Wednesday, July 20, 2016


            The failed coup has sent a clear message to the Turkish establishment and to Erdogan in particular. That he must mend his autocratic ways, curb Police excesses and reign in the gradual Islamisation of the Country. And that the Army is restive and it will not tolerate any deviation from the Country’s basic Constitution. But Erdogan is a feisty customer and it’s a moot point whether he will heed the warning. Erdogan has ascribed the coup’s failure as a victory for the people and to his control over the Army – the fact that only a small fraction of the Army participated. That may well be true, but given Turkey’s turbulent history of the last 60  years or so, that’s no guarantee that the next coup will not succeed. Military coups do not need the people’s support, although that helps; and all other Parties and their supporters are bitterly opposed to Erdogan, the mutual stand and apparent agreement in Parliament of Saturday notwithstanding. Erdogan has severely restricted the powers of the Military by legislative action over the last few years and controlled the Generals, but past events have shown that coups can emanate at a relatively junior level.

Turkey was created by a General, after a violent uprising. And that explains the Army’s pre-eminent status ever since. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proved his mettle during the First World War and led his Country to Independence in 1922 and became its first President. His vision was of a Democratic and Secular Nation and he de facto appointed the Army to be the custodian of these values. The Army has taken this role very seriously indeed. Opting to stay out of politics but watching over political actions and their effect on the people. Whenever they felt that the mandate of the Founding Father was being violated, they stepped in with  a military coup – but quickly handed power back to the politicians. Erdogan was the first PM to whittle away this pre-eminence, albeit only in his second term.

The Army and the Courts who interpret the Constitution, have resisted the slightest effort by politicians to even give an Islamic flavour to the Country. A classic example is that most ubiquitous though harmless symbol of Islam – the Head Scarf for women. Turkey has banned the head scarf in Public life and women may not wear it in any public office, in schools, hospitals or in the Courts. Any woman wearing a head scarf will not be employed by the Govt or any Public or private institution. France and Mexico too have banned the head scarf. But Turkey, though a secular country, has over 95% Muslims. It has resulted in a clash between those favouring the secular principles of the state, such as the Turkish Armed Forces, who form a minority of the population, and religious conservatives as well as Islamists, who form a majority of the population. And who form the majority of Erdogan’s supporters. Erdogan tried his best to remove the ban.

When Erdogan wanted to install Abdullah Gul in 2007 as President, the Army objected, because his wife wore the head scarf. Erdogan was confident enough to hold a private meeting with the Chief of Staff, and to go ahead with his nomination. But the Military Top Brass refused to attend any Ceremony presided over by Abdullah Gul, because his wife wore a head scarf. On February 7, 2008, the Turkish Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution, allowing women to wear the headscarf in Turkish universities, arguing that many women would not seek an education if they could not wear the head scarf. A reasonable argument. But Turkey's Constitutional Court annulled the Parliament's amendment, ruling that removing the ban was against the founding principles of the Constitution. Which may well be Erdogan’s angst against Judges. And clearly shows the Army’s almost fanatical support for Secularism.

Previous Coups.        Through Erdogan’s fog this much seems clear: More than 35 years after the last coup, and almost two decades after the 1997 military intervention, the fight between Secularism and Islamism rages on. The first Coup – in 1960 was staged on grounds of socio-political and economic problems – and for Bloc loyalties. The Govt was broke and wanted Russian assistance and the Coup leaders wanted to remain in NATO/CENTO. The second Coup in 1971 was on political instability and was action-less. The Army issued a Memorandum, akin to an Ultimatum – reform or else....The Govt resigned, but the Army, reluctant to take over overtly, directed from behind the scene, with the Legislature still functioning. The third Coup in 1980 was mainly because of economic problems and partly political. There was widespread arrests and incarcerations, torture and missing people. The Constitution was re-written. The last Coup was in 1997 – actually another Memorandum. This was directed against the Islamist prime minister Necmettin Erbakan of the Welfare Party, of which Erdogan was a member and serving as the Mayor of Istanbul. In 1998, the Welfare Party was banned by the Constitutional court and Erdogan jailed and banned from politics for five years. These events led him to deeply resent the Army and the Courts.

Why did this current Coup collapse so quickly? Firstly, the Coup was extremely poorly organised. Even with tanks, attack helicopters and fighter aircraft, it collapsed within six hours !! Without any major opposition from organised security forces, either Army or Police. There was no attempt to shut down the major civil TV stations, no attempt to arrest the civilian leadership, including Erdogan. The Coup looks extremely contrived. They tried too little and gave up too fast. While Erdogan accused Fethullah Gulen of master-minding or actively assisting the Coup, Gulen promptly counter accused Erdogan of staging a “fake” Coup. With a lot of plausibility. If a litmus test of ‘who did the failed coup serve’ is applied – Erdogan seems the more likely of the two. The New York Times says this about the Coup – “As coups go, the Turkish effort was a study in ineptitude: No serious attempt to capture or muzzle the existing political leadership, no leader ready to step in, no communication strategy (or even awareness of social media), no ability to mobilize a critical mass within either the armed forces or society. In their place a platoon of hapless soldiers on a bridge over the Bosporus in Istanbul and the apparently uncoordinated targeting of a few government buildings in Ankara.”

The Gulen factor.      Fethullah Gulen is a Green Card holding, moderate Turkish cleric who lives in voluntary exile in Pennsylvania US, since 1998. He leads from exile a popular movement called Hizmet – "a moderate, pro-Western brand of Sunni Islam that appeals to many well-educated and professional Turks" according to CNN. For decades he was a close confidant of President Erdogan and was one of the key factors in Erdogan’s AK Party winning three elections – in 2001, 2006 and 2011. They fell out in 2013 on issues of corruption. "As someone who suffered under multiple military coups during the past five decades, it is especially insulting to be accused of having any link to such an attempt. I categorically deny such accusations," Gulen said. In an interview with CNN at the time, a top official from Erdogan's ruling AKP party called the Gulen movement a "fifth column" that had infiltrated the Turkish Military, police force and judiciary. Says writer Ahmet Sik who wrote the book "The Imam's Army," which took a critical look at the Gulen movement  "On the one side, there is the Gulen community, a dark and opaque power that can damage the most powerful administration in Turkish history. And on the other side, you have an administration that under the guise of fighting this community can and has suspended all legal and democratic principles."

            Erdogan’s AKP is the second Islamic oriented Party in power, after Erbakan of the Welfare Party was forced to resign. So Erdogan was extremely circumspect in his first tenure. His confidence grew with his second tenure and he began to meddle in promotion policy and retribution against the Army. In 2007, when his choice of President was resented by the Army, he didn’t acquiesce. Instead he held a closed door meeting with the Chief of Staff and went ahead anyway. In his third tenure, Erdogan was a confident PM and he took on the Generals. He even convened a trial in 2012 of the Generals who conducted the 1997 coup. He curbed Press freedom, was against Jews and Christians, against alcohol, reformed Labour Laws and considerably improved the economy, brought inflation down and reduced the CAD and foreign debt. Turkey’s economy became debt-free and Erdogan felt he had the political freedom to Islamise the Country further. And his authoritarianism grew. But in the last three years, Turkey’s economy has taken a dramatic downturn for the worse. In the 2013 Gezi Park protests against the perceived authoritarianism of Erdogan and his policies, starting from a small sit-in in Istanbul in defence of a City park.  After the police's intense reaction with tear gas, the protests grew each day. Faced by the largest mass protest in a decade, Erdogan made this controversial remark in a televised speech: "The police were there yesterday, they are there today, and they will be there tomorrow." After weeks of clashes in the streets of Istanbul, his government at first apologized to the protestors and called for a plebiscite, but then ordered a crackdown on the protesters. The stage was set for Military intervention.

