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Non-international armed conflict in India

Conflict type: Non-international armed conflict

The Indian Government is involved in non-international armed conflicts against armed groups called the Communist Party of India – Maoist (this group is also frequently referred to as the Naxalites).

The Government of India is involved in a non-international armed conflict with the Communist Party of India-Maoist, a non-state armed group. Although various incarnations of this group have been involved in some form of insurgency since 1967; an increase in the intensity of violence in the late 2000s means that the situation currently qualifies as a non-international armed conflict. For an overview of the history of the conflict, see A. Bellal (ed), The War Report. Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp 178ff.

While there have been a number of armed non-state actors operating in northeast India and en-gaging in armed violence against the government, to our knowledge the intensity has never been sufficient to conclude that those situations of violence amount to a NIAC.

Two criteria need to be assessed in order to answer the question whether a situation of armed violence amounts to a non-international armed conflict.

  • First, the level of armed violence must reach a certain degree of intensity that goes beyond internal disturbances and tensions.
  • Second, in every non-international armed conflict, at least one side to the conflict must be a non-state armed group which must exhibit a certain level of organisation. Government forces are presumed to satisfy the criteria of organisation. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict' in our classification section.

Intensity of the violence

Various indicative factors are used to assess whether a given situation has met the required intensity threshold, such as the number, duration and intensity of individual confrontations; the types of weapons and military equipment used; the number of persons and types of forces participating in the fighting; the number of casualties; the extent of material destruction; the number of civilians fleeing; and the involvement of the United Nations Security Council. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – intensity of violence’ in our classification section.

The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist)

The degree of the hostilities between the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) and the Indian Government and authorities satisfies the intensity criterion associated with non-international armed conflict. The territorial control exerted by the Naxalites, S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517. and the significant armed response of the government are the most important factors to conclude that the intensity criterion is satisfied. Attacks are spread over time and territory, affecting the local population with daily attacks and disturbances. The Naxalites attack strategic structures and harm the security and police forces with various types of weapons and strategies. There have been a significant number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). The intensity of the violence is also illustrated by the number and nature of the armed clashes. Confrontations between the Government of India and the CPI-Maoist and attacks by the CPI-Maoist occur at a relatively consistent level of frequency. For example, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project counted at least 198 ‘battle events’, ‘strategic developments’, and ‘remote violence’ incidents involving the CPI-M from January 2015 to January 2016, see ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. Fighting between the Government of India and the CPI-M also occurs across a large geographic area. For instance, in 2016 clashes were reported in twelve states. See ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. ACLED: Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, Country File ‘India’ 2015-2016, ACLED Asia data. Attacks frequently target infrastructures, such as road construction sites, rail tracks and trains as well as telecommunication buildings, and bridges. The CPI-Maoist also regularly attack police stations, conduct ambushes on police stations and special task forces, damage police property (for example, police vehicles) and engage in open-fire confrontations with policemen and other security forces. ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Country File India, ACLED Asia Data Set. In addition, the group conducted several abductions, including a large-scale abduction of 250 villagers in 2015 for one-day captivity. ‘Chhattisgarh "Hostage” Crisis: Maoists Kill 1 Tribal, Others Allowed to Return Home’, The Indian Express, 10 May 2015.

The intensity of the armed violence is also illustrated by the number of people displaced. For example, in 2015 at least 70,060 individuals were displaced in areas affected by the armed conflict. Norwegian Refugee Council/Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Internal Displacement in India, April 2015.

In response, the Indian Government deployed a paramilitary police force, trained for counterinsurgency and jungle warfare, and equipped with standard infantry munitions. The principal force is the Commando Battalions for Resolution Action (COBRA), established in 2008. Human Rights Watch, Between Two Sets of Guns – Attacks on Civil Society Activists in India’s Maoist Conflict, 30 July 2012.  A militia group called Salwa Judum was also formed in 2005 with a view to counter and overcome the Maoist rebellion. The militia was armed and backed by the Chhattisgarh state government. In 2008, after its widely reported human rights abuses, including the displacement of more than 50,000 Chhattisgarhis, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Human Rights Commission to investigate Salwa Judum activities, and in 2011, Salwa Judum was declared unconstitutional and thereby dissolved. Project Ploughshares, India - Maoist Insurgency (1980 - First Combat Deaths).

