Tag Archives | security operations

Break the cycle of violence

The state has no choice but to launch sustained security operations to quell the current spate of violence in Kashmir.

Curfew has been imposed in nine districts in Jammu & Kashmir, says one of the agency reports today. In all likelihood, it means to say that parts of these nine districts are under curfew although it conveys the impression — wrong impression — that the complete jurisdiction of these nine districts is under the curfew. Notwithstanding this anomaly where major incidents of violence in state are still limited to less than 15 police stations, the situation in J&K has worsened in recent days. Violence continues nearly unabated and it is not something that any well-meaning Indian can be comfortable with.

There has been a lot of lamentation and commentary on the subject. Commentators have delved into the causes of the morass: stagnant economy of the region, lack of mass engagement from mainstream political leaders in the state, Pakistani hand in fomenting this organised stone-pelting after failing to reignite militancy, mistakes compounded by New Delhi’s inaction in the aftermath of successful assembly polls in 2008 under the assumption that normalcy had returned, historical aspects of the problem, and religious dimensions of the issue. Perhaps, all of these have contributed in some measure to the problem as it exists today. But that also means that there is no single root cause which can be deracinated instantenously to fix the problem.

A lot can be said about each of these causes — and their long-term impact — but that would serve no purpose today. The pressing question is about the immediate steps that the governments, both at the centre and the state, must take for the sake of the ordinary Kashmiri. These immediate steps, considering the violent situation of the last few days, will have to be security-centric, focused on a single goal: to break this incessant cycle of violence. Let us not forget that peace and security is the primary responsibility of the state towards its citizens. Moreover, this would lead to re-establishing the rule of law, bring a certain degree of normalcy in daily routine of the average Kashmiri and re-impose the authority of the state. This will break the momentum which the violent mob — and their separatist leaders — have generated in the favour of stone-pelting, provide some respite to beleaguered security forces and change the prevailing narrative in the media.

Any political engagement or talks with ‘all shades of opinion’ in the state can only occur — let alone succeed — once the state is able to suppress, if not eradicate, the current spate of violence. Those who seek a political solution to the problem and purport to be a voice for the legitimate aspirations of the average Kashmiri must thus support and goad the state into action on this path —  to quell the violence immediately.

Quelling the violence now, however, will not be easy for the state. It would be a throw-back to the era of the Punjab militancy, where an equally violent situation was brought under control by the state police and the paramilitary forces. It will be ugly; there could be a few instances of state’s high-handedness; there will be some not-so-nice images coming out from the state; it will not win India any brownie points internationally; and such measures will require unstinting support of the political leadership of the state and the centre.

But as the old saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. There are no easy choices left for the state. It has to launch a cohesive, strong and sustained security response to quell the violence and restore a certain degree of normalcy for the populace. The reduction of violence to acceptable levels should, and must, be followed by bold political initiatives from the Indian government. Else India would have again stolen failure from the jaws of success.

Failure is not an option. The state must knuckle down and brazen it out. And bring a stop to this madness of violence in J&K immediately.

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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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A politically incorrect idea

The government must stop all development in areas under Maoist control and redouble its development activities in areas contiguous to those under Maoist control.

In a sense, it was nice to see the Parliament get down to the business of discussing Maoists. By all accounts, the debate in the Rajya Sabha [pdf] was of a particularly high standard. While the debate was overwhelmingly in the favour of concerted security offensive against the Maoists, the question whether development should precede, be coterminous or follow the security operations continues to be raised. Here, the sequence enunciated by the Union Home Minister in the Rajya Sabha appears to be the right one: carry out counter-insurgency operations, regain control of areas dominated by the Naxalites, restore the civil administration, and re-start development work.

However, while this might be the theoretical conception of the strategy, the government is actually trying to make development coterminous to the security operations in Maoist-affected areas. On the face of it, this sounds like a well-meaning plan, which addresses the concerns about development raised by a section of the Congress party. Thus, earlier this week, the government reviewed its development plans for 33 worst Maoist-affected districts at the level of the Cabinet Secretary and chief secretaries of seven states.

