Tag Archives | security forces

Facts don’t forget

The arsenal captured from terrorists in Kashmir in the last two decades

Among the many myths about the trouble the Kashmir, a few continue to be perpetuated by Pakistan and Pakistan-backed Kashmiri propagandists even today. One of them is that Kashmir was an indigenous insurgency, with Pakistan only providing its “moral, political and diplomatic support” (as it continues to do even today in the words of the new Pakistan PM on Thursday). Another one is that India unnecessarily responded with a military hand to a political problem, where a few misguided Kashmiri youth had picked up some weapons (the canard about the high ratio of Indian security forces to civilians in Kashmir has been rebutted in this blogpost).

Here are a few hard facts to demolish these myths.

Figures with Jammu and Kashmir’s home department say that security forces have seized 30,752 AK-series assault rifles, 11,431 pistol and revolvers, 1,027 universal machine guns, 2,262 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 391 sniper rifles and hundreds of other weapons, including light machine guns and self-loading rifles.The ammunition recovered includes more than 45,00,000 bullets and 63,000 grenades, besides 45,000kg explosives.

The figures also reveal that that 21,449 militants were killed and 21,655 arrested during this period, taking the combined figures to over 43,000. Security forces lost over 5,300 soldiers and cops. The number of civilians killed crossed 16,000, officials said.[Telegraph]

The security forces in Kashmir have nearly completed their job, and contrary to what many would like us to believe, are on their way out. Reports indicate that the specialist counterinsurgency Rashtriya Rifles units are likely to be moved to the North-East while AFSPA is likely to be lifted from Jammu and Srinagar districts by the end of the year.

But with the decline in violence to its lowest levels ever, it is easy to forget the level and intensity of violence in Kashmir at the peak of insurgency. The spate of fedayeen attacks on army camps in the late 1990s are a distant memory now. These facts, brought out by the J&K state government now, are a reminder of the formidable challenge overcome by the Indian state in the last two decades. It is something we can afford to forget only at our peril. After all, in Durant’s words, “the present is the past rolled up for action, and the past is the present unrolled for understanding.”

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Pakistan shells Afghanistan

What if Iran or India followed suit?

Here is one straight out of Pakistani school of Strategic Depth and Sovereignty of Nations:

Islamabad has made it clear to Washington and Kabul that shelling on the Afghanistan-based militants from Pakistan would continue in the future, as it was necessary to counter terrorists who have been consistently attacking Pakistan’s security forces over the past weeks, Ambassador Mohammad Sadiq told The Express Tribune.

Pakistan took this position at a Core Group Meeting with US special envoy Marc Grossman and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Javed Ludin in Kabul on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir explained during the meeting that the bombardment was not directed at Afghan civilians.

Shelling by Pakistan on Afghan militants during the week has so far claimed several civilian lives besides a large number of miscreants who crossed over to Pakistan to attack its security forces.

Ambassador Sadiq was summoned by the Afghan ministry of foreign affairs last week to receive a demarche over the shelling which, according to the Afghan media, led to the deaths of several civilians, forcing others to flee their houses in Kunar and adjoining areas.

The recent shelling on Afghan villages by Pakistan’s security forces was not an intentional act on the part of its forces, Sadiq told the Afghan foreign minister.[Express Tribune]

Cross-border artillery shelling on militants operating from the territory of a sovereign neighbouring country seems to be acceptable to Pakistan as a matter of principle. That this shelling on villages has lead to the death of numerous innocent civilians does not perturb Pakistan at all.

So how would Pakistan react if either Iran or India were to follow suit and start targeting militants — Jundullah in case of Iran and innumerable jehadi groups in India’s case — who are based on Pakistani soil? Would it suffice for the Indian or Iranian Ambassador to turn up at Pakistan’s foreign office and say that “the recent shelling on Pakistani villages by Iranian/ Indian security forces was not an intentional act on the part of its forces”?

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The Sopore “Census”

Security forces need the information about residents in conflict-zones. Their manner of collecting it in Sopore was daft and insensitive.

