Small Wars Journal

Counter-Insurgency Best Practices: Applicability to Northeast India

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 5:30am

In a fight between a fly and a lion, the fly cannot deliver a knockout blow and the lion cannot fly

                                                                                             Lt. Col. David Galula


                India has a longstanding counter-insurgency experience in the Northeast; a region that has suffered from multiple insurgencies since the 1950s. This counter-insurgency experience has witnessed its share of successes and failures. This article locates the Indian counter-insurgency experience in the Northeast of India within the conceptual framework of counter-insurgency best practices. The best practices include: Primacy of Political Goals; Centre of Gravity: Population; Counter-Propaganda; Resolute leadership; Intelligence; Unity of Effort; Appropriate Force Structures; Rule of Law; and Operational Clarity. The selected best practices have been identified across the literature as most critical for the successful conduct of counter-insurgency operations. Analyzing the Indian counter-insurgency experience in the Northeast of India within these best practices, the article concludes that ‘popular legitimacy and population support’ are the most critical factors for optimal counter-insurgency outcomes. 

Insurgencies by their very nature are a violent struggle against the state for legitimacy and influence over relevant populations. Therefore, in order to win against any insurgency, the first core insight for any counter-insurgency force is to gain the support of the population. Without this support, it becomes rather difficult, if not impossible, to conduct counter-insurgency operations. Coupled with population support is the criticality of efficient intelligence. However, it is not enough to merely state that population support or intelligence is vital for counter-insurgency; an article on counter-insurgency best practices should ideally provide the path to get there. This article thereby discusses certain counter-insurgency best practices and the means to operationalize these practices on the ground. The best practices selected for focused study in the article are based on a literature survey on counter-insurgency theory, doctrines and manuals of the Indian, British and the US military. This literature, in turn, has been utilized to assess the Indian Army’s counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast of India. This article is meant to be the start of a discussion on counter-insurgency best practices and is not the final word on the subject. There will be many more such exercises with perhaps different lists of best practices for sure. However, every project of this nature must have a well defined scope. Hence, the aim here is to limit the best practices to a manageable number with optimal analysis and debate.

It is often argued that the “most striking single characteristic of insurgencies is their dissimilarity”.[1] We are reminded time and again that each insurgency has a unique setting with its own causes, organizational structure, population base, terrain, dynamics of allegiance, etc. Yet despite this caution, societies and their militaries have engaged in rich discussion and published both counter-insurgency theory and field manuals aimed at generalizations across cases. The Indian army also published its first ever Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations[2] in 2006 where the focus was on general features of a successful counter-insurgency campaign from the point of view of the army. I am also deeply aware that each insurgency is unique having conducted fieldwork over the years in conflict affected states in Northeast India. The insurgencies within Assam itself differ from each other, as well as with those in neighbouring states like Manipur and Nagaland. To argue for uniqueness however misses an important point; that there are certain common features of counter-insurgency that are valid across time and space as is indicated by the rich literature on counter-insurgency. These practices or features are so commonsensical that one cannot seriously challenge them without appearing spurious. For instance, can one deny the criticality of political primacy in counter-insurgency in a democracy; the significance of people’s support; intelligence; unity of effort; resolute leadership, etc. State agencies that deal with counter-insurgency require a frame of reference in order to have a common map based on which adaptation and learning can take place. Take the case of the Indian army. While the Indian army deals with numerous “unique” insurgencies in the northeast, the doctrine does not offer a recipe that caters to each. Rather, it has a general set of features of what could be optimal counter-insurgency practices, be it intelligence, training, winning hearts and mind, terrain knowledge, leadership, etc.[3]

There are several extremely rich and detailed documents on counter-insurgency warfare. The most notable amongst them are R W Kromer’s The Malayan Emergency in Retrospect: Organization of a Successful Counterinsurgency Effort, a 1972 RAND study that detailed the reasons why the British succeeded in Malaya;[4] Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam;[5] David Galula’s Counter-Insurgency Warfare Theory and Practice,[6] which counts as one of the most extensive expositions on the qualities required by counter-insurgency forces to succeed against an insurgency; Bruce Hoffman and Jennifer Morrison Taw’s A Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Insurgency;[7] Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations: Sub-version Insurgency & Peacekeeping;[8] Alastair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962;[9] Roger Trinquier’s Modern Warfare: A French View of Counter-insurgency;[10] C E Callwell’s Small Wars A Tactical Textbook for Imperial Soldiers;[11] Rajesh Rajagopalan’s Fighting Like a Guerrila The Indian Army and Counterinsurgency,[12] David Kilkullen’s influential “Counterinsurgency Redux,[13]etc. Amongst the counter-insurgency doctrines, guides and manuals that have been uitilized for this article are: the Indian Army’s sub-conventional operations doctrine;[14] the United States military’s manual and guides on counter-insurgency;[15] the US Joint doctrine on counter-insurgency operations;[16] the British field manual on counter-insurgency;[17] etc.

Based on a study of this literature, and vindicated by the practice of counter-insurgency, I have identified nine best practices spanning across time and space for detailed study in this article. They are: Primacy of Political Goals; Centre of Gravity: Population; Counter-Propaganda; Resolute leadership; Intelligence; Unity of Effort; Appropriate Force Structures; Rule of Law; and Operational Clarity. These best practices have been selected as they form the common features identified across the literature as most critical for the successful conduct of counter-insurgency operations. While there could be several best practices, I will refrain from offering an unwieldy list of practices to keep the article limited and focused. Drawing insights from field interviews with Indian security personnel, local politicians, bureaucrats, civil society and student bodies, I test the applicability of these counterinsurgency best practices to the Northeast of India.

Before proceeding onto the next section on counter-insurgency best practices, I would like to record one vital fact: while most of the counter-insurgency operations conducted by the British and the US troops were/are in a foreign land, the Indian army has been operating within a counter-insurgency ethos that is sensitive to the fact that the army is fighting its own fellow citizens, albeit a misguided lot. Hence, unlike the British and US operations which view the insurgents as their enemy, except perhaps the British counter-insurgency in Northern Ireland, the Indian army does not view the insurgents as enemies.[18] The reason for this difference between the Indian army and other armies arises due to the fact that the British and the US armies have operated in foreign lands against foreign insurgents unlike the Indian army’s experience in counter-insurgency (Sri Lanka being the only exception). This difference however does not seriously limit the present study as the doctrines and manuals of other armies have recognized the importance of addressing root causes and generating people’s support with their stress on a “hearts and minds” approach.

For the purpose of this article, counterinsurgency is defined as “those military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat an insurgency”.[19]

Counter-Insurgency Best Practices

The nine best practices are: Primacy of Political Goals; Centre of Gravity: Population; Counter-Propaganda; Resolute leadership; Intelligence; Unity of Effort; Appropriate Force Structures; Rule of Law; and Operational Clarity.

