Examples of Learning in Counter-Insurgency

- Ashok Krishna


At the archaeological site at Persepolis (Iran) there is a line in an inscription reflecting the philosophy of the Achaemenidis. It says in part: "I (the King of Kings) do not permit the strong to abuse the weak nor the weak to abuse the strong." Inflamed ethnic conflict warps the quintessential function of government so simply stated 2,500 years ago. Today there are approximately 184 states claiming independent status. This number may well rise to 200 by the early years of the 21st century. There are at least 1,600 (some estimates go as high as 4,000) culturally distinct groups with a claim to nationhood. If only half of them were to establish independence, the world would be like 14th century Europe—a mass of anaemic political entities struggling for status.

Sun Tzu believed that the supremely calculating Commander can, with science and intellect, penetrate the mists of the immediate future sufficiently well to know if he will be victorious. Clausewitz, on the other hand, argued that the "friction" and "fog" of war, and human fallibilities, especially in political and military intelligence allow no such certainty. The course of modern wars of insurgency does not necessarily resolve the debate, but it does instruct us, and the study of it helps to fairly apportion praise and blame for successes and failures.

The British Legacy

The Army of India, at the time of independence inherited its learning in counter-insurgency from the British, who in the course of time came to develop and rely upon essential principles which were ingrained by the Army and the government.

Four Essential Principles

Four primary lessons were learnt during the era of imperial policing. The first pertained to the use of minimum force and it included attention to issues of "hearts and minds". The doctrine developed slowly as the Army man was not inclined to see subject people, even though they were subjects of his own monarch, as his equal. Amidst civil disorder in Amritsar in 1919, British troops fired again and again into demonstrators trapped in an enclosed eight-acre square at Jallianwala Bagh. Some 379 people were killed and more than1,200 injured. In a House of Commons debate, Winston Churchill dissected the arguments for firing such volleys and ended strongly critical of General R.E.H. Dyer who ordered the firing on innocent people. Henceforth, both the government and the Army began to pay closer attention to cases of over-use of force. There developed growing recognition that public opinion, both at home and in the colonies, would have something to say regarding how insurgency should be suppressed.

The second British principle of practice was civil military control and cooperation. It was the inclination of many British officers to seek a declaration of martial law in colonies where the civil order was gravely threatened. But this was resisted in the 20th century wars, which were as much political as military.The British did their best to avoid unalloyed martial law: they tended to speak of "semi-martial law" in Palestine in the mid-1930s, or in Malaya of a "state of emergency" between June 1948 and Independence Day on August 13, 1957. There were limits on the departures from the usual civil law.1

Furthermore, after the Amritsar massacre, no British military officer held a post higher than the resident civil authority; "commanders had to function" under the authority of the District Magistrate. This approach was reflected in the next important theatre of operations, Burma, in the 1930s, where the British conquered, but faced guerrilla resistance. A special Commissioner (a civilian) was appointed to each rebel district.He had a military liaison for that district. Directives for operations in Burma read: "The formal position is that the special commissioner will state his requirments and the brigadier will do his best to meet them. But in practice, no doubt, joint decisions will be arrived at as to the action to be taken to meet any particular situation and as to the most advantageous disposition of troops".2

Intelligence is the third principle. Political and military intelligence are at a priority at all levels of the counter-insurgency effort. Each British low intensity conflict begins with an escalation in the numbers of police. Police are more appropriate than soliders because their traditional expertise in intelligence is useful in a war that is deeply political, and in which the political organs of rebellion, open and clandestine, funnel trainees into the various revolutionary armed forces.

In Ireland, soldiers were assigned to police posts to protect them and learn from police intelligence. In India, and many other theatres, police headquarters and military headquarters were often sited together. In classic British operations in urban locales, the role of the Army was to screen a town while the police then combed through, section by section, in elaborate patterns of searches and detentions for interrogation.

The fourth principle is tactical flexibility. The British were willing to set aside their experiences in conventional war, delve into their thin literature of pamphlets on the unconventional, and draw extensively on personal experience, as also secondary experience garnered from colleagues who had been there. Training was constant, battalions being encouraged to maintain a training programme even when on operational duties. Re-training took place immediately upon a patrol's return; and experiences were evaluated, lessons learned and tactics adopted accordingly. The thoroughness of the training programme, the willingness to adapt tactics, and the emphasis upon flexibility and individual initiative, have all been a marked feature of British operations, particularly since Malaya.

British success in countering Communist insurgency in Malaya led to considerable attention being paid to that campaign by the Indian Army. In the 1990s, when the Naga problem arose in north-eastern India, the Malayan counter- insurgency was carefuly studied.

Innovative Features of the Malayan Campaign

The distinctive innovative feature of the Malayan campaign was the priority given to the political dimensions of the campaign, and in particular the emphasis upon winning the hearts and minds of the people. The Army had to function within a campaign driven by political concerns. It could not win a campaign on its own but acquired a political strategy within which to operate. This was facilitated with the well established practice of civilian control and the use of insurgency powers rather than martial law. The civilian authorities remained in control throughout the emergency and the military answered to them. With the appointment of General Templer as both High Commissioner and Director of Operations, he was given unusual authority but this did not mean that the Army took control of the emergency. Templer identified the key to success as being the hearts and minds of the people and emphasised the inter-relationship of the political and military dimensions of the campaign. The key to success was to establish effective civil administration and to create faith in the government.

In the strategic sense, the Malayan campaign was not a military operation. It was a problem for the civil administration and was first and foremost a police affair. It was not that the Army washed its hands of the situation, but that it recognised its role in counter-insurgency, namely, one of support to the civil administration.

The Army also realised the importance of close cooperation with the police and civil authorities. The system of emergency committees established at both state and district levels brought the relevant Army and police Commanders under the chairmanship of the civilian authority. Although a workable system took time to evolve, and although some miltary Commanders objected to their hands being tied by a committee, the end result was a system which enabled the various elements of the government and security forces to pull in the same direction and work closely together. Command by committee may have sounded unmilitary, but it worked, and the fact that it worked could be attributed in part to the long tradition of civilian control.

