Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’
It seems increasingly likely that Naxalites were involved in the recent train derailment. The most plausible explanation is that ‘rogue’ elements loosely ties to the CPI(Maoist) were responsible. The party central committee, recognising the public relations disaster caused by the murder of over a hundred civilians has promised to crack down:
The Maoists have denied responsibility for the incident and blamed the sabotage on the ruling Marxists.
But now they have indicated that they would punish leaders of the local militia if they were found to be behind the attack.
“Anybody, even if they are found close to us, will be punished if their involvement is proved beyond doubt,” Comrade Akaash said.
Kudos to Shlok over at Naxalite Rage for predicting this possibility far sooner than I did. His post can be found here.
To me this is extremely plausible as one of the strengths of the Maoist movement has been decentralised structure. This has enabled flexibility in tactics and resilience against state repression. On the other hand, decentralisation has its drawbacks to an insurgency as this attack has demonstrated.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Naxalites were not responsible for the recent train derailment. It contradicts their modus operandi. They do not do terrorism. And they have denied responsibility. Even when they fuck up, they admit responsibility. For example, the destruction of a bus in Chhattisgarh which killed scores of civilians was caused by the CPI(Maoist). They admitted responsibility and apologised. They’re hardly angels, but this is not they way they operate. They’re far more tactically clever than this.
The railway minister is now claiming it was a ‘conspiracy’. Yes, Mamata has an agenda as the head of the Trinamool Congress. And her hands are hardly clean. But, something about this doesn’t smell right. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot.
Reports are coming in that a train derailment in West Bengal that killed at least 15 people was caused by a Maoist bomb which destroyed the tracks. This seems to be a plausible possibility. The derailment happened in West Midnapore, an area which was briefly ‘liberated’ by the rebels late last year.
If this was in fact the Maoists, it represents a potentially disturbing turn towards terrorist tactics. The question is whether it was a deliberate attempt to derail a civilian passenger train. If it was, the Naxalites are not doing themselves any favours.
UPDATE: The death toll from yesterdays attack is now at 71 and continues to rise. While early reports suggested that the train was derailed as a result of a Maoist bomb, it now seems clear that it was the result of track sabotage.
While the Maoists are brutal, they have largely avoided the use of terrorist tactics. The recent attack against a civilian bus in Chhattisgarh, for example, targeted security forces. The civilians were ‘collateral damage’.
There is a strange idea circulating in India that while the Naxalites may have once been honourable and idealistically guided rebels, they have now became a nihilistic criminal gang. I’ve recently been reading documents and newspaper reports from the early days of the Naxalite movement in West Bengal during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The level of brutality inherent in their ‘strategy of annihilation’ as well as the thuggishness and terrorism of their lumpen street fighters in Calcutta suggests that this story is nothing more than a convenient myth.
The state was partially able to crush the early Maoist movement because their brutality had alienated the vast majority of the population. Today’s Naxalites have learned their lessons from the past. That is why actions such as this are surprising.
UPDATE 2: The CPI(Maoist) has denied involvement in the train derailment. I tend to believe them. The death toll has now surpassed 100.
UPDATE 3: The Indian Express is reporting that the People’s Committee Against Police Attrocities has claimed responsibility. If this is true, it raises questions of how autonomous the PCPA is from the CPI(Maoist). The links between the two groups have been taken as a given- are they nothing more than a front for the Naxalites? This is unclear.
This is entirely anecdotal and non-scientific, but, I’ve heard a number of people note that the India media payed more attention to the Maoist attack against the police in West Bengal than it did to the near simultaneous Pune German Bakery bombings. This is an interesting development. I’ve been arguing for a long time that the media has payed far more attention to so-called ‘Muslim’ terrorism than it has to Naxalite violence simply because the former affects the country’s elite. Maoist and police violence against the rural poor could be safely ignored. Have we reached a tipping point where urban India now feels threatened by the Maoists? Or am I reading too much into this.
One of the most underreported developments in Naxalism in 2009 has been the emergence of a new leadership cadre that is guiding the CPI (Maoist) in an entirely new tactical direction. Less conservative and reclusive than has historically been the case, the new West Bengal-based group has chosen to undertake bold (and brutal) actions calculated to garner media attention. This has included the beheading of a captured police inspector in October and a dramatic train hijack during India’s election campaign. This was preceded by the capture of Lalgarh in West Bengal, a move seemingly calculated to demonstrate to India and the world that the Maoists were a force to be reckoned with.
All of this suggests a dramatic re-orientation in Naxalite tactics. Historically, the Maoists have been a tactically conservative force. Rather than court media attention, they preferred to work quietly, expanding their reach and power methodically and patiently. Their leadership has been notoriously recalcitrant and media shy. What has changed? Significant numbers of party leaders, most notably Kobad Gandhi, were arrested in 2009 as the Indian government has improved its counter-insurgency intel apparatus. As a result, a new crop of people with different tactical ideas has emerged. This new face of Maoism has been best personified in Kishenji, the Andhra born, West Bengal-based rebel.
Kishenji is a new kind of Naxalite leader. He has actively courted media attention- holding numerous press conferences and maintaining regular correspondence with prominent journalists. He has demonstrated a flair for the theatrical:
Kishenji had a seven-minute telephone conversation with West Bengal Principal Secretary (Environment) Madan Lal Meena complaining about polluting mines earlier this week, the Chief Minister was forced to accept the state intelligence machinery’s failure to locate the Maoist leader, who is on the run.
It remains to be seen how effective this tactic will be. While Kishenji has succeeded in garnering interest in the Maoist movement (and perhaps gained the support of segments of the urban population), much of the Naxalite’s strength stems precisely from their patient expansion. By refusing to draw attention to themselves, the government of India has felt little public pressure to respond, creating a space for he gradual expansion of Maoist territory. A new strategy centred around engagement with the press and audacious assaults against the state carries a great deal of risk.
The Indian government just released the official figures for combat deaths across all of the country’s insurgencies. I haven’t yet been able to track down the official report (if there is one), but, from what’s being reported in the media, it doesn’t look good for the government:
In Naxal affected States, the number of the number of Civilians and Security Forces personnel killed upto Oct.31, 2009 was 742 while it was 721 in 2008. However, the number of Naxalites killed during the same time is 170 (till Oct.31, 2009), which stood at 199 in 2008.
An approximate 4:1 ratio is not an indication of anything approximating victory. India The Indian government should be worried.
This India Today article is interesting, but largely misses the point:
They [the Maoists] are said to be attacking telecom towers to prevent the police eavesdropping on their conversations, and to neutralise police informers.
True enough as it goes… but, in a country which effectively bypassed land-lines, particularly in rural areas, disabling poorly defended mobile towers is an effective means of paralysing all rapid local communication.
A couple of things… while the NSA has stated that it is unlikely that the CM’s helicopter was brought down by the Naxalites because they lack the weaponry for such a strike, this runs contrary to some previous reports. According to the Indian Express, material was seized during a raid by Jharkhand police in August 2007 which indicated that:
the extremists have been training in the use of 12.7 mm anti-aircraft guns and have already acquired 80 mm mortars and rocket-propelled grenade rifles.
The Economic Times has also claimed that unnamed ‘reports’ suggest that the Naxalites have acquired a number of anti-aircraft guns. While the Times is… umm… a little bit vague on the details, it is a surprise that the NSA has so soon and so unequivocally stated that the Naxalites do not possess the capabilities to undertake a strike against a helicopter. It’s a bit premature.
A good assessment of the current security environment in Chhattisgarh, courtesy of the South Asian Terrorism Portal. As always, a must read.
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.