One hundred and eighty uniformed personnel of the central and state governments have been killed by Left-wing extremists in the past one year, of which 76 were killed on April 6. In terms of cold statistics, this is nothing compared to starvation deaths and deaths due to diseases in India; the former is a threat to the State, although it loses considerable legitimacy by allowing the other two kinds of deaths to continue. Death by the bullet is more dramatic, however.
Inevitably, the April 6 massacre close to Chiltanar village in the dense forests of Dantewada has raised allegations about yet another intelligence failure. It was partly that but it was also insider support for the extremists, who tipped off the Maoists about the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) deployment. It was also a failure of a system that refuses to learn from past mistakes. When all systems break down, it is difficult to expect the intelligence systems to perform any better.
The CRPF is not a local force; it has no knowledge about the local area, intelligence, terrain and social norms. It has very little reason to mix with the local population; on the other hand, a well-equipped and well-trained local police force would be able to handle this problem far better.
If the local force is not adequately trained or equipped and the outside force is without any local expertise, then both are headed towards disaster. By repeatedly sending central forces to slaughter, we are undermining the morale of the force, the image of the force and that of its owner, in this case, the Government of India. On the other hand, the insurgents seem to have won the day.
In moments like this, there are demands that the Army be called in and the Air Force deployed to ‘crush’ the enemy. Nothing could be a bigger disaster than this. This tendency to be seen to be doing something dramatic must be resisted. We need to remember that the armed forces are professional forces trained and equipped to fight an external enemy — they are not trained to shoot in the air. They lack local knowledge and there will be overkill. This will create more acrimony. Deployment of the Army for local insurgencies takes away its prime USP — defending the external borders. Moreover, troops would need to be reoriented after extensive deployment on internal security duties. Its training would suffer and, therefore, its core competence.
The Army can ensure battle victories but cannot ensure victory in the war against terror. Recent experiences of the US and that of the Soviets in Afghanistan are examples of this. Our own experience too has been mixed. What may have worked partially in the North-east and Jammu and Kashmir would not work in states that are now affected by Naxal violence. Tackling insurgencies is a hard grind that requires physical stamina on the part of the counter-terrorist and political will to stay on course, which is not co-terminus with the life span of any particular government. Counter-insurgency is also a battle of and for minds.
If this war has to be won we must first acknowledge that this will be a long-drawn affair that is unglamorous and as dirty as the insurgent who ceases to be a Robin Hood soon enough in his career. It is not enough to destroy, it is necessary to build. Thus the five main ingredients of any counter-insurgency campaign would be to detect, deter, destroy, develop and dialogue. A sound and effective local intelligence network backed by quick response mechanisms would be needed to detect and deter. Otherwise, the state will keep shooting in the dark and creating more insurgents than it destroys. Central forces may be drafted for the destruction phase if required, but there is no substitute for a well-trained and a well-equipped police force.
First, we need to reinvent our police forces, one of the most neglected, underpaid, overworked and maligned forces in the country. Its faith and pride in itself has to be restored and when its ability to interact with the population is recreated, intelligence will flow. For decades this country has talked of police reforms but nothing seems to move.
Second, the police must be equipped and trained in the latest techniques, an aspect that gets neglected due to shortage of manpower, funds and political indifference. It is possible that in some cases and some states there would be need to incorporate expertise from the armed forces for training police in counter-insurgency techniques.
Third, mere deterrence and destruction of the insurgent force is not enough. It is the rebuilding of the destroyed lives and shattered economy and the end of exploitation which will be key. This must happen more or less simultaneously with the overpowering of the insurgency. If this does not happen, the insurgency will resurrect. What is needed is a multifaceted approach that involves all arms of the government, especially the infrastructure and economic agencies of education, health, agriculture and communications that extend beyond just the law and order aspect.
Fourth, since the insurgents say they are fighting a peoples’ war, we should take this to them by involving the people on the side of the government — the media being the most important component in this battle. Media coverage is oxygen to the terrorists, whether or not a particular operation succeeds. Creation of fear is also terrorist/insurgent victory; reports of massive deployment massages the insurgents’ ego and they will seek to replicate their acts. Media management is, therefore, important for they must report but not reveal.
Fifth, what is needed is a functioning National Counter Terrorism Centre to coordinate the anti-insurgency operations.
Finally, it is a long hard battle — and there are no quick fixes. There is no slash and burn.
Vikram Sood is former Secretary, Research & Analysis Wing.
The views expressed by the author are personal