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Modernise, Don't Militarise

Curbing the red-spread needs a nuanced approach. Highly militarised British and American methods of dealing with insurgency and terrorism need to be curbed, just as we need to Improve the technical capabilities of the police in matters such as mine-d

Modernise, Don't Militarise

(To be read in continuation of my earlier article of February, 14, 2005, titled The Ghosts of Mao)

The police forces of different states and the intelligence agencies have had  several successes to their credit in dealing with  essentially urban terrorism, initially of the Khalistani terrorists in Punjab and subsequently of  the jihadi terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and other parts of India. But, they continue to face serious difficulties in controlling the spreading fire of the rural terrorism of the Maoists.

There are many reasons for this. The first is the fact that the Maoists--who have taken to terrorism on ideological grounds--have genuine root causes for doing so--the continuing pockets of abject poverty, particularly in the tribal areas across central India, and the failure of the state to implement an effective programme for the economic development of the tribal areas. As a result of these root causes, Maoist terrorism enjoys considerable popular support unlike the Khalistani terrorism, which did not, and the current jihadi terrorism, which does not either.

The second is the understandable ambivalence of the political leadership in dealing with Maoist terrorism and its reluctance to authorise the counter-terrorism agencies to use the same methods against the Maoists as they do against the jihadi terrorists. This ambivalence arises from the fact that large sections of the elite and the  public, which do not approve of Maoist terrorism, have nevertheless a strong empathy for their ideology and objectives.

The ideology and objectives of the jihadi terrorists are medieval. They are  sought to be justified on grounds of alleged historical wrongs committed against the Muslims. Those of the Maoists are not. They do not want to take the society backwards as the jihadi terrorists do, but forward into an era of egalitarianism and  prosperity.

The reluctance of the state can be attributed to the differing background of the two kinds of terrorism. Jihadi terrorism is to a large extent foreign inspired, foreign funded and foreign trained and armed. It is being used by Pakistan as a weapon to achieve its strategic objectives against India. A large component of foreign mercenaries--mainly Pakistanis--is involved in it. Counter-terrorism as applied against the jihadi terrorists is seen by the political leadership and the intelligence and security agencies  as part of our continuing confrontation with the Pakistani Armed Forces in order to maintain the secular character of our pluralistic society. There is no inhibiting factor--either at the political or the professional level--coming in the way of effective counter-terrorism against the jihadi terrorists.

The Maoists, on the contrary, are sons and daughters of our own soil, who feel neglected by the state, the political leadership, the governmental agencies and the better-off sections of our society and abandoned to the clutches of abject poverty and misery while the rest of the society is marching forward towards increasing prosperity. Their ideology--Maoism--is not native to our soil. But, this has caught their imagination since our own political leadership and elite have not been able to place before them an alternative ideological model, which would end their economic and social marginalisation. The Chinese and the North Korean Communist Parties were actively involved in supporting our Maoists till 1979. Since 1979, the Chinese Communist Party has stopped supporting them--at least materially. One does not know whether the support from the North Korean Communist Party continues. One should not be surprised if it does, through the Maoists of Nepal.

The indigenous character of the Maoist terrorists and the absence of the involvement of foreign mercenaries come in the way of the professionalism of our rural police, which has to be the cutting edge of our counter-terrorism strategy. They also come in the way of the success of our intelligence agencies in collecting rural intelligence comparable with their success in collecting intelligence in the urban areas. The rural police constables, who have to be in the forefront of the counter-terrorism campaign against the Maoists, often come from the same social and economic milieu as the Maoists. One cannot blame them totally  if this comes in the way of their performance.

Fears caused by the ruthlessness of the methods used by the Maoists and the reluctance to operate against them caused by the fact that they are products of the same milieu as the Maoists should at least partly explain the hesitation of the people of the affected areas to come forward to join the police force in the required numbers. This is despite the prevalence of large-scale unemployment in these areas and the attractive emoluments offered to the police personnel volunteering for duty in the terrorism-affected rural areas.

According to a recent media by Mr V.K.Duggal, the Home Secretary on March 31,2006, (The Hindu of April 1), there were 17,000 vacancies of Constables in the state of Bihar, 6,000 in Andhra Pradesh and 1,000 in Jharkhand.  He did not explain to what extent these vacancies were due to the non-availability of candidates with the required minimum qualifications and to what extent due to the reluctance of the local people to serve in the Maoism-affected areas.

The intelligence agencies find themselves handicapped due to two reasons. Firstly, the Maoists have not been using modern means of communications to any significant extent . Extensive use of modern means of communications, as the jihadists do, increases the vulnerability of the terrorists to detection and neutralisation. When they avoid the use of modern means of communications, the flow of technical intelligence (TECHINT) is sparse.

Counter-terrorism against the Maoists is, therefore, much more dependent on human intelligence (HUMINT) than counter-terrorism against the jihadi terrorists. Urban sources do not have much hesitation in reporting to the Police on the activities of suspected terrorists--whether indigenous or Pakistani nationals. The large urban population strengthens their anonymity and gives them  protection against reprisals by the terrorists.