There has been a lot of hue and cry about an alleged “census” being carried out in parts of Sopore town of J&K by the Rashtriya Rifles (see Indian Express and Outlook). Some critics have have called it a fascist move by a draconian state which will further alienate the locals and harm the cause of the Indian state.

Let us get a few facts clear at the outset. All police forces and intelligence agencies, even in normal situations, keep — or are supposed to keep — an informal record of the population in their respective jurisdictions. In case of conflict zones like Sopore — which remains perhaps the last outpost of Islamist terror in Kashmir Valley — security forces have a greater need to possess this information. It allows them to segregate the locals from the outsiders, and keep a tab on the movement of militants coming in to the town. This, in turn, prevents the unnecessary harassment of local residents at the hands of the security forces while targeting the “guest” militants. The information on local residents is thus an essential, inescapable requirement for security agencies, and is a standard practice in counterinsurgency operations the world over.

The argument has been made that the government has already undertaken a census in the area, and the army could have used the data collected by the census officers. Most people forget that such a move would go against the provisions of the law contained in the Census of India Act, 1948.

One of the most important provisions of law is the guarantee it provides for the maintenance of secrecy of the information collected at the census of each individual. The Act requires strict secrecy to be maintained about the individual’s record which should not be used for any purpose against the individual except for an offence in connection with the census itself. The census records are not open to inspection and also not admissible in evidence. The answers ascertained at the census can be used only for statistical purposes in which the individual data get submerged.[Link]

Even though the need for the security forces to possess this data is established, the method of collecting the data is indeed debatable. The army has officially denied that any such census exercise was carried out in Sopore.

If one were to ignore the denial, then the Rashtriya Rifles seem to have learnt nothing from the experience of the CRPF a couple of years ago in Sopore town, when the CRPF had to abandon a similar census exercise after a public outcry. The Rashtriya Rifles should have indeed chosen a more discreet way to collect the information. Perhaps they will learn the right lessons now, and collect the information with greater discretion and sensitivity.

Notwithstanding the above, it is a tribute to India’s democratic credentials that this census by the army in Sopore has evoked a strong response in the national media. In many other countries of the world, such an event would have gone largely unreported. These checks-and-balances, which keep the Indian democratic system going, need to be celebrated. And the security forces need to take cognizance of these constraints, even though they may be operating in conflict-zones. They need to be aware of the strategic consequences of what seem to be obvious tactical master-strokes.

In any case, counterinsurgency is hard; why make it harder by being daft.

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Beyond the misleading headline

What is the confusion over Union Home Secretary’s statement about troop reduction in J&K?

BBC: India ‘to cut Kashmir troops by a quarter’ || Reuters: India looks to cut troops to boost Kashmir peace || Times of India: Govt contemplating troop reduction by 25% in J&K: Pillai

Forget the headlines that the statement by the Union Home Secretary about withdrawing troops from Kashmir has made. Take a look at what precisely Mr. GK Pillai said:

“If we can manage with local police, that would be the most ideal situation, and this is one of the confidence-building measures, that people don’t get harassed by the over-presence of security forces”[Reuters]

“As a confidence building measure in Jammu and Kashmir, the strength of the security forces would come down by 25 per cent. We would like to reduce it as soon as possible depending on the ground situation.”

…”If violence is not there, if people are comfortable, we can gradually reduce the strength of security forces and make sure that all forces are only at the border and for preventing infiltration”[The Hindu]

The above statement means that only the local police should ideally handle the law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir. And more importantly, it also means that withdrawing army from internal security duties in J&K would only mean a 25 per cent reduction in the troop-levels deployed in the state. This is because 75 per cent of the Indian Army troops are deployed at the Line of Control for preventing infiltration from Pakistan.

Did the Home Secretary say that it is happening now? No. He said it can only happen when the “violence is not there”. That is an unambiguous statement by Mr Pillai. How did it turn out to be a declaration by India, as the BBC says, “to cut Kashmir troops by a quarter”?

This seems to agree with the views expressed by the army chief on the subject. It certainly doesn’t deserve a controversy, not even a manufactured one.

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The wages of stone-pelting

Time to get real about the business of Kashmiri protesters.

In February this year, this blog had spoken about the challenge posed by evolving tactics of stone-pelting in Kashmir to the security forces.

