Aligning Armed Forces to 21st Century Internal Security Threats by Lt Gen Prakash Katoch in IDR
Why should Europeans holding a seminar on Maoist Insurgency surprise us when the developed world is looking to invest in India including our underdeveloped areas? It is but natural they seek security before making investments. Our Prime Minister has been labeling the Maoists insurgency as the biggest internal security challenge for quite some time now. Three decades after employing an army division in Naxalbari to crush the insurgency, naiveté of lack of focus on politico-socio-economic aspects and treating the issue as law and order problem has brought us to this sorry state. It would be a folly to view this insurgency in isolation. The Government’s mesttani support including by penchant to dither in acknowledging external linkages till a major incident occurs does obfuscate factual links of Maoists with Maoists of Nepal (Chinese surrogates), LTTE and covert Pakistani support ( LeT / ISI). Our adversaries would be fools in not exploiting this readymade asymmetric battlefield directly or indirectly, now or later, knowing full well the strategic potential of such anti establishment irregular forces. With discernable induction of armed modules into India since 1992-93, Pakistan has already created means to avoid accusations of direct involvement.
While Maoists mouth oblique support to Kashmir militants, confluence of jehadi terror and Maoists will constitute the true nightmare. Can we ignore Al Qaeda / LeT / ISI footprints in Bangladesh and Kerala (latter touching southern tip of the 16 Maoists infested States) and LeT (covert arm of ISI) holding important posts within Al Qaeda, Nepalese Maoists to the North, ISI presence in Nepal, increased Chinese brashness, their cartographic aggression, strategic footprints in POK, covert support to ULFA and tacit support to Pakistan’s jehadi strategy binding major military forces in Kashmir, dry runs by Al Qaeda terrorists in Mumbai, Delhi, erstwhile NSA acknowledging presence of various strands of Al Qaeda in India and Osama’s edict on Assam that has been permitted to become Muslim predominant courtesy illegal Bangladeshi immigrants – more political naiveté ! In this chaotic dispensation sans a National Security Strategy with National Security Objectives undefined, inadequate intelligence (New York Times has to tell us 11000 Chinese are doing 14 projects in POK), nation state adrift with crass political differences and not knowing when external environment turns hostile, what options are available to Armed Forces with experience of six decades of successful counter insurgency experience, knowing they are meant for conflict management, not resolution?
Born out of CPI (M), the Maoists empire spans over 200 districts in 16 States, seven of them affected seriously. They have a financial backup of some ` 1500 crores, growing annually 15 percent through drugs, ransom, looting, extortion, robbery and poppy cultivation – one acre of poppy crop fetches ` 1 crore. Organized in battalions, companies, platoons, intelligence and logistics departments and with arms and IED manufacturing capability, they slaughter and behead opposition, employ copycat tactics of Mao’s ‘People’s War’ – guerrilla and mass attacks that can gravitate to positional warfare if allowed to grow. Their losses compared to security forces have improved considerably over the years and in certain areas they hold psychological advantage having inflicted heavy losses on Central Police Organisations (CPOs) and Police forces. Explosives are aplenty including fertilizers, chemicals, loot from road construction detachments. There have been reports in the past of Maoists cadres being trained in explosives by the LTTE, evidence of which is apparent from the ease with which they blow up security forces vehicles. Media and propaganda is well handled. Sympathisers, even in intellectuals are in plenty; Arundhati Roy et al. Political patronage is ambiguous and needs ascertaining by intelligence agencies.
Estimates of armed Maoist cadres range from 10-15 to 20,000, indicating in-house intelligence ambiguity. They have already killed around 3400 individuals since 2006 including over 1120 security personnel at a cost of about 950 Maoists and snatched sizeable number of weapons from CPOs/Police forces including machine guns and 81 mm mortars. The stated aim of the Maoists is to take control of the country by 2050 by overthrowing the Government through the barrel of the gun – another Communist “Long March”? While that may never happen, the nucleus of brainwashed hardcore Maoists is unlikely to give up striving for it and come to the dialogue table. Conquering Delhi may remain elusive but it is difficult to gauge what will be the state of Maoist insurgency in the next decade given the existing state of our intelligence, poor equipping and training of our CPOs/Police forces and more importantly, standard of governance. Prior to the all out military attack by the Sri Lankan Army, whenever the LTTE came under pressure, they simply melted into the dense sanctuaries of the Alampil Forest. The Maoists are blessed with the dense Dandakaranya Forest spanning Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra – greater than entire Arunachal Pradesh in size and many times in area than Alampil Forest. It may well be surmised that ill equipped and ill trained CPOs/Police forces can perhaps only beat around the periphery with few forays somewhat deeper.
