SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Tripura is carving out a success story in the troubled setting of India’s Northeast, as its Police force reorganizes radically to evolve a counter-insurgency strategy that has left entrenched militant groups in disarray. Building on a model of a police-led response to terrorism, which saw the country’s most dramatic victory over this modern scourge in Punjab in the early 1990s, Tripura’s Police, under the leadership of its Chief, G.M. Srivastava, has reversed the trajectory of insurgent violence and, crucially, mobilisation, in his tenure of under two years, despite continued and vigorous support provided to the insurgent groups by Bangladesh, and the safe haven each of these outfits has been provided in that country.
This is more remarkable in view of the fact that Tripura is a narrow wedge, enveloped on three sides by Bangladesh. As much as 856 kilometres of its boundary of 1,018 kilometres (84.08 per cent of the total) lie along the porous international border with Bangladesh, and much of this is located in dense forest terrain that is nigh impossible to police within existing resource constraints (Tripura shares its remaining State boundary with Assam and Mizoram in India).
The numbers alone tell an extraordinary – though necessarily incomplete – story. The number of extremist incidents fell from 380 in 2003 to 210 in 2004. Civilian fatalities were down from 205 to 70 and Security Forces (SF) fatalities from 216 to 105. Terrorist fatalities rose marginally from 61 in 2003 to 63 in 2004. But year 2005 has witnessed a further consolidation of downward trends in violence. The January-July period of 2004 saw 31 civilian, 17 SF and 47 terrorist fatalities (total fatalities: 95); the same period in 2005 had 12 civilian, 6 SF personnel and 12 terrorist fatalities (total fatalities: 30). It is significant – as was the case in Punjab – that a coherent counter-terrorism response results in reduced fatalities in all categories, including terrorist fatalities.
More crucially, as many as 573 militants have surrendered to the authorities over the past two years (2003: 251; 2004: 322). 2004 saw the surrender of 72 cadres of the Montu Koloi and Kamini Debbarma faction of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT), on May 6. 138 cadres of the NLFT’s Nayanbashi subsequently surrendered on December 25, 2004. The combined result of the losses inflicted on the insurgent groups as well as their failure to replenish these losses through recruitment, is that the cadre-strength of all groups is estimated to have declined significantly.
In the early 2000s, Tripura had emerged as the ‘abduction centre’ of the Northeast, accounting for nearly half of all abductions for ransom in the region. A dramatic decline, from 542 abductions in 2000, through 177 in 2001, 159 in 2002, 216 in 2003, to 105 in 2004, signals the diminishing sway of the insurgent groups, and their inability to exploit what constituted the major source of revenues in the past. Year 2005 promises a continuation of this trend, with just 29 abductions between January and April. Police sources indicate that militant capacities to secure revenues by extortion have also declined radically, and the NLFT’s collection in 2004 is estimated to have fallen short of targets by about 50 per cent, while the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) collections were even lower, at 60 per cent of targeted revenues. The failure to extort monies is among the most significant indices of the success of counter-insurgency strategy.
The most dramatic impact of these developments was visible in the elections for the Tripura Tribal Area Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) held on March 5, 2005. Traditionally, the TTAADC elections have been the playground of terrorist groups that have terrorized tribal voters, kidnapped and killed candidates, political workers and their relatives, and undermined the polling process. During the three months preceding the last TTAADC elections in 2000, there were 176 extremist incidents, with 100 persons killed, another 86 injured and 172 persons abducted – including 12 relatives of candidates abducted in the month prior to the elections. This had allowed the militant backed Indigenous National Party of Tripura to dominate the elections.
This time around, however, TTAADC elections were nearly completely peaceful, with just one significant incident, an ambush on troops of the Central Reserve Police Force escorting ballot papers after the polls, on March 6, 2005 in the Dhalai District, in which one policeman was killed.
These conditions have been secured despite the extraordinary challenges of counter-insurgency in a State marked by hilly and densely forested terrain that lends itself perfectly to the terrorist enterprise, and the generous provision of logistical support and safe haven by Bangladesh – in a cooperative arrangement with Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). In early 2005, intelligence sources indicated that there were at least 47 camps hosting militants from Tripura in Bangladesh.
Tripura’s main towns, and the State’s connections with its neighbours, rely almost exclusively on a single tenuous link – National Highway (NH) 44 – that snakes its way through dense tropical jungles across the three mountain ranges that cut across the entire length of the State. Keeping this road link open and safe has long been an enormous challenge, with the militants choosing the most favourable locations for ambush on security force transports, as well as on the escorted convoys of private transport on which the entire State depended for its supplies and markets. The forested interior areas were poorly manned, allowing their domination by the extremists. With all four of the State’s districts sharing borders with Bangladesh, periodic counter-insurgency operations had limited impact, as the militants simply crossed the international border into safety, to return the moment the troops had pulled back.
The core of the police strategy of response over the past two years is to dominate the most remote areas in the State, and to minimize the reaction time for counter-insurgent operations. As many as 386 camps of police and security force personnel are now being maintained in the interior areas, providing immediate access to the people in the event of militant movement, and reducing operational and reaction time to a minimum. In addition, 2,600 Special Police Officers (SPOs) in another 105 ‘Special Police Pickets’ (SPPs) have also been located in the strategic interior. This network of camps and pickets is backed by the existing network of 37 police outposts and 55 police stations in the 20 police sub-divisions that control the States four districts. Each of these police stations, posts and camps has been upgraded in terms of arms, communications, and where possible, vehicles and bullet-proofing, improving response capacities and reducing response time to a minimum, and placing a very substantial, dispersed but coordinated force at the command of each District’s Superintendent of Police.
There has also been a dramatic augmentation of the Police intelligence network. The improved geographical dominance of the Forces has resulted in increasing flows of information from the general public, who have long borne the brunt of militant excesses, but had been too terrorized to extend cooperation to the Police in the past. Significantly, the network of SPPs has also generated large volumes of local intelligence and improved the interface between security forces and the general public. These advantages have combined with spotter operations, which use surrendered militants to identify active terrorist cadres and their overground collaborators, as well as a range of social, developmental and psychological operations that have enormously eroded militant capacities, and enhanced the presence and legitimacy of state Forces and institutions in the most remote and isolated areas of the State.
Simultaneously, the militant intelligence and support network has been systematically dismantled. A wide complex of overground collaborators have traditionally supplied intelligence and logistic support to the militants, and this system of collaborators and collusive organisations has been targeted, with 1,863 arrests between 2001 and April 2005. The disruption of these networks of local support has made militant operations in the State increasingly difficult.
Improved geographical dominance has also cut the lifelines of militant survival in terms of finance. Traditional targets of extortion and abduction particularly included traders, the tea gardens, railway and road construction organisations and workers, in addition to the hapless civilians in the countryside. Virtually every significant developmental and construction project, as well as major commercial organisations and companies, have specifically been allocated an enhanced security cover, choking off avenues of extortion.
The cumulative impact of these initiatives and operations has drastically affected militant morale. Indeed, in June 2005, with the dramatic improvement in the law and order situation, the State police discontinued the practice of providing escorts to vehicles on NH 44.
Nevertheless, the days of militancy in Tripura are not yet over. The Police domination has come at a high price. While civil and terrorist fatalities have declined, SF fatalities rose from 39 in 2003 to 48 in 2004, reflecting higher operational activity and wider deployment in highly affected areas. Further, all the three major insurgent groups, NLFT’s Biswamohan Debbarma and Joshua factions and the Ranjit Debbarma-led ATTF, continue to operate from their bases in Bangladesh, and there is a strong conviction in strategic circles that militancy cannot be completely ended as long as safe havens continue to exist across the border. On June 28, 2005, the Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told the Press Trust of India at New Delhi: “The terrorist camps operating in Bangladesh should be smashed and terrorists should be handed over to India.” Such an eventuality, however, remains remote, given the troubled relations with Bangladesh.
