28 November, 2010

Space and Strategy

A first look at the monograph really impressed me. Space is the next horizon in strategic issues.


Lalgarh Again

Maoists want to replicate June 2009: take back Lalgarh 


The New Colonisers

by Suman Sahai, The Asian Age

A new colonialism is underway. Rich, food-importing countries are grabbing the world’s farmland for captive food production for their people. China, South Korea, Japan, as well as Saudi Arabia and the Arab states are the new colonisers. Africa, with its large land mass, fertile land in most places and abundant water, is a target, like India, with its fabled wealth that once was. Only this time, India is joining the ranks of the land grabbers, not on the same scale as the biggies but India, too, is acquiring land in Africa.

The tragedy of Africa is that it remains food insecure despite its fertile farmlands, receiving food-aid from UN agencies like the World Food Programme. Ethiopia, which is aggressively promoting the lease out of its land to foreign investors, receives food aid worth $115 million but its lands generate cereals worth $100 million for Saudi Arabia. Ethiopian land produces food for foreigners but cannot do the same for itself! Similarly, Sudan which receives as much as $1.6 billion worth of free food from international agencies, grows wheat for Saudi Arabia, vegetables for Jordan and its own staple food, sorghum, for animal feed in the United Arab Emirates.
The food crisis of 2008 and high food inflation brought home to many how fragile the global food situation can be, not just for the poor but also for the rich who do not have sufficient land to grow the food they require. When global food commodities disappeared from the international market as a result of factors like speculation leading to hoarding, diversion of foodgrains like corn and soybean to biofuels and increased demand for animal feed, the rich food-importing nations realised that it was not sufficient to have money. To be food secure, they decided, they could not depend on international food stocks but must have control over food production directly. 

If they did not have enough land in their sovereign territories, they would simply acquire this land elsewhere, produce the food there and ship it home. This would allow them to bypass global food markets and the volatility associated with them in the recent past. It is estimated that in the last few years, up to 20 million hectares of land are either already leased or are being negotiated for lease.

This new colonialism takes forward the trend of the last centuries. The 19th century Europe took over large tracts of farmland in Africa for coffee and cocoa plantations. US-based fruit growing conglomerates appropriated farmland in South and Central America and in Southeast Asian countries like the Philippines to produce bananas, pineapples and other tropical fruits for the world market. The farmland grab of today is fundamentally different though. Earlier it was cash crops and a means to wealth generation, today it is based on straightforward food security instead of revenue generation. Food-importing countries are seeking the first instance to secure food supplies for themselves.

Not just the wealthy countries, others have also joined this exploitation of global farmland. South Africa, it is reported, could negotiate a deal to lease 10 million hectares from Congo and Java-based companies in Indonesia are trying to occupy land in Indonesian islands like Borneo and Sulawesi. In neighbouring Pakistan, the government is offering farmland to (largely) Arab investors. Government-backed roadshows are being held in the Gulf state, offering extremely generous tax incentives to attract investment. Given the state of the country’s domestic security situation, an additional bonus that Pakistan offers is a one lakh strong security force to protect the foreign investments.
India too is in the thick of the land grab. Indian companies have found a way out of the land ceiling laws in India to build vast agriculture operations in Africa where there is no ceiling on land ownership. Building huge agriculture empires is not possible in India, but it is in Africa. The Indian government supports this move and provides soft loans and reduced import duties to enable the shipment of agriculture produce to India. Indian farming companies have bought thousands of hectares of land in Africa and are growing rice, maize and pulses which they sell to India. 

These companies have invested upwards of $2.4 billion to buy up farmland in Ethiopia alone. Karuturi Global, a Karnataka-based company is one of the biggest land owners in Africa, where it grows cash crops like sugarcane and palm oil, as well as rice and vegetables. Not surprisingly, the backlash from people in Africa against foreign investments has begun. Karuturi is one of the prime targets. Activist groups are calling the investments a “land grab” taking away the entitlements of the African people. They say such alienation of land will deprive local people of their livelihoods leading to destitution. 

