Resolving India’s Counter Militancy Conundrum
There are ample opportunities to achieve closure of numerous separatist and extremist militancies in India which needs exploitation by the government post May 2019
Seven decades after Independence on 15 August 1947, India’s challenge of managing the sovereign space due to attempts at fissiparous breakouts by groups who seek autonomous sub-national identity through the process of an independent state formation have continued apace but there are ample opportunities that the central government can exploit to arrive closure in the coming five years – 2019-2024.
Apart from the Left Wing Extremists (LWE) based in the mining and forest tract of Central India and the religious extremists spread in the hinterland, other groups mainly have a separatist agenda and are on the geographic periphery be it Jammu and Kashmir or the North East.
These groups continue to question India’s sovereignty mainly due to non acceptance of political cooption in the Indian Union in 1947. The estrangement continues even though the level of violence has been low with fatalities being below 1000 from 2012 to 2018 except for a small spike in 2014. Importantly the State cannot ignore the threat as insurgencies continue apace.
Even the level of fatalities continues to categorise India in the top 5 countries which are impacted by terrorism and insurgency globally despite the reduction in violence.
This is mainly an outcome of state capacity to comprehensively contain the vectors by adopting proactive preventive measures such border fencing which is now being further tightened to include what is colloquially known as a, “Smart Fence,” improved counter militancy capability of the security forces by raising units such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) CoBRA for LWE affected areas and proverbial “boots on the ground”.
Saturation with army and police personnel to control the security space is a timeworn counter militancy strategy which suits the Indian scenario as the state has sufficient volunteers to join the security forces and apparently funds money to field them, even though defense and security budget as a percentage of GDP has remained low in the past couple of decades.
However despite the control of violence the failure of the Government to address the roots of separatism is starkly evident in Jammu and Kashmir as well as in the North East. Taking the case of North East first, two decades of talks with the main insurgent group in Nagaland, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isaac-Muivah) or NSCN IM has failed to achieve a breakthrough.
In August 2015 the Central Government and General Secretary of the NSCN IM signed a Framework Agreement with a view to clinch a final accord. Despite some vigorous efforts by both sides including involving other Naga groups in the talks process the final accord has remained elusive.
The main rub lies in the NSCN IM insisting on a sovereign identity for the Naga ethnic group in terms of inclusion of Naga majority areas in other states as Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh and a flag and Constitution. The talks remain stalled for now and will be a priority for the next government.
In Manipur while there is a cease fire with the Kuki militant groups, there is no progress on a final accord due to the complex ethnic mix of the State. There have been no talks with the Meitei groups in Manipur led by the CORCOM [Coordination Committee], a conglomerate of seven Valley-based militant outfits – the Kangleipak Communist Party (KCP), Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL), People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), its Progressive faction (PREPAK-Pro), Revolutionary People’s Front (RPF, the political wing of the People’s Liberation Army- PLA), United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and United Peoples Party of Kangleipak (UPPK) formed on July 2011 as per the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
The potential of these groups for violence remains limited their fundamental grievance against accession to the Indian Union remains to be addressed and thus a slow burning criminal – terrorist insurgency is likely to continue.
Jammu and Kashmir is also a similar case where the basic issue remains that of perceived inequities of the people in the Kashmir Valley with the Instrument of Accession signed by Maharaja Hari Singh in October 1947.
While Pakistan has fanned the flames of secessionism by raising, supporting and guiding terrorist groups operating in the Valley for the past two decades, the internal dimension of the challenge cannot be undermined particularly at this stage when years of violence has led to the rise of a generation that has grown up in the shadow of the gun.
During the period of low violence in 2011 to 2015 a breakthrough in talks with the separatists could not be achieved. Today there is spike in violence due to a number of factors where the statistics as per South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) denote that the number of fatalities in the first three months of 2019 are equal those in the whole of 2012.
During the Central rule prevalent a crackdown on not only the terrorist groups but also their political support base such as the Jamaat E Islami Kashmir and Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front has been undertaken after the fateful terrorist attack at Pulwama on 14 February this year.
In addition the financial roots of support to the terrorist groups is also addressed with measures such as suspension of the Cross LOC trade and investigations and charge sheet launched by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).While State elections are likely to be held in June, it is apparent that a solution to the separatist insurgency is some way off.
Addressing the LWE will also require attention as the extremists while greatly defanged do have a sway in some areas of concern in Central India and demonstrated their muscle during the General Elections that are being held in April May. On the positive side the percentage of voting in the LWE affected areas during the general elections held in April May 2019 denotes there is limited support of the people. So there is an opportunity that the Central and State governments need to exploit.
Hinterland terrorism – religious extremists carrying out targeted attacks on “the other,” while largely under control, the attacks in Sri Lanka on bloody Easter Sunday on 21 April denotes that the threat cannot be under estimated. Thus a vigilant eye on the social media to track those youth may be entangled in the extremist propaganda and indoctrination and Gulf returnees needs to be vigorously pursued.
Eternal vigilance as the old saying goes is the price of liberty.
These issues have received attention in agenda of the national political parties which have also identified the policies that will be adopted.
While there is no dearth of ideas for resolving the slow burning festering sores indicated above, effective implementation needs to form the core of policies for the new government post May 2019