Within Tripura too, areas like Ampi, Udaipur, Taidu, Takarjala, Bishalgarh, Srinagar and Jirania in West and South Tripura Districts continue to witness militant movements and sporadic activities, if not large scale attacks. On June 15, Tripura police and para-military forces launched a six-day ‘Operation Washout’ to clean up these areas. The outcome of these operations is not yet known. However, the ATTF, on its ‘foundation day’ – July 10 – did manage to force villagers in a few remote hamlets in the hilly areas under the Sidhai, Jirania and Takarjala Police Stations to hoist the group’s flag and paste posters on trees and houses. On July 9, a group of NLFT-Biswamohan militants assaulted 14 villagers at Karnakishorepara in Gandacherra subdivision for delay in the payment of ‘annual tax’. The villagers, mostly tribal shifting cultivators, had reportedly cleared their ‘annual tax’ in May instead of the first week of April – the deadline set by the rebels for payment. Earlier, on May 10, NLFT cadres raided two villages, Madanjoypara and Jogendra Karbaripara in Dhalai district and killed five villagers belonging to the Chakma tribe – migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
Despite their marginalisation in the State, the militants have not entirely lost their operational capacities and spheres of influence. Bangladeshi support remains – and will remain – a critical factor in the persistence of these movements, albeit at a significantly lower level. The tardy pace of border fencing (the process is expected only to be completed in 2007), and the muddle-headedness of the national policy on Bangladesh, have made the task of the Tripura police the more difficult. Given these enormous obstacles and limitations, the State’s achievements in counter-insurgency have, indeed, been exemplary.
Dangers of Vigilantism
If vigilante action is an index of the state’s failure to maintain law and order, then events in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh State over the past months are a clear demonstration of the twisted nature of policies designed to counter left-wing extremism.
Chhattisgarh is one of the States worst affected by left-wing extremists (alternatively referred to as Naxalites or Maoists) in India. Naxalites are active in eight out of the State’s 16 districts: Bastar, Dantewada, Kanker, Surguja, Jashpur, Koriya, Rajnandgaon, and Kawardha. An anti Naxalite movement, euphemistically called Salva Zudoom (peace initiative), is currently being led by Mahendra Karma, a Congress party leader and Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.
Sources indicate that as many as 250 villages of the Bastar region have been mobilized under this movement, which commenced in mid-June 2005. Apart from holding relatively large meetings, releasing anti-Maoist posters and pamphlets and maintaining vigils at the local level, the villagers have killed three Maoists. In rapid retaliation against these killings and anti-Maoist demonstrations, the Maoists have killed at least 32 tribals in separate incidents. Ominous indications of the prospects of vigilante action are visible in some of the more prominent of the recent Maoist attacks:
August 9, 2005: Maoists killed two persons related to Mahendra Karma, including one of his brothers, in the Dantewada district.
July 28, 2005: Cadres of the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) attacked the Karemarka and Muder villages and killed seven persons. According to police sources, the attack was in retaliation for a rally on July 24 in which 117 Maoist sympathisers had surrendered.
July 19, 2005: Maoists killed two civilians in the Bijapur village of Dantewada district in retaliation for their participation in anti-Maoist demonstrations in the preceding weeks.
July 16, 2005: Seven villagers and two Maoists were killed and at least 12 villagers sustained injuries during Maoist attacks on six villages in the Dantewada district. Targeting the villagers, who were participating in the Salva Zudoom, over 250 armed-Maoists attacked the Kutru, Ambeli, Pharsgaon, Uskapatnam, Badekarkeli and Chhotekarkeli villages. While two villagers were killed on the spot, the Maoists abducted five others, whose dead bodies were subsequently found in the Sagmeta jungle of Pharasgaon police station jurisdiction. The villagers told the police that at least two Naxalites were also killed in the incident, when the villagers retaliated against the Maoists who had attacked the homes of tribal activists of Salva Zudoom.
June 19, 2005: Naxalites killed eight villagers and wounded at least 100 others near Kotrapal village in Dantewada district for opposing their activities. The incident occurred when people of 45 villages were returning after attending a Salva Zudoom meeting called to oppose the Naxalite movement in their areas. According to available information, approximately 3,000 villagers had gathered at the Taalmendri and Matwada villages where they unanimously resolved to boycott the Naxalites. After villagers held similar meetings in the Kutru, Bedre, Pharsegarh and Jangla police station areas of Dantewada district, Maoists attacked the villagers near Kotrapal. In another related Naxalite attack a day earlier, a civilian of the Nemed village was killed.
