Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Outflanking Maoists

Monday, April 12, 2010 23:04 IST
Are we ready to really take on the Maoist challenge? Do we know who we are fighting, and what their capabilities are? There is a gap between intelligence estimates of their strength and the actual number of cadres they have and the weapons they own.

There is a tendency to exaggerate their strength on both counts, and this is done both by the government as well as civil society groups which support the rebels’ political philosophy, if not their violent methods.

In tackling the Maoists, we need to avoid the trap of either demonising or romanticising them too much. The actual number of armed Maoists cannot ever exceed more than a few thousand in any theatre of operation. A larger fighting force would be conspicuous in terms of its sheer presence.

The Maoists, true to their guerrilla tactics, are operating rather effectively with smaller numbers.

The issue of the arms and ammunition they possess is more complicated.

An Intelligence Bureau (IB) report published by DNA suggests that the Maoists are readying themselves for possible attacks from the air. As guerillas, this should not be surprising. It is their job to adapt to changing conditions. But this does not make them invulnerable or invincible.

The report — based on information obtained from captured Maoists — implies that the rebels are expecting helicopters to be used to land troops as well as to launch fire.

Perhaps this is not the whole story. It should not come as a surprise if the Maoists were to be in possession of anti-aircraft guns and even Stinger missiles that the Afghan mujahideen had used first against the Soviets in the 1980s and then against the Americans more than a decade later.

Intelligence agencies will also have to trace the arms trail of the Maoists. The money to buy arms is obtained by threatening local landlords and traders. This tap needs to be closed. And once the arms channel is identified, the task of outflanking the rebels becomes easier.

It would be a folly to think that it is greater firepower alone that will overwhelm the Maoists. It is superior strategy, including precise intelligence, that will ensure victory.

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