The recent dastardly attack by Maoists reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my uncles. He was in the army when there was a great strife in the Naga regions of the country. The battles used to be bloody and cruel.
He was in the Sikh regiment perhaps (I cannot properly recall this). Many times the Nagas would capture Sikh soldiers, cut their heads, and leave the heads hanging from trees, tied with the decapitated soldiers’ long hair.
After that there would be a frenzy in the regiment, and they would go on a village-burning spree. He told me that most of the support for the warring Nagas, in terms of food and nightly lodgings, came from local villages, so these villages mostly became the targets of the army’s ire.
For every justified or unjustified uprising to sustain itself, the local support is invaluable. Without it it’s impossible to survive.
That’s why when local support in Punjab stopped, terrorism no longer remained an insurmountable problem.
It’s the same condition is Jammu and Kashmir: the extremists and terrorists get lots of support, whether voluntary or forced, from the locals. And so do Maoists. It’s very crucial to break that chain.
People in the areas of strife often complain that they get assaulted from both the sides: from terrorists and extremists for not providing enough support, and from the army and law enforcement agencies for helping terrorists and extremists.
The locals must be provided appropriate security and safeguards to isolate violent elements. In the harsh conditions of forests, barren lands and ice covered terrains, it will be difficult for them to survive even for a month.
In many cases the local population provides logistical support voluntarily, for example, in Kashmir, but there are also instances when they are threatened into compliance. Recently terrorists in Kashmir started threatening village sarpanches (village heads) and even killed a few to deter them from participating in the democratic processes of India. More than 40 sarpanches resigned en masse. It was a good opportunity for the Indian government to provide all possible security, if nothing else, then just to prove a point who is in the deciding position. Unfortunately, this opportunity was not availed.
The problem of insurgencies and terrorism, especially when the local population is embroiled too, must be tackled at three levels: neutralizing key trouble makers, cutting off local support, and providing maximum security to those who do not sympethize with terrorists and extremists active in their area. The third level is extremely important. Unless the situation is extreme, no local population wants to live in a permanent state of turmoil. Give them protection, give them reliable administration and deliver them swift justice, they’re always going to oppose extremist elements among themselves, unless it is a totally suicidal society.