The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.[link]

Samar Halarnkar, whom no one can ever allege of being biased against the Kashmiri separatists, has a piece on Kashmir in the Hindustan Times. The money-quote — about the stone-pelters — from his piece is here:

Do they do what they do because they believe or does, as the police often allege, money play a part?

“We earned Rs 200 to Rs 300 as daily wage labourers,” says one of a group of masked young stone throwers. “Now we get between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500.” Who pays them?  “The separatists,” one offers. In a quiet, two-room home with open drains outside, 20-year-old street icon, Owais Ahmed ‘Mandela’, freely admits to receiving money. Where does it come from? He shrugs.[Hindustan Times]

Of course, it is not some new earth-shattering discovery that money plays the most important part in this business of stone-pelting in Kashmir. And it was noted by this blog six months ago as well:

Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists.[link]

It is also partly a failure of the Indian government to highlight the realities of these so-called Kashmiri freedom-fighters that has allowed the separatists to portray themselves as victims of the Indian state, whereas they are the real perpetrators of organised violence against the average Kashmiri and the Indian state. Natwar Singh has rightly pointed out:

A word about the media. It is perhaps the most powerful instrumentality available. It can alter perception, provide hope, remove hopelessness. On February 27, 1950 (long before TV arrived), Jawaharlal Nehru, in a letter to the chief ministers, wrote: “I would suggest to you especially to keep in touch with editors of newspapers in your state. It is always a good thing to send for them and have informal off-the-record talks with them. Give them such real news as you possess.”[Business Standard]

A government that professes to uphold the legacy of Nehru could do no better than act on his words. And get the truth out on Kashmir. Fast.

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Looking differently at Kashmir

There is not just one way to look at the current situation in Kashmir.

Almost all the Sunday newspapers today have special reports, columns and commentaries on the situation in Kashmir. The underlying assumption in most, if not all of them is that Indian security forces have inhumanly massacred a group of innocent young Kashmiri kids. Moreover, the Indian state is not contrite about it; it is not magnanimous enough and if the Union government were to suddenly do the right thing — and not one commentator will tell you precisely what these right things are — the violence will immediately come to an end.

They ostensibly fail to comprehend that there is a time to contain a crisis and another time to address the issue. Even the greatest visionary can’t possibly be focused on reconstructing a house when the immediate goal is to dowse the fire engulfing the house. Let us quickly go over a few of the other misconceptions here.

The major issue that a lot of Indian commentators feel aggrieved over is the use of violence by the state to quell stone-pelters, which has even led to the “killing” — the choice of word is not death but killing — of a eight year old boy. Let us first look at the issue of the eight-year old’s death. While every single child’s death is lamentable, the question should instead be asked as to what such a young kid was doing at the frontline of violent protestors. What kind of a civil society uses its children as human shields and sacrificial lambs in public protests? The outrage should then be directed against protestors and their leadership, and not against the CRPF or JK Police. How are the security forces to distinguish within a mob comprising suspected terrorists (remember that the terrorists did open fire at the police during a protest in Sopore), violent young men who are torching police stations, teenage stone-pelters and young kids?

Another criticism that has been levelled against the security forces is that they should have used non-lethal means of crowd control. It is a fair criticism, but it ignores the fact that these very same security forces have been attuned to fighting terrorists for last two decades and a quick re-orientation is practically impossible in such a short period of time. This should not be bandied around as an excuse by any well-governed state — but J&K and India are anything but well-governed. However the state also can’t allow its writ to wither away and shrink away from its responsibility of maintaining law and order by giving violent mobs a free run, just because the security forces have no effective non-lethal options available with them. Even then, no one has disputed the fact that these lethal options have also been been used only in self-defence by the security forces so far.

