31 January, 2012

Lessons from Russia

Geopolitics, February 2011, pp 58 - 61

Abstract: Historically, Caucasus has been a hot-bed of insurgencies. Russia has dealt with such rebellions in an iron-fisted manner. Can India learn from such a security-centric doctrine? Should India remodel its approach toward insurgents?

Lessons from the Caucasus
Uddipan Mukherjee

Europe’s highest mountain, the double peaked Mt Elbrus is no more a place of tranquility. Though tourists are still climbing up the terrain, still an ambience of terror persists. Earlier, in February 2011, Islamic separatists blew up a cable car pylon, making gondola cars collapse into the snow. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in that incident. In reaction, Russia barred tourists from visiting Elbrus until anti-terrorist operations were completed.

Since time immemorial, Caucasus has been a contentious geopolitical region at the border of Europe and Asia; flanked by the Black and Caspian Seas. However, the region not only houses economically important minerals and energy resources, it has also been the breeding ground of historically significant insurgencies.

North Caucasus was conquered by the erstwhile Tsarist Empire through a series of invasions from 1817 to 1864. In the process, the regions of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan were annexed into Russia. The legacies of the nineteenth century insurgent leaders; viz. Ghazi Mollah and Imam Shamil still reverberate in the forested zones and mountainous maze of Caucasus.

The present Russian provinces of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Chechnya continue to harbour sentiments of insurgency. In fact, in 2010, Dagestan witnessed almost half of all insurgent attacks in Russia. Its capital, Makhachkala has become a hub of insurgent activities.

With Chechnya now ruled by the iron-fisted Ramzan Kadyrov, writes Shaun Walker for The Independentchaotic Dagestan has become the heart of Russia's Islamic terrorist problem, and almost every single day of late, the authorities are engaged in shoot-outs to kill Islamic fundamentalists - believers of Salafism or Wahabism.

The attacks on the Moscow Metro in March 2010 were orchestrated by two female suicide bombers, also belonging to Dagestan. In September 2010, the Irganai hydroelectric plan was attacked. In June 2009, Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov was killed, allegedly by insurgents; reports Valery Dzutsev for theJamestown Foundation.

Republic of Dagestan is ruled by believers of Sufism whereas around 20 per cent of the subjects are Salafis. Such an antagonism, nevertheless, has been historical as the so-called Caucasian Emirate has struggled to counter dominance of Moscow for the last two centuries. The Russians had fought two bloody wars and the concomitant insurgencies in Chechnya from 1994 onwards, interspersed with a ceasefire.

Officially, Russian counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns in Chechnya were halted as late as in 2009. In fact, heavy-handed Russian approach in Chechnya coupled with the fertile grounds of agitation saw the insurgency spill over into the neighbouring provinces. Dagestan, however, has been dubbed as the most dangerous place in North Caucasus.

Russian Approach to Counterinsurgency

While evaluating Russia’s COIN campaigns, Thomas Ricks at the Foreign Policy magazine eulogizes the security-centric approach adopted by the Russians in Chechnya, Afghanistan and even in Ukraine and Lithuania (in the 1940s and 50s). Yuri Zhukov in The Routledge Companion to Insurgency and Counter Insurgencypoints out that since 1917, the erstwhile Soviet Union and present Russia has faced the onslaught of 24 significant insurgencies. And Zhukov further mentions that apart from the profound losses suffered in Afghanistan and the first Chechnyan War, Russia has basically been able to successfully counter armed insurgencies.

The methodology adopted by Moscow has been straightforward: massive mobilization of troops to outnumber the insurgents by sheer volume; coupled with hardhearted approach of overwhelming firepower. It was one hundred thousand troops which salvaged Russian pride in the second Chechen War.

Further, to gather human intelligence, defections in insurgent ranks were skillfully encouraged. The support of the indigenous Chechen forces was vital in curbing the insurgency, opines Sean Renaud in his MA thesis to the Massey University. He further indicates that the unity of command worked critically well for the Russian forces in Chechnya.