The principal producer of intelligence in Malaya was the police (Special Branch). Cooperation with the Army, which was the main consumer, was achieved both by a series of intelligence committees established in parallel to the emergency committees, and by the use of special intelligence liaison officers. The best sources of intelligence proved to be the guerrillas captured either by the police or Army.

In the context of propaganda and psychological warfare, the Army's role remained limited. Even though the emphasis on hearts and minds demanded a complementary propaganda campaign, the direction and execution was left outside the Army's hands. This was not a case of the Army being excluded against its will, rather it was too pleased to keep a low profile.

Thompson's Five Principles

An important official in the Malayan emergency was Sir Robert Thompson (the Secretary of Defence for Malaya) whose works illustrate many of the themes of British counter-insurgency strategy.3 He described five basic principles of counter-insurgency, four of which are essentially political in character and clearly dominate events. These were:

(a) The government must have a clear political aim.

(b) The government must function in accordance with law.

(c) The government must have an overall plan" which lays down general strategy and establishes the necessary control machinery. This would define respective roles and responsibilities and lay down priorities both by area and in measures to be taken." This would ensure "a greater economy of effort and maintain a proper balance between civilian measures and military operations".

(d) The government must give priority to defeating political subver- sion not the guerrillas. If the guerrillas can be isolated from the population, "the little fishes" removed from the "water," then their eventual destruction becomes automatic. He emphasised the importance of intelligence in breaking down the political under- ground organisation which is the foundation for successful guer- rilla warfare. Thompson argued that such an organisation be built upon the police force "because it requires permanent territorial roots throughout the country, and not on the army, which is liable to constant moves in accordance with operational requirements."

(e) "In the guerrilla phase of an insurgency, a government must secure its base first." This is done by "good government" which demonstrates a marked difference between areas under govern- mental control, those which are contested or are under enemy control. Good government attracts voluntary popular support.

Basically, British counter-insurgency strategy depended on political rather than military action. The stress on the role of the politicians also provided a convenient excuse for military failure. The Army's failure to defeat insurgents could be blamed on the lack of resolve of the politicians or the restrictive framework of laws which prevented it from doing its job properly.

Police Primacy

British counter-insurgency doctrine tended to favour the primacy of the armed police in fighting insurgents and a more restricted role for the Army. There were several reasons for this. The police were more effective in gathering intelligence; more likely to be sensitive to local opinion, and therefore, more effective at winning hearts and minds. The police helped to create an image of normality; they could be cheaper than the Army; and better trained for a peace-keeping role.

The police would operate in an area long-term and would usually attempt to build relations with the locals. They would also be more familiar with the terrain, culture and population than the Army. They would be more skilled at gathering intelligence. On the other hand, there were drawbacks with a policy of police primacy. It could exacerbate ethnic antagonisms. The use of the police in a para-military role could inhibit normal policing activities. The police, if they are drawn predominantly from one ethnic community and have to police another community, could be perceived as partial and sectarian by the latter. The ethnic group from which the police are drawn may also see an attack on the police as a sectarian assault on their community.

The locally recruited police forces, though they may not be totally impartial, or unsympathetic to the interests of their own ethnic group, can be made to act in a balanced manner. It can be ensured that they are not brought too severely into conflict with their own community. Further, they would act as a buffer if the Army is forced into the breach.

In the light of most this knowledge, it would be interesting to study how insurgency was tackled by India.


The Nagas were conquered by the British with considerable difficulty in the 19th century. They were then allowed great autonomy and protection against incursions by people from the plains. In the middle of the century, Baptist missionaries arrived from the United States and converted many Nagas to Chirstianity. The Nagas fought bravely in World War II and as India prepared for partition and independence, demanded a separate state. On August 14, 1947, the Naga National Council (NNC), led by Z.A. Phizo, proclaimed Nagaland independent. India refused and angry exchanges took place between the NNC and New Delhi in the next few years. Administering the state initially through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was an example of an unclear political perception. It gave the Nagas a wrong impression and credence to the secessionists. By 1953, violence had become the norm in the Naga hills.

Phizo's NNC formed the Naga Federal Government (NFG), with a Constitution and Army, on March 2,1956, and started fighting for independence. The basic strategy of the Nagas was to concentrate on laying ambushes, attacking remote outposts of the security forces and killings as many soliders as possible. The Indian Army was inducted in strength in 1956.

The first insurgency India faced after independence was in Nagaland. The civil administration and the Indian Army applied the principles and teachings they had absorbed. Villages were grouped to form secure bases (this was also done later in Mizoram), but unlike Malaya, the measure was not successful. In Malaya, those settled in new hamlets were mostly poor, since it was among the squatters of the jungle fringes that the insurgents had best infiltrated. Lacking proper housing, these folk were not necessariy displeased to move. (In Vietnam, this was somewhat the case with refugees from the North, for whom strategic hamlets were a rational and effective form of self-defence against the Viet Cong. But Southern Vietnamese, many of them well-housed and long established, were angry to be uprooted and forced, often without pay to build new dwellings). In Nagaland and Mizoram, the population was initially grouped together at selected locations. This naturally led to villagers being located away from their homes and their fields. The arrangement was unpopular and was soon dispensed with. The people were allowed to return to their villages and patrolling of villages was intensified to provide protection. Grouping was not enforced by the civil administratin or the Army ever again in any insurgency area, except may be very temporarily for protecting locals in a specific case.

The security forces took action against rebel attacks in a skilful and restrained manner. Being new to their job, there were a handful of cases in which they responded more in anger than in a cool, calculated way. The allegations of excesses were overly exaggerated and fully exploited by Phizo who had developed links with the Pakistani and Chinese intelligence agencies. In 1956, Phizo fled to East Pakistan and then to London in 1957. With the onset of insurgency, the hardship of the population increased, and the moderates among the Nagas commenced a political movement under the Naga People's Convention, demanding maximum autonomy within the Indian Constitution.