They have a point.
There is a fear that the foreign investments in food production will end up hurting farmers as corrupt local governments allow the land to be leased out without building in any securities for the land owners. These could often be small farmers with little idea of what has been negotiated or what would be the terms of getting their land back. Would the land owner have some right to the food that is produced on his land? Would the local community have preferential rights to access the food or could it be all exported without leaving anything for the local people? Who would ensure that the land is not degraded during the lease period and that it is returned to the owners in a healthy state? Such investment deals have been notoriously non-transparent in most cases so far.
If this form of land leasing is to be made fair and sustainable, and if the small landholders are also to benefit from it, a code of conduct must be formulated. This could be done by bodies like the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. They should define the terms and conditions under which land is made available for contracted food production. There must be a consultative process with not just the governments but with the land owners directly and the terms and conditions must be made clear to them. Prior Informed Consent, a feature of recent negotiations determining access to resources, as for instance in the Convention on Biological 

Diversity, must be made standard features in all such arrangements, before a deal can be finalised. The international community must put its weight behind compliance of the code of conduct in both the host and investor country so that such deals do not become tools of exploitation, depriving the poor and hungry and robbing them of the chance to ever become food secure.

Graft in India

Economist is a bit late to report on this


13 November, 2010

Thus Spake Obama

by Uddipan Mukherjee

in South Asian Idea


08 November, 2010

Deganga : West Bengal's Ayodhya?

by Uddipan Mukherjee

When this has been published in a weekly which emanates from the capital and has its reach in several parts of the country, then I presume some people will take a note of this. 

Uday India, 13 November 2010

“Faith (Imam) and Infidelity (Kufr), both are galloping on the way towards Him,
And are exclaiming (together): He is One and none shares His kingship.”

Darbar-i-Akbari by Muhammad Husain Azad (p. 492) tells us that Abul Fadl had this verse inscribed on a building which the eclectic emperor Akbar had built for the common use of the Hindoos and Mussalmans.

There were a plethora of articles, essays and reportage with regard to the Ayodhya verdict. In fact, there was no dearth of publications, both national as well as ‘international’ which did not discuss the issue. Undoubtedly, the matter was of profound significance and could have had a serious politico-security impact on the Indian state. Nevertheless, it seems that two decades must have taken away a lot of steam and momentum from it. A globalised, post 9/11 India, especially its youth may not be that much interested in the debate of Mandir-Masjid. They are rather more engrossed in the aspects of career.

Still, even in this subdued political atmosphere of 2010, on the day of the verdict, the streets exhibited a deserted look; shutters of most of the shops were down and majority of the vehicles were unmoved. That too in Kolkata: the city which boasts of being the epicenter of communal harmony; at least for the last three decades of Marxist governance.

Interestingly, this same city was full of gaiety and fanfare when at around 40 km away from its international airport; a group of people were languishing in their own prison-like habitats. The reason: communal disharmony. Or one should aptly refer to it as ‘ruffian-like hooliganism’ inflicted on a section of the populace; which went visibly unnoticed by their brethren. This is not to be seen only through the prism of religion; but surely to be viewed in terms of responsibility of a civilized nation-state where the administrative machinery still does declaim to exist.

Has the time come to deconstruct the political apparatus of this six decade old democracy? Conservatives may not subscribe to such a radical viewpoint. Even if not, then even the most hardliner probably would agree that a serious re-thinking in that direction is necessary. At least one particular parameter needs to be looked into, analysed thoroughly and the hypocritical moorings pruned off, sooner; the better.

As an Indian citizen, we feel proud to vociferously proclaim the secularist strand that echoes through the labyrinth of our voluminous constitution; sometimes explicitly in the form of Fundamental Rights and at times, even implicitly. And we decry counter-arguments manifested in the vitriolic attacks launched on us both from within as well as from without as far as secularism is concerned.

We also boast of an impartial judicial system which takes care, through writs, of any infringement on our Fundamental Rights. And last but not the least; we flex our intellectual muscles when we talk about our independent media and civil society: which do not merely act as the fourth pillar of democracy by extending Montesquieu’s categorical definition of the term; but definitely act as an important platform to showcase independent thought in an independent India.

But where were the media, the civil society, the politicos, the administration and the common man when a section of hapless Hindoos (the author is helplessly using this term) were being traumatized in a secular land? They were not being subjected to torture, pillage and rapine in an Islamist state which is governed by the Shariat: that could have still provided a raison d’etre to the overt acts of those goons. Rather they were being ‘mentally demolished’ in a land which grants ‘freedom of religion’ to every citizen.

And what was the dispute all about? Well, about a piece of land. Yes, again a piece of land.

As Dr Tharoor points out in his book “INDIA: From Midnight to the Millennium and Beyond”, that there exists a ‘hackneyed phrase that there are several Indias in one India’; this particular event corroborates the cliché once again. However, Dr Tharoor may not appreciate this ‘India’ that is being discussed in this article.

He, like many liberal thinkers, who may or may not have been mentally and intellectually persecuted by a group of over-enthusiastic right-wingers; have quite unnecessarily shielded themselves from a reality which now sometimes haunts us in our wildest dreams, but would probably graduate toward ominous proportions if not taken due care.

