A number of developments have taken place rapidly in the aftermath of the attack on an Indian Army base in Uri in Northern Kashmir, killing 18 soldiers and injuring 19 others. The national mood has precipitated into disgust for India’s complacent policy towards Pakistan, even though this government has been much less conciliatory towards the latter than the previous governments of A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. However, with the dramatic increase in cross-border terrorist offensive, infiltration and ill-will in Kashmir since Modi government assumed office – combined with the rise of global Islamic terrorism – the mood of the entire country, including the media and the intelligentsia, dictates that India should settle Pakistan and the Kashmir issue once and for all.
India has already mounted a blunt diplomatic offensive on the neighbouring country in forums like the UN, pushing Pakistan into a corner and compelling the latter to skip the SAARC meet on security and terrorism. There have also been suggestions that India should revoke the 1960 Indus Water Treaty signed by Nehru with Pakistan, which gives India only about 20% of Indus water system and channels the rest for Pakistan, and allows Pakistan to prevent India from building hydropower projects on the eastern rivers given to it via blackmail. On the military front, the government has considered strikes across terrorist camps in Pakistan, but with the latter on high alert that is not immediately possible. India is still in the deliberation mode.
The Immediate Necessity
But while India deliberates and as the stream of investigation reports and news surrounding the attack come in, the government needs to act fast on the immediate priority of strengthening the border security.
It is clear that Uri attack was not a product of intelligence failure, but of security lapse, since intelligence reports about a possible attack had already been conveyed. Yet, a serious security breach took place.
The aftermath of the Uri attack has raised uncomfortable questions about how such an attack could be carried out without either complicity of a local insider or extreme lack of preparedness and alertness on the part of the Indian Army. Even if there was insider involvement – which is obvious and is being probed – the issue still remains of how an Army base situated in a sensitive border area of Kashmir could have been overpowered by just four terrorists who mounted a gun attack rather than a blast. And the Uri regiment was also in a transition of a change of guard – which calls for further alertness. The question becomes especially damning if we consider the fact that the Army was supposed to have been on high alert with the ongoing conflict in Kashmir.
Additionally, it is common knowledge that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of infiltration attempts since the Modi government came to power in 2014, because the terrorists have been trying to derail Modi’s nationalist working. This year alone there were 100 such attempts, while in the week preceding the attack, there were four incidents of attack on Army personnel, including the one at Baramulla where four militants were killed. This should have called for heightened security.
The table 1 on the next page gives information on infiltration across the Indo-Pak border on the number of cases, apprehensions and killed terrorists, for the years 2013 till March 2016. However, it must be remembered that after March 2016 too, there have been a series of cross-border incidents of attacks and infiltration.
For the snapshot of infiltration and terrorist activities in J&K specifically, the tables 2 and 3 on the next page give a bird’s eye view of the same.
The information in tables shows that while the government has consistently been able to check the infiltration attempts by terrorists, since the number of terrorists killed while crossing the border has gone up, there has been a big increase in the number of terrorist incidents across the border. This rise in terrorist incidents has actually claimed the lives of security personnel more than the lives of terrorists, although the number of security personnel dying has gone down since 2013.
While this immediate context of rising cross-border terrorist incidents itself was reason enough for the security forces to have been on alert, even without any of this, it is always the basic duty of the Army to protect the country. Our brave jawans have sacrificed their lives, especially in wars against Pakistan and the terrorists, to keep the country safe, and this sacrifice cannot be compromised with.
No matter what war of words the government unleashes with Pakistan at diplomatic fora, the basic vulnerability of the country is the critical issue here, and if that can be compromised with such ease, one should shudder to think about the future and what can happen to civilians even beyond Kashmir.
This should also teach a security lessons to our maritime forces, because post-26/11 and with the recent suspected terrorist sightings in Maharashtra, we should be conscious of our vulnerability to terrorist infiltration through coastal areas. Here even Gujarat has been a target in the recent past, after 2014.