Despite the best intentions of the government, only a small part of the money allocated for development activities in these districts has been expended [41.04% under Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), 57.44% under NRHM and 37.60% for programmes under the Forest Rights Act from April 2009 to January 2010] . Even then, it is doubtful that the outcome on the ground matches the budgeted outlays of the government. For e.g., not a single road under the PMGSY has been completed in Bijapur district while just one of the 50 PMGSY roads is complete in Dantewada district of Chattisgarh. The situation is no different in other states because the Maoists are not willing to let any state agency undertake development activities in the areas controlled by them. Thus, one can safely conclude that firstly, the government is unable to spent the allocated money for development projects in these areas due to security reasons; and secondly, in case it does so, the expenditure doesn’t translate into concrete results on the ground.

Another connotation of this is that the money being expended on developmental projects is thus actually filling up Maoists coffers by various taxes and levies imposed on the agencies involved in these activities by the Maoists. This view is also buttressed by reports that Maoists are not opposed to the NREGA in these areas [72.76% of NREGA funds have been disbursed in these areas]. As the NREGA creates no permanent assets and has been proven to be prone to high levels of corruption, the NREGA perhaps provides a far easier way for the Maoists to generate funds. It means that the Maoists are fighting the government by actually using the funds provided by the government for development of these areas.

Thinking it through logically would suggest that the government should stop allocating developmental funds for the Maoist-affected regions till the security operations are completed in these areas. It should instead allocate these funds for development to the peaceful areas contiguous  to the regions worst-affected by the Maoist menace. This will provide the obvious advantage of drying a source of easy income for the Maoists. Moreover, it will incentivise the peaceful regions by providing greater development there. This will also negate the complaint of the leftist intelligentsia that the government is using security situation as an excuse to not undertake development and berate the Maoists, as it would have otherwise developed the other neighbouring peaceful areas in the region. It could also lead the tribals and other local population in Maoist affected regions to question the Maoist propaganda, and eventually wean them away from whatever sympathies they have for Maoist ideology. By showcasing development in peaceful areas, the state could craft a winning strategy against the Maoists in what is essentially a battle for the hearts and minds of the local population.

Moreover, when the security operations in the Maoist-affected areas are concluded, additional money could be allocated to them by reducing the allocation of these contiguous peaceful areas which have benefited now. This would lead to more focused and wholesome development of both the peaceful, and the not-so-peaceful regions over a few years.

In essence, the strategy of the central and the state government should be a two-pronged one now: concerted security operations in Maoist affected areas with no developmental work attempted there, and redoubled developmental effort in areas contiguous to the Maoist affected ones.

Needless to say, in an electoral democracy, such an idea will remain a pipe-dream because of the need of the political parties to win parliamentary and assembly seats in the region. No democratically elected government can afford to announce stoppage of all developmental aid to certain areas — whether Maoist infested or not — because it is bad optics which will lead to adverse publicity, and mobilise public opinion in the favour of its political opponents.

A far more practical solution then could be to reduce the developmental aid to the Maoist affected regions to a bare minimum and maintain the pretence of undertaking developmental activities there. That, however, will not achieve anything on its own, if it is not simultaneously backed by substantive visible results produced by redoubling of developmental efforts in neighbouring peaceful areas.

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Beyond CRPF in Dantewada

Restricting the analysis and recommendations to the operational failure  and professionalism of the CRPF deflects the attention away from other pressing issues.

In the aftermath of the Dantewada attack, besides the unusually sharp broadsides against Ms. Arundhati Roy on social media networks by popular journalists, there have been three note-worthy pieces analysing the incident and recommending certain courses of action for the future. Manoj Joshi in Mail Today, Pranab Dhal Samanta in the Indian Express and K Subrahmanyam in the Times of India are broadly in agreement in their analysis and recommendations after the Dantewada maasacre.

