Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Canceling the NSA Meet is stupid.

tl;dr summary: You can't cancel the NSA meeting because some ISI official is afraid of being named in a dossier! It is simply absurd...

tweet: The planned NSA level meeting between India and Pakistan has been cancelled, because the Pakistanis wanted to put some Kashmir icing on the terrorism shitcake they were going to be served at the meeting. India is in a strong position it can afford to put a little icing on the cake, and Pakistanis need to stop whining and eat their damn cake. That is what you get for orchestrating provocations ahead of major talks.

Full Post: 

The NSA level meet between Sartaj Aziz and Ajit Doval has been cancelled because the Pakistanis didn't like the tone of statements coming from MEA Sushma Swaraj.  Minister Swaraj made it clear that terrorism would remain the big focus of the meeting. This was something Pakistan could not stomach.

After the capture of LeT fidayeen Naveed Khan in Kashmir by India, the Indian NSA's position in the talks has become very strong. With a live fidayeen offering up phone numbers, addresses and names of his relatives in Pakistan. The Indian dossier is just too detailed for Pakistan (or anyone else) to turn away from.

By contrast the Pakistani dossier on RAW involvement in Pakistani terrorism lacks any credibility whatsoever. The ISI leadership has used the term "RAW sponsored terror" to deflect attention from its own mishandling of Jihadi groups inside Pakistan too many times. Not even the Pakistani people find this term very credible.

There is no equivalence between the Indian dossier and the Pakistani dossier. Given what the international community knows about India and Pakistan, there is little Pakistan can hope to achieve by giving the dossier to anyone.

The situation before Pakistan can now only be described as a shitcake of their own making. The idea of using expendable proxies to wage a sub-conventional war against India for over three decades has severely limited Pakistan's options to conduct deniable operations on Indian soil.

Most of these sub-conventional warfare operations were carried out on account of Pakistan's unhealthy and overpowering national fascination with Kashmir. The reality of the ineffectiveness of Pakistani measures in Kashmir is so abrupt a departure from the fantasy Pakistanis peddle to themselves that it is emotionally unacceptable to grasp this reality.

By cancelling the NSA level talks for this Kashmir fantasy, Pakistan is giving off the airs of insanity. And then by making nuclear references in this context - Pakistan is inviting nations of the world to question its rationality as nuclear state. It is senseless to make Kashmir the raison d'tra of Pakistan!

As thing stand - India's hand is strong, it can afford to give a little and Pakistan's behavior is ridiculous - it needs to stop this Kashmir crap right now if it ever wants to have a seat at any table with India.

It is best if this entire madness does not repeat. If the ISI is more comfortable talking mano-a-mano with the Indian Army - then so be it, but pissing up the upcoming DGMOs conference will be an open invitation to war. The DGMOs line between India and Pakistan is one of the most critical escalation control measures that remain effective. Without the face to face contact and confidence building - there is no way for the Indian party on the telephone line to know if they should take their Pakistani caller seriously.

No more bullshit Pakistan. Enough is enough.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Indian National Security 101 - The Cunning Hindu Bania Version

I have often been asked - "What is India's national security all about?". The books that people write on this speak of ancient history and a great "civilization of civilizations" etc... all of which - I find to just be overwhelming amounts of useless detail.  It is an Indian habit to tell you the entire Ramayana when you simply ask "Who was Rama?".

Whatever is true about India's past, its glorious history, its grand mythology etc.. etc... it is all irrelevant to the national security of the India that exists today.

At no point in history has India ever had to support so many people on its landmass.

So unless Indians want to tell their children "how great India once was" while they watch them starve to death - India's economy has to develop to keep apace with the needs of its population.

In order to develop (whatever Modiji's grand plans for that may be) India needs to pull together capital resources. These resources come together more/less simultaneously from two sources.

1) Internally generated through some GoI sponsored investment scheme.

2) Externally through a sale of government held assets.

Regardless of how exactly the investment scheme is crafted, there has to be an investment-rate-of-return (IRR) that the investor can live with.

Given the culture of investing in India, the internal rate of capital generation is very slow. This is changing for the better over the last three decades, but it is still at 1% of where it needs to be. So the only way to get money together for anything is to borrow from international sources.

As the prosperity wave first hit India in 2004, the vocal segments of the voters began demanding more out of the government. They wanted roads, electricity and water. This was a shift from the old demands of food, shelter and employment.

There was a small problem, despite the prosperity, rich Indians did not have enough capital to fulfill the needs of the poorer ones. So the Government of India used the newly found public interest in India to begin borrowing from international lenders (directly or indirectly). The money so borrowed was funneled into the Indian economy by printing money and giving loans to Indian financial institutions. The rate of money flow into India was slow and there was very little exposure. As with all investment a certain fraction flowed into the real estate sector and a bubble was born.

