No published piece this month, I'm afraid. I've been a bit caught up with end of year celebrations, a stressful move, work on my PHD and future research proposals, etc. Next month, I should have something up on India's fitful quest for military jointness or 'jointmanship' as it is often called in Delhi.
In the meantime I thought I would treat (or subject) you to a little smorgasboard of the conferences, articles and books that have caught my attention over the past few months.
This was a particularly interesting debate on Pakistan, which took place on Intelligence Squared and which featured an eclectic assortment of academics,travel writers, and politicians, with people as varied as William Dalrymple, Imran Khan and Jaswant Singh.
In my opinion, however, Imran Khan's arguments smacked of a certain disingenousness by constantly minimizing the Taliban threat and blaming radicalization in the FATA almost solely on recent US drone attacks.
By far the most informed and interesting person on the panel is Doctor Farzana Shaikh, whom I had the privilege of meeting last year in Paris. Doctor Shaikh, somewhat refreshingly I might add, does not blame all of Pakistan's woes on foreign interventionism, be it American or Indian, and rapidly gets to the heart of the issue: Pakisan's turmoil, she argues, is the end-result of a half-century long struggle to achieve parity with India, be it in terms of military power or in terms of international status. This, combined with its historically uneasy relationship with Islam, is what has given birth to Pakistan's enduring identity crisis, and resulting chronic instability.
A friend of mine, Vijay Vikram, who writes for Himal and hosts a most interesting, if strongly opinionated, blog on Indian political and strategic affairs, gave me the heads up on this one, which actually took place a while back, in the spring of 2009 in London, once again on Intelligence Squared. The motion, which unfortunately, was defeated, was "The Future belongs to India, not China." The panel, which was was moderated by Edward Lucas from The Economist, contained many interesting speakers, such as Lord Powell, Gurchuran Das and Sir Mark Tully. Gurchuran Das's presentation was particularly thought provoking, combining gentle humour with profound reflection on where India may be heading in the coming decades.
The low point of the debate must have been the intervention of a smug, foppish Sir David Tang, who while trumpeting in somewhat simplistic terms China's economic achievements, chose to engage in some rather dubious and xenophobic jokes on India and Indians in general. Judging by the reactions of some of the other members on the panel, I wasn't the only one to be offended.
You can find Vijay Vikram's blog here:
And the debate, in its entirety, here:
India's presence in Afghanistan:
Following up on the topic analyzed in depth last month on this same blog, here is a link to an intervention by Doctor Sumit Ganguly last summer at the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, at Columbia University, in New York. Doctor Ganguly, with his customary methodical precision, succinctly summarizes the history of Indo-Pakistani competition in Afghanistan. While many western commentators have fallen victim to an annoying tendency to sanctify the late Benazir Bhutto since her assassination, presenting her as an exemplary and progressive political leader, Doctor Ganguly reminds us that it was Nasrullah Babar, Benazir Bhutto's Interior Minister, who referred to the Taliban as his "children".This is one of the many reasons why, since 2001, Sumit Ganguly has been adequately referring to Pakistan's double-track policy vis à vis the Taliban as "hunting with the hounds and running with the hares".
Here is the link to his presentation:
Articles: India's Armed Forces fall prey to bureaucratic sloth, India Today.
In the latest edition of India Today, columnist Sandeep Unnithan explains how proposals for basic infantry equipment worth nearly 7.5 million dollars are piling up as India's fighting capability falls prey to red tape, and chronic delays in procurement. Mr. Unnithan paints a grim picture of the state of India's infantry, who often lack the most basic equipment, such as radios, functioning grenades and night vision goggles. In many cases, officers have been encouraged to buy new items, ranging from boots to helmets for their jawans by dipping into their own unit funds.
Unless something is done to speed up the procurement and acquisition process, Indian red tape may well become sticky with its own soldiers' blood, particulary in places such as Kashmir or the Northeast, where troops are often facing IEDs and well-equipped insurgents with antiquated rifles, inadequate body armour, and little more than a smattering of MPVs (mine protected vehicles).
You will have to purchase this week's India Today to read the article in its entirety, but there is a slightly shorter piece dealing with the same issues, and written by the same columnist on the India Today website, and which you can access here:
While it has been reported that some Indian troopers have begun to recieve upgraded small arms (see link below) they remain, unfortunately, a distinct minority.
Books on Kashmir:
More and more interesting, soulful books on Kashmir have been coming out recently as a new generation of Kashmiri writers, who have lived through some of the darkest, most blood-drenched years of the insurgency have begun to speak out and describe their often harrowing life experiences.
Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer.
One of the most beautiful, and heartwrenching, is undoubtedly the autobiographical account by Basharat Peer, "Curfewed Night."
Peer describes in loving detail his almost blissful childhood in the idyllic southern district of Anantnag before full-blown militancy erupts in 1989, while he is yet but a teenager,.The ensuing cycle of violence affects his life, that of his family and of everyone else is his tightly-knit village community. The author, now a successful journalist in New York, weaves, through his stories of individuals struggling to survive as they are caught in-between a steadily radicalizing militancy and an increasingly brutal Indian counter-insurgency campaign, a tight fabric of what life for a young Kashmiri was like throughout those grim years.
To give you a better idea of the books contents, I will shamelessly quote from the book jacket;
" Here are the stories of a young man's initiation into a Pakistani training camp; a mother who watches her son forced to hold an exploding bomb; a poet who finds religion when his entire family is killed. Of politicians living in refurbished torture chambers and former militants dreaming of discotheques; of idyllic villages rigged with landmines, temples which have become army bunkers and ancient Sufi shrines decapitated in bomb blasts."
In short, a must read for anyone with more than a passing interest in the tragedy that is Kashmir.
Islam, Women and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan, Nyla Aali Khaan.
This book is a fascinating analysis of the impact events in Kashmir since independence have had on the women on the valley; by a feminist intellectual, Nyla Aal Khaan, who also happens to be the granddaughter of one of the most revered Kashmiri leaders, Sheikh Abdullah.
She studies the role of women in Kashmir throughout its turbulent history, whether it be the 14th century mystic Lal Ded, or the amazons of the Women's Defence Corps which was set up in 1947 in order to protect village women from any future tribal incursions.
What makes this study on Kashmir more interesting than most is the fact that it focuses on the trials and tribulations of women, who are often left out of historiographical accounts, and, that , somewhat surprisingly considering the author's parentage, she manages to avoid falling into easy sentimentalism and thus stay relatively objective.
Here is how Nyla Aal Khan recently qualified her work, in her own words, at the University of Nebraska Kearney,
"Caught between the rival siblings India and Pakistan, the people of the state, particularly of the Kashmir Valley, had constructed a composite national identity. Kashmiris were heavily invested in the notion of territorial integrity and cultural pride, which, through the perseverance of the populist leadership and the unflinching loyalty of the people, had sprouted on a barren landscape of abusive political and military authority. I recall that period with nostalgia and mourn the loss of a deep-rooted and heartfelt nationalism. But the refusal to wallow in grief and a desire to deconstruct the Camelot-like atmosphere of that period impelled me to undertake this cross-disciplinary project regarding the political history, composite culture, literature of the state; the attempted relegation of Kashmiri women to the archives of memory, and their persistent endeavours to rise from the ashes of immolated identities. "
That's all for now people. More soon.