Befriending enemy's enemy is an old tactic. The Naxals and the northeastern insurgent groups, who have a common enemy in the Indian government, seem to have formed a friendship to tackle the tough times. Three recent Military Intelligence reports, which THE WEEK accessed, reveal how the Naxals were trained by commanders of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the United National Liberation Front (UNLF), the largest insurgent groups in the Manipur
The Naxals' links with Manipur militants became clear when an M16 assault rifle and imported pistols were seized from two Naxals in Jharkhand in September. “The seizure of the US-made assault rifle from the Naxals was quite a disclosure. Our investigations, though not complete yet, suggest that the weapon was routed to the Naxals by a Manipur-based militant organisation,” said a senior police officer in Jharkhand.
The leadership vacuum created by the killing of Kishenji and the desertion of Sabyasachi Panda has brought the Naxals closer to the northeastern insurgent groups. The cash-rich Naxals (they extort money from businesses in the areas controlled by them), pay cash for the training and arms. They, in fact, spend heavily on coach fees, weapons and ammo. “The Naxals discovered that northeast was crucial and critical in terms of keeping the ammunition supply chain working,” said T.J. Longkumer, inspector general of police, Bastar, Chhattisgarh.
The MI reports paint an alarming picture of the Naxals' effort to hone their asymmetric warfare capabilities and expand the influence of the movement. Also, they are itching to avenge the recent setbacks in Jangalmahal in West Bengal and Chhattisgarh at the hands of the security forces. They have repeatedly used ambush attacks on the Central Reserve Police Force since the Chintalnar massacres in 2008. It clearly shows their increasing proficiency in such tactics, which could be attributed to the training by northeast militants. “The Naxals are shoring up their military arsenal. Opportunities are pushing them closer to the northeastern guerrillas. The larger Naxal game plan is to fight a common enemy in coordination with other like-minded insurgencies,” said P.V. Ramana, an expert on naxalism at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, Delhi.
The alliance has come a long way since the Revolutionary People's Front (Manipur), the political arm of the PLA, and the Naxals made a joined declaration against the Indian government on October 22, 2008. The declaration was signed by Naxal politburo member Alok and RPF secretary-general S. Gunen. In 2008, three high-ranking PLA militants visited most of the Naxal camps in Chhattisgarh and attended meetings.
According to an intelligence report, 18 militant instructors of the PLA and UNLF visited a Maoist training camp in Chhattisgarh in the summer of 2010. The report highlights that 2nd lieutenant Geneva and captain Chinglan of the PLA's 253 battalion led the training in a jungle camp. An intelligence note sent in February this year says two batches of PLA instructors, in groups of five, visited Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in December 2011 and January 2012. Some of them, however, fell ill and they returned soon.
What worries the security forces more is the nature of the training given to the Naxals. The report says the lessons included radio telephony, ambush, kidnapping, mine laying and use of explosives. Special training was carried out on using sophisticated weapons. Another report says the PLA gave training to the Naxals at camps in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The porous Indo-Myanmarese border in Manipur and Nagaland has been making things easier for the insurgents. The Naxals and militants freely cross this border to access each other's camps. The militant camps in Myanmar are mostly run by the PLA and UNLF. These camps were set up when the Awami League came into power in Bangladesh in 2008 and dismantled the camps in Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Sylhet. The PLA and UNLF, reportedly, had a working relationship with the military junta in Myanmar.
Former Union home minister P. Chidabaram had admitted in the Rajya Sabha that the northeast insurgents were sourcing arms through smugglers functioning from China's Yunnan province and Maynmar. He was concerned that if the Naxals succeed in getting a toehold in the northeast they would smuggle in arms from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Another intelligence note says the Naxals and members of the United Liberation Front of Assom had meetings at Sabiya in Assam in July 2011, and in Lohit in Arunachal Pradesh in October 2011. The note says an agreement has been reached between the two parties and some Naxals are being trained in the Arunachal forests. “The catchment area for the Naxals in Assam remains that of ULFA. The Naxals are playing the alienation card to net recruits in the state,” said Jayanta Choudhury, director-general of Assam Police.
Security officials say the Naxals are trying to tap into a section of the large tea garden workforce in Assam. “The Naxals are exploiting inter-tribal variations and are targeting chosen social sections in Assam for building base,” said a senior intelligence official based in Manipur.
Another favourite Naxal destination is Nepal. A note by the Research and Analysis Wing says more than 300 Indian Naxals were trained by the People's Liberation Army of Nepal, the military wing of the Maoists. On June 28, 2010, three top Naxal leaders visited Malangwa in Sarlahi district of Nepal, where they met PLA (Nepal) commanders Haribol Gajurel and Barsaman Pan Ananta. Later, the PLA (Nepal) sent 20 trainers to Motihari and Sitamarhi in Bihar.
The R&AW note says 25-30 Naxal commanders attended a meeting organised by the Nepalese Youth Communist League in Harikhola jungle in Nepal in July, 2010. Also, around 50 Naxals crossed the border and received arms training in a camp in Saina-Maina in Rupendehl in Nepal from May 26 to June 27, 2010.
The reports also bear out the fears of a united strategic front floated by China and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence with the intention of bringing the militant movements in the northeast and Kashmir under one umbrella. Said an official at the home ministry: “China's fresh tinkering with northeast insurgency formations is worrying us. Although we have not come across concrete evidence of bespoke Chinese interventions in the northeast, we have reasons to believe that at least two [Chinese] agencies are up to mischief in the region.”
With several ethnic militant movements in the northeast going dormant over the years, China had been aching to mess things in the region. The game plan was to resurrect some of the movements. “It is in sync with China's strategic aims keeping the northeast on permanent boil,” said Choudhury.
The Naxals have been on the defensive ever since Operation Green Hunt, a joint effort of the Chhattisgarh Police and Central security forces, was launched in 2009. It pushed the Naxals out of their comfort zones. Security officials say Operation Haka, intended to get the Naxals out of their military citadel Abujhmad in Bastar, would make them more expeditious in getting external help.
The Naxals have definitely become tactically more agile than they were two years ago, as the well-choreographed attacks on the security forces and the spate of kidnappings of foreign tourists, politicians and bureaucrats have shown. “Their ties with the northeast guerrillas have more to do with tactical and strategic advantages,” said N. Manoharan, an expert on the Naxal movement, of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a Delhi-based think tank.
Ramana said the Naxals also need to keep their support constituency ticking. “Otherwise who would be firing the guns and who would the bullets be for?” he asked. The movement is trying hard to subdue internal differences and, at same time, keep its support intact by publicising the government's “brutal” counter offensives.
Some experts say the Naxal movement might eventually take over the ethnic insurgencies in the northeast. “A fallout of the training chemistry between the northeastern guerrillas and the Maoist rebels is that the former might choose to ride piggyback on the latter to greater prominence,” said Ajai Sahni of the Institute for Conflict Management, New Delhi. “But since there are no fundamental commonalities and enduring shared interest among and between the diverse insurgencies in the country, cross-group ties are best dubbed as initiatives of opportunities.” Either way, the government has reasons to be worried.