[Reader-list] The seduction of maximum force - Praveen Swamy

Pawan Durani pawan.durani at gmail.com
Tue Jun 1 13:39:56 IST 2010


Winning the war against Maoists does not need combat jets or artillery. It
needs police forces with counter-insurgency capacities and training.

Aizawal woke that Thursday morning to the thunder of combat jet engines and
falling bombs. Earlier that week, Mizo National Army insurgents had engaged
military garrisons strung across the State. Mizoram's capital fell days
later. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi responded by ordering the Indian Air
Force to attack the city. “Most houses in Dawrpui and the Chhinga Veng area
were reduced to ashes,” a survivor recalled. No one knows for certain just
how many died.

Three decades after the March 4, 1966 bombing of Aizawal, India is once
again debating the use of massive military force — including air strikes —
to fight an insurgency. Last week's tragedy in West Bengal, preceded by
large-scale killings of civilians in Chhattisgarh, have made clear that New
Delhi's offensive against the Maoist insurgency that has torn apart swathes
of eastern and central India is floundering.

Policymakers are now considering committing the Army and air assets to
provide logistical and fire support to counter the Maoist campaign. For the
most part, the plans envisage only a limited support role for the armed
forces — the use of helicopters, for example, for transporting commandos in
remote forest areas, or unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with
foliage-penetrating radar to locate large Maoist formations. But as public
pressure mounts on a government that promised quick success against the
Maoists, more aggressive military options will seem increasingly seductive
to policymakers. India's rich experience of fighting insurgencies, though,
shows that maximum force not only inflicts hideous levels of civilian
casualties but it rarely secures decisive outcomes.

*Lessons from Manipur*

In June 1986, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi arrived at an agreement with the
Mizo National Front, laying the foundations for a peace that has survived
more than two decades. The 1986 Accord, though, was preceded by a
counter-insurgency campaign of colonial-era barbarism: hundreds were
executed; thousands tortured; rape was carried out on a massive scale.
Designed to crush a rebellion that seemed, at one stage, to be on the edge
of success, India's use of the military in Mizoram ended up engendering an
insurgency that festered for decades.

Like the Maoist insurgency, the Mizoram conflict had its roots in
deprivation. In 1959, the region saw a famine which claimed thousands of
lives. In 1961, former Indian Army officer Pu Laldenga formed the Mizo
National Famine Front to campaign against New Delhi's apathy. Laldenga later
transformed the Famine Front's political offspring, the Mizo National Front,
into a potent political force. But by 1963, the lack of state action to
address conditions in the Mizo hills led the MNF to initiate an insurgency
seeking independence from India.

The army campaign seemed, at first, to work. Forces from the Silchar-based
61 Mountain Brigade were able to rapidly recapture key towns, including
Aizawal. Posts taken by the MNA were recovered and its guerrillas forced to
shift their headquarters across the border into East Pakistan. The fighting
was intense: the Indian forces suffered 59 fatalities, 126 were injured and
23 went missing; 95 of the MNA died and 35 were injured.

But from the summer of 1966, the MNA merged into the population and began
launching guerrilla strikes against the Army. Lacking effective local
intelligence, unfamiliar with the terrain, and forced to rely on a
vulnerable road network for logistical support, the Army lost 95 men between
March and December 1966 — more than the number killed in the first phase of

Military strategists found a template for their response in imperial Great
Britain's war against the Malayan Communist Party. In much modern writing,
the anti-communist campaign in Malaya is marketed as an example of how
victory can be had by winning hearts and minds, rather than the application
of force. The idea suffuses much writing on contemporary counter-insurgency.
But, as David Benet has noted, “coercion was the reality — ‘hearts and
minds' the myth.” Field Marshal Gerald Templar, the architect of the Malaya
campaign, referred in 1968 to the ‘hearts and minds' doctrine as a
“nauseating phrase I think I invented.”

>From January 1967, the security forces in Mizoram began cutting the
insurgency off from its peasant base. Eighty per cent of Mizoram's
population was resettled, mostly by force, into barricaded enclaves known as
Protected and Progressive Villages.