The vigilante initiative has reportedly also spread to the Surguja district in the wake of the ‘overwhelming response’ in Bastar. The tribals have articulated their anger against the Maoists in meetings and demonstrations in the Ramnujganj, Kusmumi, Balirampur, Pratappur and Rajpur areas of Surguja.
Buoyed by what is being claimed as an ‘unprecedented situation’, the Chhattisgarh police have reportedly decided to offer weapons to anti-Naxalite groups and also selectively appoint people involved in the Salva Zudoom action as Special Police Officers. Inspector General of Police (Bastar region), M. W. Ansari, disclosed that people would be provided arms in areas where the police force and Government machinery find it difficult to move. The State Government has pledged to provide ‘ideological support’ besides food and medicines to the villagers who have raised the banner of revolt against the Maoists. Chief Minister Raman Singh stated in a media interview, "The tribal uprising is a welcome trend. People are vexed with the Naxal violence. My Government will certainly provide security to anyone who opposes the Naxalites." He, however, clarified, further, "But we are not organising this programme."
It is not clear how the Government will ‘provide security’ to those who ‘oppose the Naxalites’ in areas ‘where the police force and Government machinery find it difficult to move’, but on August 25, the Government announced that it had set up a Committee headed by Chief Secretary A.K. Vijayvargiya to provide direct support to the tribal ‘insurrection’. This is the first such Committee set up to support those opposing the Maoists at the local level, and it is expected to look into issues such as logistics, arms and funding. Little attention appears to have been paid to the fact that the decision to ‘empower’ the tribals could lead to even greater violence against them in the region and elsewhere in the State.
There are at least some suggestions that Salva Zudoom is, in fact, a political exercise aimed at boosting the dwindling support base of the Congress Party among the tribals, a crucial vote bank in the State. While it won all the three seats in the Dantewada district (including Karma’s seat in the Dantewada constituency), the party lost all nine seats in the Bastar and Kanker districts during the 2004 State elections. Mahendra Karma, a tribal from Faraspal, is also struggling to emerge from the shadows of Ajit Jogi, the now beleaguered former Chief Minister and Congress Party leader. Karma’s recent comment that "it would take only three years to defeat them (the Naxals)" because of "people’s power" is a significant indicator of the strong electoral factor involved – the State is scheduled for elections in three years.
For all its hype, the Salva Zudoom exercise is restricted to only some 250 of the 3,766 villages in the Bastar region. Indeed, most of the activities and violence are restricted to the Dantewada district, Karma’s bastion. Nor, indeed, have these actions in any measure forced the Maoists into a retreat. The Naxalites have, in fact, retaliated violently and continue to respond poorly to announcements of the Government’s surrender and rehabilitation policy announced on June 25, 2005.
Chhattisgarh falls under the Maoists’ 'Dandakaranya Special Zone Committee' (which covers Bastar, Kanker and Dantewada in Chhattisgarh; Chandrapur, Gadchiroli and Bhandara in Maharashtra; Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh and parts of northern Andhra Pradesh). The Maoists reportedly function in this area through 18 Guerrilla Squads (Dalams) under four ‘divisional committees’ – South Bastar (5 Dalams), North Bastar (4 Dalams), Bhandara-Balaghat (4 Dalams) and Gadchiroli (5 Dalams). The Maoists in Bastar region and elsewhere in the State run virtual parallel governments in many areas, holding Jan Adalats (‘People's Courts’) to settle both civil and criminal disputes, imposing penalties that range from simple fines to mutilation and death.