1) Primacy of Political Goals: Politics provides the frame of reference in counter-insurgency. This political involvement should be visible in the planning, the preparation and execution of counter-insurgency.[20] While the military is called in to restore law and order, to clear an area of insurgents, this is always a supportive role. The military support is aimed at providing a secure environment in which the civilian institutions of the government can function. The British counter-insurgency in Malaya visibly demonstrates this when Lieutenant General Harold Briggs took over in 1950.[21] Almost all the established literature on counter-insurgency as well as the manuals of the Indian, British and US military forces identify the significance of the primacy of politics. While it is a common mistake to perceive of counter-insurgency as purely a military function, the truth of the matter is that in the present context, counter-insurgency has to be 100 per cent political, with commanders even at the lowest level conceiving of it as “political warfare”. Hence, perceptions and political outcomes only matter; nothing else.[22]     

The primacy of political goals is an absolute necessity while carrying out counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast of India. Lets us locate the Mizo and the Naga insurgency in perspective here. In the 1950s, when the Naga National Council (NNC) took up violence under the leadership of A Z Phizo in 1955-1956, the Indian army was sent out to quell the violence. While the move by itself was understandable given the growing underground violence, the lack of visible political direction from Assam and the lackluster attitude of the Assamese population to the sufferings of the Naga population due to insurgent and counter-insurgent cross-fire ruptured the link between Assam and the Naga hills to such an extent that reconciliation became impossible. As a result, the Nagaland state was formed in 1963.[23] Later on, the involvement of Naga politicians like S C Jamir and Hokishe Sema in the counter-insurgency operations resulted in a neutral majority and the active minority hostile to the insurgency visibly coming out and taking part in the reconciliation processes.[24] The Mizo conflict in the Northeast is another example of the importance of the primacy of politics.[25] During the early years of the conflict starting with 1966, the heavy response of the Indian military resulted in a fear psychosis in Mizo society thereby building up support to break free from India. The Mizo National Front (MNF) led by Pu Laldenga offered the platform for the articulation of such grievances.[26] Also, the inability of the Union and Assam government to deliver relief during the 1959 bamboo flowering famine drove home the fact that Mizos have to take care of their own politics. The Union government was not successful in quelling the violence merely by the use of force. Only when a political solution was worked out with Laldenga, the leader of the MNF through a prolonged period of negotiations did the Mizo conflict get resolved in 1987.[27]

2) Centre of Gravity: Population: Insurgencies aim to persuade, coerce and intimidate the population to support their political cause.[28] The primary political aim of the insurgent in the short term is to undermine the state’s legitimacy, promote disorder and establish control over the population.[29] This is operationalised by running parallel governments, visibly broadcasting the insurgent’s presence, and threatening the population via the insurgent armies with dire consequences if support is not enlisted. Significantly, unlike regular warfare where the adversary is clearly identified, with focus on the military and clear division established between the enemy combatants and non-combatants, in counter-insurgency, no such clear division is realistically possible.

The counter-insurgency forces have to realize early on that their operation is a people-centric operation.[30] The forces must operate in a civilian landscape, and not be garrisoned in military camps if winning the support of the population is a priority goal. There are three clear ways of gaining the support: day to day contacts with the population, organize collective work, identify local cells of the insurgent, control the population, prevent too much movement, and finally provide security to the population.[31] Actively shaping population choices, allegiances, and creating strong disincentive structures to deter support to the insurgents are some of the prime tasks of the counter-insurgents. Shaping choices will involve deep engagement with local leaders, which is also helpful in addressing rumours and misperceptions with regard to the counter-insurgent. It is also pertinent to gather information on three different types of population in an insurgency affected area: minority support base for the insurgent; a passive neutral majority; and a minority which is against the insurgency.[32] The counter-insurgent has to be sensitive and strategic enough to enable the silent minority that is against the insurgency to form a linkage with the neutral majority. This is only possible when the structural conditions are made secure and safe enough for this minority to work in collaboration with the counter-insurgent. Usually, if the counter-insurgent is unable to provide for the security of such population supporters, they are targeted by the insurgents. One does not have to look far for an example. In 1955, one of the NNC leaders willing to cross over and engage in peace talks with the Union government, T. Sakhrie and with whom Jawaharlal Nehru, the Indian Prime Minister, had exchanged a letter in 1946, was assassinated by the extremists led by Phizo.[33] This was immediately followed by an increase in insurgent violence and the Union government invoking the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in the affected areas.[34]

The British counter-insurgency in Malaya especially from the 1950s onwards is an excellent example of a population centric operation where the Chinese minority population was reallocated to protected villages. The communist insurgency was organized around the ethnic Chinese minority demanding a separate state outside of Malaya. What the British counter insurgency forces achieved, with support from the Government of Malaya and Malayan police, was to ensure that the conditions in the newly established protected villages were much better than the earlier villages based on the “hearts and mind” strategy conceptualized by Sir Gerald Templer.[35] Northern Ireland, however presented a unique challenge to the British as it was not a far flung colony and the majority population in that area supported the Irish Republican Army (IRA). While the beginning years saw setbacks, and increasing Catholic and Protestant violence, it was after the setting up of the “Quadripartite Group for Security”, chaired by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland which included the British army, local politicians, and the Irish led Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that some measure of success was achieved as people welcomed the inclusion of locals.[36]

 Almost all the insurgencies in the Northeast, be it the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in Assam, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim led by Thuingaleng Muivah and Isak Chisi Swu—NSCN (IM) in Nagaland, or the MNF, the support of the population is what sustains prolonged armed conflicts. Issues that the armed groups take up are respect for ethnic identity, economic backwardness, absence of political empowerment, lack of civic amenities, dismal infrastructure development, hegemonic tendencies of the Union government, etc. These issues have a resonance in society given that the conditions are perceived to be that way. As a result, whenever the counter-insurgency forces have scored well in offering a better life to the people, the support for the insurgencies has dwindled. Tripura, Mizoram and Meghalaya in the Northeast are distinct examples of armed conflicts receding due to better governance structures. The ULFA which had enjoyed support of the people of Assam from the 1970s to the 1990s suffered a loss of legitimacy due to its kidnappings and killings of civilians as well as better performance by governance structures in the plains of Assam.[37] However, the conditions in Manipur, Nagaland and the hills of Assam continue to suffer from multiple armed groups due to the inability of the state to offer better security to the common man.[38] For instance, while there is groundswell of people’s support for a peaceful resolution of the Naga conflict, the inability of the state to disarm the armed groups is the prime reason why people are afraid to openly support state measures to bring about better living conditions. Manipur also suffers from similar conditions given the fear psychosis created by armed outfits like the People’s Liberation Army of Manipur (PLA), and the United National Liberation Front of Mnipur (UNLF). Unless security is guaranteed to the population in these states, insurgencies will continue to thrive.

