Since 9/11, one talks of old and new terrorism and modern and post-modern terrorism. The reference is to the modus operandi (MO) and tactics used by the terrorists and their ability to use modern scientific and technological innovations for planning and committing acts of terrorism. Their use of modern innovations increases the lethality of their acts of terrorism, but, at the same time, increases their vulnerability to neutralisation by the security agencies. One saw in Mumbai in November, 2008, how the terrorists' use of modern means of communications facilitated not only their acts of terrorism, but also the investigation by the police.
2.After 9/11, the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, headed by Mulla Mohammad Omar, has emerged as a modern insurgent force capable of planning and launching conventional-style attacks as well as sophisticated, complex, multi-target and multi-MO attacks involving the use of modern means of communications and weaponry. This should account for its successes against the NATO forces and the Afghan National Army (ANA) in certain areas and its vulnerability to neutralisation by the NATO forces in other areas due to the interception of its communications.
3. As compared to the Neo Taliban,the Maoist insurgents of the tribal belt in Central India are an old-style insurgent force still using tactics and MO such as ambushes, attacks with landmines and conventional weapons etc of the kind used by the communist insurgents of Malaya in the 1940s and of Myanmar and Thailand in subsequent years. Their strong points are not their weaponry, but the support from large sections of the tribal community in whose midst and on whose behalf they operate, their superior knowledge of the terrain and their non-dependence on modern means of communications.
4.The support of the community and their non-dependence on modern means of communications should explain the difficulties faced by the intelligence agencies in collecting human and technical intelligence about them. Their superior knowledge of the terrain gives them an advantage over the security forces. Clandestine, undetected movement through the terrain comes easily to them, but not to the security forces heavily dependent on modern means of transport for their movement.
5. The objective of any counter-insurgency strategy against the Maoists should be not to defeat them, but to deny them successes through better tactics and better MO by the security forces. This would be possible only with the support of the tribal community. Winning over the tribals through better governance, better development and better redressal of their grievances against the State has to be the core component of this strategy. Disproportionate use of force against the Maoists and the tribals supporting them would drive more tribals into the arms of the insurgent leaders.
6. Better tactics and better MO by the security forces would mean better capability for the detection and neutralisation of landmines, better skills in ambushing insurgent groups on the move and a capability for rapid intervention. The facts that there have been more instances of successful ambushes by the insurgents of the security forces than of the insurgents by the security forces, that deaths of members of the security forces due to landmines continue to be high and that a group of insurgents managed to stop the Rajdhani Express from Bhubaneshwar to New Delhi for over five hours on October 27,2009, without any counter-action by the rapid intervention forces speak of major deficiencies in our counter-insurgency capability.
7. The incident of October 27 underlines the need for a specially-trained and equipped special intervention force capable of operating rapidly and stealthily in the rural areas. The National Security Guards (NSGs), who were used to counter the 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai, are specially trained and equipped to intervene in terrorism-related situations in the urban areas. A similar force for rapid intervention against the Maoists in the rural areas is necessary.
8. Since the Maoist insurgency has spread over a wide geographic area coming under the jurisdiction of the police forces of a number of states, the command and control of the counter-insurgency operations becomes more difficult than in the case of terrorism. Should there be a centralised operational command and control or should the command and control remain the responsibility of the police forces of the affected States, with the role of the Government of India confined to co-ordination, guidance, capacity-building in the affected States and facilitation of the counter-insurgency operations? How to ensure better co-ordination among affected States and joint action where necessary? Should there be a joint action command? If so, how shoud it be constituted? These are questions which need attention.
9.Andhra Pradesh has had success stories in dealing with Naxalite/Maoist insurgency----through better intelligence, better terrain awareness, better physical security, better tactics and targetted attacks on key leaders. Its example should be of value to other states.
10. Non-state actors---whether terrorists or insurgents----cannot be defeated like one defeats a State adversary except in exceptional cases such as the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) by the Sri Lankan security forces. The LTTE, under Prabakaran, conducted itself like a State and paid a heavy price for it. Non-state actors can be made only to wither away through a sustained campaign of attrition with the support of the community. The campaign will be long and has to be sustained. One should not expect quick results.
11. Hard rhetoric and war cries have no place in counter-insurgency. A State, which is perceived by the community as caring for the people, has greater chances of prevailing over the insurgents than a State, which is seen as indifferent to the problems of the people. (28-10-09)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )