Friday, April 17, 2009

Security forces have no answer to naxal threat

Josy JosephSaturday, April 18, 2009 3:38 IST Email

New Delhi: While security forces and intelligence agencies perceived a threat to the poll process from Islamist terrorist groups based outside India, it is the home-grown naxalite violence that threatens to disrupt the general election. And the establishment says it can't do much to contain the menace.

At least 48 security force personnel have been killed in 100 naxalite attacks since the election was announced on March 2, 12 of them during the first phase of polling on Thursday. Of the 48, 30 are from the Central Reserve Police Force, 11 from the Central Industrial Security Force, and the rest from the Border Security Force. This figure is higher than the number of security force personnel killed in the corresponding period in Jammu & Kashmir and the Northeast put together.

With four more phases of polling still to go over the next month, the reach and scale of the naxalite attacks suggest that this general election will go down as India's bloodiest, officials in the security establishment have admitted.

"The reach and intensity of attacks is unprecedented, but there is little we can do now," a senior intelligence officer said. Central forces have been stretched thin for election duty and state police forces are not up to the task.

State police forces for years neglected and let the naxal menace grow. Now they are throwing up their hands and demanding the deployment of paramilitary forces. But central forces are also not qualified for the task, what with new terrain, strange topography, and no local sources.

While the CISF is trained to protect industrial complexes, the BSF guards peaceful international borders.

If the regularity and intensity of the present wave of naxal attacks is any indication, the day is not far when the state may have to deploy the armed forces, at least in some areas. India's response to all insurgencies has followed the same pattern: for years states ignore the problem or treat it as a mere law-and-order issue. Then, as it becomes unmanageable, they seek central paramilitary assistance. Eventually, the army is called in.

The naxal threat is far bigger in this general election as compared 2004.

When the first wave of naxalism struck India, it was contained by state police forces and through political efforts. But the new-generation naxalism is stronger, more widespread and cohesive, and has safe hideouts in central and eastern India. Many within the establishment are clearly worried.

"The money the Centre has given to these (naxal-affected) states for police modernisation is mostly unspent, and now they are shifting the responsibility to central forces," said a senior member of the security establishment. "There is very little we can do for the coming phases of polls. Already our paramilitary forces are very stretched," he said, admitting candidly that violence could continue at this level over the next phases, too.

In 2004, the naxalite calls for election boycott and violence were not so successful. "But this time, they are making a very strong statement," the official said.

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