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Nagrota Attack: Issues for India and Pakistan


The attack on XVI Corps of the Indian Army’s Northern Command in the high security Nagrota region of Jammu is the first major hit-back by Pakistan sponsored terrorists in the wake of the Uri attack two months back, which had claimed the lives of 19 Indian soldiers. The current attack was carried out by four terrorists with the intent to develop a hostage-like situation in the army camp which housed the women and children as well. While the hostage-like situation was successfully averted by the Quick Reaction Team of the Indian army, seven of our army men were killed while fighting the terrorists. And while three terrorists were killed, the fourth still remains missing, despite the sanitization of the area by the army.

Whether the attack is being seen as a farewell gesture of the outgoing Pakistani Army chief, Raheel Sharif, or, as an indication that the incoming chief Gen. Bajwa will continue the same policy of hostility towards India, what is of immediate concern to India is to urgently mend its own weak system.

Despite the views being circulated by the opponents of the government that this attack raises a question mark over the relevance of the surgical strikes by the Indian army, we need to realize that we have to abandon this bogey of fear – that India should never adopt a retaliatory posture because Pakistan might attack us. Let’s get this clear – the purpose of the surgical strikes was never to contain future conflict – even though this may turn out to be the best way of doing it – but to send a befitting reply to Pakistan. Have we so easily forgotten Pakistan’s tenacity and outrage during the Uri massacre, whose daring intent far outstripped India’s surgical strikes?

At the current juncture, India needs to both aggressively take the lead in sending a message that cross-border terrorism will not be tolerated (a message sent through the issue of surgical strikes) and, simultaneously, strengthen its own inner security systems.

The latter is the part where we are failing and it should become a priority for the government.

Strengthening Security along the Border

This major attack has reinforced the concerns we had raised in the aftermath of the Uri attacks viz. the weakness and complacency of our security establishment. It has raised uncomfortable questions such as – why no action was taken despite the prior intelligence communication on the vulnerability of Nagrota; how is it that the most central and securitized army corps of the Northern Command was so vulnerable; why was the very main gate of the camp left unmanned and how did the terrorists – clad as J&K policemen – keep the camp under a seven-day vigil and scaled the wall, completely undetected.

The attack again represents a major loss that could have been easily contained had our establishment heeded the intelligence agencies which had been monitoring the LeT cell in Kashmir since two weeks and had knowledge that they were plotting an attack on Nagrota.1

In our last article on the Uri attacks, we had highlighted the technological weaknesses which keep our border security installations weak and our soldiers vulnerable in the absence of foolproof weapons-proof shield and clothing, as well as, the political side of the problem viz. the secret glamourization of the defence sector to benefit the vested interests of the elite at the top through high profile international defence deals and equal number of scandals in the recent years, with no account of how the money spent on these deals is benefitting our security apparatus. It is definitely not going into strengthening the border security. Little has been done, in terms of border infrastructure or manpower protection, since the May 2016 recommendations of the Philip Campose Committee in the aftermath of the Pathankot attack. Another committee, under Sh. Madhukar Gupta, had submitted its report on strengthening the border in August 2016, but there seems to have been little action on these.

Pakistan’s Covert War on India

We need to not just strengthen our border security, but also take a long-term view of how Pakistan is operating. Pakistan wants to attack India at multiple levels through hybrid warfare, which involves low to medium intensity attacks along the LoC, sponsoring terrorism within Kashmir through separatist outfits to gain the Kashmiri population’s support and promote illegal currency flows. At a very recurrent and usual level, Pakistan uses ceasefire violations and cross-border firing as a purely practical measure – as a cover to perpetuate infiltration of terrorists into India, since patrolling along the border becomes difficult when the firing is on. Often, when the Indian army camps’ security is exceptionally weak, the terrorists cut the barbed fence, but, like in the current attack, they also enter through underground tunnels.

Pakistan has, however, changed its targets of attack. Under former Army chief Raheel Sharif and escalation of hostilities after Modi became the PM of India, Pakistani terrorists are no longer targeting civilians in J&K, but only army men. This is ostensibly the practical side of Pakistan’s increasingly hostile claims on Kashmir, aimed at alienating Kashmiri people from India and supporting Kashmiri terrorists as freedom fighters for the state.