2004, the State’s then Home Minister Brij Mohan Aggarwal
had stated in New Delhi, that there were about 2,000 Naxalites
active in the region. Current Home Minister Ramvichar Netam
informed the State Legislative Assembly on July 12, 2005,
that Chhattisgarh witnessed 697 Maoist-related incidents
between January 1, 2004 and June 24, 2005, in which 93 civilians,
37 police personnel and 20 Maoists died. According to Netam,
Dantewada district bordering Andhra Pradesh witnessed 287
incidents while the Bastar district recorded 160 and Kanker
127. According to the Institute for Conflict Management’s
data, fatalities in Chhattisgarh related to Maoist activities
have already mounted to 66 in 2005, with Dantewada the worst
Data till August 24, 2005; Source: South Asia Terrorism Portal
While public anger at Naxalite activity is understandable, the State’s policies are not. Since the creation of the new State (Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000), the authorities have pursued policies that, at best, can be termed muddled. Little attention has been paid to fundamentals, particularly the relative lack of preparedness of the Police Force in terms of equipment, arms, communications, transport and facilities, and the abysmal performance of institutions of civil governance in Naxalite-affected areas. Nor has there been a focus on the support structures of the Naxalite groups, their financial operations, augmentation of arms supplies, and linkages across State borders. Bastar is, in fact, emerging as a ‘Base Area’ for the unification of the Maoist movement and direction of operations across multiple State boundaries. Police sources indicate that virtually the entire leadership of the Naxalites in Chattisgarh is drawn from Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra; the locals only beef up low-level cadres. Summarizing the ‘spill-over effect’, Chhattisgarh Director General of Police O.P. Rathore remarked, "It's all Andhra Pradesh's problem. In fact, Chhattisgarh's Maoist problem is exported by Andhra Pradesh. They sometimes enter into a truce, sometimes impose a ban and, in the final analysis, Chhattisgarh suffers."
Despite sustained Police and para-military operations in the region, consequently, Naxalite influence and activity appear to be growing. Occasional incidents of mob fury against the Maoists – while they may reflect increasing popular frustration with the ‘revolutionaries’ – cannot be a substitute for coherent counter-terrorism strategy and tactics. Raising armies of vigilantes, equipped by the State, cannot contain the Maoist menace and will invite greater atrocities against large populations. The dangers of fashioning alternate policing institutions are palpable: they represent initiatives outside of and, more often than not, uncontrolled by the state, and carry the risks of compounding, rather than resolving the problems of lawlessness and disorder.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
August 22-28, 2005
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
JMB responsible for serial bomb blasts, says Home Ministry: The Government for the first time officially disclosed on August 26, 2005, that the banned Islamist militant organisation Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) was responsible for the August 17 serial bomb blasts across the country. "It seems from the confessional statements of the four JMB activists that the organisation is responsible for the bombings," said Mohammad Mohsin, Joint Secretary (Political) in the Home Ministry. He also disclosed that the four arrested militants belonged to Satkhira and Kushtia districts. According to the home ministry, 155 people have been arrested thus far in connection with the countrywide bomb blasts. The Daily Star, August 27, 2005.
sentenced to death for plot to kill President Musharraf:
Five people have been sentenced to death for their involvement
in a 2003 attempt to assassinate President Pervez Musharraf
in which 18 persons were killed. Military spokesperson,
Major-General Shaukat Sultan, said in Islamabad on August
26, 2005, that a soldier and four civilians were given the
sentence a few days ago, but refused to disclose which court
heard the case. The soldier was named as Naik Arshad Mahmood
and the civilians were identified as Zubair Ahmed, Rashid
Qureshi, Ghulam Sarwar Bhatti and Akhlas Ahmed. Sultan also
disclosed that three more people convicted of involvement
in the plot were jailed. The sentences relate to Christmas
Day 2003, when two suicide bombers rammed explosives-laden
vehicles into Gen. Musharraf’s motorcade at Jhanda Chichi
in Rawalpindi killing 18 people and wounding 40 others.
It was the second attempt on the President’s Musharraf’s
life that month. A soldier, 35-year old Islamuddin Sheikh
alias Abdus Salam Saddiqi, linked to the other plot – the
bombing of a Rawalpindi bridge seconds after Musharraf’s
convoy passed on December 14, 2003 – was hanged at the New
Central Jail in Multan on August 20, 2005.
August 27, 2005.
must be held this year, orders Supreme Court:
On August 26, 2005, the Supreme Court ordered the Election
Commissioner to go ahead with his decision to call for nominations
for a Presidential election this year. Delivering a 23-page
judgment, Chief Justice Sarath Silva turned down President
Chandrika Kumaratunga’s claimed legitimacy of the controversial
second oath-taking ceremony, reportedly held in the year
2000. "The Supreme Court unanimously decided to accept Election
Commissioner’s observation in this regard that President’s
first oath taken in 1999 is only in accordance with the
Constitution," the Chief Justice said.
August 28, 2005.
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