The Naxalites -- India's huge, decentralized and nominally maoist insurgency -- have recast the term as a form of warfare riven with criminality. When the Naxalites declare a Bandh, they shut down all connectivity from cell phone service to trains/roads to water to electricity.
The Naxalite Bandh employs physical systems disruption (described at length in this blog and in Brave New War). Systems disruption, as a means of warfare, can be applied to any locality that is reliant on modern infrastructure for social and economic activity. The Bandh is simply the application of systems disruption to completely "take down" a locality for a set period of time (measured in days) in order to attain coercive control. Characteristics of this approach include:
- Ease of application. Attacks against a handful of key nodes can bring down large and complex networks. Accomplishable by small groups with few training requirements for individual actors.
- High ROIs (returns on investment). Very inexpensive and highly leveraged approach. Attacks generate damage in the target up to one million times greater than the cost.
- Low attrition. Attackers rarely suffer casualties or arrest due to how difficult it is to protect infrastructure. Further, through cascades of failure, attackers can assault targets at a distance.
How The Bandh Works
The Bandh approach works in achieving coercive control due to the impact of systems disruption on social and economic networks. It breaks them down due to a combination of 1) shock therapy (think of this in terms of a reboot that allows malicious entities to take control of a system), 2) a disruption tax (repeated applications of systems disruption impose "a tax" that slows/drives out legacy economic activity), and 3) an isolation and delegitimization of legacy elites (business/government). After repeated applications of a Bandh, the city/locality is ready to do whatever the Naxalites require.
A Growing Monopoly of Systemic Coercion
The Naxalite network spreads through a very simple and lightweight process:
- The core groups maintains the skills to plan and execute systems disruption (a foco).
- When a city is targeted, the foco works with a local gang to which it can extend the Naxalite "brand" and build a disruption plan for that city.
- The local group carries out the Bandh and gathers the benefits.
Ongoing operations consist of maintaining the ability to enact a Bandh on a large number of cities with only occasional activation. In any year, only 30% of the Bandhs need be activated to ensure compliance of the targets and provide a lesson to the others.
The Naxalites don't replace the existing government, as per the 20th Century insurgencies the US COIN doctrine was built to fight. Instead, it extracts the financial rewards akin to what a government would expect. In short, it is pure global guerrilla. For example:
- It exacts "taxes" on local businesses and individuals.
- It promotes and participates in a thriving black market (which is made even more important due to suppression of "legitimate activity").
- It can rent the Bandh to politicians and businessmen for their own purposes. Competitive Bandhs from labor and politicians (aka non-violent strikes), are disrupted and can often turn violent when the Naxalites enforce their monopoly.
NOTE: Thanks to Shlok Vaidya, who is an expert in all things Naxalite for help on this post.
NOTE2: If the Taliban applied the Bandh methodology to Pakistan (it wouldn't work in Afghanistan), replacing some of the monetary gain with social requirements (religious rules that the population must follow) to retain the movement's character, it would sweep the country in less than five years. Instead, luckily, it insists on blood'n guts terrorism and the seizure of territory...