Moreover, airpower was used to soften targets on the ground; and to destroy and harass isolated insurgent groups.  On top of these, Russian authorities were adept in manipulating the media outlets which helped to rein in public opinion.

In Chechnya (post-2001), the Russians effectively used more flexible operational groupings in the form of small unit operations. This enhanced the efficacy of the COIN operations. In addition to these, targeted killing of key insurgent commanders hastened the clearance of the decade-long insurgency.

Role of Civil Militias

Another interesting aspect of the Russian COIN in the Caucasus was to develop local militias. In a December 2010 report in Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst (CACA), Kevin Leahy informs that Dagestan’s President Magomedov had set forth a proposal to see volunteer militias, comprised of native Dagestanis, to tackle the rebellion. However, it was not novel as far as Russian COIN doctrine goes.

Similar COIN strategy, notes Leahy, had been used, post-2001, in neighboring Chechnya. The strategy in Chechnya involved four ethno-battalions, each comprised almost entirely of ethnic Chechens, undertaking COIN operations against their rebellious countrymen with assistance from the Russian military and Russian Special Forces.

In no way employing locals in the fight against ethnic insurgents could be seen as unethical and barbaric. During the Indian wars of the 19th century, writes Lt. Colonel Robert M. Cassidy of the US Army, the American army’s most skilled fighter, General George Crook “developed the tactic of inserting small teams from friendly Apache tribes into insurgent Apache groups so as to neutralize and psychologically unhinge them and to sap their will.”

As a matter of fact, the same technique was replicated by the US Army in Phillipines (1899-1902), and even in Vietnam. In Phillipines, the Americans conducted a decentralized war of small mobile units, aided by native Filipinos. 

Further, analyst Max Boot ascribes the incentives of treating captured rebels well and of running hospitals and schools by the US Army as the additional reasons for their success in Phillipines.

Interestingly, Tomas Rid in an expository article titled The Nineteenth Century Origins of COIN Doctrine in the Journal of Strategic Studies writes that in 1830s, the French conquerors of North Africa adapted an old practice of pre-Islamic Bedouin societies - the ghazya, or raid – in order to nab the local insurgents. That is, a local method was employed to defeat the locals. In marauding expeditions, clansmen seized camels, goats, and livestock from other tribes, but loss of life was rare.

The Roadblocks to COIN

According to Human Rights Watch, Russia’s COIN tactics include, among other repressive measures, targeted killings, torture, disappearances and extra-judicial executions. Naturally, such pressure from various domestic and international groups “is expected to exert normative constraints on the strategic and tactical choices of democratic governments”; as per Zhukov’s assessment. 

And Russia has been no exception in that regard. Brutalization of the population, solely focusing on the security-centric approach and relegating to dungeons, the winning hearts and minds (WHAM) concept of COIN; did turn advantageous to the Russians.

Nevertheless, rampant use of force; especially the zachistki – Russian term for security sweeps – has made the mountainous landscape of Caucasus more fertile in terms of recruitment for the guerrillas. Such sweeps more often than not coerce the disgruntled youth “to go to the forest”; i.e. join the insurgency. Times.com posits an appalling statistics of unemployment upto 90 per cent in North Caucasus – sufficient cause for the youth to be jungle-bound.

Coming back to COIN tactics, Jason Lyall, at the Harvard University, draws on a quasi-experimental research design that exploits variation in Russian COIN practices in Chechnya (2000-05). Lyall found, contrary to established claims, substantial evidence in favor of the contention that ethnicity shapes insurgent violence.

In particular, his research concluded that:

·         there is net 70 per cent decrease in the amount of insurgent violence after a Chechen sweep compared with a Russian sweep;

·         insurgents respond violently to Russian sweeps than Chechen sweeps; and

·         that these changes in insurgent behavior are attributable to information advantages held by co-ethnic militias who exploit intra-ethnic ties to destroy insurgent networks.