The argument about these seemingly unpalatable state actions can also be framed in the context of the ancient Indian concept of Dharma. In the words of Gurcharan Das, the author of The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma:

The good Vidura tells us in the Mahabharata that in judging a king’s action he looks at results. If it benefits people, it is an act of dharma. Hence, a ruler would agree to “sacrifice an individual for the sake of a village and a village for the sake of a nation”. Vidura is half-brother and royal counsellor to the king of Hastinapur and he speaks from the experience of managing a state. In agreeing to sacrifice a person in order to save many, he has drawn a distinction between public and private dharma, a pragmatism that is uniquely suited to public policy. The English thinker, Jeremy Bentham, went on to make this criterion famous in the 19th century via his utilitarian slogan: “the greatest good of the greatest number.”[Business Standard]

Now to the other big issue of political gestures that Centre should announce to reconcile with the protestors and the separatists. Kashmir indeed could do with some big political gestures but the question is of timing. One of the newspapers has listed its wish-list of six steps that Centre should immediately announce. All the bloggers at INI have continuously proposed since 2008 that most of these steps should have been announced after the successful assembly elections of 2008, or after the UPA government returned to power at Delhi in 2009. That was the time for the Indian government to be magnanimous as that would have meant that it has responded to the faith in Indian democracy demonstrated by the Kashmiris. When a violent mob tries to coerce the Indian state into submission, it is perhaps not the best time to make any concessions as it is tantamount to conceding to blackmail. It also sends the message across to everyone else in the country that the Indian government is only amenable to the language of violence and coercion.

So, how and when should the big political steps come then? Firstly, they should, and necessarily must, come after the violence has been suppressed and a certain degree of normalcy has been restored in the state. The process of political engagement by back-channel has been established by the state government and it must continue. More importantly, these political steps must seen to have been initiated at the behest of the state government. That is perhaps also the best way to bolster the credibility of the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the state government in the state.

The state government indeed needs to go beyond even these political gestures or plans of economic development. It must also dispel the impression that three or four districts of Kashmir valley are the equivalent of the complete state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since the exodus of Kashmiri pundits from the Valley two decades ago, these districts have become ghettoised with only one particular sect of Muslims dominating the region. While the Kashmiri pundits may not be willing to come back in huge numbers — and understandably so — the state government must encourage and facilitate the movement of Shias (from Kargil region) and Gujjars and Bakarwals (from Rajauri-Poonch region) into the Valley so that these communities can also avail of the political and economic opportunities present there. It will also integrate the Valley socially and politically with other regions of the state, thereby lending itself less susceptible to being tricked into these periodic outbursts of mob violence.

Finally, it is true that Indian government has historically, starting from 1948, made a lot of mistakes in Kashmir. These errors have played a huge part in making the crisis that it is today. But the Indian government has made equally big mistakes in other parts of the country. Why haven’t we seen a similar crisis anywhere else? Is it because of what another commentator suggested: when we have continuously sent a message across to the Kashmiris that they are “special”, can we actually blame them for thinking that and behaving as if they are “special”?

Perhaps it is also time to visibly and publicly reinforce the Constitutional dictum that all Indians are equal. And equally special.

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Choosing the least worst option

Using the development pacakge to cover up for vacillation and prevarication by the political leadership in undertaking security operations against the Maoists is a recipe for disaster.

For the UPA government, development — without security — is the abiding mantra when it comes to solving the Maoist problem. Indian Express reports that “the Planning Commission is all set to approach the Union Cabinet for a proposed outlay of Rs 13,742 crore to wean away the tribals from sympathising with the Maoists through comprehensive infrastructure and economic development”. This is part of an integrated action plan by the Planning Commission for development projects in 35 Maoist-affected districts.

It is exactly these kind of development initiatives by the government in Maoist-infested areas that Bibek Debroy has questioned in his column in the Indian Express last week. He makes three succinct arguments against such proposals.

One, UPA-I had a special development package of Rs 20,000 crore, spread over three years and concentrated on these 33 districts and another 22 contiguous ones. If that public expenditure splurge did not work, what makes us think the present one will be any different?

Two, Bibek Debroy asks why are the government departments, ministries, state governments and even district administrations operating in their own silos. He doesn’t provide the answer but it is clearly a lack of national policy and decrepit governance mechanisms that are behind this dysfunctional governance.

Three, he raises the most important question about the top-driven model of development and the Maoist menace. What exactly does development mean?

