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February 2009

Managing Separatist Insurgencies
Insights from Northeastern India
Walter C. Ladwig III Predoctoral Fellow Miller Center of Public Affairs University of Virginia

A paper prepared for

International Studies Association Annual Conference 16-18 February 2009 New York

***Note: This paper is a provisional study of India’s attempts to manage separatist insurgency movements in the Northeast, consequently it provides only a preliminary analysis of the counterinsurgency campaigns in Mizoram and Nagaland.***


From the time of its independence in 1947, India has been plagued by a host of separatist movements as the central government has struggled to integrate a number of religious, racial and ethnic groups into a single multicultural state. Impressively, despite facing a multitude of secessionist movements, India has yet to lose any of its territory. This paper examines the Indian government’s response to the outbreak of separatist violence in Nagaland and Mizoram in the state of Assam. Not only were these insurgencies the Republic of India’s first experience with the phenomenon of separatist insurgency, they were among the most severe. They required an untested government and military to adapt to a form of political warfare with which they had little experience. Through a process of trial and error, India developed an approach to political violence in the Northeast that would guide its response to future insurgencies. The Mizo case is also significant because it was India’s first successfully concluded counterinsurgency campaign, while in Nagaland, political violence was largely contained by the mid-1970s, yet it still continues at a low-level today. The Indian government’s approach was characterized by the use of military force to smother the insurgents and physically separate them from their supporters, while simultaneously making political concessions to co-opt moderate elements of the population. In particular, the Northeastern experience highlights the need for dissatisfied élites to be able to realize their ambitions by working within, not against, the existing political system. The Indian approach in these two cases was also characterized by a heavy emphasis on nation building and bolstering the capacity of governing institutions in under-administered areas. This paper is organized into six sections. The first section provides a brief discussion of separatist insurgency and counterinsurgency strategy. This is followed


by a general overview of the conflict environment in the Northeast, as well as a précis of the two campaigns. The third section focuses on understanding the motives of the armed groups and the value of identifying potential cleavages between the insurgents and their supporters. Attention then turns to an assessment of the Indian government’s strategy for containing separatist violence, which forms the bulk of the paper. The fourth section explores the salient political aspects of the Indian counterinsurgency efforts in the Northeast, including the provision of a non-violent path to achieve political change. Section five focuses on efforts to control territory in disputed areas, including both the deployment of security forces and the building of local government capacity. The sixth section examines India’s physical and political efforts to isolate the insurgents from their bases of support.


The ultimate goal of a separatist movement is to leave their existing political community in order to form their own nation state or join another.1 According to Bard O’Neill, this type of insurgency has been among the most noteworthy since the end of the Second World War. The key identities that separatists use to define themselves and their people in opposition to “the other” can include race, religion, language or ethnicity. Regardless of the exact instrument chosen, separatists primarily consider themselves to be nationalists, acting on behalf of an aggrieved population. A host of causes of separatist sentiment have been identified, including relative economic depravation, the effects of modernization and even the size of affected

Political autonomy is often a more practical goal, however it is rarely the maximal demand that separatist insurgents agitate for. Bard E. O’Neill, Insurgency & Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse (Washington, D.C.: Potomac, 2005), pp. 24-25.


communities.2 However, one factor that was particularly notable in both cases studied here was fear about status— specifically the potential loss of a distinct cultural identify as a result of assimilation into a large polity.3 From a counterinsurgency standpoint, separatist insurgencies can be appreciably more difficult to defeat than the ideologically-based revolutionary movements of the Cold War. Separatist insurgents who employ identity as an instrument to rally nationalistic sentiment among the population they purport to represent would appear to have a significantly easier time demonstrating their legitimacy, marshaling followers and cultivating a support network in the population than the state and its security forces which represent “the other.” At the same time, counterinsurgency strategies attempted by the government would appear to have a greater difficulty succeeding because both local elites and common people should be more resistant to cooperate with “the other.” This perceived difference in identity would seem to make inducement strategies less likely to succeed than in an ideological insurgency. Existing scholarship suggests that the ability of identity-based insurgents to both mobilize and enforce the allegiance of the population is particularly enhanced if the minority population in question is geographically concentrated, as in these cases.4 Furthermore, as Daniel Byman notes, these types of conflicts are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to expand and “draw in outside powers.”5 Indeed, in these cases, the trans-border presence of co-ethnicists, as well as hostile
2 C.f. Michael Hetcher, Internal Colonialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975); Myron Weiner, Modernization: The Dynamics of Growth (New York: Basic Books, 1966); Anthony Smith, “Towards a Theory of Ethnic Separatism,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 2, No. 1 (1979), pp. 21-37. 3 Daniel Byman, Keeping the Peace: Lasting Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), pp. 22-23. 4 Monica Duffy Toft, The Geography of Ethnic Violence : Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory (Princeton, N.J.; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003); Scott Gates, “Recruitment and Allegiance: The Microfoundations of Rebellion,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 46, No. 1 (February 2002), pp. 111-130. 5 Byman, Keeping the Peace, p 2.


powers seeking to exploit internal conflict within India, meant that China and East Pakistan/Bangladesh (willingly) and Burma (unwillingly) provided sanctuary and assistance to the insurgents. Although primarily concerned with combating revolutionary insurgent movements, counterinsurgency theorists have advanced a body of prescriptions for responding to internal violence that may have utility for countering separatist violence. These concepts are based on the belief that insurgents require a degree of support from their population, which can range from mere non-denunciation to the active provision of intelligence, recruits, shelter and supplies.6 It is this informal support network, rather than the insurgents themselves that counterinsurgency theorists argue must be eliminated in order to bring a conflict to an end.7 Insurgents cultivate this support by advancing an idea, in these cases national self-determination, that provides their cause with legitimacy; although selective terrorism and assassination can be a useful complement to such measures for surgically eliminating potential rivals and securing the acquiescence of otherwise hostile members of the local populace. Since an insurgency is a politically-motivated conflict, countering it will require the state to undertake some type of reform or positive political action to undercut the insurgent’s political program and attract the support of moderates from their support base. Although the insurgents’ use of violence is likely to be considered illegitimate by the state, it does not mean that the underlying grievances which motivate the insurgents and their supporters lack a legitimate foundation. Finally, the discriminate use of force is widely counseled by counterinsurgency theorists, however

Though active support may be desired, at the end of the day, a neutral population still favors the insurgents because it allows them to operate unhindered in a given area. Christopher Ford, “Speak No Evil: Targeting a Population's Neutrality to Defeat an Insurgency,” Parameters, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Month 2005), pp. 51-66. 7 David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare; Theory and Practice (London ; Dunmow: Pall Mall Press, 1964), p 107; Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam (London: Praeger, 1966), p 118.


this principal would appear to take on added significance in a separatist conflict where the security forces are representatives of “the other.” Force is necessary in counterinsurgency, but it will be most effective when it targets the insurgents directly while carefully bypassing neutral segments of the population. While these beliefs were derived primarily from experience with anti-colonial or ideological insurgencies, the underlying assumptions would appear to apply to separatist movements as well. Drawing primarily on the imperatives of effective counterinsurgency strategies advanced by Anthony James Joes, it is possible to outline a framework of concrete actions that would make up an ideal counterinsurgency strategy.8

Figure 1: Imperatives of an Ideal Counterinsurgency Strategy 1. 2. Understand the opposing insurgency Counter separatism politically a. Avoid demonizing the insurgents b. Provide an avenue for political change c. Create a constituency for peace d. Demonstrate the political resolve to outlast the insurgents Control disputed territory a. Use measured force b. Focus on the civilian population as the center of gravity c. Raise indigenous COIN forces d. Develop local police and administrative capacity e. Promote close cooperation between civilian and military agencies Isolate the Insurgents a. Cultivate good intelligence b. Employ carefully targeted population-control measures c. Employ amnesty programs d. Cut off external support for the insurgents



India’s efforts to contain separatist violence in Mizoram and Nagaland will be examined in comparison to this ideal strategy.

Anthony James Joes, Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2004), pp. 232-246. See also, Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare; Theory and Practice; Frank Kitson, Low Intensity Operations : Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping (London: Faber, 1971); Andrew F. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); John McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War: The Strategy of Counter-Insurgency (London: Faber & Faber, 1966); Julian Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaigning (London: Faber, 1967); Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam.




Northeastern India possesses a number of the classic preconditions for separatist insurgency: an under-administered, rugged terrain, populated largely by a relatively deprived peoples who view themselves as ethnically and linguistically separate from those around them.9 Consisting of over 200 recognized tribal groups with 250 regional dialects, the ethnically Mongoloid peoples of the Northeast primarily follow Christian-animist beliefs, which presents significant ethnic, linguistic and religious differences from the rest of India. This cultural isolation is compounded by a physical one as the region is only linked to mainland India by a narrow 20-km wide strip of territory (see Figure 2). As B.G. Verghese has pointed out, less than one percent of the borders in the Northeast are contiguous with India—the remaining 99% borders on Nepal, Burma, Bangladesh and China.10 The geography of the region is characterized by mountainous terrain and thick tropical rainforests. Due to colonial-era regulations implemented to protect the relatively underdeveloped tribal peoples of the Northeast, the region remained highly autonomous and was never fully incorporated into the administration of British India. As a result, few Northeasterners participated in or identified with the anti-colonial independence movement, which serves as a common cultural bond for many inhabitants of mainland India. Instead, Northeasterners have traditionally looked eastward towards China and Burma a phenomenon that only increased after independence as their tribal boundaries did not necessarily conform to the post-

James Fearon and David Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 1 (February 2003), pp. 75-90; T. David Mason, “Structures of Ethnic Conflict: Revolution Versus Succession in Rwanda and Sri Lanka,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter 2003). 10 B.G. Verghese, India's Northeast Resurgent: Ethnicity, Insurgency, Governance and Development (Delhi: Konark Publishers, 1996), pp. 1-2.



colonial borders established as the Raj became the separate states of India, Burma and Pakistan. Figure 2: Map of India

When Independence came in 1947, segments of the population in the region believed that they had the right to form their own separate nation, independent from India, as the Muslims of Pakistan did. When that sentiment was ignored it created a sense of victimhood among those who perceived their people as having been illegally incorporated into India in 1947, which combined with concrete concerns about the loss of their identity in a Hindu-majority country and a subsequent neglect of their economic and social well-being by both the Assam State government as well as the central government. Finally, with extensive borders on weak (Burma) and unfriendly (East Pakistan and China) states, ample opportunity existed for transnational 8

sanctuaries and external support for would-be insurgent groups. Following India’s defeat in its 1962 war with China, the Northeast took on a new importance for Indian strategists as the region’s porous borders and weak nationalistic sentiments appeared vulnerable to exploitation by hostile states.11

Nagaland The first significant separatist insurgency in the Northeast took place among the Nagas. Concentrated in the Naga Hills in the eastern part of the state of Assam and adjacent areas of Burma in an area slightly smaller than New Jersey, the 200,000 people who made up the sixteen Naga tribes were majority Christian. In the lead up to Indian Independence in 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC) argued that the Nagas had never been a part of British India and should become a separate state when the British relinquished control of the subcontinent. Despite this protestation, the Nagas were incorporated into the Indian Union, albeit with a special status that provided a significant degree of autonomy. These special measures did not placate the independence-minded leaders of the NNC, who spent the first few years after Indian independence seeking a political resolution to their claim—organizing a Naga-wide plebiscite on independence and petitioning both the British government and the United Nations for mediation. After these political efforts came to naught, the NNC turned to armed violence. Under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo, a veteran of the pro-Japanese Indian National Army, and backed by approximately 15,000 fighters, the Federal Government of Nagaland was proclaimed in 1954.


Neville Maxwell, India, the Nagas and the North-East (London: Roxford Books, 1980), pp. 12-13.


After an initial attempt to wage conventional war, the Nagas adopted guerrilla tactics of raids and ambushes. As is often the case, the insurgents exercised control over the rural territory in the area, while the Indian Government maintained a hold on the major towns. Conflict continued unabated until a ceasefire was agreed to in September 1964, which opened the way for negotiations between the two sides. Despite violations, and a resumption of violence at times, the insurgency was largely ended by a 1975 agreement in which the main insurgent groups accepted the primacy of the Indian constitution. Although some Naga violence continues to the present day, succession is no longer a political goal for the majority of Nagas.

Mizoram Also originally part of the state of Assam, the 300,000 Mizos inhabited a region the size of New Hampshire. Unlike the Nagas, the Mizos did not initially seek independence. Rather they sought autonomy and special financial aid from the government to assist with their economic development. This arrangement would prove to be unsatisfactory as the state of Assam alienated the Mizos over the subsequent decade. The financial assistance for development requested by the Mizos was not forthcoming. This neglect was compounded by the state government’s decision to make Assamese the official state language, which raised significant concerns about the future of Mizo culture and identity in India. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in 1960 when, despite repeated warning, the Assam state government failed to prepare for the cyclical outbreak of the Mautam (plague of rats) which spread famine across the Mizo Hills. In 1961, the Mizo National Front (MNF), under the leadership of a bank clerk turned political organizer, Pu Laldenga, was formed to seek independence for the


Nagas, preserve their Christian identity and improve the economic conditions in the Mizo hills. Armed insurrection broke out in the mid-1960s and carried on for the next two decades before a peace agreement signed in 1986 between the insurgents and the central government marked India’s first successful counterinsurgency operation. Having briefly surveyed the history and background of the two insurgencies, the subsequent sections explore the salient aspects of the Indian government’s counterinsurgency campaign, beginning with their understanding of the insurgencies they were facing.


To develop an effective counterinsurgency strategy, it is necessary to understand the character of the opposing insurgency. Failure to comprehend the nature and goals of the opposition can result in counterinsurgency efforts poorly suited to the task at hand. In this regard, the Indian government’s overall counterinsurgency efforts were aided by the fact that they recognized that the insurgencies they were facing were not monolithic and that many of the insurgents could be accommodated. It is a common fallacy to assume that insurgent movements are unified organizations whose members are similarly dedicated to achieving a single goal. In reality, both among the support base and active guerrillas, a variety of motivating issues and relative levels of commitment can exist. As in any human organization, insurgent movements can be rife with internal tensions, competing sources of power and disagreements about strategy and tactics.


