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M k Dhar has an interesting take on the Maoist Movement in india on his blog published in July 2008.
About a week back I received a surprise invite from the India Chapter of the Amnesty International to address an youthful gathering on “Maoist Menace: Government Force Application Counter Productive.” I attended the gathering with great trepidation, as I am a witness to gross Human Rights violation in insurgency, terrorism and communal violence affected areas.
However, I expressed my disagreement with the AI organisers on two counts: Maoist Movement was not a Menace and Government force application was not counterproductive. The galaxy of scholars and intellectuals were surprised by these contradictory statements. There is no contradiction.
Maoist Movement is not a menace. It has a long historical evolution and as it metastased due to chronic neglect by the State, it emerged as series of wars against the State, believed to be established by a Constitution and conducting the affairs of the nation on the basis and sanctions of certain Acts, Laws and Systemic logistics.
The Maoist Movement has not grown out of Charu Mazumdar’s Naxalbari in 1967. It has a long history, which is basically the history of India’s Agrarian unrest, uprising of the deprived, exploited and overlooked etcetera of the majority segments of the Peoples. Often their agitations assumed violent manifestations of the deprived and exploited rural populace grinded under the millstone of feudalist bosses, money lenders, political exploiters and plunderers of the national exchequer. These movements were identified with stamps of different isms, as the history rolled on.
In brief: The Ho, Munda, Kol, Santhal uprisings did not receive any stamp of any Ism, as there were none and the ruling classes described this as audacious rebellion by the tribals against the British Authority. The nametag was incorrect. These were classic uprisings of exploited tribal people of Bihar, Bengal and Chhotanagpur region who revolted against exploitation by the British, Indian zamindars, money lenders and general economic depravation. The British, in collaboration with the Hindu-Muslim zamindars had suppressed the revolts after application of great military effort. The names of Sido-Kanu, Birsa Bhagwan etc have become immortal in the folklores of the tribal people now inhabiting parts of Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa.
The Sannyasi Revolution in Bengal and parts of Bihar against the degraded Muslim rulers and the corrupt officials of the East India Company was initiated after the devastating famine of 1770. The event was immortalised by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhaya in his Devi Chowdhurani and Ananda Math, both nationalistic novels. These were strings of combined agrarian uprising of the rural proletariat, in which Hindu Sannyasis and Muslim Faqirs and agrarian folks had taken part. The religious tag assigned to the movement had finally motivated Bankim Chandra to sing the immortal song of patriotism: Bande Mataram.
The agrarian uprising in 19th century Bengal under Titumir and the Faraizi group were stamped as Wahhabi uprising against the British and the mostly Hindu landholders. The movement had affected parts of Bihar as well.
The Indigo revolt in Bihar and Bengal was also essentially an agrarian movement against forced cultivation of Indigo by the British planters. The event was immortalised in Neel Darpan, a fact based novel by Dinabandhu Mitra that had stirred up the national conscience and had contributed to the rise of Indian Nationalism.
The Telengana agrarian revolt and armed struggle first against the oppressive regime of the Nizam and later against the independent government of India and the Tebhaga Andolan of Bengal on the eve of the independence movement were spearheaded by the Communist Party of India. Your author’s father had also fought alongside legendary figures like Ila Mitra against the unjustified agrarian policy of the British. These historic movements were fought at the point of history when India was going through the convulsions of independence movement and sure certainty of partition of the country. The Communists of the day were inspired by the Russian Revolution that was cored around urban workers and not the peasantry. Nonetheless, it was given a stamp of Communist Revolutionary movement of the agrarian folks.
Besides these movements there were several agrarian uprisings in former Madras territory and in certain parts of the territory of the king of Travancore. The Moplah uprising in Kerala, though started as an agrarian movement and movement opposing British policy against the Khalifa of Turkey, had degenerated into a communal holocaust proving inexorably, that any socio-economic movement conducted in the name of religion was bound to degenerate into communal carnage, especially in a pluralistic society where tolerance is the first victim.
