TODAY -

Insurgency and counterinsurgency : A complex and ambiguous future ahead
- Part 1 -

Yokhanan John Phaltual *



The highly successful June 4 Paraolon ambush on the Indian Army, the 6 Dogra Regiment, that left 18 soldiers dead by the NSCN (K) along with two other insurgent groups, the KCP and KYKL, followed by the bold surgical strike-back four days later, from the elite 21 Para of the Indian Army's Special Forces along the Indo-Myanmar border at one of the Khaplang's camp in Ponue, call for a new assessment on the issue of insurgency and counterinsaaaaaurgency in Manipur and Nagaland.

India has engaged in prolonged struggle against insurgency in many Northeastern states. In so doing it has both relearned old lessons, and forged new methods and concepts for stabilization, distills the best of contemporary thought, historical knowledge, and hard-won practice.

History demonstrates that insurgents armed with conventional weapons like the guns, bomb, rocket can sustain violent campaigns against state militarist over the longer period of time. Victory against such insurgents rarely comes from destruction of underground troops on a battlefield and, as they typically blend into the population, the enemy is often more difficult to find than to neutralize. Irregular warfare is far more varied than conventional conflict, hence the importance of an intellectual framework that is coherent enough to provide guidance, and flexible enough to provide guidance, and flexible enough to adapt to circumstances.

North East India (NEI) is the physical gateway between India, China and Southeast Asia.Today the people of NEI face many challenges. More than fifty years of conflict has led to a strong military presence and endangered a culture of violence. With the creation of India as independent country in 1947, the princely states and other areas of NEI has been cut out into many small states and administrative divisions,each imbued with the British ideology of encouraging ethnic, sub-ethnic, religious and linguistic identities. The divisions of states based on claims and counterclaims of vague ethnic constituencies and borders resulted in instability of the whole Northeastern states till today

The unrest that accompanied partition in other parts of the sub-continent quickly spread to NEI where the Meitei(1964-till today), Nagas(1955-Present), Kukis(1980s- present) and Mizo(1966-1986) formed an armed independent movement. Peace talks commenced in 1957 between Indian government and the Nagas, and subsequently Nagaland was created as a self-governing Indian state in 1963. Manipur became Indian state in 1972, followed by Mizoram in 1987.

The Indian government sought to defeat and to contain movement for self-determination in NEI with military force. The presence of armed groups and the ongoing counter-insurgency operations has a tremendous impact on every-day life and the multi-ethnic dimension to the conflict in NEI often spills over into community relations.

Insurgency is a large and growing element of the security challenges faced by the government in the 21st century. Insurgency can and will flourish in the modern environment. The strains created by globalization, by demographic, environmental, and economic pressures, by the ease of cooperation among insurgent groups, all augur a period in which free and moderate governance is at risk. And in today's world, state failure can quickly become not merely a misfortune for local communities, but a threat to regional security.

In Manipur and Nagaland insurgency is the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify or challenge political control of a region. As such, it is primarily a political struggle, in which both sides use armed force to create space for political, economic and influence activities to be effective. It seek to subvert or displace the government and completely or partially control the resources and population of a given territory. They do so through the use of force including guerrilla warfare, terrorism and coercion/intimidation, propaganda, subversion and political mobilization. Insurgents fight government forces only to the extent needed to achieve their political aims: their main effort is not to kill counter-insurgents, but rather to establish a competitive system of control over the population, making it impossible for the government to administer its territory and people.

Insurgent activity is therefore designed to weaken government control and legitimacy while increasing insurgent control and influence. Insurgency is mostly conducted by a single group with a centralized, military-style command structure, which involve a complex matrix of different actors with various aims and hierarchical networks. The insurgency to be successful, require charismatic leadership, supporters, recruits, suppliers, safe havens and funding, often from illicit activities. This is best achieved when the political cause of the insurgency has strong appeal, manipulating religious, tribal and local identity to exploit common societal grievances or needs. Insurgency seek to gain control of populations through a combination of persuasion, subversion and coercion while using guerrilla tactics to offset the strengths of government security forces.

Insurgency is trans-national dynamics. Most insurgents need a physical safe haven, and may find it in neighboring countries. Many insurgencies depend on safe havens in countries adjacent to the affected nation. Sanctuary may be given willingly or may be beyond control of the government there.

India's fight against insurgency needs to be viewed against this neighboring background. The country's anti-insurgency campaign has its own uniqueness, but outside influence has become an increasingly significant factor. Last week on June 17, India's representatives - National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S.Jaishankar and some PMO officials - had a comprehensive talks with Myanmarese President U Thein Sein and top military brass during their visit in Yangon. It is said that India's proposal for joint military operation against NSCN (K) in Burma has been turned down.

For years, Burma is not doing enough in terms of sharing information, collecting evidence, controlling porous border against arms shipment and illegal activities, as it is not really interested in formation of framework for anti-insurgency cooperation with India. Despite the setback for India, it should simultaneously push forward anti-insurgency work on both domestic and international fronts, and strengthen international cooperation on fighting insurgents.

The fight against terror also needs support from communities and the public. The government must stress the importance of community power and encourage ordinary people and grassroots leaders, who know their communities best, to participate in the fight against insurgents. The strategy need to build strong communities with fair and equal social and economic opportunities while taking into consideration different ethnic, religious factors and social customs. A strong and vibrant community is the soil in which insurgency will find little space, if not, no space to grow.

The ideology of Insurgents were often motivated by Marxism, socialism, religion or nationalism, defense of ethnic group or a combination of these. Insurgencies are typified by charisma of the leaders and which can sometimes be more important than ideology in convincing others to join their movement.

It is widely assumed that insurgent groups are form, command, control and held together, at least in part, by a charismatic leader. Few of the insurgent leaders or the so-called revolutionary leaders have the charismatic sparks of the iconic Marxist revolutionary hero 'Che Guevara'. Leaders with pan-national stature are Thuingaleng Muivah of NSCN (IM), RK Meghen @ Sanayaima of UNLF, SS Khaplang of NSCN (K),and PS Haokip of Kuki National Organization (KNO). They were a hero to many because they remain true to their ideals and principles, they were therefore associated in the public mind with what was right about the Revolution, rather than what was very wrong about it. They have come to symbolize the values of resistance, nationalism and patriotism.

Some insurgent actors will be more interested in financial reward than ideology. This applies from the unemployed youth getting paid to fight. The basic wants, needs and grievances of the population may have little to do with the intellectual ideology of insurgent leaders, but may still be exploited to generate support.

To fund their activities, the insurgents foster at the domestic level an illicit economy, eluding government monitoring, taxation, extortion, bribery, kidnapping, collecting toll-tax at National Highways and inter-district roads, pseudo-contractor and charitable NGO, while at the international level by trafficking of narcotics, arms and ammunition, piracy, drug trade, and black market activity from the massive illegal bazaar across the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and China.

Such illicit financial activities diminish government revenues, increase corruption among local officials, and weaken the control and legitimacy of the government. These funding streams will often drive insurgents into alliances of convenience that are motivated by profit and economic self-interest, rather than ideology. In extreme cases, funding may be channeled through a third party organization purportedly conducting charitable work.

Peace effort is highly desirable at all level. This is not easily achieve.That the peace talks continue to the present day is testimony to their failure to deliver a long-term solution beyond the subsequent ceasefire. Indian statehood failed, however, to satisfy demands for autonomy and independence among the nationalist movements and armed groups, some of which split into smaller factions.

To be continued..


* Yokhanan John Phaltual wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on June 25, 2015.


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