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The story of two ceasefires

The Narendra Modi government in New Delhi has decided to make a host of political concessions — in the form of conciliatory moves, positive responses and toned-down rhetoric — vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and Pakistan. More notably, we are also perhaps witnessing a cautious, and sensible, adoption of diplomacy and soft power in the final lap of the Modi government’s term in office. While that is indeed welcome, has its willingness to play down its aggressive rhetoric and dismount from the moral high horse come a bit too late in the day to make a difference?

Over the past month or so, New Delhi has offered to reach out to the separatists in Kashmir (junking its earlier resolve not to engage them), reportedly carried out backchannel parleys with the separatist leadership in Srinagar, declared a ceasefire during the month of Ramzan, and agreed to maintain the 2003 ceasefire agreement on the Line of Control (LoC) and International Border (IB) with Pakistan. The India-Pakistan ceasefire was declared on May 29, which has so far continued with a few exceptions. The tone and tenor of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership’s statements towards the Kashmiris has suddenly demonstrated some much-needed warmth and ‘love’.

Context of the ceasefires

These conciliatory moves have come against the backdrop of several worrying developments within J&K and on the border. For one, the intensity of ceasefire violations had been steadily rising, with damage to civilian habitats and civilian and military casualty rates going up. India reported 19 military casualties and 12 civilian casualties due to ceasefire violations last year, and Pakistan reported 50 civilian casualties (Pakistan does not report military casualties on the LoC/IB but unofficial data show higher military casualties than India). Past experience suggests that fire assaults and cross-border raids on the LoC are fraught with potential for bilateral escalation.

Within Kashmir, an increasing number of local boys are joining the ranks of militancy, and terrorist attacks on civilian and military targets have been on the rise. In 2013, the number of Kashmiri youngsters joining militancy was 16, which rose to 126 in 2017, and 27 in the first three months of 2018. In 2013 there were 170 terror-related incidents in J&K, which went up to 342 in 2017.

It is in this broad political and security context that we should assess the significance and desirability of the bilateral India-Pakistan ceasefire and the internal Ramzan ceasefire.

Why now?

There is little doubt that the two ceasefires and the associated peace moves make perfect sense in helping normalise the situation both internally and bilaterally. However, the crucial question is this: why has the Modi government, which has derived domestic political mileage from a hawkish and aggressive posture, suddenly decided to change track and experiment with conciliatory moves?

First, there seems to be a counterintuitive rationale behind it. While the BJP has traditionally benefitted from a hardline policy in Kashmir, and towards Pakistan, the diminishing returns of such a policy have started kicking in. Not only has government not delivered on its hardline promises (such as the abolition of Article 370, or keeping infiltration and terror attacks under check), but the use of force has failed to achieve its objectives. Hence, the potential to use the Kashmir or Pakistan bogey for electoral gains is limited for now.

In fact, the reverse logic has gained salience: it would be risky for the government to have a violent border and a troubled Kashmir going into the 2019 campaign. For the BJP, it’s time to focus internally, and a semblance of peace on the border and in Kashmir would help. More so, with the ‘Modi wave’ on the wane, it needs to keep its allies close: the BJP’s coalition partner in J&K, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has been insisting on both the internal and India-Pakistan ceasefires.

Second, while the BJP’s hardline policy on the border initially received popular support in the Jammu region, such support is drastically fading now, given the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians from the border villages and the attendant misery for the local population.

Third, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment against Pakistani forces, especially last year, has also not helped. For instance, India violated the ceasefire more than twice as Pakistan did in 2017 (i.e. India fired twice as much), but tables have already turned in 2018: Pakistan violated the ceasefire 1,252 times till May this year whereas India violated the ceasefire on 1,050 occasions. In other words, India’s policy of disproportionate bombardment on the border has not only not helped matters but it has now become a major problem for the locals. (It is equally true that Pakistani civilians also suffer but that may not create problems for the civilian government in Islamabad).

Similarly, both infiltration into J&K and militant attacks in the State have been on the rise. In 2014, 65 terrorists infiltrated into J&K, with the number steadily rising since then. In 2016 it was 119, and last year it went up to 123. In other words, New Delhi’s hardline policy has not only not worked, it has actually had the reverse effect.

Finally, India and Pakistan have been signalling to each other for some time about the possibility of a rapprochement. Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has on several occasions spoken of the need to build peace with India. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in responding to his suggestion for the peaceful resolution of India-Pakistan disputes, recently said that “any comment on wanting peace will definitely be taken seriously”. This desire for rapprochement is also a continuation of positive bilateral engagement since the resolution of the diplomatic row arising over the harassment of each other’s diplomats.

What next?

Clearly, both India and Pakistan, and in particular the people of J&K, will immensely benefit for these two ceasefires. But how long will they last? As for the internal ceasefire, I am skeptical about New Delhi’s ability to engage Kashmiri dissidents in a durable dialogue process. New Delhi may have reached out, but does it have a clearly-articulated blueprint for bringing peace to Kashmir? In particular, the BJP may find it exceptionally difficult to be seen as making ‘concessions’ in Kashmir, and Kashmiri dissidents may not be able to come on board without major political concessions from New Delhi.