By 2013, approximately 84,000 paramilitary police were stationed in the ‘Red Corridor’, i.e. areas subject to CPI-Maoist influence. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 519.

Between 2004 and 2018, around 7907 people have been killed by the ‘left-wing extremists’ (LWE) in different parts of India. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Left Wing Extremism Division.  Nevertheless, according to a statement from an official from the Home Ministry of India, the violence perpetrated by the Naxals has declined by 25% in the years between May 2014 - April 2017 and casualties to security forces also dropped by as much as 42% in the same period as compared to May 2011-April 2014, notwithstanding occasional reverses suffered by the security forces. ‘Naxal violence claims 12,000 lives in 20 years’, The Economic Times, 14 July 2018.
In data which included the incidents of April 2017, the casualties among security forces in LWE-hit areas presented an increase of 27%, from 59 in 2015 to 75 in 2017. Shaswati Das, ‘Four years of Modi govt: Naxals find their stronghold shrinking’, 26 May 2018.

Though Naxalites violence is declining, there has not been a significantly continuous drop as a number of attacks and fatalities have been fluctuating. ‘Naxal attacks: Timeline of major incidents since 2008’, The Indian Express, 25 April 2017. For instance, in 2016 the security forces from state and federal agencies killed at least 193 CPI-Maoist militants while suffering 57 fatalities.  International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India (Naxalites) And, on 24 April 2017 the CIP-Maoists, using rocket launchers and sophisticated arms, killed 25 members of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in an ambush at Sukma district. ‘Sukma attack: How CRPF jawans walked into 'kill zone' set up by Naxals’, India Today, 25 April 2017.

In the first three months of 2018, there have been 229 LWE-related incidents, in which 24 members of security forces and 44 Naxalites were killed, and on 24 April 2018 at least 37 Maoists were killed in an encounter in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district in a recalibrated counter-Naxal strategy, where intelligence-based strikes have replaced area domination exer-cises that often left security forces vulnerable to ambush attacks. ‘Gadchiroli success sets stage to end Naxalite violence in 4 years’, The Economic Times, 13 July 2018. And recently the Ministry of Home has introduced a plan for a ‘final push’ in 30 worst-hit districts spread over seven states, setting the stage for the proposed wipe-out of LWE by 2022. ‘Gadchiroli success sets stage to end Naxalite vio-lence in 4 years’, The Times of India, 25 April 2018. 

On May 8, 2017, Home minister, Rajnath Singh, announced a new strategy called ‘SAMADHAN’- an acronym for ‘smart leadership; aggressive strategy; motivation and training; actionable intelligence; dashboard based key performance indicators and key result areas; harnessing technology; action plan for each theatre; and no access to financing’. ‘Gadchiroli success sets stage to end Naxalite violence in 4 years’, The Economic Times, 13 July 2018.

In 2019, clashes between CPI-Maoist and state armed forces remained intense. For instance, on13 January 2019 the Maoist commander Shahdev Rai, alias “Talada”, was killed by the Indi-an army during a gunfight; on 29 January, security forces killed five members of the Maoist group in West Singhbhum district. International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Watch’, January 2019. Armed confrontations continued over the year and led the government to announce a new cam-paign against Maoist groups in July 2019. Specifically, on 4 July the Ministry of Home Affairs ‘announced increase of Central Reserve Police Force operations in “decisive push” against “weakened” Maoist insurgents.’ Furthermore, in Kerala the government ‘approved amnesty scheme for Maoists cadres, on condition of insurgents revealing details of crimes, collabora-tionists and source of arms.’ International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Watch’, July 2019. Nevertheless, the intensity of violence has remained sustained in the following months. Similar-ly, during the beginning of 2020 armed confrontations were numerous. For instance, on 10 February three members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed and five were injured during clashes with the Maoists. International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Watch’, February 2020.