3) Counter-Propaganda: The objective of any insurgency is to gain control over the population. This is done by propagating their political cause which has some resonance amongst the target population. Insurgents promise a better life, better political empowerment, better economic status, better security, etc, in comparison to the present when they will become the future providers of basic needs to the population. Propaganda is rather easy for the insurgents as they do not have the responsibility to deliver anything promised now; everything promised are meant to be delivered in the distant future. For the counter-insurgents, counter-propaganda is not an easy task. Exaggerating capabilities, promising goods to the population, offering political empowerment have to be followed up with deliverables within a short span of time. Failure to do so would discredit the counter-insurgency forces.  Therefore, instead of making tall promises, the counter-propaganda strategy should focus on exposing the weaknesses and false promises made by the insurgents. This can be effectively attained by obtaining the neutrality of the population, visible presence of counter-insurgent forces to provide security, establishing the authority of the state by providing basic needs, propaganda directed at insurgent rank and file, followed by an effective surrender policy.[39]

Counter-propaganda is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks in the Northeast. Armed groups like the PLA, the UNLF, the NSCN (IM), the ULFA, etc carry out extensive propaganda against the state while at the same time promising a better life to the people when they will come to power.[40] Sometimes they exaggerate state incapacities and injustices while hiding their own coercive methods. Leaders like Muivah (NSCN-IM) and Irengbam Chaoren (PLA) repeatedly boasts about their ability to offer political emancipation and economic opportunities in the ethnic state structures they envision. Since they do not have to deliver on those promises, they can exaggerate capacities. That said, one of the glaring failures of the counter-insurgency actors in the Northeast is their inability to offer an alternative ideology that counters the political ideology of the armed groups. Most sensitive issues are dealt by indifferent bureaucratic structures for whom rules are everything; to the point of appearing imperceptive. This goes against the logic of the counter-propaganda best practice.[41]

4) Resolute leadership: The leader of the counter-insurgency operations must possess a clear conceptual broad based understanding of the counter-insurgency mission. This includes a thoughtful understanding of the nature of the problem as well. The intent of the mission has to be stated to the different agencies involved in counter-insurgency with singular purpose. Leadership needs to broadcast resoluteness, act in an ethical manner and always keep the national priorities and goals in clear perspective. Leadership has to be shown at all levels and across agencies in order to take the initiative against an insurgency. Resolute leadership enables the agencies to work well in synchronization thereby letting affected population feel secure and safe. A counter-insurgency leader has to maintain a moral high ground and possess the courage to take risks.[42] A single direction under civilian leadership is the best solution in a tangled web of task allocations across multiple agencies in counterinsurgency as it is not easy to neatly divide tasks between civilian and military counter-insurgency actors.[43] Resolute leadership brought about the much needed difference in British counter-insurgency in Malaya, Kenya, Northern Ireland as well as the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. Men like Briggs, Templar, David Petraeus, and last but not least Major General R K Kochar (Retd) of the Indian Army, played key roles in getting agencies to work together towards a common goal.

This aspect is perhaps lacking in the Northeast today especially in areas where the armed conflicts are raging. Manipur continues to reel under the multiple insurgencies due to lack of a resolute political leadership. In Nagaland, the armed groups enjoy direct access to the political leadership. Moreover, multiple armed groups exist despite cease-fires and peace-talks openly broadcasting their “insurgent armies” and weapons.[44] The nexus between the armed group in Assam, the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD-Jewel Gorlosa) and the Dimahasau District Council local politicians was exposed in 2010 by the Indian National Investigation Agency (NIA). Huge amounts of development funds were appropriated by government officials, local politicians, and the DHD (J), the money being ultimately transferred to arms dealers in Mizoram to provide arms to the DHD (J).[45]

5) Intelligence:  Terrain, logistics, climate, people…villages, town, dependence of the population on the insurgents, language, culture, social mores, failures of the present local structures, perceptions on the armed forces, population’s interests: all these are the domain of intelligence. Without this kind of specific and thorough intelligence, counter-insurgency is bound to be ineffective. The tactical commanders have to create the intelligence network, and hence require their own specialist intelligence staff, a clear understanding of the operational environment, physical geography, the external influences, role of media and internet. Intelligence must also be collected on lines of communication, insurgent strength and vulnerabilities, safe havens, new recruits, insurgent intelligence network, etc. Most significantly, besides concentrating on the geographical bases of the insurgents, intelligence should also be collected on the support via the internet: ideological propaganda, financial transfers, new recruits, data transfers, and insurgency manuals: the virtual base of the insurgency.[46] Accomplishing all of these calls for an intelligence architecture, with developed capabilities and superior capacities to fight the insurgency as well as address the root causes. Intelligence has to bottom up intelligence collected by the units deployed, with dedicated collection team, but this collection must fit into the overall counter-insurgency operation design. There has to be adequate feedback, based on overt and covert reconnaissance.[47] Geo-spatial intelligence, which provides for situational awareness, and human intelligence, which includes collectors, analysts, feedback loops, known more broadly as HUMINT collectors, are to be trained specifically for a particular area. Intelligence always has to be verified by multiple levels across the intelligence architecture to avoid inaccuracies.[48]

Intelligence inputs must also assist in addressing the root causes of the insurgency; provide an assessment of the nature of the insurgency. Determining the nature of the insurgency should answer the key question: is the insurgency motivated by a legitimate cause or are the insurgents a bunch of criminals trying to extort money through illegitimate means? This should include the profiling of the insurgent leaders, their background, the population’s perception of the insurgents, etc. Intelligence on insurgent means of finance, recruitment base and their organizational structure is critical. An anthropological understanding of local customs, ethnicity, and nature of the society is also useful to generate intelligence insights.[49] Operational centres of gravity need to be identified as key bases to gather information.

Can anyone deny the significance of intelligence in the northeast counter-insurgency operations? It was intelligence that enabled profiling of the Mizo leader Laldenga and his willingness to come for a resolution. It was intelligence that identified the areas where the MNF were dominant resulting in a ‘grouping of village’ strategy.[50] It was intelligence again that provided inputs about the tribal differences between the Naga armed groups standing in the way of unification.[51] Intelligence also identified leaders like S S Khaplang and diagnosed his displeasure with Muivah in the 1980s. Intelligence again helped locate the ULFA leaders in Bangladesh zeroing in on their houses in Dacca and ultimately getting them across the Bangladesh-India border.[52] Intelligence also enabled the capture of Jewel Garlosa, the leader of the DHD (J) in Bangalore.[53] This intelligence has been possible primarily because of local police inputs gathered from the population.[54] One of the primary providers of intelligence is also rival armed groups, especially those amenable to resolution. The DHD (Nunisa) faction in Assam is a significant intelligence provider on the DHD (J).[55] Local language skills can go a long way in providing specific intelligence. However, the intelligence provided in states like Manipur and Nagaland is not top class requiring better collection and assessment. Insurgents, enjoying the coerced or voluntary support of the local population, enjoy faster sources of intelligence.[56]

