Archive for July 2009
A good assessment of the current security environment in Chhattisgarh, courtesy of the South Asian Terrorism Portal. As always, a must read.
According to the Indo-Asian News Service, the CPI (Maoist) has circulated an internal document entitled, “Post-Election Situation, Our Tasks’. The document seeks to apply the lessons learned from the recent defeat of the LTTE in Sri Lanka:
The document makes several references to the LTTE, which the Sri Lankan military crushed in May, ending one of the world’s longest running insurgencies.
It says that ‘the setback suffered by the LTTE has a negative effect on the revolutionary movement in India as well as South Asia and the world at large’.
‘The experience of LTTE’s setback in Sri Lanka is very important to study and take lessons. The mistake of the LTTE lay in its lack of study of the changes in enemy tactics and capabilities and an underestimation of the enemy along with an overestimation of its own forces and capabilities.’
Perhaps, more interestingly, the circular sets out a general strategic plan to counter the government’s expected anti-Naxal offensive:
Under the sub-heading ‘Immediate Tasks’, it says the entire party and its armed wings need to carry out ‘tactical counter-offensives and various forms of armed resistance and inflict severe losses to the enemy forces’.
‘Attacks should be organised with meticulous planning against the state’s khaki and olive-clad terrorist forces, SPOs (Special Police Officers), police informants, and other counter-revolutionaries and enemies of the people.
‘These attacks should be carried out in close coordination with, and in support of, the armed resistance of the masses; these should be linked to the seizure of political power and establishment of base areas; it is the combined attacks by all the three wings … and the people at large that can ensure the defeat of the enemy offensive.
‘In order to defeat the new offensive by the enemy and to protect the gains of People’s War, it is very essential to rouse the masses throughout the country (to) stand up in support of the struggles in Dandakaranya, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other places’.
I think that there can be two broad interpretations of the document: 1) The Maoists are taking prudent steps to blunt the effects of the upcoming post-Monsoon government offensive, or 2) the Maoists are nervous that their Bastar national base (if it even exists) is at risk of being destroyed (with the concomitant risk of the government killing or capturing key leaders of the Party).
The doccument is either a sign of strategic and tactical skill or Naxalite nervousness. Maybe both.
It seems increasingly likely that the Singh government will launch a major anti-Naxalite offensive sometime after 1 September. I was contacted recently by someone working closely with the state police in Chhattisgarh who has said as much (trying to find out more). There have also been a number of stories in the Indian media lending credibility to this claim, including the recent re-deployment of 5,000 Border Security Personnel into India’s eastern states.
Additionally, the Maoists, in anticipation of a major counter-insurgency campaign by the Centre, are allegedly preparing themselves by intensifying their operations. The CPI (Maoist) Politburo has, according to Rediff, issued a circular:
The politburo circular also has enough indications that the Maoist strategy to counter the proposed government offensive is to step up violence in their strongholds through what the Maoists call a Tactical Counter Offensive Campaign.
“We have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas on the one hand and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas so as to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area;
“Hence the foremost task in every state is to intensify the war in their respective states while in areas of intense enemy repression there is need to expand the area of struggle by proper planning by the concerned committees; tactical counter-offensives should be stepped up and also taken up in new areas so as to divert a section of the enemy forces from attacking our guerrilla bases and organs of political power,” the politburo said.
Now would be a logical time for Delhi to try and push the Maoists out of their jungle strongholds. The Singh government has just waged a successful re-election campaign and is politically safe in case something goes terribly wrong. Additionally, India’s Forgotten War is no longer so forgotten. It has reached a tipping point. The Maoists are a growing threat to the state which can and is no longer being ignored. The Singh government knows that it must tackle them before the Maoists are in a position to seriously resist a concerted government counter-insurgency campaign. Now is the time for any rational government to move to prevent risking intolerable political and security costs.
The question is, how effective will a government strike on the heart of Naxal country be? More to come.
This story is significant. The Naxalite’s brief detention and search of a government official travelling on southern Chhattisgarh’s main highway is a relatively minor incident which highlights how the Indian government has lost control over large parts of the country:
The last three months have seen the Maoists tightening their grip on Chhattisgarh and the amount of control that they exercise over National Highway 43 is disturbing, intelligence officials told rediff.com. “The situation has worsened ever since the elections. They [Maoists] have gone from strength to strength. While the massacre of more than 30 people including a superintendent of police made headlines, the truth is that they have become even stronger in the Bastar region,” said a senior state intelligence officer.
Other intelligence sources agreed that the impunity with which the rebels have started raiding and imposing themselves on NH 43 is a disturbing sign of their increasing clout in the region.
I travelled on NH 43 back in late 2007 and was told by a local CRPF commander that while security forces controlled the road during the day, the Naxalite writ ran during the night. Since that time, it seems that the government has lost further ground as the Maoists have strengthened their grip over southern Chhattisgarh. They administer justice, collect taxes and control access in an out of the region. They have virtually established a state within a state.
