Sociology Index

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Insurgent and Insurgency

An insurgent is a person who rebels or rises in active revolt against authority he does not approve. Insurgency is an armed rebellion against a constituted authority. The terms insurgent and insurgency is used to describe a movement's unlawfulness because it is not authorized. Insurgents and insurgency forces are groups of rebellious people rising in active revolt against authority that is not recognized by them. New trends and technologies of the 21st century have brought immense changes in the methods of insurgency and terrorism.

Insurgents attempt to hold territory and generally attack the state's infrastructure, whereas terrorists usually operate in urban areas and attack more symbolic targets. Insurgents usually coerce or abduct civilians to join them, whereas terrorists are highly selective in whom they recruit. A discussion of the violent aspect of insurgency defines terrorism and guerrilla warfare as the prevalent forms of violence. The word insurrection was first recorded in the 1400s. It ultimately comes from the Latin verb insurgere, meaning “to rise up, ascend, rebel.”

Types Of Insurgent Movements:

Secessionist, revolutionary, restorational, reactionary, conservative, and reformist. When one talks of communist insurgency, the rebellion is more on ideological grounds. Insurgent forces here are out to change the nature of government. A revolutionary engages in insurgency as opposed to terrorism. Insurgents also use terrorist methods.

Insurgents, Naxalites, Guerrillas, And Terrorists

Though distinguishing between guerrillas, insurgents, naxalites, and terrorists may seem like a purely academic exercise, deeper analysis may reveal some extremely pragmatic understandings to help in combating each.

Terrorism is defined as “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”

Insurgency is defined as an organized resistance movement that uses subversion, sabotage, and armed conflict to achieve its aims. Insurgencies normally seek to overthrow the existing social order and reallocate power within the country.

The Naxalite or Maoist insurgency is a conflict between Maoist groups known as Naxalites or Naxals, and the Indian government. The insurgency started when CPI-Maoists, a rebel group in 2004, consisting of the People's War Group (PWG) and the Maoist Communist Centre (MCC).

Insurgents may also seek to:

(1) Overthrow an established government without a follow-on social revolution.

(2) Establish an autonomous national territory within the borders of a state.

(3) Cause the withdrawal of an occupying power.

(4) Extract political concessions that are unattainable through less violent means.

The origin of Naxalism can be traced to the split in 1967 of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) following the Naxalbari peasant uprising. Naxalites declared their support for the movement initiated by Kanu Sanyal, and their readiness to adopt armed struggle to redistribute land to the landless.

Guerrillas are the “overt military aspect of the insurgency.” They exist alongside their counterparts, the auxiliary and the underground. There are distinctions in these definitions.

First, doctrine correctly identifies guerrillas as a subcomponent of insurgencies that work overtly toward the latter’s counter-regime goals, typically organized not too unlike general purpose forces.

Second, each of the five goals of an insurgency centers on attacking regimes. In comparison, the goals of terrorists are not specific to governments but rather focus on broader ideological intentions.

We see that terrorists may not even feel the need to target governments. Instead they may choose to attack societies directly in order to achieve a particular endstate. Hence, by definition terrorists are not concerned with regime change, reallocation of power, or challenging existing social orders.

Another way to look at it is this: insurgents use ideology to target governments, but terrorists target governments or societies to advance their ideology.

Notwithstanding the differences between these irregular warriors, it is conceivable that a terrorist may also simultaneously be an insurgent and a guerrilla. Depending upon the ideology that the terrorist wants to advance, regime change may be a critical component of that effort. Marxist terrorists operating in capitalist or monarchial societies are good examples of ideologically-motivated terrorists who envision regime change as an integral component to their strategy.

Differences between Terrorism and Insurgency

Guerilla warfare and insurgencies are often assumed to be synonymous with terrorism. Insurgencies and terrorism often have similar goals. If we examine insurgency and guerilla warfare, specific differences emerge.

Insurgency is a movement, a political effort with a specific aim. Guerilla warfare and terrorism, are both methods available to pursue the goals of the political movement. Insurgencies require the active or tacit support of some portion of the population involved.

The intent of the component activities and operations of insurgencies versus terrorism is also important. There is nothing inherent in either insurgency or guerilla warfare that requires the use of terror. Some of the more successful insurgencies and guerilla campaigns employed terrorism and terror tactics, and some developed into conflicts where terror tactics and terrorism became predominant.

The deliberate choice to use terrorism considers its effectiveness in inspiring further resistance, destroying government efficiency, and mobilizing support. Disagreement on the costs of using terror tactics, or whether terror operations are to be given primacy within the insurgency campaign, have frequently led to the "urban guerilla" or terrorist wings of an insurgency splintering off to pursue the revolutionary goal by their own methods.

The ultimate goal of an insurgency is to challenge the existing government for control of all or a portion of its territory, or force political concessions in sharing political power. 

Insurgency - The Context of Terrorism (From Terrorism, Political Violence and World Order, P 173-202, 1984, Henry H Han, ed. - B E O'Neill, Sale: University Press of America.
This study reviews the extant knowledge of insurgency in terms of its general characteristics, analytical components, and various strategies. Abstract: A review of the characteristics of insurgency indicates that it is 'a struggle between a nonruling group and the ruling authorities, in which the former consciously employs political resources and instruments of violence to establish legitimacy for some aspect of the political system which it considers illegitimate.'

In considering the analytical components of insurgency, the study advises that to maximize the effectiveness of political techniques and violence, insurgents have devised various strategies which are differentiated by examining the relative importance the insurgents ascribe to six general variables: popular support, organization, external support, cohesion, the environment, and the government's effectiveness.

Terror Sans Frontiers: Islamic Militancy in North East India - Jaideep Saikia.

Abstract: The “little wars” in North East India have been waged primarily on ethnic lines, with almost every insurgent organization owing its natal charts to a distinct ethnic identity. Indeed, the various insurgent charters and assertions too have been characterized by agendas that are determined by the ethnic substratum that sired each movement. 

The insurgency situation in North East India, however, is beginning to witness a unique phenomenon, which could well introduce a different order of extremism than has traditionally been known to exist. Islamic militant activities have begun to proliferate in the region with an urgency that could well have not only a motivation to usurp the separatist mantle from the ethnically based insurgent movements which have been flourishing in the region, but also with a conspiracy to further an agenda which has religious fanaticism and division as important coordinates.