November 16, 2011

Naxal Insurgency: From Bolt Action to AK 47?

Recent reports in the Indian media attributed to various intelligence agencies of the government indicate that Maoists may be acquiring sophisticated arms and ammunition with contacts established by foreign intelligence agencies through terrorist groups in Assam and Manipur. This would expose the guerrillas to well oiled gun running network that operates across South East Asia and North East India providing them with automatic weapons thereby leading to upgradation of insurgency from a bolt action rifle which can cause less harm to a automatic burst fire one increasing the bloodshed seen so far.

The Intelligence Bureau sounded a warning as per reports appearing in the Indian media that Pakistan intelligence agency Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) is planning to equip CPI (Maoists) or Naxals with sophisticated arms and ammunition with the North East’s militant group Kamtapur Liberation Organisation (KLO) as the source of supply. ULFA’s so called commander in chief Paresh Barua located in Myanmar is said to be the link and is claimed to be close to the ISI who in turn is providing the network to KLO.

Maoists are also reported to have linked with Manipur based People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to form a ‘Strong United Front’ against Indian government. PLA provided logistics, training, weapons and communication system to the CPI (Maoist) and twice trained cadre in the jungles of Jharkhand and Orissa in 2009 and 2010 and is planning to conduct two more training in 2012. An official source was indicated by the media saying, "ISI and PLA are in touch and supplying Maoists with arms. They are supposedly using China as the alternative route."

The CPI (Maoist) is also reported to be expanding its penetration by infiltrating key infrastructure sectors like railways, surface transport, coal, shipping, rural development, telecom and civil aviation with sympathisers and cadres as per the Hindustan Times. Quoting the Intelligence Bureau, the report stated thus, “While educated CPI (Maoist) sympathisers are being used to take up office work in these ministries and departments, those who are not qualified are pumped into various infrastructure projects going on across the country, particularly in Naxal-dominated states.†“The uneducated cadre basically works as labourers or supervisors while the educated cadre, which is a sizeable chunk, take up white collar jobs. Most of the sympathisers are educated and based in cities so it’s easier for them to get such jobs. There are reports that the cadres have already infiltrated into these key sectors,†a top intelligence official was reported by the paper.

Linkages between the Maoists in Central India and some outfits in the North East are now well established. There is greater proximity seen particularly with left leaning outfits in Manipur as the PLA. Though there is no ideological congruence as basic cause for which both are fighting the state is different. The PLA is looking for separatism while Maoists want to topple the existing system through a violent revolution. The issues taken up by both the groups are also at variance and Maoists are more inclined to support movements such as agitation against land and building of dams while the PLA and other of its ilk support causes of separatism. Whether this is only a marriage of convenience for the purpose of resource sharing or a larger nexus which also involves the Chinese given shadow of influence of Beijing on North East groups remains to be seen?

However what is relevant is that the Naxal movement so far has been run on rather primitive lines based on the Bolt Action rifle, known as Point 303. Now that there are reports of access to more sophisticated arms such as assault rifles there is a danger of proliferation which cannot be wished away. Up gradation of weapons and ammunition supplies to the Naxals will lead to graduation of terror threat from that of a home bred insurgency to a sophisticated external supported one.

This has been the pattern in past insurgencies in the country as well and it is being repeated now as it appears in the case of Naxalism as well. Is a third front in the proxy war being opened by India’s external challengers after the first two in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir have proved unsuccessful remains to be seen. Suffice to say there are indications on the ground that indeed this may be happening and if so the threat of violence in Central India is likely to increase. This may also lead to induction of the armed forces to confront the Naxals, a situation that India’s external adversaries will much relish thereby setting back modernisation.

While the government has adopted a development led approach this may not be able to break the stranglehold that the Naxals have in the hinterland such as in Chhattisgarh where they continue to hold sway over a large swathe of land which remains outside the overall reach of government security forces as well as the development footprint. Thus given that security remains poor, development will also be retarded providing continued fertile ground for the rebels who are systematically expanding the threat to more areas geographically as well as structurally. Under the circumstances thus how the security forces are able to meet the challenge arising from growth of Naxalism from, “bolt action,†driven insurgency to a semi automatic assault rifle one remains to be seen?

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