Insurgents and non-state actors thrive in an environment where government is unable to ensure development, social justice and deliver governance. People are the victims and tools in the hands of ideologues who weave a web pretending to seek justice for socially, culturally and politically suppressed citizens. The helpless poor and deprived subjects consequently suffer. In that environment use of excessive force to crush dissent will further alienate the population and strengthen the unholy nexus between self-seeking leaders and gangs of thugs who pretend at fighting a “just war” against the state.
The probability of success in counter insurgency and separatist movements rests on the ability of civil–military leadership to plan and execute a campaign strategy in a coherent manner. It would require employment of military, political, economic and diplomatic power of a state, concurrently or sequentially in a synergised manner. Security forces should only focus on how to manage conflict and how to terminate a conflict. Military victory purchased at a cost of human suffering would be a “pyrrhic victory”, much akin to defeat. Conflict resolution ultimately lies in the domain of the political leadership and can rarely be attributed to security forces. The lines often get blurred when political leadership misjudges the end of violence as the end of genuine grievances.
Larger objective of campaign in CI/CT is not to defeat the people but to defeat the ideology. Obsession of tactical commanders in head count as the sign of success in CI/CT is a seriously flawed mind set. Also, it must be noted that when innocent citizens are killed, either by accident or use of excessive force, it will lead to an ever increasing number joining the ranks of the insurgents or separatists. Employment of security forces is deterrence against the outlaws and thus there are defined roles of security forces and civil government. The role of civil institutions must encompass the winning of hearts and minds by filling governance vacuum, reintegrating society with the state and providing humanitarian aid in conjunction with security forces.
Use of Force is Necessity to Control Chaos
The use of force must off course be exercised. Security forces do not give option to the public to choose. They must deliver a clear and unambiguous message – ‘those who oppose the constitutionally elected government will face the consequences without prejudice and those who choose the wrong side will have to pay the price’. Also, evidence of wrong doing by insurgents/ separatists/ terrorists should be laid before the public without any dilution and bias.
Use of kinetic weapons is a necessity to prevent escalation of conflict. It must be understood that economic empowerment and development is not a replacement for use of calibrated force.
Use of force is mandatory to manage conflict and restore public order. Force should be directed against those who refuse to see the rationale of conflict resolution through persuasion, perception and rapprochement to address the ideological fissures between the people and the government. But the use of force should be directed to bring order in disorder and to secure the life and property of the citizens instead of defeating the people by force.
After restoring law and order, the emphasis should be to bring in indigenous forces (that could be Territorial Army and local police). The visibility of uniformed men should be reduced, but the presence should be enhanced through irregular and intelligence agencies. Use of Special Forces in conjunction with indigenous forces is vital to give teeth to the counter insurgency operations. It is considered important to let a terrorist slip away than to cause harm to an innocent citizen. Military should not be seen as the instrument of force rather it should be seen as the guarantor of security. As per William F. Owen, “effective counterinsurgency provides human security to the population where they live, 24 hours a day. More often than not lethal responses are counter-productive and killing the wrong people (civilians) may undermine the political objective being sought”.
Some social scientists argue that any type of kinetic use in counterinsurgency warfare is not merely counter-productive but unwarranted. That may be overstating the case, but it would be more prudent to state that the best weapons for counter insurgents’ are those that do not shoot and kill innocent and hapless citizens. The security forces are an imperative, but are not the ultimate tool in CI/CT environment. More than military it is the political leadership that needs to understand this aspect because they have the primary role in conflict resolution. In the Indian context, the political leadership has apparently outsourced conflict resolution to security forces to a great extent, and has not made use of the public space for conflict resolution, which explains why insurgency in the Northeast is prolonged and continues till date. A mix of people friendly operations and surgical military strikes are the right combination to effectively deal with CI/CT situation. Overdoing of either of the two could lead to a costly failure.
Changing Perceptions to Achieve Victory
The objectives of CI/CT operations can’t be to defeat own people by use of military force. Rather the objective should be to insulate and secure the vulnerable population. Maj. Gen. Raj Shukla says that security forces must exercise “Doctrine of Restrain” to secure, clear and hold conflict zone through a network of CI/CT grid. Denial of space to separatists and insurgents is vital to restore law and order. At the same time excessive force with or without good intention is counterproductive that would allow fence sitters to tilt towards the insurgents and terrorists.
