Terrorism Update
Show/Hide Search
    Click to Enlarge

Counterinsurgency Warfare
The Use & Abuse of Military Force
Vijendra Singh Jafa*

Since 1945, the majority of the larger armies of the world have spent more time in counterinsurgency warfare than in conventional forms of war.1 Several governments have, in the recent past, used advanced military technologies to combat rebellions and insurgencies – helicopter gunships, napalm, chemical warfare, and electronic devices, to name a few. On the other hand, easy availability of modern arms, better organised and politically educated dissident leaders, hostile neighbours offering arms, training and sanctuary, are some of the factors which have contributed to a growing number of unresolved internal wars in the post-1945 era. In short, protracted small wars, causing immeasurable suffering and pain to an increasingly larger number of people, have become an inextricable aspect of our civilization. What was once a last resort is now adopted as a means of expression.

Independent India has had its own share of insurgencies. The earliest was the Naga insurgency, which dated back to the very moment of independence, entered a distinct military phase in 1954, and still persists. Since the late sixties, political discontent has found expression in a number of other "small wars", including secessionist insurgencies in Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura; activities of the Bodos and the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in Assam; the Sikh insurgency in Punjab; and Pakistan's proxy war in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). Numerous other, smaller militant organisations – often clustered around what is termed "Left" ideology – have also raised the standard of revolt against the State in some form or the other, prominently in West Bengal, Andhra Praesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.

India's experience in counter-insurgency operations has, consequently, been long, and marked by a few dramatic and hardwon successes. In achieving these, it has never been the policy of the government to resolve insurgencies by military means alone, although for many years, a degree of military pressure has been used. The ultimate basis of resolution of the Mizo insurgency, for instance, was the creation of a political quid pro quo – an arrangement that allowed the groups in conflict to exercise some authority over each other, roughly in proportion to their size. This, perhaps, is what Eisenstadt called "the permeation of the periphery by the center and... the weaker impingement of the periphery on the center." In political terms, it means increased consultation and wider participation in decision-making or "consociational democracy",3 "coalitions of commitments or alliances, that have in-built incentives to conciliation"4 or simply "fundamental revisions in the relations between the regime and its people."5 Bluntly put, it meant Indira Gandhi's master strategy which broke the Mizo rebellion by getting some of the important dissidents amongst the insurgents into the Congress (I) fold and pouring in enormous quantities of money for the enrichment of this class along with the bureaucracy and the new breed of local contractors.

While the simple expedient of buying off the opposition was not significant in Punjab, insurgency there was similarly defeated through a combination of political initiatives that created the mandate for the reorganisation and mobilisation of the State's police force – backed by the army and paramilitary forces – to fight the terrorists, as well as fundamental revisions in the relations between the regime and its people. This included the progressive isolation of extremist elements in the state, the aggregation of the support of moderate political leaders, and, at the very height of the terrorist movement, the holding of elections to the state legislature in 1992. The voter turnout in this election was, no doubt, abysmally low, as a result of a sustained intimidatory campaign by the terrorists that involved a large number of pre-election killings and the declaration by them of a total curfew on pain of death to impose their boycott. Almost all the "moderate" Sikh political parties succumbed to these tactics, and withdrew from the elections. The election, nevertheless, resulted in the installation of a democratically elected government that oversaw what proved to be the terminal and most savage stage of the terrorist movement. Critics dismissed this government as unrepresentative, inept and corrupt, but it served to restore the lines of civilian control and local mechanisms of grievance redressal that revived options for a distressed people – options that, for well over a decade, had simply ceased to exist. Significantly, this government was a fully "functional government – not a puppet regime",6 and it soon extended the democratic process through municipal and panchayat (village council) elections that secured large-scale participation. In September 1992, despite terrorist threats, elections to 95 Municipal Committees in the State were concluded peacefully, with an extraordinary voter turnout of 75 per cent. In January 1993, panchayat Elections were held in 12,342 villages in the State with a voter turnout of 82 per cent. Significantly, the police saw to it that the semi-criminal elements that usually took charge of the Panchayats through a process of intimidation and manipulation were not permitted to do so, and a comparison of previous Panchayats with the ones that came into being through the '93 Election would show that an entirely new breed of politicians emerged.

The State police, moreover, successfully engineered a direct mobilisation of large numbers of the people of Punjab in the counter-terrorism effort by creating, training and arming hundreds of Village Defence Committees (VDCs) and appointing ex-servicemen and civilians as Special Police Officers (SPOs). The VDCs and SPOs were usually stationed to protect their own villages. They played a critical role in fighting the terrorists, were specially targeted by them, and suffered a large number of casualties. Nevertheless, they continued to stand as a bulwark against the terrorist assault. Perhaps even more significant was their psychological impact in the countryside, as the common people began to see the war against terrorism as their own war, fought by fellow villagers and by close relatives.

However, with the exception of the extraordinary and unconventional use of the civil police in Punjab, the Indian army has been the primary force in counterinsurgency warfare from the time of the country's independence in 1947. Its tactics and strategy have remained fundamentally conservative and traditional, influenced substantially by accounts of the British experiences in Malaya (1946-49), Kenya (1954-56), and Cyprus (1955-58) that have, in considerable measure, defined the Indian army's training and response. The writings of British authorities such as Sir Robert Thompson, Julian Paget, Frank Kitson and C.M. Woodhouse have been a part of the Indian infantry officer’s accoutrement at least since the 1960s. To some extent, the experiences of the French in Indochina (1946-54) and Algeria (1957-61) and the United States in Vietnam (1958-72) have also contributed to the development of the science of counterinsurgency warfare in India. Since the 1960s, training has been given a high priority. Specialized inputs at the Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School (established at Haflong and later transferred to Vairengte), the training curricula at the National Defense Academy, the Indian Military Academy, Infantry School, Defense Services Staff College, and the National Defense Staff College have also been upgraded to cater to the emerging internal security requirements of the nation in a more sophisticated manner.

Of late, however, there has been an increasing awareness among army officers that Western precepts of counterinsurgency warfare devised by the British, French and American strategists are suitable only for colonial or interventionist armies fighting in foreign lands; that the internal wars that afflict the developing countries are an altogether different military problem. These conflicts arise when ethnic minorities inhabiting geo-politically sensitive border areas move into the process of negotiating new terms of integration with the central authority, or when such minorities take up arms at somebody else's bidding and promise of support. The Army's capabilities are severely restricted when dealing in such cases with their own people. Northern Ireland is often cited as a signal example.

This growing awareness has, at least in part, found expression in the increasing development and use of India's para-military forces (PMFs) such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Border Security Force (BSF), Assam Rifles, and the armed police forces of the States in the national response to insurgencies. The PMFs have been extensively deployed in situations of widespread terrorism, and have acquired considerable experience in counterinsurgency warfare. Although these forces have traditionally worked under the overall command of the army while handling insurgencies in India's Northeast, they have shown remarkable levels of success even when they have been on their own. The expansion of para-military forces in India between 1965 and 1996, moreover, has been greater than the expansion of the nation's army. Despite the fact that this growth, as Janowitz points out, may be on account of rapid population increase, extensive urbanization and the resulting increase in crime, it has contributed to the regime's stability because of the increased resources available to the government for dealing with political crime.7

Nevertheless, in terms of strategic perspectives and control of operations, the Army continues to dominate the nation's response to low intensity warfare in most theatres, particularly and overwhelmingly in J&K and the Northeast. It is, moreover, in the Northeast that insurgencies have proved to be the most intractable and persistent. A wide range of continuously evolving strategies and tactics have been employed by the Army in this region, and a review of these lies well beyond the scope of this paper. Here, the historical and intellectual context of the military response to insurgency is explored with specific and exclusive reference to the crises and contradictions of the Unified Command structure, and the experience with the policy of the relocation of villages in Mizoram. To understand these issues, however, the legacy of colonial policies and the received wisdom on counter-insurgency strategies as conceived of and implemented by Western powers must first be examined.

