India Insight

India needs a tough hostage policy

April 27, 2012

The abductions of two Italians and two government officials by Maoist guerrillas in just over a month must have left Indian authorities with a sense of déjà vu as they search for ways to end the cycle of negotiations and eventual accession to demands made by the rebels.

For the Maoists, who say they are fighting for people left out of India’s economic boom, the tactic of taking hostages instead of engaging soldiers brings huge dividends — obtaining freedom for jailed comrades and suspension of military ‘combing’ operations in areas controlled by them.

The method is not new, with government records showing hundreds of kidnappings since 2008 by Maoists, who have fought for decades in a wide swathe of central and eastern India including many resource-rich regions. Authorities stumble along on a case-by-case basis because there is no set procedure on how to handle such situations.

But the recent pattern of high-profile abductions which have grabbed national headlines have worried the central government enough to consider drafting a long overdue policy on dealing with hostage situations.

Countries like the U.S., with its “no negotiation” policy and Israel’s deadly responses to militant attacks have all been contrasted to India’s handling of hostage crises, which most agree is not tough enough to stop or discourage future cases.

No details are known of the policy draft, but for any policy to be effective, India must shed its ‘soft’ image and include the politically risky option of rescue operations, without which the only option of hostage release in most cases is agreeing to the abductors’ demands.

And there are quite a few precedents to learn from – starting from the famous 1999 ‘Kandahar Hijacking’ where three Kashmiri militants were released, to the recent events in Orissa where authorities freed a Maoist leader’s imprisoned wife and promised to facilitate the release of several other rebels.

The central government can also take a leaf out of the strategy adopted by the state of Andhra Pradesh, which has been credited with almost eliminating Maoist presence inside its borders by raising an elite commando force called the Greyhounds to hunt down the rebels in their stronghold, combined with sophisticated intelligence and a good rehabilitation programme for surrendering rebels.

Many recent editorials in the media have called on the government to get tough on anti-state elements, with some even advocating a ‘no negotiation’ policy. What everyone agrees on, is that the status quo will not rein in the Maoists.

Something’s got to give.

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//Many recent editorials in the media have called on the government to get tough on anti-state elements, with some even advocating a ‘no negotiation’ policy.//

Well said. But India being federal in nature things almost always need to go through a definitive set of meetings with whoever involved in tackling the Maoists menace at the state level. The recent meeting on NCTC (a Center- formulated bill prescribing a stricter control of terrorism) has exposed many shortcomings as far as allocating powers to the states are concerned. The very states (notably Tamil Nadu and Gujarat) who raised a ‘hue and cry’ at the meet for they believed the bill might infringe upon the constitutionally drawn state rights, have often resorted to extra-judicial killings in dealing with crime inside their territories.

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