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Silence before the storm: Kashmir can suddenly erupt like a Volcano

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On August 5th, 2019, when New Delhi hoodwinked people of State of Jammu &Kashmir (J&K) to impose an all-out clampdown & communication blackout followed by the revocation of region’s semi-autonomous status, everyone – including the haughty Narendra Modi& his chauvinist lieutenants – expected a riposte – especially, in the restive valley of Kashmir.

However, the conceivable outlook of this rejoinder on founded everyone; a widespread recourse to militancy like the 1990s;a massive upheaval like that one in 2008-09; an all-out commotion like one witnessed after Burhan Wani’s execution; or something even novel.

Nevertheless, the response came but in the most unorthodox of the fashions and by the most irksome of the means for the Indian government – such that it has left the Indian policy circles bewildered, if not astounded.

During the initial few days of current unrest, the people of Kashmir resorted to what has become a “new norm” in the valley; clashes with Indian forces & stone pelting, and Indian forces responded in their symbolic barbaric manner; using pellet guns, tear gas and in some cases, even live ammunition at protestors.

Though, Indian government initially denied the occurrence of any protests – only to hesitantly acknowledge some of those later on and sold-out Indian media projected fabricated normalcy – some non-partisan media outlets and voluntary fact-finding missions overturned the veil of democracy from the face of fascist Modi regime by divulging some of the gruesome realities on ground.

From an all-out curfew in the valley to the arrest of even pro-India politicians, and from apprehension of around 13,000 youth to horrendous custodial torture with the aim of creating deterrent effect –valley of Kashmir provided a manifestation of the rancorous reality that how callously a “claimant democracy” can treat its “owned but not own citizens” in the name of “national security”.

Whether it was the result of imposed security lockdown turning Kashmir into an open-air prison, or complete information blackout effectively coercing the valley into dark ages, or both augmenting each other, a large scale &coordinated uprising against the Indian colonialization didn’t surface.

The isolated incidents of protest, despite the participation of thousands of people,either met with brute force to be quashed or didn’t receive the necessary media reportage – at the end, falling short of creating any nuisance for the power corridors in New Delhi – let aside awakening the global community’s slumbering conscience.

Conceivably, planners in the New Delhi had already perceived such response & deployment of thousands of additional troops in the world’s already most densely militarized zone & communication blackout was exclusively aimed at suppressing any hint of demur in the occupied valley.

Nevertheless, people of Kashmir proved to be even ingenious than the architects of revocation of region’s decades-old status quo and came up with an innovative response – a widespread peaceful civil disobedience.

At first, highlighted by a group of four activists in their thought-provoking fact-finding report, the phenomenon was recounted by various media outlets underscoring the addition of a new dimension in Kashmir’s resistance against New Delhi. According to the report, shops in most parts of Kashmir are only opening in morning and evening – so that people can manage their basic necessities – while schools and colleges despite staying open, fail to attract even the minimum strength of students and attendance is even low in offices.

The report makes the glaring claim that at present a widespread disenchantment prevails in the valley and people are not ready to interact and make any further transaction with Union of India or its representatives–not due to the fear of any militant organization– but by heeding to their own conscious will. People in the valley feel betrayed, disregarded and sidelined that such a consequential decision about their history, culture and identity has been taken while keeping them in the complete dark – analogous to some exploitative measure taken by an imperial power regarding its colonial subjects.

Likewise, the report adds that India’s malevolent move to subsume Kashmir has eradicated the previously existing differences between people regarding their political inclinations and they have assembled around one common agenda; India’s egregious move need to be resisted, no matter what is the ultimate cost.

The prevalent disobedience in Kashmir is the manifestation of local population’s detestation towards India, which is growing with each passing day as the clampdown in the valley prolongs. Along with the peaceful disobedience, the propensity of youth joining militancy is also on the rise and as India exerts more oppression, the trend of youngsters picking up arms is likely to upsurge, which will ultimately lead towards more incidents of violence and instability. In response, Indian forces will unleash their symbolic brutality, and thus, a vicious circle of more youth joining militancy and India responding with even more ferocious might, is likely to ensue – only to the wretchedness of people of the valley.