In 1963, Nagaland became a state in the Indian Union. Thereafter, a Peace Mission tried to bring about peace but the negotiations did not make much headway and hostilities erupted once again in 1970. Subsequently, negotiations were successfully concluded with the signing of the Shillong Accord on November 11, 1975. The underground leaders agreed to come overground and surrender their arms. However, a section of the underground Nagas who had gone to China for training were still ideologically under Communist influence. They repudiated the accord, shifted their base to the North Burma Hills and named their faction the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). Their aim was to establish a Pan-Mongoloid state committed to the ideas of socialism. The NSCN not only repudiated the accord but also Phizo's leadership.

In an important political development, a group of moderate Naga leaders were persuaded to take part in the 1974 elections and Vizol formed a government and took the oath of loyalty to the Indian Constitution. Soon political power corrupted them and the ugly process of defection and counter-defection started with a vengeance. This process of contrivance has afflicted the state ever since. The Nagas blame the central government for the mess created by all these political wranglings. The Naga demand for a greater Naga state comprising all Naga-inhabited areas in the region, including North Burma, is being supported by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and till recently was supported by the Bangladesh government. The local police, state government officials and politicians were also found to be colluding with underground groups. This support base needs to be neutralised. This cannot happen unless some urgent steps are taken to prevent the situation from taking an ominous turn:

(a) The centre does not have a clear political aim and lacks the political will to take strong action against the underground. The NSCN has extended its control since 1993 and has forged strategic alliances with several insurgent groups operating in the eastern region.

(b) Petty politicking has become the order of the day. The central and state governments must function according to the laws and not set one Indian against another.

(c) The security arrangements in the entire north-eastern region had received a setback when 8 Mountain Division was pulled out from Nagaland and sent to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The decision to move out this formation indicated a poor feel of the ground situation both at Headquarters Eastern Command and Army Headquarters. The Border Security Force (BSF), the Central Reserve Police force (CRPF), the Assam Rifles and the Intelligence Bureau (IB) were unable to coordinate their efforts and the situation deteriorated not only in Nagaland, but in the six other north-eastern states as well. Time is absolutely vital and so is coordination.

(d) Though the NSCN have built bases and are operating from outside the state, they still get their main support from the people in Nagaland. Hence, an overall plan encompassing political, economic, administrative and security issues requires to be formulated, coordinated and executed with vigour and integrity.

(e) Priority has to be given to defeating political subversion, not the underground. The militants are receiving help from foreign intelligence agencies, and specially the ISI. The inter-tribal fueds are further complicating the situation.

In the insurgency in Nagaland, about 1,500 soldiers and Nagas have hitherto been killed.

The insurgency in the north-east started with Nagaland and if it has to be effectively controlled, the first place to begin with is Nagaland.

Mizoram and Manipur

The British had administered Mizoram in a very loose fashion through the aegis of a British Superintendent who was selected for his knowledge of the area. After independence, inexperienced administrators took over. They did not necessarily follow the old policy of dealing with the locals with a combination of compassion and firmness and administering them through local chiefs. In 1961, the Mizo National Front (MNF) was formed, partly in response to what its leaders considered Indian callousness during the Muatam Famine of 1959. Resentment against the imposition of the Assamese language, lack of development and a common border with erstwhile East Pakistan provided fertile ground for insurgency. Most jobs were given to the Assamese and Mizos felt helpless in their own land.

The government's reaction to the Mizo revolt followed the pattern in Nagaland : military operations, followed by the creation first of a union territory called Mizoram, and then a full-fledged state of Mizoram. At the same time, the other hill districts were separated from Assam, and the states of Tripura, Meghalaya and Manipur were set up.

A significant feature of the revolt was the ever present desire of the Indian government and the MNF leader, Laldenga, to negotiate and come to terms. The insurgency went through its intense phase till 1971 and after the creation of Bangladesh, it received a setback. Military operations were conducted with firmness but the enduring theme was winning the hearts and minds of the people. There were periods of lull when political negotiations were promptly resumed.

The People's Conference Party under Bragadier T. Sailo won the 1978 election and also the mid-term polls in 1979. But Sailo's straightforward methods of functioning and his refusal to compromise with expediency and corruption, and to accommodate Laldenga, made him many enemies and this led to his downfall. The Congress returned to power and on June 30, 1986, Rajiv Gandhi signed an agreement with the rebels that met many of their demands, in exchange for their acceptance of the permanency of the Indian Union. With the signing of the Peace Accord, the Congress in a self-effacing and memorable gesture handed over power to Laldenga who became Chief Minister. This is an excellent illustration of a clear political aim. Mizoram won statehood on February 20, 1987, and the Congress regained power in the 1989 elections. In the insurgency in Mizoram, about 1,500 personnel were killed.

The Meiteis of Manipur adopted the Hindu religion and Indian culture some two centuries ago. After independence they found that the tribals all around them were getting special privileges, whereas being non-tribals they were missing out on the benefits. This gave rise to the feeling that they had gained nothing by associating themselves with the Indian Union. The society is agricultural with a feudal structure, tempered by the affluent white collared staff of the erstwhile princely state and the present state government whose main contribution has been to sow corruption. Mounting economic unemployment of the better educated Meiteis together with corrupt administration, both civil and political, provided fertile ground for the Communist inspired insurgent groups.

In Manipur, there are still two guerrilla movements: the People's Liberation Army and the Revolutionary Army of Kuneipak. They both have ideological links to China, but they draw their strength from local opposition to the steady encroachment from Bengal. Like the other tribesmen of the north-eastern frontier, they fear they will eventually be swamped by the desperate millions from Bangladesh and West Bengal.

This fear of demographic invasion, and of economic exploitation of their abundant land and resources for the benefit of the Indian heartland, is very real and is the cause of great anxiety in the minds of the people of the seven eastern states. They have a right to preserve their identity and culture. Tripura is a clear example of obliteration of the identity of the locals due to large scale migration of Bengali refugees from East Pakistan after partition. The central government, never adept at nation building, has done little to insulate the region from population influxes and exploitation. Development has been tardy and the people harbour a genuine fear that the fruits of development may be channelled elsewhere. The need of the hour is not speech making and vote catching, but an earnest understanding of the aspirations of the people of the region, to be followed by honest and dedicated action in quick time.


