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Maoists winning the battle to control India

Friday’s train crash in India has been blamed on “sabotage” by Maoist rebels. It was the latest in a series of rebel attacks after the government launched an offensive against them. The BBC’s Soutik Biswas asks whether the rebels are gaining the upper hand.

It is not surprising that Maoist rebels are being blamed for the derailment of an express train in India’s West Bengal state, in which 71 passengers were killed.

The police claim they have found posters signed by a local Maoist militia claiming responsibility for removing part of the track, which led to the train skidding off and colliding with a freight train coming in the opposite direction.

West Midnapore district, where the incident happened, is the hotbed of Maoist rebellion in West Bengal, one of the states where the rebels have a presence.

Tribespeople dominate the district, especially the forested Junglemahal region bordering Jharkhand state.

They feel ignored and deprived by the Communist government which has been ruling the state since 1977. Most live in abject poverty. The only visible signs of “development” I spotted during a trip to the area some years ago were cheap liquor shops.

Strong support

Fed up with the state of affairs, Junglemahal’s tribespeople even agitated for a separate state.

When neighbouring Jharkhand was carved out as a separate state, their alienation grew and they were quick to welcome the Maoists, who wield most influence in areas which are poor and dominated by tribespeople.

The security forces are on the backfoot after a spree of rebel attacks
The Lalgarh area in Junglemahal is the rebels’ most formidable stronghold.
In February, they stormed a police camp in Lalgarh, killing 24 policemen.
Rebels love to describe Lalgarh as a “liberated zone” where the state has withered away – schools and medical centres have closed down because teachers and doctors are afraid to attend, and policemen are confined to the police stations fearing reprisals.

Friday’s incident in West Midnapore demonstrates how the rebels are taking the battle to their enemies ever since the federal government launched an offensive in what is known as India’s “red corridor” earlier this year.

This comprises 223 of India’s 636 districts in 20 states which the government says are “Maoist affected”, up from 55 districts in nine states six years ago.
Ninety of these affected districts, the government says, are experiencing “consistent violence.”

The rebels have been carrying out attacks with impunity in recent months – two major attacks Dantewada in Chhattisgarh state left more than 100 people dead, including 75 paramilitary troops.
But there are also theories that in this case the Maoist script went slightly awry.

Maoists frequently tamper with railway lines and often these lead to minor derailments; a number of such attempts have been caught well in time. There have been hijackings but no major attacks on civilian transport with such a death toll.

In the past year, Maoists have carried out 32 attacks on railways, mainly in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa, Chhattisgarh – but no major casualties have been reported.

Support for the Maoist cause across India generally will be dented by such an attack, just as it was after the assault on troops in Dantewada.

Following the twin Dantewada attacks, the government said it was reviewing its strategy for fighting the rebels, who have refused to respond to repeated government offers for talks.

Analysts say that the strategy of “clearing, holding and developing” rebel-affected areas evidently inspired by the US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan is not working.

‘Visible retreat’

One reason, they say, is that the surge of security forces and resources on the ground are not sufficient enough to take on the rebels who are spread over a vast swathe of remote mineral-rich forest lands.

Maoists call Lalgarh a “liberated zone”

The government is now in a “visible retreat” after a spree of rebel attacks, says security analyst Ajai Sahni.
He believes that a lack of adequate forces, training and intelligence is leading to these “disasters”.

“Unless local capacities for intelligence and operations are enormously augmented, this [offensive] can go nowhere, and lot of lives are going to be lost for no useful purpose,” Mr Sahni says.

But the under-equipped local police and intelligence-gathering networks remain Indian security’ s weakest link, and there no visible efforts to bolster them.

The government appears to be confused over how the rebels should be tackled – there are differences in the ruling Congress party itself on whether the state should strike hard against it’s own people.

Recently federal home minister P Chidambaram requested wider powers to deal with the rebels, saying that he had been given a “limited mandate.”
He said the chief ministers of some of the worst affected states have asked for air power to be used against the rebels – a measure that the government has refused to sanction.