Insurgency in the North Eastern States

India’s Northeast region—which comprises eight states: namely, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura—has been affected by violence between the Indian government and a wide array of violent ethnic separatist and/or insurgent groups. Sanjay Kumar, ‘The Origins and Causes of Insurgency in Northeast India’, The Geopolitics, 3 May 2018; Åshild Kolås, 'Framing the tribal: ethnic violence in Northeast India', Asian Ethnicity, vol.18, No.1, 2017, pp.22-37; and for the list of insurgent groups, see South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Insurgency North East India. The insurgent groups operate in a shifting web of broader alliances or coalitions and in a multi-layered conflict zone, and the Indian government has launched military offensives against these groups. Subir Bhaumik, ‘Insurgencies in India’s Northeast: Conflict, Co-option & Change’, East-West Center Washington Working Papers, No.10, July 2007; Geneva Call, India Country page. However, the intensity of violence between each of these groups and the government has never been high enough to conclude that the situation mounts to a NIAC, even less so as each situa-tion of violence has no sufficient nexus with the others.

Assam

Violence in Assam has caused 6,312 fatalities since 1997 and data from 2013 shows that there were 82,000 internally displaced peoples. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India (Assam), Armed Conflict Database.  Currently, there are more than 10 groups operating in Assam. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Insurgency North East India.
The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is one of the potent militant organisations in the Northeast of India, which demands independent and sovereign Assam. The ULFA launched a military campaign since the beginning of the 1980s and later escalated to the level of an armed conflict in 1990s.  Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), India: Assam.  In 2005 and 2006 several rounds of peace talks were held between the government and ULFA, but the talks eventually broke down as both sides accused each other of violating the provisions of the ceasefire agreement. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), India: Assam.
In 2016, a report shows that ten militant groups (the most active groups being the United Liberation Front of Assam- Independent (ULFA-I), and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (Songbijit) (NDFB-S) were involved in at least 44 clashes, mostly in battles with Indian Security Forces (SFs). ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Insurgency in India.
The Ministry of Home report indicated that in 2017, 16 insurgents were killed by the SF operations while 204 insurgents have been arrested, while 3 SF personnel lost their lives in the operations. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Annual Report, 2017/18, p.22. Between 2016 and 2018, in total there were 136 incidents in which 72 members of the armed groups, 42 civilians and 8 members of the SFs were killed. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Insurgency in North-East. Nevertheless, these numbers represent a much lower threshold compared to the previous years. In late September 2018, the Indian Army launched a major operation in Tinsukia district to flush ULFA-I out of Assam altogether. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Assam, Military and Security updates, Armed Conflict Database. In Assam, the SFs also engaged and killed the NDFB-S’s militants in 2018. South Asia Terrorist Portal (SATP), Assam-Assessment, 2018.   

On 27 January 2020, the Central Government signed a peace agreement with all four factions of NDFB. ‘Govt signs historic Bodo peace accord, Amit Shah says golden future awaits Assam’, India Today, 27 January 2020. Accordingly, on 30 January 2020, 1615 cadres of NDFB surrendered in Assam. International Crisis Group, ‘Crisis Watch’ January 2020. As ULFA-I was not part of the agreement, it remains militarily active. Specifically, in January 2020 it claimed responsibility for five serial explosions, which did not result in casualties. ACLED, ‘Regional Overview: South Asia 26 January – 1 February 2020’, 6 February 2020.

In light of the foregoing information, while the violence between the Indian army and the armed groups operating in Assam state has been protracted, it has never reached the level of intensity required by IHL to classify the situation as a NIAC.

Manipur

Manipur has faced insurgency since the late 1960s as a consequence of widespread feelings by the state’s different ethnic groups of central neglect, and it remains beset by devastating ethnic and factional violence as well as violence against government SFs. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India (Manipur), Armed Conflict Database;  It is affected by activities of Meitei, Naga, Kuki, Zomi, Hmar and Muslim UG outfits. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Annual Report, 2017-18, p.22. The fact that the insurgent groups established joint armed fronts and some avoided battling each other enabled them to strengthen their pressure on the SFs. The main insurgent groups, the People’s United Liberation Front (PULF), People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK), have for long periods collaborated loosely and have also established linkages with other rebel groups in the region such as ULFA and National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Khaplang faction (NSCN-K). Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), India (Manipur). In 2012, the Coordination Committee (CorCom) was created: an umbrella group composed by United National Liberation Front (UNLF), Revolutionary People’s Front, Kangleipak Com-munist Party, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (Progressive), and Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup (KYKL). S. Chakravarti, ‘Opinion | Pressures for a landmark peace deal in Manipur’, Live Mint, 20 February 2020.