The Background

The origin of the guerrilla tactics adopted in irregular warfare is ancient, but the ideological, political, and socio-economic trappings have been added to insurgency in fairly recent times, and perhaps not earlier than the emergence of the communist revolutionary warfare based on the theories of Mao-Tse-tung, Vo Nguyen Giap, Che Guevara and Carlos Marighela in the 20th century. Marx and Engels declared in 1848 that the objectives of communists "can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions."8 Force, in their view, encompassed a variety of forms: mass demonstration, general strikes, even relatively passive boycotts, as well as armed uprisings. The Communist International set down the conditions for armed struggle succinctly: "An absolute essential condition precedent for this form of action is the organization of the broad masses into militant units, which, by their form, embrace and set into action the largest possible number of toilers."9

Mao-Tse-tung added new scope and depth to the armed struggle strategy and tactics, and combined guerrilla warfare with regular protracted warfare through which he delivered the decisive blow in the last stages of the Chinese Revolution (1928-49). Most effective was Mao's strategy of establishing liberated bases far away from the ruling-class power centres, making the peasantry the base of the struggle, subversive activities in the cities followed by surrounding and capturing them from the countryside. He summarised his tactics in the celebrated remarks: "Divide our forces to arouse the masses, concentrate our forces to deal with the enemy. The enemy advances, we retreat; the enemy camps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy retreats, we pursue. To extend stable base areas, employ the policy of advancing in waves; when pursued by a powerful enemy, employ the policy of circling around. Arouse the largest number of the masses in the shortest possible time and the best possible methods. These tactics are just like casting a net; at any moment we should be able to cast it or draw it in. We cast it wide to win over the masses and draw it in to deal with the enemy...."10 Giap agreed with Mao in three main respects: the concept of protracted war, use of regular army as the main tool of the people's war, and the primacy of political activity and propaganda over military operations. Guerrilla warfare was useful only in the early stages of the revolutionary war as it was effective both in the mountain and the delta regions of Vietnam and could be waged with good as well as mediocre men and material. Giap had expected Dien Bien Phu war to last "five, ten, twenty or more years."11 In this readiness for protracted warfare lay his trump card against the USA. He could not hope to win militarily against the Americans, but the longer the Vietcong fought, the more difficult became a prolonged US involvement because of domestic and foreign policy considerations.12 As Townshend says: "In conventional war, time is expensive to governments; in irregular war it is cheap to their opponents."13

Unlike Marxist-Leninist and Maoist philosophy, which regarded armed insurrection as an important phase of the struggle, Guevara thought it was only an initial means and nothing more. Nor did the political party, ideology or political education play an important role in his scheme of things.14 He drew four fundamental lessons from the Cuban revolution: (1) Popular forces can win a war against the army; (2) It is not necessary to wait until all conditions for making revolution exist; the insurrection can create them; (3) In underdeveloped America the countryside is the basic area for armed fighting; (4) Guerrilla outbreak cannot be promoted against a government which has come to power through popular vote. (He later changed this last view and asserted that conditions for armed struggle existed anywhere in Latin America).15

The modern approach to counterinsurgency dates from the publication of Callwell's book in 1896,16 which drew its lessons of minimum force, firm action and civilian control from incidents like Amritsar (1919) and Cyprus (1931), and became the text-book at the Imperial Defense Staff College between the two World Wars.17 Clausewitz's 'people's war' was essentially about the role of partisans in conventional warfare.18 But the sophistication of revolutionary warfare preached by Mao-Tse-tung inspired a cascade of literature on the subject. Among the first notable studies was Thompson's seminal work on the Malayan communist insurgency.19

The American Approach

In 1962-63, the Centre for International Affairs of Harvard University sponsored a study that resulted in a small but extremely practical book by a French army officer, David Galula. This was based on his observation (from Hong Kong where he was Military Attache in 1950-53) of the communist Huk rebellion in the Philippines (1946-54), of Greek civil war during 1949-50 as the UN Military Observer, and his personal experiences in Algeria (1956-58).20 Galula and his contemporary American theorists like Pushtay21 and McCuen22 were most influential in the formulation of the global counterinsurgency doctrine adopted by the Kennedy administration.23 But it is one of the greatest paradoxes of modern military history that whereas the US succeeded in an advisory role in the Philippines and Latin America in the 1950s-60s, they failed to successfully apply the same principles when confronted with the communists in Vietnam themselves.

The likely reason was that time-tested principles of flexible approach and the adoption of socio-economic programs to erode the popular support of the insurgents were replaced by purely military objectives and the consequent reliance on massive firepower and aerial bombardment in Vietnam.24 USA dropped 13 million tons of high explosives (six times the bombs dropped by USA in World War II), and 90,000 tones of gas and herbicide in Vietnam.25 This "saturation bombing" principle has also been the undoing of the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Iraqis against their Kurd rebels. Beckett and Pimlott have observed: "Firepower, however, may not be an adequate substitute for.... having men on the ground hunting down the insurgent in his own environment.... In Malay ten minutes by helicopter was calculated as the equivalent of ten hours by foot, but experience has shown that the tendency to become 'heli-bound' in the way that the French were road-bound in Indochina must be resisted. There is little doubt that, in Vietnam, US forces often forgot that it is necessary to get out of the helicopter in order to fight effectively against the insurgent on the ground. The reliance on technology in counter-insurgency, although not entirely misplaced (notably in the increasing use of computers in intelligence analysis and of sophisticated surveillance devices), inevitably carries the risk that it will dominate the conduct of the campaign. Generally speaking, the less sophisticated the army, the better able it has been to defeat insurgency. Indeed, reliance on the helicopter or firepower may be regarded as pacification rather than counter-insurgency. The latter also requires contact with the people on the ground, for the civilian population will always be the arbiters of success or failure for both Security Forces and insurgents."26 In the last twenty years, a new concept in counterinsurgency warfare, called Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), has been a recurring theme in the United States with the US Army and Air Force Joint Center for Low Intensity Conflict as the focal point. But the central issue is the difficulty of agreeing on the definition of LIC, and it has provoked disagreements that are much more than semantics. Differences between prolonged counterinsurgency warfare (involving political, economic, and military measures) and special operations (involving counter-terrorism, rescue missions, commando operations, raids etc.) continue to fuel unresolved debates over the meaning of LIC, a doctrine that is supposed to cover all these and much more. At the same time, every serious military study of LIC has concluded that the United States is still no better prepared to counter insurgencies now than it was thirty five years ago when it began the long march to defeat in Vietnam.27 "The fundamental lesson to draw from our misadventures of the counterinsurgency era is the one already emphasised by many – the lesson of the limits of American power", says Blaufarb.28 The emphasis on ‘Rambo-oriented’ individuals and units in the LIC, and the suggestion that this force should be privatised to avoid Congressional oversight and accountability while maintaining a more genuinely covert profile, has raised new doubts in the background of the Iran-Contra affair. Many military experts in the United States have also come to believe that if USA cannot win against an insurgency, this does not mean that it will disengage: the idea is to deny the enemies the opportunity to achieve a real victory either. The utility of LIC for this limited purpose is seen by them as sufficient reason for its continued development.

The irony of the American situation has been aptly pointed out by Stone:

In reading the military literature on guerrilla warfare now so fashionable at the Pentagon, one feels that these writers are like men watching a dance from outside through heavy plate glass windows. They see the motions but they can't hear the music. They put the mechanical gestures down on paper with pedantic fidelity. But what rarely comes through to them are the injured racial feelings, the misery, the rankling slights, the hatred, the devotion, the inspiration and the desperation. So they do not really understand what leads men to abandon wife, children, home, career, friends; to take to the bush and live with gun in hand like a hunted animal; to challenge overwhelming military odds rather than acquiesce any longer in humiliation, injustice or poverty..."29

British Refinements

The British army is credited with having developed the best counterinsurgency warfare techniques in the modern world. It may be due to their valuable experience in many such wars since 1945: Palestine (1945-48), Malay (1948-60), Kenya (1952-60), Cyprus (1955-59), Brunei and Borneo (1962-66), Radfan and Aden (1963-67), Dhofar (1970-75), and Northern Ireland (1956-62 and 1969 onwards). Cyprus, Aden and Northern Ireland may not be the best examples of their success, but the British have allowed neither men nor weapons to rust after the 2nd World War.

British counterinsurgency theory and practice has been greatly influenced by the campaigns of Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer in Malaya, Field Marshal Harding in Cyprus, and Major (later General Sir Frank) Kitson in Kenya. The first two cases are good examples of the application of what Thompson later enunciated as the 'five principles' of counterinsurgency: (1) clear political aim on the part of the government; (2) adherence to the rule of law; (3) a co-ordinated plan in which political, economic, social and military responses are clearly laid down; (4) security of own bases before launching military operations; and (5) initial concentration on destroying the political infra-structure of the insurgents.30

The key elements of the British strategy were "political primacy, insurgent isolation, intelligence and appropriate military response."31 This meant: (1) a close political control over the army demonstrated by over-all control of a civilian vested with political powers; (2) emphasis on collection and collation of intelligence by the police to take advantage of their local knowledge and to recreate an air of normalcy; (3) isolation of the insurgents from support among the people by giving them a vested interest in the legitimate administration and by influencing their "hearts and minds" (Templer); (4) isolation could sometimes take the drastic form of resettlement of population away from insurgents' activity and influence; (5) elimination of cells of passive support and suspects by temporary detention and intelligence screening; (6) army to pursue insurgents when they are forced by isolation measures to retreat into countryside or slums and urban sprawls; (7) avoidance of civilian casualties to prevent alienating uncommitted people; and (8) sustained military campaign.32

Kitson is the best known exponent of the new ideas on special operations (counter-terrorism, raids, rescue and commando operations etc.) which form much of the basis of the British army's training in counterinsurgency warfare, and his well-known book33 is considered to be an outstanding professional manual on the subject. Having had counterinsurgency experience in Malay, Kenya and Cyprus, as well as having commanded the 19th Airportable Brigade in Northern Ireland during the 1970s, his qualifications are beyond question. The only problem with his views, however, is that they are based on the assumption that the enemy is the ‘Left’, the protesters, organisers of strikes and demonstrations in Third World countries, and maker of movements for national liberation – in short, a colonial orientation. He sees all types of political protest by the Left, the ‘subversives’, as a preparation for armed action. This plants the idea in the minds of the soldiers that the radical elements in the society or the exercise of the democratic rights by the people must be dealt with by military methods.

It is significant that "strengthening of indigenous police and armed forces" to secure their loyalty still remains an objective principle of the post-colonial British army. The implication is clear: their role is still visualised largely outside the country. Most modern theories of counterinsurgency in the non-communist world have been developed in Britain, France and USA. With the exception of Britain, which has had a kind of insurgency in Ireland (now Northern Ireland) from 850 AD onwards, these countries have not experienced the impact of insurgencies and terrorism within their own towns and countryside as India has during the first 50 years of its independence. All British and French counterinsurgency theories propounded until the 1960s were based on conclusions drawn from uprisings in their colonies.

Inevitably, their concept of counterinsurgency warfare was essentially colonial. In the post-colonial times counterinsurgency warfare has been practiced by superpowers for effective military intervention aimed at securing bases and influence. The techniques are ideally suited for vanquishing or pacifying enemies, and there is very little which can be borrowed from these techniques for resolving problems connected with indigenous ethnic insurgencies in the developing world. According to Ekbal Ahmad,

Contemporary revolutions have been occurring in the non-western world. Yet all the counterinsurgency theorists are westerners. More than their native clients they need ideological and moral arguments to justify their intervention to the natives no less than to the western soldiers who are sent to wage a confusing war on alien soil. Hence the counterinsurgency ideology seldom develops in response to local needs; it is mechanically manufactured or imported and characteristically lacks not only native roots but even the necessary adaptations to the local culture and values...34


The Question of Command

Civil-military relations and their respective roles in a counterinsurgency operation have been subjects of considerable debate and disagreement in most democracies. The question of overall command has often been a critical one, with the British favouring a Committee at every level comprising a senior military commander, a senior policeman and intelligence officers under the chairmanship of the head of the local administration. The French have preferred a single commander system, who is usually a military officer, with advisors from the military as well as the civil administration. The British model is based on the democratic model defined by Vagts in which civilian-political supremacy is guaranteed by democratic parliamentary institutions, and by the professional ethics of the army itself,35 which excludes it from involvement in domestic partisan politics.36 The civilian-political elites exercise control over the military through a formal set of rules that specifies the functions of the military and the conditions under which the military may exercise its authority.

The French follow a slightly democratic variant of the old aristocratic model in which civil and military elites are socially and functionally integrated. These are what Huntington calls the "objective control" (democratic) and "subjective control" (aristocratic) of the military.37 There is no doubt, however, that a unified command is necessary for fighting an insurgency. Only the problem of co-ordinating civil and military measures is complicated. Regaining the allegiance of the population is both the prelude to destroying the power of the insurgents as well as the ultimate goal of a counterinsurgency operation. In an area of active hostility, the army is inevitably seen by a beleaguered civil population as an adversary in the initial stages of fighting and the situation does not change until well after the army establishes its superiority. The task of increasing the material comforts of the population and rectifying their grievances remains the exclusive business of a civil administration.

The British took the idea of the unified command to its logical conclusion in Malay and Cyprus when their Generals became the heads of the government. In a democratic system like India, however, pressure groups like the Civil Service and the Press would be equally vocal against an administration headed by a serving military man, even if the political leadership was inclined to accept it as an emergency measure. For instance, the 1968 decision to post a serving army general as the Commissioner of a Division in Assam so that he could be the overall and unified commander of all agencies dealing with the Mizo insurgency had to be reviewed and set aside within a week under pressure from the Indian Administrative Service. Attempts to secure this unification of command under a retired military officer have also failed to pay significant dividends. Many ex-Chiefs and retired Generals of the Indian army have been Governors of states riven by insurgencies but they have, despite such states having often been under President's rules for long durations, failed to resolve insurgencies as effectively as States working under popularly elected governments. This confirms Horowitz's view that such conflicts can be better resolved through a combination of electoral politics, re-distribution of economic resources, and military campaigns rather than through military means alone.38

In this context, K.P.S. Gill made a unique contribution to counterinsurgency warfare. He is credited with resolving the Punjab insurgency largely through the use of the State's police force – something inconceivable in a sphere in which the regular Army has traditionally been the ultimate panacea the world over. If the conflict in J&K is treated in its correct perspective as a protracted Low Intensity War between India and Pakistan, the insurgency in Punjab was the most serious internal conflict in post-independence India in terms of the intensity and frequency of violence, lives lost on both sides, the world-wide propaganda capabilities of the insurgents, and the political significance that was accorded to the Khalistan insurgency internationally. The active and direct involvement of Pakistan's ISI from right across the border and from inside India turned it into a formidable conflict. The efficiency and speed with which the insurgency in Punjab was resolved under the command of K.P.S. Gill as the Director General of the Punjab Police has been a subject of considerable debate and discussion for a long time. Gill introduced "one of the most unique experiments in multi-force counter-terrorist strategic initiatives and integrated command structures", what he refers to as the idea of "cooperative command".39 It is unfortunate that this experiment has yet to receive the attention it deserves from strategists, and has not been attempted in any other theatre in India. It must, of course, also be acknowledged that the command structure in Punjab was an organic development based on K.P.S. Gill's emergence as the dominating personality in the counterterrorism campaign, with an aura of authority that no other wing of the security forces operating in the State cared or dared to question. Critically, it was not a product of state policy, but of the personal strength and vision of a single commander, and this, perhaps, is the reason why the experiment has not been replicated in any of the other States rife with insurgency. What is abundantly clear from the Punjab experience, however, is that once the best person to lead the operations has been identified, he should be left free to command.


Grouping of Villages as Counterinsurgency Strategy

The years 1967-69 saw the entire rural population of Mizoram (roughly eighty per cent of the total population) uprooted from their homes, to be relocated miles away in what were euphemistically called ‘Protected and Progressive Villages’. The army argued that the segregation and control of the population by this method was necessary for a successful counterinsurgency campaign. The general humiliation, loss of freedom and of property, and, very often, injury and death involved in this process of so-called 'grouping of villages' were incidental to the military operations in Mizoram (1966-1986), as perhaps they are to internal wars anywhere. But it appeared to many then, as it would appear to many more acutely now, that the policy of 'grouping' was tantamount to annihilation of reason and sensibility and certainly not the best policy to follow against our own ethnic minorities.

The Mizo Insurrection

The context for the policy of grouping of villages was created by the Mizo insurrection which commenced when the Mizo National Front (MNF) declared the "independence" of Mizoram from India in the early hours of March 1, 1966. Laldenga and 59 others issued a statement to justify the extraordinary step that they had taken.40 The Mizo National Front government had Laldenga as its ‘President’. Its other important functionaries were: Lalnunmawia – ‘Vice-President’, R. Zamawia – ‘Defence Secretary’, Sainghaka – ‘Home Secretary’, Lalkhawliana – ‘Finance Secretary’, J.F. Manliana – ‘Chief Justice’, and Malsawma Colney – the ‘Speaker of the Parliament’. The military hierarchy of the Mizo National Army was fairly well-defined. The MNA was headed by a Chief of Staff, and ‘Lieutenant General’ Thangzuala Sailo held this position in 1966. His Vice-Chief of Staff was ‘Major General’ Vanlalhruaia. Other members of the general staff were: ‘Major General’ Thankima, ‘Adjutant General’, ‘Major General’ J. Sawmvela, ‘GOC-in-C Western Command’, and ‘Major General’ R. Lalngura, ‘GOC-in-C Eastern Command’.

At the time of the Mizo uprising in March 1966, the Mizo National Army (MNA) consisted of eight infantry battalions organised on the pattern of the Indian army, but the number of men in each ‘battalion’ was about 50 in the hope that future recruitment and training would raise the strength sufficiently to match the Indian army's infantry battalions. Seven battalions were named after legendary Mizo heroes Vnapa, Khuangchera, Taitesena, Lalvunga, Saizahawla, Chawngbawia, and Zampui Manga, and one after a Biblical character, Joshua. The battalions were known by their initials, e.g. ‘V’ Battalion stood for Vnapa, ‘J’ for Joshua and so on. T, CH, S and K battalions made the Lion Brigade, and V, J, L, and Z battalions the Dagger Brigade. The Brigades had their clearly demarcated area of operation in the early days of insurgency, with the northern half of the district under the Dagger Brigade and the southern half under the Lion Brigade. In the beginning the main body of the MNA consisted of about 2000 men who had gone through various levels of training, and about an equal number of irregulars, known as the Mizo National Volunteer Force. The approximate number of weapons MNA had by end of March 1966 (including both the arms smuggled from Pakistan and looted from Assam Rifles, Border Security Force and Assam Police in the early days of the uprising) was: 600 rifles (mostly .303 bore), 20 light machine guns, 75 sten-guns, 25 carbines, 30 revolvers/pistols, and about 1500 shotguns including muzzle-loading guns.

