Strategic Perspectives


Author: Brigadier Narender Kumar, SM, VSM (Retd)

Period: Oct - Dec 2018

You Cannot Kill an Idea By the Gun:
Rebirth of Insurgency in Punjab and North Eastern States a Possibility

Narender Kumar@


Insurgency and terrorism are driven by ideology. A State cannot kill an ideology with a gun, you can only come with a better ideology and let them explain it and see what the facts are.[1] Insurgency in Sri Lanka may have been supressed by the power of the State, but the idea of ‘Eelam’ is not defeated as yet. Conflict still remains unresolved in the minds of the people. The Ottoman Empire collapsed after the World War I, but the idea of Caliphate (the Ottoman Empire) remained in the hearts of the Arab. They perceived that they were divided by stronger European powers but the Muslim Brotherhood rekindled the resurgence of idea of Caliphate in 1928, when Hassan Al-Banna laid the foundation of the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ with the desire to re-establish the Caliphate. Decades passed, and the West largely forgot that there ever was a Caliphate or an idea that was germinated by Hasan Al Banna, but Muslim Clergy that advocates that “Islam does not recognize geographical boundaries”[2] did not forget the idea of Caliphate. Al Qaeda and Islamic State are manifestation of the old idea that was cherished by Hasan Al Banna.

            If the above prognosis is seen in the light of the Indian context, militancy and insurgencies have been defeated in Punjab, Assam and Mizoram, however, chances of revival of such ideas is a possibility because the idea is alive and has not been defeated by a superior narrative. Revival of Peruvian insurgency is a case study in itself where it re-emerged due to convergence of insurgents, transnational criminal syndicates and drug cartel. To ignite the resurgence of insurgency the common factor is a revolutionary leader and convergence of criminal-insurgent nexus to pursue their self-serving objectives. In the case of Afghanistan the drug trade and Taliban militancy was run by same leadership thus the convergence was within the organisation. In fact overlap of crime and terrorism presents significant challenges to international and national security.[3] Building on the precedent set by narco-terrorism, as it emerged in Latin America in the 1980s, the use of crime has become an important factor in the evolution of terrorism.[4] Such a convergence between the insurgents/ terrorists and criminal syndicates at some point in time does acquire political aspirations.

Lurking Threat in Punjab

The network of drug trafficking in Punjab is a very carefully crafted Pakistani strategy. It is aimed with twin objectives. The first is to spread the business empire of drug trade with its roots firmly embedded in Pakistan. As per the prominent Pakistani newspaper—Dawn, between 35 to 40 per cent of the global heroin (between 210 and 240 tonnes) is smuggled through Pakistan to reach the global markets, ranging from the Americas to Australia, Africa to Europe and China (a huge quantity out of this share is smuggled into India by land and sea).[5] A huge quantity of drugs is also smuggled into the Indian market since Punjab and North India have now a sizable market and consumers. The second is, use the drug trail to build a narco- terrorist’s nexus, to reignite Khalistan ideology. The Killing of few Hindu’s in the beginning of the year points to a developing narco-terrorism nexus to destabilise Punjab once again on communal lines. The NIA stated that "[e]ight incidents of targeted killings/attempted killings were executed as part of this conspiracy between January 2016, and October 2017 in Punjab. The objective of the conspiracy was to destabilise the law and order situation in Punjab and to revive the terrorism in the state."[6] Thus drug trafficking and selective killing should not be viewed in isolation as an act of crime or a problem of law and order. It must be seen in the light of a sinister design to revive militancy in the State. Role of police, narcotics department and judiciary is vital to curb militancy in Punjab. If the convergence of militants, drug traffickers and criminal syndicates finds roots in Punjab, the new militancy will become more potent, particularly in the light of availability of cyber and information space to new terrorist outfits.  

Northeast India

MHA officials have reported that the Northeastern States have seen an 85% drop in violent activities in the last 17 years and 2017 has been comparatively most peaceful.[7] But, this is not an indication of conflict resolution. The ‘Naga Peace Accord’ is yet not signed and the idea of Greater Nagalim remains alive. The National Register of Citizens (NRC) is unlikely to satisfy people of Assam if illegal migrants are not deported and traditional pastures of Ahom are not liberated. The exercise undertaken by the State Government on the direction of the Supreme Court may bring a temporary slowdown of violence and agitation, but the issue of demographic invasion from Bangladesh will remain unresolved since deportation of illegal migrants will be a difficult preposition. The Parash Barua faction of ULFA may have been marginalised but the ideology that it advocates is still not completely neutralised. There is always a danger of revival of conflict on the basis of the ideology of “Assam for Ahom” and it has the potential to ride over the emotions of the people.

