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How Is The Enemy Attacking India's Military Bases With Such Ease?

Pathankot, Uri and now Nagrota.

01/12/2016 7:58 PM IST | Updated 01/12/2016 11:48 PM IST
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Soldiering is dangerous and difficult profession. Among other things, it is a profession where "zero error" is an absolute must, not just one of the parameters in the "desirable category" list.

At the crack of dawn, when most are unwilling to move out of bed unless pushed, soldiers are out training. The rigour of daily training—called PT in military parlance—has less to do with physical fitness and more to do with discipline and obedience. Split-second decisions can make the difference between life and death. All these factors add up to give soldiers a special place in society.

Given that soldiering is a "zero-error" profession, how does one explain the repeated attacks on India's military installations?

Given that soldiering is a "zero-error" profession, how does one explain the repeated attacks on India's military installations? All the attacks–Pathankot in January, Uri in September and now Nagrota–have a common thread: the ease with which terrorists have entered our military bases. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was bold enough to admit there had been security lapses that led to the attacks in Pathankot and Uri Brigade.

After the Uri attack the government was forced to be seen to living up to its tough rhetoric against Pakistan. The surgical strikes across the Line of Control as a response to the Uri Brigade attack were a watershed. Not only did India strike terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, it also openly claimed responsibility. India introduced an element of "unpredictability" in its Pakistan policy. Also, in the process India named and shamed the Pakistan Army.

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Indian soldiers stand guard outside an army base in Nagrota, about 15 kilometers from Jammu.

Retaliation from Pakistan was expected. In a clever move, almost simultaneous to the surgical strikes, India evacuated border villages to prevent civilian casualties from the expected cross-border shelling.

The Border Security Force (BSF) launched "Operation Rustom" with general idea of stepping up vigil along its Border Out-Posts (BOP) located along the Line of Control and the International Border.

There was more than enough understanding within the Indian security establishment that Pakistan-based terrorists would be directed to attack military installations. So what went wrong? More importantly, the Indian Army has lost about 85 soldiers this year–the highest since 2008.

The Ministry of Defence isn't happy with the military; the security infrastructure and the Government, too, are not very pleased. The question now being asked is how such infiltrations and attacks on Indian Army camps could happen repeatedly.

If you ask the military, the answer is: one, it is impossible to hermetically seal the border, and two, it is difficult to stop a fidayeen. A fighter on a suicide mission is an incredibly effective weapon. There is indeed a lot of weight in this argument. Yet, the military also needs to explain why it has been unable to protect its own house when there was clear understanding that terrorists would strike.

The truth, however, as always, lies in the middle. The military surely, needs to examine what it is doing wrong. Training, as some have pointed fingers, doesn't appear to be at fault. The Indian military is one of the best-trained forces. One cannot however be so unequivocal about the senior leadership of the military. It is no secret within the military that some senior commanders have risen through the ranks because of qualities not limited to the professional domain.

Equally valid on the other hand are questions about why intelligence agencies and the local police failed to detect the fidayeens. Initial investigations now show they were in India for at least a week. Unlike the Pathankot attack, where there was specific intelligence and the Government had moved assets to secure the base, or the Uri attack, where there was specific intelligence, intelligence agencies failed to produce any specific or clear intelligence in Nagrota. The intelligence that was available prior to the attack was generic in nature.

The question now being asked is how such infiltrations and attacks on Indian Army camps could happen repeatedly.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), too, has to take some blame. After the Pathankot air base attack, it commissioned the Army vice-chief General Philip Campose to examine the security of the military installations. The report submitted to the government point to several loop-holes including command and control issues, lack of infrastructure and recommended short- and long-term measures. The short-term measures included a revamp of how we respond to intelligence inputs and a new standard operating procedure in responding to terror strikes.

A major problem in live situations like Pathankot is the ambiguity in the chain of command when multiple agencies are involved. This proved to be a problem in Nagrota as well. His recommendations included fixing the response leads and the chain of command.

The long-term measures include induction of more technology, such as smart-fencing for military installations, better equipment for forces and even raising a specialized force to protect bases. Unfortunately, except for smart fencing, which is now coming up in some select air bases, others haven't been acted upon.

In sum, soldiering is now under attack for reasons that lie within and outside.

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