You are here

Tackling the Naxal Threat

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • August 31, 2009

    With the killing of three women and a nine-year old girl, absurdly described as a police informer, the Naxals have lost any moral justification that they may have had to wage war against India. This heinous crime proves that their acts are much worse than the so-called police atrocities against which the Naxals claim they protect the people. This may be the last straw on an already overloaded government camel reeling under the burden of procrastination, confusion, weak governance and plain indecision. It is time the government made it clear that it would take all necessary steps to curb this mindless violence and would resolutely step up anti-Naxal operations to eliminate this menace that has been allowed to grow unchecked for many years.

    All scholars and experts including those who might have had some sympathy for the Naxal and Maoist cause know that unless the government provides basic security to ordinary people from incessant violence that the rebels routinely unleash, it would be impossible to find a political solution. The history of such struggles across the world is replete with evidence of purposeful and determined action by the governments before the problem was finally resolved through meaningful negotiations.

    The problem today is that the police and security forces simply do not possess the appropriate instruments to anticipate and pre-empt rebel attacks. They lack mobility, safety and firepower. And they do not possess the means to gather intelligence as most people are simply too frightened of reprisals in the event their assistance to the security forces is discovered by the Naxals. The government no doubt must be already doing its best to ensure co-ordination between the myriad agencies that are deployed in the affected areas. Hopefully, necessary steps to prevent access to arms, ammunition, wireless communication sets, logistics and finance to the rebels must already have been taken. But without adequate mobility and safety on forest roads that are regularly mined by the rebels, it is well nigh impossible to ensure concentration of force and fire power to foil an ambush or an imminent attack.

    Employment of helicopters may prove a great force multiplier. It is not important whether they belong to the Indian Air Force, Army, Navy or paramilitary forces. Once inducted these can quickly turn the tables on the Naxals by providing intelligence through routine patrols and fire power by lifting a sizeable force of 15 to 20 fully armed commandos/Special Forces to the designated spot in a fraction of the time it now takes to send reinforcements. Deployment of a helicopter-borne force would need proper co-ordination and organisation but it is not very difficult.

    The Indian Air Force is known to have successfully undertaken these operations in the late 1980s in Northern Sri Lanka during Operation Pawan. IAF pilots routinely landed in small restricted forest openings surrounded by tall trees and rescued casualties and dropped ammunition and equipment. Since most Naxal affected areas are heavily forested, such operations would need some time before they become effective especially since the helicopters would operate mostly during daylight hours and require a well oiled logistics infrastructure for sustained operations. Unlike flood relief operations in which helicopters come back to the district HQ before nightfall, here they might have to stay overnight at field locations. The Army helicopter pilots are also equally experienced in operations in the hills and mountains and hence there is no dearth of expertise and resources. Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAV) are another potent instrument for surveillance, although the armed forces might not yet have them in adequate numbers to be able to spare them at the present juncture. They are nonetheless extremely cost effective. Some light fixed wing aircraft may also prove useful where basic infrastructure is readily available. The IAF used these assets in the North West Frontier Province and later in Burma during World War II to great advantage.

    There is, however, a possibility that the decision makers would see the employment of air power as an unduly disproportionate response even when helicopters do not open fire except in self-defence. India simply does not have the culture of using air power in military operations other than war. There is also the likelihood of the armed forces showing their reluctance to jump into another area of ‘internal security’ operations when they are already heavily committed in Jammu & Kashmir and the North East. Despite these apprehensions, it is perhaps impossible to postpone resolute action against the Naxal and Maoist forces that seem determined to challenge the writ of the democratically elected government of the day.