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A Movement Undead

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Maoism as an ideology originated in China as a form of Communist theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong. This theory was developed in the 1950`s-60`s and was widely applied as the political and military guiding moto of the Communist Party of China till 1977-78. But soon it evolved as a way of living and was widely accepted around the world. The idea started off in China and soon spread across the world where democratic nations face an imminent threat from the maoist organizations who have blatantly turned radical in their methods for acquiring their needs.  

Maoism`s aim is to take control of the government and fundamentally transform the country to socialism. As Aristotle one said “The mother of revolution and crime is poverty”, the rise in poverty became one of the biggest drivers of instigating the movement not only in India but in China as well. China encountered a situation where its workers (rural area) revolted against their masters and landlords against marginalization of the poor in rural areas. The Naxalbari Movement lead by Charu Majumdar in 1967, was the first uprising in India  to mark the stepping stone of the ideology. Since then the Indian subcontinent has widened its line of sight for maintaining the internal security of the country which is hampered by these so called “naxalites”.

The current situation is the continuous influx of tribal converted in this region that is helping sustain their fight by supplying them with intelligence and more insurgent members. The years of 2001-14 have been the most active for Naxalites in India for carrying out attacks and building up their relations with support groups. This first started in early July 2001, when naxalite groups all over South Asia announced the formation of a Coordination Committee of the Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia (CCOMPOSA). This was the first formal international coalition formed under the umbrage of one ideology to acquire their targets and attain better results. What had raised concerns was that the most dreaded Naxalite groups in India, the People’s War Group (PWG) and Maoist Communist Centre (MCC) were contributing participants to the newly formed CCPMPOSA.

The naxals work on inspiring themselves with ideas from Marxist or Leninist or theories fostered by both. They identify pressure points for targets from sympathizers and intelligence groups and most importantly mobilize funds to carry out attacks. The theories which stir the movement create a simple distinction in the founding years of the political parties. The Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML) was formed by All India Coordination Committee of Communist Revolutionaries (AICCCR) in 1969. While the Maoist Communist centre of India (MCCI) was formed in 1975 when the some groups chose to maintain a separate identity from the CPI-ML. Another formal political party was the Communist party of India Marxist-Leninist People`s war commonly known as the People`s War group, an underground communist organization which started off in April, 1980 with the same intentions of serving the poor class. Though the militant group worked under its own discretion in the first two decades, but soon joined hands with the Maoist Communist Centre of India (MCCI) in 2004. The merger of the Peoples War Group, with the Maoist Communist Centre in September, 2004, founded the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) which completely changed the internal security scenario in the country. The merger was able to establish the so called Compact Revolutionary Zone or Red Corridor connecting the Dharmapuri forest area of Tamil Nadu with Nepal, covering the entire forest tracts in between. Home Ministry reports say that the dreadful insurgency has till now spread to 165 districts in 16 states[1].

The 21st Century has proved to be extremely advantageous for the Maoists as they were successful in recognising tactical alliances and adopt precise strategies for attaining their targets. The acts of brutality and anti-government notion soon started surging in their areas of activity. In response the Central government banned the CPI (Maoist) on 23rd of June, 2009[2]. This belated action came three days after the Central Para-military forces had gone to Lalgarh area of West Bengal which is still virtually under the siege of Maoists. Former Home minister P. Chidambaram also exclaimed similar nations in 2010 that left-wing extremism would be crushed within three years, but yet successive governments have been witness to Naxal acts of aggression which even continued in 2019. Over 20 years to 2017, Naxal/ Maoist violence claimed more than 12,000 lives, including 2,700 security forces personnel[3].

Various leaders have vowed to tame the Maoist menace by bringing in numerous urbanised developments to improvise connectivity and achieve better growth. But the aggressive enthusiasm of the Naxalites is fuelled by such actions of the government. Though there might be various other reasons for this revolution to still sustain which include deteriorating human development indexes, social discrimination, poor governance and loss of identity, the most important one of them being the increasing income gap in the country[4]. The crux of the problem in the naxal affected regions is the unequal distribution of the assets which majorly is the land. The incapability of the government to match up with the proper land reforms for the tribal people is something which adds on to their idea of how the government is trying to snatch away their land and give it to Multi-National Companies (MNC`s) for production purposes. The inefficiency of the land reforms has been a traditional policy inherited from the colonial period. This reform changed India`s land ownership patterns to ease the acquisition of land at low prices for mines, plantations, and other enterprises[5].

Main Years of Operation

Maoists since a long time have built their relations on cross border counterparts in neighbouring countries. This interconnected system of financial and strategic support between communist driven groups has helped them grow and sustain the revolution. Such extremist based organisations include Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelum (LTTE) from Sri Lanka, Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT), The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) and many more. Maoists mainly function through jungle hideouts where they expand their area of control by using the jungle as an advantage. The pattern of luring security personnels and targeting them with explosives is quite similar to these radical organisations and other radicalists in the neighbouring countries. A senior Naxal leader who surrendered in Maharashtra claimed that a warfare expert from the Philippines had visited once in 2001 and stayed in a Bastar Naxal camp in Abujmad for about a month to train cadres[6]. This was in collaboration to the Maoist insurgent groups in Philippines which had challenged the security agencies of the Indian subcontinent on such claims made by former-Naxal Leader. It was surely as arduous gamble to get a Philippines warfare expert on ground, with no probability of getting exposed to intelligence networks and security agencies. The Filipino taught them how to carry out mass attacks and mobilize sympathizers in times of need.