The Army’s Response

On the night of February 28/March 1, 1966, the MNA simultaneously engaged the 1st Assam Rifles garrisons at Aizawl, Lunglei and Champhai and the 5th Border Security Force posts at Tipaimukh, Hnahlan, Vaphai, Tuipang, Vaseitlang, Chawngte, Demagiri, Marpara, and Tuipuibari. On March 1, they raided the Aizawl treasury and telephone exchange and made off with ten rifles and some cash. The same day they succeeded in attaining complete surprise at Champhai, killed the sentries at the Assam Rifles quarter guard and took possession of the weapons before the garrison knew what had happened. They took over Aizawl town on March 3 and T.S. Gill, the Deputy Commissioner of the District, took shelter in the Assam Rifles headquarters. Lunglei was invested by the MNA on March 5, and R.V. Pillai, the Sub-divisional Officer, was kidnapped. The BSF posts held out despite the severity of the attacks.

The army was asked by the central government to deal with the situation on March 2, and the 61 Mountain Brigade was moved from Agartala (Tripura) to Silchar on March 3 and to Aizawl on March 7 to start operations against the MNF. The over-all responsibility for the army operations as well as liaison with the Government of Assam was given to Major General (later Lt. Gen.) Sangat Singh, GOC 101 Communication Zone, with Headquarters in Shillong. The first army battalion (8th Sikh) advanced from Silchar into the hills on March 3 and, after some minor skirmishes on the way, linked up with the besieged Assam Rifles garrison at Aizawl on March 7. On March 8, 2nd/11th Gurkha Rifles moved towards Champhai and 3rd Bihar towards Lunglei. Lunglei was secured by the Indian army on March 14 and Champhai on March 15. On March 14-15, 5th Para were flown in by helicopters into Lunglei. They made a dash for Demagiri on the East Pakistan border and took over this area on March 17.

During the first month of operations, the Security Forces (SF – this expression will now be used as, by the end of the month, it was a composite army/ para-military/ police force) were able to take back all the posts which had fallen to the MNA in early March. The cost in terms of casualties was heavy. The SF suffered 59 killed, 126 wounded and 23 missing. The MNA casualties during this period were 95 killed, 35 wounded and 558 (which included unarmed MNV) captured. The SF also captured 175 rifles of various bores and types, 332 shotguns, 467 muzzle loading guns, 57 pistols/revolvers and about 70,000 rounds of ammunition. These weapons also included the ones that were seized from the villagers during search operations.

The MNA headquarters was in Aizawl in the beginning of March. On March 3 it moved to South Hlimen, about thirty miles south of Aizawl. On March 18, it was shifted to Reiek, east of Aizawl. By the end of the month Laldenga and the entire MNF and MNA high command had crossed the border and established their headquarters in Chittagong Hill Tracts of what was then East Pakistan.

During the next eight months, the SF were joined by two more army battalion (18 Punjab and 9 Bihar), three Assam Rifles battalions (6th, 18th and 19th) and four armed police battalions belonging to the Central Reserve Police and the States. These forces were able to secure the district, sub-divisional and block civil administration headquarters and to some extent the main Silchar-Aizawl-Lunglei road by the end of the year 1966.

By the end of April 1966, the MNA dispersed in smaller units and merged with the population. From the safety of their villages they launched guerrilla attacks on the SF, often inflicting considerable damage and casualties. The routine activities of the SF, such as escorting road convoys and manning of static posts at administrative centres, SF movements on interior roads, as well as their ignorance of the topography made them easy targets to guerrilla bands. They had very little access to hard intelligence, and the Mizos could not initially be involved in this work as they were too scared of the punishment the MNA might meet out to them. SF operations were, therefore, undertaken on scanty or no information throughout 1966. Between March and December 1966, the SF lost 95 men and 60 weapons.

The high casualties and the inability of the SFs to effectively check MNA depredations were viewed with some concern. There was only a semblance of Indian authority in the Mizo Hills during 1966, and with the reported arrival of fresh MNA reinforcements from East Pakistan with more arms, it was feared that the situation would not be qualitatively better in the days to come unless a longer-term view was taken of the counterinsurgency operations and its strategic/logistic requirements. The army was under pressure to provide evidence of a higher level of competence than they had shown over the past year. The government was equally under pressure. Hundreds of Mizo families had run away to Shillong and other places in Assam to escape the chaos at home, and a further and much larger migration of Mizos caught between two fighting armies was feared. There was scarcity of food and other essential commodities in the district as most non-tribal shopkeepers had run away and no fresh goods were finding their way into the district. The convoys being run to bring in food and other goods under SF protection were few and far in-between because of the frequency of ambushes and heavy SF casualties. The Border Roads Organisation, who had been building strategic roads in the district since 1964, was also finding it difficult to build and maintain roads under such insecure conditions. And to add to the government's discomfiture, there were reports of serious human and civil rights violations and maltreatment of civilians at the hands of the SF in the Indian as well as the foreign press.

The army proposed that insurgency could not be controlled without more troops for operations and without recourse to resettlement of villages in order to isolate the guerrillas from the populace. The country had a difficult choice. Many battalions of the Army were already committed in a similar role in Nagaland and Manipur. An indecisive war had been fought with Pakistan in the previous year (1965) and the situation was too uncertain to allow thinning of the troops on the western border. Although a war with China had been fought four years earlier, the massing of Chinese troops on the border, their belligerence in Tibet and the extension of their support to the Naga (and later Mizo) insurgents precluded withdrawal of troops from the northern borders.

There were clearly two options in so far as additional troops for the Mizo Hills operations were concerned: either the army could reduce the period the troops were allowed in family stations between postings in non-family stations on the borders, or the government could agree to the raising of more battalions and, consequently, the size of the army itself. On the basis of a re-assessment of infantry battalions which were likely to be involved in counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast, it was decided that another infantry division would be added to the army. Plans had already existed for the creation of this division as part of a larger scheme to give the army more teeth in the eastern sector in the event of a major conflict with either Pakistan or China in the future, and the Mizo Hills situation speeded up the process.

There was considerable debate on the question of resettlement or re-grouping of villages, which the army thought was essential for effective counterinsurgency operations.41 This proposal was advanced by the army as a solution to two more pressing problems - the attacks on convoys by insurgents living in the villages and high SF casualties. The Silchar-Aizawl-Lunglei road was the lifeline of the district and convoys carrying food and other essential commodities were necessary both to save the population from starvation and for the maintenance of the SFs. The convoys could move only if they were escorted by the SFs and the road was made secure. The insurgents, who had merged with the local population, ambushed the SF escorts or the road patrols, and made away with looted weapons, back to hideouts in the villages. Unless, the army argued, the villages within ten miles from the main road were depopulated and were regrouped along the main road and put under constant SF surveillance, they could not hope to isolate the MNA from the population and make the roads more secure from their attacks. Once isolated, the insurgents would tend to go back to the jungles where the SF would be able to tackle them more effectively. Such a step, moreover, would facilitate better intelligence, as informers would be more forthcoming when the population had confidence in the ability of the SFs to protect them from the rebels. So far they were working on the basis of information gained from observation or from interrogating prisoners. The interrogation was also inefficient because it was very difficult to make sense out of prisoners’ stories, especially since there was no advance information available to either check a story or trip up the prisoner when the lying started.

Resettlement of Villages

In a report sent to the army headquarters in October 1966, Lt. Gen. (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw, GOC-in-C Eastern Command, Calcutta, recommended that to be effective militarily, grouping must be extensive and must intern a very large portion, if not all, of the population. He, however, suggested that grouping may initially be undertaken in a 10-mile belt on both sides of the Vairengte-Aizawl-Lunglei road. The military advantages of this action, according to him, would be to make the road axis secure and thus increase the logistic capacity as well as relatively unhampered road-construction work by the Border Roads Organisation. The grouped villagers could also be gainfully employed to work on the new roads. The 20-mile secure belt thus created would restrict movement of hostile gangs from one sector to another and to and from East Pakistan. Coupled with a ‘food denial’ programme based on monitoring and controlling food supplies to the grouped villages, the policy envisaged forcing the insurgents into devoting their energies to personal survival rather than armed activity. This would compel the MNA to migrate into ungrouped and depopulated areas, thus diminishing the territory that was required to be dominated by the SF. Manekshaw was also of the opinion that grouping of villages would enable the civil administration to exercise more effective control over a larger population than it was able to do at that time, and would eventually lead to destruction of the political infrastructure of the insurgents by isolating the militants from their support among the people. He visualised that the provision of administrative facilities for the newly re-grouped villages would include food supplies and fair-price shops, house-roofing material like galvanised corrugated iron sheets, dispensaries and doctors, and schools.

Meanwhile, the Government of Assam had also separately proposed to the Government of India the grouping of 75 villages, mainly to the north of Aizawl, with a population of 36,517, and had envisaged these centres as protected villages with basic civic amenities. This proposal was initiated by R. Natarajan, the Deputy Commissioner of Mizo Hills District, who thought that the army scheme was likely to be drastic, and that it could be effectively kept in check only if the civil administration could foist a scheme of its own. The central Cabinet rejected the army proposal on October 20, 1966.