As the global economy went into a recession in 2009, the Fed dropped its interest rates in the hope of warding off a depression. The money that came from the Fed went straight into investments in places like India. This increased the exposure of the global economy to India's debt. The rate of flow increased rapidly due to two factors - firstly the money had to leave the US where it less likely to grow, and secondly the GoI was facing a drop in its revenue generation from exports so it was willing to borrow more to cover the gap. Again as with any rapid increase in flow of capital - this flow too fueled the Indian real estate bubble.

And that is where the problems now lie. The money has been borrowed, it has been carefully organized into risk-managed vehicles, and we are waiting for the infrastructure developments funded by these vehicles to get going - i.e. finish on time and then start driving new economies and connecting new consumers to the world markets. A large amount of money is tied up in real estate investments. These cannot strictly become productive unless there is concurrent infrastructure development. No one wants to live in a fancy apartment complex with swimming pool and gym if there is no road that goes there and there is no water or electricity.

It takes time for infrastructure investments to get going. Until they get going, one has to keep investor confidence high. If you don't do that - the existing investors will get nervous and start pulling out. The only way to keep investor confidence high is to not piss people off.

Everyone in the world will support GoI if it chooses to go after corrupt people and clean up the cesspool of graft that drowns most investments in India. No one will support GoI if it decides to get sectarian in its approach to investors. This is because all investors will see sectarian behavior as a sign that GoI can't pay its debts and is making excuses for default.

So - to be brutally honest - it is time to dry clean and iron the old khaki chaddi, white shirt and black topi and put it back in the cupboard (it has served its purpose). And don whatever keffiyah, patka, kufi, yarmulke, bowler hat, fedora, cowboy hat, Chinese overcoat one needs to put on and get on your knees and bow before the investors. Engage each and every investor you can and show them that you share their notion of core values and worship the same God.

That is your best hope. As things stand when the Fed increases its interest rates, a number of investors will pull out. As the recession draws to a close in the US, the investment flows will reverse. So move to secure what investment you can while you *still* can.

Tell your sectarian friends to get stuffed and stick to work the nation needs.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Escalation Framework Discussion (Refer to P. Kotasthane @ TI)

A paper has been brought to my attention (P. Kotasthane et. al.)

Some comments on this:

0) The representation pattern demonstrated in the document is sound and aligns well with my basic thinking on the issue. This is not surprising, this diagram is very similar to a state diagram used in my line of work. Now again - borrowing from my line of work - I tend to use this kind of plot at an instant in time to capture the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations. So in my head, I am plotting the situation in a third axis perpendicular to the page of the diagram, and there is a continuous line that captures the instantaneous situation.

1) As the paper's authors posit, the situation line in my head - typically remains constrained to region A. In summer when the rivers are swollen, the line trends towards the top of zone A. Pakistan secure in the notion that India's retaliation will be limited pushes with aggressive behaviour on the border. In winter, when Pakistan's defensive measures in Punjab (i.e. the major rivers) are dry, and the cold prevents much movement in J&K/Siachen etc..., the situation line trends back down towards A.

2) At any given time, there is noise on the situation line, this noise represents highly local escalations. Each escalation is captured in terms of a number of fatalities per hour rate. Again in summer, the spikes are much higher than in winter where there limited movement in the northern and glaciated regions.

3) In general, I use the y-axis of this plot in my head as an exponentially increasing casualty rate. Neither India nor Pakistan have the ability to sustain very high magnitude excursions in the situation line.
  • Zone A lies between the mean traffic accident fatality rate (27 dead/hr) and the low level conventional warfare rate (41 dead/hr) (the number of people that die when an armor or mechanized infantry column walks through a target area).
  • Zone B lies in between ~ 100 dead/hr and the 1000 dead/hr which is comparable to fatality rates in regular conventional warfare. (Any battle involving artillery against a city or aerial bombardment like the Nazi bombings of London)
  • Zone C lies in the ~ 1000 dead/hr to 10,000 dead/hr rate which is where most high intensity conventional warfare falls. (ex. Battle of Somme, Battle of Kursk - i.e when two panzer armies meet on the field, or the murder rate at Treblinka/Sobibor/Belsen other Vernichtunglagers)
  • Zone D lies in the ~ 10,000 dead/hr to the 100,000 dead/hr rate - which is something like the bombings at Dresden, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Zone E lies in the >1,000,000 dead/hr rate region. This kind of thing has only been talked about in Rand Corp studies on full-on nuclear warfare with the Russians, or Indian mythology or in speculative fiction (ex. Japanime - the Macross Saga, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek  etc...).
4) If you think about it my fashion, then the Pakistani and Indian attempts to drive the conflict thresholds towards their national acceptable optima become understandable - you simply divide out the casualty rate by the population of each country to get a sense of the apparent fatality rate.

The Pakistanis has roughly 10x lesser population than India, Zone B level fatality rates (100-1000 dead/hr) feel like Zone C level fatality rates (1000-10000 dead/hour), hence they desire to push the nuclear threshold down till the perceived fatality rates (i.e. actual rates/population size) are matched exactly. This maximizes the Pakistani strategic leverage (this kind thinking is at the root of the 1 Pakistani = 10 Indians logic that many Pakistanis tell their Indian counterparts).

As India's population size is much larger it can prevail in any conflict of attrition. So India prefers to keep the zone boundaries at a point where the exact fatality rates (as opposed to the population normalized rates) are matched. This maximizes India's strategic leverage (this is the famed "11th Indian" problem as articulated by many Indians to their Pakistani counterparts).

5) Either ways - changing strategic thresholds is fraught with complications and the possibility of unintended accidental escalations. The same is true of these ideas of India initiating sub-conventional warfare. This can easily trigger something that no one wants. There can be a runaway process which takes on a life of its own. It is best if one doesn't go down that route.

6) I think it is wise for someone to propose that India pursue options that make it harder for the situation line to drift towards zone B. I understand George's point about sub-conventional options but an equally productive venture from a strategic perspective is one where India puts in place a conflict resolution tool that ends the certainty of martyrdom for Fidayeen and eradicates all deniability for ISI sponsorship. If the fidayeen and their ISI sponsors have to consider the prospect of spending a lifetime rotting in Indian prison, I am sure they will reconsider their course of action.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

A Pakistani line of thinking

From Pakistan's perspective this is how things look -

0) Pakistan has no depth. No physical depth, no economic depth and no socio-cultural depth to absorb any blow by an adversary. The only option for Pakistan now is to go on the offensive and hope that that kind of apparently rabid behavior makes any potential adversaries think twice about initiating hostilities.

1) The entire situation along the Pak-Afghan border is stabilizing. The US is leaving, and the likelihood of a major security threat from Pathan nationalism is receding. The Ghani administration has signed on to keeping Panjshiris out of the intelligence machinery. The likelihood of Afghanistan being used to stage anti-Pakistan operations is diminished. Pakistan's Army has survived the American war on terror, its critical infrastructure is intact and redundancy on several levels has grown. What remains is a more robust organization that it ever was.

2) The end of the US stay in Afghanistan has also reduced the need to maintain a visible dissonance with Jihadi groups. The pretense of being anti-Jihad in Afghanistan was necessary to convince the US that Pakistan was a committed partner in its Global War on Terror. With that war ending, Pakistan can go back to its old ways in Afghanistan and end unnecessary friction with Jihadi groups in the region. Any growth in global Jihad awareness and support (IS etc...) can be leveraged to secure Pakistan's interests.

3) Through the use of artillery and air strikes Pakistan Army has demonstrated its dominance over the land. No Jihadi group can ever challenge the Army and expect to survive the encounter. For every VBIED and suicide bombing the Jihadis carry out inside Pakistani Army controlled areas, the Pakistan Army can respond with an artillery barrage or airstrike that rains 100x the destruction on the Jihadis and their dependents. The Jihadis are now acutely aware that they are the younger brothers in this family  and the Faujis of the Pak Army are the bigger brothers.

4) Given this situation, the economy has stabilized around the idea that the Pakistan Army can hold the country together. As the economy grows, so do the real estate and market investments of the Pakistani generals.

5) With regards India where Sri. Modi has been elected PM, there is cause for concern. If Sri. Modi decides to go ahead with nuclear weaponization - i.e. insert pits into packages and packages in to warheads, and warheads into delivery mechanisms - that will allow India to gain the ascendancy over Pakistan at any time. If this happens, the Pakistan Army will lose credibility and find it difficult to maintain its current position of leadership inside Pakistan. In a worst case scenario, the Modi administration would secretly fully weaponize and catch Pakistan with its pants down.

6) A fully mated and secured arsenal could cost as much as $1 Tn per year to get going and maintain. Even if India can afford that, Pakistan cannot do so. Pakistan economy is 10x smaller than India and this cost would be 2x Pak GDP. This is not a viable option from any economic perspective.

7) It is unclear if the Modi government in India wants to take on such a large expense. It is therefore vital to gauge where the true intentions of the Modi administration lie. This is an exploratory process best pursued through talks and "other things". Testing the responsiveness of the Modi government to crises involving Pakistan is part of the "other things" and provocations may become necessary to gain insights into the real architecture of decision making inside the Modi government.

8) Provocations can lead to escalations, but paradoxically escalations bring international pressure to damp down on nuclear weapons development. A potentially viable strategy to check any move by the Modi administration towards weaponization is deliberately create an escalation that brings international attention to the issue of the lack of escalation management measures for fully mated arsenals in the region. This kind of move would find support in the Chinese government which is wary of a strongly nationalistic India.

