Naxal Hostage Crisis: Who Blinks First Matters
The ongoing hostage drama in Odisha begs national response. In traversing the initial, negotiation and termination stages of the crisis the state has to finally come up on top. Else the story shall continue – another time, another place. Our history of managing hostage crisis from Rubbaiah Syed to Kandahar and many witnessed during the ongoing naxal rage are indicative of a hapless state negotiating under extreme duress.
In this recent case, Paolo Bosusco, who runs a tour company, was captured by the rebels on March 14 along with another Italian man, Claudio Colangelo, who was released 11 days later. Their kidnapping was the first time the rebels, who say they are fighting for the rights of India’s tribal people and landless farmers, have targeted foreigners. Italian diplomats have been in Odisha during negotiations to free the hostage. During the negotiation phase while the naxals freed one Italian hostage they abducted Orissa state assembly member Jhina Hikaka, who was picked up by the Maoists in a separate incident on March 24. While Paolo was abducted by the Odisha unit of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) from Kandhamal district, Hikaka was kidnapped by the Andhra-Odisha border special zonal committee from Koraput district. Maoist rebels have threatened “extreme steps” unless their demand for the release of their jailed comrades is met.
This combination targets the diplomatic as also the political arena to box in the state and provide the requisite leverage to the naxals.
Why does this happen and why has the state not matured its responses over the years to stand firm and deal with any such situation firmly?
The reasons are not tough to fathom. Any hostage situation requires interlocutors who can mediate between the state and the naxals to come to a meaningful settlement. There is no evidence that we have skilled and seasoned interlocutors who can give shape to the negotiations. Secondly, the foreigner/political mix complicates the drama as rules for engagement for both are different and both need to be conducted at different levels. We do not yet have a Negotiation Manuel or enough trained and skilled negotiators. We may have some that can deal with Pakistan, but none who are Maoism trained. These have to be people with anti Maoist experience; people who understand the issue that is on ground as opposed to what the media rails about. They also have to be trained psychologists who can speak the local language, dialect, negotiate with men, women, ideologues etc.
The negotiation phase has gone on now for over three weeks with the state forces not aware of the whereabouts of the hostages. A vital intelligence necessity which forms the basis for any rescue attempt envisaged. The termination stage, if imaginatively planned can have three possible outcomes: The hostage-takers surrender peacefully and are arrested. Forces assault the hostage-takers and kill or arrest them. The hostage-takers’ demands are granted, and they escape.
The fate of the hostages does not necessarily depend on what happens during the termination phase. Even if the hostage-takers give up, they may have killed hostages during the negotiations. Often, hostages are killed either accidentally by police or intentionally by their captors during an assault. There have even been cases in which the hostage-takers were granted their demands, but they killed a hostage anyway. The questions which merit attention here are:-
- Have we activated our hit teams; kept them informed, positioned; tasked surveillance sources for locations etc?
- Do we not need a different tack with the two factions that have picked up the two hostages left? They have differing beliefs..
Under these situations the response to hostage taking has to be from a position of strength. While the results may be disastrous tactically, the abductors can not be allowed to get away with the idea of hostage taking as a means to meet their demands. Negotiating to meet the genuine demands of the naxals and solving the red puzzle also mandate that uncivil acts of violence and terror do not go unpunished. Else the state loses the moral authority to find amicable solutions and is held hostage to forever emerging demands. The trouble with yielding is that the naxals would always want more once a set of demands is met. A weak state also psychologically strengthens the naxal case for employing these strategies repeatedly and demoralises the security forces which have gone to great lengths to arrest the suspects/activists.
Giving-in in one state means the modus operandi being tried out in others. So it is not a state but a national problem much against the recent fracas between centre and the state to handle the situation collectively. While the government considers naxalism to be the biggest internal security threat, there is no coordinated national effort cutting across centre – state animosities to manage the situation. social and economic issues are one part of the problem which need addressing urgently but the security situation has to be tackled cogently as naxals can mutate easily across states.
There is a need to develop a strong case for dealing with such incidents firmly to ensure the image of the state does not take a beating. This would require sound intelligence, excellent interlocutory skills and sharp responses to terminate the crisis at a favourable long-term cost.
Giving in without a fight would only worsen the case against a soft state.
- Maoist rebels free one hostage, hold two others in eastern India (washingtontimes.com)
- Odisha court acquits Maoist leader’s wife (icrindia.wordpress.com)