A drone near the India-Pakistan border | The Federal
The maintenance of internal security has always been a challenge for the security forces. Maoist extremism in some states, insurgency in the North-East (NE), and terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have been some of the prominent challenges for India’s internal security establishment.
The National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval, in his address to Indian Police Service officers in 2021, had had made the pertinent point that since wars were too expensive to become effective instruments to achieve political and military objectives, “it is the civil society that can be subverted, divided and manipulated to hurt the interest of the nation”. It is therefore essential that the security forces and civil administration not only work in tandem, but also maintain close contact with the people they are intended to serve.
Jammu and Kashmir
It is undisputed that J&K has been affected by terrorism, sponsored and supported from across the border, particularly after the rise in insurgency since the 1989-90s. While the total fatalities have come down drastically from 988 (707 civilians and 281 security personnel) in 2004 to 83 (41 civilians and 42 security personnel) in 2021 according to data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), J&K continues to witness sporadic incidents of terrorism despite the clear message given by the Central government through the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, that the territorial sovereignty of India will never be compromised.
The latest ambush of Indian Army personnel in the difficult terrain of the Pir-Panjal region of Jammu on December 21 is a reminder that terror elements still continue to enjoy the support of local inhabitants. The Director General of police of J&K recently asserted that “only 31 local terrorists--an all-time low--are left (mostly in the Kashmir valley) in the Union Territory, while the recruitment of locals into militancy has witnessed a drop of 80% this year”. Locals play an important role in eliminating terrorism. It is claimed that even in 2003, support from the local communities of Gujjars and Bakarwals was one of the key factors to the success of the Operation Sarp Vinash conducted by the Indian Army in this region.
While identification of terror supporters may not be an easy task, the success of anti-terrorist operations largely depends on actionable intelligence inputs obtained through local sources. Therefore, the role of village defence committees becomes vital. The security forces may also rework their deployment to seal possible routes of infiltration.
Moreover, ill treatment of civilians by the security forces must be dealt with strictly because such incidents may erode the public trust built by the authorities over decades.
The Central government, in furtherance of its policy of zero-tolerance towards terrorism, recently banned two more terrorist organisations for five years under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), namely the Muslim League Jammu and Kashmir (Masarat Alam Bhat), and a pro-Pakistan separatist group, Tehreek-e-Hurriyat (TeH) founded by the hard-line separatist, the late Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It is believed that such restrictions will further help the security forces in checking the separatist activities and blocking their supply of funds.
The violent ethnic conflicts in some of the North-East states have also been a serious internal security concern for the country. The MHA observed that insurgency related incidents have declined, with a reduction in civilian killing from 414 in 2004 to 23 in 2021; and from 110 in 2004 to 8 in 2021 in security forces’ casualties. However, militant groups and regional aspirants continue to inflame the situation and keep the pot of insurgency boiling.
The recent tripartite peace agreement signed on December 29 between the Arabinda Rajkhowa faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Assam government and the Central Government is significant in light of the fact that ULFA was involved in insurgent activities since its formation in 1979. The ULFA cadres have now agreed to surrender arms and ammunition, vacate their camps and join the mainstream. The Paresh Baruah faction of ULFA, however, did not join the talks. Further, the Chief Minister of Assam said that only 15% of the area in Assam remained under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).
On the other hand, while Manipur is believed to have a long trail of history, with roots in colonial governance and ethnic fault-lines, the ethnic violence that erupted in Manipur triggered by the Manipur High Court’s directions with regard to granting ‘Scheduled Tribe’ status to the Meitei community in May 2023, still remains a matter of concern. The delayed cognisance by the local police on the video of sexual assault on women of a particular ethnicity after about two and a half months and their alleged complicity, has added fuel to the fire. This unprofessional approach by the local police led the Supreme Court to intervene to take action against the culprits. Moreover, many arms and ammunition that were looted from the police establishment, are yet to be returned. The most disturbing upshot was that even the police seemed divided on ethnic lines and allegations were also made against some in the armed forces for taking sides.
While both the Centre and State governments have taken steps (including fencing along the international border) to abridge the hill-valley divide and bring normalcy, it is essential that the Meitei and the Kuki-Zo communities of the State repose faith in each other to restore peace. The security forces must also be unbiased in their behaviour and actions.
On the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) front also, Maoist violence (as per the MHA’s data) has decreased from 1,533 incidents and 566 deaths in 2004 to 509 incidents and 147 deaths in 2021. The downtrend in violence is definitely important, but this cannot be a sole indicator to represent the ground situation. The Maoists’ strength, their spread, recruitment and militarisation are equally important. The PM of India once declared the Maoists as the biggest threat to internal security, and Chhattisgarh still remains the epicentre of Maoist violence.
While more than 49 Battalions (BNs) of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) are deployed (in addition to most of 22 BNs of the Chhattisgarh Armed Force) in Chhattisgarh to assist the State police in their anti-Maoist operations, there are still pockets of security vacuum in Abujhmaad and South Bastar. This is the region where the Maoists’ military BN is able to put up its extreme resistance to the security forces and claim to wage the mobile war. Taking advantage of the political and administrative vacuum in these pockets, the Maoist’s Revolutionary People’s Councils (RPCs)-- most commonly known as Jantana Sarkars-- wield power and kill innocents by branding them police informers in their kangaroo courts (so-called people’s courts). The central agenda of the proscribed CPI (Maoist) to convert the Dandkarnaya and Bihar-Jharkhand into base areas, guerrilla war into mobile war, and gradually encircle cities and seize political power through protracted armed struggle, also remains unchanged.
As per the latest data of June 2021, out of a total of 70 Security Related Expenditure (SRE) districts which get Central Government’s financial grants and designated Maoist affected districts, 14 districts are in Chhattisgarh. A total 25 most affected districts, out of which 7 are in Chhattisgarh, account for about 85% of Maoist violence in the country. While the affected areas of Dandkarnaya have shrunk in the last decade, the Maoists have been able to expand and form a new zone in the contiguous region of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (MMC), not only to open a new corridor to further connect this zone with Jharkhand, but also to safeguard their senior leadership. Therefore, the joint concerted action by these three states needs to step-up to check the Maoist’s expansion.
Further, in order to check the Maoist’s militarisation, more forces may be deployed in the pockets of the security vacuum. The use of advanced technology by stepping up the use of drones and IEDs detection equipment may help in the prevention of casualties for the security forces.
The forces also need to improve their tactics by organising regular training courses. There are reports of fresh recruitment by the Maoists during and after the Corona-19 period. This also needs to be checked by focussing more on the inclusive developmental activities such as building roads, setting up mobile towers and opening bank and post office branches to help the State in improving the situation in remote areas.
It is thus observed that terrorism on all fronts may be controlled by improving basic policing (including actionable intelligence) and strengthening the security infrastructure. Better co-ordination with the Central security forces (including the Indian Army where-ever deployed) is a key to the success of anti-terrorism operations. Serious attempts must be made to minimise the collateral damage and follow a professional code-of-conduct during operations. The grievances of the public must also be addressed by the civil administration to wean them away from falling into the trap of divisive forces.
(Exclusive to NatStrat)
Rajinder Kumar Vij
Devendra Kumar Sharma