Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Pakistan targets Lashkar, Jaish, with “intelligence-based operations”

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad launched to fight terrorism across country

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd February 17

Even those sceptical of Pakistan’s insistence that it is cracking down on jihadists of every hue are now admitting that something has clearly changed from the days when only token action would be taken against “India-focussed” groups.

On Wednesday evening, the Pakistan Army announced it had launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad across the country. This includes counter-terrorism operations, aimed at “indiscriminately eliminating residual/latent threat of terrorism”.

On Wednesday, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) chief, Hafiz Saeed, who has been railing at his government for detaining him at “India’s behest”, challenged his January 30 detention in the Lahore High Court. In the past, the courts had supinely ordered Saeed’s release --- as also that of his terrorist assistant, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi who masterminded the 26/11 Mumbai strike.

This time, however, with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s federal government, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab government and the army under General Qamar Bajwa clearly coordinating closely, the High Court in Lahore could well display a stiffer backbone when it hears Saeed’s appeal.

The army, particularly, has been unequivocal in backing Saeed’s arrest. The day after it happened, Pakistan’s military’s spokesperson Major General Asif Ghafoor stated: “This (Saeed’s arrest) is a policy decision that the state took in [the] national interest.” On Sunday, speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pakistani Defence Minister Khawaja Asif termed Saeed a “serious threat to [Pakistani] society” and said he had been arrested in Pakistan’s “larger interest”.

Numerous theories are being advanced for Pakistan’s new resolve. These include pressure from Beijing; and Islamabad’s worry of being punished by the new administration of President Donald Trump. In fact, the primary driver of the drive against Pakistan’s terrorist proxies is the new army chief, Bajwa.

As Business Standard first reported (January 11, “Is Pak Army preparing to turn on LeT and Jaish?”), Bajwa believes Pakistan’s national security interests lie in ending the spiral of hostility with India. For that, he is ready to curb the LeT and JeM, long coddled as “strategic assets” for proxy strikes against targets in India.

Consequently, not just does Saeed find himself in custody, his “humanitarian” fronts -- Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and Falaha-e-Insaaniyat (FIF) ---  too have been officially proscribed under the 2nd Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997.

This week, the Pakistani government cancelled 44 weapons licences that had been granted to Hafiz Saeed and his group members. Earlier, Saeed and 37 members of the JuD and FIF were placed on an Exit Control List, requiring them to obtain special government permission to travel out of Pakistan.

Tightening the squeeze, the army is facilitating sweeps by the Punjab Police’s counter-terrorism wing and the paramilitary Rangers across southern Punjab to kill or arrest terrorists, especially from these groups.

These are termed “intelligence based operations” (IBOs). According to Pakistan Army sources, an IBO is typically based on specific information about jihadis from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) or the police’s counter-terrorism wing. It involves cordoning and searching a village or locality by mixed task forces, with the Pakistan Army sometimes assisting in cordoning off the area, while the Punjab Policy actual apprehends the terrorists.

The IBOs are achieving notable results. On Friday, a day after a suicide bomber killed 72 worshippers and injured 150 in the popular Sufi shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar (of “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar” fame) in the Sindhi town of Sehwan Sharif, the army retaliated by killing over a hundred terrorists in IBOs.

Now the paramilitary Rangers will be joining this crackdown. On Wednesday, the federal government approved the request from Punjab Chief Minister Shabaz Sharif, made on Sunday, for 2,000 Rangers to beef up IBOs in Southern Punjab. Going back on its traditional reluctance to grant police powers to a paramilitary organisation, the Punjab government has granted the Rangers powers of search, seizure and arrest.

The Pakistan Rangers are more potent than the police, since they are officered by the Pakistan Army. Responsible (like India’s Border Security Force) for manning the Indo-Pakistan border, Indians know the Rangers as the troops who perform the coordinated flag ceremony at the Wagah-Atari border near Amritsar.

Pakistan seeks to tackle terrorism under the umbrella of a National Action Plan (NAP), which was approved in an all-party meeting after the terror strike in December 2014, when seven Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) gunmen killed 141 people in Army Public School, Peshawar, including 132 schoolchildren.

