Focus on Security Lapses

Rather indulging in meaningless surgical strike, it’s time to fill loopholes in our security 


The Nagrota attack has expectedly given rise to questions on the efficacy of India’s surgical strikes. The Indian Army, which took another major hit with two of its officers and five soldiers falling to fidayeen bullets, is yet to complete its combing operation, but critics and some political parties have already started suggesting that the operation carried out by India’s elite commandos across the LoC was much hype and little substance.

The death of 26 Indian soldiers since 29 September is a clear indication, goes the argument, that instead of restraining Pakistan, the strikes seem to have emboldened our neighbour to carry out more terrorist attacks. The contention is that the surgical strikes were more a political confabulation for the Narendra Modi government rather than an effective anti-terror tool.

There is a lot of room for criticism in Modi’s blow hot-blow cold Pakistan policy. Like many of his predecessors, the incumbent prime minister was also driven by an initial urge to author a new chapter in India-Pakistan history. Subsequent developments have perhaps taught him that one cannot rationalise a relationship with a revisionist nation — one that continues to be driven by Ghazwa-e-Hind dreams.

Be that as it may, the haste to label surgical strikes a failure for another terrorist attack on an army base is more than a little problematic. Such an argument is guilty of oversimplification. It is more an exercise of our confirmation bias and strikes at our ideological fault lines than focus energies on a hard-nosed, rational analysis.

Aversion or affinity towards current political dispensation must not cloud our judgement on the efficacy of the strikes, which were carried out by a professional army unit and was the culmination of an extraordinary synchronisation of efforts. It was also a welcome departure from India’s reflexive stoicism towards Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attacks. The rush to call it “ineffective” stems from a lack of understanding of the operation’s objectives.

As this columnist has argued in the past, the surgical strikes were not meant to prevent Pakistan from abandoning its decades-old terror policy. Nobody in their right minds would assume that one covert operation is enough to persuade Pakistan to dismantle its terror infrastructure and reverse its policy of using terrorism as a foreign policy tool — one that has brought it rich dividends.

The Pakistani Army would be a fool to let go of terrorism — its one strategic lever against a much more powerful and prosperous neighbour. What, then, was the point of those surgical strikes? There was never a doubt that the covert op, which was subsequently publicised, was an effort by India to raise the bar for retaliatory attacks while staying below Pakistan’s nuclear threshold. For a country that drops the nuclear threat at every possible opportunity, the cross-LoC attacks exposed Pakistan’s nuclear bluff.

But while deriding surgical strikes is pointless, it is important to highlight the grave and repeated security lapses that have contributed towards yet another attack on an Army base. Alarmingly, since 29 September, there have been at least a dozen attacks as terrorist infiltrated the border and launched attacks in different areas of Jammu and Kashmir including Nagrota, Baramulla, Bandipore, Sopore, Shopian and Pampore, among others. Altogether, 26 Indian soldiers including BSF personnel, and army jawans and officers have been killed.

While at one level, it reflects Pakistan’s outgoing chief of army staff General Raheel Sharif’s desperate attempts to save face after getting bruised in the surgical strikes, at another level it also points to crucial lacunae in India’s security apparatus. Apprehending suicide attackers is tougher since their motivation levels are high but the repeated breaches of heavily-guarded army bases send a worrying signal about our preparedness or lack of it.

As disturbing details emerge of the fidayeen strike on Nagrota where a hostage-like situation involving civilians have luckily been averted, questions must be raised on an apparent lack of standard operating procedure when it comes to blocking or preventing such attacks. Heads must roll if it is found that our security intelligence network isn’t up to scratch or fatigue and complacency played its part.

The 16 Corps headquarters in Nagrota on the outskirts of Jammu is 55 kilometres away from the border. It must be asked how heavily armed terrorists — albeit dressed in police attire — managed to remain undetected before launching the attack.

A report in The Huffington Post claims that the terrorists had infiltrated the border at least a week ago and had done a thorough recce of the camp before launching their mission. Quoting a Ministry of Defence official, the report states that the police uniforms that the terrorists were wearing were stitched in India and couldn’t have been “done in a day, indicating that the terrorists were already in India for some time”. They had also purchased medicines from local pharmacy, added the report.

This, if true, raises several more uncomfortable questions on our intelligence and monitoring system and whether our military bases and security installations are “soft targets”.

A Times of India report points out, quoting defence sources, that there was “very little follow-up action” to the comprehensive recommendations of the tri-service committee, led by former army chief Lieutenant-General Philip Campose (retd), which was constituted after the 2 January terror strike on the Pathankot airbase.

These are damning indications. Discussions must be centred around these loopholes instead of meaningless, politicised debates of one-upmanship over surgical strikes.