Erdogan’s Choices

            Erdogan’s first choice, which he’s implementing speedily, is to use the failed coup as a means to consolidate his position, curb press and other freedoms further, and become even more Autocratic. He has accepted the failed coup as a blank cheque to arrest anybody he feels like, in a virtual witch hunt, without any reasonable cause. His statement “They will pay a heavy price for this. This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our Army” is extremely telling. His sacking or arrest of over 2750 Judges, about 20% of Turkey’s Judiciary is baffling. How were the Judges involved in the coup? His arrest of thousands of military and Police officers is fraught with danger. This includes two of his three Field Army Commanders – of the 2nd and 3rd Field Armies. The Commander of the 1st Field Army was promoted to Army Chief. No Army will accept the public humiliation of its officers, especially the seniormost ones lightly. Proclamations by both the President and PM of the loyalty and courage of the rest of its Army is unlikely to assuage the tensions within. Erdogan has shrewdly asked the people to remain on the streets for the next one week. He obviously fears a second coup to finish the incomplete and botched job.

            Turkish politics and society have been extremely polarised and the failed coup is a  signal for Erdogan to be more inclusive and democratic. He has to eschew his authoritarian tendencies and rely more on Institutions. His grandiose plans like shifting into the  'Ak Saray' Presidential Palace, one of the largest in the world and to cut down all the trees in the Gezi Park and build a grand mosque, which sparked off the protests, have severely dented his popularity and image. The Kemalists (which includes the Military) and the secular liberals need to be taken on board, or at least placated. A successful coup could well be a disaster for Turkey, throwing the Country into turbulent strife – between the Islamists and the rest – an unwinnable war for both and something the World least needs in this already troubled region. Turkey can yet prove that it is the model of a democratic Islamic State. The question is – does Erdogan have the Statesmanship to do it?

Thursday, November 6, 2014




The proposal to impose Prohibition in Kerala is a retrograde step indeed. It may possibly help in winning the next election, as any emotive and divisive step could (and it is both), but the State will pay a heavy price – in the short term certainly, and maybe for decades to come. It’s certainly not a well-thought through decision. It is as if politicians refuse to learn lessons from the bitter experiences of other States in India and of other Countries. Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in India and steps must be taken to curb it – but to impose Prohibition is to throw the baby out with the bathwater; a dangerously simplistic solution to Alcoholism.

Oommen Chandy’s stated aims are laudable – they relate to crime, health; and most notably productivity. And so too is his unstated aim – to prevent the poor from wasting their meagre emoluments on alcohol to the detriment of their family’s well-being. As also drunken ill-treatment of wives, who presumably will all vote for the Congress. But his method smacks of a sheer desire to win the upcoming election and then repeal Prohibition when its widespread ill-effects start to become tangible, since he’s too intelligent not to know the consequences. And since he’s prepared no grounds by taking other actions to address the problems he mentions.

The case of the United States of America is illustrative. They imposed Prohibition in 1920 till 1933. It led to the rise of “La Cosa Nostra”, an FBI pseudonym for the Mafia, who amassed so much wealth and power during those years that they dominated American crime for most of the 20th Century. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, their vast assets (money and the well-organised Syndicates) were astutely redeployed in prostitution, narcotics, extortion and in every other aspect of organised crime, including organised murder. Their power weakened only in the late 20th Century with the sensational disclosures and testimony of Joe Valachi, a Syndicate member, who broke the Mob’s ‘omerta’, the code of silence.

And drinking in USA in the Prohibition years certainly didn’t stop – it merely reduced marginally and went underground, leading to large-scale smuggling, huge loss of revenue for the State (but a spurt in revenue for Canada and Mexico), a rise in home-made ‘stills’ and spurious liquor (and consequently deaths from it), increased crime because of gang and turf wars, a surge in costs and potency of liquor (because of reduced availability), problems of law-enforcement (including massive corruption among politicians and law enforcement agencies) and the end of Self-help societies. Prohibition created a black market that competed with the formal economy, in sheer size and volume – unseen and below the surface, but virulently malevolent.

With such well-documented evidence available on the destructive nature of Prohibition, it’s a wonder that first Andhra Pradesh and then Haryana briefly experimented with and then quickly repealed Prohibition, after starting to experience the same consequences. Worse in their cases, because a Country can seal its borders to some extent; a State cannot. A classic case of “a fool learns from his own experiences, a wise man learns from the experience of others”.

Gujarat is the only State in India that has had an unbroken Prohibition law since its creation in May 1960, presumably to honour its greatest citizen – Mahatma Gandhi. From all the written evidence available, Gujarat faces the same problems that the US did (albeit, in lesser measure) and reportedly, alcohol is freely available in the State. Because there is no excise duty on alcohol, IMFL (regular brands) in Gujarat is cheaper than in the rest of the Country inspite of being smuggled in (unlike in the US, where it became costlier – because Duty on alcohol in India is very high; at 30 – 50 %). Today, Prohibition is so deeply entrenched and such a lucrative business for all the important players, including politicians and the law enforcement agencies, that it can never be lifted.

Tamil Nadu, which had Prohibition since even before Independence and lifted it briefly in the 70’s, 80’s and the 90’s, finally repealed it in 2001. Excise Minister Viswanathan informed the Assembly in August this year “the State government is aware of the ills of liquor, but it allows regulated sales only to prevent hooch tragedies, and because of the impracticality of total prohibition. With no prohibition in force in the neighbouring states, Tamil Nadu cannot go for it, as it would result in flow of liquor into the state from Kerala, Puducherry and Karnataka.” Shortly, it will be a flow from TN to Kerala, since only three districts in Kerala do not have a contiguous border with Tamil Nadu (or Karnataka).

In AP, Chief Minister N T Rama Rao imposed prohibition in the State on January 16, 1995 and his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu continued the policy after taking over as Chief Minister by dethroning NTR. But on April 1, 1997, Naidu lifted Prohibition. His contention was that the sale of liquor was fetching as much as Rs 3,000 crore per annum to the State and that could be spent on various welfare schemes in the State (and drinkers be damned !!). In fact, during the Prohibition years, AP went into debt and had to borrow at prohibitive rates from private banks.

Does Kerala insist on wanting to be the next crucible of this vitiating experiment ? Which has invariably failed ? Can’t it learn from AP and from the most recent failure – Haryana ?

