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Privatizing Security in India

In a recent post for International Policy Digest, I argued in favour of hiring private military contractors to deal with issues like terrorism and insurgency movements. National security, like it or not, is always subservient to political will, so my argument is simple: take the political will out of the equation. One response peaked my curiosity: “So what would it take to set-up an Indian PMC (private military contractor), and how does it benefit the current homeland security scenario?” This is my response.

I will answer the second part of the question first. Today, one of India’s biggest internal threats is the Naxal insurgency. A problem as old as our independence, the Naxal insurgency represents India’s skewed political forethought, or lack there of. Between the conflicting Nehruvian ideal of sympathizing with the movement, and the recently emerging right which treats the Naxals as out-right terrorists, the Maoist ideology represents a cornerstone of many socio-economic paradigms in modern India. The forces deployed to counter this threat mostly come from these same paradigms, leading to some conflicts of interest.

Although India has one of the most able armies in the region, it is unable to curb this nuisance. This could be resolved by deploying a small army which is not connected to the socio-economic realities on the ground. Task them with eliminating the Maoist threat, and give them operational free rein.

Operational free rein does not amount to blank impunity. A credible oversight mechanism for such an operation is not a choice, it’s a necessity. However, a balance has to be struck between political input and a ground level operational command. A constant bureaucratic interference would only undermine the operational capacity of the ground forces. Instead, the focus should be on appointing credible and competent security leadership, which would make the necessary decisions on the ground.

For instance, would the center accept that minimal collateral damage is to be expected from such an operation? Given the sidelining of our military echelon in most security related matters, it is doubtful that the Indian government would readily allow the army or para-military forces to undertake this kind of an independent operation. A PMC would be more objective in its approach to achieve this mandate. Being a contractual arrangement, the PMC will be obligated to follow its employer’s (i.e. the Indian government’s) directives, in a legally defined framework.

PMC’s have an infamous reputation of being ‘mercenaries.’ It is this association which makes many wary and distrustful of these specialized organisations. Loyalty can be brought, and that does give PMCs an air of unpredictability.

In 2011, the Supreme Court ordered immediate disarming of a group of tribal youths called the Salwa Judum, who had been hired and authorized by the government of Chhattisgarh to operate in the Naxal areas. As per the Bench’s ruling, this was in direct contempt of Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Although, not a true PMC, the Salwa Judum example shows the Indian government’s psyche when it comes to extrajudicial security in any capacity in the country. Many legislative and mindset reforms would have to occur before India could hire, or have its own private military contractors.