The reality that is being put forth here is not unknown to any of the Indians, and not in any way alien to the liberal writers, thinkers and politicos of all shades and colours. The reality not just pertains to pseudo-secularism, since the word betrays semantics, but rather of ‘deprivation’, of ‘beguiling a large section of the populace’, of ‘emasculating a group’ and of ‘dismantling the very structure for which our forefathers gave up their lives’.

Coming back to the incident, on September 07 2010, a group of hooligans, allegedly under the tutelage of Haji Nurul Islam, a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Bashirhat constituency, vandalized the Kali Mandir in the Deganga intermediate Panchayat area: a place which is close to a busy hub of the capital of West Bengal.

Why did the goons do this? Actually, they wanted to extend the graveyard and naturally got engaged in a conflict with the ‘other’ community who perform Durga Puja for years in a nearby compound. As an altercation ensued, the huns under the auspices of the local MP wielded their authority and the police were to act as bystanders, as has always been the case in West Bengal for the last three decades.

However, it seems that apocalypse is looming large on the horizons of the province because this time around, the MP belonged to Trinamool Congress, the party which is believed to bring succour to the people of the province after the thirty-year long maladministration and malnourishment of the Left.

Now, this really turns out to be dangerous. Who would the beleaguered people now confide in? The Left has been termed as pseudo-secularists and now the centrists seem to be a close second in that regard. The far right has been distinctly disowned by the people themselves. In fact, they are no less than a pariah in West Bengal.

A seasoned political analyst would comment as follows: “As we live in ghettos in India, based on language, religion, caste etc., our politics is also moulded accordingly. Hence, the majority has nothing to fear, even if they are a minority on a national or provincial scale. What would actually matter is the population density of a particular group in a constituency.”

The author would like to yell and ask that analyst: “Should we not again go back to the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909 and give to ourselves the separate electorates? Should we not undo the reforms of the Father of the Nation? And should we not reverse the irreversible tract of historical formation of India?”

And if we are impotent enough to do either of the aforementioned, then please let us not always be confounded, bemused and manhandled by a ludicrous set of political generalissimos. And let us all break the yoke of a biased liberal thought-process which quite ‘illiberally’ terms any antagonistic literature as reactionary, conservative, communal and biased.

The desecration of the Kali Mandir at Deganga is an irreversible process, no doubt. The Hindoos reacted in the Satyagraha-esque manner by not performing the Durga Puja this year. Even then, the reluctance of mainstream media to cover the event evokes stupefaction.

No sane character would, however, contemplate an equally uncivil attack on the ‘other’ community since in the lexicon of the sane; the word ‘other’ ought not to exist. But the single most important thing at this juncture is to bring the perpetrators to book; whosoever they are.

If the rule of law is to exist in independent India, then the guilty needs to be sent to the hoosegow. If the people of India in general and West Bengal in particular are still to have faith in the constitutional process, then the culpable has to be incarcerated. The travails and tribulations of the ‘minority’ in Deganga must end.

As a disclaimer, this article is not preaching any dogma, nor proliferating any parochial mindset; but merely labouring for an enlightenment of both the masses and intellectuals alike to not perpetuate a ‘false sense of secularism’ which has been held hostage to political hooliganism and a systemic criminalization of the Indian political apparatus.

Well, at last, the light may be at the end of the tunnel, if not for India as a whole but may be for the ‘minorities’ at Deganga. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) asked the West Bengal government to file a report on the violence that took place on September 7, within a month. But again, reports and commissions for most of the times foster delinquency.

For Deganga to become West Bengal’s Ayodhya, there needs to be a complete revitalization of ‘consciousness’ of the masses of the province, which seems unlikely in the foreseeable future unless propelled by some externalities. Nevertheless, an ‘Ayodhya-isation’ of the issue is evidently not desirable. But if the interests of the ‘minorities’ are not safeguarded in a ghettoized India and especially in West Bengal, then fanning of sentiments of gullible denizens would be easy.

What the masses basically need is the rectitude of the government, whichever composition it might be. And no one desires a Godhra or Ayodhya or for that matter a Deganga. What Akbar could do in the medieval era surely can be replicated in the post-colonial.

07 November, 2010

Insurgency and COIN

by Rajesh Rajagopalan


INDIA has been beset with armed rebellions from its earliest days as an independent nation. Some rebels wanted to secede from the republic; others wanted to redraw the partition to join Pakistan; some even wanted to replace the liberal democratic political order. Most of these rebellions have continued in fits and starts over the last many decades and many are still active. None have succeeded.

The measure of success and failure is somewhat different in guerrilla wars: there is a military saying that guerrilla wars cannot be won, only lost. India has been successful by this measure: it has not lost any of the domestic counterinsurgency campaigns that it has fought. The only one that the Indian Army lost was the ill-fated expedition to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Only one campaign can be considered to have been successfully ended, the one in Mizoram. But India’s approach has been successful in ensuring that the intensity of violence is kept low and that certain level of normalcy is maintained in political and civil life, even though many insurgencies continue. What accounts for India’s impressive record?

Insurgents have had some extraordinary victories in the last century, defeating both of the Cold War superpowers and a host of smaller powers. But it is also notable that most of these successes have come when guerrilla groups have been fighting at home against foreign forces. Guerrilla fighters have had far less notable results when fighting against their own government. Where they have succeeded, as the Mukti Bahini did when they liberated Bangladesh, a large measure of such victory was due to foreign military assistance and intervention. For example, while the Bangladeshis succeeded, other rebellions against Islamabad in Sindh and Baluchistan, which have not had the benefit of direct foreign support and intervention, have been brutally crushed. It is possible then that India’s successes are not so unique after all. If the success rate of domestic insurgencies is generally low, then India’s record seems somewhat less spectacular.

Nevertheless, the Indian experience with insurgencies is worth serious study and perhaps emulation. India has not only managed to keep under control a large number of rebellions, but has managed to do so without recourse to the kind of methods that has recently been referred to as the ‘strategy of barbarism’.1 Such strategies would have been morally abhorrent to democratic India, and India’s saner approach provides an alternative that is equally successful in countering armed rebellion. The lessons from the Indian experience reiterates the British approach to counterinsurgency and finds resonance in the recommendations of the so-called ‘fourth generation warfare’ theorists, though the term is itself unfamiliar in India.

It is difficult to say with certainty whether India has a counterinsurgency ‘strategy’ because strategy suggests an amount of deliberation that, in this case, is notably absent. Nevertheless, there is a certain consistency in the Indian approach towards counterinsurgency that allows us to characterize it as strategy. We might even call it ‘grand strategy’ because it is primarily a political approach in which military force plays an essential but ultimately limited role. The essence of this strategy is the willingness to compromise with rebellious sub-nationalities on all issues with one exception: secession is taboo.

But short of secession, the Indian state has been willing to compromise on most other political demands. New states have been carved out to satisfy demands for local government and under the Sixth Schedule of the Indian Constitution some ethnic communities have been allowed to create autonomous regions and districts to allow for a measure of self-rule. Those rebels who were willing to give up the demand for secession and work within the Indian Constitution have been welcomed into the political order, becoming important regional leaders.

In order to permit such compromises, it was essential that military force be kept carefully limited. Thus, though military force was employed frequently its use was circumscribed by the clear understanding that the ultimate solution would have to be a political rather than a military one. Today, the fact that the Indian forces do not use aerial bombing or heavy artillery in fighting against insurgents seems unremarkable. But a look at the manner in which other counterinsurgency campaigns are fought illustrates how remarkable the Indian approach is. Whether it was in the Cold War conflicts in Vietnam or Afghanistan, or in the more recent American campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan or the Russian campaign in Chechnya, the use of heavy fire-power – aerial bombing, tanks and artillery – is standard.

Around the region, the Pakistani counterinsurgency campaigns in erstwhile East Pakistan and in Baluchistan, or the Sri Lankan campaign against the LTTE have all been marked by the intense use of fire-power. It is not that Indian counterinsurgency campaigns have been gentle. Nevertheless, the intensity of violence in Indian counterinsurgency campaigns has been carefully calibrated by political calculations and it has completely abjured the use of heavy firepower that causes indiscriminate casualties and has the potential to become an obstacle to future political resolution.

The limitation on the use of force in counterinsurgency campaigns began with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Many of the early rebellions were initially handled by the state police forces or paramilitary forces such as the Assam Rifles. But by the mid-1950s, it was clear that the challenges facing the nascent nation state could not entirely be handled by these forces. The Nagas, in particular, represented a serious challenge. Despite tribal differences, the Nagas had managed to forge a strong sense of common identity in opposition to the idea of an Indian nation that included them. Their initial activism was confined to peaceful protests, including mass rejection of the national elections in 1951.

But such peaceful initiatives were rapidly overtaken by more forceful ones, as the Nagas developed a growing military capability. The Nagas were well positioned to do this because a number of Nagas had fought in the Second World War, and some stocks of weapons were available. As the rebellion took a violent path, New Delhi dispatched military units to put the rebellion down by force.