Prohibition was imposed between 1996 and 1998 for a period of 19 months by Chief Minister Bansi Lal, based upon an election promise he had made to his voters. The illegal trade in liquor from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab spawned a mafia-like network that had the protection of politicians in the state. After a drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections for Bansi Lal's HVP, prohibition was reversed in Haryana. To offset the loss of revenue, the government raised taxes and fees for various state-provided services – power tariff was increased by 10-50%, bus fares by 25%, and petrol sales tax by 3%. New taxes were levied on businesses and self-employed people. There was an alarming increase in deaths, resulting from the consumption of spurious liquor especially by the poor. Illicit brewing and liquor smuggling into the State became one of the biggest industries in the state.

The effect of Prohibition on Law enforcement is extreme. When politicians need money to fight elections, they turn to the Mafia and thereafter become indebted to them and protect them. Honest policemen register myriad cases against violators, while dishonest ones feather their nest. The Judicial system breaks down – in the face of thousands of complaints, and prosecution of the guilty is rare. Since there is no special Police force to fight Prohibition, demands on them become exorbitant. Law enforcement therefore becomes the first casualty and Prohibition can never be effectively enforced.

Occasional, casual or moderate drinking is certainly not ethically or morally wrong by any reasonable standards, even of health (though not by some religious standards). In the absence of alcohol – ganja, heroin and other psychotropic substances will gain currency. And these will have a much greater negative impact, in addition to being cheaper. The ways to counter the impact of Alcoholism are laid out by the WHO – education, banning of advertising (even ambiguous advertising, which is prevalent), age limits, time limits and availability, and increasing social awareness are some of the methods advocated. In Kerala, Labour reforms are sorely needed – to induce some industrialization and are the solution to low productivity and unemployment – since Tourism, on which Kerala is heavily dependent will take a huge hit, because of Prohibition. In a lose-lose situation, the State will lose heavily on revenue, and illegal hooch makers, smugglers and distributors will gain immensely and the poor will suffer. Oommen Chandy’s stated laudable aims relating to crime, health and productivity can never be achieved. Crime will increase, and neither health nor productivity will be affected. No hard-core drinker will give up, only the moderates, who in any case were doing no harm – to themselves or to others.

The “Kerala Model” has unique social positives, because while its GDP and per capita income are low even by Indian standards, its Human Indices are more akin to the USA than to India. It is this ‘Model’ which made the UNDP work on HDI as the basic for developmental policies, rather than GDP. Even the Millennium Development Goals incorporate many of the “Kerala Model's” unique features. It is these enormous social strengths that eradicated illiteracy, that the Govt must work on to combat the scourge of Alcohol, rather than banning it – an easy but totally ineffective method, smacking of ulterior motives.

In the final analysis, making illegal what many people really like to do is counter-productive. If someone wants to drink – rich or poor, then he will drink – come hell or high water. The desire to not want to drink or to drink in moderation must come from within and can never be imposed from without.

The Goal of the Govt and of Social Reform groups must be to try and instill this desire in the common man.

Sunday, October 12, 2014





In one of the most significant developments in the Middle East in recent years, a Coalition led by the US, carried out air strikes against “Islamic State” targets in Syria, on Monday, 22nd Sept. Game-changing, it may be called – because the Coalition consisted of five Sunni Arab Countries, apart from the only Western power – the US. They were Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. A remarkable diplomatic achievement by the US. Apart from Qatar, who was in a supportive role, the other four actually participated in the attacks. This is an unprecedented move and it sends a powerful message to the Islamic State, the Arab nations and to the entire World. That the Islamic State is illegitimate and a misnomer – it is neither Islamic nor a State, and more importantly – not representative of Arabs or of Muslims. In days and weeks to come, this message will reverberate across Islamic communities and Countries across the World, especially because of the involvement of Saudi Arabia – the home of Islam.
     The scale of these attacks was also unprecedented in this ongoing War, starting with 40 Tomahawk Cruise missiles, followed by the first ever use of the most advanced fighter aircraft ever, the F-22 Raptor, with the third wave being dominated by the Coalition partners. The targets were diverse – Islamic State HQs (Raqqa), training camps, logistics and communications centres, barracks and the Raqqa oil-fields, apart from armoured and other vehicles. The US (and France) carried out about 190 attacks over four weeks in Iraq – this single night had as many. While Raqqa was the focus of the attacks, other Syrian cities like Deir Ezzor, Al Hasakah and Abu Kamal were also hit, stretching from Aleppo in the West to Raqqa on the Euphrates. The War against the Islamic State has now well and truly begun. And according to the Pentagon it was just the “beginning of a sustained campaign” which could go on for years. And maybe eventually, some “boots on the ground” (whose?) – although hotly denied by the US.
     Another significant attack was against the Khorasan, an Al Qaeda splinter group (this attack was by the US only) in an area just East of Aleppo. So who are the Khorasan and why are they important ? They are a break-away Group of the Al Qaeda, who were based in the Pakistani tribal areas, who shifted to Syria recently. They consist of veteran Al Qaeda fighters from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Their Aim is to attack the US and Europe. The historical region of Khorasan comprises parts of present-day Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in prehistoric and early Islamic times, hence their name. And according to the US – “ an attack in Europe or the Homeland was imminent”. Another major danger of the Khorasan is their attempt to recruit Western IS fighters – to carry out attacks in their respective home Country. Considering there now about 15,000 fighters from US, Europe, the Russian Federation, India and Islamic Countries, this is a serious threat. No visas required, just a plane ticket.
So Who Didn’t Fight?  The two biggest Countries in the region – Turkey and Egypt. Why ? Turkey – possibly because 49 of their Diplomats (including wives and children), were captives in Mosul. They were released on 21st Sept, and hence they were not included in the planning and execution of the attacks of 22nd Sept. They are now willing – according to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, their Prime Minister and must form a crucial part of any future plans. Egypt, who are suffering Islamic pangs, because of their recent political events, decided to stay out. Britain and France, natural members of any US led coalition also didn’t participate. Why ? David Cameroon didn’t find political consensus and the French didn’t get an invitation from Syria (which they got from Iraq) !! A valid point by the French, because the strikes in Iraqi territory had legal sanction, while the ones in Syria did not. In fact, Syria was not involved in the co-ordination, merely informed via the UN.
What’s the Future?      

Now that the seriousness of intentions of the US and Arab coalition partners against the Islamic State is clear, this is a long-term fight to the finish. And with very little support from across the world, (except for young committed fighters from just about everywhere), the Islamic State’s days are numbered. Stuck in a limited geographical area, their ability to hide tanks and Artillery is limited. Any Military-like actions against either Iraq or Syria are ruled out and only guerrilla operations are possible.

The sudden influx of two lakh Syrian Kurds into Turkey, on the day of the attacks was either fortuitous or part of the plan. It reduced the chances of collateral damage and now prevents the IS from hiding themselves or their military hardware within a civilian population. The return of the Turkish diplomats (a secret deal or ransom?) also cleared the way for Turkish participation. And this is important. Democratic Turkey has an Islamist Party in power and Turkish actions will have sanction from the people. It suits Turkey to vanquish the IS, so that Kurdish refugees can return to Syria.

