WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an ominous warning, America’s top spymaster has said that if Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP government continues to pander to Hindu nationalist themes during the run-up to the general election in May, communal violence would be a strong possibility.
The Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, in his written testimony of the intelligence community’s assessment of worldwide threats in 2019 to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Jan. 29, said, "Parliamentary elections in India increase the possibility of communal violence if Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stresses Hindu nationalist themes.”
"BJP policies during Modi's first term have deepened communal tensions in some BJP-governed states, and Hindu nationalist state leaders might view a Hindu-nationalist campaign as a signal to incite low-level violence to animate their supporters," he said. Coats predicted, "Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence,” ahead of the general election.
In his written statement, the DNI also said it was unlikely that there would be any modus vivendi between India and Pakistan before India’s election in May and the strained relations between New Delhi and Islamabad would persist. "We judge that cross-border terrorism, firing across the Line of Control (LoC), divisive national elections in India, and Islamabad's perception of its position with the United States relative to India will contribute to strained India-Pakistan relations at least through May 2019, the deadline for the Indian election, and probably beyond," he said. Coats said that notwithstanding some limited confidence-building measures, such as “both countries recommitting in May 2018 to the 2003 ceasefire along the disputed Kashmir border, the continued terrorist attacks and cross-border firing in Kashmir have hardened each country's position and reduced their political will to seek rapprochement.” "Political maneuvering resulting from the Indian national elections probably will further constrain near-term opportunities for improving ties," he added.
Coats also said militant groups supported by Pakistan would continue to conduct terrorist attacks in both India and Afghanistan, and contended that Islamabad’s "narrow approach to counterterrorism cooperation-using some groups as policy tools and confronting only the militant groups that directly threaten Pakistan-almost certainly will frustrate US counterterrorism efforts against the Taliban."
"Militant groups supported by Pakistan will continue to take advantage of their safe haven in Pakistan to plan and conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including against US interests," he said.
Joining Coats in appearing before the Intelligence Committee were CIA Director Gina Haspel, just back from a trip to India, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Robert Ashley.
According to Coats, the challenges facing South Asian states would also be exacerbated in 2019 “because of Afghanistan's presidential election in mid-July and the Taliban's large-scale attacks, Pakistan's recalcitrance in dealing with militant groups, and Indian elections that risk communal violence.”
"We assess that neither the Afghan Government nor the Taliban will be able to gain a strategic military advantage in the Afghan war in the coming year if coalition support remains at current levels," he said.
Meanwhile, he said the situation in South Asia would be compounded because of the nuclear programs of India and Pakistan and apprised the lawmakers that there is an increased risk of a nuclear security incident in the subcontinent due to the continued growth and development of nuclear weapons programs by both countries.
Coats noted that “while Pakistan continues to develop new types of nuclear weapons, including short-range tactical weapons, sea-based cruise missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, and longer range ballistic missiles, India this year has conducted its first deployment of a nuclear-powered submarine armed with nuclear missiles.”
Consequently, he predicted, "The continued growth and development of Pakistan and India's nuclear weapons programs increase the risk of a nuclear security incident in South Asia, and the new types of nuclear weapons will introduce new risks for escalation dynamics and security in the region.”