9) In the event that a provocation leads to an escalation, as long as the Pakistan Army is the first mover and initiates the ensuing conflict, it has the ability to stay ahead of India. Before initiating a provocation, it can put its own defensive resources on a higher state of readiness and that way if and when India reacts, it has reserves lined up to secure potential breaches. The entire process can follow an aufbau principle where the response timescales recorded in the previous provocation can be used to determine the level of preparedness needed in defensive resources before the next provocation is initiated.

10) The ideal escalation is one where the Pakistani Army is able to stay on the edge, just slightly ahead of a place where India would be comfortable and then either get India to back off on weaponization, or ensure that an Indian imposed escalatory freeze is more resource intensive on the Indian side than on the Pakistani side.

Hope this helps people clear their heads when they are forced to think of such issues. This doesn't have all the answers one might seek, but it offers a kind of rope in the dark to hold on to as one makes their way through complex data.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The mismatch between expectations and reality is extremely large

After Gurdaspur, there is a great sense of anger among Indians. The fidayeen crossed the international border and attacked civilians. Indians appear to be convinced this was backed by the ISI. It is one thing to interfere with the LoC, and it something completely different to violate the international border.

This kind of thing has happened before and over the decades, public frustration with the Govt. of India (GoI) inability to put an end to this has grown significantly. There is a line of thought that has taken hold, and it goes something like this -

Pakistanis do this sort of thing because they think they can get away with it - and the GoI by not rectifying that - effectively rewards Pakistan for being bad. If GoI stuck it to the Pakistanis hard - just once - they would understand not to do this.  

This line of thinking has found a larger and larger constituency among younger Indians who are not familiar with the intricacies of strategic study. Lay persons are easily drawn to the apparent simplicity of this way of thinking.

The reason why this kind of thinking never catches on in the GoI is that the government is run by bureaucrats (in and out of uniform). And the bureaucrats understand a few things about India. Briefly here is what the bureaucrats know to be absolutely true

1) Indians have never seen a conflict on the scale of  WWI or WWII *on their own soil*. Indians for all the roadside deaths and rioting they see everyday - have never faced a situation where entire cities are ground to dust by artillery shells and aerial bombing and tens of thousands of people die in seconds. There is no mental model in the population for that.If they were forced to confront something like that - Indian society will fall apart in much the same way Japanese(German) society fell apart after the USAAF city bombings of Tokyo(Dresden).

2) Indians in the freedom struggle era saw famine. They knew what happens to a society when food and water become unavailable. Modern Indians have no concept of those things. Like the young populations of post-industrial Europe, many Indians crave for things that will only result in unbearable pain and suffering.

3) The Indian economy as it currently is barely enough to provide basic human needs for its citizens. It has been a huge struggle to get things this far. Expensive things like WWII level conflicts would turn the economic clock back decades at the very least.

This knowledge forces a certain conservative  framework into bureaucratic thinking. And the core principles of bureaucratic thinking in India (in and out of uniform) become the following

1) When you have information kill people, otherwise kill time.
2) Do as much as you can without actually getting off your chair. 
3) Don't get obsessed with death - everyone dies - don't get into the habit of killing. 
4) Whatever you do - don't do anything that leads to the loss of your own privileges. 
5) Turn unscheduled risks into schedule-able risks. 
6) Politicians and political fashions are like the weather - they come and go.Never worry too much about them because without you they can't really do anything. 

India is not unique in this sense, but the Indian bureaucracy traces its lineage back to the feared Maha Amatya Rakshas (Grand Official Demon) a.k.a Amatya Katyayan - who even the great Vishnugupta Chanakya had to make an agreement with in order to establish the Maurya dynasty. This historical sense of purpose greatly strengthens the bureaucratic hand in India.

Bureaucrats are minimalists - and that is the problem right now.

Public expectations have tilted towards maximal responses.

There are a very large number of proponents of the maximal view. Most of them know in the heart of their hearts what they are asking for is not actually viable, but they continue to ask for it because the public distaste level is so high.

This ofcourse is not helped by the fact that the Modivadis pushed him image as being the ultimate Hindu-tough guy that was going to put Pakistan (and by induction Muslims) in their place. To the sensible folk, this was just PR. To the young and restless, this was reality.

It is difficult to see how the bureaucratic minimalism and the public expectation are going to co-exist.

From the Modivadi PR perspective - the dissonance between the public expectation (admittedly fueled by their own efforts) and the reality of viable response options is very politically expensive. That being said if the Modivadis interfere with the manner in which option viability is determined inside the bureaucracy they will be setting themselves up for an even bigger failure in the near future.