Pakistani military supports entrenched Sunni terror groups within the country like JeM and LeT – inside Pakistan, they are not even regarded as terrorists. Closer to the border, certain ‘friendly’ terror groups are located at Muridke and Bahawalpur to aid Pakistan in its state of war against India.2 At the same time, Pakistan is trying to root out some other homegrown terrorist outfits within its borders.

However, the monster created by Pakistan will inevitably bite its creator sooner or later – as is already happening. The military controls virtually everything inside the country – Raheel Sharif established military tribunals across the country to deal with civilian law and order issues – and has become the driving force behind Pakistan’s economy. It operates across agriculture, manufacturing and services, and has established its subsidiary companies also. Recent revelations in the Pakistani media – as a result of which a Pakistani journalist’s travel got restricted – also provide a concrete proof of civilian-military tensions and the fact that army is the de facto ruler. Engulfed by the presence of de facto military governance on all sides, Pakistan faces a threat of destruction. Unless the Pakistani rulers leave their aggression towards India , Pakistan may end up destroying itself.

India’s Position

Given this internal state of escalating terrorist siege within Pakistan, through the hand-in glove relationship between Pakistani army and international terrorist groups, and Pakistan’s escalating tensions with India, it has become obvious that we are fast reaching a point of no return. It is clear that the comfortable status-quo of the last 60 years, with intermittent periods of conflicts, can no longer be sustained. Both inside Kashmir – the focal point of Indo-Pak conflict – and on the border, all the meticulously built institutions are breaking down and no one can fathom why. The slate is being swept clean of its past.

In the incoming era, the world equations have also drastically altered, so India’s Opposition parties which are still living in the old mindset and calling for pacification are living in a dead past. External agencies which used to “mediate” between India and Pakistan – such as the United States, the United Nations and other countries from the West – are grappling with their own quick downward spiral. Their institutions and other symbols of military, economic and geopolitical power have become relics of the past, no longer relevant in today’s world which is undergoing a massive transformation.

It no longer matters if the US President-elect Donald Trump aligns with the draconian Philippines and Pakistan or with India and China. These alignments will matter mainly only to the US which has now become a shadow of itself. The ripple created in India by Trump’s friendly call with Pakistan was completely unnecessary, since the US and Trump will no longer be so relevant to the world politics. Neither are the UN’s Security Council or the other US-dominated international treaties so important. The US is approaching the status of Europe – no longer critically important in world affairs.

At the same time, the world is seeing the rise of radical global Islam and the equally massive backlash against it, and increasing public support – in all countries – for policies based on popular morality and nationalism and for strong, practical leaders like Modi, Putin, Erdogan, Theresa May and others. The rise of Trump has also cemented the abrupt abortion of the so-called “liberal” and “secular” global intellectual agenda. It was such an agenda that had, in the past, given power to the parties like Congress in India and thereby dictated India’s pacifist policies towards Pakistan and in Kashmir, and, internally, its appeasement of minorities.

Now, however, with the demise of this agenda and the demise of leaders, institutions and countries that stood for it, the contest is squarely between India and Pakistan. Everything has to be judged – both within and across the borders – in terms of clear division between right and wrong. Vagueness and pacifism will cost us dearly in form of more terrorist attacks, loss of more lives and an increasing precipitation of the Kashmir issue and the division between the Hindus and the Muslims.

At this critical juncture of change, India cannot afford to be complacent and needs to be persistent in its stand that India’s sovereignty is non-negotiable. This stand has already yielded dividends for the BJP-PDP alliance in Kashmir, where government’s persistence has made things reach a breaking point and altered all existing equations. It has wiped out the identity and base of both the opposition parties and the separatist organizations in the Valley. Despite the loss and problems which are currently being faced, both in Pakistan and Kashmir, the government’s firm hand will set things on a more desirable course, albeit with struggles on the way. India can ensure, at this moment, that it sets the agenda and terms for the future of South Asia.


  1. Swami, P. (2016, November 30). The Indian Express. Retrieved from http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/jk-nagrota-militants-attack-intelligence-warned-of-imminent-attack-4402477/
  2. Hasnain, S. A. (2016, December 1). The Times of India. Retrieved from http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/nagrota-in-perspective-it-is-just-one-of-the-thousand-cuts-by-which-pakistan-hopes-to-bleed-india/
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