Tuesday, June 23, 2009


B. Raman

There have been no reports of any major street demonstration in Tehran on June 23, 2009. Calls were sent out through Tweets to the protesters in Tehran to assemble at the Baharestan Sq at 4 PM Tehran time, but not many managed to reach there.

2. The Iranian intelligence agencies have been successful in identifying and arresting many Tweeters in Tehran. As a result, the number of Tweets coming out of Tehran is declining. However, the Jundullah, the Sunni organisation which has been fighting against the Iranian regime in the Iranian Balochistan (Sistan Balochistan), has started sending news of developments in Tehran and other cities of Iran through Pakistan for re-transmission to the rest of the world. Similarly, Iranian exiles abroad have been using the Jundullah elements in Pakistan for sending instructions and advice to the protesters in Iran.

3. On the night of June 23 too as on previous nights thousands of people got on to the balcony of their houses and indulged in well-synchronised shouting of Allah-o-Akbar. Many also reportedly shouted "Death to Khamenei" --- a reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Tweets coming out of Tehran have claimed that in a response to a call from Mir Housain Mousavi, who has been spearheading the protest movement, many bazaris (shop-owners) observed a shutter-down strike on June 23.

4. The protesters seem to have realised that in view of the heavy deployment of the Basij militia and the Revolutionary Guards and their readiness to use lethal force to put down street demonstrations, huge processions of the kind witnessed every day last week are no longer possible. They are, therefore, holding discussions among themselves as to how to keep up the momentum of the protest movement. President Barack Obama and other Western leaders, who had maintained a discreet silence in the first few days of the protest lest their comments be projected by the Iranian authorities as proof of external orchestration of the protest movement, have become increasingly vocal in criticising the violent suppression of the protest movement. This probably indicates that the Western Governments have assessed that the protest movement has reached its apogee and that it cannot increase further without evidence of some external solidarity.

5. Moreover, despite the restraint exercised by the West in the initial days, the Iranian authorities, unnerved by the massive protests, started demonising the protesters by projecting them as "terrorists", members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, a terrorist organisation, and stooges of external powers. Even Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, has been accusing the protesters of acting at the behest of external powers.

6. One would have expected that their campaign against the "external satan" would have been mainly against the US, which has had a past history of supporting dissident movements in Iran and undertaking destabilisation operations there. Surprisingly, they have not done so. Instead, their anger has been directed more against the British. The correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in Tehran has reportedly been expelled and two middle-level British diplomats posted in the British Embassy in Tehran have been declared persona-non-grata on charges of indulging in activities incompatible with their duties as diplomats. The British Government has retaliated by expelling two Iranian diplomats on similar charges.

7. The Iranian authorities have been telling their people that the plans for the protest movement had been masterminded by the British long before the elections. The virulent campaign against the British is surprising because the BBC was exercising considerable restraint in reporting on the events in Iran. It gave prominence to the views of the protesters as well as the Government. It did not play up the Tweets unlike the CNN, which has been disseminating the protesters' version of the events----almost blacking out the Government version.

8. For example, when the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards opened fire on the protesters on June 20 there were conflicting versions of the fatalities. The Government said that only 10 protesters were killed, but the protesters kept insisting in their Tweets that at least 20 were killed. Whereas the CNN accepted the version of the Tweeters, the BBC disseminated the Govt. claim.

9. The focussed attack on the British seems at least partly to reflect the discomfiture of the Iranian authorities over the large listenership of the Farsi language broadcasts of the BBC radio and their credibility in Iran. Of all the foreign broadcasts directed to the Iranian people, the BBC's Farsi service has the maximum listenership and credibility followed by those of the Voice of America. The CNN hardly has any credibility in Iran.
10. In their efforts to jam all foreign Farsi language broadcasts, the Iranian authorities are paying the maximum attention to the BBC and then to the VOA. Both these radio stations have already taken measures to circumvent the jamming by strengthening the power of their transmitters and by setting up new transmitters to supplement those which were already in place. The BBC has started using two extra satellites to broadcast its Farsi-language service. The U.S. Govt-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, based in central Europe, is also increasing the power and reach of its programmes meant for the Iranian people.

11. Iran's Guardian Council has already rejected the protesters' demand for a fresh Presidential poll. Khamenei has given a free hand to the Basij and the Revolutionary Guards to suppress the protest movement through lethal force. The Basij and the RG have been carrying out his orders without any reservations. Under these circumstances, it will be difficult for the dissenters to maintain the momentum of their street protests. They are hoping that the protests could be kept up through other actions such as strikes, shop closures etc. Till now, the maximum number of participants in the protests have been young students----boys and girls--- who have no livelihood to lose. The Bazaris, the entrepreneurs and the labour force may lose their livelihood if they respond to the strike call. If they don't, that could be the beginning of the end of the protest movement and Khamenei would have had the last laugh.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com)



The continuing inability of the Government ----whether at the Centre or in the States--- to counter effectively the spread of the activities of the Maoist insurgents-cum-terrorists has once again been demonstrated by the temporary control established by the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and its front organisation called the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities over 17 out of 118 small villages spread across some 300 square kilometres in the Lalgarh area of the State of West Bengal ruled by a coalition headed by the Communist Party of India ( Marxist).

2. The People's Committee, with the backing or at the instigation of the Communist Party of India (Maoist),exploited local anger over alleged police excesses against the tribals following an alleged Maoist attempt to kill the Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee through a landmine blast in November last year.

3. What started as a protest movement against police excesses against the local tribals was transformed by the Maoists into a violent political movement for establishing their writ over the villages in the Lalgarh area of West Midnapore Distict.The hesitation of the Governments of West Bengal and India to act strongly against the Maoist-instigated Committee at the very beginning apparently due to electoral considerations arising from the recently-concluded elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of the Indian Parliament, was exploited by the committee and the Maoists, with the reported help of Maoists from the adjoining States of Jharkhand and Orissa, to strengthen their control over these villages.

