29 September, 2010

Pashtuns to Gonds: Protestors or Insurgents?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

Abstract: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is of the opinion that the Maoist-'infested' heartland of India poses the biggest internal security threat to the country. However, he and a section of the government admit that the problem runs deep. The Maoist intellectuals were able to foment unrest in the Adivasi areas due to the socio-economic deprivation and lack of governance. Nevertheless, it is imperative for the administration to put the house in order through Counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.

This paper looks into the various options available to the authorities in that regard. Presently, India is following a diluted version of the COIN as being implemented by the US in Afghanistan. India may also emulate the successful Sri Lankan model or the Columbian approach against the FARC rebels.

However, the difficult part is the extrication of the autochthonous Adivasi from the Maoist matrix.

Tribal Movements in India: A very brief History

Anthropologist and historian K Suresh Singh asserts: “tribal communities revolted more often and far more violently than any other community including peasants in India”[1]. Furthermore, to quote Swapan Dasgupta of the Subaltern School, “too often, the independence and initiative of the dominated peoples in their social action and ideas have been either hidden in the writing of history or condescendingly marginalized.”[2]

Among the numerous tribal revolts in British India, few stand out. The Santhal ‘hool’ was one of them. In 1855-56, the Santhals, living between Bhagalpur and Rajmahal, rose in revolt against the dikus or outsiders. Their courageous insurrection was brutally crushed by the British Army [3]

While providing anecdotal evidence of tribal uprisings, it shall be difficult not to underscore Birsa Munda’s Ulgulan or Great Tumult in the region south of Ranchi in 1899-1900 [4]. Birsa’s hymns of hate against the then Europeans and the Thikadars still reverberates; albeit on a different octave.

Apart from these, the Chenchu revolt in the Nallamalai Hills (1898), the upsurge of the Oraons of Chotanagpur (1914) and the fituri led by Alluri Sitarama Raju (1922-24) were also significant [5].

Interestingly, it may not be pure coincidence that Bastar today is a highly restive region. It is home to the Gonds, the largest tribal group in India (about 7.4 million). In fact, the British feared a general Gond uprising along the Eastern Ghats so far as Kalahandi and Bastar and hence went about burning their villages.[6]

A New Turn?

The tribal revolts have not shown any marked signs of abatement even in independent India. The ingredients fomenting a tribal insurgency are extant. In addition to those, a few more diabolical ingredients have evolved since the nation-state opened up in terms of economy in a post 1991 world. Inter alia, the corporate takeover of mineral-rich landmass in the Indian hinterland is supposed to be a major cause of the recent radicalization and consequent militarization of the adivasi insurrection. Rampant infiltration in the tribal domain by the Multi-national Corporations (MNCs) aided and abetted by the state machinery without any commensurate wergeld provided to the ‘sons of the soil’ have led to their marginalization.

A feeling of lack of empowerment and lack of effective governance from ‘above’, compounded with appalling poverty has given rise to belligerence amongst a considerable section of the tribal populace in India.

The Adivasis

In the Indian context, the word Adivasi connotes the original and
autochthonous inhabitants of a given region. The term "adivasi" has entrenched itself in ethnographic and historical narrative. According to Mohan Guruswamy, the very word denotes a ‘sense’ of past autonomy, which was disrupted during the colonial period in India and has since
not been restored.[7]

In this paper, whenever the word adivasi is used, it basically refers to the tribes and groups residing in the sub-continent apart from the North-Eastern region.

According to the last census of 2001, the total tribal population in India amounts to about 8 per cent of the net population of the country. Following the Gonds, the Santhals (4.2 million) are numerically the majority amongst the tribes. And interestingly, Central India is the region housing around three-fourth of the total tribal population of the nation-state.

The Present Upsurge

Ranajit Guha’s conclusion regarding the ‘consciousness’ of the subaltern tribal may be debated. He states that the peasant or the tribal ‘revolts consciously’ and ‘does not drift’ into a rebellion. [8]

The nature of post-2004 upsurge in the Adivasi heartland brings this core assertion of Guha further under the scanner. There is no gainsaying the fact that Adivasis have, from time to time, repulsed ‘oppression from above’ as can be deciphered from history. However, post-2004, the formation of a united Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI-M] has had a distinct bearing on the ultra-radicalization (or militarisation) of the tribal protests.

It may be safely concluded that at the outset, the ordinary Adivasi was disconnected from the ideological moorings of the intelligentsia, professing Maoist dogmas. The concepts of ‘protracted people’s war’ and ‘comprador-bourgeoisie’ image of the authorities as propagandized by the CPI-M politburo could have hardly been appreciated by the tribal.

Nevertheless, with progress of time, with consequent ideological proselytization – which was facilitated by the lack of effective governmental structures in those regions; some of the Adivasis were indeed indoctrinated. But even this does not indicate that the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ is ‘Red’. It is ‘red’, no doubt, but due to incessant bloodletting because of the constant fighting between two warring parties. One party is led by the CPI-M leaders and the other party is the Indian state.

This is a war, rather a ‘bad war’. Technically speaking, it is viewed as a ‘low-intensity conflict’ from the perspective of the Indian state whereas the Maoists view it through the prism of ‘guerilla warfare’ in the line of Mao Zedong.


Opinions of contemporary scholars and writers have varied regarding the ongoing ‘conflict’ in the fat strip of land stretching from the Indo-Nepal border in the north to the Nallamalai jungles in the south.
Aruna Roy, Mahasweta Devi et al. firmly believe that there exists maladministration and misgovernance in the tribal areas. [9] However they have overtly not adhered to the view that the ‘Maoist-type of insurgency’ is the acceptable format of protest. They basically stress on ‘separating’ the tribal-adivasi from the Maoist insurgent. [10]

On the other hand, Arundhati Roy opines that the Maoists have in essence granted the tribal-adivasis a semblance of dignity.[11] At least, the importation of the gun; according to Roy, if not the ideology, has given the poverty-stricken adivasi a weapon to engineer ‘survival’; if not emancipation.

Bela Bhatia too, while analysing the Naxalite movement in Central Bihar agrees that the Naxalites (pre-2004 era) empowered the labouring and oppressed classes of the region. Nonetheless, she feels that the Naxalite leaders are ‘not interested’ (emphasis added) in ‘development’ and hence the quality of life in the villages have not improved. [12]

Gautam Navlakha even goes to the extent of conflating the tribal with the armed maoist. He puts forth the argument that the Union and state governments have unleashed the brutal police action against the Maoists as the latter is the major impediment towards the implementation of neo-liberal policies. [13]

In this aspect however, if one concurs with Arundhati Roy, then one is led to understand that Guha’s element of ‘consciousness’ (if at all there is such) is provided by the Maoist leadership. Does Roy intend to say that the Maoist leadership (who are mostly urban-bred intellectuals) alongwith their dogmatic concepts associated with the ‘1930s China’ have essentially provided the necessary ‘consciousness’ to the Adivasis?

If that is agreed upon, then how does one explain the host of tribal uprisings in a non-Maoist political landscape during the Imperial Raj? On the other hand, if we completely disagree with Roy, then surely we are led to accept the discourse that the urban intellectuals have acted as ‘usurpers’ in the tribal domain which upholds the spirit of primus inter pares.

A Kobal Ghandy or a Ganapathy have simply displaced a modern-day Birsa Munda or a Sido. Instead of being the torch-bearers for the ‘subaltern adivasi’, the Maoist leadership seems to have undertaken a ‘struggle for power’ enmeshed in their own abstraction of dismantling the comprador-bourgeoisie Indian democracy.

To a large extent, this idea seems to be echoed by past Naxalite leaders like Kanu Sanyal and Azizul Haq. They hold the opinion that the present Maoist struggle is nothing but a power struggle and is using the tribal peoples as pawns. They strictly abhor this mindless violence. [14,15]

One thing, however, is noteworthy and deserves attention. If the urban-bred intellectuals are merely perceived as ‘foreigners’ in the adivasi heartland, then how could they extend their influence? Actually, it is a bare fact that the palpable absence of any pro-people authoritative structure in about one-fourth of the Indian landmass created a power vacuum in those regions. Compounding it was the over-exploitation by the unholy nexus of money-lenders, bureaucrats, politicians and corporate honchos.

Thus quite naturally, the ‘intellectual foreigner’ appeared to the adivasi as the neo-Birsa. Hence, Birsa’s chants of ‘Katong Baba Katong’ (O father, kill kill) of 1899 echoed in the form of the Liberation slogan:

Khet par adhikar ke liye ladho, desh me janawad ke lie badho
(Fight for land rights, march towards democracy in the country)


the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) slogan of
Apni satta, apna kanoon (Our power, our law). [16]

In sum, there can hardly be any denial that post-2004, the tribal upsurge in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’ has visibly shaped up as a formidable insurgency so as to give the Home Ministry some sleepless nights. There is in fact, no need to check the veracity of this fact as Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh himself has acknowledged that the Maoist insurgency is the ‘biggest’ internal security threat to the nation-state. And the insurgency has also led the Home Ministry to formulate the Operation Green Hunt (allegedly a media-invented term) to rein in the ‘ruffians’.

What should the Government Do?

In these circumstances, the Indian government finds itself in a quagmire. Would law and order be given priority or socio-economic development and empowerment to the tribal weigh higher than the former? It appears like the proverbial chicken-egg problem.

In order to eradicate such a baffling situation, the Indian policy makers have embarked on a two-pronged strategy to deal with the insurgency. They have initiated a unified command structure under the advisory jurisdiction of Army personnel encompassing the major provinces afflicted with this ‘menace’. [17]

And simultaneously, the Union government plans to go ahead with its socio-economic packages for the ‘undeveloped islands’ within the subcontinent.

This strategy, however, do not exhibit any novelty as also there is nothing ‘new’ in the government’s experience regarding the insurgency. It is a four-decade old problem. Though it subsided in the late 1970s and was dormant in the 1980s and 90s; Andhra Pradesh was to feel the jolts of the shock many a times in the late 1990s which culminated at the failed assassination attempt of its erstwhile Chief Minister. The machinery of the province did react and it was ruthless in its execution. It prepared an elite band of ‘Greyhounds’; on most occasions manned by the Indian Police Service officers and clubbed it with a penetrative intelligence department.

The strategy worked quite successfully. Incarceration and annihilation of the top brass of the Maoist leadership obliterated the preponderance of the Naxalites in the province and they were forced to shift base to neighbouring Chattisgrah. The ultras were forced to form a new epicenter: Dantewada-Bastar region of central India.


If we talk about Counterinsurgency (COIN) in today’s era, then it shall be hard to extricate ourselves from a reference to the American definition of the same. The US COIN manual [18] authored by David Petraues et al. is a meaty, scholarly treatise of years of experience of several military generals who withstood different kinds of insurgencies across various territorial domains and in challenging conditions. In fact, it is heavily influenced by the writings of David Galula: a French military officer who worked upon his country’s experience in Algeria. Moreover, the Vietnam case has invariably been a cogent input for the COIN manual.

In fact, earlier in the same year when the US COIN Manual was published, the Indian Army also came out with a doctrinal treatise to counter insurgencies. It was emblematic of the varied experiences that the Indian Army had had in combating insurgencies in the North-East and Kashmir for over five decades. The Indian manual resonated to a considerable extent with its American counterpart, though the preparation of the manuscripts had no correlation as such. The basic premise of both the documents was to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local populace and use military action sparingly. [19]

In a post cold-war world, insurgencies fomented by non-state actors have come upfront; especially through the case studies of Iraq and Afghanistan. Be it the Sunni Muslims in the former region or the bellicose Pashtuns in the latter, it seems that insurgency has come to live with us. And thus COIN, or the American COIN is supposed to be the paradigm solution, for the menace. An influential section of the American army and marines (Petraues, John Nagl and others) would have us believe that the US-COIN is the panacea for all forms of ‘parasitic’ insurgencies in the world.

The American COIN bases itself on the three-phase doctrine of “Clear, Hold and Build (CHB)”. It stresses more on ‘winning the hearts and minds’ of the denizens rather than alienating them in the process of ‘hunting down’ the ‘bad insurgents’. A ‘bad Taliban’ (a hardcore militiaman) may be a Pashtun, but that should not encourage a US-marine to randomly pump artillery into a habitat where he has presumably taken shelter. Firing bullets into that house would necessarily kill few civilian Pashtuns. In the long run, a series of similar incidents would inflame the passions of more ‘civilian Pashtuns’ who through their tribal ‘jirgas’ (tribal assemblies) shall spew venom against the Americans: may be by bolstering the rank and file of the Taliban.

Thus, the very purpose of ‘defeating’ the insurgency will remain unfulfilled if such a policy is undertaken. So, the solution is supposedly the CHB-COIN. In the first phase, try and clear the targeted area of the hardcore militants (Clear Phase). Thereafter, Hold the area against the regrouping of and consequent recapture by the insurgents. Once the “hold” phase has been achieved for a considerable period of time, the Build Phase can be implemented; i.e. try to put in a pro-people, non-corrupt efficient administration.

On paper at least, the CHB-COIN looks absolutely fine. However, on practical terms, it can only be sustained and can achieve a definite degree of success if ‘time’ and ‘resources’ are put in adequate amounts; e.g. a troop ratio of about 10:1 (against the insurgents) can tip the war in favour of the state actor (the Indian experience claims so). No doubt, finances would be no less than astronomical, at least as far as Afghanistan is concerned.
USA proclaims that their version of the COIN has been triumphant in Iraq and hence can be a viable model for other countries as well. Will it be beneficial for India to adopt the COIN model against the ongoing Maoist insurgency and blend it with the existing counterinsurgency philosophy of the country? And more so when it is imperative to ‘separate’ the adivasi from the insurgent.

Actually on the ground, the Americans are employing the COIN alongwith the targeted drone-attacks against the top Taliban-AlQaeda leadership. India, on the other hand, is following a ‘diluted’ version of the American two-pronged strategy. Socio-economic development in simultaneity with paramilitary action is a covert application of the CHB doctrine. And in addition to that, the targeted annihilation of as well as sending the CPI-M politburo members to the hoosegow is a ‘mellowed down’ format of the Drone doctrine enunciated by American Vice-president Joe Biden.

India’s own experience with insurgency has been as old as the republic itself. Kashmir, the North-East, Punjab and the 1967-Naxalite uprising must have taught the administrative machinery sufficient lessons. That is the reason that probably today; the Indian policy-makers are more into thinking (or re-thinking) about the implementation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). At the same time, the Union government just cannot loll on the sofa by saying that ‘law and order’ is a ‘state subject’ as per the seventh schedule of the constitution because the problem is just not (emphasis added) a law and order problem. The horizon has extended beyond ordinary perception.
At the same time, it is a challenge for the Union government to go ahead with a unified approach against the insurgency when it straddles across many states and the provinces have different governments under contrasting party banners. 