When Charu Mazumdar conceived of armed uprising of the agrarian proletariat he had very little sense of organisational planning, military expertise and sustaining capability. He had no command structure except some fringe mobilisation done by Jangal Santhal, Kanu sanyal and Khokan Majumdar. Charu was a theorist and not an expert field commander. He was fired by Maoist ideology and believed that application of Maoist ideology in a rural pocket would give rise to spontaneous uprising all over the country.
Charu was an angry person, very impatient and was limited by tunnel vision of a visionary who believed that his vision was the beginning and end of the journey to the goal of emancipation of the proletariat of India (Your author had the fortune of interacting with some fathers of the movement in 1965-67 at Naxalbari).
Charu’s movement, branded as Naxal Movement came to be stamped as a Maoist Movement. China supported it through electronic and print propaganda and termed it as ‘spring thunder’ of Maoist revolution in India. Charu’s successors, now presumably fighting agrarian guerrilla warfare with much more sophisticated weapons and organised command structure, are also described in generic terms of Naxals and Maoists. This dissertation is not the proper forum to examine how much of Maoism is involved in the present phase of the movement and how much it is conditioned by other issues. In short: We have a vast, sophisticated, agrarian, rural and ideological guerrilla warfare problem that has not been properly evaluated, diagnosed and treated. The historical legacy has now assumed threatening proportions giving rise to the existence of a vast conflict zone in the country that has arisen from the volcanic ashes of National Fault Lines of the past.
Most people admit that Charu’s experiment with Maoist methodology of upgrading the agrarian unrest with “mass elimination” of class enemies had added a new dimension to the movement. His experiments had evolved through several experimentations. The “mass elimination” tactic applied in greater Calcutta, Debra-Gopibllabhpur, Shrikakulam, Koraput tribal area, Mushahari uprising in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, several places in Punjab, Lakhimpur-Kheri in UP, Bihar, Wyanad in Kerala, and Birbhum uprising ultimately fizzled out in the face of resolute State action and in places action by organised upper caste armed forces. Charu’s “mass elimination” had temporarily inspired young students of elite colleges of Calcutta, Delhi and other places and they had carried out the mindless bloodbath believing that it was the right prescription to fight the class enemies. China had egged on the Charu-brand revolutionaries with a view to create soft internal bellies in India during and after India’s involvement in the liberation war of Bangladesh. As the urban and rural ‘mass elimination’ programme had no definite war-direction even a seasoned killer Maoist like Asim Chatterjee (my college acquaintance) was disillusioned. He felt tired of the mass killing pogrom prescribed by Charu.
Since the halcyon days of Charu’s original Communist Party (ML) the movement has undergone several changes, splits, unity efforts and de-regionalisation process. It has started assuming a composite character, a kind of united movement, despite existence of splinter groups, (nearly 30), organisational incompatibility and minor ideological differences. The unity of the Maoist forces in India means uniting forces that originated from the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) as well as MCC(I) and others. The CPI (ML) was founded under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar in 1971. Following his death in 1972, the CPI (ML) splintered into many pieces. After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the coup d’état carried out against his successors by Deng Xiaoping, the world communist movement fell into a great crisis. The Indian movement was divided into many factions. The Maoist parties and organizations had to defend Mao and Maoism and oppose Deng and also the dogmatic attacks on Mao launched by Enver Hoxha of Albania.
One of the parties descended from the original CPI (ML) which continues to uphold the banners of Mazumdar and Maoism is the CPI (ML-Naxalbari), like the Maoist Coordination Committee, a participating party of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement (RIM), which is continuing to work for the unity of the Maoist revolutionaries in a single centre in India. The RIM is intricately connected to the KPD (Communist Party of Germany (ML), CPP (ML) Philippines, Sandero Luminiso (Peru), Communist Party of USA (USA) and Purva Banglar Communist Party (Jana Juddha).
The CPI (ML-Naxalbari) has been advancing especially in the states of Kerala, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Of particular importance among the other parties in this same category is the CPI (ML-People’s War), which has a long history of leading the masses in waging armed struggle. The CPI (ML-PW) has strongholds in broad rural areas in the states of Andhra, Maharashtra, and Orissa, as well as Bengal, Bihar and elsewhere. The CPI (ML-PW), along with the above-mentioned RIM participating parties and organizations, are members of CCOMPOSA (the Co-ordinating Committee of Maoist Parties and Organizations of South Asia).
