Sunday, February 21, 2010

All-out offensive the sole option


There is a term in military parlance called “spoiling attack”. When a large force is poised to attack an enemy stronghold, the defender sends a small but potent force to attack the concentration of the attacking forces. This is to disorganise as well as demoralise the attackers and jeopardise the time frame of the attacking forces.
The Shilda and Dharampur attacks in Bengal by Maoists should be considered in that light. We have been hearing about operation Green Hunt for a long time. It is understandable, the maintenance of law and order being a state subject, the central home ministry has to sort out various issues and obtain concurrence of all the state governments on the broad framework of the operation and also co-ordinate the role and responsibilities of all the state governments.
This is unavoidable as the state police forces, government machinery and the state intelligence and logistic aspects need to be finalised before such an important operation, spread over at least four states and involving thousands of police and paramilitary personnel.
As it is, the chief ministers of Bihar and Jharkhand have already presented a cold shoulder to the efforts of the Union home ministry.
Generally, operations are kept secret till as long as possible. This is to deny time to the Maoists to prepare themselves to meet the onslaught. But in this case, wide propaganda had been made of the impending operation, instead of staying silent and springing a surprise on the Maoists.
I cannot help feeling that the intention was to cause scare in the minds of the Maoist leaders and hope that they would seek discussion for a peaceful solution. That would have been in the spirit of the Maoist teaching “do not give battle to a strong enemy force, withdraw to safety and seek time by all means to prepare and delay the engagement”. On the contrary, they followed Mao’s another tactic: “Hurt the enemy where he is weak and melt into the air.”
They attacked Shilda and killed and maimed a large number of hapless, ill-led, ill-trained, ill-motivated and demoralised policemen and decamped with their arms and ammunition. While preparations for the operation were progressing, no effort was made to tactically re-site the police camps to dominate the approaches leading to the same. So much so, no one possibly was on sentry duty in that camp.
The Maoists had selected the targets with care, dealt a body blow in daylight, planted mines and IEDs on roads and bridges and disappeared after a very successful raid.
This is possibly the first time in Independent India that the Union home ministry has embarked on such a large-scale operation using police and paramilitary personnel. It is understandable that there will be teething troubles, but these Maoist raids demonstrate to countrymen the state of efficiency and professionalism of our police and paramilitary forces.
We very often hear that the borders between Bengal and Jharkhand, Bengal and Orissa, etc., have been sealed. If this is the state of efficiency, what is the guarantee of this sealing? In the face of any serious action by the security forces, the Maoists may move to adjacent states with impunity.
In view of the above, it is imperative that simultaneous and concerted operations are launched in all the states. But with the reluctance of two states, particularly that of Jharkhand, the success of such an operation is already a question mark.
The Maoists have, at Shilda and Dharampur, already given their reply to requests to abjure violence and come forward for discussions. The situation now demands an all-out offensive without much delay, which must be launched before the Maoists can inflict more casualties on the security forces.
■ All the police camps must be re-sited as required away from the heart of towns and marketplaces. Patrolling of the areas must be intensified so that camps are not surprised again. Day and night sentries and a quick reaction team must be organised at each camp.
■ They must be able to provide guides through jungle trails to the combing columns. Census must be available of all residents in each village.
■ Random checks of identity must be carried out in thickly populated areas. If required, night curfew may be imposed in sensitive areas to prevent the Maoists from moving during the night. Night patrolling in an area of influence is imperative.
■ However, a more important aspect is to ensure that no villager is harassed. Even if an incident of ambush or IED blast takes place near a village, no reprisal should be made on village folks. Rather, they should be reassured about their innocence. Even if Maoists have taken shelter in any village, it must not be construed that the villagers are involved in a conspiracy. Maoists do not wait for consent prior to entering a village. Villagers know that the consequence of refusal is death penalty.
■ Medical facilities or any other help which the police can provide to the poor villagers while they are out on a patrol must be given.
The genuine premise must be that the villagers are not actively or willingly conniving with the Maoists. This is one of the ways to earn the confidence of the local population and create opportunities for gaining intelligence.
Some people and organisations are protesting against this planned operation. They, I feel, have mixed up between the Maoists and local tribals. Some tribals may be Maoists or their sympathisers but surely, all tribals in all these states are not Maoists. Moreover, launching of operations against ruthless Maoist killers is not war against the tribal population.
Sure, the Maoists are also fellow Indian citizens, but that does not give them immunity from the law. Abductors, killers, looters of banks and police armoury; extortionists and oppressors of rural tribal people need to be stopped. This is the duty and responsibility of the state. The Maoists do not deserve any support or sympathy from any quarter.
The security forces on the other hand have to be doubly careful that there is no collateral damage in men and property among the local population. The Maoists will invariably try to use the unfortunate men and women as human shields against the security forces.
Finally, the success of anti-terrorist operations entirely depends on the quality of junior leadership. This is one aspect that needs careful consideration of the police brass. The incidents of Maoist attacks on police stations and camps and abduction of police officers in the recent past are not at all encouraging.
If need be, the government must arrange material support and operational services from the armed forces, including earmarking a few army units as back-up support, just in case it becomes necessary.
Operations once launched must achieve their objective. The Maoists must be made amenable to resolving their disputes by peaceful means. Indian democracy has that space. Troops must go into operations “resolved into victory”.


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