1. Steep Rise in Insurgency and Irregular Wars:
Since the close of second world-war in mid 20th century, there has been a substantial decline in the incidences of conventional war but a steady and steep rise in volume and magnitude of irregular or diffused conflicts.
These have largely manifested in the forms of insurgency and subversion with intermittent use of terrorism. Sustained insurgencies almost all over the world have incorporated an overlapping combination of both terror and subversion. At present, at least 25 or more states are facing moderate to intense insurgency in one or more pockets within their territory. Since 1940s, it is estimated that nearly 250 armed conflicts have erupted that could be described as insurgency.
Virtually one out of every four insurgencies have succeeded in overthrowing an established regime or a socio-political order. Another 20% have forced major changes or concessions in governance policies. The average age of even those insurgencies that have been successfully resolved by the states has been anywhere between 10 to 15 years. Some have endured even beyond half a century, albeit with a variation in intensity and form. Virtually, every insurgency that has sustained itself for more than a decade has deeply impaired all round potentials of the affected society. Every insurgency compromises economic development of a society, destroys precious lives, negatively impacts psychological health, cognitive and technical capacities of the affected population and their productivity, besides draining precious resources of the affected society and state. Therefore, all strong states need effective strategies to prevent, pre-empt, eradicate and deter such conflicts.
2. Inadequate Understanding of Dynamics of Insurgency :
A careful observation of global conflicts in recent times suggests that security establishments of major powers possess high level of expertise on the techniques of conventional wars, which will have far more direct and catastrophic consequences in our times. Their understanding about the complexities and dynamics of irregular conflicts, as well as professional capacity to handle these, remain limited. On multiple occasions, even the most formidable power of the current era- the United States– has faced serious debacle despite applying its highly sophisticated military fire-power and finest strategies of warfare. These only demonstrate complexity of such diffused conflict that may not be discernible at the outset. Technological advancements, global inter-connectivity, rise of powerful global networks as well as radicalisation of large mass of population in Islamic world have further enhanced space for such conflict as well as their overall magnitude. Many of the insurgencies of recent times have also demolished myths that they are driven by ‘poverty and unemployment’ or ‘insurgencies flourish only in hilly or forest like terrain with a large rural hinterland’.
3. Each Insurgency is Unique but Shares Striking Similarities with Others:
While each insurgency is unique in itself, it shares striking similarities with most others. A well-entrenched insurgency in most cases has been an all-out asymmetrical war of which violence has only been a critical and yet a small component. Propaganda, deception, persuasion and coercion are other instruments that insurgents use lavishly to obtain and preserve mass support, or support of a significant section of them, or maintain their control over an area.
Their success depends to a great extent upon their ability to create well-oiled organisational machinery comprising a wide network of willing collaborators and passive supporters to a core group of active fighters and political activists.
Insurgency gains decisive strength from an appealing political ideology-capable of inspiring people in the theatre of conflict and obtaining sanctuaries beyond jurisdiction or reach of counter-insurgent state to evade intensified military action or carry out propaganda and organisational activity unhindered by any pressure.
4. Insurgency : A Symptom of Deeper Malaise :
A careful analysis of multiple theatres of insurgency over a century suggests that insurgency is more a symptom of larger underlying and unattended conflicts than a simple law and order problem. These underlying causes may vary from deep-rooted cultural or social discords to actual or perceived sense of discrimination, emanating from poor governance, low credibility of the regime and high ‘governance gaps’ (deficit in delivery of governance compared to expectations of people) among others. Large-scale unemployment among youthful population, social and cultural traditions of violence, weak administration – lacking influence or penetration among people, a culture of mass anxiety and frustration backed by actual or perceived poverty, easier access to funds and weapons, support of powerful external entity (that could provide funds, training, weapons and/ or sanctuary) are variables that help insurgents raise a machinery that is capable of engaging a more powerful force in an asymmetrical all out war cum conflict. Usually, instead of one specific cause or set of causes, it is a complex inter-play among a host of causatives that give rise to an ideologically driven sustained armed insurgency. In most cases, the equation among these variables keeps evolving once insurgency is well-entrenched, generating it’s own momentum.
5. Constraints of Democratic States:
In any irregular or asymmetrical war, non-state aggressors enjoy certain inherent advantages like the following :
a) Higher level of motivation and commitment of their cadres than the members of security forces;
b) Better understanding of local conditions, local psyche, and local terrain translating in support and intelligence from local population;
c) Relatively flexible command-control structures giving higher operational freedom;
d) freedom to create mayhem,undertake wanton killings and destruction to intimidate local population into
submission without being fettered by any sense of legal responsibility or accountability;
e) Freedom to exploit limitations of the state to respond in the same manner. On the other hand, states, especially the democratic ones, are constrained by the following:
i) commitment to rule of law and obligations to act responsibly,
ii) obligation to provide security and stability in a large area,
iii) pressure to avoid heavy collateral damage and
iv) respect larger public opinion both at home and abroad.