In general, 4,355 fatalities since 1997 and 3000 IDPs (data on 2013) were reported. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India (Manipur), Armed Conflict Database. For instance, in June 2015, a National Socialist Council of Nagalim- Khaplang (NSCN–K) led an ambush on an Indian Army patrol killed 18 soldiers in one of the most lethal attacks against the Indian SFs in recent years. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Press release, 16 September 2015. In response, in an operation called ‘hot pursuit’, the Indian army's helicopter-borne parachute commandos crossed the porous border into Myanmar and conducted ‘surgical strikes’ on the rebels’ bases, and killed between 30 to 50 rebels. ‘Is Myanmar raid Indian counter-insurgency shift?’ BBC News, 10 June 2015.

In 2016, it was reported that 18 militant groups were involved in 79 episodes of armed violence, most of which fell under the category of remote violence, and some in battles. ACLED, Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Insurgency in India.  On 17 December 2016, around 70 suspected NSCN-IM militants attacked the Nungkao post of the 6th Manipur Rifles (MR) and 7th Indian Reserve Battalion (IRB) in the newly created Noney District and snatched away loaded weapons by overpowering the members of the SFs. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Manipur: Assessment - 2017.

In 2017, Manipur accounted for about 54% of total violent incidents in the Northeast region (Manipur-167, entire NE-308). India,Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report, 2017-18, p.22.  A home ministry report portrays that the Counter-Insurgency operations by SFs resulted in the killing of 22 insurgents, arrest of 558 cadres and recovery of 127 weapons in 2017. On the other hand, there was an increase in civilians casualties from 11 (2016) to 23 (2017) while the SF casualties decreased marginally from 11 (2016) to 8 (2017). On 1 February 2018, army forces operating in Shankapani, Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh encountered a joint force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and Assam-based group ULFA-I, killing two militants. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Manipur, Military and Security updates, Armed Conflict Database. Moreover, 172 militants were arrested in 2018, adding to 177 arrested in 2017. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Manipur, Assessment- 2019.

Since 2018, instances of armed violence between the Indian armed forces and the armed groups operating in Manipur state have substantially decreased, although no peace negotiations have been reported. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), India: Manipur.

In light of the foregoing information, it may be argued that the degree of violence between the Indian government and non-state actors has never reached the intensity required by IHL to clas-sify the situation as a NIAC.

Nagaland

The Nagaland conflict dates back to the establishment of the independent Indian state in 1947 when the Nagas in the northeast challenged their integration within the Indian Union. The two major remaining groups are the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) and the NSCN-Khaplang (NSCN-K). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Conflict summary, Armed Conflict Database. It is indicated that military operations in Nagaland resulted in civilian fatalities and large-scale displacement. Sanjay Kumar, ‘The Origins and Causes of Insurgency in Northeast India’, The Geopolitics, 3 May 2018. To that end, a total of 1,131 fatalities and 62, 000 IDPs (data on 2009) were reported since 1997. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India (Nagaland), Armed Conflict Database.

In April 2015 NSCN–K rescinded the ceasefire agreement signed in 2011 and began conducting operations against SFs in cooperation with other non-state armed groups in Manipur and Assam under the banner of United National Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFWESEA). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Khaplang (NSCN-K), Armed Conflict Database. In the early hours of September 27, 2017, the Indian Army’s Para Regiment commandos, inflicted ‘heavy casualties’ (numbers not revealed) on the NSCN-K in an operation at an unidentified location near Arunachal Pradesh’s Longding District and Nagaland’s Mon District, close to Langkhu village in Myanmar, along the India-Myanmar international border. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), Nagaland. On 18 January 2018, SFs stated that the police and army in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland had launched joint operations in the NSCN–K’s area of activity in a bid to disrupt high levels of insurgent activity there and block access to Indian insurgents based in Myanmar. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Nagaland, Military and Security updates, Armed Conflict Database.