Such a finding again corroborates the efficacy of the civil militias in dealing with armed rebellions.

However, Renaud expresses serious doubts regarding the efficacy of security-centric COIN in larger geographical areas than Chechnya, Dagestan or Ingushetia; or for larger populations. Moreover, unless some major bottlenecks are plugged, the Russian COIN would falter in realistic situations or in foreign climes, as had happened in Afghanistan.

Even the most optimistic supporter of Russian COIN, Mark Kramer of Harvard, raises some important problems for the Russians. First, a seemingly endless, unwinnable war was captured through a massive deployment of force in Chechnya. If the number of armed assailants increase, then to keep an insurgent-troop ratio of 1:50 may not be feasible. For example, in the case of the Indian Maoists, who are able to recruit around 5,000 youth and adolescent girls from a single district in India; security-centric approach becomes unthinkable.

Second, insurgents in Caucasus aim soft targets like civilian population in Moscow and other capital cities. Moreover, the Caucasian insurgents use suicide bombers and unleash a deadly mine war. In fact, on an average, 20 mines per day come in the way of the troops. The Russian security forces suffer psychological setbacks while countering ambushes. To deal with the guerrillas in the hilly tracts, the forces demand more sophisticated equipments.

Third, Kramer argues that the root causes of insurgency in the Caucasus turn out to be inept administration and blatant corruption. Hence, a prolonged security-centric COIN will “spawn public restiveness and cynicism.”
Probably such inherent criticisms of the Russian COIN culture made Vladimir Putin announce, in early 2011, to invest $13.4 billion in 37 new projects over the next decade in the volatile North Caucasus region. Putin himself has noted, reports Mikhail Alexseev, that a lack of gainful employment (nesostoyatel’nost) has increased the pool of young people in the North Caucasus willing to join the predominantly jihadist insurgency.  

So, the WHAM component was finding its way back into the lethal Russian doctrine.

At the same time, however, the Russians have proceeded with targeted killings and incarcerations (TK-TI). And such loss of leadership has created vacancies in key top positions within the rebel organizations.

What can India learn?

Though COIN principles may not have universal applicability, still effective lessons could be derived through deductive reasoning from the Russian case study in the Caucasus and beyond. Though COIN tactics are locale specific and culture-centric; certain broad contours nevertheless could be drawn.

1.   India is mostly concerned with three major insurgencies; viz. in the North-East, Kashmir and the Maoist insurrection. The three cases have different historical, cultural and political undertones. India has dealt with these keeping in mind their regional and ethnic specificities; within the overall ambit of the legalities imposed by the judicature.

2.   India has effectively implemented the population-centric WHAM approach in the case of Kashmir. After a period of ‘meeting the gun with the gun’, the North-East now is being dealt through ‘talks’. It would be pragmatic enough if India proceeds with the WHAM-approach in dealing with the Maoist rebellion. Human intelligence could be best gathered in a WHAM-based COIN and it is the most effective parameter to nab the top leaders of the left-ultras. To decapitate the insurgency - by removing the top bosses and drying up the fertile recruitment grounds for the rebels – the WHAM-based COIN has to be followed meticulously. History has proven it in the Russian case.

3.   Russia has successfully tamed internal armed disturbances through its security-based COIN. However, the insurgencies have cropped up in an unending fashion. The insurgent leaders had been eliminated in a discreet manner. Even then, recruitment hasn’t stopped and that has forced Putin to think along other lines. India, thus, needs to avoid such strategic loopholes.

4.   India needs to focus on WHAM-based COIN coalesced with TK-TI as a viable mode of tackling insurgencies. Dynamics peculiar to a region or ideology notwithstanding, Indian COIN can rely on this approach as an overall strategic measure.

5.   Excessive use of artillery and airpower needs to be avoided in the Indian case. Presently, Indian Air Force supplements the para-military in terms of logistics in the irregular warfare against the Maoists. That seems to be fair enough. Involvement of the Army and Air Force in the war against the Maoists can only lead to further radicalization of the conflict. Moreover, in such a scenario, pressures emanating from the rights groups will likely cause a derailment of the COIN operations.

6.   A unified command structure precipitated success for Russia in Chechnya. India badly needs this as far as the Maoist insurgency straddling over several states is concerned. Constitutional obligation stands as a barrier in this regard. However, operational coherence could be achieved with a unity of purpose between the Union Home Ministry and the affected state governments.

7.   Lack of modern ammunitions and poor facilities had severely marred the efficiency of the Russian forces. Similar problem zones exist in India. It goes without saying that such logistical obstacles need to be eradicated. Anti-landmine techniques must be incorporated. Standard Operating Procedures must be followed at all levels of the command structure so as to avoid major ambushes.  

8.   Small operational mobile units; viz. of the level of platoons, must fight the ‘guerrilla like a guerrilla’. The Russians have successfully practiced that. However, in the Indian case, the para-military and the state police forces have to do the job which the Red Army had done on most occasions.

9.   Equally important is the building up of civil militias. However, legitimization of the same is required. Hence, local ethnic youths need to be provided jobs in the constabulary. It suffices three purposes. One, this reduces the ambience of unemployment. Two, it helps in gathering viable intelligence. And three, it sucks the water for the guerrilla fish as one youth with job means 4 to 5 satisfied locals.

10.                Last, but probably the key to long-term peace in India and anywhere; have to be good governance, weeding out corruption and empowering the grassroots.

“The future of war is not the son of Desert Storm, but the stepchild of Chechnya”, says General Krulak. With such rhetorical soothsaying, it means no harm to extract a page from the Russian COIN doctrine, and implement in the evolving COIN philosophy of the world’s largest democracy – before it shrieks as a failed state.

25 January, 2012

What is the Chongqing Model?

STRATFOR's paper on the domestic-consumption led growth model in China


The Chinese government is taking notice of recent economic and social successes in the inland city of Chongqing. Anchored by economic initiatives that promote domestic consumption, as opposed to the traditional export-oriented focus of China's coastal region, the so-called Chongqing model has been seen as responsible for the city's prosperity as growth slows in the rest of the country, and it appears to be under consideration for widespread implementation. However, a number of issues inherent in the model, including strong central control and massive government investment, will need to be addressed before it can become a viable, nationwide plan.


Chinese state-run media recently published a series of reports detailing the economic success and social achievements of the southwestern city of Chongqing. The reports praised the so-called Chongqing model, which is characterized by its unique approach to stimulating both the economy and ideological passion in its citizens, saying it is a reflection of current Communist Party of China (CPC) doctrines. Also, Chinese leadership has been visiting the city in the past few months.
This praise suggests Beijing may be reversing its earlier perceptions of the Chongqing model -- and its architect, CPC Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai -- and may be a sign that both are gaining acceptance from China's political leadership. However, while the merits to the model are evidenced by Chongqing's successes, there will be constraints to its widespread implementation.

