15 July, 2011

IEDs, Stones, and Dialogues


Three sessions of talks were held between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan on 23-24 June; and exactly three major explosions rocked Mumbai, the financial capital of India, barely three weeks later, on 13 July.

Under the resumed dialogue process, the Foreign Secretaries Salman Bashir of Pakistan and Nirupama Rao of India met in Islamabad for bilateral talks on ‘peace’ and ‘security’, encompassing the cliché Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) and the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir.

And it was Dadar, Opera House and Zaveri Bazaar, all crowded areas,where Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) splintered to take into their obnoxious fold; according to conservative official reports (till 23:00 hrs on 13 July), 13 dead and around 80 injured.

Non-official media reports retorted with higher numbers of 20 - 21 dead and over hundred forced to lie in hospitals and nursing homes.  This incident mirrors, to a lesser extent, the fifth anniversary of the dreaded July serial train blasts in the city. 

Three general questions loom large at this critical juncture. One, do these blasts indicate the resurgence of non-state actor-led cross-border terrorism in India? Two, to what extent have the Indian security apparatus failed (or succeeded) in combating urban-centric terrorism? And third, would this act of terror impede the verbal transactions which have been initiated at the diplomatic levels between India and Pakistan? 

As Nirupama Rao boldly asserted in Karan Thapar’s TV show 'Devil’s Advocate' that “nothing is set in stone”; at least as far as India-Pakistan rapprochement is concerned, the bilateral atmosphere seems to be devoid of adventurous ‘atmospherics’, at least in the foreseeable future.  On one hand, Ms Rao confirms that “there has been a very glacial pace to the whole process as far as the 26/11 trials are concerned.”

On the other hand, she informed the Indian media and public at large of a couple of positive bytes about the Pakistani government. She said: “But let me tell you what kind of feedback we got from the Pakistanis at this round. And they spoke of the need to discuss all the serious and substantive issues between the two countries and that terrorism was at the forefront of this.”

Rao confessed to Thapar that there was hardly any visible progress in Pakistan regarding the 26/11 trials. But, the lack of progress, according to Rao, should not mean that dialogue was not an option with Pakistan. This is surely an ominous signal for the hardcore militant groups, both indigenous and transnational alike. However, everything depends on the diplomatic will of the policymakers based in both the nations and the evolving equations of the theocratic-military complex of Pakistan with its civilian counterpart.

However, one thing seems to be not uncertain; that is, the resumption of the India-Pakistan dialogue process shall not be stalled. The expected meeting between the respective foreign ministers in New Delhi at the end of this month may be well on its course. In this regard, it is noteworthy to quote Ms Rao again: “I think the decision to reengage with Pakistan and to talk about the issues that divide us, that create a gulf between us, to reduce the trust deficit, as the two Prime Ministers said, I think is a very realistic approach to dealing with problems with Pakistan.”

The manner in which Mr Zardari has come to reprimand the blasts in Mumbai will ease matters between the two nations. After all, Islamabad itself is wary of terror and hence a bilateral joint framework to tackle the scourge is the sanest approach to bring peace in South Asia. Furthermore, the Indian ministry of Home Affairs is yet to establish any linkage between the blast and terror groups based across the Indus.

With the third question resolved, the answers to the first two are relatively straightforward. First, the July 13 Mumbai blasts are more of a desperate attempt on the part of the ultras to reassert their ‘lost’ grip over the terror network in India. After 26/11, India has witnessed about 31 months of peace, to be precise. A brief interregnum was a solo piece of violence at Pune in February, last year. Thus it will be far-fetched to assume that the July 13 incident implies a re-invigorated terror regime in India.

And such a hypothesis was echoed by India’s urbane Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, when after the blasts, he stressed on the efficiency of ‘his’ police force as reflected in their capability of keeping India sufficiently terror free for a considerable amount of time.

With the Maoist insurgency spreading its tentacles deep in the countryside and with stones being pelted in Kashmir at the security machinery, it seems that the Indian security forces have done reasonably well to contain cross-border bred terror. Well, it could well be the case that involvement of global jihadi networks in Afghanistan and Iraq may well have depleted their intensity levels in India and that has incidentally raised the success levels of Indian forces.

Nevertheless, it would not be preposterous - in times to come - to assume further terror attacks in India, mainly in its major cities. It will be a gargantuan job for the security apparatus to make India absolutely terror-free. In fact, that might not be a realistic proposition. People’s anger at the government’s [in]action will continue, for natural reasons.

Indian citizens will envisage strong retaliatory measures at the terror outfits, may be, Geronimo-like operations inside the Pakistani heartland. However, that seems to be highly unlikely at the present moment. Dialogues, and not stones and IEDs will resolve the outstanding issues and with time shall instill more confidence in the masses.

Celebrated Indian strategist Brahma Chellaney writes in The Daily Beast (14 July): “Undercutting India’s strength by repeatedly targeting its economic capital is a geopolitical objective that only a ‘state sponsor of terrorism' can seek to pursue, not street gangs, underworld figures, or local fundamentalists.” 

His analysis may not be wholly incorrect – which obviously depends on the facts after they are unraveled - but such ‘analytical’ statements can definitely inflame matters.

