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Fighting Insurgency

in India - II


General S. Padmanabhan,


Chief of the Army Staff.

     In the second part of an exclusive article, the Chief of India's Army Staff analyses the various options open to the armed forces in countering insurgency.


How does one counter insurgency and its elusive shadow of terrorism? It is patently clear that prevention is better than cure. Political, economic and social problems cannot be solved by military means alone. Punitive measures can be used to suppress genuine grievances for some time, be they political, economic or social, but at times they ignite a fresh surge of violence.

     Stern measures would be useful to buy time, during which, efforts should be made to address the root causes of discontent and a compromise reached so that regional sub-nationalism is not pushed to the brink. Military responses should go hand in hand with synergised efforts of all organs of the state, with the government, bureaucracy, police, mass media and the military acting in unison.

     A secure environment must be created and psychological operations and the mass media linked to enhance the effort of military operations. Likewise, the earliest restoration of the democratic process must be ensured so that the army can disengage as soon as possible.

     How do the principles of a military response apply in an operational milieu?

     At the line of control or border this is done by deployment of troops, Para Military Forces (PMF) etc., who undertake vigorous patrolling by day and night and by creating a bank of informers and agents who can tip off the authorities about movements from across or outwards. Rect. is controlled by getting to know everyone in the villages and towns in the area of responsibility and keeping track of strangers, disappearances, sudden wealth among some people etc.

     The control of external movement and resources is important as this can make life very difficult for the insurgent - either he doesn't move, in which case he is useless, or he is caught moving in an unauthorized manner. Resources like food supplies, urea, medical stocks, fuel oil etc. must also be controlled for obvious reasons.

     Intelligence personnel from the CID, IB etc. are the first casualties in an insurgency. Either they get eliminated physically or their informant sources dry up or stop operating out of fear.

     It is therefore essential in these circumstances to create an Intelligence Grid for without intelligence, the Security Forces are virtually blind. It is also necessary to establish a Counter Insurgency (CI) Grid.

     This consists of gridding the territory into convenient sized areas having regard to the level of insurgency, physical communications and population, and locating suitably sized forces in nodal points in these areas. Every habitation in the entire state then becomes part of a sub-unit or unit's area of responsibility.

     The grid serves as a base for patrols for intelligence operations for civic action and for active deliberate operations. Each post on this grid has a fully 'safe' area around it.

     It is obviously vital to achieve unity of effort with the civil administration, Police, Para-military forces and Intelligence Agencies. This is done by the establishment of a unified HQ or Unified Command. The security advisor is the head on behalf of the Chief Minister or Governor, and representatives of all organs of the state are included in it. It meets often and takes both long term and short-term decisions so as to synergise effort.


It cannot be too strongly emphasized that people-friendly operations should be carried out in order to heal the wounds, isolate insurgents and win their hearts and minds. Operations like cordon and search, raids, snap checks etc. often entail some inconvenience to civilians. The effort should be to ensure that these operations are carried out without stripping the people of their dignity and with minimum inconvenience to them.  

     Psychological operations should also be carried out and these should target a wide audience - the insurgents, our own forces, the local populace, the national audience and the world audience. The aim is to support ongoing counter insurgency (CI), operations in the short as well as long-term, by breaking the morale and the will to fight of the insurgents, bolster the morale of the troops and immunize them against hostile propaganda, raise the morale of local people and turn them against the insurgents. The national and world audience should be correctly informed so that their actions do not run counter to CI operations.

     Civic action should also be on the agenda as it helps the people see the human face of the army. Concepts like Operation Goodwill in J&K or Operation Good Samaritan in Nagaland/Manipur are typical examples.

     Result indicators must be constantly monitored. These include the free flow of information, public opinion polls and surveys by Military Intelligence and NGOs, better functioning of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, programmes in socio-economic projects and the re-establishment of peoples' day-to-day economic and social routine.

     In due course the army must disengage progressively. This could begin with moving out of cities and towns and going to the countryside, enlarging the grid here too and going into Quick Reaction mode, while all the time getting the police to take over charge, and eventually returning to the barracks.


Overall, the record of the past 52 years in India does not justify any pessimism so far as insurgencies are concerned. Despite serious challenges to the body politic, security, stability and national cohesion have been maintained. If we are able to read the lessons of the past correctly, we should not only be able to tide over current insurgencies but also ensure that these do not arise in the future.

     Basically, insurgencies have deep historical, social and psychological roots that are nourished by economic discontent. Regionalism remains a powerful force in India and the growing numbers of regional parties, and their impressive showing in elections, is a clear indicator of this phenomenon.

     Parochialism is not necessarily contradictory to national integration. This however pre-supposes the existence of institutional and social safeguards. It has to be met with a combination of firmness and flexibility at a political level before it deteriorates into insurgency.

     We have seen how parties based on regional exclusiveness are allowed to flourish by direct or indirect political patronage, or by the default of weak-kneed governments. Such equivocation breeds extremism and is a challenge to national unity.

     The history of insurgencies in India has been a chastening experience. It calls for introspection and hard decisions. There are in reality no soft options in dealing with insurgencies. The use of force can in the short-term win the battle, but if we are to pre-empt a situation of chronic insurgencies and win the war, then political will and national consensus will be decisive factors on the side of stability and unity.

     As General Clausewitz once said: "Diplomacy is war by other means". It would be erroneous to believe that the solution of political problems can be achieved by brute force, and if this realization does not sink in, an intolerable situation is inevitable and the prospects in terms of human suffering can be appalling.





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