A Ministry of Home Affairs report stated that though the violent incidents in the state declined during 2017 by 67% in comparison to 2016, there were a total of 13 fatalities during the second quarter of 2018, taking the total to 16 by the halfway point in 2018, surpassing the total confirmed fatalities (15) recorded during the whole of 2017.  International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Nagaland, Military and Security updates, Armed Conflict Database. Since 2018, the intensity of violence has remained low and nearly no clashes have been regis-tered between the government and the opposition groups in 2019. In 1997, peace talks began between the central government and the NSCN-IM after a ceasefire was signed. In August 2015, NSCN-IM signed a peace agreement. Nevertheless, as of March 2020, the details of the agreement remain unclear. R. Thripati and B. Singh, ‘Peace accord faces hurdle over sepa-rate Naga identity’The Economic Times, 4 March 2020.

Since 2018, the intensity of violence has remained low and nearly no clashes have been regis-tered between the government and the opposition groups in 2019. Accordingly, based on the information available it seems possible to conclude that the degree of violence between the Indian government and non-state actors has never reached the intensity required by IHL to classify the situation as a NIAC.

Jammu and Kashmir (J&K)

The disputed status of Kashmir has been a source of conflict between India and Paki-stan since the first Indo-Pakistan war in 1947.  In addition to the cross-border violence, armed groups contesting Indian authority have been active in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) region since the late 1980s. While a number of these groups want accession to Pakistan, others demand the complete independence of the region. ‘Kashmir’s decade-high death toll a ‘warning sign’, The New Humanitarian, 11 June 2019. India claims that these groups are based in Pakistan and that they are supported by the latter. On the other hand, Pakistan firmly denies any involvement with the armed groups that undertake attacks in the zone controlled by India. Among the episodes of violence between the Indian government and the armed groups, one of deadliest attacks was carried out against an Indian Army base near the border with Pakistan in September 2016, leaving 19 Indian soldiers dead. H. Kumar and G. Anand, ‘17 Indian Soldiers Killed by Militants in Kashmir’, The New York Times, 18 September 2016.

Following the killing of the leader of an armed group by Indian security forces in July 2016, a wave of unrests and protest began in Indian-administered Kashmir. In re-sponse to the escalation of violence, the Office of the United Nations High Commission-er for Human Rights started monitoring the situation in both Indian-administered and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. In June 2018, the Office published its first report on the human rights situation in both areas between July 2016 and April 2018. Accord-ing to the report, Indian security forces used excessive force in response to the pro-tests. However, the perpetrators could enjoy impunity, especially due to special laws such as the 1990 Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, and the 1978 Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.  Moreover, armed groups operating in Indian-administered Kashmir were responsible for the killings of civilians, kidnappings, and sexual violence. In Pakistan-administered Kashmir, terrorism legislation was mis-used to silence activists and dissidents. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Kashmir: Developments in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir from June 2016 to April 2018, and General Human Rights Concerns in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan’, 14 June 2018.

More recently, in February 2018 heavily armed militants attacked an Indian military base in the Jammu region. India maintained that the attacks were carried out by the Jaish-e-Muhammad, a militant group based in Pakistan, and reacted with surgical strikes against one of the armed group’s camps in Pakistan. S. Yasir and J. Gettleman, 'Kashmir Is Rattled by Bold Attack Near Fortified Airport', The New York Times, 3 October 2017; S. Yasir, ‘Militants Storm Indi-an Army Base, Killing Soldiers and a Civilian’, The New York Times,  11 February 2018.

In 2019, fighting between separatist militant groups and Indian armed forces intensi-fied. In May, the UN 1267 Sanctions Committee has included Masood Azhar, head of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group, on the global terrorist list. On the other hand, on 11 May Pakistan banned a number or opposition groups because affiliated with jihadist organizations, such as Jaish-e-Mohammad. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2019. The following month, armed confrontations between Indian armed forces and alleged Jaish-e-Mohammad fighters took place in Pulwama resulted in the death of six opposi-tion forces. Furthermore, on 12-18 June unidentified militants have launched a num-ber of attacks against Indian troops, killing ten soldiers and four fighters. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2019. Clashes continued in the following months: India reported the killing of 93 militants between February and July 2019. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2019.