In the case of the Mizo National Front, the leadership employed nationalism as an instrument to define the movement and to rally popular support for the cause of Mizo separatism.12 However, it is not clear that this nationalist/separatist appeal was the sole motivation for supporting the insurgency. In looking at the failures of administration and governance that provoked the widespread dissatisfaction among the Mizo population, we can see elements of what might be termed reformist goals— seeking enhanced economic and political stature for the Mizos, but not necessarily outside the context of the Indian state.13 A second type of goal or motivation is what Bard O’Neill terms preservationist.14 There was a real sense that Mizo culture, language, and identity were under threat from both Assam domination, as exemplified by the state language policy, as well as immigration by non-Mizo peoples. In the case of the Naga insurgency, cleavages manifested themselves first and foremost in the tribal structure of Naga society, with insurgent groups initially operating in single tribe bands. Naga-wide there was disagreement over the degree of autonomy sought, ranging from a separate identity within India to complete independence. As with the Mizo case, these separatist sentiments were bolstered by preservationist concerns about the future of Naga identity and way of life within India. These case suggests that recognizing and exploiting such cleavages— particularly tribal identities—can be accomplished by responding to and ameliorating local concerns.15 Awareness of competing demands and priorities within an insurgent movement can allow the government to attempt to co-opt and accommodate moderate elements by responding to their concerns without surrendering to the demands of the radicals.

For a discussion of the use of violence to solidify ethnic identity, see Daniel Byman, “The Logic of Ethnic Terrorism,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Vol. 21, No. 2 (April/June 1998), pp. 149-169.. 13 O’Neill, Insurgency & Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse, p 26. 14 Ibid., pp. 27-28. 15 Author interview with Lt. General (retired) D.B. Sheketkar, New Delhi, March 11 2008.


Indeed, the historical record suggests that, through accommodation, many insurgents can be politically swayed or economically induced to rally to the government’s side.16 In the two cases studied here, the Indian government took advantage of the presence of cross-cutting goals among various elements of the insurgency to craft a population-centric counterinsurgency strategy that attempted to split the insurgents from their supporters. While the goals of insurgent leaders cannot always be accommodated, the concrete grievances that motivate both the rank-andfile insurgents and their supporters frequently can be met.17 The insurgent leaders promised their followers that independence would benefit the Mizo and Naga peoples. The Indian government countered by demonstrating the benefits of remaining within India through devolution of authority, increased spending in the territories, and civic action that responded to the tangible sources of discontent. These efforts, together with statehood and special protections for the local people to help preserve their culture and customs, appear to have gone a long way toward splitting the radicals in the two movements from those whose own goals fit more into the reformist or preservationist camps. It should be noted, however that, particularly in the Naga case, while this fragmentation of the insurgents was successful at significantly reducing the overall level of violence, the challenges of negotiating with or eliminating the various splinter groups of insurgents which remained, to bring about a total end to violence has proved to be significantly difficult.


For a recent argument that would-be insurgents can be coerced or co-opted into supporting peace, see Kelly M. Greenhill and Solomon Major, “The Perils of Profiling: Civil War Spoilers and the Collapse of Intrastate Peace Accords,” International Security, Vol. 31, No. 3 (Winter 2006/07), pp. 7-40. Similarly, Robert Maranto and Paula Tuchman argue that the insurgents’ potential support base in the population is highly responsive to the incentives offered by the government or the insurgents in Robert Maranto and Paula Tuchman, “Knowing the Rational Peasant: The Creation of Rival Incentive Structures in Vietnam,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 29, No. 3 (August 1992), pp. 249-264.. 17 O’Neill, Insurgency & Terrorism, pp. 171-172.



The basic aim of any counterinsurgency campaign is to restore peace. It is important to recognize that internal conflicts require a different notion of victory than conventional warfare: Rarely does the government defeat a protracted insurgency outright. In some cases, as their support base weakens, the rebels simply melt back into society; in other cases, some sort of political accommodation is reached. Most likely, however, success will mean reducing the conflict to a “manageable level of threat.”18 For the government side, victory is usually a “qualified success” and should be taken to mean the end of the political threat. Total elimination of the insurgents is rarely achieved. Attitude towards the insurgents The Indian government’s counterinsurgency approach sought to eliminate the insurgency, not the insurgents. Implicit in the Naga and Mizo cases is the notion that the government primarily viewed the insurgents as confused or misled citizens rather than enemies of the state. This is not to deny the legitimacy of the grievances that motivated the resort to armed violence, but it does underscore the fact that the government eventually wanted to see the rebellious peoples reconciled to the state rather than defeated by it. For example, in the Naga case, Prime Minister Nehru believed that, “people fighting in the Naga areas for what they considered their freedom could not be treated on a par with ordinary criminals in the settled parts of India…”19 That attitude shaped the counterinsurgency approach undertaken, one that


Then U.K. Defense Secretary John Reid used the phrase in connection with Iraq when describing conditions for a possible withdrawal. Peter Spiegel, “Reid Sets out Conditions for Iraq Pull Out,” Financial Times March 13, 2006. 19 Sarvepalli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography, vol. 3, 1947-1956 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979), p 29.


attempted to minimize the use of force and maximize the use of political compromise. As Nehru instructed the Chief Minister of Assam, “We shall of course use our armed forces to the fullest extent necessary. But we have always to remember that the real solution will require a political approach and an attempt to make the Nagas feel that we are friendly to them and that they can be at home in India.”20 In a democracy, restoring peace will require that the state achieve some sort of reconciliation with its rebellious citizens and successfully integrate them back into society. If the government chooses to denounce the insurgents as traitors or enemies of the state, it limits its ability to use political tools to resolve the conflict.

Facilitating political change Recognizing the insurgents as citizens rather than enemies, India put a premium on reconciliation and created opportunities for the Naga and Mizo peoples to achieve their aspirations by working through the Indian political system. In both cases, political parties organized by former insurgents contested and won elections, which co-opted local elites into the political process and gave them and their supporters a stake in the country’s future. The Indian government attempted to respond to the moderate Naga’s desire for autonomy, short of secession, by first creating an autonomous Naga Hills-Tuensang Area in 1957 and in 1963, when that initial step proved insufficient, granting them full statehood within India as Nagaland. This latter move helped pave the way for the 1964 ceasefire. Similarly, in an effort to bolster the moderates in the Mizo National Front, who had become disillusioned with the futility of armed struggle, as well as rival Mizo politicians, the Indian government created avenues for Mizo elites to achieve

Sanjoy Hazarika, Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from India’s Northwest (New Delhi: Penguin, 1994), p 360.


many of their political aspirations within the Indian Union. Mizoram first was made a Union Territory in 1972 and later became a full-fledged state in 1986, upon the signing of the peace agreement with the MNF. The Indian government was willing to negotiate with the Mizo National Front, despite its use of violence, and interestingly, Laldenga, the leader of the MNF, was made Chief Minister of the state as part of the deal when the central government persuaded the democratically elected incumbent to step down. Elections held along the way in both Nagaland and Mizoram were characterized by high levels of popular participation, suggesting acceptance and legitimization of the Indian political system. Authorities ranging from Che Guevara to Samuel Huntington have noted that popular revolutions are not successful when waged against democratic governments.21 The presumed robustness of democratic systems lies in the fact that they offer their citizens a means to achieve political change in a non-violent manner. An insurgency is primarily a political struggle, so an effective counterinsurgency plan should incorporate some means for discontented citizens to address their social or economic grievances by working within the political system rather than against it. Popular participation in the state’s political process is a cornerstone of its legitimacy. If discontented citizens are willing and able to achieve their aims via the political process, they have little cause to take up arms against the state. This explains, in part, why Jeff Goodwin and Theda Skocpol have said that the “ballot box is the coffin of insurgency.”22


This issue is taken up in the country studies and final conclusion of Ernesto Guevara, Guerrilla Warfare, ed. Brian Loveman and Jr. Thomas M. Davies (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985). and Samuel P. Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968), p 275. 22 Jeff Goodwin and Theda Skocpol, “Explaining Revolutions in the Contemporary Third World,” Politics & Society, Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 1989), p. 495.