However, it has been seen that such a scenario does not deter the respective provincial governments in colluding with each other against the insurgents. For instance, Chattisgarh has shown that both the centrist-UPA and the right-wing assembly can act in unison in overthrowing the militancy. Nevertheless, the weird scheme of Salwa Judum (bestowing arms to non-Maoist groups and encouraging mutual annihilation) has exacerbated the problem rather than mitigating it.


There is another model of COIN. It has tasted huge success in subduing an apparently indomitable three-decade old insurgency. It is the Sri Lankan version of ‘hard COIN’. Rajapaksa’s modus operandi was crystal clear. He obfuscated the Jaffna war zone from any ‘non-official’ media. He attacked the LTTE guerillas like a guerilla; i.e. by deploying small units, each comprising around eight to ten commandos. The intelligence network was stepped up and factionalism within LTTE was encouraged; for instance, the faction led by Col Karuna cut-off a vital eastern arm for Velupillai. Rule of law went haywire, but Rajapaksa achieved what he set out for: the decimation of the LTTE. In the process, scores of civilian Tamils were displaced, thousands of them maimed and hundreds of innocents butchered. [20]

On a similar wavelength, the Columbian government tackled the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) rebels. Instead of following the decades-old formula of focusing on the ‘narcotic’ aspect of the militancy, the authorities concentrated on the anti-insurgency mode. It followed a mixed diet of the US COIN and the Lankan Hard COIN. Columbia too has tasted success as the FARC rebels are now pursuing peace negotiations with the government. [21]

India had in fact, implemented the so-called Sri Lankan model of COIN during the Punjab insurgency through the instrument of Gill-Doctrine. [22] It was a ‘success’: with some degree of civilian casualty. Actually it was practically easier to follow that approach in Punjab as it was basically an urban insurgency and the possibilities of spilling-over to other provinces were minimal. A similar methodology was applied by India against the rudimentary Naxalite movement which was also essentially urban-centric. Also, it is easy to convince the bulk of the countrymen with regard to the AFSPA [23] in Kashmir and the North-East by invoking the Pakistan and China factors and by stressing on the regional specificities.

Whereas in case of the Red Corridor, the situation is dissimilar as compared to the other experiences India has had. Few things are for sure. The administration has to pursue a COIN- whatever that might be. At the same time, they cannot risk to alienate the adivasis. Moreover, a section of the non-adivasis needs to be explained with regard to the policies in ameliorating the downtrodden. For the Indian government, this is a complex matrix: fallout of decades of administrative fiasco.


  • The Sri Lankan model apparently looks lucrative. However, there are tactical constraints. It shall be a mammoth operational procedure to physically corner the insurgents as they are bound to slip into the neighbouring provinces to ‘live another day’. In Sri Lanka, that was not possible because of geographical isolation of the island.

  • The CPI-M is still a non-conventional guerilla force, far less developed than the LTTE. The latter had developed its air force and navy and more or less had a conventional army wing running parallel to the guerilla combatants. Hence, it took on the Sri Lankan army head-on. The Maoists would hardly take that path. Thus, a full-fledged military operation against them is still not on the cards.

  • Moreover, is army a feasible option at all? The authors do not subscribe to that view. The conflict in the Red Corridor has not reached a crescendo, at least militarily. However, if allowed to go on in this manner, it might reach the zenith in the foreseeable future. Prima facie, army is potent weaponry, but its deployment by all means shall aggravate the wound. Furthermore, the option of using the Armed forces received a jolt when India’s Army General uttered caustic rhetoric regarding deploying them ‘against their own people’. Underscoring a similar rationale, Air Chief Marshall too swayed away from being a part of annihilating ‘our own people’.[24]

  • Presently the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) needs to be trained in COIN warfare. More jungle warfare schools modeled on the one at Kanker needs to be set up. The irregular militia of Salwa Judum can be incorporated into the CRPF. The irregular militia must be given a facade of legitimacy. Local men with knowledge of the topography and dialect would provide a fillip in COIN operations, no doubt.

  • CRPF needs to be broken down into small groups of anti-insurgency units to “fight a guerilla like a guerilla”. Satellite imagery; i.e. remote sensing techniques to locate the positions of the insurgents could be explored in this regard.

  • The intellectuals must act responsibly as ‘peace brokers’; rather than ‘problem-creators’ by spouting hyperbole.

  • Empowerment of the adivasis may continue in parallel, i.e. revenue-sharing with the adivasis by the corporate bodies. The administration needs to act as a facilitator in this regard. Interestingly, some corporate houses have taken a positive step in this direction. For instance, Tata Steel has called for social infrastructure development in the Maoist areas. Already, ITC has served the peasant community by introducing agri-marketing through Information Technology.[25,26]

  • We beseech the government to consider bringing the ultras to the negotiating table. Yes, that portends the danger of letting them regroup and invigorate. The government ought to stress on the Maoist leadership that ‘genuine’ adivasis must be a party to those talks. Officials experienced in dealing with the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh would bludgeon this argument. Nevertheless, talking seems to be a fair option. But it won’t be unwise to talk with the ultras from a ‘position of strength’.

  • What is ‘a position of strength’? A major counter-offensive by the police and paramilitary in some stronghold of the Maoists would confer that position on the authorities. Or, the setting up of an Army base at the epicentre of the movement. There is a danger though: the cycle of revenge may go on in an unending fashion.

  • It is noteworthy that ‘talking’ to the Leftists shall grant ‘time’ to the government too; something which is necessary so as to devise a coherent policy framework.

  • The policy-makers may contemplate the release of some of the Maoist leaders and use it as a reconciliatory measure; especially those leaders, who are not directly involved with military insurrection.

  • The ‘Andhra Model’ of tackling the Maoists by unleashing ‘terror versus terror’ may be kept in the reserve, lest the talks fail. Surgical strikes against top leaders may lead them to ideological bankruptcy. By all probability, personnel from the “Greyhound” force can ‘coach’ the provincial police forces and the CRPF.

  • The ‘den’ (Dantewada-Bastar region) of the ultras may not be attacked at the outset since that would inflame matters further. Rather, the peripheral outgrowths in other provinces should be pruned off first.

  • The guerrillas plan to ‘circle out’ and capture the Indian cities. The authorities should ‘circle in’ and capture their redoubts.

  • Human intelligence network of the police has to be improved. To achieve that, if needed even ‘bribing’ the local population to alienate them from the ‘hardcore elements’ can be tried. But a grisly methodology like the ‘Salwa Judum’ (using the non-Maoist tribal against the Maoists by supplying arms to them) has to be resisted.

  • Finally, the authorities can attempt to sow seeds of dissension amongst the Maoists; i.e. try for a de-merger of CPI-M into MCC and PWG wings.


There is a long way to traverse before the authorities are able to solve the present imbroglio. In dealing with this cul-de-sac, the Indian government must shed its ambivalence; sooner the better. Actually, from a ‘law and order’ perspective the matter is still simple.

For the sake of argument, we may assume that the insurgency can be quelled based on either the Andhra Model or the Indo-American COIN or Sri Lankan formula. But from a nation’s perspective: alienation of a massive section of the populace is a gamble that probably it just cannot afford. Even if the insurgents are eliminated like the Santhals of 1855-56; what is in store for the future? Say a quarter century down the lane?

The challenge is not only for the present political dispensation but also for the archetypal liberal-bourgeoisie structure based on the western-democratic parliamentary model.

Tribal insurgency is a question which has no unequivocal answers. A complete overhauling of the bureaucratic machinery at some places and refurbishments at almost all places is very much necessary to tackle any future contingency. However, the lack of ‘values’ and ‘ethics’ in the power structures shall be a major impediment.

If ameliorative measures do not fructify (for instance, just implementation of Tribal Rights Act), we may witness a growth in insurgent activities and this time around, with greater expanse and reach.

A recent report (published Sep 28,2010) by India’s leading daily Times of India has a startling revelation that close to 58 per cent of the people in the Naxal-affected districts of Andhra Pradesh ‘appreciates’ Naxalism as a viable option against state exploitation.[27] Considering that Andhra Pradesh is the province from where the Maoists have been hounded out, this is certainly ominous.


1: Sumit Sarkar, Modern India, p. 44, Macmillan

2: Swapan Dasgupta, Adivasi Politics in Midnapur, c. 1760-1924, p. 101, Subaltern Studies IV, edited by Ranajjit Guha, Oxford

3: Bipan Chandra et al., India’s Struggle for Independence, p. 48, Penguin

4: ibid, pp. 48-49

5: K Balagopal, Pitting the Tribals against the Non-tribal Poor, Economic and Political Weekly, May 27 1989

6: Sumit Sarkar, Modern India, p. 154, Macmillan

7: Mohan Guruswamy, The Heart of our Darkness, Centre for Policy Alternatives, October 2010

8: E. Sreedharan, A Textbook of Historiography, p. 493, Orient Longman

9 : Aruna Roy, The State will fail if the Army and Air Force are used against the  Maoist, interview to Wall Street Journal, November 03 2009

10: Mahasweta Devi, Government should Talk to Maoists, April 07 2010, Pro Kerala News, http://www.prokerala.com/news/articles/a126638.html

11: Arundhati Roy, Mr Chidambaram’s War, November 09 2009, Outlook India, http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?262519

12: Bela Bhatia, The Naxalite Movement in Central Bihar, Economic and Political Weekly, April 09 2005, pp 1536-1549

13: Gautam Navlakha, Days and Nights in the heartland of Rebellion – In Maoist Land, April 02, 2010, Sanhati, pp. 38-43

15: Jhimli Mukherjee Pandey, Naxal veterans slam Lalgarh misadventure, TNN, June 19 2009, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-06-19/kolkata/28208994_1_naxalites-lalgarh-tribals

16: Bela Bhatia, The Naxalite Movement in Central Bihar, Economic and Political Weekly, April 09 2005, p. 1536

17: Vinita Priyadershi, Effectiveness of a Unified Command structure in anti-naxal operations, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Article No. 1636, September 01 2010, http://www.claws.in/index.php?action=details&m_id=637&u_id=96

18: Counterinsurgency, Field Manual 3-24, Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-33.5, December 2006, Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington D.C.

19: David P. Fidler, The Indian Doctrine on sub-conventional operations:
Reflections from a U.S. Counterinsurgency perspective, as a chapter in India and Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned (S.Ganguly and D. P. Fidler, eds.) (London: Routledge, 2009)

20: Lionel Beehner, What Sri Lanka Can Teach Us About COIN, Small Wars Journal, August 27 2010

21: Wojciech Moskwa, Philippines start new peace talks with Maoists, Reuters Africa, February 15 2011, http://af.reuters.com/article/worldNews/idAFTRE71E1A920110215?sp=true

22: Prem Mahadevan, The Gill Doctrine: A Model for 21st Century Counter-terrorism, Faultlines, Volume 19, April 2008, http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/publication/faultlines/volume19/Article1.htm

23: A G Noorani, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act: Urgency of Review, August 22, 2009, vol xliv, no 34, Economic & Political Weekly

24: Uddipan Mukherjee, The Bad War, Uday India, May 08 2010,

25: Tata Steel calls for social infrastructure development in Maoist infested areas, Global News Network, April 13 2010, http://www.globalnewsnetwork.in/NewsDetails.aspx?NewsID=902

26: Anuradha Himatsingka, ITC e-Choupal to quintuple reach, Economic Times Bureau, Apr 12, 2010, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2010-04-12/news/27612204_1_choupal-itc-plans-agri-reforms

27: ‘58% in AP say Naxalism is good, finds TOI poll’, TNN, Sep 28 2010, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com//india/58-in-AP-say-Naxalism-is-good-finds-TOI-poll/articleshow/6639631.cms

A slightly different version of this paper was presented by my co-author Rajarshi Mitra at Jhargram Raj College at a UGC sponsored National Seminar held on 04-05 October 2010.

24 September, 2010

Focus on the Kyrgyz Elections

by Uddipan Mukherjee

In late February this year, there were elections in the Central Asian Republic of Tajikistan. But there was hardly any coverage by the international media. The reasons were obvious. Nobody expected anyone else to win apart from the party headed by the President Emomali Rahmon. Moreover, media was engrossed in the elections of Iraq, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

Interestingly, seven months later when elections are to be held in the neighbouring country of Kyrgyzstan, there is considerable brouhaha. International media seems to have its job cut out with regard to coverage of the event. Paradoxically, anybody hardly noted the elections in the same country in July 2009. Again, the probable reason was that the results were presumably anticipated. As expected, Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his coterie ‘manipulated’ the elections to remain seated in power.

However, demonstrations at Naryn in February 2010 hinted that the political atmosphere in Kyrgyzstan had started to boil. The April upsurge at Talas and then in Bishkek and other areas finally forced Bakiyev to flee to Belarus. By now, these are all well known events.

It is also accepted at large that Kurmanbek Bakiyev was under the influence of alcohol and very much driven by his son Maxim and his brother Janysh. 12 hour power cuts in Kyrgyzstan with alleged reports that it was being sold to neighbours at the behest of Maxim generated enough outrage to finally topple the government. Amusingly, this was the very structure which had entrenched itself after displacing Akayev in the so-called ‘Tulip Revolution’ in March 2005.

The thing that needs to be deciphered though, at this juncture, is the reason behind the ethnic unrest in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010 which shook the very foundations of the fledgling ‘interim government’ led by Rosa Otunbayeva.

Quite naturally, the interim government squarely blamed Maxim Bakiyev behind the ethnic disturbances. According to them, it was financially funded by the Bakiyevs and physically abetted by Islamist Fundamentalists.

However, the government does not have any cogent proof to corroborate its arguments.

There is no doubt that the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-abad are traditional strongholds of the Bakiyev family. And these were the cities where the ethnic disturbances mostly took place. It is also a fact that Kyrgyzstan shares borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in its southern areas where the biggest post-Soviet Central Asian terrorist group: Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is assumed to be active.

Moreover, an apparently peaceful Islamic organisation called Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) reportedly has close links with the IMU. The final aim of both the parties is to overthrow secular governments and establish a caliphate in Central Asia. Interestingly, HuT has more members in south Kyrgyzstan than in the north.

Very recently, Usmon Odil, who replaced the late Tahir Yuldashev as chief of the IMU, has called for jihad against those responsible for killing Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan. In a video, Odil said: “This is a blood-soaked tragedy, one of a series of sordid plots against Muslims, organised by a government of heretics. May Allah have Muslims make the right decision and be able to take the path of jihad.”