 Since then naxalites have not only improved their attack strategy but have also involved technology and concrete intelligence as one of the most important element of showing aggression. In the years 2005-06, Maoists spiked up their number of attacks to retain their number of insurgents to gather a strong working army. These attacks were extremely well timed with a series of guerilla attacks in different regions to shock central security personnels. This was mainly to lag their reaction time, thus there are instances where militants have hours of time to gather ammunitions and loot them over. Attacks were usually carried out in the night time, when the comrades could easily outnumber and strategically utilise the element of surprise to strike deeper. One of the biggest loots carried out by the Naxalites was the February 6, 2004 Koratpur ambush where 300 extremists loaded in two trucks, two jeeps and five motor cycles first reached the Koratpur Bus stand and clarified their intentions to the commoners of no harm to civilians while conducting the attack. The ultras spend around an hour collecting ammunitions from the armoury and then decamped with 1000 sophisticated guns and 1000 other weapons worth INR 50 crore. Further investigations by police personnels revealed that the extremists disbanded lower technologically advanced weapons in the forest but recent developed technology still remain in their possession. It was interesting to observe that these attacks displayed clear intentions of an upcoming radically aggravated event. These swarming attacks were shortly followed by jail breaks or attacks of a higher magnitude. Since the Koraput raid in 2004, Orissa witnessed only another three ‘swarming attacks’ involving the Maoist ‘people’s militia’ till the Nayagarh attack, out of 50 such attacks recorded in various states[7].

List of Ambushes for retaining ammunitions and captured comrades

DateArea of attackComrades attackingComrades freedDeaths and captives takenAmmunitions
6.2.2004Koratpur, Orissa3002002 CRPF Jawans500 weapons 30,000 rounds of ammunition
11.11.2005Home Guard Training centre Giridih, Jharkhand200  186 rifles 2,000 bullets
13.11.2005Jehanabad Jail, Bihar10003401 prison guard, 20 Ranvir Sena activists taken captive16 rifles
24. 03.2006Udayagiri town, Orissa80 ultras402 security officials; 3 bodies taken by naxalites 
16.12.2007Dantewada jailbreakEscaped on their own299 prisoners including 110 naxalites3 prison guards injured 
15.2.2008Nayagarh, BiharMultiple points 14 police personnel, 2 civilians2,150 arms 200,000 rounds of ammunition
15. 2.2010Silda, West Bengal  24 JawansAK-47, SLR and mortars 

Source: Institute of Peace and Conflict studies and other news reporting sources.

For instance, naxalite swarming attacks in Home Guard Training centre Giridih, Jharkhand was to refill their armoury for the attack carried out two days later in the Jehanabad Jail break. This created their essence to retain militants in command which are usually captured by state police. Ajay Kanu, state secretary of the CPI-Maoist was one of the targeted escapees of the Operation Jailbreak. The CPI-Maoist would project the Jehanabad attack as a resounding victory of the underprivileged, Dalits over the “feudal, oppressive and exploitative landlords”. Together all the militant cadres performed in a synchronised manner and strike at multiple points to successfully carry out an entire attack.

Suspected International Collaborations

Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelum (LTTE)

 Attacks carried out by Maoists summarised self initiated efforts by utilising every advantage at their disposal to threaten and curb government led developments in their region of activity. But there are facilitators which have orchestrated the larger significant outgrowth of the organisation and helped them challenge and compete with India`s strategy to growing naxalism. Maoist leaders have been known to collaborate with their counterparts across the border in Nepal and also occasionally with sympathisers elsewhere in South Asia. The collaborations date back in the 1980`s when experts were send in from different regions of South Asia. In a sensational disclosure made by Azad, a spokesman of the naxal outfit’s central committee, while addressing media persons at a remote village in Bihar’s Supaul district bordering Nepal, 2005. “The Maoists learnt new warfare tactics from the on-the-run and purged LTTE military commanders in 1986-87,” he said, adding, “LTTE’s commanders gave them training of mine production and its laying techniques[8].

Their interests have expressed their needs of integration of two factions of the movement- the Bal Militia Wing and the procurement of advanced arms. These convergence of interest have resulted in a fillip to Naxal presence in southern Tamil Nadu districts like Theni, Tirunelveli, Thuthookudi and Ramanathapuram. Traditionally, Naxalites are confined to Dharmapuri, Vellore, and the northern districts of Tamil Nadu bordering Andhra Pradesh. The Periyakulum forests of Theni district has become the new home for Naxal training camps, officials on the Naxal trial said[9]. The LTTE had suffered serious backlashes in 2009, when they started infiltrating into Indian territories and started fueling their aspirations through resources in the country. Hence, the likelihood of the LTTE infiltrating into India to escape from the crackdown of the Sri Lankan security forces was high. In addition, they would also be looking to set up new training camps for their cadre.

Recent measures by the government to tackle the naxalites have sprouted even more urges for the naxalites to seek LTTE support. The Government has proposed to use aerial surveillance in forest regions of Chattisgarh which could have prompted them to seek training as the Tigers were the only recognized outfit to man such capabilities. The Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is prospecting new techniques which involve the deployment of highly sensitive radar provided by Swedish defense and aerospace outfit Saab. This is to be carried on board with the Indian made Dhruv Advanced light helicopter (ALH). This can help in detecting Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) used widely and extensively by Naxalites. The helicopter mounted CARABAS radar weighs about 150 kg. The smaller version of the radar, which has been developed for UAVs, weighs just 50 kg. Connections of the Naxals with the LTTE is suspected to be the most strategic as confirmed the allegation of the Sri Lankan Government that the LTTE had constructed an airstrip near Iranamadu in the Wanni area under its control in the Northern Province of Sri Lanka[10]. The Sri-Lankan government had identified at least two aircraft which looked like the Czech-built Zlin Z-143 and an active airstrip through Sri-lankan military helicopters[11].