As the two cases indicate, political concessions of some form are typically required during a counterinsurgency campaign. The government may need to make them directly to the insurgents or as part of an effort to win the support of a crucial segment of the population. For the government to effectively employ political concessions to hasten the end of a conflict, political leaders must have their own vision of an acceptable end state as well as a keen understanding of the motivations and goals of the insurgents and their supporters. Having clearly articulated its own political “red lines” that no secession would be permitted, the government of India displayed a high degree of political flexibility in responding to both insurgencies. Particularly notable was the creation of new states to provide for local rule, the restriction of immigration from other parts of India to ameliorate local concerns about cultural preservation, and in the Mizo case, the removal of an elected state government and installation of an insurgent leader in its place in order to broker a peace deal. It is worth pointing out that state creation has not proved to be a universal panacea, as problems have developed with minority populations in the new states. For example, members of the Chakma, Lai and Mara tribes in Mizoram have alleged discrimination and neglect by the state government of the sort that the Mizos originally alleged about the State of Assam.23 Furthermore, it has been suggested that the success of the Naga and Mizo in gaining their own states has emboldened other groups within the Northeast to seek autonomy through violence.24 Nevertheless, while not all countries may possess India’s flexibility and willingness to redefine internal

23 24

Author interview with Sanjoy Hazarika, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, March 13 2008. Subir Bhaumik, “Ethnicity, Ideology and Religion: Separatist Movements in India's Northeast,” in Satu Limaye, et al., eds., Religious Radicalism and Security in South Asia (Honolulu, Hawaii: AsiaPacific Center for Security Studies, 2004), p 225.


borders and political arrangements to accommodate separatists, but its success in coopting moderates and reducing violence is certainly worth noting.

Political resolve When dealing with the separatist insurgents, the Indian government believes that time and resources are on its side.25 Throughout the Naga and Mizo conflicts, the Indian government maintained an uncompromising position on national unity and signaled that it was willing to make a sustained political and military commitment to prevent secession. Neither case has had a speedy resolution: The Mizo insurgency lasted for two decades while the Naga violence has continued at a low level for more than five.26 India’s approach has not been one that aimed to achieve a quick decision, but rather to send a consistent message that the government has the patience, the determination, and the resources to outlast the insurgents. Counterinsurgency theorists argue that it is imperative that the government signal that it is committed to the conflict for the duration because cultivating an impression of resolve is a necessary element for winning popular support.27 As Julian Paget points out, “no one likes backing a loser, particularly in an insurgency.”28 Not only does a reputation for resolve increase the likelihood of obtaining civilian support, it undermines the insurgents’ belief that they can “wait out” the government. Due to

25 26

Interview with Lt. Gen Sheketkar A brief survey of “concluded” insurgencies in the latter half of the 20th century supports this point: The Vietnam War lasted 17 years; the Portuguese fought the MPLA in Angola for 13 years; the Salvadorian Civil War lasted 12 years as did the Malayan Emergency; both the Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines and the Algerian War of Independence lasted 8 years. James Fearon reports that since the end of World War II, the average duration of internal conflicts has been ten years, with half lasting more than seven years. James D. Fearon, “Iraq’s Civil War,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 86, No. 2 (March/April 2007), p. 4. 27 For example, the British government’s insistence on setting a firm withdrawal date is principally responsible for their “loss” at the hands of the insurgents in Aden despite their overwhelming material and political advantages. John T. Fishel and Max G. Manwaring, Uncomfortable Wars Revisited (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), pp. 25, 256. 28 Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaigning, p 176.


the Maoist experience in China, there is a perception that protracted conflict favors the insurgents. In reality, most insurgencies fail. Although the cost of deploying large numbers of soldiers, police, and paramilitary forces for years is not insignificant, with a sizeable resource base to draw on, as India demonstrated in Mizoram and Nagaland, a government is often relatively better positioned to bear this cost than the insurgents are to maintain their difficult guerilla lifestyle.

Consolidate the peace To win support as well as consolidate the peace, India’s central government provided the new states with high levels of economic assistance to spur development and “buy off” potential insurgents with jobs and rising standards of living. Roads and bridges were built in previously inaccessible areas, schools and hospitals were opened, and many villages received electricity and piped water for the first time. These income transfers and development projects attempted to integrate these previously backward regions into the national political-economic system. At the same time, since funding from the central government forms the supermajority of government revenues in both states, such aid can also be seen as a means to create a constituency for peace by providing local elites and average citizens with strong economic incentives for remaining a part of India. Similarly, the formation of new state governments in both Mizoram and Nagaland also created the need for an entire class of local bureaucrats and public officials whose power and office rested in the continuation of peace and stability. Such an approach must be carefully executed. Some critics contend that in a rush to establish stability in the conflict zones, the Indian government was willing to enter into arrangements which have resulted in “sham democracy” in areas of the


Northeast where local elites and former insurgents continue to extract rents from the local population via the institutions of government. It has been similarly alleged that neither Nagaland nor Mizoram are economically viable entities, which will require the states to receive indefinite income transfers from the central government. Nevertheless, when the local elites as well as the populace have tangible economic and political interests in avoiding future conflict, lasting peace in the territory could be significantly more likely. While the political measures described in this section are an important part of a government counterinsurgency strategy, they are not enough on their own to bring about an end to internal violence. At some point in the conflict, it is necessary for the government to re-assert its authority in the contested area, a subject that is the focus of the following section.


In responding to an outbreak of insurgent violence, the Indian government had to rely on the Army to reestablish its authority in the conflict zone. However, this was viewed as a temporary expedient until the civil authorities acquired the capacity to manage the situation. This section examines the government’s efforts to reassert its control in Nagaland and Mizoram.

Use of force Once popular discontent has metastasized into armed violence, it will be necessary to employ a certain level of force as part of its counterinsurgency strategy. In the Naga and Mizo cases, since the government viewed the insurgents and their supporters as


citizens whose support was to be won, it sought to use force in a manner that supported the government’s broader political aims, such as pressuring the insurgents toward a negotiated settlement. Although important to success in counterinsurgency, restraint is not often considered a virtue by conventional armies, therefore it is notable that, upon deployment of the security forces to Nagaland, the first order issued by the Chief of Army Staff proclaimed:

You must remember that all the people of the area in which you are operating are fellow Indians…Some of these people are misguided and have taken to arms against their own people, and are disrupting the peace of this area. You are to protect the mass of the people from these disruptive elements. You are not there to fight the people in the area, but to protect them. You are fighting only those who threaten the people and who are a danger to the lives and properties of the people. You must therefore do everything possible to win their confidence and respect and to help them feel that they belong to India.29 This realization is important because in counterinsurgency gains come slowly but setbacks can occur in a moment, particularly when conducting “war amongst the people.”30 From the start it appears that the Indian government had a realistic appreciation of how little the military instrument alone can accomplish, as well as a recognition that the use of force cannot grant a state legitimacy when dealing with alienated or disaffected citizens. With the exception of the government’s initial response to the Mizo National Front’s seizure of the local capital of Aizawal in 1966, in which airpower was employed to attack insurgent bands, counterinsurgency operations in both Nagaland and Mizoram were characterized by the lack of employment of heavy weapons by the security forces. Relying on personal weapons, rather than artillery or air-delivered munitions, counterinsurgents were better able to employ force in a discriminate
29 30