6) Unity of Effort: Almost all the theoretical literature on counter-insurgency as well as the doctrines and field manuals recognize the importance of the unity of effort or an integrated approach in counter-insurgency. Unity of effort hinges on a common diagnosis of the nature of the problem. Unity of effort also means that the counter-insurgency actors enjoy the benefit of possessing both adequate resources and agencies to fully utilize their assets to the optimal level. These should include full showcasing of administrative capacities, economic resources, counter-propaganda, military superiority and the like. Taking initiative is the key. According to the Group of Ministers’ recommendation on Internal Security of India in 2001, “whenever the central para-military forces and the army are deployed in a state to fight insurgency, an apex body should be created under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister to overview the functioning of the security forces. There must always be close consultation between the central armed forces’ senior officers, the state police chief, etc. There must be no ambiguity as to the command structure in order to being about a unity of effort.[57] This unity of effort must be visible across all lines of operation guided by one single strategic narrative.[58] It flows from a single strategic narrative that the military strategy to counter insurgency forms a part of an overall national strategy, which includes all other instruments of national power. The military, at best, plays a supportive role to the civilian authorities.[59] Unity of effort includes the political, social, economic actors and the military to work in co-ordination. The actors involved are civilian administrators, politicians, military personnel, police, NGOs, aid workers, media, and local leaders.[60] The overall aim of the unity of effort is to control violence levels. High levels of violence create population insecurities, thereby undermining state agencies and benefiting the insurgents. The ‘committee structure’ can bring about coordination, or a formal unified command structure with civilian oversight.[61] Given below are different allocations of roles.

Role of Politicians: provide the end goal and the restrictive rules of engagement for all agencies. Provide the legitimacy for the operations given their local support. Shape people’s perceptions by contacting local community leaders, media, etc. and by having personal engagements.

Role of bureaucrats: provide the administrative support on the ground in terms of plan execution, building infrastructure, development activities, health, education, regulating markets, etc.

Role of the army: support the goal articulated by politicians by neutralizing the insurgents. Shaping people’s allegiances, perceptions, attitudes, etc. Collect and analyze intelligence.

Role of police: enforce the law, making it difficult for citizen groups to either engage in violence or support violence. Collect and analyze intelligence.

Role of local leaders: Shape peoples’ attitudes, allegiances, perceptions, etc. Express the core grievances, and act as a bridge between the common people and politicians.

Role of NGOs and Media: Expose the insurgent extortion networks, support mechanisms to establish peace. Support reconciliation, surrenders, and deter inter-factional killings. Act as a deterrent to state accesses as well.

Unity of effort can be brought about by appropriating a single command and coordination centre. For instance, the British command and coordination structure in existence in 1948 in Malaya had proved inadequate in the beginning of the Malayan Communist insurgency due to the absence of a “unity of effort”. It was only when the Director of Operations was established manned by Army Lieutenant General Sir Harold Briggs in 1950 that coordination occurred under a newly established Federal War Council.[62] The council comprised of the senior army and air-force commanders in Malaya, the Police Commissioner and the Secretary of Defence. The tide really turned in the British favour when Sir Gerald Templer, Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) Eastern Command, England took up as both Director of Operations and High Commissioner. The single direction at the top provided the much needed solid base for success. In Kenya too, the British unity of effort against the Mau Mau rebellion was successful when Sir George Erskire was appointed both C-in-C and Director of Operations.  The joint-ness at the top level provided the much needed direction.[63]

With regard to unity of effort, the north-eastern states lacked a unified command and control structure to coordinate the multiple tasks allocated to the armed forces and the police to fight the insurgents till the 1990s. As a result, the Indian Army regiments, the paramilitary and the local police functioned without a common coordinating body, resulting in operational and strategic obstacles while fighting armed groups like the ULFA and the NSCN.This led to dysfunction and affected the seamless flow of information. In 1997, this institutional lacunae was corrected when a Unified Command and Control – the three tier command structure of the Indian Army – was set up in Assam to supervise and coordinate operational planning and implementation. However, the creation of the Unified Command and Control structure was looked upon with disfavour by the then Assam state government. It was argued that such unifying military structures strengthened the hand of the army and weakened legitimate democratically elected bodies like the state assembly. Moreover, since the post of the Governor of Assam at that time was held by Lieutenant General S.K. Sinha (Retd) from the Indian army, some civilian observers claimed that there was an underlying plan on the part of the Union government to skew the civil-military relationship in favour of the army.[64]

Whether these accusations about the intentions of the Union government held true at that time is debatable. But the fact remains that the civil-military relationship remains sub-optimal at best. In states like Manipur and Nagaland, which are heavily infested by long-standing insurgencies like the UNLF, the RPF, the PLA and the NSCN-IM, to name but a few, the civil-military balance has taken years to reach a stage of some understanding about operational and strategic matters, though the general fear towards the security forces amongst the civil society creates a situation where in political leaders rhetorically target the military quite frequently.

In a speech on August 13, 2008, on the occasion of Patriot’s Day in Manipur, the Manipur chief minister admonished the Union government and its agencies (read the Indian Army) for high handed behaviour in the state. The case is similar in Nagaland, where the army is blamed by civilian authorities for slight indiscretions whereas insurgent actors like the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN-K easily get away with indiscriminate violence in which civilians are the main victims. The focus on the army’s behaviour by both local state actors and the civil population is intense. Hence, there is a critical need for the Indian Army to exercise caution and professionally manage public perception.

In Manipur, for instance, civil-military relations are plagued by stress and finger-pointing instead of convergence and nuanced understanding of the local political and security landscape.[65] The army blames the state government for maintaining close ties with the insurgents,[66] which by itself is a counter-productive narrative. Such statements by Indian Army officers leads the local populace to perceive the Indian army as directly advancing New Delhi’s putative agenda of maligning the local people as anti-national and anti-India. This in turn creates antipathy towards the Indian state and nation. Hence, a vicious cycle is established.

Given this distrust in the civil-military sphere, the army maintains secrecy in its operational plans, which creates a further disconnect between the civilian and military authorities; it goes against the accepted democratic ethos that the army will be guided and directed by the elected political leadership.[67] Local politicians believe that the army is dictated by the Union government and cares little for their intervention since the overall conduct of counter-insurgency as well as ceasefire and peace talks are conducted directly by the Union government with the armed insurgent groups. Furthermore, the military routinely blames the civilian state government for lacking ‘political will’ in rooting out insurgencies.[68] In 1991 and 1992, when the Indian Army launched Operation Rhino I and Operation Rhino II against the ULFA in Assam, the general criticism from the army about these operations was that they were called off in their most critical phases because the Assam state government lacked the political will to oversee the counter-insurgency operations to a conclusive end. Hence, as a result of a lack of effective civil-military coordination, many ULFA leaders were able to escape across the international border to Bhutan and Bangladesh.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

7) Appropriate “Military” Force Structures: David Galula challenged Mao Tse Tung’s dictum that to fight a guerilla, one has to behave like a guerilla.[69] Mao had argued that counter-insurgent actors should replicate the insurgent modes and strategy in order to win. Galula was of the view that this perspective was erroneous as it did not play to the strength of the counter-insurgent: visible force presence, bigger deployments, available resources, special counter-insurgency forces; civilian infrastructures, and so forth. He argued that insurgent warfare is designed to address the weakness of the insurgency: lack of resources, lack of recruits, lack of base areas, etc. Therefore, counter-insurgency warfare should be designed to take advantage of the strength of the counter-insurgency actors. Both modes of warfare are completely dissimilar.[70] The key challenge for the counter-insurgency actors is to have a systems oriented perspective centered on bringing together the military competencies, weapons systems, training, and doctrinal guidance of restrictive force to respond to insurgencies.[71]