Intelligence later suggested the Maoists are also prepared for aerial attacks as in one of the biggest CRPF ambush in April 2010, they were suspected to preserving Anti-aircraft missiles which they had probably smuggled in through the Indo-Bangladesh Border.

Bangladesh and ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) facilitators

The United Liberation Front of Asom was a political and military organisation functioning for a sovereign socialist Assam. During its initial years, Paresh Baruah was one of the leading members of the military wings as the outfit`s ‘commander in chief’. The ULFA is another such organisation which has been extremely successful in fostering its international connections. The ULFA has previously established contacts with the then unified National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar for training arms. It also enjoys its support from Pakistan`s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Afghan Mujahideen. Interrogation with various arrested activists revealed that the Defense Forces Intelligence (DFI) of Bangladesh had also trained ULFA cadres in the Sylhet District.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) was responsible is carrying out one of the biggest arms haul in the history of cross-border terrorism. This terrorist outfit, operating in northeast India, had teamed with an embassy, to pay Taka 7 billion (99. 4 million dollars) for transhipment of 10 truckloads of arms, ammunition and explosives, said detained former state minister for home Lutfozzaman Babar[12]  There are suspicions of ULFA`s top leaders hiding in Bangladesh who carry out operations through local authorities. Ten truckloads of submachine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, other firearms and bullets were seized at the Karnaphuli coast in Chittagong April 2, 2004. The cache, detected by guards at a warehouse where it was hidden, was meant for the ULFA that was then staging violent attacks from Bangladeshi soil. The arms, purchased from China, were brought in a ship owned by a company belonging to Salahuddin Qader Chowdhury, a lawmaker and senior leader of Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)[13].

Another such incident captured two former Bangladesh army generals, who headed the National Security Intelligence (NSI), facilitating the landing of Chinese arms meant for insurgents in India’s northeast and for trying to smuggle these arms into India. 27,020 grenades, 840 rocket launchers, 300 accessories of rocket launchers, 2,000 grenade launching tubes, 6,392 magazines and 1,140,520 bullets were recovered in 2004 from from the jetty of the Chittagong Urea Fertilizer Limited April 2, 2004[14]. Now the illegal infiltration from Bangladesh is also a source of enormous strength to the Maoists. Bangladesh serves as a sanctuary to the Maoists as well. They are also fully exploiting the strategically situated Chicken Neck for moving freely into Nepal and Bangladesh. It is suspected that ISI supplies arms to north-east insurgents and asks them to pass on them to naxals. Taking the cue from LTTE regarding the advantage of overseas support, the CPI (Maoist) have identified cells for logistical support in establishing linkages other extremist outfits[15].

Lashkar-e-Taiba

Maoists have also taken a step ahead in recognising other organisations where international journalists have mentioned about their developments. In an analysis for an American geopolitical Intelligence platform, Ben West on November 18, 2010 reported an alleged meeting between the Maoists and members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). Two LeT operatives had attended a Naxalite meeting in April or May 2010. Though direct evidence of ISI-Maoist collaboration has been hard to discern, the unholy influence of ISI as a third-party entrant through the north-eastern gateway of India is quite plausible. Two LeT operatives attended a CPI-Maoist central committee meeting as observers, held sometime in April-May this year. They met in a jungle inside Orissa, close to Bastar,” said Vishwa Ranjan, Director General of Police of the state worst affected by Leftist insurgency in India[16].

In the preceding year, 2009, a LeT operative Mohammed Umer Madani (chief recruiter in Nepal and India) was arrested in Delhi. Madani was carrying foreign currency including USD 8,000 which he had received from Italy to carry out terror activities in the country at the time of his arrest. Meanwhile, the police also received the details of his two accounts at Himalayan Bank and Everest Bank in Nepal and learnt that there had been several transactions over past few months, amounting to more than Rs 25 lakh. He had already distributed US $ 22,000 and Rs 9.5 lakh to sleeper cells in Bihar and UP. He also revealed his plans of training recruitments from other parts of India in Maoist strongholds before sending them to Pakistan for further training[17].

Expenses

Funds form an important section of sustaining the revolution. Operations carried out by central security agencies reveal that the Left-wing extremists who earn several lakhs of rupees annually through levy, extortion and threats have their own “corporate style” accounting system, central security agency officials said. A small portion of the finances is being spent on propaganda and development work in their base areas where they are running a parallel government, which they term Janatana Sarkar. Further, in villages where the Janatana Sarkar is functioning they are collecting what they call as ‘revolutionary taxes’ from the people. Besides, they term their extortion as ‘collection of levy’ and ‘imposition of fine’ on defaulters[18]. The ‘dalams’ or groups (which usually consist of about 20-40 cadre) give their tabled income and expenditure details on a half-yearly basis to the zonal command which is then forwarded to the next level[19].

