Sunday, January 29, 2017

'Bordering' on inadequacy

The attack that killed seven military personnel in Nagrota has been a serious breach. At one level, it may be dismissed as part of a pattern of attacks we have witnessed since 2013. At another, there should be concern that in this case, the penetration has taken place in an area that houses the headquarters of one of the biggest corps of Indian Army. It is a far more serious than the Uri event, and yet we are hearing nothing from the fire-eaters who celebrated the 'surgical strikes' to avenge it."
To say that this is a wake-up call for the Army would be futile because the wake-up calls have been coming since the strikes on Pathankot and Uri. The government's response has been to promote deterrent counter strikes. It is necessary but insuffici­ent. What is also needed is a revision of standard operating pro­c­e­dures for perimeter security in the hundreds of camps, pickets, cantonments and bases that are strung out along the border in J&K. Both the components of Indian counter-militant strategy — deterrence and defence — must be robust and innovative, just as the attackers are.
The Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, which claimed 166 civilians, caused a wave of revulsion across the world. Uncomfortably for Pakistan, it also revealed how the tentacles of the jihadis were entangled with the Pakistani deep state. Names of various Pak military officials like Sajid Mir surfaced, Islamabad brushed it away by arresting some of the LeT functionaries involved and slow-tracking their trial. The US obtained information through its own channel through Daood Gilani, aka David Coleman Headley. So, the ISI took recourse to a new technique to keep up the pressure on India — avoid mass-casualty civilian attacks which would bring huge pressure on India to launch a military strike, and carry out a succession of low impact attacks on Indian military or police targets and confine them to the J&K area.
These unfolded after 2012 across the International Border (termed wo­r­king boundary in Pakistan) in Jam­mu, parallel to National Highway 1A. The pattern was roughly similar — small groups of men would cross the border, which is guarded by BSF, don military fatigues, hijack a passing vehicle and hit a target, usually a police station or a military post and die in the process. However, the attack on Nagrota is more serious.
For one, it is further inland and for another, it should have been better protected, considering it is the location of the headquarters of India's largest corps. On September 26, 2013, a few days ahead of the Manmohan Singh-Nawaz Sharif meeting in New York, militants dressed in army fatigues struck a police station at Hiranagar, near Kathua, killing several policemen. Later they attacked an army camp before being gunned down.
On November 27, 2014, just as PM Modi was meeting his Pak counterpart at Dhulikhel, Nepal, four gunmen who had come across the border clashed with an army patrol in the Arnia sector of Jammu leaving three soldiers and five civilians dead.
On March 28, 2014, two days after a Modi election rally near Jammu, three militants hijacked a vehicle and attacked an Army camp at Janglore and killed a jawan, before getting killed. On July 27, 2015, three gunmen dressed in army fatigues who crossed the border, turned south to Punjab and fired on a bus near Dinanagar, near Gurdaspur. They hijacked a car and attacked a police station killing three civilians and four policemen. For the first time, the militants came in from Jammu and deliberately
str­uck a target in Punjab.
This pattern was repeated on January 1-3, 2016; gunmen crossed the border in Jammu, hijacked a police officer's vehicle to reach the Patha­n­kot Air Force base to launch an attack. Despite advanced intelligence, the perimeter was breached and two army personnel were killed. The repeated penetrations of the border do raise the question about the efficiency of India's border manag­ement and perimeter security practices, even as they roil efforts to normalise relations between the two neighbours. Officials usually come up with various explanations and promise high-tech solutions, like automated machine guns and laser curtains to foil attackers. The pro­blem is the serrated nature of the terrain, which is cut by rivers and nallahs leading out of the mountains and flowing towards Pakistan. They provide several channels of ingress which are familiar to smugglers.
But the problem is often with the quality of equipment and the forces, namely the BSF, being used to guard the border. As for perimeter security, the government should understand that this involves substantial costs and be ready to provide money to build walls not only around the bases and cantonments, but within them to foil easy movement of militants who might get through. There is also need to come up with a standardised concrete guardhouse which is sufficien­tly protected and provides easy line of sight for the guarding forces. The DRDO, which focuses on futuristic projects, should consider designing taut-wire sensors and physical barriers which are rugged and reliable.
Mid Day December 6, 2016

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