The analysis is simple and pretty straight forward. The Central Reserve Police Force is poorly trained, suffers from poor leadership and has inadequate command and control structures. Thus it fell easy prey to the designs of the Maoists at Dantewada. The paramilitary force thus needs to be not only trained by the army but also needs to draw the right lessons from the army’s success in counterinsurgency operations across the country. A far more prudent way to do this is to follow the suggestion made by the Kargil Review Committee to reduce the coloured service of army soldiers to seven years and transfer them laterally to the paramilitary forces thereafter. The crux of their argument is that the paramilitary force which has to take on the Maoists, has to be less police and more military in nature. The training, equipping, manning, officering, leadership and morale of this paramilitary force will have to be comparable to Assam Rifles/ Rashtriya Rifles/ Army.

This makes perfect sense as a more professional force is an absolute necessity to take on the Maoists militarily. But a more professional force will not achieve everything by itself. There are other equally important issues that need to be resolved before a superior paramilitary force starts making a difference. The 800 pound elephant in the room is the question of ownership of these security operations; who owns these operations: centre or the states? While Mr. Chidambaram may be the public face of anti-Maoist operations for the average Indian, this statement by him today — and expressed many times earlier also — explains the situation far better.

We will provide paramilitary forces to the state governments to assist them to carry out anti-naxal operations, regain control so that they can restore the developmental process. So, therefore, whether the operations will continue or intensify, these decisions have to be taken by the state government and the operational commanders.[NDTV]

The paramilitary force is a tool available to the state government. Unless all the state governments, acting in concert, decide to use this tool effectively, even providing the elite NSG commandos in place of the beleaguered CRPF companies will not make a difference. The JD(U), the JMM, the Trinamool Congress and the CPI(M) have not come fully on board the centre’s plan to take on the Maoists. Even if some state governments — say Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh — conduct aggressive  anti-Maoist operations, they will only succeed in squeezing the Maoists out into the other states. The Maoists are crafty enough to keep the threshold of their violence low in sympathetic states. Thus they avert greater public pressure being created on these ‘friendly’ state governments to conduct more aggressive operations against them.

This challenge is unlike any other challenge encountered in counterinsurgency campaigns by the Indian government so far. Each of those earlier insurgencies were restricted to the boundaries of a single state, where either the state government could be convinced or coerced by the Centre to support counterinsurgency operations, or the state brought under President’s Rule and operations directed by the Centre. With the creation of these smaller states a decade ago, the Maoist problem now spans seven states, where each of them is ruled by a different political formation.

Unless the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister can display political acuity to bring all the states on board — however unlikely it may seem now — the only other practical option left is to fast-track the implementation of  directions of the Supreme Court on Police Reforms. All the states must be convinced, coerced, sopped, or whatever else it takes, by the Centre to enact the Draft Model Police Act of 2006 [pdf]. The provision of Special Security Zones should be invoked for the severely Maoist-affected districts and centre should then take direct control of security operations in these Zones.

No counterinsurgency campaign can succeed without the cooperation of the local police. Civil police has roots in the society and is an important stakeholder in the security environment of that area. Punjab provides an outstanding example of success achieved by the local police force in closing a successful counterinsurgency campaign. Even beyond Punjab, the army, Assam Rifles, Rashtriya Rifles and the paramilitary forces have achieved outstanding results against the insurgents only when they have worked in close coordination with the local police forces.

Concurrently, a new ministry of internal security must be created out of the ministry of Home Affairs to focus on the law and order and internal security situation in the country. This ministry must have new structures commensurate to the task of conducting military-like security operations against the Maoists. Processes related to strategy, resources, equipping, manning, media management, communications, logistics, intelligence, training and administration must be put in place by imbibing the best practices from the army and by drawing on successful COIN experiences of other countries.

Indian Army, although it sounds counter-intuitive to state, shall not be able to provide all the answers to the problems faced by the paramilitary forces in anti-Maoist operations. More than Jammu & Kashmir, its experience of Nagaland in the 1950s and 60s, and of Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka could provide relevant lessons due to similarities in terrain and Maoist tactics with those insurgents. Unfortunately, little institutional memory exists on lessons learned during those operations which can be readily transferred to the paramilitary forces now. In a similar vein, the paramilitary force deployed against the Maoists must concentrate on drawing the right lessons from the experience of US military in Vietnam.