Further expenditure details seized from one of the Naxals’ zonal commands show that Rs50,668 were spent on uniforms, Rs60,100 on medicines, Rs2,79,000 on jail and court expenses, Rs21,200 for helping comrades and Rs 44,500 for people’s organizations and public programmes among others.The total expenditure for the six months as shown in the record was Rs 9,20,624 and the income under different heads was Rs 24,05,000. As per an entry made in a separate register dated February 13, 2007, Rs 11, 05,000 were spent on buying 13 pieces of .315 rifle and Rs 13,65,000 on seven pieces of  30.06 rifles. The entries are also made for various ammunitions and pistols and the total expenditure shown by the zonal command was Rs 31,71,250 . Maoist groups in Bihar, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh use foreign small arms, including from China, as compared to states like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where the ultras use local arms[20].

The Maoists have been collecting not less than Rs 140 crore annually from a variety of sources: businesses –– big and small –– industry, contractors engaged in various trades, corrupt government officials and political leaders. The largest and principal sources of income for the Maoists are mining industry, PWD works and collection of tendu leaves. The Maoists have been able to put in place a well organized mechanism to extort money on a regular basis. Besides, they have conceived ingenious ways to store money and ensure its safety. Even as they have issued guidelines for the collection of money, the Maoists have, similarly, also circulated guidelines on expenditure and maintaining fiscal discipline.

The Movement is still reviving

John. F. Kennedy once said: “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.” However, the truth is that the war on terror is unlikely to end. Man is in relentless pursuit of bringing an end to the existence of homo-sapiens, either in the name of righteousness or religion. The Maoist movement in India began three decades ago and many Indian states still reverberate with sounds of gunfire and explosives, resulting in the death of hundreds every few months[21]. As the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in 2019, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Bhima Mandavi and four security personnel were killed in an IED explosion attack suspected by the Maoist in Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada. This movement has certainly not died down in actuality and there seems to be a spike in the number of attacks carried out recently around the region by its proponents, most of the recent ones centered on the Red Corridor. Security personnels still lack the training and the technological requirements in tackling the insurgency. It is still alarming to notice that, these movements are getting fuelled by international support. The number of people getting affected due to this is escalating till date where South Asia Terrorism portal recorded the 53rd attacks and around 107 killed in the left wing violence[22]. One of the most tragic events was the IED blast in Gadchiroli. More than 30 kilograms of explosives were used in the IED blast which killed 16 security personnels.

A movement still climbs it way to hamper the internal security of the country. The amounts of explosives used by them denote the continuous support by unknown groups and individuals for a very long period of time. Though there have been no proofs for international support but there surely is one that exists.


[1]  (Pashchimbanga, 2010)

[2]  ((MHA), 2017)

[3]  (Joseph, 2001)

[4]  (V.K.Ahluwalia, 2013)

[5] (V.K.Ahluwalia, 2013)

[6] (Despande, 2009)

[7] (Routray, 2008)

[8] (Sahay, 2005)

[9] (Rao, 2007)

[10] (Raman, 2005)

[11] (Raman, 2005)

[12] (IANS, 2010)

[13] (IANS, 2010)

[14] (IANS, Dhaka to prosecute 2 former spy chiefs smuggling arms for Indian rebels, 2009)

[15] (Pashchimbanga, The Great Saga of ABVP Braving Naxal Terror, 2010)

[16] (Sharma, 2010)

[17] (PTI, 2009)

[18] (P.V.Ramana, 2014)

[19] (PTI, Naxal groups spend huge money to buy weapons, reveal seized records, 2009)

[20] (PTI, Naxal groups spend huge money to buy weapons, reveal seized records, 2009)

[21] (Ipood, 2016)

[22] (SATP, 2019)

Shrrijiet Roychowdhary is a student of International Affairs at O.P.Jindal Global University. He has done past internships at the Centre of Land Warfare Studies, Delhi and also publication houses like The Times of India. He has also worked in post-conflict regions in the Indian district of Assam, near the Indo-Bhutan Border.

South Asia

Why Strategies of Stakeholders in Afghanistan Failing Against Taliban?

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taliban afghanistan

Taliban is increasingly gaining ground in Afghanistan, on daily basis, for considerable period. US may have declared ending its military mission in Afghanistan as “Mission Accomplished on ‘Global War on Terrorism’ (GWOT)”, but in reality, its embarrassing exit will continue to haunt its reputation for a long time. With Taliban gaining territory every passing day, simultaneously imposing horrifying restrictions on captured territory as ‘Islamic traditions’ it indicates transition of GWOT into global resurgence of terror, in collusion with Pakistan. While all regional stakeholders are concerned, but watching helplessly, it is evident the strategy adopted by Taliban, assisted by Pakistan has done better than that of others, so far, unless a positive mid-course correction takes place to turn the tides. A critical analysis of strategies of each of the stakeholder is necessary to infer future possibilities.

Why US lost GWOT in Afghanistan? 

US supported by multinational forces entered GWOT, post 9/11 incident, with an aim to dislodge Taliban Regime, which sheltered al-Qaeda under Osama Bin Laden, who masterminded execution of the barbarous terrorist act in New York.  Their military aim encompassed ensuring that no terror group in Afghanistan becomes strong enough to hit their mainland again, besides eliminating Osama Bin Laden and some other terrorist leaders. Peace and Development in Afghanistan was an expected side-effect, not their main aim. To execute it, US had to depend on Pakistan for logistics chain, intelligence and boots on ground, despite full knowledge of Pakistan’s support to Taliban and other terror groups, having gainfully used services of ISI and Pakistan Army against erstwhile USSR.   