Rather, it is pertinent to quote analyst (Brig.) Gurmeet Kanwal in the Deccan Herald: “It is in India’s interest to engage Pakistan and provide its government all possible support that is practically feasible to help it fight the scourge of creeping Talibanisation”.

05 July, 2011

Osama and the Maoists

Geopolitics, July 2011, pp 58 - 60


It was rather instinctive for Noam Chomsky to decry Operation Geronimo executed by the American Navy SEALs on May 02, 2011 and term it as “a planned assassination, violating elementary norms of international law”. [1]

Nonetheless, ‘deceased’ Osama bin Laden received consolation from some unprecedented quarters. And such signs of camaraderie were neither merely symbolic nor perfunctory.

On May 04, 2011, the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan issued a statement on Laden’s death which was redolent of hatred against the ‘neo-imperial’ American power. It read: 

“Unquestionably, the murder of bin Laden will, to a certain extent, result in the global weakening of al Qaeda and the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.  But this will be the weakening of the reactionary resistance against American imperialism and its cronies. We should strive to use such a development in carrying forward the people’s revolutionary war [emphasis added] of national resistance against the occupiers of Afghanistan.” [2]

In this regard, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) [CPI(M)] too was not left behind as compared to their Afghan counterparts. And could it have been just pure coincidence that on May 04 itself, the Central Committee of CPI(M) came out with a press release which went thus:

“War-monger, butcher and blood-thirsty Obama and not Osama is the No.1 global terrorist threatening world peace! US imperialism and not Al Qaeda is the gravest global threat not only to the entire oppressed nations and people of the world but also to the US citizens!” [3]

In fact, the Indian Maoists were far more vocal in chastising America, Israel and the ruling elites of both Pakistan and India. In that very press release, the Indian insurgents lambasted the molestation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. In this context, it needs to be noted that such gross violation of territorial integrity has been analyzed in the media umpteen number of times. And the double-game played by Pakistan’s intelligence agency in the Global War on Terror has also been discussed in the open forum.  

Amidst this brouhaha however, what one tends to forget is that the Americans were basically following the counter-terrorism (CT) principles advocated by their Vice-President Joe Biden. His theory of targeting high-profile honchos of Al Qaeda and Taliban gelled pretty well with the counter-insurgency (CI) campaign in the Afghan rural hinterlands as propounded by General Petraeus and John Nagl under the doctrinal aegis of the meaty Field Manual on Counterinsurgency. The latter concept got its hearty approval from the incumbent American President. The people-friendly CI continues in the tribal areas of Afghanistan as that model had worked well in Iraq. At least it yielded tangible results so as to retrieve the combat troops from the region.

Nevertheless, whether the job is of ‘winning hearts and minds’ in CI or conducting drone and stealth operations in CT, ‘human intelligence’ holds the key to success. Technology might have progressed by leaps and bounds and we might be discussing fourth generation warfare while analyzing insurgencies, some basic norms have hardly altered. Gathering intelligence at the grass-roots still tend to act as a game-changer in a small war. STRATFOR’s Fred Burton concurs with such a school of thought when he asserts: “All this surface-level discussion [of sovereignty etcetera], however, largely ignores almost 10 years of intelligence development in the hunt for bin Laden”. [4]

Burton correctly emphasizes the need for intelligence on the ground as he writes:”While the cross-border nighttime raid deep into Pakistan was a daring and daunting operation, the work to find the target — one person out of 180 million in a country full of insurgent groups and a population hostile to American activities on its soil — was a far greater challenge”. [5]

Human intelligence becomes more than pertinent in an environment where the insurgent leaders the main targets for the counterinsurgents start to shun ‘technology’ and rely on human couriers. As is already known by now, Osama in his last years at Abbottabad hardly used the internet. And it was the human courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who ultimately paved the way for nabbing Osama.

It is evident that the Indian Maoists too are aware of such a scenario. It is not without rationale that post Operation Geronimo, the leadership of the CPI(M) expressed concerns regarding an Abbottabad-style operation against them by the Indian security forces. [6]

Top Maoist leaders of India, in order of hierarchy, Muppala Lakshmana Rao alias Ganapathy, Prashanta Bose alias Kishanda and the media-savvy Mallojula Koteswara Rao alias Kishenji are on the run. They have hardly appeared for media interviews in the recent past. They are very much wary of the spate of arrests of several of their state and central committee members by the police.

Starting from Narayan Sanyal in late 2005, the range of arrests did not spare politburo member and ideologue Kobad Ghandy in 2009. Both of them are still incarcerated. [7] In 2010, CPI(M)’s erudite spokesperson Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad was eliminated in an encounter with the police. [8] Several other key members have also been arrested which has necessarily weakened their structure.

For instance, in the first week of December 2010, the Special Task Force (STF) of Kolkata Police arrested Kanchan alias Sudip Chongdar, the West Bengal state secretary of CPI(M). Kanchan is considered to be next in hierarchy to Kishenji. This high-profile arrest came months after the state committee leader Telugu Deepak was netted in March 2010 from Kolkata itself. In addition, on April 28, 2011, Varanasi Subarmanyam, Vijay Kumar Arya and Pulendu Shekhar Mukherjee were arrested from Katihar district, Bihar.