On equipping of the paramilitary forces, Mr. Chidambaram has pointed out the lack of capacity in the public and private sector in India to produce high quality modern equipment like the Mine Protected Vehicles in adequate numbers. The blame for this must be solely laid at the doors of UPA 1.0 and UPA 2.0 for continuing with the policy of 26% cap on FDI in defence sector. Similarly, a fair share of air assets of the Indian Air Force — 17 helicopters — continue to be deployed with loss-making UN peacekeeping missions when they could be far more effectively utilised to support the security operations against the Maoists.  India, it seems, is paying a heavy price — with the lives of its paramilitary cops — for these decisions not taken by the government on time.

While the media commentary is focused solely on the poor quality of paramilitary forces, there are many other equally pressing issues — ownership of the operations by the states, police reforms, Ministry of Internal Security, provision of military hardware — which need to be tackled on a war-footing. In the absence of some hard and immediate decisions on these issues by the government, the militarisation of paramilitary forces by itself will achieve little.

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To tackle Maoists, begin with police reforms

Draft Model Police Act of 2006, a part of police reforms, provided for Special Security Zones to overcome the differences between states on conducting security operations against Maoists.

Maoists are back in news again. Two dastardly attacks, one kidnapping, one Chief Minister publicly capitulating before the Maoists, another Chief Minister who publicly opposes any use of force against the Maoists and a union minister who doesn’t share the union cabinet’s convictions about Maoist menace in her state.

But the debate on the Maoist menace in this country — as has always happened earlier — will be taken over by extraneous issues: why are intellectuals supporting the Maoists; are Maoists terrorists or misguided youth; shouldn’t we have development and real democracy before security operations; let’s call the Maoists for talks first; it is Chidamabram versus Kishenji; lamentations about the poor state of our security forces; and so on. These issues are passé and need to be kept out of any debate hence forth. The government of India has already decided to conduct and facilitate security operations against the Maoists and re-establish the writ of the Indian state in the areas controlled by the Maoists. The issue to be considered now is to identify the most effective — and efficient — ways to successfully conduct these security operations. All the actions of the state — and the nation, by extension — should be aligned to break the will of the Maoists to fight. Nothing more, nothing less.

The biggest road block in such synergistic action by the country happens to be the constitutional stipulation of law and order being a state subject. As the Maoists affect the electoral outcome in these states, the elected state governments  [Congress in Andhra Pradesh earlier, JMM-BJP in Jharkhand, the NDA government in Bihar now and a prospective Trinamool-Congress government in West Bengal] are keen to emphasise their primacy in the domain of law and order to avoid any substantive security operations against the Maoists.

So what is the solution then? Ensuring that all the state governments are on the same page as the centre is one. But generating a political consensus and robust political will to act is an impossible dream in today’s India. Simply because there is little likelihood that an anti-Maoist state government would win elections in a state controlled by the Maoists (e.g. Jharkhand assembly polls in 2009).

Before we look at other solutions, let us take a short detour here. When it comes to fighting jehadi terror, it is very easy in this country to start a debate about the role of Pakistan and how India should either talk or bomb Pakistan out. Little attention though is paid in the aftermath of the terror strike to strengthening our internal security mechanisms, a process which has to start with the civil police. If this nation were to direct one-tenth of the attention and energy it devotes towards Bollywood and Cricket on to Police Reforms, India would be a far safer country today. And it would have certainly saved the lives of many more Indians than Bollywood and cricket put together have saved so far. [Note -- This blogger is not against Bollywood or Cricket, but against the disproportionately high bandwidth relative to their importance being captured by them in the national narrative.]

These police reforms are extremely important while fighting the Maoists as well. Had these reforms taken place, say in 2000, they would have obviously led to a more robust police force handling the law and order situation, including the Maoist menace, far more professionally than it does today. It doesn’t end there though. Even if the police reforms in this country were implemented sincerely after the Supreme Court decision of 2006, we would by now have a clear way to overcome the problem of different states pursuing different policies against the Maoists.

