SOUTH ASIA INTELLIGENCE REVIEW
Maoists: Their Decisions, Our
55 policemen – including 16 personnel of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force (CAF) and 39 Special Police Officers (SPOs) – were killed, and another 12 injured, on March 15, 2007, when an estimated 600 Maoists (Naxalites) attacked a 79-strong Police Post guarding the Rani Bodli village in the densely forested Dantewada District of the tribal dominated Bastar Division of Chhattisgarh. The pre-dawn attack, with Maoist cadres using automatic weapons, grenades, petrol bombs and rocket launchers, lasted over two and a half hours. While no bodies have been recovered, an estimated 10 to 12 Maoist cadres are also believed to have been killed in the attack.
Were it not for the tragic nature of the events, the farcical character of media and political commentary on this latest Maoist excess would be laughable. There was, once again, talk of police and intelligence ‘failures’, including shrill questions about why ‘reinforcements’ could did not reach Rani Bodli for over three hours after the attack commenced, from ‘nearby’ posts, just eight and 20 kilometres away. That connectivity is poor, and a Force ‘rushing’ to the rescue would probably have hit mined areas and merely added to the total fatalities rather than provided relief to the besieged camp if its approach did not adhere to systematic road opening procedures, is entirely missed out. There was also an undercurrent of allegations that the CAF men and the SPOs had fled their posts – in which case the number of fatalities and the sheer duration of the engagement would be simply impossible to explain. There was also much surprise about how such an incident could have taken place and why the state was failing to contain the Maoists – exposing the commentators' enormous lack of familiarity with the ground situation in the area where the incident occured.
The cold and harsh reality is that such incidents will continue to take place with numbing regularity. The principal reason for this is not the failure of particular Forces or administrations to ‘deal with’ the situation, but utterly insupportable deficits in capacities that make a coherent response to the Maoist threat impossible in the near term, and that will take years to address, even if there is a complete consensus (and there is none) across the affected States and the Central leadership, on the strategy and course of action to be adopted. These deficits not only afflict Chhattisgarh, but all the States where the Maoists are already a force to reckon with.
The deficits commence at the level of the Police leadership itself, with Indian Police Service (IPS) cadres far short of sanctioned strength in every affected State – and on many assessments, sanctioned strengths are themselves deficient in terms of the rising challenges of law and order management, on the one hand, and the mounting insurgency, on the other. According to the Annual Report of the Ministry of Home Affairs, 2005-06, the deficiency in numbers of IPS Officers in position, as against sanctioned strength, in the five States worst affected by the Maoist insurgency, was over 20 per cent:
At the level of the general police strength, moreover, capacities are dismal and any expectation that this Force, however well equipped or trained (and it is, in most cases, neither), can contain an insurgency of the intensity and spread of the current Maoist movement – even while it continues to discharge its ‘normal’ law and order management functions – is utterly misconceived. A quick look at police-population ratios in this context, is informative. The United Nations recommends a minimum ratio of 1:450, which translates to roughly 222 policemen for a 100,000 population. The all-India average stands at a thoroughly inadequate 122 per 100,000 (the US has 238; UK, 235; France, 397; Greece, 426; and Portugal, 481).
The Naxalite affected States are uniformly worse off: Bihar stands at 57 per 100,000; Jharkhand: 85; Orissa 90; Andhra Pradesh: 98; and Chhattisgarh: 103; these figures reflect sanctioned strength, and actual availability in most States is well below this figure. In Chhattisgarh, as against a sanctioned strength of 29,188 in 2006, actual availability was just 23,350 – indicating a deficit of 5,838 men, over 20 per cent of the sanctioned force.
The ratio of police personnel to the land area of the State is also abysmal. The Indian average stands at an inadequate 42.4 policemen per 100 square kilometers; Chhattisgarh has just 17.3; Andhra Pradesh, 28.5; Jharkhand, 30.8; and Orissa, 22.4 (Bihar has a healthier 54.2). Deficiencies in arms, equipment, transport, communications, protection and infrastructure are also endemic.
The situation in the Bastar Division – including the Districts of Dantewada (where the Rani Bodli incident occurred), Kanker and Bastar – the heart of the violence in Chhattisgarh, is disturbing. For an area of 39,114 square kilometres, the five Police Districts of Bastar Division have a total sanctioned strength 2,197 policemen (5.62 policemen per 100 kilometres). Actual availability is just 1,389, nearly 37 per cent short of the authorized numbers, yielding a ratio of 3.55 policemen per 100 square kilometres. Much of this Force, moreover, suffers an acute lack of leadership. Thus, in the Bijapur Police District, as against a sanctioned strength of 38 Sub-Inspectors (Sis), only eight were at their posts in 2006. For the State at large, of the 2,900 SI strength sanctioned, vacancies stand at 45 per cent. For Deputy Superintendents of Police, vacancies are 50 per cent of the sanctioned strength.
The ‘solution’ to this deficiency is widely thought to be the ‘massive’ deployment of Central Paramilitary Forces (CPMFs). The CRPF was inducted into counter-insurgency (CI) duties in Chhattisgarh in 2003, when three battalions were sent in. A Force of 35 companies (including these three Battalions), or roughly 4,600 men, was subsequently deployed across the Bastar region. As a matter of policy, the CRPF only deploys in company strength, thus creating, at best, 35 pinpoints across 39,114 square kilometres. After the mass killings of end 2005 and early 2006 in the wake of the Salwa Judum resistance against the Maoists, the CPMF strength was augmented to 85 companies (11,220 men). However, more than 80 per cent of this augmented force is deployed for passive defence, protecting Salwa Judum camps, important Government installations and projects, including road-building and the railways, and VIPs or others under threat. The CPMF-Army deployment in the Northeastern State of Manipur offers an interesting contrast. With a total area of 22,327 square kilometres (a little over half the Bastar region) Manipur has a deployment of as much as 350 Companies of central Forces, including the Army.
Worse, the areas in which the Maoists have found sanctuary in Chhattisgarh and in which they operate, is ideal guerrilla terrain. Over 75 per cent of the Bastar region is forested. Dantewada District has a total area of 10,239 square kilometers, of which 8,362 square kilometres (82 per cent) is forested. Chhattisgarh also shares 970 kilometres of interstate borders with Maoist afflicted areas of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa – most of it in totally inhospitable terrain, and with Maoists quickly crossing State boundaries in the wake of operations against them.
Despite these tremendous handicaps, Chhattisgarh is one of the few Maoist affected States in India where the battle against the Maoists has been truly joined, and this, indeed, is the principal reason why Maoist violence has escalated sharply in this State. Chhattisgarh – and particularly the Bastar region, and prominently including the 4,000 kilometres of the unadministered, indeed, unsurveyed Abujhmadh forest – is now the epicentre of the Maoist strategy of protracted war. It is here that the Maoists have established their command centres, and it is here that they propose to create their first ‘liberated areas’. If they have failed in the latter objective, it is because of the extraordinary resistance that they have met from the State’s political leadership, ill-equipped security establishment and, crucially, the people themselves.
What has largely (perhaps completely) been missed by the flood of commentary in the media on the latest attack is the fact that Rani Bodli is the precise location where the popular tribal resistance against the Maoists – which was subsequently organized by the State leadership under the banner of the now much-denigrated Salwa Judum – began. It was here that, on June 16, 2005, an estimated 8,000 tribals from 10 surrounding villages assembled and swore to deny Maoists sanctuary, food or support, and to expel all Maoist cadres and sympathizers from their villages. Their ire had been roused by years of Maoist extortion and tyranny and, in the immediate past, Maoist diktats demanding a boycott of tendu leaf collection (a primary source of income for the tribals), of the weekly haats (tribal markets), and enforced ‘reforms’ of local practices that displayed extraordinary contempt for tribal belief systems and ways of life and worship.
The attack on Rani Bodli goes beyond the symbolism of a Maoist retaliation against this fountainhead of popular resistance. It is, indeed, a question of the very survival of the movement. With the tremendous pressure that has been exerted against the Naxalites in Andhra Pradesh – particularly their traditional ‘heartland’ areas in the North Telengana region – the entire top leadership has relocated to the Bastar region, particularly Abujhmadh. If this epicentre of control is lost to the Maoists, the very sustainability of the movement across other areas of the country would come into question. It is for this reason that a continuous escalation of violence is inevitable in Chhattisgarh – and particularly in the Bastar Division.
Indeed, those who have taken comfort from the fact that the latter half of 2006 witnessed declining trends in violence in Chhattisgarh are utterly mistaken, even as are the elements in the national leadership who are flaunting a "6.15 per cent decline" in incidents of Maoist violence as a measure of their achievement. SAIR has consistently argued that these trends reflect no concrete gains on the part of the state – other than in Andhra Pradesh, where the Maoists have been forced into retreat by aggressive counterinsurgency measures – but are rather a reflection of a deliberate Maoist decision to temporarily de-escalate violent activity, and to secure greater political consolidation, as well as a consolidation of military capacities.
That this period of consolidation is over, and the Maoists have now embarked on a new stage of their ‘strategic counter-offensive’ is evident not only in the declarations of their 9th Congress in end-January, February 1, 2007, but also in the spate of incidents that have already occurred across the country in the first three months of the current year .
Over the past year, Chhattisgarh has made some efforts to rationalize the use of its Forces and resources, as well as to augment these. Sanctioned posts in the State Police have gone up to 33,000, and recruitment has taken total numbers up to 30,000 (though much of the additional Force is still to complete training for deployment). The State’s newly established Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare College at Kanker has trained 2,590 Chhattisgarh Police personnal, at various levels, between August 2005 and February 2007. Force modernisation has been initiated, and there has been significant improvement in the quality and availability of weapons. A plan to impose ‘carpet security’ in the affected areas of the State – resulting in the creation of 22 new Police Posts, including the one that was overrun at Rani Bodli – was devised in early 2006. Regrettably, the deficiency of resources, the sheer dispersal of these Posts, the nature of infrastructure available, and their preoccupation with tasks of passive defence rather than active operations to secure contact with, and neutralize the Maoists, limits their utility. Worse, it makes these isolated and ill-protected outposts sitting targets for ‘swarm attacks’ by the Maoists – a tactic that Indian CI Forces are yet to device an effective counter to. While the Forces have learned to deal effectively with small group operations, there is little that can equip them to deal with the swarming tactics that are increasingly being adopted by the Maoists. SF and Police camps in Naxalite affected areas are, at best, of company strength. Many are of platoon strength or less. Police stations and police posts are often smaller. Against attackers numbering in the hundreds, and absent any significant fortification, other than minimal mud or sandbag barriers or barbed wire fencing, which are easily overrun, they have no meaningful defence.
An effective strategy against the Maoists requires the creation of tremendous capacities for intelligence based preventive actions; the creation of a network of fortified encampments, with layered defences, that are independent and self-sustaining, and that can tackle envisaged emergencies on their own, without requiring ‘reinforcement’ from the outside; and large CI Forces that are not tied down to static duties, but that actively seek out and engage with the enemy. Eventually, it is only through the establishment of a permanent infrastructure for policing and intelligence gathering – the thana and chowki – not the paramilitary or police camp and column, effectively covering every inch of the State’s territory, that decisive successes against the Maoists can be achieved.
This, regrettably, is a far cry from the situation on the ground. The current situation in Chhattisgarh (indeed, across much of the Maoist dominated eastern region) is not something that has emerged abruptly. It has been decades in the making – and state agencies have slept through the best part of these decades. Chhattisgarh appears to have clearly recognised the magnitude of the Maoist threat, but the creation of CI capacities and responses will clearly take time – though perhaps not as much time as State authorities and the Centre may prefer to give themselves. Till these capacities have been established and operationalised in adequate measure, however, the Maoists will continue to operate, and to engineer massacres like the Rani Bodli incident, with near-impunity.
Perils of Transition
has embarked on a process of
and, as is the case with all
great shifts in the destiny
of nations, this will be fraught
with tensions. The initial steps
towards democracy and a realignment
of relations with India have
been smooth, but great challenges,
uncertainty and a potential
for conflict dog the future.
As an editorial in Kuensel,
newspaper, expresses it:
Bhutan’s impending transformation from a monarchy to a parliamentary democracy, with the first national elections slated for 2008, will have tremendous implications for security and stability in the region. With its transformation into a democracy, the country is bound to witness a power play where both internal and external forces will seek to exercise influence on the domestic equations of power, and foreign interests could try and back political parties or manipulate electoral behaviour. Optimists would obviously like to dismiss such fears as exaggerated, but realists cannot ignore the security implications that might arise out of these rather fast-paced changes in governance in this pristine Buddhist nation of 700,000 people.
India is helping Bhutan hold its first election through a formal tie-up between the Election Commission of India and the nascent Election Commission of Bhutan. Up to 400,000 electors are to choose their representatives from 47 parliamentary constituencies, which have been defined after the completion of the delimitation process. India is set to export its ideology of democracy to Bhutan, but it remains to be seen whether the murky add-ons of Indian electoral politics – money and muscle power – also find roots in the landlocked Himalayan nation.