It appears that the main opposition to the army scheme came from B. K. Nehru, Governor of Assam, and the central Ministries of Home and Finance. But the army embarked on a programme of most forceful lobbying of their case during the next few weeks, and also launched a major public relations exercise with the Government of Assam to get them to agree to a scheme of village relocation which would meet their operational requirements and yet be acceptable to the state government. In any case, dithering on such an important policy issue at the behest of the Government of Assam, which was largely held responsible for insurgency in Mizo Hills, was considered bad form in Delhi in those days, particularly when mounting army casualties had become a matter of serious concern. The Army's endeavours were fruitful and the scheme was finally cleared by the Government of India on December 5, 1966. The government also specified certain guiding principles.42

The Army called it ‘Operation Accomplishment’. In its 6 p.m. news broadcast on January 3, 1967, the All India Radio announced the decision of the Government of India to group villages in Mizo Hills for security reasons. Lt. Gen. S.H.F.J. Manekshaw and A.N. Kidwai, Chief Secretary of Assam, announced the decision in press conferences held in Calcutta and Shillong simultaneously on that day. The Indian press generally appreciated the gesture of the government to have taken them into confidence in this matter. Formal orders were issued by B.C. Carriapa, Commissioner of Division of Cachar and Mizo Hills and ex-officio Central Government Liaison Officer for Mizo Hills, under Rule 57 of the Defence of India Rules, 1964, which directed habitants of 100 villages within a 20-mile belt astride Vairengte-Aizawl-Lunglei road to move with all their property to 18 specified group centres and authorised the army to remove them, if necessary, by use of "minimum force".

‘Operation Accomplishment’ was executed by the army with the best possible speed and efficiency. In forty-nine days between January 4 and February 23, 45,107 inhabitants of 109 villages were relocated in 18 group centres on the main road. The army, assisted by the first batch of civilian officers earmarked for the administration of these new centres, carried out screening of the entire population, supervised the layout of the new habitations and house-sites, constructed bamboo and barbed-wire stockades along the perimeters, recorded particulars of all individuals and issued identity cards, distributed rations based on a daily scale approved by the government, organised medical cover including vaccination of all population to guard against disease and epidemic and posted army doctors to look after the health of the villagers. Each centre was initially placed in the charge of an officer of the rank of a Major or Captain, with a company of troops to look after the security and protection of the centres as well as road protection duties for the passage of civil and army convoys. These new grouped village centres were designated ‘Protected and Progressive Villages’ (PPVs), and were handed over to the civil administration during the course of the following three months.

The Mizo National Front started interfering in the grouping of villages around the end of January 1967 when the army found two villages, Keifang and Tualbung, partially deserted after they were ordered to move to the Thingsulthliah center. About 2000 villagers were successfully prevented by the MNA from being grouped. The SF launched their ‘Operation Satsriakal’ to deal with the MNA, and in the ensuing confrontations between January 4 and February 15, 1967, they again suffered heavy casualties. 75 soldiers were killed and 60 wounded, and the SFs lost about 40 rifles, 5 light machine guns, 6 sten-guns and other assorted arms and ammunition. MNA losses were 36 men killed, 10 wounded and about 100 apprehended. The SF also seized some 30 weapons of different types and as well as ammunition from the MNA.

Operations During 1967 & 1968

As was expected, the Security Forces carried out large-scale offensive operations against the MNF during the whole of 1967 to consolidate whatever they had gained from the grouping of villages. They first combed the depopulated areas on both sides of the road along which grouping had been done to destroy possible hideouts and hidden stocks of foodgrain. There were also regular smaller operations undertaken by the SF posts in the interior that emphasised vigorous patrolling and ambushes. Major operations, involving employment of troops from different sectors as well as helicopter-borne troops, were also conducted in the interior. The pattern generally followed was to lay stops around areas selected on the basis of information and reconnaissance analysis, and to flush the areas with troops to make it impossible for any hostile to escape. Thickly wooded areas in the vicinity of villages and watercourses, which were often used by the MNA guerrillas as their camping places, were subjected to special searches.

The ‘Operation Blanket’ concept, which was tried by 5 Para in 1966 with some success, was also frequently employed. This involved the sending out of self-contained patrols for 10 to 15 day sorties to dominate a group of nearby villages in each mission, in order to give the villagers an impression of almost permanent presence so that they could be rid of MNF influence. Though the operations undertaken during 1967 were not very successful from the point of view of MNF casualties or recoveries of arms, they did, for the first time, result in the relative security of road convoys and reduced SF casualties. They also kept the insurgents constantly on the run as the whole district was patrolled and dominated by the SFs throughout the year.

But the tables were turned again during January-April 1968. The MNA carried out some very successful ambushes against the SFs early in the year and let loose a reign of terror against their own kith and kin who they suspected of assisting the SFs. This resulted in one of the biggest operations, with about twelve battalions taking part, launched in April. Ironically, an SF column was ambushed within a few hours of the commencement of the operation. Nevertheless, in many ways, this was a decisive year from the military point of view.

1968 saw the heaviest rainfall in Mizo Hills in living memory, and throughout the summer months the SFs kept tightening their noose between Tuipui and Tuichang rivers, the area where hostile movement was most conspicuous. By the end of the year, about 90 insurgents had been killed and many more taken prisoner, though the SFs also suffered a loss of about 35 of their men. These operations dealt a severe blow to MNF morale, and the majority of the guerrillas escaped into East Pakistan, leaving Mizo Hills relatively free from military activity for the next two years, with the exception of some isolated and minor skirmishes.

At the beginning of 1968, it was estimated that the MNF had about 650 rifles of .303 calibre, 25 self-loading rifles of 7.62 calibre, 75 sten-guns, 50 light machine guns and 10 two-inch mortars. During the first four months of the year they grabbed another 16 rifles of 7.62 calibre, 7 rifles of .303 calibre, 9 sten-guns, 3 light machine guns and 1 two-inch mortar, in successful ambushes on the SFs. The SFs, however, recovered 5 light machine guns, 15 sten-guns and 156 rifles of .303 calibre from the MNF during the operations launched during the year. By 1969, consequently, the MNA were left with about 10 two-inch mortars, 47 light machine guns, 67 sten-guns, 503 rifles of 303 calibre, and 40 self-loading 7.62 rifles as their main fighting weapons. The estimates of the Security Forces regarding the weapons held by the MNF were fairly accurate. The initial figures were compiled on the basis of the interrogations of MNF Vice-Chief of Staff, Major General Vanlalhruaia, who was captured on December 19, 1966. These were substantiated by the MNF Quatermaster General, Brigadier Liandawla, who was captured on December 27, 1966 in Aizawl. This information was further verified from the MNF Lion Brigade documents that the SFs seized on December 31, 1967. These sources and documents also confirmed that the Pakistani army had so far given them 360 rifles, 24 carbines, 35 sten-guns, 30 LMGs and 4 two-inch mortars. The ostensible reason for the MNF to take to terrorising of the civilian population was either to strike down proven army informers or a move to prevent people from hampering further recruitment. But some MNF cadres later confessed after they came overground that, for many of them, it was also the release of an enormous strain that had been mounting on their nervous systems, a kind of emotional catharsis. They were of the opinion that Mizos were not temperamentally suited to a long drawn-out war and prolonged isolation from their families. This often resulted in discharge of wrought-up emotions, and anything, even shooting at a tree, sometimes soothed their nerves.

It is estimated that during the two distinct phases of terror in 1968 and 1973-74, the MNF wiped out about 350 of civilians from their own communities.

The First Amnesty

In August 1968, the Government of India took advantage of the military superiority of the SFs, and offered amnesty to the rebels. The terms included pardon for participation in the war against India for those who surrendered with their serviceable arms, and cash rewards of Rs. 4,000 for a light machine gun, Rs. 600 for a mortar or rocket launcher, Rs. 500 for a 7.62 calibre self-loading rifle, Rs. 300 for a .303 calibre rifle/sten-gun/carbine and Rs. 250 for a pistol or a revolver. This resulted in 60 insurgents surrendering with weapons and 1464 without weapons.43 The insurgents who surrendered revealed that the MNF morale had been shattered by the combined effect of the latest operations, very high incidence of sickness, particularly malaria, and inability to get adequate food from the population, and general disgust and disillusionment in the rank and file of the MNA and volunteers. In fact, the morale of the MNF was so low during 1969 that Laldenga sent Vanlalngaia, the chief of the MNF intelligence branch, to Mizo Hills to study the possibility of a rapproachment with the Government of India. This initiative was, however, frustrated due to the arrest of this emissary by the SFs. The news of low rebel morale encouraged the government to make several amnesty offers during 1969-70, though the renewed offers did not always elicit the desired level of response.44

Further Resettlement

The army took advantage of this success to press home the demand for further re-grouping of villages along the Mizo Hills borders with Tripura, Burma and Pakistan. There was again some hesitation on the part of the Government of Assam, but the Government of India went largely by the Army's advice, and an order for grouping of another 185 villages, with a population of 95,917, to be relocated in 41 centers was issued by the District Magistrate of Mizo Hills under the Assam Maintenance of Public Order Act, 1948, as the earlier order under the Defence of India Rules was found to have some legal flaws.