Profulla Roychowdhury, The North East: Roots of Insurgency (Calcutta: Firma Klm, 1986), p 142. The phrase “war amongst the people” comes from Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (London: Allen Lane, 2005), p 1.


manner. As a result, the Indian government was able to reduce the collateral damage its forces inflicted on civilians and their property, which could otherwise have undermined backing for the government. As the colorful and controversial American advisor John Paul Vann famously advised about counterinsurgency, “This is a political war and it calls for discrimination in killing. The best weapon for killing would be a knife, but I'm afraid we can't do it that way. The worst is an airplane. The next worst is artillery. Barring a knife, the best is a rifle—you know who you're killing.”31

Center of gravity For many conventional armies deployed on counterinsurgency operations, the natural inclination is to view the insurgents as the primary focus of the government’s counterinsurgency efforts. In contrast, many counterinsurgency theorists argue that the center of gravity for a counterinsurgency operation should be the civilian population. Gaining and maintaining popular support, or at least acquiescence, must be the primary objective of all civil and military efforts; attacking the insurgents is secondary. Securing popular support requires persuading a sizeable segment of the population that the government is the best vehicle to achieve their goals and preserve their well-being. As a result, providing for the security of the civilian population is a key issue: Unless they are assured of protection from guerrilla reprisals, civilians can be understandably reticent to actively support the government. As Julian Paget has noted, “the Government must convince the population that it can and will protect its supporters against the insurgents, for no one likes being shot as a reward for

Neil Sheehan, A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam (New York: Random House, 1989), p 317.


loyalty.”32 Political and economic efforts to address grievances and raise living standards will do little to win popular support in an insecure environment: “The people who have watched the insurgents painstakingly construct their political infrastructure and punish those who oppose them will not expose themselves to support the regime merely because government troops have temporarily occupied the area and dug a well.”33 In Nagaland and Mizoram, the insurgents preyed on the local population. Villages were “taxed” by the insurgents for money and food, while young people were forcible recruited by the guerrillas to act as fighters or bearers.34 In addition to battling the security forces, the insurgents waged a campaign against political rivals and moderates (who they branded “dissenters”) within their own community, targeting local officials and civilians loyal to the government for kidnap or execution.35 In this environment, even civilians opposed to the insurgents could not risk publicly defying them. In both cases, the government deployed security forces on a large scale to stabilize the situation, repulse the insurgents’ attempts to hold territory, and foster the image that the state, not the insurgents, had the initiative in the conflict. Forces were arranged on a counterinsurgency grid, a variation on the quadrillange strategy of the French, whereby garrisons are established in communities across the entire territory while highly mobile units aggressively patrol the areas between garrisons to keep pressure on the insurgents and deny them sanctuary. The security forces sought to

Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaigning, p 176. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam, p 12. 34 V.K. Anand, Conflict in Nagaland: A Study of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency (New Delhi: Chanakya Publications, 1980), p 96; D.K. Palit, Sentinels of the North-East: The Assam Rifles (New Delhi: Palit & Palit, 1984), p 266. 35 Anand, Conflict in Nagaland, p 96; Palit, Sentinels of the North-East, p 266.



achieve area dominance through a saturation of army posts and personnel.36 American counterinsurgency theorist John McCuen has argued that this type of deployment, backed by mobile quick-reaction units, is the proper response to low-level guerrilla warfare because the security forces can simultaneously protect and interact with the local population.37 In the Northeast, a battalion was typically assigned to cover an area of roughly 30-35 square miles, which was subdivided into company-sized areas of operation. In Mizoram, each company was further divided into two sub-posts of twenty men each. These sub-posts were located next to a village so security forces could bolster the confidence of the local inhabitants with their presence. However, due to the difficulties of terrain and the size of the security forces, blanket coverage of remote villages was not fully achieved.38 This saturation strategy allowed the Indian security forces to establish their presence among the civilian population. As the Indian’s learned, securing the people of a given area cannot be accomplished from remote cantonments. It requires living and working among the citizenry of the area. This regular presence also facilitates the development of networks of personal relationships that aid in the collection of human intelligence. Regular patrols, particularly on foot, allow the security forces to directly engage with the population, bolstering confidence in the government and enhancing the counterinsurgents’ situational awareness. Constant patrolling is a fundamental means by which security forces establish a presence in a given area and maintain pressure on the insurgent bands—denying them the initiative. While the Indian security forces never had sufficient manpower to prevent all insurgent activity through this saturation strategy, it did succeed in denying the rebels active control of

For descriptions of the quadrillange, see Alistair Horne, A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962 (New York: The Viking Press, 1977), p 19., pp. XXX and Edgar O’ Balance, The Algerian Insurrection, 1954-62 (Hamden, Con: Archon Books, 1967), pp. 64-66. 37 McCuen, The Art of Counter-Revolutionary War: The Strategy of Counter-Insurgency, pp. 119-124. 38 Palit, Sentinels of the North-East, p 269.


these contested zones. Furthermore, it allowed the Indian government to concentrate the insurgency in isolated rural areas.

Indigenous counterinsurgency forces In Nagaland, the Indian government recruited loyal Nagas to protect their home villages from the insurgents. Known as the “Village Guards,” these self-defense forces were led by junior officers seconded from the Army and operated under the administrative control of the local police.39 Due to their keen local knowledge as well as the presence of former guerillas among their ranks, the Village Guards were considered by some insurgents to be a greater danger to them than the regular security forces.40 The creation of local militias or self-defense units is a means of extending security to the civilian population that has been employed in several historical counterinsurgency campaigns. Training and equipping part-time militia forces can aid the effort to separate the insurgents from the civilian population and serve as an important vehicle for political organization of the population at the village level. In providing a means for the loyal segments of the population to defend themselves, the government is also obliging citizens to make a public declaration of opposition to the insurgents. This latter phenomenon can help shrink the political space in which the insurgents’ subversive organization can operate because militias establish a government presence in the village. In a separatist conflict, local forces recruited from the same “identity group” as the insurgents can also provide greater legitimacy

39 40

P.D. Stracey, Nagaland Nightmare (Bombay: Allied Publishers, 1968), pp. 136-137. R.D. Paloskar, Forever in Operations: A Success Story (Headquarters: 8 Mountain Division, 1991), p 33.


for the government’s counterinsurgency effort which is important for overcoming the natural affinity that the insurgents will have with their population base.41 Once they are recruited, militia members have a significant stake in the conflict because they are defending their own homes and livelihood. When defending their homes, militia members may be significantly more discriminate in their use of force than the regular security forces, thereby avoiding unnecessarily alienating the local population through excess collateral damage. Furthermore, civilian militias know their village better than any outsider. This can make them an invaluable source of information about popular local grievances, the effectiveness of the government’s counterinsurgency efforts, and perhaps the identity of local insurgents. The establishment of effective self-defense units has the additional benefit of freeing the security forces from manpower-intensive static protection duties, enabling them to concentrate more forces on actively engaging insurgents.