As the Indian Army began to fight the Naga insurgents in the mid-1950s, they sought the use of airpower but were rebuffed by Nehru. He emphasised the political nature of the Naga problem, arguing that the Nagas had never developed a sense of Indian nationalism because they had been kept isolated from the rest of the country by British colonial rule. Thus, the Naga alienation was understandable, and their identity with the Indian nation needed to be developed gently. This was coupled with Nehru’s ambivalence about the development project of modern India as applied to the Northeast. Nehru, as a modernist, believed that development had a lot to offer, but was uncertain about the impact that it would have on the way of life of the tribal population of the region.

All these uncertainties suggested a carefully moderated policy that emphasized the need for understanding the context of the Naga rebellion, and a strategy that sought political accommodation rather than military victory. Punitive actions were forbidden, and force was to be used as sparingly as possible. Nehru reminded the army that the Nagas were fellow-countrymen who had to be won over, not suppressed. Though there were rumblings within the army about being forced to fight with one hand tied behind their backs, the army accepted these political limits on the use of force. In the early days, the Naga tendency to fight conventional set-piece battles, a consequence of their experience in the Second World War, helped the Indian Army. But the Nagas soon shifted to guerrilla tactics, making the army’s task much harder.

The use of force against the Nagas was complemented by political concessions to the more moderate sections among the Naga leadership. They had demanded greater self-government and in response the Indian government formed a new administrative unit called the Naga Hills-Tuensang Area (NHTA) in December 1957, carving out the Naga Hills district from Assam and placing it directly under New Delhi’s administration. This concession managed to strengthen the moderates within the Naga community without seriously weakening the Indian position. When this concession did not satisfy all the insurgents, and in order to further strengthen the moderates within the Nagas, a new state called ‘Nagaland’ with a local legislature was created in 1963 to replace the NHTA.

A ceasefire was declared in late 1964 and a meandering peace negotiation began which ultimately led to the Shillong accord in 1975 under which most of the rebels agreed to lay down arms. Some of the Naga fighters were inducted into the newly formed Naga Regiment while others joined the Border Security Force (BSF). This did not mean the end of the Naga rebellion, for some Nagas continued the struggle. Nevertheless, the Naga insurgency is a much weaker force today, riven by internal divisions, and no longer a major threat.

A similar strategy of political compromises and a judicious use of force also helped end the Mizo insurgency. The Mizo rebellion began in 1966, spurred by famine and a callous administration. Led by Laldenga and the Mizo National Front (MNF), the first phase of the rebellion was so successful that several towns were captured by the rebels, which included parts of Aizawl. The Indian Air Force (IAF) had to be called in to help the army retake control, one of the few instances when combat air power was used in counterinsurgency operations in India.

Once again political compromises and military effort went hand-in-hand. Responding to the demands of the more moderate sections of the Mizos, New Delhi made Mizoram into a Union Territory in 1972, with its own legislature. But complete resolution would have to wait another decade, until a final peace agreement was signed between the MNF and New Delhi in 1986. Under the agreement, Mizoram became a full-fledged state in the Indian Union and Laldenga became chief minister of the state. Though there have been some recent rumblings in the state, Mizoram has largely remained quite since the insurgency ended over two decades back.

The Indian experiences in fighting the Nagas and the Mizos set the broad outlines of the Indian counterinsurgency strategy. But an important reason why this strategy succeeded was because its underlying principle was accepted by the Indian Army. The army developed a counterinsurgency doctrine that complemented this larger political grand strategy.2 The most important element of the army’s counterinsurgency doctrine is the limitation on the use of force. Though this restraint was originally imposed by Nehru, the army has assimilated this as an attitude when it engages in counterinsurgency operations. Army elements deployed for counterinsurgency operations are usually divested of any heavy equipment and do not receive artillery or air support. Such attitudes were reinforced by the army’s own professional view of counterinsurgency, which was based on studies of both British post-Second World War counterinsurgency experience as well as Mao’s writings on guerrilla war. Both stressed the political nature of insurgencies and both were frequently cited in Indian military journals.

The British experience in Malaya and Mao’s writings were an important source for yet another element in the Indian Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine: the need to isolate the guerrillas from the population. The Briggs Plan, under which the British resettled villagers in what they called ‘New Villages’, helped to isolate the Malayan communist guerrillas from their sources of support in the general population. The Indian Army attempted the same tactic in dealing with both the Naga and Mizo insurgencies. But what worked for a colonial power was difficult to implement in an independent democratic society. The constitutionality of the village grouping scheme in Mizo areas was challenged in the courts by local political parties and human rights groups and ultimately stopped by the Assam High Court. Nevertheless, the principle continues to be an important one in the army’s counterinsurgency doctrine, though the method used subsequently was with cordon and search operations rather than resettlements.

