Countering Maoist menace Avoid Army deployment

THE police and paramilitary forces of the state governments and the Centre fighting Maoist terrorism need to inculcate the Army’s professional ethos, operational culture of young officers leading from the front and high standards of personnel and sub-unit training. However, they do not need the Army’s physical presence to boost their morale and achieve operational effectiveness. Nor can the already over-stretched Army sustain another major long-term internal security commitment. 
The Army has been deployed for counter-insurgency operations in several north-eastern states for over half a century. It has been engaged in counter-proxy war operations against the so-called mujahideen mercenaries sponsored by the Pakistan Army and the ISI in Jammu and Kashmir for two decades. While answering a question in Parliament a few years ago, the Defence Minister had averred that 1,20,000 Army personnel are deployed for counter-insurgency operations. In addition, 65 battalions of the Army’s counter-insurgency force, the Rashtriya Rifles, are deployed in J&K, and 31 of the 46 battalions of the Assam Rifles in the North-East. 
The Army’s prolonged employment on internal security duties, its secondary role, hampers its preparedness for its primary role of safeguarding the territorial integrity of India’s land borders by defeating aggression and fighting and winning conventional wars against the country’s military adversaries when necessary. It wears out front line weapons and equipment. It also imposes a heavy burden on the Army’s annual budget due to the cost of replenishment of ammunition expended in counter-insurgency operations and frequent replacement of vehicles and other equipment and, consequently, adversely affects the Army’s modernisation programme. 
The prolonged employment of the Army for internal security duties could encourage inimical neighbours to undertake military misadventures. The Pakistan Army launched large-scale intrusions across the LoC into Kargil in 1999 under the mistaken belief that nine years of counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir would have tired out the Indian Army. Such deployment reduces the peace-time “rest and recoup” tenures of Army units, especially infantry battalions, curtails the time that the troops can spend with their families and eventually — imperceptibly but surely — undermines the morale of individual soldiers and even whole units. No thinking Indian would like to see the latter development take place as its consequences for national security and India’s integrity as a nation-state would be truly horrendous. 
In 2000, the Group of Ministers (GoM), led by Mr L. K. Advani, then Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister, had accepted the recommendation of the Task Force on Internal Security to designate the CRPF as the primary Central government’s strike force for counter-insurgency operations. Since then, 10 years have passed and many battalions have been deployed in J&K but, regrettably, the CRPF has not so far done enough to rise to the challenge. This was borne out by the dastardly massacre of 74 of its men at Dantewada. The report of the E.N. Rammohan Enquiry Committee that looked into the incident has reportedly pointed out the major organisational and training lapses in that operation. 
For success, CRPF units must upgrade the quality of their counter-insurgency tactics, techniques and procedures and be armed with modern weapons for close-quarter battle and surveillance, reconnaissance and communications equipment suitable for jungle terrain. Leadership at the level of commanding officer (CO) should be drawn through lateral induction of volunteers from the Army, as was done when the BSF was initially raised. Young IPS officers must spend the first three years of their service with CRPF battalions on active duty in Maoist-infested areas. This will instil confidence in them and give them valuable operational experience in internal security duties. 
CRPF units must operate as cohesive battalions under the direct command of the CO and not as independent companies in penny packets, with the CO responsible only for administration. No CO, whose companies are deployed for anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh and who himself is sitting in his battalion HQ in Allahabad, can be effective in exercising operational control, ensuring high standards of training and boosting the morale of the men under his command. Nor can he be held responsible for operational and administrative lapses under such circumstances. 
The army must continue to train CRPF and state police personnel for counter-insurgency operations and provide whatever logistics support is possible. However, the DG, CRPF, must ensure that full sub-units are sent for training together and not individual personnel. The CRPF officers must accompany their troops for training, and all of them should be physically fit. Recent experience has shown that many of the CRPF personnel report sick on arrival, the officers rarely accompany them and the men are disinclined to put themselves through the rigorous training regimen. 
Speculative reports have appeared about the imminent deployment of eight or more Rashtriya Rifles battalions after approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). These battalions and two or three Sector HQ will have to be pulled out from the counter-insurgency grid in J&K, provided the CCS is convinced of the operational necessity of an immediate surge in anti-Maoist operations. However, it is not sustainable in the long-term. Enough evidence is available to affirm that whenever the counter-insurgency grid in a district is denuded of troops, the insurgents make a rapid comeback. If such deployment is being contemplated by the CCS, it would be better to raise additional Rashtriya Rifles battalions for the purpose. 
The regular Army should not be employed for internal security and counter-insurgency duties unless it becomes absolutely unavoidable due to the presence of well-trained and well-armed foreign terrorists, and when secessionist tendencies are discerned in a movement. Even then it should only be for short-duration surgical operations under the umbrella of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act with a Unified Command in place. In certain circumstances special forces units should be preferred over infantry battalions, for example, for hunting down the leadership of the politburo of the Maoists. 
The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.