In July 2006, the National Assembly passed the Bhutan Information, Communications and Media Act 2006. The Bill is expected to bring information and communication technology and media policy to help the people make informed decisions and participate in the development of the country. The Act was formulated to regulate new information and communications technologies and the media industry. It also covers privatization and competition to the establishment of media services. With private newspapers already coming up, a heady cocktail of media, politics and governance is certainly in the offing. That, too, is something that needs close monitoring.
At the same time, Bhutan is being freed to pursue its own foreign policy as well, with Indo-Bhutanese relations undergoing momentous adjustments. ‘Closest friend’ Bhutan is finally coming out of India’s shadow, with the two traditional allies signing a new India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty in New Delhi on February 8, 2007. Further, after the two Governments exchanged the Instruments of Ratification of this Treaty in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu on March 3, 2007, the Himalayan kingdom has finally secured more autonomy in deciding its foreign and defence policies, which were tightly controlled by India for nearly 60 years in accordance with the 1949 India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty.
Bhutan’s new Oxford-educated King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, soon after signing the Treaty with India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee, declared: "From a guiding role upon Bhutan's first step to modernization, we now stand as close friends and equal partners in the global arena." True, the two nations talk about a further consolidation of their friendship with this new Treaty, but matters of ‘national security’ have already come to figure on the road map of this relationship.
Media reports quoted an Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesman as saying after the agreement was reached that the updated treaty removed provisions that had become "obsolete" over time. "The treaty commits both countries to cooperate closely with each other on issues relating to their national interests, and not allow the use of territories for activities harmful to the national security interest of the other," the spokesman stated. Thanks to the open admission by Bhutan (unlike Bangladesh), it had become common knowledge that Northeast Indian separatist groups operated from well-entrenched bases in Southern Bhutan for more than 12 years, until they were expelled in December 2003 by a Bhutanese military assault with active support from Indian forces on the Indian side. New Delhi obviously would not like Bhutan to ignore any fresh forays by Indian separatists into the country and their operation from bases there in the future.
The most important thing to watch will be the political forces that will come into play as the 2008 elections in Bhutan draw near. A politically stable Bhutan is obviously in the interests of the country and the region. It is pertinent to recall, here, that the Indian and Bhutanese security establishments were stung when they learned about the launch of the Bhutan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) on April 22, 2003, the 133rd birth anniversary of Lenin. The BCP circulated pamphlets in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal and in areas inside Bhutan that revealed that the new party’s objective was to ‘smash the monarchy’ and establish a ‘true and new democracy’ (‘new democracy’ is an euphemism for one-party communist democracy) in Bhutan. This led both New Delhi and Thimphu to put the Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO), one of the three Indian separatist outfits operating from Bhutan at that time, under the scanner. Security agencies soon came to the conclusion that the KLO, a pro-Maoist outfit, was active and had pockets of influence in the strategic North Bengal areas of West Bengal and could act as a bridge between the Maoists guerrillas in Nepal and the newly emerging Maoist force in Bhutan. Formed on December 28, 1995, by some radical members of the Koch-Rajbongshi tribe, the KLO has been fighting to achieve a separate Kamtapur State by carving out territories from Assam and adjoining West Bengal, where the community has a sizeable population.
Ultimately, it could have been the emerging Maoist threat to Bhutan that may have been the key factor that provoked the then King Jigme Singhye Wangchuck to shake off his long dilemma and act decisively against Northeast Indian insurgents in the winter of 2003. Bhutan’s Ambassador in India, Dago Tshering, told this writer after military operations that he had ‘not heard of the Bhutan Communist Party.’ Tshering, however, thought there was a ‘distinct possibility’ of the rebels having had a nexus with ‘certain people’ in Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal or the Maoist rebels themselves. Against this background, it would be interesting to watch if a Maoist-backed or Maoist-linked political party emerges in Bhutan or even takes part in the country’s electoral exercise.
That would, indeed, be a drastic transformation of a nation ruled by kings for so long.
