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July 9, 2008 / calebdresser

Terror, from an Indian newstand – II

Terrorism is a blunt and imprecise word. I often read Indian newspapers, and find it interesting to note the differences between what one hears about the tiny minority of Muslims who subscribe to terrorist views and the growing Maoist insurgency focused in the rural southeast. Both are labeled as terrorists, but somehow the grouping seems incorrect.

The adherents of radical Islam operate in small cells, often urban, and target crowded civilian areas and sometimes Hindu temples. Their tactics seem focused on creating fear, which to my mind means that for all the headlines, they remain unable to take the initiative and will therefore ultimately find themselves unsuccessful. Terrorism in that form is a symptom of problems, but not, I think, a force for the creation of a new system. It is much easier to tear clapboards from a house than to build one.

The Maoist adhere to a very different strategy. Rather than focus only on creating fear, their tactics appear designed to systematically weaken the power of the government while developing a wide base of popular support. Operating as guerrillas in rural areas, they develop rapport with villagers, provide services in areas neglected by the government, and even intervene on the behalf of rural people in some disputes. They are giving a voice to peoples that have never had one – bloody, violent, and destructive, yes, but a voice nonetheless. In addition, their targets seem to be mostly what would be considered relatively “legitmate” in a formal war between two nations: military personnel and national infrastructure. A favorite point of attack seems to be power lines; attacks have left some regions in blackout for over a week. In addition to being low-risk, I’m guessing these operations serve to weaken the reputation of the official government in they eyes of the rural poor, who are of course the Maoists’ real objective anyway. Based on what I can glean from the newspapers, it is a cleverly run operation that the government might want to take more seriously than it currently is.

None of this makes what they are doing right – that is is a question I will leave unanswered, because I really don’t know enough to offer an opinion. However, I think it does put them in a different category from Islamic jihadists. In this age of our “War on Terror,” the distinctions outlined above seem to get lost far too quickly.


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