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One size will never fit all

india Updated: Jul 27, 2009 22:01 IST
Prakash Singh
Prakash Singh
Hindustan Times
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India faces insurgency from almost every corner of its length and breadth: the Northeast, Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar. The current UPA government has announced its commitment to taking "stern measures to handle insurgency and left-wing extremism".

At the outset, it must be clarified that every insurgency needs to be very carefully studied and the causes of unrest thoroughly diagnosed. The prescription to deal with the insurgency would depend on the causative factors. Tactics successful in one area could be counter-productive in a different setting. The methods applied in Punjab would go horribly wrong if applied, say, against the Naxals.

Nevertheless, there are certain basic principles that could be safely laid down. To start with, the legitimate political aspirations of the people who have taken up arms must be satisfied. It may involve grant of autonomy, as was done with the Bodos, or statehood, as was conceded to the Nagas and the Mizos. Secondly, the government must try to win over the support of major sections of the populations by convincing them of its sincerity. It must give an impression of being genuinely concerned about their welfare. Schemes for the economic development of the area must be undertaken even if the area is disturbed. The government has been pursuing this line in J&K and also in the northeast.

Counter-insurgency operations to a certain extent may be unavoidable. It must however be ensured that the use of force is lawful, proportionate and discriminate. Human rights must be upheld. Security forces should have full latitude in undertaking necessary offensive operations, but they should not have any feeling of immunity. Accountability must be enforced.

The counter-insurgency grid should be under the overall supervision and control of civil authorities. Paramilitary forces may be called in, but they must work in close coordination with the local police. In extreme situations, as prevailed in Punjab and continue to exist in J&K, the Army is also inducted. The security forces should function as part of the unified command.

There are four golden principles useful in any counter-insurgency operations are: Detect, Deter, Disrupt and Destroy.

Detection would involve a good intelligence network. Deter would imply preventing the insurgents from carrying out any plans of sabotage or subversion. Disruption would mean disintegrating their network and the supply lines. Hardcore rebels, who refuse to see reason and are determined to fight, will have to be neutralised as was done in Punjab.

The insurgents' links with foreign countries, if any, must be snapped. In Punjab, security forces started gaining the upper hand after the border security fencing came up which made any movement across the border extremely difficult. It was like cutting off their supply of oxygen.

The door for negotiations should always be kept open. Those willing to enter into a dialogue should be invited for talks and the outstanding legitimate demands, if any, conceded. The ongoing talks with the Nagas, even though meandering, are a classic example.

Prakash Singh was the chief of the Border Security Force.


Ø Causes of insurgency must be diagnosed
Ø Legitimate political aspirations should be satisfied
Ø Government should be able to win over support of majority population
Ø Economic development of the area affected must be undertaken
Ø Use of force should be lawful, proportionate and discriminate
Ø Ops. should be under overall civilian control
Ø Insurgents' links with foreign countries should be snapped
Ø Peace option should always be kept open