An Unorthodox New Direction

Chongqing, one of four Chinese municipalities administered by the central government, is located far inland from the country's political and economic center along the coast. Its heavy industry-based economy, its position as one of the Yangtze River's largest inland ports and its history as a political center in the 1930s-40s have made it the economic hub of Western China. However, the country's economic base has migrated eastward in the intervening years. The industrial upgrading of coastal cities since the mid-1980s and a massive reform of Chongqing's state-owned enterprises resulted in Chongqing lagging behind most first- and many second-tier Chinese cities economically. At the same time, factors such as deep-rooted corruption among the political and business elite, powerful organized criminal elements and high urban unemployment exacerbated by a large influx of rural migrants made it an environment conducive to social instability.
Upon his appointment to Chongqing in 2007, Bo implemented a series of initiatives to address both economic and social problems, including a massive crackdown on organized crime and the eradication of powerful political clans in the city. At the same time, Bo began a "Red campaign" that promoted CPC ideology by, among other tactics, advocating the teachings of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong and mandating the recital of nationalist songs. These high profile, controversial initiatives made Bo a polarizing figure among Chinese politicians, but little attention was paid to Chongqing's development.
For the economy, Bo took the municipality's focus away from the traditional export-based model of Chinese coastal cities and began developing domestic investment and consumption through government-led infrastructure projects, favorable policy incentives and relatively equalized social allocation. With abundant labor and resources in the region, Chongqing is largely self-sufficient -- and thus largely shielded from external vulnerability: During the 2008 economic crisis the country's gross domestic product (GDP) growth slowed to 9 percent, but Chongqing's GDP grew by 14.3 percent. Domestic consumption rose to about 50 percent of the economy, far above the national average of about 30 percent. Chongqing also became an attractive destination for foreign investment, which increased from $311 million in 2003 to $6.3 billion in 2010.
Importantly, this economic boom has not deepened the wealth gap among its residents, as has happened elsewhere. The social initiatives on which the Chongqing model is based encourage massive urbanization through relatively equalized wealth distribution and expanding coverage of social security networks (one official described these initiatives in terms of dividing a cake more equally, giving rise to the term "cake theory"). In 2011, household income for the Chongqing municipality's urban and rural populations increased by 15.5 percent and 22 percent respectively, significantly higher than the national average. Meanwhile, unlike in other Chinese cities where governments would make massive profits from land grabs, Chongqing allowed the rural population to retain ownership of their land even after urbanizing and helped them with temporary social welfare. As a result, the urbanization of 3.2 million people has not resulted in major unrest or grievances.

Beijing Takes Notice

The 2008 financial crisis accentuated the need for Chinese leadership to restructure the economy. For decades, China's economic model was based on a low-end manufacturing sector sustained by an abundance of inexpensive labor and booming external demand, as well as on support for small- to medium-sized private enterprises. However, the former was hit hard by its vulnerability to the global economy and increasing social instability resulting from a combination of low wages, rising unemployment and increasing costs of goods, while the latter was affected by growing governmental favoritism toward large state-owned businesses and centralized economic control.
With the coastal model risking failure, Beijing has taken notice of Chongqing's success, which appears to provide a solution to these issues in a way that appeals to renewed leftist sentiment in the central government. As China faces greater economic and social complexities, the central government may see the Chongqing model as something that can be applied across the country with regional modifications.
However, there are several issues inherent in the model that may impede its long-term success and widespread adoption. First, unlike in coastal regions where businesses and lower-level authorities are granted greater autonomy in their activities, the Chongqing model relies on a much more centralized economic authority, the city's municipal government, which retains strong control over fiscal revenues, local resources and economic activities. This control has allowed Chongqing to implement massive infrastructure projects to attract investment and, at the same time, disburse relatively equalized subsidies to the public to prevent social instability. Adopting the Chongqing model in other regions of China would require strong fiscal health and centralized support. That strong centralized command leaves the model vulnerable to misallocation of resources and wealth by those in power.
Meanwhile, despite the model engendering higher domestic consumption, the economy still is driven by massive government investment, which has resulted in large fiscal deficit and a government debt of up to 800 billion yuan ($126 billion), according to some estimates. This kind of investment has provided the city an interim economic boost, but it is unsustainable in the long term, posing financial risks and endangering development (in much the same way China's massive stimulus efforts in 2008-09 are continuing to affect the country). In addition, government-dominated investment activities are generally made via large business deals with powerful enterprises, which carry a higher risk of government-business relationships that could lead to corruption and the squeezing out of smaller private entities.
From a political view, the prominence of the Chongqing model comes from innovative local governance based on regional variance. But, as the government navigates through a leadership transition set for this year, the Chongqing model may also be an example that local politicians consider for the short term. The economic and social problems it has the potential to create must be addressed before it can become a viable, nationwide alternative to China's current economic model.

