What we learn from our COIN campaigns

…is that we don’t learn from them

Here’s a passage from my review of India & Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned, a volume of case studies and analyses edited by Sumit Ganguly & David Fidler.

A recurring theme in the book is that lessons that were to be learnt in one counter-insurgency campaign were not learnt, and mistakes repeated over and over again. That is as much a damning indictment of the Indian armed forces—particularly the army—as it is of a political class that treats political violence as within the ambit of legitimate politics. But while the failings of political leaders are well-known and roundly condemned, the lapses of the security forces are masked by information asymmetries.

Shouldn’t a counter-insurgency doctrine help prevent mistakes from being repeated? Comparing the counter-insurgency doctrines of the United States and India, Dr Fidler writes that the exercise of developing the Indian Doctrine for Sub-Conventional Operations (DSCO) was “mainly one of codification—collecting in one document guidance accumulated over the course of more than fifty years. The objective was not to revolutionise how the Indian Army or government thought about how to fight insurgencies.” That sounds quintessentially Indian and evokes images of the Vedas, which were codified into written form after centuries of existence as oral tradition. It will be a challenge to translate this kind of a document into a strategy for current and future conflicts.

Dr Fidler also points out that India’s counter-insurgency doctrine “has not involved the civilian government agencies affected, such as the state and central police forces.” This is perhaps its biggest weakness—by its very nature, counter-insurgency is a problem of (re-)establishing governance. The Indian pattern has been one where, even after a successful campaign by security forces, the civilian government is somehow expected to miraculously appear and resume administration. Unfortunately, this does not usually happen, setting the state for the insurgency to resume. It is unclear if this broad point has registered at the highest levels of the Indian government. [Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review]

My op-ed in Indian Express: Challenges for India’s anti-Naxalite campaign

Making Operation Green Hunt succeed

In today’s Indian Express Sushant and I call for the Indian government to address two big issues that appear to be missing from its strategy to fight the Naxalite insurgency. Excerpts:

First, the Naxalites and their sympathisers will launch a psychological counter-offensive to weaken the political commitment to the campaign by trying to delegitimise it in the public mind. Security forces will be accused of human rights violations, and a dubious moral equivalence drawn between the damage chemotherapy causes and the cancer it treats. Celebrity activists will find a new cause to express their outrage in prize-worthy eloquence. Even genuine human-rights activists will become the Naxalites’ unwitting instruments — to the extent that criticism of the government’s conduct will be projected as an implicit vindication of the Maoist agenda….

To get out of this hole, the government must release accurate and factual information to the public with unprecedented timeliness. In this age of inexpensive technology and connectivity, there is no excuse for the home ministry to be unable to release reports, photographs and video footage from the field. Paying for advertisements in the national media will only take it so far—-unless the UPA government implements a sophisticated public communication strategy, it will find its political will sapped by the Naxalite propaganda machine.

This brings up the second challenge: India does not have the capacity to conduct the vital endgame of counter-insurgencies…

After any serious surgery, there is usually a brief period of convalescence in the hospital before the patient is discharged into the care of the general practitioner. India does not have the capacity to take an area that has been cleared of insurgents, build institutions of governance before discharging it to the state government. Unless this capacity is built, the successes of Operation Green Hunt will remain ephemeral.

Delivering governance in the immediate aftermath of conflict requires hybrid civil-military capacity. A new organisation must be raised by the Central government, under a restructured home ministry, to lay foundations for the rule of law, economic freedom and property rights in areas cleared of Naxalites. We call this the CIMPCOR or Civilian Military Partnership for Conflict Resolution model…

The alchemy of Naxalism lies in the transformation of millions of quotidian grievances into disaffection and rebellion against the Indian state. Green Hunt rightly focuses on security first; but it will only be complete when good governance eliminates those quotidian grievances. [Indian Express]

We flesh out the CIMPCOR model in our in-depth piece in Pragati that was reproduced by The Pioneer as a two part series.

Pragati October 2009: Targeting Naxalism

Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s characterisation of the Naxalite movement as the biggest threat to India’s internal security, for years, the Indian government showed little imagination and resolve in earnestly confronting it. While the Naxalite movement consolidated across the country, moving cadre, arms and funds across state and international borders, the Indian government’s response was inefficient and lacked coordination. Not only did this result in Naxalites gaining strength unchecked, it also resulted in dubious and poorly-conceived responses like raising tribal militias and ham-fisted police action against rural and tribal populations in the worst-affected areas.

In its second term, the UPA government has demonstrated more seriousness in tackling what it calls Left Wing Extremism. Most of this month’s issue of Pragati deals with the nature of the Naxalite threat and the ways to address it. We argue that Naxalism is a manifestation of poor or absent governance but establishing good governance in Naxalite-affected areas, after successful security operations, requires the Indian government to invest in hybrid civil-military capacity that it does not yet have at the present time.

In addition: we have essays on the flux in Afghanistan, the UPA government’s much-publicised austerity drive; a parliamentary brief that examines MPs’ voting record; and other regular features.

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