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Sumit Ganguly
India Studies

David Fidler
IU Center on American and Global Security

George Vlahakis
University Communications

James Boyd
IU Maurer School of Law

Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New book offers lessons from India's 60-year history of fighting counterinsurgent movements

May 20, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A newly edited book by two Indiana University Bloomington professors addresses a timely issue that the U.S. government is currently facing -- counterinsurgency.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. and allied military forces were unprepared to deal with fierce resistance from determined insurgencies. The difficulties of mounting effective counterinsurgency campaigns had experts scrambling to learn from famous counterinsurgencies of the past, including the British victory in Malaya, the French failure in Algeria and the painful American involvement in Vietnam.

But missing from this search for effective counterinsurgency strategies was 60 years of experience of a fellow democracy's battles with insurgents: India.

Under a joint research project undertaken by the IU Center on American and Global Security (CAGS) and the India Studies Program, two professors at IU Bloomington -- Sumit Ganguly and David P. Fidler -- have addressed this gap in the literature on counterinsurgency by co-editing and contributing chapters to a new book, India and Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned (Routledge, 2009).

"This is a very timely book because counterinsurgency is one of the most important issues facing the civilian and military components of the U.S. government," said Ganguly, who is the director of the India Studies Program, director of research for CAGS and the Rabindranath Tagore Professor in Indian Cultures and Civilizations at IU.

"We're not going to be fighting huge conventional wars in the foreseeable future," added Ganguly. "The kinds of wars we will be fighting will involve irregular, guerilla warfare. India has gained extensive experience in fighting just these kinds of wars since its independence in 1947, and its successes and failures are instructive for the future counterinsurgency campaigns the United States, its allies, and other countries will have to wage."

CAGS and the India Studies Program collaborated on the new book by holding conferences in India and Washington, D.C. in 2008. The book includes chapters by Indian and U.S. authors on India's major counterinsurgency campaigns in its northeast region, Kashmir, Punjab, Sri Lanka and against the Naxalites and chapters on India's counterinsurgency doctrine.

The Indian authors, all of whom had personal experience in counterinsurgency efforts, analyzed the campaigns in which they were involved, and the U.S. experts reflected on what lessons the United States and other countries can learn from the Indian experience.

"Comparative analysis of the Indian and U.S. efforts on counterinsurgency reveals a host of lessons that the United States can learn from the Indian experience," noted Fidler, director of CAGS and the James Louis Calamaras Professor of Law in the IU Maurer School of Law. "The lessons confirm the radical moves the U.S. Army and Marine Corps made with the Counterinsurgency Field Manual and illuminate ways in which the Indian experience has more relevance to the U.S. interests in counterinsurgency than previously realized or acknowledged."

Ganguly and Fidler hope that the book can help open more direct collaboration between the United States and India on common threats they face in the future.

"As the U.S. looks beyond Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of future counterinsurgency challenges, India's experience and doctrine may become increasingly interesting, especially if the two countries can engage each other more productively as democracies facing violent, asymmetrical threats that will become the dominant type of warfare in the next phase of the 21st century," Fidler said.

India's experiences in counterinsurgency may also be valuable to India's rival, Pakistan, Ganguly observed, now that Pakistan faces a grave threat from a Taliban insurgency supported by Al Qaeda. Given Pakistan's history of supporting insurgency movements in India, the opportunity for Pakistan to learn from India on this issue would be tragically ironic but nevertheless important.

"India's efforts teach two fundamental lessons that Pakistan should heed," Ganguly said. "First, there are no military solutions to insurgencies, which means that Pakistan must develop a political, civilian-led strategy to complement military actions against the insurgents. And second, use of excessive military force exacerbates the problems, boosts the insurgency, and makes integrated political and military strategies much more difficult to execute.

"Whether the Pakistani government and military will admit they can learn something from India is by no means clear, but it would be a pity for Pakistan to turn its back on the lessons learned by India in fighting violent, determined insurgencies."