In light of the increasing intensity of violence, in August 2019 India revoked the spe-cial constitutional status to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), which was granted by Article 370 of the Constitution.  Furthermore, around 300 Kashmiri politicians were arrested and the region was put under lockdown. On 6 August, the Parliament adopted the Kashmir Reorganization Bill, which divided J&K into two territories – J&K and Ladakh – and downgraded their status from ‘state’ to ‘Union Territories.’ Furthermore, between 2 and 5 August the Indian government ‘deployed tens of thousands of additional troops in J&K’ and imposed a communication blackout. Despite the imposition of a lockdown, on 9 August about 10,000 people demonstrated in Srinagar, which led to clashes with the police. International Crisis Group, Raising the Stakes in Jammu and Kashmir, Asia Report No. 310, 5 August 2020, p. 8.

In spite of the lockdown imposed in mid 2019 and the measures adopted in 2020 to limit the new coronavirus pandemic, armed confrontations did not diminish between Indian troops and non-state actors operating in Kashmir. See, e.g., International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, January 2020; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, February 2020. Notably, in April 2020 clashes dramatically intensified, with armed confrontations tak-ing place nearly on a daily basis. A number of illustrative confrontations confirm this conclusion. On 5 April, Indian forced claimed to have killed five militants in Kupwara district, while 5 soldiers lost their life during the armed confrontations. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, April 2020. The following month, on 3 May five soldiers were killed during a military operation against separatist fighters in Handwara area. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, May 2020. In June 2020, a sharp increase in hostilities led to the killing of at least 35 militants only in Pulwama district. The intensity of violence remained stable in July, with an in-creasing number of casualties registered on both sides. International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, June 2020; International Crisis Group, Crisis Watch, July 2020.

In light of the information at our disposal, it does not seem possible to conclude that India is engaging in NIACs against the armed groups operating in Kashmir, in particu-lar due to the difficulty in ascertaining whether one or more groups reach the intensity of violence threshold.

Organization

A series of indicative factors are used to assess whether armed groups exhibit the required degree of organisation, such as the existence of a command structure and disciplinary rules and mechanisms, the ability to procure, transport, and distribute arms, the ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations, the ability to negotiate and conclude agreements, e.g. cease-fire or peace agreements. If the criterion of a minimum organisation of the armed groups is not fulfilled, there is no armed conflict. For further information, see ‘non-international armed conflict – organization’ in our classification section.

The Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist)

The Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist) satisfies the organisation criterion. First, the armed group has an extensive hierarchical command structure with the upper tiers promulgating orders and delegating tasks to subordinate groups and individuals. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517-8, 523. Orders are given by the Central Committee which controls the entire operations of the Naxalites. To give effect to these orders, and those of state- and local-level Committees, a Central Military Commission has been established which coordinates the orders on the ground. Commentators have acknowledged that the command structure of the Naxalites, while sophisticated, leaves considerable operational autonomy to the lower level militias. A Sinha and M Vaishnav, ‘The Naxalite Insurgency in India’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 14 November 2012.

Second, the CPI-Maoist exercises significant territorial control, namely in the “Red Corridor” of 10 states through Central and Eastern India. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 522. However, this territorial control is not exercised exclusively by the CPI-Maoist. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 522. Within that territory, the Naxalites store most of their weapons and train their recruits. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 517.

Third, the Naxalites carry out their attacks across a geographically diverse area, indicating an ability to plan, coordinate and carry out military operations. Examples of such operations are a number of successful attacks disrupting important railway lines in 2015. See the information provided by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, ‘Terrorist Attacks on Railways in India’, 2015. They obtain weapons in targeted attacks and from battlefield victories. ‘Naxals amassing hi-tech weapons, Chhattisgarh Police worried’, The Economic Times, 13 September 2013.

Finally, the CPI-Maoist has also disseminated internal regulations, such as the ‘Strategy and Tactics of the Indian Revolution’. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 523.