In the case of the largely rural Maoist terrorism, the villagers have often a reluctance to report against their co-villagers. Moreover, in thinly-populated villages, the advantage of anonymity is weak and there is less protection for village sources against reprisals by the terrorists.

How weak is our intelligence capability against rural Maoist terrorism would be evident from the fact that in recent months the Maoists have operated successfully in large numbers, with the assembling of the terrorists and their moving on the road towards the targets remaining undetected and unthwarted. In one incident in the state of Bihar on November 13, 2005, about 1000 armed Maoists raided a jail and rescued their comrades detained there. It is difficult to say how much of this was due to the absence of intelligence and how much due to the complicity of sections of the police personnel.

Our Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is largely an urban-based organisation, has very little capability for preventive intelligence collection in the rural areas. We have to depend on the rural police for this purpose. The ability of the  rural police to collect intelligence depends to a considerable extent on its mobility (patrolling) and its relationship with the village communities in the affected areas. Fears caused by the frequent use of landmines with  devastating effect by the Maoists and the failure of the States to provide the police with adequate mine detection and clearing capability have affected the mobility and rural patrolling. This has also an impact on police-community relationship. A police force, which is not able to remain in regular touch with the villagers, cannot collect much worthwhile intelligence.

The defining characteristics of the jihadi and Maoist terrorists differ in significant aspects. Since there is a regular flow of funds, modern arms and ammunition and communication sets to the jihadi terrorists from Pakistan, they do not have to depend on raids on the posts of the security forces for the replenishment of their weapons stocks. Bereft of external sources of supply, the Maoists have to depend on frequent raids on the security forces for replenishing their stocks.

The jihadi terrorists, who operate in very small numbers, avoid control of territory and the setting up of "liberated areas", since territorial control would need the availability of large manpower. The Maoists, on the other hand, operate in large numbers--with sometimes their operating numbers going up to many dozens and in one instance 1,000--and believe in setting up "liberated areas" in which they have their own tax collection and judicial machineries.

While the jihadi terrorists continue to wage their unconventional war in a purely unconventional manner, the Maoists are waging their unconventional war in an increasingly conventional manner. The Maoist movement is more like that of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka--a mix of terrorism and insurgency, of unconventional and conventional capabilities.
While the jihadists have been increasingly using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) for some years now, in preference to hand-held weapons, the Maoists have been using a mix of the landmines to prevent the mobility of the rural police and hand-held weapons to raid the posts of the security forces and capture arms and ammunition.

While the jihadi terrorists kill civilians indiscriminately, the attacks of the Maoists on civilians are more targeted--against those whom they look upon as their class enemies or exploiting classes such as landlords, forest contractors and money-lenders as well  those collaborating with the security forces against the Maoists.

The inability of the state to deal with the Maoist insurgency-cum-terrorism effectively so far can be attributed to the absence of a mix of political and operational strategies. The political strategy has to identify and address the root causes of the spreading Maoism. While the spread is alarming, it is not yet out of control. There are still large areas in the tribal belt where the people are not supporting the Maoists and are observing law and order. The state has so far failed to undertake a crash development of these areas, which have not yet been infected by Maoism, in order to prove to the people that they can achieve their justified economic and social objectives through peaceful means, without having to take up arms against the State. Simultaneously, there has to be an improvement in rural policing and intelligence collection in order to thwart the efforts of the Maoists to bring these areas too under their sway.

The areas, which have already gone under the effective control of the Maoists, need a different strategy, with the emphasis more on the professional and operational aspects of counter-terrorism than on the political and economic. The objective is to wrest control of these areas from the Maoists. This would be possible only through expanding and strengthening the police presence in the areas, creating in the IB and the intelligence wings of the Police an improved capability for intelligence collection in the rural areas and strengthening the capability of the police and the para-military forces to counter the modus operandi of the Maoists such as their devastating use of landmines.

Concerned over the spread of Maoist terrorism and insurgency, suggestions are increasingly being made for giving the police a military edge through training in jungle warfare techniques etc. We should definitely improve the technical capabilities of the police  in matters such as mine-detection and neutralisation, but we should not militarise the methods of operation of the police.

The growing interest in some of our officers--serving and retired--in the highly militarised British and American methods of dealing with insurgency and terrorism needs to be curbed. The former British occupying power in Malaya used and the current American occupying power in Iraq uses highly militarised methods. They were/are operating against foreign nationals in foreign territory and had/have, therefore, no qualms about the kind of methods they were/are using to suppress the insurgency-cum-terrorism.

Our Police and para-military forces are operating in our own territory against our own people. We have to temper effectiveness with self-restraint. We had to use the jungle warfare methods in Mizoram and certain areas of the North-East in the 1960s and the 1970s because of the involvement of Pakistan and China in keeping the insurgency sustained in those areas. We cannot unintelligently use those methods in our tribal heartland in Central India.

Modernisation of the police forces' rural counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capability, yes; but, militarisation, no. 

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.

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