Archive for May 2009
The figures for the past four years are out and the centre of political violence in India is shifting. The insurgencies in the North East and Kashmir have recorded declines in numbers of those killed, while the deaths of civilians, security personnel and Maoists has doubled. The absolute number of deaths recorded in the Naxal war has also exceeded that of both other internal conflicts.
The new Indian reality.
The Asian Centre for Human Rights has released its 2009 report on India. It can be found here.
The report heavily criticises the conduct of the state in their war against the Naxalites. In particular, the government and security force’s conduct in Chhattisgarh, the epicentre of the conflict, comes in for a drubbing:
The security forces and the state sponsored civilian militia Salwa Judum cadres were responsible for gross human rights violations in the name of counter insurgency operations.
Of course, the standard line amongst apologists for a flawed counter-insurgency policy is to question the neutrality of organisations such as the Asian Centre for Human Rights. This may be a reasonable strategy when defending the indefensible, but it’s hardly convincing.
Much of India’s disjointed anti-Naxalite counter-insurgency strategy is counter-productive. Setting aside for a moment the morality of a scorched earth campaign (which is, in effect, the approach that has been taken in Chhattisgarh), such an approach doesn’t work in a country such as India.
Terrorising a population into submission and ensuring that the cost for individuals and communities who support insurgents is intolerably high can work, if it works at all, only in a more monolithic and authoritarian state. In a state like India, the terror can and always will be limited in scope and scale. The result is simply creating more resentment and fear, further boosting the credibility and the ranks of the Maoists.
Salwa Judum is a failure. The creation of SPOs is a failure. The forced re-settlement of Adivasi is also a failure. The government needs to be smarter and more flexible than the Naxalites. Of course, there are the two priorities of a unified response as well as smart development measures targeting areas at risk from Naxalism. Equally important is the deployment of flexible, highly mobile and disciplined troops who can respond to information gleaned both from real-time monitoring and the cultivation of so-called human intelligence. This will not be possible if the state alienates the population by sanctioning brutality against the innocent.
The political situation in Nepal continues to deteriorate, albeit at a slower pace than had been the case earlier this month. The Maoists have refused to join the new Communist-lead government and the dismissal order for General Katawal has been all but rescinded. Sporadic street protests by both pro and anti-Maoist factions continue in Kathmandu and other parts of the country.
There have been two new ominous and significant developments. The first is a continuation of the Maoist’s attempt to paint recent developments as a pro-Monarchic coup. I discussed what I see as the motivation for this strategy in a previous post.
The Maoists have ratched up this rhetoric and have now added an anti-Indian component. According to Prachanda:
“After Madhav Kumar Nepal became the Prime Minister, a conspiracy is being hatched with the help of foreign powers to restore monarchy,” Prachanda told a workers’ gathering in Lalitpur near here on Friday, the day Nepal observed its first republic day.
This is a shrewd (if desperate) tactic. Xenophobic resentment against Nepal’s Indian community, who form a powerful urban business class, is widespread. More broadly, India’s often heavy-handed interventions in a country which it has often treated like a dependency, lends credibility to the claim and is a good way to bolster the Maoists nationalist credentials and weaken the legitimacy of the new government.
The Maoists are painting themselves as pro-democracy nationalists, and the government as a reactionary, monarchist cabal beholden to Indian business and political interests. It may not be true, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
And, as with all good lies, there is an element of truth. India has not played a very constructive role in the recent Nepalese crisis and has provided moral and diplomatic support to the anti-Maoist forces. It is alsoa stretch to pretend that the new government and its supporters are democrats. They are a motley collection of discredited politicians, business elites, military figures and, yes, royalists. Their temporary alliance does not, as their spokespeople claim, lie in a principled concern for democracy. They are only united by their desire for power and their hatred of the Maoists.
Finally, the Maoists have begun reactivating the parallel governance structures which they shut down after the peace agreement. Clearly, the Maoists are going to use this is a means to weaken the new government and state. Are the Maoists simply hedging their bets and preparing for the possibility of a renewal of the war? Are they simply seeking to undermine and weaken the new government and the Nepalese state? Or is this a first step in a strategy of actively resuming the People’s War? It’s an open question.