What happened in Punjab was perhaps the most traumatic experience any Indian state had witnessed till then, since the advent of independence. By far the most disquieting part of it was the near collapse of the civil administration, especially the law and order machinery, precipitating the need for induction of the Army to quell the forces of lawlessness, violence and disorder. This sad state of affairs was not a phenomenon wrought overnight. It was the natural outcome of a host of complex factors, the logical culmination of acts of commission and omission, spread over many years. It is not proposed to go into these issues here. While the state administrative machinery did not completely break down, it was largely responsible for what happened in Punjab. The law and order administration, which covers both the magistracy and the police, could not rise to the challenges that confronted the state. It is these reasons which merit close analysis, so that other states of India can take timely corrective action and prevent the type of deterioration we saw in the Punjab and later in J&K.

A look into the then sorry state of the law and order machnery would reveal a number of factors. There had been a serious neglect of cadre management and career planning in the executive and police services. Transfers and postings had been made on the basis of personal likes and dislikes at the cost of efficiency, and successive governments had allowed themselves to be pressurised by officers and politicians alike in this matter. The tried and tested system of rotation between field and staff jobs and between district and secretariat postings, for all practical purposes, no longer existed. There were instances where some officers had been posted repeatedly to districts while others had been constantly denied field postings. There had hardly been any in-service training for jobs at various levels. The arrangements and procedures for recruitment, particularly at the levels of the provincial executive services (PCS/PPS) and at the level of police ASIs and constables had been such as to encourage ad hocism, arbitrariness and nepotism. The State Public Service Commission and the Subordinate Services Selection Board were universally viewed as hotbeds of corruption.

In addition, there were some other aggravating factors in the situation. The morale of the police, ill-trained and ill-equipped to cope with the tactics of the terrorists had reached its nadir. For reasons of expediency of personal safety,police officers hesitated in taking firm action even where such action was entirely within their competence. The view was widely held that many Sikh constables and even higher ranks were sympathetic to, if not positively involved with, extremists. The government was in no position to protect the families and dependants of officers who took firm action and came on the hit list. Simultaneous moves and counter-moves to negotiate the Akali demands created an impression that a solution to the problem would only come through a political settlement and not through administrative action. No penalties were attached to corruption, inaction or dereliction of duty by officers.

There was the fear that once the Army and central para-military forces were withdrawn, the police would have to live with the political parties and it would be unwise to antagonise them. The initiative of the man-on-the-spot was greatly eroded by the lack of clear and firm directions and, more often than not, timidity became the surrogate for tact.

Ground level intelligence had been the Achilles heel of the law and order arrangements in the state. The failure in this regard had been both human and institutional. Police stations and police personnel were not alive to the need for continuous gathering of operational intelligence at their level. Nor was any effort made towards assisting them to this need. These inadequacies were further compounded by the growing fear of reprisal, particularly after some police officers who had been very active in collecting information against extremists were liquidated along with some "sources".

Furthermore, the state police had serious deficiencies and handicaps relating to recruitment, strength, training, equipment, arms, communications as also the more general issues of morale and discipline.

The government did not take firm action in 1983 nor in early 1984, displaying in the process a total lack of understanding of terrorism. Terrorism has many dimensions and requires a comprehensive strategy to counter it; it is not merely a law and order problem. As we have seen, the political dimension is more important than the military dimension.

After the promulgation of President's Rule in October 1983, a para-military force of the BSF and CRPF comprising about 100 companies was rushed to Punjab. These companies were not at all trained to deal with terrorism and this panic response and show of force impressed no one, and led to destabilisation. The Punjab Police felt further marginalised. The terrorists started using the gurdwaras as convenient hideouts. The half-hearted attempt to find a political solution through Sardar Swaran Singh made no headway. Pakistan's support to the militants made it easier for them to smuggle sophisticated weapons from across the border. The law enforcing agencies still took no action. The Golden Temple was fortified in full public view and stocked with weapons for a possible battle with the security forces. These preparations were clearly visible to the naked eye and did not need intelligence reports to confirm. The situation continued to drift till it became too late and then the only means to solve the problem was to use the military. The legitimacy of calling out the Army cannot be questioned; under the circumstances, it was the only sensible thing to do.

The Involvement of the Army

Even though the situation kept deteriorating in 1983 and 1984, Headquarters Western Command did not prepare concerned formations for possible contingencies as it did in the case of its operational tasks. Headquarters 11 Corps was responsible for internal security in the Punjab and 15 Infantry Division for Amritsar District. The strategic directions which ought to have been forthcoming from Command Headquarters with regard to the situation and preparations to be made, were missing. Operational tasks had all the priority as these should, but when there is a simmering internal security situation at hand, it has to be closely watched and preparations made.4

In late April 1984, 11 Corps moved away to an exercise area for a two-sided exercise which had been planned earlier by Command Headquarters. The two participating formations were 7 Infantry Division and 9 Infantry Division. The former was located at Ferozepur and the latter at Meerut; 15 Infantry Division located at Amritsar provided the control and umpire staff. Thus, the concentration of 11 Corps was on collective training at a time when the internal situaiton was fast deteriorating. Troops remained in their training area till the final exercise was suddenly curtailed about May 27, 1984, in view of the impending employment of the Army for internal security.

Purely from the point of veiw of responsibility and familiarity with the conditions and ground realities, Lieutenant General K. Gowri Shankar, MVC, who was GOC 11 Corps, was the man most suited to oversee operations in the Punjab. However, for Operation Blue Star the government chose Lieutenant General R.S. Dayal, MVC, to be the Security Advisor. There was logic in so appointing him as he was an officer with considerable operational experience and was also a Sikh. General Gowri Shankar later took over from him as the Security Advisor in the post-Blue Star period in July 1984.

With regard to conducting operations in the Golden Temple, the Army Commander, General K. Sundarji, could have given the task to 15 Infantry Division Major General K.S. Jamwal whose area it was, but he did not do so. He chose instead, 9 Infantry Division under Major General K.S. Brar who was a Sikh officer, and hence, better suited from his particular point of view. The formation's lack of familiarity with the area and the situation were brushed aside.

