India has to confuse its enemies, not itself
The creation of confusion in enemy forces is an important objective of war; the creation of confusion within one’s own forces, on the other hand, is suicidal. Unfortunately, while India’s political leadership displays little aptitude for the former, it has secured excellence in the latter. The result has been a persistent policy vacuum on internal security and the country’s various insurgencies and terrorist movements. The trajectories of these movements, consequently, have only a fitful correlation to state policy, and are largely defined, either by extraneous geopolitical factors, the decisions and capacities of our enemies, or by the extraordinary and unrelenting efforts of security forces across the country, despite the utterly improbable odds under which they continue to be forced to operate.
In the latest episode reflecting incoherence on these issues at the highest levels in government, the director of the Intelligence Bureau, E.S.L. Narasimhan, emphasised the need for "strengthening the legal framework to fight terror". Two days later, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saw fit to reiterate that his policy of "zero-tolerance to terrorism" would be enforced "within the framework of our existing legal system". Such conflicts and contradictions have been common over the past years, with the Prime Minister, various ministers, senior ministry officials and force commanders, speaking in different voices, providing an exhaustible source of satisfaction to those who conspire to undermine India’s security.
If terrorism has, despite this, displayed a secular trend towards decline in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and in most states of the Northeast (with Manipur a glaring exception) since 2001, this is an index of the exhaustion that is setting in, in these theatres, and the growing internal difficulties and external pressure experienced by the principal sponsor of terrorism in South Asia, Pakistan, and its ally in subversion, Bangladesh.
On the other hand, Naxalism continues its rampage, with violence escalating, but more insidiously, with the Maoist game plan and processes of political mobilisation vastly extending themselves virtually across the country — developments which will have perilous reverberations in years to come.
Fatalities in all terrorist and insurgent conflicts in the country registered a significant diminution, from 3,236 in 2005, to 2,615 in 2006 (all 2006 data till November 28), with the most significant decline in J&K — from 1,732 to 1,059 over the same period. As internal pressures and the consequent need for massive troop redeployment away from the Indo-Pak border and Line of Control mount, and as Pakistan comes under sustained international monitoring and criticism, it has shifted its strategy to pursue its objectives through a twin process of calibrated terrorist violence and negotiations. The shadow of Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorism has been extended widely across the country, with high profile attacks in Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Significantly, arrests and seizures of arms and explosives, and the identification and disruption of at least 80 Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist modules outside J&K and the Northeast over the 2004-2006 period, indicate the sustained levels of penetration and subversion being carried out. The many arrests and cumulative technical intelligence suggest continuous efforts to target India’s security and vital installations, communication links and commercial and industrial centres.
There were some signs of improvement in the Northeast, with fatalities declining from 715 for the whole region in 2005, to 586 in 2006. The most dramatic gains have been in Tripura, which has virtually been brought back from the brink over the past three years, through an inspired police-led counter-terrorism campaign. This tiny state accounted for as many as 295 terrorism-related fatalities in 2003, and was the "abduction capital" of the country at that time. Year 2006 saw the number of deaths decline to 59, and the incidence of abductions fall to negligible levels.
The gains in Tripura are more than offset by the losses in Manipur, which, at 261 fatalities, now accounts for over half of the fatalities in the Northeast — with just 5.6 per cent of the region’s population. Assam, which attracts far greater national attention and accounts for 69 per cent of the population of the Northeast, saw 158 fatalities in 2006, as against 242 in 2005. Nagaland, where a "peace process" has been in place since 1997, saw the third largest number of fatalities in the region in 2006, with 84 dead, overwhelmingly in the fratricidal turf war between the rival Isak-Muivah and Khaplang factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland.
Six hundred and ninety persons lost their lives in Maoist-related violence across the country in 2006 (till November 28), as against 669 in 2005. The small margin of increase is, however, deceptive. Chhattisgarh, which now accounts for more than half (344) of all Naxalism-related fatalities in the country, saw an enormous escalation from 165 fatalities in 2005. With the exception of Andhra Pradesh, where focused and overwhelming police action has pushed the Maoists into a corner, the stagnation or decline in incidence of violence in other Maoist-affected states is unrelated to any significant policy or police initiatives, and is essentially a decision imposed by the Maoists, who are now concentrating on political and mass mobilisation in at least 22 states across the country.
In all, at least 231 of India’s 602 districts are now afflicted by some degree of insurgent and terrorist activity (Maoist: 165 districts; Northeast: 54; J&K: 12). The country remains severely under-equipped to deal with these multiple challenges, and the wider and rising challenge of law and order management. At 122 police personnel per 100,000 population, India’s police strength is half the UN-recommended ratio, and a third of some Western nations. The principal Naxal-afflicted states have ratios ranging between 56:100,000 (Bihar) and 99:100,000 (Andhra Pradesh). There are also endemic resource deficiencies in terms of weaponry, communications, transport and technologies, as well as the restrictive legal and whimsical political mandate under which these forces operate. Unless these deficiencies are addressed, India’s disorders may shift about a little, rising in one region, declining in another, but they will persist, and, at some stage, could secure the critical mass necessary to plunge the entire country into a crisis beyond its capacities of emergency management.
(Published in The Asian Age, New Delhi, November 30, 2006)