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Archive | June, 2009

Lalgarh and beyond

Since returning to power earlier this year, the UPA has been painting the Maoists as India’s greatest internal security threat.  What started out in Lalgarh as a protest movement against police excesses morphed into an armed popular uprising, thanks to the machinations of the People’s Committee against Police Atrocities (PCPA) and the CPI (Maoist).  The frontier regions of West Mindapore district were engulfed in a state of virtual People’s War; the Maoists wouldn’t have it any other way.  The Chairman would have been proud.

The glare of national media, as well as rumblings in New Delhi resulted in the ensuing counterinsurgency operation, which effectively began on June 18.  Lalgarh was retaken by local police, with the aid of the BSF, CPRF and paramilitary units by the end of day 3 of the operation. That the Maoists were able to exert control over Lalgarh in the first place is an indictment of the flippant, almost collusive approach to the problem by the ruling CPI(M).

This should come as no surprise: the CPI(M) is an ideologically bankrupt entity that has driven the two states where it has held power — Kerala and West Bengal — into virtual economic bankruptcy.  Prakash Karat and his ilk do an excellent job at effusively marketing their non-ideology, and taking potshots at other political parties, but when it comes to brass tacks, there is a virtual paralysis in decision making.

However, singling out the CPI(M) for the mess would be unfair.  Other prolific actors, such as the Trinamool Congress (TC) have played a very significant part in perpetuating the Maoist menace in the hinterland.  Ajai Sahni writes of a law and order/moral vacuum that provided an ideal festering ground for Maoist indoctrination and expansion:

Other players have, of course, been critical — the (TC) principal among the veritable armies of ‘useful idiots’ who have been taken along. The backdrop of this increasing ‘joint front activity’ has been augmenting violence and a consolidation of the Maoist presence across West Bengal — something the Communist Party of India — Marxist (CPI-M) state government has sought consistently to deny, underplay and cover up.

CPI(M)’s wishy-washiness when it came to declaring the Maoists as a “terrorist” organization makes one question whether or not they capable of acting in good faith with the interests of the nation at heart.  The need to declare the Maoists “terrorists” was dismissed with the excuse that they (the Maoists) needed to be countered “administratively”.  That’s rich, coming from a party that has left behind a trail of unmitigated administrative disasters in West Bengal and Kerala.

What the UPA must do upon the cessation of military operations is to ensure that there is a mechanism to redress the grievances of the local tribes.  Police excesses and human rights violations must be investigated, and those guilty of excesses must be brought to book.  A distinction must be made between the adivasis and the Maoists, who, for all intents and purposes had no stake in the anti-police agitation but the desire to indoctrinate and recruit tribals for their cause.

The law and order vacuum that allowed the Maoists to establish control over the 17 villages must be plugged.  The capabilities of security forces in the area need to be significantly enhanced, if only to act as a deterrent against any future contemplations of armed popular uprisings in the area.  B. Raman cautions that in doing so, the UPA needs to formulate strategies baring in mind the differences between Maoist terrorism and jihadi terrorism:

Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon, whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda….Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.

The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don’t. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.

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Down to Chinatown

When the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) labels your country a security threat, you will probably sit up and take notice.  The Global Times published the results of a pulse survey where 90% of the respondents indicated that China’s security was threatened by India.  The article provides a rare insight into the political machinations of Big Red.

India’s military moves could cast a shadow over bilateral relations, said Dai Xun, an expert in military affairs, who described India’s actions as “plundering a burning house”, when the international community was focused on a reported nuclear test in the DPRK, destroying the mutual trust between neighboring countries

The pollster, huanqiu.com, also hosts a defense and strategic affairs Internet chat forum, which is very much in the mold of many other defense forums —  mostly filled with bravado and rhetoric, and generally lacking in pragmatism.  But what makes this blogger take notice isn’t so much that such distorted numbers existed, but that a mouthpiece newspaper for the CCP would publish these results, and pass them off as having merit.  The website also polled users on other questions concerning India, a translation of which is included here.

After all, the most recent World Public Opinion (2008), indicated that while there was a general antipathy towards India in China (44% had an unfavorable opinion of India), the statistics were not nearly as skewed as the newspaper article suggests.

All this because of  reports that India is deploying an additional two divisions (mainly light infantry) and two SU-30MKI squadron in Arunachal Pradesh, which China considers “disputed”, and part of “Southern Tibet”.  However, while the dispatching of additional firepower to Arunachal Pradesh is a welcome sign, it merely acts as a deterrent in the here and now to Chinese misadventurism and doesn’t really give India the sense of parity that it needs along the McMahon Line.  Indeed, the most urgent need in Arunachal is not in the deployment of additional troops, per se, but in the development of border infrastructure.

China has worked feverishly to ensure that sufficient infrastructure is in place to be able to quickly move troops and supplies from as far out as Lhasa to the border through land and air.  That India has withdrawn from over 40 border roads projects committed through the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) doesn’t help make matters better.

The recent brouhaha about India in the Chinese press certainly means that China is concerned about India’s growing presence in Arunachal Pradesh.  The deployment of additional troops, and the presumtive refocusing on BRO projects in Arunachal are baby steps, but essential and need to be taken. Manmohan Singh’s government has been blisfully asleep to China’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and the leverage it now has with India’s neighbors, Nepal, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.  This, aside from the “all weather” friendship that it has with Pakistan.  The time has come for India to formulate a strategic response to China’s growing influence in the region. One can only hope that India’s message to China vis-a-vis troop deployments, are only part, and not the full extent of India’s reply to China’s hegemoneous designs.

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Pakistan Roundup

Even amidst the flurry of political activity in New Delhi, the media has had a field day (or two) with a couple of news reports from Pakistan. The first being the apparent successful military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley, and the second being the release of Hafiz Saeed, the Lashkar-e-Taiba chief, from house arrest.  As is the case with anything related to Pakistan, there is always more than meets the eye.

The United States and the international community have been hailing Pakistan army’s successes in the Valley.  Even The Wall Street Journal joined the chorus, in a very gung-ho editorial that put its weight behind Pakistan and asked the US Congress to approve the military and economic aid package to their “allies in Islamabad”.  A couple of days ago, Ahmed Quraishi was on BBC, claiming that the $11 billion military aid doled out by the US to his country was pittance, but couldn’t answer why Pakistan was unable to account for funds provided to them for a specific purpose.

The problem that Pakistan faces is an old one.  The British tried, with carrot and stick, to bring the Pashtun in line and failed. The Soviets launched a war — and even declared victory — but eventually had to retreat in the face of ceaseless guerrilla assaults.  The Americans have experienced this first hand.  The Taliban are not going to fight a conventional military battle against anyone.  They will not have war imposed upon them.  They fight at a time and place of their choosing.

Despite the apparent losses, the Taliban leadership is still intact.  The Radio Mullah and Baitullah Mehsud are still alive, and the Pakistani army faces the unenviable task of asserting itself in territory it hasn’t ever fully controlled.  Anyone believing that a military “victory” is the only solution is living in a fool’s paradise.  Pakistan will eventually realize that it needs to take a page out of Gen. Petreaus’ book and bribe/appease/cajole/entice their way into some sort of political compromise with the Swati tribes.  The question is whether the Pakistani government has the will to sustain a military/political campaign against the Taliban.

Which brings me right along to Hafiz Saeed.  His release, after nearly five months of house arrest, is only to be expected.  India’s huffing and puffing is as utterly meaningless as its decision to outsource the redressal of its grievances vis-a-vis Pakistan to the US.  This blogger has opined previously that Pakistan sees no benefit in abandoning its use of unconventional warfare  against India; and why should it? India has no antidote to counter state-sponsored terrorism, and the United States is unfalteringly vague on the matter, for fear of offending its friends in Islamabad.   And if this extraordinary report in The Times of India is to be believed, India is working through diplomatic channels to rekindle the “peace process” with Pakistan, a month before Secretary Clinton’s scheduled visit.

Given the lack of will or ability to affect a credible response from Pakistan on the issue of terrorism, the stagnation of the peace process, and diplomatic inertia of the past six months on account of the general elections, the Indian government now sees no way out but to extend a hand of friendship to Pakistan.  Stagnation, or indeed, further deterioration of Indo-Pak relations is not acceptable.  At least, not to the United States.

Therefore, with the continuation of the charade that is Hafiz Saeed’s trial, and the soon-to-be-broadcast vague, ambivanet utterances against terrorism by Islamabad, readers  should fully expect the commencement of  the second edition of the India-Pakistan Peace process (IPP-2), which will be dramatically heralded by a series of Twenty20 Indo-Pak cricket matches, and the establishment of a cross-border laddoo exchange mechanism.  Meanwhile,  the 200 civilians who died in Mumbai will be as purged from our memories as were their lives at the hands of terrorists from Pakistan on 26/11.  So much for candlelight vigils and “Never Forget” banners.

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