As per principles of war, had US stuck to its aim and exited after dislodging Taliban Regime, reinstating a democratically elected Government in place, eliminating Osama Bin Laden, marginalising al-Qaeda and other terror groups, it would have been a graceful exit. It stretched its aim to impractical limit, of eliminating Taliban and other Islamic terror outfits from Afghan soil, least realising that the military power by itself can’t eliminate Wahabi ideology. Finding only military solution to problem of religious fundamentalism was a strategic misjudgement. This shifted achievement of the aim of multinational forces (MNF), beyond their culmination point, operationally.

MNF was of fighting from urban bases, through technology and airpower could not eliminate Taliban from rural areas. People are centre of gravity in such operations; hence one innocent kill in collateral damage of airstrikes can lead to birth of many terrorist, strengthening ideology of fundamentalists. Battle fatigue and political considerations steered the desire of MNF to pull out. In exuberance to do so, sham peace negotiations of US with Taliban (which turned out to be an exit deal) was the next error committed by US. It legitimised Taliban as political entity from terrorist status; which led to a tired US military, fighting defensive battle against a resurged, legalised Taliban for a safe exit. 

US consistently underplayed Pakistan’s support to Sunni terrorists in the region, making it a major beneficiary of monetary help and military hardware. It is to the credit of Pakistan that it lured US to extract maximum, by encashing their expertise in terrorism, and finally helped US in defeating itself in GWOT. Now after 20 years of war, losing 2400 soldiers, more than $3 trillion, US and MNF have also lost the strategic space, bases in Pakistan, amounting to a walkover in Af-Pak region. A threat by US, not to recognise Taliban, if it takes over Afghanistan by force, forming Quad with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, some drone strikes and evacuating informers are weak responses to mitigate embarrassment indicating its helplessness.   

Is Strategy Adopted by Taliban Superior?  

A battle hardened Taliban having learnt some lessons after losing war against MNF, managed to survive in rural areas with full support of Pakistan, hosting some of their leaders in safe sanctuaries in their country, despite claiming to fight for US and MNF. When the MNF crossed their culmination point, Taliban with Pakistan’s support started to gain ground in rural areas. Taliban encashed on the combat fatigue of US forces and its political ramifications, encouraged US Administration to talk, establishing its legitimacy as an essential actor. Pakistan’s mediation in this exercise favoured Taliban and not US, although the optics was differently narrated. Thus a rejuvenated Taliban was fighting a tired US Forces, operating from their bases avoiding rough terrain and infantry dominated operations, relying more on technology and firepower, which has serious limitations in type of terrain in area of operation. The air and drone strikes proved inadequate to prevent growing influence of Taliban. This triggered a race for strategic space in that region, with almost every neighbour (Russia, Pakistan, China through Pakistan, Iran and Qatar) organising peace talks between various stakeholders, primarily to suit their own interests.

With US Taliban Peace Deal signed and US withdrawal in progress, Taliban gained maximum strategic advantage by consolidating occupation of rural areas and then increasingly capturing various border districts to takeover crossings of Afghanistan with other countries to isolate Afghan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF), which have numerical superiority, but are based in urban areas, having defensive mindset. With few military gains the strategic momentum of Taliban has improved and initiative is on their side. This has increased the pace of capturing territory, while their political and diplomatic wing continues with sham talks.

Taliban also encashed on urgency of US Forces to exit, by putting up demands like release of 5000 prisoners, which Afghanistan Government had to agree under US pressure. This in effect increased the numbers of fighters of Taliban. In the meantime Pakistan, increasingly under pressure from FATF, diverted over 10,000 terrorist to fight alongside Afghan Taliban, besides some professional guidance from Pakistan Army and ISI, and occasional air support. Taliban is now in a position to insert itself between important towns to isolate ANDSF, struggling with low morale, due to some surrenders.  

Taliban’s strategic aim is to get into power structure on their terms, without fighting any elections, by putting maximum pressure on negotiating table, after capturing maximum territory. That is why they are continuing with talks and offensive simultaneously. Taliban is aware that with Sharia Law tag it can never win an election (which it terms as non-Islamic governance model of West). It may not be keen to seize power by Force due to fear of being isolated, which will make it difficult for them to govern, giving rise to forces countering them within. They are aware that they don’t have mass people’s support, who have got used to democracy in last 20 years. Taliban thus finds talks and offensive simultaneously, as their best option for political solution in their favour.

All promises of Taliban leaders that it is moderate Taliban 2021 capable of meeting people’s aspirations, stand junked as ‘Shariah Law’ like curbs back in place in Taliban controlled areas. Men lose freedom to shave & smoke, forced to wear turban, women lose freedom to moving out without male companion and most disgusting is listing of single girls between 15 to 45 years, to be married to Taliban fighters as reward. Even if Taliban leaders pose moderate, their fighters will not let the leaders settle down for anything but Shariah Law.

What is Going Wrong with ANDSF Strategy?

ANDSF in numbers are two to three times more than Taliban fighters, but are low in morale, suffering a defensive mindset.  They are not venturing out of urban areas and trying to halt Taliban with less potent air power which Americans had. Over last 20 years they went into a syndrome of overdependence on foreign forces and foreign aid. The Afghan Government with fractured mandate and various groups eyeing to share power, weakened the homogeneity, as an effective establishment to govern. In military strategy, a defender can never win, but can at best delay the defeat. Operationally ANDSF are making same mistake as MNF made by trying to win by airpower and defending bases, thus leaving the initiative with Taliban. If ANDSF fights with offensive mindset, sound strategy, small gains can improve sagging morale, which can change the tide against Taliban.

China; A wild Card Entry!

Chinese strategic interest in Afghanistan includes, connectivity projects to Iran by extending CPEC to get warm water access, fill the strategic space vacated by USA and exploit mineral and other resources of Afghanistan, including share of narcotics  trade.

China, with initial hesitancy of not becoming the third power (after USSR and USA) to suffer “Graveyard of Empires” seems to have made an unprecedented move of recognising, engaging and striking a deal with Taliban by inviting its high power delegation to Tianjin, ignoring the Government of the day in Afghanistan. China hopes that it will be able to secure its security and economic interests with Taliban, which is promising no support to ETIM and inviting their investments, thus opening the window for economic exploitation, in a haste for recognition. It is interesting to see that Islamic Emirate, posing to champion Islamic cause are getting sold out to ignore atrocities to Uyghurs for the sake of power and money, or it’s a sham promise to get recognition.

This is a dangerous honeymoon, because neither Taliban is homogenous, nor Chinese have support of local population and there are many groups like ISKP, which may not buy the offer of China to ignore atrocities in Xinjiang. Taliban itself has ETIM cadres fighting for them including some commanders, who are unlikely to compromise, although they don’t mind making a sham promise for the sake of seeking international legitimacy. China may thus find that it may be much more risky to operate any transport corridor in Afghanistan, than doing so in Pakistan, where a politicised Army is involved in sustaining it with little success. Chinese however have learnt a lesson out of Russian and US debacle, therefore, despite their strategic interest they haven’t invested any large amount in Afghanistan so far, nor are they likely to do so, unless they are very sure of the viability of the next government.   

Pakistan’s Double Game: Unprecedented Opportunities and Concerns!

Pakistan’s strategic aim has always been to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan by enforcing Durand Line over friendly or weak government in Kabul, and edge out other players from Afghanistan. It has been uncomfortable with Indian presence for developmental work in Afghanistan and growing closeness between USA and India to an extent that it was propagating an unsalable narrative that India is trying to surround it from three sides. Its nexus with Taliban is quite old and its assistance to it was one of the causes of US failure in Afghanistan, as it managed to play a double game with US and Taliban. It was also an opportunity for Pakistan to send out large number of terrorists to fight alongside Afghan Taliban, whom it wanted to relocate to avoid FATF fallouts, to preserve what it terms them as their ‘Strategic assets’ to be used elsewhere later.

The opportunity is also marred with some serious concerns. Taliban in power never compromised on Durand Line and their stance in future is likely to be similar. Taliban also has many groups within including TTP, which will also get stronger to strike Pakistan, as power of Taliban grows. Innumerable refugees outflow along with some inimical terror groups is also a concern. Pakistan’s strategy of joining hands with Taliban, dumping Ghani’s Government and luring China in this strategic space has gone off well so far. It has also been successful in edging India out of Afghanistan, to some extent, with its terrorists incrementally damaging Indian built assets.  

Other Stakeholders!

All other stake holders are concerned with likelihood of export of terrorism, but are gravely short of options and leverages, as no one is keen to put boots on ground, knowing fully well that no foreign recipe of peace in Afghanistan has worked in past, nor will it work in future. Russia is concerned about export of terrorism in CAR states, where it assumes a priority right due to historical connect of USSR. It is however in no mood to burn its fingers again by any direct intervention. CAR countries are strengthening their military forces along borders to minimise export of terrorism into their countries and handle upcoming unprecedented refugee crisis, if Taliban comes to power.

The Indian Discomfort!

India has always been emphasising on Afghan led, Afghan owned, Afghan controlled, elected, democratic government and has invested tremendous amount of goodwill in people of Afghanistan and Ghani’s Government through large amount of development projects, and capacity building of various institutions, with a cumulative sunk cost of $3 billion, more than any other country in the region. India suffers from a major handicap that despite being a legal neighbour of Afghanistan, it doesn’t physically hold the common border, thus has no direct land route. This reduces the capability of India to directly influence outcomes in Afghanistan; hence it was never taken seriously by other stakeholders even during talks.

All effort by India are being made indirectly, through diplomacy and capacity building of institutions including ANDSF. The historical engagements with Taliban in past have not been positive, in the backdrop of Kandahar hijacking or Indian support to Northern Alliance; hence if Taliban comes to power it is unlikely to prioritise Indian interest over Pakistan. The Indian strategic interest include connectivity projects to CAR through Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan and prevention of export of terrorism. In this context, if Taliban comes to power, India will have to do business with Government of the day. It was known that Afghanistan was never stable in last few decades; hence Indian planners need to rethink if investment of $3 billion in an unstable country was worth the effort or otherwise.  

What Next?        

There is a need to boost the morale of Afghan Forces, with air support, military assets and maintenance of its existing damaged air assets. An offensive mindset, and sound military strategy can turn the tide in ANDSF favour. They need to focus on recapturing border crossings, utilise other non-state actors also in engaging Taliban to weaken blockades with guerrilla tactics. There is a need to create a viable countervailing force within Afghanistan, as Taliban suffers a weakness of poor population support and lesser numbers. There is a need for US to rein Pakistan in adding strength to Taliban through overt/covert means, for the sake of innocent people ladies and children of Afghanistan. History may not excuse global community, silently witnessing a democratic society being plunged into stone age governance, functioning on religious fundamentalism mode, ready to export terrorism globally.