Can the Maoists insurgency worsen? Is it exploitable by forces inimical to India? They will be fools not to capitalize on it, particularly in the long run. Continued jehadi policies and horrendous en masse radicalisation of Pakistan coupled with China’s undeclared intent to cut India to size all point to this. There have been media reports of ULFA bases/camps on Chinese soil as also terrorist training camps in Bangladesh with SSG/Al Qaeda instructors before the present India friendly regime in the latter. Chinese origin weapons have been finding their way into Maoists hands. Role of Pakistan’s ISI / LeT in covert arming, funding and training of Maoists should not be discounted. Global terror industry has linkages that keep getting stronger. How fruitful for our adversaries to facilitate this insurgency blooming into a mini-Afghanistan, tie down military in the hinterland and cap our economic progress!
There are often arguments that there is no way that the Maoists can get external support since unlike J&K their areas of operation are not contiguous to Pakistan. But then, where is the problem of getting arms, equipment, explosives into India? Weren’t the weapons dropped in Purulia discovered by default after the drop? Aren’t thousands of live bombs finding their way into the heartland as metal waste? How do 150 trucks of explosives vanish into thin air from Rajasthan? What about movement of weapons and ammunition within the country? Where did ULFA procure their anti aircraft guns from and where did they vanish after their camps in Bhutan were attacked by the Royal Bhutan Army? Isn’t anything purchasable with unending terror funds? Isn’t the covert jehadi network spanning the length and breadth of India? Would they not have stashed away thousands of weapons for future use in scores of locations? Do the critics who deny possibility of external involvement with Maoist insurgency know the interplay between the 30 odd indigenous terrorist outfits and their links with the global terror network? Prudence demands that while we prepare for the combined threat from China and Pakistan, we should also simultaneously be prepared for the ‘Third Front’ within India. Whether we fight China or Pakistan individually or together, we will definitely be combating asymmetric forces behind our backs. This game plan has had decades of gestation and perhaps has its genesis in Chinese advice to Pakistan in the Sixties:
“Zhou-en-Lai suggested to Ayub Khan that Pakistan should prepare for prolonged conflict with India instead of short – term wars. He advised Pakistan to raise a Militia Force to act behind enemy lines”.
- Extracts from book “From A Head, Through A Head, To A Head”, published in Karachi.
As a nation, we need synergized simultaneous operations on the socio-political-economic-moral-physical planes rallying local population against Maoists organization / activities, destroying insurgents while blending development and education to ensure legitimate government rule. In execution, such a strategy implies:
Options for Armed Forces
As of now, military deployment has not been undertaken against the Maoists. Well trained, well equipped PMF/CPOs/Police forces with an efficient intelligence network should actually be able target the Maoist leadership and hit insurgent infrastructure, cutting off their supplies and support. However, time and again the military has been used for counter insurgency being the most potent instrument for the most difficult tasks, when other instruments of the State have failed. Wisdom lies in preparing for such eventuality since numerous developments can trigger such military deployment, some examples being: One, stepped up attacks by Maoists and inability of CPOs to control the situation particularly closer to next general elections; Two, aggravated external environment lending to stepped up insurgency with external support; ntongThree, confluence / partial confluence of Maoists-jehadi nexus and discernable efforts to form compact revolutionary zones including possibility of insurgents getting hold of nuclear, radiological, biological, chemical material of mass destruction; Four, Maoists assuming power in Nepal, leading to spread of Maoist influence / insurgency westwards – Uttar Pradesh, Uttrakhand; Five, single major insurgent action / event which has political ramifications; Six, arbitrary political decision for political considerations and the like.