These words of Usmon are supposed to be more of rhetoric than portraying reality. IMU has been pushed to a sort of operational bankruptcy in Afghanistan. Hence it needs new fertile grounds to rejuvenate its cadres. Presently, it does not pose as an ominous military threat though for an already unbalanced Kyrgyzstan, a minor perturbation may be enough.

Also the above data do not necessarily indicate that the Islamist Fundamentalists were the actual perpetrators of the June disturbances. Rather it shows that unrest generally creates greener pastures for jihadi activism. At the same time, Bakiyev and his group are not to be exonerated from being assumed as masterminds behind the pogrom. There is a straightforward logic substantiating their involvement; i.e. turmoil in the country could have dislodged Otunbayeva’s government and somehow saved the Bakiyevs.

Plainly speaking, a proper and neutral fact finding analysis needs to be carried out to unravel the mystery. With elections round the corner on October 10 and campaigning in full flow, there are high chances that the ongoing investigations into the June disturbances would contain political colour.

In fact, the decision to imprison human rights activist Azimzhan Askarov for life was met with protests both inside as well as outside Kyrgyzstan. A local court in the village of Nooken near Jalal-abad had sentenced him and seven other ethnic Uzbeks guilty of murdering Myktybek Sulaimanov in June during violent clashes between Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the village of Bazar-Korgon.

This is definite a pointer that in South Kyrgyzstan, the authority may be skewed against the Uzbeks. In fact, the Mayor of Osh, Melis Myrzakmatov appears to be a man with doubtful credentials. Though he was appointed Mayor in January 2009 during the Bakiyev-era, he quickly changed his political colour when the latter was losing ground.

Independent researches have hinted that the mobs during the carnage were well organised and it is quite likely that they were covertly being aided by the authorities, especially in Osh. In fact, the statement passed by the Mayor that he wants to ‘work exclusively for his Kyrgyz nation’ further complicate matters.

Incidentally, the violence in June has created a power vacuum in southern Kyrgyzstan. The position of the interim government is quite fragile there. Melis Myrzakmatov is acting as a power broker. In this scenario, to expect anything meaningful in terms of bringing the actual ‘June criminals’ to book is not logical as people like Myrzakmatov might be wielding enough political clout to camouflage the hooligans.

In sum, the parliamentary elections shall be an ‘acid test’ for Otunbayeva’s government. It did pass the June referendum with honours. But the elections in the next month may pose formidable problems for her government.

A couple of things have to be watched out for. Obviously, it needs to be seen which party comes out victorious. A record 29 political parties are fighting it out for 120 parliamentary seats. Interestingly, despite the April ouster of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a number of parties are being led by his former officials. For instance, “Atazhurt” is led by former emergency minister Kamychbek Tashiyev and “Butun Kyrgyzstan” is being led by former security secretaries Adakham Madumarov and Miroslav Niyazov.

Another thing of importance is to see which political arrangement can provide maximum stability to Kyrgyzstan. Moreover, if the country further descends into chaos, then what shall be the role of multigovernment organisations like OSCE and SCO in general and Russia and America in particular?

The answers to these questions are very crucial to predict the future of Kyrgyzstan. Will it survive the present crisis? The key to this query lies in the success of the ‘new democratic process’ and how the present as well as the future government(s) tackle the ethnic crisis.

published in Diplomatic Courier 

18 September, 2010

Why India must focus on Africa

by Uddipan Mukherjee and Indira Mukherjee

One hundred and seventeen years back, a scraggy gentleman commenced his professional career in Africa. Though he carried on with his vocation, the gentleman could not remain apathetic to the plight of Indians residing in the continent’s southernmost region. In a letter to the Natal Advertiser, he asked: “Is this Christian-like, is this fair play, is this justice, is this civilization?”

It hardly requires any authoritative scholarship to discern the identity of the gentleman. Yes, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi left an indelible imprint in South Africa. His efforts against racial discrimination in South Africa are beyond praise. While sculpting a history of modernity, the ‘tallness’ of this man simply cannot be ignored. He was the first perceivable and visible link between India and Africa.

Six decades have gone by, sixty three years to be precise; and the time has necessarily not come but surely gone past: the time to seize the opportunity to emulate Gandhi in order to weave a bond between the two (sub) continents.

India’s Foreign Policy

When an analysis of Indian Foreign Policy is carried out, one is a bit bewildered that it lacks a coherent framework. Arguments may be posited that foreign policy needs to be dynamical and cannot be subsumed in an overarching theory. No doubt, yes. However, it does not imply that a nation-state must not possess a set direction and consistent ideology. Twists and turns depending on the context are tactical moves but not strategic shifts in any manner.

India though, does have a loose set of doctrines as far as foreign policy is concerned. And that ideology was proclaimed by none other than Gandhi’s most favoured disciple; Jawaharlal Nehru. Successive Indian governments, whether the centrist-Congress or the socialist-Morarji or even the so-called ‘reactionary’ right wing have more or less followed it over the years without completely dismantling it. The lofty ideals of Non-Alignment gave India emotional and ethical space in the world podium undoubtedly, but snatched away from it the weaponry of Realpolitik. Our leaders kept on receiving adulations (or did they?) from outside and as an ‘insider’ we felt the pangs of being left behind.

The germane question is in a post-1991 and more so in a post 9/11 world, what is the viable formula for a developing nation’s foreign policy? With a hegemonic America, a resurgent Russia, a ‘rising’ China and a ‘belligerent’ Pakistan lurking around, the Indian policy makers have their work cut out. In this scenario, in which direction should India move to generate maximum benefit to its masses without compromising on its core principle of ‘live and let live’?

A feasible solution which India has hopefully at last started to implement is the ‘soft diplomacy’. India is ‘infiltrating’ countries like Afghanistan and Bangladesh; but not with a target to subjugate or exploit. India’s sole aim is to permeate the socio-cultural and economic matrix of a country without blowing the trumpets.

Indian software, Bollywood films, our technical know-how and English-speaking workforce and a mammoth manpower are by every means intimidating. Instead of us being cowed down by Chinese forays into Africa or Central Asia or its alliance with ASEAN or even its flirtations in our immediate neighbourhood; India needs to pump up its own muscles since its tendons are strong enough.

In this aspect, one thing is noteworthy. Some analysts view that anyone advocating India to be pro-active in Africa or Latin America or for that matter Central Asia is necessarily ‘hawkish’ in stance and an ‘emulationist’ in principle. To them, if one suggests India to be pro-active, then the person is basically asking South Block to follow China’s footsteps. And since India is not ‘strong enough’ as China is, no point in imitating the dragon. However, even such commentators are not averse to India making inroads into regions of present Chinese dominance.

Actually, we need to appreciate the fact that China is indeed a ‘rising’ power and our relations with that country are far from normal; the recent development in Gilgit-Baltistan is a case in point. Hence if we can counter China, then it would be to our benefit.

So, there is no harm in framing a China-focused foreign policy and that does not make us ‘hawkish’.

Rather it is a security imperative. Even Lord Meghnad Desai seems to be wary of China when he says: “The Great Game is alive again. In the 19th century, it was Russia looking for a salt water port. Now it is China and China seems to be winning the Great Game.”

Among other things, China has spread its tentacles in Africa in a big manner and India simply cannot afford to miss the bus.

The African Pie?

The ‘Scramble for Africa’ began during the period of New Imperialism (in the late nineteenth century). It led to the economic subjugation and political domination over the continent. Though most African colonies were faithful to the European powers during the two world wars but after 1945, they started to throw off the yoke of foreign powers and gradually emerged victorious.

Thus, it is no surprise that in 2010, 17 African nations celebrate 50 years of their independence. The ‘dark continent’ is now on the path to modernity and globalization. From the Aswan dam to Kalahari Desert, Africa can be viewed as a tapestry of different cultures. From the geo-strategic and geo-economic perspective, there has been a significant rise in the importance of Africa owing to its location, oil deposits, mineral wealth, booming market and rich bio-diversity.

Viewed through the prism of History, trade links between India and Africa were restricted mostly to the countries in the ‘Horn of Africa’. In the 6th Century A.D., Indian ships flocked to the Ethiopian ports to trade in silk and spices.

India’s Recent Inroads into Africa

In recent years, most of the focus has been on trade, investment and economic relations. Indo-African trade has reached $35 billion and the target is to double it by 2014.

India launched the “Focus Africa” programme under the EXIM (Export-Import) Policy 2002-07, thus providing financial assistance to various inter-regional trade promotion schemes. As a result, members of India Inc. have made substantial investments in Africa.

In the Defence sector, India assists countries like Nigeria, Zambia and Botswana through training. Co-operation in health care, agriculture, mining, hydrocarbon sectors are also on the rise. Interestingly, Nigeria is the largest African crude oil supplier to India. Recently, a $200 million project to lay a pipeline from Khartoum to Port Sudan on the Red sea was also completed by India. Also in recognition of India’s growing role as an industrial and economic power, last year Egypt offered India to set up an ‘India Zone’ along the Suez Canal development area.

Indian firms have invested around $3 billion in Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique and Madagascar to produce wide variety of food and bio-fuel crops. Indian government also provides cheap lines of credit to these countries.

Furthermore, in 2009, India signed a civilian nuclear deal to trade in Uranium and build nuclear power plants with Namibia.

In July 2010, an Indian delegation participated in the 15th summit of the African Union (AU), which is an association of 53 African countries. Emphasis was laid on various aspects of the decisions taken in the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) of 2008.

But is India doing enough? Is it not falling back in the race vis-à-vis China?

In 2009, China emerged as the largest trading partner of Africa, with bilateral trade touching $ 90 bn. The forum on China-Africa Cooperation was initiated way back in 2000. China is also involved in multiple infrastructural projects like dams, bridges, roads etc often in exchange of future mineral rights. It also constantly provides African countries with ‘soft loans’ and economic packages. Thus, the Chinese footprint is deeply and clearly visible on the African soil.

China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council whereas India is still struggling to be one. At present, India is all set to contest the post of a non-permanent member in January 2011. Thus, it becomes imperative to garner the support of AU. Possibly, this was the raison d’etre for Vice President Hamid Ansari’s visit to Zambia, Malawi, Botswana, Mauritius and Mozambique early this year.


India and Africa, both being members of the Commonwealth, the tri-continental India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) and NAM, can also try to improve their relations through these associations. In an effort to boost trade ties, India can plan to provide duty-free access to products from African countries. It can also work on double taxation avoidance mechanism with member countries. Also, in the wake of piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden, Indian Navy has a scope to play a bigger role.

It will also be praiseworthy, if India can hold regular summit level meetings with African nations. India can also set up more consulate offices in AU countries. Organizing Indo-African games would be an innovative idea as well. Increasing contact with the Indian Diaspora in Africa would be a welcome step as they can play a large role in strengthening bilateral ties. Also, significant efforts should be made to increase ground contacts i.e. Indian officials in Africa should be appropriately trained in local languages.

Another area which can be strengthened is Indian Technical and Economic Co-operation Programme (ITEC) which aims to develop human resource through various trainings and workshops in target countries. On another front, the Indian sponsored Pan-African e-Network (in partnership with the AU) which links 53 countries through tele-medicine, education and governance, plays a crucial role in developing skills and resources that are critical for Africa’s growth.

India has emerged as the largest contributor to UN mandated operations in Africa, with a cumulative effort totaling more than 30,000 personnel. Its operations are spread across Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leone etc. UN has also expressed satisfaction with India's performance and role in these missions. Events like the latest developments in Congo in August this year where three of its officers were killed by rebels, should not discourage India in any manner.

India has to convince Africa of its long term commitments in the continent which are unlike the ‘short term’ Chinese interests. There are rising fears in Africa of China's aggressive economic policy which threatens to take over its resources and means of production. The Chinese supply of arms to local elite, involvement in regional conflicts and its record of human rights violation could also boomerang in the long run.

India and Africa can share a symbiotic relationship. And the onus is on India to convince the Africans.

As Sunil Bharti Mittal aptly points out in an interview: “I believe the next decade is going to belong to Africa. India and China are driving the economy but where will it all move next? Africa is the next continent.”

Indira Mukherjee writes for Indian Policy
this article has been submitted for publication to Uday India

14 September, 2010

India and Bangladesh: Worthy of Credit

by Uddipan Mukherjee and Rajeev Sharma

published by the South Asia Analysis Group


It seems that New Delhi has finally come out of its diplomatic cocoon, at least as far as its immediate eastern neighbour is concerned. A $1 billion credit outflow accorded to Bangladesh, interestingly; is the highest that both countries may contemplate thus far.

Though analysts may argue that such disbursal of funds by the ‘big neighbour’ was already in the pipeline as per the Joint Communique signed by Sheikh Hasina and Dr Manmohan Singh in January this year when the former paid a visit to New Delhi, her first ever after coming back to authority in 2009. Nevertheless, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s rendezvous with Hasina at Gano Bhaban on August 8 merit attention. It gave a practical shape to diplomatic formalities and provided meaty substance to dry rhetoric. It was a reality, a rather fruitful one for both the nations and not a chimera.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Bangladesh holds both geo-strategic and concomitantly geo-economic significance for India. If New Delhi needs to permanently strengthen its strategic hold in South Asia, then forging amiable relations with the countries in its backyard is an imperative. More so, when India has to tread cautiously with belligerent states lurking around; with China and its Pakistani proxy deserving an obvious mention in this regard.

On the other hand, Dhaka has to be pragmatic. Fomenting Islamic Fundamentalism and churning anti-India tirade at the behest of countries which are separated from it geographically, linguistically as well as ethnographically would imply a further detachment from reality. Moreover, acting as a satellite state of ‘upstart’ regional powers is sure to lead Bangladesh to yet another ‘failed state’ for the worse and destabilise it at best.

However, if the two countries can maneuver their ties in the present manner, then their diplomatic boat would not be rudderless; at least in the foreseeable future.

The Hasina Era

Ever since Sheikh Hasina won the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh on December 28, 2008 and assumed office as Prime Minister on January 6, 2009 for the second time (her first tenure was from 1996 to 2001), new vistas have opened up in Indo-Bangla relations. Actually, bilateral relations between New Delhi and Dhaka had touched rock bottom during the second tenure of the then Prime Minister Khaleda Zia (2001-06). It was no clandestine affair that during Khaleda’s period, Islamic Fundamentalists found a new haven in Bangladesh in a post 9/11 world.