General Sunderji thought that he could triumph over any situation with speed and shock action. He did not have a good feel of ground realities. He did not like dissent and more often than not over-ruled saner counsel. Thus, he received advice which was in keeping with his thinking. Operation Blue Star and Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, clearly showed that he tended to under-estimate the capabilities of the opposition and to treat it with disdain. He even treated some of his senior officers, just a step below him, with similar disdain.

As it happened, the situation was handed over entirely to the Army Commander.5 The option of Command by Committee with the governor at the helm, and with heads from the Army, para-military forces, the police and the Chief Secretary, as members, was not thought of. While the Army would still have carried out the task of dealing with the situation, various options in the context of its employment would have been thrown up and this could have led to a plan of action in which casualties could have been drastically reduced as also the damage to the Golden Temple and the Sikh psyche.

GOC 9 Infantry Division was briefed on June 21, at Chandimandir, and Commanders reached Amritsar to be briefed there on June 2. The troops completed their concentrations by June 3, 1984. Considering that they had started returning from the exercise area on May 27 and had to be routed via their permanent locations, the stages of movement, reconnaissance, planning and orders were overly compressed. Even minimal training was not possible in this very compressed time-frame.

The date chosen for launching the operation June 5, 1984, surprised many. June 3 was the day of Guru Arjun Dev's martyrdom and the Panchami festival fell on June 3, 1984, hence the Golden Temple would still have a large number of devotees, including women and children, on June 5, who would naturally be ignorant of the Army's date. The choice of date was a very big mistake. The justification subsequently given, was that speed was vital to guard against the possibility of Sikh masses pouring into the Golden Temple to protest against the Army's deployment and impending operations. These exaggerated fears were unrealistic, and resulted in the inclusion of tanks and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) in the Army's attack plan to achieve speed and shock action. Further, to prevent such an unlikely happening, a curfew was imposed prior to the operation and the hardship and disruption caused by it to daily life, brought the enter Sikh community into conflict with the government.

The tactics of attacking headlong along main approaches led to very heavy casualties on both sides. The division suffered 35 per cent casualties. Since these unimaginitive tactics did not succeed, considerable tank fire was directed on the morning of June 6 at the Akhal Takht and this caused the maximum damage. The principles of the use of "minimum force" and "tactical flexibility" were totally violated. Although physical control was gained over the Temple complex, the battle for the hearts and minds of the people was lost and the religious sentiments of the population alienated for decades to come.

Operation Woodrose was simultaneously launched to seal the border with Pakistan. While there was justification for launching Army operations against extremist strongholds, its subsequent deployment in rural areas and population centres for cordon and search operations estranged the Sikhs. Thus, both Operations Blue Star and Woodrose succeeded in uniting them behind secessionist forces.

Many had suggested the option of laying siege to the Golden Temple. The other option was to initially launch an operation of very limited scope to capture two or three points of vantage and a small area around them, by stealth, using ropes, ladders and other expedients and working from the top. Thereafter, by a combination of threats and cajolery, the militant leaders could have been made to see sense in either case. These ways would have required some time to defuse the situation but would certainly have prevented or greatly minimised bloodshed and damage.

Much has already been written about the military action at the Golden Temple and some of it is by military officers who were at the helm. It is not the intention to go into details of the arguments here, but merely to derive useful lessons for the future. There cannot be one and only one solution to a military problem and options must be considered and carefully weighed before an operation of such magnitude is launched.

The fallout of Operation Blue Star was wide-ranging. The entire Sikh community considered the assault on the Golden Temple complex as an assault on the Sikh religion. A major section of the Sikhs swore to break all links with the Indian Union. The demand for Khalistan, hitherto dormant, received a boost both in India and abroad. Operation Blue Star laid the foundation for a decade of terrorism in the Punjab. The Hindu-Sikh divide enlarged both in Punjab and the rest of India. It lead to the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and General L. Vaidya, and to the Delhi riots of 1984. Pakistan took full advantage of the situation and having been emboldened, extended terrorism to Kashmir and other parts of India. Vested interests continue to incite the Sikhs even today.

In the final analysis, Operation Blue Star was a short-sighted operation, ill-planned and ill-executed, and hence, a disaster. Almost all the politico-military principles enumerated in the earlier part of this article were ignored by the politicians, the administrators and senior Army officers. The military till 1983 had a splended record in countering insurgency.


Of all the factors that have a bearing on the progress and outcome of insurgencies, none is more important than the government response. The will, determination and vigour of the government in dealing with secessionist forces will largely determine the outcome of the measures taken. These measures will have to encompass the political, military, diplomatic and psychological levels.

There are many lessons to be derived from the insurgency in Kashmir. First and foremost, there has to be a clear political aim. India must make it known that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is India's and that it retains the right to take Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) by the use of force if Pakistan continues to abet terrorism and does not come to the conference table. This should not be an empty threat. For instance, there should have been be a firm pro-active response across the line of control to the recent unprovoked firing by Pakistan in the Kargil area, at the time of the Indo-Pak talks and thereafter.6 The argument that Kashmir is a Muslim majority area is irrelevant because India has a much larger Muslim population than Pakistan and it has a secular Constitution.

There is, by and large, national consensus on the Kashmir issue and aberrations if any must be removed. There should be no deviation from the official stand no matter which party is in power. Our political leaders should be firm and not tentative or apologetic in putting forth what is legally and morally right at the international level.

Too many serious mistakes have been made in the past, such as : the dismissal to the Farooq Abdullah government in 1984 and the installation of a defectors' government under G.M. Shah; the Congress (I)-National Conference Pact in 1986; mishandling of the Rubaiya Sayeed kidnapping case in 1989; and the dissolution of the State Assembly in 1990. It was not realised that by dismissing the government, even friendly parties like the National Conference would be alienated. By strengthening the duly elected government which had more than three years to go, the problem could have been dealt with more effectively. Then there was the case of the abject surrender and release of twelve hardcore militants in 1991 in the Doraiswamy kidnapping case, and, of course, the tragedy of Charar-e-Sharief in 1995.7 All these situations could have been handled differently.