The second grouping order was executed by the SFs’ ‘Operation Accomplishment Two’ over 1968-69. This was followed by a third grouping of 63 villages with a population of 34,195 at 17 centres. The army, however, carried out a further grouping of 110 villages with a population of 47,056 in 26 centres without any order from the government on the ground that these villagers had expressed a desire to be shifted voluntarily. The government had no choice but to regularise this grouping by an ex post facto order issued in 1970. By 1972, there were 102 group centres accommodating 240,000 persons, or more than 80 percent of Mizo Hills’ population of 285,000. The remaining 45,000 people lived in Aizawl, Lunglei and Saiha and a few ungrouped villages in the Pawi-Lakher region in the south.

An interesting development had taken place in the meantime. While the last two phases of grouping of villages were being carried out, the general resentment against grouping mounted to such an extent that some Mizos challenged the orders in the Gauhati High Court as violative of the Fundamental Rights guaranteed in the Constitution. The High Court directed the suspension of all further grouping and asked the government to show cause why this order should not be made absolute. The matter was, however, dropped by the High Court after the government had assured it that no further grouping of villages was planned. By this time, however, 80 per cent of the population of Mizo Hills District had already been re-located.

The Resettlement Strategy Examined

When Roman legions marched across Europe and Asia, they had a rather simple way of dealing with the local hostile population: they just carted the natives to their capital and sold them off as slaves. Modern armies have developed more sophisticated ways of dealing with such problems. The concentration camps established during the Boer War were instrumental in isolating the Commandos from their economic and spiritual bases and contributed materially to the British success. This method was used by the Nazis to wipe out almost the entire population of ethnic Jews who were herded into concentration camps. But it was essentially the successful British experiment in re-settlement in Malaya (1948-60) which has provided a model for use of such tactics in the counterinsurgency campaigns of the last forty years.

Re-settlement and other similar forms of population control have, however, been a favourite counter-insurgency technique with most modern armies. Although the French army never adopted this as a general policy in Vietnam, re-settlement was undertaken in the border areas of Cambodia in 1947 and 1951 as part of their pacification programme with some success in so far as it removed the sources of food, shelter and recruits from the Viet Minh. The South Vietnamese under Diem continued these efforts. During the Algerian war, the French army, as part of their regroupement policy, uprooted more than one million peasants from their homes, and created immense social discontent and suffering. In Vietnam, the agrovilles created by the French became ‘strategic hamlets’ under the Strategic Hamlet Programme of the US army in the 1960s. But this strategy failed largely because of the American adherence to a ‘search and destroy’ policy rather than the ‘clear and hold’ concept recommended by Robert Thompson of the British Advisory Mission in Saigon.

The United States army had hired a team of British advisors45 for the purpose of formulating the re-settlement or the ‘strategic hamlets’ plan, and, like many other American obsessions, "their creation became the purpose itself."46 It served no military or administrative objective and, in fact, one sceptical US official commented: "If you stand long enough down there, they will throw a piece of barbed wire around you and call you a strategic hamlet."47 The British army had, as mentioned above, successfully tested this strategy under Thompson when they re-settled about half a million Chinese in Malaya in 1950-51 in new villages protected by military units and wire fences. Incidentally, the Portuguese army had also experimented with re-settlement in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea between 1945 and 1974, by establishing senzalas do paz or aldeamentos to serve a variety of objectives including the separation of populations from the guerrillas, the accommodation of refugees returning from Zaire, and the release of more land for further white settlement. The Portuguese brought together more than one million Angolans and 15 percent of the population of Mozambique into the aldeamentos with disastrous results. Re-settlement was also undertaken on a large scale in the whole of black rural Rhodesia from 1973 onwards and, besides causing immeasurable suffering to the tribal communities, failed to achieve the objective of containing violence.

Tactically, the strategy of resettlement has been used (a) to isolate the hostiles from villages to deny them intelligence, food, money and new recruits; (b) to achieve full freedom of operation against the guerrillas in the depopulated and unenclosed countryside; (c) to free more troops for operations; and (d) to build up the confidence of the villagers in the SFs’ ability to protect them so that they become willing members of the military-intelligence set-up. Strategically, re-settlement helps (a) to protect the population; (b) to unite the people in positive action on the side of the government; (c) to instill in them the will to morally and physically resist the demands of the hostiles so that some responsibility for the defence of the new settlements can devolve on the inhabitants; and (d) to provide a framework for social and economic improvement.

It is evident that in modern counterinsurgency warfare, there is a greater emphasis on 'clear and hold' operations as opposed to 'search and clear' or sweep operations, since the latter, howsoever aggressive, do not achieve the dual purpose of killing insurgents and destroying their infrastructure. Moreover, massive deployment of infantry and air power, which is essential for ‘search and clear’ operations, is generally wasteful and not within the means of all countries to afford. Even US armed forces failed to get proportionate benefits out of the massive ‘search and clear’ operations that were launched throughout the intensive phase of the Vietnam War. On the other hand, 'hold' operations have very little effectiveness in counterinsurgency campaigns if re-settlement, or similar methods aimed at physical and political isolation of the population from insurgents, is not the basis of the security framework. But re-settlement of populations or their control by similar methods has had many other vital implications in recent military history.

Whether in its more extreme form, as practised by the Nazis against the Jews, or in moderate forms of varying degrees as adopted in Malaya, Vietnam, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique and Rhodesia (or even nearer home in Mizoram in 1967-70), patterns of control of populations through concentrating in camps display certain discomforting similarities.

First, they have always been used against people who are racially or ethnically different. The white races have practised control of ethnic populations in the American continent as a means to subdue the natives and to colonise their lands and resources for almost four centuries. In modern counterinsurgency warfare, too, the seminal experiment in re-settlement came with the control of the Chinese population by the British in Malaya and this provided a model for its application by other armies.

Secondly, re-settlement has often been used to maintain economic and strategic interests and to suppress struggles for democratic advance and national and social liberation. These frankly anti-democratic and anti-national-liberation purposes were pursued by the British army against Malaya (1948-60), Kenya (1952-55), Aden (1963-68), Oman (1957-59), Cyprus (1954-58), Malaysia (1963-66). Clearly, there is a stigma attached to these tactics in their application in the Third World, where colonialism and ethnic heterogeneity have been among the most common factors responsible for insurgency.48 It appears unlikely that a section of white citizens in an economically stable country like the USA will take to terrorism or warfare against the state. But it is equally unlikely that, in case that happens, an entire white population would be herded into camps with barbed wire thrown around them.49 Just as it would be impossible for the British and Spanish governments to agree to a plan of their armies to exercise control over the Catholic population of Northern Ireland or the Basque population of Spain by resettling them in stockaded centres guarded by armed troops. Such extreme measures would always hold good for peoples other than those who belong racially and ethnically to the dominant majority.50

Arguably, this is a serious charge that India will be confronted with internally and externally if such a strategy was to be adopted today against an ethnic minority as the reach of the media in the new millenium would be a million times more extensive than what it was in the 1960s. Although the Mizo crisis is over and many of the PPVs have been de-grouped with villagers returning to their native villages, the grouping exercise carried out over 1967-70 has left a huge scar in the Mizo psyche. The romance of Mizo village life disappeared forever. A personalised account of the enormity of the exercise and its impact are provided in the reminiscences of one Army officer who was engaged in the execution of the policy of relocation:

"Darzo was one of the richest villages I have ever seen in this part of the world. There were ample stores of paddy, fowls and pigs. The villagers appeared well-fed and well-clad, and most of them had some money in cash. We arrived in the village about ten in the morning. My orders were to get the villagers to collect whatever moveable property they could, and to set their own village to fire at seven in the evening. I also had orders to burn all the paddy and other grain that could not be carried away by the villagers to the new center so as to keep food out of the reach of the insurgents. For about three hours I tried to convince them that they would have to shift bag and baggage to Hnathial Protected and Progressive Village, as the group centres were officially known. They argued with me endlessly, until I had no choice but to tell them that the soldiers would deal with them if they did not obey my orders. It was obvious they could not carry away even one fourth of the paddy they had in storage. Now, it was a dilemma as I had orders to burn all paddy that could not be carried away so that the insurgents don't benefit from it. Imagine, we were supposed to destroy all that food for which hundreds of families had toiled for months. I somehow couldn't do it. I called the Village Council President and told him that in three hours his men could hide all the excess paddy and other foodgrain in the caves and return for it after a few days under army escort. They concealed everything most efficiently.

Night fell and I had to persuade the villagers to come out and set fire to their homes. Nobody came out. Then I had to order my soldiers to enter every house and force the people out. Every man, woman and child who could walk came out with as much of his or her belongings and food as they could. But they wouldn't set fire to their homes. Ultimately, I lit a torch myself and set fire to one of the houses. I knew I was carrying out orders, and would hate to do such a thing if I had my way. My soldiers also started torching other buildings, and the whole place was soon ablaze. There was absolute confusion everywhere. Women were wailing and shouting and cursing. Children were frightened and cried. Young boys and girls held hands and looked at their burning village with a stupefied expression on their faces. But the grown up men were silent; not a whimper or a whisper from them. Pigs were running about, mithuns were bellowing, dogs were barking, and fowls setting up a racket with their fluttering and crackling. One little girl ran into her burning house and soon darted out holding a kitten in her hands.

