India’s Counter Naxal Security Strategy – Analysis

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By Rahul Bhonsle

Security challenges are essentially dilemma’s with varied strategies providing options for resolution. India’s Left Wing Extremism or Naxalism poses one such problem with a number of strategic options exercised so far to contain the menace of militancy. These comprise of a mix of security, development and rights proffering with emphasis on one or the other depending on the circumstances as well as inclination of state governments, given the spatial spread of insurgency in Central India to include principally Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh and partially West Bengal, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Constitutionally states are main actors responsible for countering Naxalism within their territorial jurisdiction.

The influence exercised by rebels and level of violence also determines preference. Thus states as Bihar and Jharkhand have been laying greater emphasis on political action and development whereas others as Chhattisgarh have relied on security to counter the rebels. West Bengal saw the former Left Front government resorting to security operations when level of violence was high which in turn has paved the way for the present Chief Minister Mamata Banjerjee to adopt political action to contain the menace and bring down fatalities. Targeting leadership is another mode that has been remarkably successful with a large number of members of the Politburo either eliminated or behind bars.

Broadly speaking this is also known as the Clear, Secure, Hold and Develop strategy and has been operative for the past four years. Operations nicknamed as Green Hunt [till human rights activists raised a hue and cry but continued to be carried out in different forms] were launched in the clear, secure and hold phase which essentially involved establishing government footprint in areas many of which were penetrated for the first time. This has resulted in eviction of Maoists from some of their strong holds in Central India such as the Saranda forest and establishment of presence of the government in large swathes which had fallen to rebel influence. The rebels based on time worn guerrilla strategy of, “withdraw when the enemy is strong,” have pulled back deeper into the jungles and are operating on the fault lines such as boundaries of states thus preventing all out neutralization.

Specially trained central police forces have been at the forefront of this strategy and if successful will perhaps be the first example of a counter guerrilla campaign fought purely by the para-military, but there is still a long way to go as the hard core rebels, the so called People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) has been relatively unaffected.

Here the security forces are being posed a major dilemma, for neutralization of PLGA would require hard core military strike operations for which they are not fully trained and equipped particularly given the harsh terrain.

Attempts at launching mass sweeps, forays into the jungle with force in large numbers have only invited these being skillfully trapped by rebels resulting in heavy casualties to security forces. In one such incident in Jharkhand in January 2013 Maoist booby trapped bodies of police killed in an ambush sending shivers through the spine of hardened fighters.

One option is to employ the army, however a conscious decision has been taken not to involve the Indian Army in direct combat with a rebellion which does not pose an existential challenge and which may draw away large numbers from external borders, the main battleground for the military. Similarly use of helicopter and air strikes has been rejected quite rightly as this cannot be employed in a conflict with own people.

A successful model that has been used by state police in Andhra Pradesh which is the first to have cleared rebels is that of employment of Special Forces named as, “Greyhound”. Now the Central government is proposing to use the same in other states. This would involve launching intelligence based special operations to target and neutralize rebels in their strong holds. This would require strong local support. The central government is supporting organization of similar forces for four main states impacted by Naxal insurgency to include Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. While some of these already have specially trained troops curiously named as Jharkhand Jaguars, their performance has left much to be desired due to poor training and equipment. Media reports now indicate that the Central Government plans to allot Rs 280 Crore for this purpose in Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh for raising or converting existing forces on the Andhra Pradesh ‘Greyhounds’ model.

The success of this model will be based on a number of factors. Firstly it would have to be acceptable to state political leadership with some chief ministers particularly in Bihar having strong reservation on employment of force. High quality leadership at the apex and combat level will also be important, some states may be found wanting in this sphere. Effective intelligence is another essential which would require active support of locals and thus will have to be executed by the state police rather than the central police forces who have been leading the way so far. Finally it would require high level of tactical training with emphasis on mobility, hard hitting combat power, reliance on stealth, surprise and endurance to stay out in the jungles for protracted periods.

If employed effectively, the Grey Hounds model will facilitate neutralizing the guerilla hard core while at the same time avoid large scale collateral damage inherent in any counter militancy campaign. Yet it may be some years before the Indian state can achieve success against the Naxals, till then the median level of violence in Central India varying from 300 – 500 fatalities in a year will sadly continue.

This article was published by Security-Risks.com and reprinted with permission.

Security Risks.com

Security-risks.com is an independent venture by Rahul K Bhonsle, a veteran soldier and Promila Bhonsle. This endeavor is devoted to risk reduction and security through the processes of information and knowledge.

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