June 30, 2010

India’s Choice: Protraction or Resolution

We spent two days analyzing the potential effects of Kashmir’s unrest on India’s Maoist insurgency. Then 100 Naxalites killed 27 government security forces in an ambush and turned our prediction into old news. But the delay gave General V. K. Singh, chief of the Indian Army, a chance to speak.

Hopefully he applies his own advice.

In an exclusive interview
to the Times of India, General Singh concedes of Kashmir, "I feel there is a great requirement for political initiatives which take all the people forward together. Militarily, we have brought the overall internal security situation in J&K (Jammu and Kashmir) firmly under control. Now, the need is to handle things politically.”

An inherent contradiction plagues Singh’s statements; counterinsurgency should be waged politically and militarily simultaneously, not sequentially. Yet his admission is still required during latest Kashmir’s turbulence. Now India must act on those words - Kashmir protesters continue to be shot at an alarming rate, spawning protest after protest.

At least 10 civilians have been killed in the last two weeks.

India’s security efforts lose their value without political resolution, an outcome General Singh disregards when reiterating his opposition to 'withdraw' or 'dilute' the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Kashmir. The AFSPA grants Indian forces the freedom to enter homes and search without a warrant, as well as limiting restrictions on deadly force. The friendly Times labels the AFSPA “iron-fisted,” while outside observers consider the measure to be state repression.

"The armed forces are required to undertake operations in very difficult circumstances,” Singh argues. “If the J&K situation has come under control, it's the forces which have sacrificed with their blood.”

What Singh says is partially true, but he falls into the same trap as Israel. Utilizing laws to act aggressively and with impunity may kill thousands of militants and prevent countless attacks. Yet all it takes to trigger region-wide protests is one dead innocent, spawning more unrest and protests that undermine the political process and whatever progress has been made on the security front.

Singh claims that “adequate measures” have been instituted to ensure the AFSPA isn’t misused. If India really wishes peace in Kashmir it must realize 10 dead Kashmiris set it back months or years security-wise. Though Kashmiri leadership strongly denounces the use of violence, periods like now expose the populace to militant recruiters and incite further provocation against India, feeding what is an endless cycle without political resolution.

And India no longer has the luxury of stalling.

Singh also takes a hammer to Islamabad: "The terror infrastructure in Pakistan remains intact.” He cites 34 active and eight holding camps operational across the border, and accuses Islamabad of trying to revive those groups India has crippled, like Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan’s military remains steadfast in its 'Kashmir agenda,’ says Singh, describing how it provides cover fire to help militants infiltrate the Line of Control surrounding J&K.

This may all be true, though Singh’s Indian perspective omits such root causes as a refusal to negotiate Kashmir’s status and ongoing political oppression. But the real irony appears lost on Sinhim, or else he’s hiding it. For years India and America have demanded that Pakistan cease supporting Kashmir militant groups and shift its attention from the eastern border to Taliban territory in the FATA and Punjab province.

Now India finds itself in a similar position.

Tied up for so long with Pakistan in Kashmir, India’s gravest threat has become the Maoist insurgency consuming the eastern half of the state, home to an impoverished and angry population in the hundreds of millions. Singh claims 500-600 fighters operate in Kashmir; at least 10,000 full-time fighters compose the Naxalite ranks, and they’re killing far more Indians.

Maoist attacks increased 40% since last year despite Operation Green Hunt, which the government launched in November 2009. Maoists usually hit hard too, swarming in mass numbers or targeting crowded trains and their tracks, and spread attacks over hundreds of miles of jungle.

Most significant are emerging rumors that ex-military personnel have joined the Maoists, similar to the formation of Los Zetas in Mexico. These officials and soldiers allegedly supply the Maoists with real time intelligence, which they combine with their knowledge of the terrain to ambush large scale government units. Ex-military figures also brief ground troops before and, more importantly, after a battle to teach tactics.

The Maoists have overt ambitions of training themselves into a real guerrilla army, not remaining mere terrorists. Without the proper counterinsurgency, they will far outpace Kashmir and Pakistan as the greatest threat to India.

But the solution to the Maoist insurgency is interconnected to Kashmir, through the words of General Singh. All the security India can bring to bear won’t generate peace in Kashmir without an equitable political agreement. The same goes for eastern India. Though decades of terrorism have tarnished guerrilla warfare, the guerrilla remains a manifestation of oppression. Not evil.

Wherever people suffer from malnutrition, corporate exploitation, and government neglect, one is likely to find guerrillas. Maoist territory houses some of the poorest in the world.

India still inhabits a decent position to negate the insurgency despite its potency. Having seen what works and what doesn’t in Kashmir, these lessons can theoretically be applied internally. Cracking down is futile without meaningful political and economic initiatives. The objective of COIN isn’t to “defeat” an insurgency by physically destroying it, but to negate the insurgency’s root causes and drain its fuel.

Then the insurgency will run out of popular support, leaving it an empty shell, or disperse with its demands somewhat satisfied and easier to contain.

With the Maoists stepping up their attacks to prove India’s paramilitary offensive ineffective, India stands at a crossroads. Increasing pressure has ratcheted up the current debate: launch a full-scale military operation or pursue politico/economic/socio programs to wean the local population away from the Maoists. Negotiation remains an option if they renounce violence, which India considers a long-shot.

Although the second option may seem the longer of the two, this is not the case. A military operation will certainly provoke ever-increasing resentment against the government; India has been training local paramilitaries to avoid alienating the populace more than they already are. Without the proper non-military spectrum, a military campaign will instantly protract the insurgency.

The only viable counterinsurgency revolves around self-determination and development. It may be a long, hard fight, but it’s still shorter than a military-centric strategy. That goes for Kashmir, West Bangal, or anywhere else guerrillas are found.

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