Begum Zia’s second tenure was virtually a proxy of Islamabad and the ISI. In fact the latter was never more powerful in that country than in those five years. This was also the time when the ‘Chinese Dragon’ could spout fire in Bangladesh.

Apart from ‘political fate’, Pakistan and China would surely blame both Hasina and to a large extent Pranab Mukherjee for the present heightened bonhomie between the two nations which does not augur well for either of them.

In fact, such is the level of synergy and proximity between Sheikh Hasina and Mukherjee that when the latter took over as the Indian Finance Minister, Hasina set aside all protocol and rang him up to congratulate him.

The Hasina government didn’t belie Indian expectations and this unprecedented line of credit by India has to be interpreted in that light. It took firm action against anti-India terrorist outfits on its soil and ordered a heavy clampdown over those groups in the last couple of years. That kind of action has led to the arrest of over a dozen suspected Islamic militants belonging to outfits like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). Incidentally, the LeT, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami (HuJI) are among the 15 foreign terror groups who were active or may be still covertly operating in Bangladesh since 1991.

The Deal

Scrutinising the Indo-Bangla one billion US dollar deal more closely, one finds that India’s diplomatic acumen was at its recent best. For instance, the main terms and conditions of the credit line agreement, inter alia, include a low fixed rate of interest of 1.75 per cent per annum. It necessarily reflects India’s magnanimity on one hand and supposedly a reverberation of the "Gujral Doctrine" in our foreign policy portfolio on the other. The said principle notes that India should stop ‘calculating’ relationships with its immediate neighbours based purely on a precept of ‘mutual reciprocity’. Rather India should shower benefits so as to generate goodwill among the masses of the concerned country.

However, a half percent commitment fee per annum on unutilised credit after 12 months from the date of approval of the contract adds a ‘business colour’ to the whole programme of apparent largesse. Nonetheless, a 20 years' repayment period including a grace period of five years is by all means a superlative rapprochement scenario for the two countries.

While finally formalising this deal in Dhaka last month, Mukherjee emphatically declared that "this one-billion-dollar line of credit is the largest ever amount given by India to any country." He also meant business through the assertion that "I am confident that this credit line will be the stepping stone for a shared destiny and will transform our bilateral engagement."

India’s Soft Diplomacy

India definitely has taken a page out of America’s diplomatic notebook (not the "Counter Insurgency" notebook though). If New Delhi is seriously keen to establish a ‘Pax Indica’ in her neighbourhood and firmly proclaim its dominance vis-à-vis China, then these kinds of diplomatic maneuvers are essential. They say: ‘when you cannot defeat them, just buy them’. And in Bangladesh’s case, they are ready to be coaxed and molycoddled. There is no rationale for a cassus belli.

Interestingly, India has enlisted a set of 14 projects, primarily infrastructural, under this rubric of Line of Credit. And though it has not set deadlines on any of them, a commitment fee per annum itself is a countervailing measure against procrastination. Furthermore, the envisaged projects shall be an augmentation of Bangladesh’s roadways, railways, port facilities and inland water system, among others.

It is evidently clear that post 9/11, India has embarked on a spirited path of ‘soft diplomacy’ in South Asia. Afghanistan was first and now Bangladesh. In the former, India has put in almost a similar amount but in a phased manner whereas in this case, it seems to be in a hurry. Actually, India is better prepared now than it was in Afghanistan and hence the results. It has been reported that India’s soft diplomacy in the ‘land of the Buzkashi’ has earned it goodwill amongst the ordinary populace. And consequently Islamabad fears marginalisation in Kabul much more now than before.

Former Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor opines that India’s greatest asset in Afghanistan is its exhibition of ‘soft power’. Indian films and soap operas enthral the plebian in ‘the land of Abdali’. Scholastically speaking, this may be interpreted as a sort of ‘invasion’ on the "superstructure" as per Gramscian scheme of things.

And for Bangladesh, this cultural syncretism is evidently clear and does not need to be stressed further upon.

Thus New Delhi’s endeavour is exactly in that direction: to extract goodwill and respect from the citizenry of its immediate eastern neighbour. And with a friendly regime enthroned in Dhaka, life is much easier for South Block. Moreover, the fulcrum of bilateral relations between the two countries, at present is undeniably our ‘cold headed’ politician ‘Pranab-da’ under whose guidance and philosophisation, the engines of economy, trade, commerce, energy et al. is expected to run smooth without periodic lubrication.

Other Developments

To add, very recently, on September 8 2010, India and Bangladesh finalized a railway link agreement to improve connectivity. The link will reduce the distance between Agartala and Kolkata via Guwahati from an arduous 1200 km to just 519 km.

There is also the proposed 13 km long Akhaurah-Agartala railway link, 5.4 km of which would be in the Indian territory. It is to be financed by India. This was agreed upon during the last visit of Sheikh Hasina in January 2010.

Role of the Army

Somewhat surprisingly, Bangladesh Army also deserves encomiums regarding the present harmonious relations between the two countries. It had a major role to play in subduing Islamic Fundamentalism during the Caretaker Government (CG) period of 2007 to January 2009. And the most significant thing it has done is to implant, not only in the psyche of its own people but also in the minds of its neighbours; that a coup d’etat might not be a distinct possibility whenever there is a political turmoil; quite unlike that in Pakistan.

The way present Hasina government could handle the upsurge of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in Feb 2009; barely a month after her re-incarnation, bespeaks the covert as well as overt support provided by the Army.

Contentious Issues

Though India and the Hasina government (present as well as past) have taken positive steps to ensure that the problematic bilateral issues are resolved; few things still remain unsolved.

For instance, the proper fencing of the 4096 km long land boundary is yet to be fruitfully achieved. It is one of the perennial problems that India, especially the province of West Bengal, faces with regard to illegal migrants from Bangladesh. The decision to settle the matter was reportedly taken at the highest political level in India on the eve of Sheikh Hasina’s visit to New Delhi. But Manmohan Singh said that small disagreements cannot be allowed to come in the way of a dynamic relationship.

During the Home Secretary level talks in Dhaka (Dec 2009), India had offered a comprehensive agreement to Bangladesh --demarcating the remaining 6.1 km of the 4096 km long boundary, plus settling the matter of adverse possessions and enclaves. Factually speaking, India holds as many as 111 enclaves within Bangladeshi territory amounting to some 17,000 acres of land while Bangladesh holds some 51 enclaves amounting to about 7000 acres in India.

India has now agreed in principle to cede control over its enclaves, even though the difference is about 10,000 acres in Bangladesh’s favour. In other words, once the negotiations are complete, the Indian enclaves in Bangladesh’s territory would be absorbed in Bangladesh and vice-versa.

The Balance of Trade is skewed towards India which Bangladesh laments. Only 1 per cent of India’s imports are from Bangladesh whereas around 20 per cent of Bangladesh’s imports come from India. Closer economic ties between the two countries can offset this huge trade imbalance which can be addressed through greater Indian investment. Bangladesh Government has evinced keen interest in reconsidering investment proposals of the Indian business conglomerate TATA in this regard.

India Trade Fair (ITF) and North East India Trade and Investment Conclave were organised in the Feb 24-28, 2010 in Dhaka. The initiative was intended to attract Indian investment in Bangladesh and it helped the entrepreneurs to explore opportunities.

Bangladesh welcomed the position of the Government of India on reduction of a number of items from India’s negative list. The Joint Communiqué issued after the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s visit indicated that India would encourage import from Bangladesh. There are also indications that India would take steps expeditiously for removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and port restrictions faced by Bangladeshi exporters. Bangladesh, on the other hand, has agreed to the Indian request for introducing ‘Border Haats’ (haat in Bengali means market).

Another facilitation that India has offered to Bangladesh is connectivity to Nepal and Bhutan through its territory. Trucks from Bhutan and Nepal would enter 200 m into Zero point at Banglabandha-Phulbari land customs station. This would boost trade activities for Bangladesh.

On the other hand, Bangladesh agreed to the Indian proposal to facilitate movement of containerized cargoes by rail and water. In the last week of February 2010, an Indian team visited Bangladesh to discuss the possibility of movement of container cargoes through railways and waterways. A joint group of customs meeting was held in New Delhi and various steps were taken for entry of Bangladeshi products to India.

Another problem zone for the two countries is with distribution of river waters. Interactions between the two countries are being held regularly under various institutional mechanisms. The 37th Joint Rivers Commission (JRC) meeting was held in New Delhi in March 2010 and it will continue to be held regularly to reach broader understanding on the water related issues for greater welfare of both the peoples. A mechanism has been set in motion to facilitate an understanding on sharing of waters of Teesta and other common rivers.

On the Tipaimukh dam issue, which has generated controversies in Bangladesh, India has made it abundantly clear that it would refrain from doing anything that might harm the interests of the other party.


A common thread of pluralistic culture runs between the two countries and their peoples. Both the countries share the legacy of the visionary Rabindra Nath Tagore. Naturally, Bangladesh has expressed a desire to establish a Cultural Center in New Delhi to promote and showcase its cultural heritage.

Importantly, Bangladesh has conveyed support to India’s candidature for permanent membership of the UN Security Council as and when the reform of UN Security Council takes place.

Thus, it may be inferred that the present camaraderie between the two nation-states is expected to herald a new era of bilateral relations. In that venture, keeping in mind China’s ominous forays into Chittagong, and Pakistan’s latent presence through a religious and cultural jihad; India has embarked on the right path of Realpolitik, albeit in a benevolent and apparently libertarian manner.

Hasina’s second innings has made Indo-Bangla relations creditworthy (pun intended). And if soft loan diplomacy is the food of love and cooperation, bring it on. Keeping an eye on China, India needs to replicate its Bangladesh model of soft loan diplomacy in its near abroad, with a laser beam focus on neighbours like Bhutan, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and commentator on foreign policy, international relations, terrorism and security issues. He can be reached at

The Political Flood

by Uddipan Mukherjee and Rajeev Sharma

Published in The Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)


Wall Street Journal’s August 16 report that the Inter-Services Intelligence (popularly known by its acronym ISI) has displaced India from the position of Pakistan’s top ‘enemy’; was vindicated in barely two weeks by the string of blasts in major cities of that country, Lahore included. In fact, Pakistan suffered innumerable casualties in 2009 by the rampant ‘fidayeen’ attacks spearheaded by the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Nevertheless, the civil-military authority of the ‘land of the Quaid’ had appeared overtly insouciant with regard to the perceived threat from that angle.

A military operation in Waziristan, a melee in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the US pressures to act against the Taliban Shura nestled in Quetta notwithstanding, the Pakistani military had showcased its strength in its eastern sector last year, citing the decades-long psychoneurotic threat from its ‘childhood enemy’.

The rationale behind such a demeanour was hardly unknown to the world. However, it is ironical that even divine disasters are utilised by the pachyderm power brokers to further their own interests.

Unprecedented floods have wreaked havoc to shatter the economy of the country. Yet, the response as against aid appeals so far is not upto expectations. As the Daily Telegraph, London, pointed in an editorial, that even the Gulf States appear indifferent to the suffering of fellow Muslims in Pakistan, while the offer of help from China, Pakistan’s all-weather friend is paltry.

Does all this underscore the image deficit, if not international pariah status, of Pakistan? It is tempting to reply in the affirmative. But how will that description fit a country, which is regularly hailed as the frontline ally in the ‘global war on terror’?

A time comes in every nation’s life when it has to confront reality and the floods have merely hastened that denouement for Pakistan. The international community has refused to share the entire flood burden as it did earlier on so many occasions. For Pakistan’s government though, all that aid was Zakat, and hence nothing out of the ordinary.

The apposite answer to the above stated query is that Islamabad’s continued dalliance with the ISI-created terror outfits even as it received billions of dollars in aid to fight the very menace of terrorism itself; is in essence the raison d’etre of the changed ‘global view’ toward Pakistan. Things have reached such an impasse that British Prime Minister David Cameron asked Pakistan to stop looking ‘both ways’. His remarks, according to a British daily, carried the endorsement of the White House.

The Daily Telegraph, which is in the forefront of the global media campaign for Pakistan, has not helped her cause either. Its correspondent, Dean Nelson, reported from Islamabad that more than £300 million in foreign aid for the victims of 2005 earthquake was misused by the Zardari government. The dispatch went on to say that ‘officials now feared that the alleged diversion of funds will deter donors from showering further aid’.

So, Pakistan’s desperation, if any, at ‘image make over’ makes perfect sense but not its reported readiness to give up its paranoia about India as its ‘number one’ enemy. Is one to construe that what the Americans failed to achieve in multiple visits, the flood fury did in a matter of weeks, and nixed Rawalpinidi (the general headquarters of the army) in conjuring up fears of an Indian attack?

Theorisations aside, India is central to Pakistani policies. The Army chief Kayani has made this unequivocally clear on more than one occasion. Interestingly, before taking up the present job, he headed the ISI, which has made this famous ‘India is not our main threat’ disclosure to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Even Gen. Athar Abbas, the chief Pakistan military spokesman, said he wasn't aware of ISI’s recent assessment pertaining to the threat (or the lack of it) from across the eastern side of Indus.

Incidentally, the deluge as well as the ‘renewed blasts’ demand a roll back of the army’s traditional policy of hostility towards India; at least in public. And the ‘story’ in the American economic daily simply bears an insignia to that. In fact, as if in resonance with the said report, President Zardari, on the occasion of ‘Defence Day’, expressed fears of an ‘existential threat’ to Pakistan due to ‘terrorism’ and ‘natural disaster’. And it is a matter of further bemusement that Zardari passed such a statement on a day which the Pakistanis commemorate as their defence of Lahore from the Indians in 1965!

On the other hand, the WSJ report must have come as a big relief to the US lawmakers, who have been told by the Congressional Research Service that “the American interests are primarily focused on Pakistan’s ability to control its territory to prevent it from being used as a haven for anti-American terrorists, and prevent inter-state conflict with India that would be regionally destabilising”.

Any how, who will check if the civil-military administration of Pakistan is actually in tune with the afore-mentioned media reports? Will the Americans do it? It remains a matter of speculation because the US relishes its stakes in the sub-continent not only as a ‘friend’ but also as a seller of goods and services through a uniquely American-esque multi-speak. Indians can check and hit the high octave but will the West at all bother about their Pakistani bogey? After all, India has no Haqqani network to drive out!

And what if the flood-induced discontent threatens the very fundamentals of the military establishment and political system of Pakistan? No guesses. It would definitely mean a re-establishment of India as Pakistan’s ‘enemy number one’.


Rajeev Sharma is a senior journalist-cum-author based in New Delhi. He writes in several global media outlets.