India anti-Maoist offensive draws applause, concern

RAIPUR: India has decided to confront its Maoist insurgency head on, with a planned offensive that has been embraced by affected states but challenged over its impact on the people it aims to ‘liberate.’

Operation Green Hunt was drawn up by the central government as a concerted assault on the Maoist rebels’ jungle bases in the so-called ‘red corridor’ that stretches across more than half a dozen states in eastern India.

Regional security forces will form the frontline, but the massive operation, involving tens of thousands of paramilitary personnel, is being coordinated from New Delhi.

Official sources say the assault will begin in November.

While the government has ruled out using the military, it has promised the states significant resources and logistical support, as well as the deployment of elite border guards.

Observers say New Delhi’s leading role is aimed at galvanising individual states into action, after years of largely fruitless, piecemeal anti-insurgency efforts.

‘Past operations had been disjointed as no one was willing to deal with the insurgency in a coordinated manner and only took half-hearted measures,’ said Deepakankar Banerjee, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

‘Growing Maoist activity in the last couple of years has raised central government concerns, and the new home minister has set this as a greater priority than his predecessors,’ Banerjee said.

Home Minister P. Chidambaram has publicly pledged to break the back of the Maoist insurgency which has claimed more than 600 lives so far this year.

‘We will provide all possible help to the state governments in their efforts to eradicate the left-wing extremists completely,’ he recently told reporters in Raipur, capital of eastern Chhattisgarh state — a Maoist hotbed.

The armed Maoist movement, which started as a peasant uprising in 1967, has spread to more than half of India’s 29 states. Its cadre strength has been variously estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the rebels the greatest threat to India’s internal security, and last month rebuked regional police chiefs for failing to stem their attacks.

Operation Green Hunt aims not just to flush out the rebels but to wrest back the large swathe of territory under their control and re-establish the state’s rule in what have essentially become no-go areas.

The leaders of the targeted states have welcomed the planned offensive following a spate of deadly attacks against their often ill-equipped police forces.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said it would be a carefully targeted operation.

‘It will be a selective assault, in which our forces will reach an area where the rebels have their presence or have weapons factories and drive them away,’ Singh told AFP.

‘It will be a guerrilla war against the Maoists,’ he said.

In the neighbouring state of Orissa, where officials have complained about the lack of federal support, police operations chief Sanjeev Marik said the offensive would be ‘long and decisive this time.’ Some, however, have questioned the nature of Green Hunt, saying such a large-scale operation would endanger the lives of millions of impoverished villagers in Maoist-controlled areas.

‘We feel this will be a democratic and humanitarian disaster,’ a group of activists and academics, including novelist Arundhati Roy, a winner of the Booker Prize, wrote in an open letter to the prime minister last week.

Human rights groups, while acknowledging India’s right to engage the rebels militarily, have also raised concerns over the possibility of civilian casualties.

‘The forces should target only combatants… in a manner consistent with international laws,’ said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

And others have stressed the importance of having an accompanying development strategy, aimed at alleviating the chronic poverty that has fuelled the Maoist movement.

‘The response to the Maoists must be more nuanced than the approach India adopts when dealing with other groups,’ said Maoist expert Wilson John from the Observer Research Group, a New Delhi-based think-tank.

The Maoist influence is greatest in impoverished, remote areas, although analysts say their claims of support among the poor and dispossessed are often based on intimidation.— AFP

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