…in looking at simple correlations with economic backwardness or shares of tribal population, we may be over-simplifying. For instance, beyond economic backwardness, there may be a sense of social and political marginalisation, non-existence of redress mechanisms, bypassing by the law and order machinery. Should one therefore have a centralised template, imposed top-down from Delhi, and assume it will solve the problem? Or should the integrated action plan evolve from below, from the level of districts? There is no doubt Balaghat needs roads. But that does not seem to be the primary issue for Aurangabad. Rural electrification is important in Rayagada, but less so in Rohtas.[Indian Express]

He then goes on to make another interesting argument about the NREGS being more acceptable to the Maoists because it has reduced out-migration, chiefly of the male variety. “Has it then also reinforced — instead of reducing — Maoist violence?”

There is another additional issue to be considered here. In an article in the CRPF’s in-house magazine ‘CRPF Samachar’ Inspector General (Special Action Force) Ashutosh Shukla had identified development funds being grabbed by the Maoists as a challenge for the government. If one were to conservatively estimate a 10% levy or cuts from these developmental projects for the Maoists in these districts, it would mean an accretion of Rs 1374 crore to the Maoist kitty. It goes without saying that such developmental aid packages — which are counterproductive to national interest — will be warmly welcomed by the Maoists and their overt sympathisers.

In a lawless environment with a weak government & high instability, developmental money generates & fuels conflict, it doesn’t alleviate it. It creates and sustains a conflict economy in the region which develops deeply entrenched interests for all the actors — Maoists, politicians, bureaucrats and security forces — and drives back any attempts to return to normalcy.

But if columnists, bloggers and twitter users can see this, then surely the government must also have realised by now that while security without development is meaningless, development, without security, is unachievable. Then why is the governement still continuing with such fallacious developmental plans, without establishing security first? The obvious answer is a lack of political will in the government. In simpler terms, or put cynically, this means that there is little electoral incentive for the ruling dispensation to pursue a rational and prudent course of action. With the next Lok Sabha polls still four years away, there is no price to pay for government inaction today.

Moreover, there is little analysis of the larger picture or questioning of the long-term impact of such decisions. This has created a false populist narrative which allows the government to get away with this course of action. Consider this debate about undertaking security operations against the Maoists. Most people realise and understand that any security operations undertaken against the Maoists now will be an ugly affair. This will entail suffering for the innocent, wanton loss of property and lives, allegations of human right violations against the state, adverse media publicity and some loss of lives of security forces personnel. Thus the government eschews security operations now in the hope that the feel-good development package will miraculously work somehow. But little do these people realise that this vacillation and procrastination by the government is only delaying the inevitable — a security operation will have to eventually take place against the Maoists. That security operation, at a later date, will be far uglier compared to what it will be today. There will be greater suffering and pain for the innocent, more wanton loss of property and lives, more brutality from both sides, worse media publicity and far greater loss of lives of security forces personnel.

To put it bluntly, there are simply no good options left for the government to embrace now. It has to choose the least worst option against the Maoists here. This is not an easy decision to take for the top political leadership of the country. But if it was such an easy choice, as Robert Gates so presciently put it, some one lower in the hierarchy would have already taken the call much earlier.

The price of failure to meet the challenges of good leadership today will be paid by the future generations. Can the top political leadership of the country rise to this challenge now and make the choice?

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A win-win strategy

A follow-up to the previous blogpost on a politically attractive anti-Maoist strategy.

Today’s Hindu has a brilliant piece by Praveen Swami explaining in great detail, and in a very rational manner, that the only way to secure victory against the Maoists is to build the local police forces and establish intelligence collection mechanisms at grassroots level. In theory, no one can disagree with the solution prescribed by the venerable journalist. But as with most such security solutions, these steps will take substantial time to implement and an even greater time to show results on ground. This strategy might be a Win strategy for the security professionals  but it is not a Win strategy for the politicians; because security goals are mid- to long-term while political goals — read electoral gains — are short-term in nature.

