Pak has an Air Defense capable enough to knock out a few of our striking fighters. Secondly,Our AD is not strong enough to stop all of the Pak sorties which will undoubtedly follow our surgical strike. By Pak sorties, we should include the Babur cruise missiles which are fully operationalised unlike on our side. This implies that while surgical strikes are possible, they come with a price tag. Question is, are we willing to pay the price and yet not wish to have the conflict escalate into a fullfledged war which we cannot win? Thirdly, surgical strikes need viable targets. US, with phenomenal human and electronic intelligence resources at it services very often gets its targets all wrong. What happens if we strike, say, the JUD HQ at Muridke only to find out that we have hit a bunch of physically handicapped earthquake victims who were being treated by the kind hearted JUD people. Who will explain how the earthquake victims managed to get inside the target area? Perhaps flown in on Army choppers from Rawalpindi under cover of darkness only a few hours before our strike. All said and done, surgical strikes make sense when the other side does not have the capability or the will to strike back. Asymetry. Therefore, I feel that the combination of sabre rattling and diplomatic pressure that we used was the only recourse available to us. We really have no other options till we gain a significant edge over our adversaries.The hike in the defence expenditure is a good start, it has to be maintained for atleast a decade. Maybe then we will have other options available.

Anonymous said...

ajai

you need to upgrade your knowledge base about the IAF. precision strikes are indeed possible and currently and for several years from now, the PAF is in a very bad state vs the IAF. the IAF has long trained for SEAD- to suppress the Pak AD network and the MKI squadrons have kh-31 while the bisons have the kh-25. there is no shortage of jammers either, ask your contacts about the rapiers and who took over their role. i can assure you that if it comes to a shooting conflict, the iaf will bleed the PAF and pakistan dearly. the only issue - as always - is pakistans threat to use its nuclear deterrent if india uses its airpower to maximum possible extent. in that vein, you may want to look up rashid kidwai (Pak Gen) statement to a visiting italian delegation about pakistans redlines.

SmarterOne said...

hey paki in da guise of "p mukherjee" - u guys dont hv da guts 2 even write yer real identity & u think u can intimidate us. stop bragging & do some soul searching. We know our capabilities. US gets it targets wrong bcoz they are idiots who think otherwise. Their Red Air training itself speaks volumes of their intelligence.

@ Ajaiji
The govt in fact wanted to strike pakistan but was advised otherwise by the IA coz ne strikes by india wud hv united the fragmented pakistan & the anti-india stance which has taken a back seat wud again acquire centerstage & india wud be potrayed as the aggressor. Wt the IA suggested was to break pak economically by just sabre rattling so that it does wt it did. The sorties by PAF & moving the fighters to fwd bases. troop deployment towards d eastern border & everything else which is quite expensive to maintain. That is wt they wanted & achieved to a greater extent. Tht is d reason y unannounced exercises are still going on across the IB. They want to make it economically unsustainable for pakistan. The recent admission by pakistan is not just coz of US pressure (though i still dont trust the pakis as they must be cooking something new). US is not much concerned abt terrorist activities against India & doesnt armtwist pakistan much on that matter.

SmarterOne said...

apologies @ p mukherjee
I read 'kind hearted JUD people' & got infuriated. u shud've put kind hearted in quotes. I hope ajaiji notices the comment against u & delete 'em ;)

p mukherjee said...

Yeah, missed out on the inverted commas, assumed that the implied sarcasm was apparent. Anyway, I am as much Paki as someone is eskimo (lol).But the hard fact here is that the Indian defence forces have been weakened by many decades of neglect and absurdly inadequately budjetary allocations. We have lots of catching up to do. Our target should be China and its influence/clout in South Asia. Pakistan will be automatically taken care of.

Zorin said...

I have always thought that fighting Pakistan is like shadow boxing.For years China has hidden under a guise and is really the real sponsor of world terrorism yet because of their seat at the UN they can get away with anything. For years weapons and somecases training has been given by the Chinese to ANY terrorist groups how else do you think LeT, JiM,JUD, Hamas,Iran get their weapons?Pakistan has no nuclear capability of its own except for the couriered bombs from China.Same with their missiles, all varnished with Paki colours.Unless the pseudo communist regime in China is overthrown the world will never be a safe place.Except junk what is China's contribution to the world?How many people have they helped?

Amit said...

All options are open. We will take every required step, we will do this, we will do that. The options remained exactly that options. Duh...

Anonymous said...

the current Govt has been so busy trying to hold onto power, that they have turned to votebanking in a severe way. the cost of that has been a crippled internal security apparatus and umpteen attacks. they also went slow on acquisitions as there was an idiotic belief that india was getting attacked because the evil hindu right was in power, and now the noble UPA had come to power, the nice people of pakistan would cease and desist and lambs would gambol in the vales of kashmir. hence all the nonsense from MMS about a siachen peace park, this, that and the constant harassment of the security forces - the nehru syndrome again, where the security forces are seen as brutal unecessary appendages of the state. and then 26/11 happened and these idiots have been scrambling since then to find a way to win the election. and the indian public, as shameless and totally unconcerned about national security as it is, might well return them to power.

Anonymous said...

i think, in the entire 26/11 episode, the Indian government is been very unfairly treated. its only mistake was that it took them 12 hours to send a commando team to deal with the terrorists. an earlier response could have substantially reduced casualties and the time taken to resolve the problem. I have been following the incident and the media reports and reactions from various sections. based on it i would like to put my view on some of the myths

Indian government raised the war rhetoric - possibly the biggest myth of all. Indian government never raised any rhetoric. There were comments here and there that surgical strikes were possible. Nothing beyond. I did see some articles which urged India to play hardball but that was it. It was Pakistan and Pakistan alone that took the war hysteria to such levels that everybody found it amusing. Government officials talked about wiping out half of Indian population and all that crap!! speaks volume about the calibre and the complex that our neighboring country suffers from

India doesn’t have the b**** to attack - another myth. I think an attack on Pakistan would have been the stupidest thing to do - surgical or conventional. No country in the world in India's situation could have gone into war with a nuclear armed neighbour who is itching to use the bombs in the first opportunity they get. if it had been the US or Israel in India's place they would have gone into full military onslaught but they typically do not have nuclear armed adversaries. Unlike Hamas and Hezbollah who are tin pot armies at best, the Pak army has been systematically armed by Europeans and the Americans. also, unlike any other Islamic country, Pakistan has received billions of dollars of military for which it never was required to account for.

India doesn’t have intelligence like the Israelis - this is possibly the dumbest comparison I have seen. Israel deals with a rag tag group of extremists while India has to deal with the seventh largest country in the world. Hardly a comparison I would say. LeT and HeM and others are actively supported by the pak army. In fact it won’t be surprising if many of their army men fight alongside them in terrorist attacks. They are also safely ensconced within undisclosed locations with pakistan. To put this in perspective, even the US hasnt been able to infiltrate pakistan to take on al qaeda or capture bin laden inspite if its superior military hardware. How seeing your opponent getting nuclear armed can change things can be judged for the reactions of US and Israel on Iran acquiring nuclear weapons

Indian army is not battle ready and doesnt have cover war abilities - this is another myth which many journalists have propagated. their limited understanding of the army's capabilities along with towing the commonly held perceptions have led to this

I think our Indian journalists would do a better job iof they can identify and understand the REAL issues and try to do constructive reporting on them. Issues like interest groups not allowing home grown weapon industries to develop, focusing on progress in police reforms and focusing issues with arming the individual soldier with better gear would serve the country better