General Sir Gerald Templer first used the phrase, “hearts and minds” soon after his arrival in Malaya in February 1952. The success of Templar’s hearts and minds campaign in Malaya is debatable, yet the legacy of that conflict is continuing even today. The employment of “hearts and minds” theory needs an intellectual discourse and empirical analysis instead of thoughtless knee jerk emphasis that may be an exercise in futility. Militarisation of human aid is not a right method of wining hearts and minds. The main focus of counter-insurgency is to modify the environment in such a way as to deprive the insurgents the support of the local population. It is the responsibility of the operational commanders to understand that people friendly operations such as ‘Sadbhavna’ should be to seek consent for your actions against the outlaws and not for seeking gratitude for favours. Humanitarian aid for political and military gain is seen as “passive aggression” and often results in antagonism of larger section of population. The idea of mollycoddling the population through humanitarian aid/ Sadbhavna projects to seek favour for impending omissions is a retrograde step and bankruptcy of strategic overview. The radicalised society sees it as passive aggression with preconceived motive. As a result, humanitarian aid/ Sadbhavna may not yield the desired results in modifying the perception of the people. The policy of appeasement is bound to fail because it does not have lasting impact on the hearts and minds of the target population.
In the ‘war amongst the people’, the essential difference is that military force should not be used to decide the political dispute, but rather to create a condition in which a strategic result can be achieved. In large measure, the strategic objective is to win the hearts and minds of the people. Sadbhavna/ humanitarian aid in other words isn’t a supporting activity for tactical engagements. If security forces have blown the school or a place of worship or caused collateral damage it will be waste to return back to SALUTE TO paint the school walls or distribute books to the children. Therefore, any attempt to bend the will of the people for the wrongdoing of the security forces is a form of aggression,which will be resisted by the people.
Distribution of Sadbhavna projects without any analysis by a staff officer at operational headquarters is an exercise that can at best be termed as routine without any in-depth analysis on its likely impact on public. Further damage is done when such projects are handed over by uniformed commanders in photo operations. It is seen as passive aggression that seriously questions the motive of the projects. Security forces should not seek support for their actions through a policy of appeasement. It must be understood that, it is not the Security Forces job to “influence the population”. It is the security forces job to influence those who choose wrong side to disrupt the peace and law and order.
There are three issues that need to be addressed. The first is that if CI/CT operations are killing too many civilians and causing huge collateral damage, then something is lacking in terms of the skill to conduct operations. Tactics is bad, training is poor and strategy is flawed. The second is that if you are skilled in fighting counter insurgency operations, then killing insurgents does not place the population at risk, and your chances of success are more than any other action. Third is loss of lives of security forces reflect in poor training, leadership and morale of men, at the same time it also give a sense of victory to the insurgents and separatists that makes them believe that they are winning. The scale for victory for security forces in counter insurgency operations is to ensure security of people 24x 7. Collateral damage should be avoided, not because it is morally or ethically wrong to do so, but purely because, due to the rule of law, those civilians are under your protection. You should not kill your own civilians, as you would not kill your own soldiers. After bringing violence level to a manageable level, the focus of security forces should be to ensure no negative actions by troops.
There is a pitfall in employment of regular forces against irregular forces, because the regular forces are trained to defeat enemy during war. It is difficult to a great extent to alter the mind-set of the conventional forces; as a result it comes naturally to soldiers to celebrate the tactical successes. This trend needs to be reversed since it is not a war against enemy but a war against an ideology.
No nation has ever been benefitted by killing or defeating own citizens. The strategic and operational commanders may be able to understand this sentiment, but more importantly, tactical commanders should ensure that men on ground understand this idea of fighting insurgency. Elimination of insurgent leaders and separatists should not be viewed as victory of the state and forces, rather an outcome of the path chosen by the deceased.
Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM is an army veteran with great experience in counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations. He has served in Sri Lanka (Op Pawan) and has commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in J&K and an Assam Rifles sector in Northeast. A prolific writer on defence and strategic issues, he is currently a Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS).