Threat to any form of established order can be traced back to a time when the urge to expand first came in to existence in humankind’s repertoire to dominate. Whereas in earlier times war was waged in ways that had an idiom, albeit by way of it being administered by conventions and tenets, followed by an eventual armistice, irregular warfare is a clear departure from time-honoured “rules of engagement” that had characterised traditional form of guerre. The most recent manner by which non-state groups are seeking to wage war with established states is by taking recourse to irregular warfare. Although the multi-dimensional battle space that the world has transformed itself into has been felt in earlier times as well, the algorithmically precise manner in which it is coming to the fore of late warrants careful study. To that end, whether it is Islamist outfits coming together in Afghanistan or the ethnic insurgencies in North East India that are beginning to exhibit non-traditional violence, novel methodologies are increasingly being espoused by such formations in order to engineer irregular manoeuvre. 

Therefore, even as extremist Islam is compellingly disseminating “Operation Confusion” onto a dazed establishment, there are instances by which other forms of conflict are also adopting out-of-the-box methods to carry out subterfuge. 

In the universe of Islamist terror discourse an avant-garde Operation Inherent Resolve which could have impounded all the radically deviant minds of the globe into a single area with proper surveillance instead permitted the Islamic State to spirit away. The total territorial ouster of ISIS from Iraq-Syria turned out to be detrimental in the long run. The ISIS is no longer restrained to a region where its “aggression threshold” could have been appropriately controlled. After all, even radicals across the globe were undertaking the hijrah to the neo-caliphate’s domain after having taken the Bay’ah or the oath of allegiance! Indeed, ISIS could presently be anywhere in the world, cloaked in different avatars including as the salar-e-allah of the Afghanistan based Islamic State of Khorasan Province, Waliyah-i-Hind and even the very recently formed tanzeems such as Jundal Khalifa-al-Hind, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind and Mujahideen Ghazwat-ul-Hind inside India preparing for the “Third Wave of Radicalisation”. It is, however, important to comprehend that although all the newly created tanzeems are affiliated to either the al-Qaeda, the Islamic State or the Taliban, the fact of the matter is that they are all one and the same as has always been the case with al-Qaeda and Islamic State. The point that state actors (primarily in the west) have missed out are important aspects such as Tawriya which is permissible if it serves the interest of Sharia. As opposed to Taqiyya (Derived from the Arabic word waqa (“to shield oneself”)), the Islamic principle that permits lying in certain circumstances, principally when Muslim minorities reside in infidel territory, Tawriya permits “creative lying”. The fact that the Taliban reneged on the Doha Agreement in order to continue its sustenance of both the al-Qaeda and the ISIS should no longer be in doubt when “permissible deception” is countenanced as a doctrine that has been adhered to since the time of Ja’far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imamiya Imam.

Another important aspect in which irregular warfare is being activated is the manner in which insurgent groups in India’s eastern extremity are planning and executing attacks on security forces in the region. A manifestation of one such act was the 13 November 2021 Churachandpur ambush in Manipur. While such attacks have been carried out in the past as well, indeed at times with greater ferocity as was the case when soldiers of the Indian army’s 6 Dogras were attacked in 2015, the fact of the matter is that insurgent organisations in the North East are progressively becoming bolder, almost attesting to the fact that the state may have lost the plot despite the fact that there had been considerable forward movement to bring round the wayward groups in the past. 

In any event, the prognosis that accompanies the appearance of such pattern clearly attests to the fact that Myanmar post 1 February 2021 has presented itself as a ready launching detachment for groups that have long jettisoned their founding principles and have graduated into distasteful mercenary conduct much of which is driven by narco-terrorism. Indeed, many insurgent outfits have come into an agreement with the Tatmadaw and are believed to be aiding the Myanmar army to quell the civil unrest that erupted after the February military takeover. In fact, one of the principal introspection exercises that need to occupy New Delhi is the turn around that Myanmar engineered after the junta took over the reins of governance. This is unfortunate as it had been quite forthcoming in ousting the insurgent groups from its soil by way of Op Sunrise-I and II. However the most important aspect that forbiddingly lends itself to irregular warfare behaviour is the fact that China, perturbed by its inability to intimidate India by conventional methods, is utilising the insurgents to mount a proxy war against India by way of the North East. While this, too, is not new, the fact of the matter is China’s “export of revolution” had ceased when Deng Xiaoping was in the seat of power. The entry of the Chinese into the North East insurgency game in the aftermath of the Chinese humiliation in Eastern Ladakh indicates that Beijing is resorting to irregular warfare initiative in order to, alongside its surrogate Pakistan, “raise a thousand prairie fires” that India cannot douse. Such facets that are beginning to endanger India must be carefully factored in and studied by the security czars of India.  

On the other hand, the atmospherics that have come to roost in the erstwhile East Pakistan are fraught with a possibility that despite Sheikh Hasina’s best efforts a rise in radicalisation might be taking place. This is becoming increasingly palpable with the growing closeness of the country’s population with Pakistan in recent times. The Pakistanisation of a section of Bangladesh has become particularly pronounced after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan with a “butterfly” effect being felt in the erstwhile East Pakistan. The post 1971 generation seems to be identifying itself with not only Pakistan, but the global salafi movement as well. This was in ample evidence when a hostage situation was engineered in Dhaka in 2016. The Islamist groups in Bangladesh like the Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and the Ansarullah Bangla Team had, of course, already identified themselves with groups such as the al-Qaeda and the ISIS. The expanse is, therefore, ripe for a concerted fundamentalist resurgence. 

The aforesaid resurgence would witness a spillover effect from the erstwhile East Pakistan into India. Assam would be the first ports of call for the Islamists. After all, the JMB had set up shop in Assam, Bengal and Bihar in 2014. Indeed one of the modus operandi of the radicalised elements from Bangladesh as also from South East Asia has been to utilise the demographic jungles of lower Assam and employ it as a “gateway” to the rest of India in order to perpetrate terror alongside Pakistan based tanzeems such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. An expedited radicalisation effort of the sort that is being analysed would have far-reaching implication for India. 

The state must, therefore, prepare itself for the “gray zone” warfare that is going to be upon it sooner than later. The prudent course of action would be to chart and cull from non-orthodox stratagems from theatres across the world. The construction of a course of action for combating “irregular warfare” is a key objective. As aforesaid, this is so not only because of the unconventional behaviour in Islamist terror conduct but in the insurgencies that India is faced with in the North East. 

The pincer movements from the two ends of India that are gradually making their way to “marry-up” in the long-established and observed perches in Siliguri Corridor and thereabouts must be outflanked. A correctly anvilled anti-terror doctrine which is overarching and takes into account non-foreseeable eventualities would have gone a long way in defining the trend to counter the new threat. It is, therefore, important to be clear-eyed and construct an integrated approach whereby deception management is comprehended and acted upon with foresight. Such an exercise would also calibrate the construction of a mainframe around the concept of irregular warfare that is all set to proliferate. Perspective planning warrants that course correction exercises are put in place which would counter the new threat with determination.

(Jaideep Saikia is an internationally acclaimed conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy. He is also Asia’s sole Fellow, Irregular Warfare Initiative, West Point, USA)

Jaideep Saikia

Jaideep Saikia is an internationally renowned conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy