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The Times of India

Irregular wars are becoming the preferred form of conflict in the troubled theatres of the world. There are the Maoists in India, the Tehrik-e-Taliban in Pakistan, Chechens in Russia, Uighurs in China and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The US, Russia, China and the two major South Asian countries have all been sucked into this kind of warfare.

An irregular war has been defined as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations”. It favours “indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence and will”.

The asymmetries between conventional and irregular wars need to be clearly understood. A conventional war is an organised affair, and it relies on advanced technology, depends on logistics and has a central direction. An irregular war is an informal conflict where the forces rely on locally available technology, are not dependent on logistics and take direction from regional leaders. Besides, in a modern conventional war, the commander is always aiming to win a decisive battle; in an irregular war, he is content with raids and ambushes.

Home minister P Chidambaram is to be credited with having understood the gravity of the Maoist problem. But his “clear-hold-develop” approach is somewhat Clausewitzian. Achieving territorial domination would require huge forces which, even if mobilised, the government may not be able to commit for two or three years, as is planned. Another spell of terrorist mayhem and there would be immense pressure to divert paramilitary forces to the areas affected. Besides, people and not territory should be our target. Winning their hearts and minds, addressing their problems and satisfying their development-related needs should get priority.

This is not to say that the threat posed by Maoist guerrillas is not to be tackled. If anything, we will have to start from the basics – deny water to the fish! The government will have to ensure that supplies of arms, ammunition and explosives to them are drastically cut down, if not altogether stopped. Recall how the Maoists decamped with 1,100 weapons from Nayagarh district in Orissa on February 15, 2008.

It is true that the Maoists have struck a nexus with north-eastern insurgents and the latter provide arms and ammunition to them on payment. But the police forces, because of their poor discipline, inadequate training and low morale, are the biggest providers of these items to the Maoists. Explosives are also pilfered or bought from contractors engaged in road-building activities in hilly areas. These leakages will have to be plugged. Extortion by the Maoists is on a massive scale. The civil administration will have to take the responsibility to choke off this source of funds.

Civil and police administration in the districts will have to be galvanised. Here, state governments’ role is crucial. In Chhattisgarh, the bureaucracy is not playing its part, thinking that insurgency is a police problem. In corruption-hit Jharkhand, the Maoists have naturally found fertile ground. In these and other affected states, the capabilities of the police forces will have to be raised. Training should get high priority while vacancies must be filled up through a crash recruitment drive. It is about time politicians realised the price the country is paying for their using and abusing the police to further political agendas.

Armed action is unavoidable. The Maoists’ recent acts of violence – including the killing of EFR personnel at Silda on February 15, the derailing of the Rajdhani Express on March 23, the massacre of CRPF personnel on April 6 and the blowing up of a bus on May 17 in Dantewada – have left the government with no other option. Any operations against them should, however, be intelligence-based and have a mix of state and central forces in the ratio of at least 1:3. The objective should be to “subvert, coerce, attrite and exhaust” the adversary rather than take him on in a direct confrontation – unless the Maoists throw down the gauntlet. An irregular war, let us remember, requires an unconventional response.

Development activities will have to go hand in hand, as in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east. It will have to be what is called a “whole-of-government” approach, requiring action at the political, strategic, operational, tactical and publicity levels. It may take a couple of years but the security forces will, in the long run, be able to deliver. The most worrisome aspect, however, is whether the government can meanwhile develop remote and far-flung areas. What is the guarantee the administration will do in five years what it has not done for six decades? The poorest of the poor and the tribals in the hinterland have not had a fair deal so far. If they do not get economic justice, would they not revert to the path of armed insurrection?

If the government wants to avoid such a tragedy, there is only one option. It must accord the same treatment to corrupt officers and criminal politicians as it plans for Maoist leaders. One group is draining the life-blood of the country; the other is out to destroy the Indian state without any constructive agenda.

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Written by rohitkumarsviews

June 25, 2010 at 8:26 am

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