After days of Maoist obstruction, Nepal’s new, (non-Maoist, yet ostensibly communist) Prime Minister has been sworn in as head of a coalition that includes 22 parties. According to the BBC:
The 56-year-old was last week named the candidate of an alliance of 22 parties, which have 350 members in the 601-seat assembly.
The composition of the new cabinet has yet to be finalised, but the Nepali Congress, Madhesi Janadhikar Forum, Terai-Madhes Loktantrik Party and the Sadbhawana Party have said they will join the CPN.
I’m curious as to what will happen next. Will the new government bring some much needed stability to the country, or can Nepal look forward to a continuation of the tensions which have plagued it in recent months?
Now that the Indian government’s 24 hour, Multi-Agency Centre is providing continuous, integrated tracking of terror-related data, Delhi is seeking to develop a co-ordinated response capacity through the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
I have slightly mixed feeling about this. There is no doubt that something along the lines of the NCTC is needed. India is one of the most terrorist affected countries in the world. They face a diverse set of threats ranging from ethnic separatism in the North-East, revolutionary Maoist in the centre and so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorism in the cities. In particular, one of the great failings of the effort to combat Naxalism has been a consequence of India’s strongly federal (qualified by the constitutional sledgehammer of president’s rule) structure. Such a system is ill-suited to combat a diffuse, ephemeral and multi-dimensional insurgency.
The Naxalites have exploited the lack of information-sharing and co-ordination amongst India’s states. At the most obvious level, the Naxalites have used state boundaries to launch hit and run attacks between states. Additionally, the lack of co-operation and co-ordination between the states has lead to a set of isolated, largely incoherent and ineffective responses. In this sense, the NCTC is long overdue.
On the other hand, I am uncomfortable with the way in which the NCTC will define the Naxalites and, consequently, respond in an internally consistent way. Dealing with Naxalism as a ‘terrorist’ problem no different than, say, ISI-supported, ‘Islamic’ attacks, would be ineffective. The two are very different beasts.
The Naxalites are, in the first instance, insurgents. They may use terrorist tactics, but, fundamentally, they have neither the structure nor the modus operandi of a terrorist group. Yes, they are networked. Yes they attack civilians. However, they do have a very rooted territorial presence which is used not only to organise attacks, but also used as a base for the construction of alternative institutions of power.
It remains to be seen how effective the NCTC becomes. Hopefully, the institution will be flexible enough to deal with the phenomenon of Naxalism as a consequence of weak state institutions, economic underdevelopmentm and social exclusion. The Naxalites can only be defeated through a combination of police/military force and government-imposed reforms.
(Image: The Hindu)
The South Asian security environment has been on a crazy roller-coaster in the past few weeks. Just as Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war seems to have come to (at least a temporary) halt and Pakistan continues a fierce assault to regain authority over its unstable periphery, Nepal remains mired in a constitutional crisis which calls into question its very viability as a state.
The Maoists, who disrupted parliament earlier this week, are now refusing to allow the formation of a new, alternative government. They are also seeking to prevent the President from blocking parliament’s decision to sack the current head of the army.
Perhaps more troubling is some of the heated rhetoric coming from some senior Maoist leaders:
Mohan Baidya Kiran, the United Maoist Party Senior leader and the ideological mentor of Prachanda has opined that the dictatorial 240 years old Royal Regime has re-emerged in another form.
What this kind of rhetoric suggests is that, at least at the ideological level,the Maoists are preparing themselves for the option of the resumption of armed struggle. If the Maoists take up arms to fight parliament and a new government, they are anti-democratic (something which runs counter to the image they have sought to cultivate). If, however, the new democratic Nepal is really a shell controlled by shadowy, reactionary, royalist elements than a new revolution is simply the continuation of the fight for democracy.
I am not suggesting that the Maoists have decided to return to arms. Rather, they seem to be laying the groundwork for making war an option if and when they decide it becomes tactically and strategically necessary. It truly is chilling stuff.
A confession. I’m allergic to simplistic, mono-causal analyses of complex, multi-dimensional ‘problems’ like the Naxal insurgency. This sometimes leads me to commit the opposite sin of trying to find complexity where it may not exist. It’s good to take a step back and say, “Keep it simple stupid!”
If there’s one key, operative variable for the intensification and sustainability of the Naxalite insurgency in India’s eastern states, it is the presence of a wealth of exploitable natural resources. I have no intention of making a silly, reductionist claim (No blood for oil!), rather I believe that its both defensible and compelling to state that the presence of natural resources is the main reason that Naxalism has torn apart places like Chhattisgargh and Jharkhand rather than West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.
I am fortunate to have had a chance to take a course at the LSE under David Keen. Keen’s work on the political economy of conflict is compelling and also deceptively simple. In short, Keen argues that areas with significant tradeable resources are more likely to experience war and once a war does occur, it is likely to be prolonged as a conflict economy develops which acts as a deterrent for peacemaking among the participants. I’m not doing his nuanced argument justice (and am making it sound a bit teleological), but it’s good enough for a blog post.
The war in Chhattisgargh and Jharkhand was not caused by the presence of a large amounts of natural resources. The two state’s developmental, social and political failures created a space for the promulgation of a revolutionary and violent ideology. However, once the guerrillas did establish themselves, the presence of raw materials enabled the emergence of numerous, illicit networks through which the Maoists are able to gain money, power and arms.
Both the government forces and the Naxalites collaborate with businessman, politicians and, in some cases, each other.The war has created a new political economy in which the winners are everyone except for the ordinary people who live there.
(Image: CSE India)
As the lethal war in Chhattisgargh continues to become more bloody, in neighbouring Jharkhand the Naxalite’s continue to threaten one of their favourite targets- Indian Railways. Three train officials have been kidnapped and are being held in Latehar District.
I don’t have the metrics, but it is clear that in the past couple of weeks the intensity and frequency of attacks by the Naxalites has increased in Chhattisgargh. At least 18 people were killed in two separate incidents on Saturday and late Sunday night. This comes less than a week after 11 people were killed in the state in a co-ordinated ambush and an intensification of the Naxalites campaign during India’s marathon election.
What’s interesting about the attacks is not so much their frequency (Chhattisgargh has, for the past few years, become the epicentre of the insurgency), but rather their sophistication and their effectiveness. These have not been defencive actions by a guerrilla group in retreat. They have been well-planned and co-ordinated offensive actions against a variety of heavily armed paramilitary police forces. Using Taleban-style, IED/surround and fire tactics, the Naxalites have shown that they are capable of inflicting serious causalities on some of India’s most well-trained, non-military, forces. And with each succesful attack, the Maoists increase their arsenal of weaponry. This month also saw the first use of shoulder-launched missiles by the rebels.
Delhi should be worried.
Last month, a senior Maoist in Orissa was arrested for the gruesome murder of Laxmanananda Saraswati, a leader of the VHP. The VHP (roughly traslated as ‘World Hindu Congress) is one of the more radical and militant groups which make up the Sangh Parivar, an association of Hindu revivalist (or fundamentalist, depending on one’s sympathies) organisations which include India’s second party, the BJP. (more recently the Moaists killed a leader of the RSS, another Hindu revivalist group).
After the murder, a VHP-called bandh quickly degenerated into a communal blood letting which killed scores and left thousands homeless
The tension between Hindu activists and Orissa’s growing Christian community has been seething for years. As in much of the rest of India, conversion to Christianity is seen my many dalits (untouchables) and adivasi (tribal forest-dwellers) as a way of escaping from the strictures of the caste system.Missionary activity and conversions have been particularly controversial in the state.
In 1999, a foreign Protestant minister was beheaded and, more recently, the state has banned conversions and religious proselytization.
Enter the Maoists. Orissa is part of the Central Indian Naxalite heartland. It is a poor state with an isolated and marginalised adivasi population in the western districts. The Maoists have been able to mobilise support by championing the cause of both the adivasi and the Christian minorities (who are more often than not one and the same).
The state is a tinderbox which is easily ignite on communal lines. It is one of the small fires and seething discontents across India which the Maoists are effectively fuelling for their own long-term strategic aims.