Under the NAP, former army chief, General Raheel Sharif, had selectively targeted “anti-Pakistan” groups like the TTP, while protecting “strategic assets” like the LeT and JeM, the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban.

Bajwa’s unusual conviction on the need to stay out of politics also manifested in Nawaz Sharif’s selection of Tehmina Janjua as foreign secretary, side-lining the army’s choice, the current High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit. Janjua is the junior-most of the Pakistan foreign ministry’s 13 apex rank (Grade 22) officers, and has no experience in New Delhi. Yet, Bajwa quietly accepted Nawaz’s choice.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Dialogue stasis in Kashmir driving civilians to confront army

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Feb 17

The government’s silence in the face of simmering anger in Kashmir is throwing into dangerous confrontation two crucial protagonists --- the army, versus unarmed Kashmiri civilian mobs.

The army, on the one hand, must intensify counter-infiltration operations to keep militants at bay until snow closes routes across the Line of Control (LoC). And with nothing to show for months of violent street protests after the killing in July of popular local militant, Burhan Wani, Kashmiri separatists have little choice but to up the ante, if necessary by confronting the army directly.

On Wednesday, a day after four army men were killed and several others injured in three encounters in North Kashmir, army chief, General Bipin Rawat bluntly warned that stone-pelting Kashmiri mobs who interfered in army operations would be fired upon.

Calling such mobs “over-ground workers of terrorists”, Rawat also warned that civilians waving Pakistani or Islamic State (IS) flags would be treated as “anti-nationals”.

These strong words had been carefully calibrated. The army, highly experienced in counter-insurgency operations (COIN), faces a worrying new challenge from flash mobs of Kashmiri civilians, who hurl stones at soldiers moving to cordon a suspected militant hideout, or closing in for the final engagement. This facilitates the militant’s getaway. Alternatively, like on Tuesday, it distracts soldiers at a critical moment, causing additional casualties.

Since insurgency broke out in the Kashmir Valley in 1990, even through sustained spells of violent civilian protests, mobs had prudently avoided direct confrontation with the army and its counter-militancy wing, the Rashtriya Rifles.

Most seminal confrontations with civilians have involved the “central armed police forces” (CAPFs), or the J&K Police (JKP). From the bloodbath in Srinagar in May 1990, when some 50 Kashmiri mourners in Mirwaiz Mohammed Farooq’s funeral procession were shot dead by a panic-stricken Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) detachment that feared it was being overwhelmed; to the three summers of violent street protests across Kashmir in 2008, 2009 and 2010, it was always CAPFs or JKP that came into direct confrontation with civilian mobs.

Even through periods of extended bitterness, the army and civilians extended unusual courtesies to each other. Army posts were seldom directly targeted and army convoys moved with relative freedom.

There were two reasons for this. First, violent civilian mobs were largely an urban phenomenon; and the police, not the army, controlled the Valley’s big cities. Second, Kashmiri separatist leaders realised there would be bloody costs to directly confronting the army, since that would be responded to, not as civilian protest, but as a threat to the territorial integrity of the Line of Control (LoC), which the army guarded.

Few Kashmiris would admit this, but there is a grudging public respect of the army’s operational restraint and “winning hearts and minds” campaigns that have materially uplifted living conditions in remote border areas ignored by the state government.

This balance, however, began changing in 2014-15, when the first civilian flash mobs appeared in rural South Kashmir and challenged on-going army cordon-and-search operations. Inexorably, incidents grew of unarmed locals pelting stones at armed soldiers in cordons and of interference in actual firefights.

This mindset change across rural Kashmiris is blamed on two reasons. Firstly, after the mass agitations of 2008-10, Kashmiris expected an outreach from New Delhi, including a political dialogue. Not only did the United Progressive Alliance betray that expectation but, since 2014, the National Democratic Alliance government inflamed Kashmiri opinion with “anti-Muslim” confrontations like the beef ban, the Dadri lynching and the “love jihad” controversy. As bitterly resented were a series of local controversies, internal to Kashmiri politics, that separatists presented as an assault on the Kashmiri identity -- such as allegations that New Delhi was transforming the Valley’s demographic profile by sponsoring “Pandit Colonies” and “Sainik Colonies”.