If left to Afghan people, civil war will continue and Taliban even if in power, will also face unprecedented cycle of instability from angry population resenting Sharia law and rival groups in Afghanistan and within Taliban. Various tribes and terror groups will ensure that no single entity or  foreign player gets that strategic space exclusively. It is unlikely that China-Pakistan will find it easy to exploit the situation amidst expected instability. This will certainly have a telling effect on regional and global security situation, as Af-Pak Region will become the largest breeding ground for terrorism, with some of the terror groups again becoming strong enough to strike US, EU, China, India or CAR. Afghanistan seems to be heading for a situation where in different areas will be under influence of different entities, leaving helpless population in the hands of fundamentalists.

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South Asia

India’s North East: A cauldron of resentment

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The writer is of the view that the recent clash between police force of Mizoram and Assam is not an isolated event. Similar incidents have happened in the past. They reflect that it is not hunky dory in India’s north east as BJP’s government would have us believe. New states in India were created willy-nilly pacify agitation. Yet the boundaries of the new states do not satisfy the people of the new states fully. They are a simmering cauldron of resentment against India’s central government. They love their traditions more than monolithic Hindutva. s

On July 10, 2021, five Assamese policemen were killed while proceeding towards Varengate (outsider gate). Amid fiery statements of chief ministers of Assam and Mizoram, police officials and politicians, it appeared that the two states would launch a full-fledged war against one another. This was not the first incident of its kind. There had been similar clashes in the past (1979, 1985 at Mirapani where 42 persons were burnt alive and 2014 clash).

Crux of the problem

Hasty creation of states to deal with separatism

When India came into being, many of it states were in grip of insurgencies. To pacify the separatist movements India hastily bowed to demand for creation of new states by reorganising the existing territories of bigger states. Many northeastern states were carved out of the state of Assam. Under the Indian constitution, secession is an offence but a new state could be created through reorganistion of the bigger state. Mizoram and Nagaland were created in haste to meet insurgents’ demand for greater self-representation.

Northeastern frontier Agency was converted into Arunachal Pradesh after the fall of Dacca. Indira Gandhi hoped that China would remain a silent spectator to her initiative as it did while East Pakistan was seceded through intervention in East Pakistan.

Linguistic states of Maharashtra and Gujarat were created mainly owing to agitation by Marathi and Gujarati speaking populations of Bombay.

In 1960, the Indian government accepted the Naga tribes’ demand for a separate state. Three districts of the state of Assam were detached from Assam to create Nagaland. It had no railway station or airport. So Dmapur also was truncated from Assam and included in Nagaland. The Dima Kachhari tribe that mostly inhabited Dimapur resented this decision. Any how the city is now a throbbing commercial centre.

In 1966, the state of Punjab was divided to create the hind-speaking state of Haryana. In 1971 Himachal Pradesh was created. Then in early 1970s, three new states were created: Jharkhand out of Bihar, Chhattisgarh out of Madhya Pradesh, and Uttaranchal out of Utter Pradesh. In 2014, Talangana was created out of Andhra Pradesh.

Nagaling (Naga homeland)

The Naga consider that the demarcation of their state is repugnant to demarcation done in 1875 by the British government. Their concept of Nagaland extends up to Nepal.

Citizenship Amendment Act and the national Register of Citizenship

These two laws are abhorred in many states of the North East.

Concluding remarks

The pitched battle between the Mizo and Assamese policemen exposed India’s “myth of unity in diversity”. Like the British rulers, India is holding together its union of states by use of brutal force and draconian laws. However sub-surface against the Indian government persists. Obviously people cherish their tradition culture and religions more than monolithic Hindutva. The BJP has set up a north East Democratic Alliance to forestall disputes between the northeastern states. This body utterly failed to predict or prevent the recent Mizo-Assam clash.

India understood that if the erstwhile East Pakistan supported the insurgencies in the North east, it will be impossible for India to keep them within Indian fold. As such, India aided and abetted insurgency in East Pakistan.

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South Asia

Pakistani PM’s Interview with PBS News Hours on Afghanistan Issues

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In an interview with PBS News Hour, host Judy Woodruff asked PM Imran Khan multiple questions about Pakistan’s point of view for Afghanistan and its relationship with the United States.

When she asked the PM about his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, he said that Washington had really messed up the situation in Afghanistan. The US military failure is causing mess-ups in Afghanistan. “First of all, they tried to look for a military solution in Afghanistan when there was never one. And people like me, who know the history of Afghanistan and kept saying there isn’t a military solution, were called anti-American. I was called Taliban Khan,” said PM Imran. But now the US, after spending trillions of Dollars, sacrificing thousands of servicemen, and killing millions of innocent Afghans, destroying Afghanistan infrastructure, and damaging the whole country, realized that it is un-win able and withdrawing its troops in hap-hazard, causing a huge mess-up.

PM Imran also shared that despite the US being in Afghanistan for 20 years and 46 nations’ strong allied forces up to 150,000 troops, he does not know what the US objective was in the country. Only the destruction of a country, killing human beings, is beyond understanding.

“I don’t know what the objective was in Afghanistan, whether there was to have some nation-building, democracy, or liberate the women. Whatever the cause was, the way they went about it was never going to be the solution,” said PM Imran.

While the US is facing tremendous unrest and the civil war-like situation at home and yet wanted to interfere in other domestic issues. Beyond understanding!

He also lamented the way the US dealt with this solution. The PM explained that when the NATO forces had decided that there was no military solution, the bargaining power they had was gone.

“When they finally decided there is no military solution, unfortunately, the bargaining power of the American or NATO forces had gone,” said PM Imran. He added that the US should have gone for a political solution when 150,000 NATO troops were in Afghanistan.

“Once they had reduced the troops to barely 10,000, and when they gave the exit date, Taliban thought they had won,” said PM Imran. He added that it is difficult right now to ask the group to compromise or “force them” to take a political solution. “It’s tough to force them into a political solution because they [Taliban] think that they won,” said PM Imran.

PM rejects claims of Taliban sanctuaries.

The anchor also asked PM Imran about claims of Taliban sanctuaries being present in Pakistan and a report about 10,000 fighters crossing the border to help the group in Afghanistan.

“Judy, for a start, this 10,000 Taliban, or as the Afghan govt. Says, Jihadi fighters have crossed over, is absolute nonsense. Why don’t they give us evidence of this?” he said in response.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Government is confused and helpless. After the foreign troop’s withdrawal, they are left at the mercy of the Taliban. The US has admitted its defeat, Afghan Government as a puppet Government has also been defeated. Taliban is the winner and in a position to dictate.

To the question about the safe-havens, PM Imran wondered where the sanctuaries are located in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan is a victim of terrorism, and the recent terrorist attack in Pakistan is planned, managed, and originated from Afghanistan. Pakistan has provided irrefutable evidence on several occasions.

The premier explained that Pakistan is hosting three million refugees, Pashtuns, the same ethnic group as the Taliban. He added that there are camps of 500,000 and 100,000 people or more. “Taliban are not some military outfit. They are normal civilians. If there are some civilians in these camps, how is Pakistan supposed to hunt these people down? How can you call them sanctuaries?” asked PM Imran.

The host had thrown this question to a follow-up on Washington and other organizations’ claims that Pakistan has helped the Afghan Taliban. The PM had told the host that the allegations were unfair and told her the history of the conflict. He explained that Pakistan had nothing to do with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack in New York. The premier said that Al Qaeda was based in Afghanistan, and no Pakistani was involved in the attack. “There were no militant Taliban in Pakistan, and no Pakistani was involved,” said PM Imran. He added that when Pakistan decided to join the US war on terror, the country was devastated as it lost 70,000 of its citizens, and $150 billion was lost in the economy.

Pakistan’s good and bad outcomes for Afghanistan

The host had also asked the PM about Pakistan’s good and bad outcomes for the Afghanistan conflict. PM Imran told the host that the good outcome for Islamabad would be if an inclusive government with all factions, including the Taliban, is formed in Afghanistan. He added that the worst situation for Pakistan would be a “protracted civil war” in Afghanistan.

In such a scenario, the PM said Islamabad would face two problems, firstly, of refugees, and secondly, the country fears that Pashtuns within Pakistan would be drawn to the conflict.

“What we fear is that a protracted civil war would bring more refugees, and you know our economic situation is not such that we can have another influx,” said the PM.

“Secondly, the worry is that the civil war will flow into Pakistan because Taliban are ethnic Pashtuns. Now there are more Pashtuns on our side of the border than in Afghanistan. And so the worry is if this goes on, the Pashtuns on our side will be drawn into it, and that is also the last thing we want,” said PM Imran.

US bases will make Pakistan a target: PM.

The PM also shared that having a US military presence in Pakistan would make the country a target. He told Woodruff that when Pakistan joined the war on terror, it lost 70,000 people and was on the verge of bankruptcy. “We do not have the capacity to have any more fighting within our border or any terrorism within our country,” said the PM. He reminded that at the height of the war on terror, there were suicide bombings taking place all over the country, and businesses and tourism had collapsed.

“If there is a conflict going on in Afghanistan and there are bases in Pakistan, we then become targets, and we will then become part of a conflict,” said PM Imran. The premier said that Pakistan wants to partner with the US in peace but not in conflict. He added that the last relationship between Islamabad and Washington was transactional. “Pakistan was more like a hired gun. The US says we gave you aid, and that’s why you were fighting this so-called war on terror,” said PM Imran. He added that the aid given by the US was “minuscule” compared to the cost of Pakistan’s participation in the conflict.

‘Afghanistan in this situation because of US military failure.’

PM Imran told the host that Pakistan could not do much if the Taliban take over Afghanistan as the military solution has already failed. “What are we supposed to do about it? Here was the US for two decades in Afghanistan trying to force a military solution. The reason why we are in this position now is that the military solution failed,” said PM Imran.

The premier repeated that the best choice that everyone has is that somehow a political settlement emerges in Afghanistan. He added that the Taliban sitting down with the Ashraf Ghani government to form an inclusive government was the best choice.

“Absolutely, there is nothing more we can do except push them as much as we can for a political settlement – that’s all,” the PM said when asked if Pakistan was willing to accept a Taliban government in Afghanistan. However, he said that all Pakistan could pray that the people of Afghanistan decide what Government they wish to have, “As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have done what we can,” said PM Imran.

It is well understood that the Taliban have won the war, and it is time to rule the country. The US has negotiated with the Taliban and recognized them as the actual power of pillar and real owner of Afghanistan. It is a practice that the winner will dictate the defeated ones. It is proved that the unholy and biased media projecting Taliban as terrorists, insurgents, and illegal outfits were right people and were freedom fighters and opposed their homeland’s foreign occupation. Suppose the Taliban were so bad, how the US negotiated with them and signed a peace agreement with them. It is indirectly recognition of the Taliban as legitimate rulers of the country.

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