When it was time for the world to sleep, we marched out of Darzo – soldiers in front, with the Mizos following, and the rear brought up by more soldiers. We had enough troops for the job. If anyone had tried to run away from the column, he would have been shot. We walked fifteen miles through the night along the jungle and the morning saw us in Hnathial. I tell you, I hated myself that night. I had done the job of an executioner. That night when I saw children as young as three years carrying huge loads on their heads for fifteen miles with very few stops for rest, their noses running, their little feet faltering, with pregnant women hardly able to carry their burden up the hill from the Mat river valley - for the first time in my life as a soldier I did not feel the burden of the fifty pound haversack on my own back. It was a miracle that we reached Hnathial without a casualty, or perhaps the Mizos are a very tough people, physically and emotionally. But there was something more to be carried out. I called the Darzo Village Council President and his village elders and ordered them to sign a document saying that they had voluntarily asked to be resettled in Hnathial PPV under the protection of the Security Forces as they were being harassed by the insurgents, and because their own village did not have communications, educational, medical and other facilities. Another document stated that they had burnt down their own village, and that no force or coercion was used by the Security Forces. They refused to sign. So I sent them out and after an hour called them in again, this time one man at a time. On my table was a loaded revolver, and in the corner stood two NCOs with loaded sten-guns. This frightened them, and one by one they signed both the documents. I had to do it as I had no choice in this matter. If those chaps had gone to the civil administration or the courts with complaints, there would have been all kinds of criminal cases against us. We had to protect ourselves with these false certificates. We had no choice. All individual officers were expected to carry out their tasks in such a manner that it left no scope for embarrassment to our higher formations."51

There is, of course, no doubt that grouping contributed considerably to the success of the army's counterinsurgency operations. But the irony is that the colonial strategies adopted by the British to suppress independent movements and other anti-colonial insurrections in Kenya, Aden, Oman, Cyprus, and Malay, and which had at one time been decried most vehemently by our national leaders, were used by us against some of our own people in the post-independence era. One hopes that Indian government would not allow use of such outdated colonial military strategies while dealing with our own ethnic minorities who have not been able to finally settle their terms of political association with India. The problem is that in the nation's internal wars against terrorists and insurgents, it is very often not the culpable segment of the population that suffers the most. Those who had set up insurrections in Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and Assam soon became fleeting, elusive shapes, like the phosphorescent creatures of the deep ocean, directing their confused struggles from the safety of foreign sanctuaries, while the village folk, most of whom knew very little about anything, have borne the brunt of an exasperated, and often clueless, system of governance.

Appendix I

Text of Mizo National Front’s Declaration of 1966

In the course of human history it becomes invariably necessary for mankind to assume their social, economic and political status to which the Law of Nature and Nature's God entitles them. We hold this truth to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed with inalienable fundamental human rights and dignity of human person; and to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just power from the consent of the governed and whenever any form of Government become destructive of this end, it is the right of the people to alter, change, modify and abolish it and to institute a new government and laying its foundation on such principles and organising its power in such forms as to them shall see most likely to effect their rights and dignity. The Mizo, created and moulded into a nation and nurtured as such by Nature's God have been intolerably dominated by the people of India in contravention of the Law of Nature.

The leaders of the Mizo Nation had, many a time, verbally and in writing, put forward to the Government of India their desire of self-determination for creation of free and independent Mizoram for bringing about protection of Human Rights and Dignity, which the Mizo, by nature, ought to have, but the Government of India, violating the Charter of the United nations and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights re-affirmed in the Principles of Bandung Conference, have ignored the voice of the Mizo people and determined to continue domination and colonisation ruling over us with tyranny and despotism by instituting self-designed administrative machinery with which they endeavour to mislead the world to win their confidence.

Our people are despised, persecuted, tortured, manhandled and murdered without displaying justice while they preach and profess before us and throughout the world that they have instituted for us a separate administrative set up in conformity with the principles of Democracy. To conceal their evil and selfish design, religious assimilation and Hindu indoctrination they preach to have established which we cannot accept as it leads to suppression of Christianity.

To prove this, let facts be submitted to the candid world:

1. They have instituted government to rule over us in our own country without any respect for Human Rights and Dignity even in the face of the present candid world which is committed to these rights and dignity.

2. They have been pursuing a policy of exploitative measures in their attempt to wipe Christianity, sole religion, and no consideration has ever been paid to our national way of life,

3. They have been preaching throughout the world as if they have instituted a separate administrative machinery in conformity with the principles of Democracy to conceal their policy of degeneration of our national morality and of assimilation while what had been instituted for us is a pattern of Colonial administration.

4. They refuse not only to procure supply of food and arrange other forms of assistance in times of famine, but also prohibited us from seeking and receiving assistance from friendly countries, which resulted in the death of many people.

5. They have established a multitude of offices and sent hitherto swarms of Indian officers, who had an immoral life, cruelly appeasing our womenfolk to commit immorality with them by taking advantage of their official capacity and of the position they occupy in the administrative machinery.

6. Taking the advantage of economic frustration of the people they subject us to economic slavery and force us to enter into the door of poverty.

7. Curbing freedom of expression, our patriots are arrested and kept in jails without displaying any form of justice.

8. The export facility which we used to enjoy before the pre-Indian domination has been totally closed.

9. Without exploring our country's economic resources in agriculture, industries and mining and giving no consideration for their development, they maintain suppressive measures against our economic right.

10. Realising the importance of our country to India in its defence strategy, the Government of India is establishing military bases throughout our country and thereby creating an atmosphere of cold war while nothing is done for its economic and social development.

11. Inspite of our repeated appeal for peaceful settlement of our rightful and legitimate demand for full self-determination, the Government of India is bringing exploitative and suppressive measures employing their military might and waging war against us as done in the case of the Nagas and the Kashmiris.

12. Owing to absence of medical facilities in our countries, our people died without having medical treatment and attention.

For these and all other innumerable causes, we declare to the candid world that India is unworthy and unfit to rule over the civilised Mizo people who are created and moulded into a nation and nurtured a such and endowed with territorial integrity by Nature and Nature's God.

We, therefore, the representatives of Mizo people, meeting on this day, the first of March, in the year of our Lord, 1966, appealing to the supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intention so, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this country, solemnly publish and declare, that Mizoram is, and of right ought to be, free and independent, that they are absolved from all allegiance to India and its Parliament and all politica1 connections between them and Government of India is and ought to be dissolved and that as a free and independent state, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent state may of right. And for the support of this Declaration, we mutually pledge to each other with a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honour. We appeal to all freedom loving nations and individuals to uphold Human Rights and Dignity and to extend help to the Mizo people for realisation of our rightful and legitimate demand for self-determination. We appeal also to all independent countries to give recognition to the Independence of Mizoram.


V.S. Jafa serves in the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and is a former Chief Secretary of Assam. He studied the Northern Ireland conflict as a Visiting Fellow at the University of Oxford (1986 87); as John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow and a Visiting Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1988 89), he researched the revolutionary, ethnic and religious roots of violence, counter insurgency and counter terrorism in the context of the theory and practice of conflict resolution. He is a lso a Consulting Editor with FAULTLINES