A third element in the Indian Army’s counterinsurgency doctrine was the emphasis on dominating the area of operations by blanketing it with troops. Large troop presence in insurgency affected areas allowed the army to assert control without using heavy firepower. For example, India deployed as many as four divisions in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka when it fought the LTTE. Such troop intensive operations are possible because India has a very large army and even larger central paramilitary forces. Large-scale deployment has a psychological effect, preventing the insurgents from claiming victory and demonstrating to them the impossibility of any ultimate victory.

A fourth element of the doctrine is conducting operations in large numbers. This goes against the conventional wisdom regarding counter-guerrilla warfare which stresses the importance of small unit operations. Indeed, small unit operations are stressed even in the army’s professional journals but rarely followed in actual counterinsurgency combat operations. This is chiefly because the Indian Army sees its main mission as defending India against external threats (Pakistan and China) and trains primarily for full-scale, high-intensity conventional wars. Most of the Indian Army’s infantry equipment is also optimized for conventional war rather than counterinsurgency. Retraining and retooling for small unit operations might make the army more effective in fighting domestic guerrillas but also hurt its preparations for fighting conventional wars.

The final element of the army’s doctrine is the firm conviction that insurgencies are political problems that require a political solution. The army’s role is seen as limited to creating the conditions for the political process to resume (‘restoring normalcy’ in army parlance) rather than militarily defeating the insurgency. This is also the most recent element in the army’s doctrine, achieving visibility in professional writings only in the 1980s. Nevertheless, it is difficult to read any essay on counterinsurgency in the army’s professional journals that does not include the mantra that ‘there are no military solutions to an insurgency.’

This comport between political ends and military means has not been without problems. Politicians, from Nehru down, have worried that the army might not be sufficiently sensitive to political considerations. Army officers, in turn, blamed the political and administrative leadership for creating the conditions for insurgency through their political short-sighted-ness and administrative incompetence, and then saddling them with the task of fighting their own countrymen. For the army, counterinsurgency is a task they would gladly give up not only because it brings little glory but also because it is a hard, thankless one.

A more serious limitation that the army faces is that it views fighting conventional wars against Pakistan and China as its primary mission. In consequence, there are limitations to how innovative the army can be with its counterinsurgency doctrine. The earlier reference regarding small unit operations is a case in point. The army attempted to create a much ‘lighter’ fighting unit called the ‘I’ (Insurgency)-battalions in the late 1960s. But the experiment was short-lived and the Bangladesh war in 1971 demonstrated again to the army that it could not afford such experiments.

In the 1990s, the army again attempted to create a new dedicated counterinsurgency force called the Rashtriya Rifles (RR). The original purpose of the RR appears to have been to create a new paramilitary force but one stiffened with army officers, which would relieve the army of its counterinsurgency burden. Though Indian paramilitary forces are much larger than the army, they are not trained or armed well enough to tackle insurgencies. The RR was supposed to make up for this lacuna. The plan for the RR went through many changes because of disputes between the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs about who would control and pay for this new force. When it was finally established, the RR became a completely army-based force, defeating its original purpose. But the 60 plus battalions of the RR have at least increased the strength of the army by an equal amount, thus marginally offsetting the army’s manpower commitment to counterinsurgency.

How effective will India’s approach be in the coming decade? While India has had considerable success with its approach to secessionist insurgencies, the Maoist/Naxalite rebellions brewing in many parts of rural India represent a different kind of danger. Because they are seeking political power through violence but not secession, they are more dangerous but also less capable than ethnic secessionist movements. The Maoist seek political power by ‘liberating’ swathes of rural India which they rule. They hope that this process might eventually help them overthrow India’s bourgeois state.

The Maoists are more dangerous because it is unclear as yet what political compromises can be made with such groups. But the Maoists suffer from the perennial problem that all insurgencies suffer: deciding when to convert their insurgent fighters into a standing army. As the LTTE learned in Sri Lanka, it is not easy for an insurgency to convert itself into a full-scale conventional military force that occupies space. Once that transformation is done, the guerrillas lose one of their most vital sources of strength: their capacity to withdraw from battle. Thus the Maoist rebellion has the potential to be a serious headache but not a fundamental threat to the Indian state.

