Friday, April 16, 2010

India: Internal Security, External Threats

Thursday, April 15, 2010

By Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman for IPCS

The brutal attack on the Central Reserve Police Force soldiers by Naxalites in Dantewada has raised many questions and concerns about internal security in India. The large Naxal presence, its firepower and its ability to strike the police forces at will, makes for a tense law and order situation in many states of India. There have been intense debates about considering the deployment of the Army and the possible use of the Air Force as well. It is pertinent at this point to analyze the internal security situation in Naxal affected areas and draw some vital linkages with the internal security situation in Northeast India.

Northeast India has been witness to many raging insurgencies ever since Indian independence with many of them still simmering on. The Army has been deployed in almost all the insurgency affected states in Northeast India over time, and even the Air Force was used once in Aizawl during the height of the Mizo insurgency to end a seize of an army camp by the Mizo rebels. The Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) has been in force since 1958 in various insurgency affected parts of Northeast India, giving the Army special and exceptional powers to operate in counter-insurgency operations.

The current debate that has gained momentum, that the Armed Forces are primarily meant for external threats, and not for internal counter-insurgency operations; the talks of avoiding collateral damage in populated areas, is a signal of a ‘new’ thinking in the Armed Forces and the central security policy makers. This is only welcome if it is backed by adequate reforms in the internal policing system, which they say will be bolstered soon in the Naxal affected areas, and Operation Green Hunt could go on without the Armed Forces’ help. However, even after decades of the Army’s deployment in Northeast India, the central government or the respective state governments have not managed to implement any reforms towards bolstering the internal policing structure, which could possibly replace the Army in any of its counter-insurgency duties.

Vast portions of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh have insignificant and weak local policing system, which cannot combat the complexities of strong insurgent networks at present. The ability of the Northeastern insurgent groups to continue operating as well as managing strong networks of trafficking in arms, ammunition, narcotics and fake currency is testimony to the collective failure of the Army, the local police and the internal security policies. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has admitted many times that Northeast India has been the corridor of arms and ammunition and other logistical support to the Naxalites.

The various insurgencies in Northeast India have been, to an extent, kept in abeyance by New Delhi for long now, without an attempt to solve them politically. Many of the ceasefire insurgent groups in Northeast India who kept languishing in ‘designated camps’, have invested in a huge narco-terrorism network. It requires no rocket scientist to point out that this active ‘kept in abeyance’ insurgency network in Northeast India has indeed strengthened the Naxal preparations against the government. The short sighted policy of delaying or postponing the peace in Northeast India, has in fact presented to the central government another internal security problem in the shape of this network, the dimensions of which it is yet to fully comprehend.

Given the interconnectedness of the conflict scenario in Northeast India, special counter-insurgency attention must be focused on certain insurgent ‘hotspots’, which are characterized by complex insurgent networks and insufficient governmental presence. The identifiable insurgent hotspots in Northeast India are Karbi Anglong-North Cachar Hills region of Assam, Lohit-Tirap-Changlang region of Arunachal Pradesh, West Kameng-East Kameng-Baksa-Udalguri-Sonitpur region encompassing Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Ukhrul-Senapati-Chandel region of Manipur and Southern Mizoram. Rapid modernization of police forces, to continually monitor these ‘hotspots’ is required.

The Army, which in its normal course of duties, is meant to monitor the extremely porous border areas of Northeast India with Myanmar and Bangladesh, finds itself pressed in internal security duties in many internal areas, where the local police is insufficiently capable of handling the same. The force for monitoring these active hotspots will have to be an army-local police collaboration, as it will require strong local intelligence networks. The level of ground level and intelligence sharing coordination between the local police and the army leaves much to be desired in Northeast India, even with the presence of the Unified Command structure in some of the states. This is also because of the lack of working trust between security agencies and the varying briefs given to them by the central government at one level and the state government at another level.

A genuine peace in Northeast India will ultimately come from involving local people in the peace process, not by having an exceptional act in the form of AFSPA with little national debate on its amendment or withdrawal for over fifty years, or stalemated negotiations with insurgent groups. New Delhi needs to analyze the internal security situation of India in a wider connected framework and treat the inadequacies urgently.

Mirza Zulfiqur Rahman is a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University and may reached at This article was published by the Institute of Peace And Conflict Studies (IPCS) and is reprinted with permission.


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