03 January, 2012

Kishenji, Maoists and the Battle Ahead

Kishenji (Courtesy: NDTV)

Geopolitics, January 2012, pp 60 -64

Uddipan Mukherjee

Squeezed between Palamau in the north and Gumla in the south, Latehar district in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand is strategically located.Carved out of the old Palamau district, Latehar was created on 4th April 2001. Nearly half of its area is under dense forest. Furthermore, it abuts on Chattisgarh to the west and hence becomes a fertile region for the Maoist infiltrators. Latehar’s hilly terrain makes it a perfect destination for a Maoist stronghold.

It was no wonder that within 24 hours, the Maoists claimed, with considerable equanimity, the responsibility of ambushing the convoy of independent Member of Parliament (MP) Inder Singh Namdhari at Latehar on 3rd December 2011. 

Though such attacks were highly expected, still a validation came from Sudhir, the Maoist spokesperson for the local committee. He said: “We own the responsibility for the attack on the police party to avenge the killing of our leader Kishan Da.”

Who was Kishenji?

By all means, he meant Kishenji instead of Kishan-da. Mallojula Koteswara Rao, alias Kishenji alias Prahlad alias many more; was a top-rung policy-maker cum military leader of the ultra-left rebels. He was media-savvy. His popularity could be gauged when one finds an obituary-cum-analysis of this rebel leader at Foreign Policy, the US political magazine which hardly takes cognizance of India’s internal matters.

At 56 years of age, he was a senior Politburo member and part of Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-M). He has been reportedly killed by a mammoth operation by Indian security forces in the Jangalmahal area in West Bengal on 24th November 2011.The operation which hemmed in Kishenji was planned in concentric circles. A group of 1000 joint forces (paramilitary and state police combined) encircled Kishenji and his aide Suchitra in three circles. This made it almost impossible for the elusive leader to evade the clutches of the security forces. 

Kishenji was a major decision-maker for the Maoists and was looking after the expansion of the group in the North-East. Presumably, he came from Assam a couple of days back and was convening meetings in West Bengal-Jharkhand border. 

Fake or Real Encounter?

However, after his targeted killing (TK); from many quarters, some expected and one quite astonishing, allegations of fake encounter were leveled. Maoist ideologue and Telugu poet Varavara Rao, the family members of Kishenji and the human rights activists raised the banner of protest by alleging a fake encounter. Quite stunningly, Communist Party of India (CPI) MP Gurudas Dasgupta was obdurate enough to call up Union Home Minister in this regard.

Similar hue and cry had taken place in July 2010 at the time of CPI-M spokesperson Azad’s TK. Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Director-General K. Vijay Kumar was visibly angry with such malice being heaped at the paramilitary forces. Interestingly, the autopsy report confirmed Vijay Kumar’s assertion. According to it, bullets hit Kishenji in the chin, chest and head. One bullet was fired from a distance of around 500 metres. A team of forensic experts also found some gunpowder in his hand. 

However, from the policy perspective of TK as a veritable component of counterinsurgency operations, whether the Kishenji encounter was staged or real, is probably, insignificant. Nevertheless, the following reasons may be elucidated to have brought his undoing.

First, he was recovering from an injury suffered last year from an attack by the security forces at Jangalmahal. Hence his physical fitness was under the scanner.

Second, penetrative intelligence network of the police (across provinces) was tracing him and the moment he came out of his hideout, he became vulnerable. In fact, after the close shave last year, he had cocooned himself.

Third, he was technology-savvy and that could have helped the police to track his position. He used to scan newspapers through internet.