The United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA/ ULFA-I)

Regarding the conflicts in the Northeast, a 2018 government report indicated that the armed groups maintain cross-border links, procure arms, recruit and train their cadres, and indulge into other illegal activities including the killing of members of the SFs. India, Ministry of Home Affairs, Insurgency in North-East. The ULFA, which was formed on 7 April 1979, has had a clearly portioned political and military wing – which is hierarchically structured and has a number of camps. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). A military wing of the ULFA, the Sanjukta Mukti Fouj (SMF) was formed on 16 March 1996 and had three full-fledged battalions (the 7th, 28th and 709th). South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). The ULFA has also set-up bases beyond Indian borders in Bangladesh and Bhutan, albeit these countries are reported to join hands with India in counter-insurgency operations. Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), India: Assam. The undivided ULFA had a cadre-strength of around 5,000 trained insurgents. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA). ULFA is engaged in several income-generating projects, and receive lots of arms from different actors and countries. For instance, in April 1996, more than 500 AK-47 rifles, 80 machineguns, 50 rocket launchers and 2,000 grenades, which were destined to the ULFA, were seized by Bangladesh. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
The ULFA also worked with different insurgency groups in northeast India, including the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and the National Democratic Front for Bodoland. ULFA allegedly also has a relationship with Pakistan's ISI and receive different supports and training on in counterintelligence, disinformation and use of sophisticated weapons and explosives. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).
Since 2009 the ULFA’s military wing suffered a setback as a result of sustained counter-insurgency offensives, diplomatic measures, internal splits and defections to ULFA’s Pro-talks faction (after the 2011 tripartite agreement for suspension of operations). International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), United Liberation Front of Asom - Independent, Armed Conflict Database. Those who opposed the peace processes changed the name of the movement into ULFA-I in 2013. And now, it operates under the UNLFWESEA, an umbrella organisation of militants of Northeast. ‘New chief Khango Konyak revives united Northeast militants’ front’, The New Indian Express, 19 October 2017. ULFA-I has camps in Myanmar, Garo hills of Meghalaya and Tirap and Changlang Districts of Arunachal Pradesh and Mon District of Nagaland, and remains a potent threat. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), United Liberation Front of Asom.

From the preceding facts, ULFA (now ULFA-I), was able to enter into an agreement, engage in protracted military activities, able to recruit and train members, and procure, transport and distribute arms to its members. These suggest that the ULFA-I meets the level of organization required under IHL.

National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB)/ later NDFB- Songbijit

The NDFB was created in 1994, and it was indicated that the strength of Bodoland Army, the armed wing of the NDFB, was estimated to be around 3500 based in the 12 camps located in southern Bhutan. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Democratic Front of Bodoland. During their military operations, the NDFB used sophisticated arms and ammunition including AK Series rifles, light machine guns, M-16 rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and Chinese-make grenades; and also many of them were trained on how to produce and plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs). South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
However after the May 2005, the NDFB is under a ceasefire agreement with the Assam and Union Government, and its members and cadres are located within the three designated camps, though formal peace talks did not begin yet. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Democratic Front of Bodoland.
Subsequently, there was a split in NDFB, as some members did not want the peace-talk, which led to the creation of the NDFB-Songbijit (NDFB-S) under the leadership of I.K. Songbijit (later replaced by B. Saoraigwra in 2015) to continue the armed struggle and it has been accused of operating in collaboration with other insurgent groups in Northeast India. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), NDFB-Songbijit (NDFB-S), Armed Conflict Database. The government has launched sustained counter-insurgency operations that are continuing against NDFB-S group. Currently, after its separation from the pro-peace talk groups in the NDFB, there is no clear information regarding the hierarchical structure of this group. But the fact that the group still continues to engage state SFs and maintain its links with other insurgent groups imply that the NDFB-S is a sufficiently organized armed group.

People’s United Liberation Front (PULF)

It was founded in 1993 to secure an Islamic country in northeast India through armed struggle in collaboration with other Islamist fundamentalist groups operating in Northeast India and reportedly the Pakistan Inter-Services Intelligence. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), People’s United Liberation Front. On May 30, 2007, another Islamist outfit operating in Manipur, the Islamic National Front (INF) merged with PULF. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), People’s United Liberation Front.
It currently operates in several areas of the valley districts and Moreh in the hill district of Chandel in Manipur. With the support from the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM), the PULF is believed to possess sophisticated weapons, and an unspecified number of AK-series rifles, carbines, hand grenades and gelatin sticks. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), People’s United Liberation Front. Despite the paucity of information about the details of the hierarchical structure of the group, the fact that it was able to create links with different entities, engage in protracted operations, possess and use modern military weapons, suggest towards a conclusion that PULF is a sufficiently organized armed group.