4. The transformation of the ostensibly human rights movement into a political movement for a confrontation with the State is evident from the demands put forward by Gour Chakraborty, the CPI-Maoist's spokesman, in an interview to Rediff.com on June 18,2009, after the State Government forces, with the help of para-military forces of the Government of India, started counter-insurgency operations to eject the Maoists from the villages controlled by them. The security forces have already succeeded in ejecting the Maoists and their supporters from many of the villages earlier controlled by them.In his interview, Chakraborty spelt out the the three main demands of the Maoists as follows:"Central and state forces must be withdrawn from the entire area; the State Government must officially apologise to the tribals for its torture and misbehaviour and it should immediately put an end to police atrocities."

5. While reiterating the Government of India's policy of being willing for talks with the Maoists on their legitimate demands if and when they give up the resort to violence, the Government of India as evidence of its determination to put down the Maoist activities firmly has banned the Communist Party of India (Maoist) after designating it as a terrorist organisation. The ban order was issued on June 22,2009, under Section 41 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The CPI (Maoist) was formed in 2004 through the merger of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC). The earlier ban order had covered these organisations, but after their merger to form the CPI (Maoist), no specific order had been issued to bring the CPI (Maoist) under its purview.This lacuna has been sought to be filled up now by banning specifically the CPI (Maoist) and its front organisations.

6.The CPI (Maoist) is a partly political, partly insurgent and partly terrorist organisation. It believes in the Maoist strategy of capturing political power with the help of a well-motivated and well-trained army of the impoverished rural masses. It has been using the tribal areas in the mineral rich central and east India, where the tribals have long been subjected to political ,economic and social discrimination and where alleged instances of police excesses have been frequent, for the recruitment of its cadres and for establishing operational bases from where attacks could be launched against small and big towns to capture arms and ammunition from the police and para-military forces. As an insurgent organisation, it believes in establishing its control over territory " liberated' by it. As a terrorist organisation, it differs from other terrorist organisations. It indulges in targeted killings of security forces personnel and its perceived class and political enemies.It does not indulge in indiscriminate killing of civilians (non-combatants), who do not come under any of these categories.

7. Since Dr.Manmohan Singh came to power as the Prime Minister in 2004, he and his Government have been projecting the Maoists as the greatest internal security threat faced by India and calling for and promising a special strategy to counter them through co-ordinated action involving the Government of India and the Governments of the States in whose territory the Maoists are active. The Congress (I) had appointed in 2004 a special task force of the party to go into the Maoist activities in the Congress (I) ruled Andhra Pradesh to come out with suitable recommendations for dealing with the Maoist activities.

8.Till now, one does not see any sign of a suitable strategy emerging. Before evolving such a strategy, one has to understand the basic differences between Maoist insurgency/terrorism and jihadi terrorism. Firstly, the Maoist terrorism is an almost totally rural phenomenon,whereas jihadi terrorism is a largely urban phenomenon. Secondly, Maoist terrorism is a totally indigenous phenomenon motivated by domestic grievances and a domestic political agenda. Jihadi terrorism is externally sponsored or aided by the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Bangladesh and is motivated by their strategic agenda. Jihadi terrorism is a cross border threat to national security. Maoist terrorism is not.

9.While the leaders of the Maoists are motivated largely by their desire to seek political power through a Maoist style People's War similar to the war waged by their counterparts in Nepal, their cadres and foot soldiers fighting for them are largely motivated by genuine grievances arising from the political, economic and social hardships faced by them. It is our long neglect to develop the tribal areas which has created large pockets of alienation against the Government and these pockets have become the spawning ground of Maoist terrorism.

10.We cannot have the same strategy for dealing with Maoist activities as we have for dealing with jihadi terrorism.We have to take note of the genuine grievances of the tribals and deal with them in a sympathetic manner. We should not dismiss summarily their allegations of police excesses. There has to be a machinery for a prompt enquiry into these allegations. Maoist terrorism cannot be effectively countered without modernising and strengthening our rural policing and the rural presence of the intelligence agencies. The tribal areas, which have not yet been affected by the Maoist virus, have to be developed on a crash basis in order to prevent the spread of the virus to them. The capabilities of the security agencies deployed for countering the Maoist activities have to be different from those of the urban counter-terrorism agencies. The emphasis has to be on greater mobility in the rural areas with very little road infrastructure at present andgreater protection from landmines used extensively by the Maoists. Our failure to develop the road infrastructure in the rural areas has facilitated the spread of Maoist terrorism by taking advantage of the lack of mobility of the security forces.

11. The jihadis increasingly attack soft targets. The Maoists don't. They mainly attack police stations, police lines, camps and arms storage depots of para-military forces in order to demoralise the security forces and capture their arms and ammunition. The repeated success of the Maoists in mounting large-scale surprise attacks on such hard targets speaks of the poor state of rural policing and intelligence set-up and the equally poor state of physical security.

12. Unfortunately, instead of working out an appropriate strategy which will address these operational deficiencies and at the same time pay equal attention to the political handling of the problem, there is an unwise tendency to militarise the counter-Maoist insurgency management by adopting methods similar to those followed by the British in dealing with the Communist insurgency in Malaya after the Second World War. This will prove counter-productive.

13. It is time for the Government to have a re-think on the way we have been dealing with this problem in order to have a tailor-made strategy based on improvement of political management, strengthening rural policing and rural intelligence and developing capacities for rural operations with emphasis on mobile as well as on static security. ( 23-6-09)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )