Red Corridor gets bloodier amid inaction

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Naxal Maoist by Shailendra (20)

India’s national security is vulnerable to threats both from across the border as well as home-grown terrorism and Naxal violence. The country has been victim of cross-border jihadi terrorism for more than a decade. Jammu & Kashmir continues to be a boiling pot kind courtesy the proxy war launched by Pakistan and due to spread of religious fundamentalism. 83 districts in the hinterland spread across 9 states, referred to as “Red Corridor” are engulfed with Naxalism and are engaged in conflict with the State. The North-East continues to simmer with ethnic conflicts and insurgencies. Issues like “Intolerance”, Dalit versus Non-Dalit and minority appeasement are often used as tools by the vested interests to engineer internal disturbances in the country.

India’s national security is confronted with a wide range of threats such as transnational threats, “proxy war” in J &K and left-wing extremism in various parts of the country. India’s strategic interests along the Northern, Western and Eastern borders and sensitivities along the Line of Control (LoC) and Line of Actual Control (LAC) need to be protected with effective deterrent capabilities. Undoubtedly, maintaining territorial integrity and preserving national sovereignty continues to remain a major strategic challenge for India; nonetheless, India’s threats primarily emanate from the disputed land borders with certain neighbours and that warrants the need to address consequences of instability and volatility in parts of India’s extended and immediate neighbourhood.

For the past three years, the post of Defence Minister of India has been lying vacant, except for few months when Manohar Parrikar was in this post before he took over as chief minister of Goa some months ago. India has not thus far finalized its national military strategy and security framework, which is almost a sine qua non to effectively deal with security challenges facing the nation.

Besides, modernization of country’s defence forces and equipping them with latest state-of-the-art sophisticated weapons still remains a chimera. In a recent address at a defence think tank, the Army Chief lamented that the spending on defence was considered a “burden” by many in the country and the military was not getting its due share. He further emphasized country’s true potential could be realised only when both economic growth and might of the armed forces go hand-in-hand.

Security experts hold that a strong military is essential for India’s forward march and it is the key for the economy to develop. Some defence experts opine that strong defence forces are essential to ensure country’s energy security which is the vital component of economic growth. It is also argued that economic growth and modernization of defence forces should go hand-in-hand.

While lamenting at the slow pace of modernization of armed forces, many security experts feel that government has not been allocating adequate funds for it in the last few years. It is pointed out that India’s defence budget for 2017-18 was 2.74 lakh crore, which is 1.63 percent of GDP as compared to Chinadefence budget that is close to three percent of its GDP.

Maoists’ Menace

The violence perpetrated by the Maoists is another challenge to India’s internal security. Recent brutal killing of 26 police personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) on 24 April by the Maoists in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh has raisedmany questions about capabilities of the central government as well as states of the Red Corridor in dealing with mounting Maoist menace. Media reports indicate that this was the worst attack on security forces in the region since the April 2010 attack when Maoists killed 74 men of the CRPF in the nearby Dantewada district.

The Red Corridor, most affected by Maoist violence, lies in a wide swath of mineral-rich, forested tribal lands, from Maharashtra to West Bengal, where the Maoist outfits cause the most terror deaths in India. Development projects along with infrastructure expansion in these mineral-rich areas have resulted in the displacement of about 21 million native people of which tribal population is about one-third.

Growing resentment amongst the displaced persons, especially tribal population, is reportedly exploited by the Maoists. Government’s efforts to make further grounds into the Maoist heartland, opening up villages that have until recently remained cut off from the national mainstream are vehemently thwarted by the Maoists through indulgence in violence. More security personnel have lost their lives in Chhattisgarh (235) than in any other state between 2011 and 2015. With 72 security personnel killed in Maoist-related violence in just four months of 2017, it is already the deadliest year in the past seven years for Indian security forces.

Way forward

Keeping in view the unabated Maoist violence and recurring incidents of terror attacks in J&K, there is need for radical reforms in country’s existing system of governance. Defence analysts opine that unity of effort, coordination, leveraging technology and centralised control are essential to thwart the challenge of contemporary internal security threats. Some experts cited the example of many nations in the world which have a dedicated interior ministry responsible for the internal security and they also cite the example of the United States, also as an aftermath of 9/11, created a Department of Homeland Security which despite continuous threats has been able to avert any serious terrorist attack since September 2011.

In the aftermath of 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, another effort was made by then government in the shape of National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) and National Investigating Agency (NIA) but while the former failed to see light of the day the latter was created but without the teeth once again falling victim to partisan politics. Some experts point out that Pathankot terror attack, once again highlighted lacunae in border management, coordination, unity of effort, command and control and exposed the hollowness of India’s internal security mechanism and glaring gaps in national security.

Some security experts point out that a fundamental flaw in the anti-Maoist operations today is that the state police forces in most states are heavily dependent on the Central Government. The mindset seems to be that dealing with the Maoists is the government of India’s problem and, therefore, the Central forces should bear the brunt of extremist violence.

Under the leadership of KPS Gill and his effective counter-terror strategy, the Punjab Police managed to wipe out terrorism from the country in the 1980s. In the undivided Andhra Pradesh, the use of a specialised anti-Maoist force called the Greyhounds enlisted from the State police force, took down the Naxal menace in the state. State governments have to lead the line in this battle against militants, and the Centre must confine itself to a supporting role. Leadership, training and equipment are the three areas which need to be reviewed, other than the senior leadership question.

KPS Gill, former DGP Punjab and Assam, in a recent talk with this author, suggested that the government should, instead of awarding Anukampa Money (Compensation amount) to family of the martyred jawan, spend the same in modernization of armed forces and para-military forces and equip them with latest weaponry to deal with militants and extremists effectively.

Recently unveiled “joint doctrine” provides for operational synergies among the army, navy and air force with an aim to coherently deal with security threats against India, including conventional and proxy wars. While proposing joint training of personnel, unified command and control structure, besides pushing for a tri-service approach for modernization of the three forces, the joint doctrine is also expected to facilitate establishment of a broad framework of concepts and principles for joint planning and conduct of operations across all the domains such as land, air, sea, space and cyber-space. Speedy implementation of this doctrine can help India move to a pro-active and pragmatic philosophy to counter various conflict situations.

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