National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM, and NSCN-K)

The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) was formed on 31 January 1980 by Isak Chisi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah and S.S. Khaplang opposing the ‘Shillong Accord’ signed by the then NNC (Naga National Council) with the Indian government. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Nagaland. On 30 April 1988, the NSCN split into two factions: the NSCN-K led by S S Khaplang, and the NSCN-IM, led by Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Nagaland. Both are recognized as major insurgent groups operating in the State of Nagaland by the government of India. India, Ministry of Home Affairs Annual Report, 2017-18, p.23.
The NSCN-IM’s military wing (the Naga Army), is composed of one brigade and six battalions, and there are also several ‘town commands’ and specialised mobile groups. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Nagaland. The group procured large stocks of Chinese AK rifles, machine guns, mortars and explosives from black markets in South East Asia. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM), Nagaland. It continues to recruit and train, and engage the Indian SFs in non-ceasefire areas. The NSCN (IM) was engaged by Geneva Call (a non-governmental organization) and has signed the Deed of Commitment to formally express their agreement to abide by humanitarian norms and take ownership of these rules. Geneva Call, India Country page.

The other faction NSCN-K has an objective of establishing a ‘greater Nagaland’ comprising of the Naga-dominated areas within Northeast India, and contiguous areas in Myanmar. It has a government structure in exile and it rejected a ceasefire agreement with the government, and since April 2015, it began conducting operations against SFs in cooperation with other insurgent groups. International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS),  National Socialist Council of Nagalim–Khaplang (NSCN–K), Armed Conflict Database. ; ‘UNLFW: The new name for terror in NE’, The Times of India, 5 June 2015.  It is also reported that the NSCN-K has its headquarters and training camps in Myanmar. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), Nagaland The group is allegedly involved in kidnapping, extortion and other terrorist activities to raise funds. The NSCN-K accounted for 62 civilian and 26 SFs fatalities during the period 1992 to 2000 and lost 245 of its men over this period. South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), Nagaland.  The NSCN-K is also one of the armed groups the Geneva Call has started a discussion with to make sure that the group commits itself to respect humanitarian norms. Geneva Call, India Country page.
These two groups do meet the organisational requirement as evidenced by their proper hierarchical command structure and zones of operations; able to recruit and train members; ability to speak in one voice and sign agreements (including cease-fire agreements, and other bilateral negotiations); well-structured agendas and tactics; access to funding and sophisticated weapons.

All parties to the conflict are bound by Article 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions that provides for the minimum standard to be respected and requires humane treatment without adverse distinction of all persons not or no longer taking active parts in hostilities. It prohibits murder, mutilation, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, hostage taking and unfair trials.

All parties are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to non-international armed conflicts. Customary international law consists of unwritten rules that come from a general practice accepted as law. Based on extensive study, the International Committee of the Red Cross maintains a database of customary international humanitarian law.

In addition to international humanitarian law, international human rights law continues to apply during times of armed conflict. Under human rights law, the territorial state has an obligation to prevent and investigate alleged violations, including by non-state actors. Non-state armed groups are increasingly considered to be bound by international human rights law if they exercise de facto control over some areas.

State parties

India

Non-state parties

The group that is now the Communist Party of India - Maoist (CPI-Maoist) first emerged as a rebel group in 1967 following a peasant uprising in the West Bengali village of Naxalbari. A. Buncombe, ‘The Big Question: Who Are the Naxalites and Will They Topple the Indian Government?’, The Independent, 7 April 2010.  In its current incarnation, it was formed in 2004 from the merging of the People’s War Group and the Maoist Communist Centre. The group is frequently referred to as the Naxalites. S.A. Prasanna, ‘Red Belt, Green Hunt, Grey Law: India’s Naxalite-Maoist Insurgency and the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict’ 68 UCLA Law Review (2016) 493. See also A. Bellal (ed), The War Report. Armed Conflict in 2014, Oxford University Press, 2015, p 181.

Last updated: Monday 23rd November 2020