In a signal 2001 essay for the journal *Faultlines*, the former Assam Chief
Secretary, Vijendra Singh Jafa, recorded how the village of Darzo was
relocated. “My orders,” a soldier he interviewed said, “were to get the
villagers to collect whatever moveable property they could and to set their
own village on 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.”
The officer, Jafa recounted, ordered village elders at gunpoint to certify
“that they had burnt down their own village.”

Despite this massive application of force, the insurgency did not end. Even
though the MNA was enfeebled by Pakistan's decisive defeat in the 1971 war,
which stripped it of its bases in what is now Bangladesh, it was able to
stage a series of bloody attacks. New Delhi and Laldenga were able to agree
on the contours of a peace agreement as early as 1976 but the deep anger
provoked by the Army's campaign made it impossible to settle the deal.

It is not hard to see why the use of massive military power against the
Maoists appears seductive to policymakers. In November last year, as Central
forces began to push into Chhattisgarh, Union Home Secretary announced that
“within 30 days of security forces moving in and dominating the area, we
should be able to restore civil administration there.” The promise has been
brutally exposed. Unless New Delhi and the naxal-infested States are first
able to restore order, developmental programmes targeting the Maoists'
constituency are unlikely to get off the ground.

*Inadequate force*

But the simple fact is this: there just aren't enough security personnel in
Chhattisgarh to hold, let alone dominate, the area. The Bastar division of
Chhattisgarh sprawls across 40,000 square kilometres, an area larger than
the Kashmir Valley. New Delhi has pumped in 14 battalions of the Central
Reserve Police Force — each made up of approximately 1,000 men — as well as
5 of the Border Security Force. There are, in addition, some 7 battalions of
armed police, and some 5,000 police.

That means each battalion of security forces must engage with insurgents in
areas larger than 2,000 square kilometres — and in areas where the use of
roads is impossible because of the large-scale use of improvised explosive
devices by Maoists. Some police stations are responsible for more than 700
square kilometres of territory.

In Jammu and Kashmir, an estimated 70 battalions of the CRPF are available
for counter-insurgency duties, along with 54 battalions of the Army's
Rashtriya Rifles. In addition, about a third of the Jammu and Kashmir
Police's 75,000 personnel are committed to counter-terrorism work. That
means approximately 145,000 personnel are available to guard the 101,437
square kilometre territory on India's side of the Line of Control—an average
of one for 1.4 for every square kilometre, and one for every 53 residents of
the State. Manipur, with an estimated population of 2.3 million, has 67
battalions of counter-insurgency forces, including 11 army battalions — one
for 34 residents. The police in Chhattisgarh, moreover, often confront
Maoist formations that outnumber them 4 to 1. Most counter-insurgency
doctrines call for government forces to outnumber their adversaries by at
least 12:1, or higher — the levels exceeded in both Jammu and Kashmir, and

More men alone, though, will not solve the problem. Phnom Penh, on the eve
of the triumph of Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea, had one police officer for every
60 residents. The force, however, lacked tactical skills. It is also worth
recalling that the United States dropped three times more ordnance on
Indochina during the Vietnam war than all combatants put together did during
World War II — but still lost.

In recent decades, Indian tacticians have come to realise that well-trained
police forces are key to defeating insurgencies. Many have pointed out that
the Army played a frontline role in decimating the Maoist insurgency that
broke out in West Bengal in 1967. In October 1969, Lieutenant-General JFR
Jacob led an offensive against the Maoist groups in the State, spearheaded
by the 4 Infantry Division, the 9 Infantry Division and the 50 Parachute
Brigade. No written account of the campaign was maintained by the Army's
Eastern Command, but participants say intelligence provided by the West
Bengal police led to the success. That lesson has been driven home in recent
years: India's major counter-insurgency successes — whether against the
tribal insurgents in Tripura, the Maoists in Andhra Pradesh, or Khalistan
terrorists in Punjab — were all police-led.

“Occasional police operations timidly carried out with inadequate forces”
the theoretician of counter-insurgency, Roger Trinquier, warned in his 1964
classic*Modern War*, “will fail pitifully.” With the force levels and
resources now available in areas like Bastar, defeat is certain. Winning the
war against the Maoists doesn't need combat jets or artillery; it needs
police forces with counter-insurgency capacities and training. Those forces
can be raised — but New Delhi needs to get to work now, instead of wasting
lives chasing the phantom of a quick victory.

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