Police and administrative capacity A growing body of academic literature identifies a lack of local governance and administrative authority as the key proximate cause of the emergence of insurgent violence.42 Particularly troublesome are rural areas or rough terrain such as mountains, swamps and jungles where poor communication or transportation infrastructure may limit the government’s reach.43 Prior to the outbreak of armed violence, the penetration and quality of governance in both the Naga and Mizo Hills
Robert Cassidy, “The Long Small War: Indigenous Forces for Counterinsurgency,” Parameters, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Summer 2006), pp. 47-62. 42 See, for example, Timothy P. Wickham-Crowley, Guerrillas and Revolutions in Latin America: A Comparative Study of Insurgents and Regimes since 1956 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), p 35; Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War.”; Stathis N. Kalyvas, The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p 216. 43 Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War,” p. 80; Ann Hironaka, Never-Ending Wars: The International Community, Weak States and the Perception of Civil War (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2005), pp. 42-46..


were low. Neither territory had been significantly administered by the British, so the independent Indian government inherited little authority in those areas. What little governance the state of Assam did provide was marred by corruption, economic weakness, and administrative neglect (particularly in the management of the outbreak of the Mautam and the subsequent famine in Mizoram). Thus, in both cases significant political space existed for the insurgent movements to emerge and rival the authority of the Indian state. As the two cases illustrate, reestablishing the government’s authority in a rebellious territory is not simply a matter of deploying security forces. It also requires bolstering the capacity of the local administration to establish law and order, as well as provide essential services to the population. Extending the government’s reach into ungoverned or rebellious territory is an important aspect of restoring normalcy since increased government capacity has been found to have a positive impact on the outcome of counterinsurgency campaigns.44 As Robert Thompson argues, An insurgent movement is a war for the people. It stands to reason that government measures must be directed to restoring government authority and law and order throughout the country, so that control over the population can be regained and support won. This cannot be done unless a high priority is given to the administrative structure of the government itself, to its institutions and to the training of its personnel. Without a reasonably efficient government machine, no programs or projects, in the context of counterinsurgency, will produce the desired results. 45 In particular, attention should focus on developing a competent local police force, because they are the agency best suited to disrupt insurgent networks while protecting the population.46 Detecting and severing the links between insurgent groups


Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War,” pp. 88-89; Ann Hironaka, Never-Ending Wars: The International Community, Weak States and the Perception of Civil War, pp. 53-80. 45 Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency: The Lessons of Malaya and Vietnam, p 51. 46 For an expanded discussion of the role of police in counterinsurgency, see Walter C. Ladwig, “Training Foreign Police: A Missing Aspect of U.S. Security Assistance to Counterinsurgency,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 26, No. 4 (July 2007), pp. 286-287.


and the civilian supporters they rely on for shelter, transport, and information requires solid investigatory police work. Furthermore, the police are a part of normal civil society in a way that the military is not. As a result, their local knowledge and connections are a key source of the human intelligence so critical for successful counterinsurgency operations: “Intelligence operations that help detect terrorist insurgents for arrest and prosecution are the single most important practice to protect a population from threats to its security. Honest, trained, robust police forces responsible for security can gather intelligence at the community level.”47 Consequently, insurgent movements often devote considerable attention to infiltrating or disrupting the local police forces. Not only did the police and civil authority in Mizoram lack the capacity to discharge their duties, they were significantly penetrated by the insurgents. Following the establishment of Mizoram as a Union Territory, bolstering the capacity of the civil government and the police became a part of the counterinsurgency effort. The Mizoram Police force was reorganized and new standards of discipline were implemented. Under the guidance of the Union Home minister, the civil administration was reconstituted and veteran civil-servants from outside the region with a background in managing internal disorder were appointed to senior positions in the Mizoram administration. The interjection of experienced, energetic administrators from other parts of India was important for two reasons. First, the Northeast had traditionally been a “punishment posting” which meant that the supermajority of senior administrators in the region were of below-average ability.48 Furthermore, unlike local Nagas or Mizos,

Kalev Sepp, “Best Practices in Counterinsurgency,” Military Review, Vol. LXXXV, No. 03 (MayJune 2005), p. 9. 48 Ved Marwah, Uncivil Wars : Pathology of Terrorism in India, 1st paperback ed. (New Delhi: HarperCollins, 1997), p 245.


“outsiders” did not have to worry that their “collaboration” with the Indian government would put their friends or family in nearby villages at risk of retaliation by the insurgents.

Unity of Effort To succeed in counterinsurgency, a state must bring to bear all the elements of its national power—political, military, economic and social—on the problem. The absence of any one of these components can jeopardize the entire undertaking. As French counterinsurgency theorist David Galula cogently argues, “[T]he expected result—final defeat of the insurgents—is not an addition but a multiplication of these various operations; they all are essential and if one is nil, the product will be zero.”49 Herein lies a significant challenge: How does a government bring to bear the various responsible agencies and organizations in a single coordinated campaign? Some point to the ideal of General Templar in Malaya who was temporarily given proconsul-like powers to command both the civil administration and the military.50 Yet, even within British experience, this is more the exception than the rule. It is widely recognized that the principle of unity of command (or perhaps more realistically, unity of effort) is even more important in counterinsurgency than in conventional warfare, but achieving it is another matter. At the strategic level, the various agencies supporting counterinsurgency operations must agree on the objectives of the campaign and the means to achieve them. Past history suggests that active coordination and management structures will be required to prevent “stovepiping” from occurring during the actual implementation
49 50

Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare; Theory and Practice, p 87. For a discussion of the management structures employed to coordinate the counterinsurgency campaign in Malaya, see Walter C. Ladwig, “Managing Counterinsurgency: Lessons from Malaya,” Military Review, Vol. 87, No. 3 (May 2007), pp. 56-66.


of the counterinsurgency strategy. Executive-level synchronization is not enough, however. Civil-military-police operations also require coordination at the district level and below to ensure that all efforts are directed toward the desired political outcome. In both Nagaland and Mizoram, multiple agencies participated in counterinsurgency operations: the Army; the paramilitary Assam Rifles and central police organizations which came under the authority of the Ministry of Home Affairs; the intelligence agencies; the state police and state administration, as well as some police battalions from other states. Coordinating such varied organizations would appear to be a very significant challenge under the best of conditions. Theater-wide, unity of command was achieved by placing the various police and military units assigned to the counterinsurgency effort under the control of a single, usually Army, commander. At lower levels of operations, it has been suggested that the counterinsurgency grid in Nagaland allowed the various elements of the security forces to achieve unity of command in their specific areas of operations.51 When it came to unifying the efforts of the security forces with civil agencies, however, the Indian government had difficulty overcoming institutional barriers to interagency cooperation—compartmentalization rather than integration across civil and military agencies was the rule of the day. Consequently, counterinsurgency operations were characterized by “[t]he multiplicity of authorities, different policies, segregated planning, separate operations, frigid echelons and uncoordinated responses…”52 As the Indian experience demonstrates, the imperative of unity of effort, though widely acknowledged in the counterinsurgency literature, is often more honored in the breach.

51 52

Interview with Lt. Gen. Sheketkar. Anand, Conflict in Nagaland, p 146.


Having identified the importance of securing the civilian population and reestablishing the government’s authority in the disputed territory, attention now turns to the insurgents. In particular, the focus of counterinsurgency efforts should not necessarily be to kill or capture the insurgents themselves, but rather to cut them off from their sources of support.


An insurgent’s dependence on a population base for support, information, supplies or merely an environment in which to operate points to the need for counterinsurgency forces to sever the link between the insurgents and the broader populace. As the U.S. counterinsurgency field manual notes, “it is easier to separate an insurgency from its resources and let it die than to kill every insurgent.”53 This task, although never easy, can be accomplished in a number of ways. The least invasive and most surgical method to cut off the guerrillas is to develop high-quality intelligence, which allows for the identification and elimination of the insurgent’s support network. Failing that, other techniques, involving varying levels of coercion may be implemented.