The fight against the IS must continue, at different levels. Financial sanctions, reclaiming the Islamic space from the fundamentalists, a ban on weapons reaching them and making it difficult for fighters to reach or leave Syria/Iraq.

Finally, the US insistence on arming the Free Syrian Army (Sunni rebels) and removing Assad is a debatable decision. The removal of any Dictator is a laudable aim, but it could plunge Syria into a huge Sectarian crisis. We saw it happening in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. And it is a moot point if all the foreign fighters have migrated to the ranks of the IS or are still fighting alongside the rebels. Arming them would be disastrous. Apparently, the Arab world is not yet ready for Western style Democracy. If they could reform and embrace globalization, like China has done, the glories of its civilization, respect and pride would similarly surely return. This is something they steadfastly refuse to do. That is the root of the problem that the World is grappling with.

President Obama addressed the Nation (and the World). You can watch the address at (Strangely this 41 minute video doesn’t start until 36.45 – so just FF uptil then).

President Obama’s Address to the UN was also seminal and gripping. The guy can really speak well. This may well have been his best speech ever. No issues evaded, no problems skipped, solutions clearly articulated – albeit at a philosophical level. Hard-hitting words, spoken with candour and appearing to come from the heart. It helps, that he has a Muslim father and step-father. His harsh words against Muslims were taken at face value. Bush or Clinton wouldn’t have had such an impact.

Thursday, September 25, 2014




The rapid rise of ‘The Islamic State’ has brought a disturbing paradigm shift into an already troubled Middle East. So who are they, what are their Aims and Capabilities and what could the possible course of events be, over the next few months and years ? Any analysis now would require frequent revisions as events unfold on virtually a daily basis. But let me try anyway.

The information we have about them or their Leader is scant, and from diverse sources. To summarise – they comprise Sunni Muslims of Iraq and Syria, sworn to establish an Islamic Caliphate, under their Supreme Leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now calling himself “The Caliph Ibrahim”. They have been augmented by fighters from numerous Countries, including UK, Germany, France, Holland, USA – and India, amongst others. All told, they today reportedly number more than 10,000 fighters. They have captured arms (including tanks/ICVs from the retreating Iraqi Army) and assets worth about $ 2 Billion, making them the richest Jihadi organisation. Baghdadi is a fierce looking fighter and  tactician, which infuses in him more appeal than has the Al Qaeda Chief – the mild-looking, bespectacled Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Islamic theologian. Al Qaeda has condemned them – ostensibly for their brutality, but in reality it’s more likely to be a turf war.

Started in 2003, to oppose the US invasion, they have steadily grown in numbers and commitment, after they announced themselves in 2006 or so. So they are neither a new nor an unknown phenomena. Just ignored. Their rapid ascent drew strength (and Headlines) from the Israel/Hamas war, the Syrian rebellion and the political turmoil in Iraq, although not directly linked to any of them. They have reportedly declared the Hamas as Apostates and have vowed to destroy them, before tackling Israel. They have harmed the rebellion against Assad by attacking genuine Syrian rebels and thinning their ranks by getting recruits into their own militia. Prime Minister Al Maliki’s obdurate refusal to run an inclusive Govt in Iraq has considerably exacerbated the Shia-Sunni divide and consequently Baghdadi’s development and short-term Aims. However, the new Govt, led by President Fuad Masum (a Kurd) and Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi (a moderate Shia) may be a game changer. While many key posts went to the majority Shia community, Sunnis and Kurds were also well represented with Saleh al-Mutlaq (a Sunni) being  Dy PM.

Aim.  Their long-term Aim is to establish an “Islamic Caliphate”, under a single Leader, in the Levant. Their morphing name indicates how their Aim has evolved. From AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) to ISI (Islamic State of Iraq) to ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) to ISIL (Islamic Sate of Iraq and the Levant) and on 29 June 2014, to ‘The Islamic State’. It’s interesting to note that their Aim has now expanded out of the Levant, to include the entire world. A measure of their confidence. Their short-term Aim is to establish their dominance over other Sunni groups, especially those who do not follow the extremist Salafist doctrine and to fight a sectarian war against Shias.

The Levant. The Levant core region historically comprised of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Cyprus and Hatay (a province in southern Turkey, on the Mediterranean coast). Expanded to include the Sinai and Iraq and finally the entire territory of Turkey and Egypt. Interestingly, the British had an English Levant Company, founded in 1581 to trade with the Ottoman Empire.

Capabilities.        Never assess an adversary on his Aim. Assess him on his Capabilities. Aims can change overnight, capabilities cannot. The ‘The Islamic State’ has about ten to twenty thousand fighters, captured arms, adequate recourses and deep, almost fanatical commitment. Their well trained Army has already routed the Iraqi Army and adversarial Syrian rebels. And captured many major towns, including Raqqa in Syria (their HQ) and Mosul (the second city of Iraq). So what can the they do today. Frankly, in their current avatar, with their current resources – not much more. But their real threat lies in their ability to attract new volunteers from all over the World, using their appeal and social media skills. This will also cause disturbances in host Countries, as we saw in The Hague recently. Open demonstrations, flaunting the black Islamic State flag. 
So they’ve done a lot, since they burst out of their relative anonymity in June this year. So what else can they do ? Let’s see their SWOT analysis.

Strengths.   Firstly, their immediate resources of committed fighters, captured arms and ammunition, equipment and vast wealth (if they hold on to the N Iraqi oilfields). Secondly, their insidious appeal of being able to attract large numbers of volunteers from across the World. And one of the reasons is the promise of a Caliphate, with a charismatic Leader. And the fact that they are actually holding territory and administering a virtual Country, which no force is likely to be able to easily recapture.

Weaknesses.         For the first time, a militant organisation is fighting openly, a conventional war, confining themselves to a geographical area. Which is easily attackable. From the ground and from the air. This is their biggest weakness. While the Al Qaeda’s terror tactics work because of their nebulous existence, any terror attacks by The Islamic State outside their borders is likely to lead to massive retaliation, by any number of enemies, of which they have created plenty. A case in point is the increased US strikes in retaliation to the killing of the two US journalists. They have no known sources of replenishing their arms, ammunition and equipment, since they’re shunned even by the Al Qaeda. A self-declared Sunni Caliphate, they are surrounded by Shia ruled Countries. In the West by Syria, a Shia (Alawite) dominated and ruled Sunni majority, (however, even the Syrian Sunnis are fighting them) in the South by a Shia dominated and Shia majority Iraq and in the East, by Shia Iran. The first two have an Army of about 250,000 each and Iran of 800,000. With plenty of tanks, artillery and a reasonably modern Air Force. And in the North, they have Turkey, a formidable NATO member. And the Iraqi Kurds, with their Peshmerga (militia) are their immediate Northern adversaries. Fighting an active war on three fronts (less the Iranian one) is an impossibility, even with enhanced resources.