It is worth remembering that one of the important components of police reforms was the introduction of a new Model Police Act. The draft act was submitted to the government in October 2006 but is yet to see the light of the day across the country. The annual report card of the Home ministry for 2009 perfunctorily notes:

A copy of the draft Model Police Act was sent to the States for consideration and appropriate action. The Model Police Act provides for well-defined duties of the Police towards the public and accountability to the rule of law. A number of States have either framed New Police Acts or amended the existing Acts.[PIB]

That statement is typical bureaucratic obfuscation as very few states — barring those in the North East who need centre’s largesse tied to these reforms — have actually implemented it in letter and spirit. Kiran Bedi explains why passing of that model act by the states would have helped the nation unleash effective anti-Maoist operations.

I had a part in drafting the Model Police Act of 2006. it was submitted to the Government on October 30, 2006 and was chaired by Soli Sorabjee. First, it went nationwide and then to a small group. We deliberated on Chapter 11, Policing in the Context of Border and Internal Security, and I remember we deliberated on what to do? Can we go about it state-wise or can we look at it as a zone? And the suggestion was the creation of Special Security Zones (SSZ) something which Marwah also just mentioned. I am looking at the SSZ of the affected states which includes portions of West Bengal, Andhra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh etc., In Section 112, if the security of an area is threatened by insurgency, any terrorist or any militant activities of any organized crime groups, the Union Government may with the concurrence of the state government declare such area as a SSZ. Any such notification will be placed before appropriate legislature for ratification within six months from the date of issue or first sitting of the legislature provided further that the period of notification shall not exceed two years unless it is ratified by the Parliament with the concurrence of the state legislature. It also said that the state government shall create an appropriate police structure and a suitable command control and response system for each such special security zone.[India Today]

Police reforms, lest it be construed otherwise, are merely a start point in the whole gamut of things that need to be done to strengthen internal security. They are not a panacea to all the ills afflicting our internal security structures and processes. Lamentably, even this initial gambit of police reforms — despite the half-hearted attempts of the Supreme Court — hasn’t really moved forward in this country so far.  One of the possible ways to move forward is the GST model of bringing all the states on board.

The roll-over of police reforms remains a enormous challenge. It is a political challenge that has to be overcome forthwith if India has to be internally secure — from the threat of the jehadis or the violence of the Maoists or the hooliganism of political actors like the Shiv Sena.

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Melting Maoists

If it plans to melt into anonymity, the fleeing Maoist leadership can only be neutralised by intelligence from the local police.

Sankarshan Thakur warns the Indian government of one of the fall-outs of their voluble anti-Maoist strategy.

Intelligence inputs reaching here from parts of Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Jharkhand suggest that large numbers of cadres may leave their jungle bases and “melt away into urban anonymity” over the next few weeks as part of a thought-out tactic.

“It makes good sense for them,” said a senior intelligence official based here. “They don’t have the firepower the government is in the process of employing. By vanishing initially, they will not only escape a full-blown assault, they will also be able to draw security forces deeper into their habitat and trap them in a long-drawn guerrilla conflict.”[Telegraph]

Once the security operations announced by the Home Minister against them proceeds, the Maoists will have three options: fight, flee or surrender. Only the extremely naive would expect the Maoists to fight pitched battles with the security forces for territorial control of the so called Red Corridor. Surrender, at this point of time, when the security operations have not commenced yet — even with the government’s money for surrender offer on the table — would be too premature an option for the Maoists. The only choice then left for the Maoists is to flee from the battle.

While this scatting from the scene may be currently being sold as a well-thought out melting pot strategy by the Maoist sympathisers, the real situation will only be known after a few weeks of security operations. If the security operations are successful in neutralising a fair share of the top and middle-rung leadership of the Maoists during that period, there might not be enough motivation left for the majority of remaining cadre to use the hit-and-run guerilla tactics. The melting plot could then well turn out to be a Maoist meltdown.