The strength of the counter-insurgent force structure is that it has enough man-power and resources to be people-centric operations in which the aim is to neutralize the insurgents and create a secure environment for the people. [72]  Most importantly, force structures should be so organized so as to operate within the concept of minimum use of force.[73] The idea is to neutralize the insurgent, not eliminate. However, while the visible presence of the police and military should ideally reflect a situation of security to the common people, this is not always the case. Common people fear that maximum force will be used in an offensive manner resulting in non-combatant deaths. This perception is fed by special laws under which the military functions during counter-insurgency. People fear excesses will be committed since no military action is under judicial purview when special laws are enforced in India. Rules of engagement therefore have to be restrictive, with junior officers distinctively aware that they are fighting “their own people and not an enemy in an asymmetric environment”.[74] Force multipliers like surrendered insurgents, village defence units, technology like signal interception and surveillance should be integrated. The force structure should be such that while forming part of a larger division, the concentration should be on small team operations adapt at improvising as a response to a given context. This could be local ‘special forces’ trained by the army. The “Home and Hearth” battalion of the Assam regiment is an example in this regard.[75]

However, a massive army build-up against an insurgency can also render a population resentful. For instance, in Assam, Operation Bajrang and Operation Rhino in the early 1990s were intensive military operations against the ULFA, which included other paramilitary forces like the Assam Rifles, the Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF), etc. The operations’ size was a massive 30, 000 to 40, 000 men in order to fight an armed ULFA guerrilla force of a 1000 men and women.[76] Tactically, of course, these operations were successful as they flushed out the ULFA headquarters at Lakhipathar, Assam and also succeeded in arresting some ULFA cadres. Strategically, however, these operations were sub-optimal. Not only did the massive deployment of troops alienate the local people and increased their visibility killing the surprise element but also most ULFA leaders and cadres were able to flee to neighbouring Bhutan. The plethora of forces also created immense confusion with regard to efficient coordination.

On the other hand, visible small unit army patrolling in Nagaland and the hill districts of Assam has been appreciated by locals. The populations of Diphupar and Chumukidima villages in Nagaland are of the firm view that their safe passage through certain state highways, which is ensured by the army’s presence, has been a respite. Otherwise, insurgent actors would routinely stop public transport and demand exorbitant taxes from passengers, non-payment of which results in either grave physical injury or death.[77]  This indicates a definite shift in Naga public attitudes towards the army during the 1950s-early 1990s to gradual acceptance from the late 1990s onwards. Similarly, the local village communities in Haflong area of Assam were grateful for the security brought into their otherwise high risk lives due to the night patrolling undertaken by the 57 Mountain Artillery Brigade.[78]               

8) Rule of Law:  Counter-insurgent forces are bound to operate within the rule of law. The operation has to enjoy the legal mandate and its conduct must meet the highest legal standards. Military lawyers are an important component of the planning process and must scrutinize the draft plans for any legal loopholes. Operating under law brings about the necessary limitation that acts as a deterrent against disproportionate use of force which in turn alienates the population. The terms of employment for the armed forces must be clearly worked out before troop deployment and must form part of the overall policy directives. For example, UK counter-insurgency troops are mandated by law to operate within the framework of UK domestic laws as well as international rules of engagement that is binding upon the British government.[79] Consequently, the forces have to be briefed about the rules of engagement with regard to arrests, searches, warrants, interrogation techniques, intelligence gathering by issuing a Standard Operating Procedure. International laws relating to internal armed conflicts are found in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and Additional Protocol II of 1977.[80]  If aerial surveillance is used, it must also be within a legal framework and should not violate individual dignity and freedom. Use of force must be such that it meets the legitimate purpose of the conflict: conflict resolution, and defeat of the armed insurgency.[81] Periods of detention of suspected insurgents must be limited, and intelligence must be fool proof on who is an insurgent. The recent negative experience of the CRPF in Chhattisgarh in India where the suspicion is that most of those killed in the village were innocent villagers and not Naxalites/left wing armed extremists is a case in point.[82] Faulty intelligence is dangerous and violates the right to life of a citizen.

In the Northeast, the overall structure of counter-insurgency, be it the political, or military should function under the rule of law. However, acts like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) acts of 1958 amended in 1972 have created a popular imagination that constitutionally mandated fundamental rights especially pertaining to Article 14 (equality before law and equal protection of law); Article 20 (Protection in respect of conviction for offences); Article 21 (Protection of life and personal liberty); Article 22 (Protection against arrest and detention in certain cases) are negated by the special powers granted to the armed forces. This is indeed a “catch 22” situation. The armed forces need special powers to fight an insurgency; the special powers make the population hostile to the armed forces. This situation can be rectified by bringing in the first best practice: primacy of politics. Civilian control should be visibly demonstrated that the armed forces and the police are accountable for the conduct of operations to that leadership. Sound intelligence also prevents the armed forces from targeting the wrong person as insurgent sympathizers. Intelligence collectors must be wary of insurgents posing as informers leading the counter-insurgency actors to act inappropriately against a population group that is actually supportive of the state. A single act of violation of the rule of law creates hostility in society. The Manorami Devi sexual assault case in Manipur in 2004 and the suspected involvement of the paramilitary unit, the Assam Rifles led to protests by Manipuri elderly women appearing naked in Kangla fort in Imphal with slogans that continues to affect the local population.[83] It is indeed crucial that armed personnel to be deployed in conflict areas are trained in local cultures, social mores, the status of women, etc. There is a section on human rights in the Indian army doctrine but it appears sketchy at best.[84] Operating in ones owns country is difficult; but it’s a task that will have to be undertaken given the armed nature of dissent. To win, the population’s support is the key. To contact, control and persuade a population already under stress is not easy. Emotions, distrust, fear, and insecurity runs high. The state, given its vast resources and capacity to govern, has to offer people a good deal working well within the rule of law in order to isolate the insurgents.

9) Operational Clarity: While counter-insurgency operations require a synchronized application of effort from the political leaders, the military, the economy, the NGOs, the paramilitary, the police to be successful, it also requires operational clarity. Insurgencies are complex and complicated phenomenon, and hence require four important operational clarities to deal with them. First, diagnosis of the insurgent problem has to be crystal clear leaving little room for ambiguity. Second, operations must be conducted within the classic counter-insurgency ethos of adaptability and flexibility. The tendency to stick to a standard operating procedure could prove problematic on the ground. This requires initiatives from local leaders and lower level commanders providing objective inputs on ground realities. Third, for operational clarity with specific regard to the armed forces, including the police and the paramilitary, each force must be clear about its tasks allocation, and where an inter-agency approach is required. This should cover aspects of training, intelligence generation and sharing, induction and recruitment, force structures, areas to clear and hold, etc.[85] The final clarity which a counter-insurgent force must always remember is that these operations are aimed at controlling and securing populations.[86]

Operational clarity is a challenge in the Northeast. The reason is not hard to find. In the insurgency affected states of the Northeast, there are several layers of decision-making with the state government responsible for making requests for the deployment of the army in order to maintain law and order. However, ceasefires with the armed groups are engineered by the Union home ministry with peace interlocutors mostly chosen from the All India level bureaucracies and not the state bureaucracies. The non-involvement of the states concerned in the ceasefire frameworks creates dysfunctional structures of law enforcement which fails to address the illegitimate extortion networks and parallel governments run by the insurgent actors. This multiple decision making also fails to avert everyday insurgent violence resulting in the death of non-combatants. Union government’s primacy and supreme responsibility in counter-insurgency also offers state governments a punching bag and an excuse to shirk responsibilities with regard to lack of governance in conflict affected areas.

