PDP follow-up

Down below I offered my read on the PDP’s failure in Kashmir. Muzamil Jaleel, whose work in the Indian Express I always read, has a long, detailed piece on how top PDP leaders are viewing their situation.

Some snippets:

“there is confusion in the PDP ranks and a growing feeling that the party, already questioned for its alliance with the BJP, may be compromising on its core politics.

Its hope is that the shortage of food and fuel, and closure of schools and businesses would ultimately set off fatigue and force people to return to ‘normalcy’.

“We have abandoned our core political stance on the Kashmir issue and there are no takers here for the politics of development,” he said. “In my constituency, a village had no road connectivity even though it is just a two-hour journey from Srinagar. I ensured a beautiful and wide black-top road was built as soon as we took over. The villagers came to me with gifts, to thank me. Today, those very villagers cut that road up so that jeeps and Army trucks can’t reach there. I was shocked. How could people who got a road for the first time in their life do such a thing?’’ the Minister said.

Another senior Minister, however, disagreed that the government’s response was lacking. He said that Mehbooba Mufti was “on the right track” because “only an iron fist can bring normalcy here”.

“We know we cannot give Azadi to people. We can’t even help in that. We must not forget that we exist only in the pro-India camp here. We must not mislead anybody,’’

“We need to take harsh measures and somehow bring the situation back to normal. We will be in power till 2020. Four years is a long time to help heal the wounds”.”

A rough decade for Balochistan’s police

Along with an excellent team of 5 research assistants, I have spent the summer doing all kinds of empirical work: historical digging into colonial articulations of nationalism, quantitative data on security force casualties, case studies of state-armed group interactions, and codings of armed orders, among various other things (like Sri Lankan election turnout from the 1980s). This is all related in some way to my current book project on armed politics in South Asia.

One of my RA’s organized data on police fatalities in Balochistan (from the Balochistan Police website – I’ve been amazed by what you can find if you go looking, if you know where to look).

This is obviously limited in numerous ways: starts in 1979 (after the 1973-77 conflict), is only the Police (not Army or FC), and does not include either militant or civilian casualties. Plus violence alone doesn’t tell us about many important parts of state-armed group interaction. But it does have the virtue of not being reliant on press coverage, which can be very problematic, and it shows us where and when provincial forces have been most involved in some form of direct conflict.

Here’s a graph of fatalities over time; the spike in the mid-2000s is unsurprising given the return of war to Balochistan, but it’s remarkable how much more violent the last decade has been than the previous two decades:



We need to clean up various aspects of the data moving forward (especially to nail it down spatially), but it will be among the first of the datasets that the project will be releasing.


The King’s Party in Kashmir

The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was the great hope for Kashmir of many in Delhi. Its rise in the late 1990s/early 2000s was intended to break the National Conference’s monopoly of “mainstream” politics in the Kashmir Valley, adding both another partner for the Centre and another articulation of how Kashmir could be both Indian and, in some ways at least, autonomous.

The protests of the last 40+ days have broken an already-strained PDP project. Its alliance with the BJP in the J&K state government put stress on the PDP’s credibility with its Valley constituency, and Mehbooba Mufti’s succession of her deceased father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, was rife with indecision, delay, and lack of clarity. Things have only gotten worse since.

Praveen Donthi’s detailed Caravan history of Mufti’s career in Kashmir and Delhi helps us understand the particular niche the PDP aimed for and the pervasive pressures that have now undermined it. Donthi notes that Mufti arose from the fragmented politics of the 1960s Valley, becoming a Congress stalwart in an NC-dominated polity in part due to personal and political rivalries and feuds. His later peregrinations into the Janata Dal, return to the Congress, and founding of the PDP show how hard he worked to maintain relevance in “mainland India” while also trying to keep at least some foot in Kashmir against the much-hated NC (with the exception of helping to get the 1996 election going).

This balancing act is extremely difficult for anyone. Delhi is not interested in substantial autonomy for Kashmir, much less chief ministers who consistently challenge security forces, the Home Ministry, or the PM. The deep history of Kashmir since 1947 shows Delhi consistently intervening to stave off such a figure or a party. This limits the ability of Kashmiri parties to stand up for Kashmir and get any kind of results.

Yet being in the mainstream, working with Delhi, and doing things like allying with the BJP (whether in the NDA, like the NC, or at the state level, like the PDP) also alienate major parts of the Valley. The two dynastic parties of the contemporary Valley are seen by many as lackeys, sell-outs, and corrupt opportunists who do Delhi’s bidding; they are the local collaborators who hold Kashmiri aspirations for independence (or, less popularly, accession to Pakistan) at bay through a mix of patronage and repression. They are viewed as doing Delhi’s bidding, not Kashmir’s.

As I argued back in 2013, this combination makes it impossible to “restore normalcy” in Kashmir. I’ve been wrong about many things, but I was very confident that I was right on the argument of that Asian Survey piece. And here we are.

The current situation has destroyed the PDP’s already-troubled balance between these two pressures. We have the ruling central government – whether Modi, Rajnath Singh, or Arun Jaitley – taking a hard line and putting its blame heavily on Pakistan, against a backdrop of previously framing the Kashmir issue as needing an infusion of (delayed) development funds. There seems to be a fetish for mouthing vague rhetoric that was relevant back in the Vajpayee days, but the protesters were barely born when Vajpayee was working on Kashmir issues. Meeting with some delegations at the state guest house does not equal actual political movement. The Army seems to be getting restless at the political status quo, but Modi and Singh ultimately call the shots.

Mehbooba Mufti genuinely doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing, and her party’s spokesmen have done a very poor job. Either she needs to go all-in with Delhi’s line, or consistently challenge it; swinging between the two while often also going silent is kind of stunning to watch. I really don’t get it. Omar Abdullah is going after the PDP with great vigor, the Valley’s political bloodsport apparent for all to see. And the protesters view all of these people are either irrelevant or malevolent.

At some point the protests will dwindle as winter comes, the CRPF companies keep flowing in, and Delhi puts its attention elsewhere (Balochistan, UP elections, whatever). But the PDP has taken a blow to any claim of being an autonomous political voice that it will be brutally difficult to recover from. I don’t expect an upsurge of support for the NC; its legacy (such as 2010’s protests and 2014’s floods) is not one that will attract the angry Kashmiri protester.

We are entering a new period in the Valley’s politics. Mainstream party politics will chug on as a grim Rube Goldberg device, separatist leaders have lost control of their movement even as mass sentiment has further hardened against India, Pakistan will continue to push its agenda, and Delhi will just throw whatever security forces at whatever protesters it thinks is necessary while making gauzy, soon-forgotten assurances. So don’t expect an enduring “return to normalcy” anytime soon.

Another JVP Map: 1988 and 1989 elections

The JVP in Sri Lanka continues to be my “fun” project, a distraction from a book and multiple APSA papers. In future posts I’ll list a couple more sources I’ve found on this conflict. I also want to discuss the PDP in Kashmir and parties like it: “loyalist” parties on insurgent peripheries.

Here’s a map following up on my post about 1988’s election and what it might tell us about JVP (and LTTE) influence: the logic is that both groups wanted elections boycotted, so turnout levels provide a very rough proxy for where the groups were best able to exert their will.

This is district level data from 1988’s Presidential and 1989’s Parliamentary elections. In future, I’ll map out the 160 polling division results for each election to systematize substantial within-district variation. Unfortunately, polling divisions don’t line up with the main sub-district administrative unit, Division Secretary’s Divisions, so we can’t easily line up administrative data with disaggregated election data. Still, it’ll be a more useful map once I someday get around to it. I similarly want to get at the vote shares of different parties in these elections, plus go back to the 1982 presidential election.

