Thursday, September 29, 2016

India avenges terror attacks with surgical strike. Now, what next?

Finally, the long-awaited avenging of the Uri attack has taken place. Remember the the buzz on the social media a few days ago? See my previous post.

The day's excitement, which began with the news that the Prime Minister had cancelled a meeting to discuss the status of the Most Favoured Nation status of Pakistan, has lasted right up to the end of the day.

Instead of the meeting on the MFN status, the PM chaired a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security Affairs. At that time it was also announced that there were will be a rare joint press conference by the MoD and MEA. There was immediate speculation on what is going to be announced.

The announcement of the “surgical operation” came at that press briefing by the DGMO Lt Gen Ranbir Singh. (Surgical strike is a military operation aimed at hitting their targets precisely with little or no collateral damage to surrounding areas.) He said that the Indian troops crossed the Line of Control and destroyed several launch pads. Many terrorists died, and there were no casualties on the Indian side. When journalists wanted to ask questions, it was announced that the officials won't take any questions, and the press meet ended.

Officials seem to have briefed journalists off the record; and through the afternoon a number of details of the operation filtered out. At least 38 terrorists were killed. Seven launch pads were destroyed. The troops went up to 6 km inside the Pak-occupied Kashmir. And the operation began around 12.30 am and lated till around 4.30 am. In the night, more details of the operation are emerging.

Pak reaction

Interestingly, Pakistan in its reaction, said the Indian claim was a lie. “There was no surgical strike. It was just a cross-border shelling in which two Pakistani soldiers died,” is the gist of that reaction.

In a way that shows their “guilt”. Because if they didn't have anything to hide, they would have reacted saying, “India, without any provocation crossed the LoC, smashed infrastructure resulting in many deaths.” Nothing of that sort.

In these days of rapid information dissemination, it's difficult to hide anything. And wonder if the people of Pakistan will believe their government's reaction that nothing actually happened.

More surgical strikes?

I don't think there will be any immediate major retaliation by the Pakistan defence forces. Because, Pakistan isn't even saying that India conducted surgical strikes. So, for what should they retaliate?

But Pakistan, terming last night incident as only s cross-border shelling, says they will not brook any further aggression. That is significant. Because, that is like a warning to India. “Once it's okay, We will look the other way. But if you are going to make this a habit, don't think we will keep quiet,” That seems to be what they are meaning.

It will be naive on India's part to assume that Pakistan will not hit back. That is why Indian defence forces are at maximum alert; ready to take on even any surprise retaliation.

The government sources are saying that this will not be a one-off surgical strike. There will be a sustained bid to end the cross-border infiltration and the terror that is flowing into Jammu and Kashmir.

That means there is a change from in our policy from being a passive witness to an active combatant. It is only natural that there is such a change, as the moralistic high ground based on peace hasn't exactly brought about any tranquility at all. It is only being seen as a weakness, and capitalised on.

But in the long run, military strikes can't actually solve any political or social issue. It can neutralize a combative situation, and create a climate for a civilian agreement. That's what Prime Minister Narendra Modi should finally aim at – end this decades-old problem once and for all, using all means, military and civilian.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Presidential debate goes to Hillary

The much-awaited first presidential debate in the 2016 election took place today at the Hofstra University, in New York. It was billed as the most-talked about event. A huge number of people watched the debate. Still no official figures; but some 100 million people are said to have watched it.

How did Hillary Clinton perform

- She was calm and composed.
- Initially she seemed to be on the defensive and having to do lot explaining
- But later she took on an aggressive tone without sounding offensive.
- She effectively and forcefully put her points across
- She never interrupted when Trump or the moderator was speaking
- She presented a pleasant demeanour often smiling
- She was to the point and was very articulate
- She managed to deflect inconvenient questions very effectively.
- At times her confidence was bordering on I-know-it-all sort of counteance.
- She didn't have effective answers to some of the negative images Trump painted about present-day America. There wasn't a clear answer to why things have come to such a pass.

How did Donald Trump perform

- He used well the advantage of his non-politician status, and not having been in any position of power to question Hillary on the ills plaguing the US today.
- He came across as a no-nonsense go-getter whose only agenda is to fix issues.
- He kept talking about having the interest of America uppermost in any policy decision
- He was impatient and looked quite aggressive
- He was constantly interrupting both Hillary and the moderator
- He was seeing everything from trade to tax and diplomacy to terrorism only through the prism of money. He was constantly coming across as a businessman talking.

At the end of it all, I felt Clinton ended ahead of Trump.

There were many interesting quotes. But what I liked the best, came at the fag end.

Donald: She doesn't have the look. She don't have the stamina. .... I don't believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country you need tremendous stamina.

Hillary: Well, as soon as he travels to one hundred and twelve countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, and opening of new opportunities and nations around the world or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina.