Further, Kashmiri youth were bitter at the abject failure of armed militancy, with new militants often surviving less than a month in the field before being gunned down by the security forces. The frenzy after the gunning down of Burhan Wani last July, more a social media star than a dreaded militant, reflected public bitterness at an underdog swallowed by the maws of a pitiless security establishment. Many of those pelting stones at an army cordon are driven by the frantic need to rescue a young man whom they know intimately.

The army, however, does a dangerous job, in which it already imposes numerous restraints on itself to make COIN operations less hazardous to the public --- such as abjuring the use of mortars, artillery, helicopters or air power. Senior commanders realise that soldiers’ hands cannot be tied beyond a point.

Hence General Rawat’s warning to civilians, which is not the first. Last April, after a dozen soldiers were injured in stone pelting, the army publicly warned it would use force against civilians breaking a cordon. Earlier, two civilians were actually killed near Pulwama while they attacked an army cordon.

“We have painted the Kashmiri youngsters into a dangerous corner. The only way of relieving the pressure is dialogue. Otherwise, this will not end well”, says a senior military officer, serving in the Valley.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Déjà vu on the defence budget

Equipment procurement continues to be crowded out by steadily rising manpower costs

The defence allocations, presented as part of the Union Budget on February 1, highlighted the drawbacks that plague our defence planning. Once again, the military emerges as an over-manned, poorly equipped, early twentieth century force; with a bloated salary bill that leaves little for modernising a vast inventory of obsolescent equipment. The depressing surrender of ~ Rs 7,000 crore of capital budget underlines again our structural incapability to spend even the inadequate allocations we lament. The discussions on the budget make it evident that the political and strategic elite and the public remain largely oblivious to the continuing and dangerous hollowing out of the last resort of the state.

Admittedly, there are difficulties in analysing and comparing defence budgets. These partly stem from this government’s laudable initiatives to simplify accounting and to bring into the defence budget expenditures on military pensions and various defence bodies that were earlier inexplicably excluded. Consequently, comparing the last three defence budgets requires allocations under disparate heads to be extrapolated and tabulated in a common format (the most recent one), so comparisons are made on an apples-to-apples basis.


Salary bill
Pension bill
Total personnel costs
(A + B)
Non-salary revenue allocation
Capital budget**
Non-personnel allocation (D + E)
Total allocation to service (C + F)
Share of personnel costs
Share of capital costs
Share of running costs


2014-15 (Actual)
2015-16 Actual
2016-17 (RE)
2017-18 (BE)


2014-15 (Actual)
2015-16 (Actual)
2016-17 (RE)
2017-18 (BE)


2014-15 (Actual)
2015-16 (Actual)
2016-17 (RE)
2017-18 (BE)

*    Excludes budget for Border Roads Organisation, but includes for Rashtriya Rifles and National Cadet Corps
**  Capital budget for services only, excludes allocations for DRDO and Ordnance Factories
^    Excludes budget for Coast Guard, but includes for Joint Staff

Using a methodology, where allocations under disparate heads are extrapolated and tabulated in a common format, so that comparisons are made on an apples-to-apples basis, the chart disaggregates the budget allocations to the three armed services: the army, the navy and the air force. The coming year’s allocations to the services amount to ~ Rs 328,000 crore ($ 48.82 billion), or 91 per cent of the total defence budget of ~ Rs 359,854 crore ($ 53.56 billion). The remaining 9 per cent, which is off the chart, includes spending on the Defence R&D Organisation, the Ordnance Factory Board and the defence ministry --- including the Border Roads Organisation, Coast Guard and, mystifyingly, the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI), a regular infantry group. Next year, as part of its continuing effort towards defence budget transparency, the government could consider merging Coast Guard allocations as a sub-head in the navy’s budget, and JAK LI allocations into the army’s budget.