Modi regime after making August 5thdecision has enclosed itself into a closed street. If they restore communication channels &end clampdown, due to prevalent disenchantment, a massive and well-coordinated uprising is very much on the cards – effectively making Kashmir a “simmering volcano” ready to erupt at any auspicious time.

On the other hand – notwithstanding the nominal international admonishment – if the clampdown & restrictions prolong, India’s international standing will be further tainted& global community’s numb response can blow into a harsh dressing-down –clues of which can be noticed during US House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting that met to hold a hearing on the human rights situation in South Asia, but focused largely on Kashmir.

Nonetheless, egotistical Modi doesn’t seem to give up on his “New Kashmir” plan as evident by the recently made announcement of holding local body polls in J&K – despite the fact that most of the restrictions remained enforced in valley and all the J&K based parties have refused to participate in what they term as “forced elections”. Subsequently, it is expected that Modi’s BJP will secure an overwhelming victory – but withan overall voter turnout of just above zero. This is how the world’s biggest sham democracy India is strategizing to conceal its non-democratic credentials behind the cover of fraud elections.

According to PM Modi’s “New Kashmir” plan, formers old-outlot of politicians – who for generations assured Indians of their loyalty only to be betrayed & incarcerated most recently – will be made completely irrelevant, and a new generation of even more zealous and even more cheaply sold-out politicians will act as representatives of sham Indian democracy in J&K.

Although the “peaceful civil disobedience” exercised by people of Kashmir has perplexed Indian authorities – a reality manifested by the October 11 full-page advertisement in various Kashmir based newspapers entreating local people to resume their routine life – inquiry revolves around how long it will be sustained and to what impact? Without any doubt, this defiance is coming at a very heavy cost – encompassing the social, educational, economic and humanitarian aspects of life –but resilience here will be a defining factor for the future of people of Kashmir. A venerated cause demands a heavy sacrifice and to avert the imminent phenomenon of a majoritarian India subsuming Kashmir, an elongated resistance has become an inevitability.

Hamdan Khan is an alumnus of National Defense University Islamabad. He has previously worked for Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) & is currently associated with Pakistan Council on China (PCC). His major areas of interest include Geo-politics, Great Power Competition, Nuclear Affairs and Revolution in Military Affairs.

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South Asia

US-China Developing Confrontation: India and QUAD

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At the request of the editors of International Affairs magazine, the renowned Kanwal Sibal, India’s Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, France and Russia, comments on new US initiatives in Southeast Asia.

Judging by its Interim National Strategic Security Guidance (INSSG) document (March 2021) the Biden Administration intends to be tough towards China on many fronts. Human rights issues in Xinjiang and Tibet, threats to Taiwan, limiting Hong Kong’s autonomy, encroachments and territorial pressures in the East and South China Seas, freedom of navigation and overflight issues, preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific, unfair trade practices, technology theft, resilience of critical supply chains, emerging technologies, standard setting for 5G, a new competitive US industrial strategy, and so on.

Whereas Trump had alienated allies and weakened America’s hand in dealing with China’s challenge, the Biden administration seeks to speak to China from a position of strength. For this it seeks to restore ties of confidence with Japan, South Korea and Australia in priority. In doing this the US is indirectly recognizing its reduced strength and its inability to meet the China challenge alone. In this perspective, It had reached out to Europe for policy coordination towards China even before it took office, but Europe went ahead to sign a Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) to protect its own independent and competitive interests in China. After the fractious US-China Alaska meeting, the US has continued its coordinating efforts with Europe but faces resistance from Germany and France in particular who want to retain their strategic autonomy in dealing with China, believing that US policy under Biden will remain self-centred and that too much water had flown under the bridge for US-Europe ties to simply revert to the pre-Trump era.

The timing of virtual Quad summit before the Alaska meeting was also intended to signal to China that like-minded countries were coming together to deter what they view as China’s increasingly aggressive policies. From a telephonic meeting at the Foreign Ministers level in February 2021 the summit was a major step forward in consolidating the Quad politically. India, earlier reticent in moving too far too quickly with the Quad in the light of the need to manage the stresses of its China ties, decided to join. After the stand-off in eastern Ladakh India has realized that deferring to Chinese sensitivities is not reciprocated by China. The visit of the US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to India coincided with the US-China meeting in Alaska.

