NEW DELHI: India has been plagued with often deadly political disputes for decades: A decades-old confrontation between protesters and armed forces in Kashmir has claimed tens of thousands of lives. A festering conflict with Maoist rebels cuts a wide swath across many of the country’s states. A host of insurgencies fuel violence in the northeast.
Many of these conflicts date back to India’s independence in 1947 from British colonial rule, when maps were drawn without adequate consideration given to the schisms it would create between ethnic groups. Many other disputes stem from centuries of discrimination and exploitation that still have not been addressed or resolved. These long-simmering conflicts could have an impact on how quickly India, the world’s fastest-growing economy, succeeds in its aim of becoming a leading global power. A look at three major conflicts:
India’s Maoist conflict began as an armed struggle in the late 1960s, when poor peasants in the village of Naxalbari in West Bengal state demanded land rights. The uprising was crushed, but the conflict spread across vast tracts of central and southern India. Rebels inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong have been fighting ever since, staging hit-and-run attacks against Indian authorities. They demand a greater share of wealth from the area’s natural resources and more jobs for farmers and the poor.
Just last week, at least 10 Indian paramilitary soldiers were killed in an ambush by Maoist rebels in dense forests in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The government’s response was to send more troops, but the rebels had fled deep into their forest hideouts. Since the 1980s, Maoist rebels have recruited thousands of poor villagers and indigenous tribespeople, training them in the use of arms and explosives to target government officials, security forces and state installations. Over the past decade, the rebels have acquired smuggled Chinese-made shoulder rocket launchers, and explosives and mines that they have used to deadly effect.
The government has called them India’s greatest internal security threat. Thousands have died on both sides, but little has changed in the struggle. Many Indians have grown weary of the conflict. Politicians debate whether a military operation to flush the rebels out of their jungle hideouts is preferable to offering better economic opportunities to assuage the rebel fury.
In India’s remote northeast, government forces battle dozens of ethnic insurgent groups who push a welter of demands ranging from independent homelands to maximum autonomy within India. More than 21,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in northeast India, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
The most prominent of those conflicts, that of the Naga people, has been on the boil since the mid-1950s. Naga leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah signed a truce with New Delhi in 1997 and been engaged in peace talks ever since. Swu died earlier this month, but Muivah said the peace talks would carry on. “Things are on track and we are expecting to reach an acceptable solution to the long-standing Naga issue soon,” Muivah said recently. Several other insurgencies in the northeastern states of Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Assam – all of which share borders with either Myanmar or Bangladesh – are keeping Indian security forces on a near-constant counterinsurgency mode.
The government has cease-fire agreements with more than 40 insurgent groups in the region, and over the years it has signed peace agreements with six. Those deals gave ethnic groups more autonomy, but India has rejected their demands for separate homelands. This resulted in the splintering of several insurgent groups, with some factions carrying on with hit-and-run guerrilla strikes. Neighboring Bhutan and Bangladesh are cooperating with Indian authorities to expel insurgent leaders and cadres operating from their territories. New Delhi is trying to reach a similar agreement with Myanmar.
Clashes between protesters and Indian forces in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir this summer again highlight the challenge that the restive Himalayan region has posed for Indian policymakers ever since it was split between India and Pakistan shortly after the two archrivals gained independence in 1947. New Delhi initially grappled with largely peaceful anti-India movements in its portion of Kashmir. However, political blunders, broken promises and a crackdown against dissent resulted in a full-blown armed rebellion against Indian control in 1989. Thousands of Kashmiris crossed over to Pakistani-controlled Kashmir for arms training, returned with guns and grenades, and joined the armed struggle against India for a united Kashmir, either under Pakistan rule or independent of both.
Kashmir became a battleground, with rebel groups ratcheting up bloody attacks aimed at Indian security forces and pro-India Kashmiri politicians. India responded with a massive militarization of Kashmir, saying it was fighting a Pakistan-sponsored proxy war. Soldiers empowered with emergency impunity laws carried out a brutal military crackdown. At least 68,000 people have died in Kashmir since 1989. Kashmir rebels suffered a major setback after 9/11, as the US pressured Pakistan to rein in militants.
The militancy was largely crushed, but many Kashmiris remain opposed to Indian rule. In recent months, demonstrations by unarmed protesters have often led to intense clashes between rock-throwing Kashmiri youths and armed government soldiers. New Delhi and Islamabad have yet to find common ground to resolve the dispute. The churning is again producing a new generation of homegrown militants, something which has deeply worried Indian establishment. — AP