Indian Decade

Love Not War For Insurgents?

Canada’s supposed ‘human rights’ visa policy is putting ties with India under strain.

While they regard the tactics being used as heavy-handed and self-defeating, some in the Indian military who are familiar with ground conditions in Afghanistan say that only US and British troops are doing any fighting in Afghanistan. The rest, these sources claim, carefully avoid any situation that may cause even a nosebleed. And as for the Canadian contingent, the only time this lot gets battle-ready is when they are about to attack what is placed before them at dinner tables.

Of course, this is clearly an unfair accusation against a plucky force, and the history of Canadian participation in World War II demonstrates a people ready to make sacrifices in the pursuit of an ideal. However, the smear indicates the anger within the uniformed services in India that has been caused by the propensity of the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi to confuse the Indian security services with their counterparts in Pakistan, a country whose army has jihad as an official motto. As a consequence, since at least 2008, several retired and serving officers of the Indian uniformed services have reportedly been denied a Canadian visa on the grounds that they are ‘human rights violators’ by the mere fact of being part of these services.

The Indian military and associated uniformed services such as the Border Security Force and the Rashtriya Rifles have been dealing with multiple insurgencies for decades. As yet, they’ve refused to go the way of Canada and other NATO powers in using helicopters, tanks, heavy artillery, aircraft and similar advanced systems against a non-conventional foe. The Indian soldier doesn’t have the
option of calling for an airstrike, or letting loose multiple volleys of heavy firepower against insurgents.

Consequently, many hundreds of soldiers have been killed in India’s theatres of operations, many more than would have been the case were NATO's tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan to be copied. Naturally, ‘collateral’ damage in theatres such as Kashmir and the Indian northeast are far lower than in those theatres where Canadian troops are operating.

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Were Canada to deny entry to serving or retired officers of NATO on the grounds that they bear some responsibility for ‘collateral damage’ in Iraq and Afghanistan, there would be an outcry, especially when Ottawa doesn’t even seem to prevent past and present officers belonging to the Taliban's favourite intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence of the Pakistani armed forces, from entering Canada.

However, unlike Islamabad (which is vocal about its privileges as a ‘frontline’ state in the ‘War on Terror’), Delhi is known to be a soft target of the huge army of NGOs and Human Rights campaigners that enjoy very close ties with younger diplomats in key embassies, including – it would seem to some – some of the consular  staff.

Clearly, individuals within the Canadian High Commission are in the mood to send a message to India: that insurgents need to be treated with love and care, the way those operating from Canada who waged a bloody war against India in the name of an independent ‘Khalistan’ were  in the 1980s by the authorities in that under-populated giant. Over the past year, several serving and retired officers of the uniformed forces in India have been denied visas to enter Canada, the reason apparently being that they are considered to be serial human rights violators simply because they wear (or wore) an Indian armed forces uniform.

Lt-Gen Amrik Bahia was denied a visa on the express ground that he ‘had served in Kashmir’, a reason as flawed as would be the case were countries in Asia to deny visas to NATO personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. S S Sidhu was judged undesirable because he had previously worked in Indian intelligence. Incidentally, a group of people who have regularly been giving information to Western countries about likely mass terror threats to public safety, a fact clearly unknown to the Canadian High Commission in Delhi. This policy has been going on for more than two years, with the Ministry of External Affairs ignoring the implications (and the insult) till a former Border Security Force officer decided to go to the Indian media about the denial of a visa to him on the grounds that he could be – yes – a ‘threat’ to Canada.

As Canada is an important part of NATO, hopefully Ottawa will be able to convince its partners that the best way to deal with al-Qaeda would be to shower them with love rather than with bullets. Next, the Harper administration needs to bring before the United Nations its suggestion that any soldier who has been in a combat zone be stamped as undesirable for entry into a ‘civilised’ country.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Foreign Minister, S M Krishna, are mild-mannered, forgiving and hence unlikely to fight insult with retaliation.  However, that leaves unattended the anger within the Indian military at this defaming of a force that has succeeded in beating back multiple insurgencies by the use of tactics and weapons far less lethal than those favoured by NATO. Of course, those who see a racial angle in any situation claim that the Canadian action is motivated by the same double standard that gives only a particular ethnic group the right to kill off troublesome individuals and even innocents (as happened in Iraq during the period when sanctions were imposed on that country in the 1990s).

However, this is almost certainly not the case. More likely, the intimate ties that bind so many diplomats with the Kashmiri and Maoist ‘human rights’ groups operating in Delhi have led a few to actions that have the potential to cause significant harm to Indo-Canadian relations. ‘Make Love Not War’ may be excellent advice in certain social settings. However, such advice is unlikely any time soon to form part of standard counter-insurgency military doctrine, no matter what the exertions are of the Canadian High Commission in Delhi.