            The Naga tribes in four States are demanding unification under single administrative entity since they perceive that they have been divided as part of a conspiracy. However, re-drawing of State boundaries is near impossible but the framework resolution that was supposed to meet the aspirations of the Naga tribe is yet to see the light of the day. While interacting with a young Tankhul, the author asked him, “What are the prospects of peace accords for conflict resolution in Nagaland and Manipur”? He said, “Accords/ Treaties are for headlines and for political manoeuvring. No political party in India seems to be serious for conflict resolution. Conflicts are a leverage for power struggle be it regional or national parties.”[8] Similarly, the publicity in-charge of NSCN (K) Isak Sumi said, “be assured that unless the Indo-Naga-Myanmar political conflict is addressed and resolved, the Naga struggle will continue in one form or the other, and Naga organisations and personalities decrying the Naga army’s patriotic sacrifices shall be questioned and taken to task”.[9] The question is that will the ‘Naga Peace Accord’ being negotiated by the Government of India (GoI) with various Naga factions neutralise the idea of unification of Naga Tribes forever or it is a temporary thaw to maintain peace? The students of conflict management may agree that even the Accord will not be able to eliminate the idea and thus a threat of reversal will remain a possibility till a better idea or narrative is given to the people. The worry is that weapons and drug trafficking has remained uninterrupted in-spite of temporary peace and thaw in violence. Convergence already exist between the drug cartels and the insurgents, thus if the interests of either of the stakeholders are compromised reversal of violence is a high probability. The GoI and State Governments should recognise the fact that the current calm is ‘negative peace’ and it remains fragile till final solution is found. Mistaking this peace as enduring will be a costly mistake. Negative peace is a phenomena that often occurs when there is a thaw in the conflict due to hope of conflict resolution or fatigue factor. Thus if the efforts are not made to concretise peace, it can give rise to new, more complex and lethal phase of conflict. 

            The State of Mizoram is on the path to become one of the most developed States in the Northeast. However, the threat that drug and weapons trafficking syndicates pose to the State is a serious issue that needs to be addressed before it becomes a major security problem. Mizoram’s Excise and Narcotics Commissioner Lalhmunsanga has said, that the “region lies in close proximity to the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, arguably the world’s largest source of opium and heroin after the ‘Golden Crescent’.  Arms are not what the Narcotics Department is after. But often a drug chase ends up in a haul of AK-47s, rocket launchers and ammunition.”[10]  Mizoram is used by the insurgent groups of the Northeast to bring arms that are further sent to Nagaland, Manipur and elsewhere in the Northeast. There is a nexus between the drug traffickers, arms smugglers and insurgent groups of the North East that is making Mizoram a potential area of instability. Concerted and synergised efforts are needed to eliminate this problem. 

Concluding Remarks

The Rule of Law is intended to be an alternative to war and not a way of justifying war.[11] Thus the war against an idea should be fought with the deliverance of governance, establishment of rule of the law and a superior idea that justifies the concept of a welfare state. The challenge today is to prevent convergence between insurgents/ terrorists, drug traffickers and transnational criminal syndicates. The process of instability can be hastened up even in relatively stable states if law enforcing agencies turn blind eye to the convergence of dark forces. The crime-terror continuum thus seeks to highlight the importance of overlapping counter-terrorist and anti-crime policies as a way of formulating an effective State response to evolving, and periodically converging, threats.[12] In an age where Non State actors operate at the speed of broadband, the State can ill afford to operate at the snail’s speed of bureaucracy. Equally important is to keep an eye on evolving narrative so that it can be countered before it starts impacting impressionable population. The role of intelligence agencies and judiciary also assumes significance to prevent reversal of conflicts.


[1] Jonathan Haidt, “You Cannot Kill An Ideology With A Gun”, New York Times, September 13, 2018.

[2] Fatma Ozyagli, “Hassan Al-Banna: The man who started it all”, World Bulletin. Accessed Sep 10, 2018 from https://www.worldbulletin.net/personage/hassan-al-banna-the-man-who-started-it-all-h115124.html

[3] Cilluffo, The Threat Posed from the Convergence of Organized Crime, Drug Trafficing and Terrorism, CSIS, Dec 13, 2000, 1–2. Accessed Sep 10, 2018 from https://www.csis.org/analysis/threat-posed-convergence-organized-crime-drug-trafficking-and-terrorism

[4] Tamara Makarenko, “The Crime–Terror Continuum: Tracing the Interplay between Transnational Organised Crime and terrorism”, Global Crime Vol 6, No.1, Feb 2004, P 129-145.

[5] Bhagwandas, Over 200 tonnes of heroin is smuggled via Pakistan a year, Dawn, July 05, 2012. Accessed Sep 10, 2018 from https://www.dawn.com/news/731994 

[6] Sumit Kumar Singh, “Pakistan-based Khalistan members behind RSS leader killing in Punjab”, DNA, May 5, 2018. Accessed Sep 12, 2018 from https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-pakistan-based-khalistan-members-behind-rss-leader-killing-in-punjab-2611743

[7] Arunima, “Violence in North East Falls by 85% in 17 years, 2017 Most Peaceful Year: Ministry of Home Affairs”. Jan 16, 2018, News 18.com. Accessed Sep 12, 2018 from [7] Arunima, Violence in North East Falls by 85% in 17 years, 2017 Most Peaceful Year: Ministry of Home Affairs.

[8] Narender Kumar, Alternative Conflict Resolution Initiative: A Way Forward for the North East, VIF, March 21 , 2017.

[9] Prabin Kalita, “NSCN(K) warns critics, vows to continue hostility”, Times of India, Jun 30, 2018.

[10] Pritam Ranjan Bose, “Drugs and arms: Mizoram fights an uphill battle”, The Hindu Business Line, July 03, 2015.

[11] Haidt, N 1.

[12] Makarenko, N 4, P 142.


@Brig Narender Kumar, SM, VSM, is a Distinguished Fellow, USI of India. 

 (Article uploaded on 16 Oct, 2018) 

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation that he belongs to or of the USI.



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