Interview with Brigadier General Basant K. Ponwar


Inspector General, Chhattisgarh police, Director, Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College, India

Brig. Gen. Basant K. Ponwar was commissioned by the Indian Army on 21 Dec 1969. He began his career in an active Insurgency in Nagaland, where he carried out several special mission tasks across the International Border in East Pakistan prior to, and during, the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Having fought in the war he has taken up instructional tenures in the Commando wing, Infantry School and Army War College. Brig. Gen. Ponwar Commanded his Battalion and Brigade in active Counter Insurgency sectors. His last posting was as the Commandant of Army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairengte, Mizoram where he conducted the First Indo-US Exercise, Yudh-Abhyash, in 2004.

As a specialist in Guerrilla Warfare, he was requisitioned by Chhattisgarh Government in the Special Rank of Inspector General of Police to set up the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College (CTJWC) in the Maoists Hot Bed at Kanker in North Bastar. He has lectured on Left Wing Extremism and Counter Insurgency / Terrorism Operations in several Army and Civil Institutions and in Seminars across the World, including NCT Asia 2018. The Brigadier General served for 36 Years in the Army and is completing 14 Years in the Police, making 2019 his 50th year in uniform.

Can you give us a brief introduction of the day to day tasks as Inspector General of the Chhattisgarh Police Department?

The Inspector General of Police for the Chhattisgarh Police force is responsible for maintaining Law and Order in his/her police range, which could comprise several districts in the State; they ensure the administration, training, welfare, discipline, and public relations of the force under his/her command, which could be comprised of 15 – 20,000 personnel. However, in light of the emergence of the Maoists Rebellion in Southern Chhattisgarh, a different kind of Training in Guerrilla Warfare was required.

I arrived in Chhattisgarh in April 2005. Within 4 months, Physical Combat Conditioning at dawn every morning commenced, followed by lecture presentations and a live demonstration. In the evening, personnel were required to attend rehearsals, day exercises, and night patrol exercises, followed by a debrief. This schedule goes on in various subjects for a vigorous 45-day course. Since it’s commencement, over 34,000 personnel have been trained using this method, which has helped Chhattisgarh become a more peaceful environment.

What made you construct the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College? What were challenges that you faced?

When India became an Independent Nation in 1947, we inherited an unsettled boundary in the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the North; there is ongoing violence in the Kashmir region, which has caused damage to the area. Similarly, in the North East of India, many small tribal communities decided to separate from India and become independent, which led to an insurgency that broke out in 1956. It took many years for the Indian Army and local police force to bring the situation under control.

While all of these disturbances were being addressed, a new revolution emerged in the Heart of India, amongst the poorest of poor who questioned the very nature of the Constitution of India; they felt that this is not the India they wanted and believed in a classless society– a Communist India. The citizens raised a Guerrilla Force, receiving training and weapons from other insurgent groups, and learned how touse Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka. To address the Naxalites, the only force available was the local police and some Central Armed Police Forces who were not trained to fight a full blown insurgency, especially with the threat of IED’s. The Indian Army was overstretched along the border and other internal security tasks.

Thus, the government of Chhattisgarh decided to establish a Jungle Warfare College, capable of training the local police’s personnel to counter the threat of the Naxalites, also known as Maoists, of the banned Communist Party of India. For this mission, the Jungle Warfare College motto was coined: ‘Fight the Guerilla like a Guerilla’. The vision of the Jungle Warfare College was to create a college akin to the battlefield. Shortly after its establishment, work commenced to construct firing ranges, endurance tracks, open classrooms, and setting up outdoor exercises. The first course started on 22 August, 2005 and within 10 days of its termination the local police Commandos experienced an encounter and were able to successfully counter three Naxalites. Thus, the war to eradicate the anti-nationalists had begun

“In developing the combat capabilities of the Commandos, we followed the adage that “the human body is capable of undergoing tremendous stress and strain, which is often not realized till it is put to the test.”

How did you develop the curriculum of the College to train the Law & Order Oriented Police Forces to carry out Offensive Counter Insurgency / Terrorism Operation in Jungle Warfare?

The Government modernizes the police in technologies, weaponry, specialized vehicles, UAVs, and the like. My primary task was to modernize the policeman in his physical and mental capabilities as required for a Commando, defined as: “A Commando is a skilled individual who uses his mind, body and weapon along with his team mates to achieve success in an operation”.

It was a test of leadership to convert lethargic, pot bellied, slow-moving, disinterested and, to some extent, corrupt policemen to become combat soldiers to fight the Naxalites in the jungle. In hind site, I can say that this goal has been achieved to a large extent, because the Maoist rebels are on the run, their Leader Mupalla Laxman Rao has resigned and fled to the Philippines citing sickness. Everyday, Maoists are surrendering or getting killed in encounters, their recruitment has become negligible, and the local population is not supporting their movement. The local police force is now fully trained in soldierly qualities, including leadership and small team and combined large scale operations. The force has also been deployed in mutually supporting bases in a grid to establish the authority of the government in remote jungle areas.

Maoists have used the IED to cause very heavy casualties to the Security Forces and destroyed a large amount of Public property. How has this threat been addressed?

The IED threat in Central India from the Naxalites, having received their training from the LTTE, is high. The insurgents easily raided the local mining corporation warehouses to get explosive materials like ammonium nitrate, gun powder, cordex and detonators; village shops provided food storage tiffins, which enabled them to assemble the deadly explosive devices. In an incident in September 2005, a pine Protecting vehicle with 24 Security Forces (SF) inside was blown up by a 40 Kg IED, killing all of them. The doors were jammed, making it necessary for laser beams to be used to drill into the metal to evacuate the dead. Naxalites, in order to protect their liberated guerrilla zones, have laid IEDs along the incoming routes. In the period between 2005 and 2007, the area witnessed almost 100 blasts in a year, causing over 500 fatalities to civilians and security forces. Additionally, a large number of special vehicles, buses, trucks and property were destroyed. A very disturbing situation developed– they started to use these explosives to disrupt traffic, cause casualties especially to SF personnel moving in local buses. In an incident, 50 people were killed and many others were wounded in Southern Chhattisgarh when their bus was blasted. They even ventured to make tunnels below Tarmac roads on National Highways to prepare for IED blasts. With these conditions prevailing in the sector, a strategy was drawn out at the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College in Kanker and disseminated to the rank and file for implementation.

An IED awareness campaign was launched to educate the police forces in the State as they encountered IED threats for the first time in their tenure. The police force was taught to identify IEDs: freshly dug up earth, IED composition, connecting wires, mechanisms, power supply and the means used to activate an IED. There was no mine detection equipment or Bomb Disposal Squads (BDS), so they were recruited from retired Army specialists. Mine detection equipment was procured from within the country and from across the world. Only a few sniffer dogs in the state were trained for counter-IED duties. Thus, freshly trained dogs were brought in and street dogs were trained by Commandos at the CTJW College. It was found that street dogs were effective in detecting buried IEDs that were located almost 20-25 inches deep in the jungle terrain. Thus, a new resource was introduced into the Counter IED operations.

While carrying out road opening tasks, SFs have to move in a V formation to first clear the heights dominating the road of any perspective IED Operator/Naxalites waiting in ambush Mine detecting teams with its equipment and sniffer dog team moving along the road. On IED detection the BDS team destroys the IED. Having cleared the road, pickets are established on the heights. Constant patrolling is carried out to keep the axis secure. To further synergize the effort local villagers were motivated to assist the SFs in being their eyes and ears and report any suspicious activity or digging in the area. This is paying off very well as local population is forthcoming to help, an essential requirement in insurgency area to win the hearts and minds of the natives (WHAM OPS). A drive was launched in the area to seal and monitor all sources of explosives being used by the civilian mining Industry.

Army Chief Bipin Rawat has said the threat of the use of CBRNe weapons are becoming a ‘reality’. Particularly from Non – State actors in India. What CBRNe development do you believe pose the biggest threat to India’s security?

In India, CBRN threats are becoming a reality particularly from non-state actors. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization has developed products and technologies that can successfully counter a CBRNe attack. The DRDO has trained more than 4,000 Military and paramilitary personnel towards the mitigation of CBRN Threat. Though India has no history of a CBRN battle in the Country, however, the biggest threat in the current environment would be if CBRN weapons fall into the hands of Non State actors especially the terrorist groups operating in the State of J&K like the LET, HM in connivance with Al Qaida and the Islamic State, akin to the use of Chlorine and mustard gas or even sarin against Kurdish fighters in Syria and Iraq in recent years.

“in India, CBRN threats are becoming a reality particularly from non-state actors. India’s Defense Research and Development Organization has developed products and technologies that can successfully counter a CBRNe attack.”

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