A united revolutionary Maoist party has been a strong desire of the Maoist ideologues, since the setbacks suffered by the Naxalbari uprising and the splintering of the Maoist forces. The MCC (I) and CPI (ML-PW), CPI (ML-Naxalbari) etc groups have now considerably consolidated their position and battle-capability in several parts of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Kerala, which offer almost a contiguous territory to the armed Maoists. Never before these groups had such territorial consolidation and power to exercise Mass Control Mechanism (MCM) along with armed struggle. The Maoist movement has emerged as the single largest threat to India’s internal security situation. The developments have thrown up several challenges to the Indian State and its Systemic Tools, especially after success of the Maoist movement in Nepal. If Nepal is taken as a part of the unbroken map the reader would realise that there exist a dagger like thrust into the heart of India-from Nepal to deep southern India, rolling down steadily to the Western Ghats.
Conditions in vast areas of the Indian countryside are considered to be mature for waging a People’s War by the Maoists. Criminal neglect of the rural economy, scorched earth policy in the rural agrarian sector with helps from the feudal lords, unemployment and pangs of hunger have not been mitigated during last 60 odd years. Government policy of offering doles, unemployment allowances, rural employment grant etc have made about 35% of the rural population to look up to the ruling deities as gods raining occasional manna. A class of permanent beggars are being created by this policy and very little has been to generate economic sinews for strengthening the bridge between the urban affluents, rural feudals and the chronically starving masses. Suicide by the farmers has added a shameful chapter in India’s economic failure.
The Maoists consider that weakening of the Indian State, splintering of political parties, rise of caste and region based parties and scorched-earth policy pursued by the governments in the rural areas offer them better opportunities to strengthen the movement and advance towards a successful armed revolution. The major ideologues also realise that the lack of a united Maoist party, a people’s army and revolutionary united front, the full revolutionary potential of the situation in India has not been fully realised.
Recent meetings of the major Maoist groups have stressed on this aspect of unity and combined movement against the Indian government machineries. Keeping these aspects in view a few structural peculiarities of the Maoist movement and their operation policies are required to be understood both by the State Machineries and the common people, who are the main fodders of the struggle that is now being waged by the State and the Maoists.
In a given Conflict Zone (as in Maoist affected areas) basically four groups of players are regular constants:
G= Conflict Territory; T= Armed Terrorists; P=Peoples; S=State
As the Conflict develops into a cancerous continuity, several other factors enter the arena with different objectives:
V= Vested Interests; M= Media; H=Human Rights Groups
Besides these elements there are additional inputs which are essential to keep the movement alive and kicking:
As the situation develops into regular armed conflict between the Maoists and the State the rebels start implementing “Mass Control Mechanism.” This well-researched technology of revolution has been widely chronicled by the scholars on terrorism studies and Conflict Management sciences.
In short: the Maoists start with destroying the State Control through propaganda, destruction of symbols of governance like schools, hospitals, tehsil offices, railway lines; assassination of government officials, members of elected local bodies, caste enemies, and raids on isolated police pickets. The Maoists try to isolate the targeted area and the peoples by destroying roads, bridges, blowing up busses and setting up their own defence systems. Peoples living in remote village clusters where there in no tangible presence of governance, any kind of developmental activities and are subjected to rampant corruption by the government officers and exploitation by the landlords and loan sharks gradually start looking up to the Maoists for protection and start living on hope that the changed system as promised by the Maoists would one day deliver the dream world that shine afar in the glittering cities and homes of the affluent. They rapidly lose confidence in the State and any coercive action implement by the State further alienates the People’s confidence in the governing tools and the State as an established entity.
Once the Mass Control Mechanism of the Maoists is in position the Mass Control capability of the government starts evaporating. It very fast loses control on public trust that the State can protect, feed, and assure their advancement. When the level of erosion achieves criticality, the Maoists start striking against big State Targets. From small skirmishes the conflict situation is upgraded to periodical “Big Engagement,” resulting in establishment of Liberated Zones. We have witnessed this in Nepal and we are passing through Stage II of the conflict; establishment of Mass Control and hitting the State hard in guerrilla engagement. Various phases of the conflict have been laid down by Mao and Che Guevara and General Giap. These are text-book realities being implemented by the present day Maoists.
The State has a statutory obligation to get involved. Its response is represented by application of force- police and para-military actions, developmental activities and incentives to assure people that the State is capable to defeat the forces of the guerrillas. As the government forces try to regain turf and minds of the people they exercise more force, not necessarily against the visible Maoists alone; force is applied against suspected and innocent villagers as well. In the absence of supplementing administrative, economic, and security reforms that mere application of force by isolated police actions alienate the people more, resulting more erosion of State’s Mass Control. This is the classic concept that was even exercised by Mahatma Gandhi-but through Satyagraha and non-cooperation. Even Gandhi could not restrain the Ahmedabad textile workers and Chauri Chera peasants from resorting to violence. Increased communal violence after he tried to control the Muslim masses through Khilafat movement testifies to the eternal revolutionary claim of Voltaire: Liberation can only be achieved through violence.
Between the Maoists and the State there remains another element in the Conflict Zone: The Peoples, who are not part of the Mass Controlled Area or who do not believe in the kind of revolution that the Maoists propagate. These Peoples have three options: Die as war zone fodder, Resist the Maoist on their own (very lean chance) and Resist the Maoists with the help of the State. The last option is not a new idea. It has been implemented by the British in Malyasia, General Giap in Vietnam and India in certain parts of the trouble-torn North East, and in the Punjab. People’s Defence against the Peoples who want change through violence is an internationally recognised War Zone policy.
I found it difficult to convince the Human Rights Activists that at certain point during a conflict situation, Indian law provides for the vital implement of Self-Defence. Once this aspect of defensive mechanism is upgraded to organised defence it takes the shape of VVF, Special Police Officer and the Salwa Judum. I have serious reservations about ways and means through which the Salwa Judum concept is being implemented by the Peoples and the State. In the present form, status of training, motivation and fighting capability the Salwa Judum is likely to be treated as clay pigeons by the Maoists shooters. That is a half-hearted and ill conceived and miserably executed operation-more for political mileage than for regaining Mass Control in the conflict zone.
I have illustrated infiltration of other parties in the conflict zone: Such as Vested interests (forest contractors, timber merchants, Tendu-leaf contractors, investors who invest Maoist money in legal market to generate revenue; arms suppliers, foreign supporters, caste forces, criminals etc. The government often overlook these aspects firstly because of the Vested Interest having control on the political bosses; the caste barons acting as vote-bank assets and other elements passing under the noses of the intelligence and police because these agencies are not efficient enough to keep track of them. Some one may call them inefficient.
This situation allows the Maoists to set up an elaborate political network. Over years the major Maoist groups have built up a tangible political structure, which has variables in different operational areas in the country. For a model the following diagram should represent the basic structure (no allusion to any particular Maoist group):
Since elaboration on each segment would take pages it would suffice to say that in Maoist movement the Central Committee is supreme. All other sub-formations are under strict control of the party centre. Deviations in operational matters are permitted but not in ideological programming.
On the other hand, the military formation is also formidable. It is not organised in the initial stage as Brigades and Battalions, but contain well coordinated, trained, ideologically brainwashed cadres and ancillary units. Induction of women soldiers and propaganda personnel add value to the movement and allows it easy access to the homes and hearts of the vulnerable people.
The graphics may offer impression that the Maoists are well entrenched and they have the capability of waging prolonged war against the State with well oriented, trained cadres, arms supplied from sources like Nepal Maoists, LTTE, Bangladesh and Nepal Based suppliers and Kashmir militants peddling weapons through different cut outs. It may be taken into account that the Maoists have developed connectivity with arms suppliers in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. While the LTTE is the prime suspected carrier it should not be forgotten that the Maoists command control of certain coastal areas in West Bengal, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh through which weapons are smuggled in. Remoteness of the areas controlled by them and inadequacy of State response make the Maoists look bigger than life.
In the Amnesty International discussion I said that the State use of force was not counter-productive, it was inadequate and ineffective.