Such alacrity by the police has forced the Maoists to suffer from a leadership crisis. With respect to Kanchan’s arrest, Akash, a senior member of the West Bengal state committee confessed: “The arrest is unfortunate and no doubt it is a jolt to our organisation.”

Such a feeling of ‘loss’ is corroborated by their General Secretary Ganapathy in his interviews. He laments:”The loss of leadership will have a grave impact on the party and Indian revolution on the whole”. To combat such security aggression by the state forces, he stresses, among other things, on “secret methods of functioning, smashing enemy intelligence networks and studying their plans and tactics”. [9]

One of the chief reasons for the feeling of discomfiture of the Maoist leadership is the fact that top leaders have reportedly taken shelter in the urban areas. A Ganapathy or a Kishenji taking refuge in Hyderabad or Kolkata may not be totally unfounded as in the last couple of years Maoist activity has surged in and around major cities of India. Maoist activists have been nabbed from Pune, Delhi, Kolkata and even Mohali. [10] The police have been vigilant and deserve adulations.

The paramilitary too is trying to tie up its laces in reaction to the aftershocks of the 2010 Dantewada ambush and a plethora of similar downturns in its CI campaign against the Indian Maoists. On April 11, 2011, K Vijay Kumar, the Director General of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), informed that the CRPF is looking forward to formally opening its own intelligence wing in a bid to tackle the rebels on a stronger basis. [11]

If Ganapathy et al. actually move into the cities to evade the eyes of the paramilitary, they might face a stiffer challenge which they are unable to comprehend. Their city-sojourn would definitely be for a temporary span because to contemplate a long drawn out urban insurgency is surely not on the cards in the foreseeable future.

According to the Brazilian urban guerrilla strategist Carlos Marighella: ”The urban guerrilla must possess initiative, mobility and flexibility, as well as versatility and a command of any situation”. He continues: ”the urban guerrilla has to be a good walker, to be able to stand up against fatigue, hunger, rain or heat”. [12]

In this theoretical backdrop, it is clearly understandable that septuagenarian CPI(M) leaders with their concomitant old-age infirmities, hardly possess the physical wherewithal to wage an urban insurgency. Furthermore, as Marighella opines that “the urban guerrilla must know how to live among the people, and he must be careful not to appear strange and different from ordinary city life”; it implies that characters living in dense jungles for a substantial period of their lives shall hardly be able to mingle with the city proletariat, let alone the bourgeoisie.

Osama’s survival for a decent period in the urban area does not mean that such a situation could be replicated for the Indian Maoist leaders. Unlike the Americans, the Indian security forces would not have to deal with a hostile population or for that matter, an apathetic intelligence network. Moreover, the intelligence spread of the police in the cities is comparatively stronger than that in the rural areas where the populace might not always be friendly to the counter-insurgents.

While Ganapathy can always cite the example of the nonagenarian ultra Niranjan Bose’s “revolutionary zeal” to dislodge any arguments against ‘old age’ and ‘seniority’ plaguing their organisation, the fact of the matter remains that the top leadership of the CPI(M) is under threat by the state forces. It could be a decisive turn around for the Union Home Ministry in curbing the ‘single biggest security threat’ to the country if the two-pronged attack against the left-wing ultras be carried out. Elimination and assassination of the top leadership with surgical precision may be effectively compounded with a tribal-friendly CI campaign in the countryside.

The challenge is surely embedded for the police in the cities as it becomes cumbrous to locate a ‘suspect’ amongst a sea of population and in an array of criminal elements. Moreover, if the ‘suspect’ acts in an innocuous fashion and hardly accesses technology, it becomes doubly problematic. However, there are some rules in a city; viz. new tenants need to furnish their identity cards and flat or mess owners are generally expected to inform the local police stations regarding any new entrant. Hence, a proper liaison of the anti-Maoist STF with the provincial investigation departments and through this channel with the local police may unearth any possible Maoist ‘suspect’ in the cities. In this case, the Maoists would hardly have an access to the jungles to escape the combing operations. Recent successes by the police in several Indian cities are a pointer to this fact.

The time is ripe for the police to act. With the 71 Brigade of the Indian Army moving into Abujhmaad, the Maoist leadership in India is psychologically cornered. In this security landscape, the police needs to exploit the growing penchant of the Maoist leadership toward cities. And if the police succeed in these so-called “Geronimo-type” operations within the country, then it may have a number of strategic implications. First, it would surely push the CPI(M) into the zone of ‘strategic retreat’ rather than its present zone of ‘strategic defence’ as proclaimed by its General Secretary. Second, it would be a decisive step in the direction of obliterating the Maoist insurgency. The ‘root causes’ however still have to be addressed at the local level in order to usher in lasting peace. Third, a series of such successful operations within Indian borders could well act as a psychological force multiplier for the Indian security forces at large. And such a ‘fillip’ may well have its extra-territorial reach.


[4]: Fred Burton, STRATFOR, The Bin Laden Operation: Tapping Human Intelligence, May 26, 2011

[5]: ibid