Prudence demands that the Armed Forces be prepared for the worse scenario all the time, implying be fully prepared for deployment whenever it is ordered. Actions to be undertaken in preparation for such deployment are numerous. They need to be backed by sound planning and forethought particularly considering existing insurgencies in other parts of the country will be simultaneously raging and resources would always be at a premium. The IPKF deployment in Sri Lanka has lessons that should be cashed upon. Additionally, the Armed Forces should facilitate elimination of external factors to aggravate the insurgency including sealing borders along land, sea and air. Eventually, none of the six contingencies mentioned above may lead to military deployment as in war many a times surprise contingencies crop up and we are amidst intense asymmetric conflict situation already. Therefore, the deployment options that the Armed Forces must cater for in respect of the Maoist insurgency are: First – Armed Forces in support of security forces battling insurgents; Second – f o cred for deployment whenevrPartial deployment of Armed Forces; Third – Full-fledged Armed Forces deployment.
The first deployment option (Armed Forces in support of security forces battling insurgents) is already in place with contours of Armed Forces support getting more defined. The Armed Forces need to undertake following:
Concurrent to the above actions as part of the first deployment option (Armed Forces in support of security forces battling insurgents), following would be required:
In the second and third focred for deployment whenever deployment options (partial and full-fledged deployment respectively), in addition to the actions mentioned in the first deployment option, following will need to be undertaken:
Notwithstanding continuing experience of the Army in combating insurgency, it is reiterated that the insurgency environment requires operating norms. Flouting them has adverse ramifications and avoidable casualties. These are, One, fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla. Two, Win Hearts and Minds of the population – project human face, protect locals, avoid collateral damage and indiscriminate force. Three, acquire intimate knowledge of terrain. Four, establish effective intelligence grid Five, acquire language proficiency/interpreters. Six, understand implications of ‘Kills’ versus ‘Peace in Area of Responsibility (AOR)’. Seven, move tactically and cross country. Eight, avoid roads/tracks unless Road Opening Party (ROP) in position and mine proofing done. Nine, ensure flank protection and dominate high ground during move. Ten, ensure layered early warning system even during halts. Eleven, follow buddy system. Twelve, rehearse day/night reinforcements periodically. Thirteen, ensure Leader – Led contact. Fourteen, sustained operationally oriented training. Fifteen, train leaders at all levels – lead from front.
Should we come to the eventuality of partial or full fledged Armed Forces deployment against the Maoists, the situation would obviously have aggravated considerably and without doubt courtesy external factors and possibly coupled with external threats. The Armed Forces must impress upon the Government the requirement of optimising the Special Forces potential. They are most suited for controlled response along the escalatory ladder in the emerging strategic environment. They should be central to asymmetric response, not necessarily engaging in direct physical attacks. The key lies in achieving strategic objectives through application of modest resources with the essential psychological component. We have not created requisite deterrence to asymmetric threats. This inability has earned us the label of a ‘soft’ State. Chanakya had said, “Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing”. Special Forces can perform diverse yet time critical missions with little or no signatures. Ideal response to asymmetric threats is adoption of a pro-active strategy ensuring prevention of an attack. Our Special Forces must primarily look beyond our borders to nip asymmetric threats in the bud and to control the fault lines of our adversaries. They are a vital element of national power, possessing enormous freedom of action and should be fruitfully employed to successfully meet future challenges.
The internal security situation in the country is dynamic and volatile. We do not have the luxury of continue drifting and must resolve the Maoist insurgency, which provides an opportunity to comprehensively address a range of internal security challenges facing the country before the actions of external actors take away the initiative from our hands, escalating levels support (weapons, equipment, financial, logistic, financial) and we are forced to fight on multiple fronts simultaneously. Chanakya had said, “As soon as the fear approaches near, attack and destroy it.” No country has won by being on the defensive, which in military teachings is a temporary phase. What triggers Armed Forces deployment against the Maoists and when is difficult to predict but there can be many contingencies. Should such deployment occur, the Military must operate unified, remembering overall objective is reinstatement of rule of law and winning population while destroying Maoist insurgents within well defined timelines. Proactive employment of Special Forces is essential to ensure we do not just react to situations but demonstrate the will to tackle strategic adversaries and challenges, creating the essential deterrent in the process. Tacticall pauses both in insurgencies and asymmetric attacks by adversaries can be very misleading. They may lull the polity but cannot be allowed to lull the Military. As a worst case scenario, we must be prepared to simultaneously fight on three fronts – a war that may simply be thrust upon us.