INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Posts Tagged ‘Counter Terrorism

September/Post-Monsoon Offensive Watch

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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.

red indiaAdditionally, 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.

Urban Networks

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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.

India’s Forgotten War Intensifies

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iphoto_1247627195045-1-0jpgFirst, 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)

Military Response in Chhattisgarh

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image683806xThis seems significant. The Indian army has unveiled plans to establish a local command structure in Chhattisgarh tasked with gathering intelligence on the Maoists and training the state police. The army claims that this does not constitute the beginning of active involvement by its forces in counter-insurgency operations:

This is the army’s first move to create a structured body to deal specifically with Naxalite activity. But army headquarters and the defence ministry do not equate this with a deployment of armed forces against the Maoist insurgency.

This is not the army’s first foray into the Maoist insurgency (they have responsibility for running Chhattisgarh’s counter-terrorism and jungle warfare centre), it is, however, the most direct. The army will now be permanently stationed in the war zone with an explicit anti-Naxalite mandate. It may be the beginning of increased army involvement in the fight or, more likely, be indicative of a smarter, more unified and flexible counter-insurgency approach being formed in Delhi.

In either case, I’m not at all sure that a militarisation of the conflict would be all bad. State police forces and many of the national para-police agencies have proven to be unprepared, ill-equipped and, at times, ill-disciplined. The Indian army is a widely respected and well-trained force. And, simply because the army is not fighting the insurgency, doesn’t mean that the conflict isn’t a virtual civil war.

I’d be curious what my reader’s views might be.

The New Indian Internal Security Environment

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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.

Helping the Insurgency- One Human Rights Violation at a Time

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salwa+judum+cannon+fodder

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.

Genesis of a National Counter Terrorist Centre?

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2007092261210601I found this story through Shlok Vaidya’s great blog, Naxalite Rage (Shlok in turn got it from one of his readers). I’m not sure what to think.

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)