November 20, 2010

Maoists Can't Save India From Kashmir

At a recent seminar organized by the India Today Group, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah issued one of the clearest internal analyses yet on the "State of States in India.”

"In Jammu and Kashmir,” he told his audience, “there has been a gradual shift in traditional insurgency involving violence with guns, bombs and things like that to a new dimension that emerged over the last three years starting in 2008, which is a more orchestrated civil protest sort of system.”

The simplicity of fourth-generation warfare (4GW) has deceived India, who initially met these low-intensity protests with suppressive force - exactly the reaction to avoid. New Delhi’s disproportionate response would fan the very international incident it tried so hard to keep under wraps. So does Abdullah’s admission warrant the embattled minister any leeway or is this observation too little, too late?

Or is it worse than that?

If only Abdullah had limited his scope to Kashmir’s evolution. Instead he dispersed this fleeting insight with fear-mongering, contradicting 4GW by obscuring the truth in his message. His real mission, apparently, was to further tarnish Muslim-Kashmiris’ struggle for Azadi (freedom) by linking them to India’s greatest threat - the Naxalites.

"We have no experience with Maoist insurgency even though of late we find efforts being made to build bridges between the Maoists and Naxalites of the rest of India with militants of Kashmir and also some Left-thinking academicians and students in Jammu region as well... There are visible links on public platforms. There are also invisible links that are sought to be built with universities and also the active militants on the ground.”

Seems that Abdullah only isolated the civil disobedience organized by the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) to smear it in red. He was speaking, among others, of the high-profile author Arundhati Roy.

"We have seen evidence of it,” he continued. “A lot more effort to build a sort of interaction. A lot of movement of known Maoist sympathizers now traveling to Srinagar and organizing seminars and conferences with supporters of militant violence in Jammu and Kashmir as well.”

The chief minister’s remarks are set against a larger background that reveals New Delhi’s designs. Alleged connections between Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Kashmir’s primary separatist group, and the Maoists are nothing new, but most recently voiced by Chhattisgarh Police Director General Vishwa Ranjan. Two LeT agents reportedly observed a spring meeting of the Central Committee (CC) of Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist), which Ranjan interpreted as a sign of increased operations. This information surfaced as New Delhi also accused Maoists in Nepal of training Indian-Maoists under LeT supervision.

Given LeT’s connection to Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), only a minute passed before the next jump between Islamabad and the Maoists.

But this claim was too much for Indian and US analysts alike. A report by STRATFOR quickly severed a potential link and added another piece of the puzzle by listing those groups connected to the Maoists: United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), the National Social Council of Nagaland-Issac Muivah, and Nepalese Maoists operating under the the militant wing of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal. Ties have also been confirmed with the New People's Army (NPA) in the Philippines.

Religion doesn’t unite these groups so much as Indian separatism and political ideology; it would not be surprising, then, if the Maoists have made contact with LeT agents or Kashmiri figures. As much as they fight with each other, insurgent groups also sympathize with common causes and pool resources. Indian separatism provides a denominator. Yet the rapid chain of events between LeT, the Maoists, and now Kashmir’s struggle leaves little room for coincidence.

New Delhi hopes to tie its disputes into the same issue of territorial integrity, a move intended to delegitimize Muslim-Kashmiris’ struggle for independence.

Unfortunately India’s counterinsurgency remains broken and in need of direction. Instead of formulating a new strategy to replace a dying one, New Delhi intends to suppress the pressure building inside and outside the state. Although Pakistan hasn’t severed its connection to LeT, the group was a non-factor during the summer outburst of protests. New Delhi continued to blame Islamabad for organizing stone-throwers despite evidence of spontaneous action, narrow sight that contributed to a delayed reaction.

It’s possible that Islamabad would make Mumbai a priority if Kashmir was finally recognized as a disputed territory, but New Delhi cannot bring itself to do so. LeT remains viable because India continues to legitimize its existence, and because this vacuum enables its “dangerous” social activism.

"Obviously, LeT is a profoundly dangerous group and its support that it derives from doing social services is like Hamas, is like Hezbollah, and is of course of great concern," says Daniel Benjamin, US State Department Coordinator for Counter Terrorism.

Inside the Red Corridor, General Vishwa Ranjan may be right about an increase in operations regardless of the cause. Active as they’ve ever been, Maoists have recently targeted opposing villages, police facilities, and political offices, and the group appears to be strengthening as government forces struggle to organize themselves. With India hesitant to deploy the military, a paramilitary force - the Counter Insurgency Force (CIF) - was set up to combat the Maoists.

Except it’s running low on funds, recruits, officers, and intelligence.

And the Maoists don’t need Pakistan’s help according to STRATFOR. The group’s arsenal consists of AK-47 variations, NATO ammunition, and Israeli-made, Galil 7.62mm sniper rifles, along with the standard repertoire of machine guns, RPGs, and explosives. With arms manufactured in China, Russia, America, India, and Pakistan, it’s believed that no outside source is actually supplying the group. Weapons are supposedly cheaper and easier to acquire locally in India.

Like Kashmir, New Delhi has responded too slowly to the Maoists, failed to commit itself against a sophisticated insurgency, and is trying to blame its disregard and lack of results on Pakistan. Now the Maoists are supposed to extract New Delhi from Kashmir, an impossibility. Both struggles have grown because India tried to ignore them.

While the government’s team of interlocutors is ready for new outreach with Kashmiri officials, AHPC leaders have so far refused to meet until their demands are recognized. But it doesn’t help that Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Geelani face periodic house arrest. Although their protests lost momentum relative to the summer outburst, recent demonstrations should prove to India that the AHPC’s movement isn’t stopping.

New Delhi’s actions are their own admission; Farooq was blocked from leading congregational Friday prayers in Srinagar for the 10th consecutive week. The APHC chairman managed an interview from his house where he explained that, for first time in the 250 years of the Mirwaiz title, authorities have barred Mirwaiz from leading prayers in Srinagar.

One of his spokesmen added that India can’t keep him away from Muslim-Kashmiris forever.

Visibly fearful that Farooq would fire up Muslim-Kashmiris, New Delhi must come to realize that suppressing pressure only makes for a bigger explosion in the end. Counterinsurgency won’t be accomplished by isolating him and Geelani from their followers. Instead this policy will intensify their struggle by hardening their resolve, with the end result being an even lower tolerance for compromise.

And India cannot delegitimize Muslim-Kashmiris’ struggle for independence through the Maoists’ own struggle, which is becoming the larger insurgency and requires extensive resources.

New Delhi still has time to evolve its own strategy, but this means the agonizing decision of recognizing Kashmir as a disputed territory and hearing out the Naxalites’ demands. Such moves are unlikely since harder decisions would follow - the status quo is too massive to let go of. For Abdullah to have the right idea about fourth-generation warfare then make a sharp wrong turn represents Indian policy as a whole: undecided and stagnant.

As the AHPC’s message of self-determination broadcasts loud and clear, New Delhi continues to pump out mixed signals that cloud the environment, whether offering an olive branch with blanket curfews and bullets or infighting over the terms “disputed” and “autonomy.” On a wider scale India's image of a vibrant democracy is being distorted by draconian measures. Though it holds the physical upper hand in many ways, it’s losing the critical war of messages.

And that's weakening India's grip on Jammu and Kashmir.

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