Intelligence As Frank Kiston points out, “If it is accepted that the problem of defeating [an insurgent] consists largely of finding him, it is easy to recognize the paramount importance of good information.”54 The challenge for the government is to be able to protect the loyal, persuade the uncommitted and punish the seditious, which can be difficult if it cannot effectively distinguish between insurgent and non-combatant. A
53 54

FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army, 2006), p 41. Kitson, Low Intensity Operations : Subversion, Insurgency, Peace-Keeping, p 58.


key intelligence advantage for many insurgents is that they are fighting on their home turf. As Fearon and Laitin postulate “…the key to inducing the local population not to denounce the active rebels is local knowledge, or information about who is doing what at the village level. Local knowledge allows the active rebels to threaten retribution for denunciation credibly.”55 Therefore, effective counterinsurgency forces must develop significant intelligence networks, particularly human intelligence, in their areas of operation to offset the insurgents’ intelligence advantages, and ideally neutralize them.56 The availability of reliable intelligence is important for the overall success of a counterinsurgency campaign. As the government makes progress against an insurgency, more and better intelligence resources will become available. In both the Naga and Mizo cases, the government’s initial lack of intelligence assets, lack of understanding of the local people, and unfamiliarity with the terrain were notable advantages for the insurgents, as the government underestimated the difficulties it would have in putting down the insurgency.57 Intelligence in counterinsurgency is population-centric: The counterinsurgents must develop an understanding of the people, the insurgents and the issues driving the insurgency. The civilian population is the best source for timely and dependable intelligence. This makes it extremely important that the security forces display rectitude in their dealings with the people because the availability of intelligence is often inversely correlated to the level of force employed by the counterinsurgents. As suggested previously, the willingness of civilians to cooperate with the government is also affected by both their perception that the government will eventually succeed in
55 56

Fearon and Laitin, “Ethnicity, Insurgency and Civil War,” p. 80. John A. Lynn, “Patterns of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency,” Military Review, Vol. 85, No. 4 (Jul/Aug 2005), p. 25. 57 Interview with Lt. Gen Sheketkar


its battle against the insurgents and, more importantly, that the government can protect them from reprisals for their cooperation.58 Locally recruited members of the security forces can also be a valuable resource. In the Naga insurgency, the Assam Rifles and the police forces from neighboring states, which drew their personnel from northeastern India, had a knowledge of local customs and languages that the Army lacked. If local forces cannot be raised in sufficient quantity, it is important that the security forces deployed in a given area remain there for a lengthy period of time. The knowledge of local languages and customs necessary to develop human intelligence can be cultivated during extended deployments as units become experts in their assigned sector—developing relations with local political leaders, government officials and prominent civilians. Constant rotation of soldiers in and out of an operational area on short-term tours practically guarantees that the local knowledge necessary to separate insurgents from the populace will not be developed. With threeyear tours of duty, Indian forces deployed in Mizoram had significant opportunities to develop the necessary awareness of and contacts in their area of responsibility.59 The ability to gain information at the grassroots level enables security forces to identify the contact points between insurgents and their bases of support within the population. This issue was particularly important in the Mizo case where the MNF’s subversive organization had thoroughly penetrated the civil government, which provided them with intelligence on the government’s counterinsurgency operations. In addition, for the majority of the conflict, the insurgents were able to collect taxes from the civilian population and execute government informers with impunity. Moreover, the MNF remained central to every segment of society, including political and

Maranto and Tuchman, “Knowing the Rational Peasant: The Creation of Rival Incentive Structures in Vietnam,” pp. 249-264. 59 Interview with Col. Vivek Chadha, New Delhi, March 12, 2008.


administrative bodies as well as cultural and student organizations.60 Not only did threats of retaliation prevent ordinary Mizos from informing on the insurgents, the Mizo underground’s reach was so extensive that, six years into the conflict, it was still able to orchestrate the assassination of a new reformist Inspector General of the police using collaborators on his own staff. Population-control measures In counterinsurgency campaigns, it often proves necessary for the government to take invasive measures to separate insurgents from their civilian support base. Such measures can include constant surveillance of the population, the issuing of identity cards, the establishment of checkpoints, limits on movement, and so forth. During much of the conflicts in Mizoram and Nagaland, for example, the territories were under a near-permanent curfew that authorized security forces to use deadly force against anyone out after nightfall. A significantly more coercive measure undertaken in both cases was the physical relocation of elements of the civilian population from remote villages into areas that allowed the government to better provide security and social services to them. Although analysts are divided about the degree of impact the regroupment had on the ability of the insurgents to gain access to supplies and intelligence, there is near consensus on the negative social impacts of the displacement.61 In many instances, the regrouped villages were located a significant distance from the villagers’ fields, which made them reliant on the government for food. Moreover, neither tribal society was based on a market economy, so the loss of economic independence that came with relocation imposed significant hardships on the social fabric of the affected people—
60 61

Interview with Col. Chadha Compare the views expressed in C. G. Verghese and R. L. Thanzawna, A History of the Mizos, 2 vols., vol. II (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1997), p 86. with Vivek Chadha, Low Intensity Conflicts in India : An Analysis (London: Sage Publications, 2005), p 346.


particularly in the case of Mizoram where it is estimated that more than 200,000 people (65% of the population) were forcibly relocated.62 Being forced from their homes significantly alienated the Mizos, and served as a major recruiting tool for the insurgents. Attempted regrouping in Nagaland had a similar effect on civilians who believed that the Indian government was attempting to break up their society by removing them from their ancestral homes.63 As this episode clearly demonstrates, coercion of the civilian population that appears to achieve a positive result in the short-term can engender resentment and animosity, which can jeopardize the entire counterinsurgency effort in the longer-term by driving people into the arms of the insurgents. At first glance, the regrouping schemes may have appeared to deliver an unqualified benefit— improved security and social services—yet failure to appreciate the economic and social impact of such measures on the tribal societies made them an unqualified disaster. Some form of population control is necessary to weed out the insurgents from the populace, however, this experience suggests that careful thought must be given to each proposed measure, as well as to its long-term effect on the target population.

Amnesty Amnesty programs are a very cheap way for the government to separate the rank-andfile insurgents from their leaders and reduce the number of armed rebels opposing them. As Sun Tzu wisely noted, the supreme military skill is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Not only may former insurgents be a valuable source of intelligence, but in some cases, they also may be inducted into the security forces to hunt down

62 63

Chadha, Low Intensity Conflicts, p 345. Author interview Sanjoy Hazarika.


their former comrades. In combination with on-going civic action and economic development programs, amnesty offers can provide a gateway for insurgents to better their circumstances without the continuing hardship of guerrilla life, not to mention the risk of death or imprisonment, by giving up the fight. Moreover, defections from the guerrilla ranks can be a serious blow to the morale of the insurgents who remain in the field. In both cases, the Indian government initiated amnesty programs and even inducted former insurgents into the para-military security forces and former insurgent leaders went on to become legitimate political leaders in their societies—once they accepted the principal of remaining a part of India. Giving former rebels a stake in society and a status that makes up for their lost position with the insurgents is an important part of their reintegration, as is ensuring that rank-and-file guerrillas are free from reprisals once they come over to the government’s side. Over the course of the Mizo conflict, the government announced several amnesty programs for insurgents who, along with their weapons, rallied to the government’s side. In the Naga case, the government offered blanket pardons of “all crimes committed against the state in the past” including murder.64 Insurgents who laid down their arms and accepted the 1975 Shilong Accord could be inducted into the Nagaland Armed Police or the paramilitary Border Security Force.65 While not every amnesty offer was met with large-scale defections, the practice of pairing the promise of lenient treatment with continuous pressure on the remaining insurgents appears sound. Amnesty offers proved most successful immediately after the insurgent cause had suffered a significant setback. For example, the loss of East Pakistan as a