The success of these specific counter-terrorist [CT] operations against the committed Maoist leadership is predicated on hard intelligence. It is impossible for the majority of central paramilitary forces to develop reliable intelligence sources in the area within a few days of their deployment. Intelligence acquisition is a painstaking process that takes years, if not months, to develop, stabilise and mature. In the absence of reliable intelligence resources of their own, these central forces have to per force rely on the local policemen. Thus the relationship between the local police and the central forces assumes critical importance in these operations. The so-called lathi wielding cop, armed with a bolt-action 303 rifle, might be of little use as a frontline soldier in a pithed battle against a highly motivated and well-trained insurgent, but that policeman is perhaps the only one who can identify the overground supporters of the Maoist movement in his area for the security forces. Once they are assured of the state’s resolve to completely finish this scourge of left wing extremism, many policemen should venture out with information that could be critical to the success of  CT operations by the central forces.

It is not that there aren’t any Maoist moles inside the state police forces. Presence of such elements will lead to some botched operations but these setbacks will have to be taken in the stride by the central forces. Rather than decry the complete police apparatus in these areas as capitulated and compromised, the junior leadership of the central forces will have to take an appropriate decision about the level of cooperation and quality of intelligence at a local level. This discernment can not happen at the level of joint committees at state police headquarters or at the MHA in North Block.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s propagandist nature of the impending anti-Maoist operations has made many in the media and society uncomfortable about the nature of these operations. While this visible display of government’s resolve has made the costs of failure unbearably high, it has its upsides as well. Firstly, it has counterintuitively avoided a lot of needless violence with the Maoists running away from a direct fight against the security forces due to these bold pronouncements. Secondly, an unequivocal display of state’s support is liable to give the morale of the local police forces and central security forces a much-needed boost after the continued state apathy of the last many years.

These pronouncements by the Home Minister are the proverbial first step in this journey of a thousand miles. There will be many bumps on the road ahead. These security operations will not be perfect. It is the government’s assured response to these setbacks that will place the wind at the security forces’ back. It is only then that the security forces will reach their destination, sooner rather than later.

Related stories – Outlook cover story on the anti-Maoist operations by Saikat Datta and Harinder Baweja’s interview with K.P.S. Gill at Tehelka.

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A thing worth doing well

There is no alternative to this war against the Maoists. It must be thus resourced to the full.

There are two types of opposition to the anti-Maoist security operations planned by the Home ministry. The first one are the left-liberal bleeding hearts who are dead against any kind of security operations against the Maoists. It would be foolish to give these protestations any serious attention. They are, in the words of Macbeth, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

The other kind of opposition is the one that ought to be taken seriously by the policy makers in the Home ministry. These opponents agree with the necessity of security operations but believe that the government is getting too caught up in this rhetoric of proactive action.They believe that while the intent of the Union Home minister is laudable, the approach and the execution of these operations leaves a lot to be desired.

Hurried and ill-planned operations, using troops that are unfamiliar with local conditions, lacking hard intelligence, in many cases, under-trained, ill-prepared and under-equipped, and in all cases, lacking the critical mass of manpower needed to saturate the areas in which the Maoists have established their disruptive dominance.

But hasty and misdirected initiatives, far from advancing resolution, will undermine the legitimacy and authority of the forces and infinitely compound the basic problems themselves. Policymakers are yet to understand the fundamentals of protracted war, and remain trapped in the obsolete ‘battalion approach’ – mechanically shuffling troops around from theatre to theatre – with little regard to force composition and capabilities, the imperatives of local conditions, and the need for responses based on detailed local intelligence and understanding.[Outlook]

While poorly executed security operations in no way take away from the necessity of these operations against Maoists, decisiveness and urgency can not be an excuse for ill-conceived operations. Even if the policy decisions have been taken at the highest levels, and a sound strategy is in place, the resources to successfully execute that strategy — not only in terms of quantity, but equally importantly in terms of quality of resources — have to be in place. Training, equipping, intelligence gathering, COIN tactics and junior leadership provided to the security forces employed in anti-Maoist operations have to be of the highest standards.

In a sense, India is lucky to be conducting these operations during a period when a plethora of literature and resources are available on conducting COIN, courtesy US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. If these can be combined with the lessons learned by Indian army and paramilitary forces in fighting other insurgencies in the country — Punjab, Kashmir and in the North East — and adapted to suit the local environment, there would be no need to reinvent the proverbial wheel again. There can be no better motivation for the government and the security forces than getting it right the first time around.

The spirits are high right now at the Home Ministry with the visible public support as the country is expecting a swift and sure victory against the Maoists. But once there are some setbacks encountered during these operations, the situation will be rather different for the gung ho Home Minister: public and media will get exhausted of these unending battles, political will at the highest level will start flagging, human rights groups will come out with scathing reports of HR violations and vested interests in keeping the conflict economy afloat would get more deeply entrenched, thereby making his job extremely difficult.

The war against Maoists is a necessary war, not a war of choice, and the nation cannot even contemplate fighting its way to a defeat in this war. It is perhaps time for Mr. Chidambaram, and his team at the Home Ministry, to remember that worn-out cliché: a thing worth doing is certainly worth doing well. They should not only do this, but do this well.

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Mukul Kesavan has a cause

Not in opposing Operation Green Hunt, but in ensuring that the government completes its strategy by undertaking development.

From berating popular media anchors for parroting the government line and comparing Home Ministry’s plans to seize the security initiative against the Maoists to George Bush led US military operations against Iraq, Mukul Kesavan covers a lot of ground in his weekend column for Mint. In fact, so disparate are his many threads that it is a challenge to pick out the central argument in his piece which vehemently opposes Operation Green Hunt, the name given to the centrally-coordinated operation to be launched by the police and paramilitary forces against the Maoists.

The home minister’s primary justification for Operation Green Hunt is that the State can’t allow its authority, its monopoly over violence, to be flouted with impunity.[Mint]

Mukul conveys a wrong impression when he renders this primary justification to be some kind of an ego trip for the minister and his government, as if Maoist violence is an affront to their personal fiefdom. Does he really believe that the government is in a mindless competition with the Maoists for greater violence without any larger aim?

Although it is a function of governance to ensure that the  writ of a democratically elected government runs over a territory, to assert state’s monopoly over violence in this case can at best be a secondary — perhaps even a tertiary aim. More dangerously, invoking this theoretical construct converts this pressing national issue into an otiose ideological debate that deflects attention from the real questions at hand.

If one were to see rationally, the actual reasons for anti-Maoist security operations are more realistic and rooted to the situation on ground. This battle against the Maoists is an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of the people who have willy-nilly suffered from apathy, neglect and dereliction of its duty by the state over the last 62 years. The cause, a lack of development emanating from poor governance, can only be ameliorated by improving governance and undertaking economic and social development that leads to better lives for the affected populace. The Maoists, under the pretext of an outdated ideology, violently — and often brutally — deny any attempts by the state to bring development to the people. If a contrite state has to make amends for its past failures of misgovernance and undertake development, it needs to re-establish its presence in those areas.  Notwithstanding assertions by a former chairman of the national anti-Naxalite task force in the Union home ministry to the contrary, the only possible way to do that is by successfully executing security operations against the Maoists first.

Security here has two distinct yet overlapping connotations: recapturing territory and winning over the population. These correspond to the first two stages of COIN in terms of the famous Petreaus doctrine: Clear, Hold and Build. The third stage of Build translates into development. Development can only, and must, follow security. If the state stops short of undertaking development, then  commentators like Mukul  must hold the government accountable. As conscience keepers of the nation, they have an invaluable role in keeping the government honest and in ensuring that the government delivers on its promises by pursuing the anti-Maoist strategy to its logical end.

In addition, the media must also ask the government tough questions about strategy of the security forces, COIN tactics and collateral damage while the operations are planned or are in progress against the Maoists. But that would require the Delhi-based media to move into the field, out of their cosy studios where they indulge in juvenile pontifications and high-pitched arguments that befit a school debate.

Mukul — and others of his ilk — do a great disservice when they oppose what is a crucial, first stage towards bringing the fruits of India’s growth to those at the margins of the society. As a staunch liberal democrat, Mukul must realise that the success of these security operations — with some painful attendant consequences — is critical to proving that an inclusive Indian liberal democracy will always be superior to an archaic and brutal ideology borrowed from its northern neighbour.

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