India prepares new assault on its 'biggest threat'
India has sent 20,000 more troops to eastern states where a Maoist Naxalite insurgency is gaining strength. Some analysts question whether India has the breadth and strength for an escalated campaign.
India's government is planning a major new assault on Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, across the four states where their presence is strongest. The move comes as new evidence emerges the Maoists are stepping up their military and operational tactics – and winning new recruits across the country.Skip to next paragraph
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Some experts are skeptical about what the campaign, whose details are murky, can achieve.
Ajay Sahni, executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi, says India's security forces do not have the strength – in terms of "numbers, training, transportation, arms" – to gain control over such vast swaths of territory.
"Until there's been a steady, tremendous capacity-building, all deployments will be irrational; it will just be a nibbling away at the peripheries, and a lot of security forces will be killed," he says.
Security analysts say that ahead of the announced campaign, which may begin as soon as this month, paramilitary forces are being sent into the eastern states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Bihar, where the movement is most heavily concentrated. Though it is not known how many extra troops will be deployed, at least 20,000 were being sent to Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, where some 35,000 troops are already operating.
Naxalites, who claim to fight for India's poorest, powerless people, have a strong network – estimates of their cadre numbers vary from 10,000 to 20,000 – across many tribal and landless communities of eastern India.
The government recently said that the insurgency, which started in 1967 as a peasant uprising in the village of Naxalbari – hence the name – has now spread to 20 of India's 28 states. At least 700 people, including civilians and police, have been killed in the rebellion this year, up from 638 total last year. In September, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has described Naxalism as India's greatest security threat, said the police were failing to halt it.
Naxalites dig in
In previous attempts to tackle Naxalism, the police – the force that leads the fight against the rebels – have been outnumbered and hampered by their own outdated weapons. The Naxalites, meanwhile, are skilled in jungle warfare and increasingly well equipped with rocket launchers, automatic rifles, and explosives.