Tuesday, November 10, 2009

India probes Maoists' foreign links

By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - As India's military, police, intelligence and civilian authorities combine resources to launch the nation's largest-ever offensive to root out Naxalite (communist) rebels, high-level government sources are pointing towards growing evidence of foreign support of the Maoist rebels.

Among the "outside forces" at work are remnants of the Sri Lankan Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), claim Indian security agencies. Contacts have told Asia Times Online that the LTTE, defeated in May by the Sri Lankan government after decades of struggle, is training the Maoists in the type of guerilla war tactics for which the LTTE were known, including surprise hit-and-run tactics and jungle warfare.

The location of these LTTE-Maoist training centers is thought to be remote parts of central and southern India already under the complete control of the leftists, who have recently been dubbed the "Red Taliban".

Security officials, who say they are monitoring coastal areas for infiltration by the LTTE in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Orissa, say the joint expertise of the two insurgent groups could form a potent mixture.

New Delhi, pointing to the lack of an effective LTTE leadership in the wake of its defeat, is for now ruling out deeper strategic ties between the two groups, such as them launching a combined war against the state. Security forces believe out-of-work mercenaries who were earlier involved in training LTTE cadres are now heading Maoist training camps in India.

"One element that we are closely looking at is the indoctrination processes followed by the LTTE that turned some of the cadres into suicide attackers. This could have dangerous portents as far as Indian Maoists are concerned,'' one official said.

India's Maoists rebels are estimated to number about 25,000. The insurgent group's heavily armed, well-trained guerillas say they are fighting oppression and exploitation to create a classless society. With the group's ability to hide among civilian populations and connections to other insurgent groups in northeast India, India's security forces face a serious challenge.

Sources say that at least 12 LTTE members recently infiltrated India to teach guerrilla warfare techniques to the Naxalites. Indian security sources suspect the LTTE militants may already be training the Maoist's military wing, the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army.

In June, New Delhi labeled the Naxalite underground political party, the Communist Party of India (Maoist), a terrorist organization, putting it in the same league as outfits such as the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the decimated LTTE.

India is also concerned about aid possibly coming to Indian Maoists from Nepal, including the supply of arms, as well as from China.

New Delhi this week insinuated that Maoists were procuring arms from China. "The Chinese are big smugglers ... suppliers of small arms. I am sure that the Maoists also get them,'' said Home Secretary G K Pillai. He ruled out deeper links beyond the delivery of arms.

Indian security agencies claim Nepal is an important source of weapons and possibly funds being channeled to the Naxalites from international sympathizers. Home Minister P Chidambaram said that aside from well-known routes through Myanmar and Bangladesh, the rebel group may be procuring weapons through Nepal.

Unlike more secure borders with Pakistan or Bangladesh, due to high human traffic the India-Nepal border is porous and remains an active smuggling route.

The Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) has declared that its backing of Indian Maoists is only ideological, with no "working relationship", but New Delhi feels the reality is quite different.

Long way to go
In the past few weeks, India set in motion its biggest and most-organized offensive to root out the four-decade-old communist insurgency. "Operation Green Hunt" involves more than 100,000 federal paramilitary forces, some of which have being withdrawn from Kashmir.

The central forces' offensive is focused on strongholds in Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh states. Although it has not yet been launched, intelligence-gathering has begun with the aim of catching Naxal leaders in Andhra Pradesh, as this group constitutes the majority of the Maoist's top brass.

With security forces poised to begin flushing out the Maoists, voices of dissent are being raised.

Using direct force against the Maoists will not be easy, given the widespread areas of their influence, largely sympathetic civilian populations and the difficult terrain, argue some critics. Others suggest that a better solution lies in improving the long-term economic prospects of poor tribal and peasant populations through land reform and employment opportunities.

However, observers say the state cannot build roads, schools, hospitals and electricity in such a hostile environment

Although comparisons have been made with this year's defeat of the LTTE by Sri Lankan forces, these overlook the facts that the Tigers were cornered in a much smaller pocket of land and it had taken many years for the conflict to reach that stage.

In the face of the looming government offensive, the communist rebels have killed more than 40 people - including 21 security forces - in the past month. Brazen attacks have included the hijack of an express train for several hours, kidnaps and killings of government officials as well as blowing up schools across central and eastern India.

Since 2008, Maoists attacks have claimed about 1,200 lives, with Maoist-linked violence killing nearly 8,000 people in India over the past two decades. According to official estimates, Naxalism has affected 2,000 police stations spread over 223 districts across 20 states in India.

In the early 1990s, the number of districts affected by Maoist violence stood at just 15 in four states; this has now risen alarmingly. The Maoists rebels have proliferated in the states of Maharashtra, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, referred to as the "red corridor".

India's rich coal-mining activity is concentrated in these states, which have large tribal belts. These provinces, though rich in natural resources, score very low on human development indices, creating wealth gaps that the rebels often capitalize on to gain public support.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist. He can be reached at sidsri@yahoo.com

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