Current enemies. Currently, The Islamic State is actively fighting only the Peshmerga, who are aided by US air power, with skirmishes in Syria and Iraq. In Syria, there are three forces fighting each other – that is, the Syrian State vs the Syrian rebels and The Islamic State. This stalemate can only be broken by Assad, if he chooses to do so. He is more likely to wait and watch his Sunni rivals fight and weaken each other. The Iraqi Govt has lost much of its US support and till their political squabbles are over, can make no positive move. However, they are unlikely to be pushed any further South. Their Army, aided by Shia militias is likely to secure Baghdad and areas around, witness the bombing on 22nd August in a Sunni Mosque in Diyala. Skirmishes will continue. Iran is plagued by problems of its own and is unlikely to make any move, for the present.

Current backers and financiers.     No Country overtly supports The Islamic State. Their covert financiers are reportedly wealthy individuals, mosques and charities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and possibly Qatar. However, their declaration of a Caliphate with a credible Leader appeals to Sunni Muslim fundamentalists worldwide. And there are numerous pledges of support from Indonesia to Kashmir to Saudi Arabia and from Europe and the US.
US Options.        

The US have two major restraining factors – one, their decision not to get actively involved in Iraq again (no “boots on the ground”), and two, a commitment to bring stability to a united Iraq. The latter is a virtual impossibility, since the chances of a Shia-Sunni rapprochement in Iraq (or for that matter, in Syria) are extremely bleak and the Iraqi Kurds have virtually declared independence. But that is the stated position of the US and they will stick to it unless the situation changes dramatically. Any major increase in air/drone-strikes, which causes “collateral damage” to civilians will turn the entire Sunni population against them and by inference against the Iraqi Govt.

Enemies of your Friends and Enemies of your Enemies.     Are your friend’s enemies automatically your enemies? And do enemies of your bitter enemies automatically become your friends? In the Arab world, as the US is finding out –not necessarily. Their biggest enemy in this region used to be the Syrian Govt under Assad and they were about to assist the rebels against him and to start air attacks against him. Till the Islamic State suddenly surfaced. So they dropped that plan and instead are attacking the Islamic State, who include many Syrian rebels, who they were about to arm ! Which anyway would have been a disaster, since the rebels were infiltrated by foreign fighters, at the behest of the Al Qaeda. Right now, the US is helping the Shias against the Sunnis, which is frowned upon by their allies – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain (though not if they keep their actions  strictly restricted to fighting the Islamic State) and applauded by Iran and Syria – their sworn enemies.

They are also helping the Peshmerga (Iraqi Kurds), which is frowned upon by their NATO ally Turkey, who are worried about a demand for a more inclusive Kurdistan by Turkish Kurds, who they have been repressing for decades. A Kurdistan in this area would be appreciated by Europe and Israel, who have a large Kurdish diaspora (about 1.5 million), who presumably would migrate there. All told, there are about 30 million Kurds (who are basically Iranian Sunni Muslims), distributed in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, the Russian Federation, Europe and Israel. Any significant success by the Peshmerga would open yet another can of worms in this troubled region.

For the US/UK, to look at this conflict from an American or NATO perspective (which they are currently doing) would be short-sighted indeed and the problems in the Middle East would mutate and acquire new and dangerous dimensions and complexities, so-far unseen and unanalysed. The only Super-power should behave as a World leader and not as a protector of American interests. If they want to take a world leadership position. The US is at an important cross-road here. They’ve left a mess in Afghanistan and Iraq – will they do it again?

Verily they are faced with a Hobson’s choice. Every option is fraught with larger unforeseen implications. Extreme caution and introspection is needed here. Diplomacy before military action. Any “Coalition of the Willing” (formed after the NATO Summit in Wales), which has only NATO Countries is meaningless. It has  to include the Arabs and Iran. A holistic right-brained solution is needed, instead of a bits-and-pieces left-brained military/strategic one. The consequences for the World are enormous. We wait with bated breath.

Saturday, August 23, 2014



(By Ajit Nair : Strictly Personal Views)

          Most games evolve with time – to keep in sync with the changing circumstances of modernity – and the last 20 years have seen the greatest changes that humanity has ever seen. Sports too have changed immeasurably – changes in equipment, in stadia, in surfaces, in the efficiency and reach of TV coverage, in commercialization, in the fitness and resolve of sportsmen and the high stakes involved, with the consequent competitiveness. But the greatest change has been in the modern generation’s  attitude to life – and to sports. The last generation was used to an easy-paced, but skillful and aesthetic way of playing a game. The younger generation wants an instant fix to everything – they want speed, strength and a quick result. Some games re-invented themselves to remain relevant, others merely changed their format or rules.

          Cricket was about to die of old age, but a blood transfusion of One Dayers to Tests saved the day, and pandered to the impatience of modernity. 20-20 came in even before the One Dayers reached adulthood and proved to be an instant success. In Billiards, old-timers made thousand point breaks – today each game finishes at 150 – to counter the challenge of colourful and fast-paced Snooker – and Snooker itself has introduced a 6 ball variant. Hockey changed umpteen rules, some to break the hegemony of India/Pakistan and to suit the Europeans/Australians and some to speed up the game – but all for the better. Squash, Badminton and Table Tennis changed their scoring formats and rode the crest of the wave. Some games were free flowing and fast-paced to start with, and had to make minimal changes – Basketball (3 pointers, triple free throws etc) and Tennis (line call challenges, tie-breaks) amongst others. And most Games enthusiastically embraced Technology.

          But the most popular game of them all – Football – remains rooted in obstinate and arrogant anachronism. Footer is such an entertaining and exciting global obsession, that its popularity has survived its archaic resistance to change. Everybody can and does play it and everybody loves to watch it. As Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly famously said “Football is not a matter of life and death – it is far more serious than that….” The Footballing mania may well survive its restrictive and out-dated rules and regulations – but who knows when the modern youth just switches off. FIFA and King Sepp must think proactively – the writing is not yet on the wall, but it doesn’t take much time to fetch the chalk. The youth of today are demanding, but not too forgiving. Changes are required not just to entertain, but also to remove arbitrary and patently unfair decisions, to reward the better, more skillful and hard-working team, the more talented player – on the day, and to remove cynical gamesmanship. And finally, to use the benefits of technology to improve the quality of refereeing. In this World Cup, goal-line technology is being used, but video referrals and the full gamut of available technology is not. They must be used, without slowing the game down too much.

My take on what is wrong and what needs to be done, if Football is to remain the King of Sports.

Red cards/Yellow cards.   The biggest Anachronism. Both Cards have completely unintended consequences. Invariably, Yellow Cards are too mild and Red Cards are too harsh. And the worst thing is that the time at which they are given has a huge impact on the game. A Yellow Card early in the game has no immediate effect, but puts the player on tenterhooks for the rest of the game, while a Yellow Card near the end has almost no immediate effect (only long-term). A Red Card at the beginning kills the game and a Red Card for the same offence near the end has very little effect. Two Yellow Cards for two ‘not too serious’ fouls – equals the Draconian Red Card !!! And both illogically carry their effect onto the next game as well. A Red Card – and you miss the next game. A Yellow in two successive games and you miss the third.