Punjab had provided a clear example that Governor's rule could not solve the basic problem of a state. In J&K, the appointment and removal of Governors was done for reasons other than their suitability for the appointment and they were also not fully supported during their tenures. This attitude of the centre did not help matters. Then each successive government tried to put the blame for its failure on the previous government. This confused the bureaucrats, and reduced the credibility and efficacy of the government.

There has been alienation of the people and within the people. Irresponsible talk about abrogation of Article 370 must stop. The export of terrorism by Pakistan was made possible because the state government did not check the spread of Islamic fundamentalism. This led to considerable dilution of the relationship of cordiality between Hindus and Muslims which resulted in the exodus of the minority community. The demand for independence in the Valley is not going to be extinguished in the near future, but that should not discourage the policy makers from working out a constitutional formula which would meet the legitimate aspirations of all the regions of the state—the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh.

Effective media control over all instruments, including the local vernacular Press and madrassas which are spreading communalism, must be firmly exercised.

The sorry state of affairs in J&K over the last few years has brought out the need for close coordination between the politicians, the administration, the police, the intelligence agencies and the Army. The Army is peculiarly placed in J&K. Its task along the line of control is exceptional and cannot be performed by any other agency till there is peace along the line of control. It is best to eliminate a militant on or near the line of control. Once he merges with the population, it is difficult to eliminate him. Therefore, the Army must counter infiltration more effectively along the line of control by increasing its strength or by the timely movement of reserves as also a combination of both methods. The option of pro-active response must not be eschewed; after all, Pakistan is engaging in activities which are directed at severing J&K from India.

In areas in the interior, the Army has hitherto been playing a frontal role in combatting terrorism. Eventually, as the situation improves, it should act in support of the civil armed police, as was done, in Punjab, without allowing inter-service competition to come in the way. The endeavour should be to strengthen and to give confidence to the J&K state police and the centre's para-military forces—the BSF and the CRPF. The state must build a high quality police force and Delhi should take measures to make the BSF and CRPF far more effective than they are at present.

At the time of Governor's rule, civil and military coordination should be done by the Governor and when there is a properly elected government, then by the Chief Minister. There was a time during Governor's rule when the Governor (General K.V. Krishna Rao) who has vast experience of counter-insurgency operations was right in asking for more troops in the initial stages to counter the situation. The Army authorities had a different point of view but eventually they did move additional formations though in a later time-frame. There is no point in going into the pros and cons. The lesson to be learnt is that all steps must be expeditiously taken to prevent militants from merging with the population and establishing strongholds.

Gradually as the situation improves, (and this is only possible if the militants are constantly harassed and killed or captured), the Army should recede into the background and stay in support of the state police and para-military forces, who should become increasingly capable of shouldering their responsibilities with regard to eliminating terrorism.

There is also a need to send suitable and young IAS officers to these troubled areas. They should be able to establish effective administration, dispense justice and give on the spot decisions. There is a crying need for them in the eastern region too.

At the moment, notwithstanding the talks at Male, Pakistan is taking full advantage of the political turmoil in Delhi as also the lack of a firm Indian response to Pakistan's activities in Kashmir. The Pakistani military must be viewing the loss of momentum in India's defence preparedness and the deficiencies in the officer cadre with much satisfaction. They will not hesitate to take advantage. India is destined never to realise that no problem is ever solved by military weakness and by indefinitely restricting action.

Sri Lanka

There are many lessons to be imbibed from the conflict in Sri Lanka and most of them have applicability in the Indian context.

Value of Land

The issue of a Tamil homeland has historical significance. Land has long been a prime value in Sri Lanka, the source of social standing and of income. As the population more than doubled over the past thirty years, spokespersons for both the Sinhalese and Tamil communities have stressed a growing sense of landlessness. Ironically, as government and foreign resources were being devoted to expanding irrigation systems, the newly irrigated areas became apples of discord between two jealous communities. For some Tamils, the declaration regarding a Tamil homeland was merely one way of confirming the Tamil claim to a meaningful share of the lands to be allocated in the future. And to many Sinhalese, such a claim was seen mainly as a step toward Tamil independence.

Faith in Righteousness of Cause

The conflict in Sir Lanka illustrates how an originally weak and fragmented minority group was able to call up sufficient resources of dedication, commitment and a sense of unjust grievance to challenge a well established and popularly elected government. The minority used tactics of protracted guerrilla warfare and intimidation, even elimination of its opponents, as also of eliciting substantial support from abroad (ethnic kin in Tamil Nadu, the large neighbouring government, and a prosperous refugee community abroad) to bring about, at least temporarily, virtual independence.

Negotiations in a Secessionist Conflict

Initially it was hoped that negotiations between the government and moderate Tamil leaders could resolve the conflict. The concessions eventually offered were offered reluctantly and were niggardly in extent. This discredited the Tamil negotiators in the eyes of the important and younger members of the minority.

The government's efforts to repress the secessionist movement were impeded by the lack of discipline among the troops, especially in the beginning, and by the difficulty the troops faced in discriminating between the radical Tamil secessionists and those Tamils willing to settle for a negotiated degree of autonomy. Moreover, the government was unable to evoke sufficient consensus among the Sinhalese factions to help reassure the Tamils that their interests would be protected in the kind of unitary government being offered.

Once militant Tamil factions began to get active support from India, the capacity of the secessionists to disrupt the public peace and order greatly improved. The Tamils were then less ready to make concessions towards accepting the government's offers, and the extreme faction was unwilling to settle for less than independence.

A near total lack of trust further complicated negotiations. The government doubted the bona fides of even those Tamils who seemed ready to negotiate compromise; and the secessionists distrusted the moderate Tamils for being too soft. Both groups distrusted government offers, one thinking that it was trying to divide them, the other that it was attempting to liquidate them. The majority Sinhalese were beset by the looming shadow of India's 60 million Tamil population whose leaders often unwittingly intensified Sinhalese anxieties. Only the death of Rajiv Gandhi turned South Indian Tamils against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and other militant organisations. India's size and capacity to intimidate both parties, its special ethnic connection, the domestic political vulnerability to the secessionists ethnic kin in Madras, and the foreign policy agenda profoundly influenced India's perception of a desirable outcome.