In the INSSG, India is not treated strategically in the same category as US allies like Japan, Republic of Korea and Australia. The China challenge is felt primarily in the western Pacific where the US has bases, deployed military forces and a powerful naval presence. China’s challenge in the Indian Ocean is not considered of the same order for the time being, but partnership with India, with its significant naval assets and geographic position, overlooking the critical sea lanes of communication in the region, is important for the future. India is seen as a net security provider, fitting into the template of burden sharing. For this the US has shown its readiness to build India’s maritime surveillance capacities by supplying defense platforms, intelligence sharing, increasingly complex military exercises with the inclusion of Japan and Australia, and utilizing the India-US defense-related foundational agreements that provide for inter-operability and sharing of geo-spatial data.

Although the joint statement issued by the Quad summit did not mention China by name, China was of course discussed, with each leader sharing his thinking. According to US NSA Jake Sullivan, China, about whom none of the leaders had any illusions he said, was discussed at the meeting but was not its focus. Coercion of Australia, harassment around the Senkakus, border aggression against India figured in the discussions. According to him, the Quad is now a critical part of the architecture of the Indo-Pacific. Cybersecurity incidents impacting Quad members too figured, including attacks against India’s power sector. He dismissed the talk about Quad being a military alliance, though he stated that it has to worked out at the leaders level and that of the working groups how the Quad can move from freedom of navigation to broader regional security questions. Apparently, at Alaska, the Chinese reacted negatively to US mentioning its dialogue with India.

The summit rightly felt that the Quad should have a broader agenda than simply China, a point of view that India has studiously supported. India is conscious of the fact that the US, as well as Japan and Australia, have deep economic ties with China, which can be rolled back selectively to lessen dependence by decoupling in critical areas, restricting Chinese access to advanced critical technologies in which China has external dependence such as semi-conductors, preventing Chinese investments in sensitive areas etc but cannot be dramatically reduced, given China’s huge weight in the global economy. The US policy seems to be “extreme competition”, cooperation and confrontation, as required. India’s investment in the Quad, beyond the maritime security aspect, would be to benefit from a shift away from China of critical supply chains, use India’s democratic environment to attract more US investment and technology transfers that would accelerate India’s growth for the welfare of its people, besides enabling it to close the developing gaps with China.

It is in this perspective that the decision on building India’s capacity for vaccines should be seen. The three expert groups set up by the Quad summit, on vaccines, critical technologies (5G, AI, Quantum Computing, human biology) and climate change broaden the Quad’s agenda, opening up bilateral opportunities with the US for India, besides creating the beginnings of a structure. In line with Indian thinking and emphasis on a broader agenda, the Quad leaders pledged “to respond to the economic and health impacts of COVID-19, combat climate change, and address shared challenges, including in cyber space, critical technologies, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment, and humanitarian-assistance and disaster-relief as well as maritime domains”. The decision to manufacture US vaccine in India with Biological E Ltd to provide one billion doses to the Indo-Pacific region was taken, with Japanese finance and Australia’s delivery support. The third group will deal with critical – and emerging-technologies to facilitate cooperation on international standards and innovative technologies of the future. 

China’s concerns about the Quad summit and the strengthening of India’s strategic ties with the US have no basis. China has benefited enormously from US capital and technology and that of its allies for China’s rise. The economic power it acquired, and with that military power, has been used by it to expand territorially in the western Pacific and globally through the BRI, not to mention in the Indian Ocean. Now that defenses are being put up against China’s policies and ambitions, China, after the stand-off in Ladakh, has no ground to warn India not to become close to the US. Even now the US is China’s biggest economic partner and China is reaching out to the US to ease pressures on it. Its critique of “selective multilateralism” would apply equally to the Russia-India-China group, BRICS as well as the SCO. It has established a Quad in our region- the China-Pakistan-Afghanistan-Nepal group, in which Nepal does not fit at all.