Further, aggressors do not fight for an outright military victory to achieve their objectives (at least until such time that they are able to develop a military strength comparable to the state) as their ability to harass a more powerful state or counter-insurgent forces and not letting them win is a victory in itself. They also enjoy freedom to strike at will, disappear in the crowd or safe sanctuaries (in inaccessible terrain in forest or hill or foreign territory or thickly populated urban pockets) to regroup and re-emerge to strike again. State is always keen to avoid collateral damages including loss of lives, properties and public infrastructure about which most insurgent groups have been least concerned. Hence, a good counter-insurgency strategy must be designed in a manner that can not only neutralize the advantages that insurgents
enjoy but it must also be consistent with position as well as strengths of the counter-insurgent forces or the state.
6. In-Efficacy of Military-Centric Approach:
A military-centric response of the state, or over reliance on tools of conventional war, entails a risk of heavy human casualties, high material costs, curtailment of civil liberties and considerable collateral damage. This can further alienate the people in the conflict zone and shore up support for insurgents. The cost of security counter-measures after a certain point starts not only hurting the economy but can also make the war far more expensive for the state. This will be particularly so if insurgents continue to enjoy popular local support, easy access to funds, weaponry, youthful recruits besides external support, sanctuaries and logistics. Split of erstwhile Yugoslavia,
independence of East Timor, US Withdrawal from Vietnam, French withdrawal from Algeria, despite a spectacular military victory, failure of the United States to conclude wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, etc are some of the examples in this direction.
A research paper by RAND Corporation (Paths to Victory : Christopher Paul, Colin P Clarke, Beth Grill and Molly Dunigan; 2013) also states that an attempt to resolve insurgency by military means alone had backfired in 23 out of 33 cases of intense insurgency. ‘Insurgents succeeded in overthrowing established regimes or tiring out bigger military powers in most of these cases.’ There are a few instances of totalitarian regimes in smaller theatres of conflict succeeding in crushing insurgents through sheer force but they did so at the cost of heavy human casualties. Sri Lanka is an example where social fissures may take a few generations to heal and economically the country has plummeted to the status of an ordinary developing nation from that of probably the most advanced and prosperous states of Asia in 1960 and 1970s. Hence, a good counter-strategy must entail minimum loss of human lives and destruction of infrastructure; and, it mus succeed in establising authority of the state through instruments of such good governance that are in sync with local culture, customs and socio-economic realities.
7. Plan to the Point of Finish:
At times, insurgent groups can crumble under their own weight or pressure of some extraneous factors, without any extensive effort on the part of counter-insurgents. This in itself can neither provide stability nor generate avenues for gainful and constructive engagement of the people. Mere decline in insurgent violence or split in insurgent groups or internecine war among different factions of insurgent organisation cannot automatically lead to good governance. It can neither address socio-ideological divide that could be the most fundamental causative of insurgency in certain cases. If state machinery remains weak, there is every possibility that disintegration of main insurgent group, spearheading armed resistance, could lead to chaos, confusion and even greater instability. This could post more severe challenges to the authority of state as well as security of the people.
Therefore, a good counter-insurgency strategy must not only be dynamic enough to address emergent challenges – that may vary in form and content – at every stage of insurgency, it should also complete the process of instituting a
credible mechanisms of efficient governance, within a reasonable time-frame, to deter resurrection of insurgency in future. Further, the quality, content and structure of good governance, as well as means to achieve the same, must be consistent with local expectations and its specific social-cultural settings. West’s fixation with its own structures and procedures of democracy and hasty introduction of the same in drastically different socio-cultural milieu, and that too without adequate preparation, has not only destroyed the prevailing stability without being able to create an alternative mechanism of credible governance. Tri-stage formula of “clear, hold and build” prescribed by legendary erstwhile guerrilla leader turned soldier Col David Galuala is too simple and no longer viable in the current technology driven world.
Counter-insurgency is a huge transformational venture, going way beyond military containment, to influencing and shaping of values, building capacities and creating appropriate institutional structures and
commensurate practices of governance and procedures over a sustained period. Cessation of hostilities is only the foundation for a long phase of all round reconstruction. The average time- frame for completion of good practices of counter-insurgency has been anywhere between 10 to 15 years even in those instances where insurgency has not resurfaced.