  1. See Walter Laqueur, Guerrilla: A Historical and Critical Study (Boston: Little Brown, 1976), p. 8; also see Lewis H. Gann, Guerrilla in History (Hoover Institution Press, Stanford, 1971).
  2. EISENSTADT, S.N., "Cultural Orientations and center-periphery in Europe in a comparative perspective" in Per Torsvik, (Ed.), Mobilization, Center-Periphery Structures and Nation-Building (Bergen: Universitetsforlaget, 1981), p. 96.
  3. LIJPHART, Arend, Democracy in Plural Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977), p. 165. According to Lijphart, consociational democracy "assumes that political elites enjoy a high degree of freedom of choice, and that they may resort to consociational methods of decision-making as a result of the rational recognition of the centrifugal tendencies inherent in plural societies and a deliberate effort to counteract these dangers."
  4. HOROWITZ, Donald L., Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 578.
  5. FOLTZ, William J., "Building the Newest Nations", in Roger E. Kasperson and Julian V. Minghi, edited, The Structure of Political Geography (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1969), p. 285.
  6. GILL, K P S, "Endgame in Punjab – 1989-93", Faultlines, Volume 1.1, New Delhi: ICM-Bulwark, 1999, p. 62.
  7. See Morris Janowitz, Military Institutions and Coercion in the Developing Nations (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964, 1977, pp. 36-37. According to him Indian para-military forces doubled from 100,000 in 1966 to 200,000 in 1974. The total strength of Central para-military and State armed police forces now exceeds the one million mark.
  8. Concluding paragraph of MARX, Karl and ENGELS, Frederick, Communist Manifesto, first published in 1848.
  9. "Program of the Communist International" (1928), Handbook of Marxism, edited by Emile Burns (Moscow: International Publishers, 1935) pp. 1034-35.
  10. Selected Writings of Mao-Tse-tung, (Peking, 1968), Chapter entitled "A single spark can start a prairie fire", p. 72.
  11. MCGARVEY, Patrick J., Visions of Victory: Selected Vietnamese Communist Writings 1964-68, Stanford, 1969, p. 40.
  12. LAQUEUR, Walter, Guerrilla: A Historical and Critical Study, Boston: Little Brown, 1976, pp. 268-269.
  13. TOWNSHEND, Charles, Britain's Civil Wars: Counterinsurgency in Twentieth Century London: Faber and Faber, 1986, p. 14.
  14. LAQUEUR, op.cit., pp. 330-331.
  15. GUEVARA, Che, Guerrilla Warfare, Widenfield & Nicholson, (London, 1969), p.9.
  16. CALLWELL, C.E., Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1896.
  17. GWYNN, Sir Charles, Imperial Policing, Macmillan, London, 1934, p. 38.
  18. CLAUSEWITZ, Karl von, On War, edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976.
  19. THOMPSON, Sir Robert, Countering Communist Insurgency, London, Chatto and Windus, 1966.
  20. David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, New York: Praeger, 1964.
  21. PUSHTAY, J.S., Counter-insurgency Warfare, New York: Free Press, 1965.
  22. McCUEN, J.J., The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War, London: Faber and Faber, 1966.
  23. BLAUFARB, D.S., The Counterinsurgency Era: US Doctrine and Performance, New York: Free Press, 1977, p. 217.
  24. A famous Washington Post cartoon during the 1960s showed President Johnson exclaiming: "We are there only in an advisory capacity and only last week we dropped fifty thousand tons of advise."
  25. DIXON, Norman, On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, New York: Basic Books, 1976, p. 21.
  26. BECKETT, Ian F. W., and PIMLOTT, John, edited, Armed Forces and Modern Counter-Insurgency, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1985, p. 10.
  27. US Army-Air Force Joint Low-Intensity Conflict Project, 1987.
  28. Ibid.
  29. STONE, I. F., In a Time of Torment, New York, Basic Books, 1968, pp. 173-174.
  30. THOMPSON, op.cit., 1966), pp. 50-57.
  31. BECKETT & PIMLOTT, op.cit., p. 24.
  32. This has been adapted from Beckett & Pimlott, Ibid., pp. 16-45. The British army's training manual, Land Operations, Volume III, Counter-Revolutionary Operations (1975) sets out the following measures for conducting such wars: (1) passing of emergency regulations to facilitate the conduct of a campaign; (2) political, social and economic measures designed to gain popular support and counter or surpass anything offered by the insurgents; (3) setting up of an effective organization for joint civil and military control at all levels; (4) the forming of an effective, integrated and nationwide intelligence organization; (5) strengthening of indigenous police and armed forces so that their loyalty is beyond question; (6) control measures designed to isolate the insurgents from the population.
  33. KITSON, Frank, Low Intensity Operations, Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1971.
  34. AHMAD, Ekbal, ‘Revolutionary Warfare and Counterinsurgency’ in Gerard Chaliand, edited, Guerrilla Strategies: A Historical Anthology from the Long March to Afghanistan, Berkley: University of California Press, 1982, p. 260. This is an extract from National Liberation and Revolution, edited by N. Miller and E. Aya, New York: The Free Press, 1970.
  35. According to Samuel P. Huntington, professionalisation of military men contributes to and in fact ensures their political neutrality. See Political Order in Changing Societies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968.
  36. See Alfred Vagts, The History of Militarism, New York: W.W. Norton, 1937.
  37. Cited in Morris Janowitz, Military Institutions and Coercion in the Developing Nations, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1964, 1977, pp. 187-88.
  38. Chapters 11 to 16 of Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, University of California Press, 1985.
  39. GILL, op. cit., p. 59.
  40. See Appendix I for Text.
  41. A Planning Commission Study Team under the Chairmanship of Tarlok Singh, which visited Mizoram in February 1966, also recommended resettlement of villages for the purpose of development. The Team was of the view that about 1000 hamlets with a population of 100 were dispersed all over the district and the provision of schools, medical care and water supply for all of them would be difficult unless they were grouped together along the main roads. This was on the lines of resettlement carried out in east Africa during the early 1960s. It is interesting to note that the Planning Commission did not recommend similar strategies of development for equally dispersed populations in Arunachal Pradesh, J&K, and Himachal Pradesh. It appeared to some that the army in Mizoram had done an excellent PR job.

  1. The grouping will cover Aizawl-Serchhip, Aizawl-Vairengte and Serchhip-Lungleh roads in three phases;
  2. Rations, iron sheets for roofing etc. would intially be provided by the army and the cost reimbursed by the Government of Assam;
  3. The villages would be rendered uninhabitable after the v1illagers had shifted to the new centers with their belongings;
  4. Rations will be provided free to all villagers. As the villagers would need, in addition to rations, some money to bu1y other necessities of life, all able-bodied villagers would be engaged on road construction work; the rules for payment of wages would be liberalised so that payment of wages could be made as frequently as possible;
  5. The villagers would be allowed to keep their crop produce with them even after they moved to the centers. Also suitable precautions would be taken to ensure that stocks left behind did not fall into the hands of the hostiles;
  6. The army would complete the grouping by the end of February 1967 and hand over the administration of the newly created group centers to the civil authorities by the first week of April 1967. At the time the centers are handed over to the civil administration, they would have stocks of food for 15 days and medical supplies for one month to tide over the transition problems;
  7. Among other arrangements at the new centers, adequate educational facilities and places of congregational worship would be provided;
  8. When the responsibility for the administration of the grouped villages is made over to the civil administration, the Government of Assam would make arrangements for supply of food and other essential articles to the villagers, as well as as the transport for moving these materials. Army would, however, provide for their safe escort;
  9. The civil administrators and staff including the medical officers would be carefully selected and placed in position well in time to take over the administration from the army;
  10. Measures for agricultural development, utilization of land near group centers for cultivation and establishment of subsidiary industries should receive the highest priority;
  11. The GOC-in-C Eastern Command would brief selected press correspondents about the implication of the scheme. They might also be allowed subsequently to visit the Mizo Hills district to see things for themselves so that they could project a correct and balanced picture;
  12. In view of the fact that the majority of the population to be moved were Christians, the operations should commence only after Christmas 1967 and the New Year day.

  1. There were broadly three reasons why so many people surrendered without arms. One, those who surrendered without arms were mostly from the Mizo National Volunteer Force who were not allotted any weapons because there were not so many weapons to go around. They were, however, free to carry weapons which they had themselves bought from the illegal arms market or captured from the Security Forces. Secondly, those who were suspected of being potential deserters were deprived of their weapons. And, lastly, many hid their arms in the jungles before surrendering to be able to go back to fighting if the resettlement terms offered by the government were not suitable.
  2. The majority of ex-rebels I interviewed told me that at least half of the total MNA force would have surrendered with arms, and the back of the insurgency would have been effectively broken, if the cash rewards were about five times of what was offered. The reason given was that higher cash rewards would have increased the financial security and the means to make a fresh beginning in life; nobody who had taken to arms wanted to return to a life of poverty and deprivation.
  3. Malaya veteran Sir Robert Thompson headed the British Advisory Mission in Vietnam from 1961 to 1965.
  4. THOMPSON, R., Defeating Communist Insurgency, London, Chatto and Windus, 1970, p. 124.
  5. U.S. army officer, in R. Marston, "Resettlement as a Counter-Revolutionary echnique", Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, Vol. 124, No. 4, 1979, pp. 46-49.
  6. HUNTINGTON, Samuel P., Political Order in Changing Societies, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968, p. 42.
  7. In the event of such treatment being meted out to the Blacks, Indians (they have been confined to reservations for three centuries) and the Inuits, it would not in all probability inspire a strong public outcry in the USA, as would perhaps happen in the case of the whites, if they were to be herded, hypothetically speaking, in a concentration camp. As the situation stands today, a crime committed by an individual `black' is construed by the white majority as a serious reflection on the whole community. A crime committed by a white does not lend itself to similar construction. The dangers of such a situation should be obvious in all multi-ethnic societies.
  8. The preface to the British army's training manual - Land Operations, Volume III - Counter-Revolutionary Operations states that between World War II and 1 January, 1969 Britain's armed forces were engaged in no less than 53 `counter-revolutionary actions' in different parts of the world. These military interventions were mainly to repress social unrest, workers' strikes, national independence movements and struggles, and some even democratic movements to throw out autocratic rulers. On the basis of this vast experience, the manual sets out its approach for handling similar situations in other overseas territories. One of the important techniques set out in the manual is `control measures to isolate the insurgents from popular control.' But this strategy to isolate the insurgents has been used against non-British, and mostly third world, populations outside the British isles. It has not been resorted to in Northern Ireland.
  9. Acknowledgement for this excerpt is due to my wife, Jyoti Jafa, who recorded this conversation in her Mizo Hills diary. The identity of the officer remains undisclosed for obvious reasons.





Copyright © 2001 SATP. All rights reserved.