Talk about links between Maoist rebels in India and Pakistan-based terror networks has in the past month been on overdrive. Chhattisgarh’s director general of police Vishwa Ranjan claimed that Laskar-e-Taiba representatives attended a meeting of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) this summer. Jammu and Kashmir’s chief minister Omar Abdullah went to the extent of mentioning that pro-Maoist people regularly visit the state and meet separatists—and suggested a Maoist-separatist-Pakistani conspiracy over Kashmir. Other assertions claim that Maoists receive help from jihadi outfits in Bangladesh—till the advent of Sheikh Hasina’s government less than two years ago—also a haven for several rebel groups from north-eastern India.
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Such talk drove Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, an intelligence provider popular with diplomats and corporations, to issue a bulletin in the third week of November discussing Pakistan’s role and that of Islamist terror outfits in current Maoist play. At this point, the threat is overstated, Stratfor suggested. I agree, but nuances are worth discussing.
Much of the talk about Maoist links with other extremist organizations in the region stems from their open declaration of support for, say, those fighting for autonomy or independence from India in Kashmir or north-eastern India. This is clearly expressed in Maoist documents and by Maoist leaders and ideologues. It is in the nature of an ideology that speaks of ridding “oppressors” and “hegemonies”—in this case, the rulers of India. And, going by the Maoist handbook, whose freedom, rights and identity the rulers of India have consistently denied—in this case, the poor and trodden masses of India, and the politically trodden people of Kashmir, Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and so on.
It is a declaration of collective animosity, but this is far from such a collective battling India. Or, to refer to Stratfor’s commentary: “Taken at face value, reports of such an alliance lead to visions of well-trained, well-disciplined Naxal militants expanding their near-daily attacks on low-level rural targets in…the ‘Red Corridor’…to political and high-tech targets in Calcutta, Hyderabad or even New Delhi. But such visions are alarmist and do not reflect the true nature of the very limited Pakistani-Naxalite relationship.”
There are several reasons. The extreme religious bent of Islamist terror organizations is anathema to “godless” Maoists, who frequently rant against “Fascist forces of Hindutva”. To Maoists, Kashmir is at this point related to an assertion of identity, not religion. There are other realities. India’s Maoists may support Nepal’s Maoists, and the other way around, but active interference by one in the other’s turf will lead to bloodletting. Maoist rebels in India may support the “aspirations” of the Naga people, but my discussions with both sides lead me to believe that such support is based on the current situation, and not on the long-shot theoretical possibility of Maoists gaining control in India—India’s new rulers would then likely have a different, less benign outlook to territory and geopolitics, much like Communist Russia or China.
The norm is “fraternal” relations, or relationships of convenience. Nepal’s Maoists and India’s Maoists attended each other’s conclaves, and provided sanctuary for training and recuperation. There was quid pro quo between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) People’s War—which in 2004 merged with Maoist Communist Centre of India to form CPI (Maoist). In exchange for sanctuary, Tigers provided People’s War cadres training in manufacturing and handling explosives. Senior officials of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) have gone on record with me admitting the organization trained Maoists, as one anti-government of India rebel outfit to another.
A more likely cause for alarm is the increasing pressure on CPI (Maoist) to procure arms, ammunition and funding. While rebels have scored some spectacular operational victories since 2008, the organization is squeezed with the arrest or death of several leaders (this has also led to talk that cornered Maoists will now try anything, even initiating urban warfare with the help of other extremists). Better policing has prevented Maoists from raiding armouries and explosives caches as it did with near impunity in Orissa, Bihar and Chhattisgarh in 2004 and 2005. Relatively better equipped and trained forces have increased the need for Maoists to upgrade weaponry and training. This has led to greater sparking of “fraternal” logistics networks. Currently the best equipped rebels in the subcontinent are Islamist, and those in north-east India. Arms cached by Maoist rebels in Nepal form another line of supply.
Such arrangements certainly feed the Maoist rebellion, but do not fatten it.
Sudeep Chakravarti writes on issues related to conflict in South Asia. He is the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. He writes a column alternate Thursdays on conflicts that directly affect business.
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