As explained in this blogpost yesterday, any anti-Maoist strategy has to be a Win-Win strategy for both the politicians and the security professionals. Any such strategy thus has to meet the following inviolable benchmarks: it must visibly stall the momentum of the Maoist onslaught with irreversible gains; the political class must be able to demonstrate successful results from the security strategy in a very short span of time; and it must allow the security forces to seamlessly build upon and reinforce the initial success. In response to the suggested strategy of security operations moving outwards in concentric circles like an oil drop, a couple of issues about the strategy have been flagged by commenters such as ex-R&AW chief Vikram Sood,  and my fellow blogger Retributions.

Retributions raised the very pertinent issue that as the state concentrates its forces in the designated target districts, it will provide an attractive target for the Maoists to launch their attacks in other districts. This danger exists but it needs to be borne in mind that other districts aren’t being completely denuded of security forces. These districts already suffer from insufficient forces but these security forces will now have to conduct counter-terror operations only to disrupt the Maoists. This will not be easy but it is far easier to disrupt the Maoists than to destroy them with limited forces, provided they have access to better intelligence. If there are setbacks, which will inevitably occur as Maoists retaliate to increasing pressure from the security forces, the government will have to manage the environment with a smart Strategic Communication strategy which focuses on the success of the state in the target district and highlights the desperation of the Maoists in launching their attacks.

There are a couple of issues raised by Mr Sood that deserve to be highlighted. His first point is the availability of the administrative resources to govern the target districts once the state has secured them, after clearing them of the Maoists. This should not be a problem for the first few districts where the state government can easily muster up the number of administrative and governance professionals from its cadre. Once the strategy progresses, the states will have no option but to regenerate the capacity for governance in its administrative cadre. A short-term solution to overcome this deficit has been proposed earlier at Pragati — to raise a new agency called CIMPCOR (Civilian Military Partnership for Conflict Resolution) for undertaking development in conflict-ridden environments. While the state governments would have to address the issue in the initial districts, the central government could raise and employ CIMPCOR for developmental work in the later districts as security operations move outwards.

The second issue raised by Mr Sood is of cultivating local intelligence. It is a challenge in any counterinsurgency but previous experience shows that once momentum seems to perceptibly shift towards the security forces, better intelligence is available to the government forces. This would need a strong push from the states and the centre which will have to progress concurrent to another step essential to the success of this strategy — police reforms.

The most substantive question though comes from Smita Prakash, Editor (News), Asian News International. Ms Prakash avers that it is not incumbent upon the security professionals and the media to make it worthwhile for politicians to accept a course of action. The political leadership has been elected to render national service and it is their bounden duty to do the right thing. While this is a noble and attractive thought, it ignores the Clausewitzean dictum that war is also politics by other means. Thus it is equally incumbent upon the security professionals to take note of the political considerations, while advising the political leadership or proposing a security strategy to the government.

An intellectual exercise in a political vacuum to devise a security strategy may be fit for seminars, conferences and professional journals but it will achieve little progress in the real-world of political decision-making. Moreover, as the situation stands today, the greatest challenge for this nation is to generate the political will to kick-start security operations against the Maoists immediately. If the political leadership is unwilling or unable to back the security professionals without any reservations, other stakeholders in the process have to find ways to force the political leadership to take the right decision. It may not be the ideal way of going about such things but it is certainly the most practical and pragmatic response to the current crisis. And it is surely in the national interest.

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A politically attractive anti-Maoist strategy

A security strategy for the Maoists that the political leadership can embrace. It stalls the momentum of the Maoist onslaught, shows immediate successful results, and reinforces the success in the long-term.

More than 148 Indians have been killed in a Railway accident — or incident in official parlance, whereas a Maoist attack would be a far more apt description — but the reaction from the government has left a lot to be desired.  A lot of media commentary has followed the tragedy, the fourth big one at the hands of the Maoists in last 40 days, ranging from senseless emotional rants to serious action plans to deal with the Maoists. Most of the commentary in the mainstream media wants the government to announce a security offensive against the Maoists while the government seems to be fighting shy of announcing any such plans.

So what lies at the heart of the issue? Why are the politicians so hesitant to accept the solutions being proposed by the security experts, even though these solutions appear rational and sensible? Is it good enough to merely blame the politicians for paying heed to their electoral fortunes? Finally, is there a way to craft a security offensive intertwined with a political narrative which would appear politically attractive to the country’s leadership?