Fourth, the closeness of the CPI-M with the Trinamool Congress (TC) before the assembly polls in West Bengal could have worked to the disadvantage of the former. The cadres of TC can now very well act as moles against the Maoists. In fact, there are reports that Kishenji might have been betrayed by his own rank and file. 

It is doing the rounds that Bikash, a close confidante of Kishenji, had ultimately betrayed him. The Rs 19 lakh (US $40,000) reward announced on the head of the top Maoist is likely to be given to the person who provided the vital tip-off about his whereabouts in the last few hours leading to his elimination.

Sify.com quotes official sources that the Andhra Pradesh government had announced to give Rs 12 lakh to anyone who would give any information about Kishenji. The Chhattisgarh government too had announced Rs 7 lakh reward with a similar statement.

Bikash had supposedly developed differences with Kishenji. The former was expected to be the CPI-M West Bengal State Secretary after the incarceration of Kanchan alias Sudip Chongdar in December 2010. But, Bikash was replaced by another leader Asim Mondal alias Akash. Incidentally, it has been alleged by the Maoist rank and file that almost all major decisions in the eastern zone were unilaterally taken by Kishenji.

Even Kanchan, after his capture by the Special Task Force in 2010, hinted the same and a possible disintegration of the Maoist command structure in West Bengal. The dramatic surrender of squad leader Jagari Baske and her husband Rajaram Soren at the Writers’ Buildings in Kolkata is a further testimony to this fact.

What Next?

Well, Kishenji's demise would be a big jolt to the rebels. It would be hard to find a replacement soon as he had become almost indispensable in the eastern region. However, there is no reason to expect sudden spate of sporadic reprisals from the Maoists. Neither, could the annihilation of Kishenji be seen as the demise of the insurrection. Their General Secretary, Ganapathy, is still at large. However, what could be expected in the near future?

First, the Maoists would re-group and Ganapathy must be extremely cautious now. They had lost Azad in 2010 and now Kishenji. Senior leaders Narayan Sanyal and Kobad Ghandy are languishing in jail. Telugu Deepak and Kanchan are also incarcerated. Hence, Ganapthy now has to work with second-rung leaders. 

As Snigdhendu Bhattacharya aptly points out in the daily Hindustan Times:
“The blow will be more for their eastern regional bureau of which Kishenji was the spokesperson and the top-most leader. His boss in the eastern bureau Saheb-da, alias Jhantu Mukherjee, was arrested a few months back.”
Second, by the very principle of guerrilla warfare tactics, the rebels would retaliate; albeit in a different venue, different time and different occasion.

That is exactly what happened at Latehar on 3rd December 2011 when the landmine planted by the ultras burst. 10 security personnel and one 8-year old boy succumbed to the injuries. Namdhari, a former speaker of the Jharkhand Assembly, escaped unhurt. 

Change of Tactics by the Maoists?

Now, what does this attack signify? Does this indicate any change of operational tactics or an overall change of strategic game-plan on the part of the Maoists? Are the Maoists too following the policy of TK as adopted by the Indian counterinsurgency forces?

Keeping in memory the previous attacks of the Maoists, it is not unlikely that the 3rd December ambush was a TK. The Naxalites had attacked the convoy of then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu. Nevertheless, the noteworthy point is the landmine attack executed in October 2003 was in the pre-merger era. 

From 2004 onwards, after the CPI-M formed as a unification of the erstwhile People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC), such incidents have become rare. A notable exception, however, was the assassination bid on former Chief Minister of West Bengal, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in November 2008.

Since 2004, the Maoists are basically following guerrilla operations targeting the administration as a whole. Their primary motive is to acquire arms and ammunitions and demoralize the security forces. Personal vendetta, apparently, is not in their agenda.

Such a hypothesis was corroborated by Sudhir. He said that the attack on Namdhari was simply unintentional as they had no information about him in that police convoy. Their primary targets were the security personnel. So, going by the apparent veracity of the Maoists’ statement; it may be safely surmised that the present mode of punitive action that they are embarking is ‘deterrence’. 