In the vast operational areas from Bihar to Andhra Pradesh with most active hubs in Orissa, Jharkahnd, Chattisgarh remote tribal areas the Central and State intelligence apparatus is appallingly inadequate. While they may have access to some surface political information they do not have access to hardcore operation information to storm the Maoist hideouts effectively. On the other hand, the Maoists have strings of informers to give them advance information about troop’s movement and State plans of operations.
The State (taken as a whole) has not deployed adequate force to isolate the Maoists from the peoples and to take them on as highly equipped guerrillas. A guerrilla force cannot be fought by conventional forces-police or military. Superior commando forces trained in guerrilla warfare are required in sufficient numbers, buttressed by normal police-operational forces to overwhelm the forest dwelling Maoist guerrillas. Several state governments have not yet trained special police guerrilla forces and depend on normal law & order police personnel. They try to dominate areas by setting up isolated pickets without adequate speedy-response-support troops, well equipped communication and fast moving conveyance. These police pickets are pregnant ducks.
Different state governments do not have coordination and moving guerrilla forces cannot be fought within the imaginary boundary lines of the intricately laid state boundaries. There is hardly any aerial surveillance, electronic monitoring mechanism to monitor communication network of the Maoists. Despite plethora of conferences, discussions and decisions on ground position of the State continue to be fragile. State response is inadequate. Inadequate application of force cannot break the magic-spell of Maoist Mass Control Their propaganda machinery is based on folklores woven around Sido-Kanu, Birsa Bhagwan etc. The name of Mao is often inserted in places of tribal heroes. Mao has started replacing Sido-Kanu and Birsa in various tribal strongholds of the Maoists. Their cultural groups work in unison with over ground cultural groups and spread the ideological spell. The State has very little weapon to counteract this propaganda barrage.
I had informed the Human Rights group that in my opinion India does not require any armed struggle to repair the lapses of the government during last 60 odd years.
The repair work to improve the conditions of the cultivators, rural artisans, landless peoples, rural unemployed and anarchic rule by the big land owners, caste barons, money lenders and Forest Plunderers can be achieved through improved administrative corrections, Societal changes, containment of corruption and better economic packages for the neglected rural and tribal areas.
Revolutions in the name of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism cannot be allowed to destroy the democratic core of the country. I have personal sympathies and connectivity with many Maoist leaders of the past and present, but I differ in these vital areas of national concern.
We have enough worries from other sectors which threaten the integrity of the country. Threats from the Islamists, ethnic rebels and proxy-war from neighbours are yet to be contained. Maoism is the last thing that would suit the civilisational genius of the people of India. The very ideology has failed in Russia, failing in China and last vestiges of Marxism and Maoism cannot survive in the form of Castroism and India Marxism-Maoism. Marx and Mao are great, but their Isms are dead. The history has turned leaves towards another confrontation-between the energy hungry west and the masses of Islamic countries. India is precariously located between the two fighting giants with a huge Muslim population having sympathy for their coreligionists and hatred for the west.
Recent developments around Amarnath land grant and Nuclear deal with the USA have proved beyond doubt that vast sections of Indian Muslims continue to be haunted by the spectre of Pan-Islamic Ummah and the intestinal feeling for separation from the majority Hindu community that was voiced over hundred year ago by Shah Waliullah, Sir Sayyid Ahmad, Mohammad Iqbal, Chaudhry Rahmat Ali and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Repeated historic blunders by the Congress and Caste-based parties and the so-called Indian Left to segregate the Muslims from the mainstream India in the name of Sachar Commission findings and other vote-bank gimmicks have pushed the Muslim psyche back to 1935. Now India has to actuate it’s nuclear and foreign policy keeping in view the Muslim opinion, which is wedded to the idea of separatism. The mistake committed by Gandhi in dragging the Congress to the Khilafat Movement in 1920 was the first encomium for perpetuation of communal politics in India,
What should, therefore, be the State response?
The first responsibility is to regain Mass Control from the Maoists through application of superior targeted force. This should be accompanied by the National Repair Works (not doles to national beggars), to fill in the fault lines of last 60 odd years caused by the independent government of India and its provincial governments. Without repairing the fault lines immediately followed by determined and superior force application, the situation cannot be retrieved. We would be fighting hopelessly half-witted game against the determined Maoists, who are inching towards unity and are trying to assume massive striking power following the success of the Maoist movement in Nepal.