Sanjib Baruah, a well known and respected Assamese academic offers an alternate viewpoint which needs to be engaged with.

 The apex decision-making node is the Home Ministry in New Delhi housed in North Block on Raisina Hill. The operational node which implements the decisions consists of the Indian Army, and other military, police and intelligence units controlled by the central and state governments, and involves complex coordination. This apparatus also involves the limited participation of the political functionaries of insurgency affected states. Elected state governments, under India’s weak federal structure, can always be constitutionally dismissed in certain situations of instability. But New Delhi has generally preferred to have them in place while conducting counter-insurgency operations. Since the insurgencies have some popular sympathy, albeit not stable or stubborn, the perception that the operations have the tacit support of elected state governments is useful for their legitimacy.[87]


Based on field interviews and observations, it is without doubt that the visible presence of counter-insurgency forces, especially the military component has succeeded in keeping the violence levels from escalating. If one views the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) reports, it is obvious that the levels of violence have come down in Northeast India.[88] This aspect was appreciated by the Indian Union Home Minister, P. Chidambaram in a speech at the Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security last year. He recognized the fact that barring Manipur and Assam, the other states witnessed zero civilian deaths, or the death of security personnel.[89]

Despite the levels of violence coming down, one of the significant reasons why insurgencies continue to thrive in Northeast India is the inability of state forces to secure the international border. The 1, 643 km international border between Manipur, Nagaland and Myanmar is porous and subject to heavy insurgent traffic. Insurgent underground camps thrive in Myanmar’s Border States. Besides, population of states like Nagaland and Manipur are fearful to come out openly against insurgents for fear of physical harm. Also, a unity of effort fine-tuned to the national priority of building a unified nation is undercut by political corruption, and the absence of resolute leaders at the local level in the Northeast. Instead of fighting the insurgencies, local politicians hobnob with the insurgents for political convenience and coerce populations to vote for them in the next election. Also, the army’s continuous questioning of its counter-insurgency mandate, despite its constitutional obligation to act as a support structure to civilian authorities faced with internal armed rebellion,[90] disorients the younger officers and soldiers giving them the impression that they are not mandated for this task.[91]  Intelligence agencies also lack the architecture to coordinate the multiple layers of intelligence gathering, infusion, analyses, feedback and verification.[92] Not a single serious study on assessing public perceptions in the Northeast exist in the public domain undertaken by the counter-insurgency actors, be it the civilian state institutions, the police, the armed forces, or the media. Or else if they do exist, official documents addressing such issues are never declassified. The only document that offers some perspective on the Indian army’s sub-conventional warfare ethos is the 2006 Sub Conventional doctrine. The good part about the doctrine is that it reflects how similar the best practices identified for optimal outcomes are with other foreign militaries with regard to the counter-insurgency operations. The weakness is that it does not offer any cases of successes or failures of Indian counter-insurgency from a purely military point of view. There is also a lack of self criticality and culture of openly admitting counter-insurgency mistakes, an important part of public perception management.

In war, of any character, be it conventional or sub conventional, the basic principles are the same: uncertainty, chance, enmity, friction, passion, and violence. But two sides may fight it differently or interpret the principles differently based on capacity and capability. The asymmetry of power plays a major role in counter-insurgency. Insurgencies wage protracted conflicts not only because they want to impose a psychological toll on the counter-insurgency actors but also because they require time to find recruits, generate resources and establish base areas. It must be recognized that the aim of the insurgents is not to kill the counter-insurgency actors but to establish competitive parallel governing structures aimed at controlling the population. The counter-insurgency actors must succeed in breaking the financial, ideological, and intimidation linkages between the population and the insurgents. For the counter-insurgency actors to succeed in this endeavour, popular legitimacy and population influence are the ingredients to success. To achieve this, adaptation and flexibility are the buzz words.

Another important aspect of counter-insurgency in Northeast India is that there are multiple insurgencies with competing interests seeking to maximize their own influence and survival. Imposing order in this complex chaotic conflict scenario is not easy. Situational awareness is therefore extremely vital. In such a situation, instead of fighting the insurgencies, the political aim for the counter-insurgency actor is to maintain order. For that to happen, one has to concentrate enough armed forces and police for visible law enforcement, create pockets of influence amongst a supportive population, destroy the insurgent political organizations and educate local leaders in a national political environment. Establishing scholarships for young people to get exposed is a step towards nation-building. By encouraging and inspiring people to have a better and respectful life, by creating the conditions to succeed, and by being sensitive to unique histories, culture, social mores and interests, the counter-insurgency actors can legitimately win hearts.

[1] Lieutenant Colonel Michael D. Becker, U.S. Marine Corps, ‘Operational Art in Counterinsurgency Campaign Planning’, Naval War College declassified report, Newport, R.I, 1994, p. iii

[2] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Army), “Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations”, December, 2006, pp. 1-76.

[3] Ibid.

[4] R W Kromer, The Malayan Emergency in Retrospect: Organization of a Successful Counterinsurgency Effort, RAND, Santa Monica, 1972.

[5] Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1966).  

[6] David Galula’s Counter-Insurgency Warfare Theory and Practice, Frederick A. Praeger, New York, 1964.

[7] Bruce Hoffman and Jennifer Morrison Taw, A Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Insurgency, RAND, Santa Monica, 1992.

[8] Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations: Sub-version Insurgency & Peacekeeping, Faber and Faber, London, 1971.

[9] Alastair Horne’s A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, Viking, New York, 1977.

[10] Roger Trinquier’s Modern Warfare: A French View of Counter-insurgency, Pall Mall Press, London, 1964.

[11] C E Callwell’s Small Wars A Tactical Textbook for Imperial Soldiers, Greenhill Books, London, 1990.

[12] Rajesh Rajagopalan, Fighting like a Guerrilla The Indian Army and Counterinsurgency, Routledge, New Delhi, 2008.

[13] David Kilcullen, “Counterinsurgency Redux, Survival, 48/4, Winter 2006-2007, pp.111-130. 

[14] Indian Army Sub Conventional Doctrine, n. 2.

[15] Headquarters, US Department of the Army; Marine Corp Combat Development Command, Department of the Navy, Headquarters, United States Marine Corp, “ Counterinsurgency”, FM-3-24, MCWP-3-33.5, Headquarters, Department of the Army, Washington DC, December 2006,

[16] US Joint Publication, 3-24, “Counterinsurgency Operations”, October 05, 2009. This manual is mandated by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[17] British Army Field Manual, “Countering Insurgency”, Volume 1 Part 10, Army Code 71876, October 2009.

[18] Author interviews with army and paramilitary forces’ officers posted in Haflong, Imphal, Moreh, Diphu, Kohima, Shillong, Itanagar, etc, from 2007-2012. Names withheld on request of interviewees.

[19] Becker, n.1, p. 3.

[20] British Army Field Manual, n. 17, pp.3-2 to 3-3.

[21] Kromer, n. 4, pp. 18-19.

[22] Kilkullen, n. 13, “Counterinsurgency Redux”, p. 123.

[23] Namrata Goswami, “The Naga Narrative of Conflict: Envisioning a Resolution Roadmap”, Strategic Analysis, 31/2, 2007, pp. 287-313. Also see A. S. Shimray, Let Freedom Ring: Story of Naga Nationalism Promilla and Co., Delhi, 2005.

[24] Goswami, “The Naga Narrative of Conflict”, n. 23, pp. 293-294.

[25]  R.K. Satapathy, ‘Mediating Peace: The Role of Insider Partials in Conflict Resolution in Mizoram’, at (Accessed January 6, 2008); R.N. Prasad (ed.), Autonomy Movements in Mizoram, Vikas Publishing House, Delhi, 1994, p. 62; R.N. Prasad and A.K. Agarwal, Political and Economic Development of Mizoram, Mittal Publications, Delhi, 1991; Namrata Goswami, “The Indian Experience of Conflict Resolution in Mizoram”, Strategic Analysis, 33/4, 2009, pp. 579-89.

[26] Goswami, n. 23.

[27] See Deepak Dewan, ‘The Making of Peace’, September 6, 2006, at (Accessed February 21, 2008). It must be noted that frequent interactions between Laldenga and the government agencies and civil society worked favourably for peace.

[28] Galula, n. 6, pp. 56; British Army Field Manual, n. 17, pp. 3-8; Indian Sub Conventional Doctrine, n. 2, pp. 21-22.

[29] Rajagopalan, n. 12, pp. 149-151.

[30] Indian army, “Sub Conventional Doctrine, n. 2, p. 21.

[31] British Army Field Manual, n. 17, pp. 3-8 and 8-1 to 8-8.

[32] Galula, n. 6, pp. 56-57. Kitson, n.8.

[33] See also M. Horam, Naga Insurgency—The Last Thirty Years, Cosmo Publications, New Delhi, 1988, p. 51. Goswami, “The Naga Narrative of Conflict”, n. 23, p. 292. 

[34] See V.K. Nuh and Wetshokhrolo Lasuh, The Naga Chronicle, Regency Publications, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 155–157.

[35] Kromer, n. 4, pp. 53-63.

[36] Hoffman and Taw, n.7, pp. 22-23.

[37] Field Survey by author, 2009-2012, Assam.

[38] Field Visit by Author to Manipur and Nagaland, March 2011.  Field Visit to Hills districts of Assam, February 2010.

[39] US Army Manuel, n. 15, pp. 5-1 to 5-27.

[40] Speech by Thuingaleng Muivah, Camp Hebron, July 27, 2007. Author was present as observer; Irembom Choaren’s speech at “Peace talk would be self defeating”, The Sangai Express, September 24, 2011 at (Accessed on January 02, 2012).

[41] Prasenjit Biswas and Chandan Sukhlabaidya, Ethnic Life-Worlds in North East India An Analysis, Sage, New Delhi, 2008.

[42] US Army Manual, n. 15, Chapter 7. Indian Army Sub Conventional Doctrine, n. 2, pp. 56-59.

[43] Galula, n. 6, pp. 64-65.

[44] Namrata Goswami, “Multiple “Rebel” Armies in Nagaland”, IDSA Strategic Comment, July 06, 2012 at (Accessed on July 07, 2012).

[45] See National Investigation Agency, “Press Release in Case No.02/09-NIA-New Delhi”, October 19, 2010.

[46] David Kilkullen, n.13, p. 113.

[47] Indian army Subconventional Doctrine, n.2, pp.40-43; British Army Field Manual, n.17, Chapter 5.

[48] Joint Publication, 3-24, n. 16, Chapter V.

[49] Joint Publication 3-24, n. 16, Chapter VIII, pp.5-6. Also, Indian Subconventional Doctrine, n.2. pp. 40-43.

[50] See Vijendra Singh Jafa, ‘Counter-Insurgency Warfare, The Use and Abuse of Military Force’, at (Accessed February 6, 2008).

[51] Shimray, n.23.

[52] Interview with Assam security personnel, July 2011. Names withheld on request of interviewees.

[53] Ibid.

[54] Field interview, Assam Police personnel, Guwahati, May 16, 2011.

[55] Interview with security personnel, 57 Field Artillery Brigade, Haflong. Field Observations, DHD (Nunisa) Camp, February 09-10, 2010.

[56] Field experience of the author with the NSCN (IM) and the Kuki National Liberation Front (KNLF), August 2008, Tengnoupal, Manipur.

[57] Indian Subconventional Doctrine, n.2, p. 24. Group of Ministers' Report on "Reforming the National Security System" March 23, 2001 at (Accessed on July 9, 2012).

[58] British Army Field Manual, n.17, p.3.3

[59] Indian Subconventional Doctrine, n.2, p.15

[60]  British Army Field Manual, n.17, p. 2-1.

[61] Namrata Goswami, “The insurgency affected Northeast”, Seminar, 611, July 2010, pp. 19-22.  

[62] Hoffman and Taw, n.7, pp. 7-8.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Sanjib Baruah, ‘Generals as Governors: The Parallel Political Systems of North East India’, at (Accessed on 27 May 2010).

[65] Field observations by author, Imphal, Manipur, March 2011.

[66] Author interview with military personnel, Imphal, Manipur, August 2008, and March 2011. Names withheld on request by interviewees.

[67] Indian army Subconventional Doctrine, n.2, p. 15.

[68] Goswami, n.61. 

[69] Samuel B. Griffith, On Guerrilla Warfare, Praeger, New York, 1962.

[70] Galula, n. 6, p. x-xi.

[71] David Gayvert, “Words Matter: Re-imagining Irregular Warfare”, Small Wars Journal, August 1, 2011, p.1.

[72] Indian army Doctrine, n. 2, p. 21. US Army headquarters, n.16, Chapter VII-2.

[73] Ibid, p. 33. British Army Field Manual, n. 17, p. 3-13 to 3-15. 

[74] Indian Army Doctrine, n.2, p. 29. Also Becker, n.1, pp. 20-21.

[75] Author interview with Assam Regiment Commandant, Shillong, Meghalaya, July 19, 2007.

[76] William Scott Latimer, What Can the United States Learn from India, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, 2004, p.51.

[77] Author interview with Naga Hoho, Apex Naga tribal body, Diphupar, Nagaland, July 2007.  Also interviews conducted with Naga villagers in Diphupar and Chumukidima, Nagaland, July 24-28, 2007.

[78] Author’s interviews with village communities in Mpuielo, Jatinga and Sonpijang villages, Dima Hasao district, Assam, July 17-21, 2007.

[79] British Army Field Manual, n. 17, p. 12-3.

[80] See ICRC, “International Humanitarian Law…Treaties & Documents” at (Accessed on July 10, 2012).

[81] Indian army Doctrine, n.2, p. 33.

[82] Sandeep Joshi, “Chhattisgarh Encounter: CRPF DG Expresses Regret”, The Hindu, July 13, 2012 at (Accessed on July 14, 2012).   

[83] Mihir Srivastava, “The Seige Within-Goes on”, Tehelka, September 02, 2006 at (Accessed on June 23, 2012).

[84] Indian Army Doctrine, n.2, 53-55.

[85] Indian Army Doctrine, n.2, pp. 27-39.

[86] Ibid, p, 30.

[87] Sanjib Baruah, ‘Generals as Governors: The Parallel Political Systems of North East India’, at (Accessed on May 27, 2010).

[88] Government of India, Ministry of Home affairs, Annual Report 2010-2011, Departments of Internal Security, Home, States, Jammu & Kashmir Affairs and Border Management at (Accessed on July 20, 2012).

[89] “PM Inaugurates Chief Ministers’ Conference on Internal Security Says: Measures to Strengthen our Capacity are Yielding Tangible Results Centre-States Cooperation has Vastly Improved Internal Security Situation : P. Chidambaram”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, February 1, 2011 at  (Accessed on July 11, 2012).

[90] Indian Army Sub Conventional Doctrine, n.2, p. 15.

[91]  Author interviews with security personnel, Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, 2007-2012. Names withheld on request of interviewees.

[92] Author interview with Military Intelligence, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Names withheld on request of interviewees.


About the Author(s)

Dr. Namrata Goswami is currently a MINERVA Grantee, a grant awarded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense MINERVA Initiative supporting her project on exploring great power attitudes towards resource nationalism, territoriality, and expansionism in the space domain. She regularly consults for the NATO Partnership for Peace Consortium ‘Emerging Security Challenges Working Group’ and is a Senior Analyst with Wikistrat.  Dr. Goswami served as a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the Congressionally Funded United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC, where she explored long-term India-China-US scenarios. She spent nearly a decade at India’s premier defense think tank, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi, where she specialized in ethnic conflicts, insurgency, counter-insurgency, conflict resolution, international relations theory and Great Power behavior.  Her latest book published by Pentagon Press, New Delhi is on India’s Approach to Asia, Strategy, Geopolitics and Responsibility, 2016. In 2015, she published with Routledge, London and New York, her book on Indian National Security and Counterinsurgency: The Use of Force Vs. Non Violent Response.  In 2012-2013, Dr. Goswami received the Fulbright-Nehru Senior Fellowship supporting her work on China-India border conflict scenarios. She also received the “Executive Leadership Certificate” sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, the National Defense University, Washington DC, and the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii in 2013. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, Norway, the La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia and the University of Heidelberg, Germany.


Greener Pastures

Tue, 02/26/2013 - 11:48am

In reply to by SWJED

Hi Dave

Glad to be a part of the community. We'll surely try to engage more and voice our perspective. To end with, the media has neglected the region and I'm glad that people like Namrata are trying to bring forth the truth.


Sun, 02/10/2013 - 6:25pm

In reply to by Greener Pastures

Greener Pastures - thanks so much for taking the time to comment here at SWJ, it is most appreciated and hopefully you will stay engaged. Us "Western Types" need to hear more from those who have lived and breathed the topics we debate. Sincerely, Dave D.

Greener Pastures

Sun, 02/10/2013 - 12:29pm

Being a resident of Assam, and having grown up a part of an atmosphere where army men and local rebels, all I can say from my observation is that the situation of insurgency in the region has a long history and it will probably continue for many more decades. Things have certainly improved since what it was 10 years back. Today, the people of the region are more confident and are somewhat living a peaceful life.

The problem lies in the deeply rooted thought of the local population of being neglected by the Indian Government. All tour lives, the people of the region have never seen the light of the day. This is where the authors primary point comes into play. It is very important for the anti insurgency movement to have a political passion, an honest approach by the government to make things right. The army also needs to include and respect the local population. It is very important if they are to win the support of the common mass and hence be successful in their other objective of flushing the terrorists out.

For those who would like to learn more about the tribes of northeast India, here is the link to an article in our <a href="">website</a&gt; :

Since most of the population hugely depends on sustainable simple living, it is about time the rebels and government came in sync and promoted a more peaceful approach to solving things.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 12/06/2012 - 9:17am

An interesting read from the Indian perspective. Although I am always opposed to new buzzwords to simply rename things when we want to change direction or make an impact, I do like the Indian use of "sub-conventional operations." Perhaps if we had conceived the 2006 COIN doctrine from the perspective of sub-conventional operations we would not have gone down the road of the COINdinista versus COINtra with people arguing that COIN is the graduate level of war or not. (my thoughts on this from 2008 are here:…)

"The Indian army also published its first ever Doctrine for Sub Conventional Operations[2] in 2006 where the focus was on general features of a successful counter-insurgency campaign from the point of view of the army."

Some interesting excerpts:

"To argue for uniqueness however misses an important point; that there are certain common features of counter-insurgency that are valid across time and space as is indicated by the rich literature on counter-insurgency. These practices or features are so commonsensical that one cannot seriously challenge them without appearing spurious. For instance, can one deny the criticality of political primacy in counter-insurgency in a democracy; the significance of people’s support; intelligence; unity of effort; resolute leadership, etc. State agencies that deal with counter-insurgency require a frame of reference in order to have a common map based on which adaptation and learning can take place. Take the case of the Indian army. While the Indian army deals with numerous “unique” insurgencies in the northeast, the doctrine does not offer a recipe that caters to each. Rather, it has a general set of features of what could be optimal counter-insurgency practices, be it intelligence, training, winning hearts and mind, terrain knowledge, leadership"

From the conclusion:

"In war, of any character, be it conventional or sub conventional, the basic principles are the same: uncertainty, chance, enmity, friction, passion, and violence. But two sides may fight it differently or interpret the principles differently based on capacity and capability. The asymmetry of power plays a major role in counter-insurgency. Insurgencies wage protracted conflicts not only because they want to impose a psychological toll on the counter-insurgency actors but also because they require time to find recruits, generate resources and establish base areas. It must be recognized that the aim of the insurgents is not to kill the counter-insurgency actors but to establish competitive parallel governing structures aimed at controlling the population. The counter-insurgency actors must succeed in breaking the financial, ideological, and intimidation linkages between the population and the insurgents. For the counter-insurgency actors to succeed in this endeavour, popular legitimacy and population influence are the ingredients to success. To achieve this, adaptation and flexibility are the buzz words."