You should play with turning the layers on and off; they are aligned right on top of one another so viewing them simultaneously doesn’t add anything (the top layer is the third layer below, % change in turnout by district from 1988 to 1989); click the weird arrow/drawer button on the top-left to toggle the layer options.

The first layer (blue) is the December 19, 1988 turnout percentages, just using the main town in a district as the location (I use Vavuniya as an arbitrary location for the Vanni electoral district). We see what I noted below: a low-turnout crescent from the deep south around through Uva province, into the north-center and north. Note the similarities in the deep south to the 1971 map of attacks I posted, but also a big difference: the Colombo-Kandy line appears much less hit by the JVP in 1988 than in 1971 (Kegalle was a hotbed of the 1971 revolt).

The second layer, in red, is 1989 parliamentary turnout, from February 15 (just 2 months after the presidential). We see overall major upticks in turnout, likely driven by a combination of the new, vigorous President Premadasa replacing JR and heightened security force operations in response to the JVP also targeting security forces more intensively. Overall turnout was up ~15% from 1988 (from 55% to 64%). If you click on the icon, you can see the raw percentages differences.

The third layer, in yellow, is the percentage change between 1988 and 1989. I’m not sure what to make of this: did the security situation really change so much in the space of a couple months? Did parliamentary elections drive turnout in different ways than presidential? A lot remains to be figured out.

Nevertheless, some striking stuff. Both the Vanni and Jaffna districts saw huge increases, though from low 1988 values. This is the IPKF buckling down and trying to get rid of the LTTE and prop up the EPRLF and its TULF coalition. However, EROS vote share – as “independents” in Vanni and Jaffna – may indicate support for the Tigers, so turnout alone doesn’t do the job here as a proxy for group influence. Eliyathamby Ratnasabapathy was a big vote-getter in Jaffna, and also happened to be a founder of the (by 1989) LTTE-aligned EROS; Eliyathamby Pararasasingam was another MP from EROS. Batticaloa and Trincomalee move upwards as well, from much higher baselines. These are where the EPRLF tried to make its political stand under the TULF banner.

There is some very interesting stuff in the primarily-Sinhalese districts. Massive increases in Matala, Moneragala, and Badulla, and substantial increases in Galle, Polonnaruwa, and Kurunegala. Something is shifting quite radically in these districts. Crudely, this seems like it might be a useful way of identifying where government control is returning, especially the districts with tripling or doubling of turnout.

Yet we see actual decreases in Hambantota, Matara, and Kandy. Matara and Hambantota are commonly identified as the heart of the JVP, so it’s no surprise to see that the situation does not seem to have improved at all in those districts: both remain ~20%. Interestingly, these are two of the lowest population density districts in Sri Lanka (and were in 1986 as well based on a Census estimate I found in Chicago’s library). Some of the literature also suggests that the JVP moved north as it was being hit elsewhere, which may help explain the the 18% drop in Kandy, but that’s speculative given increases or stasis around it.

This variation leaves a lot of big questions unanswered. But it valuably gives us places to look in the specialist qualitative literature (which is bigger and better than I initially thought, so though still small) for shifts in counterinsurgency strategy, security force deployment, political party campaigning, JVP strategy and operations, and other possible influences, rather than solely relying on broad macro-level claims about the conflict.

You say you want a proxy war. . . .

Narendra Modi made headlines on Monday by bringing up Balochistan in his Independence Day address from the Red Fort.

Given what we know about proxy war in South Asia, I’m skeptical that Modi using Balochistan as a “pressure point” will have much of an effect – and it may be even be counterproductive. First, though it lets him score a few rhetorical points, rhetorical points matter very little when push comes to shove. The Pakistan Army isn’t going to change anything because Indian diplomats start mentioning Balochistan, just as the Indian security establishment hasn’t magically shifted policy every time Pakistan brings up Kashmir; if anything, quite the opposite.

Second, Pakistan will now ever more aggressively claim that India is supporting the Baloch insurgency, providing domestic political cover for an extremely brutal, largely hidden COIN campaign. It provides a huge boost to the previously low-credibility Pakistani campaign to link India to Balochistan; this is a PR gift to ISPR.

Third, if Modi talks a big game but doesn’t follow through, Baloch insurgents who may have hoped for Indian support get hung out to dry. And if the Army weakens, breaks, or co-opts the Baloch insurgency in the years to come, that’s now a clear, public win for Pakistan over India, whether India was even playing the game for real or not. This seems like by far the most likely outcome: Indian hawks pat themselves on the back for finally getting tough but nothing actually happens, and so Balochistan chugs along as a low-level insurgency that the army is able to simultaneously contain and frame as a case of Indian subversion.

Fourth, let’s say India does in fact get a proxy war going: pumping guns and money into Balochistan to seriously up the ante. The history from the region isn’t very promising. Pakistan has bled India badly in Punjab and Kashmir, but that led India to dig in, not concede. Indian support for Tamil militants forced the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987 but ended up blowing up in India’s face with the IPKF war, while fueling the anti-Indian JVP revolt. Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, and Burma have all mucked around in India’s Northeast, but with little geostrategic consequence beyond a nuisance. The Chinese pushed the CPB in Burma with real fervor in the late 1960s and early 1970s but even their massive support couldn’t punch through tatmadaw defenses. The Thais built a buffer along the Burma border but weren’t using support for the KNU and others as a form of coercive diplomacy to extract policy changes.

The big proxy victories were 1) India severing Bangladesh from Pakistan, but that involved the rather large conventional war of 1971 and 2) Pakistani backing for the mujahideen in Afghanistan to impel Soviet withdrawal (its backing for the Taliban was a brute force war of conquest, not coercing a foreign regime). And that was a long, brutal, and complex campaign far beyond anything India has shown any interest in pursuing. The record of proxy wars actually leading to substantial desired policy changes is not encouraging.

Balochistan is a particularly tricky place to play this game: on the wrong side of Pakistan from India, with a Pakistani security apparatus resolved to absorb further costs and a conflict with a peripheral role in Pakistani politics that isolates both elites and masses from the war’s costs. Making Pakistan bleed through Balochistan enough to drive policy change, whether on Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, or anything else, will be a very tall order. If India is serious, it will need to commit to sustained munitions and funding for Baloch militants, support strikes in urban centers, and turn Indian infrastructure in Afghanistan into a conveyor belt for war; an extra few IED hits on convoys in the middle of nowhere won’t accomplish anything. Right now Pakistan owns the escalation ladder in Balochistan – just as India owns the escalation ladder in its own COIN campaigns – and it will take a lot to change that.

Tough Crowd

Pakistan’s Communists in the late 1940s/early 50s did not go out of their way to make friends (from Kamran Asdar Ali’s MAS piece on the Communist Party of Pakistan) pp. 516-517):

“By the late 1940s, the All Pakistan Progressive Writers Association had started to purge from its ranks those that did not completely tow the new party line. . . . During this conference the ‘non progressive’ intellectuals were severely criticized for their perceived political failings, alliance with the state machinery, sexual perversions and lack of social consciousness. . . .The manifesto lumped the various writers: Islamists, nationalists and liberals (supporting ‘art for art’s sake’) into the same basket and painted them as reactionaries. The published manifesto then turned towards those writers who used bourgeois psychology and Freudian parameters to understand society. These authors were rendered perverse, pornographic and decadent for their depiction of life through the lens of sexuality. They not only distorted people’s experience, the manifesto asserted, but also disrespected love as a pure desire.”

Honest Graft in the Punjab

Sir Sikander Hayat Khan ran Punjab as Unionist premier after the 1937 elections. As David Gilmartin’s Empire and Islam points out, this was a patronage-based operation led by the usual rural land-owning-elite suspects. In the words of Sir Sikander’s brother-in-law and chief political advisor, Mir Maqbul Mahmud, “There is a certain amount of legitimate [emphasis in original] patronage available to all parties in power. We should not hesitate to make full and fair use of it” (p. 148). Echoes of George Plunkitt’s Tammany  Hall. . .

Legibility as a Weapon of the Weak

A massive body of work has documented the British fixation with categorization and measurement in colonial India; knowledge production is framed as integral to the processes of colonial rule, often with long-lasting effects on politics (for instance, Cohn and Pandey). Yet it’s crucial not to overstretch this important claim into a sweeping generalization about colonialism writ large. In colonial Ceylon, James Manor writes that the British adopted a radically different approach (The Expedient Utopian, p. 194):

“Efforts during this first phase after independence to assist the disadvantaged were hindered by a severe lack of statistical data on the condition of the island’s people. This was largely the result of a long-standing reluctance on the part of the British authorities to collect the kind of information which their counterparts in India had routinely gathered for decades.”

This continued in the post-colonial era: “Ten years after independence, the national political elite still had no satisfactory island-wide statistical profile of the rural masses. Even the leftists did not seek to learn how severe the problems of landlessness and rural poverty were.”

Scott’s Seeing Like a State and especially The Art of Not Being Governed portray an incessant, top-down state quest for legibility, categorization, and social control, but here we see elites choosing illegibility. Ironically enough, legibility would eventually emerge as a result of pressures from below for land reform and redistribution amidst the SLFP’s leftward tilt; in other words, it would become a Weapon of the Weak.

Map: The JVP in 1971

Below I offered a rough assessment of areas of greatest LTTE and JVP control based on 1988 Presidential election turnout. In the absence of reliable event-level data, it’s a crude but hopefully useful proxy. The 1971 JVP uprising, by contrast, produced an official report that includes a listing (Appendix 3) of police stations damaged, police stations attacked but not damaged, and areas that “which went under Insurgent control either completely or substantially” (this overlaps heavily with the damaged police stations list). Obviously the report must be taken with a grain of salt (its assessment of civilian casualties seems bizarrely low) but it provides a level of specificity lacking from the 1987-1990 period.

My amateur hour Google Map below shows the geography of the JVP rebellion. Red are damaged police stations, yellow are attacked but undamaged police stations, and the blue boxes are areas the report identified as being under some sort of insurgent control.

As we can see, the efforts at seizing areas of control in and around Colombo and the heavily populated west coast failed, with a clear clustering pattern being instead seen in the deep south and the parts of central, north-western, and north-central Sri Lanka. The ethnic dimension of the revolt is clear, as is its regional and rural concentration. Future work will consider both the spatial characteristics of this revolt and its area of overlap (and non-overlap) with the late 1980s. The 1963, 1971, and 1981 censuses, as well as election returns, will be getting some heavy use in the months and years to come.


Press Sources on the Kashmir Valley

A massive series of protests and state responses have unfolded in the Kashmir Valley the last few weeks, since the killing of Burhan Wani. And yet Indian media discussion of the issue has devolved into Arnab Goswami yelling at people.

A different approach would be to also read some of the press from the Kashmir Valley itself or by Kashmiris. Below is a tiny, limited, non-representative sample (and I obviously do not endorse everything on any site, feed, etc) – but it’s still a lot more useful than just listening to the same debates and same opinions on the same news channels (or the Times of India. . . ), and provides valuably different perspectives. These websites and journalists’ twitter feeds are where I go for news beyond the usual national media suspects. There is also a vastly broader array of twitter/Facebook feeds (though the latter are increasingly unreliable because Facebook is shutting a lot of them down) from activists, politicians, academics, etc that I will try to feature in a future post.

Papers and magazines:

Kashmir Life

Greater Kashmir

Kashmir Narrator

Rising Kashmir

Kashmir Reader

Journalist twitter feeds (among many others): Yusuf Jameel, Parvaiz Bukhari, Basharat Peer, Aijaz Hussain, Shujaat Bukhari, Mirza Waheed, and Muzamil Jaleel.