That the government resolve for force application is half-hearted or inadequate or ill conceived and executed is illustrate by the latest gruesome incident at Balimela Reservoir in Orissa. Balimela ravine area in Malkangiri district is a parrot beak like area of Orissa jutting into Andhra Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
The combined Orissa police and Andhra Pradesh Grey Hound specialist force had gone to search the forested hills overlooking the reservoir which feeds pipeline to nearby Dumduma powerhouse nearly 4 kilometres away. The forces received information that the Central Military Council of the Maoist group was having a meeting in the area. The information could have been correct or a decoy. The grave mistake was committed when only a water bourn patrol was sent and no territorial force was deployed on the flanking hills dominating the water body. There was no static watch-post also. The planning was faulty and execution was half hearted; half the policemen did not know how to swim.
In contrast planning of the Maoists appeared to be exceptionally well:
1. Police Party had no support Vessel. It had no On-shore static or mobile positions and Mounted Heavy Guns. It was a lone venture and a near-ready kill. Planning had no deep tactical understanding of the terrain and support mechanism.
2. Locations indicated are approximate and do not represent the exact ground position.
My intention is not to dig hole. The State must apply force, when it is required to apply, in adequate quantity and superior quality. The haunting problems of lack of concrete steps by the central government, inadequate preparations of the state governments and insufficiency of cutting-edge intelligence is likely to add woos to the country’s agonies.
Along with determined force application the vast areas of state responsibilities towards the people have to be attended without seasonal and cynic political gimmicks. The vast countryside is getting isolated from the urban centres, urban prosperity is not reaching the vast rural areas and the neglected hill tribals are getting more disillusioned. Only superior military application by the State cannot stop the Maoist upsurge. The political and bureaucratic class are required to be in war-preparedness to tackle the situation by taking both determined military actions and honest development and socio-economic reforms. The Urban India should look towards Rural India and Aranyak Bharat (forested India) and exclusively the glitter of Globalised economy.
The Maoist guerrilla warfare should not be treated at par with ethnic or regional conflicts. The ideological guerrilla warfare has earned the historic recognition of success through fault lines of the State. Let us be aware of these fault lines and employ all possible State resources to repair the gaps.
No cause of death is yet known, but the Committee says torture of bloggers is common in Iran and they are usually placed in close proximity with the most dangerous criminals in any facility. Misayafi was sentenced in December to 30 months in prison "for insulting Islamic Republic Leaders." The man said he was a cultural blogger, not a political one, and only wrote a few satirical articles that got him into trouble.
An update tonight indicates that the prison conditions may have lead the man to take his own life. Directly or indirectly, it appears that Misayafi's life has been brought to an end for exercising free speech, for criticizing an authoritarian state and for doing it using online social media. Social media users and advocates around the world should take note of this event.
We've reported here on a number of bloggers imprisoned in Iran and in Egpyt for documenting government abuses or just writing critical words about governments that demand total compliance. In the middle of last year we wrote about Iran's parliament debating legislation that would add the death penalty to the list of possible punishments for using blogs to challenge government authority
Sri Lanka, the once self-trumpeted "island of paradise," turned into the island of bloodshed more than a quarter-century ago. But even by its long, gory record, the bloodletting since last year is unprecedented. The United Nations estimates that some 1,200 noncombatants are getting killed each month in a civil war that continues to evoke a muted international response even as hundreds of thousands of minority Tamils have fled their homes or remain trapped behind the front line.
With the world preoccupied by pressing challenges, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defense Minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, a naturalized U.S. citizen, press on with their brutal military campaign with impunity. The offensive bears a distinct family imprint, with another brother the president's top adviser.
Chinese military and financial support — as in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uzbekistan, North Korea, Burma and elsewhere — has directly aided government excesses and human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. But with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly emphasizing that the global financial, climate and security crises are more pressing priorities for U.S. policy than China's human rights record, which by her own department's recent admission has "remained poor and worsened in some areas," Beijing has little reason to stop facilitating overseas what it practices at home — repression.