Political goals in a democracy, primarily by nature of the electoral stakes involved, are short-term in nature whereas most of the security solutions will have an impact only in the mid- to long-term. There is thus little in the armoury of any politician, even if he or she strongly believes that security operations are the only way ahead against the Maoists, to convince her colleagues in the party or the government about her belief and strategy. A large section of the political class finds little incentive in supporting a course of action where they cannot visibly display the outcome as an immediate success. This gains greater importance in today’s world driven by the mainstream media’s transient attention span, which plays an increasingly important part in the decision-making calculus of the politicians.

When security experts indulge in an intellectual exercise in a political vacuum that doesn’t further the political leadership’s goal, the political leadership has no reason to unstintingly support these plans. It is a challenge for the security professionals to bridge the gap between short-term political and mid- to long-term security goals. But this challenge is not insurmountable and the operational constraints can actually lead to the best solution.

Indubitably, there is a pressing need for the government to arrest the momentum building in the favour of the Maoists wherein the state seems to have ceded the political and security space to them. At present it seems as if the Maoists can attack at will anywhere in the Red Corridor without any fear of retaliation from the state. The state has no choice but to reverse this trend. Its actions have to build morale of own forces and clearly demonstrate the paramount authority of the state to the nation at large.

Currently the government has provided a smattering of central forces scattered all over the Maoist-affected states. Even if these forces were not as ill-equipped, poorly-trained and poorly-led as they are today, their numbers would not be sufficient to cover all the affected areas simultaneously. Let us remember that there were nearly 600,000 soldiers, paramilitary personnel and cops dealing with barely 1000 active militants in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. If one counts the total area under the Maoist influence and the civilian population affected by the Maoist threat, the number of security forces required will then go up even further. There is no way the state can immediately conjure up that quantum of force, whether military, paramilitary or police. This resource constraint actually provides the clue about devising the short-term strategy for dealing with the Maoists.

For generating an overwhelming superiority of forces against the Maoists at any given time, the state must per force bring a concentration of its forces to a smaller area, at a place of its own choosing. This could mean identifying a district or two in each of the affected states and reinstating the writ of the state there. The central government can assemble the desired strength of forces by bringing in adequate number of central paramilitary forces, along with the newly-raised 10 battalions of Special Action Force (erstwhile COBRA units), some special forces teams from the army/ NSG and adequate Indian Air Force resources for air support operations. The state government must support these operations by posting its best police officers and developmental officials in the target district. It is likely that the Maoists will not indulge in a direct fight with the security forces but will choose to walk away from of the district. However that would still serve the purpose of the government as after clearing the target district with few casualties, it will need lesser forces — mainly from the state government — to hold the area, and the development agencies could then build upon the security situation.

Imagine a district like Dantewada being selected by the government as the target district in Chattisgarh to start with, and the strategic communication victory it would provide to the government within a few weeks of commencing its operations. This is something tangible that the politicians supporting the security operations can showcase as a success in the short-term to their political supporters and to the nation. And an initial success story will convince many of the fence-sitters in the political class, media and the intelligentsia to come out openly in the support of security operations. It will also firm up the political will of the government to act against the Maoists.

Thereon, this target district could act like the centre of an oil drop from where the control of the government would then extend outwards in concentric circles. As the security operations progress outwards from this target district, state would need to commit far greater resources for the effort. Not only will the Maoists start striking back for the fear of being pushed in a corner, the increase in area of operations will automatically necessitate more security forces, more police to maintain law and order, and more government machinery to undertake the development effort. Thankfully this oil drop strategy of starting with a target district and expanding outwards provides us with a time-window to overcome this drawback.

If all the mid- to long-term suggestions being made by the security experts can be acted upon now, they’d be ready to deliver when normalcy has been restored in the first few target districts. The centre and the state governments will have to immediately raise more Special Action Force battalions, carve out a new ministry of internal security at the centre, create operation & intelligence war-rooms at the state and district levels, initiate police reforms in all states, craft a clear political mandate and implement a media-management policy as part of this mid- to long-term action-plan. These mid- to long-term plans are important to execute concurrently with the initial security operations, if the momentum of the short-term success against the Maoists has to be made irreversible.

If the political leadership is serious about eradicating the Maoist menace, the most prudent course of action will be to plan a joint strategy with the state governments, identify the districts in each state to launch the initial  security operations, institute the mid- to long-term reformist steps and articulate the strategy to the nation. Letting the  security operations expand in concentric circles while the state builds its capacity to undertake the larger gamut of security operation and developmental activities is the only way to craft a political success story that also takes care of the national security imperatives; the state can then stall the momentum of the Maoist onslaught, show immediate successful results, and reinforce the success in the long-term. If that sounds like a plan, can we hear it from the government now?

[NB -- Thanks to @thecomicproject for raising these important questions in an offline brainstorming session that led to this blogpost.]

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The new business of terror in J&K

First, organised stone pelting and now, outsourced terror strikes.

Stone pelting by protesters during demonstrations is not a new thing. Over the past decades, our drawing rooms have been satiated with images beamed from all over the world — places in Europe, South East Asia, West Asia and South America easily come to the mind — where protesters have pelted stones against the security forces.  In Jammu & Kashmir,  stone pelting [kani jung in local lingo] gained popularity in the 1960s — when supporters of National Conference called sher (lions) and of the Awami Action Committee called bakra (goats) — would indulge in clashes that known as sher-bakra battles. But the recent news-reports of stone pelting in Kashmir valley have put these incidents under a sharper focus. So what is so different about stone-pelting in Kashmir valley this time around?

For one simple reason. Unlike the usual incidents of stone-pelting which are an expression of spontaneous outburst by the protesters, there is substantive evidence to prove that the latest rounds of stone-pelting in Kashmir valley are a well organised racket, a lucrative business being run at the behest of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed separatists. Having failed to reignite the fire of militancy in Kashmir valley in recent years — despite increased attempts at infiltration during the winter months from south of Pir Panjal ranges — this is indicative of a changed tactic against the security forces and the elected government of the state. Political parties like the PDP have jumped in to the fray with their voices of tacit support to stone-pelters further adding to the discomfiture of the state government. It must not, though, be forgotten that these incidents are restricted to only 8-10 police stations in the state but the extensive media coverage enhances their impact and visibility manifold.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to devise a counter-tactics to disrupt and degrade this menace of stone pelting. Simple actions like prompt use of non-lethal weapons, arrest of ring-leaders, jamming of mobile communication signals, close circuit cameras in affected areas, timely intelligence gathering, and community meetings with local elders on Friday mornings would go a long way in curtailing the menace. The most critical  aspect of this response is the speed at which the security forces adapt to changing tactics of the protesters. That is the key from preventing this stone-pelting business to turn into a scourge and dominate the narrative in the local media.

The state government — to be fair to it — has responded but not as nimbly as it should have. It has even declared stone-pelting as a crime amounting to waging war against the state and has started booking individuals under this charge. More interestingly, in a very astute move last year, Srinagar police chief Afadul Mujtaba had tried to thwart stone-pelting by claiming that there is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad that prohibits stone pelting. It generated a lot of debate in the Kashmiri media where some religious scholars supported him while others including the separatist leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani obviously expressed their disagreement. In light of the spurt in stone-pelting incidents in recent months, that debate seems to have been sealed in the favour of the separatists and the stone-pelters.

From North East to Punjab, history tells us that the Indian state eventually does find its own ways to successfully counter the separatists and their tactics. There is no reason that it is going to be any different this time around. However, that is little cause for satisfaction. The Pakistani military-jehadi complex has already moved on to a new tactics in Jammu & Kashmir: outsourcing terror strikes to freelancing terrorists still operating in the state, while various jehadi groups stake their claim for these terror incidents.

Having failed to keep the militancy in the state alive both politically and militarily, these new tactics are evidently signs of desperation from the separatists and their Pakistani backers. It can be safely assumed that they will continue to devise newer methods and tactics to confound the security forces and embarrass the state government. The  security forces and the state government will have to respond to the changed tactics adequately and in a calibrated manner; but it is the alacrity and nimbleness of the response that will remain the biggest challenge.

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