Extrapolating current calculations backwards, defence allocations have dwindled from 2.29 per cent of GDP (2013-14, Actual), to 2.28 (2014-15, Actual), to 2.15 (2015-16, Actual), to 2.29 (2016-17, Revised Estimates), to a low of 2.14 per cent in the latest budget. As a percentage of government spending, defence has remained largely constant at 16.4 per cent (2013-14), 17.1 (2014-15), 16.4 (2015-16), 17.1 (2016-17 RE) and 16.8 per cent in the coming year.

The central problem in defence spending, which is evident from the last three columns (H, I and J) of the chart, is the crowding out of equipment procurement by steadily rising manpower costs. An inexorably expanding army, rising salaries due to the Seventh Central Pay Commission (7th CPC), and raised pensions due to One Rank, One Pension (OROP) are consuming money at the cost of badly needed capital procurement of bulletproof jackets, rifles, artillery, submarines, warships and fighter aircraft. In 2015-16, when only 8 per cent of the army’s budget was buying new kit, the government boosted the army’s capital allocations by ~ Rs 7,500 crore, following that with a ~ Rs 3,000 crore increase in 2016-17 and now ~ 1,500 crore next year. Even so, a salary and pensions bill that consumes an eye-popping 72 per cent of the army’s overall budget, leaves no more than 11 per cent for new equipment.

Even the navy and air force, which traditionally spent more than half their budgets on new equipment, have been pegged down by the 7th CPC and OROP. In the coming year, the navy will spend just 47 per cent of its money on capital procurement, despite a serious shortage of capital warships. Only the air force will spend more than half its budget on modernisation, thanks to a Rs 5,000 crore infusion to pay for last year’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighters. It should worry planners that an army engaged 24x7x365 on an active Line of Control, in counter-insurgency operations and in staggeringly hostile terrain conditions, makes do with a substantially lower modernisation budget than an air force that faces less immediate challenges.

Nor is this likely to change, going by the 14th Finance Commission recommendations that focus mainly on meeting manpower expenses. “[Ministry of Finance] projections have provided for an increase in defence revenue expenditure (including salaries) of 30 per cent in 2016-17 which will incorporate the [7th] Pay Commission impact, with a stable growth rate of 20 per cent per annum in the remaining years”, says the Commission’s report, which made recommendations on the disbursement of central government finances from 2015-2020.

It is noteworthy that finance ministry bureaucrats justify the inadequate capital allocations with the argument that the military is unable to spend its allocated capital budget anyway. This is technically correct: most years the defence ministry returns several thousand crores of unspent capital rupees, or transfers them to the revenue head. But the well-known reason is that finance ministry officials impose an informal slowdown in according approvals as the year draws to a close, causing funds to lapse, and the deficit to appear in a rosier light.

The military, the victim in this game, can only watch helplessly since any significant expenditure requires ministry or cabinet sanction. Individual services can sanction expenditures only up to Rs 150 crore, while the defence minister can spend Rs 500 crore; the finance minister up to Rs 1,000 crore; and cabinet sanction is needed for any procurement larger than that. Unclogging the system and preventing the services from being held hostage by tortuous approvals requires the military’s financial powers to be urgently and significantly raised. Separately, accountability must be fixed for delays in finalising procurement proposals. Technology provides for this; radio frequency identity tags (RFIDs), affixed to each procurement file, could identify how much time it has spent in each office up the approvals chain --- which routinely extends to months. For years, the defence ministry has blithely ignored blatant violations of its own approvals timelines. This must end.

At a broader level, the military --- especially the army --- needs to be co-opted into a concerted process of reducing manpower to free resources for equipment acquisition. The generals must be given ironclad assurances that manpower cost savings would be added onto the modernisation budget. A culture of realistic long-term planning must be promoted by providing funding assurances well into the future, so that key planning documents, like the 15-year Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan, are anchored in financial realities rather than remaining empty wish-lists that slip back at the end of each financial year.