The Indian Army has decided to learn from the masters of the bush war — Vietnam — in the middle of an intensive study of Maoist military tactics.
The irony is hard to miss. When the Naxalites emerged in India in the late-1960s, a popular slogan that reverberated in Bengal was “Tomar naam, amar naam, Vietnam, Vietnam”.
Translated it means “Your name, my name, Vietnam, Vietnam”, but the English does not have quite the same ring as the passionate Bengali in which the slogan was chorused.
That was in solidarity with the Communist-led resistance war against the Americans and their puppet South Vietnamese government. The struggle that drove the Americans out in 1975 was probably the most successful guerrilla war in modern history.
Today, nearly 35 years later, defence minister A.K. Antony and his Vietnamese counterpart General Phung Quang Thanh — a hero of that guerrilla war — agreed that the armies of the two countries will begin joint exercises from next year.
In 1968, a year after the Naxalbari uprising in India, Company Commander Phung, then a 19-year-old, was running the “Ho Chi Minh Trail” — a complex network of jungle routes that wove and tunnelled through forests to supply logistics to Viet Cong guerrillas. As a squad commander, he is personally reputed to have killed eight assaulting airborne troops while defending a guerrilla position atop a hill.
India’s Maoists, who have killed over 200 police troops this year, have drawn many of their lessons from Vietnam’s resistance war that serves as a model to them along with the tactics enunciated by Mao Zedong and Che Guevara.
The first exercise between the Indian and Vietnamese armies in mountain and jungle warfare will be held in India.
The Indian Army has limited its current role in the counter-Maoist offensive to training the police and logistics. But its Allahabad-headquartered Central Command is specifically tasked with mapping the Maoist militancy, analysing their tactics and equipping the army with the right resources.
None of this has figured in the agreement reached by A.K. Antony and General Phung Quang Thanh yesterday. The Indian Army believes it is among the very best in jungle warfare — given its counter-insurgency experience in the Northeast and in Jammu and Kashmir.
US troops have also been in training at the Indian Army’s Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School in Vairangte, Mizoram, where the first drill with the Vietnamese is likely to be conducted.
Defence ministry sources said as part of India’s Look East Policy, New Delhi has offered to Hanoi its skills to “enhance and upgrade the capabilities of its (Vietnam’s) three services in general and its navy in particular”.
Antony announced India’s help at bilateral meetings with the top Vietnamese leadership, including President Nguyen Minh Triet, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and defence minister General Phung Quang Thanh.
“India will help Vietnam in its capacity building for repair and maintenance of its platforms. The armies of the two countries will also co-operate in areas like IT and English training of Vietnamese Army personnel,” Antony said yesterday.