Now that Bhutan is technically freer than before to pursue an independent foreign policy, it will also be interesting to watch the course of Sino-Bhutan relations in the time to come. Bhutan does not have any diplomatic ties with China, despite sharing a contiguous 470 kilometre northern boundary. Although Bhutan never had a policy of 'equi-closeness’ or 'equi-distance' vis-à-vis China, in recent years, there has been an exchange of several high-level visits. This is due largely to the direct border talks that commenced in 1984 to try and resolve several disputes. Bhutan’s border issues with China, until the 1970s, were incorporated within the scope of the Sino-Indian border dialogue. Bhutan and China have also been talking of exchange of territories for some time. It remains to be seen what the Sino-Bhutan relations lead to. For the record, Bhutan and China had signed an agreement to ‘maintain peace and tranquility’ in 1998, during the 12th round of bilateral border talks. This, incidentally, was the first Sino-Bhutanese agreement to have been inked. With China’s frenetic bid to spread its influence and establish its hold in the whole of South Asia (including building the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, although that is outside the Chinese ‘energy sea lanes’), India cannot help but keep a close watch on Beijing-Thimphu relations in the days ahead.
External factors and influences may, consequently cause significant internal strains in Bhutan, and also strain its crucial ties with India. India would also have valid concerns if hostile forces were to begin their activities from the soil of a neighbour as close as Bhutan, even if these are not even remotely supported or patronized by Thimpu. The sensitivities with which these emerging internal and external challenges are handled will determine the ease (or otherwise) of Bhutan’s transition from an idyllic kingdom to an ideal democracy.
Weekly Fatalities: Major Conflicts in South Asia
March 12-18, 2007
Provisional data compiled from English language media sources.
50 persons killed by law enforcers during emergency: total of 50 people were killed during operation by law enforcement agencies while 95,825 were arrested during the first 60 days of the state of emergency from January 12 to March 12, 2007, says a press release of human rights organization, Odhikar on March 13. Of the 50 people, 26 were killed as a result of action taken by the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), 12 by the Police, six by the Army, five by joint Forces and one by the Navy, the report added. The Daily Star; March 14, 2007.
55 persons killed in Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh: 55 persons, including 16 personnel of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force and 39 Special Police Officers (SPOs), were killed and 12 persons were injured in an offensive by cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) on a police base camp at Rani Bodli village of Bijapur Police District in the Bastar Division in the early hours of March 15. The Maoists took away 39 weapons including self-loading rifles, AK-47 rifles .303 rifles and a mortar from the police camp. According to reports, only 11 of the 79 police personnel and SPOs posted at the camp managed to escape. Nearly 600 CPI-Maoist cadres were involved in the attack that lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours during which the Maoists used petrol bombs, detonators and rocket launchers. Half the police personnel were killed in their sleep; others were shot while trying to flee from the smoke-filled premises. Chhattisgarh Inspector General of Police Girdhari Naik said on March 16 that, from the forensic reports, the police has pegged the casualties in the Maoist ranks at 10 to 12. Hindu, March 16, 2007; Rediff, March 17, 2007.
Prime Minister rules out troop reduction in civilian areas of Jammu & Kashmir: On March 15, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — partner in Jammu & Kashmir coalition Government — that troop reduction in civilian areas of the State was not possible immediately and that any decision on this could be taken only after assessing the infiltration level around mid-summer. In his three-page letter to former Chief Minister and PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, the Prime Minister said that the Centre "appreciated" his concern, but felt that the security situation was not ripe and conducive at the moment to take any decision on demilitarisation. "If the diminishing trend (in violence) continues in summer, we can review the situation," he said. Giving reasons for deferring the review of the troop presence in the state, the Prime Minister cited "intelligence inputs that suggest that militants might raise the level of violence in coming months". "We may, therefore, take up this (demilitarisation) issue for review in mid-summer after properly monitoring the situation. I personally agree with your concern but an abrupt reduction (in troop strength) right now would not be politically advisable", the Prime Minister further said. Indian Express, March 16, 2007.
Maoists have combatants and arms outside the cantonments, says Prachanda: In his party's mass gathering in Baglung on March 12, Maoist Chairman Prachanda said that thousands of his party's combatants and weapons are still outside the cantonments as they "couldn't meet United Nations standards" to be registered. Stating that they had trouble storing a large number of weapons inside the cantonments, Prachanda also disclosed that Maoists still had "technical human resources" outside the cantonments who have the ability to launch "massive attacks" simultaneously at several places on a single night. Subsequently, Ian Martin, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Nepal, in a statement issued on March 13, said, "The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) is concerned about media reports quoting Maoist chairman Prachanda as saying that the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (CPN-M) retains weapons and combatants outside the cantonment sites," adding further, "Any such unregistered weapons would be treated as a violation of existing agreements and be illegal". Kantipur Online, March 14, 2007.