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Counterinsurgency lessons

What are the lessons to be drawn from Kashmir to Punjab to the North-Eastern states?

Priya Ravichandran

Two of the most critical elements in almost all the COIN operations in India have been

  • Strengthening the police and security force
  • Creating an environment for free fair elections and rebuilding institutions to instill voter confidence.

The best examples of both these points are the campaigns in Punjab and in Mizoram. In both the cases, the police forces were strengthened, equipment modernised and a coordinated strategy built to enable intelligence to be gathered and dispersed systematically. Routing out of insurgents by use of force or intelligence was done and an environment created for the government to step in and establish itself. As documented counter-insurgency operations should contain three stages “Clear – Hold – Build”. It is a politico-military procedure. A successful campaign ensures the establishment of a government to remove anti-state elements and it also ensures that the legitimacy and accountability of its institutions are in place. The presence of these factors ensured the relative success of COIN operations from Kashmir to Punjab.

The biggest drawback in all the operations has been the make-it-up-as-we-go-along idea. This has resulted in the loss of manpower, resources and the opportunity cost from redrawing a plan from the ground up each time. Lessons were not learnt from any of these campaigns because of the lack of institutionalisation of the ideas in a comprehensive manner. There is also the notion that each situation differed according to its historical, geographical and social differences and campaigns cannot be seen to overlap one another. However, As Walter Ladwig says “analysis of successful counterinsurgency campaigns, in their proper context, can lead to the identification of common patterns that have remained consistent over time.” Another major issue has been the differing political ideologies and ground level politics resulting in the need to demonstrate a difference in policy whether the situation warrants it or not.

Except for the relatively unknown Counterinsurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Mizoram and Assam, there is very little effort at the national level to train forces specifically for counterinsurgency operations. Almost no scholarship exists. There has to be a comprehensive study of counter insurgency campaigns around the world and a detailed national level strategy implemented. The first level of defence against any terrorist activity is the constabulary and the local police stations. They have to be strengthened through requisite reforms.

The Naxalite campaign, unlike other operations involves multiple states. Extensive security campaign in one state only flushes the militants to another. The states should come together to agree on a national campaign and enable the central command to direct the operations and enable them to move in when stronger political action is required. To succeed in counterinsurgency, a state must bring all the elements of its national power—political, military, economic and social—to bear on the problem. Using the lessons as a blueprint and developing on them to build a stronger armed force and political institution is the only way forward and the surest way to counter the rising Maoist threat.

The author is programme officer at the Takshashila Institution.

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