The bristling encounter at Alaska demonstrates that China’s expectations that a change of administration in the US could lessen tensions and some accommodation could be worked out have been belied for the time being. China touted the Alaska meeting as a strategic dialogue, which was strongly denied the US. In response to Secretary of State Blinken’s severe strictures on China’s infringements of a rules based international order on various issues, Politburo member Yang Jiechi hit back brutally, decrying US democracy, castigating America’s racism, calling it the champion of cyberattacks, rejecting the notion that western nations represent global public opinion, and, most significantly, stating that the US lacked the qualifications to speak to China from a position of strength, now or even 20 or 30 years earlier. Yang Jiechi may have intended to say all this in private but felt compelled to do so in public to show to the domestic and international audience that China will not be bullied and will deal with the US as an equal. If he had reacted meekly, it would have been a blow to China’s prestige and its self-image. It appears that after the public spat the two sides got down to business calmly on the agenda items , with serious differences over Taiwan emerging and raising US concerns that this could become a flash point if Xi Jinping was determined to achieve reunification, by force, if necessary. There was no commitment by the US side to meet again despite persistent probing by Yang Jiechi to elicit a response.

With China and Russia in the cross-hairs of the Biden government, it is not surprising that both countries have closed ranks against the US. Lavrov and Wang Yi rejected US calls for “a rules-based order” and proposed a summit of the UN Security Council’s five permanent members to be held “to establish direct dialogue …in the interests of maintaining global stability”. With the sharper US divisions with China and Russia it is unclear what the P5 summit could achieve concretely, especially as the representative nature of the UN Security Council as currently constituted is questioned in large parts of the world.

Regrettably, a new version of the Cold War might now be taking shape. In the developing scenario, it is very important that the India-Russia dialogue is strengthened so that the implications of the new developments and the compulsions of the two countries are better understood bilaterally.

From our partner International Affairs

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Convergence of interests determines Russia-Pakistan Relations

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Russian FM is being received by his Pakistani counterpart upon arriving at the Foreign Office. PHOTO: TWITTER/SMQureshiPTI

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Pakistan on 6-7 April 2021 and held delegation-level meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, in addition to called on Prime Minister Imran Khan and Army Chief, as well as had interaction with other dignitaries and senior officials during his two-day stay in Islamabad, Pakistan.

It is worth mentioning that Russia and Pakistan face similar challenges and pass through similar difficulties, including sanctions, economic challenges, security threats, etc. Both countries share similar views on the Afghanistan issue, terrorism, regional security, and China’s common friend. There exists a comprehensive convergence of interests.

Especially after India signed a series of Defense agreements and acted as a “Major Defense Partner” and American-led Quad or concept of Asian NATO, the geopolitics has emerged so that Russia and Pakistan must cooperate with each other. As a matter of fact, we left with no option except strengthening regional cooperation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow and Islamabad would boost ties in the fight against terrorism, with his country providing defense equipment to Pakistan and the two holding joint military exercises.

During the meeting, Prime Minister Imran Khan restated Pakistan’s determination to expeditiously complete the mandatory legal process for the “Pakistan Stream” (North-South) Gas Pipeline project and begin the work as early as possible.

Pakistan-Russia mutual relations and issues of regional and global importance were discussed in the meeting. The Prime Minister fondly recalled his interaction with President Vladimir Putin during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit in Bishkek in June 2019. He had emphasized his desire to take the bilateral relationship to a new level. He repeated that the importance Pakistan attached to its relations with Russia as a critical foreign policy priority. The Prime Minister uttered satisfaction at the steady growth in bilateral ties, including deepening cooperation in trade, energy, security, and defense.

Citing to the situation in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK), the Prime Minister shared Pakistan’s perspective on peace and security issues in South Asia, including the need for sustainable, peaceful resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.

The Prime Minister repeatedly extended his invitation to President Putin to visit Pakistan at his earliest convenience. It is hoped that President Putin will visit Pakistan soon.