But the Indian state also faces some challenges in tackling the Maoist scourge. Until now, the Maoists have been tackled by either local police forces or central paramilitary forces. If they are unable to handle the threat, there will be increasing calls for the army to be called in, which will strain the already overstretched army. A better alternative would be to either retool the existing paramilitary forces or create a new paramilitary force that can handle insurgencies. But it should also be understood that such measures are temporary solutions to essentially political problems. A more responsive and representative political and economic order would prevent the conditions that gives rise to rebellions. Whether India’s counterinsurgency strategy would evolve to recognize that larger truth remains to be seen.


1. Ivan Arreguin-Toft, ‘The [F]utility of Barbarism: Assessing the Impact of the Systematic Harm of Non-Combatants in War,’ at

2. I use ‘doctrine’ here to mean not just the pamphlet that the army issues but more importantly the attitude of the army towards counterinsurgency task, gleaned from interviews, essays in professional journals and other writings.

Foreign Policy on the Indian Maoists

I came across this piece at FP rather late. It's well written, but the analysis offered requires further autopsy. For instance, Chopra, the author, opines that it's easy to 'separate' the insurgent from the 'tribal'. 

However, it is not simple at all. 

The Maoists may not encourage 'real' development in the hinterlands, but that cannot be the sole reason for the Indian authorities to wean away the tribals from the rebels. 

To do that, the lack of connection between the authorities and the tribals needs to be bridged first. And to achieve that, New Delhi has to establish a semblance of governance in those regions. So, guns and food ought to go hand in hand. 

In fact, that is the dilemma. 


May 14, 2010

Tapping his fingernails on a tiny stainless steel lunch box, Comrade Vijay, a mustachioed rebel commander, made a startling assertion: There was enough bomb material inside to blow up a jeep. With 90 pounds of such explosives, he claimed, his comrades in the Indian Maoist rebel army had blown up land-mine-resistant armored vehicles the Indian government imported from South Africa. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are the "main strength" of the rebels, he told me, as he sat under a makeshift tarpaulin tent, rifle at his side.

Last October, on assignment for Abu Dhabi's National newspaper, I hiked more than 40 miles through the damp, malarial jungles of Bastar in central India, the deadliest theater of the country's decades-long Maoist insurgency, winding through mineral-rich hills and a spate of rebel-controlled villages to Comrade Vijay's hideout in a patch of forest clearing atop a hill. I had traveled all that way to ask the rebel commander whether there was any chance of a truce between his forces and the Indian government -- a possibility he and his men vehemently denied. As we spoke, Vijay's fellow comrades -- about 20 communist guerrillas, mostly teenaged boys and girls in olive green commando fatigues -- milled around the clearing, antiquated Enfield rifles slung on their shoulders, many of them snatched in raids on police stations.

Just after my trip, the Indian government launched Operation Green Hunt, a 100,000-troop-strong counteroffensive designed to stamp out the Maoist insurgents (also called Naxalites) who are active in nearly a third of India's landmass. So far, the operation has not gone according to plan. Just last month, in a patch of jungle not far from where I met Comrade Vijay, a mob of rebels attacked a police convoy at dawn. The rebels opened fire indiscriminately, lobbed grenades, and set off IEDs, killing 76 policemen and hacking off the limbs of any who survived the initial blast. It was the deadliest Maoist attack in recent memory.

But the challenges of Operation Green Hunt should have been a surprise to no one -- and after interviewing the Naxalites, I can't say they were a surprise to me. Focused purely on conventional military techniques and brute force, without much thought to the social problems that originally fed the Naxalites and the close relationship they've built with local populations, the Indian government's initiative is unlikely to succeed over the long term.

Four hours into my trek to the rebel camp, as I rolled up my trousers to cross a shallow stream that twisted between boulders through the jungle, I noticed a boy, about 6 or 7 years old, barefoot and barely clad, standing on the other side of the creek and watching us with a stony gaze. My guides greeted him in Gondi, the local dialect. He knew them and trusted them, but he couldn't take his eyes off me, the conspicuous outsider. A minute later, when I turned around, he had disappeared. Six miles ahead, we were waylaid by a clutch of armed rebels, who were well aware that I was coming.

The Maoists got their start in 1967 as a peasant revolution against rich, exploitative landlords, and the movement has germinated in rural areas stalked by poverty, misery, and disease ever since. In 2004, when the rebels were present in nine states, India's Home Ministry put the movement at an estimated 9,300 hard-core underground members. Since then, they have spread into 22 of India's 35 states and territories, and their numbers have increased by several thousand, prompting the Indian government to declare them the country's biggest internal enemy. Currently, some estimate that the movement is made up of 40,000 permanent members and 100,000 additional militia members.

Over the years, Naxalites have developed a symbiotic relationship with the indigenous tribal people, adivasis, or "tribals," living in remote parts of India, who find common cause with the Maoists in accusing multinational companies and the Indian government of trying to usurp their mineral-rich lands. To date, more than 40 million tribals have been displaced by dams, industries, and power projects since independence in 1947. As I saw myself, the tribals are used as human couriers, serving as a rudimentary intelligence and communications network in areas of the jungle where cell phones don't work. Comrade Vijay was wrong: It's not IEDs that are the rebels' greatest strength -- it's their relationship with the tribals.

For the tribals, Naxalism, with its emphasis on Mao Zedong's doctrine of armed peasant revolution, doesn't seem out of date. Naxalism has taken root in villages that have been completely ignored by the government. In the rebel-controlled villages, as in most tribal Indian villages, life hasn't changed for decades. There is no electricity, schools, or hospitals. People die of snake bites and treatable diseases like malaria and tetanus. Villages are full of naked, chronically malnourished children with distended bellies. Gaunt men clad in dirty loincloths toil in scorched farms, while women in frayed saris look after the goat and cow barns outside mud-and-clay huts, worried about the next meal. Many tribals survive on leaves and berries.

With little to no government machinery present, the rebels have stepped in to create a mini-state within a state. To settle local disputes, villagers travel to the nearby jungle to attend jan adalats, the rebels' kangaroo courts. Justice is delivered instantaneously, unlike in India's sluggish legal system, often from the barrel of a gun. Gun-toting rebels saunter around villages in battle fatigues for their monthly meetings and swoop in from the nearby jungles for nightly rests and daytime meals. The Naxalites fund their insurgency by extorting "taxes" -- to the tune of 14 billion Indian rupees each year -- from local businessmen, contractors, and landowners.

The government justifies ignoring development in what the rebels call "liberated villages" as punishment for supporting Maoists. But India had been neglecting those villages long before the rebels showed up.

Now the neglect is coming back to haunt India's security forces. "We scarcely get credible information from tribals," admitted Brig. Basant Kumar Ponwar, director of the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College located in north Bastar, the only school in India that trains policemen in tactics of jungle warfare. "That's what I emphasize to my men: Don't antagonize the local population, or you will go back from here in coffins."

But instead of starting with development, the plan laid out in Operation Green Hunt is to neutralize the rebels, capture their territory, and only then enact the development projects that have failed to materialize for so long. This is likely to backfire. Operation Green Hunt promises to be a bloody, drawn-out war, with a high risk of civilian casualties due to the fact that the government doesn't discriminate between tribal and Naxalite. Despite their rudimentary military capabilities, the Naxalites have long run circles around government forces, killing two policemen for every dead rebel since 2007. The government is using armored vehicles, laser-guided weaponry, and mine-sweeping equipment, and it is even considering importing U.S.-made unmanned surveillance drones to track down the rebels in the jungles. But the fighting will push the tribals even closer to the rebels. To wean tribals away from Naxalites, the government needs to send in food and medicine, not soldiers.

It should be possible to separate the tribals from the Naxalites because the Naxalites don't actually care about protecting the tribals -- they just care about capturing power. During our conversation, I probed Comrade Vijay and his men: If the state stopped multinational companies from coming here, would you end your resistance? What if the government made tribals stakeholders in mining projects? What if they gave tribals veto power over mining companies? If that happened, would you negotiate with the government? He completely avoided my questions.

A road contractor I met on the outskirts of Bastar told me that the rebels abducted him last year, even though he had paid them about 30 percent of the revenue he would earn from building a road that would connect some interior villages to the district's main towns. He was blindfolded and held captive inside the jungle for days, and released only after he promised to withdraw from the project. "Naxalites don't want development in their areas," said the contractor, who requested anonymity. "If you build a road, poor tribals will be more exposed to city life. They'll be more informed and less gullible."

But until the government changes its tactics, the violence will not stop. The Naxalite rebels make use of brainwashing to attract child soldiers for Bal Sangham, their children's corps. They pluck them from the villages at an early age, indoctrinate them in Maoism's violent creed, and train them to plant IED detonators in the ground. The young members of Bal Sangham I met in Comrade Vijay's hideout seemed thoroughly indoctrinated. The state has gravely wronged them, they said. Some had been convinced that the specialized forces involved in Operation Green Hunt were known to resort to cannibalism. They feel morally obligated to fight -- and die fighting, if they have to. If only the Indian government weren't giving them so many easy opportunities.