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'Deploying Army against Naxals would be a wrong step'

By Archana Masih
June 07, 2010 12:14 IST
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"If the Indian Army is used against the Maoists/Naxalites, it would mean the failure of the entire political system," feels retired Lieutenant General D B Shekatkar, a distinguished officer with extensive experience in dealing with insurgency in the Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir.

The general told's Archana Masih that the army's role is to secure the country's external borders and even if it were to be deployed in Maoist areas, a problem that has festered for over 20 years would take another 10 years to be brought down to some manageable limit by the army.

This is what the general said in the first part of his interview with This is what he says in the concluding segment of an eloquent conversation:

Sir, you and many others in the armed forces feel it would not be right to use the army against the Maoists. But the army can still provide some assistance, can it not?

I think the army's help can be taken in training and motivating the Central Reserve Police Force. The CRPF and BSF (Border Security Force) need to induct a young leadership.

There is nothing wrong with the force. I had a large number of CRPF troops operating with me in Assam, Nagaland, Kashmir, Punjab -- the boys are good, they are as keen as anybody else. They did an excellent job, they only need good leadership and guidance.

But the army is already doing that in some measure.

In small numbers. You require a large force. All the affected states will have to be tackled simultaneously. I have operated in insurgency areas all my life. If you go state by state it will take 20 years. It cannot be cleared state by state.

Pressure has to be put on the top leadership of the Maoists and, simultaneously. They must feel cornered.

With your long experience in dealing with insurgency, what other assistance can the army provide?

It can help them with how to collect intelligence. I had given a suggestion six years back to train young local boys and girls and use them without being exposed.

We did this in Kashmir -- we didn't get intelligence from America or satellites -- it was from locals.

Locals only help when they have confidence and this has to be generated. Unless we generate a mechanism for the collection of such intelligence we are bluffing ourselves. You have to speak the language, smell like them, eat tobacco like them -- become one of them.

If training and intelligence can be improved, I see no reason why the Naxalites cannot be neutralised.

What is the kind of intelligence required for combating them?

Actionable intelligence -- and this can only come from locals. No aerial photographs can get you this.

Second, to identify the Maoist leadership which does not stay in the forest but in the cities. So you need to deploy another mechanism to identify and locate and neutralise them.

Third, their sources of funding -- which will come when you home onto the people who are giving them hafta, taxes etc.

Fourth, how do they get help from the outside? It sounds correct that the Maoists today have links to foreign terror groups which has been confirmed by Dr Raman Singh, (the chief minister of Chhattisgarh had hinted at links with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Tayiba).

Can the Indian Air Force's role in anti-Maoist operations be enhanced?

The air force can transport troops. If there are permanent camps in the interiors, they can be supplied by helicopters. We did it in Nagaland and even now have a number of camps which are air maintained on the China border.

I don't think we should ever, ever, ever, use the air force to fire missiles. We didn't do it in the Northeast where we have been fighting for the last 50 years. Things were worse there -- a total revolt and a parallel government -- neither did we do it in Kashmir.

It will be wrong to use helicopters in the classical air assault role.

Once again, let me stress let us not blindly follow the Americans or the Israelis. People give examples of Israel and Palestine -- firstly, is Palestine a nation? Does it have tanks and guns -- you can take a helicopter, bomb them, come back and nothing will happen.

If we start following them (the Israelis) blindly then we are fooling ourselves. You cannot do those things in Dantewada.

How then can the situation be brought under control?

There has to be a complete understanding between the state and central government.

Keep politics and party affiliations away.

Let us take this as a national challenge.

Secondly, the state government should extend all support to the central forces. Any director general of police of a state will feel that his kingdom is being robbed if troops are sent from outside, there is an in-built resistance. He doesn't realise that his job is to maintain normal law and order and only in an extraordinary situation does the central government send its forces.

Even if you send the army -- I know since I have stayed and operated with them (with state governments) -- the army cannot function on its own, you need their assistance, the state police, CID, intelligence etc. Therefore, it is better to strengthen the state mechanism.

So you don't see a combat role for the army at all.

I don't think so. Unless things get very bad and due to some huff they send the army, and then impose restrictions that they cannot fire unless a magistrate is present, then it is better you don't send them at all.

If the army is deployed it would mean that the whole political system has failed.

The deployment of the army in combating Naxalites will be a wrong step.

The armed forces are to secure the country against external aggression. When we train our troops we tell them anyone beyond that line -- Line of Control (the India-Pakistan border) or international border -- when war is announced treat him as an enemy, show no mercy, use the power to destroy the total ability of the enemy.

You bring the same boy to Dantewada and you tell him that these are our own persons, he will get confused.

It is not as if the army comes and in 48 hours the problem is solved. It has not happened in the Northeast, or Kashmir.

Anyone who says we will finish the job in seven days is fooling himself. The Naxalite problem has continued for 20 years, it will take another 10 years for the army to bring it to some manageable limit if it were to be deployed.

The army will not be able to eradicate the problem totally, it can bring the situation to the extent that the Naxalite leadership will be forced to talk on your terms.

At the recent army commanders meeting in New Delhi, a command and control operation was reportedly discussed, along with the need to assign troops to anti-Maoist operations.

Any army in the world is continuously assessing future threats perceptions called as the predictability threat analysis, anticipatory threat analysis, what threats can emerge from outside and within.

You need to be aware of these threats so as to not be taken by surprise. So this discussion is part of the planning process.

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Archana Masih