Monday, May 17, 2010

Dantewada - The Battle Continues

This one was different from the other attacks. Over thirty civilians died - all of them could not have been informers. So what was the aim of blowing up the bus carrying 30 innocent civilians. Were these 30 civilians sacrificed to get at the 20 Special Police Officers (SPOs) who were also travelling in the bus and reportedly killed? Was this a case of collateral damage on the side of the Naxals.
Let us analyse the options.

Use of civilian transport by troops in counter insurgency is a common practice for several reasons. Military transport is easily identified and targetted by ambushes or IEDs, hence soldiers using civilian public transport are less likely to be targetted. However this is not without risks as has been brought out in the present instance. Critics will label this at par with 'using human shields' - but the fact of the matter is use of public transport by troops is not a crime.

In the present case, the reason for targetting a vehicle full of civilians could be one of many. One could be that the Naxals did not realise that there were so many civilians sitting in the vehicle - unlikely, but possible. Especially if the SPOs had commandeered the window seats, it could give an impression to onlookers that the entire bus was full of cops. A second reason could be that the bomber got tempted by the large number of SPOs in the bus and decided that the civilians could be 'sacrificed' to eliminate the SPOs. Another possibility is that the bus was targetted deliberately so as to drive a wedge between the security forces and the locals. By causing this casualty, they would want to drive home a message to the locals not to support the security forces. This last option, if true, is a sign of desperation. A sign that the other efforts being taken by the Government and the security forces are beginning to bear fruit. Let us also not miss the symbolism of the choice of the date - 17 May 10 - a day when the UPA government completes it's first year.

So what now? The Battle for Dantewada is now entering a crucial phase where we shall see more of such incidents. This is to be expected. The security forces have to re-invent themselves to the constantly changing tactics of the Naxals and try and stay ahead. They need to seize the initiative and keep the Naxals guessing. Lower level tactics need to improve and as should the intelligence. There is no option but to take the bull by the horns - however long it takes. Operations must continue, but with due care not to alienate the population. The government and local administration needs to exploit this incident to highlight the hypocrisy of the Naxals in eliminating their own people. Local administration must provide the assistance and succour that the victims and kins so badly need. Local media, both print, audio and video need to play up the death of the civilians to wean away the population from the attraction of the Naxal culture.

I predict some sort of an apology from the Naxal high command shortly. Lets see if that happens.

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