Both Yellow and Red Cards must have an immediate effect and it should be even at any stage of the game and always commensurate to the gravity of the offence. Today, there are many different fouls of differing gravity, but only three types of penalties – Free Kicks, a Penalty and the two Cards.

My solution – an immediate three or five minute send-off for a Yellow Card and a 10 minute (or 15/20/30 – at the discretion of the Referee) send-off for a Red Card. And NO carry-forward at all.

Off-sides.    Off-sides have their origin in the late 18th Century in English Public Schools. They’re archaic in the 21st. They’re completely incomprehensionable to the average watcher and barely comprehensionable to the informed laymen (like me). Many an off-side decision in this WC has been patently wrong, denying what looked like a sure-shot goal. On 30 June 2014, I was astounded to hear a Legend of the Game, Robbie Fowler say “I’m not sure about the off-side Rule, but I think that should have been a Goal” (France –Nigeria). Laying the off-side trap is fraught with danger – suppose the linesman gets it wrong ? And beating the off-side trap has become a artificial and technical expertise, unnatural to the beautiful game. Absolutely no reason for them.

I say – abolish the Off-side Rule, Hockey has already done that. Let the poacher wait in ambush !! It will add a delicious element of surprise….

Back passes,        Back passes, especially to the goal-keeper, seriously detract from the flow and beauty of Football. To some extent, FIFA recognised that 20 odd years ago and banned Goalies from handling a ball that was back-passed by the foot (as opposed to the head or body). But the bane of back-passes continue. It slows down the game and leads to audience fatigue.

Back passes to the Penalty area must be banned. In addition, back-passes from ahead of the Centre-line to behind it must also be banned (like in Basketball).

Throw-ins/Free Kicks.  A throw-in is an unnecessary and artificial expertise, which slows down the game. Instead of throw-ins, have a kick in, to be quickly taken by the closest player (instead of waiting for the ‘so-called’ expert to arrive – and his speed of arrival depends on whether his Team is ahead or behind !!). And both for Free Kicks and for the Kick-in the player must be allowed to carry the ball, instead of looking for a pass (again, like in Hockey).

Time of play/Injury time.      The clock keeps ticking when the Referee calls a foul. Why? Then extra time is given to compensate the delays. Then players delay during extra time and the Referee has to re-calculate.

Why not stop the clock every time the play is held up and blare a bugle, when time ends – at exactly 45/90 minutes (like in Basketball)………….Time to be kept by the Time-keeper, and not by the Referee.

Replacements/Substitutions.  The Replacements/substitutions rule has remained unchanged for Decades. Three substitutions per match. We see slow Football and tired legs near the end of every match, especially during extra-time. And if a player is injured after the substitutions are made ? What then ? Play a man short ? Patently unfair. Hockey has a rolling substitution rule, which is so wonderful (also Basketball). Fast paced action till the very end.

My take on it - Substitute all you want – to keep each player fresh. And to give every player a chance. And to cater for minor injuries, which necessitate a rest or treatment for a few minutes. It will also give great strategic legroom to the Coach (Imagine : Van Persie starts; the Dutch two goals up in 20 minutes – withdrawn for a defensive player. The enemy equalizes, Van Persie back…..and so on). Games will oscillate between all-out attack and balanced defence.

Challenges.    Any challenge, especially from the rear where the ball is not targeted, only the man, must invite immediate retribution – in the form of a send-off (for a limited duration). It will act as a huge deterrent and prevent unnecessary injuries. Any callous, professional foul must come to the attention of the FIFA Disciplinary Committee (like the Suarez ‘bite’). Remember Andoni Goikoetxea, "The Butcher from Bilbao", whose vicious tackling nearly ended the career of the sublime Maradona ?

Video Referrals. The reluctance to use available technology is just not understood by a lot of us. Similar to the Goal-line technology being used for the first time, back-line and sideline technology can be used. In addition, each Team can be given two (or three) referrals per Half, to challenge the Referee’s call. And the dialogue between the on-field Referee and the video Referee can be telecast, along with the video footage being seen by the latter. In Hockey, this has generated great interest, with the audience virtually participating ! Wrong decisions are the bane of modern Football and leads to huge on-field animosity. Hard to blame the Referee – he gets a split-second to make a game changing decision.

Penalty.      The Penalty kick is too serious a matter to be left to the on–the–spot discretion and judgement of the on-field Referee. In this World Cup, the mistakes in awarding (or in NOT awarding) a Penalty have been numerous, and the fate of a Country has been wrongly decided, leading to National despondency. (Even Robben’s last minute Penalty award against Mexico has been contested by many experts – like Robbie Fowler, after watching many replays). Before awarding a Penalty, a video referral must be made compulsory (and irrespective of a Team’s decision to challenge it). This could be applied to Red Cards also.

Number of Referees.     The referee is the only one who has to run from one goal–line to the other continuously, for the full 90 minutes (no substitutions allowed !). The Football field is large – 100 yards and this must put a huge strain on him. Even to the point of affecting rational decisions.

Why not have two Referees (like Hockey – where the Field is smaller) – one for each Half.

Brigadier (Retired) Ajit Nair

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ajai Shukla replies to my Response

Ajai Shukla's reply pasted below......
Dear Ajai,
          Thank you for the courtesy of a well-thought out and much more logical reply than your sensationalistic article.

          At the outset, let me clarify – I have nothing against you personally. I thought you were a very fine TV journalist/anchor/news reader. You were articulate and balanced, but supportive of the Army, without making it overtly obvious – thereby retaining your credibility. But I maintain my distaste of the article in question. It did not convey the feelings of a concerned Veteran trying to push reform in what he thinks is a corrupt, nepotistic, intellectually deprived and virtually dysfunctional Army – crumbling edifice”, you called it. That was just sensational journalism at its best. Which is what I seriously objected to. There is a deep gulf between constructive criticism and destructive disparagement.

 “The Indian Army fish is rotting from the head.” The very first sentence said it all. A denunciation of what I still consider a very fine Army, trying to come to grips with the ills bestowed upon it by a materialistic society consumed with power and money, and upward mobility. Every problem that you mention, is present in our Army in varying degrees, not one is progressing to a destructive endplay. Grains of truth in a beach of vituperation. It’s not as if the Army doesn’t know of its failings, it’s just trying deal with them, without creating too much internal turbulence. Let’s give the Generals a chance without too much adverse and thoughtless criticism, especially in public. I agree with you – reform from within and from the top is the only option.

I’m forwarding your letter and this reply to all the original addressees, (in BCC), as you’ve asked me to. This exchange of ideas is also on the Old Lawrencians Forum – I’m not sending this to them (I didn’t put it there in the first place – someone else did) – too many disinterested readers, and besides, I don’t want it to become a Sanawar vs Lovedale battle – which it isn’t. My batch of 1969 had eight of us joining the Army (of 64 students). In my three years in the SSB – only one Lawrencian (from either School) appeared, and he was the Bandmasters son from Lovedale (and I failed him – regrettably). I think that’s endemic of the Army’s failure – not attracting adequate talent from the right quarters; and it bodes ill for our future. Which is why, running down the Army any further could well be extremely counter-productive.

I shall reply to your mail in detail – point by point, since I agree in some areas, but disagree in many others, most of all in the method you are adopting, to force the internal change you want. But I’m sure that you are not going to achieve that aim, by using irrelevant issues and sarcastic and facetious language in public, to ridicule the Army. And using exaggeration and sweeping generalizations as tools. These are the causes of my angst.

The Army is nowhere near fulfilling  the dire prophesies of its naysayers.

With Regards


P.S.     Gen HS Panag wrote, disagreeing with both of us. Check out his blog at

Dear Brigadier Nair,

Thanks for your email, which is a critique of my article and equally of me as an individual. Since you’ve had the courtesy to send it to me, instead of merely to people you know, I am responding to you personally. May I request you to forward my response to all those you addressed your critique to. It would be the honourable thing to do.

Your arguments illustrate many of the key problems that today’s army faces. Let me list out the points you make in what I consider their order of importance and respond to them. Your assertions are in magenta and my answers are in navy blue:

(a) Articles are written on the army’s declining morals only because they sell. In comparison, everything written about corruption amongst the babus and politicians is “just one big yawn.” My article, like all the others, was just meant to sell the paper.

Firstly, the media publishes many more articles on corruption in government and amongst politicians than on corruption in the army. To verify this, open the newspapers of any ten consecutive days and count how many articles deal with corruption in the army… and you’ll get your answer.

But that is not the point. Regardless of the how many articles are written or not, even the army’s greatest wellwishers admit to rising levels of corruption, sycophancy, infighting and lack of professionalism. And this raises the larger question: observing this trend, should we --- and I include all of us who have given many years of our lives to the army --- bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well? Or should we take on the challenge of bringing back on track the institution that we all love?

The path of least resistance is: “don’t let word get out! We’ll fix the problem ourselves, without any outsiders coming to know.”

I call that the Wife Beater argument: “Honey, don’t let the neighbours know. Let’s keep this in-house. We’ll fix the problem ourselves.” Sadly, as we all know, the battered wives who keep silent mostly continue to be beaten regularly.

I am aware that there are still many senior officers who are honest to the core. But there are a growing number of corrupt, self-serving and nepotistic generals who believe that the organisation exists to serve them rather than the other way round. The honest and professional officers who keep silent and do nothing to restore the health of the army are like the wife-beaters’ neighbours, who can hear the cries but do nothing to intervene. And those like you who say, “keep this in-house” are equally culpable. Because, as you all know deep down, the army’s internal systems have failed to stop the rot. Sadly, ethical and moral officers like you are amongst those who are watching quietly and justifying their inaction as “love for the army”.

In the final balance, a crime of omission is as blameworthy as a crime of commission. For everyone who truly cares for this army, it is time to speak out in every available forum. Because internal reform is simply not happening. If we all keep silent, the army will inevitably be discredited in the eyes of the public, which is growing cynical about an organisation that they have long respected. The bureaucrats and politicians just love what is happening; gradually, they will step in and start interfering in the army’s internal functioning. I know you don’t want to see that day. But if you all keep silent, you will all be part responsible for the degradation of India’s finest institution.

(b) You say our veterans should not “denigrate” the army, but support it since “We have a host of unresolved issues – like the OROP, the 6th Pay Commission inequities, the CDS issue et al, but most importantly; restoring pride and honour to the Defence Forces.”

Sadly, our veteran community has chosen to focus mainly on financial benefits, rather than on the army's professionalism and ethos. I note that, in the list of “unresolved issues”facing the army, you have put OROP and 6th Pay Commission inequities as your top two issues.

If that is what the veterans believe, they are completely out of touch with what the serving officers believe. For each outraged email from veterans like you, I have received ten messages of approval from serving officers, particularly junior and mid-ranking officers. They all say: “We agree completely. Keep writing. Only then will the generals change.”

It would seem as if serving officers --- who still have an immediate stake in the army’s internal health --- are eager for professional reform. Sadly, the retired community is focused on financial benefits; and has long ago abandoned any association with professional issues.

The “pride and honour”that you write about so passionately will not come from OROP or the extension of 6th Pay Commission benefits. It will come from enhancing the professional pride of the serving soldier, and from instilling the confidence that the army has the ethos and training to tackle any foreseeable challenge.

(c) You write that I should keep silent on the “supposedly-ostentatious lifestyle” of the army chief. The IAS, you say, lives in style, flashing their power. Therefore, the chief is taking no more than is his due as the head of an organisation.

Are you really, publicly, making the argument that the IAS misuses power and, therefore, the army leadership should do so too? I like to think that we soldiers are different and that we hold dear our moral and professional code.

I would have no problem with the chief having 20 servants in his residence. Let the chief’s secretariat take up a case for authorizing that staff (as the navy and air force does quite routinely) and then let him flaunt the status that you apparently believe comes from having a large retinue of servitors. But I strongly oppose the posting of combat soldiers as sevadars/sahayaks/sentries/gardeners/area cleaners; and also the attachment of tradesmen who have been wrested away from combat units and formations, which in turn employ combatants for those duties.

I am appalled at the way combatants are being misused in the army of today. And I am even more amazed that officers, serving and retired, can pretend that will have no operational implications. When you allow the large-scale use of combatants for in the personal staff of officers, the message that goes out is: those tasks are more important than combat. And that means the blunting of your combat edge.

Perhaps you and I simply have different personal philosophies. In my code of conduct, a general who personally pours a drink for himself and for an officer who is visiting him is a far bigger man than one who signals to one of five waiting jawans. Sadly, in today’s declining personal culture, senior officers have even started using their staff officers to offer their guests a drink. And I'm talking about small gatherings, where personal attention can easily be given.

(d) All the recent incidents that involve men confronting their officers are “localized lack of leadership”, not an across-the-board disciplinary crisis. That kind of thing happens in every army, you say.

You are right when you say that each case stems from a “localized lack of leadership.” But, sadly, this localized lack of leadership is spreading like an epidemic. Besides the recent incidents of unarmed confrontations between officers and men, there are also innumerable incidents of fratricide in operational areas. Of course this happens in other armies too. But it is on the rise in the Indian Army and we should wonder why?

From where does this“local lack of leadership” originate? When you think about this, it is obvious that the leadership crisis starts from the top, with the generals (and here we come back to the COAS’s waiters!) behaving as if military manpower is a resource, a perk, which exists for the comfort of officers. Do you really think that the jawans are going to go along with this exploitative relationship endlessly? If the officer-jawan relationship is not made more equal and less feudal, officers are going to start getting killed by jawans even in peace stations. And then we’ll all feel even more victimised when the media notes this trend.

(e) The Indian army’s courses of instruction provide a great military education that result in army officers being “more intellectually enabled than any other profession in India… From the Young Officers Course to Junior Command to the Staff Course to Senior Command to Higher Command Course/LDMC to National Defence Course, no other institution prepares their officers so thoroughly for their next rank/assignment.”

