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India takes the fight to guerrillas
By Ramtanu Maitra

Recent Indian intelligence reports indicate that the Indian army is in the process of developing a guerrilla training school in the jungles of Kaziranga National Park to provide special jungle warfare training and anti-terrorist operation skills to junior and middle-level officers. Kaziranga National Park, noted for the one-horn rhinos that make their home there, is in the state of Assam, a hotbed of secessionist activities.

The Kazirnaga special jungle warfare training school will not be the first of its kind in northeastern India. Hidden away in the thick jungles of the northeastern state of Mizoram, some 100 American infantry soldiers honed their firing skills against unconventional targets for three weeks (March 28-April 16) at Vairengte. The joint Indo-US defense cooperation exercise was yet another example of the kind of close collaboration that has developed between the Indian and US military since September 11, 2001.

A top-quality school established in 1970, the Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in Vairengte is considered one of world's leading anti-terrorist institutions. The motto of the institute is "fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla".

It is no surprise that India is developing top-quality counter-insurgency training schools in its northeastern region. That area remains troubled; there are about 40 small insurgent groups in India's northeast with demands that range from independent homelands to greater autonomy. They claim to be protecting their ethnic identities and have accused the Indian government of exploiting the mineral and oil-rich region. The insurgency has claimed more than 15,000 lives in the past decade.

Due to years of neglect by New Delhi, and the lack of adequate integration of the region's population with the rest of the country, the region has remained a seat of violence. A number of other factors, such as the success of Christian missionaries since the British days in alienating many northeasterners from the Hindu-Muslim-Buddhist-dominated mainstream India; the presence of a copious supply of opium in Myanmar and small arms in Southeast Asia; and the presence of a number of inadequately governed nations, such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Myanmar around India's northeast, have helped fuel the insurgency.

In a recent report, The Economist pointed out that the "instability and political violence in neighboring [Myanmar], Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal gives India reason to fear that its own delicate political balance could shatter". Although a "composite peace dialogue" is under way between India and Pakistan, India continues to suspect Pakistani intelligence of fomenting unrest not just in Indian-administered Kashmir, but also in many other parts of India, The Economist added. Last year, a joint operation by the Royal Bhutan Army and Indian security forces scattered the militant anti-New Delhi insurgents from the Bhutan-India border. The operation was an absolute success and has set a precedent for what Bangladesh and Myanmar must do, New Delhi believes.

Encouraged by the outcome of the military operations against insurgents, India and Bhutan have decided to hold secretary-level and border district coordination dialogues every six months on combating the insurgency along the border of the two countries. The decision came when the present Indian External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh was on a visit to Bhutan to thank the Royal Bhutan government for flushing out the militants from the country, where he met King Jigme Singye Wangchuk. Reports indicate that India and Bhutan are jointly developing security measures necessary for protecting Bhutanese vehicles traveling on Indian highways.

Meanwhile, New Delhi is particularly concerned about developments in Nepal. There, a bloody eight-year-old insurgency has resulted in Maoist guerrillas obtaining control of 68 of Nepal's 75 districts. A greater danger is the announced merger of the two largest groups among the 20-odd Indian Maoist, or "Naxalite", insurgent movement; the People's War Group and the Maoist Communist Center. Of India's 593 districts, 157 are now affected in some measure by Naxalism, with 102 newly affected regions added to the roster during 2004.

Bangladesh is also high on India's list of concerns. The ruling coalition of Khaleda Zia includes an Islamic party that is accused by the local opposition of encouraging the spread of Islamic extremism. After terrorist attacks last month on civilians in the Indian states of Assam and Nagaland, Indian officials stepped up their criticism of Bangladesh for harboring and supporting militants.

New Delhi conveyed a similar message in softer tones to Than Shwe, the top general in Myanmar's ruling junta when he visited India in October. India believes that some 1,500 insurgents are based across the border between the Indian state of Manipur and western Myanmar.

New equation with Myanmar
After General Than Shwe's visit, there are indications that India and Myanmar may launch a joint offensive against rebels who are mostly Nagas fighting in India's northeast and who have bases hidden just over the border in the jungles of Myanmar. C Singson, a senior leader of the oldest separatist group in northeastern India, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, affirmed the plans for an offensive. He said insurgents in the region have been anticipating such an operation for some time, but their fears deepened after Than Shwe's visit.

"The Indo-Burma [Myanmar] pact on flushing out northeast insurgents and to combat terrorism in the border regions is a matter of grave alarm, and Nagas need to understand the broader political implications of the politics of artificial boundaries that has been created to divide the Naga people so as to limit our struggle against occupation and for our inalienable right to self-determination," said a statement from the Naga People's Movement of Human Rights. Various Naga tribes straddling the India-Myanmar borders have picked up arms against India, demanding a Greater Nagaland encompassing the lands where Nagas reside.

Judging by reports, the Kazirnaga special jungle-warfare school, which is expected to be fully operative in 2007, intends to impart capsule courses for senior officers who are already in counter-insurgency operations or expecting tenure in Jammu and Kashmir and the northeast. The new security environment in India's northeast no doubt needs new input and new skills to deal with semi-urban and semi-jungle warfare.

Unique training center
The quality of the Kaziranga school will be judged against the Vairengte school. The sprawling campus of the CIJWS is a unique military training center for honing soldiers' skills to fight terrorists in natural surroundings. Established in 1970, the CIJWS was set up after Indian army personnel suffered heavy casualties in their efforts to subdue India's fiercely independent tribes in the northeast. Over the years, the CIJWS, situated in the midst of bamboo forests where it rains eight months a year and humidity never goes below 90%, had become the training ground for not only Indian troops but for others as well. Besides the US troops, the CIJWS has received requests for enrollment from several foreign armed forces including those of France, Russia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and several Central Asian countries, CIJWS commandant B K Panwar told a correspondent of the Indian English daily, The Hindu. 

After the joint Indo-US training at Vairengte, Lieutenant-Colonel David Wisecarver, commanding officer of the US infantry unit, said the exercise was a unique opportunity for the Americans because the "US doesn't have a jungle warfare school" and his unit would impart the lessons learned in Mizoram to other soldiers in the United States.

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Nov 20, 2004
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