Bannedthought.net has a great collection of interviews and documents from the CPI (Maoist) here. Well done! The Naxalites are a fairly shadowy organisation and tracking documents and/or statements from the Party itself is a bit of challenge. This site is a solid source of primary information and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about the Naxalites world-view and their tactical/strategic analysis.
The virtual civil war in West Bengal continues apace. While anti-Naxal operations in Lalgarh are ongoing, both the opposition Trinamool Congress and the governing Communist Party of India (Marxist) continue to accuse each other of orchestrating a campaign of murder against their respective cadres.
What is clear in the war of words is that West Bengal’s nearly three decade long rural political structure is in the process of distintegration. Both the Trinamool Congress and the Maoists stand to gain from the CPI(M)’s weakening rural electoral machine. Trinamool is envisioning itself as head of government and the Naxalites see an opportunity to re-establish themselves in the state which gave them birth. What if the Left Front does fall and Trinamool takes its place in Calcutta? Would there be a government in West Bengal which owed the Naxalites a tremendous debt? Or would any temporary tactical alliance be jettisoned by a new government? In either scenario the Naxalites would emerge victorious. They would have emerged in West Bengal with a stronger presence and reach than they have enjoyed since the early 1970s. They will be in a position to either directly pressure the state government or threaten it militarily.
The Trinamool Congress, never consistent ideologically, is playing a dangerous game. The CPI(M), on the other hand, bears most of the blame for the current situation. They are a party which has failed to adequately realise their developmental vision. They have deployed their powerful party machinery in an arbitrary and often violent way, alienating precisely those people who make up their natural constituency.
Here’s a great clip from Sudeep Chakravati, journalist and author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country, speaking at the Crossword Book Awards 2008 (sorry… the video’s hosted at Rediff and I can’t seem to embed it).
Chakravati is one of the most astute (and accessible) observers of Naxalism in India. He has an admirable ability to humanise the story without obscuring the larger issues. If there were more people of his calibre tracking the insurgency, perhaps the debate would be less polarised between those who see the Naxalites as mere terrorists and those who see them as virtuous revolutionaries. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
I mentioned in my last post that a Delhi-based businessman was recently arrested for attempting to provide material support to Jharkhand’s Naxalites. According to police the equipment, which was destined for rural cadres, consisted of communications and logistical technology such as mobile phones and laptops.
This is, I believe, simply the tip of the iceburg. The Naxalites are more than disaffected peasants running around with country guns in the poorest parts of rural India. They are a part of a series of sophisticated urban (and international) intelligence and arms procurement and distribution networks. And they have a lot of cash. And friends.
First, my apologies for being relatively erratic with updates. I’m in the process of re-locating to Ottawa and just haven’t had time to do much with India’s Forgotten War. All of this is unfortunate timing on my part, because recent developments in the Maoist insurgency suggest that we may be witnessing not only the intensification of the war, but an evolution in its nature. The Naxalites have never presented as much of a threat to the stability of the state as they do now.
In the past month, the Naxalites have flexed their muscles and declared a ‘Liberated Zone’ in West Bengal. While government forces have re-established nominal control over Lalgarh, they have failed to inflict significant casualties on the Maoists who, having made their point, have simply melted back into the jungle.
This was followed last week by a major attack which killed at least 30 CRPF personnel (a number are still missing and unaccounted for). The attack was significant because not only was it a well co-ordinated, twin ambush, but the it occured near to Chattisgarh’s capital, Ranchi Raipur (thanks to Rahul for catching my mistake).
Additionally, last week, PTI reported that:
An inter-state Maoist arms racket has been busted with the arrest of a businessman in the national capital and his counterpart in Jharkhand with recovery of a huge cache of bulletproof jackets and sophisticated gadgets.
While the existence of nascent urban Maoist cells is not news to anyone who has followed the growing tentacles of Naxalism in India, the arrests have made explicit the complex logistics and ideological networks which exist across the entire country. Revolutionary Maoism is not only a rural phenomenon that affects the poorest and most backward districts of the country. It is a national movement dedicated to the overthrow of India’s current system of government.
Finally, demonstrating the new confidence of the Naxalites and perhaps signalling a shift in tactics, a spokesperson for the CPI (Maoist) has threatened to:
[R]esort to LTTE-style attacks against Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh... A threat has also been issued against Union Home Minister P Chidambaram, the release said and asked all Congress legislators, both from Parliament and assembly, to quit within a week or face “death warrants”.
What has the government response been? As mentioned in a previous post, Delhi has now formally proscribed the CPI (Maoist) and a number of affiliated groups as ‘terrorists’. Beyond that, there are unconfirmed reports that the government is planning a major, co-ordinated counter-insurgency campaign in the most badly affected districts this September. I hope to have more on this soon.
In the meantime, not much seems to have changed. The Naxalites are branching out tactically and territorially. They seem to have calculated that they are now in a position to intensify their insurgency. And, so far, the government has not seemed fit to meet this threat.
(Image: Manpreet Romana/AFP)