If insurgents were able to impose negotiations on the Sri Lanka government with varying degrees of success, it was because they could, firstly, raise the cost of not negotiating with the government, and secondly, they realised that they could not achieve their ultimate goals at an acceptable cost to themselves. Thus, a mutually hurting negotiation eventually failed because the government saw the cost of concessions as being greater than the cost of continuing conflict. The mediators, who might have brought these two perceptions into harmony, were worn out by their previous failures. When the mutually hurtful stalemate became acute enough, it induced the Sri Lankan government to invite the Indian Peace-Keeping Force (IPKF).

Indian intervention was ultimately carried out in summer 1987. At that time there were any number of observers who were urging Colombo to invite in a Commonwealth or UN presence. This did not happen and it is unlikely that it would have. But in the present situation, after India's departure, the US could send training teams of special forces to work with Sri Lankan forces. Such a step could logically become part and parcel of a multinational peace-keeping effort should the international community decide that this would facilitate peace.

The conflict in Sri Lanka, though ethnic in this externals, also involved deeper considerations of ideology, population pressure impinging upon scarce resources, geo-politics and a host of other concerns. With hindsight, it is clear that it would have been hard to judge the impact of these considerations beforehand, and to foretell whether Sri Lanka would become a protracted battle zone as a result.

Great care has to be exercised in dealing with ethnic minorities. The Sri Lankan example illustrates that trust once lost is very hard to regain.

The IPKF in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan problem had been simmering for years and various contingency plans had been prepared jointly by service headquarters for intervention. It is not the intention to go into these; suffice it to say that every conceivable situation had been taken care of.

The strength and capabilities of the LTTE was under-estimated. Their capacity was assessed as "peanuts" and it was felt that in the event of Indian intervention against them, all would be over in a few days.

The Army Commander Southern Command and equivalent Commanders from the other two services were not taken into confidence till a fairly late stage. The ostensible reason given was security considerations. Further, no controlling headquarters was nominated. Headquarters 1 Corps was considered but the need for its presence in the west took priority. The government would not have agreed to giving formal status of a corps sized headquarters to Headquarters Overall Force Commander (OFC) IPKF, because it had recently not sanctioned the establishment of the newly raised Headquarters 12 Corps which had to be formed by ad hoc means. It was, therefore, imperative to have a suitable controlling headquarters even if the force initially inducted was worth one division. Headquarters 1 Corps ought to have been inducted.

As a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and with a serious refugee problem on its hands and the possibility of unfriendly powers operating in Sri Lanka, India rightly accepted the Sri Lankan request for aid. But the change from peace-making to confrontation was made without once more trying to allay LTTE apprehensions through negotiations and without adequately highlighting the impact of freezing all assistance to them from Tamil Nadu.8 Furthermore, the IPKF did not have adequate resources to take on confrontation. That it did take this course shows a lack of proper appreciation of the task involved and consequently, lack of harmonisation between political-cum-militry decision making, on the one hand, and military caability, on the other. Hence, what was expected to be carried out by a divisional strength of troops in a matter of a few days turned out to be a task of much greater magnitude involving the induction of three more divisions. The pulling out of these divisions from the mainland for a considerable period of time was not an act of calculated risk but a gamble, which had its roots in the "peanuts" psychology. Once in Sri Lanka, the divisions got stuck. The task was still not accomplished when the IPKF was de-inducted in 1990.

Indian forces were inducted in a hurry and in a piecemeal manner. They were not adequately trained nor properly equipped, and did not have the logistical support needed for such a large strength. Furthermore, intelligence was inadequate; the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the intelligence agencies of the three services needed much coordination. Assessments were lacking because officers responsible were hesitant to make them, lest they be proved wrong by future events.

These factors had an adverse impact on the tactical handling of the force and a crisis of confidence developed between senior level Commanders and those at the junior and middle piece levels. At the highest level, there was considerable irritation and disharmony between the Army Commander, Lieutenant General A.K. Chatterjee, and his subordinate Commander, Lieutenant General A.S. Kalkat who was the OFC, IPKF. This is inexcusable in a national endeavour. Between them, they sacked all the Divisional Commanders—some nine of them—who held command in the IPKF. Subsequently, Major General Jameel Mahmood, and also General Kalkat himself, were resurrected by General Rodrigues; the others had to accept their fate. In Sri Lanka, we again witnessed a repetition of the propensity to sack battlefield Commanders which was so much in evidence in 1962 and 1965 and to an extent also in 1971.

Then there were too many people passing directions. The Vice Chief and the Director General of military operations instead of confining their role to being staff officers, built their own channels to General Kalkat, who often embarrassed his Army Commander.

Field Marshal Slim in his book Defeat into Victory had the following to write about Major General Wingate when he tried to circumvent the chain of command on an operational matter.9

"When he found argument failed, he turned to sterner measures. Such had been his romantic success with the Prime Minister that he claimed the right to send him messages direct, with his views and recommendations, irrespective of whether Admiral Mountbatten or any other superior commander agreed with them or not. I had been told this extraordinary arrangement existed. So when Wingate began by saying that, while he held a personal loyalty to me, there was a loyalty above that to an immediate commander, I knew what was coming. I asked him to whom it was. He replied, to the Prime Minister of England and to the President of the United States. He went on to say that they had laid on him the duty of reporting direct to them whenever any of his superiors, in his opinion, were thwarting his operations. With the greatest regret he felt that this was such an occasion, and he must, whatever the consequences to me, so report to the Prime Minister. I pushed a signal pad across my desk to him, and told him to go and write his message. He did not take the pad but he left the room. Whether he ever sent the message, I do not know, nor did I inquire. Anyhow that was the last I heard of his demand for the 26th Division."