Lessons Not Learnt
The Pathankot terrorist attack should have taught us to prioritize security more than anything else, especially given the deteriorating situation in Kashmir and with Pakistan. The outcome of the Pathankot review clearly stated that there was a serious security lapse, whereby Jaish terrorists infiltrated our critical airbase.
The Campose Panel on the Pathankot attack had said in its report that the security set-up was poor, there were vague Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that could not designate responsibilities well, and, the guards were poorly-equipped using outdated rifles (as compared to the advanced ones of the terrorists) and not possessing bullet-proof jackets and night-vision devices.
Yet, little corrective actions were taken after Pathankot. There are reports that even though the government had promised to undertake a security review of Army bases after the Pathankot attack, it has not delivered on that promise.
Moreover, this is not the first time that Uri has been attacked. It was also attacked in December 2014, when nine soldiers were killed.
At Uri, the aftermath of the attack identified a two-point breach through which the attack was executed. One, the terrorists infiltrated through Uri which is located not too far from the LoC by crossing the border. Two, they cut the fence of the perimeter wire near the Army base at two points – this is being seen as a serious breach, since they were able to cut the fence at more than one point. This was enabled through careful planning, since the terrorists had reportedly been surveying their targets for several days by staying in an abandoned house, in order to familiarize themselves with the routine and timings of the soldiers. This enabled them to carry out the attack with deadly precision. They knew they had to attack the less guarded rear of the base and not the front, they knew about the internal arrangements in the base and knew where the soldiers would be sleeping so that they can set the fire; for, majority of soldiers died due to fire when they were sleeping and not through bullets.
The security lapse was clear. It should be questioned how terrorists got an easy, unchallenged pass for so many kilometers inside the Indian territory, since Uri is 19 km inside the LoC. It is also amongst the closest towns to the border, where security should always have been double. At the LoC itself, it is not as if there is any dearth of technology. There are laser censors near the barbed wire to detect any movement – which means that crossing over was due to human and not technological failure or that the technology was not bothered to be updated or checked.
Moreover, the terrorists not only got ample time to do a recce of the target area, but were also successful in identifying the perimeter fence positions that were not properly manned by the Army personnel, thus, making the entire exercise comfortable for them over several days.
This calls into question why the LoC, and then, the Army base perimeter were not manned properly and allowed the breach to take place, and how there was no internal detection for such a long distance after crossing the LoC and when the terrorists were doing a recce of the base.
In the interests of security, it also calls for more responsibility on how the functions of Armed forces should be divided. The conflict in South Kashmir should not have taken up the majority of personnel, especially at the cost of leaving the border and Army base completely vulnerable.
There are endless such possibilities and options, yet the security failure is too simplistic to be taken at face value.
Based on previous terrorist attacks at Pathankot and Gurdaspur and the rising terrorist entry via Punjab, it is being suggested that illicit cross-border drug trade could be the major reason. If drug dealers could enter in, then even terrorists and militants can utilize the same route.
Moreover, the government is spending hefty amount of money on defence procurement every year. The defence sector has seen some of the most high profile international and bilateral deals. Where is all this money going? Because if the Campose Panel report was anything to go by, then this money is certainly not going into beefing up the border security systems. While Pakistan had erected an embankment after the 2002 ceasefire agreement along the International Border (IB), India has not yet acquired the 135 feet wide land along the length of the border to erect its embankment. The country’s Anti-Infiltration Obstacle System (AIOS) – consisting of concertina wire and sensors – is also not foolproof, as it gets buried under snow in winters. There is also no certain technology to detect underground tunnels.
It is surprising that despite so much money being spent on defence, the reality of the Indo-Pak border leaves much government action to be desired.
If these are the kind of reasons for the increasingly lax security that is making these attacks possible, then it simply points to the deplorable rise of psychological corruption. Corruption – the inevitable offshoot of our selfish society – can change anyone and make anything possible. And now, it is compromising our national security. If the laxity at border combines with possible ill-will arising out of corruption, the result will be a national disaster.