Insurrections, whether domestically or abroad, are known to be difficult to defeat. The British faced them in British Malaya, Kenya and Northern Ireland. They had some degree of success in British Malaya. They wooed a catastrophe in Kenya. And in Northern Ireland, thanks to US advocacy, the parties have brought about a fragile peace. It's not just the UK. The French, who had tried so hard to hold onto Algeria, finally threw in the towel. And on April 14, in a televised address to the nation, US President Joe Biden declared the end of nearly two decades of war and then a counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan.
Even fighting rioting on your own lawn can be tedious, painful, and costly. The Indian government received such an unwanted reminder earlier this month when Maoist rebels known as the Naxalites killed 22 Central Reserve Police Force employees in an ambush in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh, central India. This uprising has seen considerable ups and downs since 2010, when then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared that the Naxalites were "the greatest challenge to our country's internal security". Over a decade later, despite changes in government at the national and local levels, the Naxalite specter still haunts the country
India is of course no stranger to the fight against insurrection. Since the 1950s when it faced the Naga and Mizo rebels in the northeast, it has dealt with a number of other riots in Punjab, Kashmir, and elsewhere. In the northeast, after the rebels had worn out, they managed to forge peace agreements with the Naga and Mizo rebels, although the embers of both rebels are still burning. In Punjab, the Government of India and India adopted an iron strategy to crush the Sikh insurrection of the 1980s while perpetrating numerous human rights abuses. After all, India in Kashmir has largely brought the separatist uprising there under control through the massive deployment of troops and firepower. Now, however, it faces the problem of a deeply alienated population, parts of which have resorted to street protests that occasionally lead to violence.
What explains India's failure to partially end the Naxalite uprising despite its success in dealing with other uprisings? The answer to this question is complex
First, the problems India is facing are partly structural. Since this is a federal state, the state government can only send its armed forces if the state governments specifically ask for help or if the central government concludes that a subsidiary is simply unable to maintain law and order. In these circumstances, she can invoke Article 357 of the Indian Constitution, dismiss the state government for a period of up to six months and govern the state directly from New Delhi during this interregnum
Since most state governments, especially if they belong to an opposition party, zealously protect their power, few, if any, seek to invite the national police forces to maintain political order. They usually only look for such a lifeline when they are truly under siege. Unfortunately, in this case, that usually means that the rebels in the state have already received considerable steam and are unlikely to be easy to contain.
Second, despite the fact that the Indian Army has extensive counterinsurgency experience and has largely credibly acquitted itself, it is extremely reluctant to operate within the country's borders. Shooting at one's own population is a task that the military undertakes with extreme reluctance for two reasons. First, it interferes with the main function of the military: defending national borders. Second, the military is also concerned that repeated deployments in support of civilian operations within the country could create rifts in its ranks.
However, these are not the only problems India's counterinsurgency strategy has faced. Another major problem is that New Delhi has never developed a dedicated counterinsurgency force that can be deployed across the country if necessary. Instead, there is a literal soup of letters from paramilitary organizations that are not specifically trained to combat rural or urban insurgency.
For example, the Central Industrial Security Force has the task of guarding static industrial sites and ensuring airport security. The India-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) was set up shortly after the 1962 war with China. The ITBP has occasionally been used in counterinsurgency operations, but is mainly located on the Sino-Indian border. Similarly, in addition to serving as a frontline force along India's troubled borders with China and Pakistan, the Indian Border Guard has sometimes been used in counterinsurgency operations
The most widely used unit is the Central Reserve Police Force. It was originally designed to assist state governments when the local police force proved inadequate to maintain law and order. Better trained and armed than most local police forces, it has proven to be very effective on several occasions in containing urban riots and violent protests. However, the officers do not have routine training in counterinsurgency operations. Nor is it expected that a national police organization, regardless of its capabilities, would have the necessary information gathering capabilities, knowledge of the local terrain, and the ability to adapt to widely differing regional environments. Consequently, it is not surprising that the Central Reserve Police Force units attacked in Chhattisgarh's jungle were not prepared for the attack.
Where success has come, it has been in the hands of local, not national, forces. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, a state-level counter-insurgency, the greyhounds, put an end to the Naxalite uprising in the state. This force was specially developed to fight the insurgents. It was adequately trained at a special counterinsurgency school and was given appropriate equipment for use in the Andhra Pradesh jungle.
Several other states have tried to follow his example, including neighboring Odisha. However, building such professionals requires time, resources and existing institutional capacities. Not all states are able to raise all three. Chhattisgarh, a state that was carved out of the larger state of Madhya Pradesh just two decades ago, is not known for effective governance. It has not succeeded in developing a “heart and mind” strategy to separate the local population from the insurgents, nor a kinetic reaction aimed at militarily breaking the back of an insurrection.
Counterinsurgency strategies in the Indian states are still inconsistent. Despite Singh's open recognition of the problem more than a decade ago and the remark by current Interior Minister Amit Shah to provide the Naxalites with an "appropriate response" to the Chhattisgarh attack, the national government has yet to develop an overarching strategy to address the situation. Unless this changes, and despite India's extensive experience and occasional successes, it is unlikely that the insurgent movements that are currently haunting the country will end anytime soon.