They are targeting the security and infrastructural architecture of the Indian state. A mass attack on a police or paramilitary convoy would likely, according to the Maoists, deter the security personnel to plan a TK assassination of any Maoist leader.

Interestingly, the Maoists’ method of deterrence sometimes works. After the hijack of a passenger train on 22nd April 2009, as noted by Deepak Nayak for the New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) contingent, which arrived at the Latehar Railway Station to sanitise the railway route, was unwilling to move to the location of the hijacked passenger train. An unidentified RPF trooper, as per Nayak, had stated: 

“There is no use entering the train hijack zone…...it is risky given that the Maoists target people like us who are in uniform.” 

The report further informed that police officers, including the Superintendent of Police, preferred to work from their residences, fearing Maoist attacks.

The above was no isolated phenomena. In a gripping report authored by journalist V K Shashikumar for The Indian Defence Review; the sorry plight of a police sub-inspector is elucidated:

“What will I do if I leave the police force? How will I earn? My family wants me to quit police service. But when I am jobless and unable to provide for my family, will they treat me well? asked Rajendra Prasad, sub-inspector of Kajra police station. This police post is hardly 15 kilometres from the spot where four policemen were kidnapped after a skirmish with the Maoists on 29th August 2010, in which 7 policemen were killed and 10 injured.”

The Counterinsurgency Policy and the Battle Ahead

Kishenji’s elimination signified that at last, the CI/CT (counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism) policy of the Indian security forces seem to work fine vis-a-vis the Maoists. The recent success of the forces at Saranda forests in Jharkhand; coupled with the annihilation of Cherukuri Rajkumar alias Azad and now Kishenji speaks of the Indian CI/CT policy as toeing the line of Winning Hearts and Minds (WHAM)-based counterinsurgency policy plus Targeted Killings and Incarcerations or TK/TI approach. The latter suitably bolsters the WHAM-based CI/CT.

At the other end, the Indian state has kept the options of 'talking to the Maoists' an open agenda and is quite rightly moving to a position of strength before they 'talk' to the rebels. 

It may be recommended that a carefully orchestrated dual strategy of TK-TI compounded with population-centric, WHAM-based CI operations needs to be implemented. The direct deployment of the army may be kept on hold. However, future prospects of the army being put into effect should not be ruled out altogether. Tribal militias need to be upheld. 

But, they must be provided legitimacy through the process of official recruitment. Tribal militias are extremely significant for acquiring knowledge of the local terrain and for useful ground intelligence. Moreover, consistent attempts must be made to dissect the political unity of the ultras.

The path of ‘talks’ needs to be kept open as a viable option, but only when the government would be sure that the Maoist guerillas are in an awkward position to continue their present phase of ‘strategic defense’. 

Mere proclamations of ‘ceasefires’ by the Maoists should not be taken as pre-conditions for opening talks as these temporary cessation of hostilities are used by the rebels to regroup, rearm, revitalize and recruit. Talks can only be initiated if the government is in a ‘position of strength’. And this could be achieved through sustained implementation of a strategic framework which houses TK-TI plus WHAM-based CI operations. 

Talks? Not Always

While researching on insurgency, Martha Crenshaw observes that rebellions may systematically decline because of three features; physical defeat, decision of the group to abandon terrorist strategy and organizational disintegration.

In the Indian context, it may be hypothesized that some or all the above features may be achieved through talks. However, if talks do not provide the way out, then TK/TI along with WHAM-based CI operations must be employed. After all, the demise of the Maoist insurgency should be an acceptable endgame for the Adivasis, the government, the police and the paramilitary; apart from the core Maoist leadership.

If talks work, then fine. Otherwise, to quote notable military strategist Luttwak, there would probably be no harm if “war is given a chance”. It is true that development and governance are the keys to long-term tranquility, but the 'small war' must be won as a prerequisite.