8. Negotiated Resolution of Insurgency:
A negotiated resolution of insurgency is usually successful when the warring parties reach a stalemate and both sides find no gain in continuation with the war. A favourable public opinion towards reconciliation or rapprochement, strong leadership with high credibility and charisma on both sides (State and insurgents) can lend additional momentum to such process and partially compensate for some unfavourable factors as well. Third party
intervention or facilitation is usually effective only in a technical form. It yields results when the two parties despite being committed to resolution, and possessing all that is needed in this direction, only lack the required degree of mutual trust. In relatively smaller theatres of conflict, where an insurgent organisation enjoys absolute popularity, a quick negotiation may end hostilities and it can even usher in a long process of reconstruction, if the leadership is strong and committed and national government or the powerful international entity is willing to back it to the hilt. In most cases negotiations can fail to take off, if deep rooted distrusts, hostilities and discords are left unaddressed.
9. Possible Strategies:
It has been repeatedly emphasised by various experts that a decisive and permanent victory in irregular warfare requires not a spectacular or grand stratagem of warfare but a series of of integrated, inter-dependent and large number of indirect measures, to eventually establish a credible and popular government. Military containment is only part of the strategy. It may not be sufficient to control the violence but also eliminate at least substantial part of those factors that induce and sustain such violence and alienate the masses.
Collective application of, at least a majority of the, following measures are more than likely to eliminate even the most well-entrenched insurgencies: a) Re-orientation of civilian and military institutions, as well as their personnel in conflict zone, to equip them with skills to complement each other in winning over people and not the territory alone;
b) Wrest initiative from insurgents to set up an achievable political agenda with an appealing ideology and mobilise support for the same through credible entities both in the zone of conflict as well as internationally;
c) Maintain significantly superior level of fire-power, quality and number of troops, equipped with skills to fight irregular war and possessing comparable level of motivation;
d) Avoid casualties of state forces as far as possible and any publicity to the same;
e)Manage perceptions to project state as a stronger and dependable entity through good practices of counter-insurgency and savvy publicity and expose ‘deceptive’ and ‘malicious’ actions of insurgents and hollowness of
f) Provide security to all people in the zone of conflict but especially those who are aligned in favour of the state;
g) Raise dependable and strong support structures within the civil society and media for generating accurate intelligence and credible publicity to win over local population;
h) Target key insurgents and entice remaining cadres to cross over;
i) Reach out to ethical insurgent leaders and appeal to them in the interest of local population. In case of unethical mercenary insurgent leaders, expose such aspects of their life and behaviour that could undermine their image, credibility and respectability among their own followers;
j) Check subversion of state institutions both in conflict zone and beyond to choke funds, weapons and support for insurgents;
k) Avoid hasty concessions that insurgent could project as moral victory but take measures to eliminate possible causes of grievance of local population;
l) Strengthen overall framework of rule of law and build capacity for a credible process of good governance with substantial local participation;
m) Use direct/indirect diplomatic, covert engagements and propaganda to deny external support, sanctuary, funding and arms to insurgents;
n) Always maintain a local face in the frontline of both military and non-military dimensions of counter – insurgency (after suitable training and motivation) operations, relegating external troops and entities in a supportive role in the background;
o) Boost capacity of civilian institutions to carry out the process of re-building, reconstruction and creation of sufficient employment avenues and incentives to wean away and absorb both serving and potential insurgents;
p) Transform the zone of conflict to eliminate major causative of popular grievance; and
q) Create alternative and informal structures for communication between state and society.
Challenges and Opportunities for India :
A democratic and multi-cultural state like India does not deserve any armed conflict or insurgency within its territory. This not only drains huge resources of the country, impacting its development potential but also dents its credibility. The current era of intense global inter-connectivity has also witnessed powerful ideological-social discords or identity clashes, expanding governance gaps, and easier access to catastrophically destructive technologies. These have enabled even a much smaller number of motivated individuals, or transnational networks with very small following, to engage any powerful state in an asymmetrical war. Disturbances within the region and beyond, against the backdrop of powerful networks preaching hatred against India and its national security, have enhanced vulnerability of India even though it may not be visible otherwise. India needs to initiate several preventive measures to strengthen the framework of governance at one level and build institutional capacity to manage irregular war both within it’s own territory and beyond, to enhance its influence. As a responsible emerging global power, with considerable credibility in the developing as well as democratic world, India can convert this challenge into an opportunity to unleash not only its own enormous internal potential but also build gainful linkages with multiple pockets of resource-rich world. However, some unconventional means and methods are needed to restructure it’s own institutions of governance to prevent, pre-empt and deter such conflicts. It may be a little difficult but certainly possible to build a strong capacity to eradicate such wars within the national frontiers of India and even beyond at minimum costs and within a reasonable time-frame.