64 Asoso Yonuo, The Rising Nagas : A Historical and Political Study (Delhi: Vivek Pub. House, 1974), pp. 224-225. 65 Anand, Conflict in Nagaland, p 241.


sanctuary following the 1971 Bangladesh War triggered a wave of defections among Mizo insurgents. Amnesty does carry a number of challenges. First, amnesty offers have to be carefully timed to avoid emboldening insurgents by overly magnanimous offers that may be perceived as indicating government weakness. Second, offers can provoke domestic backlash because some may recoil from the thought of giving a free pass to murderers and terrorists. Nevertheless, amnesty programs have proven to be a costeffective way to reduce the number of insurgents facing the government, and they should be a component of any counterinsurgency strategy

External support External support played an important role in sustaining both the Naga and the Mizo insurgencies. East Pakistan provided the insurgents with both training and weapons while allowing the establishment of base camps in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Following the 1962 Sino-Indian war, China increased its patronage of rebel movements in the Northeast as well. Not all sanctuary is intentionally provided by the foreign government: The Nagas were able to exploit the presence of related tribes on the other side of the Indo-Burmese border to gain sanctuary and passage to China because the Burmese government exercised little control over that region. Insurgents have a distinct advantage when they can operate with impunity across borders, particularly when a sympathetic regime provides aid and sanctuary.66 Moral, political, or material assistance from outside the country can provide the critical assistance necessary to sustain a guerrilla movement in the face of aggressive


Daniel Byman et al., Trends in Outside Support for Insurgent Movements (Santa Monica, Calif: RAND, 2001).


counterinsurgency operations. Consequently, it is imperative that cross-border supplies to guerillas and access to base camps in neighboring countries be interdicted by counterinsurgency forces.67 As the Naga and Mizo cases demonstrate, the loss of external support can have a significant impact on an insurgent movement. The effectiveness of both insurgent groups was appreciably harmed by the loss of their sanctuary in East Pakistan as a result of Bangladesh gaining independence from Pakistan in 1971. In the same time frame, diplomatic efforts to persuade the Burmese government to close its territory to the rebels met with some success, and joint Indo-Burmese military operations were able to intercept and disrupt insurgents bands attempting to cross the international border. Later, following the normalization of Sino-Indian relations in 1976, China too ceased its support for the insurgents. The combined loss of secure cross-border bases can explain, in part, the decision of numerous Mizo and Naga insurgents to abandon their armed struggle in the mid-1970s. However, these cases also illustrate just how difficult reducing external support to insurgents can be. Prior to 1971, the Indian government made little headway in its diplomatic efforts to reduce external support for the Naga insurgents because both Pakistan and China were actively exploiting the insurgency to weaken India. Attacking insurgent bases across the border would have been a risky proposition that could have provoked international condemnation or even interstate conflict. In this vein, the 1971 war that ultimately denied the Mizo and Naga fighters an active support base in East Pakistan should rightly be considered a helpful exogenous shock rather than a part of the Indian government’s counterinsurgency strategy.


Jeffrey Record, “External Assistance: Enabler of Insurgent Success,” Parameters, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Autumn 2006), pp. 36-49.


Once insurgents have been denied access to their sources of internal and external support, they will be weakened and vulnerable. Simultaneously, security forces that have developed local intelligence assets, can apply relentless pressure on the guerrillas, who can no longer hide among the civilian population. With the insurgent movement in disarray, a window of opportunity’s created for a political settlement with the rebels or for the government to employ political and military efforts to systematically break the back of the insurgency.


As a non-European democracy undertaking counterinsurgency operations in settings that were not significantly colored by either decolonization or the East-West struggle of the Cold War, India’s experience in Mizoram and Nagaland provides an opportunity to examine the utility of traditional counterinsurgency principles outside of the immediate context in which they were derived. These particular insurgencies have the added value of capturing the initial reaction of an unproven government to the challenges of internal rebellion. As the table below suggests, many of the imperatives associated with “classical counterinsurgency” appear to have applicability in countering separatist movements.


Figure 3: Assessment of the Indian Government’s Counter-separatist Strategy 1. 2. Action: Understand the opposing insurgency Counter separatism politically a. Avoid demonizing the insurgents b. Provide an avenue for political change c. Create a constituency for peace d. Demonstrate the political resolve to outlast the insurgents Control disputed territory e. Use measured force f. Focus on the civilian population as the center of gravity g. Raise indigenous COIN forces h. Develop local police and administrative capacity i. Promote close cooperation between civilian and military agencies Isolate the Insurgents j. Cultivate good intelligence k. Employ carefully targeted population-control measures l. Employ amnesty programs m. Cut off external support for the insurgents Assessment: + + + + + + + + + 0/+ + 0/+



Key: + successful aspect of the strategy, - unsuccessful aspect off the strategy, 0 mixed or ambiguous aspect of the strategy

The fundamental contest between the Indian state and the insurgents concerned the legitimate right to govern. The lack of local government capacity appears to have played an important role in facilitating the outbreak of armed violence, while the development of local administration assisted in bringing that violence under control. Importantly, while the Indian approach emphasized developing stronger governance in under-administered areas, the Indian government also showed great flexibility in devolving much of this authority to popularly elected state governments. Political and economic inducements to moderate élites in the Mizo and Naga societies, which increased the value of remaining within the Indian Union, helped separate the hardliners from their supporters and enhanced the legitimacy of the Indian political system in the rebellious societies. However, once the insurgents indicated a willingness to negotiate, the Indian government was willing to take steps to ensure that the militant leaders would not necessarily lose their status as the “price of peace”—even making one former guerrilla chief the head of his state. By paring these concessions with the large-scale deployment of security forces to smother the insurgents while signaling that the Indian state would never tolerate succession, the 40

bulk of the insurgents in both cases were eventually persuaded to seek an accommodation. In the two cases, some of the non-political means of separating the insurgents from their supporters proved to be less successful. Harsh population-control measures, particularly resettlement, actually engendered support for the insurgency and efforts to curtail external assistance to the rebels achieved little until Bangladesh broke away from Pakistan in 1971. Intelligence shortfalls are a perennial problem for counterinsurgency, one which the Indian government eventually overcame by employing locally raised security forces and instituting the long-term deployment of Army personnel in their area of operations. Intelligence gathering was facilitated by security forces that employed minimum force and treated the local civilian population with respect—two practices that are not always instinctive for conventional forces assigned to internal security missions. One insight gleaned from these two cases will be all too familiar to students of counterinsurgency: the constant need to “reinvent the wheel.” Like many nations preparing simultaneously for conventional and irregular security challenges, the Indian armed forces focused on the former at the expense of the latter. When the Indian Army was committed to internal security duties in Mizoram, it was unprepared for counterinsurgency operations, despite the fact that the insurgency in neighboring Nagaland had been underway for more than a decade. The hard-won lessons from the Naga Hills had to be relearned in Mizoram, a phenomenon that has been the rule rather than the exception in India’s long history with counterinsurgency.68


Interview with Lt. Gen Sheketkar.


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