Analysts believe that many states are not doing enough to take on the rebels, leading to a “centralisation” of the problem.

The train ‘”sabotage” was one of the biggest attacks launched by the rebels
“The principal responsibility for dealing with the Maoists remain that of the states; the first responders, the local police stations, have to be strengthened and equipped to deal with the task on their own.”

Till that happens, the rebels will be seen to have an upper hand in what promises to be long drawn out and bloody conflict, the like of which India has never seen.

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At least 35 die as Maoists blow up bus in India

RAIPUR: At least 35 people were killed after Maoist rebels blew up a bus carrying police and civilians in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh on Monday, an official said.

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh told reporters in the state capital Raipur that the dead included 11 police personnel.

“Twenty-four civilians and 11 policemen have died and 15 persons including 14 police personnel were injured in the blast,” the chief minister said.

He said an unspecified number of bodies were still trapped in the mangled bus following the mine blast in Dantewada district, a Maoist stronghold where rebels ambushed and killed 75 policemen last month in the bloodiest massacre of security forces by the extremists.

Television footage showed bodies laid out on the road next to the wreckage of the bus. The front portion of the vehicle had been almost completely destroyed by the force of the blast.

“The killing and targeting of innocent civilians travelling on a bus is to be strongly condemned by all right-thinking people,” Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai told reporters in New Delhi.

The security men among the dead and injured were special police officers, who are recruited from the civilian population to help security forces in anti-Maoist operations, said S.R. Kalluri, deputy inspector general of police.

The left-wing guerrillas have stepped up attacks in response to a government offensive against them that began late last year in the forests of the so-called “Red Corridor” that stretches across north and eastern India.

The insurgency began in the state of West Bengal in 1967 in the name of defending the rights of tribal groups, but attacks have since spread to 20 of India’s 28 states.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has labelled the insurgency the biggest internal security threat to India.
Tribal groups and many rural areas have been left behind by the country’s economic development, and the poverty and discontent with local government corruption is seen as a major source of Maoist support.

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Pakistan test-fires Nuclear Shaheen missiles capable of decimating Delhi

Pakistan test-fires Nuclear Shaheen missiles capable of decimating Delhi

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan successfully test-fired two ballistic missiles Saturday capable of carrying nuclear warheads, the military said, as the Islamic nation’s leader urged the world to recognize it as a legitimate nuclear power.

The Shaheen-1 missile has a range of about 400 miles (650 kilometers), while the second Ghaznavi missile could hit targets at a distance of 180 miles (290 kilometers), an army statement said. Both can carry conventional and nuclear warheads.

Pakistan’s missiles are mostly intended for any confrontation with archrival India, and the range of the Shaheen-1 would include the Indian capital of New Delhi. Saturday’s tests — which featured the rare launch of two missiles — are unlikely to aggravate tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors, since they both routinely conduct missile tests.

The latest Pakistani missile test came more than a week after the leaders of two sides met in Bhutan on the sidelines of a regional conference, hoping to improve relations that have been strained since the deadly 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other senior army and civil officials witnessed the launches at an undisclosed location, and the missiles “successfully hit the target areas,” the statement said.

Gilani also urged world powers “to recognize Pakistan as a dejure nuclear power with equal rights and responsibilities,” the army statement said. The prime minister called for cooperation on civilian nuclear power, which would help relieve Pakistan’s chronic energy shortages.

Pakistan has refused to sign nonproliferation accords and faces a nuclear trade ban.

“Energy is a vital economic security need of Pakistan and nuclear energy is a clean way forward,” the statement said.

Pakistan became a declared nuclear power in 1998 by conducting nuclear tests in response to those carried out by India. Islamabad test-fired its first missile that same year. Pakistan tests 2 missiles, wants nuke recognition.
By MUNIR AHMED (AP) –