You’ve got to be joking! The military courses of instruction that you cite so approvingly --- YO’s, JC, SC, HC, NDC --- are acknowledged by most armies as a tired, outdated route to predictable and unimaginative thinking. Go and have an honest conversation with a foreign officer (from a serious army) who has done one of these courses.

Give any syndicate in any JC or SC course a tactical problem. One can predict exactly what the solutions of 95% of them will be. These courses are designed to kill off any innovativeness or unpredictability that the training academies might have left alive in the officers.

Intellectual mediocrity is not a natural characteristic of army officers. It is merely the outcome of poor regimental grooming, where officers are not encouraged to read books, to discuss and to dissent professionally with their seniors without seriously endangering their careers. And when you cannot have a civilized professional disagreement with a senior, you cannot develop a freethinking intellect. And without that, you will always be entirely predictable. And in that case, you will quickly die on any serious battlefield.

(f) We should encourage only senior officers to study the 1962 war as “teaching it across the board would be deeply distressing and de-motivating.” In any case, there is no factual material available, since the Henderson-Brookes report is still classified.

This is exactly what I mean when I say that the army is an intellectual desert. When apparatchiks decide that junior officers are so fragile that they cannot study a military campaign because it “would be deeply distressing and de-motivating”, you know you are in an intellectual desert.

By the way, notwithstanding the British Army’s glorious history of military successes, the campaigns that it focuses most deeply are its most painful defeats: Gallipoli, Balaclava, Arnhem and so on.

But our army doesn’t want to face the fact that we got whipped in 1962. Instead, we want to pretend that it was only the politicians and bureaucrats that were to blame. We want to wish away Maj Gen Pathania’s decision to evacuate Dirang without a shot being fired… brigade commanders upsticking without a fight… and the many battalion and company commanders that set fire to their stocks of rations and ammunition and fled with their men from their posts just because they heard that a Chinese outflanking column was coming their way. No, we don’t want to learn any decisions from that because we’re perfectly happy to manufacture history. Everyone from the topmost generals, with the rot seeping down the chain of command.

Have you read any regimental histories of the Indian Army? Most of them should be on the fiction shelf of the library. And an army that institutionally lies to itself, that tell lies in its citations for gallantry awards as a matter of course… military culture is dying and needs to be resuscitated.

(g) You say you don’t know Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh’s shenanigans with his medial category as his star waxed and waned, but you are certain that he is “one of the finest officers to have ever served in our Army.” And you have decided that I have attacked Lt Gen Ravi Dastane, who everyone knew 25 years back was “chief material”.

You admit that you don’t know whether Lt Gen Shankar Ghosh actually fiddled his medical category, but you’re confident that he’s a fine officer. This can only mean that, in your books, a fine officer remains a fine officer regardless of how contemptible his actions are. I don’t think this warrants a comment from me!

And how have you concluded that I attacked Lt Gen Ravi Dastane? Clearly you haven’t read the article that I wrote. There is not a single word or phrase in that article that is derogatory to the officer. It is a pure enumeration of facts. So, may I suggest, please go back and read the piece that you cite so authoritatively.

(e) We cannot condemn any chief without a “holistic” view of everything he has done during his tenure. You say that not every chief can be a Sundarji or a Bipin Joshi and that as long as he“stays out of controversy and leads the Army in a fair, impartial and professional manner, then he would have done his job.”

I’m sorry, but I simply don’t agree with you. In my course alone, which I think was pretty much an average course, there were at least five young officers with the potential to be “a Sundarji or a Bipin Joshi.” I am sure that is the case with most courses. And if these officers do not realize their potential, we need to ask ourselves why.

What a depressing statement you make: “As long as he stays out of controversy and leads the Army in a fair, impartial and professional manner, then he would have done his job.”

Are you saying that this is all that we should expect from our topmost generals? From the office that has been occupied by a Cariappa, a Thimayya, a Manekshaw and a Bipin Joshi?

(f) Gen VK Singh was not politically ambitious or divisive. He took a courageous stand on the date of birth issue.

While I agree that Gen VK Singh was airing a legitimate grievance on the date of birth issue (though he showed extremely poor judgment in accepting in writing at the time of his promotion to Maj Gen and Lt Gen that he was born in 1950), you are totally wrong in asserting that he was not politically ambitious or divisive. An army chief who starts attending the inauguration of statues of political leaders is using his office as a launch pad for a post-retirement political career (which is already playing out, in case you haven't noticed!) That is beneath contempt, as far as I am concerned.

And he was not divisive? All I can say is “LoL”. Go out there and talk to someone in army headquarters right now. VK Singh was divisive; Bikram Singh is divisive. And so will be all the future chiefs for as long as professional competence is measured, even partially, by personal loyalty rather than pure military capability.

(g) You say that, since “Not a single word is ever mentioned by any Indian Minister/ Dignitary/Official about our Forces,” the country doesn’t deserve “a dedicated, apolitical, proffessional Army like ours.”

Do I detect a veiled threat here? An implication that we should have an army like our western neighbour, that shows the “babus and dhotwalas” their place?

If that is what you are suggesting, you are doing the army no favour, and India even less so. We have seen what army rule has achieved in multiple countries. It will be even worse in India.

(h) We have fought more wars than the South Koreans, and are therefore more “entitled”to a war memorial than them.

I have no problem with chest beating about the Indian Army. But I do have an issue when it takes the form of false comparisons with other armies that make them look small. Do you really feel superior to the South Koreans? Since you're talking about a war memorial, let me give you a few comparative statistics about our battle casualties.

The total number of Indian Army battle casualties in all operations since 1947 --- the 1947-48 J&K operations; the 1962 war; the 1965 war, the 1971 war, Op Pawan (Sri Lanka), Op Meghdoot (Siachen), Op Vijay (Kargil), and all the LIC operations that the army has conducted in J&K and the northeast --- is less than 20,000 dead and 37,000 wounded. That is the official count by AG’s Branch, Army Headquarters.

The South Korean Army had at least 100,000 to 1,500,000 dead in the Korean War (some estimates go up to 400,000 killed). So it is not a good idea to speak disparagingly of other armies.

Another figure that will put our own casualty count in context. On 1st July 2016, the first day of the Battle of Somme --- which was just ONE DAY OF ONE BATTLE in the four-year-long World War I --- the British Army took more casualties (20,000 dead and 40,000 wounded) than the Indian Army has taken in the last 66 years.

This is not to gainsay the sacrifices that Indian soldiers have made post-independence. Even one soldier killed is a massive human tragedy in that person’s home. But, as an army, we need to get some perspective about how great we are. We need to stop talking for a while and think. All of us are so busy trying to talk up army’s image that it does not strike us that everyone might not be as impressed with us as we are with ourselves. And when someone gets up and points out something wrong, we go into a child-like sulk.

So while I respect your right to do whatever you like, I will continue to do what I believe is needed to push the army into fixing things internally. We have excellent junior and middle-ranking officers that are yearning for quality leadership. But that will need a radical shift of ethos amongst senior ranks. This is inevitable; if it doesn’t happen top-down, it will happen bottom-up, with terrible consequences for the army. Or it will happen outside-in, which might be even worse.

With warm regards,


Ajai Shukla