Towards forging better civil-military approach to counter-insurgency in India

India must be the only country in the world to have continuously faced internal disturbance/insurgency/terrorism for over 60 years. It has withstood armed rebellion aided by external forces, encountered internal turmoil brought about by perceived and real neglect; taken on the mafia in urban areas and is now confronted with twin threats of terrorism and insurgency. The varied experience the country’s security forces–Army, central armed police forces and the police–have accumulated over the years should have resulted in a consolidated, unified counter-insurgency doctrine to be practised with local variations. Unfortunately, each time insurgency breaks out in some part of the country, the tendency–with few exceptions–is to reinvent the wheel all over again!  This happens mainly because documenting best practices and sharing them is perhaps not our strongest point.

Of course several books, working papers and longish monographs have been written on past counter-insurgency campaigns, police actions and targeted killings or capture of high profile individuals. However, a comprehensive volume on a possible joint approach to tackling internal armed conflicts in India in the future was waiting to be written. And there are very few individuals as qualified as Rostum K. Nanavatty to have undertaken this important task. His experience in counter-insurgency is as good as any one commissioned in the Indian Army in the immediate aftermath of the 1962 war. Consider Rustom Nanavatty’s stints in his 41 year career: As regimental officer deployed in the northeast; Commander Parachute Commando Task Force, Sri Lanka (1987-88), Commander 102 (Siachen) Brigade, GoC, 19 Division in Baramulla, GoC, 3 Corps in Dimapur, Nagaland and finally Northern Army Commander!

After retiring as Northern Army Commander exactly a decade ago (31st May 2003), the former Gorkha Officer has used his time constructively to come up with a treatise now turned into a book by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) in association with Pentagon Press, entitled:  Internal Armed Conflict in India: Forging a Joint Civil Military Approach (Pentagon; ISBN 978-81-8274-675-6).

The book is for serious students of counter-insurgency, India’s military response to low intensity conflicts or sub-conventional wars (as Indian Army sees it). Using his own experience in dealing with various insurgencies in Kashmir and the North-east and drawing upon literature on military and non-military responses to many civil wars, insurrections and insurgencies across the world, Gen Nanavatty has concluded that there cannot be any alternative to good governance in finding a lasting solution to any insurgency. He stresses on a holistic government approach, encompassing various facets of administration and governance where all stake holders–civil-, military, para-military, even the judiciary–must pull their weight and work towards one common goal. 

In the past, many military leaders have spoken and written about the Indian Army’s stellar role in keeping fissiparous and divisive forces at bay. But most have generally tended to either downplay or completely run down the contribution of other arms of the government in controlling insurgencies.

Gen Nanavatty has however avoided that temptation.

Instead, he has outlined practical suggestions on how each stake holder can fulfil its own role. “In restructuring and reorganising security forces for counter-insurgency, there is a need for the government to take a holistic view. Operational cost-effectiveness, not ’empire-building,’ is the key. First, the government must build on force structures that already exist in order to minimise turbulence and disruption. And second, it must resist the temptation to raise type forces for every new exigency; the role of each type force should allow for a measure of flexibility in its employment,” Gen Nanavatty says in suggesting the way forward.

Fig 1.

He has hit the nail on the head! After every major incident, Indian authorities have rushed to either create new force or expand the old ones effectively blunting their edge. After the November 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai, for instance, the effectiveness of the NSG (the National Security Guard), supposed to be the most potent anti-terror, anti-hijack force in the country, has been compromised by mindlessly expanding its numbers and spreading it thin instead of equipping it with latest weapons and platforms. As a result today the NSG finds it difficult to make up the requisite numbers without compromising on quality. Similarly, state governments have raised ‘specialised’ forces to tackle terrorist attacks. But they are at best, fittest policemen available in a given force dressed in a different uniform! So we have a surfeit of Greyhounds, Jaguars, COBRAS masquerading as ‘special forces,’ when in reality neither their training nor their equipment is in keeping with the requirements of truly potent anti-terrorist forces! 

Similarly, Gen Nanvatty has underscored the ineffectiveness of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) as the ‘national counter-insurgency force’ and has suggested several ways to overcome this problem. Although tried half-heartedly in the late 1980s, its time, Gen Nanavatty suggests, to bifurcate the Ministry of Home Affairs into two-sub-ministries–a Ministry of Internal Security (MIS) and a ministry of home affairs (MHA), each with a minister of state heading them under the overall charge of the Union Home and Internal Security Minister. He then goes on to list the way security operations can be coordinated at both central and state levels (see Fig 1 and 2).

Fig 2

With Left Wing Extremism (LWE) or Maoist violence as we more popularly know it, threatening to escalate in coming years, Gen Nanavatty’s book, full of practical and sagacious suggestions, comes at the most appropriate time. Despite being a successful military commander, Gen Nanavatty has avoided the usual mistake of portraying the army as the paragon of virtue and all others agencies as incompetent. He instead offers several interesting insights and practical suggestions on how to improve and institutionalise civil-military cooperation in insurgency affected areas. Again a must read for all students and practitioners of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism in India.

  1. June 10, 2013 -

    The problem lies in ability to match the evolving threats. The basic question of governance and accountability is lacking as there are fiefdoms in the political and bureaucratic arena. This is of course manifested by vote bank politics. Unless these basic issues are addressed no amount of restructuring is likely to help.

  2. June 10, 2013 -