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'The Naxalite is not 10 feet tall'

Last updated on: June 11, 2010 11:40 IST
The Cabinet Committee on Security met on Thursday to discuss whether the Indian Army should be involved in anti-Naxalite operations.

Lieutenant General V G Patankar (retd), AVSM, served as former General Officer Commanding, 15 Corps that guards the Line of Control and was in charge of counter-terror operations in Jammu and Kashmir. The general feels the situation has not reached a point where the army needs to be enlisted in the battle against the Naxalites.

He tells Rediff.com's Archana Masih that the current security forces engaged in anti-Naxalite operations should be better trained while the areas lost to the Naxals will have to be brought back inch by inch, foot by foot, kilometre by kilometre.

There have been discussions in government on whether the army should be called in to tackle the Naxalite problem.

The army is called when all other law and order methods have been ineffective. Secondly, it is the final instrument of the State to bring a situation under control -- from a mere law and order situation to a full blown rebellion.

So at whatever stage the army is brought in, the fact is, by doing so the last possible instrument is being brought into effect.

Could you elaborate on this?

It means that the situation is really, really on the brink and therefore the people who have been brought in must be empowered to the extent possible because it is felt the existing situation threatens the nation's security. Otherwise, why would you bring in the armed forces?

Do you think the operation should still led by the state police and CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) or should the army place some significant role? Maybe in training and how to gather intelligence, not necessarily in a combat role?

This is a very major step to arrive at a decision that there is no other alternative than to bring in the army. Even if it is not in combat but in an organisational capacity, it is still a very important decision.

Once that decision is taken, the parameters must be defined -- are you bringing the army full scale? Are you handing over the situation to them?

You have to decide as a nation, as a government, how are you going to proceed on various tracks -- governance, law and order, social, or the military aspect. It is not a simplistic approach that you can throw them (the Naxals) out, they are your own people, you have to subdue them where they will sit at the table and talk.

You think the present forces need to better trained rather than getting the army in?

Without a doubt. I don't think we have reached a point where we say everything is lost so bring in the army. What you should do is a holding operation where with the available mechanism try and control the situation to the extent possible.

You first need to train your police force, you have to be fair to them, they are not cannon fodder. Do a holding operation to contain the conflagration.

So use the central forces to contain it?

Contain the situation, wait and watch then go to the next stage. Just because a few incidents have happened in the last six weeks, don't unnecessarily be in tearing hurry to show results.

If you want to show results you can do it in a very restricted small place just to show that it can be done. But not as a State policy to pull out all plugs and go gung ho.

Andhra Pradesh raised an effective force in the Greyhounds to counter the Naxals.

You should try and get others (state forces) to the same level and tackle the problem in unison in the affected states. These are things that are possible.

In six months time you should be able to prepare yourself so well that thereafter it will be a rolling of the flank where they (the Naxals) themselves will realise the folly of continuum, don't allow them to go the Nepal way.

What needs to be done to tackle the Naxal problem effectively?

If things have crossed a certain threshold... that's why I feel benchmarking is necessary. Benchmark the degrees of violence -- for example, the burning of a bus is grade 1, the ambush of police parties is grade 2, and so on.

It is not sacrosanct and can be arrived at through discussion and consensus. But blowing up a train, a massacre of CRPF men has possibly reached the top of the stack, so you need to bring that level of violence rapidly down.

If it is decided that the CRPF is going to counter them, give them the required capability. In J&K, 24/7, there is a system called road opening before traffic is allowed to ply, it means checking the roads physically. When was the last IED blast in J&K -- many years back?

We have developed a sound enough technique and, of course, the violence levels have gone down. Those kind of things are possible, but need resources.

Doesn't tackling the Naxalites or Maoists become more difficult because the state apparatus does not reach many places? The Maoists have come in to fill the vacuum left by the state administration.

There are places where the Naxalites have created a parallel administration, like what the LTTE did, so what do you do? You crawl forward inch by inch.

It is laborious, time consuming and a process that needs great determination -- crawl inch by inch, foot by foot, kilometre by kilometre.

It has to be done the hard way, there are no quick fixes. The speeding up of the process will come when the people start supporting it.

I have an adage -- the security forces can kill terrorists, but terrorism will be killed only by the people.

Who is going to do this inch by inch?

The State has to decide. If they feel by adequately reinforcing the police forces they will be able to do it, then equip this force a little more than what you have to suit a situation.

Unless it is a well led force we are not going to get results. That is why the army scores, we are a very tightly knit unit with an extremely motivated young leadership. That is why Kargil was a success.

Numbers are not that important, but leadership is vital.

A well trained, well led force even with inferior equipment can defeat the enemy. In 1965 we fought Pakistan who were better equipped, had brand new Patton tanks, F-104 star fighter aircraft which were state of the art at that time, they were front-line fighters even for the US air force. Only a selected few could handle it because it was very sophisticated, but did that make a difference? No. Because we were a very well led, highly motivated homogenous, tradition minded force.

They (the CRPF) are sent to the army jungle warfare school but not as a complete unit. They train and then go back to their units where only 4 to 6 would have trained together. So prepare them, train them otherwise you are not being fair to them.

You can claw your way back, the Naxalite is not 10 feet tall. We learnt the Chinese were not 10 feet tall after 1962, isn't it? In 1967 when there was a little border incident we came out better than the Chinese.

As someone who was GOC 15 Corps in charge of the Line of Control and counter-terrorism operations in Jammu and Kashmir, how does a situation reach a point when the state police and central forces are unable to bring it under control?

Because initially what they read the situation as is not what it is. It is not a mere law and order problem, it is a deeper malaise related to governance. Either local or national governance.

Then a situation has to be created where at least some State mechanism can start operating. There must be a multi-track approach, find out what is (their grievance) about governance or ideology -- whatever it is.

Then open another track and provide relief to those affected. Start step by step -- identify the problem and then start dealing with it.

Then you come to the crucial issue which I find completely lacking in the way we are tackling all our problems including the Northeast, J&K, Naxalism -- and that is benchmarking stages, when is it that from a normal situation, (the problem) has escalated six notches.

Those benchmarks should be identified, from where you can say now I have reached, for example notch 4, 3, 2 -- till you reach the status quo. This is where our greatest weakness lies.

We are not benchmarking, we are pushing forces and they shall remain there forever. Almost. It's almost like a cul de sac, you go in and there is no way out.

This is not a healthy thing, as the situation escalates more resources are brought in, but so should you de-escalate and disengage those elements so that normal administration can resume.

Like the withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Jammu and Kashmir last December -- that would be a good sign?

That is just the point, you should be able to benchmark and say that now the proxy war or terrorism has come down and this is based on information -- like reduction in infiltration, incidents of terrorist attacks -- these are indicators and are not absolute but they are not be ignored either.

If the trend seems to be on a downward incline we must try and usher normalcy as quickly as possible.

It must follow a systematic approach and not in fits and starts. I don't like to call it an entry and exit strategy but entry and exit policy. There is a difference between the two. There is no template which you will apply in all cases but a template is a guide, tempered by the given situation.

When the local who is in the friction between the insurgents and security forces feels things are looking better, it is his confidence you are returning to his heart and that is most important. All these operations -- whether anti-terrorists, anti-Naxalites -- should be people centric.

Part II: 'Use force to reassert State authority, not kill a fly with a sledgehammer'