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No lessons learnt

Militants crossing over Pakistan have once again struck an Indian military camp, killing two officers and five soldiers. Two months after the deadly attack at Uri, militants from across the border on Tuesday struck an Indian army camp in Nagrota, a cantonment 15 km north of Jammu. Fortunately, military personnel responded to the attack and prevented a potential hostage situation. All three assailants were shot dead in retaliatory firing. Tuesday’s attack is the third instance when cross-border ‘non-state actors’ have attacked a military installation this year, following Pathankot and Uri. The attack on a military cantonment raises numerous questions. It is the latest in a series of attacks targeted specifically at military installations, despite the presence of vulnerable civilian areas nearby. According to various news reports, there was prior intelligence regarding the strike on the XVI Corps headquarters in Nagrota, but the signal was lost amidst the noise. It is not the first time that our military has been caught unprepared. Both in Pathankot and Uri, the security perimeter was breached too easily. There are serious security deficiencies. The constant loss of soldiers to such militant attacks is unacceptable. It is evident that the lessons of Pathankot and Uri have not been learned. Instead of inciting nationalistic passions, both the Indian civilian and military leadership need to take note of these failures and fortify our bases better. After the Pathankot attack earlier this year, a committee of army, navy and air force officials was formed to analyse the loopholes in the security infrastructure of our military bases. Led by Lieutenant General Philip Campose (retired), the committee had suggested various security enhancing measures. Although the panel submitted its report back in May, news stories indicate that not enough concrete steps were taken, besides a few random “security audits” at individual bases. Both the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces have been slow to implement wide-ranging measures to thwart or contain such attacks. Some of these key measures include proper perimeter security, comprehensive intrusion detection systems allied with well-equipped sentries, and a complete overhaul of standard operating procedures, especially in response to intelligence alerts. 

In a recent column for Scroll.in, Saikat Datta, a security analyst with the Observer Research Foundation, wrote of the real shortcomings at the Uri military base discovered by officials in the security establishment during their post-mortem of the September 18 attack. “The perimeter measures were rudimentary and had chicken coop fencing with abandoned sentry points at the golf course, which had been the point of entry for the militants. Some of the sentry bunkers were found with sandbags that had dense growth sprouting through them, indicating the state of neglect. Despite specific intelligence alerts, patrolling was minimal and the threat posture underestimated. The soldiers from the incoming Maratha Battalion had not been issued weapons on the night of the attack. When the attack took place, leading to fires in the tents, the soldiers did not even have the means to retaliate. This resulted in high casualties, as the units were caught napping,” he writes. Such shortcomings should have jolted India’s security establishment towards beefing up security at various bases, especially those located in major conflict zones. The lack of any follow-up action must concern those at the top since the success of every attack on an Indian military installation will inspire further attacks. Of course, a single attack on an Indian army camp cannot conclusively confirm whether the “surgical strikes” of September 29 or the government’s “demonetisation” measure have deterred, contained or emboldened militants from across the border. Preventing or containing terror threats requires the real but unglamorous task of protecting India’s borders and the lives of her people through measures listed above, which may not grab quick headlines like a “surgical strike” or the decision to “demonetise” the Rs 500 and 1000 notes. Earlier this week, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar claimed that the Centre’s latest shock to the currency had choked terror funding. "We have been giving a tit-for-tat to the enemy along the border. The country's borders are now completely secure," he added. Does the Defence Minister believe that our borders are secure after the tragic death of seven soldiers? Has funding for terror groups been choked? The evidence does indeed suggest otherwise. As argued in these editorials, the “surgical strike” and growing escalation of violence on the border has done little to deter militant attacks. In addition to these attacks on India’s military installations, we haven’t witnessed such a spike in hostilities between both sides since 2003. Deterioration of the bilateral political climate adversely affects the military equation between India and Pakistan. It’s hard to foresee scope for improvement in the political climate for quite some time. The informal ceasefire which came about on November 26, 2003, has been rendered useless. Can India afford such breaches when it is clear that Pakistan will continue to use non-state actors as prized assets? Another little inquiry into the matter will not suffice. Heads must roll, and those responsible for not implementing key security-related recommendations made by government-appointed committees should be held accountable.
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