The Current Situation

Nor was insurgency in the north the only one Sri Lanka had encountered during the last few years. In the south, among the majority Sinhalese there had been two major guerrilla insurrections since 1971 by the radical political party, the Janatha Vimukhti Perumuna a (JVP or People's Liberation Party). These had been largely independent of the situation in the north. The last JVP uprising in 1988-90 succeeded in bringing down the state and was crushed at a cost of 60,000 lives by a government which had no option but to fight for survival against extreme violence and brutality. Without the IPKF, Sri Lanka would not have been able to prevail against the JVP in the south at that time. Thus, India saved Sri Lanka from almost certain convulsion and disintegration.

The struggle with the JVP and the communal war in the north and east have produced a war-weary country. In the territory he controls, Prabhakaran keeps his 10,000 or so young guerrillas on alert and prevents some 400,000 citizens under his control from any demonstration that would settle for less than independence. Sinhalese chauvinism, on the other hand, still asserts itself.

The military and police are flush with large quantities of equipment. But the services are still not a popular choice of career and the standards of recruitment are falling. Sinhalese society has not been infused with the heroism of things military. It is not clear if the armed forces have the will to continue an all out offensive against the LTTE in the jungles. The siege of Jaffna and its subsequent loss have weakened the political claims of the LTTE as a quasi-state but militarily they are still powerful and capable of taking advantage of every political weakness among the Sinhalese.

The hand of the LTTE has hitherto not been forced enough, obliging them to return to the conference table on terms more favourable to the state. The military has adapted to the political reality of the Kumaratunge government. The search for a military solution is still alive and is likely to receive considerable public support should the LTTE be on the run.

Prabhakaran remains the ultimate source of frustration to both the government of Sri Lanka and the armed forces. Despite recent battlefield losses, the package of political devolution put forward to the LTTE and the conditions created for peace, it is unlikely that the LTTE will accept anything short of complete political, economic and cultural autonomy or virtual independence at this stage. While losing much public support, Prabhakaran still has material and manpower resources, the latter imbued with the fanatical suicide zeal to keep almost total control over his emaciated society. Although the Sri Lankan forces are militarily the stronger, the nature of the low intensity conflict is such that the stronger could be the weaker just as in the Vietnam conflict. The Americans could not prevail by might alone.

Even though Sri Lanka had to challenge several counter-insurgencies since its independence in 1948, it has kept alive a spirit of tradition and democracy. The political culture of the Sinhalese would not accept a military ruler, as Prabhakaran is in the north. Sri Lanka must, therefore work out an all encompassing strategy to deal with its security challenges, in a manner that such a possibility is ruled out.


India is a country of many religions and widely varying cultures. The territorially segregated nature of these religions has resulted in the generation of distinct ethnic pools. Since independence, there has been a gradual rise of ethno-nationalism within these pools.

The recent major uprisings in Punjab and J&K, accompanied by politically grounded religious extremism, have posed a serious challenge to both the secularism and the territorial integrity of the country. This ethno-nationalism revolves around the following issues: the deterioration in centre-state relationship, breakdown in the process of modernisation and secularisation, and the need for a common national culture.

These imbalances occurred as democratisation took place without the spread of education, bureaucratisation without commitment to universalistic norms, media participation and rise in aspirations without proportionate resources and distributive justice, welfare ideology without appropriate social structures, and a policy of over-urbanisation without industrialisation.

These causes did not allow modernisation to become the melting pot for cultural integration. Hope now rests on the formation of a new economic policy with clear unambiguous priorities in the area of conflict. This could make the development process more equitable, and demonstrably so.

Both the national and regional parties have vitiated the norms and procedures of democracy by using the state, money and even psychological force in quest of power. This has communalised politics along religious and caste lines but also produced a shift in the power structure of the country. The new power elites are heterogeneous in composition and are dominated by the casteists and religious revivalists in contrast to the homogeneous elite which was secular and educated. With national culture getting diluted, ethnic identities have found articulation through regional parties which are often out of line with the ruling party in Delhi. There is a need to make the state more federal and to evolve a procedure whereby religion is separated from government.

Without a serious attempt to address these issues, the society faces the prospect of increasing levels of factional conflict with the real catalyst being socio-economic inequalities concealed by religious, cultural and ethno-nationalist modes of discourse.

Experience shows that for the military there is adaption from one small war or low intensity conflict to the next. Many successful counter-insurgency principles do not expire with the war of the moment. The Commander who is not averse to the wisdom of the past and is innovative with it, can profit immensely. The Commander who ignores such wisdom is likely to repeat the history of the defeated. India started with a rich legacy but made many mistakes in the last fifty years. Most of these were on the political side where there was a lack of understanding of insurgency and terrorism. On the military side, the armed forces did extremely well except for some errors in Punjab and Sri Lanka.


1. Julian Paget, Counter-Insurgency Campaign (London : Faber and Faber Limited, 1967), pp 4B-63.

2. Thomas Ross Mockaitis, The British Experience in Counter-Insurgency, 1919-1960 (Madison : University of Wisconsin, 1988), p.176. This publication comprehensively covers British strategies.

3. Robert Thompson, Defeating Communist Insurgency, (London : Chatto and Windus, 1967) pp 50-62.

4. The author was Brigadier General Staff, Headquarters 11 Corps from June 1983 to March 1985 and Deputy Director General, Military Operations Directorate, Army Headquarters, from end March 1985 till early March 1987. He was chief of Staff to Lt. Gen A.K. Chatterjee when he was GDC 12 Corps in 1987-88.

5. A letter, No. PS 260/84 dated June 2, 1984, was addressed by the Home Secretary of the Government of Punjab to GOC-in-C Western Command. It read, "I am directed to say that the Government of Punjab consider it necessary to call in the Army in aid of civil power in view of the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. Immediate action may please be taken in this regard."

6. Major General (Retd.) Ashok Krishna, "Insurgency and Terrorism : Pro-active Responses," Strategic Analysis, vol. XVIII no.5, August 1995.

7. Ibid., pp.621-623.

8. Lt. General (Retd.), Depinder Singh, IPKF in Sri Lanka (Noida; Trishul Publications), p.87.

9. Field Marshal, William Slim, Defeat into Victory (London : Cassel & Co, 1956), pp.218-219.