The bilateral ceasefire is also not without problems. First, experience suggests that without political dialogue between India and Pakistan, especially on Kashmir, ceasefire agreements tend to break down. More so, there are fundamental structural flaws in the India-Pakistan ceasefire agreement which make it prone to breaking down even when the decision-makers in India or Pakistan do not intend to break it. If indeed such ‘local/tactical’ factors do trigger ceasefire violations, a number of measures — such as formalising the ceasefire agreement through a written down document and regular scheduled meetings of Directors-General of Military Operations, among others — would need to be taken by the two countries to sustain the ceasefire.

Finally, and perhaps most important, there is an undeniable direct link between the Kashmir insurgency on the one hand, and India-Pakistan dialogue, maintenance of the ceasefire agreement, terrorist infiltration into J&K and terrorist violence in Kashmir on the other. Put differently, unless New Delhi takes effective measures to reassure Kashmiris, there is no guarantee that the two ceasefires will survive. With hawkishness and aggression having evidently failed, it’s time to invest in negotiations, political concessions and soft power. And Pakistan must make efforts to control terrorist infiltration into Kashmir for these to be successful.

AI garage? — on kickstarting artificial intelligence

The NITI Aayog has published an ambitious discussion paper on kickstarting the artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem in India. AI is the use of computers to mimic human cognitive processes for decision-making. The paper talks of powering five sectors — agriculture, education, health care, smart cities/infrastructure and transport — with AI. It highlights the potential for India to become an AI ‘garage’, or solutions provider, for 40% of the world. To pull this off, India would have to develop AI tools for a range of applications: reading cancer pathology reports, rerouting traffic in smart cities, telling farmers where to store their produce, and picking students at high risk of dropping out from school, among them. It is a tall order, but several countries have similar ambitions. The U.S., Japan and China have published their AI strategy documents and, importantly, put their money where their aspirations are. China, for example, plans to hand out a million dollars in subsidies to AI firms, as well as to run a five-year university programme for 500 teachers and 5,000 students. The NITI Aayog does not talk about how India’s ambitions will be funded, but proposes an institutional structure to get things going. This structure includes a network of basic and applied research institutions, and a CERN-like multinational laboratory that would focus on global AI challenges.

These are lofty goals, but they beg the question: can India bring it to pass? In answer, the NITI Aayog offers a sombre note of caution. India hardly has any AI expertise today. The paper estimates that it has around 50 top-notch AI researchers, concentrated in elite institutions like the IITs. Further, only around 4% of Indian AI professionals are trained in emerging technologies such as deep learning. And while India does publish a lot, these publications aren’t very impactful; India’s H-index, a measure of how often its papers are cited, is behind 18 other countries. This is not encouraging, considering that returns on AI are not guaranteed. The technology has tripped up as often as it has delivered. Among successes, a recent study found that a Google neural network correctly identified cancerous skin lesions more often than expert dermatologists did. India, with its acute shortage of specialist doctors in rural areas, could benefit greatly from such a tool. On the other hand, studies have found that AI image-recognition technologies do badly at identifying some races, because the data used to train them over-represent other races. This highlights the importance of quality data in building smart AI tools; India lacks this in sectors such as agriculture and health. Where data exist, this is poorly annotated, making it unusable by AI systems. Despite these formidable challenges, the scope of NITI Aayog’s paper must be lauded. The trick will be to follow it up with action, which will demand a strong buy-in from policymakers and substantial funds. The coming years will show if the country can manage this.


1) Conciliatory

Meaning: Intended or likely to placate or pacify.

Example: “A conciliatory approach”

Synonyms: Placatory, Pacific  

Antonyms: Antagonistic

2) Rhetoric

Meaning: The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

Example: “He is using a common figure of rhetoric, hyperbole”

Synonyms: Oratory, Eloquence

3) Cautious

Meaning: (Of a person) careful to avoid potential problems or dangers.

Example: “A cautious driver”

Synonyms: Careful, Wary

Antonyms: Incautious, Reckless

4) Indeed

Meaning: Used to emphasize a statement or response confirming something already suggested.

Example: “It was not expected to last long, and indeed it took less than three weeks”

Synonyms: Actually, Really  

5) Aggressive

Meaning: Ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression.

Example: “He’s very uncooperative and aggressive”

Synonyms: Hostile, Belligerent  

Antonyms: Meek, Friendly

6) Dismount

Meaning: Remove (something) from its support.

Example: “We have to dismount the pump”

7) Parleys

Meaning: A conference between opposing sides in a dispute, especially a discussion of terms for an armistice.

Example: “A parley is in progress and the invaders may withdraw”

Synonyms: Negotiation, Meeting  

8) Ceasefire

Meaning: A temporary suspension of fighting; a truce.

Example: “The latest ceasefire seems to be holding”

9) Casualty

Meaning: A person killed or injured in a war or accident.

Example: “The shelling caused thousands of civilian casualties”

Synonyms: Victim, Fatality

10) Assaults

Meaning: Make a physical attack on.

