India’s Naxal guerrilla groups threaten regional stability

India’s Naxal guerrilla groups threaten regional stability

Guerrilla groups in India benefit from local anger over the lack of regional development, thus allowing militants to launch raids and spread instability.

On May 25th, Naxals – rebels belonging to an extremist Maoist guerrilla movement currently active in India – attacked a convoy of Indian National Congress leaders in Chhattisgarh, killing former state minister Mahendra Karma, known for his role in anti-Naxal politics in the region, and the state party chief. With the recent release of an initial forensics report concerning details of the attack, now is an opportune moment to examine what this recent terrorist attack can tell us about both India’s development patterns and risks for those seeking to do business in this rapidly expanding market.

The recent Naxal attack is indicative of a broader trend in Indian security. As of late 2011, guerrilla groups were known to be active in 20 of India’s 28 states. These guerrilla groups, which are motivated by a wide variety of grievances, are supported by local communities that lack basic development infrastructure. This lack of development makes local populations more inclined to support radical militant groups by providing them with valuable intelligence and assistance, which in turn allows them to launch elaborately staged attacks and ambushes such as the Chhattisgarh attack. Issues related to India’s development will render guerrilla insurgencies a problem for India – and for those seeking to do business in less developed parts of India – for the foreseeable future, regardless of security force crackdowns.

In many rural areas of India, local tribal groups primarily desire health care funding and other similar types of development funding, however these types of development spending are frequently neglected in favor building roads and other infrastructure projects. As a result, tribal groups see little reason to trust government officials – civil or security forces – and thus do not cooperate or share information about rebel movements or guerrilla activity. The situation is such that a Central Reserve Police Force official has stated that the Maoist rebels in many areas have access to better intelligence than the security services.

The Naxals and similar groups are motivated by a host of different grievances including political, ideological, religious and ethnic factors, as well as economic disparities and inequalities. However, in many rural areas, these insurgent groups would find it impossible to survive without support from local populations, support which is often motivated by issues with government development policies.

The intricate Chhattisgarh attack serves as a perfect example of this phenomenon. The attack featured thirty kilograms of explosives, which were used in conjunction with a command wire to set up an elaborate ambush. Prior to the attack, 40-50 Naxals had camped in the area for five days, visiting the local market to conduct reconnaissance. The attack even featured a photographer, likely hired by the Naxals themselves, to capture photographs of the attack (although preliminary reports indicate that this photographer may not have been a local). This attack would have been impossible without the support – likely both tacit and explicit – of the local population.

Combating guerrilla movements in India will require a sustained security program however development efforts will also play a vital role in this effort. It is essential that these development programs be geared towards local needs including land reform and healthcare. Such a program, even if implemented vigorously, would take a substantial amount of time, and guerrilla attacks in India appear likely to present a severe threat in select areas for the foreseeable future.

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