NPR has the entire text of the live debate, and the fact-checks.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Did India avenge Uri attack?

Three was a lot of buzz on social media and messaging groups like WhatsApp regarding a military offensive Indian defence forces are supposed to have made across the Line of Control as a response to the attack on the Indian Army base in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir on 18th.

While initially the talk was only in the social media, later The Quint, a popular online magazine, ran the story after checking with sources. Since many doubted the veracity of the story, The Quint rechecked with their sources, and now they stand by the story.

The story, if true, is quite a newsy one. It says that 20 suspected terrorists in camps in PoK were killed after "two units of the elite 2 Paras comprising 18-20 soldiers flew across the LoC in the Uri sector in military helicopters and carried out an operation." The total casualties, including those injured, is reported to be 200. This operation is said to have taken place in the intervening night of on Sep 20-21.

The whole thing apparently started with a tweet by one Sumann Sharrma [@SumannSharrma], and also a series of them from Anshul Saxena [@AskAnshul]. Both are stressing that it's not a rumour that it is confirmed development. There was also a tweet that PM Modi was closely monitoring the operation.

Other news media like India Today and Indian Express followed up on the tweets. They ran stories saying the Army or the Government aren't confirming the account.

But then why no word on it from Pak side?

Of course, no one in the Indian military or political establishment will come on record authenticating a covert operation. But surely Pakistan is not going to keep quiet. The relatives and friends of people who died or injured aren't going to keep quiet. Nawaz Sharif would have made it a big issue in his UNGA speech yesterday. And India too wouldn't have risked such a thing when UN is in session.

It difficult to say whether such incidents are true or just conspiracy theories. There have been some incidents along side that seem to be giving credence to this story. One is that Pakistan International Airlines suspended its flights to Gilgit and Northern Areas. That was to apparently to keep the airspace free for a retaliation just in case Indian forces launch an attack. Two, Nawaz Sharif spoke to the Pakistan Army chief before his address to the UN. And three, India's defence minister Manohar Parrikar said sometimes there is nothing wrong with "knee-jerk reactions".

My doubts are:

- When there is such a public clamour for Indian retaliation, why should India be quiet about this operation, and still take the flak from people for not doing anything?

- If such covert operations can done like this, why couldn't it be done long back; or even as and when it is deemed necessary secretly smash all the terror camps along the LoC? We won't be having this big problem in Jammu and Kashmir in the first place.

Let us wait till something concrete emerges on this.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Donald Trump's immigration policy - Utopian or practical?

I got up early to watch Donald Trump make that much-awaited, much-postponed speech on his immigration policy. It was to start at 6.30 am IST (9 pm ET) but started half an hour late.

He didn't disappoint. There were lot of speculations as to whether he will soften his approach and try to win back the moderates. He didn't. In his forceful, ultra-nationalistic and blunt style, he laid out a 10-point plan to rid the US free of the danger stemming out of undocumented, unlawful migrants.

Some of the points he made:
  • The Mexican wall will come up, and Mexico will pay for it
  • The wall will be a high-tech one with sensors and all to monitor movement
  • No sympathy and amnesty for migrants
  • Out of 11 million illegal immigrants, 2 million are criminals. They will be deported.
  • Law enforcement officials who know who and where these criminals will have to act immediately. 
  • Many countries have refused to take back immigrants sent back from the US. They will have to take them back. US won't keep those criminals, just because the countries from where they came from won't take them back.
  • No visa for people from countries which have no proper vetting system. He named Syria and Libya
  • Immigrants will be subjected to extreme vetting
  • Welfare of Americans will come before welfare of migrants
At the outset, there was a huge precipitous gap between what Trump spoke alongside Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at a joint press conference in Mexico City, and a few hours later at Phoenix. Does Trump really mean what says, and is he saying what he really means?

For his constituency, today, he gave some clear solutions to what he sees as the gravest threat to America - the problem of illegal migrants. But how much of it is practical, and attainable is left to be seen. Talking of plans is one thing, making them work is another.

In the high-voltage political crucible of Washington, there is a many slip between ideas and execution. Even if Trump gets elected, and many of his solutions are sure to run into political roadblocks. This is a campaign speech, and one needs to take it only on its face value.

Problem of migrants is not just an American problem. Every country faces it. And no doubt, it's a grave one. No country can afford to have undocumented illegal migrants enjoying the benefits meant for law abiding citizens. But to paint all immigrants with the same criminal brush will create more problems than solutions.

Trump is looking at a very US-centric approach to problems. But he forgets that America is part of a global community. America needs the rest of the world, just as the rest of the world needs America.

It remains to be seen if one campaign speech can do a world of good for Trump, after he made a series of reckless gaffes and slipped in ratings.

Anyway it will be interesting to see how Hillary Clinton and her campaign responds.