World Conflict Guide Domestic And Regional Threats Trouble India Defense Technology International Jan 01 , 2010 , p. 32 Neelam Mathews New Delhi
India moves to quell insurgents and regional threats
Printed headline: Back From The Brink
Beneath the economic strength, industrial vitality and rising standard of living that most people see in India, there is a dark and violent side born from decades of neglect, discrimination and regional tensions. These have spawned insurgency and terrorism that threaten stability and economic gains. Added to this are neighboring countries with their own interests and threats, and it’s clear that India has problems that must be resolved by diplomacy, social programs or credible shows of force.
“We have not utilized our strengths. We need to develop bilaterals with each of the South Asian powers and cannot rule out a China connection,” says Jagannath P. Panda, associate fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses here.
Indian army soldier fires U.S. antitank weapon during a joint exercise at Camp Bundela in India. Credit: U.S. ARMY
Turbulence comes from such groups as the United Liberation Front of Assam, formed to establish an autonomous region of Assam in the northeast, and by Maoists and the Communist Naxals in eastern and southern states. Some experts blame the insurgency they’ve created on exploitation and poor development in the affected areas.
“The answer here is development,” says Jasjit Singh of the Center for Air Power Studies of New Delhi. “There are practical problems: Transportation has been ignored; roads don’t last long as the soil below them is soft; runways keep sinking, and new technology is required. Communication is also central to growth, and it is lacking.”
The figures are worrying. According to Home Minister P. Chidambaram, Maoist insurgents are active in 20 states, more than a third of India’s administrative districts. He adds that “2,000 police stations in 223 districts . . . are partially or substantially affected by Naxalite activity.”
Poor governance over decades resulted in the insurgency, which has killed more than 10,000. The government declared after reelection last May that quelling the Naxalite insurgency would be among its priorities. This has now put the military under pressure.
The proposal to involve a reluctant Indian air force in the anti-Naxalite campaign caused concern that this could lead to civilian casualties. Air force helicopters used for ferrying troops and reconnaissance began coming under fire. “It is important that the air force be allowed to fire in self-defense whenever helicopters or air crew come under attack,” Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said in October. Defense minister A.K Antony said there is no permission required to exercise self-defense.
Local police forces, largely unable to fulfill their responsibilities, need to be disbanded and recreated, an analyst told DTI. He added that since training of police and discipline were lacking, the military needs to be involved in the counterinsurgency. “The government should outsource the two-year training and recruitment of police to the army,” says Singh.
Another issue plaguing security is terrorism. “The problem is promoted from Pakistan, which has in the past provided sanctuary. Since Pakistan has nuclear weapons, if you do not take punitive action, it is bound to have repercussions,” an Indian army official says.
A general consensus has been that the army should stay on the defensive and the air force be used in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “Use the air force to hit infrastructure—roads, railways, bridges. We need to be patient. After all, we’ve been [quiet] for 25 years,” says an official.
The China factor has been in the news recently with minor aggressions that Singh calls “pinpricks.” As India’s economy grows, many believe a war could be fought over disputed territory or strengthening India-U.S. relations, always been a sensitive issue with China. Interestingly, Singh notes, in 1962, when China attacked India, it was at a time when India’s relations with the U.S. were warming.
“China is unnecessarily oversensitive to India-U.S. relations. It is upset because we are buying U.S. equipment,” says Singh. India has ordered a range of weapons from the U.S. Also, the largest Indian defense contract, for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, has strong U.S. contenders.
Some experts, though, believe the real challenge is internal. “India has a China obsession. It should look at controlling its domestic scenario,” says Panda.
The country will, in any event, continue to acquire weapons and upgrade technology to mount a credible response to the threats it faces.