An interesting article I found from the Delhi-based think-thank, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS). The author calls for a complete change in the strategy book on the Naxalite menace.
"India needs new manual on Naxals" by Rohit Singh
The Naxal threat has grown steadily but subtly, and unchecked by commensurate counter-action its severity now surpasses the capabilities of the current strategy, which does not have all stakeholders on board. The state cannot succeed simply by trying harder: it must now adopt a fundamentally new approach. An insurgency as long-drawn as the Naxal one cannot be solved by merely pushing in more paramilitary forces nor by using “kinetic forces” of the Army alone for it is a war hijacked by vicious anti-state forces exploiting the weakness of state institutions, and the malign actions of power — brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various vested interests — give people little reason to support their government and, instead, provide cannon fodder to Naxal “elites”, “intellectuals” and sympathisers to drive deeper wedges between the aggrieved population and the state. Meaningless security actions hurt the people, deprived as it is because of lack of economic opportunity.
“Don’t mess with our control of the interior of the country” is the strategic message coming out of the Dantewada massacre. For a state that aspires to become a power and to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, its “refusing-to-develop-country status” (85.7 per cent of its people live on less then $2.50 per day) is primarily owed to huge swathes of land out of the reach of state governance.
In examining why so many counter-insurgencies by powerful militaries failed against weaker “enemies”, noted military historian Martin Van Creveld advised that the “first and absolutely indispensable thing to do is to throw overboard 99 per cent of the literature” on the subject because most of it was written by the losing side.
The core of the strategy now advocated is the fight for the population which both the opposing forces are vying for, and therein lies the contradiction. Lethal or kinetic use of force is highly counter-productive and will mean a failed strategy. Non-application of forces, disjointed, indecisive action will prolong the insurgency, bringing more areas under Naxal parallel control (Naxal extortion on an all-India basis is Rs 1,600 crores, annually).
The most significant truth emerging out of Dantewada is that the Naxals have graduated from a guerrilla force to a “People’s Army”, having morphed into battalions, companies, platoons, intelligence and logistics departments with indigenous weapon- and improvised explosive device (IED)-manufacturing capacity. Having upgraded their mobile warfare capacities, they are gravitating to their next level of “positional warfare”, which is when they will attempt to capture territory, having already carved out “safe sanctuaries”.
The strategy is simple: with the Army in the lead to clear Naxalite strongholds/safe havens in and around the vicinity of remote population centres, the paramilitary and police follows in its wake to hold (areas cleared) and then deny access to Naxals to population centres. Then a civil administration is needed to build infrastructure, developmental projects, poverty alleviation programmes. Before launching operations in a given area, let the “enemy” know you are coming, such that the Naxals have the opportunity to either flee or fight. If they choose the latter they will concentrate more numbers to counter the offensive, inviting decimation, a counter-insurgent’s delight. If they flee, which most likely they will if the Army leads, they are separated from the population from which they feed. This will make them desperate and they will coerce the population for various needs, thus making their movement unpopular, slowly but surely. Admittedly, this will be a slow process, but a few years will be a drop in the ocean of almost 40 years of insurgency.
This strategy aims at providing enough things (security forces) in enough places (strongholds) for enough time (so as to frustrate the Naxal capacity to fight for their “sea”, i.e., the population). A caveat, however: clear only those areas for which paramilitary forces are available to hold. In the order of priority, address key economic zones (as in Jharkhand coal fields) and population centres, including areas around them, choking off finances. For logistics, any insurgent is dependent on the population.
A constant media flow of information on the course of “clearing operations” will take away the propaganda tool from the Naxal activists and sympathisers who can constantly be reminded that the choice to fight or flee has already been given to the Naxal. The biggest danger this operation will face is the IED threat for which huge Army resources will have to be pooled, as was done in the operation in Nowzad, Afghanistan.
The strategy of letting the “enemy” know that you are coming will raise many an eyebrow, but then let it be remembered that 99 per cent of counter-insurgencies have failed because of the failure to resort to “out-of-the-box” thinking.
The use of the Army will again raise a hornet’s nest. But this is a novel way of using it, and only for “clearing operations”. When the paramilitary imbibe the nuances of such operations by on-the-job training, the use of the Army may be dispensed with for subsequent phases. A beginning has to be made with success. The Army is the way to begin to do it.
For once, India needs to act soon and act decisively. Increasingly, Naxals are colluding with jihadi elements. Additionally, a lot of poor people’s lives are dependent on early action. An iron fist in a velvet glove, rather than kinetic force which feeds the insurgency, is the answer.
The author is a research associate at CLAWS, the Centre For Land Warfare Studies, Delhi. In light of the news story posted by Gerard, this approach is looking more appealing.