Still, the more China insists that it doesn't mix business with politics in its foreign relations, the more evidence it provides of cynically contributing to violence and repression in internally torn states. Sri Lanka is just the latest case demonstrating Beijing's blindness to the consequences of its aggressive pursuit of strategic interests.
No sooner had the United States ended direct military aid to Sri Lanka last year over its deteriorating human rights record than China blithely stepped in to fill the breach — a breach widened by India's hands-off approach toward Sri Lanka since a disastrous 1987-90 peacekeeping operation in that island-nation.
Beijing began selling larger quantities of arms, and dramatically boosted its aid fivefold in the past year to almost $1 billion to emerge as Sri Lanka's largest donor. Chinese Jian-7 fighter jets, antiaircraft guns, JY-11 3D air surveillance radars and other supplied weapons have played a central role in the Sri Lankan military successes against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or "Tamil Tigers"), seeking to carve out an independent homeland for the ethnic Tamils in the island's north and east.
Beijing even got its ally Pakistan actively involved in Sri Lanka. With Chinese encouragement, Pakistan — despite its own faltering economy and rising Islamist challenge — has boosted its annual military assistance loans to Sri Lanka to nearly $100 million while supplying Chinese-origin small arms and training Sri Lankan air force personnel in precision guided attacks.
China has become an enabler of repression in a number of developing nations as it seeks to gain access to oil and mineral resources, to market its goods and to step up investment. Still officially a communist state, its support for brutal regimes is driven by capitalist considerations. But while exploiting commercial opportunities, it also tries to make strategic inroads. Little surprise thus that China's best friends are pariah or other states that abuse human rights.
Indeed, with its ability to provide political protection through its U.N. Security Council veto power, Beijing has signed tens of billions of dollars worth of energy and arms contracts in recent years with such problem states — from Burma and Iran to Sudan and Venezuela.
In the case of Sri Lanka, China has been particularly attracted by that country's vantage location in the center of the Indian Ocean — a crucial international passageway for trade and oil. Hambantota — the billion-dollar port Chinese engineers are now building on Sri Lanka's southeast — is the latest "pearl" in China's strategy to control vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by assembling a "string of pearls" in the form of listening posts, special naval arrangements and access to ports.
China indeed has aggressively moved in recent years to build ports in the Indian Ocean rim, including in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Besides eyeing Pakistan's Chinese-built port-cum-naval base of Gwadar as a possible anchor for its navy, Beijing has sought naval and commercial links with the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar. However, none of the port-building projects it has bagged in recent years can match the strategic value of Hambantota, which sits astride the great trade arteries.
China's generous military aid to Sri Lanka has tilted the military balance in favor of government forces, enabling them in recent months to unravel the de facto state the Tamil Tigers had run for years. After losing more than 5,594 square km of territory, the Tigers now are boxed into a 85-square-km sliver of wooded land in the northeast.
But despite the government's battlefield triumphs, Asia's longest civil war triggered by the bloody 1983 anti-Tamil riots is unlikely to end anytime soon. Not only is the government unable to define peace or outline a political solution to the Tamils' long-standing cultural and political grievances, the rebels are gearing up to return to their roots and become guerrilla fighters again after being routed in the conventional war.
While unable to buy peace, Chinese aid has helped weaken and scar civil society. Emboldened by the unstinted Chinese support, the government has set in motion the militarization of society and employed control of information as an instrument of war, illustrated by the muzzling of the media and murders of several independent-minded journalists. It has been frenetically swelling the ranks of the military by one-fifth a year through large-scale recruitment, even as it establishes village-level civilian militias, especially in conflict-hit areas.
With an ever-larger, Chinese-aided war machine, the conflict is set to grind on, making civil society the main loser. That is why international diplomatic intervention has become imperative. India, with its geostrategic advantage and trade and investment clout over a war-hemorrhagic Sri Lankan economy that is in search of an international bailout package, must use its leverage deftly to promote political and ethnic reconciliation rooted in federalism and genuine interethnic equality. More broadly, the U.S., European Union, Japan and other important players need to exert leverage to stop the Rajapaksa brothers from rebuffing ceasefire calls and press Beijing to moderate its unsettling role.