Moreover, disturbing the peace process in Afghanistan, where both countries have long histories of concerns. It was the first time a Russian foreign minister had visited Pakistan in nine years and comes at a delicate time for Afghanistan with peace talks making little progress and a deadline approaching for the United States to withdraw its forces. “(Pakistan and Russia) share convergent positions on several issues … including peace and stability in Afghanistan,”

The visit comes as Moscow seeks to increase its stature in the region, particularly in war-torn Afghanistan, where it has sought to inject itself as a critical player in fast-tracked efforts to find a permanent peaceful end to decades of war.

As Washington appraisals an agreement it signed more than a year ago with the Taliban and rethought a May 1 withdrawal of its troops, Moscow has stepped up its involvement in Afghanistan, emerging as a significant player. Last month it hosted talks between the Taliban and senior government officials, and Lavrov suggested another high-level meeting could again be held in Moscow.

Addressing a joint press conference with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Lavrov expressed satisfaction over a 46 percent increase in trade between them. He, however, stressed there is a need to diversify it further. Discussing the energy sector opportunities, he said both the countries are now discussing a new protocol on the Stream Gas Pipeline Project, an ambitious project to transport 1.6 billion cubic feet per day of regasified liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Karachi to Lahore. As soon as it is signed, the construction work will begin. The top Russian diplomat termed the relationship between the two nations mutually beneficial and constructive. He recalled Russia had provided 50,000 doses of its Covid-19 Sputnik-V Vaccine.

Qureshi said Pakistan wanted to build a relationship with Russia that is based on trust. He said Moscow has always advocated the importance of international law and multilateralism. “These are principles that Pakistan adheres to. Our coordination and cooperation at the United Nations level have been excellent.” At this, Lavrov reaffirmed the commitment to deepen ties with Pakistan and create win-win cooperation between them.

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India’s Naxalbari Achilles’ heel

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On April3, 2021, there was a pitched battle between a Naxalite (or Maoist) group (called “rebels”) by Indian government) and government forces of over 1500 “jawan”, equipped with state-of-the art weapons and helicopters at the Bijapur-Sukma border. The Naxals armed with machine guns gunned down 22 members of the government forces and injured 31 others, excluding missing personnel. Eight of the dead jawans were from the CRPF,  seven from the elite Cobra (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) while the others were part of the Bastariya Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the District Reserve Guard (DRG). Two of the dead CRPF jawans were from Assam, where assembly polls are on.

 The Naxalite decamped with forces’ weapons, uniforms and shoes.  The government claims that they killed 10 Naxalite, but could only produce the corpse of a dead woman as a “rebel”. The government claims that the Naxalites take along their dead and injured.

(Twenty-two jawans killed in Chhattisgarh Maoist gun battle. Officers claimed more than 10 ultras were killed in Saturday’s encounter but other sources said the police had found the body of a lone rebel — a woman. Telegraph India April 5, 2021).

Lapses

Media described the “counter-insurgency operation” as an “intelligence failure and poor leadership by the CRPF commanders and drew parallels with the February 2019 Pulwama massacre of 40 personnel in the run-up to the general election”.  Earlier in April 2017, the Naxal had killed 25 CRPF personnel near Burkapal in Sukma. The media blames home minister and the government of being preoccupied in winning elections in some state assemblies through turn coats. It is alleged that “five teams totaling 2,000-plus security personnel had on Friday night launched a concerted operation in the Maoist-hit Bijapur and Sukma districts after learning that rebels led by the dreaded Madvi Hidma were hiding in the forest.  A CRPF officer admitted, `The operation was launched from five places Tarrem, Usoor and Pamed in Bijapur, and Minpa and Narsapuram in Sukma.  While a team was advancing through the forests near Jonaguda, around 500km from state capital Raipur, it was ambushed by some 250 Maoists on Saturday afternoon, said. He said the forces were scattered and trapped along a two-km stretch of forest. The patrolling team from Tarrem came under heavy fire, prompting some of them to move to what appeared a deserted village, where the Maoists lay in wait for them.  The Maoists fled with the weapons, bullet-proof jackets and the shoes of the dead troops’.