Example: “He pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer”

Synonyms: Hit, Strike  

11) Fraught

Meaning: (Of a situation or course of action) filled with (something undesirable).

Example: “Marketing any new product is fraught with danger”

12) Escalation

Meaning: An increase in the intensity or seriousness of something; an intensification.

Synonyms: “An escalation of violence”

13) Crucial

Meaning: Decisive or critical, especially in the success or failure of something.

Example: “Negotiations were at a crucial stage”

Synonyms: Pivotal, Critical

Antonyms: Minor

14) Hawkish

Meaning: Advocating an aggressive or warlike policy, especially in foreign affairs.

Example: “The administration’s hawkish stance”

15) Counterintuitive

Meaning: Contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation.

Example: “This explanation sounds perversely counter-intuitive”

16) Kicking in

Meaning: Come into effect or operation.

Example: “The hospital’s emergency generators kicked in”

17) Abolition

Meaning: The action of abolishing a system, practice, or institution.

Example: “The abolition of the death penalty”

18) Bogey

Meaning: A person or thing that causes fear or alarm.

Example: “The bogey of recession”

Synonyms: Bugbear, Bane  

19) Semblance

Meaning: The outward appearance or apparent form of something, especially when the reality is different.

Example: “She tried to force her thoughts back into some semblance of order”

20) Wane

Meaning: (Of a state or feeling) decrease in vigour or extent; become weaker.

Example: “Confidence in the dollar waned”

Synonyms: Decrease, Decline  

Antonyms: Increase, Grow

21) Fading

Meaning: Gradually grow faint and disappear.

Example: “The light had faded and dusk was advancing”

Synonyms: Fail, Dwindle  

Antonyms: Increase

22) Misery

Meaning: A cause or source of great distress or discomfort.

Example: “The miseries of war”

Synonyms: Affliction, Misfortune

23) Bombardment

Meaning: A continuous flow of questions, criticisms, or information.

Example: “A steady bombardment of emails and phone calls”

24) Rapprochement

Meaning: (Especially in international affairs) an establishment or resumption of harmonious relations.

Example: “There were signs of a growing rapprochement between the two countries”

25) Harassment

Meaning: Aggressive pressure or intimidation.

Example: “The state also grants us the right to pursue this belief without any form of persecution or harassment”

Synonyms: Persecution, Intimidation  

Antonyms: Cooperation, Assistance

26) Dissidents

Meaning: A person who opposes official policy, especially that of an authoritarian state.

Example: “A dissident who had been jailed by a military regime”

Synonyms: Dissenter, Objector

Antonyms: Conformist

27) Prone

Meaning: Likely or liable to suffer from, do, or experience something unpleasant or regrettable.

Example: “Farmed fish are prone to disease”

Synonyms: Susceptible, Vulnerable  

Antonyms: Resistant, Immune

28) Tactical

Meaning: Showing adroit planning; aiming at an end beyond the immediate action.

Example: “In a tactical retreat, she moved into a hotel with her daughters”

Synonyms: Calculated, Prudent  

Antonyms: Unwise, Spontaneous

29) Undeniable

Meaning: Unable to be denied or disputed.

Example: “It is an undeniable fact that some dogs are easier to train than others”

Synonyms: Indisputable, Inarguable  

Antonyms: Debatable, Questionable

30) Kickstarting

Meaning: Provide an impetus to start or resume (a process).

Example: “They need to kick-start the economy”

31) Cognitive

Meaning: Relating to cognition.

Example: “The cognitive processes involved in reading”

32) Pathology

Meaning: The science of the causes and effects of diseases, especially the branch of medicine that deals with the laboratory examination of samples of body tissue for diagnostic or forensic purposes.

Example: “Research people skilled in experimental pathology”

33) Aspirations

Meaning: A hope or ambition of achieving something.

Example: “The needs and aspirations of the people”

Synonyms: Desire, Hope  

34) Lofty

Meaning: Of a noble or elevated nature.

Example: “An extraordinary mixture of harsh reality and lofty ideals”

Synonyms: Noble, Exalted

Antonyms: Base, Lowly

36) Sombre

Meaning: Having or conveying a feeling of deep seriousness and sadness.

Example: “He looked at her with a sombre expression”

Synonyms: Solemn, Earnest

Antonyms: Cheerful

37) Elite

Meaning: A select group that is superior in terms of ability or qualities to the rest of a group or society.

Example: “The elite of Britain’s armed forces”

Synonyms: Best, Pick  

Antonyms: Dregs

38) Lesions

Meaning: A region in an organ or tissue which has suffered damage through injury or disease, such as a wound, ulcer, abscess, or tumour.

Synonyms: Wound, Injury

39) Annotated

Meaning: Add notes to (a text or diagram) giving explanation or comment.

Example: “An annotated bibliography”

Synonyms: Gloss, Explain

40) Lauded

Meaning: Praise (a person or their achievements) highly.

Example: “The obituary lauded him as a great statesman and soldier”

Synonyms: Praise, Extol

Antonyms: Condemn, Criticize

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