Naxalite clout

The recent encounter belies government claim that it has wiped out Naxalism from their stronghold Bastar. Bastar division of Chhattisgarh has a population of 23, 48,808 persons. It is spread over 40,000 square kilometers (Census 2011). Bastar division has a security-personnel-to-civilian-population ratio of 1:22 with the deployment of 58,772 central paramilitary force personnel and another 50,000 of state armed-police personnel, the. Security forces occasionally conduct “search and destroy” operations in the area killing or arresting innocent people for “Naxal offence”. . The jails are overcrowded to the extent of three times the prison capacity, filled with Adivasis (tribals). The report of a High Level Committee headed by Virginius Xaxa, submitted to the government in May 2014, highlighted this fact.

Even expression of sympathy with Naxals is now a heinous offence.

 In the Bhim Koregaon planted letters case, several intellectuals and rights activists including Navalakha were declared “traitors” by the government. They were even accused of having links with Kashmiri militants. It was claimed that they were in communication with Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri leader who has served two-year imprisonment in the USA for having illegally received funds from the inter-services intelligence of Pakistan.

Despite repression under draconian laws, the Naxalbari uprising has still been alive since May 1967.

According to India’s home ministry “more than two-thirds of Maoist related violence is now restricted to only 10 districts of the country. However, media reports reflect Maoists are well entrenched in at least 68 districts.  The movement could not be quelled despite tall claims by Indian authorities over the past 53 years. Indian home ministry has a whole division dedicated to dealing with the movement.

No writ of government

In Naxalite-influenced rural areas, there is no trace of India’s judicial system.  There, the Naxalite organisations act ‘virtually like policemen, arresting, meeting out “justice” and in some cases even executing the guilty’ (“Internal security situation”, India’s National Security: Annual Review 2004, New Delhi, India Research Press, 2005, p. 87).

With the merger of pro-Naxalite revolutionary bodies, the Naxalites are the sole arbiters of justice in rural areas. 

Concluding remarks

The term “Naxalite” is rooted in Naxalbari village (West Bengal) where Kanhu Sanyal presented the concept of “forcible protest against the social order relating to holding of property and sharing of social benefits”. They started the Naxal movement on March 3, 9167 at Naxalbari village, near Siliguri sub-division in West Bengal. It is 30 to 50 miles from Sikkim. Tibet and Bhutan in the, Nepal in the West and from Bangladesh in the east. To him the purpose of the protest was “organizing peasants to bring about land reform through radical means including violence”.

Naxalite movement in India is viewed as an internal security problem.  However, the populist appeal of the movement’s ideology reflects that it could soon assume international dimensions if China supports it.  India’s Lieutenant General KM Seth laments, ‘Unfortunately, the threat to internal security from Naxalites has acquired dangerous proportions and can no longer be wished away.  …they are also developing links with Turkish and Philippino terrorist organisations…We have suffered and bled patiently and have taken huge human casualties, which could exceed 13,000, uniformed personnel and 53,000 civilians during the last 25 years… As of today, their overall strength could be put to approximately 20, 000 undergrounds, 50,000 overgrounds and more than a lakh in frontal organisations. Their armoury  is reported to comprise approximately 900 AK-47 rifles, 200 light machine guns, 100 grenade firing rifles, 2 inch mortars, thousands of .303 rifles, self-loading rifles and .12-bore guns with a huge quantity of explosives at their disposal’. (“Naxalite Problem”, U. S. I. Journal , January-March 2005, New Delhi, p. 19, 23).

India may blame Pakistan for the freedom movement (‘insurgency’ or ‘militancy’) in occupied Kashmir.  But, who shall she blame for the Naxalite insurgency in Andhra Pradesh and other Indian states? This is a movement against economic deprivation and brutality of the state or central government’s law-enforcing agencies.

Indian media has now begun to report that the counter-insurgency forces are fearful of grappling the Naxalite.  In Guntur (Andhra Pradesh), the Naxalite announced a cash reward of five lac rupees per policeman (“Reward scheme sends forces into huddle”, Indian Express, August 25, 2005). IG (Guntur Range) Rajwant Singh admitted, ‘My men are removing the posters and convincing the villagers to inform them about the activities of Naxalites’.

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